The Progressive Promise

This piece, The Libertarian Delusion, by the American Prospect is textbook straw man logical fallacy so bereft of imagination that the author manages to subvert his own position. Memo: if the thing you are claiming to be a failure is also claimed in the same argument to be a creation wholly of the thing you support, you might want to pause a bit to consider what your argument is actually saying:

Government control is not a sufficient condition for market regulation

And this goes to the crux of the matter. For libertarianism is not “the market.”1 Rather, it is no authority between supply and demand, no authority between consenting adults. Beyond that, it promises little.

Progressivism,on the other hand, is a thousand authorities between supply and demand, a plethora of czars between consenting adults. Of course, in return for our subjugation to these myriad authorities, it promises a lot. However, when it fails to make good on its lofty promises, it hardly bothers itself with any type of self-examination. Instead it goes looking for scapegoats. So desperate to slay any hint of an alternative, it claims itself the only source of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and in doing so, undermines the raison de etre for its supposed authority:

by its own admission, it can’t actually guarantee what it is promising

Oh, I quite realize the progressive response: yes, we can, if we have a million authorities between supply demand and a galaxy of czars between consenting adults. But my observation regarding the progressive promise is pretty simple:

Government authority can only guarantee that there will be scapegoats

1 For example, Bastiat’s defining libertarian treatise is “The Law”, not “The Market.”

Transactional Consent

Some brief commentary on the recent passage of “affirmative consent” legislation in California that will no doubt be replicated across the country. I have two primary objections to it:

(1) If we assume the premise of a crisis of rape culture on university campuses, then the only just conclusion is the immediate termination of any state subsidy of this odious institutional setting. There are no if, and or buts on the matter, otherwise its mere toleration of culturally subsidized mass rape. There is no argument for tinkering at the margins for such a thing.

(2) Those that insist that a standard of “affirmative consent” be employed as a mitigating offset are typically the same ones that in any other context scoff at the human agency of transactional consent. So, in California, for example, you will have the left hand implement a legal standard of affirmative consent to address a crisis of mass rape while the right hand vigorously steps up a war on transactionally consensual sex, operating on the premise that transactional consent indicates a condition of human servitude. You are left wondering what exactly does “affirmative consent” entail? Who knows. According to Think Progress, the implied subtext is a legal standard of sufficient mutual titillation. But that nebulous standard implies not only the criminalization of bad sex, but pretty much the banning of marital sex(familiarity breeds routine, not excitement, and romantic love is a very temporary thing indeed).

Interestingly, this issue seems to split left-libertarians. On this one I break the apparent orthodoxy, and I break it hard. Mind you, I would pooh-pooh any suggestion this a consequence of some cultural defect on my part. And I have no interest in defending the sexual practice mores of university life. Frankly, my college years were pretty tame relative to the rest of my youth(gen x’er, so I’m old now). The better part of my experiences came on the streets, the strips and the clubs that proceeded all that. In those thereabouts, there was no “rape culture.”

What this doublethink on “transactional consent” does entail is a rather somber confirmation of the de Jasay model of the State. Even though the classic libertarian method revolves around the plunder of economic rent as the organizing principle of the State, the rational pattern suggests a firm that maximizes discretionary power, not economic rents. It is this descriptive fact that suggests not to rely on your fingers and toes to countdown the expiration date of this thing, the State.

Monopoly Enforcement of Moral Ends is the Foundation of Statism

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Accountability in Liberal Democracy…A Reply to E.D. Kain

E.D. Kain’s “Case for Democracy” suffers from an apparent flaw: namely, there is no case made. Instead, the piece reflects a “presumption of democracy” and then proceeds with a case against libertarianism as undermining democracy. In the interest of accuracy, then, the piece should be re-titled, “The Presumption of Democracy.” Cast in those terms, I would have no quibble with a criticism of libertarianism as undermining such a presumption. But that line of attack is not sufficient to demonstrate that “Theoretically, the ideal libertarian society would have no democracy at all,” or that “in order for it to exist as a model for society, democracy must be snuffed out through coercion.”

Kain attempts to justify his claims regarding the “ideal model of libertarianism” with an appeal to Michael Lind’s article. But this absolutely misses the boat. Why? Because libertarianism is not the only political philosophy that scoffs at a presumption of Democracy. There are plenty others. For example, liberalism.

