In recent posts and comments, I have endeavoured to advise against the
inclination of many fellow-libertarians to effectively stop the process
of building a positive theory of the state as a result of adopting a
largely normative theory that systematically selects aspects of the
state considered undesirable at the expense of a(n unbiased)
comprehensive picture of the state-society-nexus.
comments can be read as a homage to James M. Buchanan, a classical
liberal, to whose sober and incisive mind the state has been equally
important and worthy of in-depth study (i) as a condition of liberty and
(ii) as her antagonist.
My initial encounter with Buchanan was effected by reading his What Should Economists Do? - a paper that made him stand out vis-à-vis most of the economists I had hitherto studied. Exchange, not choice, he argues, not maximization, not allocation, is the most fundamental subject-matter of economics.
I still have the book with my tremulous underlining and lots of scrawly comments, some by pencil, some by ball-pen. Here is a passage I somehow felt urged to underscore with particular ardency, apparently first using pencil and then ball-pen:
Economics is the study of the whole system of exchange relationships. Politics is the study of the whole system of coercive or potentially coercive relationships.
It has been a constant theme, especially in my earlier writing here at RSE, that America is becoming more and more European, i.e. a social democratic country with an overblown welfare state that - largely unrelated to improving the common weal - is the outcome of the unprincipled compulsion (of our form of democracy) to buy votes and other means of maintaining power. In the meantime, I have come to believe that America has turned European a long time ago, at least in a number of rather crucial issues.
At the same time, I have always supported the Americanization of Europe, i.e. the absorption of America's great tradition of liberty by the peoples my side of the pond. Some of it is happening. Thus, I was made aware of the below article by a German liberty-friendly blog that draws heavily on American sources.
The Wall Street Journal has this to report on "a tax increase for everyone but the favoured wealthy few":
In praising Congress's huge new tax increase, President Obama said
Tuesday that "millionaires and billionaires" will finally "pay their
fair share." That is, unless you are a Nascar track owner, a wind-energy
company or the owners of StarKist Tuna, among many others who managed
to get their taxes reduced in Congress's New Year celebration.
There's plenty to lament about the
capital and income tax hikes, but the bill's seedier underside is the
$40 billion or so in tax payoffs to every crony capitalist and special
pleader with a lobbyist worth his million-dollar salary. Congress and
the White House want everyone to ignore this corporate-welfare blowout,
so allow us to shine a light on the merriment.
One of liberty's brightest rising stars in the US House was kicked off the House Budget committee along with his friend and fellow conservative, Tim Huelskamp this week. This follows the ejection of two other conservative lawmakers (Walter Jones and David Schweikert) who were removed for "not voting with leadership on key votes."
The budget committee is really a mostly ceremonial committee assignment as it has no control of purse strings like Ways and Means nor does it really control policy like the Foreign Affairs or Banking committees. Budget is primarily used to formulate plans but has little influence. Amash and Huelskamp have gained far more from being kicked off the committee than they ever did trying to resist the Ryan budgets proposed that balanced the budget in 28 years.
They dared question spending and the sacred cows: Medicare, Social Security, and Defense. Hopefully, the media play and outrage from conservatives nationally will help Amash in his standing amongst Republicans on a national stage.
The standard argument underlying the theorem of rational voter ignorance strikes me as more evidence for (a) academics mindlessly copying academics (including even the excellent Mark Pennington) and (b) academics ignoring the real world.
Mind you, the conclusion that voters are rationally ignorant is correct in my view, but not on account of the reasons habitually given (see "conclusion" below).
It is true, people know infinitely less than they ought to in order to make an informed choice. Hence, voting is based on nonsense. And I agree with Bryan Caplan (hat tip to Laura), who belongs to the last of three schools: (i) the first arguing that democracy works well in that it faithfully reflects the will of the people, (ii) the second school holding that democracy is not working well at all, since it is NOT faithfully reflecting the will of the people, and (iii) the third school suggesting that democracy is a bit of a catastrophe because it DOES represent the will of a highly uninformed and ideologically misled electorate.
As for my introductory propositions (a) and (b), in contradistinction to the theory, virtually no-one is making probability-based cost-benefit assessments in order to decide whether to go to the booth or not. People participate in voting simply because they have been conditioned into a number of habits that encourage them to vote.
Elections are a festival, a virtual orgy of the unthinking, including the fact that few things are less likely than finding a voter who has ever seriously thought through the pros and cons of democracy. When I was allowed to vote for the first time, voting was to me like a rite of passage, a proof of my maturity; and for a long time I did think that my vote mattered - vaguely following the line of reasoning, if at all, whereby my party would have no chance to win if each of its supporters thought their individual vote was not significant enough to warrant participation in the election.
People are divided in their opinion about who is going to win the presidential election. Just compare here (Obama very likely to win), here (Romney sure to win), and here (intuiting Romney will win) - the latter with an interesting link to an article on the manner polling works and fails.
Concerning the first link, I immediately concluded that Obama was very likely to win, but do the permutational options really support my expectation?
I am an uninterested and very superficial observer of the presidential election. But, again, how much gain is there in more extensive efforts at being in the picture?
