Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism

I highly recommend “Understanding Hayek” as a companion-piece to this post.

UPDATED (BELOW), 06/01/12

This post is in response to Jason Brennan’s post of May 30, “We Are Statists in Classical Liberal Clothing.” Brennan’s post was triggered ” by “Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists,” which I posted on May 10.

I must say, first, that I am grateful to Brennan for linking to my blog, my bio, and the post that offends him. Today, the number of page views at Politics & Prosperity is about double the usual total for a Wednesday.

Now, what is right and what is wrong in Brennan’s reaction to my (admittedly and intentionally) provocative post? The first thing that is wrong with it is that I am not a libertarian, at least not of a kind that Brennan and company would recognize as such. I call myself a Burkean libertarian because (a) I am a Burkean conservative and (b) true libertarianism is found in Burkean conservatism; to wit:

A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms because those norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?

If socially evolved norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks and undermines the institution through which children are born and raised by an adult of each gender, fate willing), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order.

The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage”  is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the conditions upon which liberty depends….

The pseudo-libertarian … is afraid to admit that the long evolution of rules of conduct by human beings who must coexist  might just be superior to the rules that he would arbitrarily impose, reflecting as they do his “superior” sensibilities. I say “arbitrarily” because pseudo-libertarians have not been notably critical of the judicial impositions that have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or of the legislative impositions that have corrupted property rights in the pursuit of “social justice.”

All in all, it seems that pseudo-libertarians believe in the possibility of separating the warp and woof of society without causing the disintegration of the social fabric. The pseudo-libertarian, in that respect, mimics the doctrinaire socialist who wants prosperity but rejects one of its foundation stones: property rights.

A true libertarian will eschew the temptation to prescribe the details of social conduct. He will, instead, take the following positions:

  • The role of the state is to protect individuals from deceit, coercion, and force.
  • The rules of social conduct are adopted voluntarily within that framework are legitimate and libertarian.

There is much more to it than that, of course. So, before anyone challenges my view of what truly constitutes libertarianism, he or she should first read the many posts that I link to at the bottom of this one.

Brennan’s second mistake is to assume that I am interested in libertarian purity. The original title of his post was “Libertarian Purity: Statists in Classical Liberal Clothing”; he calls me a hardcore libertarian; and — following a flawed reconstruction of my argument (about which more, below) — he links to an “antidote,” which is a piece by Alexander McCubin called “Let’s Reject the Purity Test.” But, as a non-libertarian, I am uninterested in libertarian purity.

What I am interested in, in the case of Brennan, many of his co-authors at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and others of their ilk, is how they can call themselves libertarians when they are willing to invoke the power of the state to bring the social and economic order into compliance with their preconceptions of its proper shape. It is not as if I suddenly arrived at that assessment. Here is a list of fourteen earlier posts in which I address various aspects of the contorted libertarianism of BHLs:

The Meaning of Liberty” (03/09/11)
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty” (03/25/11)
More Social Justice” (03/30/11)
On Self-Ownership and Desert” (04/22/11)
Corporations, Unions, and the State” (06/30/11)
In Defense of Subjectivism” (08/02/11)
The Folly of Pacifism, Again” (08/28/11)
What Is Libertarianism?” (09/06/11)
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?” (09/22/11)
Regulation as Wishful Thinking” (10/13/11)
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?” (12/17/11)
The Morality of Occupying Private Property” (12/21/11)
The Equal-Protection Scam and Same-Sex ‘Marriage’” (01/03/12)
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts” (02/13/12)

A third, arguably wrong thing in Brennan’s post is his statement that “Hayek was more ‘statist’ than Zwolinski or I.” I do not know how to measure degrees of statism (perhaps Brennan can tell me), but I respect Hayek and his memory because, for one thing, he did not pretend to be a libertarian. This passage from the Wikipedia article about Hayek comports with what I know of him and his ideas:

Hayek wrote an essay, “Why I Am Not a Conservative”[94] (included as an appendix to The Constitution of Liberty), in which he disparaged conservatism for its inability to adapt to changing human realities or to offer a positive political program, remarking, “Conservatism is only as good as what it conserves”. Although he noted that modern day conservatism shares many opinions on economics with classic liberals, particularly a belief in the free market, he believed it’s because conservatism wants to “stand still,” whereas liberalism embraces the free market because it “wants to go somewhere”. Hayek identified himself as a classical liberal but noted that in the United States it had become almost impossible to use “liberal” in its original definition, and the term “libertarian” has been used instead.

However, for his part, Hayek found this term “singularly unattractive” and offered the term “Old Whig” (a phrase borrowed from Edmund Burke) instead. In his later life, he said, “I am becoming a Burkean Whig.” However, Whiggery as a political doctrine had little affinity for classical political economy, the tabernacle of the Manchester School and William Gladstone.[95] His essay has served as an inspiration to other liberal-minded economists wishing to distinguish themselves from conservative thinkers, for example James M. Buchanan‘s essay “Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism”.

A common term in much of the world for what Hayek espoused is “neoliberalism“. A British scholar, Samuel Brittan, concluded in 2010, “Hayek’s book [The Constitution of Liberty] is still probably the most comprehensive statement of the underlying ideas of the moderate free market philosophy espoused by neoliberals.”[96]

In Why F A Hayek is a Conservative,[97] British policy analyst Madsen Pirie believes Hayek mistakes the nature of the conservative outlook. Conservatives, he says, are not averse to change – but like Hayek, they are highly averse to change being imposed on the social order by people in authority who think they know how to run things better. They wish to allow the market to function smoothly and give it the freedom to change and develop. It is an outlook, says Pirie, that Hayek and conservatives both share.

If Hayek was, in some respects, more statist than Brennan and company, his essential program was nevertheless more libertarian — by my lights — because it was more grounded in an understanding of and respect for society as a complex organism. That is why I dedicate this blog to Hayek’s memory.

BHLs, in contrast to Hayek, strike me as shallow and naive. They seem to believe that their proposed interventions in the name of “social justice” would (a) work as intended and (b) not invite further interventions from entrenched (and more powerful) interests. Interventions are to the state what raw meat is to a beast. Libertarians should be proposing ways to tame the beast, not feed it.

Which brings me to my final point: Brennan’s reconstruction of an argument (my argument?) that he attributes to “hardcore libertarians”:

  1. Most of the BHLers think that the consequences of different kinds of institutions matter sufficiently that, under at least some hypothetical circumstances, they would not advocate anarcho-capitalism or minimal statism.
  2. If 1, then BHLers are left-statists.
  3. Therefore, BHLers are left-statists.
  4. Either the BHLers are stupid and don’t know they are left-statists, or they are conniving and know they are left-statists.
  5. The BHLers are not stupid. [Thanks for the bone!]
  6. Therefore, the BHLers are conniving and know they are left-statists.

My argument was rather more complex and nuanced than that. I will not replicate or summarize it here; you can read it for yourself. Brennan focuses on one (non-essential) aspect of my argument, the one that offends him — namely, that BHLs are conniving left-statists. Brennan’s post convinces me that I was wrong to imply that BHLs are connivers; they (or too many of them) are just arrogant in their judgments about “social justice” and naive when they presume that the state can enact it. It follows that (most) BHLs are not witting left-statists; they are (too often) just unwitting accomplices of left-statism.

Accordingly, if I were to re-title the offending post I would call it “Bleeding-Heart Libertarians: Crypto-Statists or Dupes for Statism?”.

UPDATE (06/01/12):

I will not respond to every commentary about this post, but I will say some things about “Saving Liberty from the ‘True Libertarians’,” by “dL” of Libérale et libertaire. First, though, I want to thank dL for using an attractive WordPress theme, Suburbia, I liked the look of dL’s blog so much that I switched to Suburbia almost as soon as I had finished reading dL’s post. [06/08/12: I later found and switched to DePo Masthead. It is another multi-column theme, but unlike Suburbia, the front page of DePo Masthead displays complete, properly formatted posts.] [06/12/12: DePo Masthead had drawbacks that were not evident when I previewed it. I am now using NotesIL, which is much like Enterprise, the theme I had used for at least a few years, but with a brighter look and a sidebar on the left.]

Now, for the serious stuff. It would seem that dL did not heed what I say in the original post:

[B]efore anyone challenges my view of what truly constitutes libertarianism, he or she should first read the many posts that I link to at the bottom of this one.

Had dL done what I suggest, he or she would have learned that I do, in fact, accept Hayek’s “evolutionary social framework methodology.” I repeatedly invoke “voluntarily evolved social norms” as the bedrock of a truly libertarian social order.

And why is such a social order “truly libertarian”? Well, it is easy to say, as dL does, that

Liberty is simply defined as “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others.”

This is an empty formulation that is nowhere close to an operational definition of liberty. Real liberty — what I call “true liberty” — is not a string of words on paper, it is a feasible social order. It is — as I say in several of the posts that dL evidently did not read — a modus vivendi. To spare dL (and others) the trouble of digging through my posts, I quote at length from “The Meaning of Liberty“:

[A]t least one of the bloggers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians — a new group blog whose eight contributors (thus far) are professors of law and/or philosophy — advances the proposition that “liberty” means whatever non-philosophers think it means. The contributor in question, Jason Brennan, justifies his preference by saying  that liberty “is a concept philosophers are interested in, but it’s a not a philosopher’s technical term.”

That may be so, but I would think that philosophers who are going to use a term that is central to the theme of their blog — the connection of libertarianism to social justice — would begin by searching for a relevant and logically consistent definition of liberty. Brennan, instead, casts a wide net and hauls in a list of seven popular definitions, one of which (negative liberty) has three sub-definitions. That may be a useful starting point, but Brennan leaves it there, thus implying that liberty is whatever anyone thinks it is….

I am struck by the fact that none of the definitions offered by Brennan is a good definition of liberty (about which, more below)…. I therefore humbly suggest that the next order of business at Bleeding Heart Libertarianism ought to be a concerted effort to define the concept that is part of the blog’s raison d’etre.

To help Brennan & Co. in their quest, I offer the following definition of liberty, which is from the first post at this blog, “On Liberty“:

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior

The problem with the definitions listed by Brennan should now be obvious. Those definitions focus on the individual, whereas the relevant definition of liberty is a social one. That is to say, one cannot address social justice and its connection to liberty unless liberty is viewed as a modus vivendi for a group of individuals. There is no such thing as the ability to do as one pleases — the dominant motif of Brennan’s list — unless

  • one lives in complete isolation from others, or
  • one lives in the company of others who are of identical minds, or
  • one rules others.

The first condition is irrelevant to the matter of social justice. The second is implausible. The third takes the point of view of a dictator, and omits the point of view of his subjects.

The implausibility of the second condition is critical to a proper understanding of liberty. Brennan says (in “Positive Liberty and Legal Guarantees“) that “[w]e often equate freedom with an absence of constraints, impediments, or interference.” In a political context (i.e., where two or more persons coexist), there are always constraints on the behavior of at least one person, even in the absence of coercion or force. Coexistence requires compromise because (I daresay) no two humans are alike in their abilities, tastes, and preferences. And compromise necessitates constraints on behavior; that is, compromise means that the parties involved do not do what they would do if they were isolated from each other or of like minds about everything.

In sum, “peaceful, willing coexistence” does not imply “an absence of constraints, impediments, or interference.” Rather, it implies that there is necessarily a degree of compromise (voluntary constraint) for the sake of “beneficially cooperative behavior.” Even happy marriages are replete with voluntary constraints on behavior, constraints that enable the partners to enjoy the blessings of union.

The specific landscape of liberty — the rights and obligations of individuals with respect to one another — depends on the size and composition of the social group in question. It is there that the question of positive vs. negative liberty (really positive vs. negative rights) takes on importance. I will tackle that question in a future post.

I would expect dL (and many others) to protest that I hold a morally relative view of what constitutes liberty. I might let that assertion bother me if morality existed as an ideal (Platonic) form, visible to superior beings like dL, but not to mere mortals like me. But morality, itself, arises from the nature of human beings as social animals, a nature that is widely (though not universally) shared across races, ethnicities, and cultures. (On this point, see my posts “Libertarianism and Morality” and “Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote.”) Unlike dL and his or her ilk, I prefer to ground political theory in the possible, not the imaginary ideal.

It seems that dL is especially vexed by what he or she calls my “byline.” This is a slogan that appears near the title of this blog, a slogan that I change from time to time. The current slogan is “Gay ‘marriage’: a tyranny of a minuscule minority.” This, to dL, is evidence that I am a defender of a “’tradition’ is not the actual tradition”; that is, I am anxious to defend a particular status quo instead of allowing social norms to evolve, as a good Hayekian would do.

I do not see how it is unfaithful to conservatism of the Burkean-Hayekian kind to oppose gay “marriage” in the current circumstances. Put simply, we have on the one hand a long-standing social institution that pre-dates the state, and on the other hand a “movement” to redefine that institution through the use of state power: legislative, executive, and judicial. If popular opinion is swinging toward support for gay “marriage,” as has been reported, we can chalk up a good deal of the swing to the influence of state action on popular opinion, and not vice versa. Is that dL’s idea of “actual tradition”?

