Monday Links, sticks and two (or maybe three) smoking sentences

Gangsters vs. Nazis (Tablet)

How the Jewish mob fought American admirers of the Third Reich. An excerpt:

Judd Teller, a reporter for a New York Jewish daily, relates how he met one day with “several men who said they were from ‘Murder, Incorporated’ and wanted a list of ‘Nazi bastards who should be rubbed out.’” Teller took the request to Jewish communal leaders. They told Teller that if the plan would be put in motion, “the police would be informed promptly.” Teller relayed this warning to his Murder, Inc. contact. Upon hearing this, the mobster angrily replied, “Tell them to keep their shirts on. OK, we won’t ice [murder] the bodies; only marinate them.” According to Teller, this is exactly what they did. He said the attacks by the Jewish mobsters was sufficient “marination” to drastically reduce attendance at Nazi Bund meetings, and discouraged Bundists “from appearing in uniform singly in the streets.”

The Inimitable Orwell (Commonweal)

On the Politics and the English Language essay. I try to stick to the six rules, but I fear I am not totally “outright barbarous”-proof. Another list with writing rules – a more light-hearted one – comes from Umberto Eco, the noted Italian scholar:

Umberto Eco’s 36 Rules for Writing Well (Openculture)

Speaking of proper phrasing, here is a passage from Lysander Spooner (Thomas L. Knapp posted it in the comments section of a NOL piece by Jacques Delacroix):

[W]hether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.

Now, I may have found the second prospective opening for my public policy course, should I ever offer one (the absurd part is that I lack almost everything else to supply it, demand included). It is pithy, sharp and, importantly, timeless. The alternative one-liner I would possibly pen day one at the imaginary class:

Property imposes obligations. Its use by its owner shall at the same time serve the public good.

Weimar Constitution (1919), art. 153(c)

While not as punchy as Spooner’s aphorism, it has qualities and can raise eyebrows. Both phrases are metal. Independent of context, they have more or less exactly what it takes to pick and stick. Perhaps both of them should set the opening, leaving the audience free to choose the way forward.

Back to Spooner. Another prominent figure (of American individualist tradition this time) I had not heard of till this day.

Lysander Spooner (Online Library of Liberty). The particular passage comes from his No Treason. No. VI. The Constitution of No Authority (1870).

The Wings of Competition in Things Daily – Source

I took note that he challenged the government monopoly in mail services (a field with quasi-military structure, typically used as a matrix to consolidate state bureaucracy/ power, btw) with his American Letter Mail Company, on ethical and economic grounds. The state finally forced him out of business in 1851, though competition temporarily drove fees down.

(If you care about post stamps – I don’t – USPS to issue Ursula K. Le Guin stamp this month (Book Riot). I enjoyed Le Guin’s Earthsea and plan to read The Dispossessed, a veiled study of social systems I hear, before summer end)

If anything, Spooner seems to have shared the fiery convictions and language of his contemporaries at the First International. That was a time of memorable lines, obviously. This easily comes to mind:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

They also sported some serious beards. Those of Spooner and Marx are respectable, but I would award James Guillaume’s bonus points for the extra menacing vibe.

Some Monday Links

(US) inflation?

YES — Is the Fed Getting Burned Again? (Project Syndicate)

NO — In the Fed We Trust (Foreign Affairs)

TENTATIVE — Is the Phillips Curve Back? When Should We Start to Worry About Inflation? (Niskanen Center)

The dimming of the light (Aeon). Adds some color to this brief-but-thick (and somewhat pessimistic) exchange with Jacques Delacroix.

Fast Cars, Wide Roads, Blue Skies: Vintage Postcards From Across America (Flashbak)

Some Monday Links

Redefining Death (National Review)

Some medical devices don’t mean to be racist, but they are (Psyche)

Monetary Meld (IMF)

And, inspired by this NOL discussion here,

A History of My Economic Opinions (Deirdre McCloskey)

This is a long, but enrapturing piece (I am not familiar with McCloskey’s work, which was also referenced en passant in another fresh NOL post). An excerpt:

I happened in 1958 to devour in the Andrew-Carnegie financed public library of Wakefield, Massachusetts the Russian prince Pyotr Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) and the gullible American journalist John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World (1919). If I had instead come across Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom (1943) or Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) I suppose I would have gotten a better grasp of market pricing, earlier. Many market-loving classical liberals came to liberalism by that free-market path, and were never socialists. Yet the socialism-to-liberalism route is very common in 20th century political biographies, such as Leszek Kołakowski’s or Robert Nozick’s or, to descend a couple of notches, D. N. McCloskey’s. (The contrary route from market liberal to state socialist is vanishingly rare.)

My Thoughts on Marvin

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

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

Man, things are really heating up on NoL!

The outsider…

It begins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts:

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