I wish I could just list every idea I’ve encountered then never cite anything…

Steve Horwitz has a great piece in the Freeman that I wish I’d written. The tl;dr: Voting isn’t all there is to political participation. This is an idea that’s been bouncing around in my head as I’m constantly remound that I’m now an American citizen (sorry everyone else in the world…) and that this November I’ll be eligible to vote for who I think should foster anti-American sentiments internationally (Republicans) or  domestically (Democrats).

The other day I said I’d consider voting but I couldn’t recall whose name I’d write in (turns out it’s Willie Nelson*). But my usual response to any question about whether I’ll vote is “No, it just encourages the bastards.” When that’s countered with “blah blah blah civic engagement blah blah” I retort with,essentially, Horwitz’s point: My vote is not going to change the outcome**, but I can contribute value by trying to convince my students that economics matters and that a vote for third party candidate (even a Green Party vote) does more good than a vote for the big two.

I don’t know where I picked up that idea, but if I’d remembered, I would have posted his piece here before he did. Even better would be if I could just list a repository of everything I’ve ever read (or heard) in some public place and just write and write without worrying about citing anything.

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New issues of Econ Journal Watch, Reason Papers out

Many of you already know that two of NOL‘s Senior Editors are associated with Econ Journal Watch, thus making its publication a family affair. Fred is on the editorial board and Warren is its math reader. Here are some of the highlights I found worth noting in the latest issue:

Eli Heckscher’s Ideological Migration Toward Market Liberalism: Benny Carlson explores the intellectual evolution of a great Swedish economist.

Symposium:
Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country: Authors from around the world tell us about their country’s culture of political economy, in particular the vitality of liberalism in the original political sense, historically and currently, with special attention to professional economics as practiced in academia, think tanks, and intellectual networks.

New contributions:

Young Back Choi and Yong Yoon: Liberalism in Korea

Pavel Kuchař: Liberalism in Mexican Economic Thought, Past and Present

(All of the papers from this symposium, which has carried across multiple issues of EJW, are collected at this page.)

You can download the whole issue here (pdf).

Dr Khawaja, an Editor-at-Large for Reason Papersreports (2/2/16) on the latest issue over at Policy of Truth:

The latest issue of Reason Papers, vol. 37, number 2 is now out; officially, it’s the Fall 2015 issue, but we only just managed to put it up on the website last night. This link will take you to a monster-size PDF to the whole issue (almost 250 pages). This link will take you to the journal’s Archive page, where you can access individual articles for this or any past issue (you have to scroll down a bit). Finally, this link will take you to three (time sensitive) Calls for Papers issued by the journal’s editors: one on “the philosophy of play” (March 1, 2016); one a fifteen-year retrospective on 9/11 (July 1, 2016); and one an Authors-Meet-Critics symposium on Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen’s forthcoming book The Perfectionist Turn: From Meta-Norms to Meta-Ethics (February 1, 2017).

My own small contribution to Reason Papers can be found here (pdf).

The Re-Privatization of Security (World Peace edition)

Sean McFate, a political scientist at National Defense University in Washington, DC, has a fascinating article in Aeon about the reemergence of mercenary and quasi-mercenary security firms throughout the world. The whole article is fulfilling throughout, especially if you’re a well-read anarchist or a history buff, but I wanted to highlight this tangent:

With the fall of the South African apartheid regime, unemployed soldiers from special forces units such as the 32nd Battalion and the Koevoet (‘crowbar’ in Afrikaans) special police formed the first modern private military company, appropriately named Executive Outcomes. Unlike WatchGuard, Executive Outcomes was not a military enterpriser but a true mercenary firm, waging war for the highest bidder. It operated in Angola, Mozambique, Uganda and Kenya. It offered to help stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but Kofi Annan – then head of UN peacekeeping – refused, claiming ‘the world may not be ready to privatise peace’. Annan’s was an expensive ideology, given the fact that 800,000 people died. By 1998, the company closed its doors, but the mercenary market for force surged.

