Stimuli For Your Moral Taste Buds

Based on anthropologist Richard Shweder’s ideas, Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph developed the theory that humans have six basic moral modules that are elaborated in varying degrees over culture and time. The six modules characterized by Haidt as a “tongue with six taste receptors” are Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, and Liberty/oppression. I thought it would be interesting to organize articles I read into these six moral taste buds and post them here as a blog of varied reading suggestions to stimulate conversation not just on various themes but also on how they may affect our moral taste buds in different ways. To some of you, an article that appeals to my Fairness taste bud may appeal to your taste bud on Authority.

I had planned to post this blog yesterday, but it got delayed. Today, I can’t write a blog without mentioning guns. Given that gun violence is a preventable public health tragedy, which moral taste bud do you favor when considering gun violence? Care and Fairness taste buds are important to me.

I’ve only ever been a parent in the United States, where gun violence is a feature rather than a bug, and my childhood in India has provided no context for this feature. But, I can say that India has not provided me with reference points for several other cultural features that I can embrace, with the exception of this country’s gun culture. It is one aspect of American culture that most foreign nationals, including resident aliens like myself, find difficult to grasp, regardless of how long you have lived here. I’d like to see a cultural shift that views gun ownership as unsettling and undesirable. I know it is wishful thinking, but aren’t irrational ideas salvation by imagination?

Though I’m not an expert on guns and conflict, I can think broadly using two general arguments on deterrence, namely:

A) The general argument in favor of expanding civilian gun ownership is that it deters violence at the local level.

B) The general case for countries acquiring nuclear weapons is that it deters the escalation of international conflict.

I sense an instinctual contradiction when A) and B) are linked to the United States. The US favors a martial culture based on deterrence by expanding civilian gun ownership within its borders while actively preventing the same concept of deterrence from taking hold on a global scale with nuclear weapons. Why? The US understands that rogue states lacking credible checks and balances can harm the international community by abusing nuclear power. Surprisingly, this concept of controlling nuclear ammunition is not effectively translated when it comes to domestic firearms control. I get that trying to maintain a global monopoly on nuclear weapons appeals to the Authority taste bud, but does expanding firearms domestically in the face of an endless spiral of tragedies appeal just to the Liberty taste bud? Where are your Care and Fairness taste buds languishing?

Care: The Compassionate Invisibilization Of Homelessness: Where Revanchist And Supportive City Policies Meet/ Liberal US Cities Including Portland Change Course, Now Clearing Homeless Camps

[I’m sharing these two articles because my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, revealed some truly disturbing civic tragedies hidden within a sphere of natural wonders. I hadn’t expected such a high rate of homelessness. It’s a shame. “Rent control does not control the rent,” Thomas Sowell accurately asserts.]

Fairness: America Has Never Really Understood India

[I’d like to highlight one example of how “rules-based order” affected India: In the 1960s, India faced a severe food shortage and became heavily reliant on US food aid. Nehru had just died, and his successor, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, called upon the nation to skip at least one meal per week! Soon after, Shastri died, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took over, only to be humiliated by US President Lyndon B. Johnson for becoming dependent on food aid from his country. The progressive US President was irked by India’s lack of support for his Vietnam policy. So he vowed to keep India on a “ship-to-mouth” policy, whereby he would release ships carrying food grain only after food shortages reached a point of desperation. Never to face this kind of humiliation, India shifted from its previous institutional approach to agricultural policy to one based on technology and remunerative prices for farmers. The Green Revolution began, and India achieved self-sufficiency. The harsh lesson, however, remains: in international relations, India is better off being skeptical of self-congratulatory labels like “leader of the free world,” “do-gooders,” “progressives,” and so on.]

Liberty: Can Islam Be Liberal? / Where Islam And Reason Meet

[I would like to add that, in the name of advocating liberalism for all, personal liberty is often emphasized over collectivist rights in the majority, while collectivist rights are allowed to take precedence over personal liberty in minority groups, and all religious communities suffer as a result.]

Loyalty: Black-Robed Reactionaries: Has The Supreme Court Been Bad For The American Republic?

[Is it all about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Supreme Court Majority?]

Authority: How Curing Aging Could Help Progress

[In my opinion, the indefinite future that awaits us compels us to contextualize our current activities and lives. What do you think will happen if anti-aging technology advances beyond the limits of our evolutionary environment? Furthermore, according to demographer James Vaupel, medical science has already unintentionally delayed the average person’s aging process by ten years [Vaupel, James W. “Biodemography of human ageing.” Nature 464.7288 (2010): 536-542]. We have 10 extra years of mobility compared to people living in the nineteenth century; 10 extra years without heart disease, stroke, or dementia; and 10 years of subjectively feeling healthy.]

