The Billionaire and The Average Voter: Moral Equals

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It is easy to forget that not everyone shares similar needs and desires as you. This is a fact that is validated by contemporary public policy debates. All too often, voters and participants in the political process conflate (either inadvertently or strategically) their self-interest with the common good. Public interest or social welfare is an abstract metric open to interpretation; the terms operate as a form of persuasion than a concrete standard (p.77). For some, it is difficult to think that someone would not want free college or a single-payer healthcare system; this stems from an individual being too fixated on their values and policy preferences.

If it is likely that every political actor (including the average voter) acts in their self-interest, then why is it perceived to be immoral when a wealthy voter does versus an impoverished or middle-class voter does so? If the Republican and Democratic parties are moral equivalents, it is not outrageous to surmise that the poor person voting for “free” healthcare and the billionaire that votes for tax cuts are ethical equals. Neither individual is genuinely concerned by the potential externalities their favored policies impose on the rest of society. They only want initiatives that work in their self-interest. The concerns for the feasibility of these programs and processes are not even the equation for these people!

Admittedly, this is a heterodox position; most people would derisively dismiss it. The underlying assumption is that wealthy people do not need more money or institutional advantages. Most refutations would cite the imperative of actual need, especially if people lack necessities. There is some veracity to this argument, but the United States is not on par with the plight of a third-world country. Only 10.5 percent of households in 2020 suffered from “food insecurity”; in 2021, the United States outranked Germany in food security. Overall, impoverished people in the United States are better off than their counterparts abroad. While the wealthy may have market power and the connections to exert their political influence, the stakes for the average person in the US are often embellished. 

The belief that wealth inequality is the only determining factor in assessing the morality of voters acting in their self-interest is a fallacy. This suggests that the ethical responsibility for advocating and selecting bad policies (at the referendum level) is only subject to the size of a voter’s bank account. While a single vote is inconsequential in an election, a myriad of like-minded citizens voting in unison is a formidable coalition. Should these individuals be excused for electing representatives and choosing government programs that bankrupt this country or get us tangled in another foreign war? It would be reasonable to suggest no. Ultimately, neither the billionaire nor the average citizen truly cares about what is best for the country, only what benefits their interest. In the consumer market, this is not an issue, as acting in your interest does not require a redistribution of resources. In contrast, the same cannot be said about the political marketplace. 

Bootleggers & Baptists: XVI: Terrorism and Prediction Markets

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The program was derided by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, some of whom called it “bizarre,” “unbelievably stupid” and “offensive.” Rumsfeld himself said he canceled the program “an hour after I read about it.” ( Wired ,July 2003)

Commonly, government programs engender partisanship and opportunism. Political actors are more successful to capitalize on such initiatives are controversial. This effect is only magnified when the program is headed by a polarizing figure. One prevalent example of this was DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) used Prediction Markets to gather intelligence on future geopolitical events. Once more contentious questions such as terrorist attacks and assassination attempts ended up being addressed, the program began to be publicly criticized.

 PAM (Policy Analysis Market) implemented by the Information Awareness Office, a counter-terrorism project ran by DARPA. PAM operated like a future exchanges market for predicting the likelihood of geopolitical events. Including but not limited to terrorist attacks. At various phases of the program, participants (consultation firms, colleges, think tanks) were provided a sum of money to “wager” on the likelihood of certain political events happening (p.77). Those with accurate answers were awarded a larger sum of money.

Figure 1

E.g.) Phase I: Participants were provided $100,000 by the IAO to wager and awarded $750,000 for accurate predictions (p.77).

Mirroring the model used in both past and future prediction markets. Dating back to Robin Hanson first pioneering prediction markets while consulting on project Xanadu in the late-1980s, these markets have always been an incentive-driven phenomenon. It is one thing to claim certainty, but it is another to be willing to die on that hill. Especially when money is on the line. Effectively aligning incentives towards accuracy and rigorous research versus armchair speculation. The objective being the firm, organization, or government department hosting the market with aggregate a large cache of quality information (p.76).In the field of counter-terrorism having averaging consensus from a variety of sources is crucial to avoid engaging the wrong target. Such mistakes will incur costs much greater than monetary losses.

