Friday, December 23, 2022

Inflating the Cost of Carbon 2

In my previous post I sketched my criticisms of Rennert et. al. 2017, a recent Nature article that attempts to calculate the total cost imposed by an additional ton of CO2. I have now written an article on the subject that I plan to submit to the EPA in response to their request for comments on Rennert and have webbed the current, I think almost final, draft. 

Comments welcome.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Inflating the Cost of Carbon

Comprehensive evidence implies a higher social cost of CO2  is a recent article in Nature which claims to calculate how much worse off humans will be for each additional ton of CO2 released.  The costs are summed over a period of almost three hundred years, from now to 2300. As best I can estimate from Extended Data Figure 2, about two thirds of their social cost of carbon is incurred after 2100. 

This raises serious problems. To begin with, CO2 output as a function of GNP depends on the technology for producing power. An order of magnitude reduction in the cost of either nuclear power or storage would almost entirely eliminate the use of fossil fuels, as would the development of cheap fusion power, either of which could happen in the next fifty years. That makes any estimate of CO2 output over the next three centuries a guess about unknowable technological change.

Almost all of the article’s estimated cost of carbon is from either increased mortality or reduced agricultural output. Mortality from increased temperature depends on medical technology, home insulation and cooling technology, and probably other technologies. Agricultural yields depend on agricultural technologies. We have no way of predicting those effects.

How does the article deal with technological change? As best I could tell, it ignores it. It is predicting the effect of temperature changes on mortality over the next three centuries on the assumption that they will be dealt with using the medical technology of today, and similarly for other relevant technologies. It is predicting the effect of climate change on agriculture with the same assumption.

Even with fixed technologies, individuals can, given time, alter their behavior to optimize against a changed environment — dike against sea level rise, change what crops they grow and where, how well they insulate their houses. The article explicitly includes adaptation in their calculations of costs due to sea level rise and concludes that the result is only about 1% of their total but, as far as I could see, it says nothing about the effect of adaptation of human behavior to higher temperatures on mortality. The agriculture piece mentions adaptation, but it was difficult to tell what forms of adaptation it was considering or how the effects were calculated. It says nothing about effects of progress in agricultural technologies to deal with the changed environment.

One of the things that affects mortality due to climate is income. Poor people have to go out in hot or cold weather more than rich people, are less able to afford well insulated houses or in other ways protect against the effects of climate. The rate of growth of per capita GNP assumed in the article's modeling, shown on Figure 1, implies that average incomes will have roughly tripled by the end of this century, by 2300 increased about eleven fold. As best I could tell, the calculation of mortality due to climate change entirely ignored that.

There is a second possible problem with the mortality calculations, although I am less certain of it since it is not entirely clear how they were done. The paper refers to the effect on mortality of unit increases in ambient temperature. That might mean increasing temperature throughout the year by one degree, it might mean increasing the average temperature over the year by one degree with whatever pattern of increase over the year they found in their data.

Hotter summers increase mortality, milder winters decrease it. Temperature increase due to greenhouse warming is greater in cold times and places than in warm, a pattern that can easily be seen in the IPCC projections of how much warming will occur where and its tables and graphs of change in minimum and maximum temperatures with global warming.

The article on which the Nature article bases its cost of mortality finds an average ratio of reduction in mortality to increase in mortality of .36. The IPCC report shows the ratio of the increase in minimum temperatures to the increase in maximum temperatures varying by regions, as high as three in some. If the article is assuming a uniform increase, correcting that error would sharply reduce the net mortality, in some regions to zero.

All of the errors I have described result in increasing the social cost of carbon. The article spends two paragraphs on things that might make the SCC higher than its estimate, says nothing I could find about things that might make it lower. For the effect of the new calculations on EPS policy, see The US Environmental Protection Agency Introduces a New Social Cost of Carbon for Public Comment.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Which Books of Mine Should I Publish in Hardcover?

KDP is again willing to do business with me and now offers a hardcover option, so it occurred to me that I might want to publish some of my books in hardcover as well as paperback, kindle, and audiobook formats. I plan to start with The Machinery of Freedom and thought it would be worth collecting opinions here on which, if any, of my other books I should bring out in a hardcover version.

My self-published books:

The Machinery of Freedom 
Price Theory
Hidden Order
Legal Systems Very Different from Ours
A Miscellany
How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg, and Armor a Turnip

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Should I Be Mad at Amazon/KDP?

My previous series of posts describes the sequence of events. They sent me an email saying that, because I had multiple accounts and my accounts were connected with one that had violated their guidelines, they were terminating my account, would not permit me to open another, would not pay me royalties accumulated between the last payment and the date when the account was terminated. All of the books of mine that I had self-published vanished from Amazon.

I wrote multiple replies, pointing out that so far as I knew I had done none of those things and asking what connection they thought I had to what account. The only response I got was to be told that they had reviewed the case and my account was still suspended. All their messages were form letters. When I received two identical form letters responding to two quite different emails of mine, one sent three minutes after the other, both purportedly by the same person, I concluded that I was interacting with software, not humans.