The “About” page at dL’s blog opens with this quotation:

Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

This is exactly 180 degrees from what is true and feasible in the real world. It is order (of a socially agreed kind) that fosters liberty and defines its precise contours.

David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left

David Brooks’s latest atrocity, “The Role of Uncle Sam,” appears in The New York Times of yesterday. I quote, in relevant part:

[T]he federal [government’s] role [in the economy] has historically been sharply limited. The man who initiated that role, Alexander Hamilton, was a nationalist. His primary goal was to enhance national power and eminence, not to make individuals rich or equal….

But this Hamiltonian approach has been largely abandoned. The abandonment came in three phases. First, the progressive era. The progressives were right to increase regulations to protect workers and consumers. But the late progressives had excessive faith in the power of government planners to rationalize national life. This was antithetical to the Hamiltonian tradition, which was much more skeptical about how much we can know and much more respectful toward the complexity of the world.

Second, the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt was right to energetically respond to the Depression. But the New Deal’s dictum — that people don’t eat in the long run; they eat every day — was eventually corrosive. Politicians since have paid less attention to long-term structures and more to how many jobs they “create” in a specific month. Americans have been corrupted by the allure of debt, sacrificing future development for the sake of present spending and tax cuts.

Third, the Great Society. Lyndon Johnson was right to use government to do more to protect Americans from the vicissitudes of capitalism. But he made a series of open-ended promises, especially on health care. He tried to bind voters to the Democratic Party with a web of middle-class subsidies.

In each case, a good impulse was taken to excess. A government that was energetic and limited was turned into one that is omnidirectional and fiscally unsustainable. A government that was trusted and oriented around long-term visions is now distrusted because it tries to pander to the voters’ every momentary desire. A government that devoted its resources toward future innovation and development now devotes its resources to health care for the middle-class elderly….

In his engrossing new book, “Our Divided Political Heart,” E.J. Dionne, my NPR pundit partner, argues that the Hamiltonian and Jacksonian traditions formed part of a balanced consensus, which has been destroyed by the radical individualists of today’s Republican Party. But that balanced governing philosophy was destroyed gradually over the 20th century, before the Tea Party was even in utero. As government excessively overreached, Republicans became excessively antigovernment.

We’re not going back to the 19th-century governing philosophy of Hamilton, Clay and Lincoln. But that tradition offers guidance. The question is not whether government is inherently good or evil, but what government does.

Brooks begins by assuming that the Hamiltonian approach to government is the correct one: An assertion that Madison and Jefferson would refute.

Beyond that, Brooks ignores the evidence of his own analysis, which is that each aggrandizement of governmental power (economic and social) — beginning with Hamilton’s nationalism — fostered subsequent expansions of governmental power. It is a combination of ratchet effects and slippery slopes. The status quo is a baseline from which retreat is nigh impossible because of vested interests; the only possible next step, therefore, is an expansion of government to serve the newest “compelling need.”

Dionne’s so-called consensus never was a consensus. Consider, for example, the relative narrowness of FDR’s and LBJ’s “mandates,” which were in fact  60-40 splits. The fact of the matter is that the rules of the political game — as they have evolved through utter disregard of the real Constitution and the wishes of large segments of the populace — simply have allowed the accretion of power in Washington, even when there has been a “consensus” to diminish that power. I am, of course, thinking of the election of presidents like Harding, Coolidge, and Reagan by margins as great as those bestowed on FDR and LBJ.

If “government excessively overreached” — as Brooks admits — how could it be that “Republicans became excessively antigovernment”? It would seem that their (largely imagined) excessiveness is necessary and proper.

Nor should the “antigovernment” label be allowed to pass without comment. There is a difference between being “antigovernment” (i.e., anarchistic) and “pro-limited-government” (i.e., Madisonian and Jeffersonian rather than Hamiltonian). The “antigovernment” label is a cynical libel routinely deployed by the forces of big government in an effort to discredit those who are bold enough to point out that the expansion of governmental power has undermined social comity and prosperity. (The most cynical of efforts to discredit the opponents of big government occurred in the aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s atrocious act in Oklahoma City. McVeigh was an antigovernment terrorist. And so it became the theme-of-the-month among the NPR crowd that everyone who is for less government is “antigovernment” and, by extension, a kind of terrorist.)

Brooks wants a limited government, but only if it is limited to a Hamiltonian scope. But the instant that government is allowed to exceed its brief, as it was when Hamilton’s “nationalism” became the central government’s leitmotif, the proverbial genie comes out of the bottle. It can only be stuffed back into the bottle by getting government completely out of the business of trying (in any way) to help business (except to protect it from domestic and foreign predators, of course).

Markets respond quite nicely to real needs, thank you. On the other hand, powerful governments (Hamiltonian and worse) respond to the capricious and costly commands of those who govern.

Related posts:
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
The Constitution in Exile
What Is the Living Constitution?
Blame It on the Commerce Clause
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and the States’ Police Power
The Price of Government

The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
Columnist, Heal Thyself
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Left
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Our Miss Brooks
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Undermining the Free Society
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Government vs. Community
The Stagnation Thesis
The Left’s Agenda
The Public-School Swindle
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Miss Brooks’s “Grand Bargain”
More Fool He
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Society and the State
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
A Nation of (Unconstitutional) Laws
Are You in the Bubble?
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”

Memorial Day 2012

For the departed:

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife —
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

From The Hill, by Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1930)

Time, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?….

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome,
Morning and in the crush
Under Paul’s dome;
Under Paul’s dial
You tighten your rein —
Only a moment, and off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb,
Off to another
Ere that’s in the tomb.

From Time, You Old Gipsy Man, by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962)

“Hopefully” Arrives

Mark Liberman of Language Log discusses

the AP Style Guide’s decision to allow the use of hopefully as a sentence adverb, announced on Twitterat 6:22 a.m. on 17 April 2012:

Hopefully, you will appreciate this style update, announced at ‪#aces2012‬. We now support the modern usage of hopefully: it’s hoped, we hope.


Liberman, who is a grammar anarchist (see below), defends AP’s egregious decision. His defense consists mainly of citing noted writers who have used “hopefully” where they meant “it is to be hoped.” I suppose that if those same noted writers had chosen to endanger others by driving on the wrong side of the road, Liberman would praise them for their “enlightened” approach to driving.

Liberman’s grammar anarchy is nothing new for him or for Language Log. Here are two posts that I wrote about Liberman and Language Log in March 2008:

Missing the Point

Mark Liberman of Language Log has devoted at least three posts to James J. Kilpatrick’s supposed linguistic socialism. Kilpatrick stands accused (gasp!) of trying to propound rules of English grammar. Given that Kilpatrick can’t enforce such rules, except in the case of his own writing, it seems to me that Liberman is overreacting to Kilpatrick’s dicta.

I am not surprised by Liberman’s reaction to Kilpatrick, given that Liberman seems to be a defender of gramma[r] anarchy. Liberman tries to justify his anarchistic approach to grammar by quoting from Friedrich Hayek’s Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 1: Rules and Order; for example:

Man … is successful not because he knows why he ought to observe the rules which he does observe, or is even capable of stating all these rules in words, but because his thinking and acting are governed by rules which have by a process of selection been evolved in the society in which he lives, and which are thus the product of the experience of generations.

All of which is true, but misinterpreted by Liberman.

First, given that Kilpatrick cannot dictate the rules of grammar, he is a mere participant in the “process of selection” which shapes those rules. In a world that valued effective communication, Kilpatrick’s views would be given more weight than those of, say, a twenty-something who injects “like, you know,” into every sentence. But whether or not Kilpatrick’s views are given more weight isn’t up to Kilpatrick. However much Kilpatrick might like to be a linguistic authoritarian, he is not one.

Second, Hayek’s observation has nothing to do with anarchy, although Liberman wants to read into the passage an endorsement of anarchy. Hayek’s real point is that rules which survive, or survive with incremental modifications, do so because they are more efficient (i.e., more effective, given a resource constraint) than rules that fall by the wayside.

Kilpatrick, and other “strict constructionists” like him, can’t dictate the course of the English language, but they can strive to make it more efficient. Certainly the thought that they give to making English a more efficient language (or forestalling its devolution toward utter inefficiency) should be praised, not scorned.

Language games can be fun, but language is much more than a game, contra Liberman’s approach to it. Language is for communicating ideas — the more efficiently, the better. But, in the three posts linked here, Liberman (strangely) has nothing to say about the efficiency of language. He seems more concerned about James J. Kilpatrick’s “linguistic socialism” than about the ability of writers and speakers to deploy a version of English that communicates ideas clearly.

Well, at least Liberman recognizes socialism as a form of authoritarianism.

More Gramma[r] Anarchy

I noted in the previous post that Mark Liberman of Language Log is a gramma[r] anarchist. Perhaps gramma[r] anarchism is a condition of blogging at Language Log. Arnold Zwicky of that blog corrects a writer who refers to the subjunctive mood as the “subjective tense.” So far, so good. But Zwicky then goes on to excuse those who insist on using

the ordinary past rather than a special counterfactual form (often called “the subjunctive” or “the past subjunctive”) for expressing conditions contrary to fact….

…There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the special counterfactual form — I do so myself — but there’s also nothing wrong with using the ordinary past to express counterfactuality. It’s a matter of style and personal choice, and no matter which form you use, people will understand what you are trying to say.

But somehow preserving the last vestige of a special counterfactual form has become a crusade for some people. There are surely better causes.

There may be “better causes,” but Zwicky’s ceding of grammatical ground to “personal choice” leads me to doubt that he will fight for those causes.

*   *   *

Related posts:
Remedial Vocabulary Training
One Small Step for Literacy
Unsplit Infinitives
Data Are

Rush to Judgment

CNN harps on an old theme (as reported at TheBlaze):

CNN Article: Republican Voters are ‘White, Aging and Dying Off,’ And the Party Could, Too


The GOP has been written off before — notably in the 1930s and 1940s, the early 1960s, and 1990s. But the strangest things keeps happening: New voters don’t always live down to the left’s expectations; new voters become older voters; and, most surprisingly, a lot of voters are not to be pigeon-holed as easily as leftists would like them to be.

Here is a picture of how GOP presidential candidates have fared since the Civil War: not a steady decline, but oscillation around a mean (approximately 50 percent of the two-party popular vote):

Recent history is perhaps more relevant. Here is an interesting piece of recent history that must cause the left some discomfort:

(I have included my current estimate of the pro-GOP vote in 2012. The blue shading indicates elections held during the terms of Democrat presidents.)

I do not mean to say that current trends are entirely favorable to the GOP. The following table compares the “Redness” (and “Blueness”) of States in recent presidential elections (1996-2008) with their Redness in earlier elections (1972-1988). (I go back only to 1972 because that is when the Southern States became solidly Republican, following the Wallace interlude of 1968).

The bad news (for the GOP) is that the Blue States (in 1996-2008) which are trending Red (IA, MN, OR, PA, WI) have 53 electoral votes (EVs), whereas the Red States that are trending Blue (AZ, CO, FL, NV, VA) have 68 EVs. Further, the States that have become significantly Redder (AL, AK, ID, IN, KS, KY, MN, MO, MT, NE, ND, OK, SD, TN, TX, UT, WI, WY) control 150 EVs; the States that have become significantly Bluer (CA, CT, HI, IL, ME, MD, MS, MI, NV, NH, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA) control 199 EVs. (Here, the trend for a State is considered significant when the State’s average index of Redness for 1996-2008 varies from its average for 1972-1988 by more than one standard deviation of the State’s Redness index for the entire period, 1972-2008.)

The good news is that the Red States (in 1996-2008) have 281 EVs, as against 257 for the Blue States. If the GOP is “doomed,” it a long way from dead. It has been closer to death in the past than it is today, and yet it is now alive and well.

Only a fool says that anything (other than death and taxes) is inevitable. The death of the GOP is not among life’s inevitabilities.

Related posts:
What Happened to the Permanent Democrat Majority?
More about the Permanent Democrat Majority

Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already

Regular readers will know of my disdain for the “bleeding heart” variety of so-called libertarianism. I not only find bleeding-heart libertarians (BHLs) to be unnecessarily apologetic about libertarianism, but also all too willing to impose their views about “social justice” through state action. (On the latter point, see my post “Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists,” and this from a BHL who clearly advocates state action on utilitarian grounds.)

A recent post by Aaron Ross Powell at reminds me that not all useful “libertarian” idiots are housed at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog. Powell’s post, “Libertarian Caring,” makes some good points; for example, Powell ends the post with this:

Liberty does not come at the exclusion of all other concerns. Rather, liberty is the best way to maximize all other concerns. Yes there are libertarians who want nothing more than “to be left alone.” But that feeling doesn’t carry with it Haidt’s implied “and screw all the rest of you.” Instead, “left alone” means freed from officious government so we can better go about making the world a happier, healthier, richer, and more caring place.

Very well said, except that earlier in the post insists that his heart is in the right place not because he is a libertarian but because he “cares”; for example:

Of course libertarians value liberty. But a great many of us, myself included, value caring very highly too. In fact, the reason I shifted from being a progressive to a libertarian was not because my moral foundations changed but because I came to realize that genuine caring means making an effort to actually help people—and that government programs intended to help have a rather poor track record.

