BC’s weekend reads

  1. Understanding Trump’s trade mistakes
  2. Empiricism and humility
  3. Epistemological modesty and unintended consequences
  4. Immigrants and slaves
  5. 5 takeaways from the Dutch election
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BC’s weekend reads

  1. The dangers of football safety equipment
  2. Want less pollution? Privatize the roads (just ask the bicyclists)
  3. Octopuses Are ‘the Closest We Will Come to Meeting an Intelligent Alien’
  4. Are Humans the Real Ancient Aliens?
  5. Tennessee Whiskey

My favorite posts at NOL this year

Last week I promised y’all a post on my favorite reads at NOL this year. I almost always keep my promises, so below is a long-ish list of essays I really enjoyed reading and learning from this year.


My absolute favorite essay of 2016 at NOL was Barry Stocker’s analysis of the attempted coup in Turkey. Dr Stocker has spent a quarter of a century in the Turkish-speaking world and all of his acquired wisdom of the region is on display in the piece. Barry didn’t post much here this year, but I am hoping that, given the geopolitical situation in his neck of the woods (Dr Stocker teaches political philosophy at Istanbul Tech), he’ll be able to provide much more insight into the challenges the region will face in 2017.

Jacques, who has become sidetracked ever since Donald Trump became the GOP nominee, had an excellent post titled “A Muslim Woman and the Sea” that everyone should read. I don’t agree with it, but the quality of his writing almost demands that you read through the entire piece. In it is the peaceful nostalgia for both youth and French Algeria, the almost careless way he describes his surroundings, and the slow, deliberate manner in how he attacks his enemies. It is all on display for you, his audience, to devour at your leisure. Dr Delacroix is a world-class storyteller.

Mark Koyama’s piece on Jewish communities in premodern Europe garnered a lot of praise, but I found his post on medieval China to be much more fascinating. In the post, Dr Koyama summed up his recent paper (co-authored with UCLA Anderson’s Melanie Meng Xue) on literary inquisitions during the Qing era (1644-1912). What they did was tally up the number of times the state dragged scholars and artists to court in order to accuse them of delegitimizing the Qing government. This had the unfortunate (but predictable) effect of discouraging discussion and debate about society in the public sphere, which stifled dissent and emboldened autocratic impulses.

Chhay Lin had a number of great posts here, some of which were picked up by major outlets like RealClearWorld and 3 Quarks Daily, and Notes On Liberty is lucky to have such a cool cat blogging here. My favorite post of his was the one he did on his childhood in a Cambodian refugee camp along the Khmer-Thai border. What an inspiring story! I hope there are more to come in 2017. (Chhay Lin, by the way, splits his time at NOL with SteemIt, so be sure to check him out there).

Zak Woodman had lots of good posts in his debut year (including NOL‘s most-read article), but the two I enjoyed most were his thoughts on empathy in cultural discourse and his Hayekian take on safe spaces. Both pieces took a libertarian line on the freedom of speech, but Mr Woodman’s careful articles, which are as much about being true to the original meaning of some of the 20th century’s best thinkers as they are about libertarianism, suggests that he has a bright future ahead of him as one of the movement’s deeper thinkers (he’s an undergraduate at UM-Ann Arbor). I look forward to his thoughts in 2017.

Bruno Gonçalves Rosi burst on to NOL‘s scene this year with a number of posts (in both English and Brazilian Portuguese). His blistering critiques of socialism were fundamental and – to me, at least – reminiscent of the debates between libertarians and statists here in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. My favorite of Dr Rosi’s 2016 posts, however, was his reflection of the 2016 Rio Paralympics that took place in the late summer (at least it was late summer here in Texas). Bruno brilliantly applied the Games to the famous argument about inequality between 20th century American philosophers Robert Nozick and John Rawls. I hope the piece was but a glimpse of what’s to come from Dr Rosi, who also has a keen interest in history and international relations.

