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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 possible, 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, without... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at RedStateEclectic
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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 7 days ago at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. My contention is that we are lacking a theory of the spontaneous order of politics and the state (SO2). This is regrettable because such a theory shows promise to debunk altogether or reasonably attenuate widely held derogatory misconceptions concerning the role of politics and politicians in our free societies. It is also deplorable that Hayek, the great theoretician of self-organising systems, failed to extend the insights of his research into the spontaneous order of markets (SO1) to the area of human political engagement. This could have provided us with an excellent starting point in developing a theory of SO2. After all, Hayek's findings with regard to SO1 yield powerful explanations of how the evolution of social relationships produces extra-somatic auxiliary arrangements (intelligence situated outside the human body but conducive to human needs) that advance the cognitive capabilities of our species so that human beings are enabled to better cope with their environment and further their interests and level of comfort. In this post, I shall not explain SO1 beyond insinuating that it refers to market-type activities which allow us to generate, disseminate, and productively use information (conveyed in the form of prices) that no human mind or body of rational actors could identify, dispatch and process with even remotely comparable success. It is all the more surprising that Hayek and his followers are entirely oblivious to the analogous structure of SO1 and SO2. To see the crux of the analogy, let us first briefly consider how SO1 works: Human beings behave in certain predictable ways (largely expressible in terms of certain rules) that create a division of labour amongst them which produces information and preferred economic states of affairs that cannot be brought about in any other way. I cannot "play market" on my own. I need others to play along, according to a set of specific rules. I cannot produce the outcome myself, but if I and others play by these specific rules, we engender the outcome, which is a wealthier society. There is no maker of the end result, there are only players, and it is the game played that produces the result. If you look at the comportment of this or that player, not only is it not obvious that he is contributing to a desirable outcome, he may actually be committed to action that is hard for you to fathom or condone, as he may be spending his money in ways you disapprove of or find pointless and so on. Respecting SO2, the situation is similar: as members of a large community, citizens of a nation or inhabitants of a hemisphere, we stumble into and partly recognise and then deliberately apply the advantages of following certain rules of political conduct, thus achieving desirable outcomes that cannot be generated other than by playing a game tied to a set of specific rules. The upshot is a society that condones and mass-produces dissent at the same time that it offers procedures to step down the explosive tension inherent in raw, untransformed diversity. Again: If you look at the comportment of this or that player, not only is it not obvious that he is contributing to a desirable outcome, he may actually be committed to action that is hard for you to fathom or condone, as he may be supporting political groups that you strongly disapprove of. But overall you are moving within an institutional environment that evolved to lower the virulence of or remove altogether circumstances that tend to amplify and trigger the explosive tension inherent in raw, untransformed diversity. Unfortunately, Hayek has ideological reasons to miss the compelling analogy. Though not expressly committed to it, Hayek is effectively wedded to the Lockean idea of autonomous spheres of freedom - for more see my The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom -, an attitude probably re-enforced by the experience of the catastrophic effects of massive intervention into the SO of society in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. As against this he emphasises the idealtypal structure of free markets to demonstrate the basic principles and supreme advantageousness of free markets. But he fails to recognise that every economy is a mixed economy and that it is the mixture ratio (between spontaneity and regulation) that is decisive in determining how benign, viable, and efficient a mixed economy is. It is precisely his disinclination to consider the possibility of a systematically benign role of politics and the state in supporting, in fact, in making possible to begin with, a free society that causes Hayek to overlook the obvious in so far as there is no reason to assume that evolution would drive only one type of spontaneous order and could be barred from exerting its effects in the fields of political and governmental institutions and activities. Arguably, in the broadest sense, Hayek does have a theory of spontaneous order pertaining to non-economic spheres. He acknowledges that societies evolve and with them practices and institutions that confer vital advantages on certain groups which make them superior vis-à-vis less well adapted competitors. But he does not offer an account of SO2; he is blocked to take that step as he finds political activism (especially those insensitive to his standards of liberalism) repulsive, the idea being anathema to him that conscious design, political participation, let alone a highly politicised society constantly interfering with the fabric of social order may actually be a prerequisite of our stage of civilisatory (okay, this is not a word of the English language, but I still use it to mean "pertaining to civilisation") advancement and, what is more, the sine qua non of the freest societies we can possibly sustain, at the present stage of human development. Of course, what is positive about politics cannot be reduced to unintended consequences alone; there is any number of reasons to encourage political activism in pluralist democracy under robust conditions of freedom; but a lot that appears incomprehensible, ambivalent or dubious about the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. As we have seen in Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (2/3) - The Moral Inversion of Liberalism, Michael Polanyi is saying that from its inception liberalism let two virulent genies out of the bottle. Anti-authoritarian and tolerant of scepticism, it would prove hard to inhibit these two traits of liberalism as they begin to wind their probing way toward nihilism. Nevertheless, in the Anglo-American world, religious freedom (the toleration of distinct creeds) coexisted with continued widespread practice of religion and a vibrant democratic culture, both of which traditions being helpful in shielding long-established moral principles from the morally corrosive effects of relativism or nihilism. Not so in Europe: Both these protective restraints ... were absent in those parts of Europe where liberalism was based on French enlightenment. This movement being anti-religious, it imposed no restraint on sceptical speculations; nor were the standards of morality embodied here in democratic institutions [which keep public debate alive and open, challenging the powers-that-be with defiance and the prospect of political change, G.T.]. When a feudal society, dominated by religious authority, was attacked by a radical scepticism, there emerged a liberalism which was unprotected either by a religious or a civic tradition against destruction by the philosophic scepticism to which it owed its origin. (Polanyi, M. (1998), The Logic of Liberty, Liberty Fund Inc., p. 123) Thus, Universal standards of human behaviour having fallen into philosophic disrepute, various substitutes were put forward in their place. (Ibid. p.123) The first kind of substitute standard comes in the form of a radical hedonism, according to which the creative genius is entitled to act as ... the renewer of all values and therefore to be incommensurable. This claim was to be extended to whole nations; according to it, each nation had its unique set of values which could not be validly criticized in the light of universal reason. A nation's only obligation was, like that of the unique individual, to realize its own powers. In following the call of its destiny, a nation must allow no other nation to stand in its way. If you apply this claim for the supremacy of uniqueness - which we may call Romanticism - to single persons, you arrive at a general hostility to society, as exemplified in the anti-conventional and almost extra-territorial attitude of the Continental bohème. If applied to nations, it results on the contrary in the conception of a unique national destiny which claims the absolute allegiance of all its citizens. The national leader combines the advantages of both. He can stand entranced in the admiration of his own uniqueness, while identifying his personal ambitions with the destiny of the nation lying at his feet. (Ibid. p. 123 - 124) Romanticism's ... counterpart in systematic thought was constructed by the Hegelian dialectic. Hegel took charge of Universal Reason, emaciated to a ghost by the treatment at the hands of Kant, and clad it with the warm flesh of history. Declared incompetent to judge historic action, reason was given the comfortable position of being immanent in history. An ideal situation: "Heads you lose, tails I win." Identified with the stronger battalions, reason became invincible; but unfortunately also redundant. (Ibid. p.124) Marx and Engels arrive at the scene: The next step was therefore quite naturally the complete disestablishment of reason ... The bigger battalions should be recognized as makers of history in their own right, with reason as a mere apologist of the outcome of class conflicts ... [A]s new technical equipment becomes available from time to time, it is necessary to change the order of property in favour of a new class, which is invariably achieved by overthrowing the hitherto favoured class. Socialism, it was said, brings these violent changes to a close by establishing the classless society. Europe becomes inundated with philosophies of violence, and ... the really effective idea of Hitler and Mussolini was their classification of nations into haves and have-nots on the model of Marxian class war. The actions of nations were in this view not determined, nor capable of being judged by right and wrong. [...] Romanticism had been brutalized and brutality romanticized ... The process of replacing moral ideals by philosophically less vulnerable objectives was carried out in all seriousness. [What is going on] is a real substitution of human appetites and human passions for reason and the ideals of man. (Ibid. p. 125) And here is where I disagree with Polanyi, who claims: We can see now how the philosophies which guided these revolutions and destroyed liberty wherever they prevailed, were originally justified by the anti-authoritarian and sceptical formula of liberty. (Ibid. p. 125) Admittedly, it is eerie and truly tragic to see how the liberal impulse has been absorbed into currents that gradually transformed themselves into totalitarian affective patterns and the crude thought that attends them. However, I do not think, Michael Polanyi is right in accusing liberalism of a pathological self-contradiction, whereby its explosive initial twin aspects of anti-authoritarianism (in support of the new natural sciences' struggle against dogmatic authorities), and philosophic doubt (which can hardly be prevented in a world valuing freedom of conscience and expressed thought) were supposedly bound to stoke up the fires of a culture of radical intolerance. After all, in America and England they did not give rise to any such effect. How should it have been possible to arrive at the copious blessings of freedom if men had refrained from letting the genies of anti-authoritarianism and philosophic doubt out of the bottle? Also, it is not clear which alternative formula liberalism should have adopted to avoid its putative authorship of totalitarianism. Polanyi does not propose such a formula. I do not think that a misspecification of the fundamental tenets of liberalism has led to the totalitarian excesses of the 20th century. After all, anti-authoritarianism and philosophic doubt are alive and kicking, whereas totalitarianism is dead. Distressing as the experiences of totalitarianism are, we also have examples of free societies that withstood the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Continued from Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (1/3) - The Seminal Impetus of Liberalism. How was it possible that the liberal impetus of Milton and Locke would be so distorted in Europe as to nourish a "moral inversion" from which eventually issues the totalitarian mindset? And why was the Anglo-American sphere resistant to such "moral inversion?" Explains Michael Polanyi: The argument of doubt put forward by Locke in favour of tolerance says that since it is impossible to demonstrate which religion is true, we should admit them all. This implies that we must not impose beliefs that are not demonstrable. (Ibid. p. 120) When we extend this conclusion to ethical principles: It follows that unless ethical principles can be demonstrated with certainty, we should refrain from imposing them and should tolerate their total