Sanctity: India and the Indian: Hinduism, Caste Act As Unifying Forces In The Country

[Here is my gaze-reversal on caste as a moderate Hindu looking at a complacent American society: If caste is a social division or sorting based on wealth, inherited rank or privilege, or profession, then it exists in almost every nation or culture. Regardless of religious affiliation, there is an undeniable sorting of American society based on the intense matching of people based on wealth, political ideology, and education. These “American castes,” not without racial or ethnic animus, organize people according to education, income, and social class, resulting in more intense sorting along political lines. As a result, Democrats and Republicans are more likely to live in different neighborhoods and marry among themselves, which is reflected in increased polarization in Congress and perpetual governmental gridlock. The intensification of “American castes,” in my opinion, is to blame for much of the political polarization. What is the United States doing about these castes? Don’t tell me that developing more identity-centered political movements will solve it.]

I intend to regularly blog under this heading. To be clear, I refer to regularly using the Liberty taste bud rather than Fairness.

Nightcap

  1. Houellebecq’s omelette Theodore Dalrymple, First Things
  2. Hayek and the Lucas critique David Glasner, Uneasy Money
  3. An interesting alternative to federation Maxwell Tabarrok, Maximum Progress (h/t Vishnu)

Some Monday Links

Capitalism and autocracy (Critical Quarterly)

Undiminished by Decadence (Quillette)

Connected to the pop culture discussion here.

Baby formula industry was primed for disaster long before key factory closed down (The Conversation)

A history of punctuation (Aeon)

On the open texture of conflicts

Just as language carries with it a phenomenon of open texture, according to which the reference and meaning of some of its terms are modified in response to changes in the environment — for example, saying that the head of state is commander in chief of the armed forces implies different denotations and connotations as war machines, communications, and command styles evolve -, conflicts that are prolonged over time also undergo changes in the terms that define them, as their surrounding context varies.

Thus, a dispute between individuals about the ownership of a certain asset, such as that of two heirs in dispute over the award of a property that is part of the hereditary heritage, will have to vary in intensity according to the changes in the market value of the said asset and according to the changes in the needs of those heirs as well.

Note, likewise, that the said transformation of the conditions in no way affects the conformation of the hereditary rights, but rather it is in the interest of each of the parties to enforce them.

Under certain circumstances, some of the said heirs will have to prefer to maintain the undivided inheritance and under others they will have to activate the dissolution of the hereditary community, generating a conflict in case of disparity among the heirs.

Although rights protect interests -such as life, personal liberty or stability upon possession-, not all interests deserve legal protection -such as the claim of an individual to hold a monopoly in the production of a certain good- and, among those interests which do enjoy legal protection, it will be relative and hierarchical.

Given that a legal system forms a set of consistent normative parameters, the changes in the decisions of individuals are motivated by variations in the relative value of the interests protected by said legal system, also assuming that such individuals are rational agents – i.e., they have transitive preferences.

As a corollary of the above, the normative system, while remaining identical to itself, will have to be neutral for the dynamics of the conflict, since the parties will have shaped their plans and expectations in accordance with their prescriptions.

That is why we often find analyses devoid of axiological and merely descriptive approaches. This does not mean that the rules, be they positive or natural, are not observed, but rather that a degree of compliance and constant enforcement is verified, which makes it possible to look for the reason for the changes in the decisions of the agents in other conditioning factors, such as the technology, the relative prices of goods, climatic phenomena, etc., etc..

Nor does this mean that the law does not evolve or undergo disruptive changes: there are legislative changes and judicial precedents that are modifying the content of the norms and, in turn, the norms themselves suffer the consequences of the open texture of the language in which they are expressed.

When these changes do not respond to a change in the value of the interests, but respond to a need of the legal system itself to maintain a stable and predictable order of events, the legal system maintains its neutrality, since it is transformed, jurisprudential or legislatively, when its formulations – even when they have a high degree of enforcement – are not sufficient to maintain a peaceful order of human interaction and, therefore, legal innovation has the function of reinforcing the maintenance of peace.

At this point in the discussion, it is appropriate to venture into the consequences of a legislative or jurisprudential change that had in view a different purpose than strengthening the function of law as a mechanism of social control aimed at maintaining peace between individuals who interact with each other.

If the change is jurisprudential, many times the law solves such a phenomenon endogenously: any jurisdictional pronouncement by a judge or court that departs from the content of the legal norms or that such departure is motivated by the transgression of its legal duty of impartiality with respect to of the parties to the conflict will render such pronouncement null and void and the judges will have incurred prevarication.

However, when a law is sanctioned by the legislature in contravention of its duty to dictate general and abstract norms and, instead, has the aim of favouring vested interests, little can be done beyond achieving a declaration of unconstitutionality, either by part of a constitutional court or by an ordinary court in the exercise of diffuse control of constitutionality.

This is for those cases in which the law in question also violates laws of a higher rank such as the Constitution.

Notwithstanding, when a norm is constitutional and, however, it was not enacted for the purpose of legislating in general and abstract terms, but instead sought with its sanction to favour certain vested interests to the detriment of others or public interests, little can be done for the legal system to correct itself according to an endogenous mechanism and the law, therefore, will have lost its neutral character.

It is this lack of neutrality of the legal system that delegitimizes it as a peaceful means of resolving disputes between individuals and, consequently, sharpens the intensity of conflicts, whether they consist of disputes between individuals or escalate into political questioning regarding the legitimacy of the legal-political system itself.

