In the bad old days of outright, in-your-face racism, the bigots favored the minimum wage law as a means of destroying the economic prospects of black people. For example labor unions in the bad old apartheid South Africa explicitly favored such legislation in order to exacerbate the unemployment rate of this demographic. Blacks, in their view, were getting too “uppity” and had to be taken down a notch or two. Or three. They were daring to compete with more skilled white labor; the best way to nip this challenge in the bud was to price them out of the market. Raise the wages of black labor by government fiat so high that employers would no longer look upon them as a bargain.
Nor was our own country exempt from this sort of evil. Former president John F. Kennedy, when he was a senator from Massachusetts, favored the minimum wage law on the ground that cheap African-American labor in the former confederate states was too competitive with more highly-skilled New England workers. He thought, correctly, that the best way to deal with this challenge was, again, to end this through minimum wage legislation. He stated: “Having on the market a rather large source of cheap labor depresses wages outside that group too – the wages of the white worker who has to compete. And when an employer can substitute a colored worker at a lower wage – and there are … these hundreds of thousands looking for decent work – it affects the whole wage structure of an area…”
Give the devil his due, these vicious people were good economists. They faced a challenge: the competition of low-skilled black workers. They knew exactly how to obviate this opposition. Pass laws that seemingly helped them, but they full well knew had the diametric opposite effect.
Nowadays, matters are reversed. The people who now favor this legislation are filled with the milk of human kindness, at least for the most part. But their understanding of economics is abysmal. And this does not only describe Democrats such as AOC or Bernie or Schumer or Pelosi or Biden who are staunch supporters of this malicious legislation. It even includes Republicans such as Utah Senator Mitt Romney and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton who have just introduced a bill to increase the national minimum wage to $10 an hour over the next four years, in gradual steps. One would have thought that at least members of the GOP would be a bit sophisticated about economics, but in the event this just ain’t so.
The flaws in this enactment can best be explained starting with an analogy from the animal world. The deer is a very weak animal. This species would have long ago gone extinct except for its speed. In similar manner, the skunk and the porcupine would be greatly endangered, but for their saving graces, smell and sharp quills (How do porcupines make love? Carefully).
Now put yourself in the place of a young black kid who can’t find a job. (Before the advent of the minimum wage law in 1938 the unemployment rate of blacks and whites, youngsters and middle-aged folk, was about the same; at present, the rate of joblessness for African American male teens is quadruple that of white males aged 25-55). Young black teens have a poor reputation as workers, at least in the minds of many employers. What is their analogous secret weapon? The ability to temporarily work for a very low wage – or none at all.
Under free enterprise, this young black kid could march up to an employer, look him straight in the eye and say: “I know you don’t think much of me as a potential employee. But you’re wrong. Hiring me will be one of the best commercial decisions you’ve ever made. Just give me a chance. In order to take the risk off your hands, let me tell you what I’m gonna do. I’ll work for you for $5 per hour for a week. Then, if I pass this trail period in your estimation, you can raise my salary. Heck, I’ll do it for $2 per hour, can’t say better than that, can I? No, wait, I’ll go myself even one better: I’ll work for you, real hard, for zero, zip, nada, for free. Then, after a week, when you see what a treasure I am, you can adjust my wage accordingly.”
It is hard to see why this would not be a very successful statement in terms of (eventually) getting on the payroll. However, if this young enterprising person said anything of the sort, he would be breaking the law. He might not be put in prison for doing so, since, probably, an economically illiterate judge would view him as a victim; but, still, he would be in violation of the minimum wage law. In contrast, if the owner of the firm accepted this offer, woe betide him. He would be tossed into the clink, and the key to the prison would be thrown away (This is an exaggeration, but only a slight one).
The point is, the minimum wage law steals from the worker who is discriminated against his one “secret weapon”: the ability to impress the business firm with this type of offer. That’s the Horatio Alger story.
An analysis of basic supply and demand analysis as taught in economics 101 will demonstrate that when you impose a floor under wages, this does not necessarily raise them. Rather supply is now greater than demand, and the difference is a surplus; in the labor market this is called unemployment. No, a floor under wages does not boost them; rather it constitutes a barrier over which the job candidate must jump in order to obtain employment in the first place. If mere legislative fiat could really boost compensation, why stop at $10, or $15? Why not help the needy with a wage, or, oh, $100 per hour, or even $1,000? Then, we could stop all foreign aid, and just tell needy countries to institute, and/or raise their minimum wage levels.
Sophisticated advocates of this pernicious legislation will point to “monopsony” or “oligopsony” (one, or just a few purchasers of labor, in this case). True, according to neoclassical theory, there is in these cases a window in wages, such that they can only be raised so high before unemployment once again rears its ugly head. Even if this were true (it is not, but that is another story) it is simply inapplicable to relatively unskilled workers. If it applies at all, it is to workers with such specialized skills that only one or a very few firms can hire them. We are now talking about specialized engineers, computer nerds, physicists, etc. They earn multiples of the minimum wage levels being contemplated. Those who push brooms or ask if you “want fries with that?” have literally hundreds of thousands of potential employers, not just one or a few.
The minimum wage should not be raised. It should not stay at its present $7.25 level. It should not be lowered. Rather, it should be abolished, and those responsible for its existence be deemed criminals, since they are responsible for the permanent employment of people with productivity levels lower than that established by law. Suppose someone’s productivity is $3 per hour. Anyone hiring him at $7.25 will lose $4.25 hourly. He cannot be profitably employed. Case closed.
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured image shows “Work,” by Ford Madox Brown, painted in 1873.
A fundamental belief of libertarianism/liberalism [from “classical liberals” to anarcho-capitalists] is that there exists a certain human nature, the observation of which allows one to draw a certain objective conception of the “good life,” with that conception being seen as the only objective one possible, and the only possible, valid one. Also, the observation of human nature allegedly allows one to draw an objective categorical norm with regard to the right model for the positive law (with that categorical norm being seen as the only possible objective categorical norm, and the only valid categorical standard, as concerns the right model for the positive law); and objective instrumental standards for the purpose of the “good life.” Namely, moral ownership of oneself and of what one acquires non-violently as concerns the alleged objective categorical norm for the model of the positive law; rational and peaceful subsistence as concerns the content of the “good life;” and prioritized, peaceful pursuit of (material) subsistence, property, non-violence, responsibility, savings, mutual charity within the social division of labor as concerns the alleged objective instrumental standards for the purpose of the “good life.”
Another fundamental belief of libertarianism is that human conduct, while being not subject to any law as to its content (by reason of the alleged free will of humans), is nevertheless characterized by a number of laws as to its structure. Those laws are allegedly the object of what Ludwig von Mises called “praxeology;” and are allegedly apodictic. Thus completing—with an apologetic goal—praxeology with an investigation of the content of human action, Hans Hermann Hoppe endeavored to show that the experience of the type of human action that is argumentative action is necessarily the occasion for any human individual engaged in a given argumentative action to notice the existence of apodictic truths (i.e., that their terms are sufficient to render true, and which are therefore true by right and true whatever may be) in the domain of the knowledge of good and evil; and not only in the field of formal logic with the allegedly apodictic laws that are notably identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded third.
The Claim Of The Non-Aggression Principle’s Apodicticity
In addition to coming as an outgrowth of praxeology, Hoppe’s thesis intends to complete, or even replace, the jusnaturalist libertarian defense of the categorical principle of non-aggression, i.e., the defense of the categorical principle of non-aggression as a law that allegedly lets itself be deduced from human nature. While a loophole of libertarian jusnaturalism lies in its violation of the logical impossibility of deducing a categorical imperative (for instance, the principle of non-aggression) from an alleged state of affairs (for instance, human nature such as libertarianism represents it to itself), Hoppe’s thesis intends to fill that gap. And to prove the purported objectivity of the principle of non-aggression despite the impossibility of deducing an ought (in a categorical sense) from an is, i.e., without trying to deduce a categorical ought from an is.
According to Hoppe, in substance, the moral law non-aggression (i.e., the categorical principle that every man is the sole moral possessor of himself and of the goods which he acquires peacefully, and that no one is therefore morally entitled to showing violence towards someone, his integrity or his property acquired without violence) takes on the character of an apodictic truth just like the logical laws in the first-order logic (i.e., identity, non- contradiction, excluded third party, etc.). The performative contradiction that Hoppe judges to be necessarily associated with the contestation of the principle of non-aggression is alleged to endow the principle of non-aggression with a character of apodictic truth, i.e., to render the principle of non-aggression true by its sole terms, true whatever may be, true by right.
It is worth specifying that in first-order formal logic, the criterion necessarily retained to judge the apodicticity of a proposition consists of knowing whether it is tautological (i.e., true for any distribution of the values of truth), the laws of first-order logic serving as laws followed and assumed by the calculation of truth values. The incremental criterion contingently retained consists of knowing whether a proposition is reducible to a tautology via relations of synonymy, that second criterion being contingent in that it is conditioned on the recognition of those propositions, reducible (to tautologies) as being propositions themselves tautological.
Likewise, it is worth specifying that at least two modes of performative contradiction are conceivable. On the one hand, the act of acting in such a way that one proves in spite of oneself that one considers to be false some statements one however makes at the moment of the concerned action. On the other hand, the act of acting in such a way that one proves in spite of oneself the falseness of statements which one however makes at the same time. At last, it is worth specifying that the categorical form in a categorical statement—whether it is a moral law (for instance, the non-aggression principle) or a logical law (for instance, the identity principle)—does not endow such statement with an objective or apodictic character.
The Hoppean Fallacy
Hoppe’s argument in favor of the alleged apodicticity of the categorical principle of non-aggression, an argument known as “the ethics of argumentation,” does not consist of undertaking to prove the tautological character of the non-aggression principle or its reducibility to a tautology. Instead, it consists of affirming that the fact of displaying an argumentation for (or against) a given thesis necessarily supposes subscribing to the principle of non-aggression; and that the performative contradiction in the first above-evoked sense (i.e., in the sense of the saying of words that contradict the beliefs that the conduct accompanying those same words supposes and manifests) associated with any argumentation against the non-aggression principle proves, in spite of itself, the aforesaid principle’s apodicticity.
Those two assertions are false. On the one hand, far from the fact of displaying an argumentation necessarily supposing that one adheres to the principle of non-aggression, such an activity can very well suppose (for example) that one agrees as an Arian to listen to (and dismantle) the pro-Trinitarian arguments of his slave; but that one does not recognize him as having the right to express himself again on that subject (once the conversation is over), let alone quietly leave the palace to which his servitude attaches him. On the other hand, a performative contradiction (in the above-evoked sense), whatever it is, never proves that the belief one reveals in spite of oneself through the conduct consisting of contradicting that belief (or accompanying the fact of contradicting it) is true, even less apodictic. It only proves that there is an adherence to the aforesaid belief (whose true or false character remains to be determined).
