300

Victoria suffered just under 300 deaths in road crashes in 2010. That’s a tragedy nearly every day, but it’s still a small fraction of the toll exacted by motor vehicles 40 years ago, when the road toll peaked at 1061 in 1970 (at at time when there were fewer people and many fewer cars). I couldn’t find a graph for Victoria but here is one for Australia as a whole, showing the same pattern with a slight lag as other states followed Victoria.

Anyone my age or older will remember that, after decades of accepting steadily increasing death rates as the price of mobility, Victorian governments of both political persuasions finally took the politically courageous step of enforcing higher safety standards – first seat belts and automative design rules, then effective techniques to catch and convict speeders and drink drivers, then helmet laws and more stringent license testing, among many others. Victoria’s interventions were eventually followed by other governments in Australia and elsewhere, but the lags are such that Victoria has gone from having some of the most dangerous roads in the world to having some of the safest. Nevertheless, and not surprisingly, these steps aroused plenty of opposition at the time, and the opponents were able to produce supposed experts to back their arguments.

What might seem more surprising is that even after four decades in which their claims have been refuted beyond any reasonable doubt, the same experts are still pushing the same discredited lines, and still finding a ready audience. With a closer look at the experts and their audience, this fact is perhaps less surprising, but still requires some explanation.

The arguments against road safety interventions are of two kinds, though they often intertwine. The first involve arguments against specific interventions, for example
* Seat belts increase the risk of death because people may be trapped in their cars rather than being “thrown clear”
* Variance in speed of vehicles matters more than average speed so we shouldn’t enforce speed limits
* Speed cameras/breath test machines are unreliable and give lots of false positives
* Restrictive vehicle design rules will raise costs, leading people to buy older/cheaper cars and reducing safety
None of these arguments stand up well to scrutiny, but I don’t propose to discuss them here. I’ll set up a sandpit for people who want to argue about specific cases.

The second is a general argument, purporting to show that any regulatory intervention to increase safety will be ineffective (although it is sometimes applied inconsistently by people who oppose some interventions but not others). The central idea is that any reduction in risk below the level that would arise in the absence of intervention will lead people to take more risks, wiping out (or, in some versions, more than wiping out) the first round benefits.

This kind of argument has been advanced (apparently without much cross-acknowledgement) by economists of whom the most notable is Sam Peltzman, under the name ‘rebound effect’, and by geographers, including John Adams, under the name “risk homeostasis”.[1] Adams in particular likes to cite “Smeed’s Law” a statistical relationship first estimated in 1949, which showed that, as the number of vehicles increased, the number of road deaths increases, but less than proportionally. Victoria fitted the Smeed’s Law pretty well until 1970, after which deaths fell sharply while the number of vehicles continued to rise. Nevertheless, Adams has continued to claim that both Smeed’s Law and risk homeostasis fit the data.

Of course, it’s not unusual to see academics pushing their pet theories long after the evidence has turned against them, and some degree of stubbornness in the face of contrary evidence is desirable – sometimes the disconfirming data is wrong, or is driven by a run of chance events. And, as anyone who has followed such debates will know, it’s always possible to tweak the data until you get the result you want. But you would think by now that the stunning success of Victoria’s interventions would have produced at least some admission that the theory and the data don’t fit too well. Not a bit of it. Adams, Peltzman and others are still behaving as if Victoria’s interventions had produced the increase in fatalities they predicted, and, as I mentioned, still getting plenty of airplay from prominent thinktanks.

The explanation of course is that Adams and Peltzman are libertarians, and the thinktanks that back them are similarly inclined. Peltzman checks just about all the US boxes – professor of economics at Chicago, fellow of AEI, Cato. Adams isn’t such a joiner, but he is clear enough on the political implications of the argument. For example, in explaining persistent belief in the effectiveness of seat belt laws, Adams writes

Why should the government be so assiduously promoting and inflating this myth? It has ready access to the numbers that disprove it. I offer a simple, cynical, explanation: it feeds the larger myth of the efficacy of government.

And, surprise, Adams is a global warming “sceptic”, quoting such eminent authorities as Benny Peiser.

There are obvious reasons why libertarians would like to believe that road safety laws are ineffective and that global warming is a hoax or fraud.[1] It is of course, possible to argue that, regardless of the benefits of seat belts, people should not be forced to wear them, but that argument doesn’t work for speed traps, RBT, and so on, unless you want to try the extreme Coasian view that such matters should be settled by voluntary agreement (Adams gives this view a nod in his paper Risky Business). Issues like road safety and global warming make it clear that our everyday actions such as driving a car impinge on each other in critical ways that can’t be resolved through the spontaneous operation of market mechanisms.

Sometimes, as with road safety, there is little alternative to direct interventions of the kind pioneered by Victoria. In other cases, as with global warming there is a choice between direct regulation (specifying permissible designs for all kinds of electrical equipment for example) and measures like carbon taxes and emissions trading which, while relying on government action in the first place, leave a lot of the hard work to market processes. A sensible libertarianism would seek to identify the latter cases and present arguments for market-oriented mechanisms.

Sadly, while there are individuals with libertarian inclinations who argue in this way, the libertarian movement as a whole has chosen the path of magical thinking, hoping that if they can keep coming up with debating points, problems like global warming will go away. The libertarian think tanks in the US and Australia are uniformly delusionist on climate change, as are the great majority of individual commentators who self-identify as libertarians[3] [4].

I suspect (and hope) there may be quite a few libertarians who aren’t that comfortable with the anti-science wishful thinking displayed on these issues, but prefer not to pick a fight with their fellow libertarians on an issue that may appear peripheral to their own concerns. I would urge any such to think again. Once intellectual standards are debased in this way, the damage cannot be contained. Bad arguments are accepted because they produce comfortable conclusions, or because they are put forward by political allies. This works (in a way) as long as you can assume that all the correct answers are known, having been revealed in some sacred text or another. But they imply (and reveal in the case of climate change) a total incapacity to deal with anything new. It’s not surprising, as I mentioned not long ago, that the free-market right hasn’t come up with any new ideas in decades. Like other movements that began with a radical openness to new ideas, they have become locked into a dogmatic orthodoxy, immune from empirical refutation.

fn1. Also put forward by psychologist Gerard Wilde.

fn2. It would be similarly convenient for socialists to believe that people aren’t motivated by economic incentives (or wouldn’t be if their consciousness was properly raised) – a large part of the disaster of communism was the attempt to act on this belief.

fn3. I should say that I haven’t seen anything specific from Peltzman on climate change. But, if he believes that the thinktanks with which he is prominently associated are badly wrong on a major scientific and policy issue, he ought to say so.

fn4. I am not interested in hearing from libertarians who conform to this stereotype, but I will establish a sandpit for those who feel impelled to restate their allegiance to tribal orthodoxy (with or without hedges and qualifications). On the other hand, if anyone wants to self-identify as a libertarian who accepts mainstream science as represented by, say, the IPCC or all the scientific academies in the world, I will certainly be interested.

153 thoughts on “300

  1. There is another aspect to this John. In the endless debate of cost effectiveness public vs private transport the costs of injury are rarely discussed. UQ made a reasonable effort to quantify it, I have seen other studies that support it, the cost is $17B per year not including the pain and grief.

    http://www.uq.edu.au/news/index.html?article=9863

  2. I am more-or-less a libertarian and I certainly agree that the safety regulations have been effective. And I don’t know personally anyone who believes otherwise, though there is a not-unreasonable argument about bike helmets.
    The US has had nothing like the reduction we have had, partly because they are unwilling to have RBT or to enforce seat belt laws but also because, going back to Ralph Nader, the prevailing philosophy on road safety has been to engineer cars better rather than to change behavior. It’s interesting to speculate how many would still be alive if Nader had used his strong influence to push in the other direction.
    JQ I think your view of libertarians contains quite a lot of straw. There are ( I am sure) people who reject any regulation of behavior but a belief in maximum freedom from government actually cover a pretty wide range of attitudes. Rather like social democrats.
    Very few, one either side of the spectrum, believe in absolutes though it suits some (on both sides) to pretend that their opponents do.

  3. Ken N, I agree with you on Nader.

    On whether I have a strawman view, you could certainly strengthen your case with an unequivocal endorsement of mainstream science on AGW, especially if you presented it at Catallaxy.

  4. John, I’m not sure whether there is a mistake in regards to Urban Melbourne but on another site there are 99 registered fatalities and not 144.

  5. Maybe a definitional difference – urban v metropolitan? I don’t think it can affect the total for the state, which is all that matters for this post.

  6. Nice switch JQ. I thought the subject was road safety.
    I have, many times, said at Catallaxy that I accept the consensus scientific view on AGW.
    I think that some of the scientists have damaged themselves and their cause by behaving like politicians – which they do badly.
    Anyway, I said at Catallaxy the other day that the argument about AGW has become pointless – no-one is going to convince anyone to change his or her mind – here or at Catallaxy or anywhere else.

  7. “On the other hand, if anyone wants to self-identify as a libertarian who accepts mainstream science as represented by, say, the IPCC or all the scientific academies in the world, I will certainly be interested.”

    *raises hand*

    In fact I’m over on Catallaxy right now trying to get someone to accept some basic scientific facts.

    In case anyone is interested, I do believe a carbon tax can be justified by libertarian principles. See here:

    In the case of AGW, a cost (and risk of much greater costs) is being imposed on the world at large by the emissions of various people and industries. However, because this cost is not being solely borne by the emitters, they benefit at everyone else’s expense. That goes against the user-pays ethos of libertarianism, not to mention violating economic efficiency.

    So in that sense, a carbon tax is a Pigouvian tax, correcting the market imbalance that exists. It reduces distortion rather than increasing it.

  8. That’s fine Ken, happy to go back to road safety now. As you well know, the great majority of the Catallaxy crew are reflexively opposed to all kinds of road safety measures, and argue about this in exactly the same way as wrt global warming. That is, a combination of silly talking points and selective citation of the minority of studies that come out with negative conclusions on an particular issue.

    And it’s not just Catallaxy – CIS, Miranda Devine, and many others take the same line.

  9. Thanks Jarrah. I wish you well, and agree that there is no good reason for the tribal opposition of (most) libertarians to market-based policy responses to climate change.