It was not for nothing that there were revolutions, such as the French one, which led to the enactment of civil codes, as a way of crystallising the reestablishment of a neutral normative order, generally described as fair. Note, likewise, that the Napoleonic Code did not contain any innovations, but rather consecrated –and synthesised- legislatively the jurisprudential evolution of the previous centuries.

Similarly, a territorial dispute between two countries could remain diplomatic for decades and, under a change of circumstances, escalate the conflict to a warlike stage.

This change in circumstances may be due to a redefinition of the interests of one or both countries, discoveries of wealth in the disputed territories, or technological innovations that modify the relationship of the respective countries with the geography of the disputed territory.

Note that in no way do these changes in the conditions surrounding the conflict affect a change in the titles of sovereignty over the disputed territory, but what changes is the intensity of the interest in it and the calculation of the chances of success in the event of a war escalation.

However, at the international level we find a plurality of normative sources -international custom, treaties, the norms of international organisations-, without courts of application in most cases and without a clear enforcement system to guarantee impartiality.

Despite arbitral awards can be found among small nations, which submit a territorial issue to the arbitration of a third power or institution that enjoys prestige between both countries, an issue that the parties involved do not consider of vital importance to them; but in most cases we are faced with conflicts or claims that will last over time, as long as the war alternative is disadvantageous for both parties.

Sustaining the principle that all agents who make decisions are rational, it is appropriate to ask under what conditions for such agents it is still reasonable to maintain a negotiation and under what others the most reasonable indicates escalation in the intensity of the conflict.

When the controversy occurs between two parties subject to the jurisdiction of a state and the object of the controversy has a certain relevance, the options of the parties follow one another between negotiating or going to trial.

On the other hand, among sovereign nations, although there is the alternative of submitting to an arbitration award, when the disputed issue interferes with a vital interest or makes the country’s own survival, the military confrontation constitutes the option to negotiation.

Paradoxically, when two individuals have a confrontation that is so insignificant as to be taken to court, the options also lie between negotiation or the deployment of violence -verbal or moderately physical, below the threshold of what the law would consider a crime. This occurs because both the international sphere and certain spheres of human interaction are naturally regulated.

From our point of view, this is one of the most relevant theoretical controversies: if such a natural system can be entirely deduced from reason -as maintained from Hugo Grotius onwards- and, therefore, can be stated and agreed upon by the consensus of the parties through a rational discussion, or if we can characterize natural law as an empirical normative system -as conceived by David Hume in the 18th century and later rescued by Friedrich A. Hayek- that grows spontaneously.

This last conception about the empirical character of the international rule-based order can be a convincing alternative to both realism and idealism. Even more so when the question of the neutrality of the liberal international order is questioned, both from realism and from critical currents. Since the empirical rule system emerges at the same time as the expectations of the agents, the neutrality of the resulting order will be highly probable.

Therefore, in accordance with this vision, the variation in the intensity of the conflicts will not have to be sought or justified in a modification of the rules of the game, but in a change in the relative weight of the interests in dispute, that is, in the open texture of the nature of conflicts.

Nightcap

  1. Federal-republican security versus democratic peace (pdf) Daniel Deudney, EJIR
  2. Republics in the New World (don’t forget about the Cherokee) John Majewski, TIR
  3. Fresh air and fascism in the Bavarian Alps Lucy Lethbridge, Spectator
  4. After Christendom Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, Commonweal

In the Ruins of Public Reason, Part II: The Barbarians at the Gates

Note: This is a part of a series on public discourse. View part one here.

How exactly do dialogical illiberals view themselves during a heated discussion without epistemic norms? Dialogical illiberals of all political stripes–from populist conservative culture warriors to sanctimoniously censorious progressives, from screeching parents at public school board meetings to ostensibly liberal democrats, from nationalistic xenophobes to anti-fascist anarchists—view themselves as soldiers under siege in a war using their ideas as the only defensive tool to keep the barbarians at the gates. They view every conversation, every intellectual exchange as a zero-sum game, and their interlocutor is either on their side or the side of the putative barbarians–no in-between. I admit I have fallen into this habit of thinking in years past, but it is an extremely unproductive mindset and contributes to dialogical illiberalism for three main reasons.

First, it is just a way of viewing discourse that, for one, is usually simply untrue. Sometimes, the barbarians literally do not exist. This is usually true when conservatives fear-monger on, say, a liberal pedophile cabal, or progressive elitists trying to turn their kids LGBT, or evil conspiracy of immigrants trying to replace them. It is not just right-wingers who conspiratorially invent barbarians: leftists often imagine there is some deep-money libertarian conspiracy to undermine democracy, or some cabal of rich corporate fat cats to raise prices and oppress the poor. Even if there might be some sophisticated steel-manned sociological story that might make some version of these more than mere conspiracy theories, the problem comes when these imagined “barbarians” are used as an excuse to write off someone they might have fruitful disagreements with as a member of “them.”

