Posted by Georg Thomas on 08/31/2014 at 05:29 PM in American Culture, Barack Obama, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Economics, Electoral Prospects, Film, Georg Thomas, Health Care, History Lessons, Liberty Laid Bare, Media/Media Bias, Presidency, U.S., Pure Politics, Social Philosophy, Socialism Gone Wild, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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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
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.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 08/26/2014 at 07:26 PM in American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, Liberty Laid Bare, Media/Media Bias, Presidency, U.S., Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (2)
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The two major problems with modern liberalism (European meaning) are a lack of
(1) theoretical fortitude to generally deal with the vast fields of contingency and indeterminacy opened up by greater freedom, and more specifically, a lack of
(2) doctrinal maturity to guide it in political participation.
Both deficiencies have a common source. The model of social order underlying modern liberalism is the market. But the market is only a subset within the broader social order.
Hume or Smith were never in danger of reducing the system of liberty to a mechanism that describes free markets. But when Hayek speaks of spontaneous order, he is already propagating the narrower vision.
I do not know when and why it occurred, at any rate, the tragic turn of liberalism looms when sight is increasingly lost of the spontaneous order of society at large.
Why would liberalism suffer such constriction? Maybe because its roots lie in a precapitalist world, and more importantly in a world where government could not possibly be anything but very small by later standards. Maybe because its heyday coincided with the breakthrough of commercial society. Small government and commerce looked like the essence of liberalism. They appeared to offer liberalism's ultimate formula for success.
Now, let me explain what I mean by "the vast fields of contingency and indeterminacy opened up by greater freedom."
(1) Freedom brought about capitalism. (2) Capitalism brought about wealth. (3) Wealth required and enabled mass political participation, and wealth made possible government endowed with unprecedented resources. (4) Mass political participation brought about unheard of demands on the state. (5) Unheard of demands on the state brought about big government.
Freedom brought about big government.
It is useful to think outside the usual box, for a moment, and admit that there are not only silly and objectionable grounds for a larger state to happen. At least from stage (3) on, the delta of implications deriving from mass political participation and unprecedented publicly available wealth becomes much too broad and complicated, too contingent and indeterminate to simply wipe away any consideration of larger government as an expression of base doctrinal dazzlement.
However, this is exactly the error committed by the liberal movement. By its very structure, the liberal doctrine was conditioned, or at least predisposed to heavily underweight political processes and the dynamics of state institutions and government. Liberalism yields to this propensity at a time when these are becoming the most powerful forces in society, next to free markets and civil society, by which latter I mean the growing independence of humans and organisations from the tutelage of the powers-that-be.
The irony, nay, the tragedy is that liberalism becomes a creed of political abstention, just at the time when liberty is taking off in the biggest possible way. This is the dawn of the era of the paradox of freedom. Liberty proliferates and grows all over the world, but liberals hardly participate in shaping her fate. Those among them ready to accompany liberty in the political realm quickly amalgamate with other political schools uninhibited to regard politics as a welcome tool to bring mankind advances that the smaller governments of yesteryear were utterly incapable of. This is the reason why, for instance, the German liberal party has become yet another branch of social democracy a long time ago. A liberal party, a strong liberal force in politics is simply not conceivable under the core paradigm. A liberal must cheat or desert in order to become politically effective.
I must use the word for the third time: it is a tragedy that the audacious vision of perhaps the greatest liberals ever, and the unparalleled success of their political activism have not become the guiding light of modern liberalism. Instead, liberals live estranged from and often embittered by a time characterised by more freedom than has been experienced in any period before ours.
It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are for ever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.
(Federalist 1, par. 1)
The answer to this puzzle is not a foregone conclusion - it is an ongoing process of political activity producing partial answers.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 08/09/2014 at 06:24 PM in American Culture, Congress, Constitution, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Liberty Laid Bare, National/International Affairs, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The inequality scam
One of the most destructive popular myths is the idea that inequality is a severe problem and needs to be replaced by some state of enhanced equality - which always turns out to be inequality dysfunctionally rearranged according to the preferences of those with sufficient political clout. Why is the myth so popular? To like it you only need to regurgitate bromides that make you instantly likable and respected; to not like it you must think and look beyond appearances and face distrust and moral outrage.
Be that as it may, to some extent everyone reroutes the flow of information from a lecture like the below one by Richard Epstein through the filters of his personally preeminent themes. For me these were self ownership and first possession, which I happen to do some reading on at the moment.
