Thursday, March 31, 2011

Democratic Allegiance

With Ohio following through yesterday on the semi-recent Wisconsin meme a la public unions, it was interesting to see how people reacted. Although this legislation in Ohio is arguably just as important as what had been brewing further into the Midwest, it didn't seem to garner as much attention - or at least not nationally. But there were certainly people here (Columbus, OH) who were very outraged, but even then most of them were members of the public unions, and they seemed to be drowned out by indifference for the large part.

I suppose what I find most interesting about the reactions amongst the law's detractors is their over-insistence to, instead of acknowledging their lack of leverage, look at the situation and conclude that democracy is being abused somehow. We don't have to go back too far to realize we have a tendency to think the system is "broken" when we're on the down-slope (even if, in some cases, our understanding of how that system works is evidently pretty poor). Hence the interesting dichotomy that unfolds. Everything the antagonist does (from your perspective) becomes the embodiment of the modern perversion of "democracy", while every speech, rally, or get-together on your side is confluence of the American voice - a virtual tour de force of "democracy."

So...I find it pretty odd, although fairly ubiquitous, that people kind of ride this mental seesaw from election to election. You point to the push from a governor to curb union "rights" and say that democracy is being bastardized. Well, how exactly did he get into office? On the other hand you point to all the people who show up at rallies X, Y, and Z and say, "This is democracy in action!" Really? I'm pretty sure the last election was "democracy in action" too - how did that fare for you? You know what else was democracy in action? By my count - at least six years of "democratic" sovereignty from a neo-conservative leaning country.

Cognitive dissonance is the milestone in American political discourse...

The cold hard truth is that many of these people are both devoted to their political agenda and, laterally, democracy. This creates a mental schism which would be painfully obvious in any political landscape but our own. We've associated both our own ideals with the good and democracy with the good so that when our ideals have not reached fruition it's not just a political failure, but a failure of democracy itself - or, I should say, more specifically a "lack" of democracy. Of course, while cheerleaders for Team Red and Team Blue may be able to juggle this odd inconsistency for decades upon decades, it doesn't take much thoughtful discernment to realize the disconnect.

Democracy fails. It fails with every single election at every single nature. If we were all in agreement, there would be no need for such a thing. But, as we aren't, this necessitates (so we're told) the choosing of a specific course amongst multiple rivalrous ideas. Democracy is merely a method of separating political success from political loss - it in and of itself is not some mystical machine that makes whatever it touches magically benevolent as if by some inanimate sanction. While democracy comes in many different flavors, it's generally just a way to mechanize upon populist sentiment, whether that be for establishing single-payer healthcare or instituting slavery. It may be better than the next best thing, but it has very serious pitfalls - which is why many who have directly contributed to it have tried to lay roadblocks to impede the mob as it were.

But this important democratic caveat many people don't take into consideration (particularly on the left). Their faith in democracy in and of itself stands almost as a testament to egalitarian nationalism - the leverage of the common man over the powerful (and sometimes powerless) minority. But, when the wheels of the beast begin to move in reverse, it's as if we're suddenly operating in a vacuum - completely devoid of democracy at all. The proles become enraged in the perceived absence of the system that's being used against them. They pray (publicly) to soothe and lull the damaging hands of democracy back into their protective state; much like the beaten wife who convinces herself to forget in the hope of returned normalcy.

Democracy may be the best tool we have for the purpose of government, but a panacea of benevolence it is not. It's, as often put in libertarian circles, the "gun in the room" that most of us fail to see. To make matters more complicated, we've decided to give someone in the room among us a monopoly on that gun - and democracy is just a method of deciding who holds that monopoly at any given time. It may be the best way to decide who gets to hold the gun if we're only going to let one person have it, but it definitely doesn't keep you from getting shot; particularly when you're in the minority.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Left-Anarchism: A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail - Part 4

God knows this isn't an ideological schism that will mend itself anytime soon, but I actually received a somewhat thoughtful response regarding some supplemental comments I made on the C4SS article I referred to a few days ago. For some reason the comment moderation on C4SS is terrible; I submitted yet another response about three days ago and it has yet to show up. I'm not sure if people are being slow or if it was simply declined. In any case, I thought I'd share my response to RadGeek's thoughts:


First, I'd like to say that I've admired a good deal of your contributions to various discussions (particularly at Long's blog) - so I'll certainly take your points into further consideration even after this reply.