To clearly see this, we should understand that a “presumption of democracy” holds that voting is the only means of legitimate collective action, and this legitimacy is sanctioned by a 50.01% majority and above. I seriously doubt that Kain, or anyone else–other than rabid communitarians–actually holds to such a presumption. So, what we end up, in terms of an actual presumption, is democracy decorated with an adjective; for example, “liberal democracy.” And what we really mean by “democracy with adjectives” is a preference regarding constraints on simple majority rule.

Now we should begin to see, once the terms of the argument are properly defined, how Kain’s presumption claim begins to unravel. The accusation vis a vis democracy against the likes of Mises and Hayek can be levied against anyone. H&M are simply guilty of preferring liberal outcomes and liberal constraints over a non-liberal outcome sanctioned by voting, or a “presumption of democracy(that is, they rejected democracy sans liberalism).” It’s a simple as that. Liberalism, whether enlightenment(classical) or modern, does not subjugate principles of liberty or equality to a “presumption of democracy.” That is to say, they aren’t up for a vote. This admission, which should be admitted by anyone who claims the label of liberal(and really, it’s an admission that can be generalized to anyone who ascribes to a “democracy with adjectives” constraint on the presumption of democracy), is not equivalent, however, to the necessity of eliminating voting as an instrument of collective action. Indeed, I could argue that any insistence of banishing democratic collective action would almost certainly violate the libertarian principle and that it cannot be shown that such a ban is either a sufficient or necessary condition for a libertarian outcome.

So, to summarize: libertarianism is hardly unique in it’s opposition to a “presumption of democracy.” And it’s a non sequitur to imply that a “presumption against democracy” follows from opposition to a “presumption of democracy.”

Kain is guilty of a logical fallacy but attempts to correct himself with this follow-up post, Liberty & Democracy, that drops the simple presumption of democracy for one decorated by an adjective, in particular, “liberal.” So the discussion properly shifts to one of liberal preferential constraints on simple majority rule.

It is at this point that the libertarian political critique becomes germane. A libertarian argument against a “presumption of democracy” is a trivial one. The meat of the libertarian political critique is it’s attack on the “presumption of liberal democracy.” It’s essential summary: much of the State’s actions are not rooted in consent. Liberal constraints fail to constrain the State’s actions. Democracy is not a means to constrain or ensure accountability against a monopoly moral claim on the legitimate use of force.

The essential summary can be best rolled up under the banner of “libertarian class theory.” E.D. Kain is, I’m sure, familiar with this critique, but he dismisses it, or at least dismisses it as a fatal blow against the “presumption of liberal democracy,” largely on the premise that all “social arrangements are coercive.” Another way to state the premise is that “coercive force” is a natural monopoly. This premise is a familiar claim and is often used to blunt the libertarian political critique with the charge that libertarian social arrangements would be rooted in coercion as well.

In the end, the “presumption of liberal democracy” survives; but it survives as a type of dilemma. In other words, we end up with the oft quoted phrase, “Democracy is evil, but it’s the least evil alternative we have.” Put yet another way, we end up with the “presumption of liberal democracy being the least worst rights’ violator.”

That a consideration of coercion supposedly leads us to this dilemma is illustrative why a mathematical minimization of this quantity called coercion is not the foundation of the social order(nor should serve as the basis of social analysis). If we understand the libertarian principle, in a social context, to be the Lockean Proviso and not NAP, then it’s fairly straight-forward to debunk the “Dilemma Presumption.”

For example, consider a workplace democracy scenario(Scenario #1) where workers vote on an increase in income flows to go toward immediate increased salary compensation or a deferred benefit retirement plan. If one’s preferred choice loses out in the vote, is that person then a victim of coercion? Consider, of course, that the increased income flows may be a consequence of increased labor hours.

The answer would generally be no, if we assume that the worker is better off in the workplace bargain than without it. Agents do not enter into contracts or bargains as means to satisfy a mathematical min behavioral constraint on coercion–indeed, if humans were coercion “minimizers,” they would never enter any contracts or bargains. In short, there would be no society, no cooperation.

Humans cooperate and enter into contracts because it increases their welfare. The act of cooperation creates surplus. Bargaining theory deals with how humans will rationally bargain the distribution of such a surplus. One obvious constraint is that if an agent is made worse off in a bargain, it shouldn’t agree to the bargain.