Two aspects are important here, one said and one unsaid. First, the unsaid. If this mercenary outfit was “waging war for the highest bidder,” why did it offer to go in to Rwanda to stop the bloodshed? I think scholars assume the worst when it comes to stateless actors and warfare. Why has Anheuser-Busch begun shipping free cans of water into Flint, MI? Why does Wal-Mart donate billions of dollars to charity? When it comes to reputation, costs may sometimes not make sense to outside observers who don’t have a sufficient understanding of benefits. Why on earth would a corporation built solely to wage war for the highest bidder be interested in offering its services to a country that would not be able to afford its services? To ask the question is to answer it, of course, but understanding incentives using a costs-benefits framework requires more effort than you might suspect.

There is simply no logical coherence to the idea that, in a world where stateless mercenary firms are the prominent form of security, violence and lawlessness will reign supreme; nor is there any evidence whatsoever to suggest that “[m]ore mercenaries means more war, as they are incentivised to start and expand wars for profit, and turn to criminality between contracts.” Indeed, as McFate notes in his excellent article, the market for security is already becoming freer and while he ends his piece on a depressing note, lamenting this indisputable fact of the present-day world, I couldn’t help but remember the now-famous graph on battle death trends produced by political scientist Jay Ulfelder (using data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program [UCDP]), which illustrates nicely the overall decline in deaths due to warfare violence around the world:

blog battle deaths
Notice that the most deadly conflicts are the ones involving states with armies that had been nationalized?

The always excellent Max Roser and his Our World in Data project has another graph worth highlighting, with this one using data from Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature… and the UCDP:

blog battle deaths pinker data

Now, two graphs showing that deaths from warfare have been in decline for half a century does not necessarily mean that a freer market in security services has led directly to this overwhelmingly good news. I am confident in claiming, though, that the freeing up of security services markets, combined with the steady presence of a few, still-powerful nationalized armies has led to a reduction in war-related deaths (and violent conflict in general). Both graphs illustrate well what happens when there are too many nationalized armies vying for power and prestige. (It is worth noting here that the main goal of diplomats and policymakers everywhere, no matter their ideological orientation or citizenship status, is still to avoid another world war.)

Second, the said. Annan’s refusal to decriminalize mercenary activities led directly to the 800,000 Rwandan deaths. How is this moral failing any better than when a mercenary firm breaks its contract and ends up killing a few dozen more people than it was supposed to? Again, the graphs are useful here: When conflict is nationalized, everybody suffers; when it is privatized, atrocities happen but not on the same scale we have seen with nationalized conflicts. It’s not even close. Annan’s short-sightedness reminds me of economist Scott Sumner’s 2012 summary of Hillary Clinton’s view of the War on Drugs:

[…] in response to a final question on drugs (from a Latin American reporter), she said drug legalization would do no good because drug dealers are really bad people, and they would simply do other crimes. No discussion of how America’s murder rate fell in half after alcohol was legalized in 1933.

Like drug use, the privatization of security services causes many people, well-educated or otherwise, to bristle at the notion without quite thinking through its logical implications. While ugly, mercenary firms are far more efficient and effective at quelling “bush wars” than are nationalized armies and, in turn, mercenary outfits are far less capable of sowing the type of destruction that nationalized armies routinely carry out.

I don’t think that a world with a few nationalized armies and an abundance of mercenary firms is necessarily the best option going forward, though. It is, however, a better option than most scholars and analysts give it credit for. In fact, it’s the best option at the moment, and while the status quo may sometimes be ugly, remember the graphs. Privatization of security services has contributed, at least in part, to a more peaceful and less violent world.

In order to move forward from this status quo it is best not lament the way things are going, but to acknowledge that things are the way they are for a reason, and then look for avenues to alter the status quo without falling back on a blanket policy like nationalizing security services again. The horrors of the World Wars should still be fresh in our minds, and the horrors of those wars were enabled and encouraged by nationalized security forces.

The best way to move forward is by looking at where these “bush wars” are taking place and begin thinking about ways to incorporate these regions into the global order (such as it is). This policy represents a departure from traditional post-war thinking about international relations, but it doesn’t make it radical or unfeasible. Indeed, there is a long tradition of republican thinking in Western thought pertaining to international relations. The West needs to start recognizing the legitimacy of secessionist sentiments in the post-colonial world, even if it means friction with Russia and China.