Which means that Powell does not value liberty, or thinks of it as a secondary value. In his heart he is still a “progressive” — just one who is looking for the best way to maximize the mythical social-welfare function. Powell is right about the fruits of liberty, but it seems that if he were convinced that liberty did not have beneficial consequences he would revert to statism.

I do not care why anyone is a libertarian, just as long as he is not a left-statist in libertarian clothing.

On that point I turn to David Henderson (with whom I sometimes disagree).  Henderson makes an excellent point in the video embedded here. Free markets (i.e., libertarian institutions) foster ethical behavior because producers compete by striving to do things that benefit consumers. The same is not true of governments and NGOs.

The teaching of ethical behavior is not to be scorned. But scoundrels will always be with us, in all walks of life. There is nothing about business that attracts or breeds a disproportionate number of scoundrels. In fact, I would say that politics and bureaucracies attract and breed more than their share of scoundrels. But even if that is not the case, the scoundrels who are drawn to  “public service” are less constrained in their behavior toward others than the scoundrels who are drawn to business.

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists

Whose Principle Is It, Anyway?

In a recent post, I say:

[Thomas] More’s constancy to principle … stands in high relief against the practice of tailoring one’s principles to fit the data at hand — or the data that one selects to justify one’s prejudices. I have found economists to be especially prone to such tailoring. For example, too many economists justify free markets on utilitarian grounds, that is, because free markets produce more (i.e., are more efficient) than regulated markets. This happens to be true, but free markets can and should be justified mainly because they are free, that is, because they allow individuals to pursue otherwise lawful aims through voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges of products and services. Liberty is a principle, a deep value; economic efficiency is merely a byproduct of adherence to that value.

David Henderson, an economist whose views I often share, slips into the category of unprincipled economist with this:

I watched most of the movie Paradise Road yesterday…. It’s about a large group of women who were captured in Singapore during World War II and taken prisoner by the Japanese government to the island of Sumatra. It’s quite moving.

The lead character, Adrienne Pargiter, … puts an orchestra together to sing Dvorak’s New World Symphony a capella. It’s amazingly good…. The Japanese prison guards are moved by it and, momentarily, become slightly less inhumane.

Later, one of the guards asks Pargiter if she will put together an arrangement of a Japanese folk song. She refuses and it’s clear, from her tone and body language, that this is an issue of principle for her. She hates what they have done to the women so much that she refuses to cooperate.

It seems clear from the context that some of the guards and even the prison commander are willing to trade. The Japanese soldiers have, apparently, stolen their rations, withheld quinine, and generally been nasty. But earlier in the movie a Jewish doctor in the camp … managed to get quinine by trading or making concessions….

So in refusing to conduct the Japanese song, Pargiter is giving up a chance to trade for food and/or quinine, which could save innocent people’s lives.

I don’t see this as a question of principle. Remember, they had been asked to sing a folk song, not the Japanese anthem. (Even with the Japanese anthem, I would have agreed if it had got food or quinine for some of the prisoners.)

I believe in living by strong principles. But I also believe that you should identify very clearly where there really is a principle at stake and where there isn’t.

In the circumstances, I probably would join Henderson in trading with the Japanese guards. But I do not agree with him that there is no principle at stake. The principle, which seems to elude Henderson, is that the guards deserve a rebuke (at the very least) for their inhumane treatment of the prisoners. And the only rebuke that Pargiter can deliver is to refuse the guard’s request.

Pargiter’s stance may seem quixotic, but it reflects a principle — like it or not. I would fault Pargiter’s stance only if it did not reflect a consensus among the other prisoners about (possibly) forgoing food and/or quinine in favor of a rebuke to their captors. But given the unlikelihood of obtaining much, if anything, in the way of better treatment in exchange for the performance of a Japanese folk song, I suspect that Pargiter did the right thing, even if she did it instinctively, out of anger.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Apropos Science

In the vein of “Something from Nothing?” there is this:

[Stephen] Meyer also argued [in a a recent talk at the University Club in D.C.] that biological evolutionary theory, which “attempts to explain how new forms of life evolved from simpler pre-existing forms,” faces formidable difficulties. In particular, the modern version of Darwin’s theory, neo-Darwinism, also has an information problem.

Mutations, or copying errors in the DNA, are analogous to copying errors in digital code, and they supposedly provide the grist for natural selection. But, Meyer said: “What we know from all codes and languages is that when specificity of sequence is a condition of function, random changes degrade function much faster than they come up with something new.”…

The problem is comparable to opening a big combination lock. He asked the audience to imagine a bike lock with ten dials and ten digits per dial. Such a lock would have 10 billion possibilities with only one that works. But the protein alphabet has 20 possibilities at each site, and the average protein has about 300 amino acids in sequence….

Remember: Not just any old jumble of amino acids makes a protein. Chimps typing at keyboards will have to type for a very long time before they get an error-free, meaningful sentence of 150 characters. “We have a small needle in a huge haystack.” Neo-Darwinism has not solved this problem, Meyer said. “There’s a mathematical rigor to this which has not been a part of the so-called evolution-creation debate.”…

“[L]eading U.S. biologists, including evolutionary biologists, are saying we need a new theory of evolution,” Meyer said. Many increasingly criticize Darwinism, even if they don’t accept design. One is the cell biologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago. His new book is Evolution: A View From the 21st Century. He’s “looking for a new evolutionary theory.” David Depew (Iowa) and Bruce Weber (Cal State) recently wrote in Biological Theory that Darwinism “can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory.” Such criticisms have mounted in the technical literature. (Tom Bethell, “Intelligent Design at the University Club,” American Spectator, May 2012)

And this:

[I]t is startling to realize that the entire brief for demoting human beings, and organisms in general, to meaningless scraps of molecular machinery — a demotion that fuels the long-running science-religion wars and that, as “shocking” revelation, supposedly stands on a par with Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal — rests on the vague conjunction of two scarcely creditable concepts: the randomness of mutations and the fitness of organisms. And, strangely, this shocking revelation has been sold to us in the context of a descriptive biological literature that, from the molecular level on up, remains almost nothing buta documentation of the meaningfully organized, goal-directed stories of living creatures.

Here, then, is what the advocates of evolutionary mindlessness and meaninglessness would have us overlook. We must overlook, first of all, the fact that organisms are masterful participants in, and revisers of, their own genomes, taking a leading position in the most intricate, subtle, and intentional genomic “dance” one could possibly imagine. And then we must overlook the way the organism responds intelligently, and in accord with its own purposes, to whatever it encounters in its environment, including the environment of its own body, and including what we may prefer to view as “accidents.” Then, too, we are asked to ignore not only the living, reproducing creatures whose intensely directed lives provide the only basis we have ever known for the dynamic processes of evolution, but also all the meaning of the larger environment in which these creatures participate — an environment compounded of all the infinitely complex ecological interactions that play out in significant balances, imbalances, competition, cooperation, symbioses, and all the rest, yielding the marvelously varied and interwoven living communities we find in savannah and rainforest, desert and meadow, stream and ocean, mountain and valley. And then, finally, we must be sure to pay no heed to the fact that the fitness, against which we have assumed our notion of randomness could be defined, is one of the most obscure, ill-formed concepts in all of science.

Overlooking all this, we are supposed to see — somewhere — blind, mindless, random, purposeless automatisms at the ultimate explanatory root of all genetic variation leading to evolutionary change. (Stephen L. Talbott, “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness,” The New Atlantis, Fall 2011)

My point is not to suggest that that the writers are correct in their conjectures. Rather, the force of their conjectures shows that supposedly “settled” science is (a) always far from settled (on big questions, at least) and (b) necessarily incomplete because it can never reach ultimate truths.

Trayvon, George, and Barack

Recent revelations about the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman suggest the following:

  • Martin was acting suspiciously and smelled of marijuana.
  • Zimmerman was rightly concerned about Martin’s behavior, given the history of break-ins in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.
  • Martin attacked Zimmerman, had him on the ground, was punching his face, and had broken his nose.
  • Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense.

Whether the encounter was “ultimately avoidable,” as a police report asserts, is beside the point.  Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and the case against him should be dismissed. The special prosecutor should be admonished by the court for having succumbed to media and mob pressure in bringing a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.

What we have here is the same old story: Black “victim”–>media frenzy to blame whites (or a “white Hispanic”), without benefit of all relevant facts–>facts exonerate whites. To paraphrase Shakespeare: The first thing we should do after the revolution is kill all the pundits (along with the lawyers).

Obama famously said, “”If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Given the thuggish similarity between Trayvon and Obama (small sample here), it is more accurate to say that if Obama had a son, he would be like Trayvon.

Creepy People

Exhibit A is Richard Thaler, a self-proclaimed libertarian who is nothing of the kind. Thaler defends the individual mandate that is at the heart of Obamacare (by implication, at least), when he attacks the “slippery slope” argument against it. Annon Simon nails Thaler:

Richard Thaler’s NYT piece from a few days ago, Slippery-Slope Logic, Applied to Health Care, takes conservatives to task for relying on a “slippery slope” fallacy to argue that Obamacare’s individual mandate should be invalidated. Thaler believes that the hypothetical broccoli mandate — used by opponents of Obamacare to show that upholding the mandate would require the Court to acknowledge congressional authority to do all sorts of other things — would never be adopted by Congress or upheld by a federal court. This simplistic view of the Obamacare litigation obscures legitimate concerns over the amount of power that the Obama administration is claiming for the federal government. It also ignores the way creative judges can use previous cases as building blocks to justify outcomes that were perhaps unimaginable when those building blocks were initially formed….

[N]ot all slippery-slope claims are fallacious. The Supreme Court’s decisions are often informed by precedent, and, as every law student learned when studying the Court’s privacy cases, a decision today could be used by a judge ten years from now to justify outcomes no one had in mind.

In 1965, the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, referencing penumbras and emanations, recognized a right to privacy in marriage that mandated striking down an anti-contraception law.

Seven years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, this right expanded to individual privacy, because after all, a marriage is made of individuals, and “[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual . . . to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

By 1973 in Roe v. Wade, this precedent, which had started out as a right recognized in marriage, had mutated into a right to abortion that no one could really trace to any specific textual provision in the Constitution. Slippery slope anyone?

This also happened in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, where the Supreme Court struck down an anti-sodomy law. The Court explained that the case did not involve gay marriage, and Justice O’Connor’s concurrence went further, distinguishing gay marriage from the case at hand. Despite those pronouncements, later decisions enshrining gay marriage as a constitutionally protected right have relied upon Lawrence. For instance, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Mass. 2003) cited Lawrence 9 times, Varnum v. Brien (Iowa 2009) cited Lawrence 4 times, and Perry v. Brown (N.D. Cal, 2010) cited Lawrence 9 times.

However the Court ultimately rules, there is no question that this case will serve as a major inflection point in our nation’s debate about the size and scope of the federal government. I hope it serves to clarify the limits on congressional power, and not as another stepping stone on the path away from limited, constitutional government. (“The Supreme Court’s Slippery Slope,” National Review Online, May 17, 2012)

Simon could have mentioned Wickard v. Filburn (1942), in which the Supreme Court brought purely private, intrastate activity within the reach of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The downward slope from Wickard v. Filburn to today’s intrusive regulatory regime has been been not merely slippery but precipitous.

Then there is Brian Leiter, some of whose statist musings I have addressed in the past. It seems that Leiter has taken to defending the idiotic Elizabeth Warren for her convenient adoption of a Native American identity. Todd Zywicki tears a new one for Leiter:

I was out of town most of last week and I wasn’t planning on blogging any more on the increasingly bizarre saga of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry, which as of the current moment appears to be entirely unsubstantiated.  But I was surprised to see Brian Leiter’s post doubling-down in his defense of Warren–and calling me a “Stalinist” to boot (although I confess it is not clear why or how he is using that term).  So I hope you will indulge me while I respond.

First, let me say again what I expressed at the outset–I have known from highly-credible sources for a decade that in the past Warren identified herself as a Native American in order to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences (I am certain that Brian knows this now too).  She was quite outspoken about it at times in the past and, as her current defenses have suggested, she believed that she was entitled to claim it.  So there would have been no reason for her to not identify as such and in fact she was apparently quite unapologetic about it at the time….

Second, Brian seems to believe for some reason that the issue here is whether Warren actually benefited from a hiring preference.  Of course it is not (as my post makes eminently clear).  The issue I raised is whether Warren made assertions as part of the law school hiring process in order to put herself in a position to benefit from a hiring preference for which she had no foundation….

Third, regardless of why she did it, Warren herself actually had no verifiable basis for her self-identification as Native American.  At the very least her initial claim was grossly reckless and with no objective foundation–it appears that she herself has never had any foundation for the claim beyond “family lore” and her “high cheekbones.”… Now it turns out that the New England Historical Genealogical Society, which had been the source for the widely-reported claim that she might be 1/32 Cherokee, has rescinded its earlier conclusion and now says “We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great great great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent.”  The story adds, “Their announcement came in the wake of an official report from an Oklahoma county clerk that said a document purporting to prove Warren’s Cherokee roots — her great great great grandmother’s marriage license application — does not exist.”  A Cherokee genealogist has similarly stated that she can find no evidence to support Warren’s claim.  At this point her claim appears to be entirely unsupported as an objective matter and it appears that she herself had no basis for it originally.

