Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Sun, 24 Sep 2017 17:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 The Case for Colonialism: Don’t retract, rebut…. and censure those who seek to silence. http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/case-colonialism-dont-retract-rebut-censure-seek-silence/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/case-colonialism-dont-retract-rebut-censure-seek-silence/#comments Sun, 24 Sep 2017 16:41:13 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12042 In a recent paper entitled “The case for colonialism” Bruce Gilley argued that “Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the...

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In a recent paper entitled “The case for colonialism” Bruce Gilley argued that “Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found”. Gilley then argued that colonialism should be “recovered” “by reclaiming colonial modes of governance, by recolonizing some areas, and by creating new Western colonies from scratch”. These are highly controversial claims. But it is unlikely that Gilley anticipated the antipathy with which they would be received. Two petitions were initiated—gathering over 15,000 signatures between them—demanding that the journal in which the paper was published (Third World Quarterly) retract it.These petitions were followed by the resignation of several of the members of the journal’s editorial board in protest at the article’s publication.

But the calls for the retraction of this article are inappropriate responses to Gilley’s controversial claims. Gilley’s article does not meet either of the conditions that the publishers of Third World Quarterly (Taylor & Francis) have outlined for the retraction of articles. It should not be retracted for “unsound results” because its conclusions are not “seriously undermined as a result of miscalculation or error”. And it should not be retracted for “misconduct” for Gilley has made no “infringement of publishing ethics” nor has there been any claim that he has breached any “author warranties”.

The claim that this article should not be retracted is not new. But in response to the antipathy that he has been faced Gilley has requested that the article be withdrawn–not because he now believes that his arguments are mistaken, but because it has cased “pain” and generated “anger”. But Third World Quarterly should not accede to this request–the article should remain available. That an article upsets people is no grounds for its withdrawal. Moreover, if the journal did allow the article to be withdrawn it would violate the policy of the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers Guideline for “Preservation of the Objective Record of Science” (to which the journal’s publisher subscribes) that “Articles that have been published should remain extant, exact, and unaltered to the maximum extent possible”.

It might be argued that Gilley’s paper should be retracted because his arguments do not support his conclusion, and so these are undermined “as a result of… [argumentative] error”. But to argue in this way would require that one first demonstrate where Gilley is mistaken–one would have to engage with his work, not simply call for its retraction. And even if one could show that his arguments were flawed this should not be used to support a call for retraction, for this would justify the retraction of any paper whose conclusions have been arrived at through erroneous argumentation. And this is not how academic debates are conducted—and nor should it be. Instead, persons present their conclusions supported by the best arguments and evidence that they can muster. These are then subject to critical scrutiny with the aim of identifying and correcting errors in the arguments. If the arguments are found not to support the conclusion then the original paper should be rebutted—not retracted.

But there’s more to be said in this case. The petitions demanding the retraction of this article secured over 15,000 signatures. I very much doubt that everyone who signed these petitions actually read the paper. Demanding that a paper be retracted because you don’t like its arguments is bad enough. Demanding that it be retracted because you don’t like what you think its conclusion is without having even read it is despicable. Moreover, if you’re an academic, a demand for retraction on either of these grounds would be a clear abdication of your professional responsibility. It is thus not Gilley who should be censured. It is the academics (such as Jenny Heijun Wills, Rebecca Salazar, and Carrianne Leung) who initiated and signed these deplorable petitions.

As a brief aside: If you object to the mocking of work in English, Gender Studies, and Geography that’s based not on reading the papers but simply on their titles and abstracts (e.g., those offered up for ridicule by places such as Real Peer Review) then you should be even more concerned with the demand that a paper be retracted on the basis of a similarly cursory examination.

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Black Liberty Matters http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/black-liberty-matters/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/black-liberty-matters/#comments Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:37:34 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12037 My new essay at Niskanen continues a lot of my longstanding themes from BHL posts.

