Gerald Cohen claims that libertarians are hard deontologists. Libertarians believe everyone is a self-owner, that our rights derive from self-ownership, and that only libertarian political regimes are compatible with our self-ownership. He portrays libertarians as insensitive to the consequences of private property regimes. If a system ends up leaving many people destitute–not because they are lazy or lack skills, but just because they are unlucky–libertarians say, “Too damn bad.”

As far as I can tell, hardly any libertarians actually believe this. Instead, most think that the consequences of private property regimes matter. They think that one–if not the only or even the primary–test that a property rights regime has to face is that it tends to make people better off. Most libertarians care about the consequences of economic rights.

In what way do they care? Well, they aren’t utilitarians, or, at least, they aren’t modern act utilitarians. Many consequence-sensitive libertarians claim to be utilitarians, but they misidentify their own moral views. Here’s a simple test. Read “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” If you think Omelas is an unjust society, then you aren’t an act utilitarian.

Libertarians are not simply concerned with maximizing total economic output, either. I’ve never met one who thinks pushing the production possibility frontier outward is intrinsically valuable. Instead, they view economic growth as a means to making people’s lives go better.

Many libertarian think tanks, intellectual centers, policy institutes, and scholars focus on economic issues. They repeatedly try to show that free markets (economic liberty, property rights, etc.) generate good consequences. In particular, they try to show that free markets generate good consequences for the least advantaged and downtrodden. Why bother?

Libertarians argue that minimum wage laws hurt the poor. Why not instead just argue that minimum wage laws interfere with employers’ economic rights and leave it at that?

Libertarians argue that state socialism tends to immiserate most people, especially workers and poor farmers. Why not instead just argue that it violates people’s economic rights and leave it at that? Libertarians argue that command economy socialism cannot make efficient decisions. Who cares?

Libertarians argue that private savings regimes work better than social security. Why not just argue that social security violates people’s economic rights?

Libertarians argue that free trade helps poor countries grow richer. Why not just argue that protectionism violates people’s economic rights?

Etc. Look at the range of issues discussed here. Or, since David Henderson recently approved of Stephen Hicks’s straw man attack on this blog, look at what Henderson chooses to write about. Why does Henderson care? If he were a self-ownership hard libertarian, none of the stuff he writes about matters at all from a moral point of view.

The best explanation for why libertarians focus on these issues is that they think, in one way or another, that it’s important that an economic regime tends to serve everyone’s interests, including the poor. (Sure, put in caveats, such as that we don’t blame a regime if unconscientious or lazy people squander their wealth or opportunities. Even Rawls and even some Marxists say that.) Now, given what the left means by “social justice”, that means that most libertarians actually count as accepting principles of social justice.

The problem, though, is that F. A. Hayek misunderstood what a bunch of leftist philosophers were fundamentally getting at. In light of his misunderstanding, he wrote a book where he mistakenly said social justice is a mirage. Now, as a result, many libertarians will reflexively dismiss any explicit appeals to social justice even though most of them are implicitly committed to it.

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  • Aeon Skoble

    Jason, in fairness, I don’t think most libertarians distance themselves from Social Justice because of anything Hayek said, but because 99% of the time, the people who use this expression are calling for coercive redistribution and other anti-liberal egalitarian ideas. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

      It seems mighty problematic to be dismissing people’s moral positions and conceptions of justice on the basis of what public policy positions they also hold. It’s as if the libertarian is so focused on their own pet peeves against government intervention that they can’t address the substance and nuances of the political philosophies involved – they see public policy positions that they don’t like and then condemn the political philosophy associated with it.

      It also seems problematic for libertarians to be in the position of viewing themselves in an antagonism with the public itself – with numerous presumptive generalizations (and over-generalizations) about “what people think”.

      • berserkrl

         That’s a fair criticism of many libertarians.  But it certainly applies to many of their opponents also.

        • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

          Roderick, I’ll agree with you that this problem can and does apply to people of other political philosophies. I’m not going to be interested in disputing that; I did not mean to be making an argument in this case that libertarians are in some special way prone to doing this. The argument is specifically about the ways in which libertarians in particular do this – state-interventionist, therefore earplugs.

          This is also often a simple matter of word-association. The hardcore libertarian sees a certain word used (like, say, “social justice”, or “exploitation”, or “wage slave”), and engages in a knee-jerk reaction. I think there is a problem in the culture of libertarianism that makes it mostly dismissive of the whole left.

          • berserkrl

             Hey, I’m a hardcore libertarian. Don’t see why I should surrender that label to the anti-labortarians.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Modify my phrase to “unsophistocated libertarian ideologue” then.

          • 3cantuna

            Be careful of conflating politics and economics re opposition to state intervention.  It is possible that a self-identified libertarian is as “reductionist” politically as I think you are suggesting.  But apriorism in econ is a whole different matter. It is one thing to declare “All men are driven by money” and then proceed to deduce the meaning of life.  That could be  reductionist. It is a paradigmatic difference to register that “All men are driven to consciously act”.  By leaving out specifics of what an individual is after– it closes no doors to complexity and nuance.  Now, whether Misesian apriorism and method is science is a great question to ask. Nonetheless, there are many libertarians with grounding in economics of the Austrian variety that inform their political opposition to state intervention on economic grounds.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I’m not seeing how you get a debate about economics out of my comment. Are you responding, perhaps, to a completely different comment I left below?

            Also, I’m not interested in the question of what counts as “science”. My views on “science” are akin to the views of people like Feyerabend, if that gives a clue.

          • 3cantuna

            Probably replying to elements in both. Anyway, here is philosophy of science prof Jeff Kasser:
            Paul Feyerabend, philosophy of science’s great gadfly, sees (Thomas) Kuhn as glorifying dull, mindless scientific activity. In arguments alternately sober and outlandish, Feyerabend defends scientific creativity and “epistemological anarchism.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Uh, ok. So some philosophy professor has some funny comments about Feyerabend. And? :)

  • Jessica Flanigan

    This post kinda makes it seem like the truth of libertarianism (at least in part) hinges on it’s empirical consequences, but then is your objection to paternalism just that it doesnt work? Say smoking bans and seatbelt laws ::really do:: make people happier and better off, and everyone is glad that the state coercively prohibits manufacturers from selling them cigarettes because prevents them from weakness of will and it creates a society where everyone is healthier and lives longer. 

    My guess for why think tanks focus on the consequences of economic issues is that they are trying to convince people who don’t agree with them about economic liberty, but that doesn’t undermine the fact that ::even if:: free markets, minimum wage, socialism, and social security were the best policies for the poor they would be wrong. Just like ::even if:: a mandatory organ redistribution policy would benefit the least healthy, or society overall, better than alternatives it is wrong. 

    This is not to say that all rights are absolute even if they would bring disaster, it is just to say that any regime is pro tanto morally deficient if it violates these rights, and that these rights are really really weighty. You seem to say that rights need to make people better off, I think that’s kinda not point of rights and that we should respect them even if they make people worse off, especially when the rights are mainly self-regarding (as in the case of paternalism) 

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

      I think that anyone who is reasonable has to admit that their currently favoured view may turn out to be false. My favoured view is freedom. I want freedom for me and I think that, if we have freedom for all, the world will be a markedly better place. This is an overall judgement: in a free society there will be individual people who ruin their lives. That cannot be helped: life is experimentation and there are always risks and losses. But freedom is essentially related to human flourishing. That is my view. But it may be false. This means two things. First, I need to defend my view with arguments: appeals to its a priori self-evidence will not do.  Second, I should be prepared to give it up if it does not stand up to serious critical examination. So I am happy to admit that, if someone can show me that paternalism would be better for human flourishing, then I would become a paternalist.

      Would it be an argument against my current libertarian view that the vast majority were glad that their realm of action  was curtailed by paternalistic restrictions? Only a weak one. What matters is not whether people are glad, but whether they are better off. The problem with paternalistic restrictions is that they prevent people from discovering whether they would be better off if they did things differently.

      I subscribe to a somewhat vague moral theory, which gives a central position to self-ownership and property rights and open-mindedness. Actions or situations  which conflict with my moral theory I describe as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’ But I hold my moral theory open to criticism. If someone could argue, cogently, that my moral theory, if generally adhered to, would lead to a situation in which human flourishing was significantly worse as compared with an alternative possible (really possible) situation, then I would say that my moral theory was refuted. How could one continue to adhere to a moral theory if one accepted that it undermines human flourishing? What would be moral about that theory? It would be an abomination!

      The question is not whether rights are absolute. Very few people affirm that. The question is what rights there are. If a proposed moral sytem, including a theory of rights, leads necessarily to human misery, the theory is false. It seems to me that someone who says, ‘these social arrangements are phenomenally good at promoting human flourishing but they are morally wrong,’  has not quite got the hang of what morality is. (I think there are such people – usually religious fundamentalists of some kind.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

    This whole thing is kind of a strawman. So you say you care about the interests of the less advantaged, the poor, the downtrodden, the teeming masses yearning to breathe free.

    Got it. I take you at your word. But that’s not really the issue.

    I’m not going to claim to speak for all liberals here, but I for one simply disagree that your policy prescriptions will accomplish what you claim.

    Anybody can — and practically everyone does — claim that their policies will help the poor and generally make things better. Hell, the Republicans make the same claims, and they’re clearly lying through their gold-plated teeth.

    And BTW, it doesn’t really help much when so many libertarians are such goody-goody friends with the aforementioned Repugnicans. It makes some folks suspicious of your motives, you know?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      Rod:

      Great, because then we can turn this into an empirical debate. I think one of the main differences between sophisticated left-liberals and sophisticated classical liberals is to what degree government failure and market failure end up favoring or disfavoring government intervention. 

      • Jessica Flanigan

        Really? If it turned out that empirically people (especially the worst off) were way better off if they didn’t have the right to own productive property, or smoke, or home school their kids, then you would favor serious limits on all those rights? Is  all that’s holding you back a skepticism about their ::empirical:: claims? 

        • Damien S.

          Is there no magnitude of “way better off” that would induce you to favor limits?  Twice the lifespan, 10x the per capita wealth, and 100x less death by violence, say?

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Um, yes. And anyone who would not make that exchange is putting ideology above the welfare of people. That person would be, in a word, a sociopath. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

         I would greatly welcome such a debate. I thought I would find it here, but so far I’ve been disappointed. So much so that this whole project seems very nearly pointless. Let’s get it started!

        But I would take issue with how you stated the disagreement above. I personally don’t believe in market failure, per se. That concept implies that there’s some design goal or expectation that isn’t being fulfilled, like a car that breaks down prematurely. It’s my understanding that a free market has no teleological goal. There’s no particular expectation; it’s just folks doing what they do to advance their own projects and live their lives.

        So take the ideal case of a perfectly functioning free, competitive, market. Such a beast has several built-in prerequisites: large numbers of both buyers and sellers, perfect information flow, etc. But most important is the actual functional ability of any buyer or seller to simply refuse to buy or sell. That’s how you get those neatly crossing supply and demand curves and equilibrium pricing.

        Of course no real market is ideal and left-liberals aren’t naive enough to actually expect that. But many, perhaps most, consumer markets approach that ideal closely enough to not matter.

        But some markets, and not actually a large number but they tend to be important ones, are just sufficiently naturally defective — depart from the ideal — that intervention seems appropriate. Natural monopolies exist; not a lot of them, but some, and it’s actually possible to identify defining characteristics of such markets. No LL I know of would claim that ALL  markets tend to monopoly, but the converse doesn’t hold. Many libertarians claim that there simply is no such beast as a natural monopoly and that kind of denial of reality really inhibits useful discourse.

        But the real issue is moral. Libertarians seem to have decided that they have  discovered the one true moral foundation. Like claiming knowledge of the one true God. It’s not that LL’s don’t value liberty; we do. But we also have other strong moral commitments. Commitments that you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge as valid or worthwhile.

