Bill Clinton Supports Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton is now offering something resembling support for same-sex marriage:

After speaking at the Campus Progress National Conference in Washington, DC, on July 8, the former president was asked if he supported same-sex marriage. Clinton, in a departure from past statements, replied in the affirmative.

Clinton opposed same-sex marriage during his presidency, and in 1996, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which limited federal recognition of marriage to one man and one woman. In May of this year, Clinton told a crowd at Toronto’s Convention Centre that his position on same-sex marriage was “evolving.” [ed. note: more commonly described as gauging the political winds]

Apparently, Clinton’s thinking has now further evolved. Asked if he would commit his support for same-sex marriage, Clinton responded, “I’m basically in support.”

Any guesses on whether the key word is basically or support in his statement? You don’t need proof, but here it is:

This spring, same-sex marriage was legalized in Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire. In his most recent remarks on the subject, Clinton said, “I think all these states that do it should do it.” The former president, however, added that he does not believe that same-sex marriage is “a federal question.”

I’m supposed to get excited because Bill Clinton endorsed the status quo?

Of course, because it’s not only a Clinton, but the Clinton, organized advocacy groups must fawn over these statements as if the the common meanings of words are irrelevant.

“Bill Clinton joins other important public figures in stepping solidly into the twenty-first century in support of same-sex marriage equality,” said the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s executive director Rea Carey. “We certainly hope other elected officials, including President Obama, join him in clearly stating their support for equality in this country. Same-sex couples should not have to experience second-class citizenship.”

He’s not stepping “solidly” into the twenty-first century. He’s dipped his toe in the late twentieth century to test whether he can continue coasting on perceptions rather than actions. Hence, his endorsement of treating same-sex couples like second-class citizens for federal purposes.

[From the libertarian perspective, of course the state shouldn’t be involved in marriage. It is, and that’s not changing any time soon. Thus, federal recognition is a defensible goal.]

Via Conor Clarke, guest-blogging at The Daily Dish. He has more faith than I do that Clinton is “on the right side of this issue.”

Another Reason I Don’t Live in D.C.

I’ll preface this entry with the update from the article. What the Councilman proposes is – unsurprisingly – not lawful. Maybe that’ll change, maybe not. It should count as an extra strike against the councilman, regardless.

So, the proposal:

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) introduced a resolution today to rename Girard Park in Columbia Heights “Barack Hussein Obama Park.”

The recent renovated park, located at 14th Street and Girard, features a basketball court and play equipment.

“The park is a jewel,” Graham said. “I think the overwhelming point of view that has been expressed is that park should be renamed in honor of our president.”

How many of the idiots who propose (and support) such nonsense complained when Republicans demanded that every structure within the Washington, DC metro area be renamed to honor Reagan when he died? At least those lunatics had the ability to understand that waiting until the man died was necessary. Here, we’re just mythologizing the man with the most influence over ongoing policy. That’s dangerous.

To mock it appropriately, let’s start a Barack Obama Facts meme. I’m not connected to the Internets right now, since President Obama hasn’t gotten around to my right to universal broadband yet, so I can’t check that it doesn’t yet exist. I’m sure it does. Whatever. Here’s my entry:

Barack Obama can visit your park without leaving the White House.

That may not be a joke, so let’s have a care with small-r republicanism, please.

Via DCist.

The Market Does(n’t) Produce Non-Smoking Bars

Pulling again from the month-old-but-still-interesting Internet archives, Megan McArdle w;rote about smoking bans and the apparent market failure to produce the desired outcome commonly professed

Henry Farrell’s interesting post on smoking bans reminds me of an ongoing question that I have never heard a libertarian answer satisfactorily. Smoking in bars and so forth is dangerous to bystanders who have pulmonary disease (the dangers of secondhand smoke to those who are not already breathing-impaired seem to be largely mythical). It’s noxious to some other number of people who do not smoke. The libertarian rejoinder to the smoking bans is that bars could choose not to smoke if people wanted it. But in practice, despite the fact that smokers are a minority, and most people hate it, almost no establishment went non-smoking without government fiat.

I don’t see the flaw. People profess to want a lot of things. They don’t always back those claims with corresponding actions.

Here, the libertarian rejoinder should be that those who have pulmonary disease are not entitled to a smoke-free bar environment provided by another person. The same applies to healthy people (like me) who find cigarette smoke abhorrent. When bars were filled with smoke and I didn’t want to inhale smoke, I didn’t give smoke-filled bars my business. Since they survived, I assume enough people didn’t mind the smoke as they said or valued the overall bar experience more.

Lest I give you the impression that I’m trying to educate Ms. McArdle, she mostly gets to the same place in her next paragraph.

This seems like a market failure. You can explain it through preference asymmetry and the profitability of various customer classes: heavy drinkers are more likely to also be heavy smokers, and they are the most profitable customers. Bar owners don’t want big groups of people who are going to take up three tables for an hour and a half while nursing one white wine spritzer apiece. They want people who are there to drink. In a competitive equilibrium, they couldn’t afford to go non-smoking because they’d lose their most profitable customers to all the other bars.

Like I said, I don’t see the flaw. This is the free market responding. Want a smoke-free bar but none exist? Open a smoke-free bar. If there’s a market for it, it will survive without the force of a ban.

