Jacob Levy offers a compelling explanation of why American, British, and Australian troops are fighting together in Iraq, but fellow Anglosphereans Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand are sitting on their hands at home. Very interesting…
Keep in mind, here, that I agree 100% with the Objectivist politics. In terms of my own political and philosophical views, I’m a very dull sort of ordinary Objectivist with no fancy frills like determinism or anarchy or anything of the sort. As radicals for capitalism go, I’m very conventional.
More seriously, later in the post Jimmy wrote:
In Ayn Rand’s “The Nature of Government”, _Virtue of Selfishness_, she offers a “reduction” of the concept of government, asking “Do men need such an institution — and why?”
1. If we read that essay carefully, taking full note of the wider context of the concepts of Objectivism, we can pull out and analyze _just_ those aspects of her discussion of government that would have direct bearing on the question of whether (and to what degree) the institution of “organized force” must be a monopoly.
My own belief is that Ayn Rand did not treat this question with as much detail as it can be treated today, because much anarchocapitalist theory was unknown to her at that time. (Because it hadn’t yet been developed!)
2. After we’ve done that, we can consider the question “Does the maintenance of such a monopoly necessarily involve rights violations?” I think the answer is that it does not, that Childs argument on that point fails, but I think that the question *is* a compelling question that deserves a detailed answer.
I agree with Jimmy that the government-as-coercive-monopoly argument isn’t very compelling. (Basically, it’s an extremely rationalistic argument.) I’m far more intrigued by the challenge to minarchy posed by David Friedman’s public good argument, as it indicates that pressure to expand government power is inherent in institution of government itself. I discussed this problem in an 1997 OWL essay on anarchism:
In Chapter 39 of Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman makes an interesting argument as to why minarchy produces worse laws than anarchy and therefore it is in the nature of governments to expand in size and power. If I understand him correctly, he argues that in a minarchy, good law is a public good, while in anarcho-capitalism, bad law is a public good.
A particular good is a “public good” if (1) one person’s consumption of the good does not interfere with another’s (non-rivalry) and (2) it is very difficult, if not impossible, to produce the good for some people but not others (non-exclusion). Because of these limitations, public goods will be underproduced in the marketplace, even when the value exceeds the production costs. For example, national defense is a public good, because my enjoyment of our system of national defense does not impinge upon my neighbors’ enjoyment of it and because we cannot create a system of national defense in which I receive the benefits, but my neighbors do not.
Under a system of limited government, good (rights-respecting) laws have both the features of public goods. Imagine that a new, simpler tax code has been instituted. My taking advantage of the new tax code does not prevent or inhibit anyone else from doing exactly the same thing. Additionally, I can take advantage of the tax code even if I did nothing to promote it or even voted against it. The new tax laws apply to everyone in the jurisdiction. On the other hand, bad law is often a private good. Particular individuals can benefit greatly from special interest legislation to give subsidies to, for example, only sugar growers.
As a result, as David Friedman notes, “any attempt to improve the society as a whole is caught in the … public good trap. Anything I do to make America freer will benefit everyone; the small part of the benefit that is going to me is rarely sufficient to justify my doing very much.” (I>Machinery of Freedom, 157)
In a anarcho-capitalist system, on the other hand, good law is a private good, while bad law is a public good. Friedman writes, “Good law is still expensive — I must spend time and money determining which protection agency will best serve me — but having decided what I want, I get what I pay for. The benefit of my wise purchase goes to me, so I have an incentive to purchase wisely. It is now the person who wishes to reintroduce government who is caught in the public good problem. He cannot abolish anarchy and reintroduce government for himself alone; he must do it for everyone or for no one.” (Machinery of Freedom, 158)
This public good-private good analysis both shows why our government (despite an amazing constitution) has grown into a leviathan over the past 200 years and indicates that anarcho-capitalism is likely to be far more stable a system.
Because the apparent instability of minarchy over time is of great concern to me, I am very interested to hear the minarchist response to these criticisms. Is Friedman’s analysis of the issues here correct? Is it possible to compensate for the public good effects in minarchy through economic incentives? (In other words, I’m uninterested in appeals to how moral people will act in the hypothetical minarchy. I don’t hold much stock in the moral fiber of individuals when promises of unearned money and the trappings of power beckon.)
Although I’m not nearly as sympathetic to anarchism as I was when I wrote that essay, I still think that addressing this public good problem is critical to the case for limited government.