Today I received an email telling me that my account had been restored. There was no explanation and the tone of it — "you must review your catalog and remove any other titles currently available for sale on Amazon that do not comply with the KDP Content Guidelines" — implied that I had done something wrong, although they were willing to forgive me if I behaved myself in the future.

The natural reaction to that behavior is to be angry at them, advise anyone who asked me about self-publishing to avoid KDP, and put up my books using one of the other services, something I had already started to do.

That would be the appropriate response to a human being who treated me that way but I am not sure it is appropriate here. KDP is not a human being. It is a firm that deals with a very large number of authors, some of whom probably do things that violate their rules — the obvious two being copyright violation and pornography. They ask for reports of violations. It would be nice if every time a violation was reported to them a competent staff member spent the time to carefully check out the report, but competent staff members are expensive. It may make more sense, from their standpoint, to use software to look for possible violations of their rules in accounts reported to them, even if the software doesn't do a very good job. 

My interaction with them was irritating and it lowers my opinion of KDP, but I am not sure that if I were running things I could do better.

Amazon/KDP Has Reinstated My Account

I conjecture that the case finally reached a human being, whether due to my efforts, someone else's efforts, or random chance. The response is still a form letter, given the reference to other titles that do not comply with the KDP content guidelines. The previous messages never claimed that any of my titles did not comply with their guidelines. 

They have not told me whether they are paying me the royalties accumulated between the last payment and the termination of the account, which their previous messages said would not be paid — my guess is not.

I am mostly through the process of putting Legal Systems Very Different from Ours up on Barnes and Noble and plan to complete it and see if I can, as I think is the case, publish with B&N and have the book on Amazon as well. I expect I will put the rest of my books back up with KDP.

My kindles appear to be back up on Amazon. It looks as though I have to republish the paperbacks but the information is still there, so it's just a matter of clicking through the pages. I am doing it for Machinery, will see if that works.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Amazon's Catch 22

The email from Amazon/KDP telling me that they had terminated my account said:

We are terminating your account effective immediately because you have multiple accounts, which is a violation of our Terms and Conditions. Also, this account is related to an account that was terminated due to violations of our Content Guidelines.

As part of the termination process:
• We will close your account
• You're no longer eligible to receive any outstanding royalties
• You'll no longer have access to your accounts. This includes, editing your titles, viewing your reports and accessing any other information within your account
• All of your published titles will be removed from sale on Amazon

Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you aren't allowed to open any new KDP accounts.

You can find our Terms and Conditions, here:

(bolding mine)

I cannot find the terms and conditions there. When I go to it says:

 a link to all rules and policies for participating in the Program provided on the KDP website at and ("Program Policies");

When I click on it takes me to a page that wants me to sign in. When I click on the sign in button, it takes me to a page which says "This account has been closed" and contains no information on terms and conditions.

As best I can tell, KDP terminated my account with the claim that I had violated their terms and conditions and once my account is terminated I can no longer see what those terms and conditions are.

Which I think justifies the title of this post.

Do I Have a Legal Case Against KDP?

A number of people have suggested getting a lawyer, perhaps demanding arbitration. My first reaction was that I didn't think I had, or should have, a case. One suggestion was that Washington state law might restrict Amazon in terminating the relationship. But while that's possible I wouldn't want to rely on such a law since I believe in freedom of contract. 

A better basis for a claim is detrimental reliance, that I bore the costs of spending time formatting my books for KDP in reliance on what they said their rules were, hence if they terminated my account with a false claim that I had violated their rules they owed me damages or a restoration of my account. So far I haven't found their rules, probably because the fact that I no longer have a KDP account prevents me from logging in for any purpose other than appealing my termination, but I can get someone else to do it.

A second question is whether it is worth the cost. Arbitration apparently would cost me two thousand dollars plus the cost of a lawyer. That's not a serious barrier in terms of my assets, since at this point we are pretty well off, but it's probably more than the monetary benefit of being on KDP instead of an alternative. As best I can tell, only KDP can get kindles of my books on Amazon, but other services can get print copies on Amazon and non-kindle ebooks on other platforms. 

There is also the cost of my time and effort to consider. Putting my books on Barnes and Noble would take some time too but so would putting them back on KDP if they let me, since they have apparently wiped all of the relevant files. 


Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Why You Can't Get Most of My Books

I recently discovered that most of my self-published books were no longer available on Amazon. Apparently KDP, Amazon's self-publishing arm, terminated my account in September, sending me a message I missed. They claim I had multiple accounts, why I have no idea, and also that "this account is related to an account that was terminated due to violations of our Content Guidelines."

No explanation other than that. 

I have replied to them asking what is going on. Assuming they don't restore my account, the alternatives are either to find another self-publishing firm or to put up all my books on my web site in both pdf and ebook formats for free — although that doesn't provide print copies.

