Interesting, in identifying another dog, the below encounters would seem to suggest that either dogs do not entirely rely on their sense of smell, or they care more about promising prey than meticulous zoological categorization. No wait, they readily approach the bone, because there is no doggish smell to suggest a battlesome conspecific, but watch for other signs of hindrance and danger.
An excellent book, brief, to the point, a great help in focusing on the essential, and a powerful and incisive refutation of the errors in fashionable/progressive constitutionalism. Though focusing on specific issues like "judicial activism", Sandefur provides a comprehensive account of the basic tasks and features of the Constitution.
Particularly interesting are his accounts of
the tug-of-war on the issue whether to vest citizenship and sovereignty in the states or on the federal level,
how state precedence was an important shield for the anti-abolitionists,
how the 14th amendment was intended to bring about an appropriate balance between state and federal power that would give citizens, in Madison's words, "a double security" as "the different governments will control each other,"
by giving the federal government "power ... to protect by national law the privileges and immunities of all the citizens of the Republic and the inborn rights of every person within its jurisdiction whenever the same shall be abridged or denied by the unconstitutional acts of any State," [p.63], and
"the Slaughter House Court removed the most potent protection against state overreaching and threw that double security out of balance." (p.70)
I am looking for similar books, preferably not too voluminous, that give the reader a concise notion of the essence of the American Constitution and the arguments behind it. I will be grateful for recommendations in the comment section.
I venture the hypothesis that many libertarians who engage in the "denunciation of public authorities" are stuck in a doctrinal trap that colours their perception.
Unlike Richard Epstein, from whom the above quote stems, they are not usually in the habit of figuring out the often difficult questions of how to fit public authorities into the framework of a free society, let alone appreciating their fundamental role in creating freedom.
Instead they work on a strong presumption against the state.
From that point on, negative perceptions become a foregone conclusion.
Mainstream libertarianism suffers from the lack of a serious theory of the role of politics and the state in an open society, betraying a derivative paucity of interest in the vital minutiae of intermediary conditions between principles and outcomes, i.e. libertarians are not prone to look carefully into the ways in which state agencies work in detail and on a day-to-day basis to buttress the freedoms we enjoy. This attitude encourages simple stereotyping that builds up pent-up demand for events that seem to prove the grim presumption against the state.
We urgently need more libertarians in positions of political responsibility. Ours is a theory in desperate need of sobering practice.
How do I know which is the proper libertarian policy? Can there be something like THE proper libertarian policy? Or will a spontaneous order emerge from the competitive deliberations and disparate approaches that different parties take concerning the political and technical implementation of their preferred policies?
Will policies not be altered by the very process that makes them advance from the visionary stage to open-ended fruition?
I would tend to argue that if you do not factor into your policy proposal a realistic account of the intermediary conditions created by scientific and political competition - that is: how to register and analyse these intermediary conditions, how to instrumentalise them, how to deal with opponents and the need for compromise - what you offer is not really a policy proposal, but a mere expression of wishful thinking.
Attempts at overcoming hard and manifold theoretical and political resistance are just as important a source of realistically informed policy as is the ability to open up to competition and compromise, to try out, and alter the scheme in operative reality.
Successively, Friedrich Hayek supported at least three different, mutually exclusive policies to deal with the overall money system: the gold standard, a commodity-backed-currency, and freely competing private currencies.
Which one of these is more libertarian than the others?
What this puzzle confronts us with is the peculiar logic of scientific competition as well as political competition. These non-market arenas of competition form a vast delta of path-defining parameters, a system of intricately ramified intermediary conditions from which contingent results emerge that need to be acted upon as they appear. These intermediary conditions cannot be built into and dealt with appropriately in advance by a set of initial premises.
Intellectual competition requires and, indeed, forces admission of diverging views, by which dynamic the issues fit to be pursued are defined, i.e. accepted for handling by the political machinery and the public behind it. Political competition is inevitable, if only to organise scientific and economic competition and transform their results into concrete policies. Political competition requires and forces admission of widely diverging views and policy aims, opening up another vast area of contingent ramifications, i.e. intermediary conditions determining the path along which outcomes will be arrived at. This process and its results cannot be preempted by libertarian precepts. They are embodiments of the indeterminacy of freedom, which keeps advancing by bursting her banks.
