Fake Libertarians

A cursory examination of the blogosphere courtesy Google News reveals a theme of “fake libertarianism” making the rounds. There are two components to this theme. One pertains to a critical assessment of the extent the moral foundations of Ron Paul fall outside the typical sphere of libertarianism. This examination is a product Paul’s performance in a recent debate where he apparently articulated a view that contraceptive methods are a product of immorality. I would concur that any moral foundation that views sexual freedom as immoral is outside the typical sphere of libertarian moral foundations. But can we equate that to being a “fake libertarian”?

The other part is illustrated by this post at Hillsdale Natural Law Review that repeats a charge that has been cooked up from the bowels of the Heritage Foundation. The charge: Libertarianism is not libertarianism. This is intended as a direct attack on libertarian moral foundations–that they are antithetical to liberty. So the fake libertarians are actually the libertarians. This is an attempt to cast conservatism as the true libertarianism, where libertarianism is defined as “limited government.”

Writes the author, Tyler O’Neil:

Dr. Matthew Spalding, author of the book We Still Hold These Truths – a title which made its way onto the subtitle of CPAC 2012 – explained that “most people who consider themselves libertarians [really just] believe in limited government.”

Yes. Isn’t that what Libertarians believe?

Spalding’s answer is no: “Libertarianism is really based on a different philosophy,” he says, a “radical individualism in which the individual creates their own sense of meaning.”

“Its roots,” he proclaims, “are very different from the roots of the American Founders.”

I would contend, however, that both O’Neil and Spalding have it exactly backwards. Libertarianism in metaphysics refers to a position on “Free Will” that rejects any compatibility of “Free Will” with the path dependency of casual determinism. So we are really talking about “free will” in the popular sense that most understand that term to mean. And I would stipulate that most would in fact accept the metaphysical meaning of Libertarianism while nonetheless rejecting the political meaning of it. Indeed, I would venture that most would reject the determinism/free will position, usually referred to as “Compatibilism,” articulated by many of the classical liberal thinkers. Compatibilism is succintly expressed by Thomas Hobbes’ statement: “Liberty and necessity are consistent.” This simply means that if an agent has a desire for an Action A, then the agent is free if it can do A. Agents are still motivated by reasons. The Libertarian position, however, holds a third condition: the agent can do something other than the Action A. This breaks the path dependency.

I find it amusing that the conservative authors equate libertarian “free will” with radical existentialism. But this is typical of conservatives: they are prone to making shit up and then casting their inventions as eternal truths. Existentialism, as I understand it, simply is a statment that our nature is a product of the stands we take. There are traces of it throughout western philosophy. In the modern form, it generally refers to the conflict of human agency vis a vis its cultural context. Existentialism would hold that Human agency is not only responsible for its actions but also for the values that it holds. This is the source of human angst: to be free means to be reponsible for your own values, your own meaning.

The conservative critique against existentialism is once again ass backwards. Whereas the conservative sees responsibility for one’s own values as a moral foundation for totalitarianism, I would suggest an alternative interpretation: existentialism as an individualist bulwark against a claim of irresponsibility for the inculcation of shared cultural values imputed by rabid Nationalism. The analogy of

Nietsche:Hitler :: Existentialism:Totalitarianism

is a fallacy on the order of school boy logic. The better and more accurate analogy would be

Nietsche:Hitler :: Devine Inspired American Exceptionalism:Totalitarianism

The relating factor is nationalist expropriation of any moral framework to legitimize and indeed glorify hegemonic ends.

Of course it should be made plain that metaphysical libertarianism is not equivalent to existentialism. Existentialism would be just one facet or school within a broader array of libertarian metaphysical views. And it should be further clarified that metaphysical and political libertarianism are entirely two separate things. You can be one without being the other. But I would point out that the conservative essay is an example of the problematic aspects of conservative foundations, foundations that always seem prone to attaching transcendence to culture. The essay implies free will is incompatible with liberty. Now I would suggest that “free will” in many respects reduces to a contextual argument. I’m not sure what practical meaning free will would have had in, say, 13th or 14th century Europe in terms of the ability of human agency to take a stand or rise above the culture(it could be perhaps be argued that there is no Renaissance without the Black Plague). However, certainly in the age of mass communications and global trade, human nature as a product of the stands we take seems to have more relevance. Custom may be our nature but it doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to the one we are born into.

This brings me to Ron Paul. As I argued on many previous occasions, libertarianism(the political variety, not the metaphysical one discussed above) is a social theory and not a moral one. In this paradigm, moral foundations themselves do not identify what a “true libertarian” is. Instead, we are concerned with enforceable obligations and an enforcement regime that does not violate the lockean proviso. So this means it matters not what an agent’s personal preferences are regarding sex outside marriage, birth control, abortion, gay sex etc, but it does matter what obligations are enforced. Libertarian violations are violations against the moral constraints that define the scope of enforceable obligations. The libertarian credo vis a vis the moral constraint is: “live and let live,” which can also be re-stated as “anything peaceful is tolerated.”

Unfortunately, Paul in a more than a few instances has reached into his conservative foundations to contrive enforceable obligations. None more egregious than this “We the People Act” nonsense that unilaterally defines “Life begins at conception” as an enforceable obligation. As such, the proposed law would abrogate “any claim based upon the right of privacy, including any such claim related to any issue of reproduction” from federal court jurisdiction. The law essentially removes any federal court jurisdiction over state regulation of individual sexual and reproductive activity. It would set the stage for Red States to ban abortion and regulate sexual activity on par with the Taliban(I’m not really exaggerating, here, unfortunately).

There is no libertarian defense of this type of outcome. And you can’t make any ridiculous appeals to a Constitutional argument of States’ Rights(or more accurately powers delegated to the States). There is no “Jeffersonian argument,” here. The historical reality is that the United States has never been a Jeffersonian Democracy. States have always used the Federal government to subsidize bad policies. We can go all the way back to the “Fugitive Slave Act” to demonstrate that the Confederacy’s claim of “State’s Rights” translated to other States’ obligations. In the same vein, we can easily demonstrate that our “Red States” are subsidized entities that suck off the teat of federal welfare. So Paul’s proposal is one of selective removal of federal court jurisdiction creating an array of subsidized Taliban satellites that will certainly be looking to the Federal government to “nationalize” local obligations. How long would it take a State that has outlawed abortion in all circumstances to makes it a crime for its citizens to cross state lines to get an abortion? Or how long would it be for the same said States to make it a crime for out-of-state providers to advertise abortion services to its citizens(e.g., over the internet) and demand federal compliance for out-of-state prosecutions and/or extradition into the state for prosecution. Here’s a clue: not long.

Ron Paul is an example of a rule by “libertarians” that can be just as tyrannical as your current master.

