Category Archives: Democracy

Brazilian Elections 2014: Results and Problems

I’ve recently posted on the Brazilian Presidential Elections of 2014. Brazilians also voted for State Senate, National Senate and Congress and State Governor.

The top most voted candidates in the Presidential Elections make the cut to the second round (unless the top candidate dominates by a considerably wide margin).

Labour Party incumbent Dilma Rousseff was the most voted candidate with 41% of the votes. Social-Democrat Aécio Neves will challenge her in the second round – he got 34% of the votes, whereas Marina Silva of the Socialist Party was the choice of 21% of the voters.

This comes as a big surprise, since Neves and Silva were technically tied after the final poll before the elections. Because of the power that polls have to potentially influence the vote, rumours are that Aécio had been faring much better, but that the polling methodology had been compromised.

A technical issue with the electronic vote machines has been denounced by several voters in different parts of the country. Some people complained they couldn’t choose Neves as their candidate, because the machines wouldn’t allow it. A police report was issued in at least one incident related to faulty machines, which allegedly shifted votes in favour of the incumbent candidate. A simple internet search reveals stories of people who tried to set the machines on fire, among other isolated episodes.

Former footballer and US 1994 World Cup champion Romário is also making the headlines. Romário has been a Congressman for some time. He has adopted a pragmatic anti-corruption approach during his term. This time, he ran for the Senate. With more than 5 million votes, Romário is the most voted Senator in the history of the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Neves and Rousseff will have only a few weeks to carry on their campaigns and debates before the final decision.

Scotland, Nation, and Liberty

As I start writing voting is coming to an end in Scotland with regard to a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There are those in Cornwall, a peninsula on the extreme south-west of England who argue that is should be represented as an entity on  level with those four components of the UK, as it was regarded as distinct from England into the sixteenth century, never having being properly incorporated into Roman Britannia or Anglo-Saxon Wessex (the Old English kingdom in the south west, which became the nucleus of the Medieval English state).

From the 10th century onwards Anglo-Saxon kings asserted supremacy over Scotland with varying degrees of success in obtaining some recognition of overlordship from Scottish kings. Wars between Scotland and England led to victory for Scotland in the fourteenth century when the English monarchy ended attempts to use force to demand Scottish subordination, or even incorporation of Scotland, and European states accepted Scotland as a sovereign entity. In the early seventeenth century, Queen Elizabeth I of England died childless so that the heir to the English crown was King James VI of Scotland who became James I of England. He moved his court from Edinburgh to London, and pushed for the union of two kingdoms in his person to become a state union of England and Scotland as Great Britain. (At this time, Wales was treated as a part of England.)

The English Parliament resisted the creation of Great Britain, but by the early eighteenth century there was mutual interest in the trade and economic advantages of state union with accompany reductions on trade barriers, particularly after the failure of a brief attempt at Scottish empire building in Central America.  An Act of Union was passed by the English Parliament in 1707 and then by the Scottish Parliament in 1708, which abolished the Scottish Parliament. It also left in place major differences in laws, the legal system, education, and the state church, which have lasted until the present day.

Before the personal union of Scotland and England under James VI/I, Scotland itself went through a process of internal integration, or colonisation of the peripheral regions by the centre, as all nations have. This included the 1493  abolition of the Lord of the Isles, which indicated sovereignty over an area covering the highland and island areas of Scotland, and which has a complex history in relation to all the neighbouring powers. The incorporation  of that region, what could easily have been a separate sovereign nation if history had gone a bit differently, was not completed until 1745, that is after the Act of Union, when a British army destroyed an attempted restoration of the Stuart family of James VI/I. The attempted restoration is known as the Jacobite Rebellion. Jacobite refers to the latinised form of James, in honour of James II, who was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 due to his Catholic religion, fears that he was attempting to enforce that religion as a state church instead of the existing Protestant established church, and fears that he was creating an absolute monarchy with a decorative role only for Parliament.

The Jacobite  Rebellion itself divided Scotland between the traditional semi-feudal highland chiefs and the commercial world of the Lowlands. As a consequence of the failure of the Rebellion, British law was enforced fully for the first time beyond the Highland line, while restrictions were placed of Highland customs, clothing, and language. The language of the Highlands was Gaelic (a Celtic language relate to Irish, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton).   This was the triumph of the Scots (a dialect of English, or a language which is very close to English depending on point of view) and English speaking Lowlanders and the end of the process initiated by the early Stuart overthrow of the Lords of the Isles.

The United Kingdom was formed by the 1800 Act of Union, which abolished the Irish parliament. Most of Ireland left to form what is now the Republic of Ireland in the early 1920s, but Northern Ireland remained, now with its own parliament, which is why there is still a UK, not just Great Britain.

All this history is to indicate the long historical nature and the complexity of the  relations between England and Scotland, with regard to sovereignty, identity, and so on. Scotland like England was itself a work in progress before union, and the integration of Scotland into what might be taken as a single nation, was completed over one hundred years after the Act of Union, over two hundred years after the union of crowns, under the leadership of the British crown, which at that time was unified with the German princedom of Hanover.

Scotland was never assimilated into England, even when there was no parliament, and Scotland has always been distinct from England than Wales in at least two respects:

  1. there is a higher proportion of trade within Scotland than with England, than of internal Welsh trading activity compared with trade with England;
  2. Wales’s contact with urban centres is just as much with the nearby English cities of Bristol, Birmingham, and Liverpool as with its own cities (principally Swansea and Cardiff) while Scotland is very focused on its own cities (principally Edinburgh and Glasgow).

However, Wales is more distinct from England in language since twenty per cent  speak Welsh fluently, everyone studies Welsh at school, and Wales is officially bilingual, even gesturing towards Welsh language priority. Gaelic speakers are about one per cent of the Scottish population.

The Welsh-Scottish comparison serves to show that ways of assessing national identity and distinctness vary and that there is no one way of evaluating this, so there can be no one institutional and political strategy for accommodating national differences within a state. The level and intensity of Scottish distinctness and identity has amounted to a nation now divided almost exactly down the middle about whether it wishes to separate from the UK.

This is not just an issue of identity though, as a large part of the Scottish independence vote is based on a belief that Scotland is egalitarian, welfarist, communal, social democratic, or even socialist, in comparison with England and that the countries are polar opposites on these issues. Another part of support for independence is the hope that North Sea oil will bring more benefit to Scotland if a Scottish government is collecting the tax revenue, accompanied by the belief that taxation at the UK level is some kind of resource theft.

Building on the historical, political, and institutional account above, what conclusions am I drawing? The first thing to state is of course that Scotland has every right to leave the UK if it so wishes, that it is a good thing that a referendum is being held to test what Scots want, and that if independence is what is wanted, then the government of the residual UK use must take a positive and co-operative approach to the departure of Scotland.

However, I certainly don’t believe that Scotland should separate. Part of that is the emotional patriotism of an Englishman, call it nationalism no problem, based on centuries of shared enterprise and struggle, good (the defeat of National Socialist Germany) and bad (imperialism). The Scots took a disproportionately large part in the trading, colonising, and military aspects of that joint history, and during that history many Scots went to England and became part of English society, John Stuart Mill’s father is a notable example. One of the great flourishing moments of that history was the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume, Adam Smith, and others, which always involved education, travel, and interaction in England as well as Scotland.

