Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Global warming is a divisive issue. People are either believers or skeptics, with each side viewing the other with apprehension. I've sided firmly with the skeptics, but lately I have had a nagging concern. Like most people, I am not an atmospheric scientist. I have no firsthand way to evaluate a scientific claim for or against the existence of global warming. So what grounds have I for believing what one scientist says against the thesis over what another one says in favor of it?Read the rest of this week's TGIF column at the website of the Foundation for Economic Education.
No good grounds at all. . . .
This much I know: these are highly complex empirical questions. They are not a political, ethical, or ideological questions. Thus the answers must be left to the scientific process, preferably untainted by government control.
In the meantime, laymen committed to individual freedom have their own question to attend to: If potentially harmful manmade climate change is occurring, how can it be addressed without violating liberty?
Cross-posted at Free Association.
David T. Beito
The photo shows George Stigler on the left, Milton Friedman in the middle, and John Kenneth Galbraith on the right.
"All great economists are tall. There are two exceptions: John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman." --George J. Stigler
David T. Beito
Aeon J. Skoble
Aeon J. Skoble
Whether Iraq is embroiled in a civil war is a matter of some controversy. News organizations such as NBC have dramatically announced that, indeed, it is. Pundits solemnly the debate the question on cable news talk shows. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says yes. Present Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says no.The rest of my latest op-ed is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.
Of course, the president of the United States agrees with Rice. He has two good reasons for doing so. If President Bush admits we have a civil war on our hands, the American people will (1) know that the Bush doctrine is a big flop, and (2) wonder why we should stay in Iraq.So what sounds like a debate over semantics is really a matter of politics.
Cross-posted at Free Association.
Price is merely the relative value you place on something versus all of your (other) assets, including your future labor.
But I am not sure that this is a satisfactory definition. As I wrote in reply,
First, there is no clear way to derive [this definition of price] from an ordinal ranking of my wants, which to Mises is the only proper way of talking about how individuals value goods. Second, this definition excludes market price, which might not (indeed probably won’t) reflect the purely internal values I place on goods.
It also neglects marginalism: Any proper definition of price must take into consideration the question of whether this is the nth unit of a given good or the n+1th unit. This is a relatively easy defect to remedy, however, since we could simply write,"Price is the relative value you place on [an additional unit of a good] versus all of your (other) assets, including your future labor."
We continue to debate it below, but I remain less than satisfied about price, as price simply isn't an ordinal ranking. It's a quantity of money associated in some sense with a good. It also seems that, in the popular usage at least,"price" can be a putative attribute of a good, not necessarily one that induces any market transactions. When a price is bid up at an auction, for example, is only the final price a selling price? Aren't they all prices? And yet... and yet...
On the other hand, nearly all of my doubts regarding money as a commodity were satisfied in book I chapter 5 of TM&C, which considers much more precisely what kind of good money is: Is money a production good, a consumption good, or something else? The case that money is a consumption good is exceedingly weak. The case that it is a production good is somewhat stronger, as it facilitates the movement of other goods, and the movement of goods is indeed a kind of production. But the case that money is a third kind of good -- an exchange good -- is strongest of all, since money, and through it other goods, may be exchanged without moving much of anything at all.
(At this point it may be useful to note that, if I were writing a book review, the second part of my continuing series would almost certainly never have been written at all, no matter how many words my editor permitted. That it was written, and that it generated discussion and thought among the participants in the conversation, is only a consequence of not having read chapter five before I posted. It's also a demonstration of the promise (peril?) of this new method of writing.)
But in any event, here is my next question to readers. In particular, I have the historians in mind when I ask it.
In book I chapter 3 part 4, Mises discusses the asserted governmental prerogative to debase the currency as follows:
Fiscal considerations have led to the promulgation of a theory that attributes to the minting authority the right to regulate the purchasing power of the coinage as it thinks fit. For just as long as the minting of coins has been a government function, governments have tried to fix the weight and content of the coins as they wished. Philip VI of France expressly claimed the right"to mint such money and give it such currency and at such rate as we desire and seems good to us" and all medieval rulers thought and did as he in this matter. Obliging jurists supported them by attempts to discover a philosophical basis for the divine right of kings to debase the coinage and to prove that the true value of the coins was that assigned to them by the ruler of the country.
Nevertheless, in defiance of all official regulations and prohibitions and fixing of prices and threats of punishment, commercial practice has always insisted that what has to be considered in valuing coins is not their face value but their value as metal. The value of a coin has always been determined, not by the image and superscription it bears nor by the proclamation of the mint and market authorities, but by its metal content. Not every kind of money has been accepted at sight, but only those kinds with a good reputation for weight and fineness.
