Bleeding Hearts

If anyone is actually interested in the best “bleeding heart” commentary regarding anarchism, Marxism, and the State, there is no better authority than George Orwell. Most typically miss the actual underlying message of Orwell, which is a bleak account of ultimate political equilibrium in a reality that has proven to be foreign to the anarchist, socialist, and/or capitalist corrections to the inevitable progression of the state.

Simply, compare Orwell to Matt Zwolinsky regarding political stability. With Orwell, you get Nineteen Eighty Four. With Zwolinsky, you get a claim of political stability of the State, against competing challenges, as an argument for distributive justice. Really, who is more accurate, here…

Protectionism vs Redistribution

Well, it’s time for another post deconstructing the “social justice” experiment at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. In question: this recent post, The Libertarian Critique of Distributive Justice, by Matt Zwolinksy.

I’ve written a number of long posts detailing the problems of “social justice,” particularly with respect liberal social contract theory. Here’s the summary:

Substitute “preference” for “justice,” which is a loaded term. So instead of “social justice,” we are actually talking about “social preference.” But to be more precise, we are actually talking about law as an instrument of social preference. Yet, for even greater reduction–since law is force–we actually mean force as an instrument of social preference.

Social Justice=”force as an instrument of social preference.” Obviously, this equation introduces some pause, as it should. In the end, what “social justice” really means is the legitimization of force via claims of normative social preference.

I’ve authored quite a few posts discussing the problems of normative theories of social preference, particularly with respect to the social sciences–i.e, “social choice.” What we are actually talking about is a set F of outcomes or choices with a “preference ordering(ranking)” defined over F for each agent. If we make a reasonable assumption that the set F is multi-dimensional, that is agents do not have single-peaked preferences over the outcomes or choices in F, then the Arrow Impossibility applies. That is, there is no preference aggregation rule that that yields a single ranking for the outcomes or choices in F that is pairwise independent, rational, Paretian and non-dictatorial.

In other words, there is no rule for a “social welfare function.”

You can’t overcome this problem with appeals to moral philosophy constructs. For example, version 1.0 of Rawls, who attempted to use the “Veil of Ignorance” as a normative demonstration of Kantian categorical imperatives. You can, however, overcome this problem with appeals to filtering choices from the set F so that those that remain follow a single-peaked pattern for all agents. This, for example, would be the position of Amartya Sen and John Rawls(version 2.0 and 3.0). This position more or less relies on an institutional framework to constrict allowable choices. But, of course, it is also a position that requires protectionism to preserve the necessary(or sufficient) institutional framework for such a restricted domain of choices.

So, our final reductionist definition of “Social Justice:”

“The necessary(or sufficient) protectionism for the legitimization of force via claims of normative social preference.”

Obviously, I don’t think this is something that libertarians should have much of a commitment towards. And really, my walkthrough of Social Choice more or less brings us back to Bastiat’s essay regarding “the Law.” Protectionism is the ultimate foundation of distributive justice, which is why libertarians should reject it.

How Progressive are Libertarians?

My warnings against conservative expropriation of libertarianism, as an extinction destructive factor, can perhaps be further demonstrated by the great benefit progressive expropriation of union labor has wrought organized labor. If the last refuge of union labor victory is the unionization of the Gestapo, it should be evident that any chance of a renaissance of union labor, as a favorable institution in the public eye, is forever doomed. No one has a special place in their heart for the secret police; really that kind of identity is something that a movement would probably want to avoid.

I have no idea how such an article can appear in a “left libertarian” feed, or how any libertarian could even remotely endorse such a piece. To me, it’s as morally repugnant as an RSS feed of a Rush Limbaugh or Eric Dondero article. When the libertarian vs left libertarian flare-ups periodically occur, as with the recent debate between Carson and Gregory, it’s exactly this type of piece that reinforces criticism of the left-libertarian position–namely that is not particularly libertarian.

