I Am a Liberal

by Don Boudreaux on March 28, 2009

in Trade

Many of the comments on this post prompt this follow-up.

Daniel Kuehn is correct: the world is bigger than economics; economics does not explain everything.  Human values are among the things that matter far beyond gains from trade and efficiency.

Among my values is liberalism.

I love and care for my family and friends more than I care for mere acquaintances, and I care about most mere acquaintances more than I care about total strangers.  But the nationalities or physical locations of these people’s residences are irrelevant to me.  I care no more for a stranger in my town of Burke, Virginia, than I care for a stranger in Beijing, Beirut, or Berlin.  If this claim sounds harsh, let me say the very same thing differently: I care as much about a stranger in Beijing, Beirut, or Berlin as I care about a stranger in Burke, Virginia.  I accord all strangers the same rights and respect.  I regard the well-being of strangers in foreign countries to be no less important than I regard the well-being of strangers in America.

One of the great tenets of liberalism — the true sort of liberalism, not the dirigiste ignorance that today, in English-speaking countries, flatters itself unjustifiably with that term — is that no human being is less worthy just because he or she is outside of a particular group.  Any randomly chosen stranger from Cairo or Cancun has as much claim on my sympathies and my respect and my regard as does any randomly chosen person from Charlottesville or Chicago.

Liberalism recognizes that people are part of families and friendships and a variety of different kinds of associations.  Liberals encourage, or at least tolerate, any and all forms of voluntary associations, from marital ones to religious ones to trading ones.  Liberals reject the romantic nonsense that demands that each person “love” or “care for” everyone in the same way that that person loves and cares for himself, his family, and his friends.

But liberalism rejects the notion that there is anything much special or compelling about political relationships.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who look more like you to be more worthy of your regard than are those who look less like you.  It is tribalistic, atavistic, to regard those who speak your native tongue to be more worthy of your affection and concern than are those whose native tongues differ from yours.

For the true liberal, the human race is the human race.  The struggle is to cast off as much as possible primitive sentiments about “us” being different from “them.”

The liberal is fully aware that such sentiments are rooted in humans’ evolved psychology, and so are not easily cast off.  But the liberal does his or her best to rise above those atavistic sentiments,

The liberal is also fully aware that most people will never rise above such sentiments.  But because rising above these sentiments is a value worth pursuing — because casting off what is now the irrational feeling that a stranger who happens also to be a fellow citizen of your country is thereby a more worthy person, someone more important to you and your well-being than is a stranger who happens to be “foreign” — the liberal points out, as occasions permit, that what matters is that people be free to associate as much as possible as they voluntarily choose without being constrained by culture or by force to associate on different terms with foreigners than with fellow citizens.

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The economic fractalist March 28, 2009 at 5:17 pm

The Economic Fractalist
THE SCIENCE OF SATURATION MACROECONOMICS
February 26th, 2009

The Great Global Equity and Commodity Asset Valuation Nonlinear Collapse

This predicted nonlinear equity and commodity collapse is a collapsing available speculative money phenomena – in a real contracting, asset oversupplied, maximally unrepayably debt-laden, dysequilibrium global macroeconomy; great psychological angst is present but this is truly …. this is truly a secondary event. This is not to imply that the human mind is not an integral part of this process. All events in the energy and space universe are ultimately causal and all are inevitable. As causally linked debates are directed at possible ameliorative remedies, as politicians force air over their vocal cords with linkages to individually preprogrammed and deterministic neural networks, the inevitable terminal nonlinear phase transition – of a 149 year US progenitor equity complex summation multigenerational second fractal saturation area bounded by debt, asset over production, asset overvaluation, and collapsing numbers of jobs and associated wages- likewise proceeds …. and proceeds in a mechanistic and predictable optimal quantum fractal decay nonlinear progression …..

LIMITED

I AM riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
answers: “Omaha.”

Ray G March 28, 2009 at 5:24 pm

No rational people that I've ever read or met that espouse classical liberalism via their economic policies or opinions has ever placed a premium on "cold hard numbers" over "human values."

Those making such arguments fail to grasp even a basic understanding of how economics and the individual freedoms allowed or forbidden within a given economy are connected.

Free markets produce more liberty for more people. Period.

The shibboleth of "human values" at the expense of other peoples' liberties costs more to the community as a whole in the long run. Period.

History has spoken, and the above statements bear true. Any argument in favor more central control/fewer individual liberties is an argument in favor of tyranny. Calling it "human values" or any other euphemistic label, it's still a crime against people.

Sam Grove March 28, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Indeed, I think the greatest problem of our age is the game called US vs THEM, and its institutionalization in political government.

Even those who assert that "if you aren't part of the solution, then you are part of the problem" have taken the premise of US vs THEM.

This game is exemplified in political partisanship. It is fomented by politicians, of all stripes, in order to garner the support of those who fear "the other".

dg lesvic March 28, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Prof Boudreaux,

As you say, the world is bigger than economics, and it does not explain everything.

But, as Mises said, "It is the philosophy of human life and action…the pith of civilization and of man's human existence."

And, as you yourself have said, about a particular aspect of it, redistribution, it is "the bottom line."

Whether we like it or not, the ultimate issues are economic, and the ultimate issue of economics, redistribution.

