Hayek on Human Rights Day

It turns out it’s Human Rights Day today! I came across a call on Twitter: “Don’t fight for your rights. Fight for equal rights.” This reminded me of an argument from Hayek: “If we knew how freedom would be used, the case for it would largely disappear…. the importance of our being free to do a particular thing has nothing to do with the question of whether we or the majority are ever likely to make use of that particular possibility… The freedom that will be used by only one man in a million may be more important to society and more beneficial to the majority than any freedom that we all use.

This thought entered my brain when I was in a Constitution of Liberty reading group back in San Jose and has been percolating ever since. It has profound implications for how we think of freedom as a concept, and especially for how we should think about the sorts of liberties we want to support. I think the second part is obvious: even if I don’t need the freedom to own a business (for example), I’m far better off in a world where immigrants are allowed to start businesses like eBay. The same is true for more controversial liberties… we simply don’t know who ought to have the rights necessary to transform the world, and we don’t know what those rights are. So we should be prepared to err on the side of giving “too many” people “too many” liberties.

The first part (the implications for how we think of freedom as a concept) is a bit trickier. Hayek is arguing that the rights we all have aren’t terribly important. That is, it’s the marginal rights that matter. We all have the right to life. It’s important, but it’s not going anywhere anyways. If we want to improve the future, we need to keep an eye to things within our control; we could revoke the right to life (you know what I mean… that other thing is a whole different can of worms and you should write your own blog post about it…), but that’s not even on the table. What we need to be concerned with is those rights that we could conceivably lose because they don’t seem that important.

For example: women should be allowed to sign contracts, own property, and start businesses. We all know that to be the case based on our sense of fairness. But Hayek bolsters that argument: we should want that set of rights to be held by as many people as possible regardless of sex and possibly even regardless of species (District 9 and Planet of the Apes are two movies that would be very different if we attached rights to sentience rather than humanity). We don’t want rights to only go to people we care about, we want them to go to people who can use those rights to make the world better.

Why Republican Libertarianism? II

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

We can confirm Arendt’s sense that ancient Athenian democracy was not concerned with collective confiscation of private economic goods, by looking at the most famous political speech of ancient Greece. That is the funeral oration delivered by Pericles in the midst of the Peloponnesian War between democratic Athens and oligarchic-militaristic Sparta. Pericles states that in Athens there is no shame in poverty, only in not struggling with poverty (clearly referring to an individual struggle), and that poverty is no barrier to a place in political life. Pericles also refers to the greater tolerance of the different characteristics of other citizens in Athens compared with Sparta, and that bravery of the Athenian soldiers he mourns, so though the Athenian society does not put the military life as much at the centre as Sparta, it can show just as much courage in war.

As we can see, republicanism is the most historically situated form of political theory, aiming for continue a way of thinking about political community that goes back to Aristotle in fourth century BCE Athens. It was the tradition that runs through Aristotle, Polybius and Cicero in antiquity which informed the understanding of liberty in the classical liberals, in Locke, Hume, Smith, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Constant, de Stael, J.S. Mill, and so on.

Their understanding also included the idea that there were differences between ancient and modern societies, particularly the greater emphasis on commerce in modern societies, which modified the understanding of liberty so that the liberty pursed by the moderns would be and should be different from the liberty pursued by the ancients, as summarised by Benjamin Constant in his speech ‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’ (1816).

However, Constant did not argue for a complete opposition between the two. He noted the commercial life of ancient Athens and its greater cultural openness than many ancient states. So that though Athens still shared in the tendency of ancient states to  impose conformity to officially defined religion and manners, it was less extreme than many. The republic of Carthage, defeated by Rome in the Punic Wars of the third and second centuries BCE, has also been mentioned by some as an ancient republic in which sea trade was at the centre of life, and since ships were the best means of trade in antiquity, that meant it was one of the commercial republics of antiquity. Montesquieu in particular noted that Carthage shared republican political forms with Rome, in which a citizen assembly governed the city in co-operation with an oligarchic-aristocratic council (the Senate in the case of Rome), but had a different attitude to trade and commercial life.

