Political Science

Political science is not moralizing. It is not liturgical recitation from sunday school scripture. Nor is it mere statistical interpolation of voting patterns to predict elections. Predicting elections may be a type of science but there may be a more fundamental science to be had if the outcome repeatedly proves irrelevant to the policies enacted or enforced.

Political science, like all sciences, applies a specific methodology(the scientific method) to explain and predict rational patterns within a specific domain of study. In this case, the specific domain of study is the organization and exercise of political power. There may be some that try to divine a type of justice that animates such an organization of power, but such musings preponderate on the side of prescription(“the ought”) and not description(“the is”). Hence, they are the stuff of political church, not science.

In a previous post,The FBI pwns you, I gave an assessment of an observed phenomenon of state security organs defeating network layer obfuscation. The official explanation claimed only innocuous investigative exploitation of “criminal stupidity.” I, however, offered a competing explanation: the FBI was resorting to application layer exploits to thwart network(IP layer) anonymity. I then advanced a prediction: the FBI and other organs of state security are seeking to bundle application layer exploits under an extended legalized wiretapping regime.

Recently, from Boing Boing FBI secretly seeking legal power to hack any computer, anywhere:

But under the proposed amendment, a judge can issue a warrant that would allow the FBI to hack into any computer, no matter where it is located. The change is designed specifically to help federal investigators carry out surveillance on computers that have been “anonymized” – that is, their location has been hidden using tools such as Tor.

The amendment inserts a clause that would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain “remote access” to computers “located within or outside that district” (emphasis added) in cases in which the “district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means”. The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.

Were the amendment to be granted by the regulatory committee, the FBI would have the green light to unleash its capabilities – known as “network investigative techniques” – on computers across America and beyond. The techniques involve clandestinely installing malicious software, or malware, onto a computer that in turn allows federal agents effectively to control the machine, downloading all its digital contents, switching its camera or microphone on or off, and even taking over other computers in its network

Note, I also offered a corollary to the prediction: the extended wiretapping regime would effectively allow unfalsifiable data laundering from the NSA’s three-hop graphical dragnet. If the “wiretap” failed, the likes of the FBI could make a request up the “corporate intelligence ladder” to the NSA for the mother of all wiretaps: the 3-hop graphical dragnet. The information gleaned from that data could be “reversed-engineered” to fall within the “legal wiretap.” Once the network devices are seized, it is trivial to ex post facto plant a “vulnerability profile” that would “launder” the evidence collection. From a forensics standpoint, it would be difficult to falsify such after-the-fact subterfuge. The only circumvention of this totalitarian “law enforcement technique” would be to have redundant snapshots of the devices in question outside the jurisdiction of any one intervening authority. If the FBI could seize the device but couldn’t get all the redundant snapshots, then a comparative forensic analysis could take place that would expose the subterfuge.

Now, in these two little posts of mine we have seen an actual example of political science. An observed phenomenon: an explanation of the phenomenon, a prediction, a confirmation of the prediction, a prediction corollary that demonstrates the importance of jurisdictional differentiation to stymie the totalitarian pattern of exercised political power.

Of course, for my statement to be a scientific statement, the statement itself has to be subject to falsification. But who is going to falsify it? The political scientists? Let me know when you actually find one…1

1 Death of the Liberal Paradigm

The Rule of Law

Of course, anyone with a modicum of computer science/IT skill knew the the FBI hacked the Silk Road Box at the application layer to obtain its IP layer address. And anyone with a modicum of political science knowledge would have easily been able to predict that these methods–which are in stark violation of the heuristic operability of the internet–would be gerrymandered into permissible legal status. The science of the rule of law is its rational pattern…

Former East German Stasi Now More Liberal Than The Chicago School?

“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true.”

Former Lieutenant Colonel in The East German Stasi, referring to the NSA Spying Apparatus

From a simple, straightforward, technical legal standpoint, there’s absolutely no question that Snowden violated the law.

Why I think he deserves punishment? …Well, the fact is, Snowden’s just an ordinary guy with absolutely no expertise in public policy, in the law, in national security. He’s a techie. He made the decision on his own, without any authorization, without any approval by the American people, to reveal classified information about which he had absolutely no expertise in terms of the danger to the nation, the value of the information to national security.