Washington and Brussels will have to endure charges of hypocrisy when it comes to ignoring the lobbying efforts of places like Tibet and Dagestan, but Biafra should have become a member state of the United Nations long ago. Baluchistan should have access independent of Pakistan and Iran to the IMF and World Bank. Two or three soccer teams from the region known as Kurdistan could easily be present in all major FIFA tournaments. Examples abound throughout the world. The West should also be open to recognizing arguments made by Russia and China for the independence of regions. There is no good reason why Western diplomats should ignore Moscow’s recognition of places like South Ossetia and Donetsk; doing so only hardens Russia’s stance on recognizing secession in parts of the world where its influence is limited or non-existent and forces the West into bed with unsavory post-socialist regimes.

The West needs to start being more inclusive when it comes to its own federal and republican institutions, too. Morocco, for example, should have had its 1987 application to join the European Union taken seriously (same goes for Turkey). The US federation needs to be actively courting polities like Puerto Rico, Coahuila, Alberta, and Micronesia to join the union. Both the EU and US are contracts designed to dampen violent conflict by fostering diplomatic, economic, and cultural intercourse between provincial polities. The reasoning behind exclusionary policies simply doesn’t answer why these republican, supranational organizations should not be actively recruiting neighboring or geopolitically useful administrative units into their representative systems.

Without this change in mindset the status quo will continue, which again if we remember the graphs is not all that bad, but something worse may happen: There could be a reversion to the blanket nationalization of security services that we saw during World Wars I and II.

From the Comments: Military intervention, democracy, and stability

Longtime reader (and excellent blogger in his own right) Tam has an interesting response to Chhay Lin’s thoughts on the Paris terrorist attacks:

It is an interesting read indeed but there are two or even more sides to every story. What we are also noting is that many of these groups that hate Western interventionist policies also hate their own people for being different in one way or the other. However, I agree that the misplaced perception of democracy as the superior form of governance overlooks the essential internal historical and socio-political factors behind the politics of the different countries that have become victims of Western ‘sanctification’ processes fronted by bombs after daring to opt not to embrace democracy. Libya and Iraq were stable before Western intervention.

Tam’s point strikes at the heart of the difference between military interventionists and non-interventionists, I think. Libya and Iraq were indeed stable, but not everybody was free. In Iraq, Shias, Kurds, liberals, and religious Sunnis were all brutally suppressed, and this oppression stood in stark contrast to the freedoms that secularists, women, union members, some socialists, and the politically apathetic enjoyed. The sociopolitical dynamics in Libya were the same, though with different local actors.

This reality is something that both sides of the interventionist debate recognize, though the interventionist side seems to place much more faith in government when it comes to “doing something.” Jacques and Edwin, for example, have both argued that bombing ambiguous factions in Iraq, Syria, and Libya would contribute to the freedoms of the oppressed factions in those countries. Looking back on the debate makes it clear that they weren’t wrong, but look at what those freedoms have produced. Those freedoms have come at the expense of the freedoms of the factions that the dictators were protecting.

What this situation shows me is that the states of the post-colonial world are unviable. Stability comes at too steep a price (dictatorship), and democracy’s unpredictability only leads to predictably violent results in the post-colonial world.

This impasse, which I cannot be the only one in the world who recognizes, has led me to take a hard glance at two specific peace processes in the Western world: The diplomatic efforts of Europeans after the Napoleonic Wars (“Concert of Europe”) and the founding of the American republic, which is, in my mind, the most successful endeavor in the history of international relations. Neither of these efforts led to the complete abolition of war, but both have helped to maintain a relatively peaceful co-existence between large numbers of factions for long periods of time.

