Oracles: Then and Now

Enjoying Dan Carlin’s recent “King of Kings” series and just reached a discussion of the Oracles at Delphi.

Carlin was remarking on the Greeks consulting with the Oracle of Delphi in the face of the Persian invasion, and notes, “…how weird it was to have [mysticism, Magic 8 Balls, ouija boards and the like] be so connected to things like policy decisions… You know it’s crazy to the modern mind.”

“Crazy?” I wondered, “Really?”

Do we not actually understand this? Is it “crazy” or incomprehensible? How often do we in modern times consult the “oracles” of the academy or economics or policy think tanks. Seers and prognosticators of public “science” whose methods and motivations are unknown to us, but on who we lean to justify our beliefs and actions. “Science says”, we proclaim. Or “This economist I like supports this policy, so I will too.”

Is the policymaker or academic who buries their ideological bent in the arcane language of specialty research fields really that different from the oracle who buried her or her handler’s desired positions in the language and trappings of mysticism and ritual?

My answer, is certainly “Yes.” I’m not claiming there is nothing different between the oracles of old and the seers of today. But the main difference is not in our behavior or knowledge or understanding as Carlin claims. The difference is not that we treat them differently than the oracles in Carlin’s story. The difference is that their methods are theoretically knowable.

However, while knowable, they are most often actually unknown. We do not test their models, we do not hold them accountable for the failure of their models, we do not ask for replication, we do not insist on re-evaluation and re-consideration, we do not insist on open books in their research record, we often do not even insist on a clear logical train from evidence to conclusions.

Is it possible that we can just trust them? Probably more often than not, but over the past several years as I’ve delved more into the details of the methods and evidence of public science and analysis (academic and government), quite often I have found the emperor has no clothes. Shockingly often in fact. While we have these powerful tools for evaluating our circumstances and the weight of ever more detailed historic evidence on which to bring them to bear, it is unfortunately common for the pronouncements of “authorities” to be little better than the oracles and seers which Carlin dismisses as relics of an older unenlightened age.

I would challenge people to spend more of their time with solid academic results, however I would remind you to engage with caution, and humility, and a healthy skepticism. We know much less than we claim to know.

FA Hayek once wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little the really know about what the imagine they can design.” What an amazing world we would live in if economics, and the physical and social sciences in general, were used to temper our impositions on each other and slow the hand of force, versus used to produce contorted justifications for ever greater manipulations of our lives and relationships.

So please, before you post on Facebook that next government agency or university study that supports your priors, ask yourself, “Did I spend any time to understand this research and why it’s reliable, including credible criticism and possible problems… or am I simply returning from the mountain with divinations after consulting a 21st Century oracle?”

We will all get far more from your posts and sharing if you add in a healthy dose of perspective and inquiry.


Interview on KVOI 1030 AM, “Wake Up Tucson” 01/09/17

Deep dive into the structural differences being the selection of the chief executive in parliamentary vs presidential systems. Discussion touches on the ratio of high-performing liberal democracies to their adoption of parliamentary vs presidential structures, the differentiation between head of state and head of government, and the Constitutional history which lead to our form of presidential system including the purpose of the Electoral College.

Beyond Nov. 8th

I wear my political philosophy on my sleeve… which many would tell me is bad for my friendships and my business.

I have not really found that to be true.

Engaging on difficult topics with strangers, friends, even clients, disciplines me to be thoughtful, be kind, be humble, to look for humor, and always start by seeking areas of agreement. Quite often I fall short of this bar, I get prideful about the depth of my understanding, sometimes my temper starts to boil, I become competitive and try to “win” or monologue when I should simply be listening. However, I am regularly brought low when I do these things, when I step outside the proper bounds of civilized discussion. Painfully, though luckily, almost every time I do these things circumstance disciplines me… and I get better.

Whatever skill I have today at communicating my beliefs comes not from inborn ability but mostly from screwing up and doing it wrong then learning and doing better. Whatever skill I have tomorrow or next year will be bred from the mistakes I make between now and then.

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Raising The Bar: Redux

As members of the Colorado Legislature who played intimate roles in the budgeting and appropriation of marijuana tax revenues, we feel it is our duty to set the record straight so that voters in both states have accurate information about this subject.

