Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 18, 2011

in Adam Smith, Reality Is Not Optional

… is from the great Jacob Viner’s classic 1928 article “Adam Smith and Laissez Faire”; here, specifically, from page 142 of the 1966 A.M. Kelley reprint of the 1928 volume Adam Smith: 1776-1926:

Even when Smith was prepared to admit that the system of natural liberty would not serve the public welfare with optimal effectiveness, he did not feel driven necessarily to the conclusion that government intervention was preferable to laissez faire.  The evils of unrestrained selfishness might be better that the evils of incompetent and corrupt government.

I add only that nothing removes the restraints on selfishness more readily and surely than does access to government power.

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Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I add only that nothing removes the restraints on selfishness more readily and surely than does access to government power.

Oh yeah, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were all about the unrestrained selfishness. It’s like you’ve become a caricature of a neoliberal now.

Urstoff November 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm

A counterexample does not disprove a statistical assertion.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm

It was stated as an absolute – see the word “nothing” in the original? Nothing is more certain than that everybody knows anything stated as an absolute is always wrong.

Urstoff November 18, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Which is a different claim than “all politicians are completely selfish”, which seems to be the one you were arguing against (or your counterexamples were completely pointless), but not the one Don was making.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm

It makes no difference to me what point Don was making. My purpose here is to take random potshots at Don, Russ, and other neoliberals as part of an Alinskyite strategy for agitation. That I usually set up straw men arguments to do so is beside the point.

Look, I’m on the far left. The purpose of the far left is to impose statism on individuals for their own good. Everything else — truth, logic, empirical evidence, theory, history — is simply a tool, a means, to that end.

Andrew_M_Garland November 18, 2011 at 5:38 pm

To Invisible Backhand,

Your response “It makes no difference to me . . ., to that end” is remakable. Which parts of that statement do you think are sarcastic? I see it as a plain characterization of your behavior in debate, and I wonder if you see it that way, too.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Forgot your Admiral Ackbar, Ken.

Say Ken, if you’re the real IB how come my blog is three months old and yours is brand new?

Regards,
Ken

Sam Grove November 18, 2011 at 5:58 pm

It makes no difference to me what point Don was making.

Obvious.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Hey, Ken,

Keep up the good work of impersonation. You’ve finally discovered something you’re good at.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Keep up the good work of impersonation. You’ve finally discovered something you’re good at.

You like impersonations? See if you can guess this one:

Country A: Until a decade ago, the country was highly protectionist, with an average industrial tariff rate well above 30 per cent. Despite the recent tariff reduction, important visible and invisible trade restrictions remain. The country has heavy restrictions on cross-border flows of capital, a state-owned and highly regulated banking sector, and numerous restrictions on foreign ownership of financial assets. Foreign firms producing in the country complain that they are discriminated against through differential taxes and regulations by local governments. The country has no elections and is riddled with corruption. It has opaque and complicated property rights. In particular, its protection of intellectual property rights is weak, making it the pirate capital of the world. The country has a large number of state-owned enterprises, many of which make large losses but are propped up by subsidies and government-granted monopoly rights.

Country B: The country’s trade policy has literally been the most protectionist in the world for the last few decades, with an average industrial tariff rate at 40–55 per cent. The majority of the population cannot vote, and vote-buying and electoral fraud are widespread. Corruption is rampant, with political parties selling government jobs to their financial backers. The country has never recruited a single civil servant through an open, competitive process. Its public finances are precarious, with records of government loan defaults that worry foreign investors. Despite this, it discriminates heavily against foreign investors. Especially in the banking sector, foreigners are prohibited from becoming directors while foreign shareholders cannot even exercise their voting rights unless they are resident in the country. It does not have a competition law, permitting cartels and other forms of monopoly to grow unchecked. Its protection of intellectual property rights is patchy, particularly marred by its refusal to protect foreigners’ copyrights.

Both these countries are up to their necks in things that are supposed to hamper economic development – heavy protectionism, discrimination against foreign investors, weak protection of property rights, monopolies, lack of democracy, corruption, lack of meritocracy, and so on. You would think that they are both headed for developmental disasters.

What countries are they?

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Hey, Ken! I’m looking forward to your posts!

You like riddles? Well, riddle me this:

Country A: Until a decade ago, the country was highly protectionist, with an average industrial tariff rate well above 30 per cent. Despite the recent tariff reduction, important visible and invisible trade restrictions remain. The country has heavy restrictions on cross-border flows of capital, a state-owned and highly regulated banking sector, and numerous restrictions on foreign ownership of financial assets. Foreign firms producing in the country complain that they are discriminated against through differential taxes and regulations by local governments. The country has no elections and is riddled with corruption. It has opaque and complicated property rights. In particular, its protection of intellectual property rights is weak, making it the pirate capital of the world. The country has a large number of state-owned enterprises, many of which make large losses but are propped up by subsidies and government-granted monopoly rights.

Country B: The country’s trade policy has literally been the most protectionist in the world for the last few decades, with an average industrial tariff rate at 40–55 per cent. The majority of the population cannot vote, and vote-buying and electoral fraud are widespread. Corruption is rampant, with political parties selling government jobs to their financial backers. The country has never recruited a single civil servant through an open, competitive process. Its public finances are precarious, with records of government loan defaults that worry foreign investors. Despite this, it discriminates heavily against foreign investors. Especially in the banking sector, foreigners are prohibited from becoming directors while foreign shareholders cannot even exercise their voting rights unless they are resident in the country. It does not have a competition law, permitting cartels and other forms of monopoly to grow unchecked. Its protection of intellectual property rights is patchy, particularly marred by its refusal to protect foreigners’ copyrights.

Both these countries are up to their necks in things that are supposed to hamper economic development – heavy protectionism, discrimination against foreign investors, weak protection of property rights, monopolies, lack of democracy, corruption, lack of meritocracy, and so on. You would think that they are both headed for developmental disasters.

What color are Ken’s eyes?

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Its not even a good counterexample. Washington was restrained by novelty. People who really understand government know that the legitimacy of action is often based not on any constitution, statute, or writ but convention. That’s why statists always push the envelope, usually an extraordinary remedy for some unique situation. Whatever your opinion on his dedication to the invalidity of succession, or the necessity of the war, LiIncoln acquired and exercised power like no predecessor and with the justification of exigency and necessity.

Once they get away with it, then its merely an “evolving understanding” of the law. Restraining politicians is like maintaining discipline with a five year old and for the same reason. Constancy and consistency are the two main ingredients, seasoned wih heavily doses of that most useful single word sentence: “No”.

