I'll be spending some time in America's Outback next week. So, no normal vote for me. I just voted; an absentee vote.

I cannot understand those libertarians who say the old line "it just encourages them". Well, yes, it encourages anyone you vote for. It discourages anyone you vote against. So, discourage them - vote against everyone who you are sure won't improve things. In my case, I voted for Badnarik, who I am quite sure would improve things marginally; it's a moral vote. I also voted for "Nota" in many races (write-in); let them figure that one out if they can.

I also voted against not one or two, but 12 Bond Issues for numerous things that the Baltimore City government should not be doing. (you can see them here.) It's rather amazing - just one election, and they are putting up $120M in bond issues. There are about 2/3M people in Baltimore - so that's $180 for each of us they propose to spend, above and beyond what they normally do. And of course, for us people that actually pay significant tax it is much more per person.

I do understand the argument that voting is (almost precisely) pointless. In fact the 2000 election showed that strongly - the voters only matter in aggregate; the individual's vote cannot make the difference in a national election (unless the individual happens to wear black robes when he votes).

However, voting still does have a powerful symbolic effect. And the people in the aggregate can throw off their chains, if they have the will; of course they do not right now. But it is possible.

Voting also gives me credibility with democratic socialists, which is just about everyone these days. The sort of people who think it is your civic duty to vote.

Finally, voting makes me feel good. "No". "No". "No". "Nota".


Bill Whittle has a new essay up called deterrence. My response to it:


You define "deter" in a strange way. Here's what has on it: "to turn aside, discourage, or prevent from acting". That is, deterrence is active. It means taking or threatening an action that changes the incentives of a would-be opponent.

Similarly, in your carrot versus stick contrast, you offer a false dichotomy. In both cases are actions. The assumption that some action is necessary is smuggled in.

The sensible people on my side of this debate are not talking about taking action to deter terrorists. As you admit: they cannot be deterred very easily.

Rather, we are saying that inaction is the correct course, to not-provoke terrorists. Our criticism is exactly that too much action has occurred, in the past, and that those actions and their results are the grievances that terrorists have. They are specific grievances, against America. These include 50 years of your interventionism, but the specifics on Al-Qaida's list are these:

(1) we support their hated Israel, ergo, at one remove the killing and other mistreatment of Palestinians
(2) we killed Iraqi children via "sanctions"
(3) we occupied their holy country, Arabia

These things are all true, albeit not the whole truth. But you cannot expect those aggrieved by them to care about mitigating factors, i.e., that Saddam worsened the effects of the sanctions. They are fanatics. They do not see the truth as well-educated right-wing Americans see it. They see the truth that educated right-wing Arabs see.

These grievances are the reason why they attack America and American interests, but not, say, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and any number of other western, but peaceful, nations. They are rational men. They attack us to try to influence our policy. They don't attack nations whose policy they don't care about one way or the other.

Now we've added a new grievance to the list: we have occupied Iraq. A whole generation of Iraqis is being radicalized against us. (Cough Abu Ghraib cough.)

You don't "deter by being nice". Deterrence is applicable only in the context of conflict. Rather, what my side sees (and your side apparently does not) is that ideally you remove conflict in the first place by being nice.

"Deterrence" assumes conflict is not tractable. It is usually better than appeasement (i.e., being nice when conflict is intractable). But it is not better than simply having no conflict to begin with.

I suggest that, ideally, America should have no conflict with the world. America's policy should be viewed with indifference by the world. In the past it was fairly safe to do things that caused distant peoples to hate you. They'd attack your colonial army, maybe, but the home front was too far to attack. In this era of technology, breeding hate is no longer safe. Therefore it behooves us to stop breeding it.

That is the lesson of 9-11.

And the historically clear way to produce indifference amongst distant people is quite simple: don't hurt them. Trade peacefully with them if possible, otherwise, leave them alone. Make simple and clear boundaries that they agree on. Spank them if they aggress, otherwise, nothing. This is isolationism, in a nutshell.

The nuclear genie is not going back into the bottle. In the long run, terrorists will get nuclear weapons if they want them. (Is anyone so daring as to say, no terrorist will ever get a nuclear weapon?) When that time comes, I hope that they no longer have serious grievances against us. And if we want that to be true in, say, 20 years, we'd better start now, acting inoffensively in the world. This means pulling back from the world militarily. Trade peacefully; let them run their own affairs without interference from us.

Meanwhile, our new policy of preemptive attack against a weak country (Iraq), but not other recent or soon-to-be nuclear states (Pakistan, Iran, perhaps North Korea) sends a clear signal to every third world dictator type: get nukes ASAP if at all possible. That is, our belligerence is arguably counterproductive on the issue of nuclear proliferation.

Given that terrorists will almost certainly get their first nuke from a nuclear state, and probably a non-Western nuclear state, is that sort of belligerence really in our interest? I think not. We are not deterring in Iraq; in fact, we are making nuclear terrorism against the USA more likely.

Well, it's too late to change what we've done in Iraq, but it's not too late to change our policy and firmly disavow what President Bush and his people did. That's a good reason not to vote for Bush.

Not that I'm voting for Kerry. As you say, he's basically Bush lite. He's in cuckoo-land if he thinks that "alliances" are going to get us anything in Iraq. I don't think he thinks that, actually; I think he's too smart. I'm not voting for either him or Bush. Badnarik remains my choice.

Assigning blame in democracy

There's some interesting back-n-forth going on between the ex-prolific-libertarian blogger Jim Henley, who's currently sadly reduced to a once-in-a-while blogger, and Diana Moon, with a jolt of Justin Raimondo and Steve Sailer thrown in for spice. At issue: whose fault is the Iraq Attaq?

Well, it is quite obvious that the ultimate mover here was Bush himself. Only he is commander in chief. But what's motivating him? Are the neocons pulling on his puppet strings?

Moon is, I think, correct that ultimately the "American public" in general is to blame, or at least, the 50% of them (or whatever) that were and still are for the war. And she understands some of their motivations, but only the amoral ones:
The real story is that this was a war for oil, supported by a majority of Americans, and ignorant as they are, the gas-guzzling public knows one thing: it needs the slick stuff, and its willing to kill for it. If the people they have to kill are Muslims, so much the better. They don't care about Iraqi deaths and they don't care about Abu Ghraib. And they don't care if some guy with a name like Jorge Lopez dies for it. They want their toys. They know that Presidents have to lie and say nice things about Why We Go To War, and maybe some of them even believe it, but deep down they know what the score is.
Or in her followup:
The American public was salivating for war. They hate Arabs, they want oil. [an example:] A couple of regular guys, hardcore conservative, belligerant, hostile ... they were quizzed on the Iraq/9-11 link, which has been shown to be completely false. They said, "Nothing will convince me that Iraq wasn't behind 9/11." That's it: Nothing. No evidence. Nothing. This is the white, male, prosperous American electorate that will vote for Bush. Arrogant, insufferable, callous and vicious. These are the people who supported the war, and still do.
Let me put aside the overgeneralization here for later. The point here is, the public wanted war. And that's certainly true. But as for the motivations ascribed - no, the public is both better and worse than that. The public doesn't care about oil - the elites do. The public does care about 9-11, and wanted blood. And the public does, at least titularly, care about our own "security", about saving people from dictators, and about helping people by giving great (though abstract) gifts of the American Way to the world. These latter impulses are not strong, but neither are they base. (Neither are they realistic.)

You surely didn't see Bush promising cheap oil as his primary reason for war. You did see him promise security, and a world transformed in a way not good only for Americans (though definitely good for us); but rather, transformed to Good Good Democracy for everyone, starting with Iraqis. They were to be the first beneficiaries.

So the public is certainly somewhat to blame. They bought it. But the masses don't think up complex ideas on their own. They repeat ideas thought up by intellectuals. This is not surprising: someone has to think of an idea first, and a complex idea is unlikely to be thought up in parallel by everyone. Take an idea like "we've got to depose Saddam for the good of the Iraqi people". That's not something the average American will come up with: Americans don't care about Iraqis. We care about them now only insofar as "our boys" are over there; once the US forces leave, we'll care about Iraqis about the same as we now care about the Vietnamese; that is to say, nearly zero. (People, in general, don't care about people they don't know. This is part of human nature, perfectly sensible.) Intellectuals had been agitating for war against Saddam for a variety of reasons, for years. Only after 9-11 did they break through, because the public was finally ready to hear them.

So where did the public get inobvious ideas like "preemptive war for peace", "America can reform any society into a nice happy democracy", "Iraqis will welcome us as liberators", "the hijackers were Iraqis", etc.?

