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Trust And The Spontaneous Order Of Money

In a series of posts on Left2Right, Elizabeth Anderson and Neil Buchanan argue against the notion that we shouldn't trust Social Security Trust Fund because it is just an imaginary accounting fiction. Anderson and Buchanan don't deny the plain truth of the matter: with or without the trust fund, the government would still have to collect revenue to cover its obligations to retirees. In either case, the money is still coming from and going to the same places. They do claim, however, that through the miracle of fiscal transubstantiation, the obligation to retirees becomes extra trustier when routed through Treasury Bonds.

Even if this magic trick works, the fact remains that, as Julian Sanchez puts it, "If you write me a check, that’s an additional asset I’ve got. If I write myself a check, it isn’t." Making the system marginally more trustworthy by shifting from general government obligations to Treasury Bonds may be a good idea, but it is only a difference in degree, not kind. The idea of a trust fund implies an independent, tamper-proof account, and not one-hand-washes-the-other shenanigans ala Harry and Lloyd. Certain branches of the government may be more trustworthy than other parts, so shifting obligations from one hand to the other may make those obligations more solid, but we musn't forget that in the end it all falls under one organizational umbrella. When corporations do this sort of thing, by shifting businesses losses to subsidiary corporations to hide the bad news from shareholders, or by shifting businesses gains to subsidiaries to hide the tax burden, the government accuses them of shady accounting practices. When the government itself does it, the same rules do not apply. Read more »

The \"Always Wear A Bikini\" Argument

Frequent Catallarchy reader and commenter Jeff Darcy hits on one of my pet peeves:

How, other than through government, would you ensure that [corporations] don’t get so large? I mean ensure, not just hope or assume that things will work out, because history has shown that such is not the rationally expected result without intervention.

Chomsky Award

Clayton Cramer wins the Chomsky Award for most ridiculous and offensive comparison I've seen since last time I visited Cramer's blog. Speaking of the ongoing euthanasia of Terri Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state for the last 15 years and kept alive only through artificial life support, Cramer writes, Read more »

Yea Retribution, Nay Torture

Not only does Mark Kleiman convince Eugene Volokh to change his mind on the wisdom of deliberately painful executions, but he also makes a near water-tight argument for the retributive theory of punishment (a theory I previously found lacking), and even convinces this libertarian to rethink (but not yet reject) his position on hate-crime legislation. Truly a memorable post.

A taste: Read more »

Teenage Wasteland

Jacob Lyles on the new single from Nine Inch Nails' forthcoming album: Read more »

The “My Sister” Libertarian

Jim Henley is a “my sister” libertarian:

I wasn’t wild about abortion either; but I wouldn’t agree that my sister should go to jail for trying to have one, nor with jailing the doctor who performed the abortion my sister chose. And if I wasn’t willing to subject my own sister to that, why should I be able to subject other people’s sisters to that?

Sign of The Apocalypse?

Alternatively titled: Have I Got Nukes For You!

On Thursday, March 17 at 7:00 PM in the Manufacturing Research Center
(MaRC) Auditorium, Students of Objectivism at Georgia Tech will present:

"Why We Are Losing the War"

A lecture by Dr. Yaron Brook, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute Read more »

The Politics of Politically Incorrect

Jeffrey Tucker points to this weak Slate denunciation of Thomas Woods' The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Though I have not read the book, it appears - as Tucker suggests - that neither has the reviewer, David Greenberg.

Let it be known that I agree with almost none of the paleoconservative/paleolibertarian agenda. I have absolutely no sympathy for confederate revivalism. Of the secondhand sources I've seen, including this review, a common criticism seems to be that Woods downplays the "plight of oppressed minorities," especially African slaves. And while I share Woods' disdain for "leaders who enlarge government, seek social justice, or take the country to war," this is no reason to ignore or excuse the obvious plight suffered by non-white, non-male, non-protestant, non-straight groups, merely because White Anglo-Saxon Protestants and other powerful majorities did not always use the terrible fist of the state to enforce their bigotry.

Despite all of this, Greenberg's criticisms are way off the mark. He ridicules the book for its "User-friendly... layout," for being "chock-full of pull-quotes, subheads, bulleted lists, short sentences, and two- and three-sentence paragraphs," and for being the intellectual equivalent of "History for Dummies." Okay, so it's not written for a scholarly audience. So what? Did it ever claim to be? Why do some academics subscribe to this elitist nonsense that writing for a popular audience is somehow shameful?