However, Acton was right when he said Power TENDS to corrupt and absolute power TENDS to corrupt absolutely, and tends, though often omitted by sloppy quoters, allows for the rare jewel of self-restraint.

Fred November 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Power is a corruption magnet.
It’s not so much that power corrupts, rather corrupt people are attracted to power.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm

We are not talking about purchasing power or ability lift heavy objects. When we talk of “power” here, we are talking of the power to impose your will upon peaceful unwilling others, and to get away with it. The power itself is indeed corrupt, and nobody is so virtuous that exercising that power doesn’t make him corrupt.

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Power corrupts money. Corrupt people with power and money…now, there’s what’s wrong with there being a $3,600,000,000,000 annual budget distributed by 535 men and women.

I elaborate here > http://wp.me/p1jTK0-9u

kyle8 November 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I like what you said; “usually an extraordinary remedy for some unique situation”. Or as our lawyer friends say “Hard cases make bad laws”.

For a while in the 1980′s and 1990′s there was something I called Syndrome of the month.

Almost every single month someone would highlight some social problem which effected a tiny percentage of the population and then someone would write a book or some celebrity would take up the cause and always the answer was some sort of needless regulation.

Once you have decided that government can best deal with the issues of life instead of the individuals working together without coercion, then you open yourself up to a downward spiral the end of which is that every single part of our life is regulated.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm

As Rahm Emanuel said, Never let a good crisis go to waste.

As far as I’m concerned, we cannot have too many social problems — especially ones that affect only tiny portions of the population — because that provides the needed excuse — the “casus belli”, if you will — for ever increasing amounts of good, healthy, red-blooded, American government regulation. The more, the better!

Steve Fritzinger November 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm

IB – Washington and Jefferson were all about restraining government power because they agreed with Don’s assessment. They were true liberals.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm

They all had access to government power and yet they restrained their selfishness.

ColoComment November 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Perhaps the exceptions that prove the rule?

Jon Murphy November 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Forgive me for speaking blasphemy, but I’d contend the Founding Fathers were selfish

Will November 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I would agree. I am sure Washington and Lincoln knew very well that they stood at a crossroads in History where their names would forever remembered as the greatest leaders of all time if they succeeded.

Jon Murphy November 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Indeed. We tend to cast Washington as this Cincinitus-type personality. Maybe he was, but I am sure they knew damn well that even the best-hearted men can become corrupt with power.

Will November 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm

That maybe why Washington stepped down after two terms. He may very well been scared of the possibility of being President for four more years.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm

“I’d contend the Founding Fathers were selfish”

I’d say “not hanging separately” was probably at the forefront of their minds.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm

“That maybe why Washington stepped down after two terms. He may very well been scared of the possibility of being President for four more years.”

He faced a life at home that was much preferable to the oval office, at least in his eyes–and in mine as well. So there was an opportunity cost to being President, and apparently the added cache of a third term reached the point of diminishing returns.

Patriotic American November 18, 2011 at 4:39 pm

It’s like I’m reading a contest on how to twist words. I know, Benedict Arnold was generous because he wanted to ‘give’ Annapolis to the English.

Why say ‘Bataan Death March’? Call it the ‘Bataan Life Optional Nature Hike’!

‘Name it and claim it’ only fools the ignorant.

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 5:50 pm

As am I.

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 8:34 am

I don’t forgive you for being evil and selfish. You are a troll, plain and simpleton.

SmoledMan November 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm

The power of the federal government in 1790s compared to now is ridiculously low. For you to make that comparison is facetious and mendacious.

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Smoled,

Maybe the reason the power of the federal gvt today is a result of the human trait under discussion. Maybe our founders failed in that they didn’t anticipate that to some power-coveting men, the was no ‘opportunity cost’ to holding public office. I’d wager that 99.9% of the men/women in DC (including lobbyists) would go hungry if forced to survive in the private sector.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm

“Maybe our founders failed in that they didn’t anticipate that to some power-coveting men, the was no ‘opportunity cost’ to holding public office.”

Not true of all the Founders, just the ones who succeeded in creating a centralized coercive monopoly powerful enough to lord over us all. It’s not fair to blame all of the heroes of the revolution for that pivotal lapse of judgement–a judgement that within two centuries squandered all that the sacrifices of the revolution had accomplished.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 18, 2011 at 4:40 pm

and specious.

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Why are you stealing the real Economic Freedom’s moniker.
Have you no shame? Get a real job, clown.

Greg Webb November 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Nope. The Founding Fathers were selfish. But, the various factions countered each other to create a few really marvelous documents, like The Declaration of Independence.

Greg Webb November 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Political power is corrupt.

Economic Freedom November 19, 2011 at 2:59 pm

“Political power is corrupt.”

It can be. Political pwer was what Lord Acton was referring to when he wisely noted that “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Why are you stealing the real Economic Freedom’s moniker.
Have you no shame? Get a real job, clown.

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

It’s not possible to converse with you. No one has said that ALL men are corrupted completely by power, just that it takes a rather unusual man to resist mis-using the powers of public office.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Of course, since each was a president of the United States, it follows that they would have access to government power, making me (yet again) a profound Master of the Obvious. Don probably meant that nothing undercuts natural market (i.e., private-sector, non-governmental) restraints on the selfishness of individuals and businesses producing in the private (i.e., non-governmental) sector of the economy as private business or private individual access to governmental power. In fact, now that I do an unusual thing for me — i.e., actually reflect for a moment on what Don wrote — I see that Don was correct and made a good point.

However, please remember that my purpose in posting at Cafe Hayek is to take random shots at Don, Russ, and other neoliberals as part of a strategy of harassment put forward by one of the great mentors of statists everywhere: Saul Alinsky.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Don, Russ, and other neoliberals

Psst Ken…Russ and Don don’t like to have the neoliberal albatross around their neck, which is why they never mention it. They are neoliberals of course, you can bet your Mont Pelerin on that.

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm

you can bet your Mont Pelerin on that.

Psst Ken….Congratulations on winning the “Saul Alinsky Best Ass-hat of the Internet” award! Other trolls try, but you succeed.

Was it natural talent, or expert coaching that got you this coveted prize of the far left?

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Psst Ken…the shots are hardly random:

“All neoliberal revivalists, however, even the almighty Friedman, pale in comparison with neoliberalism’s guru, the early critic of Keynes and ‘socio-philosopher of economics,’ Friedrich von Hayek.”

The Unholy Trinity: The World Bank, IMF and WTO, Richard Peet

Invisible Backhand November 18, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Psst Ken…the shots are either random or you’re a crappy shot. Take your pick.

IB

Jon Murphy November 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I read an article saying conservatives say they are happier than liberals (in the modern sense of the word). I think I can believe that.

