Organized Labor is Good for Business?

I like Teresa Ghilarducci’s current piece on unions in The Atlantic. She makes several interesting points. However, the main argument of the article undercuts itself. As I’ve said before, it is quite odd to argue that particular economic regulations will increase employers’ profits. Don’t we all agree, Right and Left, that business owners are trying to maximize profits? Sure, some capitalists are better than others at doing this, but this shouldn’t concern regulators, because market competition will weed out those who suck at making money. Whether one thinks this good or bad, we all basically believe this is how markets work, right? With this is mind, it is hard to make sense of Gilarducci’s main argument:

[U]nions have also been shown to boost workers’ productivity, bringing in more money for the firm overall. Unions appear to raise productivity for an interesting reason: Employers of unionized workers tend to spend more on updating their machines and computers and training their workers. They’re more incentivized to do so when an hour of work is relatively more expensive, and this raises productivity overall.

If unions help employers “bring in more money overall” then why does government need to help unions form? Perhaps you’d say, “Because employers are stupid.” But if employers didn’t know this information before, now Ghilarducci has let the cat out of the bag and it’s just a matter of time before the smart capitalists start urging their workers to unionize so all can make more money, and market competition will push for greater unionization throughout the economy. Unless, her argument is just wrong.

I’m interested in and sympathetic to many arguments regarding the minimum wage, “equal pay for equal work” for women, unions, and other economic regulations. Some of these policies might very well be justifiable based on other arguments, but when someone throws in the argument that particular economic regulations will increase business profits, I’m skeptical, to say the least. The illogic of the argument should be apparent to any economist, and when this illogic isn’t acknowledged, I suspect the person making the argument is being disingenuous or doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Uber, Prices, and Helping the Poor

Apparently the Venezuelan economy is tanking. Tim Worstall at Forbes diagnoses the problem:

The basic problem is the same one that the more stupid leftists make all the time. Sensible ones know that you don’t mess with markets nor market prices. You want to change the distribution of incomes in the country? Fine, we might not agree, but if you do then tax and redistribute. But don’t go around messing up that price system which is the only way that anyone can ever calculate what people desire and what people are willing to make. But they keep making this mistake. From rent control in my native UK or New York City making affordable housing more difficult to find all the way through to this complete and total mess that they’ve made of the Venezuelan economy . . . .

Worstall’s point about sensible versus “more stupid” leftists is an idea that has been on my mind for a couple years. Some people seem to think that prices are determined solely by the greed of business owners. These same people are quick to suggest that the price of this or that should be whatever they think is a fair price. I find this troubling, because the implication is that the government should be setting prices on potentially tens of thousands of products and services. Unless you are prepared to embrace mass government price setting in the economy, I don’t know what the point is of sharing your opinions on what you think the cost should be of an Uber ride, iphone, apartment, gallon of gasoline, cup of coffee, etc.

And no, greedy capitalists don’t get to set prices at whatever they want, at least not in a competitive market. And if businesses in a particular market are charging prices that bring in excessive profits, this will have the tendency to draw more businesses into that market, increasing competition and pulling down the price and profits.

Uber is one of many businesses that is singled out as being particularly evil. Some commentators seem to see Uber as a useless middleman, extracting excessive profits from its underpaid drivers, while unfairly disrupting a properly regulated taxi industry. And perhaps Uber’s most distasteful trait, in the eyes of some, is its surge pricing— proof of Uber’s greedy nature and willingness to take advantage of people.

Uber’s management may be greedy, but the company’s decisions regarding pricing and worker compensation are certainly constrained by a competitive transportation marketplace— Lyft, taxis, privately owned cars, publicly owned buses and trains, bicycles. Uber is not even close to being a monopoly, so I don’t see what the fuss is about. If Uber’s prices are too high or too variable, then consumers can buy transportation from its competitors. And if people don’t like surge pricing as a matter of principle, then I suggest they reevaluate that principle. Allow me to help.

To understand what follows, note that Uber drivers don’t have scheduled hours. Drivers get about 80 percent of what passengers pay, and Uber changes fare rates to influence its supply of drivers in both time and location— this is called surge pricing. So for example, Uber will implement surge pricing on New Years Eve for two reasons (1) there are more people needing rides than usual, and (2) its drivers would rather be out partying. Surge pricing is limited to geographic areas to attract drivers from one area to another, say, after a professional sporting event has ended. Now that we understand the basics of Uber’s business model, let’s examine a specific case where price adjustments are at work.

