Roderick T. Long

Archives: October 2004

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Southward Aye We Fled

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Tomorrow I’m off to the Alabama Philosophical Society meetings in Mobile, and so will be incommunibloggo for a few days. Back Sunday!

To console yourself during my absence, check out this excellent reply by Lew Rockwell to those who still think a Bush victory has more to offer libertarians than a Kerry victory.

Posted October 27th, 2004



Festive Feedback

My recent posts on the Cato/Mises controversy (see here and here) and on the gender wage gap have generated a higher-than-usual volume of commentary over at L&P. On Cato/Mises see here and here; on the gender wage gap see here, here, here, and here.

Additionally, over at SOLO I’ve been involved in the discussion of Barbara Branden’s regrettable apologia for the Bush régime. (Did you know that I’m a paid agent of Islamofascist theocracy? Pretty cool, huh? I get a secret decoder ring and everything.)

I’ve also recently received a response from Dennis Bratcher of the Christian Resource Institute to one of my posts from last December, concerning the alleged Christian meaning of the song “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Mr. Bratcher writes:

I found this on a page of your website attributed to Roderick T. Long in a letter to the editor.

Perhaps you will allow a rebuttal since you still have this on your website.

[Mr. Bratcher then quotes from my original letter, which you can read here.]

I can appreciate Mr. Long’s concern with historical fact. But it is a little hypocritical. He might be more credible if he were equally concerned with “facts” that he quotes. He has taken the liberty of playing fast and loose with the facts of what I said in order to make his own point. With that attitude, and the easily available evidence, I would find it quite easy to convict him of historical dishonesty since it provides ample proof of his guilt.

Nowhere did I say that “people should feel free to believe it if it makes them feel good.” Nowhere did I remotely imply that anyone should believe this particular background of the story as a historical fact for any reason. Instead, I suggested that finding meaning in the “nonsense” was a good vehicle for people to celebrate the Christmas season. That is not a matter of historical fact; it is a matter of piety and worship. Here is what I actually did say:

So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge this uncertainty [of historical proof].

However, on another level, this uncertainty should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God’s grace, through one more avenue this Christmas. Now, when they hear what they once thought was a secular “nonsense song,” they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway?
None of that is about history, but is about worship. Evidently Mr. Long does not understand the difference.

Grace and Peace,

Dennis Bratcher
Director, Christian Resource Institute
I apologise for my misinterpretation, which was based not on Mr. Bratcher’s own article (which you can read here) but on the description and quotations given by the Opelika-Auburn News. I don’t have the News’ original article handy, but it was discussing the historical claim (a historically implausible claim, I think, given that early Protestants would have no reason to censor references that were generically Christian rather than specifically Catholic), and it was certainly my impression that Mr. Bratcher was being cited as a proponent of the historical claim. I’m glad to learn that he is not one. I certainly intended no distortion of his position, and I’m inclined to suspect that it was the Opelika-Auburn News, and not myself, that should be charged with playing “fast and loose.” But I’ll plead guilty to the lesser charge of being foolish enough to believe in the accuracy of the Opelika-Auburn News on any subject, despite long experience of its journalistic shortcomings.

Posted October 22nd, 2004




Son of Shameless Self-Promotion

For the last couple of years, my book Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand has been idling along in the 300,000s on Amazon. But today I see that its ranking has slipped down to 720,342! That just won’t do! Clearly, I have been insufficiently aggressive in promoting my Brilliant And Wonderful Book (B.A.W.B.). So now I’ve stuck an ad for it at the top of the page; plus, it makes the Badnarik banner more symmetrical.

This book had its origins in a couple of talks I was invited to give in the mid-1990s at David Kelley’s Objectivist Center conferences. One talk was on the similarities and differences between Aristotle’s and Rand’s conceptions of rationality; I argued for the superiority of Aristotle’s coherentist approach to epistemology over Rand’s foundationalist one. The other talk was on the debate among Randians over “survivalist” versus “flourishing” conceptions of self-interest; I defended the flourishing conception, again on Aristotelean grounds. I also saw the two topics as related, claiming that Rand needed – but denied herself – an Aristotelean “flourishing” conception of self-interest in order to defend her ethical conclusions, and that she needed – but again denied herself – an Aristotelean coherentist epistemology in order to defend that Aristotelean “flourishing” conception of self-interest.

My heresies were very kindly received (a contrast to some Objectivist outfits ….), and I was soon asked to turn the whole thing into a B.A.W.B. (Its original title was Rationality, Theoretical and Practical: Aristotle versus Rand but I suggested the current title as less soporific, though admittedly also less informative.) It was published in 2004, with replies by Fred Miller and Eyal Mozes, and a counter-reply by me. (You can read excerpts from the B.A.W.B. here.)

It’s generally agreed to be the greatest book I’ve ever written. So, how can you bear any longer to deprive yourself of this B.A.W.B.? Buy a dozen today!

Posted October 20th, 2004



Snarling Apathy

As long as I’m posting old letters-to-the-editor, here’s another one I came across recently. This was likewise to the Cornell Daily Sun, and once again I don’t remember if they published it.

