The puzzle we have all faced when thinking about a deadly contagion is: why doesn’t it just kill off every last one of us?

From this question epidemiologist launch into their very interesting study of the evolution of viruses. As if conforming to some law that Epicurus identified when he said our worst pains prove to be of brief duration while the long-lasting pains be not so intense, the worst viruses tend to kill off their hosts too quickly to spread themselves widely. So there is a natural limit to the worst viruses.

Now enter a prophylactic “vaccine” that does not prevent infection or, we are told, spreading of the infection: it just allows the infected to feel less put-upon by the disease. It will save some lives, undoubtedly, by lessening the virus’s effects.

But it will allow deadly viral variants to live longer in their hosts to spread to those with weakened immune systems. It will make a super-virus.
What’s not clear to me is whether this protects the vaccinated much, in the long term.

I gather it sets up an arms race. Pfizer and Moderna both are talking about booster shots and constant updates.

So, this is what it LOOKS like to me: Vanden Bossche is probably right. That is, immune escape is going to happen — is probably happening now in “the more dangerous variants” that Fauci yammers on about. This will first affect the NON-vaccinated. Killing millions. Then there will be the blowback onto the vaxxed. There will be hysterical demands for more and more R&D in genetic treatments. Politically, we will achieve a new level of governance: the medical-industrial complex. There will be scant freedom of association, and your travels will be restricted and tagged.

Our civilization will, if it survives, become mostly virtual — as in Asimov’s The Naked Sun — and we will cease exist as a social species. It will be all virtual-social.

If this be correct, it is already too late. The die is cast. We are in this rut. There is no “going back.” We are committed to transhumanist/posthumanist manipulation of the genome, because that is where these simple mRNA pseudo-vaccines will lead us, through their failures.

The evolution of the virus is going to lead us to a weird stefnal future that I only read about in the past.

I could of course be wrong. This is merely the scenario that fits closest to what I have understood of epidemiology for years. I’d love to be wrong. I do not particularly want to die within the next few years. But to accept a correction I would actually have to see it and understand it. In other words, I would have to see some actual science in place of all the cowardly bullying groupthink promoted by CNN and the CIA and women wearing masks as they jog.


Belgian economist whom I often mention on social media.

I prefer Gab and even Flote Beta to other social media apps:

And Paul Jacob discusses a relevant subject on Common Sense today:

In all the talk of “social media” — their psychological effects on us; their political power; their abusive treatment of our privacy and our loyalty — one thing does not get talked about enough: that social media’s chief utility for many of us is not social at all.

Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitter, Gab, Instagram, Quora — these are personal databases. 

Databases on the Cloud, sure; databases open to the public and open to paying advertisers, surely (that’s how the media giants make money while providing us with a free service). 

But they remain databases. And, as such, they allow us to log our interactions with both online and physical worlds, storing our photos, videos, audios, links, thoughts, questions & answers, and more, so we may retrieve them later for whatever projects we may be engaged in.

This is no small thing if you are in a “business” like, where mining what I read two weeks ago can turn into something I need tomorrow. 

Trouble is, the search features of most social media services . . . well . . . don’t find much. It is often devilishly hard to find that article one linked to last April, or November, or . . . was it December? The search features to one’s own entries (as well as others’) should be much more robust. Inventive. Useful. 

It would be nice if the social media companies that mine our data for their pecuniary advantage would also allow us to mine our data . . . for our more humble purposes.

So, take this as advice to alternative social media developers, like the Flote app: if you are literally providing a database for clients (and not true P2P functionality), then give search features more serious attention.

So that we can quickly find and re-share our most sublime cat photos.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

“Cats’ Pajamas,”, April 30, 2021.

These apps do have indices and search functions, but not very good ones. And Facebook’s most recent upgrade made it harder for me to find stuff on it. Not easier. I wish Gab and Flote the best, though.


Yesterday was a day of low tide. This is the kind of photo I tend to share on social media.

Some people in society will always be bullies, tricksters, frauds, and terrorists.

The classical theory of the state has it that government is instituted to protect good citizens from the depredations of the Bully and Trickster class, and is made up of fine, upstanding leaders — heroes all! — in pursuit of this noble aim.

The Trick-or-Treat, or Halloween, Theory of the State has it that the state is made up of those bullies, tricksters, frauds and terrorists. By organizing into politically governing bodies, and accepting our bribes (taxes, not candy), their behavior becomes less obviously anti-social than otherwise (as is the case with tricksters participating in Halloween’s “trick-or-treats” tradition). The big conceit is that it is good and noble people who work for the state, get money from the taxpayers, and push us around, etc.