Sometimes, in the case of progressives fighting racists or anti-populist liberals and anti-fascist anarchists fighting actual fascist terrorists, the barbarians are a very real, significant threat. However, for one, they often radically overestimate the magnitude of the threat or engage in dangerous forms of concept creep about who counts as a barbarian. Whoever they are talking with is not often part of the barbarians, but they get so in the habit of outgrouping anyone who doesn’t agree with them,they start seeing barbarians everywhere. They then are viciously uncivil towards potential allies or people with whom they have fruitful disagreements that truly are not the sort of “dangerous” disagreements that are helpful to barbarians.

Second, this “activist vs. barbarians” mentality just poisons the well and makes it difficult for these activist gatekeepers to rationally engage with basically anyone who has normative or empirical disagreements with them in good faith. They view themselves as a warrior fighting barbarians rather than more humbly as a curious person trying to find wisdom to cope with this world from wherever they can. It makes them engage in motivated reasoning for why your disagreement makes you on the barbarians’ side or why their view is the true “American” or “liberal” or “radical” view rather than engaging with the substance of the disagreement rationally. It makes them embrace subrational forms of communication that are just toxic, and more interested in signaling their ingroup bona fides to other members of their ingroup than trying to persuade people who might not be in the “outgroup” exactly, but that they irresponsibly paint as being in the outgroup.

It is a very similar toxic social and psychological dynamic to what drives so many sources of illiberal intolerance both large and small–from McCarthyism, to the religious banning of “heresy,” to book bannings, to horrible screeching on social media that makes everyone dumber and unhappier. As Arnold Kling would put it, this “civilization vs. barbarism” language game is a deeply conservative one. But in recent years, few have noticed how even progressives and radical leftists fall into this small-c conservative mode of thinking indefensibly when they consider themselves as activists first and foremost. It is no coincidence that many leftists trapped in the contra barbarian mindset start rationalizing illiberal attitudes more generally.

Third, it makes them rather arrogantly over-estimate their own activist powers in implausible ways. Chances are, the argument you are making, the candidate you are trying to convince me to vote for, or the direct action you are defending isn’t going to be the thing that stops the barbarians. The social world is complicated, and you humbly should be willing to be open to the possibility that your political action might actually backfire and help them. It might help, or it might not, depending on the circumstances. Better to humbly admit your epistemic and practical limitations in changing the world and be open to other perspectives from good-faith interlocutors than just thinking that someone who has a substantive disagreement with you about political action or an idea is either a contemptuous barbarian or a “useful idiot” for the barbarians simply in virtue of your disagreement.

Be realistic, you and I are not heroic activists trying to save our beatific political visions from evil barbarians. Better to think of ourselves as curious individuals trying to learn what we can to cope with the perplexing quandaries of modernity.

In the Ruins of Public Reason, Part I: The Problem of Dialogical Illiberalism

Note: This is part of a series on public discourse. View Part 2 here.

Older readers of NOL may have noticed I have been absent from the blogosphere for the last four or so years. Part of this has been that I have rather intentionally taken a somewhat monkish vow of silence on many things that perplex me about the contemporary world. On many of these issues—the growing tide of global populist authoritarianism, the policy and cultural responses to COVID, and increasing political polarization to name a few—I still don’t know what is true or if I am equipped to say much other than express a vague, general sense that almost everyone in those debates has gotten something fundamentally wrong. Consequently, I have taken time in a philosophy grad school program to think about more fundamental issues rather than get lost in the daily obsessions of the internet. Now, I am done with that venture and have decided for various personal reasons to not pursue an academic career so I will have more time to write more freely here.

I think even more than my being epistemically overwhelmed by the…everything…of the last few years or even the time and energy constraints of grad school, a bigger reason why I have been loathe to blog or engage in public discussion has been a sense of frustration, exhaustion and melancholic angst with the state of public discourse, especially online. It seems like nearly everyone today—from partisan activists to family members, to friends, to even respected thinkers whose ideas have influenced me in the past, seem to be guilty of contributing to this problem. I surely do not exclude myself from these criticisms of the zeitgeist, for the zeitgeist very much lives in my head. For now, rather than discuss any substantive issues, I am going to start a series about some meta-issues that have poisoned our public discourse and made it unpleasant and even psychologically impossible for me, and I am sure others, to write publicly.


For now, I just want to narrow in on identifying the symptoms of our ruined discourse. I am talking about how almost every one of almost every ideological stripe these days constantly displays a vicious lack of charity to almost everyone they engage with who they vaguely associate with some outgroup. An illiberal intolerant attitude where their first impulse is to try to censor ideas that they find disagreeable. For the politically engaged and outraged, it seems like no disagreement can be a good-faith one. So many seem to just assume that almost anyone they disagree with is acting in bad faith. To be sure, many people are acting in bad faith, but that is no reason to become the monster one is fighting or assume that as the default with every interlocutor. So many people treat nearly every difference of opinion, no matter how great or small, not as potentially interesting differences in values that can be commensurably discussed or interesting empirical disagreements, but as “dangerous” ideas that need to be quashed.

