Happiness in Las Vegas
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Tomorrow Im off to Las Vegas for the (unluckily monikered) APEE, where Ill be contributing to a panel on Happiness: Philosophical and Economic Perspectives. (Essentially Ill be trying to defend an Aristotelean conception of happiness on praxeological grounds.) Take a look at the participant list and youll see why it would be a bad thing for the libertarian movement if Vegas got nuked over the weekend.
I have more to say about the French situation, but itll have to wait until I get back.
In the meantime, check out Charles recent rebuttal of a frequent argument against worker-run industry, as well as an interesting discussion of urban vs. agrarian virtues in the comments section of his recent post on immigration.
Posted March 31st, 2006
Subversion from the Sea
Im continuing to work my way through some of the lesser-known works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, and thought I would comment on the two latest:
The slave-trade is an expression that ought never to have found its way into any human language. After being long practiced at a large profit by such European nations as had possessions beyond the seas, this abominable traffic has now for many years been ostensibly forbidden; yet even in the enlightenment of this nineteenth century, it is still carried on, especially in Central Africa, inasmuch as there are several states, professedly Christian, whose signatures have never been affixed to the deed of abolition.Nor is this one of those anti-slavery novels where all the heroics and initiative are reserved for the white characters. I suspect that this book influenced Hergés Tintin stories; but as much as I love those stories, I have to say that if this were a Tintin adventure, the plucky white teenager would be ingeniously fighting the slavers while the black slaves themselves, good-hearted but simple-minded, remained locked up in the hold, passively awaiting rescue at the hands of the kindly massa. Not so here.
But you are so limited, so tied! The little time you have, you use so poorly! You begin and you end and all the time between it is as if you were enchanted, you are afraid to do this that would be delightful to do, you must do that though you know all the time it is stupid and disagreeable. Just think of all the things even the little things you mustnt do. Up there on the Leas in this hot weather all the people are sitting in stuffy ugly clothes ever so much too much clothes hot tight boots, you know, when they have the most lovely pink feet ... and they are all with little to talk about and nothing to look at, and bound not to do all sorts of natural things, and bound to do all sorts of preposterous things. Why are they bound? Why are they letting life slip by them? Just as though they wouldnt all of them presently be dead! Suppose you were to go up there in a bathing-dress and a white cotton hat What, though, is the nature of this escape that the mermaid offers? Wells calls it Something we never find in life. ... Something we are always seeking. ... something that tears at the very fabric of human life. But is such escape a real option for finite beings like us? Is it a genuinely freer existence or only death: No adventure, no incident, but a going out from all that this life has to offer?
It wouldnt be proper! cried Melville. …
But anyone may see you like that on the beach!
It isnt different. You dream its different. And in just the same way you dream all the other things are proper or improper or good or bad to do. ... Your life, I tell you, is a dream a dream, and you cant wake out of it
And if so, why do you tell me? ...
He heard the rustle of her movement as she bent towards him.
She came warmly close to him. She spoke in gently confidential undertones, as one who imparts a secret that is not to be too lightly given. Because, she said, there are better dreams.
For a moment it seemed to Melville that he had been addressed by something quite other than the pleasant lady in the bath-chair before him. ...
What dreams? rebelled Melville. What do you mean? What are you? What do you mean by coming into this life you who pretend to be a woman and whispering, whispering ... to us who are in it, to us who have no escape?
But there is an escape, said the Sea Lady.
Why should it be finer to see beauty where it is fatal to us to see it? Why? Unless we are to believe there is no reason in things, why should this impossibility be beautiful to anyone, anyhow? ... This dream has taken me wonderfully. And I must renounce it. After all, it is not so much to renounce a dream. Its no more than deciding to live. There are big things in the world for men to do. ... Ive no doubt about my choice. Im going to fall in with the species; Im going to take my place in the ranks in that battle for the future which is the meaning of life. ... This lax dalliance with dreams and desires must end. I will make a time-table for my hours and a rule for my life, I will entangle my honour in controversies, I will give myself to Service, as a man should do. Clean-handed work, struggle and performance. ... I am a man and must go a mans way. There is Desire, the light and guide of the world, a beacon on a headland blazing out. Let it burn! ... Ive got to live a man and die a man and carry the burthen of my class and time. ... Here, with the flame burning I renounce it. ... That is life for all of us. We have desires, only to deny them, senses that we all must starve. We can live only as a part of ourselves. Why should I be exempt?Wells could easily have portrayed his mermaid either as clearly a liberating force, shattering stale conventionality, or else as clearly a seductively demonic force, subverting and corrupting with malicious intent. But he doesnt take either of those easy ways out. Perhaps echoing Freudians ambivalence about the benefits and hazards of repression, Wells offers some evidence for each interpretation and leaves the final verdict ambiguous and the reader vaguely longing.
