politics

Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

This is a work in progress. The first version is here. This version expands the range of political stances by adding Despotism to Anarchism, Minarchism, and Statism. Also, this version goes into more detail about the differences between various stances. I’m leaving the first version in place because I’ve linked to it and quoted from it often, and because some of the descriptive material complements this post.

INTRODUCTION

The aim of this post and its predecessor is to find more precise political labels than Democrat, Republican, left, right, center, liberal, conservative, and libertarian. I want to show, for example, the dimensions of agreement and disagreement between a so-called liberal who wants government to dictate certain aspects of human affairs, and a so-called conservative who wants government to dictate certain other aspects of human affairs. Are they not both statists who merely have different agendas, or are there deeper differences between them? And what about the so-called libertarian who espouses some views that are anathema to many on the left (e.g., free markets) and other views that are anathema to many on the right (e.g., legalization of marijuana and harder drugs)? Are such views coherent or merely provocative?

Any one person’s political philosophy — if he may be said to have one — is likely to consist of a set of attitudes, many of them logically irreconcilable. This, I believe, is due mainly to the influence of temperament on one’s political views. It is a rare human being who does not interpret the world through the lens of his preferences, and those preferences seem to be more a matter of temperament than of knowledge and reason. Even highly intelligent persons are capable of believing in the most outlandish things because they want to believe those things.

I therefore admit that my search for more precise political labels may be — and probably is — both quixotic and reductionist. But it can, at least, shed some light on real differences — and real similarities — among various lines of political thought.

THE ESSENCE OF POLITICS

Political views, and their essential differences, cannot be organized into a taxonomy without first defining politics and its essential issues.

Politics is the means by which human beings regulate their behavior, which usually (but unnecessarily) is divided into social and economic components. The purpose of regulating behavior — whether the regulation is explicit or implicit, imposed or voluntary — is to sustain or change the modes of human interaction, and the outcomes that derive from human interaction. Some political stances are incoherent because their principles cannot yield the preferred outcomes (e.g., redistribution, a favored policy of left-statists, actually makes the poor worse off because it stifles economic growth). But incoherence does not prevent a political stance from becoming popular, or even dominant.

THE BASELINE POSITION: TRADITIONAL CONSERVATISM

The following sections of this post culminate in a taxonomy of political philosophies, which is given in a table at the end of the post. In that table, I take as a baseline a political stance that I call Right-Minarchism. It represents traditional conservatism, as it would have played out in practice under the kind of true federalism represented in the Articles of Confederation.

What is the traditional conservative position? I begin with a redaction of Russell Kirk’s “Six Canons of Conservative Thought“:

1. An understanding that political problems, at bottom, are moral problems.

2. A preference for tradition — which incorporates beneficial change — over the shackles of statism and the chaos that must ensue from anarchy.

3. Recognition that change is not the same thing as change for the better (reform), which emerges from tradition and is not imposed upon it.

4. An understanding that a flourishing civil society requires order, without which freedom is available only to despots and predators.

5. Faith in traditional mores and reliance upon them, in the main, to maintain a regimen of order that enables freedom — ordered liberty, in other words. Traditional mores are supplemented but not supplanted by the rule of law, impartially administered and no more intrusive than is required for ordered liberty.

6. Knowledge that property and liberty are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.

For an elaboration on the role of government, I turn to Michael Oakeshott:

Government, … as the conservative in this matter understands it, does not begin with a vision of another, different and better world, but with the observation of the self-government practised even by men of passion in the conduct of their enterprises; it begins in the informal adjustments of interests to one another which are designed to release those who are apt to collide from the mutual frustration of a collision. Sometimes these adjustments are no more than agreements between two parties to keep out of each other’s way; sometimes they are of wider application and more durable character, such as the International Rules for for the prevention of collisions at sea. In short, the intimations of government are to be found in ritual, not in religion or philosophy; in the enjoyment of orderly and peaceable behaviour, not in the search for truth or perfection…. To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manners; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. It is not concerned with concrete persons, but with activities; and with activities only in respect of their propensity to collide with one another. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of ‘the natural depravity of mankind’ but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. And if there is any general idea entailed in this view, it is, perhaps, that a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and that while one which (in the old puritan phrase) ‘commands the truth’ is incapable of doing so (because some of its subjects will believe its ‘truth’ to be in error), one which is indifferent to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.

…[A]s the conservative understands it, modification of the rules should always reflect, and never impose, a change in the activities and beliefs of those who are subject to them, and should never on any occasion be so great as to destroy the ensemble. Consequently, the conservative will have nothing to do with innovations designed to meet merely hypothetical situations; he will prefer to enforce a rule he has got rather than invent a new one; he will think it appropriate to delay a modification of the rules until it is clear that the change of circumstances it is designed to reflect has come to stay for a while; he will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances re tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or social justice’, and of Saviours of Society who buckle on armour and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment. (Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition, pp. 427-31)

In what follows, I synthesize Kirk and Oakeshott, and call the result Right-Minarchism.

A TAXONOMY OF PHILOSOPHIES

I begin with a rough sorting of political philosophies:

  • Anarchism is a fairly coherent (if implausible) philosophy of non-government, propounded by persons who usually call themselves anarcho-capitalists (probably because it seems a more respectable label than “anarchist”).
  • Minarchism is a somewhat more diffuse but still coherent philosophy of minimal government, propounded by persons who usually call themselves libertarians, over the objection of anarchists, who claim to be the only true libertarians.
  • Anarchists and minarchists dwell in the big tent of libertarianism.  Where anarchists are fairly monolithic in their views (government is evil because it must always be based on coercion), minarchists are of varied stripes, which I delineate below. My analyses of anarchism and minarchism span the range of libertarian ideas, so there is nothing more for me to say in this post about libertarianism as a political philosophy.
  • Statism comprises a broad set of attitudes about government’s role, propounded by “types” ranging from redneck yahoos to campus radicals, each type proclaiming itself benign (for some, if not for others). But each type would — in thought and word, if not deed — set loose the dogs of the state upon its political opponents and the vast, hapless majority. Statism, because it is so powerful and pervasive a force, merits further analysis — more aptly, dissection — into its main types.
  • Despotism is perhaps the inevitable outcome of statism. Despotism may be “hard,” as with the USSR under Stalin and Germany under Hitler, or “soft,” as with innumerable “social democrat” regimes, including the controlling regime of the United States. Under despotic rule there is no dividing line between the state’s power and individual liberty. The state can — and will — dictate to its subjects about anything.

Thus the four broad philosophies that I parse in this post are anarchism, minarchism, statism, and despotism. Here is more about each of them:

Anarchism

Anarchists believe that no one should govern others; rather, all human interactions and joint functions (e.g., a group’s efforts to defend itself against predators and enemies) should be undertaken through voluntary agreements, including contracts with private defense agencies.

Central to anarchism is the dual principle of non-coercion and non-aggression: conjoined prohibitions against the imposition of one’s will upon others and, therefore, the use of force except in self-defense or the defense of others. (Are there loopholes for dealing with imminent, predatory threats and teaching children to behave? Only an anarchist knows for sure.) Government, by definition, imposes its will by exerting superior force. Government, therefore, is illegitimate.

The non-aggression principle is the undoing of anarchism. Anarchy (purely consensual anarchy) cannot prevail. Non-aggression often is met with aggression. Anarchists (were there a viable group of them) would fall prey to well-armed aggressors (both from within the group and outside it). This inconvenient fact is of no account to doctrinaire anarchists. They are focused on the world as they would like it to be, and have little time for the world as it is, except to object when it isn’t to their liking — which is all of the time.

Minarchism

The Central Tenet: Limited Government

Minarchists are united in but one respect: Government, being inevitable if not necessary, must be kept within strict bounds. Given the inevitability of government, it is better to control it than to be controlled by it. It is therefore better to design an accountable one that can be kept within its bounds (or so minarchists hope) than to suffer an imposed regime, most likely an oppressive one.

Why do minarchists prefer strictly limited government? There are two reasons. The first reason is a desire to be left alone, or more elegantly, a deontological belief in the natural right to be left alone. (Most anarchists are deontologists.) The second, consequentalist, reason is that voluntary social and economic transactions yield better results than government-directed ones. Friedrich Hayek makes that argument, at length and successfully, in his essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Here is a small sample:

As Alfred Whitehead has said in another connection, “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” This is of profound significance in the social field. We make constant use of formulas, symbols, and rules whose meaning we do not understand and through the use of which we avail ourselves of the assistance of knowledge which individually we do not possess. We have developed these practices and institutions by building upon habits and institutions which have proved successful in their own sphere and which have in turn become the foundation of the civilization we have built up.

What Hayek says is true not only of economic institutions but also of social ones. The seemingly uncoordinated price “system” guides economic actors toward better ways of meeting ever-changing human wants with limited resources. The social “system” accrues behavioral norms that guide individuals toward peaceful, constructive coexistence with their compatriots.

The Protection of Negative Rights

Whether deontological or consequentialist, minarchism holds that the central role of government is to protect citizens from predators, domestic and foreign. Such protection cannot be absolute, but government’s evident ability and willingness to dispense justice and defend the nation are meant, in part, to deter predators.

More generally, the ideal government is restricted to the protection of negative rights. Such rights, as opposed to positive rights, do not involve claims against others; instead, they involve the right to be left alone by others. Negative rights include the right to conduct one’s affairs without being killed, maimed, or forced or tricked into doing something against one’s will; the right to own property, as against the right of others to abscond with property or claim it as their own; the right to work for a wage and not as a slave to an “owner” who claims the product of one’s labor; and the right to move and transact business freely within government’s sphere of sovereignty (which can include overseas movements and transactions, given a government strong enough to protect them).

To a minarchist, then, rights are limited to those that can be exercised without requiring something of others (e.g., transfers of income and property). The one necessary exception is the cost of providing a government to ensure the exercise of rights. That cost must be borne, in some arbitrary way, by citizens who, on the one hand, see no need for government (i.e., anarchists) and by citizens who, on the other hand, have differing conceptions of rights and how the cost of protecting those rights should be shared.

More about Property Rights

Minarchists (like anarchists) are fierce defenders of property rights. Minarchists hold that we own what we earn (or what is given to us, freely, by others who have earned it). The right to property is a negative right, in that the enjoyment and use of that which is ours need not deny anyone else the right to enjoy and use that which is theirs. (Acts of enjoyment and use, however, must not infringe on the negative rights of others.) The denial of property rights (in whole or in part) is theft, whether committed by a private party or government. (The “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment is applied legitimately only when government must take property, with “just compensation” in order to execute one of the few legitimate functions of government.)

There is an economic justification, as well, for minarchists’ defense of property rights. People generally use that which they own more carefully and more productively than that which they do not own. This tendency — which springs from the same psychological source as the tendency of individuals to care more for those who are closest to them — yields less waste and greater output. That outcome benefits everyone, not just the owners of economic resources.

The Role of Civil Society

There can be more to minarchy than the protection of negative rights. In the view of some minarchists, government legitimately serves the broader (but related) purpose of protecting civil society. Other minarchists have no use for what they see as the strictures of civil society; they wish only to be left alone. In their introverted myopia they fail to see that the liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society: the daily observance of person X’s negative rights by persons W, Y, and Z — and vice versa. That is so because it is impossible and — more importantly — undesirable for government to police everyone’s behavior. Liberty depends, therefore, on the institutions of society — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect, through which individuals often come to the aid of one another, and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism).

That is civil society. And it is civil society which, many minarchists aver, government ought to protect instead of usurping and destroying as it establishes its own agencies (e.g., public schools, welfare), gives them primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters, and funds them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions. Moreover, some minarchists aver that government ought to tolerate a broad range of accepted behaviors across the various institutions of civil society, as long as government also protects the negative rights of association and exit: the right to associate with persons of one’s choosing, and the right to live and work where one prefers.

The centrality of family, church, club, and the like, to civil society reflects a fundamental fact of the human condition: We tend to care more for those who are close to us than we do for those who are unrelated to us by blood or a direct social bond of some kind. Charity and civilization begin at home.

A Note about Left-Minarchism

This branch of minarchism attracts pseudo-libertarians who proclaim their dedication to liberty from one side of the mouth while supporting statist restrictions on liberty from the other side. The hypocrisy of left-minarchism is discussed in the table below, and by Bill McMorris in “Conservatives Will Embrace Libertarians When Libertarians Stop Embracing Government” (The Federalist, February 26, 2014).

Statism

I come now to statism, about which less need be said than about minarchism. Statism is notable mainly for its failure to understand, respect, or protect negative rights and civil society.

The Essence of Statism: Control

Statism boils down to one thing: the use of government’s power to direct resources and people toward outcomes dictated by government. Statism is orthogonal to the libertarian worldview of anarchists and minarchists.

The particular set of outcomes toward which government should strive depends on the statist who happens to be expounding his views. But all of them are essentially alike in their desire to control the destiny of others. (Two excellent posts that spell out the essential sameness of statism, whether it comes from the “left” or the “right,” are John Ray’s “The American Roots of Fascism” and Eric Scheie’s “Rule by the Freest.”)

“Hard” statists thrive on the idea of a powerful state; control is their religion, pure and simple. “Soft” statists profess offense at the size, scope, and cost of government, but will go on to say “government should do such-and-such,” where “such-and such” usually consists of:

  • government grants of particular positive rights, either to the statist, to an entity or group to which he is beholden, or to a group with which he sympathizes
  • government interventions in business and personal affairs, in the belief that government can do certain things better than private actors, or simply should do many things other than — and sometimes in lieu of — dispensing justice and defending the nation.

The distinctions between “hard” and “soft” are, for my purposes, less important than the particular kinds of positive rights and interventions preferred by statists of various stripes. I parse the variety of statists later in this post.

Feeble Excuses for Statism

Statists give various excuses for their statism. Here are three, the second and third of which are mentioned above:

  • Government is the community. (This is an odd thing to say, given that politicians elected by a minority of the populace, and often a bare majority of voters, are able to dictate to the non-voting majority. The main virtue of  many an appointed official is that he represents a particular interest group, which is a far cry from “the community.”)
  • People (or certain kinds of people) can’t do such-and-such for themselves. (This claim is credible only because government has destroyed much of civil society by fostering dependency instead of personal responsibility; by blunting entrepreneurship, business formation, and economic growth through taxation and regulation; by breaking up families through various welfare programs; by usurping many of civil society’s functions (education, care of the elderly, and charity being the three most obvious); and by heavily taxing those who would have the means to underwrite the educational and charitable institutions of civil society.)
  • Certain kinds of activities and industries must be regulated because we can’t trust certain so-an-so’s to do the right thing. (This claim is tantamount to saying that (a) only certain outcomes are acceptable, (b) risk — which is necessary to progress — can be controlled by politicians and bureaucrats, and (c) the superficial knowledge and judgments of those same politicians and bureaucrats are adequate substitutes for the vast amounts of knowledge resident in free markets and free social institutions.

The reality from which statists avert their eyes is this: Even in a “democracy” such as ours, where government is supposed to be the people’s servant, it is in fact operated by power-hungry politicians and their often-arrogant minions. The arrogant attitudes of elected and appointed officials toward the “communities” they supposedly serve are revealed by the lavish offices and perquisites they arrange for themselves. The higher they rise on the scale of political power, the more god-like they become, to themselves at least. Constituent service is a means of garnering votes — a necessary evil, handled by staffers whenever possible, and paid for by taxpayers. (A politician naturally take a more personal interest in big contributors seeking attention and favors.)

