Category Archives: Comments

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.

From the Comments: A Puzzle About Percentages

Dr Gibson hands out a tough quiz in the ‘comments’ thread of Jacques’s latest post on comparative advantage:

Quiz: last year I earned no money from writing. This year I expect to make $5,000. By what percentage will my writing income have risen?

Jacques is stumped. I am too, but I think I’ll take a stab at it anyway. The worst that can happen is that I’m wrong, right? Warren, by the way, has a PhD in engineering as well as an MA in economics, so math is his forte (he is also the math reader for Econ Journal Watch).

I speculate that the percentage of his writing income has risen by 100%. I don’t see how it could be anything else. If you start out at zero, then even if Warren only made $1 this year an increase from $0 to $1 would have to be 100%, right?

Am I right? I need help.

Digression: Jacques is right that the Romans got along fine without the zero, but that’s not saying much. Here is Tocqueville:

If the Romans had been better acquainted with the laws of hydraulics, they would not have constructed all the aqueducts which surround the ruins of their cities – they would have made a better use of their power and their wealth. If they had invented the steam-engine, perhaps they would not have extended to the extremities of their empire those long artificial roads which are called Roman roads. These things are at once the splendid memorials of their ignorance and of their greatness. A people which should leave no other vestige of its track than a few leaden pipes in the earth and a few iron rods upon its surface, might have been more the master of nature than the Romans.

From the Comments: Open Borders and Substantial Increases in GDP

Dr Delacroix gives us a great review of the most recent literature on the relationship between open borders and substantial increases in GDP (50%-150%):

A Long Comment on The Big Thing (open borders)

Thank you, Rick, for causing me to read this very good paper (and thanks to Brandon for making it easily available). I did not find the 150% increase in GDP you promised . That’s OK because it helps me point to one weakness of this paper that should be relevant to any discussion of emigration/immigration focused on policies. The author seems to have been unable to extract from the others articles on which his is based any coherent time dimension. A temporal dimension seems to be lacking. When discussing public policy it ‘s always necessary to consider: “In the short run, in the long run.” An increase of world joint GDP of 150% in fifty years thanks to relaxed immigration seems plausible; the same rise by next year is out of the question, of course.

On several issues, the author comes close to confusing “absence of evidence” with “evidence of absence.” This may be fine for a scholarly article in the discipline of economics. Difficulty to measure or to act upon should not constrain blog discussion however. Five things.

1 “Begin with the country of origin. The departure of some people such as the skilled or talented from a poor country might reduce the productivity of others in that country.”

“might”?

Qualitative differences between those who emigrate and the population of origin may be very large: This is “cream of the crop” vs “bottom of the barrel” issue. This should be obvious with respect to easily measured age and health status for example. The young and stalwart go first. It may be as true with respect to difficult to measure but obviously existing qualities such as the propensity to take economic risks, for example. Thus, I would be surprised if current Mexican illegal immigrants to the US where not economically more desirable immigrants than their own siblings of the same sex who stayed put. I mean more desirable from my viewpoint, someone who is already inside a country of destination. The risks the illegals took to move act like a beneficial sift in this respect, it seems to me.

Periodically African immigrants drown off Lampedusa in the Mediterranean just for a chance to set foot in the EU where medial jobs expect them. They all have close relatives living in the same economic circumstance at home who did not join them.*

The author calls these considerations a kind of externalities and mentions that they are difficult to measure. Difficult to measure does not mean non-existent; it does not even mean small, as he implies. Passion is also difficult to measure, and so is the wrath of a woman scorned. Neither is small in any sense of the word. Stuff that you do not enter into the equation does not show up in the results except in an unclear, residual sort of way. Those who should be in charge of measuring them, the government bureaucracies of countries of origin, are often inept, corrupt, uninterested or discouraged from doing so by government that prefer slogans to facts. Yet, that’s no reason to write these thing off from our thinking.

2 Author asks sensibly:

“Is productivity mostly about who you are, or where you are?”

Productivity clearly has a lot to do with where you are. (Take a man’s shovel in Sonora, teach him how to drive a backhoe in Brooklyn….) I don’t know what the proportions are between it and the answer to the “who” question but I think it would be absurd to set the “who” at zero. Even national origin may matter on the average: If you absolutely must choose between an unknown Englishman and an unknown Frenchman for a cook, which would you chose?

3 Author is too quick to dismiss the argument of impoverishment caused by emigrants’ departure in their countries of origin. He even uses a logically flawed argument, I think:

“But if human capital externalities from health workers were a first order determinant of basic health conditions, African countries experiencing the largest outflows of doctors and nurses would have systematically worse health conditions than other parts of Africa. In fact, those countries have systematically better health conditions (Clemens, 2007).”

Or, is it more likely that: African countries possessing quality health personnel training programs enjoy superior health conditions as a result (I am thinking vaccinations) and some of the health personnel they train are employable in rich countries.

