Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some thoughts on Ron Paul

Ron Paul is not an ideal libertarian candidate.  He is a politician that is deeply flawed, both in his expressed principles and beliefs, as well as in his actions and political strategy (inertness in the face of racist use of newsletter).  Simply put, he is a politician.  That being said, I do believe that a Ron Paul nomination could be an important step in the right direction and represent a hopeful potential for progress in "our" two-party majoritarian system.  It would indicate a willingness of the "GOP" to get in bed with ideas that are anti-war and anti-prohibitionist (i.e., against the drug war).  If such a nomination were to shift the baseline on these issues within the republican party, it seems this would be a very good thing indeed.

This is important because I believe a Ron Paul presidency would not be helpful for a libertarian movement and/or a libertarian shift in political philosophy.  But this is not the place to discuss my intuitions on this issue, so I will put that off for another time.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Importance of Conceptual Clarity

A major problem with “popular politics” is the use of vague and ambiguous value concepts in order to score rhetorical points.  This is a problem not just at the level of political sound bites but at the more general level of horizontal political deliberation generally.  So we see political commentators and bloggers charge one group with an ideology that denigrates “democracy” or does not value “equality” or “liberty” or whatever.  The problem, of course, is that these terms are subject to differing interpretations of the values implicated and the ordering of those values in a comprehensive view of the world. 

As a result, it is important to recognize that certain policy positions are often the result of (1) a certain conception of the concept and the values involved, and (2) a certain worldview about how actual institutions do/do not live up to these underlying ideals.  Suppose, for example, that one has a certain theory of political obligation, political authority, and legitimate representative democracy.  On this theory, representative democracy is only legitimate IFF there are certain institutional mechanisms in place (proportional representation, equality of opportunity of political influence, etc.).  This person now looks at the political landscape currently in existence.  She is then asked her beliefs about “American democracy” and proceeds to make disparaging remarks, such as “just because a voted produces a decision doesn’t provide it with moral authority.”  This person will likely be blasted in popular political commentary for denigrating democracy, hating “the People,” etc. 

The problem, however, is that this is simply not the case.  She simply has a different conception of ideal democracy and the underlying values.  If one were to carefully consider her position, they would recognize that she is fully committed to the ideal of democracy, We the People, popular sovereignty, etc.  One may disagree with her theory of legitimate democracy and attack her specific conceptions and interpretations of the underlying values/ideals.  But it is simply false to claim that the person “hates democracy” or “hates The People.”

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Remedial justice

I have a question.  If justice is an "over the course of a lifetime" concept, what is the remedy recommended by liberal egalitarians (or other theories of justice) for those who have received way way more than their "fair share" of a society's resources for years, even decades?     

Friday, April 15, 2011

get the ball rolling again . . .

Food for thought:

Moreover, while talking the talk of liberalization, developed countries often liberalized where convenient and resisted liberalization where inconvenient. This has been particularly true in the case of agriculture, where developing countries often have significant comparative advantage. Industrialized countries flooded African markets with deeply subsidized cotton, displacing and threatening the livelihoods of African farmers who produced cotton at two-thirds of the importers' cost.  Thus, even though developed countries gave millions of dollars for development and insisted that the poor should work to help themselves, they continued to block opportunities for efficient but poor foreign producers who attempted to help themselves by competing on the merits. Journalist Martin Wolf calls this phenomenon the "Hypocrisy of the Rich." 

-Eleanor Fox, Economic Development, Poverty and Antitrust: The Other Path (2007).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Change, honesty, etc.