Fourth, Brian’s post also states the obvious–that there is plenty of bad blood between Elizabeth and myself.  But, of course, the only reason that this issue is interesting and relevant today is because Warren is running for the U.S. Senate and is the most prominent law professor in America at this moment.

So, I guess I’ll conclude by asking the obvious question: if a very prominent conservative law professor (say, for example, John Yoo) had misrepresented himself throughout his professorial career in the manner that Elizabeth Warren has would Brian still consider it to be “the non-issue du jour“?  Really?

I’m not sure what a “Stalinist” is.  But I would think that ignoring a prominent person’s misdeeds just because you like her politics, and attacking the messenger instead, just might fit the bill. (“New England Genealogical Historical Society Rescinds Conclusion that Elizabeth Warren Might Be Cherokee,” The Volokh Conspiracy, May 17, 2012)

For another insight into Leiter’s character, read this and weep not for him.

Tea Party Sell-Outs

Business as usual in Washington:

This week the Club for Growth released a study of votes cast in 2011 by the 87 Republicans elected to the House in November 2010. The Club found that “In many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called “Tea Party” freshmen simply didn’t match their records.” Particularly disconcerting is the fact that so many GOP newcomers cast votes against spending cuts.

The study comes on the heels of three telling votes taken last week in the House that should have been slam-dunks for members who possess the slightest regard for limited government and free markets. Alas, only 26 of the 87 members of the “Tea Party class” voted to defund both the Economic Development Administration and the president’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program (see my previous discussion of these votes here) and against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank (see my colleague Sallie James’s excoriation of that vote here).

I assembled the following table, which shows how each of the 87 freshman voted. The 26 who voted for liberty in all three cases are highlighted. Only 49 percent voted to defund the EDA. Only 56 percent voted to defund a new corporate welfare program requested by the Obama administration. And only a dismal 44 percent voted against reauthorizing “Boeing’s bank.” That’s pathetic. (Tad DeHaven, “Freshman Republicans Switch from Tea to Kool-Aid,” Cato@Liberty, May 17, 2012)

Lesson: Never trust a politician who seeks a position of power, unless that person earns trust by divesting the position of power.


Just a few of the recent outbreaks of PCness that enraged me:

Michigan Mayor Calls Pro-Lifers ‘Forces of Darkness’” (reported by on May 11, 2012)

US Class Suspended for Its View on Islam” (reported by, May 11, 2012)

House Democrats Politicize Trayvon Martin” (posted at Powerline, May 8, 2012)

Chronicle of Higher Education Fires Blogger for Questioning Seriousness of Black Studies Depts.” (posted at & run, May 8, 2012)

Technocracy, Externalities, and Statism

From a review of Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy:

In many ways, economics is the discipline best suited to the technocratic mindset. This has nothing to do with its traditional subject matter. It is not about debating how to produce goods and services or how to distribute them. Instead, it relates to how economics has emerged as an approach that distances itself from democratic politics and provides little room for human agency.

Anyone who has done a high-school course in economics is likely to have learned the basics of its technocratic approach from the start. Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.

More recently this approach has been taken even further. The supposedly objective role of the technocrat-economist has become supreme, while the role of politics has been sidelined….

The starting point of The Darwin Economy is what economists call the collective action problem: the divergence between individual and collective interests. A simple example is a fishermen fishing in a lake. For each individual, it might be rational to catch as many fish as possible, but if all fishermen follow the same path the lake will eventually be empty. It is therefore deemed necessary to find ways to negotiate this tension between individual and group interests.

Those who have followed the discussion of behavioural economics will recognise that this is an alternative way of viewing humans as irrational. Behavioural economists focus on individuals behaving in supposedly irrational ways. For example, they argue that people often do not invest enough to secure themselves a reasonable pension. For Frank, in contrast, individuals may behave rationally but the net result of group behaviour can still be irrational….

…From Frank’s premises, any activity considered harmful by experts could be deemed illegitimate and subjected to punitive measures….

…[I]t is … wrong to assume that there is no more scope for economic growth to be beneficial. Even in the West, there is a long way to go before scarcity is limited. This is not just a question of individuals having as many consumer goods as they desire – although that has a role. It also means having the resources to provide as many airports, art galleries, hospitals, power stations, roads, schools, universities and other facilities as are needed. There is still ample scope for absolute improvements in living standards…. (Daniel Ben-ami, “Delving into the Mind of the Technocrat,” The Spiked Review of Books, February 2012)

There is much to disagree with in the review, but the quoted material is right on. It leads me to quote myself:

…[L]ife is full of externalities — positive and negative. They often emanate from the same event, and cannot be separated. State action that attempts to undo negative externalities usually results in the negation or curtailment of positive ones. In terms of the preceding example, state action often is aimed at forcing the attractive woman to be less attractive, thus depriving quietly appreciative men of a positive externality, rather than penalizing the crude man if his actions cross the line from mere rudeness to assault.

The main argument against externalities is that they somehow result in something other than a “social optimum.” This argument is pure, economistic hokum. It rests on the unsupportable belief in a social-welfare function, which requires the balancing (by an omniscient being, I suppose) of the happiness and unhappiness that results from every action that affects another person, either directly or indirectly….

A believer in externalities might respond by saying that they are of “economic” importance only as they are imposed on bystanders as a spillover from economic transactions, as in the case of emissions from a power plant that can cause lung damage in susceptible persons. Such a reply is of a kind that only an omniscient being could make with impunity. What privileges an economistic thinker to say that the line of demarcation between relevant and irrelevant acts should be drawn in a certain place? The authors of campus speech codes evidently prefer to draw the line in such a way as to penalize the behavior of the crude man in the above example. Who is the economistic thinker to say that the authors of campus speech codes have it wrong? And who is the legalistic thinker to say that speech should be regulated by deferring to the “feelings” that it arouses in persons who may hear or read it?

Despite the intricacies that I have sketched, negative externalities are singled out for attention and rectification, to the detriment of social and economic intercourse. Remove the negative externalities of electric-power generation and you make more costly (and even inaccessible) a (perhaps the) key factor in America’s economic growth in the past century. Try to limit the supposed negative externality of human activity known as “greenhouse gases” and you limit the ability of humans to cope with that externality (if it exists) through invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Limit the supposed negative externality of “offensive” speech and you quickly limit the range of ideas that may be expressed in political discourse. Limit the supposed externalities of suburban sprawl and you, in effect, sentence people to suffer the crime, filth, crowding, contentiousness, heat-island effects, and other externalities of urban living.

The real problem is not externalities but economistic and legalistic reactions to them….

The main result of rationalistic thinking — because it yields vote-worthy slogans and empty promises to fix this and that “problem” — is the aggrandizement of the state, to the detriment of civil society.

The fundamental error of rationalists is to believe that “problems” call for collective action, and to identify collective action with state action. They lack the insight and imagination to understand that the social beings whose voluntary, cooperative efforts are responsible for mankind’s vast material progress are perfectly capable of adapting to and solving “problems,” and that the intrusions of the state simply complicate matters, when not making them worse. True collective action is found in voluntary social and economic intercourse, the complex, information-rich content of which rationalists cannot fathom. They are as useless as a blind man who is shouting directions to an Indy 500 driver….

Theodore Dalrymple

If you do not know of Theodore Dalrymple, you should. His book, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, inspired  “On Liberty,” the first post at this blog. Without further ado, I commend these recent items by and about Dalrymple:

Rotting from the Head Down” (an article by Dalrymple about the social collapse of Britain, City Journal, March 8, 2012)

Symposium: Why Do Progressives Love Criminals?” (Dalrymple and others,, March 9, 2012)

Doctors Should Not Vote for Industrial Action,” a strike, in American parlance (a post by Dalrymple, The Social Affairs Unit, March 22, 2012)

The third item ends with this:

The fact is that there has never been, is never, and never will be any industrial action over the manifold failures of the public service to provide what it is supposed to provide. Whoever heard of teachers going on strike because a fifth of our children emerge from 11 years of compulsory education unable to read fluently, despite large increases in expenditure on education?

If the doctors vote for industrial action, they will enter a downward spiral of public mistrust of their motives. They should think twice before doing so.


The Higher-Eduction Bubble

The title of a post at The Right Coast tells the tale: “Under 25 College Educated More Unemployed than Non-college Educated for First Time.” As I wrote here,

When I entered college [in 1958], I was among the 28 percent of high-school graduates then attending college. It was evident to me that about half of my college classmates didn’t belong in an institution of higher learning. Despite that, the college-enrollment rate among high-school graduates has since doubled.

(Also see this.)

American taxpayers should be up in arms over the subsidization of an industry that wastes their money on the useless education of masses of indeducable persons. Then there is the fact that taxpayers are forced to subsidize the enemies of liberty who populate university faculties.

The news about unemployment among college grads may hasten the bursting of the higher-ed bubble. It cannot happen too soon.

Something from Nothing?

I do not know if Lawrence Krauss typifies scientists in his logical obtuseness, but he certainly exemplifies the breed of so-called scientists who proclaim atheism as a scientific necessity.  According to a review by David Albert of Krauss’s recent book, A Universe from Nothing,

the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.

Albert’s review, which I have quoted extensively elsewhere, comports with Edward Feser’s analysis:

The bulk of the book is devoted to exploring how the energy present in otherwise empty space, together with the laws of physics, might have given rise to the universe as it exists today. This is at first treated as if it were highly relevant to the question of how the universe might have come from nothing—until Krauss acknowledges toward the end of the book that energy, space, and the laws of physics don’t really count as “nothing” after all. Then it is proposed that the laws of physics alone might do the trick—though these too, as he implicitly allows, don’t really count as “nothing” either.

Bill Vallicella puts it this way:

[N]o one can have any objection to a replacement of the old Leibniz question — Why is there something rather than nothing? … — with a physically tractable question, a question of interest to cosmologists and one amenable to a  physics solution. Unfortunately, in the paragraph above, Krauss provides two different replacement questions while stating, absurdly, that the second is a more succinct version of the first:

K1. How can a physical universe arise from an initial condition in which there are no particles, no space and perhaps no time?

K2. Why is there ‘stuff’ instead of empty space?

These are obviously distinct questions.  To answer the first one would have to provide an account of how the universe originated from nothing physical: no particles, no space, and “perhaps” no time.  The second question would be easier to answer because it presupposes the existence of space and does not demand that empty space be itself explained.

Clearly, the questions are distinct.  But Krauss conflates them. Indeed, he waffles between them, reverting to something like the first question after raising the second.  To ask why there is something physical as opposed to nothing physical is quite different from asking why there is physical “stuff” as opposed to empty space.

Several years ago, I explained the futility of attempting to decide the fundamental question of creation and its cause on scientific grounds:

Consider these three categories of knowledge (which long pre-date their use by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld): known knowns, know unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Here’s how that trichotomy might be applied to a specific aspect of scientific knowledge, namely, Earth’s rotation about the Sun:

1. Known knowns — Earth rotates about the Sun, in accordance with Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

2. Known unknowns — Earth, Sun, and the space between them comprise myriad quantum phenomena (e.g., matter and its interactions of matter in, on, and above the Earth and Sun; the transmission of light from Sun to Earth). We don’t know whether and how quantum phenomena influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun; that is, whether Einsteinian gravity is a partial explanation of a more complete theory of gravity that has been dubbed quantum gravity.

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might influence Earth’s rotation about the Sun, but we don’t know what those other things are, if there are any.

For the sake of argument, suppose that scientists were as certain about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang as they are about the fact of Earth’s rotation about the Sun. Then, I would write:

1. Known knowns — The universe was created in the Big Bang, and the universe — in the large — has since been “unfolding” in accordance with Einsteinian relativity.

2. Known unknowns — The Big Bang can be thought of as a meta-quantum event, but we don’t know if that event was a manifestation of quantum gravity. (Nor do we know how quantum gravity might be implicated in the subsequent unfolding of the universe.)

3. Unknown unknowns — Other things might have caused the Big Bang, but we don’t know if there were such things or what those other things were — or are.

Thus — to a scientist qua scientist — God and Creation are unknown unknowns because, as unfalsifiable hypotheses, they lie outside the scope of scientific inquiry. Any scientist who pronounces, one way or the other, on the existence of God and the reality of Creation has — for the moment, at least — ceased to be scientist.

Which is not to say that the question of creation is immune to logical analysis; thus:

To say that the world as we know it is the product of chance — and that it may exist only because it is one of vastly many different (but unobservable) worlds resulting from chance — is merely to state a theoretical possibility. Further, it is a possibility that is beyond empirical proof or disproof; it is on a par with science fiction, not with science.

If the world as we know it — our universe — is not the product of chance, what is it? A reasonable answer is found in another post of mine, “Existence and Creation.” Here is the succinct version:

  1. In the material universe, cause precedes effect.
  2. Accordingly, the material universe cannot be self-made. It must have a “starting point,” but the “starting point” cannot be in or of the material universe.
  3. The existence of the universe therefore implies a separate, uncaused cause.