This embroils us in the question of fiat money, about which I will have much more to ask in the coming days. Laying it aside for the moment, however, I wanted to make a few notes here about early modern understandings of money and challenge historians in a general way about them. I am not asking a specific question with a specific answer, as I did above with Mises' definition of price, but rather I am issuing a challenge: Hey, historians, what do you think about this stuff?
Mises is certainly right when he notes that kings had long claimed the issuing of money as a royal prerogative. Not only that, but they had some very particular ideas regarding the circulation of money, notions that may strike us as simultaneously confused and yet all too familiar.
Counterfeiting, coin-clipping, and other acts that interfered with the sovereign's ability to mint money and make it circulate were all usually likened to the crime of lèse majesté. We may protest, as antimonarchists, that lèse majesté is an illusory crime. We may also protest, as Austrian economists, that the sovereign no more makes the currency circulate than he makes the earth revolve around the sun. But this is perfectly indifferent to the study of belief. As the adage goes,"Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship." It strikes me that, much like the history of diseases and public health, the social history of economic thought -- really, for much of human experience the history of economic ignorance and superstition -- has yet to be told. How did all of the bad ideas people had about money (cf. Aristotle!) hold back the growth of material civilization and technology?
I know that in Mises' time, it was far more acceptable to talk, in a Whiggish sense, about the history of material progress than it is today, and that historians are often seen as somehow failing in their duties if they affirm that progress has indeed been made. (Eight years of graduate school has failed to make this perfectly plain to me, I'm afriad.) But... Outside of the narrow intellectual specialty of the history of economic thought, it strikes me that there are many new questions to be asked in this area: questions about culture and practices, about knowledge/power, perhaps, and about the background assumptions that color political and social actions. Nearly all decisions in past political and social history were premised, it now seems clear, upon what can only be called economic superstitions -- much as nearly all medical care during those same years was premised on theories that had only the remotest connection to health and disease as we now understand them.
The scholarship on the French Revolution is instructive. Although one can hardly deny the role played by economic ignorance as a proximate cause of the Revolution -- pre-Revolutionary credit structures were primitive and were ultimately a bad bargain for the French state -- the odd economic ideas of the time seem ready for exploration through such incidents as the Law of the Maximum, the various embargoes and trade restrictions, the fear of"speculators" and hoarders, and the assignats. The very idea that clipping a coin was not merely fraud, but an attack on the majesty of the king, indicates that a popular understanding of economics, grossly wrong but probably quite important, has been mostly lost to us in the meantime, and that we have only imperfect hints at it in our present understanding. A systematic look at the folk economics of an era could tell us a great deal about its history. Folk economics, as with folk medicine and popular religion, must surely change over time, and what changes might this work in the realm of event-history?
Almost makes me wish I were back in the academy.
Kenneth R. Gregg
Okay, your overcoat is hung up and dripping on the floor, you've sat down in front of the warm fireplace. Of course, your first thought is what do you want to read. Perhaps something deep enough to help you forget the cold chill in your bones while you dry off:
Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage (Cambridge U. Press, Vol I--2002, Vol. II--2005) by Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner (editors). If there is one work that you want to have on hand about the history of Republicanism, this is it! It is comprehensive as one would expect with Quentin Skinner's involvement over many years in the evolution of this project. The details of the Anglo-European experiences in Republican theory and practice are fully laid out here by specialists in English, Dutch, French, Italian and Polish history as well as Jewish and aristotelian sources. It is a must read.
Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (PublicAffairs, 2007) by Brian Doherty. Okay, okay, this won't be out until February of next year, but you can pre-order. Based on original research and interviews with more than 100 key sources, Brian Doherty of Reason magazine traces the evolution of the movement through the life stories and historical events that altered the course of the libertarian movement from the New Deal through the culture wars of the 1960s to today's most divisive political issues.
The Constitutionalist Revolution: An Essay on the History of England, 1450-1642 (Cambridge U. Press, 2006) by Alan Cromartie is an examination of constitutional ideas during the crucial period from the mid-fifteenth century to the time of Charles I, showing how the emergence of grand claims for common law shaped England's cultural development.
George Mason, Forgotten Founder (U. of North Carolina Press, 2006) by Jeff Broadwater is a welcome addition to the literature on the “Founding Fathers”. One of the American Revolution's most important theoreticians, Mason helped to raise a militia and draft the influential Virginia Declaration of Rights as well as the state constitution. Mason's leadership at the Constitutional Convention shaped the U.S. Constitution, although he ultimately (albeit unsuccessfully) urged that Virginia refuse to endorse it. He believed that, absent a bill of rights, the proposed Constitution did not sufficiently safeguard minority rights, and he feared that the central, federal government it sought to establish would be too powerful and offer too much temptation to corruption. Broadwater also helps to resolve the issue of Mason's stand regarding slavery. Mason was an ardent opponent of slavery, regarding it, in Broadwater's words, "as a moral evil, debasing the souls of slave owners and storing up wrath against the entire nation for a final day of judgment." Mason would speak out strongly and repeatedly against slavery during debates at the Constitutional Convention and opposed the move to count slaves for purposes of determining representation.
