Be Our Guest: “Resolved: Human Government is Despotism”

Jack Curtis is back with another guest post, this time on despotism. Here’s a sneak peak:

All human government is to some degree despotic; if it were not there would be no need for organized force. The more realistic issue seems to be: How much despotism should be tolerated in return for the benefits of human organization? And, with homo sapiens involved, that depends upon whom you ask.

Read the rest. It’s excellent, as usual. If you’ve got something to say, and nowhere to say it, why not Be Our Guest?

Nightcap

  1. Why does government do stuff? Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  2. Indian removal Claudio Saunt, Aeon
  3. Migrants, Muslims, and other non-people Namit Arora, Baffler
  4. Immigration will be another casualty of coronavirus Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg

Be Our Guest: “Government: The Great Post-Christian Swindle”

Jack Curtis is back as our guest, and with a thoughtful vengeance:

It is no coincidence that Reformed Judeo-Christian culture has led the explosion of human progress in recent centuries; it both set up the church as society’s and government’s visible conscience, and by reversing sovereignty from king to people, freed incalculable individual effort into the more productive directions celebrated by Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations. The first provided a foundation for the reduced corruption and enhanced public trust that advance economic progress; the second accelerated human achievement. Tales of extraordinary human accomplishment have always centered upon motivated individuals, ordered serfdom has never been considered very productive and slavery, least of all. This is a reality typically brushed off by those selling the idea that alterations of government structure can be used to alter innate human behavior. The idea however, remains an enduring political swindle enshrined among public educators naturally interested in producing complaisant citizens for their employer.

Read the rest, and don’t forget to add your own thoughts. As always, feel free to Be Our Guest

Be Our Guest: “Liberty, Government, and Technology: 2019”

Jack Curtis is the latest to submit a piece for NOL‘s “Be Our Guest” feature. A slice:

We will compare China, Russia and the United States. China is a post-communist police state that has never experienced democracy. Russia is a post-communist, quasi democratic republic devolving back into a police state. And the United States is a traditionally democratic republic. Excepting the vagaries of disparate cultures, their three governments seem increasingly similar, revising themselves to adopt the new technology. However, these revisions have not originated only within governments; they also reflect the gradual confluence of the underlying societies.

Do read the rest, and I must point out that Jack has been a long time reader of NOL. For that I am personally grateful. It’s nice to be able to link up and collaborate like this.

Submit your own thoughts to us. Be our guest. Tell your friends, too.

Libertarianism and Neoliberalism – A difference that matters?

I recently saw a thoroughgoing Twitter conversation between a Caleb Brown, which most of you presumably know from the Cato Daily Podcast, and the Neoliberal Project, an American project founded to promote the ideas of neoliberalism, regarding the differences between libertarianism and neoliberalism. For those who follow the debate, it is nothing new that the core of this contention goes way beyond an etymological dimension – it is concerned with one of the most crucial topics in the liberal scholarship: the relationship between government and free markets.

Arbitrary categories?

I can understand the aim to further structure the liberal movement into subcategories which represent different types of liberalism. Furthermore, I often use these different subcategories myself to distance my political ideology from liberal schools I do not associate with, such as paleo-libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism. However, I do not see such a distinct line between neoliberalism and libertarianism in practice.

As describes by Caleb Brown (and agreed on by the Neoliberal Project), neoliberalism wants to aim the wealth generated by markets at specific social goals using some government mechanism, whilst libertarianism focuses on letting the wealth created by free markets flow where it pleases, so to say. In my opinion, the “difference” between these schools is rather a spectrum of trust in government measures with libertarianism on one side and neoliberalism on the other.

I’ve often reached a certain point in the same discussion with fellow liberals:

Neoliberal: I agree that free markets are the most efficient tool to create wealth. They are just not very good at distributing it. By implementing policy X, we could help to correct market failure Y.

Libertarian: Yeah, I agree with you. Markets do not distribute wealth efficiently. However, the government has also done a poor job trying to alleviate the effects of market failures, especially when we look at case Z… (Of course, libertarians bring forth other arguments than public choice, but it is a suitable example.)

After reaching this point, advocating for governmental measures to fix market failures often becomes a moral and personal objective. My favourite example is emission trading. I am deeply intrigued by the theoretical foundation of the Coase-Theorem and how market participants still can find a Pareto-efficient equilibrium by just negotiating. Based on this theoretical framework, I would love to see a global market for carbon emission trading.

However, various mistakes were made during the implementation of emission allowances. First, there were way too many emission allowances on the market which engendered the price to drop dangerously low. Additionally, important markets such as air and ship transportation were initially left out. All in all, a policy buttressed by a solid theory had a more than rough start due to bad implementation.

