Anyone seriously interested in liberty ought to read both books which are perfectly accessible to the layman.
I have always felt like someone looking in from the outside when it comes to issues concerning the American constitution - there is so much talk assuming profound an full knowledge of constitutional matters, when in fact there is rather little comprehension of that type in the debates around you.
Thanks to Barnett, I do feel I am beginning to know what is being talked about, and what I am talking about.
Perusal of the two books gives one a sense of just how incredibly naive, unrealistic and incompetent much libertarian reasoning is, especially as espoused in the anarcho-capitalist corner. Despite their confident tone and their clear and convincing messages, the tomes leave me with a heightened awareness of the formidable, fallible and unfinishable task that all down-to-earth endeavours at liberty add up to.
Emotionally, reading the two books has had me swaying between euphoria and sadness. The classical liberal conception of law is such a well thought out and wise system - acquainting oneself with it more intimately is quite simply an euphoriant experience. However, its wisdom is ignored, misunderstood, and mostly pushed aside by a multitudinous rush of shortsightedness, superficiality and politically incited greed and ruthlessness.
Two things are sure, I think: we will never get as close to the sensible ideal as is desirable, while it will always be a worthy enterprise to defend and get closer to the classical liberal conception of justice and the rule of law.
Being packed with difficult concepts and legal stories, Barnett's lecture might actually leave you with a false impression of the book, which is perfectly organised, with every term carefully explained, and each thesis most transparently presented.
Taking the Constitution seriously is not a trivial exercise. Randy Barnett is one of the best sources for insight and orientation concerning fundamental issues of US law and the constitution.
Apart from the constitutionality of Obamacare, Randy Barnett covers a whole range of interesting issues in the below interview. Of particular note I find his contention toward the end of the video that the abolitionists were the precursors of modern libertarians.
As isn't unusual for me, I'm sending our readers off into the weekend with a large package of philosophy.
A fascinating story of a philosophical conversion.
The substantive arguments offered by Edward Feser (spelled out more fully in the below video) don't convince me. But that's my problem.
Not only does his round trip story offer an intriguing read, I also think, his arguments ought to be appreciated by anyone concerning herself with the debates surrounding attempts at proving God's existence.
See also Ed Feser's excellent paper on natural law theory in Natural Ends and Prudential Judgement, which shows, to my taste, the elegance and beauty of Thomistic natural law theory, irrespective of how one might judge its ulitmate credibility.
From what I know, the natural law tradition originates in Greece in ca. 300 BC. Philosopher's of the Stoic school reacted to the break down of the classic Hellenic world. The imperialism of Alexander the Great inundated Greece with a large variety of alien cultural influences. This gave rise to a new concept of law, a trans-cultural law intended to create conditions in which people of the most diverse values and goals, and religious convictions, could live together peacefully and to mutual advantage. In a word: natural law started as a pragmatic effort at productive tolerance. It was neither tied to any particular religious (or at least theistic or Christian) creed - as in the Scholastic tradition - nor was it constructed as a self-contained axiomatic system - which later would become the hubristic ambition of secular rationalistic accounts of natural law.
I have always been sympathetic to the idea that human conduct and interaction are constrained by circumstances some of which can be described as being analogous to natural laws as we use the term in the physical sciences.
Of course, ascertaining and corroborating such laws ought to be an open ended process, and one that should always be amenable to revision and new insight.
Put differently: I have always been opposed to authoritarian or dogmatic accounts of natural law and natural rights.
What do I mean by authoritarian or dogmatic accounts of natural rights? I think of two types, one utterly unacceptable, the other respectable by my personal standards but incapable of scientific authentication or general consensus.
The first is based on the mistaken notion that natural rights can be logically deduced from certain premises that are true and valid a priori, in the manner of a logical algorithm. This approach ignores the need to establish and probe the subject matter empirically. Unsurprisingly, all efforts to present a self-contained calculus of natural rights can be shown to fail.
The second approach relies on religious faith. It is perfectly respectable to accept this faith-based grounding of natural rights - as a matter of personal experience. Unfortunately, it cannot be generalised, i.e. it is not possible or even legitimate to expect everybody to share this experience.
