BC’s weekend reads

  1. The raccoon scrotum monster
  2. The unrecognized
  3. The Gandhi statue causing a fuss in Ghana
  4. The battle for Burundi
  5. The end of interventionism
  6. The Socratic classroom for an activist age

A libertarian case for Hillary Clinton

I have abstained from commenting on the American presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (sorry Rick) for so long because I just wasn’t very interested in it. I’m still not that interested in it, but the topic has come up quite a bit lately here at NOL so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

First, though, I thought I’d use up a couple of paragraphs to explain why I don’t really follow American presidential elections, even though most intelligent people, in most parts of the world, do. American presidents simply don’t have a lot of power in domestic American politics. Congress controls the purse strings, makes the laws, and, in the case of the House of Representatives at least, is closer to the People than is the President. The Supreme Court is in charge of deciding which laws are good and which are not, and in some cases even has the power to create laws where Congress or the People simply aren’t getting the job done (Proposition 8 in California comes to mind). To me, that makes the executive branch the most boring branch of government.

The one area in American politics where the head of the executive branch does have a lot of leeway, foreign policy, is one area where I’m not particularly worried about either candidate. I’m not worried because both, despite holding views of the world I strongly disagree with, are not advocating anything radical or unpredictable. I’d rather have a presidential candidate advocate the same old garbage of getting in Russia’s face and keeping troops in South Korea because that way I know they’re ignorant and, more importantly, I know they know they’re ignorant on such matters because they defer to the Washington Consensus.

Libertarians don’t like statists and we don’t like statist policies. Some of us don’t even think voting is worth the effort (or even a good idea). I think there is a case to be made, though, for Libertarians and libertarians to get out and vote this fall for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. My case rests on 3 hugely important facts (at least to libertarians and Libertarians).

Fact #1: Thanks to the recent wikileaks revelations, we know for sure that Hillary Clinton is in favor of free trade. This is THE most important reason to vote for Hillary Clinton in the fall. Imagine if the United States, led by Trump’s isolationism, were to begin breaking its trade agreements with the rest of the world. Yikes. Free trade has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last 30 years, but because the majority of beneficiaries to trade liberalization have happened to not be American citizens, demagoguery ensues. I understand that Clinton has expressed skepticism in US free trade agreements on the campaign trail, but when you’re in a party that is vying for potential voters who feel they have been hurt by free trade, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Regardless of what Clinton says to the masses, her record on free trade while holding political offices is impressive (a ‘No’ vote on CAFTA notwithstanding). Free trade, or trade liberalization, is one of the fundamental tenets of libertarianism. Individual liberty cannot be realized or even partly realized without markets that are free from the constraints of governments and the factions that manipulate them. Donald Trump, like Bernie Sanders, wants to reverse decades of trade liberalization and the benefits that such a policy has bestowed upon humanity.

(Digression: Libertarians and libertarians are so adamant about free trade not only because it loosens the grip of the state over peoples’ lives, but also because it makes everybody – not just fellow countrymen – better off. When libertarians and Libertarians hear protectionist sentiments from the political class, you will often see or hear us point out that the Great Depression of the 1930s was hastened not only because of central banking policies but also because of the isolationist tariffs that Congress threw up as a response to the economic downturn caused by the new central bank’s policies. Free trade is a BFD.)

Fact #2: Hillary Clinton is much more individualist than Donald Trump. Women’s rights is an individualist issue, and always has been, even though Clinton has made a mockery of the historical movement by playing the “gender card” and defending (and pledging to expand) subsidies in the name of women’s rights. Trump wants to “make America great again,” but Hillary just wants your vote, any way she can get it. If that ain’t individualist, I don’t know what is.

Hillary Clinton is not a racist, either. She marched against The State’s oppression of black Americans in the South and against The State’s discrimination against black Americans in the rest of the country throughout the 1960s. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think The Donald is a racist. Businessmen rarely are, for reasons that should be obvious to any fair-minded person, but his rhetoric on race is absolutely toxic, and he knows it. His deplorable actions bring to mind a certain F-word I won’t mention here.)

Trump may or not be a racist – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – but I don’t know for sure. Clinton is definitely not a racist.

