University Responsibility for Sexual Assault

due-process-guide-cover-portrait“The Hunting Ground,” a movie about sexual assault at major universities, supports the argument that universities are not doing enough to respond to accusations about sexual assault by their students. The article hits close to home for me because, as a faculty member at Florida State University, my university is one of the ones highlighted in the movie.

FSU is featured because of the well-known accusation that Jameis Winston, former FSU quarterback who has entered the NFL draft, was accused of sexual assault in 2013. Senator Claire McCaskill has advised any NFL team interested in drafting Winston, “Watch this movie.”

I am not passing judgment on Winston or his accuser. That is the responsibility of our legal system. I am questioning what responsibility the university has in the matter, and as an FSU faculty member, I have a particular interest in the responsibility of FSU in the Winston case. READ MORE

50 Shades of Predatory Abuse: The Role of Civil Society

Fifty-Gray-posterThe movie adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey by author E.L. James swept its opening weekend competition and has generated blockbuster revenues of over $133 million, making it the top grossing movie of 2015. Controversy has come with it, as would be expected from any movie breaking through traditional cultural taboos. Combine that with sex, millions of dollars would be generated on curiosity alone. But what of the substance?

On the surface, this is a film about empowerment. Scratch below the surface, and the messages and ideas are deeply disturbing and surprisingly dismissive of complex cultural problems. As a libertarian, I was hoping 50 Shades of Grey might broach unresolved issues about power in relationships, personal liberty and the true meaning of consent. Unfortunately, the movie is not particularly good and never really grapples with them. For me, the result is a far more disturbing film because it portrays the sexual relationship between the protagonists—self-made corporate billionaire Christian Grey and obviously ingenue Anastasia Steele—as an exploration of the romantic limits of intimacy.

Anastasia eventually recognizes the hopelessly dysfunctional and destructive nature of their interpersonal relationship, but the story develops showing acceptance and even joy derived from the calculated escalation of violence in their sexual relationship. It’s not that Anastasia should be surprised. As their relationship gets more intimate and personal, she asks Christian if he is going to make love to her. His reply? “I don’t make love. I f***. Hard.” But his tastes are not just for rough, physical sex; he prefers bondage and is aroused by sadistic violence inflicted on his sexual partners. Meanwhile, the story explicitly draws the viewer in to empathize with Christian, the sadist, by showing his broken nature. At another point in the movie, Anastasia asks Christian why he is trying to change her, and he replies that she is wrong, she is changing him.

That’s the nut of the problem with this movie, and I think it goes to the heart of what consent means and why it’s important to be part of any discussion of liberty. As someone who has coached college-age women in self-defense, several of whom have been raped or sexually assaulted, I see Christian Grey’s character as an example of a modern-day sexual predator who warps the meaning of consent through the conscious manipulation of the psychological weaknesses of his prey (and this is not an exclusively male tactic). He’s not what conventional wisdom classifies as a rapist or sexual abuser. He is much closer to a drug addict or physically abusive alcoholic who uses his partner’s desire to help, nurture and support him to maintain his dominant advantage in the relationship. Consent in these relationships is tricky because the partners in abusive relationships often feel they are emotionally and physically trapped. In the film 50 Shades of Grey, Anastasia is lucky because she happened to end up with an abusive partner that actually respected her decision to leave at the end of the day. Thousands of women (and many men) aren’t so lucky.

Perhaps inadvertently, the screenwriters have shaped Christian Grey’s character as the quintessential modern-day rapist and sexual abuser. He is not the stereotypical anger rapist. Rather, he’s the much more common passive opportunist, a predator who uses his soft skills and social intelligence to identify victims and lure them into situations that make escape psychologically, if not physically, difficult. Most rapes are by acquaintances and friends: Only 26% of reported rapes are by strangers. Thus, in many ways, the sexual and relationship abuse in 50 Shades of Grey is a story for our times.

Christian Grey’s predatory and manipulative nature is established in some of the earliest scenes of the movie. When Anastasia is interviewing Grey for her college newspaper, she asks Grey if he contributes to African agricultural initiatives because he cares about the poor in those countries. He responds by telling Ana he invests because the projects are profitable and, further, says he is not driven by idealism. He then asks Ana if she is an idealist. She confesses that she’s an English literature major which means, in essence, by definition she is an idealist. Grey has found his target. Her follows her to her workplace (a hardware store several hours away), and then courts her with gifts (a new laptop, new clothes after “saving” her after a drunken night out, and a new car for her college graduation). This is stalking by most conventional standards. Ana is resistant, then succumbs to his persistent, attentive advances. Their first sexual episode is passionate and very conventional, as Grey continues to seduce Ana into a psychologically dependent relationship while not revealing his true penchant for sexual violence. Finally, after he is secure in her emotional dependence on him, he shows her his “playroom,” and the journey into BDSM begins.