Even if, indeed, the fact of engaging in some argumentation necessarily implied adhering to the principle of non-aggression, that assumption would only amount to believing (in spite of oneself) in the truth of the principle of non-aggression, not to proving (in spite of oneself) the aforesaid principle’s apodicticity. To put it in another way: even if the principle of non-aggression were necessarily a belief underlying any argumentative activity (and therefore, were necessarily be a premise, secret or avowed, of the statements held within the framework of some argumentative activity), the fact of arguing against the principle of non-aggression would only amount to inferring conclusions, contradicting the premises that one reveals in spite of oneself when drawing those conclusions. That would not render apodictic (i.e., true by their sole terms, true whatever the reality, true by right) the aforesaid premises.
A Variation Of The Hoppean Argument—And How It Is Fallacious As Well
Another attempt to prove the non-aggression principle, inspired by the “ethics of argumentation,” consists of invoking the second mode of performative contradiction: namely the fact of adopting a behavior such as to prove the falsity of statements one makes at the very moment of the aforesaid conduct. While it is no longer a question here of proving the alleged apodicticity of the non-aggression principle, the offered argument is nevertheless not less unsatisfactory than is the attempt to demonstrate the aforesaid apodicticity. The argument in question consists of asserting that the fact of arguing against the non-aggression principle, therefore the property of oneself, is an action that mobilizes, if not the voice or a pen, at least the mental abilities; and which, like any action, proves that one is in possession of one’s own body (including one’s brain). That relation of possession allegedly proving, in turn, that any suffered aggression is immoral—given it undermines the aforesaid possession of oneself.
Here again, each of these two statements is false. The fact of acting only shows that an order is given to the body (and executed), and not that the aforesaid body finds itself to belong to the aforesaid order’s author. (We will leave aside whether the author in question merges with the brain, the nervous system, or the soul). As for moral possession, i.e., the entitlement to be the possessor of a given good, therefore to hold it (and use it) without suffering any coercion, does not derive from factual possession as such (i.e., the actual possession of a good regardless of whether or not one is entitled to possess it), nor from the earliest factual possession (i.e., the fact not only of owning a given good, but of being the first to own the good in question). Even if a human (or another animal) were actually the factual possessor—and a fortiori the first factual possessor—of his own body, the aforesaid factual possession would in no way imply moral possession; therefore an entitlement not to be subjected to violence nor to a deprivation of liberty.
The act of arguing against the principle of non-aggression does not reveal the alleged moral possession (or even the alleged factual possession) of oneself any more than it does reveal the aforesaid principle’s alleged apodicticity. More generally, the moral possession of oneself is not more ascertainable or provable than the principle of non-aggression is apodictic. The fact of observing human nature, taken or not from the point of argumentative action, does not more allow us to notice the alleged moral (or even factual) possession of oneself any more than the principle of non-aggression is reducible to a tautology, or than the contingent presupposition of the principle of non-aggression in any argumentation attacking the truth of the aforesaid principle confers on the aforesaid principle an apodictic character.
That is just as true for the laws of first-order logic: the fact of observing reality does not more allow us to notice the ontological counterpart of the aforesaid logical laws (including the alleged necessity for any entity considered in a given respect at a given moment to be what it is rather than what it is not) than their contingent presupposition in any argument attacking the truth of the aforesaid logical laws does confer on the aforesaid logical laws an apodictic character. They are only assumed—rather than true by their terms alone or demonstrated.
Two Expected Objections
An objection from a proponent of “the ethics of argumentation” may be that the laws of first-order logic—just like tautologies (i.e., propositions remaining true for any distribution of truth values) or propositions reducible to tautologies—are indeed apodictic; nevertheless, insofar as the aforementioned laws are objectively evident by themselves (and only insofar as they are objectively evident by themselves). Whereas tautologies and propositions reducible to tautologies are apodictic insofar as they are demonstrable as true for any distribution of truth values (and only insofar as they are demonstrable as true for any distribution of truth values). And whereas the reducibility of propositions effectively reducible to tautologies may consist, for those propositions, of being reducible insofar as their terms are synonymous, but also of being so insofar as they are likely to be revealed via a performative contradiction, i.e., likely to be the object of an adhesion likely to get revealed in spite of oneself via a performative contradiction.
Another objection may be that the laws of first-order logic—identity, non-contradiction, excluded third, etc.—are certainly assumed (rather than demonstrated or true by their sole terms), and that they are assumed, if not by any argumentative activity, at least any senseful argumentative activity; but that denying the apodicticity of the aforesaid laws, or one of the propositions which those laws suffice to render true, is precisely senseless for our reason, insofar as those laws are a necessary condition of any senseful argumentative activity. Just like it is allegedly senseless for the reason to deny the apodicticity of the principle of non-aggression, insofar as the prior supposition of that principle is a supposedly necessary condition, if not of any argumentative activity, at least any senseful argumentative activity.
That ultimate argument in favor of holding the non-aggression principle and the laws of the calculus of predicates as apodictic does not pretend to prove their alleged apodicticity. It proposes that we act as if they were apodictic, i.e., proposes that one conventionally holds them as apodictic; and that, on the grounds that they are allegedly necessary conditions for any senseful argumentative activity. (In other words, that argument proposes that the first-order logical laws and the moral law of non-aggression be held to be apodictic conventionally rather than sincerely, i.e., by convention rather than conviction. It happens, nevertheless, that the same argument, which can be qualified as performative, is mobilized in favor of sincerely holding as apodictic the first-order logical laws and the moral law of non-aggression. In that case, the fact that those logical and moral laws allegedly come as necessary conditions of any objectively senseful argument allegedly proves that those laws are objectively apodictic).
How Performative Contradiction Is Not Tantamount To Tautology
Regarding the previous argument, the fact of adhering conventionally or sincerely to the laws of first-order logic (also called the calculation of predicates), i.e., the fact of holding them to be true by convention or by conviction, does not imply one adheres sincerely or conventionally to the idea that performative contradiction is a criterion of reducibility to a tautology.
Whereas the propositions that first-order logic is necessarily led to consider as true propositions by the operation of laws alone are the sole tautological propositions (i.e., true for any distribution of truth values), the propositions that first-order logic is contingently led to consider also as true propositions by the only operation of the logical laws include only those propositions reducible to tautologies via synonymy. Those propositions which are revealable via a performative contradiction, but which are neither tautological nor reducible to a tautology, are necessarily excluded outside the propositions that the calculation of predicates is necessarily or contingently likely to consider as true propositions by the sole operation of the logical laws.
To put it in another way, the revealability of a given proposition via a performative contradiction (i.e., via an action which proves that one implicitly adheres to that proposition even though one is in the process of denying it at the time of said action) does not render that proposition reducible (to a tautology) any more than it renders it tautological. Given that only a proposition reducible to a tautology is contingently conceivable as tautological (within the framework of first-order logic), and given that a proposition revealable via performative contradiction is not necessarily a proposition reducible to a tautology, performative contradiction cannot be a criterion of apodicticity in first-order logic: neither necessarily nor contingently.
Or again, adhering to the laws of first-order formal logic necessarily implies adhering to the idea that the tautological character of a proposition is a criterion of its apodictic character, and contingently implies (i.e., implies in the case where we admit that a proposition reducible by synonymy to a tautology is also render tautological by the sole fact of its reducibility) of adhering to the idea that the characteristic of a proposition to be reducible to a tautology is an additional criterion for apodicticity. Nevertheless, it does not imply adhering to the idea that performative contradiction is a criterion for apodicticity—and that, given that a proposition revealable through performative contradiction is not rendered reducible to a tautology by the sole fact of being revealable through performative contradiction.
Or again, in the eyes of the first-order logical laws, the fact of articulating a given statement (for instance, the negation of the non-aggression principle) while acting in a way that reveals one subscribes to the opposite of such statement only amounts to, simultaneously, expressing (verbally) a thing and (behaviorally) its contrary. It does not amount to proving the apodictically true character of the statement behaviorally expressed. The joint fact of expressing verbally the negation of the non-aggression principle and subscribing behaviorally to the non-aggression principle does not more render the non-aggression principle apodictically true than it proves the wrongness or the truth of the non-aggression principle. Expressing (verbally) p and (behaviorally) non-p does not more prove the wrongness or the truth of non-p than it renders p apodictically true. It only amounts to expressing two things excluding each other.
(As for the idea that the laws of first-order logic are self-evident: introspection allows us to see that those laws are not self-evident nor seem to be self-evident. The fact of being seemingly self-evident is, instead, a characteristic of what can be called the alleged ontological counterpart of said laws, i.e., a characteristic of the alleged ontological facts that are, for example, the impossibility for a given entity not to be what it is in a given respect and at a given time).
The Conventional Character Of Logic Laws
Regarding the argument that the moral law of non-aggression and the logical laws of first-order logic (i.e., identity, non-contradiction, excluded third, etc.) are both necessary conditions for an argumentative discourse which be genuinely senseful, and that it is therefore senseless to deny their apodicticity (despite the fact that said apodicticity is neither provable nor self-evident), the laws of first-order logic and the principle of non-aggression admittedly have in common that they claim to be the necessary conditions for an argument that makes sense. But precisely, the fact that an argument makes sense in the opinion of the laws of first-order logic only proves that it makes sense in the opinion of said laws: just as the fact that an argument makes sense in the opinion of the principle of non-aggression (in that it supposes and respects the categorical imperative to refrain from the slightest coercion towards the interlocutors and towards anyone) only proves that it makes sense in the opinion of said principle.
The fact that the laws of first-order logic or the principle of non-aggression serve as necessary conditions for arguments which are meaningful in their opinion does not imply that they serve as necessary conditions for argumentations which be objectively senseful. An argument which supposes a formal logic refusing all or part of the aforementioned laws will make sense in the opinion of the own laws of its own formal logic, which will not prove that it is objectively senseful: just like the fact that an argumentation assuming other categorical imperatives than the principle of non-aggression makes sense in the opinion of its own moral presuppositions does not prove that it is objectively meaningful.
It is worth pointing out that (convinced or conventional) adherence to the idea of the apodictically true character of the laws of first-order logic does not imply adhering (sincerely or conventionally) to the idea of the apodictically true character of the principle of non-aggression (and vice versa); and that the sincere (rather than conventional) adherence to the idea of the objectively true character of the laws of first-order logic is, sometimes, both motivated by the two reasons Aristotle proposes for sincerely adhering to the (idea of the) objective truth of the logical laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded third. Reasons that are performative (i.e., the laws in question are, in Aristotle’s opinion, necessary conditions for a senseful argumentation, what allegedly renders them apodictic) and ontological (i.e., the laws in question are, in Aristotle’s opinion, also founded by their ontological counterpart: for example, any entity, according to the respect considered and the moment considered, is necessarily what it is rather than what it is not).
Finally, one cannot but notice the failure of the performative argument in favor of the idea of the insane character of rejecting (by convention or conviction) the apodicticity of the laws of the first-order logic, or the law of the non-aggression principle, i.e., the argument consisting of pointing out the alleged necessity to assume (by convention or by conviction) both the laws of first-order logic and the principle of non-aggression so that an argument be objectively senseful.