The Concert of Europe bought time for factions in the region to solidify their legitimacy at home, culminating in both the creation of Germany and Italy in the late nineteenth century and the infamous overseas imperial  domains of France, the UK, and the Netherlands (among a few others). While this peace process brought about prosperity for Western Europe, it was not inclusive and it still adhered to the Westphalian notion of state sovereignty. What state sovereignty means is that each state, in the context of international affairs, has a right to do whatever it pleases within the confines of its own borders (such as massacre hundreds of thousands of people in the name of stability). The Concert of Europe was also the precursor to the post-1945 peace process that created the state system that we all live with today, though I would argue that there are some elements that could be republican, such as the IMF and World Bank, provided some changes in mindset.

Aside from the problems produced by the notion of state sovereignty, the states of the post-colonial world today suffer from an issue of legitimacy, both from domestic populations and from foreign ones. Domestically, all of the factions that stability-inducing dictatorships oppress do not buy in to the argument that the states purporting to govern them are legitimate. In foreign affairs, many factions do not believe that these post-colonial states are legitimate either. Hence the calls for bombing campaigns, proxy wars, or outright invasions and occupations of states like Iraq and Libya by states like the US or France (even if these invasions come at the expense of domestic and international rule of law).

This situation, where post-colonial states claim to have sovereignty within an international state system but where domestic and international factions ignore such claims, is where we’re at today. It’s the status quo, and while it worked relatively well in a small part of the world for about hundred years or so, it’s obviously failing today.

Enter the founding of the American republic. Unlike the Concert of Europe, self-determination à la breaking away from the UK was a guiding principle of the federal system, rather than state sovereignty. Like the Concert of Europe, the statesmen who crafted the American republic were concerned about invasion, hegemony, and all of the other bad stuff that happens in the international arena. So they set up an inclusive, republican system of states rather than attempt to balance power off on each other, like they did in Europe. The republican, or federal, system tied each state up into the affairs of the other states, whereas the balance of power system contributed to the formation of rival blocs within the system. This is why Europe switched from trying to maintain yet another balancing act to building an actual confederation (though one that is far too complex than it has to be) after World War II.

From a strictly war and peace view, the republican state system has led to one war so far (dating from 1789). From the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815, to today, the balance of power state system has led to numerous wars.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy was based on self-determination, and his foreign policy was a disaster. This is true, though I would argue that Wilson was simply confused about what self-determination actually implied. For Wilson, recognizing the self-determination of various groups within empires would lead to state sovereignty for these groups, and that this state sovereignty would then be protected by the institutions trying to maintain a balance of power. Wilson never entertained the notion of republicanism when it came to recognizing the self-determination of peoples living in empires, he simply thought empires were undemocratic. Thus, he was actually a proponent of state sovereignty rather than self-determination.

What I am not arguing for here is a Concert of Europe-type effort for Middle Eastern actors. I think it would be a disaster, largely because regional efforts at peace-building (rather than, say, trade agreements) are useless in today’s globalized world. The Middle East needs the West, and vice-versa. Peace will only be achieved if self-determination is embraced (by not only large swathes of Mideast factions, but Western ones as well) and the new polities can be incorporated into existing republican-esque institutions. This way, more factions have a voice, and bad actors can be more easily isolated. I am not necessarily arguing that the US or EU should welcome burgeoning Mideast states into their federations, but policymakers and statesmen from these countries should at least start thinking about how to encourage and embrace the notion of a Middle East that looks a lot like our own republican world and less like the one we gave them following the destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

Stability is overrated, especially if the notion of creative destruction is taken into account.

We Can’t Really Know What Feminism is Like, but it Doesn’t Look Good

(I’ve noticed most of those writers commenting share a similar opinion on social justice warriors, so to prevent this website from crumbling into a circle-jerk of agreement I’m going to refrain from comment on that particular group. Instead, this concerns the ambiguity of the modern feminist movement itself.)

A few years ago I enthusiastically embraced the feminist label. Its ideals felt realistic and egalitarian and I hadn’t yet encountered its radicals. Enrollment in a gender studies course familiarized me with the vocabulary and recent postulates. Now, the outspoken members representing the movement have seemingly turned a once humanitarian utopia into a fascist wasteland.