As groundbreaking and innovative as PAM was invariably the program garnered some criticism that eventually devolved into outright censure. Academics and bureaucrats “betting” on the aptitude of terrorist activities and political revolts transpiring may be unsettling from a prima facie standpoint. Particularly if taken at face value with no further analysis. Arguably the criticism of PAM intensified due to the IAO’s controversial director, John Poindexter. Poindexter rose to infamy from his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal of the Regan administration. Even though all of the insiders of the project acknowledged that Poindexter had little involvement in PAM (P. 6, footnote 7), most of the backlash was directed at him. The fury of pundits, media outlets, and the general public caused Poindexter to resign in the summer of 2003. Leaving the PAM project permanently defunct.

The advocacy and opposition to the implementation of PAM as a means of aggregating intelligence on sensitive matters is no doubt a complex maze of ethical and pragmatic arguments. The use of prediction markets for gathering information for defense planning is just like another government policy, the impact is not neutral. Meaning that keeping or eliminating the program will create disparate consequences. Typically favoring one subset of economic agents over another. Individuals will bear the “expected costs (p.38) imposed by the impact of the policy. For example, a government program may create jobs for individuals that are politically connected. However, this is generally at the expense of the taxpayer. Vice versa, abolishing a program will eliminate jobs for the clerks and managers operating the department. The impact of policy always affects some individuals positively and others negatively. All political policies involve the transfer of benefits from one party to another.

Considering the non-neutral nature of policy, it would be justifiable to apply Bruce Yandle’s concept of Bootleggers and Baptists to the political pressure to abandon the PAM program. Yes, there were some ethical concerns regarding the prospect of having people “wager” on terrorist attacks. It would be naïve to believe that all the opprobrium was motivated by morality. Much how skilled consultants can profit from participating in a Prediction Market, many actors can also do so by dismantling such a program. Beneficiaries ranging from media outlets to opportunistic politicians. The political opportunism was multilayered including enemies of the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and even direct adversaries of John Poindexter. Proving an opportunity for democrats to temporarily shed their anti-patriotic veneer, to admonish these “conservatives” for making light of national security threats. Yet, the credulous public seldomly questions this moral browbeating. On the surface, these criticisms sound valid. Since when have politicians previously disinterested in national security matters are suddenly deeply invested in the integrity of defense intelligence? As Machiavelli pointed out in The Prince appearances are more important than actual principles in politics (p.42).

The Baptists

It is exceedingly difficult to designate one side of the coalition as a pure Baptist in the public outrage campaign surrounding PAM. The self-interest of the media, politicians, resident experts within the government is glaringly obvious. The potential for Dual-Role Actors (economic agents that benefit materially, but simultaneously sincerely believe the moral argument) in this coalition dynamic exists. However, is muddied by the perverse incentives to use strawman, ad hominem, and other logical fallacies to denigrate the program. The adversaries of PAM had a lot to gain through defaming the program. Not a whole lot of utility to extract from testing the validity of the results. Since the average constituent is not going to care too much about the granular details of the program. Rather be fixated on their visceral reaction to the ethical considerations of “betting” terrorist attacks.

Regardless, of whether moral advocacy is misguided or ill-informed, nevertheless, it is still a normative position. The average citizen happens to be the proverbial Baptist in this coalition dynamic. Any expression of disgust or moral indignation was sincere with little to no observable benefit from ending the program (dispersed costs, concentrated benefits). Even if the public’s concern was stoked by the slanted framing of the program, it still does not lessen make their concerns any less earnest. In the absence of further context, a group of contractors and academics participating in a gambling pool predicting terrorist attacks does sound grotesque. Since gambling is considered a form of entertainment appears to trivialize the severity of contentious situations that could result in the loss of lives. For the honest concern for these moral considerations, the average voter is our Baptist.

