Friday, February 24, 2017

There Are Adequate Borders Inside Our Borders

I’m an advocate for extremely liberalized immigration policy. I’m hesitant about the using term “open borders” only because I don’t want anyone to assume I’ve signed on to someone else’s notion of open borders. But, yeah, I believe in mostly open borders. People who are dodgy about immigration think that an open immigration policy will swamp us with massive mobs of “the great unwashed.” All kinds of people will come here, the thinking goes, and degrade out culture, pollute our political institutions, take from our social safety net, and generally bother us at every turn. I want to argue that there is nothing to worry about.

For most of your day, you are ensconced in very exclusive private institutions. If you go to work, you are one among many employees who have been thoroughly vetted to work there. You probably spend most of your non-work hours at home. Here, you have an even more exclusive policy than you do at work. Even very good friends who have been thoroughly screened can only enter your palace for very limited times on your say-so. You surely have a locking door on your home, perhaps an even more sophisticated alarm system. Or maybe you live in an apartment complex with outside doors that are locked to non-residents, or a gated community that performs the same function for full-sized houses. Perhaps you go shopping for groceries and other necessities every week or so. Here you are protected by a store that, while far less selective than your employer or your home, will still throw out people who are rowdy or offensive to the other customers. If you go to a private club in your leisure time (as I do for jiujitsu class and as many parents do for their children’s after-school athletics and other activities), you are once again being protected by a private organization’s exclusivity policy, and you can extract yourself from anything that’s not exclusive enough to your liking. Without quite realizing it, you've constructed useful borders to keep undesirable people out of your life, and every institution you belong to helps you build these borders.

Even putting aside legal barriers to entry, think about what an immigrant needs to do to come here. He needs to convince an employer that he’s a good worker. He needs to convince a landlord to rent to him, or convince a bank to loan him the money to buy a house. You can’t just come here and sort of wander around and exist. You have to somehow connect yourself to the world through your housing and employment arrangements. To do that, you have to convince a few people who are already here that you’re worth dealing with. Merely getting into the country doesn't guarantee clear sailing. There are all kinds of border checks you have to pass once you get here, and if you fail them you don't get to work or acquire shelter or buy stuff. 

Public property is a different matter. I'll grant that you are legitimately exposed when you travel on public property, because it is nearly impossible to exclude "undesirables." Anyone can enter public property. When you drive on public roads or enter public parks or walk on public sidewalks or shop in stores located on public squares, you expose yourself to people who haven't gone through any exclusionary vetting. Presumably if traffic safety becomes a serious issue, that can be solved with more thorough patrols of public roads and lower tolerance for reckless driving. And if crime becomes a problem in public places, it shouldn't be too difficult to increase the number of police officers patrolling those areas on foot. Granted you can't just preemptively exclude "undesirable" people from public property, you can certainly make them behave themselves by actively policing criminal behavior. Not that I think our public spaces will be swamped with "undesirables." I think this worry is totally overblown, but I felt a need to address it because there aren't enforceable borders around public spaces like there are for private spaces.

Incidentally, this is a kind of argument against public property. It's possible that some public spaces would better serve the public if they were made into private spaces, managed to maximize value for the users. Gatherings of rowdy teenagers can be told to "move along;" groups of brash, cat-calling men can be ushered out. People who aggressively panhandle can be banned from the premises. (I mean "aggressively panhandle" in a manner that invades people's personal space, which can be very frightening if you're walking alone.) Many people have an instant revulsion to the suggestion that we privatize anything currently owned by the government, but don't overlook this useful tool for dealing with social problems. Private spaces can be more thoroughly policed (or less thoroughly policed, if the public policing is excessive and obnoxious) than public spaces.

