Saturday, December 27, 2008

Unintended consequences

Writing about the problems that arise when the government intertwines itself with an area of the private economy, in this case medicine, Roderick Long writes:

When so much of the health care system has been unnaturally sucked into the federal embrace, such selective de-funding unfairly limits people’s choices in a way that they would not be limited in a free market. If I and my gang use the violence of the state to gain a near-monopoly of some good or service, our decision to refuse to provide that good or service to people we don’t like begins to look not so innocent…

…it’s a great example of how the Rawlsian/Dworkinian [Ronald, not Andrea or poor Gerald] dream of a state apparatus that is neutral among its citizens’ competing conceptions of the good is ultimately incoherent. Federal funding for contraception and abortion violates the rights of taxpayers who oppose those practices on moral grounds; selectively de-funding those practices in the context of a heavily statised health care industry threatens people’s reproductive freedom.

Quite right. There's an important consequence to this: Because neutrality is impossible, state involvement in any area of society encourages additional conflict between citizens, as formerly private activities become public business.

For this reason, it’s somewhat ironic that pro-choicers are generally much more likely than pro-lifers to support more government in health care. As things stand now in the United States, abortion is fairly difficult to assail successfully- totally outlawing it on either the national or state level would require an amendment to the national constitution. But suppose we had universal health care, with everything paid for by the government. Now it’s simpler- you don’t have to outlaw a medical procedure to stop it, you just have to deny it funding.

Getting support for such a de facto outlawing of abortion would be much easier to pull off if universal healthcare existed, as well. As it is now, some people want abortion outlawed, but there are a lot of people who don’t want any part of it themselves but don’t think it should be illegal. However, if all abortions are paid for by the taxpayer, the “disapproving but tolerant” portion of the population is faced with a problem- if you don’t want your own money paying for abortions, or just for particular types (late-term abortions, for instance), your only means of self-defense is to eliminate access to it. (History strongly suggests that once universal healthcare is instituted, conservatives will quickly come to accommodate it and adapted into their own ideology, so any sustained attempt by pro-lifers to fix the problem by returning health care to the private sector is unlikely.) You could try to avoid the problem by making abortions an exception to otherwise universal government funding of health care, but liberal pro-choicers would be the first to condemn such a thing.

There are other possible outcomes to conservative-controlled government medicine that many liberals would find uncongenial- things like sex reassignment surgery or in vitro fertilization could also be made inaccessible through de-funding, and such a thing would be easier to accomplish than making them officially illegal when they’re being directly paid for by those who want them. Making health care a purely government responsibility could also strengthen the hand of conservatives when they argue in favor of government control in people’s personal lives. Sex is the obvious example, since it can be a vector for disease and thus a source of health care expenses. If smoking restrictions, helmet laws, “fat taxes,” and the like are permissible because bad health habits can increase government health care expenses-and liberals have become quite insistent that they are- than such restrictions would only become more desirable when the government is footing the entire bill, and many conservatives have their own list of private activities they would like to interfere with.

As usual, virtually no one ever anticipates the possibility that all the powers they want to give the government will sometimes be in the hands of their opponents.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Visit scenic Illinois: Third-World government at First-World prices!

Today, I am proud to be an... Illinoisian? Illinoisite? What the hell are we called, anyway? It doesn't matter. You know, other states can claim their petty distinctions- their monuments, their scenic mountains and forests, their low murder rates. But how many other states in the Union will soon be able to claim the distinction of having two consecutive governors go to prison for corruption?

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Monday, December 08, 2008


I just wanted to assure any readers wondering about my absence that I have not been slain in a gangland assassination or died an ironic death entombed beneath a pile of old Jack Vance paperbacks that came crashing down on me when their weight proved too much for my cheap self-assembled bookshelves to withstand. I’ve just been plagued with computer problems, and my computer usage has thus been limited. I should be fully operational and writing on a timelier schedule soon, though, provided the damn thing doesn’t become sentient and murder me in my sleep. Which, considering my usual luck with electronics, is a serious possibility.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ah, those stalwart champions of the common man

Reading the response to this post by Will Wilkinson, especially in the post’s comments section, made me chuckle a bit. Wilkinson argues that giving billions of dollars in taxpayer money to the Big 3 car companies would be a bad idea. This leads to a predictable outpouring of liberal commenters railing against Wilkinson for being a heartless monster who doesn’t care about auto workers, or a fanatical market fundamentalist who doesn’t understand that a more nuanced view would mean realizing that government intervention is invariably the solution, or whatever- the standard hysterical outbursts that are used as a substitute for actual thought.

The funny part is that liberals are endlessly claiming that their opponents- and especially libertarians- are just shills for big business. And yet here, we have a bevy of liberals attacking a libertarian for his opposition to corporate welfare! Once this would have confused me; it no longer does.

There were voices of reason. A commenter called Jordan summed things up by saying:

Hilarious. You can always count on the types who rail about the "eeevil corporations" to be first in line when said corporations come begging for handouts.

Quite right, and perhaps the best single-sentence summation of mainstream liberalism there is. American liberalism is not about expanding government power to combat exploitation by big business, it is about exploiting fear of big business to build up government power. Much as the actions of conservatives are often baffling if you take their claimed opposition to "big government" seriously, the behavior of liberals does not become fully comprehensible until this basic truth is understood.

I gave up on the Republican Party and stopped considering myself a “conservative” because I realized that they didn’t really mean it when they attacked big government, and were as bad as the Democrats. I hope more people who support the Democrats or consider themselves liberals out of a sincere opposition to exploitative plutocrats similarly start to figure out that the company they are keeping is no more a threat to plutocracy than the Republicans are.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Yes, just like all liberals 'hate America"

A certain pet peeve of my mine has come to the fore a lot lately. Over at the blog Art of the Possible, poster Alix quotes the following from Makani Themba-Nixon:

If anyone doubts that racism is alive and well in American politics, the fact that more than 55 million people voted for McCain in spite of his negative, racist and politically vacuous campaign; his lack of charisma and terrible media performance; his scary choice of running mate and inconsistent positions on virtually every issue of importance; and in spite of his obvious ineptitude for the bread and butter issues facing the majority of electorate should be proof enough. Being White and male gave him the handicap (in golf terms) that got him 50 million plus votes “just because.”
I agree that racism remains a real factor in America, but the fact that some people have the temerity to vote against Barack Obama is not very good proof of that. Much as I dislike McCain, Themba-Nixon's solipsistic inability to grasp the possibility that significant numbers of people might actually vote for him for reasons other than raw wickedness strikes me as a textbook example of the utter lack of empathy that does so much to distort liberal/leftist political analysis and commentary. Themba-Nixon thinks McCain was a bad candidate, and apparently can’t conceive that anyone could sincerely disagree, so it must be racism.

