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…


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.


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…

Why I’m Not a Bleeding-Heart Statist

Will Wilkinson’s latest statist declaration of principles and anti-principles, with respect to liberalism and libertarianism respectively, is another attempt by Wilkinson, who has “defected” from the “label,” to use the soft underbelly of the libertarian movement as an argument for the State.

I agree that the meaning of “libertarianism,” particularly in the American political context, is incoherent. But this is largely a product of trying to make it palatable with liberal democracy–in short, rebranding the libertarian meaning of liberty as a political value. I will flatly state that there is no normative case for liberty. But this is not an argument for the State because I also include the following addendum: neither is there a normative moral duty to obey the State.

Wilkinson seems preoccupied with mutable ideological labels and public connotations of conviction syndromes interrupting his ability to eclectically define himself. But we can easily separate the wheat from the chaff. If you ascribe to a moral duty to obey the State, then you are not a libertarian. If you deny this moral obligation, then you have at least satisfied a necessary condition for libertarianism.

Simple,succinct, and to the point.

Wilkinson, of course, accepts the moral obligation of obedience to the State. The first point of Wilkinson’s defense is a denial of the NAP “anti-principle.”

Here are some not-standardly-libertarian things I believe: Non-coercion fails to capture all, maybe even most, of what it means to be free. Taxation is often necessary and legitimate.

I consider “coercion” to be a strawman argument. I’ve discussed this before on previous occasions, e.g: Free Markets and Coercion. All social interactions and contractual arrangements are coercive in the sense that they necessarily impose moral constraints on agents as pure maximizers. Non-coercion is useless as a basis for a social theory because agents are not single-variable max-min optimizers–“coercion” as the single variable–because the optimal social arrangement would then be defection.

Social cooperation necessarily entails moral constraints on the part of actors. We could alternatively use the language of “personal duties.” But personal duties do not demonstrate impersonal duties, or duties to no one. In my post, I used an example of uncertainty prompting payments to third parties to insure against transactions not being mutually beneficial. A moral claim on a carpenter to be bonded and insurance payments to third parties can be superficially equated with how the market produces “coercion,” taxes, and a State tax collector–that is, until we properly distinguish between taxes,rents and economic rents. If the insurance payments are composed of economic rent, then we would have an entrepreneurial opportunity to drive these rents to trade at opportunity costs. To abolish these rents and to treat them as “taxes” and as part of the tax code would incentivize a different type of entrepreneurial opportunity, one that would look to the tax code to create and persist artificial rents.

This was a simple economic example of how the moral constraints of social cooperation do not imply nor should imply an impersonal standardization. Almost always, an argument to impersonalize moral constraints is often a narrow self-interested one.

Wilkinson’s second point is a “principle,” namely the claim that the State has reduced violence. This is a reason why, for example, we should morally obey the State. Wilkinson appeals to Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” However, the claim of the role of the state in reducing violence can be easily questioned as an example of a “post hoc causal fallacy.” The immediate counter-problem with this claim that I would pose is to legitimately question why the liberal state is nonetheless morphing into a National Security State given it’s supposed rational role in reducing violence. If violence is at human historical lows, then why the need for CIAs, DHS, TSA,paramilitarized civilian police forces, secret police, and an unaccountable sprawling military/intelligence industrial complex? Of course, Wilkinson will simply ignore this obvious contradiction and instead can be counted on to blather on about how secure the State has made all of us while we are nonetheless forced to undergo anal cavity searches as a pre-condition to travel and buy goods/services at shopping malls.

Wilkinson’s third point of “principle” of why we should obey the state is that it legitimizes us to participate in the debate regarding “the nature and scope of specially-protected rights and liberties within the settled context of the liberal-democratic nation-state.” Of course, the historical libertarian critique is that liberalism institutionally fails to provide this “settled context of the liberal-democratic nation-state.”