I am talking about the tendency for people—everywhere from cable news, to Thanksgiving tables, to Twitter–to “nutpickoutgroups to outrage other members of their ingroups. How so much of political discourse has substituted sub-rational bumper stickers, memes, and tweets for substantive positions and arguments. How so many clearly rationalize terrible arguments they should know better than to make because said arguments have ideologically convenient or politically expedient conclusions. How so many seem more interested in morally grandstanding to their favored ingroup than trying to learn more from those with whom they have fruitful differences. How for some people to even listen to you, they make you engage in some sort of ideological purity test. How they engage in dishonest guilt by association to try to assassinate the character of people they might have minor disagreements with. How they generally view anyone with whom they have disagreements contemptuously

Of course, much of this has always been an element of how hooligans engage in democratic politics. However, the degree to which it has reached a fever pitch is a change from a few decades ago. Further, this loathsome creeping intolerance and lack of epistemic virtue have now seeped from screeching political rallies, Twitter, or Yahoo News comment sections to many self-important elites who fancy themselves above the fray of the irrational cacophony of political discourse, and often help shape that discourse. I am talking the sort of people who stridently read or write for NY Times and The Atlantic, legal professionals, elites in the ivory tower where I once delusionally hoped to find a bubble of safety.

The problem goes by many names—right-wing reactionaries call it “wokeness” or “cancel culture” when done by the left, leftists and progressives call it fascist authoritarianism when right-wingers do it. To some varying extent, both are correct about each other and wrong about themselves. To be clear, I do think the right’s illiberal authoritarianism is very much a bigger threat in this political moment, but rather than spending time unproductively fanning the flames of that culture war debate, let me neutrally call the problem dialogical illiberalism in the small “l” sense of liberalism. It is a form of brain rot that seems to have infected every one of all political persuasions to varying degrees of significance—from conservative culture warriors to socialist Breadtubers, to ostensibly “liberal” centrists, to anarchist antifascist activists, to even my (former) ingroup of some libertarian academics. None of you are free from sin.

In the extreme, the dialogical illiberal is not just an unreasonable conversation partner, but a dialectical rent-seeker demanding the state coercively censor those with whom they disagree. For now, I want to focus on the merely dialogical and social form of this illiberalism simply to avoid getting lost in the complicated intricacies of liberal free speech norms and First Amendment legal disputes. Those are complicated debates worth having but beyond the scope of this series. Suffice it to say, I have little patience for this form of actively statist censoriousness in whatever form. But I think its increasing prevalence has its roots in a culture of dialogical illiberalism that has evolved in the norms of public discourse, which is what I am interested in analyzing here.

This is where, usually, this genre of article goes into some detailed examples and case studies of “the problem” to convince you it is real. Typically, these are rather dishonestly cherry-picked to support whatever implicit tribal position the author happens to have. Frankly, I have no interest in such a performative exercise here—it is better left to the reader. It would just distract us by tempting us to engage in the accidental details of some particular examples rather than stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. I don’t wish to miss the trees for the forest, and neither should you. Suffice it to say, if you are unconvinced of that what I am talking about is a genuine problem, this series of posts probably isn’t for you. You have either been living under a rock (in which case I urge you to return because ignorance is sometimes bliss), are unusually patient with bad argumentation (in which case, I envy you), or might be part of the problem.

I imagine you are nodding your head in agreement and recalling times when this has been done to you or by someone in some other political tribe to someone in your tribe. I encourage you to stop this now and try to recall a time when someone you respect and agree with was being unreasonable and uncharitable to someone else, or perhaps when you yourself have done this in a social media exchange, or with a family member or friend. I know I have. If you are completely incapable of doing this, I encourage you to save yourself some time and stop reading now—this series isn’t for you. Perhaps return to Twitter.

Perhaps at this point, you are trying to rationalize your own version of dialogical illiberalism as somehow justifiable. If you can give an original good faith argument for it, go ahead and I might consider moderating my hardline position against dialogical illiberalism. Perhaps you are thinking something like this: “But they really are so terrible and bad-faith that we should not take them seriously as debaters. You are just engaging in toxic both-sideism!” Perhaps you are right about “them,”—whoever that outgroup might be in your head. However, that is no reason to become just like “them” to the point that you cannot engage with nearly anyone in good faith. Maybe you should reflect on whether you are projecting a caricature of “them” on people who genuinely are not one of “them.” Again, avoid becoming the monster you are fighting. If you do not wish to make that effort, return to the Twitter mob.

Most readers will agree with something like this, to put it bluntly: political discourse is terrible because politically active people are massive assholes to each other. I wish to understand why people of all ideological stripes have become such massive assholes and how I can stop being one myself. If you are interested in trying not to be an asshole too, perhaps you will join me.

I don’t have an explicit plan for this series, I am not sure how many posts it will comprise. But I expect to focus on topics such as how dialogical illiberals psychologically think of themselves while they are engaging in bad-faith discussion, the role of social media in making the problem worse, the extent to which the incentive structure of democratic institutions leads to dialogical illiberalism, the chilling effect this lack of civility has on discourse, and other cultural causes and effects of dialogical illiberalism.  

