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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Daring Tom Knapp To Disagree With Tom Jefferson

Tom, I'm going to cut-and-re-paste this more slowly this time so you can understand:

BH) your "Holtz's whim" argument fails to grapple with my wiki'd paragraph that begins: "The free-rider problem would exist even if 100% of the people had the same utility function." (BH

The free-rider problem is fundamentally a coordination and demand-revelation problem. To stamp your foot and insist it's a question of privileging somebody's whims is simply to flee from the serious intellectual issue here. Despite all the problems I identified in Hummel's lengthy article on public goods, he never would dare to stoop to such a lame argument. If you're going to nevertheless insist that somebody's "whim" is being privileged here, then I dare you to use Thomas Jefferson instead of me as the poster child for the "whim" of protecting rights through government, per my quote of the DoI. I double-dog dare you.

Chris, Tom just recognized his mistake about optimal levels of production and retracted it two minutes before your comment. That's why debating Tom is so challenging -- he has a Knapck for gravitating toward the strongest arguments for his position, and is usually unflinching about throwing weak arguments to the wolves.

You very nearly perfectly summarized the fundamental disagreement here. Tom and other ZAPsolutist radicals indeed care more (only?) about abstention from force initiation, while I care more about further reducing net force initiation by satisfying more of the demand for rights protection. I've been making this point for nearly two years (so often that I've put my standard argument here: but you may very well be the first person who's ever shown evidence of grasping it -- let alone extracting it unbidden from the public-goods debate.

I'm glad you agree with the importance of empirical evidence here, and I hope you followed the two links on that topic above. They're from this collection: p...portal#Advocacy
if you want to compare "doing something" resumes, mine is at activism

P.S. Does stalking me around the Internet and repeatedly denouncing my incomprehensibility (at least to you) count as "doing something"?
I love it when an opponent's arguments are so repetitive they can be eviscerated merely by cutting and pasting from what I've already said in the discussion. This is true of Tom Blanton's first three paragraphs. The argument of the fourth is so feeble that nobody had dared attempt it above.

1. minarchism

2. "I don't claim that state provision of rights protection is guaranteed to reach an ideal optimal level of minimized force initiation. Rather, I claim that it moves us in that direction, and does better on that metric than does the anarchist war of all against all."

3. "Minarchists claim that such trade-offs are morally justifiable only for 'pure' public goods aimed at protecting life and liberty, like national defense and universal access to the justice system."

4. Strawman. As an advocate of free markets in all rival excludable goods, I'm of course not claiming that we can never "solve problems on a decentralized basis".
Tom Knapp, I'll keep repeating (2) above no matter how often you ignore it. You don't need to be able to find an optimum in order to optimize (i.e. increase the value of) a function. See e.g. climbing

Your argument about calculation is already answered at incalculable.

I'm not saying that positive externalities in general should modify our ethics wherever they occur. Such a strawman is beneath you. I'm just saying that liberty-lovers ought to modify their ethics around one very specific kind of positive externality: the enjoyment among all liberty-lovers when any liberty-lover donates to protect the liberty of the weak from the predation of the strong. It is -- and always will be -- self-evident to 99.99% of Americans that such donations alone will under-produce such protection, and that we can expect net aggression to be decreased when we communalize the protection of rights in the proper way. This is just as true now as when Jefferson called this a self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence.

Of course, if Jefferson meant it was something like a synthetic a priori truth, then I disagree. I think its truth or falsity is a fundamentally empirical claim, and I confess that I probably would have a different view of it except for the evidence of 1) the American experiment and 2) the history of lawless defense agencies (i.e. organized crime) in twentieth-century American cities. It's very understandable that you make your last stand on the analytic Calculation Assertion, because the empirical evidence is so univocal.
Chris, non-libertarians indeed attempt public-goods arguments for social provision of all kinds of positive externalities. As I already told you, my thesis is that minarchists should argue only for one kind of pure public good -- the social provision of the protection of life, liberty, and property. (A public good is "pure" to the extent that its positive externalities outweigh its positive internalities.) If you're worried that you can't defend the distinction between this kind of public good and all others, then just remember Jefferson. He called it "self-evident" that governments are instituted among men to secure the rights of life, liberty, and property, and he said absolutely nothing about billboards and public art.

Your attempt to change the textbook definition of "public good" sounds like special pleading. The concept is the same, no matter what you call it. "Minimizing coercion" is indeed my first statement made every time. For example, my proposal for the LP Statement of Principles begins: "We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge all aggression against the rights of the individual. We advocate maximizing individual rights by continually minimizing the role and incidence of aggression in human society." I've been saying for years, to every radical I talk to, that the difference between us is abstention vs. minimization of force initiation. (You should use "force initiation" instead of "coercion", because defensive coercion is allowed.)

Regarding calculation, see the link above. The absolutist Austrian Calculation Argument is a very odd one for a libertarian to make. First of all, as GMU anarchist economist Bryan Caplan has noted, the argument on its own terms must admit that we cannot know the magnitude or even the sign of the net effect of a market intervention, and so as a consequentialist argument it is effectively impotent. Second, in denying our ability to say anything at all about the magnitude or even sign of unrevealed demand, the Calculation Argument sweeps away the very foundations of the argument for the benefits of free markets: consumer surplus, producer surplus, demand schedules, reservation prices -- i.e. almost the entire concept of gains to trade. This is why so many economists who consider themselves libertarian nevertheless do not accept the anarcholibertarian dismissal of the public goods argument for the existence of government.

The bottom line here is: if one's economics-based argument fails to impress the vast majority of economists who consider themselves libertarian, then one needs to consider that perhaps one's argument is more about convincing oneself than about convincing others.
TK) You seem to think I'm arguing that one can't optimize unless one knows the optimum as a specific quantity. (TK

You seemed to be arguing that, and then you explicitly retracted it. That's fine -- we're here to learn. (Others here continue to argue it, so don't think my comments to Tom B. were aimed at Tom K.)

TK) What I'm actually arguing is that the concept of "optimum" seems to itself be subjective. (TK

For like the fourth time: I don't depend on being able to find or recognize an absolute optimum. I only depend on making the always-imprecise never-guaranteed-to-be-perfect judgment that a given institutional design will likely lead to less aggression than an alternative design. You yourself seem to be making such a judgment, or else we'd be hearing you say something like this: "I have absolutely no idea whether social provision of rights protection could ever yield better protection of rights than the absence of such social provision, and neither do you or Thomas Jefferson, and so I say we should just abstain from the force initiation in such social provision, and hope for sufficient charitable provision." If I can just get one of you radicals to ever admit that this is your position, then I'll reply: "Fine, Thomas Jefferson and the American people and I will just have to agree to disagree with you." I'm under no illusion that your need to disagree with Jefferson's self-evident truths is something that I can overcome; I just want you to recognize what you're disagreeing with.

TK) your approach is just as a priori (TK

The identification of the free-rider market failure is indeed analytic -- it follows straightforwardly from assumptions (that you don't dispute) about excludability and rational self-interest. What's empirical in my approach is deciding whether government failure is always a greater danger than this market failure. I've already given you links to two essays about the respective empirical cases for anarchism and minarchism. And I just clarified above how two kinds of changes to the historical record would change my mind on this empirical question. (This makes Jefferson all the more impressive to me, since he put his life on the line for his intuition in a thesis that I doubt I would have shared at the time.)