Restoring Sanity

Sorry Jon, the truths are told at the comedy houses, not at political rallies. No politician would ever dare go near the truth tellers. Bill Hicks, George Carlin, you are not.

The Coming Dem Civil War?

Last month, Tom Knapp predicted a civil war in the GOP over the Tea Party. That’s essentially the mainstream pundit view. I took a contrarian position, positing that civil war instead is going to be with the Dems. I wasn’t being a contrarian just for the sake of being one; I’ve seen it coming for two years.

New Associated Press Poll: 47% of Democrats say Obama should be challenged for the 2012 nomination.

Jonah Goldberg: Why isn’t Julian Assange Dead?

Jonah Goldberg thinks the fact that Julian Assange is still breathing poses a serious question to the left-wing world view. Why isn’t he dead?

While I don’t consider myself a member of the conspiratorial “international left,” I will nonetheless ask a simple question in reply. Is it part of the job description of the CIA and the US Intelligence apparatus to kill journalists?

And I will ask Goldberg another question in return. It isn’t Assange who is leaking the documents. The institutions themselves are the source of the leaked documents. They only have to merely stop themselves. Why is it that they can’t?

Btw, conspiracies spun from the “international right,” for example, blaming it on the infiltration of islamofascists or the sinister plots of liberal fascists, are not allowable answers…otherwise I might have to compose a post rebutting the conspiracies of the international right: “If there is an islamofascist plot, why isn’t Barack Obama a Muslim?” 🙂

The Limits of Hayek

Peter Boettke briefly blurbs about the brilliance and limits of Hayek:

I have long argued against libertarian critics of Hayek, that they need to distinguish between what Hayek himself argued, and where a Hayekian argument could be taken…

Boette points to this video of Hayek and Thomas Hazlett discussing anarchy and the rule of law.

I addressed this topic in some older posts at Freedom Democrats.

Evolution of the Sixth Sense and the Application of Hayekian Order to Law

In Hayek’s view, dealing with strangers makes a “hayekian order” in market law unfeasible. In a 2 player repeated game, tit for tat can usually be invoked to explain the evolution of cooperative behavior. However, in social systems where the number of agents is large and transactions can largely be impersonal and transitory, tit for tat is not particularly applicable as a strategy. Hence, the basis for Hayek’s contention that some sort of “constitutional framework” is necessary to host the dynamics of his social theory. However, what if humans had a “sixth sense” that immediately informed them whether a stranger was friendly or not–by “friendly” it is meant that any dispute arising from an exchange or trade could be settled peaceably. In the event of such “extra sensory perception,” Hayek’s skepticism toward impersonal transactions with strangers without a uniform(monopoly) law would have to be reconsidered. That is to say, Hayek’s objection to applying his social theory to a market based law would have to be reexamined.

read more.

A second post, Spontaneous Order and Common Law, discussed a Cato Unbound topic, Hayek and Common Law.

As is well known, Hayek refined and extended the Scottish tradition of “spontaneous or emergent order” to cast the “knowledge problem” critique of the price-setting Walrasian Auctioneer(socialism). As Hayek’s life progressed, he became more and more consumed intellectually with taking the concept of “spontaneous order” to it’s logical conclusion, within a modern evolutionary framework, for both economics and law. The Hayekian paradigm in law can be summarized as:

The explanation relies on three fundamental ideas: the idea of a rule (and rule-following), of spontaneous order, and of evolution. The three ideas are interdependent parts of a single, integrated explanatory scheme, designed to show that key elements of social life are ordered — not the product of some designer, but rather the unintended consequences of impersonal and external forces operating on behavior and thought of human beings directed to other ends and purposes. Hayek’s theory of social evolution tells a story of rule-formation, rule-transformation, rule-transmission, and group rule-adoption.

Within such a framework, Hayek argued against the construction of “intentional and purposive institutions” to coordinate individual actions toward some end(justice). The role of legal institutions,such as legislature, should be constrained to a limited number administrative services and correcting(i.e., regulations) the occasional flaws or disputes arising in the emergent social order.

read more.

