Atlas “Cha-Ching”

I have never bought into the left-wing Hollywood Conspiracy theory. The idea of left-wing Shakespeare is nonsense. In other words, the theater, as an institution, has more or less retained immunity from “modern dialectics.” The theater is not the University.

In reality, the only apparent “Hollywood Dialectics” in play regarding a project’s “green-light status” is the typical necessity of context being mere pretext for the same love story. The art of “the pitch” is reducing your saga to a love story–in two paragraphs or less. The projects that don’t follow this “dialectical formula” are the ones that have difficulty getting the green light. I imagine even Griffin Mill would be stumped by Atlas Shrugged.

In any event, the “Galt Speech” has already been cinematically depicted on the big screen. And the actor who delivered it managed to win an academy award for his performance. Just in case you need a hint.

The Calculus of Dissent

Let us return to class theory. Charles Rowley, one of “Academic Deans” of Public Choice, is exploring the deep end these days. His blog is taking on “conspiratorial” tones with his detour into Obama as Manchurian Candidate. Funny, I don’t recall the strategic calculus of the “Manchurian Candidate” making it into the “Calculus of Consent.”

A short review of Public Choice.

The Virginia School of Public Choice rejects any class-dominance approach to politics. This was made clear in “The Calculus of Consent.” Buchanan and Tullock:

We shall also reject any theory or conception of the collectivity which embodies the exploitation of a ruled by a ruling class. This includes the Marxist vision, which incorporates the polity as one means through which the economically dominant group imposes its will on the downtrodden. Other theories of class domination are equally foreign to our purposes. Any conception of State activity that divides the social group into the ruling class and the oppressed class, and that regards the political process as simply a means through which this class dominance is established and then preserved, must be rejected as irrelevant for the discussion which follows.

No doubt, this rejection in part is rooted in equating such an approach with Marx. And there is good reason for rejecting the Marxist variant of class analysis. It’s wrong. The Marxist approach to politics fails because capitalism is not the root of class dominance; rather it is an end product of it. However, the shortcomings of a Marxist approach to class dominance do not invalidate class theory.

The Virginia School paradigm of Public Choice sets out to establish the microeconomic basis of the modern state. The State follows a “Protective-Productive” model. The “Protective State” is that part of the State that has a rational choice, game theorteic basis as “quarrel-quelling” agency. This is the “constitution as social contract,” a unanimous agreed upon social bargaining solution to the “Hobbes State of Nature Problem.” The second part of this model, the “Productive State,” represents the “post constitutional phase.” Here, a microeconomic analysis of agent competition in “government as market,” particularly where the rules require no unanimity, is employed. In particular, the von Neumann–Morgenstern approach to cooperative n-player games is adopted, that is: players join together to form coalitions, with the “solutions” being symmetric payoffs among the smallest effective coalitions. Buchanan and Tullock used this approach to examine majority voting coalitions, “representative” political coalitions, lobbying, etc and establish how the “productive State” evolved into the rent-seeking, “re-distributive State.”

The von Neumann–Morgenstern cooperative n-player game model–that is, where payoffs are symmetrically shared and dominant coalitions organize themselves into the smallest, effective coalitions–would seem to rule out any basis for a “dominant ruling class coalition.” Dominant coalitions are much too unstable and temporary.

Over the intervening years, the influence of Public Choice within the academic literature is undeniable. While the concept of “rent-seeking” is now denied by no one, the typical counter against a complete model of microeconomic political competition relies on either: (1) some degree of social unanimity about the ends of the “productive state” (2) some rejection of rationality

(1) is complicated by Arrow’s Theorem
(2) Bryan Caplan’s “Irrational Prejudices Topology,” e.g., suffers from an empirical problem that the “professional classes” are often more biased/dumber than the “joe six-pack voter.”

Buchanan would later opine that Public Choice was not a new insight. Rather is was just a “renaissance” of enlightenment liberal political economy. It was clearing out the intellectual folly that had overtaken economics the past century.

In my mind, (1) and (2) are not compelling critiques against Public Choice. But Public Choice, nonetheless, is vulnerable. In particular, the rational choice basis for the “Protective State” is something that can be critically examined. Buchanan, in a later work, “The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan,” would probe more deeply the rational basis for the “Social Contract,” or the “Protective State,” if you will. However, we follow the methodology of Anthony De Jasay, which more or less divorces Rational Choice from any normative political philosophy, the contractual basis of the Protective State doesn’t hold up so well. This is a point conceded by Charles Rowley.

This conceptual vulnerability is reinforced by the actual empirical failures of the “Calculus of Consent.” The empirical failure of the “Productive State” is not,as suggested by Buchanan and Tullock in CoC, an example of a coalition lobby forming to eliminate it’s subsidy; rather it would be the problem that Tullock himself would address almost 3 decades later: namely, economic rent transfers dwarfed the competitive outlays for such economic rent. In other words, the rent-seeking industry was way too small. Put yet another way: there is no actual market here, at least not one that has any microeconomic foundations.

The empirical failure of the “Protective State” is the emergence of a “secret police.” An empirical reality of a “secret police” utterly undermines Buchanan’s normative ethical argument of “Continuing Contract and the Status Quo” made in “The Limits of Liberty.” The need for a secret police tells you all you need to know about the “Status Quo.” The normative liberal “Protective State” simply cannot survive the empirical reality of the Secret Police.