Gray Brendle March 28, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Dr. Boudreaux, I read with great interest about what true liberalism is, and I agreed point by point. However, when I pointed my wife toward your post she reminided me about how moved I was about the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01. I new not a single person who parrished. If we are liberal can we be truly patriotic? That is my question…

I would rather be a liberal than a conservative, however, in todays political climate it tough for me to say that i am either!

dg lesvic March 28, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Prof Boudreaux,

I would add that, as the ultimate issue of human life and action is redistribution, the ultimate question of redistribution is not, does it make the nation richer or poorer, nor even the poor richer or poorer, but, does it reduce or increase inequality.

What is your answer to that question?

Sam Grove March 28, 2009 at 6:47 pm

However, when I pointed my wife toward your post she reminided me about how moved I was about the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01. I new not a single person who parrished. If we are liberal can we be truly patriotic?

We are naturally constituted to focus more locally than far away. This is due to our evolutionary heritage. The same is true for people all around the world.

It makes sense to have this as part of our being, because local events are more likely to have a direct effect upon us than events far away. It makes survival sense.

However, we now live in an age when events far away can affect us and threaten our survival. This requires that we use our rational capacity to recognize the problem, and perhaps, the realization that, while accepting our biology, we must make effort to exercise intentional and thoughtful caring about others far away.

Witnessing the attacks that brought down the WTC buildings, I experienced a jumble of emotions, sympathy over the plight of the people caught up in the tragedy and ot a little sadness and anger knowing how the strategic foreign policies of our government played its part in bringing to our shores some of the violence our money and our military have visited upon people in other lands.

If enough people had cared enough about the effects of these policies to pressure our government to reduce our military presence in those countries, perhaps we would not have been the target for the rage of those helpless under their own governments which have been our strategic allies and whose oppressions our foreign policy experts expediently accepted on behalf of their policy strategies.

How many in the U.S. complained about the CIA sponsored overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran?

Where was the outrage over our government supplying Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons to be used against Iran?

It wasn't the Napalmed and bombed villages that brought an end to our presence in Vietnam, it was the body bags bringing home our young men that did that.

The list is too long.

We haven't cared until it got close.

But our reaction must be more than instinctual response to attack.

We have to learn and understand that we can no longer afford to wait until we are threatened to care.

John V March 28, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Well put. I couldn't have said it better myself.

However, I once did try to elaborate on this notion:

the true sort of liberalism, not the dirigiste ignorance that today, in English-speaking countries, flatters itself unjustifiably with that term — is that no human being is less worthy just because he or she is outside of a particular group.

Here:

…the "Social Democrat"…or more precisely…what I call the National-(istic) Communitarian Social-(istic) Democrat. It is a group full of contradiction and..strangely enough…rife with illiberalism that rivals the likes of Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter…It is an ideological basket case that wants what the frightening fruition of its vision could never deliver and hates what its vision inadvertently and indirectly does deliver…while never realizing its role in the worst of the reality it despises…It desires an inclusion that causes and demands a want for exclusion. It wants the benefits that come from the antithesis of what it wants while claiming them as their own creations…all while seeking to destroy that very antithesis in the name of yet other values that are not borne from what it seeks. In short, its murky and compromised sense of true liberalism, of any kind, has a very, very low threshold…after which point it's extremely illiberal in an effort to keep what it has unsustainably gained and fend off the side-effects of what it has unwittingly wrought.

"The People's Romance" by Dan Klein…along with this critique of Krugman's "illiberalism" in practice served as one of the inspirations for that passage.

Daniel Earwicker March 28, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Re: the original post – beautiful stuff, beautifully said.

Dr. T March 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I agree with Don Boudreaux's views on this. I also will assert that true liberalism is and always will be rare because it requires thoughtful moralism (not moralistic cant memorized from a religious tract or a Philosophy for Dummies book) and a strong sense of justice and fair play.

A true liberal would immediately recognize the immorality of tariffs. For example, our sugar tariff benefits sugar beet and sugar cane growers in the US, but it harms sugar cane growers around the world and it increases the costs of sugar-containing foods for everyone in the US. The costs of the tariff greatly outweigh the benefits, and the liberal doesn't care that some of those costs were borne by foreigners.

Henry Harrison March 28, 2009 at 7:38 pm

This post is more like it.

Martin Brock March 28, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I applaud the sentiments, but corporatists clamoring for protectionism aren't jingoists. They're corporatists. The group with which they identify and with which they join forces seeking protection from economic competition is not a national, ethnic, religious or racial group. It's a corporate group that could, and these days typically does, include many different nationalities.

If one of these corporate groups seeks protection from a competitor across a national border, its apparent jingoism is largely coincidental, a matter of practical politics and established constitutional frameworks, since it would just as happily seek protection from competitors within national borders.

I don't simply mean business corporations. There are free associations with no particular privilege or protection, that might or might not trade to profit, and there are groups seeking exclusive privileges and protection from states. The latter can be business corporations or trade unions or even churches.

It's very clear to me that corporate protectionism poses by far the greatest threat to free, efficient economic organization. Jingoistic, national protectionism is largely a sideshow and a diversion. Nationalistic mercantilism may have impeded trade in the past, and remembering lessons of the past is important, but I don't much fear international protectionism.

Because of comparative advantage and because nation-states are not particular producers, free international trade is rational from the point of view of a nation-state. States are in the business of plundering the produce of others and thus want as much produce as possible.

