From Bootleg Liberalism to Trumpist McCarthyism

I’m not a big booster of my undergraduate alma mater, Princeton, or a big fan of its current president, Christopher Eisgruber. But when a self-proclaimed “libertarian” academic gleefully defends an absurdly unwarranted federal investigation into the institution, relying on transparently idiotic arguments, one reaches a point of discursive futility: this is not a person worth arguing with, or even all that much worth spitting at.

No one with Brennan’s credentials can be stupid enough to believe the bullshit arguments he’s trundling out at this point. As a friend of mine pointed out, Brennan’s blog posts are not meant to be taken seriously. They’re just the efforts of a hostile well-poisoner working off his animosities in public in the confident belief that he can say anything about anyone with impunity. All I have left to say is: feel free, dude–and feel free to fuck yourself while you’re at it. Continue reading

Mask Up or Drop Dead

Some readers may remember the dispute I had here back in April with Jason Brennan and Phil Magness over the use of lethal force to enforce social distancing orders. The issue was: are there any circumstances such that lethal force would be justified in enforcing such orders?

I said yes: if someone refuses compliance, and then not only resists an order to comply, but escalates resistance to the point of serious physical danger to others, it can be justifiable to shoot them dead. I say “shoot them dead” because under the rules of engagement that apply in police work, every shot is intended to be a kill shot: if an officer draws a weapon, it’s understood she had no choice but to do so; if she fires, she aims at the subject’s torso, which is the largest and most easily-hit target; and given the nature of standard police firearms, and the likelihood that the officer will fire more than once, the subject’s death is highly likely, whether literally intended or not. Continue reading

At-Will Employment Redux

Back on July 25th, I took issue with Jason Brennan’s claim that

…in general, in legal contracts, even when there is language to the contrary, parties do not acquire the right to unilaterally revise the conditions.

This claim, I argued, is close to the reverse of the truth. Most employment in the US is employment-at-will. In at-will employment arrangements, employers unquestionably do have the right (both de facto and de jure) “to unilaterally revise the conditions” of employment. They often conceal this by having their employees sign what look like (and are called) “contracts.” But the “contract” in question will typically contain language to the effect that the employment arrangement is at-will, implying that the terms are revisable at will.* Continue reading

Can an Employer Unilaterally Change the Terms of an Employment Contract?

In a whiny blog post at 200 Proof Liberals addressed to his provost, Jason Brennan claims that you can’t enforce a contract which gives one side unilateral and unlimited power to change the terms of the contract. The context is a “compact” that Georgetown’s administration has imposed on students, faculty, and staff regarding the spread of COVID-19. Continue reading

When Arguments Fail: A Response to Jason Brennan

So far, the BHL crowd has had literally nothing useful–explanatory, action-guiding, otherwise illuminating–to say about the COVID-19 pandemic. They have mostly kept their counsel, and offered up a series of pointless, incoherent, ranting tweets masquerading as the latest wisdom in statistical modeling. Add it all together, and it amounts to less in the way of insight than might be dished up by a just-buried corpse. Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and the Ambiguities of “Policy” (Part 4 of 5)

Apologies for the delay in posting the fourth part of my five-part series on character-based voting. Here are parts one, two, and three, which are probably necessary as background to part four.  Earlier in the series, I make reference to what I call a “Murad-type meeting,” referring to Donald Trump’s behavior at a recent meeting with Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad.

The first part introduced the topic of character’s ambiguous relation to “policy.” The second part focuses on character’s instrumental relation to policy. The third part considers the possibility that expressions of character might be constitutive of “governance.” This part considers the possibility that expressions of character might have normative significance out of relation to policy or governance, at least on conventional construals of those terms. Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and Leadership Effects (1 of 3)

Here’s yet another post from my project on character-based voting (CBV). It’s the first of three posts on CBV and leadership effects, and one of many on CBV.

As I’ve said in previous posts, “character-based voting” is voting for or against a political candidate on the basis of what the voter takes to be his traits of character. That contrasts with “policy-based voting,” which is voting for a candidate based on the expected consequences of the policies the voter expects the candidate to pass.

Continue reading

Character-Based Voting and the Policy of Truth

For the past six months or so, I’ve been working on a project on what I call “character-based voting” (CBV), construed as voting for a political candidate based on her traits of character, as contrasted with “policy-based voting” (PBV) which is voting for a political candidate based on the expected consequences of the candidate’s expected policies.

It’s a rough and in some contexts problematic distinction, but clear enough to work with. There’s a clear enough distinction to be drawn between voting for a candidate because you regard her as more honest than her rival, and voting for a candidate because you expect her to enact policies X1…Xn, which have expected consequences C1…Cn, which you regard as net favorable, but which you don’t expect her rival to enact. My modest claim is that CBV can in principle be justified, and has its place. Continue reading

Moral Grandstanding and Character-Based Voting

I’ve recently been teaching Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s paper, “Moral Grandstanding“–and simultaneously been working on a paper on Jason Brennan’s critique of character-based voting–and happened to see an interesting connection between the two. So this post harks back to, and ties together, two topics we’ve recently been discussing here at PoT–Michael’s recent post on grandstanding, and mine on character-based voting.

Suppose, as per Brennan’s argument in The Ethics of Voting, that character-based voting is justified insofar as character functions either as a proxy for the policies that a candidate might enact once elected, or more generally, for the quality of governance he might be expected to engage in. Now suppose that character-based voting sometimes is justified on those grounds, so that character sometimes does function as a proxy variable for predictions about a candidate’s capacities for good governance in the future. Continue reading

Character-Based Voting: The Case of Joseph P. Ganim

This story, about the current gubernatorial campaign in Connecticut, offers a near-perfect exemplification of the criticism that I’ve made in the past of Jason Brennan’s critique (in The Ethics of Voting) of character-based voting. “Character-based voting” is a vote for or against a candidate based primarily on considerations concerning the candidate’s moral character, as contrasted with considerations concerning the policy positions he promises (or can reliably be predicted) to make. Brennan argues (or more precisely, asserts without argument) that character-based voting is only legitimate insofar as it functions as a proxy for predictions about policy, adding (or half-adding) that it usually doesn’t.

One of my objections to Brennan’s claim is that it assumes without argument that future-oriented considerations are the only ones that matter to deliberations about how to vote for political candidates. But (I suggest) elected office comes with rewards, and it’s plausible to think that considerations of moral desert are relevant to the distribution of rewards. Moral desert is a past-oriented consideration. Absent an explicit discussion of the role of moral desert in voting, and an argument that it’s somehow outweighed, defeated, or made irrelevant by future-oriented considerations, the role of moral desert can’t be dismissed. Since moral desert can’t be dismissed, a candidate’s past can’t be dismissed, insofar as it reveals relevant considerations of moral character. But if that’s right, the case for character-based voting is stronger than Brennan makes it out to be.    Continue reading