  10. A significant part of the reduction in deaths over this period must also be attributable to improvements in the safety and design of vehicles driven not by regulation, but by consumer preferences and the market. And as people become wealthier, they can afford to purchase cars with more safety features.

    That is not to deny that some of the reduction in road deaths is due to regulation. But I think the figures may exaggerate the case somewhat.

    Another issue is that to the extent that costs of accidents are socialized, this creates moral hazard. For example, if helmets and seat belts were not compulsory those who were injured would still impose costs on society through the public health system and compulsory insurance and the like. Increased freedom is only sustainable if individuals incur more of the costs of their own poor choices. Socializing more risks requires increased regulation to offset moral hazard.

  11. You mean the Victorians actually “regulated” less road deaths in?? Surprise, surprise…maybe we can also “regulate” less finacial sector scams out and less exploitation of workers out as well..

    Well I must be an old fashioned sort of person who actually believes regulation is better for an orderly society….but Ill wait for the “de reg” nutcases to tell me Im wrong, as usual…

  12. I don’t think that is right about the great majority of the “Catallaxy crew” JQ.
    CIS has not said much at all about AGW or road safety so far as I have seen. IPA certainly is anti-AGW.
    Both the left and the right stereotype those on the other side, which I think is a pity. Many times in history bad things have happened because evil beliefs have been bundled up and attributed to another social group.

  13. “And it’s not just Catallaxy – CIS, Miranda Devine, and many others take the same line.”

    Miranda Devine is still a big fan of the War on Drugs. So I am not sure how she qualifies as a loony libertarian. And the CIS is generally more conservative than libertarian.

  14. I really dont know about anyone else….but I find the de reg manic outfit have gone past the point of their usefulness and are now startuing to cause some pretty horrific problems..

    Lets take Bernie Madoff for example..now someone tell me how a ponzi scheme of monumental proportions lasted so long and stole from so many if the financial market regulators were on top of things????

    They arent on top of anything because the “de reg” nutcases had their day in the sun, to a lot of people’s detriment. We need balance (via regulation) not dreams, via dreamers.

  15. @ken n
    Just be patient Ken – there will be a bite…someone telling me I have things all wrong and that its the government that stuffs things up and if only we shot allm politicians, removed all regulation…we would be delivered, not to the wild west frontier of being ruled by bikie gangs, but to Nirvana…

    at this moment we should all pray to the god of liberty….

  16. I’m a bit of a libertarian on this issue actually. I certainly don’t doubt the mainstream scientific (or your economic) opinion on AGW or the efficacy of regulations in reducing the road toll, but I oppose seatbelt and helmet laws nonetheless. In fact, I would oppose these laws even if failing to wear a seatbelt/helmet was shown to be certain to cause death.

    My objection is purely a philosophical one. I don’t believe society has the moral right to force a rational adult to be safe. In fact, I find utilitarian arguments against helmet/seatbelt rules distasteful. I prefer to bite the bullet and accept more fatalities in exchange for less totalitarianism.

    Drink driving and speeding laws on the other hand, are completely different. Society absolutely has the right to punish anti-social and dangerous behaviour. In fact, I would add something else that should be policed; following distance (esp. on highways). I think speed cameras should watch the gap between cars and fine tail-gaters. This would require only a software update on existing hardware, and would help reduce the toll enormously.

  17. Ho yes, one remembers well the old days, circa nineteen seventy. Badly designed roads with blind corners, souped up cars dragging off cops in the abscence of radar traps, driving blotto socially desirable in some quarters, let alone tolerated and so on.
    What a shock, the day we were out for a sunday spin and got nailed with our first radar trap. Then the shock when breathalysers came a few years later: was a man not permitted even the consolation of a “so-shall” drink with mates at the local tavern, as one convalesced from the myriad injustices inflicted on one by women, bosses, social security etc.
    Driving cabs in the early eighties, it struck me as ridiculous that I would be taking home people who would have stayed relatively sober anyway, whilst the hard core confederates who should have been in the cab, were getting as full and still driving home blotto, as a game, using the rat routes.
    In Adelaide we nowadays have deaths down to about 150 people pa against 360 pa odd, forty years agom thge trend indicated by prof Quiggin.
    I think a contributing factor could be the limiting of cigarette smoking at pubs- may as well stay at home with a slab, if you’re a drinker (which I haven’t been for a couple of decades), along with heavy duty surveillance that seems to go on now, at the once sacred sanctuary that was an old fashioned pub.

  18. You see Ken? Catallyxy is far more often wrong than the Prof in whom and what it supports…

    really this stuff would be certifiable now…regulation has when it comes to road deaths (pardon me for saying so) actually worked???

  19. rog, I said nothing about IPA except that they are anti-AGW.
    And you are using the old “linked with” journalism trick. IPA is not “promoted” at Catallaxy – sometimes it is mentioned or quoted.
    There seems to be a view that if anyone on a site mentions something or someone that amounts to a wholesale endorsement. JQ is making the same mistake quoting one article by one person in a CIS publication. I do not agree with Buckingham though I am happy for CIS to publish his views.
    Catallaxy, CIS and IPA carry a diversity of views. I prefer that to an insistence that everything published sticks to a party line

  20. OT. I agree that the case that compulsory bike helmets did not reduce head injuries seems wrong.
    The stronger anti-helmet argument is that they discourage cycling – particularly among women – and the “health cost” of that outweighs the head injury risk. The British Medical Association looked at the issue a few years ago and came to that conclusion.
    Compulsory helmets also makes schemes like the Paris Velib just about impossible.
    I am a cyclist and always wear a hemet whether or not it is compulsory in the country I am in.
    But it is not a cut and dried issue – as the fact that Autralia and NZ are the only countries with helmet laws suggests.

  21. Ken, many of the posts are from IPA associates and often include a ref. to the IPA. I really can’t tell the difference the views expressed on Catallaxy, IPA and News Ltd. – they often include the tag something along the line “excellent article from IPA/WSJ/Australian”

  22. Apples with oranges ken, Australia has little to no regard for cyclists – our roads are for vehicles end of story.

  23. While I wouldn’t call myself a libertarian on the Political Compass test I come way down in the left quadrant, showing strongly libertarian tendencies. However, I draw quite a strong line between being libertarian and ideological libertarianism.

    I would contend that a truly libertarian society, one that essentially devolves most decisions back to the individual, must also be a fundamentally equal society in terms of access to resources, both physical and cultural.

    The fact that both our major parties are authoritarian rather than libertarian is reflected in the law they pursue. While their purpose is to control, as a libertarian society their intent would be to enable with laws that, for example, penalise excessive income differentials or set targets for housing affordability. Instead we get the Northern Territory intervention and funding for wealthy private schools.

    On the other hand I see ideological libertarianism as the abandonment of existential reality for the pursuit of libertarian ideals that, as with most ideologies, seeks to define the existential reality by sheer force of erudition. This would be the ‘think tank’ version, normally pursued venomously against all evidence and for ulterior motives that one can only surmise beggar belief.

    I would label it the “no-control” version of libertarianism, the sort that one may occasionally wish to practice on others, but in reality would not want practiced on oneself. Being totally done over is not a nice feeling.

    This does tend to leave me in an ambivalent position on road safety, supporting such initiatives as RBT’s as an equalising factor (we’re safer to assume none of us are drunk), supporting initiatives such as vehicle standards and seat belts on the evidence, but more skeptical on the application of speed restrictions, again particularly in places like the Northern Territory.

    As to AGW, to anyone who understands the philosophy of science, that is, how science works, would have no trouble with both uncertainty and ambiguity while accepting, as the majority of world scientists do, that there is no better theory to fit the existing facts.

    But hey, no point telling an ideological libertarian that.

  24. I see that libertarians are strong on the rights of the individual and weak on the rights of others.

    Their attitude to victims – don’t be one.

  25. The seatbelt argument was one that affected me very directly – twice, in fact. The first time was when we installed seat belts in the back, where the “seat” was one long bench. I didn’t crack my skull, and I didn’t lose my sister. My mother got whiplash (as did I, most likely), but that is a heck of a lot less painful than what my aunt’s family went through when hit head-on (these crashes pre-date things like the Fraser Gvt, but the exact dates don’t matter). In my aunt’s family the only person who remained in the car, post-crash, was my uncle who could see as the driver that due to the on-coming idiot, a crash was a certainty; he braced by placing his hands on the car roof and pushing as hard as he physically could, and somehow he remained seated – or perhaps he was just plain lucky and bracing didn’t make any difference. Either way, three children and an adult hit the pavement after moving through glass windows or the front windscreen. My uncle was the least injured of all of them, by a long long long shot. This head-on was on the open highway.

    The argument about seatbelts being shoved down our throats by governments intent on restricting our freedoms doesn’t garner much support among either of our families. How about the freedom not to be cleaned up by a P-plater who injures you more severely than himself, simply because he sees the crash he has instigated as about to happen, and prepares for the impact. Or the dickhead who can’t leave the drink at home and takes it onto the open highway? How about the freedom of not having those incompetents anywhere near the roads?

    Enough of the subjective. It is always worthwhile having some kind of argy-bargy about whether this measure or that is an effective expenditure of “tax-payers’ money” or not. The rot sets in when the extremist views are trotted out (by the free press, often enough) as though they are a) cognisant of the facts, b) are experts in the subject matter, and c) not extremists but rather the “other side of the debate”. Debates on public policy issues surely don’t have to be so dichotomous, especially where the obvious parameters of significance are from a spectrum of values, rather than just yes/no type values. Actually, this post has in a way reminded me that 40 years of political argument concerning policies has not changed much at all.

    PS: Liberty for the individual gets more difficult as more individuals pop up. How will libertarians handle the encroachment of so many other people? Ignore them? [Guffaw!]

    PPS: Happy New Year all!

  26. This is getting silly, JQ and rog. You are trawling through websites looking for evidence of “wrong thoughts” with which to condemn the organisations behind them.
    Aha! Found one – that proves they are evil.
    No thanks, I’m not playing.

  27. You are quite correct about seat belts DO. The rest of your comment builds a straw man.
    I repeat what i said earlier:
    “Both the left and the right stereotype those on the other side, which I think is a pity. Many times in history bad things have happened because evil beliefs have been bundled up and attributed to another social group.”