Why peace behind centuries of joint enterprise in which despite centralising processes, differences of identity and in institutions proved to be compatible with the growth of commercial society, civil society, liberty under law, parliamentary government, science and culture, and the twentieth century struggle against totalitarianism.

There’s  a lot for liberty advocates to admire there, without denying that a lot of worse things happened as well, and surely we should be disposed to favour building on that rather than destroying it. Many liberty advocates have a preference for small nations where maybe there is more chance of intelligent laws and policies, less remote from everyday reality and individual understanding of particular realities.

I can only agree with the provision that such a result can be achieved through forms of federalism which are decentralising rather than centralising so that the federal centre is largely responsible for trade, foreign and defence policy, and the lower region and national levels do everything else in an innovative, flexible, diverse, and competitive way.

There is still some benefit in the UK remaining as a unified power for defence and military purposes. It is would not be good from a liberty point of view for a country that in its military budget and capacities, its diplomatic and transnational weight, is still a match for nearly all the major powers. The UK whatever its faults is one of the more liberty  oriented parts of the world, and no good would come from lessening its strategic and diplomatic weight. Of course those liberty advocates who prefer very neutralist and almost pacifist attitudes to international relations will not be impressed, but we live in a world where states with low levels of inner liberty and little respect for the rights of others exist, and should be at least matched by powers that are more liberty oriented at home and more respectful of the rights in the international sphere. The role of liberal democracies has not always been admirable in this sphere, but better those errors than unchecked aggression from authoritarian states.

The institutions of liberty are more likely to flourish in democratic states, where a multiplicity of national and regional identities flourish, than in attempts to break away based on some inclination, of some degree of intensity, that singular national identity is better than multiplicity and that national identity needs unrestrained state sovereignty. In the particular case of Scotland, the Scottish National Party, and others for independence, are relying on the dream of a more socialist country where ‘Scottish’ oil is protected from the English to fund an expanding state, without having a plausible explanation for the currency to be used on independence, or any sense of reality about how international markets testing the prudence of a new state are likely to drive it towards high interest rates and displays of deficit reduction.

The political consequences of a subsequent disillusion with social democratic dreams mingled with existing  assumptions of a morally superior Scottish community, and related anti-English feeling, in economically disruptive circumstances could be most severe and disturbing. Even on a more optimistic assumption about the future in which Scotland moves smoothly into a more social democratic future, nothing is gained from a pro-liberty point of view. Pro-liberty commentators who think that because Hume and Smith were Scots that an independent Scotland will be guided by Enlightenment classical liberalism have completely lost the plot.

Expanding the Liberty Canon: Cicero’s On the Republic

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a prominent lawyer, politician, and thinker in the last years of the Roman Republic. His death was a murder in revenge for his attacks on Marcus Antonius (known in English as Mark Anthony), in the form of a speech in the Senate against tyranny known as the First Philippic. It is known as the Philippic in tribute to the speeches of Demosthenes (384-322 BC), which attacked the tyranny of Philipp II of Macedon over Athens and the other Greek city states.

The background to this is that the Roman Republic had been falling into the hands of military strong men for some time, who stretched the institutions and  laws of the republic in order to exercise supreme power.  Gaius Julius Caesar was  the last in this sequence. After his conquest of Gaul (France) he taken supreme power in Rome out of a mixture extreme drive for power and as a protective measure against enemies after the lost the immunity associated with the governor’s post he had during his war of expansion.

After winning a way against his most important rival, Caesar offered mercy to previous opponents allowing them to be influential in Rome. However, Caesar was increasingly looking like a new king, a  hated office in Rome, and the political system was designed to prevent any one person having complete power except for a short period in exceptional circumstnces. Caesar used this office of dictator, originally designed to offer emergency powers to a general during a time of military crisis for no more than six months, to become the permanent absolute ruler of Rome. He publicly rejected the offer of a crown from Mark Anthony, but was suspected of waiting for the right moment to proclaim himself king.

A conspiracy developed against Caesar amongst aristocrats who wished to preserve republican practices in which no one man could dominate Rome, so that power was shared between the aristocracy, with some influence granted to the common people. Cicero was a not a member of the conspiracy, but approved of its action against Caesar, which was led by Cicero’s friend Marcus Junius Brutus. It is highly pertinent  to Cicero’s vision of the republic that Brutus was, or appeared to be, the descendent of the Marcus Junius Brutus who led the overthrow of the last King of Rome in the early years of the sixth century BCE.

The conspiracy against Caesar resulted in his assassination by a group of senators in 44 BCE. However, the assassins were not able to take over Rome and moved to eastern Mediterranean parts of the Roman lands to raise forces and organise for a war against Caesar’s followers. After the assassination Caesar’s friend and colleague, mark Anthony allied with an 18 year old nephew of Caesar, who was his legal heir. The boy became the Emperor Augustus. The rest of the story would go beyond the limits of this post, so it will enough for now just to mention that Mark Anthony took power in the city of Rome, leading to the murder of Cicero, while the future Augustus built up a position which enabled him to become the political successor to Caesar, not Mark Anthony.

Mark Anthony is reported to have ordered Cicero’s hands to be removed during the assassination and nailed to the door of the Senate house, in a tribute of a kind to the power of an eloquent speaker arguing for liberty and demonstrating liberty in the act of speaking, using his hands as ancients did in a rhetorically guided way as a major part of emphasising points. Though after the First Philippic the likelihood of violent retribution from Mark Anthony led Cicero to confine himself to writing further Philippics that were not read out in the Senate.

Cicero had previously served as consul (one of two officers of the Republic who shared the powers of a king for one year), the governor of Cilicia (modern day Adana in Turkey), and other offices. His political career included some  very rough measures to defend the republic against what he thought of as existential danger and we should not turn Cicero into defender of pure constitutionalism and law in life, as well as in his writings. His writings do suggest a strong wish to live under laws rigorously enforced, and it has to be conceded that it was practically impossible to participate in politics at that time without being party to some very rough actions.

Cicero’s writings are not merely an important moment in antique thinking about liberty, but a major event in the  linguistic and conceptual translation of Greek philosophy into Latin. Cicero’s Latin became the model for educated Latin style and usage under the Empire. His influence as a Latin stylist, thinker, and republican, was important on many generations of the more educated members of the aristocracy and the upper classes in Europe into the 19th century, because of the centrality of Latin  to elite education.

Cicero wrote a number of texts concerned with liberty apart from On the Republic, including On the Laws, On Duties as well as various texts about oratory, letters and speeches. Online versions of On the Republic can be found here and here. The book connects with the issue of the apparent lineage of Brutus the assassin of Caesar going back to Brutus overthrower of   monarchy, because it emphasises tradition. Laws are understood to be good if coming from venerable custom and that reinforced the arguments for a Senate connected with the Roman past through the ancestry emphasised by the aristocracy. Cicero was himself from a provincial family that had recently became rich, but felt that the connections of many other Senators with the deep Roman past was very valuable.