The Bottom Line about Statism

No recitation of the character and limitations of government really matters to a statist. Government is at once a statist’s god and bully of first resort.

Despotism

In “democratic” nations, despotism arrives as an outgrowth of statism. It arrives by stealth, as the state’s power becomes so pervasive and so entrenched in statutes, regulations, and judicial decrees that liberty becomes a hollow word. Every sphere of existence — religious, social, economic — is subject to interference and control by the state. The state may not exercise full control in every instance, but it has the power to do so, rhetoric about liberty to the contrary notwithstanding.

America’s despotism is “soft,” compared with the despotism of the USSR and Nazi Germany, but it is despotism, nonetheless. If you think it hyperbolic to call the America a despotism, think again, and again, and again, and again, and again. The dividing line between statism and despotism is a thin one, and if you will follow the links in the two preceding sentences, you will find many reasons to believe that America has crossed over into despotism. “Soft” verges on “hard” when myriad organs of the state — from the IRS to local zoning departments — can persecute and prosecute citizens on almost any pretext. The only saving grace is that the victims of America’s “soft” despotism still have recourse to the courts and sometimes find relief there.

REFINING THE TAXONOMY

These statements implicate several political issues:

1. Toward what social and economic outcomes ought human endeavor be aimed? The “aiming” need not be deliberate but, rather, the natural result of voluntary, cooperative action in accord with social norms.

2. Who should determine social norms, and how?

3. What behaviors should obtain?

4. How should norms be enforced?

5. What is the proper role of the state?

6. When the norms and actions of the people and the state are in conflict, how should the conflict be resolved?

7. Who benefits from the imposition of norms by the state, and who is harmed by those impositions?

8. Who should pay for functions of the state?

9. What should happen when the state exceeds its authority?

10. With respect to the foregoing matters, how should dissent acknowledged and accommodated?

The answers to those questions lead to a taxonomy in which Minarchism is divided into Right-Minarchism (the traditional conservative stance, fleshed out with its implications for governance), and Left-Minarchism. Statism is divided into Left-Statism and Right-Statism. I leave Despotism and Anarchism intact. Both stances have nuances, but both are baleful enough without being proliferated.

The following table delineates each of the six philosophies in terms of the ten questions listed above. I have placed Anarchism last, not only for convenience but also because it is the least probably of the six options.

Taxonomy of political philosophies

*     *     *

Related posts (mainly about America’s slide into statism and despotism, and the consequences thereof):
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
The Constitution in Exile
What Is the Living Constitution?
True Federalism
FDR and Fascism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Left
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
The Left’s Agenda
The Meaning of Liberty
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Society and the State
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Is Taxation Slavery?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
The World Turned Upside Down
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
A Better Constitution
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament (see also the links at the bottom)

Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy

By “politics” I mean the business of acquiring and applying governmental power, which involves — among other things — persuading the electorate, either directly or through advertising and the utterances of political allies and friendly “opinion elites” among journalists and academicians.

“Sophistry” is more complex. Its meaning has evolved, as described at Wikipedia:

The Greek word sophos, or sophia, has had the meaning “wise” or “wisdom” since the time of the poet Homer and originally was used to describe anyone with expertise in a specific domain of knowledge or craft. For example, a charioteer, a sculptor or a warrior could be described as sophoi in their occupations. Gradually, however, the word also came to denote general wisdom and especially wisdom about human affairs (in, for example, politics, ethics, or household management)….

In the second half of the 5th century BC, particularly at Athens, “sophist” came to denote a class of mostly itinerant intellectuals who taught courses in various subjects, speculated about the nature of language and culture and employed rhetoric to achieve their purposes, generally to persuade or convince others: “Sophists did, however, have one important thing in common: whatever else they did or did not claim to know, they characteristically had a great understanding of what words would entertain or impress or persuade an audience.”…

Plato is largely responsible for the modern view of the “sophist” as a greedy instructor who uses rhetorical sleight-of-hand and ambiguities of language in order to deceive, or to support fallacious reasoning. In this view, the sophist is not concerned with truth and justice, but instead seeks power.

Here, I am concerned with sophistry in its modern, political sense: the cynical use of language in the pursuit and application of power. In a word, propaganda. Josef Pieper (1903-97), a German Catholic philosopher, has much to say about this in Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power (for which I thank my son). There, Pieper notes that propaganda

can be found wherever a powerful organization, and ideological clique, a special interest, or a pressure group uses the word as their “weapon”…. (p. 32)

A bit later, Pieper says that “the abuse of political power is fundamentally connected with the sophistic abuse of the word” (p. 32). But this is nothing new under sun, and should come as no surprise to anyone who has even a superficial knowledge of modern history and understanding of politics.

Less evident, I believe, is the tragically corrosive confluence of politics and sophistry in the academy. To push the metaphor, what was a trickle in the middle of the twentieth century has grown to a wide, roaring river of academic dishonesty in the service of political ends.

About the corruption of the academy, Pieper writes:

[T]he term academic expresses something that remained unchanged throughout the centuries, something that can be identified quite accurately. It seems that in the midst of society there is expressly reserved an area of truth, a sheltered space for the autonomous study of reality, where it is possible, without restrictions,to examine, investigate, discuss, and express what is true about any thing — a space, then, explicitly protected against all potential special interests and invading influences, where hidden agendas have no place, be they collective or private, political, economic, or ideological. At this time in history we  have been made aware amply, and forcefully as well, what consequences ensue when a society does or does not provide such a “refuge”. Clearly, this is indeed a matter of freedom — not the whole of freedom, to be sure, yet an essential and indispensable dimension of freedom. Limitations and restrictions imposed from the outside are intolerable enough; it is even more depressing for the human spirit when it is made impossible to express and share, that is, to declare publicly, what according to one’s best knowledge and clear conscience is the truth about things….

Such a space of freedom needs not only a guarantee from the outside, from the political power that thus imposes limits on itself. Such a space of freedom also depends on the requirement that freedom be constituted — and defended — within its own domain. By “defended” we mean here not against any threat from the outside but against dangers arising — disturbingly! — within the scholarly domain itself…. (pp. 37-8)

Pieper’s depiction of the academy may seem, at first glance, to be unrealistically romantic. But Pieper is merely setting forth an ideal toward which the academy should strive. If the academy would renew its dedication to the ideal, it would banish and bar the sophists who lurk within and seek to infiltrate it.

Where are the sophists most likely to be found in the academy? In such pseudo-disciplines as “women’s studies,” “black studies,” and the like, of course. But also throughout the liberal arts, humanities, and social sciences, where artistic forms, economics, history, literature, and sociology serve (to name a few) serve as vehicles for those who would destroy the foundations of Western civilization in the name of “liberation,” “equality,” and “social justice.” Even the sciences are not immune, as evidenced by almost-obligatory belief in anthropogenic global warming, and the need to subscribe to that believe or be ostracized. More generally, there is the selection bias that works against the hiring and promotion of those who come from schools that have a reputation for dissenting from left-wing academic orthodoxy, or who have themselves overtly dissented from the orthodoxy. Especially damning is the fact of dissent based on hard evidence and impeccable logic — especially damning because it is especially threatening to the orthodoxy.

The last word goes to Pieper:

“Academic” must mean “antisophistic” if it is to mean anything at all. This implies also opposition to anything that could destroy or distort the nature of the word as communication and its unbiased openness to reality. In this respect we are well able to pronounce the general principle and at the same time to to be very specific: opposition is required, for instance, against every partisan simplification, every ideological agitation, eery blind emotionality; against seduction through well-turned yet empty slogans, against autocratic terminology with no room for dialogue, against personal insult as an element of style … , against the language of evasive appeasement and false assurance …, and not least against the jargon of the revolution, against categorical conformism, and categorical nonconformism…. (pp. 38-9)

Related posts:
I Missed This One
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Feminist Balderdash
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Lefty Profs
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
Affirmative Action for Conservatives and Libertarians?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
The Left
Enough of Krugman
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Social Justice
The Left’s Agenda
More Social Justice
The Left and Its Delusions
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Demystifying Science

Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness

REVISED 07/08/11

This post is a collection and refinement of related posts at my old blog, Liberty Corner. Each section of this post carries the same title as the original post at Liberty Corner.  “IQ and Personality” is and has been, by far, the most popular of my Liberty Corner posts, so I give the eponymous section the place of honor in this post.

Web pages that link to this post usually consist of a discussion thread whose participants’ views of the post vary from “I told you so” to “that doesn’t square with me/my experience” or “MBTI is all wet because…”.  Those who take the former position tend to be persons of above-average intelligence whose MBTI types correlate well with high intelligence. Those who take the latter two positions tend to be persons who are defensive about their personality types, which do not correlate well with high intelligence. Such persons should take a deep breath and remember that high intelligence (of the abstract-reasoning-book-learning kind measured by IQ tests) is widely distributed throughout the population. As I say below, ” I am not claiming that a small subset of MBTI types accounts for all high-IQ persons, nor am I claiming that a small subset of MBTI types is populated entirely by high-IQ persons.” All I am saying is that the bits of evidence which I have compiled suggest that high intelligence is more likely — but far from exclusively — to be found among persons with certain MBTI types.

The correlations between intelligence, political leanings, and happiness are admittedly more tenuous. But they are plausible.

Leftists who proclaim themselves to be more intelligent than persons of the right do so, in my observation, as a way of reassuring themselves of the superiority of their views. They have no legitimate basis for claiming that the ranks of highly intelligent persons are dominated by the left. Leftist “intellectuals” in academia, journalism, the “arts,” and other traditional haunts of leftism are prominent because they are vocal. But they comprise a small minority of the population and should not be mistaken for typical leftists, who seem mainly to populate the ranks of the civil service, labor unions, the teaching “profession,” and the unemployed. (It is worth noting that public-school teachers, on the whole, are notoriously dumber than most other college graduates.)

Again, I am talking about general relationships, to which there are many exceptions. If you happen to be an exception, don’t take this post personally. You’re probably an exceptional person.

IQ AND PERSONALITY

A few years ago I came across some statistics about the personality traits of high-IQ persons (those who are in the top 2 percent of the population).* The statistics pertain to a widely used personality test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which I have taken twice. In the MBTI there are four pairs of complementary personality traits, called preferences: Extraverted/Introverted, Sensing/iNtuitive, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. Thus, there are 16 possible personality types in the MBTI: ESTJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, ESFP, and so on. (For an introduction to MBTI, summaries of types, criticisms of MBTI, and links to other sources, see this article at Wikipedia. A straightforward description of the theory of MBTI and the personality traits can be found here. Detailed descriptions of the 16 types are given here.)

In summary, here is what the statistics indicate about the correlation between personality traits and IQ:

  • Other personality traits being the same, an iNtuitive person (one who grasps patterns and seeks possibilities) is 25 times more likely to have a high IQ than a Sensing person (one who focuses on sensory details and the here-and-now).
  • Again, other traits being the same, an Introverted person is 2.6 times more likely to have a high IQ than one who is Extraverted; a Thinking (logic-oriented) person is 4.5 times more likely to have a high IQ than a Feeling (people-oriented) person; and a Judging person (one who seeks closure) is 1.6 times as likely to have a high IQ than a Perceiving person (one who likes to keep his options open).
  • Moreover, if you encounter an INTJ, there is a 22% probability that his IQ places him in the top 2 percent of the population. (Disclosure: I am an INTJ.) Next are INTP, at 14%; ENTJ, 8%; ENTP, 5%; and INFJ, 5%. (The next highest type is the INFP at 3%.) The  five types (INTJ, INTP, ENTJ, ENTP, and INFJ) account for 78% of the high-IQ population but only 15% of the total population.**
  • Four of the five most-intelligent types are NTs, as one would expect, given the probabilities cited above. Those same probabilities lead to the dominance of INTJs and INTPs, which account for 49% of the Mensa membership but only 5% of the general population.**
  • Persons with the S preference bring up the rear, when it comes to taking IQ tests.**

A person who encountered this post when it was at Liberty Corner claims that “one would expect to see the whole spectrum of intelligences within each personality type.” Well, one does see just that, but high intelligence is skewed toward the five types listed above. I am not claiming that a small subset of MBTI types accounts for all high-IQ persons, nor am I claiming that a small subset of MBTI types is populated entirely by high-IQ persons.

I acknowledge reservations about MBTI, such as those discussed in the Wikipedia article. An inherent shortcoming of psychological tests (as opposed to intelligence tests) is that they rely on subjective responses (e.g., my favorite color might be black today and blue tomorrow). But I do not accept this criticism:

[S]ome researchers expected that scores would show a bimodal distribution with peaks near the ends of the scales, but found that scores on the individual subscales were actually distributed in a centrally peaked manner similar to a normal distribution. A cut-off exists at the center of the subscale such that a score on one side is classified as one type, and a score on the other side as the opposite type. This fails to support the concept of type: the norm is for people to lie near the middle of the subscale.[6][7][8][33][42]

Why was “it was expected” that scores on a subscale (E/I, S/N, T/F, J/P) would show a bimodal distribution? How often does one encounter a person who is at the extreme end of any subscale? Not often, I wager, except in places where such extremes are likely to be clustered (e.g., Extraverts in acting classes, Introverts in monasteries). The cut-off at the center of each subscale is arbitrary; it simply affords a shorthand characterization of a person’s dominant traits. But anyone who takes an MBTI (or equivalent instrument) is given his scores on each of the subscales, so that he knows the strength (or weakness) of his tendencies.

Regarding other points of criticism: It is possible, of course, that a person who is familiar with MBTI tends to see in others the characteristics of their known MBTI types (i.e., confirmation bias). But has that tendency been confirmed by rigorous testing? Such testing would examine the contrary case, that is, the ability of a person to predict the type of a person whom he knows well (e.g., a co-worker or relative). The supposed vagueness of the descriptions of the 16 types arises from the complexity of human personality; but there are differences among the descriptions, just as there are differences among individuals. If only half of the persons who take the MBTI are able to guess their types before taking it, does that invalidate MBTI or does it point to a more likely phenomenon, namely, that introspection is a personality-related trait, one that is more common among Introverts than Extraverts. A good MBTI instrument cuts through self-deception and self-flattery by asking the same set of questions in many different ways, and in ways that do not make any particular answer seem like the “right” one.

My considerable exposure to high-IQ scientists in 30 years of working with them is suggestive. Most of them seemed to exhibit the traits of INTJs and INTPs. And those who took an MBTI test were found to be INTJs and INTPs.

IQ AND POLITICS

It is hard to find clear, concise analyses of the relationship between IQ and political leanings. I offer the following in evidence that very high-IQ individuals lean strongly toward libertarian positions.

The Triple Nine Society (TNS) limits its membership to persons with IQs in the top 0.1% of the population. In an undated survey (probably conducted in 2000, given the questions about the perceived intelligence of certain presidential candidates), members of TNS gave their views on several topics (in addition to speculating about the candidates’ intelligence): subsidies, taxation, civil regulation, business regulation, health care, regulation of genetic engineering, data privacy, death penalty, and use of military force.

The results speak for themselves. Those members of TNS who took the survey clearly have strong (if not unanimous) libertarian leanings.

THE RIGHT IS SMARTER THAN THE LEFT

I count libertarians as part of the right because libertarians’ anti-statist views are aligned with the views of the traditional (small-government) conservatives who are usually Republicans. Having said that, the results reported in “IQ and Politics” lead me to suspect that the right is smarter than the left, left-wing propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding. There is additional evidence for my view.

