Some more instructive glimpses of the processes of Nebraska state politics:
This video is also helpful to get an idea of how law is made in Nebraska:
Some more instructive glimpses of the processes of Nebraska state politics:
This video is also helpful to get an idea of how law is made in Nebraska:
Reports Hit & Run:
Today Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado, arguing that marijuana legalization there is having spillover effects on neighboring states and should be reversed because it violates federal law. The two states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare that Amendment 64, the legalization measure that Colorado voters approved in 2012, is "unconstitutional and unenforceable under the Supremacy Clause" because it conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act.
Make sure to look at background information, especially on the Supremacy Clause, in this article entitled Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue Colorado.
And The Washington Times reports here.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/19/2014 at 03:19 AM in American Culture, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, Health Care, Laura Ebke, National/International Affairs, Pure Politics, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The below text on chaos and complexity and the video on "intermediary conditions" are related to my The Gap of Intermediary Conditions, where I write in a comment on Richard Epstein:
In the end, the best answers [on many hotly debated issues, G.T.] rely on educated hunches by persons who work within the field, who may differ substantially in their conclusions. (Richard Epstein)
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).
The below video shows a graphic example of how intermediary conditions work.
By the "the gap of intermediary conditions", I mean:
the premises and predictions of your [political] 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.
Politics is a way by which to discover and (hopefully) judiciously react to the occurrence of intermediary conditions.
Apparently, a river works like politics:
Under the rubric "food for thought," consider Coilander and Kuper's
nice description of how two often confused terms, complexity and chaos, differ and interrelate:
Chaos theory is a field of applied mathematics whose roots date back to the nineteenth century, to French mathematician Henri Poincaré. Poincaré was a prolific scientist and philosopher who contributed to an extraordinary range of disciplines; among his many accomplishments is Poincaré’s conjecture that deals with a famous problem in physics first formulated by Newton in the eighteenth century: the three body problem. The goal is to calculate the trajectories of three bodies, planets for example, which interact through gravity. Although the problem is seemingly simple, it turns out that the paths of the bodies are extraordinarily difficult to calculate and highly sensitive to the initial conditions.
One of the contributions of chaos theory is demonstrating that many dynamical systems are highly sensitive to initial conditions. The behavior is sometimes referred to as the butterfly effect. This refers to the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil might precipitate a tornado in Texas. This evocative—if unrealistic—image conveys the notion that small differences in the initial conditions can lead to a wide range of outcomes.
Sensitivity to initial conditions has a number of implications for thinking about policy in such systems. For one, such an effect makes forecasting difficult, if not impossible, as you can’t link cause and effect. For another it means that it will be very hard to backward engineer the system—understanding it precisely from its attributes because only a set of precise attributes would actually lead to the result. How much time is spent on debating the cause of a social situation, when the answer might be that it simply is, for all practical purposes, unknowable? These systems are still deterministic in the sense that they can be in principle specified by a set of equations, but one cannot rely on solving those equations to understand what the system will do. This is known as deterministic chaos, but is mostly just called chaos.
While chaos theory is not complexity theory, it is closely related. It was in chaos theory where some of the analytic tools used in complexity science were first explored. Chaos theory is concerned with the special case of complex systems, where the emergent state of the system has no order whatsoever—and is literally chaotic. Imagine birds on the power line being disrupted by a loud noise and fluttering off in all directions. You can think of a system as being in these three different kinds of states, linear, complex, or chaotic—sitting on the line, flying in formation, or scrambling in all directions.
Like chaos theory, complexity theory is about nonlinear dynamical systems, but instead of looking at nonlinear systems that become chaotic, it focuses on a subset of nonlinear systems that somehow transition spontaneously into an ordered state. So order comes out of what should be chaos. The complexity vision is that these systems represent many of the ordered states that we observe—they have no controller and are describable not by mechanical metaphors but rather by evolutionary metaphors. This vision is central to complexity science and complexity policy.
Image credit and the source.
Prices at the gas stations have dropped precipitously, but I have not heared yet reactions from detractors quick to accuse "big-oil-dirty-capitalists" of exploiting consumers by raising prices avariciously; where are their praises for this sudden charitable change of mind in the magical tycoons who can send prices where they like?
Other joyous attainments of the world of commerce remain unnoticed, too - among the most remarkable is what Arthur Brook identifies as
the greatest achievement in human history, and you never hear about it.
80 percent of the world’s worst poverty has been eradicated in less than 40 years. That has never, ever happened before.
Read more at the source.
Also, see my Enculturated Poverty.
Continued from Why It Is Not True That ... (2/3)
The black-and-white aspect of politics also encourages people to think in black-and-white terms. Not only do political parties emerge, but their supporters become akin to sports fans, feuding families, or students at rival high schools. Nuances of differences in opinions are traded for stark dichotomies that are largely fabrications. Thus, we get the “no regulation, hate the environment, hate poor people” party and the “socialist, nanny-state, hate the rich” party—and the discussions rarely go deeper than this.
No doubt, partisanship can be exaggerated to the point of becoming dangerous and destructive. I am not going to repeat what I said above about political dichotomies being the very rationale (among other rationales) of practising politics, and the many features of a modern political order dedicated to attenuating the most detrimental effects of radical antagonisms. My purpose is not to reject out of hand the authors misgivings about politics, but to show that in their criticism they are looking at only one side of the overall story.
