Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/27/2020: “Macho Man” Rights, A Billionaire Jerk Contest, And More

Good morning!

Not thrilled to be up before Virginia’s sunrise, but looking forward to it…

1. It’s sad what happens to Ethics Alarms expatriates...One upon a time, uber-progressive blogger/cartoonist Barry Deutsch, aka Ampersand, was one of the most prolific, open-minded, articulate and reasonable commenters here. Then Barry banned himself because he didn’t like my pointing out that his blog is an echo chamber, after he censored my comment there noting that his SJW throng’s  position on the Trayvon Martin-Zimmerman affair was intellectually dishonest.  So Barry retreated to his self-made bubble. I check in on him now and then, and that admirable open-mindedness has disappeared in the marinade of relentlessly woke and intolerant fans.

Here’s how bad it is for Barry: this what he wrote on his “Alas! A Blog”recently: “Conservatives are against all immigrants (or at least all non-white immigrants), not just unauthorized immigrants.”

Tragic. Barry Deutsch now believes that anyone who disagrees with his far left world view is a racist. The Ampersand who followed Ethics Alarms would never think such a thing, much less publish it.

2. The trouble with billionaires. The class warfare being fomented by Bernie Sanders and others for a cynical and destructive power grab is an old formula that, when it works, always brings chaos in its wake. Throughout history, it has succeeded more often than basic economics and common sense would dictate in part because so many of the ultra-rich persist in being jerks. Does being a jerk make one more inclined to get rich, or does becoming extremely rich have a tendency to make one a toxic jerk?

That’s a question for the ages, but the behavior of people like billionaires Peter Nygard and Louis Bacon make things easier for class warfare demagogues like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, just as it did for Lenin and Robespierre before them. This story, about their absurd and costly feud, illustrates how extreme wealth can permit one’s ethics alarms, not to mention sense of proportion, go dead.

From the Times:

The Bahamian pleasure palace featured a faux Mayan temple, sculptures of smoke-breathing snakes and a disco with a stripper pole. The owner, Peter Nygard, a Canadian fashion executive, showed off his estate on TV shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and threw loud beachfront parties, reveling in the company of teenage girls and young women. Next door, Louis Bacon, an American hedge fund billionaire, presided over an airy retreat with a lawn for croquet. Mr. Bacon preferred hunting alone with a bow and arrow to attending wild parties, and if mentioned at all in the press, was typically described as buttoned-up.

The neighbors had little in common except for extreme wealth and a driveway. But when Mr. Nygard wasn’t allowed to rebuild after a fire, he blamed Mr. Bacon. Since then, the two have been embroiled in an epic battle, spending tens of millions of dollars and filing at least 25 lawsuits in five jurisdictions. Mr. Nygard, 78, has spread stories accusing Mr. Bacon of being an insider trader, murderer and member of the Ku Klux Klan. Mr. Bacon, 63, has accused Mr. Nygard of plotting to kill him.

Read the whole thing. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2019: Coming Out Of My Green New Deal-Induced Coma Edition

Good afternoon!

Sorry; this was all set to go up by 10 am until I read the Green New Deal, and it sent me back to bed.

1. Green New Deal-related, he typed warily: Let’s see if the news media and pundits are as scrupulous about transparent flip-flops when they come from a cute socialist. During an interview with NPR, host Steve Inskeep pointed out to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez how much government involvement it would take to implement the so-called Green New Deal,” She responded,

“It does, it does, yeah, I have no problem saying that. Why? Because we have tried their approach for 40 years. For 40 years we have tried to let the private sector take care of this. They said, ‘We got this, we can do this, the forces of the market are going to force us to innovate.’ Except for the fact that there’s a little thing in economics called externalities. And what that means is that a corporation can dump pollution in the river and they don’t have to pay, but taxpayers have to pay.”

Then, a few hours later, Chuck Todd that same day asked Ocasio-Cortez about the same issue: wouldn’t this require a massive government take-over of private enterprise? This time, she resorted to Authentic Frontier Gibberish and said:

“I think one way that the right does try to mischaracterize, uh, what we’re doing as though it’s, like, some kind of massive government takeover. Obviously, it’s not that, because what we’re trying to do is release the investments from the federal government to mobilize those resources across the country.”

When the truth proves unpalatable, resort to double talk. There is no reason to trust anyone who does this. They are trying to deceive you.

2. But—But–I thought putting Kavanaugh on the Court meant that abortion was doomed, since all the justices appointed by Republicans vote in lockstep! The issue was whether a Louisiana law that required doctors to have admitting privileges in hospitals before they could provide abortions should be stayed pending a Supreme Court challenge. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh wanted to deny the stay, with Kavanaugh writing in part,

[E]ven without a stay, the status quo will be effectively preserved for all parties during the State’s 45-day regulatory transition period. I would deny the stay without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ ability to bring a later as-applied complaint and motion for preliminary injunction at the conclusion of the 45-day regulatory transition period if the Fifth Circuit’s factual prediction about the doctors’ ability to obtain admitting privileges proves to be inaccurate….

The law has not yet taken effect, so the case comes to us in the context of a pre-enforcement facial challenge. That means that the parties have offered, in essence, competing predictions about whether those three doctors can obtain admitting privileges….

Before us, the case largely turns on the intensely factual question whether the three doctors—Doe 2, Doe 5, and Doe 6—can obtain admitting privileges. If we denied the stay, that question could be readily and quickly answered without disturbing the status quo or causing harm to the parties or the affected women, and without this Court’s further involvement at this time…. [D]uring the 45-day transition period, both the doctors and the relevant hospitals could act expeditiously and in good faith to reach a definitive conclusion about whether those three doctors can obtain admitting privileges….