The name of this blog is “Liberal and Libertarian,” which essentially means liberal ends through libertarian means. The term “libertarian means” has an explicit meaning: the rejection of the social contract, a liberal political philosophic concept that nonetheless does not survive the class theory critique. In it’s stead, at least in the radical individualist libertarian tradition, is the market contract. Yes, for any modern liberals out there, this means the rejection of force behind any contractual basis for justice as an end. The market contract constricts “law as a force” to it’s proper sphere, which is the correction of injustice. From a Hayekian methodological approach, one is then interested in spontaneous order evolution of both market law and, yes, positive law in such a system. Liberalism, then, is an emergent property of a complex system of human cooperation. If history teaches us anything, it is that it is not an emergent property of politics and political institutions.

Contra Don Boudreaux, the Boot does not have a Soft Sole

Donald Boudreaux predicts his recent article in the Freeman, The Power of Freedom, will raise the ire of some libertarians. Boudreaux’s thesis is based on an empirical observation that the regulatory, bureaucratic state has not yet led to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four; indeed, we are, in his words “better fed, clothed, housed, informed, educated, medically cared-for, traveled, rested, and entertained” compared to either, say 1930 or 1980. Boudreaux’s conclusion is that “the power of Freedom” is such that economic and social conditions can withstand or at least adapt to the predatory state. In short, the regulatory, bureaucratic state is not necessarily a “Road to Serfdom.”

It should be pointed out this is not new argument. It’s one made all the time by the political left in discounting Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom,” although the political left has a much more sanguine view of the “Regulatory State” than Boudreaux. I addressed this issue in older post, Hayek, Social Insurance, and Serfdom. If you don’t feel like reading the post, here’s a summation:

Hayek’s argument in “The Road to Serfdom” was specifically against State Socialism, that is, centrally planned regimes that planned against competition. The argument really being made, in the historical context, is that Fabian Socialism and National Socialism led to the same thing, in the end. The likes of George Orwell, who was a man of the left, was in part influenced by Hayek’s work in composing the Socialist dystopias of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four.

To understand Hayek’s more general argument requires one to distinguish between “planning against competition” and “planning for competition.” In the latter sense of planning, things like Social Insurance are not antithetical to a liberal order. In the Hayekian conception, the welfare state itself, if constructed around planning for competition, is not a threat to liberalism. The problem, however, is that politics is not really about the art of “planning for competition.” The state that has the power to plan for competition also has the power to plan against competition. It is the latter which is the direct threat against liberalism.

To bring up Orwell again, I would note he also thought Capitalism would lead to to totalitarianism. His literary works addressed the Socialist path to tyranny. For the capitalist version, we will have to turn to how real life is writing this scenario.

On a number of previous occasions, I have used the term “catastrophic liberal institutional failure.” What I mean by this is the political status quo of permanent war. Liberalism may be compatible with some degree of the welfare state, and may be able to adapt to some degree of political rent-seeking, but it cannot survive the rent-seeking permanent war state. “War is the Health of the State” means simply that war is is the ultimate expression of collectivism. With perpetual war, you have the purest and most naked form of class conflict.

The “permanent war state” is not hyperbole. It is very real. There is a massive intelligence Stasi police apparatus in place. Utterly unaccountable and growing. And it’s not difficult to trigger experiencing the brunt of this. Boudreaux writes we are better-traveled than ever before. Well, I would encourage Boudreaux to assert his civil rights the next time he encounters the TSA when flying or US customs when traveling abroad. I imagine he probably just obeys. To do otherwise would threaten detention and could threaten one’s entire livelihood, if such depends on one’s ability to travel. When we talk about inalienable rights, we surely mean, among other things, the right to travel and the right to work without having to suffer cumbersome duties, restrictions, and permissions. In the National Security State, you have to have permission to travel and to work. This where we are heading and there going to be plenty of people who are going to get very rich from enforcing this.

In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, slogans like “Ignorance is Strength” and “War is Peace” are examples of DoubleThink but they also have empirical meaning. You have to read the tract “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” to discern their empirical meaning. “Ignorance is Strength” explains how a restricted vocabulary called NewSpeak, which is a limited political vocabulary of invented words that have mutually contradicting meaning based on political context, enforces a doublethink reality. However, the tract itself is not written in NewSpeak, and we learn that “War is Peace” has a clear empirical meaning. That slogan means Peace for the ruling classes. Continuous war is not a war of nation-state ruling classes set against one another. Rather, continuous war is unabated war of the ruling classes against their own subjects.