This sort of thing seems to be much more common on the left than on the right. (Right-wingers can be quite nasty too, but their venom tends to have a different feel to it; they often hate liberals, but do not generally seem bewildered by them.) I think part of the reason is differences in the underlying philosophies, which is a post in itself. In large part, however, I think the difference is the product of external conditions. Due to the composition of academia and the American media, liberals in intellectual or opinion-shaping careers are far more likely than their conservative counterparts to operate in an environment where their fundamental beliefs rarely encounter serious challenge. When combined with the center-left/good-government slant of the mainstream media and public education, it’s not hard for large (and influential) segments of the population to go through life with very little experience of anything that seriously challenges their ideology. (Which is why I laugh when any earnest mainstream center-left pundit laments the danger of political “echo chambers” created by all the fragmented communities of the Internet. The fact that some of them seem to actually be sincere just makes it funnier.)

In that sort of environment, it’s easy for liberal premises to come to seem not only true, but so obviously true that people who reject them seem incomprehensible, motivated by sheer perversity. Whenever their many faults, conservatives are forced by circumstance to be constantly aware that not everyone considers the truth of conservativism to be self-evident.

This is not a specifically liberal problem, or a specifically political one; it can crop up whenever there is a similar imbalance between two groups in numbers and/or representation among opinion-shapers. For instance: Extroverts, in my experience, often seem to find the preferences or even the existence of introverts incomprehensible, whereas introverts seldom find extroverts similarly baffling. (Just annoying. I kid, I kid. Mostly.) We don’t have inherently greater insight; it’s just that introverts don’t reside in an environment where most people are like them and the media and popular culture continuously and reflexively treats their nature and preferences as normative. Without sufficient stimulation, the ability to understand people who aren’t like you often atrophies.

At least in this area, libertarians have a certain advantage. Our tiny numbers and rejection of many of the implicit assumptions that underlie almost all mainstream political discourse make it impossible to forget that not all people agree with us, and it’s much harder to imagine everyone who disagrees with you as a monstrous devil when you’re surrounded by and interacting with those people all the time.

Admittedly, the superior insight gained through obscurity and impotence is a fairly small silver lining in a very dark cloud. You have to take what you can get, and do what you can with it. I've previously written on a somewhat similar topic at this post and this post.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A story for election night

I'm finally getting things up and running again. I'll have some new stuff shortly, but in in observance of the election I thought I'd repost something I wrote a while back.

Your Sacred Duty to Vote: A Parable

I was reading the paper one morning when I heard a knock on the door. I hadn't been expecting a visitor, but I quickly got up and opened the door. On my front step, to my surprise, was my next-door neighbor, holding a baseball bat in his hands.

"Uh… Can I help you?" I asked.

He nodded eagerly, and said, "I've come so we can play a game. You'll flip a coin. If it comes up heads, I'll break both of your legs. If it comes up tails, I'll break your arms. I play this game with all the neighbors every few years. Sounds pretty fun, don't you think? You're lucky; in some places people don't get to play my game." He smiled, clearly quite pleased with himself.

"This is absurd!" I exclaimed. "I'm not playing your game. Get off my property!"

He sighed, looking very hurt. "Fine," he said. "I'll flip the coin." He produced a quarter from his pocket and tossed it into the air. It landed on the concrete path in front of my house, heads facing up. "Well, the coin has spoken." Before I could react, he swung the bat, hitting me in the leg. I gasped and sank to one knee. He swung again and again at my shins, leaving me sprawled on the ground.

Through the pain, I cried out, "You broke my legs!"

"Well, yes," he replied. "The coin came up heads. What are you so upset about, anyway?"

Incredulous, I yelled, "You have no right to go around beating people up!"

He seemed baffled at this. "Sure I do. You consented to this when you chose to live on the same block as me. Besides, you refused to exercise your right to flip the coin, like I offered. If you won't participate in my game, you have no right to complain about the outcome."

His reasoning seemed a bit off to me, but I was in too much pain for any deep logical analysis. "Well," he continued, "It's been a pleasure serving you, but I've got to get going. Lots of houses left to visit today. See you in two years!" With that he smiled, gave a polite nod, and was on his way.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

A conundrum

One of the frustrating things about politics is how difficult it can be to distinguish actual liberalism from parodies of liberalism. Case in point: Is this Slate article, "Date Local: The Case Against Long-Distance Relationships" a clever satire of the environmentalist drive to subjugate every aspect of human life and slaughter them all on Gaia's altar, or is author Barron YoungSmith actually serious?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sheep's clothing

As the old Vulcan proverb says, only Nixon could go to China. His reputation as a devoted Cold Warrior meant no one could plausibly accuse him of being soft on Communism for opening relations with China, whereas a dove who attempted it would have been.

I was put in mind o that by the recent $700 billion dollar bailout passed by Congress. The bailout had more support from Democrats than from Republicans. Barack Obama voted in favor of it, as did McCain. If the economic situation gets worse, the next president will be in a position to further expand the state's role in the economy, perhaps significantly so.

I wonder if Democrats felt more comfortable giving hundreds of billions of dollars away to banks precisely because of the public perception that Democrats are opposed to powerful business interests (something even many opponents of the Democrats believe.) Consider Obama himself: he's been accused of being an extreme liberal, a Marxist, a terrorist sympathizer, and a secret Muslim, but how often does anyone accuse him of being a tool of powerful business interests? To the overwhelming majority of the American people, the idea is too absurd to even entertain, even among people who hate Obama.

Thus, I wonder if a Democratic president and legislature might actually be more prone to being a tool of politically connected plutocrats than Republicans would be. To a great extent, legislation intended to aid particular economic interests can fly under the radar, because almost everyone (conservatives included) buys into the myth that interventionism is bad for big business. People might attack a proposed regulation for being innefectual or misguided, but the idea that regulation might be what the major players in the field being regulated want is quite foreign to most people. Nevertheless, being excessively blatant about it can still make people notice, as the public's anger over the bailout shows.

A Democratic government could probably push the envelope farther than the Republicans could- the widespread presumption that Democrats are hostile to the wealthy and powerful would mean that the Democrats would have to get really blatant about it before people started asking questions and catching on, whereas everyone expects the Republicans to be on the side of big business.

On the other hand, the false perception of McCain and the Republicans as devoted supporters of free markets- promoted by the dishonest and the ignorant on both sides of the political spectrum- would provide Republicans with cover as well. After all, if even the Republicans think that the government should intervene, you know something needs to be done!

I'm not sure which factor would be stronger in an economic crisis. I should note that the Democrats' image as enemies of plutocracy would probably make it easier for them to get away with passing genuine pro-market reforms- not that it would ever actually come up, of course.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

It never ends...

I was in a fairly good mood until I found this article, via Psychopolitik:

Too busy playing video games to watch presidential ads on television? Barack Obama has found you, too, by becoming the first presidential candidate to buy ad space inside a game.

Nine video games from Electronic Arts Inc., ranging from the extremely popular "Madden 09" football game to the street racing "Burnout: Paradise," feature in-game ads from the Obama campaign. The ads — they appear on billboards and other signage — remind players that early voting has begun and plug a campaign Web site.

I doubt it was intentional, but the way the lede gives the impression of a relentless hunter-"Barack Obama has found you, too"- seems wonderfully appropriate. The hunter being not Obama in particular, but the overwhelming importance of politics and the state in American life.

This apparently will apply mostly to sports games, where it's much easier to fit ads for real products into the game setting, and I'm mostly an RPG/strategy guy, so it doesn't reach me directly. Still, it frustrates me that there are ever-fewer places in our culture where one can avoid this crap.

