The View From Olympus

Correct me if I’m wrong here:

1) In Russia, there is a law against so-called “gay propaganda”. Reasonable people (including me) consider this a regrettable curtailment of liberty. Some of those reasonable people also believe that it contributes to a culture in which violent acts against gay people are condoned or encouraged. This, if true, is sickening.

2) In Russia, there is also a law requiring most male citizens to serve at least a year in the military. Reasonable people (including me) consider this a regrettable curtailment of liberty. It is widely reported that conscripts are routinely subject to violent hazing that has been characterized as rising to the level of torture. News reports suggest that hundreds of conscripts die every year as a result of this hazing. This, if true, is sickening.

3) Conscription affects far more people than the anti-propaganda laws. In most cases, it also affects them far more severely. (If you doubt this, try asking your friends which they’d prefer: avoiding public discussions of homosexuality or serving a year in the Russian military.) Conscription is therefore, on both counts, the (far) greater outrage.

4) The presence of the Winter Olympics in Russia has created an opportunity for people all over the world to shine a light on the Russian government’s oppression of its people.

5) Yet, in what appears to me to be a stunning failure of perspective, those people all over the world (or at least the noisiest of them) have focused the bulk of their opprobrium on the (far) lesser of these two evils while failing even to take notice of the greater.

6) I suspect (though I certainly do not know this) that part of the reason is that many of the protesters see Russian gay rights activists as “people like me”, but see the sort of Russians who actually get conscripted (i.e. those who don’t qualify for student deferments) as “people unlike me” — and those protesters have succumbed to the extremely regrettable human tendency to believe that “people unlike me” aren’t really all that important.

7) In that sense (and if I am right about this), the protestors occupy the low ground, where one risks being distracted by irrelevant details. A view from “on high” would treat all people as equally worthy of freedom and respect.

8) To say this again: The anti-propaganda laws restrict a small fraction of the freedom of a small fraction of the Russian population. The conscription laws restrict a huge fraction of the freedom of a huge fraction of the Russian population. Protestors could have focused on either. They focused on the first.

9) To make this even more baffling, it’s not like the anti-propaganda laws are even the second (or third or fourth) most egregious laws in that oppressive country. There’s also a law forbidding employment at less than a government-mandated minimum wage. How did the protesters manage to ignore that one?


71 Responses to “The View From Olympus”

  1. 1 1 Ken B

    I was about to express a bit of skepticism about 6. Or at least that there’s a subtlety I think it more likely that there is the usual hierarchy of groups, seen on a continuum ordered by some notion of historical repression as well as cultural identification by the classifiers, where objection is raised only if a higher group oppresses a lower one rather than vice versa. But then I saw 9. Well played.

  2. 2 2 Ken B

    To elucidate. In the mindset I mean, common on campuses and among the permanently umbraged, muslims can oppress muslims, and muslims can oppress christians, and christians can oppress christians, but because muslims are seen by these folks as historically oppressed christians cannot oppress muslims without outrage. Differs from 6.

  3. 3 3 Bennett Haselton

    I suspect the factors are that: (1) public abuse of gay people is highly visible, while abuse in the military happens away from the public eye; (2) moreover, *laws* that are actually on the books, are highly visible and impossible to deny, while officials can pretend that military hazing isn’t happening; (3) gay rights groups may be hoping to tie Sochi to awareness-raising in their own countries, where anti-gay prejudice continues to a lesser extent, but this doesn’t happen with military hazing because that is *probably* much less extensive in most of the West, and in any case there is no organized movement to fight it. But the most important reason may be (4) the choice of which causes and issues “catch fire” in a given year, is to some extent arbitrary. There are many public influencers who nondeterministically will or will not endorse a certain cause with a certain probability, and if enough of them happen to do it at the same time, then the issue becomes and Issue, and if they don’t, it doesn’t.