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Why are you stealing the real Invisible Backhand’s moniker.
Have you no shame? Get a real job, clown.

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Why are you stealing the real Invisible Backhand’s moniker.
Have you no shame? Get a real job, clown.

Invisible Backhand November 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I’m sorry everyone. My other personality, Irritable Bowell, is now arguing with himself because Dr. Muirgeo took him off the Thorazine. Dr. Muirgeo said that Irritable Bowel just needed an enema, and then gave him one instead of the normal meds. I’ve never seen an enema administered the way that Dr. Muirgeo did it. Irritable Bowel seemed to like it, but since then has gone on a tirade of arguing with himself.

With Warmest Personal Regards,

Invisible Backhand

Seth November 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm

They were the innovators. Most everyone who has followed have been the bureaucrats.

Darren November 18, 2011 at 6:43 pm

They all had access to government power and yet they restrained their selfishness.

This was at a time when a strong central government meant something a fraction is what it is now. Also, who was it that made the Louisiana Purchase?

“Although he felt that the U.S. Constitution did not contain any provisions for acquiring territory, Jefferson decided to purchase Louisiana because he felt uneasy about France and Spain having the power to block American trade access to the port of New Orleans. Jefferson decided to allow slavery in the acquired territory, which laid the foundation for the crisis of the Union a half century later.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_purchase

Gil November 20, 2011 at 12:25 am

On paper. Washington suppressed a tax rebellion and Jefferson made an illegal land grab.

Will November 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I could counter your argument by saying “Oh yeah, what about Hitler, Stalin, Caesar, etc..” but I don’t see how your statement negates what was stated.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises November 19, 2011 at 8:10 am

To put Julius Caesar with Hitler and Stalin is beyond vulgar

Shows how very little you know about history or anything

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 8:20 am

So you’re saying Caesar wasn’t a dictator who murdered his rivals, used the army for his own personal gain, and wielded absolute power?

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Julius Caesar is estimated to have killied a million Gauls during the Gallic Wars. So, Little Nikki Luzha, now you are pretending to know history as well as economics.

Steve Fritzinger November 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm

“If the market has failed, the only alternative is government.”

Oh, the seductive power of the false dichotomy.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm

True. One obvious alternative is failure, which usually preferable to government action.

SmoledMan November 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Ah yes when the market fails, it’s time to fire up the gas chambers. Such is the logic of the left.

anthonyl November 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Right, markets never can fail. The outcome may not have been intended but that’s the policy makers misunderstanding of the market process not a failure of the market.

Gil November 20, 2011 at 12:27 am

But to Libertarians the market cannot fail, period. Individuals and businesses may fail but the market simply readjusts to optimal configurations without any intervention.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Government solutions are worse than the problems.

Those of us who therefore advocate against such solutions are commonly mistakenly called “utopian” while those who believe in the magic fairy dust of a government acting without the adverse consequences that day-to-day government actions have revealed to us are somehow “practical”.

The purely imagined, dominated by intentions and free from observation, historical perspective, or even careful cold consideration of potential causal chains, is more persuasive than the daily experience of millions over centuries. Intent trumps reality every day of the week.

SmoledMan November 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

If you can call government force a “solution”. It is for the tyrant.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Indeed.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises November 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

Government solutions are worse than the problems.

Really—and where is the evidence of that

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 8:19 am

Would you like it listed empirically, or chronologically?

Economic Freedom November 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm

For example, the federal government’s bailout of AIG and Goldman Sachs were far worse that the market solution of letting them fail.

vikingvista November 19, 2011 at 6:59 pm

“where is the evidence of that”

It is harder finding economic problems that aren’t evidence of that.

SaulOhio November 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

As an Objectivist, I never like this kind of talk about “selfishness”. I think I have explained why a few times.

Will November 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I would change the last line to read “than the evils of selfish government officials.”

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I challenge the idea, the notion, the proposal, that factually there is public welfare.

I think the idea of public welfare is a leftist construct, created strictly to be used as a tool to advance their seizure of government.

If my life has lack, and I have needs that I can not satisfy through the use of my own intelligence and labor, then that is my problem. How does it, how can it, become public.

If Rosa or L’Tanya, or Sally find themselves in the same boat with a life that has lack and needs unfulfilled by the use of their intelligence and labor, how does that get to be a problem that vidyohs must address?

I reject it as a theory and as a practice.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm

You are absolutely right. It is collectivist jargon and suffers the collectivist fallacy, just as you articulated. Very well said.

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Would you allow that vidyohs MAY address the problem if thereby he believes he has increased the total amount of “goodness’ – charity is not an obligation, but neither is it immoral in all cases, true? Charity that lifts up and does not lead to dependency is ok – I’d agree that the word ‘charity’ as often used by the left does not include the version thereof that I describe, but I think the actual meaning of the word did allow for my version, before the concept was deconstructed by the left

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Good Sir,

In my world obligations are voluntary, otherwise they aren’t obligations, they are assignments mandated by force.

vidyohs will address the subject of charity (a word I deliberately avoided in my previous comment) as vidyohs see it and wills it, in other words at my ability to be moved by another’s need and to feel compassion so that I am willing to aid them with either time, effort, or coin, so it shall be.

I will not, nor do I think you should, be assigned someone’s need or lack by compulsory action of the state.

I promise you that I will never be your burden, and this is fair warning that you are not likely to become mine either. :-) It’s just the way it is.

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Ouch on the bolding!

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Vidyohs,

I think you misunderstood my point (or I badly mis-stated it) because I agree with your reply. Take another look at my post and see if you can’t read it differently? I did not say charity is an obligation. You have no obligation to be charitable, nor do I. But I will not condemn you for contributing to a cause that might cure or prevent, say, acne – if you so choose.

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Jeff,
I apologize for responding in a manner that could be seen as hostile to you. I did read your comment and at first I did think you were on my case; but, I did reread it more cautiously and saw that we were in agreement on the question of obligation. However your use of the word charity and the context of that thought prompted me to make my position crystal clear.

I did not address the issue of morality there, but I do one comment down from here.

I did not intend to offer offense.

BTW, I did intentionally leave a door open with this sentence, “Compulsion is immoral when done by a state.”

Does that prompt a question to further discussion?

Jeff Neal November 19, 2011 at 9:29 am

Vidyohs,

I think we’ve concluded that we are on the same page. Charity comes from one’s heart and is voluntary. Any form of compulsion other than moral suasion (NOT a tool of the state or a mob) is wrong. (I concede in advance the point that “compulsion” and “suasion” are probably antonyms if we’re precise.)