Fact #3: Hillary Clinton is a lawyer and she knows how our government is supposed to work (even if she doesn’t like it). One could make the case that Trump knows how our federal system of government works, too, given his braggadocio about buying off politicians, but his is a vulgar understanding of what is, after all, a magnificent example of compromise and diplomacy over our more primal urges. Lawyers make better politicians than businessmen. As Alexis de Tocqueville remarked way back in his 1831 ethnography of the United States:

“the authority [Americans] have entrusted to members of the legal profession, and the influence which these individuals exercise in the Government, is the most powerful existing security against the excesses of democracy […] When the American people is intoxicated by passion, or carried away by the impetuosity of its ideas, it is checked and stopped by the almost invisible influence of its legal counsellors, who secretly oppose their aristocratic propensities to its democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to what is antique to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its immense designs, and their habitual procrastination to its ardent impatience.”

Lawyers, Tocqueville observed, make up a sort of informal aristocracy in America because their training in the field of law requires them to have a deep respect for precedent and “a taste and a reverence for what is old.” Businessmen are not used to the clumsy, inefficient coalition-building necessary for good governance. That’s why businessman George W Bush was such a failure and attorney Bill Clinton was such a success. Any good libertarian needs to acknowledge the benefits that come from specialization and the division of labor. Any really good libertarian, the kind that has actually read a little bit of FA Hayek’s work, knows that change in the political and institutional arena needs to be done slowly, and preferably through the legal system (no matter how imperfect it may be).

I know all about the bad stuff that Hillary has supported and voted for in the past (especially on foreign policy, and even more especially on foreign policy in Africa). I get it. I really do. But Donald Trump represents a very nasty strain of thought that has swept into power of the country’s Right-leaning political party. His nationalism is antithetical to libertarianism in a way that Clinton’s typical corruption and condescension is not: libertarianism has a long history in this country of dealing with Clinton-esque figures. The American polity was forged by consensus and thus has recourse, perhaps more so than any other presidential system, to constrain exactly this type of persona. This persona is egotistical and out for personal glory and prestige, but libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and others here in the United States have institutions and networks that were created specifically for presidencies run by people like Clinton.

We’re small in number, too small to have a significant impact if we all voted for Clinton, but we have an outsized impact in the realm of ideas and policy. Get behind Clinton in any way that you can, because more of the same ain’t all that bad.

Words and Actions of Trump the Horrible

I spent yesterday listening in horrified fascination to the mass media creating a crude amalgam of Trump’s sins in the so-called video, yes, that old video.

Nearly all the media, including, I am afraid, the Wall Street Journal, put together or often mix in the same sentence two elements of Trump’s objectionable aspects: words and possible actions. The two deserve completely different treatments. There is no excuse for confusing them except a desire to win at all costs.

Words first: Trump referred to women in obscene terms. This is not in dispute. Calling women “pussies” may tell you something about his present character. (Although that happened fifteen years ago, when he was a registered Democrat.) I don’t see what it tells you that’s new. The man is crude. He is crude in precisely the same way that millions of American men are. I am completely innocent of that particular sin myself (because I was raised overseas) but I have several friends who qualify. It’s interesting that they are, by and large, the same male friends I would describe as “pussy-whipped.” (This is another topic, an interesting one I can’t deal with here: Married American men are exceptionally submissive.) I think the brouhaha about Trump’s obscene words is completely hypocritical and massively promoted by media that lost their intellectual self-respect some time ago. Public discourse also stopped being sensitive a long time ago irrespective of what the current neo-Victorians would have you believe: A young woman I have never met except on-line a couple of days ago, a Clinton supporter, recently invited me on Facebook to “suck my dick!” (She meant her own non-existent appendage.)

Then, there are Trump actions as revealed on the video. Fact is, the video reveals no, zero, objectionable acts. Instead, it reveals Mr Trump bragging about engaging in sexually assaultive behavior. The report is not a fact. Fake confessions are legion, especially within a bragging context. Donald Trump may have never, not once, done the things he says in the video he does, not even the slightest crotch grab. Now, if he is guilty of this kind of boasting, characteristic of teenage boys everywhere, you may decide he is too immature for the job but he is not (NOT) an unpunished criminal.

A stupid braggart and a rapist are different creatures. If you think they are more or less the same, you are full of shit and we need someone like Trump to clean house, because of you, precisely. You are poison while he, Trump, is only moronic.