In the classic sense, we can succinctly define liberalism as a political system whose ends are property and whose means are liberty. I will also include the modern update that adds an ends of justice and includes redistributive means that imposes a degree of positive constraint on liberty. The liberal legal model defines a constitutional framework of decision-making rules, justified by a hypothetical “social-contract,” that defines the constraints on what is legally recognizable within the system. In plain language, this means that legal recognition in the pursuit of property or justice cannot violate constitutional constraints. The constitutional constraints, which are decision-making rules, define the boundary conditions.

However, as I discussed in my previous post regarding the State of Nature, legal recognition, including the constitutional boundary conditions, or decision-making rules, are market goods, whether you like it or not. Specifically, economic rent-seeking of legal recognition via a monopoly price maker becomes a source of decision-making rules–that is, it changes the boundary constraints of the system. In Virginia School Public Choice terms, the equilibrium of the Tullock rent-seeking game is a union of the Redistributive State and the Protective State(the Constitutional agency). This, for example, explains the massive empirical discrepency between the magnitude of economic rents being created by the State vs the competitive outlays investing/bidding for such rents.

To restate: this is why using the Superpower US military/Intelligence apparatus as a means to protect economic rents results in the evisceration of the primary liberal legal restraint, the “Great Writ,” and why the Federal Government, in the office of the Executive Branch, as now legally sanctioned by the legislative branch, now declares itself arbitrarily outside the constraints of civilian court due process.

Wilkinson, as a liberal, should be supremely concerned with the fundamental liberal violations posed by such things as the National Defense Authorization Act. This is an example of an egregious violation of the supposed “settled context of the liberal-democratic nation-state.” But I haven’t read a peep from Wilkinson addressing these profound violations, not in any serious way that he, as a liberal, should be addressing given that he is quite aware that these type of violations are at the core of the libertarian political critique.

Wilkinson’s fourth point, an “anti-principle point,” is a fine example of “applied selective consistency.” Granted, I agree that there are legitimate critiques of Ron Paul’s version of libertarianism, but if Wilkinson ascribes to the principle that past violations of the messenger discredit the current message, then Wilkinson necessarily must renounce the State as messenger. We can simply appeal to David Hume who pointed out the real-world problem with “social contract theory:” historically, states weren’t rational products of hypothetical consent; rather they were the products of conquest and pillage. The State wouldn’t be where it is today, in a position to be an arbiter of “justice,” without the conquest, mass murder and pillage of it’s past. In our modern context, Wilkinson doesn’t seem too bothered by a State that killed millions of Vietnamese, bombed who knows how many Cambodians, killed and displaced more than a million Iraqis, is the only State to directly use Nuclear WMDs against a civilian population and directly funded the other one that used chemical WMD(Iraq), financially supports authoritarian dictaroships across the world, locks more of it’s citizens, percentage-wise, than any other country in the world, sans perhaps North Korea, engineers a racist drug war to inflicts uncountable damage globally, etc, etc, etc….Yet, Wilkinson has no problem with this State(mind you, the same State which refuses to apologize for most of these atrocities) being an arbiter of justice; however, he is morally outraged over around five years of paleo, politically incorrect bullshit from Paul’s publishing enterprise from the early to mid 1990s. I wouldn’t quite characterize that as “decades of bilking paranoid bigots with bullshit prophesies of hyperinflationary race war. Is there any evidence of Paul’s publishing ventures printing decades(meaning twenty years or more) of race war articles or advertisements?

As a libertarian, one who doesn’t root moral outrage in communitarian recognition violations, but rather in actual moral and legal institutional injustices, particularly those injustices that persist without correction, I can’t take Wilkinson’s moral outrage and critique seriously.

Ron Paul and the Morality of Voting

Back in early summer, Tom Woods wrote a brief piece1 regarding the morality of voting for Ron Paul. The tone was one of moral recommendation and not obligation, but the piece itself was logically incoherent. The structure of the argument was a non sequitor. How does showing voting for Ron Paul is rational demonstrate that voting for Ron Paul is not “consenting to the system.”? To me, there was an obvious disconnect between the premise and the conclusion. If the argument started by addressing the moral premise that voting shows consent, you have to demonstrate the falseness of the premise. A separate argument that voting for Candidate A is in your best interest does not demonstrate this. The morality of voting and the rationality of voting are two separate issues.