If you wish, consider this an exercise in therapeutic edification for me and, if you feel similarly, perhaps for you. I am not trying to make an argument trying to convince you of much substantively. If you change your mind about something, consider that a bonus. My goals here are to express my frustration with this moment in American cultural discourse, diagnose some of what I see as the psychological and social factors contributing to the problem, and hopefully come away making myself (and, with any luck, the reader) closer to the sort of person who is not part of the problem.

I do not have all the answers and do not think I will find them here, but I do have two ground rules I hope to establish: 1) It will be hard at times for me not to hide my frustration with people who are characteristically dialogical illiberals, I am sure that has already come through. But, when possible, my hope is to analyze these individuals with the empathetic self-detachment of a good philosophical anthropologist. Do, please, call me out in the comments when I fall short of that ideal.  2) To make my biases clear: I am a very idiosyncratic sort of radical liberal/anarchist/left-libertarian hybrid. I am very much on the left side of the culture wars instinctively, while at the same time I am strongly disposed to think any policy solutions the state could enact are bound to fail. Consequently, I am more likely to be harsher to the dialogical illiberalism on the right side of the political spectrum, yet more knowledgeable of the dialogical illiberalism on the left side. You do not have to be on the same side of those anti-statist policy conclusions or be sympathetic to my radically leftist cultural tendencies to learn something from this series. My aim here is not to convince you to join my oddly specific and strange “team.” I think that sort of mindset is what encourages the dialogical liberalism I am chiding to begin with. I will try to bracket my cultural and policy views where possible and focus more on the meta-issues poisoning our discourse, but I cannot help that those views will often seep through.

Nightcap

  1. Think big, but don’t buy Greenland Scott Sumner, EconLog
  2. Institutions, intentions, and Hayekian international relations” (pdf) Nicolas Onuf, RIS
  3. F.A. Hayek and the Reinvention of Liberal Internationalism” (pdf) Jorg Spieker, IHR
  4. Hayek, Colonialism, Kantian Perpetual Peace, and… Eric Schliesser, D&I

Some Monday Links

Perfectionism: a modern malady born in the Middle Ages (CBC)

Why don’t nations buy more territories from each other? (Marginal Revolution)

I’m Put on the Spot—and Forced to Defend the Humanities in a Room Full of Medical Students (The Honest Broker)

The last link is from Ted Gioia, a – I understand – musician and author of note. Since my oldest one started a preliminary class in keys, I have tried some cursory delves in the music department, where I’m totally lacking. The particular blog offers insights from music history, culture and business.

Nightcap

  1. The Philadelphian System: Sovereignty, Arms Control, and Balance of Power in the American States-Union, Circa 1787-1861” (pdf) Daniel Deudney, International Organization

Why developing countries need to reduce their economic reliance on China

After the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in as Sri Lankan Prime Minister on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Wickremesinghe, who is the sole member of the United National Party (UNP), will be holding the position of Sri Lankan PM for the sixth time. While the new Sri Lankan PM is a seasoned administrator, the task of restoring even a modicum of normalcy to the island nation’s economy, which is currently facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948, seems to be a Herculean task. Wickremesinghe has clearly indicated that his first task will be ensuring the supply of electricity, diesel, and petrol to the people.

The grave economic crisis, which has resulted in acute shortage of food and essential commodities, has brought ordinary people on to the roads and demonstrations have resulted in violence and loss of lives. The Sri Lankan President had to declare a state of emergency twice: first last month and then earlier this month (in Sri Lanka, the President and the Prime Minister are two different positions, with the President wielding more power). There had been a growing clamor for the resignation of President Gottabaya Rajapaksa, but Wickremesinghe was sworn in after the exit of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (protests have been carrying on even after the swearing in of Wickremesinghe).

During his previous tenure, Wickremesinghe had tried to reduce Sri Lanka’s dependence upon China, and in his current tenure he will be compelled to do the same. He had also been critical of the previous government for not approaching the IMF for assistance (Wickremesinghe has been repeatedly accused of being pro-West and having neoliberal leanings by many of his political opponents).

It would be pertinent to point out that the Prime Minister had also batted for a coordinated regional response, by SAARC, vis-à-vis the covid19 pandemic. The new Sri Lankan PM has also been an ardent advocate of improving ties with India.

While it is true that Sri Lanka finds itself in the current situation due to economic mismanagement and excessive dependence upon the tourism sector (which faced a severe setback as a result of covid 19), it is tough to overlook the level of debts piled vis-à-vis China, and the fact that the island nation was following China’s model of economic growth with a focus on big ticket infrastructure projects.