So though the classical liberals emphasised the differences between ancient and modern liberty, they did not simply reject ancient liberty, and did not reject the republican tradition. They found the centrality of war to ancient life, the relatively static political economy and commercial life, and the attempts of the state to enforce virtue to be different from what they hoped for from modern liberty.  The classical liberals also saw liberty growing in ancient republics and thought there was some link between the conditions of liberty and a public culture of shared concerns between citizens.

The laws and institutions necessary to liberty require some support from a feeling of citizenship and joint political enterprise. The need to replicate the solidarity of ancient societies based on preparedness for war is one of the reasons that Smith gives for advocating some public role in promoting education, though with a preference for most education to be provided by private institutions rather than the state.

It is useful to look at the views of the apparent greatest classical liberal defender of monarchy, Montesquieu, to see the importance of the ancient republican tradition for modern liberalism. Montesquieu suggests that a monarchy of the kind that existed in France in the eighteenth century is good for commerce and liberty where it rests on institutions that have some independence of the monarchy such as law courts and a land owning aristocracy.

However, the legal tradition he though guaranteed such liberty in France, is something he traced back to the German invaders of ancient Gaul during the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west. They brought the customary laws of tribes in the German forests which where essentially republics as kings existed to lead in war and relied on popular support. Montesquieu is a bit more ambiguous than this in his description of the ancient Germans, as he is generally an ambiguous thinker with regard to his views on monarchies and republics, and which are the best for liberty.

He recognised both a law governed ‘moderate’ forms of government opposed to despotism. He recognises the commercial capacities of the Athenian and Carthaginian republics. For his own time, he recognises England as a disguised republic (in the eighteenth century, Great Britain was essentially an oligarchic-aristocratic republic with a very constrained monarchy) which has a leading role in the era with regard to liberty and commerce. Montesquieu’s main criticisms of England relate to missing some aspects of a culture or honour and aristocratic courtesy, rather than any criticism of substance.

Why Republican Libertarianism? I

(This text was written for the European Students for Liberty Regional Conference in Istanbul at Boğaziçi University. I did not deliver the paper, but used it to gather thoughts which I then presented in an improvised speech. As it was quite a long text, I am breaking it up for the purposes of blog presentation)

Republicanism has been on the rise as a term in political theory debates since the late 1990s, where it has joined egalitarian liberalism (that is a version of liberalism in which the state decides on income and wealth distribution, markedly more flat than the distribution achieved by the market, at least in intention), communitarianism, and libertarianism in the main recognised streams of political theory along with radical democracy, deliberative democracy, and Marxism.

The egalitarian liberal position emphasis rights, justice, and rational political procedures claiming that constituently employed they lead to a morally based economic pattern of distribution distinct from the relatively spontaneous activities of the market and civil society. Libertarianism (covering anything that might be regarded as classical liberal or libertarian) tends to have the same basis and argue that correct understanding leads to a more market based individualistic view of how economic goods should be distributed.

Communitarianism is most economically egalitarian but includes social conservatives as well as social liberals. It argues that views about justice have proper foundation in the rules according to which humans live in, form, and maintain communities, rather than individual rights. It tends to be anti-libertarian but a communitarianism based on voluntary communities below the level of the state, or independent of the state, can converge with form of libertarianism emphasising the freedom to create voluntary communities of those with shared visions of the good life, socialist, capitalist or anything else.

Marxism is, I presume, well known enough to need no introduction and radical democracy is the attempt to make Marxism, or something like it, compatible with liberalism in democracy and rights, and maybe even compatible with libertarianism in some social and moral issues. Deliberative democracy is the view that political institutions and laws should rest on a constant process of public discussion and negotiation, presumed to engage most of the population.

Simply explained, republicanism is the view that political institutions and laws rest on the tendency for human communities to have a political aspect, and liberty to have some aspect of rights of political participation, where there is some life is devoted to discussion of the best institutions, laws, and policies for maintaining liberty. If all this sounds rather libertarian, it has to be said that republican political theory in its current manifestation, which goes back to the late 90s, has used there same arguments as egalitarianism, but taking the understanding of liberty in a different direction.

In the egalitarian liberal understanding, liberty is just as much to do with state designed economic equality, or limitations on inequality, as individual rights to life, property, and freely chosen version of the individual good life. From the egalitarian liberal perspective, which theorises the views of new liberals, constructive liberals, social liberals, and progressives since the late nineteenth century, ‘liberty’ must include the idea of some equality in the distribution of economic goods as part of the fairness or equality of respect, which is part of those aspects of liberty concerned with individual rights under law.