I suspect the discussion in the previous two paragraphs will be repulsive to some, because on a careless reading it looks like I'm arguing that immigrants in public spaces should be policed more thoroughly than everyone else. If that was your impression,please re-read, because you missed the point. My point was rather that it's more merciful to let them enter the country, conditional on their being more thoroughly scrutinized by police and private security, than to not let them come here at all. My overall point with this post is that problems of social decay and social disruption within immigrant communities (once again, a vastly overblown problem) can be solved or are already solved with private property. Or rather, if private property doesn't fully solve these problems, it at least keeps them from touching you. If there are "icky" people who you want to cordon off because you don't want to deal with them, you can mostly have your way. But I'd rather people do their own dirty work. Form your own exclusive private club or exclusive homeowners association. If you don't like the people you work with then quit, or suck it up and recognize that your co-workers have accepted these "undesirables" as colleagues. If people want to indulge anti-immigrant prejudices in their private lives, I don't really have a problem with that. But I don't want to be conscripted to enforce someone else's bigotry. Excluding immigrants shouldn't be public policy. It should be a privately enforced policy, and those people with anti-immigrant prejudices should personally pay the price of enforcing it. If an immigrant makes it here, it's because someone (an employer, a landlord, a spouse, a university) has accepted them. If you don't want to accept that person, that's fine, but you don't have the right to veto the decisions of those who have.

It's not the borders around the country that are keeping us safe and comfortable. It's mostly the borders within our borders that protect us.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Privacy and Social Media Activity

Consider two examples of using someone’s social media profile “against” them.

First Example. I know you through several mutual acquaintances. You have overheard that I’m looking to invest in the local restaurant industry. You corner me at a party and pitch me your plan to start a fancy new restaurant. However, I have formed a negative opinion of you because of your brash behavior on social media. Frequent, gratuitous use of profanity, references to alcohol consumption, and unrestrained emotional outbursts have given me an impression of your personality, and I don’t care for what I see. I politely decline to bankroll your business, even though I fully intend to break into the restaurant industry when the right opportunity comes along.

Second Example. I’m a bank, and you come to me for a small business loan for your restaurant idea. The bank’s corporate home office has come up with a “social media score” based on some predictive modeling. I’m not sure how the model works, and I don’t know what a “bad score” means. All I know is that certain social media behaviors in certain combination are useful for predicting loan repayment rates. (In fact, even the data scientists who built the predictive model don’t know for sure what features of your online behavior are driving the results. It’s a very “black box”, data-goes-in-predictions-come-out sort of process. But the predictions are accurate even when tested on new data not used to build the model.)  After reviewing your score, I decide that you are a bad risk. I don’t approve your loan.

Does the second example seem worse than the first? Does it seem like a worse invasion of your privacy for the bank to turn you down than for your acquaintance to do the same? I think most people have an intuitive aversion to the second example but not the first, but it’s not clear why there is a difference. In both cases someone is judging your credit-worthiness based on information they can obtain about you. You might say that the first case is more acceptable because someone is judging someone else as a person; the second case is unacceptable because a computer algorithm, incapable of making a nuanced judgement of your character, is rating you based on easily obtainable data. But I think this intuition actually gets it backwards. The impersonal algorithm is more predictive and is making a more disciplined, better validated  estimate of your default likelihood; the human is the one who is being capricious.

Or perhaps the bank has an obligation to give you a loan because it’s a bank, but the human is making a private investment decision and can deny an investment on a whim. But this isn’t right because the bank has an obligation to its account-holders and investors to reject high-risk loans. If your friend who rejected your restaurant idea also has a savings account at the bank where you applied for the business load, he’d expect the bank to show the same judgment that he showed in person. The bank is just an intermediary for a bunch of small private investors. It can make riskier loans than its account-holders would make individually because of its size and risk-pooling effects, but it should have the same objective estimates of loan risk as its individual account holders would have if they were fully informed. As an intermediary it should be saying, “I should do what my investors would do if they knew what I know.” If the bank acquires an obligation to approve loans by nature of being a bank, it must also acquire an equivalent obligation to disapprove bad loans. 

I think that some people are just creeped out by the idea of someone doing data-mining on their social media profile. They imagine that an expletive-filled rant or unflattering pic from the wrong party will ruin a job opportunity or loan application. But it’s helpful to think about what a person would do with the same information. Lots of people see your social media posts and form judgments about you based on these, and I dare say most of these judgments are probably pretty accurate. Even the negative ones. I think you really can make a judgment about someone’s temperament, intelligence, and maturity by looking at their social media posts. (Clearly this can go wrong, too, I’m just saying that it’s more accurate than your “Don’t judge me!” impulse allows for.) If all this information meaningfully informs your friends as they form judgments about you, why should it suddenly become irrelevant when judging your credit risk or suitability for some particular job? People like to think they have an unrestrained right to privacy, but they don’t. Someone starting a long-term relationship with you, as a friend, lover, banker, employer, employee, landlord, or tenant, has a right to know what kind of risk they are taking on board. We like to think we have the right to present an edited profile to the world when it suits us, but if all that nasty stuff is relevant to predicting your future behavior, people who deal with you have a right to know about it.

