On Linguistic Warfare

Whereas the most basic purpose of language is to facilitate communication between people, its development is necessarily a social affair. That being said, the role of individuals in this process cannot be denied. Only individuals think, act, speak, and write; there can be no erection of social constructs without the sum of individual efforts. It is true that a collective endeavor is necessary in order for a particular word to come into use and be understood to have a particular set of meanings with regard to connotation, denotation, and exosemantics. But before this can happen, some individual must take the first step. Someone must have an idea that one cannot express in one’s extant vocabulary and thus feel the need to either borrow a word from another language or invent one out of thin air. Because ideas which cannot be put into words are very difficult to utilize, this creative process is necessary for the advancement of knowledge and technology.

Jargon 101

The next step toward a word gaining widespread acceptance and usage is use within a smaller group. At this stage, a word may be described as jargon. Merriam-Webster defines jargon as “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group” or as “obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words.” Those outside of the group in question often view the former as the latter, with varying degrees of accuracy. The majority of jargon consists of terminology within a specific industry created to allow for greater precision and efficiency among participants in that industry. As Étienne Bonnot de Condillac writes,

“Each science requires a special language, because each science has ideas which are unique to it. It seems that we should begin by forming this language; but we begin by speaking and writing and the language remains to be created.”[1]

However, any social group can have jargon; the defining characteristic is special vocabulary and/or definitions, not use by any particular type of group or toward any particular purpose.

There exists a wide range of applications for jargon within various social dynamics. Jargon can be used as a means of excluding outsiders by speaking in terms that they do not understand, in which case it is also known as argot. The particular pronunciation of a word can also denote in-group versus out-group; this is called a shibboleth. Conversely, a lingua franca is especially used to communicate with outsiders; examples include the various creole languages and pidgins that have formed when people who speak mutually unintelligible languages wish to trade. The general trend over the long-term is for the secrecy of argots and shibboleths to be dissolved, for technical jargon in a specific field to become part of the wider lexicon of a language, and for linguae francae to develop into full languages, but in each case some of these will be lost in the mists of time.

Politics and Weaponization

Because there are disagreements between groups of people and these are debated using language, such disputes necessarily manifest in the linguistic realm. The desire by each side to emerge victorious from these debates causes the above processes to become weaponized. This weaponization takes several forms. First, instead of inventing terms to advance knowledge by giving expression to new ideas, terms are invented for the purpose of attacking one’s political opponents. In some cases this creates a direct insult, but the majority of the examples of this are indirect, such as the term assault weapon. This was invented by gun control advocates in the 1980s and was alien to the practice of gun ownership. The goal of these terms was to attack gun owners indirectly by attacking something that they hold dear. With the 1994 assault weapons ban, the term had to be defined in the law as it had no clear prior definition. In any event, the goal of this strategy is not to debate but to ridicule, not to resolve disputes but to broaden them.

A related strategy for less creative political activists is to corrupt the meaning of existing terms. This is done to associate a present political opponent with a hated enemy from the past. A prominent example of this is the word fascist. Fascism refers to a particular type of political order consisting of nationalism, authoritarianism, protectionism, socialism, and cultural conservatism. But the work of radical leftists has debased the term into a general insult to be hurled at anyone who is perceived by them to be insufficiently leftist. The word racist has undergone a similar transformation; having once referred to hatred of people based on their external appearance, it has been corrupted to mean anything that is not sufficiently anti-white. Corrupting an existing word in this manner is less effective than inventing a new word because there are always large groups of people who resist the change in definition, but this only serves to amplify conflict by enabling rivalrous groups to talk past each other.

Of course, the wordsmiths responsible for such efforts are aware that the best defense can be a good offense. This has led to a strategy of curtailing efforts by the opposition to express their ideas, for that which cannot be expressed need not be rebutted. Those in power may resort to “hate speech” laws to criminalize speech that they oppose (another example of the invention of a term for the purpose of attacking one’s political opponents). These are made intentionally vague and are meant to be used to prosecute only a few high-profile cases. The intention is to create a chilling effect that deters those out of power from using linguistic processes to their full potential, as they will always be wondering whether they are engaging in crimethink. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and self-censorship greatly reduces enforcement costs.

Because such direct censorship is generally resisted in the West, less direct means of interfering with the opposition’s ability to communicate are often employed instead. Because jargon is commonly used by religious cults to hide their true nature from outsiders and the public has a generally unfavorable opinion of cults, a political operative can conflate this with the efforts of an opposition group to expand a language so that they may express novel ideas. A simpler method is to accuse the opposition of making up their ideology as they go due to their invention of terms, which is surprisingly effective given that all words have been made up by someone sometime.

Unfortunately, the spread of democracy has exacerbated these problems. Because everyone in a democratic system has a slice of political power, everyone becomes a political target. The deliberate engineering of permanent conflict in society that is democratic government ensures that weaponization of language is omnipresent. Thus, all linguistic innovation is hindered to the detriment of rationality and real progress, as efforts which could have gone toward higher endeavors are misdirected into internal disputes.

Solutions and Pitfalls

The above examples have a distinctly leftist flavor to them, and this is not an accident. All of the above tactics are disproportionately used by leftists, and political democracy is an inherently leftist institution. Therefore, most of the solutions will have a rightist character to them, and the potential pitfalls will tend to resemble tragic flaws in which rightists try to adapt leftist methods without removing the aspects which make them distinctly leftist. Let us now counter the above tactics.

The first two, the invention and use of insults as well as the demonization of activities and objects present the pitfall of sinking to the level of the enemy. When confronted with someone who argues in bad faith, resorts to ad hominems, and denigrates one’s cherished hobbies and prized possessions, the desire to be nasty to that person is an understandable impulse. But it is the wrong course of action. The correct strategy is actually best summarized by an enemy of libertarians and reactionaries. To quote Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.” It is best to remain calm and state for the record that what the opponent is saying is not a proper argument or that when an argument is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. If one must go further, then it is best to follow the advice of Sam Brown, “Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.” That is to say, whatever observations one makes should be clearly demonstrable and insightful.

Those who corrupt definitions are a more subversive lot, unlikely to be directly encountered. In most cases, one will be dealing with ignorant, misinformed college students who are convinced of their own competence and know no better. This challenge requires one to be well-informed about the truth, the lies that students are commonly taught, and why their professors are wrong. Most can be reasoned with if the correct approach is used, but forceful suppression is necessary in the most extreme cases. It is necessary to exercise discretion and only debate those who are willing to be convinced of other ideas.

Accusations of cultism or of making up one’s ideology in an ad hoc fashion can be extremely damaging if not rebutted properly. Although leftists frequently engage in these behaviors as well as psychological projection, this counter-accusation by itself is a tu quoque fallacy that does not rebut the accusation. A proper response should present a reasoned case for why one’s political movement is not comparable to a religious cult, or how one’s ideology is internally consistent.

Unlike the strategies discussed so far, the most fruitful approach for dealing with “hate speech” laws is likely to be a simple reversal. Instead of banning “hate speech,” the laws should be changed to ban “communist propaganda.” Such a ban should be as vague and fear-provoking as the laws which muzzle rightists, particularly outside of the United States. Of course, any non-critical discussion of the concept of “hate speech” would count as “communist propaganda.” The end goals of such a measure are both to suppress radical leftists and to show moderate leftists that any power they wish the state to have can and will be used against them when they are not in power. The potential pitfall is to lose sight of these goals and become right-wing counterparts of social justice warriors.

Finally, it will not do to hack away at the branches of evil without striking the root. Although such behaviors can occur on a small scale within non-democratic societies, democracy amplifies linguistic warfare to a fever pitch by making all disputes of sufficient importance into political disputes. As Carl Schmitt writes,

“The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men, particularly to a whole nation, becomes public by virtue of such a relationship. The enemy is hostis, not inimicus in the broader sense.”[2]

The historical method of abolishing democracy has been the imposition of an unelected government, whether a military junta, hereditary monarchy, or some combination thereof. Libertarians propose another methodology; that of a stateless propertarian society in which all property is privately owned and all goods and services are provided by competing firms in a free market. These systems deny the general public—those who do not have an ownership stake in the society—a political voice. The restriction of political power to those who have an ownership stake means that it makes no sense for most people living in these social orders to insult, bully, and attack one another over political disputes, as the winner of such a dispute has no direct influence over the direction of the society. When only the king or dictator can vote, or only the private property owner can make decisions over the property in question, only they and whatever underlings they may have are worth engaging with linguistic warfare. Even these attacks will be blunted by the fact that freedom to engage in such attacks is not a universal human right, but a privilege belonging to those who control territory. If one owns a space, one may say whatever one wishes within that space. Those who own no property and cannot convince anyone who does to let them speak are thus silenced, and society is better off for not having to hear their ignorant pablum.

Conclusion

There are two overarching tactics for opponents of the progressive establishment in the current environment of linguistic warfare: play to win or knock over the gameboard. Playing to draw or trying to lose gracefully, as establishment conservatives and libertarians have done for decades, has in large part allowed conditions to degenerate to their present status. Though playing to win is certainly necessary, it will not be sufficient because although it can defeat enemies, the current system is firmly entrenched and designed to produce ever greater numbers of foot soldiers for the establishment. Only demolition of the Cathedral will suffice to return society to a state of peaceful discourse. The resulting end of linguistic warfare would bring about a renewed focus on the advancement of knowledge and technology, paving the way for a proper restoration of Western civilization.

References:

  1. de Condillac, Étienne Bonnot (1776). Le Commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement l’un à l’autre. p. 93.
  2. Schmitt, Carl (1996). The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition. The University of Chicago Press. p. 61.

On Leftist Academics, Respectable Opinion, and Civil War

In recent times, there is a burgeoning industry in popular books on academic subjects aimed at the layperson or the educated person who is not an expert in the field discussed in a certain book. Most of these books, particularly in the fields of politics, economics, and sociology, are written by authors who have a leftist bias. This is to be expected, as academia has long been dominated by such people. But this bias seems to consistently impair such authors whenever they attempt to understand perspectives which are fundamentally different from their own. Three examples of this can be found in books that were reviewed here at Zeroth Position in the past fortmoon. The shortcomings therein are evidence of a much broader and more serious problem. We will consider extant theories which describe this problem. Next, we will posit some potential origins for this phenomenon, as well as some possible solutions. Finally, we will consider the potential negative consequences of leaving the problem unsolved.