The idea of republicanism as now discussed in academic circles, at least those largely concerned with a ‘normative theory’ approach to political theory emphasising conceptual analysis  was developed by the Irish philosopher Philip Pettit (long based between the US and Australia). Pettit rests his arguments on a mixture of a historical republican tradition going back to antiquity, and arguments about the meaning of liberty and what kinds of liberty there are. The arguments in Pettit, like many other discussions of liberty, refer back to a famous paper by the philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin in ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958), which rest on a view of the history of political ideas, so again we come back to a historical argument.

Republicanism in recent political thought has another inspiration, (at least for those concerned with the more cultural, literary, historical, and interpretative aspects of political theory) from an a mid twentieth century writer on politics and philosophy, Hannah Arendt. Arendt is hard to situate politically, and has been taken up both by radical democrats and conservatives. She was rather evasive on the subject of socialism versus capitalism, however the basis in her thought for this was that political issues should be distinguished from social welfare issues, which certainly seems to exclude the possibility of socialist or even egalitarian liberal ideas entering into her basic political assumptions.

Arendt looked back to ancient Athens, in contrast with Pettit who takes Rome as his starting point, and to a culture of competition to prove excellence, which was aristocratic in origin. Athens at the the time it was home to Aristotle, as well as many other notable cultural and philosophical figures, was a democracy based on citizens meeting in the centre of the city to make laws and make the major decisions about state actions.

For Arendt, the political culture of the democracy took up the aristocratic tradition of competitiveness to produce a political life that itself cultivated excellence through contests, and a concern with the public good, at the same time as it was producing great culture, as part of the same pattern. She points to the largely political decision making of the assembly, which was not engaged in attempts to change shares of economic goods.

Nationality, Ethnicity, Race, Culture, and the Importance of Citizenship for the Individual

Judging by some of the fruitful dialogues that have gone on here in the distant past and just the other day, I’d say that there is still a lot of work to do regarding a few concepts that seem to have meaning to them but are not really well-defined or well-understood.

I am writing about nationality, ethnicity, race, and culture, of course.

Dr Stocker and myself have taken aim at nationality before, and Michelangelo has taken aim at ethnicity while Jacques has taken a few cracks at race and ethnicity. Mike has some notes on ethnic identity as well. Culture has been discussed here at NOL before, but an effort to systematically define it has not been undertaken. (Update 12/8/14: Matthew has also taken a crack at ethnicity.)

The problem of these concepts can best be illustrated with a hypothetical (with apologies to Matthew!): There is a tribe in the state of Kenya known as the Maasai. In Kenya the Maasai are more than a tribe, though. The Maasai are considered by both the Maasai themselves and their neighbors to be an ethnic group. The Maasai and their neighbors within Kenya also consider themselves to be Kenyans. The Maasai have a distinct culture that sets them apart in some way from other ethnic groups in Kenya. Most Kenyans, including the Maasai, consider themselves to be racially black.

Now suppose that a single Maasai man from Kenya goes to Syria, or Belgium, or Canada, or China for a vacation. The Maasai man is suddenly no longer Maasai, for all intents and purposes. He still has a nationality, and an ethnic, a cultural, and a racial component to him, though. The Maasai man’s ethnicity suddenly becomes Kenyan rather than Maasai abroad. So, too, does his culture become Kenyan or simply African. He is still black racially. Notice, though, that these concepts mean different things in different contexts.

Suppose further that our Maasai man goes to Ghana for a vacation. Ghana is in west Africa, whereas Kenya is on the east coast. Africa is huge, and the gulfs between societies on the west coast and east coast of sub-Saharan Africa are cavernous. Nevertheless, our Maasai man is likely to be able to identify ethnically as a Maasai in Ghana. He is likely to be able to identify as part of the Kenyan nation. Culturally, though, our Maasai man is also going to be identified as Kenyan rather than Maasai.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Here is another way to confuse you. The Ashanti people of Ghana are considered by others in the region to be a nation, but not an ethnic group. The Ashanti belong, instead, to a pan-regional group of people known as the Akan, and the Akan are considered to be the ethnic group while the smaller Ashanti group is considered to be a nation. This, of course, comes into conflict with what it means to be a Ghanaian. In Europe or Asia or the New World, a member of the Ashanti nation would be considered instead as a member of the Ghanaian nation.