Obama, 2007:

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites -- a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

OBAMA: The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.” The recent NIE tells us that Iran in 2003 halted its effort to design a nuclear weapon. While this does not mean that Iran is no longer a threat to the United States or its allies, it does give us time to conduct aggressive and principled personal diplomacy aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On oil, wars, and puppets

"The president's speech was disturbingly empty ... [It appears] that the US cannot stand idly by while atrocities take place. Yet we have done nothing in Burma or the Congo and are actively supporting governments in Yemen and Bahrain that are doing almost exactly - if less noisily - what Qaddafi is doing. Obama made no attempt to reconcile these inconsistencies because, one suspects, there is no rational reconciliation to be made." -- Andrew Sullivan

I can think of one reason - to intervene in Bahrain would piss off the Saudis and potentially cause disruptions in oil supply, especially if Saudi peasants were embolden by success in Bahrain

Qaddafi, should he succeed, is likely to kick out western oil companies and further disrupt oil supplies

This is obviously a move made entirely in the name of protecting access to oil ... it has nothing to do with the poor libyan citizens and freedom fighters who undoubtedly will be left with some western puppet government after Qaddafi is deposed that will oppress them just as badly (see, e.g., iraq, afghanistan)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

An important challenge to theories of democracy

I think this is an important challenge to theories of democratic authority.  I think it reflects an implicit concern of anarchists, namely, that there is nothing in current political institutions that justify the “we” many use to legitimize State rule.

If the democratic process is a means by which some collection of persons may rightfully govern itself, what constitutes an appropriate collection of persons for employing the democratic process? Is any collection of persons entitled to the democratic process? In short, if democracy means government by the people, what constitutes "a people"? There may be no problem in the whole domain of democratic theory and practice more intractable than the one posed by this innocent-seeming question. To grasp it, imagine an aggregate of persons. Adapting Jonathan Swift to our purposes, let us call them the Eggfolk. While many Eggfolk contend that the Eggfolk constitute a single "people," some insist that they are really divided into two distinct peoples, the Big Eggfolk and the Little Eggfolk, with such different ways and beliefs that they should govern themselves separately, each entitled to its own fully democratic system. How are we to decide'? As we shall discover in chapter 13, democratic theory supplies little by way of an answer.  In fact, while historical answers exist, there may be no satisfactory theoretical solution to this problem.  Robert Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics 116-17.

Note that I am still in the elementary stages of my own journey through democratic theory.  Forgive me if there are simple answers to this problem, or if I change my tune throughout the coming months.  But in the spirit of philosophy, I comment on that which I am currently dealing.  I think there is value in actively engaging the arguments you are currently dealing with, even though you have not digested the entire (or even a sufficient amount of) domain.  As long as one realizes his own ignorance vis-à-vis other philosophers and lines of argument, taking part in the conversation is highly beneficial. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Challenge to Anarchists

I think this is a decent summary of the most important challenge to anarchist theory:

"virtually the entire globe is now already occupied by states. Throughout recorded history, small autonomous groups of people have been extraordinarily vulnerable to conquest and absorption by larger states, a phenomenon that continues to the present day. Thus either the return to a life of small autonomous stateless groups would have to occur almost simultaneously throughout the world or some states would continue to exist with their exceptional capacity and propensity for conquest and absorption. If anarchism requires the first, then anarchism must be set aside as at best an appealing fantasy. If it does not, then it must show why states would permit any small, independent group to exist anywhere on earth, with the possible exception of a few of the most remote and forbidding places on the globe where almost no one, and probably few advocates of anarchism, would care to live."  Robert A. Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics at 47.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Steinbrenner embarrasses himself and the Yankees yet again . . .

"At some point, if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets, or don’t leave teams in minor markets if they’re truly minor,” Steinbrenner said. “Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer."

I guess receiving over $1 billion from New York tax payers is not considered socialism.  What a joke . . .

(Note: fascism is a better description for the situation, but you get my drift . . .)