Geoffrey Stone, Chicago Law School

McClatchy recently published an interesting interview with Wolfgang Schmidt, a former East German Stasi officer, where Schmidt, in between waxing a certain admiration for current NSA surveillance capability, issued an obvious warning:

“It is the height of naiveté to think that once collected this information won’t be used. This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

To me, this qualifies our former east german officer as more liberal, or least more cognizant of a liberal methodology, than our esteemed scholars of official classical liberal orthodoxy represented by the Chicago School here in the United States. To wit, this recent drivel penned by Richard Epstein. Recall the likes of Peter Boettke once proclaimed Richard Epstein the sharpest libertarian thinker alive. At the time, I responded with this, which more or less summarized a case why if that were so, then we were accordingly fucked. Now Epstein himself labors to conclusively demonstrate the point.

Now to Geoffrey Stone. Stone uttered the above prefatory quote in a debate with Chris Hedges on Democracy Now. Stone’s position more or less is that Snowden’s actions were prima facie criminal and Snowden lacked sufficient qualification to determine if his actions would actually serve the public interest. This, of course, is an attack on both Snowden’s actions and motives. The easy rejoinder to Stone need not appeal to any higher moral principle but simply unravel the loosely tied knot of Stone’s own sheer hypocrisy. The prima facie criminality argument fails the “second-blush” inspection test because there is a de facto “prescriptive custom” in place that every day excuses leaking of classified information if such leakage is deemed to be in the “national interest.” Since Stone has never publicly called for a criminal crackdown on this prescriptive custom, a custom that more or less overrides the de jure letter of the written code, he, at the very least, implicitly accepts it. So, Stone’s prima facie criminality argument is a dishonest one.

The second part of Stone’s case is really the crux of his argument: Snowden is not qualified to determine if his actions served the public interest, hence he should be punished. However, I would contend that the construction of the argument begs an illiberal premise that renders any conclusion irrelevant to the liberal mind. I simply reject the premise that Stone or his like-minded colleagues are the arbiters of “public interest.” To accept that premise would be to concede a more generalized argument that the you and I are not qualified to know what our own interests are. This putrid argument from authority is particularly laughable in this particular case given that Stone is a technological ignoramus who–on this matter– carries all the authority of a certified clown(apologies to Penn Jillette).

Frankly, the question of “national interest” is an impossible one to answer. Like “social justice,” it’s a fake abstraction. What is answerable, however, is what is not in the public interest. In an earlier interview, Stone asserted we had to accept “total surveillance” to avoid the likelihood of a worse alternative of permanent martial law. I would counter that a system of governance that offered a choice between total surveillance and martial law is one that serves only the interests of the few and not worth protecting.

Stone and Epstein are professionally linked as collaborative editors of this early 1990s volume, The Bill of Rights in the Modern State. A contemporaneous edition of that volume would now arbitrate a consensus of “be happy with what you’re granted, it could get–indeed it is likely to get–much worse.” A consensus predicated on argument from secret authority, reassurances of procedural technicalities as sufficient protections and dismissal of dissent on the grounds of loony endangerment to national security. Call this what you may, but it ain’t liberalism.

Frankly, I’m not surprised by the descent of these two pillars of “the Chicago School” into outright authoritarianism, or squishy totalitarianism, if you prefer. For some time it has been evident that Milton Friedman’s aphorism of Capitalism to Freedom was not only flawed but fatally severed. What remains standing is political economy as an instrument of social control. If Jeremy Bentham is credited as the first designer of the panopticon, Richard Epstein and the Chicago School are only fulfilling the tradition that they inherit from.

Classical Libertarian vs Classical Liberal

From “The Law,” Frederic Bastiat on the origins of the “welfare state.”

Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter—by peaceful or revolutionary means—into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.

Woe to the nation when this latter purpose prevails among the mass victims of lawful plunder when they, in turn, seize the power to make laws!

Until that happens, the few practice lawful plunder upon the many, a common practice where the right to participate in the making of law is limited to a few persons. But then, participation in the making of law becomes universal. And then, men seek to balance their conflicting interests by universal plunder. Instead of rooting out the injustices found in society, they make these injustices general. As soon as the plundered classes gain political power, they establish a system of reprisals against other classes. They do not abolish legal plunder. (This objective would demand more enlightenment than they possess.) Instead, they emulate their evil predecessors by participating in this legal plunder, even though it is against their own interests.
It is as if it were necessary, before a reign of justice appears, for everyone to suffer a cruel retribution—some for their evilness, and some for their lack of understanding.

It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.

What are the consequences of such a perversion? It would require volumes to describe them all. Thus we must content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.

In the first place, it erases from everyone’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice.

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them. The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.