7 December 1989

To the Editor:

Steve Neumiller (letter, 5 December) makes gays an offer they can’t refuse: if they’ll agree to go back in the closet, he and his fellow homophobes – sorry, homoapaths – will agree not to persecute them. Such generosity is truly humbling, reminiscent as it is of the Ku Klux Klan’s magnanimous offer not to lynch blacks who “kept in their place.” (It’s only the “uppity” ones they found bothersome, after all.) It’s enlightening to see Neumiller joining hands with such illustrious company.

But what are we to make of Neumiller’s claim to be “homoapathetic” (or “homoantipathetic” – apparently “apathy” and “antipathy” are synonyms in his universe) rather than “homophobic”? Someone who finds the sight of gays holding hands in public to be “antagonistic behavior,” who (in other words) feels threatened by such peaceful but “indiscreet” evidence of homosexuality, can only be described as homophobic!

If Neumiller were to walk down the street holding hands with his girlfriend, would he regard his behavior as antagonistic toward gays? If so, then he is committed to condemning all public displays of affection, whether heterosexual or homosexual. If, on the other hand, his behavior would not be antagonistic, then how can gays’ analogous behavior be considered antagonistic? Gays, as a persecuted minority, have far more reason to feel intimidated by public expressions of the ruling sexual ideology than vice versa.

Neumiller claims to believe in the right to choose one’s sexual partners. If so, then those who persecute gays are in the wrong; yet Neumiller advises gays to abandon all principles and kowtow to their oppressors. If the persecutors are wrong, how does it become the responsibility of gays to “minimize hostility”? (I suppose German Jews are at fault for not minimizing hostility between themselves and the Nazis?) Neumiller is simply advocating the appeasement of evil. Moreover, he is engaging in the age-old practice of blaming the victim (just as when a woman is said to have invited rape by her “provocative” behavior).

If Neumiller were truly “apathetic” on the question of homosexuals, would he be writing letters to the editor on the subject? And would he be issuing veiled threats against them? For the last sentence if his letter can only be interpreted as a threat: “I don’t think it [= more discretion] is too much to ask, since we don’t want to deal with you and you do not want to be persecuted.”

Neumiller tries to disguise his letter’s threatening aspect by playing “good cop/bad cop”; his official message is: Gosh, I wouldn’t persecute you gay folks, I believe in individual rights, but there are all these other, much more intolerant heterosexuals out there, and if you don’t keep a low profile I can’t answer for what they’ll do.

Yet Neumiller makes no effort to distance himself from these hostile heterosexuals, but on the contrary, by his constant use of the word “we” when referring to this group, identifies himself as one of their number. The aim of his letter is intimidation. If anyone in this controversy is guilty of “antagonistic behavior,” it is Neumiller and those like him; Neumiller, after all, is the one making all the threats.

Neumiller claims to speak for “most of the rest of the other heterosexuals on campus.” Wake up, Steve! (Have you really spent four years here?) Your Neolithic enclave does not represent the Cornell community as a whole. You do not speak for me, nor for most of the other heterosexuals I know. Cornell heterosexuals should not allow a gang of vocal reactionaries to arrogate to themselves the authority to make pronouncements on our behalf. If bigots like Neumiller want to engage in gay-baiting, let them speak for themselves.

Roderick T. Long

Posted October 20th, 2004



Platonic Productivity

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Women on the job market make, on average, 75 cents for every dollar men make for the equivalent jobs.

What explains this wage gap? Various possibilities have been suggested. But some Austrians have argued that there is only one possible explanation: women are less productive than men.

The argument goes like this: If employers pay an employee more than the value of that worker’s marginal revenue product, the company will lose money and so will be penalised by the market. If employers pay an employee less than the value of his or her marginal revenue product, then other companies can profit by offering more competitive wages and so luring the employee away. Hence wage rates that are set either above or below the employee’s marginal revenue product will tend to get whittled away via competition. (See Mises and Rothbard for this argument.) The result is that any persistent disparity between men’s and women’s wages must be due to a corresponding disparity between their marginal productivities.

As Walter Block puts it:

Consider a man and a woman each with a productivity of $10 per hour, and suppose, because of discrimination or whatever, that the man is paid $10 per hour and the woman is paid $8 per hour. It is as if the woman had a little sign on her forehead saying, “Hire me and earn an extra $2 an hour.” This makes her a desirable employee even for a sexist boss.
The fact that the wage gap does not get whittled away by competition in this fashion shows that the gap must be based, so the argument runs, on a real difference in productivity between the sexes. This does not necessarily point to any inherent difference in capacities, but might instead be due to the disproportionate burden of household work shouldered by women – which would also explain why the wage gap is greater for married women than for single women. (Walter Block makes this argument also.) Hence feminist worries about the wage gap are groundless.

I’m not sure why this argument, if successful, would show that worrying about the wage gap is a mistake, rather than showing that efforts to redress the gap should pay less attention to influencing employers and more attention to influencing marital norms. (Perhaps the response would be that since wives freely choose to abide by such norms, outsiders have no basis for condemning the norms. But since when can’t freely chosen arrangements be criticised – on moral grounds, prudential grounds, or both?)