A reflection on self-ownership
Let us concentrate on self-ownership, which is a concept I find awkward, maybe because one tends to associate ownership with inanimate objects or non-human creatures, and only odiously with humans (slavery). What self-ownership really means is a bundle of rights that legally entitle you to do certain things by applying your mind and body as you see fit. I have discussed the errors underlying the concept of absolute self-ownership in Elementary Errors of Anarchism (1/2) - explaining that self-ownership can have legal and moral meaning only as a relational concept, i.e. one reflecting and defining social relationships, for which reason it will always be constrained and conditional so as to allow for the necessary give and take between human beings. Absolute self-ownership (doing whatever one likes) and no self-ownership (being unable to ever apply ones mind and body as one sees fit) are two extremes that can never serve as modes of structuring social order. So self-ownership lies somewhere on a continuum between these extremes.
The attempt to qualify self-ownership by the so-called non-aggression principle fails. The principle posits never to violate a person's (bundle of rights called) self-ownership unless that person initiates aggression against you - which is why anarchists consider the state illegitimate, as it does initiate or threaten to initiate violence against people who have not initiated aggression against the state or anyone else. But this reasoning is remarkably naive, begging the all-important question: what is to count as illegitimate aggression? First, we have to settle what a person is allowed to do and what not; only then can we discern aggression from non-aggression.
The challenge then is to find a (more differentiated) system of command [a strong term admittedly, bear with me] generating rules that produce optimal outcomes from self-ownership.
It appears that now only three such systems of command remain to be considered:
The first two treat self-ownership as a residual outcome subject to communal or governmental approval, the second is based on a legal framework that seeks to leave as much discretion as possible to the individual regarding what she can or cannot do with the help of her mind and body.
(1) Communal determination of residual self-ownership - i.e. all human beings negotiating instantly and simultaneously with each other the content of self-ownership of each person, as in a Rawlsian world, where talents and other personal advantages that may be ascribed to luck are considered the property of all those not so advantaged, or the task is delegated to
(2) central determination of residual self-ownership - i.e. an authority endeavouring
(a) to approximate either the end specified under (1), or
(b) to impose a regime of rules that purport to serve an even better or morally more valid end, best known to and enforced by that authority.
Instead of self-ownership we could just as well use the term public ownership, as there will always be precepts within the bundle of rights that constitutes self-ownership which reflect public constraints on the individual - even anarchists admit this by conceding the non-aggression proviso. The term self-ownership, I surmise, is chosen to express strong support for a preponderance of decision making options delegated to the individual rather than to public discourse or public authorities.
The best system of command, the liberal would argue, occurs under a strong presumption in favour of
(3) determination of self-ownership under rules that represent a supra-jurisdiction, if you will, establishing in its turn a vast sub-jurisdiction for the individual to determine the content of self-ownership, i.e. the rule of law which enforces individually delegated decision making under common constraints, as opposed to the rule of man which is based on unconstrained decision-making by central authority.
This third approach to self-ownership amounts to an extensive privatisation of law. Rather than approval by the public or authorities, what is needed in order to act in a way covered and protected by the law is compliance with general rules that circumscribe broad areas of discretionary decision making by the individual. In fact, the modern state is the largest privatizer of law ever seen in history, enabling an unprecedented independence of decision making by individuals and organisations from the discretion of rulers - which is what we mean by civil society.
Under a law conceding extensive sub-jurisdiction to the individual, we can achieve more things and achieve them more readily and more peacefully.
Ultimately, the extent of (a) delegation empowering the individual and (b) its benign efficacy are a matter to be empirically established.
The whole belief in individual freedom is only as good as our ability to see where personal liberty ought to be fostered and where it must be enclosed.
Now, this is where Richard Epstein's lecture comes in instructively. He gives an outline of the reasons and conditions that make a preponderance of individual decision making power desirable, and indicates how liberty is strengthened by the very limits we put on her. He also explains how forcing equality damages the common weal brought about by self-ownership.
All in all, the lesson that I take away from thiinking about Epstein's belowlecture is that the key concepts of liberty such as self-ownership or private property must not be treated as conclusive dogmatic tenets but as testable scientific propositions, that in certain circumstances may prove to be incomplete and in need of complementation or contexually dependent suspension.
