Thursday, March 31, 2011

What is so special about marriage between a man and a woman?

A piece at Mercator Net: What is so special about marriage between a man and a woman?

Questions and answers on the topics raised in defense of same-sex marriage.

What is marriage?

Why does marriage have to be about the ability to have children? Older couples and infertile couples have always been allowed to marry.

But surely marriage is more about two people in love than what kind of sex they have. Why is procreative sex special?

Isn’t the right to marry a basic human right?

But what about human dignity? Homosexual people can never feel that they are fully accepted and worthy of love if they are not allowed to marry their same-sex partner.

Aren’t you condemning homosexuals to a life of loneliness and misery?

Why will allowing homosexual marriage weaken the institution of marriage as a whole? Two men getting married won’t threaten me or my marriage.

But marriage has not always been defined as the union of one man and one woman. How do you explain polygamy?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tailoring Marriage Law to Satisfy Equal Protection and Due Process

The American Spectator : Tailoring Marriage Law to Satisfy Equal Protection and Due Process looks at issues that have been raised with respect to same-sex marriage.

The plaintiffs claim that the justification asserted by defenders of Prop 8 for traditional, opposite-sex, marriage, namely, responsible procreation, is both overinclusive and underinclusive. It is overinclusive because couples, who do not intend to have children or, on account of age or infertility, cannot have children, may marry. And it is underinclusive because couples who care for each other -- same-sex couples, close-kin couples, and underage couples, cannot marry. This page authored my essay on the underinclusive argument. I turn to the overinclusive argument.

If a court finds the eligibility requirements for traditional marriage unconstitutionally overinclusive, it has two alternatives: It can order the expansion of the requirements to encompass same-sex couples or it can order a narrowing of the requirements so that eligibility for traditional marriage is better tailored to fit the justification for traditional marriage. The briefs of the parties in the California case have little to say on this alternative. What would such a law look like? It involves identifying and barring infertile couples (at any one time, about one in six or seven couples in the United States).


The law could require all brides and groom to sign a declaration, on or before their wedding day, that they intended to have children, as a condition to obtaining a marriage license. No schedule of course (but see below). Easy enough to do.

The law could presume, based on biology, that women over the age of 50 are infertile and prohibit them from marrying. (The ability of a woman to conceive due to artificial stimulation would not be allowed to rebut this legal presumption.) If the prospective bride were under the age of 50, the law would require all such brides and their grooms to be tested and the positive results for fertility would be submitted (with protections of privacy) as a condition of obtaining a marriage license.


We find this thought experiment repugnant on several bases. First, for government to regulate marriage in such a way would assume that government created marriage and could manipulate it in any way it wishes. Government did not create marriage. Human beings did not sit around a campfire or in a legislative assembly thinking up the idea of marriage, creating something new. Marriage existed before law, before history.

Second, such legislation would create burdens on private parties and on the government to police it: Who is fertile? Who has had children within the allotted time? Who has reached age 50? Who has children all over the age of 18? All in an effort to identify and bar about 15% of couples from marrying. Our privacy rights assume that the government may not intrude into whether or not we are fertile or intend or do not intend to have children. And only we, not the government, may initiate proceedings to end our marriages.

Third, this kind of legislation would allow men to abandon women who are past the age of child-bearing and child-rearing and encourage them to marry younger women and start second families. Now, you can say that no-fault divorce also allows husbands to leave their wives for younger women. True enough and bad enough. No-fault divorce is an example of what can happen when legislatures think that marriage is subject to their power. No-fault divorce has fouled our nests.

This thought experiment demonstrates that current marriage law is tailored to fit -- as tightly as we should dare go -- the justification of "responsible procreation" for traditional marriage of one man and one woman.

....The focus of traditional marriage is on the needs of children, not, as one brief put it, on "the glorification of the adult self." If the institution of marriage is not focused on children, but rather, as the opponents of Prop 8 assert, on the affective emotions of the adults, then government has no particular interest in the institution because it has no particular interest in the (mere) lifelong companionship of adults.

