Archives for category: Quora

The Quoran who asked the question, below, might not have been driving at what I took it to mean. The intention may actually have had something to do with economic systems, with “capitalism” as it has developed in “the West.” It never crossed my mind, as I wrote my answer, that it was not about the social science. But I should have guessed, for people often use “economics” as a description of some system.

Ayn Rand wrote of “the separation economics and State” while James Branch Cabell referred to “The Economics of Coth” (and others) when drolly recounting one of his better character’s decisions and rationales.

Cabell’s usage strikes me as more than merely forgivable, Rand’s does not. For one thing, when Cabell wrote, “economics” was still a fairly new term in an educated person’s lexicon. “Political economy” had served for over a century, and many economists wrote tomes in Cabell’s time calling the science “Social Economy.” For another, there is only one way to take Cabell’s construction, while Rand’s “economics” could mean either the science (it should not be subsidized) or “markets and the private property order.”

I write a lot comparing varying social systems of production, distribution and consumption on Quora. But here I stick to considerations of basic explanatory theory.

Why is western economics based on self-interest?

…adapted from an answer on Quora…

It isn’t.

Self-interest is a moral concept, and economists are supposed to be Wertfrei (value-free) social scientists — if on track of value.

You might say, “but economics is all about the results of people choosing according to their own values, thus all about choices dependent upon a kind of perceived or self-constructed interest.” And I reply, “well, OK, if you must — but it is just as much a science exploring other-interest, for these selves doing their choosing also value others, and their interests in others figure into their demand and supply curves just as much as does their self-regard.”

The truth is this: the logic of choice at the heart of subjective value and marginal utility and marginal rates of substitution and satisficing and all that is not egoistic . . . according to economists. And when they say that it is — as they sometimes do, in large part because they are not always good philosophers — they err.

The brilliant Jevonsian economist P. H. Wicksteed tried to make this clear when he argued that economists are not pushing a rationale of egoism when they develop their notion of a demand schedule or draw up indifference curves, nor negating altruism, either. What they apply, he argued, is a concept of non-tuism.

This is a coinage he offered to help explain what he regarded as the basic nature of trade: when a person economizes in his purchases and asks for the highest prices possible in his sales, he may do so for egoistic or altruistic reasons, but still works to maximize the interest of the transaction, either egoistic or altruistic, when he makes those trades. (Or when she makes her trades, for one of Wicksteed’s better examples was of a housewife deciding the basic economy of the household under her charge.) Non-tuistic interest is a worthwhile concept to try to understand: see Israel M. Kirzner’s The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought (1960), for a good treatment.

But even Wicksteed did not get it exactly right, for we do sometimes trade for others’ benefit, accepting a higher price for pencils from the blind man at the corner than at the Five and Dime.*

It helps to focus not on “interest” — which, as I assert above, has too moral a component — and not on “utility” — which is unduly abstract, and gets students confused. Concentrate, instead, on the specific uses to which a good may be put. Under the theory of Grenznutzen (border use) of the Austrian School economists (from which English-language economists got their term of art marginal utility), the various uses to which a fungible good may be put, and against which value is to be understood (as dependent upon the importance of the specific use the last unit of a good decided upon has to the economic actor), can be almost any mix of self-regarding and other-regarding purposes.

In my personal economy, my first gallon of clear water goes to drink, the second and third to food preparation, the fourth to cleaning myself, the fifth to my neighbor, the sixth to my dog, the seventh to washing the dog, the eighth to washing the house, the ninth to letting the neighbor’s cow to drink, and so forth.* All of these uses satisfy me, but several also satisfy others. Do you see how useless quibbling about whose interests are being served?

The economist does not usually inquire deeply about the egoism and altruism of the goals, or uses, that are the foci of the border use (Grenznutzen) that goes into explaining the formation of prices and the rates of exchange. Because such concerns are irrelevant to what economists are usually trying to explain.

Similarly, economists rarely fret about how a person forms the value scales which place the various uses to which goods are put into order. Not because they cannot be analyzed, but because they are mostly irrelevant to what economists do.

Who is concerned? Moralists, whose traditional and self-appointed job it is to get people to change their values.

But when moralists get worked up over whether choices on the market are “too egoistic” or “not altruistic enough,” they go too far if they also castigate all economic choice as selfish. And usually they descend into a very deep error.

The error was identified clearly by Austrian philosopher Alexius Meinong in his Ethische Bausteine (see Marie-Luise Schubert Kalsi, Alexius Meinong’s Elements of Ethics, 1996), where he explores the difference between subject and object, ego and alter. Of egoism and altruism, Meinong argued that, before any deep inquiry, one might think that “a value is egoistic if the subject is egoistic, altruistic if the alter is the subject. However, that this is not so can be seen in the fact that I myself have altruistic desires and valuations besides egoistic desires and valuations. Thus, no objection should be raised that there are altruistic and egoistic values for me. Then, the ego is subject of even altruistic values. But the altruistic nature of these values must be grounded on something other than the valu[ing] subject.”