  28. @Donald Oats
    Happy new year Donald Oats!
    Seatbelts are a great idea and everyone should wear them. I wear one whenever I get in a car. Auto-makers should be forced to install them in every new vehicle made. It’s fantastic that your family was saved from serious injury by this marvelous invention.

    But.

    None of this gives the government the moral right to punish adults who choose not to wear one.

  29. What’s this I’ve read from back in the thread: “IPA, Catalepsy, etc carry a divergence of opinion not present at some sites” (not verbatim).
    wft…(rofl)…one tree does NOT a forest make, any more than a biased assertion, a fact creates..

  30. A candidate for the NSW state election believes (a) there should be effectively no police action on hoon behaviour on the roads and (b) all speed limits should be instantly removed, leaving individuals to decide what speed they think is safe on a given road, and then, over time, the sum of all those judgements would give you the correct speed limit for that road. The mind boggles on what would be the road toll while this assessment was being done – this seems to me often the case with the “get rid of all regs” libertarian theories.

  31. Ken, you initiated the topic of the IPA by implying that the IPA have no opinion on road safety and then when presented with a link to the IPA expressing an opinion on road safety you say that “you are not playing.”

    What exactly is it that you are not playing?

  32. Since the multi pronged approach to road safety which continues despite deteriorating roads and increasing vehicles there has been a significant drop in road deaths although it is still high. There is no doubt that high levels of visible policing keeps speed down and concentration up. The laws about not using mobile phones while driving are also well founded and limitations on the number of passengers in P plate cars are also a good idea. The free market would not have improved safety standards by itself but required governments to insist but the improved design has helped as much as limitations on the freedom to behave anti-socially.

    All of these things impinge on individual freedom because the results of that individual freedom means bad results for others. The police having to inform relatives that someone has died because they as an individual decided to drink and drive or to not wear a seatbelt or both, results in trauma for those officers who have this as their job and the ambulance crews who attend accidents. If the individual doesn’t die then the costs to the community and the family of the individual are enormous (even if it does raise GDP).

    This is like Climate change where lots of individuals make lots of decisions which may not impact on them directly (or may) but where their individual action results in poor futures for others.

    It’s the “I’m all right Jack” mentality which beleives we are isolated beings making rational decisions rather than emotional, self involved individuals, who fail to see beyond our particular cacoon. The recent study which found that those on the right are hard wired with larger sections of their brain devoted to emotional reactions and therefore impervious to rational argument sounds very convincing to me.

  33. Having researched these areas a bit I think there is some evidence of a rebound effect from safety equipment in cars. Its just moral hazard – people feel safer and take more risks. My understanding is that while the number of accidents has increased the number of serious accidents – deaths – has fallen. (There is also claimed to be adverse selection effects with bad drivers choosing safe cars like Volvos and then deriving like lunatics!)

    On traffic density the more cars on the road the more accikdents occur. The evidence for Japan and the US is very clear. But there is again a squabble about whether because speeds slow with more congestion you get less serious accidents. Really need a good study in Australia of the insurance claims data – we have very poor information about the causes of car accidents in this country.

    The evidence is that the death toll on the road has fallen. The factors that determine that are disputed but I think most agree that the drink driving laws have had a huge impact.

  34. I think the attitudes to climate change at Catallaxy are hopelessly hypocritical. Many people who post there say they endorse AGW theories but attack them on every possible occasion with objections that have been refuted many times.

    Ken N I agree with John. How about a post that simply endorses the conventional science of climate change and which clearly identifies the status of delusional theories in relation to the consensus?

  35. @Sam
    Interesting comment of yours:

    But.

    None of this gives the government the moral right to punish adults who choose not to wear one.

    Why not? If we accept, for the sake of argument, that your claim has some foundation, it seems perfectly reasonable to apply the same principal claim to other situations of the same logical class as the seatbelts situation. To set up the basic argument, somewhat stylised:

    * Death or serious injury from car crashes may be significantly reduced if car passengers and driver wear seatbelts.
    * Government(s) introduce policy that makes seatbelts compulsory in all vehicles.
    * Government(s) want car passengers to wear the provided seatbelts.
    * Government(s) therefore make it compulsory to use them.
    * Government(s) enforce compliance by punishing non-compliance, usually by way of fines.

    At this point you would say: But. This does not give the government the moral right to punish adults who choose not to wear seatbelts.

    A more abstract version is the following:
    * Horrible thing A may be significantly reduced if people do B when in situation C.
    * Government(s) want people to do B when in situation C.
    * Government(s) therefore make it compulsory to do B, when in situation C.
    * Government(s) enforce compliance by punishing non-compliance, usually by way of fines.
    At this point I guess you would raise the objection: “But. This does not give government(s) the moral right to punish adults who do not comply.”
    Which may or may not be true. However, what if a waiver scheme applied? You could sign a waiver once only, saying that you understand the risks of not doing B when in situation C, and that you therefore are willing to freely accept the consequences of your decision not to comply. It seems that this would work for any other class that satisfies the basic schema outlined above, in terms of A, B, and C.

    One difficulty though, is that your choice of non-compliance infringes upon other people having the choice of avoiding consequences that may result from your non-compliance. To illustrate, let us take a similar case, namely the one of speeding. Here goes:
    As for the seatbelts case, A = extra fatalities or more severe injuries; B = stay under the advised speed limit; C = advised speed limit in effect. In this case driving over the speed limit is the equivalent of not wearing seatbelt. Looks good, right? You could sign a waiver, saying that you understand and accept the consequences (of driving above the speed limit), and therefore you are not to be fined for “failure to comply”.
    The problem is that if you drive over the speed limit, especially by a markedly large amount, you subject others to the consequences of the risks that you, personally, are willing to assume. A car crash, all other things being equal, causes more extensive injuries the greater the speed of the colliding vehicle(s). How does your right to assert that you accept the risks, get translated into another person’s right not to be hit by a vehicle travelling above the speed limit?

    Moral rights get quite murky here; especially so, because on the one hand we are discussing a statistical argument involving reduction in harm, and on the other the right of a single individual to say no, include me out.

  36. ” Ken N I agree with John. How about a post that simply endorses the conventional science of climate change and which clearly identifies the status of delusional theories in relation to the consensus?”
    hc one of the many annoying things about all this is the way people are expected to pass some kind of purity test and to repeat their affirmation of it frequently.
    I accept the consensus science on AGW. I have said that many times. You want me to denounce the non-believers. I will not do that, beyond saying that I think they are wrong. I am glad that some do not accept the majority view – I say the same about socialism, extreme free-market views and many other things. That is I suppose why I lean towards the libertarian end of the spectrum
    None of us here or at Catallaxy or Deltoid have the science or the data to judge whether the AGW theories are right or wrong. So we are arguing about which scientists to believe. I accept the views of the majority. I am glad that there are some who are courageous enough to dissent. I do not think they are deluded, denialist or evil.
    The really foolish part of all this is that what we think or say or believe does not matter one jot. Nothing turns on our belief. I am not even sure that the belief of anyone in Australia matters.
    I still agree with Rudd’s policy before Copenhagen – we should no no more and no less than the rest of the world.
    My guess is that the world will not agree to do anything significant about carbon emissions so our efforts will be best spent on planning adaptation strategies.
    I will repost this at Catallaxy.

  37. “Ken, you initiated the topic of the IPA by implying that the IPA have no opinion on road safety and then when presented with a link to the IPA expressing an opinion on road safety you say that “you are not playing.”

    Remind me where I did that rog. My reference to IPA was
    “IPA certainly is anti-AGW.”

    Does that imply they are also against road safety rules?

  38. There are so many aspects to this it is hard to know where to start.

    1. I doubt that the other states followed Victorian on road safety. I was there in the 60’s when our NSW state government ran very effective road safety television road safety ads and campaigns. And I was there for the helmets and seatbelt introductions. NSW and Victoria at least moved together on these things. Queensland dragged the chain.

    2. Through those years vehicles themselves have become safer to drive with better structure, steering, brakes, lights, and systems.

    3. Drivers through that period improved in skills for many years and then, I believe, progressively dropped in skill.

    3a. As vehicles increased in braking power and precision of steering drivers, have become to depend upon those abilities to where they advanced the accident risk threashold to the extent that largely nullifies the technology advances.
    3b. With our aging population there is a higher percentage of older drivers who have entered the period of brain speed reduction and imaginary performance (this last point is a huge issue).

    4. Driving while impaired, term which I pioneered in NZ to highlight the risks of driving while tired in a country which only saw alcohol and speed as the principle causes of accidents, has become a recognised major cause of accidents, particularly on highways.

    5. Advertising pushes young drivers self imagined performance skills and abilities way beyond that which is real or safe. Where the military and the aviation industry recognise that “simulated” experiences significantly alter a persons reactions to physical events, the law fails to register that fictional hyperperformance visual experiences weaken a person’s natural self defences by extending their self imagined survival abilities way beyond the physical reality. And high performance car and motorbike manufacturers do not help by making and selling machinery that is capable of speeds up to 3 times higher than the national open road speed limits.

    6. 7. 8. I’ll skip these and go onto the point that I would like to highlight…

    9. Push bike helmets in their current form are dangerous. In blunt collisions these helmets may be helpful, however in glancing interceptions the performance properties of the materials that these helmets are constructed from combine to “bond” to rough surfaces causing the wearers head to stop moving while the body keeps traveling thereby causing neck injuries equal in severity, or worse than, the potential blunt impact head injuries that they are intended to prevent. I have a friend who is a quadraplegic due to this very effect following a cycle accident on a lunchtime ride before an anticipated round of afternoon business meetings. I am very sensitive to this issue having had a motorbike accident myself in August in which my 40 year old motorbike helmet (purchased at the time when helmets became compulsory) did do its job and protected my head as I tumbled down the road after my bike and I parted company at some speed (70 kph).

  39. John,

    At the risk of being grouped with the “anti regulatory” people, I note that in a situation where (as you list) a set of regulatory changes were made it is difficult to disentangle which have an effect and which don’t.

    In particular, I would note that lower speed limits are different from the others in that while they have a positive effect on safety over a given period of time driven, they also have a negative effect by extending the time taken for a given trip and by (consequently) forcing more cars on the road at any given time and so increasing traffic.

    So, lumping all critics together as “agenda driven” is not exactly a reasoned argument.