Any opinions? Any of you  have experience with KDP competitors? Apple books does ebooks, but I don't think they do print books.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Affirmative Action and Racial Prejudice

Suppose you are a white student at an elite college or law school in an America without affirmative action in admissions. You observe that although there are not very many black students in the school, the ones that are there are about as smart as you and your fellow white students, that being why they, like you, got in. You may notice that blacks other than your fellow students are mostly not as smart as you are but that is true of whites as well. So far as your own direct experience is concerned, you have no reason to believe that whites are smarter than blacks.

Suppose you are a white student at an elite college or law school in an America with affirmative action in admissions. A few of your black fellow students are about as smart as you are — the ones who would have gotten in without affirmative action — but most are not. If you are at a school one step down from Harvard or Stanford there will be few if any black students as able as the average white student at your school because students that good were accepted by a better school. On the basis of your experience of the fellow students you interact with you conclude, even if you are careful not to say, that blacks are less intelligent than whites.

Hence one effect of affirmative action is to increase racial prejudice. The point seems obvious but I have not noticed other people making it, so thought it worth doing so.

A speech by Hans Hoppe

Someone recently sent me links to the text of a talk Hoppe gave. My reaction to both style and content was strongly negative. I am curious how many of my readers would have the same reaction, how many would on the whole approve of at least the style, whether or not they agreed with the content.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, October 28, 2022

Did Trump Sabotage the Midterms: A Statistical Question

I, like many other people, have interpreted Trump's involvement in the Republican primaries as increasing his power in the party at the cost of reducing the party's power in Congress, pushing candidates who were loyal to him but less electable than their rivals. We might be wrong. Most people badly underestimated Trump's ability to get votes in 2016. Perhaps we are underestimating the attraction of his political style this time as well. 

There is a way to find out.

Make a list of Republican candidates who won their primaries with Trump's backing. Estimate what the midterm vote should be for every seat in Congress based on data from previous elections, taking account of location, incumbent advantage, and whatever else you need to fit the data. After the election, see if the Trump candidates did better or worse relative to the estimate than the non-Trump candidates. 

Ideally, the first two parts should be done before the election results are known, but it's probably too late for that unless someone is already doing it.

Thursday, October 27, 2022


A liberal in the 19th century was a believer in small government, free markets, and individual freedom, roughly what we now call a libertarian.[1] The label  had earlier been used for left anarchists, still earlier for believers in the doctrine of free will. Early in the 20th Century, after the opponents of liberalism stole its name, believers in classical liberalism started calling themselves libertarians.

While "libertarian" can still mean a left anarchist, “left libertarian” usually means a libertarian in the newer sense who supports ideas or policies identified with the left. The oldest and probably best worked out doctrine along those lines is geolibertarianism, based on the ideas of Henry George, a prominent Nineteenth Century economist and journalist. Its central tenet is that since no individual has a just claim to the income from the site value of land, government ought to support itself by taxing all and only that income.[2] The amount of money needed by a government, at least in the view of a libertarian, is much less than the total produced by such a tax, leaving the rest free to be distributed among the population. Thus the Georgist position provides an argument for some level of what others would regard as income redistribution.

Libertarians mostly base ownership on creation — I made it so it's mine — but land, with rare exceptions, is not created by humans.  John Locke famously argued that humans acquire ownership over land by mixing their labor with it, clearing the jungle or digging out the boulders, provided that there is as much and as good unowned land left for others, but that solution raises a number of problems. One is the question of why mixing your labor, or anything else you own, with something gives you ownership of it. As Robert Nozick put it, “If I own a can of tomato juice and spill it in the sea so that its molecules … mingle evenly throughout the sea, do I thereby come to own the sea, or have I foolishly dissipated my tomato juice?”

A second problem is the Lockean proviso, the requirement that your act of appropriation leaves “enough and as good left in common for others.” That is unlikely to be true of land in any densely settled country, which seems to imply that the conversion of land from commons to property must stop as soon as the amount of commons becomes small enough that reducing it further means that some people can no longer wander over the commons, feed their pigs on its acorns, collect deadwood, as well as before. A possible response is that the condition is satisfied as long as everyone is better off than he would be if all the land had remained commons, that the large gain from the greatly increased production due to treating land as property can be set against the loss from a reduction in the amount of land in the commons.

The Georgist solution raises problems too. Not only did I not create the land, we did not create it either, so how is the government entitled to remove land from the commons, giving someone the right to exclude people from land that neither he nor the government justly owns? Readers who share my interest in the issue may want to look at an old article of mine in which I offered my own not entirely satisfactory solution.

Seducing Socialists[3]

The book Markets not Capitalism: Individualist anarchism against bosses, inequality, corporate power, and structural poverty[4] (hereafter MnC) presents a form of left libertarianism that descends from the ideas of 19th century anarchists who considered themselves socialists, individualist socialists in contrast to state socialists such as Marxists, writers such as Benjamin Tucker and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.[5] The modern left libertarians whose views are represented in MnC would like to reclaim the socialist label. They refuse to call what they support “capitalism” on the not unreasonable grounds that, to most people, the term describes a mixed economy in which governments play a large role. They reject the term “free market” on similar grounds — the existing market is not free — in favor of “freed market,” what would exist after government and its interventions were eliminated. They argue that most of the things socialists dislike about present societies would not exist, or at least be much less common, in a freed market, hence that socialists should be libertarians.