But from the point of view of a particular producer, monopoly production can be advantageous, even if consumers of the produce are poorer for it, even if production is less efficient, even if production ultimately is lower, leaving the state less to plunder.

So I don't expect states to be the greatest champions of protectionism. I expect capitalists (not excluding organized labor) to be.

Dan Hill March 28, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Well I have a soft spot for strangers who have blogs as good as yours (a small group admittedly), but other than that you're spot on!

Oil Shock March 28, 2009 at 8:26 pm

well said professor

Healthy Markup March 28, 2009 at 8:40 pm

dg lesvic,

"I would add that, as the ultimate issue of human life and action is redistribution, the ultimate question of redistribution is not, does it make the nation richer or poorer, nor even the poor richer or poorer, but, does it reduce or increase inequality."

I'm not sure what your definition of redistribution is, but state action to reduce inequality of income or wealth is meddlesome and destructive. The key to wealth is allowing and incentivizing specialization. If you want the broadest possible goods and services available with as little waste or cost as possible, you need as many people as you can working hard on the things they are good at and improving their abilities to do so. People will happily do so if they can trade their services at free-market rates, because their specialization at difficult tasks will earn them more (because of the scarcity of their skills or willingness to work hard) than if they don't trade their time for leisure or their time and money for skills. So when you enforce equality through state action, you lower the incentives for people to work or learn scarce skills, incentives which arise naturally through trade. Everything a state does to force people to be equal lessens their willingness to work.

Plus, if you define "equality" as the government treating its citizens equally, things like a progressive income tax, etc. are clearly destructive of equality.

Bret March 28, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Still in dreamland.

An ideology that has no chance of survival isn't a useful ideology in my opinion.

Healthy Markup March 28, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Martin Brock,

"But from the point of view of a particular producer, monopoly production can be advantageous, even if consumers of the produce are poorer for it, even if production is less efficient, even if production ultimately is lower, leaving the state less to plunder.

So I don't expect states to be the greatest champions of protectionism. I expect capitalists (not excluding organized labor) to be."

States are always the champions of protectionism because they are the monopoly providers of violence, which is what makes protectionism possible. Politicians get their jobs and their post-job sinecures by protecting favored industries and groups (think Cheney and Halliburton, etc.) If US citizens insisted on capitalism, and shrunk the role of the state to protection of people and property, then capitalists and organized labor could lobby the state for monopolist protections all day long (which they now do) and get nothing but the cold shoulder. Of course if they got nothing for lobbying, they'd quit doing it and find real jobs.

vidyohs March 28, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I agree with the description of a classical liberal, but I do not agree that there is no us and them. Nor, is getting beyond it up to me, I'd gladly see "them" convert to an intelligent way of life.

"Them" are the ones that hijacked the term liberal because they were shy of admitting that they were communist or socialist (same difference really). "Them" don't want us to be us, they want to be liberal with the fruits of our labor.

I see no evidence that them are wavering in their dedication to that goal of using our wealth.

As for what a classical liberal is, I have always believed that it was the same as true conservatism, not Republican conservatism, but real old style, old world conservatism where I take care of myself, you take care of yourself, and if we have extra we can help the unfortunate make it through to recovery, and do all that without having a middleman (government) get involved in any way.

My brand of liberal and conservatism says that you can encourage me to care about the needy in Maine or Cairo, and I may respond; but, do not presume to come and take my hard earned to give to those who I do not know and have no relationship with.

I do not give a fig about who thinks I am harsh, if I am loved by the patrons great, if I am despised that's okay. My coffee at Starbucks tomorrow will cost the same.

dg lesvic March 28, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Healthy Markup,

May I just call you "Markup?"

You wrote:

"I'm not sure what your definition of redistribution is."

Rather than defining the term, and getting sidetracked by the usual semantic arguments over it, I will simply tell you how I use it, logically or not.

I am referring to the policy of taking from the rich to give to the poor.

The problem, as Mises saw it, was that, while redistribution interfered with production overall, and thereby reduced society's total net income, it increased the poors' proportional share of the total.

The question, then, as he saw it: which would be the greater, the reduction of the total or the increase in the poors' proportion of it. In other words, would they be better off in absolute terms with the larger proportion of the smaller cake or smaller proportion of the larger cake?

While he agreed with the conclusion that the size of the cake would go down more than the poors' proportion of it would go up, and that, for the poor, the negative effect would outweigh the positive, he contended that it couldn't be proven, that "it is not based on praxeological considerations, and therefore lacks the apodictic and incontestable argumentative power inherent in a praxeological demonstration. It is based on a judgment of relevance, the quantitative appraisal of the difference between the two magnitudes"…society's total net incomes with and without redistribution… "In the field of human action such quantitative cognition is obtained by understanding with regard to which full agreement between men cannot be reached. Praxeology, economics and catallactics are of no use for the settlement of such dissensions concerning quantitative issues." Human Action, P 678

It has been my contention that the issue was not quantitative but logical, that there was no positive effect to be weighed against a negative, that redistribution was completely counterproductive and negative for the poor, leaving them not with a larger but smaller proportional share of the smaller cake, and not reducing but increasing income differentials.

indiana jim March 28, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Statistical discrimination economizes on scarce information; as Walter Williams points out, it is wise to discriminate against a tiger if one is dropped into the room (despite the fact that one does not know a priori whether this particular tiger might have just HAD a meal or may be toothless and tame. Strangers are call strangers for a reason and some are stranger than others. Sentimenalism is warm and fuzzy and appeals to the human heart; indulging sentimentality too greatly is just as unwise as indulging the US vs. THEM. So the Greeks of old and their advocacy of the golden mean appeal to me beyond the pure pursuit of the label liberal or conservative: moderation in all things, except perhaps the pursuit of moderation. The marginal paradigm of economics may not apply to everything, but I'd hazard a guess that it applies to much more than Daniel might have fathomed.