Modern feminism and its millennial spin-off were ostensibly about challenging oppressive narratives, yet now the presiding narrative is decidedly feminist and decidedly oppressive. Proponents frequently create strawmen out of their opponents’ arguments (like this embarrassing spectacle), gender studies degrees are available at every university, and television and media have been coercively whipped into obedient advocacy.  Feminism has painstakingly searched for things to find sexist or oppressive that logically are not and still much credibility has been given to its furthest reaches by mainstream journalism, legislation and dictionaries – the ultimate platforms. Feminism is the establishment, and those who would oppose get their voices silenced or skewered. (Of course, TIME now reports on celebrities laughing during SNL sketches so it isn’t really a valuable news source anyway.)

It can no longer be pretended that feminism is an underdog idea. And as usual, the status quo comes with its share of censorship. When someone is critical of feminism they often get conflated with some form of bigotry à la fallacious generalizations and stereotypes. Judging Zoe Quinn, videogame developer, for allegedly cheating on her boyfriend with five men can get the speaker accused of slut-shaming, which just isn’t the same thing… at all. Discussing that obesity is unhealthy can get someone grouped as a body-shamer. The other day, a Facebook friend of mine posted “…do not tell people they lost weight. do not tell people they gained weight. please. it is not your place” [sic]. Apparently the discussion of weight belongs only to an individual with themselves. These followers would love to control how people speak.

Of course, movements grounded in propaganda never refer to their policing as “censorship,” grossly epitomized by this self-righteous euphemization on a popular feminist website: “Since we are not the government, this isn’t censorship — this is how we institute anti-oppression.”

This is the same movement that, in the last few years, has extended no-platforming from the exclusion of burgeoning fascists to the exclusion of intellectuals without religious zeal for mainstream feminism. The same movement that pushes safe spaces because clearly students that can afford thousands of dollars in debt can’t afford to encounter a different opinion. The same movement that, should its vocalists be taken literally, would have the next generation coddled in ignorance and isolation.

If you haven’t been following Gamergate and anti-GG, it’s unclear what the battle is anymore –  if creative expression needs to be strangled anywhere it runs free, if select feminists are trying to force women into activities they statistically don’t enjoy, or if anything perceived as a “men’s playground” needs to be dissolved. In the debate, opponents would just as soon swear to Gamergates’ collective misogyny as to the conclusion that women supporting Gamergate are out for male attention. Another paradoxical incantation is that women game as much as men yet more women need to invited into the gaming world.  And that’s one of the largest problems with those vocalists of postmodern or fourth-wave feminism: flagrant hypocrisy. The jeer of “masculinity so fragile” is near ubiquitous on websites for edgy young adults, by the same visionaries who affirm an oppressive patriarchy. Feminists on social media claim to deplore racism but are socially protected in general vilification of what they perceive to be dominant. The movement is supposed to fight for trans rights but instead millennials consistently humiliate the authenticity of the experience by convoluting the gender identity field with absurdities. The mental gymnastics required to quasi-validate those feminist ideologies are too demanding even for the most trained in manipulative rhetoric.

Segregation is unity. Advantages are equality. The same radicals that are, or are masquerading as, modern feminists would ace interviews for the Ministry of Truth.

Some of the accepted ideas of the main movement are questionable, regardless of the extremists. One of feminism’s fundamental staples that I’m reluctant to believe concerns sexual objectification in advertisements, mainly that it disproportionately happens to women. I’m in further disbelief that sexual objectification is inherently a bad thing and not just a signature of a sexually-liberated society. Also, the idea that Barbie dolls teach men that women are objects is as ridiculous as the argument that videogames cause violent behavior. Human beings distinguish between plastic and flesh. And human beings, including men, are not inherently evil (unless we believe Hobbes).

Alongside that, it doesn’t take more than attending one social gathering to understand we don’t live in a rape culture. Yet writers for popular magazines, under the guise of feminism, claim that men believe they have a right to rape, rape is as American as apple pie, rape is the norm, and rape jokes create a rape culture. The White House even stated America has a “tolerance” for rape. You do not have to do research to understand how despised rape is in America yet so-called feminists have already convinced the major sources of information that our culture is immersed in it and alongside that men are evil.

