Group Games

Leaders are rarely purely interested in the good of the group.  So leaders do not respond predictably to incentives aimed at groups.  It seems odd, therefore, that Schelling thought that hurting civilians might change the minds of leaders. Worry instead about the incentives of leaders.

Backwardness of law

Outside the Law

This demonstrates for me everything about economists that makes them superior to lawyers. The myopia of the lawyer and the breadth of vision of the economist.

Yes, it is possible for institutions not to follow the law. It is possible for laws to be written to be broken. You might think it would take a poet to realize that; or perhaps a lawyer, that great cross-examiner of witnesses, before an economist. What do technocrats know about the complexities of behavior, about dissembling and treachery?

But in the event it is the economists who present as ten times more humanist than the lawyers and shrewder judges of the soul. And it is the lawyers who present as robotic and shallow in their judgements. But how can this not be the case? The lawyers are invested in the power of the text. And not even a metaphorical text, like priests, but a literal text! They are invested in literalism, shallowness, and superficiality. Without it they have no claim to value and no professional respect.

So they will look at you and say, without the slightest irony, that if you read the text carefully the Fed had the power to bail out Lehman Brothers. As if, as if, as if what the text says has any first order relevance in determining what happens in the world.  As between the devotees of the written rules and the devotees of the unwritten rules, I choose the latter.


Adverse Selection in Insurance

Saying that adverse selection in insurance is a problem to be eliminated because it frustrates marginal cost pricing is like saying that R&D fixed costs leading to innovation and product improvement are a problem to be eliminated because they frustrate marginal cost pricing.



Don’t disdain those passed,
Thou no diff’rence from them hast;
Don’t admire the past.

Meta World

A Philosophy of War

Ask yourself: if all the military power in the world were controlled by a just ruler, how would it be deployed?

Support deployments of force whenever they coincide with the virtuous plan and oppose deployments of force whenever they fail to coincide with the virtuous plan.

So, for example, if a just ruler in charge of the world’s military power, including the U.S. army, would send in the U.S. army to save Syria, then you must advocate the sending in of the U.S. army to save Syria.

Objection: but you can’t trust the Americans to do the right thing once they’re involved!  Reply: according to my rule, you should advocate the sending in of the Americans to do the right thing.  If you don’t think they’ll do the right thing (in the sense that they’ll do what a virtuous ruler would do), then you shouldn’t advocate sending them in.  My rule is fine with that.

The rule is intended as a refutation of blanket rejectionists of all American military involvement in anything under all circumstances.  Suppose that you think that the U.S. government never ever means well toward anyone.  But suppose that it looks like, due to incompetence or luck, the U.S. government is about to engage in a military intervention that is precisely what justice calls for.  The fact that the U.S. government is behind it shouldn’t matter a lick.  You should support the intervention.  But only, of course, so long as it fully complies with the virtuous plan.

This might be an argument for the American intervention in Libya in 2011.

You might, of course, conclude that a just ruler would never use military force.  But once you pause to consider how the angels of justice would bear arms, it starts to become a lot easier to imagine just conflicts.  It seems more likely to me that you might conclude that there are plenty of just deployments of force, but no real military can ever be trusted to execute any of them, inadvertently or not.

Now, the rise of the war machines might make a difference to you, however, because with time one assumes that it will be possible to exert the finest control over their behavior.

Still, whoever is running them will have to want the right behaviors.


Poetry and Unfamiliar Language

Poetry is neither word painting nor the use of unfamiliar locutions for their own sake.  It is the charming and precise conveyance of ideas.  That poetry may use words in unfamiliar ways happens because poetry sometimes deals in ideas that have never been put to words before.


Poetry and Science

Poetry is the art of recognizing peculiar structures in nature.  You don’t understand the structure, you just recognize it.  Some people spy out the four leaf clover; you, poet, spy out the four leaf relationship, the four leaf justification.

It is very difficult to do this.  Years later a scientist may come to describe and understand the relationship; when this happens, it is appropriate for the scientist to quote the poem at the beginning of her article on the subject.


In Paradise Regained, Milton writes:

Upon my head, long the decrees of Heav’n
Delay, for longest time to him is short

I : 55-56.

He’s captured the notion of the immeasurability of time.  When Kant comes to describe this in Critique of Pure Reason, it would be appropriate for him to quote those lines.


The Moral Rate of Legal-Technical Substitution

There are many things that should be illegal that the law need not proscribe because humanity lacks the power to do the thing.  As technology advances and humanity acquires the power to do more things, this set of things that need not be proscribed shrinks.  The law must be at the frontier between what can be done and what cannot, substituting rule whenever another bad thing comes up into the light of science.

