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THOMAS FLEMING: Abuse Your Illusions
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture ^ | January 2002 | Thomas Fleming

Posted on 02/04/2002 12:00:14 PM PST by ouroboros

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To: who_would_fardels_bear
"Mises’ theory was actually quite simple, almost a tautology. People want what they want and they make choices based on their wants ... It is a self-evident truth, an axiom of the behaviour of the reasoning man. "

I strongly disagree, as I believe so does Fleming.

People smoke cigarettes even though they know they are increasing their chances of getting cancer. People don't take the time to put on their seatbelts even though they know they are slightly increasing their chances of worse bodily injury in a crash.

People basically do not reason well. People drink too much, smoke too much, watch too much TV, and spend too much time on FreeRepublic.

He mentioned "reasoning man", but I don't he ever said the wants on which choices are made had to be rational. And if he did, he was wrong. In fact, the existence of irrational, subjective wants is further proof of the subjective theory of value. You haven't refuted it, not can you, because it happens to be true.

If something is objectively worth $1,000, it's still worth $1,000 if the average household has 20 of them laying around unused. That's absurd, of course. People will subjectively value it less if there's more of it, and so the price will fall. They'll value it more if, say, it's the hot toy this Christmas; not strictly rational, but it's confirmation of the subjective theory of value.

More to the point of Fleming's article, where do children fit into the scheme of rational decisions in the marketplace? Do we let kids buy all the candy their parents can afford, because thats what the kids "reasoned" this out?

You let them buy all the candy their parents let them buy.

Also, as transactions occur in the marketplace, relationships (sorry to have to bring up that nasty word again) develop among the rugged and rational individuals. People fall in love. People develop irrational hatreds based on feelings of having been had, e.g. buying a lemon from a used car dealer. And sometimes people decide to continue buying from a certain individual because they value the relationship they are developing more than the savings they could achieve through shopping around.

...

We are not brought forth into this world as individuals, and none of us are capable of fully isolating ourselves from others once we achieve adulthood. We are not capable of making completely "reasonable" choices because we don't have all of the information, and we don't have the brain processing power to assimilate all of the information and process it to make that absolutely most effective decision. We just do the best we can. And those that lean on their parents, siblings, friends, history, traditions, and community for help in making these decisions will tend to be a lot more successful and happy, than those who try to go it all alone.

You mean that people might let subjective factors influence how they value something?

Let me note that people fall in love, have kids, develope loyalties, ect, without the need for a government program to get them to do it. If you were wrong, if people weren't naturally social, and if you could prove that going against nature on that point would be necessary, that might form a case against libertarianism, but the facts as you have correctly stated them do not form such a case.

And avoiding a lemon-selling car dealer is rational.

Trying to create a world based on the fiction that people are independent agents is only going to lead to nonsensical results, i.e. the current state of things.

Good thing libertarians don't want to do that then. We merely want people to be independent of the government, which is, of course, not the same as society.

41 posted on 02/11/2002 7:14:27 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Besides if you've ever visited one of the Calvinist predestination threads, you might start doubting freedom exists at all! ;-)

Define free will.

42 posted on 02/11/2002 7:20:50 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: A.J.Armitage
I tried very hard in my arguments to NOT say that people make rational choices. I also made a point of not claiming that libertarians believe this either.

What I am claiming is that libertarians falsely believe that transactions between individuals in the marketplace of money, products, ideas, or even values are things that can be radically free.

Certainly neither of us believes that transactions in the current state of affairs are radically free. However, even if we had a truly constitutional limited government, transactions would still be encumbered by genetic predispositions, social conditioning, habitual behavior, peer-pressure, loyalties, traditions, the laws of physics, etc.

To say that everything is subjectively valued and traded accordingly is truly a tautology. Maybe economists didn't figure this out formally until the 1700's, but I'm sure it was considered basic common sense for centuries before that.

The above tautology, however, doesn't go to the point of Fleming's article. People will and have in the past subjectively made poor choices which have negatively impacted other members of society. In some instances we use government to discourage or prevent people from making such choices. In other cases we use social institutions such as families, church, fraternal organizations, etc. to get people back into line.