Advertisements

Caplan’s Entrepreneurial Critique of Georgism

It’s fair to say that I ascribe to a different microeconomic foundation to political economy than Bryan Caplan. The primary difference between our approaches was discussed in a previous post, The Irrationality of Politics. Caplan roots the problem of liberal reform in the low cost of irrationality vis a vis voting which incentivizes a class of pandering politicians who otherwise would act more rationally in terms of public policy. In short, the politicans are slaves to the voters. I, on the other hand, root the problem of liberal reform in a bias that is product of a political economy moral framework that arises from rent-seeking agents seeking legal recognition via political means. In short, voters are slaves to the politicians, or more accurately, the political/economic system. Both of us would cite the empirical discrepencies in the classic public choice model(Tullock,Buchanan) to support our positions.

My little blog, “liberal and libertarian,” is more or less an exercise in a libertarian deconstruction of the failure of the liberal model. By liberal, of course, I mean the political-philosophic defintion and not the modern partisan one. However, I am a liberal, both philosophically and sentimentally. My critique of it is not its ends, but rather its (actual) means. Specifically, my critique, as tersely summarized above, is grounded in economic rents secured and protected by political means. But it’s not a utilitarian objection. That is, it’s not based on a calculation of the social waste that results from rent dissipation in political competiton. On the contrary, it’s derived from observation that rent dissipation is not the empirical equilibrium model for political competition. This lends itself to a class analysis of the State which, of course, is a model of the State as protector of artificial rents.

To me, it is clear the fundamental role economic rents play in liberal political economy. This is why I do identify as a Georgist. A regime whose fiscal source is georgist rent is likely to exhibit stark differences from one that bids out Tullock rents. I can’t say that Georgism is a necessary or sufficient condition to avoid “liberal violations,” but I would suggest it is one means to potentially avoid the catastrophic failures of political competition.

This leads me back to Caplan. Caplan and a co-author have published a new working paper that proposes an entrepreneurial critique against Georgism. Caplan denotes this criticism as a “Search-Theoretic Critique,” meaning that georgist rents disincentivize entrepreneurial discovery for more valuable uses of land. A less academic treatment was posted at his blog. Caplan summarizes the argument:

I can explain our argument with a simple example. Clever Georgists propose a regime where property owners self-assess the value of their property, subject to the constraint that owners must sell their property to anyone who offers that self-assessed value. Now suppose you own a vacant lot with oil underneath; the present value of the oil minus the cost of extraction equals $1M. How will you self-assess? As long as the value of your land is public information, you cannot safely self-assess at anything less than its full value of $1M. So you self-assess at $1M, pay the Georgist tax (say 99%), and pump the oil anyway, right?

There’s just one problem: While the Georgist tax has no effect on the incentive to pump discovered oil, it has a devastating effect on the incentive to discover oil in the first place. Suppose you could find a $1M well by spending $900k on exploration. With a 99% Georgist tax, your expected profits are negative $890k. (.01*$1M-$900k=-$890k)

What Caplan is actually arguing in his working paper is that there is no such thing as land rents. Land rents are only quasi-rents. Therefore, georgist rent(or “land tax”) is distortionary. Now, indeed, if there is no such thing as land rent, then I would have to concede Caplan’s critique. Georgist rent is more or less a tax on the opportunity cost use of land. If land indeed were identical to capital, then taxing the use of a resource at 100% of it’s opportunity cost use would simply result in deadweight loss(the minimum of the worst result). Of course, the classical treatment of land distinguishes it from capital as a factor of production because of the inelasticity of supply. It’s a simple exercise in textbook economics to graphically verify that that taxes on these types of goods simply shifts producer surplus to public(or government) surplus without any deadweight loss or loss of consumer surplus. In the classical paradigm, the privilege of exclusive use of these type of goods/resources is supposed to be the fiscal source of government.

Caplan dismisses the classical paradigm and more or less extends the neoclassical treatment that casts land rent to be no different from interest(or dividends on stocks, etc). Land, like capital goods, has to produced. In Caplan’s paper, production means “discovery of best use” via an entrepreneurial process modeled on expectations of returns as a function of search. So Caplan will write something like:

E(V)=E(I)-P

and

V= E[I(S)] – E[C(S)] – P

which simply means the expected value of land is the expected income from the property minus the current price. The value of land is the expected income from a search minus the expected cost of the search minus the current price. The boundary conditions of the model are defined by four partial differential constraints which would be typical for a neoclassical model, regarding marginal cost and marginal revenue, if we think of “Search” being the quantity produced(S=Q). So competitive equilibrium can be written along the familiar model of marginal revenue =marginal cost,except now a “Search good” will be produced until the marginal increase in expected income of the Search equals the marginal cost of the “Search good.”

Now that Caplan has a “Search good” that acts roughly familiar to a standard capital good, he is able to demonstrate that a “tax” discourages and distorts the production of the Search good in the same way as a tax against a capital good. Indeed, the Georgist 100% tax results in no production of “Search goods.”

The Rebuttal

There is an obvious empirical problem with Caplan’s model. Frankly it’s particularly disingenuous and an example of piss poor scholarship–only mitigated by the fact it is a working paper–to use the example of Idi Amin as a positive demonstration of the model’s prediction. I have no idea what Idi Amin has to do with Georgism but there are are plenty of historical examples, each with varying degrees of success, that provide a counter-factual to the model. And really, all you need is one. For example, you are not going to find any counter-factual in all of human history of a 100% tax on capital goods not producing disastrous distortionary results regarding production output. However, you can easily cite examples of relative degrees of success regarding georgist implementations. For example, here. The empirical evidence alone discredits any model that attempts to concoct some “Search good” equivalence with “capital goods” in terms of expected use of land.

The conceptual problem resides in a normative modeling of what is “rational.” Algebraic manipulation doesn’t necessarily predict the rational behavior we should end up with. For example, the contention that the landowner, in order to obtain quasi-rents, must engage in productive activity. Well, my experience informs me that quite a bit of this “Searching” goes on in City Hall and in the corridors of Washington, DC. Indeed, you can almost define local government as a joint private-public conspiracy between local real estate developers and corrupt city boards. Nationally, we have an unprecedented banking oligopoly contrived from a failed financial paradigm that specialized in sucking economic rents from subsidized home ownership. To me, its form of reality denial to make a claim that there is no such thing as “land rent.”

Another problem for Caplan is his tendency to subtly shift back and forth between quite divergent microeconomic foundations, depending on context. For example, in his anticipation of “Georgist Responses,” he claims that the problem of transaction costs of current occupation(current use) against entrepreneurial search goods for “new and improved” use can be remedied by “changing the laws.” But that’s waiving the magic wand and pulling a rabbit out of the hat. We should recall that Caplan’s thesis of “rational irrationality” is an attempt to explain why we empirically never see “rational political reform.” All of a sudden, we can expect rational political reform in this context. Of course, this then would be the counter-factual that disproves his “rational irrationality” foundation.

Caplan executes the subtle microeconomic foundation shift again at the end of his blog post when he rhetorically ponders:

The big puzzle for me: Why do tax economists spend so much time discussing mere curiosities like lump-sum taxation, excess profit taxation, and land taxation, when the completely realistic option of taxes on negative externalities is right in front of their noses?