Now, modern feminism does cover some important points. Intersectional feminism (the fact that this branch exists alone should raise some questions about the inclusiveness of its root movement) has attempted to carry the weight of racial disparities, such as in the criminal justice system. To blindly carry on writing about feminism without addressing its faults is naïve, as naïve as criticizing its entire movement without addressing its modern accomplishments. It would be ignorant to say it’s a wholly progressive movement for tolerance and it would be dishonest to say it’s inherently anti-male. In the post-information age there is no sure fire way to decipher true from false news aside from the utilization of personal experience; a federally-backed statistic can come out and another that completely contradicts it, equally credible. All information is politicized before presentation. Cyphering through the truth of the matter takes critical thinking and experience to form educated conclusions.

A number of people have had the experience with feminism such that it would be unethical to not describe themselves as feminists. Conversely, a number of people have had the experience with feminism such that aligning with it would be unethical and morally reprehensible. This movement boils down to your personal encounters with it – such is the consequence of a peoples’ ideology that is progressing heavily online without positively identifiable leaders. Your core values aren’t adequate for identification because there are numerous other, similar movements for the millennial progressive and feminism in different situations isn’t any particular way. To each individual feminism means something different and these different perspectives are all valid so long as the experience they’re built upon actually transpired.

So, what does feminism really stand for? At its best: socio-economic equality of the sexes; the canonization of new ideas, particularly about gender and intersectional marginalization; implantation of merit-based diversity in the workplace and political sphere; and liberty for women across the globe. At its worse: censorship, most efficaciously of opposing viewpoints and politically incorrect comedy; racial hatred manifest as appropriate political opinion; reactionary rhetoric; first-world problems; and victim manufacturing.

There are alternatives to feminism; most notably, I think, anti-feminism or libertarianism. I support sex workers. I support LGBTQ+. I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-diversity. I think MRAs are ridiculous. I think BLM is excellent.  I’ve been all these things ever since I could form an opinion. You can want liberties and equality without being a feminist, and in fact, more people want equality than identify themselves as feminists. This consideration deserves a long, hard thought. But only one thing is certain: if you support the restriction of free speech, you are sympathetic to fascism.

 

Freedom of Speech on Campus

Much controversy rages over campus speech these days. Examples abound; here’s one from George Washington University about students hanging flags from their dorm windows. What legitimate free speech rights do students enjoy on campus? The answer is: it depends.

Before examining the dependency, let’s distinguish natural rights from contractual rights. Natural rights are entitlements that stem directly from our humanity. It’s often said that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are natural rights but they aren’t. The only genuine natural rights are property rights: control of our own body, control of our own material and intellectual creations, and control of things we have acquired through voluntary transactions.

Contractual rights arise from an exchange that plays out over time. If I’m a student at GWU, a private University, I may have been promised that in return for my tuition, I will acquire a number of entitlements including freedom of speech on campus, within limits (no yelling “fire!” in a crowded lecture hall). That’s the only freedom of speech I have on campus. If GWU should want to forbid pro-Israel speeches on campus, for example, and I accept that as a condition of admission, then I have no right to lobby for Israel on campus.

Things get complicated when the institution is publicly owned.[1] Who owns San Jose State University? Not “the people”—that would be meaningless. The owner is the person or group who has final say over campus property and policies. That might be the Board of Trustees of the California State University, but how much of their control have they relinquished to what other parties? Hard to say, and in particular it’s hard to say who gets to set restrictions on campus speech—and of course all manner of such restrictions are necessary if the business of the University is to go forward. No blocking hallways, no disrupting classes, etc.  In the case of a public university, somebody has to decide what sort of speech is allowed, usually according to what is politically palatable to the loudest voices.

 

To repeat, the only genuine natural rights are property rights. Freedom of speech or religion are not fundamental rights but are contingent on the ownership of property involved in any particular speech or religious activity.

[1] “Public ownership” is actually an oxymoron because ownership means some people are excluded while public means everybody is included.