Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Department of Energy Is Clearly Trying to Piss Me Off

Sometimes I wonder if the government anticipates that I will read their reports, and puts little things in them specifically to get to me. Today's episode occurred while reading a (mostly well-done) new report from the Department of Energy's Electricity Advisory Committee, "Keeping the Lights On in a New World."

On page 66 of the report, the Committee's authors note that investments in new generation capacity predictably follow a cyclical pattern. To illustrate why this is the case, please consider the following fictional example. Fake City is served by a large, centralized coal plant which produces baseload power, and several natural gas plants which satisfy peak load. Over time, the demand for electricity in Fake City rises, but the centralized coal plant is unable to increase its generation sufficiently to satisfy it. Electricity prices rise, and investors notice that profit opportunities exist for anyone who can help to meet the shortfall. The existing natural gas plant operators ramp up their generation, and several new natural gas and wind facilities (which can be built relatively quickly and inexpensively) are brought online to take advantage of the high prices.

Eventually Fake City's utility operators come to believe that future electricity demand will be sufficiently high to justify investment in a large new coal plant (these are very expensive and take a long time to build, but are less costly to operate). They begin construction on the plant, and in the mean time, the new natural gas and wind projects rake in the earnings which justified their construction in the first place. Eventually, the new coal plant is brought online, which decimates the market price for electricity, flooding the market with new, inexpensive supply and effectively pricing out the natural gas plants (the wind projects are less costly to operate, so they'll likely stick around, but new ones will not likely be built).

This cycle is immediately predictable to anyone thinking about how electricity generation works. It ensures that market demand is met in times when large new plants cannot be economically justified, and helps to communicate the need for new investments (whether in large plants or small ones) through the price mechanism. In short, the cycle is an illustration of comparative advantage at work.

Hopefully, anyone reading the above will be thinking, "Wow; it's really neat that the price mechanism is able to coordinate different technologies to satisfy the different needs of electricity consumers as they change over time! The big plants are built when they're needed, and there's a way to address consumer demand when those plants aren't economical -- that's great!"

But not the Electricity Advisory Committee! They write:
...large baseload capacity projects are limited to those times when demand and prices are significantly higher, thus reinforcing the cyclic investment process. Making new projects economically viable during lower demand growth periods will require policies and actons designed to stabilize investment returns, capacity, and energy prices.

There's only one coherent response to this statement: AAAAUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Education Article in The Freeman!!!

It's official: Real ink has been applied to paper by professionals to capture my ideas in textual form for distribution to the masses. See the evidence here! Sure, it's an article that has already been available for months, and sure many of you have already read it. But darn it, it's The Freeman, and a lot of frikkin' people see it! I'm excited!


It appears that in the middle of the first page of the print version of the article (pages 37-38), there is a rather large photograph of Dr. David Schmidtz. I am thoroughly amused by this choice (which was not mine), particularly since I have applied to the University of Arizona's PhD program in philosophy, and have never spoken to or seen Dr. Schmidtz in my life. I've just notified him of this development; we'll see what he says!

Update 2:

He's glad for the publicity! Thanks for being a good sport, Dr. Schmidtz!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Properly Framing Skepticism: A Reply to Knappenberger

Update: Please see the comments for further discussion.

A few weeks ago on the MasterResource blog, Paul Knappenberger noted that, in light of generally stagnant global average temperatures over the last decade (and falling temperatures over the last half dozen years), we might justifiably begin to doubt the reliability of the models on which much of the concern over global climate change is based. On the basis of this concern and a few allusions to other lines of evidence which seem to cast doubt on the case for alarm, Knappenberger concludes that:
While coming years may or may not continue the cooling trend of the past several, they will almost assuredly continue to add to the growing evidence that our coming climate will likely be far less detrimental than the popular projections of it to which we are often exposed.

In writing this response, I don't want to create the impression that I think that Knappenberger does a bad job in his post. I think he built a very reasonable case for concern over the reliability of climate models, and to a large extent I agree with him. About a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog discussing some of my reservations about climate modeling, noting that models raise uncertainty in at least five important ways: There may be problems resulting from "tuning" models; the IPCC uses averages from multiple models, potentially distracting us from serious and different flaws in each model; the models cannot effectively model small-scale phenomena which could be important in determining the future state of the climate system; they make use of proscribed variables; and they cannot effectively capture unprecedented, game-changing possibilities without opening themselves up to radical uncertainty. Knappenberger discusses a number of these issues in his post, and I think he does a good job.

