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Obama Has Let Me Down

We're nearly 24 hours into the Obama administration, and I still don't have my pony.


It Goes Deeper than Nature versus Nurture

Jacob Lyles writes:

The right accepts human nature, the left wants to change it.

I think this is a good observation, but it brings to mind a certain distinction which I'd like to make. A person could believe in the blank slate theory and yet be anti-leftist, and a person could believe that nothing is learned and everything is instinctive and be to the left of Karl Marx. And all this while still displaying the essential distinction between left and right that Jacob is touching on.

Nature and nurture are alike, and so they do not themselves distinguish left from anti-left. Evolution is a kind of very slow learning process, so our "nature" is a kind of very long term nurture. In principle, our nature (our genetic makeup) could be changed through genetic engineering, so that, in principle, choosing the genetic makeup of your child could be as central a part of parenting as choosing the right schools and the right lessons.

The fact that nature and nurture are alike and could in the near future as we master genetics become even more alike does not dissolve the difference between left and non-left.

Here's why. Compare the following two ideas:

a) Behavior X is an instinct, and all the government-sponsored reprogramming will not stop people from engaging in Behavior X.

b) Behavior X is learned but the environment will inevitably teach Behavior X - all the government-sponsored social engineering will ultimately prove to be ineffective in creating an environment that teaches anything other than Behavior X.

These two conclusions are very similar in their implications. They both fall squarely on the non-malleability (and therefore anti-leftist) end of the malleability/non-malleability spectrum of opinion. In (a) it is the human who is not malleable and in (b) it is the environment which is not malleable, but both come to the same thing, which is that Behavior X is pretty much unavoidable, regardless of what the government tries.

At the same time, (a) is on the "nature" end of the nature versus nurture spectrum, and (b) is on the "nurture" end.

A similar pairing could be made at the leftist end of the spectrum. Twentieth century leftists thought man could be remade by indoctrination, but twenty-first century leftists may think that man can be remade by genetic manipulation.

Recall the evolutionary theory of natural law. The idea is (approximately) that man's inborn moral instincts are the way they are not merely by accident, but because those moral instincts enhance survival and reproduction. Thus, while a leftist geneticist might create a breed of human with significantly different moral instincts - he might create New Socialist Man in the laboratory - that new breed of human would have to deal with evolutionary pressure - with competition from unmodified humans. Given that our moral instincts are the product of evolution, the way to bet is with the unmodified humans. At least, this is what an anti-leftist might say.

For the most part, those who are at the "nature" end of the nature/nurture spectrum are at the "not malleable" end of the malleable/not-malleable spectrum, and likewise for "nurture" and "malleable". My point here is that there is, at least in principle, a difference between these two spectra, and that the spectrum of opinion on malleability, rather than on nature versus nurture, tracks best with leftism versus non-leftism.

In a nutshell, I might replace the reference to "human nature" in the above quote with a reference to "the nature of humanity and of the world", and further, I might replace the above quoted distinction with the following:

The right considers humans and the world to be less malleable than the left does.

This way of formulating it removes the presumption that the right (or anti-left) is correct, which I think is an improvement, because people sometimes err on the side of believing the current state of affairs reflects a permanent condition. However, insofar as economics pours cold water on the aspirations of leftists (which it very much does), it is not left wing.

(I would like to acknowledge, without going into, another aspect of the statement that "the right accepts human nature, the left wants to change it." Above I have been talking about a disagreement about what is possible. However, as stated, the quote actually refers to a disagreement about what is desirable. That is important also.)


Illegal Evidence

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Wednesday that evidence obtained after illegal searches or arrests based on simple police mistakes may be used to prosecute criminal defendants.

Many libertarians have posted this news and are up in arms against this judgment. The bad news of course is that this will certainly lead to more people being convicted for drug related offenses, and to more warrantless searches which will be disguised as mistakes by the police. I think however that this is a good ruling. To go further, I think the evidence should be kept even if the warrantless search was not a mistake but a deliberate violation of rights.

John and Jack are supected of murder, but Jack has a good alibi and only John is tried. John is about to be convicted when Robert, a last minute witness testifies that he found the crime weapon in Jack's drawer. Robert is a small-time burglar, he broke into Jack's house to steal his huge TV. While looking for cash in the drawers, he found a gun and a bloody hankerchief. Since he read about John and Jack in the press he decided to do the right thing: help innocent John and get Jack convicted. Should we ignore the evidence on the ground that it was obtained as the proceed of a crime? Of course not, this would be absurd.

A cop making a warrantless search is commiting a crime, and he should be punished harshly for doing so. However, this does not mean that the evidence should be discarded. Evidence is information and information is neutral, it cannot be tainted with crime. The same goes for intellectual property, if I obtain a copyrighted work from someone, at least one crime was committed : the person who initially obtained the work (the information) broke the agreement not to disclose it to a third party. However, other people are not tied by this agreement and are not committing a crime by using and disclosing the information. Similarly, a judge or a jury has no reason to discard a piece of information. The fact that it was obtained as a proceed of a crime may cast doubt on the veractiy of the information, but it doesn't mean it should be ignored.