One great irony was that one of the academics deeply involved in the project narrowed down the reasonable ethical concerns in a peer-reviewed paper years after PAM had been dismantled. It was none other than prediction markets pioneer Robin Hanson. Hanson citing the following as prevalent concerns of the program:

  • “…The first concern expressed—that of replacing professionals with amateurs..” (p.82)
  • “…The second fear expressed was that bad guys would be willing to make losing

trades to mislead us..” (p.82).

  • “..The third main fear expressed was that bad guys might be rewarded for doing bad things..” (p.83). E.g.) Al-Qaeda’s meddling with airline stocks in the 9/11 attacks.

Hanson tactfully addresses all these concerns explaining how much of these concerns are the result of misconception. Like how the media coverage of the program generated several misconceptions regarding the function and purpose of PAM.

The Bootleggers

Several various individuals and groups stand to benefit from a sensationalized portrayal of the PAM program. One of the more salient examples would be the media. Media outlets are a business much like another, the incentive is to maximize profits. Logically this premise is cogent to anyone with even a small amount of exposure to economics. This controversy emerged in the primordial era of social media (Myspace being founded in 2003). The internet did exist but did not present any true competition to televised and print news media. For media outlets to have a story as jarring as the government funding a macabre gambling bracket trivializing serious events, instant goldmine. That is the type of story that sells publications. It has all the elements of a good conspiratorial techno-thriller. One only needs to consider the success of Tom Clancy to know how stories of geopolitical/government intrigue are lucrative. It could be argued that the media is merely the messenger, if they happen to profit from the event, it is a natural consequence of the event. How the information is presented and sways public opinion. If news reports are worded in a manner that is hostile towards the program, this will influence public opinion. Creating a feedback loop, inciting the ire of the Baptists while concurrently profiting. This would be an excellent example of the Bootleggers tacitly inciting the indignation of the Baptists.

Another subset of Bootleggers would be the politicians who spoke out against PAM. A book could be written about the political motives guiding the strategy condemnation of the program by various politicians. As previously mentioned, the layers of political opposition operate on a continuum of scale. Varying from individual grudges, contention between political factions, and even opposition to the sitting president at the time (George W. Bush). Despite the complexities of various political considerations, speaking out publicly about a controversial government program fosters a positive public image. Especially for politicians who were affiliated with the Democratic party. During the Bush administration, Democrats were perceived as being soft on terrorism. At a time where terrorism was a hot-button issue, speaking out against counter-terrorism measures was tantamount to political suicide. The whole PAM debacle presented an opportunity for a clean slate. An opportunity to capitalize on a misstep made by the Bush administration and to feed into the fears of the public. Paralleling the Bootlegger –Baptist feedback mechanism generated by the media. See below for a shining example of such sanctimonious posturing:

For instance,” Mr. Wyden said, ”you may think early on that Prime Minister X is going to be assassinated. So you buy the futures contracts for 5 cents each. As more people begin to think the person’s going to be assassinated, the cost of the contract could go up, to 50 cents.

‘The payoff, if he’s assassinated, is $1 per future. So if it comes to pass, and those who bought at 5 cents make 95 cents. Those who bought at 50 cents make 50 cents.’ (Senator Ron Wyden (D), NYT July 2003).

Your Car is Not Your Castle- Part III: Post- Cooper

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The post-Cooper case precedence removes the one core restriction established in Carroll. The elimination of the standard of a search being proximal to a traffic stop only further provides more fodder for the justification of extending warrantless searches. Making Cooper arguably a pivotal case in the advancement of the Fourth Amendment Law on vehicle searches. Consequential, throwing out this one requirement serves only to further erode our Constitutional right to privacy. Even the jurisprudence behind the plain view doctrineand probable cause is at best questionable from a normative standpoint. Upholding the limitation of onsite warrantless searches could at least be perceived as a fair compromise between civil libertarians and criminal justice conservatives.

