All posts by Brandon Christensen

Not much to say...

Delacroix’s new book is available in hard copy

As you all know, Dr Delacroix recently called it quits here at Notes On Liberty (he still blogs at Facts Matter), but I thought I’d give his new book a shout-out:

My book:

Jacques Delacroix: I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography

is available from me by email : jdelacroixliberty@gmail.com. Please, send me $17 so I can buy fishing bait. Please, add $1.50 for taxes and $4 to help support the US Post Office. Total: $22.50

This is cheap for much entertainment and a little bit of
enlightenment. The book contains many items of esoteric high-brow trivia you will be able to use to make yourself sound brilliant at cocktail parties (Marin County) and at barbecues (elsewhere).

The electronic version is also available in the Kindle Store at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JY0G3SA

On reading devices other than Kindle: August 2nd

The electronic version costs only $7. (Every time you buy one I can afford another cappuccino.)

Other unimportant news: My slim collection of stories and essays in French will be on Amazon (electronic only) soon. It’s entitled: Les Pumas de grande-banlieue.

You can also find his book on the sidebar of the blog here.

Around the Web

  1. Paupers and Richlings: Piketty’s ‘Capital’ by Benjamin Kunkel (h/t Mark Brady)
  2. The neoconservatives have ramped up their attacks on Rand Paul. This means his foreign policy ideas are winning out, of course. Neoconservatives have also begun blaming libertarians rather than liberals for the failure of their Iraq war campaign
  3. Liberals and libertarians have been finding common ground in the US House of Representatives
  4. What does the BRICS bank mean? From Dan Drezner
  5. Want to solve the border crisis? Give free drugs to addicts. This is from Marc Joffe, and includes a very thoughtful analysis of charter cities and how they can help improve the institutional problems that would still plague Central America even if the drug war were to end
  6. Help! I’m a Marxist who defends capitalism

A California Crack-Up?

We can only hope.

There has been a small flurry of news articles covering the success of a political initiative by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to split California into six states rather than one. If this sounds familiar, it’s because many Notewriters have been advocating for more decentralization - both in the US and abroad – since NOL was founded back in 2012. Because breaking up states within free trade zones is such a sophisticated idea, many mainstream pundits have been reluctant to read up on it. Instead, Left-wing reactionaries (and really, are there any other kind?) simply resort to slandering the entrepreneur responsible for the initiative (his name is Timothy Draper, by the way, and you can look up his wiki here), slandering libertarianism, and slandering rich people (Slate, predictably, covers all of the fallacious bases in one fell swoop).

Luckily, the internet now provides people with more than three television channels.

There are two things you need to know about secession within the US free trade zone. First, it is extremely hard to break up one state into many. There is a constitutional process for the whole idea (I don’t understand why the framers, and subsequent legal experts, can respect secession within free trade zones but cannot bother to apply their reasoning to secession in matters outside of a free trade zone’s jurisdiction; Texas, for example, provides us with a great case study of what happens when an administrative polity breaks away from a federal state only to join a rival federal state; Why should this concept not be applied to the West’s foreign policies today?).

In order for a potential administrative unit (“state”) to become an actual US state, it must first be approved by state legislatures. So, in California’s case, only the California legislature needs to approve of the secession. However, there are rules in the constitution allowing for states to join up with each other, or for one region between two US states (like the hippie area in northern California and southern Oregon) to apply for statehood as well. When two or more states are involved, the legislatures of each state must approve of the secession (or marriage). Are we all clear?

Second, after the state legislature(s) approve of the secession, the move must then be approved by the US Congress (both houses). Andrew Prokop, of the Left-wing site vox.com (lest I be accused of being too ideological), explains well what this means:

The biggest difficulty of all would be getting Congressional approval. Giving California 12 Senate seats would be an extremely tough sell. Though those seats wouldn’t necessarily be overwhelmingly Democratic [...] they would dilute the power of every existing senator.

Indeed. Now you can hopefully see why libertarians generally support decentralized governance (and let it be remembered that federalism – even a territorially-expansionist federalism – is likely to be the quickest, but still legally-soundest, way towards decentralized governance). As I wrote in a ‘comments’ thread last September (2013):

[...] the federal pie itself would not grow in the event of a few states splitting up.