Throughout their affair, Grey is clear that Ana can leave at any time, but he also demonstrates a controlling nature that interferes with all of Ana’s friends and family. He hooks his brother up with her roommate, brushes off her father, charms her mother, and forces her to distance herself from old friends. This is not a normal relationship, as Ana recognizes in the film, but it mirrors the controlling relationships that keep women (and men) in abusive relationships for years before they can break free and long after they have been deeply and emotionally scarred.

Fortunately, Ana redeems herself (and the movie) by breaking her relationship off after a particularly abusive sexual episode in the playroom (albeit invited by Ana so she can “understand” Grey better). It turns out, Ana never was the submissive to Grey’s dominant despite everything he did to manipulate her into accepting the “freedom” that came with his violent sexual preferences. The scene would make any Randian egoist proud. Ana fully embraces her identity as an individual and desire for a “normal” romantic relationship, recognizes the inherently dehumanizing character of Grey’s sadistic sexual proclivities, decides to protect her individual dignity (and idealism), and walks out. Grey lets her go.

But here is where I think the conversation about interpersonal liberty should start with libertarians. In a pluralist world, one that explicitly accepts the diversity and necessity of the inherent value of human life, not everyone is wired to be a Randian egoist. Christian Greys may exist—controlling and institutionally powerful individuals who still respect the decisions of others—but thousands of other predatory opportunists exist and some of them may be our next door neighbors. They are the ones that kidnap and hold women as sex slaves for decades while helping their neighbors search for the girls they abducted and are hiding in their basement. They are the men at fraternity parties that drug women and rape them in an isolated bedroom away from friends and others who could intervene. They are the pimps that tattoo their prostitutes as proof of “ownership.” They are the alcoholics that physically and emotionally abuse their spouses and children, leaving scars that sometimes never heal and all too often lead to suicide.

What is the role of the individual in stopping these transgressions against human dignity? 50 Shades of Grey dares to broach this question, but punts the answer with an all too facile egoism that leaves narcissism intact and the bonds of family and community in tatters.

The path to restoring human dignity is not through the State. On the contrary, the legal system is far too cumbersome, and bureaucracies far too inept, to address these issues. Only 25% of reported rapes result in arrest, and perhaps fewer than 10% actually result in conviction. Survivors can’t rely on the state apparatus for justice. Moreover, banning or restricting sexual practices is misguided and wrong headed. The few studies that have examined BDSM relationships have found that participants are just as happy and content with their lives as those that engage in conventional sex.

The path forward is in restoring civil society from the ground up, empowering individuals through the bonds and responsibilities that come with friendship and family. This takes many forms, and some of them are quite subtle. As one rape survivor recounts, simply having someone intervene as her rapist was advancing on her after he had drugged her would have given her the opportunity she needed to escape. (See this video here for an illustration of how voluntary, individual actions in civil society can stop sexual battery and abuse.)

Individuals make poor decisions all the time, and these decisions often have significant consequences. Eradicating the predators like Christian Grey can’t happen in a free society, but their damage can be minimized through the voluntary actions of individuals willing to be more than bystanders. Waiting for Randian moral conversion will not.

Half of State Medical Boards Perform Poorly When Licensing Out-of-State Doctors

doctorA new research article in the Telemedicine and E-Health Journal shows how difficult state regulatory barriers are making it for doctors to practice effective telemedicine. Telemedicine embraces technologies as diverse as surgeons operating robots remotely, radiologists reading scanned images remotely, or psychiatrists conducting therapy sessions via videoconference.

One barrier to effective adoption of telemedicine is that states license physicians, and those licenses are not portable.


Florida’s Fiscal Policy: Responsible State Budgeting

I’ve written a study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University on Florida’s state government fiscal policy, which can be accessed here. The bottom line is that in an era of growing government and fiscal irresponsibility, Florida’s state government has a record of fiscal responsibility dating back two decades.

Both state government expenditures per person and state government employment as a share of the population have fallen, and when difficult times showed up after the 2008 recession, Florida’s state budget remained balanced without increasing taxes. Expenditures fell by more than 10% during that time to retain budget balance.

While there are some areas in which Florida could have been more fiscally responsible, they are minor compared with the record of balanced budgets, relatively responsible pension funding, low taxes, and shrinking per capita expenditures. In an era where government fiscal responsibility is rare, Florida’s fiscal policies over the past two decades provide a good model for other states.