A previous post, “The Matrix as Ruling Class,” examined more fully the Public Choice critique against a “Ruling Class.” My suggestion was that the Ruling Class was tied more into the “Protective State.” The Matrix as model for the Protective State hinted at the source of a dominant ruling class: the long run evolutionary equilibrium of liberalism(or any form of Statism) is totalitarianism. I think this model is more reasonable and predictive than one relying on a “Manchurian Candidate” hypothesis to explain the positive failures of normative political ideals.

Left Libertarianism

Regarding Reason’s latest entry into the left-right libertarian alignment talk. If I understand Tim Cavanaugh correctly, he is saying that political judgements/preferences at a visceral level reduce to subjective moral judgements. The typical moral judgments of libertarians do not correspond to left/right moral judgements. Hence, there is a limit to the efficacy of any left(or right) libertarian alignment talk.

As a non-cognitivist, I would concur in part with Cavanaugh. However, I differ with his contention that libertarian moral judgements are equally foreign to liberal and conservative ones. The experimental evidence doesn’t necessarily support such an assumption. Will Wilkinson last year rang the bell over a study of the relationship between political ideology and moral judgements that accidently reached an adjuvant conclusion that libertarian moral psychology was more aligned with the liberal mind than the conservative one. Wilkinson summarized this finding to describe libertarians as “liberals who like markets.” But the more accurate description would be to describe libertarians as “low-sacrosanct liberals who are down with commutative justice.”

So, Cavanaugh’s “moral judgements” case against Long’s “left-wing libertarian evangelism” isn’t necessarily all that strong and may actually, instead, make a case for the pursuance of such an endeavor. And the “moral judgments” angle perhaps reinforces Long’s “evangelical distinction” between the “totalitarian liberal” and another class of liberal that has a low degree of sacredness regarding “Ingroup, Authority, and Purity” but a high degree of sacredness regarding “harm/care” and “fairness/reciprocity.”

In short, contra Cavanaugh, there actually is a “moral judgements” case for a targeted “left-wing libertarian evangelism.” However, there really isn’t any “moral judgements” case for a targeted “right-wing libertarian evangelism.” This is because conservatism is highly sacrosanct across all the moral foundations(as opposed to liberal, which is only highly sacrosanct across 2 of the moral foundations). The “totalitarian liberal” should be eschewed because this is a class that actually has a conservative moral psychology.

Cavanaugh ends his piece by claiming the left-libertarian dialogue boils down into one simple question: Are progressive policies producing the results progressives want? Here Cavanaugh might be missing the point that the rebirth of a American Left Libertarian movement is perhaps being motivated by another question: Are libertarians happy with the results of conceptually merging laissez faire with State–the 20th Century Randian Conception?

Wayne Allyn Root’s Dismal Science

I found Wayne Allyn Root’s use of economics to argue against 9-11 civilian trials to be amusing. I found his evangelist zeal to equate this position with the proper libertarian position to be even more amusing. Writes Root:

Make the point STRONGLY that this is an economic issue. Having the trial in NY would have cost $1 BB. That’s not my number. Thats the media experts’ number all over the NY news. Thats separate from the cost to the federal government. That’s separate from the lost income to New Yorkers and Wall Street.

Sorry boys and girls…it’s time for the LP to be a political party, not a debate club. Life isn’t theoretical. This isn’t about some imaginary Libertarian idea. This is the real world. You don’t live in NY. It could never and should never have even been an option. Unless you want to kill business for months on Wall Street- the center of capitalism. There would be no way to conduct business in lower Manhattan for months on end.

Whether it’s in Gitmo or not…it cannot be in the United States. No city or state can afford the treasure or the security risk. All common sense mothers and fathers agree.

I turned it into a 100% Libertarian economic issue. Perfect Libertarian response.

Actually boys and girls, there’s a time to be theoretical, particularly in the case when good theory is needed to debunk the bad theory the always underlies the ruminations of supposed practical men. Let us recall Keynes:

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

In actuality, Root’s 100% economic issue is the perfect Socialist Response. Perhaps if Root spent more time examining/learning/debating the libertarian tradition rather than evangelizing some Right-wing republican recruitment tour, he would recognize this. Root’s “economic argument” is the same argument that is the purview of every modern day Nanny-Statist, and I can try trace it back to George Bernard Shaw’s original economic critique of libertarianism. I broached this topic in some detail in this old post, Libertarianism vs Social Democracy.

A “constitutionalist” like Root is supposed to believe that raison d’etre of “limited government” is to carry out these types of core functions. Root subjecting such a core purpose of government to a “utilitarian analysis” invalidates the very thing he supposedly advocates. Nanny-Staters, of course, invoke a never-ending appeal to the same “utilitarian analysis” in their continuous assault on liberty.

On a discrete basis, one can make a “utilitarian case” against the social costs of defending free speech in every instance. But aggregate each discrete instance into a whole and calculate the social utility of a society without free speech. It would be very poor. Of course, this is an example of Bastiat’s “what is seen and what is not seen.” The type of thing one should learn in a “libertarian debating society.” Unfortunately, history and experience inform us that politics is a very poor teacher of Bastiat’s principle(although, interestingly, “free speech” is the one thing that has held up). This is because the incentives of politics operate to obscure Bastiat’s principle, not to obey it.

Historically, economics derives it’s “dismal science” moniker from Thomas Carlyle’s economic argument for the continuation of slavery. Really, without factoring in Bastiat’s principle along with the Knowledge Problem, economics can often conclude that the greatest social utility is achieved via enslavement and destruction. Or in the case of Root the evangelist, that libertopia is an economic outcome of a majority voting winning coalition of those who think they will never be on the losing side of a police state.

Root serves as a reminder to libertarians why economics, under the framework of politics, deserves to be called the “dismal science” …