The aristocracy, organised politically in the Senate, provides the real heart of Cicero’s ideal republic as it provides a means of government midway between the disorder of democracy and the tyranny of one man rule. The people should have a share in the political system, but one constrained to prevent imbalances arising. Monarchy existed in the Roman republic, in the form the consuls who shared power for two years. Democracy existed in the role of citizen assemblies and tribunes who had veto powers and were elected by the lower classes as a guarantee of their rights.

Cicero saw the benefits of aristocratic power as a so great that except where the people had become unusually virtuous it is a good thing for the aristocracy to be able the how the lower classes voted, so that patrons could influence the votes of those who depended on them financially. This could be seen as very self-interested on the part of Cicero since he was a member of the aristocracy, but also fits in with his argument about the importance of avoiding the bad government of individuals with absolute power and of disorderly democratic assemblies. Both extremes are bad for a republic.

Cicero was certainly very horrified by the idea of a tyrant, suggesting that such people were vicious beasts and enemies of humanity. Unfortunately, like the other ancient thinkers, it just seemed obvious to him that Romans were a free people not worthy of slavery, while other peoples were worthy only of slavery. Roman readiness for liberty was based on customs and traditions that endured over the centuries.  Cicero’s vision of law was as the outcome of  virtue cultivated over over centuries.  Laws were based on what could be found in customs so reducing the chances of laws appearing that impinged on the rights of any citizen.

Cicero’s understanding of law, custom, rights, and virtue was rooted in Roman history, in which he thought the early Roman kings Romulus and Numa, had built the institutions needed  by a republic concerned with respect for a divine sanction underlying laws.  Cicero probably did not believe in the standard Roman paganism, but evidently thought it suitable for making the laws as respected as possible. Cicero’s view of virtue also led him to favour a republic not too open to trade and other forms of connection with the outside world. He thought that Rome’s position  on a river rather than the sea was ideal for keeping foreign influences down to an acceptable level. Carthage, Rome’s old enemy in what is now Tunisia, was less blessed in that it was a city on the sea and had been dominated by trade.

Cicero’s suspicions of trade and cosmopolitan interaction  was regrettable, but was part of the antique way of thinking in which individual liberty in a city rested on virtue, state enforcement of public behaviour, as was the responsibility of Roman ‘censors’, and  detachment from money making activities. Liberty could only fully existed where an aristocracy accustomed to self restraint dominated institutions in which the recklessness of the lower classes and the greed of those trying to rise up could be held down.

It was difficult for Cicero to imagine strong laws and institutions, as able to guarantee liberty, except in a society where the rapid innovations and changes of trade and commerce were sufficiently dampened to allow the old to remain in place. There are modern problems in integrating effective laws and institutions with change and variety, and no one had an obviously better idea of how find a balance than Cicero did in antiquity.

California Times Six

I live in California. It’s a great state. Too great.

A proposition to split California into six states may be on the ballot in 2016. “Six Californias” has announced that it has collected sufficient signatures. Why six? California’s population of over 38 million is six times lager than the US state average. The ruling powers may find a way to block the proposal, as some opponents claim that the signature gathering was unlawful. If “Six Californias” does get on the 2016 ballot, in my judgment, this will be a rare chance for fundamental reforms.

Many Californians have said that the state is too big to govern effectively. But the governance problem is not size, but structure. After the property-tax limiting Proposition 13 was adopted in 1978, taxes and political power shifted from the counties and cities to the state government. California could be governed well if decentralized, but the concentration of fiscal power to the state has made the state among the highest taxed and worst regulated in the USA.

There have been many attempts to reform the lengthy California constitution, but they have all failed. Attempts to replace the Proposition 13 have gone nowhere. The best option is to start over. Creating new states would provide six fresh starts.

Critics of the six-state plan say that the wealth of the new Californias would be unequal. The Silicon Valley state would include the high-tech wealthy counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, among others. The promoter of this initiative, Timothy Drapers, happens to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

But the current 50 US states are also unequal in wealth. The income inequality problem is a national and global problem. Income can become more equal without hurting production by collecting the land rent and distributing it equally among the population. Since the critics of Six Californias are not proposing or even discussing this most effective way to equalize income, their complaints should be dismissed as irrelevant, immaterial, and incompetent.

US states have been split in the past. Maine was split off from Massachusetts in 1820, and West Virginia was carved out of Virginia in 1863.

If the initiative passes, a board of commissioners would draw up a plan to divide the state’s assets and liabilities among the six new states. A good way to do this would be to divide the value of the assets by population, but to divide the liabilities (including both the official debt and the unfunded liabilities such as promised pensions) by the wealth of each state. That would go a ways to deal with the inequality problem.

California’s complex water rights could be simplified by eliminating subsidies, instead charging all users the market price of water. There could continue to be a unified water system with a water commission with representatives from the six state.

If this measure is approved by the voters and by Congress, each state will design a constitution. The new constitutions should be brief, like the US Constitution, in contrast to the lengthy current California constitution that contains many provisions best left to statute law.

The new constitutions should retain the declaration of rights in the current state constitution, including Article I, Section 24: “This declaration of rights may not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the people.” This wording, similar to the US 9th Amendment, recognizes the existence of natural and common-law rights. This text should be strengthened with something like this: “These rights of the people include the natural right to do anything which does not coercively invade the properties and bodies of others, notwithstanding any state interest or police power.”

These new constitutions will be an opportunity to replace California’s market-hampering tax system with economy-enhancing levies on pollution and land value. There should be a parallel initiative stating that if Six Californias passes, the states will collect all the land rent within their jurisdictions and distribute the rent to all six states based on their populations. A tax on land value is by itself market enhancing, better than neutral, because it promotes an efficient use of land, it reduces housing costs for lower-income folks, and eliminates real-estate bubbles. Combined with the elimination of taxes on wages, business profits, and goods, the prosperity tax shift would raise wages and make California the best place in the world for labor and business.

This is all a dream, but the past dreams of abolishing slavery, having equal rights for women, and eliminating forced segregation all came true. This proposition will at least provide a platform for discussing such fundamental reforms.
This article was first published at

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 (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.

Another Liberty Canon: Foucault

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French writer on various but related topics of power, knowledge, discourse, history of thought, ethics, politics, and so on. His name to some summons negative associations of French intellectual fashion, incomprehensibility, and refinements of Marxist anti-liberty positions.

However, his influence in various fields has become too lasting, and too much taken up by people who do not fit into the categories just mentioned, for such reactions to be considered adequate. Foucault himself resisted and mocked labels, which was a serious issue for him because in his work he tried to question the absolute authority of any one system of knowledge and the  authority of isolated great thinkers.

He said that once he had written something it was no longer what he thought, which is in part a playful attempt to resist labelling, but also a rather serious point deeply embedded in his thought, about the nature of subjectivity, how it is always more than what we say or more than the identity that power relations impose on us.

It seems to me that any ethics of subjectivity has pro-liberty implications, and despite the image some might have of Foucault as morally irresponsible or indifferent, he increasing developed the idea of  self-invented subjectivity, based on care of the self, the art of existence, and related terms.

The self-invention does not mean that Foucault thought we can arbitrarily will our self to be anything, it does mean that he thought we have possibilities to cultivate ourselves to live in a way that relates to, and challenges our existing strengths and goals.