If you suggest a doubt as to the morality of these institutions, it is boldly said that “You are a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theorist, a subversive; you would shatter the foundation upon which society rests.”

If you lecture upon morality or upon political science, there will be found official organizations petitioning the government in this vein of thought: “That science no longer be taught exclusively from the point of view of free trade (of liberty, of property, and of justice) as has been the case until now, but also, in the future, science is to be especially taught from the viewpoint of the facts and laws that regulate French industry (facts and laws which are contrary to liberty, to property, and to justice). That, in government-endowed teaching positions, the professor rigorously refrain from endangering in the slightest degree the respect due to the laws now in force.”

Thus, if there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or robbery, in any form whatever, it must not even be mentioned. For how can it be mentioned without damaging the respect which it inspires? Still further, morality and political economy must be taught from the point of view of this law; from the supposition that it must be a just law merely because it is a law.

Another effect of this tragic perversion of the law is that it gives an exaggerated importance to political passions and conflicts, and to politics in general.

I could prove this assertion in a thousand ways. But, by way of illustration, I shall limit myself to a subject that has lately occupied the minds of everyone: universal suffrage.

The followers of Rousseau’s school of thought—who consider themselves far advanced, but whom I consider twenty centuries behind the times—will not agree with me on this. But universal suffrage—using the word in its strictest sense—is not one of those sacred dogmas which it is a crime to examine or doubt. In fact, serious objections may be made to universal suffrage.

In the first place, the word universal conceals a gross fallacy. For example, there are 36 million people in France. Thus, to make the right of suffrage universal, there should be 36 million voters. But the most extended system permits only 9 million people to vote. Three persons out of four are excluded. And more than this, they are excluded by the fourth. This fourth person advances the principle of incapacity as his reason for excluding the others.

Universal suffrage means, then, universal suffrage for those who are capable. But there remains this question of fact: Who is capable? Are minors, females, insane persons, and persons who have committed certain major crimes the only ones to be determined incapable?

A closer examination of the subject shows us the motive which causes the right of suffrage to be based upon the supposition of incapacity. The motive is that the elector or voter does not exercise this right for himself alone, but for everybody.

The most extended elective system and the most restricted elective system are alike in this respect. They differ only in respect to what constitutes incapacity. It is not a difference of principle, but merely a difference of degree.

If, as the republicans of our present-day Greek and Roman schools of thought pretend, the right of suffrage arrives with one’s birth, it would be an injustice for adults to prevent women and children from voting. Why are they prevented? Because they are presumed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a motive for exclusion? Because it is not the voter alone who suffers the consequences of his vote; because each vote touches and affects everyone in the entire community; because the people in the community have a right to demand some safeguards concerning the acts upon which their welfare and existence depend.

I know what might be said in answer to this; what the objections might be. But this is not the place to exhaust a controversy of this nature. I wish merely to observe here that this controversy over universal suffrage (as well as most other political questions) which agitates, excites, and overthrows nations, would lose nearly all of its importance if the law had always been what it ought to be.

In fact, if law were restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties; if law were nothing more than the organized combination of the individual’s right to self defense; if law were the obstacle, the check, the punisher of all oppression and plunder—is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about the extent of the franchise?

Under these circumstances, is it likely that the extent of the right to vote would endanger that supreme good, the public peace? Is it likely that the excluded classes would refuse to peaceably await the coming of their right to vote? Is it likely that those who had the right to vote would jealously defend their privilege?

If the law were confined to its proper functions, everyone’s interest in the law would be the same. Is it not clear that, under these circumstances, those who voted could not inconvenience those who did not vote?

But on the other hand, imagine that this fatal principle has been introduced: Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few—whether farmers, manufacturers, shipowners, artists, or comedians. Under these circumstances, then certainly every class will aspire to grasp the law, and logically so.

The excluded classes will furiously demand their right to vote—and will overthrow society rather than not to obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will then prove to you that they also have an incontestable title to vote. They will say to you:

“We cannot buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax. And a part of the tax that we pay is given by law— in privileges and subsidies—to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the prices of bread, meat, iron, or cloth. Thus, since everyone else uses the law for his own profit, we also would like to use the law for our own profit. We demand from the law the right to relief, which is the poor man’s plunder. To obtain this right, we also should be voters and legislators in order that we may organize Beggary on a grand scale for our own class, as you have organized Protection on a grand scale for your class. Now don’t tell us beggars that you will act for us, and then toss us, as Mr. Mimerel proposes, 600,000 francs to keep us quiet, like throwing us a bone to gnaw. We have other claims. And anyway, we wish to bargain for ourselves as other classes have bargained for themselves!”