The notion that economics is “based on self-interest” is actually a misguided philosophical complaint, and though I recommend Wicksteed and Kirzner and other economists to clear this up, it really is a philosophical error, and should be dealt with philosophically.


 * Yes, I am old. I like throwing around seemingly ancient examples.

N.B. In addition to the texts explicitly cited, above, one should consult


Reconsiderations

I have to confess to writing my Quora answers fairly hurriedly. It is obvious that some are better than others. This one was not great, rather poorly organized, with some sloppiness. The Meinong section should have been placed up a few paragraphs, and my problem with Wicksteed’s non-tuism is not adequately identified.

The issue lurking (as if Yog-Sothothery) behind the scenes, is this: in discussing market prices in terms of marginal utility we generally assume that the goods being traded are discrete and serve a specific set of needs, or wants. But sometimes we do trade “just to trade,” even though Adam Smith protested that he was unaware of much good being done in that vein. Human interaction is more complex than simple models can map, and, yes, the Austrian praxeological method of catallactic explanation is modeling, too. There is no way around models. There are just different sorts.

This complexity becomes clearer, amusingly enough, when you move away from mass markets and into murkier realms of barter markets, gift economies, plunder procedures, and straightforward cooperation in domestic and tribal contexts.

Much work must have been done in the manner I indicate, here, but I have not seen that work, especially amongst the Austrians.

Austrians, whose basic approach I apply to social science, are like today’s leftists in one sense, at least: just as leftists endlessly and obsessively and yammer about racism for the obvious reason that the fight against racism is the only good thing they have ever accomplished, Austrian economists grind their brand of marginal utility theory because it was, indeed, the best thing they ever accomplished. Expanding it into other domains is harder work. So that work is generally not done.

That being said, Austrians are least apt among market-oriented economists to get caught up in puerile charges of “egoism.” The self-interest notion, too, is rarely botched by Austrians in a crude way, though I do not see many in the tradition to take a deep interest in the processes by which individual actors construct and revise their own understandings of their interests.

Finally, it is indeed unfortunate that we have to deal with two quite distinct concepts of “interest”: the moral concept, in which one aims to provide an objective standard for one’s subjective (personal) value scale, and the catallactic concept, which is associated with (if not defined as) the price of loaned funds.

twv

Do efforts to eliminate class in society usually just
result in the creation of new classes and, if so, why?

…as answered on Quora:

It is not clear what concept of class can stand the tests of analysis and debate. See Joseph Schumpeter’s essay on class for a decent and politically unbiased discussion. (I wrote a foreword to one ebook reprint of it. I am not sure it is still available.)

But let us pretend, for sake of this question, that common sense class notions are robust enough to work with. And that the reader will follow along with me as I present the following simple argument.

Attempts to eliminate classes, so far, have been political, governmental. That is, they involve the State.

Which means: force.

Sociologist Max Weber, in “Politics as a Vocation” (1919), wrote that “a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” — that is, “a compulsory association which organizes domination [and] has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory.” Barack Obama scandalized America by repeating this basic definition in 2008. (Dumb America, of course.)

So, why is this important?

Attempts by the State to break apart classes and create one mass of humanity must fail, because those using the ostensibly legitimate force are quite distinct from those being forced. Indeed, the use of force is the separator that distinguishes so clearly that even dullards recognize that a class demarcator is in operation. It is “sticky” in all imaginations.

I bring force into the discussion because physical force is the micro-social, transactional factor that creates the most basic class distinction. It is not merely the case that one group of people, in the State, seek and work to destroy all other class distinction, leaving none left but what remains, the State/non-state. Force-relations draw the strongest line with which to separate people, at least when the directions of force go mainly one direction, between groups. The groups demarcated by force-relations constitute a new class. Force, aggression — this is the most salient social factor, stronger even than matters of family and clan (so important to Schumpeter’s theory), race, language, or generation.

Now, States usually try to provide a meta-class structure, setting terms with all perceived classes in society. This not only strengthens the State, in one sense, it does so by limiting itself, since people will still align themselves and act within the context of many state classes. These other classes provide countervailing power against the State, which often serves to limit the use of force by State actors.

But once the State seeks to destroy all other classes, the number of alternate social systems to oppose the State vanishes, and society goes into a feedback loop. We then witness a maximizing of aggression and interference by the State, turning people into stooges of the State, finking on each other in fear of being finked on first.

And worse.

Human beings naturally form groups. They must, to work and achieve, sure, but also merely to feel human. But in a society with a State program to eliminate classes, this natural, human sociality turns sour, and we almost create a new man. The human being in a one-class mass society is post-moral, fear-ridden, hubristic, anti-social. An ironic twist on the New Socialist Man prophecy? Well, it was predicted in the negative form, by socialism’s enemies in the 19th century. It came true in the Soviet Union and other failed Communist “experiments.”

And the horrifying upshot has, I am told, been exquisitely depicted on the TV show Chernobyl.