New Tone in Wisconsin

New tone, old double standards.
Let's see if some in the media get as worked up about this death threat, as they did about death threats to Democratic congressmen
You weren't holding your breath, were you?

Lighting a Koran candle

"If your enemy is easily irritated, seek to irritate him." -- Sun Tzu
From Prairie Pundit:

...United States President Barack Obama, top US commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus, the Vatican, and every talking head across the political spectrum screamed in unison until this Florida fringe preacher with a congregation that could meet in a double-wide listened, rather like Dr Seuss' Horton hearing the Who.

Enlightened opinion prevailed, but at high cost: L'Affaire Jones demonstrated that a madman carrying a match and a copy of the Koran can do more damage to the Muslim world than a busload of suicide bombers....
It appears to be a chain easily pulled. fire up a Koran or do a cartoon about Mohammad and you set off an incredible tantrum that causes most of the rest of the world to lose respect for Islam.
The Wheel of the Year: Now available on Amazon Kindle

The Official Manual for Spice Cadets: Now available on Amazon Kindle

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Some cause for concern over the Egypt uprising.  Whoever takes over may not be what we hope for.
It's what the good people on West 40th Street like to call a "Times Classic." On Feb. 16, 1979, the New York Times ran a lengthy op-ed by Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton, under the headline "Trusting Khomeini."
"The depiction of [Khomeini] as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false," wrote Mr. Falk. "What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisers is uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals."
After carrying on in this vein for a few paragraphs, the professor concluded: "Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on nonviolent tactics, Iran may yet provide us with a desperately needed model of humane governance for a third-world country."
The Muslim Brotherhood claims not to be interested in taking power, but is well enough organized it may get power by default.
Nor should there be any doubt about what the Brotherhood is aiming against. "Resistance is the only solution against the Zio-American arrogance and tyranny," Muhammad Badie, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, sermonized in October. "The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained . . . by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life."
Such remarks may come as a rude shock to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who last week testified in Congress that the Brotherhood was "largely secular" (a remark his office later retracted). They may also surprise a coterie of Western analysts who are convinced that the Brotherhood is moving in a moderate direction and will only be further domesticated by participation in democratic politics. Yet the evidence for that supposition rests mainly on what the Brotherhood tells Westerners. What it says in Arabic is another story.
In 2005, candidates for the Brotherhood took 20% of the parliamentary vote. Gamal al-Banna, Hassan's youngest brother, once told me they command as much as 40% support. Neither figure is a majority. But unless Egypt's secular forces can coalesce into serious political parties, the people for whom Islam is the solution won't find the fetters of democracy to be much of a problem.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Academic Bias

Megan McArdle dares to comment on bias in academia:

Unbiasing Academia

In other words, a professor is almost twice as likely to support the Democratic party as a member of the general population, and about 80% less likely to support the GOP. By contrast, a military officer is about 40% more likely to identify as a Republican as someone in the general population, and about as likely to identify as a Democrat. In fact, the only profession I could find that skews 80% towards Republicans is Southern Baptist ministers. I suspect both professors and ministers would resent the comparison.


I think what conservatives want most of all is simply recognition that they are being shut out. It is a double indignity to be discriminated against, and then be told unctuously that your group's underrepresentation is proof that almost none of you are as good as "us".

And What Does Bias Look Like?

...the other problem with excluding conservatives: it makes scholarship worse. Unless we assume what to many liberals is "proven" by their predominance in academia--that conservative ideas have no merit--leaving conservatives out means that important viewpoints are excluded. We are never the best interrogators of our ideas. It requires motivated critics to lay bare our hidden assumptions, our misreading of the data, our factual inaccuracies. No matter how scrupulously honest you try to be, you are no substitute for an irritated opponent thinking, "That can't possibly be right!"

If you build a group with the same assumptions, you can all too easily go wrong.

Moreover, as Haidt points out, that group develops sacred taboos that can't be violated. If facts threaten the sacred space, facts get jettisoned. Think of the creationist museum--or Larry Summers getting attacked by a swarm of angry critics for suggesting that it was possible that inborn differences in the distribution of intelligence might explain why men--who have a higher observed variance in math ability--are more likely to be found in the sciences.

