Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Must liberals believe in fairy-tales? Dan Klein seems to think so.

This month's Cato Unbound, centered on Daniel Klein's essay "Against Overlordship", is rather painful to read. The participants began by talking past one another, but that aside, the content verges on the ridiculous.

I could spend a post on social-democrat Matthias Matthijs's seeming naiveté and descent into vulgarity. He writes of compulsory health-insurance in the abstract without any regard for what happened on the ground.

To Matthijs, "social democrats do not believe that you can be truly free – that is, capable of making rational and truly independent choices — without basic health considerations taken out of the picture. Social democrats are the true believers in liberty, real liberty, not the rather thin or limited kind most libertarians advocate. The social democratic concept of liberty is not encumbered by things we cannot control, like pre-existing health conditions or the financial resources of our parents." Forget that this would mean that social democrats do not make a distinction between liberty and capability, but the alternative is unclear. Is Matthijs (or Matthijs's hypothetical social democrat) proposing that humans cease being human and become disease-free? Is "liberty" contingent on being a new disease-free species? We all know that socialized medicine doesn't take away people's pre-existing health conditions, nor does it remove health considerations from the other choices we make in life. For Matthijs to claim otherwise is simply stupid.

It is as though Dworkin never wrote about "Justice in the Distribution of Health Care". Even to a leftist like Dworkin--and one who abuses vail of ignorance arguments--it was evident that the demand for health care, especially at the end of life, is infinite, and a socialized system must balance demand for this good against demand for others. Social democracy, then, does not remove health concerns so that people are somehow more free. It merely moves the choices about balancing away from the individual and towards his supposed betters. Why should the individual _not_ have to take into account his desire for future health care when making educational, business, or other decisions? How is that individual more free if that decision is instead put in the hands of others? That is how social democracy (a form of socialism) works. It is not a magical "abundance button". The individual will get sick, and will not receive infinite treatment. End of story.

Beyond that, Matthijs, even when asked about concretes, fails to acknowledge what Obama and the Democrats did. It is not just a forced purchase of insurance. Obama and the Democrats banned actuarially fair insurance pricing and required "insurance" to be issued for certainties. The bill passed earlier this year did not merely require that actuarially fair insurance policies (with or without riders) be issued to people with pre-existing conditions. It required that risk not play any role whatsoever in determination of the cost of an insurance policy. Perhaps this is what Matthijs (or his hypothetical social democrat) had in mind above. The individual need not worry about the costs of his actions: the "insurance" rates--and "insurance" is only a euphemism now--will be the same.

But it is lead essayist Dan Klein who is the most frustrating, and the most vulgar. Hang out around dilettante libertarians enough and you'll hear someone say (usually in different words) that the state being sovereign, the law being *gasp* changeable, or there being any law whatsoever means you don't "really own" your property, that the state or someone else owns it. This is Klein's position, too.

The left may continue: “There are no natural property rights. Property is a set of permissions, a bundle of rights, determined by the government and delegated to you by the government. When a rearrangement of the bundles would be good, that’s what the government should do. ‘Your’ property rights are simply whatever permissions result from the process.”

Let’s enter into that way of thinking, follow through on it, and surface its presuppositions.

Although they may not be fully conscious of it, progressives and social democrats are saying that everything is owned by the state. Or, perhaps, that the substructure upon which topsoil, buildings, and other things sit is owned by the state. Either way, simply by being in the United States, you voluntarily agree to all government rules.

Does Klein not understand that ownership is not and never has been the same thing as sovereignty? If he is correct about ownership than nobody except despots have ever owned anything.

It gets worse. Later in the essay he writes positively about natural rights, including a natural right to property. How much more stupid can an educated man get, than to presume that property rights--influenced strongly by the English common law--are somehow "natural", or at least a natural substrate to which government has made un-natural modifications. Not only is the history of property in our legal tradition fairly well documented--that something is old does not mean that it is natural--Elinor Ostrom and many others have also made careers studying how different socities meet their respective needs with different property rights. Why Klein's ideal is "natural" but the property rights systems of e.g. American Indians, Inuit, Somalis, and many others is by implication not "natural" is left a mystery.

