Breeched Wales Bloviating in the Hot Sun

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Did John Locke Model Property Rights Correctly?

I have devised an example, which follows property rights rules in accordance to Locke, and yet it strikes me as unjust.

A primitive community lives on a island. Their only source of water is a spring in a large field at the base of the mountain and to it's south. The spring is at the bottom of a depression and the sides leading down into the spring are treacherous and unimproved. Everyone in the community freely visits the spring to obtain drinking water. The land around the spring is uncultivated; no one bothers because of all the traffic to and from the spring.

The water running out of the spring only stays at the surface for a short while before resuming it's underground journey. The soil is very porous being made of volcanic ash, and pumice. It rarely rains but it is very humid on the island due to proximity to the sea. Mists do settle in the evening on the porous rocks at the top of the volcano and the water then drips deep underground. The only reason the water from the spring even comes to the surface is that the basalt bedrock is close to the surface at the spring. This impervious layer of basalt underlies the volcano but extends into the field only a short way before plunging straight down in an underground cliff. The water of the spring follows this path only appearing at the surface for a short while.

One day a castaway from a more advanced market based society is washed up on shore. He is a very technological oriented fellow and knows the basis of many of the improvements humans have made to their lives over the eons. He soon ingratiates himself to his guests with technological improvements. He is accepted into the community, marries a local, and plans on living the rest of his life there, given his options. This island was not on well-trafficked sea lanes so he doesn’t expect any rescue.

One of his first improvements was to pick the steep end of the spring to the north, which no one was using because of easier paths, and to install a stairway and walkway that greatly improved access. Since this area was not owned and he had mixed his labor with it he claimed it as his own. This was in accordance with local custom regarding huts, and gardens so the local chief let it stand. Individuals were allowed to homestead areas of the island, build structures and gardens, and exclude trespassers. The castaway then started charging others a minor fee for use of his walkway and stairs. Since it was so much more convenient everyone started using it.

After a long period it became apparent that the foot traffic had become more concentrated and orderly. This made the field around the spring open to cultivation. So the castaway removed the unwanted vegetation and started to cultivate the fields around the spring. He also installed a platform that extended out over the spring at the same location as his stairs, with a counterbalanced rope and bucket pulley system. This made fetching water even more efficient, as the user would only need to lift half the weight of the water for each bucket, instead of the full weight of the water plus there was no need to walk up and down the stairs. He started charging individuals for each bucket they fetched in this fashion and used the proceeds to install yet more pulley systems.

The spring was located between two villages. One village was to the northwest and one to the northeast. The footpaths originally beaten into the ground pointed directly out in these two directions, however there was also a direct path between the two villages that ran along the north edge of the field at the base of the mountain. Those two pathways had originally curved down towards the southern edge of the spring where the access was originally the best. So the three pathways formed a triangle with the spring on the interior southern corner of the triangle. The castaway had built his access point on the north end of the spring and walkway that served it ran due north into the originally unused ground at the interior of the triangle. His walkway was perpendicular to the village-to-village path. With this new access point the natural foot traffic shifted to the north with the spring now outside the resulting triangle.

The castaway was cultivating more and more of the land around the northern end of the spring. Everyone appreciated his efforts and tended to stay off his gardens but sometimes the beds closer to the northern entrance would get stepped on. This is when the castaway introduced fences. He decided to protect his beds by building a fence on either side of his walkway. Once installed this solved his problems. Everyone was entering his walkway from the open end at north. He extended this even further making additional land around the spring available for his homesteading.

Occasional stragglers would still sometimes walk on his beds, which were the most productive on the island because of the amount of irrigation the castaway could afford to provide. One of his innovations was to let the natives pay for use of his platform by fetching two pails of water, keeping one and dumping the other an irrigation system placed next to the spring. The castaway decided his crops were just too valuable to leave exposed like this, so he fences in the entire area he homesteaded. Since he had homesteaded all the land that was no longer being used for foot traffic this essentially closed off all points of access to the spring except his walkway. He now owned a defacto monopoly on access to the most valuable water resource on the island. No one complained because he didn’t charge monopoly prices and has vastly improved living conditions on the island. It was better for everyone.

The castaway however is lonely for his old life. Living on the island is pleasant but he missed many of the advantages of his original life. One day a ship arrived at the island. Due to an uprising in another area it had become dangerous to take the old shipping routes, plus a newly discovered area rich in resources put the castaways island along a new trade route. The castaway, after long consideration, decided to sell his holdings and move himself and his family back to his native homeland. He sold his lands to a shipping company which needed both the water and the food that this island could provide for the their trade route.

