Friday, January 27, 2012

Avert Your Eyes

Over at The Atlantic Megan Mcardle lays waste to the already-vanquished corpse of Ron Paul on the "racist newsletter(s)" issue. She refers to the startling and damning evidence unveiled by WaPo this morning - former associates have claimed that Paul had at least some direct role in his newsletters...sometimes. As to direct involvement in signing off specifically on the pieces in question, it remains not as clear. This prompted tones of finality on the subject for Mcardle and others who, from my point of view, are either being too cute by half or naive on the matter. My understanding of his newsletters was that, like many people with newsletters, it was in his name for administrative reasons, with only occasional oversight and contribution from him. So, unless your belief is that Ron Paul is saying he's never had anything to do with what's published in his newsletter or that he's saying he's been the chief editor for all the pieces, then I'm not sure how the WaPo "revelations" move the chess pieces.

After reading the piece, you're back at where you started. He had some level of direct interaction, but for the most part it was left to his associates. So now there are two floating claims - one that is true and one that is questionable but unlikely. The latter being that Paul himself is a racist - which, in this context, would hinge on if he had direct involvement with the articles in question. He denies it. We know who officially wrote it (read: Not Paul). And there is little, if anything, he's said over his career that should (operative word) lead anyone to believe he's a racist. The other claim, that he had a subordinate working for his newsletter that was allowed to write an article with racists tinges, is obviously true. Meghan Mcardle picks up on this claim, as it is the least contentious, and contends that this makes Paul unfit to be a leader (surprise, surprise). She says this alone should disqualify him.

Let's think about this for a moment. Let's look at some of what the other Republican candidates are bringing to the table:

- Threats of re-intervention into Iraq
- Escalation of hostilities with Iran
- Escalation of hostilities with Pakistan
- Escalation of hostilities with China
- Barriers to trade with China
- Barriers to trade with Mexico
- Economic sanctions against Iran
- Escalation of War on Terror
- Escalation of War on Drugs
- Promises to Run Government "Like a Business"
- No Serious Re-Working or Repeal of the ACA
- A Buffering of Executive Power(s)
- A Constitutional Amendment on Marriage
- Financial Subsidization of the Move to Militarize the Police
- Continued Stimulus and Bailouts
- Continued Policy of Assassinations and Detainment (even of American Citizens)
- Increased Military Spending
- No Serious Attempt to Reform Broken Social Service Programs
- Continued Grant and Protection of IP

Alright, now let's think back to what it was that simply disqualifies Ron Paul in the presidential race according to Mcardle:

- Someone who Worked for Him 30 Years Ago Wrote a Couple of Racist Statements

I have no way to get into Mcardle's head and figure out how and why her priorities for presidential candidates fall the way they do. All I know is that, even if she disagrees formally with the remaining candidates, she doesn't feel any of what I laid out above would disqualify them for her consideration...but that having a former association with someone who wrote something trivially disparaging some years ago is enough to completely throw you out of the running altogether. Her assessment comes down to, "Good leaders with atrocious policies are fit for office. A leader with an administrative mis-step and excellent policies is not."

Mcardle implicitly asks us to avert our eyes when it comes to what a president might ACTUALLY DO, and instead posit our complete understanding of their political merit in the most questionable (albeit ethereal) association they may have had with some other person in their life. Yes, Reverend Wright, America's chickens are certainly coming home to roost. I'm not sure exactly what pseudo-libertarians and conservatives think they're doing by putting Dr. Paul on the proverbial cross, but I think it's a seriously flawed political calculation on their part...and one that will cause them what would otherwise be an electoral victory this time around.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winning Hearts & Minds with Empty Bladders

In the deluge of hyperbole surrounding the recent primaries we recieve a brief respite. Apparently there are U.S. marines who have been brazen enough to actually defile a corpse. I'll let the shock of all that sink in with you right now...

Alright, now that you're more suitably adjusted for conversation, can I be the hundred-millionth person to take a brave stance in declaring such an act to be morally questionable if not wrong. May I also be the hundred-millionth person to point out that if you don't understand why things like this don't help "our boys" on net in this type of war, then you probably shouldn't be close to affecting anything that would resemble a policy decision.

Let's face it. This makes us look bad. It looks bad to those of us back home. It makes us look bad to the world at large. And, more importantly, it achieves almost nothing outside of giving a half-dozen men a quick laugh and inciting maybe thousands of more men from distant countries and cultures to take up arms against those troops we claim to support. The bottom line is, even if you dismiss it ethically, it's obviously not something we want to be making a habit out of. And it's certainly not something we'd want on public display.

However I would like to make one somewhat contrarian point that stands in at least mild contrast to the outrage of many who think along the same lines as me on the war issue; why is it exactly that this is particularly more outrageous than the actual slaying of the person to begin with?