  4. 4 4 GabbyD

    but that ranking of stuff to campaign against is just one way to decide on what to take umbrage at.another way is “what is the most likely/easiest to change?” doesnt it stand to reason that the homosexuality laws, BECAUSE the damage is so diffused, is also the easiest to ease/relax? and the military conscription, because it happens within an institution, its relatively concentrated, and its part of that institution for years — all reasons to believe you’d go for the “easier” causes first?i’d agree with you if people were willing to pay large stranded costs to achieve their objectives. like going to war for your beliefs.

  5. 5 5 Harold

    Whilst these policies may entail some reduction in freedom, we must as always look at the benefits as well as the costs. One can argue that conscription has benefits. It provides a military which some consider necessary and provides some training for young people. The extent to which one disagrees with these arguments may affect the level of your disapproval for the policy. One could argue that banning gay propaganda has benefits. It helps prevent the conversion of susceptible youth from an upright heterosexual orientation to a nasty, corrupt homosexual one. The extent to which you disagree with these arguments may affect your level of disapproval for the policy.One can argue that a minimum wage has benefits. Indeed, there are many Nobel prize-winning economists that seem to thinks so. So if we look at what is perceived as the benefits and the costs, the gay thing offers definite and significant costs with zero perceived benefits. Conscription and minimum wage are perceived to offer costs, but also benefits. This makes the anti-gay legislation a legitimate target for protest.

  6. 6 6 suckmydictum

    One of the reasons people like Landsburg fail to make friends with non-libertarians is their flat and flaccid use of language.To describe, from a peaceful foreign nation, forceful conscription, the hazing therefrom, and state-cheerled violence against a defenseless minority, as “curtailments of freedom” is not a proper deployment of words. For example, my having to register my car curtails my freedom; not being able to buy booze on Sundays curtails my freedom. SL grasping for phrases and managing to recast fascist aggressors as curtailers of freedom is worthy of a serious rebuke, even though the reasoning underlying his post is otherwise, and as usual, good. May the curtailers of freedom fly in fear!

  7. 7 7 Kenny

    Is this really the most important thing about which you could be blogging? Are you not also guilty of a “failure of perspective”?I think you’re right about point (6); that would also explain the general lack of indignation about the widespread “curtailment of freedom” regarding inter-nation migration.

  8. 8 8 Steve S

    Did you account for the permanent nature of the anti-gay laws vs. the time limited conscription in your “cost-benefit analysis?” Maybe people calculate, whether correctly or not, that the bigger curtailment of freedom is to live your entire life in minor fear and sadness than to have one year of intense pain and psychological torture?

  9. 9 9 Ken B

    @7: Right you are. But *commenting* on Steve’s post is evidently the most valuable available use of time.

  10. 10 10 Joe

    Is it really possible that you can’t recognize a difference between the persecution of a powerless minority and a burden that is broadly shared across the population? What a waste of words.

  11. 11 11 sam

    6 is mostly correct. These “protesters” are mostly wealthy American whites who are personally unaffected by both Russian policies.What motivates them to be concerned about this faraway land? Status.Being concerned about the lives of gays is correlated with wealth in the US. Being concerned about the lives of soldiers is correlated with the middle class.What should a young striver, freshly transplanted into the city from the suburbs, protest?The answer is obviously concern about the lives of gays, because in doing so she can separate herself from the middle class suburbs she wishes to escape, and ingratiate herself with the upper-class urbanites she desperately wishes to become. Expressing concern about the conditions of soldiers would send exactly the wrong message.

  12. 12 12 Steve Landsburg


    Is it really possible that you can’t recognize a difference between the persecution of a powerless minority and a burden that is broadly shared across the population?

    Is it really possible that you can’t recognize that a burden placed on a large share of the population is worse than a (similarly sized per capita) burden placed on a small share?

  13. 13 13 Jack PQ

    @12: If a minority is oppressed, it is a human rights violation. If an entire population (minus ruling class) is oppressed, we just call it a backward nation. I think that`s how Joe sees it.This seems a variant of the Stalin (poss. misattributed) quote, The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.

  14. 14 14 Steve Landsburg

    FYI: I am aware that line breaks are still disappearing from comments. I’m working on fixing this.