All cases from Cooper on the standard of “appurtenance” of a search to being detained were served. Divorcing these two variables further expands the ability of code enforcement officers to commence warrantless searches of automobiles. Even after the defendant has been incarcerated. Such expansive interpretation of the doctrines involving warrantless searches of vehicles degrades the rights guarded under the Fourth Amendment. Criminating evidence discovered with a substantial probable cause at least has some grounds for permissibility. Allowing searches after detention by police bring down a treacherous slippery slope that can only be exacerbated by further judicial innovation.

Dyke V. Taylor Implement Manufacturing Company Inc (1968)

The incident serving as the basis for this case stemmed from the events that transpired on February 25, 1966. It was purported that petitioners Dyke, McKinney, and Blackwell were riding in a vehicle implicated in a shooting. The automobile drove past the home of Lloyd Duckett, a nonstriking employee of “Taylor Implement”. Duckett’s son-in-law who was standing in the front yard of the property saw the shots come from the vehicle and fired back with his pistol. Subsequently, he reported the incident to Monroe County police. Police then spotted that they presumed met Ellis’s (Duckett’s son-in-law) description and chased the car. The speeding vehicle was eventually stopped and the occupants were sent to the local jail. While the defendants sat in jail local police searched the automobile. The officers came across an air rifle underneath the front seat of the car. Even at the trial, it was noted that:

“…the case against petitioners was ‘premised entirely upon circumstantial evidence’ but that nonetheless he had ‘no trouble at all with the proof which I have heard and I have weighed it in its severest form, that the charges made must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt….”

Invariably the petitioners were found to be guilty by the court. The defendants were sentenced to ten days in jail and a fifty-dollar fine. The Tennessee State Supreme Court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the evidence against them had been seized illegally. Since the air rifle was obtained when the defendants were incarcerated. However, the court did find that the officers did not face sufficient probable cause to stop and then search the car. Because the arresting officers lacked a complete description of the offending vehicle. Citing Brinegar v. the United States the Supreme court ruled that the evidence had been obtained illegally. Forcing the court to find the evidence of the air rifle seized in the search to be inadmissible in search. It would be a mistake to even perceive this court decision as even a small victory for Fourth Amendment advocates. This court ruling reads more like a technicality than jurisprudence aiming to insulate our right to unjust searches by the long arm of the law. Any judgment against the inferences of the officers was made about the flimsy evidence justifying their intervention versus Fourth Amendment concerns.

Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970)

The events leading to the complaints in Chambers V. Maroney transpired on May 20, 1963. 

A blue station wagon containing four occupants, one wearing a trench coat and a green sweater was stopped by police. Matching the description of two men implicated in the robbery of a Pennsylvania gas station the occupants were arrested. There was a trench coat found and the vehicle and one occupant wearing a green sweatshirt. After the car was seized, it was taken to the police station and subsequently searched by authorities. During the search, the police discovered two pistols in the glove compartment and business cards from another gas station that had been recently burglarized.

In Chambers, it was found that the warrantless search of the car obtaining the handguns and business cards was lawful. However, the search failing on the dimension of appurtenance cannot be “..justified..”. Since the search had no connection to the “.. incident to the arrest..”. The spurious nature of the legal justification was outweighed by the probable cause logically substantiating the need to search for stolen property. Due to the mobile nature of cars if there is probable cause it is imperative that the vehicle is searched (citing Carroll). Arguably the most fatal reasoning in Chambers was that location of the search was inconsequential to any Fourth Amendment concerns.

“…Given probable cause, there is no difference under the Fourth Amendment between (1) seizing and holding a car before presenting the issue of probable cause to a magistrate, and (2) carrying out an immediate warrantless search…”

Demonstrating that whatever “gains” were made in Dyke were only illusory. If there was any impact made in Dyke was ineffectual if the case even moved the needle at all. As previously noted, the court weighed scant evidence for the stop and search than any civil liberty concerns. Since Dyke lacked any true fidelity to Preston, it can be seen as inert and inconsequential in the advancement of protecting the Fourth Amendment. The lack of resistance to relinquishing the appurtenance requirement for warrantless searches makes Chambers merely a continuation of the logic held in Cooper.

Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973)– The Birth of the Community Care Taking Doctrine

Cady V. Dombrowski ended up being a seminal case in the evolution of the jurisprudence of Fourth Amendment law. Arising from the decision was the foundation for the legal construct of the Community Care Taking Doctrine. Over time this doctrine has become another tool in facilitating legal warrantless searches. Despite the notable observation that an individual does have a lower expectation of privacy in their car versus their house; it is reasonable to question the veracity of the care-taking functions conferred by the court to police officers. The circumstances surrounding the development of this doctrine appear to be indicative of what many jurists refer to as “..legislating from the bench..”. The advancement of expansive doctrines through case operates as an informal form of lawmaking. The court’s historical disregard for our Fourth Amendment rights on motor vehicles is disturbing. The genesis of the Community Care Taking Doctrine serves to provide another justification instead of necessary limitations.

The Cady decision was spurred by an incident that occurred just outside of a small town in Wisconsin. The defendant had crashed his rented vehicle and was determined by responding officers to be intoxicated. He was then taken to the hospital and subsequently arrested on charges of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. The defendant’s vehicle was towed to a garage several miles away from the police station. The next day, police commence a search of the unguarded vehicle after being informed the arrested respondent was a Chicago police officer, in an attempt to recover his service revolver. The officers found substantial evidence linking the respondent to potential murder.

“…search of the car and found in the trunk several items, some bloodied, which he removed. Later, on receipt of additional information emanating from the respondent, a blood-stained body was located on the respondent’s brother’s farm in a nearby county. Thereafter, through the windows of a disabled Dodge which respondent had left on the farm before renting the Ford, an officer observed other bloodied items. Following the issuance of a search warrant, materials were taken from the Dodge, two of which (a sock and floor mat) were not listed in the return on the warrant among the items seized..” (Justia)

The defendant refuted the evidence obtained in the vehicle search during his murder trial through a habeas corpus action. The court of appeals ended up overturning the judgment of the courts. Viewing as the evidence linking the defendant to the murder as unconstitutional obtained. However, this was not even remotely a Fourth Amendment victory. The court may have perceived the evidence procured in the search as being inadmissible, but the search in itself was not outside the bounds of reasonable action. Ruling that the search of the automobile itself was imperative for securing public interest. Mainly from the standpoint of the safety of the general public.

“…The warrantless search of the Ford did not violate the Fourth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth. The search was not unreasonable, since the police had exercised a form of custody of the car, which constituted a hazard on the highway, and the disposition of which by the respondent was precluded by his intoxicated and later comatose condition; and the revolver search was standard police procedure to protect the public from a weapon’s possibly falling into improper hands. Preston v. the United States, 376 U. S. 364, distinguished; Harris v. the United States, 390 U. S. 234, followed. Pp. 413 U. S. 439-448…” (Justia).

Removing the disabled vehicle from the road, especially if it was blocking access to a roadway presents a conundrum. The vehicle needs to be removed due to the car obstructing traffic. Even property rights purists (even if the ethical disagree with the police moving the vehicle) can logically deduce the rationale for doing so. The question of whether the road was a public or private roadway comes into play. Splitting hairs over such minute points is outside the scope of my analysis. It can begrudgingly acquiesce that there may be grounds to justify moving the car. However, the search for the service revolver was an overreach. If our cars can be searched merely for some vague “public interest” purpose it becomes difficult to place effective limitations on these justifications. Especially when terms like “public good” or “public interest” fail any measurable metric of objectivity. Making public safety measures mirror many of the fallacies that plague welfare economics. What is advantageous to one man is detrimental to another, unless adequate compensation is provided. The ambiguity of these qualitative terms is precisely is what lends them to the reasoning for the expansion of constructs such as the Community Care Taking Doctrine.