So, I have not been able to accept accounts of natural rights that are removed from or insulated against critical debate and scientific challenge and corroboration. I suppose these were the motives for Hayek, a Popperian like myself, to stay away from the corpus of natural rights reasoning.
However, in his important contribution (below), Randy Barnett is right to point out that natural rights may well be conceived in a way entirely compatible with the framework of critical rationalism, the Popperian conception of scientific and intellectual progress, which regards man's fallibility as being his most powerful and beneficial tool, and seeks to expose any theory to critical examination and the possibility of refutation and succession by a better theory.
In addition, Barnett presents the best explanation of the role of prices I have ever come across.
Germany’s much ballyhooed Energiewende (transition to renewable energy) was supposed to show the whole world how switching over to green energy sources could reduce CO2 emissions, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, provide cheap electricity to citizens, and heroically rescue the planet.
Ten years later, the very opposite has happened: Germany’s CO2 emissions have been increasing, electricity prices have skyrocketed, the green jobs bubble has popped, and tens of thousands of jobs have disappeared. Worse: tens of billions are being redistributed from the poor to the rich.
Other countries around the world have noticed and are thus having serious second thoughts about industrializing their landscapes with green energy systems like wind, solar and biogas. Germany has proven that green energy does not work well after all.
The methodological core of liberty-averse thinking is rationalism. The hallmark of rationalism is an exaggerated trust in the powers of reason to command and control human affairs.
Rationalism is probably the most popular intellectual attitude in the West - not surprisingly for it is thoroughly intuitive, and indeed useful and appropriate in many applications of everyday life and even in more arcane activities such as engineering or the natural sciences dealing with relatively simple types of order.
Rationalism is rooted in the tradition of anthropomorphic reasoning, which seeks to explain phenomena by analogising them to situations that man is used to and capable of handling successfully.
Instead of ascribing order to a transcendental creator, modern rationalism shifts responsibility for any kind of admissible order to the human mind.
There is an entire array of reasons enticing us to take this stance, which I will not go into here - but first and foremost, rationalism is a view point that is unacquainted with modern methods for comprehending orders of higher complexity. These methods could only be discovered when the evolutionary paradigm emerged, which opened the human mind to the possibility to self-creating order, i.e. the kind of orde that does not depend on personal authorship and synoptic mastery by a single intelligent originator.
The importance of cybernetic order is lost on most people, including, I'm afraid, most liberals.
Politics benefits hugely from our cerebral addiction for rationalistic linear causality. It's a great format to make things look intellectually clear cut, easy to comprehend and amenable to direct human control.
On the more mainstream front of rationalism, Keynesianism e.g. is a great relief for the popular mind (and, of course, politicians), because it divests the dismal science of uncomfortable, counter-intuitive features as epitomised in the invisible hand. The Keynesian mindset teaches us that the economy depends on only a few variables that can be handled by government and comprehended by any but the most obdurate minds.
Similarly, reducing the world climate to one factor - CO2 - is one of the great political feats that has been highly successful for a long time as it neatly panders to our rationalistic addiction.
Liberals make a big mistake in not arguing that theirs is the ecological world view. But even if they understood this all-important point, they are not likely to make much of a difference in a world with an insatiable demand for easy solutions geared to the control freak in us.
The folly of command and control is inextinguishable as it feeds on perhaps the most favourite among the patterns for which the human mind is on the lookout.
I have been arguing along these lines for years, and have never ever made a convert to my position. It is simply astounding how well insulated the rationalistic modern mind is against truly ecological thinking. So much for the age of ecological awareness.
“My intention is to show what treasures the creators of our songs left us, and not to reduce them to their fate. Of course it interests Germans how they destroyed their own culture, and this is often a topic in interviews and talk-shows. The perplexity and despair over our history is increasing with the years.” That is further nuanced: “Although the larger part of our repertoire was written by Jewish artists, our audiences perceive it as typically German. They are not aware of the religion of the composers while listening to the music. These are mutual roots, and the audiences before 1933 saw the music as typical for Berlin. I believe this was one reason for our success in Israel. This tradition was a great part of German society and of our culture, and it was a great tragedy for us that so much of it was lost.”