In a previous post, Modeling Capitalist Regime Change, I made the case that moral hazard will eventually force a regime change in the political framework of markets. I noted the previous two regimes were Keynes/Bretton Woods and Chicago/Washington Consensus. The loss of resiliency of the Chicago framework demands a new political economy framework. It is this regime uncertainty that is the source of the current economic depression. But intellectually, there isn’t any new framework to transition to, at least one that doesn’t involve tearing down the State. So what we are seeing by default is the oligarchicalization of money and credit to enforce an artificially stable equilibrium that has little resiliency. This is why, for example, the US is heavily involved as of late in brokering a deal for increased political control of the currency markets. To enforce an artificial stability of a regime that has little resiliency will require more and more command and control and planning against competition. And in this way, one can see how (political) capitalism can converge to an authoritarian point. And Boudreaux’s empirical observations, which are drawn from previous regimes, are not applicable to the current regime.

On a final note, I would point out that Orwell did not include “Freedom is Slavery” in his little tract within Nineteen Eighty Four. Chapter 2 is missing in “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.” In a sense, “Freedom is Slavery” doesn’t quite fit in with the empirical paradigm of the other two slogans(to do so, it would have to be reversed, “Slavery is Freedom”). I would merely point out, in an empirical sense, not to conflate capitalism with freedom. Boudreaux’s argument, logically extended, could be applied to China as a demonstration of the “power of freedom” at work. When freedom means “the freedom to obey,” the only power it represents is the power of the ruling class.

Comrade Joe Biden: “Every Great Idea the Past 3 Centuries has Required Government Vision and Incentive”

The intrepid vice-president on the campaign trail:

“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” he said. “In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. … No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years.”

Oh, the irony. In one hypertrophied moment of campaign propaganda, Biden managed to undercut the entire historical progressive critique against laissez faire. After all, how could Progressivism, historically, be a movement to tame the “excesses of laissez faire” when every great idea the past three centuries has been the result of government intervention? In Biden’s own words, private enterprise could not have completed the transcontinental railroad until the 20th century. So, we apparently have Lincoln to thank for the post-civil war Robber Baron era that otherwise could not have happened if private enterprise would have been left to it’s own devices. No transcontinental railroad, no robber baron era.

This is classical politician doublethink. In one context, to justify political intervention, we are told of the utter inertness of the private market in comparison to the power of the State. In another context, we are warned of the need for intervention to restrain the powerful unbridled, unregulated market. In doublethink, there is never any need to reconcile these contradictory statements. Which one is true simply depends on the political objective to be had at the given moment.

Of course, we don’t quite live in an Orwell or Huxley novel where doublethink political reality is the only reality or where historical reality is subsumed by complete distraction. There have been several great technologies–steam engine, telegraph/telephone, AC(alternating current) Electricity, automobile, airplane and transistor–that I would classify as having the greatest impact on civilization over the last three centuries. Most, at the outset at least, had little or nothing to do with government intervention. The transistor is debatable, but like anything significant that has come off the drawing board since the early to middle part of the 20th century, it’s going to be ambivalent/murky because the government is so involved in the control of the economy and funding the nexus of corporate/university research.

What’s not debatable, however, is that, in the end, everything becomes incorporated into the political economy. For the politician, an idea is only great if it can be monetized by artificial rents. So, in empirical political reality, it is empirically true for the politician that every great idea the past three centuries indeed has required government intervention. No doubt….

Tea Partier Joe Miller: “Communist East Germany a Model for Border Security”

This is the end game of the putrid, statist bullshit of “Secure the Borders.”

Joe Miller: If East Germany could, we could.

Lol…The Republican Tea Party critique against Obama is that he wants to turn America into a Western European Socialist State. Apparently, the Tea Party doesn’t actually disdain “European models;” they simply object to the “Western” model. Their preferred model is the old “Eastern Europe Communist Block.”