  40. What SamB says is correct to s degree. However speeds have not changed very much natioanally in the last 10 years. What can change rapidly is strict numerical enforcement as Victoria experiences. Where the police rigidly enforce the numerical speed limit ie 60 means 60..61 equals afine and loss of points, drivers err on the side of caution by as much as 10 kph. And it does not require all drivers to slow down as the police know. Just 1 in 5 drivers travelling at 10 kph below the speed limit are sufficient to slow an entire corridor by as much. This is a formula for near gridlock. Victoria have been required to fit highway vehicle speed indicators in a number of locations to enable drivers to mentally calibrate their driving in the face of strict limit enforcement.

  41. While the Professor’s point is well taken — there can be no doubt that taken as a corpus, regulation of driver behaviour and vehicle design by the state has reduced road trauma very significantly — the lowest piece of hanging fruit is road contention. Cutting the numbers of vehicles on the roads will cut road trauma even more markedly than the best of regulations.

    As those who have read my posts will know I’m in favour of a lot more regulation of road usage but if we could cut road usage — especially in the peak and shoulder periods in urban areas and move hazmat and heavy transport off roads, road trauma would be smaller still.

    @Sam

    Hmmm

    Interesting. I’d hate to be in a society where people who suffered serious injuries could be refused treatment merely because they’d been reckless. It would be even worse if they had chosen to extend their reckless risk trading to others — such as would be the case if their unrestrained children were travelling with them in the vehicle.

    I’m not a fundamentalist on the question of course. Some personal discretion to take risks with one’s own health and safety should be permitted, but just as we ought to have a community standard of health provision so too we shoulod have a community standard for acceptable risk. We don’t allow folks to disregard flood warningf signs or go swimming in flooded creeks because we don’t feel right leaving them to accept the consequences of their stupidity and perhaps putting others at risk.

    That’s fair enough.

  42. Pr Q said:

    Once intellectual standards are debased in this way, the damage cannot be contained. Bad arguments are accepted because they produce comfortable conclusions, or because they are put forward by political allies.

    This works (in a way) as long as you can assume that all the correct answers are known, having been revealed in some sacred text or another. But they imply…a total incapacity to deal with anything new…Like other movements that began with a radical openness to new ideas, they have become locked into a dogmatic orthodoxy, immune from empirical refutation.

    FWIW I whole-heartedly endorse these sentiments with disrespect towards the free-market Right-liberals. Once upon a time I had alot of time for Friedman. But the ultra-liberal doctrine has long since ossified into a stale dogma, providing cover for obvious crooks.

    But a not wholly charitable part of me can’t help suspecting that this criticism applies equally well to politically correct Left-liberals. The doctrine of social constructivism has long since run out of steam and is now a degenerate research program. Again, providing cover for charlatans and hustlers.

    Which leads to the more general conclusion that liberalism, in its degenerate post-modern form, is now exhausted. Hence a the proliferation of fatuous triumphalism – “End of History”, “Washington Consensus”, “End of Grand Narratives”.

    Clearly post-modern liberals feel they have nothing more to learn about the world and that all that remains is (crisis) management, damage control and dampening cognitive dissonance. How the flighty have fallen.

    No wonder the PRC is cleaning up so thoroughly, they are under no such delusions.

  43. I looked for Ken N’s most recent post on Catallaxy and it had a nasty personal attack on me. My crime was apparently correcting the falsehoods about science put forward by Ken N’s fellow travellers. It seems to me that for Ken, tribal loyalty trumps science.

  44. There can be no doubt (in the minds of people who accept empirical evidence) that;

    (a) the roads are safer (fewer deaths per passenger kilometer);
    (b) road safety changes are a major contributor to this change; and
    (c) improved eningeering of cars and roads plays a role also.

    My educated guess is that the main measures in order of importance are;

    1 Seat belts.
    2 Alcohol and breath testing.
    3 Speed limits.
    4 Improved cars and roads.

    The implementation of libertarianism advocacy would lead to little more than anarchy on the roads. Road deaths would skyrocket.

    Having said that, there is also the issue of each citizen being entitled to freedom from onerous surveillance by the state. Current rules do not step over that line except for minor issues. Speed zones need to be rationalised. There are too many speed limits (from 40 to 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 100 and 110 at least) and too many changes of these limits along along various roads.

    Electronic tagging of cars (to reveal position and speed by satellite) should never be implemented for example as this would be excessive surveillance of the citizen.

  45. @Ikonoclast

    Electronic tagging of cars (to reveal position and speed by satellite) should never be implemented for example as this would be excessive surveillance of the citizen.

    Transponders for all, not just the rich! 😉

  46. Tim – I take it that this was what you call a nasty personal attack:
    “As Deltoid cycles through his three subjects: climate change, DDT and deaths in Iraq he occasionally picks up someone who wants to say “Yes, but…” They never finish the second word before the violence begins. I think he must have DDT on a watch list – just wait a minute, he will probably appear here with his trademark character assassination.”
    Here is the full post. http://catallaxyfiles.com/2010/12/page/3/

    If you are offended, Tim, of course I apologise.
    But I am sure you agree that you are not gentle with those who disagree with or want to qualify anything you have said.
    I was actually thinking of DDT, remembering the time I commented on your Prospect article here and you jumped in with what seemed to be verbal violence.
    And I have no tribal loyalty, as you would know if you read more of my stuff at Catallaxy.
    As I have said, we have more robust debates there than JQ does here or you do at your site.

  47. Criticising electronic tagging by anyone who owns a mobile phone doesn’t make sense. You can just as easily be tracked by your phone.

    If you do worry about such things then the transponder and information on it can remain your property. If you are electronically charged for use of a road or incur a speed phone all the government needs to know is the bill it will send you. Your information remains private unless you want a third party to verify the charges in the event of a dispute.

    Knowing when you take breaks and average speeds are important for regulating safety in trucking. Currently this is done manually anyway.

  48. And Tim, in case you have not been following I repeat (once more, with even more feeling) that I accept the consensus of AGW science. That is, I accept that he earth is warming, that humans are the main cause and that such warming will probably accelerate as positive feedbacks kick in.
    Some (actually not many) at Catallaxy take a different view and I have made it clear there that I disagree with them.
    “Fellow traveller” is a nice, old fashioned word. Wikipedia says it was originally Russian to describe someone who supported the revolution but failed to join the Communist Party. It seems that Trotsky used it first.
    Do you know that it is now used for a gay travel site?

  49. @ken n

    I’m curious how you define “verbal violence” Ken and how someone as you put it “can have the bruises to show for it”. At what point does robust banter become verbal violence?

    Having read your comment at the link, the adjectives that come to mind are self-serving, self-indulgent and condescending. You only come here when PrQ says something particularly dopey? Ah the burdens of being a liberal!

    Of course, as you say, liberals are nicer because they respect other people. 😉

    What can one do but laugh at this? What was the famous remark by Burns?

  50. A lot of transport companies track their vehicles, they also monitor fuel consumption, time, speed and weight to determine the best combination of rig.

  51. Thank you, Fran, you are the only one to have recognised that in my Catallaxy post I was trying to be (a bit) funny. And yes, humour is usually a bit self indulgent.

    “At what point does robust banter become verbal violence?”
    As Louis Armstrong said (about jazz) “if you’ve gotta ask the question, you won’t understand the answer”. BTW I strongly recommend Terry Teachout’s book “Pops” to anyone here interested in music.

  52. @ken n

    I’d call “verbal violence” actual threats, or at the very least, some sort of vilification on the basis of sex, sexual preference, ostensible ethnicity etc …

    Merely pointing out robustly that people are mistaken or bring bad faith or poor scholarship to claims is not verbal violence, surely. Though Armstrong may well have been right on jazz, I doubt you can make this claim without specifying a set of criteria. It might be moot if you weren’t using the claim to traduce the standing of another, but of course you are.

    IMO, you should rescind or warrant your claim.

  53. Thank you for your advice Fran, but I have already apologised for any offence.
    I think that should be sufficient.

  54. @Fran Barlow

    Thank you for your advice Fran, but I have already apologised for any offence.
    I think that should be sufficient.

    It’s not people’s feelings here that are salient, but the integrity of your claim (that you and other cothinkers have suffered “verbal violence” rather than robust critique) given that you haven’t actually resiled from it, but merely expressed your regret in extremis, at its impact.

    I doubt you really think this is “sufficient” in any meaningful sense. This is really just a platitude indicating your indifference to the substantive question, which indifference suggests you made the claim out of pique rather than as a result of careful reflection.

  55. One point that hasn’t had much attention is the contributing factor that advances in surgery and medicine would have in the reduction of the road toll. More victims are now saved than they would have been forty years ago.

  56. @crocodile

    That’s true, and likewise the management of road trauma by first responders is also better. There is increasing resort to helicopters which makes an especial difference in rural trauma cases.

  57. Ken n, I am not getting involved in what seems to be a misunderstanding but how in the hell can you state that at Catallaxy there are more robust debates than herein? In my opinion JQ provides an alternative forum covering a wide range of subjects.

  58. @Fran Barlow
    Fran – I guess you dont even notice you indulge in verbal violence and ideological spin and jargon, far more often that you indulge in robust arguement. Praise be that others have noticed.

  59. @Alice
    But its nice to know who you wink at Fran…. so nothing changes and we get your non thinking parrot plagiarisms here… (especially BNC – Barry gets a plug whenever you can manage it…Barry of the “lets all go nuclear” BNC – probably specil protege of MQ management right now)

    please dont think you fool the non libertarian community. You dont.

  60. and as it doesnt say sandpit 300 – Im only too happy to engage you at the nearest sandpit Fran…

  61. @Alice

    I guess you dont even notice you indulge in verbal violence {…}

    Not only is your irony meter broken, but when it broke it took your perspicacity probe with it. As pointless and malign as you are, you have my sympathy.

  62. @Donald Oats

    I tried to make it clear in comment #19, that speeding and alcohol are quite separate (in my mind) to seatbelts and helmets. I support laws on the former category because they affect other people materially. In fact I would be even more harsh than current laws allow.

    I confess I don’t understand your waiver scheme. Doesn’t the fact that an individual did not wear a seatbelt constitute an implicit waiver?

