Is regulation a way to sabotage progress?  How would we know?

My thoughts, in a Learn Liberty video…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0nSiwnbv4o


Revitalizing Liberalism

Our friends at the Niskanen Center have launched a new program on “Revitalizing Liberalism” amidst the current crisis, led by our former guest-blogger and one of the earliest “liberaltarians” (back before “bleeding-heart libertarians” was a glimmer of a name in Matt Zwolinski’s eye) Will Wilkinson.

As Wilkinson puts it:

Hayek writes:

If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations. What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problems that are still with us, no longer convey the same conviction; the arguments do not move in a context familiar to us; and they rarely give us direct answers to the questions we are asking. This may be inevitable because no statement of an ideal that is likely to sway men’s minds can be complete: it must be adapted to a given climate of opinion, presuppose much that is accepted by all men of the time, and illustrate general principles in terms of issues with which they are concerned.

Hayek is saying that his big book restating some “old truths” was necessary in 1959 because making the case for liberalism is a Sisyphean task. If the old truths are not updated for each new age, they will slip from our grasp and lose our allegiance. The terms in which those truths have been couched will become hollow, potted mottoes, will fail to galvanize, inspire, and move us. The old truths will remain truths, but they’ll be dismissed and neglected as mere dogma, noise. And the liberal, open society will again face a crisis of faith…

That’s why we at the Niskanen Center are digging in our heels and putting our backs into the restatement, revitalization, and defense of the ideals and institutions of the open, liberal, democratic, cosmopolitan, commercial society in the age of Brexit and Trump. This means we’ll be weighing in a lot more on the tent-pole principles of liberalism—the rule of law, freedom of conscience, toleration and mutual accommodation, limited government, economic freedom, separation of powers, free speech, the value of truth, etc.

As far as I’m concerned this is both true and urgently important.

I would connect all of this with the relative underdevelopment of political science (including political theory) in the broad humane-science approach to liberal social orders. Intellectual investments in that approach have been overwhelmingly in economics, followed by law and philosophy, probably in that order. Compared to commercial markets, the interpretation of the US Constitution, the economics of private law, or rights theory and the meaning of justice, there has simply been very much less work on political and constitutional institutions, norms, rules, and practices. The sources and stability of liberal political culture, the durability of the institutions that house a free social order, and the fragility or robustness of constitutional government have to be central topics of liberal social theory.

We thus need restatements of core principles as well as thought about adaptation to contemporary challenges, and scholarship that builds over the long term toward more sophisticated understanding of all these questions. I think the Niskanen project is a promising way to start making progress, and so I’ll be contributing to it. My first post, the inaugural one of the project, is now up: “Authoritarianism and Post-Truth Politics.”


Call for Papers: Overcriminalization & Indigent Legal Care

“Overcriminalization and Indigent Legal Care”

April 6 & 7, 2017 – Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, The Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics
Georgia State University

Keynote speakers: 
David Boonin (Philosophy, University of Colorado)
Jelani Jefferson Exum (Law, University of Toledo)
Doug Husak (Philosophy, Rutgers University)

There has been growing lay and scholarly concern with the access to legal services available to poorer persons in our society. Many commentators note that moral and policy difficulties of related trends are compounded by what some see as overcriminalization. This interdisciplinary conference will bring together leading scholars in philosophy, legal theory, and related fields to present original scholarship on these issues.

  • Possible topic areas include:
  • justice and criminalization
  • distributive justice and access to legal services
  • the scope of criminal law
  • political legitimacy and retributive justice
  • the administrative state and the indigent
  • reasons and causes for overcriminalization
  • the effect of overcriminalization on society, especially the indigent
  • how to reduce the effects of criminalization, especially on the indigent
  • and related themes

The conference will include one public symposium, including presentations by:
Michael Leo Owens (Political Science, Emory University)
Bernadette Rabuy (The Prison Policy Initiative)

To submit a proposal, see here.

Proposals due by 9:00 am (ET) of Thursday, December 15, 2016.

For more information, see ethics.gsu.edu.

Portions of the programming for this conference will be made possible by the Institute for Humane Studies through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.


Academic Philosophy

Some Thoughts on Identity Politics

I have been thinking lately about identity politics. More precisely, why so many people deeply committed to nondiscrimination nevertheless are uncomfortable with identity politics.