By the way, this raises the general problem of losing at – least temporarily – the benefits associated with the cost of rearing labor. When a Filipina arrives in the US at 19, ready to work in a hospital, the fact is that I contributed nothing to the cost of bringing her up to that point. Someone else has, in the Philippines, most likely. It’s possible that on the average, the home remittances of such immigrant workers more than covers the cost of rearing and training them. I don’t know if it’s true, or how often. I would like to find out.

Author’s savant discussion of externalities seems (seems) to conclude that even if there is a loss to the country of origin, not much can be done. Of course, something can be done: Let the country of destination pay fees to someone or something in the country of origin that supported the cost of training the immigrant worker; in other words, re-imburse at low cost the expense incurred in creating an unearned benefit in the country of destination.

4 Policy makers in Europe are much exercised over the “lifeboat effect.” Even if immigrants’ arrival results in superior economic growth, even if it solves long term problems, as in Social Security, a sudden influx of large numbers may quickly overwhelm destination societies. It may markedly lower their standards of living. (Think of elementary school classes suddenly crowded with children who don’t know the teachers’ language.) I did not find that this article deals with this matter except between the lines, in an implied manner.

[Wholly theoretical Figure 1 does not help me with this although I am attracted to its curves.]

5 Author does his job as an economist well. He writes about the economics of emigration/immigration and he reports on solid research within the constraints of the discipline of economics discourse. But here are also political consequences of immigration we are free to discuss on this blog. (That’s what blogs are for, I think.) This is especially true for a libertarian blog because it poses squarely the problem of national boundaries, of the respect they are owed or not, of their convenience or inconvenience vis-a-vis libertarian aspirations.

Political consequences of immigration loom large in the imaginations of many people in the countries of destination. The manifestations of their concern are not all vacuous or ignorant, or hysterical. The 8 million Swiss -including many immigrants – may have good reason to wonder how many people they can absorb who think that separation of church and state is not only a bad idea but a major sin. Many French people of old French origin are openly racist. Among those responsible French people who are not racist at all, it’s common to worry about the short-term consequences of the legitimate burden high fertility immigrants place on their already sinking welfare system. (The high fertility is documented; it’s not a rumor.) Many American conservatives are worried about Mexican immigrants’ high propensity to vote Democratic. In the end, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where, in combination with other factors,** Mexican immigration helps turn the United States become a one-party state for all intents and purposes. Incidentally, I like Mexicans and I think they make first-rate immigrants. See my co-author articled with Nikiforov on my – Facts Matter – blog.

Sometimes, author handles humor a little too lightly: “Mayda (2006) finds that it is the wealthier, better educated, and less nationalist individuals in rich destination countries who have more favorable attitudes toward immigration.” Sure thing, I am thinking! They want a steady supply of maids and gardeners.

* As some readers already know ad nauseam, I am an immigrant myself. I had four siblings brought up in pretty much the same micro and macro environments as I. They all shared my mediocre level of educational attainment (high school or less). Three of my siblings never tried to move to a richer country as I did; another tried and failed. The difficulties inherent in emigration must select in favor of the desperate, the brave, and of the sociopathic. (Ask me for a good recent book on the latter.)

** The Republican Party’s current striking political incompetence (small p) looms large on my mind as I write this

From the Comments: What’s the difference between state-sponsored terrorism and geopolitics?

In a recent thread on the conflict in Crimea, a proposal to use the CIA – the overseas spying agency of the US government – against a small Russian population in the exclave of Kaliningrad was put forth by Professor Amburgey. My response followed as thus:

Suppose that VEVAK – Iran’s intelligence agency – created an industrial accident in regards to Toronto’s water supply. You and I would rightly consider this state-sponsored terrorism, regardless of whether or not Tehran took any sort of official blame.

Now suppose that the CIA created an industrial accident in regards to Kaliningrad’s water supply. I would consider this state-sponsored terrorism. You would consider this ________ (please fill in the blank).

Dr Amburgey responded with a “savvy geopolitcs.” The only thing I noticed here is the double standard in place. Why do we label violence undertaken by certain factions or organizations “terrorism” and the same type of violence undertaken by other factions or organizations as “geopolitics” (or “patriotism” or “war”)?

There is no difference. Categorizing the actions that both you and your enemy undertake as two different things is a good way to ensure that everything remains exactly the same. How utterly conservative!

From the Comments: Power and the Rhymes of History

Over the past couple of days, Notes On Liberty‘s house conservative, Dr Delacroix, has created quite a few waves with his fanciful thoughts about punishing Russia for its bad behavior of late. (Somebody remind me again about George W Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, and then let me know if that could have possibly set a bad precedent.) Professor Amburgey’s thoughts on power are worth another look:

In general, comparing a nation state to a human being is not useful. However, comparing the leader of a nation state to a human being can be sensible. The utility depends on how much power the leader has. I think there are several nation states where leaders have acquired enough power to assume that, in general, they are the decision maker. Iran springs to mind, as does North Korea. I’m beginning to think that Russia falls into that category.

I can buy this. However, dictators cannot be dictators without also having the broad support of the populace. This is why libertarians argue that it’s better to declare war than to topple a dictator.

Elsewhere, Dr Amburgey observes:

True. However Russia is turning into a dangerous regional power with dangerous territorial ambitions. Pretending otherwise is silly.