  63. Of course, it’s not unusual to see academics pushing their pet theories long after the evidence has turned against them,

    And one classic example in climate science is Lindzen with his Iris hypothesis.

  64. Here is what I wrote that Ken N called “verbal violence” and “trademark character assassination” and reckoned was worse than anything you could find at Catallaxy:

    Look at the graph here. Malaria did skyrocket in India in the 70s. But not because they cut back on DDT spraying because of pressure from environmentalists. The graph shows that they didn’t cut back on DDT, but dramatically increased its use. So how come malaria increased? Well, the increase in DDT use was in agriculture. This caused the insects to become resistant, so they had to use more DDT to get the same effect. This caused more resistance, so even more DDT was used and so on. The end result was that in the areas where DDT was used in agriculture, the mosquitoes became completely resistant and DDT no longer stopped them from spreading malaria, with the disastrous results shown in the graph.
    Restrictions on the agricultural use of DDT saved lives. Ken and the Larouchites will not admit this.

    I’ll let readers form their own opinions of his trustworthiness. And Ken, a fake apology is worse than no apology at all.

  65. Actually ken n, I’ve always thought Tim Lambert was a perfect gentleman. (Some of the people who comment on his blog, otoh, aren’t.)

    Back on topic, glibertarians are actually useful as you can rely on them to be consistently wrong. Or sometimes (in Feynman’s words) not even wrong.

  66. I agree that Victoria has led the way in improving road safety in Australia. However there is still a lot that can be done. The three factors are drivers, vehicles and the road environment. Drivers under 25 still represent a large percentage of road deaths with speed still a big factor. Vehicles are safer but still more improvement is required. The standard of roads are also improving with better vertical and horizontal geometry and better intersection control (traffic signals and roundabouts). However the single biggest improvement to road safety would be to remove obstructions, mainly trees and utility infrastructure from the 10 metre wide clear zone on each side of rural roads. Potentially this simple act could reduce deaths and casualty accidents by about one third. However in my experience over the past 40 years I have yet to see any political support for any road network manager who tries to take this simple but effective step.

  67. @ken n

    Catallaxy, CIS and IPA carry a diversity of views. I prefer that to an insistence that everything published sticks to a party line

    It would be rather more accurate to say they carry a diversity of facts rather than a diversity of views. e.g. Sinclair Davidson linking to Terence Kealey’s piece which claims:

    the flawed predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over such issues as the rate of disappearance of the glaciers in the Himalayas

    Of course, he’s talking about a flawed transcription rather than the actual prediction. But these characters don’t seem to be interested in letting the facts get in the way of a good argument.

  68. So far, I don’t see anyone accepting John’s invitation …
    And I’m no help; although I self-identified as a libertarian in my downier days, I can’t make that claim anymore.
    However, if you want an example of a Cato Institute fellow who accepts science, you need look no further than Julian Sanchez.

    Henry Farrell cited that post in CT, so I assume John is aware of it. But no other examples spring to mind. Is Julian all alone?

  69. jre – I have many times. Here, in response to JQ’s invitation and then when hc repeated it.invitation Neither acknowledged it.
    Dunno what else to say, if you all are determined to repeat the claim that no libertarian accepts the science, I suppose you will.

  70. Ken N:

    if you all are determined to repeat the claim that no libertarian accepts the science, I suppose you will.

    Vs.

    JQ:

    I suspect (and hope) there may be quite a few libertarians who aren’t that comfortable with the anti-science wishful thinking displayed on these issues, but prefer not to pick a fight with their fellow libertarians on an issue that may appear peripheral to their own concerns. I would urge any such to think again.

    Try again Ken, but this time opt for a real argument rather than a strawman.

  71. @sam

    How do you even make that quote format?

    You use the tags: e.g. [blockquote]How do you even make that quote format?[/blockquote] with the important difference that you use the lt/gt {} in place of the square brackets.

    I will try to demonstrate using the HTML “script” tag, but am not sure that it will be recognised here:

    How do you even make that quote format?

  72. oops: It didn’t work …

    oh well … hold down SHIFT + COMMA (for LT) type blockquote SHIFT+GT quoted text SHIFT + COMMA (for LT) SHIFT + / type blockquote SHIFT+GT

  73. jak:
    This was the invitation from JQ I was responding to.
    “…you could certainly strengthen your case with an unequivocal endorsement of mainstream science on AGW, especially if you presented it at Catallaxy.”

    I did as he suggested. He did not acknowledge it.

    hc’s repetition of the invitation (after I had done as JQ requested) was

    “Ken N I agree with John. How about a post that simply endorses the conventional science of climate change and which clearly identifies the status of delusional theories in relation to the consensus?”

    I did the former but declined to do the latter. I try to avoid personal abuse and referring to someone’s views as delusional is not something I will do. It’s enough to say I believe they are wrong.

    I am not even sure how we got here. We were having a quite constructive discussion about road safety (remember the heading?) and JQ and I were in agreement on most issues.
    Then someone the topic was derailed – I think it was one of those “you libertarians are all the same – you refuse to accept climate change” thrusts.
    Foolishly, I responded and it went downhill from there.
    Somewhere Deltoid popped up and accused me of being ride to him in what was intended to be a mildly satirical post at Catallaxy a while back. I apologised but he said the apology was false.

    I have just remembered something that all this reminds me of. Many years ago, long before most of you were born I suspect, there was a radio programme called “Yes, what”*. It was about a totally out of control class of what sounded like 14 year old boys and a teacher who stood not chance, despite frequent use of the cane sound effect. One kid always got the teacher off the subject he was trying to teach and when the teacher realised what had happened the bell rang.

    OK, I’m done. My resolution is that henceforth I will not write anything, comment on or otherwise
    refer to AGW. My position is clear and, frankly, I don’t believe it matters in the real world out there what any of us think. Any action will be taken by people much bigger than us and I doubt they will check the blogosphere before deciding.

    * I see that the last episode of Yes, what? was made in 1940. I am not quite that old – I heard rebroadcasts in the 50s.

  74. @ken n

    My question to you concerns why you won’t either disavow or warrant your claim against Deltoid/Tim Lambert.

    It seems to me that if you take yourself seriously, you are bound to do one or the other. This is not about anyone’s hurt feelings, except, perhaps, yours. It’s about whether you can allow a groundless claim to stand and yet invite others to rely on what you write. You say you libertarians respect other people, but one cannot respect other people if one misrepresents them. One is not releived of this obligation because in the case of those one finds culturally odious.

  75. correction:

    One is not relieved relieved of this obligation because in the case of those one finds culturally odious.

  76. Fran Barlow, if you are going to correct someone then you could have argued that Ken was wrong by stating bloggers do not move others in the real world. One only has to look at the number of politicians who now have personal websites and blog.

  77. I should certainly mention Julian Sanchez, and will do so when I revise the post. And Jarrah Job, above, is another example of a libertarian who isn’t bound by tribal loyalties, in particular as regards AGW.

    Unfortunately, in the case of Ken N, I find a lot of inconsistency between what he presents here and at Catallaxy – I hadn’t noticed the “particularly dopey” reference to me, linked above, but that’s par for the course in my experience.

  78. @Fran Barlow I agree with you on universal healthcare; I don’t won’t to live in a society that refuses care to the reckless. The fact that costs are externalized to the decision maker IS an argument against UH, but such a weak one that all the myriad arguments in favour of it prevail easily. Using UH against the freedom to be reckless is also a non-starter. Society presents the individual with the gift of UH (a gift that cannot be refused), this should not reciprocally obligate the individual to comply with an unreasonable law.

    I also agree with you on children. People should be forced to make proper provisions for those not able to adequately judge risks for themselves. I’m afraid I am a bit of a fundamentalist on this libertarian question though. I am against “community standards of acceptable risk” of any kind when it relates only to the safety of the individual concerned. Almost no one seems to agree with me, but it’s a basic moral axiom I hold, and i don’t recognize the right of society to decree otherwise. Even if everyone else in the country disagreed with me, I would not recognise such laws as just. I regard it as an example of the tyranny of majority.

    I strongly resent the trend in western society towards “benevolent authoritarianism.” It has created a generation of timid and boring apartment-dwelling children and helicopter parents. Worse still, it causes adults to retain childish characteristics indefinitely, and to never discover their full independence. My childhood was spent barefoot, jumping out of trees into rivers, boogie-boarding down flooded creeks, trekking through taipan snake country days away from medical help. I believe it had a very positive effect on my character. I would gladly exchange a few more spinal injuries for a bit more backbone in this society.

    I won’t argue this point anymore. I have no empirical evidence to give, my position is entirely a normative one. I only hope I have made explicitly clear which bullets I am prepared to bite.

  79. @Fran Barlow
    I’m not sure whether to thank you or not Fran. I think I liked it better when I thought all “quoters” were magic. You have pierced what should have been an ineffable mystery. The world is now just a little bit less special.

  80. Ken said

    Anyway, I said at Catallaxy the other day that the argument about AGW has become pointless – no-one is going to convince anyone to change his or her mind – here or at Catallaxy or anywhere else.

    This is a common device used on Catallaxy, to assume what others think, assume the position of spokesman for “everyone” and then announce in unequivocal terms the position, view or opinion. Those that question the majority groupthink Catallaxy position are not applauded for being courageous, they are invariably met with “verbal violence”.

    I put it to you ken that the discussion(s) on Catallaxy has been very persuasive in that it has diminished the quality of the argument to the point of nonexistence. As Sinclair has pointed out on a few occasions his data indicates that Catallaxy gets a wide exposure and I would think that the level of discourse would offend most if not all it’s silent readers. It is certainly is an object lesson in how not to make friends and influence people.

  81. Ken: “It’s enough to say I believe they are wrong.”

    Perhaps you could explain to the “dopey” people here how that differs from “verbal violence”?

  82. @sam
    Sorry Sam, I missed that you had made the distinction; given that you have, the difference between me and you has shrunk somewhat.

    Where there is still a gap, I suppose, is that I think that even in the case of choosing not to wear a seatbelt, there is a risk to others due to your choice. For example, if you are a back seat passenger and choose not to wear a seatbelt, then you are exposing any front seat passengers – indeed, anyone else in the vehicle – to the danger of being hit by a flying Sam, should a severe accident occur. Since the seatbelt is available, it seems reasonable to use it to minimise risk of harm to others (due to flying Sams) and to expect a sanction if you do not wear an available seatbelt.