Voting is simply a different form of cheap talk. You can get a big kick at very little expense. Finding out what is really going on would be prohibitively expensive and without commensurate reward, indeed depressing. It is better to dream of nicer things, as everyone else does. One votes in order to do the done thing, feel socially accepted, even important.
If voting helps you feel good about yourself, so much the better. If it does not, never mind - what cost is there involved? The rational ignorance tenet should perhaps be rephrased thus: It is rational to vote, despite being uninformed and misinformed, for it can make you achieve a desired state of mind at little expense. And since long-term consequences, indeed any kind of consequences can be made part of achieving "a desired state of mind at little expense", they need not bother the voter.
Bryan Caplan as well as his rather short, yet still too long book ("The Myth of the Rational Voter") are overrated, however I do not regret having read the book, and his main conclusion, reported above, alone is worth the reading. Mind you, Caplan seems to dream of a world ruled by economist kings (like himself), rather than representatives of 'the plebs' (i.e. people who do not know as much economics as he does). However, in his exorbitant confidence in the wisdom of economists, he comically fails to recognise the wide spectrum of divergent and incompatible views among economists and the fact that large numbers, probably the majority of them support the same irrational world for which 'the plebs' is casting their votes.
Who, you might ask is Ted Yoho? Ted, God bless him is not really important to know unless you're from north central Florida or a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. But Ted is an example of what is happening to the GOP all over the country whether the establishment likes it or not.
I will admit that until a few days ago, I had never heard of Ted Yoho or that there was even a primary held recently in Florida. Yoho is important to know because he defeated 12 term Republican Congressman Charles Stearns in a safe Republican district. Rep. Charles Stearns is a pretty decent 12 term conservative Republican according to the Heritage Foundation with a score of 80% (average for House GOP is 65%) and 7th out of 25 from the Florida delegation. By comparison, Allen West has a score of 69%.
Yet, on August 14th, Ted Yoho, a large animal veterinarian and political newcomer defeated this 12 term incumbent running by attacking the NDAA, Patriot Act, neoconservative strains in the GOP, and out-of-control spending. Yoho points to his reading of the Federalist Papers, taking courses at Hillsdale College, and studying the US Constitution as motivations for his run for Congress (and the fact that he thought Stearns was not schooled on these issues).
Yoho represents a much larger trend that is not just a Tea Party trend within the GOP. The Tea Party story is, in my eyes, partly a reflection of the reactivation of conservatives to get engaged in the GOP but also something much, much more. There is something so much bigger that is beginning to percolate that even those of us within the movement itself have probably failed to grasp and recognize as well.
The libertarian view of government is beginning to take over the GOP. It is decidedly not Tea Party in the sense of what those in the mainstream press and many who call themselves Tea Party activists call it. Rather this new insurgent philosophy of government, that used to be relegated to the sidelines of mainstream political thought, has hit critical mass. It is popular and it is about to explode.
The philosophy of limited government and general distrust that large human institutions are any more capable of ruling lives than the individuals living them is taking hold in America. This is certainly not a new philosophy as many will point out when discussing the origins of the Revolutionary War and the philosophical discourse at the nation's founding. But the modern libertarian view of politics is different in ways that reflect real world experience watching socialism, fascism, keynesianism, and an ever expanding police state all over the world. With the power of the internet used to spread the ideas of libertarianism and, perhaps more importantly, show abuses of government power, people are being introduced and buying into the philosophy in larger numbers than ever before.
The story of Ted Yoho is becoming more and more common. In fact, it is so common that I don't even notice it even though it is everywhere. If it is present in congressional and senate races then you can be certain that it is even more prevalent at the state, county, and municipal level. I know of scores of state representatives in my state of Michigan that would be described as libertarian or at least with a strong libertarian bend which was not the case even 5 years ago.
Everyone who visits this blog is very familiar with Rep. Ron Paul who has been a consistently lonely congressman for nearly his entire career. Suddenly, and almost inexplicably in 2007 after launcing a quixotic presidential campaign on a shoestring budget his support exploded to the point that he could raise millions of dollars in one day! Then, in 2010, his son Rand Paul wins a senate seat in Kentucky. State representative Justin Amash wins a congressional seat in west Michigan. Now in 2012 libertarians are coming out of the woodwork. Michigan will soon have its second libertarian GOP congressman when Kerry Bentivolio wins the 11 district seat. Thomas Massie is all but assured a win in Kentucky.
There are probably many, many more who I am failing to mention which leaves only one question - is this a temporary flash in the pan or the future? The answer to that question is purely demographic and, as I'm sure anyone who follows Ron Paul or Justin Amash will tell you, the people in this movement are almost all under 40 with those under 30 being even more prevalent. From my experience, young people entering the GOP are comprised of two types: those who are libertarian leaning and those who find politics fun and want to stick with winners. That is a demographic trend that suggests we are just seeing the leading edge of the movement.
Our future is bright and it is officialy time for the GOP establishment to worry. We are coming and we are growing.
"Hey GOP! You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."