The comparatively minor conceit can be found in a certain core group of activities in which the members of the Bully and Trickster class police their own, taking away a fraction of the worst offenders — but mainly the ones who bully and trick independently, who won’t “play along.” This secondary function apes the classic theory of the state, as children mimic devils at Halloween. Serious protection rarely emerges.

Unfortunately, because Trick-or-Treating, er, politics, is made so fun, the rites of democracy and statesmanship so charming, and the rewards so enticing, a lot more people get caught up in the activity than would have otherwise done so. As in Halloween, we wind up with more people spending more money on candy (taxes) than the total loss would be from the straightforward damage done by tricksters acting randomly, unorganized.

The Halloween Theory of the State thus explains both the origin of the state and the growth of the state. This cannot be said of classic theories, such as State-of-Nature contractarianism, which are utopian and deludedly romantic in character.

The Halloween Theory can be extrapolated beyond the mere sketch provided here. The chief problem with it is that the title’s holiday/festive parallel suggests understatement. Children begging for candy are harmless. Mostly.

The state is not.

twv, October 31, 2010

The Libertarian Standard

France will fall — I have been saying this for ages, but “fall” is too autumnal.

France will likely become an Islamic state, filled with murderous purges and genocide and, in the end, tyranny, especially including against French women. Houellebacq’s Submission scenario is rosy compared to what’s coming.

Here is the latest, from The Daily Mail:

Emmanuel Macron has threatened to punish generals who signed an open letter warning that the country is heading for ‘civil war’ because of radical Islam.

Twenty retired generals, as well as several serving soldiers, signed the letter which warned that failure to act against the ‘suburban hordes’ — a reference to the predominantly immigrant population of the housing estates which surround French cities – will lead to deaths ‘in the thousands.’

“French generals who called for military rule if President Macron cannot stop ‘Islamists’ from ‘disintegrating society’ will be punished, government declares,”, April 26, 2021, updated April 27, 2021

It is absolutely vital to the functioning of a republic for the military to stay out of everyday politics. On the top level, of course, that old custom is often merely honored in the breach in America and elsewhere. But the military is warning, in this case, of something else absolutely central to the functioning of a republic: a cultural commitment to the rule of law amongst the citizenry. In France, and in America, mob rule is becoming all too common. Several major factions in France — long known for political crowd action — go beyond protest. But in America we hear little of it, except when some Muslim manages to kill dozens of people at a time. But there is also antifa violence, and then there is the Yellow Vest movement. But here across the Atlantic, we know little of all this.

Of course, in America we have our BLM/antifa riots, we have milquetoast protests mirroring the Yellow Vests (including the milquetoast and likely false-flag event of January 6), and we have a much smaller Muslim population, which so far limits its members to the occasional spree murder event. But it is all much worse in France.

But caution. The gods may be chortling. There is a sort of poetic justice to the nature of the French predicament. The country has the continent’s largest Muslim immigrant population. And it is considered “right-wing” even to worry or warn about the dangers therein. But note: it was right-wingers who insisted on the Algerian occupation. France would not have the huge Muslim influx were it not for right-wingers and their foreign adventurism.

This is why “right-wingers” cannot be trusted. Like left-wingers, their preoccupations are dangerous and their lust for extending power tends to lead to mass murder in the end.


Typhoid Mary has loomed over the last year in the form of a suspicion: could SARS-CoV-2 be spread by asymptomatic carriers, like Mary Mallon was for typhoid?

A lot rests on this fear. Most of the lockdown policies, for example. 

Why should healthy people keep a six-foot distance from other healthy people, or wear masks, if there are few or no people spreading the disease while not knowing they are infected?

The whole extreme mitigation craze began a year and a month ago with the “Fifteen Days to Flatten the Curve” ploy. The curve to be flattened was of dire cases necessitating hospitalization. The policy was to prevent hospital over-crowding. That didn’t happen, but the measures were kept. 

And fears of asymptomatic spreading of the virus helped fuel the idea that we — “as a society” — could fend off the worst casualty rates until a “vaccine” could be developed. Now we have a few vaccines, and it has been like pulling teeth to get the CDC to allow the vaccinated some freedom of association.

You probably have heard about studies alleging prevalence of asymptomatic spread of COVID. Most of these studies seem pretty iffy to me, and the best study almost conclusively indicates no such epidemiology — “no positive tests amongst 1,174 close contacts with asymptomatic cases.”