Jeff Neal November 19, 2011 at 9:32 am

Vidyohs,

Oh, and no offense taken. Until one shows otherwise, I assume that opinions are offered in goodfaith and with the objective of finding the truth. That’s my practice whenever I click the Submit button.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm

how does that get to be a problem that vidyohs must address?

More to the point, lets assume you have a moral obligation to assist the TRULY indigent, desperate or helpless. It does not follow ipso facto, that government has the right to declare itself the principal agent of relief and then exact an amount it deems sufficient.

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Yes sir, moral obligations are not assigned, they are assumed voluntarily, and are the result of the individual’s morality.

Compulsion is immoral when done by a state.

Jeff Neal November 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm

That’s my point – I’ve reread my post above, and while it’s not perfectly stated, your view and mine are not contradictory

Darren November 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm

I challenge the idea, the notion, the proposal, that factually there is public welfare.

Kind of like “social justice”?

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Exactly, and constructed by leftist for the exact same reason, to aid in their seizure of government.

GiT November 18, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Oh please. You really need to keep your polemical arguments about how others define terms separate from metaphysical arguments about whether or not certain concepts exist or can be considered factual.

The concept of ‘social justice’ certainly creates facts about the world, but most of the words we use do that.

That you think the facts a particular conception of social justice creates are pernicious is, well, irrelevant. Belgium may not like how Britain defines chocolate, but British chocolate still refers to reality, even if it refers to different parts of reality than Belgian chocolate.

One person may define social justice as the percentage of people who have a certain amount of money, another may define it as the percentage of relations between people which are voluntary. Both ideas are certainly artificial, but that doesn’t make either of them fail to refer to facts.

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 11:03 pm

“The concept of ‘social justice’ certainly creates facts about the world, but most of the words we use do that.”

Did you intend the word “creates” here, or is this a typo?

GiT November 19, 2011 at 12:48 am

It’s intentional.

Artifact concepts are those concepts that necessarily exist only because of human intentions and purposes. As such they only refer to things insofar as we make the things to which they refer. An easy example of that would be an intention or a desire itself. There are no facts about human intentions unless humans intend things. By intending things we create facts about what intentions exist.

But all sorts of words are artifact concepts, including seemingly simple words, like ‘chair’ and ‘tool.’

vikingvista November 19, 2011 at 12:53 am

I see. Odd use of words. It is people who create facts, acting on their concepts, not the concepts themselves. Concepts don’t create, or act in any other manner.

vikingvista November 19, 2011 at 1:07 am

“One person may define social justice as the percentage of people who have a certain amount of money, another may define it as the percentage of relations between people which are voluntary. Both ideas are certainly artificial, but that doesn’t make either of them fail to refer to facts.”

Misconceptions do exist. People do sever conceptual links to their perceptions, and hold contradictory conclusions, and nonsensical concepts. Contrary to your defense, a great many people who use “social justice” or “public welfare” truly do anthropomorphize groups of people, taking abstractions derived from facts of individuals, and presuming they apply to a group, simply because they’ve identified the group with a single name. This is the collective fallacy, and a day doesn’t go by when you don’t see it.

You might give someone the benefit of the doubt, assuming they are using colloquial language or shorthand to refer to a rational concept. But if you actually probe and question them, you will more often than not find that their conclusions DEPEND upon the misapplication of individual properties to a group of individuals.

So what you are missing in your exposition above, is that the words people use often are without meaning, or refer to nonexistent imaginings, even if the users don’t realize it.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 3:31 am

Shucks, typed something and then it disappeared.

In any case the short version is that nothing posted in this thread offers a definition of the term social justice or public welfare which is incoherent (and note that there are many definitions of these terms, which focus on all sorts of things – including qualities of parts of a compound, aggregatable qualities of the parts of a compound, and qualities of the compound but not of its parts.)

The fallacy of composition is not always a fallacy. It would be nice if you could actually demonstrate an example where the fallacy actually applied. As it stands I’m pretty sure we’re just dealing with what one might call the fallacy of thinking every act of aggregation entails a fallacy of composition. I suppose that would technically be a case of affirming the consequent. (If someone commits a fallacy of composition, then they are talking about a composite/aggregate/compound. Therefore, if someone is talking about a composite/aggregate/compound, they are committing the fallacy of composition.)

vikingvista November 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Examples abound. Just yesterday on some news channel a reporter was interviewing one of those demonstrating millionaire patriot guys (paraphrasing):

MPG: People in my class should pay more.
REP: Here’s a Treasury Dept. address where you can send all the money you want. Will you do that?
MPG: No. This isn’t about voluntaryism. This is about society making a commitment to pay more.

Now, unless you incorrectly think society is literally an entity capable of making commitments, this sentence and its intended result makes no sense. The only rational interpretation of that last sentence would be, “individuals in society should each make a commitment to pay more money”. But that contradicts both his actions, and his previous statement, since “to make a commitment” is a voluntary action. So, in his mind, this organism called “society” can go around peacefully making commitments, even while individuals in society do not, and are even violently suppressed from doing so. It is nonsense. But nonsense is the only way for him claim that is violent intent is merely persuading someone to make a choice.

Wait another day, and I’ll find a brand new example for you. A heuristic for finding them is easy. Find someone who uses the word “society”. See if their purpose in using the term requires stripping those who actually have the characteristic (individuals) and instead attributing it to something which does not (society). You will never run out of examples of the collectivist fallacy.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Sorry, but that isn’t an example of a fallacy of composition.

That’s an example of a particular opinion about legitimate authority.

‘Societies’ commit to things all the time. No one who talks about society making a commitment thinks that this necessarily means every part of society makes the commitment. Does this mean they think that social commitments rely upon authority and force? Yes. But not every theory of legitimate authority depends upon consent.

And, further, as a matter of fact it is simply the case that political authority, legitimate or illegitimate, every day operates without depending on universal consent.

You can object to a theory of legitimacy that is not voluntarist, but that moral objection is not a logical objection.

vikingvista November 19, 2011 at 6:54 pm

“‘Societies’ commit to things all the time. No one who talks about society making a commitment thinks that this necessarily means every part of society makes the commitment. Does this mean they think that social commitments rely upon authority and force? Yes. ”

Nice! Now you just gave me another example of the collectivist fallacy! Thanks!

Societies do not commit to anything. Ever. Impossible. Some individuals in society do. Now, while it may be the case that someone saying “society commits” will claim when pressed that they mean it as shorthand for “some individuals commit”, the arguments in which they use the phrase almost invariably depends upon the fallacy. Let’s try to translate the MPG’s words into something logical:

MPG: People in my class should pay more.
REP: Here’s a Treasury Dept. address where you can send all the money you want. Will you do that?
MPG: No. This isn’t about voluntaryism. This is about some people making a commitment to pay more.

