Tuesday, September 20, 2005

School's back in session
And that means it's time for me to start picking, once again, on the Yale Daily News. In a front-page article today, the YDN tells us:

About 37 percent of Yale's undergraduate student body has opted out of the optional $50 student activities fee, a surprising figure given that 78 percent of student voters supported it in a referendum last spring.
Aside from the obvious fact that a news article should never call something "surprising," since news is supposed to be objective, there is a glaring problem with this paragraph.

It is not in any way surprising to anyone who has studied the most basic economic game theory. This is what's known as a Collective Action problem:
Mancur Olson made the highly controversial claim that individual rational choice leads to situations where individuals with more resources, will carry a higher burden in the provision of the public good than poorer ones. Poorer individuals will usually have little choice but to opt for the free rider strategy, i.e. they will attempt to benefit from the public good without contributing to its provision. This also encourages the under-production (inefficient production) of the public good.

However, further theoretical analysis showed that this is not the case when individuals have widely-differing perceptions of the utility of the public good.
Basically, you've got 37% of individuals who think the utility of the voluntary contribution is high, and so they've contributed. The rest have adopted the free rider strategy.

Some of us, when the debate was going on, pointed out that most of the people who supported the voluntary contribution probably had no intention of contributing—and we were right. Again, this is not surprising. When one considers Yale's liberalism, it only makes sense that such a sizeable portion of the Yale student body would rejoice at spending other people's money.

Moving on
She may have graduated, and I may have graduated, but I still have at least one more opportunity to attack Jessamyn Blau's BS-dominated opinions. Today, she says:
I was appalled by Eric Purington's piece on the (ongoing) German election, in which he commends the platform of the CDU.
OK, "appalled" might be a bit strong, but I didn't find Mr. Purington's piece all that spectacular either, so I'll let it slide.
Germany's choice is between a courageous Schroeder, a man who has moved Germany back to its rightful place on the international stage while undertaking difficult social and economic reform; and a woman who has been likened (as if it were a good thing) to Ronald Reagan, and whose policy suggestions include cutting into social programs, eradicating a fossil fuels tax and other conservative-type tax cuts.
Still, she's just expressing opinion, so there's little I can do to critique her. I think that comparing someone to Reagan is a compliment, Jessamyn doesn't. That's legit.
That the Germans are embracing Americanism is completely faulty logic on Purington's part -- he first points out that many Germans take anti-American stances, but then later goes on to say that Schroeder was voted out because he subscribed to "blatant anti-Americanism." Regardless of whether Merkel wins, Purington has not proven by any means that anti-Americanism is waning in Europe (by the way, it is not).
OK. Here we go. I don't think Purington's point is accurate either. I think his logic in asserting that Schroeder's loss can be directly attributed to his anti-Americanism is tenuous at best. I think the idea that anti-Americanism is falling in Europe is pretty much absurd, too, based on what I read in the foreign press and on what friends who have recently spent or are currently spending time over there tell me.

But at least Purington tried to make a claim and back it up with a logical proof of sorts, weak though it may have been. She says he hasn't proven it (despite his efforts), and then asserts without any explanation that he's wrong. That's not the way a debate works; she still has to live up to some minimum burden of proof, which she entirely neglects. Maybe she'll address it in the next paragraph?
Moreover,
Nope, apparently not.
the suggestion that Rumsfeld was correct in coining the term "old Europe" is simply ludicrous. The European Union -- which, incidentally, is the largest economic area in the world -- has a huge sphere of influence that grows every day as Europe uses the carrot of economic engagement to encourage political and social reform. Most countries seem to prefer this to the rotting stick of American "hard power."
Geez. I'm not even sure what to say here. The only conclusion I can reach is that Jessamyn has absolutely no idea what context surrounded Rumsfeld's use of the term "old Europe" was. For one thing, the economic viability of the region had nothing to do with Rumsfeld's terminology. (Incidentally, how does one define an "economic area," and what is Jessamyn's basis for defining it as the largest? In land mass, Europe definitely doesn't win—and I'm not sure it leads the race in economic strength, either. My guess is that Jessamyn heard this in a class at some point and adopted it as Gospel.) And where is Europe's sphere of influence increasing through "the carrot of economic engagement" precisely? I don't see evidence of any political or social reform fostered by the Europeans anywhere in the world—though I invite anyone to correct me. And that's a straw man anyway—again, the influence Europe holds over the world was never Rumsfeld's point either. Rumsfeld's point, for those like Jessamyn who seem to have been asleep at the time, was that there are two centers of power within Europe. They are the Franco-Prussian axis and the non-Franco-Prussian axis. His point was that, while Europe is improving in leaps and bounds, most of its growth and increasing influence come out of the former Soviet republics than out of France and Germany. So, in attempting to disprove Rumsfeld's terminology, Jessamyn manages to avoid entirely any perception that she is even addressing his claim.
And finally,
Thank God.
the stance that Germany and France, among many others, took against the United States is neither "meaningless" nor "distracting."
It's a shame Purington used those words. I wouldn't have called them meaningless, as they revealed pretty strongly France and Germany's unwillingness to stand up to the threat of aggression, in my opinion; I wouldn't have called them distracting because they couldn't have had much less of an effect on our pursuit of Saddam.
It was a very clear stance against an illegal war that has increased lawlessness in the already explosive Middle East.
Oy. OK, Jessamyn, praytell what war has been "legal"? I know what you'll say, of course—the American Revolution! Except that, if the American colonists were justified in fighting for their independence, that means the British crown was prosecuting an illegal war in return. How about the liberation of Kuwait? Again, that was a reaction to Saddam's aggression, which was undoubtedly illegal, making another illegal war. War, by definition, is a violation of multiple liberties of the human spirit. Unfortunately, sometimes they have to happen.
It's time we all accept -- especially those of us lucky enough to experience living in foreign countries -- that the reach of the "world's only superpower" is quickly waning.
Accept? I call thee French! Seriously, you've been spending too much time in Paris, mademoiselle. There is no reason to accept the decline of one's nation. This doesn't mean that we should lash out and cling to power at all costs—but it does mean we can and should do our best to strengthen our position in the world. I wonder, however, if Jessamyn doesn't do a little internal dance of joy when she thinks of the possible downfall of the United States. I wonder if she's forgotten the chaos that reigned after the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the various wars around the world that followed the fall of the British. It is a dangerous possibility.

It is also a conversation that has nothing to do with Mr. Purington's article. You like that? How she went completely off-topic, used him for a launching pad to address almost nothing of the substance of his mediocre column?

This is modern American liberalism—no substantial analysis, just "I think it's this way, so it must be." She completely neglects reality and the demands of proving a point in order to make wild assertions with no basis in fact (or at least none that she bothers to present to her readers).

I'm almost embarrassed that I spent any time on her lousy letter—but it was too much fun for that.

1 comment:

Atlanticus said...

"This is modern American liberalism—no substantial analysis"

Let's see if you can do better:

How do you DEFINE Anti-Americanism?

What INDICATORS do you use that make you conclude that Schroeder and/or Germany is anti-American?

Don't just think about Iraq, but Afghanistan, Kosovo etc as well.

If you need some help, go to our homepage and you will find reports about anti- and pro American statements and policies.