Smell the Liberty, indeed…

Psst, Selwyn Duke, Libertarianism is not Dependent on Legislating Morality

Self-proclaimed former “libertarian” Selwyn Duke is at again with this new article, Yes, Folks, We All Would Legislate Morality (Psst, Even You Libertarians). Apparently, this article was response to the criticism(including my own) his previous articles, here and here, elicited in the blogosphere. In my piece, I did call him a socialist, which he found humorous. However, I would encourage Mr. Duke to read Bastiat’s “The Law,” which is where I drawing my criticism from. It’s a short tract. Anyone who claims or has claimed the mettle of “libertarian” should be familiar with it.

Let’s at Duke’s latest effort to discredit the libertarian position. Here’s the lead intro of his argument:

… a law states that there is something you must or must not do, ostensibly because the action is a moral imperative, is morally wrong, or is a corollary thereof [emphasis added]. If this is not the case, with what credibility do you legislate in the given area? After all, why prohibit something if it doesn’t prevent some wrong? Why force citizens to do something if it doesn’t effect some good?

He then argues that laws protecting life and property rights follow the exact same moral principle:

But unless one objects to governmental use of force to apprehend a murderer or citizens’ exercise of self-defense, moral distinctions must be made. Moreover, we couldn’t credibly prohibit force, protect property rights, or prevent harm in the first place unless unjustly using the first, violating the second, or causing the third wasn’t “wrong.” Ergo, morality.

He then claims because some libertarians emphasized the negative justice aspect of law(as I did) and yet others spoke of the non-aggression principle as being a moral principle that libertarianism is guilty of moral relativism:

Yet while I realize many different conceptions of libertarianism exist, absent an authoritative “Church of Libertarianism” to establish official dogma, I have no choice but to draw my conclusions from libertarians’ consensus pronouncements. After all, there are textbook/dictionary definitions of liberalism that sound pretty good, too, yet they describe no liberals I’ve ever met. I live in the real world; if you seek a denizen of textbook dream-world, I suggest you visit your local college campus.

And if you look at these pronouncements, something becomes clear: The problem here isn’t just one of libertarians, but of moderns themselves. It is a deep problem that concerns not just the nature of man’s law. It concerns the nature of morality itself.

Duke then proceeds to argue for the necessity of “Absolute Truth.”

[There are only two possibilities:] [e]ither man does or something outside man does. The idea that man determines right and wrong is known as “moral relativism”; this means that morals are relative to the time, place and people. The idea that right and wrong are determined by something outside of man is known as “Absolute Truth.”

And, of course, the latter implies God. After all, if we’re saying that “Truth” is something existing apart from man, that it is inerrant, and that we must abide by it — which means it’s above man — what are we actually describing? But, now, what are the implications of relativism? I continued:

… [Moral relativism] states that morality is determined by man; what is rarely recognized, though, is that if this is so then there is no right and wrong, objectively speaking. Think about it: If 90 percent of humanity said it preferred chocolate ice cream over vanilla, it wouldn’t mean that chocolate was “right” and vanilla “wrong.” Nor would it mean that chocolate was better in any objective sense — it would simply mean that people happened to like chocolate better. It’s illogical to say otherwise. But would it be any more logical to say that murder was wrong for no other reason than the fact that 90 percent of all people preferred that others not kill in a way that we call unjust? Of course not. But if the idea that murder is wrong is simply a function of man’s collective preference, it then falls into the exact same realm as the collective preference for a type of ice cream: the realm of taste.

Duke finishes with an appeal to the “Founders,” who he claims were largely “men of faith” and heroes to many of today’s libertarians, to boot. Throwing up a quote by Madison, “Religion is the basis and Foundation of government,” Duke concludes that he will stick with the “Founders” and reject the moral relativism of libertarianism.

Now, allow me to dispose of Duke’s argument from a libertarian perspective. Once again, let us appeal to Bastiat:

(1) Law is Force
(2) The only legitimate application of this force is the correction of injustice

That is the crux of his argument. Most of “The Law” is actually dedicated to the various Socialist objections or arguments of exception to this simple principle. For example this passage:

Socialists Fear All Liberties
Well, what liberty should the legislators permit people to have? Liberty of conscience? (But if this were permitted, we would see the people taking this opportunity to become atheists.)

