Archives for category: Quora

What made the Great Depression different from the depression of 1893-97?

as answered on Quora:

Much of what I was taught in school about the Great Depression was wrong, or at the very least proved to be extremely skewed. Not a few accepted truths are little more than red herrings. Public schools in America do us all a great disservice, but regarding boom and bust cycles, you can usually count on them to have it backwards. The truth is more complex than commonly admitted, and will likely startle students of history.

But hey, instead of a long, scholarly explanation, I would like merely to mention a handful of issues:

  1. No one in government attempted, in the earlier debacle, what Herbert Hoover did to “heroically” save the country from the difficulties associated with the bust part of the boom-bust cycle. For examples of what he managed to “accomplish” — which included trying to prop up wage rates — consult Murray N. Rothbard, America’s Great Depression. And yes, you read that right, Hoover was no advocate for laissez faire. He was, instead, a celebrated progressive who lived up to his reputation by doing his damnedest to prevent the deepening of the depression — and for humanitarian reasons (and Hoover was indeed a great humanitarian). But instead of improving matters and steering the nation away from crisis, he made the situation far, far worse.
  2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for the presidency in part on what we would now call (idiotically) an “austerity” program. But when he took the reins he doubled down on Hoover’s progressivist interventionism, offering These Benighted States* a great number of massive interventions into market adjustment processes, most famously the National Recovery Act. There are a lot of sources for this; I needn’t list any. Just recognize that FDR extended the depression well beyond his second term in office. The U.S. was, in effect, in a depression all the way through World War II (see the work of Robert Higgs on this, especially the concept of regime uncertainty). Nothing like any of this happened under President Grover Cleveland’s watch. And when World War II ended, the Keynesians were panicky: “another Depression!” was their cry. To their horror, a Keynesian stimulus was not delivered, yet the recovery was fairly swift, even with all those soldiers coming home and flooding the labor markets.
  3. The Great Depression was part of a worldwide, post-Great War trend, the precipitating element of which was Britain’s going back to the gold standard at parity after the wartime inflation. This daring policy might have worked out just dandy, but unions were strong, and downward price adjustments were thus disallowed in the industrial sector. Massive unemployment was the result — the obvious and predictable result. This was a known thing, yet Keynes was scraping together his “theory” to work around what amounted to a political logjam. (See W. H. Hutt’s The Keynesian Episode for a great analysis of this, including some great stories, like Sidney Webb calling the unionists “pigs.”) And in America? Well, enter a new institution, the Federal Reserve, which inflated the money supply in part to help the Brits, thus setting the stage for the crash of 1929. Though the late 19th century had huge monetary issues — America’s gold/silver bimetallism question was quite the mess, and was not resolved properly — at least old Grover did not have to out up with a central bank! This is the biggest issue. See Philips, McManus, and Nelson, Banking and the Business Cycle, for a thorough investigation of the monetary causes of the Great Depression, and the nagging disequibrium aspects to what has been called “the secondary depression.” It is also worth mentioning that the United States has always been plagued by goofy money and banking policy. See Calomiris and Haber, Fragile by Design, for the best discussion of this I have encountered.
  4. And then there is Smoot-Hawley. What can I say about this that has not been said? Well, that is not the point. Let me merely hint at a summary. The tariff bill hampered not only American trade, it hurt the very farmers it was meant to help (the agricultural sector being the one sector that never quite bounced back from the post-Great War bust). But there is more: it also inflicted a series of huge stressors to the banking system. And it did worse, its protectionism ushered in a global trade “war.” Thus setting the stage for World War II. It was devastating, and made the Great Depression far worse — which, after Hoover, FDR, and the Federal Reserve, did not need more such “help.”

The Great Depression was a perfect storm of bad government policy.

And note: I did not quite get to the thesis of “The Great Contraction” (Friedman and Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United States) or Irving Fisher’s brilliant debt-deflation theory. And I have skimped (but not ignored) the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle.