If one is concerned about warrantless searches, one should seek harsher punishment when they happen intentionally, or compensation for victims when they are conducted by mistake. If one is concerned with unjust drug law, one should also try to fight these.

However, saying evidence should be discarded is a poor consequentialist decision that violates people's right over their own brain, over the information they should to take into account.


DeLong and Libertarianism

Brad DeLong has an interesting discussion of the differences between classical and modern liberalism. His nutshell conclusion:

It is, in short, that modern liberal economists are wanderers who have been expelled from the garden of classical liberalism by the angel of history and reality with his flaming sword...

It starts with an observation that we are all somewhat more interdependent than classical liberalism allows.

DeLong may well have a point here, though, of course it's a point that most people at DR will readily acknowledge. But I think that DeLong overstates his case:

It is not completely true that it is from the self-interest and not the benevolence of the butcher that we expect our meat. Self-interest, yes, but benevolence too: a truly self-interested butcher would not trade you his meat for your money but instead slaughter you and sell you as long pig. So this opens up a gap between the libertarian view and the world.

This isn't quite right. DeLong is mixing his philosophical metaphors, if you will. Or, to be more precise, DeLong's example requires positing a Hobbesian butcher living in a Lockean world.

Hobbes, of course, is most famous for concluding that life in the state of nature (i.e., sans government) is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Hobbes argues that the state of nature is effectively a prisoner's dilemma wherein cooperation is irrational. Basically the idea here is that, given that I don't know what you're likely to do, it's rational for me to kill you before you can get around to killing me. The same reasoning will lead you to try to kill me first. Neither of us need be evil: pure rationality will lead us to a really crappy world.

Locke, however, posits a slightly less grim world. According to Locke, while there will still be defection in the state of nature, there will also be a fair amount of cooperation. Locke's own arguments for the claim get into a bunch of weird theology, but we needn't go down that road. We can use Hobbes' own prisoner's dilemma to arrive at a Lockean position; all we need is the additional realization that, in the real world, we'll have to play the game over and over. But iterated prisoner's dilemmas have a subgame perfect Nash equilibrium, which is a fancy way of saying that it's rational to cooperate when we don't know how many times we'll end up having to play the game.

So how does this relate to DeLong? Basically, it's that DeLong's example posits a butcher. That is, someone who is already engaged in a particular trade. Which itself presupposes that, in at least some cases, people really do make trades. Which in turn is a way of saying that some people actually do cooperate in the butcher's world. But DeLong's butcher, on the other hand, behaves as a Hobbesian, who assumes that each particular instance of the prisoner's dilemma is a stand-alone event. But given that the butcher does in fact live in a Lockean world, she would have to expect that she might well be punished in a future version of the game.

All of this is really a long-winded way of saying that if DeLong's butcher really does slaughter his potential customers to sell as long pig, then she isn't behaving rationally. Indeed, one wonders to whom the butcher will be selling anything if, as DeLong suggests, it's always in her self-interest to slaughter her customers.

Again, this isn't to say that DeLong doesn't have a point. No one disputes that, in certain cases, a butcher might have an incentive to sell her clients. But it's not clear that there are any non-strawman libertarians who would seriously dispute the point. Which is why libertarians still favor legal and criminal justice systems. We're just divided as to whether those should be minarchist monopoly systems or some version of polycentric systems.


Sweatshops and Zero Sum Games

Ezra Klein, responding to Nick Kristof's NYT column on sweatshops, gets this close to an actual free market position. Kristof raises a familiar point: Sweatshops seem like a terrible thing right up until you realize that people work in them because the sweatshops are less bad than the alternative (namely, subsistence farming for the lucky and outright starvation for the less fortunate). Klein, however, finds Kristof's argument "troubling":

The implication is that labor standards are zero sum. Keeping them high means fewer children offend our conscience by working in sweatshops and more children spend their days in the stench of the landfills. Lowering them means the American working class loses jobs and the Burmese poor gain them.

That's close, but not quite right.

See, lowering labor standards actually means that the American working class loses jobs and the Burmese poor gain them and the shirts produced in those factories get slightly less expensive.

And that, of course, means that the American working class has slightly more money to either spend on other stuff or (gasp!) invest somewhere. And either of those things ultimately spur growth and thus more jobs.

Economics is not (by and large) zero sum. It's a bit surprising that Klein doesn't seemed to recognize that basic fact.


Rent-A-Judge

No, we're not talking about public choice economics. Or corruption of any sort. We're talking dispute resolution. Outside the formal legal system. Now available online. The (admittedly cheesily-named) RentAJudge.com is now offering fixed-cost arbitration.