If we consider say another democratic scenario(Scenario #2) where a geographical group of voters vote to impose a protectionist requirement, or barrier of entry, for our agent to make a workplace bargain, then it should be obvious that this agent is made worse off by this type of bargain, and it should reject it.

The distinction between #1 and #2 isn’t best illuminated by an analysis of coercion, but rather by an analysis of the Lockean proviso constraint. With #1, we have a collective body that has to bear the responsibility of it’s agreements and operates under a bargaining constraint. #2 gives us a collective body that does not have to bear the responsibility of it’s actions and is incentivized to maximize artificial surplus, under no bargaining constraint, while dispersing the costs to others.

#1 is an example of a collective action that does not violate libertarian constraints while #2 is an example of one that does. #2 is often dressed up in the language of the “Social Contract,” but it is evident that #2 can be a bad bargain for some(or many, or even most), so the presumption of something like the Social Contract, from a LP perspective, is not warranted.

An easily anticipated counter-argument is the appeal to a greater context that the State operates in, particular with respect to it’s other actions that may be said to create “positive externalities” which would offset the “bad bargain.” But this is actually a utilitarian appeal; in no way does a school or a road offset the bad bargain for those rotting in a cage because of protectionist laws. Indeed, tax-subsidized roads, for example, can be a bad bargain for mom-pop businesses that cannot compete against subsidized economies of scale.

The libertarian principle is not a utilitarian one, but the utilitarian argument, that is, the argument of overall welfare, doesn’t fare particularly well under the libertarian knife. A public Choice analysis of the competition for artificial rents in money,land,patents, tariffs and security provides a political economic model for welfare reduction. The model also provides us with an empirical measurement of a ruling class: when the flow of economic rent far exceeds the competitive money bidding for such rent, we have a “ruling class.”

The obvious empirical problem for a welfare defense of a the social contract presumption is what need does a utilitarian welfare state, one that is on the business of manufacturing positive externalities, have with things like the secret police? Why has the utilitarian liberal welfare state seen the need to overtly eviscerate it’s legal foundation of the Great Writ? These aren’t the actions of a liberal state ; rather they are the actions of an Actor that views the presumption of the social contract as a thing to be enforced, not as something rooted in consent.


From a social theoretic perspective, treating libertarianism as a theory of rational moral constraints–as a boundary condition on moral claims–rather than a moral theory of coercion(NAP), avoids the argument for a claim of the presumption of the social contract(the social contract of liberal democracy) rooted in a “coercion dilemma.”

Coercion as the foundational tool of social analysis is useless. Human social interaction is not explained by a coercion max/min problem. Indeed, if humans were coercion minimizers, they would never socially interact. We would all be Robinson Crusoes.

Instead, human social interaction, in a world of scarcity, is best explained by the fact that human cooperation creates “surplus.” The libertarian principle is a boundary constraint on this human cooperation, namely that any given rational agent benefits from the cooperative equilibrium relative to the defection state1.

Since it can be demonstrated that there are examples of social interactions of “constrained maximizers” vs those that incentivize unconstrained maximization, there is no real basis for the presumption of the Social Contract.

Further, E.D. Kain’s social contract presumption suffers from the empirical fact that the presumption of the State, the National Security State, is that it’s citizens do not abide by the presumption of the social contract. That’s why you have a National Security State and a secret police. The ballot box is not a means to legitimacy when there is none to be had.

1 For more details, refer to the these previous posts:

How Progressive are Libertarians?

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

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

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

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

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…

Chuck Schumer’s New War on Bitcoin

New York Senator Chuck Schumer probably occupies a top place in the libertarian axis of evil. A bigot, a religious fanatic, a nanny-state totalitarian and a crook, Schumer epitomizes the libertarian critique against political authority. This is a man who is accustomed to barking orders at a servile populace, a man who counts intimidation and threats to be among his preferred methods of executing governance. So this video and story of Schumer’s outrage over Silk Road and Bitcoin, likely facilitated by a recent Gawker article, is vintage Chuck. Conjure moral outrage, summon the TV cameras, bark orders…

But, unfortunately for Chuck, this ain’t Four Loco. Ordering the Feds to shutdown the website and “seize the domain” was comedic display of Mussolini buffoonery. I suppose it’s sad that no one in the press corp had the technical wherewithal to challenge Schumer’s stupidity, but it’s amusing that Schumer’s aide, the one that set up the TOR client to access the site, didn’t have the cojones to prevent Chuck from looking like a moron. But then again, I suppose it’s probably career suicide to stand between Schumer’s moral outrage and a TV camera.