There were structural problems at play in the depression during Grover Cleveland’s second presidency, sure. But they did not dovetail to work woe as happened later, under progressive politicians and that great, unwieldy, and quite dangerous progressive program, the Fed.

* I am especially fond of this manner of referring to our increasingly disunited (but nevertheless nationalistic) hodgepodge, the United States. My coinage. The people and its governments are such disappointments, having turned back on the original promise and persisting in an astounding cluelessness.

Is complete revolution possible in modern day democracies, where the passion of a person matters none as they are limited to one vote, and a militaristic overthrow is unimaginable?

………………………………………………………………… answered on Quora

Revolution is always a longshot. For game theoretic reasons, leadership in revolution is almost always severely punished by the State, so such extreme endeavors that require leaders also require them to risk their lives, which in turn requires tremendous self-sacrifice. Spontaneous mass uprisings (which can be nearly leaderless) are super-unlikely because the first to step up in revolt are also likely to be treated as leaders. And people — especially contemporary serviles — are basically a cowardly lot, so it is only the most desperate who would do so.

Further, the incentive of the desperate to revolt depends on gaining the sympathy of the masses. The most pathetic populations in the U.S. right now are pissing away most of their pitiable cachet, so we would need to find a new group of desperate people. Illegal immigrants, inner-city blacks, trans-folk, and young collegians have burnt almost all their bridges, so any revolt they might attempt would be put down by the State with the enthusiastic backing of the masses.

But note: we do not live in democracies. Democracy is merely the pietistic term for the kludge mess of republican-plutocratic-imperial churning states.

The utility of holding democracy more as a piety than as a reality lies in getting distracted, easy-to-fool marks, I mean, citizens, to misidentify the State as “theirs.” This helps maintain the authority of its leaders and functionaries. Making revolution less likely.

Modern states do, of course, have democratic elements. But the inherently least effectively democratic parts, the national governments, steal the limelight, further distracting citizens from taking control of the potentially most effectively democratic parts, the state and local governments. This allows those institutions to shore themselves up as de facto anti-democracies. City governments are typically interest-group dominated one-party states. The citizens do not realize this, of course, because they are completely fooled or uninterested. So if they revolted, they would do much more harm than good. A military dictatorship would undoubtedly set up a better government than anything today’s citizen-fools could possibly concoct.

But passions of individuals do matter. Passions and a plausible narrative with rationale makes them leaders. And leaders matter. Rank-and-file voters, on the other hand, matter only in the mass.

Militaristic overthrow is the most likely form of revolution in contemporary states. But since military men seem the most pietistic elements in our societies — the patriotic piety being the urge that nudges them to defend the State — they are likely to take charge only in the case of deep financial panic and social chaos, and after legal governments have proven worse than useless: disutile.

So, give it a few years and the next crisis, then we will see.


What question would you ask Satan that he has never been asked before?

As Answered on Quora

“So, how tired are you of that old memetic trap, ‘the biggest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince the world he did not exist’?”

Of course, that would probably be the best I could come up with on short notice.

If I spent time in his waiting room, though, I would surely formulate something much better.

“Your greatest invention is without question the State. Ubiquitous, useful for no small good but even less doubtfully for much greater and horrific ill. It is all demons and ideologues can talk about. But, I have to wonder: after all these millennia, do you still laugh when people call it God’s ordained instrumentality, as they did when kings were worshipped as gods, or the servant of The People, as they do even unto this day? I mean, I find it hilarious. Do you find it at least worth a chuckle?”

Satan polishes an antler and his slender mouth grows wider and wider.

I cannot determine if it is an evil grin or the knowing smile of a serpentine sage.


American Statesmen

Why does libertarianism, a radical form of classical liberalism [that] is ideologically more similar to liberalism than to conservatism, receives [sic] a lot of criticism from liberals rather than from conservatives?