But anyway, I’m not persuaded by the argument, which strikes me as [ominous pause for effect] more neoclassical :-o than Austrian, in that it ignores imperfect information, the passage of time, etc. I certainly agree with Mises and Rothbard that there is a tendency for workers to be paid in accordance with their marginal revenue product, but the tendency doesn’t realise itself instantaneously or without facing countervailing tendencies, and so, as I see it, does not license the inference that workers’ wages are likely to approximate the value of their marginal revenue product – just as the existence of equilibrating tendencies doesn’t mean the economy is going to be at or near equilibrium. I would apply to this case the observation Mises makes about the final state of rest – that although “the market at every instant is moving toward a final state of rest,” nevertheless this state “will never be attained” because “new disturbing factors will emerge before it will be realized.”

First of all, most employers do not know with any great precision their workers’ marginal revenue product. Firms are, after all, islands of central planning – on a small enough scale that the gains from central coordination generally outweigh the losses, but still they are epistemically hampered by the absence of internal markets. (And I’m rather skeptical of attempts to simulate markets within the firm à la Koch Industries.) A firm confronts the test of profitability as a unit, not employee by employee, and so there is a fair bit of guesswork involved in paying workers according to their profitability. Precisely this point is made, in another context, by Block himself: “estimating the marginal-revenue product of actual and potential employees .... is difficult to do: there are joint products; productivity depends upon how the worker ‘fits in’ with others; it is impossible to keep one’s eye on a given person all day long; etc.” But Block thinks this doesn’t much matter, because “those entrepreneurs who can carry out such tasks prosper; those who cannot, do not.” Well, true enough, but an entrepreneur doesn’t have to solve those problems perfectly in order to prosper – as anyone who has spent any time in the frequently insane, Dilbert-like world of actual industry can testify. (The reason Dilbert is so popular is that it’s so depressingly accurate.)
A firm that doesn’t pay adequate attention to profitability is doomed to failure, certainly; but precisely because we’re not living in the world of neoclassical perfect competition, firms can survive and prosper without being profit-maximisers. They just have to be less crazy/stupid than their competitors. Indeed, it’s one of the glories of the market that it can produce such marvelous results from such crooked timber.

Even if women are not generally less productive than men, then, there might still be a widespread presumption on the part of employers that they are, and in light of the difficulty of determining the productivity of specific individuals, this presumption would not be easily falsified, thus making any wage gap based on such a presumption more difficult for market forces to whittle away. (Similar presumptions could explain the wage gap between married and single women likewise.)

Hence a wage gap might persist even if employers are focused solely on profitability, have no interest in discrimination, and are doing the level best to pay salary on marginal productivity alone. But there is no reason to rule out the possibility of deliberate, profit-disregarding discrimination either. Discrimination can be a consumption good for managers, and this good can be treated as part of the manager’s salary-and-benefits package; any costs to the company arising from the manager’s discriminatory practices can thus be viewed as sheer payroll costs. Maybe some managers order fancy wood paneling for their offices, and other managers pay women less for reasons of sexism; if the former sort of behaviour can survive the market test, why not the latter?

I should add that I don’t think my skepticism about the productivity theory of wages is any sort of criticism of the market. The tendency to which Austrians point is real, and it means that markets are likely to get us closer to wages-according-to-productivity than could any rival system. (Since neoclassical perfect competition is incoherent and impossible, it does not count as a relevant rival.) If employers have a hard time estimating their workers’ productivity (the knowledge problem), or sometimes cannot be trusted to try (the incentive problem), that’s no reason to suppose that government would do any better. Employers are certainly in a better (however imperfect) position to evaluate their employees’ productivity than is some distant legislator or bureaucrat, and they likewise have more reason to care about their company’s profitability (even if it’s not all they care about) than would the government. So there’s no reason to think that transferring decision-making authority from employers to the State would bring wages into any better alignment with productivity. People in government are crooked timber too, and (given economic democracy’s superior efficiency in comparison with political democracy) they’re even less constrained by any sort of accountability than private firms are.

Nothing I’ve said shows that men and women are equally productive; it’s only meant to show that, given prevailing cultural norms and power relations, we might well expect to see a gap between men’s and women’s earnings even if they were equally productive (which is at least reason for skepticism about claims that they are not equally productive).

I would also add that even if there are persistent problems – non-governmental but nonetheless harmful power relations and the like – that market processes do not eliminate automatically, it does not follow that there is nothing to be done about these problems short of a resort to governmental force. That’s one reason I’m more sympathetic to the labour movement and the feminist movement than many libertarians nowadays tend to be. In the 19th century, libertarians saw political oppression as one component in an interlocking system of political, economic, and cultural factors; they made neither the mistake of thinking that political power was the only problem nor the mistake of thinking that political power could be safely and effectively used to combat the other problems.