Ayn Rand once remarked (quoting from memory, probably not exact), "I'm interested in politics so that one day I won't have to be interested in politics." That's always resonated with me. The need to guard against aggression is never-ending, and would remain so even in a fully free society, but the maddening thing about our current situation is that it feels as if there is never a moment's peace- the state and it's machinery of legitimation never stops poking, probing, trying to work its way into everything.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

A grim legacy

You know, if "hockey mom" becomes a permanent part of the American political lexicon, I am going to be really pissed. The whole "Sport+Parent" method of describing supposed voting blocs has got to be one of the most annoying innovations in political rhetoric of the last decade.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Status update

My apologies for the slow posting lately. I've got a chapter in a forthcoming book, and I've been busy looking over the proofs. I'll be more active shortly.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lèse majesté

On AOL Video, I ran into this video of actress Hayden Pannettiere in a PSA encouraging people to vote, in which Pannettiere says jokingly that she will likely not vote herself. The response was… predictable. First, there was the contingent who somehow managed to not get the rather obvious hints that the ad was a joke, and were enraged by the prospect of somehow publicly saying they’re not going to vote, with the usual nonsense about how voting is our most important right and everyone is obligated to do it.

There was another group that I found interesting, who understood that the ad was not serious but were offended by it nevertheless. Their objection was not that the joke was unfunny, but that the idea of not voting was too offensive, or the subject of the vote itself too sacrosanct, to even joke about. It was as if Pannettiere had made a wisecrack about the Holocaust or told a lewd joke involving the Virgin Mary.

Like the flag, for many people the vote seems less a political matter than a religious one. It really is remarkable how voting has become the central American right, the right that constitutes and defines “freedom.” Nothing else- the right to property, to free speech, to bear arms, to your own labor, to control your own body- has such a sacred character.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Claiming ownership

Donald Boudreaux has a great post on draft registration. In the post, he explains how he described the concept of draft registration to his young son:

It's part of the government's effort to make you think that your life ultimately belongs to it and not to you. The government wants you to believe that you're obliged even to die for it if it commands you to do so.

Boudreaux goes on to describe registration as a “degrading ritual,” which strikes me as right on the money. I remember when I registered, and I felt… I guess “cheapened” is the best word, as if I was admitting that I wasn’t worth enough to claim my life as my own.

This is a key part of why I find all the ideas for compulsory “national service” for young people, military or otherwise, so repulsive. It would be another way for the government to loudly proclaim, to each young person entering adulthood, that your life belongs to the state, not to you. Some supporters of these schemes all but admit that this is the point, with their talk of instilling a sense of “community obligation” or the like. Indeed, requiring recent high school graduates to spend their time working on government “service” projects for months or years on end would drive that message home much more dramatically than a one-time act like registering for the draft.

The state isn’t just after your money, your labor, or your obedience. It’s after your soul. Never forget that.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sarah Palin thoughts

Well, by now everyone knows that John McCain has selected Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. It’s a relief for me; there used to be a bit of speculation (or perhaps just neocon wishful thinking) that he would pick Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, and if that had happened I would have had to make some Alec Baldwinesque threat to flee to New Zealand if McCain won. Palin doesn’t impress me, but things could be a lot worse. Plus, it would be amusing if Palin eventually ends up as President, just to hear the shrieks of anguish when America’s first female President turns out to be a Republican.

Don’t judge me harshly. Sometimes spite is all I have.

I expect her sex to be a benefit, on net. The chance to vote for a woman for Vice-President will probably win over some independents, and some of the mushier former Clinton supporters, and bring out a lot of voters who otherwise wouldn’t have voted at all. I expect that to more than offset the number of votes her sex costs the ticket. Potential McCain voters repelled by the idea of voting for a woman seem more likely to just stay home than vote for a liberal Democrat. Plus, having a mother of five on the ticket will help cancel out the public’s perception of McCain’s uncuddly personality and eagerness to send the kids of potential voters to die in foreign hellholes.

It’s interesting to see liberals attempting to attack Palin (e.g. here) for seeking the vice-presidency on the grounds that she’s a woman with young children. I hadn’t thought that it would be the Democrats, circa 2008, saying that ambitious women should get back in the kitchen. Actually, I shouldn’t be surprised; one of the lessons of the Clinton years is that mainstream liberalism’s feminism is actually quite shallow. (Hell, a lot of mainstream feminism’s feminism is quite shallow, if it threatens to conflict with the needs of the Democratic Party.) Expect to see more criticism of Palin on those lines.

Since it’s already being said online by members of the rank-and-file, I wonder how long it will be before some liberal pundit insinuates- or outright says- that Palin is irresponsible for failing to have her mentally disabled child killed in the womb.

It’ll be fun to see all the conservatives who said that Obama, a state legislator turned freshman senator, lacked the necessary experience to be President turn on a dime and insist that of course a few years as a small-town mayor and two years as a governor provides more than adequate preparation to serve as the Vice-President for a man who is already 72 years old.

I just wish campaign season was over with already.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

I guess there were no thermobaric bombs available

From Radley Balko comes the news that the Sheriff’s Department of Richland County, South Carolina, now has an armored personnel carrier with a .50 caliber machine gun.

Is there no end to this insanity? Did the Sheriff just sit down one day and say, “You know, terrorizing people with SWAT teams wielding automatic rifles is cool and all, but the risk of slaughtering innocent bystanders just isn’t high enough?” Have the local pot dealers started hiring mechanized infantry battalions to provide muscle?

When I was younger, I was irritated by the practice of using the term “civilian” to mean “people other than those in law enforcement.” Police, I reasoned, are civilians just as much as I am, not soldiers, and it’s dangerous to have the police thought of as some sort of military force, lest they start to think of the American people as a subject population to be subdued rather than fellow citizens to be defended. I’ve concluded that I was right on the political philosophy but wrong about the reality on the ground; more and more, police are correct in thinking that they are not “civilians.” More and more, American law enforcement is an army, and the rest of us are a subject population to be subdued.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Blindness all around

Here in Illinois, we had a new law passed last October requiring that every child entering kindergarten have an eye exam performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. This is in addition to state-mandated in-school tests already performed in kindergarten. This new school year will have the first students actually affected by the requirement.

And who are big supporters of this? The American Optometric Association and the Illinois Optometric Association, of course- public-spirited organizations that, by a remarkable coincidence, are composed of the very people who will be paid to perform the examinations that every young child in the state will be required to undergo.

Now, human motivations are multifaceted, and I don’t think the average optometrist thinks about it in those terms; he probably really does care about children’s eye health as well as his own income. But in a way, that’s part of the problem. You’re going to be very-hard pressed to convince me that economic self-interest did not play a significant role in the positions taken by those organizations, but the fact that most optometrists really do feel genuine concern for public health is precisely what lets them ignore other motivations that are likely shaping their opinions. The public interest cover provided to aid in rent-seeking doesn’t just serve to bamboozle the public- it is often necessary for the psychological well-being of the beneficiaries.