What happened next, was that, the shipping company started charging monopoly prices. Instead of getting one bucket of water for each delivered the shipping company charged the natives one hundred. Since the natives had no other source of water they essentially became the slaves of the shipping company. Which exploited them to the utmost. Not only for water but also for food production.

Life changed for the islanders. Many felt cheated. They liked their original lifestyle and are not interested in working so hard. Not only that but the more intense harvesting of fish, and other resources is destroying the possibility of living as they had, in a renewable fashion. They have had to make tradeoffs that they would not have had to do if they had free access to water. The shipping company started requiring that they pay a portion of the water fees in wood also and this has resulted in the denuding of the forest that once covered the island. Many of the islanders end up having to take jobs with the shipping company in order to survive. Some end up migrating off the island because opportunities that are better elsewhere.

From the perspective of a Lockean system of homesteading and property ownership it seems that at each step in this tale is just

Now the question is. Were the islanders cheated or not?

My position would be that they were. I think ownership over natural resources can be acquired by means other than "mixing ones labor" with them. I believe that mere usage of them can constitute a claim of ownership.

The response to that might be "ownership by whom?". After all, as originally stated no single native claimed ownership of the resource. It certainly wasn't private property. However, think about it more deeply. One could map what was going on to co-ownership instead of non-ownership. This might especially become apparent if the a chief of the two villages tended to be in charge of local justice and administering common assets. You could think of the entire social structure as a kind of cooperative with group ownership. Perhaps they don't elect the chief by voting, but who is to say voting is the only correct means to determine officials, and perhaps no one ever invented that technology. After all voting is a technology. Furthermore, perhaps they can’t dispose of their "shares" like we can with our corporations but otherwise it has quite a few similarities to a corporation if you think about it. There is mutual ownership and yet a single person, or group of people act as proxies in control of the resource for the true owners.

One of the problems I have with this Lockean homesteading of access to the spring is that the natives have been in truth defrauded. The social norms that were in place at the arrival of the castaway were founded on expectations that were violated in a way that was beyond the sophistication of the natives. The closure of access to the spring was an unexpected strategy. You will note that by the end of the story the castaway had not claimed ownership of the spring but only the land surrounding it. He had defacto ownership but not dejure ownership over the spring. Tricky bastard. The natives may have had concepts of private ownership and homesteading as part of their culture, but just never expected someone to use them in this way. They would be outraged against this behavior and frankly I think they would be absolutely correct in their judgment.

So what do you think? Do I fundamentally misunderstand the Lockean conception of property rights? If I have it correct, and this is a flaw, do all other schools of Libertarian thought on property rights also suffer from the same flaw? As far as I know they do. Why shouldn’t we consider other forms of collective ownership valid, that is, forms other than ones based on transferable stocks and contracts?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Some evidence that torture is not the official US policy

The conclusion I came to on the Abu Girab torture incidents was that it was some loose cannons operating of their own accord, not official US policy. There was not clear cut evidence in that case that it was the policy except for the claim of the perpetrators that they had been ordered to do so by higher ups.

Often when discussing the Abu Girab incident my opponents would then shift to other incidents to show a pattern. One often used was the killing of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush by US Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer. The victim was suffocated in a sleeping bag in this incident.

During the trial, prosecutor Maj. Tiernan Dolan described a rogue interrogator who became frustrated with Mowhoush's refusal to answer questions and escalated his techniques from simple interviews to beatings to simulating drowning, and finally, to death.

"He treated that general worse than you would treat a dog and he did so knowing he was required to treat the general humanely," Dolan said.

Again in this incident the perpetrator claimed that his commanders had approved of his interrogation techique.

Well Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide on Saturday. Which again shows the difference between us and them. However, what is most interesting in this case is the e-mail trail that shows his defense was fabricated.

In an e-mail to a commander, Dolan said, Welshofer wrote that restrictions on interrogation techniques were impeding the Army's ability to gather intelligence. Welshofer wrote that authorized techniques came from Cold War-era doctrine that did not apply in Iraq, Dolan said.

"Our enemy understands force, not psychological mind games," Dolan quoted from Welshofer's message. Dolan said an officer responded by telling Welshofer to "take a deep breath and remember who we are."

In his own words Welshofer admits that there were rules in place that restricted him to the same policies used through-out the cold war. Presumably policys in place under Democratic as well as Republican administrations throughout the era. It also shows that he was aware of them and chose to ignore them.