But I do have one objection to his handling of the issue with which he concerned himself in his post: his conclusion was not at all supported by his argument. I believe that Knappenberger has mistaken the absence of evidence to be the evidence of absence. He coherently argued that climate models had made a vague prediction about what would happen in the future, and that since the prediction has not obtained as expected, we have reason to doubt that the climate models are reliable. However, he then appears to jump from the claim that climate models (which predict warming) are unreliable to the claim that warming is unlikely. But this jump cannot be sustained without further evidence.

To illustrate the problem, we might imagine that we are on our way to the mall with a particularly superstitious friend when she suddenly exclaims, "I bet we find a parking spot right away; we've gotten green lights the whole way so far, and that usually means I'm going to find a parking spot!" We might be skeptical of this claim, and regard her thesis as entirely unsupported. But what does that mean about the prediction that we'll find a parking spot? It simply doesn't tell us anything. We'd need to throw out our friend's claim entirely and appeal to entirely different lines of evidence to discuss the truth of the matter. In the same way, showing that climate models' predictions of future warming are unreliable does not suggest that there will not be warming. It simply suggests that we should place less emphasis on their predictions in forming our outlooks, or discard them completely.

The reason I belabor this point is that I think there's a broader point to be made here. There is a fundamental and important difference between an argument that says, "The state of scientific knowledge is not advanced enough that we can make a reliable prediction that distressing or catastrophic global climate change will occur in the relatively near future as a result of human activities," and an argument that says, "The state of scientific knowledge is advanced enough that we can make a reliable prediction that distressing or catastrophic global climate change will not occur in the relatively near future as a result of human activities." In his post, Knappenberger supports (effectively!) the first kind of argument. But in his conclusion, he advances the second kind, and without justification. I think it's critical that in thinking about climate change, we make sure to keep in mind this distinction and frame our skepticism in a way that we can defend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do We Have a Duty to Empower Others?: Another Piece of a Reply to Lapidus

In my last post, I began thinking about how one might go about justifying the government's role in empowering our lives, in response to a comment by a fellow contributor to the group blog, University and State. That post was dedicated to forming an understanding of what it even means to empower a person, and I discussed how we can think of empowerment both in a negative sense (where we foster an obstacle-free environment in which they can live their lives) and in a positive sense (where we help people to obtain the means they need to pursue their ends). In this post, I will take my analysis a step further.

The core issue in thinking about a government empowering people seems like it would have to stem from the way that the government typically goes about its business. As Jim Peron put it in his article, "The Peace Principle":
I have been mugged and I have been taxed. The mugger took far less, showed up only once, and didn't try to pursuade me he was doing it for my own good.

The problem is that generally, government intervention comes irrevocably tied to infringements of the negative liberties discussed earlier. The government does not produce its own wealth or operate as a Buchananite consensus-builder. Rather, it makes use of the threat of force (or the actual application of force in the face of uncooperativeness) to amass resources for its projects. In so doing, it necessarily interferes with and constrains the lives of its citizens.

As we said before, these sorts of infringements can be justified, but they need to be backed up by strong reasons. In his essay, "Liberal Neutrality: A Compelling and Radical Principle," Gerald Gaus captures this idea with the suggestion that "Alf ought not to coerce or force Betty unless Alf has an impartial reason justifying the coercion, a reason that as a fully rational moral agent, Betty would accept as justifying the coercion." We said that the need for basic rules of social coexistence can serve as such a reason (though perhaps only when people actually want to live together). But can we say the same about forcing productive and peaceful individuals to provide for the flourishing and prosperity of others -- people that in the overwhelming majority of cases have never noticeably contributed anything to the lives of their would-be benefactors?

This post will focus on one step on the way to justifying such coercion: a duty to empower. If individuals have no duty to empower others, it would seem difficult to justify forcing them to do it, or using the threat of force to take their resources to do it for them. So do we have a duty to empower?