Now, Summers could be wrong---as I say, I am inherently suspicious of narratives that offer neat explanations for why the dominant position of one group can't be changed. But the critics did not rush to explain why this was unlikely to be right. They furiously rushed to punish him for having said it. They were angry about sexism, not science.

Yet one more reason why I am suspicious that liberals' unshakeable commitment to scientific rigor is what forces them to exclude conservatives tainted by association with creationism.

I don't say this to denigrate liberals--obviously, conservatives have their taboos too. But it's healthier if different groups, with different taboos, all have a place in the quest for truth. Monoculture is as unhealthy for ideas as it is for agriculture.

Eugene Volokh observes:

I am regularly astounded by the number of otherwise-intelligent academics I encounter who are completely ignorant of alternative views. It’s not that they’ve considered and rejected conservative or libertarian arguments. It’s that they fail to understand them, if they are familiar with them at all. This post by Mark Kleiman is a good example, in that it puts forward a laughable caricature of libertarian and originalist constitutional thought that would have been discredited with but a moment’s investigation into the question (as I noted here, and Pejman Yousefzadeh discussed here). To Prof. Kleiman’s credit, he backed off (a little) when other took the time to respond, but that a prominent, thoughtful academic would post something like this as an ostensibly thoughtful critique of right-leaning ideas says quite a bit about the state of much academic discourse.

I deeply resent the Americans sneering at our health service - but perhaps that's because the truth hurts

From the Daily Mail: STEPHEN GLOVER: I deeply resent the Americans sneering at our health service - but perhaps that's because the truth hurts

whatever the failings and excesses of the American system, the statistics suggest that it delivers better outcomes than the NHS when dealing with serious illnesses. I say 'suggest' because we should always be wary of comparing figures compiled in different ways in different countries.

In treating almost every cancer, America apparently does better than Britain, sometimes appreciably so. According to a study in Lancet Oncology last year, 91.9 per cent of American men with prostate cancer were still alive after five years, compared with only 51.1per cent in Britain.

The same publication suggests that 90.1 per cent of women in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer between 2000 and 2002 survived for at least five years, as against 77.8 per cent in Britain.

So it goes on. Overall the outcome for cancer patients is better in America than in this country. So, too, it is for victims of heart attacks, though the difference is less marked.

If you are suspicious of comparative statistics, consult any American who has encountered the NHS. Often they cannot believe what has happened to them - the squalor, and looming threat of MRSA; the long waiting lists, and especially the official target that patients in 'accident and emergency' should be expected to wait for no more than four - four! - hours; the sense exuded by some medical staff that they are doing you a favour by taking down your personal details.

Most Americans, let's face it, are used to much higher standards of healthcare than we enjoy, even after the doubling of the NHS budget under New Labour. Of course, the U.S. is a somewhat richer country, but I doubt its superior health service can be mainly attributed to this advantage.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Instapundit » Blog Archive » LIST: Some bug-out bag recommendations. Related: A bug-in bag. “Basically a bag to get you hom…

Instapundit » Blog Archive » LIST: Some bug-out bag recommendations. Related: A bug-in bag. “Basically a bag to get you home…

LIST: Some bug-out bag recommendations.Related: A bug-in bag. “Basically a bag to get you home should SHTF while you’re away from your house.”
Plus, survival on the cheap. Still more here.

