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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, as opposed to Hobbes' mechanistic notion, according to which freedom is the power to remove external impediments of any kind. The failure 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 reasonably accurate 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 cannot find it, because it does not exist:... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago 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 2 days ago 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 3 days ago 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 4 days ago 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
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Image credit. Freedom enables humankind to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency. The individual can exercise her own rationality freed from tutelage, and build and benefit from a vastly expanded range of choices. The individual becomes part and parcel of a comprehensive game of improved efficiency played by all members of society. However, we should not assume that freedom is a machine producing a uniform efficiency-product. A Spectrum of Efficiencies Freedom is a changeable state of affairs that can assume - potentially and in reality - the form of many different alternatives, some of which may lie outside the area that some of us would recognise as proper freedom. While no one can or should be stopped to say "this isn't freedom in my eyes," we ought to understand that there cannot be a uniform concept of freedom. There is, as it were, a whole stack of cards on each of which is more or less legitimately written "liberty." Politics is playing a deck of cards called "liberty." What possible arrangement of liberty we may choose has to do with the concept of efficiency. For efficiency, one of the great pluses of liberty, can be achieved in different ways depending on the boundary conditions from which to work out the most efficient solution. Competing Boundary Conditions - The Need for Political Management This only goes to underscore the importance of responsible political participation and the inestimable significance of honest specialists of political representation. For in a world of competing arrangements of liberty, not only is it important to make good (i.e. more efficient) choices as opposed to bad (rather inefficient) one's, not only is it - simultaneously - important to make choices faithful to popular will, while balancing vox populi against robust conditions of freedom, the latter being exempt from reversal owing to short-term political moods. What is more, the good politician, the sensitive legislator must uphold the credibility of a political landscape that encloses differing and competing, yet cognate concepts of liberty. Politics alters the boundary conditions that determine the specific instantiation of an efficient outcome. Different political parameters, different efficient outcomes. While conceptually perhaps subtle and hard to give a graphic account of, 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. Liberty's Ethical Multiplier Commitment to a certain type of boundary conditions is a matter of ethical choice. The right to ethical choice is surely an option characteristic of a free society, and hence disagreement on arrangements of freedom are inherent in liberty. This being so, to be sure, there is still no reason to revel or languish in moral relativism. To the contrary, we need to defend and justify our best insight into desirable boundary conditions of freedom and efficiency against erroneous competing views, while being conscious of the need to respectfully tolerate others who may subscribe to an interpretation of freedom that is sufferably different from ours, or perhaps, at least occasionally, even better, as we may find out, if we compete with patience and an open mind. The Economy - An Extensive Derivative of Permits and Taboos The first sentence in the below quote from Thomas Sowell resonates strongly with me, as it makes it utterly clear that the economic system is incapable of creating its own preconditions, but depends on political acts and support organised by the state if an economic order is ever to be viably operative: [W]hile economic systems of various sorts boast of their achievements in bringing goods and services to people, what makes them all economic systems is that they have systematic procedures for preventing people from getting goods and services, denying them access to natural resources, tools or equipment for production, and limiting their ability to work all the tasks they would prefer [...] [A]ll economic systems must use some method of denial. Sowell, T. (1989), Knowledge and Decisions, Basic Books, p. 45 That is to say, economic systems are not economic systems but extensive derivatives of permits and taboos culturally produced, legally defined, and governmentally enforced. [T]here are inherent constraints, given the limitations of nature and the unlimited desires of man, and economic systems are simply artificial schemes of administering the inherent scarcities. [Large enough a class of, G.T.] ... scarcities ... exist independently of the particular economic systems, and would exist if there were no economic system at all and people simply fought over everything they wanted. Economic institutions exist to introduce elements of rationality and efficiency into the use of inputs and outputs. And so do political attitudes, convictions and determinations that frame the elements that our rationality is allowed to handle and the paths that are open to the malleable flow of efficient solutions. See also Efficiency and Freedom (2/3) ..., Efficiency and Freedom (3/3) ..., and Competing for Liberty (6/6) - Coercion, Real Wealth, and Efficiency Related articles Freedom and the Environment The Homestead Act - Politics, Legislation, and Government for Liberty Voices Like That of Senator Ebke Should We Be Moral Relativists? The History of Money Is Quality or Cost More Essential? The International Cellphone Market Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Daniel Dennett argues convincingly that determinism and free will are not incompatible. The crux of his contention is that from a complete set of deterministic rules one may engender contingent outcomes, that is: situations that call for the exercise of judgement and choice. While restricted by a complete set of initial conditions and fully deterministic rules for action, the results of such determination may proliferate to form an evolutionary order, which, in turn, brings about the capacity to learn, compare, weigh and decide among options. Personally, I feel that some sort of constraint on free will ought to be expected, and that free will as a precondition of moral responsibility and intelligent choice is satisfied under the conditions that Dennett explains. The free person is not entirely undetermined in his choosing, yet the degree of freedom accorded her is large enough to make her a responsible agent to be held accountable for moral or other purposes (like checking learning progress or the