Now, Mary Mallon, the original asymptomatic superspreader, spread typhoid by handling food that she prepared for others. After years of back-and-forth, she was basically imprisoned for 27 years. In America, you might think that a taking of her liberty for the public good would have instituted a system for her compensation. But that was not really done.

Just so, this last year: the liberty taken away from the productive many for the benefit, chiefly, of immune-compromised few, was not handled as a free society would.

Will there be progress?

Not so long as the big issues are ignored. Evaded.

Big issues like just compensation and the actual science of the spread of disease. Were there a case for quarantining people, preventing them from engaging in commerce, the ones who lost incomes from such quarantine should surely be compensated according to the Takings Clause of the Constitution. But almost no one mentions that.

The takings problem is especially interesting in the COVID case because the most at-risk population are retirees who barely lose monetarily, if at all, from “the lockdowns,” while those who lose most — workers and business owners — have the least to gain. This suggests to me that the only halfway reasonable takings/compensation method to manage a quarantine would be to require those who are not monetarily affected by the lockdown orders to compensate those who are monetarily affected in a direct manner. By this I mean the funds to compensate the most negatively impacted should come from those least impacted on a weekly basis, skipping states’ general funds entirely. The least impacted would write checks to a fund that would distribute to those most affected.

Note what this method would do: give immediate incentive to those who benefit most from the lockdowns to oppose the lockdowns when their benefit/cost changes. As it is, in the current lockdown regime, there is not incentive for those who benefit to let up on the request to be benefitted at others’ expense. The state lockdowns compensated for by federal subsidy amounts to an incentive to forever let some benefit at others’ expense. It is the kind of scenario that the Constitution was designed to prevent.

The lockdowns have been just one of many poorly thought-out, irresponsibility-maximizing programs introduced during the panic.

And as for Mary: what should have been done? Well, negotiate with the woman. Pay her off. If her freedom to earn a living was in conflict with others’ health, than the healthy should have paid her off not to work. They would have hired her to “socially distance” — rather than lock her up. Indeed, this kind of policy would not even require a state to manage.

This model should have become the norm. And because it did not, we have lockdowns today that abridge freedoms and benefit some at the uncompensated-for expense of others. Anathema!

And because no one has to pay the direct cost of these policies, the whole pandemic has been one ideological contest sans responsibility. The system actually discourages rational reconsideration of the data. People just choose what they want to believe to fit their situation and their free-floating “values.” A responsibilitarian society would not serve anyone’s free-floating values. Only cost-conscious values would count.

In a free society there would exist strong incentives to look at the effectiveness of masks and other mitigation measures rationally, not in a cultic manner.


Every now and then I search for friends and colleagues with whom I have lost touch. Until today, I had tried numerous times to find Terry Campbell, with whom I worked briefly in the late 1990s, with no luck. I just did a search, only to discover he had died a year and a half ago:

Terry was found in his car, which had veered from his driveway into the woods. He lived near a field where llamas graze in rural Chimacum, Washington, a tiny speck on the map near Port Townsend, not far from Seattle. My heart was wrenched by the news.

Warren Goldie, “A Good Friend Is Forever: Discovering the Terry Campbell Fan Club” (November 30, 2019).

The author of this appreciation for Terry wrote well and meant well, with a boyhood cartoon and a fine photo. I wish I had known Terry when he sported the beard, for, sans beard, he looked eerily like author Stephen King. But Mr. Goldie, the eulogist, was misinformed about the nature of the job for which Terry had crossed the country:

Terry found a job as the managing editor of a libertarian magazine in Port Townsend that promptly went out of business right after Terry arrived. He landed on hard times, working a string of part-time jobs—apartment manager, librarian, custodian. Often, he was down on his luck.

The magazine was Liberty, which I helped found in 1987. The publisher, Bill Bradford, hired Terry largely because I didn’t want the job of managing Liberty’s editorial operations. Terry was fired from the job about a half year after joining; I left soon after. In our negotiations for my departure, Bradford expressed his surprise at my lack of interest in doing the job that Terry had applied for and won. “Bill,” I said. “The job of managing editor is basically managing you. I knew I was utterly incapable of doing it successfully. Terry is the only person I have witnessed pulling it off, professionally. And he grew to hate you. Because you were the problem. Not anyone else. You.”

It was a sad conversation. But after Terry and I left, Bradford managed to find competent help, I gather, for the magazine lasted past Bradford’s death in 2005. So maybe he was easier to manage during that stage of his life. I know I thought the prospect hopeless, and Terry judged it vexing.