We tend to indulge in a rationalistic perception of politics, which is natural as we are apt to assess most political arguments in as rational a way as we are capable of. For this reason, we may not feel particularly inclined to recognise "the sense in the nonsense" that much of politics may bring about, the symbolic, ritualistic and sublimational functions of politics which help build and structure, maintain and develop multi-ideological communities.
Symbols and rites can serve the function of ordering society, i.e. keeping it in a working condition especially by preventing violence and oppression. The symbols and rites of bipartisanship may well serve the purpose of a war dance that replaces the need for outright war.
I believe, it is necessary to focus far more than is customarily done on the spontaneous order of politics and the state, which may well contain features that turn politics into a valuable part of modern civilisation without anyone intending the system to work and have effects as it does, thanks to overall results achieved by human action but not by human design.
As in the spontaneous order of the economic world, ignorance is a key challenge that needs to be met by the political order for a modern civilisation to emerge. We are hugely ignorant vis-à-vis the countless topics that tend to occupy the political mind. Some of that vacuum of ignorance can never be filled with secure knowledge. We resort to unreliable, woolly, and non-scientific ways of filling the void. Sure, we begin to tell one another stories that may be well on their way to scientific respectability, but many of them may have no hope to ever become more than just-so stories.
Politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans, and often worse because politics is more morally charged. Most Americans find themselves committed to either the red team (Republicans) or the blue (Democrats) and those on the other team are not merely rivals, but represent much that is evil in the world. Politics often forces its participants into pointless internecine conflict, as they struggle with the other guy not over legitimate differences in policy opinion but in an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice.
Again, in human communities, especially in large ones, we cannot help but face fundamental differences of some kind or other in our views and objectives. We shall hardly be able to ever get rid of that phenomenon. In fact, freedom encourages diversity of opinion and vision.
I cannot see how anyone, including us libertarians, should be able to determine for the rest of us what counts as legitimate differences in policy opinion - it is part of politics to compete over this question. Also, I cannot see that we libertarians refrain from an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice. We are part of the symmetric pattern that is being formed by opposing discussants. Political opposition has an experimental side to it. We need to find out, what it is that we disagree about and what avenues may open up to resolve differences. Furthermore, political opposition has a ritualistic side to it (see also my remarks under section 8 above). There are a number of powerful reasons to form partisan groups (see below), and if a population is divided among two or three major, traditionally viable camps, this may be a sign of stability, especially if being part of a camp means that (a) one's strongest convictions and political feelings are powerfully represented in the political system and that (b) therefore there are overwhelming incentives to keep the competition non-violent, non-oppressive, and open for challenges and new developments. Being part of a very strong camp can be a "relaxing" experience, i.e. encouraging trust in the prospects of non-violent negotiations, alternating preeminence (in government) and compromise (on the level of the operative bureaucracies in which political fiat is ultimately hammered out).
So what matters is how we deal with antagonisms. The principles of liberty are one of the means by which we attempt to keep the level of tension reasonably low among millions of people with different and even incompatible preferences.
Why do we become partisans? A political agent that is powerful - intellectually and in the exercise of influence - can be helpful in reducing (subjectively experienced) rational ignorance and strengthen one's sense of responsibility and engagement - "alone I cannot do anything about outrage X, but as member of a larger group, I can." In that way, partisanship creates leverage that people will always seek, for better or worse. Having said that, we should expose such leverage to criticism where it malfunctions, but we should also be sensitive to instances of success, which certainly exist - a partisan community improving ones's knowledge and furthering a worthwhile cause. Also, there are natural and legitimate reasons to feel drawn to this group rather than that one, and thus there is a expansive need to manage legitimate partisan differences.
As for "politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans:" I happen to support the soccer team of my hometown. I am pretty sure, had I been brought up in a different town, I would be supporting a different team than today. Social outlooks and political affiliations too are often a matter of upbringing and, in principle, no less worthy of tolerance than other core elements of a person's socialisation that - like her religious faith - appear to be largely determined by location/accident of birth.
How can this be? Republicans and Democrats hold opinions fully within the realm of acceptable political discourse, with each side’s positions having the support of roughly half our fellow citizens. If we can see around partisanship’s Manichean blinders, both sides have views about government and human nature that are at least understandable to normal people of normal disposition—understandable, that is, in the sense of “I can appreciate how someone would think that.” But, when you add politics to the mix, simple and modest differences of opinion become instead the difference between those who want to save America and those who seek to destroy it.
The authors make a distinction between two fundamentally distinct worlds:
For reasons explained above, such a complete separation of political views and the world of politics is unconvincing. However, this artificial dichotomy is rather characteristic of the libertarian view of politics, which latter is deemed to be essentially an admixture of malice and evil.