T L Holaday March 28, 2009 at 10:56 pm

What is the reasoning that immediately recognizes and protests the immorality of sugar tariffs and yet is silent about President Bush ordering torture?

indiana jim March 28, 2009 at 10:59 pm

A question for TL Holaday: Was the attempt to assisinate Adolf Hitler immoral?

Islam Hussein March 28, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Very well said. Thank you!

Fellow (Classical) Liberal,
Islam

Sam Grove March 28, 2009 at 11:03 pm

There are enemies at home as well as abroad, likewise there are many possible friends at home as well as abroad.

Enemies from abroad may be less dangerous, for they will be enemies as well of many of you neighbors, but the enemies at home may find alliance with your neighbors and you may find yourself all alone against great odds.

muirgeo March 29, 2009 at 1:02 am

"Liberalism recognizes that people are part of families and friendships and a variety of different kinds of associations. Liberals encourage, or at least tolerate, any and all forms of voluntary associations, from marital ones to religious ones to trading ones…

But liberalism rejects the notion that there is anything much special or compelling about political relationships."

Don Boudreaux

I find this (the last sentence) astounding. Likely a misunderstanding on my part. I'm onto reading Hayek's essay
Liberalism. It seems clear to me that liberalism IS a political ideology. There seems a clear disconnect between the philosophical support of the idea of liberalism and the need for admitting that for liberalism to be practiced in the real world requires some milieu of a political system. I mean you can't quite expect liberalism to arise with some sort of"planning" that involves a political system. This fact and intrinsic disdain for any political system what so ever leaves you with no real world ability to have what you believe enacted in reality.

I DO admit to care for my stranger fellow countrymen more then the strangers of other countries and borrow your statement, "If this claim sounds harsh" because his success and his support for the rule of law which is far greater in our country then in many others is directly even if remotely important to my family which indeed is my primary concern.

Summing, there seems to be a real difficulty of liberalism to coordinate its philosophical side with a practical real world need for it to exist in a political system.

And I really do think the real world dearth of liberal societies in the real world is suggestive of intrinsic flaws that make them not very efficient, practical or favorable to the needs of those societies. At some point the believer of liberalism needs to come to terms with this fact and provide a better answer then, "Just because it don't exist doesn't mean it wouldn't be better".

Sam Grove March 29, 2009 at 1:15 am

George, will we always have to act like apes?
Or do we have some potential to rise above being mere political animals?

Gil March 29, 2009 at 1:28 am

I sorta agree with vidyohs – we all know what 'Classical Liberalism' is and what 'Modern Liberalism' is. But so what? Conservatism has changed over time. Why should owning term 'Liberalism' mean anything? Everyone more or less knows what 'Libertarianism' is.

John V March 29, 2009 at 1:35 am

T L Holaday,

What is the reasoning that immediately recognizes and protests the immorality of sugar tariffs and yet is silent about President Bush ordering torture?

Why don't you go to a site where the posters hold that inconsistent view and ask them?

Try RedState or something like that.

Oil Shock March 29, 2009 at 1:43 am

Rape, Murder, Theft, slavery, racism & War always existed, and is likely to always exist, and so by the philosophy of Dr. Fraud ( borrowing from Mesa ), we should all just surrender to such crimes and never ever attempt to try to make it even a little bit better.

Bob Smith March 29, 2009 at 3:14 am

irrational feeling that a stranger who happens also to be a fellow citizen of your country is thereby a more worthy person

Why is it irrational to feel that a person who shares my values is more worthy than a person who doesn't? That's why open immigration is insane, it means demographic conquest by people who don't share your values. Assuming you believe in the superiority of your values, why would you bequeath such a fate to your children? And if you don't so believe, you deserve to (and will) be conquered by those who do.

BoscoH March 29, 2009 at 3:49 am

George writes:

Summing, there seems to be a real difficulty of liberalism to coordinate its philosophical side with a practical real world need for it to exist in a political system.

You assume that liberalism needs to exist in a political system by engaging in it on the terms of the system, i.e. inside one of the two major parties. I disagree. Liberal thinkers can be very influential by occasionally throwing wrenches into the system and being available to explain why things go horribly wrong. At the same time, liberal thinkers can use the events and politics of the day to shape their views.

There are a few recent examples where liberal thinkers have effectively engaged the widespread politics. Example 1: Cheye Calvo and the SWAT team that killed his dogs in Berwyn Heights, Maryland. For the first time in my memory, people are asking the police why they need to act like gangs of thugs. I even asked a sheriff deputy friend that, and was told that lots of people have been asking that lately and it's a very tough question to answer. Example 2: Charlie Lynch. Obama held an online Q&A and the biggest issue was marijuana. It's not just the 4:20 crowd that cares about this. It's symbolic of everything that is wrong with government, from nanny statism, to states' rights, to militarized police, to mandatory minimum sentences, etc. And this evening, it sure looks like the VP's daughter became the unwitting poster child for the abject failure of the war on drugs.