Kind of changes the intended meaning, doesn’t it? And reveals the contradiction. It isn’t about free choice, instead it is about free choice? Nonsense.

Now let’s take your particular bit of nonsense:

DU: “Does this mean they think that social commitments rely upon authority and force? Yes.”

Translate this to the only rational use of “social”:

“Does this mean they think that the voluntary choice of some individuals rely upon authority and force? Yes.”

Voluntarily coerced. Nonsense.

And since “society decides” can only mean “some individuals decide”, it necessarily also means “some individuals DON’T decide”. Which of course, makes the use of “society” as a decision making entity, ambiguous to a contradiction.

The English language is rich enough to succinctly describe what is really happening, so what is the motive for anthropomorphizing society? The motive is to have it both ways–to claim civility, agreement, and legitimacy when the exact opposite is what is happening. It is a way for some people to disregard and violently suppress those who disagree with them. Society becomes, effectively, a referent just to those who agree, while claiming for persuasive power a much broader scope. It’s intended meaning for the purpose of persuasion contradicts it’s only rational meaning as a rooted concept.

And if you ever doubt it. Simply translate the person’s words to refer factually to individuals. Almost every single time, their argument becomes complete nonsense.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Look, you’re operating from the assumption that someone can only incur a duty by consent, or voluntarily. But that’s not how the world works. The world may work in a way that is illegitimate, but as I continue to repeat, whether something is legitimate has nothing to do with whether or not it exists.

Vast numbers of people act as if they have obligations even though they never consented to them. Vast numbers of people also act as if abstract compounds, like governments, can be said to be obliged to do something. Just look at the Constitution:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed”

But how can you require something of a State or district! They aren’t individuals!

Hume is instructive on this issue:

“We shall only observe, before we conclude, that, though an appeal to general opinion may justly, in the speculative sciences of metaphysics, natural philosophy, or astronomy, be deemed unfair and inconclusive, yet in all questions with regard to morals, as well as criticism, there is really no other standard, by which any controversy can ever be decided. And nothing is a clearer proof, that a theory of this kind is erroneous, than to find, that it leads to paradoxes, repugnant to the common sentiments of mankind, and to the practice and opinion of all nations and all ages. The doctrine, which founds all lawful government on an original contract, or consent of the people, is plainly of this kind; nor has the most noted of its partizans, in prosecution of it, scrupled to affirm, that absolute monarchy is inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil government at all;19 and that the supreme power in a state cannot take from any man, by taxes and impositions, any part of his property, without his own consent or that of his representatives.20 What authority any moral reasoning can have, which leads into opinions so wide of the general practice of mankind, in every place but this single kingdom, it is easy to determine”

vikingvista November 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm

“Look, you’re operating from the assumption that someone can only incur a duty by consent, or voluntarily. But that’s not how the world works.”

That’s not an assumption in my posts, but as a matter of fact it is the meaning of “duty”. Morality requires choice. Force removes choice. We have no duty we did not consent to. Of course we respond to threats, but you confuse that with duty. Deciding that you should act, solely because such acting is right, or not acting is wrong, is quite a different thing from choosing between acting and getting killed.

“The world may work in a way that is illegitimate, but as I continue to repeat, whether something is legitimate has nothing to do with whether or not it exists.”

Yes. So? This certainly has no bearing on anything that I wrote.

“Vast numbers of people act as if they have obligations even though they never consented to them. Vast numbers of people also act as if abstract compounds, like governments, can be said to be obliged to do something.”

Again, so? I’m beginning to think this post was intended for someone else.

“Just look at the Constitution:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed”
But how can you require something of a State or district! They aren’t individuals!”

The Constitution contains several contradictions and offenses. People write nonsense all the time. Once again, I must ask…So?

“Hume is instructive on this issue:”

Hume thinks that controversy regarding widely accepted standards can only be decided by appeal to “general opinion”. That is, given a collective notion, a collective notion must be appealed to. But morality is not in every sense a collective notion. It also has a sense that does fall into the category of the “speculative sciences”, and furthermore, any collective notion has parts that fall in to the “speculative sciences”. As such, there are always parts for which a survey or presumption of opinions is irrelevant. With morality, in particular, is the notion of individual choice.

Hume: “And nothing is a clearer proof, that a theory of this kind is erroneous, than to find, that it leads to paradoxes,”

To the contrary, collective notions are minefields of paradoxes. Including the notion of “common sentiments of mankind”, which has no existent in reality.

Hume is my favorite of the Enlightenment philosophers, but no philosopher is without lapses to nonsense.

GiT November 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm

1. It’s great that you think you’ve settled any and all debate in moral philosophy. But in reality you haven’t. There are numerous theories of obligation not based on consent and consonant with the use of force, period. Saying your theory is the right theory is meaningless. You’re not God.

2. This whole thread is a response to Vidoyhs inane rambling that ‘public welfare’ does not exist because he does not have an obligation to give charity to others. So, it’s relevant to that.

3. It’s a simple point. Your theory of obligation is not other people’s theory of obligation. Therefore why should I treat your theory as the only theory?

4. Again, it’s an empirical example. And there’s nothing nonsensical about it. Here the relevant text would be Hobbes on authors and things personated. If you don’t understand what it would mean for someone to be the representative of a group, or the caretaker of a historical landmark, then you’re addled.

5. It’s great that you think that’s the case about morality. Many don’t.

6. Hume’s theory is full of paradoxes according to your abstract principles. Your theory is full of paradoxes according to how people actually live their lives – that is to say it makes how the world actually works incomprehensible, as opposed to make your idea of how the world should work incomprehensible. I’m more concerned about the second sort of paradox – the ones that have to do with reality, and not your belief system.

Dan J November 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm

It’s easy to refute any conceived notion to an individuals obligations, especially, to give to charity……… Most receiving charity from GOVT are fully capable people who have chosen to forgo their obligations by simply refusing to be productive and contribute to the supposed obligations of an individual in society, and GOVT incentivizes the behavior. GOVT has officially condoned the choice to refuse supposed obligations in a system by incentivizing the individual who does not participate by giving them ‘free’ money.

GiT November 18, 2011 at 9:45 pm

That there is a duty or obligation to the public welfare is an entirely different question than whether or not public welfare exists.

To claim public welfare doesn’t exist because it is ‘constructed’ and apparently hence not ‘factual,’ is the height of confusion (and likely stupidity).

All artifact concepts can have different meanings from one person to another. That goes for welfare just as well as it goes for, say, chair, which is also an artifact concept. So what?