In sub-Saharan Africa everybody who is not black is white. So Persians, Arabs, Eskimos, Armenians, Koreans, Japanese, French, English, Dutch, and Brahmins are all racially white to Africans. Africans base their distinctions between whites on their different behavioral patterns. So a Sudanese man may be working with two groups of white people but he only distinguishes them (suppose one is Chinese and one is English) by how they behave toward each other, toward him and his associates, and in relation to the rules of the game established in Sudan. Race is the most prominent feature of foreigners in Africa, but curiosity about differences between whites abounds.

The combinations for confusion are endless. I have not even broached the topic of what is means to be ‘American’, for example.

This is where the importance of viewing the world as made up of individuals comes into play. This is where the abstract legal notion of individual rights becomes an important component of good governance and internationalism.

I think we could all agree that is does no good to ignore these confusing identities and attempting instead to cram them into a specific framework (“Western individualism”). This is where economists go wrong, but paradoxically it’s also where they are most right.

As I noted a couple of days ago, economics as a discipline tends to be more hierarchical but also more successful than the other social science disciplines. I didn’t have enough space to note there that this hierarchy is limited to a very small segment of society. Is it at all possible to establish a hierarchy of sorts, a unified code of laws that protects the individual but prevent this hierarchy of last resort from becoming the norm in other ways? A hierarchy that leaves plenty of space for independent networks and fragmented communities of choice?

I don’t even know how these question tie in to my title. I simply know that they do. Somehow.

Reading the Laws, Part 3

If you have not been following along thus far, I recommend going back to parts one and two.

To summarize the foregoing, the Athenian has continued his metaphor of the family at war to show his point, that the purpose of the state is not for warfare, but warfare is one of the necessary functions of a proper state. Nor is courage in battle the highest virtue, but one of many virtues that are necessary for the flourishing (τὸ ἄριστον) of a polity. He illustrates this by an analysis of a poem by the Spartan Tyrtaeus, praising veterans of foreign wars. Courage and valor may be exercised on the civic field, but it is not praised as it is in foreign conflicts – this indicates that warfare, and its matching virtue courage, are not the summum bonum, but may be put on a gradient, depending on where they are exercised. He then extrapolates this outward to all virtues, the individual man, the lawgiver, and the state. Now, back to the action.

631a-632c: The Athenian recapitulates his argument against the Cretan’s claims, to wit, that war is the foundation of the good state, and tells him how he ought to have begun his statement:

1. The foundation of a good state is in a foundation looking towards the highest good of its subjects (identical with Klinias’ earlier idea)
2. Goods are bifurcated into greater (divine) and lesser (human) goods, ranked in order of first to least below. Human are (naturally) subordinate to divine goods
Divine: wisdom (φρόνησις), rational temperance of soul (νοῦ σώφρων ψυχῆς ἕξις), justice (δικαιοσύνη), courage (ἄνδρεια). The word for wisdom, transliterated phronesis, is the sort of quality that far-thinking and capable administrators must posess, so that Themistocles had phronesis in building a fleet of ships to combat the Persians by sea, avoiding their dominance by land. My translation uses “rational temperance of soul” for Plato’s term, but a more literal meaning is “A state (ἕξις) holding to the soundness of mind (νοῦ σώφρων) of the soul (ψυχῆς).
Human: health, beauty, strength, wealth
3. In implicit relation to the metaphor of the family previously described, the lawgiver must lay down these goods for his people, and then he must instruct them thoroughly in their use, as a father would ensure his children know how to brush their teeth and say their prayers after he has taught them: “he must observe and watch their pains and pleasures and desires and intense passions, and distribute praise and blame directly in accordance with the laws themselves.” This extends to almost all the important affairs of the citizenry, from marriage rituals, to the burying of the dead, to the rearing of children, and so on and so on.
4. Having set a firm foundation of good behavior for the people, he must then ensure that they follow his dictates, especially when it comes to money and the formation and dissolution of their mutual bonds.
5. Finally, having laid all this down, he must abdicate, and give power to others (φύλακεις, or “guards”), who will rule with wisdom (φρόνησις) and true opinions/beliefs (ἀληθοῦς δοξῆς ἰόντας), without recourse to the sins of greed or ambition.