The political/bureaucratic/military attempt to create a classless society creates a class system much worse than the classes we see in our freer societies.


…a few further considerations:

Though I rely heavily on force as a basic distinguisher of class, in the answer above, I do not wish to convey the idea that it is the only distinguisher.

Indeed, in most societies at present, the State works mightily to try to muddy up and even extinguish that class indicator.

One way it does this is by the circulation of personnel along with the circulation of elite positions. Indeed, America’s founders were much concerned about this, and so pushed “rotation in office” as a way to prevent the formation of a permanent governmental class.

Another way that the early American federal republic resisted the formation of a hard state/society class split was with “the Spoils System,” in which the winners of an election would fill many government posts as rewards to supporters. This meant there was no permanent class. But the open greed and clamor for position was ugly. And corrupt. So a permanent civil service was formed. And with it, a new class.

Of course, the class structure in America and most of the West is based largely on cognitive skills, with what I call the Moderate Brights forming the main pool of people to get placed into government. And the tendency of classes to congeal around family and clan success (as Schumpeter argued) is offset somewhat by the public school system, higher education and its grants economy, and a general credentialist selection system, which technocratic progressives pushed to replace market productivity as the means for social mobility — and which they use to calcify class structure in a society under a dirigiste State.

Another method to counteract the separation of classes along what could be called the Aggression Line is ideology, which includes morality and religion. By sharing norms and myths and rites, a sharp distinction between State workers on the one hand and citizens on the other can be fuzzed up, allowing the wheels of commerce and community to flow like water around the rocks of the State.

Indeed, ideology is of paramount importance, for it is ideology that turns the water of power into the wine of authority — it is ideology that paints on the halo of legitimacy.

Further, one should always remember that human beings are naturally hierarchical animals. And though the purveyors of Equality über alles might seem to be seeking to upend all accommodations to in-group/out-group and top/bottom distinctions, their eagerness to embrace the harsh hierarchies and class distinctions of Actually Existing Anti-Class Classism belies their explicit approaches.

It is hard not to judge them as mere insurrectionists, seeking to place themselves in some advantageous class position, with their preferred in-group well-ensconced, and their place in its hierarchy secured.

Is that too reductionist? Harsh?

twv

This is not the motto, today, of very many people who call themselves “democrats.”

…as answered on Quora…

The question should be formed in the past tense: when was democracy overthrown?

OK, that’s a bit snarky. And not at all accurate, since the United States was neither designed to be nor ever became a democracy.

Unless, as I have written elsewhere on Quora, one starts fiddling with the meaning of the term “democracy.” Which is fair game, I guess, and is part of a long tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville meant something different by the word in the Jacksonian era than did the founding fathers of these benighted states.

It is pointless for me to repeat all I have written on this in the past. So, for the remainder of my answer, I will accept arguendo that democracy is a good thing, that we once had it, and that it either no longer exists or is in peril.

So who is responsible for the anti-democratic influences? People in power.

I find it weird that Democrats think Republicans are democracy’s threat, and Republicans deem Democrats the threat. Both are threats. Obviously.

Take the big marker: initiative and referendum rights. Those are democratic, after all. No controversy about that. So, all around the country, in state after state, Democratic Party political machines work to squelch the ability of voters to check legislatures — which are, after all, concentrations of political power, especially when incumbency accrues advantages on sitting politicians by seniority and sheer persistence — using the ballot box on an issue-by-issue creation and repeal of constitutional amendments and statutes.

Except in Florida. In Florida it is the Republicans who work to squelch initiative activity, through the usual sneaky political means, by regulating the petition process for ballot access.

Usually, it depends upon who is in and out of power. Truth is, politicians out of power tend to favor democracy, for their best hope into power is to ride a groundswell of citizen unrest. Where, once in power, they tend to lust to squelch the competition.

Democracy is a means to manage competition for political power. That’s one definition anyway. And any group in power tends to be against democracy.

It is one of the basic rules of politics.

But let us look more broadly at the institutions of citizen control of the government. Are we really sure we have it? Are we sure we do not live in a mixed system with heavy elements of plutocracy, oligarchy, and mobocracy as well as star-chamber Deep State machinations?

After all, way back in the late 1930s, Garet Garrett understood that revolutions need not be overt:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.

There are those who have never ceased to say very earnestly, “Something is going to happen to the American form of government if we don’t watch out.”

These were the innocent disarmers. Their trust was in words. They had forgotten their Aristotle. More than 2,000 years ago he wrote of what can happen within the form, when “one thing takes the place of another, so that the ancient laws will remain, while the power will be in the hands of those who have brought about revolution in the state.”

The key thing about citizen control of government is that government must be small enough, limited enough, for citizens to practically control. At the time of the founding, the ratio of Representatives to citizens was comparatively balanced — a normal person was apt to know his Rep. Today, to keep up anything like that ratio, our House of Representatives would have to number not 435 but in the many thousands. This means that the federal union that is supposedly the United States may be less democratic today than it was two centuries ago . . . when it was explicitly not democratic!