Good Guys With Guns

This is a book about concealed firearms, the culture around them, and their effects on society by sociologist Angela Stroud, reviewed here on December 12, 2016. True to leftist thought, the roles of gender, race, and class in firearm ownership are major themes of the book. The series of interviews included in the book illuminate many interesting aspects of firearm ownership which are not adequately discussed elsewhere, and Stroud makes a genuine effort to understand people who disagree with her. But she commits a multitude of errors which are common among leftists and sociologists, and seems to be unable to keep herself from doing so. Her most egregious and oft-repeated fallacies include the broken window fallacy, confusing objective reality with subjective social constructs, false dilemmas, accusing people of contradicting themselves when they do not, and conflating society with the state. She also does a poor job of recognizing and assessing potential threats, ignores information which undermines her case, blames free-market capitalism and patriarchy when they were not in use, assumes that any inequality is the result of institutional oppression, and blames white people for problems caused by non-whites.

While there are many insightful points made in the book, Stroud commits far too many fallacies along the way for the book to be enjoyable or read smoothly. What could have been an excellent work on an important topic is instead bogged down by postmodern discourse, social justice rhetoric, and shoddy reasoning.

Islamic Exceptionalism

This is a book about the relationship between Islam and the modern nation-state, the role that Islam has played in the development of the Middle East, and the currently ongoing conflicts there by Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid, reviewed here on April 30, 2017. Hamid’s explorations of these subjects leads him to question the mainstream liberal narrative of Whig historiography, democratic supremacy, and progressive determinism, though he never quite manages to reject this narrative. He provides an informative history of Islam from the beginning, illuminating several points that frequently elude Westerners. But when Hamid interviews youths who wish to break the Westphalian order of nation-states and are willing to use violence to achieve political goals, he seems unable to truly understand them.

That being said, of the three authors discussed, Hamid is the most perceptive of the lot. He correctly recognized ISIS as a state at the time of writing because it had a monopoly on initiatory force within a geographical area while providing the common functions of a state. He knows that moderates tend to lose in civil wars and revolutions because they lack both the fervor and resolve to do what the extremists on all sides will do. He understands that there are no such things as universal values in practice. But the Western liberal democratic biases of the author are inescapable. Hamid is unable to process the possibility that democracy is inferior to the older pre-Westphalian order, especially for the Muslim world. This is especially irksome, given the amount of evidence that he himself finds for this possibility.

The Euro

This is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project, the faulty policies pursued by European leaders thus far, and several potential alternatives by American economist Joseph Stiglitz, reviewed here on December 11, 2017. He is perhaps the worst of the three, in that while the others have difficulties in understanding right-wing thought, Stiglitz tends to either show no awareness of its existence, dismiss it out of hand, or mischaracterize it in ways which can only be deliberate for someone of his caliber. His Keynesian approach to economics is apparent from the beginning, as is his thoroughly statist worldview. He never mentions the Austrian School and ignores many practical possibilities for true economic and political liberty. The Chicago School earns nothing but contempt from him, as he recites the leftist caricature of Chile under Pinochet and derides monetarism. Meanwhile, he repeatedly blames markets for the 2008 crisis when they were only responding to the perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. He also blames austerity for Europe’s recent troubles when very little austerity has actually occurred.

Like Stroud, Stiglitz confuses collective action with state action. Stiglitz’s faith in democracy is even stronger than Hamid’s, as he never questions whether anything is wrong with democracy itself, even as he argues against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy, advocates for a new monetary system which could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens, and denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe which resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. Though Stiglitz does not appear to argue in bad faith, one could be forgiven for thinking that he does.

Current Theories

Before attempting to analyze the above examples, it is necessary to lay some groundwork concerning meta-politics. In political discourse, there is a range of opinions which are considered to be socially acceptable to varying degrees, with extremes on one or both sides of each issue regarded as anywhere from unfashionable at best to worthy of violent response at worst. This concept has been given various names; Hallin’s second sphere, the Overton Window, and the index card of allowable opinion, to name a few. Hallin’s analysis divides the world of political discourse into three spheres according to how the media covers various subjects. The first sphere is the sphere of consensus. This contains topics on which agreement is assumed. Hallin writes that for such topics, “Journalists feel free to invoke a generalized ‘we’ and to take for granted shared values and shared assumptions. …Journalists do not feel compelled to present an opposing viewpoint or to remain disinterested observers.”[1] The second sphere is the sphere of legitimate controversy. This sphere consists of matters on which rational, informed people have disagreements. Journalists are expected to be disinterested observers and reporters for topics in this sphere, not overtly supporting one position over another. The third sphere is the sphere of deviance. This contains topics which are believed to be outside the bounds of legitimate discussion. Hallin writes that in this sphere, “Journalists depart from standard norms of objective reporting and feel authorized to treat as marginal, laughable, dangerous, or ridiculous individuals and groups who fall far outside a range of variation taken as legitimate.”[1] Those who dispute the content of the sphere of consensus tend to find themselves here, as do those who lack sufficient influence to merit news coverage or are known for making baseless and outlandish claims. The boundaries of the spheres shift with changes in public opinion, journalistic standards, and media ownership, as well as advances in reason, science, and technology.

Joseph Overton’s conception of political discourse posits a range of ideas which are tolerated in public discourse. Whereas Hallin’s spheres describe media coverage, the Overton window describes voter sentiment and politician stances. Overton contends that the political viability of an idea depends on whether the idea is within the window or outside of it. Politicians who recommend too many policies which are outside of the window will be considered too extreme to be elected or re-elected. Most of the theory about the Overton Window is concerned with how to move it or keep it from moving, depending on whether the goal is to advance policies which are currently outside or inside of the window, respectively. Application of the door-in-the-face technique to Overton’s theory results in the deliberate promotion of ideas that are far outside of the window in order to shift the window toward ideas which are slightly outside of it. (This makes as much sense in ideological space as it does in physical space; one cannot push an object while one is standing on it, as such a force is both self-defeating and lacking in leverage.)

Tom Woods refers to this phenomenon as the index card of allowable opinion. Woods’ description combines the insights of Hallin and Overton, as the establishment media uses Hallin’s spheres while playing a large role in deciding where the frame of the Overton Window lies. Woods writes,

“On the left, sites like ThinkProgress and Media Matters smear and attack those uppity peons who stray from the ideological plantation that the Washington Post and the New York Times oversee. On the right, it’s neoconservative sites like the Free Beacon, who have built a nice little cabin on that plantation, and who rat out anyone who tries to run away.”[2]

One could easily add National Review and several others to the list of sites on the right (such as it is in modern America), as well as note such a presence in libertarian circles, denounced here as cuckertarians. The purpose of maintaining this range of allowable opinion is to prevent people from realizing the need for a radical change from the status quo by saturating them with ideas which never stray too far from the establishment narrative and presenting them with the illusion that they have meaningful choices in the current system. As Noam Chomsky writes,

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”[3]

The behavioral pattern that Woods notes later is the subject of the next section. He continues:

“The respectables of left and right do not deign to show where we’re wrong, of course. The very fact that we’ve strayed from the approved spectrum is refutation enough. …Once in a while they do try to show where we’re wrong, but they can almost never manage even to state our position correctly, much less muster an effective argument against it. [The] purpose of these alleged replies is not to shed light, but to demonize libertarians in the public mind.”[2]

Mechanisms and Remedies

The range of allowable opinion has the effect of a feedback loop on academia. The range of allowable opinion agreed upon by one generation of academics influences the next generation, limiting the range of ideas to which they are exposed in sufficient depth to truly understand them. Whereas true rightist thought is rigid, rationalist, and timeless while leftist thought is flexible, empiricist, and novel, it is no surprise that this process gradually pulls the Overton window leftward. There are several mechanisms by which this occurs, and if the problem is to be resolved, each requires its own remedy.

Whig History

Whig historiography views the past as an inevitable march of progress toward greater knowledge and freedom, culminating in liberal democracy and constitutionally limited monarchy. The name comes from the British Whigs, who supported the power of Parliament over the power of the monarch, thus opposing the Tories, who did the opposite. The term has acquired a pejorative use for good reason. Whiggism bears resemblance to Marxism, which follows the same narrative to a different end, namely that of a classless, egalitarian, communist utopia. It assumes without evidence that there will be no further progress past liberal democracy and limited monarchy toward greater knowledge and freedom. This explains why its adherents attack libertarians, as they propose further advances in freedom, which are disallowed by the Whig narrative. Indeed, Whiggism errs in assuming that history is necessarily goal-oriented at all, as this would require some collective unconscious and/or divine plan that is not proven to exist.

The present-mindedness of the Whig approach leads its adherents to believe that current ideals were held in the past, which ends up producing a great amount of ignorant eisegesis when historical figures are examined in a context that they would find to be alien. It keeps one from investigating the real causes of historical change by providing the false answer that the cause was the march toward progress.[4] Whiggism also motivates the sanctification of past leaders who advanced this progress and the vilification of those who worked against it[5] that is omnipresent in contemporary politics, for if an inevitable march toward progress is assumed, it follows that conservatives and reactionaries are engaged in a revolt against nature. As Allan Greer writes,

“They lost because they had to lose; they were not simply overwhelmed by superior force, they were justly chastised by the God of History.”[6]

The ongoing influence of Whiggism partly explains why leftist academics seem unable to grasp rightist thought. An inevitable march toward progress combined with the generally leftist nature of progress means that they view a rigorous understanding of and debate with rightist thought as unnecessary; we have progressed past it, never to return. Among the less academically inclined, this explains the “Its the current year!” response that is widely mocked among rightists.