A site called Personality Page offers some data about personality type and political affiliation. The sample is not representative of the population as a whole; the average age of respondents is 25, and introverted personalities are overrepresented (as you might expect for a test that is apparently self-administered through a web site). On the other hand, the results are probably unbiased with respect to intelligence because the data about personality type were not collected as part of a study that attempts to relate political views and intelligence, and there is nothing on the site to indicate a left-wing bias. (Psychologists, who tend toward leftism, have a knack for making conservatives look bad, as discussed here, here, and here. If there is a strong association between political views and intelligence, it is found among so-called intellectuals, where the herd mentality reigns supreme.)

The data provided by Personality Page are based on the responses of 1,222 individuals who took a 60-question personality test that determined their MBTI types (see “IQ and Personality”). The test takers were asked to state their political preferences, given these choices: Democrat, Republican, middle of the road, liberal, conservative, libertarian, not political, and other. Political self-labelling is an exercise in subjectivity. Nevertheless, individuals who call themselves Democrats or liberals (the left) are almost certainly distinct, politically, from individuals who call themselves Republicans, conservatives, or libertarians (the right).

Now, to the money question: Given the distribution of personality types on the left and right, which distribution is more likely to produce members of Mensa? The answer: Those who self-identify as persons of the right are 15% more likely to qualify for membership in Mensa than those who self-identify as persons of the left. This result is plausible because it is consistent with the pronounced anti-government tendencies of the very-high-IQ members of the Triple Nine Society (see “IQ and Politics”).

REPUBLICANS (AND LIBERTARIANS) ARE HAPPIER THAN DEMOCRATS

That statement follows from research by the Pew Research Center (“Are We Happy Yet?” February 13, 2006) and Gallup (“Republicans Report Much Better Health Than Others,” November 30, 2007).

Pew reports:

Some 45% of all Republicans report being very happy, compared with just 30% of Democrats and 29% of independents. This finding has also been around a long time; Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey began taking its measurements in 1972….

Of course, there’s a more obvious explanation for the Republicans’ happiness edge. Republicans tend to have more money than Democrats, and — as we’ve already discovered — people who have more money tend to be happier.

But even this explanation only goes so far. If one controls for household income, Republicans still hold a significant edge: that is, poor Republicans are happier than poor Democrats; middle-income Republicans are happier than middle-income Democrats, and rich Republicans are happier than rich Democrats.

Gallup adds this:

Republicans are significantly more likely to report excellent mental health than are independents or Democrats among those making less than $50,000 a year, and among those making at least $50,000 a year. Republicans are also more likely than independents and Democrats to report excellent mental health within all four categories of educational attainment.

There is a lot more in both sources. Read them for yourself.

Why would Republicans be happier than Democrats? Here’s my thought, Republicans tend to be conservative or libertarian (at least with respect to minimizing government’s role in economic affairs). I refer you to a post in which I discussed Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions:

He posits two opposing visions: the unconstrained vision (I would call it the idealistic vision) and the constrained vision (which I would call the realistic vision). As Sowell explains, at the end of chapter 2:

The dichotomy between constrained and unconstrained visions is based on whether or not inherent limitations of man are among the key elements included in each vision…. These different ways of conceiving man and the world lead not merely to different conclusions but to sharply divergent, often diametrically opposed, conclusions on issues ranging from justice to war.

Idealists (“liberals”) are bound to be less happy than realists (conservatives and libertarians) because idealists’ expectations about human accomplishments (aided by government) are higher than those of realists, and so idealists are doomed to disappointment.

All of this is consistent with findings reported by law professor James Lindgren:

[C]ompared to anti-redistributionists, strong redistributionists have about two to three times higher odds of reporting that in the prior seven days they were angry, mad at someone, outraged, sad, lonely, and had trouble shaking the blues. Similarly, anti-redistributionists had about two to four times higher odds of reporting being happy or at ease. Not only do redistributionists report more anger, but they report that their anger lasts longer. When asked about the last time they were angry, strong redistributionists were more than twice as likely as strong opponents of leveling to admit that they responded to their anger by plotting revenge. Last, both redistributionists and anti-capitalists expressed lower overall happiness, less happy marriages, and lower satisfaction with their financial situations and with their jobs or housework. (From the abstract of Northwestern Law and Economics Research Paper 06-29, “What Drives Views on Government Redistribution and Anti-Capitalism: Envy or a Desire for Social Dominance?,” March 15, 2011.)

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you are very intelligent — with an IQ that puts you in the top 2% of the population — you are most likely to be an INTJ, INTP, ENTJ, ENTP, or INFJ, in that order. Your politics will lean heavily toward libertarianism or small-government conservatism. You probably vote Republican most of the time because, even if you are not a card-carrying Republican, you are a staunch anti-Democrat. And you are a happy person because your expectations are not constantly defeated by reality.

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Related post: Intelligence as a Dirty Word

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Footnotes:

* I apologize for not having documented the source of the statistics that I cite here. I dimly recall finding them on or via the website of American Mensa, but I am not certain of that. And I can no longer find the source by searching the web. I did transcribe the statistics to a spreadsheet, which I still have. So, the numbers are real, even if their source is now lost to me.

** Estimates of the distribution of  MBTI types  in the U.S. population are given in two tables on page 4 of “Estimated Frequencies of the Types in the United States Population,” published by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type. One table gives estimates of the distribution of the population by preference (E, I, N, S, etc.). The other table give estimates of the distribution of the population among all 16 MBTI types. The statistics for members of Mensa were broken down by preferences, not by types; therefore I had to use the values for preferences to estimate the frequencies of the 16 types among members of Mensa. For consistency, I used the distribution of the preferences among the U.S. population to estimate the frequencies of the 16 types among the population, rather than use the frequencies provided for each type. For example, the fraction of the population that is INTJ comes to 0.029 (2.9%) when the values for I (0.507), N (0.267), T (0.402), and J (0.541) are multiplied. But the detailed table has INTJs as 2.1% of the population. In sum, there are discrepancies between the computed and given values of the 16 types in the population. The most striking discrepancy is for the INFJ type. When estimated from the frequencies of the four preferences, INFJs are 4.4% of the population; the table of values for all 16 types gives the percentage of INFJs as 1.5%.

Using the distribution given for the 16 types leads to somewhat different results:

  • There is a 31% probability that an INTJ’s his IQ places him in the top 2 percent of the population. Next are INFJ, at 14%; ENTJ, 13%; and INTP, 10%. (The next highest type is the ENTP at 4%.) The  four types (INTJ, INFJ, ENTJ, AND INTP) account for 72% of the high-IQ population but only 9% of the total population. The top five types (including ENTPs) account for 78% of the high-IQ population but only 12% of the total population.
  • Four of the five most-intelligent types are NTs, as one would expect, given the probabilities cited earlier. But, in terms of the likelihood of having an IQ, this method moves INFJs into second place, a percentage point ahead of ENTJs.
  • In any event, the same five types dominate, and all five types have a preference for iNtuitive thinking.
  • As before, persons with the S preference generally lag their peers when it comes to IQ tests.

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Related posts:
Intelligence as a Dirty Word
Intelligence and Intuition

Our Enemy, the State

I have written much about the economic and social damage wrought by state action. In this post, I step back from particular instances of state action to explain, in general terms, how it damages the economic and social infrastructure that it is supposed to protect, in a so-called free nation.

I begin with tutorials about economic and social behavior and their intertwining. When I have laid that groundwork, I explain the destructiveness of state action when it goes beyond the protection of life, liberty, and property.

ECONOMIC BEHAVIOR AND “ECONOMICS”

There is more to economic behavior than production and exchange, at arm’s length. But it is those aspects of economic behavior that usually come to mind when one refers to “economics.” In the narrow view, economic behavior has five facets:

  • Buyers allocate their disposable (after-tax) incomes among various goods (products and services, including forms of saving), according to their individual tastes and preferences, which are influenced by many things (e.g., socioeconomic status, family status, and cultural heritage).
  • Sellers choose the quantities and prices of goods that they offer to buyers, given the factors that affect their production costs and possibilities (e.g., resource prices, innovation, government intervention).
  • Buyers and sellers act — through the mechanism known as “the market,” which usually is not a physical place — to determine the mix of goods that changes hands.
  • The mix of goods exchanged varies across time, as tastes and preferences change; goods change because of  invention, innovation, and variations in resource prices; and government intervention varies in type and intensity (usually waxing rather than waning).
  • The general level of goods exchanged — as measured roughly by their aggregate monetary value — is affected by the foregoing.

All of these actions occur simultaneously and dynamically.

Aggregation has no validity unless it is grounded in an understanding and valid description of the disaggregated behavior of buyers and sellers. Even then, aggregation fails to depict the totality of economic activity because (a) much of it is unmeasured (e.g., so-called household production); (b) not all activity moves in the same direction at the same time; (c) tastes, preferences, and production possibilities are constantly changing; and, most importantly, (d) there is no valid way of aggregating the satisfaction, pleasure, happiness, or utility (call it what you will) that the fruits of economic activity impart to the unique individuals who partake of it.

In any event, the underlying characteristic of economic behavior is its transactional nature. Two or more parties agree to exchange things (goods, money, other stores of value) in an effort by each party to gain satisfaction, pleasure, happiness, or utility (call it what you will). Transactional behavior is a manifestation of social behavior, in that it is cooperative.

ECONOMIC BEHAVIOR AS SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

The kinds of economic behavior listed above typically are studied as “economics,” which — until recent decades — was limited mainly to the explicit exchange of goods for goods or goods for money. But such transactions are not the whole of economic behavior, and are far from the whole of social behavior.

Some kinds of transactional behavior are considered deeply personal — and they are deeply personal — but they involve exchange, nonetheless. One such behavior is friendship; another is sex; a third is loyalty:

  • Friendship is mutual, so its economic nature should need no explanation.
  • So is sex mutual, when it is consensual. It may be given for many reasons other than monetary gain, but its essential character is transactional: parties giving each other pleasure.
  • Loyalty arises from a kind of tacit exchange; that is, loyalty-inducing acts yield loyalty, which can be drawn upon (or not) at the behest of the person who commits loyalty-inducing acts. Loyalty may accompany friendship, but it also may exist apart from friendship.

These and other kinds of “personal” acts are not usually considered to be economic in nature, for three reasons: (a) the medium of exchange is far removed from money (or anything like it); (b) the transactions are so idiosyncratic as to defy the usual statistical-mathematical reductionism of economics; and (c) the transactions are far removed in character from, say, the buying and selling of potatoes.

The distinction between economic and social behavior has almost vanished in recent decades, with the rise of behavioral economics. This brand of economics focuses on the psychological determinants of economic behavior. There is much research and speculation about how and why individuals choose as they do, not only in the spending of money but also it other, more “personal,” types of social interaction.

Formal economics aside, the essential character of economic behavior is, as I have said, transactional. Economic transactions — even those that are deeply personal — are cooperative. But not all social behavior is transactional. In that subtle distinction lies the difference between economic behavior and “pure” social behavior.

“PURE” SOCIAL BEHAVIOR

What is “pure” social behavior? A good example can be found in religion. Certainly, religion has transactional aspects, as in the “giving” of one’s belief in the hope of a heavenly afterlife. But religion, for billions of persons, is much more than that. So is sex in a loving marriage. So friendship can be.

What is this deeper aspect of “pure,” non-transactional (non-economic) social behavior? It is rooted in the capacity of humans for self-generated emotional satisfaction. This can manifest itself as a uni-directional attachment to another person or being, an attachment that does not depend on the actions of its subject. A mundane but not all-encompassing term for it is “unconditional love.” A perhaps more apt term is “needing to belong” to someone or something.

A uni-directional attachment becomes a “pure” social relationship when individuals join to celebrate an attachment in common. To offer a short list of examples, the attachment may be to a family (nuclear or extended) as a family, apart from mutual attachments between individuals; religion; club; patriotic organization; or even a neighborhood, where the attachment is to the neighborhood itself, instead of or in addition to neighborly friendships. Membership in such organizations — the feeling of belonging to something “bigger” than oneself — can complement and heighten the underlying uni-directional attachment felt by each member.

POLITICS

Politics, as I use the term here, is simply an aspect of social behavior. It is the working out of the rules (signals, customs, taboos) and roles that individuals will follow and adopt in transactional and “pure” social relationships. Some rules may be confined to particular relationships; others may spread widely through emulation and necessity. Necessity arises when there is a network of transactional and “pure” social relationships that comprises disparate local sub-groups. Common rules, in such a case, help to ensure that members are recognized, and that their behavior is consistent with the purpose of the social network.

Rules range from the use of secret handshakes (to signal membership in a particular organization) to shunning (as a signal that the target has been ejected from a particular social organization). In between, there are things like the religious symbolism (e.g., the way in which the Sign of the Cross is made), deportment (stiff upper lip, and all that), the use of drugs (or not), and myriad other tokens of membership in the overlapping social groupings that comprise humanity. Such groupings include the fraternity of individualists, who despite their individualism, share an allegiance to it and variations on themes that justify it.

Roles denote one’s standing in a social group. Roles are determined by rules and signaled by the observance of certain of them. The role of a wife in many cultures, for example, was (and remains) overt subservience to the edicts of the husband. Subservience is signaled by the observance of rules that include, for example, standing while the husband eats his meal, and eating only when he has finished. The extent to which a particular wife is truly subservient to her husband — bowing to his political judgments or, alternatively, influencing them — is a political matter that lies between them and depends very much on the individuals involved.

Here, I must digress about the difference between voluntarily evolved social distinctions and dominance by force. Busybodies are quick to adopt the view that outward signs of subservience — and similar social phenomena that seem to create classes of individuals — indicate the forceful imposition of rules and roles. Busybodies, in other words, cannot (or do not wish to) tell the difference between something as abhorrent as slavery and a time-honored rule or role that, by facilitating social behavior, saves time and effort and reduces the likelihood of conflict. The role of a busybody is to question and challenge everything that is not done the way he would do it; a busybody, in other words, is a person of limited empathy and imagination. (For more about the proper role of the state with respect to social behavior, see “The Principles of Actionable Harm.”)

THE INDIVISIBILITY OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC BEHAVIOR

Everything I have discussed to this point involves real politics: transactions for mutual benefit, within a framework of voluntarily evolved rules and roles, without the imposition or threat of force by the state.

For example, the dietary laws of Judaism, when observed strictly (as they are in certain sects) affect the kinds of foodstuffs that observant Jews will grow, raise, or buy. Those of us who are old enough to remember when the three top-selling makes of automobile in the U.S. were Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth will also remember that the choice of which to buy was (in certain socioeconomic circles and age groups) a sign of membership in a loose affiliation of kindred auto owners. More generally, the demand for certain kinds of clothing, electronic equipment, beverages, automobiles, and so on is determined to some extent by socioeconomic status and group membership. Outsiders may mimic insiders in an effort to increase their standing with peers, to signal an aspiration to belong to a certain group, or as a sign of membership in an auxiliary group (e.g., a fan club, or whatever it is called now).

Thus we have real politics as the lubricant of social behavior. And we have economic behavior as an aspect of social behavior.

There is nevertheless a widely held view that economic behavior is distinct from social behavior. But when the state taxes or regulates “economic” activity, it shapes and channels related “social” activity. For example, the family that pays 25 percent of its income in taxes is that much less able to join and support organizations of its choice, to own and exhibit tokens of its socioeconomic status, to afford better education for its children, and so on. The immediate rejoinder will be that nothing has been changed if everyone is affected equally. But because of the complexity of tax laws and regulations, everyone is not affected equally. Moreover, even if everyone were deprived equally of the same kind of thing — a superior education, say — everyone would be that much worse off by having been deprived of opportunities to acquire remunerative knowledge and skills, productive relationships, and mental stimulation. Similarly, everyone would be that much worse off by being less well clothed, less well housed, and so on. Taxes and regulations, even if they could be applied in some absolutely neutral way (which they can’t be), have an inevitably deleterious effect on individuals.