quality of an argument and so on). This is an insight of multiple import for the place of liberty in our lives. When deterministic conditions can evolve to develop substantial margins for deliberate human strategies, we may, in principle, reach a stage in this development that calls for freedom as we understand it: a high degree of personal autonomy. In the end, the demand for liberty amounts to a choice in favour of (i) a deterministic system, an evolved order with wide space for delegated, locally and personally competent decision-making, that is better than (ii) human despotism, an ad-hoc-regime of paternalistic second guessing resulting in severely sub-optimal information-processing and insufficient environmental adaptation. Relatedly, and I think Dennett mentions this aspect in his lecture, without deterministic constraints it is hard to imagine an orderly universe, i.e. one in which we can expect to make reliable choices thanks to a reasonably predictable habitat. Totally random ad-hoc-determination (of conditions in an environment) would produce chaos in which successful adaptation is not possible. Below a brief summary of his arguments (apologies for the bad sound quality), as well as a full lecture by Dennett on the compatibility of determinism and free will. Daniel Dennett: Related articles Competing for Liberty (1/3) Birth of American Freedom - Government and Democracy Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. How I love dogs. Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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I love Nebraskan food. It is amply available in supermarkets in Germany. US-American meat tends to be the best there is over here, even ahead of South American imports. Pierre Desrochers sums up much of what is wrong with locavorism, the fetishisation of local agriculture as the magic bullet that will solve our food problems. See also Freedom and the Environment. Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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"In 1862, when Congress passed the celebrated "Homestead Act" that gave 160 free acres to any settler willing to live on the land for five years and develop it, it was only sanctioning what settlers had already done by themselves." (de Soto, H. (2000), The Mystery of Capital, Missing Lessons of US History, Basic Books, p. 147) Regarding the interaction of freedom, politics, government, and the state, a number of facts related to the Homestead movement should be noted that are diametrically opposite to what many libertarians would claim. Left to their own devices and faced with an old legal order (British common law) that refused to take account of the special situation in the New World, American settlers were seeking acceptance through the help of politicians and a state willing and capable of pulling them into a legality to be newly defined. Politicians, legislators and government authorities played a key role in accommodating the dire need of a legally recognised and secure new identity for millions of Americans. Quite in keeping with the attitudes of the great thinkers of early liberalism, freedom in America was driven by a movement toward sensible laws and government. The free settlers fought ardently for it. [The Homestead Act signified] the end of a long, exhausting, and bitter struggle between elitist law [British common law protecting the property of establishment's select few] and a new order brought about by massive migration and the needs of an open and sustainable society. (Ibid. p. 148) What is still a woefully unfinished task in most countries of the Third World today, was accomplished in America by the second half of the 19th century thanks to an open political order capable of absorbing the demands of millions of Americans that were inhabiting a social reality insufficiently reflected in the country's incumbent legal base: The recognition and integration of of extralegal property rights was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world. (p.148) This was a huge and protracted political task, involving difficult conflicts. It took political, not economic activity alone, to gradually accommodate more and more of the needs of the new times. In this way: The Americans gradually legitimized extralegal property norms and arrangements created by the poorest Americans and integrated them into the law of the land. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, information about property and the rules that governed it were dispersed, atomized, and unconnected. [...] [It was] related only to the local community and was not available within any consistent network of systematized representations. [...] American officials [...] when they constructed national laws such as the preemption and mining acts [...] were creating the representational forms that integrated all this loose and isolated property data into a new formal property system. (p. 148/149) All the great attainments of American freedom, like the Constitution or the land's vital capitalist economy, have been brought about in significant and indispensable measure by non-market action, i.e. by political competition and negotiation. No one seriously looking at the phenomenon of freedom can overlook this fundamental fact, one would expect. However, many libertarians prefer to withdraw into a haze of figments about a world in which freedom is generated (historically and prospectively) by a happy absence of struggle and assertion of the political kind. In reality one has to fight for one's rights, fight to organise and maintain them, and always be prepared for the onslaught against and the revision of one's preferred world by others pursuing their own cause. In passing laws to integrate the extralegal population, American politicians expressed the revolutionary idea that legal institutions can survive only if they respond to social needs. The American legal system obtained its energy because it built on the experience of the grass-roots Americans and the extralegal arrangements they created, while rejecting those English common law doctrines that had little relevance to problems unique to the United States. In the long and arduous process of integrating extralegal property rights, American legislators and jurists created a new system much more conducive to a productive and dynamic market economy. This process constituted a revolution born out of the normative expectations of ordinary people, which the government developed into a systematized and professional formal structure. (p.150 - my emphasis) In any advanced society, there is a division of labour - the more highly differentiated the freer society - that will sensibly encompass and structure a division of labour of consumers and producers of politics and social change. It is time that libertarians open their minds to comprehend this fundamental condition of freedom. Related articles Demos and Freedom - Robust and Non-Robust Conditions of Liberty Voices Like That of Senator Ebke The Age of Liberalism Competing for Liberty (1/3) Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Did you know, Nebraska's official name used to be "The Tree Planter's