Monday, February 21, 2011

To Gus


I was wondering if you could provide a quick summary of why the events in Wisconsin are somehow distinct from the republican attempts to undermine democratic decision-making at the federal level, and how the distinction can be seen as legitimate line drawing independent of claims of desirability of content .  I have not followed the case closely at all, and it is not a big deal to me one way or the other, but from someone who holds strong contrarian views, the reaction of many "Liberals" to defend the actions (and the "Conservatives" who denounce them) is another example of the rampant hypocrisy characteristic of popular politics.  You may not hold these views, and if that is the case, apologies for an appearance of a presumption otherwise.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Dangerous Take on Contracts and Coercion, pt. 1

I'm as busy as a middle eastern dictator raiding his country's central bank to steal its gold stock right now, but I absolutely plan on responding to the questions posed by Gus and reiterated by Hume.

In the mean time, I present this video for your consideration:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

re: Contracts and Coercion

Gus posed the question a few weeks back:

"Query: does an adequate theory of contract necessarily imply a coercive force? Is contract tantamount to law in a completely stateless society? Can contract exist without the state?"

I am interested in hearing Danger's response.


Although this statement is taken out of a context not directly relevant to the issue of friendship, I think it is enlightening, and I wonder how many live their lives as does H:

"Consider a friendless soul, call her H, who hears everyone talking about the great value of having friends. Never having participated in this unfamiliar value she sets out to do so. She is an extremely good mimic. She quickly gets the hang of acting towards people in seemingly friendly ways and quickly picks up what she takes to be a circle of friends. Not only that, but these people also regard her as part of their circle. All the time, however, her eye is only on the value of having friends.  She never thinks about her so-called friends in the way that friends do. Their joys and sorrows are never her joys and sorrows, their passions are merely embarrassments to her, and so on. She thinks about them as beings who satisfy her need to have friends. What she does not realize is that this way of thinking about them, this way of reacting to them, is itself incompatible with her haying friends.  She has no friends while she aims, in her relations with her pseudo-friends, at having them as friends.  Imagine H being asked, by an outsider to the circle, why she is friends with members of the circle. She says that it is in order to have friends. This only shows that she is not friends with them at all.  Her pursuit of the value of having friends is logically self-defeating.  Of course, H's basic problem is that she misunderstands the value of having friends.  Some will say that this example is one of evaluative error rather than self-defeat in the pursuit of genuine value. But our point is that H’s evaluative error lies precisely in her thinking that one can have friends in order to have friends. It is true that having friends is part of the value of friendship. But that is not a reason for performing any of the constituent acts of friendship."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Randy Barnett

is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Paul Krugman v. Robert Murphy

Robert Murphy, a prominent Austrian School economist, has challenged Paul Krugman, a prominent neo-Keynesian economist, to a debate. Krugman has still not responded. See this link below. If/when the debate occurs, all money pledged will be donated to a charity to help the NYC homeless.

Shame Krugman into accepting by donating. No matter which side you agree with, everyone should want to see this actually happen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Re: re: Big Business LOVES Regulation

Gus writes:

"Selling foods with less sodium only requires that store to stock less sodium filled products, versus a meatpacker who has to purchase new equipment, hire new staff to monitor the meats, etc."

I think this undersells it a bit. The manufacturers of the food with less sodium will probably charge more for their food due to higher input costs. Salt is very cheap and an easy way to inject lots of flavor. If a manufacturer cannot use salt, it may have to use better quality ingredients in order to provide enough flavor to provide enough utility to the end consumer to keep him interested in purchasing the product.

Assuming I'm correct about that (I really don't know, its just an assumption), then Walmart can still afford to buy the food from the manufacturer and sell it at nearly the same price of pre-sodium regulation food. A mom and pop store may not be able to take the profit margin hit that this would necessarily entail. Once mom and pop have lost enough business to Walmart, they go out of business - leaving Walmart. Walmart can then increase its prices (due to a lack of competition) and make up for its lost margin.

Contracts and Coercion

Query: does an adequate theory of contract necessarily imply a coercive force? Is contract tantamount to law in a completely stateless society? Can contract exist without the state?