In terms of political economy, that statement makes little sense. Taxes on negative externalities would serve a purpose of correcting the injustice of the externality, of internalizing the externality. These types of taxes are not the source of public good financing. Frankly, it is the conflation of public good rationales with ubiquitous arguments of the social costs of human activity that I would pin at the foundation of his “rational irrationality” thesis. But there he is, postulating away, as if he has succumbed to his own fit of irrational bias. When he wakes up, he can the explain how a public goods rationale for taxes on negative externalities would fare under a supposedly biased electorate whose individual members can purchase their own negative externality rationale for government at the low, low price of the opportunity cost of a vote.

Abortion on Demand is the only Defensible Libertarian Position

In a recent Ron Paul CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Paul tried to wiggle out of the “pro-life” moral quandary of denying legal protection to the zygote in the instance of rape(“honest rape,” as he qualified it) by appealing to a supposed equivalent moral quandary of the abortion on demand position regarding the distinction between terminating a mature fetus vs killing a new born infant. However, contra Paul, the latter is not a moral quandary; but the former pro-life position very much is.

Pro-life, by definition, implies pacifism. While pacifism certainly is a legitimate moral foundation to hold, its moral constraints are unenforceable. It’s enforcement, by its own standard, would be a moral violation. For example, it’s one thing to voluntarily deny your own moral claim to self-defense but it’s quite another to involuntarily enforce this moral claim against other agents. The enforcement of the pacifist moral constraint would necessarily violate the pacifist constraint. The exemption of an enforcer from the moral constraint it is enforcing is a primary libertarian complaint against the nature of the State itself. Any enforcement model that exhibits such characteristics bears an unlibertarian classification.

Paul is often quoted as saying “you can’t protect liberty without protecting life.” But this is nonsense. You can’t protect life, that is, enforce violations against it, without enforceable moral constraints. Life qua life, which is equivalent to the “sanctity of life,” is a pacifist position. But the pacifist position, as noted above, is unenforceable. Given this, we certainly can apply a libertarian test or criterion to the moral constraints that are necessarily enforced.

In reality, the pro-lfe position rarely is pro-life, i.e., pacifist. Life qua life, or the sanctity of life position, is narrowly applied to pregnancy(although typically extended to euthanasia as well). Outside of this limited scope, however, the right of self-defense re-emerges, evidenced by the strong correlation of the “pro-life” position with a “pro gun rights” position. Some, however, like Paul, makes exceptions for rape and threats to the mother’s life. But these exceptions violate the sanctity of life constraint. Here the exceptions disprove the rule. Hence the moral quandary.

Now the problem of enforceability of obligated pacifism doesn’t disappear because of an arbitrary narrowing of applicability–in this case, to pregnancy. Those who impose an obligation of pacifism without exceptions for pregnancy encounter an obvious moral quandary, namely the problem of spontaneous abortion. This is not a trivial side consideration. Spontaneous abortions occur at roughly the same order of magnitude as surgical(and/or chemical) abortions. To differentiate between the two using “intent” as the criterion ad hoc redefines intent as the only criterion in legal jurisprudence. And we can definitively link the probability of spontaneous abortion to a female’s age. So to use an analogy: if a driver accidentally hit and killed a child in a school zone while driving 25mph, that driver might escape criminal sanction. However, if the driver was driving 100mph and hit/killed a child, and, say, this was the driver’s third time killing a child in a school zone driving at such a speed, it would be very unlikely that said driver would escape criminal culpability.

The above analogy applies to females over certain age, say, 35, who repeatedly attempt pregnancy. This problem has spawned an entire industry of “assisted reproduction technologies.” However, under a pacifist obligation, this industry would have to be banned. Analogous to the idea of restricted speed zones around schools(children), a pacifist obligation would require an upper age restriction for pregnancy eligibility. This is unenforceable sans age-mandatory tubal ligation.

The no-exception pro-life position(the majority of them, at least) is not about to go this far. Hence the exception to the rule and the moral quandary. The more general point that being made is that, actuarially speaking, pregnancy is a risky proposition, both for the female and the pre-natal entity(even excluding surgical abortions, only 75% of pregnancies result in live births). A moral obligation of pacifism to enforce life qua life vis a vis pregnancy would necessarily criminalize it in a totalitarian sense. In a practical sense, what the pro-life position really reduces to is an arbitrary enforcement of a moral offense against female sexual freedom.

Given the moral quandary of the pro-life position, which is unresolvable, a frequent defense is to switch gears and cast abortion on demand as suffering from its own quandary. This is typically expressed by stating that abortion on demand implies legitimizing infanticide. I would actually claim the opposite: that abortion on demand legitimizes obligation on the part of the parent post-birth. How is this?

The abortion on demand position suffers no moral quandary because it imposes no moral constraint on the female’s contractual freedom to terminate a pregnancy, unless such a constraint has been contractually/voluntarily agreed to. Because of the absence of any pacifist obligation regarding pregnancy, the act of carrying the pre-natal entity to term implicitly imposes an obligation on the part of the parent post-birth which arguably resolves a moral contractarian problem vis a vis parental moral constraints regarding children(which are incapable of contracting).From a moral contractarian position, abortion on demand is at least a necessary condition(although perhaps not a sufficient condition) for parental obligation.

Even if we drop the moral contractarian perspective, we still have a standard libertarian constraint that necessarily must frown on impersonal pacifist obligations. As explained above, it is an obvious moral quandary to impose an obligation to carry “conception” to “live birth.” If we redefine the obligation to say the that obligation starts at the point of “viability,” that is, the obligation is to carry a viable fetus to term, then we are talking about a moral constraint against “third trimester” abortions. Of course, practically speaking, we are only talking about 2% of the total number of per annum surgical abortions. These are almost always cases of health complications. And it is also roughly at this point that the hard choices between a healthy female and an unhealthy fetus become clear. The “viability” constraint, in practical terms, has little consequence in terms its expressed intent, which would be the “protection” of life, and quite a bit of potential consequence in terms pacifist obligations imposed on the female regarding her own health and her moral calculation regarding her own health relative to that of the “viable fetus.” The latter moral calculation may indeed be a moral quandary for the female in terms of individual choice, but it only becomes a moral quandary in terms of enforceable obligations if we define it as a duty to be enforced one way or another. So to be concrete, a mandatory viability test could be used to deny permission to terminate a pregnancy but it also could be used to deny permission to carry to term based on some risk assessment model. Those who favor the former application of a “viability test” are likely to be horrified by the latter application example. But to legitimize the former legitimizes the latter. It’s a bit arbitrarily narrow to refer to a viability standard(as an enforceable obligation to deny the female the moral calculation to terminate a pregnancy) but to nonetheless give absolute freedom to the female to carry to term regardless of the risks to herself. The other side of the equation is bound to become a point of consideration when you socialize “viability standards.” The only way to avoid the moral quandaries of enforcement is to drop the enforceable constraints and leave the moral quandaries up to individual conscience.