2. The Hayekian Deficit
Although Friedrich Hayek is often credited with initiating the resurgence of research in alternative monetary systems, his own proposal received sharp criticism from Milton Friedman (1984), Stanley Fischer (1986), and others at the outset and never gained much support among academic economists or the wider population. According to Friedman, Hayek erred in believing that the mere admission of competing private currencies will spontaneously generate a more stable monetary system. In Friedman’s view, network effects and switching costs discourage an alternative system from emerging in general and prevent Hayek’s system from functioning as desired in particular.
Hayek simply assumes that a competitive environment "will spontaneously generate" the desired outcome. But he disregards important "intermediary conditions" on which the set of realistically attainable outcomes depends.
According to the above paper opponents of Hayek's proposal argue that economic actors are not likely to desert an established money in favour of newly created competing private monies owing to inordinate switching costs, negative network effects, and rational expectations - for more see here. Milton Friedman supports this contention by pointing to a lack of empirical evidence that economic actors would react to the offer of competing monies in the way Hayek predicts (e.g. in the face of a weak and volatile Dollar, Americans did not typically switch to German or Swiss money). Hayek replies that people tend to be discouraged to switch currencies owing to legal restrictions; if the latter were lifted, his predictions would prove correct. Regardless of Hayek's objection being pertinent or not, characteristically, he does not address the essentially political condition on which he expressly claims his policy proposal hinges.
3. The Libertarian Non-Policy Bias
The entire spectrum of libertarian thought espoused from anarcho-capitalists to crypto-anarchists to Hayek-type of classical liberals are united in systematically avoiding analysis of politics as a means both representing and structuring intermediary conditions that ultimately link up or decouple initial premises (e.g. competition is good, so currency competition must be good) and final outcome (the operative monetary system).
(i) Anarchists live in total denial of the need of politics and the state (henceforth simply "government" or "state"), which is the most convenient and least convincing way of dealing with the issue.
When it comes to policy proposals,
(ii) crypto-anarchists like von Mises ascribe such a minute role to government that in its reduced night-watchman-format it appears as a factor hardly relevant to the policies in question. The policies can either somehow go ahead without government involvement, or the state's support for libertarian goals is simply assumed to be forthcoming, notwithstanding a view of the state practically incompatible with such compliance or neutral to affirmative midwifery.
(iii) Hayek, oscillates between contradictory views of government, which latter he is happy to enlist for the management of his vision of a minimalist welfare state ("Hayek's socialism," in Richard Epstein's provokingly paradoxical formulation), while at the same time figuring out at great effort a system of currency competition whose purpose it is to decouple money from the odious import of government.
What is not clear is how it is possible to fruitfully enlist and control government for the one purpose, but not for the other. Why should government not abuse its powers to expand far beyond a minimalist welfare state, when it cannot be trusted with the monetary system?
My message in a nutshell: you cannot have an effective policy that is supposed to organise the monetary order of society unless you have the intellectual and practical means to understand and participate in the processes of civic competition through which the monetary order is implemented and enforced.
Libertarians do not seem to be able to pursue effective policies in this area because they adhere to a truncated view of spontaneous order, which reflects only the self-organising features of market processes, ignoring an even broader dimension of spontaneous order that does not grow as analogous to market interactions, but follows its very own logic.
It was an oppressively hot August day, when I heard on the radio that Czechoslovakia had been invaded by Soviet troops. I was 9 years old, and a sense of fear gripped me, as the grown ups seemed unusually worried, suddenly facing the prospect of war again. Mom and Dad, who had gone through the Second World War, had taught me to fear war.
When I visited Communist Czechoslovakia in the mid and late 70s, I could sense a mood of resignation and cynicism among the people I got to know more closely. By their own perception, which would prove right with hindsight, those in their best years then were a lost generation, robbed of national pride, humiliated by a farcical socialist Leviathan and utterly lacking in the life chances of a modern Westerner.
The illusions that I had entertained about socialism were brutally destroyed by visiting that bleak and grotty planet where people were made to hurry about like puppets so that some intangible anonymous power could have its socialism. The Communist Prague I knew was populated by Kafkas entangled in an absurd play.