Re: Big Business LOVES Regulation

Danger agrees with Vedran Vuk's theory that Walmart is pulling the ol' meatpacker's trick. Though I can't really opine as to Walmart's strategy and whether they are pulling a somewhat homoerotic sounding "trick", I think requirements to lower sodium content of foods and requirements to improve the preservation of meat are qualtitatively different such that a smaller competitor in the walmart line of business today is not affected like the small meatpacker of yesteryear. Selling foods with less sodium only requires that store to stock less sodium filled products, versus a meatpacker who has to purchase new equipment, hire new staff to monitor the meats, etc. While big business may benefit from some regulations, I'm not sure this is one of them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Big Business LOVES Regulations

Not my work, I just strongly agree:

Walmart’s announcement to reduce salt content by 25% and sugar content by 10% with a deadline of 2015 leaves me skeptical. It seems a bit too altruistic. Why, even the Huffington Post didn’t have an angle on it. Surely their resentment of Walmart would find something wrong with this promise. Surprisingly, they mentioned nothing. However, here’s my take. The article notes:

Food makers say they are trying to reduce sodium gradually, making it a more palatable change to its customers and giving the industry time to reformulate products. Most said they support efforts to curb sodium in American's diets but are waiting to see if the Food and Drug Administration decides to mandate a reduction.

In my opinion, the big companies are first hedging against the risk of a possible mandate from the FDA, but the second part of the plan might be the old Chicago meat packers trick. In the early 1900s, the largest meat packers in Chicago were some of the biggest proponents of increased regulation for the meat industry. At first, this seemed like a move out of the goodness of their hearts – just like Walmart’s sodium and sugar reduction.

But the real game plan was to destroy the smaller competition that had been slowly eating away at market share for years. The big companies could easily afford to hire inspectors for their large warehouses. However, small operations were crippled by the additional costs. As a result, the big food producers scored a big win with increased regulation.

I can’t be sure of this, but I think the same thing is happening here. Walmart’s products will “voluntarily” wean customers off salt and sugar with clever R&D over the next several years. And when they’re ahead of the game, they’ll likely lobby for regulations mandating reduced salt and sugar to cripple competitors that didn’t find ways to reduce it. Smaller companies that don’t have the R&D power of the bigger outfits will lose out.

--Vedran Vuk
Casey Research

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Re: Originalism and Freedom

In replying to my response to his original post, Gus makes some very interesting remarks, many of which I agree (specifically regarding the contradictions within the Republican platform).  The point of my original post, however, was that you were not fleshing out these contradictions (at least this is how your post read).  Rather, you claimed that the republican platform implies an extreme form of nationalism.  My point was that this is wrong.  The republican platform implies nothing.  It is completely contradictory (I believe the same is true about the democrat platform as well).

Also, an originalist interpretive methodology does not imply a reverence to the past vs. the denial of authority to the present, nor does it imply a vacuous conception of freedom.  At most, it implies a kind of distrust for government and legal officials in general.  By anchoring the interpretive object in concrete rules, the originalist methodology seeks to limit the discretion of the interpreter (i.e., the norm applier).  If the originalist was necessarily preoccupied with the authority of the "founding generation," she would recognize that many clauses of the Constitution are standards rather than rules (e.g., "cruel and unusual punishment").  Standards require certain evaluative judgments be made downstream by the norm-applier rather than the norm-creator.  Thus, the norm-creator, by positing a standard, indicates the intention that evaluative judgments are to be made by the norm-applier.  Originalists evince a certain distrust for legal officials by re-interpreting standards into rules ("cruel" means x, y, and z).  This distrust may be the result of a variety of different political or pragmatic beliefs.  For example, one may believe that (1) the point of having a fundamental legal rule (i.e., a constitution) is to lock in certain political-moral principles that cannot be changed by the whim of those currently in office, (2) the point of having "law" in general is to authoritatively settle political-moral disagreement, and (3) by granting officials wide discretion in interpretation, the point of such a system is undermined because we (the originalist) do not trust officials to interpret the norms in accordance with principles determined to be settled.  In such a situation, one may argue for an originalist methodology without any reverence for the past. 