There is some reason to think that the answer may be yes, at least to an extent. In his essay, "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," Peter Singer offers a simple yet famous illustration:
...if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

Outside of radical libertarian feedback loops, you'd be hard pressed to find many people who genuinely disagree with this sentiment. The key elements of this account can be isolated rather easily: the child's need is great and urgent, and the cost to you would be relatively small considering the seriousness of the circumstances. This idea was captured in Donald Vandeveer's essay,"Interspecific Justice," as a distinction between "basic" and "peripheral" interests -- the idea being that to take proper account of basic interests is to acknowledge that they must not be subordinated to peripheral interests, even when the peripheral interests are your own, and the basic interests are someone else's. (Vandeveer was talking about nonhuman species, but his point applies just as well if not better with respect to persons.)

Many libertarians -- especially those identifying with an egoistic view of one sort or another -- will bristle at the suggestion that we have such a duty. But recall that the reason that we endorsed a broadly liberal approach to ethical reasoning in the first place was that we want to take proper account of the value of individuals. Wouldn't it seem odd if on one hand we were saying that individuals must be respected because their lives are important and valuable, and on the other hand we were saying that there's nothing wrong when people act as though others are irrelevant and worthless? I think so.

But in saying that, I don't mean to create the suggestion that we are "sacrificial animals" (to use the phrasing of the ever-abrasive Objectivists), required by morality to subordinate ourselves to others whenever they can coherently make the case that their needs and wants are "more important" than ours. An important part of what makes our lives valuable and worth respecting is that we can live them for ourselves. Another way to think of this is to say that even though we may have a peripheral or relatively unimportant interest in any particular activity we may be engaging in over the course of a normal day, we have an important or even basic interest in being able to plan and execute our lives according to our own plans, without having to think of ourselves as being at the beck and call of anyone who finds herself in a bind at any particular moment.

It may be noticed at this point that on one hand, we've said that we shouldn't brush off the importance of others' basic interests, even when they come into conflict with some of our more peripheral interests. And on the other hand, we've said that it is important to us to be able to live our own lives without having to constantly subordinate ourselves to the needs and wants of others -- that is, our independence and self-determination aren't peripheral. How do we reconcile these two seemingly plausible but opposing views? I think the answer is to compromise: in extreme situations, it seems like we do have a duty to act in order to preserve the basic interests of others, but we are nevertheless entitled to generally live our lives according to our own goals and wants. To do so does not imply disrespect for the value of others' lives, but rather a full respect for the value of our own.

So we've concluded that in extreme situations, where someone is in serious need and we could easily help them, then we do have a duty to do so. We can think of this in terms of empowerment by saying that when someone lacks the sort of effective capacity for self-determination lamented by Cohen, and we can easily remedy this state of affairs, then morality commands us to do it. But we've also concluded that because it's important to us that we be able to live our own lives, we have no duty to devote ourselves to empowering others. That's not to say that it is not virtuous to do so, or that we should not focus on the richness that helping others can bring to our lives. I only seek to suggest that if someone chooses to pursue his own dreams, living his life primarily for himself except where impelled by emergency to come to the aid of his fellow people, it wouldn't be fair for us to say that he has failed morally or behaved in an evil manner.

I think that's a good place to stop for now. In my next post, I'll take another step in my analysis, asking whether someone's failure to fulfill the duty discussed here would be the kind of thing we could point to as justifying coercion (in libertarian language: is the duty enforceable?).

What Does It Mean to Empower a Person's Life?: The Beginning of a Reply to Lapidus

Over at the University and State blog, I've started having a discussion with David Lapidus (a fellow contributor to the site) about the proper role of economic policy. David is a smart guy and an economist, but comes from a very different end of the spectrum from me. Because this blog is dedicated to bridging gaps between views and taking other perspectives into consideration, I'd like to discuss a few of the ideas that David has brought to the table. Hopefully in doing so, we will be able to see whether one or both of us is somehow wrong (because our views are inconsistent, or because we are taking improper account of certain facts), whether we have to agree to disagree, or whether we were actually on the same side all along.

In this post, I'd like to address something that David said in his comments to me, which I think reflects something that a lot of people think:
I believe that a government intervention in the economy should empower our lives or get out of our lives. I want to see the largest possible creation and accurate communication of value in the economy. In some areas of our capitalist economy the private sector does this best, while in others, the government does a better job.