As Answered on Quora


Political parties and ideologies must not simply be distinguished one from another by a list of demands and normative principles. Indeed, there are cultural and institutional forms — along with strong bedrock folkways relating, even, to sexual selection — that loom large in politics. But even ignoring that, consider these three factors, these elements of any ideology:

  1. Vision of the world as it is, a Weltanschauung — which may include fact and error, theories of varying coherence, such as about the modes of social causation, etc.;
  2. Vision of the world as it could and should be, a fantasy — which may or may not actually be possible to achieve;
  3. Preferred sets of procedures to achieve the latter in the context of the former in our objective world, in other words, compromises.

Thomas Sowell, in his late-80s book A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, dealt with some of this, in a broad way. He distinguished between two different Weltanschauungen, what he called the “constrained vision” of human nature versus the “unconstrained.” I think there is something to what he said (I reviewed the book in Liberty, v. 1, n. 1), but my main concern is with the nature of compromise. There is more than one type.

There is the compromise you consciously make, and there is the kind forced upon you, because not all things are possible. Not only do politicos lie to others about the compromises they readily undertake, they often lie to themselves, especially about the compromises they must make, willy-nilly. That latter kind they often fard up with lipstick, as if on the pig of existence.

So any ideology contains a vision of the world as it has been and is, but also a vision of how it could be. And ideologues are rarely objective philosophers. Not only are they often wrong, but they are often commited to their errors and to their fantasies, regardless of outcome, in no small part because fantasy is preferable to reality.

That is why we create fantasy.

In modern America, broadly speaking, conservatives idealize the classical liberal principles of the our federal union’s founders. So, for many thinking conservatives, libertarianism is a key element of their fantasy life.

They betray those fantasies all the time, of course, in no small part because they fudge the degree to which American life has been transformed by the warfare/welfare/regulatory state of the progressives. To understand conservatism, one must understand better than conservatives themselves how embroiled in the actuality of progressivism they are, and then the compromises they always make with their fantasy of liberty. One interesting thing to witness in libertarian conservatives like the terrific Andrew Klavan and Ben Shapiro, of the Daily Wire, is how they cannot bring themselves to make the kind of criticism they readily apply against the domestic aspects of our Leviathan State also against foreign policy. They are too invested in the messianic myth of America, for that. And in protecting Israel. It is fascinating to watch.

Progressives, on the other hand, no longer hold much love for the American founding principles and constitutional system. Their fantasy is almost wholly of the socialist State, of Leviathan as Messiah . . . in all domestic matters. And their compromises are now byzantine in complexity. For instance, they like to pretend that they are constantly fighting a guerilla intellectual battle against Big Money, not realizing that the plutocrats not only coöpted them long ago, but that they are serving as their useful idiots.

But even the plutocrats are stumbling in the dark, juggling fantasy and reality with compromises and prevarications.

At present, the left is less open to liberal ideas in general (not to mention libertarian principles in particular) than is the right, because the left, in addition to its collectivist fantasy, is in the conservative position, vis-à-vis institutions, of trying to hold on to its pet major institutions of socialized pensions and subsidies for the poor and for women with children. And to protect us from soft drinks, verbal disagreement etc. Though the total state of pure communism has been widely rejected (except among the deluded young and some of the collegiate class), the administrative state is here, and leftists are hysterical regarding its fragility (quite aghast that anyone, libertarian, conservative, whathaveyou, opposes it even in part), and, at the same time, they wish to expand it. And since the administrative state, the ulta-Leviathan State, is not a liberal conception but a mercantislist-progressive one, this means that “liberal” does not really fit with the left any longer.

This divorce between fact and fancy presents a huge stressor on both conservatives and progressives. It helps explain the fundamental fact of ideology today, namely that progressives misunderstand conservatism and that conservatives misunderstand themselves. Because the administrative state is what has been bequeathed to us — as if new wine poured into the old, somewhat brittle wineskin of our liberal Constitution — the legal and intellectual compromises necessary to maintain this, especially in our pieties, has made nearly everyone crazy, especially on the left.