But Americans, when they hear this, usually just shrug.

I think it is pretty obvious that people do not want democracy. Government is something we get activated about when we fret about a particular issue. But most people have the sense to shove most questions of governance off their proverbial front burners and onto that of experts. Who have their own special interests.

The consequences of this, of course, is not democracy but rule by the most vociferous and greedy factions. The revolution of the 20th century — away from constitutional constraints and a decent balance between “the people” and “the government” and to the establishment of a vast administrative state with its bureaucracy and vast transfer programs and regulations placing unequal burdens upon society, for the benefit of some and not others — is the result of the activism of some and the “inactivism” of the many.

Is that democracy? Hardly. But the metamorphosis did not require much bloodshed, as Garrett explained:

Revolution in the modern case is no longer an uncouth business. The ancient demagogic art, like every other art, has, as we say, advanced. It has become in fact a science — the science of political dynamics. And your scientific revolutionary in spectacles regards force in a cold, impartial manner. It may or may not be necessary. If not, so much the better; to employ it wantonly, or for the love of it, when it is not necessary, is vulgar, unintelligent and wasteful. Destruction is not the aim. The more you destroy the less there is to take over. Always the single end in view is a transfer of power.

I find it funny that there are people who think they are “for democracy” but really just demand more power for their faction.

My laughter is not exactly mirthful, I admit.

twv

Why is it not cool to be a conservative?

…as answered on Quora…

Two problematic, contestible words: cool and conservative.

The latter did not come into common use in America as much but a style-related pejorative until after World War II, with Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953). There is no certain ideology behind the basic concept. Its core meaning suggests caution, opposition to radicalism and revolution, and respect for tradition, including, especially, the political traditions at the heart of the defense of one’s civilization or country or locality — from subversion and conquest. In America, an additional element, not so characteristic of European conservative strains, is the harking back to the origins of the federal union, which were, in historical context, what came to be known as liberal — a word that took on a political meaning on the European continent in the 1820s. American conservatism has vacillated between traditionalism as a modus operandi and traditionalism as the honoring of a liberal radical moment.

See how double-souled conservatism is? How ambiguous? This double character is especially the case, anyway, in America. But even in England, the conservative prophet Edmund Burke showed strong commitments to British liberalism, which was old before it was named. Since his day, the conservative Tory and liberal Whig parties have traded ideas and reversed positions at least once, if not twice.

The concept of cool is much abused in contemporary society, and it has been unmoored from its origins in the temperature metaphor. Alas.

Once upon a time, hot and cool were two distinct ideals in sexual selection, two very different stances: the hot was passion and rage and fiery temper; the cool was collected, unperturbed, resistant to emotional infection. The hot spread like fire, quickly; the cool was resistant but not cold. And neither were as attributed to the church of Laodicea in the Revelation, the last book of the Christian New Testament: lukewarm.

Warm culture is modern adult bourgeois culture: polite hugging, easy acceptance, reassurances everywhere; passionless but supportive. Hot culture is lust and anger and quickness of temper; when accepting, more ecstatic and celebratory than calm.

Cold culture is rigid, forbidding, exclusionary.

Warm cultures accept, lukewarm cultures are almost indifferent, but leaning towards acceptance.

There is a sense of anomie in the lukewarm. While in the cool, there is alienation — proud and dismissive, but not rudely so.

The cold rejects, the warm gently accepts (with the lukewarm unenthusiastic almost to the point of ambivalence), while the cool resists both as undue perturbations.

The cool man (and it was a predominantly male stance, at first) is calm under crisis, but perhaps curious. He appears strong because seemingly in control of his emotions. He is not given to fight or flight, rejection or acceptance. There is distance, but no great hate or resentment.

The cool thus became a signal of strength. And it quickly garnered an allure that the other stances could not match. And so it became a kind of ideal. And “the cool” in modern culture became a revival of honor culture.

Alas, so overused as a eulogistic word, it became synonymous with hot, in popular parlance. Just another trendy emphasis word, for The Good.

Now we can see why conservatives are not “cool.” The tendency to either cold or fiery rejection of the other — of the differently customed, the divergent of values or habits or beliefs — is a common conservative “virtue.” And the forms of acceptance amongst conservatives tend to the warm and the lukewarm.

Irony is cool; earnestness is not. Conservatives are not natural ironists.

Conservatives are fond of “that old-time religion”: cold adherence to dogma; hot defense of that dogma.

The center-left is warm to lukewarm; the far left is hot.

So where is the cool? Probably among the independents, though attributing any political position to the cool is difficult, because partisanship does not lend itself to cool attitudes.

The cool political position, in my opinion, would most likely be that of the informed non-voter.

Misattributions of coolness are common, of course, because young people tend to confuse hot and cool. Such attributions are not likely to remain true to the foundational metaphor . . . temperature.