In thinking about this idea, it will be important to ask ourselves several questions. Exactly what would it mean for the government to empower our lives? Can a government entity do this effectively and in a way that we would find morally acceptable? If so, is the federal government the best entity to carry out this task? I began writing this post intending to answer all of these questions, but it's quickly becoming clear to me that this is a pretty enormous project. Accordingly, this post will answer only the first question.

What does it mean to empower a person's life?

Generally, when we're thinking of empowerment, we have in mind the capacity to do things which are important to our flourishing and prosperity as individuals. Most simply, we identify empowerment with liberty. As Isaiah Berlin famously pointed out, there are two ways to think about liberty: a positive sense and a negative sense. In the negative sense, liberty is the freedom from obstacles, barriers, or interferences. In the positive sense, liberty is the presence of a capacity to do something.

Approaching liberty strictly in the negative sense (as many libertarians do), one might come to the conclusion that the best way for the government (or any other social decision-making entity) to respect the value of liberty would be to involve itself as little as possible in the affairs of individuals. But there are some problems with this view. Perhaps the most obvious is that in a world entirely free of barriers, anyone could do anything they wanted to anyone else. Surely this would not be desirable. In their everyday affairs, individuals need to have some conception of a "right of way" for the use and control of worldly objects (including themselves). This is generally embodied in some conception of "rights"; these are barriers which enable us to establish "mine," "yours," and "ours," as well as procedures for adjudicating disputes. These barriers need not be established or administered by governments, and historically, many of them were not the products of government intervention. But nevertheless, they represent areas where we acknowledge a need for limitations on our negative liberty in order to live together peacefully, respectfully, and productively.

But thinking about liberty from the negative perspective can lead us to an important insight: in actively imposing constraints on others, we need to have justification for what we're doing. In most liberal traditions, individuals are viewed as having a basic right to self-determination; we can constrain this right, but only with good reason. The need to find a way to live together can be a good reason, but it is not necessarily always a good reason. Some anarchists would be quick to point out that you don't necessarily need to live with me peacefully; we can go our separate ways and agree to disagree on the appropriate way to order society. In some ways, our modern state system embodies this idea on a global scale. Perhaps a society caring more about liberty would extend this notion to intra-state affairs. But the idea to take away from this is that most people accept the broad notion of a right to self-determination, and that an important part of this idea is that we need a good reason to constrain this right in others.

This focus on reasons for infringing on one's negative liberties leads immediately to the other conception of liberty: the positive one. Many would point out that negative liberty is well and good, but we need to acknowledge that the reason we care about not being constrained or interfered with is that we want to do stuff. Most libertarians would focus on the fact that we want to live our own lives without being subordinated to the will of others. Social norms which coordinate interaction through the recognition of rights and boundaries allows us to pursue those plans on our own, without harming others and without appealing to them for permission. As Mark Pennington notes in his essay, "Liberty, Markets, and Environmental Values: A Hayekian Defense of Free-Market Environmentalism":
Market processes allow contradictory ideas to be tested simultaneously against one another without the need for majority approval. Employing the exit option enables individuals who dissent from the majority to follow their own ideas without impinging on the ability of those who support the majority opinion to follow theirs.

On the basis of insights like this, some hard-libertarians (to steal Arneson's terminology and accompanying scepticism) insist that these rules for interaction are the only sort of infringements on negative liberty that can be coherently justified by any view seeking to empower people. They reason that these boundaries help us to think about the treatment that others are due within a social context; we don't murder each other, take each other's stuff, or interfere with each other's business because to do so would be to disrespect the reasonably uncontroversial right to self-determination which we discussed above. Because of their fixation on negative liberty, they immediately construe any further infringement on negative liberty as an attack on liberty, broadly conceived. If we think about liberty and empowerment in this way, we would almost undeniably arrive at the conclusion that empowering people means setting and enforcing rules of social interaction which allow people to make their own plans and pursue their own ends without interference or subjugation.

But as Gerald Cohen points out in his book, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, "...the propertyless proletarian who cannot use means of production without a capitalist's leave suffers a lack of effective self-ownership" (94). The crude libertarian account seemingly leaves out an important component of positive freedom: the possession of the means for pursuing one's dreams. By insisting on adherence to socially defined right-of-way conventions, we allow for the possibility (and, if the world around us is any evidence, the probability) that a great many people would end up in pretty rough shape.

