Winning the Future

Rent-seeking is rational. The political discourse is doublethink. These two sentences succinctly summarize the likely efficacy of political action as a reform mechanism. Politics by and large serves as both the ends and means of the status quo. In this sense, democracy is not an expression of political agency. Rather, at best, it serves only as a mere constraint mechanism against said agency. But in this role, it is quite unreliable. And in the United States, it is a reliably futile mechanism.

So, given the above, let us address the recently published articles separately making the case for either Obama, Romney or Johnson. The first two more or less are variants of “the lesser of two evils” argument. But this type of argument Res ipsa loquitur concedes the premise outlined above–namely, the futility of voting as a corrective mechanism. Unfortunately, this premise invalidates the “lesser of two evils” argument as a type of non sequitur. If voting excludes a corrective action, then there is no enforcement remedy to provide some assurance that A will indeed be less evil than B. The best case that can be concluded, as a truth statement S, is that S= (A will be less evil than B) OR ( B will be less evil than A).1 In other words, we can only be sure that one that candidate will end up less evil than the other. Which would be the less evil candidate cannot be evaluated as a truth statement(S=A(B) || B(A), we can evaluate S to be true, but we cannot evaluate the “truthfiness” of A(B) or B(A) individually). I would call this the “Present Indeterminate Inequality of Evil” argument. But this is no argument. Devine foresight is the very definition of an intractable public goods problem with respect to voting. Hence, this is no argument for rational voting.

A demonstration of this “inequality indeterminacy” is the recent Matt Stoller article in Slate that made a “progressive case for Mitt Romney” on the basis that the perception of Romney being the greater evil would serve as an “eternal vigilance” constraint of sorts against a Romney presidential agency. The lesser of two evils argument gets flipped to a greater of two evils argument.

Nick Gillespie penned a “Winning the Future” rationale for voting for Gary Johnson. The argument here is that a good showing by Johnson will finally force the GOP to abandon social conservatism in favor of a platform of live and let live. This is all predicated on David Boaz’s pipe dream of the untapped libertarian electorate begging for customer service from the GOP. Gillespie and Welch expanded on this theme with their book “Declaration of Independents” that relied on journalistic buzzword gobbledygook to somehow magically convert political competition into market competition. One would think that the noxious stench of the Chicago catastrophe of applying “efficient market” to political competition would have managed to poke through the claptrap by now, but Gillespie will have none of that.2 Instead we get something like this:

We’re not talking about some sort of radical Neal Stephenson-meets-Robert-Nozick-meets-Zardoz anarcho-capitalist scenario. Just a recognition that the federal government doesn’t have to be in on every conversation we’re having (literally and figuratively).

But here’s the problem. Every time I hear Johnson speak, the phrase “tax it and regulate it” passes from his lips. Now that’s a phrase that should never emanate from the mouth of a libertarian. And this objection is not a matter of purity. Instead, it’s a matter of coherence.

For example, take pot. There is nothing here in need of “regulation.” There is no market externality to correct. It’s a plant anyone can grow. A mutually beneficial transactional market between buyer and seller works quite regularly, thank you. But by stressing a principle of “tax it and regulate it,” you are actually conceding the authority of the State to involve itself in every affair and conversation between consenting adults.

Now one might object to the above characterization by pointing out that “tax it and regulate it” is an improvement over outright prohibition. That may or may not be. But “improvement” is a bit of a different argument than the one Gillespie is claiming above. If we let U={the set all transactions between consenting adults} and let R={the set of all such transactions the State involves itself in}, then the “improvement objection” is not one where R << U(where R is decreasing). Instead, it it more or less reduces to one where R==U, given a condition that for all r in R, we merely have less involvement by the State in r than before.

Gillespie’s incoherence only reminds me of James Poulos’ “Pink Police State” counter-argument to the intellectual faux pas the Reason crowd usually serves up. Poulos’ “Pink Police State” observation was simple(expressed in the terms outlined above). Given a condition where (1) cultural freedom is expanding and (2) political freedom is decreasing, it is inevitable that R –> U(where the State will arbitrarily involve itself in each r, meaning sometimes an increasing role, sometimes a decreasing role, but always a role). Poulos then ended with a rhetorical question: is legitimization of the Pink Police State the future of libertarianism? If we go by Reason and Gillespie, then yes it is.

A consideration of “the future” provides a nice segue to rebut the nonsensical phrase “win the future.” Simply, “win the future” is the slogan of the psychopathic class. Whatever the future may bring, it is not something to be won, as if it were a type of defined competitive end. Yes, “the future” is something that can be planned and prepared for, but in the end it is still nonetheless a series of “nows.” After all, our current present is the past future that supposedly was being won. Apparently, I missed the victory party.