Think of it this way: suppose the federal budget is $100 for the year. Currently, there are 100 Senators and 435 members of the House, so altogether there are 535 politicians dividing up the $100 pie.

Now suppose the number of states suddenly doubled. You now have 200 Senators and say 870 members of the House.

Numbers like this guarantee that each politician will have less power.

Additionally, you cannot grow the federal pie simply by creating new states out of thin air. If this were the case, then politicians and intellectuals who favor the government redistribution of wealth approach would have long ago advocated for more states. Advocates of redistribution recognize that more decentralization of power makes it harder to come to a consensus about policy options.

And the less government does, the better off everybody will be.

Now, with this being said, there is more than one type of pie. There are state pies and county pies and private sector pies, too. Secession would weaken the power of state-level politicians (Governor Brown could only inflict damage on northern Californians rather than all Californians, for example).

County pies may or may not grow, but in my estimation I do not think growth at the county level is all that important.

The one pie that would grow would be the private sector pie, largely due to the lack of consensus (or, in other words, the greater amount of special interests) at the federal level that decentralization brings about.

Speaking of ‘comments’ threads: One of the things I like most about blogs is the fact that many of the insights I receive about an idea or an event are found in the ‘comments’ threads rather than in an original post. The openness of the blogging platform provides not only an avenue for individuals to express their thoughts, no matter how primitive or vulgar, but also a way for people to expand their horizons and learn something new. This is one of the reasons I try to encourage readers, as well as my fellow Notewriters, to get more involved in the ‘comments’ threads, although y’all are understandably weary of trolls.

The European Union Needs More States, Not More Territory

The recent uproar over the upcoming vote on the potential secession of Scotland from Great Britain illustrates well the European Union’s foreign policy weaknesses. The EU’s potential to increase the number of states within its borders without having to expand its geographic space is an overlooked avenue to reaching a bolder, more sophisticated foreign policy.

Regional aspirations for more political autonomy have been voiced since the time of the creation of Germany and Italy in the late 19th century, but wars, nationalism, economic concerns, and fear of wars have largely kept these aspirations on the fringe of domestic political debates in Europe.

Steven Erlanger’s 2012 piece in the New York Times explains well why this is changing and what is currently happening in the European Union:

The great paradox of the European Union, which is built on the concept of shared sovereignty, is that it lowers the stakes for regions to push for independence.

Erlanger also goes on to quote a scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations:

‘The whole development of European integration has lowered the stakes for separation, because the entities that emerge know they don’t have to be fully autonomous and free-standing,’ said Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. ‘They know they’ll have access to a market of 500 million people and some of the protections of the E.U.’

The European Union has essentially taken the place of the nation-state as the chief entity in charge of standardizing trading policies in Europe. This political setup is a great opportunity for regions that have been absorbed into larger nation-states to assert more fiscal and political independence because of these regions’ new interdependence with a larger part of the European economy. The confederation has provided an opportunity for smaller states to emerge while at the same time providing these small state polities with a range of options and allies that are often missing from small states’ repertoires. The best of both worlds has a chance to flower: local governance and total participation in world trade.

This is better understood with a quick historical sketch of 19th and 20th century Europe in mind.

In the last decades of the 19th century the large nation-states of central Europe – Germany and Italy – had just been formed after centuries of being composed of hundreds of small polities. These small polities were parochial, and many of these polities’ elite factions had erected protectionist barriers around their small territories. These newly established nation-states were flanked on their eastern borders by cosmopolitan-but-despotic empires operating from Vienna, Moscow and Istanbul, and to the south were small Muslim polities haphazardly connected to the Ottoman Empire and economically dependent on Mediterranean piracy and Saharan trade routes. To the north and west: oceans and the seafaring, imperial regimes of Great Britain, the Netherlands, and France.

A map of Europe in 1800 AD. Look at how many polities are in what is now Germany and Italy. Thanks goes to euratlas.com

The formation of these larger nation-states were undertaken, generally speaking, in order to unify territories considered to be connected under various broad cultural domains into a cohesive political units and mercantile trading blocs.