Another South Asian nation — Pakistan, which witnessed a change last month when Shahbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister, replacing Imran Khan – also faces daunting economic challenges. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were estimated to be a little over $10 billion on May 6, 2022, and the Pakistani Rupee fell to its all time low versus the US Dollar on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Sharif, ever since taking over as PM, has repeatedly reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s ties with China, and the Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto, in a conversation with his Chinese counterpart, alluded to the same:

[Bhutto] underscored his determination to inject fresh momentum in the bilateral strategic cooperative partnership and add new avenues to practical cooperation

Yet China has categorically said that it will not provide any financial assistance until Pakistan resumes the IMF aid program. Pakistan has been compelled to look at other alternatives, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have also said that without the revival of the IMF program aid will not be possible. Only recently, Chinese power companies functioning under the umbrella of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have threatened to shut down their operations if their dues (to the tune of $1.59 billion) are not cleared. China had also reacted very strongly to the terror attack on Karachi University in which three Chinese teachers lost their lives (this is the second such attack after 2021). China has also indicated to Pakistan that it is not happy with the progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The current government in Pakistan has repeatedly pointed to this fact.

One point which is abundantly clear from the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, as well as Pakistan’s challenges, is that excessive dependence upon China has disastrous consequences in the long run. If one were to look at the case of South Asia, Bangladesh has been astute by not being excessively dependent upon China – it has maintained robust economic relations with India and Japan. Given the changing economic situation it is becoming increasingly important for developing countries, especially in South Asia, to join hands to confront the mounting challenges posed by excessive dependency upon China. The US, Japan, and Western multilateral bodies and financial institutions need to find common ground and provide developing countries with an alternative economic narrative. It is also time for India along with other countries in the South Asian region to find common ground and focus on robust economic cooperation.

A short reflection on the unintended political consequences of the right of due process

Some days ago, The Economist published an article about the spread of the morality councils in the villages of China, whose members meet to praise the ones who they regard as well-behaved and humiliate the others who don’t. The publication used its characteristic sense of irony by pointing out that, finally, the highest ranks of the villagers found a way to exercise their “right to speak”.

Nevertheless, the said irony might lead us to a different kind of reflection on the political right to speak and the rights of due process, such as public hearings, an impartial tribunal, and an opportunity to be heard. Public hearings and impartiality are interrelated since it would be much harder for a tribunal to deliver an arbitrary adjudication if it is overseen by the society. But the public watch of the trials and the right to be heard are even more interrelated. Through these devices, the whole civil society wields the power to take notice of both the claims of the prosecution and of the ones of the prosecuted individuals, and, thus, form its judgment about the impartiality of the tribunal.

Moreover, public hearings endow the prosecuted individuals with the opportunity to exert their political right to speak without any restraint. In a political context of heavy or increasing authoritarianism, any procedures -even the one of a morality council- could resound with the voice of the contrarian. Thus, the right of due process could have -although unintended- political consequences.

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson relate a poor justice system with the causes of why nations fail, exemplified by government exerting their interference over the judiciary power. Thus, extractive political institutions encroach upon the economic institutions, turning them extractive as well. Nevertheless, defending the procedural rights of the due process could work as a way to contribute to restore both inclusive political and economic institutions.

Of course, a tight authoritarian regime, such as China’s, is aware of the political consequences of free speech, even in the realm of a judiciary process. However, this insight could be profited by the countries where democracies are feeble but still exist. Promoting oral and public judiciary procedures, even for the most insignificant matters, and the right of the prosecuted individual to be heard is not just an issue of lawyers, but acquire a political dimension. The rights of due process endow the civil society with powerful tools to get familiar with main strands of the Rule of Law and the dissidents with the opportunity to exercise their own right to speak.

The immunities of the due process have a long history of discovery and extension to all human beings, beginning with the Magna Carta Libertarum of 1215, that is not fulfilled to this day. It should be something to be pondered that they are historically previous to Modern democracy. Surely, they are a logical condition as well.

Some Monday Links

Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly (Experimental History)

Linked to a relevant piece here some months ago. Still cannot decide if arguments like these are up to some serious insight, or they’re just glorified presentations of common sense (or both, or neither). Enjoyable, worth a look, nonetheless.

Devouring the Heart of Portugal (Damn Interesting)

The leak:

A Return to Fundamentals (City Journal)

What the Leaked Abortion Opinion Gets Wrong About Unenumerated Rights (Reason)

The meaning of Hayek’s main views on monetary theory

The one who is set to determine what Friedrich Hayek’s monetary theory consisted of will discover that his was a labyrinthic exploration conducted to dead-ends, which taught him what paths not to follow.

In his first years of research, Hayek was focused on the business cycle theory and on the monetary effects on the business cycles, his main objective being the pursuit of a neutral currency. This means, a monetary system that does not interfere in the price system, i.e., that the variations in relative prices express only the variations in the relative scarcity of goods, without any monetary disturbances. In this first stage, Hayek concentrated on the study of what he called “Cantillon effects,” in which the variations in the money supply did not affect prices simultaneously but were transmitted from capital goods firstly to consumer goods later, generating thus an intertemporal distortion or falsification in relative prices.

This distortion in the intertemporal value of goods is expressed in the distortion in the interest rate. It is worth clarifying about this last aspect, that for the Austrian School of Economics, which was where Hayek came from, time preference is the predominant element in the interest rate and that the monetary element represents, precisely, a disturbance in said time preference scale.

