Some Monday Links

A Shackled Leviathan That Keeps Roaming and Growing (Regulation)

Do robots dream of paying taxes? (Bruegel)

The Janus of Debt (Project Syndicate)

Revisiting the Los Angeles of David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ 20 Years Later (LA Magazine)

Some Monday Links

Never-Before-Published Hannah Arendt on What Freedom and Revolution Really Mean (Literary Hub)

Boom and Gloom (Claremont Review of Books)

The Bitcoin Law: Counterfeit Free Choice in Currency (Alt-M)

Huge Diego Rivera mural about to go up at SFMOMA (The Mercury News)

NOL has revisited works of Diego Rivera here (this particular mural, aka Pan American Unity) and here (another mural, Frozen Assets – Fondos Congelados – from 1931).

Libertarianism and the new generation

Computer use as an adult: check my bills, check my savings, look at pricing for home improvements, check the scores, send & answer emails, read blogs if I’m lucky.

Has there been any foundational libertarian academic work done in the last 35 years? I mean, when I was in college, you read Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Mises, and Nozick. These were the people you read if you wanted to familiarize yourself with common libertarian sentiment on questions of public policy (“economics”), ethics, foreign affairs, and cultural shifts.

What do the kids read nowadays? I’m in favor of overhauling the canon. I’d keep Nozick and Rand, but whose work should we consult on matters of public policy (“economics”) and foreign affairs? I think I’m going to have to be the one who answers the foreign affairs question, but what about econ? Whose work is the new Mises/Friedman? Whose going to overtake Rothbard and come up with a libertarian manifesto for a new generation?

Has our time come and gone already? If we don’t need new voices and fresh perspectives, then we’ve already lost the war of ideas.

Some Monday Links

The Essential James Buchanan (Cafe Hayek)

Defounding America (The New Criterion)

Marketplace Morality: From Masks to Veganism (The Walrus)

Julian Simon’s life against the grain

I did not meet many of the postwar great thinkers of classical liberalism. There are two exceptions. In 2005 I had a chat with James Buchanan to ask him if I could translate the talk he gave to an audience of graduate students at the IHS summer seminar at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He agreed and I translated and published his ideas on ‘the soul of classical liberalism’ in a Dutch liberal periodical.

The other exception is Julian Simon. Perhaps not in the same league as Buchanan, he was certainly a maverick thinker and a classical liberal great. A navy officer, business man, and advertising expert who turned to academia, he is known, to name just a few, for his arguments in the field of population growth, immigration studies and of course the book The Ultimate Resource. In it he argues that all raw materials become cheaper, while humans are the ultimate resource, among many other issues. He also won a famous wager with his critic Paul Ehrlich, stating that the prices of the raw materials Ehrlich could choose (in fact copper, chromium, nickel, tin, tungsten) would decrease (inflation adjusted) over the period of a decade they agreed upon. But that is just the tip of iceberg of this most interesting man. You should really read his autobiography A Life Against the Grain, whenever you have the chance.

In 1995 a friend of mine and I founded the Dutch Benedictus de Spinoza Foundation, meant to group young people educated in (classical) liberalism. In our first public Spinoza-lecture in 1996 Simon agreed to be the speaker. If memory serves right he was on his way to or from a Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Vienna, and was willing to make a small detour. We spent two full days with him, touring The Hague, arranging an interview in a national paper, have a formal dinner with Simon as gues of honor and speaker, and so forth. He was the most congenial guest one can wish. He clearly did not want to be among the hot shots only. In fact he insisted that we should visit ‘the worst neighborhood of the city’. So we went to one of the poorest parts in town, which he found delightful, not because of the (relative) poverty, but because of the multicultural experience and multicultural food at the market.  An other remarkable feature was that in the half hour before we opened the lecture hall, he wished to take a nap on the floor right there!

In his autobiography he is open about his many rejected papers throughout his career, and the way he described how difficult it is to convince academic colleagues of a point that goes against conventional wisdom. No matter how strong the counter-evidence, people will choose to ignore the new facts or insights and keep the author out of the inner circle for as long as possible. I must say it sounds familiar to me, as an author who has attempted to change the views of (classical) liberals and IR theorists on international relations and (classical) liberalism. Even the obvious fact that trade cannot possibly foster peace seems impossible to establish. Alas, reading Simon one also learns to never give up, the truth shall be told, although there is no guarantee of success!

Nightcap: the end

Folks, I’ve got a ton of writing projects on my plate. I am trying to make the switch from non-fiction to fiction, too. Oh, and I have a small family now. And a career in the private sector that is going quite well. My priorities have changed.

I’ll still be blogging here, of course, but the “nightcaps” are done.

It’s weird how life changes. It’s weird to think that I’ve hitchhiked through Mexico, the U.S., Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France. I lived in Ghana. I did drugs. I listened to political hip-hop and punk rock. I’m a dad now. My oldest child will be 4 soon. I don’t even listen to music anymore. I just sing along with the kids to Mary Poppins songs. Did any of that stuff I learned while young mean anything?

My devotion to liberty has changed, too. I’m not as political as I once was. I’m not as important as I once thought. My voice really doesn’t matter all that much, at least in the public sphere. I don’t vote in American elections, but I do vote at shareholder meetings. My life has shifted inward. My private lives are much more fulfilling than the public ones. At least in this new phase of my life.

Have a good weekend!