In sum, there is no dividing line between economic and social behavior. What we call social and economic behavior are indivisible aspects of human striving to fulfill wants, both material and spiritual. The attempt to isolate and restrict one type of behavior is futile. It is all social behavior.

“POWER POLITICS”: OR, ENTER THE STATE

The activity that we usually call “politics” is not politics at all. Real politics, as I have said, is the voluntary working out of rules and roles, in the context of social behavior, which encompasses so-called economic behavior. With voice and exit, those who are unhappy with their lot can try to persuade the other members of their voluntary association to adopt different rules. If they fail, they can choose a more congenial social set (if one is available to them), which may involve moving to a different place. The ability to “vote with one’s feet” is an instrument of persuasion, as well, for it signals the group that one leaves (or credibly threatens to leave) of a defect that may cause others to leave, thus endangering the attainment  of the group’s common objective.

What we usually call “politics” is entirely different from true politics. I call it “power politics.” It amounts to this:

  • A state is established, either by force alone or through a combination of consent, by limited to certain social and/or interest groups, and force, imposed on dissenting and uninvolved persons.
  • The state enjoys a monopoly of force, which it may — in the beginning, at least — apply to limited purposes, usually the defense of its citizens from aggression, intimidation, fraud, and theft.
  • There is a constant struggle for control of the state, either by force or by the kind of “politics” endemic to the state. The “politics” amounts to non-violent contests between and among various social and/or interest groups. The contests are conducted according to formal rules established under the aegis of the state,  not a working-out of a modus vivendi in the normal course of real politics.
  • Control of the state enables the winners to override the rules that arise voluntarily through social cooperation. Rules imposed by the state come in the form of statutes, regulations, executive orders, judicial decrees, and administrative decisions (which may take a life of their own).
  • The effects of the various statutes, etc., are long-lasting because they often are not repealed when power changes hands. Instead, they remain in place, with the result that state power accrues and expands, while — as a result — the scope of social behavior shrinks and becomes less potent.

In other words, power in the hands of the state — and those who control it — is anti-social. Acts of the state are not acts of “society” or “community.” Those terms properly refer to consenting relationships among individuals — relationships that are shaped by real politics.

The state, in its ideal form, upholds and defends “society” and “community.” But when it oversteps its legitimate bounds, it commits the very acts of aggression, intimidation, fraud, and theft that it is supposed to deter and prevent. Moreover, it undoes the fabric of “society” and “community” by unraveling the voluntarily evolved social rules that bind them and guide them in peaceful cooperation.

Undermining the Free Society

Apropos my earlier post about “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare,” I note this review by Gerald J. Russello of Kenneth Minogue’s The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. As he summarizes Minogue, Russello writes:

The push for equality and ever more rights—two of [democracy's] basic principles—requires a ruling class to govern competing claims; thus the rise of the undemocratic judiciary as the arbiter of many aspects of public life, and of bureaucracies that issue rules far removed from the democratic process. Should this trend continue, Minogue foresees widespread servility replacing the tradition of free government.

This new servility will be based not on oppression, but on the conviction that experts have eliminated any need for citizens to develop habits of self-control, self-government, or what used to be called the virtues.

How has democracy led to “servility,” which is really a kind of oppression? Here is my diagnosis.

It is well understood that voters, by and large, vote irrationally, that is, emotionally, on the basis of “buzz” instead of facts, and inconsistently. (See this, this, and this, for example.) Voters are prone to vote against their own long-run interests because they do not understand the consequences of the sound-bite policies advocated by politicians. American democracy, by indiscriminately granting the franchise — as opposed to limiting it to, say, married property owners over the age of 30 who have children — empowers the run-of-the-mill politician who seeks office (for the sake of prestige, power, and perks) by pandering to the standard, irrational voter.

Rationality is the application of sound reasoning and pertinent facts to the pursuit of a realistic objective (one that does not contradict the laws of nature or human nature). I daresay that most voters are guilty of voting irrationally because they believe in such claptrap as peace through diplomacy, “social justice” through high marginal tax rates, or better health care through government regulation.

To be perfectly clear, the irrationality lies not in favoring peace, “social justice” (whatever that is), health care, and the like. The irrationality lies in uninformed beliefs in such contradictions as peace through unpreparedness for war, “social justice” through soak-the-rich schemes, better health care through greater government control of medicine, etc., etc., etc. Voters whose objectives incorporate such beliefs simply haven’t taken the relatively little time it requires to process what they may already know or have experienced about history, human nature, and social and economic realities.

Why is voters’ irrationality important? Does voting really matter? Well, it’s easy to say that an individual’s vote makes very little difference. But individual votes add up. Every vote cast for a winning political candidate enhances his supposed mandate, which usually is (in his mind) some scheme (or a lot of them) to regulated our lives more than they are already regulated.

That is to say, voters (not to mention those who profess to understand voters) overlook the slippery slope effects of voting for those who promise to “deliver” certain benefits. It is true that the benefits, if delivered, would temporarily increase the well-being of certain voters. But if one group of voters reaps benefits, then another group of voters wants to reap benefits as well. Why? Because votes are not won, nor offices held, by placating a particular class of voter; many other classes of them must also be placated.

The “benefits” sought by voters (and delivered by politicians) are regulatory as well as monetary. Many voters (especially wealthy, paternalistic ones) are more interested in controlling others than they are in reaping government handouts (though they don’t object to that either). And if one group of voters reaps certain regulatory benefits, it follows (as night from day) that other groups also will seek (and reap) regulatory benefits. (Must one be a trained economist to understand this? Obviously not, because most trained economists don’t seem to understand it.)

And then there is the “peace-at-any-price-one-worldcrowd, which is hard to distinguish from the crowd that demands (and delivers) monetary and regulatory “benefits.”

So, here we are:

  • Many particular benefits are bestowed and many regulations are imposed, to the detriment of investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, and people who simply are willing to work hard to advance themselves. And it is they who are responsible for the economic growth that bestows (or would bestow) more jobs and higher incomes on everyone, from the poorest to the richest.
  • A generation from now, the average American will “enjoy” about one-fourth the real output that would be his absent the advent of the regulatory-welfare state about a century ago.

Americans have, since 1932, voted heavily against their own economic and security interests, and the economic and security interests of their progeny. But what else can you expect when — for those same 78 years — voters have been manipulated into voting against their own interests by politicians, media, “educators,” and “intelligentsia”? What else can you expect when the courts have all too often ratified the malfeasance of those same politicians?

If this is democracy, give me monarchy.

The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability

For reasons I outlined in “The Price of Government,” the post-Civil War boom of 1866-1907 finally gave way to the onslaught of Progressivism. Real GDP grew at the rate of 4.3 percent annually during the post-Civil War boom; it has since grown at an annual rate of 3.3 percent. The difference between the two rates of growth, compounded over a century, is the difference between $13 trillion (2009′s GDP in 2005 dollars) and $41 trillion (2009′s potential GDP in 2005 dollars).

As I said in “The Price of Government,” this disparity

may seem incredible, but scan the lists here and you will find even greater cross-national disparities in per capita GDP. Go here and you will find that real, per capita GDP in 1790 was only 4.6 percent of the value it had attained 218 years later. Our present level of output seems incredible to citizens of impoverished nations, and it would seem no less incredible to an American of 1790. In sum, vast disparities can and do exist, across nations and time.

The main reason for the disparity is the intervention of the federal government in the economic affairs of Americans and their businesses. I put it this way in “The Price of Government”:

What we are seeing [in the present recession and government's response to it] is the continuation of a death-spiral that began in the early 1900s. Do-gooders, worry-warts, control freaks, and economic ignoramuses see something “bad” and — in their misguided efforts to control natural economic forces (which include business cycles) — make things worse. The most striking event in the death-spiral is the much-cited Great Depression, which was caused by government action, specifically the loose-tight policies of the Federal Reserve, Herbert Hoover’s efforts to engineer the economy, and — of course — FDR’s benighted New Deal. (For details, see this, and this.)

But, of course, the worse things get, the greater the urge to rely on government. Now, we have “stimulus,” which is nothing more than an excuse to greatly expand government’s intervention in the economy. Where will it lead us? To a larger, more intrusive government that absorbs an ever larger share of resources that could be put to productive use, and counteracts the causes of economic growth.

One of the ostensible reasons for governmental intervention is to foster economic stability. That was an important rationale for the creation of the Federal Reserve System; it was an implicit rationale for Social Security, which moves income to those who are more likely to spend it; and it remains a key rationale for so-called counter-cyclical spending (i.e., “fiscal policy”) and the onerous regulation of financial institutions.

Has the quest for stability succeeded? If you disregard the Great Depression, and several deep recessions (including the present one), it has. But the price has been high. The green line in the following graph traces real GDP as it would have been had economic growth after 1907 followed the same path as it did in 1866-1907, with all of the ups and down in that era of relatively unregulated “instability.” The red line, which diverges from the green one after 1907, traces real GDP as it has been since government took over the task of ensuring stable prosperity.

Only by overlooking the elephant in the room — the Great Depression — can one assert that government has made the economy more stable. Only because we cannot see the exorbitant price of government can we believe that it has had something to do with our “prosperity.”

What about those fairly sharp downturns along the green line? If it really is important for government to shield us from economic shocks, there are much better ways of getting the job done that they ways now employed. There was no federal income tax during the post-Civil War boom (one of the reasons for the boom). Suppose that in the early 1900s the federal government had been allowed to impose a small, constitutionally limited income tax of, say, 0.5 percent on gross personal incomes over a certain level, measured in constant dollars (with an explicit ban on exemptions, deductions, and other adjustments, to keep it simple and keep interest groups from enriching themselves at the expense of others). Suppose, further, that the proceeds from the tax had a constitutionally limited use: the payment of unemployment benefits for a constitutionally limited time whenever real GDP declined from quarter to quarter.

Perhaps that’s too much clutter for devotees of constitutional simplicity. But wouldn’t the results have been worth the clutter? The primary result would have been growth at a rate close to that of 1866-1907, but with some of the wrinkles ironed out. The secondary result — and an equally important one — would have been the diminution (if not the elimination) of the “need” for governmental intervention in our affairs.

Related posts:
Basic Economics
The Economic and Social Consequences of Government

Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?

Yes!

I have not a shred of doubt that the minimum wage increases unemployment, especially among the most vulnerable group of workers: males aged 16 to 19.

Anyone who claims that the minimum wage does not affect unemployment among that vulnerable group is guilty of (a) ingesting a controlled substance,  (b) wishing upon a star, or — most likely — (c) indulging in a mindless display of vicarious “compassion.”

Economists have waged a spirited mini-war over the minimum-wage issue, to no conclusive end. But anyone who tells you that a wage increase that is forced on businesses by government will not lead to a rise in unemployment is one of three things: an economist with an agenda, a politician with an agenda, a person who has never run a business. There is considerable overlap among the three categories.

I have run a business, and I have worked for the minimum wage (and less). On behalf of business owners and young male workers, I am here to protest further increases in the minimum wage. My protest is entirely evidence-based — no marching, shouting, or singing for me. Facts are my friends, even if they are inimical to Left-wing economists, politicians, and other members of the reality-challenged camp.

I begin with  time series on unemployment among males — ages 16 to 19 and 20 and older — for the period January 1948 through June 2009. (These time series are available via this page on the BLS website.) If it is true that the minimum wage targets younger males, the unemployment rate for 16 to 19 year-old males (16-19 YO) will rise faster or decrease less quickly than the unemployment rate for 20+ year-old males (20+ YO) whenever the minimum wage is increased. The precise change will depend on such factors as the propensity of young males to attend college — which has risen over time — and the value of the minimum wage in relation to prevailing wage rates for the industries which typically employ low-skilled workers. But those factors should have little influence on observed month-to-month changes in unemployment rates.

I use two methods to estimate the effects of minimum wage on the unemployment rate of 16-19 YO: graphical analysis and linear regression.

I begin by finding the long-term relationship between the unemployment rates for 16-19 YO and 20+ YO. As it turns out, there is a statistical artifact in the unemployment data, an artifact that is unexplained by this BLS document, which outlines changes in methods of data collection and analysis over the years. The relationship between the two time series is stable through March 1959, when it shifts abruptly. The markedness of the shift can be seen in the contrast between figure 1, which covers the entire period, and figures 2 and 3, which subdivide the entire period into two sub-periods.

090725_Minimum wage and unemployment_fig 1

090725_Minimum wage and unemployment_fig 2

090725_Minimum wage and unemployment_fig 3

For the graphical analysis, I use the equations shown in figures 2 and 3 to determine a baseline relationship between the unemployment rate for 20+ YO (“x”) and the unemployment rate for 16-19 YO (“y”). The equation in figure 2 yields a baseline unemployment rate for 16-19 YO for each month from January 1948 through March 1959; the equation in figure 3, a baseline unemployment rate for 16-19 YO for each month from April 1959 through June 2009. Combining the results, I obtain a baseline estimate for the entire period, January 1948 through June 2009.

I then find, for each month, a residual value for unemployment among 16-19 YO. The residual (actual value minus baseline estimate) is positive when unemployment among 16-19 YO is higher than expected, and negative when 16-19 YO unemployment is lower than expected. Again, this is unemployment of 16-19 YO relative to 20+ YO. Given the stable baseline relationships between the two unemployment rates (when the time series are subdivided as described above), the values of the residuals (month-to-month deviations from the baseline) can reasonably be attributed to changes in the minimum wage.

For purposes of my analysis, I adopt the following conventions:

  • A change in the minimum wage  begins to affect unemployment among 16-19 YO in the month it becomes law, when the legally effective date falls near the start of the month. A change becomes effective in the month following its legally effective date when that date falls near the end of the month. (All of the effective dates have thus far been on the 1st, 3rd, 24th, and 25th of a month.)
  • In either event, the change in the minimum wage affects unemployment among 16-19 YO for 6 months, including the month in which it becomes effective, as reckoned above.

In other words, I assume that employers (by and large) do not anticipate the minimum wage and begin to fire employees before the effective date of an increase. I assume, rather, that employers (by and large) respond to the minimum wage by failing to hire 16-19 YO who are new to the labor force. Finally, I assume that the non-hiring effect lasts about 6 months — in which time prevailing wage rates for 16-19 YO move toward toward (and perhaps exceed) the minimum wage, thus eventually blunting the effect of the minimum wage on unemployment.

I relax the 6-month rule during eras when the minimum wage rises annually, or nearly so. I assume that during such eras employers anticipate scheduled increases in the minimum wage by continuously suppressing their demand for 16-19 YO labor. (There are four such eras: the first runs from September 1963 through July 1971; the second, from May 1974 through June 1981; the third, from May 1996 through February 1998; the fourth, from July 2007 to the present, and presumably beyond.)

With that prelude, I present the following graph of the relationship between residual unemployment among 16-19 YO and the effective periods of minimum wage increases.

090725_Minimum wage and unemployment_fig 4

The jagged, green and red line represents the residual unemployment rate for 16-19 YO. The green portions of the line denote periods in which the minimum wage is ineffective; the red portions of the line denote periods in which the minimum wage is effective. The horizontal gray bands at +1 and -1 denote the normal range of the residuals, one standard deviation above and below the mean, which is zero.