State?" Explains Senator Laura Ebke in her fun fact of the day: "Nebraska has had two official state names: the "Tree Planters' State" and the "Cornhusker State" Nebraska was designated the "Tree Planters' State" by legislative action in 1895. Nebraska's claim to tree-planting fame includes the founding of Arbor Day in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City, the Timber Culture Act of U.S. Sen. Phineas W. Hitchcock in 1873 and the millions of trees planted by early settlers as windbreaks, woodlots and orchards. The 1945 Legislature changed the official state name to the "Cornhusker State."" Freedom means progress, thus freedom means an environment more adequate to humankind - and there cannot be any other standard for judging environmental quality. Pierre Desrochers reminds us: Last month [written in November, 2006] our southern neighbours welcomed the arrival (or birth) of their three-hundredth million citizen. While the news should have been welcomed, a number of environmental activists and journalists viewed it as cause for concern. They had no reasons to, because a rising population in a prosperous economy is entirely consistent with a higher quality of life and improved environmental amenities. As Dan Griswold of the Cato Institute pointed out, even though the U.S. population is today four times larger than it was a century ago, during this time period "life expectancy at birth has grown from 48 to 78 years, infant mortality rates have plunged, a host of deadly diseases have been conquered, and the air we breathe and the water we drink are far cleaner than when we were a less populous country." The idea that economic growth generates pollution problems, but simultaneously provides the means to clean up most of them and even to improve on earlier conditions, is probably too counterintuitive to be readily accepted by most people. It is nonetheless backed up by much historical evidence. A brief discussion of the causes underlying forest regrowth and improvements in air and water quality in advanced economies can be illustrative in this respect. Take, for instance, the case of forest cover: It is a common misconception that deforestation is a recent occurrence, with the bulk of it taking place in the tropical regions of the world in the last five decades. As Williams (2002) points out, possibly as much as nine-tenths of all deforestation occurred before 1950, as people cleared forests for shelter, food, warmth and to create a multitude of implements. Beginning in some European countries in the middle of the nineteenth century, however, these trends have long been reversed in virtually all advanced economies and in some developing economies (including China and India). Among other factors explaining this rebirth of forests in over fifty countries is the fact that farmers and foresters became increasingly efficient in their capacity to grow more food and fiber on ever-decreasing areas, with the resulting abandonment of pasture and cropland paving the way to afforestation and reforestation. Meanwhile, wood users became increasingly adept at extracting more value out of their input, while development of substitute products, ranging from electricity to plastics and metals, reduced the demand for wood (Ausubel, 2000; Williams, 1989). Rudel et al. (2004) also point out that economic development and urbanization has created better paying non-farming jobs in urban areas, causing a number of agricultural workers to abandon their land. In places with stable or growing populations and little ability to import forest products, continued declines in forest cover spur increases in prices of forest products, causing landowners to plant trees instead of crops or pasture grasses. Disastrous floods in deforested watersheds have also motivated government officials in developing, but now prosperous, countries to implement reforestation programs. Make sure to read the entire short piece. See also Desrochers' Free Market Ways to Solve Environmental Problems, Millions from Waste - How Capitalism Saves the Environment, and Liberty's Vacant Preserve - the Environment, When Economists Were Still Economists. Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Continued from The Age of Liberalism: I have progressed to page 178 of "The Evolution of Modern Liberty," George Scherger's book published in 1904, 111 years ago. It is an excellent history of the thinking that underlies the great American documents of freedom. I made two striking observations - well, they are striking in so far, as I am still somewhat influenced by the triumphant tone in which many libertarians tend to emphasise that the Constitution does not mention democracy. My own research into liberty has convinced me of the importance of government and democracy for a free society; and in this way, my own intellectual growth has alienated me from the anti-democratic ("Democracy - the God That Failed") fervour and crypto-anarchist demonisation of the state that have become the affective badge of membership among so many libertarians. 1. Observation Scherger demonstrates convincingly - without this being his objective, I suppose, but still evident in the filters of my reading - that the intellectual mentors most formative to the pioneers of American freedom regarded both the state as well as democracy an indispensable tools for the creation of a free society. As I scribbled in the margin: Looking at the liberalism of the Whigs, of its leading political philosopher, John Locke, and of Blackstone and others, Milton perhaps, who profoundly influenced the convictions of the American Revolution, I detect no anti-democratic or anti-state inclinations, but instead an ardent belief in government and public sovereignty and the need to cultivate these institutions responsibly and to protect them from neglect and abuse. Writes Scherger: The foundation of [John Locke's] political system is the sovereign power of the community. The end of all government is the good of the people. Institutions can be founded on the consent of the people alone. In America the principles of the Whigs fell upon a more fruitful soil than in England.The Whig platform became the platform of the colonists. Its doctrines were embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the American Bills of Rights. (p. 149) It appears that the libertarian emphasis on government abuse has gradually come to crowd out the underlying raison d'être for such concern - the insight that a certain form of government is requisite to liberty, and hence, deserves the most attentive management and protection. 