Russia only turned dangerous after the United States spread itself too thin. Keeping our own house in order will do more for world peace and prosperity than bombing other countries indiscriminately (or having the world-renowned CIA engage in “secret” terrorism!).

NEO adds his own eloquent thoughts to the mix. In response to my observation that the Cold War is over, NEO writes:

Maybe, Brandon. But the surest way to make sure it does, or something similar in Asia, is to believe it can never happen again.

The comparison for that is the “War to end all wars” leading to the new 30 years war.

That the weakness in libertarianism, actually. The oceans aren’t nearly as effective a barrier as they were in the days of the Royal Navy controlling them for us, and unless we only want free trade in CONUS, we’d best take care of it ourselves.

Will it be the same? Nope. But it will happen. If not Putin, somebody else.

As Mark Twain observed, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Again, I think NEO’s observations tie in well with Dr Amburgey’s about the potential for rising, autocratic powers to do bad things. However, we have only ourselves to blame for their rise.

For instance:

  • Was the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq a good idea?
  • Was bombing, invading, and occupying the Balkans a good idea? (Why don’t you tell me what the Russians think…)
  • Is it smart to still be occupying Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden’s death?
  • Is it really necessary to have tens of thousands of troops along the 38th Parallel?
  • Does bombing poor countries in the name of liberation (not liberty) solve the underlying structural problems that poor states face?
  • Does supporting dictatorships that actively oppress Islamic fundamentalists help or hurt individual liberty?

In my mind, Russia has not grown to be a mid-major power. The United States has simply been caught with its pants down. This is why you read about ideas like terrorizing Russian citizens in Kaliningrad as a way to counter Moscow’s deft calculations. I cannot think of a better signal to the world that the US is weak then a resort to state-sponsored terrorism. Can you?

A Bit More on Ukraine

Evgeniy’s plea for balance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict has produced, in my mind, an interesting dialogue on propaganda – both of the Western and of the Russian variety.

Let me come out and say with some conviction that I am not a supporter of the Putin regime. Nor do I believe much of the analysis that comes out of the Russian press. (This is because the vast majority of the Russian press is controlled by the state, and not because it is Russian or because it generally espouses pro-Russian sympathies.)

Evgeniy, for example, cites reports from the Russian press claiming that half a million people have fled Ukraine for Russia since the beginning of the year (when the demonstrations started). If half a million people fled from one place to another in a month, from anywhere in the world it would be headline news, but for some reason only Russian citizens have heard of this exodus? I don’t buy it.

Now, this number may be a misunderstanding based on a bad translation. In fact, I think this may be the case. My translation of Evgeniy’s comment states that the Russian press reports that “since the beginning of the year (January 2014) in Russia has resettled about 500,000 refugees from Ukraine.” Emphasis mine. Has this resettlement been ongoing since the end of the Cold War? However, judging by Evgeniy’s comment, it looks as if resettlement has only begun in January of this year, so if this is indeed the claim that the Russian press is making then it is obviously false.

Terry’s excerpted quote from the Daily Beast fares no better in the facts department, though, despite the Daily Beast being a private organization. The op-ed is an attempt to debunk “Putin’s Crimea Propaganda Machine” as if Putin has the power to control everything the Russian press publishes. State control of the media, especially in a country as large and diverse as Russia, does not mean that the bureaucratic process magically disappears. Bureaucracies and especially regulators are actors in their own right, and as such are beholden to certain constraints and processes that come with the way these institutions are organized.

So in the spirit of open inquiry and debate, there are a couple of facts I’ve gathered that I think are important to note.

  1. The President of Ukraine was ousted in a coup. He was elected by a very slim margin and accusations (from both sides) of voter fraud were rampant.
  2. The opposition that recently installed a new President therefore gave democracy the finger. This is not in itself a bad thing, but many Western observers tend to side with the pro-West faction as if it was democratic. It is not.
  3. The exiled President signed an agreement with the opposition last month guaranteeing early elections and more power to the legislature at the expense of the executive branch. This is as peaceful and as democratic as it gets, and the opposition gave, as I said, the finger to this agreement.
  4. The opposition has fascists in its cabinet. It has also installed Ukrainian Jews to high-ranking positions. The Muslim Tartars in Crimea stand to lose the most during Russia’s occupation.
  5. Ukrainians are sick of their government – right or left, pro or anti -and this has yet to be addressed by anyone other than Dr Foldvary as far as I can tell.
  6. No shots have been fired. Moscow has reiterated that it is in Crimea to protect its naval base and Russian citizens. I have a feeling that Russian troops will be back in Russia within the year. Crimea will get to keep its autonomous status within Ukraine, and Kiev will be forced to think twice before it attempts to impose its will on Crimea arbitrarily. This is a good thing, as it limits the size and scope of government.
  7. So far most, if not all, information about military activities have been coming from governments, not from the free press. This can only lead to more misunderstanding and more suspicion.
  8. War is the health of the state. In times like these, journalists should be criticizing their own governments rather than the governments of others. In the West, where the press remains relatively free, there is more criticism of government policies concerning foreign affairs than there is in Russia.