632e-633c: Thus the Athenian lays plain what Klinias ought to have said. It seems our enquiry is over, for the state and its proper goods have all been described in full. However, this served merely as an outline, and not as a definitive exposition of the proper laws for a good state. Indeed, we now only have sharpened the focus of the enquiry, from looking at the notion of the good itself, to now transitioning to specific goods. It may be useful here to rehash a bit about what the good, “τὸ ἄριστον,” really is. The good, as revealed in the etymology of the word itself, is excellence, the best, dominance, nobility, flourishing, greatness. Based on the prevailing dialogue, the good is the proper flourishing of a thing, what makes it the most successful in its actions and its dealings with others. Specifically for a polity and the ethny it serves, the good is the proper relations between the parts, the individuals and the groups, as the Athenian related in 627c-628a. For when parts are in conflict, then there is no benefit, only calumny. When the parts are in harmony, then the individual good is maximized, thereby allowing the communal good to flourish as well, in a self-fulfilling cycle of virtue.

The parallelism between human and divine continues throughout, and in fact brings up an almost paradoxical idea: the most salutary of laws come from the gods, and indeed the goods can be divided into divine and human according to the Athenian, but they nonetheless come about through the lawgiver, who is a human being. This introduces a tension in the dialogue that may not be readily apparent, and reflects a bit of the Socratic irony that is not entirely absent, even if Socrates himself does not appear as a character: the object of the dialogue has, it seems, been the establishment of what a good state should be, yet everyone has agreed from the outset, that the fundamentals of a good state are bequeathed by the gods alone! It seems to vitiate the entire point of the enquiry at all. I am unsure how Plato will bring it together in the end, so I will refrain from commenting on this interesting dimension more here, save to mention a blog post I read a few days ago, which I am now reminded of. Not sure yet whether it applies here.

Back to the present. As the dialogue began with a discussion of the state at war, and the virtue of warfare is courage, the Athenian decides that it will be proper to interrogate what the virtue of courage actually is, as it is the fourth of the divine virtues he considers necessary for a good individual and a good state. This time Megillos, the Lakedaimonian, ventures to describe the practices of his people for the fostering of courage, the chief virtue in war:
1. The gymnasia
2. The common messes
3. Hunting
4. The Krypteia, an initiation ritual for young Lakedaimonian men. Purportedly, it involved living by guile and rapine, alone on the land. Any slaves, known as helots, that were encountered out of doors after nightfall could be killed.
5. Various athletic practices

633e-635e: The Athenian then notes the principle at work behind these practices: to harden the individual to struggle. He then asks: Is it struggle of the individual solely against pains, or against other evils, such as desire as well? Megillos answers in the affirmative, that it is struggle as such, struggle against any obstacle, that the rituals exist to teach, for the virtue of courage would be incomplete if a man could master his fear of pain, but not his indulgence in bodily pleasure. Indeed, pleasure is counted as a far more grievous thing to fall to, than is pain, for the adversity of pain does not corrupt a man and turn him from the paths of virtue, but pleasure most certainly does. Thus, out of all the human goods that the Athenian listed previously, not one except wealth can be accounted a pleasure – and that itself is subordinate to the far more important divine virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage.

Despite heartily agreeing to this, both Klinias and Megillos cannot name a single important law or institution of theirs that acts to inoculate the people against the insidious aspects of pleasure. Rather than attacking their institutions, the Athenian then stipulates that the laws, even if they are deficient, should never be openly criticized, and instead should be treated as if they were given by the gods: “One of the most beautiful [καλός] of the laws would be that which forbids the youth from seeking which of them are beautiful or not beautiful, but with one voice and from one mouth, to declare together that all are laid down beautifully by the gods, and if one says differently, they shall listen to him not at all: and if some old man reflects on them to you, he shall do so to an archon and to one of his own age, but he shall not speak a word of it to the young,” or “εἷς τῶν καλλίστων ἂν εἴη νόμων μὴ ζητεῖν τῶν νέων μηδένα ἐᾶν ποῖα καλῶς αὐτῶν ἢ μὴ καλῶς ἔχει, μιᾷ δὲ φωνῇ καὶ ἐξ ἑνὸς στόματος πάντας συμφωνεῖν ὡς πάντα καλῶς κεῖται θέντων θεῶν, καὶ ἐάν τις ἄλλως λέγῃ, μὴ ἀνέχεσθαι τὸ παράπαν ἀκούοντας: γέρων δὲ εἴ τίς τι συννοεῖ τῶν παρ’ ὑμῖν, πρὸς ἄρχοντά τε καὶ πρὸς ἡλικιώτην μηδενὸς ἐναντίον νέου ποιεῖσθαι τοὺς τοιούτους λόγους.”