2. Observation Now, let us turn to the colonists: They held the most liberal religious and political views of their time. Many were Independents who opposed the union of Church and the State and demanded liberty of conscience as a sacred right. Their democratic principles of church government gave rise to a democratic political spirit. Each congregation was a miniature republic, electing its pastor and church officers, and, while independent of all others, having absolute control over its own affairs. There were many other dissenters besides the Independents throughout the colonies-Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and others. [...] Religious liberty and political freedom have ever gone hand in hand. There is but a step from religious dissent to political opposition. [They] were not likely to submit to oppression and infringement of their political liberties. (p. 164 - all emphases here and below added) Furthermore: They acknowledged their allegiance to the Crown, but they would not admit the controlling power of Parliament. They considered the Colonial legislatures sovereign within their territories. They were composed of representatives of all the citizens of the colony. The democratic nature of their political institution and the extent to which they enjoyed the right of self-government could not but breed in the colonists a love of freedom and of individual liberty. (p. 166) As for the colonists predisposition for democratic ways, consider that the compact theory (the idea that men consent to form a common government) had a special meaning to them: It was the Congregationalist Church covenant applied to civil society. The congregation of John Robinson had entered into a covenant before leaving England for Holland. Before disembarking from the Mayflower those of that Church who had come to America, drew up and signed a compact whereby they constituted a body politic. (p. 167) Finally: Many factors worked together to generate a democratic spirit in the colonists [...] To them the principle that all power is derived from the people was more than a theory. [...] The ideas of Milton, Sydney, Hooker, and Locke were familiar to them as Englishmen; but they had among themselves since the beginning of their history ardent champions of democratic views, viz.: Hooker, Roger Williams, Penn, and others. In the American colonies the conditions existed which engendered democratic views [...] The character of the colonists, their surroundings and form of life, their free political institutions, their democratic form of church government, as well as their past history, bred in them a spirit of individualism. The theory of the sovereignty of the people lay at the basis of their institutions-the doctrine which, as a ray of white light contains the various prismatic colors, embraces in itself all the so-called Rights of Man. (pp. 176/177) Image credit. Related articles The Age of Liberalism Competing for Liberty (1/3) The Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion Competing for Liberty (5/6) - Crusoe-Freedom vs. Multi-Person Freedom Competing for Liberty (6/6) - Coercion, Real Weath, and Efficiency 'British values' are about more than flag-waving Modern Magna Carta: the original and still the best Continue reading
Posted Apr 12, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I am reading a fascinating little book published in 1904, "The Evolution of Modern Liberty. An Insightful Study of the Birth of American Freedom and How it Spread Overseas," by George L. Scherger. The writer makes me jump from one interesting idea to another, either taken directly from the book or inspired by it. I do not know with which idea to begin. For starters, I shall confine myself to a simple, yet momentous observation, namely that liberalism has changed significantly since the era of its heyday in the 19th century. In its contemporaneously dominant adoption by global social democracy, many, indeed, too many inhibitions, taboos, and reservations of classical liberalism are being breached, burdening the economy, jeopardising a balanced political system (one ensuring that no single force in society exerts absolute dominance), and undermining personal freedom - all of which being important pillars of the robust conditions of freedom. Crude ideological stereotypes of socialist origin - above all, the chimaera of inequality - are being used to leverage insufferably invasive and collectivist attacks on our free societies. In no small measure, I conjecture, however, these social democratic excesses are being invited by an inability, and - perhaps more deeply causative - a long-standing unwillingness of the classical liberal to enter the political fray so as to delineate his position from social democratic conceit, on the one hand, and anarchist utopianism, on the other hand. The challenge is that many of the social democratic policies are quite compatible with (robust conditions of) liberty, while some of these have tremendous popular appeal (like certain elements of the welfare state), though there may be other and far better approaches to the respective issues. But if there is no politically vital force to represent these better, genuinely liberal approaches, social democracy is destined to become the dominant political force. It would probably take an entire book to retrace the many roads that have led to a world in which liberals have become either social democrats, or crypto-anarchists sporting an anti-political attitude that incapacitates them to use the powerful tools of politics and the state to turn liberalism into a living thing, rather than a pious creed for personal edification with no public significance. As Scherger seems to imply convincingly, the liberalism of the 19th century did include great expectations for and a vision of the state as a liberating force - why this vision has vanished, why modern libertarians have practically reversed the original liberal view of politics and the state remains a puzzle, that I think, we should pay more attention to, so as to regain the ability to see freedom where she exists and not only complain about her being absent or violated: These declarations of the Rights of Man [most importantly in America, but also in France and later in Germany and other places, so far as they were American-inspired] mark a new ear in the history of mankind. The humanitarian spirit underlies them-the conception that each individual citizen is entitled to the concern of the State; that this personality is of infinite worth and is a purpose of creation; that he should be recognized as an individual, as a man. The principles they contain became the creed of Liberalism. The nineteenth century war pre-eminently the century of Liberalism. (Scherger, G. (1904), The Evolution of Modern Liberty ..., pp. 5 - 6, Skyhorse Publishing-empahisis added) Note that the great achievements of the age of liberalism rely on state enforcement, political mobilisation and, hence, increasingly on a thoroughly democratic public. See Demos and Freedom - Robust and Non-Robust Conditions of Liberty, The Invention of the Modern Public, Modern Liberty's Model of the Public. Writes Scherger: Perhaps no other century witnessed greater and more numerous reforms and a greater extension of individual liberty. This century is marked by the abolition of slavery in all civilized countries, by the extension of the elective franchise, by the emancipation of woman, by the popularization of government, and by countless other reforms. (Ibid, emphasis added) See also Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) - Illiberalism Within Liberalism - The Liberal Virus of Pessimism, Freedom Limits Liberalism, Freedom - A Force of Creative Destruction in the Moral Realm. Continued at