Woods corrected this logical flaw in a subsequent post. 2 That post addressed the moral premise of voting and consent. Here, I’m in agreement with Woods. I have no idea who the “great Robert Fellner” is, but I can give the short reason why liberal political theory invalidates the voting and consent claim. Liberalism does not place the social contract in the legislature. The Social Contract sanctions the legal system, but it is not a product of it. To make a moral claim that voting demonstrates “consent,” from a social contractual stanspoint, serves to likewise validate, for example, the progressive/social democratic position that the social contract is rooted in the legislature. How many times have you heard “progressives” talk reverently about pieces of legislation, like “Social Security,” or the “New Deal,” constituting a “social contract.” This, of course, is a liberal violation, and progressives who talk like this are not liberals. But in a similar sense, anarchists who equate voting with social contractual consent, are implicitly granting social contractual sanction to the act of voting. Understand, of course, this is not an argument for a moral obligation to vote but rather an argument against any moral claim/obligation of not voting.

Once we have falsified any moral premise regarding voting–there is no moral obligation, pro or con, with respect to voting–we can turn to the rational argument. However, given that I ascribe to Rational Choice Methodology, I’m skeptical about any claims of rational demonstration of voting. Voting, from a rational choice perspective, is actually type of a “public goods” problem, implying it is rational not to vote. Put another way, there is an opportunity cost argument against determining/differentiating between who is a “good” and who is “bad,” in terms of the best candidate. If you rely on everyone acting on their own interest, then, because different people have different interests/objectives, elections likely then result in everyone being worse off. A strictly self-interested argument–that your vote matters–to the extent it motivates turnout, almost guarantees that your vote makes no difference.

Let us review Woods’ rational argument for voting for Ron Paul, and examine how that argument answers the rational choice critique against voting. Here are Woods’ reasons below:

(1) If you were stuck in a prison camp, and the guards let you vote on whether you were to have gruel or prime rib for dinner, would you be “consenting to the system” to vote for prime rib, or would you simply be doing the best you could under the circumstances to improve your material condition?

(2) Many Americans won’t consider even listening to a point of view that barely registers on the political radar screen. Whether out of intellectual laziness, cowardice, whatever, they just won’t. So it hurts us if Ron Paul gets 1% of the vote. But if he gets solid double digits, those people who might be faint of heart might realize they aren’t totally alone in supporting him, and will be more willing to do so. Yes, this is ridiculous and unjust, but that’s how it is. That’s why I think it hurts the cause of the free society not to vote for Ron Paul.

The problem is (1) establishes a principle why everyone “should” vote(improve your material condition), not just Paul voters. Everyone voting then implies a 100% turnout that guarantees Paul votes makes no difference. If you want to argue (2), you have to impose a constraint condition on (1) to produce a turnout that would perhaps allow Paul votes to matter. But this constraint would be a type of public good problem.

To demonstrate: to pit voting as a choice between (a) gruel vs (b) prime rib for dinner is the crass self-interest model. A rational agent, in the game theory sense, will not vote if that agent expects others to vote their own crass self-interest. If, however, the agent expects others the vote the best candidate, then it might be rational for that agent to invest resources to determine the best candidate to vote for and to actually vote. But there is no reason to actually expect others to invest the resources to determine the best candidate and vote the best candidate.

This type of problem perhaps suggests an agency as means of reducing uncertainty. And, of course, in this context, by agency, I mean Political Parties. But political parties introduce an obvious Principal agent problem. It is this principal agent problem that changes the payoff matrix. For example, we really have something like:

(a) gruel vs (b) (prime rib AND a kick upside the head that causes neurological damage so that you can no longer taste food)

So the reason I don’t particularly support Ron Paul is not so much because my disagreements with him on substantial issues like abortion and immigration, but rather because he is a member of the GOP. This membership substantially reduces any expected payoff because the GOP represents the kick upside the head. A Paul Admin would carry the GOP agency with it.

So, if we include Principal agent problem deductions in the expected payoff calculations for someone with a claimed high payof, such as Paul, we find that it is not rational to invest much resources in supporting Paul, given (i) the odds and (ii) the payoff is not as high as you think it is.