"I don't think that it's a libertarian principle that government should be running schools and hospitals more cost-effectively. The libertarian principle is that government should not be running them at all. But Walker's bill doesn't have anything to do with that. "

I'd argue that the libertarian principle(s) would encourage you to support both (actually). Politics, unfortunately, is not an all-or-nothing endeavor most of the time. Of course I would love to see government out of these institutions altogether. But, that being said, it strikes me as fairly libertarian to want to lessen the total amount of coercion as much as possible. If we can achieve that fiscally by rolling back public sector entitlements, I don't see why one should be opposed.

So, true enough, Walker's bill has nothing to do with culling these institutions back into the market-sphere. If it will, however, reduce the total amount of coercion upon the populace, it's certainly worth considering. Or, at the least, I don't think it should be resisted. Again, if a bill were being proposed to quarter defense spending should we, as libertarians, be opposed to it simply because the bill's supporters don't have a goal of free-market defense in mind?

"It might. But reducing government spending is not the same thing as reducing government taxation. Governments have no fiduciary responsibilities and their decisions about how much or how little to tax are based on political factors, not fiscal ones."

Of course, this is true as far as it goes. However, as we've seen very recently, causation here is not a closed loop. Fiscal realities (or at least the perception thereof) can certainly transform into political leverage. People are concerned with fiscal outlook. And when that outlook is bad enough, it's political capital - it's the cause for this very discussion.

"Of course, I have no desire to see government spend more money on anything; but I don't think that if it spends less money, the rest of us are going to get some kind of refund. "

I, like you, expect no "refund." What I expect is less total spending in the long-term and thus less total coercion. We could certainly argue that government (at any level) will simply fill the gap in deficit-spending repealed by public sector clamp-downs with some other kind of project. Given the nature of government, that's more than plausible. What it isn't, however, is a good reason to resist any such repeal of spending - as that could easily be argued for ANY attempt to repeal spending.

"Where in the column did Kevin defend either? As far as I can tell, the point of the column was not to defend the demands of government-sector workers"

It's largely been implicit (although I don't think we need to read too deeply here).

"Our goal is to replace the present system with a different way of doing things — not to vilify those caught up in it." (from Carson's article)

"it was to point out, contrary to many non-left libertarians' claims, that the counter-demands of State Governor Scott Walker would not advance any particularly anti-statist goal. "

What does vilification or the outset of a purely stateless goal have to do with this? Why does this matter in any context other than defending the beneficiaries of the state? Again, would you or Carson be defending the workers of a weapons firm if government decided to dock their present or future take-home pay? If an individual's endgame doesn't line up with ours we're supposed to just thrust aside any common push towards our constitutive means?

My point is simply this - It doesn't matter what Walker's endgame is. It doesn't matter what he thinks of unions or their members. It doesn't matter if government officials are corrupt or evil. It doesn't matter if the proponents of unions are corrupt or evil. What matters is if this legislation would stand a chance to decrease over-all coercion or not. If it does, then why are we going out of our way to defend the state's beneficiaries? And if you think it won't decrease over-all coercion, then we should be discussing that point instead - not waging into polemics regarding the victim-hood of those in the public sector or the banal nature of government officials. I don't think too many people who run in common circles with us are under the illusion that Republican governors have anarchy as an endgame in mind...just as we were aware that supposedly "anti-war" democrats didn't have anarchy as an endgame in mind when they were pushing for us pulling out of two tangled wars - neither one of those realities dictates that we should resist those actions or start defending its detractors.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Self-Imploding Somalia Meme

In a blog post containing a video with Jeffrey Miron giving his short exposition of libertarianism over at Reason, a nay-sayer invoked the often expounded upon Somalia meme:

I suspect Somalia & other failed states must be very good approximations of pure libertarianism in action.