Despite the image for some of intellectual fashion round Foucault, these ideas were partly developed through study of Ancient Greek and Roman ideas about ethics and style of living, which included interaction with scholars in the field.

Another theme he developed through his interests in antique knowledge and culture was that of ‘parrhesia’, Greek word that refers to free speaking, which in the context of ancient city states, particularly the Athenian democracy, had strong overtones of courage in truth telling before the city assembly, a prince of any other source of power.

The ethic of truth telling relates to Foucault’s own work on the language of knowledge and the history of science, as well his political ideas. He did not believe in absolute final systems of knowledge, autonomous of context, but he did believe that trying to find truths within whatever perspectives was an ethical enterprise connected with the kind of self cultivation he advocated.

Foucault’s own father had been a doctor and on at least one occasion Foucault suggested his own work was a continuation of the doctors work that evidently combines ethical and scientific aspects. It must also be said that Foucault was a great critic of the authority of experts, including doctors, so he might also be seen as struggling with the memory of his father.

The ambiguity and the personal involvement in ideas suggested there is very much at work throughout Foucault’s writing, in its tension and energy. It is part of his ‘difficulty’, which also comes from the philosophical and literary interests he had, which relate to the creative possibilities of linguistic disruption. We can see that in the most obvious way when he quotes literary texts of Borges, Beckett and so on.

The existential commitments in Foucault’s work is clear if we think about the book that made him famous History of Madness (also known as Madness and Civilisation ) and his personal experience of mental ill health and psychiatric treatment, particularly in his student years.

We can also think about his constant critique of power and his individual  willingness to physically confront power, as in the beatings he received from the police at demonstrations for rights in both France and in Tunisia (where he taught for a few years just after becoming a celebrity public intellectual in France).

Returning to the topic of experts and power, one of Foucault’s most pervasive ideas now is of ‘biopolitics’, that is the way that power expresses itself through prolongation of life.  As the state has moved from a basis in the power of death over criminals and other supposed enemies, to a promotion of population, public health and prolongation of life, it has demanded corresponding powers of intervention and control.

At the extreme this means the ‘racial hygiene’ ideas that German National Socialists used to justify the Holocaust, and in a more routine way means expanding state activity justified by public health goals. We can readily see the contemporary significance of Foucault ideas here in relation to ever expanding state and ‘expert’ attempts to limit smoking, drinking alcohol and supersized fizzy drinks, eating sugary and fatty foods , and so on.

The ideas about biopolitics builds on the discussion of modern power in maybe his most widely read book, Discipline and Punish, which deals with the way that the prison becomes the central means of punishment after the eighteenth century Enlightenment, and suggests the dangers of Enlightenment becoming a controlling form of rationalism.

The way the prison works, around observation, or surveillance, of prisoners to ensure adherence to prison routine was the model of modern power for Foucault including factories, schools, and armies, in a model of ‘disciplinarily’. Again Foucault’s intellectual interests correspond with life commitments, as he was a prominent campaigner for prisoner rights, under the inspiration of the man with whom he shared his life, the academic sociologist Daniel Defert.

Foucault’s analyses in Discipline and Punish, and related material, draw on the ‘classical sociology’ of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber with regard to norms and authority, as his views on the emergence of the modern state draw heavily on the ‘pre-sociology’ to be found in the historical and social work of the classical liberal thinkers Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron of La Brède and Montesquieu and Alexis de Tocqueville.

There is some drawing on Marx, but one should be wary of those left socialist inclined advocates of Foucault who emphasise this strongly, since they don’t mention the other points of orientation so much. The same applies to remarks Foucault made about the importance of the twentieth century Marxist theory of the Frankfurt School, as those who emphasise such remarks ignore accompanying remarks about the importance of Max Weber and ‘Neoliberalism’ (i.e. classical liberal and libertarian thought since the Austrian Liberal school of Menger, Hayek, Mises etc).

Strange as it might seem, Foucault suggests we take Marx, Weber, the Frankfurt School, and Neoliberalism together as attempts to explore liberty and power. Maybe it shouldn’t seem so strange, however awful the consequences of Marxist ideas coming in power have been, that does not mean we should ignore Marx and Marxism, which starts by drawing heavily on classical liberalism and does have some noteworthy things to say about constraints on liberty in a capitalist society, even if offering bad solutions.

Certainly Foucault is not your man if you think a pro-liberty position means uncritical embrace of the links between private enterprise and state power, but since the liberty tradition has in a very significant way been concerned with criticism of rent seeking and crony capitalism, of the drives within capitalism to betray itself, then I don’t think we need to reject Foucault in this area. Indeed it is even a part of the liberty tradition to reject ‘capitalism’ as tied to the state and concentrations of power and argue for markets, property, and association rights liberated from state alliances with economic power.

This is the core of left-libertarianism, and even Foucault’s most Marxist leaning fans would find it hard to deny that left-libertarian is an appropriate label for Foucault. Clearly he was a natural maverick and critic of all power, including state socialist power. I suggest his life, his activism, and his writing, can be taken as an inspiration for all liberty inclined people. Even on the more conservative side, Foucault’s thoughts about self-cultivation are a version of virtue theory, of an emphasis on cultivating virtue, so Foucault has a lot to offer to all streams of liberty thought.

Those Foucault texts most relevant to political thought about liberty


History of Madness (also published as Madness and Civilisation)

Discipline and Punish

History of Sexuality (3 volumes: Will to Knowledge, The Uses of PleasureThe Care of the Self)

Collected lectures

(Foucault’s rather early death means that much of his work was in lectures that would have been later revised into published material. The task of bringing those lectures into print is still underway).

Fearless Speech

The Government of Self and Others

The Birth of Biopolitics 

Security, Territory, Population 

Hermeneutics of the Subject 

Society Must be Defended 

Heads up Pennsylvanians you just became less free!

Cops can now search your car without a warrant in Pa.

So much for due process?  Or unreasonable search and siezure…
That’s right, not only do police have the legal authority (thanks positivists!) to search a vehicle with absolutely no cause whatsoever but you can be arrested and charged for the simple act of having “secret compartments” in your vehicle.  I will leave it up to you to decide if this power will be abused or not.

Change is on the way in India, but is this a good thing?

From Niharika Mandhana in the Wall Street Journal:

India’s voters chose a Hindu-nationalist, pro-business politician to be their next prime minister—tossing out the party that has led the country for most of the past 67 years in a historic political realignment.

Riding a wave of voter discontent with the incumbent [and hard Left-wing] Congress party and a sharply slowing economy, the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], led by Narendra Modi, was on track Friday evening to win 282 of the 545 seats in the lower house of Parliament[...]

If so, it would be the first time in three decades that a single party has won so decisively and captured an outright legislative majority, something that would give the BJP a strong position from which to push its governing agenda.

And what, exactly, is the Hindu nationalist and pro-business BJP’s governing agenda?

Mr. Modi hasn’t detailed his economic plan, but in a country with a strong legacy of state economic control, his slogans for small government, private enterprise and reduced bureaucracy have excited pro-market economists and given Mr. Modi a right-of-center image.