The most potent antidote to Whig history is to relentlessly attack its fallacies while advocating alternatives such as cyclical history (a repeating cycle of ascent and decline) and agnostic history (the view that no such grand narrative can be known). Butterfield proposed a methodological remedy “to evoke a certain sensibility towards the past, the sensibility which studies the past ‘for the sake of the past’, which delights in the concrete and the complex, which ‘goes out to meet the past’, which searches for ‘unlikenesses between past and present.’”[7]

Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and the Mirror-Image Fallacy

While Whig historiography can lead leftist academics to dismiss rightist thought as an unworthy opponent best left unengaged, other phenomena can leave them unaware of its existence. A filter bubble is a form of intellectual isolation that can occur when websites use algorithms to guess what a user wants to see based on the user’s history and other personal information. This keeps people from finding information that is presented from different viewpoints, thus trapping them in a cultural or ideological bubble.[8] This leaves them ill-equipped to deal with those who are unlike themselves. The term was coined by Internet activist Eli Pariser and discussed in his 2011 book of the same name. Pariser formally defined the concept of a filter bubble as “that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms.”[9] The filter bubble is the technological manifestation of the echo chamber, a term describing the tendency of legacy media as well as one’s social and professional circles to create similar limitations in thinking and perception. Pariser notes that filter bubbles can harm a society by undermining civic discourse, creating confirmation bias, and increasing vulnerability to propaganda and other manipulations of public opinion.[10]

Although the extent of the effect of filter bubbles remains in contention[11], and some of the effect comes from user choice that emanates from and reinforces echo chambers in the physical world[12], the influence of exposure to only one’s own side of political issues is guaranteed to distort one’s perception of reality. In the worst cases, this can lead people to believe that everyone thinks and views the world as they do, a condition which Charles Krauthammer describes as the mirror-image fallacy. He writes:

“The mirror-image fantasy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in ‘common humanity,’ in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. …Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka, or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same.”[13]

This predictably causes serious problems. Krauthammer continues:

“If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. …The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow… To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies, and opposing cultures is more than anti-political. It is dangerous.”[13]

A more realistic approach is thus required, as Krauthammer describes:

“Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures, and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese wanted it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this [20th] century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.”[13]

The problem of echo chambers and filter bubbles is more difficult to solve than that of Whig historiography. This is not to say that solutions do not exist; one can make a conscious effort to look for these conditions and actively seek alternative viewpoints. Several websites have been created to aid people in that purpose, as have several browser plugins and smartphone applications.[14] In meatspace, this process is not as simple as installing a few programs, but there are a multitude of social clubs that one can join to meet new people with different perspectives. The difficulty lies in actually implementing the solutions. Just as the incompetent can lack the expertise to recognize their own incompetence, so too can those within an echo chamber fail to realize that they have a problem. In many cases, it will be necessary for people who are outside of such echo chambers to make an active effort to reach in.

Virtue Signalling

Whig historiography and echo chambers, while important factors, are only proximate causes of the intellectual limitations of leftists. A more fundamental source comes from the dynamics of social coordination and is known as virtue signalling. Virtue signalling is a conspicuous and/or invidious expression of one’s opinion on a moral issue done primarily to maintain or enhance one’s social status. The term originates from signalling theory, a body of work in evolutionary biology that examines communication between organisms. For example, a large mane on a male lion is a status signal that declares his fitness, as a less fit lion would lose contests with other males and have his hair torn out. The term later found use in economics, as an impressive building for a firm or a resume full of extraneous qualifications for a job-seeker declare financial and intellectual fitness, respectively. Less successful firms and less competent people would be unable to achieve such results.[15] Religious traditions frequently include rituals that serve a similar function for the purpose of aiding in-group cohesion.[16][17][18]

Beginning in the late 2000s, ‘virtue signalling’ came to be defined differently in various Internet forums. The newer meaning refers to superficial support for political views with the primary purpose of maintaining an appearance of respectability, as well as a focus on appearing to act rather than actually taking action.[19][20] As James Bartholomew writes,

“When David Cameron defends maintaining spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid, he is telling us that the Tory party, or at least he himself — as a rather wonderful, non-toxic part of it — cares about the poor in the developing world. The actual effectiveness or otherwise of foreign aid in achieving this aim is irrelevant.”[21]

Notably, virtue signalling tends to involve expressions of hatred of the other, of the out-group. Bartholomew continues:

“It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandisement would be obvious… Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.

One of the occasions when expressions of hate are not used is when people say they are passionate believers in the NHS. Note the use of the word ‘belief’. This is to shift the issue away from evidence about which healthcare system results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. The speaker does not want to get into facts or evidence. He or she wishes to demonstrate kindness — the desire that all people, notably the poor, should have access to ‘the best’ healthcare. The virtue lies in the wish. But hatred waits in reserve even with the NHS. ‘The Tories want to privatise the NHS!’ you assert angrily. Gosh, you must be virtuous to be so cross!”[21]

This ends up being counterproductive, in that it can harm the very people that those who are truly virtuous and not just signalling would desire to help. Bartholomew writes,

“No one actually has to do anything. …There was a time in the distant past when people thought you could only be virtuous by doing things: by helping the blind man across the road; looking after your elderly parents instead of dumping them in a home; staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children. These things involve effort and self-sacrifice. That sounds hard! Much more convenient to achieve virtue by expressing hatred of those who think the health service could be improved by introducing competition. …Virtue-signalling battles can soon take leave of any genuine concern for the low-paid or suffering. Indeed they can become highly damaging. The low-skilled whose abilities simply cannot command an absurdly high minimum wage become unemployable.”[21]

Virtue signalling is also responsible for the problem of Error Push, in which a factually incorrect position is advanced because a hated enemy is factually correct about a certain issue, and virtue signalling becomes more important to people than correct knowledge or telling the truth.

Fortunately, there are two powerful remedies against this sort of behavior. First, one may engage in the opposite behavior, known as counter-signalling or vice signalling. This should be followed by mercilessly criticizing the virtue signallers for their fallacious discourse when they resort to ad hominems instead of making appropriate counter-arguments. The purpose of this tactic is to show their support to be superficial and insincere, as a person with deeply-held, sincere beliefs should be able to defend them in rational discourse. Resorting to angry name-calling against a calm opponent who makes reasoned arguments is also damaging to the appearance of respectability that the virtue signaller so desires.

Second, one may take meaningful action concerning the subjects of the virtue signals. A person who supports minimum wage hikes and social programs for the poor may appear virtuous to the economically illiterate, but a person who directly helps the poor to become upwardly mobile is actually virtuous. A person who supports tougher environmental regulations against polluters may appear virtuous to those who do not understand regulatory capture, but a person who invents new technologies or uses capitalist principles to reduce pollution is actually virtuous. With “effort and self-sacrifice,” one can take the wind out of the sails of virtue signallers by acting while they talk. In the long run, the golden will defeat the merely gilded.

The Overton Bubble and Civil War

So far, we have considered examples of leftist failures to understand rightist thought, potential causes for this phenomenon, and possible remedies for each. Now, we will explore what may happen if this problem is not remedied. When the Overton window is combined with an ideological echo chamber and reinforced by copious amounts of virtue signalling, it can become thick and opaque, hardening into an ideological pocket universe which can only be entered or re-entered with great difficulty. This Overton Bubble, as neoreactionaries call it, can form when the establishment effectively controls the Overton window and uses this control to maintain political power. When the range of respectable opinion is policed with sufficient rigor, having an accurate understanding of opinions outside of that range is enough to make oneself the target of a political witch hunt.

When combined with the phenomenon of error push described in the previous section, an Overton bubble can leave a society in general and its elites in particular incapable of solving problems. As Neal Devers writes,

“If some thoughts are unthinkable and unspeakable, and the truth happens in some case to fall outside of polite consensus, then [the] ruling elite and their society will run into situations [that] they simply [cannot] handle.”[22]

It follows that wise elites would be exceedingly careful about allowing such a ‘polite consensus’ to form; in fact, they would take active steps to suppress the formation of such holiness spirals. Unfortunately, the perverse incentives inherent in political democracy ensure that the elite almost universally will be both unwise and insecure, thus perpetually goading them into destructive behaviors such as blowing Overton bubbles.

The problems that such an elite simply cannot handle may be domestic or foreign in origin. If foreign, then the typical result is conquest and subjugation under a power that would have no capability to assume control had a healthy system of governance and defense been in place. The particular dynamics of such events are outside the scope of this essay. Here, we are primarily concerned with political disputes within one society.

For centuries, the establishment exercised tight control over public discourse, burning heresies along with their authors. After such brutality fell out of favor in the West, the elites still managed to expel from official positions those who did not kowtow to the official narrative. Such exiles lacked the means to mount an effective counter-movement, so ‘point deer make horse’ was a favorite tactic of political control. Modern technology fundamentally alters this dynamic; being forced out of the Overton bubble is no longer fatal to one’s influence or career prospects, and as time marches on, existing inside the bubble will become a less and less attractive option for those starting out in life. But those who have established academic, media, and/or political careers inside the bubble will fail to understand the social dynamics in play, for gaining such an understanding would result in them being purged.

The trouble that lies ahead is thus clear. A leftist establishment that cannot peacefully engage with anything non-leftist and a non-leftist opposition that finally has the strength to organize an effective challenge existing in the same physical space is a recipe for violent conflict. Foreshocks of this political earthquake have already occurred in Chicago, Berkeley, and Charlottesville, to name a few. It is quickly becoming technologically impossible for the establishment to put the genie of opinion-making back into their bottle. Abolishing democracy, breaking up the institutions inside the Overton bubble, and secession into smaller, more politically uniform territories are considered unthinkable both by those inside the bubble and many of the people outside of it.

The immediate options will thus eventually reduce to the two options that all of us have in our personal lives: reason or force, words or weapons, truth or consequences, peace or utter destruction. Whereas it is not certain that the former set will be chosen over the latter set, and a civil war is always the most disastrous kind, it is necessary to de-escalate the situation before it reaches that point using the methods described in the previous sections. Only then can saner ideas be brought back into the realm of public discourse with a goal of either reaching a governing consensus or achieving an amicable geographic separation along political lines.

Conclusion

It may seem that we have traveled a long way from discussing three books to discussing civil war and its prevention. But the books were only meant to serve as small examples of a much larger problem. The formation of Overton bubbles is controlled by several key factors: a range of respectable opinion, the lingering influence of Whig historiography, filter bubbles in digital space, echo chambers in physical space, the plural solipsism caused by the previous two factors, virtue signalling, and the destructive incentives inherent in democracy. The civilization-destroying potential of our present bubble can still be thwarted if enough of these contributing factors are dismantled, but time is short and growing shorter.

References:

  1. Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press. p.116–118.
  2. Woods, Thomas (2014, Oct. 16). “How To Shred The Index Card Of Allowable Opinion”. Lew Rockwell.
  3. Chomsky, Noam (1998). The Common Good. Odonian Press. p. 43.
  4. Butterfield, Herbert (1965). The Whig Interpretation of History. New York: W. W. Norton. p.12.
  5. J. Hart. “Nineteenth-Century Social Reform: A Tory Interpretation of History”. Past & Present 1965 31(1):39–61.
  6. Greer, Allan. “1837-38: Rebellion reconsidered”. Canadian Historical Review (1995) 76#1:1–18, at p. 3.
  7. Ashplant, T.G.; Wilson, Adrian. “Whig History and Present-Centred History”. The Historical Journal, 31 (1988):1–16, at p. 10.
  8. Bozdag, Engin (2013, June 23). “Bias in algorithmic filtering and personalization”. Ethics and Information Technology 15(3):209–227.
  9. Parramore, Lynn (2010, Oct. 10). “The Filter Bubble”. The Atlantic.
  10. Weisberg, Jacob (2011, June 10). “Bubble Trouble: Is Web personalization turning us into solipsistic twits?”. Slate.
  11. Pariser, Eli (2015, May 7). “Fun facts from the new Facebook filter bubble study”. Medium.
  12. West, Joshua Bleiberg; Darrell M. (2017, May 24). “Political polarization on Facebook”. Brookings Institution.
  13. Krauthammer, Charles (1983, Aug. 15). “The Mirror-Image Fallacy”. Time.
  14. “5 Questions with Eli Pariser, Author of The Filter Bubble”. Time. ISSN 0040-781X.
  15. Bowman, S. (2016). “Stop Saying ‘Virtue Signalling’” Adam Smith Institute.
  16. Bulbulia, Joseph; Schjoedt, Uffe (2010). “Religious Culture and Cooperative Prediction under Risk: Perspectives from Social Neuroscience”. Religion, Economy, and Cooperation. p. 37–39. ISBN 3110246333.
  17. Steadman, L.; Palmer, C. (2008). The Supernatural and Natural Selection: Religion and Evolutionary Success. Paradigm.
  18. Irons, W. (2001) “Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment”. The Evolution of Commitment, Randolph Nesse (ed.) New York: Russell Sage Foundation. p. 292–309.
  19. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Feb. 17). “Cynical About Cynicism”. LessWrong.
  20. Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2009, Mar. 20). “Why Our Kind Can’t Cooperate”. LessWrong.
  21. Bartholemew, James (2015, Apr. 18). “The awful rise of ‘virtue signalling’”. Spectator.
  22. Devers, Neal (2016, Nov. 24). “The Overton Bubble”. The Future Primaeval.