Matt Ridley has another excellent post, which I like especially for the facts it conveys. However I do disagree with him on two counts:
He writes that people are not "wrong to resent inequality in income or wealth".
Well, they are.
The other passage that I object to is the below one, in which he seems to present the common aversion toward inequality as an unalterable genetic feature:
... surely we always have and always will care more about relative than absolute differences. This is no surprise to evolutionary biologists. The reproductive rewards went not to the peacock with a good enough tail, but to the one with the best tail. A few thousand years ago, the bloke with one more cow than the other bloke got the girl, and it would have cut little ice to try to reassure the loser by pointing out that he had more cows than his grandfather, that they were better cows, or that he had more than enough cows to feed himself anyway. What mattered was that he had fewer cows.
I think he's wrong. The matter is amenable to cultural evolution, i.e. learning and unlearning. No less than slavery, matriarchy, or the habit not to let women acquire a driver's license. Unfortunately people are constantly made to learn that inequality is outrageous. Tell them a different story, and they will come to their senses.
However, the ritual of protesting inequality serves as a lever for the attainment of ulterior political motives. It is one of those problems that don't exist unless politicians create them. And in this manner they create demands of the many over the few which can be easily accommodated and translated into political success/survival (i.e. reelection and more resources for the state in its capacity as a the tool for politicians).
Like global warming and other surrogate problems that are made up to call for more political power and to attract money and other rents, people don't think much about inequality, let alone in an intellectually serious manner; instead they are being told about inequality's scandalous nature over and over and over again, until they have been disarmed intellectually to the point of being convenient parrots.
One of the subliminal functions of the rhetoric of inequality is to keep alive the most fundamental anti-capitalist myth, according to which inequality is a matter of injustice: the rich being rich because they exploit the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact of the matter is: it is impossible to give a principled account of the need for equality, nor does equality serve a desirable economic function.
The call for equality is just a rhetorical slight of hand used to re-baptise under a nice sounding name the good old-fashioned practices of expropriation, discrimination and self-enrichment by special rights. To achieve equality one needs to practice glaring inequality - in the name of those who happen to be stronger than their victims.
The demand for equality is the robbers' new excuse for their age-old business. Equality is the motto of the greedy.
I don't have as high an opinion of Joe Stiglitz as does Peter Boettke. I seem to have caught Stiglitz out on rather facile, indeed irresponsible errors committed in his eagerness to convince us of a world abounding with market failure. However, I'm not going into greater detail on this issue now. Rather I'd like to draw your attention to what I think is a very perceptive point made by Boettke:
Since 2008, and before, [Stiglitz, G.T.] has been constantly complaining about neo-liberal policy and how its lack of attention to the appropriate regulatory framework and disregard for fundamental policy priorities has produced the mess we are in. In fact, he made the argument very simply even while he was in positions of tremendous political power in the Clinton administration and at the World Bank --- if only the world would listen to me, and engage in the appropriate interventions then the mess would be avoided. But who were the so-called neo-liberals that weren't listening to him? What neo-liberal thinker had the same powerful positions that he held? Did F. A. Hayek or Milton Friedman actually come back from the grave to serve as head of the CEA or as Chief Economist at the World Bank? Or did all this disruptive inequality and global imbalance happen on the watch of other thinkers.
The current mess in the US is six decades in the making ... The promisory politics that exploded after WWII ... rests completely with [...] Keynesianism [...]
Stiglitz is right to stress that bad ideas result in bad public policy which in turn results in bad economic, political and social outcomes. But, Stiglitz has misidentified what the bad ideas are, and his narrative mischaracterizes the nature of public policy for the past 6 decades and in particular the last 2 decades. We have not experienced a period of neo-liberal neglect and arrogance, but instead a waffling back and forth between conservative and liberal Keynesianism [...]
This has been the public policy hegemony for the past 60+ years. It is time that this alternative narrative be listened to, rather than the same old story that emerged from the Keynesian follies so many decades ago.