Of course, many may find great emotional utility in having “libertarian views” expressed on a national stage. There indeed likely value in having clear anti-war sentiment and anti-monopoly sentiment regarding money expressed on a national stage. But this is different than a moral or rational argument that demands voting for the candidate. However, Woods’ argument does not suggest obligation but merely recommendation. In this sense, there can be “gentlemenly” disagreement.

The Moral Obligation

It is Walter Block who provides us with the “moral obligation” argument regarding Paul as a “libertarian litmus test.” Block restates this litmus test in a recent article disqualifying Wendy McElroy from being a libertarian because of her refusal to support Paul’s candidacy. The best thing I can say about Block is that he clearly demonstrates the folly of treating libertarianism as a moral theory. Block introduces the moral category of “being libertarian” as some first order condition. To be a libertarian requires adherence to a first order moral condition of “being a libertarian,” which means acting in a way so as to promote liberty. Violations of this first order condition disqualify you from being a libertarian.

This kind of moral farcity is what inspires satirical comedies like, um, say, “Mozart Was a Red.” Instead now we replace Mozart with McElroy in the title and Rand with Block as our protagonist. Block sits authoritatively erect on the couch while passing out “What Would Ron Paul Do” wristbands to the tribe while earnest debate ensues regarding the the proper first order moral constraint on the number of times you should wipe your ass when you take a shit. After all, the declining marginal utility of ass wipes and the use of scare resources, such as toilet paper, suggest that deployed resources after, say, the fourth wipe would be better served–in the cause of liberty– by being redirected to Ron Paul Money bombs.

I’m not being facetious. I’m being crude to illustrate the point that “Being Libertarian” is not some libertarian moral constraint, but rather the moral foundation of a cult. “Being Libertarian” has nothing to do with the actual libertarian social problem, which is enforcing compliance to contractual arrangements. Compliance and/or the legal recognition of it, is a market good. It is not a moral good, meaning it does not serve any moral ends. A tribe of libertarians dedicated to abiding to the ends of “being libertarian” would still require a DRO mechanism to function as a social entity. How many times you wipe you ass is not an enforceable problem; put differently, you probably wouldn’t want to live in a social arrangement where it was treated as one. To extend this: you probably wouldn’t want to live in a social arrangement where Block’s first order condition was treated as a moral enforceable problem.

Here, I’m in agreement with Aschwin de Wolf who recently wrote:4

If you think of a libertarian society as an emergent outcome that arises from evolving social interaction between rational individuals instead of an “ideology” that requires people to conform to categorical imperatives like the non-aggression principle, a lot of the debate about the morality of voting is not useful.

In previous posts, I’ve addressed the scientific problem of moral foundations: namely, they cannot demonstrate their own consistency. Put differently, any moral foundation can be presented with a “liar’s paradox.” This includes NAP. Anyone who claims that a given moral foundation can demonstrate it’s own completeness and consistency is essentially making a totalitarian claim–meaning it can prove anything. The conclusion is that no formal moral System can trust itself.

Wendy McElroy, in past archived posts, has expressed reservations about libertarianism divorced from moral foundations. Block’s attack against her might suggest a greater reservation about the totalitarianism implied by the inevitable enforcement against a Liar’s Paradox.

Liberaltarian Failure

A writer at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen proposes the following Rawlsekian project:

The key thing about any Rawlsekian project is that it combines Rawls’s normative framework with Hayek’s understanding of economics. Combined with James Buchanan’s public choice theory of institutions and we have a powerful conceptual framework which provides, I think, the best justification for libertarianism.

Frankly, I would use the term “liberaltarian” instead “libertarian” to describe this “Rawlsekian framework.” This is in keeping with my preference for a consistent political taxonomy that restricts libertarianism to a classification of radical political thought that denies political authority. Hence, any framework prefaced with the libertarian adjective that actually is not radical should be re-classified under the “liberaltarian” category. This would not only include the “Rawls + Hayek” frameworks but the Cato/Reason/GMU(variants of Nozick and/or Hayek and/or Public Choice) frameworks as well. Of course, not everyone would agree with my taxonomy but it does eliminate, at least in my mind, much of the incoherence surrounding “libertarian apologetics.” I would concede the likelihood that if you concede the legitimacy of political authority, you are conceding the legitimacy of the violation of the libertarian principle.