Conclusion

Abortion is often presented as a difficult problem. While I will concede that abortion may present moral quandaries to individual conscience, I nonetheless find no difficulty in staking out the only defensible libertarian position regarding its enforceable moral constraints: none. Any such enforceable constraint results in moral quandaries that simply cannot be enforced without arbitrary exemptions to save the enforcement regime from becoming a total criminalization of pregnancy. Interestingly, those who typically defend prohibition of abortion on the grounds that it is necessary to defend civilization end up criminalizing, in a totalitarian sense, the very foundation of it: human reproduction. The only way for the prohibitionists to avoid this dilemma is to take the position that “abortion is murder, except when it’s not.”

Because the abortion on demand position imposes no moral or pacifist constraints on pregnancy, it avoids the aforementioned moral quandaries of enforcement. However, some will charge that AoD provides a moral foundation for infanticide. The charge here would be that “birth” is an arbitrary dividing line and that AoD suffers from its own exemption: “killing children is murder, except when its not.” On one hand I have to concede children are part of the difficult problem of libertarianism regarding enforceable obligations(defined by contract). Indeed, Benjamin Tucker is noted for defining children as property until the point of contract. But the problem of the inability to contract(or lack of contractual agreement) extends beyond children. For example, what are our obligations to animals? To strangers? I readily admit that Tucker’s position is a moral quandary that shouldn’t be left up to individual conscience, but the only path I see to an implied enforceable obligation with respect to children is one that passes through no pacifist obligation of pregnancy. I certainly don’t think a pacifist obligation attached to pregnancy resolves this problem. On the contrary this merely transfers the ownership title over to the State. I don’t see any scourge of infanticide occurring. But I do see an ever encroaching problem developing of children more or less becoming property of the State.

“The Trouble with Liberty” Part II: American Libertarian Incoherence

NOTE: this is an unfinished essay from last year that I’ve decided to publish, notwithstanding its incompleteness. In part, I motivated to do so because of this recent article at the Huffington Post, Ron Paul, Libertarianism and The Anarchist Connection

Libertarians are proponents of limited government. We are not anarchists.
Robert Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute’s board of directors.

We have to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.
William F. Buckley

This is part II of a three part series penned in response to Chris Beam’s The Trouble with Liberty. Part I is here.

To summarize part I: Enlightenment liberalism, born from “British Liberty,” drew a distinction between State and Civil Society. This “civil society,” however, was not birthed by decree, but rather was an emergent property of a more or less anarchic tradition. The US Constitution was not a document drawn by “We the People” for the governance of “We the People,” but rather by the “elite State Builders” in a pit of interests against interests, particularly with an eye toward territorial expansionism.

British liberty, however, was not the only “liberal tradition.” There was another tradition, one that was much more radical, that originates from France. In an exhaustive historical exegesis, you could actually trace the roots of this more radical tradition back to the French Physiocrats and their model of “class conflict” that arises from land ownership. The Physiocrats were the precursors of the French Laissez Faire economists.

In “Revolutionary France” Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine would duplicate their roles played in the American Revolution. Jefferson, on loan to Paris as a diplomat, would play a vital role in the composition of “Declaration of the Rights of Man,” the French analogue to the American Declaration of Independence. Paine would revise his role as agitator and propagandist with his “Rights of Man,” a more radical analogue to “Common Sense.” But there is an important distinction between “Revolutionary France” and “Revolutionary America.” Revolutionary America was a rebellion against a distant empire who was acting in contrivance against its own principles(of British Liberty) in arbitrarily violating the exercise of American self-rule and the natural functioning of its civil society. It was a rebellion against a perceived violation of its natural order.

Revolutionary France was a rebellion against its own political class, and it’s more radical ideals of liberty and egalitarianism were not rooted in any long-standing civil tradition but rather in an idealism of the way things ought to be. In a sense, the American Revolution could almost be viewed as a restoration. The French Revolution, contrastively, was actually a “revolution.” The failure, however, of Revolutionary France to politically achieve these idealistic goals sowed the seeds for libertarianism. Libertarianism proper was born when Enlightenment Liberalism met the bureaucratic Ancien Régime.

In France, the Enlightenment Liberal distinction between State and civil society would not survive the “class critique.” Libertarianism was the abolition of the State for complete laissez faire in civil society. But just what exactly type of order would naturally emerge from laissez faire was a subject of much debate. Libertarianism would spread across Europe, but the European version would largely reject “bourgeois civil society” as being anything spontaneous or anarchic; rather such was viewed as a product of Statist privilege. The European version would largely become associated with what today we would call anti-property, anti-bourgeois “left-wing anarchism.” In the United States, “a self-identified libertarian movement” would not emerge until the latter part of the 19th century, but it took a bit of a more “homegrown attitude” toward “bourgeois civil society.” American libertarianism was more or less “liberal anarchism.”

In the 20th century, American libertarianism would lose it’s identity with “liberal anarchism” and instead become associated with a movement to restore the “Enlightenment Liberal” conception of the State. This despite the fact that globally and domestically, neither establishment politics nor radical politics adhered to this ideal anymore. The deconstruction of this effort is the subject of “Part II.”

First, an irony that must be pointed out, one that serves a foreboding reminder of the problems of “libertarian political reform,” is that this 20th century “enlightenment liberal restoration movement,” that became associated with the GOP, was born from the perversion of the late 19th century “laissez faire” political reform movement adopted by the Democrats. When the Plutocrats write the history, you are told that “laissez faire” was a product of an 18th century constitution. A complete historical fabrication. The reality is that politically speaking, “laissez faire” was a late 19th century reform movement sparked by the defection of the Northeastern Republican Mugwumps to give rise to a new breed of Democrat, the Bourbon Democrats, as a counter to the corruption of post-civil war political economy. Yes, Grover Cleveland was a Bourbon Democrat, but so were Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. “Corporate Liberalism,” the “New Deal State,” the things that sparked a 20th century “enlightenment liberal restoration movement” in America, were themselves a final product of an earlier “laissez faire” political reform movement.

When the Plutocrats write the history, we are told that the conflict between the New Deal State and the “Lochner courts” was a battle between the dawn of a new era vs the twilight of an old, long era. No it wasn’t. Lochner was a product of “laissez faire” political reform, and the battle than between Lochner and Corporate Liberal political class, which derived from the same political “reform movement,” is every bit similar to the same conflict today we see today between “libertarian activist judges” and the conservative political class that appointed them(as a result of libertarian-conservative fusionism).

The “New Deal,” rather than sparking “enlightenment liberal restoration movement,” probably should have served instead as warning against expropriated “libertarian” political reform. It doesn’t end well.