At the end of the day, I have to agree with Evgeniy’s plea for toleration and prudence: “Please do not judge this conflict only from one side.”

From the Comments: Musings on the Ukraine Fiasco

Riffing off of my post about the current crisis in Ukraine, Matthew writes:

Based on the track record of Russia vis a vis the West, I imagine the following scenario unfolding:

Russia (continues) to occupy the Crimea, while America and Europe (continue) to demand the withdrawal of Russian forces from the province. Putin, calculating that the West lacks the stomach for direct confrontation, refuses. Hysteria in the media and in government publications, which are ultimately the same thing, rises. A lack of direct conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces, however, lends little credence to the mass panic broadcast over Western media. The furor dies down in time. Russian presence becomes normalized in the Crimea.

Or, the interim government, bolstered by further illicit monetary aid from America, pulls a Georgian move and attacks the Russian forces stationed in Crimea. Russian forces will quickly rout the Ukrainians sent against them, and most likely march towards Kiev – whether they take it or not will depend on the response of the international community, as with Georgia. Regardless of who instigated the violence, the Western media will blame Russia, and the war drums will grow louder. UN sanctions are unlikely, since Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council, but some form of economic punishment will occur. Russia will draw closer to China, Iran, and Syria. The status quo ante will be upended in no one’s favor: Ukraine will be in shambles, Russia and America will be set at odds.

Regardless of the above two scenarios, meanwhile, the Ukrainian economy is in free fall, and the IMF offers the dual poisons of austerity and liberalization to the interim government. Facing an intransigent Russia and the wolf-faced smile of the West, the interim government accepts the IMF’s offer. Like Russia before it, Ukraine is left even worse for wear by the rapid pace of economic liberalization, and is thus too weak to resist the Russian presence in Crimea. Thus, the West has succeeded in breaking off a chunk of post-Soviet Ukraine and bringing it into its influence, while Russia largely retains what it had beforehand: its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, along with the de facto annexed province of Crimea. It is too early to tell, but perhaps the rest of Russified Ukraine will also join their brothers in Russified Crimea, and the state will break up along linguistic lines.

Who can tell what will occur? My money is on Russia, but maybe Obama will come up with some game winning stratagem (don’t snicker!).

Does anybody else care to make their predictions? You know where the ‘comments’ sections is!

From the Comments: An embarrassment of riches, a stable full of straw

Below are some more thoughts on “total liberty” and bad faith.

My argument in the threads with Marvin has intended to be one that displays two points of view, rather than to be one of persuasion. Due to his responses to Dr Foldvary’s argument, I realized that he was uninterested in having an honest debate. I also realized that persuading him would be futile. So I instead have tried to illustrate – to readers and curious passersby – how Marvin’s arguments are fallacious (dishonest) and what to do about them by exploiting Marvin’s position. In order to do this I have kept it simple and tried to argue on Marvin’s terms (“speaking past one another”). Rick has an insightful, must-read summary of our arguments, and he also furthers our understanding of freedom in the process.

I am not quite done, though. I am still unsure if I have accomplished my task of exposing Marvin’s arguments as fallacious. I want to be sure that readers don’t take him seriously in the future should he decide to continue trolling the ‘comments’ section. Marvin states matter-of-factly that:

The problem is that I have a better handle on the truth than you do.

Now, in the interest of honest debate, I hope that everyone can see how Marvin’s assertion shows how he is being dishonest. I have pointed out his straw man fallacies for a while now, and I want to get the point across that Marvin’s characterizations of libertarian ethics are based upon the above-quoted viewpoint.

Given that Marvin believes he has a better handle on truth than I, how can I (or you as a reader) expect to get an even-handed argument from him? If you believe that I have mischaracterized Marvin’s arguments (as he has done to mine and Dr Foldvary’s and soon-to-be [?] Dr Weber’s), please point out where in the ‘comments’ thread.

Again, my task is much more simple than Rick’s. I wish to merely show how Marvin’s argument is based on falsehoods. I think his comments elsewhere suggest my hunch is right. (Rick, by the way, has been much more generous to Marvin than I, a position for which he has been rewarded by being called a homosexual with an unhealthy obsession for Marvin (“My name can’t stay off of Rick’s lips,” according to Marvin the Truthspeaker).)

Marvin’s main error in reasoning, in my judgement, is that he creates positions that nobody has made and then draws conclusions from those created positions. Sometimes he restates arguments that nobody has contested as if they were contested and then proceeds to explain why libertarians should not (or do) contest such an argument. This is sophistry at its most vulgar.

Does everybody follow? Dr Amburgey?

His last response to me in the ‘comments’ is a good example of what I mean. Marvin writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression.”

[Marvin:] If a society has a consensus that murder should be punished then it effectively has a rule prohibiting murder whether the rule is explicitly written down or not.

Yes, and what exactly does this have to do with my argument? With Fred’s? With Rick’s? With Hank’s? Marvin continues:

If a society has no agreement that murder is wrong then its sense of justice either presumes any murder is justified or is indifferent to it until it affects them personally.

