This is Georg Thomas's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Georg Thomas's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Georg Thomas
Recent Activity
Image
Image credit. As a reaction to my comment here, I received these two replies, the first of which I cannot work with, as I neither know the commentator nor his standards of persuasiveness, the second of which providing more surface to dock on to. You have said nothing persuasive yet. States win the monopoly on sovereign violence. That’s all. Immediately followed by: And they win because someone has to win. And the state wins because we call,the winner of the competition “the state.” To which I replied: We may describe one among many aspects of the state as the possession of a monopoly of coercion. Mind you, that "monopoly" consists of a bundle of competencies that change all the time and are subject to acute competition among powerful and resourceful parties trying to add or subtract to that bundle. In some places in the US, the state is not even able to exercise its right to carry out capital punishment - because it is subject to severe contestation on that central matter of "monopolistic" coercion. More generally, I cannot convince myself of the state being a uniform entity with a uniform utility function against which it might make sense to speak of the state as "the winner of the competition." Also, the state is often tasked with facilitative projects rather than the pursuit of a final aim. The state is not supposed to decide an election but facilitate its implementation - in fact, one wonders, if the state is to be conceived of as a uniform winner-entity, what political party does "the state" belong to? The state consists of individuals, factions, departments etc that represent differing and often competing notions of success. Large and important parts of the state are specifically set up to accommodate competitive and compromise-building processes, including players with very different goals, values and notions of success. The state is, among its many functions, a set of institutions with the purpose of having the most diverse opinions and interests compete among each other; it is itself open to permanent contestation and competition for temporary governance - on countless levels down to municipal affairs. Personally, I find it hard to conceive of the modern liberal state as anything but a means for preventing total or permanent victory by any one person, group or institution. The Achilles heel of libertarianism is (1) a preconception according to which the state is evil, dysfunctional and destructive, (2) an attendant attitude according to which "we know all about the state," and (3) a practice according to which one does not bother to look carefully at the complex phenomenon of the state with its innumerable surprises and subtleties - and its outstanding significance for freedom. The source. See also A Modern Story - Politics and the State in Ancient Greece. Related articles Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known The Miracle of Freedom Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4) Continue reading
Posted 3 hours ago at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. The ancient Greek efflorescence was exceptional in premodern world history for its duration, intensity and long-term impact on world culture. It took place in a social ecology of hundreds of city-states. While wealth and incomes remained unequal in those communities — there were many slaves in the most prosperous of the Greek states — a substantial part of the Greek population experienced prosperity. The growth of the Greek economy was driven by an extensive middle class, by many people who consumed goods and services at a level far above subsistence. [...] The historically distinctive Greek approach to citizenship and political order was the key differentiator that made the Greek efflorescence distinctive in pre-modern history. It drove specialization and continuous innovation through the establishment of civic rights, aligned the interests of a large class of people who ruled and were ruled over in turn and encouraged the free exchange of information. The emergence of a new approach to politics is what propelled Hellas to the heights of accomplishment celebrated by Lord Byron. The source. (Hat tip to Arnold Kling) I like the author’s stance as it shows the vital intertwining of politics and the economy, an important aspect of understanding society that libertarians prefer to ignore, at the cost of a distorted notion of freedom. Though an amateur as for Ancient Greece, the literature that I have read on the subject matter leaves me somewhat sceptical as to the extent and continuity of wealth in Ancient Greece that Ober seems to insinuate. To tell from the rather short article, his story strikes me as a bit too smooth and idealising. But the basic story line is fascinating and may well represent an important scholarly advance. Ober’s approach may help libertarians overcome their unwillingness to extend the idea of spontaneous order from its “economistic ghetto” to social life in general, including the spontaneous order of politics and the state and its interaction with the narrower Hayekian spontaneous order. Also, and perhaps of particular interest, it appears advisable to think through the concepts of division of labour and specialisation as naturally comprising politics and the state. Highly populous and productive societies are predicated on a fairly efficient political and governmental division of labour making possible and supporting (the beginnings of and later more fully developed) civil society. No modern markets, no modern economy without a division of labour that encloses politics and the state. For more on Greece: The Invention of the Modern Public and Freedom and Ancient Greece. On the Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State: Forgotten Emergence - The Spontaneous Order of Politics, and Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State (SO2). Related articles Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known The Miracle of Freedom Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4) Continue reading
Posted yesterday at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Arnold Kling writes, The notion that markets generate and process information must be very non-intuitive. It strikes me as under-appreciated by many people, including economists. Of course, markets lack perfect information–otherwise there would be no flawed products, no business failures, and no financial crises. But I am not arguing that the market process has generated perfect information. I am simply suggesting that it is hard for someone–even someone armed with a lot of data and a computer–to be more informed than the market. The source. To which I replied, I agree with your comment, Arnold. I would add: there is a strong analogy between the way markets work and the way in which science advances – both being impersonal processes (spontaneous orders) viewed from a sufficiently highly aggregated level. Popper’s formula for scientific advancement (see below) can be modified to capture the epistemic capabilities of markets. In Popperian notation: a certain problem situation, PS1 ( economically: unfulfilled demand, untried product offerings/profit potentials), gives rise to competing tentative theories, TT1 (economically: entrepreneurial “experiments,” i.e. old business model versus new business model), which brings about error elimination, EE1 (economically: sorting out the TT1 via profit and loss), which creates a new landscape of problem situations, PS2 (economically: e.g. how can an elite product, which the pocket calculator used to be [actually I meant the electronic calculator], be turned into a low-margin profit earner of the mass product type?). These high aggregation insights, however, should not tempt us to think the story ends here. You will not be surprised to read that I recommend investigation of lower levels of abstraction, the micro structure of markets, which will enable us to be more precise and appreciative concerning the role of conscious design and collective decision making in shaping real life markets, and with it the relationship between freedom and markets. It is dangerous to think that markets can take care of themselves – they are not apolitical sanctuaries void of human conflict and ambition ( – I have already pointed out elsewhere that e.g. “regime uncertainty” happens in self-regulating markets no less than in government-influenced markets – see below link). This false expectation may result in the wrong kind of interest groups taking care of markets. We are kidding ourselves to think that there is the evil world of politics here and, juxtaposed to it, over there is the wonderfully benign world of markets. Of course, we can try to condition ourselves to see only the one pattern where politics is dysfunctional – which it sometimes is, not least in a world (ignored by the libertarian) that leaves us no alternative to some kind of political action -, which is the typical libertarian attitude, but it is a truncating strategy which keeps away the libertarian perspective from the channel of advancement described in the above Popperian formula. http://redstateeclectic.typepad.com/redstate_commentary/2015/08/two-critical-responses.html Related articles Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known The Miracle of Freedom Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4) Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Yes or no!? First question: Is it moral to force others to give to the cause of your choice? Second question: Is it moral for the government to force others to give to the cause of your choice? Well, I would argue, it is misleading to insinuate that the two questions are logically and morally analogous, as is the strategy of the philosopher-interviewer in the below video. Missing the difference does not strike me as the sign of a particularly good philosopher. It would appear rather to be an indication of political bias taking the place of meticulous philosophical inquiry. The state is a modern technology whose emergence made and makes contemporary freedom possible. Among the government's unique "social-technological" capabilities is a substantial reduction of violence in the territory under its protection, fostering an equally substantial increase of trust in societies populated mostly by people who are complete strangers to one another. This is only one "social-technological" capability that no single individual can possibly provide to the community. This capability is unique to an institution - the state - which is radically distinct from an individual. Corresponding to the state's unique features that single it out for special treatment as compared with individual citizens are specific rights that are therefore granted to it, but not to citizens. In order to fulfil its unique functions, like peacemaking, the state requires resources; for which reason one works out procedures that allow the state to collect contributions ("taxes") and enforce this right - in such a manner as to keep the state-technology-as-a-whole a worthwhile proposition to the population (which qualification points to many other issues that cannot be dealt with here, one of which being the fact that the taxation right is embedded in a host of other duties and restrictions to be honoured by government). Individuals are not granted this same right, because they are incapable of providing the requisite return service. Of course, if my neighbour were capable of providing the above helpful services offered by the state, we would have no reason to hesitate in devolving the same special rights to her as an individual rather than to a whole set of complicated institutions. Thus, it appears to me, the discussion wilfully triggered in the video by means of the two above questions is not primarily one of morality, but one of empirical evidence. By which I mean: if my explanation of the unique capabilities of the state can be empirically corroborated and thus legitimately used as a premise, the moral issue evaporates. Sure, new puzzles present themselves; but probably less painful ones on balance than when mankind for some reason did not have the ability to create the social technology called the modern state. Government is a difficult and dangerous instrument; we should dedicate our energy to keeping an eye on it (as citizens) and managing it knowledgeably (as politicians), instead of allowing ourselves to be sent into a maze of philosophical trickery and "gotcha questions." Related articles Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4) Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (3/4) Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at RedStateEclectic
Image