Neocons. As Raimondo writes to Henley:
Ideas rule the world, and it is the neoconservative idea that brought us to where we are today. I don't see how anyone can dispute that and still retain a modicum of intellectual honest.
Well, I can dispute it somewhat, for it was not only neocon ideas, I think, nor only neocons spreading them. Some of these are older ideas. Many are not the exclusive provenance of neocons - for instance the left has been saying for years that "we can rebuild America (via government tax/spend)". Neocons merely adapted that from the inner city to Iraq.

To my mind, being "neocon" isn't a boolean thing. It's fuzzy. You're a neocon to the extent that you believe and/or propound various neocon ideas; and what exactly are neocon ideas is a moving target, the set of ideas held by, well neocons. It's somewhat circular; nonetheless grounded in the a history of various ideas. Included in that set is the idea that America can successfully reform other societies and/or religions by force. That Islam needs a reformation for us to live with it. That "national greatness" is worth seeking via the state.

To me, Bush, Rumsfield, and Cheney are neocons, to the extent they hold or act on neocon positions. So they are semi-neocons. Humans don't fit into boolean pigeonholes - never.

But the larger point is important. Intellectuals do have real influence, even if it is hard to trace. Ideas do come from somewhere, and they do matter. Not just to us (the intellectuals), but to the man on the street. He may not come up with stuff on his own, but he knows a good argument when he sees it. Look at any comments section on a warblog and you'll see this. All of them repeat the "Saddam was evil justifies invasion" meme, the "drain the fever swamp" meme, the "world has changed due to WMD".

All of which is not to say that intellectuals control anything; we don't. In that sense, we can't be blamed, neocons or otherwise. We propose; the public and politicians dispose. But at the same time, in the long run, ideas are practically all that matter. (To take one example: imagine what would happen in our society if everyone woke up tomorrow with the idea that the government had the same level of legitimacy that the Iraqi government has.)

As the Russian said: "A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war."

Given the power of ideas in the long run, it's impossible not to think that they are important, and that therefore there is some blame to be assigned for thinking up and/or propounding bad ideas, and credit for good ones. This is, in fact, common sense.

So who is it? The intellectuals? The public? The politicians? Well, it's all of us, and none. Each group draws support from the others. Each group is self-interested in one way or another. Blame is not easily assigned. It is, instead, the system that we should look at. For it takes two things to implement policy: the ideas implemented, and the system they are implemented within. We've agreed that our system is producing bad policy. So it must be either bad ideas, or a bad system (or both) that is to blame. We've found bad ideas, but found it remarkably difficult to pin down who's to blame. Without blame and effective punishment for bad ideas, they'll keep coming; and that's a perfect description of politics within the state.

As an anarchist, let me through in my 2c. Blame the state. Without the state, America would have no large standing army, and thus, no adventurism abroad regardless of how we felt about a hypothetical 9-11. And that attack would be very hypothetical since, without a standing army nor the ability to support Israel via taxation, we'd have no involvement to speak of in the middle east. There would have been no Gulf War, no sanctions, no American troops in Saudi Arabia, no American relationship to Israel nor the Intifada. Without the state, there would be no push by the military industrial complex to open up new markets. Without the state, the oil industry would have to find a way to get its raw materials without relying on the taxpayer to fund the enforcement mechanism.

Ms Moon will not give up the state, of course. She needs it for her liberal/socialist ideas. So she is reduced to blaming the evil People, and the evil regime. (The neocons are evil too, she says, and should be run out of town, but they cannot be blamed. That's antisemitism!) Since the people cannot be changed (damn!), her vitriol is directed to Mr Bush and co., with a nice side helping directed towards those who are fighting the neocons in the war of ideas.

As for Ms Moon's charges of antisemitism: well, "shrill" is right. You cry wolf often enough, nobody pays attention. Is there a pogrom afoot in the US? I think not. You're just going to have to face a harsh fact: individuals who are Jewish do have some power. They do bear responsibility for what they do, including espousing neocon ideas. This isn't about being Jewish, it's about propounding bad ideas.

Incidentally, I find it quite offensive to see someone crying antisemitism who is so willing to use hateful invective and overgeneralization like that I quoted above: "This is the white, male, prosperous American electorate that will vote for Bush. Arrogant, insufferable, callous and vicious." Please, tell me again what I am?

One more small nit to pick with Ms. Moon: I'm not exactly a paleo but I feel closer to self-identified paleos than about anyone else. Lew Rockwell and the Rothbardians are anarchists of my stripe, and many of them call themselves paleoconservatives. Anyway, I can testify that their/our beef with the neocons has nothing at all to do with Judaism. It has to do with the state and socialism. Neocons are for both. Paleos (and libertarians in general) are against both.

Neocons are little-c conservative, in most domestic policy; they do want some change, but perhaps marginally less than also little-c conservative Democrats. But both groups have basically accepted socialism as good and proper. Bush and the neocons support everything socialist that America already does; social security, daycare prisons, welfare. They've created a new socialist agency (the TSA), want "no child left behind", and want citizens to surrender a few more rights to the central state "for our security". Abroad, the neocons and Bush differ somewhat on how grandious should be the plans to Invade the World: Bush may think we should invade the whole thing, but only the neocons say it. Nonetheless this is a 180 degree reversal from the "humbler" foreign policy we were promised. In all these things, neocons are wrong, and leading America towards socialism and thus, ultimately, collapse.

Update - a reader reminds me that all societies have "standing armies" in a sense, so I cannot claim "no standing army" in anarchy. And that's true enough - anarchy (or a truly limited libertarian state) would have a much smaller army than America has, but not no army at all.

The Joy of Internment

Thus far the best review I've seen of Michelle Malkin's vile book. Anthony Gregory horselaughs:
Malkin explains that the term "Japanese Internment" is loaded, because there are technically different correct names for all the distinct policies Roosevelt had for relocating and detaining people without trial. ... In fact, Roosevelt – always inclusive and progressive – not only interned and detained those with Japanese heritage; he had the multicultural good sense also to intern Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, and Bulgarians. More than one might gather from the conventional wisdom, FDR practiced Equal Opportunity Internment.

Malkin shows that the Japanese were not the only ones who had to sacrifice for the Good of the Fatherland:

"Enemy aliens from all Axis nations–not just Japan–were subjected to curfews, registration, censorship, and exclusion from sensitive areas… And beginning in September 1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, more than 10 million young men of all backgrounds were conscripted into our nation’s armed forces. Approximately two-thirds of the 292,000 Americans killed and 671,000 wounded in the war were forced to serve."(xiv)

So there you have it! Roosevelt wasn’t just picking on the Japanese. Even before the war he had the foresight to begin drafting young men (just in case the Japanese ever attacked in a surprise strike of which FDR had no expectation whatsoever). And by the end of the war he had forced nearly 200,000 young men to fight to their deaths! Compared to the conscripted war dead, the internees were lucky FDR didn’t kill them.

Malkin also points out that the United States wasn’t the only country to detain "enemy aliens" without trial. "During World War II," she writes, "virtually every major country – from Japan to Germany, from China to Egypt, from Holland to New Zealand – interned its enemy aliens." (54)

Even the Germans and Japanese did it during World War II! So it’s not like the US government did something the Nazis weren’t willing to do.
Hee. Gregory does note an interesting point regarding MAGIC. (Malkin relies on the new availability of declassified documents as the "hook" to hang her book's radical new view on. Surely new information should lead us to revise the tired old received view that imprisoning innocent people is wrong.) Gregory:
Malkin shows that government officials who opposed internment, like J. Edgar Hoover, were unaware of the US government having cracked the MAGIC code. On the other hand, the top leaders in the administration, such as War Secretary Henry Stimson, who were aware of the code breaking, also tended to support internment. Hmmm. I wonder if the same people were also privy to the naval code that revealed Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. How interesting, if the same people who knew about all these codes also happened to support Japanese internment.
That is interesting.

Sailer (and Adams) on Interventionism

Love it. Wish Sailer had decent permalinks. Sailer on Neocons and Chechnya:
I'm still wondering why the neocons insist on having a dog in this particular fight. As a conservative, my Burkean prejudice is: 'First, do no harm.' I look at the Chechen tragedy and say, 'Sheesh, I have no idea what should be done over there. If I got involved, I'd probably just make it worse.' So, instead, I think more about how I can help my country avoid getting involved in that kind of mess.

In contrast, neocons seem to wake up every morning thinking, 'What far-off, complex, interminable conflict should I turn my penetrating brilliance upon today?' It must be nice to feel that self-confident, but it sure isn't conservative.
John Quincy Adams:
... friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers ... should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
In other words: a moral foreign policy. What's that worth in lives?