Of course, everyone knows that private legal systems are crazy talk best left to SF or possibly fringy AnCap blogs.

(HT: Katherine Mangu-Ward)


This Blog Post is Brought to You by Walmart

From the New Geography blog, I see that San Francisco is considering corporate sponsorship of the Golden Gate bridge:

Now, I think this is an excellent source of revenue, certainly preferable to taxation. But it raises a question in my mind: Why haven't cities resorted to selling off naming rights to highways and such as a quick source of revenue? I certainly wouldn't care if I drove on the Pepsico Expressway or the Dan Ryan, and if it meant Chicago could build some decent roads for a change or lower the 10%+ sales taxes, who wouldn't be for it?

I proposed this to someone once, and his objection was that companies wouldn't want to be associated with the negatives, with news reports of "Traffic was backed up for two hours after a family of four was killed in an accident on the Walmart Freeway." But I don't buy this explanation. Politicians seem to love having their name adorn roads and don't think of the "negative" associations. I don't see why it should be different for corporations, nor do I see why Chicago should think it wise to tie up a potential "asset", the naming rights to a freeway, worth millions to honor Eisenhower or Kennedy.

So what's the deal? Why are corporate naming rights so accepted for sports facilities (often owned by the city), but not for highways?


Hiding in plain sight

Inflation and productivity: It has been pointed out that government expansion of the money supply is partially hidden behind increased productivity. That is, as humans become more productive, prices will tend to fall, or rather, would tend to fall if the government were not expanding the money supply, thereby pushing prices back up. These two phenomena partially hide each other: the real drop in prices caused by increased productivity is partially hidden by the expansion of the money supply, and the expansion of the money supply (i.e. debasing the currency) is partially hidden by increased productivity.

Inflation and fiat currency: The debasement of the currency is, of course, nowadays also hidden by the fact that a coin is no longer merely an ingot of precious metal with a government stamp guaranteeing its weight and quality. In the days of precious metal it was possible to observe the debasement merely by carefully comparing new and old coins.

Taxation and fragmentation: The state nowadays takes a large fraction of people's income. This is hidden in various ways. One way is by splitting the tax into multiple parts. The national government takes one part of income, the state (e.g. California) takes another part of income, and the tax is further divided into "income tax" and other taxes, such as property tax, sales tax, the splitting of the total income tax into a portion paid by the employer and a portion paid by the employee, tax on imports, and various other taxes. Each individual tax represents only a small-ish fraction of income, but taken together they add up to a large fraction of income.

Taxation and lost opportunities: The harm done by taxes is even greater than the taxes added up, because taxes act as a brake on economic activity. It is not easy to imagine something that remains only an unrealized possibility, so it is not easy to see this particular avenue of harm.

Taxation and productivity: The state also hides behind the past. When we judge something, we often rely on comparisons. For example, I judge my car as "good" by comparing it to other available cars. Among other things, my model is low-maintenance, but what this really amounts to is that it is low maintenance in comparison to other cars currently available. In a parallel world in which the majority of cars were vastly more reliable than they are here and now, then my exact same car would be (correctly) considered a high-maintenance car, and very likely a pile of junk.

Inflation partly hides behind increased productivity, and government taxation also partly hides behind increased productivity. Even though taxes have gone up, productivity has gone up even more, so we are taking home more than we have ever taken home, more than our grandparents took home. Taxes make us worse off in comparison to how well off we would have been today in the absence of taxes, but they do not make us worse off in comparison to how well off we (or our grandparents) actually were when taxes were lower. The past is the point of comparison that is actually available to us, and we are better off compared to then.

Had government raised taxes abruptly, everyone would feel it. But as long as government raises taxes slowly enough so that what is left over still increases (because of increased productivity), people will be less likely to feel the pinch.


Policy Libertarianism & Nonideal Theory

I'd been meaning to comment on Jacob's insightful post on Policy vs. Structural Libertarianism for a while now. But, what with the holidays and all, it rather slipped my mind. Having seen the dreaded Policy Libertarians(TM) at Reason weigh in, I'm reminded of my earlier reaction.

It seems to me that Jacob's disdain for policy libertarianism really amounts to a dislike of what political theory types call nonideal theory. That's jargony shorthand for asking what it is that we should do given that at least some other people aren't doing what they are morally obligated to do. To take up nonideal theory is to ask whether the misbehavior of others changes my own moral requirements.

Perhaps the paradigm example here is Kant's famous murderer at the door example, wherein I must decide whether or not I'm morally permitted to lie to a potential murderer about the whereabouts of his prospective victim. For Kant, the answer is a decided No! The Categorical Imperative, after all, prohibits lying regardless of circumstances. But many (most?) of us think that the murderer's wrongdoing actually changes my moral obligation. That is, most of us hold some version of nonideal theory when it comes to moral issues.