Posted March 26th, 2006
Another Loony Left-Libertarian Screed from Roderick
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
What the current protests in France are about, at least inter alia, is the French governments proposal to allow employers to fire their workers a right theyre currently not allowed.
It might seem clear which side a libertarian has to be on in this dispute: of course libertarians favour freedom of association, which includes the freedom of either party to exit an employment contract. Thus the new proposal apparently represents a move in the direction of a free market: the government is right, and the protestors are wrong.
But things arent quite so simple.
Of course in a free market there would be no legal restrictions (except those contractually agreed to) on an employers right to fire an employee. But from the fact that there would be no X in a free society, it doesnt follow that absolutely any situation will be moved in the direction of freedom simply by removing X. (Compare: from the fact that a healthy person wouldnt have a pacemaker, it doesnt follow that the health of anyone who has a pacemaker would be improved by its removal.)
As I recently wrote elsewhere:
Whether something counts as a reduction of restrictions on liberty depends on the context. Remember when Reagan deregulated the Savings & Loans such deregulation could be a good thing under many circumstances, but given that he didnt remove federal deposit insurance, deregulation amounted in that context to an increase of aggression against the taxpayers, licensing the S&Ls to takes greater risks with taxpayers money.Just as deregulating the S&Ls doesnt count as a move toward liberty if it isnt accompanied by an end to tax-funded deposit insurance, so in general a removal of restrictions on an entity doesnt count as a move toward liberty if the entity is still a substantial recipient of government privilege or subsidy. For the more that an entity benefits from government intervention, the closer it comes to being an arm of the State in which case lifting restrictions on it is, to that extent, lifting restrictions on the State.
So in this case: when government passes laws giving group A unjust privileges over group B, and then passes another law giving B some protection against A, then repealing the second law without repealing the first amounts to increasing As unjust privilege over B. Of course a free society would have neither the first nor the second law, but repealing them in the wrong order can actually decrease rather than increase liberty.
[S]ince the states intervention, directly or indirectly, has been in the interests of the plutocracy, it matters a great deal which functions of the state should be axed first. The first to go should be those forms of intervention in the market that subsidize economic centralization and the concentration of wealth, reduce the bargaining power of labor, and ensure monopoly returns to the owners of land and capital. The last to go should be those government functions that make the system of class exploitation marginally bearable for labor. In the words of Thomas Knapp of the Democratic Freedom Caucus, that means cutting welfare from the top down, and taxes from the bottom up.While I dont agree with Kevin as to what in every case counts as monopoly returns to the owners of land and capital (he thinks absentee land ownership is unjust, I dont see our exchange on Lockean vs. Tuckerite theories of property rights in the forthcoming issue of JLS), I certainly agree with the general sentiment.
Posted March 25th, 2006
How Victor Yarros Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the State
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Of all the possible and impossible Utopias, that of the Philosophical Anarchists is, of course, the most preposterous one. How many persons of the world today can even imagine a society without the State? The first thing people do under pioneering conditions is to organize a government. The first thing people in distress do at any time is to appeal to the State for aid.Now if all that Yarros means is that most people nowadays are not anarchists, and that converting them to anarchism will likely be a long and difficult process, thats not news to the anarchists; and merely embracing a long-term program cant be sufficient to earn one the title of utopian. Nor, despite occasional gestures in this direction, can Yarros really mean that anarchisms focus on a long-term ideal prevents them from supporting any short-term reformist measures; for he himself notes that the Tuckerites knew very well that progress toward their goal would be slow, and rejoiced in small steps toward their goal so long as none of these intermediate measures in any degree extended the sphere of government or compulsion. And if Yarros means that getting people to accept a stateless social order is not just a long-term but an impossible goal, we may simply point to the evidence collected by libertarian historians (see, e.g., Tom Bells bibliographical essay) to demonstrate that such stateless orders have in fact developed frequently through history, including under pioneering conditions.
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. ... In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.Or, as Rothbard observed in The Spooner-Tucker Doctrine: An Economists View (which is scheduled be reprinted in the next issue of JLS), the market anarchists of the 19th century not only advanced libertarian individualism from a protest against existing evils to pointing the way to an ideal society toward which we can move, but correctly located that ideal in the free market which already partially existed and was providing vast economic and social benefits; in this respect, Rothbard argues, the anarchists greatly surpassed previous utopians in locating [their] goal in already-existing institutions rather than in a coercive or impossible vision of a transformed mankind.