Notice that this argument proceeds without denying the moral right of a generation to alter the core principles by which they are governed.  Rather, it assumes that a "society" reproduces itself over many generations, that such a society is never made up of a single generation, and the belief that the whole point of establishing a fundamental rule is to authoritatively settle certain disputes such that the fundamental structure of the system need not be in constant flux.  Thus, in the event that a generation desires a change of the core principles that the society is governed by, it requires that a vast majority of such a society to agree.  The reason for this super-majority requirement is that it permits the fundamental rule of the system to function as a fundamental rule.

There is one further point worth noting.  Alternative interpretive methodologies do not imply an added appreciation for the moral authority of a generation to determine the principles by which they are governed.  The Dworkinian interpretive methodology is decidedly anti-democratic and places great weight on the past. 

I believe that the crux of the political rhetoric is not to be found in any fundamental belief regarding democratic authority and the moral right to determine the fundamental principles of a system.  Rather, interpretive methodologies are argued for based on political expediency.  If republicans believe that, based on the current judicial climate, judges are likely to overturn their favored legislation, they will argue for whatever interpretive methodology reins in the courts.  If democrats believe that, based on the current political climate, state legislatures are likely to produce laws contrary to their favored policies, they will call for an interpretive methodology that produces the results they desire.  It cuts both ways and both sides are fraught with contradictions.    

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Boehner elected speaker of the house"

You know that journalists love putting this as their headline . . .

Update: To be clear, I did not know how his name is actually pronounced, a boner on my part.

Re: Originalism and Freedom

Hume comments:

"Although I am not a "Republican" (or a "conservative" or "right wing" etc.), I think that this statement is misguided. Much of the rhetoric of Republican politicians (I assume you are not discussing theorists) surrounding originalism as a constitutional theory (and the Republican platform in general) urges 'States' rights' and restrictions on the federal government.This is antithetical to the idea of nationalism."

Though Hume presents a contradiction, the contradiction is not mine. Republicans, rather, extoll the virtues of "freedom" (which, to them, means lower taxes, "smaller" national government and, in some cases, more power in the hands of states), promote a massive military and global corporations, and rail against the tyranny of Democrats, all the while believing that the Constitution is binding and that it only means what it meant to a group of landed white men 250 years ago. That Republicans both emphasize "state's rights" and believe that the Constitution binds everyone in the United States to the meaning of words as such were understood 250 years ago does not undermine the thesis of my prior comment. Rather, it illucidates this deeply embedded Republican contradiction.

"Moreover, any political theory justifying 'the state' (short of cosmopolitanism and world government) perpetuates an 'us vs. them' mentality. It separates people by geographical boundaries and asserts special obligations to 'fellow citizens' that do not apply to 'outsiders.' So I think that your hostility towards the Republican platform is too narrow and under-inclusive."

Justifying the presence of a state does not require one to assume an adversarial relationship with those who do not submit to the jurisdiction of that state, as the "v." would imply. But Hume makes a fair point. Nonetheless, it doesn't really address the issue I raised. If I were making the comment that Republicans don't believe in real freedom and Democrats do, than he would be accurate in saying that my "hostility" is "too narrow and under-inclusive." But, alas, that is not my point. My point has to do with the nature of the word "freedom" and its analogs in the rhetoric of Republican politicians. I can contrast the perspective of Democrats, who argue that government can be "good" and help create more equitable circumstances, with that of Republicans, who claim the mantle "freedom" and aspouse the efficiency of "free markets" and conjur fear of "big government". This makes my point more compelling because I am pointing out a contradiction. When Republicans use the word "freedom" they don't mean "for everyone" and they don't actually mean anything close to freedom from government. Quite to the contrary, they believe that no generation subsequent to the founders has a right to alter the core principles by which they are governed without the consent of a vast majority of people throughout the nation. That is my point. Whether or not this is a conscious part of the Republican platoform, it is certainly implied.