  83. hc :Criticising electronic tagging by anyone who owns a mobile phone doesn’t make sense. You can just as easily be tracked by your phone.

    I don’t own a mobile phone. Mainly because I hate telephones* and I reckon mobiles might give you brain tumours with overuse I don’t want to see electronic tagging extend too far in society. That will always be a danger to liberty.

    *Why I hate phones;

    1. People call you when you don’t want to talk to them.
    2. The phone ring tone is still annoying even when ignored.
    3. 90% of all private phone conversations are fatuous drivel.

  84. @Sam

    You can’t assume your death won’t affect others unless you are an ant. Do you have kids, or parents? At the very least, people will have to clean up the mess. I can reliably inform you that even professionals working in the area find this traumatic.

    Moreover, for every person killed in a road accident there are at least an equivalent number who suffer serious persistent injuries, ranging from brain injuries or lost of use of limbs down to lesser mobility and health problems. These injuries will require other people’s support and/or restrict the accident victim’s ability to support others. They also have wider generalised economic consequences.

    It’s not just about you, and it’s not just about your personal death.

  85. @Jim Birch
    What do you think of my right to fly a hanglider, ride a motorbike, fight in a boxing match, go camping in an area where there might be snakes?

    I’m sorry Jim, but I can’t agree, and I won’t be moved on this point. What you say is morally illegitimate. It is just about me, it is just about my personal death. I am not the property of the state, or of my family.

    In a decent liberal society I should not be legally forced to alter my behaviour in response to someone’s hurt feelings. I personally think baseball caps look stupid. I don’t like chewing gum. I am offended by the irrationality of anyone who believes in the supernatural.

    I can express my feelings on these issues to anyone I like, but I can’t pass laws against them. To do otherwise is objectionably totalitarian. If my possible death upsets you, then I thank you as one citizen to another for your concern. If you use use hired thugs in the form of the police to tell me how to run my life, you are oppressing me.

    I have written a long piece about this about this before in this thread, but since I logged in to another computer while doing it, the comment is still awaiting moderation.

    John, would you mind if i reposted it from this active account?

  86. “None of us here or at Catallaxy or Deltoid have the science or the data to judge whether the AGW theories are right or wrong. So we are arguing about which scientists to believe.”
    So Ken n endorses the idea that the science isn’t settled. If Ken n is really as convinced of AGW as he claims he wouldn’t try to turn the argument into a debate over meta-information. The argument can only be over the validity of the research and the conclusions drawn from the observations made from that research. The fact is there aren’t any scientists who have carried out research that undermines the current thinking on AGW. Arguing about “which scientists to believe” is a typical denialist gambit (whcih Ken n may have inadvertently deployed)

  87. “I am not the property of the state, or of my family.”
    The hyperbole switch was just thrown as Gerard Henderson would say.

  88. @Sam

    In a decent liberal society I should not be legally forced to alter my behaviour in response to someone’s hurt feelings.

    On the contrary, in a decent society people continually modify their behaviour in response to other people’s feelings. Where the urge to social cooperation doesn’t work, sanctions may be used. This is a completely normal function of all societies and in fact part of your biological heritage as an ape (or even mammal) because it allows groups to survive, progress and sometimes even flourish. It’s not going to go away because a bunch of people (typically, young males, as biology predicts) have decided that they should be allowed to do what they like, and have invented a suitable mythology.

    In practice, things like your “right” to ride a motorbike or pitch your tent in snakey hollows come down to complex trade-offs between things like individual “rights”, the costs and benefits of particular behaviours, costs of enforcement, cultural mores, history, etc. You won’t get a completely rational result or general 100% agreement; people are different but it’s a working solution.

    (If you want to know why feelings are not trivial epiphenomena but are a fundamental component of your biology that won’t be wished away by simplistic ideological claims I’d suggest “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” by Sapolsky as a good place to start.)

  89. @Fran Barlow
    It’s basically a fun title. Sapolsky has a great sense of humour – made me laugh out loud a few times.

    More seriously there’s nothing like a one to one relationship between H. Pylori and stomach ulcers, half of us have the bug. Stress is likely a factor because it whacks the immune system, as is a protein rich diet, but H Pylori is required.

    Did you hear the Science Show interview with the H. Pylori Nobel guy, Barry Marshall, on it’s peaceful uses? Things get more complex.

    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2010/3044922.htm

  90. @Jim Birch
    I agree that decent people modify their behaviour from time to time in response to other’s feelings. I disagree that legal sanctions should be used to force people to do this.

    I acknowledge that human beings and their brains are biological in nature, and evolutionary in design. I don’t see what that this has to do with the validity or otherwise of the moral axioms I hold.

    I don’t think society would stall if seatbelt and helmet laws were removed from the books. I strongly resent the trend in western society towards “benevolent authoritarianism.” It has created a generation of timid and boring apartment-dwelling children and helicopter parents. Worse still, it causes adults to retain childish characteristics indefinitely, and to never discover their full independence. My childhood was spent barefoot, jumping out of trees into rivers, boogie-boarding down flooded creeks, trekking through taipan snake country days away from medical help. I believe it had a very positive effect on my character. I would gladly exchange a few more spinal injuries for a bit more backbone in this society.

  91. “I don’t think society would stall if seatbelt and helmet laws were removed from the books. I strongly resent the trend in western society towards…”

    Until the government stops paying huge amounts for the attempted rehabilitation of people with brain injuries etc. and then paying them pensions because no-one wants to employ people that constantly drool on themselves, I don’t think I’ll find it very surprising that the government wants to try and stop people doing stupid things to themselves. Try going into a neuropsych ward and then see how funny not wearing a seatbelt isn’t.

  92. Only just came across this. Very disappointing that Ken N ran away.

    Says something about the Libertarian mindset. Hide from the facts. If, heaven forbid, someone confronts you with one, whinge or run away and hide. Mustn’t let facts get in the way of ideology.

  93. @conrad
    Ok Ill bite
    Conrad says “Until the government stops paying huge amounts for the attempted rehabilitation of people with brain injuries etc.”

    Well then Conrad – what do you suggest be done with such people who are so badly wasting government monies/

    Let take to the tip and see if we cn pick up a recycling fee for their body parts shall we?

    Would you agree Conrad thats an efficient manner ti dispose of the burden of the brain damaged on the budget??

    You fool.

  94. Breaking road rules is not, in my view, always the same as driving dangerously nor is exceeding the speed limit always the same as speeding.

    In past times, when the enforcement of road rules was nowhere near as strict and harsh as it is today, many who, from time to time, broke these rules which arbitrarily distinguish between ‘safe’ driving and ‘unsafe’ driving, were still rightly regarded as safe and careful drivers.

    Very likely, many such drivers would have found themsleves reqularly deprived of their driving licenses if toay’s harsh driving law enforcement regime had been in force back then.

    Individuals who break road rules, even to the point of statistically increasing the risk to themsleves and to others are not all reckless and uncaring.

    Much of the breaking of traffic rules is done by people pressed for time by the pressures of life imposed by economic ‘reforms’ of recent decades and our poorly designed cities and road networks which force many millions of commuters every week to endure many hours of gridlock to go to and from work or to other necesary life amenities.

    The people who have imposed these economic ‘reforms’ and poor city planning on us, made even worse by population growth, that few existing residents want, are at least as culpable as ordinary road users for the appalling road toll.

  95. “Well then Conrad – what do you suggest be done with such people who are so badly wasting government monies”

    I’m not saying the government shouldn’t. The above comment was in relationship to people that complain about all government health regulations (as should be obvious from the referenced comment), but seem to forget that the government picks up the rather expensive pieces in many situations. Perhaps these people could sign a disclaimer so they wouldn’t get find when not wearing seatbelts, but when they get brain damage after going the window of their car etc. they could be left to pay for the stuff entirely by themselves.

  96. @conrad

    It might be better, Conrad, if, rather than taking the rather angular approach you have, you merely emphasise the salient point — that the decision not to wear a seat belt or a bicycle helmet, while appearing to be simply a fully internalised risk-trade which a rational person could make, inevitably imposes a contingent liability on others, since culturally, few are comfortable with the idea that treatment on a life-altering injury might be withheld for want of capacity to privately fund it or the opportunity to determine the person’s wishes when they may be unable to give a meaningful answer. Moreover, that cultural usage — that people are to be treated for life-altering injuries regardless of their capacity to fund it — partially relieves the putative helmet-rejecting free rider of some of the downside risk in his or her trade.

    In short, the decision to make this risk-trade cannot be a matter for the individual alone, but inevitably involves the whole community as stakeholders through their stake in avoiding the externality and further their claim against the individual for his or her share of the infrastructure underpinning his or her evaluation of risk. That infrastructure is, after all, configured to meet the needs of those who accept the constraints imposed by the Motor Traffic Act but are injured all the same.

    Rational communities accept that even with the best of system design, injuries are probably inevitable. Uncertainty is a feature of all human societies, and the protection of civil society and individual autonomy from the encroachments of state and community — something almost all of us see as integral to freedom — necessarily enlarges that uncertainty and risk. Accordingly, precisely because almost everyone sees scope for individual autonomy as an intrinsic good and amongst the purposes of community life and would see excessively swingeing state-based constraints on individual autonomy as paradoxical and thus failing operational feasibility, we collectively accept the burdens of clearing up after good-faith errors as a fair exchange rather than as a collective action problem. Defining that good faith threshhold is what impositions such as helmet and seat belt laws instantiate.

  97. As regards compulsion on things like seat belts, I’d be happy enough in principle to allow opt-out to anyone willing to post a bond sufficient to cover their hospital treatment, lifetime disability benefits and so on in the event of a crash causing serious injury. I’d guess that the number of takers would be too small to allow an insurance pool, and there may well be other practical difficulties, but that reflects the fact that not wearing a seat belt is a really stupid decision.

    For all sorts of reasons, I don’t see ex post refusal of treatment as an acceptable or feasible option.

  98. @jquiggin
    Still don’t agree with this. First of all, it’s not clear that wearing seatbelts and helmets reduce total healthcare much. I acknowledge that they cause injuries that are sustained to be less severe, but they also prevent deaths, some of which turn into serious injuries that would not otherwise have had to be paid for. In much the same way, the total area of savanah habitat in the world is not under threat, as forests turn into savanah at the same rate that existing savanah turns into desert.