The “enlightenment liberal restoration movement” would become associated with “conservatism.” Conservatism, in this context, was more or less an invented term. What did a term historically associated with European caste society have to do with “enlightenment liberalism”? Nothing. It was “rebranding propaganda effort,” in no small part due to William F. Buckley and National Review, that (1) invented a false, revisionist religious history to “explain the distinction between State and Civil Society” and (2) tied the modern retention of this distinction to the necessity of anti-communism.

Buckley’s invented conservatism, in pretending to honor and restore enlightenment liberalism, only served to once again demonstrate the futility of politics and enlightenment liberalism. Buckley essentially destroyed the distinction between State and market civil society because market civil society now inherently relied on the State for its protection. The threat of communism justified whatever encroachment of the State on market civil society because the latter could not survive without the State.

The Vietnam War and the military draft is what actually launched the 2nd self-identified movement in the United States. This would lead Murray Rothbard to reach back into history and rediscover “liberal anarchism.” For Rothbard, however, it was Austrian Economics, not classical economics that underlined market civil society. So it was Capitalist. But another catastrophic event would set the stage for libertarian divergence. This was the collapse of Bretton Woods. This would set in motion the transformation of Political Economy from Neoclassical Keynes to Neoclassical Chicago.

Monopoly Enforcement of Moral Ends is the Foundation of Statism

Allow me to address a typical canard given sympathetic treatment by Arnold Kling. Namely, the conservative clap trap that utopianism is the “ideological and doctrinal foundation” for statism. This is a popular nonsense perpetuated by knucklehead conservative shock jocks who enrich themselves by selling “conservatism” as an antidote to secular, godless “liberalism” supposedly predicated on perfecting human nature. It’s bullshit.

The foundation of modern statism, in the historical liberal context, is monopoly enforcement of moral ends. This is why even the hypothetical “Lockean State” inevitably becomes totalitarian. In the enlightenment context, liberalism is an ends of property with liberty as means. But it is entirely rational to bypass “the means of liberty” to secure property as ends. This is the classic liberal flaw. The libertarian condition of class conflict is when you have the protective state(the constitutional agency) protecting property acquired via political means.

Statism, in the liberal political philosophic context, means the State becomes the total source of government. Unfortunately, it is rational for this to occur. It has nothing to do with “utopianism.” Conservatism, which is utterly predicated on the need to enforce moral ends, is nothing more than a transcendent legitimization of such political means.

Frankly, I find little practical philosophic difference between conservatism and progressivism. Both view the human impulse as a thing requiring Statist correction. They only differ, in the modern context, in terms of communitarian recognition. This is the basis of the American cultural war.

Libertarianism is often portrayed as “ideological” and “utopian.” I would readily concede that the libertarian critique of the State is ideological. This is the “class critique.” But the ideological critique is hardly utopian. Indeed, I can root it entirely in a positivist model of political competition. Libertarianism, however, as an alternative social theory, is not ideological. Socially, I only define a libertarian constraint, the “lockean proviso,” on a social order. This does mean that I place some degree of faith in the human impulse, or more formally, civil society. You could call this “utopian,” but I would respond that it’s probably a necessary hope conditioned by a current reality that demonstrates that people like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin get rich preaching a moral legitimacy of a total state–as means to prevent a total state.

So my social theory may be utopian, but, rest assured, it it not the foundation of the totalitarian state. That the totalitarian state is not predicated on a utopian foundation is the reason for my pessimism. To paraphrase a Robert Frost poem, for destruction, any ole ideological framework that legitimizes it is “also great, and will suffice.”

Cathy Young: Smells Like a Neocon

A simple response to Reason Contributor Cathy Young’s piece arguing the necessity of true libertarians to support American interventionism would be to link to this article published the same day that details the inevitable fruits of this interventionism applied here at home. The conclusion is obvious: if you support American interventionism abroad then you support the same here at home. To think or suggest otherwise is either disingenuous or inexcusably naive.

The byline to Young’s article, “Ron Paul’s foreign policy should worry true libertarians,” is yet another exhibit of the worthlessness of “libertarianism” as a political value. But I will nonetheless assuage the apparent fears of our “true libertarians” of every stripe: don’t worry, Paul’s foreign policy ain’t happening. But this obvious fact doesn’t stop Young from the need to reiterate the boiler plate talking points lifted directly from the likes of The Weekly Standard and The New Republic. Indeed, she manages to reproduce the entire checklist.

A global force for good…Check
Defeated Nazi Germany…Check
Defeated the Soviet Union…Check
Plenty of Enemies remain…Check
Prevent Genocide…Check
Humanitarian Intervention…Check
Prevent Future Holocausts…Check
Retreat would create a power vacuum filled by Russia or China…Check
American Global Military power is necessary for free trade…Check
Counter Iranian Nuclear Threat…Check
Our enemies only respect force; retreat would invite contempt…Check

The only differentiation between Young and the Neocon rhetoric is a brief, token consideration of the dangers of a militaristic state. But I would suggest that if Young doesn’t consider the US to yet satisfy the conditions of a militaristic state, then her criteria would objectively have to exclude any state in the history of the world from satisfying them as well. When she writes “prudence in choosing a course of action is one thing; a principled commitment to inaction is another,” it is clear that her criteria ultimately rests on what end of the gun you happen to be at.

Libertarian naivety is a frequent accusation. But my definition of the “true libertarianism,” as a political critique, is a vigilant assault against naivety and self-interest masquerading as moral necessity. Any libertarian skilled in this art should be able to deconstruct Young’s argument as a matter of course. We would start with
(1) what part of liberal social contract theory normative legitimizes agents to contract consensual self-government as means to secure property rights for foreign agents in foreign lands who are outside the sphere of consent?
(2) liberty is means not ends. To promote it as ends is to actually conflate it with justice. To use the argument of promoting liberty/freedom really means enforcing justice. (1) and (2) obviously is not liberalism. It is exactly what is sounds like: a band of invaders contracted to enforce “justice.” In the abstract, Justice is a simply a moral end. The particulars of any given moral end may be deeply offensive. The need of an invader to enforce the moral end likely indicates the moral end lacks consent.
(3) libertarianism, as a political critique, addresses the liberal violations of (1) and (2). Classically, it roots this failure in a political economy of a military/security industrial complex that arises from a monopoly provision of security
(4) Young, in a complete 180 from the classic libertarianism position, employs a “libertarian” rationale for security to legitimize the liberal violations. Young may or may not be aware that she is in fact legitimizing fundamental liberal violations.
(5) Contextual historical and intelligence analysis is employed to critically examine “invader justice” claims. For example, the rationale for invader justice because “Egypt’s authorities seek to prosecute staffers of American nongovernment organizations for financing pro-democracy efforts in their country” omits the fact that the current Egyptian military government is deeply aligned/connected to the US military.

An empirical test of the “true libertarian” position vis a vis fundamental liberal violations can be had by observing the invader patterns into our own civil society. Do we see a military industrial complex dominance of civil society and a political economy of security turned against us? If the greatest security threat is now internal, then the results of the empirical test are clear. Cathy Young’s moral end of liberty is the Orwellian boot on our own necks.