Again, this may be true, but what exactly does this have to do with my argument that “Society A (the one with no rules prohibiting murder) does not have total liberty because its members do not have freedom from unwarranted aggression”? Where does it follow from this statement that rules prohibit total liberty? It’s almost as if Marvin is talking to himself rather than to a group of people. There is nothing wrong with thinking out loud, but it seems to me – based on this response and on past responses – that Marvin thinks he is replying to an argument somebody else has made rather than thinking out loud.

Marvin continues to pummel me:

(b) The meaning of “liberty” is “freedom to”, not “freedom from”. “Freedom to” means you can pursue your happiness with minimal restrictions (“total freedom” would imply no restrictions at all, a liberty to do what you please without fear of punishment).

Marvin goes on and on (and on) from there. However, this is simply wrong. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good summary of the ‘freedom to’ versus ‘freedom from’ distinction. Basically, the ‘freedom from’ folks look at external factors (such as government) that inhibit liberty, whereas the ‘freedom to’ folks look at factors that are internal to individuals (such as class). I don’t want to get into the details here, but suffice it to say this is not Marvin’s understanding of the distinction. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem explaining this misunderstanding, but given Marvin’s track record I’m going to skip out on doing so (unless somebody wants me to).

I’ve got one more example I’d like to use to hammer home my point that Marvin is not interested in having an honest debate. He writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Your attempt at distinguishing “private punishments” within Society A from “punishments of society” is also fallacious. Is society composed of numerous factions – most of them private – or is it a monolithic, dissent-free, homogeneous unit.”

[Marvin:] A consensus is not monolithic. If everyone had to agree to everything then nothing would be possible. To make cooperation possible, we created a democratically elected government with many checks and balances. And we agreed to respect the authority of the laws it creates, even laws we may disagree with, because we would expect others to respect the laws that we do agree with that they don’t. And the democratic process may correct or remove an unsuccessful law in the future. I may win the case today and you may win the case tomorrow.

My argument is that Marvin’s assumption about society is monolithic, not society itself. If you read my argument with an eye for understanding it you can easily see that. If you read my argument from a position of Truthspeaker it may be harder to do so.

One last point I’d like to mention is that Marvin also has a habit of changing definitions to suit his argument. Often he simply provides his own. This, of course, helps him to have that “better handle on truth” that nobody else at NOL seems to have.

Has this cleared anything up? Muddled it further? Am I coming off as an ideologue or somebody who is trying to weed out falsehoods?

There are plenty of rules in a libertarian society. The fact that there are rules does not mean that ‘total liberty’ is lost because of it. Such a characterization is the epitome of a straw man. Rick takes the idea of total freedom to the next level (so read up!), so all I’m trying to do here is make sure that everybody understands Marvin’s sophistry. I think understanding sophistry is important because it tends to mellow people out: If you can understand the falsehoods in an argument you can craft up a cooler response.

In response to a comment

In response to a comment, here’s an excerpt from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

“But–Professor, what *are* your political beliefs?”
“I’m a rational anarchist.”
“I don’t know that brand. Anarchist individualist, anarchist Communist, Christian anarchist, philosophical anarchist, syndicalist, libertarian–those I know. But what’s this? Randite?”
“I can get along with a Randite. A rational anarchist believe that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame…as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and *nowhere else*. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so
he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world…aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure.”
“Hear, hear!” I said. “‘Less than perfect.’ What I’ve been aiming for all my life.”
“You’ve achieved it,” said Wyoh. “Professor, your words sound good but there is something slippery about them. Too much power in the hands of individuals–surely you would not want…well, H-missiles for example–to be controlled by one irresponsible person?”
“My point is that one person *is* responsible. Always. If H-bombs exist–and they do–some *man* controls them. In terms of morals *there is no such thing as ‘state.’* Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts.”

Wyoh plowed doggedly into Prof, certain she had all answers.But Prof was interested in questions rather than answers, which baffled her. Finally she said “Professor, I can’t understand you. I don’t insist that you call it ‘government’–I just want you to state what rules you think are necessary to ensure equal freedom for all.”
“Dear lady, I’ll happily accept your rules.”
“But you don’t seem to want *any* rules.”
“True, but I will accept any rules *you* feel necessary to *your* freedom. *I* am free no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I *alone* am morally responsible for everything I do.”
“You would not abide by a law that the majority felt was necessary?”
“Tell me what law, dear lady, and I will tell you whether I will obey it.”