Terry was a terrific at his job. Never before had the editorial process at the magazine flowed in a timely manner, without bottlenecks. But the half a year at Liberty almost destroyed him. I always felt badly about that. To what extent was I responsible? For the record, Bradford did indeed blame me. But it was Terry he fired. For what Terry could not do was contain his well-developed rage at Bradford; he could not believe that the toughest part of his job was to get his boss to perform tasks within a rational time frame. I had it much easier, in a sense, for whatever anger I felt at how badly the magazine ran, I felt a dozen other emotions as well. To be consumed by one emotion is not good.

Terry kept my cat for half a year after I left, but I never really kept track of the man, because I was far away and knew I could only sympathize — as I figured it, since I had not tried to place myself as a buffer between him and Bradford, as I had for several others, I was not the person for him to fall back upon. I couldn’t make up for what I had not done.

Besides, both he and Bill were strong-willed, obstinate people. I do not try to control such folks. I do what I can and watch them reap what they sow.

It is a tough world. It is sad to see another Liberty laborer leave us. First Bradford in 2005, then Eric and Terry in 2019. Perhaps I will be next.


The UFO taboo is DANGEROUS even if most UFOs are not

A number of people have wondered why the U.S. Government is changing its UFO policy from secrecy, denial and disinformation to apparent disclosure. There could be many reasons. But there is one we should ponder:

Disclosure is happening for the same reason homosexuality was legalized and there are moves to legalize adult sexual activity with children: for national security reasons.

  1. Homosexuality’s persecution in the west had major Cold War problems: it set up blackmail opportunities for foreign agents to gain spies and snitches. Making gay acts legal and homosexuals themselves publicly acceptable meant that the blackmail route to turn citizens into traitors was largely closed off.
  2. The reason we are seeing increasing interest in decriminalizing and even de-stigmatizing adult-child sexual relations is that such relations become key blackmail opportunities for all sorts of nefarious organizations — and Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself!
  3. UFO secrecy and its continued verboten status has meant that it is inordinately difficult to sort paranormal UFOs from the drones and spying devices of foreign powers. Only by coming clean on the paranormal aerial phenomena can the military properly handle the spycrafts of other world powers.

Yes, I am suggesting that the program of secrecy about one type of craft is being used by foreign powers to compromise national security.

This is a fairly obvious point, but it doesn’t get much play from those who assume UFOs must be one phenomenon only. Very dangerous bias. Most phenomena break down into a variety, once identified. Animals that fly are mainly insects and birds, true, but there also exist bats and flying squirrels and, long ago, there were the pterosaurs.

Anyway, before you theorize too deeply about how opportunistic foreign powers could be, leveraging the west’s secrecy about UFOs against western interests — as if leveraging sexual taboos to create gay spies or pedophile traitors — consider Tyler Rogoway’s recent article in The Warzone. I didn’t spin this notion all on my lonesome:

The gross inaction and the stigma surrounding unexplained aerial phenomena as a whole has led to what appears to be the paralyzation of the systems designed to protect us and our most critical military technologies, pointing to a massive failure in U.S. military intelligence. This is a blind spot we ourselves literally created out of cultural taboos and a military-industrial complex that is ill-suited to foresee and counter a lower-end threat that is very hard to defend against.

Angus Wilson was a second-tier literary figure of post-war Britain. Does anyone read him any longer? I know that I have not. But I do own four of his novels. And the openings are quite good:

This opening of The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot strikes me as perfect. We are going to get a good character study by a competent observer of the social world. The book is my age. I really should read it.

Perhaps only because I recognized the fine writing of the first novel, above, I bought this second, on a whim. I did not carefully read this first page in the book store. Buying Late Call was an impulse purchase. But his 1964 novel’s first page is unexceptionable, indeed worthy of more attention than I have given it. It is a pity that Angus Wilson just looms in my imagination as an less as a vital author and more as Terra incognita.

Old Men at the Zoo (1961) is one of his most popular books, from what I have so far gathered, and I bought the Granada/Panther paperback with assurance from John Wain on the front cover — the back cover blurbs being most unhelpful. Wilson’s cautionary note up front is fairly amusing:

The fourth book of his in my library is the oldest, from 1956 (though this is a second edition), and the paper cover of my copy is creased and worn. Somebody almost certainly read it, years ago.

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes was written long before the very concept “Anglo-Saxon” was considered racist, as it is today amongst the college crowd and cognitive elite in America, but not before the notion conveyed some comic embarrassment and a whiff of the absurd. The main character appears to be “depressed”:

Now, Angus Wilson usually suffers from the inevitable comparison with Kingsley Amis, whose comic novels usually place him above the rest of the Angry Young Men set. Lucky Jim (1954), which I have read three times, at least, is a perfect confection. In my Twenties I read a whole shelf of Amis books, including Take a Girl Like You (1960) and One Fat Englishman (1963) and even The Alteration (1976). But I haven’t read Amis’s fiction in years, and what I have in my shelves includes several I haven’t read past the first chapter.