The problem with “liberaltarianism,” which can be viewed as a modern revival of social contract theory, boils down to weaknesses of a normative case for unanimity regarding hypothetical justice principles.

Failure of the Rawlsekian framework

Rawlsian Justice is agnostic regarding what political economic framework is plugged into the “justice equation.” It could be Hayek; it could be Keynes; it could be whomever/whatever. With Rawls, Political Economy is not part of the “normative framework.” It’s an “empirical plugin” of sorts, related only to the max-min problem regarding income/wealth. If capitalism better maximizes the minimum, then it’s capitalism. If socialism empirically demonstrates a superior max-min solution, then it’s socialism.

Therefore, a consideration of Hayek, insofar as it relates to the merit of Rawls’ normative justice framework, is irrelevant. If Rawls’ normative justice framework has no merit, then Hayek is immaterial.

Now if you have been reading this blog, you will know that I have been persistent in making the case that Rawls normative justice framework fails. We should recall that Rawls uses the “Veil of Ignorance” construct to argue for a hypothetical unanimity regarding the distribution of primary goods(liberties and resources). The VOI is an instrument to demonstrate a normative universilization of certain principles of justice into a type of categorical imperative.

With Rawls, there are essentially two justice principles that the VOI universalizes. The first addresses the distribution of Political Liberty. Rawls would derive a bill of rights from the standpoint of the most adversely affected agents. For example, a “first amendment” follows because:

(i) No Government Religion: the most adversely affected agent=the Christian
(ii) Government Religion: the most adversely affected agent=the atheist

The atheist, the most adversely affected agent under scenario (ii), would be be much worse off under compulsory worship and/or taxation support of religious institutions than the Christian, the the most adversely affected agent under scenario (i), who had the freedom of worship but had to support religious institutions with it’s own money.

Therefore, under a VOI, where the agent does not know it’s own identity(whether it will be a Christian or an atheist, etc), it will select (i). In this likewise manner, Rawls is able to universalize a justice principle of Political Liberty as “an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all.”

Rawls’ second principle of justice addresses the socio-economic distribution of opportunity and outcome. This is essentially equality of opportunity and the max-min principle.

These two principles together then comprise a “justice as fairness” framework for the fair distribution of primary goods. Noting:

(a)The 2nd principle is agnostic regarding whether the socio-economic institutional structure is capitalist or socialist, or mixed.
(b)There is an preference order constraint on the principles. For example, maximize the minimum share but this can’t violate the equality of opportunity condition. And neither max-min nor EOE can violate the political liberties from the first principle.

While Rawlsian Justice, properly understood, may have some intuitive appeal, it nonetheless fails as a normative framework. There are a number of ways to document this failure.

(1) The Rawls vs Harsanyi debate over Maxmin vs Max(avg utility) under the VOI exposed the problems with VOI. The Rawls version, the Maxmin, was equivalent to infinite risk aversion. The Harsanyi version, utilitarian maximization, was equivalent to zero risk aversion. Both infinite risk aversion and zero risk aversion are not plausible. The VOI instrument now had to establish the appropriate level of risk aversion in the original position–an aversion to risk that falls somewhere between zero and infinity. Obviously, the VOI does not yield unique solutions and thus loses its normative power.

(2) Although today’s context loves to pit a libertarian backlash against Rawls, at the time, it was actually a communitarian backlash that would emerge against Rawls. On a practical level, it should be pointed out that Rawls’ risk aversion basis for justice stemmed from the assumption of a pluralistic society, one that included the presence of a plurality of irreconcilable moral and religious preferences. Rawls assumed a rational basis for a pluralistic liberalism. However, the intense communitarian backlash against Rawls would (i) reject any universal basis for making moral judgments, (ii) opt for moral subjectivism and (iii) subordinate the individual to the norms and values of whatever community.