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My friend Tom Stone informs me that the Ayn Rand Institute has bought Second Renaissance, which runs Ayn Rand Bookstore and Objectivist Conferences. The announcement of the purchase confirms the news.
In more exciting news the Ayn Rand Bookstore has been hacked by some vaguely coherent (although not very funny or smart) anti-war hacktivists.
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Paul just suggested that our armed forces liberate California after we’re done with Iraq. The territory is about the same size, with a great deal of desert. And Californians are living under a repressive government. Furthermore, the repressed minority of conservatives in the areas north of San Francisco would likely be willing to take up arms to overthrow the Davis regime. I just hope that the Liberals don’t set the oil fields on fire…
Ah, it’s good to have my husband at home again.
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The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.
But having officers who don’t abscond with their troops’ pay is, in fact, one example of the superiority of Western ideas, and it’s one that translates rather directly into superiority where organized violence is concerned. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dictatorships like Saddam’s — which based on history and prevalence might be regarded as the “natural” form of human governance — turn out to be lousy at war. Democracies embodying Western ideas turn out to be a lot better. That’s not a coincidence, however much non-Westerners might wish to believe that it is.
I would add that the military might of Western culture is a direct outgrowth of our scientific progress over the past three centuries or so, progress that was only made possible though the philosophical achievements of the Enlightenment. The West’s skills in “applying organized violence” are not some bizarre primary feature, but rather a direct consequence of “the superiority of its ideas or values or religion.” We are fascinated with science. We value truth and progress. We are willing to set aside the superstitions of religion in the face of scientific fact. These ideas and values are never found in abundance in primitive cultures… and they make all the difference in the world.
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Stephen Hicks is a smart guy… and some of the people responding to him are clearly … shall we say … “philosophically challenged.”
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Terry blogs about Bigfoot documentaries:
By the end of these documentaries, it was clear that the makers wanted you to believe in at least the possibility of Bigfoot’s existence. I came away believing that Bigfoot shows how powerful boredom, a gorilla suit, a movie camera and a case of Olympia beer can be on the human psyche.
In the words of Our Bounteous Blogging Lord: Heh.
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Hooray! I’ve been plowed out! The dogs and I celebrated by getting the mail out of our now-lopsided mailbox. (The impact of the snow from plowing the street has pushed it about 30 degrees off-kilter.) Thankfully, Paul will be able to come home tonight, rather than spending a fourth night at the Aurora hospital. Even better, he’ll be bringing two gallons of my drug of choice: MILK! I made “war cookies,” i.e. walnut chocolate chip cookies made (unintentionally) in the opening hours of the war, but I ran out of milk last night. Gack! Cookies and water is less than satisfying.
I wasn’t aware of how burdensome the confinement was to the dogs until our walk down the driveway. Well, I walked. They leapt and wiggled and ran and bounded and panted and sniffed and chased and scurried and… We were going down to the barn twice a day to feed the horses, but that clearly wasn’t terribly satisfying to them. They clearly appreciated the room to run.
My easy walk tonight was nothing like yesterday evening’s pre-plowing hopeless attempt to get down the 500 feet or so to the road. (I only made it about 50 feet, as snow was simply too deep and heavy.) But tonight was a pleasant and easy jaunt. Hooray!
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Fox News is reporting that “shock and awe” has begun.
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Jed Babbin and I have had similar thoughts about the consequences of embedding the press. He writes:
For those of us who wore the uniform in the Vietnam era, the most amazing thing is not the capability of our soldiers, or their equipment, or the level of success so far. It’s not the calm, tough aura around the field grade and senior commanders. That stuff is all the norm. The amazement comes from the attitude of the press embedded with the troops.
During Vietnam, we shunned the press. They were the enemy, almost as much as the North Vietnamese were. They couldn’t be trusted, and deserved the mushroom treatment. The “five o’clock follies” body count briefings were meant to keep them at a distance. But the Newly Embedded Pressies (or “NEPs” if I am permitted to invent an acronym) are learning much in a prolonged lesson denied their predecessors. They are getting to know — and love — the guys on the line. Being there, seeing these young folks, their intelligence, training and enormous capability will implant a respect for the American soldier no other experience can. Big Dog Don Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers have built a bridge to the press that will pay off in fairness and understanding for decades to come.
This change is a Very Good Thing.