But many libertarians (including, perhaps, Jacob) reject nonideal theory in politics, holding that current political institutions run fundamentally counter to liberty. These structural libertarians, to use Jacob's term, hold that policy changes are useless, as the underlying structure can (and usually will) corrupt even the best policies. What's needed, they argue, is wholesale change. As Jacob colorfully puts the point:

No amount of pamphleteering and blogging will make vast amounts of people act against their self-interest. Quoting Jefferson at housewives isn't going to sway them when Obama Claus is on the television offering free college educations and health insurance. Putting 51% of the country on welfare programs and then campaigning to enlarge the payments will remain a winning strategy no matter how many DVDs of "Freedom to Fascism" are printed.

For starters, let me say that I think Jacob is overstating the extent to which changing policies is difficult. (In one of his comments, Patri makes the same (mistaken, IMO) claim. After all, it's not necessary, to borrow Jacob's own example, that my pamphlets convince 51% of the country to give up their welfare programs. I need only convince 0.9% of Jacob's welfare recipients. That's a tall but doable task. Indeed, it strikes me that there's at least some recent evidence that changing policies isn't all that hard to do. I'm fairly optimistic, for example, that a simple election has changed U.S. policy with respect to torturing prisoners at Gitmo.

Now I'll freely grant that some policies are harder to change than others. It's unlikely, for instance, that Social Security is going anywhere any time soon. And it's possible that little short of a massive overhaul will dislodge it.

But Jacob's distaste for policy libertarianism, I think, amounts to a failure to recognize that however much we might want to live in Libertopia, it's arrival isn't coming any time soon. In the meantime, liberal democracy is almost certain to be nonideal (at least from a libertarian perspective.) So given that lots of people aren't going to do what we think they ought, libertarians have to ask themselves whether they prefer to adopt a Kant-like disdain for sullying the purity of their ideal theory or a (dare I say commonsense?) nonideal approach of bringing the policies that exist in our current world more closely in line with respect for liberty.

For the record, it seems to me that both policy and structural libertarians are crucial. Until the pamphleteers finish convincing that last 0.9% of the power of libertarian ideas, the chances of making any sort of libertarian-friendly structural changes are, well, rather dismal. Or, to put things another way, we need Cato to keep the state from sucking up all of The Seasteading Institute's venture capital.


Where oil comes from

I have long believed (and still believe) that oil comes from dead life (hence "fossil fuel"). As explained in Wikipedia:

All oils, with their high carbon and hydrogen content, can be traced back to organic sources. Mineral oils, found in porous rocks underground, are no exception, as they were originally the organic material, such as dead plankton, accumulated on the seafloor in geologically ancient times.

But now here's the latest from Titan:

According to new Cassini data, Saturns largest moon, Titan, has "hundreds" times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the liquid fossil fuel deposits on Earth. This is impressive as Titan's 5150 km diameter is only about 50% larger than Earth's Moon and only a little larger than the planet Mercury. Titan's hydrocarbons cycle into the atmosphere, fall as rain and collect in lakes creating massive lakes and dunes.

Titan is a planet-sized hydrocarbon factory. Instead of water, vast quantities of organic chemicals rain down on the moon's surface, pooling in huge reservoirs of liquid methane and ethane. Solid carbon-based molecules are also present in the dune region around the equator, dwarfing Earth's total coal supplies. Carl Sagan coined the term "tholins" to describe prebiotic chemicals, and the dunes of Titan are expected to be teeming with them.

This may all be entirely what the experts expected, but it does suggest the question: if Titan is full of this stuff and never had life, then is it possible that at least some of Earth's oil and gas are not from dead life after all? As it happens, years ago I came across a theory - evidently not widely accepted to this day, presumably for good reason - that Earth's oils do not, in fact, come from dead life.


Treading water with Instapunk

A good entry over at Instapunk. Some highlights.

... we elected a president ... The show is over, and everyone is dully channel-surfing, looking for something, anything, else that might be on. ...

The post-election Obama seems a mere shadow of the presence he was under the klieg lights. Now he seems withdrawn, leaden, almost inert, like a show prop being stored in a closet. ...

Meanwhile, every other industry in the nation seems to have its hand out. Suddenly no business enterprise can hope to succeed unless it secures a place on the giant new government tit that's been pulled out of the federal corset. ...

It's all just killing time. Treading water. Waiting for the next shoe to drop. A shoe that belongs to Barack Obama, whoever he is ...

So far he hasn't even roused himself enough to sound hopeful about the state of the economy or the prospects for its recovery. Instead, he murmurs bleakly about trillion dollar deficits for years. ...

we're all treading water and the news business has apparently gone out of business, just like the banks, the car companies, the Republican Party, and the U.S. Congress.

When you tread water long enough, fatigue begins to steal over you. As you lose energy, you begin to lose hope. At some point you surrender and drown.