It is awkward to think that the West was right not to interfere militarily, and that those who decided it was better not to die defending their budding freedom had made a wise choice.
We who worry about our freedoms, how much resignation and cynicism are we entitled to?
The cow on the old wall: Since there was lots of excellent grass on the old wall, some of the citizens of Schilda proposed to let a cow graze on it. A rope was put around the cow's neck and a group of strong men hauled her up. In the process, the cow got strangulated. When the citizens of Schilda saw that the cow was sticking her tongue out, they would jubilate: "Look she's grazing!
The federal government is moving towards abolishing the Renewable Energy Target rather than scaling it back in a move that will cost almost $11 billion in proposed investment and which is at odds with the views of its own Environment Minister.
Let’s parse this sentence bit by bit.
Scaling back the RET is described as “a move that will cost almost $11 billion in proposed investment”. “Investment” is one of those hurrah words so that anything that can be described as investment is automatically given a warm reception. What cutting the RET will actually do is cut almost $11 billion dollars of waste. Eleven bil on more windmills and solar panels would not get you back ten cents in the dollar. Stopping such expenditure dead in its tracks will only promote future economic growth, or at least it will if the government doesn’t decide to spend the money itself in some other totally useless way.
Here is the message: DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON ANY SINGLE INVESTMENT THAT WILL NOT OF ITSELF AND ON ITS OWN PROVIDE A POSITIVE RETURN ON FUNDS EMPLOYED IN A REASONABLE PERIOD OF TIME (LET US SAY THE NEXT THREE YEARS). If you can’t see a return, and prove it in a published cost-benefit study, don’t do it.
I don’t say you shouldn’t provide welfare. By all means provide welfare. Let us look after the sick, the aged and the disabled. But here, since the demands are near infinite, judicious allocations of funds will be required. But while welfare expenditures may be important for those who are unable to work or are too old to work, none of these expenditures will promote economic growth and future prosperity.
We do not have an infinite pool of productive resources. We must prioritise. Removing renewable energy targets is pure profit for the economy, a 100% benefit. So would getting rid of paid parental leave. Get rid of them both at once. I wish the NBN was also up for grabs since getting rid of it would also be a net positive.
And I should finally mention since I am throwing it all into the pot, do not raise taxes on anything in any part of the economy. If the kinds of revenues you are in receipt of are insufficient to pay for everything in the basket, then take some things out of the basket.
Bad news for the wailing libertarian, bad news for those whose belief in liberty makes them feel menaced and inundated everywhere by arbitrary power and injustice, decline and misery, evil and peril.
Depending on how you look at her, freedom is either a concept, or an aspect of reality, a vast and pervasive one, if we are lucky. As a concept it demands perfection and completeness, as part of reality it must accept a position, however prominent, next to other phenomena many of which may not square with the demands of liberty.
The best that we can hope to achieve for freedom is an open society which gives her plenty of space to unfold. However, an open society will never be congruent with freedom. An open society will always be a mixed society in terms of liberal and illiberal elements. With their countless different views of freedom, liberals are among the first to feed the blend of contrasting components that make up an open society.
"The truly great social catastrophes do not arise from a misapplication of the basic principles of a market economy. They arise from a wholesale disrespect for individual liberty, which is manifested in tolerated lynchings and arbitrary arrest, and from a total contempt for private property, through its outright seizure by government forces intent on stifling its opposition or lining its own pockets. The reason why Great Britain and the USA did not go the way of Germany and the Soviet Union in the turmoil of the 1930s was that the political institutions in both our countries were able to hold firm against these palpable excesses even as they went astray on a host of smaller economic issues."
If there are good things happening in this world, we cannot ascribe them to freedom alone, as if all the hindrances in her way no longer matter. If there are good things happening in this world, then this is because of a tolerable, perhaps even felicitous mix of freedom and unfreedom. Thus, a more complete view of freedom ought to accommodate the manner and means by which freedom and unfreedom coexist to bring about a world that gives us Reasons to Be Cheerful.