This behavior, while appalling, shouldn’t surprise us. Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking. Your “teammates” are held to less exacting standards of competence, while those on the other team are often presumed to be mendacious and acting from ignoble motives. This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Research shows clearly that we live in a far more peaceful world than our ancestors, and that the movement toward open access societies with their avenues for mass political participation is a movement toward less violence and more peace. The big challenge that needs to be dealt with successfully before modern civilisation can unfold are violence and trust. We need to reduce violence and increase trust to such an extent that people can become productive, immensely productive compared to most of mankind's history. We achieve this by a co-evolution of (a) economic relations and (b) conducive political structures. Politics is also a grown order, yet adapted to different tasks than the economy. It would seem to me that a presumption in favour of the civilising function of politics is a more promising hypothesis (to be challenged in a thousand ways) than the preconception that politics is the big spoiler of advances in our civilisation.
Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking.
That may well be. But the story does not end here. Civilisation is all about finding ways around dysfunctional kinds and levels of hostility. Civil society is one big complex set of arrangements to challenge tribal uniformity and foster individualism, pluralism, and a permanent and multi-pronged onslaught against strong group identification. Practicing group identification in a free society is a totally different exercise from what it used to be in closed access societies or tribal formations. Politics is the driver behind the dynamism that constantly challenges what shapes of group identification may be forming at a certain point in time. We are witnessing tremendous fragmentation and turn over of group identification thanks to our pluralistic political order. Group identification can succeed best in a stable world with strong taboos against or simply an absence of critical challenges, such as they are being organised by modern politics. It would seem that the great distinct paradigmatic blocks in politics are more like tectonic plates that grate one another, rather than one plate slipping over and thereby subduing the other plate.
This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Taken altogether, I have great difficulty to see how the political culture of a free society can be characterised as predominantly, even essentially crippling our thinking critically about the choices before us.
The human ability to think critically, express dissent and positive opinion, advertise one's own view and challenge adversaries, along with the means that support critical analysis (like the internet) has never been surrounded by a more friendly and conducive environment than today's pluralistic democratic political order.
The issues that politics must deal with are often extremely difficult and many can never be resolved harmoniously, but why should we feel entitled to indulge in a stabilised harmony?
What’s troubling about politics from a moral perspective is not that it encourages group mentalities, for a great many other activities encourage similar group thinking without raising significant moral concerns. Rather, it’s the way politics interacts with group mentalities, creating negative feedback leading directly to viciousness. Politics, all too often, makes us hate each other. Politics encourages us to behave toward each other in ways that, were they to occur in a different context, would repel us. No truly virtuous person ought to behave as politics so often makes us act.
It would be helpful if the authors explained more fully what they mean by politics. What I read suggests that to them politics is exhaustively described as the business of fomenting hate between human beings.
Also, it is not uncommon even for people who live or work together for long periods of time to feel strong antipathy for certain traits and habits in another person, without ending up in a radical conflict. When playing the game "being a soccer fan," I do not appreciate my brother-in-law cheering for the opposing team, but when playing a different game like "exploring the cultural treasures of Barcelona," we get on like a house on fire.
My impression is that in general people are quite capable of making a distinction between political divergence and other modes of human interaction. In fact, it is rare that people hate me for my political convictions; some of my friends think of me as a right winger and, notwitstanding that ugly wart, go on having a great time with me.
Again, I feel that our political culture tends to encourage tolerance and the avoidance of extreme and pointless confrontations, both among the broader population and among activists, the more confrontational among which being too easily mistaken for the larger numbers of reasonable participants in politics.
While we may be able to slightly alter how political decisions are made, we cannot change the essential nature of politics. We cannot conform it to the utopian vision of good policies and virtuous citizens. The problem is not bugs in the system but the nature of political decision-making itself. The only way to better both our world and ourselves—to promote good policies and virtue—is to abandon, to the greatest extent possible, politics itself.
The last two sentences have merit in that they give us an incisive summary of the wrongheaded approach to politics that is unfortunately predominant among libertarians, even defining the libertarian.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/03/2014 at 12:40 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Electoral Prospects, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, Liberty Laid Bare, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Continued from Why It Is Not True ... (1/3).
But do we really want to live in a world where politics is so important to our lives that we cannot help but be politically involved? Many, both on the left and the right, answer yes. A politically engaged citizenry will not only make more decisions democratically but also be better people for it. From communitarians to neoconservatives, there’s a sense that civic virtue is virtue—or at least that individually we cannot be fully virtuous without exercising a robust political participation. Politics, when sufficiently unconstrained by crude individualism and sufficiently embraced by an actively democratic polity, makes us better people.
If I grew up and lived a life facing no prospects of punishment and other forms of resistance constraining my behaviour, it would be rational and natural for me to steal, kill, and lie, just when it suits me, and do a lot of other things that under the real circumstances of my life I find abhorrent and would never engage in. Politics is about organising, defending, enforcing, and changing the constraints that we must observe while living with other human beings. Sure, tradition and other evolutionary processes play an important role, but man is always faced with the challenge to establish by conscious effort which values and taboos are to count as socially preeminent. People cannot take a permanent holiday from working on the normative frame by which to live.
There are no super-markets with products on their shelves like a can of "being nice to everyone" or a bottle of "total mutual agreement in America."
The forms of political participation are multifarious (especially in a civil society), they can be expected to be shaped by tendentially efficient structures such as a division of labour among more or less politically active members of the community, and, most importantly, political participation ought to be free for every citizen inclined to join the competition for political influence. It is not unreasonable to assume that an open access political order is an important prerequisite for conditions that induce and constrain people to treat each other as if by this they have become better people than in a society less concerned with the individual's desire to be represented or otherwise effective in the political world of her community.