Thinking through surge pricing— or “price gouging” if you like— in emergency situations brings the effects of prices into sharp relief. Take as our example the 2014 Sydney terrorist attack where Uber briefly set minimum fares at something like $75 (USD). This is probably one of the more difficult price gouging instances to defend, but not surprisingly the basic logic of market prices still applies. If there’s a terrorist attack downtown and suddenly everybody is trying to leave, perhaps some Uber drivers will stop what they are doing and rush downtown to pick up strangers free of charge. That would be admirable. But for most people some amount of compensation will be needed to get them to drive into the middle of a terrorist attack. That’s what the high price is doing on the supply side.

On the demand side, the high price gives an extra incentive to consumers to reduce consumption and use the resource more efficiently. Some people won’t be willing to pay Uber’s high price so they’ll wait for a bus or taxi, or walk. This opens up more Uber seats for those who are willing to pay. For the people who are willing to get “gouged” by Uber, the high price incentivizes them to fill the seats in each Uber car, splitting the high fare among more people. Perhaps strangers would meet on the street and share an Uber, perhaps not, but at least the high prices push in the right direction.

Notice that the change in price is directing people to act the way we would want them to: more cars headed downtown to give rides, and more people packed into cars leaving the downtown area. And to be clear, I’m not defending any particular rates that Uber has implemented. For all I know they are doing a terrible job setting the price. What I am defending is that it makes sense to let prices adjust to changing conditions in the world, changes in supply and demand.

Some readers are rightly concerned that high prices are particularly burdensome for the poor and have little effect on the rich. Thinking of the Sydney example, a janitor may highly value an Uber ride but can’t afford it, while a corporate lawyer who lives only five blocks away may take a $75 Uber alone. Focusing on these extreme cases does present a challenge to the notion that market prices are efficient. And it’s reasonable to be concerned about the fairness— or rather, the lack of fairness— that markets can produce.

My response to this is that income inequality based on quantity and productivity of work is a necessary feature of any sensible economic system. However, if we think there is too much inequality, there are better ways of compressing the income distribution than using price controls on goods and services. Furthermore, holding down prices in this emergency situation will decrease supply and lead to a less efficient use of Uber cars, leaving more people stuck downtown than would be if prices are allowed to rise. You can choose to exacerbate a shortage by implementing price ceilings and find comfort in the idea that the people who can’t get an Uber are more representative of the income distribution than they would be if the price was allowed to rise. But my sense is that this sacrifices a lot for a rather myopic effort toward egalitarianism.

Accepting that prices should be allowed to fluctuate as the market determines does not preclude charity, altruism, heroism, or aid by government, Uber, or any individual or organization. But to the extent these factors don’t meet human needs in the emergency, the price system seems to me to get the incentives right to help alleviate the crisis. Prices that adjust to the conditions of the world may feel unjust to people in some situations, but I think these observers are failing to see the systemic beneficial effects of market driven price adjustments. And that is what Uber is trying to mimic through its surge pricing.

The point of all this is that market prices have a logic to them, and to a large extent they work toward good. In most cases there are undesirable consequences that result from messing with market prices, namely shortages and surpluses. In some situations government price setting makes sense, but we can’t know this without first examining the tradeoffs between one course of action versus the other. Inequality is perhaps the main reason “price gouging” is so offensive to some people— it may disproportionately hurt those with lower incomes, at least in the immediate term. But artificially holding down prices exacerbates shortages, likely hurting more people for a longer period of time. Price controls are a bad way to help poor people. There are numerous ways to tax and redistribute resources, and that’s what we should be debating to determine the best way to help the poor— not Uber’s surge pricing or compensation structure, or price controls generally.

Is Government Intervention Needed to Boost Profits?

Hillary Clinton is quoted in The Atlantic saying,

[We should] reward businesses who invest in long-term value rather than the quick buck, because that leads to higher growth for the economy, higher wages for workers, and yes, bigger profits—everybody will have a better time.

If investing in “long-term value” brings in bigger profits for businesses, then why don’t they do it? Everybody, spanning the political spectrum from anti- to pro-market, agrees that businesses are motivated to maximize profits. If we accept these two premises— (1) investing in long-term value increases profits and (2) businesses seek to maximize profits— then the government doesn’t need to “reward businesses” in addition to the potential profit Clinton claims they can get. Businesses that invest in the long-term will profit and those who don’t will be weeded out by market competition. By asserting that businesses can profit, Clinton undercuts her argument for government involvement.