After Germany and Italy achieved political unification, programs geared towards creating economic spheres of influence within the territory of the new nation-states began to be implemented. The creation of nation-states in central Europe had the contradictory result of opening up free trade zones within the territories of nation-states while simultaneously erecting new trading barriers that targeted individuals and factions not connected with the new nation-states. Free trade won in the domestic arena of these new states, but it also lost out internationally.

The political unification of these nation-states did not go down well with a myriad of factions. The reasons for resistance were varied, but suffice it to say that there was an intense backlash against the centralization of power and the nationalization of everyday life in the new nation-states of central Europe.

To counter regional resistance, proponents of political centralization argued that political union halted the wars that had wracked Europe for centuries (the economic benefits of freer trade were touted as well, but this argument did not have the same clout as it does today). However, this intellectual argument was framed in nationalistic terms, so when it trickled down into the public sphere of European life what emerged was a solid case against regional fracture that involved one part peace and one part national chauvinism.

The end result of this was the destruction of Europe through two large-scale, horrific wars.

The European Union has succeeded where the nation-states of Germany and Italy failed: by creating a massive free trade zone that eliminates protectionism (as the German and Italian nation-states did), and the necessity of cultural chauvinism (“nationalism”)  to maintain legitimacy (which the German and Italian nation-states could not do), the European Union has provided Europe with an incredible opportunity to build a lasting peace.

Adopting a requirement for member states  to incorporate a constitutional option that allows for referendums on secession would be a bold move that would not only bring a higher level of sophistication to EU foreign policy, but also fluster Moscow without edging closer to its borders (think about the example this would set in Russia’s own self-styled federation).

Around the Web

  1. The first Gulf War in 1991 was the US’s opening Iraqi mistake
  2. The art history of an unknown Korea
  3. Damon Root sums up Obama’s disappointing year with the Supreme Court
  4. Brazil: Cinema’s most radical battleground
  5. How to have law without legislation
  6. If Scotland Goes: First the empire disappeared. Now Britain itself could crumble. Scottish independence would have global implications

Deviant Tendency: An inside look at the politics of Iran

[Editor's note: the following is a short essay by Payam Ghorbanian. Payam was born in Tehran, Iran. He got his bachelor of science in Engineering from Zanjan University in Zanjan, Iran. He has been participating in liberal political activities and he was involved with some think tanks in Iran. He is doing research in the field of international relations and Iran's foreign policy as an independent activist. He is now living in San Jose, California.

I am excited to post his thoughts because of their potential as a conduit for intercultural dialogue and exchange. I have left his essay largely intact, but did break up some of his longer paragraphs for clarity's sake. Thanks to Payam for taking the time to write this, and you can find his other essay at Notes On Liberty here, here, and here]

Last month was kind of exciting for me. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brother said “… my brother has gotten rid of his deviant friends…”. The term “Deviant Tendency” has been using in Iran for calling Mr. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and his followers. Mr. Mashaei had been represented by Ahmadinejad for being the next president of Iran but the Guardian Council of the Constitution turned that willing down. Therefore Ahmadinejad left his office while he was so disappointed and at that time he said that the council has just deprived Iran of having a distinguished president. Although with “Approbation Supervision”, which implies the right for acceptance or rejection of elections legality and candidate’s competency, probably just the supreme leader and his followers can be qualified through the barrier of the Guardian Council.

I do not really care about this rumor whether or not Ahmadinejad and Mashaei are separated, the issue would be what Mr Mashaei’s political and social views are and what it is wrong with that. Also why the supreme leader and his followers do not like him? Why they tried to make him isolated even though he has no official title? As you might know during the second term of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Mashaei was the chief of staff of the president of Iran. But why are they still scared of him? I should mention this that from my point of view, I am 100 percent sure that they (Ahmadinejad and Mashaei) just made this ending relations story up to have this chance for getting qualified for the next presidency election. But why are the supreme leader’s followers so excited of hearing that rumor? Apparently they still like Ahmadinejad but just him and as they said there would not be another chance for the combination of Ahmadinejad plus Mashaei to survive.

Now pay attention to these quotes:

“The area of Islamism has come to end, we had an Islamic revolution in 1979 but the area of Islamism is finished”

or

“Today, Iran is friend with American and Israeli people, No nation in the world is our enemy.”