A-B-C-Don’t Indoctrinate Me

dunce capBored State Legislators + Education + Inconvenient “Facts” = Nothing Good

In Oklahoma, a legislative committee recently passed a measure that would ban Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History courses in high school. House Bill 1380, introduced and supported by Representative Dan Fisher, will ban the use of state funds for these history courses.

The reason? Well, as Rep. Fisher put it, the courses teach only “what is bad about America.” They omit the idea of “American exceptionalism,” or the theory that the U.S. is unique in its place and role in human history.


Why Hasn’t Medicare Advantage Collapsed?

stethoscope and dollarMilliman, the actuarial consulting firm, has published a new report on the impact of the government’s cuts to Medicare Advantage. The report was sponsored by the Better Medicare Alliance, which announced that “Seniors now face soaring maximum annual out-of-pocket costs” due to the cuts.

And yet, the purported cuts have not really bitten health insurers. Medicare Advantage enrollment is at an all-time highMedicare Advantage is superior to traditional Medicare Parts A and B. However, insurers seem to capture more of the value than beneficiaries do.


Are the Ruling Elites in China Now More Pro-market than the Ruling Elites in the USA?

ChinaThe current issue of the Cato Policy Report (January/February 2015) contains a short article about a book by Zhang Weiying called The Logic of the Market: An Insider’s View of Chinese Economic Reform, which was originally published in Chinese (and said to be a best-seller in China in that form) and was recently translated into English. The author is the director of Peking University’s Center for Market and Network Economy and is described as a leader among pro-market economists in China, a description that accords well with the quotations given from his writings. In the article, a quotation from a recent Wall Street Journal interview with him states: “He [Zhang] says that when he recently wrote an article praising the late Austrian economist Murray Rothbard, the Communist Party secretary of Shanghai—a fairly high-level apparatchik—told him he liked it.”

I ask you: Has anyone high in the U.S. government ever praised any writing that lauds Rothbard’s views, not to mention Rothbard’s writings themselves? To me it is inconceivable that any such figure would do so. Moreover, is anyone in U.S. academia with a position comparable to Zhang’s position in Chinese academia likely to praise Rothbard’s views? To me it is inconceivable that any such figure would do so.

Once upon a time, the Chinese were the enemies of private property rights and free markets, and the Americans were the enemies of the Chinese and purported to cherish the institutions that the Chinese hated. Today no such clear-cut difference exists. If anything, today’s Chinese in high places seem to be more inclined to say kind words about private property rights and the free market than are comparably placed Americans. And when such Americans do speak favorably of these institutions, they do not really mean what they say, as their actions consistently attest.

What Makes a Miserable Country?

miserableVenezuela is the world’s most miserable country, according to a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University who have calculated a World Misery Index. “Misery” is measured as the sum of a country’s inflation rate, unemployment rate, and interest rate, minus the annual percentage change in real GDP per capita. The higher the total of these four numbers, the higher a country’s misery score. The index ranks 108 countries.

As the table at the bottom shows, the five most miserable countries in the world are: Venezuela, Argentina, Syria, Ukraine, and Iran. Venezuela’s misery score is almost 40 points more than second-worst Argentina.

The five least miserable countries in the world are: Brunei, Switzerland, China, Taiwan, and Japan. The United States ranks as the 14th least miserable country, but somebody living in Detroit or south Chicago might think differently, meaning the index relies on aggregates and ignores regional differences.


It’s Called Recovery, but Where’s the Beef?

Many economists and other analysts have recognized that the recovery from the U.S. economy’s most recent contraction has been unusually weak—weaker, for example, than any other since World War II. But analysts have disagreed in characterizing the current recovery, which according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the semi-official arbiter of business-cycle chronology, began in mid-2009 after a contraction that had continued for ten quarters. Some aspects of the economy, such as real GDP and consumer spending, have recovered their pre-recession highs and continued to increase. The rate of unemployment has fallen by several percentage points from its high of more than 10 percent. Net private business investment, which took an especially steep tumble during the contraction, has regained much of its loss.

Some of the most-cited indexes of recovery, however, are ambiguous, at best. The rate of unemployment, for example, has fallen in large part because millions of potential workers have left the labor force. The employment/population ratio, which fell by about 5 percentage points during the contraction, has barely budged from its new, much lower plateau. A growing GDP, despite its near-universal acceptance as the best measure of economic growth, actually tells us little about changes in the public’s well-being. Some components of GDP, especially some of the elements that pertain to government spending, actually should be deducted from, rather than added to, the domestic product, inasmuch as the related government activities—military aggression abroad, domestic spying on the entire population, enforcement of counter-productive and even destructive regulations, prosecution and incarceration of people whose “crimes” have no victims—harm the public, rather than improving their welfare.


