Quote of the Century

The twentieth century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir?We Americans are the only ones who didn't get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.

- Neal Stephenson, from In the Beginning Was the Command Line
[Quoted in this TechCentralStation article by Glenn Reynolds]

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Damn, another must-read

Damn, another must-read book. I'm so far behind I can't afford to die!

I hate the romanticism of

I hate the romanticism of the forefathers. For one thing, Jefferson and Madison (the only two I've studied, really) were concerned about the rising power of money in the gov't. The federalists were dubbed "money power" almost universally in the 1790's. Jefferson also went to his grave claiming that limits on banking institutions were "a blot in our constitutions" which if not fixed would make them worthless. And that the "monied incorporations" were creating an aristocracy that would represent a defeat of the american revolution. I think he also said we should "crush them in their birth."

Even the early, conservative, James Madison was heavily concerned about "Factions" getting too powerful and dominating government (that Federalist Paper 51, I think.) And don't even get me started on Adam Smith.

We certainly have lost touch with their ideas, because now we (by which I mean so-called libertarians) think that the only challenge to liberty could come from Governments.

We are "free and prosperous" partially because we're the winners- and had the nazis or the russians won, they'd be saying the same thing.

I knew you would like that

I knew you would like that quote, matt. ;)

I think you are mischaracterizing libertarians. We do not believe that the only threat to liberty is from government. In fact, even Ayn Rand once remarked (I can't find the exact quote) that one of the greatests threats to capitalism is the capitalists themselves. This should be obvious, as the more competition a businessman faces, the smaller his profits. Thus, businessmen try to influence the government to grant them legal monopolies and other barriers to entry that hurt their competitors. In these cases, the capitalists are acting contrary to capitalism , and libertarians side with the markets, not with the businessmen.

But even when capitalists do gain market control, either through government fiat or through natural economies of scale, they still do not have the same power that governments do. Bill Gates cannot force you at the barrel of a gun to buy Microsoft. In contrast, the government can force you at the barrel of a gun to purchase education, retirement planning, and other "services" even if you would rather purchase those services elsewhere, or not at all. This is partially why libertarians focus their attention on governments rather than businesses - only governments have the legal right (but not the moral right) to coerce. Microsoft has never violated my rights - the government does daily.

every day it seems that we

every day it seems that we shrink our disagreements, micha, yet we have such fundamentally different approaches to normative issues like Campaing Finance Reform, oddly.

From my point of view Gov't is neccesary in the dismantling of large private institutions (which you argue are sustained by gov't), hence the fundamental concern with Business.

Bill Gates cannot force you at the barrel of a gun to buy Microsoft.
a. though he'd certainly like to if he could
b. it doesn't matter all that much if Russia forced it's citizens to use Russian Toilet paper. By limiting access to alternatives they've achieved the same control (which is the most important thing, violence is only a means.)
c. we do have a violent labor history, and while not exactly the same thing, it could be a preview.

In contrast, the government can force you at the barrel of a gun to purchase education, retirement planning, and other "services" even if you would rather purchase those services elsewhere, or not at all.
well, you can leave for one. But it's also just a condition of contract right? The right to make money in America means agreeing (implicitly) to a certain arrangement- just like you agree to pay high prices for beer in a six flags park.

it doesn't matter all that

it doesn't matter all that much if Russia forced it's citizens to use Russian Toilet paper. By limiting access to alternatives they've achieved the same control.

But Bill Gates cannot legally prevent competitors from entering the market and providing consumers with more alternatives. In contrast, take a look at the Post Office: UPS and FedEx are legally prohibited from entering the first-class mail market. Even if UPS and FedEx had the ability and desire to enter this market (and it is pretty clear that they have both) in order to provide consumers with more than one choice, they cannot do so legally.

Bill Gates, regardless of what you think of his motives, cannot use the force of law to prevent competitors from offering alternatives to Windows. It just so happens that the Operating System market has huge network effects and is a case where a natural monopoly may be the most efficient structure. But there are still niche markets like MAC OS and Linux for those who do not like Windows.

well, you can leave for one. But it's also just a condition of contract right? The right to make money in America means agreeing (implicitly) to a certain arrangement- just like you agree to pay high prices for beer in a six flags park.