Arguments for trade entail, even if they don’t depend, upon the fact that ‘public’ welfare improves via trade. On a scale of 1-10, Z feels about a 7 and Q feels about a 6, then they make a trade and each feels about an 8. Their common welfare has now increase by 3, even if their subjective evaluations of their own welfare are entirely opposite. Call Q and Z a public, and we’ve got public welfare.

vidyohs November 18, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Confusion and stupidity to be sure, the moment you touched your keyboard that happened.

If you had the ability of a conservative to read you’d notice I said the idea (idea = concept) of public welfare is a construct, created by leftist in order to further their goals of seizing control of government.

That the idea, the construct has been used as a basis for actually stealing the money of the unwilling to give in public welfare is an evil perpetrated on all parties.

It is just stupid loonies like you that will never understand that giving people the sustenance of life without them ever making an effort to earn it, is the ultimate evil done to them.

GiT November 18, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Actually, what you said was, “I challenge the idea, the notion, the proposal, that factually there is public welfare.”

You then said that the idea of public welfare is a ‘leftist construct.’

One might then presume that you think that there is no fact of the matter with respect to the idea ‘public welfare’ has to do with it being a ‘construct.’

You then engaged in an attack on a particular conception of what people are or aren’t obliged to do, which has nothing to do with whether or not public welfare factually exists.

Now you’re ranting about the consequences or policies people have recommended on the basis of a certain definition of what public welfare is. But that, again, has nothing to do with whether or not public welfare exists.

I’m glad I don’t have the ability of a conservative to read, because that would apparently render me unable to read what I have myself written.

Jon Murphy November 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Man, so many angry people on this blog

vikingvista November 18, 2011 at 11:05 pm

“Man, so many angry people on this blog”

What’s it to you, Punk? You want a piece of me? Huh? Well, do ya?

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

@GiT,

Yep, and I was right about what I said, and I am right about you.

You’re deficient, and it’s because of that looney left broken brain that can only see the forest but never the trees.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 2:12 pm

You clearly aren’t right about anything, because you’re incapable of articulating a defense of your position. How does your objection to the LEGITIMACY of the existence of something equal an objection to the EXISTENCE of something?

Oh wait, it doesn’t. It must be hard living in the world when you just can’t understand how it is that there’s a difference in effect between an Executive Order and the executive ordering a big mac.

Greg G November 19, 2011 at 8:04 am

“ We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 9:05 am

So, who were the “We the People” that formed that corporation?
//you do realize that the 99.9999999% did not even know it was going down until after it happened, don’t you?//

Does the word promote mean compel in your lexicon?

Does the word general mean specific and/or exclusionary in your lexicon?

Save us all the bother, you and GiT go to another blog and debate each other on who is the better collectivist tool.

Methinks1776 November 19, 2011 at 10:33 am

The Blessings of Liberty cannot be secured by condemning people to servitude. That leftist concern of the Central Authority sorting out which arbitrary, amorphous group’s needs supersede the right to liberty of another arbitrarily chosen group is not what the framers meant by “general welfare”.

It’s amazing to me that leftists are incapable of learning. If nothing else, can’t you pay attention to current affairs? In an effort to promote the welfare state (which is the leftist reading of “general welfare”), European countries have destroyed everyone’s welfare. Not only are all Europeans poorer than Americans, but those states are now simply disintegrating – just as that other great socialist state, the USSR, did 20 years ago.

Daniel Kuehn November 19, 2011 at 10:37 am

Methinks you always have these great opening points where I think “wow I can actually agree with her”, followed by sentences that seem so wrong I’m amazed you can even write them with a straight face.

I think it says something about the underlying disagreement, but I’m not entirely sure what.

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 11:45 am

@Disingenuous Kuehn

Aw com’on DK, tell us what m’lady said that was outrageously wrong, so much so that you can’t believe she could write the words.

Give us the Krugman version of Europe.

vikingvista November 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm

It is true, that socialists interpret the general welfare clause differently than the Founders.

To the socialists, it means “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” (or rather its practical result–needs of a politician’s most supportive special interest) which overtly intends the government to be an agent of violence sacrificing some for others.

The Founders intended that it mean the Federal Government take no action that was harmful to a member state, but do only those things that all would benefit from.

However, even the Founders’ interpretation is only less overtly collectivistic. There is no mechanism in the Constitution for unanimity among all decision-making entities (individual citizens), nor could there be. The decision, even by the Founders, that something is in the general welfare is a presumptuous one that invariably, in practice, will not be to many people’s welfare.

There simply is no substitute, for true primum non nocere general welfare, to leaving decision-making entities alone to make their own decisions–i.e. individual liberty. Coercive enforcement of collective decision-making, constitutional or not, will always be a violation.

Methinks1776 November 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Well, DK, I can’t answer that because I don’t know what your specific complaint is.

Greg Webb November 19, 2011 at 3:20 pm

LOL! Greg G proves once again that he does not understand the Constitution.

Gil November 20, 2011 at 12:36 am

Sometimes Methinks, like a lot of Libertarians, uses the strange verbiage of a melodramatic pessimist – “Europe is in flames and headed for extreme poverty.” Yeah right, African are foolishly migrated to Europe to find out that Europe now has the same standard of living. They’re so starving that reports of cannibalism are croping up. Puh-lease. Then again she and Vidyohs proves that Libertarianism is on the extreme rightmost position because everyone else qualifies as the “left”.

brotio November 20, 2011 at 1:05 am

“the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”

To accurately describe what the Statist really means, that phrase should read, “the wants of the many outweigh the rights of the few”.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises November 19, 2011 at 8:13 am

vidyohs

you couldn’t walk across a crowded street without the help of many people

what a jeck

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 9:08 am

Its my street, my little communist chihuahua, I built it with my tax money.

When I want to walk across my street I make the crowds stay home, screw ‘em.

And, if I ever get to the point where I can’t walk across my street, I’ll limp across, I’ll crawl across, I’ll roll in my wheel chair, but rest assured you’ll not be asked to help me.

Jeck, yes I am proud to be a jeck………..what’s a jeck?

Greg G November 19, 2011 at 9:34 am

vidyohs

You are not the only one who pays taxes. I pay plenty of taxes. I put up the quote that riled you up so much without any editorial comment because I thought it spoke for itself.

You might think that, on a libertarian blog, everyone should decide for himself whether or not to comment. But then, I forgot, you are more of an authoritarian than libertarian. But then all you have to do to fit in here is simply rail against government.

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 11:42 am

LOL, you put up the quote with no thought whatsoever, you simply knee jerk into things like the little mindless robots of looney leftism.

The difference twixt thee and me is simple. You accept things without study, and I study things without acceptance.