In light of history, comparative studies, and even the sort of theoretical work done by Cato Unbound participant David Friedman, the "natural rights" approach is intellectually untenable. Indeed it is so ridiculous, involves so much begging the question, that it is shameful. There is no alternative to viewing property rights as transferable bundles of rights whose nature depends on law and social custom. This is simply the result of serious study of what property rights are and have been. Yet Klein, in his stridence, insists that we should see property rights as "natural". It is though he is saying to libertarians that it would be better if we acted as though we were either stupid or ignorant or both, that false advocacy of nonsense on stilts is necessary and that embracing the modern understanding of property (as e.g. Richard Epstein has done) means somehow that we will magically stop owning things and surrender our liberty.

Klein's objection to the "bundle of rights" approach seems to be that property rights can change if the law changes. Why does Klein not argue that the law should never change? This is a corner into which many "libertarians" of the Randist or Rothbardist (or "non-initiation of force") variety--the sort who think that there are closed systems that give all the answers--paint themselves. If you ever want to see one squirm, pin him down on this question: given what he argues, then should the law and thus property rights never change? Bring up interesting hypotheticals and historical problems. If Coasean bargaining is the excuse, pin him down on transaction costs, endowment effects, and other non-satisfaction of the premises of the Coase Theorem. Watch the lols ensue.

Before Will Wilkinson was purged from Cato, this vulgar nonsense would never have made it into Cato Unbound. What is certainly of no use to the cause of liberty is for Dan Klein to insist on a position best left to teenaged Rothbardites and get schooled by a social democrat. His essay makes it appear as though liberalism (libertarianism) depends on belief in fairy tales like natural property rights. That is not so.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is this an opening against "May Issue" CCW?

Via Dave Hardy, news that a U.S. District Court judge is requiring that an Iowa sheriff take a basic course on the U.S. Constitution after denying a local activist a CCW permit because his views are unpopular.

This is a paradigm case, one in which the issues are very clear. But the problems Paul Dorr encountered are those of nearly everyone who is denied a CCW permit in a "may issue" state: a sheriff gets to decide, arbitrarily, based on extra-legal factors, whether you, too, can join the privileged few and discreetly carry a firearm. One can hope that legislators and judges in New York and California have taken note of the Dorr case.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hours before McDonald: Will Chicago Democrats obey the law?

Chances are that the Supreme Court will apply the 2nd Amendment to the states (via the 14th) and overturn Chicago's handgun ban. Will Daley and the Democratic Party obey the law or will separate enforcement actions be needed? Remember: this is the party and administration that carried out the "terrorist bombing" of Meigs Field in defiance of the Feds, not over some Constitutional dispute or in support of human rights, but rather, to build a park.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Shouldn't the press stop calling the Brady Center for its opinion?

Read a national-interest news story on firearms law and chances are high that the reporter solicited and quoted the opinion of the "Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence" (formerly Handgun Control, Inc). In the early '90s, when they got the Brady Bill passed and signed into law and stood prepared to destroy American firearms culture and support for RKBA altogether by defining each part of a firearm as a "firearm" and restricting private ownership to 20 such "firearms", or even in 2000, when the group raised over $1.6MM to attempt to influence that year's elections, this made some sense.

Nowadays, it's not too much of a stretch to claim that the Brady Campaign has effectively zero support. To date in the 2010 fiscal year, the Brady Campaign (PAC) has raised only $2,500, putting them in the ballpark of e.g. a typical Prohibition Party presidential campaign or Libertarian Party candidate for anarcho-capitalist dogcatcher.

To be fair, the "Brady Center"--the side of the operation that isn't a PAC or a lobby group, brought in nearly $3 MM in 2008, according to the Better Business Bureau. For a "national" organization, that's pathetic. The ACLU Foundation (the non-lobbying side of that operation), to provide a point of contrast, brought in over $66 MM in 2007 and the National Parks Conservation Association raised $61 MM. Things have gotten so bad for the Brady Bunch that they're having a "fire sale" of sorts, selling a mailing list they previously told members they'd keep private.

The Brady Center's political Brady Campaign has withered away to nothing, and the "educational" Center itself was in 2008 operating on what, for a national organization of its visibility and former prestige, was a shoestring budget. (If the trend in Campaign fundraising correlates to that of the Center, one expects that this year the Center will see far less than $3 MM.) It isn't unfair to say that support for the Brady Campaign is nonexistent and that the Center isn't far behind; only a single donor was willing to pay the Campaign to do what it does, and the Center is able to raise but a minuscule sum.