Then liberty of education? (But parents would pay professors to teach their children immorality and falsehoods; besides, according to Mr. Thiers, if education were left to national liberty, it would cease to be national, and we would be teaching our children the ideas of the Turks or Hindus; whereas, thanks to this legal despotism over education, our children now have the good fortune to be taught the noble ideas of the Romans.)

Then liberty of labor? (But that would mean competition which, in turn, leaves production unconsumed, ruins businessmen, and exterminates the people.)

Perhaps liberty of trade? (But everyone knows — and the advocates of protective tariffs have proved over and over again — that freedom of trade ruins every person who engages in it, and that it is necessary to suppress freedom of trade in order to prosper.)

Possibly then, liberty of association? (But, according to socialist doctrine, true liberty and voluntary association are in contradiction to each other, and the purpose of the socialists is to suppress liberty of association precisely in order to force people to associate together in true liberty.)

Clearly then, the conscience of the social democrats cannot permit persons to have any liberty because they believe that the nature of mankind tends always toward every kind of degradation and disaster. Thus, of course, the legislators must make plans for the people in order to save them from themselves.

This line of reasoning brings us to a challenging question: If people are as incapable, as immoral, and as ignorant as the politicians indicate, then why is the right of these same people to vote defended with such passionate insistence?

Bastiat was addressing the “Socialists” of his day but this passage certainly applies today to Mr. Duke. Duke, in his earlier criticisms(“live and let live”), was just repeating old arguments.

Now, let me address the “morality” of Libertarian Justice. The foundation of Libertarian Justice is actually Self-ownership. NAP is a derivative from this. Now Self-ownership can certainly be thought of as a moral principle but it can’t be legislated. That is, understanding law to be force whose only legitimately function is to correct injustice, there can be no legitimate application of force to correct an injustice of an individual against himself/herself. Now, an atheist libertarian may have a moral judgement about those religious types who declare themselves, say, “slaves to Christ.” Christian libertarians, say, may have moral judgments about those who are “slaves to drugs or alcohol.” But to legislate self-ownership, that is, to preserve it by force, by, say, outlawing religion or alcohol, based on moral judgments about what is necessary to preserve an individual actually owning oneself, is a violation of self-ownership and derivative principles such as NAP. In the case of libertarian justice, the the issues of correcting unjust violations of life and property do not flow from any legislating of moral judgments.

Frankly, this whole business about “morality and law” can be substantially clarified if we use the term “moral judgments” instead of “morality” and think of law of in the negative sense, that is, as a correction of injustice, and not in the positive sense, that is, as a promoter of justice. Things then become much more clearer. Certainly, without doubt, libertarians have relativistic moral judgments about a wide number of things. However, in casting the purpose of law as a correction of injustice, libertarianism suffers no “relativistic problems” in terms of social/political theory primarily concerned with the absence of plunder.

Conversely, the likes of Duke, with their insistence on legislating moral judgments in the context of positive law, spin moral rationales for plunder. His case for “God as the moral source for absolute truth” isn’t compelling. Without debating the conceptual problems with that statement, there is a bit of an inconvenient empirical problem of there being no rational proof of any such god and that there is no consensus, from those compelled by faith or speculation, on the nature of such god, nor of the moral imperative supposedly implied by the faith-based existence of such a god. We are not talking about absolute morality here; rather, we are talking about moral judgments. Notice how Duke substitutes “murder” for “kill” when referencing the 1st 6th commandment of the ten commandments in the old testament. Is that a new translation? A bit of a convenient translation for those interested in rationalizing US perpetual war. He then mentions the “The Principle of Double Effect” justification for killing. I would say Christianity suffers from a bit of moral relativism when it comes to killing; i.e., war. Are we going to go with the Augustine rationale or the Aquinas one? And those are just two of the competing rationales among countless others. Are we talking about morality based on absolute truth or simply moral judgments based on texts written by men and interpreted by men?