  15. 15 15 Joe

    When a powerless minority is oppressed, it is a human rights violation. When a vast majority of a population is oppressed, it is still a human rights violation, but there is political recourse. If the Russian people want to change their conscription system or minimum wage, they have at least some power to do so, whether it be through voting, protesting, or overthrow of their government (it has happened before). The oppressed minority has no such power.When deciding where to focus our “opprobrium”, we don’t do an economic cost/benefit analysis. We support those who need our support the most. It’s not complicated unless you try to make it so.

  16. 16 16 David

    @5: But the arguments for the perceived benefits of conscription are as vacuous as those for the banning of gay propaganda, as the history of the U.S. military attests. Because Steve sees the benefits of both as zero, he compares the costs and finds those of conscription to be greater.

  17. 17 17 Steve Landsburg

    Joe: I think that your argument has some merit — it’s not just a matter of which depradation is worse; it’s also a matter of where our help is needed more. And your point, I think, is that when more people are affected, they (by virtue of their numbers) are less likely to need our help. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty clear that the people who suffer the most under Russia’s system of conscription do not have substantial power to change the government, at least not without a very great cost to themselves.

  18. 18 18 Brian

    ” in what appears to me to be a stunning failure of perspective, those people all over the world (or at least the noisiest of them) have focused the bulk of their opprobrium on the (far) lesser of these two evils while failing even to take notice of the greater.”

    Steve, I’m not sure what protesters you mean, but I think this is less an issue of the protesters and more about the media coverage of the protesters. The Western (esp. U.S.) media is interested in covering the gay-rights angle (note that NBC coverage STARTED with that last night) because it’s the latest cause du jour. And frankly, while I don’t like to see anyone discriminated against without good reason, there’s no rational way to explain the obsession with gay rights in any country considering that fewer than 4% of the population is gay. There are certainly far more important things to worry about in every country and there always will be.

  19. 19 19 David

    @15: I would argue that the oppressed minority also has that power, provided it can convince another country to intervene for them (it has happened before.

  20. 20 20 Steve Landsburg


    I *think* the line breaks are working now.

    I’ve thought this before and been wrong, so I make no promises.

    But there’s reason to believe we’ve solved this problem!

  21. 21 21 David

    Can you do anything about users who forget to close parenthesis?

  22. 22 22 James

    I can see some possible explanations for the strong reactions to the gay propaganda law and lack of interest in the conditions of the military.

    The practice of abusing conscripts is not an official policy, just something that the Russian government permits. The law against gay propaganda is a government policy. For those who do not necessarily object to a draft, it night seem that there is no single party to blame for the mistreatment of soldiers because the guilty parties are other individual soldiers. But the law concerning gay propaganda is an act of commission by the state and there is a specific guilty party here.

    Also, gays are commonly seen as an oppressed group on whose behalf it is noble to engage in protest. Young able bodies males (the group affected by the draft) are seen as almost disposable. No one is concerned about defending the rights of this group.

  23. 23 23 Steve Landsburg

    James: I haven’t even read your comment yet, but I sure like your line breaks.

  24. 24 24 Ken B

    Let’s test this new-fangled linebreaking.

    When I was one-and-twenty
    I heard a wise man say,
    “Give crowns and pounds and guineas
    But not your heart away;
    Give pearls away and rubies
    But keep your fancy free.”
    But I was one-and-twenty,
    No use to talk to me.

    When I was one-and-twenty
    I heard him say again,
    “The heart out of the bosom
    Was never given in vain;
    ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
    And sold for endless rue.”
    And I am two-and-twenty
    And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

  25. 25 25 Steve Landsburg

    One last administrative note:

    If you’ve posted a comment where linebreaks were lost, and if you want them restored, email me a list of the places where linebreaks should be inserted and I will insert them manually.

  26. 26 26 Daniel

    @ Steve Landsburg 25,

    Lol, that’s probably one of the most considerate things I’ve ever heard from a professor in economics running a blog.