As I have written elsewhere:

As students of Austrian economics (see, e.g., the writings of F. A. Hayek) we know that the free market, by coordinating the dispersed knowledge of market actors, has the ability to come up with solutions that no individual could have devised. … [But as] students of Austrian economics (see, e.g., the writings of Israel Kirzner), we also know that the efficiency of markets depends in large part on the action of entrepreneurs; and on the Austrian theory entrepreneurs do not passively react to market prices (as they do in neoclassical economics), but instead are actively alert to profit opportunities and are constantly trying to invent and market new solutions. … [W]e should remember to balance the Hayekian insight against the equally important Kirznerian insight that the working of the market depends on the creative ingenuity of individuals. … I see our role … as that of intellectual entrepreneurs; our coming up with solutions is part of (though by no means the whole of) what it means for the market to come up with solutions. We are the market.
We know – independently of the existence of the wage gap – that there is plenty of sexism in the business world. (Those who don’t know this can verify it for themselves by spending time in that world or talking with those who have done so.) Once we see why the productivity theory of wages, though correct as far as it goes, goes less far than its proponents often suppose, it does not seem implausible to suppose that this sexism plays some role in explaining the wage gap, and such sexism needs to be combated. (And even if the wage gap were based on a genuine productivity gap deriving from women’s greater responsibility for household work, the cultural expectations that lead women to assume such responsibility would then be the sexism to combat.) But that’s no reason to gripe about “market failure.” Such failure is merely our failure. Instead, we need to fight the power – peacefully, but not quietly.

Posted October 20th, 2004



The Form of Sound Words

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’ve argued previously that if the argument-by-historical-definition against same-sex marriage were legitimate, it would follow, by analogy, that there are no married couples in the United States today. Here’s some further ammo for that position.

In an 1853 debate over “free love” (i.e., the separation of sex and state) with libertarian anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews, communitarian Horace Greeley (of “go west, young man” fame) defended his conception of marriage as both State-sanctioned and indissoluble (or nearly so – he admitted adultery as legitimate grounds for divorce, though added that he “should oppose even that, if it did not seem to be upheld by the personal authority of Christ”). From this conception Greeley inferred, logically enough, that no relationship that is not State-sanctioned and not indissoluble (except for adultery) counts as marriage at all:

[T]his reminds me of the kindred case of two persons in Nantucket who have advertised in the newspapers that they have formed a matrimonial connection for life, or as long as they can agree; adding, that they consider this partnership exclusively their own affair, in which nobody else has any concern. I am glad they have the grace not to make the State a party to any such arrangement as this. But true Marriage – the union of one man with one woman for life, in holy obedience to the law and purpose of God, and for the rearing up of pure, virtuous, and modest sons and daughters to the State – is a union so radically different from this, that I trust the Nantucket couple will not claim, or that, at all events, their neighbors will not concede, to their selfish, shameful alliance the honorable appellation of Marriage. Let us, at least, “hold fast the form of sound words.”
In Greeley’s day, most jurisdictions within the U.S. recognized no grounds for divorce other than adultery (though that was beginning to change, hinc illæ lachrymæ). Today that is no longer true. If, by Greeley’s definition, marriage is inter alia a union that is legally indissoluble (except for adultery), and if current U.S. law recognises no such indissoluble unions, that means that, by Greeley’s definition, nobody in the U. S. today is married.

33 years after Greeley’s animadversions against this unnamed Nantucket couple, a similar event occurred: Kansas free-love activists Lillian Harman and Edwin Walker announced their marriage. Regarding marriage as a “wholly private compact” of no concern to anybody by themselves, Harman and Walker had conducted their own marriage ceremony without involving either State or clergy. For this impertinence they were imprisoned. One of the presiding judges in the case – ironically named Judge Valentine – raised the question whether the couple’s crime was a) living together as a married couple without actually being married, or b) getting married but in an illegal fashion. Valentine came down on the side of (a), but on somewhat different grounds from Greeley’s.

Judge Valentine, unlike Greeley, granted that genuine marriage did not require any ceremony of the State: under common law “the mere living together as husband and wife of a man and woman competent to marry each other, with the honest intention of being husband and wife so long as they both shall live, will constitute them husband and wife, and create a valid marriage.” (He also seemed to require, again unlike Greeley, not that the marriage be actually indissoluble but only that the partners intend that it not be dissolved.) But he rejected the legality of the marriage for a different reason:

In my opinion, the union between E. C. Walker and Lillian Harman was no marriage, and they deserve all the punishment which has been inflicted upon them. … In the present case, the parties repudiated nearly everything essential to a valid marriage, and openly avowed this repudiation at the commencement of their union.
(Quoted in Hal D. Sears, The Sex Radicals: Free Love in High Victorian America, p. 94.)
What “essentials” had the couple repudiated? In their marriage ceremony Harman had declined not only to vow obedience to her husband (such a vow being repugnant both to her feminism and to her libertarian anarchism) but also to vow love unto death: “I make no promises that it may become impossible or immoral for me to fulfill, but retain the right to act, always, as my conscience and best judgment shall dictate.” She also declined to submerge her individuality in another’s by taking her husband’s last name: “I retain, also, my full maiden name, as I am sure it is my duty to do.” Walker for his part vowed that “Lillian is and will continue to be as free to repulse any and all advances of mine as she has been heretofore. In joining with me in this love and labor union, she has not alienated a single natural right. She remains sovereign of herself, as I of myself, and we ... repudiate all powers legally conferred upon husbands and wives.” In particular he repudiated any right as husband to control his wife’s property; he also acknowledged his “responsibility to her as regards the care of offspring, if any, and her paramount right to the custody thereof should any unfortunate fate dissolve this union.” Harman’s father added: “I do not ‘give away the bride,’ as I wish her to be always the owner of her person.” (Sears, p. 85.)