This does leave me wondering about the commander who wrote this reply. Upon recieving such an email wasn't he the least bit curious to see how these interrogations were being carried out. From the article I get the impression that he dropped the ball on this one, especially given the following from the article.

Welshofer used his sleeping bag technique in the presence of lower ranking soldiers, but never in the presence of officers with the authority to stop him, Dolan said.

It might have been that his superior had popped in for the occasional visit but that Welshofer was actively hiding these techniques by keeping a lookout or doing them when he knew superior officers would not be present. If so then how much effort does it take to find out? Not much I think as he could ask who was involved in the interrogations and then query them as to the worst techniques used. Even better he could have just asked the Iraqi being interrogated and followed up on that.

All in all, I think this is not only a crime on the part of Welshofer but also a failing on the part of the army. It does show a lack of supervision. Clearly an Iraqi General is covered by the Geneva Conventions (assuming Iraq is a signatory), so torture is not allowed regardless of US policy. Officers are instructed in such things and Welshofer should have known that it would be a crime regardless of whether his superiors ordered it or not.

I will conceed that the fact that this was a Iraqi General whereas the Abu Gharib victims may not have been, and that there might have been a different policy for different types of prisoners. It's possible. That's why I titled this article "Evidence that ..." and not "Conclusive evidence that ...".

I do not in reality know what the policy was, not being there, however I don't like the standard of evidence that is being used to convict the Administration. Many of the "deaths in captivity" being counted by those arguing against the Administration were Iraqi soldiers who had died of wounds recieved on the battlefield. If you are going to argue a position at least do so honestly. I understand that who use these statistics to argue are often unaware of such things but I feel it is their responsibility to verify such facts. It is well established that such statistics are often already contain partisan interpretations if not outright deceptions.

How many times have we heard numbers on civilians killed where those citing the statistics count terrorists as civilians? Though it is technically true that terrorists are not soldiers it is deceptive to group them with innocents, as they are certainly not innocent. Frankly, this sort of thing gets me pissed.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Is Intelligent Design a Scientific Theory

In the comments section of an article he wrote David Friedman makes the claim that ID is a scientific theory:

As I argued in a different post on this blog, I think ID does make testable predictions--some of which turn out to be false, such as the prediction that humans don't have an appendix.

ID is not a scientific theory because it specifically does not make predictions. It is only a criticism, and a bad religious one at that.

That one can deduce certain things from a position and then falsify those things does not mean that position is scientific. The Koran states that the sun sets in a muddy pool, and that the Quran is literally true. We know that this is easily disproved empirically. One can also disprove many Christian beliefs both empirically and/or logically. One cannot have an omnescient and omnipotent being due to the inherent contradictions, so any religions theory that holds this as true is disprovable and therefore falsifiable. This doesn't mean Islam or certain brands of Christianity are scientific. A scientific theory cannot be ad-hoc the way these religions are.

By ad-hoc I mean one cannot shift ones position once something is shown to be false. It used to be the ID position that the eye was too complex to have evolved. This has been shown to be false. You'd think the argument (not theory) would be dropped at that point, but no they shift to some other organ or organelle. Now it's the flagella that they claim to be to complex to have evolved, or microcellular processes.

Well that is no theory, it's the same old, if I don't understand it then "God did it". I don't see how ID is any different then saying those words. First we have to show that Zeus doesn't throw lighting, then we have to prove the earth is not flat, then that the sun does not revolve around the earth, each time with assurances that the claimants knew the truth because there was a God and they knew what God had to say on the subjects.

Screw that whole argument. That we do not know exactly how a flagella evolved speaks to our ignorance about that one fact, and not to the existence of a designer.

We have overwhelming evidence that in fact the mechanism called natural selection can operate in ways that produce things that appear to be designed. In fact we can build computer simulations that apply all the relevant aspects of natural selection and the products will indeed look designed. Furthermore, we actually use such programs to automatic design. Designing is not something that only intellegent beings can do, totally unconcious and simple processes can do design and do so in novel ways. Ways the stump the most intellegent humans for generations.

So where does the "I" in "ID" come from. Religion that's where. They wish not to accept the fact that non-intellegent design can and provably does outperform humans in many cases. Here we have an area, biology, where over and over again designs beyond any know intellegent capacity were done so by non-intellegent processes. One would think that at this point it would be non-intellegent design processes that would be held in awe and not the baser intellegent kind. After all the only truly intellegent designers we have any experience with are men, and frankly we have yet to match nature.

So no, as a matter of fact, ID is not a scientific theory. It is merely a religious criticism, and a fatally flawed one at that.