Frankly, if the choice is between the vulgar libertarianism of Taco Bell vs the vulgar libertarianism of the TSA–really the defense of TSA doesn’t even meet the standard of “vulgar”–I will choose Taco Bell. If left libertarians are quick to criticize an apology of Taco Bell that appears on the Mises feed, let it be known this left libertarian condemns that indefensible piece that laughably views permanent war as a war against the collective bargaining rights of the bureaucratic administrative state.

Of course, in the end, I don’t view progressivism as liberal; it is largely, though with some exceptions, conservative. It is a “conservative” mutation of liberalism…

How Conservative are Libertarians?

The Free Keene Website, which is part of the New Hampshire “Free State Project” movement, addresses the issue that there is an apparent correlation between libertarianism and conservatism, at least in terms of voting patterns, in New Hampshire.

One of my pet projects is to debunk any relation between libertarianism and conservatism. There is no relation; they are diametrically opposed. Things that are actually diametrically opposed but are nonetheless presented as being in relative harmony are a problem. This problem serves as the foundation for “expropriation,” which is the most efficient method to permanently kill off a movement–for good.

In this previous post, I demonstrated that conservatism and libertarianism share no bridge regarding the “Free Market.” Despite the lip service, conservatism nonetheless places protectionism as the necessary foundation for a “free Market.” This position, of course, destroys the actual meaning of a “free market,” and ends up ensuring that the totality of debate revolves around the strawman of legitimizing protectionism.

If the distinction over the “free market” seems subtle, perhaps introducing the “wedge issue” of “American Exceptionalism” may clarify things. The libertarian critique against the State, in large part, reduces to the institutional problem of an enforcement entity that largely exempts itself from the thing(s) it is supposedly enforcing. Libertarianism rejects any claim of exceptionalism by the State in this regard. Conservatism, however, religiously endorses “American Exceptionalism,” which, of course, is an endorsement that the American State is exempt from this enforcement problem. But as is typical, claims of exemption are always undergirded by the necessity of protectionism to enforce the exemption. This, of course, leads to the moral foundation of plunder. As Bastiat put it:

“When plunder becomes 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.”

It simply never ceases to amaze me the extent “libertarians” refuse to give up the “conservative ghost.” The lead essay for this month’s Cato Unbound, “Liberty and Science,” by Michael Shermer, for example, essentially adopts the conservative position that moral foundations are an evolutionary dynamic between conservative “constrained” vs. liberal “unconstrained.” This leads Shermer to declare that libertarian politics is the evolutionary midpoint between the two, and that libertarianism is the long run evolutionary equilibrium of the (liberal) State.

Shermer’s position suffers from an obvious empirical problem. How does Shermer square the emergence of a secret police from the so-called “realistic vision” evolutionary framework? We understand why a secret police emerges from a “blank slate, unconstrained” moral intuition foundation; but this secret police also appears to be an evolutionary emergent product of the “realistic vision,” the one that supposedly imposes “libertarian constraints.” What exactly are the important constraints, here? This leads to the more general observation that there doesn’t appear to be much of any constraint on the growth of the State.

Shermer’s empirical problem may be rooted in a conceptual problem regarding moral foundations. For example, the research of Jonathan Haidt provides a much different model of moral foundations than Shermer’s (conservative constraint) vs (liberal constraint) dualism. Haidt identifies five moral foundations:


“Conservatives” recognized all five foundations as a part of the moral intuition while while liberals only recognized the first two. Haidt’s study was originally only intended to study the conservative vs duality until it accidently discovered a third variety, one that essentially was a mutation of the liberal foundations. This one only recognized the first two foundations as well but strictly subjugated the first to the second. Essentially, it was a “morals by contract” foundation. Haidt identified this as the “libertarian foundation.”

So, in the Haidt model, libertarianism clearly is not an evolutionary midpoint of conservative vs liberal moral foundations. It is, instead, a liberal mutation.

A Reply to David Gordon

David Gordon poses the following question: Must Libertarians Be Social Liberals?

I would answer both yes and no.