Let's not even muddy the waters with questions of guilt. Let's just assume, hypothetically, that this enemy soldier had brutalized and murdered hundreds of innocent people. Alright, we've at least largely deemed that this man should be killed - and not in any particularly humane way. So why would it be particularly more outrageous to do something to him that seems far less of an imposition than actually killing him...particularly when the "him" in question isn't even there anymore in any existential sense? He's dead. Now, it's possible, of course, that a large handful of Americans are really haranguing over the disparities of retributive justice - but I said "large handful of Americans" not "the three Anarcho-Capitalists who might actually read this."

Now let's run for a moment with the other assumption. Let's say that you're against our current occupation. We'll even say that you see some resisters as simply defending themselves in some sense or another. In your opinion, the dead "soldier" in question may have been innocent on such an account of the events. But even then, why is there a heightened since of outrage directed at what's done to the body in light of the morally heinous act(s) you believe rendered him dead in the first place? If someone murders an innocent individual and urinates on their body, we might find it peculiar, but I'd like to think the general outrage would still be directed at the primary offense which is the killing itself.

Again, all this isn't to say the actions therein, in this particular instance, were not in poor taste, or that they are something to be dismissed, or, more importantly, that such events won't have serious repurcussions for us down the road in one respect or another. But it is very curious to me - the things we seem to accept so easily and the things that rile us, culturally, in contrast. Gasping over marines urinating on dead corpses seems akin to being outraged that a 9-11 hijacker might have lied about something on his passport. I think you might be missing the larger picture.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Non Sequitur as Rhetorical Strategy

I'd like to propose that there is a certain type of conflation surrounding libertarian thought. And, unlike the types more prominently discussed among libertarians, I believe this brand of conflation originates within the small but vocal ANCAP community. Consider that, while Anarcho-Capitalism may be both the most politically consistent and effective way to bring about the most libertarian world possible, it is not, in itself, synonamous with libertarianism. To be sure, not all ANCAPS (voluntaryists, pan-archists, etc.) are guilty of falling into this trap. But I think it's easy for radical libertarians in the more Rothbardian tradition to ensnare themselves in this semantic trap of sorts.

I believe that we tend to think of such a system as both the institutional setting as well as the endgame; a system of violence-stifling that is self-propelled by the relative responsiveness of markets. But must that lead to to a ubiquitous suppression of aggression (in the libertarian sense)? After much thought, I must concede that it doesn't, neccearrily, follow from our own assumptions.

The argument for such a (non) political framework, properly understood, is that markets are more robust institutions than traditional political venues to which we typically flee. And we have very strong reasons to believe those underlying suppositions; that markets are more volitile and thus responsive, that collussion over a vast and voluntary market is much harder to achieve, that the reality of regulatory capture and rent-seeking favors the powerful and connected in traditional political outlets. These items are but the tip of the proverbial ice-berg. We can say, with strong evidence and sound theory, that unabedded markets are, on many levels, more responsive to consumers than political markets are to voters. And so, a populace seeking to limit the types of coercion of which libertarians so often speak might find market-centric solutions a quite fitting means to that end.

But what about a world in which this not what the populace wants? How then might a market-based system develop? This is the question ANCAPS must face if we wish to conflate our preferred system with the outcome we may wish to achieve. Obviously, there are many good reasons for which libertarians may believe that market-based systems would relatively maximize liberty - the most prevailent point of which may be the fact that actors would seemingly be more directly forced to account for the cost(s) associated with their preferences. This, perhaps above all else, is the strongest argument to be made in this context. When taxation is no longer a ready source of funding, one would think a compounding sort of financial pressure would fall upon the most dubious and controversial institutional activities (perhaps the economically exhaustive efforts of drug-warriors, for instance). However, at the end of the day, it would seem that if most people did in fact want to prohibit drug use, even in a society of privatized law, it could still be achieved if actors were willing to bear that cost. We can argue that this is unlikely. We can argue that, regardless, it would still result in less of this behavior than traditional political systems. But we must admit that markets are ultimately in the hands of consumers. And consumers need not agree with us in a reasonable hypothetical. If we'd like to honestly face the populace right now, in fact, it's clear that they wouldn't.

So does this mean I'm tossing aside the ANCAP label? No. I still have a very strong deontological affinity for property rights. I still have the half-way-educated opinion that liberty, as a constrainging value, is generally utility-maximizing in the long run. And I still believe that the absence of political structure, in the way we know it, is still the best ticket to realize those things. But perhaps we (libertarians) would be better served by using "Anarcho-Capitalism" in the institutional sense, to dileneate between traditionally monopolistic systems of political justice and market-based (voluntary) ones, instead of using it to mean both that AND a world of perfectly libertarian institutions. The invocations should be properly parsed into separate references, and we should at least acknowledge that they are not mutually inclusive.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and Murray Rothbard Walk into a Bar...