These sentences and quotes have been told by the nearest person to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is Mr. Rahim Mashaei. Obviously one could talk about these ideas in the free world and no one is going to be prosecuted because of that. However, talking about ending of Islamism inside a revolutionary country like Iran would be insane. I believe these types of moderation comments about Islam and also talking about people of Israel and United States not to be enemy of the Iranian people were all about politics, and Mr. Mashaei did not believe in what he said. But what were his points at that time?

It was the time that Green Movement and protestors confronted against rigged election. I would say Mashaei did all these things to reduce pressures over Ahmadinejad and in order to deceiving and poisoning the people’s mind, those people of the middle class who desperately believe in the new relations between Iran and the free world. Also I believe Mashaei did all these things to be a target instead of AhmadiNejad, which is literally about what old friends do for each other.

In Iran and especially in Shia beliefs of Islam, an ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imam of the twelve Imams will emerge with Jesus Christ and will set the kingdom of heaven on the earth to bring peace and justice to the world. It is the belief that the twelfth Imam disappeared hundreds of years ago and went into occultation state, but he will definitely re-appear around the end of the world, before the Day of Judgment. Before the Islamic revolution in Iran and probably before uprising of Ayatollah Khomein, there was a common trend that Shia would wait up until its survivor comes back. However, Khomeini argued that government should be run with traditional Islamic rules and for this to happen a leading Islamic jurist must provide “Guardianship” and as he said “Wilayat” over the people. This guardianship would be remained till the Twelfth Imam returns.

At that time this theory was accepted by the revolutionists and as the result of that, the last king of Iran felt down and “Wilayat AL Faqih” (guardianship of the Islamic Jurists) popped up. The terms of your majesty were destroyed and the Imam and the Wilayat was established and then the supreme leader was considered as the twelfth Imam’s deputy, which means that his orders are the lord’s orders and any questions or criticizes would be called as hostility against the twelfth Imam. This chart will help you out to understand more clearly about the hierarchy of Imams in Shia.

When I was living in Iran I always heard some rumors about the distinguished people who they or their followers believe that they are in connection with the twelfth Imam. They claim they can talk to him in person and get orders from him without any problem. Probably in the past they could take advantage of people’s stupidities. However, they had never been accepted by the politicians inside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s presidency started. Now you can tell why they have been called as Deviant Tendency. Mashaei claimed that he could talk to the twelfth Imam in person and he believed that when we can have access to the real source, why we should follow his deputy, who does not have any confirmation from the real lord.

chart of persian imams

Before Mashaei tried to extend his theory, the revolutionary guard crippled all of his ambitions subsequently. His followers were arrested and he was about to get caught too but it seemed that Ahmadinejad was completely in agreement with what he was saying. Ahmadinejad tried to protect Mashaei but as you know he lost the protection of the supreme leader. As a result, his authority dropped considerably. He got teased and he lost his connections and finally he got kicked out of the power circle and all of these were about his friendship with Mashaei, which he truly believed in him.

And now the new game has just started. First it was announced by Ahmadinejad’s brother that there would not be any connection between his brother and the deviant tendency. Then Ahmadinejad had a speech in Mashahd, one of the most religious cities in Iran where the 8th Imam of Shia has been buried, and he said:

“… the only way to overcome the enemies of the nation is standing on the value of our goals in the same way that Khomeini has showed us. I would totally remain on that way to serve the nation and revolution and its values and principles.”

He also tried to imply on revolution principles, the principles that revolutionists believe has been neglected after Rohani became a president.

From the Comments: Has the deontological puzzle been solved?

Dr Fred Foldvary (yes, THE Fred Foldvary, the one who predicted the 2008 crash in 1998writes:

It is not clear what the policy consequences are regarding those who lose out due to competition. If we are free to choose our friends, there will be losers who lose someone’s friendship. Should we be forced to stay friends with those we no longer like? If not, then such a loss has no policy implication. Such incidental injuries have less damaging consequences than a law that prohibits ending a friendship. Thus the deontological and consequential effects are complements: Likewise, the consequences of prohibiting economic competition are worse than the losses due to competition. And entrepreneurs should know that the system is a profit and loss system, and anyone in business is vulnerable to losses. The losses due to competition are not torts and they are not coercive harms. They are injuries not deliberately inflicted but incidental to individuals and firms pursuing their happiness.