The monetary disturbances on the interest rate had two main consequences for Hayek: the first, the generation of cycles of boom and recession; the second, a process of continuous decapitalization of the economy.

In turn, in this first stage of Hayekian economic thought, stability in the purchasing power of money would not necessarily mean a neutral monetary system: that the money supply accompanies an increase in money demand, for example, could lead to a cycle of boom and recession with an initial stage of stability in the general level of prices, since the increase in the money supply would first be channeled into the capital goods market, generating an effect similar to an initial drop in the interest rate, which would then rise when the increase in the money supply reached the market for consumer goods.

In this last stage, the demand for consumer goods would increase, but the supply of such would not be able to satisfy it, since the resources -induced by the initial drop in the interest rate- had previously been redirected to the production of capital goods.

For Hayek, therefore, crises were not generated by underconsumption, but quite the opposite, by pressure on the demand for consumer goods. If this additional demand for consumer goods was not validated by further increases in the money supply, adjustment and recession would ensue. It is what was called The Concertina Effect -which later received severe critics from Hayek’s former disciple and translator Nicholas Kaldor.

But if indeed the monetary authority validated the expectations of consumers permanently, in order to avoid the slump, this would induce a gradual substitution in the production of consumer goods for capital goods. A process of a sort that John Maynard Keynes had already mentioned in his “A Tract on Monetary Reform” -to which Hayek adhered: The phenomenon of capital consumption that caused high inflation. Such a process of erosion of the capital structure of an inflationary economy would be the central theme of Hayek’s studies on the Ricardo Effect, which John Hicks proposed to rename the Ricardo-Hayek effect. This theme of his youth will accompany him both in the works of his adulthood and in his old age, as exposed in his essays “The Ricardo Effect” (1942) and “Three Elucidations of the Ricardo Effect” (1969).

To summarize, Hayek’s initial concern on monetary theory was not focused on the stability of the price level but rather on the attainment of the neutrality of money. His most relevant conclusions on this subject could be found in his short note titled “On Neutral Money” (originally published as “Über ‘neutrale Geld’” in 1933), in which he stated what follows:

“Hence the relationship between the theoretical concept of neutrality of the money supply and the ideal of monetary policy is that the degree to which the latter approximates to the former provides one, probably the most important though not the sole, criterion for assessing the maxims of monetary policy. It is perfectly conceivable that monetary influences would always give rise to a ‘falsification’ of relative prices and a misdirection of production unless certain conditions were fulfilled, e.g., (1) the flow of money remained constant, and (2) all prices were perfectly flexible, and (3) in the conclusion of long-term contracts in terms of money, the future movement of prices was approximately correctly predicted. But the implication is, then, that if (2) and (3) are not given, the ideal cannot be attained by any kind of monetary policy at all.”

In turn, in 1943, he rehearses the proposal of “A Commodity Reserve Currency“, with the purpose of giving a functional meaning to the phenomenon of hoarding: an increase in the purchasing power of money caused by a monetary demand for a reserve of value would translate into in a greater demand for primary goods by the monetary authority, which would curb the fall in prices and the monetary disturbances on the level of activity. Correlatively, a rise in spending would be offset by the sale of raw materials by the monetary authority and the concomitant sterilization of means of payment, thereby decompressing inflationary pressures. The big problem with such a proposal was the instrumentation itself: having a reserve system for a basket of raw materials is laborious and costly; in the same way that the choice of goods that make up said basket of goods is not exempt from controversy.

That is way Hayek’s attitude towards the inevitability of monetary shocks to the real economy is one of apparent resignation. When it comes to describing the incidence of the money multiplier by the banking system, Hayek points out that not much can be done about it, other than to understand that this is how capitalist economies work.

However, in 1976 – 1977, Hayek returned to contribute to monetary theory from his proposal of competition of currencies in “Denationalisation of Money”, where he questioned whether the monopoly of money was a necessary attribute of the nation state -something that dates back to the times of Jean Bodin- and proposed that the different countries that made up the then European Economic Community, instead of issuing a common currency, compete with each other in a selection process of currencies by the public.

Although Hayek is credited with having outlined inflation targeting in that book and is regarded as an inspiration to the private and crypto currencies, his main contribution remains yet to be assessed: The competition of currencies is not the best monetary system but the best procedure to discover a better one.

Previously, in his essay of 1968, “Competition as a Discover Procedure”, Hayek had stated that: “Competition is a procedure for discovering facts, which, if the procedure did not exist, would remain unknown or would not be used.” Thus, we will never define by ourselves, speculatively, how it would work the perfect monetary system, but the competition of currencies would enable us with a more powerful tool to discover which monetary system would better adapt to the changing conditions of the economic environment. The denationalization of money is not a monetary system by itself, but a device to improve the existing ones.

Nightcap

  1. Hamas’ Gaza-last strategy Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
  2. Race/Ethnicity, Religious Involvement, and Domestic Violence” (pdf) Christopher Ellison, et al, VAW
  3. Love in the ruins of the sexual revolution Josh Herring, Law & Liberty
  4. The logistical state Chris Shaw, Libertarian Ideal