I’ve come to think that one of the biggest threats to liberty in this country is unthinking trust in the medical profession and the exalted demigod status the profession enjoys. I don’t think the medical profession is more self-interested than any other group, but I see no reason to think they are any less, either, and because of their high status they can get away with more. (Teachers are in an analogous position, further strengthened by the fact that they work for the public sector.) You can cloak all sorts of things as necessary for public health, and people will buy it uncritically. It allows bootlegger and Baptist-style special interest lobbying, except the bootlegger and the Baptist are the same person.

This unthinking trust also causes serious problems when the issue is not rent-seeking but nanny statism. Just as scientists love knowledge and artists love beauty, it is a natural and understandable prejudice of a doctor to consider health important above all else. That’s probably a good attitude to have when you’re cutting a tumor out of someone, but it distorts your perceptions when you look at society, law, and human existence as a whole through that lens. I think this is largely what causes the apparent indifference to freedom, personal preference, and economic considerations often seen in the policy proposals of medical organizations.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

New article at

It's been a while since I've had something there, but I've got a new article up at I hope you like it.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Markley empire grows

My apologies for the thin posting this month; I've been a bit swamped lately. There's a rather neat new Facebook feature called Blog Networks. If you have a Facebook account, come on over and join The Superfluous Man network.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Today is the 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, where the United States government immolated tens of thousands of innocent people and sentenced tens of thousands more to slower but no less awful deaths by radiation sickness and cancer. Some recommended reading on the subject: Historian Ralph Raico on the circumstances of the bombing, some additional historical context from Gregory P. Pavlik, a more visceral post on the subject by Rad Geek, and some thoughts from Anthony Gregory. I can’t improve on them.

A while back, I remember some conservatives wailing/gloating about the results of some survey that showed the percentage of American Muslims who thought bombing attacks on civilians were at least sometimes acceptable; this, we were told, showed how dangerous they were. I wonder how many Americans polled today would say that the devastation of Hiroshima (or Nagasaki, or Dresden, or Tokyo) was justified. I’d be extremely surprised if it wasn’t a majority; liberals and conservatives alike are deeply invested in the idea of the Good War. It would be more even more interesting to know how many of the people shrieking about the menace of barbarous Muslims would say that burning tens of thousands of innocents alive at Hiroshima was the right thing to do- but, sadly, I suspect I have a good idea of the answer to that.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, probably the most famous anti-Communist writer of the 20th Century, is dead at 89.

His death should be an occasion for self-reflection and shame in the West. Faced with the most monstrous evil in human history, how did the leftist intellectual establishment respond? They strained every nerve to deny or conceal the horrifying truth, and when that ceased to be practical, to minimize the evil, or excuse it, or just discourage people from thinking about it.

And they succeeded. I vividly remember giving a class presentation of research paper on the crimes of Stalin in college, and not one fellow student had ever heard about it before. Quite a few of them knew about how many people Pinochet killed, but neither their teachers nor the mainstream media had ever seen fit to tell them what I told them. Mine certainly didn't; I had to learn it on my own.

Sadly, I expect Solzhenitsyn to be forgotten. The forces of amnesia are still at work. There are few Stalinists today, but there are plenty of intellectuals and opinion-shapers who would just as soon not have people think about the Left's historical record. It is they who dominate the dissemination of information, and there is little reason to think they won't win. The tens of millions of victims will go on being ignored.

But at least for a time, Solzhenitsyn made it harder for the deceivers, the dupes and whores and apologists of mass murder and despotism and slavery, to get away with it. That's surely worth something.

Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Strike the Root article

I apologize for the sparseness of posting lately. And now, an embarrassing admission: I had a new article up on Strike the Root two weeks ago, and I neglected to link to it. Here it is.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The pragmatic fantasy

Over at Distributed Republic, Brandon Berg wonderfully captures my own attitude towards mainstream politics:

The problem with pragmatism is that it's just not practical. Ideal pragmatism is great--freed from ideological constraints, you can just do what works!--but ideal pragmatism isn't an option.

What we actually get is real-world pragmatism: People's beliefs about what policies produce the best results are driven more by ideology and cognitive bias than by actual evidence. And those are just the people who at least make a good-faith (if weak) attempt at intellectual honesty...

Check out the whole thing.

Never trust anyone who says he wants to get away from ideology and just do "what works." He's lying- perhaps to you, more likely to himself.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Culture and choice

Will Wilkinson has an excellent post, “The World is Not a Zoo,” on multiculturalism and the desire to force people into certain cultures.

The "zoo" metaphor strikes me as a very good one. Actually, on one of Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcasts, Michael Munger used the term "human zoo" to describe what he saw as one of the driving forces of opposition among Western liberals to free trade with the Third World: we like having strange foreigners with exotic folkways to gawk at, and that might be ruined if the Exotic Foreigners gain access to the same wealth and consumer goods Westerners enjoy- they might start wearing Nikes or eating at McDonald’s, which would make them boring and of no use as a source of entertainment for us.

Now, I like the idea of a world of diverse cultures, and I certainly have no objection to people choosing to keep their traditional culture, or seeking to revive cultural elements that have been lost. Indeed, it’s important to keep in mind that many extinct or near-extinct customs, traditions, and languages got that way through government oppression and centralization, not as a natural outgrowth of people’s free choices; for instance, many dead or near-dead languages were the victims of centralizing nation-states trying to enforce a uniform “national” identity. I suspect that, in a fully free society, the elimination of centralizing states and particularly centralized compulsory education would result in both greater interconnection and greater diversity at the same time. But I abhor both attempts to use compulsion to force people to remain culturally static, and attempts to pressure or guilt people into it.

In the United States, the multiculturalist mentality sometimes seems to have an interesting result that seems counterintuitive, in light of the doctrine’s popularity on the Left. White heterosexual Americans, who aren’t perceived to have any meaningful cultural identity of their own (as Rad Geek has sardonically commented on), are relatively free to be what they want, whereas anyone identified as a minority is supposed to be “true” or “authentic” to whatever group the are born into. I am not a practicing Lutheran, I prefer Irish beer, and I own not a single pair of lederhosen. Nevertheless, multiculturalists aren’t going to mourn the fact that I have forsaken my heritage or chastise me for doing so. Freedom of choice and identity is for whites only- a curious result for a leftist philosophy.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Imagine you’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when a stranger attacks you without provocation. He rains blows upon you until finally, desperate to protect yourself, you spot an opening and give him a single crack on the jaw. Shocked, your assailant staggers back, looking hurt and offended and asks, sanctimoniously, “When did this relationship become violent?”

American politics is like that sometimes.

As long-time readers know, one of my pet peeves is when someone claims to be apolitical or non-ideological even as they prove otherwise. Today’s example comes from the letters page of the Chicago Tribune, in a letter from one Paul Owen. Mr. Owen described his “sadness” and “disgust” with the anger displayed in recent letters to the editor attacking a Tribune editorial calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. (Actual, official repeal of the written Constitutional amendment that is, rather than the de facto repeal that is usually advocated by gun controllers.) He then said:

With terms like "you liberals" spewing out like venom, it made me realize how divided our country is.

When did this issue get so political?

From there, he goes on to advocate greater gun control.

So, apparently, the issue wasn’t “so political” when, year after year after year, gun control advocates were waging a relentless legislative, judicial, and ideological attack on the right to self defense. It isn’t even “political,” apparently, to call for abolishing part of the Bill of Rights, as the original Chicago Tribune editorial did.