It is easy to pick up a newspaper, watch television or look on a blog and assume the end is nigh. Between foreign affairs crises, demographic time bombs, debt icebergs and having only hours left to save the NHS (more on that another time…), it would not be unreasonable for us all to assume the world has got a lot worse – that capitalism has failed, inequality has sky-rocketed, and we are living shorter, sadder and more violent lives.
Happily, this is not so. Thanks to capitalism, free trade and globalisation we live in the most prosperous, healthy, safe, equal and free period in human existence. Across the globe, as liberal economic policy and capitalism have left communism and command economies in the dustbin of history, we are seeing remarkable falls in worldwide poverty, hunger, disease, inequality and (despite current humanitarian disasters) deaths from war and natural disaster.
It is worthwhile (as Free Enterprise Award winner Matt Ridley does) looking at the reasons to be happy with our world today and to be optimistic for the future.
Wilfred Owen wrote Futility in May 1918, just a few months before death on the battlefield on 4 November during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal. Futility documents an event where a group of soldiers discover one of their comrades. He has died and their attempts to revive him by moving him in to the sun fail.
To appreciate what gives the pic the meaning I want it to convey, take your eyes off the lady and note that the dog is being naughty.
As I try to argue below, a feature adhering to all political convictions is that they are always in danger of being too good to be true. But then this danger (of being inordinately open to fiction) is a matter of dose. Hence, there is hope that the danger may be kept at a manageable level.
Last week, Harbinger Capital filed a major lawsuit against the United States government for breach of contract arising out of its March 26, 2010 acquisition of a valuable portion of the spectrum known as the L-Band. The deal originally represented a major breakthrough in telecommunications policy, but now it sadly represents how government misconduct leads to major losses for society.
Thus argues Richard Epstein, but he is being challenged by commentators of his article. Writes one of them:
A more than somewhat disingenuous presentation here - Lightsquared negotiated for low powered spaceborne emitters in a band adjacent to the GPS band, then tried to move that allocation to high-powered ground-based emitters. That these would interfere with pretty much every GPS receiver installed in every device imaginable - smart phones, personal distress beacons, automotive navigation systems, etc. was a fore-gone conclusion. Lightsquared tried (using political means) to push this conversion through the FCC, who, to it's credit, refused. At issue is "who would accept responsibility for allowing a system that instantly rendered the vast majority of GPS receivers currently in operation useless?" Yes, new receivers could have been designed and built with the required increased filtering (at a significant monetary and volumetric cost), but all the existing receivers would be in trouble. The FCC has made many mistakes over the years, generally whenever politics enters it's arena - but this wasn't one of them.
Hartley Gardner's comment on this article by Richard Epstein.
I am too far away from the nitty gritty of the issue to count as a qualified participant in the discussion. However, both my initial intuition and my conclusion after reading all comments favour Epstein's opponents. My initial intuition was that the plaintiff had taken business risks that had a good chance of eventuating in a manner "lethal" to him. It made me wonder why anyone would be so reckless. I suppose, there must be ways for businessmen to hazard bankruptcy knowing they will come out of it unscathed or even with some profit.
At any rate, over and above the specific case at hand, I enjoyed being a witness to a process whereby controversy widens one's view of the matter, triggering self-reflection and perhaps even an awareness of the inevitably ideological character of one's world view.
The Gap of Intermediary Conditions
The controversy that unfolds in the comments section reveals what I call "the gap of intermediary conditions", by which I mean: the premises and predictions of your belief system fail to link up conclusively; the consequences of adhering to your principles take a different path than predicted, owing to the influence of overlooked intermediary conditions.
Say, you argue that private property is an absolute, in which case your theory of freedom may end up being blind to intermediary conditions under which private property is in actual fact second-best or even dysfunctional and dangerous relative to the specified characteristics of the common weal.
Freedom becomes a fetish rather than a way of alleviating the human condition.
The devil is in the details, but so is betterment.