There is no reasonable basis — and certainly no empirical one — on which to prefer atheism to deism or theism. Strident atheists merely practice a “religion” of their own. They have neither logic nor science nor evidence on their side — and eons of belief against them.

Another blogger once said this about the final sentence of that quotation, which I lifted from another post of mine:

I would have to disagree with the last sentence. The problem is epistemology — how do we know what we know? Atheists, especially ‘scientistic’ atheists, take the position that the modern scientific methodology of observation, measurement, and extrapolation from observation and measurement, is sufficient to detect anything that Really Exists — and that the burden of proof is on those who propose that something Really Exists that cannot be reliably observed and measured; which is of course impossible within that mental framework. They have plenty of logic and science on their side, and their ‘evidence’ is the commonly-accepted maxim that it is impossible to prove a negative.

I agree that the problem of drawing conclusions about creation from science (as opposed to logic) is epistemological. The truth and nature of creation is an “unknown unknown” or, more accurately, an “unknowable unknown.” With regard to such questions, scientists do not have logic and science on their side when they asset that the existence of the universe is possible without a creator, as a matter of science (as Krauss does, for example). Moreover, it is scientists who are trying to prove a negative: that there is neither a creator nor the logical necessity of one.

“Something from nothing” is possible, but only if there is a creator who is not part of the “something” that is the proper subject of scientific exploration and explanation.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps

Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action

Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle” was this blog’s first serious venture into the sociology and politics of race in America. This second venture addresses the ways in which the state usurps the liberty and property of white Americans for the benefit of black ones.

It all adds up to gross injustice: placing the blame on the blameless. As I say in “Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck“:

  • There is a “right” set of life outcomes …, which luck-egalitarians are qualified to choose and evaluate because of their [self-assessed] superior moral character.
  • Therefore, it is wrong if some persons are worse off than others in terms of the “right” set of outcomes….
  • Those who are better off (by the selective standards of the luck-egalitarian) owe aid to those who are worse off, even if those who are better off did nothing that made others worse off. The better-off simply do not deserve all that they have because, surely, they must owe much of it to luck.

Thus blameless Americans have been burdened with equal employment opportunity (EEO), about which more below; minority lending preferences, which contributed to the Great Recession by encouraging mortgage loans to low-income borrowers; public-accommodations laws, a.k.a. theft of property rights and denial of freedom of association; the expansion of the welfare state, which led to welfare dependency, broken families, and crime; and the prosecution and persecution of politically incorrect views as “hate crimes” and “inappropriate” expressions of thought.

Of those burdens, I am most familiar with EEO (a.k.a. affirmative action) because I had to contend with its enforcement and consequences in my job as the chief financial and administrative officer of a private, federally funded, research organization. What EEO (affirmative action) means in practice is this: If a member of a “protected” (i.e., favored) identity-group seems to have something like the minimum qualifications for a job, and if that person’s work record and interviews aren’t off-putting, the identity-group person is likely to be hired or promoted ahead of equally or better-qualified whites. Why?

  • Pressure from government EEO offices, which focus on percentages of identity groups hired and promoted, not on the qualifications of applicants for hiring and promotion.
  • The ability of those EEO offices to put government agencies and private employers through the pain and expense of extensive audits, backed by the threat of adverse reports to higher ups (in the case of government agencies) and fines and the loss of contracts (in the case of private employers).
  • The ever-present threat of complaints to the EEOC (or its local counterpart) by rejected identity-group candidates for hiring and promotion. Those complaints can then be followed by costly litigation, settlements, and court judgments.
  • Boards of directors and senior managers who (a) fear the adverse publicity that can accompany employment-related litigation and (b) push for special treatment of identity groups because they think it’s “the right thing to do.”
  • Managers down the line who practice reverse discrimination against better-qualified but “unprotected” identity groups, to keep EEO offices and upper management happy.

(UPDATE 08/14/12: See Roger Clegg’s “Big Business Weighs In, Unconvincingly, in Fisher v. Texas” for more in the vein of the last two points.)

Blacks constitute the identity group most likely to seek “protection” under the rubric of  EEO.  On balance, the (effectively) forced hiring of under-qualified blacks causes significant economic damage — as well as resentment of and condescension toward blacks as “affirmative action hires.”

Universities long ago began to use the term “diversity” in place of “affirmative action.” This euphemistic shift was meant to reduce resentment and condescension toward under-qualified blacks who were (and are) admitted in place of better-qualified whites, and to deflect legal challenges of reverse discrimination by disguising it as an element of a policy of “mixing” for the betterment of social solidarity — or some such bullshit. Many businesses — especially large corporations — have adopted “diversity” as a corporate “value” because doing so reflects the “social responsibility” of boards and top executives.

Reverse discrimination in favor of blacks has victimized millions of Americans, in at least three ways:

  • The aforementioned combination of resentment and condescension has undoubtedly impeded the advance of racial harmony.
  • Many whites have suffered the loss of opportunities and income in the workplace — opportunities and income that would have been theirs if blacks were held to the same standards as whites with respect to hiring and promotion.
  • Many blacks have suffered, in the not-so-long run, because reverse discrimination has set them up for failure.

Victim 1: Social Comity

Reverse discrimination may have fostered harmony — in isolated instances. But, on balance, the country (as represented by the racial composition of public schools) has become more polarized along racial lines than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Some critics of this phenomenon — which is called resegregation — blame court rulings that have undone much of the forced mixing that ensued from Brown v. Board of Education. But those rulings have only enabled many whites to avoid the mixing that they did not want in the first place. Further, resegregation owes much to “white flight” from old cities to suburbs and then to exurbs. Crime and culture are real and valid reasons for an aversion to mixing — reasons that cosseted politicians, academicians, and corporate executives cannot bring themselves to recognize or avow. America will never be a land of sweet racial harmony — nor will any other country — but more whites would willingly accept blacks as neighbors and classmates, were it not for the resentment and condescension caused by affirmative action.

Victim 2: Low-Income Whites

It is hard to come by good estimates of the cost to whites of pro-black discrimination in the workplace. The best one that I have found is here, where the author says this:

In 1997, because of affirmative action, about $192 billion in income [2.3 percent of GDP] was transferred from whites to preferred minorities. If we perform precisely the same calculation for blacks and Hispanics, we can break down the $192 billion into the amounts gained by each group. We find that $144.3 billion [1.7 percent of GDP] was transferred to blacks and $47.5 billion to Hispanics. Dividing these gains by the respective numbers of black and Hispanic workers, we can compute their average annual income enhancement. In 1997, on average a black was subsidized to the tune of about $9,400; a Hispanic gained an average of about $3,900. The cost of these subsidies was spread over 98,782,000 white workers who suffered an average loss of about $1,900 to pay the bill.

The cascade effect. The net displacement of whites by minorities is not uniformly spread across the quintiles. When high-earning whites are displaced down the employment ladder, they displace other whites downward by exerting pressure on the rung below. The effect is like a cascade. At the bottom there is no rung left. Low IQ whites, who in an affirmative action-free marketplace would be competitive in the $10,000 to $20,000 bracket, now pile up in the lowest-income quintile. Although affirmative action affects every white, the largest number affected are the least intelligent and competitive….

In sum, low-income whites — who are thought to be strongly anti-black, as a group — have a valid economic reason for their resentment of blacks. Although blacks, on the whole, are not to blame for affirmative action, they are its beneficiaries and they vote in disproportionate numbers for politicians who favor affirmative action and the other programs that are listed in the third paragraph of this post. The attachment of blacks to the tit of the state has not escaped the attention of whites, and a large fraction of them — the political left-academic complex aside — see that attachment as a moral failing.

Victim 3: Aspiring Blacks

Now to the issue of pro-black discrimination in the academy, which is the crux of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that will be heard later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is much to say about the harm done to whites and Asians in the name of “diversity,” but it has been said often and sometimes to good effect (e.g., Gratz v. Bollinger). The damage done to blacks has received far less attention, and Rick Sander, the main expositor of that harm, is one of a small number of academicians who has had the courage to call attention to it.

I first wrote about Sander seven years ago:

[N]ow comes Richard Sander…. a professor of law at UCLA who has published “A Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools[.]” [Samder] is without a doubt a liberal of the modern persuasion and a proponent of diversity. He is nevertheless critical of affirmative action as it is practiced at law schools. Here’s the gist of his analysis, as reported at FindLaw:

The Heavy Weight Placed on Race in Admissions in Virtually All Schools – the Cascade Effect
Professor Sander lays the foundation for his critique by describing the kind of race-based affirmative action that law schools use today. Under the Bakke and Grutter Supreme Court precedents, public (as well as private) law schools are prohibited from making use of quotas, two-track admissions schemes, or fixed points added to the numerical indices of minorities….

Professor Sander argues that, in fact, the Michigan law school program, despite its seeming flexibility and inscrutability, employs race in just as ambitious (critics would say aggressive) a way as did the Michigan undergraduate plan [which the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Gratz]….

Moreover, and more important, Sander argues, the way race is used at the Michigan law school is the same way race is used in many if not most law school affirmative action programs. Indeed, Sander says that he has “been unable to find a single law school in the United States whose admissions operate the way Justice O’Connor describes in Grutter” – that is, where race is used as a flexible plus factor that does not effectively dominate over all other diversity criteria. The system of aggressive racial preferences is not, Sander says, confined to the “elite” law schools. Rather, “it is a characteristic of legal education as a whole.”

According to Sander, law school affirmative action across law schools is characterized by a “cascade” effect. As the elite schools “snap up” the blacks who otherwise would have been admitted to and have attended the next tier of schools, that next tier of schools snaps up the blacks who would have otherwise attended the tier below. And so forth.

The Mismatch Effect

This systematic cascade phenomenon is important, because when race is being used so weightily in schools all the way down the ladder, the result is that the African Americans who are admitted to each school under an affirmative action program are significantly less numerically qualified than are their white competitor students at that school, who were admitted outside the affirmative action plan. Sander calls this phenomenon the “mismatch” effect – black beneficiaries of affirmative action are “mismatched” at schools whose non-affirmative action students possess better credentials and skills.

Because of the pronounced mismatch effect that extends down the law school hierarchy, blacks tend to suffer poor grades in law school. According to the data Sander adduces, the median black law student’s GPA at the end of the first year of law school places him at the 7th or 8th percentile of his class. Put another way, more than 50% of black law students are in the bottom one-tenth of their law school class (in terms of grades) at the end of the first year.

The Long-Term Costs of the Mismatch Effect – Bar Passage and Job Placement

This poor academic performance in law school, in turn, creates two distinct costs for African Americans. First, Sander argues, the poor grades lead to a very poor bar passage rate. As he points out, “only 45% of black law students in the 1991 cohort completed law school and passed the bar on their first attempt.” That number is far worse than the comparable number for whites.

Sander goes on to argue that many of these blacks with poor grades would have had better grades – and have ended up with a higher chance of passing the bar – if they had been at law schools more commensurate with their academic skills. Sander’s data suggests to him that black students at any law school who have the same law school grades as white students at that school pass the bar in the same percentages. In other words, blacks with good law school grades don’t fail the bar any more than whites with the same grades.

The problem, Sander suggests, is that law schools have “mismatched” blacks in schools where they are unlikely to get good grades. By placing black students in environments where their grades will be higher – less competitive law schools — the system could improve their overall bar pass rate….

From all this, Sander argues that if race-based law school affirmative action were eliminated or reduced, the black bar passage rate would actually go up. According to his calculations, in the absence of preferential admissions, this rate would rise to 74% from the 45% he observed….

If affirmative action were eliminated, most black law students wouldn’t be ousted from law school entirely – they would simply attend law schools that “match” their numerical credentials more tightly. In other words, elimination of affirmative action would simply eliminate the mismatch effect – blacks would simply be attending less competitive and less prestigious schools than they are currently attending. And of those blacks who would be displaced from the bottom of the legal academic system altogether (i.e., those who need affirmative action simply to get into the least competitive schools), many of them today do not end up passing the bar and entering the legal profession in any event….

Sander says that blacks at better schools, but with poor grades, get worse jobs than they would if they were at lesser schools and had better grades. In other words, Sander argues, at all but the most elite schools, grades matter more than the school from which one graduates for black law job applicants. The upside of attending a better school is more than outweighed – in terms of employment options – by the downside of getting weak grades at that school, compared to the better grades that could have been obtained at a less competitive school….

So whether one focuses on passing the bar, or getting a good job, Sander says, there is a case that race-based affirmative action hurts, rather than helps, black law students.

Two years later, I added this:

Gail Heriot of The Right Coast, who is a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, pens an update:

No one claims Sander’s findings are the last word on the subject. Although so far his work has held up to scrutiny as least as well as the work of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the “mismatch thesis” can be definitively accepted or rejected.

Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Sander’s data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, these thinly-disguised political operatives don’t want anyone to know.

Take William Kidder, a University of California staff member and co-author of a frequently-cited attack of Sander’s study. When Sander and his ideologically-diverse co-investigators sought bar passage data from the State Bar of California, Kidder passionately argued that access should be denied, because disclosure “risks stigmatizing African American attorneys.” At the same time, the Society of American Law Teachers, which leans so heavily to the left it risks falling over sideways, subtly threatened future litigation against the State Bar. Coincidentally, one of Kidder’s co-authors, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers, is a former SALT president.