It only gets “political” when people who don’t want a fundamental right stripped from them have the temerity to object.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cheerleading for rapists

Warning: Please note that the first and third links in this post lead to written descriptions of rape, and may be disturbing or upsetting. For those interested in this topic, a listing of all posts at The Superfluous Man concerning sexual violence and related issues can be found by clicking here.

Over at Pajamas Media, I had the bad fortune to encounter what is probably the most disgusting congregation of human vileness I have ever personally encountered on the internet, which is saying something. There are acts more despicable than ridiculing and belittling a rape survivor, but not many.

Helen Smith had an article about the little-discussed phenomenon of female-on-male rape. She recounted the story of the pseudonymous “Mike,” who was raped as a young man by a woman who mounted him while he slept, then extorted his submission by threatening to falsely accuse him of rape, likely sending him to prison, if he resisted.

“Mike” eventually spoke on his own behalf and identified himself in the comments as the very courageous libertarian writer James Landrith. You can read Mr. Landrith’s own thoughts about his experience here. There's also some good discussion of the issue at this Toy Soldiers post. I would also like to put in a good word for Wendy McElroy, who has been a very positive force in this area.

The public’s attitude towards men raped by other men (in prison or otherwise) is almost uniformly dreadful; raped men are either a punch line or objects of contempt, to the extent they are acknowledged at all. This is not surprising, since many supporters of both traditionalist/patriarchal sex roles and many supporters of feminism have an interest in ignoring, denying, or belittling the issue. Well, the attitude towards victims of female-on-male rape actually manages the difficult feat of being worse. To the extent that people were willing to even admit the possibility of such a thing, the response was ridicule or outright contempt and disgust for the victim. It’s interesting to note how much of the belittling of the importance of the rape described (and the character of its victim) boils down to one of these:

1. He must have wanted it, since he remained erect (I guess women being raped never experience lubrication, either), or he was somehow “asking for it” in one way or another, such as getting drunk or sharing a room. Any of this sound familiar?

2. Men, being on average the more sexually driven sex, don’t mind being raped and aren’t traumatized by the experience. Another parallel: Though less often said openly nowadays, one still sometimes hears it suggested that raping a promiscuous woman or a prostitute is in some sense a lesser crime than raping a “decent” woman, on the theory that it wouldn’t be as big a deal to the victim.

3. It serves him right for being such a weakling. The frequency which with this one was repeated is interesting because in traditionalist/patriarchal morality, strength/power is often considered the prime virtue of a man, just as chastity is considered the prime virtue of a woman. In other words, we have here a masculine parallel to “The slut had it coming.” Violate the expectations placed on your sex, and there will be no compassion for you.

Thus, we have a nearly perfect recapitulation of the traditional ways of denying, minimizing, or condoning the rape of women. In fact, there were a number of women in the comments saying stuff like this. That initially surprised me, but it shouldn't have.

It’s worth noting how people can suffer from positive stereotypes about their sex. Much of the indifference to crimes like this (By no means all- there are also “progressive” reasons not to care, which sometimes overlap), or to men being raped in prison, or to male victims of domestic violence, and so on, can be attributed to the traditional belief that men, who are supposed to be the strong, stoic sex, don’t let themselves be harmed or abused by others, don’t (or at least shouldn’t) feel pain the way women do, and certainly shouldn’t admit it to it if they do. A perusal of the comment thread at the linked article will certainly testify to that, as will observing attitudes on the issue of men being raped in prison. A crying woman inspires compassion; a crying man inspires contempt. It’s drilled (or beaten, as needed) into everyone from an early age. God only knows how much injustice and misery has happened through the years because of this mentality, and how much we’ll continue to see.

And I don’t think it’s ever going to end.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Entire minutes of work, down the drain!

You know what's frustrating about the universe suddenly relieving itself on you without warning? You have all sorts of notes about news stories compiled and ready to use, but then you're suddenly feeling too rotten to get some proper blog posts together, and by the time you're back up and running again it's all too old and out-of-date to use even by my rather generous standards.

In lieu of actually producing anything myself, let me direct you to the most recent EconTalk podcast with Russ Roberts and Mike Munger. They're discussing a rather prosaic subject- private provision of mass transit- but in the process Munger provides one of the most interesting political insights I've heard in some time.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Hayek

This is a continuation of my previous post on Friedrich Hayek, which gives a bit of context for this one. Previously, I mentioned that, in defense of the idea of a sort of convergence of libertaranism and moderate welfare state liberalism, Will Wilkinson quoted Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty, where Hayek said:

All modern governments have made provision for the indigent, unfortunate and disabled and have concerned themselves with questions of health and the dissemination of knowledge. There is no reason why the volume of these pure service activities should not increase with general growth of wealth. There are common needs that can be satisfied only by collective action and can be thus provided for without restricting individual liberty. It can hardly be denied that, as we grow richer, that minimum of sustenance which the community has always provided for those not able to look after themselves, and which can be provided outside the market, will gradually rise, or that government may, usefully and without doing any harm, assist or even lead in such endeavors. (pp. 257-258)

There’s a problem I see with Hayek, or at least Hayek in the phase of his career in which he wrote The Constitution of Liberty, which I think explains Hayek’s belief that having the government lead the provision of relief for the unfortunate would not entail any restriction of liberty. Ironically, I think this problem is an outgrowth (though not an inevitable or unavoidable one) of one of Hayek’s insights about why interventionism is undesirable. Hayek pointed out that what was needed for the greatest number of people to have the best chance of achieving their goals and desires was a reasonably predictable social environment that makes planning for the future easier. The more interventionist a society is, the harder this becomes- you can’t make secure plans for the future if what’s legal and what’s not is always shifting, or if the laws are so numerous or arcane that what you can and can’t do is unclear, or if the government might decide to seize your property at any moment. Thus, the best course is to ensure security of property rights and strictly limit the government’s ability to expand its power or change the law abruptly.

This is a very good point, and one to keep in mind when you hear people claiming that bigger government creates order. However, there’s a problem, which seems directly related to this valuable insight. In The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek uses a somewhat idiosyncratic definition of “coercion,” in which general legal rules that restrict voluntary action or compel involuntary action are not coercive if they are known in advance and impartially applied, the idea being that you can then easily avoid being jailed or shot by abstaining from actions that you know will result in punishment. Freedom, as Hayek puts it, means “Independence of the arbitrary will of another.” (p.143) (Emphasis added.)

This has a fairly serious problem. As a concept of what “the rule of law” means, it’s quite good. As a concept of “freedom,” it is almost completely empty. Hayek himself demonstrates this fact when he uses this definition of freedom to argue that universal military conscription, of all things, is compatible with being “as independent of the will of another person as men have learned to be in society.” (p. 143) And more generally, the great majority of things libertarians would condemn would not violate people’s freedom under this principle- drug laws, sodomy laws, most forms of economic interventionism (though certain things that explicitly single out certain groups for government privilege, such as farm subsidies, would be prevented), compulsory “national service,” gun control, and so on.