No, with respect to any necessary moral judgements regarding tastes in music, religion, culture, etc. But “yes” with respect to something like the “right to travel.” Differentiation in agent tastes between, say, the Oak Ridge Boys and Nine Inch Nails is not the issue; however, the right of the Oak Ridge Boys or Nine Inch Nails to travel to play in front of their “cultural fanbase” is an issue. It’s the latter point where Gordon fails. And he fails because he is not a “social liberal.”

Gordon’s beef with “social liberalism” appears to be rooted in insufficient homage to Ron Paul. As Gordon writes in his review of Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie’s book, The Declaration of Independents:

Gillespie and Welch’s ambivalence toward Paul reflects a fundamental problem with their book. To them, libertarianism is not only a political theory and program: it is a social attitude and even an aesthetic sensibility as well. Because Paul does not for the most part share their social preferences, they cannot fully embrace him. He is not really one of their sort.

I reviewed The Declaration of Independents this past summer, and the conceptual problem with the book wasn’t “ambivalence toward Ron Paul.” Rather, based on Welch’s and Gillespie’s definition of libertarianism, the problem was that competition in consumer markets doesn’t change the competition model of political duopoly. Duopoly is a game of strategic substitutes, no matter how many brands of coffee Starbucks serves. The public goods problem would be modifying the rules of barrier of entry regarding political competition, something that would require a significant formal institutional movement to effectuate. W&G failed to address how the “lifestyle voter” could underwrite such an institutional framework.

Gordon’s critique, “needs more Ron Paul,” doesn’t make much sense in terms of correcting the W&G hypothesis. How does “more Ron Paul in the GOP” resolve the duopoly problem? Of course, it doesn’t.

But apart from any considerations of Welch and Gillespie’s book, the issue of Ron Paul, among libertarians, is often presented as a litmus test. I don’t think this type of appeal fares particularly well. For example, Gordon makes such an appeal back in 2007, An Open Letter To Libertarians on Ron Paul. Gordon argues that it’s only culturally left libertarians that fail to support Ron Paul. Gordon casts an “open borders immigration” position as a culturally left position. He then invokes Hans Hoppe to morally support this position.

The Hoppe position is certainly one that can morally justify, on property rights grounds, a refusal to allow Nine Inch Nails to travel to a convenient location to play for their fans at a particular vicinity. For Gordon and Hoppe, this would not be an instance of intolerance. But I would argue that it probably would be.

Although the libertarian principle in the end simply means “anything peaceful is tolerated,” tolerance itself–at least in the libertarian sense– is not a moral principle. Rather, it is best interpreted as a moral constraint. This is a point I’ve discussed in detail in previous posts. A summary would be:

A rejection of libertarianism as a moral theory. Instead, it is a social theory that is not derivable from any specific meta-ethical foundation. In essence, it is unconcerned with meta-ethical foundations and instead is concerned with rational constraints on moral claims derived from these foundations. In practice, this places the emphasis–vis a vis the libertarian principle–more on a revised Lockean proviso and not on NAP.

Libertarianism then places complete laissez faire at the foundation of the social order. This is a bit different formulation than, say, a Rothbardian treatment, that is more concerned with the foundations of the moral permissible use of force.

So, for example, laissez faire is more or less silent on the foundation of a property rights regime(say mutualist vs lockean). Where it is not silent, however, is on the type of constraints such a foundation might impose. Specifically, in this case, with respect to such liberties as freedom of association or assembly. So, whether a property rights regime is mutualist or lockean(or rothbardian), we should not expect unreasonable burdens on the right to travel and freedom of association for such things as a rock concert or a country music concert.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is noted for the position that freedom of movement is a cultural threat to western civilization. I would deem this to be a socially illiberal position. Hoppe employed an “invited-contractual” property rights argument as the moral foundation for such a position. I believe it is fair to say that David Gordon is in agreement with Hoppe.

It may be that Hoppe’s position on this matter may not violate Hoppe’s moral version of NAP, but, such a position, I would argue, nonetheless, violates the libertarian principle. Hoppe’s position is an example of using a moral foundation to support an illiberal moral judgement, and is an example of where “social illiberalism” motivates moral constructions that violate libertarian constraints.