This is in response to my short post on the ethical divide within libertarianism between deontologists and consequentialists. I don’t think there is too much that we disagree on here; Indeed, it seems as if we are complimenting each other quite nicely (if I do say so myself!).

My one quibble is more of a question than a quibble: Although we cannot predict who will lose out to competition in markets, shouldn’t we be able to make some solid inferences? For example, if the US and Europe were to abolish subsidies to farmers and open up their markets to foreign competition, it stands safe to reason that Western farmers will lose out, at least in the short-run.

The logic behind Dr Foldvary’s comment is relatively clear: abolish protectionist subsidies (which are aggressive legislative acts perpetrated against Western consumers and foreign farmers) and this paves the way for non-aggression. Not only is this logic clear, it is irrefutable. It also shows how deontology and consequentialism are complimentary. However, logic and facts are not very useful when it comes to persuading the public. Philosophically this argument makes perfect sense, and politically and rhetorically Dr Foldvary makes it work, but in the general public sphere (especially the internet) the appeal to deontology has earmarked liberalization for disaster.

I suppose, if we follow Jacob Huebert’s line of reasoning, that the politics and the rhetoric of our ideas should not matter, but on the other hand we live in a world where even in the West libertarians have become a minority. The world will continue to liberalize as long as libertarians continue to be as lucid as Dr Foldvary, but I fear that men of his caliber are in very short supply today.

Are drugs actually bad for you?

There are a lot of psychedelic substances coming out of tribal cultures and we’re finding them to be of immense benefit for mental health issues in the West.

This is from an interview with Scottish filmmaker David Graham Scott conducted by Chem Squier for Vice. The whole interview is worth reading, and it is about using psychedelics to wean people off of opiates (pharmaceutical and illicit). One of the things that bothers me about proponents of drug liberalization is the phrase “We all know drug use is harmful, but…” because it’s not necessarily true that “drug use is harmful.”

Drug use can lead to addiction, but this is not the same thing as drug use is harmful. In fact, echoing Audrey’s recent post on heroin markets, I would argue that the War on Drugs actually creates the dangers associated with drug use. This is so because the base product that illicit drugs are made from is very different from the product that appears on the streets (or in the pharmacy), and the product that hits the streets is different from the initial base product because of the initial product’s illegality.

Slow down Brandon. Let me see if I can rephrase that last sentence. Drugs are made of plants. Drugs in their final street form are not usually consumed in their natural plant form because drug manufacturers have an incentive to alter the plant to avoid detection by government authorities.

Does this make sense? So cocaine, for example, is snorted in a powder form because it is illegal, not because drug manufacturers are trying to get more people hooked on their product.

Drugs have been with us since we first became human beings. So-called “tribal” peoples have continued to show us this through their long-running practices associated with psychedelics and opiates (and cannabinoids for that matter). In fact, there is some archaeological evidence that drugs were with other humanoids long before we homo sapiens were even around. Aside from the fact that “tribal” peoples still have a lot to teach us about ourselves and about the world in general, their drug use habits also show that there is a distinct, legitimate place in society for the use of drugs. Passing legislation to punish this long-held practice will only make life worse for everybody in society (it is important to note that addicts and recreational drug users are not the only ones affected by the War on Drugs).

Think about coffee. Coffee is essentially an addictive product of a plant that may, in the years to come, be recognized as such. Remember that cocaine was consumed in much the same way coffee was a hundred years ago. Should coffee be outlawed by government?

Lastly, addiction rates have hovered around 2% of a given population since data on vices have been available (the early to mid 19th century). This trend has continued to the present day. The only difference between then and now is that drug markets and drug use have become much more dangerous because of government laws that pretentiously state individuals should not consume a product government agents (drugs users themselves, no doubt) think is bad for society. (h/t Ben Huh?)