Leading into this politically fateful day, the barbs have been flying. Ever since Ron Paul managed (somehow) to pick up some polling numbers that actually had him pegged as a front-runner, the dredging of the infamous newsletter(s) have commenced. I haven't followed Paul as closely in previous election cycles, but I'm told this is the third or fourth time the issue has been brought to the forefront in a prominent fashion. This time, because of his standing, it seems like a lot of the mud-slinging is coming from the direction of his own party. More on that aspect, possibly, at a later date.

But here's what I can gather based on when and where I happen to plug into the proverbial zeitgeist (follow at your own discretion)...

There's a series of tedious yet consequential occurrences in the evolution of libertarianism over the last forty years or so that we will not be afforded in a public discussion. When the average person knows nothing of what happened at the CATO institute, the several schisms and clashes of Rothbard with the brothers Koch, the attempted paleo-conservative fusionism of the late 80's, or even the difference between a libertarian and a Libertarian - we can be sure that there's no politically salvageable explanation. In any case, on we go...

Over the course of Rothbard's career, he attempted to reach out to lots of different groups often radical in their own nature. Early on he abandoned his "Old Right" roots and sought to court the New Left on the civil rights and anti-war fronts. And with the resurrection of Goldwater Republicanism in the era of Reagan, he attempted to court the small-government/anti-government factions from among the right. Part of that courtship, particularly in the late 80's and early 90's, involved pulling at the threadbare fringes of swelling militia movements, who, as it may happen, are often known for their radical conservatism in the social department. And, at the time, hot-button political issues, other than 2nd Amendment rights, were things like welfare, spiralling urban culture, and affirmative action.

Ron Paul, apparently, had adopted the Misesian flavor of libertarianism early in his political career, and was courted by Rothbard et al in that camp. They, as they do now, stumped for him in their publications, and tried to provide some political outreach. As it happens, some people in this camp were responsible for, although maybe not generating the actual content, at least handling the publication of Paul's newsletter(s) at the time. The same newsletter(s) which people have pulled some racially animus comments from in recent weeks.

The somewhat popular "in the know" rendition of the story is that Lew Rockwell likely had ghost-written the article(s) in question (as he had ghost-written several things for Paul over the years). So there is a burgeoning call for Rockwell to come out and accept some form of culpability - to save Paul's campaign I suppose. However, with my ear to the ground regarding some larger players in the Misesian camp, I hear that the more likely candidate is actually Rothbard himself!

Now, a fan as I am of Rothbard, I have to say that this suspicion proved pretty disheartening at first. But, after a good deal of thought, and, ironically enough, reading some comments on Callahan's blog, a fuller picture of Rothbard's work came into view. It's painfully obvious if you look at the entire body of his work in context (especially strolling through his work generated while courting the New Left) - a large part of what Rothbard was good at was pulling disparate and often differing viewpoints in the same direction, towards his proverbial rendition of anarcho-capitalism. Whether communists, anti-war leftists, civil rights supporters, Reagan conservatives, or almost anything else under the sun, Rothbard tried to court just about everyone. He focused on each groups' idiosyncrasies, found overlapping sympathies, and went for the jugular. Would it really surprise me that he would have made some unflattering comments while appealing to the sympathies of unflattering people? Not particularly.

So does that mean that what he did, if he did indeed to it, was OK? Well, again, not particularly. There's something terribly ironic about a man that was so ideologically driven being so pragmatic in his pursuit of support for the movement. Pragmatism wasn't his strong suit. Of course, I suppose, to the extent that he was a libertarian of the "thin" variety, I guess he didn't feel as if he contradicted his own political ethos in any specific way by doing so. Pretending to be a racist (or even actually being one) is not anti-libertarian (again, in the "thin" sense at least). I have a hard time believing Rothbard himself was a racist. I don't have a hard time believing he'd gesture at being one to pull wayward racists towards liberty.

So, what can we say here? Well, from a pragmatic (political) standpoint, whatever support you might get in numbers from appealing to racists is clearly not what you're going to lose from it - particularly in the long run. We live in a post-Bush world. The Lew Rockwell's and Murray Rothbards of the world no longer have to garner the fringe support of uber-conservatives walling themselves up in the mountains of Idaho. With two parties that are completely eaten up with war-mongering and redistribution of wealth to the well-connected, they can all come out of their proverbial caves and court the not-so-radical group called the dissaffected.

And, as the success of the current Paul campaign shows, they're doing that well enough. Unfortunately they couldn't foresee how the outreach of decades past would hamstring them in the present. And, for that, I'm sure that all those living that were involved in that previous push have some level of remorse, whether for poor beliefs once held, or false beliefs once touted - either for very little political advantage in hindsight.