To conclude — once upon a time “the left” sported a “liberal” element. No more. Which explains why liberalism and even libertarianism finds more favor on “the right”: because of the fantasy.

Fantasy is a powerful social force.

Always consider, in politics, the explanatory power of the Thomas Theorem.


Mind your business

Why should we care about freedom of the press when most media companies are already owned by billionaires with their own political agendas?

As Answered on Quora

The freedom of the press is not just for big media companies. It is for you and me, with our blogs and videos and the like. A “press” is just a means to distribute “speech” beyond the sound of our voices in distinct places.

The American Revolution was the background of the founders’ understanding of “the press.” It was a period of pamphleteers. Think tracts, one-sheets, booklets, etc.

All recent judicial perspectives and decision that treat “journalists” and “newspapers” as different from you with your printer and me with my blog are without foundation. Let us get these silly, corporatist notions out of our heads. We are “the press.”

So, it doesn’t matter much, for constitutional interpretation, who owns the major media outlets. The fact that they are owned by billionaires, and all of them technocrats and most left of center, is irrelevant in terms of principle.

Why would anyone think differently? What part of the rule of law is confusing?


What would happen if the world stopped using money?

As Answered on Quora

Billions of people would die.

Without a medium of exchange and unit of account, coördination of capital would become utterly incoherent, and the established interdependence of the modern age would vanish.

Most people would become useless to others, unrewardable.

And violence would reign supreme, as there would be a scramble to capture existing resources. Economists would utter the words “consumption of capital” before they were placed against the wall and shot en masse.

Mass starvation, rioting, tyranny, and death would follow, and quickly. Progress would not merely halt, regress would set in. We would go back to a stone age. A few technological utopias may survive, but the cost would be extraordinary.

For billions and billions of people would die miserable, horrifying deaths.

And the population would reduce itself to something like twice the population of bears.

In the meantime, certain infrastructure elements, like nuclear power plants, might very well fail and poison the planet . . . that is, if the malign individuals who capture the nuclear arsenal do not usher in nuclear winter, first.


Does Philosophy Affect Culture?
What philosophies to you think craft the world today — or do they not matter?

As Answered on Quora

Academic philosophy does not affect culture very much today, except for the far left strains of Marxism, neo-Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. These have had a disastrous influence on our culture. Why? Because bright people are very susceptible to cults, and these philosophies gave blueprints and marching orders for cultic intellectualism and intellectual cultism.

In Greek and Roman times philosophy deeply impacted culture. Then philosophy deeply influenced Christianity, which in turn influenced western culture greatly. There is also evidence that philosophy affected Judaism, which influenced Christianity and Islam. And philosophy was a part of Islam in its fairly early years, until the anti-intellectualism and cultic nature of the religion squashed it.

I think we can say that the Enlightenment had a huge influence on the modern world, and Enlightenment philosophers were big influences upon the English and American Revolutions and the direction of American culture for a long time. Names to remember, here, include Hugo Grotius, John Locke, Francis Hutchinson, who are worth remembering in this regard. At the back of the Enlightenment was not only the Renaissance, with philosophers quite various, but also the discovery of De Rerum Natura, which may have been an inspiration and much more — Epicurean atomism spurring much analysis and the scientific method, too. The Scottish Enlightenment percolated throughout the world, in part under cover of political economy, which hailed (in part) from one of the greats in the Scots tradition, Adam Smith. Then Romanticism was ignited by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from which flowed the French Revolution and the rise of socialism as a cultural and political force. Other thinkers of Enlightenment France included Denis Diderot, who did much to influence the secular trend now dominant.

John Stuart Mill has certainly had an influence on political and general intellectual culture. But remember: in the 19th century the most popular philosopher was Herbert Spencer, who definitely contributed to the making of the modern world, particularly the English-speaking world, and despite the turn against his thought around the time of his death in 1903. And in the German culture? Feuerbach and others ushered in an onslaught upon Christian dogma and certainty, which Friedrich Nietzsche ramped up to 11.