        Would you be satisfied with liberty offered at a fairly determined market price? Of course not! Liberty is a right and if you had to purchase it, then how could it be construed as a right? (BTW, that’s what I don’t understand about anarchists who claim a deontological basis.) So if my morality holds that access to health care should be a right — and I do — then why should I be satisfied with some vague assurances that a free market would provide it at reduced cost (even if I believed you on that)? If it’s a right it needs to be guaranteed, and our real project here should be figuring out how to approach that in a way that best satisfies all our moral constraints.

        Seriously here; if you don’t respect MY moral constraints why should I really give a flying fig about  yours?

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             Efficiency itself has to be defined teleologically. The measure of an engine’s efficiency is defined as the output power divided by the energy input. You can’t just speak of something as efficient; it has to be efficient AT doing something.

            Another example: A standard incandescent bulb is very efficient — used as a heating element. About 90% of the electricity you put in the thing comes our as heat instead of light. But measured against it’s stated purpose — a source of light — it is grossly inefficient at only 10%.

            So at the least you have to specify what result you’re looking for before you can say whether a market is behaving efficiently or not.

            My experience has been that most people that use the term “market failure” really mean that the market didn’t produce the result they desire, when actually if you understand how markets actually function the result is exactly what one would expect.

          • BallsAndStrikes

            Efficiency here means Pareto optimal outcomes. It is well defined and is not an abstraction. Again, Microeconomics 101. 

          • 3cantuna

            Market failure is problematic as a believable concept because the price system, entrepreneurship, profit/loss analysis, etc, are tools that happen to help bring about rational coordination. To make ”perfect information” and “rational action” as standards of measure is to create fictions that are unattainable by man– and miss the point. How would anyone know what perfect info would be like? Humans are rational by their very nature. Mistakes and ignorance are part of being human. Externalities are a bigger issue….

          • BallsAndStrikes

            Which is why slavish devotion to the market is a bad idea. Its efficiency justifications depend on demonstrably false assumptions. 

          • 3cantuna

            There is no alternative to the market if you want to live a higher material existence. Things like comparative advantage and money’s ability to solve ‘coincidence of wants’ speak without any use of efficiency.  The market does not need government planners– but these parasite statisticians need the market.

          • Damien S.

            There is no alternative to governments if you want to live a safe and peaceable existence.

            Markets do need government police and roads to work well and broadly.  They can limp along with private guards and toll roads, but not very well.

        • BallsAndStrikes

          Just a point of clarification. At least one justification for the market is teleological. It is preferable to other forms of distribution because it is the most efficient. That’s Microeconomics 101. Thus, a market failure is whenever the market does not reach the most efficient result. They happen all the time because people lack perfect information, cannot price externalities and do not always act rationally, among other reasons). 

        • shemsky

          Rod, as an anarchist I would say that liberty is a right, but that it DOES have to be purchased. Just because I’m about to be attacked by a gang of robbers doesn’t mean that you have an obligation to protect me. Only if we have voluntary bargained with each other for protection would you have that obligation. It’s the same thing with any other good or benefit.

          You asked me a week or so ago what would be my criteria for a valid social contract (or something like that) besides just what I like or don’t like. That criteria, Rod, the one that I believe is right and just, is consent.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fit any kind of coherent definition of “right” that I’ve ever seen. If you have to purchase it in the market then inevitably there will be those who can’t afford it and therefore won’t have it. That’s a privilege; not a right.

            If that’s your conception of rights then I have no idea what you’re going on about. Just make more money and buy whatever rights you want. Hell, the more corrupt the political regime all the better for that purpose.

          • shemsky

            It doesn’t look like I have to buy any rights, Rod, because you’re going to be giving them away, regardless of what it costs you. Right? You’ll do that for me, won’t you?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             For the right price. Isn’t that your ethic?

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Shemsky, once you make rights justice itself a market good, you can’t claim the justice of the market itself. And you have made justice relative in a way that, ironically, could be compatible with any concievably non-libertarian system – as long as it emerges from market engagements.

          • shemsky

            Alex, I’m trying to be reasonable here. If you have a group of people who can’t agree on what the truth is, then what can you do to keep the peace? Well, in my mind the best way to accomplish that is to base interactions between these people on mutual consent. In areas where people can’t agree with each other the best thing to do is leave each other alone.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             Okay. Sounds like you’ve circled back to the public reason argument we were in a couple weeks ago.

          • Damien S.

            “You’re poisoning the air and water.”
            “No I’m not.  Leave me alone.”

            See the problem?

          • shemsky

            Sure I do, Damien. But I think that we can (and need to) find ways to solve those kinds of problems without subjecting everyone to a “one size fits all” government.

            How about this one:

            “Marijuana is threat to society and anyone caught with it should be thrown into prison.”
            “Marijuana is not a threat to society. Users should be left alone unless their use of marijuana harms someone else.”

            Who is correct? Do you know how to contact god and ask him? Or would you rather rely on congress to make that determination?

          • Damien S.

            “Nuclear bombs are a threat to society and anyone trying to make one should be thrown into prison.”
            “Nuclear bombs are not a threat to society.  Owners should be left alone until they blow up a city.”

            Who is correct?

            “we can and need to find ways”

            Thereby admitting that we do not currently have libertarian-friendly ways of solving such problems.  If you ever find some, get back to us; in the meantime we’ll continue to use government to keep ourselves alive.

          • shemsky

            Damien, we don’t currently have a cure for cancer either, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be searching for one. We have to look for the answer. It’s not going to just show up at our doorstep.

          • Damien S.

            Look away but OTOH it’d be irresponsible to advocate tearing down government when you don’t yet have a replacement.  Like, chemotherapy sucks, but you can’t stop doing it until you have the real cure for cancer.

          • shemsky

            Damien, my argument is not necessairly about abolishing your government. It’s about allowing dissent. Allowing individuals to create alternative arrangements and opt out of the arrangement you favor. But you, through your government, don’t want to allow that. You want to act as though you own other people. As Roderick Long has said, anarchism means that other people are not your property. Let other people go their own way if they wish. You don’t own them.

          • shemsky

            Nuclear weapons have already been used to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in two different cities. Do I need to tell you who used them and where? And who has developed nuclear weapons, Damien – governments or private enterprise?

            The government you are using to “keep yourself alive” is also being used to kill millions of innocent people in foreign nations, and to imprison millions more here who have done nothing to harm anyone.

          • Damien S.

            I don’t want to allow dissent about vital things like polluting the air and playing with explosives in urban areas, just as you don’t want to allow dissent regarding whether you own some property.  The intolerance card won’t work.  The whole point of externalities is that you can’t fully go your own way; we’re connected, via environment and non-excludable public goods and such.

          • shemsky

            Actually, Damien, I do want to allow dissent about whether I own some property. As I’ve alluded to before, just because someone is violating my rights, property or otherwise, doesn’t mean that you have an obligation to enforce them. And having multiple governing institutions doesn’t necessairly mean that some large scale problems are ignored. It just may mean that solving those problems requires some cooperation between some of those institutions. Just because different people belong to different institutions doesn’t mean that they don’t care about some of the same problems.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Well, that claim in and of itself would be something that people disagree on what the truth is. Ultimately, the move you’re making has to arbitrarily fall back on a commitment you’ve made to a conception of “mutual consent”. But if you’re adding the notion that we can’t agree on what the truth is, that undercuts the authority of invoking “mutual consent” – or your interpretation of what counts as “mutual consent”. In all likelyhood, others don’t consistently agree with you about what counts as “consent” in the first place. Some funny paradoxes here.

            Why should people fall back on *your truth* in the absence of consensus on *the truth*? One could just as arbitrarily say “if we have a group of people who can’t agree on what the truth is, we should just force our views on them”.

          • shemsky

            I don’t know the truth, Alex. All I can do is tell you what I think is just and right. And if you can do any better then I’d love to hear all about it.

  • Ben Kennedy

    What Libertarians ought to be doing is persuading people that using force to solve social problems just doesn’t make sense.  Why does the solution to problem X require guns, prisons, barbed wire, and snipers?  It’s just ludicrous on it’s face.

    Furthermore, any “solution” that involves coercion will immediately start to unravel as people will naturally try to undermine whatever controls are put in place to ensure compliance.  Even well-minded bleeding heart liberals hire accounts to pay as little in taxes as possible.

  • bill woolsey

    I have never heard any libertarian claim that they are a “modern act utilitarian.”

    Many libertarian economists claim to be “rule utilitarians.”     Further, the “rules” being considered are at a constitutional level.   It isn’t that legislatures should make rules that maximize total utility.   It is rather that the areas where legislators may legislate should be determined in a way that maximizes total utility.

    I think the reason where there is an easy shift between consequentialism and utilitarianism is that once you reach this high level of “rules,” it doesn’t make that much difference.

    The debate among libertarians was mostly about whether detailed comparative analysis of institutions is essential.   Or, can you make some simple deductive argument that provides that individual rights are absolute?

    There are many libertarian economists who became libertarians when they were young and were very influenced by Rand’s arguments for individual rights.   Rothbard’s version of individual rights was even simpler and he was certainly an absolutist.

    Of course, Mises, Hayek, and Friedman were all utilitarians/consequentialists and they had plenty of moderately libertarian followers.    While Mises got a pass by Rand and Rothbard, Hayek and Friedman were both demonized.    The problem was that they were not sufficiently hardcore,   but their utilitariarianism was explicitly blamed.   Only strict individual rights without any room for worry about consequences will provide a unbreakable foundation for a libertarian order.

    Over the years, more and more libertarian economists have rejected that approach.   While some of us (like me) are also more “softcore” following Hayek and Friedman (and Buchanan and others too,) many are “hard core” anarcho-capitalists.   But they are “consequentialists.”  Anarcho-capitalism must be justified by its consequences in comparison to alternative regimes, including welfare state liberalism.

    Of course, even those who believe that morality is a matter of deductions from first principles do care about consequences.   They just think that if the consequences were bad, then we would be morally obligated to suffer them.

     

  • Guest

    Libertarians have a lot of intellectual arrows in the quiver – appeals to morality are more persuasive to people who are opposed to the economic arguments. Thinks-tanks produce materials aimed at policy makers to assist them in selling ideas that support free market positions but also to help sway political opponents. Like any other “sale” you have to speak the language the “customer” is open to.

  • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

    My objection is not necessarily to what you call ‘social justice.’ My objection is to your calling it ‘social justice’. That seems to me to be a misuse of language. We can agree that overall well-being sometimes requires that the principles of justice be overridden. But to label such violations of justice as ‘social justice’ reeks of dishonesty. It is a manipulative use of language, and perhaps even a self-deceptive one. The refusal to call a spade a ‘spade’ seems designed to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1702318862 Jason Brennan

      Why is it so manipulative? I don’t understand that.

      I don’t really care what we call it. Call it “schmoop”.

      • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

        I think ‘schmoop’ would be better. But, of course, you won’t call it ‘schmoop.’  You want a term that is descriptive, so that people will know, and remember, what you are talking about, and also have the right associations. You wouldn’t call it ‘dog crap’ (though you are at liberty to do so) because that would be misleading and have wrong associations. By calling it ‘social justice’ you give it the associations of the word ‘justice,’ and that can predispose people to think about it in a particular way. But if what you call ‘social justice’ actually involves violations of justice, then people have the wrong associations. That is why it is manipulative.  It is like communist regimes calling themselves  ‘republics’ or ‘democracies.’

        I support the BHL project. For years many libertarians have said that they want the same things as the lefties, or that they have the same values, but they just disagree on the means. There is some truth in that. I agree with you that we want a moral/social system in which all have opportunities to flourish and that such a system will enshrine a plurality of values, some of which, from time to time, will override the principles of justice. Why can’t we leave it at that instead of borrowing the lefties’ daft label of ‘social justice’ to misdescribe it?

      • Right-Wing Hippy

        Why is it so manipulative? I don’t understand that.

        Let’s see if Winston Smith can help:

        to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it

        Social justice is doublethink.  Fairness on the other hand…

        • BallsAndStrikes

          It’s only “doublethink” if your conception of justice is antithetical to the welfare of social groups rather than the atomistic individual.  