Birth of American Freedom - Government and Democracy. Related articles Competing for Liberty (6/6) - Coercion, Real Weath, and Efficiency Voices Like That of Senator Ebke The Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion Learning the History of Liberty from the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism Competing for Liberty (4/6) - Two Functions of Law, and Liberty as Method vs Liberty as Blueprint Competing for Liberty (5/6) - Crusoe-Freedom vs. Multi-Person Freedom Competing for Liberty (1/3) voteronpaul: Liberty & EqualityTwo central values of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I am a great admirer of Senator Laura Ebke. Not least because she does what I do not do, so many of us do not do, though we ought to: she puts her convictions to the test of real politics. I do not refrain from politics because I think it is per se wrong to engage in it, as unfortunately so many libertarians think. I stay away from the fray because it is so tough and gruelling. Yet we need voices like that of Senator Ebke to be heard in the political arena, voices of those conscious of freedom. A lot of my writing here at RSE is in defence of politics and the state, an incongruous position, many believe, for someone concerned with freedom. However, over the years, I have come to realise that politics and the state are vital to our liberty; and when I say this, I think of public personalities like Senator Laura Ebke - undogmatic yet principled believers in freedom, with courage and circumspection in equal measure to defend their views tenaciously and to yield to better insight (of the need of compromise, for instance) when resistance to it becomes unreasonable. Make sure to visit Senator Ebke's excellent facebook page. Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. 1. Freedom as Real Wealth As we have seen in Competing for Liberty (3/6) ... , Stigler suggests that freedom ought to be measured in terms of real wealth, i.e. the maximisation of the set of desirable opportunities open to an individual. If by real wealth we mean purchasing power in an exchange economy, we face two difficulties. First, it is conceivable that a person with less purchasing power may be able to maximise the set of opportunities desirable to him to a larger extent than a person with more purchasing power (happy pauper vs. desolate billionaire). Second, Stigler's proposition does not contain criteria that filter out opportunities that we do not wish to be available under a regime of freedom. If by real wealth we simply mean utility, i.e. maximising freedom is the same as maximising real wealth and the latter is the same as maximising utility (personal satisfaction in the broadest sense), freedom again loses specific meaning, especially the ability to exclude meanings that we positively do not associate with freedom - for instance, the ability to torture children -, and in addition ascertainability, for not only is it often impossible to ascertain whether a person is actually maximising utility, but it is for the person in question often impossible to know whether she is actually maximising utility -- maybe it would have been better for her to become a computer scientist rather than a teacher of English. No doubt, freedom in the classical liberal sense will tend to increase real wealth in accordance with both denotations of the word - purchasing power and utility maximisation. That is, freedom tends to make us more wealthy, and she tends to expand the choices at hand as well as the scope we have to choose freely from alternatives. But these benefits of freedom depend on the type of acts of coercion that we treat as admissible and those that we suppress. 2. Coercion as an Inverse Index of Freedom Liberty has a purpose: the simultaneity of peace, productivity, maximal personal autonomy as equally applicable to all members of the community, as well as the best possible support of human collaboration, and human cooperation. Obstacles to the attainment of this bundle of simultaneous purposes to which freedom is geared may be regarded as forms of illegitimate coercion, which in turn, may be removed or prevented by the kind of coercion that is legitimate under a regime of freedom. We cannot achieve freedom by successfully excluding the possibility of damaging storms, insect infestation, and other acts and events that lie outside the purview of human interaction. Freedom is a set of rules concerning the legitimate forms of conduct among human beings. Thus the kind of coercion to be minimised and the kind of coercion admissible under a regime of liberty is confined to certain characteristics of human behaviour capable of being addressed by laws and other rules. 3. Freedom as Efficiency While freedom is not real wealth, but can momentously foster the generation of real wealth (see first section), she demands efficient execution. Freedom is attended by efficiency, but she is not conterminous with it. We will and ought to strive to achieve freedom as efficiently as possible. In suppressing certain repudiated forms of coercion by other legitimised forms of coercion we seek to be efficient in achieving the underlying objectives, the bundle of purposes that define freedom. Most importantly, efficiency is a facilitating practice, whose moral quality is exogenous to it. Whether or not we wish a practice to be pursued efficiently, indeed at all, depends on the use to which the efficient practice is put. Depending on goal-defining tastes and preferences, maximum efficiency can be at work in human societies of very different moral ambitions. Freedom is not unaffected by this. Any manifestation of a free society is the result of forces competing more or less consciously for the prevalent meaning or practice of freedom. I would argue that the purpose of freedom is to create a playing field for the competitive design and development of freedom. To make sure I am not accused of circular reasoning, let me rephrase the last sentence: The purpose of robust conditions of freedom is to create a playing field for the competitive design and development of alternative arrangements of specific freedoms compatible with robust conditions of freedom. Owing to differing initial conditions, tastes, and preferences, two countries may come up with different specific arrangements of restrictions and freedoms, having derived them from respecting the same robust conditions of freedom. Every human being is subject to his own characteristic of loyalties and traditions, group affiliation, inventiveness, acumen, local conditions, life circumstances, values, endowments and cost perceptions/scenarios. In a world where freedom comes at a price, different people can be expected to layout different scenarios for listing and prioritising traits of freedom that they wish to invest in as private actors, as political principals, or as political agents. For all those, who believe that shared decision-making (politics) is a deluded aberration from freedom as fully producible by market transactions, they ought to consider that economic scarcity and the attendant need to ration possessions, goods, and services produces political scarcity, the lack of value-unanimity and the attendant need to ration the implementation of ideological desiderata in society. As she frees people to practice ideological autonomy, freedom is more productive of political scarcity - measured as the number of different views that may be expressed and practically pursued - than any other societal arrangement. Therefore, freedom must also be the project that ensures the peaceful pursuit of pluralism. In a word: freedom is a political enterprise - for more see Freedom as Method, Harm Principle, Benefit Principle, and the Good Politician. See also Competing for Liberty (1/6) - Libertarian Paternalism and the Contestability of Freedom, and Competing for Liberty (2/6) - Harold Demsetz on "The Meaning of Freedom." Related articles Competing for Liberty (3/6) - Coercion as an Inverse Index of Freedom and Freedom as... Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. Following up from Competing for Liberty (4/6) - Two Functions of Law, and Liberty as Method vs Liberty as Blueprint, read more below on why liberty can never be the preserve of one school, faction, or an outstanding personality. Crusoe-Freedom vs. Sociogenic Freedom Freedom as Property Rights Let us start off by conceiving of the freedom of the INDIVIDUAL quite simply as the absence of personal or social restraints on his behaviour. Crusoe ... is a free man according to this definition ... [which] sees all limitations on a person's freedom as emanating from individual or collective actions by others. (Demsetz, H., The Meaning of Freedom, p.286, emphasis added) Now, let us try to extend the definition of freedom for a single person ("hermitage-liberty") to a multi-person environment ("sociogenic liberty," i.e. liberty engendered by the interaction of more than one person). To this purpose, Harold Demsetz argues: [W]e may begin by basing the freedom of a society of persons on two conditions: (1) all rights to act are private, which means not to be interfered with by the state, and (2) all persons enjoy the same rights ... [F]or brevity, denote a society satisfying them as privatized. (p.286) In order to arrive at a reasonably unambiguous model of freedom, we must also grant the assumption that freedom-via-privatization can be achieved without incurring any costs. Why this assumption is required to ensure non-ambiguity, we shall see in a moment. In this model, all rights are simply assumed to be private, symmetric, known, and respected. No problems of defining and enforcing private rights arise. Each person ... is a Crusoe whose interactions with others are guided by impersonally set prices and whose domain of action is determined by his (acknowledged by others) wealth. The trade-offs available to him are determined by the non-collusive aggregate of wants and preferences, the given state of technology, and the relative abundance of resources. (p. 287) The above is a neat summary of the mostly unacknowledged assumptions inherent in the politics-and-democracy-averse libertarian vision of markets-as-social-order, i.e. the idea that all human affairs can be settled in the market place, rather than requiring also forms of reconciliation and enforcement other than those attainable by way of bilateral transactions. In this model, coercion in Hayek's sense [see Competing for Liberty (3/6) ... ] is absent ... since no one controls price or any other parameter of choice. Perfect decentralization also satisfies Stigler's real-wealth maximization criterion [people (i) have consistent tastes, (ii) make correct cost calculations, and (iii) take decisions that maximise utility]. (p. 287) Assumed to prevail are diseconomies of scale (and hence, dispersed ownership of substitutable resources), full information, zero transaction cost, and implicitly, costless privatization. the implied dispersal of these rights deprives any one of the ability to impose costs on others. Zero information and transaction costs imply real-wealth maximization ... Coercion is absent, real wealth is maximized, and rights are private. Perfect decentralization seems very much like a leading candidate for modelling the state of liberty. (p. 287) But then Demsetz warns: Extending the definition of freedom to a society of individuals is not straightforward. Individuals necessarily impinge on each other because resources are scarce ... Our [above] definition of individual freedom is inadequate to describe the freedom of a society of persons. (p. 286) [...] Weaken the assumption that private rights are freely known and respected, and ambiguities immediately cloud the relationship between privatization and freedom. How private is a private rights system that is less than completely enforceable ... How secure must private rights be for us to conclude that we are dealing with a society of free persons? (p. 287) Now it becomes more difficult to define a society of free persons unambiguously, because of the the potential trade-offs [that these questions] imply, trade-offs that would be unnecessary if privatization could be defined and secured costlessly. (p. 287) [...] The connection between privatization and freedom, which can be given fairly clear meaning in the context of perfect decentralization, becomes opaque in the face of positive costs of privatization. Full privatization us not attainable in the face of positive implementation costs, and the degree of privatization that is attainable by persons free to choose is that which privatizes only to the degree that they judge efficient. (p. 289) No matter whether you subscribe to the small government approach to liberty (with a night-watchman state) or whether you support the idea of a society of free persons conceived of as relying strictly on private means to define and enforce rights [p. 288] there is an important problem that both alternatives fail to resolve: that of defining a state of liberty in a regime of scare resources. Given that there are costs of improving the reliability of private rights, what degree of certainty in the exercise of private rights characterizes this state? ... [E]ach person will consider what other goals must be sacrificed to improve the reliability of his private rights. Suppose that persons who populate a society place a very low value on improving the reliability of private rights and a very high value on other goals. Is the state of liberty appropriately characterized by the level of privatization chosen in this society? What values must a people attach to freedom before their chosen degree of privatization meets the requirements of a state of liberty? Defining the state of liberty in terms of private rights (defended privately or by the state) offers no answer to this question. (p. 288) - emphasis added. Free choice, the very precondition of free markets, engenders political scarcity, i.e. different strategies that people apply to form an attitude toward freedom that appears to them morally, religiously, or otherwise ideologically desirable and economically and otherwise practically feasible. This is the root cause of the natural contestability and faction-transcending competitiveness of liberty. See in particular the first post in the present series: Competing for