The Irrationality of Politics

I apply a Public Choice methodology to model politics. Public Choice provides a positive, microeconomic model for the political process of redistribution. The essential dynamic of the model can be reduced to a government market for purchasing legal recognition as means to secure economic rents. In the literature this is referred to as “rent-seeking.” The academic literature studies the effects and consequences of “rent-seeking” on the the liberal democratic model.

It is, however, a mistake to view the Public Choice model as “libertarian.” It is a methodological approach. Typically, in the literature, it is one particularly concerned with reconciling rent seeking with the liberal rule of law. The public choice methodological route to the libertarian position is to demonstrate that the rent seeking becomes the source of the decision-making rules. By decision-making rules, we mean super-majoritarian “constitutional constraints.” This result essentially means that the rent-seeking becomes the source of the so-called “social contract.” In terms of Buchanan and Tullock, we would call this condition the union of the protective and redistributive state. Both Buchanan and Tullock, as liberals, would view this equilibrium condition as anamolous. However, the libertarian views this equilibrium condition as likely and expected.

This union of the protective and redistributive state leads us back to classical libertarian class analysis born from the more radical French liberal tradition. The primary insight from this tradition is law not as an instrument of justice, but of plunder. Bastiat clearly wrote, in such as essays as “The Law,” what we should expect in this equilibrium condition of law as plunder. We should expect a moral framework to legitimize it. We should expect that anyone who dares to doubt the morality of these institutions to be deemed a subversive or a dangerous utopian. Today, we can expect the label “racist” to defintely be thrown in. If you dare to engage in public discourse, you will find youself up against an organized machinery fully vested in the political economy of the status quo. If there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly, it must not be mentioned. Still further, as Bastait wrote, morality and political economy must be taught from the point of view of such laws. Finally, a particularly tragic side effect of this plunder equilibrium condition is exaggerated importance given to political passions and conflicts, and to politics in general.

Our positive(as opposed to normative) model provides us with a critical framework to examine our modern context. “American Exceptionalism” is a moral framework for legal plunder. The exaggeration of political conflict can become no more absurd than Newt Gingrich’s recent proclamation concerning the presidential election: “this capaign will come down to american exceptionalism against saul alinsky radicalism.” The absurdity lies in the positive fact that anyone who actually challenges the moral framework of american exceptionalism is effectively disqualified from becoming a “viable candidate.” The more effective the exclusion, the more exaggerated the political dialogue becomes, with opponents casting each other as extremist threats to the “consented” moral framework. Of course, neither political candidate denies the moral framework nor is either candidate in any way a challenge to the status quo. Both are heavily financed by the same institutional sectors. Indeed, we can almost predict an inverse mathematical relationship between the policy differences of the candidates, represented by quantity Δp, and the likelihood of the political dialogue being cast in the exaggerated, doublethink vocabulary of the cultural war.

The positive model of the microeconomic foundations of politics describes a rational process. Rent-seeking is rational. The positive model for irrationality relates directly to the rationality of democratic action–for example, voting–challenging the systematic bias of an institutionalized moral framework of something like American Exceptionalism. The traditional Public Choice model of rational ignorance pits the public goods problem of an informed general voter against self-interested politicians, bureaucrats, and rent-seeking minority interests. But this traditional model is rooted in an assumption of an equilibrium condition that does not violate liberal constraints. If, however, our equilibrium condition is the “anamolous one,” that is, the union of the protective and redistributive state, then our rationality problem regarding democratic action now must contend with the problem of institutionalized systemic bias.

Rationality and Bias

The failure of rent-seeking to conform to the expectations of the rational model(Tullock) led Bryan Caplan, for example, to formulate an alternative microeconomic rent-seeking model, “rational irrationality,” that roots a systemic bias in voters. This model treats voting as a type of pyschological divergence, a a rare chance to indulge in a private cost-free fantasy game, one that is unencumbered by the usual rigors of real life that do impose costs on bad decisons. Voters, in a word, are delusional. They can afford to be delusional because they do not have to bear the full costs of bad voting decisions. Caplan’s model is a replacement for the “Rational Ignorance” voter model of Public Choice.

Caplan’s criticizes “Rational Ignorance” for confusing ignorance with bias. However, Caplan’s methodological flaw is to equate bias with irrationality. The paradoxes of rent-seeking have been a topic of concern for Public Choice theorists for some time. Gordon Tullock’s edited compilation, “Efficient Rent-Seeking: Chronicle of an Intellectual Quagmire,” formalizes the problem quite nicely. The standard to the Tullock Rent-Seeking game is one with dissipation of monopoly rents and high social costs. In others words, the redistribution transfers nothing and wastes real resources. But this solution turns out only to be a special case. In general, competition for rent where the the probability of capture/winning the rent is a function of agent/player investment exhibits no general equilibrium pattern. That is to say, the general space of equilibriums do not necessarily have solutions in the Nash Equilibrium sense, meaning that agents/players do not know the equilibrium strategies of the other players.

The paradox of rent-seeking arises in the rational model without any consideration of bias. The rational model extends to the general class of games characterized by competitive entry into a profit-making situation. The question is whether in such games we should expect rents to be under dissipated, fully dissipated, or over dissipated. I turns out the solution set for this type of game consists of all 3 equilibrium types. In this sense, the rational model has no real equilibrium. This outcome could be thought to pose a serious existential quandry for capitalism/markets since there is no real expectation of regularity under the rational model. That is to say, the rational model implies a market economy to be a potentially chaotic thing. That the Tullock paradox is not treated as an existential threat to the market economy is because empirical observation demonstrates that market economies by and large behave as expected–full dissipation of rents–when we have competitive entry and declining marginal returns on agent investments. But there is no logical reason to restrict our equilibrium to this standard solution.

One possible explanation for our empirical observation of market regularity is that humans have a bias toward standard market behavior(historically, “rationality” then became conflated with the bias). This hypothesis would obviously fundamentally undermine Caplan’s “rational irrationality” argument. Of course, observation of the behavior is not necessarily a scientific demonstration of the bias(this is the mistake Caplan makes in trying to extend observations in political rent seeking to a general principle of bias). However, given that the rational model does not actually have any logical reason why we should expect the standard solution, if we propose that humans are biased against the standard solution, then we shouldn’t expect the standard solution to appear in any context. Put differently, market regularity may not be scientific proof of human bias toward market thinking, but it’s a convincing empirical contradiction of the argument of human bias against market thinking. The observable divergences of political rent seeking from the standard solution are not proof of human bias against market thinking. If this were the case, we should also see the same bias introducing the same divergences in the generalized rent-seeking game that extends beyond politics. In short, we should never(or rarely) see full dissipation of rents in any competitive context. Markets are useful social tools not because they are rational, bur rather because they are “regular.” In logical terms, we would say rationality is a necessary but not a sufficiency condition.