The problem is that there is no good reason to believe it is true.

For example:

The funding of public highways through tax revenues, for example, constitutes a de facto transportation subsidy, allowing Wal-Mart and similar chains to socialize the costs of shipping and so enabling them to compete more successfully against local businesses; the low prices we enjoy at Wal-Mart in our capacity as consumers are thus made possible in part by our having already indirectly subsidized Wal-Mart’s operating costs in our capacity as taxpayers. (MnC Chapter 20).

The author does not mention that, during the period of Walmart’s initial expansion, federal regulation made transport more expensive by cartelizing the trucking industry, as demonstrated by the sharp drop in costs after the industry was deregulated.[6] Nor does he mention that libertarians expect governments to produce goods and services less efficiently than private firms, making costs higher and quality lower. That gives us one government activity that made transportation cheaper, two that made it more expensive. The author mentions the one that pushes in the direction he wants, ignores the other two, and concludes that transport was less expensive due to government, benefiting Walmart.

A good analogy is subsidies to freeways and urban sprawl, which make our feet less usable and raise living expenses by enforcing artificial dependence on cars. (MnC Chapter 40).

Subsidies to mass transit, the urban alternative to cars pushed by opponents of urban sprawl, are about a hundred times as large per passenger mile as the subsidy to highways.

Walmart and urban sprawl are not the only things socialists dislike about the modern world so not the only things left libertarians would like to claim that a freed market would reduce or eliminate. Others include large corporations, wage labor, the cash nexus and income inequality. Things they would like to see replace them include workers’ cooperatives, self-employment, gift economies.

In each case there may well be ways in which government intervention in the economy pushes things in the direction they claim. But in each case, as with highway costs, there are effects  in the opposite direction as well. To demonstrate that point, here are arguments for the opposite of the conclusions offered by left libertarians:[7]

Corporate Size

A large hierarchical organization has to pass a lot of information up and down the hierarchy in order that the people at the top can know what those at the bottom are doing and those at the bottom know what those at the top want them to do. The more such information there is and the more hands it passes through, the more legible the firm’s activities are to the government, making it easier to collect taxes and enforce regulations. At the other end of the scale, in the limiting case of a one man firm, the boss cum worker does not have to trust anyone but himself to keep his secrets, which makes it easier to evade taxes — for instance by classifying consumption expenditures as business expenditures or not reporting payments in cash — or regulations. So one effect of a government that taxes and regulates is to increase the advantage of smaller firms over larger.

Another effect is to encourage gift economies, informal transactions more generally. If I do my friend’s taxes for her and she babysits my kids, neither transaction ever shows up on our income tax forms. That is one way in which the existence of government makes gift economies more, not less, common.

Another way in which the existence of government discourages hierarchical organizations is by the structure of taxation. Corporate profits pay taxes twice, once in corporate income tax and a second time as income to the stockholders, although the second may, depending on the details of tax law, be diluted by special treatment for dividends or capital gains. The same activity done in an unincorporated form, as by a doctor in private practice, pays taxes only once.

Wage Labor

One way of getting things is by paying someone else for them, another is by producing them yourself — cooking your own dinner, growing tomatoes in your back yard. One way of making a living is to work for someone else for pay, another is to work for yourself, make jewelry or art and sell at art fairs, write books. Here again, one advantage of making your living that way is that your activities are less legible to tax collectors and regulators. Arguably the shift from self-employment to wage labor over the past hundred and fifty years was one of the causes of the growth of government expenditure from about ten percent of national income in the U.S. in the Nineteenth Century to about forty percent currently.

Income Inequality

Most high income people at present get their income either as highly skilled workers, such as physicians, or successful entrepreneurs, both roles that would continue to exist in a freed market. While government activities result in some people being richer, some poorer, than they would otherwise be, their least ambiguous effect on the income distribution is through taxation. Taxing capital gains makes it more difficult to accumulate wealth. Income taxation in the U.S. at present is heavily biased against the rich: The top one percent of taxpayers pay about 29% of their income in federal taxes, the bottom quintile about 3%.[8]

The Advantage of Ignorance

The 19th century individualist anarchists were in a better position than their modern successors to claim to offer what socialists wanted because they knew less economics. They seem to have believed that if anyone could open his own bank and print his own money, loans would be freely available — according to Tucker at an interest rate of less than one percent. They were confusing money with capital. In a system of private issue anyone can invent his own money and print it, but that does not mean that people will give him things in exchange.

At least some of them seem to have viewed rent as well as interest as a government creation.