We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana tax revenues featured in your committee’s ads range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate. As you can see in the attached issue brief provided by Colorado Legislative Council staff and fact sheet produced by the Colorado Department of Education:

[List of notable inaccuracies]

We respectfully request that you stop airing or otherwise publishing campaign ads that contradict these facts. We also trust they will be reflected in any of your future communications to Arizona voters regarding Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use. (Colorado Officials Politely Ask Arizona’s Anti-Marijuana Group To Stop Lying)

Almost five years ago, I wrote an article entitled Raising The Bar. The subject of this article was the perennially poor quality of public policy conversation and punditry from which our city, county and state suffer.

This year Arizona has a demonstrably destructive minimum wage hike and benefits mandate on the ballot (Proposition 206). New law which will knock more rungs out of the bottom of the employment ladder and make it harder for young people and low skilled workers to find a path to success in the labor market.

However, with the laudable exceptions of Americans for Prosperity Arizona and The Free Enterprise Club, no organizations have attempted to form a principled opposition to this harmful initiative. No one is trying to educate and persuade voters regarding this critical economic issue.

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AirBnB’s Corrosive Community Commitment

Just got an email from Airbnb regarding their new “Community Commitment”. It reads:

“You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

Now to be clear, this isn’t just about nice words, it has real teeth. If you don’t make this pledge, starting November 1st, you will be prohibited from either hosting or booking with the service.

I don’t know specifically where this is coming from, though anti-discrimination is of course perennially in the air. However, I am extremely sorry to see AirBnB either fall in with the one-size-fits-all crowd or feel it has been pushed to this action by dominating regulators and other pressure groups.

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Why “Yes” on Prop 205?

The reason to vote Yes on 205, is because the No Campaign has worked so diligently to turn this election into a referendum on the continuation of the drug war.

The same people who fought against medical marijuana passage, have repeatedly attempted to undermine the initiative since passage, and blocked legislative legalization of recreational marijuana at every turn, are now running one of the more dishonest campaigns I have ever seen (What Are Crafters Of Anti-Pot Ads Smoking?). Major funding ($500K) for which is coming from the maker of a demonstrably lethal opioid (Fentanyl Maker Donates Big…). A company who admitted in shareholder communications that they made the donation due to fear of competition from legal marijuana sales.

This coalition has fought safe marijuana legislation every step of the way. This group of individuals and organizations have known this was coming if the legislature did not take action. Major policy conferences have discussed the necessity of legislative action for the last decade in order to stave off ballot initiatives. The No Campaign coalition chose to reject cooperation with marijuana policy reformers and left them only one path forward.

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Fictional Russian Naval Officer Offers Some Perspective For Trump Supporters: “You’ve killed us!”

As more evidence comes out to confirm that Trump is exactly as awful as we all knew he was, Republicans who had attempted to remain faithful to the party are finally running for the lifeboats. These “unendorsements” unsurprisingly have triggered a classic Trump tantrum over the past two days, turning his Twitter account, communications team and supporter base against established and prospective Republican legislators vying for seats in November.

For instance, after Paul Ryan stated he would no longer campaign with Mr. Trump, Ben Shapiro notes:

That led Trump to tweet, “Paul Ryan should spend more time on balancing the budget, jobs and illegal immigration and not waste his time on fighting Republican nominee.” Of course, Trump could spend more of his time on not being the worst Republican candidate in history rather than bashing the man he needs in order to pass his agenda. But that wouldn’t be Trumpian, would it? Trump Doesn’t Care Whether The GOP Keeps Congress

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Wayne Grudem’s Incomplete Retraction

Wayne Grudem has finally retracted his ill informed and ill advised endorsement of Donald Trump (Trump’s Moral Character and the Election). As he himself admits, he didn’t do his research, and that upon looking further it is clear that no one for whom character counts should support Trump’s candidacy.

However, I share this only because of how often it was shared with me, not as an endorsement of Grudem’s opinions.

While I am happy to see him retract his endorsement (including the extraordinary step of having Townhall remove the original article), this article and his thinking continue to be poorly researched, containing inexcusable gaps for someone who presumes to speak as a political pundit.

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