Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Fri, 19 Jan 2018 15:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 You Should Read Simler and Hanson’s *Elephant in the Brain* http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/read-simler-hansons-elephant-brain/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/read-simler-hansons-elephant-brain/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:52:11 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12132 In case you haven’t heard, Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson have published a remarkable book with Oxford University Press: The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.  Here...

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In case you haven’t heard, Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson have published a remarkable book with Oxford University Press: The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. 

Here is my blurb on the back cover:

“If you want to know what makes people tick, read The Elephant in the Brain. Simler and Hanson have created the most comprehensive, powerful, unified explanation of human nature and behavior to date.” —Jason Brennan, Professor of Business, Georgetown University

I was one of the referees for the book for Oxford, and I’ll share some of my referee comments now:

This is without a doubt the most fascinating and interesting of the 30 or so books I’ve refereed in my career.

Bottom line: This is a fantastic book and I highly recommend publication. It  manages to do what an academic book needs to do, but is written in way that can be understood by a wide audience, and further, thanks to both the style and content, is likely to be widely read.

What makes people tick? If you want to know the answer, this is the book. The authors give us the best, most comprehensive, most powerful theory of human nature so far, an account that rigorously explains almost everything.

What’s especially powerful about this is how well it integrates everything we know in psychology. A major problem with psychology, as a field, is that while psychologists sometimes replicate certain findings and thus discover certain quirks and biases, they don’t have anything like a unified theory of human behavior. While economists can ultimately put everything in terms of supply and demand curves, or chemists can describe bonding and chemistry in terms of electron potentials, psychologists just seem to have a mess of disparate phenomena. This book provides a unifying theory. What’s more, it does so by making sense of biological pressures and thus integrates psychology with biology.

Style-wise, this book is fantastic, and I expect it will be a big seller. It has the level of argumentative rigor needed to satisfy most academics, though one might imagine the authors including technical appendices and the like if that were their primary concern. It reminds me a great deal of Dan Ariely’s and Jonathan Haidt’s books (and to a lesser extent, Ridley, or the Freakonomics books), in that it does a great job of introducing a wide range of background ideas to a popular audience. It’s eminently readable. But while Ariely, Haidt, and the others I mentioned are just popularizing previously existing academic research (including their own), this book does more; it’s adding to our knowledge because it integrates this research to produce a compelling theory of human nature. It’s making a new argument, or, more precisely, making the argument better. It’s not just explaining what the authors already know but adding to our knowledge.

 

Phil Magness and I summarize one of their chapters in our forthcoming book on higher education. (We have a chapter on how academics use moral language as a cover for the pursuit of their self interest, e.g., the adjuncts’ right movement, professors’ arguments for tenure, and the new wave of campus protests):

Our brains are funny. As Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson show, in their fascinating book The Elephant in the Brain, we humans are evolved to engage in self-deception about our own motivations. Our brains trick us into believing we have better motives than we in fact have.

The reason behind this is simple: We all benefit from living with people who generally play by public-spirited moral rules. We’ve evolved in general to play along with such rules. But we also can benefit from cheating those rules on the margins and taking advantage of others’ generosity, fair play, and good will. However, other people are at the same time have evolved to punish rule-breakers. Further, they’ve evolved to read our minds; people are good at discerning our conscious motives. Accordingly, our brains have evolved a defense mechanism: we often subconsciously pursue our self-interest, but at the same time consciously and sincerely believe we are motivated by altruism. Your brain pursues selfish behaviors but hides your own motives from you. You think you mean well, so others think you mean well, but really you’re out for number one.

This is true even of charity. Even charity isn’t about helping. Rather, charity is about conspicuous caring. It’s about signaling to other people—potential business partners, co-workers, neighbors, and mates—that we are successful, have a pro-social orientation, are trustworthy, and have empathy. Just as wearing a Rolex screams, “I’ve made it!,” altruistic giving is mostly about signaling to others, “Deal with me! Partner with me! Have sex with me! I’m good!”[i]

How do we know that? Simler and Hanson suggest we look for the best explanation of their behavior. For instance, it turns out that when people give away money to charity, almost none of them do any homework to determine how much good they’re doing. The amount and rates at which they give turns out to be insensitive to the amount of good the charity does. Fewer than 3% of people will actually change their intended donations in order to do measurably more good. Instead, numerous experiments and studies find that the following factors determine when and how much we give:

 

  • Visibility. We give more when we’re being watched or when others will know how much we give.
  • Peer pressure. We give more when pressured to give, especially by people we know, or who have high status, or who are in our network.
  • Mating motive. We’re give more when we are primed to think about sex or mating opportunities; we give more if the solicitor is sexually attractive.[ii]

In short, giving is explained more by status-seeking and coalition-building, and not so much by the good charity does. But of course, they say, it doesn’t feel like that’s what we’re aiming for; we genuinely believe we want to help.