No such thing as market failure
Incidentally, the term "market failure" [time mark 07:15] is infelicitous, from a liberal point of view: there are things markets are not equipped to deal with, like making your neighbour fall in love with you. It would be just as inappropriate to say Georg fails because he cannot make your neighbour fall in love with you. Of course, Richard Epstein does understand this. Sometimes, however, one yields to linguistic convention. Sadly, "market failure" talk is a conventional habit that reflects the dominance of uneconomic and anti-economic thinking in our societies, and not only among "ordinary people" but very much among economists, too, who make careers by exploiting the market failure myth - like Joe Stiglitz.
Walter Williams considers "Reparations for Slavery".
that slave owners and slave traders should make reparations to those whom they enslaved.
punishing perpetrators and compensating victims is not what reparations advocates want.
What moral principle justifies punishing a white of today to compensate a black of today for what a white of yesterday did to a black of yesterday?
There’s another moral or fairness issue. A large percentage, if not most, of today’s Americans — be they of European, Asian, African or Latin ancestry — don’t even go back three or four generations as American citizens. Their ancestors arrived on our shores long after slavery. What standard of justice justifies their being taxed to compensate blacks for slavery? For example, in 1956, thousands of Hungarians fled the brutality of the USSR to settle in the U.S. What do Hungarians owe blacks for slavery?
There’s another thorny issue. During slavery, some free blacks purchased other blacks as a means to free family members. But other blacks owned slaves for the same reason whites owned slaves — to work farms or plantations. Are descendants of these slaveholding blacks eligible for and deserving of reparations?
When African slavery began, there was no way Europeans could have enslaved millions of Africans. They had no immunity from diseases that flourished in tropical Africa. Capturing Africans to sell into slavery was done by Arabs and black Africans. Would reparations advocates demand that citizens of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Kenya and several Muslim states tax themselves to make reparation payments to progeny of people whom their ancestors helped to enslave?
Reparations advocates make the foolish unchallenged argument that the United States became rich on the backs of free black labor. That’s nonsense that cannot be supported by fact. Slavery doesn’t have a very good record of producing wealth. Slavery was all over the South, and it was outlawed in most of the North. Buying into the reparations argument about the riches of slavery, one would conclude that the antebellum South was rich and the slave-starved North was poor. The truth of the matter is just the opposite. In fact, the poorest states and regions of our nation were places where slavery flourished — Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia — while the richest states and regions were those where slavery was absent: Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.
One of the most ignored facts about slavery’s tragic history — and it’s virtually a secret today — is that slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years. It did not become a moral issue until the 18th century. Plus, the moral crusade against slavery started in the West, most notably England.
I think the call for slavery reparations is simply another hustle.
One hundred years ago today, the assassination of the archduke of Austria at Sarajevo triggered the bloody, destructive conflagration of the world’s nations known as the Great War.
Ralf Raico offers an excellent panoramic account of the origins of World War I.
As for economic causes and consequences, make sure to read this article in which David Stockman explains that
[...] the Great Depression was born in the extraordinary but unsustainable boom of 1914-1929 that was, in turn, an artificial and bloated project of the warfare and central banking branches of the state, not the free market. Nominal GDP, which had been deformed and bloated to $103 billion by 1929, contracted massively, dropping to only $56 billion by 1933.
Crucially, the overwhelming portion of this unprecedented contraction was in exports, inventories, fixed plant and durable goods—the very sectors that had been artificially hyped. These components declined by $33 billion during the four year contraction and accounted for fully 70 percent of the entire drop in nominal GDP.
So there was no mysterious loss of that Keynesian economic ether called “aggregate demand”, but only the inevitable shrinkage of a state induced boom. It was not the depression bottom of 1933 that was too low, but the wartime debt and speculation bloated peak in 1929 that had been unsustainably too high.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 06/28/2014 at 09:18 AM in American Culture, Anti War libertarians, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Economics, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Media/Media Bias, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Social Philosophy, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The Coyote says he likes this passage:
There's a naive tendency to believe that whatever a government agency's mission is supposed to be, is really the mission that its people pursue. That's seldom the case for long.
Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle, observing such things, has formulated what he calls the Iron Law of Bureaucracy: In every organization there are two kinds of people: those committed to the mission of the organization, and those committed to the organization itself. While the mission-committed people pursue the mission, the organization-committed people take over the organization. Then the mission-committed people tend to become discouraged and leave.
As a result, the strongest priority of most bureaucracies is the welfare of the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats it employs, not whatever the bureaucracy is actually supposed to be doing. That's worth remembering, whenever someone says they've found something else that we should "choose to do together."