An initial difficulty is to define identity politics. Here’s the definition in the Google dictionary: Identity politics is “a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.” (For expository convenience, I will group these identity criteria under the terms “ethnicity” and “ethnic status”). This definition focuses on political alliances. An obvious criticism of such tendency is to observe that people can pursue worthy goals more effectively by forming broad-based alliances (some have criticized Hillary Clinton’s campaign on that score). Such approach is entirely pragmatic: political goals are more likely to be achieved if more people participate in the movement.

A second definition of identity politics is the idea that ethnic groups are entitled to benefits (usually coercively obtained) by virtue of their ethnic status. At first blush, this does not seem very appealing: to say that I’m entitled to a benefit B by virtue of my ethnic status sounds, well, not nice. But, of course, identity politics understood in this way, to be persuasive, must be linked to some other narrative. One is a history of past injustice. If so, my claim that I am entitled to a benefit B by virtue of my being a Latino is a short-hand for the claim that I am entitled to B as compensation or redress for the wrongs inflicted on Latinos now or in the past. Being Latino, by itself, does not suffice to generate the claim. A common criticism of this position is that these claims are hard to sort out, and often result in benefitting or punishing undeserving people.

A very different narrative is diversity, the current dominant rationale for ethnic preferences. I, a Latino, am entitled to a benefit B because possessing that benefit will promote a public good, diversity in the workplace or the classroom, or diversity among those who will get the benefit B. A common criticism of this position is that, in the real world, it applies only to groups that have political clout. It does not apply to everyone who can contribute to diversity, such as conservatives or libertarians, for example, or even to ethnic groups out of favor. If the claim is amended to embrace all diversity, then it ceases to be identity politics (it still may be open to objections, but those are beyond my concern here).

There is another dimension of identity politics. It is the idea that who states a proposition is relevant to the truth of that proposition. This is mistaken. “As a Latino, I support affirmative action!” is a non-sequitur (or a tautology simply saying that I support affirmative action). The validity of an argument depends on the facts and sound reasoning about those facts. They do not (cannot) depend on who the speaker is. Sure, someone may be prone to identify a new argument because of who she is. As an example, feminists did a great service when they showed why the common law of rape was unjust. But that speaks to what Popper calls the context of discovery of a proposition. It doesn’t speak to the context of justification of that proposition. So, one who says, “as a Latino, I believe X, Y, and Z” is invoking an irrelevant reason in favor of the truth of X,Y, and Z. The correct statement would be: “I believe X, Y, and Z are true for reasons A, B, and C. And I was motivated to think about X, Y, and Z because I am a a Latino.”

These are preliminary thoughts. A more definitive assessment of identity politics requires further research into each of these versions of the concept and the available objections.


iRad II.1 in Print, iRad I.4 Online

After a couple of years’ hiatus (for financial reasons), The Industrial Radical is back! The fifth issue of the Molinari Institute’s left-libertarian market-anarchist magazine goes in the mail to subscribers this week. (The Molinari Institute is the parent organisation of the Center for a Stateless Society.)

The page files for this issue have been ready to go for a while, being originally intended for our Autumn 2013 issue – which means that some of the references to current events are a bit dated. (The next issue will be up to date, with all new content.) But the theoretical content remains timeless.

Issue II.1 features articles by Sebastian A.B., John Ahrens, Paul Buchheit, Kevin Carson, Dawie Coetzee, Nathan Goodman, Charles Johnson, Irfan Khawaja, Thomas Knapp, Jennifer McKitrick, Skyler Miller, Grant Mincy, and Sheldon Richman, on topics ranging from border security, technological design, prison abolition, jury nullification, police misconduct, overpopulation, and the Keystone XL pipeline, to the persecution of whistleblowers, feminist and antifeminist censorship, civil strife in Egypt and Syria, torture, necrophilia, and the economic structure of state capitalism.

Industrial Radical II.1 (Autumn 2016)

With each new issue published, we post the immediately preceding issue online. Hence a free pdf file of our previous issue (I.4, Summer 2013) is now available here. (See the first, second, and third issues also.)

Want to write for The Industrial Radical? See our information for authors and copyright policy (which, incidentally, will change from CC BY-SA to the less restrictive CC BY starting with the next issue).

Want to subscribe to The Industrial Radical? Visit our online shop.

Want to give an additional donation to the Molinari Institute (and help to prevent a future hiatus)? Contribute to our General Fund.