            Simler and Hanson aren’t saying we’re perfectly selfish. If we were all sociopaths, none of this signaling would work. Rather, a better way to think of it is that we’re mostly selfish, but most of us (except sociopaths) have some genuinely moral motives. We can benefit from tricking others into thinking we have stronger moral motives that we in fact have, but in order to trick them, we first trick ourselves.

If even charitable behavior—that is, giving to others—is better explained by self-interest than by genuine attempts to help others, it sure would be surprising if politics—contests for monopoly rights on coercive and redistributive power—were any different. If charity’s this bad, it’s not surprising politics would be worse.

 

[i] Simler and Hanson 2018, pp. xxx-xxx.

[ii] Simler and Hanson 2018, xxx.

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Efficiency Can Be Redistributive http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/efficiency-can-redistributive/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/efficiency-can-redistributive/#comments Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:47:17 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12129 Many economists advocate a “congestion tax” because it improves allocative efficiency. People who value the use of a road less than the total costs (including external congestion effects on other...

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Many economists advocate a “congestion tax” because it improves allocative efficiency. People who value the use of a road less than the total costs (including external congestion effects on other drivers) “should” put off their use of the road.

But moving from one regime (ration using time) to another (ration using price) has distributional consequences.  It’s tempting to think we are talking Coase Theorem, but in fact we are talking Kaldor-Hicks-Scitovsky, which is another thing entirely.

Should Manhattan charge a congestion tax, or just charge Uber?

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Class Act http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/class-act/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/class-act/#comments Thu, 11 Jan 2018 02:26:50 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12124 Karl Marx once wrote: I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had...

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Karl Marx once wrote:

I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was

1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production;

2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat;

3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Marx is certainly right that class analysis was a central feature of classical liberalism long before he picked it up. He’s fibbing a bit, though, about (1) and (3); many of his bourgeois predecessors (for example, the Censeur triumvirate of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Augustin Thierry) most emphatically thought that class society as they understood it was a temporary phenomenon destined to be displaced. Thierry, for example, announces:

Federations will replace states; the loose but indissoluble chains of interest will replace the despotism of men and of laws; the tendency towards government, the first passion of the human race, will cede to the free community. The era of empire is over, the era of association begins.

The main difference between Marx and the liberals was that Marx took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to the means of production, whereas the liberals took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to predatory power, and in particular to the power of the state. (To be sure, Marx acknowledged and indeed insisted on the important role of the state in maintaining class division when examining the details of history or current events; but the state quickly receded in importance when he turned to abstract theory.)

All this is by way of noting that I just received in the mail my author’s copy of Social Class and State Power: Exploring an Alternative Radical Tradition, an anthology of libertarian and classical liberal writings on class analysis that I co-edited with David Hart, Gary Chartier, and Ross Kenyon.

The volume includes material by a rather heterogeneous collection of authors:

  • from the 17th century, Richard Overton;
  • from the 18th century, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Vicesimus Knox, and William Godwin;
  • from the 19th century, Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Thomas Hodgskin, John Wade, William Leggett, Richard Cobden, John C. Calhoun, Adolphe Blanqui, Frédéric Bastiat, Charles Renouard, Augustin Thierry, Gustave de Molinari, Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker;
  • and from the 20th century, Franz Oppenheimer, Albert J. Nock, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, Walter Grinder, John Hagel, Hans Hoppe, and your humble correspondent.

I would urge you to go out and buy a copy; but in light of the book’s $100 pricetag, I’ll just urge you to go out and suggest to your local research library that they buy a copy.

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Religious Exemptions Volume http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/religious-exemptions-volume/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/religious-exemptions-volume/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:43:34 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12121 For people interested in the normative dimensions of religious exemptions, Michael Weber and I have just published a new anthology of articles with Oxford University Press. We’re very happy with...

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For people interested in the normative dimensions of religious exemptions, Michael Weber and I have just published a new anthology of articles with Oxford University Press. We’re very happy with the volume, and we have a number of top-notch philosophers and legal theorists writing on these important topics. Another attractive feature of the book is that it engages the question of when religious exemptions are justified, and not just when they are constitutional.

You can buy the book here. If you would like a review copy, please email me privately at kevinvallier-at-gmail-dot-com.

Here’s the jacket description.

Exemptions from legal requirements, especially religious exemptions, have been a major topic of political debate in recent years. For example, bakers in various states have sought the right to refuse to make wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples, despite the Supreme Court’s validation of same-sex marriage. Many parents are granted exemptions from vaccinating their children, despite public health laws requiring otherwise. Various religious organizations as well as some corporations have sought an exemption from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee healthcare plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Religious exemptions have a long history in the United States, but they remain controversial. Exemptions release some people from following laws that everyone else must follow, raising questions of fairness, and exemptions often privilege religious belief, raising concerns about equal treatment. At the same time there are good reasons to support exemptions, such as respect for the right of religious freedom and preventing religious organizations from becoming too closely intertwined with government.