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My new essay at Niskanen continues a lot of my longstanding themes from BHL posts.

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Student Seminar on “Markets and Morality” http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/student-seminar-markets-morality/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/student-seminar-markets-morality/#respond Tue, 19 Sep 2017 20:47:41 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12033 I’ll be hosting a student conference on “Markets and Morality” at The College of New Jersey in conjunction with the wonderful Institute for Humane Studies on Sept. 29th and 30th....

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I’ll be hosting a student conference on “Markets and Morality” at The College of New Jersey in conjunction with the wonderful Institute for Humane Studies on Sept. 29th and 30th. More information here! Please do consider attending if you’re in the Ewing/Princeton area!
 

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Horwitz review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/horwitz-review-nancy-macleans-democracy-chains/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/horwitz-review-nancy-macleans-democracy-chains/#comments Wed, 13 Sep 2017 21:11:11 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12029 The published version of my review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is now available at the Cato Journal. The main argument: “In the rest of this essay, I will briefly...

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The published version of my review of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is now available at the Cato Journal. The main argument:

“In the rest of this essay, I will briefly review her errors of fact and interpretation but will then shift my focus to what I think is the most fundamental problem with the book: MacLean’s inability to understand the ideas with which she is grappling. She starts by assuming, rather than demonstrating with evidence, that libertarian ideas are all about defending power and privilege. In combination with her inability to understand the contexts and questions that Buchanan and public choice theory were grappling with, her book became a massive exercise in confirmation bias resulting in misread and misinterpreted sources and factual claims unsupported by those sources. She had her story about libertarianism and, absent the intellectual tools to understand what she was reading, she interpreted her sources in ways that confirmed all of those prejudices. The result is a book that gets almost everything wrong, from the most basic of facts to the highest of theory.”

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Two Short Points in Defense of Price Gouging http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/two-short-points-defense-price-gouging/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/two-short-points-defense-price-gouging/#comments Tue, 12 Sep 2017 23:27:06 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12023 Over at the New York Times, Andrew Sorkin has a rather incredulous piece on hurricane price gouging. The piece mentions some of my work on the topic, as well as...

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Over at the New York Times, Andrew Sorkin has a rather incredulous piece on hurricane price gouging. The piece mentions some of my work on the topic, as well as pieces by Michael Giberson and Tyler Cowen. It’s a fair and accurate summary of our views, but the overarching tone of the piece is basically “look at the crazy stuff these economists believe!”

I understand the negative reaction that most people have to price gouging, and to the academics who defend it. The suffering caused by disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is immense. And sometimes those of us who write about price gouging can seem insensitive to that.

Still, as unpopular and unattractive as it may be, I think the pro-gouging position is the correct one. My reasons for that conclusion are developed in some detail in my paper on the topic. But if that’s a bit too TLDR for you, here are two points that I think are essential to bear in mind for any intelligent discussion of this topic. (If these are still too long, I have a short video on the topic too.)

  • Price Gouging Doesn’t Cause Scarcity; Disasters Do. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, there often aren’t enough vital resources to go around. Disasters destroy existing supplies of goods like drinkable water and electric power, and increase demand for substitutes. As a result, no matter what we do, some people’s needs are going to go unmet. In extreme cases, the results of this scarcity can be tragic. But it would be a mistake to blame unmet needs on price gouging. Disasters cause scarcity; and scarcity means that resources have to be rationed. Whether we do that by price increases, or waiting in line, or through a random lottery, some people’s needs are going to go unmet.