The Tyrannicide Brief (Vintage Books, 2006) by Geoffrey Robertson is the first biography of John Cooke, Charles I's prosecutor during the English Civil War, and who was executed for his efforts. A defender of the Levellers, of common law rights and innovator in jurisprudence, it is time for this well-deserved biography.
The Sage of Sugar Hill: George S. Schuyler and the Harlem Renaissance (Yale U. Press, 2005) by Jeffrey Ferguson is a welcome contribution to our understanding of this black libertarian intellectual journalist and novelist.
A History of the French Anarchist Movement, 1917-1945 (Greenwood Press, 2002) by David Berry. Anarchists sought to clarify anarchist theory regarding the nature of 20th-century revolutions and to integrate anarchism more fully into the broader socialist and trade union movements. They organized large campaigns and their analyses of developments on the left and in the trade union movement were often more prescient than those of the socialists and communists.
The New Agrarian Mind: The Movement Toward Decentralist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Transaction Publishers, 2004) by Allan Carlson. Ralph Borsodi, Louis Bromfield, Herbert Agar and"The Twelve Southerners" are all discussed in this work on the"New Agrarian" movment and the efforts toward decentralism from the early to mid-1900's. Many of these figures were central to the gradual evolution of libertarianism from the left to the right during this period.
The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (U of N Carolina Press, 2000) by Paul V. Murphy. The Southern Agrarians were a group of literary theorists and historians who gathered at Vanderbilt University in the 1920s. Murphy follows the Agrarians and their thought into the middle part of the twentieth century, demonstrating how the arguments made by John Crowe Ransom, Alan Tate, Donald Davidson, et. al. in their famous collection of essays I'll Take My Stand contributed to the emergence of conservatism in the 1950s.
D.M. Bennett, The Truth Seeker (Prometheus Press, 2006) by Roderick Bradford. This biography of the embattled free speech advocate, D.M. Bennett, founder of the infamous journal, The Truth Seeker, and known as the "American Voltaire", is a real treat. If you are unfamiliar with the American freethought movement, his life will come as a complete surprise. His publications were censored, prohibited at newsstands, and denied access to the US mail. Bennett’s prominent role in the National Liberal League, affiliation with abolitionists, suffragists and the National Defense Association (forerunner of the ACLU) are also examined.
Community Associations: The Emergence and Acceptance of a Quiet Innovation in Housing (Greenwood Press, 2000) by Donald R. Stabile. While I have some trepidations about quasi-municipalities such as homeowner associations, this is an excellent examination of the amazing growth of this new sociopolitical phenomenon. These Community Associations (CAs) have increased in number from 500 in 1960 to 205,000 in 1998. This book explores the issues surrounding this housing innovation and provides a history of community associations and the process of trial and error in the design of CAs.
Sex Radicals and the Quest for Women's Equality (U of Illinois Press, 2003) by Joanne E. Passet includes some of the most up-to-date information on important feminist figures like Mary Gove Nichols, one of the leaders of individualism and the free love movement in antebellum America to the continuing effort to promote an acceptance of sexual freedom until the end of the 19th century. The connections to the spiritualist and abolitionist movements are examined as well.
Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Vol. I (Black Rose Books, 2004) by Robert Graham and Maurice Spira is a good left-anarchist overview with essays going back to an ancient Taoist text, "Neither Lord Nor Subject" up to 1939 (Vol. II will cover later texts). For those who are unfamiliar with anarchist thought, this is a good place to begin.
Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement (See Sharp Press, 2001) by Frank Fernandez and Charles Bufe. The Cuban libertarian movement was perhaps the most vibrant in all of Latin America. At the height of their influence in the 1920s, Cuba's anarchists dominated the unions, provided free nonreligious schools for poor children, provided meeting places for Cuba's working class, organized campesinos into unions and agricultural collectives, and published newspapers and magazines across the island. Later, they would take an active part in the resistance to the Machado, Batista, and Castro dictatorships.
