Thursday, February 23, 2012

Over-Regulation

Economists have often made the point that a government determined to regulate every aspect of American life is actually stifling American prosperity. The Economist explains both the ludicrous nature of some of these regulations as well as the oppressive effect they have on the economic activity of American business. Here's their lede:
Americans love to laugh at ridiculous regulations. A Florida law requires vending-machine labels to urge the public to file a report if the label is not there. The Federal Railroad Administration insists that all trains must be painted with an “F” at the front, so you can tell which end is which. Bureaucratic busybodies in Bethesda, Maryland, have shut down children’s lemonade stands because the enterprising young moppets did not have trading licenses. The list goes hilariously on.

But red tape in America is no laughing matter. The problem is not the rules that are self-evidently absurd. It is the ones that sound reasonable on their own but impose a huge burden collectively. America is meant to be the home of laissez-faire. Unlike Europeans, whose lives have long been circumscribed by meddling governments and diktats from Brussels, Americans are supposed to be free to choose, for better or for worse. Yet for some time America has been straying from this ideal.

Consider the Dodd-Frank law of 2010. Its aim was noble: to prevent another financial crisis. Its strategy was sensible, too: improve transparency, stop banks from taking excessive risks, prevent abusive financial practices and end “too big to fail” by authorizing regulators to seize any big, tottering financial firm and wind it down. This newspaper supported these goals at the time, and we still do.

But Dodd-Frank is far too complex, and becoming more so. At 848 pages, it is 23 times longer than Glass-Steagall, the reform that followed the Wall Street crash of 1929. Worse, every other page demands that regulators fill in further detail. Some of these clarifications are hundreds of pages long. Just one bit, the “Volcker rule”, which aims to curb risky proprietary trading by banks, includes 383 questions that break down into 1,420 subquestions.

Hardly anyone has actually read Dodd-Frank, besides the Chinese government and our correspondent in New York. Those who have struggle to make sense of it, not least because so much detail has yet to be filled in: of the 400 rules it mandates, only 93 have been finalized. So financial firms in America must prepare to comply with a law that is partly unintelligible and partly unknowable.

Dodd-Frank is part of a wider trend. Governments of both parties keep adding stacks of rules, few of which are ever rescinded. Republicans write rules to thwart terrorists, which make flying in America an ordeal and prompt legions of brainy migrants to move to Canada instead. Democrats write rules to expand the welfare state.

Barack Obama’s health-care reform of 2010 had many virtues, especially its attempt to make health insurance universal. But it does little to reduce the system’s staggering and increasing complexity. Every hour spent treating a patient in America creates at least 30 minutes of paperwork, and often a whole hour. Next year the number of federally mandated categories of illness and injury for which hospitals may claim reimbursement will rise from 18,000 to 140,000. There are nine codes relating to injuries caused by parrots, and three relating to burns from flaming water-skis.
There's much more at the link. If ever you wonder what it is that motivates those who favor small government all you need do is read this article.

Who Designed the Designer?

One of the questions skeptics like to put to theists who cite the Argument from Design as a good case for the existence of a designer is "Who designed the designer"? The objection is a variant of that posed to the First Cause (Cosmological) Argument when it's asked that "if everything has a cause then what caused God"?

Perhaps there are serious objections to some versions of both the Argument from Design and the First Cause argument, but surely this question is not one of them, notwithstanding that such luminaries as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have both trotted it out in their books and lectures.

Rabbi Moshe Averick takes a look at some of the problems with the objection in a post at Algemeiner.com. He writes:
Most people are unaware that many, if not most, prominent atheist thinkers reject the idea of a creator, not because of a scientific alternative (there is none) but because they feel this approach is philosophically untenable. To their understanding, the question of “Who Created the Creator?” presents us with a philosophical barrier so formidable that it cannot be breached. Ergo, we are left with only one viable alternative: some unknown naturalistic process. The late Christopher Hitchens, who was an atheist himself, put it this way:
“[I was asked] where is the first cause…how can you do without a first cause? [My answer is] because it only gives you a sterile infinite regression. Where did the first cause of the first cause come from? The argument from design gives you the same problem; who designed the designer?
In other words, the question is supposed to baffle the theist by confronting him with an infinite regress of causes (or designers) which, the skeptic argues, reduces his belief in a First Cause to an absurdity. Averick goes on to say that:
Atheistic mathematician Jason Rosenhouse poses the question in the following manner:
Proponents of Intelligent Design [assert] that living organisms exhibit a certain kind of complexity…that is most plausibly explained as the result of intelligent design…the complexity of [the simplest living bacterium] is used as the evidence that a certain sort of designer exists.
Rosenhouse points out what seems to be the inherent problem in proposing such a solution:
This leads to a problem. The existence of complex entities was precisely the phenomenon in need of explanation. Hypothesizing the existence of something more complex than the thing to be explained only replaces one problem with a far greater one. If [the first living bacterium] can only be explained as the product of design, then any designer capable of crafting the [first living bacterium] must also be so explained. The result is an infinite regress of designers, each invoked to explain the existence of the one before.
In fact, the High Priest of modern “militant” atheism – Professor Richard Dawkins himself – uses this same idea as his trump card to justify his rejection of God the Creator and Intelligent Design:
Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem. Once again, this is because the designer himself immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin…any entity capable of designing something as improbable as [the first living bacterium] would have to be even more improbable than [the bacterium itself.] (The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins)
When the question is posed properly three points immediately become clear; three points which bring us very close to the solution to our problem.

(A) “Who Designed the Designer?” is a question that applies to physical matter.

(B) If astronomers received a detailed message in Morse code from a distant galaxy they would conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the result of intelligent extra-terrestrial life, even though they could not know who designed the designer. To state that a 747 and a laptop computer are the result of unguided processes because we cannot answer “Who designed the designer?” would be absurd. Just as it is obvious that the 747, the computer, and the Morse code signals are designed – whether or not I can answer “Who designed the designer?” – so too it is obvious that the bacterium is designed whether or not I can answer that question.

(C) The dilemma that emerges from “Who Designed the Designer?” does not lead us to conclude that the bacterium is the result of an unguided process, it tells us one thing only: That there cannot be an infinite regression of physical creators.
The significance of (A) and (C) is this: The premise of the objection, i.e. that the cause of complex things must be even more complex, and thus more improbable, than the things it causes, is simply false when applied to non-physical beings such as God is assumed to be. Only physical beings can be complex because only physical, material beings have parts. God, being pure mind, would have no parts. Minds are non-physical and simple. Thus the entire objection based on God's complexity is rendered useless.

Averick might also have noted that beings which are caused to exist are contingent, but God, if he exists, is not contingent - he's the necessary being upon which the existence of all contingent beings ultimately depends. God is by definition uncaused and self-existent. He has what philosophers of religion refer to as aseity and needs, nor has, any explanation outside himself.

Perhaps Dawkins, Rosenhouse, and Hitchens, not being philosophers, don't understand all this, but if not they shouldn't be writing books pontificating on matters about which they're so uninformed.
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