Communitarianism was a direct attack against Rawls, particularly the political liberties of his first justice principle.

(3) By the time the liberal vs communitarian debate died down in the academic literature, there arose to prominence the new disciplines of experimental game theory,neural economics, etc., along with the increasing notability of the role of biology in economics. Psychology and biology were now regarded as highly influential factors in the formation of human preferences.

(1) is a failure of liberal rationalism, (3) is an attack against the very assumptions of liberal rationalism and (2) was a direct attack against “rational pluralism.”

Rawls, twenty years later, would amend his Theory of Justice with the book, “Political Liberalism.” Rawls’ Political Liberalism was a retreat from his earlier work, an admission that his Theory of Justice had been built over a house of cards. No longer was his Justice Theory a categorical imperative. Indeed Rawls came to the conclusion that any uniformity in fundamental moral and political beliefs–that had been outlined in his earlier Theory of Justice–could only be maintained by an oppressive state force. So there is a shift. The shift was from rational to “reasonable,” from justice as moral to justice as political. The government should stay neutral between competing moral conceptions, and it is the intersection of the different conceptions–the “overlapping consensus”–that forms the reasonable basis of a political justice, from which the Rawlsian principles would still be affirmed.

Rawls Political Liberalism, however, is no more normative than his VOI. Empirically, the cultural war, the drug war and the National Security State present significant problems for Rawls’ political liberalism. There are obligations attached to the distribution of primary goods, obligations that violate Rawls’ first principle. The “overlapping consensus” denies Rawls’ principles of justice.

Rawls’ constraints on the discourse of “Public Reason,” to maintain official bounds for a stable reasonable pluralism, would invoke the same kind of oppressive State force Rawls cited in abandoning justice as a categorical imperative. Political Liberalism was published at the dawn of the internet age and digital communications; enforcing a “duty for civility” and official organs for public discourse as means for maintaining stability and legitimacy in the internet age would work against the intended ends.

Before he died, Rawls published a third iteration of his Justice Theory, “Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.” In this book, Rawls looked at the injustices in the US and pointed a finger at Capitalist Political Economy. So the “Restatement” eliminates the agnosticism of the institutions of Political Economy articulated in the first book. Now the Political Economy must be socialist(although not State socialism; rather some variant of property-owning democracy or democratic socialism).

The amusing question is how many cracks does a guy get at coming up with a supposed “normative” theory of liberal social justice? Fairness cannot be rationally universalized; nor can “reasonable” political consensus be expected to spawn John Rawl’s moral preferences. So the next step is to necessarily constrain the Political Economy preference.

It should be apparent that there is no “normative Rawlsian framework.”

Public Choice Failure

The Rawlsekian project also incorporates Public Choice. However, as I’ve pointed out in The Matrix as Ruling Class and The Calculus of Dissent, there is catastrophic empirical failure in treating government as a market. Specifically, the economic rent transfers dwarf the competitive outlays for such economic rent. The rent-seeking industry is way too small.

The Public Choice failure is actually evidence of a ruling class and the ruling class invalidates the Public Choice rationale for the hypothetical unanimity of the constitutional political framework.

Matt Zwolinski at BHL identifies this Rawlsekian project to be in close affinity to “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism.” But, from the above, we can outline how the Rawlsekian project actually reinforces a conclusion more aligned with a “Radical Libertarian Project.”