In general, there is this rule: As technology advances, the importance of law increases.  As our power increases, our discipline must increase.  Eventually, there will be no natural laws left to bind us, only human laws.  Laws; but no laws of physics.

Legal education

Disobedience in the Law School Curriculum

The study of disobedience should be a core part of the law school curriculum.  Instead, law schools pretend that all rules get followed, or, at least, that all rules should be followed.  So teaching the rules is for them enough.  This is ridiculous.  Not only is it fact that many rules don’t get followed by courts and other government administrators, or get selectively or imperfectly enforced, it is also the case that this can be a good thing.  Congress cannot see the future or adjudicate in advance every case to which its rules will be applied.  So implementing its intent often involves disobeying the letter of its laws.  A good lawyer must be able to predict what rules will get enforced and what rules will not get enforced and know how to argue for and against enforcement.  Indeed, a great deal of legal practice involves no more than this.  Yet a lawyer receives zero training for this in today’s law schools.

Is teaching lawyers disobedience dangerous or immoral because they may use it to pervert justice rather than achieve it?  The fact that the law is non self executing and imperfectly enforced means that lawyers have much discretion in their behavior.  And where there is discretion there is ambit for ethics and morality.  But if law schools have no course directed to disobedience they certainly do not teach lawyers how to exercise their discretion in a moral fashion.  If we pretend that all lawyers should follow the law when we know that they do not and sometimes should not, then we miss the opportunity to teach them when it is morally right for them to do so and when it is morally wrong.  If you deny the reality of disobedience, then there is no hope of addressing it.

What a lawyer needs is a course on cultural attitudes toward disobedience.  When does it get noticed, when not?  What does it do to the social and political standing of the client?  When is it required as a moral matter and when not?  When is it advisable as a business matter and when not?  How do you identify rules that are likely to be enforced and when not?

I recall reading somewhere that planners call dirt paths that appear in parks “desire lines” because they show you where park users wish to have paved roads.  We might sometimes think of areas of disobedience as legal desire lines, reflecting areas in which the public desires non enforcement.  And often gets it, if, for example, the sheer volume of disobedience overwhelms enforcers.   A good course in disobedience  might teach lawyers how to identify legal desire lines to which enforcers have acquiesced and help guide clients through them.  Assuming, of course, as a moral or policy matter, we think that the public’s desire should be respected.


The Rhythm of Lovelace

I don’t like this scansion of Lovelace’s To Althea, From Prison.  The lines all have four stressed syllables, I think, rather than alternating four and three.  At least, they sound better when I read them that way.

When LOVE | with UN | con FIN | ed WINGS
Hov ERS | with IN | my GATES

doesn’t work.  It’s got to be

When LOVE | with UN | con FIN | ed WINGS
HOVers | with IN | MY GATES

. Maybe the stress in 17th century English was on the ERS in Hovers.  But today that just sounds ridiculous.  And anyway, moving from tetrameter to trimeter sounds terrible and must have four hundred years ago.  The lines read so much better with four downbeats each.  And it’s not hard to find four downbeats in the line so long as you stop worrying about retaining the iambs and embrace spondees.

The same is true for the rest of the poem.

We recast this reading of the next two lines,

And MY | div INE | Al THE | a BRINGS
To WHIS | per AT | the GRATES

, to get

And MY | div INE | Al THE | a BRINGS

. The double downbeat at the end echoes the double downbeat at the end of the first two lines.

The next two lines,

When I | lie TANG | led IN | her HAIR
And FET | tered TO | her EYE

, become:

When I | lie TANG | led IN | her HAIR
And FET | tered TO | HER EYE

And the last,

The BIRDS | that WAN | ton IN | the AIR
Know NO | such LIB | er TY

, becomes:

The BIRDS | that WAN | ton IN | the AIR
KNOW NO | such LIB | er TY.

I find this scansion very satisfying.  The alternating of regular and irregular meter while preserving the number of downbeats puts the meter slightly off balance without making it messy, saving us from the monotony of consistent meter without losing the music that meter lends to the poem.  Photographers are suppose to frame a subject off center in the picture to drag the eye across the image and avoid cancelling its power through symmetry.  This scansion does that.

It works even better in To Lucasta, Going to the Warres:

Tell me | NOT,  SWEET, | I AM | un KIND,
THAT FROM | the NUN | ne RY
Of THY | chaste BREAST | and QUI | et MIND
TO WAR | and ARMS | I FLY.

TRUE, a | new MIS | tress NOW | I CHASE,
And WITH | a STRON | ger FAITH | em BRACE,

Yet THIS | in CON | stan CY | is SUCH
I COULD | not LOVE | thee, DEAR, | so MUCH,
LOV ed I | not HON | or MORE.