As Image credit. As a child, complete underwater immersion, three-dimensional movement, in warm sun-drenched water was pure bliss for me. When I was six and younger, I used to enjoy those moments of happiness described below by Willa Cather. Today, for me, a sense of happiness is to be found mostly in trance-like states, such as when working - especially when I write - with intense concentration. Also, I think, happiness can be both a matter of conscious and semi-conscious perception - some sort of awareness, I think, must be involved if it is to have anything to do with one's human mode of being. I surmise, the clearer the perception of happiness the briefer the time extension of it, longer periods of feeling happy come with more diverted forms of consciousness of it. Moreover, I think, we tend to lump rather distinct modes of being into that one magic word: happiness. A happy person runs the copiously packed continuum of forms and degrees of happiness up and down: even ambition and strong desire, even painful effort can be found on that continuum, if only they, in turn, do not predominate, i.e. if they are part of balanced mix. As I write this, I have not reread the respective posts on happiness published here and here, but I seem to remember to have argued and continue to believe that happiness is neither best captured by evoking certain forms of extreme bliss or the concept of extreme bliss (whatever such experiences from one's own life one chooses to subsume under that category). A more meaningful, more long-term- and more real-life-adjusted measure of happiness I would tend to seek in the idea of being unmolested, unhampered by (physical and social) circumstances that constrain natural human initiative. In that respect, freedom is a major contributor to human happiness. And in that sense, I am convinced that there is human progress; and in that sense, cultural relativism is in principle refutable. While I may not know how happy the Neanderthal-man or the average citizen of communist East Germany were, I am sure had they had the chance to do it (and the East Germans did have that chance, and have reacted as predicted by me), they would have opted for the tools and means of the freest societies in human history. Naturally. To be happier. (The nostalgia for the good old Communist days is cheap talk and not in the slightest borne out by real action - never in history have citizens been freer to (re-)establish socialism than today.) Of course, given the richness of her oeuvre, we should beware of reducing Willa Cather to just one facet of happiness; but it is edifying to be reminded by her of that particularly beautiful facet, which, I am sure, all of us have known as kids, and still encounter at times later in life. The history of recorded thought is strewn with evidence that happiness lives in the most ordinary of moments. And yet no matter how universal a human aspiration it may be, articulating happiness in those rare moments when it is perfectly attained remains an elusive art. For Albert Camus, it was a moral obligation; for Mary Oliver, a kind of seizure; for Kurt Vonnegut, a sense of enoughness. But nowhere have I encountered an account of happiness more soulful and deeply alive than in a passage from Willa Cather’s first masterwork, the 1918 novel My Ántonia (public library) — the story of a spirited pioneer named Ántonia Shimerda, who settles as in Nebraska as a child and grows with the land, told through the loving and wakeful eyes of her childhood friend Jim Burden. In this passage, Cather’s narrator is lying in his grandmother’s garden, drowsy and drunk with life under the warm autumn sun: The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep. The truth and beauty of this vignette never left the soul from which it sprang. Cather requested that her grave site, which she shared with her partner, bear the inscription: “…that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.” The source. See also Willa Cather of Nebraska, Happiness and Freedom, Happiness - Once Again, The Universal Grin - A Farewell to Alms. Related articles My Summer Vacation at Willa Cather Camp Willa Cather - A Strong Woman The Miracle of Freedom The Chase by Mike Olbenski (video) Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4) Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. From my point of view, one of the most virulent threats to freedom nowadays in the Western world derives from a new state "religion" called global warming. In the absence of an effective separation of state and "religion," science is under massive attack and in advanced decline in many of its institutions. During a conference I attended in Prague, Czechia, a gentleman from the University of Cambridge, UK, admitted he was impressed to have met in me the first German, who is opposing the theory and corresponding policies of anthropocentric global warming (AGW). Not only that people in my country are being systematically misled and discouraged to take an oppositional stance, I know a number of players in the huge subsidised markets that have grown up around the new "religion" who tell me on the quite that they think the whole AGW-thing a scam, yet either fear to swim against the tide or pragmatically conclude that there is easy and big money to be made from jumping on the bandwagon. My country is criss-crossed by drag marks of fanaticism and corruption. This cultus is totalitarian (like any state of war) and it is accustoming people to accept totalitarian practices. Climatologist Tim Ball reminds us in his new book The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science, ... very few [scientists opining on climate change/global warming; G.T.] are familiar with the science. They, like most of the public, assume other scientists would not distort, manipulate, or do anything other than proper science. When scientists find out, they are shocked, as exemplified in German meteorologist Klaus-Eckert Puls’s comment: “Ten years ago I simply parroted what the IPCC told us. One day I started checking the facts and data—first I started with a sense of doubt but then I became outraged when I discovered that much of what the IPCC and the media were telling us was sheer nonsense and was not even supported by any scientific facts and measurements. To this day I still feel shame that as a scientist I made presentations of their science without first checking it.” Read the entire article at the source. Related articles Climatologist Dr. Tim Ball On 97% Consensus: "Completely False And Was Deliberately Manufactured"! Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4) Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known The Miracle of Freedom Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Political Ontologies By an ontology I mean a theory of what exists and what does not. Politics is replete with competing and mutually excluding ontologies. In fact, politics is needed in order to manage the daunting fact that we experience very different realities. We live in different worlds. I am a Martian and you are an earthling, and she is from yet another planet. Politics helps us to form, express, and reconcile the different views of reality that we have. Today, I read an article, admittedly, with a certain frowning discomfort, as it challenged my view of the history and the nature of the welfare state. I think, it is an article well-worth reading, especially for those who have settled contrary views on the subject-matter. It made me wonder about my own political ontology of the welfare state. How do I picture the reality of the welfare state, and how do people with views similar to mine conceive of the welfare state as it really is? Is it an expendable Ponzi scheme - and that is it? Is its relationship with freedom rather more complicated? Conservatives and the Welfare State I read the below article and, in the end, also asked myself what is the author's ontology like? And in particular, who does the author mean by conservatives? Those who vote for the Republican party? The conservatives supporting the Democratic party, of whom I imagine there used to be quite a number at the time when The New Deal was taking shape? How strong and how far-reaching is the opposition of the author's conservatives to the welfare state? What items does the conservative resistance particularly emphasise, and how absolute is the demand of conservatives to get rid of those features of the welfare state deemed by them unacceptable? How was it possible that the American welfare state has developed over almost a hundred years to become a large and stable hallmark of American society, when presumably something like half of the population is conservative in the author's sense? What exactly are these conservatives unhappy about regarding the welfare state? Do they truly wish it to be entirely replaced by private charity? Or are they concerned with rather specific aberrations? Is theirs a philosophy seeing nothing but an unmitigated evil in the public provision of security against "the Four Horsemen - accident, illness, old age, loss of a job?" The Inevitability of the Welfare State? Writes Mike Konczal in a not too long account of the origins of the modern welfare state in America: Informal networks of local support, from churches to ethnic affiliations, were all overrun in the Great Depression. Ethnic benefit societies, building and loan associations, fraternal insurance policies, bank accounts, and credit arrangements all had major failure rates. All of the fraternal insurance societies that had served as anchors of their communities in the 1920s either collapsed or had to pull back on their services due to high demand and dwindling resources. Beyond the fact that insurance wasn’t available, this had major implications for spending, as moneylending as well as benefits for sickness and injuries were reduced. The Hoover Administration’s initial response to the Great Depression was to supplement private aid without creating the type of permanent public social insurance programs that would arise in the New Deal. Hoover’s goal was to maintain, in the words of the historian Ellis Hawley, a “nonstatist alternative to atomistic individualism, the romantic images of voluntarism as more truly democratic than any government action, and the optimistic assessments of the private sector’s capacity for beneficial governmental action.” As President Hoover said in 1931, much like conservatives do today, any response to the economic crisis must “maintain the spirit of charity and mutual self-help through voluntary giving” in order for him to support it. Noble as that goal may be, it failed. The more Hoover leaned on private agencies, the more resistance he found. Private firms and industry did not want to play the role that the government assigned them, and even those that did found it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out those responsibilities. The Red Cross, for instance, did not want to move beyond providing disaster relief. Other groups, like the Association of Community Chests and Councils, had no interest in trying to coordinate funds at a national, rather than local, level. Hoover understood that private charity wasn’t getting to rural areas, yet private charities couldn’t be convinced to meet these needs. [...] What’s most worth noting is that, in the end, both beneficiaries of fraternal societies and private charities themselves welcomed this transition. During the Great Depression, citizens, especially the range of white ethnic communities in the largest cities, watched as mass unemployment tore down institution after institution. From fraternal societies to banks to charities, the web of private institutions was no match for the Great Depression. As documented in Lizabeth Cohen’s Making a New Deal, these white ethnic communities turned to the New Deal to provide the baseline of security that their voluntary societies were unable to offer during a deep recession. As a result of the implosion of the voluntary societies they depended upon, working-class families looked to the government and unions for protections against unstable banks and the risks of the Four Horsemen. The source. Related articles Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known The Miracle of Freedom Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4) Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. A curious hallmark of exceptionally rich societies is that they can sustain (for a while?) a population divided by equally unrealistic political ontologies (theories of what is real). The left specialises in ignoring the bases of our unprecedented wealth, while libertarians specialise in ignoring the dependence of that wealth on political freedom, i.e the mass production of views diverging from theirs. See also Enculturated Poverty. Incidentally, if you pardon a polemical detour, the ultimate motive of the left is naked greed, the obsession to appropriate what belongs to others. The ultimate motive of libertarians is intellectual greed, the obsession to monopolise truth and thus by implication rob non-partisans of the possibility of being right. Of course, intellectual greed is to be found in the left, but it is secondary to their more fundamental material avarice. Redistribution, a euphemism for coercive expropriation, is the source from which all arguments of the left issue. They are intellectually unsophisticated and unperturbed by their own fragmentary and contradictory arguments, relying on emotion and force. By contrast, intellectually greedy, libertarians do not care much for political success and power, being preponderantly concerned with a theory that purportedly explains everything and always proves superior to rival ideas. As for the left's ignorance of the basis of our wealth, Herando de Soto notes, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century has attracted worldwide attention not because he crusades against inequality — many of us do that — but because of its central thesis, based on his reading of the 19th and 20th centuries: that capital “mechanically produces arbitrary, unsustainable inequalities” inevitably leading the world to misery, violence and wars and will continue to do so in this century. [...] Piketty worries about wars in the future and suggests that they will come about in the form of a rebellion against the inequities of capital. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed that the wars over capital have already begun right under Europe’s nose in the Middle East and North Africa. Had he not missed these events, he would have seen that these are not uprisings against capital, as his thesis claims, but for capital. De Soto draws these lessons from the Arab Spring and similar upheavals in the Third World: First, capital is not at the root of misery and violence but rather the lack of it. The worst inequality is not to have capital. Second, for most of us outside the West, not prisoners of European categorizations, capital and labor are not natural enemies but intertwined facets of a continuum. Third, most important constraints to development of the poor arise from their inability to build and protect capital. The source. And, the ability to build and protect capital requires appropriate policies, a congenial and reasonably stable political order as well as a government and a state capable of affording these vital conditions. See for more The Homestead Act - Politics, Legislation and Government for Liberty and The Classical Liberal Constitution (1/2) Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/issues-ideas/article29774506.html#storylink=cpy Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/issues-ideas/article29774506.html#storylink=cpy Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/issues-ideas/article29774506.html#storylink=cpy Related articles Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known The Miracle of Freedom Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4) Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. THE core error in libertarian thinking is contained in the idea that markets are an alternative to politics. They are not because markets always and under any circumstances co-evolve with politics, government, the state. Markets involve issues and interests that cannot be addressed by markets. For more see the links below. The composite of markets, politics, and the state may produce better outcomes or worse ones, but it cannot be transcended, it cannot be decommissioned or bypassed. Making things better is not a matter of replacing that nexus with spheres cleansed of politics and government, it is always a matter of achieving a better quality of that nexus. The habit of disregarding the inseparable link between markets and politics tempts the libertarian to practice overkill with his anti-government vigilance, adopting a perspective too black-and-white to do justice to reality and the nature of feasible freedom. An intolerable loss of realism tarnishes this world-view, while vigilance turns into a negative fetish, an indiscriminately dismissive attitude, a political psychology of despair