In Judge Valentine’s eyes, then, the “essentials” of marriage apparently included not only an intended commitment for life but also the wife’s duty to obey her husband and take his last name, and the husband’s right to rape his wife, to control her property, and to control her access to her children (rights that the husband did indeed traditionally enjoy under 19th-century American law – and which survived longer into the 20th century than you may think).

If, then, we apply Valentine’s 1887 definition of marriage to our own time, then any couples that are joined under marriage statutes that fail to require the wife’s legal subordination to her husband, or fail to require her to take her husband’s last name, or do not give the husband total control over his wife’s body, property, and children, are not married at all. If Greeley and Valentine were to timewarp their way to the present day, they would see no unions that they would recognise as marriages – not, at least, if they were to “hold fast the form of sound words.”

So my question, to those today who maintain that same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms, is this: on what grounds is your definition, which rules out same-sex unions but allows dissoluble, non-patriarchal heterosexual unions to count as marriages, to be preferred to Horace Greeley’s or Judge Valentine’s?

Posted October 19th, 2004



Plus Ça Change

I recently came across a letter I wrote to the Cornell Daily Sun sixteen years ago, as a graduate student, explaining why I was voting for Ron Paul rather than for Bush père or Dukakis. (I don’t even remember whether they published it, though I’m guessing not.) Much of it seems relevant, mutatis depressingly few mutandis, to the upcoming election:

27 October 1988

To the Editor:

I used to be a Republican. I voted, gods forgive me, for Ronald Reagan in 1984, by which time I should have known better. But I won’t be voting for George Bush on November 8th.

I always despised the Republicans’ hostility to personal freedom and civil liberties. But in supporting the Republican Party I let myself overlook its defects – its opposition to freedom of speech and press, to freedom of lifestyle, to abortion, to separation of church and state, to the ERA, to due process, etc. – because, like many other reluctant Republicans, I strongly agreed with two Republican values: free enterprise and a strong national defense. I therefore saw the Republicans as the lesser of two evils.

I now think this trade-off was a moral error on my part, a kind of deal with the devil. Civil liberties are too important to be traded off for anything; a vote for a Republican will be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the social agenda of the religious right. But in any case, the trade-off was a fraud; the Reagan years have shown me that the values that I – and many others of like mind – thought we had in common with the Republicans were illusory. Since Bush has promised to continue the Reagan agenda, let’s see what the Reagan agenda has really given us.

Reagan and Bush talk in glowing terms about the virtues of deregulation, low taxation, minimal government, and the unhampered market; so it’s easy to see why Reagan-Bush supporters and opponents alike think that Reaganomics means free enterprise. But Reaganomic rhetoric and Reaganomic practice are miles apart. A genuine free-enterprise program is not a program of skyrocketing deficits, special favours for big corporations, and a tax “reform” package that sticks it to the middle class. Regulation, spending, and taxation have all increased dramatically on balance under this administration; after all, the Republicans (I mean the politicians, not the average honest Republican voter) have to fund their pet special-interest lobbies, not to mention the bloated defense budget. Now when they address the public they have to pretend economic problems don’t exist, because the free-enterprise solutions they promised to implement have proven politically inconvenient. (David Stockman warned us seven years ago that this was happening, but not many listened.)

The failure of Reaganomics was inevitable. You can’t increase defense spending by as much as Reagan and Bush want to do without also increasing either taxes or the deficit – not even if you slash domestic spending by far more than even the most radical laissez-faire Republicans have proposed. A vote for Bush is not a vote for free enterprise; it’s a vote for what someone used to call voodoo economics.

And what about that defense budget? What are all the taxes and deficits paying for? Bush has said he wants the United States to “enforce peace all around the world” – with no help from those busybodies in the United Nations, thank you. That means more costly foreign entanglements, more mindless international muscle-flexing, and more bloody covert operations. I once naively believed that these activities made some sort of contribution to our national defense. But when we wade ignorantly into some third-world mess and throw our support behind the slimiest right-wing thug we can find, we not only betray our principles, we also create generations of fervent anti-Americans; Shahs beget Ayatollahs. It’s hard to see how the manufacture of enemies can be conducive to the national interest. (I must admit, in all fairness, that the Democrats have been as guilty as the Republicans in this area.)

Republican politicians, whatever they may say, do not want to get government off our backs. They want more power for the government – power to spend our money, power to regulate our morals, power to risk our lives and security in wrongheaded military adventuring. In particular, they want power for the executive branch at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches, and to hell with the Constitution: witness their praise of Oliver North, their opposition to the War Powers Act, their endorsement of judicial passivity à la Bork, their support for the line-item veto, etc.

Bush, if elected, will continue the tradition of deceiving the public about the true nature of our foreign policy. He has said proudly, several times, that the Reagan administration “freed Grenada from her Cuban masters.” That would be a surprise to the Grenadans. The government we overthrew in Grenada was not that of Castro’s friend Maurice Bishop (who had popular support), but was instead the anti-Cuban Coard-Austin junta that executed Bishop. Bush’s statement was a lie and he knew it. (And this is the guy we’re supposed to believe when he promises not to raise taxes?)