The American farmers do not regard the State as their enemy. They are grateful to it for small favors; and organized labor is equally grateful for like favors. If the State is the enemy, what is Plutocracy, and what is predatory big business? ...Yarros concludes that state power is now a viable tool in the struggle against plutocracy: Where democracy is strong and mature, the State serves the interests of the masses, not of the classes. Here, once again, Yarross theories run up against historical facts. As libertarian and New Left historians have exhaustively demonstrated (see, for example, Gabriel Kolkos The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916, Butler Shaffers In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918-1938, and other sources cited here), big business interests were the chief beneficiaries of Wilsons and Roosevelts economic programs, whose cartelising measures functioned to insulate the corporate elite from upstart competition. By supporting such measures, it was Yarros, not Tucker or Nock, who was playing into the hands of the plutocracy.
[W]hatever the origin of the State, it was absurd to assert that it was always and inevitably the instrument of privilege and monopoly, and must remain such under all conditions. The evidence glaringly contradicted that conception. The democratic governments have increasingly yielded to the pressure of farmers, wage workers, and middle-class reformers.
The hatred of our plutocrats and reactionaries for the New Deal is alone sufficient to dispose of the charge that the State is simply the tool of the economic oligarchy. In the past, the same interests bitterly fought Woodrow Wilson’s reform program, and fought in vain.
We might compare the alliance between government and big business to the alliance between church and state in the Middle Ages. Of course its in the interest of both parties to maintain the alliance but all the same, each side would like to be the dominant partner, so its no surprise that the history of such alliances will often look like a history of conflict and antipathy, as each side struggles to get the upper hand. But this struggle must be read against a common background framework of cooperation to maintain the system of control.Yarros allowed himself to be taken in by the populist veneer of the New Deal, but in fact the struggle between FDR and the business lobby was merely (with a few honourable exceptions) a squabble between two different flavours of fascism with each faction far preferring the victory of its rival to any genuine liberalisation. And as for the gratitude of organized labor for governmental favors, the true legacy of New Deal labour legislation was to defang the labour movement by co-opting it into the corporate establishment.
Posted March 25th, 2006
This Is a Stick-Up
So, heres a bumper sticker Id like to see:
Posted March 23rd, 2006
This Week in Review
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
A rundown of my adventures for this past week or so:
I found the films homosexual propaganda gratuitous (the idea that homosexual conduct is somehow threatened by the present political situation is preposterous indeed, one suspects sodomy will be one of the few rights left before the Supreme Court is done with us) ....Given todays high rate of violence against gays, and given that Roy Moore then an Alabama state judge, and still today one of the most popular political figures in Alabama wrote a judicial opinion urging the use of the power of the sword, up to and including confinement and even execution, against gays, the notion that gays face no threat in the current political climate strikes me as bizarre.
When I taught economics to homeschoolers, we analysed Imagine:Now the references to heaven and possessions are indeed a rejection of religion and private property; no debate there. But Lennons endorsement of living for today is not an endorsement of high time-preference; in context he clearly means embracing life in this world as opposed to waiting for an afterlife (which Lennon ex hypothesi regards as nonexistent; this is a corollary of no heaven). Its not high time-preference to prefer present satisfactions regarded as real over future satisfactions regarded as imaginary. Likewise, nothing to kill or die for has nothing to do with nihilism; what it means is not nothing worth killing or dying for but rather nothing you have to kill or die for i.e., peace. Plus, Gil leaves out the most magnificent line of all: Imagine theres no countries.
Imagine theres no heaven = atheism
Imagine all the people living for today = high time preference
Nothing to kill or die for = nihilism
Imagine no possessions = no private property
Posted March 20th, 2006
To a reader just starting Jules Vernes 1877 novel Hector Servadac, it wouldnt be obvious that this was to be one of Vernes science fiction novels. On the contrary, the opening chapters featuring a French military officer in North Africa, preparing to fight a duel with a romantic rival might lead the reader to expect a straight, non-science-fictional adventure story (of which Verne wrote many).
It is not until the fourth chapter that it becomes evident that some sort of astronomical catastrophe has struck: suddenly gravity and air pressure are lower, the celestial bodies are all askew, etc. The characters begin to speculate that perhaps the Earth has been knocked off its axis; but it does not initially occur to them that they are no longer on the Earth. When eventually this thought does occur, the characters assume that they are at least on some large chunk of the Earth that has somehow gotten dislodged. It is not until the 26th chapter, over halfway through the book, that the characters discover that they are actually traveling on a comet which has barely grazed the Earth, carrying off some soil and water and a few unwilling passengers.