It’s why you make a good little collectivist and I make an independent free man.

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 11:47 am

BTW, all your disingenuous attempt at the sideways slide aside, you forgot to tell me who “We the people” were. Along with that you might try and tell me how what they decided binds me today, over and above my willing, knowing, intentional, and voluntary agreement.

Com’on sweetie, lay your words of wisdom on me.

Greg G November 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

vidyohs

I put up the quote without any editorial comment on how it related to the modern welfare state. I did that for two reasons. The first is simply that I don’t know exactly what position the founders would take on the modern welfare state except to say that different founders would have different views on that now just as they argued about a great many things back then.

The reason I put up the quote alone was to show that they did have a concept of “the GENERAL welfare” no matter how inconvenient that is for you. The validity of such a concept was the original issue in this thread. Remember?

You have no clue as to how much I have studied or thought about anything despite how much you (and many others here) love to lecture on the pretense of knowledge. But that kind of hilarious unintended irony is one of the things that keeps me coming back here.

It is true that by “We the people” the founders were mainly thinking of only property owning, white males. I am glad that definition has broadened since then while you have made it clear you preferred the situation on that “fifteen decades ago.”

Another thing worth noting is that a simple quote from the Constitution with no comment added was enough to get you to invite me to leave the blog. Well guess what? You better strap in and get a helmet because I will leave when I get good and ready and not before.

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm

But Greg G.,

I do have a clue as to what you think and how you think it, you provide those clues with every comment.

Your thinking sucks in GENERAL because it always goes along the line of collectivism and interprets the world along collectivist lines.

Because I am feeling generous, when have you ever read anything I have written that says I am against things being done for the “general” welfare of the people?

You are just too broken brained to read and understand that I write what I mean and I mean what I write…….not what you contort what I say to mean.

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

@Greg G.

I no more expect you to leave the Cafe than I expect my lawn to be free of dog turds, much the same thing in my mind. :-)

My invitation is meaningless as it isn’t my blog. However I do think that you, GiT, muirduck, Irritable Bowels, and the mad Russian would all get more satisfaction out of gathering together on another blog of your own and engaging in your own tight little circle jerk, like the people do on HUFFPO.

You won’t really be missed as there are enough socialist foils in the world for us to play with without you being one of them.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm

“Because I am feeling generous, when have you ever read anything I have written that says I am against things being done for the “general” welfare of the people?”

Do you think that people can do things which contribute to the “general welfare” of the people?

If so, is “general welfare” something different than “public welfare”?

vidyohs November 19, 2011 at 10:50 pm

@GiT,

Oh you clever child, you found a dictionary and a thesaurus, and you are just so ready to make the point that “public welfare” as I used it above can actually equate to the “general welfare” mentioned in the Preamble if we all pretend that the public welfare I spoke of was not clearly about the giving of total sustenance to losers, and that myself and everyone else who agreed with what I said are just plain confused about the two……..but you have it nailed. LOl. What a f.cking loser.

Is this what the concept of clever is reduced to in your looney left circles?

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 10:53 pm

If I may put my 2-cents into this conversation (and this may have already been said) the way I read the Preamble is “We want to promote the general welfare etc etc etc., and here’s how we’ll do it” and then it goes into the role of government.

GiT November 20, 2011 at 12:11 am

I have no idea what you meant by public welfare. I thought you meant the welfare, or well-being, of the public – all the individuals in a given community.

But now it seems that by ‘public welfare’ you mean transfer payments made through, say, departments of public welfare.

But if that’s what you meant then you must be suffering from some sort of brain damage.

You’d have to be to say that you challenge the idea that there is ‘factually public welfare.’ Because, as a matter of fact, the government does give out money to so called ‘losers,’ and ‘public welfare’ in the sense of welfare payments unambiguously do exist.

If your initial post was objecting to transfer payments, then it makes absolutely no sense to say that these payments don’t exist and are only a ‘construct.’ They are certainly a construct, but that does not in anyway prevent them from existing.

The payments themselves are very real. What could be a construct, and one that doesn’t exist, is the alleged obligation to give such payments.

And so we return to my point. The existence of an ‘obligation to something’ and the existence of ‘something’ are entirely different questions.

As to my cleverness, I’m not trying to be clever. I’m trying to be clear. I suppose that must be a shock given what appears to be your habit of speaking addled, contradictory nonsense.

anthonyl November 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I think of government as taking power by coopting human activities that would happen anyway. For sure we pay taxes and those funds are distributed by governments to build roads but that certainly isn’t the only way it could happen. If roads are truly valuable they will be built. Governments don’t have to be involved. I’m not dening they are involved and that we have many wonderful roads because of that process, but it could have happened a different way.

steve November 18, 2011 at 4:22 pm

“Might be”

Steve

EG November 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm

It is unrestrained selfishness which demands bigger and more involved government. It is the selfishness of people like Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank and every mentally challenged creature at OWS that drives them to think that THEY know better then everyone else, and should therefore control how everyone else behaves.

WhiskeyJim November 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Even if bureaucratic control, whether of the socialist or fascist variety, were shown to better serve the public welfare with optimal effectiveness, it would be our moral imperative to reject it.

Randy November 19, 2011 at 1:47 am

Agreed. But then, I simply cannot imagine how a centrally controlled society could possibly be more effective. The only way to even begin to think of it would be to imagine an objective towards which the lives of individual human beings are understood as nothing but a means to that end.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 4:09 am

Would it really?

Let’s start with the following stipulation:

An improvement in public welfare improves the welfare of every member of the public.

Therefore, given complete information, every member of the public would voluntarily choose a bureaucratically planned system which improved their welfare.

So why would we have a moral imperative to reject it?

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 8:17 am

Because the assumption is incorrect.

Likewise, have you ever heard of the benevolent dictator parable?

GiT November 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm

The question is not whether or not the assumption is correct.

The question is whether, if the assumption were correct, the conclusion would follow.

Emil November 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm

This is the typical leftist trick.

1) ask a question regarding the conclusion based on a ridiculous and obviously faulty assumption

2) once you get the answer you want based on the faulty assumption forget that there the question was based on a faulty assumption and pretend that the conclusion is a fact.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm

I took my assumption from WhiskeyJim, who wants to argue that one should morally object to ‘bureaucratic control,’ independent of what that control would entail.

Arguing that a particular system doesn’t improve public welfare, or improves public welfare at the expense of the welfare of individuals, is to argue something very different than arguing that any system of bureaucratic control should be objected to regardless of its effects.

I’m sorry if it’s a ‘leftist trick’ to actually know what one is talking about and not completely confuse the sort of argument one is making.