And what can you say to answer that argument!

In short, the welfare state, as it it is traditionally thought of today, is a symptom of legal plunder.

Charles Rowley, the “Dean of Public Choice, commenting from his blog on the recent presidential election.

American exceptionalism was driven from the earliest years of colonialism through the first 150 years of the Republic by large white male majorities, many enthused by the Protestant work ethic. From the 1920s on, female white voters, of the same European stock, swelled the ranks of such voters. Not all such voters, of course, were enthused by American exceptionalism. However, save for the FDR and the Lyndon Johnson years, those white voters, supplemented by others, proved sufficient to uphold the exceptionalism ideal.

This is no longer the case. On November 6, 2012, Mitt Romney secured 60 per cent of the aggregate white vote – men and women combined. He secured 73 per cent of the white male vote. In 1980 that would have carried him easily into the White House. In 2012, given poor support from so-called minorities – 5 per cent among blacks and 15 per cent among Hispanics – the Electoral College proved to be out of reach. The white population in the United States is sliding towards minority status, as European immigration relatively declines and as birth rates among the black, Hispanic and Asian communities far exceed those among whites.

As the state itself grows, under such impulses, so welfare dependency expands. The relationship is symbiotic. That has been the hidden and enormously successful objective of progressive politics since FDR took office in 1932. By 2016, with Obamacare by then controlling one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the impulse will be irreversible.

It is no surprise that sub-populations that live significantly off the welfare state vote for candidates and parties that promise to sustain and to extend that welfare state. As food stamps expand from 31 per cent to 43 per cent of the population, as occurred during Obama’s first term, and as the Clinton-Gingrich welfare reforms are rolled back by presidential edicts, as occurred in 2012, so the social market economy digs down ever – deeper roots.

The Democratic Party makes one major error in quietly gloating over this transformation. Social market economics is not the monopoly jurisdiction of any single party. By 2014, the Republican Party will have adjusted to political reality. Mitt Romney was its last shot in support of American exceptionalism. Both parties henceforth will become social democratic in nature. And American exceptionalism will be a historical relic.

In short, the welfare state–in this instance one driven by non-white demographic changes–is the root of legal plunder. That’s how Mr. Rowley answers Bastiat.

My response to the likes of Mr. Rowley is that the “classical liberal” model can perhaps plausibly explain one side of the equation–the rise of welfare subsistence transfer payments. But it fails miserably at explaining other things. For example, I don’t think single black mothers, stoner hippes and hispanic immigration explain a banking oligarchy, a vast, encompassing military-intelligence complex and burgeoning prison complex that makes its coin by imprisoning this said welfare underclass.

The classical libertarian position, however, can explain both things. In this sense it is a science of political economy. Unfortunately, Mr. Rowley’s position is a moral preference masquerading as a science.

Further, I would also refer to the excellent scholarship of Thaddeus Russell to undercut Rowley’s moral preference regarding the implicit superiority of white protestant work ethic culture. And I would reference the work of the classical French libertarians regarding the very definition of civilization. Civilization, one that is advancing, is marked by an increasing satisfaction of increased human wants and desires. Unfortunately, Mr. Rowley seems to share the conservative position that views civilization as a form of vice.

Finally, this business of “American Exceptionalism” that Rowley refers to. Exceptionalism literally means “exception to the rule.” In our context, this can mean either one of two things. One, the historical exception of American Legal Jurisprudence from the corrupting influence of rent-seeking on the monopoly provision of law. In other words, the actual existence of a “rule of law” immune(or relatively immune) from political rent-seeking. Or two, the very definition of immorality: exempting yourself from the moral rules that you enforce on(or expect from) others. In other words, lawlessness. The classical libertarian position views American Exceptionalism as the national morality that legitimizes and glorifies legal plunder.

Libertarianism and “classical liberalism” are not the same things…

On Holbo’s Critique of Libertarianism

Dialectics and Context. Jason Brennan posted a particularly visceral reaction to John Holbo’s critique of libertarianism. Pooping on the welcome mat of the bleeding hearts as Brennan characterized it. Devoid of any context, I would agree with Brennan’s description. But Holbo’s essay has to be considered in the relevant context. And this relevant context was Gary Chartier’s essay propounding “market means, socialist ends.”