Again, Ms. McArdle understands this. But her last paragraph adds an incorrect assumption that allows her to get the idea that there is a flaw in libertarian thinking (emphasis added):

You can explain it, but this doesn’t seem like a good market outcome by any measure. Let me be clear, I’m still against the smoking ban, even though I personally vastly prefer smoke-free environments; I think interfering with property rights like this has even heavier costs. But I also recognize that I’m in a minority. And I think that politically, if not intellectually, the success of smoking bans is a heavy blow to libertarian credibility.

There are only market outcomes here. Good is a subjective evaluation, a declaration that what one expects to occur should occur. But why should it? People who like to smoke and drink in bars probably wouldn’t deem voluntary smoking bans a good outcome. Why don’t their opinions factor into good? I conclude that, while smokers are a minority, people who will tolerate smoking while having (or serving) a beer are not.

Fear for Sale

This entry by Patri Friedman is old in Internet terms (i.e. one whole month), but it’s timeless and interesting. I can’t do it justice without posting it all, I think, so here it is:

Among my many contrarian beliefs, I don’t believe in pandemics. Not that they haven’t happened, or that they can’t happen, but that incipient pandemics reported by the CDC, WHO, and the media are fearmongering and blown way out of proportion. SARS, bird flu, and swine flu are the most recent examples.

Here is the problem. The CDC and WHO exist to fight global health issues. Having them report on the dangers of pandemics is like asking the American Association of Sleep Doctors whether people are getting enough sleep. They have a huge incentive to find danger. Combined with media sensationalism, the result is a lot of bullshit.

In typical govt agency fashion, the approach is sneakily win-win. If the pandemic materializes, it is blamed on nature and inadequate funding – the agencies did the best they could. Surely you can’t short them in the budget now! If it doesn’t materialize, it was due to their noble efforts, and they deserve at least cost of living raises. Either way, more supposed threats gives more opportunities for wins.

Its too bad that prediction markets don’t seem to work in practice (only a narrow set of topics produces the trader interest required for liquidity and good estimates), because conditional policy markets (“how many people will die of the flu if the CDC budget is $XXM next year?”) are a theoretically great answer. Funding these agencies like traditional nonprofits, accountable to their donors, rather than via politicians spending other people’s money, would be a step in the right direction.

Every word is relevant to the way WHO, CDC, and the media treat circumcision and HIV. If we don’t circumcise every male from birth, 25 trillion people will become infected with HIV next year. Because it’s the foreskin, not unsafe sex, that leads to HIV transmission. No matter what, though, know that the data will tell the story the organizations want to tell.

I find the prediction market idea fascinating, too. In this context, I’d take a large short position that HIV rates will decrease as predicted among the newly circumcised men and children in Africa.

We Could Treat Them Like Adults

This Washington Post editorial from Sunday is discouraging in its call for authoritarianism:

SOME THINGS only seem like a good idea at 3 a.m. Increasingly, the Amethyst Letter, which more than 100 college presidents and chancellors signed last year to advocate rethinking the drinking age, looks like one of them. A study just published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that binge drinking has decreased nationwide with the increased drinking age — everywhere but on college campuses.

Because of an obvious flaw, my response is something akin to “yeah, so?”. College students are overwhelmingly not children and adolescents. This is a critical point, soon to be ignored without justification by the Post. But first:

Those on college campuses who favor a lower drinking age point out that students will decide to drink regardless of the law, and forcing them to do so in secret and illegally will make behaviors such as binge drinking harder to monitor. …

Probably, but that’s not the only – or best – justification for lowering the drinking age to 18.

… But outside college campuses, where underage drinking is clearly prohibited, young people more often have made the decision not to drink.

So let’s prohibit college, if drinking is that appalling. Or we could maybe consider whether a lower drinking age, and perhaps the supervised assimilation of those under 18 into responsible alcohol consumption, will reduce binge drinking. The Post doesn’t bother to consider it here. Why?

… This, in turn, has helped drive down drunk driving, assault and other unsafe behaviors. …

Citation for the causal link, please.

… For further proof, college administrators should consider their drug policies; the perception that drug use will not be tolerated can and does influence students’ choices.

Have the Post’s editors ever experienced college in America?

All that is to establish credibility for the call to increase control.

The journal’s study drives home the fact that, when young people know that the law will be upheld, they adjust their behavior. It’s time for college administrators to stop passing the buck to the drinking age and start taking their in loco parentis role more seriously. Instead of complaining about the drinking age, they should try enforcing it.

College students are overwhelmingly not children and adolescents. They are legally adults. They (presumably) attend college to learn. They are not at college to replace one parent with another.

More importantly, again I must wonder if the Post’s editors have ever experienced college. During my time at Virginia Tech, administrators, via the campus police, enforced the drinking age. Of course this wasn’t effective at stopping binge (or non-binge) drinking. It merely drove it behind closed doors. This is predictable. The only way to further enforce drinking laws would require invasions of privacy not currently accepted. CCTV in all dorm rooms, anyone? Breathalyzers installed in any car registered for campus parking? Is this what the Post wants, because it is the only way to achieve what it advocates here? How far is too far for in loco parentis?

Or we could treat college students like adults capable of making decisions. Regardless of whether we approve of their decisions, until they harm someone, those decisions are rightfully theirs.