    More importantly, it’s just philosophically wrong-headed. A private individual should not have to bargain with society over this. Autonomy over management of one’s own health and personal risks is an inalienable right for everyone, not just those rich enough to buy their way to freedom. The non-refusable gift of universal healthcare doesn’t obligate an individual to do anything. No gifts do.

    Personally, if the law was removed I would still always wear a seatbelt, but not quite always a helmet. There are some bike rides- through parks or quiet streets- that are exceedingly low risk, and getting hold of a helmet on the spur of the moment may be very difficult.

  99. “Still don’t agree with this. First of all, it’s not clear that wearing seatbelts and helmets reduce total healthcare much”

    Try going to the doctor for a headache, and then see whether it’s clear, or just think about the real costs.

    For example, let’s say you got some frontal lob damage in an accident. First you’d need immediate treatment from a casualty ward. Then you’d need to be stuck in hospital for a few months to recover. Then you’d probably want a year or two of rehabilition (presumably for free). In case your face doesn’t look very pretty, you probably will want some free plastic surgery also. All of these doctors/allied medical health professionals cost oodles.

    Now, after your immediate problems have gone, you’d be basically unemployable, so you would need a pension for the rest of your life. You’d also be more likely to end up in jail, because that’s what happens with people with frontal lobe damage, and also more likely to need expensive medical treatment at the end of your life, because that’s just what having serious brain damage does to people also. Now let’s say there are 2000 cases like you a year (that’s conservative — there are vastly more injuries than deaths on the roads, even with safer cars). This means after 30 years, there are about 60,000 people like you wandering around collecting benefits from the government and wanting special services for free. So, any way you want to calculate it, the cost is enormous, and this is without even trying to include social costs (i.e., the fact that you got divorced and led a miserable life), so of course the government doesn’t want you to do this.

  100. I acknowledge the government doesn’t want me to do this. The point is I don’t live my life for the benefit of the government.

    Did you properly read my first paragraph and disagree? Or did you you only read the first part of it and ignore the rest? It’s fine if it’s the former, it’s just that your comment did not acknowledge the particular argument I made.

  101. Also, I doubt that relaxing these two laws would lead to 2000 more deaths. As John said, few would take advantage of a relaxation of these laws, so few would get hurt. Not wearing seatbelts is a really stupid thing to do.

  102. Also, I doubt that relaxing these two laws would lead to 2000 more serious injuries. As John said, few would take advantage of a relaxation of these laws, so few would get hurt. Not wearing seatbelts is a really stupid thing to do.

  103. As I said upthread, Conrad, my friend who went for a lunchtime bike ride and collided with a car coming out of a driveway right across his path sustained neck injuries as a result of wearing a helmet and is now a full quadraplegic costing half a million dollars a year for the rest of his life for his care. That was because of the way that these light helmets grip the surface in a glancing interception.

    It cuts both ways. However in a no fault accident system as NZ has, accident care is guaranteed regardless of the nature of the accident.

  104. @Sam

    Universal healthcare is not a gift – it is paid for by taxes/levy and some charges.

    Non-seatbelt wearers cost the taxpayer more than seatbelt wearers for the same level of impact.

    So a possible solution is the charge non-seat wearers a fee to maintain equity for all.

    But I think it is better to educate them and to ignore odd fabricated arguments such as “inalienable rights”.

    You give up “inalienable rights” to achieve a better society.

  105. “The point is I don’t live my life for the benefit of the government”

    Yes, but the government pays you benefits for life. That was why I suggested that these people sign disclaimers and not take any benefits (or get insurance, which I’d be fine with also).

    “Also, I doubt that relaxing these two laws would lead to 2000 more deaths.”

    Deaths are not such a problem for the government. Alternatively, long term injuries are. Even small numbers are hugely expensive.

    “It cuts both ways”

    No it doesn’t, it cuts mainly one way. I’m sure some people not wearing seatbelts are better off than those that do from time to time. It just isn’t very common.

  106. @Chris Warren
    All gifts are paid for by someone. UH is a gift that society collectively decides to bestow on every individual. It is a gift that I happen to agree with incidentally. It is right that people have legal obligations to other people’s welfare – without that notion society couldn’t exist. It is wrong for people to owe legal obligations to themselves.

    Education is fine, the question is what to do with people who ignore the lesson.

    I don’t know why everyone is obsessed with internalising this cost, as opposed to others. The easiest thing to do is just live with a slight inefficiency

    It’s a sad indictment on society that “inalienable rights” are treated as odd. You are free to give up your rights to achieve what you think is a better society but you can’t give up mine.

  107. @conrad
    Also, I’m still not sure you understood the point I was making about injuries. Here’s what I said.

    “I acknowledge that they cause injuries that are sustained to be less severe, but they also prevent deaths, some of which turn into serious injuries that would not otherwise have had to be paid for. In much the same way, the total area of savanah habitat in the world is not under threat, as forests turn into savanah at the same rate that existing savanah turns into desert.”

    I feel like you’re challenging the claim that seatbelts don’t lessen the damage in any given average accident, a claim I’m not making. Seatbelts cause serious injuries to become only minor juries (a budgetary plus) but they also cause deaths to become serious injuries (a minus). The net effect may be quite small.

    Of course, my case doesn’t rest on this. I just thought I’d mention it.

  108. @Sam
    In case anyone is wondering why I agree with Sam on Universal healthcare its because of this one statement he made

    “It’s a sad indictment on society that “inalienable rights” are treated as odd. You are free to give up your rights to achieve what you think is a better society but you can’t give up mine.”

    Quite.

    and this comment

    “I don’t know why everyone is obsessed with internalising this cost, as opposed to others. The easiest thing to do is just live with a slight inefficiency”

    There is a level of efficiency that is cruel and debilitating and when taken too far results in nothinhg but inefficiency. The pursuit of “efficiency” at the cost of ethical and moral concern over ones fellow human beings and our place as a collective society (for yes, I do rely on the fact that mey neighbour is ethical and wont steal my tomatoes)

    … is precisely what is wrong with economics. We have been living with morals and ethics and civil behaviour for far longer than economics coined and misused the term “efficiency” and bogged themselves down in inward, uncaring attempts to place a price on not only our resources, butin so doing badly mispriced human relationships.

    Inefficiency the result of the search for ever greater “efficiencies”. A typical human failing Im afraid, is taking ideologies too far and not knowing when the benefit of a particular ideology is fully maximised.

  109. Jim Birch

    You can drive your car without wearing a seatbelt or a motorbike or bicycle without a helmet. You can drive at any speed you like in a vehicle that has no brakes, is totally unroadworthy and not built to any safety standards. You can ignore hazards, park where you like, drive at night without lights, and steer the car from the back seat with salad tongs if you want. You can do what you like.

    On your own land, your own private property.

    Once you step onto community ground, i.e. the road, you assume community responsibilities and give up some of your rights. These responsibilities include doing the best that you can to not kill or injure other members of the community, damaging property and not leaving a mess behind for others to clean up.

    If you do not wear your seatbelt and leave your messy body for others to clean up, you or your estate should, at the very least, be levied a fine for your littering.

  110. @Sam

    Unfortunately in a democracy, society can ask you to give up rights.

    It can also ensure that where it allows some to escape, (conscientious objection) that they don’t pass consequential costs onto others.

  111. Sam, you seem to be engaged in the same wishful thinking that characterizes libertarians in general. Faced with ample evidence that the costs of your preferred policy are large, you just keep saying “I don’t agree”. That’s not argument, it’s magic.

    If you’re going to take an absolutist rights position, why not stick to your principles and say “This may be very socially costly and make us all poorer, but my right not to wear a seat belt (etc) is more important than the economic welfare of the community as a whole”.

    Or else, “I want to opt out of both seat belts and public health care, – if I’m in a crash, just leave me to die on the scene”

  112. Is the issue with bike helmets only that they somehow grip the ground surface more than the human skull?

    You would expect that if that is the case it would be a design issue that requires amendment, not that the wearing of helmets should be made optional.

  113. Rog,

    That is the argument. This is clearly a case of inadequate testing and evaluation by safety officials.

    I personally use a construction helmet which is injection moulded and does not have the road grip problem.

    I support optional use of safety helmets for casual riding. But for speed riding helmets are essential. However th design issue must be addressed. Beyond that I have argued fruitlessly for years that it is pointless forcing people to wear safety helmets but ignore the need for cylces to have rear vision mirrors. For cylists travelling on roadways all of the danger comes in a steady procession from behind.

  114. I know that in recreational horse riding eg dressage helmets are a contentious issue. Not because of any technical reason but because they just don’t look nice. Especially grand prix dressage where the traditional garb includes a top hat, some trainers say that the appearance of a rider in a helmet indicates that a horse is difficult or presents a risk and that the rider is not in full control.

  115. @jquiggin
    It was clear when I was taking an absolutist rights position, and when I was cautiously disputing that the costs were large. I was also clear about acknowledging that the costs are positive. I am sticking to my libertarian principles; that shouldn’t stop me from also making utilitarian counter-arguments, if no one has said them before.

    I note that no one has responded to my “conservation of global savanah” argument for serious road injuries. I thought it was an interesting idea, and so I mentioned it. I don’t defend it to the death.

    I’ve only said “I don’t agree” because of differing moral starting points, not facts. When one disagrees on the axioms, there’s not much more one CAN say.

    Here’s my position. There are 3 types of occasions where government acts to locally reduce an individual’s liberty. The first is in order to prevent that individual from reducing others’ liberty. The second is in order to improve the welfare of others. The third is to improve the welfare of the specific individual concerned.

    I support the right of society to make decisions about the first two, so long as the decision is made in a democracy that involves all rational adults. This is not true of the third, the rights of which I say are morally inviolate. I don’t just come down on one side of any debate about a particular reduction of “third kind” liberty, I deny society’s right to even have the debate at all. Certainly the government can physically make such laws, the government is much stronger than me after all; but I say those laws are apriori immoral, in fact just as immoral as any decision made in a non-democratic society.

    As a moral philosopher, I wear two hats. Wearing the first hat, I am an individual, deciding which laws are to be tolerated; wearing the second I am part of society, deciding which laws to vote for.