It is obvious that higher residuals (greater unemployment) are generally associated with periods in which the minimum wage is effective; that is, most portions of the line that lie above the normal range are red. Conversely, lower residuals (less unemployment) are generally associated with periods in which the minimum wage is ineffective; that is, most portions of the line that lie below the normal range are green. (Similar results obtain for variations in which employers anticipate the minimum wage increase, for example, by firing or reduced hiring in the preceding 3 months, while the increase affects employment for only 3 months after it becomes law.)

Having shown that there is an obvious relationship between 16-19 YO unemployment and the minimum wage, I now quantify it. Because of the distinctly different relationships between 16-19 YO unemployment and 20+ YO unemployment in the two sub-periods (January 1948 – March 1959, April 1959 – June 2009), I estimate a separate regression equation for each sub-period.

For the first sub-period, I find the following relationship:

Unemployment rate for 16-19 YO (in percentage points) = 3.913 + 1.828 x unemployment rate for 20+ YO + 0.501 x dummy variable for minimum wage (1 if in effect, 0 if not)

Adjusted R-squared: 0.858; standard error of the estimate: 9 percent of the mean value of 16-19 YO unemployment rate; t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients: 14.663, 28.222, 1.635.

Here is the result for the second sub-period:

Unemployment rate for 16-19 YO (in percentage points) = 8.940 + 1.528 x unemployment rate for 20+ YO + 0.610 x dummy variable for minimum wage (1 if in effect, 0 if not)

Adjusted R-squared: 0.855; standard error of the estimate: 6 percent of the mean value of 16-19 YO unemployment rate; t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients: 62.592, 59.289, 7.495.

On the basis of the robust results for the second sub-period, which is much longer and current, I draw the following conclusions:

  • The baseline unemployment rate for 16-19 YO is about 9 percent.
  • Unemployment around the baseline changes by about 1.5 percentage points for every percentage-point change in the unemployment rate for 20+ YO.
  • The minimum wage, when effective, raises the unemployment rate for 16-19 YO by 0.6 percentage points.

Therefore, given the current number of 16 to 19 year old males in the labor force (about 3.3 million), some 20,000 will lose or fail to find jobs because of yesterday’s boost in the minimum wage. Yes, 20,000 is a small fraction of 3.3 million (0.6 percent), but it is a real, heartbreaking number — 20,000 young men for whom almost any hourly wage would be a blessing.

But the “bleeding hearts” who insist on setting a minimum wage, and raising it periodically, don’t care about those 20,000 young men — they only care about their cheaply won reputation for “compassion.”

UPDATE (09/08/09):

A relevant post by Don Boudreaux:

Here’s a second letter that I sent today to the New York Times:

Gary Chaison misses the real, if unintended, lesson of the Russell Sage Foundation study that finds that low-skilled workers routinely keep working for employers who violate statutory employment regulations such as the minimum-wage (Letters, September 8).  This real lesson is that economists’ conventional wisdom about the negative consequences of the minimum-wage likely is true after all.

Fifteen years ago, David Card and Alan Krueger made headlines by purporting to show that a higher minimum-wage, contrary to economists’ conventional wisdom, doesn’t reduce employment of low-skilled workers.  The RSF study casts significant doubt on Card-Krueger.  First, because the minimum-wage itself is circumvented in practice, its negative effect on employment is muted, perhaps to the point of becoming statistically imperceptible.  Second, employers’ and employees’ success at evading other employment regulations – such as mandatory overtime pay – counteracts the minimum-wage’s effect of pricing many low-skilled workers out of the job market.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

A Welcome Trend

obamas-net-approval2Derived from Rasmussen Reports, Daily Presidential Tracking Poll, Obama Approval Index History. I use Rasmussen’s polling results because Rasmussen has a good track record with respect to presidential-election polling.

Obama’s approval rating may have dropped for the wrong reasons; that is, voters expect him to “do something” about jobs, health care, etc. But voters have come to expect presidents to “do something” about various matters which are none of government’s business. So, even if voters have become less approving of Obama for the wrong reasons, the trend — if it continues — offers hope for GOP gains in the mid-term elections, if not a one-term Obama-cy.

Beware of Libertarian Paternalists

I have written extensively about paternalism of the so-called libertarian variety. (See this post and the posts linked therein.) Glen Whitman, in two recent posts at Agoraphilia, renews his attack on “libertarian paternalism,” the main proponents of which are Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler (S&T). In the first of the two posts, Whitman writes:

[Thaler] continues to disregard the distinction between public and private action.

Some critics contend that behavioral economists have neglected the obvious fact that bureaucrats make errors, too. But this misses the point. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to have a qualified, albeit human, technician inspect your aircraft’s engines rather than do it yourself?

The owners of ski resorts hire experts who have previously skied the runs, under various conditions, to decide which trails should be designated for advanced skiers. These experts know more than a newcomer to the mountain. Bureaucrats are human, too, but they can also hire experts and conduct research.Here we see two of Thaler’s favorite stratagems deployed at once. First, he relies on a deceptively innocuous, private, and non-coercive example to illustrate his brand of paternalism. Before it was cafeteria dessert placement; now it’s ski-slope markings. Second, he subtly equates private and public decision makers without even mentioning their different incentives. In this case, he uses “bureaucrats” to refer to all managers, regardless of whether they manage private or public enterprises.

The distinction matters. The case of ski-slope markings is the market principle at work. Skiers want to know the difficulty of slopes, and so the owners of ski resorts provide it. They have a profit incentive to do so. This is not at all coercive, and it is no more “paternalist” than a restaurant identifying the vegetarian dishes.

Public bureaucrats don’t have the same incentives at all. They don’t get punished by consumers for failing to provide information, or for providing the wrong information. They don’t suffer if they listen to the wrong experts. They face no competition from alternative providers of their service. They get to set their own standards for “success,” and if they fail, they can use that to justify a larger budget.

And Thaler knows this, because these are precisely the arguments made by the “critics” to whom he is responding. His response is just a dodge, enabled by his facile use of language and his continuing indifference – dare I say hostility? – to the distinction between public and private.

In the second of the two posts, Whitman says:

The advocates of libertarian paternalism have taken great pains to present their position as one that does not foreclose choice, and indeed even adds choice. But this is entirely a matter of presentation. They always begin with non-coercive and privately adopted measures, such as the ski-slope markings in Thaler’s NY Times article. And when challenged, they resolutely stick to these innocuous examples (see this debate between Thaler and Mario Rizzo, for example). But if you read Sunstein & Thaler’s actual publications carefully, you will find that they go far beyond non-coercive and private measures. They consciously construct a spectrum of “libertarian paternalist” policies, and at one end of this spectrum lies an absolutely ban on certain activities, such as motorcycling without a helmet. I’m not making this up!…

[A]s Sunstein & Thaler’s published work clearly indicates, this kind of policy [requiring banks to offer "plain vanilla" mortgages] is the thin end of the wedge. The next step, as outlined in their articles, is to raise the cost of choosing other options. In this case, the government could impose more and more onerous requirements for opting out of the “plain vanilla” mortgage: you must fill out extra paperwork, you must get an outside accountant, you must have a lawyer present, you must endure a waiting period, etc., etc. Again, this is not my paranoid imagination at work. S&T have said explicitly that restrictions like these would count as “libertarian paternalism” by their definition….

The problem is that S&T’s “libertarian paternalism” is used almost exclusively to advocate greater intervention, not less. I have never, for instance, seen S&T push for privatization of Social Security or vouchers in education. I have never seen them advocate repealing a blanket smoking ban and replacing it with a special licensing system for restaurants that want to allow their customers to smoke. If they have, I would love to see it.

In their articles, S&T pay lip service to the idea that libertarian paternalism lies between hard paternalism and laissez faire, and thus that it could in principle be used to expand choice. But look at the actual list of policies they’ve advocated on libertarian paternalist grounds, and see where their real priorities lie.

S&T are typical “intellectuals,” in that they presume to know how others should lead their lives — a distinctly non-libertarian attitude. It is, in fact, a hallmark of “liberalism.” In an earlier post I had this to say about the founders of “liberalism” — John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hill Green, and Leonard Trelawney Hobhouse:

[W]e are met with (presumably) intelligent persons who believe that their intelligence enables them to peer into the souls of others, and to raise them up through the blunt instrument that is the state.

And that is precisely the mistake that lies at heart of what we now call “liberalism” or “progressivism.”  It is the three-fold habit of setting oneself up as an omniscient arbiter of economic and social outcomes, then castigating the motives and accomplishments of the financially successful and socially “well placed,” and finally penalizing financial and social success through taxation and other regulatory mechanisms (e.g., affirmative action, admission quotas, speech codes, “hate crime” legislation”). It is a habit that has harmed the intended beneficiaries of government intervention, not just economically but in other ways, as well….

The other ways, of course, include the diminution of social liberty, which is indivisible from economic liberty.

Just how dangerous to liberty are S&T? Thaler is an influential back-room operator, with close ties to the Obama camp. Sunstein is a long-time crony and adviser who now heads the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where he has an opportunity to enforce “libertarian paternalism”:

…Sunstein would like to control the content of the internet — for our own good, of course. I refer specifically to Sunstein’s “The Future of Free Speech,” in which he advances several policy proposals, including these:

4. . . . [T]he government might impose “must carry” rules on the most popular Websites, designed to ensure more exposure to substantive questions. Under such a program, viewers of especially popular sites would see an icon for sites that deal with substantive issues in a serious way. They would not be required to click on them. But it is reasonable to expect that many viewers would do so, if only to satisfy their curiosity. The result would be to create a kind of Internet sidewalk, promoting some of the purposes of the public forum doctrine. Ideally, those who create Websites might move in this direction on their own. If they do not, government should explore possibilities of imposing requirements of this kind, making sure that no program draws invidious lines in selecting the sites whose icons will be favoured. Perhaps a lottery system of some kind could be used to reduce this risk.

5. The government might impose “must carry” rules on highly partisan Websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about sites containing opposing views. This policy would be designed to make it less likely for people to simply hear echoes of their own voices. Of course, many people would not click on the icons of sites whose views seem objectionable; but some people would, and in that sense the system would not operate so differently from general interest intermediaries and public forums. Here too the ideal situation would be voluntary action. But if this proves impossible, it is worth considering regulatory alternatives. [Emphasis added.]

A Left-libertarian defends Sunstein’s foray into thought control, concluding that

Sunstein once thought some profoundly dumb policies might be worth considering, but realized years ago he was wrong about that… The idea was a tentative, speculative suggestion he now condemns in pretty strong terms.

Alternatively, in the face of severe criticism of his immodest proposal, Sunstein merely went underground, to await an opportunity to revive his proposal. I somehow doubt that Sunstein, as a confirmed paternalist, truly abandoned it. The proposal certainly was not off-the-cuff, running to 11 longish web pages.  Now, judging by the bulleted list above, the time is right for a revival of Sunstein’s proposal. And there he is, heading the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The powers of that office supposedly are constrained by the executive order that established it. But it is evident that the Obama adminstration isn’t bothered by legal niceties when it comes to the exercise of power. Only a few pen strokes stand between Obama and a new, sweeping executive order, the unconstitutionality of which would be of no import to our latter-day FDR.

It’s just another step beyond McCain-Feingold, isn’t it?

Thus is the tyranny of “libertarian paternalism.” And thus does the death-spiral of liberty proceed.

There Is Hope in Mudville

Barack Obama’s achieved his electoral “landslide” in 2008 by grabbing only 9 of the 31 States won by G.W. Bush in 2004. Obama managed his less-than-impressive feat by running against the weakest candidate fielded by the GOP since 1996. (I don’t mean to suggest that G.W. Bush was a world-beater.)

How weak was John McCain? He beat Obama in his (McCain’s) home State of Arizona by 8.5 only percentage points. In 2004, Bush beat John Kerry in Arizona by 10.5 percentage points.

How weak is Obama at this moment? His net approval rating has dropped to -5, the lowest since his inauguration. And he’s less than 6 months into his presidency.

Hint to the  GOP: Stop playing nice and start attacking Obama in earnest: on his foreign policy, his defense policy, his profligate spending, his plans to socialize health care, his Supreme Court nominee, etc., etc., etc. Don’t attack Obama emotionally, attack him on the merits, with facts and figures. Do it hard and do it often, until the message sinks into the minds of all those swing voters out there.

What about 2012? Can the GOP beat Obama? Why not? A 9-State swing would do the job, and Bush managed a 10-State swing in winning the 2000 election. If Bush can do it, almost anyone can do it — well, anyone but another ersatz conservative like Bob Dolt or John McLame.

Why Is Entrepreneurship Declining?

Jonathan Adler of The Volokh Conspiracy addresses evidence that entrepreneurial activity is declining in the United States, noting that

The number of employer firms created annually has declined significantly since 1990, and the numbers of businesses created and those claiming to be self-employed have declined as well.

Adler continues:

What accounts for this trend? [The author of the cited analysis] thinks one reason is “the Wal-Mart effect.”

Large, efficient companies are able to out-compete small start-ups, replacing the independent businesses in many markets. Multiply across the entire economy the effect of a Wal-Mart replacing the independent restaurant, grocery store, clothing store, florist, etc., in a town, and you can see how we end up with a downward trend in entrepreneurship over time.

That may be true. It seems to me that another likely contributor is the increased regulatory burden. It is well documented that regulation can increase industry concentration. Smaller firms typically bear significantly greater regulatory costs per employee than larger firms (see, e.g., this study), and regulatory costs can also increase start-up costs and serve as a barrier to entry. While the rate at which new regulations were adopted slowed somewhat in recent years at the federal level (see here), so long as the cumulative regulatory burden increases, I would expect it to depress small business creation and growth.

Going further than Adler, I attribute the whole sorry mess to the growth of government over the past century. And I fully expect the increased regulatory and tax burdens of Obamanomics to depress innovation, business expansion, business creation, job creation, and the rate of economic growth. As I say here,

Had the economy of the U.S. not been deflected from its post-Civil War course [by the advent of the regulatory-welfare state around 1900], GDP would now be more than three times its present level…. If that seems unbelievable to you, it shouldn’t: $100 compounded for 100 years at 4.4 percent amounts to $7,400; $100 compounded for 100 years at 3.1 percent amounts to $2,100. Nothing other than government intervention (or a catastrophe greater than any we have known) could have kept the economy from growing at more than 4 percent.

What’s next? Unless Obama’s megalomaniac plans are aborted by a reversal of the Republican Party’s fortunes, the U.S. will enter a new phase of economic growth — something close to stagnation. We will look back on the period from 1970 to 2008 [when GDP rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent] with longing, as we plod along at a growth rate similar to that of 1908-1940, that is, about 2.2 percent. Thus:

  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent through 2108, it will be 58 percent lower than if we plod on at 3.1 percent.
  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent for through 2108, it will be only 4 percent of what it would have been had it continued to grow at 4.4 percent after 1907.

The latter disparity may seem incredible, but scan the lists here and you will find even greater cross-national disparities in per capita GDP. Go here and you will find that real, per capita GDP in 1790 was only 3.3 percent of the value it had attained 201 years later. Our present level of output seems incredible to citizens of impoverished nations, and it would seem no less incredible to an American of 201 years ago. But vast disparities can and do exist, across nations and time. We have every reason to believe in a sustained growth rate of 4.4 percent, as against one of 2.2 percent, because we have experienced both.