Sadly, the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners caved under the pressure. The committee members didn’t formally explain their decision to deny Sander’s request for the non-personally-identifiable data, but the root cause is clear: Over the last forty years, many distinguished citizens–university presidents, judges, philanthropists, and other leaders–have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Ordinary citizens have found secure jobs as part of the resulting diversity bureaucracy. If it’s not working, they too don’t want anyone to know.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hopes that it can persuade the State Bar to reconsider. Its newly-released report on affirmative action in law schools specifically calls for state bar authorities to cooperate with qualified scholars studying the mismatch issue. Its recommendation is thus modest. It doesn’t claim that Sander is right or his critics wrong. It simply seeks to encourage and facilitate important research.

Its deeper purpose is to remind those who support and administer affirmative action polices of something that ought to be obvious: The good intentions of one’s predecessors do not give anyone a permanent moral free ride. Good faith requires a willingness to re-examine the consequences of one’s actions from time to time. Deliberate ignorance is not an option….

Sander doesn’t need to be proven 100% correct for his research to be devastating news for affirmative action supporters. Suppose the consequences of race-based admissions turn out to be simply a wash–neither increasing nor decreasing the number of minority attorneys. In that case, few people would think it worth the costs, not least among them the human cost that results from the failure of the supposed affirmative action beneficiaries to graduate and pass the bar. Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The rest are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. The real question therefore is how great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify this. If it is decreasing the number, it can hardly be defended.

Sander has returned to the fray, with more evidence about “mismatch” — this time about “scientific mismatch.” His three posts on the subject, at The Volokh Conspiracy,  merit extensive excerpting. In his first post, he writes:

As some readers will recall, a little more than seven years ago I published an analysis of law school affirmative action in the Stanford Law Review. The article was the first to present detailed data on the operation and effects of racial preferences in law schools (focusing on blacks)….

The article generated intense interest, debate, and criticism, though even most critics conceded that I had gotten the facts right. Several well-known empirical scholars in law schools published essays that purported to disprove the mismatch hypothesis. For awhile, many defenders of affirmative action seemed to assume that the article would inevitably provoke a crisis in legal academia, and while attempting to seize the moral high ground in the debate, they attracted even more publicity to the article.

After several months, however, it became clear there would be no widespread calls, among either law students or law faculty, for further inquiry and reform, and things died down. Those unhappy with the “mismatch” article – and that included the vast majority of law school and university administrators – decided the best strategy was to (a) ignore the issue and (b) use their best efforts to prevent the further release of data such as I had used in the original article. There was another, smaller burst of attention when I published a follow-up article  about affirmative action in law firms, and its similar tendency to boomerang on the intended beneficiaries; but otherwise, public debate about mismatch faded away.

It is about to come back.

Over the past few years, there has been a steadily growing stream of empirical research on affirmative action, much of it taking up the mismatch question.  Some social scientists, like Peter Arcidiacono at Duke University and Frederick Smyth at the University of Virginia, were interested in this subject and producing valuable research well before my Stanford article appeared.  Others, like Doug Williams at Sewanee University or Robert Zelnick at Boston University, were intrigued by some of the issues that arose out of the public mismatch debate and the questions raised in the debate.  Still others have been attracted by the “natural experiments” in affirmative action created by the bans on racial preferences adopted in half-a-dozen states.  I have worked closely with Jane Yakowitz (soon to join the law faculty at the University of Arizona) and public-spirited lawyers to pry loose data relevant for studying affirmative action.

Cumulatively, these scholars have produced a remarkable body of research (some of which can be found here) on the workings and effects of affirmative action. And the Supreme Court’s decision (by granting cert to Fisher v. University of Texas) to revisit the subject of racial admissions preferences in higher education will undoubtedly fuel interest in this work.

This is from Sander’s second post:

Some of the most significant recent work on affirmative action concerns a phenomenon called “science mismatch”. The idea behind science mismatch is very intuitive: if you are a high school senior interested in becoming, for example, a chemist, you may seriously harm your chances of success by attending a school where most of the other would-be chemists have stronger academic preparation than you do. Professors will tend to pitch their class at the median student, not you; and if you struggle or fall behind in the first semester of inorganic chemistry, you will be in even worse shape in the second semester, and in very serious trouble when you hit organic chemistry. You are likely to get bad grades and to either transfer out of chemistry or fail to graduate altogether….

Duke economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Ken Spenner last year completed a study that looked at a number of ways that differences in admissions standards at Duke affected academic outcomes. In one of many useful analyses they did, they found that 54% of black men at Duke who, as freshmen, had been interested in STEM fields or economics, had switched out of those fields before graduation; the comparative rate for white men was 8%. Importantly, they found that “these cross-race differences in switching patterns can be fully explained by differences in academic background.” In other words, preferences – not race – was the culprit.

In research conducted by FTC economist Marc Luppino and me, using data from the University of California, we have found important peer effects and mismatch effects that affect students of all races; our results show that one’s chances of completing a science degree fall sharply, at a given level of academic preparation, as one attends more and more elite schools within the UC system. At Berkeley, there is a seven-fold difference in STEM degree completion between students with high and low pre-college credentials.

As is always the case with affirmative action, ironies abound. Although young blacks are about one-seventh as likely as young whites to eventually earn a Ph.D. in STEM fields, academically strong blacks in high school are more likely than similar whites to aspire to science careers. And although a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report in 2010 documented the “science mismatch” phenomenon in some detail, President Obama’s new initiative to improve the nation’s production of scientists neither recognizes nor addresses mismatch….

Science mismatch is, of course, relevant to the general affirmative action debate in showing that preferences can boomerang on their intended beneficiaries. But it also has a special relevance to Fisher v. University of Texas. The university’s main announced purpose in reintroducing racial preferences in 2004 was to increase “classroom” diversity. The university contended that, even though over a fifth of its undergraduates were black or Hispanic, many classrooms had no underrepresented minorities. It sought to use direct (and very large) racial preferences to increase campus URM numbers and thus increase the number of URMs in classes that lacked them. But science mismatch shows that this strategy, too, can be self-defeating. The larger a university’s preferences, the more likely it is that preferenced students will have trouble competing in STEM fields and other majors that are demanding and grade sternly. These students will tend to drop out of the tough fields and congregate in comparatively less demanding ones. Large preferences, in other words, can increase racial segregation across majors and courses within a university, and thus hurt classroom diversity.

And this is from Sander’s third post:

[In the previous post] I discussed a body of research – all of it uncontroverted – that documents a serious flaw in affirmative action programs pursued by elite colleges. Students who receive large preferences and arrive on campus hoping to major in STEM fields (e.g., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) tend to migrate out of those fields at very high rates, or, if they remain in those fields, often either fail to graduate or graduate with very low GPAs. There is thus a strong tension between receiving a large admissions preference to a more elite school, and one’s ability to pursue a STEM career.

Is it possible for contemporary American universities to engage constructively with this type of research? Recent events at Duke University suggest not.

The Duke study … (by economists Peter Arcidiacono and Esteban Aucejo, and by sociologist Ken Spenner, all of Duke) was motivated by an important question: do students who receive large admissions preferences “catch up” with their peers over their college years? This ties into an important premise of many preference programs – i.e., that the rich resources of an elite university will help to phase out prior preparation gaps between students of different races. Aggregate data at Duke suggested that the GPA gap across racial groups was, indeed, narrowing as college progressed, from over half-a-point black/white GPA gap in the first semester, to less than three-tenths of a point by the eighth semester.

Using data gathered by the university, Arcidiacono et al found that this narrowing was illusory. Courses taken by juniors and seniors were graded very leniently, and, more importantly, students who had bad grades in their freshmen year migrated in large numbers from STEM fields and economics to other majors, which generally had easier grading. When one adjusted for these effects, the relative achievement level of different groups was unchanged over the course of college. Thus, there was no silver lining to offset the science mismatch effect.

Importantly, the authors found that these patterns had nothing to do with race, but rather with a student’s level of academic preparation upon entry into Duke. White legacies admitted with large preferences showed the same patterns as blacks admitted with large preferences.

The paper offered no policy recommendations; like a large body of Arcidiacono’s earlier research on other social and educational issues, it simply presented intriguing results researched and analyzed in a conceptually clear and empirically careful way.

In mid-January 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story on the article. Although the reporter, Peter Schmidt, was characteristically fair in summarizing the article’s findings, once the news reached Duke, the reaction was extreme. The Black Student Alliance denounced the research and staged a protest, suggesting that the research was actually an attack on black students and that data they had provided to the university had been misused. Seventeen black alumni wrote an open letter attacking the research as “misguided scholarship” whose results and methodology were “both flawed and incorrect”, though they provided no specifics. “We cannot sit idly by and allow this slander to be (mis)labeled as truth.” Duke faculty got into the act as well, sending angry, indignant emails to the authors and to the economics department.

The President of Duke, Richard Brodhead, finally weighed in on the controversy on March 22nd, at the Annual Meeting of University Faculty. He said he had decided to devote his talk to the issue of race in part because of the controversy generated by the study. He extolled the university’s progress in moving from exclusionary policies in the 1950s and before, to today having among the highest proportion of enrolled blacks of any elite university. He then went on:

“With respect to this January’s controversy I would say the following. I hope all members of this community recognize that it is not the proper function of the university to block expression from its faculty or enforce a correct view. Universities live through free and open debate; when someone thinks someone else has come to an erroneous conclusion, the remedy is to criticize it and offer a better account. On the other hand, I can see why students took offense at what was reported of a professor’s work. Generalizations about academic choices by racial category can renew the primal insult of the world we are trying to leave behind – the implication that persons can be known through a group identity that associates them with inferior powers. A further insult was that the paper had been included in an amicus brief submitted by opponents of affirmative action urging the Supreme Court to hear [Fisher v. University of Texas]….”

Brodhead’s remarks neatly stood reality on its head. The university’s policy of giving large preferences based on race had created a large academic preparation gap across racial lines (e.g., an average 150-point SAT gap, on the old 1600-point scale, between blacks and whites) and thus large differences in academic outcomes across racial lines; but careful research on the effect of academic preparation on these outcomes was offensive? Academic freedom was vital to the university’s life, but factually baseless slander against accurate research was understandable? And it was especially “insulting” to use such research in an amicus brief – i.e., a debate about public policy?

(As it happens, I know about the amicus brief mentioned by President Brodhead, because I coauthored the brief with Stuart Taylor. Both of us are, to be sure, critics of affirmative action, but neither of us are “opponents”, as I will discuss in a coming post. We cited Arcidiacono et al’s research in the brief pretty much in the same spirit that I discussed it in Friday’s post.)

Brodhead’s message was pretty clear: we won’t try to fire people who engage in honest research that identifies problems in affirmative action; but we will ostracize them, and thus strongly discourage such research. Other parts of the record suggest that Duke’s substantive response to the controversy will consist of providing additional funding to race-based student groups, and showing greater “sensitivity” to student complaints.

One might be tempted to put this behavior down to a particularly high level of intolerance at Duke or on Brodhead’s part (many Duke officials and faculty, including Brodhead, took political correctness to disgraceful lengths during the “lacrosse” scandal several years ago, when a number of white students were falsely accused of raping a black woman and Duke officials led the invidious attacks against them, even long after the prosecution had been discredited). But all of the facts of this latest episode at Duke, including Brodhead’s behavior, actually capture perfectly the dynamics of affirmative action discussions at all major universities.

Colleges and universities are committed to the mythology that diversity happens merely because they want it and put resources into it, and that all admitted students arrive with all the prerequisites necessary to flourish in any way they choose. Administrators work hard to conceal the actual differences in academic preparation that almost invariably accompany the aggressive use of preferences. Any research that documents the operation and effects of affirmative action therefore violates this “color-blind” mythology and accompanying norms; minority students are upset, correctly realizing that either the research is wrong or that administrators have misled them. In this scenario, administrators invariably resort to the same strategy: dismiss the research without actually lying about it; reassure the students that the researchers are misguided, but that the university can’t actually punish the researchers because of “academic freedom”. Note that in this dynamic, “academic freedom” becomes a device to protect the administration, not the faculty doing the research!…

But leftists — academic and other — cannot abide the truth when it refutes their prejudices. Affirmative action, as it turns out, is harmful to aspiring blacks, and so is the minimum wage, whose main beneficiaries are supposed to be young blacks. Most leftists will deny those facts because their leftist faith is more important to them than the well-being of those whose cause they claim to champion. They have no concern for the well-being of those whom they evidently despise — non-leftist whites, Asians, taxpayers, heterosexuals, legal immigrants, persons of religion, and the many other targets of left-academic scorn.

Related posts — leftists and academicians:
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
Lefty Profs
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Affirmative Action for Conservatives and Libertarians?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?