This is not unique to government, but a rule for all organizations. However, in a private-sector, organizations that devolve in this way get slaughtered (except of course for crony favors and bailouts, but that is another topic). Accountability never ever comes to government organizations.
The land registry offices of Germany and England (the two countries where I have had personal dealings with such institutions) are doing just what they are supposed to be doing; they do it well, they are accountable internally and externally, which means that they can be effectively challenged via channels of informal settlement as well as legal action.
At the same time, a concomitant feature of misery the world over is a lack of precisely such well working bureaucracies as the land registry office.
Hence I sent this (now slightly edited) comment to the Coyote:
While it is simply not true that there is no accountability for bureaucracies, the proposed argument is by itself pertinent. But it suffers from the public choice syndrome, as I call it: It is not good enough to write a book about the zoology of the elephant that lists nothing but elephant diseases.
A vital deficiency in the standard arguments on this issue by my fellow libertarians consists in pointing out problems of state bureaucracies without offering explanations how and why they have evolved (as a pretty stable features of the state for thousands of years) and how to replace them with something better.
Libertarians will remain a fringe for ever unless they begin to realise that our social order depends on innumerable institutions (the state, bureaucracies, democracy etc.) that are naturally ambivalent (containing the good and the bad) and are prepared to deal with this ambivalence rather than wishing it away.
Libertarians like to talk about spontaneous order when it fits their preconceptions, but do not see spontaneous order where it evolves practices and institutions that do not fit a neat account of liberty. That's why, absurdly, the USA looks to (many of) them like a concentration camp.
The presumption that I challenge is that because an institution has typical or even systematic deficiencies, it must and it can be replaced by an unmitigated improvement. Once this presumption is admitted (really unthinkingly) care is no longer taken in looking at the manifold pluses and minuses of the institution in question, and the constraints on any solutions to the problems the institution has evolved to come to grips with ( - once again spontaneous order without guarantees of preferred outcomes). At this point, it is easy, even seemingly natural to paint the institution all black. This approach is hardly recommendable, as it is based on a severe truncation of the truth.
Hence, the above misrepresentations ("accountability never comes to government organizations", or the false insinuation that government bureaucracies rarely fulfil the tasks that they are entrusted with.
When it is convenient for the own case to argue so, many libertarians are quick to point out how government and its bureaucracies fulfill their satanic purposes with consummate efficiency. Totally dominating us, the state has been doing this for thousands of years, and it is more effective, stronger, nimbler on its feet than any other social forces.
Obviously, in actual fact, matters are far more intricate and often more balanced and indicative of genuine advancement. A bias that makes you deny genuine progress (or simply real conditions) is intolerable, no less in libertarians than in the left-leaning.
Liberty is not being helped by truncating the truth.
One of the key errors that fosters the libertarian presumption against ambivalent non-market insitutions is discussed in my post entitled The Market Is Not a Democracy.
Image credit. Hegel’s famous tagline “The Owl of Minerva only takes flight at dusk” explains his theory of how we gain knowledge. We may only gain wisdom of history through hindsight (dusk). ‘Minerva’ is the Greek goddess of wisdom and her ‘Owl’ is the spirit by which the wisdom takes flight.
Everyone knows this type of uncomfortable dream: you need to move quickly to escape from danger but your body hardly responds to the urge. To me, discussing NSA-surveillance issues feels a bit like the dreamer's straight-jacketed impasse. My mind intends swift and decisive action: I urgently wish to make a strong case, but sooner or later I am overcome with a sagging feeling that reminds me of the holes in my knowledge.
Like me, I would guess, most of us do not even know the knowable as fully as is desirable -- another case of rational ignorance. There is a limit to the effort a non-specialist can make to become conversant with an issue.
Comfortingly, unlike Minerva, we may take flight in daylight, if we so choose. Unlike Hegel in his information-starved times, nowadays, once you decide to put serious energy into researching a certain topic you have a good chance of becoming rather knowledgeable, thanks to our open society and its internet.
Every society will have to cope with the irremediable problem of rational ignorance, and hence a certain level of political disagreement will be due to the blind bumping into the blind.
But again, she who gets seriously involved in a theme of heightened interest to her can expect substantial returns of expertise in our free societies.
[T]he information grab is expanding until Big Brother, under the guise of (failed) protection now knows everything about its citizens. Simply said: this is merely government bloat in its most purest - spending ever greater amounts of money to become increasingly more inefficient, in the process destroying the concept of individual privacy.