But there is a reason why drug taking is “cool,” and sobriety is not: taking drugs, like the cool sexual stance, signals strength in a subtle way, as in “I can take it; I am not crushed nor do I panic.” All this show of strength signals to the eager female looking for a strong partner — for evolutionary reasons — a bracing, impressive latent ability to survive and protect.

The earnestly sober, cautious, and traditionally minded male, on the other hand, whether cold or warm, has to appeal to reason, primarily.

Which is not sexy except to the very bright. And as we know from IQ testing, there are more geniuses among men than women, so it pays more to impress the normally intelligent. Hot and cool stances have a more obvious, emotional allure.

Conservatives just cannot easily elicit such reactions. They are not cool. Even if they are right (as they often are, compared to the far left, anyway).

And the cool, understandably, dominated the permanent counter-culture in America: the public school student culture. This counter-culture was chiefly counter to established authority. Conservatism tries to bolster established, adult authority. So the two attitudes are on opposite sides in the forming experience of most Americans.

twv

An excellent book on the career of a concept.
I don’t know about you, but I miss Pepe. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Is the alt-right a serious political entity or just teenagers poking fun at modern liberalism?

…as answered on Quora…

There are serious alt-righters, and there are shitlords who troll normies with “memes.” They are distinct.

Notice that I use the word “troll” as a verb. From what I can tell, many people think it bubbled up from the Lord of the Rings and Nordic myth, meaning a big, nasty, ugly mean creature, vaguely hominid. “A neckbeard.” That is the wrong etymology. It comes from a fishing technique. It is a way of getting people to flop around ridiculously, like wild fish on a line or a caught fish on the bottom of a skiff.

The paragraph above is not a diversion from my answer. It is important to get a few metaphors right to understand either the alt-right or the “trolls.”

Another metaphor to get right is “cuck.”

This does not primarily derive from the sexual fad of cuckoldry, wherein the male partner likes to watch his woman penetrated by another man. That is just a kink, a perversion.

The core idea of “cuck” comes from the cuckoo, a bird, which destroys the egg of a bird of another feather (species) and then lays its egg where the destroyed egg had been, to be incubated until hatching, and the hatchling to be nurtured into maturity not by the cuckoo but by the cuckolded mated pair, who expend time and energy on what they have been fooled to think of as their own progeny.

Of course, that is where “cuckold” comes from. But the traditional word is there as a pejorative not just because the husband of an adultress is a contemptible, dishonored man. It has its condemnatory power because it makes the cuckold a slave of the alien male, doing work but not doing it for himself. The cuckold is a chump, and destroys his own interests. Lowest of the low, in a sense. That is why “cuck” is so effective a term of disparagement, for it applies not only to men who serve feminist women who possess no loyalty or gratitude. It also applies to whole societies that allow foreigners to come in, leech off of their welfare state programs (public schools, SNAP, Medicaid) and strain the resources of police, courts and prisons . . . all at the hosts’ (citizens’) tax expense. The term “cuck” applies to anyone who valorizes or shame-facedly accepts subsidized mass immigration as a government policy and social norm. It applies not only to the progressive left but also to the “conservative” right. Hence “cuckservative.”

This is a serious critique.

I agree with it, though I do not go with the alt-righters in their favorite policy direction, that of an ethnostate. Sure, I think a policy of subsidized immigration is insane because suicidal. I think it entirely apt to scorn the cucks, left, right or libertarian. But I am not an alt-righter. The alt-right want to cut off immigration. “Build the Wall.” I want to make immigrants ineligible for welfare benefits — and then work to get rid of the welfare state entirely. It has been a disaster. It has created several generations of serviles and wimps and snowflakes and . . . cucks. And it is breeding race hatred, threatening to eradicate the last vestiges of liberal order.

Meanwhile, the lolsters and trolls and shitlords float their “memes” — and chortle. They understand enough of the alt-right critique to freak out progressives. And it is indeed fun to watch progressives freak out — “RACISM!” they cry. “Sexism!” “Trans-phobia!” “Islamophobia!” And the trolls chuckle, moving on as progressives dance to shitlord tunes, flipping and flapping to trollers’ (proper word, but not used) lure.

Oh, and here is my modest troll: there is no “liberalism” on the left anymore. They are so thoroughly cucked that the “progressives” cannot conceive of freedom, meaning the word “liberal” must not be allowed to them. They just want more and more handouts. And safe spaces — a term of art meaning

Subsidized Sectarian Commiseration Center for the Easily Offended and Emotionally Unstable

— normal people’s “safe” areas being bedrooms, homes, churches, and clubs, and are privately paid for, not subsidized.

twv

Variants of the following question seem common enough. I have almost certainly answered one or two previous ones before. Because it is common, and because previous historical instantiation is a reliable indication of possibility, the question has some importance today. But, as I try to make clear, being new is not a sure sign of impossibility or undesirability. But more will needs be said.

as answered on Quora:

Why has there never seem[ed] to have been a nation whose approach to government was Libertarianism?

Simple answer: because libertarianism is a fairly recent refinement of a long tradition in social innovation.

