Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Roderick T. Long
The Romney Victory Fund is now …. offering dinner with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Celebrity Apprentice television star Donald Trump. … Persons who donate $3 or more to the fund will have their names placed in a raffle. … The winner will be invited to the Romney-Trump dinner event in Las Vegas. … As an added attraction, Newt Gingrich will be dining with Romney and Trump.
What could be more deliriously delightful?
Roderick T. Long
As “everyone knows,” Herbert Spencer was a reactionary defender of capitalism and an opponent of socialism, while Thomas sHodgskin was a proto-Marxian defender of socialism and an opponent of capitalism; so what should one expect from Hodgskin’s review (now online) of Spencer’s Social Statics?
The right answer, it turns out, is almost total agreement: “there are very few conclusions or remarks to which we are disposed to object.” And the one point for which Hodgskin does take Spencer to task is Spencer’s rejection of private ownership of land.
It’s almost as though traditional political categories are mistaken somehow ….
Incidentally, although Hodgskin makes some good points in his discussion of land (some of which are reminiscent of Dave Schmidtz’s work), I don’t think he quite sees the force of Spencer’s arguments. Spencer worries that if private land ownership were permissible, the entire earth could theoretically fall into private hands, whereupon the nonowners would be at the mercy of the owners – since while on other people’s property you have to do as they say or leave, and when leaving is impossible all that’s left is doing what they say. (Note, by the way, that Spencer’s worry is not that this would be a likely result. His worry is rather that the principle of land ownership gives the wrong answer to the question of what would be legitimate in the described situation; it says that the owners’ demanding whatever they like of the nonowners would be just, while the Law of Equal Freedom says it would be unjust.)
To this Hodgskin replies that nonowners would not be at the mercy of owners, because there are other ways of making a living besides farming: “what use is possession of the land to seamen, locomotive carriage drivers, and waggoners?” But Spencer’s point is not merely that nonowners would need permission from the owners in order to cultivate the soil; his point is that nonowners would need permission from the owners in order to sit, stand, or move. Hence Hodgskin’s waggoners and locomotive carriage drivers will be at the mercy of those whose land they have to cross, as will seamen if they need trees to make their ships out of. (At any rate, the force of Spencer’s thought experiment should cover hypothetical situations without navigable waters.)
Hodgskin is also unimpressed by Spencer’s insistence that nonowners would be at the mercy of owners, since, as Hodgskin points out, we are all at each other’s mercy anyway. But this likewise misses Spencer’s point, which is not the pragmatic worry that nonowners would in fact be at the mercy of owners, but rather the ethical worry that nonowners would be legitimately at the mercy of owners. My life may depend on other people’s not killing me, but my right to life does not.
I think Spencer’s worry can be answered, but the key to answering it lies in challenging the claim that if all the earth were private property, the owners could then demand whatever they wanted of the nonowners. As I’ve argued elsewhere:
Even when A has a right to recover some property in B’s possession, there are limits to the harm A can inflict in exercising this right. If you swallow my diamond ring, I do not have the right to cut you open to get it out, possibly killing you or causing serious injury. If you are trespassing on my property, I do not have the right to shove you off my front lawn and onto the street at the precise moment that a truck is coming that would flatten you. … Hence Spencer is mistaken in thinking that under private ownership his hypothetical “lords of the soil” could legitimately deny nonowners a right to exist ….
Spencer argues against trying to solve the problem by building into property rights an exception clause for extreme situations. I don’t have quite the same horror of exception clauses that he has, but in any case my suggestion is not an exception clause, but rather a proportionality requirement that is always in force.
A point I’m surprised that Hodgskin didn’t raise is the difficulty of reconciling Spencer’s views on land with his “right to ignore the state.” If everyone pays rent to society for their land, who is authorised to collect that rent?
P.S. – I wish Hodgskin had elaborated on his “other points of difference” (he says there are a few, but none as major as the land issue
David T. Beito
I remain puzzled at the refusal of civil libertarians to see the dangers inherent in government control of medical care.
So the people get to vote on who may marry? And this pleases conservatives? I thought they disliked mobocracy.
Facts of the case: My wife and I live in an area with one neighbor nearby. One day, I knock on my neighbor’s door and demand that he give me $10,000. He wants to know what the devil I am talking about.