Now, Hayek would not approve of these things- quite the contrary. And Hayek later evolved in his views to support a concept of freedom with more meat to it. But we should keep in mind that when Constitution of Liberty-era Hayek says that a welfare state can be created “without restricting individual liberty, he’s not using “liberty” in a sense that most libertarians (or even non-libertarians) would accept.

Hayek had his great moments too, though, and one of his remarks does a nice job of expressing my approach to advocating freedom. I’ll end on a positive note with one of my favorite quotes, from Hayek’s “The Intellectuals and Socialism”, which beautifully expresses the approach that I consider to be liberty’s best hope:

We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems neither a mere defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty (including the trade unions), which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote. The practical compromises they must leave to the politicians.

Free trade and freedom of opportunity are ideals which still may arouse the imaginations of large numbers, but a mere "reasonable freedom of trade" or a mere "relaxation of controls" is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire any enthusiasm… Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue… the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Failure is an orphan. So are hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis.

Kevin Carson has a post on remarks made by Matthew Yglesias, in which Yglesias said:

My ideas really are basically the ideas that were at the core of the bipartisan, establishment consensus throughout the Cold War years. And they're ideas that could and should have been the key ideas of center-left think tanks in the post-9/11 world. But that's not what actually happened. Instead, a set of ideas that originally existed as a fringe right-wing position wound up being espoused not only by nearly the entire Republican Party but by a huge swathe of the broader establishment.

One of the annoying things about modern American liberalism is that it is a very powerful ideology that pretends to be powerless or even oppressed. As Carson points out, to a great extent neoconservatism is the “the bipartisan, establishment consensus” of Cold War liberalism (with some liberal Wilsonian crusading idealism thrown in), seeking a new purpose and excuse now that the Communists have had the bad manners to stop being a global menace.

It’s a fact that many people are ignorant of, and one that many others would desperately love to flush down the memory hole, and so cannot be emphasized enough: neoconservatism is an outgrowth of liberalism, not the “fringe right-wing.” It is a commonly repeated cliché among the first generation of neocons that, “I didn’t leave the Democrats, the Democrats left me.” This is quite true: the first neoconservatives were good technocratic liberals (or a bit further left) who became disenchanted with a Democratic Party that they felt had grown insufficiently militaristic and interventionist, insufficiently Zionist, and too tolerant of New Leftists who were gumming up the works of the regulatory/welfare state and against “the bipartisan, establishment consensus” beloved of the neocons and liberals like Yglesias alike. And on the homefront, of course, George W. Bush did not invent the idea of civil liberties abuses himself, as much as many liberals seem to believe or want to believe that he did.

The more I observe it, the more liberal rhetoric of the Bush II era- and especially the hysterical demonization of Bush himself as a unique evil whose policies just sprang forth ex nihilo- strikes me as less an expression of any coherent political philosophy and more a vast collective reaction-formation response. Liberals have been desperate to deny the paternity of their monstrous offspring- and considering what they’ve spawned, it’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy.

Hard, not impossible.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Thought on Hayek

I’ve been thinking about Friedrich Hayek since he came up in Will Wilkinson’s discussion of liberal-libertarian alliance, which led me to dip into The Constitution of Liberty for the first time since high school. While I admire Hayek greatly, I think libertarians would do better to take him as a treasure trove of ideas to take from rather than as a model for what libertarianism ought to mean. Will approvingly quoted Hayek in that book, when Hayek wrote:

All modern governments have made provision for the indigent, unfortunate and disabled and have concerned themselves with questions of health and the dissemination of knowledge. There is no reason why the volume of these pure service activities should not increase with general growth of wealth. There are common needs that can be satisfied only by collective action and can be thus provided for without restricting individual liberty. It can hardly be denied that, as we grow richer, that minimum of sustenance which the community has always provided for those not able to look after themselves, and which can be provided outside the market, will gradually rise, or that government may, usefully and without doing any harm, assist or even lead in such endeavors. (pp. 257-258)

On an initial scan I counted no less than five different things in this that are objectionable from a libertarian standpoint, and going over that would be tedious. I repeat the quote because it exemplifies what I see as a serious problem with Hayek.

Hayek had the unfortunate tendency to casually make important concessions to left-wing statism with a simple handwave about how of course there’s nothing objectionable about this or that leftist program, all reasonable people know that. This quote is an example. The Road to Serfdom is also a good example of this, ironically, despite its odd reputation for being the opposite. Leaving aside the more fundamental question, this has the effect of declaring moderate left-liberal statism to be the default state that is accepted without argument or proof, while placing the burden of proof on classical liberals like Hayek-the idea that the state should not act in a given situation is guilty until proven innocent. I suppose it isn’t surprising that Hayek thought that way- he started out as a socialist, was surrounded by a leftist intellectual climate, and was on close terms with many leftists and socialists in his personal and professional life, so it’s no shock that he accepted some of their basic assumptions, even if he strongly rejected their conclusions. Frankly, I’ve often thought that Hayek was too nice for his own intellectual good, and too eager to put his intellectual opponents in the best possible light. As vices go, being excessively nice isn’t a terribly bad one, but Hayek could be so charitable that it blurred his perception, and I suspect that led him to treat Leftist ideas with insufficient skepticism.

Another objectionable unintended consequence of the way Hayek sometimes blithely accepted Leftist premises is that it reinforces one of the key tenets of the Western Left, the privileging of “personal” freedom over “economic” freedom. The personal freedoms the American Left tends to like are made utterly sacrosanct, but merely economic freedoms and a person’s right to the fruits of his own labor are at best respected out of convenience, and more likely not respected at all. I’m not a Randian, but Ayn Rand had a very important virtue: She actually defended economic rights on moral grounds, insisting that a person’s right to control his own labor and the products thereof- in other words, his right to his life- was just as meaningful as his right to call the president a chimp or distribute hardcore pornography or whatever. She put the freedoms that the average person benefits from every day of his life on the same level as the freedoms that are especially dear to the intellectual/opinion-shaping class.

This is getting a bit long, so I’m keeping part two, on Hayek’s conception of “freedom,” for another post in a few days.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lapdog of government

There’s something I’d like to add about the subject of my recent Strike the Root article about Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the police. (Short version: MADD is collaborating with law enforcement to tell teenagers their friends have been killed, then letting them stew in grief for an hour before admitting it was a trick.) I based the article on an account of the MADD program from the San Diego-Union Tribune and it’s worth pointing out the blatant bias by writer Pat Sherman in what is allegedly a straight news article. As both a libertarian and a reporter for a small newspaper, I’m probably unusually sensitive to bias in what is supposed to be news reporting, but in this case the article could hardly be more one-sided and propagandistic if a MADD staffer had written it himself. Leaving aside for now the fact that he just mindlessly regurgitates MADD’s highly questionable statistics, the story opens with:

It was an elaborate hoax, but 36 students at El Camino High pulled it off with potentially life-saving consequences.

The result was a soberingly realistic dramatization about the dangers of drinking and driving, delivered with surprising professionalism.

It concludes with:

[School counselor Lori] Tauber said she is aware that drinking and driving is occurring among the student population.

“I just know in my heart this was worth it,” she said.