 

  • The Real Question is Which Method of Rationing is Least Bad. What most people call “price gouging” is really just one way of rationing scarce resources. A more accurate description would be rationing according to willingness-to-pay. When too many people want something, and there’s not enough to go around, one way to bring supply and demand into balance is to allow prices to increase. That’s not the only way of rationing scarce resources. But it does have two advantages. First, it dissuades people who don’t really need the resource from consuming it (call that the demand problem). Second, it encourages people who have an abundance of the resource to bring it to market in order to earn the exceptionally high profit (call that the supply problem). No one is saying that price gouging is a perfect method of rationing. I certainly wouldn’t use it to ration goods among friends or neighbors who I knew well. But in the large and anonymous setting of the marketplace, where knowledge of who really needs what is limited and empathy is in short supply, rationing according to willingness-to-pay is arguably less bad than any of the alternatives at solving both the demand and the supply problems.

In short, those of us who defend price gouging want the same thing that most of us do – we want scarce resources in times of emergency to go to those who need them most. Our claim is that rationing according to willingness-to-pay does, at least in some contexts, a better job of achieving this goal than any alternative mechanism.

Not raising prices and simply allowing those who show up first to buy whatever they wish might seem like a more moral alternative. At least, no one’s going to charge you with “gouging.” But that leads to situations exactly like the one featured (though apparently not understood?) at the top of Sorkin’s article. And that’s no help to whatever desperate people might show up too late.

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Can you be a libertarian racist or anti-Semite? http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/can-libertarian-racist-anti-semite/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/can-libertarian-racist-anti-semite/#comments Tue, 05 Sep 2017 22:19:38 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12019 No. OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s why: As a political philosophy libertarianism is based on the view that all individual humans are worthy of respect,...

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No.

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s why:

As a political philosophy libertarianism is based on the view that all individual humans are worthy of respect, and that their actions should not be subject to the coercive interference of another without just cause. Now, what counts as “just cause” is open for debate. But it’s clear that if we truly believe that all individuals are worthy of respect then the mere fact that someone has a particular ancestry wouldn’t justify treating her differently from anyone else. (Nor, incidentally, would the mere fact that someone is a different sex justify her differential treatment.) If you believe that it does then you’re treating persons primarily as tokens of types of people, and not primarily as individuals. And that’s just not an individualist–or libertarian–view.

This doesn’t mean that you or your business are required to deal with types of people you don’t like. You can refuse service to anyone, on any grounds. But, if you do it solely on the grounds that they’re (e.g.) a Jew, or Irish, or a woman, then you’re not committed to treating people as individuals. And it’s that commitment–and not the view that you should not aggress against others–that is the fundamental basis of libertarianism. This is because the commitment not to aggress stems from the recognition that other persons are individuals with their own projects that you should not interfere with without just cause. The respect for individuals comes first; the duty not to aggress comes second. This means that the argument that a desire to refuse service to persons on the basis of their ancestry (or sex) is compatible with being a libertarian as such a refusal is simply the refusal to confer a benefit and not the infliction of a harm cuts no ice. It’s correct that a refusal to truck, barter, or trade is the refusal to confer a benefit and not the initiation of aggression. But if this refusal stems from treating one’s prospective trading partner as a token of a type of people rather than as an individual in her own right then it will be incompatible with libertarianism. Again, this doesn’t mean that it would be disallowed in a libertarian society. But the person so refusing would not herself be a libertarian–no matter how much she might agree with free markets, the non-aggression principle,  or other doctrines associated with libertarianism.

So, no, you can’t be a racist or an anti-Semite and a libertarian. But libertarianism can (reluctantly) allow you to practice your racist or anti-Semitic views, provided that these are limited to withholding benefits and not inflicting harm.

 

 

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What James Buchanan Actually Thought http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/james-buchanan-actually-thought/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/james-buchanan-actually-thought/#comments Sat, 02 Sep 2017 18:43:06 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12013     One might expect a historian going through Buchanan’s works trying to find his views on this subject to discover this letter, but no, it’s much easier I guess...

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One might expect a historian going through Buchanan’s works trying to find his views on this subject to discover this letter, but no, it’s much easier I guess just to insinuate stuff and provide literally no evidence for it.