As Epstein himself explains in Free Markets under Siege one of a million instances of highly intricate intermediary conditions:
[I]f the law seeks to determine a very complicated issue such as the optimum duration of a patent, it is easy to identify an infinite set of permutations. The question of patent duration cannot be effectively decided in isolation, without reference to patent scope, itself a highly technical area. To make matters worse, the field of patentable inventions might be too broad for a general solution to the problem. The answer that seems to work well for pharmaceutical patents may not be as sensible for software. But the moment we decide that different patents classes should have different lengths,
someone will be faced with the unhappy task of classifying a new generation of inventions that regrettably straddles a pre-existing set of categories established in ignorance of the future path of technical development: such is the case with computer software, for example. Given this shifting background, it is very difficult to authoritatively conclude that one patent length rather than another is the best. Of course, we can make credible arguments that patent duration should be far shorter than copyright duration, but that does not fix an appropriate length for either form of intellectual property. In the end, the best answers rely on educated hunches by persons who work within the field, who may differ substantially in their conclusions.
Liberalism's predetermined breaking points ( = unconvincing arguments) derive from one of its strengths: a passion for coherent theory. From which, in turn, springs the ambition to capture the world completely in a system of principles, lemmata and their logical implications.
But theories are only approximations, ephemeral stages in the process of accumulating new insight. In the end, theories lead us to discover their dark, uncharted side, calling for their own revision. They make us see and understand intermediary conditions that we had been unaware of before. If a theory can hold its own in the face of new and more intermediary conditions, it has earned itself another lease of life. Otherwise it ought to be discarded or it can survive only in the form of an unreasonable ideology.
Freedom as Method
These are only preliminary thoughts which I hope to expand into a theory of "freedom as method" - by which I mean a method of looking into genuinely open ended issues in such a way that the presumptions of liberty help understand better and convincingly, though not exhaustively, issues contested in the public arena. There are plenty of questions that we liberals do not have conclusive answers to - but we may have an excellent method to improve on these problems asymptotically. I feel, there are many occasions where the liberal should give up his posture of rowdy opponent (in possession of the final answer) in favour of a role as intelligent contributor (adding to cumulative improvements).
Ambivalence and Inevitability of Ideology
I do think that ideology is an important and indispensable part of human existence, and that there is good and bad, useful and useless ideology. For instance, I cannot think of a legal system that is not based on some kind of ideology (a belief in how human affairs hang together).
In fact, I do think that liberalism is an ideology of the conducive kind, especially as espoused by Richard Epstein in much of his work, but probably not in his article referred to above. Mind you, the liberal ideology is conducive precisely because it is undogmatic in nature, being ever on the outlook for real actions and their consequences, and in that manner trying to discover patterns and principles underlying the kind of behaviour that tends to benefit all of us in an endurable fashion.
We all support some mishmash of an ideology; you cannot be a human being without ideological attachment. Hence it is important to recognise that
ideology can be
a method to better understand the world in which we live and a repository of useful insights, in which capacity it resembles science with its revisable hypotheses.
But ideology can also be
a panoply used to protect oneself against alien views and to prevail over people with differing convictions.
Even the panoply function of ideology is not without its merits. Some of our convictions deserve to be robustly defended, and no one can be effective it she calls all of her views into question all of the time. The great art is to build an ideology-house in which the building blocks of stable conviction and refutable conjecture are in reasonable balance.
In the present instance, Richard Epstein may have argued too rashly from first principles, relying on accusatory stereotypes preferred by the liberal rather than facts about actions and consequences.
Interesting in its own right, the below lesson in breaking open parmesan cheese strikes me as providing a graphic analogy of how spontaneous order and man-made order interlock fruitfully. To adapt to and use the possibilities of a self-generating order to your advantage you must study and understand its nature, and learn to find an interface between its features and your needs. Respect for and insight into emergent order will tend to enhance the range of wholesome applications for conscious intervention. It would be rather a surprise if people, on being given more liberty, were not to extend their efforts at controlling their environment and making it accord ever more closely with their needs. For that reason alone, politics and freedom are inseparable twins of great potential and ambivalent effects.
See also my post on Greed versus Self-Interest, in which I argue that what defines man is the urge to adapt to his environment by developing and satisfying new needs. This fundamental anthropological condition explains the incidence of the entrepreneur and free markets, no less than the presence of political ambition and creativity. Proper stewardship of liberty requires participation in the vast areas in which politics rather than market based activities determine the nature and extent of freedom in a society.
Anyhow, I watched a supermoon from my garden, last night.
A supermoon is the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth.
However, the moon never really changes size, and it's simply your brain playing a trick?