A Response to Will Wilkinson

This past summer, in a post, Libertarianism on the Rise?, I wondered–in between deconstructing third-rate pundit critiques of libertarianism–when the media and pundit class would finally get around to attacking the actual soft underbelly of the libertarian movement: the incoherence concerning political legitimacy.

Perhaps this Michael Lind Salon piece can be considered a first shot across the bow. Lind is a third-rate huckster. But eventually, someone competent and without an obvious ax to grind, is going to take a skilled scalpel to carve the sucker up–and it’s going to get ugly.

This Will Wilkinson piece shows that is already getting ugly. Wilkinson writes:

THIS column of Michael Lind content reminds me that ideologues enjoy nothing so much as shamelessly misrepresenting the content and history of other, opposed ideologies.

Mr Lind wants to show, among other things, that libertarians are enemies of democracy. There are in fact a non-trivial number of outspoken libertarian critics of democracy, some of whom Mr Lind names and criticises toward the end of his article. If he would have stuck to libertarians who actually are enemies of democracy(emphasis mine), he might have had an interesting article. Alas, Mr Lind apparently was not content to settle for anything less than a sweeping condemnation of the entire libertarian tradition…

Wilkinson accuses Lind of misrepresenting the libertarian tradition–which is true. But, of course, Wilkinson misrepresents it as well with his insistence that radicalism is some sort of modern deviation, a curiosity that Wilkinson encourages Lind to explore and sink his knives into. Writes Wilkinson:

Now, Mr Lind is not wrong to hassle Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s seasteading grandson, for his beef against democracy. I’ve done the same in the past. Contemporary libertarian hostility to democracy is an interesting question well worth taking up. But when it comes to the classical liberalism of Mises and Hayek, Mr Lind either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s willing to shamelessly misrepresent their views about democracy, to practically invert them, in order to grind his anti-libertarian ax.

Libertarianism, of course, originates from a radical critique of the legitimacy of political authority–a critique rooted in class analysis. The modern deviation is actually Will Wilkinson trying to pass off the “classical liberal tradition” as the libertarian tradition. They are not the same. Simply compare Benjamin Tucker’s analysis of monopoly to Mises’ version. One is libertarian, the other liberal. One remains prescient, the other has long ceased to be relevant.

The problem, which at this point in time should be obvious to anyone with a brain, is that democracy does not resolve the problem of monopoly. Indeed, if one can demonstrate the existence of a ruling class in a democracy, then the chief argument for democracy, namely accountability, simply vanishes, and the libertarian critique is undeniable: in particular, the problem of monopoly within a socio-political system that has no accountability becomes paramount.

The idea of the “ruling class” is not just the province of radical propaganda. It has a rational choice demonstration. For example, in this previous post, The Calculus of Dissent, I discuss the Public Choice demonstration of a ruling class. Namely, if we treat government as a market governed by rules that ostensibly require no unanimity, then we can treat “redistribution” as a von Neumann–Morgenstern cooperative n-player game: players join together to form coalitions, with the “solutions” being symmetric payoffs among the smallest effective coalitions.

This gives us an empirical test: economic rent transfers should be on the same order as the competitive outlays(lobbying outlays) for such economic rent. If they are not equal, then you either have: (i) highly inefficient government markets or (ii) a ruling class.

If the discrepancy is on the order of one order of magnitude difference, then perhaps a “inefficient market hypothesis” is plausible. If it’s two orders of magnitude or greater difference, then it can only be (ii), a ruling class.

There is no question that American democracy today is under the control of a ruling class. There isn’t much of a rational basis here for denial.

The paramount problem for Wilkinson, then, is this lack of accountability. How does one resolve the problem of the lack of democratic accountability that certainly extends to the largest military/intelligence complex expanse in the history of humankind?

There is no apparent resolution, other than writing something that comes dangerously close to sounding like “round up the dissidents” in the name of “democracy.”