  27. 27 27 Ted Levy

    Might the difference in treatment be this simple: Most people in 2014 in the Western world, libertarian or not, see harsh treatment of gays simply because they are gay as abhorrent and offensive. Although libertarians recognize the draft and minimum wage laws are similarly offensive to liberty, most non-libertarians don’t agree or don’t even think about it in those terms. It’s not surprising that it took economists, like Milton Friedman and Walter Oi, to end the draft here. It wasn’t done primarily by moral philosophers.

  28. 28 28 Roger

    There is a gay lobby that is good at manipulating the news media into promoting gay issues. While polls indicate that most people do not agree with the gya agenda, very few are willing to do so publicly.

  29. 29 29 Chris Lawnsby

    I love all your books and find your blog posts wonderful and insightful and I’m grateful for all of your hard work and careful thinking, so I don’t want my first post on this blog ever to be negative but:

    Is this really a “stunning failure of perspective?” Absolutely not. You are probably correct: Conscription is worse than anti-propaganda laws. So what? The conflict in the Congo is a lot worse than conscription in Russia.

    Yes, the games are being held in Russia, so you could argue that we should restrict our search for “most heinous oppression” to Russian activities, but maybe we could find something worse than conscription going on in Russia. I don’t know, because I haven’t been protesting anything! Surely people who have been (correctly) calling out Russia’s homophobic policies have the moral high ground on me, because I’ve been doing absolutely nothing!

    How can you claim that these protesters occupy the “low ground?” When I complain that our government is restricting our freedom by imposing tariffs, do I occupy the low ground because I’m not complaining about our military abuses abroad? It isn’t incumbent upon somebody who is (correctly) speaking out against government abuses to restrict themselves to the most egregious ones.

  30. 30 30 Daniel


    You weren’t talking about the US were you?

  31. 31 31 Steve Landsburg

    Chris Lawnsby: This is actually your second comment here. Your first one was also (very mildly) negative and also, like this one, a good and reasonable point.

  32. 32 32 Roger

    @David: Where htere have been votes on same-sex marriage in hte USA, the public nearly always voted against it. Even California voted against it twice. I suspect that most people do not care much about some Russian anti-propaganda law. I am told that some US states have similar laws.

  33. 33 33 Chris Lawnsby

    I don’t recall commenting before, so let me leave an unambiguously positive comment: I just read “The Big Questions” and loved it. I am currently rereading “The Armchair Economist” and loving it again! I’m just never really moved to write a blog comment unless I disagree with it, so my relative silence over however long I’ve been reading this blog must mean I do a lot of agreeing.

    Anyways, thanks for all of your good and hard work.

  34. 34 34 Rob Rawlings

    The relative severity of different forms of oppression cannot be judged objectively. Oppression is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

    What this post seems to be doing is 1) Ranking 2 forms of oppression according to the bloggers preferences 2) criticizing those who rank them differently

    In addition: Even if you share Steve’s preference and rank conscription as a greater oppression that gay rights then you may still believe that gay rights is the right issue to be raising for tactical reasons. If there is a 10% chance that protesting gay rights will improve things, while only 1% chance that protesting conscription will improve things by the same amount then if you think conscription is only 5x as bad as gay oppression you may still choose to protest the gay issues for pragmatic reasons.

  35. 35 35 Daniel

    @ Roger,

    If you look at the gallup time trend you’ll see that, in 2008 when prop 8 was voted on in California, there was considerably less support for same sex marriage. Four years later, when support was much higher, 3 states, Maryland, Maine, Washington, all approved same-sex marriage.

    In 2012 your statement was surely true, but do you honestly think that if California was asked to vote today, they would not approve same-sex marriage?

  36. 36 36 Daniel

    In 2008*: last sentence

  37. 37 37 Ken B

    You see the same thing in Canada. Lots of opposition and hysteria at first. And then when the sky doesn’t actually fall increasing acceptance. The advantage of a federal system is on display here. It gets acceptance in the most recptive states first and then, as a good idea that works, spreads.