Liberty (1/6) - Libertarian Paternalism and the Contestability of Freedom. Elementary Errors of Anarchism (2/2), and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I like to make the distinction between "freedom as method" and "freedom as blueprint." Freedom as method is akin to classically liberal law, with its two functions: the stoic function and the conservative function of law (again two terms of my own inspiration). The stoic function is to ensure that people committed to disparate belief systems can coexist peacefully while forming a productive community. The conservative function is to filter out practices and principles that efficiently serve all members of the community. While these functions are very useful and cover large parts of human life, they do not constitute a blueprint. i.e. a gap-less ground-plan, where all elements of "the good society" are registered in their exact functions, proportions and relationship to one another, but rather a method to improve social relations by trial-and-error-elimination and procedures of orderly contestation and reduce in piecemeal fashion conflict and inefficiencies in social interaction. Liberty is an open system, whose evolution is unpredictable, as it depends upon the free access of the entire population to whatever agencies of institutional change may be available. Particular doctrines and ideologies, including certain liberalisms and anarcho-capitalism, tend to overlook the competitive nature of liberty and attempt the reduction of "liberty" to a uniform blueprint that is intolerant of deviant visions or contributory elements. These get pruned and sorted out by liberty's partly grown, partly designed procedures of pluralistic selectivity. The incentives of people with real life concerns to interfere with reality are stronger than the arm-chair ambition to be right thanks to a world view that falsely makes a boast of being self-contained and free of contradictions -- not even mathematics fulfils the latter two conditions while nonetheless working with powerful effectiveness. And liberty too, gathers her powers from being an open system, geared toward permanent improvement and accommodating all creative sources as represented by each and every member of a free society. In order to understand why liberty is a competitive enterprise that naturally over-arches doctrinal factions one needs to throw into clear relief the tendency amongst libertarians to ignore the fundamental difference between freedom in a one-person-world (from which much of libertarian philosophy is derived - see my Elementary Errors of Anarchism (2/2)) and freedom in a multi-person environment (which is the condition under which freedom develops in reality). I am examining the issue at greater length in Competing for Liberty (5/6) - Crusoe-Freedom and Multi-Person Freedom. In this serial of posts on "Competing for Liberty" see also Competing for Liberty (3/6) - Coercion as an Inverse Index of Freedom and Freedom as real Wealth. Related articles Modern Liberty's Model of the Public Competing for Liberty (1/3) Competing for Liberty (2/3) - Harold Demsetz on "The Meaning of Freedom" Jeff Berwick interview: How the Government is Utterly Destroying Our Liberty The Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion A Culture Lifted Up by Question Marks Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. On what terms are we agreed or allowed to trade. Which types of assets are cleared to be legitimately tradeable? Which ever way we decide, we are likely to face contention on these issues, and ultimately we can achieve freedom only by exerting a fair measure of coercion. Then what is the nature of coercion that is compatible with liberty? In his magisterial The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek writes: We are concerned in this book with the condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as is possible in society. This state we shall describe [...] as a state of liberty or freedom. (p.11) Hence, freedom and coercion are inversely related. Furthermore, Hayek emphasises that in talking of coercion he wishes to confine the concept to human action, whereby one human (A) forces another human (B) in such a manner that B becomes, against his own will, a means used to fulfil A's ends. Thus coercion occurs when one man's actions are made to serve another man's will, not for his own but for the other's purpose. (p.133) This is contrasted by certain types of enforceable restrictions voluntarily stipulated. Thus, in his paper The Meaning of Liberty, Harold Demsetz notes: Hayek's attempt to distinguish his notion of coercion from "the terms on which our fellows men are willing to render us service" signifies an effort to associate coercion with costs whose source is not the impersonal workings of the market but in the personal decisions of men. (p. 283) So, Hayek seems to distinguish between coercion correlated with impersonal power as exerted by outcomes brought about by free markets and coercion correlated with personal power as exercised by, say, a monopolist, who, as the owner of a spring in an oasis, can exercise enormous power over others wishing to survive. The difference is related to the purpose of suppressing certain forms of coercion in a free society, where suppression is confined only to coercive acts that quash the network of win-win relationships among all citizens that freedom brings about. I shall return to this point at once. However, reminds us Demsetz: Stigler asks, What purpose is served by Hayek's attempt to distinguish personally imposed costs from those that are determined impersonally? Costs restrict freedom by restricting the degree to which persons can achieve their goals. Behaviour responds similarly to costs without regard to their source. [...] We make no distinction between the differences in the responses to different naturally caused costs. Why put the human who pursues a monopoly return beyond the pale of nature but not the insect who seeks gratification of a large appetite? The essential equivalence of costs leads Stigler to argue for defining freedom as wealth. (pp. 284/285) I do not think that Hayek's characterisation of the relationship between coercion and freedom is contradictory. In what follows, I hope to explain why and hope to defend Hayek against Stigler's objections. 