and depression or a hedonistic pastime for the misanthropic. First Critical Contribution - Addressing The Coyote This is the background to my criticism of The Coyote writing about the retreat of poverty worldwide, which occurred "because governments, at least to some extent, got out of the way and didn't stop it." Citing post-Mao China, of all places, as an instance of poverty reduction largely explicable in terms of political abstinence by a non-interventionist state only goes to show the extent of self-deceit among libertarians, who choose to be by definition incapable of explaining the contribution of the state to historically manifest progress. Their dogmatic formula is this: the state is bad, lesser poverty is good, hence: the state can have nothing to do with it. But since Mao's death and to this day, China continues to be ruled by a heavily invasive, strongly interventionist Communist party. In countless ways does the state contribute to the change in question, on the highest level of politics - e.g. by ordaining greater economic freedom - and on lower levels of enforcement - e.g. by altering the law to promote private property, by carrying out administrative reforms to support commercial practices and so. Insight into this has nothing to do with state adulation, it is simply a matter of understanding the full picture of the conditions and the stage of development of liberty in China. So I replied: Politics and Government played a huge role in this welcome development, and continues to be vital for civil society, i.e. the world in which personal freedom takes place. "It happened because governments, at least to some extent, got out of the way and didn't stop it." This is a blatant misrepresentation. The author should know better, after all he correctly writes: "There were social and political changes that greatly increased the number of people capable of entrepreneurship." To equate Maoism that "killed a few tens of millions of people in the process" with "the approaches likely favored by the Vox staff" disqualifies the proponent. This is cheap propaganda which I regret all the more as Warren is one of my top favourite bloggers, one of the brightest and most instructive libertarians to read. It is this kind of blatantly false black-and-white stuff that makes me drift farther and farther away from my libertarian home port. The source. I added, Being critical of government and its deficits is of the essence. That should be a matter-of-course to those conscious of freedom, but we also should be capable of viewing the full picture of the role of government in free societies. We do not have a choice between a world with and one without government. Fighting for freedom requires fighting for it within a political order and its institutions, which in our countries have been built to support freedom in vital ways. The majority of people the world over suffer far more than would be the case if only they had government as it exists in our countries. Unlike us, they do not have enough government of the right kind. Hernando de Soto argues this case impressively in his "The Mystery of Capital," where he presents an important chapter in American political history - the emergence of the Homesteading Act - for more read here: http://redstateeclectic.typepa... The source. The discussion advanced with a lot of invective hurled at me, and finally I wrote in summary: Over the past 65 years, the government in China has not ceased to interfere with society and the economy at all. The improvements are not correlated with a disappearance (or an enormous reduction) of state participation in society and the economy; but with changes in the targets, tools, and contents of state involvement. In a modern economy, the libertarian dream of less and less (some sort of absolute reduction of) government is not attainable. Liberty cannot be had without extensive state involvement. What matters is the nature of that involvement. To assume responsibility for freedom requires comprehension of this, so that one is able to discern good from bad government policies, and become politically active in support of good policies. Look at the reality of the Chinese entrepreneur, study his everyday life and probe into the details of running a firm, and you will be overwhelmed by the number of state-induced and government-enforced rules and regulations. Hernando de Soto has looked at these details in countries the world over; consult his findings to appreciate that what most of the Third World needs is more, far more of the right kind of government to get out of poverty, rather than to have the state stand off. Second Critical Contribution - Addressing Arnold Kling In a comment to this post by Arnold Kling, I argued that it is misleading to insinuate that markets could ever develop without political involvement. Thus, I wrote, “markets evolve more rapidly than government” Show me a market that does not co-evolve with government, or whose evolution is void of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. I am friends with Steven Kates and an admirer of his important work on economics; though I do not agree with everything he proposes, especially in his combative blog called Law of Markets. At the same time, I always find it gainful to ponder his thoughts. His below take on good politicians and the nature of good politics strikes me as well worth considering - emphases added: I’ve been paying close attention to Donald Trump since we happened to see his speech in Las Vegas that took him to the top of the polls. But politics is not about having a set of opinions. It is about working with other people to achieve collective ends. [...] It’s not just the disgust he creates. It’s his lack of proportion. It’s his attitude to the views of those who disagree with him that is so disturbing. He has never run for or held political office. He has only run businesses, which is precisely the wrong kind of experience for anyone in politics. A business is an organisation that does work by command and control. There are decision makers and those who put those decisions into effect. That is not the way a free society works. Go to the source, a brief post with still more points you might find worth forming an opinion about. Image credit. See also Presidential Politics ... and The Conscience of a Senator. Related articles The Miracle of Freedom Costs and Benefits of Liberty Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4) Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Justice - Scarce and Abundant I can think of a number of reasons why justice is (made deliberately) scarce in a free society. Justice is expensive; to have it one must incur transaction costs. There are diminishing returns to justice; the costs of having more justice may exceed the benefits - one may overlegislate a society, both by stifling a community through regulation in the modern bureaucratic-dirigiste sense of a state that is too meddlesome, as well as by cultural regimentation such that a person is becoming inordinately other-directed by custom and status, almost like a puppet on a string. The greater the freedom of an individual to develop his own conceptions of life and his own ways of living, the larger the number of issues on which people may diverge and at some point come to disagree perhaps in direct conflict with one another. When by justice we mean the determination by generally accepted precepts of what is right and may be done and what is wrong and may not be done in a particular situation, then by increasing the number of such determinations one will tend to reduce the options for free individual choice. In that sense, it is accurate to say that in feudal and other highly regimented societies there used to be an abundance of justice. Abundant Justice A person's life was regulated in minute detail by distinctions of what she was to do and what she was not to do. What clothes to wear, when and how to speak, who to obey and who to command. When to do what with whom, where, why, how and when. It was not just for A to wear a hat at all, and B, who was supposed to wear one, in order to heed justice, had to take his headgear off when X appeared, but not when Y turned up. Life was regulated by a tight net of justice, that is: by generally accepted and generally heeded distinctions between the absolutely requisite and the absolutely inadmissible. Scarce Justice and Politics in a Free Society By comparison, a free society tends toward the utmost scarcity of justice. In a free society we seek to reduce the number of determinations that prescribe what a person must do and what she must not do in order to avoid penalisation. I suspect that in a free society, politics is so important not only because it is formative in establishing justice - a justice shaped by a citizenry invited to influence government and the legislation by which the executive is guided - but also because politics is a helpful complement and effective substitute for justice, a welcome means for economising on justice. In Scarce Justice (1/2), I have tried to argue that politics has a role to play in making compromises possible that have not yet attained the status of being just (i.e. being generally accepted as just) but are good enough to pass as being legitimate (i.e. being arrived at by procedures thought to be just). I reckon, it is exceedingly important to be able to avail oneself of such a transrational mechanism in a society promoting and protecting the right of every citizen to contradict and challenge every other citizen, including those in positions of special authority and power. There is a shift of justice from the level of concrete situations and specific determinations minutely specified by custom to the level of procedure and more general criteria of admissibility with more space to be filled in by individual preferences rather than cultural conventions. There is more room for individual demands and bilateral stipulations, for contractual obligations by private parities and associations originating obligations that are mainly rooted in a specific relationship (even just a transaction or a limited set of transactions) between a small number of private, personally autonomous agents, and only loosely or very selectively tied to the minimal morality (scarce justice) shared in a society. There is a decline in the number of activities that are regulated by a tight, coherent, and common texture of concrete dos and don'ts. Advantages of Parsimonious Morality The new environment of more parsimonious morality enables immediate, individualised ("modular") compromises regarding specific issues that are impossible to achieve when ultimate justice is at stake. Moral parsimony enables a watered down, a supple "justice" that plays out over repetitive games. Any one decision may not be just, but it will be regarded as legitimate in helping to abet a long-term atmosphere of justice, an enduring balance of moral expectations. We are more flexible, comfortable, and effective when we can act sensibly and peacefully, even though we do not know what is just or do not share a common perception of justice. The problem of pre-contractural, pre-individualistic status society is that "everything" is a question of justice. There is a lot less to figure out and compromise about bilaterally in order to get on with things in effective ways. Justice is a precious thing, which is why we do not mess with it easily. We do not suffer those who are facile and disrespectful about it, and this earnest attitude means we are prepared to resort to violence and severe penalisation so that justice be protected from desecration. A greater scarcity of justice unburdens the citizen from the need to be careful of unjust misconduct at every turn. Life becomes less violent, more relaxed, richer in options. People become more tolerant, more capable of separating the plane of social interaction from the sphere of privacy. In the past, the norms of justice may have been like traffic rules, perhaps even like military orders, plentiful, specific, and omnipresent. They were invasive, detailed, patronising, a guide to one's identity and station in life. Hemming in personal freedom. In a free society justice is more wide-meshed. Rather than an instrument of tutelage, it is being designed to minimise conflict while leaving vast spaces for personal and bilateral discretion. Working tacitly, it more rarely becomes conspicuous, chiefly when... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Arnold Kling brilliantly sums up: “[E]conomics differs from physics in that physicists usually can undertake direct tests of their assumptions, while economists generally cannot [... W]hen we prove that assumptions a, b, and c together imply outcome X, and we instead observe outcome Y, we have no way of independently testing which of assumptions a, b, and c is untrue in the real world. Because there are so many plausible assumptions available to economists, this means that real world does not constrain economic models nearly as much as it does in physics.” (Emphasis added, G.T.) The source, and my two cents: Economic perceptions are fundamentally political in nature, i.e. open to competing perspectives and narratives (of strong assertive ambitions, including vigorous policy demands). This carries over into economic reality, which hence is for epistemic reasons alone political. Of course, there are other forms of political competition (lobbying etc.) that are formative for economic reality. What guarantees the persistent insignificance of libertarian views in the greater scheme of things is that they insist on the possibility of autonomous spheres of freedom, whose normative desirability and positive feasibility they tend to derive from certain economic models (that are useful in many regards but limited in that they exclude the political dimension of economic reality). From the promises of these sanitised economic models emerges a general assumption that politics can be effectively replaced by “market-solutions” and an irritable disregard of (the spontaneous order of) politics. Libertarianism degenerates into an ideology (rather than a powerful way of looking at and influencing the real word), a very weak ideology though, predestined to serve as an intellectual pastime, since one of its core creeds suggests political abstention). In a reasonably free society, the contours of micro economics will remain visible under heavy political overgrowth. What is needed, however, is to better understand from a libertarian standpoint the inevitable (in large measure even) positive contribution of that overgrowth to feasible freedom. The mixed economy is real and not optional. Feasible freedom will always be highly qualified and constrained, precisely because freedom encourages and consists of epistemic and political multiplicity. The fundamental libertarian error is to refuse to understand that a free society is a highly politicised society – far more politicised than a