Some Bush supporters tell us not to worry – Bush is really a closet liberal, and is only dishing out conservative rhetoric to win the election. But this, if true, makes Bush still less desirable from the standpoint of character. (Anyway, how can anyone be expected to vote for a candidate who can say, with a straight face, in response to a question on foreign policy, that he intends to “integrate policy instruments into a multifaceted approach”?)

Michael Dukakis outclasses George Bush in almost every possible way. He is a firm defender of civil liberties. He opposes imperialistic interventionism, and was one of the few politicians to criticise our action in Grenada (though he seems to have backed off a bit now). He has not descended to the level of Bush’s mudslinging. Unlike Bush, he does not lecture us as if we were bad, stupid children, but actually offers reasons and intelligent persuasion. And unlike Bush, his political record is consistent and reliable, not an ideological hopscotch from one expediency of the moment to another.

But I’m not going to vote for Dukakis either. A Dukakis victory would almost certainly wreck the few fragile economic gains the Republicans have managed to achieve. Dukakis’ claim to economic expertise is based on a “Massachusetts miracle” funded by a tax cut law he vigorously opposed. He has as much as admitted that he has no understanding or appreciation of market mechanisms, but thinks they can be easily manipulated by regulators and bureaucrats. Dukakis pretty obviously intends to tax his way out of the deficit; if he does, that will stop the economic upturn dead in its tracks. His national health care program will also be an economic disaster, if it’s anything like the program he’s now introducing in his own state: does he really believe that every business in Massachusetts can afford to spend an extra $1,680 per employee without raising prices, laying off workers, or fleeing to tax-free New Hampshire?

Even Dukakis’ positions on non-economic issues are less than inspiring. Despite his social liberalism, he is committed to the increasing militarisation of the costly and futile war on drugs, together with all its attendant loss of civil liberties. A national health care program also carries an ominous potential for greater intrusion into our privacy and personal autonomy. Moreover, the sincerity of Dukakis’ commitment to peace must be questioned, in the light of his choice of a strong military interventionist as his running mate.

Both Bush and Dukakis stand for a greater extension of government control over our lives, albeit in different areas. Neither has much respect for the American people’s ability to make their own moral and economic choices. Both speak much of their claims to offer “leadership” – forgetting that under the U. S. Constitution the President is not our leader but our employee. Whichever candidate wins will take his victory as a mandate to substitute his judgment for ours. A vote for either Bush or Dukakis is a message of surrender.

That’s why on November 8th I’ll be casting a lonely vote for Libertarian Party candidate Ron Paul, a former U. S. Congressman who left the Republican Party for the same reasons I did. Ron Paul cannot win, but a vote for a Libertarian candidate at least sends Washington a message of protest against politics as usual. As this nation’s most thoroughgoing advocate of the safeguarding of individual choice against authoritarian encroachment, the Libertarian Party 1) seeks the repeal of laws that violate civil liberties, including censorship laws, victimless-crime laws, drug laws, and draft registration; 2) favours a real free-enterprise system that transfers economic decision-making from politicians (and their favourite banks and corporations) to private citizens themselves; and 3) urges that we get out of Nicaragua and the Persian Gulf, recognise that the third world is not ours to dispose of, stop taxing our citizens to pay for the defense of rich allies, and return to the foreign policy of the Founders: a strong defense, but no foreign meddling.

I invite those disgusted with both major candidates to join me in voting Libertarian. A vote for either Bush or Dukakis will be interpreted as approval; a refusal to vote will be interpreted as apathy. But a vote for Ron Paul means you’re fed up. And you are, aren’t you?

Roderick T. Long
My only quarrel, today, with what I wrote sixteen years ago is my frequent use of the word “we” to refer to the fascist U. S. régime. What do you mean we, kemosabe?

Posted October 18th, 2004



Their Land

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

In last night’s debate, did anybody besides me notice how much John Kerry’s market-socialist plan for fixing health care sounded like President Bush’s market-socialist plan for fixing Social Security?

In related news, I’ve recently posted on my website an article I wrote in 1996 trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade local gun-rights activists to vote for the LP; it’s my attempt to deal with the “wasted vote” argument, and is obviously meant to apply more broadly than just the gun issue. Check it out here.

Posted October 14th, 2004



Presidential Hermeneutics

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it, Jim, you’ve got to do in a way that passes the test – that passes the global test – where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

      – John Kerry, 1 October 2004

He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. That’s what he said. Think about this. Sen. Kerry’s approach to foreign policy would give foreign governments veto power over our national security decisions.

      – George W. Bush, 2 October 2004

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. … The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

      – Thomas Jefferson, 4 July 1776

He said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves. That’s what he said. Think about this. Mr. Jefferson’s approach to foreign policy would give “the opinions of mankind” and “a candid world” veto power over our national security decisions.

      – George W. Bush, 5 July 1776 [alternate history timeline]

Posted October 11th, 2004



They Fought the Law ...

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik and Green candidate David Cobb deliberately got themselves arrested at the Bush-Kerry debate in St. Louis last night in order to protest the exclusion of third parties from the debate process.