How to Analyze Anarchy

Over at America's Outback, Garth is challenging himself thinking about anarchy (read down for two more posts). Meanwhile, it appears that Arthur Silber has reluctantly seen the light of reason, and converted. So it's a good time to talk a bit about anarchy.

I see all sorts of objections and arguments raised by libertarians (sometimes minarchists, sometimes just small-government types) against anarchy. Many of these are, in my opinion, pretty weak. But others hold water. In any case, thinking about anarchy is something most people aren't very good at. There are lots of real life models that are applicable, but most people don't think about these. I'd like to lay out a few ways that I think about anarchy, using some examples seen over at Garth's place.

Perhaps the first way to look at any proposed challenge to anarchy is to say: would it really be a problem if I can opt out of my protection agency? Most libertarians do, I think, get this. So they see some of the attractiveness of anarchy.

The next thing to think about when considering a problem in anarchy is: is that problem soluble here and now, in the real life of America 2004? If not, then in expecting anarchy to solve it you're expecting utopia. Consider Garth's example:
...a waste disposal company has bought up 30 acres abutting your back yard and will proceed to use it as a landfill. ... You send [your protection agency] over and they discover that there is nothing in any contract that forbids the construction of the landfill. You are informed that the only way to prevent it would have been a purchase of the land yourself.
Well, that's tough. But the same thing can happen under the state; in fact, due to eminent domain it's more likely to happen. In anarchy, landfills would logically be placed only on the cheapest, most worthless land. Land next to a housing development would probably not be used because it would cost too much. With eminant domain, however, a state is often shielded from the true cost of land (and is spending someone else's money even if they do have to pay a market price). So you can expect many more landfills to end up next to neighborhoods under statism than anarchy.

Again, anarchy doesn't solve all problems. No system can.

Now let's assume there is some solution to a problem here in the real (statist) world. A second way to approach a potential problem is to understand the solution for it here in the real world, and see if that works in anarchy, too. Consider, for example, the problem of a protection agency turning into a state. This is certainly a valid worry. Here's Garth:
Over time PEI becomes a protection monopoly, sets the pricing it wants for its service. Some people drop out and do without, of course, but what happens in the long run is that PEI becomes, de-facto, our government. But one without the constitutional checks and balances that we currency enjoy.
So from anarchy, Garth is seeing the evolution of an unchecked protection agency into an unchecked state.

But in the real world, we have a number of practical institutions by which we rein in the power of the state. Here are some:
  • democracy - the idea that the elite decisionmakers of the state must be accepted by the majority of the citizens
  • constitutionalism - the idea that a the state will follow written rules
  • right to jury - the idea that citizens are each other's judges, and the ultimate judges of the law itself
  • federalism - the splitting of power into subunits of a weakly integrated whole
  • RKBA - the idea that average citizens must be given tools capable of overthrowing the state
  • bill of rights - the idea that people's rights are explicitly written out and understandable to the average man
  • civil rights - the idea that the state must observe extra safeguards when dealing with citizens
  • judicial review/veto - the idea that law can be nullified by agents of the state
Now, look at that list and consider the difference between a state and a protection agency. The difference is that the state has a monopoly on force; the agency doesn't. But how does that matter for any of these? It doesn't. All of the practical institutions that rein in the state, above that men have invented over the ages that rein in the state can be applied just as readily to a protection agency.

If you are the sort who worries about the state evolving from anarchy, ask yourself this: would I sign up with a protection agency that did not have a written law, a constitution, a bill of rights, etc.? If you want these things (I would), don't you think most other people would too? (I do.) These things strike me as very cheap to provide, practically costless for an honest protection agency. I think most people therefore would want them, if only as insurance. Given them, even if the agency did evolve into a state, it would be a "nice" state, akin to a modern social democracy, not the sort of nasty state that people seem to imagine by crossing the United Fruit Company with America under Bush and a dash of Stalin.

Thus, as a sort of worst case result, we get basically what we have now. This is not that bad.

I summarize this whole mini argument as follows: protection agencies are weaker than states. Thus anything we've invented that works to rein in the state, will also work to rein in a protection agency, unless it relies on the monopoly power of a state to work.

Finally, let me assume that you've found a problem that would appear in anarchy but not under statism. Well, that I'd be very interested to hear about. But before you're so sure your problem really is novel, remember that anarchy lurks within of our system, in more ways than one:
  • anarchy among the state elite within a state
  • international anarchy
  • anarchy in the power of the people
  • anarchy in certain uncontrolled institutions, notably the internet
Go ahead, make my day.

So now let's assume you've got in hand one of those rare things that anarchy does worse than statism. Are you really willing to give up all the positives of living in a peaceful libertarian society society for that? Are you willing to give up on living in a moral society for that?

I'd be willing to give up a great deal to live in a moral society.

Thoughts on Blogging

There were times, before I started this blog, that I thought I had what it takes to be a Pundit. I do have a point of view that is unusual, and that helps. It's ideologically pure and seamless, so far as I can tell. I am, in a word, Right, and the world (including practically everyone who'll ever read this), Wrong. But especially for an ideologue, I tolerate human difference, ideological impurity, and just plain error. I hate the immoderate language that characterizes too much of our modern political discourse. I understand my liberal enemies; after all, at one time I was one of them, or at least, one of them on certain ideological points.

But these things do not make for good punditry. A good pundit needs the desire to be heard, most of all. But also: motivation to write even for nobody, and an eye to controversy. Oh, and also: the ability to write really, really fast, so as to develop volume, volume, volume.

Most of those things I'm just not that strong on. I can, if I work at it, generate a post or two a day. I did for months, anyway. But in the long term, unless I was getting more out of it than I do, I just can't sustain that. And in any case, in this biz you need more than a post a day to keep the traffic coming.

But anyway, the dream of being a Bigshot Pundit was never much more than that. This blog remains of interest to me, because it allows me to "say" all the things I'd like to say to people I may not know now, or ever. It's a diary, but public. It gives me a voice to whisper with, into the darkness perhaps. But even a whisper is enough for I told you so's, or to tell someone who you are. And for that I think, in this internet era, that laying down a record is a great thing. Ten years from now, people will be able to look back and see that way back when, I was a libertarian anarchist with exactly the same views as I now have. (Indeed, you can look back into usenet and see some of my views if you know how to find them, and I've been ideologically pretty constant since about 1995 when I got interested enough in refining my already libertarian political ideology to purchase The Machinery of Freedom and Anarchy, State, and Utopia, on the recommendation of net anarchists that I respected for their writing ability and style.)

Anyway, this brings me enfin to the proximate motivation for all that, which is a letter received from the blue from a reader, one Frank Kelly, who likes this blog. He's just started his own, and thus far I like his stuff. Let's see if he can sustain it; good luck and welcome to the show, Frank.

A little shout-out from the ether keeps you going.

Where Will Anarchists Keep the Madmen?

Actually, the question about the madmen is not really answered, unless you identify them with criminals. But this article by John Sneed is worth the time, laying out the structure of anarchic law and order as many have seen it. Here's Sneed on the advantages of anarchic "prisons" over state-run prisons:
If we assure mobility and a competitive gross wage, then the effort expended by the convict is directly rewarded with a shorter period of confinement or probation. He would have an objective yard-stick by which he could measure his progress. The present parole system administered by often corrupt, bigoted, or politically minded minor bureaucrats would finally be put to death. Prisoner morale would improve, making eventual rehabilitation easier.

As an extension of this point, the convict would be shown directly the value of education. If he committed his particular offense primarily because he had no trade, he will find it to his advantage to learn one. The penal agency may supply education on a profit-making basis, or allow profit-seeking educators to do business within their walls. Thus the convict would have a better chance of returning to a normal life when he regains his freedom.

The penal colony would also generally continue employment of the convict after he has retired his debt. It would be foolish to in effect fire a worker with experience simply because he has now regained his freedom. He will still remain employed by the penal agency but will become free of security restrictions and will be an ordinary worker. Indeed, an agency which does provide employment for 'graduated' convicts would have a strong competitive edge in the recruitment process.

The convict will have a direct incentive to exhibit good behavior. The better risk he appears to the penal agency, the more likely he is to be allowed parole or other freedoms in the interest of increasing his productivity. Good behavior will be rewarded monetarily also, reflecting such declines in marginal cost of security provision as reduced wear and depreciation of guards.