Prof bowed and left, Stu and I followed him. Once in an otherwise empty capsule I tackled him. “Prof, I liked much that you said…but about taxation aren’t you going to pay for all this spending we’re doing?”
He was silent long moments, then said, “Manuel, my only ambition is to reach the day when I can stop pretending to be a chief executive.”
“Is no answer!”
“You have put your finger on the dilemma of all government–and the reason I am an anarchist. The power to tax, once conceded, has no limits; it contains until it destroys. I was not joking when I told them to dig into their own pouches. It may not be possible to do away with government–sometimes I think that government is an inescapable disease of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small and starved and inoffensive-and can you think of a better way than by
requiring the governors themselves to pay the costs of their antisocial hobby?”
“Still doesn’t say how to pay for what we are doing now.”
“‘How,’ Manuel? You *know* how we are doing it. We’re *stealing* it. I’m neither proud of it nor ashamed; it’s the means we have. If they ever catch on, they may eliminate us–and that I am prepared to face. At least, in stealing, we have not created the villainous precedent of taxation.”
“Prof, I hate to say this–”
“Then why say it?”
“Because, damn it, I’m in it as deeply as you are…and want to see that money paid back! Hate to say it but what you just said sounds like hypocrisy.”
He chuckled. “Dear Manuel! Has it taken you all these years to decide that I am a hypocrite?”
“Then you admit it?”
“No. But if it makes you feel better to think that I am one, you are welcome to use me as your scapegoat. But I am not a hypocrite to myself because I was aware the day we declared the Revolution that we would need much money and would have to steal it. It did not trouble me because I considered it better than food riots six years hence, cannibalism in eight. I made my choice and have no regrets.”

From the Comments: Fallacies in the Threads

We don’t get as many trolls here as we used to, but every once in a while somebody will throw their garbage out the window as they drive by our humble consortium. Marvin’s comments in Dr Foldvary’s recent post on myths about libertarianism is a case in point. Attempting to take me to task for committing a logical fallacy, he  writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Dr Foldvary quit arguing with you because he has seen your fallacies over and over again throughout a long and distinguished career as an academic economist.”

Again, appealing to authority is not making a reasoned argument. You seem to be taking offense that anyone who would dare to disagree with or question anything he or you have said. Taking offense where none has been given is also rhetoric, not reason.

Just two things:

  1. An appeal to authority would have to involve me stating that Dr Foldvary is correct because he is an economist. I obviously made no such argument. I was merely trying to point out Marvin’s boorish manners and Fred’s subsequent, predictable reaction.
  2. I don’t see where I have “taken offense” in this thread. Marvin falsely charges me with doing so, and then goes on to suggest that I am angry because he disagrees with me. Now, Marvin would have a decent point if it were true that I was angry with his argument, but as it stands he is simply invoking his imagination in order to make his argument look better.

There is a reason Marvin has done this (I doubt it was a conscious one). He writes:

Brandon [again, quoting me]: “What exactly are you trying to refute, and which aspect of your argument refutes Dr Foldvary’s?”

First, it’s not Dr. Foldvary that I am having difficulty with. It is rather the unsubstantiated myths promoted by Libertarians generally that are the problem. For example, “In my judgment, when most people recognize natural moral law as the proper basis for governance, we will be able to have a truly free society.”

It is nothing but a rhetorical claim to say that my personal collection of moral laws are “natural”, “God given”, or “inherent”. Jefferson was speaking rhetorically (to sway emotional support) when he said “endowed by their Creator”. But when he said, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted” he was speaking of practical rights.

Can you spot the fallacy? I ask for an example of what Marvin is arguing against and he replies by changing the subject (from Fred’s argument to “Libertarians generally”). This particular fallacy is known as a red herring fallacy. In it, Marvin goes from ignoring Fred’s original argument to knocking down a “general” argument that he attributes to libertarians. How convenient!

Now, that’s two separate fallacies in one reply. Is it worth my time to respond? A fallacy is defined as being either a false or mistaken idea, or  as possessing a deceptive appearance. Marvin’s fallacies are a mixture of both, I think, and it would seem, based on his reasoning and on his dogmatic beliefs, that he is, in the words of alcoholics everywhere, fundamentally incapable of being honest with himself.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think that Marvin’s fallacies are based more on a false idea than on deception (I think the deception is largely for himself, anyway). So I’ll humor him one last time:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Being prohibited from killing another human being is not a restriction on freedom (same goes for stealing) because killing restricts the freedom of others.”

Actually, being prohibited from doing anything is a restriction upon the freedom of the person who wants to do that thing. The OD says, for example, freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. Obviously if someone wants to steal and is prohibited from stealing, then his freedom is restricted.

You seem to have adopted a different definition, in which a rule against stealing is not really a restriction on freedom because it promotes the optimal freedom for everyone. I don’t think you’ll find that in the OD.

On the other hand, I do agree that all rules are intended to improve the total good and reduce the total harm for everyone. But to achieve that benefit, the rule diminishes the total liberty of everyone.

This is a much more sophisticated fallacy, but it is a fallacy nonetheless. Marvin is trying to discredit libertarianism by arguing that total freedom allows for individuals to steal and kill as they please. This is utterly false, and I’ll get to why in just a minute, but first I think it is important to highlight Marvin’s underlying logic behind this fallacy so that in the future we can all do a better job of rooting out dishonesty from our debates on liberty.

Marvin argues that total freedom must allow for killing and stealing, and only restrictions upon killing and stealing are able to prevent such occurrences from happening regularly. By framing the debate in this way, it then follows that restrictions upon other freedoms (ones that may come to be deemed harmful to society by some) are a logical and beneficial response to social problems. Do you follow? If not, you know where the ‘comments’ section is.