This doesn’t strike me as a particularly useful tactic, though given that they did it I’m glad they did it together; people may be (somewhat) less likely to say “oh, those crazy Libertarians” if the Green candidate was involved also (and ditto, mutatis mutandis, for the Greens). But the question as to whether this would be good or bad publicity may be moot, since the establishment media have been almost entirely silent on the incident.

Posted October 9th, 2004



The Civil War, Part Deux

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Needless to say, my last post has generated a lot of feedback, both public and private, from both sides – each explaining to me why the sins, if any, of its favoured camp are venial, while those of the other’s favoured camp are mortal. I would prefer not to be drawn into evaluating the pros and cons of particular persons or policies – both because doing so would go against the eirenic object of my post, and because, for reasons I explained last time, I regard such comparisons as largely a red herring. (Notice that I never said, and nothing in my post depended on saying, that the two sides were equivalent; assume that whichever side you think is worse really is worse, and my arguments still apply.) But I do want to comment on one particular issue.

Which is more problematic: seeking strategic association with powerful establishment promoters of statist evil, or seeking strategic association with powerless fringe promoters of statist evil? Half of my correspondents think the former is more problematic, on the grounds that establishment politicos are actually engaging in repression and mass murder right now, and it’s worse to commit crimes than merely to advocate them; also, they argue that one is more likely to be corrupted into compromise by powerful pals than by powerless ones. The other half think the latter is more problematic, since there is an excuse for associating with the establishment folks (they set policy, they’re widely respected and influential, so it’s hard to avoid dealing with them), whereas there is no analogous case for associating with groups that, while perhaps no more intrinsically objectionable than the ruling class, are powerless (and so cannot offer as much aid, nor is there any pressing need to interact with them) and unpopular (and so are more likely to harm the reputation and public perception of those who associate with them).

In short, the very same power differential between the two types of statists is cited by Catoites as grounds for regarding Mises-style alliances as more suspect than Cato-style alliances, and is cited by Misesites as grounds for regarding Cato-style alliances as more suspect than Mises-style alliances. My reaction to this is that each side has a valid point; there is a respect in which Cato-style alliances are more problematic than Mises-style alliances, and there is a different respect in which Mises-style alliances are more problematic than Cato-style alliances. It seems to me that intelligent libertarians of good will could reasonably disagree about both the relative and the absolute weights of these two respects.

By “relative” I mean: which of the two respects is more problematic? By “absolute” I mean: which respect (one? both? neither?) is so problematic that its costs outweigh its benefits? When I call for peace I’m not calling for a consensus on the right answer to either the relative or the absolute question (nor have I suggested any such answers myself); I’m just suggesting that someone can reach the wrong answers to those questions and still be a valuable friend of liberty, worthy of respect. (I would also add that no organisation or movement should be judged solely by the most provocative persons in it, nor should those persons be judged solely by the most provocative things they happen to say.)

Posted October 8th, 2004



The Civil War

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

No, not that one. (Though the two are related.) I’m talking about the war of insults and accusations between (people associated with, and/or sympathetic toward) the libertarian movement’s two most influential think tanks, the Cato Institute and the Mises Institute – a conflict that for a while looked like it was winding down, but now sadly seems to be heating up again. I won’t link to the relevant posts or name specific names because I have no desire to fan the flames further; but as someone with ties to both organisations I feel a responsibility to say something about the issue. This will probably get me in trouble with both sides, but here goes.

 Cato Institute a) Each side accuses the other side of taking some un-libertarian positions. For example, Catoites criticise Misesites for opposing immigration, while Misesites criticise Catoites for favouring vouchers. Well, first of all, neither institution is monolithic in this regard; not everyone at Cato is pro-voucher and not everyone at Mises supports border controls. Each of these groups is much more internally diverse than it appears when viewed, from a distance, by the other group. But second – okay, I think each criticism is right as far as it goes. I think the anti-immigration position popular among Misesites is a mistaken application of libertarian principles; and I also think the pro-voucher position popular among Catoites is a mistaken application of libertarian principles. But I don’t think either position is crazy, or something no intelligent libertarian of good will could hold. (And the same goes for many other policy issues that divide Catoites and Misesites.) After knowing, respecting, and learning from people in both camps, I find it hard to take seriously the accusations from either side that the other side is not sincerely libertarian.

b) Each side accuses the other side of engaging in personal attacks and of uncharitably distorting the other side’s positions. Yes, I think both sides have been guilty of such unfairness. I may be told that one side did this first, or has done this more. Well, suppose that’s right. As Rothbard would say (though not necessarily in this context!): so what? One doesn’t excuse the other; it’s unfortunate whoever does it, whenever and however much. Nor, however, do I find it plausible to suppose that either side is being deliberately dishonest in these distortions. When you think your opponent’s position is fundamentally screwy, you are likely to be impatient at the prospect of sorting out the position’s precise details.