Clinton’s logical slip is identical to the problem (or rather, one of the problems) with the efficiency wage argument in favor of a minimum wage. This particular argument advanced by some minimum wage advocates is that if employers raise wages a bit then their workers will be happier, turnover will decrease, and productivity will increase. Getting more productivity from your workers means more profit for the business. Great! . . . But wait. Business owners seek profit. If raising wages will increase profit, why don’t they do it? Does anybody really believe that government intervention is needed to help capitalists increase profits?

There are good reasons for government regulation in the economy, but increasing profits is generally not one of them.

Ignoring the Physical Evidence: The Left’s Diminished Credibility After Ferguson

In the wake of the grand jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson, some segments of the political left have repeatedly disregarded the facts of the case. The grand jury process was unusual for several reasons, one of which was that St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch released all documents of the evidence to the public. These documents have been extensively reported on by the nation’s major news organizations. However, many journalists, activists, lawyers, and academics on the left have been silent about the facts. They offer no interpretation of what happened that day. In the rare case that they do give an account of the facts, the account neglects to incorporate inferences that follow from the physical evidence. All people, particularly journalists and academics, have a duty to make a good faith effort to seek the truth and tell the truth. There is no excuse for ignoring the physical evidence at the scene of an alleged homicide. But many on the left have done so in this case, because the evidence conflicts with their broader political claims and worldview. They have obscured the truth in order to further ideological aims and have immorally misled the public.

I have spent a lot of time reading and writing about the evidence in this case. After taking a look at the physical evidence, one can reasonably interpret Brown’s behavior as being recklessly aggressive both times he and Wilson confronted each other. This scenario has him assaulting a police officer with little provocation and about a minute later aggressively running at the officer when shot and killed. The most charitable interpretation for Brown, that I can see, would be to assume that Wilson instigated Brown to assault him in the police car. After running away with a minor gunshot wound, Brown, in a state of shock and confusion, turned around and walked back at least 22 feet toward Wilson. All the while, Brown was being told to stop and had a gun aimed at him. This is the range of stories the evidence supports, as best I can tell.

The physical evidence paints an unfavorable picture for Brown. But the testimony in this case was all over the map and ambiguous. Many witnesses contradicted each other, contradicted themselves, gave testimony that was inconsistent with the physical evidence, or even lied about seeing the incident. The testimony gives a murky picture. So ignoring the physical evidence significantly biases one’s judgement in favor of Michael Brown. There are two reasons for this bias: (1) The “hands up, don’t shoot” slogan and imagery spread quickly after the shooting, because it supports the beliefs and attitudes that many people hold toward the police. (2) It’s hard to believe anybody would behave as Brown apparently did, until you look at the physical evidence. The most important, and seemingly unknown, facts on this point are that Brown’s blood was found in the car, on Wilson and his gun, and 22 feet down the street from where his body lay. The blood on the street proves that Brown, contrary to the testimony of many, did move toward Wilson a considerable distance in those final moments.

The complete silence from the left regarding the physical evidence has been shocking to me. It’s hard to believe the extent of it until you take a close look. But first, let me roughly define what I mean by “left.” I’m talking about The Nation, Democracy Now, and people of that ideological persuasion. For two weeks after the grand jury decision, I tried to read all the articles on Ferguson in The Nation and I’ve watched all the Ferguson clips I could find on Democracy Now. In writing this essay, I double checked that I didn’t miss anything, by googling each news organization’s URL, “ferguson”, and keywords “physical evidence” or “dna.” I’ve found nothing. The physical evidence is not mentioned in any of their reporting.

While The Nation, Democracy Now, and friends have not mentioned, let alone analyzed, the physical evidence, it is instructive to note what they did say in their reporting of the Michael Brown case. Since the day the evidence was released, these news sources almost never give an account of what happened between Wilson and Brown. What follows are the few descriptions I’ve found. None shows any sign that the physical evidence was taken into account.

In an interview on Democracy Now, Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, states, “I don’t think the evidence [to not indict] was overwhelming.” First of all, overwhelmingness is irrelevant since the legal standard for an indictment is probable cause. And none of the definitions of probable cause that I’ve seen have anything to do with overwhelmingness. But more to the point, Warren doesn’t give any evidence-based reasons for his judgement. He goes on to declare, “I don’t think we can take away anything from this decision not to indict other than that it is now officially open season on black folks when it comes to police violence [emphasis added].” One wonders if Vince Warren thinks about the meaning of his words.

