Posted by: captainfalcon | March 13, 2012

From the Department of the Deliberately Obtuse

My contempt for Ilya Somin is already on record. This is particularly egregious. Regarding some toothless boilerplate from the Kochs about their plans vis-a-vis Cato, he writes:

I [am] happy that Charles Koch has expressed an intent to appoint libertarian “officers and board members would act independently from me or any other individual.” But this laudable statement would be more persuasive if it were more specific. It would help if the Kochs gave at least a few examples of the kinds of people whom they intend to name who would qualify as “independent.” [A previous post urged that the Kochs nominate various libertarian academics — CF]

Jerry Taylor responds in the comments that Charles’s boilerplate — transparent equivocation that it is — is not “laudable” at all:

Ilya, we don’t have to wonder about the sorts of people that Charles Koch would put on our board. He and his brother has used their shares to nominate 15 such individuals over the past year. They are; Nancy Pfotenhauer, Kevin Gentry, Charles Koch, Ted Olson, Andrew Napolitano, Preston Marshall, Tony Woodlief, John Hinderaker, and seven other individuals without any public profile. Those seven include an executive vice president of Koch Industries, a staff lawyer for Koch Industries, a staff lawyer for the Charles Koch Foundation, a former Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Industries, a former Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and a lifelong Wichita friend of Charles Koch.

Draw your own conclusions.

To which Ilya illuminatingly replies: “Th[o]se are the people they have nominated in the past. Obviously, there are many people on that list whom i would not have chosen. However, Charles Koch’s recent statement was about their plans for the future. The latter could be different from the forner [sic].”

Fucking profound. It’d be one thing if the Ilya were both (a) being arch with his initial characterization of the Kochs’ (“laudable”) statement and (b) trying to troll Jerry Taylor with his wooden recital of the profusely bleeding obvious, but an earlier reply to a critic rings sincerely enough to belie that: “The Kochs say they want to promote libertarianism, and I hope and believe that they are sincere. My suggestion is intended to help achieve that goal, which we share.”

So, it seems, he sincerely thinks he’s advancing the discourse. Either he is trying to flatter the Kochs into adopting his position, or he believes that his is an interesting point of view worth articulating in print. If the former then he’s an ass — the Kochs don’t want a bunch of minarchist eccentrics running their institute, and nobody wants obscure libertarian academics with no meaningful nexus to rich people serving on a charitable board. If the latter then he should reread (just the first sentence of) his co-blogger’s Academic Legal Writing: “Good legal scholarship [also, writing in general] should make (1) a claim that is (2) novel, (3) nonobvious, (4) useful, (5) sound, and (6) seen by the reader to be novel, nonobvious, useful, and sound.”

Each of Ilya’s comments flunks this test. The first one — especially, “this laudable statement would be more persuasive if it were more specific” — while certainly novel, is obviously false. True, how laudable the statement is depends on your point of view. If you want the Kochs to remain noncommittal so that they can maximize their chances of eventually pushing Cato into relevance on the right then, sure, it is laudable. If you want them to fish or cut bait then it’s scurrilous. But inspecific? Nonsense. It is specifically noncommittal. No doubt the Koch appointees listed by Taylor all would have acted independently. In concert, maybe, and not wholly uninfluenced, but with definite independence (that is the beauty of the indeterminacy of independence). Of course, there is nothing necessarily non-committal about Charles’s non-commitment. Every aspect of its sense, including its specificity, depends on the context of utterance (a point that often seems to elude Ilya, who repeatedly makes boneheaded judgments about context without realizing a judgment has been, or needs to be, made). But in the context of utterance there is no doubt.

Ilya’s reply to Jerry Taylor likewise flunks Volokh’s criteria. This time it is  true. Too true. It’s first problem is that obviously, as a matter of logic, past results do not guarantee future performance. This (it’s second problem) is not a novel claim. It is a background understanding that everybody shares. It’s why we introduce evidence as opposed to resting our claims on isolated episodes; it is not a rebuttal to evidence introduced. Or, if it is, then why bother at all?

For Ilya, that question is a pressing one.



  1. I think the most sensible read of Somin’s posts is that he is kidding and yanking Taylor’s chain, an option you dismiss too cavalierly.

  2. That’s the hopeful read, in the same way that Rachel Maddow’s interpretation of Herman Cain’s presidential campaign as performance art was hopeful. I don’t think it’s correct though. You should go deep into Ilya’s posts and then get back to me. (Or, rather, you shouldn’t do that, but you know what I mean.)

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