Selection Bias and the Road to Serfdom

Office-seeking is about one thing: power. (Money is sometimes a motivator, but power is the common denominator of politics.) Selection bias, as I argue here, deters office-seeking and voting by those (relatively rare) individuals who oppose the accrual of governmental power. The inevitable result — as we have seen for decades and are seeing today — is the accrual of governmental power on a fascistic scale.

Selection bias

most often refers to the distortion of a statistical analysis, due to the method of collecting samples. If the selection bias is not taken into account then any conclusions drawn may be wrong.

Selection bias can occur in studies that are based on the behavior of participants. For example, one form of selection bias is

self-selection bias, which is possible whenever the group of people being studied has any form of control over whether to participate. Participants’ decision to participate may be correlated with traits that affect the study, making the participants a non-representative sample. For example, people who have strong opinions or substantial knowledge may be more willing to spend time answering a survey than those who do not.

I submit that the path of politics in America (and elsewhere) reflects a kind of self-selection bias: On the one hand, most politicians run for office in order to exert power. On the other hand, most voters — believing that government can “solve problems” or one kind or another — prefer politicians who promise to use their power to “solve problems.” In other words, power-seekers and their enablers select themselves into the control of government and the receipt of its (illusory) benefits.

Who is self-selected “out”? First, there are libertarian* office-seekers — a rare breed — who must first attain power in order to curb it. Self-selection, in this case, means that individuals who eschew power are unlikely to seek it in the first place, understanding the likely futility of their attempts to curb the power of the offices to which they might be elected. Thus the relative rarity of libertarian candidates.

Second, there are libertarian voters, who — when faced with an overwhelming array of power-seeking Democrats and Republicans — tend not to vote. Their non-voting enables non-libertarian voters to elect non-libertarian candidates, who then accrue more power, thus further discouraging libertarian candidacies and driving more libertarian voters away from the polls.

As the futility of libertarianism becomes increasingly evident, more voters — fearing that they won’t get their “share” of (illusory) benefits — choose to join the scramble for said benefits, further empowering anti-libertarian candidates for office. And thus we spiral into serfdom.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!

__________
* I use “libertarian” in this post to denote office-seekers and voters who prefer a government (at all levels) whose powers are (in the main) limited to those necessary for the protection of the people from predators, foreign and domestic.

Secession Redux

In “Secession,” I wrote:

The original Constitution contemplates that the government of the United States might have to suppress insurrections and rebellions (see Article I, Section 8), but it nowhere addresses secession. Secession, in and of itself, is not an act of insurrection or rebellion, both of which imply the use of force. Force is not a requirement of secession, which can be accomplished peacefully.

Therefore, given that the Constitution does not require a subscribing State to pledge perpetual membership in the Union, and given that the Constitution does not delegate to the central government a power to suppress secession, the question of secession is one for each State, or the people thereof, to determine, in accordance with the Tenth Amendment. The grounds for secession could be … the abridgment by the United States of the “rights, privileges and immunities”of its citizens.

What about Texas v. White (U.S. Supreme Court, 1868), in which a 5-3 majority anticipated … arguments for a mystical bond of Union; for example:

When … Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.

Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law. The obligations of the State, as a member of the Union, and of every citizen of the State, as a citizen of the United States, remained perfect and unimpaired. It certainly follows that the State did not cease to be a State, nor her citizens to be citizens of the Union.

It would have been bad — bad for slaves, bad for the defense of a diminished Union — had the South prevailed in its effort to withdraw from the Union. But the failure of the South’s effort, in the end, was owed to the superior armed forces of the United States, not to the intentions of the Framers of the Constitution.

In any event, the real jurisprudential issue in Texas v. White was not the constitutionality of secession; it was the right of the post-Civil War government of Texas to recover bonds sold by the secessionist government of Texas. Moreover, as Justice Grier noted in his dissent,

Whether [Texas is] a State de facto or de jure, she is estopped from denying her identity in disputes with her own citizens. If they have not fulfilled their contract, she can have her legal remedy for the breach of it in her own courts.

The majority’s ruling about the constitutionality of secession can be read as obiter dictum and, therefore, not precedential.

Clifford P. Thies makes a similar case in “Secession Is in Our Future“:

The US law of secession is thought to have been decided by the US Supreme Court in White v. Texas, following the Civil War. The actual matter to be decided was relatively insignificant. The Court used the occasion to issue a very broad decision. Chief Justice Chase, speaking for the Court, said,

The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.

The first sentence I just quoted invokes words such as “perpetual,” and in so doing may create the impression that the Supreme Court decreed that no [S]tate could ever secede from the Union. But, on careful reading, the relationship between Texas and the other [S]tates of the Union is merely “as indissoluble as the union between the original States.” In other words, Texas, having been a nonoriginal [S]tate, has no greater right of secession than do the original [S]tates. As to how [S]tates might secede, the second sentence says, “through revolution or through consent of the States.”

As to why a [S]tate might secede, … Chief Justice Chase presciently discusses the … 10th Amendment[] to the US Constitution, which reserve[s] to the [S]tates and to the people thereof all powers not expressly granted to the federal government, and that the design of the Union, implicit in the very name “United States,” is the preservation of the [S]tates as well as of the Union:

the preservation of the States, and the maintenance of their governments, are as much within the design and care of the Constitution as the preservation of the Union and the maintenance of the National government.

In other words, the federal government abrogates the Constitution when it fails to honor Amendment X:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Thies puts it starkly:

The so-called United States of America ceases to exist when the political majority of the country attempts to rule the entire country as a nation instead of as a federal government. In such a circumstance, the “indestructible union of indestructible [S]tates” of which the Court speaks is already dissolved.

I would put it this way: The legal basis for the perpetuation of the United States disappears when the federal government abrogates the Constitution. Given that the federal government has long failed to honor Amendment X, there is a prima facie case that the United States no longer exists as a legal entity. Secession then becomes more than an option for the States: It becomes their duty, both as sovereign entitities and as guardians of their citizens’ sovereignty.

Fascism and the Future of America

Many commentators, including me, have said that our government is either fascistic or well on its way to being fascistic. What I mean when I refer to fascism in America — and what most commentators mean — is this:

[A] system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism.

The central point is the scope of government power, which in recent months has gone from big to bigger, with the threat of becoming biggest.

Whether the United States has, at last, descended into full-blown fascism (as defined above) is less important a question than whether and how we might ascend to a better place. I will visit the possible future after assessing our present condition and its causes.

FASCISM OR SOFT DESPOTISM?

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

THE CAUSES OF OUR PRESENT CONDITION

In spite of my preference for “fascism” to describe our present system of governance, I do concede an advantage to Tocqueville’s usage: It suggests the mechanism by which we got to where we are, that is, “overrun by ‘a network of small complicated rules’.” (Well, the rules aren’t small, but we are overrun by a network of them.) By “we” I don’t mean to imply concerted action on the part of the whole populace. There is a more insidious mechanism at work, which I call the interest-group paradox:

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons….

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is that millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs….

It is the interest-group paradox which has brought us to our present condition. Since the advent of American fascism in the New Deal, both of the major parties have vied for votes by promising more things to more interest groups. Many interest groups have been mollified, if not satisfied, but most of their members — not to mention the vast, silent minority of unrepresented voters — have in fact been made worse off because the price of their mollification is the mollification of other interest groups.

Thus we have become freighted with massive tax and regulatory burdens. The cumulative effect of the twin burdens is astoundingly large, and is likely to grow under the present regime:

Had the economy of the U.S. not been deflected from its post-Civil War course [by the advent of the regulatory-welfare state around 1900], GDP would now be more than three times its present level…. If that seems unbelievable to you, it shouldn’t: $100 compounded for 100 years at 4.4 percent amounts to $7,400; $100 compounded for 100 years at 3.1 percent amounts to $2,100. Nothing other than government intervention (or a catastrophe greater than any we have known) could have kept the economy from growing at more than 4 percent.

What’s next? Unless Obama’s megalomaniac plans are aborted by a reversal of the Republican Party’s fortunes, the U.S. will enter a new phase of economic growth — something close to stagnation. We will look back on the period from 1970 to 2008 [when GDP rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent] with longing, as we plod along at a growth rate similar to that of 1908-1940, that is, about 2.2 percent. Thus:

  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent through 2108, it will be 58 percent lower than if we plod on at 3.1 percent.
  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent for through 2108, it will be only 4 percent of what it would have been had it continued to grow at 4.4 percent after 1907.

The latter disparity may seem incredible, but scan the lists here and you will find even greater cross-national disparities in per capita GDP. Go here and you will find that real, per capita GDP in 1790 was only 3.3 percent of the value it had attained 201 years later. Our present level of output seems incredible to citizens of impoverished nations, and it would seem no less incredible to an American of 201 years ago. But vast disparities can and do exist, across nations and time. We have every reason to believe in a sustained growth rate of 4.4 percent, as against one of 2.2 percent, because we have experienced both.

These numbers are only a proxy for the loss of liberty associated with the massive growth of government in the U.S. Economic stagnation is the inevitable outcome of punitive taxes and burdensome regulations, all adopted in the name of one or another “good” cause. Those who cannot stand to see others rise above them are doomed to suffer the consequences of leveling, unless they happen to be co-conspirators in the erection of the fascistic state (or whatever you want to call it).

ANOTHER VIEW OF HOW WE GOT HERE, AND WHERE WE’RE HEADED

James V. DeLong, in a recent article (“The Coming of the Fourth American Republic,The American, April 9, 2009), advances a similar view as to the causes of our present condition:

[T[he New Deal ... radically revised the role of government. The process of economic growth was tumultuous, and the losers and dislocated were constantly appealing against the national political commitment to “let us do.” The crisis of the Great Depression provided a great opportunity, and it was seized. Starting in the 1930s, the theoretical limitations on the authority of governments—national or state—to deal with economic or welfare issues were dissolved, and in the course of fighting for this untrammeled power governments eagerly accepted responsibility for the functioning of the economy and the popular welfare.

...Remaining limits on governmental authority were eliminated by the dialectic of the civil rights revolution, in which the federal power over commerce was expanded to meet moral imperatives, and the new standards were then fed back into regulation of commerce.

Inherent in the expansion of governmental power was the complicated question of how this unbridled power would be exercised. As the reach of any institution expands, especially anything as cumbersome as a government, it becomes impossible for the institution as a whole to exercise its power. Delegation to sub-units is necessary: to agencies, legislative committees and subcommittees, even private groups.

The obvious issue is how these subunits are controlled and directed. The theoretical answer had been provided by the Progressive movement (the real one of the early 20th century, not the current faux version). Much of the Progressive movement’s complaint was that special interests, often corporate, captured the governmental process, and its prescriptions were appeals to direct democracy or to administrative independence and expertise on the theory that delegation to technocrats could achieve the ideal of “the public interest.”

The real-world answer imposed by the New Deal and its progeny turned out to be special interest capture on steroids. Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.

It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of “faction” and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

In DeLong's analysis, the First American Republic, which lasted until the Civil War, was  the "alliance-of-[S]tates polity.” In the Second American Republic, following the victory of the Unionist cause in the Civil War,

sovereignty belong[ed] to the nation first and the [S]tate second, and … the nation rather than the [S]tate claim[ed] a citizen’s primary loyalty…. The shift [from the First Republic] was traumatic and took decades to complete, but eventually the [S]tates became largely instruments of federal policy, except for a few areas in which conformity is unnecessary or special interests have managed to preserve [S]tate autonomy for their own purposes.

What lies beyond the Third Republic’s special-interest state? According to DeLong, it goes like this:

This Third Republic has had a good run. It was wobbling in the late 1970s, but got bailed out by a run of good luck—Reagan; the fall of the USSR; the computer and information revolution; the rise of the Asian Tigers and the “BRICs”; the basic dynamism and talent of the American people—that kept the bicycle moving and thus upright.

It could continue. It is characteristic of political arrangements that they go on long after an observer from Mars might think that surely their defects are so patent that they have exhausted their capacity for survival…. The culture, the people, are astonishingly creative and productive, and may demonstrate a capacity to keep the bicycle moving faster than the demands of the Special Interest State can throw sand in the gears.

But it is more likely that the Special Interest State has reached a limit.

This may seem a dubious statement, at a time when the ideology of total government is at an acme, but it is not unusual for decadent political arrangements to blaze brightly before their end. Indeed, the total victory of the old arrangements may be crucial to bringing into being the forces that will overthrow it. In some ways, the grip of the aristocracy on 18th-century France tightened in the decades leading up to 1789, and the alliance-of-states idea could have lasted a while longer had the Confederacy not precipitated the crisis. So the utter triumph of the Special Interest State over the past 15 years, and particularly in the recent election, looks like the beginning of its end.

A catalogue of its insoluble problems includes:

Sheer size. The usual numbers concerning the size of government in the United States are that the Feds spend about 20 percent of GNP and other levels of government at least another 16 percent. These do not reflect the impact of tax provisions, regulations, or laws, however, so an accurate estimate of how much of the national economy is actually disposed of by the government is impossible. Whatever it is, it is growing apace, and the current administration is determined to increase it considerably.

Responsibility. As the government has grown in size and reach, it has justified its claims to power by accepting ever more responsibility for the economy and society. Failure will result in rapid loss of legitimacy and great anger…. And as the government’s reach extends, any chance that it will meet its self-proclaimed responsibilities declines.

Lack of any limiting principles. There is no limit on the areas in which special interests will now press for action, nothing that is regarded as beyond the scope of governmental responsibility and power. Furthermore, special interests are not limited, cynically trying to get an undeserved economic edge or subsidy…. Inevitably, special interests try to convert themselves into moral entitlements to convince others to agree to their claims. The problem is that many have convinced themselves, which means that no half loaf satisfies. The grievance remains sharp, and compromise immoral….

Conflicts. The Special Interest State could get along quite well when it simply nibbled at the edges of the society and economy, snipping off a benefit here and there, and when the number of victorious interests was limited. But the combination of moral entitlement, multiplication of claimants, and lack of limits on each and every claim is throwing them into conflict, and rendering unsustainable the ethic of the logrolling alliances that control it.

The guiding principle is that no member of the alliance will challenge the claims of any fellow member. But this principle has a limit, in that unlimited claims cannot help but impinge eventually on each other….

We are in a crisis of legitimacy. The concept of legitimacy, the right to rule, is the single most important factor in political life. The particulars of how it is gained and lost are infinitely varied, according to the culture and history of the polity….

In the United States, legitimacy is conferred by elections, but it is not total. Through the ages, the basic question mark about democracy as a form of government has been that 51 percent of the electorate can band together to oppress the minority—“the tyranny of the majority” is a valid concern. To address it, the United States has a formal written Constitution to guarantee basic rights, but it also has an unwritten constitution that sets limits on how far the winners can push their victories….

Over the past few years, political winners have become increasingly aggressive, culminating in President Obama’s recent “We won” as an assertion of an unlimited mandate. Losers have become increasingly restive, ready to attack the legitimacy of the winners’ victory….

[I]f each party is regarded by the other as a principle-free alliance of special interests, eager to claim the government so as to loot the other side, then a large chunk of legitimacy is lost. All that remains of that concept depends on the government’s ability to deliver overall economic prosperity and national defense, and if the rulers falter in either of these realms, they will receive no slack. Nor should they.

Given these trajectories, and the lack of any mechanisms for altering them, it is hard to see how the polity of the Third Republic can continue, and, as former Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Herbert Stein said: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The question is whether the landing will be hard or soft….

[I]t is difficult to see any self-correcting mechanisms in the Special Interest State. Quite the reverse; the incentives all seem to be pushing the accelerator rather than the brake….