I've seen people fight in both directions regarding the Somalia argument (if one considers it a legitimate argument at all) but I've seen very few people bring up what I would consider to be the largest flaw in the famous analogy. I responded to the aforementioned comment:

No one should probably have to say this out loud; but since many non-libertarians like to invoke Somalia, I guess it warrants saying:

There's something to be said for transition. Even if we were to assume that Somalia is completely devoid of government (which is a bit of a stretch if you actually know anything about the region) no one is proclaiming that if you move from a strong state to the absence of one in the shadow of the night that it's going to be all rainbows and unicorns.

Part of a state's general purpose is to hold monopolies or semi-monopolies on institutions that presuppose the need for it (law, education, defense, etc.). If you take what exists of a free market and quickly strip it of institutions that it was functionally integrated with you can't exactly expect perfect replacement institutions to organically and immediately take their place.

For instance, if government claimed a monopoly on food production and the government magically dissolved overnight, I would not expect that we would magically have a broad chain of food distribution set up the next day. Couple that with the harassment and tribal rule of warlords who have now partitioned and assumed control of the massive arms that your once revered state had accumulated, and now we have some additional issues.

To put it bluntly, pointing to Somalia as an example of why small-to-no-government can't work is like pointing to a combustion engine dying on an empty tank of gas and telling me that engines that don't use gas can't work.

Left-Anarchism: A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail - Part 3

It looks like this dog just keeps coming back for more. I read another piece at C4SS that had me cringing in five colors yesterday. Oh the irony - the sweet, sweet irony. I can certainly endorse the left-libertarians' non-support of the Republican governors in this little public sector mess. However, the fact that they are siding with the public unions (or at least defending them in some capacity) is proving to be a deal-breaker in my eyes.

I tried walking the trodden path of Rothbard on this one, but I just don't have the patience. The left's endorsement of libertarian values (to the extent they endorse them at all) is largely a means to an end. They, like their progressive kin, are consequentialists at heart. The only difference being that they believe freedom to be the best vehicle to achieve materialistic equality. Put them in a situation where a class dichotomy unfolds and they will gladly put aside their quibbles with coercion.

Here is my response from the comments section of the article:

It strikes me that such a stance is neither about libertarianism (as I understand it) or mixed feelings. In fact it seems to be about justifying coercion through the state if it serves the purposes of those we deem to be economically under-privileged. So which is it? Do we stand against coercion or do we stand for a more "just" division of the spoils thereof?

I admire many people who label themselves as left-libertarian, but it's the public employee support on issues like this that make libertarian alliances shaky to me. If we were provided with a reciprocal example of a weapons firm who enjoyed the employ of the government given its monopoly on defense, would left-libertarians come out in support of members of that firm who demand that their "collective bargaining rights" (which, in its current usage, is a bastardization of free association) and compensation be protected? Does the relative part that they play in the over-arching coercive machinery of government entitle them to more or less of the aforementioned spoils?

I can understand a general support for labor in an open market. I can understand criticizing those who may mistakenly believe that such moves will result in lower taxation even if it will not. I can also understand criticizing the motives of the people behind the move (although that honestly has no bearing on whether or not the move is correct). What I have never understood, and still fail to understand, apparently, is the inconsistency with which libertarian principles are applied when the beneficiaries of government privilege fall upon a favored class of citizens. When right-of-center libertarians dismiss arguments against corporate privilege because of what they consider to be the malevolent intentions of "class-warriors", left-libertarians correctly hold their feet to the fire on principle. If right-leaning "vulgar" libertarians can be called to fall upon the libertarian sword for such inconsistencies, so can the left-leaning libertarians.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Left-Anarchism: A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail - Part 2

I came across a post on Stephan Kinsella's blog in which he was expressing some frustration with the claims of left-leaning anarchists. As an ANCAP myself, I'll just say some of the responses he was addressing were, at the least, disheartening. It's a shame that most anarchists are of this variety. As I'll continue saying until I'm blue in the face - Less Proudhon and Marx, more Rothbard please!

In any case, there was a single response to his post by an apparently left-leaning anarchist who ultimately exclaimed that the burden was on the Kinsellas of the world to explain why hierarchy, in any context, isn't wrong. Clearly there is a lot more ground to be gained in arguing with people of more mainstream political persuasions. But, I have to admit, many left-libertarians have well-thought-out views - and they generally put up a much much much better fight than those of the mainstream. They make you defend your position on principled ground. And my arguments for my position have become stronger almost solely at the expense of discussions with other anarchists. For that, I'll show some gratitude.