  38. 38 38 Roger

    @Daniel: Same-sex marriage is still against the law in California. It only exists because the governor has decided not to enforce the law. To properly legalize it, there would have to be a ballot proposition or an appeals court decision. I expect the gay lobby to put a proposition on the ballot as soon as they think that they have the votes. Not yet, apparently.

    Getting back to the original point, are there large numbers of people who somehow think that we need more gay propaganda on the other side of the world? I don’t think so. They can find gay propaganda on the internet, if they really want.

  39. 39 39 Daniel


    Oh, I didn’t know laws that were ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court and never brought to the Supreme Court by the proper parties were considered “the law”.

  40. 40 40 Daniel

    Correction, federal district court.

  41. 41 41 Roger

    @Daniel, I am not here to debate marriage law, but the California law says “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can find it in the California Family Code and in the California constitution. The Calif. Supreme Court upheld it, and the US Supreme Court said that the federal courts have no authority to strike it down. A few exceptions were grandfathered, in the opinion of the court. It seems silly to complain about Russia, when the gays are much more unhappy about California law and the decision of 7M voters.

  42. 42 42 Ken B

    Bob Rawlings just demonstrated clearly one of the abject failings of Rothbard style libertarianism. He says, and means, that killing 6 million Jews is no more oppressive than taxing Georgians to pay for sidewalks in Atlanta. This is because for that school all rights are property rights, all alike.

  43. 43 43 Daniel

    @ Roger,

    Regardless of what you’re here to debate when you say false things I must correct you. The ruling in the supreme court did not say that the federal government lacked jurisdiction over the law. They ruled that the appellants to the district court decision lacked standing to defend the law in the 9th circuit. Thus the ruling defaulted away from the 9th circuit to the district court (where both parties had standing) and where prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional. Thus prop 8 is not “the law” in California. It has nothing to do with the governor not enforcing the law but rather him refusing to appeal the district court decision.

    Read legal challenges in the wiki if you don’t believe me.

    More relevantly, what does protesting Russian law have to do with not being able to also protest US law and why should Americans who believe in freedom of speech limit themselves to helping those only in close proximity.

  44. 44 44 Rob Rawlings

    Ken B,

    I am not a Rothbardian and I don’t see how you could conclude from my comment that I am. I do not think that one’s view of oppression is likely to have much to do with property rights.

    As this post and the comments demonstrate one can come up with valid-sounding argument either way for which of the two forms of oppression discussed are the worst.

    If there is a non-subjective way of deciding between them please enlighten me as to what it is.

    It is actually extremely offensive to say to someone “He says, and means, that killing 6 million Jews is no more oppressive than taxing Georgians to pay for sidewalks in Atlanta” when there is no basis in my comment for you to believe this to be true. Would you please review and retract ?

  45. 45 45 Roger

    @Daniel, complain all you want about the California law, Calif. Supreme Court, US Supreme Court, and the lack of Russian gay propaganda. But that district court opinion was just the opinion of one gay San Fran judge, and only applied to two couples. If the governor were willing to defend and endorse the law, it would be a different story.

  46. 46 46 Neil

    One outrage should never cancel out another just because we have so many.

  47. 47 47 Ted Levy

    Ken B:

    ” This is because for that school all rights are property rights, all alike.” Why is it, as you seem to imply, that if all rights are property rights, they all have the same level of importance, value, sacredness, etc.?

  48. 48 48 Ken B

    @Bob Rawlings
    You said “The relative severity of different forms of oppression cannot be judged objectively. Oppression is entirely in the eye of the beholder.” If you did not mean what you said I apologize.

    @Ted Levy
    You will need to read someone like Rod Long to get an answer on that. I think it’s loopy myself, but some see all violations of the same principle the same, andsome think NO interpersonal comaprisons at all are possible, so you cannot logically say killing Sharon Tate was worse than insulting Sandra Fluke.