Finally, the agency would be responsive to the demands of the convicts, for they are mobile employees, and not literally prisoners. Thus, with whatever net wage they keep after making their agreed-upon payment to the penal agency or defense company, the convict would be allowed to purchase goods from the non-prison main economy, subject naturally to security constraints, thereby eliminating the current extortion and black marketeering rampant in our prisons. Visitors and mail would no longer be arbitrarily cut off. Conjugal visits, or in some cases the moving of one's family into the prison, would be allowed. Our analog to prison would not be, as today, a brutal institution primarily functioning to teach brutes how to be more brutish, but would become almost a treatment center, a place to learn how to live peaceably in outside society. Our present system only teaches a person how to live in prison.
Similar to my own thoughts on the matter, but this is from 1972. !

The Athenian Constitution

Roderick Long has a great analysis of the "constitution" (meaning political organization) of ancient Athens. He looks at later critics of that system, and finds it generally admirable.
it is odd that [Isabel] Paterson so roundly condemns the Athenian practice of ostracism, when she praises the Romans' habit, during the Imperial period, of assassinating their Emperors (about a third of all Roman Emperors died by assassination) as a useful constitutional adaptation, akin to a letting a fuse blow to protect a circuit in event of a short. Surely the Greek ostrakon, whatever its faults, was a more civilized response to the threat posed by powerful individuals than the Roman dagger.
Interesting political ideas in Athens: representation by lot, not voting. Ostracizing the powerful for no good reason whatsoever, other than that they are powerful.

Like other quasi anarchic systems, it died via conquest, not collapse from state engorgement. Of course being conquered has been the fate of most states; so this does not distinguish it much. Still, what we can say is that states that collapsed on their own were not well designed. That doesn't mean the other were, but they might have been.

Long has a second article on Athens, discussing its civil society:
One of the most remarkable features of Athenian democracy is the extent to which legal services themselves (dispute resolution and enforcement) were the province of civil society rather than of the state. Laws were passed by the state (or at any rate through the state, via popular referendum), and applied by governmental courts (manned by juries). But there were no police, and no public prosecutors. All suits were treated as civil suits, prosecuted by the victim; offenses against the community as a whole were prosecuted by self-selected individuals on behalf of the larger society, rather like class-action suits today. (No distinction between crimes and torts was recognised.) And even before coming to court, litigants were asked to seek private arbitration, thus exhausting all avenues within civil society before turning to the state (rather the opposite of today's practice):

Private arbitration ... had a long history, extending back to the time of Homer and Hesiod, before the emergence of the state .... It was a private mechanism evolved to serve the needs of a society where kinship and the reciprocal obligations of kin and friends predominated. With the emergence of the state, private arbitration did not disappear but continued in use. ... [T]he courts were only a final stage in a complex disputing process which allowed, indeed encouraged, adjudication to coexist with arbitration and mediation.
(Hunter (1994), p. 67.)

But the most intriguing aspect of the Athenian "private law" system is the privatisation of enforcement:

The ancient city-state had no police other than a relatively small number of publicly owned slaves at the disposal of the different magistrates .... [T]he army was not available for large-scale police duties [because it] was a citizen militia, in existence as an army only when called up for action against the external world. [Yet] a Greek city-state ... was normally able to enforce governmental decisions ....
(Finley (1994), pp. 18-24.)

Most of the major tasks of policing -- investigation, apprehension, prosecution, and even in some cases enforcement of court decisions -- fell to the citizens themselves. For private initiative and self-help were the rule. ... Here punitive enforcement is not the result of coercion by a central authority but of autonomous self-regulation on the part of the community. ... For many of the functions that the modern state now entrusts to bureaucracy, police, or judiciary were embedded in a variety of social institutions ....
(Hunter (1994), pp. 3-5.)

Since there were no regular police in Athens, such street fights were not uncommon, and it lay with the spectators to decide who was in the right and restore order. ... It is clearly recognised as a duty of bystanders to help any victim of violence; this was very necessary in a city so ill-policed as Athens, for the safety of the community depended upon active support of the law by all well-constituted citizens. ... It will be noticed that the State made no provision for arrest and bail; these were private transactions. This led to abuses, such as ... wrongful detention ... but each man involved took care always to provide himself with witnesses .... There was no police-force; hence the bystanders took a lively interest.
(Freeman (1963), pp. 105, 128, 177.)

Even tax collection was privatised:

From his own assets, the wealthy contributor of proeisphora paid immediately the total amount of eisphora due from a number of other taxpayers. In return, he was given the right ... to recover his excess payment from the various obligors.
(Cohen (1992), p. 197.)

Rather anarchic. Yet it persisted for hundreds of years.


Two days ago on NPR I heard a story about Abu Ghraib, where the news reader referred to "the alleged abuses". Not "torture" - "abuse". Now, I don't think there is any question that there was abuse. One needs only to look at a few of the photos. And I don't think that anyone is claiming the photos are doctored, or otherwise untrustworthy.

So here we have something that is about as close as we can get to a consensus fact: that there was "abuse" in Abu Ghraib. The media have gotten completely silly about the use of "alleged". The word means that something has been asserted by somebody, but that something is questioned by at least one other person.

Was there "abuse" in Iraq? Yes! It's as plain as the alleged nose on my face.

America is mine, that's why

Gene Callahan on Moral Equivalence. I have exactly the same feeling reading a lot of neocon sites.
I'm going to ... share some of my worst difficulties with you all.

They arise from the horrible case of "moral equivalence" that my wife somehow has contracted, most likely from her frequent contact with "leftists" while working in Manhattan. The most common form of the disease manifests itself in the infected person voicing one or more complaints about immoral or illegal actions undertaken by the US government. Moral equivalence can then immediately be diagnosed by any neoconservative or neoliberal, who can point out that, even as the infected person is protesting some action by the American state, that he is failing to note all of the other instances in history when some other government did something similar, but even worse.

Well, my wife has this disease in a bad way, even if the form she has contracted is not the most typical. Let me give you a few examples. For instance, the other night I weaved my way home after having about ten beers. As I stumbled through the door, she berated me for having gotten trashed. Now, wait just a second: Somewhere, I read about Stephen King confessing that he was drinking an entire case of beer – that's 24 of them, for you non-brewmeisters – pretty much every night for a couple of years. But was my wife there at his front door, waiting to berate him when he stumbled through its portal? Has she ever even raised her voice in protest against his excesses? No, she has not!

Old Thoughts on Torture

Folks popping in from UO: hi. No mention of torture up here -- what Jim is referring to is a blog entry from last year.

Own up to your values

Thanks to a link at UO, I popped over to Crooked Timber to read this:
How would you rank the following priorities for making the planet a better place?

* A major improvement in health in poor countries, saving millions of lives each year

* Substantial progress in reducing the rate of climate change, preventing large-scale species extinctions and other environmental damage

* New and improved advertisements for consumer goods

You don’t have to be Bjorn Lomborg to agree that, given the choice, improvements in health should get top priority.
From which he goes on to argue the standard leftist claptrap. If "we" would just give up our ads, "we" could fund this or that socialist policy!

I left the following comment, which I share for my readers.

You can easily reduce the amount of advertising consumed by Americans (assuming you are one).


Turn off the TV. Don’t watch the programs which are supported by commercial advertising. Don’t watch Buffy, or those reality TV shows that you love to hate. Don’t even watch public TV, with all that “underwriting”.

Turn off the radio. Don’t listen to music which is supported by commercial advertising. Buy a CD and a CD player, or do without.

If you are unwilling to do that — to stop watching the commercial TV shows that you like — then please stop whining about how you don’t like commercials. The fact is, you are revealing your preference for them, by watching them. The fact is, you do, actually, value them (for making possible the programs that come with them), more than you value food for poor people.

Instead of watching an hour of TV, work an extra hour and donate the money to OxFam.

Stop being a hypocrite, or, own up to the fact that you value the things that you do.

NB: I do watch a small amount of TV. But I am not a hypocrite. Every evening, I have the choice whether or not to watch that TV, or work for the poor, and I choose to watch TV. I value it above feeding the poor. I am responsible for what I do. What about you?

A New Iraq Exit Strategy

This is brilliant:
The Clash Referendum:

... why don't we let the Iraqis democratically vote us out of Iraq? Let's announce that we will abide by the will of the Iraqi people as expressed in a national referendum on, say, June 30. The ballot will have just one question on it:

Should we stay or should we go?

If the Iraqis vote 'go,' then we go (within, say, 60 days). In leaving, we give the Arab world an impressive object lesson in how the United States of America believes in democracy and the rule of law. We leave with our honor intact.

If they vote 'stay,' well, then we're stuck there, but at least we've shown the world we're wanted.

Greg Cochran came up with the idea.
Of course, we don't really believe in democracy for the wogs, so this won't happen. But it is a great idea from the POV of finding a way to back out with face saved.

The March for Women's Lives

... er yeah, whatever. As if some folks are against women living, or having lives. Anyway, since I went, I figure I might as well put down a few thoughts, even though late.