Still, Mr. Modi and his party’s economic agenda is far from clear. The BJP, for instance, is unlikely to roll back expensive food subsidies and opposed foreign investment in the retail industry [...] But economists and analysts expect Mr. Modi will try to rein in India’s famed bureaucracy, and stimulate international trade and investment in other areas. On the campaign trail he has talked about rolling out a “red carpet” for business rather than “red tape.”

I think Prime Minister Modi will probably not be able to get through India’s massive  parliament as easily as his supporters hope. On foreign policy Mandhana reports:

On the world stage, Indians have also grown frustrated with a foreign policy that some saw as too soft on rival neighbors Pakistan and China. Mr. Modi is expected to build a more robust one based on trade, particularly with countries in South and Southeast Asia.

Analysts generally view Mr. Modi as more hawkish than his predecessors from Congress, a reputation some say gives Mr. Modi a better shot at making peace with Pakistan.

This, I think, is the most troubling aspect of Modi’s election victory. The BJP is, as the article states, a Hindu nationalist party (nevermind for the moment that Hinduism is a religion, not a nation) and its nuclear-armed neighbor (Pakistan) is basically a “Muslim nationalist” (again, bear with me in the horrible terminology) state.

If Modi lets the radicals in his party take the lead on foreign policy, and Mamnoon Hussain (a member of the center-right – for Pakistan – Pakistan Muslim League)  in Pakistan lets the radicals dictate foreign policy in Islamabad, the world could suddenly get a lot hotter in South Asia.

Still, I think Modi’s election is a good thing overall for India (and South Asia). The Left-wing Congress Party has been impoverishing India for half a century now, so even if the BJP is pro-business rather than pro-market I think prosperity will increase slightly and the potential for better foreign policy decisions is definitely there.

Addendum 5/17: Here is Geeta Anand and Gordon Fairclough with more on India (also in the Wall Street Journal).

Eurocraine and Russocraine

Elections are supposed to achieve social peace by providing a government that represents the people. But voting has not brought peace to Ukraine. Many people distrust the honesty of the elections, and many in Ukraine have disagreed with the policies of the government, both when policy favored association with Europe and when it favored association with Russia. The fact that many voters in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine favor union with Russia, or else independence, shows that many there do not feel well represented.

The election in Ukraine will not solve the governance problem, because it is just a continuation of the same system that some are rebelling against. Ukraine needs a new structure of government and democracy. The solution is to shift political power from the central government to the people as individuals. When a citizen of Ukraine holds power equal to that of all others, he will have nothing to rebel against.

Individual sovereignty can best be represented by a neighborhood council. The neighborhood should have a small population, such as a thousand residents. That is small enough for the people to personally know the candidates and for someone to be elected with little cost. The government of Ukraine can begin the decentralization by establishing neighborhood or village election districts. If the neighborhood population is a mixture of ethnic Ukrainians and Russians, and the people wish to have a council that is aligned with one of these groups, or other interests, then the residents may regroup their districts and have councils that best represent their individual interests. This is the level-one level of governance.

In the Russian language, “Soviet” means “council”. The Soviet Union was supposed to be a union of elected councils, and there was indeed a structure of bottom-up multi-level soviets, but in practice, the Communist Party ruled top-down. Ukraine should resurrect the old Soviet system, which actually derives from the 19th-century anarchist concept of associations of voluntary communities. The Bolshevik slogan was, “All power to the soviets!”, but instead they perpetuated the dictatorship of the proletariat, usurped by the party oligarchs.

The power of the neighborhoods has to be constrained by a constitution that recognizes and enforces natural rights. In most countries, constitutions that proclaimed liberty have failed to be implemented, mainly because the structure of mass voting facilitates plutocracy, with policies that transfer wealth from workers to the moneyed and landed interests, resulting in poverty that gets remedied by trickle-down government welfare.

But with the bottom-up system of genuine soviets, the government would much better represent the people, and constitutional rights would be more strongly protected. As the level-one councils elect level-two regional councils, and these elect the supreme soviet or national parliament, the structure would prevent the usurpation of power from the top. The president would be elected by the parliament and easily dismissed if the people are dissatisfied. Any council member could be recalled by the council that elected him.

Decentralized government gets hampered by centralized tax collection, such as an income tax or value-added tax imposed from the central government. Decentralized governance is suitable to decentralized public finance, and the source of public revenue best suited to local power is the tapping of the area’s land rent or land value. Taxing wealth and investment invites capital to flee, hide, or else it shrinks from the burden. But land cannot hide, and it does not run away, nor does land shrink when taxed. Revenue from land-value taxation can be applied by the level-two councils, with revenues sent to both the level-one and level-three governments.

Ukraine needs two things: better governance and strong economic growth. The replacement of the current complex of market-hampering taxes by taxes on land value and pollution would give the economy such a comparative advantage that investment would pour in, wages would rise, the government would be able to pay off its debts, and the economic misery that fuels much of the unrest would be replaced by an economic joy that would eliminate the economic motivation to join Russia.

With small-group voting, the residents of eastern Ukraine would have their own local Russian-speaking councils, and probably ethnic Russian level-two councils representing some 25 thousand persons. The constitution of Ukraine should devolve most government services to the level-two councils, including local security, education, and public works. The ethnic Russians would no longer feel alienated from the government, and the government of Russia would find it difficult to control the local governments, because the council members would come from the people.

As to the situation of takeovers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine, the national government should surround them with walls of troops while establishing new centers of administration in other guarded buildings. But a lasting solution needs to replace the current government with councils that people feel represents them. The one good thing about the old Soviet Union, the bottom-up multi-level system of soviets, was the element that was most discarded without any debate. Ukraine: bring back the soviets, only this time, make it “all power to the people” as individuals and their chosen councils.

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy

Princeton Concludes What Kind of Government America Really Has, and It’s Not a Democracy

A new scientific study from Princeton researchers… found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

“Princeton” concludes?! “A new scientific study…”?! This is some sloppy journalism that you should immediately ignore. But it gets worse…

“Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does,” Gilens and Page write. “Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.

“But we tend to doubt it.”

That’s the close of the article; these “scientists” are about as unsophisticated as the journalist reporting it. They repeat the same old adages about inequality that don’t really mean much: The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting less richer, and (we wrongly assume) membership in these groups is stable over time. Their conclusion is basically “rich, powerful interests promote their own interests… if only the middle class was in charge to promote the public good instead of their own interests!”

And yet, I think there’s something worth reading here. I think the conclusion that the U.S. is an oligarchy is roughly correct. The importance of politically connected individuals and lobbying groups affects wealth creation and distribution. This is an example of where the Left and Right should agree with libertarians: centralization of political power is leading to wasteful rent seeking that weakens the economy (Right/libertarian) and the outcome is that politically powerful groups are given an unfair advantage (Left/libertarian).

We know that Democrats are libertarian on social issues (and this is one of them!) and Republicans are libertarian on economic issues (ditto), but we hit a snag. Each group tends to see the faults of the other party’s pet projects and miss the root causes. Republicans see Democrats centralizing power and weakening property rights and step in to save the victim: businesses. The result is pro-business policy recommendations that also centralize power. The Democrats see this and step in to save the victim: the little guy (poor people and consumers). The result is centralization of power that creates rent seeking opportunities for big business!

