Posts tagged LewRockwell.com

Against fiscal conservatism: on inpropriating the expropriators

(Via Lew @ The LRC Blog.)

In which Chairman Ron does his bit to fill the coffers of the U.S. Department of the Treasury:

Like him or hate him, Dr. Ron Paul doesn’t just talk a big game about fiscal conservatism, he lives it. In 2008, his congressional office returned $58,000 to the Treasury. In 2009, his office returned $90,000. Now, according to an official press release, Dr. Ron Paul’s congressional office has just paid back $100,000.

— Ryan Jaroncyk, California Independent Voter Network (2010-03-01): Congressman Ron Paul returns a whopping $100,000 of his office budget to the US Treasury

… And that’s why I’m against fiscal conservatism. Why the fuck would I think it’s a good thing for the U.S. government to get back $100,000 more to spend on bailing out failed bankers or on hurting and killing innocent people? What I’d like most is for that money to get back into the hands of innocent working people (whether under the cover of Congressional featherbedding, or by any other means). But failing that, we’d still all be better off if Ron Paul took the $100,000, piled it up on the National Mall, and set it all on fire, rather than giving it back to the United States Treasury.

At a time when Wall St is running wild, the national debt is $14 trillion, and the federal government is running $1.4 trillion deficits, Dr. Ron Paul’s congressional office is running a surplus and paying back the American people.

No, he isn’t.

He’s paying the American government. The American people, if that means American people like you and me and our neighbors, will get back not one cent of it. Instead, the money will go directly into the operational budget of the government that oppresses and robs us.

Of course, none of this is to say that I like big government spending. But the problem with government spending is not the fact that money goes out of the Treasury; it’s that government spending is financed by expropriation from working people (whether through direct taxation or through the effects of the financial-political complex’s coercive money monopoly). And that government spending goes to fund more expropriation and more violence — in the form of government wars, government borders, government surveillance, forced development schemes and eminent domain seizures, police brutality, prisons, tax-men, hang-men, or the arming, training, and employment of government law-enforcers to inflict their myriad unjust laws on the rest of us without our consent. The problem, in short, is not government spending at all; it’s government violence. But just giving surplus money back to the government, without doing anything to constrain the violence that the state commits — going out of your way to help government balance its budgets and get leaner and meaner in the use of the resources that it has on hand — is as nice an example as you could want of exactly the kind of stupid conservative trap that limited-statism passes off as if it had something to do with freedom.

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On Big Charity

I’ve talked here a couple times before about the notion of mass education and targeted persuasion and how important it is to what I take myself to be doing in writing a crazy-ass blog about all my crazy-ass positions like I do. (The basic notion here is that one way to advance crazy-ass radical views — views which you’re not likely to convince many people of, just as they are, outside of a relatively small, somewhat self-selected target audience — you can still move the conversation forward in really important ways just by taking the time to put the position on people’s intellectual radar — by explaining the view, and why some people might hold it, clearly enough that you thereby push out people’s horizons of intelligible dissent. Most folks still won’t accept your position, but if you do it right, you will get them to where they’ll consider it as a position that’s open for discussion. And just doing that much has a big damn effect on where discussions can go.)

Anyway, the point of mentioning all this is to bring up a really fine post that Roderick put up last month, entitled Wild Cards, which I think does some really important work towards just that kind of dialectical project. After some excellent introductory material which introduces several of the same notions, in other terms, Roderick comes around to this really quite excellent effort to distill the left-libertarian position down to six key points:

Our vital task, then, is to get the word out that there is a position out there that includes the following theses:

  1. Big business and big government are (for the most part) natural allies.

  2. Although conservative politicians pretend to hate big government, and liberal politicians pretend to hate big business, most mainstream policies – both liberal and conservative – involve (slightly different versions of) massive intervention on behalf of the big-business/big-government elite at the expense of ordinary people.

  3. Liberal politicians cloak their intervention on behalf of the strong in the rhetoric of intervention on behalf of the weak; conservative politicians cloak their intervention on behalf of the strong in the rhetoric of non-intervention and free markets – but in both cases the rhetoric is belied by the reality.

  4. A genuine policy of intervention on behalf of the weak, if liberals actually tried it, wouldn’t work either, since the nature of government power would automatically warp it toward the interests of the elite.

  5. A genuine policy of non-intervention and free markets, if conservatives actually tried it, would work, since free competition would empower ordinary people at the expense of the elite.

  6. Since conservative policies, despite their associated free-market rhetoric, are mostly the diametrical opposite of free-market policies, the failures of conservative policies do not constitute an objection to (but rather, if anything, a vindication of) free-market policies.