Liberals generally make terrible politicians. Ron Paul is certifiably nuts, basically a libertarian version of H. Ross Perot without the money. I'm not sure that even Mike Munger could break that mold if elected.

Find me the equivalent of Reason or Cato on the traditional right or left. They raise money, churn policy critiques, popularize classic liberal ideas, and engage the political system. They find allies where they can on the issues they push. They are not tied to either party, and certainly unfriendly to the leadership of both parties.

That George, is what I think you completely misunderstand about your interlocutors at the Cafe. It's not important to us to be part of the team that's in power. We can learn a lot by watching, and we can bring the hammer when the opportunities arise.

Bastiat March 29, 2009 at 5:32 am

One of the most inspiring postings (of many) on this blog, and fantastic to know that others think, and can express so well, my own mindset.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 5:56 am

States are always the champions of protectionism because they are the monopoly providers of violence, which is what makes protectionism possible.

States make private property possible, because private property itself is a form of protectionism. I draw a line around some parcel of land and claim a right to exclusive use of it, including a right to charge you a rent for its use. I may exercise this right only because statesmen protect it, only because the statesmen will harm you if don't respect the right.

But statesmen don't enforce just anything labeled "proper" arbitrarily. Statesmen enforce standards that benefit statesmen. Particular property rights also are more useful to free consumers and laborers when organized within a free capital market, but subjecting property to market organization is only one policy that statesmen may pursue in their own interests.

Politicians get their jobs and their post-job sinecures by protecting favored industries and groups (think Cheney and Halliburton, etc.)

Right.

If US citizens insisted on capitalism, …

U.S. citizens already have capitalism. Capitalism is what real capitalists do, not some Rothbardian utopia. To reason otherwise is to play the same game that "socialists" play when they claim that Stalin "wasn't really a socialist".

… and shrunk the role of the state to protection of people and property, …

"Property" is whatever the statesmen protect. If I rule some monopoly of automobile production or a monopoly of labor turning a particular screw on automobile assembly lines, then this monopoly right is my "property". Libertarian idealists may imagine some Lockean or other ideal propriety, but our ideals are just that, imaginary.

… then capitalists and organized labor could lobby the state for monopolist protections all day long (which they now do) and get nothing but the cold shoulder.

"Capitalists" govern capital (means of production) by definition. If they can buy favor from statesmen (who govern the means of forcible imposition) by governing their capital in some particular way, they will.

Of course if they got nothing for lobbying, they'd quit doing it and find real jobs.

If they could ride to work on the backs of flying pigs, they might do that too.

JP March 29, 2009 at 6:39 am

Prof Boudreaux,

I agree with the spirit here, and perhaps I'm not understanding your definition of 'care', but consider for a moment the role of taxation pressures and voting with your feet. I think you might be convinced that you do care more for your Burke stranger than your Berlin one.

If one of the fifty states created a tax code that was perfectly in line with what you wanted out of a state government then presumably you might move there. And if you did move there, then once there you would be interested in keeping those laws in place. So to the extent that you were self interested you would care more about a stranger inside your state than in another part of the country because an in-state stranger could do more harm to your life by creating new taxes than someone outside your state. Just so with Burke and Berlin.

The United States has a wonderful Baskin Robbins operation of government going on by 'selling' 50 different flavors of government to its population and allowing each individual to vote with their feet as to which state they like best. I might not have individual loyalties for strangers, but I do want strangers, to the degree that they can impact me, to behave responsibly, to be educated, to feel safe, and to be economically productive. And indeed, I want those things more for them than other strangers whose feedback loops have less influence on me.

The truth is that political relationships are highly compelling. They compel resources to leave your pocketbook(!). The aggregate position of your near strangers impacts you… 'caring' for them is merely being self interested.

Daniel Kuehn March 29, 2009 at 8:49 am

Don -

I'm sorry I wasn't around Saturday afternoon or evening to be more involved in the initial commenting that went on. Instead of digesting all 34 of those comments I'll just respond to the initial post.

RE: "I love and care for my family and friends more than I care for mere acquaintances, and I care about most mere acquaintances more than I care about total strangers. But the nationalities or physical locations of these people's residences are irrelevant to me. I care no more for a stranger in my town of Burke, Virginia, than I care for a stranger in Beijing, Beirut, or Berlin."

Generally speaking, I'd say I agree with you. It's not lines drawn by politicians on a map that command my allegiances. But in many cases those lines do coincide with shared values which do command my allegiances. I would say that I do "care more" for a stranger in Burke than a stranger in Beijing, in the sense that if I had to choose which to help or reward if I could only choose one, I would choose the total stranger from Burke. Why? Because even though I don't know them, I can be fairly confident that I share a great deal of my values with them. That if I did know them I would get along with them better. That they've had a lot of the same experiences I've had, etc. In other words – I fundamentally agree with Don's post, but I think it is naive in assuming that our friends, family, and acquaintances are restricted to the people that we've actually met. What ties people together are common values and common experiences – I know there are millions of people out there who have common values and experiences as me, even if I haven't met them.