  49. 49 49 Ken B

    @47 Ted
    In general, that’s the reason why I think it ridiculous to argue that all rights or property rights. I think some rights are more important than property that is ownership rights, and with different characteristics of the property rights. What does it mean to sell you my right to a fair trial? Does it mean did you have a right to two fair trials if you’re accused?

    If declaring all rights to be property rights doesn’t level them than what is the word property for? If you establish a hierarchy amongst “property” right then the word property is nugatory.

  50. 50 50 Daniel

    Where exactly was I complaining. You seem to be the one complaining about current law in California, I was only stating the facts that you had gotten so obviously wrong. I thought the Supreme Court made the right decision in the case (the appellants had no standing).

    I’d just note that it wasn’t just that one San Francisco judge. The 9th district came to the same decision even though their ruling was nulled. And in case you haven’t noticed judges in Utah, Oklahoma, etc. are coming to similar conclusions about their own laws. Further governors are allowed to decide which laws they’re going to continue to pursue after a decision. He chose not to continue pursuing this law and thus it became unconstitutional.

  51. 51 51 Daniel


    Another thing is that you keep saying that we’re complaining about the lack of “gay propaganda”. No, we’re complaining about the lack of freedom of speech in Russia. Imagine if in the US we had laws saying that freedom of speech is the law, except for those thigs the government deems not acceptable. The places where it is limited in some states in the US is in public school systems where the governments have a right to limit speech by their employees.

  52. 52 52 Rob Rawlings

    Ken B,

    And how exactly do you make the leap from

    “The relative severity of different forms of oppression cannot be judged objectively. Oppression is entirely in the eye of the beholder.”

    to the statement that I

    “say, and mean, that killing 6 million Jews is no more oppressive than taxing Georgians to pay for sidewalks in Atlanta”

    I can imagine that a Nazi might hold the second view and it would be entirely consistent with the first view. However it is not my subjective view. I find it very offensive that you assume it is.

    Both your grasp of logic and your manners are poor. I guess that is probably to be expected from someone who brings up the Holocaust for entirely spurious reasons in a discussion like this.

  53. 53 53 Rob Rawlings

    Ken B:

    To be more charitable: Perhaps what you meant to say was that I hold that there is no non-subjective basis for believing that killing 6 million Jews is more oppressive than taxing Georgians to pay for sidewalks in Atlanta.

    I do hold that view but will happily change it if you can explain to me what the objective basis might be.

    I think it is possible to explain why reasonable people would rank the Holocaust above taxation in terms of repression (probably by coming up with a theory on how people develop their ethical beliefs) but I can not see how such an explanation would end up concluding anything different from “oppression is in the eye of the beholder”.

  54. 54 54 Ken B

    Bob Rawlings,
    Either you are a complete moral relativist and I am right, or you are not and I am wrong. I count 4 comments proving you are and 4 comments complaining I’ve noticed.

    I’m not saying you personally prefer mass murder, I’m saying you think the difference is just personal preference like a preference for whole milk over 2%. Hence debate is useless.

  55. 55 55 Ken B

    Bob Rawlings
    Your claim is MUCH stronger than perhaps you realize.
    Would your nazi’s prospective victims be wiling to accept the Georgians’ fate to escape theirs? Would the Georgians agree to be untaxed therby? Yes. Would the Georgians on the other acept a swap? No.
    So there is an objective basis for ranking the oppression.

  56. 56 56 Rob Rawlings

    Kenny B,

    Why do you conclude ” Hence debate is useless.” ? If I explain that drinking whole milk increases the risk of heart disease there is a chance I may change someone’s subjective preference towards 2%.

    “Would your nazi’s prospective victims be wiling to accept the Georgians’ fate to escape theirs?” I am sure they would. I’m also sure that a Russian about to get 5 years hard labor for spreading gay propaganda would prefer to do a year’s conscription instead. By your logic I’ve just proved that Steve is wrong and conscription is not as bad as the laws against gay propaganda.

