Libertarian Moment

Actual libertarians–that is, those who take the political economic critique seriously–easily surmised beforehand that the “libertarian moment” would more or less just produce something like the “libertarian case for stop and frisk.” Bonus: self-described “libertarians” apparently now are even more likely to support US military interventionism than those not aligned with the label.

Smells like a Conservative

I suppose the gig is fully up when someone like Phyllis Schlafly declares social conservatism to be the true heir of libertarianism.
Oh, wait.

Winning the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rational Expectations

In my previous post, I discussed both the morality and rationality of voting, particularly as it pertained to Ron Paul. The conclusion was that there was no moral obligation to vote nor one not to vote. The rationality of voting is an entirely different consideration. This calculation boils down to the following factors: (i) the importance(payoff) of the best candidate winning, (ii) the probability that your vote will change the outcome.

Tom Woods’ characterization of the problem as an easy choice between prime rib vs gruel is not correct because he is assuming away the resolution of the public good problem of recognizing the “best candidate.” If everyone recognized the actual best candidate as the best candidate, then perhaps an argument could be made for the rationality of voting; but then we would also be treading on a doctrine that would have to view voting/democracy as an efficient selection mechanism for collective action/public policy.

I doubt Woods would accept such a view of Democracy and voting. So he is really restricting his “best candidate” recognition argument to a subset of us enlightened libertarians. But this immediately lead us the problem of (ii), the likelihood that the enlightened libertarian vote could change the outcome.

As a side problem, I noted that the uncertainty introduced by the principal-agent problem of Political Parties reduces the expected payoff of the best candidate winning.

Perhaps my greatest critique of Paul is his association with the GOP agency. To me, trying to change the ideology of a party that is so throughly statist is a tremendous waste of resources. If the goal is to actually change the policy and not the party, then it would be more rational to actually run as an independent or third party. Yes, I understand the barrier of entry problem, but this problem doesn’t apply to Paul any longer. He has the name recognition and the resources to overcome the ballot qualification problem and the debate inclusion problem. Typically Paul dismisses such a suggestion with an appeal to the generalized problem: yes, most politicians would be buried by the barrier of entry problem, but Paul has likely eclipsed this limiting constraint.

A discussion of the rationality of an independent run is a separate question, but I think a discussion of the relative rationality of an independent run vs trying to convert Santorum/Gingrich/Romney/Bush voters lends itself to an easy comparative call. All we have to is examine the voting statistics from last night’s Iowa Caucus. Among registered Republicans, Paul was just an also-ran. It was the inclusion of independents and democratic voters, captured overwhelmingly by Paul, that enabled him to be competitive within the so-called “top tier.”

The Iowa Caucus also served the purpose of once again demonstrating the miscalculation of the so-called “Paleo Strategy.” Santorum, like Huckabbe 4 years earlier, was able to rise methodically from obscurity by dominating the “evangelical epicenters” of Iowa. Paul’s best county again was Jefferson County, a haven for alternative religions such as Transcendental Meditation. As the saying goes, “ball don’t lie…”