If libertarians truly just want "government" to be the only societal institution to not tell people what to do, then this is a rather simplistic philosophy. In most cases I want the mother or father of a child to be the one that tells them not to light matches near the neighbor's house. But in some cases I want it to be the police officer on his daily rounds. To say that only that institution which has the ability to make good on its threat (i.e. government) is prevented from exercising force, is basically a backhanded way of asking for anarchy.

People have never been radically free. People never will be. Asking for radical freedom may make libertarians feel good, especially since they'll never have to worry about ever having to try implementing such a plan ... in a real world.

43 posted on 02/11/2002 7:52:59 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: A.J.Armitage
"We merely want people to be independent of the government"

Define what you mean by government? What is the size of your tribe? Do you just what a police force to protect you from other potentially evil tribes? Or do you want a county sheriff to protect you from those other evil counties? Or do you just want a state militia to help enforce contracts with questionable companies in other states? Or do you want a national defense force to protect you from rogue nations and Islamic terrorists? Or do you want a world government to protect you from meteors headed our way and potential threats from aliens?

We live in a complex society developed over thousands of years. Sometimes the different governments get together and gang up on us. Sometimes they fight each other tooth and nail. Sometimes they occasionally ... but most assuredly accidentally ... work together for our benefit!

We need to work within the current system to lubricate the gears where they are stuck, and weld them together where they shouldn't oughta move at all.

Focussing your ire at a thing which isn't even one thing isn't going to solve anything. People wanted Social Security because they didn't want to have to support their parents in old age, or be supported by their children in old age. Of course all they really did was interpose a bunch of felonious and incompetent bureacrats in between their kids money and their retirement, but then people often make irrational choices.

Trying to slowly but surely push sysphean boulders like Soc Sec in the right direction is the best we can hope for. Expecting some laser light of pure logic to come down from heaven and disintegrate the rock into oblivion is just wishful thinking.

44 posted on 02/11/2002 8:03:03 PM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
I tried very hard in my arguments to NOT say that people make rational choices. I also made a point of not claiming that libertarians believe this either.

Well, you refuted it, so you must've thought it was worth something to say people are irrational. Maybe you were just illustrating the point about irrationality by refuting a position no one here's holding, but why you'd make that point's a mystery.

What I am claiming is that libertarians falsely believe that transactions between individuals in the marketplace of money, products, ideas, or even values are things that can be radically free.

Back, it looks like, to Fleming's idea that German beer-drinkers and French wine-drinkers refutes something or other about libertarianism. I don't know of any libertarians who think market transactions are "radically free" (whatever that's supposed to mean in the first place), and I don't see how proving they aren't does anything to libertarianism. Sure, people have to buy food. Does that mean we shouldn't have a laissez faire market in food? Hardly. It means we should have one. I really don't see the point here.

Certainly neither of us believes that transactions in the current state of affairs are radically free. However, even if we had a truly constitutional limited government, transactions would still be encumbered by genetic predispositions, social conditioning, habitual behavior, peer-pressure, loyalties, traditions, the laws of physics, etc.

I must not be seeing something here, but I really don't know what any of that has to do with the proper role of government. So the market will have to obey the laws of physics. No purpetual motion machines for us. I don't think any libertarians resent that. I certainly don't.

To say that everything is subjectively valued and traded accordingly is truly a tautology. Maybe economists didn't figure this out formally until the 1700's, but I'm sure it was considered basic common sense for centuries before that.

You'd be surprised. A lot of people held, and Marxists still hold, the labor theory of value, which is a mistaken extension of the labor theory of property (which, ironically enough, Marxists reject) further than it would go.

The political implication is this: if the value of something can be known objectively (by the amount of labor put in or anything else), then government planners are capable of finding that value out and therefore capable of making rational decisions. If, on the other hand, nothing is inherently worth anything, but only how much someone is willing to pay/work/sacrifice to get it (and this of course varies from person to person), central planners cannot know how much something is worth. If they can't know that, their plans are made in the dark, and will necessarily fail. This is what happens in the real world. Communism, of course, is a total failure, but lesser form of government interference generate lesser problems, in proportion to how involved they get. The more involved the government is, the less the market pricing system (which is, ultimately, the only pricing system) will function, and the less the government is capable of knowing. The bigger government is, the less competent it's capable of being.