At this point, neoliberals and libertarians diverge in their responses. A libertarian sees another failure of the government to implement a well-intended policy, whereas a neoliberal sees a generally good policy which just needs a bit further improvement. In such cases, the line between neoliberals and libertarians becomes very thin. And from my point of view, we make further decisions based on our trust in the government and on our subjective-moral relation to the topic as well.

I saw government too often fail (e.g. engaging in industry politics), which should be left nearly entirely to free markets. However, I also saw the same government struggling to find an adequate response to climate change. Contrary, I believe that officials should carry on with their endeavours to counteract climate change whereas they should stay out of industry politics.

Furthermore, in the recent past, there has been a tremendous amount of libertarian policy proposals put forth which remodeled the role of government in a free society: A libertarian case for mandatory vaccination? Alright. A libertarian case for UBI? Not bad. A libertarian case for a border wall? I am not so sure about that one.

Although these examples may define libertarianism in their own context, the general message remains clear to me: libertarians are prone to support governmental measures if they rank the value of a specific end higher than the risk of a failed policy. Since such an article is not the right framework to gather a robust amount of data to prove my point empirically, I rely on the conjecture, that the core question of where the government must interfere is heavily driven by subjective moral judgements.

Summary

Neoliberals and Libertarians diverge on the issue of government involvement in the economy. That’s fine.

Governmental policies often do not fully reach their intended goals. That’s also fine.

The distinction between neoliberals and libertarians is merely a threshold of how much trust one puts in the government’s ability to cope with problems. Both schools should not value this distinction too much since it is an incredibly subjective issue.

But who will build the roads?!

It’s not a great time for Atlanta’s highways… they’ve just had another incident.

We could certainly overreact… freak occurrences happen in markets too. But maybe it’s not a freak occurrence. Maybe government just isn’t that good at providing infrastructure.

What does complexity theory tell us about government?

I’m reading Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos which has the absolute best testimonial on the front cover: “If you liked Chaos, you’ll love Complexity.”

This book was written in 1993 so I’m pretty late to the show, but it’s worth raising the issue: complex systems require governance, but that need not mean government.

In the copy below the author is writing about how complex systems–systems with components that affect one another in simple ways resulting in emergent orders at the system-wide level–occupy an interesting space between chaos and order. Too much order and you end up with something fixed and unchanging. Too much chaos and you’ve got noise.

The second full paragraph misses an important point that should have been obvious to the author and the researchers who he’s paraphrasing. The government is an endogenous element in the wider economy. If we think of the economy as a network of people (individual nodes) who cluster into sub-networks (organizations), the government is just a collection of nodes and clusters that follow different rules than the rest. Granted, these clusters often serve important roles (e.g. courts). But the anarchist branches of economics have pretty clearly demonstrated that removing the state from these roles doesn’t always lead to chaos. Ripping the state out like a band-aid would be an awful idea, but gently scaling (scoping?) back the state need not be a disaster.

This band between chaos and order is wider than they’re giving it credit for. We can only examine this band from our own perspective… as human beings who are tiny components of this much larger network of networks. The range of configurations that could allow a peaceful, flourishing society is essentially infinite. Yes, governance is necessary, but strengthening any particular set of nodes cannot allow for governance of the system as a whole. It can only allow for governance of a sub-set of the wider network.

Emergent orders cannot be controlled from within.

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The Dark Side of Polycentricity

Who’da thunk?!

This raises the question: would anyone pay attention if the federal government wasn’t such a mess? I don’t think so. Oh well… can’t win ’em all.

Civilization: A Praxeology

…and they say praxeology is flawed…

A thought-game by L.A. Repucci

Okay; suppose civilization collapses.  Positing the end of our current human paradigm — the sum of our economic, governmental and technological works subtracted — is a non-partisan exercise.  Both ends the ideological spectrum are ever doomsday prophets, decrying an immanent collapse, undone either by means of our State or our Liberty.

‘Resources are held in Common!’ cries the socialist.  ‘Property is product of my Life and Liberty’ cries the anarchist…both claim we are robbing ourselves blind.  Let’s skip  the part of the process where the libertarians and collectivists argue about roads and markets, and just imagine the ‘end’ is behind us all, and we (any two or more parties) survived, and are left to re-establish civilization.  This proposition is essentially a ‘dropped on a deserted island’ scenario — an exercise in pure a priori, inductive inquiry.

We are left to our own devices; a natural state with no default preset values, no existing law or paper contracts, no social institution, normative or common tradition.

It’s just you, me, and the pile of radioactive rubble that previously was a long-defunct post office.

How to proceed?  What rules shall we make for ourselves, and how should we best go about the process of survival?

Please, feel free to take your turn by leaving a comment — this is an open-ended invitation to engage in the process of civilization. In the interest of intellectual honesty, I would offer that it is entirely my intention to pursue a libertarian outcome, to our mutual benefit.

Game On. =)