Australia may ban [more] boycotts…

Australia has been in the news quite often in the last year for its new Prime Minister’s controversial legislation that protest groups say put vast areas of Australian nature in threat of destruction.  Environmental issues are one of the more complex issues facing libertarians today.  The vast entanglement of property rights can make explaining those issues to non-libertarians quickly and clearly quite difficult.  Luckily for me the Australian government is currently attempting to assault a far more basic set of rights.  The right to organize, the right to persuade, and the right to spend your money and time how you wish.  We are, as the title implies discussing the right to organize a boycott of a product or products.

The Australian secretary of agriculture Richard Colbeck wants to “remove an exemption for environmental groups from the consumer law ban on so-called “secondary boycotts”.  These secondary boycotts are also illegal in the UK and the United States.  For clarification a secondary action is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise”.  

Libertarians often find themselves on the wrong side of both environmental and union actions but it is important to remember that liberty also means the freedom to refuse to purchase a product for any reason you can imagine; whether it is because the company that makes the product is partaking in actions you disagree with or because their logo is yellow.

Even though libertarians disagree with the end goals of the hard-line environmentalist movements (namely government control of industry) we cannot forget to support situations like this on principle and also to remember that environmental issues are essentially property rights issues and thus core to libertarian ethics.

Demos sin cracia


Las democracias modernas instituidas como “el gobierno de la mayoría” comenzaron a aparecer ya entrado el siglo XIX y se popularizaron velozmente.  Al lado de ella, la promoción de los ideales del sufragio universal, la igualdad de derechos y obligaciones entre hombre y mujer, la abolición de la esclavitud y del trabajo forzoso de curso legal, entre otros principios empezaron a dispersarse como un veloz germen en las sociedades occidentales y sus ex-colonias.  Han pasado ya 200 años desde que el germen democrático se dispersó por el mundo.  Sin embargo, los más recientes acontecimientos que han perturbado el flujo de las democracias de mayorías se ha visto afectado en Ucrania, Venezuela y desde hace dos días en El Salvador.

¿Por qué será que el ideal de la democracia ha “fallado” en estos países? 

Los argumentos a favor y en contra son muchos y muy complejos. Deben ser comprendidos desde distintas perspectivas y entender las posiciones tomadas por todos los actores que se han visto afectados de manera directa e indirecta por estos eventos.  Nosotros, el resto del mundo observador, podemos participar con ideas para ojalá descubrir más preguntas en nuestro camino. Hoy quiero compartirles una idea que cruzó por mi mente.

¿Acaso nuestro problema no ha sido que hemos tenído más “demos” que “cracia” en nuestro gobierno y en el desarrollo de nuestro rol ciudadano?

¿A qué me refiero con esto?

El término democracia es antiguo y complejo y se forma a partir de los vocablos “demos” traducido al castellano como -pueblo y/o poder- y “cracia” que indica un -gobierno o sistema-.  Así y actualizando el término desde la antigua Grecia a nuestros días, la democracia se refiere al gobierno del pueblo.

¿Pero acaso no ha sido el pueblo el que se ha volcado a la rebelión en Ucrania, Venezuela y El Salvador? Entonces, ¿la democracia reaccionó en estos países contra la democracia?

Quizás lo que ocurre en estos tres países (que son producto de la colonización y de la subyugación a los imperios durante la Guerra Fría) es que quizás no han pasado el suficiente tiempo en independencia institucional y maduración de sus gobiernos como para lanzarse desbocados a procesos democráticos que deben ir de la mano de una reforma educativa y cultural de la ciudadanía.  Pero, ¡alto! Que conste, que no me refiero a que estos países post-coloniales y post-guerra fría deban regresar bajo el control de un dictador o de una metrópoli.  Sino que, la participación del pueblo (demos) no debería avanzar cuando se ha descuidado o se ha impedido continuar el proceso de institucionalización de la democracia en la vida ciudadana.

Ucrania, Venezuela y El Salvador tienen como un común denominador la inmensa pobreza y la enorme desigualdad educativa y cultural entre la elite gobernante que heredó el poder de sus antiguos amos colonizadores y el grueso de la población. La mayoría de la población en estos países ha sido condicionada a servir como un “agente legitimador” al momento de ejercer su voto pero no se le ha permitido adquirir conciencia absoluta de su rol como “ciudadano legitimador empoderado”. Porque es su voto el que le permite exigir responsabilidad, honestidad y resultados en el equipo de gobierno que eligió en las urnas.

Titulo: 7 killed in post-election protests
Via: FoxNews

En Venezuela ha sido la población cansada y agotada de la corrupción la que ha tomado conciencia del poder de su voto al exigir la renuncia del gobierno revolucionario (aún a pesar de que recientemente había sido electo por el voto de las mayorías).  Es acá que el pueblo ha empezado a ilustrarse en su poder como votante y garante.

Titulo: Days of Protest in Ukraine
Via: The Atlantic

En Ucrania ha sido el pueblo el que también ha tomado conciencia del poder de su voto y de su derecho de autodeterminación pidiendo la anexión de Crimea y su mayoría étnica rusa a Rusia debido a sus distintos intereses económicos, políticos y culturales con el resto del país.

Titulo: El TSE pidió a los contendientes que respeten los resultados que el pueblo decida.

Y en El Salvador desde el día lunes debido a que las elecciones presidenciales concluyeron con una cercana diferencia de votos entre los partidos ARENA y FMLN. ARENA rechazó el conteo de las elecciones luego del anuncio de su derrota. 6,000 votos marcaron la diferencia y el partido ARENA rechazó la legalidad del proceso democrático.

Espero que no sea aún tarde para extender una invitación a reflexionar a los ciudadanos salvadoreños sobre el funcionamiento del gobierno democrático y de la necesidad de estudiarlo a más profundidad y, quizás, comprender que el voto de la mayoría (aún si efectivamente ganará por 6mil votos de diferencia) no es garante suficiente de legitimidad.  Y que, es urgente que ambos partidos realicen un pacto serio, democrático y honesto antes de queso se derramé una sola gota de sangre.

En Venezuela, Ucrania y El Salvador es aún posible alcanzar acuerdo y pactos de concertación que partan del respeto al gobierno democrático y que busquen una inclusión de ideas, actores y modificaciones a los actuales procesos en los que el Pueblo (demos) colabore en la construcción y progreso del del Sistema de gobierno (cracia).

Esto evitará muertes y violaciones a los derechos individuales.  Pero más importante aún, permitirá la evolución y maduración de sistemas democráticos de gobierno en estos países que aún ahora se vieron afectados por la injerencia de los poderes imperiales en sus asuntos. Que envidia que en estos países quizás estén a las puertas de un desarrollo democrático del cual nuestros países vecinos podrían aprender mucho.

El legado de Hugo Chávez

Propuesta del Candidato de la Patria Comandante Hugo Chávez Para la gestión Bolivariana socialista 2013-2019. Via:

Hace un año el actual presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, anunció la muerte de Hugo Chávez.  Chávez fue el líder de la Revolución  Bolivariana en Venezuela y gobernó el país durante 14 años.  Maduro fue juramentado luego Presidente y recientemente ganó la reelección popular con una campaña que prometía continuar  con el legado de su mentor.