        • BallsAndStrikes

          It’s only “doublethink” if your conception of justice is antithetical to the welfare of social groups rather than the atomistic individual.  

        • BallsAndStrikes

          It’s only “doublethink” if your conception of justice is antithetical to the welfare of social groups rather than the atomistic individual.  

          • Right-Wing Hippy

             No, it’s doublethink when you talk about justice and mean theft.

          • BallsAndStrikes

            Labels, not arguments. And without defining either term, to boot. 

          • Right-Wing Hippy

            I’m willing to go with your definitions, how would you define theft?

          • BallsAndStrikes

            I assume that was rhetorical, but if not, let me Google that for you: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=law+dictionary+theft

            How would you define justice? If you were to take a Rawlsian, communitarian or utilitarian view of justice, it would have both social and individual components to it. So it is not doublethink. Your point makes sense only if your conception of justice excludes the former.

          • Right-Wing Hippy

            Loving the link…
            So we’ve established that you don’t believe that “property is theft” you’re happy with the standard definition and you (I assume) agree that theft is an injustice.  Now square that with “social justice” which generally incorporates theft.
            Theft is injustice, aggressive violence is injustice, so justice must exclude those things, no?

        • BallsAndStrikes

          It’s only “doublethink” if your conception of justice is antithetical to the welfare of social groups rather than the atomistic individual.  

        • BallsAndStrikes

          It’s only “doublethink” if your conception of justice is antithetical to the welfare of social groups rather than the atomistic individual.  

        • BallsAndStrikes

          It’s only “doublethink” if your conception of justice is antithetical to the welfare of social groups rather than the atomistic individual.  

      • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

        I complained that ‘social justice’ has the wrong associations because it is used to label things that are violations of justice. Another complaint is that it has other associations, e.g., bloated state, egalitarianism, collectivism, high taxes, welfare state, etc, from which you are (quite rightly) keen to distance yourself. This means that whenever you use the term you are at risk of being misunderstood and that you must forever be explaining that you don’t mean by it all that the lefties mean. I think Alex Strekal’s complaints (below) should be taken seriously.

        In many of the blog posts, queries and disputes about the implications of ‘social justice’ have erupted from both ‘right-wing’ and left-wing commenters. (I put ‘right-wing’ in quotes because I have never considered myself right-wing: I am anti-right as well as anti-left.) This means that a good deal of time and effort is wasted in trying to dissipate all the confusions generated by the use of the term. This is unproductive, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better just to stick with the ‘bleeding heart’ label and to drop the lefty junk-talk about ‘social justice’?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

      My problem with the motto “free markets and social justice” is that it doesn’t convey the most unifying concept of libertarianism: self-ownership (or to borrow from Tomasi, “self-authorship”), and the term “social justice” leaves the door open to socialist or liberal democratic infiltration.

      “Property justice” (a phrase which Mark Friedman once mentioned) still has great appeal to me because it allows us to borrow from many unambiguous property law words and phrases.

  • Adamm932112

    Jason, 
      For me this is at the core of my confusion towards libertarianism. It seems that the libertarian blogosphere (and intellectual tradition) is full of folks who make moral arguments about the sanctity of private property, the oppressive nature of the state, etc. On an abstracted moral level I find those arguments quite compelling. 
      
     But at the same time some libertarians then argue that their ideology (or the policies that flow naturally from their ideology) will create more economic growth (which can be operationalized in a number of different ways). The latter position provides testable hypothesis and we can use social science research methods to try to get at the implications for economic growth or material well-being. As with most social science research the answer will probably not be simple and libertarians may be somewhat incorrect or perhaps the libertarian policy prescription misses some nuance. Or maybe we will find that it holds only under certain conditions, etc. 

       There are really only a few ways around this problem. For one, you can create think tanks to “prove” that you are correct. However, most of the work produced by think tanks, including libertarian darlings like Cato, is of shockingly low quality and the authors often make misinterpretations of basic statistics. Now, I personally suspect Cato scholars are making willful misinterpretations as many of them are highly educated and publish work in academic journals. Cato is perhaps the “best” libertarian leaning think tank and the average piece in the Cato Journal is of roughly the same quality as an undergraduate capstone paper. 

       Or maybe libertarians could create a narrative about the exclusionary nature of academia and manufacture a sort of victimization discourse that says that they are systematically excluded from most reputable arenas of social science research and policy analysis. There may even be some truth to this. Then that sort of justifies the “alternative academia” of the think tanks but it doesn’t justify the poor quality of think tank work. 
      
       Libertarians, especially those of a more right-wing variety, have done an decent job of injecting some aspects of libertarianism into public debates. But I don’t know if producing bad or misleading research is itself very “libertarian”. I suppose deception is okay as long as you are not taking away someone’s property of violating their economic rights. 

       More generally I don’t really get the “economic growth conflationism”. To me its an appeal to the lowest common denominator. Its like saying “don’t be a libertarian because you believe in a free society, be a libertarian because you will get more money”.  
     
       I might be incorrect but to me it seems that those two arguments are hard to reconcile and likely appeal to very different groups of people. But I could be wrong. 
     

  • Pingback: Stephen Hicks, Ph.D. » Bleeding-heart libertarianism?

  • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

    The working definition of “social justice” at this blog is nothing more than a declaration of good intentions – a posturing even, if you will. Unfortunately, social justice is generally a bunch of particular concepts and norms – not merely the intention to do good to the poor. The issue of what libertarians, in their personal psychology, *care* about is pretty much irrelevant. What matters is the substance of your claims and the realism of your descriptions of the world. “The left” does not mean by “social justice” the reduction to basic good-intent that this blog’s narrative is engaged in. The argument is disingenous, if not an outright attempt at apropriating the language. Principles and intentions are not to be so easily to be conflated.  

    Furthermore, the standard libertarian line on markets and property systems being beneficial to everyone (or the worst off) inherently has to downplay the injustices that actually exist in property and market systems in order to continue maintaining as broadly supportive a line as it does. It’s all well and good to try to make a general claim in favor of the consequences of property and markets, but the social phenomena in question is complex enough that the libertarian narrative simply cannot sufficient account for it through rather broad, general claims about economic benefit. If there’s anything I’ve learned about free market economics, it’s that its thinkers tend to downplay (or even ignore a priori) the incommensurability factor in order to maintain their analysis (an analysis that wishes to make this about mutual benefit).

    It’s mighty convenient for the BHL to proclaim that they do subject property and markets to a consequentialist test, but then go on to significantly narrow the scope of what that test means through their framing of the question - and then to declare that the test has been passed. How one sets the bar or the terms upon which one sets the bar matters. The fact of the matter is – the narrative here repeatedly comes back to being a form of apologetics meant to paint standard libertarianism - and much of market affairs, couched mostly in terms of neo-liberal policy - with the benefit of entailing good consequences for all, in spite of the ample empirical counter-examples and the inability of the libertarian framework to really honestly account for the injustices and conflicts of interest involved in the social phenomena.

    “Caring” about the poor doesn’t amount to much if you barely recognize the severity of their plight and the systematic/institutional entanglements that play into that, while engaging in rather broad justifications for the very institutions that play a role in the social problem. If “free markets” are supposed to refer to some concrete phenomena (in the way that economists talk about it), and not just a moral ideal, then you’re going to have to account for the complexity of the phenomena, including the networks of power relations that provides its context, including the problems of the institutions, including the conflicts that exist within that phenomenon. Economists seem to be typically very good at filtering social context (or the elements of social context that weaken their claims) out of the picture.

    • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

       Alex,

      Usually I like your comments a lot, but this…

      The working definition of “social justice” at this blog is nothing more
      than a declaration of good intentions – a posturing even, if you will.

      … just misses the boat. Of the numerous posts that have gone up recently here from Jason, Kevin, or me, can you point to a single one where social justice is defined in a way that reduces it to good intentions?

      No one has said anything remotely like this. What we have said is that social justice is about serving the interests of the poor. As in actually serving them, not just trying to. Let alone “caring” about them.

      My own view is that market institutions do this pretty well. But I also believe that the strong libertarian policy program needs to be modified in cases where it fails to meet the requirements of social justice. Whether a set of institutions do or do not meet those requirements is an empirical question. And of course I, like everyone, have my biases and blindnesses in the way I evaluate empirical (and theoretical) evidence. But that’s not a special problem for BHL. It’s a problem for all of us.

      • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

        Matt, I realize that the writers here have made various proposals about what they think serves the interests of the poor. However, a lot of the talk about defining social justice and defending it does seem to come back to invoking it as intent – or in such general terms that it doesn’t specify too much more than the presumption of the intent to ensure maximal good consequences for all.

        In this very post, within the very first few paragraphs, the discourse around “social justice” is framed as a proclaimation that no libertarian lacks social concience and that most or all libertarians think that consequences matter. But that isn’t a very substantive point to me, as much as it is a defensive manuever to get past charges of absolutism.

        There is disagreement about what ”the requirements of social justice” are. This is part of why I find the attempt to act as if the BHL is more or less agreeing with left-wing “social justice” (only proposing a better policy) to be disingenous. There is not an agreement on any particular principle – the attempts to tease out agreement reduce to sentiments that are general and vague enough not to matter.

        Also, my talk about bias isn’t simply an accusation that there *is* bias, but a criticism of particular biases. So it is a special problem for BHL – the particular biases that they bring to the table. That would be the already existing, extremely generous conceptions of markets and property rights. If the entire discourse only takes place within the confines of a more or less standard libertarian framework, then there is no paradigm-shifting thinking going on here.  

        I also go one step further – I think the authors at this blog are *institutionally* biased from their positions in academia and public policy think tanks. Every writer is a philosophy, economics, or law professor, and most are linked to public policy think tanks like Cato and The Independent Institute. There are vested interests in this discourse – setting the terms of the discourse. And that discourse is alienated from the public and its concerns – in part precisely because of its academic orientation and the pretensions that often come with that. I have reasons for finding these particular biases problematic – it isn’t simply “ooga booga, you come from a position” (just like everyone else).

        • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

          In other words, I don’t see how the working notion of what it means to
          be an advocate of “social justice” being used here doesn’t mostly reduce
          to something as nebulous as “being a consequentialist”

          That’s an odd thing to say, given that my last post on this blog was a critique of consequentialism (http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/05/why-not-utilitarianism/), given that Roderick has written a number of posts setting out a strongly non-consequentialist view (see, e.g. http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/02/eudaimonist-libertarianism/), given that Kevin Vallier has set out a Rawlsian non-consequentialist version of what social justice means (http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/04/neo-rawlsian-libertarianism-two-principles-of-justice-for-bleeding-hearts/).

          Are you actually reading what we write? Or is it all just “blah blah blah Cato Institute” to your ears?

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I’m certainly reading what you write. But it seems to me that your attempts at defense fall back on something of a red herring, and nitpicking over some details.

            As far as your post, in what seem to be your own words, I took it in part as a criticism of *utilitarianism*, which you explicitly (rightly) distinguished somewhat with consequentialism. While making this distinction, you explicitly used “utilitarianism”, or at least a version of it, as your target of criticism. Are you now waffling on the consequentialism/utilitarianism distinction?

            But now I think you’re being confusing, because you’ve explicitly carved out a position in your framing of what BHL is in a way that *is* about consequentialism. What else is the whole talk about “if the libertarian program fails in some way in the future, we should make modifications and exceptions here and here”? That’s a consequentialist contingency position if I’ve ever seen one – that if you saw enough negative consequences entailed by your policies you would alter the policies accordingly to rectify the negative consequences. With “social justice” being the pretension of maximizing good consequences for everyone.

            As for Roderick, I am aware that he has a nuanced view on ethics that also largely takes issue with consequentialism. But I’d take the view that Roderick is, in multiple ways, the odd man out on this whole blog. He is probably the person who shares the least presumptions with most of the rest of the contributors (who seem to mainly represent some loose, sometimes internally debating mix of minarchism, consequentialism, and Rawls).