This ties into what I commented on earlier, namely that to speak of a divine lawgiver is to undermine a rational discourse on the law, because if the laws were truly given by the gods, they would be infallible, and to even debate them would be a waste of time – it would be akin to debating the laws of gravitation, and then proposing that there could be better laws, like that things should continue to move upwards when ones throws them into the air. However, Plato crucially limits this self-censorship to the young, and permits the old to speak freely amongst themselves, as the three characters in this dialogue do. It may be asked, though: if free thinking is discouraged in the youth, but the old are allowed it, how can the young expect to enjoy the privileges of their forebears when they, too, take up the grey mantel and ascend to old age? This law seems more designed to reduce dissent and ossify the system of laws as they stand. Yet, the guardians are to rule with wisdom and temperance, but how can such guardians be drawn from the population, if the population is denied the ability to exercise any form of ruling reason? It seems we descend into the same paradox, and instead of drawing us out, Plato is drawing us further in. It remains to be seen what his object in this is.

As the final part of his enquiry into courage, the Athenian continues to drive home his assertion that true courage exists in the mastery of both pleasure and pain. To master pain but not pleasure results in a hardened body but a weakened mind, which may be enslaved by vice. To master pleasure but not pain will result in a body impervious to vice, but weak and susceptible to those who are stronger. Both types of men are partially free and partially enslaved in different ways, as both of them have failed to attain mastery over themselves. This self-mastery in all things is the definition of courage for the Athenian, though Klinias and Megillos hold off on their assent for a later time.

Staten Island and Cleveland: Different from Ferguson

Having argued in a recent piece that the problem with Ferguson was collectivism, as manifest in the notion of collective guilt, I feel obliged to speak out on recent incidents in Cleveland and Staten Island. None of us (presumably) were there so we need to be cautious, but what we see from those unfortunate places strongly suggests police misconduct.

I am a native of Cleveland and it comes as no surprise to me that the police force there is a troubled one. For many years there has been a divide between the central city and suburbs and despite a few encouraging exceptions, things have gone steadily downhill in the central city. The problems are similar to Detroit’s but on a smaller scale. The best Cleveland Police officers would surely aspire to leave the Cleveland PD for one of the suburban forces at the first opportunity. It doesn’t surprise me that the Justice Department claims there has been systematic excessive use of force by the Cleveland police.

I have only been to Staten Island once and cannot add anything to what is generally known. That the unfortunate victim was selling untaxed cigarettes, of all things only adds to the outrage.

The non-violent demonstrators in both cities are right this time.

Economists are special, but what about Palestinians and American blacks?

I’ve got the post-Thanksgiving flu. I know which toddlers are guilty of infecting me, and which aunts and uncles are responsible for this egregious assault on my happiness. Revenge will be sweet.

I’d like to get to Warren’s smackdown of my reparations proposal and also to Matthew’s thoughts on justified violence against the state (which were indirectly related to my own post on Ferguson), but first I’ve got to get to two interesting topics that have piqued my interest.

The first is Irfan Khawaja’s recent critique over at Policy of Truth of Jason Brennan’s new book on voting. As usual, Khawaja brings up a number of great points (too many, actually, for a lowly ethnographic enthusiast like me), and they deserve to be read by all (be sure to check out the ‘comments’ thread, too).