As a number of libertarians have pointed out over the years (perhaps most famously and memorably, Milton Friedman), there are a number of reasons why we might expect that a society which did a better job of protecting negative liberties would end up producing better consequences for the least well-off (though as productivity and ingenuity decreases the costs of tapping foreign markets, the "least well-off" shift from being poor Americans to the very much poorer citizens of other countries, often with unfortunate consequences for those poor Americans). As Ludwig von Mises noted in his book, Economic Policy: Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow:
There is no western, capitalistic country in which the conditions of the masses have not improved in an unprecedented way.

But there's nothing about setting the rules of social interaction which necessarily and irrevocably requires that there be no people with vastly unequal access to the means necessary to pursuing a variety of lifestyles which are only open to those with a substantial command of social resources. And to the extent that empowerment has to do with our opportunities, such a lack of access would represent a lack of empowerment.

It must be noted in passing that this is not the same thing as a disempowerment; one person's poverty is not necessarily caused by others. As F.A. Hayek noted in his essay, "The Atavism of Social Justice":
...there can be no distributive justice where no one distributes. Justice has meaning only as a rule of human conduct, and no conceivable rules for the conduct of individuals supplying each other with goods and services in a market economy would produce a distribution which could be meaningfully described as just or unjust. Individuals might conduct themselves as justly as possible, but as the results for separate individuals would be neither intended nor foreseeable by others, the resulting state of affairs could neither be called just nor unjust.

However, it may nevertheless be argued that an opportunity for empowerment exists to the extent that the government can deliver resources more those who have not been empowered by the market process, and who have an effective lack of positive liberty in light of their social position. Because as liberals, we generally like expansions of liberty, I think it's fair to say that if we ignore how it is that the government goes about empowering those individuals, we can relatively uncontroversially say that the empowerment itself is a good thing (setting aside, for the sake of discussion, objections from those who believe that the expansion of liberty is not necessarily such a good thing -- h/t Gregory Rader from a while ago).

I'm going to stop on this point for now, but I'm already working on the next part, focusing on whether the government could effectively empower people in this way without offending our moral sensibilities. When I've finished with that (rapidly ballooning) project, I'll post it as a followup (here).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Another Great Moment in the History of Innuendo

Lee Waaks:
At this point in the "debate" S. Horwitz should go Freudian on DeLong's a** and just point out that Austrians don't endorse giant stimulus packages because they're satisfied with their own packages and don't need to prove anything by endorsing large economic stimulus packages as a means to compensate.

Steve Horwitz:
I think you're on to something Lee.

It does appear that some Democrats think Obama's package isn't large enough to really stimulate anything, while some of us are saying that the size of the package is irrelevant, and that a larger package will involve less stimulus and more pain. Put differently, we think the economy would be better off with self-stimulation.

All I know is that figuring out all this hi-tech economics jargon is really, really.... hard.


Monday, January 5, 2009

On the FCCC's (and by extension, the IPCC's) Focus on State Decision Making

So I almost feel bad about this, but it's not really my fault. The IPCC put out a report in 1995 called Climate Change 1995: Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change; it was the contribution of the third working group to the Second Assessment Report. Normally, a used hard bound copy of the book will run you over $50; more if you want it in good condition. But because apparently some people don't understand what their goods are worth, I was able to utterly swindle some poor online merchant for a nearly immaculate copy for $20. INCLUDING SHIPPING! I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love imperfect information!

I've just started reading it, and let me tell you: these guys are good. They basically have everything they say so qualified that it's nearly impossible to disagree with it, no matter where you're coming from. But one thing has made me a little uncomfortable in these early goings (and it may just be because I'm overly sensitive to this kind of thing).

In its chapter on "Decision-Making Frameworks for Addressing Climate Change," the IPCC authors basically frame the issue of climate change as entirely something that is to be addressed through international political decision-making, embodied by the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The IPCC authors note that "First and foremost, the FCCC is a framework for collective decision making by sovereign states." They then acknowledge that for different states, different kinds of impacts will be politically important:
For example, European countries may focus most on the possible costs of abatement, whereas developing countries in Africa and South America may be most concerned with the burden of adaptation and vulnerability. Island states may be most threatened by a major loss of coastal land mass. Oil exporters may be most concerned about their potential loss of revenue from abatement strategies that reduce international fossil fuel consumption. An understanding of such differences in national perceptions, capabilities, and objectives must inform the decision process, particularly where those decisions must be reached collectively.