The essays in this volume represent valuable contributions to the complex debate about exemptions from legal requirements. In particular, they contribute to the moral dimensions of religious exemptions. These essays go beyond legal analysis about which exemptions are constitutionally appropriate, and ask instead when religious exemptions are morally required or morally prohibited.

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Two New Publications http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/two-new-publications/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/two-new-publications/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 06:24:51 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12115 My chapter on “Anarchism and Libertarianism” is forthcoming in Nathan Jun, ed., Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2017), at the usual insane Brill price. In the chapter...

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My chapter on “Anarchism and Libertarianism” is forthcoming in Nathan Jun, ed., Brill’s Companion to Anarchism and Philosophy (Leiden: Brill, 2017), at the usual insane Brill price. In the chapter I explore the relationship between libertarianism (in the free-market sense) and the anarchist movement, including the question whether anarcho-capitalism counts as a genuine form of anarchism. (My C4SS colleague Kevin Carson has a chapter in the book as well.)

According to the publisher, I’m only allowed to make 25 hard copies of the chapter – but I’m also allowed to post a copy online, so long as it’s on my personal website. That seems to me a bit like saying “No smoking allowed in this room, but it’s okay to set the bed on fire.” But okay, here’s a link to the chapter.

(My reference to capitalist labour markets as “oligopolistic” was supposed to be “oligopsonistic.” The editors changed it to “oligopolistic,” which of course has the opposite meaning; I changed it back in galleys, but it ended up “oligopolistic” in the final published text nonetheless. Sigh.)

I also have a chapter on “Minarchism on Seasteads” in Victor Tiberius, ed., Seasteads: Opportunities and Challenges for Small New Societies (Zurich: VDF, 2017). I explore options for constraining a seastead minarchy (essentially by incorporating as many anarchist features as possible; those who remember my articles from the FNF/LNF days will find my proposals familiar). Here’s the link.

(The version I’ve posted is the galley proofs with my corrections. No, of course the corrections did not make it into the final published text. Sigh again.)

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Scaling Down http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/scaling-down/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2018/01/scaling-down/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 06:07:34 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12111 Of interest to those involved in either the debate over free-market anarchism or the debate over the relation between government intervention and economies/diseconomies of scale (or both): In a recent...

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Of interest to those involved in either the debate over free-market anarchism or the debate over the relation between government intervention and economies/diseconomies of scale (or both):

In a recent article titled “Do Economies of Scale Exist in Private Protection? Evaluating Nozick’s ‘Invisible Hand’,” Brian Meehan argues that contrary to those (like Nozick) who think that even in the absence of violent conflict a competitive market for security firms in a stateless society would tend to evolve toward monopoly, state regulation of private security firms actually tends to result in an increase in firm size and a decrease in number of firms.

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A Seasonal Nod to Identity Politics http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/seasonal-nod-identity-politics/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/seasonal-nod-identity-politics/#comments Wed, 20 Dec 2017 01:45:58 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12107 Something different from what I have been working on (more on that soon enough)…. Maybe December is the month for identity politics talk.  Last year, it was it was Jacob...

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Something different from what I have been working on (more on that soon enough)….

Maybe December is the month for identity politics talk.  Last year, it was it was Jacob (see here).  This year,  Akiva Malamet (see here).  I don’t think there is anything necessary or inherently laudable about identity politics, but I suspect Jacob is right that it can help enliven the quest for justice.  I suppose this is because of what Akiva discusses as “the thickly embedded nature of social interaction within communities, such that social cooperation is in part determined by the role that people play for who they are.”  Perhaps in contrast to Akiva, though, I am uncomfortable with the idea that “to pay respect to a person’s selfhood means to treat them with regard to the variety of components that make up who they are.”  At the end of the day, this depends on what is meant by claiming that those components “make up” who we are.  In my view, this cannot correctly be taken to be anything other than a matter of the contingent state of affairs of our lives.  I’ll try to briefly make this clear.

As a fortunate happenstance, I went to a universalist (not Unitarian) church service this past weekend to see a friend’s son in a performance.  I then found myself enjoying the minister’s talk, which emphasized—as part of the church’s inclusionist theology—a clear statement that we were each spirit, not black or white, not gay person or straight, not Christian, Jew or Muslim, and not republican or democrat.  Those are all contingent factors about the way we live our lives, but under (or beyond) those descriptive factors, we are each spirit.  I would prefer to use the word “agent,” but the point is the same.  It is a form of universalism I think all liberals (in the broad sense, so including contemporary libertarianism) should accept.  It’s also why I am ambivalent (at best) about so-called identity politics.  It involves taking those contingent factors and treating them as essential to our selfhood when they are not.