Related posts — race:
Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?
The Face of America
Is There Such a Thing as Legal Discrimination?
More on the Legality of Discrimination
Epstein’s Freedom
Epstein’s Freedom, Revisited
Race and Acceptance
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Lamm (Soft of) Lays It on the Line
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
A Law Professor to Admire
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Time on the Cross, Re-revisited
A Black Bigot Speaks
More Anti-Black Bigotry from the Left
Societal Suicide
A “Taste” for Segregation
Don’t Tar My Nationalism with the Racism Brush
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Timely Material
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited

It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
Racism among the Deracinated
“The War”: A Second Reaction
The “Southern Strategy”
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
An Honest Woman Speaks Out
The End of Slavery in the United States
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle

Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists

A welcome to the readers of Jason Brennan’s “We Are Statists in Classical Liberal Clothing.” I have posted a response to Brennan (here). Thank you for visiting this blog.

I have been amused and somewhat bemused by the ongoing verbal war about bleeding-heart libertarians and bleeding-heart libertarianism (both BHL hereinafter). The main point of contention is the love of BHLs for “social justice.” The main  battlefields are the April 2012 issue of Cato Unbound* and most of the recent posts at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

I have assayed BHL elsewhere. Here are relevant excerpts of my earlier assessment:

Matt Zwolinski asks [What Is Bleeding Heart Libertarianism?] in a post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, and answers it by positing three types of bleeding-heart libertarian:

Contingent BHLs – This group has what might be described as standard right-libertarian views for standard right-libertarian reasons.  They believe that the state should more-or-less be constrained to the protection of negative liberty….  However, the fact that a libertarian state is good for the poor and vulnerable does not play an essential justificatory role for this group.  Libertarian institutions are justified independently and sufficiently on the basis of rights and/or consequences, and would still be justified even if they were not good for the poor and vulnerable….

Anarchist Left BHLs – …I sometimes have a bit of a hard time pinning this position down.  At times, it seems to be little more than right-anarchist-libertarianism combined with some distinctive empirical beliefs about the effects and characteristic functioning of markets and the state.  Morally, anarchist Left BHLs seem to have pretty standard libertarian views about self-ownership and the ownership of external property and, like Rothbard but unlike Nozick or Rand, conclude from these premises that all states are morally unjustifiable.  What sets them apart from right-Rothbardians seems mainly to be empirical beliefs about the extent to which contemporary capitalism is the product of and dependent on unjust government support, and about the extent to which the poor and working classes would be made especially better off in a stateless society….

Strong BHLs – Finally, there is my own preferred view…. The most important aspect of this view, and the aspect that distinguishes it from both the positions above,  is that it holds that libertarian institutions depend in part for their moral justification on the extent to which they serve the interests of the poor and vulnerable….

…Here is how Zwolinski explains [the strong BHL position], in an interview to which he links:

So to see if you kind of qualify as a bleeding heart libertarian in that strong sense, try a thought experiment. Suppose that all the critics of libertarianism were right about the empirical claims that they make: that markets are rife with failures, they tend to cause the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, that this leads to the exploitation of workers by capitalists. If all those claims were really true, and libertarians don’t believe that they are, but suppose they were. Would you then still be a hardcore libertarian? If the answer to that is no, then I think you might be a bleeding heart libertarian….

Note the circular reasoning: Libertarian institutions depend in part for their moral justification on the extent to which they serve the interests of the poor and vulnerable, but the libertarian institution of free markets “fails” because one result of free markets is that some persons make less than others, that is, they are necessarily “poor” by the usual, relative measure of “poorness” in the United States.

That most “poor” Americans are vastly better off than the abjectly impoverished denizens of much of Africa seems not to weigh on BHLs, who stand ready to exact “social justice” on behalf of their “poor” countrymen. That another libertarian institution — private charity (both organized and spontaneous) — can and does alleviate poverty (and other sufferings) seems to to missing from what is in fact a summary judgment against libertarianism. Libertarianism — advocacy of voluntary social and economic arrangements — is tainted, in the view of BHLs, if it does not also yield “social justice.”

The tension between liberty and “social justice” is the subject of the recently published  Free Market Fairness, written by John Tomasi. According to one review, Tomasi’s thesis is that the proverbial “we”

have been forced … to choose between social justice and economic freedom, often in reductive forms governed by moralistic absolutes. On one side is a frequently “bullying (and morally condescending)” left-liberalism; on the other an often “cold and heartless” libertarianism. It is widely thought, Mr. Tomasi says, that there can be “no common ground” between the two sides. The antagonists enter the fray believing that “when the dust settles, one side will win and the other will lose.”

Mr. Tomasi, a political theorist at Brown University, is unhappy with this stark choice. He confesses that he is attracted to the ideals of both camps. He also observes that much has changed since the 1970s. As we move into a postindustrial, Internet economy, it becomes increasingly clear that people of all income levels value the right to make economic choices. Yet most people also believe in something like social justice, supporting programs that adjust for inequalities.

With “Free Market Fairness,” Mr. Tomasi proposes an alternative to both points of view. He christens it “market democracy,” a mix of economic liberty and social justice that, in his view, supports a morally superior ideal than either the minimal state or welfare-state liberalism. Market democracy is not meant to be a mushy compromise or mere middle way, he says, but a “hybrid” that stands on its own merits.

Mr. Tomasi’s idea of a market democracy breaks with key ideas on both sides of the debate. First, he argues—against the socialist ethic of Rawls—that economic liberty is among the basic rights of individuals, as fundamental as the right to free speech. That is, we value economic liberty not merely for reasons of utility but for the ways in which it enables us to be the authors of our own lives. As Mr. Tomasi eloquently explains: “Restrictions of economic liberty, no matter how lofty the social goal, impose conformity on the life stories that free citizens might otherwise compose.”

Second, market democracy breaks with modern libertarian thinking by taking the claims of social justice seriously. Unlike Hayek, Mr. Tomasi does not believe that social justice is a mere will-o’-the-wisp. Nor does he believe that society is little more than the sum of private transactions. For Mr. Tomasi, society is “a public thing,” and thus all citizens should be able to affirm that its arrangements are fair. “A set of institutions is just,” he writes, reworking Rawls, “only if it works over time to improve the condition of the least well-off citizens.”

Market democracy recognizes that the question of social justice is a real one but without assuming that ordinary people don’t value economic liberty. Thus Mr. Tomasi believes that health care is a matter of social justice, but he prefers market-based approaches (with a safety net). “In seeking to benefit the least well off,” he says, “we must take care to do so in ways that respect the autonomy and dignity of those citizens.”

But he notes that economic liberty, as a triumphant principle, can lead to repellent results. To take a classic example, a person has no right to sell himself into slavery. Nor, Mr. Tomasi suggests, should the state sit idly by while sectors of society fall into grinding poverty and social dysfunction. The state has an obligation, he argues, to intrude upon laissez-faire arrangements so that “the exercise of responsible self-authorship” is possible.

It isn’t entirely clear how market democracy would function in the policy debates of the moment. Mr. Tomasi’s book is emphatically a work of political theory, not a blueprint for political action, much less a catalog of policy solutions. He does believe though that market democracy offers a way out of our either-or political debate, which at its extremes pits the Tea Party against the Occupy Wall Street movement. Market democracy would make the welfare of the very poor a top concern but would find little justice in mere wealth redistribution….

There is more specificity in Zwolinski and Tomasi’s lead essay for the April 2012 issue of Cato Unbound. Here are some relevant excerpts:

During the Progressive era, [Ludwig von] Mises complained that advocates of the New Liberalism [i.e., modern “liberals”] “arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to call their own program the program of welfare.” Mises regarded this as “a cheap logical trick.” The fact that classical liberals do not rely upon direct, state-based programs to distribute benefits does not mean that they are any less concerned for the poor.[15] Defending his preferred system of economic liberty, Mises wrote: “Any increase in total capital raises the income of capitalists and landowners absolutely and that of workers both absolutely and relatively. . . The interests of entrepreneurs can never diverge from those of consumers.”[16] If capitalism benefits the poor not just in real terms but also relatively to the wealthy, then capitalism is especially beneficial to the poor.

Mises’s critics (and some of his defenders) read Mises as whitewashing an uncompromising system of economic liberty with the idle hope that such a system maximizes productivity. On this reading, it is overall productivity that Mises cared about, and the distributional pattern that results is something about which Mises cared not one jot. However, notice what Mises did not say. He did not say: “The institutions of commercial society generate the greatest aggregate wealth and so, even though such institutions predictably deposit 20 percent of the population in a position of hereditary inferiority, this is A-OK.” Instead, Mises thought capitalist institutions justified, at least in part, because he believed a society-wide system of voluntary exchange will be materially beneficial for all citizens. Inequalities are justified, Mises seems to have argued, at least in part because they work to the material benefit of the least well off.

Indeed, Mises was explicit about the normative role he saw such claims playing within his defense of the free society. Thus: “In seeking to demonstrate the social function and necessity of private ownership of the means of production and of the concomitant inequality in the distribution of income and wealth, we are at the same time providing proof of the moral justification for private property and for the capitalist social order based upon it.”[17] The social function of inequalities—the benefits they provide to all, especially the poor—is an essential element in their moral justification.

It is no surprise, therefore, that when describing man’s role as a member of a (properly) liberal social order, Mises declared that each person “must adjust his conduct to the requirements of social cooperation and look upon his fellow men’s success as an indispensable condition of his own.”[18] Society, according to Mises, is a cooperative venture for mutual gain. In a good and just social order, people look upon the special talents of the fellow citizens not as weapons to be feared but as in some sense a common bounty. Economic competition is a morally praiseworthy form of social cooperation at least in part because it channels the talents of each towards the production of benefits for all….

[F]ree marketers should not be afraid to express a principled concern for the poor, or even to commit themselves to an ideal of social or distributive justice. First, in its philosophically most sophisticated formulations, such as that of left liberal paragon John Rawls, social justice concerns the material condition of the lowest paid workers—not that of idle surfers, coffeehouse Marxists, the unemployable, or even the temporarily unemployed. Second, social justice is not a property of the particular distributions that emerge in a society but of social and economic institutions viewed as integrated wholes. Thus a commitment to social justice in no way commits one to advocating liberty-limiting “corrections” of emergent distributions on an ongoing basis…. [A]s a consequence, a commitment to social justice does not require that one advocate “big state” welfare programs or anything even close. A set of institutions might well satisfy the requirements of social justice without including any state-based “redistributive” apparatus whatsoever.[24] After all, what are these requirements of social justice? According to Rawls, social justice allows for material inequalities, even extremely large and growing inequalities, provided only that the overall system works in a way that is beneficial to the lowest paid workers (that is, if the lowest paid workers in capitalist societies, over time, tend to earn more than the lowest paid workers in any noncapitalist alternative, then capitalist societies are better from the perspective of social justice)….

If that still leaves you puzzled about the relationship between “social justice” and libertarianism, perhaps this later entry by Zwolinski and Tomasi will make it clear:

…[S]ocial justice is a moral standard by which the institutions of a society can be evaluated on the basis of how well they serve the interests of the poor and least advantaged [whatever they might be]. This broad concept can be fleshed out in a number of different ways by different particular conceptions of social justice. And a full conception would say, among other things, what counts as “advantage” (Wealth? Primary goods? Utility?), what the scope of social justice is (The nation? Humankind? All sentient beings?), how this standard of moral evaluation fits alongside others (nobody – not even Rawls – believes that the fate of the poor is the only important criterion for judging the morality of a society’s institutions), and so on. Again, we have not attempted to articulate or defend such a conception here. But it is not as though bleeding heart libertarians have been silent on this issue. For several serious scholarly treatments, see John’s book here, or this essay by Jason Brennan and John Tomasi. And see also the numerous blog posts from Jason (here, here, and here), Kevin Vallier (here and here) and me (here, here, here and here).

Our historical thesis is not that earlier classical liberals endorsed any particular conception of social justice. Indeed, we do not even claim that they were explicitly and self-consciously committed to even the broad concept of social justice. But they did, over and over again, suggest that they saw the fate of the working poor as an important element in assessing the justice of liberal institutions….

One of Zwolinski and Tomasi’s blog partners, Jason Brennan, puts it this way:

…All theorists who advocate social justice believe something like this:

  • If under favorable conditions, an political-economic regime systematically causes many innocent people, through no fault of their own, to live in poverty, without much opportunity, and without much ability to enjoy their freedom, and if there is some alternative regime that, under those same conditions, would eliminate these problems, this provides a strong presumption in favor of that alternative regime.
  • If our basic institutions systematically fail to benefit innocent people, or systematically tend to harm them, then it is unreasonable to ask them to observe those institutions. For instance, if through no fault of my own, some property rights regime causes me to starve, and if this isn’t just a result of bad luck but is a systematic effect of that regime, then the rest of you can’t demand I play along with the regime.

In other words, if a regime of liberty has consequences that, in the view of a BHL (or a left-statist), cause “many innocent people, through no fault of their own, to live in poverty,” it is legitimate to curtail the liberties of some so that others might enjoy unearned benefits.

Kevin Vallier, another BHL, puts it this way:

…[S]ocial justice is justice with regard to the arrangement of a society’s basic structure. Let’s take the second term first. Rawls defines a society’s basic structure as follows:

By the basic structure I mean a society’s main political, social, and economic institutions, and how they fit together into one unified system of social cooperation from one generation to the next (PL, 11).