Lastly, I think Duke’s appeal to the “Founders” is a bit of a mixed bag in trying to conjure a Coup de grâce to libertarianism. Sure, there is a Madison quote,”Religion is the basis and Foundation of government.” But rather than dredge up a plethora of counter quotes that paint a much less sympathetic picture regarding religion, I will just mention the inconvenient historical fact that Madison’s writings and legislative work on religious liberty served as the intellectual basis for the 1st Amendment. He obviously had a problem with “The Religious pretext of moral judgments being the foundation of government.” Frankly, other than Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson in Paris, there is nothing particularly libertarian about the “founding fathers.” Libertarianism is much more radical than the political philosophy held by most of them. The constitution, itself, is not a libertarian document. The only thing remotely libertarian was the bill of rights. The 1st Amendment is a radical amendment. It violates the very fibre of Duke and his Socialist comrades’ positive law gobbledygook. In the cultural haze that celebrates the constitutional exceptionalism of “American Liberty,” it is the 1st Amendment that is actually being celebrated. Nothing else…

Doing the Devil’s Work

I read this post, What Economists are paid to do that was linked to in the commentary of Yglesias’ post, Neo-Ricardian Notions. Now as a Georgist, I have written previously about the Neo-classical mistake of treating land like capital in terms of factors of production. From a political economy analysis standpoint, incorporating land into capital muddled the concept of economic rent. The Neo-classical treatment took the political out of “Political Economy,” leaving us with a faulty discipline of a science of “mere economics.” The problem of economic rent wasn’t restored until a number of generations later with the advent of “Public Choice.” But still, many economists remain fairly ignorant of public choice and economic rent. Just as I would say the work of of practicing physicist who had no knowledge of Newton’s laws of motion probably wouldn’t have much merit, the work/opinions of an economist who has little or no knowledge, or faulty knowledge, of economic rent is likewise devoid of much value(of course, there are disciplines in physics where Newton’s laws do not apply, particularly in the subatomic realm, but such specialization cannot occur without knowledge first of general principles. And while, say, a high-energy particle physicist might forget about Newton while studying the creation of exotic particles in high-energy collisions of subatomic particles, he is quickly reminded, nonetheless, if he stubs his toe on the floor).

The political discussions of equality and justice are best useless and at worst evil without consideration of economic rent. Now, the author of the first post in Yglesias’ comment section notes that Smith and Ricardo leads to Henry George and not Hayek. Well, I would say he is both correct and incorrect in such a conclusion. In the author’s linked post, he spends a few paragraphs propounding that the job of economists(what they are paid to do) is to explain away the role of economic rent in political economy. His conclusion in his post, however, is a type of Non sequitur, in that he pleads that Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong and Christie Romer are examples of economists who are not “bought off” and who are sufficiently concerned with the “public interest(they are doing the Lord’s work).” However, positive law redistribution via taxation on labor, capital, and support of such things likes tariffs does not follow from Ricardo’s Law of Rent. And, frankly, those economists positive law progressive views on re-distributive justice have nothing to do with analysis of economic rent. It would be absurd to advocate for deadweight losses from taxes on labor and capital, to promote dead weightlosses from tariffs, in order to correct the deadweigt losses of Ricardian rent. In political economy, taxes on capital and labor, and things like tariffs should be understood as economic rents.

The flaw of “progressivism” is the belief that “positive justice” corrects injustice. The author, who in Yglesias’ comment section stated that Ricardo/Smith leads to George but then in his post seemed to conclude that Ricardo/Smith leads to corporate liberalism, lacks coherence. George, perhaps, could be called a “progressive,” but in it’s original meaning of “reform,” not in today’s meaning. Georgist ground rents are restitution for Ricardian rent. Ricardian rent is economic rent but Georgist rent is not. If you fail to see that distinction, then you end up babbling about “taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” The actual translation of that statement should be, “economic rents are the price we pay for government.” But that statement doesn’t make much sense. What it really means is the “function of government is to extract economic rents.” Of course, this requires moral rationalization.

Bastiat wrote:

When plunder has become a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

I leave as an exercise to the reader to conclude whether the rationalization of such moral codes is the Lord’s work or the Devil’s work….