Of course we should be prepared to defend these theses through economic reasoning and historical evidence, but the main goal at this point, I think, should be not so much to defend them as simply to advertise their existence. We need to make our red spades and black hearts a sufficiently familiar feature of the intellectual landscape that people will be able to see them for what they are rather than misclassifying them – at which point we’ll be in a better position to defend them.

— Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-09-10): Wild Cards

Read the whole thing.

Now, part of the point of this kind of thing is to provoke discussion. And here’s Stephan Kinsella’s reply to principle (1) in particular:

As I noted there, Do you mean big business as it exists in today’s world, or big business per se? If the former, you have a point (and from my quick read I don’t disagree with any of your other points). But to argue for the latter interpretation would imply that there could be no big business in a free society.

It seems that the bigger a company is, in today’s world, the more they have to play ball to prosper. I’m not sure, though, why this observation is limited to big business, or even business in general. Even individuals drive on public roads, and are incentivized or coerced into using public schools, say. And what about Big Medicine, Big Education, Big Research, and so on? (And let’s not forget Big Labor!)

Come to think of it—most larger charities I’m aware of continually seek state partnerships and funding, and encourage state redistribution schemes. Down with charity!

— Stephan Kinsella, The LRC Blog (2009-09-15): Big Charity

Sometimes with Stephan, it’s hard to tell whether he intends this kind of but-what-about, doesn’t-everybody move as just some further observations riffing on the general theme or whether he really intends for it to be taken as support (by means of a reductio) for some specific objection. But if this is intended as part of an objection to (the per-se interpretation of) Roderick’s claims about the alliance between Big Business and the interventionist State, then what exactly is the objection here supposed to be?

Let’s set aside Stephan’s mentions of individuals driving on government roads, or sending children to government schools. Sure they do; but this doesn’t strike me as even remotely compelling, if you pause for even a second to consider matters of degree, and it’s hard to see what purpose mentioning it really serves except as a way to just sort of scatter critique as broadly as possible. Last year, the Department of the Treasury sent me a $600 check, allegedly for the purpose of economic stimulus — just like how they also cut AIG a $170,000,000,000 check last year, also allegedly for the purpose of economic stimulus. But, well, so what? I’d say it’s still pretty accurate to see AIG as having a much closer relationship with bail-out statism than I do.

So let’s set aside the doesn’t-everybody move, and stick to the comments on other Bigs — large-scale, formalized institutions in which control is concentrated in a professionalized hierarchy and an administrative bureaucracy — whether it’s Big Medicine, Big Education, Big Research, Big Labor, or Big Charity. Kinsella points out that the other big institutions are, in general, tangled up with the interventionist state, just as big business is. If left-libertarians are going to lay down some heavy critique on Big Business, shouldn’t they be doing the same on the other Bigs?

Well, sure.

So what’s the problem?

What makes you think that left-libertarians would have some kind of problem critiquing Big Medicine (2, 3, 4), or Big Research, or Big Education (2, 3, 4), or Big Charity (2, 3), or Big Labor (2, 3, 4)?

Sure, public-private jobbery, state regimented, hypertrophic, centralized institutions, political capture, subsidized featherbedding, and unresponsive professionalized bureaucracies are hardly limited to conventional for-profit corporations. They happen all over the place — in big professionalized charities like United Way or the Starvation Army; in big hospitals and corporate adjuncts of the medical industry (insurance corporations, pharma corporations, etc.); in big administration-heavy multiversities; and in top-down, centralized business unions like the UAW, the Teamsters, or SEIU. Just like the Fortune 500, they’re also major beneficiaries of State regimentation, subsidy, and captive audiences; just like the Fortune 500, they’re also major causes of State regimentation, through their lobbying and political influence. And just like with hypertrophic, centralized, top-down corporate commerce, there’s some solid reasons for thinking that their hypertrophic, centralized, top-down not-for-profit operations would be fundamentally unsustainable in a freed market.

But that’s hardly an objection to the left-libertarian critique of big business; it’s a perfectly acceptable complement to it. Left-libertarians — at least, the sort of left-libertarians that Roderick is an example of — aren’t just conventional libertarians who believe you ought to voluntarily give more to charity. The critique of corporate capitalism is just the most high-profile part of a broad critique of the state’s promotion of credentialism, bureaucracy, and top-down centralized control — which is why folks like us generally promote community mutual aid over professionalized charity; grassroots, rank-and-file unionism over AFL-CIO-style union bosses and collective bargaining; unschooling over bureaucratic-liberal public education; etc., etc., etc.

So, yeah, down with Big Charity. I agree. Where’s the problem?

Updated 2012-03-23. I fixed a typographical error and updated some links to articles from Formulations, whose archives have moved to a newer, more secure web home.