In any case, the oft-displayed contentions of leftist-anarchists regarding "hierarchy" and "authority" left me to think for a pretty good amount of time on what these terms mean and how it relates to Anarcho-Capitalism. I'll admit to you at the drop of a hat that 99% of anything I've ever thought in the political arena - Rothbard had espoused on it earlier at some point. The guy was thorough if anything. But I have a contention with how leftists view hierarchy that I've never really seen touted before. I thought this was as good a place as any to throw it out there:

I think where most traditional anarchists run aground is in conflating conditional association and “rulership” or absolute authority. I’ve never seen another anarcho-capitalist bring this point to the forefront (so if I’m borrowing an idea that’s already out there I apologize for not tipping the proverbial hat) but I’ve thought quite a bit about this point and it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

Let’s say that I invite you over to my house. A condition for entering my house is that you must remove your shoes. It could be said that I’m asserting some kind of “authority” over you – a hierarchy even – in that I’m somehow forcibly telling you what to do. But is this really the case? Some defenders of private property would say yes. But I think this is an oversimplified way to look at things.

I don’t believe, as property owners, we are ever asserting that we have specific rights to make others do whatever we want. You have just as much of a right to wear shoes when you’re in the house as you have when you’re on your own property. Instead, what I’d like to suggest, is that any power that we have is tangential to our own property rights – that, if we do indeed grant that property is a valid concept, we simply have control over who may or may not use that property and no other enforcible powers beyond that. Therefore, any expression of power or authority as such exists only to the extent to which we may withdraw our explicit or implicit consent for others using that property.

So, to get back to the analogy: If I tell you to remove your shoes before entering my house, I’m not claiming some authority over you in that I have some right to tell you what you can and can’t do. On the contrary, my request only has power to the extent that it is an implicit condition upon which you may use my property.

If we were to take such conditional interaction and, as other anarchists often do, conflate it with authority, then it would make a good deal of fairly ambiguous daily interaction immoral. Families, churches, and many other voluntary organizations would seem malicious and predatory under such a notion. In fact it would seem hard to justify trade as being anything other than malign under such a notion. For, if one was asked to shovel snow out of a driveway in exchange for money we could then say that person was being temporarily subjugated to the will of another. We may say, “Clearly this is absurd – the person in question is not being forced to do such a thing. He’s doing it of free will and association.” And such a point couldn’t ring any clearer. In fact, it would ring just as clear and for the same reasons in regards to the removing of your shoes before you enter my house, or in regards to labor being exchanged for wages on the floor of an assembly line.

This is why anarcho-capitalists will forever clash with anarchists of other stripes. Few self-described anarchists seem to be willing to differentiate conditional association with what ANCAPs would describe as “authority” (forced hierarchy), even if those anarchists (according to their own view) willingly subject themselves to many conditional associations in their everyday lives without recognizing them as such. It presents an inherent problem to their ideology, and I believe it’s largely (maybe even subconsciously) why many dismiss private property altogether, or subscribe to the labor theory of value – it’s the result of cognitive dissonance.

Ultimately the distinction is clear. Private property as such is not simply a throwback to a feudal system (as other anarchists often claim) where owners of large tracts of land claim ownership over the lives of serfs. Instead we claim that any such command or power, as it may be perceived, can exist only, and unequivocally, as an expression of property rights -and nothing else. We submit then that all voluntary association, trade, or hierarchy is derived from the ownership of ourselves and willful consent therein – and that, as such, by nature their exhibition cannot be coercive. Even more clearly, the idea of restraining men from such voluntary association would be, by definition, explicitly coercive. In this way the anarcho-capitalist position is clear; free men of free association born out of an inherent ownership of self, labor, and the product thereof, reasoned simply and deductively. In this way, I don’t believe the onus is on Rothbardians to further justify self-ownership and free association. The onus is instead on detractors to explain why men should not own themselves or should be restricted in their associations with other free men.