    Speed and alcohol laws, as well as mandated vehicle safety levels are “first kind” issues. They stop individuals hurting others. I first say that society is allowed to democratically make decisions on this, and also as just one citizen I support them. In fact I would vastly expand them.

    Provision of the welfare state is a “second kind” local reduction of liberty. Taxes must be raised from individuals to pay for it. It benefits others. I first say that society is allowed to democratically make a decision on this, and also as just one citizen I support it. In fact I would vastly expand it.

    Road safety laws like bike helmets and seatbelts are “third kind” issues. They stop individuals from hurting themselves. I deny that society has the right to make decisions on these. It is not true to say this is a “first kind” issue. People who get hurt do not directly impose costs on society (apart from littering with their broken bodies). They just get hurt. Society decides to impose costs on itself by delivering free health care. In other words, since costs on society are not a necessary result of the individual’s failure to wear safety gear (there exist hypothetical societal decisions which would not result in a societal cost), the individual cannot be blamed for the cost. Thus I say the government has no right to make such laws.

    As far as deciding how much health care and welfare to give to non-safety-compliant victims in road accidents, there are three possibilities.
    1) Leave them on the road to die.
    2) Give them healthcare but force them to pay for at least some of it.
    3) Give them healthcare for free, and accept the distorted decision making.

    I cannot wear my “individual’s hat,” and make pronouncements about “just” and “unjust” decisions here because this is a “second kind” reduction of liberties issue (taxes must be raised to pay for the extra care). I can wear my citizen’s hat and as part of society put my vote forward, to be counted along with every one else. My vote is for option 3). There are plenty of non-internalised costs already. We pay for other people’s children to go to school, we pay for life guards at the beach etc. As Alice said, the search for efficiency can be very inefficient.

    This has been a very long comment. I probably won’t say any more about this because I have to go and do some work. I may respond to utilitarian arguments, but I hope no one now is in any doubt as to where I stand on the libertarian front.

  116. John, I have monnthly road toll data for Victoria from when records began in the 1950s to about 1998. Let me know if you’d like it!

  117. @Sam
    that was very interesting to me – I haven’t heard libertarians argue to that level of sophistication before. I tend to disagree with libertarians because generally they have a very primitive and misguided notion of the interaction between environment and biological heritage in the construction of the individual. But from your arguments I can see how the libertarian position could be nuanced and have value. thanks.

  118. The libertarian position as outlined by Sam is impossible, no reasonable healthcare system would choose to leave accident victims on the road to die. Which leaves him two possibilities both of which include the giving of healthcare.

    It is not up to healthcare to make judgements on the compliance or non compliance of accident victims, as the name describes it they exist to give care to health. The libertarian position as described by Sam is just a fanciful notion where participants freely discuss options and come to mutually beneficial agreements. All this nonsense is thrown out the door in real life emergencies where skilful and immediate action is needed to save life.

  119. @Sam
    There are a couple of practical problems with your argument, but from a theoretical point of view it’s completely backwards.

    From a practical point of view, injury includes psychological effects. If you think about it, it is primarily a psychological effect: you might loose $1000, you mother may die, etc, but if you don’t care, it’s not a problem. (As I see it, this is one of the main things that makes ethics difficult, we feel things different, someone finds homosexuality immoral, someone else find repression of homosexuality immoral, etc.)

    Thus is is simply crazy to claim that you death or injury hurts no one, unless you live your entire life under a rock it will hurt people, and it will hurt some people a lot.

    You second problem is that declarations like “I deny society’s right to even have the debate at all” a priori immoral” are really just an unsubstantiated statement of a preference, not an argument at all. The fact that you feel outraged or violated by having to wear a seatbelt is of ethical importance, and should be taken into account, but that’s all, it procribes nothing. For most people, seatbelt laws just doesn’t have the quasi-religious significance you ascribe to them.

    The big problem with your argument is that you’ve got ethics backwards. Moral affect was not created with your ego, by your ego, or for your ego. Insects and reptiles are quite capable of self interest, and if self interest was all that is required, we’d just be fighting it out tooth and claw without any need to invent ethical narratives at all.

    However, a moral sense has proved biologically adaptive because it allows individuals to interact and cooperate for common goods in spite of their underlying self interest. You should absolutely expect moral concerns to impinge on your personal behaviour because that’s exactly why they exist.

    Further, despite numerous attempts to find an underlying abstract basis for ethics, no one has come up with anything universal, so there is no a priori basis to some kind of demarcation for what’s ok and not ok. These are complex “practical” matters synthesised out of biology, history, time, place, stories, and so on. We may argue for a rationalisation of ethics – general principles, inner consistency, and the like – but in the end, your moral sense is created out of thin air by biology using the preexisting capbilities of the brain (eg, the disgust relex) for very practical purposes so it’s a bit crazy to think that it would or should comply with some simple abstract logic.

  120. Liam Enter, I would certainly like to see more comprehensive Australian road toll statistics. The road toll statistics for Victoria you have offered to John from the 1950s to 1998 would be a good start. Is it available on-line? Is it available in a digital electronic format?

    I think comprehensive road toll statistics would reveal a lot more than our Governments and the greedy vested interests they serve would want us to know, for example, what is the correlation between the death toll and:

    * the crowding of so many millions more people into this country in recent decades?

    * abysmal urban design, which forces so many of us to travel, usually by car, vast distance every week to go to work, school, shopping centres, other vital amenities, for recreation or to socialise?

    * lack of decent public transport, which is really only just another aspect of Australia’s poor urban design.

    Are the Ponzi ‘growth’ economists plans to further double Australia’s population likely to (a) increase or (b) decrease our road fatality rate?

    (BTW, I am surprised that my previous comment did not draw a response. Of course, I don’t really mind that much if it doesn’t.)

  121. @daggett

    Your argument is one of those act v rule utilitarian claims. It plays fast and loose with collective action problems and tries to sneak things into the uncertainty envelope.

    It is specious logic.

    We absolutely need rational and robustly enforced road rules. That’s not the same as arguing that everyone who breaches one is reckless or will cause a tangible harm to another’s legitimate interests. What the breacher often does though is impose the risk on people who haven’t consented to it, in much the same way that some one embezzling a trust fund to play the commodity markets may welll make a fortune and yet never cost his or her unwitting creditors a penny. Yet he is still a schyster if he is imposing risk on others to which they have not consented.

    If the rules could be robustly enforced in real time, there would be an argument for more variable speed limits and for latitude for those with better maintained vehicles and proven skill and competence i.e. a better match between risks, costs and rewards. The fact that there was more margin for error would create a benefit that could be shared about more equitably. If nobody is driving with PCA and nearly everyone is sticking to the speed limit and respecting traffic control signals and all the demonstrably unfit persons are off the roads as drivers, then maybe everyone can drive a little faster, ceteris paribus.

    But making up your own rules to suit is simply externalising the cost of your convenience.

  122. Fran Barlow,

    Of course, there have to be laws against unsafe driving practices.

    Where did I say that there shouldn’t be?

    All the same, it is not easy to define laws that, if adhered to, will make all driving without risk to road users, that is, unless speed limits were set impractically low and every aspect of driving, parking, reversing, changing lanes, etc was subject to strict laws.

    Many drivers who, in past decades, did break traffic laws and were caught on occasions and incurred fines, nevertheless, demonstrably did not pose an unacceptable danger to other road users, as a good many such drivers did not have traffic accidents.

    This is not to say that the police were wrong to have issued them fines. I simply take issue with the view that acceptable road safety can only be achieved by imposing harsher and harsher penalties.

    I think an acceptable level of road safety can only be achieved if all factors contributing to the dangerous state of our roads are rectified. My post identifies others, but you have failed to address any of these.

  123. It had escaped my attention that at the start of the post Professor Quiggin did give the evidence, in hard statistics, which showed conclusively that too little enforcement of traffic rules and automotive safety standards were largely the cause of Victoria’s horrific road toll of 1061 in 1971 as compared to the still unacceptable Victorian road toll of 300 in 2010.

    My apologies.

    Clearly, unless harsh penalties are applied, the road toll will be unacceptable even on roads as uncrowded as they were in 1971.

    Nevertheless, still I think that much of what I wrote in my previous posts still stand.

    If acceptable road safety could be achieved just by punishing, ever more harshly, those who have broken rules, which our authorities responsible for road safety tell us divide drivers into those who are driving ‘safely’ and those who are not, we should have achieved that long before now.

    If 300 were still killed in 2010, even with the harsh enforcement of traffic rules that was applied then, then I think other factors I have mentioned, which are clearly detrimental to road safety have to be addressed.

  124. @daggett

    Actually it’s not the harshness of the punishment that is typically key, but its certainty. If people are not confident they can avoid compliance without penalty, then rather more minor sanctions can be effective. If you simpoly cannot drive with PCA and get fined a small but hurtfull amount + points every time you exceed the limit, almost all will comply.

  125. Whatever it takes to save lives, I can’t argue with.

    Still, I see road rule enforcement as a necessary evil.

    A far more effective way to get compliance with the law would simply to be to give people back the time that has been stolen from them in the lat three decades.

    Yes, stolen, by, you guessed it, ‘free market’ ‘reforms’.

    Whatever happened to the ‘leisure society’ that we were all promised in the 1960’s and 1970’s?

    Instead of our working hours being reduced to 35 hours and less (remember the Trade Unions’ 35 hour week campaign of the 1970’s and 1980’s?), they have been hugely increased. Where one income was sufficient to give most families a secure comfortable living, most families need to have at least both parents working, with at least one of them doing part-time post-graduate study, for longer and longer hours.

    Why wouldn’t we expect many to see no choice but to drive fast, even faster than the speed limits and break other road rules, with so little time and so much distance to travel to get around?

  126. @daggett

    Why wouldn’t we expect many to see no choice but to drive fast, even faster than the speed limits and break other road rules, with so little time and so much distance to travel to get around?

    Most of the road trauma has little to do with this. Often it’s speeding/falling asleep on country roads, being over the PCA limit, under 25s being under 25, running reds and so forth.

  127. I’d be interested to see statistics to show what circumstances may have motivated drivers involved in accidents to speed. I am not convinced that the lack of time is not a factor which may motivate those who speed or fall asleep on country roads or even some “under 25’s” to speed.

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