Indeed, I have read only two of these: Jake’s Thing (1979) and The Green Man (1969). The former is hilarious and first rate while the latter is a surprisingly good ghost story, with a transcendent aspect (God makes a showing).

Jake’s Thing benefits from being a comedy of impotence and growing old — built-in hilarity — but more substantive is the satire on modern faddish therapeutics. I remember this being one of Amis’s very best novels.

But I probably enjoyed The Green Man more. It is the Amis book I am most likely to re-read.

Until taking this snap of the first page, I may never have cracked open The Crime of the Century (1975). It does not really move me to read on.

I tried to read The Russian Girl (1992) just this last winter, but the writing struck me as bad; looking at it again, now, and I am mystified as to why I leveled such a strong negative judgment against it.

Difficulties With Girls (1988), on the other hand, entices. It is probably the next Amis I will read. But I don’t think it has much of a reputation. Which is probably why I have neglected it so far.


It took me long enough. A Bitcoin episode, finally!

Or catch it via podcast, using your podcatcher or SoundCloud:

LocoFoco Netcast, Season 2, Episode 8: Bitcoin Background (Late April, 2021).
Jeffrey Sachs

…from The Lesson Applied….

There exist trenchant criticisms of the libertarian idea. Henry Sidgwick, in his The Methods of Ethics (seven editions, 1874-1907), provided a concise set of challenges to the doctrine as he understood it. Each of his points is well worth addressing. And yet when today’s major thinkers muster up their inner dialectician to rail against the freedom philosophy, they usually fall flat, get caught up in inessentials and absurdities.

Take Jeffrey Sachs. In “Libertarian Illusions” he attempts to unveil and discredit the ism behind the Ron Paul phenomenon. It’s a pretty lame attempt. Here’s his basic characterization of his target:

Libertarianism is the single-minded defense of liberty. Many young people flock to libertarianism out of the thrill of defending such a valiant cause. They also like the moral freedom that libertarianism seems to offer: it’s okay to follow one’s one desires, even to embrace selfishness and self-interest, as long as it doesn’t directly harm someone else.

Yet the error of libertarianism lies not in championing liberty, but in championing liberty to the exclusion of all other values. Libertarians hold that individual liberty should never be sacrificed in the pursuit of other values or causes. Compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, respect, and even survival of the poor, weak, and vulnerable — all are to take a back seat.

A well-educated liberal-leaning friend of mine gave the exact same rap years ago. He also referred to “liberty as a value,” so I’ve long pondered that odd phrasing. I think of liberty as a condition dependent on relationships (with other people). I don’t primarily think of it as “a value.”

value liberty, yes, and will agree with Sachs that it is not my only value; I have many others. Nearly all freedom-lovers do. They have lives. Personal lives, communal lives, careers, hobbies, interests . . .

Yet, I do value liberty highest in the political and legal context

This distinction is important. In which domain of life and thought is liberty relevant? What does it compete with — that is, what do some folk place higher, or “alongside,” liberty?

Sachs provides a list. An odd list. Among his enumerated values are compassion, honesty, decency, etc., — and I rate these human characteristics highly, too. I promote them in various ways, every day, in my personal life, within the community I inhabit. But when it comes to making policy for the instrumentality of coercion within my community and nation — which Barack Obama recognizes as the distinct realm of political governance — I take caution. Compassion for people in groups A and B isn’t going to elicit from me policies that would be unjust to individuals X, Y and Z, or folks in groups C and D, no matter how my heart “bleeds” for them, to use a common cliché.

Which brings us immediately to: Justice. Sachs is no Sidgwick. The great 19th century utilitarian philosopher understood how individualist liberals (i.e., libertarians) regarded liberty (freedom):

It has been held that Freedom from interference is really the whole of what human beings, originally and apart from contracts, can be strictly said to owe to each other: at any rate, that the protection of this Freedom (including the enforcement of Free Contract) is the sole proper aim of Law, i.e. of those rules of mutual behaviour which are maintained by penalties inflicted under the authority of Government. All natural Rights, on this view, may be summed up in the Right to Freedom; so that the complete and universal establishment of this Right would be the complete realisation of Justice,—the Equality at which Justice is thought to aim being interpreted as Equality of Freedom.