society where mass political participation is unthinkable. To embrace freedom is to embrace politics. For more see: Just-So Stories in Economics and Politics - Consequences for Liberty The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom Red Cedars and Apple Trees - The Political Character of the Economic Process Agonistic Liberalism (2/2) - Incommensurables Related articles The Miracle of Freedom Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (1/4) Scarce Justice - When What Is "Just" Is Not Known Links and Quotes for August 3, 2015: Broken networks, robbed robots, the biases of machines, and more A battle plan against "regressive regulation"? Lee Ohanian, Arnold Kling, and John Cochrane on the Future of Freedom, Democracy, and Prosperity Giving Economic Data A Voice Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Economising on Justice Justice is scarce, and it is a sign of a reasonably organised society to have found ways of economising on the scarce resource of justice. In a free society, justice is scarce - amongst other reasons - because personal autonomy (the options available to Gellner's "modular man") creates unprecedented discretion on the part of individuals to question and redefine morality directly or indirectly through the propagation of uncensored ideas and the pursuit of idiosyncratic actions that have appreciable moral implications for their fellow-citizens. That is to say: no longer a detailed manual for cultural conformity, in a free society, justice becomes a framework within which people exercise ample discretion to (inter)act as they see fit, while following different value systems. For instance, justice no longer tells you what to believe in, but how to practice the faith of your choice without curtailing the same discretion in others. Justice becomes more general and abstract. Justice entails more options, and fewer instructions. There are more areas where people freely decide how to act and interact without having to conform to a common canon of justice. That canon, important as ever, is increasingly geared toward regulating how to avoid conflict rather than specifying positively what to do. Better conflict containment leaves more options for personal freedom and private arrangements. Justice becomes scarcer than it used to be - more economical with respect to the number of directions encoded in it. Normative Guidance with and without Justice As in economics, where a "just" price can not be scientifically established, in politics, situations abound where it can not be known whether or maintained that the outcome is "just" in the sense of a compelling, generally accepted justification. True enough, there are moral agreements pervading society that come close to such general acceptance. Agreements of that kind may be classified as constitutional precepts, even though they may not be expressed in a written constitution. Say, the agreement to outlaw and abstain from imposing harm on a person solely by virtue of her being member of a certain ethnic or racial group. There are many of such constitutional precepts, and they play an important role in creating social cohesion. However, there is a large class of situations, with respect to which we can not establish a degree of general agreement that effectively institutes constitutional rapport in a community. Legitimacy and Justice In the same manner as there may not be a "just" price, but a "legitimate" one, we may not be able to ascertain and authorise by sufficient consent a "just" policy, but one that is "legitimate." In fact, there may be many such "legitimate" policies, and they are affected by justice only so far as procedure (the way they are generated in a community) is concerned and so far as they do not violate constitutional precepts and other vital generally observed norms. But the policy itself is neither "just" nor "unjust," because it is lacking a sufficiently broad basis of support to achieve unequivocal concord or an atmosphere of untroubled acquiescence akin to express unity. Legitimate outcomes, however, may mature by and by to count as just outcomes some time in the future, when they finally gain constitutional weight. Similarly, "contested" outcomes, may become admitted to the class of "legitimate," but not "just" outcomes. Say, in Ireland, abortion may have been a "contested" and "illegitimate" outcome (95% of the population opposing the proposition) for a long time. In the course of time, however, gradually abortion enters the range of policies that may qualify as being "legitimate," while still not being "just" (substantial, yet minority sections of society supporting abortion on certain terms). Over time, perhaps not in Ireland, certain practices of abortion may finally assume the status of being "just" (being generally accepted by the vast majority). Thus, a contested, even suppressed policy proposal generally held to be illegitimate may mature into a feasible yet still highly contested product of implementable politics and finally come to fruition as the socially dominant practice, the legitimate and just way of going about matters. The politician and other political activists may be thought of as helpers guiding policy proposals through these stages. Hence, to a large extent, they are dealing with policies whose justice has not been generally established. That makes them appear fishy and unprincipled, but they are brokers of pieces of change. And brokering pieces of change is a vital ingredient of the political order of a free society. Genesis of Justice There is "self-justice", where a person establishes what she considers to be justified by justice, while violating the procedures by which legitimate or just outcomes are arrived at in a community. Then there is "legitimacy," which is a status of authentication for a policy that permits its practice on grounds of correct procedural origination. And finally, there is "justice," which is a status of authentication that authorises a policy on the grounds that it is in accord with "a community's common notion of justice" or "constitutional precepts." These observations entail momentous implications for a theory of justification, for our picture of the nature and genesis of justice, and for the role of politicians and activism in the political order of a free society. Dynamic and Parsimonious Consent versus Absolute and Complete Consent Firstly, contrary to what even sophisticated libertarians like James Buchanan hold, we do not need some Archimedean point of leverage supporting a herculean one-stop feat of justification by which to establish the legitimacy of the social order that we prefer, indubitably and once and for all. The justifications that prop up a viable social order accumulate over time; we never start from scratch, but build on what we have. Even in times, when there are severe disruptions, we soon return to traditional stock, and then extend the structure in more or less piecemeal fashion. Not to mention that social viability is not the result of intellectual justification alone; at least as important as a plausible intellectual narration is... Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. In his comment on Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4), Ed Stevens puts his finger on a number of points that motivate my present research into liberty. Ed is sympathetic to my hypothesis that true freedom is based in an evolving and thoroughly "political-participatory" citizenry. Yet he recognises: This does however, bring up a troubling question in my mind - active and effective participation in the political process by the populace (apologies for the unintentional alliteration) would seem to demand an extraordinary degree of political acumen from said populace. Alas, I look in vain for anything approaching a consistently high level of "political competence" on the part of the vast majority of Americans. Likewise, the level of concern about matters political tends to center for a few weeks around important election dates, and is fleeting at best. So many of us (at least in the US) view politics as a dirty, inconvenient, and utterly boring business, interesting only to the scalawag, the dull-witted, and those generally unsuited for "normal" pursuits. Simply said, I worry that we will never reach that plateau of astuteness that makes possible rational/sensible selection of, and monitoring of, those who purport to represent ("govern") us. In short, how do we get people to both care about, and learn about, the hugely important and difficult task of becoming politically educated, and hence competent to govern ourselves? By formulating his "problem," Ed neatly defines the object of my present research. I agree with every word in the above passage. If I depart from Ed's comment at one point, then not to contradict him, but to - hopefully - take off to an explanation that places the analysis on a different level. The crucial sentence from which I attempt to launch myself into that new orbit is this one: Alas, I look in vain for anything approaching a consistently high level of "political competence" on the part of the vast majority of Americans. In order not to start my argument with a wad of complicated qualifications, accept for the time being a reply that is, in some respects, an over-generalisation: a consistently high level of "political competence" on the part of any majority or individual is an impossibility. This assumption of mine gives rise to what I call the second problem of liberty: how to organise, foster, protect, and restrain political activism, given that it is necessarily based on incompetence? The first problem of liberty is how to get people into, and keep them in, a position that inevitably produces the second problem of liberty: the creation, exchange, and clash of political incompetence on a mass scale and as a matter of right? Put differently: the duplex task of liberty is (1) to emancipated the citizenry to be able to partake in an activity that everyone is insufficiently qualified to pursue with competence, and (2) to ensure that this "festival of the blind" becomes a vital input to the constant unfolding of a socially cohesive, peaceful, and highly productive society in which the individual (Gellner's "modular man") experiences unprecedented personal autonomy? My thesis is that the equilibrium state that balances aggravation and placation in a society (under the above conditions of peace, productivity and personal autonomy) is what deserves to be called liberty. My further thesis is that such balancing is taking place behind our backs, in some considerable measure at least. One is bound to become frustrated with politics if one does not find a way to appreciate that politics in a free society is not only an exercise in mutual persuasion and other explicit strategies of influencing one another but also a vast system of rites and unconscious practices, of secondary effects of our political actions and intentions, effects that we may not be aware of while we cling to them as their habitual adoption has simply proven useful. Libertarians like Hayek arbitrarily restrict the idea of a spontaneous order to economics; there is however another spontaneous order out there that we need to grapple with if we wish to live and comprehend liberty: the spontaneous order of politics and the state. Hayek claims: Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. No, they do not. Unless they realise that they are in no better position than those partaking in "the festival of the blind." It is the duty of those who plead for liberty to seek in the area of politics and government insight into the nature and conditions of our inescapable ignorance and the interplay of consciously designed institutions and evolved practices by which is delivered the miracle of freedom. Liberalism is a thoroughly rationalistic philosophy; it is partial to what it can explain - and almost paradoxically it likes the invisible hand because it can explain it - and reinforces its special status as the better point of view, pace Hayek. Not only is the spontaneous order of politics and the state hard to explain, and unsurprisingly little understood as yet, it does not pass the second test of liberal affinity: it fails to attest a special status of liberalism as being the better point of view compared to other voices in the cacophony of political strife. Freedom is made to challenge and erode any doctrine. Yet she gives us an opportunity to improve our theories and to work things out by practical politics where our uncertain and rickety theories are silent, powerless or destructive. PS In admitting the impossibility of being fully informed, and in this sense: the impossibility of being competent, in many, perhaps even in most political matters, I only wish to stress the importance of political engagement, of politically active citizens and politicians in an open political system. I do not wish to denigrate the political participants wholesale, fail as some may, but, on the contrary, emphasise how welcome and significant their contribution is to maintaining a... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Continued from Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (3/4) Modular Man Civil Society is populated by modular man. He is a creature that constantly changes himself by his own discretion, adding and subtracting modules to his mode of sustenance, relationships and affiliations, beliefs, station in life and society, and thus ultimately his identity. Contrast this with a society, where a person's occupation is fixed and other-directed, where her relationships and affiliations are defined by kin and tradition, and where her beliefs are assigned to her heteronomously (i.e. under the domination of an outside authority), to be resorted to as an arsenal of non-optional signals serving to authenticate her subservient membership in a community. Explains Gellner: Non-modularity obviates the possibility of choosing techniques simply in terms of clearly defined criteria of efficiency, and of nothing else. Instead it imposes the need to judge practices, if indeed they are to be subject to critical scrutiny at all, in terms of the multiple, imponderable, complex considerations of their participation in an indivisible, 'organic', cultural totality. (Ibid. p. 99) By contrast: Modular man is capable of combining into effective associations and institutions, without these being total, many-stranded, underwritten by ritual and made stable through being linked to a whole inside set of relationships, all of these being tied in with each other and so immobilized. He can combine into specific-purpose, ad hoc, limited association, without binding himself by some blood ritual. He can leave an association when he comes to disagree with its policy, without being open to an accusation of treason. A market society operates not only with changing prices, but also with changing alignments and opinions: there is neither a just price nor a righteous categorization of men, everything can and should change, without in any way violating the moral order. The moral order has not committed itself either to a set of prescribed roles and relations, or to a set of practices. The same goes for knowledge: convictions can change, without any stigma of apostasy. [...] It is this which makes Civil Society: the forging of links which are effective even though they are flexible, specific, instrumental. It does indeed depend on a move from Status to Contract: it means that men honour contracts even when they are not linked to ritualized status and group membership. Society is still a structure, it is not atomized, helpless and supine, and yet the structure is readily adjustable and responds to rational criteria of improvement Modularity of man is the main answer to the question: how can there be [powerful] countervailing institutions and associations which at the same time are not also stifling? (Ibid. p. 102) Consequences of Modularity Modularity means that there is another, a historically new active force involved in defining what is socially valid: the individual and the associations that she forms. Modularity means that there are more peaceful solutions to conflicts, not least because the individual is no longer carrying an entire culture on her back, which is insulted and needs violent retaliation any time a member of that culture feels harassed. Modularity means that there are private ways out of conflict, and be it by seeking environments and personal circumstances that minimise the likelihood of destructive combat. Modularity means that the forces of creativity and intelligent adaptation increase in number to include the majority of people that used to be prevented from a life of initiative and personal striving. Modularity also means that the tools and options available to the creative individual multiply, and with them the hugely pregnant promise of personal freedom and life chances for millions who otherwise would have been excluded from a fuller life or would not even have been born in the premodular world of Malthusian constraints. Unmodular Man Liberalisms - see Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (1/4) - are closer in spirit to Umma than to liberty as she unfolds in a pluralistic open access society. Liberalisms assume a finite and final stock of knowledge concerning the nature and the proper implementation of liberty, subjecting the IS of society to their canonical OUGHT. Unbelievers in the canon of "liberty" are considered not only incompetent to define liberty, but are looked upon as adversaries that should not be given the power to become influential, an attitude that usually finds its expression in the denigration of politics in general and democracy in particular. While liberty is at best a system of (in may ways competing) systems, an open-ended perpetually self-defining process, liberalisms share the idea that liberty is a system - see the Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion and Agonistic Liberalism - The Non-System of Liberty (1/2) and The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom - a finite mechanism, impervious to the effects of indeterminate contingencies, that can be fully specified in a manual. Having dominated most of human history, unmodular man does no longer fit into the world of freedom that the inhabitants of Civil Society enjoy. Of all people, nevertheless the proponents of liberalisms seem to seek and embody the obsolete unmodular man. The main point of Durkheimian sociology, and perhaps of the organicist or communalist tradition in social thought generally, is that in most [historical] contexts man is markedly unmodular. He belongs to a given culture and has internalized its values and assumptions: he is like a piece of furniture which is vividly marked by a given style. It is impossible to blend him effectively with men of a different cultural mould. He cannot be bonded into a social organism easily or at will. (Ibid. p. 98) Naturally, votaries of the liberalisms, the various dogmatic ideologies of "freedom," shun politics and denigrate democracy, avoiding the tough environment of open debate that is at the heart of a free society. While they are barricading themselves into their a prioris and necessary truths, I shall continue my quest for the peculiar structure... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Continued from Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Freedom Between Aggravation and Placation (Ernest Gellner) (2/3) The Problem of Violence and Sustenance - Summary of (1/3) and (2/3) In Civil Society, paraphrasing Ernest Gellner, the problem of violence is solved by compartmentalising it, i.e. by taking the coercive instrument out of the hands of the individual subjects that make up the citizenry and placing it in the sole possession of one agent: the state monopolist of power. The problem of sustenance is solved by creating a wide sphere within which competing individuals and their associations are allowed to strive for the realisation of their own ideas and ambitions as to how to make a living. The manner in which the problem of sustenance is solved in Civil Society creates a strong force that countervails the state monopolist of power, which becomes dependent on the wealth creating power of a relatively free economy, and thus faces limits to its ability to interfere with it, while being given incentives to facilitate its functioning. The state relieves the individuals from the need to and the dangers of acting as their own judges, policemen or soldiers. The individuals relieve the state of the burden of procuring sustenance in inefficient ways, that is by robbery, suppression and exploitation on behalf of a predatory elite, or by incompetently micro-managing the process of production. The Problem of Faith Sword and bread having been taken care of, how is man in Civil Society to satisfy his need to know what he cannot know, a fundamental problem of an animal habituated to thinking in the face of a world that cannot be conquered by thought alone. What of the third sphere, ideology? Should it resemble the political sphere in its centralization, or the economic one in its pluralism? Gellner, E. (1994), Conditions of Liberty. Civil Society and its Rivals, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, New York, p. 93) Admittedly, I may be stretching Gellner's answer improperly in interpreting it to suggest that the solution of the problem of faith in Civil Society lies in the production of modularised faiths. This is to be contrasted with Umma, a faith shared by all members of a community and expressed in its laws, a faith that defines social belonging, a faith that restricts personal discretion in the choice of one's place in society, a faith that one is not free to deviate from or even give up altogether on grounds of personal reasoning. Whereas the Umma-type of faith may change only at glacial speed, giving the appearance of perfect constancy to the contemporary observer, modular faith undergoes alteration all the time, being an instrument of adaptation to changing circumstances and changing needs. In Gellner's below statement, I hear echoes of ideas that I have expressed in Freedom - A Force of Creative Destruction in the Moral Realm: [W]hereas a traditional tyrannical order was indeed liable to be based on conviction which was both strong and mistaken, a free order is based in the end not on true and firm conviction, but on doubt, compromise and doublethink. (Ibid. p. 94 - emphasis added, G.T.) Modular faith Gellner seems to be implying that changing and improving standards for the authentication of truth, especially science and its vulgarisation in the form of rationalism, break up the contiguous surface of a common faith into particles that are individually selected and honed, creating modular faiths, pragmatically adjusted by a given person to her needs. Incessantly, society is being sculpted by multiple cross currents of faith. In Civil Society, epistemic authorities such as customs and religion are in decline, or else these sources of intellectual reassurance such as the exact and falsifiable sciences (whose propositions lend themselves to testing and refutation) fail to be pertinent to the contentious issues and the tasks surrounding social order. The enforcement of a religion or any sort of uniform faith has been deleted from the specification sheet defining the tasks of the monopolist of coercion; in fact, the state protects the individual from attempts at subjecting anyone to a faith aspiring to the rank of Umma, and organises well-protected avenues of evergreen dissent (freedom of conscience and expression etc). At the same time, the superior kind of truth available in science is both unstable and largely lacking in any clear social implications. (Ibid., p. 94) What is more, science actually represents a model for creative destruction in the very realm that provides material for cognitive reassurance. The new ideal is conjectural knowledge, knowledge that is constantly in flux, with old elements breaking off and drifting away, while new ones are docking on, perhaps for only a brief spell. If conjectural knowledge is an ideal accepted by relative few specialists concerned with scientific methodology, it is certainly palpable as a strong force in the "lived world" - yet: Its links with the world of daily life, the "lived world", the Lebenswelt, are wobbly. The Lebenswelt now needs to be given a name, precisely because it no longer exhausts the world, it is no longer the world, and can no longer be taken for granted. It is an interim compromise. (Ibid., pp. 94 -95 . emphasis added) In Civil Society, man is confronted with a paradox - the best knowledge available, generated by science and other experimental methods, is unsuited as a uniform basis for social order. Its tentativeness, contestability and competitive multiplicity undermine any hope for a modern Umma, and it keeps bringing about unsettling social change in relentless waves of innovation so powerful as to engulf the entire society, yet Civil Society is predicated on the ongoing production of transformative innovation. The mechanisms underlying that cognitive and technological-economic growth on which modern society depends for its legitimacy, require pluralism among cognitive explorers as well as among producers, and it is consequently incompatible with any imposition of a social consensus. (Ibid. p. 95 - emphasis added, G.T.) The above proposition in bold has great significance for understanding the nature of dissent in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Continued from Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (1/4) Violence and Sustenance Concerning violence and sustenance, Ernest Gellner summarises: The simplest formula for Civil Society ... is political-coercive centralization with accountability, rotation and fairly low rewards for those manning the political apparatus, and economic pluralism. Maintenance of order is not delegated to sub-units, but concentrated in the hand of one agency or co-ordinated cluster of agencies. The economic pluralism however (reinforced by both the reality and the anticipation of growth) puts limits on political centralism, compelling it to remain within the bounds of its prescribed and restricted role. (Gellner. E. (1994), Conditions of Liberty. Civil Society and Its Rivals, Allen Lane The Penguin Press, NY: New York, p. 93 - emphasis and change of format added, G.T.) Gellner adduces two main factors to explain why economic decentralization ... constitutes a pre-condition of anything resembling a Civil Society. (Ibid. p. 87) He argues that "political-coercive centralization," a concentration of power in the hands of a monopolist of coercion, is indispensable for the functioning of a modern society. This, however, implies that in order for there to be sufficiently powerful countervailing currents vis-à-vis a consolidated power centre, another sphere needs to be established: the field of economic decentralization or in another phrase of Gellner's "economic pluralism," which he defines as: "the existence of genuinely independent productive and property-controlling units in society" (Ibid. p. 88). [...] [Civil Society] can only be plural - and contain countervailing forces and balance mechanisms, which are located in the economic sphere or work by means of economic power - precisely because effective political-coercive centralization is a necessary pre-condition of its functioning; hence there cannot be much balancing in the coercive sphere. (Ibid. p. 87) In traditional societies, the social, the political, and the economic spheres are hardly distinct; to ensure social cohesion and protection against attacks by outsiders, it is necessary to inculcate high degrees of cultural uniformity and to maintain it by invasive rites of intimate affiliation. Independent agency by members of the community is inadmissible, certainly in the form that modern man is accustomed to. As economic and social structures are not separate from political ones, they must have it [the sphere of order maintenance, G.T.] in that joint sphere if they are to have it anywhere. In as far as such political pluralism presupposes eventual or occasional violent conflict, the units which oppose each other and which from time to time enter into conflict must have a hold over the loyalty of their members, sufficient to induce them to fight and to risk loss of life. [...] In modern industrial society, this profound aura attaches only to the total community, the national state, and perhaps to the preservation of its basic political order. It does not attach to sub-units ... A man is not expected to die for his county or borough or his office community. He is not obliged to wear clothes indicating his membership, and he is not even obliged to support the local football team. (Ibid. - emphasis added) In Civil Society, political pluralism in terms of independent or autonomous coercive units is out. Local units simply lack the adequate weight. Liberty, on the other hand, is impossible without pluralism, without a balance of power. As it cannot be political, it must be economic. (Ibid. p. 88 - emphasis added) It is matter of subsidiarity to put coercion in the hands of a suitable specialist rather than duplicating the task innumerably among the citizenry. The centralisation of coercive power is highly efficient in that social energy that would be put to evil or unproductive use when dispersed among the members of society, can flow to the realm of sustenance, where subsidiarity requires competition among sub-units that in pursuing their livelihood are largely independent of the specialists of coercion. Perhaps the biggest challenge in transitioning from a closed access society - where politics is usurped by a small elitist and oppressive coalition of specialists of governance and coercion) to an open access society (i.e. Civil Society) is to find an equilibrium such that power becomes dependent on the wealth provided by economic pluralism and, therefore, tends to protect and expedite the conditions of high-power wealth creation. Thus, Ernest Gellner suggests an interesting hypothesis concerning the division of labour between central bureaucracies and the private economy in Civil Society. Each, agents of the state and agents of the free economy, should be left to pursue those tasks in which they are best at producing desirable results - and ultimately he is saying: the state is (more properly: can be) an efficient administrator of power compared to individuals and private associations that are more capable producers of economic efficiency compared to the state. In this way, Gellner proposes two arguments to explain the essential role of economic pluralism in Civil Society: Firstly, there must be a second power-source next to the state, if sustainable pluralism is to prevail in a free society. Power has a tendency to consolidate; a political authority unchallenged by a counterweight outside of the political sphere is not likely to create and defend an open access society; it is more likely to be exclusive, repressive, and prone to stagnation or violent upheavals, rather than warranting open political competition between members of society from all walks of life. 2. Secondly, it is desirable to avoid a direct coupling of political power with economic agency. That is true for the very reason just presented: an unchallenged power-centre will tend to repel an open process of competition and put the need for power consolidation before any other requirements. By contrast, relatively free economic agents will tend to create (owing to creative and commercial ambition), acquiesce in (owing to a relative lack of power), and observe (owing to state supervision) the prevailing rules of a competitive environment. Free economic agents have the potential to bring about levels of economic attainment that, in turn, make it... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Liberalisms, dogmatic ideology, and the static notion of "freedom" The liberalisms of the libertarian spectrum, i.e. ideological varieties that claim freedom to be their main concern, depart from their purported core value by blanking out one of the most conspicuous hallmarks of liberty: the political emancipation of all adult persons, a fundamental condition of liberty which is tantamount to instituting a permanent open debate on the nature and limits, the costs and the benefits of freedom (and, of course, many other vital issues.) The various liberalisms (mostly sharing the overreaching rationalism found in liberal thinkers from Locke and Kant to Mill) tend to imply a pre-established objective structure of freedom ("freedom as model" or "freedom as blueprint," as I call it in other posts), the correct form of whose components and overall shape being thought amenable to deduction from first principles. In these rationalistic accounts, freedom takes the form of absolute truth. One cannot imagine a more radical deviation from the nature of feasible freedom. Thus, these liberalisms turn freedom on her head, defining unfreedom as a lack of correspondence with their parochial models of freedom, which in fact are inadmissibly static in that they ignore the open-ended process by which feasible freedom is ceaselessly redefined and lived anew by all adult members of society. They simply ignore the practical conditions of liberty, especially her democratic dimension and contingent future. The Role of Politics and the State in the Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State "Conditions of Liberty" is the title of a book written by Ernest Gellner (1925-1995). which I have been recently mining for insights that might help me to make progress on a present research concern of mine: the role of politics and state in the spontaneous order of a free society. The hypothesis that guides my quest is that politics is ubiquitous and absolutely pivotal in a free society, where, indeed, I submit, it is necessarily practised even more extensively than in other societies. If capable of corroboration, my presumption implies that liberal thinking misrepresents liberty in crucial ways. Dissent and Social Cohesion in a Free Society A defining mark of liberty is the enormous political tension that she precipitates by empowering all citizens to participate in the specification and monitoring of governmental competence and power. Clearly, in this respect, liberty is an aggravating force. The question that interests me, then, is how is the high level of political discord that is inevitable in a free society being offset by other features of freedom so that serious disruption is avoided and sufficient social cohesion maintained to warrant the trilateral merits of liberty: peace, productivity, and personal autonomy? At the present stage of my research, I am ultimately concerned with the specific structure of dissent in a free society. How is dissent organised so as to leave room for the unprecedented attainments of liberty? In the above paragraph, I have intimated that the opposite of disruption is social cohesion and explicated the latter as a condition for the hallmark attainments of freedom. What then is social cohesion, and what form may it take in a free society? In this sequel of four consecutive posts, by examining Gellner's "Conditions of Liberty," I hope to address precisely these questions. Freedom Is Civil Society - Coping with Violence, Sustenance, and Faith Society may be conceived of in any number of ways. One approach will fruitfully fix its canvass of society on three poles: violence, sustenance, and faith, three inescapable challenges faced by communities of any size and complexity. The potential for violence is ever present and needs to be dealt with satisfactorily. Human beings need to sustain themselves materially. And men are bound to seek orientation in their environment, human and natural, by certain forms of (leaps of) faith which are inevitable in a universe that leaves us vastly ignorant. How, then, are these elements marshalled and arranged to achieve social cohesion in the naturally disputatious, conflict-seeking community of free people? Continued at Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4), where I examine what Gellner has to say about Violence and Sustenance in Civil Society. Related articles Costs and Benefits of Liberty Immigration and Freedom (1/10) - The Economic Consequences of Immigration - Julian Simon (Part 1) Agonistic Liberalism (1/2) - The Non-System of Liberty Agonistic Liberalism (2/2) - Incommensurables Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (2/4) RedStateEclectic : Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (3/4) Violence, Sustenance, and Faith - Civil Society and Social Cohesion - (Ernest Gellner) (4/4) Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. I like the below thoughts of Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke, whose words I reproduce without having had any contact with her about the issue or my intention to publish the excerpt. The Senator responds to a person who asks her to vote according to the will of the people rather than follow her conscience. As for the death penalty, I appreciate the sense that elected officials are not supposed to follow their own conscience, but rather the will of the people. Unfortunately, that sentiment fails to take into consideration two things:1. the difficulty of determining WHAT the will of citizens is, and ; 2. the fact that the American system of government is based on elected representatives not necessarily being direct delegates of their constituents, with specific assignments of votes for every issue, but rather being a "trustee", if you will--elected to make the best choice they can, with the information they have available. In the case of District 32, I received a total of 112 calls and emails from unique citizens IN THE DISTRICT, on the death penalty. 56 of those contacts were FOR repeal, 56 were AGAINST repeal. How should one interpret the "will of the people" then? It's not possible to do a scientifically dependable poll on every issue out there. Legislators try to get a sense of what their constituents want, but ultimately, have to cast the best vote they can--which yes, includes considering their own conscience sometimes. I was honest about my concern with the death penalty and my willingness to see it overturned in a survey that I was asked during the elected. Other than that survey, I had no one ask me about the issue. Finally, I wonder if people really mean it when they say that they don't want senators to follow their own consciences and only "listen to the people." If a poll showed that a majority of the people in Nebraska wanted legalized abortion, for any reason whatsoever, up to the 30th week of pregnancy, should we listen to our conscience, or to the majority? If legislation was introduced which required the euthanasia of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and a majority of those who contacted us was for it, because it would save money on health care expenses, and protect family assets, should we vote in favor of that, or follow our conscience? Would voters prefer that their representatives had no personal convictions or conscience? I suspect not. The source. See also Voices Like That of Senator Ebke,and Living Law -DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Increasingly, I come to hold that a serious concern for liberty will take an eclectic approach rather than rely on adherence to a self-contained ideology. By the latter I mean a vision and attitude (a posture in deliberations) that does not recognise the inevitability, and legitimacy of heterodox partisans, let alone the admissibility of a strong influence or position of power of such partisans within the government structure of a free, an open-access society. When the appreciation of freedom as a central value takes the form of a liberalism, i.e. fortifies itself as an ideological stronghold, we observe the following typical features: Next to an ambition to be able to dominate virtually all issues with a purportedly valid explanation, and the attendant hermetically intolerant posture vis-à-vis other opinions, another distinguishing mark of such ideologies is that they tend to ignore that liberty does not only generate benefits but also produces costs. The acknowledgement that liberty produces benefits as well as costs is not liable to debase the importance of her; to the contrary, it moves freedom away from gray theory and closer to where she belongs: reality. As for the costs of liberty, I have recently scribbled down the below early thoughts: Democracy is an instrument to control the price of freedom. Freedom creates costs. Productive costs and unproductive costs. Usually, the total cost of liberty will consist of both productive and unproductive costs. Democracy can help reduce the contribution of unproductive cost to the total cost of liberty. If political contestability is reduced, unproductive costs are likely to increase. Reduced political contestability (less democracy) enhances the chances of some group(s) to instrumentalise the coercive powers of the state to engage in projects that are desirable to them but generate excessive amounts of unproductive cost. The important thing to note, especially for libertarians, is that in a well working democracy, we may expect to hold down the cost of liberty, especially the unproductive part of it, but we will never be entirely sure in minute detail what the productive and unproductive costs are and how large their share is. In fact, costs and benefits are categories subject to differential perception and weighing, so there will always remain a residual of costs that are real to some of us and imaginary to others. It is quite possible that some of the items that make up the cost of liberty are more expensive than they would be under unfreedom. A recurrent source of high costs of liberty is apt to be found in the intense political experimentation that is a consequence of the accessibility of political power to a wide range of aspirants from all walks of life whose open competition determines the transient personnel and stages of governmental dominance in society, instead of the commanding heights being enduringly usurped by an entrenched elite. But comparative studies do seem to underscore quite impressively that free societies protected by vibrant democracy (mass political participation) tend to be considerably less burdened with the costs of maintaining the incumbent order than systems that curtail pluralism and open political competition. Why? Firstly, (1) free societies are more productive owing to the availability of more wide ranging options for acting out personal autonomy and initiative, and secondly, (2) they afford better opportunities to resist systematic abuse. Combining (1) and (2), in civil society, much that would be attempted under the aegis of the state is filtered out or accomplished more efficiently by spontaneous responses among the members of the population. Related articles Immigration and Freedom (1/10) - The Economic Consequences of Immigration - Julian Simon (Part 1) Agonistic Liberalism (1/2) - The Non-System of Liberty Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State (SO2) Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Preface Borjas gives us both (i) a good synopsis of some of the "facts" of immigration that economists ascertain and work with, as well as (ii) valuable insights into the limits of economic analysis. While his account strikes me as honest and helpful, what resonates particularly strongly with me is the extent of ignorance that we face in looking at a phenomenon like immigration - something that comes out more graphically if you actually watch Borjas' lecture which is embedded at the bottom of this post. In the below text, however, I try to distil as much incontrovertible information as possible. Even though we know so little for sure, "everyone" takes her position in the matter as if knowledge problems were trivial. What this suggests to me is the importance of the institutions of freedom in enabling a peaceful and socially non-disruptive debate and policy making process among uninformed and highly antagonistic members of society. I do not think we can account for such relatively civilised conflict resolution without a theory of how political action triggers not only primary effects - its intended procedures and aims - but also secondary effects that operate behind our backs as if moved by an invisible hand - the invisible hand of politics and the state. This is ultimately, what I am striving for in looking at immigration: to better understand the part played by the invisible hand of politics. I hasten to add that I do not expect to find a self-controlling mechanism, but an order partly grown and partly designed where spontaneous processes amalgamate intricately with planned measures. Let us now turn to some economic insights pertaining to immigration in the US: Summary of Borjas' Lecture Borjas' lecture starts at around time-mark 05:00 (see the embedded video at the bottom of the post). The two core issues of immigration in Borjas view: Time mark 07--30: How many immigrants is a host country willing to admit? (Numerical limit) 08--30: Which immigrants to you want to let in - there are billions to choose from? (Allocation system for limited number of visas) 09--00: These two core issues have never been addressed, at least since 1990. 