Around the Web

  1. Stiglitz and Toward a Theory of the Rent-Seeking Society
  2. The Truth About Our Libertarian Age; Straw men like this explain why libertarianism will continue to grow stronger.
  3. The Return of Karl Polanyi; Another article full of straw. See if you can spot the piles.
  4. What is the optimal number of immigrants to allow into the US? This is as close to a libertarian answer as you can get.
  5. Hayek and the Intellectuals

Deontology versus Consequentialism: The Great Libertarian Divide

I am not a philosopher. In fact, the two courses I took on philosophy in college (Honors courses on ancient Greek ethics and modern ethics) were the two courses where I received my lowest grades ever in college (B+’s). Nevertheless, I have been thinking about the great divide within libertarianism regarding the concept of ‘rights’.

I don’t want to delve into the concept of ‘rights’ here, largely because I have only a superficial understanding of the notion, but for the sake of non-libertarian readers I’d like to briefly explain that, within libertarianism, there is an argument about whether or not deontological ethics (wiki) or consequential ethics (wiki) is the proper framework with which to analyze the world.

Deontological libertarians argue that each and every individual has natural rights and that any sort of aggression upon these rights is inherently immoral. Consequentialist libertarians argue that the initiation of force is not as important as whether or not a policy makes everybody better off. In some ways, you can see these tensions being played out here on the blog.

Under these strict definitions I am a consequentialist, but I don’t think it’s quite right to label me as such. I think that the two ethical systems are complimentary more than they are antagonistic. For instance, I think the deontological framework is important because the urge of those in power to “do something”  for the greater good is often immense. Deontological ethics plays an important role in establishing boundaries that those in power have to respect. Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward provides a clear-cut example of what happens when power is unrestrained in the name of a greater good. Ethnic cleansing, famine, and poverty can all be attributed, in one form or another, to the lack of respect for deontological ethics.

On the other hand, deontological ethics is too dogmatic. It is impossible to have a society based completely upon the foundations of non-aggression. Free trade is a perfect example of this impossibility. Deontological libertarians support free trade because in the absence of coercion free trade would be the natural outcome. Yet this does not seem right to me. Free trade is good because it lifts up the overall standards of living for everybody in a society, but there are short-run losers when it comes to free trade. In fact, losers are a natural part of the marketplace as a whole. Without losers there could be no markets. We should all be thanking as many losers as we can, whenever we can (you can start with me; I recently set up a Tinder account).

Free trade, and the losers that it produces, has harmful short-run effects on some individuals and their property. Competition destroys fortunes and job skills alike. Free trade also creates verifiable prosperity for societies, and even the losers – eventually – become better off under free trade. Even the underlying structure of the capitalist order is based on aggressively protecting that “bundle” of individual rights that is so integral to freedom and prosperity (this does not mean that states are a necessity, but only that aggression is unavoidable in social relations).

I am off-base here? Am I knocking down a straw man? It seems to me that the consequentialist position – which is already very deontologically-friendly to begin with – is the better route to take, philosophically, politically, and rhetorically.

New Issue of Econ Journal Watch: Does Economics Need an Infusion of Religious or Quasi-Religious Formulations?

The new issue of Econ Journal Watch is out and EJW has teamed up with the Acton Institute to feature ‘religion and economics’ as the topic for a symposium.

As some of you may know, my fellow Editor-in-Chief Fred Foldvary is an editor for the journal, and Warren is the math reader, so this project holds a special place here at NOL. I just wish they’d be a little less humble about their endeavors elsewhere and share this type of stuff themselves (this humility is a recurring problem in the libertarian quadrant of the blogopshere)!

At any rate, here is the lineup:

The Prologue to the symposium suggests that mainstream economics has unduly flattened economic issues down to certain modes of thought (such as ‘Max U’); it suggests that economics needs enrichment by formulations that have religious or quasi-religious overtones.

Robin Klay helps to set the stage with her exploration“Where Do Economists of Faith Hang Out? Their Journals and Associations, plus Luminaries Among Them.”