En el 2013, los datos del legado que dejaban los 14 años del gobierno socialista presentados por el Centre for Research on Globalization y por la Embajada Venezolana en los Estados Unidos son reveladores:

  • Venezuela cuenta con servicios de salud y educación universales gratuitos. Antes, 70% de los venezolanos no tenía acceso a servicios de salud.
  • Se eliminó el analfabetismo en el país.  Antes, 40% de los venezolanos eran analfabetos.
  • En los últimos 10 años, el PIB venezolano ha crecido al ubicarse en un nivel alrededor de los 300 mil millones de dólares. Esto representa un crecimiento sustancial frente a la década de los noventa cuando el PIB del país no llegaba a los 100 mil millones de dólares.
  • Se redujo en un 40% el costo de los productos de la canasta básica.
  • Aumentó el salario mínimo en más del 600%
  • Redujo el desempleo del 20% al 6%
  • El Índice de Desarrollo Humano (IDH) en Venezuela aumentó de 0,69 en  1998 a 0,84 en  2008, lo cual eleva a Venezuela a ser un país con rango de desarrollo humano medio a uno con rango alto.
  • De 2008 a 2012, el IDH descendió a 0,748 y alcanza el puesto 71 de 187 naciones y territorios que participaron de la medición.
  • Venezuela ocupa el puesto 71 entre los 179 países que figuran, según el informe anual del Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD). El coeficiente de Gini, que mide la desigualdad de ingresos, alcanzaron en 0.390 en 2012, el nivel más bajo en la historia de Venezuela y el más bajo en el Continente latinoamericano. En 1998, era de 0,4865.
  • Desde 1999, Venezuela incrementó sus relaciones comerciales con otros países en el hemisferio, así como con otras regiones del mundo. La mayor parte del comercio de Venezuela continúa siendo llevado a cabo en la región, con alrededor del 70% de las exportaciones de petróleo con destino a los países de las Américas, y los mercados de América del Sur, América Central y el Caribe están ganando importancia.
  • En 2012, un año antes de la muerte de Chávez, Venezuela era el tercer socio comercial más grande de Estados Unidos en América Latina y el número 14 más grande en el mundo, además de ser el cuarto proveedor de petróleo a EE UU.

Pero no todo ha sido fácil de conseguir en esta bonanza de estadísticas sociales y los drásticos cambios en el nivel de vida del pueblo venezolano han sido el resultado de muchos sacrificios impuestos en la población venezolana.

Con el ascenso de Chávez y el éxito inmediato de los cambios socioeconómicos en la población, la élite política chavista se aseguró el poder absoluto al conseguir el voto mayoritario en elecciones democráticas gracias a millones de venezolanos beneficiados por las reformas socialistas.  Este poder absoluto (democrático) permitió al gobierno socialista continuar con su plan e imponer restricciones a la libertad de expresión de la oposición, expropió sin muchos problemas industrias, eliminó fácilmente y sin mucha oposición el derecho a la propiedad privada y capturó los ahorros de millones de venezolanos.

Para Maduro, Chávez y muchos otros ideólogos socialistas antes de ellos, cualquier medio era justificable para la consecución del ideal revolucionario socialista.  Latino América, que durante décadas sirvió de laboratorio para experimentos económicos y políticos de líderes del mundo desarrollado fue la arena idónea para regresar a la dulce tentación socialista que había sido lograda con relativo éxito en otros continentes.

La fórmula del legado de Chávez es simple y poderoso:

Populismo anti-imperialista


petróleo nacionalizado


Socialismo clientelista 

Titulo: Sembrar petróleo. Por Emiliano Teran Mantovani. via:

La movilización y apoyo de los votantes en una nación democrática es fácil de conseguir cuando se posee el capital económico, político y/o militar para ofrecer al pueblo una salida de los sistemas de economía mixta extractivos que durante el siglo XX fueron implementados por las naciones desarrolladas del Norte Global y que fueron apoyadas por elites patrimonialistas en los territorios del Sur. El éxito de la revolución Bolivariana aseguró para otros países interesados en este experimento una segura y jugosa fuente de donativos para facilitar el efecto domino socialista que tanto temieron los ideólogos realistas gringos durante la Guerra Fría.  Sin duda, el legado de Chávez sigue vivo un año después de su muerte.

En los últimos dos meses la movilización de un importante grupo de la población venezolana causó manifestaciones en las ciudades más importantes del país.  Los manifestantes tenían muchas peticiones que iban desde reclamos por la corrupción del partido gobernante, reclamos por los altos índices de inflación que afronta el país y solicitudes de renuncia de los líderes de la revolución bolivariana.

Independientemente de cuántos  años más dure el partido revolucionario en el poder es seguro que su legado fue la implementación de una exitosa revolución socialista clientelista sostenida en la venta de petróleo a las economías mixtas del resto del mundo que mejoro los índices de desarrollo humano como nunca antes habíamos visto.  Así es que mientras el mundo siga dependiendo del oro negro, el mundo seguirá escuchando del legado de Chávez.

Este caro legado ha costado la libertad y los derechos de propiedad de miles de individuos. Venezuela sigue y continuará enfrentando desafíos en materia de seguridad, pues la tasa de homicidios de la región es la más alta del mundo. El regimen chavista es diariamente acusado de corrupción, incompetencia y la probabilidad de que esto cambie no es del interés de nadie. El año pasado la inflación fue del 56% y la escasez de productos básicos continuó agudizándose hasta este año.  Caracas se ha convertido en una de las ciudades más caras del mundo ocupando el puesto #6 según datos del WSJ.

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My Thoughts on Marvin

Addendum: I’m sure Marvin is sick of Marvin the Martian references by this point in his life but I’m keeping the picture because Marvin the Martian my favorite WB character, and is apropos enough…

Other than that, please understand that this post is made with respect to Marvin, and made public in order to offer an organized presentation of some recent exchanges here on Notes on Liberty.

Man, things are really heating up on NoL!

The outsider…

It begins…

I suspect the totally free society is where all civilizations started. Then someone stole something from someone else, and the people got together to deal with the problem of theft. The consensus decided that there should be a right to property, and they reached an agreement with each other to respect that right for each other and to come to each other’s aid when necessary to defend that right.

… with Marvin contemplating Buchanan’s constitutional moment. He continues with an amusing story of a quasi-voluntary provision of police, and an ad hoc ideological opposition from the first hold-out. He continued with a near analogous argument by a would be thief.

But I’m not going to follow that argument. For me, the interesting thing here, the pivotal term that tells us something meaningful about Marvin is “totally free”.

For Marvin, freedom means a lack of punishment for a given action. Therefore total freedom means no socially sanctioned punishment for any action. That state of affairs is one lacking in governance. The only person who remotely approaches that is Kim Jong-Un, but even he is ultimately constrained by (the apparently unlikely) possibility of revolution, and his near-total freedom is only within his borders. This contrasts with Brandon’s idea of mutually consistent freedom which depends on individuals having the right to not be subject to coercion.

Following Marvin’s commentary has been confusion over the terms liberty, freedom, and rights. What we all think of when we hear the term “free society” would not have what Marvin calls total freedom. This in turn has lead to dispute over the term law. Let me offer my own clarifications, focusing on the issue of law and rules.