It is mankind's lot to live in a world where politics is so important to our lives that we cannot help but be politically involved. We cannot change that condition, but we can hope that he who has a need for it will be free to get involved in politics. No less than the free market, politics is all about competition; you must get engaged and fight hard to get your objectives recognised and acted upon as intended. If you want something of a political nature to happen, there is got to be someone who cannot help but be politically involved.
Too many terms are used as if they had only one meaning, when, in fact, they can be used to point at very different situations. Political apathy is one such term. Some of the political apathy that people remark upon may indeed be regrettable, but a lot of it is to be welcomed, as it is an indication that the political system works reasonably well and that there are hard workers at it, so called politicians, that practice political participation in a way that leaves us more content than we are willing to concede. The political division of labour works - tolerably well.
It is intrinsically difficult to seek for a political system where (a) high levels of active mass political participation are not required, leaving people free to pursue other goals, AND (b) expect that politics must be free from decisions that any given non-participant among that huge majority may feel not to be representing her. In a word: you cannot have suitably low levels of mass political participation without systematic and chronic attacks on the fairness and effectiveness of the political system - which is one of the lasting imperfections in politics. More direct democracy has limits of feasibility that make themselves felt quickly as a study of the counterproductive outcomes of direct democracy in the Greek polis reveals.
Yet, there is a huge difference between both systems.
Yet the increasing scope of politics and political decisionmaking in America and other Western nations has precisely the opposite effect. It’s bad for our policies and, just as important, it’s bad for our souls. The solution is simple: when questions arise about whether the scope of politics should be broadened, we must realistically look at the effects that politics itself has on the quality of those decisions and on our own virtue.
We might need a new epithet to describe the partisan propensity to regard an instance of what appears to them an important political defect as being part of a chain reaction that inexorably leads to a dystopian state which is bad for our souls.
How about the domino illusion?
True, there are dominoes that fall, but they do not fall in a perfect and fatal cascade, some remain errect, some are being picked up again, and new ones are set up as well. In paragraph 3 above, I have already tried to convince my readers that the increasing scope of politics and political descisionmaking in America has aspects to it that no one of us would wish to miss. So this is a real option, too: politics may increase in scope and the world is getting better for it. It is not helpful to ignore this important fact. Indeed, there can be no good political theory that does not take cognizance of the full range of significant effects achieved by politics.
the effects that politics itself has on the quality of those decisions and on our own virtue
I have noted in paragraph 4:
an open access political order is an important prerequisite for conditions that induce and constrain people to treat each other as if by this they have become better people than in a society less concerned with the individual's desire to be represented or otherwise effective in the political world of her community.
Politics takes a continuum of possibilities and turns it into a small group of discrete outcomes, often just two. Either this guy gets elected, or that guy does. Either a given policy becomes law or it doesn’t. As a result, political choices matter greatly to those most affected. An electoral loss is the loss of a possibility. These black and white choices mean politics will often manufacture problems that previously didn’t exist, such as the “problem” of whether we—as a community, as a nation—will teach children creation or evolution.
I am tempted to coin another term - the ice-berg fallacy, i.e. for the full picture one must dive deeper, the top of the ice-berg is not the whole story. Politics is concerned with political scarcity, meaning: it is about coping with the socially destructive potential of mutually exclusive partisan positions. In other words, the discreet outcomes that the authors claim to be the unwarranted product of politics are often residuals of social tensions that cannot be resolved by other means, such as market transactions. I am in favour of nuclear energy. And you are not. What next?
Admittedly, politics can be used to create discrete outcomes of a deplorably reductionist kind, reducing for instance the competitive processes in the world of management to an artificial either-them-or-us-issue as in decreeing a female quota for executive boards. But then, I challenge any comer to show me, how free markets can get rid of such inordinate politicisation. Again, we need to enage in politics to keep politics within reasonable bounds. There is no escaping politics.
Also, what appear to be binary choices (either him or her, either this or that policy) are often better understood in view of the large hidden ramifications that qualify and counterbalance such either-or: Each candidate must take into consideration the multifarious views and interests of the electorate; her programme and actual politics will reflect a wider spectrum of constraints, ambitions and demands than fit into a neat dichotomy. The politician appears dishonest precisely because she must try to do justice to differing and competing positions within the electorate. Before and after being elected, the politician will have to take into account other institutions of the democratic culture (apart from the elective mandate): authorities, courts, all kinds of associations, all sorts of committees etc whose purposeit is to expose her to wider efforts at exercising influence and exerting control over the politically powerful incumbent. In a society with democratic mass participation in politics, people are influencing each other all the time through exposure to debate, changing and competing views, and practical encounters in the processes of political competition and cooperation. The truly dichotomous choices are embedded in an environment of permanent mutual control, adjustment, and compromise - everyone is free to enter the competition and seek out her opportunities to contribute to supervising, shaping the visions of and cooperatively participating in the political processes. The system creates winners and losers, but they are not always the same people; sometime this party wins, sometimes it loses; such competition certainly does not leave a gilded trail of neat solutions happily endorsed by everyone, but it does produce a trust ultimately recognisable by the public's general peaceful tolerance of the political system.