Proudly pragmatic

What did David Masten mean by this?

I do not believe it is any secret that I am philosophically against government...

When we make a decision pragmatically, we consider the potential costs and benefits of different options and choose the best course of action based on that consideration.

A decision based on philosophical grounds can only differs from pragmatic decisions when we expect the decision to leave us worse off.

The fact that philosophical bents in any direction are empty is easily shown by asking people to justify them.

**** has all sorts of problems with it. So, we must appeal to it only as a last resort--if ever.

Something else you may hear is this.

**** is the best thing ever. We should harness its power wherever we can.

Almost everyone's philosophical leanings boil down to combinations of these forms. In other words, people argue for their philosophies on pragmatic grounds. (If you don't believe me, please provide a nontrivial, non-pragmatic justification for libertarianism over socialism or vice versa in the comments.)

Pragmatism is the ultimate adjudicator among philosophies. If libertarianism is a good philosophy, it is only good inasmuch as it serves as a closer approximation of pragmatism than other non-pragmatic philosophies.


Different Libertarianisms

To the uninitiated all scotch tastes the same: like a mixture of coal, moss, and wood-shavings. However, the more experienced palate starts to notice subtle distinctions between vintages. The kind of wood used in the storage barrels, the weather in the area where the liquor is made, and its age all contribute to its flavor. Some scotches have overtones of heather and honey, some are smoky, some are earthy. Laphroaig makes a malt that tastes like bacon. With enough experience, a person can become a connoisseur and discover that he likes certain varieties of scotch, but not others.

Libertarianism is like scotch. When a new person is first exposed to the movement, he might think that everybody agrees on a set of principles and generally gets along. However, it is not long before he hears the word "Kochtopus" or gets laughed at for sporting a "What Would Ayn Rand Do?" armband. Our new activist begins to suspect the existence of the dark undercurrents and rivalries that color our people like a Jackson Pollock painting.

I have been around libertarians for almost a decade, and petty factional disputes are old news to me. If the mangled body of Ed Crane ever washes up in the Potomac River, I can give the police a short list of suspects. However, recently I began to notice something far more important and interesting: there are sharp philosophical differences and many incompatible ideas in the traditional libertarian cannon.

Libertarianism is like a piece of legacy software that has been patched over and over but never rewritten - a sprawling, contradictory, and sometimes surprising mess. This unsettles me. Becoming a libertarian in my formative years, it has since become part of my self-identity. But what does it mean when I call myself a “libertarian”? I am still not sure. And thus began my current odyssey in libertarian hair-splitting and navel gazing.

But this hair-splitting is important. One half of the hair is a completely different color from the other. Subtle differences in ideas can lead to large differences in how we think human society should be organized. And it is hard for me to see how people with vastly different visions of the ideal world can form part of the same movement.

My previous post on structural libertarianism versus policy libertarianism is the first part of this odyssey. I mentioned my preference for the structural vintage of libertarianism over the policy variety as the one with (barely) more practical potential. However, before anyone else jumps on the structuralist bandwagon, I should give fair warning about its faults.

The main problem with structural libertarianism is that we are heading away from the libertarian mainstream, and maybe away from libertarianism altogether. Consider the doctrine of universal rights. It states that every individual has the right to a certain degree of autonomy, at all places and at all times. It is hard to find a more central doctrine of libertarianism.

But now consider another popular libertarian idea – federalism. Federalism states that small, local communities should be able to set their own laws and policies. Advocates of federalism argue that this will create better-managed governments that more closely reflect the will of the people living under them.

But if we are to adopt federalism, then we must temper our support for universal rights. The tension between the two ideas is clear: under federalism, the laws of an area will only be as libertarian as the people living there. The libertarian's dream of a free-loving pothead utopia might be realized in Massachusetts, but I'm pretty sure that holding hands with a member of the same sex in Utah would carry a jail sentence if the federal government didn't prohibit it.

Most structural libertarian ideas involve some degree of political decentralization and suffer from the same drawback: they will create conservative theocracies. It's a profitable market niche - there are tens of millions of conservative Christians in the United States alone. If Utah were allowed to outlaw premarital sex, its property value would shoot up due to demand from evangelical fathers with pretty daughters.

So if you have something against theocracies, and most libertarians do, then maybe structural libertarianism isn't right for you. Maybe you should send your resume to the Ron Paul 2012 campaign after all.

Federalism and other structural libertarian ideas are not sold on the fact that they support universal rights, because they don't. Rather, they claim to produce governments with incentives to create better policies, or at least policies that people like. Instead of governments with incentive to produce as many wars and pork projects as possible, we might be able to create governments that try to produce the most appealing places for its customers, its residents, to live. On average, I think that rights will be better protected under most decentralized schemes, such as market anarchism. This is especially true for unpopular commercial rights like freedom of contract. But there will be theocracies, and probably racist states. And I wouldn't be surprised if there were states that only admit people with over a 1500 score on the SAT.