When Dr. Foldvary used the term “truly free” he had in mind a situation with governance, but without top-down intervention. Marvin, I suspect, has confused this for a situation entirely lacking governance, or at least effective governance. I think this has roots in his belief that competition for scarce resources, as directed through the profit and loss system, will lead to unchecked cheating (e.g. pollution) in the absence of some disinterested third-party to enforce rules that reasonable people, if they’re being honest, would agree to. There are two problems with this:

First, the unmentioned one, is that the government isn’t a disinterested third-party and rules aren’t set behind a veil of ignorance (ensuring honest agreement among reasonable people). Marvin starts with the Hobbesian Jungle and arrives at the position that there is something like a social contract whereby we all (implicitly) agree to rules (restrictions on our choice set) for our mutual betterment. I don’t disagree that rules restrict our choice set and can (can!) be for our mutual betterment. What’s missing is the appreciation for the distinction between constitutional and post-constitutional rules (but that a can of worms unto itself). Beyond issues of incompatible incentives, there are also significant information problems.

Second, the government isn’t the only source of governance. Brandon and Marvin both use the term “law” in an all-encompassing way. I prefer Hayek’s distinction between law and legislation. Law, is the set of informal institutions that underlie (we hope) formal legislation. Law is emergent, but legislation is static (although it does change, just in punctuated equilibria). When government is responsive legislation will simply codify law, but when the two diverge it sets the stage for upheaval.

With that in mind, let me briefly respond to Marvin’s question:

In response to the loss of lives in the mining and manufacturing industries, government regulation requires safety precautions and inspections, like under OSHA. Should this type of regulation be eliminated to make the market “truly free”?

First off, nobody here is advocating for an unbound choice set. “Truly free” should be understood to mean “free from external [i.e. government] coercion, rule-setting, and back-room politics that are enforced at gun point.” With that in mind, the basic regulatory framework will be based on property rights and voluntary choice. Mines that acquire a reputation for being unsafe will soon be unable to find workers, unless they increase their wages. If we see poor working conditions at low pay, it doesn’t mean an injustice is being done, it means that the people working there see it as their best available option.

Final thoughts:

I think Brandon and Marvin have been largely talking past each other, but despite that the conversation has been interesting. I would like to see them engage in a debate on some particular topic. I propose that we find a topic agreeable to both, they both respond to that topic, open comments ensue for a few days, then each writes their final thoughts in a second blog post. I will summarize their points here.

Plebiscito: la solución para los problemas de Nicolás Maduro

Foto: Reuters

El día de ayer el presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, envió  un duro mensaje a los opositores que desde hace mes y medio fueron a las calles a exigir cambios en el gobierno y los culpó de la crisis social que sufre el país. “Fascistas, uno por uno los voy a capturar, uno por uno voy por ustedes”, sentenció Maduro, y afirmó que todos estos grupos “le verán la cara a la ley”.

Pero en realidad no hay nada de “fascismo” en las ideas y reclamos de los líderes y en los cientos de opositores al gobierno bolivariano que hasta el día de hoy continúan protestando. El fascismo es una ideología política que busca instaurar el corporativismo estatal totalitario y una economía dirigista que regule la vida de los ciudadanos. El fascismo es también una ideología que propone la sumisión del individuo ante un ferviente interés nacionalista y universalista en el que no hay divisiones ideológicas y políticas de izquierda, derecha, etcetera y que condena a todos aquellos que se oponen al mismo. Pero, nada de lo anterior es parte de lo que han dicho en la televisión los manifestaste que aún están en las calles venezolanas.  Es más, ¿acaso la República Bolivariana de Venezuela no es todo lo anterior según lo han demostrado sus violentas acciones represivas?

Desde mi visión minarquista liberal sí lo es.  El interés individual de los ciudadanos venezolanos ha sido puesto en sumisión al interés bolivariano de la república que fundó el ya fallecido Hugo Chávez.  Además, el gobierno bolivariano de Chávez y de Maduro en repetidas ocasiones ha negado tener una posición específica en el espectro político de izquierda y derecha, y ha volcado esta discusión al espectro de la lucha constante que debe sufrir el nacionalismo bolivariano ante la amenaza imperialista de los Estados Unidos de América y de sus títeres en otros gobiernos latinoamericanos.  Maduro ha insistido que esta manifestación es producto de una campaña imperialista de parte de los Estados Unidos en contra de su gobierno democrático.

¿Cómo es entonces que Nicolás Maduro acusa de fascistas a los opositores del mismo sistema e ideología que me parece él y su partido han establecido en Venezuela?  y  ¿qué podría el liderazgo manifestante aprovechar de la postura del Presidente Maduro?

Al llamar a la oposición “fascista”, Maduro implica que su gobierno es el antónimo del fascismo y el antónimo del fascismo es la democracia.

Sin duda, el gobierno de Maduro fue electo con mecanismos democráticos y este mecanismo legitimó su gobierno. Sí, su gobierno fue electo mediante una democracia representativa nos guste o no.  Punto y final.

Pero también es uno de los principios de cualquier gobierno democrático y representativo que, en ocasiones, los mismos pueden ser criticados cuando los los líderes han estado en el poder por mucho tiempo.  Existen mecanismos democráticos para resolver estos problemas y Maduro insiste en ignorarlos mientras pone en riesgo la vida de los ciudadanos a quienes prometió defender cuando ganó las elecciones.  Maduro olvida o ignora que una característica que suele acompañar a las democracias es el derecho de sus ciudadanos a opinar distinto y sin temor de ser enviado a prisión por sus ideas.  Cuando un grupo amplio de la sociedad insiste en que es necesario confirmar la legitimidad de un gobierno se pueden tomar muchas acciones que no son necesariamente la represión y la amenaza del uso de la fuerza policial.  Así, una decisión consistente con la democracia de un líder democrático debería de ser utilizar uno de los mecanismos de la Democracia.  El mecanismo idóneo para esta situación de inestabilidad se llama Plebiscito o más específico, un referéndum consultivo.  Al realizar un referéndum, el Presidente Maduro podrá consultar a los venezolanos que lo eligieron si están de acuerdo con que el continúe gobernando y fortalecerá la legitimidad de su gobierno con el pueblo venezolano.

Al inicio de las manifestaciones que ya han costado la vida de varios ciudadanos venezolanos, los reclamos eran la escasez de productos básicos, los altos índices de criminalidad y los reportes de violaciones a los derechos humanos que han manchado el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro. El Presidente Maduro es la única persona con el poder de evitar que una sola gota más de sangre inocente sea derramada.

Si el Presidente Maduro es en realidad un líder democrático permitirá que cualquier opinión, por muy débil o pequeña que sea,  sea considerada no una amenaza fascista sino un sentimiento de inconformidad válido de discutir.  En las manos del Presidente Maduro está que su gobierno sea recordado como  el de un absolutista del corte “L’État, c’est moi” o como un demócrata forjador de la Libertad y la Democracia en imitación del gran líder Nelson Mandela. Ojalá y la palabra referéndum empiece a sonar más y más en las próximas semanas para que la paz regrese al vecino país sudamericano.