            It almost seems like you’re trying to have it both ways – trying to distance yourself from the absolutism associated with the natural rights positions taken by “hardcore libertarians” (and to connect things, this very post starts with a denial of the accusation that libertarians are deontologists in spirit), in terms that are pretty obviously consequentialist (“we have a contingency plan should the consequences not pan out as we hoped!”), and now turning around and denying being a consequentialist while getting into talk of libertarian liberty in terms of intrinsic value. 

            “We’re not die-hard ideologue deontologists like those guys over there, even though we share most of their positions, because we have a contingency plan. But we’re not social planner  consequentialists either. We’re nuanced and stuff.”

          • http://www.sandiego.edu/~mzwolinski Matt Zwolinski

            I’m trying as best as I can to keep up with a number of different conversations on this blog and elsewhere, and to do my job. So I have to pick and choose my battles somewhat. And I’m not entirely convinced this is one I should pursue much further. I get the distinct feeling that you’re not trying to be charitable in your interpretations of what we write here, as for instance when you refer to our attempts as “disingenuous,” and when you fail to engage adequately with the many things we’ve written trying to explain the concept of social justice. Nevertheless,
            1) Yes, consequentialism and utilitarianism are different. And my piece was targeted primarily at utilitarianism. But several of the arguments apply to other forms of consequentialism as well. At any rate, I am not a consqeuentialist, and do not believe I have said anything on this blog to suggest otherwise. Nor is Kevin. Nor is Jason. Nor is Roderick. Nor is Jessica. Nor is Gary. etc.
            2) I think that consequences matter. I’m not sure why you call this a “contingency plan.” But it certainly does not make me a consqeuentialist. As I explained in the last post, any reasonable moral theory is going to hold that consequences matter at some level.
            3) Here are two principles of justice articulated by Kevin in the post I referenced above. It is not consequentialist. It has nothing to do with “caring.” And it is not any more vague than any normative principle is going to be. Look at this, and then look at your original post in this comment thread. Do you see why I was puzzled by it?
            a. the Neo-Rawlsian Liberty Principle: Each person has an equal
            claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, a
            scheme compatible with the same scheme for all; these liberties include
            extensive civil, religious, political and economic liberties.
            b. The Neo-Rawlsian Social Justice Principle:
            Social and economic distributions are to satisfy three conditions:
            first, they are to maximize the sum total of primary goods subject to
            the limitations of the Liberty Principle, second, they are to be
            attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair
            opportunity, and third, they are to provide a sufficient bundle of goods
            to accidentally disadvantaged members of society. I’m afraid that will have to be my last response, since it’s time for me to drag myself out from my sequestered life in the ivory tower and pick my kid up from school. Take it for what it’s worth.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I call it disingenous because you are using language that comes from other political philosophies and, in some way, appropriating it for yourselves in a way that notably narrows the meaning that it had before – then claiming an intellectual highground over those that generally wield the term (because your position, or your means, captures what they want better than theirs does).

            And, sad to say, but I partly agree with some of your right-wing critics in that the definition of “social justice” given, even when it tries to be substantive (such as “justice about society’s basic structure”, which arguably most political philosophies have some concern with), are so broad as to be pretty underwhelming. “Social justice” has always had much more specific connotations.

            As for the consequentialism thing, lets set aside any quibble over what counts as “consequentialism. The fact remains that a huge part of the premise of this blog, of being a “bleeding heart”, is proving to the left that you actually care about consequences in *some* way, in contrast to being die-hard moral ideologues who don’t care about consequence* (which is either characterized as a phantom or a tendency in libertarianism that BHL’s deviate from).

            The other part of the premise of this blog is that, as an extention of this care (you have bleeding hearts, right?), libertarian means are the best means to “social justice”. “Social justice”, implicitly in the dialogue, remains nebulous, and we have little point of reference other than the simple notion of caring about public interest – which is always talked about in terms of consequences. So lets just say that the BHL is unquestionably trying to make a “consequentialist case” in the “unphilosophical sense”.

            Now, perhaps the above Rawlsian formulation is an attempt to be more specific about in what way you do care about public interest. What I’d say toward that is that you are going to have to grapple with tensions between “the liberty principle” (the presumptions that it entails as it bears on property and markets) and the rest of it. I think that an intellectually honest libertarian will see some tensions.

            When the BHL aknowledges that there are some meaningful tensions between market forces and public interest, and that there are ways in which standard libertarian property rights do not sufficiently live up to the Neo-Rawlsian principles – that one is going to have to alter and limit one’s property rights stance in some substantive way – then they will have begun to actually make a paradigm shift from the libertarian norm, in which their Neo-Rawlsian principles actually imply something substantively different than support for neo-liberalism.

            Until then, you can’t expect any outside observer to your left be much more charitable than I am being.

          • berserkrl

            Roderick is, in multiple ways, the odd man out on this whole blog. He is probably the person who shares the least presumptions with most of the rest of the contributors (who seem to mainly represent some loose, sometimes internally debating mix of minarchism, consequentialism, and Rawls).

            What about Gary?

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Yea, Gary counts too. I had thought to add him, but Matt specifically brought you up, so I just zoned in on you.

            My position in this regard, while I have made criticism of the ALL and its formulation of “left-libertarianism”, is that the left-libertarians are more positively paradigm-shifting than the BHL’s (I make a distinction because the vast majority of the people who say they are BHL’s are not left-libertarians). You are making *some* significant challenges to the status quo of libertarianism, that have implications that could change the philosophy.

            I don’t see most of the writers here as doing that, in all honesty.

  • good_in_theory

    I had a long argument but I thought it was excessive.  I’ve condensed the point to a sentence:

    Libertarian arguments are not the same as libertarian motivations.

    Here is a demonstrative example (a comment which was the receipt of 9 likes on this site):

    “Hard to follow this Jessica Flanagan’s reasoning, but look, I’m a tolerant
    libertarian–I’m okay with her trying out her social justice ideas. As
    long as she keeps her hands out of my fucking wallet.”

  • Damien S.

    Justice is close to fairness, and getting what one deserves.  As people have said, it’s not the only virtue: mercy and charity and generosity are about giving more than someone else deserves.  Honesty and self-control are yet other virtues not even relevant to this discussion.  And some of the welfare state may be motivated by institutionalized charity.

    But I think “social justice” is more meaningful than the people here want to admit.  At base it’s looking at society and seeing some of the outcomes as unfair, and undeserving.  That A does not deserve to work all her life in a crappy job for B just because of the luck of A and B’s parents.  That people should have equal opportunities of education, seed capital, health and safety to realize their talents.  That allegedly voluntary agreements can be tainted by the threat of starvation on one side.  That the distribution and inheritance of property and capital is massively tainted by past injustice, with or without state help.

    Why is it *social* justice?  Because typically there’s no clear living person to blame.  If my father enslaves your father, that’s a matter of simple justice between them.  If slavery is abolished and they die, and you’re a pauper freedman while I inherit the wealth my father beat out of yours, and use that discepancy to make you sharecrop at minimal wages, then that’s not a matter of simple justice –  I have no directly wronged you — yet there’s something wrong about it nonetheless[1].  Thus social justice, just deserts or their absence as embodied in society and its structures and the distribution of wealth and rights.

    [1] If you don’t see something wrong, then congrats, you don’t believe in social justice.  And those of us who do will see you as morally defective, just as you likely see anyone who doesn’t make ‘freedom’ and property ownership the highest value as morally defective.

    • shemsky

      Damien, just for the record, even someone who disagrees with you as much as I do doesn’t see that there’s nothing wrong with example [1] you give. In your example, your father did not rightfully own the wealth that he beat out of someone else’s father, therefore he had no right to give it to you and you don’t rightfully own it. That would apply even if you had nothing to do with your father’s sins. It seems to me like the son of the man he beat the wealth out of should rightfully own it. Have you ever read Lysander Spooner’s plan for the abolution of slavery? One of his solutions was to give to the slaves the land they had been forced to work. I’m in agreement with that.

      • Damien S.

        Right.  But the ex-slaves *weren’t* given the land they’d been forced to work.  And they and their descendants have been subject over the subsequent 150 years to race-based terror, denial of the vote and other human rights, systematized discrimination (both state and non-state, like redlining in northern cities and hiring biases), public schools inferior to other public school, a “war on drugs” that targets them and their neighborhoods.

        So it’s like my great-grandfather enslaved yours, my grandfather lynched yours, my father refused to hire yours even though qualified, and I’ve inherited good money and property and social connections while you’re broke in the ghetto.  And this is just among the most egregious of social justice violations, not the only one.

        “It seems to me that the son of the man he beat the wealth out of should rightfully own it”

        Ah, but my father and I also used the capital to increase wealth in other ways, and traded some of it away to third parties and there’s intermarriage, and now it’s all entangled.  And libertarians IME throw up their hands at this point, “too bad it’s too complicated now”.  Which it would be, if one tried to pursue or even define total and perfect justice.  Liberals accept progressive taxation[1] and redistribution as an imperfect bandaid tending toward justice, less imperfect than ignoring the problem.

        [1] Arguably, in a flawed society, the richer you are the more likely you or your ancestors benefited from injustice, whether active or passive, state-aided or not.

        • shemsky

          I don’t see that we have to just ignore the problem, even if we can’t make it totally right. But these liberals who you say accept progressive taxation and redistribution as a less imperfect solution are probably the same ones who believe in impartial institutional designers. Sorry, Damien. I don’t trust the government to do that. They’ll break more than they’ll fix.

          • Damien S.

            So what do you propose in order to not ignore the problem?

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • shemsky

            I don’t have any specific answers for you right now, Damien, besides using adjudication to try to identify instances of injustice and correct them as best as can be done. I realize that won’t satisfy you, but I don’t think that your solution would really satisfy you either (because it wouldn’t work).

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             That’s always the hole card, isn’t it? Frankly it’s getting tired.

          • shemsky

            Rod, the idea of just turning vast sums of resources over to phony, self-interested politicians who will always get their cut whether or not they use these resources to actually solve any problems, and all in order to relieve your progressive conscience, is getting tired.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             So go buy yourself some rights from somebody and don’t worry about it.

          • shemsky

            Good comment, Rod (I’m the one who clicked on liked).

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             I’m glad you liked it. Seriously. The point remains thought that at this point I actually have no fishing clue what you actually mean by the term “rights”. It’s like you’re equating love to prostitution or something.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

         Problem is that situation would have happened about 150 years ago and it wasn’t rectified at the time. We had this discussion a few weeks ago and the general consensus (which I share, BTW) is that it’s way too late now to disentangle everything. Sure, we can and should use the principle going forward, but wrt historical injustice it’s a rather empty sentiment.

  • craftman

    Maybe this makes me not a bleeding-heart libertarian, but I
    see the fact that poor people would be helped by altering minimum wage law,
    private social security accounts, etc., as merely a bonus to persuade others
    who view the world through the social justice lens.

     

    I don’t care if a particular policy helps or hurts the poor –
    or any other group, for that matter – I care about whether the policy is just.
    Am I mis-interpreting, a la Hayek, to think that liberal social justice
    advocates believe that the poor – regardless of past choices or circumstances – should be privy to special benefits or redistribution at the expense of the rich merely because it increases
    their quality of life?

     

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t NEED the argument of
    “it helps the poor” to make my point. If you fight me hard enough I will back
    into the corner of “it violates my rights / economic freedoms.”

  • good_in_theory

    Here’s a thought: we must separate libertarian arguments from a libertarian ethos, and we must separate those who are libertarian in principle from those who are libertarian only instrumentally.

    Some ethics will be essentially libertarian in content.  Others will be contingently expanded to become libertarian in content.  Others will be contingently narrowed to become libertarian in content.

    Here are three empirical conditions that will lead to our prudential/instrumental expansions and contractions:

    A. It is in my self interest to respect the property rights of all.
    B. It is in my self interest to see that all respect the property rights of each/respect NAP
    C. It is in the interest of the least well off (or in the interest of all) for all to respect the property rights of each/respect NAP.