Let’s focus on various forms of sexual assault. Trump committed some, at least one, or (OR) he did not. There is nothing in between. The function of the amalgam I heard all day yesterday is to spread the credibility of the reports of obscene talk onto the supposition of sexual assault: It’s true that he referred to women in a sexually crude manner, therefore, (THEREFORE), he must have assaulted women sexually. This kind of verbal ploy sometimes actually works. It works with fools and with fanatics.

Now I imagine I might be on a jury regarding Mr Trump’s sexual assault(s) (one or several). I would not have the option to find him a “little bit guilty,” or “sort of guilty,” or “mostly guilty,” or “not actually guilty but he might have done it; look how he refers to women.” The only options available are guilty/not guilty. That’s it. For once, judicial conventions correspond well with logic: He did it (any “it”), or (OR) he did not. There are almost an infinity of offenses a person can be charged with so, there is no reason to come up with unclear verdicts. The prosecutor can charge with attempted sexual battery, sexual battery, aggravated sexual battery, different kinds of rape, etc., exactly so a clean verdict is possible without violating factual evidence. Those who do not know this to be true don’t understand either the US Constitution nor basic fairness. They are temperamentally fascists. (There are other forms of fascism on the Clinton side, following Mr Obama.)

What we see right now is a massive and concerted display of hypocrisy on the part of the bulk of the kind-of-educated class, beginning with the media. It’s so obvious that I think that if Jesus were around today, He would be for Trump. Fact is, there is no record of his speaking up against obscenity while he repeatedly and vehemently attacked hypocrisy.

PS I am wavering in my support of Trump. It’s not because Clinton has become less than a total horror but because he falls too easily into her traps. It bothers me.

Intervention for your own good

Insider trading feels unfair, but increases the efficiency of financial markets. A price should reflect an estimate of the future profitability of the underlying asset, and insider trading allows those with the most information to have more of an impact on that price.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a case that will determine how broadly to define insider trading. If the defendant loses, then cases where a family member of an insider benefits from a stock tip could be considered insider trading. If he wins, it will probably be much more difficult to prevent insider trading. But why should we?

Some argue that the possibility of insider trading creates a problem of asymmetric practicable information–insiders always know more, but if they’re allowed to act on that information, outside investors lose incentive to invest in potentially valuable projects. That may be, but does it justify prohibiting insider trading? No.

The problem of asymmetric information requires a commitment device, but that device doesn’t have to be one-size fits all. Let businesses and investors solve this problem themselves with contracts.

O que é socialismo?

Alguns posts atrás fiz uma exposição sobre o que é capitalismo, e também procurei expor e desmistificar alguns equívocos a respeito dele. Nos próximos posts pretendo fazer algo semelhante com o socialismo: explicar o que é e desfazer alguns mitos e equívocos. Falando a respeito de capitalismo, expliquei que esta palavra é utilizada de forma bastante livre, e assim há muitas variedades de capitalismo. Optei por expor um tipo de capitalismo associado ao pensamento de Adam Smith e à tradição liberal, algo que pode ser chamado de liberdade econômica, liberdade de mercado ou liberdade de escolha. O socialismo também aparece em variadas formas. O que exponho aqui é a variedade associada a Karl Marx. Marx foi um historiador, filósofo e sociólogo, mas o que me interessa aqui é principalmente sua teoria econômica.

A teoria econômica de Marx começa com a teoria do valor trabalho. De acordo com esta pressuposição, o que dá valor a um produto é a quantidade de trabalho envolvida na produção. Em outras palavras, o trabalho (trabalho braçal, entenda-se) é a fonte de todo valor. Esta percepção de valor trabalho pressupõe uma ligação entre mais valia e acumulação de capital. Marx argumentou que toda a riqueza é fruto do esforço dos trabalhadores. No entanto, os trabalhadores não recebem um salário correspondente ao valor pelo qual sua produção é vendida. Na percepção liberal, a diferença entre custo de produção e valor de venda é chamada de lucro. Na percepção de Marx, isto é mais valia: os donos das fábricas (ou donos dos meios de produção) enriquecem a custa do esforço dos trabalhadores. Mas esta é uma relação insustentável: para lucrar os empresários precisam pagar aos trabalhadores o mínimo possível, somente o suficiente para garantir a sobrevivência e reprodução dos trabalhadores. Com o tempo, os lucros iriam cair, o capital (ou os recursos de produção) iriam se concentrar em poucas e imensas fábricas (fabricas menores seriam levadas à falência pela competição), haveria dificuldade de transferência de capital (os investimentos seriam cada vez menos rentáveis), o número de desempregados se elevaria, a capacidade de venda cairia, crises cada vez mais profundas e frequentas ocorreriam, todo o sistema iria inevitavelmente chegar ao fim. Uma sociedade socialista, onde os trabalhadores seriam donos dos meios de produção, surgiria.