How Political Lies Spread On The Left

A study of how outrage gets ginned up when it's not entirely appropriate: How Political Lies Spread On The Left
Someone on Twitter asked me last night if I’d heard about what was happening in Minnesota with the poor. I didn’t, so they sent me a link to Crooks & Liars that talked about a law proposed there that would make it illegal for poor people to carry more than $20 cash!
That sounds like a totally insane law, all right.
And here’s what the first couple of paragraphs of the Crooks and Liars piece says…
First Susie Madrak writes…
They’re not just crazy, they’re evil — and un-Christian, should they have the audacity to claim otherwise. If only we could force them to live like this, they wouldn’t last a week:
And then quotes an article that says…
St. Paul, MN – Minnesota Republicans are pushing legislation that would make it a crime for people on public assistance to have more $20 in cash in their pockets any given month. This represents a change from their initial proposal, which banned them from having any money at all.
Wow!!! It would be a crime for people on public assistance to have more than $20 in cash in their pockets any given month! A crime!
Now here, any thinking person would start to wonder: what does "more than $20 in cash in any given month mean? All of a sudden, instead of talking about a quantity, we're talking about a rate. Someone has changed the units of measure in mid stream. That should be a clue that maybe all is not as being hyperventilated over...
After a few minutes, I did some research. The name of the law in question is House File 171, so I did a Google search on that.
Did anyone question the story at all or even read the law? Four pages, at the bottom – I found someone. A right winger who quotes the Bible and has a Hillary Clinton ‘Joker’ picture on his blog. The sort of fellow that liberals would call a right wing nutjob, if they were being kind.
Guess what? That’s the guy who had the story right. Hundreds of liberals get crazy about this story, with smugly violent comments about how stupid and evil the Republicans are…and a lone right winger absolutely nails the story. I present to you, The Catawissa Gazetteer., Tom Usher.
He quotes the law itself, including this relevant portion…
During the initial 30 calendar days of eligibility, a recipient may have cash benefits issued on an EBT card without the recipient’s name printed on the card. This card may be the same card on which food support is issued and does not need to meet the requirements of this section.(c) Notwithstanding paragraph (a), EBT cardholders may opt to have up to $20 per month accessible via automatic teller machine or receive up to $20 cash back from vendor.
Then he gives his opinion. Tom’s reading of the law is the same as mine…
…does it appear to you in any way that the Republicans are trying to limit the amount of cash anyone is allowed to carry? No. They are merely limiting the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from the state issued debit card.
Yep. That’s exactly what the law says. It doesn’t say (as Crooks and Liars reported) that it’s “a crime for people on public assistance to have more than $20 in cash in their pockets any given month. “
Tom closes with a statement I couldn’t have said better myself…
The internet is a wonderful way to stay on top of the issues of the day but all people, regardless of political persuasion, need to check their facts before running with a story. It’s way to easy to become party to the spreading of lies meant to harm one group or another.
The C&L story and all the left wing blog posts had it totally wrong. They had either not done basic research or they just didn’t care. Oh, man. Depressing.
A quick note about the law – I don’t know if this is a good law. Do some cash restrictions make sense? I think so but $20 seems a bit low given laundry or bus fare or whatever. There’s room for reasoned debate – except that’s not what the left wing blogs I read are doing. It’s all insults and lies and hype. So, while I am unsure about the law, I am 100% sure about the lie.
So I tweeted this info and got into a nice conversation or two about it. I wondered if Crooks & Liars would post a retraction or (more importantly) if their fans would ask for one, since the story was 1) blatantly misleading and 2) widely repeated. Nope.
And one of Lee Stranahan's critics attacked him for his "poor reading comprehension", a charge which appears to be deeply ironic. I'm inclined to agree with Stranahan's take:
...Crooks and Liars was one of my go-to sites for information.
Now I think they might want to shorten their name to the more concise and appropriate Liars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Iodine, and in particular potassium iodide tablets, have been very popular right now.
People are clearing drug stores of the stuff in anticipation of the need to ward off thyroid damage due to radioactivity from Japan.  I suspect anyone living more than 50 miles away from any of the affected plants doesn't need  to worry, but there is one thing I think deserves mention.
You don't need iodide tablets.
You can buy a bottle of tincture of iodine, 2%.  Keep it in your first aid kit for use in disinfecting wounds. 
You can also purify water with the stuff -- five to ten drops can be used to treat a liter of water.
Betadine (povidone) contains a higher concentration of iodine.  Use half the quantity you would of tincture (three to five drops per liter).
Also see here.
And if you anticipate radioactive fallout, paint a square inch of your skin with tincture of iodine. (Not sure what the absorbtion fraction of povidone is.)
And take note: If you're allergic to iodine, all bets are off.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WHO | Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident

In the wake of the Japanese nuclear plant failures, this is a good source for perspective: WHO | Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident
The thing to remember is, Chernobyl was horribly mismanaged and was pretty close to the reasonable worst possible case. (An unreasonable worst possible case would be dropping a nuclear bomb on the pile once the containment vessel had ruptured.) They don't expect anything nearly as bad in Japan.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Does Rep. Keith Ellison’s Story Check Out?