In between, we get several paragraphs of Officer Eric Newbury, the mastermind behind the MADD program, righteously going on about the goodness of the program.

Does the author include anything said by anyone who doesn’t think this willful emotional torment of innocent kids was just wonderful? Do we get anything other than pure propaganda at any point? No, because that would entail the onerous work of actually doing your goddamn job as a journalist, which is apparently not something required of employees at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Classic Albert Jay Nock

Over at the Mises Institute, their Daily Article is one of my all-time favorites, Albert Jay Nock’s classic essay “Isaiah’s Job.” If you’ve never read it, please go have a look.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Strike the Root article

I've got a new article up at Strike the Root. Have a look.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Libertarian strategy and the ideological climate

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my post on Will Wilkinson’s proposal for liberal/libertarian alliance drew some interest. My thanks to Will Wilkinson for his response, and to Robert Kaercher for making it one of the links of the day when he was guest editor at Strike the Root.

I’ll probably have some more thoughts on this later, but for now I just want to hit a main point and give a small clarification.. In his response, Will wrote:

I’m not interested in “repudiating” libertarianism’s more radical left-leaning strands — I have a lot of sympathy with elements of Long, Johnson, and Carson’s philosophies.

Here I think I may have written sloppily in my previous post. When I spoke of “repudiating” the more radical strands of libertarian thought, I meant Will’s remarks about the likes of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard in his previous post, when he wrote:

Misean economics, disinfected of the open-minded empirical consequentialism of Mises’ Liberalism, and filtered through Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard’s peculiar views of rights and coercion delivers a powerfully moralized brief for capitalism that calls into question even taxation for the purpose of financing genuine public goods. That Rothbardians and Randians have wasted so much time fighting with each other on the question of the minimal state versus anarcho-capitalism obscures their unity on a rights-based bulwark against the slide from the welfare state to socialism. Sadly, “libertarianism” has become identified rather strongly with this ideology — an ideology some of the thinkers most strongly identified with libertarianism, like Hayek and Friedman, never shared.

I didn’t mean left-libertarianism specifically, although modern left-libertarianism does have a lot of Rothbard in it. I find the reference to “the open-minded empirical consequentialism of Mises’ Liberalism” somewhat odd. While Ludwig von Mises was certainly a consequentialist, he was renowned/notorious for his refusal to give an inch on politics; whatever the ethical grounding of his political beliefs, in terms of willingness to accept aspects of left-liberalism in ideology or compromise on policy he had more in common with Rothbard and Rand than with Hayek and Friedman.

While I disagree with Will on the underlying principle of the issue, which I might touch on more later- I don’t think coercive transfer payments can be squared with libertarianism, and I think they would tend to corrode the foundations of a classical liberal government- I think our disagreement here has more to with issues of strategy. More specifically, he seems more hopeful about the prospects for meaningful positive change now or in the relatively near future than I am. He writes:

I am interested in promoting a tendency of thought and a set of policy reforms that I think will, as a matter of fact, make people better off.

I agree with this. I differ in that I don’t think, at this moment in time, that positive policy changes beyond very small nibblings at the national state are a plausible outcome, or that any positive change that did occur would be durable, or that libertarians are currently numerous or influential enough to matter politically in any case. I’m far more interested in, as Will puts it, promoting a tendency of thought, which I think is more likely to be achieved by presenting a “purist” libertarianism that is sharply defined from other ideologies, and which will give libertarian efforts a better chance of producing lasting gains by pushing towards an ideological climate where such gains will be possible.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Please to explain...

I was reading about the case of Amelia S., a 17-year old girl from Indiana with clinical depression who fled National Guard boot camp without authorization and returned home. The Guard tried to force her back to training, in defiance of rules regarding people with diagnosed mental disorders. She has now been released due to public pressure, despite the handicap of being forbidden to retain counsel for her own defense due to her age. (Unfortunately, the website for the Catholic Peace Fellowship, where I’ve been following the story, does not seem to have the older posts on Amelia S. archived.)

Which leads to my question. In general, minors have various restrictions on what they can do and the kind of commitments they can undertake. Which leads me to wonder, how in God’s name is it legal for a 17-year old to enlist in the military, even with parental consent? She’s not old enough to legally buy alcohol, smoke, have sex with an adult in some states, buy a gun, or gamble. American law does not consider her mature enough to give meaningful consent to these things, nor to deal with the consequences and responsibilities they entail.

In the eyes of the law, however, she is fully competent to enter a binding contract- one which has criminal penalties for breaking it, no less- committing her to several years of employment in a job that poses a significant risk of death or permanent disability. Could somebody explain how, exactly, that makes sense? Because I keep trying to imagine a universe where this is even remotely sane, and I’ve started to bleed from the eyeballs.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

In search of dogs to lie down with

Will Wilkinson has what I would consider a deeply misguided post about the alleged affinity between libertarianism and big government welfare statist left-liberalism. It’s sort of the bearded mirror universe double of left-libertarianism; left-libertarians like Long, Johnson, Carson, et al. want to radicalize libertarianism and unite it with the anti-statist elements of the Left, whereas Wilkinson proposes to repudiate libertarianism’s more radical strands and draw closer to the Left’s more statist mainstream elements. Long-time readers of The Superfluous Man know I fly into rages about vital center liberals every three or so posts on this blog, so you can imagine my feelings about that.

I think Wilkinson errs badly in his assumption that libertarians and welfare state liberals are closely related branches of the same “liberal” philosophy. This leads him to suggest that liberals basically want the same things as libertarians, and merely happen to be confused about means; that their contempt for commerce, scorn of individualism, loathing of the voluntary private sector and its “greed,” adoration of the state, and dismissal of the idea that people can make their own decisions will evaporate if they see enough statistics about the positive effects of free trade and other economic liberties. And if you show
Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church fame data showing that most homosexuals are honest, productive members of society, I’m sure he’ll join PFLAG and give the first gay man he sees a big ‘ol hug.

One thing observing politics over the years has convinced me of is this: there are no pragmatic value-free technocrats in the political foxholes. Political philosophies are not just a set of policies; they are collections of ideals, attitudes, emotions, and prejudices. Everyone who takes a serious interest in the subject, and who is not simply a mercenary acting purely out of narrow self-interest, is driven by deep-rooted feelings- things they admire, things they despise, things they love, hate, or are inspired or disgusted by- that guide them, whether they admit it or not, whether they know it or not. (Indeed, “moderates” deluded into thinking of themselves as non-ideological are probably the most tightly shackled to their existing core beliefs, since they lack the self-awareness to examine those beliefs critically.) The edge areas of a person’s beliefs can often be somewhat malleable in the face of empirical data, but the core is far, far harder to shake. It’s possible, but it’s not common and it’s not easy. Plenty of people who thought invading Iraq was a good idea at the time now think it was a mistake, but I’d be shocked if more than a tiny fraction of them have permanently changed their core beliefs on militarism or intervention in general.