It was obvious to Warren and Proudhon that, as soon as individualists should no longer be protected by their fellows in anything but personal occupancy and cultivation of land, ground rent would disappear, and so usury have one less leg to stand on. Their followers of today are disposed to modify this claim to the extent of admitting that the very small fraction of ground rent which rests, not on monopoly, but on superiority of soil or site, will continue to exist for a time and perhaps forever, though tending constantly to a minimum under conditions of freedom. (Benjamin Tucker, MnC Chapter 2)

A world where anyone who wanted to work for himself could get an almost interest-free loan and anyone who wanted to farm could get almost rent-free land would look to a 19th century socialist more like what he wanted than anything twenty-first left libertarians can believably promise.

A Typology

Limiting it to libertarians in the modern  sense, there are at least four  categories of left libertarians, two of which are discussed in this chapter:

The Bleeding Heart Libertarians (discussed here and here) have constructed versions of libertarianism designed to be acceptable to the academic left, their fellow philosophy professors.

The left libertarians who view themselves as the heirs of the individualist socialists of the Nineteenth Century have constructed a version, and a presentation, designed to appeal to people who would describe themselves as socialists, more nearly the left of the labor movement than of the academy.

The Geolibertarians are distinguished not by their target audience but by their argument, offering their solution to the problem of initial appropriation as a justification for taxation to support needed government functions and what other libertarians would view as income redistribution.

The fourth group are distinguished not by their view of libertarian doctrine, which is conventional, but by their view of everything else. They are likely to regard themselves as feminists, to be concerned with racism and climate, to favor same sex marriage. On what might be loosely described as culture war issues they usually take the side identified with the left.

The groups have some overlap of members and ideas. Bleeding Heart Libertarians make use of the Georgian argument to justify income transfers. Members of the first two groups are likely to agree with the left on some culture war issues, making them at least fringe members of the fourth.

Verbal Plumage

Identification of left libertarian variants is most easily done by text, not garb or physical appearance. Bleeding Heart Libertarians speak respectfully of Rawls, whose name appears nowhere in Markets Not Capitalism. “Boss” appears forty-five times in the book but its only appearance in the contributions by Bleeding Hearts to the Cato symposium I shared with them was a reference to the book’s subtitle; it makes no appearance in Progress and Poverty, the founding document of Georgism. References to the ruling class and the oppression of workers are more likely to appear in the rhetoric of my second and fourth groups than in that of other libertarians.

One More Category

The people discussed so far mostly self-identify as left-libertarians. There are also people who think of themselves as leftists but have been convinced by, or worked out for themselves, enough of the libertarian argument to be in some sense libertarians. Examples would be Cass Sunstein, who occasionally describes himself as a libertarian, Larry Lessig, whom I have occasionally tried to persuade that he should, and Scott Alexander, the author of one of the anti-libertarian faq’s discussed here, not all of which he still agrees with. James Scott, author of at least two books that I and many other libertarians, like, is arguably another example, despite his efforts to make it clear to his readers that he is not one of those icky libertarians. I discuss him in this essay.

[1] Nineteenth century liberals also favored expansion of the franchise. Modern libertarians mostly take no position on the details of democracy.

[2] Two recent books, The Origins of Left-Libertarianism and  Left-Libertarianism and its Critics, both  edited by Peter Vallentyne and Hillel Steiner, discuss Georgism, aka geolibertarianism, and other positions along similar lines. Henry George also argued that the single tax would have a variety of desirable economic effects.

[3] This section owes a good deal to Gary Chartier, who was generous in his time and effort responding to my questions about and criticism of his, and other left anarchists’, views

[4] Edited by Gary Chartier & Charles W. Johnson, Released by Minor Compositions, London / New York / Port Watson.

[5] A conveniently webbed summary of left libertarian positions is “The Distinctiveness of Left-Libertarianism” by Gary Chartier, one of the compilers of Markets not Capitalism.

[6] The industry was deregulated in 1980. “By 1985, deregulation saved shippers $7.8 billion annually due to lower common carrier rates, $6 billion due to lower private carrier costs, and $1.6 billion annually due to more rapid service. By 1998, real operating costs per vehicle-mile fell by 75 percent for truckload carriers and by 35 percent for less-than-truckload carriers.” “Forty Years After Surface Freight Deregulation,” The Regulatory Review.

“The Walmart chain proper was founded in 1962 with a single store in Rogers, expanding outside Arkansas by 1968 and throughout the rest of the Southern United States by the 1980s” (Wikipedia, “History of Walmart”).

[7] The BHL forum that contained Gary Chartier’s account of left libertarian views also contained criticisms, along similar lines to mine, by Daniel Shapiro, Steve Horwitz and David Gordon.


This essay is a draft of a chapter for something I am working on. Several links in it are to other draft chapters. As always, comments are welcome.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Special Pleading and How to Recognize It

Political arguments often start with a conclusion someone wants to defend. He comes up with an argument to defend it. Sometimes the argument, carefully examined, leads to the wrong conclusion. Examples:

Income Redistribution and Initial Appropriation

Justifying ownership of things made by human beings is easy: I made it, I own it. That does not work for things such as land that were not created by human action. Locke’s solution was that one makes unowned land into your property by mixing your labor with it, clearing the forest or digging out the boulders — provided that there is as much and as good land left for other people. 