If we need slogans, then I can suggest two: (1) “Carpe Libertatem” and (2) “Don’t need your fucking permission.” Both emphasize that liberty is means and not an objective or end to be achieved. “Winning the future,” however, invalidates our two worthy slogans. For it invalidates liberty as means. In our current context “winning the future” simply means subjugating yourself to authoritative means for a corrupt end premised by a promise of some vague future reward. It is a slogan that passes from the lips of psychopaths, which only goes to show that if you live among the psychopathic political class, and your objective is recognition by said class, you will eventually start to sound like them.

1 The other possibility, of course, is S evaluating to false which would imply A=B.
2 In a previous review of G & W’s book, I pointed out the problems of trying to model political competition like market competition. One thing I neglected to point out, however, in that review is that the actors in market competition that G&W are relying on are also heavily vested in political competition to actually legally restrict your menu of choices.


The Social Justice of a Police State

Fareed Zakaria recently published a piece, Incarceration Nation, that points out there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America – more than 6 million – than were in the Soviet Gulag Archipelago at its height. The imprisonment rate in the US is approaching 1 per 100 which is generally an order of magnitude greater than the other western-styled democracies around the globe. Zakaria notes that this gap between the US and the rest of the world is relatively recent phenomenon. Thirty years ago, at the start of the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” the US incarceration rate, though at the outer bounds, was nonetheless in line with other civilized democracies. Since then, however, the US incarceration rate has more than quintupled.

I mention the Zakaria article because it offers a relevant contextual backdrop to this recent Cato Unbound essay, A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism, by Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi. Both of these authors are academics involved in the so-called “Bleeding Heart Libertarian Project” to marry distributive justice to libertarian political theory. The preferrred distributive justice paradigm is the Rawlsian one. The intent of their essay is to demonstrate the compatiblity of this paradigm with a historical weaving of the (classical) liberal tradition. The corollary is that libertarianism, as typically defined, is a departure from this tradition. It is proposed then that a sympathetic adaptation of Rawls will right the course of a proper libertarian political theory.

Frankly, I would not dispute the primary thrust of the essay: that a “non-bleeding heart libertarianism” is a departure from liberalism. I would qualify this agreement by noting that a “non-bleeding heart libertarianism” is not a modern development. Historically, libertarianism is rooted in a rejection of any normative social contract rationale for obedience to the State. Of course, we are talking about a different history than the highly selective one outlined by Zwolinski and Tomasi. However, it is not my intention to adjudicate libertarian history in this post. I’ve previously given my account of this history here and here. Instead, I will only point out there is a reason why libertarianism departs from liberalism: namely, because liberalism inherently violates its own constraints regarding the artificiality of the State and politics. By artificiality, we mean the State is not supposed to become the source of government. At the very least, the State should avoid the evolutionary equilibrium of becoming the total source of government(i.e., a Police State). However, Zwolinski and Tomasi’s essay demonstrates how easily distributive justice can legitimize a police state and provides yet another example of bleeding hearts not exactly bleeding for everyone.

The Zwolinski and Tomasi essay begins with an erroneous, straw-man premise:

To the extent that respect for property leaves some individuals poor and destitute, individuals might be called by a sense of charity and beneficence to respond. But the moral justification of free market institutions is logically independent from any claims about the effects of those institutions on the material holdings of the poor.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Zwolinski and Tomasi mischaracterize the libertarian principle. Enforceable moral claims of any property rights regime are not independent of the material holdings of agents. Indeed, the libertarian principle is actually a moral constraint against property rights regimes. If agents are worse off under the regime than they would be without the regime, then there is no moral obligation to obey the regime. This moral constraint illuminates an essential distinction between libertarians and progressives. Libertarians are not intererested in distributive justice correcting unjust regimes. The correction is the abolition of these regimes. I would argue the classical libertarian position–if we were to,say, follow Bastiat–is that any property rights regime that requires distributive justice to retain legitimacy is probably corrupt. Following Bastiat, we would identify distributive justice as a form of bribery against defection. I would add that these bribes are much more directed at the “middle class” than the so-called poor. Thus, we can expect the so-called “social safety net” to largely consist of an array of middle-class subsidies and not a device or thing designed to minimize a worst-case condition.

Zwolinski and Tomasi identify Rawlsian justice as the “gold standard” of contemporary social justice. But as I havepreviously discussed, Rawls later modified his methodological approach to defend his principles of justice. David Friedman, in his critique of Zwolinksi and Tomasi provides a clue to the problem with Rawls’ original approach. Writes Friedman:

And one implication of that version, taken as literally as I have been taking the natural rights alternative, is that it is better to have a world where everyone is at a utility level of a hundred than a world with one person at ninety-nine and everyone else at a thousand. I have never yet been able to figure out why anyone takes either the derivation or the conclusion seriously.