So as we begin to decentralize, we allow the creation of very non-libertarian states. However, we do increase variety. And we probably increase choice. We might have few tolerant libertarian paradises that let you make your own life decisions. But you will be able to choose which decisions are made for you.

There's something libertarian-sounding about a world that increases choice, even if it doesn't guarantee freedom everywhere for everybody. Some libertarians will find that distasteful. Some won't. But it's a controversy that we should probably hash out instead of ignoring.


Think things are bad in the US?

Economically they may be... the market is tanking, the FED is printing like crazy, entire parts of the country are being nationalized. I do however remain optimistic because the people are still not totally corrupt, they still have a decent moral compass and some remain of respect for property rights. The following story happened in Rennes, in the Bretagne region of France. Should the following happen in the US, I think hardly anyone would support it, and emphatically not the democratic party. In France, this was quite popular...

A few days ago, the AFP published this (my crappy translation cannot even begin to describe the socialist newspeak used here. The substantive "précaires" essentially means someone who can be fired).

According to the police, around 25 people, belonging to a collective of "chômeurs et précaires" - unemployed and people with short-term jobs - grabbed food today, and left without paying for it at the Galeries Lafayette, a French department store, in Rennes.

The activists stuffed their carts with food around noon then blocked the checkout counters, unfurling a banner: "chômeurs et précaires en lutte", indicating their social struggle. After negotiating with the management of the store, which was crowded with Christmas shoppers, they managed to leave with their provisions without paying. No complaint was filed with the police, who went on site but did not arrest anyone.

The AFP contacted the store management who declined to comment.

A look on the activist website is even more eye-popping.

An autoreduction (sic), organized by the "Mouvement des Chômeurs et précaires en lutte de Rennes" - Movement of the unemployed and insecure job holders from Rennes in social struggle - happened at the Galeries Lafayette, in downtown Rennes, Saturday the 20th of December.

Saturday the 20th of December, the MCPL of Rennes made an autoreduction at the food aisle of the Galeries Lafayette.

The purpose was:

- To stop, for a time, the consumption pace during the Christmas season
- To get some eats, that the store management would gladly give us. Playing the negotiation card, we hope that we can't be charged for theft in reunion.
- To put forward the ongoing struggle against the government reforms (a list of French government programs follows, in particular one that makes it mandatory to accept a reasonable job offer at some point or lose your unemployment benefits, and another one that requires you to check in every month for job offers to continue receiving money).

Story:

Thirty of us gathered in front of the store, and we entered in small groups. Everyone grabbed a shopping basket and filled it, as he wished with food.

Once our baskets were full, we went to the checkout. The plan was to get three people for each cash register, one behind another with a basket, the first one would refuse to pay and explain our action. We asked to meet the manager and negotiate with him.

All of this while avoiding any kind of violence that could justify arrests. We blocked around height cash registers total. Meanwhile, two of us unfurled the banner "chômeurs et précaires en lutte", while others handled leaflets explaining our actions.

Quickly, a line formed at the checkout. Some of us took the floor to explain our action.

Two security guards from the store came along. They were angry but quickly calmed down. The chief of security called the store manager. The manager chose to let the situation deteriorate rather than immediately start negotiating.

20 minutes after our blockade, first proposal from the manager: "put everything back in the aisles, free the registers and send a delegation to negotiate in my office". AH AH AH AH !!!

Meanwhile, discussions get heated with some consumers who do not support us, mostly old people and bourgeois from downtown. A few reactions: "you're taking us hostage", "my cat's hungry", "you don't know what work is, you've never worked", "you've nothing to do here"...

A few supports: "I'm with you, don't give up anything". A security guard talks to us about a man and his child "move along, can't you see you're preventing them to go through". The man's answer: "not at all, and by the way, I support them".

To put it in a nutshell, unusual activity for this store.

After 40 minutes, a member of our collective takes his walky-talky to discuss with the manager. He becomes more reasonable and agrees to come down, but he does not seem ready yet to give in to our demands. He comes down and gives conditions which we seem unacceptable to us : for example, he wants us to take a value brand foie-gras instead of Fauchon foie-gras (N.B one of the most expensive brand), that we free the counters and go settle this discretely in a small room, away from the clients. We jettison ballast by offering to take only 10 baskets out of twenty. The talks are moving fast, we feel the situation is going to unlock.

Last disagreement, he wants to check the article in the registers, something we refuse to do thinking it can be used against us. He eventually gives in and we leave with 10 bags of eats.

Intense moment of joy among us, we leave victorious from the store, with 10 bags of eats, checkout blocked for an hour, everything without a glitch. The cops were indeed called but remained discreet. We saw to national cops and a member of the RG (Renseignements Generaux, an internal intelligence service). To this day, the store manager has not filed a complaint.