Oddly, many believe that political decisionmaking is an egalitarian way of allowing all voices to be heard. Nearly everyone can vote, after all, and because no one has more than one vote, the outcome seems fair.
But outcomes in politics are hardly ever fair. Once decisions are given over to the political process, the only citizens who can affect the outcome are those with sufficient political power. The most disenfranchised minorities become those whose opinions are too rare to register on the political radar. In an election with thousands of voters, a politician is wise to ignore the grievances of 100 people whose rights are trampled given how unlikely those 100 are to determine the outcome.
We have just seen that far more opinions and interests have been taken into consideration in a complex process that leads among other things in the end also to a number of dichotomous choices (say, abortion or pro-life).
While the very rationale for engaging in politics is to handle intransigent antagonisms, of which no society can be free, in order to do so politicians - in a resilient democracy - must of necessity be open to compromise and middle-of-the-road-positions, and much of their work before and after getting elected will be heavily constrained by the rule of law and other institutions of a democratic open access society. In fact, it will be in the interest of the politician to comply with and support such institutions, rather than undermining them all of the time. So the authors' general assertion is not true: Once decisions are given over to the political process, the only citizens who can affect the outcome are those with sufficient political power. Democracy as an entire culture of practices and institutions has evolved to protect people with highly differential degrees of political power. To make this point, I like to remind people that Mr. Obama is far from being the richest man in America, and Bundeskanzlerin Merkel is so weak - thanks to our democratic culture - she cannot even dispossess a small baker by political fiat to have her bakery-chain (if she had one) take advantage of his shop's good location and attractive clientele.
But outcomes in politics are hardly ever fair. Can there ever be a world where it is not possible or not endeavoured by any one to reproach others for being unfair?What world do the authors propose to establish, where outcomes are hardly ever unfair? Are they not really coquetting with the nirvana fallacy? "Fairness" - that is one of those infinitely stretchable words. Again, politics is called upon to manage human affairs precisely when people find it hard to achieve congruency of opinion, as when there are diverging ideas of what may count as "fair."
As for minorities, one can certainly observe very small groups achieving disproportionate political influence, while other minorities may be lacking any clout. There are countless reasons for that. By the end of the day, in an open political order, however, impact is ultimately a matter of resolve, perseverance, skill - and luck - but not primarily a function of the number of activists hoping to attain political weight.
As Chris Berg writes poignantly:
Democratic institutions ensure that if you want to alter policy, you have to convince your fellow citizens that change is desirable.
And, because any single vote will not change an election outcome, you have to convince a very large number that your cause is so important they should make an expressive, personal, "irrational" stand at the ballot box.
The futility of voting means that democracy resists sudden radical change. This is a good thing.
So many people who complain that the "system" is rigged are in truth complaining that most other citizens don't agree with them.
The reason why many minorities, and indeed, majorities, may not feel to be represented as they would wish, is not that people are being oppressed, i.e. denied the exertion of political influence, but the fact that they judge the opportunity costs of political engagement far too high to give up alternative preferences. Which, in turn, I would tend to interpret as indicative of a broad popular concurrence with the present political division of labour among population and political activists.
Continued in Why It Is Not True ... (3/3)
Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/03/2014 at 12:38 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Congress, Constitution, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, Liberty Laid Bare, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus, research fellows at the CATO Institute, have written an article entitled Politics Makes Us Worse. Below I shall comment on each of the thirteen paragraphs of which their article consists. Powell and Burrus are making many valid points, but they spoil their take by over-generalisation, which is the cardinal defect underlying the libertarian presumption against politics. In that way, the arguments displayed in Politics Makes Us Worse are almost a mini primer containing many of the central misconceptions of politics entertained in libertarian circles.
First, it is in order to comment on the title the authors have chosen: Politics Makes Us Worse. It can be inevitable, and in some cases even useful, to introduce phrases that come over more strongly than the wider message they are intended to support - such as, say, in a socially well-understood and accepted exaggeration (like "Americans are great people.")
Such is the case with the title of my present post - I do not believe that politics makes us better; rather I think politics can make us better, but it also can make us worse. Moreover, politics can have functions and effects that do not relate to the issue of people becoming better or worse. Hence, in the text I qualify the title's bait.
The authors do not make any such qualification whatsoever. I am therefore entitled to take the statement - politics makes us worse - as an absolute. And precisely therein lies the difficulty with their position, which is representative of the attitude maintained by a large number of libertarians. In the below text, the authors' phrasings are
indented and completely in italics,
followed underneath by my comment (without emphasis):
Increasing the sphere of politics leads to bad policy and increased vice.
By and large, the freer a country, the more likely it is to allow political engagement by any citizen interested in such activity, increasing the sphere of politics compared to a closed access society where the privilege of participating in politics is reserved to a small ruling elite. It appears that the absence (as in Mabutos's Kongo) or the retraction (as in Nazi Germany) of such freedom leads to increased vice, rather than the other way around.
An interesting special case might be provided by a class of countries that do not have a democratic political order, yet enjoy the status of favourites in the eyes of many libertarians, such as Hong Kong or Singapore. To begin with, the absence of a Western-type democratic political order does not mean that politics, with all its pluses and cons, is not happening in such countries. The relevant processes may be less familiar to the Westerner, naturally more opaque, or it may be the case that in order for the political goings-on to become more transparent to an observer, she must seek intimate and enduring participation in the social life of the respective countries.