More complex answer: many, many societies have demonstrated libertarian elements, and it is worth remembering that until the modern period, most societies did not even sport states. Libertarianism arose in response to the abuse of state power, and to rescue a sense of morality in law from the general run of state power that almost invariably corrupts legal practice.

Further, states tend to form around high capital areas, by capture (high capital regions make easy marks), and — if not run by murderous psychopaths or morons — also encourage the accumulation of more capital. By encouraging capital and commandeering capital, they often produce lasting markers that we can track, as history. Freer societies in ancient times tended not to leave big monuments or be known for their conquests. So they tend not to leave historical mileposts. If there were free societies in the tribal, upland, and margins-of-civilizations societies, we probably would not know much about them.

But it is worth remembering that the basic libertarian stance is very old, and can be seen in writings as various as the Hebrews’ I Samuel 8-15 and the Chinese Tao te Ching.

That being said, libertarianism is a workaround to a problem arising from our hierarchical natures and the path dependence set in place by relying upon the most valiantly coercive: accommodation to power, legitimation of the powerful, Authority . . . and the eternal problem of in-group solidarity and out-group antagonism. Libertarianism is an attempt to regulate these volatile mixes — regulate by law. Other attempts at such regulation have included timocracy, democracy, and republicanism. Libertarianism is the latest, and if it seems familiar, no wonder, for libertarianism is a lexarchy. The fact that we almost never hear that term suggests to me that libertarianism, despite its august lineage from rule-of-law traditions, is very young, and that today’s libertarian challenge has not been met in the general culture. Not even libertarians themselves really understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish — they might boil it down to “rights,” for instance, or The Individual . . . without contextualizing what a universal right to liberty would actually accomplish.

So, the past is something of a red herring. It is not for nothing that the major libertarian (as opposed to myth-making liberal) theorists have looked to the future, not the past. Henry David Thoreau wrote of a future with radically less political governance, but he noted that it requires a culture and a general character to match it: “when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” This notion of a cultural context of resistance to mere power and position was carried on a few years later, in another early classic of libertarian advocacy, Social Statics: or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness and the First of Them Developed, by Herbert Spencer. Speaking of the novelty of the most extreme elements of his doctrine — which most libertarians today would assent to — he wrote that “There are many changes yet to be passed through before [libertarianism] can begin to exercise much influence.” At about the same time as Thoreau and Spencer were formulating their rather radical doctrines — of law as regulated by explicit contract — a young Belgian economist put the idea to its most precise formulation in an essay entitled “De la production de la sécurité.” This Gustave de Molinari’s last full book, and the only one to be translated into English, was titled The Society of To-morrow. In that he explained why what we would now call libertarian ideas were so late in developing. But why he had hope for a later instantiation.

Now, I confess: I am not fully convinced that libertarian proposals are even possible fully to implement in a society of baboonish hominids, I mean, humans. But if they are, it would be the result of some sweeping changes, not only institutionally but also culturally.

And, I readily concede, it is not as if such radical changes have not happened, even in our lifetimes.

But most relevantly, consider the cultural, intellectual support for two institutions, democracy and slavery.

If in 1492, the year that I believe marks the beginning of the modern period, you had asked all educated men on the planet at that time, whether some day the word “democracy” would not only inform the politics of the nation states of more than half the world, it would even play as piety on the lips of even the most brutal of tyrants, not one man would not laugh, chortling in derision at the preposterous nature of your question. Yet “democracy” has become the byword of politics.

And, perhaps more astoundingly, throughout history slavery was a civilizational norm — even many pre-civilized tribes and chiefdoms practiced this brutal form of tyranny. Yet, in recent modern history Christians in England and elsewhere began liberating slaves and abolishing the institution, making it illegal. Now, it is so anathematized that no civilized person can even conceive of bringing it back.

If democracy — once universally condemned — can become normalized nearly everywhere, and slavery — once universally practiced — made taboo, then it is not altogether incomprehensible that liberty rigorously conceived might someday also become the norm.

But that would make libertarianism definitely a future, not a historic, development.

twv

Currently back to reading this book.
Me, playing with filters . . . and not with my cat, Bene.

On Quora, a question was asked — “What aspect of ‘big government’ frightens conservatives and libertarians?” And answered: dependence. And that answer was then commented upon . . . which then received an additional comment. That last little comment — nothing more than a quip, really — irked me enough to respond.


As the old saying goes, “Libertarians are like housecats. Completely dependent on the people around them for survival, yet utterly convinced of their own independence.”

Ben Patch

This misconstrues the nature of interdependence.

Libertarians celebrate our interdependence in the form of voluntary cooperation — especially in trade. This is the most obvious thing about individualist intellectuals, and has been since Adam Smith and Anders Chydenius. When libertarians talk about dependence we are talking about non-reciprocal aid over long periods of time. The goal of an adult should be a morally autonomous being capable of offering moral (and economic) support to family, friends, and neighbors, but is not a burden to same.

Conflating interdependence with dependence is something of a perversity.