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It’s not nice to stair, especially in Canada…. http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/not-nice-stair-especially-canada/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/09/not-nice-stair-especially-canada/#comments Fri, 01 Sep 2017 12:56:12 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12011 So, there was this slippery, muddy slope. But it was much faster as a way down to the gardens, or the soccer fields. The city thought about building a stairway....

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So, there was this slippery, muddy slope. But it was much faster as a way down to the gardens, or the soccer fields.

The city thought about building a stairway.  But it was expensive to obey all the rules the city council had imposed on public structures.

So a social entrepreneur built a stairway for $550.

But the city tore it down. And the city was quite right to do so.  Because rules.

Or so say I….

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A few links http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/a-few-links/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/a-few-links/#comments Tue, 22 Aug 2017 18:00:16 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12007 John Holbo at Crooked Timber on Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom: “Thinking About Groups” Eric Schliesser on Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom: “On the role of Systematicity in an Impure Theory of...

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John Holbo at Crooked Timber on Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom: “Thinking About Groups”

Eric Schliesser on Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom: “On the role of Systematicity in an Impure Theory of a (Pluralistic) Liberalism worth Having” (try saying that three times fast).

Posts on freedom of speech on campus from Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, both making some use of this old BHL post of mine. See also Sigal Ben-Porath’s excellent new book Free Speech on Campus

The European Journal of Political Theory is promoting my “Contra Politanism” by making it available ungated and free for three months.

The Economist, “The misplaced arguments against Black Lives Matter”

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber, “What’s Left of Libertarianism” on liberaltarianism. He mentions Niskanen but I think BHL is obviously part of the shift he’s describing. I obviously think that the BHL/ Niskanen direction is the right one, and I’m happy to see its distinctiveness noted. And in addition to my general criticisms of right-fusionism I’ve been critical of something like what he refers to as “propertarianism.” That said, I want to concur-in-part, dissent-in-part, because think he’s genuinely unfair to Cato in particular, which is more liberal and more diverse than he recognizes. I’m happily affiliated with both Niskanen and Cato, and while I do a lot more at Niskanen, Cato invited me to speak at its 40th anniversary conference and gave me a chance to talk about some of my running themes: the need to break market liberal politics away from association with white supremacy and nationalism, the particular priority of making progress against the police-and-prison complex of mass incarceration, the sense of market liberalism as being allied with the institutions of constitutional democracy and open global trade, not a “smash everything” anti-institutionalism that easily morphs into nasty kinds of populism.

On the couple of issues where Niskanen and Cato genuinely differ not just on emphasis, tactics, or presentation but on real substance– crucially, climate change and progressive redistribution/ fiscal policy– I’m with Niskanen. And I think those are genuinely important differences. But Niskanen can emphasize those issues partly because the much larger Cato is still out there advancing market-liberal and classical liberal arguments across so much of the policy landscape, from privacy and civil liberties to free trade to immigration and refugees. David Boaz, Cato’s Vice-President and longest-standing public voice, has been a forceful opponent of the racism and nationalism on the right for a very long time, and wasn’t at all shy about naming Trump’s association with it: “Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign.” Tom Palmer has been documenting and criticizing the “fever swamp” where paleolibertarianism melds with populism, Russophilia, and racism not only since before Trump but since before BHL was a glimmer in Matt Zwolinski’s eye. Yes, I very much want to see Niskanen’s project of taking libertarian ideas in the direction Quiggin notes succeed; but the point of that is not at all to become a rhetorical club with which to whack Cato.

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Rawls, Ideal Theory, and the Public Goods Argument for the State http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rawls-ideal-theory-public-goods-argument-state/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2017/08/rawls-ideal-theory-public-goods-argument-state/#comments Mon, 21 Aug 2017 15:14:19 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=12004 It’s been a while since I blogged here and I figure that some shameless self-promotion is the best way to ease back in. As discussed in Jason’s review, I’ve got...