The answer to Friedman’s criticism is that Rawls’ formulation was actually challenged. In particular, John Harsanyi’s “originalist position” maximized aggregate utility(straight utilitarian). Indeed, Harsanyi’s version exposed the problem with the “Veil of Ignorance” as a normative construct: it lacked a plausible risk aversion model. Rawls’ “Maxmin” version is equivalent to infinite risk aversion. Harsanyi’s “max utilitarian” is equivalent to zero risk aversion. Neither infinite nor zero risk aversion is plausible. The VOI instrument has to establish the appropriate level of risk aversion in the original position that falls somewhere between zero and infinity. Obviously, then, the VOI does not yield unique solutions and thus loses its normative power.

Friedman’s primary criticism of Zwolinski and Tomasi is that the Rawlsian conception doesn’t actually link to the historical utilitarian foundations of “classical liberalism.” But John Harsanyi’s formulation directly casts the Originalist Position in such utilitarian terms. And it is this utilitarian casting which more or less demonstrated that the normative foundation of Rawls’ theory was built over a house of cards.

Rawl’s modified approach to his theory of justice was developed in his later book, “Political Liberalism.” Political Liberalism more or less concedes the lack of a rational foundation for a unanimity regarding hypothetical justice principles. Political liberalism is an explicit shift from the rational to the “reasonable,” a shift from justice as “moral” to justice as “political.” It is here that Rawls lays out the ideas of the “overlapping consensus” and “Public Reason.” The government stays neutral between competing moral foundations. Justice is a “political product” defined by the overlapping consensus of moral dialogue. Reasonable discussion is supposed to validate Rawls’ principles of justice. In practice, however, it merely roots justice in the cultural war. So, the gold standard of contemporary social justice turns out to be the overlapping consensus between Rush Limbaugh and Daily Kos. This, of course, is a farce. But it only points out the inherent flaw of “Public Reason.” Public Reason has nothing to with liberal justice; instead it is entirely rooted in a communitarian war over “recognition.”

The Zwolinski/Tomasi essay makes it clear that “recognition” plays an important in who “qualifies” for justice. They propose a rather high barrier of entry to qualify for being “poor.” Evidently, “Poor” excludes the social rift-raft and the unemployed. To be properly poor means to be employed. But this is a silly and obviously artificial exclusionary construction. An obvious solution to maximize the condition of our properly defined “poor” would be to simply to maximize the barrier of entry to qualify to work. A “social justice claim” reduces to a protectionist claim, which is often the case. This type of protectionism becomes particularly insidious when you consider that who is legally “recognized” to work in a National Security State becomes a matter of public debate of an overlapping consensus between Rush Limbaugh and Daily Kos. This is hardly justice; rather, it’s a moral perversion.

In the past I have discussed the concept of the “Pink Police State.” The Pink Police State, like all police states, delineates a clear demarcation of privilege between the professional classes and those who are shit out of luck in terms of inclusion in the club. In other words, it is “the illegals,” the scapegoats, and the “unrecognized” who take the full brunt of a police state. It breeds a permanent underclass. The Pink Police State, however, is a type of classification that likely portends a flourishing recognition of a “libertarian” professional class. This professional class will spare no opportunity to equate unprecedented recognition with an unprecedented condition of human liberty. And the primary aim of this community will be recognition, not justice(or reform). In this vein, the Bleeding Heart Libertarian Project simply appears to be an exercise in professional recognition. It is difficult to take seriously claims of distributive justice in a police state, particularly if the “bleeding heart” concern for the poor excludes the very victims of this police state. But this is exactly how a professional class can babble about social justice in an underlying context marked by an unprecedented political economy of a prison industrial complex.

The West is accustomed to regarding “Police States” as restricted to non-democratic states, but “voting” has nothing to do with its definition. The definition is as follows: (1) undue restrictions on the freedom of mobility, the freedom of transactions, the freedom to work (2) perverse rates of domestic incarceration (3) system-wide domestic surveillance organs engaged in domestic spying in all aspects of the social, economic and political life of its citizens. The makeup of these organs will usually entail some degree of a secret police and an unaccountable intelligence complex (4) the militarization of the borders (5) an arbitrary distinction between law and the exercise of power by the executive agency (6) a militarization or para-militarization of “law enforcement” (7) a social context where the government actively propagandizes a permanent enemy, a permanent threat, a permanent war (8) a social context that glorifies the organs of authority, “the men and women in uniform.”

The United States is a Police State. And the Pink Police State that will be its social justice…