Eventually we will run out of good unowned land, so each person who propertizes a piece of land is depriving some future person of the opportunity to do so: The exception swallows the rule. Some libertarians solve this problem by converting Locke’s “as much and as good” to the requirement that nobody is made worse off by the conversion of land from commons to property. They conclude that anyone who is made worse off is entitled to compensation — a libertarian justification for welfare payments, that being the conclusion they wanted an argument to justify:

The problem that appears here is that, although the regime of private property obtained in the process of original appropriation leads to social prosperity and, by this, to the betterment of condition for many members of that society, the Lockean proviso is deeply individualistic and there may be cases – or even a generalized phenomenon – in which some individuals are actually worse-off as a result of the original appropriation.

(Zwolinski, Matt, “Property Rights, Coercion, and the Welfare State: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income for All.” The Independent Review 19, no.4.)

The argument may justify income transfers, but the wrong ones. Someone blind or crippled may be deserving of help, but his odds of survival in the world as it is are much better than they would be in the much poorer world we would be in if land had never been treated as property, so he is entitled to no compensation. Someone big and strong and good at living in the jungle, with the skills to enslave weaker people and make them serve him, on the other hand, might well be worse off when the jungle is converted to private farms.

I do not think that is the conclusion people who want a libertarian justification for welfare payments or a basic income were looking for.

Reparations for Slavery

Black slavery in America was a massive wrong by almost anyone’s standards, so it is natural to ask whether anyone is owed compensation for it and from whom. Present African-Americans have not been enslaved and are better off than their ancestors’ descendants would be if there had been no slavery, but arguably they inherit their ancestors' claims.

Who are they claims against? Most present-day Americans are descended from people who never owned slaves, mostly people who came to the New World after slavery was abolished. The people who initially captured the slaves, on the other hand, had at least as much responsibility as the people they sold them to, arguably more. The slaves were captured by Africans. Given eight or nine generations from then to now, it’s safe to conclude that almost everyone in the relevant parts of Africa has some slave hunting ancestors.  So if the basis for compensation is inherited debt, the argument for taxing the present inhabitants of West Africa to compensate Afro-Americans is stronger than the argument for taxing the present inhabitants of the U.S., making reparations on net a transfer from poor to rich rather than the other way around.

Not the conclusion that people making the argument wanted.

Selective Arguments

A weaker form of the same problem occurs when the argument supports the conclusion only if you are very selective in which parts of it you look at. I encountered examples recently in Markets Not Capitalism, a book of essays by people who self identify as left libertarians. Their project, implied if not stated, is to persuade socialists that they should be libertarians by showing that most of what socialists dislike about present “capitalist” societies is the product of government intervention and  would not exist, or at least exist much less, in a “freed” economy.

 Leftists dislike Walmart:

The funding of public highways through tax revenues, for example, constitutes a de facto transportation subsidy, allowing Wal-Mart and similar chains to socialize the costs of shipping and so enabling them to compete more successfully against local businesses; the low prices we enjoy at Wal-Mart in our capacity as consumers are thus made possible in part by our having already indirectly subsidized Wal-Mart’s operating costs in our capacity as taxpayers. (MnC Chapter 20).

They also dislike urban sprawl, aka suburbs:

A good analogy is subsidies to freeways and urban sprawl, which make our feet less usable and raise living expenses by enforcing artificial dependence on cars. (MnC Chapter 40).

The subsidy is real, since only part of highway expenditure is paid for by transportation taxes and fees, but it is only part of the story. Until 1980, eighteen years after Walmart was started, trucking was cartelized by the ICC, greatly increasing its cost. Further, the highway system is built and maintained by governments and libertarians expect governments to produce goods and services  less efficiently than private firms. One effect made transport less expensive, two made it more expensive. That leaves the question of whether Walmart would do better or worse in a freed market open — unless you take care to only mention the one effect that fits your argument.

There is a further problem with the anti-urban sprawl part of the argument. The subsidy to highways, if entirely allocated to passenger transportation, was about one cent a passenger mile. The subsidy to mass transit, the urban alternative to automobiles, was about a dollar a passenger mile. Insofar as government subsidies affected the choice between automobiles and transit it biased it in favor of transit, suggesting that abolition of government would lead to more suburban living, not less — although of course there might be other effects in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

 A very long time ago I wrote two poems about William Marshal, who was born the fourth son of a minor baron, before he died was regent of England, and in between for a decade or two one of the top tournament knights in western Europe. He is also the only knight of the period for whom we have a biography written shortly after his death by someone with access to the subject's retainers and relatives. I thought there was material for additional poems earlier and later than the ones I wrote, so titled them Gesta Gugliemi II and III.

I have now written Gesta Gugliemi I. Comments welcome. I am particularly interested in how well it works for readers who are not already familiar with the relevant history.