The above tautology, however, doesn't go to the point of Fleming's article. People will and have in the past subjectively made poor choices which have negatively impacted other members of society. In some instances we use government to discourage or prevent people from making such choices. In other cases we use social institutions such as families, church, fraternal organizations, etc. to get people back into line.

But how do you make the choice between government doing it, and other parts of society doing it? Do you just go by your gut instinct? Libertarians have a principle to determine one from the other. Do you?

If libertarians truly just want "government" to be the only societal institution to not tell people what to do, then this is a rather simplistic philosophy.

That's not what we want. We just have an idea of exactly when the government ought to tell people what to do, or rather not to do. Only a crime against someone's person or property ought to be prohibited.

To say that only that institution which has the ability to make good on its threat (i.e. government) is prevented from exercising force, is basically a backhanded way of asking for anarchy.

There are libertarians who are anarchists, and that's not what they want. They want many institutions to exercise force to protect rights, and you could have a choice of which one to hire to protect you. There are, as you can no doubt imagine, a few problems with that.

People have never been radically free. People never will be. Asking for radical freedom may make libertarians feel good, especially since they'll never have to worry about ever having to try implementing such a plan ... in a real world.

I'm not sure what you have in mind by radical freedom. Freedom to choose your own roots, John Walker-style?

45 posted on 02/11/2002 8:52:10 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Perhaps #30 to which you responded was too terse; however all the points that you visit in your #40 were already either addressed or clear from context. I understand that liberty depends on virtue as well as vice versa, but I note that virtue depends on liberty ontologically, while liberty depends on virtue practically. What does it mean? One can't speak of virtue unless the actor is a free agent (free among humans; God's foreknowledge of predestined human acts is another matter entirely; no Calvinist would deny the existence of political freedoms while maintaining the fallacy of free will). Thus if John got Jane pregnant and having liberty under law to either marry her or not, chose to marry her, then John has virtue. If John got Jane pregnant and his salary were garnished for child support under the law, then we can't say if he has virtue or not. The latter is "coerced family". When words "freedom" or "liberty" refer to moral obligations instead of legal ones, clarity suffers. A phrase like "none of us are completely free, nor is anyone completely enslaved" is true is some poetic sense, but it obscures the all-important distinctions between ethical and legal obligations.
46 posted on 02/12/2002 6:50:03 AM PST by annalex
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To: who_would_fardels_bear
Your screed against libertarianism has nothing to do with Fleming's article. Fleming's stuff is utter junk, ripe with combination of misrepresentations and logical fallacies.

As to what you say here, I've already responded to that in my post #4. But I'll repeat myself. Libertarianism is not about rugged individualism (although many libertarians are). It is not about selfishness being a virtue (although Ayn Rand's disgusting creed has far too many followers among libertarianism).

The Founding Fathers understood that the most important organizing principle of society is liberty. It is why the entire Constitution was about defending people from encrouchments on their liberty.

Liberty is about treating men as men. It is about working together voluntarily instead of under coercion.

Are you really so insecure about the values of your community and family as to believe that they would not prosper if subjected to testing in the marketplace?

47 posted on 02/12/2002 3:15:37 PM PST by Architect
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To: A.J.Armitage
He mentioned "reasoning man", but I don't he ever said the wants on which choices are made had to be rational. And if he did, he was wrong. In fact, the existence of irrational, subjective wants is further proof of the subjective theory of value.

Mises did point to Man's reason, but not to claim that the choices he makes are rational. Rather it is reason that allows man to make choices. If a tiger kills its prey and eats it, this is because of the tiger's instincts. The tiger can no more stop the act than his victim can. In contrast, when I kill a cow and eat it, this is because I chose to do so. I do it because I like steak and because I happen to believe, unlike the PC crowd, that meat is good for me. Someone, either the PC vegetarian or me, is being irrational. But we are both using our reason to make choices.

We merely want people to be independent of the government, which is, of course, not the same as society.

I can only agree.

48 posted on 02/12/2002 3:25:49 PM PST by Architect
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Comment #49 Removed by Moderator

Comment #50 Removed by Moderator

To: Okiegolddust; architect; A.J.Armitage; who_would_fardels_bear
Very good posts both, thank you. I can't do them justice in the short time I have available since I am going on a business trip for two weeks.