Sidgwick then went on to argue that this idea doesn’t quite work, in his lights, though he saw its attraction. But note: He didn’t pretend that justice “is a value” separate from liberty. He understood that, for libertarians, justice is liberty systematized — or, at the very least, law is only just when systematically organized around the idea of basic, equal rights to freedom.

To say that libertarians shove justice to the back seat is either witless error or sly dishonesty. Sachs being no dummy, I suspect the latter.

Of course, rhetoric in political debate rarely ascends to honest dialectic. It’s mostly filled with cheap, dishonest verbal barrages. And no doubt Sachs thinks that, since the libertarian view of justice doesn’t work for him, he may characterize libertarian views of justice as, in effect, “non-justice.”

Odd, in someone who valorizes honesty in his list of things over to which liberty must, at least sometimes, give up the driver’s seat.

The reason to talk about liberty “as a value” is that, when we speak of values, we order them: This is more important than that; the other less vital than yet another. And it’s pretty obvious Jeffrey Sachs wants liberty to slide over, even take a back seat, to a number of other issues and interests. So you can see why speaking of liberty “as a value” is so strategically important to him, and to other modern “liberals”: they want to shunt aside considerations of freedom much of the time.

Often, like Barack Obama, they’ll talk about particular liberties running up to an election — checks on governments’ ability to put you in prison or kill you outright, based on mere suspicion — but it’s no surprise that such folk abandon liberties-talk when they get into power. Guantanamo was an enormity to Obama before election; a necessary part of the war on terror, after.

This experience with politicians, which every libertarian has had, is probably one of the largest influences on why we valorize liberty so highly. Politicians are in the business of compromising about the practice of coercion. Justice, in its fundamentals, is not about compromise. Politics is. So libertarians cast a suspicious eye on political processes, and certainly do not regard the outcomes of such processes as anything like “justice.”

More importantly, the liberty element in justice comes down to a core idea that Sachs does not ever mention. He never cracks the nut of the libertarian idea: Liberty limits coercion, the use of force — we are free only to the extent that we are not being robbed, beaten, bullied, or otherwise victimized by some agent (individual or group of same, under cover of some hallowed idea or symbol, or not). Libertarianism is basically the doctrine that no one has the right to initiate force; only defensive and retaliatory force can be justified.

Indeed, crimes are defined by the use of initiated force, or (by extrapolation) fraudulent machinations to extract one’s time or property by deception in contract. To say that liberty must be “balanced” by “other values” is to say that those other values trump one’s right not to be bullied, pummeled, entrapped, coerced, etc. Sachs does not bother even mentioning how his “other values” could possibly warrant the strong arm of initiated force: How does honesty trump liberty? Argue, please, how respect justifies threatening with force those whom you allegedly respect for not complying with your schemes.

Sachs’s list of “values” appears hastily constructed indeed.

Honesty, for example, is the origin of much libertarian analysis. Libertarians regard most of the common rationales for force as dishonest, inconsistent, and overlaid with flowery garlands of rhetoric.

And, in matters where people make contracts, honesty becomes a prime concern. It’s on the grounds of honesty that fraud — a concept derived from initiated force and the notion of rightful property — makes sense. So to say that libertarians place liberty above honesty seems, as P.H. Nowell-Smith neatly phrased such talk, logically odd.

Listing “respect” as something libertarians shunt aside, or back down the value scale, proves equally absurd. Most who advocate liberty for all (rather than merely take liberty for oneself) do so out of respect for others. Indeed, in the standard rhetoric of rights, “recognizing” a right is the same thing as “respecting” a person’s rights. Respect is what it’s all about, at core.

The idea of respecting individuals as individuals, and not merely for their utility in some governmental scheme, or because they fall into this group or that (race, religion, ethnicity, income category), has been central to libertarian thought for a very long time. It was there in Kant, and there, as well, in anti-Kantians like Herbert Spencer and Ayn Rand.

But don’t consult Sachs to learn out about libertarian thinkers. His short treatment of Rand is a travesty: “Ethical libertarians, exemplified by the late novelist Ayn Rand, hold that liberty is the only true virtue. Rand claimed when a rich man responds to a poor person’s plea for help (even by giving mere pennies), the rich man actually debases himself. This view is the opposite of Christian charity and Buddhist compassion, according to which moral worth is achieved by helping others.”

Of course, Rand doesn’t consider liberty a virtue at all. Her virtue is rational self-interest, a “new concept of egoism.” And though I reject Rand’s ill-conceived “virtue of selfishness,” and have argued against it as one of the gravest errors any libertarian thinker has made, I’ll say this: I don’t remember her arguing that benevolence and charity and generosity were “debasements” of the rich man. I’d like to see the reference. Did Sachs cull this notion from some early, Nietzschean work, such as the repulsive spectacle, Night of January 16th?