I explain that the people—most of them, in any event—in our area have seceded from St. Tammany Parish, the state of Louisiana, and the United States of America and formed a new government whose territory comprises his property and ours. We have also written and ratified, with our own votes of approval, a constitution for the new country, which we have decided to call Southland. We have also conducted elections in which a 2/3 majority of the eligible voters elected Elizabeth and me to fill all of the new government’s offices, including tax collector (I won this vote myself).
My neighbor protests that he has never heard of any of these developments and wants nothing to do with them, to which I reply that he has no choice in the matter because the constitution of Southland gives its government the power to tax, I am the duly elected tax collector, and he is at fault for not following the news more closely and not participating in public affairs. Moreover, the constitution provides for an army to enforce Southland’s laws (I have been duly appointed chief of staff), and if he refuses to pay his tax, the authorities will have no choice but to use violence against him to compel payment.
He protests that this whole scheme is madness, that I have gone mad, too, and that he will not give us a dime. Elizabeth and I then form up the ranks of Southland’s army: I constitute the infantry, armed with my trusty shotgun, and she leads the army band, which consists of herself with her flute. We march to our neighbor’s house and threaten to kill him if he does not give us the $10,000 tax (authorized in a statute enacted by Southland’s new government). When he decides that a $10,000 loss is better than being killed by violent maniacs, we march home to the Treasury (it’s at our house) with our revenue—a sum whose use will be determined by the Southland legislature, in which Elizabeth and I are the duly elected lawmakers.
Question for the student: Except with regard to scale (and voting by a woman), how does the preceding account differ in any essential way from the situation brought about by the formation of the United States of America? (Hint: look up Whiskey Rebellion or read something that challenges the orthodox history of taxation.)
Roderick T. Long
David Hart and Robert Leroux have released an amazing-looking anthology of French Liberalism in the 19th Century, including several works not previously translated. Check out the table of contents:
Part I: The Empire (up to 1815)
1. Pierre-Louis Roederer: Property Rights (1800)
2. Jean-Baptiste Say: The Division of Labour (1803)
3. Destutt de Tracy: The Laws and Public Liberty (1811)
4. Charles Comte: Foreword to Le Censeur (1814)
Part II: The Restoration (1815-1830)
5. Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer: Foreword to Le Censeur Européen (1817)
6. Destutt de Tracy: Society (1817)
7. Germaine de Staël: The Love of Liberty (1818)
8. Benjamin Constant: The Liberty of the Ancients and the Moderns
9. Pierre Daunou: Freedom of Opinion (1819)
Part III: The July Monarchy (1830-1848)
10. Alexis de Tocqueville: The Liberty of the Press (1830)
11. Pierre-Jean de Béranger on his Songs and Liberty (1833)
12. Gustave de Beaumont: The Abolition of the Aristocracy in Ireland (1839)
13. Pierre-Jean de Béranger: Selected Poems (1800-1840)
Part IV: The Second Republic (1848-1852)
14. Frédéric Bastiat: Disarmament and Taxes (1849)
15. Gustave de Molinari: The Private Production of Security (1849)
16. Michel Chevalier: The Protectionist System (1852)
17. Léon Faucher: Property (1852)
18. Courcelle-Seneuil: Sumptuary Laws (1852)
19. Joseph Garnier: The Cost of Collection of Taxes (1852)
20. Joseph Garnier: Laissez Faire — Laissez Passer (1852)
21. Ambroise Clément: Private Charity (1852)
Part V: The Second Empire (1852-1870)
22. Henri Baudrillart: Political Economy (1852)
23. Augustin Thierry: The Rise of the Bourgeoisie (1859)
24. Louis Wolowski and Émile Levasseur: Property (1863)
25. Horace Say: The Division of Labour (1863)
26. Maurice Block: Decentralization (1863)
27. Édouard Laboulaye: Individual Liberties (1865)
Part VI: The Third Republic (1871 onwards)
28. Hippolyte Taine: Abusive Government Intervention (1890)
29. Paul Leroy-Beaulieu: The Definition of the State (1890)
30. Yves Guyot: The Tyranny of Socialism (1893)
31. Gustave de Molinari: Governments of the Future (1899)
Unfortunately, the pricetag is currently $130, so I’ll be waiting until after my summer salary hiatus to pick it up
In the mid-1970s, I began to do consulting work in addition to my academic work. By that time, I had become familiar with how economists generally analyze cooperation and competition, in both the economy and the political realm. Economists put great weight on gains from trade. Nobody, they like to say, walks past a $20 bill he sees lying on the sidewalk. If a situation contains the potential for a trade or other arrangement that will bring gain to a decision-maker, he will embrace that trade or arrangement. This market process leads, in the theoretical extreme, to the happy condition known as the Pareto Optimum—the situation in which all potential gains from trade have been captured.