This argument only works if you first assume that the government has legitimate property rights over the entire United States. Six Flags owns the park and has the right to set the terms of contract. The government, by contrast, does not own the entire United States, and the arrangement is no different than a mafia protection racket: "if you don't like the 'services' we offer, you are free to leave."

matt:it doesn't matter all

matt:it doesn't matter all that much if Russia forced it's citizens to use Russian Toilet paper. By limiting access to alternatives they've achieved the same control.

micha: But Bill Gates cannot legally prevent competitors from entering the market and providing consumers with more alternatives.
and there's a relevant clause in international law that prevents the extranational distribution of toilet paper?

Bill Gates, regardless of what you think of his motives, cannot use the force of law to prevent competitors from offering alternatives to Windows. It just so happens that the Operating System market has huge network effects and is a case where a natural monopoly may be the most efficient structure.
{in a debate over email, Micha was arguing that technology was reducing numbers of natural monopolies} Look's like it's increasing them as well, eh?

This argument only works if you first assume that the government has legitimate property rights over the entire United States. Six Flags owns the park and has the right to set the terms of contract. The government, by contrast, does not own the entire United States.
I wonder about that- in what relevant sense does it not own the united states? The constitution was ratified in all states intitially (and allegedly libertarian New Hampshire wasn't the holdout.)

On the topic have you guys followed the Free State Project happenings? They clearly violated their own principles by having a vote on which state to go to anyway (a real libertarian would've sold votes.) But there was also a big split, with a prominant member trying to start a western movement because he doesn't want to move to new hampshire. If liberty means moving to New Hampshire, then so much the worse for liberty.

and there's a relevant

and there's a relevant clause in international law that prevents the extranational distribution of toilet paper?

I'm not sure I understand your point. International law is anarchy, in the sense that there is no world government to enforce laws.

The U.S. government may not control world markets in toilet paper, but they could could certainly control the U.S. market. Bill Gates, on the other hand, does not have the force of law backing his actions, and thus cannot prevent competitors from entering the market.

{in a debate over email, Micha was arguing that technology was reducing numbers of natural monopolies} Look's like it's increasing them as well, eh?

Not quite. In the sense that commercial Operating Systems for PCs didn't exist a few decades ago, sure, its a new natural monopoly, simply because the market never existed prior to its advent, and a natural monopoly is (or was) the most efficient market structure. But technology is also reducing the influence of this monopoly. For example, because of the Internet, private individuals are able to come together and work on projects like Linux, threatening the market power of Microsoft. At the same time, in other industries like the telecommunications industry and the electricity industry, new technologies are constantly weakening the power of the status quo firms by providing new alternatives for consumers.

I wonder about that- in what relevant sense does it not own the united states? The constitution was ratified in all states intitially

Well, it depends on a few factors. First, if you believe in property rights in land, how is the property initially acquired? Second, did the individual property owners agree to the Constitution, or just some political representatives? Third, even if we assume that the original Consistution was just, it was far different than Constitution of today, and allowed much more economic freedom until the post-New Deal courts decided to start ignoring certain aspects and creating others out of thin air.

On the topic have you guys followed the Free State Project happenings? They clearly violated their own principles by having a vote on which state to go to anyway (a real libertarian would've sold votes.)

Sure, I'm familiar with them. Jonathan actually had a post about this a few weeks ago. I don't understand how this clearly violated any libertarian principles, or why a real libertarian would have sold votes. Please explain.

I'm not sure I understand

I'm not sure I understand your point. International law is anarchy, in the sense that there is no world government to enforce laws.
you said that bill gates couldn't legally prevent someone from competing with him. I mentioned, by way of analogy, that there were probably no relevant international laws which prevented the extranational distribution of tiolet paper- hence there were no laws preventing a nation from competing with the russian government.

Well, it depends on a few factors. First, if you believe in property rights in land, how is the property initially acquired?
a tricky issue for nearly all property rights in the entire world. Disregarding US property rights on this ground would probably (if we apply such a standard consistantly) nullify all property rights, nearly everywhere.

Second, did the individual property owners agree to the Constitution, or just some political representatives?
well, the major property owners created the constitution, but that's of little importance. This, once again, is a difficult standard to apply consistanly:did everybody agree to obey murder laws, or just representatives? What about contract law (an important field of law for libertarianism, as I understand it)- must everyone sign a contract indicating their recognition of such a thing? And could such a contract be sufficiently self-referential so that we didn't need to just assume contract law, a priori, in order for it to be coherent?

