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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The U.S. Fallback Policy for Egypt

For might makes right,
And till they've seen the light,
They've got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
'till somebody we like can be elected.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Op-Ed: Ron Paul and Ralph Nader on Corporatism and War

What is American politics coming to? I just watched a joint interview with Ralph Nader and Rep. Ron Paul — and they were mostly on the same side! Nader has spent his life promoting government intervention in the economy. Paul has spent his life promoting the free market and minimal government. For the two of them to discuss making common cause is something extraordinary.

And yet it makes total sense. What’s so exciting is that their common cause shines the spotlight right where it’s needed: on corporatism — the constellation of government policies that primarily benefit wealthy and well-connected business and banking interests at the expense of the rest of us.
Here's the op-ed.

TGIF: Obama's Corporatist Big Plans

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama says.

How repulsive! The liberal vision isn’t a zero-sum Olympic rivalry among nation-states, with governments alternately cajoling and cudgeling their populations to perform. It’s a positive-sum world where individuals, not countries, compete and cooperate in pursuit of their well-being within a division of labor and harmony of interests, unobstructed by governments and their sanctioned monopolies — and oblivious of political boundaries.

The rest of TGIF is here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Op-ed: Obama Has Nothing to Teach China’s Hu

“President Obama ... gently but pointedly prodded China to make progress on human rights,” reports the New York Times.

The irony should not escape us. The head of the U.S. empire, which for years has committed a variety of atrocities abroad and widespread surveillance at home, lectured President Hu Jintao of China about human rights. You can’t make this stuff up!

The full op-ed is here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

TGIF: Wrong Questions

Ask not what your "country" can force other people to do for you. Ask who benefits from what you do for your "country."
The rest of TGIF is here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TGIF: Value, Cost, Marginal Utility, and Bohm-Bawerk

Does cost of production determine price or does price determine cost of production? In the world of economic caricatures, the classical economists (Smith, Ricardo, et al.) took the former position, the Austrians the latter. Specifically, the Austrian view supposedly is that that demand driven by marginal utility determines the price of consumer goods, which is then imputed backward to the factors of production.

But like all caricatures, the picture is an imperfect reflection of reality.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Who Are You Going to Believe: Me or Your Eyes?

Jared Lee Loughner's high-school girlfriend, Ashley Figueroa, told ABC News she does not think Loughner is mentally ill. ""I think he's faking everything," she said.

This prompted Salon.com to comment:
Figueroa is not a doctor, and these claims conflict with the opinion of top doctors in the field of psychiatry.
Well, sure. I can't imagine why we would take more seriously the judgment of someone who actually knew him intimately not long ago over a bunch of self-serving psychiatrists who never even met him.

Nothing Natural about It

The sharp historical division between labor and capital ownership is not a natural emergent feature of the market economy but largely the conscious result of government privilege.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Szasz in One Lesson

(First posted in 2006, and now amended. The relevance to the Tucson massacre is self-explanatory.)

This is something I came up with some time ago to summarize a good deal of what Thomas Szasz, a great libertarian and hero of mine, has been saying for half a century.

If neuroscientists discovered that mass murderers and people who claim to be Jesus had different brain chemistries from other people, most everyone would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a mental illness/brain disorder (MI/BD) and that this disorder caused their behavior.

If neuroscientists discovered that homosexuals had different brain chemistries from heterosexuals, far fewer people would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a MI/BD and that this disorder caused their behavior.

If neuroscientists discovered that nuns had different brain chemistries from everyone else, very few people would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a MI/BD and that this disorder caused their behavior.

If neuroscientists discovered that married men had different brain chemistries from bachelors, no one would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a MI/BD and that this disorder caused their behavior.

