Free Markets and Social Cooperation

I noticed Bleeding Heart Libertarianism has a new tag line: Free Markets and Social Justice As I previously posted, I’m not exactly down with the BHL paradigm. “Social Justice” is fraught with problems. This can be simply illustrated if we replace it with the technically more precise term, “Collective Preference.” Suddenly, a tagline of “Free Markets and Collective Preference” loses much of it’s normative moral appeal. It’s disjointed. You may as well be saying “Free Markets and Algebra III.”

Fernando Teson’s post, “Philosophy and Politics,” makes the case for libertarianism qua utilitarianism, largely based on the assumption that politics is reducible to an empirical problem. However, I would urge caution regarding this approach, particularly with respect to the extent Utilitarianism associates normative abstractions with “justice.” We have to ask ourselves (1) what exactly are we measuring and (2) how do we measure it? Are we measuring pleasure(Bentham), Happiness(Mill), Ideals(Moore) or preferences(Arrow)? In classical economics, utility was treated as a cardinal measurement, and utilitarianism was a max-min problem vis a vis an individual utility summation.

In marginalist neoclassical theory, cardinal utility was superseded by an ordinal measurement. Ordinal utility merely ranks utility preferences. Of course, “Maximal utility” makes no sense in terms of preference ranking, and it was replaced by “Pareto optimum,” which is not a “number,” but rather a “system state,” one characterized by a condition where participant preferences are in an equilibrium. That is, a condition where there are no further exchanges that can make i better off without making j worse off. Any link between Pareto Efficiency(the new “marginalist” measurement of utilitarianism) and “Justice” seemed tenuous at best.

von Neumann/Morgenstern Game Theory re-introduced “cardinal utility” as an expected utility measurement, or “payoffs,” of agent strategic decisions under uncertainty–Games. Game Theory essentially introduces the notion of a “rules-based utilitarianism,” dividing games into “cooperative” and “non-cooperative” games. The Pareto measurement is retained, but it now measures the efficiency/inefficiency of strategic or bargaining outcomes. In the game theory framework, utilitarianism becomes viewed more as a type of “coordination problem.”

Deriving Justice From Coordination

I would contend that Modern Liberal Justice essentially treats “Justice” as a type of coordination problem under uncertainty. This “uncertainty” is typically treated as “originalist position” characterized by a “veil of ignorance.” In the literature, there are two types of “veils,” the “thick” version and the “thin” one. Rawls’ version represents the “thick version,” meaning agent impartiality in the “originalist position” is achieved by agent ignorance of institutions, institutional context, other agent’s prefernces and abilities, and the agent’s own identity. This state of “impartiality” is supposed to lead to impartial agents to maximize “the worst outcome(the minimum position),” the “maximin” rule.

In the “thin” version, typified by John Harsanyi, the impartial agent has complete knowledge sans on it’s own identity. This leads to bargaining solution where an impartial agents will maximize aggregate utility across all agents.

“Social Choice” is a discipline born from Arrow’s formulation of his “impossibility theorem,” which demonstrated the problem of aggregating a set of agent preference orderings into a “Social Welfare Function.” The “impartial agent” formulation was a methodology to circumvent the “Arrow Impossibility.” However, the “thick version” of agent impartiality,” that is, “Rawls’ version,” was more about “rule universalism” than a Social Welfare Function. The “thin version” is less about “rule universalism” and more about a Social Welfare Function grounded in utilitarianism, the older “summation” version.

It should be mentioned that there is another variant of “Social Choice,” represented by Amartya Sen, that rejects the “veil of ignorance” approach. Sen is less concerned with normative constructs of “agent impartiality” and more concerned about mechanisms of “social unity” to achieve interpersonal utility comparisons. Along the way, Sen constructs his “liberal paradox,” which, contrary to popular belief, is only a paradox for Rawls’ “rule universalism.”

Empirical Failure of Modern Liberal Justice

The cultural war and the National Security State present significant problems for modern liberal justice theory. The cultural war directly challenges the Rawlsian “difference principle”(e.g., the unequal distribution of goods from a prison industrial complex most certainly does not benefit the worst-off members of society) while generally contravening the assumptions of interpersonal utility comparisons that underlie social choice theories. The problem here is that individuals do not normally regard other’s utility as having equal weight to their own. “Originalist positions,” “Pareto indifference,” “impartial moral observers” are simply normative constructs to resolve a coordination problem regarding a utilitarian grounding of moral rules and/or collective preferences; but these constructs have no basis in empirical reality.