I went to the march. Living in Baltimore this was not particularly hard. Going to a march like this is much like voting: it impresses people who believe in the civics-class version democracy. I figure to earn a certain street cred with socialists, since I was at the '92 march too. And I wanted to make sure there was at least one libertarian there, flying the flag of liberty (Gadsden), to show that self-ownership is not merely a socialist idea. They got it from us, the liberals, way back before they stole the label and corrupted it to mean "milquetoast socialist".

The march was a lot better organized and funded than the antiwar marches of last year. There were a few fringe lefty groups that I noticed, but not that many. Whoever it was putting it on shelled out massive bucks. All down the mall, on both sides, were these rented big-screens -- really big, like 30 feet by 20 or so -- with the 18 wheelers used to haul them in. Perhaps 8 or 10 of them. Those can't be cheap -- renting a crummy little 1280x1024 beamer for a weekend business conference is $10k. How much are massive TVs? Hard to know - $100k/day? More? That's a million right there.

There were a huge quantity of printed signs being handed out for free at the metro. And then more signs on the mall. Thousands -- would have been enough if 1M people showed. Again, even at a dollar a sign this was fairly serious money.

Anyway, we got to the mall and I unfurled the mighty Gads. Very quickly I met a libertarian, but he turned out to be a tinfoil hat type. Gah. Well, I got the thing after the peace march last year, because I wanted to meet and talk to the libertarians, not socialists. Later on I met two interesing normal libertarians - one worked at Cato. So, it worked.

I walked around, not really listening to the dumb speeches; some of the speakers had a libertarian tone, though, and that was good. Most were socialists, pity. I got in a good circuit of the crowd, though, from several hundred feet from the stage (it would have been very hard to get any closer in the throng), to the very back of the crowd, which went back almost to the Hill.

I ran into a lesbian couple from my climbing gym. That was cool. Wonder how many other folks I know who were there but I didn't run into?

After this, some more boredom while the blatherers blathered, then we got to marching. The prolife people were out in fairly good numbers, and there was the standard silly crowd stuff on both sides. Chanting: "Prolife/it's a lie/you don't care if women die"; the smarter prolife using megaphones to subvert the chant by rhyming in "you believe in genocide" at the end.

I was walking on the far left edge of the river of women, so both sides could see my flag. One guy seemed to recognize it and started yelling at me, so I tried to go talk to him, but the cops (who were numerous) along that particular stretch of road were not letting marchers close to the protestors, and pulled me back.

Later on there was a black prolife group with explicit signage relating planned parenthood to nazis and the KKK. Charming.

The crowd was huge; very impressive. And that's the point. I got some good pictures of things, but no shot of me. Oh well, I'm sure shots exist out there. Garth at America's Outback was here in the core the day before the march, and got a shot of me and the flag.

Flying the Mighty G

Sexed Politics

Fred Reed can be brilliant; read this, be pleasingly amused, and ponder:
Women and men want very different things and therefore very different worlds. Men want sex, freedom, and adventure; women want security, pleasantness, and someone to care about (or for) them. Both like power. Men use it to conquer their neighbors whether in business or war, women to impose security and pleasantness.
Billy Beck has made much the same point (anyway I think it was him... my hazy memory is not enough for google): women are evolved to have different minds than men. This informs a different politics, which is not favorable for liberty in a democratic context.

Military Power is not Constructive

I sent Jim Henley a comment on his recent piece on What to Do About North Korea, and he was kind enough to mention me. But I did not have in mind only, or even primarily, military power. Rather, what will be needed when the state in North Korea implodes is "soft" power - money, know-how, organization. Yes, some ability to break heads will probably be useful. But that's just a small part of what "nation building" entails.

This is what I said:

Of course I agree with your prescription - pull out, ignore them, and be nice. However, I disagree somewhat with your analysis of what "we" might do if somehow we did come to conquer Korea.

We'd turn 'em over to the South Koreans. Yes, the North is a basket case and all that. But we have people right there, on the ground, who speak Korean, who look Korean, who are Korean - and who are, basically, on our side. Capitalism, democracy, etc. And they are, by world standards, rich enough to help significantly. The model here should be East Germany if it is anything.

The contrast to the situation in Iraq is worth mentioning in this context. Part of the reason we're losing there is that we have no Arabic nations that are friendly enough to help us. We only have some bought states, and hirelings are not friends.

Of course, I am not sanguine on the ability of any outsiders to conquer North Korea militarily. Rather, Kim Jong Il, who has near-zero legitimacy, will eventually lose his hold on the tiger. Then he will be overthrown, and change will come.

It's Not Nam, But It'll Do

Something for the chickenhawks to read: It's Not Nam, But It'll Do by the War Nerd, Gary Brecher. He cracks me up.

Libertarian Purity Test

Since the meme is going 'round again, I thought I'd report my thoughts on the Libertarian Purity Test.

First off, my scores. If I take the test without reading the questions closely, I score 160. No sweat.

If I take the test skeptically, reading every question tightly and only agreeing when there is no possible way I can see to answer the question "No", then I score 61. An example of this is the word "abolish". To me "abolition" has the connation of a legislative act that applies universally. As an anarchist, though, I am willing to let other people have what I regard as politically-incorrect institutions. So consider q63: "Should the state be abolished?" Under the reading of "should" where "I should" or "we should" do something, I do not want to abolish all states; to do so would mean at minimum (a) war with every state in the world, (b) an army to make that war, and (c) contradiction, as you cannot supply such an army without taxation, conscription, and generally an iron-fisted state.

If the question read, "do you hope that the state peacefully fades away", then I would answer "Yes".

Generally, a lot of the questions have one or more of the following problems:
  • they lack context: I want free immigration into the USA after abolishing Federal taxation, not before. The order matters.

  • they use "we" incautiously: I do think "we" (meaning: the USA federal government) spends too much on anti-poverty. The correct level is zero. But "we" (the society of people that live in the USA), spend about the right amount. I certainly don't think that "we" should, could, or would abolish welfare under the latter reading.

  • they use "government" to mean "the state": in anarchist thought the protection agencies, judging agencies, etc will "govern" the people. Criminals will be hunted, caught, and brought to justice. This is "government".

  • they don't take account of the decentralist aspect of libertarian thought
Let me expand on that last point. If you take one particular fairly-large state that a libertarian lives in - i.e., I live in the USA, or Maryland - then I would argue that libertarian thought is, indeed, a single spectrum. At one end is North Korea; at the other end, anarchy. But we live in a federal state, and an anarchic world system. There are many states, some small and some large; and we are not citizens of them all. There are, in short, many third parties.

Libertarian thought has little to say about how third parties interact. It says what the individual should do - not coerce others. It doesn't say what to do when you find someone else coercing someone. Yes, it's admirable to help; some libertarians think it is necessary, but not all. It is not morally required. So it has nothing to say about what we should, or should not, do for people not in our state.

Furthermore, the very notion of coercion fades away gradually as you get to very small states. Consider a most-nearly-anarchic USA where counties were the states (i.e., they have the power to initiate coercion, and a monopoly), and the states and Federal government existed only as fully voluntary bodies which the counties could opt in or opt out of freely. In this scenario, an individual would have a choice of many counties to live in without changing his job. Practically speaking, this would be near anarchy, since the counties would be able to compete to be nice places to live in. Although technically they would be states, the degree to which their laws would be "coercion" would be far less than currently is the case, because "love it or leave it" would begin to have real force.

Of course, the right to secede ought to hold universally, right down to individuals and their property - that's what anarchy is. If the state can take your house, you are not free. Still, competition between counties, and small-scale democracy in them, would make the typical predations of large states (taxation, inflation, regulation) very rare in such a system.

As a measure of what I believe libertarianism is about, the test is quite lacking. I can do better than that easily. Hmm.

La Griffe du Lion

Of my daily reads, two rise above: Sailer and Henley (see right). From Sailer's site, I got to the fascinating yet damningly crimethinkish La Griffe du Lion. Here's stuff to make a liberal scream:
The fundamental law of sociology

If, as he begins this essay, the reader finds himself unacquainted with the fundamental law of sociology, he should not be reproached, for the law is first about to be articulated. It is a difficult task that we undertake, though in fact it is undemanding and straightforward. It is difficult because those who will welcome our results eagerly are among the most perfidious of our species, while those who reject them will do so out of antipathy not discernment. Sandwiched between the devil and the fuzzy-minded are the learned and sagacious readers of La Griffe du Lion, to whom we address our remarks.