Clearly, a difference in brain chemistry per se is not enough to make people believe that someone has a MI/BD. It takes more. Why, then, would a difference in one case be taken as evidence of MI/BD, while a difference in another case would not be? The obvious answer is that people, including psychiatrists, are willing to attribute behavior to mental illness/brain disorder to the extent that they disapprove of that behavior, and are unwilling to do so to the extent they approve of, or at least are willing to tolerate, that behavior. (Psychiatry once held that homosexuality was a mental illness. That position was changed, but not on the basis of scientific findings. Science had nothing to do with the initial position either.)

In other words, the psychiatric worldview rests, not on science or medicine, as its practitioners would have us believe, but on ethics, politics, and religion. That would be objectionable only intellectually if that were as far as it went. Unfortunately, it goes further, since the practitioners and the legal system they helped shape are empowered:

First, to involuntarily “hospitalize” and drug people “diagnosed” as mentally ill and thought possibly to be dangerous to themselves or others, and

Second, to excuse certain people of responsibility for their actions (for example, via the insanity defense).

Postscript: I'm often asked which one of Thomas Szasz's two dozen books I'd recommend to someone unfamiliar with his work. I suggest Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences. This highly readable book covers most of his views on psychiatry, mental illness, and the Therapeutic State, with responses to his critics along the way. Of course, after that, you'll want to read the rest.

Not Polarized Enough

The ruling elite's line that politics today is "too polarized" is self-serving bunkum. Politics is not nearly polarized enough! The two parties are really divisions of a single statist uniparty. There is no prominent anti-statist party that is taken seriously by the mass media, which is little more than the PR department of the uniparty system. Internecine contests over who holds power is not true polarization, since the two sides do not represent the poles of any fundamental controversy.

Let's trade faux polarization, which only serves the interests of power, for the real McCoy.

Do as We Say, Not as We Do

How eerie it was to see Barack Obama and Janet Napolitano talk about nonviolence and civility last night. Aren't they the same Barack Obama and Janet Napolitano who are running a super surveillance state at home and a homicidal empire abroad?

The Dangerous Aftermath

We should be concerned that in the wake of the massacre the usual voices are calling for a beefed-up mental-health system, which means it would be easier for government to lock people up in "facilities" and drug them against their will for being "weird" though they've committed no crimes. Thomas Szasz has made the libertarian case against such detention for 50 years. It's time we paid heed.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Austrians and the Classicals

It is not without wisdom that Lionel Robbins says, in his introduction to Wicksteed’s Common Sense of Political Economy, “a very good case could be made out for the view that, with all their differences, the systems which seem to make the clearer break with the past are, in fact, nearer in spirit to the classical system than those which have preserved more closely the classical terminology and apparatus.” The system making the clearer break, of course, is that of Austrian economics. The one more closely preserving the classical terminology is that of Alfred Marshall.

Take It to the Limit

As I see it, the early American free-market anarchists -- I'm thinking of Benjamin Tucker and the people around his magazine, Liberty -- erred when they attributed profit, rent, and interest per se to the State, rather than argue that the amount of profit, rent, and interest collected is magnified through government privilege and monopoly.

But I'd rather have a thinker go too far in attributing evil to the State than not far enough. After all, Tucker et al. did not call on government to abolish profit, rent, and interest. They merely predicted their disappearance when the market is freed.

Value, Price, and Cost of Production

[T]he less the material and labor that the production of a jacket costs, the more jackets, of course, can one produce with the means of production available. Thus the more completely can the need for clothing be satisfied. And thus, other things being equal, the lower will be the marginal utility of a jacket. The technical conditions of production are, therefore, to be sure a cause of the value of goods lying further back, a "more ultimate" cause, than marginal utility.
--Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk
"Value, Cost, and Marginal Utility" (pdf), 52-53

Friday, January 07, 2011

Op-ed: Afghanistan: War of Choice Not Necessity

In August 2009 Obama declared before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Afghanistan “is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.” Is that true?...