Holbo essentially produced a variant–albeit a bit more impolite, boorish one–of the same critique I made in my previous post. What was Holbo saying? “Market means, socialist ends” is falsifiable. Logically, this can be cast as the Statement that market means is not a sufficiency condition for socialist ends. Now it may very well be the case that market means is a necessary condition for socialist ends, but necessity and sufficiency are not the same thing(as a programmer–with programming being more or less an exercise in applied boolean logic–I can say that kind of mistake is what can keep you up late at night conducting unexpected debugging sessions).

The crux of my critique was not any way a condemnation of Chartier’s ends(after all, I share much of them) but rather an observation that the insufficiency of market means for any explicit ends should give pause before engaging in a case that comes pretty close to suggesting that the market would achieve what the Just State hypothetically is supposed to achieve. Particularly when the intended audience may consist of those who ostensibly hold a strong moral commitment to egalitarian ends(so much so that the State is deemed a necessity). I don’t think libertarianism can make that strong of a case. And I think it’s right to be skeptical of any argument that purports to do so.

Now Dr. Long commented on my last post along the lines that my logic fails if generally applied. His example was that my position would exclude advocating the free market on the basis of prosperity(a utilitarian end). Well, yes and no. By definition a Justice of Mutual Advantage regime implies an agent is better off with the regime than without the regime. However, the free market is not a sufficient condition for any particular instance of a prosperity regime.

For example, in our context, “prosperity,” or the prosperity regime, implies a type of rapid technological advance, creative destruction, high economic growth one. I would argue all day long that a free market is not a sufficient condition for that type of thing. The evolutionary dynamics of markets are almost entirely a function rent-seeking. By rent-seeking I simply mean the seeking of returns on resources above opportunity costs. If the rent-seeking regime is relentless, then you have a high degree of firm hierarchy. And I’m not specifically referring to political/protectionist economic rent-seeking. Rent-seeking in general explains hierarchy. And although I’m often fond of repeating the statement that rent-seeking is rational, my inner Hayek will inform me that it nonetheless takes place in the context of the evolved rules regime, whether heuristic/spontaneous or planned(Hayek is my dialectics).

So, as a demonstration, I will point to this older article by Charles Davis that documented his observations during his time in Nicaragua. In one sense, you could label the local regime he observes as a type(an approximate one) of JMA regime. But it would probably fail our North American standard of a prosperity regime.

Frankly, some may think that this degree of skepticism makes weak sauce for liberty. But I would counter that liberty is something that has to be presumed, not demonstrated. And what makes for weak propaganda in terms of a positive case for liberty nonetheless wields a razor scalpel in eviscerating any moral claim of State authority.

So, if we return to the matter of John Holbo, I will contend that the relative weakness of demonstrating liberty in no way validates State Authority. Unlike liberty, State moral authority has to be demonstrated, not presumed. If you can’t or refuse to demonstrate it, then you are operating according to a presumption of authority. And that type of presumption undercuts pretty much the entire western legal and philosophical tradition. Holbo can babble on about “high liberalism” and “positive liberties,” but it is just babble. High Liberalism and Rawls(etc) still operate according to the liberal methodology. And liberalism–the liberal paradigm–cannot survive a government that operates on arbitrary authority. A government that arbitrarily dispenses with the magna carta(due process) and views the moral ends of every citizen a potential threat(requiring Orwellian surveillance) makes of a mockery of the so-called liberal social contract. We all know that the social contract is a fiction, but it’s abstraction of conferring hypothetical legitimacy has run its course. The only thing it demonstrates now, in the abstract, is the degree of illegitimacy of the State. if I were Holbo, I would be worried about that–particularly with respect to the problem of reform and correction. But he is not. To me, that is a demonstration that the State is his ends. And that disqualifies him as a liberal. Instead, it establishes him as a political right-winger.


Liberty is presumed, not demonstrated. Authority, on the other hand, has to be demonstrated, not presumed. The Crooked Timber sport game of invalidating libertarian claims is irrelevant. I don’t have to demonstrate liberty to invalidate their claims of authority. I can invalidate them by their own criteria(e.g, the so-called social contract). The obvious anomalies of arbitrary government power–in full evidence in a National Security State–presents a grave dilemma for liberal political theory. Authentic liberals should be seriously concerned by this. But, by and large, most who ostensibly claim that mantle, are not.

The Firm’s Totalitarian Jurisdiction and the Death of the Liberal Paradigm

One can only mock the typical progressive bromide that usually goes something like this: “Democracy is a form of community regulation in which the members of the community make the decisions.” This, of course, is pure clericalism. Communities typically do not suffer from intractable collective agency problems. States do. Hence, the State is not in any sense “the community.”