In another interview on Democracy Now, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson cherry picks from witness testimony to give a very skewed picture that leaves out all the implications of the physical evidence. He neglects to mention that Brown moved back toward Wilson, let alone explain why. Self-described “antiracist essayist” Tim Wise writes on his blog that he can’t believe that Brown would “run through a hail of bullets.” He apparently believes that the only evidence for this admittedly hard to believe scenario is that “a white officer” said so. I’d encourage Mr. Wise to take a look at the physical evidence, but on the day of the grand jury’s decision, he wrote, “I suppose there is no longer much point in debating the facts surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown.” I’m going to restate that: On the day all the evidence was made public, Tim Wise decided it was time to call it quits on figuring out what happened. Unfortunately, he wasn’t alone. This seems to have been the attitude of most of the left. Who needs evidence when you have beliefs consistent with your ideology?

There are only two explanations for the leftist media’s omissions regarding the facts of the case: (1) They aren’t doing their homework. Or (2) they know how bad things look for Michael Brown but their commitment to truth in this particular case is trumped by their broader political goals. I reject the former explanation because the physical evidence has been extensively covered in the media, namely by the New York Times and the Washington Post. And the need to analyze the physical evidence is obvious. Regarding the latter explanation, that the left deliberately placed ideology and politics over truth, their priorities here are out of order and immoral.

There is a lot of complexity and uncertainty surrounding politics, and it often requires much time and effort to decipher the facts and arguments for particular policies. There are many talking heads and it’s difficult to know who to take seriously. One’s sources need to meet standards of integrity. Personally, I’m drawing a line at “ignores physical evidence when politically inconvenient.” This is the behavior of ideologues so committed that they don’t feel the need to give an accurate account of the relevant facts. Even worse, many on the left fed their misinformation to the public while youths in Ferguson burned and looted, likely harming their community for years to come.

My expectations here are minimal. I’m just asking that journalists and pundits on the left say something to the effect, “The initial Ferguson narrative was very likely inaccurate and biased in favor of Michael Brown. Nonetheless, there were several problems with these particular grand jury proceedings. And more importantly, there are systematic problems with policing and criminal justice in America . . . ” This is what honest leftists should be saying to maintain their credibility.

Let me be clear, I believe that pretty much everybody has a bias, conscious or unconscious, against black and brown people to some degree and in some circumstances. I concede that as a white male, I have no idea what it’s like to be a black male confronted by police. I’m privileged in this way as well as many other ways for simply being white. To the best of my knowledge, “stop and frisk” policies have done more harm than good. I support the use of police body cameras and special prosecutors for grand juries.  I’m open to the idea that the laws constraining the use of lethal force need to be tightened. And to the extent the left and protestors want to advertise these issues and talk about potential policy changes, I’m all on board.

But what I can’t support is blatantly misinforming the public—in this case, lying by omission—on particular issues to advance broader political goals. If the left is willing to distort Ferguson facts this much, then I should suspect they have done this in the past and will continue such misinformation in the future. The question arrises whether the left’s position on the broader issue is based on inaccurate analysis of the particular cases. In other words, perhaps not only do they have the facts wrong on the individual shootings; their broader political program for the policing issue is based on skewed interpretations of each incident. Having done a bit of research on many recent shootings, I do believe this to be true to some extent.

The left’s Machiavellian omission of the facts in the Michael Brown case has helped motivate a political movement and might be instrumental in bringing about needed reforms in policing and criminal justice in America. On the other hand, the leftist media’s propagation of such an inaccurate narrative has harmed their credibility and may have diminished wider popular support for policing and criminal justice system reforms. To those who have taken a look at the physical evidence, protestors waving banners saying “hands up, don’t shoot” likely look foolish. And the leftist media has done nothing to dispel this misleading mantra. Its probably impossible to determine if the left’s tactics here lead to a net benefit or loss for the cause. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Don’t lie or mislead for political gain or ideological pride. Trust that the truth will win out, and faithful try to speak it.

If The Nation, Democracy Now, and likeminded leftists are willing to bury the facts in this case, isn’t it reasonable to assume they do this in other areas of their reporting? Whatever one’s opinion of the integrity of these news organizations and individuals was prior to Ferguson, it should be downgraded now.