       Gesta Gugliemi I
When Henry’s son was lost at sea
He chose his daughter his heir to be
And since succession is seldom tame
Twice swore his nobles to back her claim.
But Stephen of Blois, his sister’s son,
Beat Matilda in the race to run
Across the channel to London town
And claim the kingdom and the crown.
Through fifteen years of civil war
The royal cousins battled sore,
Ravaging England South to North
While bishops and barons switched back and forth.
Sir John the Marshal was Stephen’s man
But after Matilda came to land
He called to mind the oath he swore
And loyally served her the rest of the war.
When Stephen’s queen broke Winchester siege
John fled the fight with his lady liege;
His stand at the ford bought her time to fly,
He saved the lady, lost an eye.
Ten years later, John’s sentinels see
An army coming for Newbury,
A mighty host meets their staring eyes
With Stephen leading, a grim surprise.
At Newbury castle the first attack
In a desperate fight was beaten back,
But supplies were few, the garrison small,
By siege or storm it would surely fall.
The constable bargained a day of grace
To ask John’s leave to yield the place;
Sir John prayed three to ask his liege
To bring an army and break the siege.
For which he offered to agree,
If it was found at the end of three
That she could not come with sufficient might,
He would yield the castle without a fight.
King Stephen, when the terms were heard,
Feared the Marshal might break his word,
So as a pledge that it would be done
Demanded young William, John’s second son.
The host went off for another fight
And as soon as Stephen was out of sight,
Expecting no help from his lady liege,
John stocked the castle against a siege.
When Stephen returned there met his sight
A wall well manned and a gate shut tight,
When he asked Sir John to keep his word
This, I am told, is what he heard.
“You have my leave to storm or siege
But I hold this castle for my liege;
If I lose one son I have still his brothers
And hammer and anvil to forge me others”
They built a gallows to hang the boy.
Young William thought it a clever toy,
Young William started to play and swing,
Which touched the heart of England’s King.
It was proposed another day
To send him home by trebuchet;
Without a thought of fear or harm
He climbed right up the throwing arm.
It was by innocence, not art,
Young William won proud Stephen’s heart
And so survived to prove in time
The savior of the royal line.
When the rebel barons held London town
And Louis of France claimed the English crown
King John on his deathbed gave William care
Of his kingdom and his child heir.
At seventy years, with lance and sword,
As Earl of Pembroke and Leinster’s lord,
He made the French and the rebels run
And saved the throne for a dead king’s son.
William served five kings of the Angevin line;
The last of the five was a child of nine.
And thanks to his loyalty and skill
English kings rule England still.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Dave Smith's Response to Me

Someone pointed me at a podcast by Dave Smith responding to my post criticizing his position on immigration. His basic argument, borrowed from Hoppe, has two parts:

1. In an anarchocapitalist society, private communities would be entitled to control who enters them.

2. As long as the government exists and owns property,  it is entitled to control the property just as a private owner would be. Smith's example is a public school excluding men from the girl's washroom. Since it is going to control the property it should control it in ways in which much of the population wants it to. Most of the population is against open borders, just as it is against letting men into the girl's washroom, hence it is appropriate for the government to control immigration.

The podcast is vague on what government property it is talking about. Smith puts the argument as if the government owns the border, but there is lots of private property adjacent to Canada, Mexico, or the ocean. To make the argument work you must, as Hoppe does, argue that the government is entitled to exclude immigrants from all government property. Since that includes the entire highway system, that comes close to excluding them from the entire country.

It does not seem to have occurred to Smith, perhaps not to Hoppe, that that line of argument justifies very nearly everything the government now does that libertarians oppose. A majority of the population believes that prostitution and drug use should be illegal. Hence, by their argument, as long as there is a government controlling property it is entitled to ban anyone who is a prostitute or patronizes one, anyone who uses or sells drugs, and similarly anyone who pays less than the minimum wage or practices medicine without a government license, from the use of any government property.

One odd thing that struck me about the podcast was that  Smith did not seem to have gone over the post he was responding to in advance. He read it aloud, commenting as he did so, and showing no awareness of which of his arguments were answered later in the post. 

Thus, for example, he quoted me writing that  “In the society as it now exists transactions between current Americans and new immigrants are voluntary, just as they would be in a fully libertarian society” and objected, at great length, that in the society as it now exists nondiscrimination law and tax funded government expenditures force transactions that are not voluntary. Only after doing so did he quote the next paragraph, where I stated the argument he had just made and, in the following paragraph, rebutted it by pointing out that open borders do not imply instant citizenship and can be combined with restrictions on what government services noncitizens are entitled to.

Responding to my point that citizenship is not a protected category under discrimination law, Smith pointed out that national origin is. But someone who discriminates against noncitizens is not discriminating on the basis of national origin, he is discriminating on the basis of citizenship. The employer is perfectly happy to hire a citizen of Mexican or Indian origin, just not a non-citizen of Mexican, Indian, or any other origin.

A good deal of Smith's later argument took it for granted that an immigrant imposes large net costs on the people already here. That is not clear even if immigrants have the right to use the public schools and collect welfare since they will also, like other people, pay taxes to fund the public schools and the welfare system. It is still less clear under the system I proposed where immigrants would not be entitled to such benefits until they become citizens.  Some, such as use of the highway system, cannot easily be separated off, but immigrants, like other people, will pay gas taxes and highway tolls.