When it does happen, it seems much more likely to be because a person’s core values and political ideology are out of sync. Over the course of a few years, I made the trip from law-and-order conservative to classical liberal to minarchist to anarchocapitalist- but my basic attitudes, ideals, and intuitions were always more compatible with libertarianism than conservatism, and my ideological change was primarily the result of losing certain blinders and becoming more consistent with things I already believed. Thus, I find it wildly implausible that people who hold an ideology that has disgust for virtually everything libertarianism holds dear built into its foundation- and modern American liberalism most certainly does- are going to make any significant moves towards less statism, much less move far enough to think of libertarians as allies, especially for the sake of increased economic growth.

Now that libertarians are breaking free of the long-held belief that conservatives were our friends or basically on our side, the last thing we need is to enter an equally self-destructive relationship with an equally incompatible ideology that lacks even the vestigial remnants of libertarian sentiment that conservatism could once boast. Luckily, I can’t imagine many liberals wanting to have us anyway.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sudha Shenoy, RIP

I was sad to see at the Mises Institute blog that economist and Mises Institute associate Sudha Shenoy has passed away. You can read more posts about her by Lew Rockwell, Thomas DiLorenzo, B.K. Marcus, Sheldon Richman (with comments by Robert Higgs), Sauvik Chakraverti, Ralph Raico, Peter Klein, Chris Sciabarra, and Steve Horwitz. You can also read an interview with her from 2003. Rest in peace.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I use exclamation points excessively!

I just realized that my last three post titles all end in exclamation points. Underneath my mild-mannered exterior lurks a boiling cauldron of rage, apparently. Who would have thought?

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Ron Paul is a stupidhead and his mom dresses him funny!

My middle name is "Drew," and for most of my childhood that's what everyone called me. (And before you become the quadrillionth person to ask: No, it's not short for Andrew.) I'm still called this within my family to prevent confusion, due to the fact that almost every male in my mother's family since the time of the Sumerians has been named "John." I finally switched to using my first name outside the family in high school, because I didn't feel like explaining to 8 different teachers why I went by my middle name.

Anyway, early in elementary school, some budding young wag realized that "Drew" rhymes with "poo." So, for a period of several months, a bunch of the kids called me that. Much mirth ensued.

I bring this up because, after reading Michael Goldfarb's recent post at the Weekly Standard's blog about Ron Paul (Hat tip to the Blog), I find myself longing for the subtle wit of second graders chanting a childish slang term for excrement. ("New Right" actually means "Jew Right?" Brilliant! In your face, Senator Taft!) It had a degree of class, subtlety, and insight that most modern neocons can only dream of reaching.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Shut up and enjoy your freedom of speech!

Robert Murphy at Crash Landing comments on the following phenomenon:

It always amazes me when someone will complain about the government on some issue, and then some blowhard comes back with, "You're lucky you live in a country where you have the right to criticize the government."

And the guy says it like the critic is a whiny teenager or something complaining to her parents about only getting the $300 cell phone rather than the $500 one she really wanted.

I’ve seen this come from people on both Left and Right. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but it’s not a surprising one. Statism has adapted to the post-Enlightenment world- very few people go around saying that the peasants need to shut up and do what they’re told because freedom is an evil thing that would destroy the beneficent natural hierarchy God has ordained. Plenty of people still believe that (except for the “God” part, usually) but it’s gauche to actually say it now that classical liberalism’s brief period of intellectual ascendancy has made it unfashionable to actually attack freedom explicitly. Instead, one must attack freedom in the name of freedom. On the Left, the idea of positive rights to supplement the supposed “emptiness” of the negative right to life, liberty, and property serves this purpose. On the Right, “freedom” seems to have taken on a purely nationalistic meaning of “not ruled by foreigners”- freedom in the sense in which the Spartans were “free.”

I've frequently noticed that free speech is often used as a legitimizing tool for the government, in much the same way that democracy is; as long as you have free speech, you are supposedly still “free” and have nothing to really object to. (The fact that this defends the right most valuable to academics, journalists, artists, etc. while denigrating every other right is almost certainly not a coincidence. If you start thinking about left-wing statism as an expression of the interests of the intellectual/opinion-shaping class, it starts making a lot more sense.) No matter how utterly oppressed you are, it’s not really oppression or injustice as long as you have the right to bitch about it- and you shouldn’t bitch about it, because the fact that you still have the right to do so proves that you have no cause for serious complaint. Thus, people can declare that freedom is precious- and something we ought to be grateful to our rulers for providing- while pushing a concept of “freedom” that is utterly empty. If people buy it, as many do, they’ll ignore the loss of meaningful freedom to actually govern their own lives, and instead babble endlessly about how precious the mess of pottage they’ve been given as a replacement is.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

The dread menace of elderly altruists, thwarted at last!

From Rad Geek comes the bizarre story of an elderly man in Florida who was arrested and fined $2,000 for offering a woman who said she needed help getting home- who was actually an undercover agent of the Miami-Dade County’s Consumer Services Department- a ride home in his car. His offense? After the agent repeatedly demanded to know how much money he wanted for his aid, 78-year old Rosco O’Neil finally agreed to suggest a price, at which point he was set upon by a group of police who seized and impounded his van for providing an “illegal taxi service.”

This is incredibly perverse, but the fact that O’Neil is being punished by the government for trying to help someone in need isn’t the main aspect of this that interests me. The fact that the man in this incident was obviously not engaged in anything resembling any sane person’s idea of “taxi service” is not the most bothersome thing. The most bothersome thing is that there are undercover agents hunting unlicensed taxi drivers. My first thought was that the whole idea sounded like something out of Stalinist Russia, but that’s not quite right; it more like something out of a wacky, over-the-top parody of Stalinist Russia.

I’m sure it’s not easy working for the Miami-Dade County Consumer Services Department. Every morning as you put on your bullet-proof vest to go to work, you wonder if this is the last time you’ll say goodbye to your wife and kids, if this is the day some unlicensed taxi driver hopped up on pine-scented air freshener sticks a knife between your ribs or beats you to death with his beaded back cushion. At night you lie awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, as the faces of licensed taxi drivers whose monopoly profits you couldn’t save stare accusingly back. And yet, when you look into your youngest daughter’s eyes every morning, you don’t regret the sacrifices you’ve made, because by God you are not going to let her grow up in a world where kindly old men offer transportation to people in need on every street corner. Not in your town, not while you have anything to say about it!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A quick vocabulary lesson

Is a little respect for the English language too much to ask from one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers? The answer, of course, is yes. I found this in today’s online Wall Street Journal:

When Steven Barber turned in a short story this semester for his creative-writing class at the University of Virginia's College at Wise, his instructor was alarmed. The 23-year-old student had produced an imagined account of someone on the edge of a violent breakdown, touching on suicide and murder.

"It had to be acted on immediately," says Christopher Scalia, the instructor. He alerted administrators, who reacted swiftly, searching Mr. Barber's dorm room and car. Upon discovering three guns, they had him committed to a psychiatric institution for a weekend. Then they expelled him.

Yet the psychiatrists who evaluated Mr. Barber during his hospitalization determined he was no threat to himself or others…

When, at the doctor’s urging and for the sake of my own health and well-being, I chose to spend several days in the hospital last fall due to a severe infection that required IV antibiotics, that was “hospitalization.” When other people choose to have you confined for several days without your consent, that is what is known in English as “imprisonment.” The synonyms “incarceration,” “jailing,” and “going to the big house” are also acceptable.

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