The fundamental law of sociology is a summary of hundreds of observations. It asserts that:
On large-scale tests of reasoning ability, the observed mean difference between non-Hispanic whites and African Americans is 1.1 + 0.2 standard deviation.
The observation is so unerringly reproducible, it justly earns the appellation, law.
I've been meaning to post a review of la Griffe site since I discovered it (and had to read everything - sadly, he (or she) doesn't post very often). But now Sailer has saved me the work and put up this overview on vdare.

Frank Rich: Mel Gibson Forgives Us for His Sins

Found in the NYT:
Mr. Gibson's movie had almost as large an opening week as 'The Lord of the Rings.' The star has won his battle. He's hotter than ever in Hollywood, a town whose first commandment is that you never argue with a hit. ('If Hitler did a movie with these numbers, we'd give him his next deal,' one Jewish mogul told me in a phone conversation this week.)
Rich sure does feel bad about that movie.


Via Billy Beck, a fascinating tour of the Chernobyl "dead zone".
People had to leave everything, from photos of their grandparents to cars. Their clothes, cash and passports has been changed by state authorities. This is incredible, people lived, had homes, country houses, garages, motorcyles, cars, money, friends and relatives, people had their life, each in own niche and then in a matter of hours this world fall in pieces and everything goes to dogs and after few hours trip with some army vehicle one stands under some shower, washing away radiation and then step in a new life, naked with no home, no friends, no money, no past and with very doubtful future.
Lots of photos.

Still Pinned Down

On Jan 2, I criticized Mark Steyn for predicting the Iraqi resistance would collapse since Saddam was captured. Well, it's six weeks later, plus. It appears he's wrong... but we must wait a bit longer for definative proof. Reevaluation in two weeks, I promise.

Meanwhile, the War Nerd sends nyaa-nyaas to similarly wrong correspondents:
So what does it say that they’ve been doing these ambushes every single day for months, most of the time hitting us hard, killing GIs, without killing Iraqi civilians or getting caught? Simple—it means everybody, and I repeat: EVERYBODY in town is with them. Not just passively, but actively helping them. The Iraqis are our enemies. The people we’re there to liberate hate our guts.
I don't completely agree with Brecher - I don't think the hate is quite as universal as he makes out. But enough of them hate us, and the rest are cowed into silence or complicity. We won't be there in a few years. Whoever wins the struggle for the Ring, will be.

There's another new War Nerd too, yeah buddy! Haiti.

Abraham Lincoln Brigade

From wikipedia:
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade was a loose organization of American volunteers supporting or fighting for the anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War.

... the brigade was made up of volunteers from all walks of American life, and from all socio-economic classes. It was the first racially integrated American fighting force, and the first to have an African-American officer, Oliver Law, led white soldiers.

American volunteers began organizing and arriving in Spain in 1936. ... By early 1937, its numbers had swelled from an initial 96 volunteers to around 450 members.

The International Brigade was used by the Loyalist army for several battles in Spain. ...

The Brigade was a cause celebre in the United States, however. Liberal and socialist groups organized fund-raising activities and supply drives to keep the Brigade afloat. News of the Brigade's high casualty rate and bravery in battle made them romantic figures to an America concerned about the rise of Fascism around the world.
The Lincolns are the canonical example of what I am talking about when I say it is perfectly fine for people that want to try to save the world to do so. Voluntarily, using their own lives or money.

But the business of the USA - the government - is as follows: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". It is not to "establish our rule over others", "ensure international Tranquility", "provide for the UN's defence", or "promote the welfare of foreigners". These goals may be good goals, or maybe not. Either way, they aren't what our government is empowered to do.

Save the World on Your Own Dime

Jim Henley has been having an interesting argument with Tacitus. But he has made the fundamental mistake of accepting Tacitus' worldview. Tacitus assumes (tacitly) that all possible worlds involve America pushing around the world. In doing so we create enemies; and they sometimes try to help each other out. Thus we must fight, fight, fight. We have allies (particularly Israel; but our support of dictatorships like Saudi Arabia also counts) that are themselves involved in wars or insurrections; and thus we take on proxy enemies.

Henley and Tacitus are, in essence, arguing about those proxy enemies. Are they really dangerous to Americans, or not? If so, how much? Etc. etc.

But this misses the point that if America followed a libertarian foreign policy - isolationism - we would not have foreign enemies; either directly on our own account or via proxy. Therefore it would not matter to us whether they are working together or not; and there would be no necessity for us to try to analyze intelligence to try to determine for every group in the world whether or it is "trying to kill us". Consider Switzerland. Nobody is writing long screeds arguing about whether or not Hezbollah is targeting Swiss citizens or not in their war with Israel. It's a non-topic. Isolationism works, at least against foreign terrorists (domestic is different; there, liberty works).

Now, Tacitus seems to be aware of the attractiveness of political isolation; and he tried to head it off via an analogy with personal crime: the Kitty Genovese analogy:
There are ample grounds for warring against these three groups within the context of strictly American interests. All three have posed, and do pose, a clear and present danger to the United States and Americans. But let us not pretend that there would be no such case for war against them in the absence of such direct threats. I would argue that it is enough that they are practitioners of jihad. Even if you don't accept that, it is nonetheless still enough that they are, by any objective standard, barbarous and evil, and perpetrating their monstrous crimes upon innocents. In my book, that merits my active opposition. I know that libertarians like Henley disagree: in their book, foreign policy must be run strictly on the Kitty Genovese principle. Which has the advantage of being simple and easy to apply, for sure. When you see the dead neighbor, though, it tends to tax the conscience.
In Tacitus' mind, there is no difference between state action and individual action. If there an evil anywhere in the world, it merits Tacitus' "active opposition"; but by this he means not that he, personally, will go to try to solve the problem - rather, he means all Americans should be taxed, to pay for yet others who will go, to go do what he, Tacitus, says they should do, to solve the problem. This is not generousity as a libertarian understands it.

America should be myopically concerned with evil only in America: defending ourselves against invasion. That does not, however, mean that Americans can do nothing about non American evil. They can send (their own) money; they can volunteer themselves (not others), and go try to help. But America as a state should do nothing - solving problems in Zimbabwe is not the business of America.

There are several huge advantages to isolationism, which I think Tacitus has a dim understanding of. One is, that it's very easy to crisply delineate boundaries for it; consider by contrast the neocons' "invade the world" idea: should "we" invade North Korea? Haiti? Where is there not evil in the world, other than possibly Antartica? Yet, "we" seem to be unwilling (or dare I say unable) to invade every country in the world.

A second big advantage to isolationism is that it involves no necessary invasion of our other liberties. A peaceful nation is compatible with liberty; a nation at war is not.

And a third advantage: it's moral. Unlike Tacitus' taxation funded strategy of invade the world.

And finally, there's a big practical advantage to fighting against evil with your own time, money and life, rather than others' forceably taken: costs are internalized, which (economics tells us) will result in solutions that work better; better bang for the buck.

Of course, there's a huge downside to a moral foreign policy, from the POV of secular millenarialists like Tacitus: when you can't use force to extract resources, the scale of what you can do to push around foreign people and "fight evil" is vastly reduced; and that's especially so for "evil" that's mostly in the eye of the beholder. To those who see America as the instrument of history or God or Progress, to uplift humanity and bring about Good everywhere, this is a big problem.

It's not to me, nor should it be to any decent libertarian. You'd think that the idea of using the state to achieve secular salvation would have died with the Soviet Union - but no, only the idea of domestic socialism was discredited. War socialism is alive and well in the American Right.

Presence of Mind

Via Billy Beck, just discovered (possible re-) Presence of Mind. All sorts of interesting stuff there; go play. This post got me hooked. It's funny, snotty, and the libertarians triumph in a little way!
I have always been very careful to insulate my son Cameron, just turned twelve a month ago, from my beliefs. He knows what they are, if only because he hears me talking to my wife ... I can't help it that Cameron knows what I think, but I can make damn sure that he knows what he thinks.

This is an issue right now because of an assignment he has in his Language class. (I have no idea what Language, as distinct from language, might be; presumably it's an excuse for not teaching English.) The assignment, the momentous '6th Grade Fall Project,' is due today. This is the challenge the sixth graders (note that in language, as distinct from Language, positive cardinal and ordinal numbers below 13 are spelled out) must surmount:
Assignment: You are designing a building or complex that would benefit your community in some way. You will present your building or complex to the class as if they are the City Council. You are attempting to get the 'City Council' to approve your proposal.

  1. 400 or more word essay that explains why you chose this particular project. You must include where you got the idea and how you created your model.