Here is an excerpt (Khawaja has flipped the tired script of many American academics by bringing in a fresh perspective):

I can’t work through all the details here, but take a look at Brennan’s argument in light of the preceding. Either my East Jerusalem case is a counter-example to his thesis, or it’s a defeater for it. In the first case, it refutes the thesis as stated. In the second case, it suggests that the thesis is highly misleading as stated. Given that, my argument requires that Brennan qualify his claims about the ethics of voting in ways that take more explicit stock of cases like the East Jerusalem one–something that would substantially change the “flavor” of his theory.

Brennan’s work has, of course, gotten a lot of excellent treatment in libertarian circles because of both his blogging activities (hint, hint, slackers) and because libertarians have a long, storied distrust of democratic politics (though this is largely an anarchistic distrust rather than the conservative-aristocratic one we North Americans think we are familiar with).

Switching gears, I also need to comment on an interesting paper (pdf) about the “Superiority of Economists” I came across over at MR. It was written by two sociologists and an economist, and it has a number of excellent insights (MR‘s link to the paper was broken, but MR also provided a link to comments by economist Paul Krugman, and his link to the paper was unbroken).

Most of the paper is a rehash of arguments about economics relative to the other social sciences (and the humanities) that libertarians have been having for a long time. (In my anecdotal experience, libertarian economists are quickest to defend the profession of economics from detractors, but they are also the quickest to defend the other social sciences from detractors (and, more importantly, incorporate non-economics research into their own). Leftist and conservative economists, by contrast, condescendingly acquiesce to attacks from other disciplines, but are also very, very disdainful of The Others’ contributions to research.) Libertarian economists generally share the same suspicions as The Other disciplines about the ability of economics to imitate the physical sciences using mathematical models (or that these models are even indicative of how humans “work”). See Warren’s piece (pdf) in Econ Journal Watch for more on these suspicions.

The last section before the conclusion (“A life of their own”) is really good and totally worth the click. It’s about economists and their relationship to everybody else in their society (this paper is made better by the fact that it is written by French academics with an intimate understanding of life in both the US and France, just like some other scholar that we all know and loathe love).

On page 18 the paper cites a few studies and lab experiments which have purportedly shown that people who study economics are, on the whole, less likely to cooperate than everybody else. There are a number of implications that the paper goes over (“does economics attract a certain type of personality?”, for example), but I wanted to focus on what is not discussed in the paper: The fact that economists probably have a different (actually, a more coherent and precise) understanding of the meaning of cooperation. Many criticisms of economics are clearly made of straw. One of the things that initially attracted me to libertarianism was the intelligent, well-informed critiques of economics as I then understood it (“homo economicus“) that were given by libertarians.

I also learned, on page 19 and contra Dr Amburgey’s repeated assertions, that economists are politically (and decisively) to the Left of the average American voter.

Another fascinating page 19 insight is that there is more income inequality ($57k gap between the top 10% and the median) in economics relative to other disciplines, but on this point the authors lose a golden opportunity to do some real sociological analysis (the authors focus instead, and predictably, on the economics profession’s recent prosperity as a whole relative to other academic disciplines; that is to say, on the income inequality between economics and The Others within academia). Earlier in the paper (7-14) an organizational comparison between economics and The Others highlighted the fact that the economics community tends to be more hierarchical, more incestuous, and possesses a “unitary disciplinary core,” which means that virtually all graduate schools teach the same concepts. The Others, in contrast, are “more decentralized, less cohesive, and [possess] less stable prestige rankings.” (9)

The most basic insight that stood out to me when I read the data on incomes was that the disparities and organizational structures of the social sciences and humanities represent a microcosm of society as a whole (pick any ole society you’d like): When rigid hierarchies are enforced, conformity and parochialism (incestuous is too strong a word here) arise, income inequality is more prevalent, and the pecking orders are more entrenched.

In contrast, societies that are “more decentralized and less cohesive” have more variety, much less deference to an established authority (such as a pecking order), and less income inequality ($42k gap between the top 10% of sociologists and the median). There are less women in economics relative to the other disciplines, and the median economist almost has the same income as a top 10% sociologist ($103k to $118k, a difference of only $15k).

Well, this post has already gone on for far too long (I hope to use it as a springboard for future musings) but I will end by noting that on page 23 the paper points out that economics is a very moral discipline, which is something non-libertarian economists vehemently deny. Libertarian economists, on the other hand, have been pointing this out for centuries.