Presumably this is supposed to come as a surprise to the reader too. Maybe not quite as much of a surprise; Verne has been dropping clues all along, so the reader has a fair chance of figuring things out before the characters do. But even so, Verne plainly intends the reader to have to figure it out, rather than simply being told up front.
After all, many of Vernes novels announce in their very titles what sort of adventure the reader is in for: Around the World in Eighty Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and so on. The fact that Verne by contrast gave this novel the non-committal title Hector Servadac suggests that he wanted to maintain some suspense as to what is really going on.
So what title did Vernes English translators give to Hector Servadac? Why, Off On a Comet, of course! Thanks a lot, guys.
Posted March 12th, 2006
A Late Delivery from Babylon
The last of the unreleased Babylon 5 shows is now finally being released on dvd, as a feature-length film titled Legend of the Rangers. This was originally To Live and Die in Starlight, the pilot for an unrealised Babylon 5 spinoff series to be titled Legend of the Rangers.
This disc now joins the original Babylon 5 pilot, seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, the tv-movies, and the other spinoff series Crusade.
I cant say that this is Babylon 5 at its best; indeed I have the same gripe about Legend that I had about Thirdspace, namely that each of them introduces a new long-lost alien race that is supposed to be even more terrifying than the Shadows. The original series spent many, many episodes gradually building up the menace of the Shadows; theres no way some Cthulhu-come-latelies can just waltz in after a few minutes exposition and expect to earn the same kind of audience reaction.
But its still a fun ride; and it features what now, sadly, turns out to be Gkars final appearance.
Posted March 10th, 2006
Wooly Bully; or, Mammoths Live!
They say that mammoths are extinct but are they? Take a good look at this aerial photo:
Posted March 10th, 2006
Ive Been Memed!*** Part Deux
I notice that some versions of the Meme*** of Fours include the category “Four albums I cant live without.” So here are mine:
1. Leonard Cohen The Essential Leonard Cohen
2. Lucinda Williams Essence
3. Yeni Türkü Külhani Şarkılar
4. Antonio Vivaldi The Four Seasons
Posted March 8th, 2006
Ive Been Memed!*
Wally Conger has tagged me with the dreaded Meme* of Fours. I hereby discharge it.
Four jobs Ive had
1. House painterFour movies I can watch over and over
2. Amusement park ride operator
3. Grocery bagger
4. Academic summer program director
1. His Girl FridayFour places Ive lived
3. To Have and Have Not
4. The Third Man
1. Colorado Springs, ColoradoFour TV shows I love
2. San Diego, California
3. Hanover, New Hampshire
4. Chapel Hill, North Carolina
1. The Twilight Zone (the original)Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I havent seen (much of)
2. Secret Agent / Danger Man
3. Babylon 5
1. LostFour places Ive vacationed
1. London, EnglandFour of my favorite dishes
2. Paris, France
3. The Amalfi Coast, Italy
4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
1. Ahi tunaFour sites I visit daily
4. Lechon asado (the way they make it at Alma de Cuba)
1. RadGeekFour places Id rather be right now
2. Brad Spangler
3. Kevin Carson
4. Ludwig von Mises Institute
See my answers to Four places Ive vacationed, above.Four new bloggers Im tagging
Ah well, when Alexander the Great** was on his deathbed, he was asked to whom he wished to bequeath his empire. To the strongest, he is said to have replied. Same deal here: this meme* belongs to whoever can seize it.
Posted March 6th, 2006
Posted March 3rd, 2006
From Russia With Love
[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Guess the mystery philosopher:
I was a Russian Jew by birth, but an American and an atheist by choice. In early adulthood I fled Russian tyranny to come to America, where I became involved in the fledgling libertarian movement. One of the chief libertarian newspaper writers of that era was my friend and intellectual mentor, though we later had a somewhat acrimonious break. I never held an official academic post, but I wrote widely on philosophical and political questions, favouring secularist rationalism, ethical individualism, and extreme economic and political laissez-faire. After an early flirtation with a somewhat Nietzschean version of egoism, I developed more of a natural-rights approach, drawing on the classical liberal tradition. Later in life, I annoyed many of my former associates by sharply condemning libertarianism especially in its anarchistic form. My spouse pre-deceased me by several years.
Who am I?
Posted March 1st, 2006
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