We will redistribute the eats to unemployed in front of the unemployment bureau in Rennes starting Monday morning.

Let's spread this practices, let's get organized!!!

If you are interested by our movement, contact us by email mcpl2008@gmail.com (go spambot, go)

Our reunions are held 22, Bellevue street, Mondays at 6 pm. The next one will be held on the 5th of January.


Structuralism 2

In my previous post I attempted to differentiate between Policy Libertarianism and Structural Libertarianism and explain why my interest lies with the latter. Looking back, I realize that I railed on policy libertarianism quite a bit but I didn't explain why structural libertarianism is so interesting. In this post, I hope to correct that shortcoming by quoting some passages from the modern SLs that caught my attention. Then, hopefully before my classes resume, I will get around to discussing the drawbacks of structural libertarianism, and why we might want to reject libertarianism altogether in favor of a more utilitarian theory of politics.

I apologize for going back to the same sources over and over again, but as there are few structural libertarians in modern times and the old SLs didn't keep blogs that I can easily copy and paste from. I am lazy and they are serviceable, so that is what we get.

Source 1:

...[I]t is hard to avoid noticing two basic facts about the universe. One is that libertarianism is an extremely obvious idea. The other is that it has never been successfully implemented.

This does not prove anything. But what it suggests is that libertarianism is, as its detractors are always quick to claim, an essentially impractical ideology. I would love to live in a libertarian society. The question is: is there a path from here to there? And if we get there, will we stay there? If your answer to both questions is obviously "yes," perhaps your definition of "obvious" is not the same as mine.

The basic idea of formalism [the author's SL philosophy] is just that the main problem in human affairs is violence. The goal is to design a way for humans to interact, on a planet of remarkably limited size, without violence....

The key is to look at this not as a moral problem, but as an engineering problem. Any solution that solves the problem is acceptable. Any solution that does not solve the problem is not acceptable.

Source 2:

Is it possible to design a structure of government which will be stable and predictable? Hopefully, of course, stably and predictably benign? History affords no evidence of it. But history affords no evidence of semiconductors, either. There is always room for something new.

The key is that word should. When you say your government "should do X," or "should not do Y," you are speaking in the hieratic language of democracy. You are postulating some ethereal and benign higher sovereign, which can enforce promises made by the mere government to whose whims you would otherwise be subject. In reality, while your government can certainly promise to do X or not to do Y, there is no power that can hold it to this promise. Or if there is, it is that power which is your real government. Your whining should be addressed to it.

The neocameralist [another SL philosophy] structure of Patchwork realms, which are sovereign joint-stock companies, creates a different kind of should. This is the profitable should. We can say that a realm should do X rather than Y, because X is more profitable than Y. Since sovereign means sovereign, nothing can compel the realm to do X and not Y. But, with an anonymous capital structure, we can expect administrators to be generally responsible and not make obvious stupid mistakes.

Given the choice between financial responsibility and moral responsibility, I will take the latter every time. If it was possible to write a set of rules on paper and require one's children and one's children's children to comply with this bible, all sorts of eternal principles for good government and healthy living could be set out.

But we cannot construct a political structure that will enforce moral responsibility. We can construct a political structure that will enforce financial responsibility. Thus neocameralism. We might say that financial responsibility is the raw material of moral responsibility. The two are not by any means identical, but they are surprisingly similar, and the gap seems bridgeable.

When we use the profitable should, therefore, we are in the corporate strategy department. We ask: how should a Patchwork realm, or any financially responsible government, be designed to maximize the return on its capital?

Source 3:

Given how far all current governments stray from the libertarian vision, it is natural that some of us have considered designing or even founding a new nation. In doing so, we sometimes assume that the major failing of present nations is the mental attitudes of their residents. Thus to ensure that a political system works, we merely need to start with libertarians. This is incorrect, because much of what we don't like about current states stems from the behavior of systems - behavior which is to some degree independent of which humans are involved. As an example, the USA started with liberty-minded founders and degenerated anyway.

Continue reading the linked material for their positive visions of government. If you know of anyone else I should read, please let me know in the comments, or at first name dot last name at gmail dot com.


A Taxing Observation

It strikes me that taxes are lower now than they are likely to be for some time. Between social welfare policies and the entitlement shortfall, average rates aren't heading down for at least the next two decades.


Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas, all. I wish you a prosperous and happy New Year.


Down with Policy Libertarianism

Libertarian thinkers can be plotted on many axes. Presently, the axis I am most concerned with is Policy Libertarianism vs. Structural Libertarianism.

Policy Libertarians (PLs) include the vast majority of the most visible organizations and writers in the modern libertarian movement: the Reason Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Ron Paul campaign, the LP, the Constitution Party, most libertarian economists (e.g. Milton Friedman), and single-issue organizations like Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. PLs, as their name suggests, focus their energies on inventing and advocating a list of policies that governments should follow. For example, you can find policy libertarians opposing liberal eminent domain laws, fighting for lower taxes and deregulation, supporting cultural tolerance, opposing invasive police searches, and advocating the rest of the familiar libertarian manifesto.