Someone much higher up on the commments asked how any true liberal can have a sense of patriotism under Don's definition? I think we have patriotism because we are proud of the broader community of Americans who share our common history and our common principles – and on 9/11 all of us felt that those things were threatened.

My definition of liberalism and community doesn't have to devolve into tribalism or the Tancredo/Hunter reactionsim that was also referenced in the comments. After all – American values place primacy on tolerance and acceptance of people from all around the globe. And as I said in the trade post, my strong attachment to other Virginians and to other Americans is a positive attachment to them – not a negative reaction to the Chinese.

I think it's important to remember the fracturing that happened within the liberal consensus. Liberalism split into what can broadly be defined as communitarianism and cosmopolitanism. It won't surprise most people when I say that I don't think I fit in either category, and I think both liberal perspectives have something very important to add. But I would just emphasize that if someone finds themselves to be more "communitarian" than Don, they're still quite firmly in the liberal tradition.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 8:53 am

So to the extent that you were self interested you would care more about a stranger inside your state than in another part of the country because an in-state stranger could do more harm to your life by creating new taxes than someone outside your state.

In the sense of "caring" in which I "care more" for a mugger in a dark alley than for my best friend in broad daylight, you're right.

I don't assume that someone in Rome, Georgia can offer me better terms of trade than someone in Rome, Italy, simply because he's in Georgia rather than Italy; however, if folks in Italy consistently offer me better terms, even on fruits for which Italian soil is not particularly suited, I wonder why.

Comparative advantage is a clever theory, and I'm persuaded that it meaningfully describes a virtue of freer trade, but I might find better terms of trade in Rome, Italy because some Italian mafia forcibly seizes fruits from growers in Rome, Georgia (or from their own countrymen or otherwise) and then sells the fruits to me from their stores in Italy.

In other words, Italians may have a comparative advantage in the mafia business. Maybe I'm only brainwashed by ideologically anti-imperial academics preaching their own theories from ivory towers, but I suppose successful empire has always operated this way and still does. I suppose U.S. empire is no different. That I happen to benefit from it myself is no evidence to the contrary.

Frankly, I suppose the Chinese offer attractive terms of trade not only because they're clever, industrious people advancing rapidly toward more productive organization but also because a totalitarian state commands them to offer goods they produce on more attractive terms, because these terms somehow advance ambitions of the statesmen rather than the producers.

After all, China is less developed, and producing goods there is more costly, all else being equal, not less so. If trade were ideally free, I suppose productive Chinese workers earning a fraction of my income, in terms of its real buying power, while providing many goods I consume, would either demand more from me in trade or would move here and compete for my more enviable position.

That the Chinese don't so often demand more or move here suggests to me that they aren't really so free. If I'm deluded in this way, someone needs to explain the delusion to me. He should begin with China's legal tender, its fixed exchange rate and its emigration restrictions.

The United States has a wonderful Baskin Robbins operation of government going on by 'selling' 50 different flavors of government to its population and allowing each individual to vote with their feet as to which state they like best.

At best, the U.S. had this form of government a century or so after its founding. I personally have never experienced it. I only hear tell of it, and what I hear could be mostly mythical.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 8:59 am

… emigration restrictions.

He should also discuss U.S. immigration restrictions, because these forcible proprieties affect the prospects of Chinese people as well.

Michael Smith March 29, 2009 at 9:18 am

Martin Brock wrote:

U.S. citizens already have capitalism. Capitalism is what real capitalists do, not some Rothbardian utopia.

And he wrote:

"Capitalists" govern capital (means of production) by definition.

This approach to defining the meaning of a term is nonsense — it essentially renders the term meaningless.

Some of those who “govern capital” create vast fortunes, generate millions of jobs and produce life-enhancing products, and do so through sheer productive, competitive effort with no special help from government — others who “govern capital” waste fortunes, dissipate jobs and defraud investors — still others who “govern capital” seek to live without competition and use government to crush their competitors — still others who “govern capital” funnel their profits to Islamic terrorists seeking to impose a totalitarian theocracy — while still others who “govern capital“ become drunks or drug addicts.

Obviously, if “capitalism” is whatever those who “govern capital” happen to do, then “capitalism” means anything and everything — which is only another way of saying it means nothing in particular.

Why do you seek to evade the fact that “capitalism” has a specific meaning — and that what we see today in the U.S. is not “capitalism”?

John Galt March 29, 2009 at 9:44 am
Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 10:15 am

This approach to defining the meaning of a term is nonsense — it essentially renders the term meaningless.

I disagree. Precisely, what is your problem with the definitions, besides the fact that you identify with the word "capitalism" but want to distinguish yourself from particular policies in the U.S. or some other nominally "capitalist" nation that you don't like?

Some of those who “govern capital” create vast fortunes, generate millions of jobs and produce life-enhancing products, …

Why don't the millions of people with the jobs generate the jobs and produce the life enhancing products? Why describe the generation and production as you do?

… and do so through sheer productive, competitive effort with no special help from government — …

Which ones do so without special help from government? The ones at GM? At AIG? At my corner grocer?

Even my corner grocer calls the police when his burglar alarm goes off or files a claim at court if I don't pay my bill. He calls the police, and I do not, because he holds title to the store and its contents, and I do not.