    Now try these on:

    1. My only ethical obligation is to pursue my own self interest.
    2. My only ethical obligation is to pursue my own-self interest without the use of coercion (NAP)/to respect the property rights of all
    3. I have an ethical obligation to ensure that NAP obtains among all/that property rights obtain among all.
    4. I have an ethical obligation to act in the interest of the least well off.
    5. I have an ethical obligation to act in the interest of all.

    1 is a simple Egoist.

    Now 2 is an odd duck.  They are personally committed to acting justly but have no commitment to remedying injustice which is not their business.  I’ll call them Non Violent (NV) Egoists

    If A obtains, egoists become contingently NV Egoists.

    3 strikes me as clearly Libertarian (Libs).

    If B obtains Egoists of all stripes become contingent Libs

    4 and 5 are two varieties of Social Justice types.

    If C obtains Social Justicers become contingently Libertarian, and Libertarians become contingent Social Justicers.

    So we have Contingent Libertarians and Contingent Social Justicers.
    Another way to say that, i that we have Unprincipled Libertarians and Unprincipled Social Justicers.

    Brennan thinks most Libertarians believe something like 4 or 5.
    I think most Libertarians believe something like 3, and if I’m feeling uncharitable something like 1 and A and B, and if I’m feeling mean just 1 plus a new premise:

    D (it is in my self interest that all respect my property rights).

    Here’s the question: Are unprincipled libertarians, libertarians?
    Are unprincipled social justicers, social justicers?
    Are non violent egoists, libertarians if B doesn’t obtain?

  • Aeon Skoble

    I made the following comment on FB, but I should put it here also.  So, H/T to myself I guess.  Anyway: first of all, deontology/consequentialism isn’t a jointly exhaustive set of alternatives. Paraphrasing Yoda, there is another. Second of all, it depends on what you mean by “matter” when you rhetorically ask whether economic arguments matter. Let’s say I am trying to get someone to eat green beans. I will surely mention that they’re tasty. But that’s not really _why_ you should eat them. The real reason _why_ you should eat them, the justificatory principle so to speak, is that given a certain set of facts about human biology and the composition of the green beans, they’re beneficial to eat. But it’s certainly relevant to your motivation that they’re tasty – that matters. If you asked me as a hypo “well, IF it turned out they were not tasty, would you recommend I not eat them? If you say no, you’re a consequentialist [or in this analogy, a flavorist]” you’d be missing the point. Yes, it matters that they’re tasty, but no, that’s not _why_ you should eat them, and it’s still true that IF they’re not that tasty you should still eat them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

       Here’s the thing… this is all starting to sound a lot like the kind of paternalism that libbies are supposed to abhor. Is it JUST about who’s making the assertion?

  • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

    What if BHL’s are wrong about their economic policy prescriptions?

    http://www.amazon.com/Assumptions-Economists-Make-Jonathan-Schlefer/dp/0674052269?tag=bleedheartlib-20

    One thing I am pretty sure: mainstream neoclassical accounts such as RBC models explain far less the current economic crisis than, for example, some Marxist views:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Great-Financial-Crisis-Consequences/dp/1583671846?tag=bleedheartlib-20

    • Damien S.

      Or less than simple Keynesian IS-LM.

      • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

        Damien: agreed. Maybe you’ve already read this:

        http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/05/economics-in-the-crisis/

        and this:

        http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/is-lmentary/

        Even the Austrian view of the crisis is more compelling (although, of course, you have to say farewell to some of the most cherished assumptions of freshwater economics, like rational expectations, etc):

        http://criteriolibre.unilibre.edu.co/index.php/clibre/article/view/75

        • Damien S.

          Yeah, I’ve seen both of those Krugman posts.  You mean the Austrian view is more compelling than the real business cycle view?

          • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

            Yes, I mean more compelling than the real business cycle view.
            As an aside, it is interesting to note that there some coincidences and overlappings between the Austrian view and the Marxist/Keynesian/Kaleckian view of economic cycles: in both cases there is an over-expansion of credit beyond the means of the ‘real’ sector of the economy. What, in my opinion, Austrians lack is an adequate explanation of the underlying mechanism (I always found the “natural rate of interest” so mysterious).
            To be honest, the same is true of the Marxist/Keynesian/Kaleckian view, except for what could be an important “insight”: capitalist economies are internally headed toward stagnation (remember the falling rate of profit hypothesis?)
            But, as Jason Brennan’s aptly put it: economics: who cares?

    • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

      Economics in general, as it is usually formulated, has very limited explainatory power of the phenomena its claims are about, precisely because of the ways in which at the outset it methodologically severely restricts what information is relevant to its analysis, while often bringing assumptions to the table that are imposed onto the phenomena a priori, even when the phenomena itself threatens to falsify those assumptions – or at least make them half-truths at best.

      Down with economics, up with sociology! (half-zombie-troll-face) That is all.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

         The real problem with economic theories is that to some degree or another the theorists all start out with a point to prove. Truly objective economic analysis and theorizing is extremely rare.

        • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

          Depending on the pretensions of what it means for something to be “objective”, I may argue that it’s not simply extremely rare – it’s impossible. But yes, I think I agree with you basic point.

          • Silly Wabbit

            “Economics” as the term is used in the libertarian blogosphere has almost no relation to “economics” as a academic discipline. 

            From what I can tell “economics” in libertarianian-blogosphere-speak usually refers to a set of precepts or assumptions about human behavior and social organization that form a sort of reasonably coherent meta-narrative. A better name might be “social theory”.  

            So if someone says “you don’t understand economics!” they don’t mean that your knowledge of various statistical models and manipulations is not on par or that you are misinterpretting some coefficient. Or maybe you don’t understand some of the assumptions underlying the model. From what I can tell that is NOT what most libertarians online mean when they say “you don’t understand economics!”.

            What they should be saying is that “you don’t understand the internal logic of my meta-narrative”. 

            This is an enormous distinction and it really confused me when I first started trying to take American libertarianism seriously. I am not an economist but have taken some grad level econ courses and collaborated with economists on applied projects and I count several economists among my friends. I’ve read more articles from econ journals than I care to remember…….

            So it was really strange to hear people use the term “Economics”  in the sense that its used in the libertarian blogosphere. 

            Even this essay should probably be using the word “outcomes”  instead of economics. 

            But perhaps my confusion is merely a function of my feeble mind……

          • 3cantuna

            Outside of the Austrian School ‘economist’ means a technocrat with physics envy applying engineering techniques to the study of human beings, on government money.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I think that’s a fairly valid point (to take it one step further, I think “economics” as an authority in libertarians tends to function more or less as an appeal to metaphysically entrenched ideological planks in a general world-view), and I’d just say that I reject the meta-narrative – and I think that the meta-narrative (really, *any* meta-narrative at this level) inherently does not sufficiently account for the complexity of phenomena.

          • Silly Wabbit

            Alex, 
               I don’t have problem with meta-narratives or grand theories per se. But the use of the phrase “economics” to describe what is more accurately called “libertarian social theory” or “libertarian grand narrative” is at best confusing and potentially misleading. 
               
                Of course, some very accomplished economists have been libertarians of one stripe or another. But, of course, some accomplished economists are Marxists. I think we would all agree that if all Marxist intellectual stopped calling themselves Marxists and starting calling themselves “economists” it would be confusing and perhaps somewhat dishonest. 

               I think part of the attraction of the term is the level of expertise granted to economists, as opposed to other social scientists, by the general public. So if you can “economics” instead of “libertarian social theory” you can tap into a generally held sentiment that economists are uber-smart. 

               Maybe I’m reading too much into it…..
                
                

          • 3cantuna

            It is the complexity of phenomena that economics recognizes.  Your “reductionist” charge sounds more like the ideological blindness you level.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            The complexity of social phenomena cannot be “recognized” in a framework that makes sweeping general claims about it and already pretty much defines all possible counter-examples to the generalities as irrelevant or impossible.

          • 3cantuna

            There would not be a concept of example without prior framework to give the data meaning.  Data does not speak for itself.  If you want, play the example game. I can match you all day long with counter examples. In some sense, it really comes down to your apriori constraints v. mine: which are more rational? The logical empiricists and their econ cousins can make Stalinism look worthy. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            “There would not be a concept of example without prior framework to give the data meaning.”

            Irrelevant. Yes – we know that we inherently approach data with conceptual schemes and theories. One can grant this and still find the Austrians to weild their conceptual schemes dogmatically, and note that the conceptual scheme they use is one that is especially *simplistic* and *narrow* in nature.

            The fact is, you can’t make sweeping proclaimations about phenomena and then handwave away all the evidence to the contrary – specifically, you can’t just *define* markets as inherently mutually beneficial and then ignore incommensurability and the imbalanced power relations that form the social context in which markets exist. That is not the same thing as the general sense in which everyone interprets data or brings theory to data. It’s simply being a dogmatist.

            Also, you’re shadowboxing with positivism. Not every critique of austrian apriorism reduces to a positivist view. I attack it from a standpoint much more like *pragmatism*.

          • 3cantuna

            Your irrelevancy charge is cynical and mere flack. It is the heart of the matter. Back up your accusations. You brought up evidence. Now let’s see how far it gets you.

            I’ll start: The Soviet system is by far the most superior. They won WWII, beat America to space, and united the most diverse set of people.

            As I said before-too-there is a giant difference between apriorism like “humans act” and reductionism like “Religion is the opiate of the masses”. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Well, given that you are obviously trying to shadowbox with a Marxist, I don’t think there’s much basis to consider us as having a meaningful debate. But it’s obvious that you’re confusing criticisms of “economic reductionism” that I have made elsewhere with what I am specifically argueing right now – and you’ve obviously misunderstood what that criticism is if you think that the phrase “humans act” in and of itself is the target of that criticism. I have argued elsewhere that “humans act” is an uncontroversial claim that no particular interesting or useful conclusions can simply be deduced from (at least not as the basis for building an entire system of economic thought from the ground up), but that’s another debate.

          • 3cantuna

            replied downpage

          • Damien S.

            IME libertarian ‘economics’ typically means “the parts of Econ 101 I remember that support laisseiz faire, ignoring the parts that don’t, or the fact that most actual economists support mixed economies and selective government intervention, not dogmatic libertarianism.”

      • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

         Hey Alex, thanks for the comment. There are many methodological (and philosophical) issues in economics. So, in a sense, I agree with you. But maybe economist can explain ex post facto many things and/or build suitable models. The main problem seems to be the conjunction of unrealistic assumptions and lack of predictive power.  

        • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

          Yes, I think that unrealistic assumptions about human behavior and relations is generally built into the views of market economists. And so, even when economists attempt to be empirical, their claims end up looking dubious because of the way in which they interpret that data, in a way that doesn’t account for the complexity of social phenomena – because you’ve already adopted a bunch of broad claims about the nature of markets (and, by extension, human behavior) as the basis from which to make your analysis.

          When those assumptions are picked out, they often end up being things that people from other fields (such as psychology and history) could amply debate the economist about.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             You know, Alex, I recall reading about a study that was conducted where they compared the game-theoretical models that many economists use with how people actually behaved. They also administered standard psychological profiles tests to these people.

            It turned out that the only people that actually behaved in the way economists assumed were the Aspies and other borderline autistics, sociopaths, and… economists.

            I think the profession really needs to take the behaviorist wing more seriously.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Surprise surprise! An ideology built on “autistic” assumptions ends up mostly only explaining the behavior of autists.

            I’d be curious to see that Study, Rod.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             Never saw the actual study. Not being in academia I would probably have a hard time getting ahold of it. What I saw was a reference to it in an article in Scientific American a  year or two ago.

          • Silly Wabbit

            Alex, 
               I’m going to have to cautiously challenge you here. 

               All models have assumptions. At times these assumptions are on the more statistical end of model building (assumptions about clustering, error etc.) and at other times they are on the more theoretical end. I think you are critiquing the latter. 
             
               But there is nothing wrong with making assumptions for the purposes of research. Indeed, to do social science you have to make assumptions, some of which are “unrealistic”. 