Bill Wirtz’s Helicopter Skydive

On December 25, 2017, Freedom Today Journal published an article by Bill Wirtz in which he denounces Hans-Hermann Hoppe and his supporters, claiming that they have made improper and incompatible allies, done great damage to the libertarian movement, and should leave. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis that he is wrong on all counts.

False History

Wirtz begins by mentioning a recent case of a member of Students for Liberty being kicked out for his support of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, though he does not cite a source. He then delves into an erroneous history of right- and left-libertarianism. The truth is that the term was originally used by classical anarchists such as Pierre Proudhon, whose beliefs were quite different from contemporary American libertarians. The word was appropriated from them by American classical liberals in the early 20th century[1] because progressives had altered the meaning of the word liberal, although it continues to have a far-left connotation outside of American politics. He is correct to say that “left-libertarianism is merely another socialist viewpoint on the collective ownership of resources, that is inherently anti-capitalist.” But considering “leftists who described themselves as libertarians, as being very confused about what the philosophy means” only makes sense in an American context.

According to Wirtz, the American debate between right- and left-libertarianism is as follows: “the right believes in a strict application of property rights and the left has sucked up to ‘cultural Marxism’.” This is inaccurate; it is instead a description of the debate between thin- and thick-libertarianism. The thick libertarians believe that there is more to libertarianism than self-ownership, non-aggression, and private property—that these imply something more about the values that one should hold. Thin libertarians will have none of this, although most understand that libertarianism is not and was never intended to be a complete worldview and must have questions beyond what constitutes appropriate use of force answered by a complimentary philosophy, such as reactionary thought. Wirtz begins a pattern of applying scare quotes liberally with the term “cultural Marxism,” which he never bothers to define.

Wirtz then complains about Hoppe’s supporters, “who constantly nag the liberty movement about the importance of culture and the feeling of national identity,” being sure to place scare quotes around the word libertarian, as though they are somehow not libertarians. Let us note Wirtz’s focus on the liberty movement, a collective identification which will undermine the rest of his case. Denying the importance of culture and identity is a sign of political autism, as the philosophy of liberty was developed in a specific cultural context and those who do not form a group identity are at a disadvantage against those who do.

False Understanding

Wirtz refers to Hoppeans as “pretend right-libertarians,” but as we will see, Hoppe is more libertarian than Wirtz. His claim that Hoppeans invented this dichotomy is false; the thick-libertarians did this as a tactic of leftist entryism to disrupt and co-opt the liberty movement. Wirtz claims to understand Hoppe’s arguments, but he only does so in a superficial, politically correct manner. Wirtz writes,

“Private property tenants should be allowed to remove trespassers from their property, which particularly includes people who hold wildly anti-freedom believes [sic].”

But as Hoppe explains,

“With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property owned by others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (voluntary zoning), which might include residential versus commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or without children, or smokers, for example.”[2] (emphasis added)

In truth, libertarianism says that private property owners should be allowed to exclude people on any basis whatsoever, and the extent to which they are unable to do so is the extent to which the state or some other force is infringing upon their liberty. Wirtz notes the prevalence of memes about physical removal among the alt-right, but this is partly because alt-rightists tend to misunderstand the concept. He then claims that Hoppe “could have denounced white nationalists and national socialists as a group of collectivists who use his positions for their dangerous rhetoric” and has not done so. The facts are that Hoppe has denounced national socialists on multiple occasions, and that certain forms of white nationalism can be compatible with libertarianism. As long as a particular group of white nationalists acquire property in a legitimate manner, use their property rights to exclude non-whites, and refrain from aggression against non-whites, libertarians should speak out in favor of their property rights and freedom of association. In fact, because there is a short and slippery slope from interference with politically incorrect uses of private property to all manner of interference with private property rights, those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner (as long as no force is initiated in the process) should be the first people that libertarians defend. This should be done regardless of one’s feelings about racial discrimination or white nationalism, for if their rights are infringed, ours are weakened as well.

Autistic Gatekeeping

Wirtz laments that Hoppe “seems all too keen to welcome the alt-right as his supporters, gives interviews to far-right papers and only occasionally calls the welfare-state ideals of people like Richard Spencer unfortunate.” Every part of this sentiment is fallacious. First, there is no reason why libertarians should not perform outreach to the alt-right. There is significant overlap and compatibility between the two, the alt-right are more willing than anyone else to do battle with authoritarian leftists, and many alt-rightists are former libertarians who left the liberty movement due to the latter’s perennial ineptitude. Should such outreach be successful, the result would be racists who no longer initiate the use of force in their advancement of racism or advocate for politicians to do so on their behalf. This should be regarded as a positive development by any sane person. The presence of such people in the liberty movement would also help to counter the worrying development of entryism by social justice warriors and other leftists into libertarian circles by triggering them into leaving, though as we will soon see, Wirtz may be fully aware of this and perceive it as a negative.

Second, Wirtz implies that it is wrong to even have a conversation with or use a platform provided by people with certain political views. The truth is that speaking with someone does not mean that one agrees with that person. Wirtz shows his establishment colors here, as this gatekeeper fallacy is the same tactic used by the legacy media against alternative content creators. The absence of dialogue with people who have different ideas also prevents both the improvement of libertarian philosophy and any outreach or conversion efforts toward those people. This makes little sense in light of the obsession that mainstream libertarians have with bringing as many people as possible into the liberty movement, regardless of quality.

Third, Wirtz seems to expect Hoppe to continually denounce the welfare statism of parts of the alt-right. While a libertarian should oppose the alt-right on this point, the implication here is that clearly stating one’s position is insufficient; rather, one must continually virtue signal in order to maintain one’s social status. This is a leftist, social justice warrior standard that should have no place in a healthy libertarian organization.

Wirtz continues,

“One thing should be very clear: grouping people in categories in order to attribute certain behavioural characteristics to them, is inherently collectivist.

Ron Paul, now often claimed by these right-libertarians, has been equally clear on the topic:

‘Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups.’”

This is a straw man; the purpose of grouping people into categories is not to attribute certain behavioral characteristics to them, but to notice useful patterns that may serve as a heuristic for taking decisions in situations which disallow a consideration of each person on an individual basis. A refusal to do this results in a politically autistic hyper-individualism that is incapable of perceiving demographic trends and other group dynamics. This kind of thinking leaves libertarians vulnerable against opponents who do perceive such dynamics and weaponize them against us. Interestingly, this hyper-individualism tends to come full circle into a globalist hyper-collectivism. This occurs because a rejection of group differences combined with the blank-slate egalitarianism of classical liberalism causes one to see humans as interchangeable cogs in a grand machine called the global economy. The end result is a belief that all of humanity is one large collective with universally preferred values, which is inconsistent with all empirical results.

Paul’s description of racism is also misguided, as few racists think only in terms of groups or believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike. Many simply believe that there are significant differences between population groups and that because superficial physical characteristics are produced from the same genetic codes that influence a person’s intelligence, athleticism, behavior, and other important attributes, there is good reason to believe that there is some correlation between superficial physical characteristics and more meaningful traits.

The Worst

Wirtz accuses Hoppe of “aligning with the worst parts of the political sphere,” by which he means the far-right. But what does it mean to be the worst part of the political sphere? By libertarian standards, this means initiating the use of force to cause the most deaths of people and destruction of property, regardless of rhetoric. Since Wirtz claims to be a libertarian and says earlier in his article that “there is every importance in the world between what we say and what we end up doing,” we may assume his agreement with this methodology. In such an accounting, it becomes clear that communists and other Marxists are the worst part of the political sphere, not fascists or racists. Though neo-Nazis are by no means a benevolent force, they can be a useful ally of convenience against communists, to be disposed of once the communist threat is eliminated. Contrary to Wirtz, this is not an “’end justifies the means’ sort of approach,” but a calculated political strategy. An unwillingness to deal with the context at hand by making alliances with unsavory characters in order to defeat even worse political forces is yet another sign of political autism.

Conclusion

Wirtz ends his article where it began, with a confused and ignorant view of left and right. He writes,

“Adopting the paranoia that everyone who disagrees with you must be leftist, a cultural marxist[sic] or what have not, is utterly ludicrous.”

This is a straw man, as no right-libertarian or alt-righter does this. There are significant internal disagreements in both camps, and there are discussions of these disagreements in which people do not sink into such ad hominem fallacies. That said, it would not be paranoid for a person who is completely right-wing to adopt such a view, as disagreement with such a person would necessarily require leftism of some variety.

Wirtz continues,

“Libertarianism was about not being fooled by the left/right spectrum which only supports the narrative of big government. Either you believe in the ideas of liberty or not. And yes, this means means that there is a big tent from objectivists[sic] to classical liberals, but it surely doesn’t include the proponents of racial politics.”

Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the proper use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never acceptable, and using force to defend against an initiator of force (commonly called an aggressor) is always acceptable. It has nothing else to say about the left/right spectrum apart from the aforementioned. While it is true at face value that one either believes in the ideas of liberty or not, Wirtz seems pathologically incapable of considering not only the potential role of racial politics in preventing demographic shifts which will be hostile to liberty, but any indirect strategy whatsoever. Furthermore, he ignores the possibility of any sort of reactionary thought being under the big tent, when a synthesis of libertarianism and reaction makes more sense than any other such synthesis.