Two Must-Reads on Ferguson

If I had to recommend one piece to summarize all of the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown—the facts, grand jury process, and public reaction—this is it.  Thank you, William Saletan.

In two pages Saletan chronicles all the key events, from the killing of Brown to the grand jury decision. He judges that the case should have gone to trial, and then he eloquently identifies the hypocrisy:

We’ll never know for certain what happened that day. But we do know that much of what we originally heard, and what many of us repeated, was false. We believed it not just because somebody said it but because we found it plausible. And that sense of plausibility was based, in part, on inferences from other incidents in which a black man died at the hands of police. In a word, we prejudged the case.

This weekend, thousands of people marched in memory of Brown and Garner. They called on police, lawmakers, and all Americans to reflect on the perils of prejudgment and overreaction. That’s a worthy lesson. But reflecting on mistakes isn’t just a job for others. It’s our responsibility, too.

In a short insightful piece on Ferguson and ideology, Rod Dreher makes the point that general truths about politics and society don’t tell us what’s true in particular cases. However, we are sometimes fooled by this illogical temptation, and both the left and right are susceptible. In short, we all have an ideology and sometimes it leads us astray.

Glenn Loury Gets the Ferguson Facts Basically Right but Has Too Much Trust in the Grand Jury

Note to reader: I’ve looked at many different sources to learn about the facts of the Darren Wilson case. For anybody looking to familiarize themselves with the evidence, the Washington Post has created the best resources (see Editor’s Picks at the bottom of the page, also).

Economist Glenn Loury of Brown University recently posted on Facebook a short essay,  “Mike Brown is No Rosa Parks”. The piece analyzes the reaction to the Michael Brown shooting in the context of urban policing issues and the Civil Rights movement. The essay will be featured as part of a symposium in an upcoming addition of the Boston Review. Loury expanded on this essay in a recent episode of The Glenn Show on—I highly recommend giving it a listen.

If Professor Loury is right about the events that transpired and the integrity of the grand jury process, then I don’t find much to disagree with in his piece. However, regarding the facts, I think Loury might be a bit overconfident about one crucial fact that he has interpreted in Officer Wilson’s favor. More importantly, I think Loury has too much confidence in this particular grand jury process. Personally, I’ve lost faith that it was carried out fairly or competently.

Here is Loury’s summary of the facts:

The fact is that Michael Brown was not killed for stealing a pack of cigarillos. He assaulted a police officer, fought for the officer’s weapon, retreated before aggressively running back toward the officer, and ignored repeated orders to desist. Only then – with the officer fearing for his own life – was deadly force employed.

Brown almost certainly assaulted Wilson, ran away, and then came back toward Wilson a considerable distance. But I’m not prepared to assert that Brown was “aggressively running” at Wilson. “Aggressive running” is consistent with, but not necessitated by, the physical evidence. And the testimony on this matter is too mixed. I also wonder about the distance between Wilson and Brown as shots were fired. Was Brown close enough to warrant fear that would justify the use of lethal force? The location of blood on the street relative to Brown’s body provides very strong evidence that Brown moved back toward Wilson after running away. Brown moved 22 to 48 feet back toward Wilson. Further, the location of the shell casings are consistent with Wilson’s testimony that he was backpedaling as he shot, keeping his distance as Brown came toward him. Here are two nuanced interpretations of the gunshot audio, each coming to very different conclusions. I encourage readers to read these links and come to there own conclusions. I think we should all be able to agree that Michael Brown came toward Officer Wilson at least 22 feet while having a gun pointed at him and being told to stop. The nature of his movement, where his hands were positioned, and the distance between him and Wilson as he was being shot are unclear.

Given only what I’ve said so far, I’m not surprised Darren Wilson was not indicted. But it’s important to note that (1) the key “pro-Wilson” witness is not as credible as many have suggested, (2) the prosecutors seem to have gone easy on pro-Wilson witnesses, (3) the prosecutors knowingly allowed a women testify twice who had a history of feeding police fabricated stories, and (4) the prosectors misinformed the jury about the law and did not adequately explain the correction! A week ago I trusted the Ferguson grand jury, but I’ve lost my confidence.