Lode Cossaer is probably busy with his very intriguing dissertation (“the institutional implications of the tension between universal individual rights and group self governance”), but he did manage to find some time to dip his feet into the blogging pool with a few insightful posts. My favorite was his explanation of Donald Trump’s Carrier move, which was blasted from all sides of the political spectrum (including libertarians) for being a prime example of “crony capitalism.” Cossaer, in his own delightfully contrarian manner, pointed out that there is a trade-off between the rule of law and lower taxes. This trade-off might not be pretty, but it exists regardless of how you feel about it. Lode, in my opinion, is one of very few thinkers out there who can walk the tight-rope between Rothbardian libertarianism and plain ole’ classical liberalism, and he does so ruthlessly and efficiently. I hope we can get more contrarianism, and more insight into Cossaer’s dissertation, in 2017.

Vincent has been on a roll this month, and I simply cannot choose any single one of his 2016 posts for recognition. His pêle-mêle comments on the debate between historians and economists over slavery is well-worth reading, especially his insights into how French Canadians are portrayed by economic historians in graduate school, as are his thoughts on the exclusion of Native Americans from data concerning living standards in the past. These posts highlight – better than his more famous posts – the fact that economists, along with political philosophers and anthropologists, are doing way better historical work than are traditional historians. Dr Geloso’s post on fake news as political entrepreneurship did a wonderful job, in my eyes, of highlighting his sheer passion for history and his remarkable ability to turn seemingly boring topics (like “political entrepreneurship”) into hard talking points for today’s relevant policy debates.

Federico is still practicing corporate law in Argentina, so every article he writes at NOL is done so in his free time. For that I am deeply grateful. His early August question, “What sort of meritocracy would a libertarian endorse, if he had to?” was intricately stitched together and exemplifies Federico’s prowess as one of the world’s most novel scholars of Hayekian thought. I also enjoyed, immensely, a careful, probing account of human psychology and our ability to act in this short but rewarding post on homo economicus. I look forward to a 2017 filled with Hayekian insights and critical accounts of social, political, and economic life in Buenos Aires.

Rick spent the year at NOL blogging about whatever the hell he wanted, and we were all rewarded for it. Dr Weber is obviously emerging as important conduit for explaining how “politics” works in democratic societies, and perhaps more importantly how to be a better, happier person within the American system. I hope Rick continues to explore federalism though a public choice lens, but I also suspect, given Dr Weber’s topics of choice this year, that Elinor Ostrom would have been interested in what he has to say as well. 2017 awaits! Here is Rick breaking down Trump’s victory over Clinton. You won’t get a finer explanation for why it happened anywhere else. Oh, and how about a libertarian argument for an FDA?

Michelangelo, who is now a PhD candidate in political science at UC Riverside, won my admiration for his brave post on safe spaces and the election of Donald Trump. While 2017 may be composed of uncertainties, one thing that is known is that Trump will be president of the United States. We need to be wary and vocal (just as we were with Bush II and Obama).  Michelangelo was in top form in his piece “…Why I Don’t Trust the Police,” so much so that it stuck with me throughout the year. It is libertarianism at its finest.

William Rein, a sophomore (“second-year”) at Chico State, has been impressive throughout the year. His thoughts do very well traffic-wise (literally thousands of people read his posts), and it’s all well-deserved, but I thought one of his better pieces was one that was relatively slept on: “Gogol Bordello & Multiculturalism.” Mr Rein points out that Political Correctness is destroying fun, and the election of Donald Trump is merely the latest cultural challenge to PC’s subtle tyranny. William weighed in on the safe spaces concept as well and, together with Zak’s and Michelangelo’s thoughts, a coherent libertarian rationale has formed in response to this cultural phenomenon. If you want to know which clouds young libertarian heads are in, NOL is a great place to be.

Edwin initiated the best debate of the year here at NOL with his post on classical liberalism, cosmopolitanism, and nationalism. Barry replied (in my second-favorite post of his for 2016), and Dr van de Haar responded with a third volley: “Classical Liberalism and the Nation-State.” At the heart of their disagreement was (is?) the concept of sovereignty, and just how much the European Union should have relative to the countries comprising the confederation. Dr Stocker concluded the debate (for 2016, anyway) with a final post once again asserting that Brexit is bad for liberty. For Edwin and Barry, sovereignty and international cooperation are fundamental issues in Europe that are not going away anytime soon. NOL is lucky to have their voices and, like Dr Stocker, I hope Dr van de Haar will be able to provide us with many more fascinating and sometimes contrarian insights in 2017.