"Also, your focus on the authority of the past is somewhat misguided as well. One thing to notice about the nature of law is that all laws, absent an expression to the contrary, claim authority to bind future generations. Any theory justifying the authority of law justifies the authority of one generation to bind future generations. Notice that a law enacted by Congress in 1934 is valid today, absent an express change or amendment."

Hume's point, that all laws claim authority to bind future generations subject only to change or amendment, is fair enough, though this somewhat misses the point as well. Statutes promulgated by legislatures can be repealed or amended rather easily. Amendment of the Constitution, by contrast, involves the almost Herculean effort of obtaining a supermajority of both houses of Congress, then ratification of 75% of the state legislatures. Hence, with the exception of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has been amended only 17 times in 250 plus years. The flexibility of the law and its susceptibility to change is at the core of my comment, which highlights how permanent and frozen in time Republicans would prefer the the meaning of the Constitution to be.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Re: Originalism and Freedom

"I think this is a good reminder that the Republican platform implies an extreme nationalism that necessarily abridges the concept of "freedom" to conform to an us versus them dichotomy."

Although I am not a "Republican" (or a "conservative" or "right wing" etc.), I think that this statement is misguided.  Much of the rhetoric of Republican politicians (I assume you are not discussing theorists) surrounding originalism as a constitutional theory (and the Republican platform in general) urges "States' rights" and restrictions on the federal government.  This is antithetical to the idea of nationalism.  Moreover, any political theory justifying “the state” (short of cosmopolitanism and world government) perpetuates an “us vs. them” mentality.  It separates people by geographical boundaries and asserts special obligations to “fellow citizens” that do not apply to “outsiders.”  So I think that your hostility towards the Republican platform is too narrow and under-inclusive.

Also, your focus on the authority of the past is somewhat misguided as well.  One thing to notice about the nature of law is that all laws, absent an expression to the contrary, claim authority to bind future generations.  Any theory justifying the authority of law justifies the authority of one generation to bind future generations.  Notice that a law enacted by Congress in 1934 is valid today, absent an express change or amendment.

Originalism and Freedom

I was reading this Q & A with Justice Scalia - - and I thought of a question: for Republicans who claim the concept of freedom as their polestar, how does it square that your judicial champions believe that you are not only bound by a document that is (not including amendments) more than 250 years old, but that you are bound by what what the people who enacted it believed it to mean at that time?

Truthfully, it doesn't. I think this is a good reminder that the Republican platform implies an extreme nationalism that necessarily abridges the concept of "freedom" to conform to an us versus them dichotomy. Further, this dichotomy identifies as its major point of departure, i.e. the point at which the circle was drawn around "us," a period in history during which property-holding white christian males dominated society.

I mean, am I wrong?

Persistence and Anarchy

A problem with the argument of no state anarchists (e.g. those who call for abolishing government) is that they presuppose that anarchy would persist without any explanation as to how. There is some expectation that without any state or states(how states would vanish is unexplained, though, presumably, there is at least the ability to "abolish" things), individauls would engage in free trade with each other and, at worst, form voluntary associations that would not only be more moral but more efficient in allocating resources among the individuals involved. However, I wonder how "anarchy" is preserved. Is there not at least a single rule, which requires that there be no states? Would there not be consequences for violating this rule? Is this okay?

Furthermore, what of these associations and there ability to grow large, make markets with their larger numbers, maintain a military and assert influence or force their ideals on others? As this association grows and begins to dominate more territory, how does the anarchist plan to oppose this voluntary association that simply believes in a different set of moral principles like, say, the preservation of the association's members above all else or whatever god says?

Monday, January 3, 2011

My New Year's Resolution

Well, I have a few, but one I hope to follow through on is participating on this blog. For those of you who don't know me, I cannot help you. I will try to counterpunch effectively for the agnostics.

When is a political philosophy too utopian?

This is the ideal theory / non-ideal theory distinction.  At what point is an ideal theory too ideal?

Sunday, January 2, 2011