Thursday, October 30, 2014

The weirdness of academic writing

"The changes in the nature of Chinese government after 1978 where at least as great as those that took place in economic policy. Indeed, one could argue that the massive shift from a centrally planned economy to a more open and marketized one could not have occurred without corresponding changes in the nature of government." -- Fukuyama, p. 371

"One could argue"? Well, is one arguing? And who would that "one" be?

Why not just write, "I argue that"?

Fukuyama on the contemporary Chinese state

"I would argue that the state that has emerged in China since the beginning of reforms in 1978 bears more resemblance to this classical Chinese state than it does to the Maoist state that preceded it, or even to the Soviet state that the Chinese tried to copy. Contemporary China has been engaged in the recovery of a long-standing historical tradition, whether or not participants in that process were aware of what they were doing." -- p. 371

We should go easy on Mises

"Da molti italiani il fascismo fu considerato un male che era necessario accettare. La mancanza di libertà sembrò un prezzo che era giusto pagare per avere un'Italia ordinata, senza scioperi né agitazioni popolari, senza minacce di rivoluzione." -- Il racconto dello storico

"For many Italians fascism was considered a bad that was necessary to accept. The loss of liberty seemed a just price to pay to have an orderly Italy, without strikes and popular unrest, without the threat of revolution."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I hope I live long enough to see the ancap revolution

I want to be around to console my ancap friends when all the angry young kids on the Internet are posting slogans like:

"Defense agency fees are theft!"

"A defense agency is nothing but a criminal gang that has duped people into thinking it is legitimate!"

"The network of ancap defense agencies is a massive conspiracy to extort money from people!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

McCarthy on Burnham

You should really read this great piece by Dan McCarthy on James Burnham. Machiavelli was a realist, and of course was despised for being one.

But the most interesting thing to me was the influence of Vilfredo Pareto on Burnham. Pareto pointed out that every society that is ever existed has had an elite. But when a rising elite is struggling for power within existing elite, it will often use anti-elitist language to inspire its followers, since "Give us power" is a slogan unlikely to attract many supporters.

Contemporary libertarians might ask themselves, "Is there a rising elite class who is using our idealism and energy in an attempt to gain power?" (Ahem, ahem, Koch Brothers, Peter Thiel.)

Literal deer in the headlights are no longer like figurative deer in the headlights

When I first started encountering deer on the road, 30 years or so ago, real deer acted like figurative deer in the headlights. But they have adapted to cars remarkably quickly. Now I see them calmly standing on the side of the road, waiting for my car to pass, after which they casually trot across the road.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Overdetermined": A strange concept

"Latin American institutions are overdetermined: that is, there authoritarian and illiberal character has multiple sources and does not simply lie in the material conditions found by the colonialists." -- Fukuyama, p. 242

Outside of the world of controlled laboratory experiments, doesn't almost everything that happens in the world have "multiple sources"? Collingwood notes this in a discussion of causation: we can say "the high winds caused the tree to topple," but so did its weak roots. And the weak roots were caused by the poor soil in the area. And the poor soil was caused by overfarming in past centuries. And the overfarming was caused by…

Not getting the "web" idea

Looking at a job site today, I found:

"To search positions, click the Search Postings link on the navigation bar."

Um, why not allow users to click "Search Postings" in that very sentence?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Don't you realize, that is handled in the literature?

On pointing out some logical flaw in libertarianism, a typical response is "Aren't you even aware that has already been handled in the literature?"

Of course, if it is a logical flaw, you already know it cannot be "handled" by writing more about it. So naturally these "handlings" are always patches. But they do serve the purpose of keeping any critic foolish enough to try to address every one of them busy forever. I will show you two examples of how logical problems in libertarianism are "handled," and henceforth stop posting comments like this.

1) I point out that the ancap notion that "the market should decide the law" is viciously circular, since we first need law to determine who owns what before they can enter the market. I am told, "Criminy, don't you know that is handled in the literature!" And I am pointed to this passage:

"A sophisticated critic may charge that my proposal rests upon a circular argument: How can people use contracts to define property rights, when a system of property rights is necessary to determine which contracts are valid? After all, Smith can’t sell Jones a car for a certain sum of money, unless it is established beforehand that Smith is the just owner of the car (and Jones the owner of the sum of money.)"

So how, without knowing who owns what, are we going to decide who in the world can contract for what with whom? There is a bit of talk about "insurance companies" in operation, which is curious, because we haven't yet worked out who owns the office building the insurance company will operate from, or the phones or computers or desks it will be making use of. The insurance companies are offering standard contract forms, but we haven't yet figured out if there are intellectual property rights to worry about here. And how do we get to the point where we have some clue who owns what, if IP exists, and so on? Will the author please tell us how we know if the so-called insurance company really owns the phone it calls me on, or the gold it is supposedly using to insure me? And he does: "The answer is simple: I don’t have such a theory."

So this passage "handles" this objection by admitting the author really has no idea how we will solve this problem, but he swears, it will be better than under the state, for sure!

Man, do I feel foolish for not having dealt with that riposte!

2) I note that it is perfectly permissible to blockade someone from leaving their property under anarcho-capitalism. "Ah, Gene, that has been handled in the literature!" And I am shown this passage, from Rothbard's For a New Liberty:

"The answer is that everyone, in purchasing homes or street service in a libertarian society, would make sure that the purchase or lease contract provides full access for whatever term of years is specified. With this sort of 'easement' provided in advance by contract, no such sudden blockade would be allowed, since it would be an invasion of the property right of the landowner."