Political Failure and Bias

The Public Choice Rational Ignorance voter model only holds in the special case of political competition resulting in the dissipation of monopoly rents. If we have a case of under dissipated rents or over dissipated rents, we shouldn’t expect Rational Ignorance to be explanatory. The mistake Caplan makes is to interpret this failure of Rational Ignorance to indicate irrational anti-market bias for human agents. However, we should expect this bias, if it were to be the case, to similarly influence all games that have competitive entry for profit-seekers, so that disspation of rents followed the same pattern as political competition. This assumption is reasonable because the rational model has no real equilibrium regarding rent dissipation.

The actual observed equilibrium in US political competition is one of severely under dissipated rents. The total observed rent-seeking expenditures are orders of magnitude smaller than what they should be relative to outlays. This divergence has become particularly pronounced since 9-11(the acceleration of the Security State) and the subsequent financial bailouts. The challenge the likes of Caplan would throw out is how to square my position regarding human bias with the massive under dissipated rents in political competition. Caplan would argue that the same human bias that makes markets perform more or less regularly should be able to effectively reform the divergent behavior of rent dissipation in political competition.

Caplan’s argument would have merit if not for the fact that the difficulty of reform is explained by the systemic, institutional bias that evolves around maintaining the current equilibrium. As predicted by Bastiat, this is the encompassing political economy of a moral framework that arises to legitimize plunder. The need for a political economy of moral legitimization is actually particularly telling about the nature of human bias. It arises to thwart reform.

Caplan’s probable appeal to an absence of reform in the light of massive under dissipated rents is not an argument for his version of bias. On the contrary, our current political context demonstrates how foolish the idea of reform through political channels is. Everyone knows that we have a corrupt political economy, and there are plenty of competing theories/ideas floating around on how to reform it. But the political actors are so tied into the political economy of moral legitimization that today our most trusted domestic news source is the comedy channel and Jon Stewart.

Paleo-Libertarianism: The God that Failed

Hans-Herman Hoppe defines praxeology as an “a priori science of human action” akin to a branch of applied logic. Praxeology rejects the methodology of the modern scientific method applied to economics. This doesn’t mean adherents of the praxeological method reject the natural sciences. It simply means they reject the methods of natural science applied to economics, and/or that the methods associated with natural sciences have any relevance to economic theory.

Praxeology derives its modern roots from the original socialist calculation debate wherein both Mises and Hayek, representing the 2nd generation Austrian school, concluded that the argument against the social rational agency implications of Neoclassical static welfare equilibrium required a heterodoxical methodology. Mises went the praxeological route and Hayek the evolutionary/biological route. Today, the evolutionary/biological methodology is in quite in vogue while the praxeological route is disparagingly associated with Ayn Rand(erroneously, however). Of course, the original heterodoxical complaint against neoclassical welfare equilibrium, that it in no way represented a dynamical theory, turned out to be quite correct. Any dynamics of Macroeconomic equilibrium, void of microeconomic foundations, are generally not taken too seriously any more(sans the partisan political realm). And no one credibly would suggest these days that microeconomics follow a methodology of Hamiltonian mechanics. However, it is erroneous to think that elements of natural science do not have any relevance to economic theory. In particular, complexity theory, that includes such concepts as network effects, lock-in and path dependency, have a great deal of relevance to economics. Indeed, it is the concept of path dependency that pans the validity of praxeology.

A demonstration of this is to consider Hoppe’s thesis from “Democracy: the God that Failed.” Hoppe’s political theory argues that liberalism itself was a mistake. In a sense, Hoppe echoes Hobbes’ original argument made in Leviathan. However, Hoppe employs an “Austrian methodology,” one that relies heavily on “Time Preference” to propose a modern argument for the preference of monarchy over democracy. The argument here is that monarchy would be governed by a more future-oriented, low-time discounting whereas democracy is driven more by present-oriented discounting. This creates a major difference in the incentive structure of the governing systems, particularly with respect to the rate of “plunder.” Since hereditary monarchy would have a vested interest in the long-term preservation of rule(future-oriented outlook), there would be more constraints on bad policies compared to liberal democracy’s present-oriented discounting incentive, which offers little or no constraints.

Hoppe’s argument is in the form of an ex-ante efficieny claim regarding the “path” of Monarchy. In the literature, this type of path dependency is referred to as a second-degree type. This simply means that subsequent events have revealed an earlier action to be inferior to a given alternative. This is the result of imperfect information: i.e., no one knew (or it was a disputed point) at the time that monarchy, in this case, was the superior path over democracy. However, I would suggest that ex-ante efficieny claim is based an unjustified extrapolation over the current path. Namely, Hoppe is implictly making a ceteris paribus assumption regarding the recognition of the legitimacy of hereditary rule. If this legitimacy, in the age of enlightenment, is challenged or questioned, then even our future-oriented, benevolent monarch has to waste considerable resources to enforce/maintain recognition of legitimacy. Eventually, the organs of the monarchy would have to extend into every sphere of civil society, particularly in education, to maintain recognition. This enforcement of the moral framework is what leads to a political economy of plunder, by which we really mean a “security state.” And the monarch eventually becomes a figure-head to the real power, which would be the organs of this security state. Thus, the “private property of the realm” eventually becomes collective property. Observers at the end of that timeline then argue that Hobbes’ Leviathan was the “God that failed.” And there is great regret that liberal democracy wasn’t the path taken.

Path dependency often make moral arguments irrelevant. An excellent example germane to our current context is IP/Copyright enforcement. The moral arguments pro or con are irrelevant. The simple fact is that enforcement of the traditional regime of IP/Copyright in the digital world will result in a dystopian police state. Our digital world provides an efficient communication transmission model for low-entropy human language. A market process applied to this digitial world creates a “public goods” condition of sorts for human ideas in the sense that every thought and idea of humans that has been digitized–converted to a digital object– can be stored and transmitted at a cost that approaches a practical zero. Things like “disk storage” or “bandwidth” themselves are not “post-scarce goods,” but the digitial goods they store and transmit essentially approach non-excludability and non-rivalry. Any moral claim that you and I must suffer a police state to enforce another’s property rights is simply a violation of the libertarian principle(lockean proviso).

Of course, the internet, which is very much a product of path dependence, is not a moral argument or proof against ideas cast in terms of property rights. If these ideas can be enforced as property rights without making anyone worse off relative to no regime, then there is no libertarian argument against them. But the efficiency of the internet makes this prospect a dubious one in most instances. But we should keep in mind the evolutionary history of the internet. It is often claimed that the government “invented the internet.” This is a half-truth, but it is undeniable that the the US Military’s adoption of the tcp/ip protocol in the 1980s essentially enforced/solved a coordination problem that drove out competing protocols. In a global free market, where competing players are roughly equal, would a universal standard emerge? Perhaps, but it probably wouldn’t have emerged so soon or at least certainly wouldn’t have emerged without resolving a number of problems that remain unresolved today. The efficiency of a universal standard resulting from a resolution of a coordination problem often is given as evidence of the need of government collective action. Perhaps, but it is still too soon to make an ex-ante efficiency claim. This is because there is a plausible devil’s advocate argument that the internet is particularly suited for a political economy of total surveillance. In any event, any claim that the solutions to these types of problems can be deduced from “a priori science of human action” is not plausible.