In times past, the Sachses of this world would have targeted Herbert Spencer as the callous anti-compassionate individualist. And those folks were wrong, too, for Spencer, though dubbed a “Social Darwinist,” was the 19th century’s chief theorist of empathy (following Adam Smith, he made do with a nuanced meaning of the traditional term, “sympathy”). Spencer grounded liberty on altruism as well as egoism, expounding at length on the importance of beneficence to the good society, the free society (see the final two books of his Principles of Ethics).

Spencer is relevant to this discussion because he so clearly limned the structure of morality, specifying that justice requires non-aggression (Sidwick’s “non-interference”) and that benevolence must be placed as something beyond justice, a supplement. Rights to freedom were more fundamental than compassionate giving, yes; but Spencer provided reasons for this prioritization: liberty defends and encourages the voluntary co-operation that actually advances civilization and a true sense of general well-being; beneficence has much more limited social utility.

Trade is a form of voluntary co-operation, and its benefits are mutual: both parties to any exchange aim to gain. Compassionate giving is not mutual, on the face of it. It’s one person giving to another, with the gift coming off the tally of wealth or energy of the giver and accruing to the recipient. It does not increase the powers and wealth of both parties, which is why Spencer treated it carefully, urging caution. It is also why libertarians are very skeptical about those who push “compassion” above freedom, who conflate justice with love.

It is compassionate to give to the poor, or the less well-off in whatever realm of life (to assist the slow in learning, to help the sick to heal, to comfort the dying). And in point of observable fact, compassion is as important for most libertarians as it is for most human beings. And it can be both compassionate and generous to give to organizations designed to provide aid to the victims of chance or fate or even their own perversity.

But it is neither generous nor compassionate to force A, B, and C to help D, E, and F. One cannot be generous with other people’s money: that’s the worst form of prodigality. One cannot be compassionate in taking from some to give to others. Such a practice makes mockery of the very word “compassion” — one only has to listen to the political clamor for student loan forgiveness, or against any critique of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, to witness both cupidity and effrontery in near pure form.

Strangely (and indicatively), the technical difficulties of giving to others are rarely addressed by the alleged advocates of compassion. Instead of dealing with them, Sachs provides a stark thought experiment comparison, imagining rich folk on the one hand, and starving folk on the other — and in that context many folks unhesitatingly follow his line of thought. But that’s rarely the context of actual need . . . though one could argue that, today, the only cases where taking from the rich and giving to the poor really make much sense would be in massive expropriation from middle-class and wealthy westerners, giving that wealth to the deeply impoverished in Africa and Asia.

And yet such a vast international transfer rarely sees the light of day. But if liberty must be abandoned for compassion in the face of true needy, that policy would surely be primary. I guess in Sachs’s trinity of “liberty, compassion, and civic responsibility, these three,” the greatest of these is . . . nationalism.

But when one forgets borderlines, and struggles to consider helping the truly needy, the problems become more obvious. What do we give to whom? How much? Are there negative effects to giving?

These problems expand exponentially when forcing some to help others and making such actions an ongoing program. Recipients aren’t simply meek receptacles of others’ largesse. People respond to the incentives of the permanent gift environment. They change their behavior to get more. If the benefactor gives to mothers without husbands, some women will indeed engage in riskier sexual behavior that leads to more offspring. If benefactors pay for (or write off) hospital bills to the uninsured, some people will choose not to insure for illness and injury. If it becomes expected that benefactors will pay for all retirements, then fewer people will adequately save for their retirements.

These incentives influence folks on several levels, and is not a matter, always, of conscious life planning. It’s often about levels of risk in the face of the diminishing bad consequences of risky behavior. If the risks of “bad behavior” are made less, we are likely to get more of that bad behavior.

But it gets worse . . . when unilateral giving is coupled with vast takings, not only does the recipient list for all that “compassion” tends to grow, but class divisions increase as more expect to live at the expense of others, and greater “contributions” are required from those others to support the dependent classes. Parasitism emerges as a dominant social mechanism.

After decades of such programs, people now wonder why the number of “poor people” increases. Why, after billions spent on a “War on Poverty” is there still poverty?

It’s because it pays to be poor.

This is well demonstrated in both economics and sociology, though rarely talked about. Honesty would require the advocates of compassion to discuss this often, but those who speak of a “compassionate politics” rarely hazard such concerns. And they deride those who do. Without compassion.