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It’s been a while since I blogged here and I figure that some shameless self-promotion is the best way to ease back in. As discussed in Jason’s review, I’ve got a new book out titled Unequivocal Justice. The book builds on work from other BHL contributors, including Jason, Jacob Levy, and Will Wilkinson.

“Ideal theoretical” analyses of political institutions face a dilemma. In an ideal world in which everyone fully complies with the principles of justice, then coercive state intervention isn’t needed to secure justice. People will do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts. On the other hand, in a nonideal world where people are not fully compliant with justice, state intervention may have a role to play, but the people running the state itself might not act justly. In brief: if we rule injustice out, then the state isn’t needed; if we rule injustice in, then we may not assume that the state itself is just.

This dilemma poses a problem for an ideal theorist like Rawls who assumes that the state is both needed to secure justice and will operate justly and effectively. Rawls and others resolve the dilemma illicitly; namely, they rule injustice in to give the state a job to do and then (implicitly) rule injustice out to ensure that the state does that job well.

The public goods argument for the state makes the problem particularly clear. Rawls starts with a textbook explanation for why people won’t voluntarily contribute to public goods—they have a strong incentive to free ride. As Rawls puts it, “Where the public is large and includes many individuals, there is a temptation for each person to try to avoid doing his share. This is because whatever one man does his action will not significantly affect the amount produced” (A Theory of Justice, 236). Better to let everyone else pony up for a Tesla and buy a cheap gas guzzler for yourself; this way you get the clean air produced by others without paying the costs yourself. But everyone else is thinking the same thing, so they all buy gas guzzlers, too. The result is polluted air for everyone. Since the market won’t provide public goods, Rawls concludes that “the provision of public goods must be arranged for through the political process and not through the market” (A Theory of Justice, 236). For instance, the state can enforce a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions.

How, though, will the political process arrange for the provision of public goods? Suppose that the election pits a candidate who favors cap-and-trade against a candidate who favors no environmental protection whatsoever. Will I, as a voter, do my share and contribute a vote for the cap-and-trade candidate? By Rawls’s own assumptions, the answer is “no.” Better to let everyone else research the candidates’ platforms, read the experts’ opinions on the effectiveness of cap-and-trade, and spend time at the polls while I stay at home watching TV (or perhaps cast a thoughtless, uninformed vote at the last minute). But everyone else is thinking the same thing, and so they too fail to vote for the cap-and-trade candidate. Thus, the behavioral assumption that Rawls invokes to generate a need for state intervention—that people are motivated to free ride—simultaneously undermines the state intervention itself. People have just as much temptation to free ride on the thoughtful, informed votes of others as they have to free ride on the emission reductions of others.

To resolve this problem, Rawls (implicitly) resorts to using different behavioral assumptions to model nonpolitical behavior and political behavior. We free ride in the market but not in politics. But this move violates what Geoffrey Brennan and James Buchanan call “behavioral symmetry”—that is, we should apply the same behavioral models across different institutional contexts to ensure a fair, apples-to-apples comparison of those institutions.

Here’s how Rawls will reply. Ideally just people are only “conditional cooperators.” They prefer to do their share so long as others do the same. But they won’t be “suckers” and contribute when others aren’t contributing. Thus, they prefer to reduce their emissions when others also reduce their emissions, but they need state enforcement to get assurance of reciprocation.

This reply won’t work because the state introduced to solve the assurance problem simply creates another assurance problem. Think back to the voting case. Suppose you’re on your couch deciding whether to spend the day with your family at a park or to spend it looking up experts’ opinions about environmental policy, candidates’ voting records on the environment, and so on. You are happy to do the latter so that you can cast a thoughtful, informed vote on election day—but only if you have assurance that others will too. However, no such assurance is available, and so you head off to the park instead of putting time and effort into your vote. Other citizens do the same and, as a result, just and effective environmental policy goes unprovided. Here again, Rawls’s reason for thinking that state intervention is needed is equally a reason for thinking that the intervention won’t work.

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