Phoning Paul Helmke for a quote when writing a firearms-law news article is like giving equal time to a third-party paper candidate when covering local politics or phoning a conspiracist, unscientific crank when writing a piece on climate change. It's false balance. That a group that has faded to nonexistence gets equal time is a sign of bias against RKBA in the press if there ever was one. The Brady Campaign and Brady Center are no longer newsworthy and should not be treated as such.

Hat tip to Alan Korwin for the $2500 number--it took a bit of searching to find the source.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Capitalism and Freedom in 2010.

Over on Epinions, my review of Capitalism and Freedom is up. There's a bit too much chapter-by-chapter commentary, making it a more tedious read than it should be, but there's so much confusion about what's in this book that it's worth it.

Have a look at the dopey remark and ensuing exchange in the comments section. People who blame Friedman or Chicago School economics for Chile's early 1980s recession are ridiculous: since when did Chicago Schoolers advocate fixed exchange rates and government favortism of industries, in this case, copper. Moreover, it's about time--just as is the case with global warming denialists--that we start calling lies lies and liars liars. Anyone who believes that Friedman was "sent" to Chile, that Friedman advised the Pinochet government in any meaningful sense of the word, or that Pinochet was a Chicago School "True Believer" and that this motivated repression needs to be shamed, as none of these statements have any basis in fact. They were lies when student radicals made them up in the 1970s and they remain lies today. More than 30 years later, there's no excuse for believing them, especially with Wikipedia and dozens of articles setting the facts straight immediately available.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Query about "Austrian Economics": ("Bleg".)

From the perspective of modern economic science, as opposed to a provincial "Austrian" perspective, what, if any, were the lasting contributions of Ludwig von Mises?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Insight on the "Tea Party" phenomenon.

From Vishal Ganeshan:
Among Tea Party respondents, the President enjoys a 88% job disapproval rating. Further, 84% of respondents simply have an unfavorable opinion of him. That their overwhelmingly negative opinion of the President is largely divorced from his actual policies is disturbing, but it also brings to light one of the reasons for the GOP’s refusal to cooperate with the President and the Dems on any issue...the recipe for success is saying “no” to the President, regardless of the policy implications.
The whole article is worth reading.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dumbing down of America, sartorial edition

While searching for wedding attire, originally deciding on morning dress (before the ceremony was moved to later in the day) I discovered that not a few companies call the morning coat/cutaway coat "Tuxedo Tails", and that they also call the "white tie" tailcoat "Tuxedo Tails".

Moreover, on a somewhat related note, the Homburg hat is sold on the Internet as the "Gangster" or "Godfather" hat. Given how the fedora was named, that almost makes sense.

Jacques Barzun considered the turning away from more prescribed forms of dress a symptom of a broader culture of "emancipation". What does one call "Tuxedo Tails" and "Godfather hat"? That doesn't seem to be the word for it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A little abuse of the language:

From a website about scanners:
What do you want to scan?
Only photos: If you only want to scan photos, go for a flat bed scanner that does not provide features for transparent media such as slides and negatives. This will put you in the sub $200 range.

Photos and negatives/slides: Flat bed scanners that have the capability to scan transparent media (slides/negatives) are more expensive since they usually have two detectors (top and bottom). We recommend the EPSON 4490 or the EPSON 4990 for photos, but we recommend the Nikon 5000 ED and Nikon 9000 ED for slide scanning and negative scanning.

"Photo" is not a synonym for print. I had to read that first sentence three times to make sense of it.

There used to be badges to put on websites to signal that one supports free speech, etc. (I think there still are.) We should have a badge saying "I will not participate in the further dumbing-down of America" for websites that refuse to butcher usage in ways like the above.

We don't want them to know the word for what they saw Mommy doing to Daddy...they might tell everyone.

Via Tyler Cowen: an Arkansas California elementary school removes Webster's Collegiate Dictionary from its library after students do what students have done with dictionaries since time immemorial: look up dirty words.

Read the news piece. Some parents think the school should replace the dictionary with one with more "age-appropriate" words!