The National Security State nullifies Rawls in the same way that the cultural war does. However, for Social Choice, perhaps the NSS is an example of an institutional arrangement that can produce a utilitarian grounding for group/collective preference. Of course, given the insider/outside status of such an arrangement, it is deeply non-egalitarian. And the idea of associating “distributive justice” with such an arrangement is an example of why one should give pause before attaching “justice” to normative abstractions.

In modern liberal justice theory, the utilitarian basis for collective preference ends up being “Nationalism,” not “Free Markets.” This is one reason why I would eschew associating libertarianism with the “distributive justice” of MLJT.

Libertarianism and Justice

I define libertarianism to be both a political theory and a social theory. As a political theory it denies any binding authority of the so-called “social contract.” The methodology of this critique is primarily class theory. In terms of social theory, however, it is laissez faire social contractarianism. What is meant by this? Well, we start with Hobbes. Libertarianism denies that the “Hobbesian State of Nature” requires a normative social contractarian resolution. Instead, self-preservation, rooted in “I won’t harm/kill you if you don’t harm/kill me”, can serve as a commutative basis for “contracting away” the Hobbesian State of Nature. Arbitration in contractual disputes leads to the evolution of a type of “common law.” From this springs “civil society.”

Laissez faire is often mis-represented as a normative abstraction. But it’s actually not. Indeed, it’s the only non-normative foundation for liberty that emerged from liberalism. In French Political Economy, “Leave Us Alone” referred to “No Special Economic Privileges.” But in the radical French Liberal tradition, “Laissez Faire” would also come to represent the idea of the complete supplantation of political economy by a civil society of commutative justice.

Today, American libertarianism often struggles with loaded terms like “Free Market,” often resorting to using alternative terms like “Freed Market.” The problem here is that “Laissez Faire” did not accurately translate over. It has a much richer context than simply “market.” The rich context is civil society. In the rich context, “Leave us Alone” makes no sense because a commutative justice civil society can only emerge from interaction.

In the American libertarian tradition, it was Benjamin Tucker who took “laissez faire” to it’s logical conclusion: that is, a contractarian theory of morals. For this, Tucker relied on Max Stirner’s Egoism. For Tucker, “distributive justice,” as a political problem was not “What About the Poor.” Rather, it was “What about the Rich,” in particular, the trusts. The problem was one of radical “seizure,” or radical distribution. The only function of politics was to breed an “anarchist remnant” to politically execute this redistribution.

Of course, there would be no “anarchist remnant.” The “remnant,” as such, would become associated with conservativism. The 2nd american libertarian movement would spring from this “conservative remnant,” and, in doing so, would unfortunately re-associate laissez faire with normative abtractions of justice. It is really only the likes of Gauthier, De Jasay, and Narveson who would much later bring moral contractarianism back to the fore(of course,derived from game theory, and not Stirner Egoism).

Class Warfare: “Worth Every Penny”

Obama, on “60 Minutes,” asserted that anyone who doubted the justice of his “execution” of Bin Laden deserved to have their head examined. Well, I doubt the “justice” of it. And here’s why I don’t deserve to have my head examined.

I don’t deserve to have my head examined because I deal in empirical reality. Part of that is the ability to make predictions. Way back before Obama was elected president, I predicted he would be Bush’s third term. Of course, this was a common prediction among libertarians. Hardly unique. Of course, this prediction has been splendidly confirmed. And no greater confirmation than this recent White House press conference.

Q And then, thirdly, the National Journal said recently that the overall cost of tracking down and eliminating bin Laden now was over $3 trillion.

MR. CARNEY: I have no idea about that estimate, but I think most Americans would feel that it was worth every penny.

Thank you very much.

This is taking full ownership of the entire Bush foreign policy. Well, actually, taking full ownership of the Cheney Unitary Executive Foreign Policy.