Orgasms of History: 3000 Years of Spontaneous Insurrection (AK Press, 2002) by Ives Fremion and Guillaume Keynia. This is an introductory People's History (somewhat poorly translated from the French) of riots, uprisings, revolutions and social groups springing up seemingly from nowhere. Our standard histories tend to treat these as oddities, if treated at all. From the Cynics & Spartacus through the Levellers, Diggers & Ranters to the Revolution of the Carnation, the San Francisco Diggers, Red Guard of Shenwulian, Brethren of the Free Spirit, Guevara, the Provos & the Metropolitan Indians. Nearly 100 episodes of revolt and utopia which popped up without a plan or a leader from the ancient Greeks to the present.
Evidently Brink Lindsey defines libertarians in the very generous manner described here. According to Mallaby, Lindsey argues that"the ambition of realistic libertarians is not to shrink government but to contain it: to cut senseless spending such as the farm program and oil subsidies to make room for the inevitable expansion in areas such as health." So apparently that's what libertarianism has come down to, at least as conceived by the vice-president for research at the Cato Institute. I can't imagine that some of his colleagues and donors will be impressed by this particular formulation of what libertarians should aim for.
Mallaby concludes thus:
"The era of big government is far from over, and liberals and libertarians gain nothing from fighting over its inevitable growth. But precisely because government is on a trajectory of unsustainable expansion, liberals and libertarians have a common interest in reinventing it."
I understand where Sebastian Mallaby, a political pundit who does not claim to be a libertarian, is coming from. I'm more puzzled by Brink Lindsey, who, I guess, claims to be a libertarian.
This line of argument favoring cannabis prohibition ran into serious trouble when New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia decided to form a committee of experts to study the effects of marijuana use. The body issued a report in 1944 which authoritatively disavowed the notion that cannabis use caused violent behavior or insanity. The government then began to argue that though marijuana use itself might not be so bad the real problem lay in the fact that the drug caused its users to crave more powerful and dangerous drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. Thus the “stepping stone” or “gateway” theory became the primary pillar of support for the illegality of marijuana. They made this case despite the fact that Harry Anslinger, long time head of the Bureau of Narcotics and the nation’s leading authority on drug use, specifically denied the validity of the theory in 1937 during testimony before Congress.
The “stepping stone” or “gateway” theory lost much of its power in the 1960s when a dramatic rise in the number of cannabis users failed to engender a similar rise in the users of the drugs it was supposed to lead to. However, supporters of continuing the ban on marijuana quickly came up with a new reason, amotivational syndrome. They asserted that marijuana crippled its consumers by causing them to become apathetic and uninterested in anything other than getting high. Pot smokers, like the Irish, Blacks, Italians, and Mexicans had been before them, were labeled as being lazy and worthless. Yet, when the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse released their first report Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding in 1972 they maintained that "The most notable statement that can be made about the vast majority of marihuana users - experimenters and intermittent users - is that they are essentially indistinguishable from their non-marihuana using peers by any fundamental criterion other than their marihuana use."
At the present time the principle arguments for marijuana prohibition consist of the residue of the previously discredited reasons as well as a frantic search for some kind of medical justification. This quest to prove cannabis harmful to health has reached a new level of absurdity with a study highlighted on the website World Science. Referring to researchers at Tel Aviv University studying marijuana the article reports that “In hefty doses, they argue, its active ingredient may protect the brain against various types of damage, whereas in tiny doses, harmful effects would come through.” Yosef Sarne and his colleagues reached their conclusion, published in the November 6th issue of the research journal Neuroscience Letters, the World Science piece states, by injecting ”mice with THC doses that they said were some 1,000 times lower than what humans would get from smoking a joint, taking into account body weight. The treatment significantly worsened the rodents’ performance on maze tests three weeks later, compared to untreated mice, they wrote.”
This study has three major problems that are often found in research claiming to prove that marijuana consumption is harmful to human beings. First they did not test the effects of marijuana instead they studied the effects of THC and the two are not the same thing. There are hundreds of little understood active ingredients in smoked cannabis and the Israeli scientists ignored this fact and therefore failed to take into account any influence these might have had on the outcome. Secondly, they tested rodents not people and again there is no real equivalency with this method. Lastly, consumption of marijuana that is the same as a thousandth of a normal joint simply is not going to happen in real life. Even one hit would be in the neighborhood of a tenth to a twentieth of a dose.
These researchers have told us absolutely nothing about cannabis use here and they revealed their bias in a previous work featured in Medical Hypotheses (2004) 63, 187-192 when they contended that ”Cannabinoids are the most widely used drugs of abuse” thereby equating use with abuse. Studies touting the negative effects of marijuana hardly ever are about real people using real marijuana in real situations and this one is no exception.
Hat Tip Ian Goddard
Cross Posted on the Trebach Report
Aeon J. Skoble
David T. Beito
Before antiwar libertarians get too carried away, however, they should ponder what Hagel had to say in 2004 on bringing back the draft .
Aeon J. Skoble