  • Rawls rejects the moral foundational basis of Justice originally presented in “Theory of Justice” as untenable
  • Rawls’ Political Liberalism retreats to a political foundation of Justice, the “overlapping-consensus”
  • Rawls, before he died, emphasized the “Public Reason” foundation of this “overlapping-consensus” and the necessity of a certain type of Political economy to underlie institutions of Public Reason
  • Rawls’ rejects welfare state capitalism and advocates instead for the political economy of property-owning democracy. But the 1990s essentially moved in that direction, with welfare reform and a new political economy built over expanding home ownership
  • Meanwhile, by the 1990s, Public Choice Theorists like Tullock had begun to identify serious potential problems with treating government as a market–namely, the rent-seeking industry is way too small relative to the economic rent transfers. Tullock tried to explain this away with an “inefficient market hypothesis.”
  • The Bubble pop in the late 2000s of real estate prices and the credit derivatives to insure against the risk of default of the mortgage securities that financed the expansion of a “property-owning democracy” set the stage for the greatest economic rent transfer in human history(TARP), demolishing in the process, the Public choice rationale of inefficient markets in rent-seeking. The only rational alternative now left was “ruling class.” So, in no small part, due to the “justice” pursuit of “property-owning democracy,” the reality of a ruling class became undeniably exposed.
  • So, from this outline, one might see why I’m insistent on a taxonomy that differentiates between liberaltarianism and libertarianism, noting that much of what passes for libertarianism actually should be reclassified as “liberaltarianism.” In this instance, the spectacular failure of a “liberaltarian normative framework” perhaps does yield a “best justification for libertarianism.” Of course, this justification is not exactly in the sense originally intended by the author.

    The Justice Scam

    Stephen Metcalf responds the criticism of his earlier piece regarding Nozick and Libertarianism.

    The problem with Metcalf, in the end, is that he is just a bad political philosopher. The actual point he apparently is trying to make is that there needs to be a debate about the justice of markets, but libertarianism has created an extremist narrow filter that excludes justice from any debate. Metcalf blames Nozick.

    To give an analogy to illustrate this extremism, Metcalf proposes a bizarro world where Rawls is the philosophical father of a Marxist or St. Simon narrow filter of justice that excludes any debate on market discipline. Metcalf then informs us that “bizarro Metcalf” would make an analogous argument against Rawls.

    But Metcalf only demonstrates that “bizarro Metcalf” stinks even more as a political philosopher. While it’s inaccurate to thumb Nozick as the “philosophical father of libertarianism,” it’s even more inaccurate to put Rawls at the head of some St. Simon coalition.

    Bizarro Metcalf should prompt one to question what Metcalf exactly means by “justice.” We should recall Rawlsian Justice is a set of guaranteed primary goods(liberties) and a difference principle(maximizing the minimum). Rawlsian Justice is not concerned with perfect equality nor minimizing something like a Gini coefficient. Metcalf tosses around justice and Rawls quite a bit, but is he actually talking about “Rawlsian Justice”?

    The silliness of Metcalf as a political philosopher culminates with his winning strategy of pitting justice vs liberty in a democratic vote. Of course, Metcalf is choosing the definition for each option, which is a nice scam if you can manage it. It’s nice to play dictator. However, Metcalf concludes by lamenting the lack of unanimity by the left around his own dictatorial preference of justice, noting, of course, we don’t actually know what his own preference is. Of course, there is no such thing as “justice” as a singular thing to begin with; there are as many definitions/preferences of justice as there are voters.

    And we can’t rely on an authorities like Rawls to narrow down the choices. Rawls doesn’t survive the vote. What we find is that voters will opt to impose a set of primary obligations to avoid minimizing the minimum. That’s “bizarro Rawls” in the Metcalf world. You can’t blame that on libertarianism…

    The Calculus of Dissent

    Let us return to class theory. Charles Rowley, one of “Academic Deans” of Public Choice, is exploring the deep end these days. His blog is taking on “conspiratorial” tones with his detour into Obama as Manchurian Candidate. Funny, I don’t recall the strategic calculus of the “Manchurian Candidate” making it into the “Calculus of Consent.”

    A short review of Public Choice.

    The Virginia School of Public Choice rejects any class-dominance approach to politics. This was made clear in “The Calculus of Consent.” Buchanan and Tullock:

    We shall also reject any theory or conception of the collectivity which embodies the exploitation of a ruled by a ruling class. This includes the Marxist vision, which incorporates the polity as one means through which the economically dominant group imposes its will on the downtrodden. Other theories of class domination are equally foreign to our purposes. Any conception of State activity that divides the social group into the ruling class and the oppressed class, and that regards the political process as simply a means through which this class dominance is established and then preserved, must be rejected as irrelevant for the discussion which follows.