Anand Ghopal, who has covered Afghanistan for both the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor, reports that after the Taliban government fell in Kabul in 2001, members of the ruling group, resigned to Afghanistan’s new situation, expressed a willingness to surrender to U.S. forces. The surrendering Taliban leaders offered not to participate in politics if the new government would not arrest them. “But [but U.S.-picked leader Hamid] Karzai and other government officials ignored the overture — largely due to pressures from the United States and the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s erstwhile enemy,” Ghopal added. The surrendering Taliban were subject to “widespread intimidation and harassment.... Many of the signatories of the letter [offering surrender] were to become leading figures in the insurgency.”
Read the full op-ed, "Afghanistan: War of Choice Not Necessity."

TGIF: The Importance of Subjectivism in Economics

For an exchange to take place, the two parties must assess the items traded differently, with each party valuing what he is to receive more than what he is to give up.
Read the rest of TGIF: The Importance of Subjectivism in Economics.

Op-ed: Why WikiLeaks Leaks Matter

Why should anyone care about the secret diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has disclosed? So what if State Department bureaucrats say unflattering things about other world “leaders”? Some people may be asking those questions in response to WikiLeaks’s latest disclosures. Okay, they say, leaks about atrocities on the battlefield (such as the first WikiLeaks disclosure, the “Collateral Murder” video) tell us something we should know about — the gross misconduct by U.S. military forces, condoned by the command all the way up to the president of the United States.

But diplomatic cables? Who cares?

We all should care. The documents serve as a timely reminder that the people who collectively call themselves “the government” are professional liars.
Read the rest of "The WikiLeaks Leaks Matter."

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Setting the Price

Someone once said that economics is about price formation. The price of a reproducible good is set between two boundaries. The upper limit is governed by subjective marginal utility. I don't want to pay more for a product than it's worth to me, meaning: I will not forgo something of I value more in order to obtain something I value less. Neither will anyone else. Luckily the price is not set (in the long run) by utility. Why is this a good thing? Because I and everyone else I know love consumer surplus. We want maximum value at minimum sacrifice.

Under freedom of entry and open competition -- without government privilege or monopoly -- the price can be expected to be driven down from the upper boundary toward the lower boundary.

But what governs the lower boundary? The floor can't be zero because by and large people don't produce goods in order to give them away. They intend to sell them. So the lower boundary must be greater than zero. What determines that amount?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Choose Your Statism

Look, I’m not a social democrat or a welfare statist. If you’re looking for someone to promote the German model in the U.S., it ain’t me. But if you call yourself a libertarian, don’t try to kid anybody that the American system is less statist than the German one just because more of the welfare queens wear three-piece suits. And don’t kid yourself that, given equal levels of statism, most Americans wouldn’t prefer the kind where they have guaranteed healthcare and six-week vacations. Come on, I would — after all, if we’re choosing between equal levels of statism, of course I’ll take the one that weighs less heavily on my own neck.
Center for a Stateless Society

My take on Thomas Geoghegan's Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? is here.

Freedom Is at Hand!

Reported by ABC News, Dec. 30:
The Republican leadership presented a summary of the new rules [House] Wednesday morning, revealing a number of strict -- and in a few cases unprecedented -- changes to the way Congress will be run. To underscore their point, they will kick off their reign as the majority by doing something that remarkably has never been done before: They will read the Constitution, all 4,543 words of it, including all 27 amendments, aloud on the chamber floor....
Keeping with the theme, Republicans will also require every new bill presented on the House floor to cite which article in the Constitution authorizes the enacting of such legislation, a nod to the Tea Party, which made the Constitution a tenant of its movement throughout the midterm election cycle.
Antifederalists were reported to be spinning in their graves.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Why Left-Libertarianism Matters

Left-libertarianism is motivated in part by indignation over the historical power disparity between workers and owners of capital. Nonleft-libertarians respond that there is no disparity in the free market. Left-libertarians agree. The difference is that nonleft-libertarians often talk about the present capitalist world as though it were the freed market. (This is what Kevin Carson calls "vulgar libertarianism" and Roderick Long calls "Right-conflationism.")
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