I would tend to agree with you that honest libertarianism is anarchism. This is how my views are evolving, anyway. "Pursuit of Liberty" taught me that minarchism is not grounded in any particular principle. The moment we accept that the government should exist to protect individual rights, we have accepted in principle the entire lumbering apparatus of modern government: taxes, regulations, foreign wars, you name it, as part of an amorphous "social contract". Libertarianism is the nice-sounding continuum between anarchism and the GOP, everybody makes what he wants out of it. Culturally it offers many attractions of liberalism, so as you say, both camps end up in the same place despite differences in rationalization.

On liberty Vs. values I still think that you confuse "enabling freedom" with "being free". Thus freedom is enabled by virtue but it is not a virtue. In a related way, along with Who_would_fardels_bear you confuse moral imperative and law.

Let's return to these topics when I come back.

51 posted on 02/15/2002 1:12:22 PM PST by annalex
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To: ouroboros
The interesting thing is that one need not even reach for traditional morality (institutional Christianity) to disagree with Libertarians. If enough educated voters in a state, municipality, or country find prostitution odious, they can make it illegal. Ultimately, they may find arguments from Natural Law or from sacred scripture, but you need a plurality among voters and jurists to maintain legal penalties for immoral activities considered injurious to society. You can complain about things like abortion until you're blue in the face, but, given the perils of social democracy, if you don't have enough votes to back up your position, the vulgar, immoral, or infanticidal majority will prevail.


52 posted on 02/15/2002 1:24:44 PM PST by HowlinglyMind-BendingAbsurdity
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To: Okiegolddust
Unlike anarchists however, libertarians appropriate limited (minimalist) government to defend certain essential things. What they view essential though is can be transparently seen, in almost all cases to be found by using the categories of what is and what isn't fashionable in modern liberalism.

That simply isn't the case. We've never thought that enforcing economic "fairness" was essential. We've never thought gun control is essential. On the contrary, we've opposed both of these things. It's essential to avoid them.

Practically it does seem to me, as it does Bork, that whatever their different rationalization processes, libertarians usually in social matters end up the same place as modern liberals.

A counter-example: if a store owner refuses to serve blacks, libertarians would almost all be appauled - and I would be one of them - but, unlike modern liberals and modern conservatives, we would recognize his property rights. If consumers want to stay away, and I hope they would, that's the free market.

The libertarian=liberal argument just isn't going to work. We aren't the same.

53 posted on 02/15/2002 7:41:26 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: annalex
The moment we accept that the government should exist to protect individual rights, we have accepted in principle the entire lumbering apparatus of modern government: taxes, regulations, foreign wars, you name it, as part of an amorphous "social contract".

I'm a minarchist and I don't believe in any kind of social contract.

54 posted on 02/15/2002 7:44:37 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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To: Architect
The traditions of our ancestors are largely dead, destroyed by the rise of the state.

Contemporarily, it would seem, too many of us stand on the shoulders of giants in order to pee down their collars. By the way, an excellent post #4!
55 posted on 02/15/2002 7:54:05 PM PST by BluesDuke
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To: Okiegolddust; Architect; A.J.Armitage; annalex; x
I've had some problems with my ISP and I've been reading "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" so I haven't been able to respond.

I've gotten through Anarchy and State and am just now getting into Utopia, and I know that Nozick is not the be-all-and-end-all of libertarian philosophy, but I have these comments to add to this thread so far:

1. Regarding freedom, either we truly have free will or we don't. This is not merely a "poetic" question. If it turns out we don't have free will, then this would be truly a tragic result. Whether or not I would be depressed upon learning of this, would be a matter of whether or not I had been preprogrammed to become so.

2. Separating "legal" freedom from all other freedoms seems rather arbitrary. If you believe that only the state is capable of enforcing its edicts and thus of truly limiting your freedom, then I guess "legal freedom" would be distinctively different from all others. However, it seems that criminals, traditions, social institutions, etc. can cause people on occasion, or over long periods of time, to be essentially prevented from doing certain things. Thus Fleming's claim that libertarians who favor limited legal restrictions tend to also lobby for limited social restrictions is essentially correct. The fact that there are a few paleolibertarians who insist that social institutions be allowed to beef up their enforcement arms to offset the minimal enforcement of a limited state is the exception that proves the rule.