A rational person would ask why a US President would order the execution, and not the capture, of a figure who could prove vital as information source in the only actual WMD attack against the US, an attack that occurred simultaneously with 9-11 The US justifies it’s involvement in Pakistan based largely on the threat of al-qaeda + WMD. This is actually “the great existential threat” that justifies the WOT. It would seem clear that if the ISI was “protecting” Bin Laden, this would be a clear A-1 priority reason to capture the guy.

This ability to think in empirical reality is why I could write about the nonsense of executing Bin Laden in the context of the Anthrax attacks 4 days before some Obama Admin lackey fed David Corn a Pakistan-al Qaeda-Anthrax rationale for executing Bin Laden. Of course, in empirical reality, that kind of connection is why you would want to capture him; in DoubleThink reality, that kind of connection is why you execute him, in the name of “fighting an intelligence war.”

Those who live in empirical reality have the ability to distinguish between the culture war and class war. It’s then trivial to predict people like Ed Schultz, who can be described as a mix between Ernest Angley and Rush Limbaugh, admonishing Nashville to retread a republican anthem for the glory of Obama.

It may be your world, boss, but it doesn’t mean we can’t predict it…

WikiLeaks Watch 5-12-2011

Unfortunately, due to work requirements, postings on this blog have decreased by a factor of five, from one per weekday, to about one per week. The “WikiLeaks Watch” postings are something that I haven’t had the time to maintain. However, when a bunch of interesting stuff emerges, I will try to take time out to compose a post. Such is the case now.

Assange calls Facebook the most appalling spying machine ever invented

Assange is more or less correct, here. In an earlier post that discussed the subversive political potential of SNP, I noted that SNP was a resilient platform against hard censorship but could be effectively neutered by a maize of soft censorship. If this “soft censorship maize,” and here I referring to (corporate) Political Economy, interfaces their systems and data with (State) Intelligence data mining, then, yes, SNP becomes a dystopian tool. Orwell’s “screens” are simply replaced by the smartphone.

As it stands now, people who their provide their real profile data for a SNP database and who link themselves to other “real profiles” make themselves vulnerable to proto police state tactics. However, given that the US intelligence organs now essentially dwarf anything hitherto in human history, an intelligence symbiosis with the “soft censorship maize” seems inevitable. The only thing that can prevent it is political economic hacking–that is, an offsetting political economy of “leaks.” So, the only thing heartening about this expanding totalitarianism and it’s insider/outsider political economy is that it is also spawning counter institutions, trading in “leaks,” as an offset. One of the sub-themes of this blog is whether to treat technology as utopian or dystopian. The correct answer is that it can be either, meaning, of course, that there is no correct answer.

Julian Assange’s Dialectics

This Assange interview provides perhaps the most extensive exposition of his political views. This interview is much more abstract and “cyberpunkish” than the Forbes one. A concise synopsis would be a “political dialectic” grounded in Neils Bohr rather than Hegel…the abstraction of the “quantum jump” applied to a “change in state”(reform) of political institutions. Censorship represents an “opportunity,” or an economic signal, that signifies that the institution is sufficiently unstable to be susceptible to a “quantum jump.” To paraphrase an earlier post of mine, the entrepreneur as “valence electron.”

Assange indicates that he is influenced by a libertarian temperament but not the libertarian political tradition directly. By this, he more or less means that he is more influenced by the libertarian attitude regarding the relationship between the individual and the state rather than, say, Proudhon’s or Kropotkin’s view of property, or libertarianism’s vast literature on institutional alternatives.

Assange views a regime that does not practice “hard censorship” to be immune from the “quantum jump,” or reform. He seems to equate this with a condition of total soft censorship. In the “Bohr Dialectic,” this would be an example of an “inert gas.” Here, however, I think libertarians would object with equating “de-politicization” with a Political Economy of total soft censorship. It could be conceptually argued and empirically demonstrated that a Political Economy of total soft censorship would not be a condition of “free speech.” Easily and trivially provable if we consider “commercial speech” to be speech, which is necessary if you concede the existence of the market.
Then the “Black Market” is easy refutation. With “soft censorship,” you can “debate” legalization of drugs without being arrested; but if you try to sell them on a street corner, you will be arrested. This is censorship. This creates an “opportunity,” an “economic signal,” that leads to a black market. There’s actually a faction within libertarianism, called “agorism”(which I do not subscribe to, btw), that relies on this type of censorship signalling to institutionally supplant the State.