In other parts of his response Smith did not seem to be following my arguments, not surprising if he first encountered them while doing the podcast and had to respond in real time. He goes on at great length about how the choice isn't between zero government restrictions and all government restrictions without ever noticing that one of the bits of my post that he makes fun of is a criterion for distinguishing — something he does not offer.

Ideally I would like to interact with him directly but, although he said on the podcast that he would be happy to have a back and forth with me, so far he has neither invited me to appear on his podcast nor suggested a debate.

Friday, July 08, 2022

The Meaning of "Libertarian": A Question

Consider two hypothetical Christians. Christian A considers himself a libertarian, does not believe in the initiation of coercion, believes in property rights. He believes, however, that God, having created everything, is the rightful owner of everything. God has authorized rulers to collect taxes, censor writings, ban drugs and prostitution, enforce slavery. None of that, he will explain, is an initiation of coercion, just the enforcement of God's legitimate property rights.

Christian B does not consider himself a libertarian; if God told him to kill or enslave people he would willingly obey. He believes, however, that God's purposes will best be achieved in a libertarian society. The opportunity to sin with a prostitute will let the virtuous strengthen their virtue by resisting temptation, the truly sinful proceed on their way to Hell; prostitution should be legal. He wants to free slaves in order to let them work out their own salvation or damnation.

Christian A believes in libertarian arguments but not in libertarian conclusions, Christian B the opposite. Which is more libertarian?

Christian A is imaginary but there are libertarian philosophers, such as the Bleeding Heart Libertarians on the left or Hans Hoppe on the right, who offer what they believe to be libertarian arguments for conclusions, such as income redistribution or immigration restrictions, that most libertarians consider inconsistent with libertarianism. 

If justice really requires transfers from rich to poor or states have the right and obligation to restrict immigration in order to protect the rights of their citizens, the people who believe those things are libertarians, indeed better libertarians than we are. But if they are wrong, as I believe they are, do those conclusions make them less libertarian? What does “libertarian,” predicated of a person or a conclusion, mean?

I, arguably, am Christian B. A very long time ago I found it necessary to join the Free Libertarian Party of New York in order to attend a libertarian event. Doing so required me to “certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals.” I footnoted my signature with something to the effect that the statement was a simplified version of my actual position. The footnote was necessary because, although I do not currently advocate any initiation of force, I can imagine circumstances in which I would. Some are described in Chapters 41 and 42 of The Machinery of Freedom.

Many libertarians believe that they have derived  their libertarian conclusions from the non-aggression postulate. That is not where I got mine. Does that mean I am not really a libertarian or that I, like Christian B, am a libertarian with different arguments but libertarian conclusions?

A possible answer is that what matters is where the arguments lead. If, as some have argued, my position could be used as easily to argue for statist conclusions, that is a reason to consider me, if not a statist, at least a dangerous influence on libertarianism. If the arguments that Hoppe offers for immigration restrictions could be applied as well to almost any restriction of individual liberty favored by Hoppe and the current right, that is a reason to consider him a dangerous influence on libertarianism. 

As I do.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Cancel Culture, Progressive Organizations, and Generalizing

An interesting article by Ryan Grim in Intercept describes how a variety of progressive organizations in recent years have found themselves paralyzed by internal conflicts involving accusations of racism, sexism, and similar offenses. Pretty clearly, the accusations are a mix of responses to real problems, responses to imagined problems, and weapons by which one member of an organization can attack another.

Being Black has by no means shielded executive directors or their deputies from charges of facilitating white supremacy culture. “It’s hard to have a conversation about performance,” said the manager. “I’m as woke as they come, but they’ll say, ‘He’s Black, but he’s anti-Black because he fired these Black people.’” The solution, he said: “I buy them to leave, I just pay them to leave.”

Inner turmoil can often begin, the managers said, with performance-based disputes that spiral into moral questions. “I also see a pattern of … people who are not competent in their orgs getting ahead of the game by declaring that others have engaged in some kind of -ism, thereby triggering a process that protects them in that job while there’s an investigation or turmoil over it,” the foundation official added. Such disputes then trigger broader cultural conversations, with battle lines being drawn on each side.

It sounds as though many on the left recognize the problem:

During the 2020 presidential campaign, as entry-level staffers for Sanders repeatedly agitated over internal dynamics, despite having already formed a staff union, the senator issued a directive to his campaign leadership: “Stop hiring activists.” Instead, Sanders implored, according to multiple campaign sources, the campaign should focus on bringing on people interested first and foremost in doing the job they’re hired to do.

One interesting question is whether it will occur to progressives to generalize their experience. If their ideology, including the willingness to enforce it at the organizational level by attacking other members of the organization for being insufficiently progressive, makes organizations unable to accomplish anything, what happens to the country if most people became progressives? 

Which, presumably, is what they are trying to accomplish.