“It is impossible to grasp the meaning of the idea of sound money if one
does not realize that it was devised as an instrument for the
protection of civil liberties against despotic inroads on the part of
governments. Ideologically it belongs in the same class with political
constitutions and bills of rights. The demand for constitutional
guarantees and for bills of rights was a reaction against arbitrary rule
and the nonobservance of old customs by kings. The postulate of sound
money was first brought up as a response to the princely practice of
debasing the coinage.”
In a remarkably incisive article, Bill Buckler reminds us (via Zero Hedge).
[W]ithout property rights, no other rights [of the type associated with individual freedom, G.T.] are possible [...]
Property rights are a prerequisite for any kind of exchange - direct
or indirect. The ability to exchange is fundamental to any type of
viable economic activity. The efficiency of exchange is fundamental to
the success of that economic activity and the resultant prosperity of
the nation that engages in it. Indirect exchange using a MEDIUM of
exchange or money is hugely more efficient than direct exchange or
barter. That makes money the most important economic good in existence.
The tragedy of our present global plight is the simple fact that money
is also the least understood economic good in existence.
The first pre-requisite of the establishment of a “society” of the
rulers and the ruled has always been the same. The rulers must gain
control over the medium of exchange. For obvious reasons, no nation can
ever progress to a state of advanced economic activity until a medium of
exchange is established. Once it is established, there is no going
back. An advanced economy cannot operate by means of barter. The problem
is that once the government or the rulers gain control of money, it
progressively ceases to be a medium of exchange [alone, G.T.] and becomes [additionally, G.T.] a medium of
control. That impinges on the functioning of markets which in turn
impinges on the maintenance of property rights. Thus, we come full
circle from a free society to a command society. There has never been
any shortage of those who want to rule. The problem has always been with
the vast majority who are content to be ruled. Today’s global outcry
for the manufacturing of more and more “money” out of thin air is an
eloquent testimony. It shows that most people have no understanding of
freedom, markets or money. Lacking such understanding - and having no
desire to gain it - most people have accepted government as their
As Robert Heinlein stated the problem - it is impossible to free a
serf or a slave. He or she must free themselves and most are much more
terrified of that prospect than they are resentful of being ruled.
One day, when I was a boy, I was taken by Austrian friends to a pier at the Attersee, to catch fish at the crack of dawn. Handling the fishing rod absorbed all of my attention and when I was retrieving the line once again, I suddenly felt weightless. In an instant, the world turned cold and wet: I had ended up in the lake. I took the incident as a sign from higher spheres never to pursue the practice of fishing again:
However, for some people fishing seems to be a most exquisite form of relaxation.
Maybe some of us need some chilling out after all this (see below) - perhaps even just looking at these pictures of cormorant fishing might do the trick:
Phew! By denying Ron Paul a majority of the 35 delegates at its state convention, the Nebraska Republican party saved itself, and the rest of the national GOP, the embarrassment not only of having Ron speak at the national convention, but of having his name placed in nomination. 90% of the party constituents, and 100% of its establishment hierarchy, will now be saved the pain of listening to ideas that express philosophic principles that were once popular among the GOPers. Wars, police-state practices, torture, presidentially-decreed assassinations, imprisonment without trial, censorship, etc., represent the "new world order" that will bring conservatives to their feet. No more will these people have to suffer the indignity of having to listen to Ron suggest that the peaceful thinking of Jesus should govern American foreign policy! ("Ain't that treasonous, Ralph?" "Well, it's at least blasphemous, Martha!")
As the Gratuitous Omnivorous Parasites threaten violence against the Paulians. Of course, violence and the threat of violence are government's method, and the method of government's political parties, too. if the fat cats' hold on you is ever threatened.
Richard Ebeling has in his blog an article on the work of Vincent Ostrom (1919 - 2012), who passed away only three weeks after his Nobel Prize winning wife died.
The language of liberty — the language of a free, and self-governing people – is being lost. And it is through our language that we think about ourselves, our relationships to others, and the general social order that we share.
Victor Klemperer, a German Jew, who survived life in Nazi Germany, wrote a book after the war called The Language of the Third Reich. He argued that virtually everyone in Nazi Germany was a Nazi – whether or not they considered themselves to be National Socialists, including many of the victims of the regime (including German Jews).
Why? Because they had been captured by and had adapted in their thoughts and beliefs the ideas and ideology of their Nazi masters. They found it difficult to think about life and morality in any other way; that is, to reason in a way independent of the language of words and political phrases reflecting the Nazi conceptions of man, “race” and society. In their minds, Klemperer was suggesting, they were no longer self-governing human beings, but slaves of the regime since they thought and acted in terms of the lexicon and logic of Hitler’s National Socialism.
Whether we succumb to collectivist paternalism or preserve the language and ideas of freedom will determine whether or not the great American experiment in self-governance, which so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville when he travelled in America in the 1830s, will endure.
Vincent Ostrom’s writings not only explain the nature and logic and premises of American self-governance. They also direct us to appreciate the uniqueness in human history of this great American experiment of liberty through divided and decentralized political power; and what a tragic loss it will be if American’s give it up.
He leaves a profound legacy of writings devoted to the philosophy of freedom, with his brilliant analysis of the political institutions and socially shared ideas without which liberty cannot endure.