Third, even if we assume that the original Consistution was just, it was far different than Constitution of today,
as it should be. If country ratified a constitution like it today, we'd rightly consider it a reversion to Nazism (3/5 of person arguments and such.) Anyway, as all Law experts that I've read recognize, the beauty of our constitution was it's open-endedness; the fact that it was able to be interpreted. In fact, I believe that was intended (and if my recollection is accurate, mildly trumpeted in the federalist papers.)

and allowed much more economic freedom until the post-New Deal courts decided to start ignoring certain aspects and creating others out of thin air.
You are, shall we say, "ignoring certain aspects" of history. These "radical interpretations" of the constitution had been going on for a long time in the supreme court (from Marbury v. Madison to clearly extra-constitutional interstate commerce arguments about Child Labor and Slavery.) You just happen to oppose these particular decisions, fine. Not like the pre-new deal, republican, (by about a year) Smoot-Hawley tarriff was some sort of free trade miracle.

Sure, I'm familiar with them. Jonathan actually had a post about this a few weeks ago. I don't understand how this clearly violated any libertarian principles, or why a real libertarian would have sold votes. Please explain.
that was a joke. Libertarianism just favors "marketplace democracy" in which votes are purchases- hence the selling of ballots joke. What I thought was more funny though, is that Governement is always assumed to solve "collective action/coordination problems." Well given the recent splintering of the Free State project, it seems that they were done in by the sort of problem that some see as unsolvable w/o gov't. Incidentally, I'm not one of those people.

you said that bill gates

you said that bill gates couldn't legally prevent someone from competing with him. I mentioned, by way of analogy, that there were probably no relevant international laws which prevented the extranational distribution of tiolet paper- hence there were no laws preventing a nation from competing with the russian government.

Correct, and that is why I mentioned that International law is effectively anarchy, which is a good thing. No one nation can prevent other nations from trading with each other (with a few exceptions). Bill Gates can't legally prevent competition, and neither can the government, in an international market, but a government can certainly prevent competition in the territory it controls. That's precisely why we call it government, because it has a legally enforced monopoly of coercion in a limited geographical area.

Disregarding US property rights on this ground would probably (if we apply such a standard consistantly) nullify all property rights, nearly everywhere.

Not at all. Remember, the vast majority of our wealth comes from value-added services - i.e. labor, and not from resources themselves. This is partly why resource rich countries such as those in Africa, Russia, and the Middle East are incredibly poor relative to more advanced countries with far less resources. I think David Friedman estimated at one point that the wealth from property and natural resources as a percentage of total wealth is something like less than 3%.

This, once again, is a difficult standard to apply consistanly:did everybody agree to obey murder laws, or just representatives?

This is only difficult if we try to justify law by majority rule. But there are other ways to justify law - power, contractarianism, categorical (or hypothetical imperitives). This last one is extremely persuasive with regard to murder laws: what argument can the murderer use against murder laws that would punish him severely when he just committed the very act that he is complaining about?

What about contract law (an important field of law for libertarianism, as I understand it)- must everyone sign a contract indicating their recognition of such a thing?

Under poly-centric legal orders or other decentralized, or privatized legal systems, there is no common law other than the common law adopted by individual arbitration courts. Now the question I think you are asking is on what basis can we enforce this original contract between arbitration court and customer. And the answer is: we don't need a basis. If either of the parties (customer and arbitration court) doesn't like the deal after the fact, they can either appeal through whatever channels they mutually agreed upon before hand, or they can go find another court willing to hear their case. No philosophical justification is needed for this arrangement (as far as I know), it is simply the use of decentralized power in a context where reputation is almost all that matters.

as it should be. If country ratified a constitution like it today, we'd rightly consider it a reversion to Nazism (3/5 of person arguments and such.)

That wasn't the argument I was making. I wasn't referring to legitimately passed amendments; I was referring to the extra-legal additions and subtractions that can only be justified through non-originalist interpretations; i.e. the vast expansion of the commerce clause to areas where it clearly does not cover, such as the Violence Against Women Act (Morrison) or the Gun Free School Zones Act (Lopez), etc. And the "reading between the lines" to find the "emanations" and "penumbras" of enumerated rights in Griswold v. Connecticut and of course, Roe v. Wade.

Also, I hate when people use the 3/5 example, because it demonstrates just the opposite of what you want it to. It would have been better for the anti-slavery movement if the Constitution had defined slaves as 0/5 of a person rather than 3/5, and certainly not 5/5. Why? Because the fraction represented the proportional representation states received based on the number of citizens they had. The 3/5 compromise was needed in order to form the Union, as the Northern states would not have agreed to give the Southern states 5/5 for each slave, as that would have made them too powerful; conversely, the Southern states would not have accepted 0/5 for each slave, as that would have made them too weak.