Structural Libertarians (SLs) are much rarer in modern times than PLs, although the opposite used to be the case. Structural libertarians include Patri Friedman, Mencius Moldbug, David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, all libertarian Public Choice economists, Lysander Spooner, and the classical liberals that libertarians have adopted as intellectual ancestors. SLs often have the same moral and policy beliefs as PLs, but they focus their energies on the alternative ways to structure a government and the effect that government structure has on its incentive to adopt good policy. At their most extreme, SLs barely sound like libertarians. Under a market-based government system (a common SL proposal), the architects of Singapore would likely find plenty of customers for a burbclave that is incredibly prosperous and clean, but where communists are sent to jail and litterbugs are viciously beaten with sticks.

The decline of the structuralists and the rise of the policyists is a phenomenon that should interest us. It is a by-product of general political trends in the modern western world. Simply: democracy has won. Democracy is considered to be righteousness and goodness and freedom, all else is tyranny. Didn't the American colonists risk their lives and fortunes to institute democracy and overthrow monarchy? And wasn't America the shining example on a hill, leading the rest of the world into a democratic century?

Today all competing political ideas acknowledge this. Conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, environmentalism, socialism, and nationalism are all strictly policy movements. Since our government structure is assumed to be sound, they focus on advancing their agendas through electoral politics.

But what if democracy is not the impartial "marketplace of ideas" that moderns assume? What if liberal democracy contains its own unwholesome incentives and biases? In other words, what if the game is rigged?

This is why policy libertarianism seems like a weak and incomplete philosophy to me. Presumably if libertarians believe that libertarian policies are just and beneficial, then they would want to live in a world where those policies are implemented. However, if the incentives of the political system are stacked against libertarianism, then their efforts advocating libertarian policies are futile. No amount of pamphleteering and blogging will make vast amounts of people act against their self-interest. Quoting Jefferson at housewives isn't going to sway them when Obama Claus is on the television offering free college educations and health insurance. Putting 51% of the country on welfare programs and then campaigning to enlarge the payments will remain a winning strategy no matter how many DVDs of "Freedom to Fascism" are printed.

Policy libertarianism is only valid in a particular time and place, and then only if you have certain beliefs about the political system at that juncture.PL is useless otherwise. If we kidnap Ron Paul and ship him back in time to live under the Bourbon Dynasty in France, what should he do? Presumably he still thinks that libertarianism is as just and wise in Bourbon France as it is in 21st century America. Should he write florid epistles to the king, trying to convince him of the value of universal human rights? Should he try to marry a princess?

Or suppose we send Ron Paul to live under a government run by evil robots that grow humans in vats and then suck out their life force to power their machines in some physics-defying green energy scheme. Likely Ron still thinks the evil machines should respect his property rights and freedom of speech. I don't see how Ron's beliefs matter very much. He is going to have to hire a damn good lobbyist to overcome the sway of the human-vat-maker union.

Under an incompatible government structure, policy libertarianism is an impotent philosophy. As soon as your faith in liberal democracy wavers, PL looks naive. It's as useless as a lawn ornament. It's gazelle trying diplomacy with lions.

My faith in democracy is at a low ebb, so I think structural libertarianism should be given more thought and policy libertarianism less. As one of the 200 million most influential people in America and one of the 20 most influential writers on this blog, I hope I can lead the libertarian discussion in that direction.


Bankrupt City

From Detroit Blog, hat tip Moldbug:

Whole neighorhood blocks cleared of houses by arson and bulldozers have reverted to urban prairies, visible in satellite photos as unusually large green patches in the middle of the inner city. Sidewalks vanish beneath creeping grasses, while aluminum fences between homes become entwined with the branches of dozens of saplings growing as high as the droopy utility wires.

Alleys in parts of the city start resembling hiking trails as growth from the yards on both sides narrows their width. All around town, even smaller empty lots become thick, grassy fields, because the City doesn’t often mow in easements and right-of-way areas, allowing weeds to grow 3 feet high.

Throughout Detroit, as half the population fled in the last half-century outward towards the suburbs and later towards more rural areas, the city itself has, ironically, become more rural, with wild animals and lush green plants coexisting with an industrial, modern metropolis. Nature, driven back by progress during the city’s 300 years, has aggressively reasserted itself in recent decades, reclaiming land from which man has turned away.


Transporter 3's Libertarian Villain

I watched the third installment of the Transporter franchise last night. A pretty mediocre action movie compared to the first one, and even less entertaining than the sequel.

Still, I found this part interesting:

Is it just me or is this the most sensible movie villain ever? I would personally like to see more libertarian bad guys in Hollywood movies.