Greenberg complains that the following simplistic assertions deserve to be debunked: "that the Civil War was not about slavery; that the so-called robber barons made America great; that the New Deal made the Depression worse; that the war on poverty made poverty worse; that Clinton's intervention in Bosnia was a waste of taxpayer money." Woods "doesn't even acknowledge that rival interpretations exist," Greenberg whines. Who cares? So Woods has an axe to grind and doesn't feel like taking the time to acknowledge all of the competing viewpoints, which is quite a reasonable position for Woods to take when you consider the fact that most highschool and college history textbooks don't acknowledge Woods' own interpretations. And since when are any of these positions so outlandish? Many of these are mainstream views among economists, if not historians, and many are even shared by the more radical parts of the academic left. I mean, if the standard story taught to young people wasn't the same old "FDR's New Deal saved capitalism from itself," maybe I could get on board with Greenberg's concerns. But to say that Woods shouldn't offer alternative views to popular dogma - views shared by a great many other scholars - is utter nonsense. Read more »

The Purpose of Taboo

So I get Will's point about the importance of taboos for reinforcing family solidarity; cultures without these taboos could not survive. And although Tim Lee may be on to something extending this idea to the conservative demonization of homosexuals, I can't quite see what purpose such a taboo may have served in the past. Read more »

Economics With Honey, Not Vinegar

In Britain, fish-n-chips come wrapped in newspaper. Why?

B.K. Marcus offers an explanation, and it's not what you think. It's the kind of answer that seems obvious in retrospect but you would never guess without someone like Marcus to explain it.

Related to this fishy issue, be sure to read Marcus's response to a blogger's question about the economic importance of marketing.

People, Not Public Property

I and a number of other No-Treasonites have been going back and forth with Stephan Kinsella over the past few months debating whether the paleolibertarian argument against immigration makes any sense from a libertarian perspective. We argue that it does not. My recent rejoinder is worth noting, if I do so humbly say so myself.

[Pro-immigrant libertarians] assume it is initiating force to forcefully prevent a foreigner from entering public property. But this assumes the foreigner has a right to enter the public property. Clearly there is no libertarian way to argue the entire world owns the public property.

This precisely the same argument made by Walter Block: That public property is morally equivalent to unclaimed property, and that it can be homesteaded or used in the same way that unclaimed property can be homesteaded or used. One of the other students at Mises University this past summer, Daniel D'Amico, a former student of Block's and now an econ grad student at GMU, uses this same argument to justify the legitimacy of graffiti when performed on public property.

While I'm not entirely convinced that public property is equivalent to unowned property, this makes much more sense than to say that "public property belongs to current tax payers, and therefore its use must be determined by democratic fiat," especially when this argument is coming from a person who hates the mechanism of majoritarian democracy as much as Hoppe does. One can legitimately make the claim that public property belongs to some taxpayers (and not necessarily the current ones), but all this means is that the government owes restitution to those it has stolen from. All U.S. citizens are not taxpayers, all taxpayers are not owed the same amount of money, and nothing follows from any of this that would lead to the conclusions Hoppe and other anti-immigrants want to reach. Read more »

Damn Dirty Apes

Donna Matias points to a horrible story involving an elderly couple who decided to host a birthday party for a 39-year-old chimp, Moe, who they had raised as their own child. Read more »

How To Tell You\'ve Won An Argument

Here is a sure indicator that you have won an argument: when the other side claims their own position is incoherent. Read more »

Prisoner\'s Dilemma In College Admissions

First there was advertising, then there were breast implants, and now there is the college admissions process. Read more »

Epistemological Anarchy

Michael Acree, a research specialist in the Department of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco, offers one of the most intriguing articles I've ever seen in Liberty Magazine to date: Who's Your Daddy? - Authority, Asceticism, and the Spread of Liberty.

Acree begins by asking why conservatives and liberals are so resistant to libertarianism. His answer:

What liberals and conservatives have in common, I suggest, is having publicly subscribed to an ascetic code in which they are not wholeheartedly committed. They have simply focused on different aspects of Christian asceticism (an asceticism shared by most other religions) — money or sex. Morality, in the cynical view, was probably invented as a system of social control: the intellectually powerful use guilt to control the physically powerful. Happy people are hard to control noncoercively. There is a limit to what we can offer them as inducements to behave differently. Guilty people, on the other hand, offer a conspicuous lever. Do as the moralists say, and your sins will be forgiven and you will experience eternal bliss. (Some gullibility is required, but not an extraordinary amount.) The ideal moral code, from this point of view, is one that is set against human nature, that people can hardly help violating. Thus the historically successful codes, including those prevailing in Western culture, are ascetic, particularly with respect to sex and money. Tellingly, perhaps, it is rare to find prohibitions on power over other people.

Acree then continues with an exploration of George Lakoff's family models of the state, where conservatives view the government as a disciplinarian father and left-liberals view the government as a nurturing mother. His response to Lakoff's theory is no great surprise:

To libertarians, however, the question is beside the point: we reject any model of the state that sees citizens as children, and bureaucrats and politicians as the only adults. It is remarkable that Lakoff misses entirely the possibility of noninfantilizing social arrangements.

But the real meat of the article is Acree's thoughts on epistemology. Riffing off of Paul Feyerabend, the famous "epistemological anarchist," Acree also shows why libertarianism may have greater appeal to the left than the right. Read more »