Silk Road is running as a TOR hidden service on the TOR P2P tunneling network. This means it’s being run from someone’s anonymous box that generally can’t be identified. It can be anywhere in the world. Anyone who downloads the TOR software can setup a hidden service. There’s no “domain name” to seize here and the only way to stop this sort of thing (at least until the “Internet Kill Switch Bill” is enacted) is to ban the TOR protocol outright, which would counter the government’s interests because: (i) it would cast the US in a bad authoritarian light (ii) more importantly, it’s used by US intelligence organs as a secure communications tunneling network with international assets. After all, it was the US government that originally developed it, and it was released into the wild because it’s useless, like any other P2P network, without a robust number of nodes. In particular, here, a TOR network of nodes consisting of just the spies, informants and US bureaucrats would be “stick out like a sore thumb” tunnel; these tunnels need lots of “noise,” that is, lots and lots of other tunnels to be effective. Also, of course, if the software was “classified,” there would be an obvious distribution problem of getting the software into the hands of the intelligence assets, a vulnerability(which could be exploited, because the acquisition method of the software could be compromised and tracked) that, combined with the “stick out like a sore thumb” intelligence-only tunnels, would make TOR useless. And this is why the US government released TOR into the wild.

Chuck hasn’t gotten the memo on TOR yet, but I imagine he will get the intelligence organ “sit down” on that. It’s not TOR that’s the threat, it’s Bitcoin. Schumer called Bitcoin a “money laundering mechanism;” certainly he is ready to take the lead in Senate hearings to foster drafting new legislation that would outlaw any unauthorized crypto-currency. However, the government, particularly the intelligence organs, is a bit ahead of Schumer in that the CIA is sponsoring a presentation by the Bitcoin lead developer.

Hitherto, the problem of crypto-currencies, in terms of being any threat to the State, was the need of a central authority to regulate against fraud. Anyone can define an electronic coin as a ledger/chain of digital signatures. One obvious problem is how to prevent Agent A, who is wishing to transfer ownership of the coin for a good/service, to simultaneously use the same coin to buy something from Agent B and Agent C, that is, more or less simultaneously digitally sign over the coin to Agent B and Agent C. This problem would seem to require a central authority to referee between A’s transaction with B and A’s transaction with C.

The Bitcoin algorithm, from I gather reading the technical whitepaper, solves the problem of transaction verification by incentivizing every node in the Bitcoin network to race for verification of outstanding transactions. In other words, every node is in competition to serve as the clearinghouse for the current existing block of unverified transactions. The verification is done by timestamp. All transactions are broadcast to all nodes, but in a P2P network, Node X’s timestamp for the current unverified transactions may be differ than Node Y’s timestamp for the same. The timestamp verification that wins out, that is the node that wins the clearinghouse game, depends on that node solving a “proof of work concept” that is able to solve a difficult mathematical problem of converting a hash representation of it’s own block into a required leading zero-bit format. The winning node then broadcasts it’s time stamp block to all nodes that readjust accordingly. The winning node is awarded a certain amount of bitcoins which serves as the first transaction in the next block of unverified transactions that will need to be verified.

Bitcoin is able to use competition to resolve the clearinghouse problem(clearinghouse nodes are incentivized by new coin creation). It ingeniously self-corrects for the introduction of cpu power by making the mathematical work of proof problem geometrically more difficult. This allows scalability without monopoly capture, but it does create a division of labor scenario where clearinghouse nodes invest in GPU cycles over CPU cycles(the investment in GPU cycles allows the system to handle the clearinghouse needs of an expanding system). However, the system constraints cap the total coin creation which means that clearinghouse nodes will eventually only compete over transaction fees.

The question concerning Bitcoin is two-fold: (i) can it survive a coordinated hacker attack (ii) can it survive government censorship/banning. We are probably about to find out about (ii). The thing about the US is that it is not a hard censorship regime; it’s a soft censorship regime. An actual honest-to-god crypto currency, however, is it’s worst nightmare. The US government will release something like TOR into the wild, but it would never release something like Bitcoin into the wild.