Wirtz concludes,

“Dear Hoppeans: you left the liberty-movement and expected us to follow you, yet nobody outside of a few losers with toy helicopters did. As you are the champions of freedom of association, here’s a little association freedom for you: get out.”

Hoppeans did not leave the liberty movement; it left us. As predicted by Robert Conquest, any organization which is not hostile to the left will eventually be taken over by the left. This is exactly what has happened to most mainstream libertarian organizations. The end result is no better than it was when Murray Rothbard tried to work with the left in the late 1960s and learned that they were insane. However, as misguided as Wirtz and his ilk are, perhaps there is a bootlegger’s cause to agree with his final suggestion. It may be easier to form a new libertarian movement that is complemented by reactionary thought in order to prevent entryism, denounce libertinism, and seek a stable libertarian social order than to attempt to fix the mess that has been made of the current liberty movement. Though it would be unfortunate to cede control of anything to people like Wirtz, perhaps the best right-libertarian minds could accomplish more without the burdens that left-libertarians bring.

References:

  1. Burns, Jennifer (2009). Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 309.
  2. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 139.

The Not-So-Current Year: 2017 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2017 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

I began 2017 by addressing a recurring story throughout the 2016 election campaign; that of Russia hacking the DNC and phishing Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email system. I argued that Russia would have been justified in doing not only this, but in actually altering the election to cause Donald Trump to win. I would later use this piece as an example in a guide on how to argue more sharply in order to throw opponents out of their comfort zones. The story lingered on, so I published a sequel detailing the benefits of a Trump-Russia conspiracy. The left’s activities after the election became ridiculous, so I decided to give them some free advice.

My first list of 25 statist propaganda phrases and some concise rebuttals was a major hit, so I started planning a sequel. I had no intention of taking almost two years to compile 25 more statist propaganda phrases to refute, but better late than never, I suppose.

Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, which of course meant that Gary Johnson did not. I explored in detail what was wrong with Johnson’s campaign that made him not only lose, but fail to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency. Once Trump was in office, the responses to his trade policies among mainstream analysts led me to explain why many of them are politically autistic.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, but I decided to start doing more of them in late 2016. This trend continued throughout 2017, as I read and reviewed The Invention of Russia, The Age of Jihad, In Our Own Image, Come And Take It, Against Empathy, Level Up Your Life, Islamic Exceptionalism, The Science of Selling, Closing The Courthouse Door, Open To Debate, Calculating the Cosmos, The Art of Invisibility, Libertarian Reaction, and The Euro.

Antifa grew from a nuisance that rarely affected anyone other than neo-Nazis into a serious threat to anyone who is politically right of center and/or libertarian who wishes to speak in a public venue. A comprehensive strategy to defeat them was necessary, and I was happy to provide one. Kyle Chapman grew weary of Antifa’s antics and led the effort to take up arms against them, becoming known as Based Stickman. I praised him in song. After the events of February, April, and May Day, I revised the strategy.

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus. The first part covers the sixth season of the show, and the second part covers the first half of the seventh season. At least three more parts will come next year.

‘No Particular Order-ism’, or the belief that libertarians should take whatever reduction in the size and scope of government they can get, has become common among the more radical members of the Libertarian Party. I explained why this approach is misguided.

White nationalist and alt-right leader Richard Spencer was present in the bar of the Marriott hotel that hosted the International Students For Liberty conference. This did not go over well with Jeffrey Tucker, who loudly denounced Spencer, after which security removed everyone from the bar. I wrote about the incident and the philosophical underpinnings of it.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2014 about the nature of fake libertarianism, so I published a revision.

Theories concerning the creation, acquisition, trade, inheritance, and defense of private property form much of libertarian philosophy. The role of conquest in the determination of property rights had gone largely unexplored, so I decided to remedy the situation.

Terrorism struck in London on the anniversary of the Brussels attacks. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

I argued against more amendments to the United States Constitution, namely the Second and the Eleventh.

A chemical weapon attack occurred in Syria, which led to US intervention via a cruise missile strike. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

Keynesians and others who support fiat currency and central banking frequently claim that there is not enough gold in the world to back the quantity of currency in existence, and thus returning to gold would set off a deflationary spiral while destroying several industries that depend on gold. I debunked that claim.

On the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, I applied ethical theories to the event to gain a deeper perspective of what happened and the aftermath of the event.

The primary aim of politically active libertarians is to limit and reduce the size and scope of government, as well as to eliminate as much state power as possible. I made the case that in order to do this, it may be necessary to temporarily do the opposite.

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argued that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeded to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. I rebutted Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Fashion trends can be a useful barometer of the health of a society. I explained how the trend of clothing that is designed to mimic the appearance of wear and work for those who think themselves above the sorts of activities that would produce these effects naturally indicates that a revolution may come soon.

Memorial Day provides an opportunity to promote statist propaganda concerning the nature of service and the provision of defense. I decided to do the opposite.

The immediate danger standard says that using force against someone who is not presenting a physical threat at the exact moment that force is used constitutes aggression, and it has become far too commonly advocated in libertarian circles. I explained why it is wrong and why it has gained prevalence.

On June 14, James Hodgkinson opened fire on several Republican members of Congress and their staffers while they were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. I wrote a list of observations on the event.

The Supreme Court ruled against the stays on Trump’s travel ban, but he missed a greater opportunity by letting them decide rather than ignoring the courts. I explained how and why.

Political rhetoric has grown increasingly heated, with violence erupting as a result. I showed how democracy is the root of this problem and how abolishing democracy is the solution.

The meme of throwing one’s political rivals out of helicopters has become popular among certain right-wing and libertarian groups in recent years. Unfortunately, people from all over the political spectrum tend to misunderstand the historical context of the meme, and thus interpret it incorrectly. I wrote an overview of this context and explained why helicopter rides may not be the best option.

I welcomed Insula Qui, the first additional writer for Zeroth Position, in July. He provided two articles to keep the site going while I was preparing for, participating in, and recovering from the Corax conference in Malta. A piece describing the problems that led to the call for net neutrality and recommending against more state inteference in the Internet came first, followed by a critique of common libertarian strategies to date. Speaking of the Corax conference, a revised version of my talk may be found here, as they own the rights to the original. A topic that came up in the talk that needed further comment is that in the discussion of proper behavior beyond the basics of libertarian theory, right-libertarians in general and libertarian reactionaries in particular will use the term ‘degeneracy,’ but they do not always properly define the term. I attempted to do so.

In the August 2 episode of the Tom Woods Show, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, and that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. Qui countered these assertions and delved deeper into the relationship between libertarianism and fascism than I had previously, which is not as inimical as one might think.

An alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12 turned violent, with three deaths and about 20 injuries. I wrote a list of observations on the events. In response, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley, which have become increasingly hostile to right-wing and libertarian content creators over the past decade, ramped up their censorship efforts. I proposed a novel and radical plan to deal with this problem so as to avoid public utility regulation.

I welcomed Benjamin Welton, our second additional writer, in September. I had meant to write an article about using the historical concept of outlawry to deal with violent illegal aliens myself, but time constraints led me to outsource the project. He then explored several historical examples of private military defense, finding that something novel must be created in order to defeat the state and maintain a libertarian social order.

In the wake of two major hurricanes, the usual complaints about price gouging were made yet again. I explained why price gouging is actually beneficial.

Qui wrote a piece about the limits of the applicability of libertarian philosophy, explaining that humans can fall into the categories of personhood or savagery, and that it is important to deal with each accordingly.

Catalonia held a referendum to secede from Spain and become an independent nation on October 1. This was met with force, and much hostility ensued. I wrote a list of observations on the events.

Qui examined the role of the modern concept of citizenship in advancing a particularly insidious form of totalitarianism.

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argued that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. I thoroughly rebutted his arguments.

Welton explored the history of judicial corporal punishment, then made a case for restoring its use as a replacement for imprisoning lesser criminals.

The debt ceiling became a political issue again. As it incites financial panic for no good reason and hides important truths from common view, I advocated for its elimination on formalist grounds.

Capitalism and consumerism are distinct phenomena, with the latter caused by high time preference, which in turn is caused by the flaws inherent in modernity. Qui explained this at length.

I welcomed Nathan Dempsey, our third additional writer, in November. He runs a project called Liberty Minecraft, and wrote an introduction to the project.

The relationship between libertarianism and racial politics has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Many libertarians either provide the wrong answer or are afraid to address the question, so I decided to address libertarianism and support for ethnic nationalism.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is misplaced. I weighed in on holiday shopping again due to some misguided criticism of computer programs designed to scalp popular gifts. Finally, I detailed the problems with Santa Claus.

Qui offered a message of hope in dark times by demonstrating how the socialists and anti-capitalists of today are not usually as fanatical as those that the early libertarians opposed, then offered advice on how to argue against them. He quickly followed this with an explanation of his concept of autostatism, which closely echoed one of the other presentations from the Corax conference. He then dealt with traditional views on degenerate behavior, and how a compassionate, non-enabling approach is necessary.

Due to surging exchange rates, the opening of Bitcoin futures, and the likelihood of Bitcoin exchange-traded funds in the near future, there is renewed mainstream interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. There are benefits of cryptocurrencies which will be cheered by political outsiders to the chagrin of the establishment, and I listed eight of them.

Qui finished out the year by explaining why individualism and nationalism are not as incompatible as many people believe.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2018 bring more and better. Happy New Year!

Book Review: The Euro

The Euro is a book about the shortcomings of the eurozone currency project by American economist Joseph Stiglitz. The book makes a case against many of the policies pursued by European leaders thus far and recommends several alternatives, including further integration, a flexible euro, and the exit of one or more members. The book is divided into twelve chapters which explore different aspects of the problem and possible solutions.

A short preface details Stiglitz’s view of the economic problems of Europe as being largely attributable to the creation of a single currency zone without the creation of other institutions that are found in other such places elsewhere in the world. He compares the euro to the gold standard, repeating the flawed mainstream view that deflation is bad. His Keynesian approach to economics and thoroughly statist worldview is apparent from the beginning. That being said, Stiglitz appears to want to solve problems and correctly identifies some people and institutions as being uninterested in doing so.