And we must remember: artists tend to be influenced by philosophy. Arch-individualist Max Stirner had a huge impact on composer Richard Strauss and on a generation of aesthetes and artists in America in the early part of the 20th century; Sartre and Camus and the whole existentialist movement deeply affected popular culture in that century’s third quarter.

And who can deny that William James and pragmatism did not somehow become part of the warp and woof of American culture, as had Transcendentalism earlier? In Italy, the influence of the anti-fascist Benedetto Croce was not insignificant.

Ideas move the world. Philosophers contribute to ideas, no?

Sometimes mightily, sometimes not.


Which American political party relies on crafty maneuvering and identity tactics more than substantive policy?

as answered on Quora

Both do, but to different “identity” groups.

The real difference, though, is how they appeal to their respective groups’ fantasies.

The fantasy on the left (the Democrats) seems to appeal to people as belonging to (and framed as) out-groups, enticing them to obtain and wield in-group power. The official mantra is equality of some sort, but behind everything is the leveraging of special government programs to gain advantages for the interest group identified and solicited. The fantasy may be egalitarian socialism, but the technique is always technocratic dirigisme.

The fantasy on the right (the Republicans) seems to appeal to traditional family people and workers, promising to protect their specific groups (families, churches, businesses) from out-group interference (government interference, usually but not always) and the whole nation from out-group threats. The general idea here is often to assert a rule of law rather than regulatory agenda, and thus the fantasy, here, is something close to libertarianism — but it is onlya fantasy, for almost no one in this camp really wants to dismantle the administrative state that Progressives set up last century. They cannot even manage to repeal Obamacare, which was set up a few years ago.

So, the groups each party identifies as core constitutencies are catered to, by promising heaven on earth, are usually betrayed in specific ways — mainly because both fantasies are impossible.

Republicans’ fantasy of Liberty is not possible notbecause liberty is incoherent and unworkable, but because it is incompatible with the Progressive institutions that are in place but which few Americans — including most conservatives — are willing to give up. So Republican politicians walk a tight rope, promising, promising, but never delivering. Republican politicians cannot even deliver on something as simple and conservative as balanced budgets and debt reduction!

Democrats’ fantasy of Equality is ludicrous in the strict sense of the term, since people are not substantively equal and cannot be made so. And instead of offering the classical liberal (libertarian) rule-of-law notion of formal equality— equality of individuals before the law under a limited state — Democrats instead divvy up society into tribes and then appeal to those tribes based on grievances, resentments and envy. The current fashionable version of this promises “inclusion” into the mainstream by displacement of power rather than sharing of power. And always, in every iteration of left-wing activism, there is the implied notion that increasing the size and scope of domestic state governance is the very meaning of progress . . . with state socialism held up as the secret and now not-so-secret fantasied end-state. And socialism is unworkable at base, since it always degenerates into tyranny and poverty and outrageous moral horror.

So we have a culture war that is getting quite ugly. Both parties are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and both contain internal ideological contradictions that are dishonorable because unfulfillable.

And, yes, trickery, which is part and parcel of politics in any robust, extensive state, cannot help but be the modusof both.

It can only be thus, given the fantasies of the groups and the realities of human nature in general and our epoch in particular.

As Answered on Quora

The classical liberal theory of the state expects citizens to defend themselves while ceding to the state the right to retaliate after the fact of any conflict, or to seek recompense for any rights violently and criminally violated. The point of police and courts is not to protect you, but to protect everyone from those seeking vigilante justice after instances of perceived harms.

So classical liberals will, by their very nature, support an armed citizenry. Anyone who wishes to disarm citizens is not a classical liberal. I would argue, further, that the anti-armament advocate is not any kind of liberal. This and the rights of free speech, conscience, press, and assembly, constitute the demarcation between liberals and non-liberals.

A person who may not arm and defend him- or herself is not free. A state that fears its armed populace is not a republic.

