Jason Collins reviews the book here and notes the one part of the book with which I disagreed:
Rubin’s least libertarian finding, apart from his implied support of restrictions on polygamy, relates to restrictions on drugs and other “anti-social” activities. Rubin argues that if consumption of these goods and activities is a form of competition between young males to signal status, restrictions on their use will be required to prevent above optimal use. While Rubin considers that the need to maintain a society’s prime age men at fighting strength is weaker than in our evolutionary past, a case can still be made for this form of control. It was interesting that Rubin chose to use a signaling argument at this point as he does not address the role of signaling in most of his analysis, such as in his discussion of “altruistic” gifts of game in ancestral societies or donations to charity.I find this argument wholly unsatisfying. I agree with Rubin that the age-profile of risk preference looks like it's set in the EEA. But the policy implications of that are a lot less obvious than Rubin makes out. If we're hardwired to demonstrate ability to bear risk when we're in our mid to late teens, then banning one form of risk-taking is very likely to push risk-taking demonstrations over onto other margins. It's then manifestly unclear whether we improve or worsen outcomes when we ban youth access to consumption activities whose risks are relatively well understood and the use of which is at least relatively well socialised as it depends onto what other margins the kids switch. If everybody switches to bungee jumping, that's probably better; if everybody switches to car surfing, that's worse.
Where at least some youth alcohol demand is derived from an underlying preference for demonstrating fitness to bear risk, we have to worry about the other margins on which the underlying preference can be expressed if we want to push down on one part of the balloon.
I worry for similar reasons about Veblen-themed arguments about reducing status competition through income taxes. If we're hard-wired to be status-seeking animals, isn't it better that that status-seeking is channelled into productive outlets, like earning money by working hard to meet the needs of others, than less productive or downright harmful alternatives, like jousting, tournaments, or feats of military valour? As I'd wondered a few years ago after Robin Hanson provided some data on the relative positionality of different types of activities:
If humans are status-seekers, which seems highly likely given how sexual selection works, then high marginal tax rates just push status-seeking onto the other dimensions identified by Hanson. Which then gives us some testable hypotheses: do countries with heavy income redistribution see greater spending on education, more time investment in sport, more money and time spent on personal beauty and exercise (all normalized for income, of course)? I wouldn't know where to start looking for the data, but I'd be keen to see the results.I'll have to dig around a bit to see whether that kind of cross-national data exists: potentially another topic for the future honours projects file.