A story (not online) in a recent issue of Liberty Magazine reports that research by Arthur C. Brooks shows that people who favor government spending on poverty programs give less to charity than those who don’t support such spending.
If that were only true for monetary donations, there would be a number of plausible questions that could be raised. But Brooks gets around those by showing that it is also true of blood donations.
Brooks’ findings should not be used to justify any particular ideology, since a willingness to act charitably doesn’t necessarily correlate with an understanding of the effects of political policies. It might be interesting to know if a willingness to act charitably correlates with more careful education concerning the effects of political policies, but that would be hard to objectively measure. Brooks’ findings should be used only to discredit people who claim that there’s a simple way to determine that advocates of a welfare state are more compassionate than advocates of smaller government.
Here is an excerpt from Brooks’ book, and other reports on his research are here and here.
Book review: Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape
This book presents carefully researched evidence that suicide bombers are motivated primarily by a desire to force democracies to withdraw troops from the territories claimed by the bombers, that they use rational strategies to achieve their goals, and that suicide bombers are acting mainly out of a sense of duty (like kamikazes) rather than the insanity of ordinary suicides or a desire for rewards in the afterlife.
The book’s style is fairly dry and slow to read.
He sounds like one of the most objective voices on this subject, although his objectivity is hard to verify. He is so careful to minimize partisan comments that his index only lists one entry for George Bush and none for Clinton. One place where this disappoints me is when he reports that no al-Qaeda suicide attackers came from any country described by the U.S. State Department as sponsoring terrorism. Since this covers a period including nearly 4 years of Clinton’s term, it suggests that the problem of falsely connecting governments such as Saddam’s with al-Qaeda is a more pervasive problem than just one dishonest president (although the State Department used a broader definition of terrorism than the suicide terrorism that the book deals with). I’m disappointed that Pape doesn’t analyze this enough to determine how much of this problem preceded Bush.
His use of the word nationalism to describe al-Qaeda’s aims doesn’t sound quite right, but it is close to the territorial, tribalistic motives that his evidence points to.
It’s only in the last few pages when he departs from reporting research and recommends strategies that he becomes unconvincing. His support for a fence over all of the U.S. – Mexican border seems unrelated to the rest of the book. Does he think stopping people from carrying bombs across the border will help (i.e. that it would be hard for a terrorist to make or buy a weapon after crossing the border)? Or does he hope to stop terrorists from crossing the border (which his book implies would require turning away nearly everyone from Islamic countries with U.S.-backed governments)?
He says “the idea that Islamic fundamentalism is on the verge of world domination … is pure fantasy”. His book provides some evidence for that conclusion, but it involves extrapolating from a small sample of terrorist campaigns to conclude al-Qaeda will stop at achievable goals. I’m uncomfortable with the way he dismissed such an important source of disagreement with excessive confidence and with limited analysis. (I’m also annoyed that he exaggerates the degree of alarmism of his opponents).
The Virgin Earth Challenge would be a great idea if we could count on it being awarded for a solution that resembles the headlines it’s been getting (e.g. $25M Bounty Offered for Global Warming Fix).
But the history of such prizes suggests that even for simple goals, describing the terms of a prize so that inventors can predict what will qualify for the award is nontrivial (e.g. see the longitude prize, where the winner appeared to have clearly met the conditions specified, yet wasn’t awarded the prize for 12 years because the solution didn’t meet the preconceptions of the board that judged it).
Anyone who looks past the media coverage and finds the terms of the challenge will see that the criteria are intended to be a good deal more complex than those of the longitude prize, that there’s plenty of ambiguity in them (although it’s possible they plan to make them clearer later), and that the panel of judges could be considered to be less impartial than the ideal one might hope for.
The criterion of “commercial viability” tends to suggest that a solution that required additional charitable donations to implement might be rejected even if there were donors who thought it worthy of funding, yet I doubt that’s consistent with the intent behind the prize. This ambiguity looks like simple carelessness.
The criterion of “harmful effects and/or other incidental consequences of the solution” represents a more disturbing ambiguity. Suppose I create nanobots which spread throughout the biosphere and sequester CO2 in a manner that offends some environmentalists’ feelings that the biosphere ought to be left in its natural state, but otherwise does no harm. How would these feelings be factored into the decision about whether to award the prize? Not to mention minor ambiguities such as whether making a coal worker’s job obsolete or reducing crop yields due to reduced atmospheric CO2 counts as a harmful effect.
I invite everyone who thinks Branson and Gore are serious about paying out the prize to contact them and ask that they clarify their criteria.
I recently took a simple genetic test to determine whether I have genes for fast or slow caffeine metabolism. The result says that I’m a fast metabolizer, which indicates that caffeine use reduces my risk of heart attacks rather than increasing it.
This kind of testing is just becoming affordable, and it seems like many more tests of this nature should become common soon.