Lucas Freire wasn’t able to post much here this year (he is doing postdoc work in South Africa), but his post on economics in the ancient world is well worth reading if you are at all interested in methodology and the social sciences. Dr Freire has continually expressed interest in blogging at NOL, and I am almost certain that 2017 will be his breakout year.

Those are my picks and I’m sticking to ’em (with apologies to Rick). Notewriters are free to publish their own lists, of course, and if readers would like to add their own in the ‘comments’ I’d be honored (you can always email me, too). The post I most enjoyed writing this year, by the way (thanks for asking…), was a snarky one questioning the difference between Saudi Arabia and Islamic State. Thanks for everything.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. The Criminalization of Curiosity
  2. Britain needs Christianity – just ask Alan Partridge
  3. Libertarians have nowhere to turn
  4. In light of ongoing events in Poland, this October piece by Dr Stocker here at NOL is worth reading again
  5. The West in the Arab world, between ennui and ecstasy

Some notes I wrote that I’ll never finish

Here you go. Make of them what you will – BC.

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I would argue that it can matter, and often does, from a certain vantage point.

The West is not open-minded when it comes to recognizing centrifugal forces in a post-colonial state, though. The argument is that smaller states will have less power than the single, unified state currently in place. (when Democrat Joe Biden borrowed my arguments by suggesting Iraq be carved up into three states.) This doesn’t refute your musings, at all, but complements them in a way.

So size does matter, from a certain point of view.

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zero-sum game is not real; logic is sharp mostly in socialists and libertarians, so then we move on to facts to get at the truth of the matter.

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I tend to see the West as Europe, the Anglo-Saxon world, and Latin America. Korea, Japan, and India are also Western in my mind, but I am an open-minded son-of-a-bitch and realize that some folks just can’t see the connection. They see brown and yellow people, and they see the struggle between conservatism and liberalism being played out there, and they think to themselves “those aren’t Western societies!”

Russia is somewhere in-between the West and the other West. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, the entire Levant, North Africa, hell, the entire Arab world save for Saudi Arabia and Yemen were Western until the Cold War ramped up.

Why do Europeans and Latin Americans tend to be much more hawkish than North Americans? (I can’t say much about Indians and East Asians, though I suspect they are somewhere in between North Americans and Europeans.Latin Americans because their choices are very different from the traditional West’s; Pakistan and China are very different from Russia and the Arab world, and the US plays different roles in Asia as well.)

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Fuddy-duddy conservatives and large swathes of the Left are not advancing the conversation. Jacques complains that Foucault is full of shit. Leftists – far from being offended or threatened, simply roll their eyes (if he’s lucky), or – more often – simply ignore him.

Irfan’s link to Reason Papers shows this well. I think it’s absolutely true that postmodernism is dead. I think it was invented to replace socialism. The paper is correct in all of these things. What do conservatives do in response to this simple fact? Throw poo-poo at Leftists and stay stubbornly in their ideological cage.

This is why Barry’s posts are so impressive. They advance knowledge and understanding. The reactions – from both the monkeys in the cage on the Left and the monkeys in the cage on the Right – to Barry’s pieces range from vitriolic to rudely skeptical. This signals, to me at least, that Barry is on the right track. He is much closer to the Truth than the poo-poo flingers.

Unfortunately in the post-colonial world, those fuddy-duddy conservatives and murderous Leftists dominate the conversation.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_princely_states_of_India

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“If free enterprise becomes a proselytizing holy cause, it will be a sign that its workability and advantages have ceased to be self-evident. (111)” – Eric Hoffer, True Believer 1951 (1989 reprint)

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I wonder if Falk includes supporting bad laws in this maxim?

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Is ISIS Islamic? Yes and no. Obviously, it is in some respects, but it’s a new kind of Islam. It’s political and has designated its ideological others as ‘the West’, while operating against the notion of the nation-state. I think it’s postmodernism carried to its logical end, with a regional twist of course. (Think of the destruction, real and imagined, of all those ancient artifacts. That’s post-modernism at work, not the strains of Islam we’ve been accustomed to for the last 1,500 years.

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.