09--15: The lecture is about looking at answers to these fundamental questions which one may garner from economic theory and empirical research, answers that we may hope allow us to replace sentiment and passion with fact-based rational insight. 10--00: 13,5% of US population was foreign born in 2010, quite in sync with similar percentages in other countries of the industrialised world. 11--45: Two peaks of US legal immigration (by decade), one around 1900, the other around 2000. 11--56: Today, roughly 1 million people entering illegally per year. 12--10: Four historical stages of US immigration policy: Before 1875 - no restrictions 1875-1924 - defined "excludables," comprising Asians, public charges etc. 1924-1965 - national origins quotas (first time application of a numerical limit & allocation by extant proportions of national extraction (if 5% of US pop. Italians, then future eligibles again 5% Italians) Since 1965 - family preference system (in the spirit of the civil rights movement - allocation privileging people with family connections in the US) 15--30: Contemporary classes of admission (2001 - 2010): Legal immigrants (total) - 10.5 Mio., of which Family-preference - 6.8 Mio. Employment-based - 1.6 Mio (including dependants) Refugees/asylees - 1.3 Mio Lottery winners - 453 thousand 17--40: Illegal Immigrants (25% in California, 60% Mexicans) 2000 - 8.5 Mio. 2005 - 10.5 Mio. 2007 - 11.8 Mio. 2008 - 11.6 Mio. 2010 - 10.8 Mio 2011 - 11.5 Mio. There is a big debate about these figures that underlines the enormous number of uncertainties lurking behind the picture we try to draw of immigration reality. Even where data ("facts") are available, they often do not easily make for a consensus on the facts. That is before we turn to issues related to subjective perceptions and convictions. 20--50: Why we have an immigration debate in the US - zero sum assumption of economic impact. Percentage wage gap between immigrants and native men (age-adjusted) declining from 1960 - + 5% 1970 - +- 0% 1989 - - 12% 1990 - -14% 2000 - -18%, to 2010 - -22% 21--10: Borjas: "The fact that there has been a decline in economic performance of immigrants ... really underlies most of the questions at the core what we care about politically." 22--50: Who are the immigrants? What does economics tell us about the reasons why only relatively few immigrate (10% of all Mexicans), while the majority do not emigrate, even in the face of free movement, as in the case of Puerto Rico? 24---00: Countries with a narrow range of income distribution, like Sweden, the highly skilled have a strong incentive to emigrate, as the returns to skills are relatively low (a doctor not making much more than a bus driver); whereas with a wide distribution of income (the rich being very rich and poor very poor - and high returns to skills), the low-skilled have strong motives to emigrate, as they stand to make palpable gains in income. 25--00: Immigrants from countries with a narrow income distribution (such as Sweden) tend to perform economically much better in the US than those from countries with a high Gini coefficient (indicator of income inequality). 25--38: Another strong correlation (between economic performance of immigrants and GDP of the source country) confirms: "Clearly, people who come from wealthier countries have skills that ... tend to be more easily transferable to the US." 26--12: Do immigrants alter the employment opportunities of natives? Talking at a time when strongly limited and discriminatory immigration policy was not contested politically, Paul Samuelson argued in 1964 - just before the 1965 change in US immigration policy: "By keeping labour supply, down, [severely restrictive] immigration policy tends to keep wages high." 28--00: Yet again (as mentioned at 17--40), it turns out incredibly difficult to corroborate the facts (?) that seem so suggestive when applying straightforward supply-and-demand analysis. One... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Continued from Freedom and Immigration (2/10) - The Economic Consequences of Immigration - Julian Simon (Part 1) 6. Effect on Natives' Human Capital Utilisation Do immigrants make natives and the economy as a whole more productive or less so? Though the direct effect on industrial productivity is hard to nail down statistically, in the long run the beneficial impact upon industrial efficiency of additional immigrant workers and consumers is likely to dwarf all other effects. (The Economic Consequences of Immigration, p. 370) On the positive side, Simon notes working at the forefront of world technique. American citizens benefit along with others from contributions to world productivity, in, say, genetic engineering that immigrants would not be able to accomplish in their home countries. [...T]here are more persons who will think up productivity-enhancing ideas. Other increases in productivity due to a larger population [...] come from increased production through learning-by-doing, together with other gains from larger industry scale. Also, increasing the number of customers and workers increases investment, which brings more new technology into use, due to immigrants swelling the population. (Ibid.) On the negative side, Simon points to the trade-off between skill levels of immigrants that produce gains from positive comparative advantage (a less skilled assistant may improve the overall productivity of a specialist), and those that drag down the skill level in the receiving country: [I]f there is a huge flood of immigrants from Backwardia to Richonia, Richonia will become economically similar to Backwardia, with loss to Richonians and little gain to immigrants from Backwardia. (Ibid.) 7. Effects on Natural Resources and Environment Simon reasserts his thesis spelled out in the Ultimate Resource: Additional people do increase resource demand and prices in the short run. But in the longer run, when the system has had a chance to find new sources and substitutes, the result is that resources are typically more available and cheaper than if the temporary shortages had never arisen. (Ibid., p. 371 - emphasis added) 8. Aggregate Effects When looked at by natives as an investment, similar to such social capital as dams and roads, an immigrant family is an excellent investment worth somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000 to natives, even calculated with relatively high rates for the social cost of capital. (ibid. and here) 9. Labour Market Effects No study has found across-the-board unemployment caused by immigrants [...] And effects on particular groups are surprisingly small or non-existent, even groups (such as blacks and women in California) seemingly at special risk from Mexican immigrants. In short, immigrants not only take jobs, they make jobs. They create new jobs indirectly with their spending. They also create new jobs directly with the businesses they are more likely than natives to start. (Ibid. p. 372) 10. Income Distribution Simon maintains, there is no evidence that immigration widens the income distribution in the US. 11. Illegals While Simon does see problems related to the influx of illegals, economically speaking he notes, representing lower-than-average amounts of human capital, [...] they increase the competition that native unskilled workers face. But the damage to the latter group is far less than is popularly imagined; and the overall effect of the illegals is positive in every manner of influence examined here. [I]mmigrants use very small amounts of public services [...] both because of their favorable age distribution and because they are afraid of apprehension if they attempt to obtain services. At the same time they pay income and Social Security taxes many times the cost of the services that they use. (Ibid. p.373) 12. Policy Recommendation Popular misgivings concerning overloading the welfare system and creating deleterious labour market effects are exaggerated, and, indeed, non-existent or - when occurring in selected areas - overall insignificant, according to Simon. He considers inundation by mass immigration unlikely, and the assessment of its putative impact hard to anticipate with any precision and certainty: Taking immigrants in at a rate equal to, or even far above, our present admission rate improves our average standard of living, on balance. [...] Rather than being a matter of charity, we can expect our incomes to be higher rather than lower in future years if we take in more immigrants. Therefore, increasing the total immigration quota is recommended. (Ibid. 373) He explains further: Therefore, a policy which is both prudent and also consistent with these observations would be to increase immigration quotas in a series of increments of significant size - perhaps half a percent, or one percent, of total population at each step - to check on any unexpected negative consequences, and to determine whether demand for admission ever exceeds the supply of places. (Ibid. p. 376) His ultimate conclusions leave me somewhat uncertain as to the scheme he is actually proposing, as he concedes that mass immigration may alter the positive picture drawn by him disadvantageously, yet he recommends large increases in admission quotas, and then again seems to hedge his position by recommending a system that favours relatively wealthy and highly-skilled applicants: If a country is to ration by the amount of human and financial capital that the potential immigrants will bring to invest, why not go even further and simply auction off the right to immigrate, with the proceeds of the auction going to the public coffers? [...] The key to the efficiency of an auction system is that individuals are likely to assess their own economic capacities better than can an arbitrary point system; the latter process does not take into account many of the most important characteristics because they are not identifiable with demographic criteria. Those persons who will stake their own money upon correct identification of such capacities are ipso facto the best possible bets to be high economic producers in the US. Recommendation: Adopt an auction plan.(Ibid. p. 363) At any rate, the purpose of the first and second part of the present post is to get to know the arguments of the contending schools (here the position taken by Julian Simon) and... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
I. Why I Am Interested in Immigration Obviously, there are many good reasons to take an interest in the issue of immigration. Presently, I am interested in immigration as an example case allowing me to study the manner in which public discourse and policies in a free society respond to and shape a highly conflictual issue. Among the criteria by which we identify freedom one that captures the farthest range of consent within and beyond the circle of liberalisms and their derivatives is the idea that free human beings are entitled to express and act upon opposite and conflicting views concerning desirable political outcomes affecting the entire society. From the standpoint of someone investigating the role of freedom in modern life, I feel that far too little attention is being paid to the fact that one polar function of liberty is to tolerate, encourage, and even organise ongoing mass dissent, a discursive process of trial and error and a resultant competition of permanently contestable policies. In fact, mass dissent is one of the most important, if not the most important, guarantor of those robust conditions of freedom that define the difference between a closed access society, in which both the exercise of power and the formation and the policing of permissible views is largely confined to a small hegemonic elite, as opposed to an open access society, where civil society thrives thanks to a high level of autonomy of the individual and the associations that she is allowed to form without permission by society's specialists of governance. A free society is one in which people find themselves empowered to develop very different views of the world and their place in it, while at the same time enjoying the right and being able to draw on an unprecedented range of self-directed options to pursue their specific notions. My thesis is that freedom has evolved to create a balance between centripetal forces of social cohesion (manifested by a resilient web of peace, personal autonomy, and high levels of productivity and wealth) counteracting the centrifugal forces of conflicting multiplicity naturally generated in a civil society and finding expression in a citizenship that is politically involved to an unprecedented degree. Another hypothesis of mine that I wish to look into more carefully asserts that conventional accounts of freedom, especially in the tradition of classical liberalism and its various branches, are not likely to grasp the full picture of freedom's functions in an open access society, as their ideological mission is to advertise the liberal vision as the uniquely preferable variant of the good society rather than relativising the liberal voice as a mere tributary to the open-ended genesis of civil society. The liberal proclivity to underestimate and hence neglect the inseparable connection between pluralism, democracy, and freedom is fuelled by a strong tendency to believe in autonomous spheres of freedom - essentially spheres thought, or hoped to be made, free from the contestation of liberal precepts by opposing political actors -, of which the free market provides the master pattern. In trying to come to grips with immigration, one has got to start somewhere, and it may be just as well to look at its economic consequences. It is moot in this context, and, I admit, perhaps even unfair to Julian Simon, an economist, to wonder why he would confine himself to economics when treating of an issue that is streaked in important ways by non-economic aspects. Perhaps an echo of the libertarian habit of looking for the economic sphere as the master pattern of freedom? II. The Economic Consequences of Immigration The Economic Consequences of Immigration by Julian L. Simon is the last book to be submitted by him before his untimely death in 1998. Below, I shall summarise Julian Simon's findings, whose data sources pertains exclusively to the USA. His account provides an entry into many of the vital issues involved, giving a preliminary structure to what I intend to take a closer look at. At this stage, I will refrain from evaluation. For the time being, I collect impressions of what people seek to know about the subject of immigration and, thus, the kinds of propositions that sustain a lively nationwide contest of pros and cons. Simon's conclusions are presented at the end of the second part of this article. See also Julian Simon's "Ultimate Resource", The Courage to Think, and The Amazing Julian Simon (1937-1998) - (1/3). 