To note here:
1) Just like I said, blockades are perfectly permissible in ancap, unless one has specifically purchased a right to not be blockaded by buying an easement.
2) Rothbard assumes no one ever signs a foolish contract. Now that's a pretty realistic assumption, isn't it?
3) An easement to where? What if you simply find yourself blockaded at the end of the easement you have purchased? Presumably no one can afford an easement that encircles the globe: at some point, the possibility of a blockade arises again. (This point is so simple that you can tell Rothbard was just doing patchwork: you can buy all the finite amount of easement you want, and still find yourself blockaded wherever it ends.)
3) This does not deal with the scenario I outlined at all if Jeb was living in, say, the town of Weston, which then goes ancap. Jeb had no reason to buy an easement, as he lived on a town road. But suddenly the road is private, and owned by the wealthy landowners who surround Jeb. Oops!

Every instance I have found of these problems being "handled in the literature" turns out to be like the above. Sorry, I don't have time for more snark hunts.

UPDATE: I just took the time to read all of his discussions of blockades in Block's private roads book, and it turns out, again, I was totally correct: blockades are perfectly permissible in Block's system. He only argues that as a practical matter, they won't occur, because people will make sure they have an easement.

The modern individual is different

"In agrarian societies, a person's important life choices -- where to live, what to do for a living, what religion to practice, whom to marry -- were mostly determined by the surrounding tribe, village, or caste. Individuals consequently did not spend a lot of time sitting around asking themselves, 'Who am I, really?'" -- Fukuyama, p. 187

Fukuyama would have been a bit more accurate here to say that these things were not a matter of choice, rather than calling them "important life choices." But the main point is sound: it was not until the last couple of centuries that millions and millions of human beings puzzled over the above choices, wondering who they should be.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

With no final arbiter, disputes easily escalate to violence

Bob Murphy is incredulous: Don't I realize that making an activity illegal tends to produce violence in those conducting that activity?

Yes, I do realize that, but the question is "Why does it do so?"

Let us look at some history to answer this question. The earliest form of human social organization was the band. No, not like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but a small group of closely related people, numbering perhaps a few dozen, who live, hunt, and forage together. Inside the band, the incidence of violence was low. When there was a dispute, the disputants brought their case to the band's elder(s). But violence between bands was widespread. Why? Here I forward a hypothesis: in a case of conflict between two different bands, there is no arbiter to whom they can bring their dispute for resolution, and so they fight it out.

As human population density grew higher, and this interband violence grew more frequent, a solution was devised: A number of bands in close geographical proximity bound themselves together into a tribe, with perhaps hundreds or a few thousand members. Violence within the tribe decreased dramatically, but intertribal violence was high. Why? Our initial hypothesis seems to hold good: within the tribe, disputants could bring their disputes to a final arbiter. But there was no such arbiter for disputes between tribes.

Tribes themselves consolidated into larger units, such as confederations or kingdoms. These were the forerunners of the modern state. Violence within these units decreased, but violence between them continued. Why? Once again, our initial hypothesis seems to hold. And many tribes recognized the benefits of this higher form of social organization: Germanic tribes often fought with Rome in order to gain admittance to the Roman Empire and reap the benefits of the Pax Romana.

As Murphy notes, the illegal status of, say, the trade in cocaine produces a great deal of violence. But why does it do so? To answer that question, we might ask, "In what situations this violence occur?" I think it is clear that most often, it is in cases such as a turf war between rival gangs, and not within the gangs themselves. Why would that be?

Our initial hypothesis seems to still be serving us fine: Within a gang, there is a final arbiter of disputes, namely, the head of the gang. But in disputes between gangs, there is no such final arbiter, and thus, disputes often turn violent. By making the cocaine trade illegal, the state has cast the various groups participating in that trade back into a pre-state condition.

And this explains quite well why various Mafia groups in 19th-century Sicily settled their disputes with violence: it is not because they were illegal, per se, but because they lacked a final arbiter for their disputes. In fact, Murphy has offered no evidence that under the legal code of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, it was illegal to offer private protection services. (And it would seem strange if it was: after all, private security is perfectly legal in the modern United States, and many other contemporary nations.) And even if it turns out that it was illegal to do so, what of it? The Mafia arose precisely because the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was so lax in providing any law-enforcement in Sicily. The negative effect that the Kingdom had on the prevalence of violence between various Mafia families (and note the use of the term "family": here we have a return to earlier forms of kin-based social organization!) was that it would, no doubt, have acted to prevent any one family from consolidating rule over the island and forming a new state. An attempt to do that would have drawn the king's attention to the island, and have resulted in an invasion, no doubt. So here we have an instance of a state too weak to perform its job, of enforcing the law and providing final arbitration of disputes, but not so weak that a new state could form in its place. This is similar to the condition of many "failed states" today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The weak state and the rise of the Mafia

"Diego Gambetta, however, presents an elegant economic theory of the Mafia's origins: mafiosi are private entrepreneurs whose function is to provide protection of individual property rights in a society in which the state fails to perform this basic service." -- Fukuyama, p. 114

In fact, according to what I have read, state law enforcement was almost entirely absent in Sicily when it was ruled by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century. (One of the "Two Sicilies" was the mezzogiorno.)

As Gambetta writes:

"In all likelihood, by the time Italy was unified in 1860-61 the foundations of this peculiar industry were already firmly in place. Not only did the state have to fight to establish itself and its law as the legitimate authority and a credible guarantor in a region where no such authority had previously existed."

So, in Sicily before the creation of the Italian state, there was effectively no state at all. The Mafia filled this vacuum.

This history would seem to present a problem for anarcho-capitalists. Our good friend Bob Murphy "deals" with this problem by contending the problem was... the state!

So, although we are dealing with a region in which state control was almost entirely absent, which would seem to be ideal conditions for the establishment of ancap defense agencies, the mere whiff of the state in their vicinity caused these agencies to become violent criminal gangs. This does not argue well for the stability of anarcho-capitalism!