No coração da teoria econômica de Marx está o conceito de mais valia: os trabalhadores não recebem o que merecem pelo seu trabalho. Ao invés disso, eles são explorados pelos patrões. Acredito que esta noção de exploração comove muitas pessoas, mas ela não faz o menor sentido. Marx não está dizendo que alguns patrões exploram os trabalhadores. Ele está dizendo que, por definição, todos os patrões exploram os trabalhadores, pois retém na mais valia uma riqueza que não lhes pertence.

A pedra fundamental da teoria econômica de Marx é a teoria do valor trabalho: o que confere valor a um produto é o trabalho que se tem para produzi-lo. Daí que necessariamente haja exploração. Mas a teoria do valor trabalho está certa? Ela corresponde à realidade? Acredito que está bem claro que não: posso ter muito trabalho para produzir uma escultura de palitos de fósforo no meu quintal, e nunca conseguir vende-la, pois ela não tem valor para mais ninguém. Todo o meu trabalho, todo o meu esforço, é inútil e sem valor se eu não estiver produzindo algo que seja do interesse de outra pessoa. Além disso, a revolução marginalista do final do século 19, e particularmente a Escola Austríaca, veio demonstrar que valor é algo subjetivo e sujeito a condições de tempo e espaço.

A questão clássica a respeito de valor é: “porque diamantes, que não alimentam, são tão caros, enquanto que água, que é essencial à vida é tão barata?”. A resposta do valor trabalho é que dá muito trabalho conseguir diamantes, enquanto que água literalmente cai do céu. Mas esta resposta é incompleta: em alguns lugares água não cai do céu. No deserto do Saara, morrendo de sede, uma pessoa pode trocar muitos diamantes por copo de água. Em outras palavras, se a teoria do valor trabalho está correta, então há um valor objetivo: é possível calcular com precisão o valor de alguma coisa considerando o trabalho empregado em sua produção. Mas é manifesto que isto não é verdade: produtos tem seu valor afetado por muitas circunstâncias, e o esforço empregado na produção pode não ter qualquer relevância no valor final.

A conclusão é simples: se a teoria do valor trabalho está errada, toda a teoria econômica de Marx está errada. Isto quer dizer que patrões nunca exploram seus empregados? Claro que não! Isto quer dizer apenas que esta exploração não ocorre segundo a explicação de Marx.

As previsões de Marx (salários menores, maior desemprego, crises econômicas recorrentes e profundas) foram desmentidas uma a uma: a Europa do final do século 19, progressivamente marcada pelo liberalismo econômico, experimentou uma prosperidade impar em sua história. Num quadro mais amplo, nações que optam pelo liberalismo econômico prosperam, e principalmente prosperam os trabalhadores. Basta comparar Coreia do Norte e Coreia do Sul, China e Hong Kong, Alemanha Ocidental e Alemanha Oriental, EUA e URSS e assim por diante. Entendo que muitas pessoas se encantam com o marxismo (e como o socialismo) por se apiedarem das condições muitas vezes precárias dos trabalhadores. Porém, não basta ter o coração no lugar certo. É fundamental ter uma compreensão correta da realidade. Caso a exploração dos trabalhadores seja uma preocupação para você, sugiro considerar o capitalismo e esquecer qualquer forma de socialismo.

The trade offs of Hillary vs Donald

An interesting thing to talk about is whether one ought to support the Donald or the Hillary. And it’s my impression that those who are marginally in favor of Donald and vice versa do that with a completely different view on the risks associated with either of them.

People who favor Hillary have something like this in mind:

Hillary will continue with the status quo that started with George W. Bush (especially foreign policy) and continued under Obama (who added domestic trends such as Obamacare). Trump, on the other hand, is a complete wild card who will transform the (fragile) political institutions we have into something of an even more authoritarian system. And having an authoritarian figure with his fingers on the red button just seems like a very bad idea.