Contrariwise, a people that routinely extracts private justice in secret is not free, either. It is, instead, well on its way to tyranny or chaos. A state that exacts retribution or redress in secret is also tyrannical, just as is a state that prevents its people from self-defense.

Now, this does not mean that a free society cannot support private law justice. We still have elements of that now, especially in civil law. But secretive, hidden retaliation leads to vendetta and civil warfare, a sort of Hobbesian war of all against all. The key to justice, in republican theory, depends upon the public, open adjudication of potentially violent disputes. And that is the basic idea of a republic, according to classical liberal theory. You can find this theory in the writings of John Locke, early theorists of the American Constitution like John Taylor of Caroline, and in the work of J. S. Mill and Herbert Spencer.

So, some form of armament must be ready in the hands of the citizenry of a republic. Some kinds of armaments might be disallowed (no nuclear warheads in basements!) but I think the basic rule should be — and would be among all informed, honest liberals — that the citizenry must not be prohibited from owning and carrying any weapons that the state, in its policing, owns and carries.

Yes, classical liberals would be, almost certainly and by definition, “pro-gun.”

Over at Quora, Sayed Hajaj explains a common fallacy in politics and social science, something he calls The Past Hoc Fallacy”:

It goes something like this: “In the past, we did not have much X but we had a lot of Y, now, we have more X and a lot less Y. Therefore, not having as much X would result in more Y”.

It is usually contracted to: “we’ve tried reducing X and it led to Y”.

A few examples: “We’ve tried not polluting, and it led to pirates”, or “When I played with toys and went to bed on time, I was shorter. Therefore, sleeping earlier and playing with toys makes people shorter”

I’m sure you can see what is wrong with this type of argument.

  1. It looks at changes in absolute levels rather than trends. As global temperature increased, the number of pirates in the world has decreased. This does not mean that a change in one has resulted in a change in the other.

  2. It is not specified whether the change in Y precedes the change in X. If Y decreased before X increased, then there is no basis to say that an increase in X is responsible for the decrease in Y, causality and time travel don’t go together.

  3. It’s possible for Y to have been decreasing anyway, and for X to have slowed it down, but because we don’t have an alternate reality to examine, we can only observe the seen. We do not know what could have happened had X not increased.

Sayed Hajaj then applies it to common objections to libertarian ideas:

[R]eplace “X” with “level of government” and “Y” with a list of things that, from a Western 21st Century perspective seem horrible but from an 18th Century perspective is far better than the alternatives in existence, e.g “low(er) wages, long(er) hours, poor(er) working conditions” etc.

The problem is that, even if you had current levels of regulation at those times, all of these problems would still exist. The technological development that allow us to live our relatively comfortable lives did not exist then. People took these relatively uncomfortable jobs because the alternatives at the time were worse.

Many of those laws that supposedly solved these problems only came to pass as the problems were disappearing. For example, the 40 hour work week was due, in part, to Henry Ford calculating that people who worked longer than 40 hours are counterproductive.

Often, government actually impeded or slowed down that process.

I wrote an appreciative response, which I placed on Quora as a comment to Hajaj’s excellent post:

People do not really think in terms of cause and effect when systems become complex enough to obscure causation. They think in terms of the association of ideas — or, in political debate, “guilt by association.”

Which also explains, perhaps, why they engage in such high reliance upon stated intentions in establishing policy. Our public intention on Problem X is associated with our solution, Fix Y. That is, Problem X, Fix Y, and Outcome Z follow each other “naturally,” because of the mental operation associating Outcome Z as the end with their chosen fix to Problem X.

Unintended consequences occur, of course, for a variety of reasons, but Herbert Spencer called it The Law of the Multiplication of Effects. Outcome Z is the end, or chosen imagined outcome, but other outcomes come about, say, M, N, P, and Q. These other outcomes are often not even imagined, for reasons that cause and effect are messy in complex systems, so progressives (and conservatives) just stick to the end (Outcome Z), and forget M, N, P, and Q. And when N and P and Q come to pass, it is easy to attribute them to other causes, not Fix Y or the obsession with Outcome Z.

