Friday, April 18, 2014

Sheldon Richman Returns to Thick Libertarianism

Sheldon Richman is out with a new post today, entitled “TGIF: What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.”  In it, he seems to be responding – albeit indirectly – to criticisms of his post from a couple of weeks ago, “TGIF: In Praise of “Thick” Libertarianism.”  I was one of those critics.

As I wrote in the previous post: “I am not a philosopher; I am not a trained libertarian theorist.  On such matters, I am the first to admit that I am not very sophisticated.” 

But I do want to work through Richman’s comments.

If I were compelled to summarize the libertarian philosophy’s distinguishing feature while standing on one foot, I’d say the following: Every person owes it to all other persons not to aggress them. This is known as the nonaggression principle, or NAP.

So far, so good.  Although, I would suggest it isn’t the “distinguishing feature”; it is the feature – no qualifier necessary. 

What is the nature of this obligation?

The first thing to notice is that it is unchosen. I never agreed not to aggress against others. Others never agreed not to aggress against me. So if I struck you and you objected, you would not accept as my defense, “I never agreed not to strike you.”

If I were to ask, “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” what would you say? I presume some answer rooted in facts would be offered because the alternative would be to say this principle has no basis whatsoever, that it’s just a free-floating principle, like an iceberg. That would amount to saying the principle has no binding force. It’s just a whim, which might not be shared by others.

Now if we have an unchosen obligation not to aggress against others and that obligation is rooted in certain facts, this raises a new question: Might the facts that impose the unchosen obligation not to aggress also impose other obligations? If one unchosen obligation can be shown to exist, why couldn’t the same foundation in which that one is rooted produce others?

It seems a worthwhile question to explore.  At least we don’t have to consider the point of view of a rock this time.

To the question “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” I would respond along these lines: because we individually should treat other persons respectfully, that is, as ends in themselves and not merely as means to our own ends. But some libertarians would reject that as too broad because it seems to obligate us to more than just nonaggression.

I would be one of those rejecting libertarians.  Richman pre-emptively offers my reasoning:

They might answer the question this way: “Because one may use force against another only in defense or retaliation against someone who initiated the use of force.” But this can’t be sufficient because it amounts to a circular argument: To say that one may use force only in response to aggression is in effect merely to restate the nonaggression principle. One shouldn’t aggress because one shouldn’t aggress. But the NAP can hardly justify itself.

At least he wrote “they might.”  Of course, I might not.

I have mentioned that I am not a philosopher or a trained libertarian theorist.  But even I wouldn’t offer such a reason.  Who would?  Who has?  Can it be so simple, so easy to put up an argument that is so easily rejected?  Has Rothbard written in such terms?  Hoppe? Rockwell?  The entire foundation for the NAP is this fragile; an argument that might be offered by “anonymous” on one of any number of comments sections in various libertarian forums?

There is a term for the use of logical fallacies of this specific type.  What is it (he types, while scratching his little mosquito head)?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Children are Confused (or Just Being Used)

Today must be conspiracy theory day.  While my earlier post is an example of the awakening in the mainstream (academia) this time toward the reality that elites control the state, this post is an example of the children not keeping up with their elders.

Once again, the culprit is to be found associated with the Students of Liberty.  The post is a few years old, but apparently was posted again recently.  The post is entitled “Conspiracy Theories Hurt the Liberty Movement.”

The author, Ankur Chawla, starts well enough:

Conspiracy Theory: The idea that many important political events or economic and social trends are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.

The definition is so well written; using this definition, I am hard-pressed to see how anyone could believe that such conspiracies do not exist.  I am also hard-pressed to understand how conspiracy theories hurt the liberty movement.

Almost immediately, it is obvious that logic and critical thinking are no longer taught to students.  There is too much to unpack in the following few sentences; I will only take a quick run-through:

Both libertarians and conspiracy theorists have a key thing in common: They dislike the government.

It isn’t clear to me that all conspiracy theorists dislike the government.  It also isn’t clear to me that all self-proclaimed libertarians dislike the government (as opposed to just wanting to make it more efficient; a scary enough thought) – for example, many of those associated with Students for Liberty.

The difference is that those interested in liberty dislike the state because it restricts our freedom and limits our prosperity.

Not all of those interested in liberty dislike the state for this reason, although it is a true enough statement.

We do not think the government is intentionally malevolent, just very misguided and unintentionally harmful.

Many individuals who dislike the state come to this view precisely because they believe the government is intentionally malevolent and intentionally harmful.  Just ask the few hundred million who have died at the hands of the state over the last 100 years.

On the other hand, conspiracy theorists fear the government because of its alleged diabolical secret plans it has been cooking up for all these years.

There are many conspiracy theorists that do not “fear the government” – they believe that government actors are justifiable in implementing their conspiracies, and they support such actions. 