1. "Costs restrict freedom by restricting the degree to which persons can achieve their goals." True. However, consider a rich man and a poor man, the former passionately desiring a yacht costing $ 1 billion, which, though he is rich, he cannot afford, while the poor man has no such desire and is reasonably happy with what he can afford. Is the rich man, languishing for a yacht he will never be able to get, freer than the poor man who is content with what he has got? Lottery winners often complain about the burden of their newly acquired wealth. Rich business men feel an overload of obligations and end up dying from a heart attack. Living on a small wage but with plenty of time at hand, I may ensure to myself a far greater richness of personally valued opportunities than a rich man drowning in commitments. What is most important is that freedom increases my chances to successfully seek the level of richness of personally valued opportunities that suits me. In historical stages of advanced freedom, we seem to encounter a condition whereby there is a relatively small, yet sufficient number of wealth creating entrepreneurs who are able to support much vaster numbers of people with less tolerance for risk and less ambition for material advancement. Incidentally, an entrepreneur may neither be particularly aware of the risks she is taking nor significantly motivated by prospects of enhanced wealth, but simply follow the path that leads her to a level of richness of personally valued opportunities that makes her feel content and excited about life. This may also explain why extremely rich people often continue entrepreneurial activities long after passing the point of diminishing returns from increasing wealth. While everyone is free to maximise personal utility/psychic income, even in ways that do not maximise real wealth (sellable assets and ultimately purchasing power in an exchange economy), the overall level of real wealth will tend to grow in a free society. Why? Because those who embark on a course of increasing real wealth purposefully or as a side effect to their activities face incomparably better conditions to do so than under alternative arrangements. The pursuit of productive, value-adding projects enjoys effective protection. While we, the barbers, do not increase our productivity, over time we get higher wages and enjoy a better standard of living created by the relatively few engaged in productivity-enhancing entrepreneurial activities. For more see my Demos and Freedom - Robust and Non-Robust Conditions of Freedom. 2. "Behaviour responds similarly to costs without regard to their source." Granted, some people (buyers) may respond in the same way to an identical increase in the price of timber, irrespective of whether it is due to a forest fire or caused by the emergence of a monopolist. However, the immediate, nilly-willy identical behaviour of buyers of timber under these differing scenarios is not the point. If the source of costs is one systematically incompatible with the win-win character of free markets (as is the case with monopolistic usurpation)... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2015 at RedStateEclectic
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Image credit. I have just been reading Harold Demsetz' paper "The Meaning of Liberty," contained in his "Ownership, Control, and the Firm - The Organization of Economic Activity, Volume I. Basil Blackwell, 1988" In this paper, Demsetz addresses a feature of liberty that I find especially intriguing -- namely, the fact that liberty empowers people to generate different visions of freedom. In other words: liberty generates her own indeterminacy and serial and parallel renewal. In which way she remains a living concept, and roots herself in the discourse of an open society. (p.281) This important condition is insufficiently dealt with in the libertarian literature, whose contributors tend to be more inclined to set out a certain dogmatic conception of freedom and defend it, often with acrimony, outrage and despair, against a world daring to proffer deviant attitudes toward liberty. Against this Demsetz notes (emphases added by me): For some libertarians, a free society bars restrictions that others may place on the use of legitimate private rights, counting among such restrictions not only state-imposed limitations but also privately imposed limitations, such as the "invasion" of private air space with smoke and soot from distant private factories. Defining legitimacy, of course, is part of the problem of defining freedom. On this latter issue see my Why Worry About Inequality? A Reflection on Self-Ownership, where I explain that the famous non-aggression principle amounts to a rather unhelpful position begging the question as to what is to count as aggression and what not. For conservatives, a free society bars prostitution, narcotics consumption, and commerce on Sunday, because they view such activities in the same way as libertarians view smoke and soot, as restrictions to which they are legitimately entitled. [...] Notions of legitimate rights are as varied as are the origins of restrictions to such rights, and the costs of reducing restrictions are as varied as the shades of meanings that different peoples seem tp attach to freedom. This casual empirical observation seems at odds with the belief ... that freedom can be given a precise meaning. (p.281) For certain purposes, I believe, it is possible and useful to give freedom a precise meaning. However, giving freedom a precise meaning is not the way in which freedom is achieved. She is much rather attained by a complex play of cultural-intellectual exchange and political negotiations among a democratic public, each member of which being entitled to her own position regarding the meaning and implications of freedom. In fact, a certain openness, incompleteness, and indeterminacy of the meaning of freedom is an essential requirement for liberty to work as best as possible, otherwise she would depend on the prevalence of an intellectual and political elite and the dropping out of the vast majority of free citizens from the level at which admissible freedom is being defined. The debate about freedom has taken place as if a constitution of liberty could be written on the basis of abstract principles relating to coercion, private property, and so forth. [But this is insufficient, for:] Scarcity implies cost, and cost implies subjective values, and not everyone shares a common set of values. It is therefore possible for different persons to disagree as to whether a course of action promotes or diminishes freedom, and certainly, to disagree about whether it is "worth" its "cost." (p. 291) So, when you are "free to choose," as your are in historically unprecedented measure in a modern free society, you are free to choose views, values and trade-off-strategies that establish political scarcity in the sense of disagreement concerning admissible forms of liberty, dissonant patterns of (restrictions and rights defining) freedom. In the measure that liberty promotes freedom of thought, expression, and choice she is required to incorporate institutions and practices that are capable of avoiding conflict-overload and creating a level of social reconciliation (institutions of violence prevention, political compromise, and trust) that compensates for the level on which social reconciliation cannot be expected (personal belief systems). So, one of the functions of the political system of liberty is to sustain incentives and institutions that make it worthwhile for everyone to tolerate unpalatable ideological commitments and value preferences in others. See also Why It Is Not True That Politics Makes Us Worse ... (1/3), and Trust and Democracy. Related articles The Invention of the Modern Public The Libertarian Triangle of Oblivion Modern Liberty's Model of the Public The Meaning of Politics Is Fredom (Hannah Arendt) Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2015 at RedStateEclectic