11 Findings on Immigration 1. Trade Theory Does Not Apply to Immigration Arguments based on gains from trade as identified by modern trade theory cannot be transferred to immigration. In international trade consumers (in country X, buying at a lower price than domestically possible) and producers (in country Y, selling at a higher price than domestically possible) both enjoy gains. That is due to transferring goods produced in one system with lower relative prices to another with higher relative prices. You cannot usually achieve this effect by transferring people. An Indian taxi driver can offer you a very cheap ride in Calcutta, but she cannot "take that cheap ride with her" by transplanting herself into the structure of relative prices prevailing in Lincoln, Nebraska. Higher wages (consonant with relative prices in Nebraska) benefit the immigrant into Lincoln, but not the local consumers. 2. Size and "Quality" of Immigrant Population By historical standards, the contemporary influx of immigrants into the USA is not exceptional (1901-1910 - 9.6%, 1961.1980 - ca. 2%). In 1910, 14,6% of population foreign-born, 1980 only 6% (1 in 17). Smaller share of foreign-born than Great Britain, Switzerland or France. [I]n contrast to the older US population, immigrants tend to arrive in their 20s and 30s, when they are physically and mentally vigorous, and in the prime of their work lives. Immigrants have about as much eduction as do natives, on average, and this was even true at the turn of the century. [They] are disproportionately professional and technical persons. A great benefit to the US." Simon, J. (1999), The Economic... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. Continued from Agonistic Liberalism (1/2) - The Non-System of Liberty To Hang Together or Not To Hang Together In order to have a system, things need to hang together. If they do not, you will not possess a system. Incommensurables make things not hang together. Any claim to know the public good depends on the assumption that the public hangs together in a manner that makes its members commonly partake in that good. The approach breaks down, when the members of the community do not hang together in a web of comparable sensitivities enabling them to jointly accept offers of the good. Incommensurables are a threat to any unitary concept of the public, which latter tends to underlie all major ideologies, including liberalism. Incidentally, perhaps, this assumption of the natural cohesion of the populace with respect to being able to commonly partake in an optimal arrangement entitled the public good represents the hidden collectivism of the liberal doctrine. At any rate, in all its variants, liberalism tends toward a unifying, rationalist world view in which the interests of all can be reconciled. John Stuart Mill's posture is a case in point: There cannot, for Mill, be undecidable dilemmas in moral or political life, since that would impeach the ideal of rationality central to classical utilitarianism, and from which, despite his many other revisions of this utilitarian inheritance, he never departed. Gray, John (1995), Isaiah Berlin, p. 61 Note, this shortcoming is not confined to the utilitarian breed of liberalism, it is also found in the traditions deriving from Kant and Locke. The Conundrum of Incommensurables Against this background, Sir Isaiah Berlin radically confronts liberalism with the conundrum of incommensurables, the unconnectedness, the lacunae that divide us, impede communication and put us at loggerheads. His argument rests on three pillars: First, Berlin affirms that, within any morality or code of conduct such as ours, there will arise conflicts among the ultimate values of that morality, which [cannot be resolved on the level of rational discourse]... Within our own liberal morality, for example, liberty and equality, fairness and welfare are recognized as intrinsic goods. Berlin maintains that these goods often collide in practice, that they are inherently rivalrous by nature, and that their conflicts cannot be arbitrated by any overarching standard. Secondly, each of these goods or values is internally complex and inherently pluralistic, containing conflicting elements, some of which are constitutive incommensurables ... Such goods are not harmonious wholes but themselves arenas of conflict and incommensurability. Thirdly, different cultural forms will generate different moralities and values, containing many overlapping features, no doubt, but also specifying different, and incommensurable, excellences, virtues and conceptions of the good. (Ibid., p. 43) This describes the complicated situation that liberty has evolved to come to grips with. While analytically of interest, in reality it is not possible to clearly distinguish between liberty-as-aggravator, setting free challenging and dissenting opinion, and liberty-as-peacemaker, mitigating the tendency especially in all-encompassing belief-systems to resolve rivalry by the physical elimination or incapacitation of opponents. Liberty Outside the Purview of Liberalism Liberalism itself assumes the position of a rivalrous alternative vis-à-vis countless conflicting, mutually irreconcilable optional world-views. Liberalism's response to conflict is the same as that from any other system-building ideology: take me wholesale, I am right and good; get rid of competing alternatives, they are wrong and bad. Ultimately, liberalism does not address the stoic mission of liberty - how to make people with incompatible value systems get along with one another. It follows that if we wish to understand liberty, we need to step outside of the purview of liberalism, recognise that liberalism is just one tributary to the intellectual and political competition that makes up a free society. Aporia of the Unprivileged Favourite Berlin is concerned with the aporia that one wants the values of liberalism to succeed in the competition of values, while in a world riddled with incommensurables the values of liberalism can claim no privilege over values favoured by other world-views. In principle, I am less concerned with this question, as I tend to think that robust conditions of freedom provide a resilient platform on the basis of which we are able to figure out which values are to be admitted for the purpose of regulating social interaction, and which are not - while, of course, the working out of concrete solutions will often be difficult, inherently incomplete and leave a residual of inconclusiveness; which is why few people assume the responsibility of becoming politicians and the vast majority prefer - at least by implication - to expect perfection in the politician, whose main job is to deal with urgent issues, most of which, owing to the presence of incommensurables, cannot be resolved in perfect fashion. What I do not find in Berlin is the self-healing aspect of liberty as a balanced play of aggravation and pacification. Berlin seems to be leaving the train, as so many do, at the penultimate station, ending his journey burdened with an inconsolable sense of tragedy, according to which incommensurables make us aliens to one another, imposing on us a fate of alienation that dulls or emboldens us, as the case may be, to pursue acts of the most gruesome inhumanity which reveal the dimension of utter unconnectedness and disregard between human beings. By contrast, notwithstanding deviations from the trend-line, I believe that the natural parallel growth of aggravation-through-liberty and pacification-through-liberty represents a gigantic advance in human civilisation. By being more open to, more admitting of conflict, a free society accommodates experiments and experiences that help us deal with conflict by deflecting and sublimating the intolerably harmful currents of agonistic energy. Deflection and sublimation are strategies of violence reduction and trust building that invite the political theorist to look into areas of "politicking" that are partly removed from the conscious practice of politics. It is the area in which the invisible hand of politics makes those moves that translate our action into beneficial outcomes, "and thus without intending it,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
Image
Image credit. To the extent that I am aware of Sir Isaiah Berlin's academic output, it is hard for me to fathom why he was idolised by a resonant establishment to such an extent as to make him appear to be towering over far greater thinkers. Having said that, there is no doubt, Sir Isaiah Berlin offers messages rich in content and highly pertinent and formative to the philosophy of freedom (thus, the much discussed conceptual pair of negative versus positive freedom is associated with his name - see my Negative Liberty and Positive Liberty (2/2) - A Tug-of-War), some of the best of which I wish to write about in this post. Liberty beyond Rationalist Preconceptions His seems to be a vision of liberty that corresponds in a number of interesting ways with my own: Sir Isaiah's idea of freedom transcends the classical accounts of liberty handed to us by Kant, Locke, Mill or more recent thinkers of liberalism, all of whose reasoning being rooted in some form of rationalist preconception. Berlin rejects, as I have come to do myself, the project whose aspiration it is to erect liberty as a self-contained system, a settled truth, a wisdom received once and for all. Berlin lets enough reality into his theorising to be able to acknowledge that the sum of human imagination, volition and social interaction contains and produces an irreducible pluralism, i.e. fundamental and irreconcilable divergences among human beings - a state of affairs that precludes the harmony and compatibility of interest and views that is required to subsume an entire community under one common concept of the public good. His concept of liberalism, or perhaps better his account of liberty diverges not only from utilitarianism but also from Kantian ethics and from Lockean theories of fundamental rights, in denying that a coherent political morality can be formulated that is expressed in a single principle or an ordered system of principles. Gray, John (1995), Isaiah Berlin, HarperCollins, ( p. 61 - emphasis added) The Stoic Mission of Liberty - A Meta-Scheme to Manage Rival Principles That is not to say that principles do not matter; but they become downright dangerous if they are not worked into a meta-scheme that incorporates rival principles and makes them coexist without cannibalising one another thanks to the jealous energy inhering in their mutually exclusive universal claims. The emphasis that I added to the above quote is on "system." When liberty is construed as a "system," liberalism loses touch with its central ideal, morphing into just another ideology vying for supremacy in the minds of the people. Liberty is fundamentally pluralistic, and characteristically, yet not unconditionally, open-ended as to political perceptions and ideological preferences. She offers a meta-scheme ensuring peaceful coexistence in the form of robust conditions of freedom, which ensure dissension without cannibalisation. The abolition of the welfare state, for instance, may be a demand of liberalism, while at the same time, it may not be a compelling implication of freedom. We may disagree as to the various institutions and practices of the welfare state and in criticising them make reference - with good grounds - to the robust conditions of freedom, but if these latter are kept intact in a welfare state, we cannot claim that all in all liberty is being violated in inordinate measure or even abandoned altogether. We may still be working with principles, with milestones that we are not prepared to remove, other than with the utmost circumspection and against the slackening friction of elaborate procedural inhibitions. First and foremost, these principles of ours are landmarks that delineate a vast playing field in which countless interpretations of a possible free society can be acted out, under the condition that the unresting building stages of a free society are truly open to ongoing revision and do not systematically bar forces from political competition that qualify as non-cannibalising players. Incommensurables and Tolerance For my purposes, what I find particularly valuable in Sir Isaiah Berlin's account of liberty are two aspects: his (1) flair for incommensurables in the way people interpret (a) the world in which they live and (2) the nature of their interrelationships, (for more see Agonistic Liberalism (2/2) - Incommensurables) and his (2) understanding of the need for convictions and mechanisms promoting mutual tolerance which equip us to cope with the inevitable circumstance of having to live with one another in the presence of highly rivalrous, agonistic personal attitudes. When it attempts to establish itself as a system, liberalism becomes part of the problem of dogmatic intolerance. Unlike freedom, which comprises "convictions and mechanisms promoting mutual tolerance," liberalism as a system inevitably tries to crowd out other systems. By the very nature of an all-encompassing, all-purpose system, it is absolutely self-centred and thus ultimately intolerant, and may, indeed, degenerate in ways described in my series Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (3/3) - Catastrophes in the Old World. In fact, it appears that in order to become virulent in reality the vicarious totalitarianism of the radical liberal requires some transformation, a migration into a different ideological environment, as his original conviction prevents him from becoming politically effective. The Dreaded Mark-Down of Liberalism It may be my own, rather than, Berlin's conclusion, though we are close enough to each other in this respect, that by denying liberalism its yearning for being a system, one thereby ascribes to any variant of liberalism only a subordinate role within in the choir of voices that make up the choral singing of a free and therefore pluralistic society. It is this prospect of subordination that makes it so hard for the liberal to give up his passion for system. Renouncing the closure that accompanies the idea of a system eventuates in much dreaded indeterminacy and a smaller, less powerful identity, one full of caveats, one of mere equality or even submission amidst the ado of challenging voices in the choir of freedom. The liberal is no longer admitted as the sole authoritative judge... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2015 at RedStateEclectic