The examples of “diabolical secret plans” are so numerous, it is difficult to imagine anyone with an internet connection and a curious mind could miss these.  I guess only one out of two are necessary to write for SFL.

Tin Foil Hats: Coming Out of the Closet

There is a small group of powerful elite that achieve their ends through government. 

This is very difficult for many to accept – after all, it calls into questions the entirety of their faith in the state.  Yet, I can prove it with one simple statement (and I won’t cite it exactly correctly, and I wish I recall where I first read it):

Democracy is the false belief that you and your wife have twice the political pull of someone named Rockefeller.

Now, I know this isn’t convincing enough for many.  They want facts from credible (mainstream) resources; not from Murray Rothbard, and certainly not cute little quips from a mosquito. 

Well, slowly but surely these doubters are getting their wish (or nightmare, as they don’t want their belief in the state shaken by facts).  I commented on one such mainstream report a few months ago, in a post entitled “Tin Foil Hat Has Gone Mainstream!  In a study conducted by psychologists and social scientists in the US and UK, it was determined that those who believe in so-called conspiracy theories are saner than those who believe the government-peddled version of events; further, the so-called conspiracy theorists represent the majority view when it comes to online discussions.

Now another, as reported in the Telegraph: “The US is an Oligarchy, Study Concludes.”

The US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country's citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful, a new study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities has concluded.

My little quip pretty much covered this.  But I am not a recognized researcher.

After sifting through nearly 1,800 US policies enacted in that period and comparing them to the expressed preferences of average Americans (50th percentile of income), affluent Americans (90th percentile) and large special interests groups, researchers concluded that the United States is dominated by its economic elite.

I will go one step further, focused on the phrase “its economic elite”: the US government, like most governments around the world, is greatly influenced by an elite that does not consider itself the captive elite of any one nation.  They consider themselves global.  But I know many will want to read this from a more authoritative source. 

Let’s clarify the term “conspiracy”:

The act of conspiring; an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons; plot; any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.

So, back to the study: are these powerful individuals influencing government through open means?  Do they advertise their intentions, publish minutes of their meetings with congressmen and regulators, or seek open debate on the Sunday morning talk shows?  Have you been invited to the meetings?

The answers are, of course, no, no, no, no, and (I am taking a leap of faith on the last one) no.

Hence, a conspiracy.

Now, in some events it might come easy for those who discount other conspiracy theories to also accept that a small yet powerful group of financial elite have an extraordinary influence on government policies.  For example, the bail-outs of Wall Street are an obvious example, one that should need no further statement to convey the connection.

But if here, why not elsewhere?  Why not in cases that are not so obvious?  Why not in actions directed primarily by state actors?  Why not in actions of export policy, government subsidies for food and shelter?  War?

Researchers concluded that US government policies rarely align with the the preferences of the majority of Americans, but do favour special interests and lobbying oragnisations: "When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it."

Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t say it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

US Calls it Quits in the Global War on Terror

One of my pastimes in writing involves speculation – speculation about historical events, speculation about current events, and speculation about what these might mean toward future events.  I can get to rambling a bit on this topic – I am trying to put into meaningful form ideas that are often abstract speculation still being worked out in my head. Often, my writing is just me in the process of working things out.

I suspect I will ramble through this post….

I have looked quite a bit at the history of the last couple of centuries – the history of the American Revolution, the maneuverings of Anglo-American power, the World Wars and Cold War of the 20th century.  Much of this has been done via reviews of books with a viewpoint different than the mainstream; some has been my own (although I doubt ever original) formulation for a different answer to two-plus-two.

Generally, my interpretations are guided by a few assumptions: 1) politicians lie for public consumption, 2) there are rarely big mistakes in desired outcomes on the big things (although, as they are human, mistakes happen, therefore making lemonade out of lemons is a developed skill), 3) there are individuals more powerful than the actors we see on the stage, and 4) these powerful individuals are not completely aligned toward common outcomes – they aren’t always on the same team; however, they share common objectives to the point where they will defend their common toolkit for control (for purposes of this post, the important tool in the toolkit is to create an enemy in order to rally and further control the masses).

Without reviewing every step of the road I have travelled, I am generally settled in a place where I believe a major shift is coming in the structure of the world order away from the Anglo-west; it seems fairly easy now to draw common thread through the growth and expansion of two-hundred years or more of Anglo-elite power, and to see the primary tools for the execution of this power transfer from Great Britain to the United States. 

As I have written often, it seems to me that we may have seen the zenith of Anglo-domination – the west may have played its last hand.  Long-time readers will be familiar with my speculation that we are headed toward a world where power will shift to a loosely-aligned group including China, Russia, Germany, and maybe Japan and Australia.  (See a recent post on this here.)  One can find signs in many recent events that point toward this.  I am also not the only one making such speculations – rarely is anything truly original under the sun.