Notice that this view of mankind causes us think of people as self-interested, but not as vicious. Individuals are seen as, in effect, indifferent to the welfare of their trading or cooperating partners, but intent on making themselves as well-off as possible. They do not seek to harm others, but only to benefit themselves (and those about whom they happen to care).
As I launched into my consulting work, which involved various efforts by Washington state and the U.S. government to resolve disputes and to increase the harvestable resource in the Washington salmon fishery and the federally-regulated offshore salmon fishery in the Pacific Ocean, I quickly learned that the politicians in Olympia did not fit the model I had mastered in my education as an economist. To be sure, they sought to feather their own nests, by hook and by crook. But, in many important cases, they acted simply to hurt their political and personal enemies—whose ranks, in some cases, were quite large. Often, it seemed, Mr. P was clearly “out to get” Mr. Q, and he was not simply seeking this objective, other things being the same; he was actually out to get Mr. Q even if he had to bear a cost in doing so.
So, despite the formal models and informal rhetoric that economists and other academic specialists wield in their research and writing about politics and government, a critical element tends to be completely overlooked: the powerful role of aversion, dislike, and hatred. Economists represent individual preference orderings as rankings of valued options: good thing A > good thing B > good thing C, and so on. But for political actors, the preference ordering often looks more like: good thing A > hurt person X > good thing B > hurt person Y > good thing C, and so on.
This sort of preference is the political sentiment Vladimir Lenin expressed when he remarked: “My words were calculated to evoke hatred, aversion and contempt . . . not to convince but to break up the ranks of the opponent, not to correct an opponent’s mistake, but to destroy him.” Closer to home, Henry Adams observed that “politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”
We see the importance of this element of politics clearly in the contemporary conflict between Democrats and Republicans. Given that these two parties are but two wings of the same predatory one-party state that rules the United States, we might well wonder why their intramural feuding often reaches such vitriolic extremes. The short answer is that despite the two parties’ general similarity of fundamental positions, they comprise somewhat different sorts of people—different in regard to religious conviction (or the lack thereof), typical social position, culture, background, occupational distribution, urban-rural composition, and ethnic makeup, among other things—and the two groups tend to dislike each other; indeed, in many individual instances, they despise one another. And their political representatives, though more inclined to conspire and cut deals with the other side, also represent their supporters along the hatred dimension. Occasionally, when a politician does not realize that the microphone is live, we hear some honest expression of his true feelings about his political opponents—“enemies” is the more accurate word.
In view of the foregoing, we are well advised to consider that whenever we seek to move a type of decision-making from private life to the realm of politics and government, we are very likely moving it from a world in which hatred is incidental and avoidable to a world in which hatred is central and inescapable. Because a government imposes one rule, one outcome, one state of affairs on everyone subject to its rule, the hatreds that go into the making of that outcome become generalized and infused throughout the entire society. Thus, what economists label a “public good” is often, in the most substantive way, a “public bad.” Even if a person does not share any of the component hatreds that politic actors express and deploy, no one can avoid living in a politicized world fashioned in such large part by the organized expression of hatred. It is, therefore, small wonder that some of us view the entire apparatus of politics and government as the living embodiment of evil.
Even a devout Christian has no small difficulty in following Christ’s admonition to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But when we live and act in the private realm, we can make our best attempt to love others or at least to tolerate them in peace, and we have many options for avoiding or running away from hateful people and situations; occasionally we may even be able to lead someone, or ourselves, to substitute love, or at least understanding, for hatred.
In politics and government, however, the institutional makeup fosters hatred at every turn. Parties recruit followers by exploiting hatreds. Bureaucracies bulk up their power and budgets by artfully weaving hatreds into their mission statements and day-to-day procedures. Regulators take advantage of artificially heightened hatreds. Group identity is emphasized at every turn, and such tribal distinctions are tailor-made for the maintenance and increase of hatred among individual persons who might otherwise disregard the kinds of groupings that the politicians and their supporters emphasize ceaselessly.
With a sigh, many people accept that politics and government are, at best, necessary evils. I have great doubt that they are necessary, at least in their present form, but I am certain that in this form they are evil.
Labor (including mental labor) does not bestow utility on an automobile; consumers do that. Rather, labor bestows utility on the disparate factors of production by transforming them into an automobile.