Witness 10 has been portrayed as one of the most credible. He was quoted by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch as describing Brown running at Wilson in a “full charge.” His story closely matches Wilson’s. University of Utah law professor Paul Cassel has written a series of articles giving detailed analysis of the evidence. One of his articles puts a lot of stock in Witness 10. However, Lawrence O’donnell has shown that Witness 10 was inconsistent on some basic facts between his interview with police and his grand jury testimony six weeks later. Were Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson walking on the sidewalk or in the street? Was Witness 10 50 yards away or 100 yards? Prosecutors failed to dig into these inconsistencies in Witness 10’s testimony.

More importantly, I believe that the prosecutors went easy on pro-Wilson witnesses, namely, Wilson himself.

The competence and motive of the prosecutors are brought into question by the fact that they allowed Witness 40 to testify twice. This witness completely fabricated her pro-Wilson testimony and has a known history of such behavior. It’s true that prosecutors thoroughly discredited Witness 40 in front of the jury. But why would they allow such a blatant act of perjury? To be fair, it must be acknowledged that Prosecuting Attorney McCulloch had good reason for not excluding witnesses from testifying, and therefore a number of witnesses were allowed to testify based on lies or hearsay (in this link see subheadings “It All Happened So Fast,” “Not ‘Forensically Possible,'” “Lies then Truth”). But Witness 40 was clearly lying, racist, and not even in the area at the time of the shooting.

Even worse, on September 16th, at the beginning of the grand jury, the assistant district attorneys gave the jury the wrong law regarding justifiable use of deadly force. The jury was informed of the mistake and provided with the correct law on November 21, just before deliberations began. Jurors had heard all the testimony while believing that the law permits officers to use deadly force on fleeing suspects. But this particular Missouri law has been unconstitutional since the Tennessee v. Garner decision in 1985. It gets worse. Prosecutors avoided answering jurors’ questions about what the difference was between the incorrect and correct law! One wonders how many times this mistake has happened in Missouri’s grand juries! It’s hard to trust the competence and motive of the assistant district attorneys.

Many people seem to think that the belief that Michael Brown acted extremely recklessly is based solely on Darren Wilson’s testimony. These people should take a look at all the evidence. Did Wilson pad his story, stretch the truth, and lie a bit? I’d bet on it. Did Wilson describe Brown in terms that were offensive to those of us who are more enlightened in discourse about race? Yes. But at the same time, we can be almost certain that Michael Brown assaulted a police officer, fled, turn around, and continued moving toward the officer 22 to 48 feet while the officer aimed his gun and shouted at Brown to stop. The mantra “hands up, don’t shoot” is very misleading, if not wholly untrue. And using Michael Brown as a focal point to propel a revived Civil Rights movement seems tragically ironic to me.

But regarding the grand jury, I wish this case had gone to trial. I’m not a lawyer. But I’ll humbly suggest that it should have gone to trial, and the prosecutors didn’t want it to go to trial. There are important details about those final moments of Michael Brown’s life that are unknown: Was he running? Where were his hands? How far was he from Wilson? It seems to me that a trial, with cross-examination and the removal of witnesses who have no credibility, would have resulted in a process that gave more certainty and closure to everyone.

In the beginning . . .

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for at least a year. Recent events in Ferguson, MO, have made me realize that I need to clarify my positions on some issues and talk about them with others. But the subject matter of the blog will be broader than this, focusing on science, ethics, politics, and public policy. I’ll try to write something every two weeks.

I have three purposes for starting this blog: improving my thinking, improving my writing, and persuading others. Even if no one ever reads this, as long as I write, it will have been a success, because writing alone forces me to clarify my ideas. But constructive criticism and dialogue will be good for all involved.

Regarding the title of the blog, “The Skeptical Centrist,” I’d say I’m a centrist because I generally feel repelled by the talk and tone I hear on the left and right. But at the same time, I’m sympathetic to particular arguments on both sides. I don’t have a feeling of dismissiveness or hostility toward conservatives, libertarians, socialists, Republicans, or Democrats, generally speaking. But I do have strong opinions about particular issues. Sometimes those strong opinions are a belief that agnosticism is the correct position on a particular issue.

This brings me to what I mean by “skeptical.” The key features of a skeptical mind, as I see it, are these: (1) Beliefs are held with degrees of certainty. The skeptic avoids saying “I’m certain” regarding a complex social phenomenon. He always asks, “How certain am I? What is my certainty based on?” (2) The skeptic is comfortable withholding judgement and saying “I don’t know.” (3) As new information comes in, the skeptical mind adjusts the strength of its belief based on the content and credibility of the information. This is what I mean by “Skeptical Centrist.”