Roberts joined the four Democratic appointees—the liberal wing, natch—to allow the stay. Conservatives are horrified, but all this means is that he’s evaluating the case on its merits as he sees it, not following a pre-determined ideological script in lock-step fashion, like, say, the four liberal justices he voted with.

It’s called integrity and independence. Good for Roberts. Maybe he can persuade other justices to view their roles similarly. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Bill Gates

Funny, he doesn't LOOK evil...

Funny, he doesn’t LOOK evil...

Yes, it’s really this bad: a prominent liberal and Democrat qualifies as an Ethics Hero because he’s willing to give Donald Trump a chance.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told CNBC this morning that after speaking with the President Elect, he believes that Donald Trump has an opportunity to establish “American leadership through innovation,” Trump’s fellow billionaire told  “Squawk Box”:

“A lot of his message has been about … where he sees things not as good as he’d like…But in the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that, I think whether it’s education or stopping epidemics … [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Trump’s] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation….Of course, my whole career has been along those lines. And he was interested in listening to that. And I’m sure there will be further conversation.”

What could possibly prompt Gates to keep his head while all around him are losing theirs and blaming it on Trump? I see six possibilities: Continue reading

Slate: ‘How Dare A Billionaire Donate $400,000,000 to Harvard?’

See, Ozmandias? You should have opted for school of engineering.

See, Ozmandias? You should have opted for the school of engineering.

Slate’s article by Jordan Weissmann, its senior business and economics correspondent, about the largest donation ever made to Harvard University is one of those monstrosities that has great value as an ethics test. If you think his argument is reasonable, then you need help.

Essentially, the Slate piece is the ultimate example of an unethical argument I have focused on before, which can be summarized as, “If you give to what you care about rather than what I care about, then your donation is unethical.”

Unless your contribution is to ISIS, or isn’t really a contribution but an attempt to buy access for your own purposes (like with, to pick an example out of the air, a donation to the Clinton Foundation), there is nothing unethical about a $400,000,000 donation, which is what John Paulson just gave to Harvard University’s endowment for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The school will be renamed after Paulson, which Weissman also finds repugnant. The title of the piece: “Billionaire’s Ego Donates $400 Million to Harvard.”

Let me pause here to note that I refuse to give my money to Harvard, which solicits me regularly. The university is rich, I’m not, and I prefer to give my charitable gifts to Georgetown Law Center, specifically to the student theatrical organization I founded there, which like all theater groups, needs funds. I am sure Weissman finds my contribution unethical as well, because, really, what good are the arts compared to what he has decreed is worth giving to as the “more pressing causes in the world”?  As he sees it, that is, but that’s all that matters.

Let me go through Weissman’s many objections that cause him to sneer at Paulson’s charity:

1. “Gestures to Ivy League schools …inevitably have as much to do with the giver’s ego as their sense of altruism.” Yes, and so do almost all philanthropic donations, regardless of source and objective. The motto in fundraising (I was a professional fundraiser for a decade) is that donors give money for their purposes, not yours. People who give a lot of money to good causes like to have some recognition, and they deserve it.  Apparently Weissman believes that the only ethical donations are anonymous ones, because that’s modest. I’m impressed by anonymous gifts, though they often have selfish motivations as well: the donors don’t want to be hounded by more fundraisers. Nevertheless, that lack of modesty is so trivial as a flaw in large charitable contributions that to harp on it is perverse. Successful people tend to have egos that are often in proportion to their accomplishments. The construct of the left is, we know, that accomplishments and success are just randomly distributed fruits of privilege, ergo the self-esteem that often results from such success is as unsavory as the privilege that generates it.

This is, to be blunt, un-American crap.

2. Harvard “does not strictly need more money, especially compared to the financially strapped colleges that typically educate lower-income students.” First of all, this is demonstrably false. Harvard does need more money if it is going to expand and improve its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, secure that school’s financial health in perpetuity, and do so without sacrificing other objectives it deems important. Harvard also educates lower-income students, the best and brightest of them, and thus the best resources money can buy are expended on the students most likely to make the best use of them for the benefit of society. Weissman believes this is wrong, and that the 400,000,000 should be given to lesser schools, with less of a track record of spending money wisely, while educating less promising students.

I am in sympathy with that argument to some extent. The marginal utility of all that money is less at Harvard than anywhere else, and I can envision the donation having a far more sweeping impact elsewhere: giving it to Sweet Briar, for example. That does not mean there is anything wrong in any way with bolstering Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The donation is an unequivocal, absolute good.

The money could have been spent “better”? That’s your opinion. It’s not your money. Shut up. Continue reading

Glenn Beck vs. George Soros: Beck Cheats, Soros Wins

It is easy, and even enjoyable, to call foul when Fox News side-show barker Glenn Beck slanders a great American and personal hero like Theodore Roosevelt. It is less enjoyable when his target of abuse is someone I am far less fond of, George Soros. I don’t like to see billionaires use their checkbook to prop up juvenile Angry Left slime-artists like Move-On. Org, or to foist another family and  character-wrecking drug on society by pushing us toward the legalization of marijuana. But fair is fair, and lies are lies, and never the twain shall meet. The fact that Glenn Beck doesn’t agree with George Soros’s political activities can’t justify or excuse Beck’s use of falsehoods to paint him as something he is not.  Continue reading