Seventeen response essays are contributed by authors representing a broad range of religious traditions and ideological outlooks:

Pavel Chalupníček:
From an Individual to a Person: What Economics Can Learn from Theology About Human Beings

Victor V. Claar:
Joyful Economics

Charles M. A. Clark:
Where There Is No Vision, Economists Will Perish

Ross B. Emmett:
Economics Is Not All of Life

Daniel K. Finn:
Philosophy, Not Theology, Is the Key for Economics: A Catholic Perspective

David George:
Moving from the Empirically Testable to the Merely Plausible: How Religion and Moral Philosophy Can Broaden Economics

Jayati Ghosh:
Notes of an Atheist on Economics and Religion

M. Kabir Hassan and William J. Hippler, III:
Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

Mary Hirschfeld:
On the Relationship Between Finite and Infinite Goods, Or: How to Avoid Flattening

Abbas Mirakhor:
The Starry Heavens Above and the Moral Law Within: On the Flatness of Economics

Andrew P. Morriss:
On the Usefulness of a Flat Economics to the World of Faith

Edd Noell:
What Has Jerusalem to Do with Chicago (or Cambridge)? Why Economics Needs an Infusion of Religious Formulations

Eric B. Rasmusen:
Maximization Is Fine—But Based on What Assumptions?

Rupert Read and Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

Russell Roberts:
Sympathy for Homo Religiosus

A. M. C. Waterman:
Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

Andrew M. Yuengert:
Sin, and the Economics of ‘Sin’

Not too shabby, eh? I’ll admit upfront I haven’t been able to read any of the articles yet, but once I find some work out here in Austin I’ll be able to patch together a schedule that’ll allow for a little leisure. You can always download the entire issue, too (pdf). Econ Journal Watch is an important project that is dedicated to exploring and criticizing the underlying assumptions of the discipline of economics, but it is done in a way that is classy, professional, and informative.

From the Comments: The “Strong Defense” argument against libertarian realism

Dr Delacroix claims to have spotted a weakness in libertarian foreign policy theory (known as “liberal realism” in political science circles):

Millions of registered Republicans (like me) and independents (like younger people close to me) are unable to buy the Libertarian line because they see or sense that it contains a central inconsistency: I want less or much less government, government is crushing me, it’s inimical to freedom, but what I want can only be had within a strongly defended polity. Such a polity usually requires a powerful defense establishment. Such an establishment, in turn undermines the possibility of smaller government.

This type of argument has been repeated ad nauseum in popular discourse and here on the blog, so it is – as Dr Delacroix points out – fair game as far as debunking (over and over again) goes. I have just three things to add.

1. The fact that “millions of registered Republicans” believe in something does not make it true. Millions of registered Republicans also believe that a radical Jewish rabbi came back to life three days after being crucified by the Roman state.

Even if billions of people believed that something false was actually true it would not make the falsehood any less false. Free trade is another great example of this phenomenon. Billions of people falsely believe that free trade is a bad thing, including some very smart people.

2.  Big does not mean strong. In fact, bigness often leads to weakness. This is the point that libertarians have been making for hundreds of years. The US could conceivable cut its defense budget in half while Russia and China could double their defense budgets and the US would still outspend the entire world on defense. A large military is often overstretched and therefore unable or unwilling to respond to threats elsewhere. Libertarians do not advocate for a smaller state because it makes the state weak. Libertarians advocate for a smaller state so that it can perform the few duties ascribed to it (courts and diplomacy/defense) with a ruthless efficiency.

3. A more libertarian foreign policy would be one with a much smaller budget, a much smaller role for the military, and a much more serious role for the military. If a libertarian US were to go to war it would declare that war and fight the enemy until it surrendered completely. I’ve already dealt with this in “Would a libertarian military be more lethal?” and “A cheaper, stronger army?” Dr Delacroix is either arguing from ignorance or he does not read much outside of his preferred circles.

In a society dedicated to the freedom of the individual, war is the last resort in diplomacy. As such, it should viewed with the utmost seriousness and skepticism. Even if millions of people feel otherwise.

A Liberal: To Be or Not To Be (Happy #LiberalismDay!)

What’s in a name?

Dan Klein and Kevin Frei recently decided to launch a campaign dedicated to spreading awareness about the original meaning of the word ‘liberal’. At first I was a bit ambivalent about the project because a) I don’t mind using the term ‘libertarian’ to describe myself or the policies I favor, and b) I am normally very careful about classifying Leftists as such, rather than referring to them as ‘liberals’. In my mind, I’m doing everything right so why on earth should I spend time on really driving home a semantic point?