Nightcap

  1. Should international law be part of our law? (pdf) McGinnis & Somin, Stanford Law Review
  2. Are small autonomous political units economically viable? Chhay Lin Lim, NOL
  3. Institutions, machines, and complex orders Federico Sosa Valle, NOL
  4. Classical liberalism and the nation-state Edwin van de Haar, NOL

Nightcap

  1. We need to talk about the British Empire Sunder Katwala, CapX
  2. Nazi political economy Pseudoerasmus
  3. Liberty isn’t free Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  4. Institutional oceanography Chris Shaw, Libertarian Ideal

Nightcap

  1. The bottom of the Progressive barrel Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
  2. Taking liberties with the history of freedom James Hankins, Law & Liberty
  3. Happiness: a tale of two surveys Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon

Nightcap

  1. On the “Muslim Game of Thrones” series Atif Baloch, DW
  2. Why secession, separatism, and disunion are the most American of values Rebecca Onion, Slate
  3. A history of America’s exceptional idea Jonathan Leaf, Modern Age
  4. Populism is a feature of globalization, not a bug Angelos Chryssogelos, Noema

A very short note on despotism

Democracy was once viewed as a counterweight to despotism. Democracy was also once more exclusionary, too.

However, once democratic regimes in North America and France were established in the late 18th century, despotism flourished. How to deal with democratic despotism is at the heart of the conservative-liberal split (socialists embrace democratic despotism).

Conservatives believe a stronger executive “branch” will temper democracy’s excesses, while liberals believe a stronger judicial apparatus will do a better job of keeping democratic despotism at bay. (By “liberals” I mean libertarians.)

Thus Hamilton and Trump argue for a stronger executive branch. Thus Madison and Hayek argue for a stronger judicial branch. Thus Marx and Sanders argue for more power to the people. This is at the heart of all political disagreement, and not just in the United States. Indeed, it’s at the heart of politics itself. Discuss.

Black-and-white libertarianism

I was hanging out in my daughter’s room the other day and noticed a new picture of her on the wall. My daughter is nearly 3 now, but that photo showed to me a person who will someday be a young girl, a woman, a daughter-in-law, a college student, a worker, and, if all goes accordingly, a grandmother or at least a sassy old lady who plays too much bingo down at the local Methodist church.

A little later on that same night, after the kids were tucked in and sleeping and I was on this damned computer doing NOL stuff, I thought about liberty and what it might mean to my daughter, and also about how the meaning of liberty has changed over time in my own mind.

For starters, “liberty” is kind of a corny term now. It’s becoming archaic. “Freedom” has started to become a corny word, too. (Its cause is not helped by American politicians using the term “freedom” to describe Washington’s overseas ambitions.)

Knowing what I know now about the libertarian movement in the United States, I don’t think I will introduce my daughter to the formal movement. No summer seminars, no Reason subscription, no Ayn Rand moment where I hand her Atlas Shrugged and tell her how much that book has changed my life.

I think a better avenue for discovering her freedom will be to encourage her to go to the best college she can get in to (sorry Rick), figure out a way to be grateful for employment, and read plenty of literature and science fiction.

The formal libertarian atmosphere probably won’t be around in the same way it was for us. Will it be more decentralized or more centralized? I don’t know how academic it will be, either. I hope it’s somewhat academic, with more of an emphasis on history and culture rather than economics and philosophy. The think tanks and foundations will still be around. They’ll still be dirty and they’ll still better than the alternatives. We had FEE and IHS. FEE has already fallen off the map. IHS might still be around, but it will have plenty of competition.

What if my daughter discovers my notes on liberty? Will she be proud? Will she giggle? Or worse: Will she be embarrassed? Will she become a libertarian if she stumbles across my writings? It’s too early to say. That photo, though, of a little human being smiling back at me in black-and-white, was profound. She is my daughter, sure, but she is someone different than me. She is her own self.

Nightcap

  1. America’s proud legacy of liberty Peter Berkowitz, RealClearPolitics
  2. Why Marx was against individual rights David Gordon, Mises Wire
  3. How “Afrofuturism” reshaped science fiction Scott Woods, Level
  4. Labor and the art of becoming Antwaun Sargent, NYR Daily

China’s upcoming troubles: class or nation?

Hopefully you caught Joel Kotkin’s thoughtful essay on China’s looming class struggle (it was in a nightcap from a few days back). Kotkin is a geographer at the University of Chapman.

I think he’s wrong, of course. He’s not wrong about China’s continuing troubles (I agree with him that things will only get worse), but on how these troubles will really begin to flare up. I don’t see class as the major issue, I see nationalism as China’s biggest fault line (and have since at least 2013).

Here’s how I’ve laid it out in my head. Think of Hong Kong and Taiwan, two places that are Chinese but not part of the People’s Republic. Beijing has lots of problems with both polities. Is class or nation a better gauge to use here? Nation! Nobody in Beijing is harping on the riches accrued by democratic Chinese polities. The Communists are drumming up nationalistic furor instead. Nationalism is the better tool to use to understand contemporary China.

Here’s the kicker, though. In order to drum up nationalistic furor, you’ve got have a nation, correct? The problem for China is that it has several dozen nations within its borders (here’s that 2013 post again), and nationalism in China favors the Han ethnic group over the others. The harder Beijing leans on nationalism, then, the more it squeezes out non-Han ethnic groups from its coalition of the willing. And Beijing is leaning hard on nationalism. It’s going to have to lean harder, too, since liberty is apparently not on the table.

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.