Furthermore, I strongly suspect that Hong Kong and Singapore have benefited from other people having done politics in their stead - namely the British people, who exported practices and institutions of a modern civil society to these two places. Excellent conditions for commercial advancement (enabled by the imported model of a modern Western civil society) combined with an impoverished population eager to take advantage of the opportunities to grow materially more comfortable, the people of Hong Kong and Singapore may have had low demand for democratic politics for a number of decades. They certainly had strong governments whose political orientation and political decisions were decisive for the economic success of both places. Indubitably, politics has made Hong Kong and Singapore better (places to live in).
Even if we try to ignore it, politics influences much of our world. For those who do pay attention, politics invariably leads in newspapers and on TV news and gets discussed, or shouted about, everywhere people gather. Politics can weigh heavily in forging friendships, choosing enemies, and coloring who we respect.
What the authors want their readers to focus on is a part of politics fraught with problems and unpleasant challenges: the divisiveness in politics, the ways in which politics creates division, and enhances or exploits it.
What the authors do not see is that politics is the only way in which we can hope to deal with issues that drive us apart.
What the authors do not see is that we cannot ignore politics - understood as dealing with the inevitable fundamental disagreements that the social order of a viable community must come to grips with.
Politics communicates, resolves or attenuates strife resulting from the manifold sources of significant disagreement among human beings. Bashing politics in total is like rejecting tragedy and drama in human affairs as a needless luxury willfully created by the bored and playful.
Of course, try as we may, we cannot ignore politics - it is part of the human condition. Of course, politics influences much of our world - which is full of dissent and potential for oppression and violence that needs to be kept under control. The compromises of politics will tend to be imperfect, because the more fundamental disagreements among human beings will not go away, when our political arrangements help us to avoid the crassest, bloodiest, and especially destructive forms of battle.
It’s not difficult to understand why politics plays such a central role in our lives: political decision-making increasingly determines so much of what we do and how we’re permitted to do it. We vote on what our children will learn in school and how they will be taught. We vote on what people are allowed to drink, smoke, and eat. We vote on which people are allowed to marry those they love. In such crucial life decisions, as well as countless others, we have given politics a substantial impact on the direction of our lives. No wonder it’s so important to so many people.
Does political decision-making really increasingly determine so much of what we do and how we're permitted to do it? Can we do less and are we more regimented and patronised than in 1965, in 1912, or in 1860? By what metric?
Is it not the case that we are living in zones of reduced freedom and other zones of increased freedom, many of which may not be easily netted, if this is possible at all? I suppose, as drivers we may be considerably more regulated today than in 1912 - but is this not largely an appropriate response to mass transportation, and a large contribution to personal freedom? Have the regulations to which mass transportation has led been brutally imposed upon us by political decisionmaking, or is it not rather the case that countless institutions of a free society, from the legal world, to the media, to the many events and practices that make up our political order have allowed millions of us to exercise influence on the process by which such regulations get formed?
What do we gain in denying a role for politics in improving our lives?
Continued at Why It Is Not True ... (2/3).
Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/03/2014 at 12:36 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, Liberty Laid Bare, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Rand Paul, Republicans, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
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James R. Otteson has a readable article entitled Adam Smith vs Ayn Rand on Justifying the Free Society where he explains among other things why Smith could see a valuable place for "publick works," including education, in a free society.
Whereas the Randian would raise a principled objection against any kind of state incursion (including in education) on grounds of violation of individual rights, the Smithian is willing to entertain the possibility, but shifts the burden of proof on to the proposer and maintains a high threshold to initiate action.
This is simultaneously a strength of Smith’s position and indicative of a weakness of Rand’s. Smith’s intellectual humility prevents him from believing that he can excogitate rules for human behavior applicable to all times and all places. Instead, like an Aristotelian empirical scientist, he adopts conclusions tentatively but subject to further empirical review. This gives him a reasonable starting point based in observed reality. Yet it also allows for innovation and flexibility, as the dynamics of human society changes.
Let me now conclude with one final point. Recall this famous passage in Smith: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages” (WN I.ii.2). That sounds rather Randian, does it not? But what Smith saw in market transactions was not selfishness—as many people, both friends and foes of Smith, claim—but respect: it was peers meeting one another and making offers to one another, each of them respecting the other enough to recognize the other’s authority to say “no, thank you” and go elsewhere. What a profound and deep respect it shows others not to impose one’s own will, values, or purposes on them, not to require permission from or beg the mercy of “superiors,” and instead to recognize each person’s moral authority to say “no.”
The political economy Smith endorsed could, therefore, not only be demonstrated empirically to lead to material prosperity and the alleviation of human misery, but it also instantiated and exemplified the morally beautiful equality of individual human freedom.
Otteson invokes a graphic distinction between Planners and Searchers among those assuming responsibility or following ambition in hoping to change the quality and nature of society.
Planners try to impose universal orders; Searchers instead try to find specific problems where they can make marginal, ground-level differences. [...] Searchers get good work done, marginally and gradually improving the world one step at a time.