And as for the cat thing — “I bought me a cat” a decade ago because I needed protection from rodents. My cat could have survived for some time in the wild. But in my house he kept it vermin-free for ten years — and has survived longer than he could have on his own. This is important. It is reciprocity. And he certainly is not my slave; and neither, really, am I his. He is not my dependent, not like many people on the dole are to the state.

The “old saying,” above, is a calumny against both cats and libertarians.

twv

Nota Bene: Then followed more discussion, which the curious may drill down to with the link given above.

Why isn’t corporatism talked about as an alternative to capitalism and socialism?

…an answer on Quora by Ethan Lee:

‘Corporatism’ is not an alternative to capitalism, it is capitalism. Albeit not free market capitalism, it is capitalism none the less. Calling X corporatist is just a cop out to avoid admitting that is in fact capitalism.

Capitalism = Private ownership over the means of production

Socialism = Worker ownership over the means of production

Is that exactly right? Workers can own the means of production in capitalism. 

I own my small business. There do exist workers’ cooperatives. And laborers’ pensions often own stock in companies, though most often not majority stock in any one company, and not in their own — which, since they invest at their own discretion, suggests that workers, generally, do not want to own the means of production. Only a few exceptional people do.

And, interestingly, under several of the socialist societies that have existed — the most prominent one, anyway, that called itself socialist, explicitly — small business was not exactly tolerated, was it? And workers did not own their factories, etc., the State did. And, further, it was industrial workers that were focused on: agricultural workers were despised, expropriated, and killed en masse. For “workers” owning “the means of production” was not the point of socialism, historically. Not really. It was “everybody” owning the means of production through a central planning office, through the State. Which in practice just means tyranny.

And I note that the socialists I know personally, and the ones I see on TV, do not seem much interested in workers as such, or the means of production as such. They are concerned with consumers, making sure that everyone can consume about the same amount of goods: equal access to healthcare, equal access to housing, equal access to iPhones, complete financial security for all, etc. Which suggests, once again, that “workers” is the reddest of red herrings. Socialism always comes back to a form of consumerism. State-supported and -enabled consumerism.

What “corporatism” means is not always clear, either. We have a lot of publicly* traded stockholders’ corporations in these United States, and they sure look like market institutions, and not a few are even basically operating within something like a free market. But many — though, once again, certainly not all — of the most successful are dependent for their success on government contracts (some of the biggest corporations are those within the ambit of the military-industrial complex) and, when the biggest fail (most recently in the financial sector) they are bailed out, at taxpayer expense. Further they are regulated in such a way that “just so happens” to protect established businesses from upstart competitors. This system is certainly not laissez faire, as stated in the answer, above. But its capitalist nature, while being there, is certainly open to some interrogation. What it looks like to me might best be called “producerism.” A form of it. Producerist arguments were dominant in 19th century support for protective tariffs, and they now dominate the government practice of regulation and bailouts.

Which should indicate my approach to free-market capitalism: it is consumerist-producerist . . . both. We produce to consumer, sure, but no consumer and no producer should really be given special favors. “Workers” and “business” do not compete so much as cooperate, and foisting a class narrative on their relations is a bad idea. They are just two special interests, and our rule of law should serve the general interest, not any specifically identified class or group. Neither consumer-oriented socialism nor worker-oriented socialism make sense, and corporatisms that focus on bolstering up specific industries for the sake of stability are not much better.

============

* Note that we call publicly traded stock companies “private” — our nomenclature sure must confuse the young.

TDS, the malady of the age, leading to questions like these . . .

Why hasn’t Donald Trump been impeached yet?

. . . as answered on Quora, June 2, 2018 . . .

Every president in my lifetime could have been impeached on some grounds or another. Only one was. And that was for something rather trivial and stupid. Besides, the Senate did not concur with the House impeachment. So it was all a rather pointless enterprise. (Sorry, Bob Barr.)

And, to repeat, every president can be found doing something illegal. Why? Because there are so many laws to break. Just as every American is said to break “three felonies per day,” there are enough regulations hemming in political life that one infraction or another could be found.

Impeachment is not a criminal justice matter, in which Congress must react as a hanging judge over every crime committed by a president. Impeachment is a political matter, and it is by politics alone that the decision to impeach should be made — once a plausible ground for impeachment (“high crimes and misdemeanors”) has been found.

It looks to me that the Trump campaign did break at least one campaign finance law. It is still a bit obscure, but if Congress really wanted to, it could probably impeach him. But since campaign finance laws do not usually end up in prison time — with the exception of the Obama Administration’s successful prosecution of Dinesh D’Souza — one would not expect a simple abridgment of a goofy regulation to end in impeachment and trial.

Other than for political reasons.

And the Republican House is not likely to impeach its own party’s inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Democrats need to regain the House to hope to do anything of this kind.

Which brings us back to pure politics: if Democrats keep up talking about impeaching Trump for minor points of law, and keep conjuring up wild, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the man, they are going to wind up increasing turnout for Trump in 2020. Americans do not take kindly to the witch-huntery involved in this.