The superstitious nonsense of the communal State can perhaps be amply illustrated with the relatively recent development of State extradition attempts for criminal prosecutions of commercial crimes by foreign citizens. If the United States presides over jurisdiction A and extradites a foreign citizen who is a “member” of Jurisdiction B for an action in B that is a statutory crime in Jurisdiction A, then Citizen(of B) might be justifiably in askance about this strange interpretation of “community membership and “community regulation.” Citizen(of B) has effectively been kidnapped into Community A and would doubtless share in the opinion regarding a collective agency problem of this community. After all, the kidnapee is not the agency behind the kidnapper. And Citizens(of B) no doubt would have to concur regarding their own collective agency problem to explain their own Community B “deciding” to submit themselves to a legal framework for kidnapping by jurisdiction A.

But it is not just the progressives who are destroyed by the example above. The mainstream libertarian position collapses, too. This position, of course, is tied to Milton Friedman’s famous apologetic that placed capitalism at the foundation of political freedom. Friedman never argued capitalism as a sufficiency condition for political freedom, but he certainly did argue capitalism as a necessary condition. But our above illustration suggests that detachment from the capitalist order may be the actual necessary condition for political freedom. Quite a a turn. And to precisely define at least a core condition of political freedom: it necessarily must entail a legal or compliance contextual framework that serves as a skeptical constraining mechanism against incentive-incompatibility problems of collective choice. Political freedom is not just simply protection from the majority.

But perhaps the biggest loser is liberal political theory and political science itself. A contention can be proffered that political science is simply not science. Or, to be more specific, the professional practitioners of political science are not scientists. Instead they are by and large practitioners of the priestly art of regime legitimization. Strong words but very much defensible.

I hold to a Popperian method of science. But I will concede to Thomas Kuhn to a large extent that the Popper method as a practice is generally reserved for periods of revolutionary paradigm shifts. This is a fancy way of saying that it usually takes obvious clear and obvious empirical counterfactuals to “kick in” the Popper method(as a professional practice) to shift the scientific paradigm. So, in the scientific area that I’m most familiar with–physics1–the examples would be Kepler’s observations of elliptical planetary orbits leading to Newton’s Mechanics, the Michelson–Morley experiment regarding the constancy of the speed of light leading to Einstein’s interpretation of electrodynamics(special relativity…and Herman Weyl’s mathematical formulation of the 4-D SpaceTime), the observed black-body radiation spectrum leading to Max Planck’s “reluctant” formulation of the “quanta”(a theory extended by Einstein, which is what he actually won the Nobel Prize for) which ultimately led to quantum mechanics(which was the mechanical theory born from Neils Bohr’s application of quantum or “discrete” energy states to orbital electrons to explain the observed atomic emission/absorption spectra).

So in the Popper/Kuhn method of science, obvious and glaring counterfactuals to the existing paradigm lead to new factuals which are then subjected to Popper’s falsifiability testing. This is probably a more realistic model in practice than a standalone Popper which casts scientific agency in a constant testing mode against the factual. But when obvious counterfactuals do present themselves, science, in order to be “science,” must critically examine the current paradigm and put forth alternative factuals for testing. In short, for something to meet the standard of being considered a science, counterfactuals have to result in paradigm shifts and not simply be shrugged off as mere secondary and tertiary violations(or anomalies) within the current unabated paradigm.

Political science by and large fails this aforementioned scientific standard. The State practice of forced extradition of foreign agents for crimes against the extraditing State’s “commerce laws” is an egregious and obvious counterfactual example of the incentive-incompatibility problem of collective choice. This collective choice problem inarguably collapses the liberal political paradigm. The counterfactual should trigger a paradigm shift in political science. For what we have here can more or less can be termed “Commercialism,” a 21st century analogue of 17th century mercantilism. With one key distinction: historically, mercantilism is nationalistic(competing empires). Commercialism, however, is thoroughly oligarchical(one supranational trading bloc).

The mounting anomalies of Commercialism can no longer fit within the paradigm of liberal social contract theory. In the past I have used the term “liberal totalitarianism.” However, we are fast approaching the point when accuracy and coherence demand we drop the “liberal” adjective from that expression.

1 Actually, the science that I practice is computer science, which I have no formal training in. The things that I have formal training in, physics/math, are the things I have never practiced, sans one year teaching High School mathematics.