Marvin’s fallacious reasoning in this regard is on full display throughout the thread (please read it yourself).

Yet killing and stealing are not actions that can be found in total freedom (“the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”). Killing and stealing are actions that can be found throughout the animal kingdom. Does this make animals free?

Of course not, and this is because freedom is a distinctly human notion. Rules and agreements do not diminish total liberty. There is the possibility that total liberty can be diminished by rules. Nobody disputes this. To suggest that (capital-L) “Libertarians generally” do dispute this is disingenuous. It’s also convenient for Marvin’s fallacy.

Total freedom will not be achieved in our lifetimes. It will not be achieved in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. This doesn’t mean it should not be held up as an ideal to aspire to. Ignoring or ceding the ideal of total freedom means that the Marvins of the world will continue to get their Social Security checks in the mail.

From the Comments: More on Property Rights

Rick chimes in on my musings about political entrepreneurship:

Reducing competition *is* a way to reduce competition. A company can invest effort in increasing value or reducing availability of substitutes (both shifting demand) or in reducing costs or shifting costs onto others (supply shifts).

(Okay, now I’m going to go into some philosophical stuff purely for my own benefit…)

That’s the high level story, but it rests on a foundation of property rights; by which I mean the de facto property rights that actually matter, not some rights assigned by Santa, or rights that are just and proper as defined by very sensible arguments by libertarians. “Society” generally accepts that the government holds particular property rights that touch on a number of possible exchanges in order to promote–we can tell that that’s the case because people aren’t willing to undergo the cost of stripping those rights away. The hotel lobby has recognized that to be the case and so has asked the state to exercise those rights in a way that benefits the hotel lobby and they have offered some sort of exchange (which may be as vague as “social capital”/reasonable expectation of future political support, or as explicit as bribes, but probably something in between). This exchange has altered the shape of the socio-political-economic environment in which similar exchanges may occur in the future.

Addendum: Pretty much all of the ‘comments‘ in Warren G’s post on the seven rhetorical weak spots of libertarians are worth re-reading, too.

From the Comments: Was Colonialism Good for the Natives?

NEO, in response to my musings on the rule of law in Africa, writes:

Thanks, Brandon. Like I said, I don’t know very much at all about Africa, right now I’m looking a bit more at the British in Egypt/Sudan. But currently I know mostly what I read and I suspect you know what I see, so I’m not about to argue with you on it.

Given what you know, I see really good things ahead for them. And that is very good, both for them and us. Somebody once said that prosperous folks try to avoid wars because its hard on the china. I know, it’s simplistic but, its also true.

I get the impression, and I could easily be wrong here, that it might have been better for everyone if the Empires had lasted a few more decades, it looks to me like the people learned the lessons but not the mechanics of creating the institutions.

Excellent point NEO, especially about wars being bad for the china.

Now, the colonial empires were bad for just about everybody (the factions that were able to capture the rent generated by imperial policies were excepted, of course). While European imperialism did open up the markets in Africa and Asia to their mercantile spheres of influence, these policies did not open up the markets to genuine world trade. This has had several ramifications for individual liberty in the post-colonial world.

In order to open up the economies of Africa and Asia to their mercantile systems, the Europeans created a great legal code for the mercantile systems. These legal codes helped reduce transaction costs and protected the private property of European citizens abroad, which helped to foster more trade within the mercantile systems. Unfortunately, the legal codes of both the British and the Dutch (I can’t speak for the Latin states, but judging by the state of affairs that these regions are now in, I assume that such policies were just as bad, if not worse) created a two-tiered system of justice: Europeans and a small number of local elites were able to count on the legal system to protect their private property, but everybody else was relegated to a second-class citizenship. This two-tiered system was not good for the populations of Africa and Asia, nor were they good for European citizens.

It goes without saying that the colonial apparatuses did not have to do much work in regards to grafting the indigenous legal and political systems of the African and Asian polities onto the mercantile system. Most of the African and Asian polities that the Europeans subdued were already protectionist and despotic, so colonial policy became a careful matter of picking the right factions to ally with. It is important to note that the policies of the polities in Africa and Asia were responsible for their weakened state, not any sort of cultural attributes. Up until the Napoleonic Wars, Europe was still pretty much on par with the rest of the world as far as living standards went. With the advent of peace on the continent, and new legal codes that extended private property rights (including rights to freer trade in the world) to a larger segment of its citizens, Europe became far too powerful for everybody else.

We could argue, of course, that certain cultural attributes of Europeans at that time contributed to successful implementation of such policies (and we would be right), but culture is always changing. It is our task to ensure that we continue to contribute to a culture that values individual liberty above all else.

Again, this is not say that African and Asian peoples have never known liberty. Private property has been around for a long time. The arrival of European states (not merchants) into these regions of the world created a burgeoning market for all things war, and as hostilities increased, so too did the health of these states.