    • A. Model: Create a model of your building for the 'City Council' to see. Make sure you can carry it into class.
    • B. Blueprints: On poster board or large pieces of construction paper, draw your designs out. Make sure we get a clear picture of what you want.
    • C. PowerPoint presentation: You may create a PowerPoint presentation. Again, you must give a clear idea of what your building or complex looks like.

  3. Presentation: You will present your idea to the class. The presentation must be 2-4 minutes in length. Practice this at home and time it.
There is no limit to what I can find to hate in this assignment.

The kid comes up with a great idea: Robin Hood, Inc.:
At Robin Hood, Incorporated, we believe that so-called "community investments" which lose money are not investments. An investment that loses money is not an investment at all! It's just an oxymoron! So we take these so-called "community investments" and liquidate their valuable assets, raze or sell the structures, and sell the real estate back into the free market.
Good grade!

Tolerance and Rights-ideology

Animal rights, mentioned below, is only one of many areas where rights-theory fails to work. Another example is that of incompetent, irrational, or non-adult humans. Hitting people, we think, is wrong because it violates a right not-to-be-hit. Your right to swing your fist ends, etc. etc. But what of corporal punishment? Is that not "aggression"? Personally I think it is OK, suitably governed, but I'm surely aware that others disagree on that. Philosophically, I can tolerate error: anarchists tend to be localist. The only place I am concerned with the legality of corporal punishment is where I happen to live. But the statist cannot be philosophically tolerant.

If a statist really has no opinion on an issue, then the fight over it by others more idealist doesn't really concern him, but he will get one policy or the other as a result.

The tolerant statist with an opinion is always hit with an argument from ideals. If something is right for him, in an idealist world it must be right for everyone. And if that's true, then a Federalist argument - to let other sub-states determine a different policy - looks either wrong, or like moral cowardice. Why not use the Federal state to crush the incorrect policies?

To an anarchist idealist, things look different. "Crushing" other people's laws is tantamount to war. So ideals, even if attractive, must be worth fighting a war over. The practical result will be a lot fewer universal laws in anarchy, and a lot greater variety.

Animal Rights in Anarchy

I was once a libertarian minarchist. It's been a long time since then, and sometimes I forget the inescapable logic that lead me into the anarchist camp. But then all I have to do is read a libertarian blog for a while, and it comes back.

Case in point: this article at the Agitator:
While discussing animal rights with a couple of colleagues over happy hour a while back, we started discussing what value we ought to place on animals, and what rights animals have that ought to be protected by the state. ...

[Scenario:] A real life Cruella Da Vil systematically buys up cute, furry puppies, then tortures and slaughters them solely for entertainment value.
[Read the comments; they are worth the trouble.]

This is one of a myriad of places where traditional libertarian rights theory falls down. Our instincts assert to us that animals do have rights. Many people try to get around that, by worrying that torturing cute puppies might be a gateway to "real" human rights-violations. But let's assume not: Cruella has lived and worked with all manner of people for years, quite peacefully. She's never committed any crime, nor even raised her voice against a fellow human. She just likes the screaming of puppies, that's all.

If animals can be admitted to have any rights whatsoever (and that's exactly the compelling case that Peter Singer made in Animal Liberation), then it's hard to see where their rights begin and end. Here's the problem: we assume they have rights, less than ours, more than a mere inanimate piece of property. But they cannot articulate nor fight for their rights. Only we conceive of rights. So how to know what their rights are?

Failing to define animal rights means inevitable human conflict, as one human claims rights over an animal owned by another.

The problem of animal rights largely disappears once we give up on the notion of platonic Rights, and the State to enforce them. To my way of thinking, anarchy is something that will naturally unfold out of human nature. Its ideology will be libertarian as a practical matter, but anarchy precedes the ideology, not vice-versa. In anarchy, animal rights and human rights are exactly the same - ideas that humans have, not platonic solids out there somewhere. In both cases, they are things that human customers will try to get provided by their protection agencies. Within a given state, there cannot be two policies, so there must be conflict and forced agreement. In anarchy, there will still be some forced agreement - some things, like laws against murder, are not negotiable. But there is the widest possible latitude for multiple policies. (That's why we've already determined that federalism works - it allows multiple policies.) And animal rights, as with other areas of rights-theory that are fundamentally unclear, will be one of the areas where a thousand flowers will bloom.

Some protection agencies will take a "anything goes" view of animal rights. Animals are mere property and you can torture them at will, if you like. Your neighbors, of course, will be free to shun you if they find out. Landlords will be free not to rent to you. Employers will be free to terminate you. But no government will interfere. Other protection agencies, probably the majority, will have anti-abuse laws. Why? Because most people, decent people like "brooke" in the Agitator's comments, will demand them, and supplying them is not expensive.

As "brooke" says:
I can't quite say that someone's preference for torturing and slaughtering puppies is more important than the puppies' lives. It has an ickiness factor that I can't wish away with my libertarian principles.
Quite so.
Offending Liberty

Read this article by Brad Edmonds
I get impassioned emails from readers who are military veterans or relatives of military veterans, saying, in essence, 'You go ahead and say your terrible things. The men and women of the armed forces will continue risking their lives to defend your right to say it.' These readers claim that the only reason I'm free to say the things I do, and the reason I owe the military all sorts of my money, is because the military has for 200 years defended my freedom all over the world.

I say, Hogwash! ...

I'm sorry that so many honorable military men and women have been misled. I'm sorry that so many believe they fought for our freedoms. I'm sorry that a smaller, but significant, percentage of those believe that I personally owe them an involuntarily-taken chunk of my income. Morally, I do not owe them this. I did not ask them to do what they did; they already have been, and are being, paid; I believe my freedom has only been eroded, not enhanced, by their presence; and I believe my actual personal safety is more threatened by their existence, not less, as a result of how they have been used by Congress and the White House.

I'd only quibble with Edmonds on the small issue of women in combat. Equality under the law demands that any Federal institution, including the military, make every effort to achieve equality of opportunity. Withholding certain jobs from a class of citizens based on their genes is thus not supportable, either morally, or (IMO) under the Constitution:
14th Amendment
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States,
and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the
United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State
shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges
or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any
State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law, nor deny any person within its jurisdiction
the equal protection of the laws.
The only limit on service in the government should be competence to do the job. The average woman may not be strong enough to be an infantrymen. That's one thing. But there are many combat roles that do not require much physical strength. Tankers don't walk; they drive. Women would make great tankers. Let 'em ride, I say.

Of course, in my ideal world the US military would only be a few thousand people, supported by bake sales and charitable donations. As Edmonds points out, it is the militia - the people, armed to the teeth - that make us unconquerable. Having a bloated military is not needed for defense; its use is offense. It's a form of corporate welfare: not just in terms of handing out tax dollars to the military industrial complex to generate expensive high-tech weapons, but in terms of subsidizing the security costs of corporations in and out of the US.
The Incredible Shrinking Terrorist Threat

I mailed Jim Henley the other day some thoughts that I almost posted here, but I've been kind of lazy about posting. Anyway, he saved me the trouble and posted them as part of his mailbag response. Go read it there. Jim asks,
why don't America's terrorist enemies apply the 'Israel model' to strikes against the US? Is it because they don't think it will do any good, or because they don't have the resources to mount a sustained campaign?
I think the answer to that is sort of both, sort of neither. Terrorists (and "freedom fighters") are utility maximizers; they strike where they think they'll do the most good relative to the cost to them. Costs here are not necessarily their lives, which they hold cheap; but the difficulty of getting the physical goods (explosives, weapons, etc.) for the operation, and the difficulty of getting physical access to the scene of the operation.

The place where it is cheap to strike is among sympathetic people, and close to home, and where security procedures are lax. The USA is apparently not generating political terrorists from among our home-grown Arab-Americans. So there is nobody who wants to strike here for whom it is the home field. Clearly, Arab terrorists are going to find it easiest to pull off operations where there are lots of Arabs. On the supply side, "security" measures do affect terrorism at the margins. Sure, the USA has instituted a lot of mickey-mouse bullshit security since 9/11. But I'd wager not all of it is completely worthless; and if most of it is vile from a libertarian perspective it still may "work" from a myopic security POV.

"Security" is a microcosm of the entire War on Terra. Short term fix for problems we caused, which will result in long-term problems. Both fit exactly into the paradigm of creeping socialism. Social control is like squeezing a balloon - pass a law to squeeze it in here, it "unexpectedly" pops out there, and you need another law; repeat until everyone lives their life chained in a padded room watching only PBS.
Personal Anarchy

Butler Shaffer had a nice article about anarchy on lewrockwell:
I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives.