Credit where credit’s due

In my recent post on Rothbard’s position on children’s rights, I lodged a pretty broad complaint against paleolibertarian writing on the family, paternal authority over children, and parental violence against children. In particular I mentioned the paleo crew’s embrace of conservative ideas about child-rearing, their fevered praise for parental rights over their children (which is really nothing more than the states’ rights argument writ small), and their occasional supportive shout-outs to conservative child-beating advocacy. But here’s a couple of cointervailing points of light, in the interest of fairness.

First, I had some fairly harsh things to say about Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s writing on the so-called traditional family, and the internal layers and ranks of authority within it. Given that this was in the context of a discussion on the Rothbardian view on children’s rights, David K. was right to point out that the discussion needs a bit of complication — because Hoppe has actually defended the plumbline Rothbardian view on children’s rights to run away:

It is worth mentioning that the ownership right stemming from production finds its natural limitation only when, as in the case of children, the thing produced is itself another actor- producer. According to the natural theory of property, a child, once born, is just as much the owner of his own body as anyone else. Hence, not only can a child expect not to be physically aggressed against but as the owner of his body a child has the right, in particular, to abandon his parents once he is physically able to run away from them and say no to their possible attempts to recapture him. Parents only have special rights regarding their child—stemming from their unique status as the child’s producers—insofar as they (and no one else) can rightfully claim to be the child’s trustee as long as the child is physically unable to run away and say no. (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, ch. 2, fn. 9)

… which is worth noting in Hoppe’s favor. Hoppe’s problem — and it is a serious problem, worthy of exactly the sort of criticism I’ve directed against it and more — is not with his view on parental coercion but rather his views on parental authority — apparently to be defended by means bullheaded cause-I-say-so unilateralism, deliberate cruelty, withholding, browbeating, guilt-tripping, bullying, and so on, rather than by resort to physical violence or legal coercion. Which is an advance, no doubt, over efforts to enforce it by physical violence or legal coercion. But still not much in the way of civilization, and certainly not (as Hoppe would have it) a bulwark for resistance to governmentalism. However, it is worth noting that while Hoppe’s writing on parental authority is some of the worst that contemporary libertarianism has to offer, it is in an important respect different from someone like, say, Karen De Coster, who writes openly in favor of beating children in the name of discipline. (I’d offer a good link, but her recent post on the topic seems to have gotten shredded by her blog software.)

Secondly, in a far more positive note, I’d like to take notice of a fine post Ryan McMacken put up recently at the LewRockwell.com blog, against institutionalized schooling. Opposition to creeping authoritarianism in government schooling isn’t actually that exceptional — it’s one of the things that even fairly conservative homeschoolers tend to get right — but what I really appreciate here is where he mentions, inter alia:

It turns out that children are rational beings who should not be coerced and hounded every second of their waking lives. Indeed, children have an innate sense of the importance of learning and the importance of justice. Unfortunately, most adults beat these impulses out of children as soon as they can. Besides, a free spirited individualist of a child is harder to control, so it’s all the better that we ship them off to school where they can be taught to obey, and where they can be taught that learning is an onerous task that is to be completed when demanded by some unbearable schoolmarm.

… Incidentally, if you ever want to see me fly off the handle, just start in about how children don’t pay their elders enough respect or that kids these days are more rotten than during the good ‘ol days. I’m sure you’ll see that vein on the side of my forehead really get going. In my experience, most adults get all the respect they deserve: virtually none at all.

— Ryan McMacken, LewRockwell.com Blog (2009-06-14): The evils of preschooling

So, like I said: there’s a lot of awful stuff coming from paleos and more conventional conservatarians about parenting and children’s rights. But, hey, credit where credit’s due.

On missing the point

Here’s an idle question, recently posed on LewRockwell.com: Is Secession Anti-American?

Here’s an idle question, recently posed by me: the fuck do you care?

If your plan is to secede from the United States of America, then, seriously, why are you saying anti-American like it’s a bad thing?

The first question is an idle question because there is no point debating whether you are being loyal or disloyal to a political entity that you are supposedly trying to get out from under and get the fuck away from.

The second question is an idle question because I’m pretty sure I already know the answer. However, in spite of being idle, the question is worth asking, because if the answer is made explicit, that may be enough to show how stupid it really is.

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On the ground

Here’s Brent Simmons (2008-05-06):

I was on the ground in Indianapolis…

I love it when TV People — newscasters, analysts, politicians — say they were on the ground somewhere.

It’s a good and welcome reminder that they normally live in the clouds, in heaven, up with the angels. Not on the ground with us, where things are mysterious and messy.

Gosh they’re lucky. Good and lucky.

— Brent Simmons, inessential.com (2008-05-06): On the ground

(Via Stephen Carson 2008-05-06.)