It makes perfect sense to believe that the conformity of a given argument to the principle of non-aggression does not render the aforesaid conformity objectively senseful. Just like it makes perfect sense to believe that the conformity of a given argument with the laws of first-order logic does not render the aforesaid conformity objectively senseful; or to believe that the objectively senseful character of conformity to the laws of first-order logic—if it were attested—would not prove the objectively senseful character of conformity to the principle of non-aggression.
Beyond Aristotle And Rudolf Carnap
In practice, the performative argument in favor of holding conventionally or sincerely as apodictic the laws of first-order logic is sometimes accompanied by an ontological argument in favor of holding them (sincerely, and only in a sincere mode) for apodictic, which consists of pointing out the alleged ontological counterpart of the laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded third middle; and of justifying on the basis of said ontological counterpart the fact of sincerely holding them as apodictic. It also happens that, quite simply, one takes for the alleged apodictic character of the aforementioned laws what is actually the apparent self-obviousness of the ontological counterpart of said laws.
In both cases, the alleged ontological counterpart of the aforesaid laws would render said laws true by their conformity with reality (rather than true by their terms alone). It would not justify considering the aforesaid laws to be apodictic truths: whether by conviction or by convention. The alleged ontological counterpart is itself unfounded: given it is quite simply induced from a certain characteristic common in things and people in the field of reality which is offered to our senses (more precisely, the field immediately offered within what, in reality, is available to our senses). Namely, the characteristic of being necessarily what one is (i.e., the ontological counterpart of the principle of identity); of being necessarily incapable of being both what one is and what one is not at a given moment and in a given respect (i.e., the ontological counterpart of the principle of non-contradiction); and of being necessarily constrained to be either something or something else, but not both simultaneously, in a given respect and at a given moment (i.e., the ontological counterpart of the principle of the excluded third).
Since an induction is not a valid inference, it is wrong to generalize such characteristic to all the entities that inhabit reality on its various stages. Given the human mind is capable of conceiving the Trinity (which necessarily violates the laws of non-contradiction and of the excluded third), or the included third in quantum mechanics (with the fact for a photon of being simultaneously a wave and a particle, or for an electron of occupying two distinct positions simultaneously); it is nevertheless able (to a certain point and only in some people) to extract itself from those logical laws in order to try to apprehend the nature of the entities inhabiting other floors of reality.
To the Aristotelian thesis that the logical laws of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded third have a not less performative foundation (i.e., they are allegedly the necessary conditions for a senseful discourse, from what it supposedly follows that they are apodictic) than ontological (i.e., they are allegedly based on the impossibility for a given entity to be both what it is and what it is not in a given respect and in a given moment, etc.), incidentally respond the following Carnapian remarks. Namely, that it is “a sure sign of a mistake if logic has need of metaphysics and psychology—sciences that require their own logical first principles;” and that in logic, “it is not our business to set up prohibitions, but to arrive at conventions,” Rudolf Carnap explaining, in this regard, that “prohibitions can be replaced by a definitional differentiation” and that “in many cases, this is brought about by the simultaneous investigation (analogous to that of Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries) of language-forms of different kinds—for instance, a definite and an indefinite language, or a language admitting and one not admitting the Law of Excluded Middle.”
For our part, we defend a synthetic position. Namely that the principles of formal logic are admittedly conventional and that they, admittedly, cannot be proven ontologically; but that while coming as strict convention (instead of serving as objective criteria of what is objectively senseful or insane among the conceivable modes of argumentation), they are nevertheless confrontable with the noticed or soundly conjectured reality, which corroborates them (in default of confirming them objectively) and allows their gradual improvement as they are objectively refuted.
We believe the same applies to moral principles: at least those instrumental (rather than the categorical moral principles), including those designed for the purpose of a “good, viable” life in society. Whereas the categorical moral principles cannot be put to the test (since what is can neither confirm nor invalidate what must be categorically), the instrumental moral principles are confrontable with the reality observed or reasonably conjectured, which is able to refute them and help their enhancement (and even, perhaps, able to confirm them for some of them).
As regards more particularly the rules of law (among the instrumental moral principles effectively contributing to the “good life” in society), we believe that the Aristotelian jusnaturalist approach—ignoring the muddy, chimerical conceptions of a reason folded in on itself and endeavoring to identify, more modestly, the normal rules of law, functional with regard to the natural order (as a scrupulous observation reveals it and as a solidly corroborated imagination guesses it), and those which transgress the order of nature—is transposable and adaptable to a cosmos subject to intra-species biocultural evolution and inter-species biological evolution. It is true that liberalism lays claim to the observation of human nature to prove the alleged objectivity of its categorical ethical principle for the shaping of law (i.e., the categorical moral law of non-aggression), as well as of his conception of the “good life” and of the instrumental ethical principles associated with it. But the idea that it has of human nature is a fantasy and owes nothing to observation or to solidly corroborated imagination. We will come back to that subject elsewhere.
The Fallaciousness Of The Hoppean Criticism Of Logical Empiricism
In addition to his vain pretension to demonstrate the objectivity and the apodicticity of the categorical principle of non-aggression, and his most complete hermetism with regard to a jusnaturalist approach which be properly of Aristotelian obedience, Hoppe is mistaken on logical empiricism. And makes unjustified accusations against the Vienna Circle, the idea he has of the latter coming as a straw man.
The Hoppean argument against logical empiricism (presented in his article “Austrian rationalism in the age of the decline of positivism”) consists of presenting as self-contradictory the claim that any proposition is either a contentless, analytically true proposition, or a synthetic, empirically true proposition, or a normative proposition—so that the knowledge of the world can have no apodictic basis. And the claim that knowledge is always hypothetical to the point that experience can never have any value when it comes to assessing our theories. It turns out that each of two claims is neither self-contradictory nor attributable to the Vienna Circle’s logical empiricists. The first claim implicitly conceives of itself as a synthetic proposition, what is fully coherent with the tripartition it proposes. As for the second claim, it implicitly supposes that it comes as an exception to the rule it formulates: hence it escapes self-contradiction as well.
While the notion that analytical truths are contentless is, indeed, characteristic of the Vienna Circle, the latter nonetheless believed that logical laws served as an apodictic foundation for science. While Wittgenstein (who was not intellectually, institutionally affiliated to the Circle) conceived of the analytical truths as exhibiting the structure of the universe, in default of being endowed with signification, it seems to us that neither Rudolf Carnap nor any other member of the Circle came to endorse the view that analytically true propositions (such as “a bachelor is unmarried” or “two plus two makes four”) served as factual statements. The fact still remains that they did not reject the idea of an apodictic, a priori foundation for science as Hoppe claims. As for the idea that experience is wholly impotent regarding the confirmation of knowledge, it is not more characteristic of the Viennese empiricism—whose research agenda was precisely to show how experience could assess in probabilistic or instrumentalist terms the truth of a scientific statement.
That said, Carnap would come to conceive of formal logic in conventionalist terms. While Karl Popper would come to dismiss induction and to conceive of experience as able only to weaken our theories—and Willard Van Orman would come to dismiss the distinction between analytical and synthetic truths and to conceive of experience as unable to confront our propositions taken in isolation. The Vienna Circle’s project, i.e., the project of establishing the reducibility of meaningful statements to science and the reducibility of any scientific proposition to an empirically testable proposition, was admittedly a failure. But that project had nothing to do with the Hoppean description of the aforesaid project.
Praxeology In The Misesian Sense
Along with jusnaturalism in the Rothbardian or Randian sense, evolutionism in the Hayekian sense, or the Hoppean claim of the non-aggression principle’s apodicticity, praxeology in the Misesian sense constitutes one of the mirages of contemporary liberalism—about which one can say that one of its wrongs is to prefer the illusions of Ludwig von Mises to the clairvoyance of Vilfredo Pareto. Unwittingly, sociology in the Paretian sense addresses and demystifies each of the major axes of Mises’s theoretical edifice.
Praxeology in the Misesian sense, not content with claiming to elaborate propositions a priori true (in the sense of being true by reason of their sole terms), intends to focus exclusively on the structure of human action—and to deduce, progressively, its theoretical corpus from the sole proposition that humans act (in the sense of giving oneself ends and of choosing and using means with regard to the aforesaid ends). Besides, it denies the existence of human instincts and therefore their interference with human action (be it the determination of ends or the choice and handling of means), apart from an alleged instinctual effort of the part of every man to achieve the idea he has of greater happiness.
While denying, in that regard, that the field of the “sociology of instincts” (what, nowadays, would rather be called “sociobiology” or “evolutionary psychology”) can have any relevance, Mises envisages what he calls the “categories” of human action (i.e., the structures inherent in any particular human action) as the fruit of biological evolution in a context of selection by the natural environment. Thus, he paradoxically anticipates what is the fundamental credo of evolutionary psychology as it stands: namely the computational theory of the human mind, i.e., the theory that the human mind is fundamentally composed of “modules” dedicated to information processing, anchored into the human brain, and selected over the course of our species’ genetic evolution.
When it comes to the constitution of human civilizations, Misesian praxeology considers the division of labor as the most fundamental of social bonds: the very cement of society (what does not mean that it denies the rest of social ties, but that it recognizes a secondary place for them). As for the idea that Misesian praxeology has of progress, it notably sees in it the enhancement of the social division of labor (and of the human mutual aid operated within it) via the development of economic institutions (including money)—and via the substitution of “cooperation through contractual bonds” to “cooperation through hegemonic bonds.”
Misesian Praxeology’s Epistemological Claims—And Their Fallaciousness
Since none of the methodological claims of praxeology in Mises’s sense are realistic, none can prove compliant with the actual approach of Mises or his followers. Admittedly, it seems, the facts pertaining to the structure of human action—for instance, the successive assignment of a subjectively homogenous good’s acquired units to less and less priority objectives—are self-evident by reason of the nature of those very facts. But that apparent self-obviousness is precisely an attribute of those discovered facts (which, nonetheless, become self-evident only once they have been discovered and described); not a property of the proposition describing them. If one subscribes to first-order formal logic, the latter is not an apodictic proposition either—given it cannot be reduced to a tautology in the sense of first-order logic, i.e., a proposition which remains true whatever the distribution of truth values.
As for the discovery of the structural facts pertaining to human action, introspection allows us to notice that the discovery process admittedly requires deduction (notably from the proposition that men act); but that deduction is far from being sufficient for the aforesaid process and that a supplement of observation and intuition is both possible and indispensable for it. Most often, the Misesian praxeologist’s inquisitive mind only gives, a posteriori, a hierarchized, axiomatic-deductive presentation to the theories it previously acquired (via inculcation, intuition, or observation), what amounts to assembling the previously discovered pieces of a dispersed puzzle.
The methodological principle that praxeology (and therefore economics as a branch of the latter) only deals with the structure of human action is just as disproven via the examination of the theoretical propositions subsumed by praxeology (at least, in its Misesian version). Outside the praxeological edifice’s most fundamental propositions (such as the assertion that any engaged action tries to select the most suited means and endeavors to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs to a less satisfactory one), praxeology and economics actually deal with the content of (the different types of) human action: especially the content of the type of human action known as entrepreneurship.
Why Pareto (And Not Mises)?
Sociology in the Paretian sense sets itself the implicit goal of covering both the structure of human action (with Pareto’s distinction between actions that are logically structured and those with an illogical structure) and its content, Pareto endeavoring notably to identify the nature of the instinctual “residues” which dictate—often surreptitiously—human ends, as well as the means mobilized for those ends; and that very often generate “illogical actions.”
While Mises conceives of praxeology as a strictly deductive approach whose starting point merges with the sole affirmation that man acts (in the sense of pursuing ends and mobilizing means), Pareto conceives of the study of human action as “logico-experimental,” that is to say, it is focused exclusively on observation and induction. Both converge as concerns the idea that human actions are not necessarily logical and that they sometimes—especially as a result of reasoning processes disoriented by emotion—adapt improperly the choice (and use) of means to the pursued ends.
Mises nevertheless limits himself to identifying rationality’s instrumental function (i.e., the function of determining the respective content of ends and means), while Pareto proposes a more extended analysis of rationality which identifies—in addition to the instrumental function of rationality—a concealment function, which consists of developing fictitious justifications for our illogical acts with the idea of passing off them as coherent. Besides, Mises, quoting Ludwig Feuerbach on that occasion, denies human instincts (and their incidence in human action) apart from a general “instinct of happiness,” while Pareto, thus anticipating sociobiology, imputes human emotions—and the illogicality they do not fail to introduce into our actions—to a web of instincts that we share very widely with animals.
Apart from the methodological pretensions, Pareto is quite superior to Mises on each of the above-mentioned points: Pareto’s only naivety is to believe that the effective methodology of his “sociology” is strictly “logical-experimental,” while the involved process mobilizes intuition and deduction as much as induction. As we have noted above, Mises’ pretension to resorting exclusively to deduction (from the sole assertion that man acts) is not less chimerical—himself coupling actually deduction with induction, as well as with intuition.
Let us add that, unlike Mises, in whose eyes the effect of any economic law is strictly independent of the social context of economic actions, Pareto rightly points out that economic laws—while remaining absolute—see the interdependence between economy and (the rest of) society countering the effect of those very laws. Protectionism thus causing a recomposition of political and industrial elites for the benefit of those individuals the most gifted to encourage the nation’s industrial development, what potentially compensates for the loss income linked to protectionism. Besides, Mises mistakenly imagines the social division of labor, and therefore economic facts, to be the only cement of society, and therefore the most fundamental social fact of all; while Pareto not less lucidly remarks that in addition to the social division of labor, the cement of society also includes, at least, the juridical hierarchical order within which the struggle for political preeminence is constantly being played out.
Yet another cleavage relates to the possibility for human action to create a world leaving behind it the interindividual (or interstate) struggle for physical power and the associated expropriation. Pareto admittedly recognizes a slow progress in the direction of a greater rationality of human actions—in the senses of greater objectivity in knowledge of the world, and greater skill in the choice and the use of means. An impression which emerges from his work is nonetheless that the “cycle of elites” capturing physical power and expropriating the good of others constitutes in his eyes a timeless trait of human societies.
For his part, Mises has the naivety to believe possible, if not inevitable, the entry of humanity into an era in which men will have abandoned the quest for physical power (including political) and in which the violence of states will subsist only to protect persons and their goods (and to chastise assassins and thugs). Thus, he stands at the midpoint of the millennialist hopes of his anarchist heirs (including Murray Rothbard), who believe to be feasible and even inevitable the coming entry of humanity into an era in which states themselves will have disappeared, the protection of persons and goods finding itself henceforth taken charge of by organizations without a coercive monopoly.
Conclusion—And Clarifying Natural Law And Quantum Physics
The revealability of a proposition via a performative contradiction (in the sense of the saying of statements that contradict a proposition whose endorsement is both supposed and manifested by the action accompanying the saying of those statements) is not equivalent to a tautological character nor equivalent to the reducibility to a tautology, i.e., a proposition true for any distribution of truth values in first-order logic. Just like the fact of conforming to certain logic laws or certain moral laws in a given argumentation intended to debunk those very laws does not render them apodictic. Hoppe’s case for the apodicticity of the non-aggression principle, i.e., the principle that no one is entitled to exert coercion toward someone or his non-violently acquired property, is not less fallacious than is his pretension to align the positive legal rules with a categorical, objective norm.
Basically, Hoppe does not better understand natural law (i.e., law based on nature) than do liberal jusnaturalists—even though he avoids the fallacious deducing of an ought from an is. Natural law should not be understood as apodictic, nor should it be understood as an objective categorical principle serving as a universal model for positive law. Natural law is admittedly objective; but it is neither categorical, nor distinct from positive law, nor applicable to the individual (taken independently of society), nor totally universal, nor discoverable a priori. Instead, it comes as a certain modality of positive law: namely those of positive legal rules which effectively contribute to the survival and functionality of a given society in view of the biocultural specificities of that society; but also in view of human nature (as it has been made by biological evolution) and in view of the cosmic order in which any human society takes place.
In other words, natural law is a hypothetical rather than categorical norm. It serves as an imperative required for the survival and functionality of a given society (in intergroup competition). Far from being external to positive law or applicable to the individual taken independently of society, it is only applicable to society and serves as positive rules of law effective for the success of a given society in intergroup competition. Besides, it is partly universal, partly circumstantial. It is universal when it comes to those positive rules of law which, to contribute to the success of society (in terms of survival and functionality), take into account human nature or the cosmic order. It is circumstantial when it comes to those positive legal rules which, in order to contribute to the success of society (in terms of survival and functionality), take into account the biological specificities of a given society or the cultural traditions of said society. Those same traditions finding themselves constrained to take into account human nature, cosmic order, and the biological specificities to ensure the success of said society (in terms of survival and functionality).
Natural law is not discovered via conjectures independent of experience. Instead, reason discovers it—imperfectly—via careful and comparative observation of the different human societies; as well as via the identification of the functional societies and those dysfunctional (as concerns their rules of law) and via the connection of functionality (and dysfunctionality) to cosmic order and to human nature such as observation and solidly corroborated imagination allow us to conceive them. In a sense, the same applies to logical laws—namely that they are not discovered via a priori, independent conjectures (i.e., conjectures which are both independent of experience and independent of science), but via conjectures both confronted to the experienced reality and to the scientifically, solidly conjectured reality. In that sense, Quine’s epistemological holism, i.e., the claim that experience only confronts a theoretical edifice (from its logical laws to its protocol sentences) taken as a full-fledged unit, is true.
As for praxeology such as devised and bequeathed by Mises, it is inept for many reasons: including its apodictic pretension; its rejection of the interference of instincts with human action; its frivolous treatment of the difference between rational and irrational actions (which ignores Pareto’s residues and derivations); its ignorance of the interdependence between economic and social facts; or its laicized millennialism. But also, its restriction of the field of action (i.e., the field of behaviours defining and deciding to reach some goals, and determining and using some means for those goals) to human beings alone.
Instead of action being unique to conscious beings (and a fortiori humans), quarks, atoms, bacteria, and the cosmos itself (taken as a whole) have made decisions and acted long before the onset of consciousness—as our friend Howard Bloom says in essence. A particle takes decision about the selection and the realization (via quantum decoherence) of one of the different states it simultaneously maintains—just like a homo sapiens when acting selects and realizes one of the possible futures of his action. And just like the cosmos itself has been deciding at each incremental level of emergence—starting with the emergence (known as inflation) which saw the cosmos going from nothingness to immensity and accomplishing a primordial decoherence, i.e., a primordial decision as to the one of the simultaneous states which would be retained.
Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. His work and interviews often appear in the Postil.
The featured image shows, “La récolte des pommes à Éragny (Apple harvest at Eragny),” by Camille Pissarro, painted in 1888.
You have several times said you intend to be the President for all the people in the United States, not only those who voted for you. You have expressed yourself as wanting to bring us all together, to unite the country. Well and good. If 2021 were a little less “interesting” than 2020 due to such efforts of yours, most Americans would be extremely grateful.
So, a few suggestions, if I may, as to how to accomplish this task; mainly, by leaning over backward and complimenting Mr. Trump and his many followers. Stop thinking about your first debate with him. I have no doubt it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth. No one likes to be bullied, and he was certainly guilty of just that. Think, instead, if you must, of the second debate.
What, specifically, can you do, and not do?
First, do not move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem. Instead, welcome this change, promised by several of Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but never fulfilled. Thank him for that; it wouldn’t kill you.
Second, you missed a bet when you changed the name of your predecessor’s vaccine program from “Warp Speed.” Why alienate Star Trek fans? Why not give at least partial credit where partial credit is due? What’s in a name? “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It is not now too late to reverse course on this error of yours. Reinstitute that name, and pursue whatever policies on this front you deem best. You do want to bring the country back together again. You don’t want to sacrifice much of anything substantive to you, right? The name change costs you virtually nothing. It will seem big of you to admit a mistake, and rectify it.
Third, express appreciation for the Trump administration’s successes in the Middle East. Thanks to him, and it, Israel is now on far better terms with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Morocco. Nancy Pelosi dismissed all of this as a “distraction.” Well, that was then, this is now. If she refuses to retract this statement, you, at least, can take a different and more conciliatory tack.
Fourth, spurn revenge. According to a recent headline: “Actress Debra Messing Vows Ad Boycott for Any TV Show or Network that Platforms Kayleigh McEnany.” Stated this actress: “If I ever see [Kayleigh McEnany] on a panel on a news show or hired by a network, I am immediately ceasing to support every single advertiser on that network…” The same applies to the initiative to prohibit book deals for outgoing members of the Trump administration on the part of high profile Democrats in the publishing industry.
You can have your “Sister Souljah” moment on this issue if you publicly reject this type of initiative. You, of course, cannot stop the likes of Debra Messing, Alyssa Milano and Dave Bautista for lashing out at Trump supporters. But you can publicly take a different path.
It sends entirely the wrong signal to punish White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She is not responsible for what you see as the shortcomings of the 45th president of the U.S. Even if she were, this sends entirely the wrong signal in your healing effort.
Fifth, Mr. Trump favored increasing the stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. This is certainly in line with your principles. Acknowledge this. Show him, and us, your mettle.
Sixth, adopt the “Make America Great” motto as your own. Buy into it. It is only a slogan. Doing so will not in the slightest deter you from what you want to accomplish. Might as well implement your program under this rubric as well as any other. Score some additional points with an opposition in this way rendered more loyal.
Seventh, if you really want to unify our country, not only do not support the arrest of Donald Trump, but actually grant him a pardon for any criminal acts of which he might in the future be accused! If this doesn’t bring about domestic peace, then nothing will. I full well realize this would be a gigantic step for you. There are those in the Democratic Party who will deprecate you for any such overture. But just think of the optics of it! Yes, this is by far the most radical of my suggestions. This makes the first half dozen an easy sell! This will bring discomfort to many, including left-wing documentary filmmaker Michael Moore who said: “we are not done with him… Trial. Conviction. Imprisonment. He must pay for his actions – a first-ever for him.” That is no way to promote unity.
Eighth, China has just announced sanctions against 28 Trump officials and their families. Included is Pompeo who has sharply criticized China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Here’s a no-brainer way to promote unity: sharply rebuke the government of the People’s Republic of China for this initiative of theirs. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified this action based on “crazy actions that have gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
Ninth and last, the elephant in the room: how to react to the second impeachment of the 45th president of the U.S.? This is a tough one. Let us break this up into two aspects: short and long run unity. In the former case, if the 46th president of the U.S. were to strongly signal he opposes this effort, that would clearly bring about short run unity. It would take much of the wind out of the sails of the die-hard Trump supporters. They would be grateful, and their opposition to the legitimacy of the Biden election would atrophy at least somewhat. On the other hand, another failed impeachment would enable now private citizen Trump to run for president in 2024, continue to mold public opinion, remain as the titular head of the Republican Party. To say that this would undermine unity would be an understatement of large proportions. My prudential judgement: the short run outweighs the long run; therefore you should put a spoke in the wheel of this effort.
P.S. If you’ll forgive my informality, here’s an “attaboy” to you for characterizing the letter left to you by your predecessor as “ very generous.”
Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The featured image shows, “A Man Writing at his Desk,” by Jan Ekels, panted in 1784.
In the September 11, 2020 issue of the New York Times, Kurt Anderson wrote a critique of Milton Friedman entitled, “How Liberals Opened the Door to Libertarian Economics.” There are numerous errors in Anderson’s assessment. Let us try to correct at least some of them.
He starts off on the wrong foot, characterizing Friedman’s view as “extreme free-market libertarianism.” In the libertarian movement of Ludwig von Mises, Murray N. Rothbard, Ron Paul and Robert Nozick, the 1986 Nobel Prize winner in economics was regarded (along with his fellow University of Chicago colleague, Friedrich A. Hayek) as a very moderate supporter of free enterprise, barely a libertarian. One market fundamentalist libertarian commentator even probed, seriously, as to whether or not Friedman was a socialist, given his many and serious deviations from pure laissez faire capitalism (the negative income tax, tax withholding, anti-trust, support for school vouchers and the Fed, rejection of gold as money). No one who claims “We’re all Keynesians now” can be located at the furthest reaches of free enterprise.
It, of course, cannot be denied that Prof. Friedman opposed unions – they unfairly restrict entry into the labor market; that he wanted fewer pernicious business regulations; and he opposed socialist medicine. He was as least a moderate supporter of economic freedom after all.
Mr. Anderson states, “The New Deal … out of which our well-functioning, prosperous postwar political economy grew.” Not so, not so. It grew in spite of this policy, not because of it. This Hoover-Roosevelt bout of economic interventionism prolonged the depression of 1929 for a decade. Compare this to the depression of 1921 which lasted months, not years, as a result of a “do nothing” (don’t interfere in the market) governmental policy.
Our author conflates libertarianism and libertinism. The former maintains that “capitalist acts between consenting adults” in the felicitous phraseology of Robert Nozick, all of them, commercial ones and also those regarding drugs and sex, should be legal, but takes no position whatsoever as to whether or not these practices should be followed. The latter urges participation in them, the weirder, the better.
Mr. Anderson characterizes the desire to maximize profits as “coldheartedness,” lacking “decency or virtue,” “selfish, callous and reckless,” and sets as the ideal operating “somewhere in the broad range between break-even and absolute-maximum profitability…” In doing so, he demonstrates a lack of understanding of this economic phenomenon. When a hiker is lost in the woods, in order to be rescued he shouts, “Help” (whether verbally or in some other way). Accepting “slightly smaller profit margins” when a businessman could maximize them is akin to imposing a decibel control over the endangered hiker. Profits are in effect a cry for help. When a firm accepts lower profits than were otherwise obtainable, it is reducing the economic welfare of the very “employees, customers, communities, society at large” championed by stakeholder supporters.
Jones now earns 5% profit. How could he increase this rate? Why, by producing more of what consumers are clamoring for. If he sticks to the status quo, he will not be rescuing as many “lost hikers” as he could have. True, he could also increase profits by lowering salaries. But if he decreases them below marginal revenue productivity levels, he will lose his best employees and reduce profits, not increase them. Profits can be maximized by paying optimal compensation, not a penny more, but not a penny less, either. Yes, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, are the true heroes, and only economic illiterates can fail to see this primordial point. Friedman is to be congratulated for trying to educate people in that regard.
No, it is simply not true that in Friedman’s view that “Any virtuous act by businesses beyond what the law requires is simpering folly.” Rather, it is fraud. Suppose you deposit your money in a bank, and the officer of that institution gives these funds to good charitable, stakeholder, causes. Not kosher! It is one thing to be kind and generous with your own property. It is quite another, to do so with other people’s wealth. That is a violation of the fiduciary relationship of the savings institution. The CEO has a responsibility to the shareholder, not to the stakeholder. There is nothing wrong, a la Friedman, with both of them, all of us, with being “decent” and “virtuous” with our own money. But the very opposite obtains when accomplished with, in effect, stolen cash.
Mr. Anderson attributes Friedman’s support of free enterprise to “screw-the-Establishment confrontationalism” of the Woodstock 1970s. I have known this Chicago economist for many decades and never did I discern even a whiff of this sort of thing. Who knew that my friend Milton was a secret hippie?
Our critic accuses Friedman of wanting to “rewrite the social contract.” But no one ever signed this “contract,” so it is without any legal power to control our lives. He all but criticizes him of hypocrisy for using “his noncommercial government-subsidized PBS platform to argue that the Food and Drug Administration, public schools, labor unions and federal taxes, among other bêtes noires, were bad for America.” But Friedman also used public parks, the U.S. post office, museums, sidewalks, even though he might have wanted to privatize them.
Mr. Anderson, presumably, is an egalitarian. Yet, he undoubtedly lives in a nice neighborhood, has a quality car, air conditioning, color tv, a computer. Why doesn’t he give most of this away to the poor? But a retort is open to Friedman: The government financed these amenities, in part, with Friedman’s tax dollars. He is hence justified in using them. Mr. Anderson has no such defense against the charge of hypocrisy.
To the extent that Friedman can take credit for Gordon Gekko (greed is good), it is a feather in his cap. Here, Mr. Anderson’s target is merely channeling Adam Smith’s “invisible hand;” a basic premise of economics: People are led by the lure of profits to cooperate with others for mutual gain. The “Wealth of Nations” is based on just this sort of consideration.
Our critic is particularly exercised about a “S.E.C. rule change (which) effectively gave free rein to public companies … to buy up shares of their own stock on the open market in order to jack up the price.” But what, pray tell, is wrong with voluntary exchanges of this or any other sort, which are necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense, and usually so ex post? He is also upset that “U.S. executive pay … shifted from consisting mainly of salary and bonus to mainly stock and stock options.” Banks sometimes give out toasters and radios to depositors. Must all financing consist of cash? There are also good and sufficient reasons for this alteration in terms of taxation and the aligning of incentives.
Our critic then bewails the fact that “the richest 10th of us have 84 percent of all stock shares owned by Americans, and a ravaged economy in which the stock market is close to an all-time high.” Should we also regret that a similar proportion of NBA players are African American? Thomas Sowell, a student of Milton Friedman’s, has done more than any other economist to pierce the myth that if strict proportionality does not prevail everywhere, it is untoward.
Mr. Anderson mentions “the full Friedmanization of our economy for the last four decades (which) has generated such greed-driven extremes of inequality, insecurity and immobility that the system is now on a path that looks crazily self-destructive.” This man is living in a dream world. Full Friedmanization would include a world with no tariffs or interferences with free trade, the end of licensing, not only for hair braiders, Uber, AirBnB, but also for medical doctors! Governmental tax would be in the neighborhood of 10% not 50% of GDP. Such “destruction” of the economy, to the extent it exists, stems not from Friedman’s public policy proscriptions, but mainly from their rejection.
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He has taught at Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Baruch CUNY, Holy Cross and the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). He lectures widely on college campuses, delivers seminars around the world and appears regularly on television and radio shows. He is the Schlarbaum Laureate, Mises Institute, 2011; and has won the Loyola University Research Award (2005, 2008) and the Mises Institute’s Rothbard Medal of Freedom, 2005; and the Dux Academicus award, Loyola University, 2007. Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shook his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.
The image shows a portrait of Milton Friedman by Lindsay Mitchell.
We are greatly pleased and honored to present this conversation with Professor Walter Block, the leading libertarian thinker in the US. Professor Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of over two dozen books and more than 600 articles and reviews. Just recently, a petition was started by some Loyola students to have Professor Block fired for his “views.” Professor Block (WB) is here interviewed by Dr. N. Dass (ND), on behalf of the Postil.
ND: Welcome to the Postil, Professor Block. It is a pleasure to have you with us. For the benefit of our readers, who may not be aware of what has been happening to you at Loyola University, New Orleans, would you please tell us how the Cancel Culture decided to come after you?
WB: A Loyola student, M. C. Cazalas, who had never taken any class of mine, not ever once spoken to me, started a petition to get me fired for being a racist and a sexist. As of 8/5/20 she garnered 663 signatures, some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. An actual former student of mine, Anton Chamberlin, started a counter petition to get me a raise in salary. As of this date it has been signed by 5,646 people, again some of them Loyola students, but not all of them. I’m not likely to be fired for two reasons in addition to this gigantic signature disparity. One, I have tenure; that still means something, even in these politically correct times. Two, the president of Loyola University, Tanya Tetlow, bless her, responded to this get me fired initiative with a statement strongly supporting academic freedom and intellectual diversity. She and I do not see eye to eye on political economy, so this is even more of a credit to her than would otherwise be the case.
ND: What do you think lies behind this Cancel Culture? Is it a failure of education? Is it an excess of humanitarianism? Or, it is simply an expression of student radicalism, which has always been part-and-parcel of university life?
WB: My guess is that all of these explanations you mention play a role. According to that old aphorism, “If a man of 20 is not a socialist, he has no heart; if he is still a socialist at 50, he has no brain.” There must be something in human development that renders young people more vulnerable to socialism, cultural Marxism, cancel culture, snowflakeism, micro aggression fears, etc., than their elders. Unhappily, far too many middle aged and older people also succumb to the siren song of socialism. I think the general explanation for this general phenomenon is biological: most of us, except for a few free enterprise mutants, are hard-wired for government interventionism. A zillion years ago, when we were in the trees or in the caves, there was no biological benefit to be open to free enterprise, markets, capitalism. Hence, these genes had no comparative advantage.
ND: Should we regard Cancel Culture as dangerous? Is freedom really in peril? Such questions come to mind, given the tragic end of Professor Mike Adams.
WB: Yes, very dangerous. Economic Marxism was a dismal failure. Everyone can see the results in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, the old USSR, Eastern Europe, Mao’s China. But cultural Marxism is more insidious; it is more difficult to see its errors. Yes, there are racial and sexual divergences in wealth and income, and it is far too easy to attribute these results to economic freedom.
Poor Mike Adams. His is an extreme case, since he committed suicide, presumably due to the Cancel Culture. But apart from his demise, that case is only the veritable tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds if not thousands of academics who have been canceled, fired, forced to endure re-education camps, demoted, etc. The university with but very few exceptions is now a totally owned subsidiary of people who call themselves “progressives.” They really should be called “retrogressives” since they oppose civilization, freedom, prosperity. That is, they are really opponents of human progress.
ND: Lenin famously said that Communism was Socialism plus electrification. Likewise, can we say that the Cancel Culture is Socialism plus the Internet?
WB: Wow. That’s a good one. I wish I had thought of it. I’m grateful to you for sharing it with me. Before the internet, there were NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Between them, they almost totally dominated the culture; they had an important impact on the outlook of the nation. Now, with the internet, one would think there would be far more heterogeneity. And, to some degree, there is. But the main players, nowadays, that “Big Five” now plus the electronic major media, keep canceling out libertarian and conservative voices. This does not constitute censorship, only government can do that (on the other hand, it cannot be denied that they are dependent on the state for favoritism). But until and unless people with divergent views set up successful alternatives, the voices of the left will continue to dominate.
ND: The student petition against you cites, among other things, your supposed “defence” of slavery. Of course, this is a misunderstanding of your position. Perhaps you could clarify for our readers what you actually say about slavery, especially the concept of the voluntary slave contract, which indeed goes back to the Classical world.
WB: Suppose, God forbid, my child had a dread disease that would kill him. He could be saved, but only at the cost of $10 million. I do not have anything like that amount of money. You, on the other hand are very rich. You’ve long wanted me to be your slave. So, we make a deal. You give me these funds, which I turn over to the doctors who save my child’s life. Then, I come to your plantation to pick cotton, give you economics lessons. You may whip me even legally kill me if I displease you. As in all voluntary interactions, we both gain, at least ex ante. I value my son’s life more than my freedom. The difference between the two is my profit. You rank my servitude more highly than the money you must pay me for it, and you, likewise, gain the difference.
Is this a valid contract? Should it be enforced? This is highly controversial even in libertarian circles, but in my view, you should not be accused of assault and battery if you whip me, nor murder if you kill me, since I have given up my legal right to object (this is very different than indentured servitude, which does not allow for bodily harm).
In 2014 The New York Times interviewed me about libertarianism (they were doing a hit piece on Rand Paul), and I gave them this example as a hypothetical. They quoted me as saying that actual slavery, of the sort that existed in the US up until 1865, was legitimate. I sued them for libel. We settled the case. I received monetary compensation, plus an addendum to their original article. It reads as follows: “Editors’ Note: Aug. 7, 2018. An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the views of Walter Block on slavery. While Mr. Block has said that the daily life of slaves was ‘not so bad,’ he opposes slavery because it is involuntary, and he believes reparations should be paid.”
I defended, only, this hypothetical slavery, in order to draw out the logical implications of voluntary interaction. As for actual slavery, it is an abomination, an evil, a horrid rights violation. That the New York Times would write as if I favored the latter, when I only supported the former, certainly counts as “fake news.”
ND: Given the fact that you are the foremost libertarian thinker in the US today, and your book series, Defending the Undefendable I and II, which came out in 1976 and 2008 respectively, is widely regarded as a libertarian “cult classic,” from a libertarian perspective, is Cancel Culture a just use of political and social coercion?
WB: You are very kind to say that of me. Thank you. There is no one who hates cancel culture more than me. I am tempted to say that it is coercive. It is, but only indirectly. Suppose all universities, without exception, were privately owned, and under the control of faculties and administrations all of whom were leftists. They did not relish heterogeneity of opinion, and thus only hired professors, outside speakers, invited visiting scholars, who represented their viewpoint. Would this be coercive? Of course not. People should have the right to do as they wish with their private property, provided, only, they did not violate the persons or property rights of others. Religious organizations, nudists, tennis players, all have the right to exclude those who do not subscribe to their tenets. However, the cloven hoof of government is all over the educational system. It is based on coercive taxation. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Money mulcted from the long-suffering taxpayer is funneled into institutions of higher learning, where Marxist studies, feminist studies, black studies, queer studies, are the order of the day. It is only due to coercive taxes that Cancel Culture is coercive; but for this element, it would not be.
Of course, without government putting its big fat thumb all over education, there would be more intellectual diversity in this industry. So the cure for the Cancel Culture is separation of education and state, similar to what all men of good will support in another arena: separation of church and state.
ND: This brings us to the nature of education itself. Is there a proper libertarian theory of education, given the underlying libertarian idea that any acceptance of an institution is enslaving?
WB: Yes, there is indeed a proper libertarian theory of education: it should be totally privatized. My motto is, “If it moves privatize it, if it doesn’t move, privatize it; since everything either moves or does not move, privatize everything.” I have applied this aphorism to pretty much everything under the sun in my publications, including streets and highways, rivers and oceans, space travel and heavenly bodies. Certain, I would include education under this rubric. Information generation should be as private as bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. You want some, pay for it. You want to offer your services in this regard? Open up a school and attract customers.
But what about the poor? Will they not get an education? Of course they will. They obtain bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes and cars; schooling would not be an exception. For people who are too poor, the tradition in private education, at whatever level, was to award scholarships to bright recipients. There would be no such thing as compulsory education (a 12 year prison sentence for those whose inclination leads them to want to work instead), any more than there should be compulsory purchase of bubble gum, haircuts, piano lessons, shoes or cars. Any acceptance of any coercive institution may not be enslaving (we should reserve that word for far more serious rights violations), but it is despicable. Education should not be an exception to the general rule of privatization.
ND: Perhaps we can draw back a little and turn to some larger issues. You describe yourself as an Austrian School economist. Would you please explain what that is?
WB: Austrian economics has no more to do with that country than Chicago School economics involves that city. It is so named because its originators, Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Mises, Hayek, all were born there. It is sometimes called the free enterprise school of thought, since the public policy recommendations of virtually all of its practitioners strongly support economic freedom, private property rights, laissez faire capitalism. But Austrianism is an exercise in positive economics, not the normative variety.
Its main contribution is that economics, properly understood, is not an empirical science, but, rather, an exercise in pure logic. It starts with certain basic premises which are necessary and undeniable, and deduces all of economics from them. For example, man acts. To deny this is itself to perform a human action; therefore the criticism necessarily fails. Austrian economics consists of synthetic a priori statements, which are both necessarily true and also have real world implications; they explicate economic reality.
We have already mentioned one of them above: all voluntary trade is necessarily mutually beneficial at least in the ex ante sense. Here is a more pedestrian example. I buy a shirt for $25. I inescapably value it more highly than that amount, otherwise I would not buy it. Well, there was something about that shirt, maybe not the shirt itself, that I ranked in that manner. Perhaps I had pity for the shirt salesman, or wanted a favor of him, etc. Ditto for him. He valued my money more than the shirt, so he also profited. The Marxists might say this is (mutual?) exploitation (perhaps the richer person always takes advantage of the poorer one?), but this is abject nonsense. Voluntary exchange is not a zero sum game, where the winnings of the winners must equal the losings of the losers. No, in commercial interaction, both parties gain, otherwise they would not agree to participate.
Since laissez faire capitalism consists of nothing more or less than the concatenation of all such events (buying, selling, renting, lending, borrowing, gift giving), we may conclude is it necessarily beneficial to all participants. True, ex post either party may later come to regret the commercial interaction, but that is entirely a different matter. Can we test this economic law? The mainstream would aver that if we cannot, it is not a matter of science. Well, yes, it is not a matter of empirical science, rather, it is an aspect of logic. No one in his right mind “tests” the Pythagorean Theorem, or that triangles have three sides or the claim that 2+2=4. But that doesn’t mean these laws are not “scientific” in the sense of providing important true knowledge about reality.
Austrians also disagree with mainstream economists on a whole host of other issues. For example, monetarism (we tend to favor free market money, not fiat currency), business cycles (we claim they emanate from government money and interest rate mismanagement, not markets), monopoly and anti trust (Austrians see no role for the latter), indifference, cardinal versus ordinal utility, interpersonal comparisons of utility (mainstreamers support, Austrians oppose).
ND: The term “fiat money” is much bandied about nowadays. Is the concept of fiat money misunderstood or misused, given that money as the legal tender of a state does give paper money legitimacy as a medium of exchange? Or do you think such legitimacy does not exist?
WB: Milton Friedman was the host of the justly famous “Free to Choose” television series. However, when it comes to monetary matters, this scholar’s views are not at all compatible with that title. Most times when people were really free to choose the financial intermediary which overcomes the double coincidence of wants, they selected gold (and sometimes silver). Nevertheless, Friedman was a fervent opponent of this free market money. Why? Because it costs resources to dig it up initially, and more to store it. These expenses could be almost entirely obviated with fiat money, created by the printing press and/or central banking, he argued. But shoes, fences, chairs, also cost money. The proper question is not Can we reduce expenses? Rather, it is, whether or not these outlays are worth it? Even more important, the issue is, Who gets to choose whether or not they are worthwhile? Central planning oriented Friedman chose to ignore the decision in favor of gold of the free market; he urged the imposition of fiat currency.
Why do statists support this type of currency? There are three and only three ways for the state to raise funds. First, taxes. But everyone knows full well, even low information voters, who is responsible for that. Hint: it is not the private sector. Second, borrowing. Ok, those with the meanest intelligence might not be too sure of who is behind this mode of finance; but everyone else knows it is the government. Third, fiat money, created out of the thin air by the state apparatus. The beauty, here, from the point of view of the centralists, is that the resulting inflation can be blamed on all and sundry: on capitalist greed, on nasty consumers buying too much, even on otherwise beloved labor unions. Economists in the pay of government always stand ready to demonstrate that the correlation between prices rising and the stock of fiat currency in circulation is not a perfect one. Well, of course it is not, given varying expectations. But it is an insight of praxeology, the Austrian method, that the more money in circulation, other things equal, the higher prices will be.
ND: Much of your work centers upon anarcho-capitalism. Would you explain how you understand this concept, and why you feel it is important? And how would you answer the charge that anarcho-capitalism is utopian?
WB: Anarchism is important, because one of the basic building blocks of the entire libertarian edifice is the non-aggression principle (NAP). This means that all human interaction should be voluntary. No one should coerce anyone else. But the government, necessarily, engages in taxation. That is, it levies compulsory payments. One of the beauties of libertarianism is its uncompromising logic. Its willingness, nay, passion, to apply the NAP to all economic actors, with no exceptions. Well, if we apply the NAP to the state, we can see that the latter fails. Oh, their apologizers have all sorts of excuses. The income tax is really voluntary. Tell that to the IRS! That taxes are akin to club dues. Yes, if you join the tennis or golf club, you have to pay dues. But you agreed to do so. In sharp contrast, no one ever contracted to be part of the US “club.”
The “capitalist” part of “anarcho-capitalism” is also important. It distinguishes us from the left wing or socialist anarchists such as Noam Chomsky. They oppose the government, to their credit, but would also outlaw profits, money, private property, charging interest for loans, etc., in violation of the NAP. It also, very importantly, separates us from the Antifa and Black Lives Matter anarchists who are currently trying to take over streets, highways, and large swaths of Seattle, Portland and other US cities. They, too, oppose free enterprise.
Is anarcho capitalism utopian? Well, yes, I think it is in some sense. That is, due to my understanding of sociobiology, I don’t think a majority of people are now capable of living up to the NAP which underlies this system. On the other hand, the nations of the world are now in an anarchistic (not anarcho-capitalist) relationship with one another. A state of anarchy now prevails between Argentina and Austria, between Brazil and Burundi, between Canada and China, etc. That is, there is no world government controlling their interactions. The only way to solve this anarchism would be to install a world government. So anarchism is not utopian in the sense that very few people would want to go down that path.
WB: I don’t reconcile it at all. I am a big fan of all the scholars you mention. On a personal matter, it was Ayn Rand who converted me to a position of limited government libertarianism, or minarchism. I met her while I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, and, then, a blissfully ignorant enthusiast of socialism. I have learned from all of the authors you mention. However, they are all statists, of a limited variety to be sure, but statists, nonetheless. Instead, I would say that the thinker now most crucial to libertarianism in general, and to anarcho capitalism in particular, is Murray N. Rothbard. I am a Rothbardian, and I follow him in rejecting the criticisms of anarcho capitalism offered by the half dozen scholars listed above.
ND: In your important analysis of the pay-gap between men and women, you have come under fire from feminists who say that you do not take into account that as supposed patriarchy disappears, the pay-gap decreases. What do you say to such critics?
WB: Thanks for your characterization of my analysis. Actually, I have done only just a little bit of actual research on this matter. Rather, I am a follower of Gary Becker, Thomas Sowell, and Walter E. Williams on this issue who have done far more than I on this matter. I will take credit, however, for popularizing this analysis.
What’s going on here? Roughly, there is a sexual pay gap of some 30%. This means, again on average, that for every $10 a man earns, a woman’s pay is $7. What determines wages in the first place? Productivity. This divergence should not raise hackles when it occurred two centuries ago. Why not? Because male productivity then way higher than female. Most jobs required physical strength, and men, again only typically, are stronger than women.
But nowadays, very few employment slots require brute strength. So why does the gap still occur? It is simple; wives do the lion’s share of housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, child care, shopping, etc. But everything we do comes at the expense of not being able to do other things as well, if at all. Ussain Bolt is the fastest sprinter on the planet, but he is not a good cellist; Yo Yo Ma plays that instrument exquisitely, but his time in the 100 meters is nothing to brag about. This marital asymmetry specialization, alone, explains virtually all of this 30% pay gap.
There are two bits of evidence that support this contention.
Yes, the pay gap between all men and women is some 30%. But that between ever married males and females, people who are now married, widowed, separated, or divorced, is much higher. It varies, but is something like 60%. What is the pay gap between men and women who have never been touched by the institution of marriage? They are not married, widowed, separated or divorced. It is zero. Let me repeat that. There is no pay gap here. Now, in actual research, you never find 100% equality. A more accurate way of putting this is that the ratio between male and female earnings ranges from something like 90% to 110%, depending upon country, age, occupation, schooling, etc. But, for all intents and purposes the gap simply does not exist for the never marrieds.
Here is a second bit of evidence countering the claim that free enterprise is inherently sexist. Suppose this gap really were due to discrimination against women. Then, we would have a situation where the productivity of both genders was $10, but the fairer sex was paid only $7. But this would mean that industries where women predominate would be more profitable than others. There is no evidence supporting this. It would also imply that extra profits could be garnered ($3 per hour) from hiring a woman. As entrepreneurs added women to their payrolls, their wages would inevitably rise. To what level? To equality, since pay scales tend to reflect productivity, which we now assume are equal. But we see no indication that firms are beating the bushes to employ more women, except, recently, when the virus of virtue signalling began to predominate.
If patriarchy, defined as unequal household and child care tasks were to end, then, yes, the pay gap would also decrease, presumably almost to zero, since the marital asymmetry hypothesis would no longer be operational. But not quite. Pregnancy and breast feeding will always separate the genders. Then, too, men tend to take more dangerous jobs, and this too, will separate sexual remuneration. However, if the end of patriarchy is defined more broadly, so as to obviate these differences too, then I would expect the gap to disappear. But this is not the world we live in. Biology, once again, intrudes the best laid plans of the feminists. There are still strong differences between males and females. Many would say, thank God for the difference!
ND: In your view, is capitalism weakening, especially given how easily Communist China has exploited it for its own gain?
WB: Weakening? I would say the very opposite. The Chinese economy has catapulted thanks in large part to their adoption of at least some aspects of capitalism. The Russians, too. This is evidence, I think of a strengthening of this system.
ND: How do you think capitalism will manage tech monopolies
WB: Capitalism is incompatible with monopoly. If there is monopoly in existence then, to that extent, there is no capitalism. But to make sense of this claim we must have the Austrian view of monopoly in mind, not the mainstream or neoclassical one. What is the difference between the two?
In the (correct!) Austrian perspective, monopoly is a government grant of exclusive privilege to conduct a certain kind of business; anyone who competes with this monopoly is a criminal. Examples include the US post office and the system of taxi cab medallions which operates in major cities such as New York. Those who engage in such activities without permission from the monopolist are subject to fines and imprisonment. A very dramatic example of this phenomenon was depicted in the movie Ghandi when people went to the sea to obtain to water so as to access the salt therein. They were savagely beaten by the police. Why? There was a monopoly of salt granted by the British government, and these people were violating it. That is crony capitalism, not laissez faire capitalism.
Given this, there is a serious question as to whether or not there are at present any tech monopolies. Some are given special legal privileges by government, and, to that extent are monopolisitic, and thus, entirely incompatible with laissez faire capitalism.
The (incorrect!) view prevalent amongst most modern economists is very different. They would include the foregoing as monopolies but also, quite fallaciously, add on density or concentration. For example, when IBM was the only producer of computers, it was deemed a monopoly, based on the fact that it was the only one in this industry. This company never came within a million miles of trying to forbid competition (the Austrian perspective); it was deemed a monopoly solely because at the time it was thought to have no competitors. It had 100% “control” of the industry.
This concept is intellectually dead from the neck up. It is arbitrary. It depends upon how the “industry” is defined. If narrowly enough, pretty much anyone can become a monopoly; if widely, then no one is or can be. For example, I am the sole producer of Walter Block services, narrowly defined. There are other libertarian economists, to be sure, but none are exactly like me. On the other hand, if we define this “industry” broadly, I am only one of several hundreds of thousands of practitioners.
Let us take a less unique example. If the industry is defined as providing dry breakfast cereals, the concentration ratio will be high. If we include wet breakfast cereals too, this ratio will be lower. If we add all breakfast ingredients, ham and eggs, not just cereals, it will decrease even more. Adding all food, not just for breakfast, will further reduce it. Well, which is correct? Plaintiffs want to define the industry narrowly, so as to render a high concentration ratio, or monopolization, whereas the defense sees the matter in the opposite way. The point is, there is no rhyme or reason to this entire matter.
Bill Gates and Microsoft started way out in the boonies in Seattle. He didn’t grease the palms of either party in Washington DC. How to bring him into line? Why, declare him a monopolist! All of anti-trust legislation is a disgraceful sham.
ND: What about encroaching robotization? If human labor is largely side-lined, what will capitalism become?
WB: I am not a Luddite. I do not think that machinery, computers, robots, etc., are a threat to human kind. Indeed, I maintain that the very opposite is the case. The more non human help we can access from such sources, the less will our lives be “nasty, brutish and short.”
Either we will run out of jobs that need doing, or we will not. In neither case will artificial help emanating from this source prove to be a difficulty. Suppose we become aesthetes, and are satisfied with our present standards of living, a few decades from now. Then, we will have a achieved a “post scarcity” state of the economy. Thanks to machines, and everyone will have a sufficient number of them, we can all sit back, relax, and “play” all the livelong day. No problem here. More realistically, we will never run out of thing we want. We will always seek more than we have. We will want to eradicate all diseases, live forever, comfortably, explore the core of the earth, the bottom of the oceans, other planets in this and additional solar systems. With the help of robots, we can accomplish more of these goals than other wise, but we humans will still be called upon to labor so as to attain, these ambitious goals.
Ned Ludd was faced with knitting machines which would allow one worker to do the jobs previously needing 20 people. He “reasoned” that 19 people would then be rendered unemployable, and proceeded to burn this new machinery. His heart may have been in the right place (if we abstract from the fact that he destroyed the property owned by others), but the same cannot be said for his head. He reckoned in the absence of the fact that these 19 people would now be freed up to create new goods and services, impossible to attain previously, but now within our reach.
But the same exact situation presents itself right now. Instead of looking at the secretaries and typewriter workers unemployed by computers, those. who labored for Kodak and are no longer needed, ditto for zoom reducing the need and the employment needed for travel to attend meetings, focus on the fact that all these “unemployed” people are now free to produce goods and services otherwise unobtainable. At one time, about 85% of the US labor force was needed to be on the farms, in order to feed ourselves. Nowadays, the figure is something like 2%. Is this a tragedy for our economy? To think so is to revert to simple Ludditism. It is a failure to understand basic economics. The more help we get from inanimate matter, the better off we shall be
ND: As an economist, are you hopeful about the future of the West?
WB: Milton Friedman was once asked, What is the future course of stock market prices? His response was, They will fluctuate. I say the same thing as the future of the West. It, too, will fluctuate, I expect. If Biden wins the next election, political correctness will threaten Western civilization. If Donald, less so. My hope is that Rand Paul will be the president in 2024. Then, our civilization will take a turn for the better.
ND: Thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful speaking with you.
WB: My pleasure. Thanks for putting these questions to me. They were challenging, and made me think.
The image shows, “New York,” by George Bellows, painted in 1911.
Recently, I have been reflecting on my journey as a self-professed Libertarian and the shifts in my thinking that have occurred over the past twelveyears as a Libertarian party member. I have noticed more frequently that some colleagues with whom I have shared common views in the past on policy topics are no longer in alignment with my views.
I acknowledge that I have changed. I have slid in and out of various “camps” of Libertarian conviction over the years. My experience within the Libertarian movement, which has been responsible for my evolving views, has included:
I was elected Chairman of the Ontario Libertarian Party (OLP) in 2017 with the mandate to recruit and prepare 124 OLP candidates for the June 2018 Ontario Provincial election (the Conservatives won a majority under Doug Ford and handed a humiliating defeat to the incumbent Liberals under the highly unpopular Kathleen Wynne);
As the Libertarian candidate for my home riding, I learned much from being a political ‘insider’ as I had in fiveprevious occasions as a Libertarian candidate;
Proclaimed by the former OLP Leader as the party’s “most prolific writer” (mostly on Facebook), I witnessed and learned from thousands of responses to the Libertarian content about which I wrote. [Note: social media has proved to be the best way to reach the public with our message since all mainstream media outlets consider every other party except for the three top contenders to be irrelevant and non-newsworthy.]
This personal reflection has been partially inspired by Canadian author William D. Gairdner’s book THE GREAT DIVIDE, Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree. It addresses a phenomenon that seems to exist at every point along the left-right continuum of political engagement, and even within political parties. The theme of his book is: “The populations of the democratic world, from Boston to Berlin, Vancouver to Venice, are becoming increasingly divided from within, due to a growing ideological incompatibility between modern liberalism and conservatism. This is partly due to a complex mutation in the concept of liberal democracy itself, and the resulting divide is now so wide that those holding to either philosophy on a whole range of topics: on democracy, on reason, on abortion, on human nature, on homosexuality and gay marriage, on freedom, on the role of courts … and much more, can barely speak with each other without outrage (the favourite emotional response from all sides). Clearly, civil conversation at the surface has been failing – and that could mean democracy is failing.”
Mr. Gairdner’s observations hit home to me personally because of my experience with the mini-divides that exist within the Libertarian parties with whom I have been associated. The perspective of time will help to explain my point.
When I first joined the Ontario Libertarian Party in 2007, the atmosphere within the leadership team and the party’s most enthusiastic supporters was one of rigorous adherence to the body of Libertarian ideas that tended to the extreme: Anarcho-Capitalism. Often abbreviated as “Ancap,” it is considered a faction of libertarian political philosophy that promotes individual freedoms, private property, and free markets through the removal of government. “Removal” implies wholesale privatization of all government institutions so that they must compete with non-government service providers for business without relying on the immense benefit of guaranteed tax funding to support them.
In those early days, the OLP comprised a small group on members who were mainly greying white men who shared the dream of attaining a virtually (if not entirely) government-less society. After being elected to the Executive Committee as Member at Large (MaL) around 2010, I concluded that the OLP was operating primarily as a men’s club that liked to talk about attaining political success and influencing opinion across broad communities of voters, but their goals were out of reach so long as the organization stumbled along making next to no progress.
During those early years, I also began reading extensively to deepen my understanding of Libertarianism and the Austrian School of Economics which was an essential pillar undergirding any possibility of achieving and sustaining a Libertarian society if it was to ever be realized. Authors like Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Frederick Hayek, Hans Herman Hoppe, Tom Woods and others with predominately Ancap leanings all had a profound impact on my outlook as a Libertarian. Their ideas were inspiring to say the least, but eventually I came to the conclusion that they will never be widely accepted in our western democracies.
In 2012, a new leader of the OLP was elected–Allen Small. I came to know and respect Allen when he had also been a MaL on the Executive Committee. As a former high school teacher, Allen had the attributes and talents that I felt would help the OLP to make progress as a political entity.
Over the next six years, Allen lead us through two elections. Both of these elections marked record-breaking results unseen since the OLP had been founded in 1975. Allen worked closely with Rob Brooks, an experienced political campaign manager from another party, to shape a new election platform designed to make it appear less extreme and more attractive to a broader community of supporters. Allen was also the driving force behind building a larger social media following which was crucial to our growth. His legacy as the most successful Leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party in modern times is one that has set a high bar for future leaders to surpass.
During Allen’s tenure, I continued to read and gradually took a renewed interest in the OLP. As I held a very demanding job, my time was limited and I was unable to offer much assistance in support of Allen’s efforts. My views on Libertarianism had also begun to shift again, and they can be best described as politically-pragmatic because I came to accept the notion that proven methods of political messaging were essential to improve electability. However, I was still privately sympathetic to Ancap ideas. In retrospect, I was gradually becoming more “minarchist” as I continued to emerge from my earlier Ancap cocoon.
Minarchism is generally viewed as a libertarian political philosophy which advocates for the state to exist in forms that function solely to protect citizens from harm, aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. During the OLP buildup to the June 2018 election, I felt compelled to condense and simplify my personal understanding of what it means to be a Libertarian. Ultimately, I settled on the following statement and I printed it on my business card as OLP Chairman: “Libertarians defend and protect individual persons (their mind, body and efforts) and their property from intentional and unwanted harm and aggression imposed by others including those employed by the state.”
Another shift in my thinking was also taking place as I actively campaigned on our 2018 election platform which featured a new Non-Government Options emphasis in our Libertarian vision. Integral to this vision was the necessity to introduce competition into the “public services” markets. For it to work, it is essential to eliminate all regulations that empower public institutions to operate on a monopoly basis. This will put the power of choice back into the hands of our citizens so that they can be free to patronize their choice of available service providers who best serve their unique needs and preferences. Furthermore, for citizens who prefer that services in health care or education (for example) be provided by the government, they are free to opt in as a “government customer” and pay their share of the taxes needed to sustain government operations. Conversely, for citizens who decide that they are best served by “non-government” service providers who will surely emerge to meet market demand after existing anti-competition regulations are repealed, these people will not be required to remit taxes; they can apply these tax savings to buy private insurance policies or make direct payments to providers. I refer to this form of Libertarianism as “free choice minarchy.”
The reasons why I remain a “free choice minarchist” today is because of the obvious advantages it brings to all voters. First, for citizens who choose “non-government” service providers, payments will not be managed by an inefficient, impersonal, expensive and often inflexible “middle man”–the government bureaucracy that collects our hard-earned money through non-optional taxation.
Second, free markets have a proven history of spawning business model innovations and prudent capital investments in order to control costs and improve the pricing and quality of their products as well as their customer service reputations. All of this is derived in direct response to the ever-present forces of competition. It’s no mystery that “the customer is king” in competitive businesses, but the same cannot be said within government operations.
Third, everyone gets what they want by being free to choose from viable alternatives. The thinking goes that it is none of my business what my neighbour wants to buy and it’s none of my neighbour’s business concerning what I prefer, so why should any drama exist between us as to how we meet our needs and preferences.
Fourth, government expenses are directly proportional to the number of regulations that are “on the books” and must be enforced with expensive resources. By eliminating all pro-monopoly regulations, the government will have lower enforcement costs and thereby require less money from taxation and/or public debt.
Fifth, this approach eliminates the element of “autocratic rule by one-size-fits-all” policy implementations which have always been the result of every election in our history. People differ in every conceivable way, which is why businesses adapt and adjust constantly to find new ways to serve customers profitably. It stands to reason that when government monopolies eliminate all consumer choices, they take on the same problems for which anti-trust laws were created to break up private sector monopolies. This double standard is hypocrisy at its most obvious. Governments must no longer operate under the protection of biased legislation if we are ever to expect service levels to improve in quality and decrease in cost.
After running in six elections as a Libertarian candidate, I am asked often why I continue to do it given our history of attaining less than 1% of the popular vote. Recently, I have been asking myself the same question. Here’s why.
Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada (PPC) has achieved impressive success in 5 short months since last September 2018 to build a nation-wide party complete with EDAs (Electoral District Associations) in every riding across Canada. Neither the OLP nor the Libertarian Party of Canada (LPoC) has accomplished anything even close in spite of being in existence for over 4 decades. Bernier’s fund-raising ability is extraordinary. His ability to attract followers and media attention dwarfs ours. He has shown me what can be done under the right leader and the level of highly motivated talent that such a leader can attract. It is a demoralizing comparison to me as a long time OLP and LPoC member.
I consider the PPC platform shown on its web site as “Libertarian lite” insomuch as it seeks “Less Government” just as a Libertarian minarchist does. In other words, our directions are the same but only the degree of change is different.
After reading Right Here, Right Nowby former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (for whom I have great respect), I am convinced that Harper’s incremental approach to public policy change is wise. Policy results can be tested from small first steps and evaluated/adjusted before further steps are taken. This is the right approach for any elected Leader who wants Less Government and one that I would hope for if a Libertarian, PPC, or Conservative Party is elected in the upcoming federal election.
For my final, and maybe most significant consideration, I fall back on the reasons why I entered politics in the first place–my daughters. I had come to the conclusion years ago that I could not consider myself a responsible parent if I was not prepared to act to defend and protect my children from threats. To me, the greatest threat to their future has been and continues to be the unopposed and relentless growth of government power, scope, size, and cost at every level of government. The threat is manifest in an enormous set of fiscal, social, and cultural risks that will surely eat away at the quality of Liberty in their lives through no fault of their own.
Years ago, I reasoned that we do not live in a true democracy unless at least one genuine Less Government option appears on every election ballot at every level of government. Since the only true Less Government option has been the Libertarian ballot choice, I have chosen to be that candidate in my riding when no one else was prepared to do so. I knew that I had no chance to be elected, but I felt that at least there would be one voice in each election to argue the reasons why continued government expansion was dangerous to everyone and why Less Government is the only viable antidote to these risks.
Sadly, there has never been an election in Canada that featured a Libertarian candidate on every ballot in every election riding. The best effort so far was achieved last June when the OLP ran an Ontario-wide election campaign with 116 candidates for 124 ridings even though we operated on a shoe-string budget of about $40,000. (Note: the campaign budgets for the largest four Ontario parties was subsidized with tax dollars under the Per Vote Subsidy resulting in campaign cash windfalls of $5.1 million (Liberals), $4.1 million (Conservatives), $3.2 million (NDP) and $640,000 (Green Party). The other 22 so-called “fringe” parties that had registered with Elections Ontario for the June election and had complied with all of its campaign rules, required paper filings and fee payments, did not qualify for funding. If you are asking yourself why you were not aware of the 22 parties, you now know part of the story: running elections and reaching the public with campaign messaging is very expensive and “fringe” parties are put at a significant disadvantage to the major parties by tax subsidies.
As you can see from the above, my political path has been meandering even though I have remained a card-carrying Libertarian. As Mr. Gairdner pointed out, politicians and their most ardent supporters generally dig in for the long haul in support of their partisan convictions and are frequently loathe to budge even a smidgeon from their ideological perch.
There are likely as many Libertarians who hold stubbornly to their views, proportionately speaking, as there are ardent Liberals and Conservatives. Politics is certainly a messy business and it is easy to see why so many people avoid the topic in “polite company.”
The photo shows, “Unveiling the Statue of Liberty,” by Edward Moran, painted in 1886.