  57. 57 57 RichardR

    Huge numbers of athletes, journalists and spectators will travel to Russia for the Winter Olympics. I do not think that anyone of these people will be conscripted into the Russian army. Some of the people travelling to Russia are homosexual and might therefore be worried about the recent Russian law banning “gay-propaganda”. People (in the US or UK) are not overly bothered about Russia’s conscription or Russia’s gay laws but are bothered about how their fellow citizens might be treated in Russia during the Olympics. This is why there are lots of news stories about homosexual rights as opposed to conscripts’ rights.

    The second reason is that the news tends to focus on new things (hence the name: “news”). Russia has had conscription for many years and had conscription when it was awarded the Winter Olympics. The gay-propaganda law is a new law and is therefore news.

    Point 4 claims that the Winter Olympics is a good opportunity to focus on Russian oppression. Point 8 talks about the high moral ground – being concerned about everyone’s freedom. If point 8 is correct it would be wrong to focus on Russia simply because the Olympics are there. There are no doubt worse examples of freedom being denied than the examples in Russia and therefore Landsburg is on the low moral ground – focusing on Russia just because it is in the news due to the Olympics.

  58. 58 58 Ken


    not a proper deployment of words.

    It is you who do not understand the proper deployment of words. You claim it is improper to say something like “having to register my car curtails my freedom; not being able to buy booze on Sundays curtails my freedom”, but those are exactly correct. Arguments can easily be marshalled to show that those are greater examples of freedom curtailment than anti-gay laws. This is one of the major flaws in weak thinkers such as yourself for not being able to, or more likely refusing to, understand. Rather than argue in a dispassionate way, you emote and think that “passion” is enough to win an argument. It isn’t.

    The shear number of people affected by car registration and alcohol consumption make those laws greater curtailments of freedom than pretty much all anti-gay laws. What you’re arguing is that it’s somehow more costly to total a single car worth $40,000, than it is to cause $100 worth of damage to 10,000 cars.

  59. 59 59 Mike H

    Regarding Steve’s (3)..

    Poll created. Time to vote:

  60. 60 60 suckmydictum


    “It is you who do not understand the proper deployment of words. You claim it is improper to say something like “having to register my car curtails my freedom; not being able to buy booze on Sundays curtails my freedom”, but those are exactly correct.”

    This is almost an exact misconstrual of what I wrote. Having to register my car and not being able to buy booze of Sundays *does* curtail my freedom. I said exactly that. I’m not sure why you apparently believe I think it’s “improper” to say that.

    I also object to being misquoted. You quoted “passion” as if I actually wrote that or believed passion constituted an argument. My objection was to Landsburg’s flippant semantics, and, by extension, yours as well in comparing totaling cars to killing gay people. I actually admire the reasoning behind the post, and I said so in my original comment.

  61. 61 61 Advo

    An important reason why the persecution of gays generates more outrage than the abuse of conscripts is likely the mens rea – at the upper levels of government (i.e. Putin), the abuse of conscripts is a matter of gross negligence or (at most) conditional intent, whereas the persecution of gays is committed with malice aforethought.
    The intent behind bad policies matters little to the victims, but it is of great importance whenever human beings render moral judgement.
    The law will punish you more severely for intentionally driving your car over a single grandmother than for accidentally driving a hundred schoolchildren over a cliff.

  62. 62 62 Harold

    With both conscription and gay laws a lot of the problems arise not because of direct application of the law, but because of side effects of the law. In conscription the abuse of conscripts was highlighted and with gay propaganda the abuse of homosexuals. We should deal with the law and the fallout separately.

    The direct effects of the law. Whilst conscription is a curtailment of freedom, it is not certain what most “victims” think of this. They suffer to the extent that they are conscripted, but for the rest of their lives they may well perceive they benefit from others’ conscription. Some may believe they themselves benefited from conscription. As others have pointed out, the fact that conscription persists supports this view. It affects such a large proportion of the population, if there were widespread objection it would be difficult to maintain.

    Conversely, it is reasonable to assume that no “victim” of the properly applied law against homosexuals feels a benefit. So it is possible that there are very few victims of conscription, and very many victims of the gay law as properly applied. Coming to the aid of the victims of conscription thus makes no sense.