Matthew Shaffer looks at the story: Rep. Keith Ellison’s Bigotry - Matthew Shaffer - National Review Online
Does Ellison’s account check out with reality?

No. It is actually pretty close to the opposite of the truth. In fact, six weeks after the September 11 attacks — before Hamdani’s remains were identified, which Ellison implies to be the turning point of public perception — Congress signed the PATRIOT Act into law with this line included: “Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing.” That is, Hamdani was actually singled out for particular high honors among the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.

There’s little evidence of the “rumors” of which Ellison speaks, either. Poke around yourself. Go to Google and search for Mohammed Salman Hamdani’s name, using various time frames from before today’s hearings (say, in the week after the September 11 attack). You’ll discover two discordant sets of returns: none for sites and news reports accusing Hamdani of being a terrorist, and many thousands of pages honoring him as a hero while claiming that he was “widely accused” of being a terrorist.

Web pages that do source the claim that Hamndani was “widely accused” of being a terrorist typically trace back to a single report from the New York Post, dated Oct. 12, 2001, and titled “Missing — or Hiding? Mystery of NYPD Cadet from Pakistan.” The piece has been taken offline, but its content is preserved elsewhere.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

James O'Keefe Interview

Hugh Hewitt also talked with James O'Keefe. James O'Keefe Interview

Andrew Breitbart on NPRscam

Hugh Hewitt interviews Andrew Breitbart on NPR sting: Andrew Breitbart on NPRscam
About this story, Breitbart says, among other things:
I told James, you put this on YouTube, not on proprietary Breitbart software, because you have to become legitimized as an independent reporter in order for this, your project, and your desires to change the media, and to report stories that the mainstream media won’t report. And so I stepped back, and I watched him break the story, and I come in so I don’t become the story, because this story’s too important to allow for it to be diverted into selectively edited video. And all the other propaganda points that you hear, or you know, or the attacks on me, why are you working with Breitbart, why is O’Keefe working with Breitbart, why is Breitbart working with O’Keefe? We needed this story to stand on its own.
NPR has a few questions to ask. At the beginning of the day, their statement was that they repeatedly rejected the money from this Muslim Brotherhood front operation. Later in the day, their media reporter, David Folkenflik elaborates on that, and simply states that they were looking up their 501c3 status, in essence that they were vetting. So I believe NPR’s been caught in a lie. And I don’t think they’re going to be able to prove that they tried to reject the Muslim Brotherhood money. I think that’s where the scandal is, and that people don’t see that right now.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The myth about the US as source for 90% of Mexican guns

Prairie Pundit links to a study by STRATFOR. PrairiePundit: The myth about the US as source for 90% of Mexican guns The actual number is closer to 13%.

If it had been Sarah Palin...

...We'd still be hearing about it.


via Wizbang by Michael Laprarie on 2/7/11

Imagine the front page headlines and the endless supply of material for John Stewart, Colbert, Bill Mahr and the entire entertainment-media complex if this had been Sarah Palin:

Four-star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli -- the No. 2 general in the U.S. Army -- says he is absolutely not offended that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett mistook him for a waiter at a fancy Washington dinner this week and asked him for a glass of wine.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Answering Scott Walker's critics

Answering Scott Walker's critics:
"John Fund publishes the answers that Scott Walker has for his critics. Beyond the slogans and union chants, there are common-sense answers to all those criticisms.
Mr. Walker, like Mr. Thompson before him, hopes to contain the excesses of the past—to enable the modern welfare state to live within its means.