The opening section begins with a chapter that expands upon the preface and outlines the rest of the book. There is little here that is not covered in greater detail later, so let us move on. In Chapter 2, Stiglitz argues that the poor results of the euro should have been expected because economic integration of this sort cannot come before political integration. Here, he contends that military might no longer shapes outcomes as it once did, but this is dubious because nothing short of a nuclear exchange that no one wants could have stopped the United States from conquering and colonizing Iraq if that had been the intention and American leadership had used its full power. So too for Russia in Ukraine and Crimea. His responses to other arguments for a single currency make more sense. He states the fallacious mainstream position on public goods, claiming without logic or evidence that it is impossible for markets to provide basic research and common utilities. This amounts to a confusion of collective action with state action. Even so, Stiglitz does recognize that localization is better than central planning from afar, though his disdain for German policies makes him inconsistent on this point. He then turns to economic integration, discussing the importance of German history with hyperinflation and its prominent role in modern Europe for understanding the European Central Bank. Next, Stiglitz writes about effect that a shared currency has on economic integration, which is mixed. Like many Keynesians, he accuses the market of failure when this is actually impossible; such events are actually failures of government, resources, or individual people. He also regards economics as scientific, even though the scientific method cannot be applied to subjects in which counterfactuals are so important but also unobservable. As usual, the word ‘neoliberal’ says more about the person using it than anything else. He concludes by arguing that there is a democratic deficit in Europe, even though he argues elsewhere in the book against incentive structures which are necessarily part of any democracy.

Europe’s lackluster economic performance since the 2008 crisis is the subject of the third chapter. Stiglitz begins by claiming that Keynesianism is a success because it has lengthened business cycles and shortened downturns, but it has also made the downturns that do occur so much worse that markets were better off before such interventionism. Much of the chapter consists of empirical data for Europe since 2007. When discussing unemployment, he seems not to recognize that unemployment benefits subsidize a negative behavior and will thus produce more of that behavior. Stiglitz relies upon the Gini coefficient when discussing inequality, which is a faulty metric because it measures pre-tax income rather than after-tax consumption. This causes it to exaggerate the amount of income inequality. His detailing of the long-term adverse effects of recession in terms of destroyed human capital is largely correct, but he again recommends interventionism that tends to worsen such problems. He also takes the position that the state should protect those at the economic bottom, though almost every economist would avoid social Darwinism on this front. Stiglitz then commits a fixed pie fallacy by arguing that trade surpluses necessarily cause trade deficits elsewhere, when the reality is quite different. He concludes by correctly noting that the counterfactuals help critics of the euro, and that there is no better explanation for many of Europe’s troubles than sharing a common currency across uncommon societies and economies.

The second section argues that the euro suffers from a flawed initial design. In Chapter 4, the requirements for a single currency region to be successful are considered. Here, Stiglitz uplifts full employment and market stability as goals while denouncing those who favor economic freedom as a “lunatic fringe.” This leads him to contemplate a false dilemma between national control of money and supranational control. He blames market fundamentalism (which he calls neoliberalism) for the crisis of 2008, despite the fact that markets were altered by central bankers in such a way as to cause the crash, which he all but says elsewhere. In explaining the differences between the United States and the eurozone, Stiglitz highlights the freer movement of Americans, the identity of Americans at the national level rather than the state level (at least in modern times), and the federal nature of monetary and fiscal stimulus. He is correct to say that there must either be “more Europe” or “less Europe,” but sides with the former. He describes the Keynesian theory of business cycles, but makes no mention of the Austrian theory. Stiglitz then repeats the tired fallacy that austerity caused the Great Depression and the current malaise, rather than central bank shenanigans and tariff policies. His blame for the gold standard is similarly misguided. He somewhat fixes an error from the previous chapter by clarifying that trade imbalances are not a problem if currency exchange rates can change to compensate for them. He straw-mans the laissez-faire position on unemployment by saying that it views unemployment due to market adjustments as good rather than as simply necessary. Stiglitz then gets a few points correct: low wages undermine worker morale and productivity, falling wages may not amount to falling prices if firms are worried about their solvency, and monetary stimulus has a breaking point at which interest rates cannot be lowered further. But he again blames the private sector for being excessive when it is only reacting to perverse incentives created by governments and central banks. There is little to fault in Stiglitz’s explanation of why currency areas are prone to crisis except for the preceding error, but it never occurs to him to simply not have such an area. The chapter ends by repeating many of the fallacious arguments from the previous chapter concerning trade surpluses and deficits.

The fifth chapter considers the economic divergence of the eurozone countries. Stiglitz argues in favor of institutional frameworks to prevent the need for bailouts, as well as funds to make depositors whole and provide bailouts. This ignores the moral hazard created by such a regime that causes bankers to take excessive risks, as well as the powerful incentives that an absence of protection would have on depositors to act responsibly and hold bankers accountable. His view of regulation is starry-eyed, missing the entire concept of regulatory capture. This is especially striking, given his focus on institutional capture in the following chapter. Stiglitz rightly complains of capitalized gains and socialized losses among bankers. In his consideration of other sources of divergence, he again fails to consider the possibility of turning over infrastructure to private development, instead proposing expansion of the European Investment Bank, which is certain to become another statist boondoggle. His view of knowledge markets is flawed in the same manner as his view of economies; it fails to account for the distortions that statism necessarily causes which lead to various types of failure. He concludes the chapter by showing how policies in the eurozone have caused greater instability, but cannot seem to avoid blaming the private sector for responding to the incentives imposed upon it.

In Chapter 6, Stiglitz examines the European Central Bank. He begins by saying that open markets and free competition can efficiently allocate resources only in the presence of adequate government regulation. This is a contradiction because an absence of government regulation defines an open market with free competition. His arguments concerning the inflation-only mandate of the ECB and the problems it causes would be much stronger if the Austrian business cycle theory were anywhere to be found in the book. His description of events in Chile under Pinochet does not agree with the long-term result of economic prosperity relative to the rest of South America and neglects how much worse conditions would have been under Salvador Allende. His claim that markets are supposed to be efficient and stable are a straw man; instability in the form of creative destruction and inefficiency by some metrics rather than others are inherent in a market economy. Stiglitz correctly writes that monetary policy is always a political question, pitting creditors against debtors for control of the central bank. But he leaves unclear how democracy is supposed to hold central bankers accountable. He also must not know any libertarians, or he would know that some people have proposed taking away spending power from governments to ensure that they do not misbehave. The chapter ends with a history of fashionable central bank policies over time and what was wrong with them from a Keynesian perspective.

The next two chapters delve into the Greek situation in particular, as Greece has suffered a more severe economic crisis than any other eurozone country. The seventh chapter explores the effect that the Troika’s policies had on countries in crisis. Stiglitz accuses some European leaders of acting in bad faith by purposefully attempting to punish governments with different political views from their own, which may be accurate. He continues his misguided attack on austerity, though it has more merit against what Europeans have actually done than against real austerity. He correctly explains the problem with primary surpluses, but then commits the broken window fallacy by embracing Keynesian multipliers. Stiglitz accurately diagnoses the problems of increasing taxes, but seeks to aid governments in collecting them rather than encourage economic freedom and stronger property rights. He describes his ideal system of property taxation in the same tone that a proud and unrepentant thief might use to boast of his crimes. Although he is correct to say that particular moves toward privatization and economic freedom may produce adverse results in particular contexts, this is a justification not for state intervention, but for undoing even more statism so as to remove the problematic context. Stiglitz notes that the hegemony of American military power has put Europe into a Pax Romana problem in which it cannot fend for itself against a real threat, but advises that this problem be worsened in the name of fiscal restraint. He compares reductions in pensions to wage theft when the two are clearly different. It is the responsibility of workers to figure out that they are being offered terms which may be impossible for the employer to meet in the future and practice caveat emptor. As for bank bailouts and debt restructuring, Stiglitz describes the situation well except for his faulty view of austerity.

Chapter 8 delves into structural reforms in Greece that made matters worse. Again, Stiglitz’s views of austerity and democracy corrupt an otherwise sound analysis of trivial and counterproductive actions taken by the Troika. He claims without proof that industrial policies are required to advance countries that are lagging behind in technological development, neglecting that markets are not doing this because they are either disallowed from doing so or are assuming that the state will do this for them. He criticizes intergenerational transmission of advantage and seeks to use the state against it, when it should be championed as both eugenic and important for maintaining a natural aristocracy. Stiglitz argues for a price on carbon emissions and claims that the private sector will not address climate change, when again the state has kept this from happening. He finishes by discussing counterfactuals, which is interesting given his empiricist thinking on economics.

The final four chapters deal with various proposals going forward. In the ninth chapter, Stiglitz offers his advice for fixing the eurozone. As before, he embraces what Henry Hazlitt called “the fetish of full employment” as the goal of his policy proposals. Much of the content of the chapter rehashes proposals from previous chapters. He seeks to create common deposit insurance and common resolution while abolishing place-based debt within the EU. This will create moral hazards and work against people who wish to escape debt slavery inflicted upon them by their ancestors. He calls for wages to be raised in countries with surpluses, which will lead to unemployment in those countries as workers whose labor is not worth higher wages are laid off. He fundamentally misunderstands precious metals, failing to understand their role as a store of value and medium of exchange, even if no longer officially used in such capacities. Stiglitz seeks to make the financial sector and other corporations serve society, but fails to recognize that the organs of a statist social order inherently and irrevocably serve themselves at the expense of the society. The shortsightedness of markets of which he complains is actually caused by the institutions that he seeks to use to solve the problem. One of the few sound recommendations made in this chapter is the creation of a super-Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure to quickly restructure debt. He goes on to propose that EU taxes be based on citizenship, and that some of the proceeds be used for foreign aid or resettlement of migrants, further impoverishing and culturally endangering Europeans.

Chapter 10 examines the possibility of what Stiglitz calls “an amicable divorce,” in which countries exit the eurozone. He considers the example of Grexit, or Greece returning to its own currency that he calls the Greek-euro but would probably be called the drachma, as it was before the euro. He proposes that Greece create a new electronic currency to ease concerns over producing coins and banknotes, stop tax avoidance, bring everyone into the financial system, and facilitate the ability of central banks to create credit. Stiglitz fails to consider that people are likely to reject such a system in favor of cryptocurrencies, which have all of the benefits of such a system without most of the drawbacks, and that such a system could offer states tyrannical control over their citizens. His view of credit indicates magical thinking, although this is quite common in modern financial circles. He again blames the private sector for problems caused by politicians and central bankers, while ignoring peer-to-peer lending as a substitute for modern credit systems. Stiglitz describes a potential system of credit auctions which could be abused with much the same ease as the current system. He admits and supports what should be abhorrent to any decent person: that fiat currencies are ultimately given value by extortion in the form of taxation. Stiglitz correctly says that a new Greek currency would enable them to devalue it to correct trade imbalances, but his proposed system of trade tokens for the same purpose would be redundant. He equates deflation with a deficiency of aggregate demand, neglecting the possibilities of an abundance of supply or improvements in efficiency and/or quality. His description of currency change as a debt restructuring is insightful. To end the chapter, Stiglitz considers the alternative of Germany leaving the eurozone, though it is unlikely that they would give up their current position of power so willingly. This segues into the topic of the next chapter, which is a flexible euro consisting of several subdivisions.