I believe, the efforts of politicians and political engagement in all kinds of other functions (campaign supporter etc.) are necessary and commendable, if they contribute to the work of the Searchers rather than that of the Planners, to use the terminology of the article mentioned above. In fact, we can not come by the advantages of the Searchers' work unless people start getting seriously involved in politics.
Relatedly, Russ Roberts on How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life:
One of the things that struck me during the year that I spent in Berlin, just after the infamous wall had been torn down, was the intensity of antipathy, even hatred, I dare say, that some of my West German colleagues displayed vis-à-vis their new East German collaborators. At bottom, it was a matter of Futterneid - literally: jealousy about food. Berlin used to be a place spoiled with lavish subsidies - to make sure people would find it attractive to live, work, invest, and produce in the enclave city. Burdened with the heavy costs of integrating a bankrupt socialist economy into a Western-type society, Bonn decided to cut many of the Berlin-subsidies.
One of the cases I had on my desk was a big-name piano manufacturer, who threatened to go belly up - the music was going to die, basically because the Berlin-subsidies had been withdrawn.
Why do I mention this? I suspect, the Berlin-subsidies were a form of widespread Keynesianism, whereby the idea of a subsidy is enmeshed with other concerns, which in themselves may or may not be objectionable. In other words, there is a human propensity to act like a Keynesian, which to some extent, I think, we cannot or even should not discard entirely.
Could West-Berlin have survived without the subsidies? Would Berlin have ended up a capitalist eyesore, without subsidies; or, contrariwise, had it become the eyesore that it looked to me before 1989 thanks to all sorts of pampering leniency, including easy subsidies? What measures would have made Berlin something like a free-market-shining-city-on-the-hill amidst the communist desert? The Bonn Republic, being profligate herself in terms of handing out countless subsidies, would Berlin politicians have stood a chance by arguing in favour of "no subsidies"? Would a good politician have been better advised to play along with the regime of subsidies, and once elected get some genuinely good policies accomplished, rather than quitting the game for reasons of being strictly principled?
No doubt, there are groups, persons, and politicians of the shamelessly self-serving type, there are the fatuous, and the fatuously self-serving kind; but when the public good is an open issue with many different answers to it, I suppose, sound principles and arguments alone are not good enough to bar excesses or preclude less than meticulous compromises and mixed solutions. Ultimately, it would seem that in a large number of cases there is no hindrance to bad politics that is more effective than better politics.
I just wonder, how hard it is for politicians, especially on the municipal and state level not to avail themselves of public resources. Also, to spend or not to spend public resources, is it always a matter of clear-cut discernment?
This is not supposed to be an argument in favour of Keynesianism; but where public resources are substantial, as they are under modern capitalism, public life tends to get interwoven in countless ways with the Keynesian thread, and people grow accustomed to the gifts of the visible hand. Until the day the music dies.
But in all that confusion and in the face of so many doubts, it is wholesome to get the basics right, and who better to turn to for that than Steven Kates.
Steven, whose Free Market Economics, I strongly recommend for perusal both by layman and expert, has a most readable piece on the fortunes of economics, economies and the Keynesian legacy, the post being part of an exchange with a French Keynesian.
Nothing to lift an economy like public investment! Every business like the post office. Every investment another Solyndra. All subsidised with nothing self-sustaining through the revenues it earns. Dig a hole and get fill it [sic?] in again. Don’t worry about earning a greater return than the funds outlayed. Just close your eyes and spend. Don’t worry, it will all work out once that magic multiplier cuts in. [...]
On this much we can agree, that the world’s economies are in a mess. Consumers deep in debt, savings eaten away by low productivity government spending, and private investment going nowhere. [...]
It is not aggregate demand that matters, but value adding aggregate supply. You must do more than build brick walls, you must build where what is built actually contributes to future prosperity. To think more holes dug up and then refilled can generate recovery because it constitutes “fiscal spending” is the essence of economic illiteracy. [...]
In times gone by, before Keynes, economists talked about “effective demand”, that is, what had to happen to turn desire for products into an ability to buy those products. Now it is aggregate demand – the total level of demand – which has leached the original concept of any understanding that for everyone to buy from each other, they first have to produce what each other wish to buy. If that is not obvious, then common sense has gone from the world.
As for facile references to austerity, Daniel Ben-Ami offers an insightful post on the meme.
See also Government - High-Cost Producer.
For the quick reader, find a summary of my argument at the bottom of this post.
There are basically two (classically liberal) approaches to liberty, one based on the harm principle, while the other approach admits to its premises the benefit principle in addition to the harm principle.
Liberty and the harm principle
Richard Epstein characterises the harm principle thus:
In setting out individual rights and duties, we must embrace principles of individual autonomy, private property, and voluntary exchanges in order to insulate these productive human activities from the ravages of force and fraud. (Principles for a Free Society, p. 320)
The locus classicus is found in Mill:
That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over is own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.
John Stuart Mill (1859): On Liberty, chapter 1, paragraph 9.
As Richard Epstein notes, the conception of freedom based on the harm principle alone
has often been seen as treating force and fraud as the only problems worthy of a collective legal response, and thus has been frequently attacked as ignoring the wide range of holdout, coordination, and networking problems that arise in any complex society.