Rawls’s theory in Political Liberalism is meant to apply to modern constitutional democracy, such that the subject of social justice is the structure of the modern constitutional democratic state and the institutions it governs. For Rawls the basic structure is “the first subject of justice” (257). He states again that,

The basic structure is understood as they way in which the major social institutions fit together into one system, and how they assign fundamental rights and duties and shape the division of advantages that arises through social cooperation. Thus the political constitution, the legally recognized forms of property, and the organization of the economic, and the nature of the family, all belong to the basic structure (258).

So the basic structure is one great big social thing and serves as a subject of evaluation. A basic structure is socially unjust when it is not arranged in accord with principles that can be justified to each reasonable comprehensive doctrine (kind of like my discussion of public reason, but not the same)….

But modern constitutional democracy is not a voluntary social order. It is a statist order that is superimposed on and destructive of voluntary social institutions, not only free markets but also the other institutions of civil society: family, church, club, and so on. To suggest that the dictates of constitutional democracy somehow define “social justice” and legitimately override the workings of voluntary social institutions — free markets among them — is either naive or cynical.

I believe that it is cynical. The BHL proponents of “social justice” are intelligent and clever persons. They know what they are doing by wrapping their statist agenda in the banner of libertarianism. But their game is given away when one of their number dares, at last, to give operational meaning to “social justice.” I refer to the following utterances by another BHL, Jessica Flanagan:

I support a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and I think that other libertarians ought to as well….

When I say ‘social justice,’ I mean UBI. Below are several arguments for a basic income. I don’t endorse them all, but I’m including them all to show that there are many libertarian paths to this kind of ‘social justice’ conclusion.

First, I think that a UBI is morally required, given the wrong of a state-enforced property system….

Second, the UBI is relatively market friendly.… [W]e ought to support things like childcare and education vouchers, or a UBI for kids. Such a system would help citizens access the services they need without forcing them to sign up with a crappy state program.

Third, consider libertarian types like John Tomasi, Loren Lomasky, and Gerald Gaus, who argue that a UBI makes state power justifiable. Tomasi thinks that impartial institutional designers would first choose to protect important liberties (including economic liberties like contract and ownership) but then they would endorse redistributive policies to benefit society’s worst off within the limits of said liberties.

Fourth, a UBI can be compatible in principle with ‘hard libertarian’ property rights. Even if you were entitled to your property holdings, you are not entitled to coercive public enforcement of those holdings. Just because we have negative rights doesn’t mean that those rights merit full public accommodation. Once libertarians start demanding that their property is protected and their rights are publicly enforced, we can think of taxes as the public fee for that enforcement. If the public is the guardian of your wealth, who are you to tell your security guard how to spend his paycheck? This isn’t how states work, but it does point to a possible justification for redistribution.

Alternatively, some libertarians believe that a UBI is good because it will promote overall well being….

These arguments for the UBI also explain why libertarianism at its best is aligned with the political left. The world is really unjust in part because states coercively enforce laws that make people really badly off. On this we agree. Sufficiency is on the path to priority or equality, so for a while, BHL’s and leftists can walk the path from here to social justice together.

PS: Matt Zwolinski wrote a great essay on the topic of Classical Liberalism and The Basic Income (see SSRN for a PDF) 

Thus Flanagan exposes the truth about BHL: It is left-statist and anti-libertarian. It is nothing more than utilitarianism. That is to say, it is based on the presumptive, pseudo-omniscient belief that resources should be diverted from their owners to other persons, on the ground that those others “deserve” the diverted resources more than the owners of those resources. One among many justifications for this presumption is the pseudo-economic claim that money, for any individual, has diminishing marginal utility. Therefore, those from whom resources are taken suffer little if any loss of utility, whereas those (poorer persons) to whom resources are given gain much utility. This assumes a social-welfare function, which does not exist. It also assumes, wrongly, that the marginal utility of money diminishes as one accumulates more and more of it, which would come as a surprise to Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, oil sheiks, and almost everyone who would love to become wealthier (which is most persons). It makes you wonder why millions of Americans buy lottery tickets every week, if not every day. (For more about utilitarianism and social welfare, see this, this, this, this, and this).

Flanagan, like many other BHLs (and most leftists) evidently believes that the owners of large claims on resources (e.g., “the 1%”) are undeserving of their claims because the “system” is rigged so that “the 1%” (and such-like) become rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. This is patent nonsense because it assumes that there is a possible “perfect” system that is not, in some way, rigged to benefit one set of elites or another.

The relevant questions, which go unanswered by BHLs (and leftists), are these:

  • Whether the current system of regulated capitalism, when enables some classes of individuals to piggy-back on others, is worse than the attainable alternatives (if there are any).
  • The extent to which those at the top actually cause deep poverty among those at the bottom.

I submit that because of the legal complexities of regulated capitalism it is impossible to know the extent to which those who benefit from the current system actually deprive others of the “just desserts.” Among the complexities are the many programs that work in favor of the “working poor” — and a vast cohort of sloths. Further, any regime — from libertarian to state-socialist — will generate a “1%.” And it is hard to say that the composition of America’s “1%” would not (for the most part) be the same under a regime of pure, anarchistic libertarianism or ironclad state-socialism. Ability, intelligence, guile, ambition, and ruthlessness rise to the top.

Flanagan’s point about the state’s right to spend its “paycheck” as it pleases is a bogus one. Those libertarians who accept the necessity of the state do so with the proviso that the state’s sole function is to protect property rights and negative rights. The state may spend its “paycheck” only for the purpose of protecting those rights — not for the purpose of spending the “paycheck” as it pleases. A state that goes beyond its remit to perform illegitimate functions does not collect a “paycheck” for its services. It steals.

As for UBI, it arrived on the scene a long time ago, in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, EITC, SNAP, AFDC, subsidized housing, subsidized mortgage loans, affirmative action, etc., etc., etc. It is pure naivete to suggest UBI as a politically feasible alternative to those programs, each of which has entrenched constituencies and powerful defenders. UBI would be an addition to the list, not a substitute for it.

Some final words for BHLs: If you know of persons who are poor and vulnerable, help them yourself. Give them your time and effort, give them money, or give money to a charity that actually does something to help. But do not presume to be my conscience, and take your hand out of my pocket.

Related reading:
The Top 0.1 Percent
Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism and “Social Justice”
Bleeding Heart Libertarianism, Utilitarianism, and Statism

Related posts:
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
“Occupy Wall Street” and Religion
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Private Property
In Defense of the 1%
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism

* Here is a summary of the contributions to the April 2012 issue:

Lead Essay

  • A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism by Matt Zwolinski and John TomasiMatt Zwolinski and John Tomasi propose to refocus the libertarian movement. Although they agree that individual property rights are important, they propose to return libertarianism to its nineteenth-century intellectual roots. They argue that the classical liberals valued property rights for different reasons, perhaps, than we in the movement value them now: Property rights were intended to protect the least well-off workers in society. A “neoclassical liberal” would not advocate a welfare state, but would certainly value social justice; his means of attaining it would be through the institutions of property and contract.

Response Essays

  • In Praise of Bleeding Heart Absolutism by Roderick T. LongRoderick T. Long criticizes the sharp distinctions drawn by Zwolinski and Tomasi between nineteenth-century classical liberals and the “Unholy Trinity” of Mises, Rand, and Rothbard. He suggests many areas in which the earlier thinkers were not as Zwolinski and Tomasi characterize them, as well as several where Mises, Rand, and Rothbard don’t conform either. Long stresses the importance of class analysis in the thought of nineteenth-century classical liberals and points to its resurrection as a key aspect of Rothbard’s thought in particular. This, he suggests, points the way toward a “bleeding-heart absolutism” – an ideology critical of every form of state power, yet also prioritizing the moral claims of the poorest in society.
  • Natural Rights + ? by David D. FriedmanDavid Friedman argues that the pre-twentieth century classical liberals were motivated not by a concern for the poor per se, but by utilitarian reasoning. The “working poor” were a large majority of society in their time, and authors like Adam Smith must be read in their historical context. Doing so reveals Smith to be a progenitor of Jeremy Bentham, not John Rawls. Utilitarianism brings problems of its own, of course, but it should not be confused with social justice.
  • Let’s Reject the Purity Test by Alexander McCobinAlexander McCobin argues that libertarians often engage in unproductive debates about who or what is “more” libertarian. One thing lost in these debates is that, across the wide sweep of intellectual history, significant libertarian figures have usually felt free to draw from a wide array of justifications and policy approaches. Each was a product of a particular historical era, and there is no reason to find fault with any of them simply on that account. To advance liberty, we should think and write about libertarian principles in terms that unbiased observers will find persuasive today.

The Conversation

Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto
all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X

Inscription on the Liberty Bell

The evident repudiation of “austerity” by the unwashed masses and “intellectuals” of France and Greece has set the stage for the final decline and fall of Europe. Socialism is the enemy of robust economic activity, and it seems that most Europeans favor the opiate of socialism over economic reality. Europe is therefore doomed to low (perhaps negative) economic growth and its concomitant, social unrest. The end will come with the arrival of men and women on white horses, promising an unattainable Nirvana and delivering enslavement to the dictates of the state. The tragedies of the Third Reich and the USSR will be replayed in somewhat less brutal fashion.

Given the trend of American history since the early 1900s, there is great danger that Americans will follow Europeans into abject submission to the state. If the trend is not reversed, and soon, Thomas Sowell will have been right to say that “the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.”

Sowell remains at large, which leads me to believe that I might, with impunity, embellish on Sowell’s observation.

I take Sowell to mean something like this: Thanks to the coercive and propagandistic efforts of government officials, bureaucrats, journalists, educators, and intelligentsia (the vast, left-wing portion thereof) — and thanks to the venality, gullibility, and ignorance of voters — America is now so far from being a civil society based on limited government and personal responsibility that it cannot again become one through the electoral process. In short, the Constitution has been subverted.

Sowell is correct in his diagnosis of the state of the nation. And he may be right to suggest that limited government, and with it civil society, can be restored only by extra-constitutional means. A hypothetical alternative to that hypothetical option is outright rebellion.

As long as I am speaking hypothetically, let me speak of a third option: an underground society. An underground society would comprise persons and enterprises whose personal and business transactions are founded on mutual trust and respect, who rely on consensus to establish and enforce codes of behavior, and whose affairs have been arranged so as to escape the notice of established governments (except perhaps the notice of a sympathetic local authority). (For more, see this and this.)

My assessment of the three options:

  • Underground society. No underground society can become large enough to perform the functions of an aboveground society before it is targeted for suppression by established governments. An underground society is more likely to attract unarmed flower children/academics or armed loudmouths — all easily detected and suppressed — than it is to attract persons possessing sufficient wealth and guile to bankroll extensive underground enterprises. Such persons, on balance, will favor the existing order because uncertainty and disorder are threats to their wealth. But all it takes is a (relative) handful of good (and wealthy) liberty-lovers.
  • Coup. Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power from a corrupt regime. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism. Though, on that point, I am willing to take my chances, given the political trajectory of the nation.
  • Revolution. We are a long way from the conditions of the 1770s, when it was possible for a relatively small portion of the populace — albeit an able, courageous, and determined one — to rebel overtly and successfully against the ruling regime. It was only 90 years later that a much larger portion of the populace — equally able, courageous, and determined (though fighting for the wrong cause) — failed to defeat the ruling regime. Another 150 years on, we find a ruling regime with too many adherents and too much power to be overturned by overt rebellion.

Those Americans with a grasp of the reality that looms face two realistic (if uncertain) routes toward liberty. One route is to continue fighting the war of ideas. That war is being fought by libertarian think-tanks, a relative handful of politicians and “public intellectuals,” and a pitifully small portion of the populace (consisting mostly of bloggers, it seems). The odds of success are low, but not zero. In any event, there can be no change for the better if no one is fighting (intellectually and politically) for that change.

The other realistic route — the one taken by those of our ancestors who came to America for its promise of liberty — is emigration. That may be a route toward greater liberty for those who are willing and able to make the necessary financial and psychological sacrifices to venture it. The question, then, is where to go. The most promising and plausible answers given by the Fraser Institute and Heritage Foundation are Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland — none of which, I daresay, has the degree of liberty that once prevailed in the United States.

So — being too old for emigration and skeptical of its benefits — I have rededicated myself to the war of ideas. But if the war of ideas cannot be won, I favor an underground society, a military coup, or a revolution (in that order).

See also “The Constitution: Myths and Realities“.

Combinatorial Play

What is it? It’s the term applied by Einstein to the creative combination of (seemingly) unconnected theories to develop new, more general theories.  Combinatorial play often works subconsciously, while a person is asleep or engaged in a “mindless” diversion. The possibility of arriving at a solution to a problem by shelving it — even overnight — underlies the counsel to “sleep on it.”

Combinatorial play occurs in the absence of artificial deadlines, which hamper truly creative thinking. Such thinking occurs when a person with deep knowledge of a practical, professional, or scientific subject acquires a new insight about the subject by thinking in new ways (often subconsciously) about his knowledge — by making new connections from “old facts,” so to speak.

Related reading:
Thought for thinkers:’Follow your gut,’ study advises on big decisions
Let Subconscious Handle Complex Decision Making?