denial. But of course, ethical principles cannot be demonstrated: you cannot prove the obligation to tell the truth, to uphold justice and mercy. It would follow therefore that a system of mendacity, lawlessness, and cruelty is to be accepted as an alternative to ethical principles on equal terms. But a society in which unscrupulous propaganda, violence and terror prevail offers no scope for tolerance. Here the inconsistency of a liberalism based on philosophic doubt becomes apparent: freedom of thought is destroyed by the extension of doubt to the field of traditional ideas. (Ibid. p. 120 - emphasis added) When we cannot be sure of the truth of ethical principles and therefore need not heed any, superior strength, ruthlessness and brutality may fill the gap. And surely, this is precisely what happened in the hotbeds of European totalitarianism - Italy, Germany, and Russia. At a time when - with a vengeance - Europe was accepting "a system of mendacity, lawlessness and cruelty as an alternative to ethical principles," how come this transformation, this "moral inversion" would not lay hold of the Anglo-American world? The consummation of this destructive process was prevented in the Anglo-American region by an instinctive reluctance to pursue the accepted philosophic premises to their ultimate conclusions. One way of avoiding this was by pretending that ethical principles could actually be scientifically demonstrated. Locke himself started this train of thought by asserting that good and evil could be identified with pleasure and pain, and suggesting that all ideals of good behaviour are merely maxims of prudence. (Ibid. p. 121) See also: Natural Ends and Prudential Judgement. However, the utilitarian calculus cannot in fact demonstrate our obligations to ideals which demand serious sacrifices from us. A man's sincerity in professing his ideals is to be measured rather by the lack of prudence which he shows in pursuing them. [...] I believe the preservation up to this day of Western Civilization along the lines of the Anglo-American tradition of liberty was due to this speculative restraint ... (Ibid. p. 121) Polanyi believes that two factors of a cultural and historical nature saved liberalism in the Anglo-American world from the "moral inversion" it suffered in Europe: The speculative and practical restraints which saved liberalism from self-destruction in the Anglo- American area were due in the first place to the distinctly religious character of this liberalism. So long as philosophic doubt was applied only in order to secure equal rights to all religions and was prohibited from demanding equal rights also for irreligion, the same restraint would automatically apply in respect to moral beliefs. A scepticism which was kept on short leash for the sake of preserving religious beliefs, would hardly become a menace to fundamental moral principles. (Ibid. p. 122) Furthermore, Polanyi stresses the importance of democratic institutions in avoiding a degenerate turn of liberalism: A second restraint on scepticism ... lay in the establishment of democratic institutions at a time when religious beliefs were still strong. These institutions (for example the American Constitution) gave effect to the moral principles which underlie a free society. The tradition of democracy embodied in these institutions proved strong enough to uphold in practice the moral standards of a free society against any critique which would question their validity. (Ibid. p. 122) See also The Age of Liberalism and especially The Birth of American Freedom - Government and Democrcay. To see what went wrong in Europe read Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (3/3) - Catastrophes in the Old World. Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I have come round to reading at least the conclusion of Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World, much praised, even by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who seems delighted to be able to draw (what, I presume, many of us would call) racist conclusions from reading it. See The Great Fiction (2/3). At any rate, I am doing work on immigration at the moment, and found Clark mentioned in a good article on the topic: No Panaceas: Libertarian Challenges to Open Borders. So, I decided to browse A Farewell to Alms and read the short concluding chapter "18: Conclusion: Strange New World." I was surprised and disappointed. The main shortcoming of the chapter is its ill-conceived reliance as the main selling point on certain trite and superficial propositions of happiness research. Quite a let-down for a not so brief "brief economic history of the world". Unfortunately there is little evidence of gains in happiness from gains in income, life expectancy, or health by society as a whole. (Clark, G. (2007), A Farewell to Alms, Princeton University Press, p. 374) But why should we expect evidence to the contrary? After all, there is a finite range of emotional intensity in experiencing inner states that convey happiness or its contrary. The range of emotional intensity is very likely an anthropological constant, which is to say, that Neanderthal man may have felt not much different than you and I upon having his teeth drilled or experiencing delight at the sight of his latest crush. When you come to think of it, we would hardly expect open-ended growth in a person's intensity of experiencing orgasmic bliss as a positive correlate of the steady increase in his income or net worth. Incongruously, Clark prefaces the chapter with a quote from Henry Fielding that appears to be more reflective of my findings: All Nature wears one universal grin. At any rate, Clark goes on to point out that rich interviewees tend to indicate greater happiness than poor ones, but in a footnote he concedes that the amount of variation in reported happiness ... is small, typically less than 5 percent. (Ibid. p. 374) However, Clarke conjectures: Perhaps, we are not designed to be content, but instead to forever compare our lot with that of our competitors, and to be happy only when we do better. (Ibid. p. 376) While I am not sure contentment and happiness make a good synonym, I think, Clark is putting his finger on a crucial point. For I have been arguing for quite some time what makes humans humans and separates them from other animals is their proclivity to adapt to their environment by developing and pursuing new desires. Humans are by definition and biological make-up not content with a situation where this proclivity is frustrated. The propensity to attempt the new (and be unhappy with failure to achieve it) is unlimited in human beings, rather than the ability to feel happy. Envy is a derivative of this more fundamental human drive; while, of course, comparing oneself to others is not necessarily dishonourable, a resentful act or based on a sense of inferiority. We cannot be what we are and we cannot make the best of us without comparing a lot of things with a lot of things, including men with men. For more see my post: Happiness and Freedom. Clark then refers to Robert Frank who argues: [S]ince the gains in happiness from higher income and consumption come only at the expense of the reduced happiness of those who lose out in such status races, much of the energy devoted to achieving higher incomes in any society is socially wasteful. (Ibid.) A false metric that is not even significant is eagerly turned into a self-righteous moral demand, stoking the insatiable greed of the anti-capitalist sentiment: The rich, the winners of the status races, should be heavily taxed to reduce such socially costly activity. (Ibid.) By that reckoning, mankind will never know a farewell to alms - political propagandists and bad economists endeavouring to make sure indigence and beggarliness are as endogenous to our species as is the human grin. However, Clark cautions: But happiness studies so far do not support any such policy conclusion. Greater taxation of the rich might reduce income inequality, but it would not make societies as a whole happier. We lack trustworthy evidence that societies with greater income equality are on average happier. (Ibid. p. 377) Not surprisingly. Related articles Hamlet without the Prince - Of Keynesian Economics Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I am reading The Logic of Liberty by Michael Polanyi, which - quite surprisingly to me - turns out to be the source from which Hayek has received some of his best ideas, most notably the concept of spontaneous order. I. Liberty and Contingencies In the present post, however, I wish to dwell on a chapter ("Perils of Inconsistency") in the above book, in which Polanyi casts light on the roots of the totalitarian catastrophes of the 20th century. It holds another surprise to me, as Polanyi traces a striking linkage between the doctrine of liberty and the totalitarian ideologies of communism, fascism and Nazism. Phrasing can make a big difference. While one could say, as Polanyi does, only with substantial license though, that totalitarianism has its roots in liberalism, it is less misleading to emphasise what he calls "moral inversion", i.e. the process by which certain basic suppositions of the earliest liberals have - thanks to certain peculiarities of European history - become "morally inverted" so as to give rise to the totalitarian mind set. Contrary to Polanyi, I insist that in no way would one be justified in ascribing to liberalism responsibility for the emergence of totalitarianism; but the Polanyian link between the two does tell us something about the contingencies that liberal thought may help trigger. No one has full control over the way in which freedom and her underlying intellectual visions ultimately play out in history. Here is Michael Polanyi's fascinating story. II. The Totalitarian Metamorphosis of the Liberal Impetus Writes Michael Polanyi: Liberalism was motivated, to start with, by detestation of religious fanaticism. It appealed to reason for a cessation of religious strife. This desire to curb religious violence was the prime motif of liberalism both in the Anglo-American and in the Continental area. (Polanyi, M. (1998), The Logic of Liberty, Indianapolis, Liberty Fund Inc, p.116 - emphasis added) However, there appeared momentous differences between the two geo-cultural areas. First, let us look at the Anglo-American sphere: Anglo-American liberalism was first formulated by Milton and Locke. Their argument for freedom of thought was twofold. In its first part (for which we may quote the Areopagitica) freedom from authority is demanded, so that truth may be discovered. The main inspiration of this movement was the struggle of the natural sciences against the authority of Aristotle. Its programme was to let everyone state his beliefs, and to allow people to listen and form their own opinion; the ideas which would prevail in a free and open battle of wits would be as close an approximation to the truth as can be humanly achieved. We may call this the anti-authoritarian formula of liberty. Closely related to it is the second half of the argument for liberty, which is based on philosophic doubt. While its origins go back a long way (right to the philosophers of antiquity) this argument was first formulated as a political doctrine by Locke. It says simply that we can never be so sure of the truth in matters of religion as to warrant the imposition of our views on others. These two pleas for freedom of thought were put forward and were accepted by England at a time when religious beliefs were unshaken and indeed dominant throughout the nation. The new tolerance aimed pre-eminently at the reconciliation of the different denominations in the service of God. Atheists were refused tolerance by Locke, as socially unreliable. (Ibid. p. 117 - emphasis added) The Continental context was rather different: On the Continent , the twofold doctrine of free thought - anti-authoritarianism and philosophic doubt - gained ascendency somewhat later than in England and moved on straightaway to a more extreme position. This was first effectively formulated in the eighteenth century by the philosophy of Enlightenment, which was primarily an attack on religious authority and particularly on the Catholic Church. (Ibid. p. 117 - emphasis added) Michael Polanyi describes his central thesis in this way: I have said that I consider the collapse of freedom in Central and Eastern Europe as the outcome of an internal contradiction in the doctrine of liberty. Wherein lies this inconsistency? Why did it destroy freedom in large parts of Continental Europe, and has not had similar effects so far in the Western or Anglo-American area of our civilization? Ibid. p. 120 Find out about the denouement in the second part: Liberty and Totalitarianism - Michael Polanyi (2/3) - The Moral Inversion of Liberalism. Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Negative liberty Among the building blocks of the liberal conception of freedom we find the idea of negative liberty. This notion emphasises that liberty demands the protection of any one agent (individuals and associations created by individuals) against arbitrary interference by any other agent. Negative liberty highlights the role of prohibitions in creating liberty as a bulwark against arbitrariness. In that sense negative liberty may be referred to as freedom from restraints and violence from others. It is based on the expectation that desirable advancement, personal and societal, is best generated within the framework of rights to which its prohibitions refer. Presupposing a fixed set of collectively enforced entitlements - in the form of rights and a license to act in defence of these rights - negative liberty is conservative, defensive, and static in that it recommends by definition the perpetuation of the structure of rights on which it is built, and implies that this structure of rights ensures an optimal modus operandi regarding coercion in society which does not require or provoke alteration. Not all notable liberals subscribe to the idea of negative liberty, among them Kant and Mill, but it is certainly taken to be a fundamental feature of freedom in the eyes of many modern libertarians, including Friedrich Hayek. Positive liberty By contrast, positive freedom conceives of liberty as entitlement and empowerment, emphasising the possibility and the right to overcome actively hindrances to the aims individuals, associations, or a community may wish to arrive at. Positive liberty seeks to support the project of human perfectibility by encouraging efforts at remodelling the apparatus of rights in the light of new and better insights concerning human progress, including insights suggesting differential treatment of diverse members of society . Whereas adepts of negative liberty expect to transcend the status quo from within the given laws, supporters of positive freedom seek progress by transcending the current legal framework. Whereas negative liberty implies that the heeding of generally applicable rules of just conduct ensures the common good and that human potential (ingenuity, entrepreneurship etc.) is most effectively leveraged precisely by faithfulness to these rules, positive liberty implies that human ingenuity, foresight, and other-regarding empathy ought to take the lead in re-engineering the system of laws to expedite new stages of progress. However, the distinction between positive freedom and negative freedom is fraught with problems. If they are to make sense, the concepts must be handled with great analytical care. After all, it is possible to express negative liberty in terms of positive liberty, and vice versa. Negative liberty may express the core of freedom as freedom from arbitrariness. That is to say: enjoying a state of being protected against arbitrariness. However, the same condition can be described in terms of positive freedom, namely as the freedom to actively oppose arbitrary abuse. That is to say: enjoying a state of entitlement and empowerment.Thus, Thomas Hobbes is erroneously referred to as a father of liberalism, simply because he couches his agenda of positive freedom (for the absolutist state) in negative terms, namely "the absence of external impediments." The difference of meaning between negative liberty and positive liberty is certainly useful in emphasising different sides of freedom, which has definite and important requirements of non-interference but also a need for interference in the status quo, including the framework of established rights. Practically speaking, we may distinguish between, say, the negative liberty of free speech, i.e. the prohibition to prevent a person from expressing his views, and the positive liberty of inhibiting free speech, say, on the grounds (deemed compelling by the proponent) that from false or inciting utterances there may ensue severe damage to certain groups or even society at large. Parts, Not the Whole Negative and positive liberty describe important aspects of freedom, but they are not suited to capture the phenomenon of liberty in its entirety. Liberty is not a system, but a system of systems that includes both strands of negative freedom and positive freedom. Nevertheless, in most debates, the terms tend to be juxtaposed as opposites concerning their adequacy to represent the overall nature of freedom, and to serve as blueprints for the implementation of freedom in society at large. On the level of micro-analysis (looking at liberty at work in a specific context) the terms may legitimately coexist, especially to fight out the many difficult and important conflicts at the frontier between good and bad intervention, say, in the economy or the law. But when it comes to macro-analysis of the overall character of freedom in society, both terms become inapplicable, as their partial perspectives cannot but fail to represent the full nexus of liberty, which consists neither of equally applicable prohibitions alone, nor exclusively of unequal impositions that undermine the equality before law (to enhance one parties positive liberty at the expense of another party's liberty), but encloses relational liberty that contains both elements of negative and positive liberty which are mixed and delineated by competition and negotiation, being always subject to designed as well as unwitting development and change. In other words, negative liberty quite simply does not describe the composite manifestations of liberty in the real world, and it is inadequate as a theoretical model of liberty, owing to its negativity (one cannot work with "do nots" alone) and stasis (being, in fact, living creatures, rights are subject to considerable change, and with them the condition of liberty). See also How Law Changes - The Forgotten History of Jaywalking, and The Homestead Act - Politics, Legislation, and Government for Liberty. The liberty that exists - any liberty that may ever exist - cannot be understood without appreciating the element of positive freedom that constantly stirs her movements. To the extent that negative liberty supplements the composite of liberty, it is present in the mix thanks to acts of positive freedom. Positive liberty has enormous toxic potential. It deserves to be Argus-eyed, for their champions are liable to (a) lend too much trust to the wisdom... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. "But the practice of negative definition itself has an appeal, since it conduces to a neglect of close examination of situations." Lord P.T. Bauer (1976), in Dissent on Development, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, p. 48) In Negative Liberty and Positive Liberty (1/2) I propose: It is an infelicitous move by liberals to place negative liberty at the front-line of their case for freedom. Not all do - Kant and Mill did not - but many, including Hayek and most libertarians today. Its validity as a vital test criterion for policy implications notwithstanding, the perspective suggested by negative liberty throws into darkness swaths of issues that constitute the most urgent concerns of real human beings and their political representatives. It is a conceit to think that the logic of negative liberty suffices to define such a concept of "the good society" as is likely to be consistently pursued by real human beings. Try to solve the immigration debate by applying the logic of negative liberty. Allow open immigration and there will be substantial discomfort somewhere in society, with its blow-back of political agitation, and social and economic upheaval, academic perplexity and hubris. Restrict immigration and the same effect will make itself felt in a different variant. Outside of the lecture theatre, we will be called upon to patch up the problems with a lot of action that belongs in the pigeon-hole of positive liberty. The advocate of negative liberty places values in the weighing pan that embody wisdom we ignore at our peril; but there are other values to be accommodated as well. The Precedence of Positive Liberty over Negative Liberty Regardless of the libertarian preference for negative liberty, a society based on nothing but "do nots" is not possible. While negative liberty may be highlighted as an important feature of freedom in the real world for purposes of conceptual analysis and political deliberation, from a different vantage point, we discover that workable prohibitions - the workhorse of negative liberty - require us to enlist all kinds of entitlements and empowerments that belong to the sphere of positive liberty. Before rights can be defended, there must be procedures in place or - more broadly - acts performed that represent positive liberty and establish by fiat or single-handed deed the entitlements that constitute rights and the institutions of empowerment that ensure protection of the rights. Liberty and Coercion Identifying the demarcation line between negative and positive liberty is closely related to the question of legitimate coercion. A regime of negative liberty is held by its proponents to be one of non-problematic coercion. But they are facing a nested set of difficulties. The so-called principle of non-aggression postulates that coercion is legitimate only if exerted in reaction to the violation of the rights protected by negative liberty. This leaves unanswered a number of central questions. Firstly, who is entitled to define the rights of negative liberty, and how are they to be practically arrived at? Secondly, is it possible to arrive at these rights without coercion incompatible with negative liberty, or put differently: can we establish rights by "do nots" alone? Could the differences between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists be resolved by acts entirely enclosed within the framework of "do nots"? Thirdly, is it possible to define rights that do not entail an unequal distribution of (effective rights to or states of) coercion among the the law's subjects? Red Cedars and Apple Trees The negative liberty that protects my neighbour's apple trees and my red cedars from mutual encroachment may not rarely contain at least a latent distribution of unequal coercive power or a positive liberty that extends only to one of the two parties. If my red cedars spread a tree disease to my neighbour's apple trees, it becomes clear that under continued non-intervention, I have a right to do something adequate for my purposes - to keep my trees intact while they destroy my neighbour's trees - while my neighbour does not have a right to do something adequate for his purposes - to destroy the disease's source, the assailant of his trees. I may attack his trees, but he is not entitled to attack my trees. We have a situation of unilateral privilege of coercion - whether we do nothing to change the status quo, or weather we create a new option for protection on behalf of the damaged party, in particular, the right to cut my trees. We see that from a situation of negative liberty there may arise a situation of positive liberty, which latter in a way has always been dormant within the structure of negative liberty to begin with. See Red Cedars and Apple Trees - The Political Character of the Economic Process. Moral and Political Scarcity Mankind lives in a world of moral and political scarcity - meaning: there are lots of issues on which people disagree absolutely. Freedom should neither be conceived of in ignorance of moral and political scarcity, nor should she be assumed to be able to do away with irreconcilable attitudes dividing men. The Transrational Function of Freedom The function of freedom is to take political scarcity from its highly explosive original level to another one of lower inflammability, where it is processed for reconciliation. This involves an entire culture and institutional network of compromise, give-and-take, and tiered layers of coercion - by which latter I mean, for instance, taking turns in being able to coerce the other party, as may unfold in elective cycles ("okay, you are coercing me this time, but next time, I will be in the driver's seat,") which may spawn games of relative considerateness, which in turn achieve the transformation of high-tension disagreements into habits of lower-tension coexistence. It substitutes insoluble absolute rational disagreement by a transrational experience of placidity in the presence of divergency. Incidentally, this is what I call the invisible hand of politics. Political participation (democracy) is indispensable for freedom, as it drives the culture of compromise, give-and-take, and tiered layers of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. More on the String Quartet in F here. Enjoy. Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I got a call in December last year from a German television reporter named Peter Onneken. He and his collaborator Diana Löbl were working on a documentary film about the junk-science diet industry. They wanted me to help demonstrate just how easy it is to turn bad science into the big headlines behind diet fads. And Onneken wanted to do it gonzo style: Reveal the corruption of the diet research-media complex by taking part. Testing bitter chocolate as a dietary supplement was his idea. When I asked him why, Frank said it was a favorite of the “whole food” fanatics. “Bitter chocolate tastes bad, therefore it must be good for you,” he said. “It’s like a religion.” “Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily,” page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.” I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website. Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded. Here’s how we did it. Read the rest. Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Collective effects - why do people do things like these? In Permeable Individualism (2/3) - In the Beginning There Were Markets? we have seen that in the course of evolution humans have, in a condition of mutual permeability, become inextricably intertwined with the institutions that make for social order. The individual is surrounded by collective effects, being influenced by them as well as expressing herself through these. Ignorance of such mutual permeability is liable to give rise to imbalance in society and in the theoretical perceptions by which we make sense of (the position of the individual in the) community. As we have argued in Permeable Individualism (1/3) and (2/3), there is a danger of such imbalance clearly contained in the Lockean individual as the point of origin of all moral, legal and political ratiocination, and in the rational actor underlying neoclassic economics in which she appears in another guise. American institutionalism, pioneered by Thorstein Veblen and John R. Commons ("the old institutionalists" below), provides a useful scaffolding from which to tackle the crucial drawback of liberal individualism: its inability to account for the evolutionary and cultural preconditions of rational human action, the interdependence, the cyclical causality and mutual feedback between individual and institution as opposed to the individual's primacy over institutions. Far from being the starting point, the rational individual, the individual involved in sociogenic freedom, emerges from a vast array of preconditions, biotic and social. Thus, writes Geoffrey Hodgson, the idea of the given, rational individual is both unsuccessful, and untenable in ongoing, evolutionary terms. The introduction of habit and instinct provides a consistency between the socio-economic and biotic levels of analysis, and establishes an important link between the socioeconomic and the natural world. Hodgson, p. 189 He goes on to elucidate the basic idea: For the “old” institutionalists, habit is regarded as crucial to the formation and sustenance of institutions. Habits form part of our cognitive abilities. Cognitive frameworks are learned and emulated within institutional structures. The individual relies on the acquisition of such cognitive habits, before reason, communication, choice, or action are possible. Learned skills become partially embedded in habits. When habits become a common part of a group or a social culture they grow into routines or customs (Commons 1934, p. 45). Institutions are formed as durable and integrated complexes of customs and routines. Habits and routines thus preserve knowledge, particularly tacit knowledge in relation to skills, and institutions act through time as their transmission belt. Institutions are regarded as imposing form and social coherence upon human activity partly through the continuing production and reproduction of habits of thought and action. This involves the creation and promulgation of conceptual schemata and learned signs and meanings. Institutions are seen as a crucial part of the cognitive processes through which sense-data are perceived and made meaningful by agents. Indeed, as discussed below, rationality itself is regarded as reliant upon institutional props. The availability of common cognitive tools, as well as congenital or learned dispositions for individuals to conform with other members of the same group, work together to mold individuals goals and preferences. Accordingly, individuals are not taken as given. In mainstream economics, widespread lip-service to notions of individuality and choice may have helped to obscure the degree in reality to which conformism or emulation actually occur, even in modern competitive economies. For an “old” institutionalist, such outcomes are an important part of the institutional self-reinforcing process. [...] The imitation and emulation of behavior leads to the spread of habits, and to the emergence or reinforcement of institutions. In turn, institutions foster and underline particular behaviors and habits, and help transmit them to new members of the group. The additional emphasis here concerns the role of habit both in sustaining individual behavior, and in providing the individual with cognitive means by which incoming information can be interpreted and understood. Our understanding of the durable and self-reinforcing qualities of institutions is enhanced. The thrust of the “old” institutionalist approach is to see behavioral habit and institutional structure as mutually entwined and mutually reinforcing: both aspects are relevant to the full picture (Commons 1934, p. 69). Choosing institutions as units of analysis does not necessarily imply that the role of the individual is surrendered to the dominance of institutions. [...] Both individuals and institutions are mutually constitutive of each other. Institutions mold, and are molded by, human action. Institutions are both “subjective” ideas in the heads of agents and “objective” structures faced by them. The twin concepts of habit and institution may thus help to overcome the philosophical dilemma between realism and subjectivism in social science. Actor and structure, although distinct, are thus connected in a circle of mutual interaction and interdependence. (Hodgson pp. 180 - 181) Individualisms and the Consequences for Freedom Individualism has been criticised by eminent conservatives and classical liberal authors such as Burke, Sumner and de Tocqueville. Their fearful and dismissive view of individualism strikes me as valid regarding its overly pronounced interpretations espoused by anarchism, crypto-anarchism and Rousseauian totalitarianism (egalitarian democracy as the expression of the general will of the collective of free individuals). However, I do not share their misgivings to the extent that individualism is supposed to be either identical with egoism or bound to degenerate into a general selfishness that brings about social atomism, an individualistic fragmentation fatally rupturing social cohesion, a disempowering isolation of the individual that ultimately leaves him helpless in the face of despotic ambitions. There is a different perspective on individualism, which I have in mind when I think of freedom. The robust conditions of freedom which mark modern civil society emphatically signify the wider scope and greater independence of the individual today compared to most of human history: freedom of association and establishment, free choice of occupation, freedom of speech, freedom to participate in politics etc. The extent of freedom available to the individual nowadays is no triviality. This extensive, yet patchy freedom must be guarded, but it also must be recognised in its... Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Digging up the invisible hand - understanding spontaneous order - is a large project that those conscious of freedom should take up without fear and reverence. We must look for it not only in the economy, but also in the way in which we interact with one another as political animals and create society by being part of a intermittent process whereby we shape institutions and being shaped by them, in turn. Continued from Permeable Individualism (1/3) - In the Beginning There Were Markets? In the following, I hope to show that the individualism underlying classical liberalism and large tracts of mainstream economics is too minimalist to capture the interactive loops by which humans and institutions form each other (a descriptive defect), and too encompassing in its claim to explain the universal validity of the fundamental norms of liberalism or laissez faire (a normative defect). Individualistic Reductionism G.H. Smith defines Locke's individualistic reductionism (as applied to politics, in the below case) as the doctrine that all rights claimed by government must ultimately be reducible to the rights of individuals. Since the institution of government is itself an association of individuals, it cannot claim rights other than those that have been delegated to it by individuals. [...] This is what it means to say that the natural laws of reason are prior to the positive laws of government. The System of Liberty, pp. 147/148 Locke's fundamental(ist) reductionism places the individual at the base of society, making it the point of origin of the ensuing ethical, political, and legal ramifications. This reductionism is mirrored by mainstream neoclassical economics, from which the libertarian gains his intuition and ideological preference that the individual left to her peaceful and voluntarily acting self is supremely capable of taking care of herself. The prominent idea of the utility-maximizing individual has permitted economists to ignore the procedures and rules that are knowingly or unwittingly employed by agents. Most explanations of behavior, including the role-driven and the habitual, can seemingly be encompassed within the framework of utility maximization. Accordingly, the underlying psychological and other explanatory issues have been largely ignored. The encompassing assumption of the “rational” agent is deemed to be sufficient. Hodgson, p. 185 What I want to concentrate upon in the present blog entry are a number of reasons cogent enough to call into question the Lockean view that an institution by virtue of being an association of individuals ... cannot claim rights other than those that have been delegated to it by individuals. Individualism's Evolutionary Proviso The hub of the argument is that institutions can neither be originated nor managed or developed by human fiat alone. The position of the individual vis-à-vis institutions is not one comparable to a watchmaker's power over the object of his ingenuity and skills. The formation of rules of interaction in human society is far more complicated, and it is advisable to be aware of the complexities, as otherwise arguments made in favour of the core value of classical liberalism - personal freedom - will be ill-founded and widely perceived to be doubtful. Let us consider the core competence of the rational individual: In an evolutionary view of intelligence it is recognized that tacit knowledge and implicit learning of an habitual character are ubiquitous even in higher animals, including humans. This is because higher levels of deliberation and consciousness are recent arrivals on the evolutionary scene, and certainly came after the development of more basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in organisms. That being the case, many of our evolved cognitive processes must be able to proceed below the level of full deliberation and awareness. Ibid. p. 188 To summarise in advance the below extensive quote and its importance for the present serial of posts: Radical individualism operates with human capabilities embodied by the rational actor of standard economics, but introduces these propensities without regard for their presuppositions. However, the rational individual is not a creation of herself, but has evolved within a landscape of biotic and other determinants. Some of these determinants, especially institutions - as we shall see more fully in the third part of this series - have in common with man a mutual permeability; they grow and change by intertwining, by flowing one through the other. Man has not sprung into life as a fully-fledged all-purpose problem solver, but has grown up with his environment to acquire a vast portfolio of adaptation skills resulting from and attuned to specific challenges and opportunities. Cosmides and Tooby (1994a) postulate that the mind is riddled with functionally specific circuits. This contrasts with what they describe as the “Standard Social Science Model,” where the mind harbors general cognitive processes—such as “reasoning,” “induction,” and “learning”—that are “context-independent,” “domain-general,” or “context-free.” They show that this abstract and generalist view of the mind is difficult to reconcile with modern evolutionary biology, giving experimental evidence to support their argument. A key argument is that all-purpose optimizing techniques are difficult to construct and utilize. First, what counts as adaptive or (near) optimal behavior differs markedly from situation to situation. Second: “Combinatorial explosion paralyzes even moderately domain-general systems when encountering realworld complexity. As generality is increased by adding new dimensions to a problem space or new branch points to a decision tree, the computational load increases with catastrophic rapidity” (Cosmides and Tooby 1994a, p. 56). Third, the generality of all-purpose mechanisms undermines their performance: “when the environment is clueless, the mechanism will be too. Domain-specific mechanisms are not limited in this way. They can be constructed to fill in the blanks when perceptual evidence is lacking or difficult to obtain” (p. 57). As a result: “The mind is probably more like a Swiss army knife than an all-purpose blade” (p. 60). In evolutionary terms, time does not “hammer logic into men.” Cosmides and Tooby produced evidence that humans are generally poor at solving general, logical problems. However, when these problems are reformulated in terms of social interactions, our ability to solve them increases markedly, despite... Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. In this first part of the present series - Permeable Individualism (1/3) - In the Beginning There Were Markets? - I wish to draw attention to the link between certain preconceptions of classical liberalism and the disappearance of societal reality from a large part of modern economics. Drained in this way of pertinent content, the market order shows promise to satisfy a liberal utopia, if only it were allowed to spread more extensively. While liberal authors like David Hume and Adam Smith insisted on practising political economy understood as a comprehensive theory of man and his interdependencies with the many different institutions of culture and society, the pronounced individualism of other strands of classical liberalism (following John Locke) inspired the pursuit of economics based on a lopsided view of the significance of the individual in establishing social order. In the second part of the series, I shall try to explain what this new (neoclassical) economics is missing, and that freedom proves to be more complex and less determinate than thought by the individualist liberal, if we admit into the picture some of the vital, though now neglected, interdependencies that the earlier political economists had been trying to piece together. Ultimately, my aim is to demonstrate that an overblown individualism inherent in certain classical conceptions of freedom has given rise to a major current in economics that nurtures the mirage of autonomous spheres of freedom on which modern, crypto-anarchist libertarianism rests. We will see that markets are inevitably interlaced with cultural, legal, and political influences that preclude their serving as an alternative to political society (= a politicised world). In that sense, it is true that in a free society there cannot be an economy other than a mixed economy. Inherited Scars Toward the end of my last post, The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom, I noted: The liberal bias in favour of natural society [i.e. an autonomous, pristine sphere of freedom, as opposed to political society which is marred at every corner by politics and government, G.T.] has had momentous consequences for the future of liberalism - playing, as I surmise, a significant role in its decline - but also for the development of the social sciences, not least economics, which carries ugly scars from such extraction. Faced with a menacing new social technology - the modern territorial state -, liberalism focusses on the resources, the promise, and above all the moral primacy of the individual as its counter-model to the overweening pretence of absolutism which seeks to concentrate power in the authorities. Creative, path-breaking, and worth heeding in countless ways, liberalism's apologia of the individual is not without its difficulties, especially when the explanatory and moral justificatory power heaped upon the possibilities of the individual becomes excessive so that individualism takes on the character of an intellectual monoculture. Political Economy and the Individualistic Contagion In future posts, we shall have occasion to reflect on the role that individualism assumes in the life cycle of liberalism; for the present, may it suffice to refer to individualism's pre-eminence in classical liberal thought, a hefty dose of which was finding its way into the emerging social sciences, especially into economics. This is the beginning of the end of political economics and the great fortune of an economics often more ambitious to emulate the star among the sciences at the time - Newtonian physics - than to capture an irremissibly complete range of the economic world's determinants. The Misapplication of Individualism A strand of economic analysis appears that takes the individual for granted in an overly pivotal capacity; individuals and their preference functions are assumed to be given, as opposed to being emergent, malleable and interdependent with their institutional environment. Indubitably, individualistic economics proves to be in possession of a heuristics productive of superb insights (think of price theory), nevertheless it is unequipped to make up for the contributions of political economy. Whereas [i]ndividuals and institutions are mutually constitutive of each other [ ... such that] institutions mold, and are molded by, individuals, a connectedness appreciated and carefully looked into by political economy, the new economics turns this two-way street into a one-way street, trying to explain the existence of institutions by reference to a given [a pre-established and primal, G.T.] model of individual behaviour, and on the basis of an initial institution-free "state of nature." The procedure is to start with given individuals and to move on to institutions. (p.181) All quotes are from The Approach of Institutional Economics, by Geoffrey Hodgson: Journal of Economic Literature Vol. XXXVI (March 1998), pp. 166–192 The original individualistic paradigm in economics still informs much contemporary economic thinking such as embodied in the New Institutionalist Economics, one of whose most prominent representatives, Nobel prize winner Oliver Williamson, epitomises the neoclassical spirit in pronouncing this pithy dictum: "In the beginning there were markets." From this original context, some individuals go on to create firms and hierarchies. These endure if they involve lower transaction costs. However, the market itself is an institution. The market involves social norms, customs, instituted exchange relations, and—sometimes consciously organized—information networks that themselves have to be explained (Dosi 1988; Hodgson 1988). Market and exchange relations themselves involve complex rules. In particular, the institution of private property itself requires explanation. Markets are not an institution-free beginning. As if in search of the original, institution-free, state of nature prior to property and markets, Williamson (1983) argues that private property can emerge through “private ordering,” that is, individual-to-individual transactions, without state legislation or interference. (Ibid. p. 182) We shall see in the sequel why the institutions of freedom cannot emerge through "private ordering," and that, quite naturally, liberty is a highly public and political affair. Continued in Permeable Individualism (2/3) - In the Beginning There Were Markets? Related articles The Idea(s) of Freedom - Uniform Meaning versus Dispersed Meanings The Idea(s) of Freedom (2/3) - The Loss of Social Realism The Idea(s) of Freedom (3/3) - The Mirage... Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Discrediting Liberty - The Mirage of Autonomous Spheres of Freedom What discredits classically liberal visions of liberty in the eyes of many is the insinuation of autonomous spheres of freedom. By this term, I mean a conception of liberty that excludes from its vision institutions that in fact determine the possibility and degree of freedom in a society, especially political comportment and the role of structures of maximal power in the working out of social order by us human beings. The openly anarchist libertarian believes that it is indispensable to abolish governance structures imposed by politics and the state if freedom is to prevail. Far more important in our day, than the reading of a free society by the anarchist fringe, is the crypto-anarchism on which non-anarchist defences of free markets often tend to be predicated. For, not rarely do defenders of free markets cross inadvertently into the sombre corners of anarchism by sharing the anarchist belief in an autonomous sphere of freedom. What they are up against is the fact that most of us are informed with at least a robust intuition that there are no autonomous spheres of liberty. Hence, arguments based on autonomy-assumption are likely to be received with wide-spread disapprobation; and I suspect that the case for free markets does register substantial collateral damage owing to its association with an apolitical concept of freedom. An Apolitical Concept of Freedom In my first post in this series, The Idea(s) of Freedom (1/3) ... , I have argued that what tears apart Classical Liberalism is its mission to present itself as a uniform, self-contained whole. It trades off intellectual consistency at the expense of recognising the real forces determining the state of freedom in a society. In the second post, The Idea(s) of Freedom (2/3) ... , I hoped to show that Classical Liberalism fails in its effort to define freedom as a social phenomenon, in contrast to Hobbes' mechanistic notion, according to which freedom is the power to remove external impediments of any kind. The failure to fully grasp the social nature of freedom is due to an inability to capture the dynamic conditions of freedom in the real world, where the political character of freedom-defining social relations is pervasive. The result of that condition is that a uniform idea of freedom as sought after by Classical Liberalism will not be able to prevail either in the intellectual realm nor as a popularly credible reflection of the state of liberty in the real world. The Lockean Roots of Crypto-Anarchism In Chapter 8 - The Idea of Freedom - of The System of Liberty. Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism, G.H. Smith offers a number of insights that I feel I may be able to rearrange and resell to my own readers as an explanation of how an unfortunate tradition has sprung into life that weds arguments for liberty to the mirage of autonomous spheres of freedom. In the Lockean paradigm, "natural liberty" refers to freedom as it would exist in an anarchistic state of nature, a condition of equal rights in which there is no political authority or subordination, a society in which all "Power and Jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another." (The System of Liberty, p. 145) The crux is that the founding vision of classical liberalism as presented by John Locke does already carry in it an attestation of the feasibility of an anarchist world. Locke's state of nature is essentially peaceful and civilized. People can exercise their natural freedom in an anarchistic society without necessarily lapsing into a state of war, because they are able through the use of reason, to discern the many benefits of social cooperation. (Ibid. p. 148) It is neither clear whether on this point Locke was arguing for tactical purposes - he wanted the Stuart monarchy to be overthrown and wished to diffuse fears of Hobbesian anarchy - nor whether he adhered consistently to a minimalist role of government (ensuring protection from violence and fraud, and no more), but in his vision we certainly find prefigured a perspicuous divide between natural society (human interaction independent of and unhampered by government) and political society (human interaction facilitated by government action). He bequeaths to posterity leads that encourage his successors to keep the divide central to their thinking and to add more weight to natural society than to political society. At any rate, the divide is a grievous error, because the intermeshing of collective action with individual action is a more powerful and more accurate paradigm in the study of human society than is their compartmentalisation and juxtaposition, which ultimately tempts us to believe in the mirage of autonomous spheres of freedom. It is odd for even a tempered apologist of government and suggestive of a preference of natural society over political society that Locke views government as a supplement to social order rather than its indispensable foundation. Government is a convenience rather than a necessity. (Ibid. 148) The liberal bias in favour of natural society has had momentous consequences for the future of liberalism, playing, as I surmise, a significant role in its decline, but also for the development of the social sciences, not least economics, which carries ugly scars from such extraction: Economic science was made possible by the discovery of an autonomous economic order - a society of mutually beneficial exchanges that operates through the spontaneous adjustments of natural liberty rather than through the coercive and cumbersome decrees of a legislator. (Ibid. 151) Liberalism has been eclipsed by the growth of freedom, especially rapidly since the mid-1800s. Why? People are looking for freedom, and perhaps more commonly, people are trying to arrange their affairs in a free society, and thus shaping it, largely by acting on the level of intermediary conditions, rather than on the high plane of abstraction on which liberal theory is almost exclusively situated. People do not find the autonomous sphere of freedom that G.H. Smith describes below. They... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Well worth pondering: We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them… To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. [...] Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five minutes of today are worth as much to me as five minutes in the next millennium. Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today. Let us treat the men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are… Without any shadow of doubt, amidst this vertigo of shows and politics, I settle myself ever the firmer in the creed that we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are, by whomsoever we deal with, accepting our actual companions and circumstances, however humble or odious as the mystic officials to whom the universe has delegated its whole pleasure for us. Make sure to go to the source. Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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The Tension in Classical Liberalism - A Rigid System with Dynamic Elements In the previous post The Idea(s) of Freedom (1/3) - Uniform Meaning versus Dispersed Meanings, I emphasised what I consider a fatal internal contradiction in the classical liberal system of liberty: the ambition to offer a set of principles that establish exhaustively the meaning, the one and only valid conception of liberty. This gives rise to a contradiction, since liberty is defined in terms of building blocks (rights, property, justice) which are subject to deliberative contestation, different degrees of political support and thus constant historical change. The general concept ("the system") of liberty is not congruous with the dynamism of the elements from which it is built. It is telling that the great scholars of natural rights, Grotius (1583 - 1645) and Pufendorf (1632 - 1694), especially the latter, were considered the most respected writers on natural law at the time, earning John Locke's (1632 - 1707) admiration, while [n]either [...] could be called liberal individualists; on the contrary, both reached conclusions that were more favourable to absolutism [i.e. the unconditional sovereignty of the ruler, G.T.] But as (Locke indicated) Grotius and Pufendorf presented a theory of natural rights and obligations that could be used to solve the fundamental problems of political philosophy. They provided a conceptual structure, a way of thinking about political problems, that promised to bring system and coherence to a difficult discipline. Smith G.H. (2015), The System of Liberty, Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism, Cambridge University Press, p.145 The Loss of Social Realism Smith presents Locke's concept of freedom as an advancement compared to the mechanistic idea of freedom offered by Hobbes. For Hobbes, freedom is the ability to do as one wills without external impediments of any kind. For Locke, in contrast, freedom is the ability to do as one wills with one's own without the coercive intervention of other people. (Ibid. p. 138) Under Hobbes' conception, we arrive at paradoxical outcomes; for instance, a robbery may be both a violation and an exercise of freedom, i.e. a violation of the freedom of the person robbed, and an exercise of the robber's freedom. However, there are two provisos not taken into account by Smith: (1) To define freedom as the ability to remove ANY external impediment is certainly less than satisfactory. However, by rejecting such a wide definition of freedom, we have not yet settled the issue of whether it may still be advisable to remove impediments on specific occasions that necessitate the partial violation of freedom-defining rights. Which brings us back to the dynamic, case-driven character of rights, property, and justice. And it brings us to another objection to Smith's argument: (2) While Locke's view of freedom is expounded by Smith to be a "social concept," defining freedom as a pattern of admissible/inadmissible human interaction, on closer inspection, it does not deserve such characterisation. For, in Locke's view, writes Smith, a condition of perfect freedom can said to exist when property rights, both in one's person and in external goods, are fully recognized and protected. Thus to the extent that a legal system approximates this goal, it can be said to preserve and enhance liberty. (Ibid. p. 138) The unfortunate theme of "system" recurs in the notion of "a condition of perfect freedom," against which we are supposed to measure the degree of desirable approximation to liberty attained by the legal order. But it is not "a condition of perfect freedom" that drives the real life process of developing and defending freedom. It is not an intellectual construct that "can be said to preserve and enhance liberty," but social interrelationships that comprise far more weighty and efficacious factors than a doctrine claiming perfection. In this sense, Locke's classical liberalism presents us with a static notion of liberty that does not do justice to the dynamic conditions of freedom in the real world, where the political character of freedom-defining social relations is pervasive. For more see: Red Cedar and Apple Trees - The Political Character of the Economic Process. Related articles The Homestead Act - Politics, Legislation, and Government for Liberty Efficiency and Freedom (2/3) - The Spectrum of Efficiency Efficiency and Freedom (3/3) - Efficiency-Attractors and Ethics Constitution: source of ideas The post-Constitution President John Locke, the Fed, and the Constitution What We Can Learn About Freedom From 'The Hobbit Party' Red Cedar and Apple Trees - The Political Character of the Economic Process Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. On reading chapter 7 - "The Idea of Freedom" - of the below book, it occurred to me that what tears apart Classical Liberalism is its inherent attempt at being a uniform whole. I am reading The System of Liberty, Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism by G.H. Smith. The author writes in a pleasantly lucid way that demonstrates his superb command of the subject-matter. Smith elicits erudition free from arrogance or bookishness. At least to me, themes in the history of something sounds suggestive of rather lower-ranking, miscellaneous issues, in stark contrast to the promise of the title: the system of liberty. The textual tension between title and subtitle captures a degenerate feature of classical liberalism. Owing to liberalism's magisterial ambition to reign in our minds and hearts as an all-encompassing world-view - a system of liberty - this family of more or less cognate doctrines has soon after its political ascendancy and rather abruptly lost touch with the march of time which, by now, it is part of only as a somewhat exotic accessory tinkling and twinkling on the fringes. A Uniform Concept of Freedom In fact, I contend, the most fundamental reason for the eclipse of liberalism - and ultimate ascension in different form, on that more in an another post - lies precisely in its stubborn, ultimately rationalist ambition to be a system, a conclusively connected, coherent, and complete whole. But why should that be so? First note, freedom has a strong capacity to attract wide-spread concurrence and admiration. As she embraces a large number of phenomena that distinguish our very recent modern civilisation, freedom is a term that is naturally situated on a high level of abstraction, hiding constituent elements that can only be made appraisable in terms of truth and moral preference by disaggregation. On the highest level of abstraction, it is natural for people to flock around the term, and it is quite possible to give a valid definition of freedom capable of subsuming partisans with very different understandings of the concept. Personally, I like Hayek's general definition, according to which freedom is, in my words, the absence of arbitrary interference by others in a person's protected private domain (or even more tersely: "Unabhängigkeit von Willkür," as he writes in German: independence from arbitrariness). Many will be happy to accept this definition of freedom, including people that may not be regarded by certain votaries of classical liberalism as even being capable of genuine appreciation of freedom. Indeed, matters get more tricky and divisive if we probe just a level deeper and ask questions like these: What counts as arbitrary interference? How do we wish to define a person's protected private domain? How is that domain to be protected? By whom? What competences does the protector possess? Dispersed Meanings - Contextually Defined Freedom It turns out that even a clear definition of liberty always makes reference to dynamic concepts. These constitutive concepts of liberty are dynamic in a duplex sense. Firstly, they are open to interpretation and invite dissent and pluralism, whose orderly pursuit is a main aim of freedom. Secondly, they are being practically contested for, in the process of which they change or assume differential validity (my concept may only be allowed to be proposed in the general discourse, while somebody else's is accepted as operationally valid, serving as the foundation of laws issued by a legislative body). In a free society, which the classical liberal definition of freedom is obviously trying to cover, the auxiliary terms by which freedom is being contextually defined – justice, rights, property etc. – are naturally variable. In large measure, freedom’s purpose (more neutrally: functional achievement) is to empower people to negotiate the meaning of these auxiliary terms, and hence the working connotations of freedom, the meaning and operative content that people are giving to freedom. According to classical liberalism, freedom is supposed to have only one, unambiguous meaning. By contrast, whatever the expectations of the classical liberal, in practice freedom persists and is only possible as a texture of different meanings and practices. Even if these convictions and deeds are contradictory and mutually exclusive to some extent, it is in their pursuit that humans are weaving the real texture of freedom. It is a violation of the logic of freedom to conceive of her as a uniform and closed SYSTEM. Liberty is open-ended, she is a process with plenty of indeterminate future ramifications. The greater the insistence on liberty as a system, the more liberalism becomes an exercise in intellectual vanity rather than a single-minded pursuit of the theme of freedom. The rationalistic pretence of the classical liberal tempts her to ultimately give in to the lure of corruption. Most notably, her view of politics is corrupted by a hidden rationalist agenda in which there is no place for the hard-to-control ferment of competing political concepts, interpretations, and uses of the idea and potential of freedom. She disavows politics and democracy. Ironically, classical liberalism has lost its import in the same measure as it has given clear precedence to doctrinal closure over a concern for the real state of liberty. Under these conditions, whatever one may think of contemporary liberals (i.e. Democrats, or say German social democratic liberals, or modern British liberals), the transition of the political name of freedom (liberalism) to other factions than the classical liberal one was an accident urgently waiting to happen. Continued at The Idea(s) of Freedom (2/3) - John Locke and The Tension in Classical Liberalism. Related articles Efficiency and Freedom (1/3) Red Cedar and Apple Trees - The Political Character of the Economic Process Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Arnold Kling's Patterns of Sustainable Specialisation and Trade (PSST)-model opens up promising new avenues for a more differentiated perception of the economy. I only hope, he will, one day, make similar efforts at differentiation in his views concerning the role of politics and the state. Keynesianism treats the economy as a single business producing one output, called GDP. This modeling strategy focuses all attention on the problem of choosing how much to produce. It assumes away the problem of choosing among outputs or the problem of choosing from among many possible production methods or supply-chain configurations. This single output, GDP, is produced by a single technique, called the aggregate production function. Thus, the Keynesian modeling strategy ignores the existence of multiple alternative patterns of specialization. Keynesians act as if there were exactly one pattern of specialization in the economy. There is no need to choose among alternative patterns, to discard outmoded patterns, or to discover new patterns. In the Keynesian framework, jobs are only lost when there is a drop in demand. In the PSST framework, and in the real world, jobs are constantly being destroyed, for a variety of reasons. Economic progress consists of re-arranging production of output to be more efficient. It is an always-ongoing process that necessarily destroys jobs. A new consumer product makes other products obsolete, or at least less desirable. A new invention or managerial innovation makes it possible to produce the same output with fewer workers. A new configuration of trade uses labor more efficiently… In the Keynesian story, all unemployment looks like the temporary layoffs that used to occur in automobiles and steel when firms accumulated excess inventories. Once inventory balance was restored, workers were recalled to the same jobs. In the PSST story, all unemployment looks like structural unemployment. That is, workers who lose jobs will not find that those jobs return in several months, or ever. Instead, displaced workers will have to be employed by different firms, often in different industries. In the Keynesian story, the process of economic adjustment to a shock consists of arriving at the correct relationships between the money supply and the aggregate price level and between the price level and the aggregate wage. In the PSST story, the process of economic adjustment to a shock requires entrepreneurs to discover new arrangements of tasks that add sufficient value to generate sustainable profits. As with all entrepreneurial effort, this is a trial-and-error process. Some new businesses will fail, generating no sustainable employment. Only a few will be so successful that they create large numbers of new jobs. Sorting out this process will take time. From the perspective of someone who finds that the PSST story fits well with economic thinking, the Keynesian modeling strategy seems contrived and misguided. By aggregating the economy into a single business, Keynesianism necessarily shoves the phenomenon of structural adjustment and the ferment of entrepreneurial trial and error into the background. Keynesians regard this as a useful simplification. Instead, Keynesianism is more like Hamlet without the Prince. The source. Two brief remarks, perhaps to be expanded upon in later posts. (1) Adjustments in PSST are thoroughly enmeshed with politically and legally induced changes to the economic playing field. It seems, the further one goes back in history the more willing is the libertarian to acknowledge the simultaneity and concatenation of politics, law and economics in the process of social (including economic) change. However, libertarians find it hard to discover the continuation of this pattern in the contemporary world as they refuse to leave the high level of abstraction where broad-stroke distinctions like "exit" (stepping outside the political world or appearing to make such an escape) versus "voice" (participating in or being subject to the political world) seem to make sense, while not being inclined to delve into the niceties of real markets which, in fact, are inevitably replete with the results of conscious design and competition for political and legal advantage. (2) The other day, I was listening to a presentation on regime uncertainty - by a libertarian academic. What struck me was the similarity of problems of regime uncertainty between the stylised libertarian world of bad-government-here and good-markets-there, on one hand, and self-regulating markets as they