That is, hinged Americans do not. The unhinged remain enthusiasts of impeachment.

But back to my main point: Presidents commit crimes. Just as you and I commit crimes. Because there are so many idiotic regulations defining often quite innocent or at least tolerable actions as crimes.

What bothers me are the worse and worst things that presidents do — like authorizing mass murder overseas and the torture of combatant prisoners, not to mention all the unconstitutional actions the three major branches of federal government routinely engage in. These get scant pushback from the American people, partisans in particular.

It was not for bombing an aspirin factory that Clinton was impeached.

As far as I’m concerned, George W. Bush and Barack Obama should both be in prison for their foreign policy “missteps.” (They were not just mistakes.) But almost no one talks about that, and if they do, then only in a partisan way: Democrats wanted Bush in chains; Republicans wanted Obama under lock and key.

Perhaps because all this oppositionalism is mere partisan hysteria, our political leaders are — to too great an extent — unrestrained by the Constitution. Or by political pressure. Because sensible people dismiss it as idiotic. And because the really bad stuff is tacitly and explicitly supported by both parties.

We should not be talking impeachment. We should be talking, instead, about placing actual, effective limits on the Imperial Presidency.

twv

as answered on Quora:

What prevents countries from attempting libertarian policies?

Not enough libertarians.

That is the main reason. All other reasons are speculative.

But there is, I think, a baseline reason for why there are so few libertarians, and I am not referring to genetic predisposition or the current early stage of libertarianism’s development. What is that reason?

Statism is a trap.

The dirigiste state — the robust modern state, as well as the various states of limited-access societies in the past — presents people with a set of incentive traps that embroil them in self-defeating behavior.

Think of statism as a hole, and all we have are shovels — and, further, that the loosest loam is under our feet, not on the sides. It takes longer digging steps for an upward ascent. So people — mostly distracted, living their lives — convince themselves that digging further downward is the obvious response. It sure seems easier.

They forget that the first rule to apply when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging downward.

The social sciences provide some familiar and not-familiar-enough terms that help define and explain aspects of our predicament: rational ignorance, preference falsification, the Thomas Theorem, the prisoner’s dilemma, public goods, rent-seeking, market failure, and the like. But people get confused by the situations identified by these terms, and are tempted to see in further state-control and -interference solutions to the problems state-control itself causes.

Example? Take that term “market failure.” It is a term of art that economists use, but it often confuses even economists. It is not, like it sounds, about the failures of markets. It refers to the failure to establish the groundwork for markets. The most common market failures are in government.

It sounds paradoxical.

But it isn’t.

It is just a bit complicated.

Smart people are supposed to be able to unravel such convolutions, untangle these puzzles. But the dirigiste state presents smart people with a huge temptation: to live at others’ expense — gain unfair advantage — all the while feeling self-righteous in advancing “the public good.”

But what if the public good can only be achieved through the establishment of the limits that liberty provides? What if it is only by limiting coercion so that people have to get ahead by serving others through trade and other forms of voluntary coöperation that redounds to the general benefit?

Well, smart people would have to work a bit harder, in such a system, and might have to live with dumber people getting ahead of them. So smart people just naturally find the statist modes of the ancient world’s limited-access societies and revive them through licensing, regulations, taxation, even subsidies. And, in the process, “just so happen” to set up their class as dominant. Technocracies don’t run themselves!

It “just so happens” that the biggest winners in a modern dirigiste state are members of what we call the cognitive elite.

It is almost as if intellectuals — good students, remember, great test-takers and essay writers and bright young scholars — saw the world of market capitalism at the end of the 19th century, where anyone, regardless of IQ or credentials, could advance by leaps and bounds so long as they provided services to others on a contractual, voluntary basis, and said “fuck that shit.” It is almost as if they set up a system of massive coercion all built around the guidance of “trained professionals” wherein said professionals would achieve the security that markets do not readily provide, at least for so little real work.

It is almost that!

That, my friends, is Progressivism.

And, with the smart people — er, the good students and dutiful drones of the collegiate crowd — almost all on board with statism, and in control of the commanding heights of the culture — public schools, higher ed, major media and the entertainment industry, not to mention the many bureaucracies and government contractors — it is very hard to make much headway against the trap that they have fully set.

Amusingly, these geniuses routinely set up systems that self-destruct. At least, after entangling increasing numbers of the population into servility or exploitation or both. So, we run headlong into crisis . . . and move from crisis to crisis. There may be some hope in a growing realization that these long-term cycles of the dirigiste state are not All to the Good. But my hopes are not very high.

And, lastly, at the basis of the trap, at least in terms of democratic action, is this: government programs are routinely judged not on the merits of their ostensible and original purposes, but on whether they establish beneficiaries. That is — constituencies. But all programs establish that. So all government programs tend to grow, and kludge must become the rule.

While retreats from such kludge can be made, and have been made, historically, they are politically costly, difficult to negotiate.

Statism is the “it” of our situation: