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Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

This month’s issue of Cato Unbound features a pretty good discussion of Hayek’s conception of spontaneous order.  Timothy Sandefur’s first critique in the lead essay is provocative, but has some flaws.  On Hayek’s description of how law is constructed, Sandefur writes:

“No system of law,” Hayek admits, “has ever been designed as a whole, and even the various attempts at codification could do no more than systematize an existing body of law, and in doing so supplement it or eliminate inconsistencies.” Even the most sophisticated bureaucratic, top-down plan is going to incorporate lessons learned through historical experience. In other words, the “partially different rules” that compete in the spontaneous order are necessarily “constructed” ones. And because Hayek incorporates these elements of constructivism into his account of spontaneous order, he ends up making it impossible to discriminate between a spontaneous and a constructed order.

This misses the point!  Hayek uses the idea of spontaneous order to comment on how centralized or decentralized power, knowledge, and decisions are in a social system.  Sure, a system of primarily constructed order can have feedback from the bottom, and a system of spontaneous order can have top-down universalities.  That doesn’t mean that if features of one type exist within a system of the other that the distinction between each becomes meaningless.  After all, Hayek was contrasting central planning with a market economy.

Sandefur oversimplifies.  He wants to classify systems into absolute categories while ignoring the existence of messy continua.  While it is possible to nitpick, we can easily classify the United States as a liberal market economy, and Cuba as a socialist economy.  It would be dishonest to deny these categorizations; we wouldn’t say that because the U.S. has public schools, and that because Cuba has a money supply, we simply can’t distinguish any difference between these economies.

Hasnas corroborates my sentiment that the difference really is simple:

If there is anything more to this problem, I am blind to it. Spontaneous orders are the product of human action but not human design; constructed orders are the product of human design. That’s about it. The former implies the absence of a conscious final decision maker; the latter implies its presence.

Sandefur attacks Hayek for making a normative critique of constructed orders.  Though he builds this argument from the supposed lack of distinction between spontaneous and constructed orders, he contradicts himself by acknowledging the existence of the difference, so that he can continue.  Given that the distinction does exist, is Hayek justified in making a normative critique of constructed orders?  Yes, he is!  Hayek’s point is that spontaneous order can handle more complex systems than constructed orders.  Constructed order can only be as complex as the central planner can design it, but spontaneous order can handle far more complexity.  This is a good thing.  A more complex system is able to handle more information and processes, and is able to give more people more of what they want.  Sandefur lays this in the introduction, so why not accept this normative claim at face value?

Sandefur chastises Hayek as lacking a basis for advocating social reform since spontaneous order will have provided some optimal socially constructed order.  That could be true, but that’s not how I read Hayek.  I read him as desiring to decentralize power and decisions, which would be social reform in and of itself.  Did Hayek really ever consider reform of social institutions that had already arisen from spontaneous processes?  Wasn’t the point just to criticize social processes that had been implemented from a central authority?

Obviously Hayek was a liberal, in the true sense.  He defined himself as such in “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”  So it doesn’t make sense that he would position himself against social change–he welcomed the dynamism of free markets, which carries a kind of social change.

Hold on!  Was the decision of Lawrence v. Texas justified by spontaneous order?  Sandefur is correct in pointing out that Hayek’s framework is ambiguous enough to both attack and defend the decision.  It’s a strong example of an instance where the logic of spontaneous order does not provide a clear normative prescription.  Does that matter?  Spontaneous order is a useful analytical tool, but it doesn’t apply to everything.

Hasnas’s normative defense of spontaneous order seems accurate, that true spontaneous order advances legitimate moral values, but also indicates the proliferation of them.  Also, Hasnas agrees that Hayek stretched the applicability of spontaneous order when using it to describe law.

Another point that comes up in the discussion is whether Hayek was making normative claims at all.  Caldwell writes:

Another way to make sense of Hayek is simply to assert that he was making no normative claims at all, that he was doing positive science. This would probably be Hayek’s preferred route, given that the Austrians always claimed to be following Weber’s strictures regarding Wertfreiheit. Thus when he criticized central planning, Hayek was actually claiming that, given the goals of socialists, central planning was not the appropriate means by which to reach them.

Is this true?  It seems to me that socialism has always held egalitarianism as its goal, not uplift.  Have you ever heard of a socialist discuss positive-sum game?  I haven’t.

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Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Unfortunately, there are some real morons getting a voice today. The New York Times is giving voice to an out-and-out totalitarian. It bums me out that Žižek’s status, like Noam Chomsky’s, is that of an admired and respected intellectual and not an obviously evil sociopath.

Still, there’s a lot of great, compassionate, sensible commemoration out today as well. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin has some great posts, about why the neglecting communist crimes matters, comments on Paul Hollander’s article, and setting the record straight that yes, Trotsky was really evil.

reason.tv has a video on a powerful new exhibit, and a montage from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

There’s much more, so I’ll just pass along Mike Gibson’s roundup.

Never forget.

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Paul Hollander writes an excellent piece in the Washington Post about the momentous events of November 1989.  Hollander escaped the communist hegemony in 1956, and he writes about the oppression and murder committed by the statist regimes of the last century.

While greatly concerned with communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Americans — hostile or sympathetic — actually knew little about communism, and little is said here today about the unraveling of the Soviet empire. The media’s fleeting attention to the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s matched their earlier indifference to communist systems. There is little public awareness of the large-scale atrocities, killings and human rights violations that occurred in communist states, especially compared with awareness of the Holocaust and Nazism (which led to to far fewer deaths). The number of documentaries, feature films or television programs about communist societies is minuscule compared with those on Nazi Germany and/or the Holocaust, and few universities offer courses on the remaining or former communist states. For most Americans, communism and its various incarnations remained an abstraction.

The different moral responses to Nazism and communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of communist atrocities as byproducts of noble intentions that were hard to realize without resorting to harsh measures.

In the New York review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash breaks down the chronology of the mass liberation of Eastern Europe. (more…)

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We all know Michigan’s economy is craptastic; it’s become proverbial, like the Pope crapping in the woods.  (Is that a joke anyone makes besides my dad?)

Michigan’s a poisonous mix of high, progressive taxes, union influence, and “investments” in public money-sinks like education, public works, and corporate subsidies. From the WSJ

Meanwhile, the new business taxes didn’t balance the budget. Instead, thanks to business closures and relocations, tax receipts are running nearly $1 billion below projections and the deficit has climbed back to $2.8 billion. As the Detroit News put it, Michigan businesses are continually asked “to pay more in taxes to erase a budget deficit that, despite their contributions, never goes away.” And this is despite the flood of federal stimulus and auto bailout cash over the last year.

Following her 2007 misadventure, Ms. Granholm promised: “I’m not ever going to raise taxes again.” That pledge lasted about 18 months. Now she wants $600 million more. Among the ideas under consideration: an income tax increase with a higher top rate, a sales tax on services, a freeze on the personal income tax exemption (which would be a stealth inflation tax on all Michigan families), a 3% surtax on doctors, and fees on bottled water and cigarettes. To their credit, Republicans who control the Michigan Senate are holding out for a repeal of the 22% business tax surcharge.

As for Ms. Granholm, she and House speaker Andy Dillon continue to bow to public-sector unions. There are now 637,000 public employees in Michigan compared to fewer than 500,000 workers left in manufacturing. Government is the largest employer in the state, but the number of taxpayers to support these government workers is shrinking. The budget deadline is November 1, and Ms. Granholm is holding out for tax increases rather than paring back state government.

The decline in auto sales has hurt Michigan more than other states, but the state’s economy would have been better equipped to cope without Ms. Granholm’s policy mix of higher taxes in order to spend more money on favored political and corporate interests.

Where’s Harold Meyerson on this blow to manufacturing?  Oh that’s right, he thinks only private industry can screw up this badly.

In related links, check out Forgotten Detroit, for an on-going pictorial study detailing the death of a city.  Sadly fascinating.

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Good Question

This weekend a good friend of mine came to town.  She’s been one of my best friends for years, but she wasn’t coming exclusively to visit me.  While we don’t always (or even rarely) see eye-to-eye on social issues, there’s one we can agree on.  It’s pretty indefensible to keep homosexuals from having legally binding marriages.

And that’s how I ended up hanging out with these women, and marching through D.C. on a remarkably beautiful sunny Sunday. (My friend is on the far left, literally and figuratively.)

After reflecting on it, I’m ambivalent about the event.  I went to support my homosexual friends and family, because I support their fight for freedom.  I resent that anyone believes that they have the authority to tell anyone else how, or with whom, to live their life. (more…)

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As a philosophy major, I’m prone to indulge silly questions from time to time.  From the previously mentioned, and excellent Bourgeois Virtues, I got my mind tangled up with this question:  Is the redistributive state inherently amoral, as it violates Kant’s second categorical imperative to never treat people as means?  Quoting Feser’s On Nozick:

Respecting another’s self-ownership . . . [reflects] one’s recognition that that other person does not exist for you. . . . the socialist or liberal egalitarian . . . rather than the Nozickian libertarian . . . is . . . more plausibly accused of ‘selfishness.’

If you’re interested in a brief synopsis of the book, check this out.

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California is collapsing.  The Guardian has an outsider’s perspective on the downfall of the world’s eighth largest economy.  The Golden State is fading.

California has a special place in the American psyche. It is the Golden State: a playground of the rich and famous with perfect weather. It symbolises a lifestyle of sunshine, swimming pools and the Hollywood dream factory.

But the state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kevin Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: “California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America.”

California is screwed.  It’s a disaster, and it’s easy to point to a few reasons why.  The legislature has been staunchly Democratic since 1970, with one brief interlude of Republican control.  The state is the absolute paragon of liberalism, the fullest flower of the public-service/welfare state apparatus.  Republicans are a minority in every single voting district in the entire state, at all levels of government.

But you wouldn’t know that if you read some of the left’s critical analysis of California’s plight.

(more…)

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