    No doubt, this rejection in part is rooted in equating such an approach with Marx. And there is good reason for rejecting the Marxist variant of class analysis. It’s wrong. The Marxist approach to politics fails because capitalism is not the root of class dominance; rather it is an end product of it. However, the shortcomings of a Marxist approach to class dominance do not invalidate class theory.

    The Virginia School paradigm of Public Choice sets out to establish the microeconomic basis of the modern state. The State follows a “Protective-Productive” model. The “Protective State” is that part of the State that has a rational choice, game theorteic basis as “quarrel-quelling” agency. This is the “constitution as social contract,” a unanimous agreed upon social bargaining solution to the “Hobbes State of Nature Problem.” The second part of this model, the “Productive State,” represents the “post constitutional phase.” Here, a microeconomic analysis of agent competition in “government as market,” particularly where the rules require no unanimity, is employed. In particular, the von Neumann–Morgenstern approach to cooperative n-player games is adopted, that is: players join together to form coalitions, with the “solutions” being symmetric payoffs among the smallest effective coalitions. Buchanan and Tullock used this approach to examine majority voting coalitions, “representative” political coalitions, lobbying, etc and establish how the “productive State” evolved into the rent-seeking, “re-distributive State.”

    The von Neumann–Morgenstern cooperative n-player game model–that is, where payoffs are symmetrically shared and dominant coalitions organize themselves into the smallest, effective coalitions–would seem to rule out any basis for a “dominant ruling class coalition.” Dominant coalitions are much too unstable and temporary.

    Over the intervening years, the influence of Public Choice within the academic literature is undeniable. While the concept of “rent-seeking” is now denied by no one, the typical counter against a complete model of microeconomic political competition relies on either: (1) some degree of social unanimity about the ends of the “productive state” (2) some rejection of rationality

    (1) is complicated by Arrow’s Theorem
    (2) Bryan Caplan’s “Irrational Prejudices Topology,” e.g., suffers from an empirical problem that the “professional classes” are often more biased/dumber than the “joe six-pack voter.”

    Buchanan would later opine that Public Choice was not a new insight. Rather is was just a “renaissance” of enlightenment liberal political economy. It was clearing out the intellectual folly that had overtaken economics the past century.

    In my mind, (1) and (2) are not compelling critiques against Public Choice. But Public Choice, nonetheless, is vulnerable. In particular, the rational choice basis for the “Protective State” is something that can be critically examined. Buchanan, in a later work, “The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan,” would probe more deeply the rational basis for the “Social Contract,” or the “Protective State,” if you will. However, we follow the methodology of Anthony De Jasay, which more or less divorces Rational Choice from any normative political philosophy, the contractual basis of the Protective State doesn’t hold up so well. This is a point conceded by Charles Rowley.

    This conceptual vulnerability is reinforced by the actual empirical failures of the “Calculus of Consent.” The empirical failure of the “Productive State” is not,as suggested by Buchanan and Tullock in CoC, an example of a coalition lobby forming to eliminate it’s subsidy; rather it would be the problem that Tullock himself would address almost 3 decades later: namely, economic rent transfers dwarfed the competitive outlays for such economic rent. In other words, the rent-seeking industry was way too small. Put yet another way: there is no actual market here, at least not one that has any microeconomic foundations.

    The empirical failure of the “Protective State” is the emergence of a “secret police.” An empirical reality of a “secret police” utterly undermines Buchanan’s normative ethical argument of “Continuing Contract and the Status Quo” made in “The Limits of Liberty.” The need for a secret police tells you all you need to know about the “Status Quo.” The normative liberal “Protective State” simply cannot survive the empirical reality of the Secret Police.

    A previous post, “The Matrix as Ruling Class,” examined more fully the Public Choice critique against a “Ruling Class.” My suggestion was that the Ruling Class was tied more into the “Protective State.” The Matrix as model for the Protective State hinted at the source of a dominant ruling class: the long run evolutionary equilibrium of liberalism(or any form of Statism) is totalitarianism. I think this model is more reasonable and predictive than one relying on a “Manchurian Candidate” hypothesis to explain the positive failures of normative political ideals.