In an actual de-politicized institutional setting, you would not have a black market, or at least not much of one. And, having studied physics in college, I would say that something like the Double-Slit experiment with light perhaps has philosophical value in knocking down something like Randian objectivism, but I wouldn’t rely on Quantum Mechanics for my political dialectics.

The Revolution will have a Confidentiality Agreement

The corporate/mainstream will delight in this supposed hypocrisy of the WikiLeak’s confidentiality Agreement. Of course, it could only be tangentially construed as hypocrisy if Assange were claiming to be the thing he is typically portrayed as: some transparency activist. He is not. He is an entrepreneur, a thing I’ve been harping on on this blog for some time. By entrepreneur, I don’t mean the Washington post definition, I mean the actual historical definition: an agent who identifies an opportunity and takes full responsibility for the outcome. In this case, we are talking about an agent who strives for a particular objective by acting as an intermediary between “leaker” and “publisher.”

It should be noted that WikiLeaks initially attempted to rely on SNP for editorial context and distribution. It didn’t work. At that point, the “activist” must become the entrepreneur. If you observe the “snakes” in corporate media, you would understand why a confidentiality agreement would be a requirement. More from WikiLeaks Central.

The Spy who Re-Elected Me

Assange’s accusations that the US Government was planning a grand jury indictment for Espionageturned out to be true. Here we have a “soft censorship” power overtly pursuing the path of hard, hard censorship. There is no doubt that this creates great new opportunity in the political economy of leaks. But does it mark a “reform opportunity for the United States”? I would say it marks an opportunity to break US oligarchy worldwide, but I’m not so sanguine about it being a signal for internal reform. This would end badly for us…

Conspiracy Theory

I’m not a 9-11 truther but I have become an “Anthrax Truther.” Without doubt, there is a government conspiracy regarding the anthrax attacks that occurred in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. For all the talk about WMD and al-Qaeda implementing a WMD attack, the distribution of high-quality, military-grade anthrax through the US postal system remains the only example of an actual WMD attack. Attempts to pin the attack on stooges/patsies have failed miserably, lending credibility to the speculation of a government cover-up.

The reason that the Obama Admin, at this point, won’t release a photo of the slain Bin Laden is because it wants to avoid an inflamed discussion regarding the fact that this was an “execution” operation. Of course, this strategy is actually backfiring. But there is a larger context that should be considered here. If the “Anthrax attacks” were still a matter of open investigation, you would think that a premium would have been placed on capturing the great al-Qaeda mastermind alive for interrogation. After all, we are repeatedly propagandized that the great existential threat is al-Qaeda + WMD; and, at this point, the only example of such a WMD attack is this anthrax attack that occurred simultaneously with 9-11. The statistical probability that these were random, independent events is minuscule.

The fact that Bin Laden was executed tells us all we need to know about the relative “threat” of al-Qaeda + WMD…

Bin Laden Dead. War on Terror Lives On.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four

What is now only be called a “small team of Americans,” likely the CIA, killed Bin Laden in a shootout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. This was no “smokeout” from a Cave. The Bin Laden “residence” is being described as a “compound,” or even a mansion. And apparently, the compound has a Google Map.

When the news began to trickle out, the Georgetown bar set looks to have emptied out of the taverns and marched impromptu to the White House with cheers and theatrics one would associate with the Redskins winning the Superbowl. Ah, but this game has no end. Important commentators reminded us that Bin laden had long ago ceased having any operational capacity with al-Qaeda and now was only a symbolic figure. Concerned government officials announced heightened “terror levels” and warned against the possibility of al-Qaeda retaliatory operations. Meanwhile pundits speculated about revived Obama poll numbers against the backdrop of the growing, gathering crowd chanting “USA!,USA!” in front of the White House.

Perhaps in a day or two, or maybe in a week, when the “euphoria” begins to wane in the press corp, the touchy subject of US-Pakistan relations might come to the fore given that Pakistani government wasn’t informed of this operation until after the fact.

And, of course, not everyone is cheering. And perceptions of just who is the terrorist differ. Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib is one of those not cheering. Upon learning the news, he is quoted as saying:

“America is the war on terror, George Bush is the war on Terror….What, you think with Osama bin Laden dying there won’t be war any more?”