Events in the Ukraine can certainly be interpreted along the lines of my general premise – the zenith of Anglo-elite power through the west is behind us; the world is re-shaping along the China-Russia-German lines mentioned above.

What does any of this have to do with the United States calling it quits in the global war on terror (GWOT)? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Defining “Libertarian” Out of Existence

The hits just keep on coming. 

I am losing track of the number of articles that have come out recently that have attempted to define “libertarian” out of existence; that have worked to ensure as few people as possible would have any interest in joining the club.

Thick, thin; humanitarian, brutalist; holist, solipsist.  Authors and web sites galore.  And these are just the ones I have seen and (as regular readers know) upon which I have commented.

Well, here is one more, from David Boaz, entitled “The Libertarian Surge.”  I will only take time to make two points; first the definition of libertarianism as given in the opening sentence:

Libertarianism — the political philosophy that says limited government is the best kind of government — is having its moment.

I could write about three hundred words on this; I won’t.  Just three: non-aggression principle.

Second, Boaz goes through extensive efforts to demonstrate that Rand Paul is Ron Paul.  Now, I must say, I was prepared to read this commentary by Boaz without a single mention of Ron.  Boy was I fooled – Ron is plastered all over it.  Because Rand must be sold as Ron.  I guess it is OK to ignore Ron unless one wants to co-opt his legacy.

I could write about three hundred words on this as well, but I won’t.  Just one.  Principled.

There is a reason for all of these attacks on libertarianism – on the non-aggression principle at its root.  Today is an example of tying libertarianism to limited government (can Boaz spend his time to objectively define this term, and quit wasting time bastardizing the term “libertarian”?), and tying Rand to his father’s legacy.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Road to Thick Libertarianism is Paved With These Intentions

Wouldn’t you know it?  What a timely blog post by William Norman Grigg:

A slave is somebody compelled to provide service to another. Elane Huguenin, a wedding photographer from New Mexico, was arraigned before that state’s “human rights” soviet for politely declining to provide her services to a lesbian couple planning a “commitment ceremony” (the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage).

In the certain conflicts that will arise between the non-aggression principle and the I-love-everybody principle of thick libertarians, which principle would be superior?

When your thick humanitarian dreams butt up against my thin property reality, which side do you say is triumphant?  On what principle will this be decided?

One or the other must be chosen:

1)      Are my property rights and my racist/sexist/whatever views to be protected?
2)      Are my property rights and my racist/sexist/whatever views to be rejected? 

Choose, and explain why.  Use the above example provided by Mr. Grigg as a real-life case-study.  Explain how poor Ms. Huguenin’s fate would be decided in your world.  Ensure your explanation is consistent with the non-aggression principle.  Else this entire subject is exposed as nonsensical.

Too hard?  Don’t believe the NAP should be taken so strictly?  Fine with me; just don’t call your thick dreams any form of libertarianism.

Inflation, Money, and Banking

Today's Mises Daily by Frank Hollenbeck has offered the opportunity for me to comment on various issues related to money and credit. So I took it.

FH: The use of the simplified, Keynesian version [for measuring inflation] in economic textbooks and by the professional economist has caused immense damage.

BM: It certainly has caused immense damage for the vast majority of the population; however, given that the purpose of this measure is to distract attention from the ongoing wealth extraction, depending on where you sit, this version has been tremendously successful.

FH: …the FED should not be concerned with consumer price inflation, but the increase in all prices which we are incapable of measuring (the weights being impossible to calculate). The recent increase in asset prices, such as stocks or agricultural land prices should be a strong warning signal.

BM: It would be a warning if they felt it was a bad result.

FH: The real solution is to end fractional reserve banking. The central bank would then be superfluous.

BM: The real solution is to end the monopoly of central banking; then individual banks would be free to suffer the consequences of their poor reserve-requirement forecasts.  This would provide all the discipline necessary.

FH: If banks were forced to hold 100 percent reserve, neither the banks nor the public could have a significant influence on the money supply. Banks would then be forced to extend credit at the same pace as slow moving savings.

BM: I thank Mr. Hollenbeck for making clear that it would require force to end fractional reserve banking, at least as the term is commonly used.

FH: The money supply could then be what it should always have been, a means of measuring exchange value, like a ruler measuring length, and as a store of value.

BM: Today’s dollar or Euro or (insert your favorite here) does a perfectly fine job of measuring length – every dollar always equals four quarters. Every Euro always equals a Euro. 

What else could a dollar or Euro be a constant measure for?  Can any economic good, ever, hold a constant relationship to any other economic good? 

As to a store of value, there is no such thing….unless we have given up on the idea of value being subjective.