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.