So what will the Fourth American Republic look like, and how will it come about? The answers are shrouded in the mists of a highly plastic future, and depend to a large extent on the outcome of the current economic crisis. If that grows severe, the change will be quick and explosive. As noted, an American government that presides over a depression will immediately lose the Mandate of Heaven—the Lady will reclaim the sword.

If this immediate crisis is alleviated, then change may have to await the next one, which will certainly come as more and more sand gets thrown in the gears of the Special Interest State and the bicycle eventually stops….

Two possibilities for change seem most promising. The first is a third political party that explicitly repudiates the present course and requires that its members eschew the legitimacy of the Special Interest State. This would require a certain almost religious fervor, but the great tides of history and politics are always religious in nature, so that is no bar.

This second would be more bottom-up. The Constitution has a residue of the original alliance-of-[S]tates polity that has never been used. Two-thirds of the [S]tate legislatures can force Congress to call a constitutional convention, and the results of that enterprise can then be ratified by three-quarters of the [S]tates. So reform efforts could start at the grassroots and coalesce around [S]tates until two-thirds of them decide to march on the Capitol….

IS THERE LIFE BEYOND FASCISM?

In my view, the Third Republic is unlikely to end soon, unless:

  • Obama’s “stimulus” policies — including his efforts to nationalize a large part of the auto industry and all of the health-care industry — fail spectacularly (e.g., we slip deeper into recession, there is a massive backlash against health-care nationalization).
  • Obama continues to follow the path of accommodation and appeasement in foreign and defense policy, and the United States suffers a devastating setback (e.g., a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or worse). (The setback need not be a direct result Obama’s policies; it would nevertheless be perceived as such.)
  • One of the preceding occurs on the watch of Obama’s successor — presumably a Democrat, if Obama doesn’t fall on his sword.

Absent a débâcle, the special-interest state will not run its course until some of its main constituencies turn from cooperation to conflict — which they will do when their collective greed for an ever-larger share of an ever-weakening economy turns them against each other.

There is a temptation — perhaps born of conflict-avoidance or a fear of seeming callous — to hope against débâcle and for a graceful dénouement. But there will be no graceful dénouement, just a long, messy descent into harder times, harder despotism, and perhaps even subjugation by an coalition of opportunistic enemies. So, for the sake of my grandchildren, I hope for an early débâcle.

A Point of Agreement

Timothy Sandefur and I have disagreed about as often as we’ve agreed, despite the fact that both of us are “libertarians.” (Sandefur is, or was, an Objectivist; I am, to use my terminology, a radical-right-minarchist.)

In any event, Sandefur and I have tended to agree about matters of defense and foreign policy. A good case in point is his post of earlier today, “Cato’s foreign policy, don’t speak up for freedom’s defenders,” in which he says:

One thing you can usually expect from the Cato Institute’s foreign policy experts is that America shouldn’t use military force to defend freedom against tyranny in other countries. While I often find myself disagreeing with that position, it’s at least one that reasonable people can take in various cases. What I find much harder to take is the idea that the United States should not even cheer on freedom’s defenders from the sidelines, or speak up for the rights of democracies to do perfectly innocent things. I noted last year Ted Galen Carpenter and Justin Logan making a really deplorable argument that it is somehow “antagonistic” to the People’s Republic of China for Taiwan to seek to change the name of its airline to “Taiwan Airlines” or to put “Taiwan” on its passports. For Carpenter to say that these things are “antagonistic” to the PRC is nothing short of taking the side of a totalitarian communist dictatorship against the perfectly legitimate rights of a democracy that has never for even a minute of its history been governed by the PRC.

Well, here we are again: Logan argues that “President Obama should keep quiet on the subject of Iran’s elections.” Not that the United States should hold off from intervening in any direct or military way—again, a reasonable position—or that the United States should be wary of Mousavi, who is probably not the “moderate” he’s called on CNN. No, Logan’s argument is that the United States should “keep quiet” while a totalitarian theocratic dictatorship sends its masked thugs to shoot and beat demonstrators who seek some minor degree of political freedom. This he characterizes as “narcissism,” and he ridicules the idea of “anoint[ing] from afar one side as the ‘good’”—a word he puts in scare quotes…..

How sad that libertarians, supposedly America’s most consistent defenders of liberty, are so eager to avoid the possibility of military confrontation that they will adopt and even encourage cravenness and appeasement to the egos of totalitarian dictators. We should reject that approach. John Quincy Adams famously said we were “friends of freedom everywhere; defenders only of our own.” We may disagree at times over the second half of that proposition, but we should never waver on the first.

I couldn’t put it better. Sandefur captures the outrage I felt when I read Justin Logan’s post.

Cato, for all of the wisdom it dispenses on economic matters, is institutionally stupid on matters of defense and foreign policy. Cato isn’t alone on the “libertarian” anti-war flank, which mistakes defense for aggression, and bows slavishly toward non-aggression — as if anything other than last-ditch defense is an act of aggression.

There are times when it is necessary to fight in the defense of liberty. Taking a step backward, then, a lack of preparedness can be fatal to liberty. Taking another step backward, a lack of forthrightness toward those who would “bury us” is too easily taken as a sign that we are unwilling and even unprepared to fight. (We were attacked on 9/11, in part, because bin Laden perceived us as “soft” and unwilling to defend ourselves.)

We cannot afford to let acts of tyranny slide by without a peep, nor should we if we are to stand for liberty and against tyranny. Thus Sandefur is exactly right to call out Cato in the matter of the Iranian elections.

There are several issues on which many a “libertarian” shares ground with Leftists. Defense is one of those issues. What I say in “The Media, the Left, and War” also could be said of most “libertarians.” See also “Parsing Political Philosophy,” where I point out the similarity of left-minarchists (a.k.a. left-libertarians) to left-statists (a.k.a. “liberals”).

Finally, I should note that I have taken to putting “libertarian(s)” and “libertarianism” in quotation marks because “libertarianism” — in its internet-dominant strains (anarchist and left-minarchist) — is a recipe for the destruction of civil society, and thence the ascension of a truly oppressive regime. For more on the fatuousness of  the dominant strains of “libertarianism,” see “On Liberty” and “The Meaning of Liberty.”

I have posted before on the obdurate, head-in-the-sand, Chamberlainesque attitude exemplified by Cato and other “libertarian” organizations:
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part I
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
More Final(?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Thomas Woods and War
“Peace for Our Time”
How to View Defense Spending
More Stupidity from Cato
Anarchistic Balderdash
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace

A Bargain with the Devils of “Liberalism”

I have said many times that government should (a) stay in the marriage business and decline to honor homosexual “marriage,” and (b) reverse Roe v. Wade to allow the criminalization of abortion. My views are distilled here, where I say that

“rights” like abortion and homosexual “marriage” [are] government-imposed social innovations with potentially harmful consequences for civil society. If social custom, as embodied in legislative acts, rejects such things as abortion and homosexual “marriage,” it does so because those things undermine the fabric of society — the bonds of mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual restraint that enable a people to live and work together in peace.

I am still against homosexual “marriage” and abortion, but I am willing to trade my support of government involvement in both matters for the cessation of government action in a multitude of other matters. Now, if I could persuade the other several million opponents of homosexual “marriage” and abortion to do the same, here is the deal we would offer:

We, the nation’s right-minarchists and right-statists, are willing to accept the possibility that some states will allow homosexual “marriage” and abortion. We are willing to do so, and end our attempts to regulate homosexual “marriage” and abortion at the federal level, if you, the nation’s left-minarchists and left-statists, will accede to the following conditions:

  • Eliminate all federal departments, and their functions, excepting justice, defense, state, and treasury.
  • Roll back all regulatory enactments and enabling laws to their status as of 1900.
  • Do the same with the federal tax code.
  • Except for the core federal functions of justice (in truly federal matters), defense, and foreign policy (which ought to serve our defense needs), devolve all federal functions to the States. (“Homeland security” is properly a  defense function, as are matters having to do with veterans’ benefits.)
  • The citizens of each State, through their legislatures and other avenues consistent with republicanism, shall determine questions such as access to marriage (if it remains in the purview of a State) and abortion, as well as such other matters as agricultural policy, regulation of commerce, provision of education, energy policy, justice (intra-State), health care regulation and subsidies, housing subsidies, labor policies, the disposition and use of public lands, urban affairs and transportation (including agreements with neighboring States about the construction and maintenance of highways and other means of transportation), and welfare (including State-level equivalents of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid).

I wouldn’t expect left-minarchists to want States in the driver’s seat on marriage and abortion. Nor are left-statists likely to give up on the idea of pressing every citizen into the same, Washington-dictated mold. But left-minarchists might be attracted by the opportunity for some States to offer their citizens more liberty. And left-statists might be willing to accept certain victory for dictatorial “liberalism” in many States, especially as they hail from the States most likely to give them all the “liberalism” they can stand.

I, for one, would welcome the opportunity to live in a State that rejects homosexual “marriage” and abortion, along with the imprisoning, impoverishing baggage of modern “liberalism.” Surely, there would be at least a dozen to choose from, right off the bat.

Why would I be willing to allow some States to legalize homosexual “marriage” and abortion if I am so strongly against those two things. One way of looking at it is this: The world is never going to be perfect, so you make the best you can of it. In this case, making the best of it allows some States to swim against the tide homosexual “marriage” and abortion.

It is likely that those same States, freed from the shackles of Washington, would take other actions to restore civil society and thus advance liberty. I suspect that the policies of those States would be so popular that other States would follow suit to avoid massive emigration and its result: a fiscal death spiral, à la Michigan.

The Media, the Left, and War

Ralph Peters writes:

The phenomenon of Western and world journalists championing the “rights” and causes of blood-drenched butchers who, given the opportunity, would torture and slaughter them, disproves the notion—were any additional proof required—that human beings are rational creatures. Indeed, the passionate belief of so much of the intelligentsia that our civilization is evil and only the savage is noble looks rather like an anemic version of the self-delusions of the terrorists themselves. And, of course, there is a penalty for the intellectual’s dismissal of religion: humans need to believe in something greater than themselves, even if they have a degree from Harvard. Rejecting the god of their fathers, the neo-pagans who dominate the media serve as lackeys at the terrorists’ bloody altar. (“Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars,” Journal of International Security Affairs, Spring 2009.)

Seems about right to me. As I once said of an American “intellectual,”

He and his ilk cannot satisfy their power-lust in the real world, so they retaliate by imagining a theoretical world of doom. It is as if they walk around under a thought balloon which reads “Take that!”

It is the politics of adolescent rebelliousness:

The Left is in an arrested state of adolescent rebellion: “Daddy” doesn’t want me to smoke, so I’m going to smoke; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to drink, so I’m going to drink; “Daddy” doesn’t want me to have sex, so I’m going to have sex. But, regardless of my behavior, I expect “Daddy” to give me an allowance, and birthday presents, and cell phones, and so on….

Persons of the Left simply are simply unthinking, selfish adolescents who want what they want, regardless of the consequences for others.

And now that they are “in charge,” that’s precisely what they’re doing. Where will it all end? I reflected here on the following passage from an essay by Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Peters has a similar thought:

Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. [Emphasis added, with glee.] Perceiving themselves as superior beings, journalists have positioned themselves as protected-species combatants. But freedom of the press stops when its abuse kills our soldiers and strengthens our enemies. Such a view arouses disdain today, but a media establishment that has forgotten any sense of sober patriotism may find that it has become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom….

He concludes:

The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters.

In closing, we must dispose of one last mantra that has been too broadly and uncritically accepted: the nonsense that, if we win by fighting as fiercely as our enemies, we will “become just like them.” To convince Imperial Japan of its defeat, we not only had to fire-bomb Japanese cities, but drop two atomic bombs. Did we then become like the Japanese of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere? Did we subsequently invade other lands with the goal of permanent conquest, enslaving their populations? Did our destruction of German cities—also necessary for victory—turn us into Nazis? Of course, you can find a few campus leftists who think so, but they have yet to reveal the location of our death camps….

Of all the enemies we face today and may face tomorrow, the most dangerous is our own wishful thinking.

The wishful thinking is for quick, clean wars, and preferably, no wars at all — because we can avoid wars through “dialogue” and “understanding.” Bosh! As Peters says,

The violent, like the poor, will always be with us, and we must be willing to kill those who would kill others.

Moreover, we must be prepared for long, dirty wars. With whom? It doesn’t much matter, as Peters suggests:

It may not be China that challenges us, after all, but the unexpected rise of a dormant power. The precedent is there: in 1929, Germany had a playground military limited to 100,000 men. Ten years later, a re-armed Germany had embarked on the most destructive campaign of aggression in history, its killing power and savagery exceeding that of the Mongols.

Which nation or stateless power will be the next Germany or Japan? We don’t know and can’t know. All we can do — and must do — is prepare for the inevitable rise of the next butcher state.

The question is whether we can survive a political regime that is hell-bent on bread, circuses, and surrender.

Toward a Constitutional “Monarchy”

As I happened across The Monarchist (via Occam’s Carbuncle*), I remembered that I hadn’t staked out a place for monarchism in my post, “Parsing Political Philosophy.” I had meant to do so, but had second thoughts.

The place for monarchism is found in what I call radical-right-minarchism (R-R-M),

where “radical” means favoring the restoration of the Constitution to its original meaning. What sets R-R-M apart from other types of [minarchists] is their understanding that it is no longer possible to slay or tame Leviathan through electoral politics-as-usual, that the Constitution itself must be reinvigorated. (There are more radical alternatives, a military coup and secession, neither of which has much chance of success, and both of which could backfire. [Randy] Barnetts’s and my proposals would not, if adopted in the way outlined in the third through fifth paragraphs of Barnett’s article.)

Monarchism would be consistent with my idea of a new constitution, which includes, among many things, an Article VIII, Conventions of the States, which opens with this:

Delegations of the States shall convene every four years for the purpose of considering revisions to and revocations of acts of the government established by this Constitution. Such conventions (hereinafter “Convention of the States”) may revise and/or revoke any act or acts and/or any holding or holdings, in the sole discretion of a majority of State delegations present and voting.

Perhaps, instead of unreliable quadrennial conventions, we should have a constitutional “monarch,” to be called (more palatably) “Keeper of the Constitution.” The Keeper’s sole power and duty would be to veto unconstitutional acts of Congress, the executive branch (including “independent” regulatory agencies), and the Supreme Court — as and when such acts occur.

The Keeper, in other words, would be a fourth branch of the federal government — a sorely needed check on the other three branches, which have failed miserably to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution.

The creation of a Keeper would do much the same thing as the establishment of quadrennial conventions: Push the federal government toward constitutional rectitude with the threat of embarrassing it by very publicly undoing its unconstitutional deeds.

The idea of adding a negatively omnipotent fourth branch raises several tough questions:

  • How should the Keeper be chosen?
  • How long should the Keeper be allowed to serve?
  • What if the Keeper vetoes an act that was in fact constitutional? In other words, who (or what) defends us against an errant or arrogant Keeper?

In answer, I conjure the following constitutional language, beginning with the duties and powers of the Keeper:

1. a. The responsibility for ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches adhere to this constitution in the exercise of their respective powers shall be vested in a Keeper of the Constitution. The Keeper may review acts of Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch that have the effect of making law and appropriating monies. The term “making law” includes — but is not limited to — a legislative, executive, or judicial interpretation of an existing law or laws. Covered acts of the judicial branch include — but are not limited to — denials of appeals or writs of certiorari. The Keeper’s purview does not extend to declarations of war; statutes, appropriations, regulations, or orders pertaining directly to the armed forces and intelligence services of the United States; or the employment of the armed forces and intelligence services of the United States. Nor does the Keeper’s purview extend to appointments made by or with the consent of the legislative, executive, or judicial branches.