So how is this problem obvious to us and not to others? Maybe it is because we have seen N and P and Q result so often from reforms. Maybe some of us have been hurt by them.

But more likely it is the result of attention (it takes effort for most people to think objectively about social causation), differing bias forcing reconsideration of standard social causation accounts (Spencer’s list of biases that can prevent good social science is still worth reading, in The Study of Sociology), and . . . higher IQs.

It’s been shown that while progressives tend to score higher on IQ tests than conservatives, they also show that libertarians outscore progressives. On average. (Of course. It’s not a law. One of my favorite libertarians was a retired seaman who seemed to be operate at less than 80.) And it takes mental sophistication to map a complex system.

But progressives suffer also from Dunning-Kruger, and think they are smarter than they actually are — perhaps because they compare themselves to conservatives. But they are also, let us remember, proud products of public education in our time, which has degraded to produce the illusion of learning where little exists. Progressives are the credentialed elite of the cognitive elite. Those credentials are important, and they take their awards earnestly, as did the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

And one reason progressives try to reduce libertarians to a type of conservative is to let them off the hook, allow them not to address the more sophisticated arguments.

Most are scared of the critique Sayed Hajaj has made. It freaks them out. They are trumped.

So the critique must be buried. And calling libertarians “right wing” and “far right conservatives” helps them in this.

Guilt by association.

My working model of ends and means incorporates all this, hinted at above.

I almost never hear this discussed popularly. Nor can I remember the simple schema advanced by a philosopher — though it has to be in Aristotle or Ludwig von Mises (Human Action) or G.L.S. Shackle and I have forgotten where, precisely, it was spelled out.

I reformulated the idea (“discovered it”!) in the context of contemplating the praxeology of Mises (Theory and History and The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science were my main focuses of my early reading on the subject), the unnamed praxeology in Herbert Spencer’s Data of Ethics, and the aborted praxeology of Destutt de Tracy.

Here we go:

  1. Every cause has multiple effects (Spencer’s Law of the Multiplication of Effects).
  2. Every contemplated act must then be seen as a possible cause . . . with multiple effects.
  3. The basis of a deliberate action (there may be other kinds, such as spontaneous and habitual) is imagination of a possible flow of cause-and-effects:
  4. an actor imagines an optional act as well as its possible (expected) effects.
  5. The effects the actor likes are then compared with other effects of the act as well as with the expected effects of other optional acts.
  6. The latter effects — given up by not engaging in the optional, unchosen act(s), and also the results of inaction — are considered the opportunity costs of the chosen act.
  7. But in the former scenario, the non-preferred effects are the negative or inutile externalities of the act (from the perspective of the actor),
  8. as are, also, the unforeseen effects of the act — unless judged, after the fact, as beneficial. (I don’t remember what I called these.)

This is just the schema for action. I call it simple, but you see how complex it is. Eight steps! I could be forgetting some. (It’s been years.) Now, imagine acts in society with multiple actors, each acting and causing multiple effects, and acting in expectation of other acts (some not turning out to have been engaged, and with most unforeseen). And it gets even more complex, for I’ve not explained value; and I’ve not explained what economists put in a black box, all the psychological and situational factors that lead to preferences, in which the tree of causation spreads out backwards, so to speak — as Spencer confessed later in life, every act has multiple causes.

Liberty is important as a baseline of social action in part because policies seeking governmental programs with specific goals are hubristic and prone to failure. For “obvious” reasons.


N.B. Yes, I know my Quora response could have used more editing, but this is what I do between jobs. Scarce time makes haste makes . . . waste?

The subject of another post, perhaps.

And, in my haste, here, I may not have formulated properly the latter part of the schema for action. It’s been 20 years, folks! And this is just a hasty note scribbled on a blog.

The Quora discussion is on the libertarian Quora blog, Liberty At Large, which might be worth looking at carefully. Some really smart contributors.