Imagine you are trying to hire a nanny to watch your child, and applicants insist that you make your hiring decision based on edited reports of their personal histories. You would want all available, relevant information to assess the risk this person poses to your child. I'll bet you'd snoop. I'll bet you'd Google these candidates and check their Facebook profiles if they aren't private. In fact, I'll bet you'd snoop for a decision with far lower stakes than the hiring of a nanny, or for that matter the approval of a loan or approving a tenant to rent one of your properties. And if you found something incriminating, I'm guessing you wouldn't feel bad about your snooping. 

So what do we do with these battling intuitions? Should we close our eyes and pretend pertinent information doesn't exist? Or should we use all relevant information in important decision making? Whatever we do, we should have some kind of meaningful definition of "privacy" when discussing privacy concerns. It's hard to assert that a "right" exists, such as the right to privacy, if we aren't all clear on what exactly that right means.

Edit: Don't take any of this me advocating for some official government policy for or against privacy rights. Consider the possibility that the privacy genie might be out of the bottle, and perhaps there's nothing that government can do about it. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Curious Patterns in Traffic to My Blog

I can see some rough summary statistics of my readers, including counts from each country, counts by entry source (facebook vs. mobile vs something else), counts by internet browser, etc.  Nothing specific to any single viewer, just sums of various traffic sources. Anyway, it raises some interesting questions.

 Like…who is reading my blog in Russia?!? Are you a bunch of spammers/hackers? Or are hacker/crypto-libertarians reading my blog through proxies on the Tor browser (proxies that somehow route through Russia) while they are buying drugs on the dark web? (Please, oh please, be the latter!) And why am I seeing spikes in traffic to my blog at four o’clock in the fucking morning? The most obvious explanation is some kind of spammer looking for ways to exploit my blog, and 4 in the morning is daytime in Russia. But every time I see this I hope it’s a cryptography-obsessed anarchocapitalist reading my blog into the wee hours of the morning (you know, waiting for the crack to wear off), perhaps obsessively clicking the “refresh” icon every few minutes to see if I published a new post.

If I have a few readers who are living out the ethos of the crypto-hacker anarchocapitalist, surfing the web until five in the morning, I salute you! Thanks for reading. Keep doing good work out there!

Drug-related "Externalities" Are Mostly Internalized

In an earlier post, I argued that the "drug use leads to externalities" argument is wrong. I think I was mostly right, but my conclusion was stated too strongly.

I was reasoning from the example of a perfect tax on pollution. The purpose of the tax is to make the polluter feel the total social cost of his pollution. If you are allowed to pollute tax free, you will pollute more than the optimum amount. But the optimum amount of pollution isn't zero. We all want automobiles and cheap transport and indoor heating and cooling and consumer goods and all the other things that entail some amount of industrial pollution and burnt fossil fuels. So you don't outright ban pollution but you don't let people pollute without limit. You set a tax that deters pollution to the optimum level. (Perhaps the tax is used to fund clean-up or to compensate the victims of the pollution, or perhaps the deterrent effect of the tax is its sole purpose.)

My argument is that the anti-social behaviors that are supposedly caused by drugs are already illegal.(This is beside the point, but that causal link is incredibly speculative and highly dubious; the vast majority of drug users aren't criminals and those who are have personal problems that began prior to any drug use.) If there's a small chance that taking a hit of crack will turn you into a killer, that cost has already been baked into the total cost of using the drug. The externalities of drug use have already been internalized.

Well, it turns out that's a little too strong. In the case of a pollution deterring tax, you can use the revenue to compensate the victims. In the case of a legal penalty (like jail time for assault, theft, murder, etc.), there is no revenue. The cost of the penalty is something that is simply lost to society, whereas a tax is transferred from one party to another. Someone can pollute all he wants in the efficient pollution tax regime and never do any harm. But if someone goes on a crime spree to support his drug habit, there is a net loss to society that never really gets repaid.

While it's an exaggeration to say that drug-related externalities are fully internalized, I think it's fair to say they are mostly internalized. If we could do a better job of getting criminals to compensate their victims, it'd be closer to the efficient pollution tax example.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why "Politics On Facebook" Is So Stupid

What is the safety record of new oil pipelines, as compared to older pipelines or rail transport? What states or cities have experimented with vouchers or charter schools (or other implementations of school choice), and what kinds of results have they seen? What new trends in “health outcomes” have we seen in the past few years (thus plausibly attributable to Obamacare), and which of these trends do you predict will be reversed if we repeal it? How many terrorism deaths have been caused by terrorists from countries on Trump’s travel ban list? If that’s an unreasonable sample to extrapolate from, what has changed recently to invalidate this history? And what is the expected amount of terrorism, however quantified (# of terrorism deaths? # of non-lethal incidents?), that the travel ban saves us from?

My major gripe with “politics on Facebook” isn’t that it happens. My complaint that it’s done so poorly. Information that would be relevant to the discussion is never offered. This is uncharitable, but my guess is that the people choking my news feed with self-flattering moral outrage memes don’t even consider that the empirical record might change their minds, or that future events might contradict them. Don’t for a second believe that pure moral outrage can answer all the important questions for you.

There are two very good reasons to think through these annoying empirical questions. The first is that you otherwise have no way of communicating with people who disagree with you. Consider this exchange:

Standing Rock supporter: “It’s imperative that we respect the land of a Native American tribe! The pipeline threatens their water supply, and at any rate their sovereignty should be respected whatever their reasons for saying ‘No.’”  
DAPL supporter: “No, it’s imperative that we respect the rule of law! DAPL followed it, acquired all the necessary land easements and approvals from all the right government agencies, etc. The pipeline doesn’t cross the Dakota Sioux’s territory and poses essentially zero threat to their water supply.” 

Both people in this discussion think they hold a moral trump card, but what really needs to happen is some quantification of the risk posed to the Dakota Sioux tribe’s water supply. Someone arguing on the side of the Dakota Sioux can do so more effectively if they have this information and can contradict claims made by supporters of the pipeline (claims which are empirical in nature).

The second (and far more important) reason to think these things through is that you’re probably wrong at least half the time. You should have some mechanism for determining when you’re wrong. If you observe the world through a lens of pure moral outrage, you have no such mechanism. You are basically allowing your emotions to pick an answer that in reality depends on facts and data. You might as well flip a coin. You aren’t just researching the facts so you can shut the mouth on that snarky conservative/libertarian/progressive on your Facebook feed (or passive-aggressively post the reply on your own page hoping s/he will see it). You’re doing the research so you can learn when your critics are right. And sometimes they are. Sometimes you are the snarky idiot on your Facebook feed. You need to adopt habits that allow you to identify when this is the case. 

I see the occasional plea for all "politics on Facebook" to stop completely. I don't want that. Bad policy really does hurt people, and that harm needs to be aired and examined in public view. Some people will smile to your face and be a decent person to you, but then will enter a booth and bubble in a circle every 2 years that says, "Steal my neighbors money and beat them up if they do things I don't approve of." These folks do need to understand that they are hurting people. There is a legitimate counterpoint to your worldview. There is a counter-claimant to every claim (someone has to pay, right?). There are opposing interests that need to be traded off against each other, and ultimately a winner needs to be picked and a decision made. Advances in information technology have allowed this conversation to happen. Unfortunately, there has been no such advance in emotional technology. We are still using our stone-age tribal brains to sort and interpret the incoming flood of information. We can do better, but it takes effort. 

“Money In Politics” Is a Massively Exaggerated Problem

My congressional representative, Aaron Schock of Illinois’s 18th district, left office in disgrace. What exactly did he do? Did he take home big laundry bags with dollar signs on them, filled to the brim with cash, in exchange for voting a certain way on a certain bill? Not really. He allowed an interior decorator to lavishly redecotrate his congressional offices. An unseemly indulgence, for sure, but if this was a “bribe” it’s not like he was taking it to the bank.