 Mises Institute c) Each side accuses the other side of cozying up to horribly anti-liberty groups. Catoites accuse Misesites of making common cause with the racist-homophobic-theocratic-populist right. Misesites accuse Catoites of selling out to the mass-murdering regulatory imperial Beltway establishment. Catoites are horrified when Misesites give banquets in honour of theocratic economists; Misesites are horrified when Catoites give banquets in honour of establishment politicians. Each demands to know why the other side doesn’t denounce such folks instead of fêting them. (And each side is inclined to suppose, wrongly in my judgment, that the other side’s expressions of horror are either instances of unaccountable looniness or else disingenuous, a cover for some hidden agenda. Again, I know the people on both sides too well to find such accusations plausible.) Well ... the forming of strategic alliances with nonlibertarian groups is a tricky matter. There’s the attractive possibility not only of winning aid from statists but of influencing them in a libertarian direction. (Religious conservatives, for example, surely make less dangerous neighbours once they’ve been converted to anarchism.) On the down side, there’s the risk of lending their anti-libertarian positions legitimacy, as well as the danger that influence can be a two-way street. Catoites and Misesites are each convinced that they’re doing a good job of handling their own strategic alliances but that the other side has fallen to the dark side. (Murray Rothbard experimented with many different alliances – Objectivists, Goldwater Republicans, New Leftists, moderate Democrats, paleoconservatives – at different points in his career, and the Cato and Mises Institutes each partake of the character of whichever alliance Rothbard was pursuing at the time of their respective foundings.) I myself am not particularly comfortable with either the Beltway-style alliances or the paleo-style alliances (I’m personally more inclined toward the New Left sort of alliance that Rothbard was pushing in ’68 – though I recognise that it has its perils as well); and I certainly don’t think either side has negotiated its alliances flawlessly and without erroneous compromise. But I do think each side has been, in its own way, a powerful force for libertarian education, and I can’t deny that these risky alliances have played a role in these organisations’ success in advancing the cause of liberty.

In short, I am convinced that each side in this conflict tends to exaggerate its opponents’ shortcomings, and to underplay arguably analogous shortcomings in its own record. Someday these two camps will put their quarrels behind them and unite; when they do, they will defeat the State. I fear the current wounds may run so deep that any such resolution will have to wait until all the current participants have died off; but I can always hope.

Posted October 5th, 2004



Madness Below, Sanity Above

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

In South Korea, protestors are taking to the streets and clashing with cops. (See here and here.) What’s the reason for all this anti-state activity? The protestors want to stop the government from repealing a law banning ... anti-state activity. (Y’see, the protestors were engaging in right-wing anti-state activity in order to force the government to keep prohibiting left-wing anti-state activity, so it all makes sense. Sort of. Oh yeah, and apparently left-wing anti-state activity includes propaganda on behalf of South Korea’s friendly totalitarian neighbour North Korea. Which surely strains the concept of “anti-state,” but whatever.)

Meanwhile, in a saner universe: Congratulations to SpaceShipOne for completing two private space flights in succession, thereby winning the X Prize and, more importantly, laying the groundwork (spacework?) for a future of peaceful commerce, rational minds, and venturing spirits. (Check out this delightful parable on the insanity of governmental space research.) Earth is going to be a much nicer place to live once it has to face actual competition.

Posted October 4th, 2004



Republican Congressman Embraces Polytheism

As the Fascist Marriage Amendment was sinking down to well-deserved defeat this week, Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett attempted to keep it afloat by recycling the by this point rather antique quip, “God created Adam and Eve – he didn’t create Adam and Steve.”

He didn’t? Where did Adam and Steve come from then? Inquiring creationists want to know!

Posted October 3rd, 2004



Smash the Plutocracy!

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve received permission from Reason magazine to post Roy Childs’ classic 1971 essay Big Business and the Rise of American Statism on the Molinari Institute website. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time this excellent specimen of radical libertarian social analysis has been made available online. Drawing on Austro-Randian methodology and New Left historiography, Childs develops a libertarian interpretation of the Progressive Era, showing that government regulations supposedly designed to curb the power of the big corporations were actually introduced at the instigation and for the benefit of those corporations. I find this essay quite useful for libertarian outreach to the left (as well as for left-libertarian outreach to recovering-Republican libertarians). Read it here.

Posted October 3rd, 2004



No Truce With Kings

Lately, people keep referring to the President as “our Commander-in-Chief” or “Commander-in-Chief of the United States.”

No, he isn’t. The Constitution clearly states that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the military only.

So who’s the Commander-in-Chief of the country as a whole? Constitutionally speaking, nobody. The United States is not supposed to have a “Commander-in-Chief”; instead, governmental power is divided among executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as between the federal government and the states, with none of these divisions enjoying supremacy over the others.

Mind you, I’m no great supporter of the U. S. Constitution per se. It is legally illegitimate; it’s inferior in many ways to the Articles of Confederation that it replaced; and it certainly is far inferior to a genuinely anarchic constitutional order. Nevertheless, it does at least attempt to incorporate some elements of polycentricity into its structure, and this is crucial to what virtues it has, which, while exaggerated, are many. Thus it’s disturbing to see people acquiescing so easily in such a deeply un-American way of speaking.

As Isabel Paterson observed in God of the Machine: “When the word leader, or leadership, returns to current use, it connotes a relapse into barbarism. For a civilized people, it is the most ominous word in any language.”

Posted October 1st, 2004



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