Mr. Walker says that the employee rights that people care about are protected by civil-service rules, not collective bargaining. 'We have the strongest protections in the country on grievance procedures, merit hiring, and just cause for disciplining and terminating employees,' he says. 'None of that changes under my plan.' Mr. Walker notes that the single largest group affected by his proposal are the 30,000 workers at the University of Wisconsin who were only granted collective-bargaining rights in 2009. 'If they only got them two years ago, how can you say they're set in stone?'
And of course, President Obama has set himself up as a protector of workers' rights. But the irony is that Obama doesn't think that those rights are so precious that they should be extended to the federal workers in the Executive Branch that Obama heads.
The governor knows he has become a national lightning rod, but he says he was nonetheless surprised when President Obama jumped into the fray last week by saying that the governor's proposal to limit collective bargaining sounded like 'an assault on unions.' He finds it ironic that Mr. Obama criticized his collective-bargaining changes when federal workers lack the power to bargain for wages or benefits—a fact demonstrated last month when Mr. Obama imposed a wage freeze on all federal workers. Under Mr. Walker's proposal, Wisconsin unions could still bargain for cost-of-living raises or more if approved by a voter referendum.
As Robert Samuelson details, the private-sector unions have been in retreat ever since it became clear that their demands were pricing their businesses out of the global market.
That changed in the 1970s and 1980s. Imports and 'transplant' factories created new competition in steel and autos. Airlines, trucking and communications (telephones) were deregulated, allowing new low-cost rivals into the market. Digital technology and the Internet transformed communications and threatened many industries, including traditional phone companies and newspapers.

For unions, this pitted present members' expectations - for high wages, generous fringe benefits - against companies' needs to lower costs and, thereby, protect future jobs. By and large, union concessions were too little, too late. Corporate managers, their business models besieged, were also slow. Both executives and union leaders underestimated the vulnerability of once impregnable market positions. The downfall of the 'Big Three' automakers epitomized this disastrous cycle. Nonunion firms gained market share; union membership fell. Unions also had a harder time organizing other companies, because both managers and workers feared job loss.
And now the same reality is hitting public-sector unions.
Public-sector unions now face a similar predicament. Among government workers, 36.2 percent are unionized. Their growth partially offset the erosion of private-sector unions (the combined unionization rate for private and public workers: 11.9 percent). Traditionally, public-worker unions flourished in an alliance with liberal Democrats. But the huge loss of state and local government revenue has - like new competitors for firms - transformed the economic and political climate. Labor costs put upward pressure on taxes and downward pressure on public services.
This is why the unions will fight to their utmost against Governor Walker. They can see the writing on the wall and it isn't saying great things about their role in state budget shortfalls.

When people talk about workers' rights, remember what rights the unions have won for themselves. As Robert Barro, Harvard economics professor, writes, the majority of our states have laws in place that force workers to join unions and pay their dues. Only 22 states have right-to-work laws that prohibit such mandates. I guess that the right to work is not one of those rights that liberals want to protect. And they don't care about the economic damage that they do not only to government budgets, but the economies of the states where they have blocked right-to-work laws.
There is evidence that right-to-work laws—or, more broadly, the pro-business policies offered by right-to-work states—matter for economic growth. In research published in 2000, economist Thomas Holmes of the University of Minnesota compared counties close to the border between states with and without right-to-work laws (thereby holding constant an array of factors related to geography and climate). He found that the cumulative growth of employment in manufacturing (the traditional area of union strength prior to the rise of public-employee unions) in the right-to-work states was 26 percentage points greater than that in the non-right-to-work states.
Such reality is anathema to those union workers protesting across the country. And that is why they must resort to slogans rather than reality.

If Congestion Pricing Is So Great, Why Don't Businesses Do It?

I wonder if any grocery stores would have the guts to implement congestion pricing.
If Congestion Pricing Is So Great, Why Don't Businesses Do It?: "
Congestion pricing and/or express tolling is one of those things that seemingly all men of good will--i.e., liberal, conservative, and libertarian policy wonks living in a handful of coastal cities--can agree about.  Most non-wonks seem to hate it.  But it promotes environmental goals and controls negative traffic externalities by using prices.  What's not to love?