1. b. The Keeper may nullify any act that lies within his purview, as defined in section 1.a, provided that the act occurred no more than one year before the date on which he nullifies it. The Keeper shall signify each nullification by informing the speaker of the House of Representatives, president pro-tempore of the Senate, president of the United States, and chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of his decision and the reason(s) therefor. The Keeper shall, at the same time, issue a public notice of his decision and the reason(s) therefor. The affected branch(es) of government shall, in each case, act promptly to implement the Keeper’s decision. Each implementing act shall be subject to review, as specified in sub-section 1.a.

As for choosing the Keeper:

2. a. The speaker of the House of Representatives and president of the United States, acting jointly, shall nominate a Keeper of the Constitution to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court shall vote on a nominee no later than thirty days after receiving notice of a nomination. A nominee shall become Keeper upon the approval by three-fourths of the then-sitting justices of the Supreme Court.

2.b. If a nominee is rejected by the Supreme Court, the speaker and president, acting jointly, shall nominate a different person as Keeper, and shall send this second nomination to the House of Representatives and Senate. The House of Representatives and Senate shall, within thirty days of receiving notice of the nomination, meet as a single body to vote on the nominee. The nominee shall become Keeper upon approval by two-thirds of the total number of Representatives and Senators then present and voting.

2.c. If a nominee is rejected by both the Supreme Court and combined membership of the House of Representatives and Senate, the speaker and president, acting jointly, shall nominate a different person as Keeper, and shall send this third nomination to the Senate. The Senate shall, within thirty days of receiving notice of the nomination, meet to vote on the nominee. The nominee shall become Keeper upon approval by a majority of Senators then present and voting.

2.d. If the Keeper shall resign, die in office, or become unable to hold office because of a physical or mental condition attested to in writing by a unanimous panel of three doctors of medicine appointed jointly by the speaker of the House of Representatives, the president pro-tempore of the Senate, the president of the United States, and three-fourths of the then-sitting justices of the Supreme Court, a successor shall be appointed in accordance with the preceding sub-sections of this section 2.

The progressively easier method of choosing the Keeper provides an incentive for the Supreme Court to confirm the first nominee, rather than let the choice fall to the legislative branch. The provision for a third nomination is designed to ensure that the office won’t stand vacant.

I next address the term of office and related ways of keeping the Keeper “honest”:

3. a. The Keeper shall hold office during good behavior for a term of three years. The same person may not hold the office of Keeper more than once.

3.b. The Keeper may be removed from office only as follows: The speaker of the House of Representatives and president of the United States shall jointly apply to the Supreme Court of the United States for removal of the Keeper, specifying the instance(s) of official misfeasance or malfeasance that prompted their application. The Supreme Court, upon the receipt of such an application, and with due deliberation, shall vote on its merits. If  three-fourths of the then-sitting justices of the Supreme Court approve the application, the Keeper shall thereupon forfeit his office; otherwise, the Keeper then in office shall retain his position until a proper application for his removal is approved by three fourths of the then-sitting justices of the Supreme Court, or his term of office expires.

3.c. Upon removal of the Keeper from office by the foregoing procedure, a new Keeper shall be appointed, in accordance with the procedures of sub-sections 2.a, 2.b, and 2.c. Upon the appointment of a new Keeper, he shall enter upon a three-year term of office, which he may hold during good behavior.

Finally, some “housekeeping” details:

4. The Keeper shall be paid a salary of $1 per annum, but may be reimbursed for reasonable, personal expenses related to the execution of his duties. Congress shall appropriate monies for the reimbursement of the Keeper’s reasonable, personal expenses; for the reasonable compensation of the Keeper’s staff; and for the procurement, operation, and maintenance of  those facilities, equipment, and services that the Keeper and his staff may require for the execution of the Keeper’s responsibilities. The total cost of the foregoing shall not exceed $100 million per annum, which amount shall increase on the anniversary of the date of the adoption of this amendment by the same percentage as the most recent increase (if any) in cost-of-living adjustments to the pensions of veterans of the armed forces.

That’s my idea of a constitutional “monarchy” — one with real but limited power. Imagine the kind of person it would take to gain acceptance (or banishment) by three-fourths of the sitting justices of the Supreme Court (i.e., by seven of the nine). Even at the worst of times, constitutionally, I would expect there to be three or four justices on hand to ensure against the appointment of a pushover for the “living Constitution” –  which is not the Framer’s Constitution.

__________

* Now defunct and sorely missed.

The “Big Five” and Economic Performance

The “Big Five” doesn’t comprise Honda, Toyota, Ford, GM, and Chrysler (soon to become the become the “Big Four”: Honda, Toyota, Ford, and GM-Chrysler-Obama Inc.). The “Big Five” refers to the Big Five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

I discussed the Big Five at length here, and touched on them here. Now comes Arnold Kling, with an economic analysis of the Big Five, which draws on Daniel Nettle’s Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are. Kling, in the course of his post, discusses Nettle’s interpretations of the Big Five.

Regarding Openness, Kling quotes Nettle thusly:

Some people are keen on reading and galleries and theatre and music, whilst others are not particularly interested in any of them. This tendency towards greater exploration of all complex recreational practices is uniquely predicted by Openness….

High Openness scorers are strongly drawn to artistic and investigative professions, and will often schew traditional institutional structure and progression in order to pursue them.

Precisely. For example,  a high Openness scorer (93rd percentile) progressed from low-paid analyst (with a BA in economics) to well-paid VP for finance and administration (with nothing more than the same BA in economics), stopping along the way to own and run a business and manage groups of PhDs. The underlying lesson: Education is far less important to material success than intellectual flexibility (high Openness), combined with drive (high Conscientiusness and Neuroticism), and focus (low Extraversion and Agreeableness).

Kling says this about Conscientiousness (self-discipline and will power):

I think that people with low Conscientiousness annoy me more than just about any other type of people.

Me, too (Conscientiousness score: 99th percentile). I find it hard to be around individuals who always put off until tomorrow what they could do in a minute, who never read or return the books and DVDs you lend them, who are always ready to excuse failings (theirs and others), and who then try to cast their lack of organization (and resulting lack of personal accomplishment) as a virtue: “Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.” Yeah, but you never sweat the big stuff, either; look at the state of your house and your bank account. The small stuff and big stuff come in a single package.

According to Kling, “Nettle thinks of Extraversion as something like lust for life, sensation-seeking, and ambition.” More from Nettle:

We should be careful in equating Extraversion with sociability… shyness is most often due to … high Neuroticism and anxiety….

…The introvert is, in a way, aloof from the rewards of the world, which gives him tremendous strength and independence from them.

Right on, says this introvert (Extraversion score: 4th percentile).

Kling says this about Agreeableness:

To be agreeable, you have to be able to “mentalize” (read the feelings of others, which autistic people have trouble doing) and empathize (that is, care about others’ feelings, given that you can read them. Sociopaths can read you, but they don’t mind making you feel bad.)

On average, women are more agreeable than men. That is why Peter Thiel may have been onto something when he said that our country changed when women got the right to vote. If people project their personalities onto politics, and if agreeability goes along with more socialist policies, then giving women the right to vote should make countries more socialist.

Thiel is on to something. Although socialism gained a foothold in the U.S. during TR’s reign (i.e., long before the passage of Amendment XIX to the Constitution), it’s important to note that women were prominent agitators and muck-rakers in the early 1900s. Among other things, women were the driving force behind Prohibition. That failed experiment can now be seen as an extremely socialistic policy; it attempted to dictate a “lifestyle” choice, just as today’s socialists try to dictate  “lifestyle” choices about what we smoke, eat, drive, say, etc. — and with too-frequent success. If socialism isn’t a “motherly” attitude, I don’t know what is. (Full disclosure, my Agreeableness score is 4th percentile. Just leave me alone and I’ll live my life quite well, without any help from government, thank you.)

Finally, there’s Neuroticism, about which Nettle says:

There are motivational advantages of Neuroticism. There may be cognitive ones too. It has long been known that, on average, people are over-optimistic about the outcomes of their behaviour, especially once they have a plan… This is well documented in the business world, with its over-optimistic growth plans, and also in military leadership, where it is clear that generals are routinely over-sanguine about their likely progress and under-reflective about the complexities….

…Professional occupations are those that mainly involve thinking, and it is illuminating that Neuroticism tended to be advantageous in these fields and not in, say, sales.

Neuroticism (also known as Emotional Stability) is explained this way by an organization that administers the “Big Five” test:

People low in emotional stability are emotionally reactive. They respond emotionally to events that would not affect most people, and their reactions tend to be more intense than normal. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. Their negative emotional reactions tend to persist for unusually long periods of time, which means they are often in a bad mood. These problems in emotional regulation can diminish a ones ability to think clearly, make decisions, and cope effectively with stress.

Take a person who is low in Emotional Stability (my score: 12th percentile), low in Extraversion, but high in Conscientiousness and Openness. Such a person is willing and able to tune out the distractions of the outside world, and to channel his drive and intellectual acumen in productive, creative ways — until he finally says “enough,” and quits the world of work to enjoy the better things in life.

What Is Conservatism?

The essence of conservatism, according to the iconic Russell Kirk, is found in six “canons” of conservatism (summarized here):

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience…. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems… (2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and equilitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems. (3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes…. Society longs for leadership…. (4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic levelling is not economic progress…. (5) Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite…. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse. (6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical….

My own view of conservatism, as it is understood in America, has gone through a transformation. Once upon a time, I thought of it as a trichotomy:

True-Blue Traditionalist: This type simply loves and revels in family, community, club, church, alma mater, and the idea of America — which includes American government, with all its faults. If government enacts truly popular policies, those policies are (by and large) legitimate in the eyes of a true-blue. Thus a true-blue may be a Democrat or a Republican, though almost certainly not a libertarian.

Libertarian of the Classical Liberal School: This type may (or may not) love and revel in most of the institutions revered by a true-blue traditionalist, but takes a different line when it comes to government. Voluntary institutions are good, but government tends to undermine them. Government’s proper role is to protect the citizenry and the citizenry’s voluntary institutions, not to dictate the terms and conditions of their existence. The classical liberal favors government only when it observes its proper role, and not for its own sake.

Rightist: The rightist differs from the true-blue traditionalist and classical liberal in three key respects. First, he is hostile toward those persons and voluntary institutions that are not in the “American tradition” of white, northern Europeanism. Second, his disdain for things outside the “American tradition” is so great that he is likely to be either an “America firster” or a reincarnation of Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay. Third, he is willing to use the power of government to enforce the observance of those values that he favors, and to do other things that he sees as necessary.

I would now call the “true blue” a left-statist or right-statist, depending on the direction of his preferences for government action (e.g., anti-defense or pro-defense); the “classical liberal,” a minarchist, most likely a right-minarchist; and the “rightist,” a totalitarian-right-statist. My new political lexicon lacks the word “conservative,” which has too many meanings to be meaningful.

But I do find in minarchism, especially right-minarchism, much of what Kirk finds in conservatism. What do I mean by right-minarchism? To quote myself:

To a minarchist … rights are limited to those that can be exercised without requiring something of others (e.g., transfers of income and property). The one necessary exception is the cost of providing a government to ensure the exercise of rights. That cost must be borne, in some arbitrary way, by citizens who, on the one hand, see no need for government (i.e., anarchists) and by citizens who, on the other hand, have differing conceptions of rights and how the cost of protecting those rights should be shared….

Minarchists … are fierce defenders of property rights. Minarchists hold that we own what we earn (or what is given to us, freely, by others who have earned it). The right to property is a negative right, in that the enjoyment and use of that which is ours need not deny anyone else the right to enjoy and use that which is theirs. (Acts of enjoyment and use, however, must not infringe on the negative rights of others.) The denial of property rights (in whole or in part) is theft, whether committed by a private party or government. (The “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment is applied legitimately only when government must take property, with “just compensation” in order to execute one of the few legitimate functions of government.)…

There can be more to minarchy than the protection of negative rights. In the view of some minarchists [right-minarchists], government legitimately serves the broader (but related) purpose of protecting civil society. Other minarchists [left-minarchists] have no use for what they see as the strictures of civil society; they wish only to be left alone. In their introverted myopia they fail to see that the liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society: the daily observance of person X’s negative rights by persons W, Y, and Z — and vice versa. That is so because it is impossible and — more importantly — undesirable for government to police everyone’s behavior. Liberty depends, therefore, on the institutions of society — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect, through which individuals often come to the aid of one another, and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism)….

More specifically, right-minarchists (R-M)

reject the non-aggression principle with respect to national defense. They do so not because they favor aggression but because the principle, in its standard interpretation, is a non-action principle. It would not allow a preemptive attack on an antagonistic state that is armed, capable of striking us at any time, and known to be contemplating a strike. R-M, in other words, tend toward hawkishness when it comes to national defense.

R-M also tend toward a hawkish stance on crime. For example, some R-M have no sympathy for journalists who protect anonymous sources where those sources obtain their information by breaking the law. Other R-M reject the idea that the press should be allowed to print whatever information it may obtain about America’s defense forces, plans, and operation. R-M understand that liberty and the prosperity it brings are unattainable in a lawless, defenseless society.

R-M are unsympathetic to “political correctness,” arguing that government must not do anything to quell impolite speech or to compensate blacks, women, etc., for the past behavior of those who discriminated against them, because to do so penalizes persons now living who are innocent of discrimination. But more than that, R-M would give individuals and businesses broad latitude in their affairs, penalizing only acts traditionally understood as harmful (e.g., murder, rape, and theft).

R-M see “rights” like abortion and homosexual “marriage” as government-imposed social innovations with potentially harmful consequences for civil society. If social custom, as embodied in legislative acts, rejects such things as abortion and homosexual “marriage,” it does so because those things undermine the fabric of society — the bonds of mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual restraint that enable a people to live and work together in peace.

Finally,

[t]here are R-M (like me) … who are … worried … by the extent to which the franchise has been broadened. This has nothing to do with gender or race … and much to do with keeping government on the straight-and-narrow. A good way to do that is to restrict the franchise to those persons who have acquired sufficient maturity, and who have a vested interest in the protection of property rights (which are central to economic well-being)….

Having said all that, I redact Kirk’s six “canons” to conform to my “canons” of right-minarchism:

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience…. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems… (2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and equilitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems. (3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes…. Society longs for leadership…. (4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic levelling is not economic progress…. (5) Faith in prescription [traditional mores] and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite…. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse. (6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical….

Religion isn’t necessary to right-minarchism, though neither is it ruled out. Basic religious precepts (as in the Ten Commandments) form the moral foundation of civil society, which depends not so much on orders and classes as it does on order (as opposed to lawlessness) and respect for the persons and property of others. There is little else on which to differ with Kirk.

Therefore, in my taxonomy of politics, Kirk’s conservatism is located in right-minarchism — which is a distinct branch of libertarianism. Right-minarchism rejects the nihilism and strident anti-religionism which are rampant in strains of libertarianism, namely, anarchism and left-minarchism. Anarchists and left-minarchists believe, foolishly, that liberty is to be found in the rejection of order and social norms. Liberty would be the first victim of the brave new disorder that they wish for.

So, here’s to right-minarchism, the nexus of true conservatism and true libertarianism.

Related posts:
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Where Conservatism and (Sensible) Libertarianism Come Together
Common Ground for Conservatives and Libertarians?
The Nexus of Conservatism and Libertariansim