Do read the Wikipedia entry, particularly the “Use of funds and resignation” section. He did other stuff and most likely misused campaign funds. But this has little to do with “money in politics.” For one thing, once a donor gives a politician money, it’s hardly the donor’s fault if the politician misuses it. It would be unfair to accuse Schock’s donors of bribery because their money was spent unethically. For another thing, he was caught and it brought down his career. Now, there were also reports (not in the Wikipedia entry) that he has been overpaid for the sale of his home, which sounds like a possible bribe. But once again 1) he was caught and reviled for it and 2) this at least shows that massive tit-for-tat cash payments are probably not happening.

When I lived in Ohio, then-governor Bob Taft was under fire for similar unseemly behavior. Once again, though, it wasn’t the “taking home massive piles of cash” type of bribery. Rather, he was brought down for failing to disclose gifts such as golf outings.

In addition to the criminal sanctions, Taft was issued a public reprimand by the Ohio Supreme Court on December 27, 2006 for accepting and failing to report gifts and golf outings worth more than $6000.00. This reprimand was attached to Taft's license to practice law in Ohio.

So maybe there are back-room deals where lobbyists are directly buying votes with briefcases full of cash, but I doubt it.

 Another relevant case is that of my other former governor, Rod Blagojevich, who famously tried to “sell” president Obama’s Senate seat after Obama was elected president. From the link:

 Fraud involving the appointment of a senator to fill the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama is the most notable charge against Blagojevich. Blagojevich was overheard on a recorded phone call saying "I've got this thing, and it's f**king golden. I'm just not giving it up for f**king nothing." He was also recorded as saying, "it's a f**king valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing", and that "If I don't get what I want ... I'll just take the Senate seat myself."
 Blagojevich allegedly sought the following in exchange for an appointment:
 -A substantial salary for himself at either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.
-Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year.
-Promises of campaign funds—including cash up front.
-A Cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself to Serbia.
 In this case, he was arranging to take some of his money to the bank. He wasn't just asking for campaign funds as a quid pro quo (though that was one of several items). If he'd gotten his way he would have enriched himself in a way that effected his take-home pay. But a few things to bear in mind. 1) He didn't simply ask for a cash payment that he could take to the bank. 2) He apparently had to ask for these kick-backs; they weren't simply offered to him. He had to negotiate to get them. 3) This kind of stuff happens all the time. Politicians leave their elected posts and join private organizations that offer them lucrative salaries. Perhaps the politician joins a company and helps it to comply with the complex morass of regulations that the politician previously signed into law. Or perhaps the politician join a "non-profit" that s/he previously allocated public funds to and "earns" a healthy six-figure salary. Maybe this is my own mistaken impression, but I assumed this kind of stuff was going on all over the place. These shady deals aren't usually done as explicit quid pro quos; that would be illegal. Nor can the organizations (who benefit from a politician's actions) offer him a generous cash payment (one that they take to the bank, not a campaign contribution); that would be too obvious. But there's a winking, nodding understanding that "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine." Blagojevich's sin was to make the quid pro quo explicit. What made his action a crime was to say out loud what should have stayed unspoken. And finally, as in the cases discussed above, his misdeeds brought him down.

Of course none of this is to say that there isn't a problem. It's just that the problem is different from the one that the "Too much money in politics!" people complain about. The real problem is that there is too much politics in money. The government has too much control over the private resources of its citizens, too many funds to allocate, too much regulatory power, and too many favors to grant. So you will sometimes see private interests try to curry favor with politicians or vice versa. But this problem is massively exaggerated and misstated. Some people seem to hold this paranoid view that every single vote is bought and paid for by rich interests, with a cabal of billionaire elites running the show in the background. I think you have to explain away a lot of stories like those above to justify this worldview. Maybe these are public show-trials to cover up the more pervasive and far more egregious cases of bribery that are happening all the time? I think you would have to posit some absurd conspiracy theory to make this case.

Edit: I forgot to mention the fact that campaign spending doesn't seem to have much effect on election outcomes. See the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics article on Campaign Finance here. Someone could read my post above and think I'm clueless for belittling the influence of campaign spending. "Sure, politicians aren't literally taking home big piles of bribe-money. But 'the rich' are still buying elections." Well, read the encyclopedia entry in the link. There just isn't all that much campaign spending, and what spending there is doesn't affect election outcomes all that much.

Someone might also think I'm missing the point by belittling the roundabout bribes offered to politicians after their political careers end. Isn't bribing someone with a lucrative bullshit job just as bad as offering them a pile of cash for a vote? My point is that this kind of bribery is very roundabout, and organizations that seek to offer such bribes have to be very careful. The Blagojevich example is instructive.