Public Choice and The Firm

Some readers may be interested in this little exchange I had with Charles Rowley a few weeks back. Admittedly, I started the commentary with a bit of a snarky entrance, asking how the “Dean of Public Choice” could allow his heart to be captured and uplifted by a politician’s speech(more precisely, the speech of a politician’s wife). However, what followed was civil, and it perhaps sheds some illumination on the methodological differences between “classical liberals” and libertarians.

An important question is why “classical liberals” often seem to have a natural alignment with conservatives? My methodology, which I would deem to be consistent with “classical libertarianism,” finds this alignment to be fatal. But we are given a clue by Rowley’s rejection of the method of “The Firm.” Indeed, Rowley (although he is an admirer of de Jasay and counts him as a good friend) rejects de Jasay’s inclusion within the public choice discipline. Rowley writes:

Jasay’s work is not public choice. Jasay deals with an organic state, not methodological individualism. What would you do if you were the state is his question. There is no such thing as a state. Only a collective of individuals.

I would dispute Rowley’s contention. I think the agency of The Firm is quite real and apparent. Would one likewise say “there is no Microsoft or Google, there is only a collection of individuals?” Indeed, I would submit that the agency of The Firm(as a type of DRO) is a natural consequence of economic rent-seeking. And I would apply this consequence to both political economy and “the free market” by simply adopting the very generic definition of economic rent as “returns in excess of opportunity cost (noting, however, that a legal structure of the firm does not necessarily equal the limited-liability corporation. A DRO can have an arbitrary structure, although a certain degree of verticality and hierarchy is implicit).

In a comment, I outlined a long-winded microeconomic foundation for the Agency of the State. This agency is real. But we can arrive at it via a microeconomic method. As I like to say, I can draw line from Public Choice to de Jasay to the class theory of the French Laissez Faire economists.

Interestingly, in the place of The Firm, Rowley advocated an alternative model of “The Prince,” which is the name I bequeathed to the method that emerges from “The Dictator’s Handbook.” I have not actually the read the book, but it is clear(from reading reviews and Rowley’s comments) that The Prince has universal application–it applies to both institutions of State and Civil Society. So to save “methodological individualism” as a method(almost treating it as an end to be preserved rather than as means), Rowley appears willing to dispense with a compelling insight of liberal social theory: individuals with different interests and ends can nonetheless use reason as a tool to coordinate these interests to mutual advantage.1 This insight simply cannot survive The Prince.

Once again, “classical liberalism” derived from a Public Choice method constrained by the classical liberal bounds regarding the agency of the State is simply not coherent.

1 The Better Angels of our Nature

Obama’s Executive Decision

Lately, I’ve been more or less promoting two ideas on this blog: (1) A Rational Choice Model of the State as The Firm (2) The Firm’s intent to be “market setter” for an internet legal regime. If you subscribe to (1), then (2) follows a logical prediction.

The model of the State as The Firm gives us a form of economic governance that is in competition with the ends of its citizens. This is “the total state,” and it is a first-order liberal violation. The Firm is largely beyond any “democratic accountability.” Indeed, “democracy” is treated as a product by the firm, something that is to be manufactured and churned. We can almost treat the “American Culture War” as the manufacturing plant for churning out American democratic consent. Undoubtedly, that is where it is by and large produced.

The rational choice driving the Firm as a market setter for an internet legal regime is a topic I discussed in some detail in a previous post, “Regulating the Panopticon.” You simply start with the current status quo and observe that “data-analytics” provides the market-setting regime change for the Firm(note: the regime is not the Firm; rather, the regime is the rules of the Political Economy set by the Firm). Finance defined the Chicago-School rules regime of political economy for the past 30 years. Data-analytics will define the new rules regime going forward.1

The rational choice of the Firm gives us a model of the President as CEO. Hence, we shouldn’t be surprised that Obama is contemplating implementing much of the recently filibustered Cybersecurity bill by an executive order. An “Executive Decision,” as the saying goes.

Any outrage of the prospect of a unilateral executive implementation of a national policy with such far-reaching implications mistakenly operates under the presumption that the Presidency is a political office. But it’s not really that. As an office of Political Economy, however, you would find Obama’s statements to be consistent with what you might expect from a CEO. To say that Obama’s Executive Order would violate the constitution is a bit naive. Given the regulatory charge of executive authority bestowed from the wide-range of laws that have passed constitutional mustard, I would say that Obama’s Executive Order most assuredly would not violate it.

And no one is quoting the US Constitution as means to constrain the Firm’s strategy to militarize the internet. The US is actively engaged in repeated, sophisticated cyberattacks to to produce outcomes exactly like this. This is part of an integrated strategy to instigate the very need of a market setter for an internet legal regime.