From the Comments: Incentives, Academe, Science and Grants

In my experience scientists [including social scientists and including me] are incented to get more money for their research. The effects of funding on research can be worrisome. For example for reasons of politics and public opinion a disproportionate amount of money was devoted to HIV research. By disproportionate I mean that in my opinion there would be more bang for buck on bigger public health problems like malaria, certain cancers etc.

However does that mean that I should doubt the findings of the virologists, immunologists, and all the other -ists doing the research? I think not. Certainly not in the aggregate. Chasing the bucks might lead them to doing research in the ‘wrong’ area so to speak but it won’t lead them to falsify their results.

This is from Dr Amburgey (he’s real) and it comes from an exchange on climate change/global warming. I raised a concern I had about the incentive structure built into the scientific community of the West, but Dr Amburgey’s logic has put my skepticism to rest.

From the Comments: Iran, Nationalism and Satire

Siamak helps to clarify some things about contemporary Iranian culture that have been mischaracterized or misunderstood in the West:

Great article. About Iran part I wanted to leave a comment about two things. Fernanda Lima’s facebook page issue was so insulting and shameful. But it’s not like that Iranians are really blaming her for not having hijab. It was a sarcasm of state-run media. It was like now that we don’t have any hope for state TV to stop censorship you why didn’t you wear a better clothes. State-run TV does show foreign eomen with no hijab in movies, news, etc. But those beautiful breasts…! :-)

You should recognize the Iranian culture to know what I mean. Although it was insulting and shameful but they’re not really blaming her. It was a sarcasm of Iranian media.

The second part goes to the Iranian Nationalism. You’re right. After the Islamic Revolution, Islamic republic was completely against nationalists. That time most of the political groups were Islamic groups or Radical communists and socialists. The only liberwl group were called Nezhat Azadi (Liberty Movement) which were Moderate Liberal Muslim Nationalists. After the revolution Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic groups were completrly against nationalism. They were thinking that Islam should be the common thing between all Iranians. After 1998 that president khatami came this was going to change and Nationalism was again advertised by the government. Extreme nationalism in Iran is sourced from these two events: showing disagreement with the Islamic Radicals and the great history of Iran which has made Iranians extremely illusory about themselves.

Me myself think I’m a nationalist. But there’s a bit difference. Nationalism is not a goal for me. It’ just a medium or instrument for me. I completely believe in globalization and Peter Singer’s globalization is one of my favourite books. But I think nationalism is a medium to get closer to modernism. That’s it.

I suspect Siamak’s nationalism is a lot like the American libertarian’s patriotism.

Refugies dans l’ irrealite?

Pour des raisons techniques mysterieuse, je n’ai pas reussi a afficher une reponse au commentaire sur mon essai du 16 Novembre, “Une culture politique du n’importe quoi.” envoye par celui que j’ai nomme “Le Chouan.” J’en ai fait un essai a la place que voici:

Le chouan:

Bien sur, je suis tributaire de l’etroit menu en Francais disponible ici. Ce n’est pas grand-chose. D’ailleurs, j’interroge plus que j’affirme quand il s’agit de la France. J’aime bien “On N’est pas couche” pour une raison: Cette emission interroge en profondeur les homme politiques de maniere que je n’ai jamais vue ici, aux E.U. Et son presentateur me semble bien faire son boulot, quoique ce soit qui fasse flotter son bateau. (Traduction de l’Anglais.)

Le pessimisme de ton analyse force a se poser cette question: Comment est-ce qu’un pays de 60 millions, dont peu d’analphabetes, jouissant d’un plein acces a l’Internet, en est arrive a dependre d’un classe politique aussi nulle? S’agit-il d’une consequence d’une culture francaise plus ou moins constante ou plutot d’un deraillement. Dans le second cas, le deraillement daterait de quand?

Ou alors, assistons- nous a la gueule de bois qui suivrait trente annes de grandes vacances bien arrosees? Est-ce que la structure meme de la societe francaise rendrait l’acte de gouverner tres difficile?(Je mets en cause l’etat-nounou, bien sur, et le tout-subventionne.)

Voici une observation qui est peut-etre (peut-etre) liee a mon interrogation: Je suis en rapport avec un blog de lyceen parisiens intelligents. Ils s’expriment pourtant comme des militants communistes de 1953. On dirait qu’ils vivent dans une film, dans un mauvais film.

La societe francaise me donne d’ailleurs souvent l’impression d’etre une sorte de feuilleton. Je suis tous les jours absaourdi, par exemple, de constater les emprunts a la langue anglaises par des gens qui ne connaissent pas l’Anglais et qui possedent d’ailleurs une langue parfaitement viable. J’ai entendu avec mes propres oreilles un Francais plutot creatif utiliser le mot “gun.” dans une phrase en Francais. Cela m’etonne, bien sur, la langue francaise ne manque pas de vocable pour dire “arme a feu.” On dirait que beaucoup de Francais trouvent leur propre realite irreelle, qu’ils essaient de se refugier dans le monde des ecrans etrangers a leur proproe culture. Et ou les idees, exprimees dans une langue peu ou mal connue, sont mal saisies parceque elles sont rendues par la-meme insaisissables.

Je dis ca, moi, c’est pour causer.