Friday, February 3, 2017

To the Fairest...

Mount Olympus could have been wealthier by one golden apple if only it had clearly-defined property rights. Instead it destroyed a civilization. 

In the story of the Apple of Discord, the goddess Eris throws a golden apple into the middle of a feast of the gods. Inscribed on the apple were the words “To the Fairest,” implying that it belonged to the most beautiful. This predictably triggered a big fight over who was, in fact, the fairest. The conflict ultimately resulted in the Trojan War.

Supposedly this is a parable about how a small conflict can escalate into a much larger one. I think it actually has a different moral: strict property rights can nip a much bigger conflict in the bud. If ownership of the apple had simply been assigned to someone, even at random or for reasons that don’t seem “fair”, the whole conflict could have been avoided. “Finders keepers” would have avoided the conflict. “Show of hands for who is the fairest” would have done it. Granted it’s a new piece of property and ownership of it was brought into question the moment it was found, the means of assigning ownership should be as clear as possible so that conflict is minimized. And once ownership is established, even if that assignment is initially somewhat capricious, it should be very difficult to call that ownership into question. Allowing open-ended appeals and endlessly revisiting the "justice" of the initial assignment is a recipe for eternal conflict. The occasional injustice of a misjudged beauty contest (or unjust assignment of property to the "wrong" party, in someone's estimation) needs to be traded off against the very high cost of seeking perfect justice, given that we can only approach but never quite reach that Platonic ideal.

This is relevant because today many people endorse stamping “to the fairest” on everything and opening up discussion of who should rightfully own what. I’m thinking of Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark and Elizabeth Warren and others’ echoing of it. The idea of reparations for centuries-old misdeeds also come to mind. While it certainly makes sense to correct an injustice where one party obviously robbed another, it is less clear that we should “correct” for these social injustices in which there is no clear perpetrator and no obvious victim. A rich person probably got rich by selling an in-demand service to customers who paid willingly. It isn’t at all clear that such a person “took” more than “his fair share.” For the sake of predictability, each voluntary transaction should be seen as inherently legitimate. The transactors should not fear that their exchanges will be later reversed or called into question by third parties looking at statistical aggregates. While it’s sometimes necessary to call the ownership of something into question and adjudicate that dispute, it is very expensive. The resources wasted fighting over who owns what can easily exceed the value of the things in dispute. Property rights should be strong enough to deter theft but still avoid unnecessary conflicts over who owns what.

How costly is it to resolve a property dispute? Think about the proportion of a settlement or jury award that a lawyer takes when his client sues someone for damages. I don’t have good numbers, but it’s often half or more of the settlement. And that’s an *under*estimate of the total cost; you have to consider the lawyers of the losing team and the judge’s time and the wasted time of various witnesses if you are trying to tally up the true social cost. Or think about insurance, where the rules for approving a claim are pretty straightforward and stated clearly in policy language. Auto and Property loss ratios (the percent of premiums paid out when insurance customers make a claim) are around 60% on average, meaning roughly 40% of your premium is the expense of processing the money (the incoming premiums and the outgoing claims dollars), handling the claims, pricing the insurance, investigating fraud, and other expensive, labor-intensive things that insurance companies do. For another example, the deadweight loss of taxation in the United States is thought to be something like 30% of revenue (citation needed, but this 30% figure is what I find from some casual Googling); collect a trillion dollars and you destroy $300 billion in value. It’s expensive to live in an environment where ownership is constantly called into question and reassigned from one party to another. 

I'm sure some of you think I'm being obtuse and are saying, "Of course the gods are going to fight over who is most beautiful! They are vain. Downright narcissistic. Obviously the apple was going to trigger a status fight. It was never about the stupid golden apple anyway. Why would a god care about a chunk of gold?" And of course that's another lesson: avoid status fights. Especially when they are motivated by crass materialism. Petty squabbles about who has the most stuff are the crassest and most materialistic of all status fights. I'm sure the inequality-mongers imagine themselves on the side of the angels, but I see them as fomenting illegitimate class resentments, instigating conflict where none needs to occur, and positing mistaken (easily refutable!) causal explanations of social phenomena.