Emil November 20, 2011 at 9:17 am

“Arguing that a particular system doesn’t improve public welfare, or improves public welfare at the expense of the welfare of individuals, is to argue something very different than arguing that any system of bureaucratic control should be objected to regardless of its effects.”

Not necessarily, if one is off the opinion that any bureaucratic control will have negative impacts on “public welfare”

“I’m sorry if it’s a ‘leftist trick’ to actually know what one is talking about and not completely confuse the sort of argument one is making.”

Strawman, the leftist trick is to ignore reality and pretend that government intervention is per definition positive based on the argument that it would have a positive impact if it were positive

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

“The question is whether, if the assumption were correct, the conclusion would follow”

Then the conclusion would not follow because of the benevolent dictator parable.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I don’t know what that means.

There is some scheme, A, which will make everyone better off according to their own subjective evaluation of their welfare.

(Note that scheme A could be the ideal libertarian society)

Therefore, it is in everyone’s rational interest to consent to scheme A.

Scheme A involves authorizing a bureaucracy to perform some tasks.

(note that hiring an accounting firm to do your companies books involves authorizing a bureaucracy to perform some tasks)

Therefore, we should reject scheme A.

Does the parable of the dictator make that make sense?

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 9:32 pm

The story of the benevolent dictator says that no man, even when his intentions are pure, can understand or predict all the consequences of his actions.

However, I think your second post is different from your first. Your first post, you are talking direct gov’t action. In your second, you just say a scheme. So, my response was to direct gov’t action. In the event of a “scheme”, I’ll agree with you

GiT November 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm

But here I don’t follow the distinction.

What is the difference between a ‘scheme’ which improves everyone’s welfare, a ‘bureaucratically planned system’ which improves everyone’s welfare, and a ‘form of bureaucratic control’ which improves everyone’s welfare?

I would have thought the later two were just sub-types of the first.

One can certainly make the argument that it is empirically impossible for a bureaucratic anything to improve public welfare (that would seem to me to heap a rather large amount of meaningless vitriol on the word ‘bureaucracy,’ however), but if we’re starting from the hypothesis that the system does improve everyone’s welfare, then that is irrelevant.

We either have to be figuring the word ‘welfare’ in a way that doesn’t take into account some set of preferences people hold which would cause them to be worse off in the scheme, or we’re jumping to completely irrational decisions simply because we see the word ‘bureaucracy.’

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I guess I don’t see a scheme as something that is necessarily top-down. Scheme could refer to a social order that develops naturally. To me, scheme just refers to some kind of plan, not one that is necessarily top-down.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm

But people voluntarily enter into top down relationships all the time. Clearly being top down isn’t bad in itself. So if the benefits to other aspects of our life were outweighed by any displeasure at a top-down structure, why would the top down structure be objectionable?

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Libertarians believe that any top-down plan is inherently immoral. A top-down plan requires that all members participate in it regardless of their individual feelings. Any form of coercion, Libertarians believe, is immoral.

Libertarians believe that this action, even if it’s done for “your own good” is immoral. It’s not about being right. It’s about doing right.

Jon Murphy November 19, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Top-Down plans require coercion to work. Bottom-Up plans do not.

GiT November 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm

But what you do here is equate a particular substantive outcome (people will be made worse off) with a particular process.

Let’s say I find myself addicted to heroin. I would, hopefully, in a moment of sanity, quite voluntarily enter into an arrangement where I gave someone else coercive control over my person.

That’s an extreme case, but we can work our way back to the normal world rather quickly.

Maybe I can’t manage my sizable inheritance ( I don’t actually have a sizable inheritance to manage, alas). So I hire a financial management company to do it for me and set up the money in a trust. They invest all my funds and set me up with a monthly stipend that won’t deplete my trust. If I want to make changes to my benefits, I have to go through the trust and get their approval.

Both of those are top down. Both of them have elements which could be seen as coercive or otherwise detrimental to my liberty. And yet I may, quite voluntarily, decide that it’s best to so limit my freedom.

Nothing about a top-down plan requires participation against the will of the participants. That’s the point of my definition of what the top-down plan would do – increase each individual’s welfare. As such they would each voluntarily enter into the plan, just as I may voluntarily cede control of my assets to a trust.

This is just to say that you can end up with something top down from starting at the bottom up. And if that’s possible, then it’s hard to see why there is an absolute duty to reject any form of organization that would be top down.

Emil November 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

You are missing two points:

1) choice – in both your examples there is a choice mad by you as to whether you want to enter into the system or not

2) competition – in both your examples there is more than one provider that you can choose from.

Therefore your examples are not in any way comparable to government intervention

vikingvista November 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

“voluntarily enter into an arrangement where I gave someone else coercive control over my person”

How can you not realize that this is an overt contradiction in terms–complete nonsense?

GiT November 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Emil – We’re not talking about government intervention, we’re talking about whether there is a moral duty to reject ‘bureaucratic control’ if it improves everyone’s welfare.

Which is to say we are quite clearly talking about choice – rejection or acceptance.

GiT November 30, 2011 at 4:50 am

VikingVista – ““voluntarily enter into an arrangement where I gave someone else coercive control over my person”

How can you not realize that this is an overt contradiction in terms–complete nonsense?”

How can you actually think that’s an overt contradiction in terms?

Let’s say I’m bipolar and suicidal. I hereby authorize people to use force to physically restrain me from taking my own life.

Voila, I have voluntarily consented to being coerced.

Really, to think that being able to voluntarily submit to coercive force is impossible is just a testament to how much you’ve brainwashed yourself. It’s a perfectly clear idea, captured by practices of representation and authorization, which can be and are performed voluntarily all the time.

Stuart November 19, 2011 at 9:15 am

Stop the Lincoln worship. He was a horrible man who threatened war his first day in office over tariff collection. He didn’t care about slaves, they were his tools as much as they were the tools of the south. It wasn’t just bad guys versus good guys.

Gil November 20, 2011 at 12:37 am

No one cared for the slaves.

vikingvista November 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I’d be happy if people would just judge ideas and actions individually, rather than the particular actor or thinker. I, e.g., am quite fond of many of Jefferson’s writings, but some of his actions and writings do merit, and should unhesitatingly receive, ridicule. The same is true of the other Founders, the CotUS, the Civil War, America’s role WWII, Milton Friedman, religious idols, and many other things that cause people to swell with emotion and abandon all rational criticism.

Even Lincoln did and said some admirable things. But it is kind of hard to get around the 620,000 dead Americans and the centralization of Federal power things.

anthonyl November 19, 2011 at 12:12 pm

At least the founders had the good sense to recognize it. Wish our current government felt its own hubris.

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