Let Them Eat Cake

In January of this year, a Denver bakery found itself at the center of a civil rights controversy. The crime? The bakery refused customer Bill Jack’s request to put an anti-gay message (“God Hates Gays”) on a cake. He reported that he felt as though the bakery discriminated against him based on his “creed.”

In response to the claim, the bakery’s owner, Marjorie Silva, stated that, “it’s unfair that he’s accusing me of discriminating when I think he was the one that is discriminating.”

Almost immediately, people came to Silva’s defense. Her supporters claimed that she had every right to deny Jack’s request. Her personal convictions differed from those of her customer, so why should she be forced to cater to his request? There are a multitude of other bakeries who would have likely supplied the requested confection.

This isn’t the first time a Colorado bakery has come under fire for its decisions regarding the LGBT community. In fact, a judge recently ruled that Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop had unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple for refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

In this case, however, the sympathies went to the customers, and not the store’s owner.

This is puzzling. In both cases you have a store owner refusing to serve a particular client because their personal beliefs conflict with those of their customer. However, the reactions have been very different. In both of these cases, however, the parties have called upon the government’s anti-discrimination laws to compel the other party to compensate them.

Why is it that we should be discussing whether or not we should force bakers to make gay wedding cakes, straight wedding cakes, anti-gay cakes, etc.? Allow me to argue that there is another way to deal with this issue—let the market sort this one out.


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Above is a quick Google search of the bakeries in Denver. Every one of the red dots represents a bakery. As you can see, that’s a lot of pastries. Now, let’s suppose that some of these bakeries, say 25%, have a problem making wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. This means there are 75% of bakeries that would make the cake. Perhaps a subset of these bakeries specialize in same-sex wedding cakes (to answer your question, no, I don’t know what a same-sex wedding cake looks like vs. a traditional one other than maybe the cake with me).

What would happen in this case? Certain bakeries would get reputations for making particular cakes and serving a certain clientele. After word gets out, those in search of same-sex wedding cakes go to bakeries that will make them and avoid the ones who don’t. Those who are offended by the idea of same-sex marriage don’t have to compromise their convictions–producers or consumers. Same goes for those who are offended by a strictly heterosexual interpretation of marriage.

This idea makes many people uncomfortable. In response to this idea, many people would say that we should just ban this idea all together because “discrimination is wrong.” If we allowed businesses to refuse service to particular groups based on sexual orientation, or race, age, etc., then we’d wind up with a pre-civil rights era world of restaurants, theaters, bakeries, etc. completely excluding particular groups.

Perhaps we should let them. Why? Because they bear the full cost of that choice.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say a restaurant owner is a misogynist. He just can’t stand women. As a result, he makes his eatery a “men only” establishment. What are the consequences of this decision? First, he loses out on the business he might earn from women coming to eat in his restaurant. Since women make up about 50% of the population, he’s eliminating a potentially large source of revenue. In addition to this, he loses out on a variety of male customers who want to bring their wives, girlfriends, etc. Further, many people, including a lot of men, will find the owner’s policy offensive. As a result, they will refuse to eat there. The owner sees his profits fall. Most likely, he will be forced to close his business.

So what can the owner do? He can continue to indulge his preferences of discriminating against women and lose a ton of business or he can serve women and potentially increase his revenues.

Put simply, the market tempers his discrimination. The market forces of profit and loss mean that he bears the full cost of his bias against women.

Let’s bring this back to the idea of bakeries and wedding cakes for same-sex marriages. If a bakery refuses to make a cake for a gay wedding, or refuses to put an anti-gay message on a cake, they bear the cost of those preferences. As a result, they will lose the business of a particular group of people. In addition, just as in the example above, they will likely lose additional customers who identify with the group or find the bakery’s policy offensive. It will negatively impact the bakeries. They will either a. continue to refuse service to the particular group and lose business or b. relax their restrictions.

The current policies of anti-discrimination doesn’t eliminate bigotry. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, anytime you prohibit something you merely succeed at pushing it under ground. Moreover, current policies require monitoring and enforcement costs. As the example above illustrates, the market acts as its own monitor and enforcer–putting financial and competitive pressures on those with extreme (and unpopular) preferences.

Put simply, allowing people to indulge their preferences, or discriminate, have significant consequences in the marketplace. In this case, allowing the market to handle the situation means that everyone gets to have their cake and eat it too.