Should you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched, required to show a passport or driver’s license, fined, jailed, threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful, voluntary, and devoid of coercion.
Anarchists are those who think that peaceful relationships can be extended throughout society. But it's always worth pointing out that the vast majority of our interactions are already ungoverned by any law, other than that of voluntary association. My friends are not mandated.
Anarchy in the Northeast

It's a pity this won't work:
KILLINGTON - Voters may consider something a bit weightier than the usual town meeting fare this spring - whether to secede from Vermont.

The Select Board is considering asking for voter approval to cut ties with the Green Mountain State and essentially have the town become a landlocked piece of New Hampshire. ...

'We're very serious,' said Select Board Chairman Norman Holcomb. 'It's not just an effort to make a statement. It's an effort to save our community.'

But officials in Montpelier don't seem worried about having to redraw any maps. Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz cited some imposing obstacles to Killington's quest, beginning with the legal relation between the state and its towns.

'This is symbolic, clearly,' she said. 'Absent an armed insurrection type of thing, there isn't anything a town can do to secede. A town is a construction of the state and exists at the pleasure of the Legislature.'

Killington's discontent has to do with justice as much as dollars, according to Town Manager David Lewis. It is rooted in the history of Killington's effort to fight for an equitable tax scheme since the passage of the statewide property tax, Act 60, in 1997, he said, and a sense that the town has exhausted all its options. The town manager compared Killington's situation to that of the American colonists under the British monarchy. He said Killington sends $10 million to the state every year through the statewide property tax, and receives only $1 million in return.

Sales and business taxes generated in the resort town add another $10 million to state coffers. But Killington, with less than 1,000 full-time residents and one legislator shared with three other towns, does not have the political clout to bring this money back to the community, Lewis said.

'They don't have to worry about 1,000 people here affecting anything politically. We're a big meal ticket to them,' he said.
They don't have enough rifles to pull it off. But imagine a world where every city, county, township, etc. was explicitly allowed to reaffiliate at will with the state of its choice. That's not so far fetched, but the effects would be far reaching. Suburbs and rural areas would secede from the more socialist states and affiliate themselves with low-tax states. This would concentrate tax-hating people into low-tax states, thereby creating political incentives to lower taxes even further. "New Hampshire", "Wyoming", and "Alaska" would spread nationwide. Meanwhile, the socialist inner cities would gradually all be gathered together into "California" and "New York", which would collapse financially because of ruinous taxation. People would then vote with their feet to get out of the socialist hellhole "states", and into the capitalist "states". But this would not typically very difficult - it would usually mean only moving to a nearby suburb, not out into the middle of nowhere. Eventually the capitalist states would have to take over and reform the socialist ones.
On Immigration

So Bush has a new proposal to reform the USA's immigration system. The usual suspects shriek; the Democrats say little because they know it will favor them. Basically the idea is to implement a guest worker program; this probably looks great to the President because it would be a reserve army of non-voting unemployed who can be kicked out during recessions, thereby making himself look good. (He's probably wishing for some expendable workers that could be exported right now!) I also expect that the neocons like the idea of a greater America. They can knock over foriegn states, true, but they can't conquer the world because they cannot control entire alien populations. But they expect that with our fine public schools, they can beef up America by importing people and Americanizing them. Bush wants to increase the legal immigration rate. But opponents of the guest worker system are right that it will also increase immigration, illegal and legal. People who are here "temporarily" will just stay and go underground. Also, they'll have children - instant new citizens. Then family unification kicks in. No sweat.

Immigration is a conundrum for libertarians. On the one hand, people should have the right to travel and live whereever they want. "We" should not be excluding anyone. There should be no immigration system at all, nor border controls - abolish the entire business. On the other hand, we do in fact have a state, and it is doing what states always do - redistribution to buy support. And immigrants get goodies too; hence, some immigrants come here only as rent seekers. That's wrong - they're exploiting those of us who produce. Knowing all the transfers that go to immigrants on my dollar, I'm definitely inclined when wearing my technocrat hat towards a system of immigration more like Canada's - that is, only let in people when you can be pretty sure they'll pull their weight.

In anarchy, if it were to happen tomorrow and the wealth levels of the world stayed the same, there would be massive immigration into the USA. Why? Because we have massive amount of capital here, and the only way to access a lot of it is to move here. That's why our wages are high, at least, in the short-term sense. (In the long term, we're rich because we are capitalist - more on that anon.) The incorrect, but common understanding of the Hans-Hermann Hoppe thesis (that a stateless society would or could control immigration) is bullshit. Read what Hoppe himself says. In a stateless society, because all property would be privately owned, in theory "they" could collectively stop immigration by refusing to rent or sell to any immigrant. Similarly, in theory "we" can collectively stop crime by simply refraining from any criminal acts. The point is, as always, there is no "we" in anarchy. "We" assumes that everyone in a whole country might act the same way. That never happens, not even in a state that coerces uniformity. We're humans, and there's money to be made. Employers don't care who the employee is as long as the job gets done. Landlords don't care who the tenant is as long as the rent comes in on time.

So the long run goal is clear: no state, no immigration controls, and probably as a result a very high level of immigration. It would all be "legal immigration" looked at from our current point of view, since the entire notion of "illegal immigration" would be inoperative. However, these immigrants would not be responding to the same set of incentives that current immigrants face. They would be getting much more liberty, including the liberty to keep their culture. But they'd not have the power to take money from the current residents involuntarily.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we face a problem. The welfare state is not going away. It's much easier to reform immigration - which affects nonvoters - than to take even the most transparently wrong welfare off the books. So, what to do? The vdare types would say that's easy: restrict immigration. But to me that's not so clear. If welfare and immigration are intimately tied together, then perhaps the way to undo welfare is to free immigration. After all, arguably it was the early-century restriction of immigration which made the New Deal politically possible. The vdare mindset would say: it's too late for that. "White" people are already close to a minority: soon they will be, and the socialist transfer state will be unstoppable. This is a reasonable argument.

I mentioned earlier that America is rich, in the short run, because we have capital. That's true, but it's also true that we have capital largely because we had capitalism up until the 30s, and even now have a fairly capitalist economy. The long run problem for America is maintain the institutions that permit laissez faire. And for that, allowing untrammelled immigration might well be a problem. Poor people and culturally alien people in general, and low-intelligence (== uncompetitive) poor foreign people in specific, are dangers in a capitalist (more or less) democracy, because they are likely to vote for rents. Bush's proposal can perhaps be seen in this light as somewhat helpful: although it seems to envision much higher immigration, by regularizing the process it should make it much easier for immigrants to come from places that are not physically close to the US - that is, it should increase the proportion of immigrants from places other than Mexico (most specifically) and Central America (in general). If this has the effect of increasing the flow of culturally capitalist, educated, and/or intelligent immigrants from the rest of the world, it may not prove to be destabilizing to liberty as the current immigration pattern is. However, that remains to be seen. Right now, the immigrants which we want from the POV of capitalist America - educated Chinese, basically - are still voting Democratic. But that may yet change.
Mission Impossible

We aren't wasting money fast enough down here on Earth, it seems. Most Americans love war, but it doesn't create enough jobs. And the killing is distasteful (at least to some of us weaker humans). To get reelected, the Republicans clearly feel they need to connect more of the people with the Federal tit. Thus Bush Plans To Call for Settlement On Moon. The piece has to be read to be believed. The gap between what the USA can do (not much - shuttles go boom!), and what is proposed is huge. Meanwhile the need for manned spaceflight is severely lacking (and the Federal government's need for it even more lacking), and the scientific value of the endeavor is near if not exactly zero. (It's subzero compared to what the US is currently doing: using robotic probes.) But none of those minor problems should stop the "mission to Pluto"!
Pinned Down

It's always nice when you can actually get the opposition to predict something clearly. This shows their worldview; their working assumptions. Case in point: hawk Mark Steyn

On Groundhog Day in America, the groundhog emerges from his hole and whether or not he sees his shadow determines whether winter will last another six weeks. I don't know whether Groundhog Hussein saw his shadow when he emerged from the hole, but another six weeks of insurgency sounds about right, after which it will peter out, despite the urgings of Tariq Ali, George Galloway and other armchair insurgents.
That is, Steyn appears to believe that the insurgency is a Ba'ath lead thing, and with no leader, it will go poof. In contrast is the idea that the insurgency is popular, and the idea that with the chance to become a billionaire at stake, greedy and ruthless men will be fighting like animals for the ring of post-Saddam power. (Idea #2 courtesy of Steve Sailer - read down about two posts.)

Who's right? Well, let's check back in six weeks - mid Feb - and see if there are still attacks going on against US forces and the Iraqi organizations blessed by the US. Then check in again by maybe March to see if they've petered out. My prediction: they won't. The insurgency will continue through the year.