As I was thinking about this issue, Dr Gibson sent me an email of an interview Dan Klein gave with the London-based Adam Smith Institute. Here is how Dr Klein debunked my thoughts on semantics:

The word liberal is powerful. It relates to liberty and toleration, reflected in to liberalize. Words have histories that a generation or two cannot undo. A word has cognates and connotations that make our language cohere, more than we know, more than dictionary definitions can tell.

We need a wider understanding of the semantic changes of the 1880-1940 period. In a way, semantic issues are the momentous issues of our times; semantics tell who and what we are, our selfhood; they condition how we justify our everyday activities.

I can’t argue with this, so instead I have been asking myself how I can go about identifying myself as a liberal rather than a libertarian, and what exactly is the difference between a liberal and a libertarian if the semantics fight is one that should occur between individualists and collectivists (Jesper answers this second question quite well, by the way).

In a way, #LiberalismDay makes Will Wilkinson’s old essay on “bleeding-heart libertarianism” much more pertinent than ever before. Maybe I’m just a plain ole’ liberal, especially if the definition of libertarian being put forth by some individuals in our quadrant continues to gain traction. Maybe most of us are just plain ole’ liberals.

At the end of the day, and after thinking about this for quite some time, I think I’ll try to refer to myself as a liberal for the next little while. After all, as Klein and Frei point out, the term ‘liberal’ has increasingly come to mean the continued “governmentalization”of society so referring to myself as a ‘liberal’ while advocating policies that don’t conform to American conceptions of the term is basically an affront to the theft of the word in the first place.

Calling myself a ‘liberal’ while advocating for more restriction upon the state sounds better and better as I talk myself into it.

I know, I know, I didn’t explain how or why the term ‘liberal’ morphed into what it has here in the States. I outsource to F.A. Hayek on this matter (pdf).

Here are some more thoughts on #LiberalismDay (many of them do a great job of explaining the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ as well):

Around the Web

  1. As Bad As ObamaCare Is, Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act Was Worse
  2. From our own Dr Shikida in the Cato Journal: “Why Some States Fail: The Role of Culture” [pdf]
  3. Stop Blaming Professors: Study finds students themselves, not professors, lead some to become more radical in college
  4. The World Cup and “soccer” in general: Nationalism versus internationalism
  5. The agony of a Left-wing gun lover
  6. History happens all the time

Update from Austin, and a Warm Welcome too

I’m currently in the City of Austin, the capital of the great state of Texas. I’ll be here for the quite some time, so if you can visualize me in a cowboy hat instead of on a beach in California, that’d be great. Geographer Joel Kotkin has a good piece on Austin here. Among the gems:

Most of the strongest local economies combine the positive characteristics associated with blue states — educated people, tech-oriented industries, racial diversity — with largely red, pro-business administrations. This is epitomized by our top-ranked metro area, Austin, Texas, which has enjoyed double-digit growth in GDP, jobs, population and birthrate since 2007. The Texas capital has a very strong hipster reputation, attracting many of the same people who might otherwise end up in Silicon Valley or San Francisco, but it also boasts the low taxes, light regulation and reasonable housing prices that keep migrants there well past their 30s.

If that ain’t libertarian then I don’t know what is. I take advice on where to go for food and girls, too.

We’ve got a new blogger joining the team, too. I’m pleased to introduce you to Dr Barry Stocker. From his bio page:

Barry Stocker (personal website) is a British philosopher based in Istanbul, working at Istanbul Technical University. His academic interests cover political philosophy. Publications in this field include the monograph Kierkegaard on Politics (2014) and the co-edited volume Nietzsche as Political Philosopher (2014).  He is currently working on Michel Foucault and liberty. As these projects indicate, he likes to work on issue of liberty, ethics, individualism, and subjectivity, in authors a bit outside the conventional canon of liberty oriented thinkers, but does also work on more familiar names in this field, such as Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek.

Please be sure to welcome Dr Stocker to the blog with you usual cunning wit and boorish criticisms in the ‘comments’ threads. I think Dr Stocker’s current location, his origins, and his specialized body of knowledge is going to make this project tremendously more interesting. Thanks for taking the plunge Dr Stocker!