There are good examples of why the Constitution was unjust and had to be changed. This was not one of them. If anything, it was far more just to treat slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of proportional representation of states that it would have been to treat them equally, without giving them a right to vote.

Anyway, as all Law experts that I've read recognize, the beauty of our constitution was it's open-endedness; the fact that it was able to be interpreted.

I have no problem with the Amendment process or even purposely ambiguous elements, like "cruel and unusual", which is necessarily defined by the times. I do have a problem with non-originalist interpretations that openly admit that they are going against the original meaning of the Constitution in order to achieve policy results that would not be sanctioned as constitutional otherwise. That is simply dishonest. If you say that you wish to uphold the Constitution, uphold it; don't ignore it.

These "radical interpretations" of the constitution had been going on for a long time in the supreme court (from Marbury v. Madison to clearly extra-constitutional interstate commerce arguments about Child Labor and Slavery.)

This is simply not true. The Commerce Clause was not abused outright until the New Deal, as even leftists legal scholars admit. This article goes into a bit more depth.

What I thought was more funny though, is that Governement is always assumed to solve "collective action/coordination problems."

Assumed by whom? And the important question is whether government solves more collective action problems than it creates, as government itself, at least a democracy, is perhaps the largest coordination problem of all.

Well given the recent splintering of the Free State project, it seems that they were done in by the sort of problem that some see as unsolvable w/o gov't.

This would only be true if they splintered to such a point as to be rendered ineffective. As far as I know, this is not the case. According to what you have claimed so far (I have not read about any splintering), it seems that although I few dissenters have decided to go their own seperate ways, the main project is still moving on. And while we are throwing barbs back and forth, the socialist solution to this problem would have been to coerce these individuals into staying with the program.

No one nation can prevent

No one nation can prevent other nations from trading with each other (with a few exceptions). Bill Gates can't legally prevent competition, and neither can the government, in an international market, but a government can certainly prevent competition in the territory it controls. That's precisely why we call it government, because it has a legally enforced monopoly of coercion in a limited geographical area.
interesting:
a. look what happens when you allow massive inequalities of economic power to exist alongside anarchy: WTO-like agreements, in which the powers "contract" with each other in order make sure their preferences are carried through. A country that makes the "choice" not to participate in such a thing because of, let's say, environmental concerns is just not traded with. No force is required yet, magically, coersion still occurs.
b. Certainly you wouldn't claim that Russia's military was it's only fault. This is related to A in that coersion can magically be achieved simply by controlling people's subsistance. Alexander Hamilton: "control of a man's subsistance" is tantamount to "control over his will." My point was that if a single corporation, or an oligarchical organization of a few corporations, have control over such things you get coersion just the same. It just gets to be called "free contracting" in the libertarian lexicon.

Remember, the vast majority of our wealth comes from value-added services - i.e. labor, and not from resources themselves. This is partly why resource rich countries such as those in Africa, Russia, and the Middle East are incredibly poor relative to more advanced countries with far less resources.
you know, you should really mention why you think Ricardo's (and Marx's, who stole it) labor theory of value is crap- you just typed the premise. Senior's argument against it rejects your statement above (and I don't know of any other good arguments against it.)

As far as your analysis of countries goes, though, I think you're wrong. The argument goes "resource rich countries lazily tried to rely on resources rather than develop industry" correct? But I wonder if it's more true to say that they lazily not become colonialists who stole resources from other countries.

This last one is extremely persuasive with regard to murder laws: what argument can the murderer use against murder laws that would punish him severely when he just committed the very act that he is complaining about?
seriously? this is pretty simple: one who rejects categorical imperatives. He could be a situationist, or a psychic utilitarian, or a religious nut, or a radical postmodernist who rejects a=a.

If either of the parties (customer and arbitration court) doesn't like the deal after the fact, they can either appeal through whatever channels they mutually agreed upon before hand, or they can go find another court willing to hear their case. No philosophical justification is needed for this arrangement (as far as I know), it is simply the use of decentralized power in a context where reputation is almost all that matters.
I think you're missing the juiciest point: you are still binding people to their agreements, and that is a point that can be challenged. You said it should be challenged in an arbitration court that they agreed to, but let's remember, people who reject binding agreements could reject this as well. I know plenty about Kant, so even if you wanna try and reduce these things to A=A, people can still deny it.

I'm playing this game to be petty. I'm just not going to let you escape the paternilism critques that you're so fond of dishing out.