truly operate in the economy, on the other, the latter producing the same uncertainty, rivalry and rascality, whose engendering is supposed to be the sinful prerogative of government - only that more or less dirty politics in self-regulating markets is definitely real. See also Just-So Stories in Economics and Politics - Consequences for Liberty Related articles The Homestead Act - Politics, Legislation, and Government for Liberty Red Cedar and Apple Trees - The Political Character of the Economic Process Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. This is how bees are thought to perceive the below sight. Somewhat Reasonable explains how bee facts change, while Green agendas do not: The deadline imposed by President Obama’s [pollinator] task force memo passed months ago, and yet the White House has been strangely silent on the issue of pesticides and honeybee health. What initially looked like an easy lame-duck giveaway to green groups has turned out to be factually complicated. Long before the White House weighed in, anti-insecticide activists promoted claims that honeybees were headed for extinction because of pesticides, specifically neonics – unless the government banned them. Time magazine picked up their refrain, devoting a long cover story to the scary prospect of “a world without bees.” Other news stories uncritically repeated the end-of-bees assertions. One-third of the food we eat could disappear without bees to pollinate crops, they proclaimed. But there was a problem. The narrative turned out to be false, extensive evidence now demonstrates – and inconvenient truths had gotten in the way of another slam-dunk Executive Branch edict. The entire article. Meanwhile, Matt Ridley reports from the UK: So there is no recent pollinator crisis that can be laid at the door of neo-nics. The reverse in fact: farmers who cannot now use neo-nics are using pyrethroids instead. These cause more collateral damage to insects other than pests because they are sprayed on rather than locked inside the plant as seed dressing. If you would prefer farming with fewer pesticides, there’s a simple way to achieve it. No, not organic but genetically modified crops. Bees thrive in them. The entire article. Related articles Bee Facts Changed - Green Agendas Did Not Bee facts changed - green agendas did not Bee Facts Changed - Green Agendas Did Not Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Freedom is a social product whereby society opens up for the individual an enlarging world of the potential and possible within which he may construct his own future as he will. Commons, R. (1924), The Legal Foundations of Capitalism, Lawbook Exchange, p. 82 Indeed, "freedom is a social product," that is, she is always the result of people competing and cooperating for a new stage of freedom. First and foremost, liberty is a complex network of mutable rights and duties. The freedom for A constricts the freedom of B, imparts coercive power of A over B. So the rights that combine humans in a web of perfectible freedom constantly call for endeavours at re-forming change. Mostly, the resourceful individual will have to embark on collective action to advance on this path, while her aim should always be to create conditions that make the individual more resourceful and more capable of taking advantage of her natural and her enabled resourcefulness. I am neither authorised nor do I intend to speak for Senator Laura Ebke. However, I find her political work convincing and worthy of support. Here is a case in point, as I see it, which is taken from Senator Ebke's facebook page: LB623 was advanced to Select File today, on a vote of 39-6 (4 not voting). This bill would allow a limited number of young people--children of undocumented residents of the country who were born in another country, but brought here as young children--to make application (and test) for a drivers license of some sort. There may be amendments yet on Select File, which would change the look of these permits, so that they can be distinguished from citizen "regular" licenses.These licensee would fall under the so-called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) provisions of the federal government. 49 states have already created some sort of licensing allowance for these young people--Nebraska is the only state that hasn't. I said a few words on the topic on the floor today. Here is gist of what I said: Thank you Mr. President. I rise today in support of LB623. I’ve been quiet through most of this debate, but I wanted to say just a few words about this bill. First of all, the knee jerk reaction of saying “these kids are illegal, so shouldn’t get any benefits” almost makes sense. After all, illegal is illegal, and we don’t want to encourage illegal activity... But the calculus changes—for me, anyway—when we start talking about children. First of all, I’m not sure that a drivers license or permit is a “benefit.” It’s not an entitlement that one gets by virtue of being here. You have to take a test—something I would argue is a good thing, to show minimum competency; and you have to pay a fee. But second, and perhaps the most important consideration for me, these DACA eligible folks were kids—oftentimes very young kids--when they came here. In many cases they were babies. We don’t—last time I checked—hold toddlers who grew up in a meth house responsible for what their parents did and, tag them for life as drug manufacturers; nor do we require Bonnie and Clyde’s children, strapped in the back of the getaway car, to pay restitution to the banks. At some point yesterday, there was some discussion of justifying holding these children accountable for the “sins” of their parents, if you will, based on a biblical understanding, but while I am not as inclined as Senator Chambers to quote from scripture, there’s at least some scripture out there—including one from Ezekiel-- which suggests that “The son shall not suffer for the inequity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.” We are, in other words, perhaps, responsible for our own actions. Personally, I think we’d all be happier if we looked at one another as individuals, rather than as part of some group. None of us would like to be held accountable for the sins of our ancestors—most of us, if we do enough digging, will find that somewhere in the family tree we have slave holders, thieves, adulterers, or some other manner of riff-raff. To me, holding kids accountable for what their parents did while they were still in diapers, makes little sense, and is of questionable merit when one considers the “American Way.” As one who has sat through 12 high school graduations in the last 13 years, and signed diplomas of Crete High graduates for 10 of those years—and who has had children going to school during all of that time—I firmly believe that most of these kids (and I don’t know which of them actually qualify for DACA, but I’m sure that some do)—are trying to live the American dream, just as most of our grandparents and great grandparents did. They’re receiving an education, they hang out with their friends of all ethnicities, and they want to be here, because HERE is home for them. They want to pursue their education or go to work. They want to do all of the things—here in Nebraska—that we say we want more of our Nebraska kids to do. My maternal grandparents were born in Jefferson County, which I represent. They were born to (in one case) a German born immigrant, and in the case of 3 of my great grandparents, American born children of German immigrants. My cousin and I have tried to find documentation on one of my great-grandfathers, but we can’t find anything, other than a resident alien draft card during World War I. We don’t know how he got here, and we can’t find any record that he ever became a citizen. It’s possible that he snuck in and was an illegal immigrant, so maybe I need to be sent away. My grandparents both spoke German when they went to school. They spoke German most of the time at home (even though most of their parents had been born in the U.S.). And by the... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. With all that heavy stuff in this blog, let's relax a wee bit with "Barbie Girl". Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. As a rule of thumb, I submit: the more radical libertarianism is, the more does it radicalise, i.e. bring out starkly, the contradictions that lurk more ensconced in classical liberalism. A case in point: the radical libertarian believes that the ubiquity of markets is possible, more specifically: that it is desirable and feasible in principle to replace politics by markets. On this issue, the classical liberal is more restrained in that she avoids absolutes, championing an unspecified low percentage of government in the overall pie chart of society as against a markedly dominant share of "the economy." While the radical libertarian is wholly wrong, the classical liberal has a good, though vague and often hard to operationalise intuition. Still, both are entangled in a serious misconception -- the former fatally, the latter with a chance of escape (by repentant realism). Putting aside other social forces such as custom and creed, what they do not appreciate is that through law politics is interwoven with the economic world, at every turn. You cannot leave the world of political competition behind you to disembark on the better shores of commerce-as-such. In order to highlight the ubiquitous penetration of the economic fabric by legal determinations, let us take a look at Miller at al. v. Schoene ... a case which involves red cedar and apple trees [plus their respective owners,G.T.] ... and cedar rust, a plant disease whose first phase is spent while the fungus resides upon its host, the chiefly ornamental red cedar tree, which is not harmed by the cedar rust. The fungus does have a severely adverse effect upon the apple tree during a second phase, attacking its leaves and fruit. The legislature of the state of Virginia in 1914 passed a statute which empowered the state entomologist to investigate and, if necessary, condemn and destroy without compensation certain red cedar trees within a two-mile radius of an apple orchard. Samuels, W. (1988), Institutional Economics, Volume II, Edward Elgar, p. 254, The owners of red cedar trees and the owners of apple trees had distinct and mutually exclusive aspirations, with either red cedar trees or apple trees having to go. Incidentally, apple trees were big business in Virginia, at the time. What the case illustrates is the ineluctable necessity of choice on the part of government. The state had to make a choice as to which property owner was to be made not only formally secure but practically viable in his legal rights. The Court, as part of the state, had to make a judgement as to which owner would be visited with injury and which protected. [It] had to decide which party would have what capacity to coerce the other ... (Ibid. pp. 256-257) Who was to be given the coercive advantage, which initially lay with the owners of red cedar trees? [T]he state must and does choose: there exists scarcity in the sense that conflicting interests and claims cannot each be secured at the same time ... giving rise to conflict ... and the necessity of choice. (Ibid. p. 258) Freedom is embedded in a structure of power such that any free person, say A, is being granted freedom that restricts the freedom of others, while at the same time being exposed to the freedom of others which, in turn, constrains the scope of A's freedom. These are extremely complex relationship structures that constitute non-trivial inequalities and therefore invite competition for prevalence and change. Market forces emerge and take on shape and slope only within the pattern of, inter alia, legal choices as to relative rights, relative exposure to injury, and relative coercive advantage or disadvantage. Private rights, for example, property rights, are in effect capacities to participate in the economic decision-making process as a coercive force; they define and delineate loci and conditions of power, or participation. That means, then, that since relative effective rights are a partial function of law, the pattern of mutual coercion (relative withholding power) is a function of law, and moreover, that the distribution of relative risk, business costs, and resource allocation, income distribution and general level of income are a partial function of law. [...] The economy is a system of power, of mutual coercion, of reciprocal capacity to receive income and/or to shift injury--whose pattern or structure and consequences are at least partially a function of law. (Ibid. p. 258) It should be noted that ... Miller at al. v. Schoene is not a case of government or no government, or of laissez-faire or intervention. Government is present in either case: it is present with respect to the already existing law of property working as it turned out to the advantage of the red cedar tree owner, and it is present under the new, altered law of property working by legislative intent (and court acquiescence) to the advantage of the apple orchard owner. Damned if it did, damned if it didn't, government had to choose between the effective promotion of one group or the other: government is in both cases a participant in the economic decision-making process. In neither case can one simply be "against" government. The issue is not government or no government but, rather, the old law or the new law, or, [put differently] the one interest or the other. [...] It is a matter neither of intervention into a new situation nor of "socialism"; it is a matter of which interest government will be used to support, ergo a matter of continuity versus change with respect to the pattern of freedom and exposure to freedom or distribution of power or structure of mutual coercion. (Ibid. p. 259 - emphasis added) In conclusion: The legal system (government, law) is not something given and external to the economic decision-making process. [...] There is an existential necessity of choice over relative rights, relative capacity to visit injury or costs, and mutual coercive power (or claims to income). The economy ... is a system of relative rights, of exposure to... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Following up from Efficiency and Freedom (2/3) - The Spectrum of Efficiency. Freedom - The Systematization of Efficiency Fostering a high degree of personal autonomy, a free society empowers individuals to take rational decisions, far more extensively and coherently than in a paternalistic society. In this way, citizens of a free society tend to generate efficient solutions - inventively, systematically and en masse. A network of rational decision springs up more comprehensively than ever - which may go a far way in explaining the unique coincidence of unprecedented levels of freedom and the take off of humankind as a species capable of escaping from the Malthusian trap while sustaining uninterrupted economic growth. Conditional Efficiency At the same time, of course, solutions are efficient relative to the boundary conditions within which rational decisions are taken. Put differently, efficiency, of course, is always conditional. Freedom implies the ability of people (increasingly defined as the adult population) to prefer, advertise and even enforce differing boundary conditions which engender differing instantiations of efficiency. Thus, until the late 1970s, post-war Americans seemed to have preferred a larger scope for free markets than did the British. East Germany was regarded as the economic paragon of the Eastern Bloc, apparently working out sufficiently different boundary conditions, than countries with the same rough societal order, to end up with an efficiency regime producing higher levels of material wealth. Other Communist countries may have had to emphasise efficient forms of repression that precluded an alternative efficiency regime productive of a higher standard of living. Competing regimes of efficiency At any rate, freedom encourages efficient behaviour, but in doing so it also encourages competition for different schemes conditioning efficiency - often, schemes of different moral emphasis, such as those demanding more or less welfare arrangements, respectively. I suppose, from sufficiently far a vantage point, competition for the frameworks within which efficient strategies are to be worked out adds a welcome experimental quality to the free society. (a) Adaptability-through-experimentation and the the strong element of (b) gravitation-toward-efficiency, would seem to help explain the resilience of free societies - (societies that have acquired freedom at an early stage do not seem to jettison robust conditions of liberty over the long run - consider Germany, whose experiments with Nazism and Communism ended with "mean reversion" toward robust conditions of freedom), "the corridor of success," and the "paradox of freedom," the remarkable persistence of freedom in peoples and cultures not particularly aware of or committed to political agendas explicitly championing liberty. Efficiency-Attractors The two features inherent in free societies - (a) adaptability-through-experimentation and (b) gravitation-toward-efficiency - certainly contribute significantly to another notable peculiarity: The tension between competing efficiency regimes is attenuated by the presence of "efficiency-attractors," i.e. efficient outcomes toward which people tend to converge over more or less extended periods of trial and error. As a mental note for future reference, to some extend, one may think of efficiency-attractors as manifesting the compelling logic of "Zweckrationalität" (means-end rationality) (Max Weber) which is so extensively present a characteristic of human action in civil societies. Efficiency-attractors become pivotal shapers of freedom, and they are an issue that makes libertarians part company. As we will see from the below quotations, freedom and her boundary conditions, including prominently the ethical choices underlying them, are significantly shaped by evolving efficiency-attractors. They imply an open-mindedness vis-à-vis the (thesis of the) evolutionary character of the ethical underpinnings of liberty, which, of course, conflicts with deontological defences of freedom that rely on a static set of ultimate ethical principles from which the meaning and implications of freedom are to be deduced. Thus, in opposition to Murray Rothbard, Harold Demsetz makes the case ...for the relevance of efficiency to definitions of better rights systems within the confines of private property rights system. In fact, we frequently encounter notions of fairness, equity, and justice that seem derivative from efficiency considerations. These notions are particularly conspicuous for situations in which transaction cost is likely to be high, and, therefore, in which rights assignment clearly has efficiency implications. In a rear-end collision involving two cars, there is a prima facie case that the driver of the second car is liable. Could this be "because" in the general case the driver of the second car can avoid such accidents more cheaply than the driver of the first car? This rule of law is especially applicable at the slow speeds of city traffic, but for high speed expressways it not applied so rigorously; the driver of a second car has a more difficult time avoiding rear-end collisions at expressway speeds, and we often observe minimum speed limits in expressways. If the owner of a factory considers locating next to an existing laundry, and the owner of that laundry protests in court that soot from the factory will raise the cost of laundering, the factory owner is more likely to be held liable for damages than it the it is the laundry that contemplates locating next to an existing factory ... [this is probably attributable] ... to the generally correct judgement that he who has not yet located his business can move his business to another location at less cost than he who has already fixed his assets into a particular location.The very notions of fault and accident seem inextricably tied to the cost of avoiding damaging interactions. (Demsetz, H. (1988), Ethics and Efficiency in Ownership Control and the Firm, Blackwell, pp. 271-272) And Demsetz pushes the point even further: The legal rules of thumb we adopt [...] seem to reflect basic efficiency considerations. Efficiency seems to be not merely one of many criteria underlying our notions of ethically correct definitions of private property rights, but an extremely important one. It is difficult even to describe unambiguously any other criterion for determining what is ethical. (Ibid. pp. 272-273) Let him conclude for our purposes: The property rights system is in large part a set of definitions and rules of behaviour that specify which forms of competition... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Following up from Efficiency and Freedom (1/3) - Liberty's Ethical Multiplier. Freedom - An Environment of Efficiency Society cannot be free when its members are not allowed to exercise their faculty of rational thinking - and act on it, of course, with respect only to the large area of innocuous and offenseless applications. Striving for efficiency is a natural concomitant of making rational choices. However, in oppressive societies large numbers of people are highly restricted in making rational choices, being instead subjected to the commands and prohibitions of a dominant ruling elite. In other words, to invite freedom is to invite efficiency. In so far as I take a very-long-run view of liberty, I consider her the result of a peculiar anthropological constant characteristic of human beings: we strive to become ever more completely "the ultimate resource" (Julian Simon): The history of man is a journey towards our becoming the ultimate resource (Julian Simon) for ourselves. That is to say, ever more comprehensively and effectively, we become the creator of the resources that we need for our survival and well-being. More. Rational comportment, efficiency and their best environment - freedom - play a crucial role in the overriding trend in human progress. But what is efficiency, how does it work, how does it advance us, where are its limits? Different views of the same: efficiency. Consumer sovereignty Homo economicus will consume up to the point where marginal benefits equal marginal costs. This is one definition of efficiency. [...] To choose any other way would be to choose a lower- over a higher-ranked preference, and that, of course, is the essence of irrationality. In this sense, then, efficiency is simply rationality. There is, then, a close relation between efficiency and rational choice: to be rational is just to choose in a way that best satisfies one's preferences-and that means that the marginal gains are at least as great as the marginal costs. (Gaus, G. (2008), On Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Thomson Wadsworth, pp. 74-75) Production function The production function is an expression of technological knowledge that maps quantities of inputs into quantities of outputs. The inputs are measured as physical flows of resources. These are transformed through existing technical knowledge into flows of goods and services. [...] the state of knowledge tells us how inputs that are committed to specified tasks map into outputs. [And thus allow us to discern the most efficient input-output relation, G.T.] (Demsetz, H. (1989), Efficiency, Competition, and Policy, Blackwell, p. 41) However, Demsetz hastens to add: No reference is made to the social system in which the production process is embedded [...] The social requirements of a particular social system generally affect production possibilities in much the same way as knowledge or managerial technique. They change the rates at which inputs can be converted into outputs and the rates at which trade-offs can be made between goods. (Demsetz, H. (1989), Efficiency, Competition, and Policy, Blackwell, p. 42) As I wrote in Efficiency and Freedom (1/3) - Liberty's Ethical Multiplier: [A]society favouring income equality more than wealth and growth may have its set of efficient outcomes, just as a society with a preference of wealth and growth over income equality may attain efficient outcomes relative to its political boundary conditions. In the face of a spectrum of efficiency, whose ultimate manifestations are driven by ethical determinations, managing political scarcity becomes of the utmost importance, which is to say that judicious political management is called for, to avoid unnecessary conflict, protect robust conditions of freedom, while promoting healthy competition as well as a sense of trust in a pluralistic community. Turning to allocative efficiency we shall also discover a central place for society's political culture in dealing with indeterminate states that require political negotiation and compromise. Allocative efficiency An understanding of economic efficiency begins with Pareto optimality. A Pareto optimal allocation iis one in which we cannot reallocate resources to improve one person's welfare without impairing at least one other person's welfare. Pareto improvements are those where a change in resource allocation is preferred by one or more members of society and opposed by no one. (Rhoads, S. (1985), The Economist's View of the World. Government, Markets & Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, p. 63) Here is the good news: Economically efficient allocations are always Pareto optimal allocations ... [In] most situations free markets come closer to achieving economically efficient outcomes than do alternative institutional arrangements. (Ibid. p. 63-64) And here is the challenge: [Pareto improvements] are very hard to find. If a single person objects to changing the status quo, then the Pareto improvement criterion gives no unambiguous public-policy guidance. The existing situation may be Pareto optimal. But there are a nearly infinite number of other non-comparable Pareto optimums, and the concept is of little policy use. (Ibid. p. 63) As we have noted elsewhere, liberty produces her own ethical multiplier, that is, she encourages and supports people's propensity to develop and promote different ethical standards. It is the difficult job of politically responsible citizens and their representatives to operationalise the spirit of the Pareto-criterion, that is: to find win-win-solutions, promote positive sum games in our interaction and, what will be the most preponderant class of beneficial strategies, signal a serious effort to approximate Pareto-optimality. One such effort at approximation comes in the form of a revised Pareto-criterion, the Kaldor-Hicks-criterion: Economic efficiency [according to the Kaldor-Hicks-criterion, G.T.] requires only that recommended changes use resources in such a way that it would be theoretically possible - assuming costless transfers of income among gainers and losers - to make some better off and no one worse off. Suppose that most people would gain from some change, but some would lose. If the gainers gain enough so that they could fully compensate the losers with money or goods and still have an improved situation themselves, the change meets with what some economists call the "potential Pareto" criterion (i.e. the Kaldor-Hicks.criterion, G.T.] and would improve economic efficiency. [...] Politicians... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2015 at RedStateEclectic