People who favor the Donald are seemingly thinking something like this:

Hillary will continue with the status quo that started with George W. Bush (especially foreign policy) and continued under Obama (who added domestic trends such as Obamacare). Trump, on the other hand, will be such a weak politician that he will get almost nothing done. Even in his own party, he is so unpopular that he won’t get executive discretion even if he asked for it. He won’t be able to achieve anything and he might even get impeached. But regardless, he will be an overall failure of a politician, and that’s a good thing relative to the trend that Hillary started.

I could be wrong, of course, but this seems like the trade off that people are making. We know, with a reasonably high certainty margin, what kind of policies Hillary will favor. Trump, however, is a complete wild card. Some people think the wild card will accomplish very little (and thereby show a high confidence in the current workings of the American governmental system), so therefore he is preferable to Hillary. Other people think he will accomplish a lot (and thereby showing very little confidence in the current workings of the American governmental system.)

I think this trade off is basically right: where you stand on Hillary versus Trump depends on your view in the likelihood they’ll achieve what you think their plans are. Which of these have the correct view, I do not know. But it’s an interesting question nonetheless.

Peter Singer vs The Poor

I am new at Notes On Liberty, graciously invited by Brandon Christensen. I’ll be blogging about a range of things, some of which will include political philosophy.

I am currently working on a paper on Peter Singer’s famous “Famine, Affluence and Poverty” paper that argues that we have a moral obligation to donate a lot of our current holdings to poor people. His argument is pretty straightforward.

Premise 1: I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

Premise 2: if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it. By “without sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance” I mean without causing anything else comparably bad to happen, or doing something that is wrong in itself, or failing to promote some moral good, comparable in significance to the bad thing that we can prevent. This principle seems almost as uncontroversial as the last one. It requires us only to prevent what is bad, and to promote what is good, and it requires this of us only when we can do it without sacrificing anything that is, from the moral point of view, comparably important. I could even, as far as the application of my argument to the Bengal emergency is concerned, qualify the point so as to make it: if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.

Example: An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

And therefore, he concludes, there is a strong moral imperative to donate a lot of money to poorer people who are in dire need of assistance.

However, there seems to be something obvious that is overlooked, something that I haven’t encountered in the literature on the topic. Namely, Singer discusses the implications this principle has for rich people, they have to donate a lot of money, because being poor and suffering because of lack of food is bad. However, this principle doesn’t limit itself to creating obligations for those in affluence. It should, ipso facto, also create implications for those in poverty.

Premise 1: Poverty and the suffering it causes is bad. (It seems hard for Singer to disagree with this.)

Premise 2: If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing something of comparable moral worth, we ought, morally, to do it.

Ok, fair enough. But if poverty is bad: why doesn’t this principle create a very strong moral obligation for people in poverty to not get children (and thus putting more people in this situation?) Maybe one could argue that getting children is a great moral good (or that not getting children is a great moral evil), but it seems weird to say that putting people into something that (by implication of Singer’s views) is considered a great moral evil is somehow a good thing.

So if I am right, Singer needs to accept that his views create a strong moral obligation towards poor people not to get children.

Even more so. If this is the case, it follows that everyone every has a strong moral implication not to get children, because we will always be poorer than we’ll collectively be 100 years in the future. (Were the original cave dwellers immoral people for getting children then?)

Maybe one can argue that even though suffering is bad, but on net, a human life is still a good thing. The marginal choice leads us to say ‘we need another life’ (that’s on net good) but when a specific human life is in need, we need to help that life, on that margin, because on that margin, we can still alleviate suffering (which is generating ‘less bad and more good’). The issue with this line of argument seems that it has a very strong assumption that a life is, on net, a good thing. But even ignoring that, it does open the gate towards a comment from the ‘rich people’ to say: ‘well, if those parents don’t have a moral obligation to not get children because on net a human life is still worth living, even if there is some suffering, why do we have an obligation then to help at the point of suffering? The life, on net, was still a good life.’ (This point follows from the assumption that it isn’t unethical for those parents to get children, despite their poverty and the suffering that results from it.)

I invite any and all comments on this issue.