I think my local grocer is a fine man with a useful occupation. I don't oppose his title to the store and contents, but I won't deny the role that statesmen play, for better or for worse.

[Frankly, I don't really have a "corner grocer". I use the local branch of a large corporation. I typically shop at Kroger, but you get my point.]

… others who “govern capital” waste fortunes, dissipate jobs and defraud investors — still others who “govern capital” seek to live without competition and use government to crush their competitors — still others who “govern capital” funnel their profits to Islamic terrorists seeking to impose a totalitarian theocracy — while still others who “govern capital“ become drunks or drug addicts.

Certainly. All governors of capital are not the same. I never assert such a thing.

Obviously, if “capitalism” is whatever those who “govern capital” happen to do, then “capitalism” means anything and everything — which is only another way of saying it means nothing in particular.

No, I don't go as far as you say, because I suppose that Stalin was a "socialist", explicitly above, and we typically distinguish "socialists" from "capitalists".

My point is that the U.S. does not have a "socialist" economy in common parlance but rather has a "capitalist" economy. If Capitalist ideologues may simply pretend that everything glittering in the U.S. is their golden Capitalism while everything dull and dingy is something else, these ideologues seem to me the ones defining the term so vaguely that it's practically meaningless.

I don't define the term meaninglessly. I define it to mean precisely what the U.S., as the world's premier "Capitalist" nation, actually is, at least what it has in common with other "Capitalist" nations.

If you want to claim that no Capitalist nations exist at all, then you agree that your "Capitalism" is hardly more meaningful than "Unicorn". What is a Unicorn precisely anyway? Distinguish its genotype from that of a horse.

In my misspent youth, after finding a book on "anarchism" in my high school library, I started calling myself a "mutualist", after the fashion of Proudhon, Tucker and others. Benjamin Tucker and others laid the ideological foundation for modern the modern libertarian movement in the nineteenth century, as men like Murray Rothbard freely concede.

I didn't use "anarcho-capitalist" or "capitalist" more generally, because as a matter of historical fact, Proudhon, Tucker and others were called "socialists" and opposed "capitalism" in their own day, though they weren't "Marxists" or "state socialists" and didn't advocate a totalitarian model at all. They were far more like Rothbardians (or Rothbard like them), but they didn't like the word "capitalist" in its contemporary usage. That's all.

But I adopted "mutalist" and didn't call myself a "socialist" either, because I accepted the modern linguistic consensus that "socialism" described what states like the Soviet Union really were in my day. Of course, these states didn't exist at all in Tucker's day.

Capitalism and Socialism were the dominant thesis and anti-thesis of my day, and I had no special preference for either, so I approached the terms consistently. "Socialism" means what the dominant "socialists" (people commonly described so) really do, rather than some idyllic dream world imagined by other people who like the word "socialism". I use "capitalism" similarly, and I don't march under either banner. I don't march under any banner for that matter.

If some party of Mutualists ever (paradoxically) takes the reigns of a state, flies a banner and expects me to march under it, I'll probably drop "mutualism" too, but that hasn't happened yet. In the last couple of decades, when "libertarianism" seemed to me too much associated with the Republican party and its concrete objectives, I was more reluctant to use this term too, but fortunately for my association with "libertarianism", Bushniks effectively ended this alliance.

Why do you seek to evade the fact that “capitalism” has a specific meaning — and that what we see today in the U.S. is not “capitalism”?

What is this specific meaning? Whatever you say it is?

And do you also say, as most self-described "socialists" do these days, that Stalin's U.S.S.R. was not "socialism"?

vidyohs March 29, 2009 at 10:28 am

Off topic, but needs to be seen.

http://3us.enghunan.gov.cn/bbs/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=201%3Auss-annapolis-breaks-through-ice-in-the-arctic-ocean&lang=en

Damn global warming and the melting Arctic, nice pictures though.

muirgeo March 29, 2009 at 10:28 am

Wow John that's a great approach. You define the word, in this case, substitute freedom for the word so that anyone who disagrees with you is obviously against freedom. You can't lose as such.

Where you are wrong lies in the often heard term that freedom isn't free. Unless you are talking as an anarchist, which I have no patient for, your freedom ultimately derives from how the state is set up. Which means planning of some sort. Which I'm guessing you would be the best to do the planning rather than other people because they obviously know nothing of freedom compared to one such as yourself.

Now I could be wrong and maybe there has been or exist now a place called LaLa land where absolute freedom exist and property is doled out in exact direct proportion to a persons true absolute worth with out need for a government but if so I must have missed it.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 10:36 am

Capitalism Does Not Exist.

Right. What you call "capitalism" may not exist, but lots of other people use the word, and what the word commonly describes does exist. In this broader usage, Haliburton and Lockheed-Martin and Goldman Sachs and AIG and the Fed and the World Bank and WIPO and the rest are "capitalism".

What you call "capitalism" is also hopelessly vague and idealistic. So are my ideals for that matter, but I try not to confuse my ideals with common institutions, when I like them, so I can claim credit for all that glitters on behalf of my ideological compatriots while blaming "the other guys" for all the crap.

muirgeo March 29, 2009 at 10:42 am

George, will we always have to act like apes?
Or do we have some potential to rise above being mere political animals?