Tim Lee, a libertarian wonk in good standing, takes the bold, contrarian stance:

A few days ago I happened to stop by the local supermarket during the post-work rush. When I was ready to check out all the regular lanes had long lines. Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind waiting a few minutes, but on this particular evening I had dinner plans I couldn't be late for. So I shelled out the extra $6 for the express lane so I could skip the lines.
Perceptive readers will surmise that I made up the previous paragraph. In reality, grocery stores don't impose congestion charges on their customers. Nor do many other types of private businesses. I don't think I've ever had a customer support line offer to expedite my call for a fee. I've heard you can get a table faster at some restaurants by bribing the Maitre d', but I've never seen a restaurant formalize the practice. Generally speaking, when businesses experience temporary spikes in demand, they serve customers on a first-come-first-serve basis; they don't auction off the temporarily scarce capacity to the highest bidder.
These examples came to mind as I was reading the comments on my recent article about congestion pricing of the highways. One of the striking things about the congestion pricing debate is the stark divide between elites and the general public. Prominent intellectuals from across the political spectrum--from free-market transportation experts to left-wing bloggers are supportive of the idea. In contrast, the readership of Ars Technica, like voters generally, is overwhelmingly opposed. And their criticisms were not limited to the privacy issues that were the focus of my article.
Many supporters of congestion pricing chalk this up to voter ignorance. They assume that people will like congestion pricing once they have a chance to try it. But the supermarket example should make us skeptical of that conclusion. The grocery business is an intensely competitive one. If it were true that people could be won over to this kind of scheme once they had a chance to try it, you'd expect some entrepreneurial grocery store owner to give it a try. Yet I've lived in half a dozen different metropolitan areas and I've never seen a supermarket that utilized congestion pricing on its checkout lanes.
This is a strong empirical argument, and Tim goes on to outline reasons he thinks that we don't see congestion pricing in grocery stores.  But let me counter with my own example:  I do pay to cut in line when I use another form of transportation, namely flying.  When I fly Southwest, I buy the pricier tickets that put you at the head of the line (worth it, because Southwest's seating is first-come, first-served).  When I fly out of a very congested airport like Dulles, I will occasionally pay the $20-40 to go through the shorter first class security line, and jump into an earlier boarding group.  And wherever possible, I fly American Airlines, where I have Gold frequent flyer status.  Why?  It lets me jump the lines.
I also pay more to fly at the 'peak' hours business travelers prefer, rather than getting up at 6 am on Saturday morning.

Now, I'm not particularly typical: I generally travel several times a month for business.  But you could argue that frequent fliers like me are more like commuters than the tourists who fly once or twice a year.  There is at least some willingness to pay private market actors in order to avoid congestion.

You can argue that this isn't a good example: that the airlines are a weird, very heavily regulated industry, and that many people react negatively to all the fees they charge.  I might even agree.  But it isn't true that we never observe such pricing to get around lines.  Amusement parks also do it, with super-pricey premium passes that let you cut to the front.  In fact, you could argue that these businesses are a better example than groceries, where even in my fairly dense and grocery-poor neighborhood, lines rarely make me wait longer than five minutes, ten at the outside.  At busy airports and amusement lines, on the other hand, half an hour to an our is not rare.  And those businesses have responded by coming up with ways for at least a few customers to pay to jump the queue.

But that brings us to the heart of the populist argument against congestion pricing, and even express toll lanes, and I think ultimately supports Tim's argument that this is never going to be democratically popular: most people don't pay.  And they tend to resent the people who do.  It is not an accident that congestion pricing is a system most beloved of people who are a) relatively affluent and/or b) don't drive to work.  This tells us empirically why congestion pricing is unlikely to ever get enough political support to be implemented in America.  But maybe it also tells us, maybe, why it shouldn't be implemented.  Who are we to tell people that they ought to prefer prices to queuing?