Nearly every person I know who has adopted the freedom philosophy while coming from other commitments has thought about this at some level. Not all read the vast literature on these subjects — and very few dare read the dread Herbert Spencer! Many simply reflect on the general experience with socialism and the welfare state as preparation for adopting the libertarian idea.

And personal history often helps. Anyone who’s given their labors in a modern society a second thought recognizes the play of incentives on what they themselves do. The longer unemployment benefits are extended, the longer one is likely to remain unemployed. Statistics bear this out, but introspection often suffices. Though libertarians may rank among the hardest working of Americans, we all feel the tug of leisure, and it’s easy to lose one’s grip on the work ethic — the tough work required to seek and maintain employment, whether as a wage earner or professional contractor or entrepreneur.

I focus on compassion longer than his other trumps because it obviously means so much to Sachs. Libertarians realize something that Sachs does not address: That compassion and giving have severe limitations, and — when coupled with governmental exploitation and political demands — too easily becomes the acme of compassionate giving’s opposite: greed. There may be no group greedier than a public employee union pushing for the expansion of their benefits and the bureaucracies that allegedly help “others.”

True progress happens when people face up to the ultimate truth about voluntary co-operation: You must please others to get ahead. Some others. Some paying others.

The great tragedy of the poor is that they have little to offer anyone else. So they are left with gifts or plunder as a way of life. The horror of this is not well recognized, because, like death, the truth is so unpleasant. Though poverty is a frequent subject of literature, no tale has done for poverty what Leo Tolstoy did for mortality in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” The degree of universal evasion of the truth of this condition eclipses my ability to measure.

That this message isn’t a main and explicit lesson provided by “public education” is a good sign that education isn’t very educational.

Jeffrey Sachs would undoubtedly point to education as a vitally important “public good” tinged with a dollop of redistributive “compassion” that advocates of “civic responsibility” must advance. And yet this industry is one of the prime examples of massive and thorough government failure. Government-provided (tax-funded, government-run) schooling has engendered a whole education culture mostly devoid of practical use. We live and think in the context of near-universal miseducation.

Most libertarians have thought themselves out of at least some of the traps that establishment educators have set for them. And if they place the idea of resistance to force above all else, it is not in a vacuum, fed only by folks like Ron Paul and Ayn Rand and others.

We who are libertarians have dealt with these ideas on a personal level as well as theoretical ones discussed by economists and philosophers. Vague hand-waving about “civic responsibility” cannot trump our preference for a society respecting individuals and based on a humane division of responsibility that does not evade the actions and actual potential of human beings.

Indeed, when libertarians speak out, protest, devise legislation and repeals, and even go so far as to engage in the ugly work of politicking, they are engaged in “civic responsibility”; pretending that libertarians do so for narrowly selfish reasons is absurd. When Sachs says that the “vast majority of Americans today embrace liberty, civic responsibility, and compassion, and seek a government built upon all three,” libertarians don’t necessarily disagree. The difference? Libertarians judge massive expropriation as not only undermining of justice but also as corrupting the actual culture of voluntary giving.

It is not compassionate to denigrate individual liberty and personal responsibility. It is not compassionate or responsible to advance the war of all against all in the form of the modern redistributive state.

And it is not compassion to wear “giving” on one’s sleeve. That’s a pharisaic something else.

Compassion can only flourish where liberty is the rule.

Generosity and sympathy, when set loose in the environment of the modern state, are corrupted by dangerous greed and the vile temptations of plunder. Sachs’s brief dismissal of libertarianism ignores the modern state’s grave hazards — and carefully elides any mention of substantive libertarian critique of that state. (He engages, instead, in a typical canard: Praising Europe at America’s expense. This tactic quickly loses any grip on reality as Europe descends into poverty and strife.) Sadly, Sachs’s work in general rests upon acceptance of vast patterns of coercion and theft. It is understandable how a person so highly placed in the intellectual wing of the modern state would find the general order a great and grand thing. It is a system that valorizes his own very dear self.

But enormities, too, are big, impressive, over-powering.

Against such powers and principalities, libertarians insist that such influences need not over-power our reason and judgment.

And against lame attacks on the libertarian idea? Actual, informed arguments against libertarian ideas would be of more use. For, it may be that only by overcoming the problems (real or perceived) in libertarianism will we ever achieve a free society.

Final thought: Sachs’s main gambit, the “play of many values,” was precisely the issue that decisively turned me to libertarianism. Value subjectivity and value diversity present grave problems for moral philosophy and political practice. They do not require the kind of robust state that Sachs seems to think they do.

twv, January 20, 2012