Posted by: Sam Grove

Sam,

How long have we been blogging together? I am all for rising above the ape level. That requires using what is different about us and what makes us special. That would be our intelligence and out ability to plan. You guys are the ones who want to make planning a bad word and prefer to run society like an ape pack tribe??, clan …whatever the hell you call a bunch of apes.

Those guys on Wall Street they are acting like fricking apes. People who believe they need and deserve hundreds of millions of dollars to survive are acting like apes. We need to set up society with at least some regard for the bigger picture because our ability to survive as a species will not be selected for on an individual basis. Nature and evolution is capable of hierarchical levels of order and selection. It doesn't give a shit about super-wealthy jackasses. That a society allows such to perpetuate may actually be a negative selection factor from an evolutionary perspective. We will survive if we are able to plan a fair, just, equitable and THUS efficient society. Having a small group of knuckleheads thinking the one with the most money gets to be the Silverback and mates with all the females is a good way to ultimately get our population down to their level the great apes currently enjoy

vidyohs March 29, 2009 at 10:47 am

The following quotes are taken from this website:
http://www.geocities.com/commiett/difference.html
Those quotes are repeated in other sources on the study of communism and socialism.

"Socialism is the stage between Capitalism and Communism. It builds upon the previous system (Capitalism) by nationalizing the "means of production" (i.e. corporations, resources, banks, etc.), but not by making everyone equal. In other words, people will be paid wages based on several factors (social need, difficulty, amount of schooling required, etc.), so not everyone will make the same wage — as is often a misinterpretation of Socialism.

Communism is the point where the state "withers away." This will be quite a few years in the future. If I had to guess, I'd say at least 10 generations of established Socialism has to occur before people evolve enough to realize that hurting others or the system ends up hurting themselves.

As Communists we advocate Socialism because it is the next necessary step to get to Communism. That is, it's not that we've given up on building a house, we just realize there is a need for a sturdy foundation first."

Socialism to the truly commited is intended to be but a pitstop.

Experience has shown that mankind will not prosper or function sufficiently under socialism to ever reach the point where this fool's idealistic goals lie, which is in the state withering away. We have seen repeated attempts to go through socialism to communism, we have seen those nations that call(ed) themselves Communist, and we have seen the disaster that resulted. The corruption and naked power of the party bosses would make even Bernie Madoff blush, the efficiency choking naked stupidity of the party bureaucrats would make even a Teamster's Union president blush, the Catch-22 idiocy of the party policies would make the Post Office seem a model of effective organization.

This is why I point out and stand by the observation that Communism is simply soicalism carried to its natural excess.

The hope and dream of progression from capitalism, through socialism, to real communism is about as empty a hope as ever existed. History shows the progression never really even makes it into pure socialism before the people began to practicing revolution at the street level. Black markets spring up, barter systems evolve, and willful defiance begins to show in ways that thwart officialdom.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 10:54 am

You define the word, in this case, substitute freedom for the word so that anyone who disagrees with you is obviously against freedom. You can't lose as such.

Actually, many people don't value freedom so highly, so he can lose as such.

… freedom isn't free.

I don't like this often heard term, because it's oxymoronic. I prefer to say that we're free only within stately constraints, including forcible property rights, and the issue in any political debate is the utility of particular constraints.

A state could essentially make medical doctors state employees with highly secure employment, high income, pensions and other benefits. Would this policy be useful to anyone other than medical doctors? I doubt it, but many other people understandably worry a lot about their health and the cost of catastrophic illness, so statesmen may offer a protection racket satisfying both well enough.

These institutions, once established, tend to persist, if they're satisfying enough, particularly if we may not compare them with alternatives.

vidyohs March 29, 2009 at 10:54 am

Muirduck,

Don has suggested that you not write about economics, markets, and capitalism until you learn a least some basics.

I suggest that you not write about freedom until you learn the basics.

The state does not give, protect, create, or guarantee freedom.

The only thing the state can do is give privilege and license.

When one is free, one lives and acts in the knowledge that there is personal responsibility in his actions that accord all others the same treatment as he believes he owns as a fact of natural law.

That personal responsibility means self motivated limitation on one's actions. One becomes self regulating, which was the hope and dream of the founding fathers.

Freedom means self rule, which means self regulating.

License is doing anything you want, anytime, anywhere, without regard to others.

Daniel Kuehn March 29, 2009 at 11:06 am

vidyohs -
RE: "When one is free, one lives and acts in the knowledge that there is personal responsibility in his actions that accord all others the same treatment as he believes he owns as a fact of natural law."

I'd be careful not to conflate what freedom is with how free people live and act.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 11:06 am

History shows the progression never really even makes it into pure socialism …

Right. History shows the progression into ever expanding state employment, vast military contractors, nationalized health care and old age pensions, unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies benefiting vast corporate farms producing food at very low prices, compared with other products, ever growing entitlement to tax revenue, bank bailouts and the rest.

Maybe the socialists are onto something after all. Maybe what we call "capitalism" is really "state socialism", but like you, I'm very skeptical of any progression from state socialism toward anything I'd call a "withering away" of the state. I certainly don't see it withering away now. I only see more and more state pensioners wiling away their idle hours on the web.

Martin Brock March 29, 2009 at 11:10 am

The hope and dream of progression from capitalism, through socialism, to real communism is about as empty a hope as ever existed.

Sort of like the hope and dream of a full reserve gold standard, which never existed and is never likely to exist.

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