We should in mind the gem of Misean praxeology, namely the marginal treatment of money, relies on a path dependency argument at its core. This is because while an “a priori” treatment of money can work out a theory of money as a commodity(subject to the ordinary rules of marginal utility and subjectivism), it can’t actually inform us what this commodity actually should be. For this, an appeal to path dependency is made regarding “gold.” The Misean Regression Theorem is a path dependency claim regarding gold. Interestingly, many Miseans treat this path as an eternal one(thus turning it into a normative claim), which, of course, is absurd.

Path dependency also wreaks havoc on Hoppe’s social theory. Hoppe extends his “Time Preference” principle to model class conflict and civil society itself. A “natural aristocracy” arises out of time preference differentials between the elite/intelligent and poor/stupid. Present-oriented discounting is at the foundation of “decivilization” of civil society. Hoppe, who sees future-oriented time preference as a necessary condition for a libertarian order, argues the need for social conservatism and religion as the foundation for civil society. In particular Hoppe asserts the need for a traditional Christian family-based communitarian order. Only from this can the “natural libertarian order” emerge.

However, historian Thaddeus Russell’s “A Renegade History of the United States” indirectly demolishes Hoppe. Russell’s revisionist historical research demonstrates that it is often the “present-oriented” “cultural dregs” who are responsible for “freedoms and liberties” we take for granted today. In one sense, this shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the libertarian motto is Carpe Libertatem. Seize liberty is not an expression about future-oriented discounting. It is an expression regarding the here and now. We can formalize these ideas by noting that future-oriented discounting can also represent a type of social “lock-in” that is neither particularly desirable nor efficient. To overcome this type of lock-in often may require a population of present-oriented discounters. What we end up with then is a social theory of culture that is rich and thick as opposed to one that is uniform and thin. Of course, the latter is not really a theory of culture. Instead, is an expression of moral preferences originating from one person’s mind.

The Rationality of Political Recognition

The South Carolina fundamentalist Christian debate audience booing Ron Paul’s suggestion of American Foreign policy following the Christian Golden Rule was instructive of the rationality argument vis a vis the support of Ron Paul. The argument for me boiled down the problem of GOP agency. This reduces ultimately to the worth of seeking libertarian recognition from fundamentalist Christianity. The boos from the Christian audience crystallized the worthlessness of this objective. They were either booing their own moral foundation or booing the suggestion that the State’s actions should not be exempt from the moral constraint. Of course, in most other contexts, any perceived failure to enforce the Christian moral foundation is viewed as a “War on Christianity.” This is classic Doublethink. Not only is there is no value in seeking recognition from Doublethink, any such recognition that is forthcoming is not only a hindrance but injurious to the cause.

Does this mean that Paul’s participation in the debates is worthless? Nope, not at all. Indeed, there is potentially great value that can be derived from his participation, particularly with respect to his critique of the unitary executive. However, the political ends of recognition–it appears the Paul campaign is now openly advocating for Rand Paul to be a vice-presidential candidate on the GOP ticket while it also works behind the scenes to secure prime time GOP convention recognition–hold no value. Recognition may be the sine qua non of communitarian political theory, and recognition may be an important element of human social theory, but in liberal political theory, recognition without justice has serious shortcomings. Indeed it is exactly these shortcomings that inform us exactly why the State is not the community.

Conclusion

One particular motivation for this essay was to outline a liberal political model that can rationally explain the vastly different actions taken by, say, a liberal state like Iceland in response to the International Banking Bailouts versus those of other liberal states, i.e., the United States. In Iceland, you had the rapid adoption of the world’s most liberal transparency laws and an embrace of document-sourced journalism such as Wikileaks. In the United States, we have seen the opposite reaction. Document-sourced journalism is treated by the State almost as a form of terrorism. Accused sources for leaks, in some instances, are tortured.

Often, states like Iceland(and Sweden, Switzerland, etc) are presented as counterfactual to a radical libertarian class analysis. Indeed, I can cite the case of Iceland as a counter-factual to Caplan’s case that apparent lack of corrective political reform with regards to monopoly rents implies the need for an alternative microeconomic model.

Yet this “paradox” is not a paradox if we note that the rational model of economic rent seeking has no real equilibrium regarding dissipation of such rents under competitive entry. Divergences from the standard solution of full dissipation of rents is an indication of bias but not necessarily of irrationality. Of course, convergence to the standard solution is just as much likely an indication of bias as well and not necessarily of rationality. Once we hypothesize that an equilibrium explanation most likely is a function of a “bias model,” we can arrive at an explanatory model relatively void of paradoxes.

For example, “Rational Ignorance” holds in the case of competitive dissipation of rents. In such a case, it is rational not to vote or even to waste any resources/time to become familar with the issues. The only case for “political awareness” is in the instance of a given rent-seeking threatening the boundary constraints of the decision-making rules of the liberal State. So it is rational not to vote or engage with political parties, but it may perhaps be rational to contribute to non-partisan watchdog intermediary groups, such as the ACLU or EFF. In the case of egregious violations, you then have a “reform corrective action.” Of course, the corrective action itself represents a bias for enforcing an equilibrium of rent dissipation.

However, in the context of under dissipated rents, the “Rational Ignorance” voter model certainly would not hold. There could be a case for concerted political action as means to correct this outcome but this corrective political action effort runs smack up against a systemic bias of a political economy(legitimized by a moral framework) that thwarts any such reform action. In this context, is irrational to rely on any standard organs of political action. The only effective means are “Direct Action.”

So, to unite the classical libertarian class analysis with the modern public choice model, we formalize a bias model with respect to the emergence of moral frameworks of political economy and incorporate this into the Tullock Rent-seeking game. This is a far superior microeconomic model to “explain” the Tullock paradox than, say, Caplan’s alternative. Caplan’s model can’t explain dissipation of rents in any context, including the empirical observation of the (non-political) rent dissipation in terms of regularity, the ability of corrective reform in some political contexts(e.g., Iceland) and the ubiquitous emergence of black markets in the case of under dissipated rents. Caplan’s model really reduces to a Econ professor’s need to grade on curve for Econ 101 as an explanation for political economy.

A second motivation was to reinforce that the “radicals” who attach great importance to recognition of Ron Paul in terms of the cause of liberty are hardly being rational. Recognition of libertarianism within the GOP is largely a dead-end. Recognition can hardly overcome the problem of the “Bastiat Bias Model.” Indeed, Christian conservatism, which is ultimately what we are talking about in terms of GOP recognition, is at the heart of the legitimizing moral framework of American Exceptionalism. Ron Paul doesn’t demonstrate the solution; he demonstrates the problem…