Also, I hate when people use the 3/5 example, because it demonstrates just the opposite of what you want it to.
wrong- I don't make the point to demonstrate the racism of the framers- I do it as a critique of the document itself. I don't suppose you'd accept a nazi argument proclaiming that Ghetto's were only introduced to protect Jews from antisemitism do you? Supposing that was true- that the population of Germany would accept nothing less than the final solution- then you could claim that labor camps were merciful. Do you think that would be correct? Of course it wouldn't. Calling a slave 3/5ths of a person is simply wrong, even if you're trying to maximize the political power of your own state, which was your argument. Boy did I feel silly typing that

The Commerce Clause was not abused outright until the New Deal, as even leftists legal scholars admit. This article goes into a bit more depth.
I'm almost positive that the argument had been used for Child Labor. I bet I can find a reference. TBC

Assumed by whom? And the important question is whether government solves more collective action problems than it creates, as government itself, at least a democracy, is perhaps the largest coordination problem of all.
Intro to Gov't texts, I suppose. I can cite a list of authors if you want. I said "normally assumed to" by the way- I am using a critique of libertarianism that is also effective on my own brand of anarchism. I don't accept such issues as overly problematic.

This would only be true if they splintered to such a point as to be rendered ineffective. As far as I know, this is not the case.
time will tell, I guess.

A country that makes the

A country that makes the "choice" not to participate in such a thing because of, let's say, environmental concerns is just not traded with. No force is required yet, magically, coersion still occurs.

I'm not sure how you get from here to coercion. The very definition of a voluntary trade (i.e. the absence of coercion) is one in which both parties agree to the exchange. If no one will accept your offer (perhaps because you expect people to give you what you want, but you are unwilling to make the offer worth their while, relative to the other trade options they have available), you have no one to trade with. But who is coercing you in this case? If I go to the market and offer to sell my 10-year-old Honda Civic for $50,000 and no one accepts this trade, am I being coerced?

My point was that if a single corporation, or an oligarchical organization of a few corporations, have control over such things you get coersion just the same.

And my question to you is how these corporations prevent competitors from entering the market and offering you a better deal without any explicit coercion. This is why economics is important - because it shows us why such a situation is so unlikely as to verge on the impossible.

you know, you should really mention why you think Ricardo's (and Marx's, who stole it) labor theory of value is crap- you just typed the premise.

Because the Labor Theory of Value ignores the forces of competition - supply and demand. It also ignores the labor of entrepreneurs and other capitalist actions, such as deferring consumption now in order to increase value in the future. Although weath is primarily created through value-added acts (labor) rather than simply resources alone, these acts are only valuable in the subjective sense: how many people can offer this labor, and how many people want it.

The argument goes "resource rich countries lazily tried to rely on resources rather than develop industry" correct? But I wonder if it's more true to say that they lazily not become colonialists who stole resources from other countries.

No, the argument has nothing to do with laziness - it has to do with power. Resource rich countries are much more susceptible to tyrants and dictators who are able to get rich off of these resources rather than human ingenuity, trade, etc. As for the colonialist arguments, it is interesting to note that ex-colonies tend to be much wealthy than countries that were never colonized.

seriously? this is pretty simple: one who rejects categorical imperatives. He could be a situationist, or a psychic utilitarian, or a religious nut, or a radical postmodernist who rejects a=a.

He can certainly make these arguments, but the people who will punish him see these arguments as self-serving and hypocritical. The only forceful argument a defendent can make is one that induces compassion and empathy on the part of his prosecutors - but in this case, he has negated any kind of fellow feeling by committing the very act he is now trying to avoid experiencing.

You said it should be challenged in an arbitration court that they agreed to, but let's remember, people who reject binding agreements could reject this as well.

I already addressed this point when I said that it all comes down to power and reputation. Philosophical arguments are not going to convince everyone - but trust, solidarity - and in extreme cases - power, are the basis for any system of law, even our own.

wrong- I don't make the point to demonstrate the racism of the framers- I do it as a critique of the document itself.

But it doesn't demonstrate that; it demonstrates just the opposite. The fact that slaves were considered 3/5 of a person for proportional representation is a good thing, and it would have been even better had they instead been not counted as a person at all.

Calling a slave 3/5ths of a person is simply wrong, even if you're trying to maximize the political power of your own state, which was your argument. Boy did I feel silly typing that

Again, this is not wrong at all, but entirely right. The 3/5ths definition has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of a person; it is only relevent for the political power states recieve based on the number of people living in their jurisdictions. If you want to find flaws in the Constitution, it is an easy task, but you are barking up the wrong tree here.