                I think the problem is more like this:

                1) Someone takes an undergrad microecon course and doesn’t get the assumptions in the models 2) they also aren’t familiar with basic phillosophy of science and logic of inquiry considerations, 3) they also have little to no knowledge of quantitative methodologies 4) they then reify the assumptions as some type of undeniable universal truth. 

                Additionally, I think that some quite smart economists who work for think tanks or want to become public intellectuals end up misrepresenting their profession and, sometimes,  their own work. They tend to gloss over complexity, nuance and uncertainty. So that leads to this perception. 

                Additionally, I find that when people refer to “unrealistic assumptions” they are referencing specific notions from microeconomics about rationality. However, that’s only a subset of the discipline. 
               
                
               
             
              

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Silly Wabbit: just to be clear, I agree with you that “there is nothing wrong with making assumptions for the purposes of research”, because I realize that there is no avoidance of the fact that everyone does this.

            My problem is, of course, with the specific assumptions made – especially when those assumptions constitute incredibly general or broad claims we have *plenty* of reasons to doubt, and when they are granted an *apodictic status*. It simply is not an epistemically modest enterprise. I’d also be inclined to say that it’s probably a good idea to nonetheless try to minimize one’s metaphysical assumptions when doing “research”.

            This problem is especially applicable to Austrian economists, precisely because they are claiming apodictic certainty from a verbal chain of reasoning. It isn’t that they simply make assumptions. They have no epistemic modesty in making those assumptions. That they “tend to gloss over compliexity, nuance, and uncertainty” is kind of precisely my point.

            My point is also that Austrians are methodologically commited to being dismissive of challenges that come from disciplines other than their own. “Praxeology” is supposed to not be amendable to anything a psychologist or historian brings to the table. I call that a disciplinary monopoly. It’s an inherently dogmatic move that closes the system. In a not so subtle way, I’d say they kind of claim a monopoly on social science itself.

        • 3cantuna

          Find me a positivistic economist that has been accurate with predictions?  Rather, it is the Austrians that predict, and retrodict, booms and crashes– even though this is not the criterion in establishing theoretical strength. Funny how that works, but humans don’t operate like mere physical items.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Why not reject both positivism and austrianism (one may as well say: scholasticism)? They’re two peas in a pod.

          • 3cantuna

            I would if it made sense. Maybe it will occur to me someday. I’m only in it for the chicks anyway.

            From what I gather so far Mises, warts and all, has all comers beat.  There may be some roots in scholasticism. Rothbard had great admiration for the Spaniards. Nonetheless, economics stands on its own.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            So, basically: Mises is Moses.

          • 3cantuna

            Economic theory, the is. Morality, the ought.  Mises kept them separate.  His economic thinking did inform his liberalism.  But economics makes no moral/ethical statements in of itself.  but realistic morality requires economic understanding.

            Or did you mean Victor Moses of Wigan Athletic Football Club in England?

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            What are you responding to with this comment? What do you think you’re argueing against?

            My tongue in cheek comment was both a play on words at Mises’s name, and implying that you’re over-idolizing Mises.

            But, to argue with you: there is no such thing as value-free science. That includes economics. Of course, when I speak of values in this context, I don’t mean morality.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             Post-modernism? Ugh.

            If you want to maintain that personal values can color the choice of things to or introduce biases into interpretations of results, fine. But that’s about as far as you can take it.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            More like pragmatism – although Richard Rorty makes some interesting reasons for thinking that pragmatism does or can overlap with postmodernism.

            But really, I think some more subtley of mind is necessary than simply engaging in a typical knee-jerk reaction about “postmodernism” (which I used to waste time crusading-without-understanding against myself).

            As far as my explicit reading and concious choice of ideas to adopt, I actually am not that deeply steeped in postmodern thought. Foucault is one of the only ones I feel I actually understand. Derrida mostly gets a shrug from me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             ”Economic theory, the is. Morality, the ought.”

            Finally! Something you said that doesn’t make me cringe.

            I just don’t think Mises got the “is’s” very well. See my comment above wrt to autism in economics.

          • 3cantuna

            As a defender of state power over market, you have some ‘splainin to do. How do you know the results are more beneficial, or could be made more beneficial through politics? If simple reasoning from the facts, that there is human conscious action dealing with a  world of scarcity, is off limits– then where do you go from there?

          • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

            ” it is the Austrians that predict”

            I don’t think this is a true statement. Given the fact that the methodology of Austrian economics rejects altogether the notion of economics as an empirical science, making good (or bad) predictions is not part of its task. Whether this apriorism is (or it is not) a sound methodological approach to economics, is another thing.

          • 3cantuna

            Prediction is not a criterion for the establishment of economic theory. It is a historical fact, I should have made more clear, that the Austrians, aided by unique insight based on theory, predicted e.g.  the most recent crash. 

          • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

            Is 2cantuna and 3cantuna like Hesperus and Phosphorous?

            I think you are conceptually wrong about the  meaning of the word “prediction”. If “Prediction is not a criterion for the establishment of economic theory”, I don’t see how you can “predict” anything. To make a meaningful prediction you need first to postulate an empirically testable hypothesis (and be prepared to revise your beliefs in case you happen to be wrong, etc.). Can you “predict” that 2+2 would be equal to 4? Short answer: no.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I’d try to add, mostly in agreement with you, that this problem is stemming from the fact that “economics” as the Austrians are defining it somehow claims apodictic certainty.

            The notion of making “predictions” on the basis of apodictic certainty is incoherant – the austrian is not “predicting”, in the way you’re describing prediction, because the possibility of being wrong has already been removed from the formulation of ”economics” .

            In all likelyhood, the Austrian is looking at phenomena after the fact and using it as confirmation of what they have already claimed certainty about; and then claiming to have “predicted” it. That’s not prediction. We already have a better term for it: confirmation bias.

            You can’t make “predictions” on the basis of what you have asserted to be true by definition (as your math example illustrates). And Austrianism is all about a verbal chain of reasoning.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             Yep. I’ve had an Austrian adherent maintain that attempting to compare their theory with empirical reality was the equivalent of a mathematician running around measuring triangles to confirm the Pythagorean theorem.

            They genuinely equate their economic theorizing with mathematics.

            AE isn’t even wrong; it’s just irrelevant. Like arguing whether Batman could beat Spiderman.

          • Damien S.

            Particularly funny since measuring triangles is in fact what you’d have to do to see if the Pythagorean theorem is relevant to reality, or equivalently, to see if we live in a Euclidean space, or if the axioms match reality.  Triangles on the surface of a sphere, like the Earth, do not obey the Pythagorean theorem…

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

             Yeah. I made that same point to the guy. In fact, although the best evidence so far seems to point to the universe as a whole being “flat”, large masses (like the earth) distort space-time in such a way that strictly speaking the Pythagorean Theorem doesn’t actually hold if you could measure triangles accurately enough.

            He didn’t have a response.

          • 3cantuna

            Rod,

            The bridge between aprioristic theory and the empirical world is Action.  Doing. Humans act purposively using scarce means to attain ends. This is logically undeniable.
            Economic categories—values, ends, means, choice, preference, cost, profit and loss, as well as time and causality, are right there with the basic axiom as it unfolds.
            Economic categories—values, ends, means, choice, preference, cost, profit and loss, as well as time and causality, are right there with the basic axiom as it unfolds.

          • 3cantuna

            liked it so much, pasted it twice

          • 3cantuna

            How are causal data in human relations observable or situationally repeatable?Ideas and subjectivity of mind throw a wrench in the hypothesis method. Nonetheless, even Rothbard, an apriorist, clearly states that he arrived at the “apodictic” point of certainty through general observation. Since we are humans, why not realize a possibility of self observation and deduction from introspection? 

            Clearly, the apriorism in econ is not as metaphysical as one might gather on first glance. Of course, no rational being can deny that humans act consciously. The act of denial is in itself a display of the axiom’s validity.

            Nor is apriorism in econ out to prove that all knowledge can be deduced without resort to observation, testing, method, and the projects involved in physics. It is rationalism with realism.

            Further, in the deductive chain of reasoning– empirical knowledge is indeed incorporated, like diversity of resources and elements of scarcity (but time, a scarce resource, can be ‘discovered’ either way).

            Austrians admit that analysis of real world events, due to their complexity, are very hard to match up against the deductive logic. This is not a problem of the logic’s validity. But that of observation. This in itself is a strength in the theory:  the empiricists assume all knowledge may be discovered through the methods you describe. It is overweighting an assumption of physical determinism, and downplaying the humaness of human beings. These predictive statements that are supposedly good science imply that the testing/inference procedure can read minds.  To the contrary, the why of human choice takes understanding– but in no way can be revealed through the application of the natural sciences. There is no certainty about history beyond dates and events.

            I would not be too quick to rule out the Austrian outlook.

          • 3cantuna

            Though we can know that at all times and places– humans are consciously acting, using means to attain ends.

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            The statement deserves a shrug. It is a fairly uncontroversial if not trivial statement and nothing interesting, or nothing as specific as what you want to claim, simply spins out from it logically.

            Sweeping claims about the world and entire complex theories can’t be logically founded by simple trivialities.

          • 3cantuna

            Trivialities, now. I need to make a list of all these declaratory dismissals. Sorry, but economics operates from general principle that cannot be tested by the hypo method.  Your collectivist fantasies won’t allow you to accept it. 

            Take the Ricardian law of association for instance. It logically shows the advantage of working together in spite of differences in skills and talents. How on earth is the validity in the claim testable in the way chemicals are?

            The difference is earth shattering because economics says to the socialists, including you and the other sniping critics on this blog, that man not only does not need to be ruled, but cannot be with productive results!

          • http://twitter.com/VelizCF CFV

            so what?

            As an aside, why humans (“entrepreneurs”) seem to be acting “unconsciously” during the malinvestment process that leads from boom to bust, according to the ABCT? Are they simply fools?

        • 2cantuna

          In essence, the predictive challenge does not apply to all self-identified economists, but mostly those that try to mimick engineering, etc.

  • Ax123man

    The problem here is the relative frequency that a topic of social justice has government as its underlying mechanism. Often a relevant conversation can go on with this not being explicitly stated but simply implied. Come to me personally and explain a need and I will help, depending on the situation. Give my taxes away in the name of social justice and I’m quite annoyed as I can’t ponder the circumstances or have any say in the matter (not to mention increased likelyhood of fraud and waste)

    It’s convenient for Jason to say why he thinks libertarians Focus on these things, But I’m with aeon on this. My concern more than anything is that social justice, as usual, will end in facism and worse. We are well on our way already.

    Anyone who can actually watch what our government does and put any faith in that must be nearly unconscious.

  • Ax123man

     Lets say you have three individuals in need of your social justice. Nip unfortunately takes unfair advantage, Far honestly needs help, and Tuc refuses help on principal. Is it important for an LL to know of Nip? Will you force Tuc to take your help? How do you find all the Fars in the world and keep them motivated toward self reliance? How and who decides where the bar is set for those who need help? How do you prevent the natural tendency to raise the bar too far? As soon as you try to pool resources, you either have to have consensus or decide for others. There’s a natural tendency to pool larger and larger resources, which exacerbates these issues and creates new ones.

    My issue with Social Justice is the implementation. I have my own ideas regarding charity and nobody has the right to force their ideas of charity on me. So how will an LL implement social justice? I would like to see a plan that can work (and yes, I admit, I don’t think such a plan exists).

    Regarding this comment:

    “It’s as if the hardcore libertarian is so focused on their own pet peeves against government intervention that they can’t address the substance…..”

    I simply ask “Why Government”. Really, it’s an honest question, why? There are two possible reasons I can think of. One, it provides for coercion. Two, I guess is that it is a kind of convenient common body, democratic and all that. I assume we all reject coercion – we are libertarians, right? And the second reason is a bit weak, I think. And regarding coercion, how do prevent it? I have no way of telling our government “No, please don’t spend on XYZ!”.  I personally wouldn’t have a /huge/ problem with government having some level of coercive taxes, say 5% and then voluntary contributions beyond that. Then, government would simply be another charity to look at and review among other charities.

    • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

      “I simply ask “Why Government”. Really, it’s an honest question, why? There are two possible reasons I can think of.”

      In conjunction with my point, your question is itself an evasion – an evasion of the more fundamental question and views at stake, which are moral commitments and analysis of social phenomena. Whatever government policy conclusions a person has, you aren’t addressing their conception of justice as such by attacking those policy conclusions. You’re basically changing the topic, if the initial claims in question are about one’s view of justice as such. You’re making a red herring about praxis.

      Furthermore, it is fallacious to conflate pro-government policy conclusions with the moral commitments and conceptions of justice as such – especially when there are anarchists who have those commitments but don’t support any particular government intervention. So, especially when confronted with the egalitarian anarchist, the libertarian’s anti-government tirade is essentially beside the point.

      • Ax123man

        I didn’t address the moral obligation to social justice because it’s a completely separate question from the implementation of a solution. Yes I do feel a moral obligation to help others and I do take action, but it is in a way that I feel avoids many of the national/global issues. Does that solve the delima you were addressing? I’m being honest about that question because I’m not 100% sure that is what you were after. But you evade my question: what is BLL’s answer to the implementation of social justice and how will it avoid the obvious issues? The discussions above seems so tied up in “isms” that i think the forest may be lost in the trees.

  • 3cantuna

    Alex Strekal writes: “Well, given that you are obviously trying to shadowbox with a Marxist, I don’t think there’s much basis to consider us as having a meaningful debate. But it’s obvious that you’re confusing criticisms of “economic reductionism” that I have made elsewhere with what I am specifically argueing right now – and you’ve obviously misunderstood what that criticism is if you think that the phrase “humans act” in and of itself is the target of that criticism. I have argued elsewhere that “humans act” is an uncontroversial claim that no particular interesting or useful conclusions can simply be deduced from (at least not as the basis for building an entire system of economic thought from the ground up), but that’s another debate.”

    You sound more like a person in a nihilist phase than pure Marxist.  That’s alright. There is purpose in it. Yes, “Humans act” is usually followed by subsidiary helpers. A further point about the use of economic theory– it is not an attempt to explain everything; nor should it have to. Though I may have misunderstood what you are after in my counter to the reductionism charge, being that of reductionism in itself; it is hard to ignore:

    “Austrians to weild their conceptual schemes dogmatically, and note that the conceptual scheme they use is one that is especially *simplistic* and *narrow* in nature.”

    I am not sure what you mean by pragmatism. You mean like John Dewey?

    • 3cantuna

      I don’t see myself arguing against Marxism here– that is way too easy; been done many times over. More like against empiricism; which I am realizing that it has many variants– not just the logical positivists- but e.g. Dewey too.  You brought up evidence as something that is a strike against Austrian thought. Yet you will not use evidence to support this claim.  What kind of empiricist are you?  Why don’t i just reply: It is your criticism that is dogmatic and simplistic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

      “You sound more like a person in a nihilist phase than pure Marxist.”

      That’s funny, because I reject nihilism as simply a negative part (or conclusion) of an enlightement paradigm with overextended expectations and definitions. The nihilist is just a disillusioned rationalist reaching negative conclusions from some of the starting assumptions of the non-nihilist.

      “I am not sure what you mean by pragmatism. You mean like John Dewey?”

      I’m more into William James, Richard Rorty, and Hilary Putnam - haven’t read enough Dewey (yet).  

      “I don’t see myself arguing against Marxism here– that is way too easy; been done many times over. More like against empiricism”

      Then you’re still shadowboxing. Rejecting the extremes associated with a very “rationalist” view, and you obviously are taking an extreme ”rationalist” view, does not commit one to the extremes of an “empiricist” view. I’d wish to challenge the paradigm of rationalism-empiricism, even if both can, at times, introduce some valuable considerations. See James’s comments on philosophical dualisms for a general introduction to the notion of a paradigm-shifting move past typical empiricist-rationalist, materialist-idealist, etc., conflict.

      “You brought up evidence as something that is a strike against Austrian thought. Yet you will not use evidence to support this claim. What kind of empiricist are you? Why don’t I just reply: It is your criticism that is dogmatic and simplistic.”

      It’s quite clear that you are not interested in having a fully intellectually honest exchange - you’re interested in pulling “gotchas” on someone who’s an annoyance to you.  

      Anyways, the only sense in which I have “not used evidence” is simply because of the *general* nature of the claims we are making – we have simply not gotten far enough in the conversation for a question to be posed that involves particulars. You haven’t presented me with a particular question or claim to invoke “evidence” against – we’ve been talking at a broader level of generalities. If you were to make a fairly specific claim about phenoma, then maybe I would have some kind of relevant bitlet of data to bring up that undermines it. You haven’t done so – we’ve basically been argueing about metaphysics at a very abstract level.

      • 3cantuna

        I appreciate the discussion on nihilism. 
        Dewey is the only one I have read.  I can see why the early Soviet regime found him quite acceptable on education; the feelings were mutual.
        Wasn’t Rorty a defender of democratic socialism? 

        I find it troubling that critics of apriori market theory often claim, as you have, that economics cannot be a value free science, that it is metaphysical hogwash akin to astrology even, yada yada yada; but then go on to propose concrete systems like democratic socialism. They even use class theory, too (Rorty). How is it that these anti-market people– all of them members of the dominant class– transcend?  Maybe you actually are standing on Marx’s shoulders more than you think.

        You brought up evidence. Now you want to retreat because only the “metaphysical” charge might stick. I gave you an example. The Soviet Union. It was superior to American capitalism. They won WWII. They sent a man to space first and united the most diverse set of people ever. People that don’t believe in democratic socialism– even if the Soviet version wasn’t perfect– are plainly ideological nutjobs.  Those Austrian so-called economists that insist on a propertarian order and market price system are just shills for the capitalist order. We can manage affairs without market exchange:  we have got the math and democratic input. But most importantly, we have class consciousness!  We have the Truth!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

          “It was superior to American capitalism.”
          Other than maybe a brief period after the Civil War, we really haven’t seen American capitalism yet. (Look at plank 5 of the Communist Manifesto. We formed a central bank instead.)

          • 3cantuna

            The Soviet Union was evil.  The point of my empiricist pronouncements was to flesh out the elements of futility in applying natural science methodology to past human events.  Strekal categorically believes applying aprioristic economic reasoning is not only metaphysical, not useful and loaded with ideological bent, but pre-determined to miss key environmental factors affecting social relations, like power etc.  If Austrians are incapable of producing a proper concept of “evidence”,  then analysis is off limits too.  Now, Strekal claims to not be positivist either. But what does that leave?  But before one can accept this claim– here has also state “Down with economics!  Up with sociology!”  or something close to that. And what is sociology, lol?

        • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

          “I can see why the early Soviet regime found him quite acceptable on education; the feelings were mutual.
          Wasn’t Rorty a defender of democratic socialism?”

          I find it funny to see you repeat the theme, which I critisized in my first comment, of being dismissive of philosophical positions based on what the politics (in the form of public policy conclusions) that thinker has, which of course one already has a pet peeve against. And characterizing Dewey as agreeing with Stalinists is likely a bit of an unfair move.

          “I find it troubling that critics of apriori market theory often claim, as you have, that economics cannot be a value free science”

          But that isn’t what I have argued – you still seem to be shadowboxing the austrian-arch-enemy of the positivist and people who are into scientism. I haven’t taken the positions that economics cannot be a value free science, in contrast to “true science” – I reject that even what the positivist would call “true science” is “value-free”. So my position cuts against the pretensions of both the positivist and the austrian – they ironically have some shared foundational beliefs and motives to be “scientific” in a way that philosophy of science has moved far past.

          “but then go on to propose concrete systems like democratic socialism.”

          I certainly have not done so – I’m a social anarchist.

          “They even use class theory, too (Rorty). ”

          Uh oh! Class Theory! (dun dun dun) More ideological pet peeves. This would actually be a good juncture for Roderick Long to join the discussion and give you a good intellectual ass-kicking about the nuances of what it means to have a class theory (hint: libertarians have one), and how there are a multitude of things contained in the generality of having a class theory that you don’t seem to be accounting for. It’s far from as simple as “class theory = marxism”.

          “How is it that these anti-market people– all of them members of the dominant class– transcend?”

          I don’t think the people in question necessarily claim to transcend. That seems more like imposing your own pretensions onto them of what it would mean or be required to take their statements seriously.

          “Maybe you actually are standing on Marx’s shoulders more than you think.”

          *shrug* All I see is an ideologically loaded, dubious invokation of the bugaboo of Marxism in reaction to a philosophical disagreement.

          • 3cantuna

            Well, Dewey gave the Soviet Union passing grades. Even visited there as a VIP. Was he blind to all the murder and starvation brought on by central control?  Dewey admired the state top down management of Prussian education as well. He wanted the classroom to fuse elements of Enlightenment individualism with democratic teaching, to be sure. Instead of service to a monarch or selfish individualism, he wanted kids to be molded into adults that voluntarily chose service to democracy.

            Dewey’s concrete ideas for the manufacture of society do not dovetail with his views on pragmatism?   Mises’s economics do not inform his classical liberalism? 

            I suppose this comment from you could be interpreted in 9 different ways if one tries:

            “But, to argue with you: there is no such thing as value-free science. That includes economics. Of course, when I speak of values in this context, I don’t mean morality, I mean values in general (although arguably, in various ways science can have moral motivations entangled with it).”

            ‘No such thing as value-free science.’   You were for it…until you were against it.

            Class theory. Roderick Long.  Both are excellent things. I am very familiar with libertarian exploitation theory that pre-dates (and inspired some of)  Marxian variants.  Dunoyer, Charles Comte….   I cite Ralph Raico.

            Prof. Long is awesome on apriorism v. positivism, too. That would be valuable if he jumped in on this. Does he take requests?  You want to reject the epistemic basis of both n the same grounds? Interesting. I find that hard to follow.

            At any rate, not shadow-boxing Marxism where I was using it as an analogy or other nuances. It is true that the Marxists of late 19th century would resort to slander, as well as charges of “false consciousness” and “ideology” where they could not defeat the economists’ arguments. 

            Social anarchist. Cool. At least you are half-way there. 

            I am not sure you leave any room for the presentation of opposing argument when everything is dogmatism. Mises was adamant about being as realistic as possible. ‘Even writes about his opposition to metaphysical conceptions of society like holism, etc.

            Mises:

            “According to the doctrines of universalism, conceptual realism, holism, collectivism, and some representatives of Gestaltpsychologie, society is an entity living its own life, independent of and separate from the lives of the various individuals, acting on its own behalf and aiming at its own ends which are different from the ends sought by the individuals. Then, of course, an antagonism between the aims of society and those of its members can emerge. In order to safeguard the flowering and further development of society it becomes necessary to master the selfishness of the individuals and to compel them to sacrifice their egoistic designs to the benefit of society. At this point all these holistic doctrines are bound to abandon the secular methods of human science and logical reasoning and to shift to theological or metaphysical professions of faith. They must assume that Providence, through its prophets, apostles, and charismatic leaders, forces men who are constitutionally wicked, i.e., prone to pursue their own ends, to walk in the ways of righteousness which the Lord or Weltgeist or history wants them to walk.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            Re: Dewey, you’re continueing the pattern of taking the fact that someone adopted specific policy conclusions or had X political position as an argument against their philosophy as such. It shouldn’t be that hard to see that the reality of the relationship between abstract philosophical positions and people’s politics can get rather pluralistic and incongruous. Political ideology doesn’t consistently map with particular views on metaphysics and epistemology – despite what Rand says. Personal psychology and personal philosophy also don’t consistently map.  

            If find it ironic for you to then complain about Marxist attacks on and psychoanalysis of things/people that you favor, when you are yourself taking the presumption of your politics, or the politics of people, as an axe to grind against people’s philosophical claims.