See also Spying on Germans.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 05/31/2014 at 05:22 PM in American Culture, Barack Obama, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Georg Thomas, Media/Media Bias, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Social Philosophy, Socialism Gone Wild, Supreme Court, Technology, Internet | Permalink | Comments (0)
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It is remarkable that these days Indian minds seem to be more open to the values of liberty than those of Western voters:
The Indian election was a classic confrontation between the proponents of growth and the advocates of redistribution and the welfare state. Growth won across the board in all classes and regions. The young especially voted for growth. The same message brought Ronald Reagan to the presidency for two terms. Like Reagan, Modi urged voters to choose growth and opportunity instead of redistribution, higher tax rates, and envy.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 05/31/2014 at 02:58 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Barack Obama, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Economics, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Image credit and technical explanations.
Richard Epstein argues thus in favour of classical liberalism:
Unlike those on the left and right, the proponents of limited government offer viable solutions to our nations most pressing problems.
The single most important fault line in American constitutional law dates back to 1937. In that year, the Supreme Court granted several important victories to the progressive movement, which in the first third of the twentieth century displaced the more classical liberal movement of the so-called old court. The bedrock assumption of the progressives was that a combination of inclusive democratic politics and administrative expertise could forge a more prosperous economy while simultaneously reducing the economic gulf between the rich and the poor. To reach their goals, the progressives needed to win on two key constitutional issues. The first was a broad reading of the “commerce clause”—“Congress shall have the power . . . to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes”—so that virtually all productive economic activities, from agriculture and manufacturing to transportation and communication, would become subject to centralized regulation from the national government. The second was to narrow the scope of economic liberty and private property so they could not block the will of the administrative state.
In my first encounter with progressive thought in college and law school in the 1960s, I thought that the progressive agenda was unpersuasive, both for its cavalier disregard of specific constitutional texts, and for its uncritical embrace of large government. I fancied myself a libertarian who insisted that the sole function of government was the control of force and fraud. Over years, my position evolved toward classical liberalism, which regards it as proper for government to also supply public goods like courts and infrastructure, to regulate monopoly, to tax to raise general revenues, and to use its eminent domain power to acquire specific assets needed for public use. My objective was to take the middle path between anarchy on the one side and state domination on the other. Classical liberalism stands in opposition to both hard-core libertarian minimalism and the unbounded progressive state. My new book, The Classical Liberal Constitution: The Uncertain Quest for Limited Government, offers a comprehensive synthesis of the common law origins of individual rights, the key provisions of the United States Constitution, and the classical liberal theory that undergirds both.
Eventually, however, we must move beyond two-party disputes to those legal conflicts that implicate large numbers of people. Consider, for example, the case of pollution, a common form of nuisance, which may come from many sources and harm many people simultaneously. When that happens, ordinary two-party litigation becomes too costly relative to the benefits it generates. As a result, well-crafted direct regulation steps in to control the harmful externalities from pollution at a far lower cost than individual lawsuits. At the same time, many forms of noise or odor pollution are both low-level and widely distributed, such that it is best to adopt, as I argued in 1979, “the live-and-let-live approach” that Baron George Bramwell articulated so brilliantly in his 1862 masterpiece in Bamford v. Turnley.
The logic behind Bamford was that each landowner was forced to relinquish some of his property rights against all neighbors, in exchange for which they had to release their rights of action against him. Each release from others thus supplied in-kind the just compensation needed to offset the loss of property rights, so that everyone was better off than before.
These forced exchanges for mutual benefit became, in my view, the calling card for collective action. The broad application of the just compensation principle thus supplied the intellectual bridge between private and public law. In the classical liberal framework the government could force exchanges of property rights so long as all parties were left better off than before. That principle is connected to welfare economics through the notion of Pareto improvements, which favor any social change that leaves at least one person better off and no one worse off. It also links to the just compensation provision of the Fifth Amendment, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
As I argued in my 1985 Takingsbook, the Fifth Amendment marks a major advance over standard Lockean theory, which sought to ground limited government in the notion of consent. But if individual consent is required for each government action, then the government is paralyzed. If the majority can wipe out the minority, then factions are given free rein. However, if you allow the government to take only if it supplies an equivalent to the property taken, then you neatly avoid the twin problems of holdout and expropriation. The link between public and private law thus runs through this middle way.
Make sure to read the entire piece at the source.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 05/20/2014 at 06:16 PM in American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Education, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, History Lessons, Liberty Laid Bare, Social Philosophy, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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