Stiglitz uses Finland as a counterexample against those who claim that profligacy in southern Europe is to blame, rather than the structure of the eurozone. Most of his argument here is correct, except for his view of austerity. His proposal in this chapter is to have several eurozones with fluctuating exchange rates, which could be brought closer together over time as political integration occurs, eventually resulting in economic integration. The details are borrowed from the previous two chapters. Though more likely to succeed than the proposals in those chapters, it is also the least likely to be adopted. Stiglitz correctly recognizes that having a single currency area is an interference in the market in and of itself, monopolizing exchange and interest rates in the area, but cannot seem to fathom that his flexible euro proposal also does this on a smaller scale. He claims that it can be better not to simply rely on prices for the allocation of resources, but does not explain how to solve the local knowledge problem or the economic calculation problem in a superior manner. He also says that history shows free banking to be a disaster, when the truth is quite the opposite.

The final chapter sees Stiglitz review many themes from previous chapters, but he also covers topics which are barely mentioned elsewhere. He denounces anti-immigrant groups in Europe, which are only trying to resist demographic replacement by a ruling class that they did not ask to replace them. So much for the “democratic accountability” that Stiglitz extols in the same breath. He blames right-wing economic ideology for rising inequality in the United States beginning with the Reagan administration, but incomes really began to diverge ten years earlier, when Nixon ended the gold standard. Stiglitz expresses a desire to preserve the Enlightenment values of Europe, but cannot comprehend how letting in migrants with distinctly anti-Enlightenment values will jeopardize that mission. On the issue of trade policy, he understands that free trade is not always best for all parties involved, as it can destroy important societal arrangements that prevent conflict. But then Stiglitz incredulously asks how one could have expected that Europe’s leaders would create such economic dysfunction, with massive unemployment and lack of economic security. The answer is that a proper amount of cynicism would require such an expectation.

Overall, the best thing that can be said for the book is that it is not an effort made in bad faith. Stiglitz correctly identifies many of the problems with the current state of affairs in Europe and seems to want to help, but his proposed solutions are thoroughly misguided. Despite his palpable disdain for Milton Friedman and other Chicago School monetarists, he suffers from one of the worst of their faults: a desire to solve the immediate problems set before him combined with a lack of broader perspective. This leads him to propose a banking system which could be used to terrible effect against political dissidents, tax collection schemes that would indicate criminal intent in any non-statist context, and forced political integration by means of stealth and subterfuge. He also seems to believe that everything would be fine if only state power were used by the right people to implement the right policies. It never occurs to him that the power itself might be the problem. The Euro is an interesting case study in leftist economic thought, but those looking for real solutions to Europe’s economic woes should keep looking.

Rating: 2.5/5

Praise The Grinch Bots

This week, outlets across the spectrum of establishment media were outraged at so-called ‘grinch bots.’ These are automated programs that make bulk purchases online so that scalpers can resell the items at higher prices. This has caused the prices of some toys to increase several-fold. For instance, a Barbie Hello Dreamhouse retails for $299.99, but on eBay, one reseller is asking for more than $4,600. This phenomenon has caught the attention of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who said, “Grinch bots cannot be allowed to steal Christmas, or dollars, from the wallets of New Yorkers. …Parents have a real dilemma: either they can’t get the toy because the bots have scooped them up, or they have to pay an enormous price.” In a letter to the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, he wrote, “I am calling on your associations to immediately investigate how these dishonest software programs are being used on your members’ sites and take all available steps to thwart computer systems from cheating America’s consumers.”

Schumer’s comments illustrate an economic illiteracy that is all too common among politicians and pundits. Contrary to popular belief, scalpers perform an important function in an economy. In this case, they also provide other benefits that extend beyond economics and into culture. Let us examine these phenomena in order to see why grinch bots are good.

The Economic Role of Scalpers

When a manufacturer produces an item for sale, it is impossible to calculate the market clearing price in advance. The market clearing price is exactly what it appears to be: the maximum price at which the producer can sell all of the produced items. Any price above this level will result in unsold product, while any price below this level will invite people to buy up the items and resell them, also known as scalping. Whereas overproduction is the worst inefficiency in manufacturing, a producer would prefer to err on the low side of the market clearing price. This naturally produces excess demand, which in turn leads to higher prices. Part of this effect occurs naturally in retail businesses, but scalpers act as an additional market force to accelerate the price correction up to its proper level.

Scalpers also function as risk mitigators. If a scalper buys products and fails to resell them, then the scalper loses the entire cost of the item while the manufacturer, retailer, and everyone in between are reimbursed for their expenses. If the scalper does make sales, then he makes a profit and people find the products they want. The scalper is thus strongly incentivized to connect manufacturers and distributors with customers who want their goods. Note that the scalper is behaving like a retailer, in that he buys large amounts of finite, potentially scarce products and sells them for a profit to people who want them. Yet hatred of scalpers is common, while hatred of retailers is rare.

Some people will argue that scalpers are responsible for higher prices and lower availability, but this is merely a result of arithmetic, and would happen with or without dedicated scalpers speculating on Christmas toys. Suppose, for an example similar to the case at hand, that doll houses are selling for an average of about $300, there are 10,000 doll houses for sale every day, and 15,000 people want a doll house. To avoid distributing reservations without price rationing, which would result in reservations being made available in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, prices must rise to a level where only 10,000 people still want them. This level may be around $450 in this case. How this $150 per doll house increase is distributed is what will vary, depending on how much scalping versus internal revaluation in retail stores is occurring.

Schumer makes two more especially ignorant claims which are worthy only of a cursory rebuttal. First, he contends that scalping harms the poor. This ignores the fact that scalping is an excellent economic opportunity for the poor, as they can make large returns by engaging in scalping. Second, he says that grinch bots are engaging in acts of theft and cheating. The idea that voluntarily purchasing a product at the offered price could constitute theft and cheating is simply bizarre.

Cultural Benefits

When scalpers buy up Christmas toys and fail to resell them, there are additional benefits which extend beyond economics and into culture. There is an enormous opportunity cost involved with the holiday shopping season, as people spend money they do not have on items they do not need, then spend even more money on getting out of debt. One way of preventing this is for attempted scalpers to raise prices and thus reduce demand. This will cause people who are on the margin of shopping versus not shopping to reconsider in favor of the latter. Those who make one reconsideration are more likely to make other, related reconsiderations, so people who cease engaging in holiday consumerism may come to some deeper personal or spiritual understanding, or at least develop more concerns beyond immediate gratification. Although a few grinch bots may play a minmal role in the grand scheme, any lowering of time preference coupled with greater focus on the virtues embodied in Christmas traditions would be a cultural improvement.

Conclusion

The attacks on the grinch bots are understandable; they are an obvious target for the economically illiterate, and going after them makes excellent political hay for a senator looking to expand the state’s regulatory powers. Which of these best describes Schumer is debatable, but the above analysis clearly demonstrates that scalpers in general and these computer programs in particular should be praised rather than denounced.

Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

Libertarian Reaction is a collection of fifteen essays by Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective. The book is divided into three sections; one focusing on reaction, one focusing on liberty, and a long final essay.

The first part begins with an essay on the limits of libertarian ethics. In Savages, Qui deals with several types of humans who cannot be properly be considered people, and must instead be dealt with as lesser beings. The point that there is a difference between colonialism (the imposition of law and morality on people who have no rational conception of it) and colonization (a parallel development of law and morality while not imposing upon others) is important and oft-overlooked. The essay finishes with a denunciation of both Islam and communism as incompatible with libertarianism if each is to be practiced rigorously. The arguments are correct but elementary, which the author has since remedied elsewhere.

In Borders And Liberty, Qui weighs in on the debate over border policy, concluding that while state immigration restrictions are not libertarian and the only justifiable borders are private property boundaries, closed borders are a lesser evil than the forced integration imposed by modern states. He recommends restoration of the right to discriminate, sponsorship of and vicarious liability for immigrants by those who wish to bring them in, and elimination of welfare programs as methods of improving the current situation. References to support the assertions regarding demographics would improve the case made here.

Prerequisites for Liberty deals with the problem of humans who are not savages as described in the first essay but are nonetheless inclined to aggressive violence. Again, references to support demographic arguments would be helpful. Qui notes several obvious but underappreciated truths here, most notably that a libertarian social order cannot exist below a certain intelligence level, as this would preclude people from understanding the necessary rules of such an order. He correctly states that some people may convert to libertarianism by seeing it in practice instead of reaching it through reason. In fact, this is by far the more likely method of conversion in the near future. The role of hedonistic practices in damaging a social order are discussed, as is the folly of accepting non-libertarians into libertarian circles simply to grow numbers.

The next essay is Voluntary Ethnic Separation, and it explains the difference between what libertarianism requires one to accept and the common caricature of all such ideas as hateful racism. Qui shows great insight in tackling common leftist arguments here. He also makes the important point that collectivism can arise as a benign heuristic to help with decisions because people lack the capacity to deal with individuals beyond a certain point. However, the same demographic claims resurface without proper support. Finally, the point that ethnostatism could be a step toward breaking up large nation-states into more local forms of governance is overlooked by most libertarians, but not Qui.

The Antistatist Case for Monarchial Government is a longer essay that Qui included despite having changed his views on the matter, as he views it as being theoretically important. He makes a distinction between government (a manager of land and provider of essential services) and state (an entity that exercises a monopoly on initiatory force) which is lost on many people. He also explains that while a libertarian society would be imperfect, a state has even worse inefficiencies. Later, Qui hints at a potential problem with wilderness areas falling victim to a tragedy of the commons, but this could easily be solved by homesteading such areas. There are two significant errors here: a lack of accounting for the arguments made by Stefan Molyneux and others in favor of private dispute resolution organizations with regard to how law courts could function without a state, and a contradiction concerning redistribution and efficiency. The final part of the essay reads much like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s case that monarchy is superior to democracy, and is reminiscent of the real-world example of Leichtenstein.

Qui tackles an uncomfortable issue that perhaps interests too many people in libertarian circles with The Libertarian Solution to the Age of Consent. He quickly rebuts the left-libertarians who wish to let children make decisions regarding sexual conduct, describing parenting of young children as a sort of regency until the child gains the ability to use reason. But Qui errs in saying that damages done by improper parenting are no different from any other sort of crime, as one can never truly be made whole from the lifelong detriments caused by improper parenting.

Dysgenics and Market Nobility discusses the corruption of the phrase “all men are created equal” from a statement of equality before the law into a belief in human biological uniformity. In doing so, he distinguishes between the natural elite of a free society and the power elite of a statist society, which are often conflated by leftists. Qui then explains how the two tend to work together in statist societies to keep the same families at the top for centuries rather than let the rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle properly play out. The essay then turns toward dysgenics, which refers to programs that have the opposite of a eugenic effect. The roles of feminism, sexual liberation, and welfare statism are examined in this light.