Incidentally, I do not think that a strict application of the harm principle is feasible, nor would its best approximation really achieve the aims of liberty, for it would create a situation of anarchy, where everyone has to fend for himself, which corresponds to a very low level of human development with hardly any division of labour. There will be a lot of anthropocentric freedom favouring the roaming or the stationary bandits (of Mancur Olson's primordial state) that soon tend to dominate such a primitive anarchist environment, but no/little sociogenic freedom, which latter we, classical liberals, have in mind, when we speak of liberty.
Liberty and the benefit principle
At any rate, to improve on the deficits of a concept of liberty solely based on the harm principle, classical liberals have come up with what Epstein describes as
a more complete theory of laissez-faire which acknowledges the need for legal rules that forthrightly govern both common property and forced exchanges. In those cases where voluntary exchanges cannot achieve potential widespread gains, public force may take up the slack to achieve the desired social outcome - the win/win situations not obtainable by private agreement.
As the benefit principle involves coercion in that it will be applied in the face of non-concurrence, it may be more precisely defined as the principle whereby - under certain conditions - one should receive compensation for benefits conferred on others without their consent.
Liberty and the harm principle plus the benefit principle
Now, Epstein offers a crucial observation, which to my mind, indicates both the important task of "freedom as method", as well as the fundamental incompleteness of freedom, which forces us to figure out creatively and competitively solutions that liberty does not carry implied within her premises and principles.
Accepting that [benefit-]principle does not clear the path for the promiscuous use of state power. Rather it requires some clear showing that the individuals subjected to state power all benefit on net from the program that has taken or regulated their property.
The benefit principle as such does neither necessarily lead to egregious miscarriage of state power nor does it of itself protect us against such abuse. The reason why is that
some clear showing that the individuals subjected to state power all benefit on net from the program that has taken or regulated their property
is mostly, and in many crucial cases, not possible. The competitive efforts at a "clear showing" are manifold, amounting to a dramatic show of multitudinous dissent and Babylonian confusion in their own right. There is no single argument, theory, or philosophy that can tell you what the common weal is: "the benefit on net." We must conspire to huddle more or less comfortably under the umbrella of a rickety pretense of knowing what that common good might be that persuades us not to cut each others throats. That is the very best we can do.
This marks the most momentous disagreement that I have with Richard Epstein, whom I admire greatly for his classical liberal reconstruction of law and the Constitution. As liberals, I am suggesting, we can make plausible proposals as to what constitutes the common weal ("freedom as method"), but we are no more capable of proving our point of view as objectively valid than does any dissenting party.
We, the citizens of a country, may end up very broadly in agreement in that we accept by and large actions carried out under the benefit principle, but this can not be based on an accurate reckoning concerning each issue or even the overall proportionality of state coercion/taking and benefit by the people.
Politics - the fuzzy logic of trust
Of course, where possible at all, we should strive toward such accurate reckoning (which striving is an important function of what I call "freedom as method"), but I dare say, in the final analysis
what makes for reasonable social cohesion in a free society with free access to the processes of politics for all (who care to take the trouble of getting involved), is the degree of trust that the opposing partisans ultimately place in one another, strong conflict of opinion notwithstanding.
A trust that is rarely expressed explicitly, a trust that the trusting are often not even aware of, a trust that happens even when partisans think nothing good of one anther. A trust that shows in the fact that people do participate (at great cost and with no payback to them) in the political game of a country.
And that trust is not anything of mathematical or logical precision (that the pretension of an axiomatic, all-knowing theory of liberty aspires to); it is a cultural event with thousands of facets to it, one of the most important of which is political participation, in which we get to practice tolerance and respect for the opponent, a political culture of compromise, as well as select and sagaciously chosen bipartisanship.
Summary: Political participation of those conscious of the need and conditions of freedom is indispensable. Freedom is based on the adherence of certain principles; however, from the principles of freedom - notably the harm principle and the benefit principle - we cannot derive unequivocal and generally accepted answers to all the challenges that a human community is confronted with. At the end of the day, liberty is an open-ended system that still leaves us with the need to compete, negotiate, and compromise politically. There must be space for those whose views deviate from ours. Good politics is about such accommodation. For it is impossible to build a world that is 100% in accordance with principles of freedom, simply because it is impossible to arrive at a uniform, uncontested, unanimously supported concept of freedom. In the face, of a plurality of views, and with people having the right to disagree with one another - one of the most basic principles of freedom -, liberty cannot be an arsenal of forgone conclusions, but becomes a method and attitude to be applied to the open issues that we are facing in the contemporary political debate. The skillful politician asks the right critical questions that introduce our concern for liberty into the debates and decisions of politics, and she is at the same time capable of accommodating views that arise in areas where there is no unique liberty-minded answer available. And she must, at times, accommodate even decisions that she is not happy about at all from a principled and truthful point of view. After all, politics is also about creating viable trust in a community, and to that purpose it is necessary to let the other side prevail, so that my side can prevail, so that the other side can prevail, so that my side can prevail ... This difficult, yet absolutely necessary task is the job of the politician, for which she will be always scolded by some, even if she handles her calling with the utmost responsibility. Good politics is about doing and achieving the imperfect so that the community can thrive.