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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bush Has Time to Run the World

President Bush has been a busy man. Even though the quagmire in Iraq threatens to worsen as Turkey prepares to invade the Kurdish north, Bush has time to undertake the arduous task of preventing World War III and begin the transition to democracy in Cuba. How does he do it?!
My latest op-ed, "Bush Has Time to Run the World," distributed by The Future of Freedom Foundation, appears today on Counterpunch. Read the rest here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Liberty and Political Obedience

Last week I discussed Anthony de Jasay's claim that the freedom philosophy -- liberalism -- is precarious because it "has always been rather loose, tolerant of heterogeneous components, easy to influence, open to infiltration by alien ideas that are in fact inconsistent with any coherent version of it." He specifically criticized the utilitarianism of Bentham and the Mills. In light of the deficiency he has identified, Mr. de Jasay attempts no less than a reconstruction of liberalism.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Liberty and Political Obedience," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blackwater and Bush's War

Blackwater’s involvement in Iraq has been ugly but misunderstood. The presence of security contractors in Iraq does not signify that the war has been privatized. Unfortunately, the word “privatization” has been corrupted over the years.
The rest of my op-ed, "Blackwater and Bush's War" is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

What Nearly Killed Liberalism

The shifting meaning of the word liberal in the direction of statism has been analyzed often. But a few years ago Anthony de Jasay wrote a short comment on the matter that deserves attention. For Mr. de Jasay, the problem is not merely terminological. As he wrote in "Liberalism, Loose or Strict" (Independent Review, Winter 2005), while political ideas such as nationalism and socialism have had core principles, "Liberalism, I maintain, has never had such an irreducible and unalterable core element. As a doctrine, it has always been rather loose, tolerant of heterogeneous components, easy to influence, open to infiltration by alien ideas that are in fact inconsistent with any coherent version of it. One is tempted to say that liberalism cannot protect itself because its 'immune system' is too weak." His statement does seem to explain why liberalism has taken many forms over the centuries.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "What Nearly Killed Liberalism," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Naomi Klein: Free-Market Ally?

I haven't read Naomi Klein's book The Shock Treatment: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (or her other books). But based on what I've read about it, she's probably going to be misunderstood by some libertarians and free-market economists. Although apparently an attack on corporatism (fascism), the book is bound to be seen as a criticism of the free market. I assumed that Klein would promote such understanding by an imprecise use of terms -- and to some extent she apparently does so. But perhaps I've underestimated her. I caught her appearance on Bill Maher's program the other night, and during her interview she explicitly said that practitioners of crony capitalism have hijacked the rhetoric of the free market to advance their self-serving cause. She drew a sharp distinction between the two systems. "[I]t's certainly not the free market. ...Ironically, it's the free-market ideology that gets used to propel this [corporatist] vision forward. It's not free for anybody but the contractors." (The interview is here.)

Her thesis is that crony capitalists use crises to foist their "reforms" on otherwise unwilling people. Sounds like it should be read in conjunction with Robert Higgs's Crisis and Leviathan.

Although Klein is not an advocate of a true free market, she seems to be an ally in struggle against corporatism. We should cultivate that alliance in public statements about her book and reinforce her inchoate view that being for the market is far from the same thing as being for capitalism.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, October 12, 2007

America's Anti-Militarist Tradition

The right wing went apoplectic at the skepticism that greeted Gen. David Petraeus’s recent testimony about the alleged success of the military escalation in Iraq. It was as though a member of the military was incapable of engaging in spin to support his commander in chief’s war policy. President Bush summed up this attitude revealingly when he said it was one thing to attack him, but quite another to question General Petraeus. War, Clausewitz noted, is politics by other means. That makes high-ranking generals a species of politician. Not a few have harbored presidential thoughts, and some have made it. It is said that Petraeus would like to be another. These are the people the pro-war conservatives are willing to trust implicitly? (Anti-war members of the armed forces, on the other hand, are, in Rush Limbaugh’s words, “phony soldiers.”)

It is unappreciated today that an earlier American culture was anti-militarist. In his classic study The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition (1956), historian Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. wrote, “The tradition of antimilitarism has been an important factor in the shaping of some two hundred years of American history.”

The rest of my op-ed, "America's Anti-Militarist Tradition," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Atlas Shrugged and the Corporate State

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's stunning novel, Atlas Shrugged. So many words have been written about the book that the task of saying something new is daunting. It is a celebration of the creativity that is required for the production of material goods no less than for the production of music, art, and literature. And it is an elaboration of the preconditions for that creativity: individual freedom, which necessarily includes property rights. In sum, Atlas Shrugged is a literary brief for the proposition that human beings can live fully as human beings only in a society founded on the freedom philosophy, i.e., on self-ownership, private property, privacy, consent, free trade, and peace -- in a phrase, laissez faire. What sometimes goes unappreciated by readers of the novel is the extent to which Rand targeted business people as potentially the most egregious saboteurs of freedom.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Atlas Shrugged and the Corporate State," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Freeman, October 2007

There is lots of good stuff in this issue, but I particularly want to draw attention to Frank van Dun's article, "Can We Be Free If Reason Is the Slave of the Passions?" (pdf, html). Goodnight, Mr. Hume.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is no one to admire, but when was the last time President Bush stood before a critical college audience and fielded tough questions? Bush appears only before handpicked friendly crowds. Even news conferences are barely adversarial because the media has the curious rule that the president -- any president -- deserves to be treated like royalty.
The rest of my op-ed, "Ahmadinejad," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Government Failure

A popular academic rationalization for having government forcibly override people's economic decisions is the theory of market failure. Advocates of the free market have long emphasized that the countless self-regarding actions individuals perform daily in the marketplace generate a larger complex spontaneous, or undesigned, order -- that is, a high degree of interpersonal coordination that is remarkably pleasing to consumers. This is the social cooperation Ludwig von Mises placed at the center of his description of the market process. Critics of the market realize this is a powerfully appealing feature of the economists' case for what these critics deride as the unfettered marketplace. So this feature has been among the prime targets of those who would straitjacket or even abolish the market. Hence the attraction of market-failure theory.
The rest of my TGIF column, "Government Failure," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.