            ” You were for it…until you were against it.”

            Lame attempt at a gotcha – you came in shadowboxing against “it” (positivist natural-science-as-value-free-in-contrast-to-everything-else) when I never was “for it”.

            “It is true that the Marxists of late 19th century would resort to slander, as well as charges of “false consciousness” and “ideology” where they could not defeat the economists’ arguments.”

            Coming from someone who is themselves “slandering” philosophical ideas and the thinkers associated with them on the basis of presuppositions and considerations about people’s political motives, this is pretty rich.

            “Social anarchist. Cool. At least you are half-way there.”

            It’s the other way around – I already passed through it. Im a former anarcho-capitalist. It’s doubtful that you can give me sufficient reason to be compelled to come full circle.

            “I am not sure you leave any room for the presentation of opposing argument when everything is dogmatism.”

            Who said “everything is dogmatism”? My invokation of dogmatism refers to specific ways thinking and of engaging others.

            “Dewey can be targeted by this criticism, too.”

            So can, in some ways, the person leveling the criticism, Mises himself. But actually, not many people can honestly be targeted by the criticism – because the whining about “society” as a reified entity is largely a strawman of other people’s positions born out of Mises’s own pet peeves. The criticism is overall loaded, rather question-begging of Mises’s own views – including his assumptions about the virtues of individuals, and special individuals.

        • Silly Wabbit

          Mr. Tuna, 

              With all due respect I will again request that you stop using the term “economics” when you should be using a term like “Austrian theory” or “Misesian theory” or even “Austrian economics”.  I think the middle term is probably the best. 

              When you use the word “economics” to describe your chosen theoretical framework its terribly misleading and confusing. It also makes you difficult to follow and can make some of your arguments incoherent. 

              It makes it seem like an entire academic discipline and all its practitioners endorse your particular views. It gives your post an margin of authority that perhaps is unwarranted because it implies that economists have reached a consensus around your views. 
            
             I hope that makes sense. I might help you achieve a greater degree of rhetorical coherence if you did not implicitly conflate your particular position with “economics”.  
             
              That might help facilitate more productive discussion. 

              

          • 3cantuna

            Notice that Strekal rejects economics- not just Mises etc- as ideological. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I do not “reject economics” – I simply think that it does not deserve the status that libertarians give it, that it has more limited explanatory power than libertarians claim it does, and of course I observe the existence of ideological biases (which exists in any discipline), not as a claim that simply makes the discipline “false” or “illegitimate” as such, but as something relevant that we can specifically look at and question as it bears on the claims being made by people in that discipline. The (all-pervasive) existence of bias as such isn’t the issue.

            Any attempt to give a certain discipline apodictic status, or to pump them up in such a way as to nullify other disciplines or relevant information coming from other disciplines, to the effect of an epistemic monopoly on description of phenomena, is something I will reject. In the case of Austro-libertarians, economics is that discipline. What is especially problematic about austrian economics is the apodictic certainty it claims and how economics (as austrians construe it) is pumped up to absurdity – to the nullification of psychology, history, sociology, anthropology, and anything that’s considered a natural science. Somehow, “economics” magically gets a priori veto power over anything that threatens it.

            Simply reversing the move of the positivist, to the benefit of the other side of a presupposed binary opposition (in this case, “social science”, which the Austrians magically get to claim a virtual monopoly over), isn’t any more valid of a move.

          • Silly Wabbit

            Alex, 

               While I agree with your assessment its worth noting that Austrian econ is a relatively marginal heterodox school of thought in econ. Also, from what I can tell academic Austrian econ (such as the work of Boettke and others) is not nearly as doctrinal or narrow minded as the “Austrian Economics” of the libertarian blogosphere. 

               In other words the “Austrian econ” of the academy is markedly different from the “Austrian econ” of the internet world.  

               What I was trying to say earlier is that many of the people in the libertarian online world that elevate “economics” simultaneously advocate for a heterodox school of thought (Austrianism) that is mostly absent from the study and practice of economics in the academia or in the applied world of policy analysis, government agencies, business and the like. 

               When internet libertarians exalt “economics” they clearly don’t mean Marxian econ, New Keynesianism, institutionalism etc. They mean a very narrow and very uncommon branch of thought. 
              
               I personally think that the “austrian econ” that I have encountered over the internet is more similar to a sort of libertarian grand theory or meta-narrative than evidence-driven social science. 

              However, social science needs grand narratives or “big theories” but their purpose, at least in my view, is to provide some framing of research problems and to generate hypotheses we can test with data. The “austrian econ” I find on the internet tends to deny that latter part of the process and tries to keep the grand narrative as static as possible. Real theories, for lack of a better term, are constantly being challenged, amended and are always evolving. 

              I think there is probably a lot social scientists could learn from Mises or Rothbard if we could use their ideas as living, ever-evolving theoretical frameworks to generate hypotheses rather than rigid ideological fortresses for internet libertarians to barricade themselves in. 

              Now, with regard to academic disciplines the social sciences are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and many times the lines between econ, psych, soc, anthro and poli sci are not entirely clear. 

              With a few exceptions the methodological tools of social scientists across disciplines are remarkably similar.  Granted, game theory and formal mathematical models are more common in econ and ethnography is more common in anthro. Soc and poli sci are probably somewhere in the middle. But its not as if the social sciences exist on different planets. 

               thats just my view….I suppose I have a somewhat unique intellectual trajectory. Its also a function of my age; I’m sure if you asked your average 60 year old economist he or she (well, its probably a he) thinks that “doing economics” is far different from “doing sociology” but I think these distinctions are increasingly arbitrary. 

              wow I spend too much time thinking about this stuff…..

              

               
              

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

            I have found that adherents to AE also seem to have a rather limited and skewed notion of what applying the scientific method to econ or sociology really amounts to. Hint: it’s not just statistical regression devoid of theory.

             It reminds me of a comment I saw elsewhere on the Interwebs concerning Republican politics. The commenter said something like, “Considering what Republicans think affirmative action means [referring to Sarah Palin and Herman Cain] I’m not surprised they’re against it. I would be too.]

          • 3cantuna

            Your test for theory is whether or not it is popular?  Go ahead, stay with the herd. 

          • Silly Wabbit

            Mr. Tuna, 
               That,s not what I said at all. Rather, I’m trying to suggest that Alex’s impression of economics as a academic discipline are too colored by the manner in which “economics” is presented in the libertarian blog-scape. 

              As I have tried to explain part of this confusion comes from the manner in which some online libertarians use the word “economics” to describe their grand narrative. This grand narrative is often based on an interpretation of the works of Mises and Rothbard-two figures whose work is decidedly heterodox. 

              I honestly have no idea how you could read my post and make the conclusion that I suggest that popularity is somehow a test for theory. Personally, I think knowledge advances through challenging orthodoxy. 

              Rather, I was trying to suggest to Alex that he shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  

              If you made an honest misreading of my post that’s understandable. But I’m not sure if you made an honest misreading. 

                 Theory generates hypothesis that we test using empirical methods. Theory is constantly evolving. Good theory is a alive, contested and hotly debated. Good theory may change drastically over its life because we are constantly amending it, discarding old elements, etc. 

               ”Austrian econ” , at least the “Austrian econ” that’s popular online, denies us this step. We can’t operationalize its ideas into variables and use empirical methods to test hypotheses that flow from it. 

               If you do that you’re guilty of “empiricism” or “scienticism” or “physics envy” or you are trying to engage in “social engineering”. 

               Its difficult for me to see how “Austrian econ”, at least the variety popular online, can evolve and adapt as theory if we can never test any of the hypotheses it generates. 

              If we can’t test hypotheses generated by a theoretical framework then I really don’t have much use for it and it will remain marginal in the social sciences. 

              Personally that’s were I draw the line between theory and ideology; ideology remains static and theory advances. Ideology tends to have a group of believers who are desperately working to keep it static. 
              I’m sure there are some people who are using Austrian Econ (even Mises and Rothbard) as a theoretical framework and advancing it. There are probably even people who marrying empirical methods with Austrian econ. 

            I’m referring to a specific variety of “Austrian Economics” that is popular with self-identified libertarians online. 

               

               

          • http://www.facebook.com/astrekal Alex Strekal

            I would argue that Austrian method pretty much seems explicitly *designed* to be static, as a way to close the system, to define the possibility of future alterations of the theory out of existence.

            Mises’s musings on method strike me as a defensive manuever attempting to close it off from any possible criticism ahead of time.

            And you’re right to call that ideology. Where we might differ is that I don’t just chalk that up to libertarian internet culture – I think it’s a problem with AE itself in the way it’s designed.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Engelsman/822499328 Rod Engelsman

            Like if you did as SW is suggesting some might be doing; using A.E. as the foundations for a theory and then proceeding in a normal, social-scientific, fashion, then you would — by definition — no longer have A.E.

          • Silly Wabbit

            The only caveat I would add is that the boundaries of “Austrian econ” are not always clear. When you say “AE” to many economists they will think of Bohm-Bawerk, Hayek  or Schumpeter.

            “AE” as its used in libertarian-world tends to refer to Mises and Rothbard and, most importantly, their deductive methodology. So I’m not willing to completely dismiss anything that calls itself “AE”.But some of its just semantics and definitions. 

            In general I wholeheartedly agree with your post. 

          • 3cantuna

            The synthetic apriori statements in AE can and do relate directly to the real world because Action is its defining concept. Humans act purposively and use scarce means to attain ends. This is no meta-narrative or some gobbledy-postmodern-neo-marxist- materialistic determinism.  Where is the Story when it is rather depopulated of detail?

            Even empiricist investigation proves the Austrian epistemological basis. Doing reserach or testing requires an individual to make a choice– to evaluate, to make preferences, to use scarce time (and other things). And then this individual either profits from decisons or not.  All the economic categories are derived from the base.

            The problem with applying the predictive-hypothesis-testing method is, for one, unnecessary to establish economic theory. Nor can it: how is the subjective nature of the mind and the nature of choice observable?  How are tests even designable when no situation can ever be repeated?

            Isn’t it absurd to have to continually attempt to test whether humans actually act with purpose and to always doubt its validity?

            No such test can succeed  in having any use for constructing history. The data chosen to run theories on will always be insufficient. And of course, the theoretical framework, crippled.

            Of course, I have a hunch that empiricists actually do operate as if there are economic laws. Will they admit it?

            Prof. Hans Hoppe, a master apriorist in economics, has also noted that past greats in econ, like JB Say, reckoned that econ, unlike the natural sciences, moved from general principle– simply and undeniably true– assuming human causality.  It is the aim of the natural sciences to discover causal factors, in contrast.

            Mises came along to systematize this unique insight to econ.

          • 3cantuna

            Wait. Shouldn’t your admonition apply to everyone else to?  Do I detect bias?

  • http://twitter.com/JimNichols JimNichols

    “Many libertarian think tanks, intellectual centers, policy institutes, and scholars focus on economic issues. They repeatedly try to show that free markets (economic liberty, property rights, etc.) generate good consequences. In particular, they try to show that free markets generate good consequences for the least advantaged and downtrodden. Why bother?
    Libertarians argue that minimum wage laws hurt the poor. Why not instead just argue that minimum wage laws interfere with employers’ economic rights and leave it at that?
    Libertarians argue that state socialism tends to immiserate most people, especially workers and poor farmers. Why not instead just argue that it violates people’s economic rights and leave it at that? Libertarians argue that command economy socialism cannot make efficient decisions. Who cares?
    Libertarians argue that private savings regimes work better than social security. Why not just argue that social security violates people’s economic rights?
    Libertarians argue that free trade helps poor countries grow richer. Why not just argue that protectionism violates people’s economic rights?”"

    Because most Libertarians aren’t philosophers they are citizens and/or politicians  (read: political actors) who are trying to persuade others.  You’ll never win an election using your list of “why not’s” and I think the tendencies of focus that you find most Libertarians using have more to do with “selling” ideas to people who aren’t looking for philosophical cohesiveness and are instead looking for intuitive sense of being the right thing…

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