It seems to me that this focus on intergovernmental politics leaves out an important consideration, which is that large-scale collective action is only one tool with which societies can solve social problems. The IPCC neglects to discuss the importance of other tools, like community action and private activism. It seems to me that this way of looking at things sets up a dichotomy between "Fixing it!" and "Doing nothing" which cannot help but result in vast government intervention. I would expect a more balanced approach to the issue of climate change to be built on the foundation of recognizing that giant world governments can't always effectively solve problems, and that a part of the solution will need to come through other avenues.

I also worry that by framing the problem as a matter of political negotiation, the IPCC might be encouraging a paradigm which gives State decision-makers the power to treat their citizens as bargaining chips, rather than focusing on protecting them from mistreatment by the citizens of other countries and by other individuals within their own countries. As Paul Baer writes in his essay, "Adaptation: Who Pays Whom?":
...ethics and justice address the rights and responsibilities of individuals; obligations between countries are derivative, based on the aggregate characteristics of their populations, and pragmatic, given the existing state system.

Since climate change ultimately will be addressed within a social order which depends in large part on States to affect social change and to coordinate policy, I acknowledge that political bargaining will play a central role in any response to climate change. But to therefore think of the issue at hand as one of mere bargaining seems cynically realist and completely out of line with any coherent normative position. We all know what happens when issues are reduced to matters of mere bargaining: concentrated benefits and dispersed costs.

The thing is, though: much of the rest of the report does focus on the ethical considerations which should go into the decision-making process. So the realist "national interest"-based discussion in the early goings here seem like they might simply be at odds with what will be discussed later. I'll try to remember to post a followup to this post if the report starts to move away from this way of talking about things. But I figured it was worth pointing out while it's on my mind.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Roger Koppl Is Right About Gay Marriage

So a few months ago, I rather vocally proclaimed that when it came to the controversial issue of gay marriage, the answer was obviously that the government should eliminate its involvement in the issue altogether, since marriage is apparently a sacred institution which should have nothing to do with the government. I argued that homosexual couples should neither be legally recognized as married nor denied such recognition, but rather that the government should recognize all couples we currently think of as "married" by a different name. That way, marriage could be protected from redefinition like the religious conservatives want it to be, and no institutionalized discrimination would be perpetuated.

In spite of how clearly right I took that position to be at the time, and until just now, I have become convinced that I was wrong. I wanted to publicly acknowledge my change in opinion, in order to offer what I take to be a compelling argument in favor of the legalization of gay marriage.

That argument was offered by Dr. Roger Koppl in a discussion in the comments section of one of his posts on the ThinkMarkets blog. He point out that:
...they [religious conservatives] never objected to secular unions or calling such secular unions marriages. They are not defending marriage. They are expressing their (supposed!) moral objections to homosexuality. Why should we cow to that? Again, to protect their delicate sensibilities? No way! Certainly not given their failure to object to secular unions or the legal recognition of secular unions [as marriages].

I think that Dr. Koppl is right about this. I reproduce from my response to the post:
You do make a good noting that the characterization of secular unions as “marriages” was never a matter of public outcry. I think you might be right, then, in suggesting that if there was going to be an objection to the liberalization of marriage, and its decoupling from the religious institution of the same name, then that objection should have been raised long ago. In other words, that a sort of statute of limitations applies here, and given the longstanding tradition of secular unions in this country, it might be fair to say that the window for objections has passed.

What was wrong with my previous position, then, is that I had granted to the conservatives the sacred status of marriage as currently defined, when in fact that status cannot be sustained in light of the well-established acceptance of secular unions as marriages in our country. If secular unions are unobjectionably "marriages," then it seems to follow that there is nothing necessarily sacred about marriage. And if secular unions fall within the established meaning of "marriage," I think it's pretty reasonable to think that the extension of the meaning to include gay marriages would be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. After all, a secular union really is just a certain kind of contract, and forbidding homosexual couples from obtaining such a contractual relationship seems clearly unfair.

So hopefully that makes sense; thanks to Dr. Koppl for taking the time to discuss it with me!
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