3. At no point in Nozick's book does he fully define a human being or reasoning agent or even an individual. It would seem this would be essential to a political theory. Fleming has pointed out that at least one libertarian ideologue does not include fetuses, and that he would also exclude small children. The fact that the Libertarian Party has also gone on record to exclude fetuses from protected status, suggests once again that Fleming is right: even the average every day libertarian has a limited concept of what an individual human is.

4. Nowhere in Nozick's book does he fully flesh out what a child is under a minimal state. Is it completely the property of its parents? Is it a complete individual free of all control from the time of birth? Or is it somewhere in between? Ideologues, libertarian and otherwise, will tend to want to lean toward one extreme or the other: the child is a possession or the child is a free agent. Conservatives don't have to do this because conservatives aren't, or at least shouldn't be, ideologues. If libertarians can't properly define what a child is and how it interacts with its family under a minimal government (especially when the child wants to do something that the parents do not want it to) then I believe they will tend in the direction that Fleming warns them about: the child will be perceived as an independent agent which can then be exploited, killed, or neglected unless someone happens to take an interest in it.

5. Fleming's prediction that anyone who doesn't support ideologically pure libertarianism will be labeled a statist or worse has been proved by replies to conservative comments in this thread.

6. There are a number of unstated requirements that Nozick hints at for his minimal state to remain in tact. One of those unstated implications is that the majority of citizens retain a minimal level of reasoning ability. If huge sections of the citizenry behave irresponsibly, then they can either choose to vote themselves into a socialist state or they can impoverish themselves so that they beg for a savior to help them out of their mess. Something like this happened in Albania where bunches of people freely chose to enter into pyramid schemes and thus impoverished themselves. Albania is certainly not on the road to becoming a free market capitalist nation, if it ever was.

7. Conservatives wish to add something to the minimal state, not to perform any kind of leveling or human engineering as the liberals want, but to create a stable and free state in a real world. Nozick's primary arguments against additions to a minimal state are against liberal notions of equality and social leveling. He doesn't really address the things that conservatives ask for above and beyond the libertarian ideal. Conservatives want people to grow up to be by and large independent individuals capable of rational thought. This might entail limiting access to drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc. It might entail some sort of support for traditional careers such as farming, ranching, etc.

Yes, it is possible that any minimal limitation of rights or minimal support of certain "protected" lifestyles will eventually result in the creation of a welfare state. However, it is also possible (and this is another point that Fleming makes) that eliminating all restrictions and supports too quickly might result in people irrationally choosing to put themselves into a welfare state. This Fleming argues is exactly what happened in the late 1800's.

If everyone drove their cars with perfect skill, then there would be no need for seatbelts or bumpers. The money saved could be reallocated in the marketplace for more productive endeavors. However, people don't drive perfectly, and even if the government didn't require them, most people would want their cars to come with seatbelts and bumpers. Conservatives by and large (I exclude the rabid fundamentalist theocrats) want to add some bumpers and seatbelts to the minimal libertarian state so that it will chug along in its imperfect state a lot longer than the pristine libertarian seatbelt and bumper-free Porsche when it merges into real traffic on the highway of life.

P.S.: I hope this is sufficiently screed-free for you all! ;-)

56 posted on 02/18/2002 10:36:17 AM PST by who_would_fardels_bear
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Comment #57 Removed by Moderator

To: A.J.Armitage; who_would_fardels_bear; Okiegolddust
I don't believe in any kind of social contract.

Of course you do. If you believe in government with consent of the governed then that is a social contract that you believe in. Then, as Who_would_fardels_bear correctly observes in #56,

If huge sections of the citizenry behave irresponsibly, then they can either choose to vote themselves into a socialist state or they can impoverish themselves so that they beg for a savior to help them out of their mess.

In other words, while freedom is necessary condition of virtue, it is not a sufficient condition. A free nation that loses its virtue will freely enslave itself.

58 posted on 02/28/2002 7:28:03 AM PST by annalex
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To: Architect
Nice response. Thanks!
59 posted on 02/28/2002 7:32:50 AM PST by gjenkins
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To: annalex
If you believe in government with consent of the governed then that is a social contract that you believe in.

Define "government with the consent of the people".

60 posted on 02/28/2002 4:58:20 PM PST by A.J.Armitage
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