My first academic work (my dissertation and a series of papers that came from it; see, e.g., this and this) was an attempt to defend liberal individualism—basically, the view that each of us is essentially an individual agent, not a mere member of a community and that, as such, it is the individual that is of primary normative import.  Any moral weight given to communities on my view (then and now) is derivative of the moral import of the individuals within the community.  If a community does not help the individuals in its midst lead good lives, there is no reason to want it to continue.  The view I argued against was a form of communitarianism most forcefully defended by Alastair McIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Michael Sandel.  While they were not clear about their own positive view—the work I looked at was focused on arguing against liberal individualism—the core of it, I think, came down to the view that we are each essentially who we are because of our communities and so it is the community, not the individual, that is primary.  (Metaphysically as well as normatively.)

My main problem with identity politics should now be clear. Those favoring identity politics don’t talk about identity as something individuals choose, but as something individuals are born with. Individuals are born into groups, whether they be ethnic, racial, religious, or other.  Whichever group they are in, then, is meant to be their identity.  The group, that is, is primary.  There is no concern with whether or not people can choose to reject the group and the identity it (supposedly) imposes.  Instead, there is an implicit assumption that our group makes us what we essentially are—and that what it makes us into is what we must be.

I don’t know if any serious political philosophers accept that view now.  I hope not.  But that sort of communitarian view has a way of coming back every now and then—and must be repeatedly refuted.  And so, perhaps, must identity politics.  We ought to remind people that they can choose their own identity.  While the identities that we create for ourselves usually include elements from our group affiliations, many of us can and do choose away from those.  Some people choose against their religions, nationalities, etc.  (Rachel Dolezal might have been an extreme example.)  We each choose who we will be.  We ought not accept that we are who we are merely by virtue of the group we belong to.  (Communitarians never really come to grips with the fact that we usually belong to multiple, sometimes competing, groups.)  We ought also tolerate people’s choices in this regard and others—subject to the same limited restrictions to toleration we ought accept more generally.

To be fair, identity politics may just be an empirical-phenomenological view about how people seem to be, to themselves or others.  So, Joe is a black homosexual and identifies more as the latter than the former and votes accordingly.  But here’s the thing: if the metaphysical view is false—if people can choose away from the groups they are born to—its not clear why the phenomenological view matters.  I don’t mean to deny that identity politics—how individuals identify themselves or are identified by others—matters in politics.  That is a simple empirical claim.  But if our identities are only contingently made by our group membership, we can work to limit the extent to which this matters politically.  We can, that is, work to encourage a culture wherein all people see themselves as agents (or spirits) first and members of groups second.  If successful, people may become more able and willing to make political choices based on the recognition that we are each individuals first and group members second.  Group membership would then be less important.  Identity politics could fade away.  (And with it, concerns about cultural appropriation, but that’s a tale for another day.)  Then again, I’ve always had something of a utopian streak.

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Tear Down Those Statues http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/tear-down-those-statues/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/tear-down-those-statues/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:40:12 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12104 I expect that the reaction to this piece at Learn Liberty blog will either be “obviously true, not even worth saying” or “obviously wrong, and come the revolution you will...

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I expect that the reaction to this piece at Learn Liberty blog will either be “obviously true, not even worth saying” or “obviously wrong, and come the revolution you will be exterminated.” But I wanted to say it nonetheless.

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Jessica Flanigan on Medical Ethics and the Healthcare Debate http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/jessica-flanigan-medical-ethics-healthcare-debate/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/jessica-flanigan-medical-ethics-healthcare-debate/#comments Thu, 07 Dec 2017 00:01:23 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12102 Our own Jessica Flanigan has a really fascinating conversation with Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report.

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Our own Jessica Flanigan has a really fascinating conversation with Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report.

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Aikin and Talisse on Hooligans in Epistocracy; Somin on Dictators and Criticism of Democracy http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/aiken-talisse-hooligans-epistocracy-somin-dictators-criticism-democracy/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/12/aiken-talisse-hooligans-epistocracy-somin-dictators-criticism-democracy/#comments Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:11:11 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12096 Two links for ya: Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse discuss the problem of hooliganism inside epistocracy, and the problem of political stability. Ilya Somin follows up on my earlier post...

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Two links for ya:

  1. Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse discuss the problem of hooliganism inside epistocracy, and the problem of political stability.
  2. Ilya Somin follows up on my earlier post and asks, “Does criticism of democracy play into the hands of dictators?”

 

By the way, Scott Aikin’s recent book on the will to believe is fascinating, and Aikin and Talisse together have a fascinating book about the ethics and value of argument.  Here is Talisse on moral conflict in democracy; Bob is a pragmatist and has written a number of strong defenses of democracy which do not suffer from being starry-eyed or overly hopeful about what democracy can accomplish.

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