    Now the side-effects. This is partly a matter of proportionality. To what extent are the side effects caused by the law?

    Ken B made a similar point to the one I made about race discrimination and the effect of laws on how minorities are perceived: “Lots of opposition and hysteria at first. And then when the sky doesn’t actually fall increasing acceptance.” The anti-gay law can have a significant effect reinforcing prejudice, and the effect of the law is magnified. The direct effects of the law may be only a very small part of the total effect of the law. With conscription it is the opposite. Conscription places young people in vulnerable positions, some of whom suffer abuse. Only a proportion of those directly affected suffer the fallout of abuse. It is the direct application of the law that has the greatest effect.

    In summary, we have two laws, and we consider both the direct and indirect effects. In the conscription case, it is not certain that the victims object to the law as properly applied, and the abuses represent only a small proportion of the effects of the law. In the gay propaganda case, the victims definitely object to the proper application of the law, and the abuses represent a major proportion of the effects of the law. This must present a good case for protesting against the gay law case.

  63. 63 63 Ken B

    Let me rephrase a bit Harold in 62. The anti gay law is the result and progenitor of animus, but conscription is not. This is a worthwhile point. What do we get if we apply Steve’s trst more widely? Compare conscription to kristalnacht, or govt funded KKK rallies.

  64. 64 64 Ken B

    Ken 58″Rather than argue in a dispassionate way, you emote and think that “passion” is enough to win an argument. It isn’t.”

    It is, if the argument is over whom to vote for.

  65. 65 65 iceman

    The aerial view of the Sochi torch & cauldron seems about as phallic as it gets?

  66. 66 66 Mike H

    Poll results so far:

    With 95% confidence, between 18.93% and 92.56% of people would agree with Steve’s (3). That is, between 7.44% and 81.07% of people would prefer to spend a year in the Russian military than to be barred from discussions of homosexuality.

    Have your say!

  67. 67 67 Andrew M Garland

    Almost all people protest policies that either affect them personally or that confer status on themselves. People do not wake up in the morning thinking “What is the worst policy in the world that I could protest?”

    So, people will protest the oppression of gays because it is a worthy cause and well understood. It is a pre-certified display of proper liberal thought.

  68. 68 68 Ken B

    Frankly I think this post is about the minimum wage. But as far as conscription goes there’s a point Steve is missing. The protests can be effective in how that law is enforced. No outside protests will affect conscription.

  69. 69 69 Benjamin Cole

    But without a draft we get a mercenary military…bloat…a VA…powerful vet lobby organizations…incredible personnel costs…

  70. 70 70 Daniel

    @ Andrew M Garland,

    I agree. People protest things that affect them personally. Unfortunately you’re not thinking about the range of things that affect people. There’s this thing called empathy where people feel what others feel as long as they can relate. Maybe you’ve incidentally stumbled upon one of the reasons people in the US protest against ill treatment of gay people around the world. It’s because many of them have experienced ill treatment of their gay friends and neighbors recently and so it’s easier to empathise with the same ill treatment elsewhere. In contrast, conscription has not occured in the US for many years now and thus it’s harder to sympathise with this plight.

    If Americans had recently seen the affects of conscription on their friends and neighbors they may be more likely to protest this injustice in other countries. So while conscription might be more damaging than ill treatment of gay people, it’s not something Americans can empathise with and thus do not protest it when they hear about it. I think the same thing applies to the minimum wage. The ill affects of the minimum wage are aggregate and thus harder for people to experience or even know about. In contrast, the positive affects are specific, easy to see, and very easy to relate to. As economists its part of our job to expand what we empathise with and look at the true cost to individuals even if we can’t directly relate but for the general public that’s just not the way they currently think.

  71. 71 71 Ken B

    Daniel 70
    Yes good point. In a sense this is a matter of rational ignorance isn’t it? Satisficing one’s urge to protest ills.

  1. 1 Landsburg on Russia Today
Comments are currently closed.