Political means are more or less powerless to constrain much of the Firm’s actions. The tiny parts that are ostensibly subject to political accountability are a mere formality. My suggestion is to take the laws of political economy seriously. The President of the United States is the CEO of National Security State, Inc, a corporation ultimately chartered by the United States Constitution.

1 Interestingly, a third topic that I’ve intermittently promoted, “The Pink Police State,” perhaps finds its most precise definition within the data-analytics model. The Political Economy of Data-Analytics and Surveillance will not(and simply cannot) produce the traditional capitalist surpluses to support the traditional progressive welfare state. In the classic libertarian perspective(a la, Bastiat), these “transfer payments” are bribes to placate dissent against a political economy of plunder. Of course, the origin of these progressive “transfer payments” is largely labor itself(SS and Medicare, by far the largest components of the “Welfare State,” are labor tax transfers). But the surplus labor base for the continuation of this placating transfer model will shrivel up and wither under a political economy of data-analytics.

The Pink Police State simply replaces the bribe of the progressive transfer model with the bribe of the “libertarian culture” transfer model. The political economy of data-surveillance can bargain “zones of tolerance” and increased “cultural freedom” as means of placation. Of course, these benefits will largely accrue to the “professional classes” and not to those at the margins.
The Pink Police State uses libertarianism to bribe the professional classes.

The Cognitive Dissonance of the Cultural Warriors

Well, this post is quoting me as an example, but the same blogger never really bothered to respond to my 2-month old post that addressed the distinction between the libertarian and communitarian versions of liberty.

Our blogger denies the liberal/libertarian definition of liberty, “do as you want, constrained only the harm to others,” on the grounds that we cannot individually define “harm.” Or to be more accurate, “harm” can only carry an agreed upon social definition. This, of course, is the bromide of the communitarian. And our blogger expresses this communitarian version quite clearly:

The voluntary institutions of society (civil society) inculcate and enforce a society’s moral code (1), foster mutual trust and respect (2), and help to preserve cultural similarity (3)

But notice how our blogger suddenly switches gears with this next post, The Intolerant Left, regarding the liberty of Chick-fil-A to sell chicken sandwiches. In this instance, the left-wing communitarians are making the same social argument against the liberty of Chick-fil-A that our blogger employed against the liberal/libertarian definition of liberty in his preceding post. The exact same argument. But to our blogger, the appeal to “Chicago” or “Boston” values is suddenly a cause for a vitriolic spew of viscous hatred regarding the intolerance of the left. It is quite an entertaining rant:

Left-wingers march in lockstep like wind-up toy soldiers. And all it takes to wind them up is to propose a governmental intervention in social or economic affairs — preferably one that flouts a social tradition that is based on decades and centuries of of experience. Why do leftists have so little respect for the wisdom that accrues in social norms? Because leftism is rooted in two psychological tendencies. One of them is adolescent rebellion, which can persist for decades past adolescence. This explains the left’s hatred of conventional authority figures who (usually) represent conservative (civilizing) values (e.g., parents, police officers, military officers, members of the clergy). The other psychological tendency is the urge to dominate others, an urge that leftists project onto conservatives.

But, to repeat, the left-wing communitarian social appeal is the exact social argument that our conservative blogger employed against my libertarian definition earlier. Of course, in one instance, the social argument is perfectly legitimate and is expression of the ultimate meaning of liberty. In the next instance, the social argument is an expression of social dominance rooted in psychological perversion.

Which is the correct interpretation of the social argument? If there is a “correct interpretation” of the social argument among competing social views, then I would dare say that “the harm principle” can likewise be adjudicated outside of the blanketing constraint of any supposed social context.1

The American political dialogue–the culture war– primarily consists of right-wing and left-wing communitarians accusing one another of being liberal2. But, of course, neither group is. The liberal rejects the social argument in favor an epistemological principle of the presumption of liberty. It is a simple principle: claims of harm can be falsifiable and the constraints against liberty have to be demonstrated. Simple. This is the epistemological bulwark against appeals to the authority of the cop, the military and the church. This is the bulwark against the communitarian presumption of social authority asserted by both the communitarian right and left.

1 Any attempt to establish “the more correct” social view among competing theories would have to rely on a scientific method of falsifying the others

2 The right-wing communitarians accuse the left-wing communitarians as “liberal.” The left-wing communitarians accuse the right-wing communitarians as being “libertarian.”