The first part concludes with Civilization and Natural Law, which makes unconventional but strong arguments in favor of censoring and physically removing people on the basis of their political opinions. Qui’s case is more utilitarian and reserved than it needs to be, but he still reaches the correct result that freedom of speech is a privilege that comes with owning property, not a fundamental right. He then finds that the solution to intractable differences between people and groups is mutual discrimination and exclusion, as forced integration necessarily results in racial tensions.

The second section begins with The Freedom of Government, which revisits themes from several of the previous essays. Qui makes a powerful case that people who claim to believe in democracy but deny people the self-determination to choose their form of governance are charlatans. He also observes that a large enough number of small monarchies is effectively equivalent to a libertarian social order. The only problem with this essay is brevity, as more explanation of each point would greatly improve the presentation.

The Curse of Citizenship explores how the modern state makes its subjects into cogs of its machine through citizenship as a legal concept. Qui shows that democracy, contrary to leftist propaganda, only makes this worse by providing an otherwise absent appearance of legitimacy. He correctly recognizes the futility of localism as an ultimate strategy, as it fails to account for the supremacy of higher levels of government. But his contention that “corruption within the state is nothing other than the people who are creating the illusion themselves being aware of the illusion” is misguided; one can have this knowledge without weaponizing it into corruption, and one can be corrupt without such an awareness.

In The Role of Co-Operation in Competition, Qui refutes several myths about capitalism. First, he proves that capitalism is not as anti-social as its critics claim. Second, he corrects the misconception of competition as being necessarily aggressive in nature. Third, he explains how competition can actually be a form of cooperation, in that individuals or groups can agree to compete in order to find out which methods are superior. Qui segues into several examples of cooperation that are not strictly competitive, such as food companies co-marketing with drink companies and agreements between private road companies. To complete the argument, he examines how the contrapositive is also true; namely, that removing competition also removes an incentive to cooperate. He finishes with a brief discussion of cartels and makes the insightful observation that a labor union is not commonly recognized as a cartel, despite functioning much like one.

It is only in Reverse Claims to Property that Qui truly goes off the libertarian reservation in his thinking, though he admits at the beginning that he may be doing so. Here, he tries (and fails) to invent an inverse of property rights to resolve questions of state-occupied property and wilderness areas. Qui again neglects other libertarian theories on how to deal with pollution. This un-ownership would, as he suggests, legitimize rights violations in some cases.

In Who Watches the Watchmen, Qui explores the libertarian answer to this age-old question, namely that the watchmen (in the form of private defense agencies) all watch each other. Here he enters an off-topic though informative discussion on the impossibility of eliminating the state by democratic means. He then returns to the topic to find that re-establishment of a state is the worst case scenario in a stateless society, but all economic and military incentives work against it. That it is the worst case means that all other outcomes must be better, setting this particular objection on its ear.

National Defence Without Coercion is the last essay in the second part, and it deals with the subject at length. Qui begins by noting the common fallacy committed by statists: using a state to defend people against other states does not change the fact that people are subjugated by a state; it only changes which state is in control. He covers the basics of how a private defense agency should function, but is a bit too enamored with nationalism. His comparisons between a private defense agency and an insurance company make one wonder where such arguments were in earlier essays. The latter part includes some novel thought on how the facilities of a private defense agency might be employed in other ways during peacetime. The conclusion discusses the difference between pre-modern gentlemen’s war and modern total war, with libertarianism likely to end modern warfare and return us to the less destructive pre-modern type of warfare. This essay and the previous essay could have been combined.

The final part consists of one much longer essay titled Examining Cultural Destruction. Qui examines the causes and symptoms of cultural decay, then proposes solutions. The role of the state and central banking in reducing time preferences is explained, then Qui shows how capitalism makes this worse not by being bad in and of itself, but by amplifying whatever inputs it receives. Egalitarianism is blamed in the Rothbardian sense of a revolt against nature, as is the loss of autonomy and identity that statism causes. Symptoms of these causes are identified as the demonization of productive work, the collapse of stable interpersonal and family relationships, the loss of spiritualism and hierarchy, the ascent of shallow materialism, the prevalence of escapism, and the expansion of empiricism into inherently rational disciplines. To solve these problems, Qui recommends absolute private property rights, abolition of central banking and as much of the state as possible, and a restoration of traditional values.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘incomplete.’ Qui lacked an editor for the book, and it shows. The grammatical constructions and punctuation are frequently in need of revision, and each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography. But the thoughts expressed therein are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Guns Are The Only Bulwark Against Tyranny

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argues that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis that he has made an erroneous case while committing numerous logical fallacies, and that the opposing view is correct.

“In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre — the worst in modern American history, with 58 dead and some 500 wounded — the onus falls once again to those against gun control to make their case.”

Shermer uses the qualifier “modern,” but does not bother to define it. It seems that to him, events like the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which agents of the United States government murdered 300 members of the Lakota Sioux tribe, including 200 women and children, do not count because they occurred before some arbitrary cutoff date. Ignoring such events is also convenient for the arguments he will make later. That the onus is on the gun rights side rather than the gun control side is simply asserted and may be simply dismissed.

“The two most common arguments made in defense of broad gun ownership are a) self protection and b) as a bulwark against tyranny. Let’s consider each one.”

Another common argument that Shermer ignores is the right to own property in general, of which the right to keep and bear arms is part and parcel. But that would require him to deal in a priori logic, which does not appear to be his strong suit.

Self-Defense, Crime, and Suicide

“Stories about the use of guns in self-defense — a good guy with a gun dispensing with a bad guy with a gun — are legion among gun enthusiasts and conservative talk radio hosts.”

This is because such events happen regularly, to the tune of at least 338,700 events in America in between 2007 and 2011. As will be explained below, this is a low estimate.

“But a 1998 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, to take one of many examples, found that ‘every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and 11 attempted or completed suicides.’ That means a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.

A 2003 study published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, which examined gun ownership levels among thousands of murder and suicide victims and nonvictims, found that gun-owning households were 41 percent more likely to experience a homicide and 244 percent more likely to experience a suicide.”

It is curious that Shermer could not find and cite any more recent studies to support his case, but let us deal with his evidence, such as it is. All such studies suffer from two fatal flaws; they cannot count the number of crimes which did not occur because a potential criminal either saw a gun or believed a gun was present and chose not to offend, and empiricism cannot provide information about counter-factuals. For instance, criminals who have been killed by defensive uses of guns may have otherwise gone on to commit scores of murders, but they were prevented from doing so in this timeline. Without guns, other weapons would be used to commit homicides and other crimes, such as knives, bombs, and vehicles, as occurs in countries where firearm ownership is rare and difficult. That there is a difference between a legally justifiable shooting and a morally justifiable shooting further complicates matters.

Furthermore, Shermer implies that all suicides and accidents involving guns are bad, which is not the case. A person who has a short amount of time to live and will be in excruciating pain for the entirety of that time may decide that nonexistence (or going to whatever afterlife the person believes in) is better than existence as a terminally ill person. In such a case, a self-inflicted gunshot wound can act as a form of euthanasia compared to the protracted suffering which would otherwise lie ahead. (And because many governments still violate the sovereignty of their citizens over their own bodies by prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, these are cases of bad people with guns being defeated by good people with guns, albethey in a different manner.) The tragedy in such a case is not the gun death, but the terminal illness behind the gun death.

Another case can occur during an armed conflict. A person whose position is being overrun by enemy forces may commit suicide to avoid capture, interrogation, and torture at the hands of the enemy. Historically, many women did this to avoid becoming victims of war rape and many people with valuable knowledge did this to keep themselves from being tortured into divulging important information to the enemy. In such cases, a self-inflicted gun death can be the best of a multitude of bad options. Though these situations are unlikely inside of the United States, they are not impossible.

Third, a person whose brain does not function properly can come to believe that putting a bullet through one’s skull has some effect other than ending one’s life, or that self-preservation is not a worthwhile endeavor. While there are many cases in which intervention is needed and the death of the mentally ill person would be regrettable, there are some people who have a chronic and incurable mental condition. A strong desire to end one’s life in the absence of terminal illness or an impending worse fate is a mechanism of natural selection to eliminate organisms which are not sufficiently fit to reproduce and take care of the next generation.

On the subject of accidental gun deaths, some cases are best prevented by education of gun owners, but others are a mechanism of natural selection. The gun owner who handles his guns haphazardly or maintains them improperly can remove himself from the gene pool when the gun either shoots him or fails catastrophically in his hands. The gun owner who is a parent and fails to secure his guns around young children is less likely to get to be a grandparent, great-grandparent, and so on. At any rate, accidents are the fault of people, not guns.

With regard to the claim that gun-owning households are more likely to experience a homicide or suicide, to say that this is because guns are present is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Additionally, Shermer neglects to mention studies that show a decrease in violent crime as gun ownership has increased. Perhaps he realizes that such data would undermine his narrative. The aggregate is a wash; there is no clear correlation one way or the other.

“The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun, but having one in your home involves a risk-benefit calculation you should seriously consider.”

The Second Amendment’s utility in this regard is questionable at best, and Shermer’s empirical arguments are highly suspect, but the idea that the decision to have a firearm in one’s home involves a risk-benefit calculation is technically correct.

Tyranny and Rebellion

“Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true.”

Shermer unintentionally makes a strong argument that the right to keep and bear arms should be greatly expanded. In order to “equalize the power equation,” let us repeal the National Firearms Act of 1934 to remove taxes on certain categories of arms, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 so that private citizens can own a nuclear deterrent, the Gun Control Act of 1968 to eliminate licensing of arms dealers and manufacturers, the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 to decriminalize private ownership of machine guns manufactured after that date, and numerous other federal, state, and local measures that further restrict what kinds of weapons may be owned by private citizens.

“If you think stockpiling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full of Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional.”

Shermer follows in the pattern of most other leftists in straw-manning the nature of a violent uprising to overthrow the state. No one seriously believes that a single individual is capable of going up against the armed forces of a nation-state and emerging victorious. Instead, such an effort would require a few percent of the civilian population to use self-defense against agents of the state just as they would against common criminals. Nor is it necessary to achieve the sort of victory that one nation-state would enjoy against another in a war in order to succeed in such a revolution. A sustained effort of decentralized, anti-political, guerrilla attacks need only make the prospect of being a government agent within a certain territory too dangerous of an employment option to be worthwhile, thus physically removing the state from that territory without the need to meet the state’s forces in regular warfare. Note that even a single instance of government agents being killed can greatly reduce oppression, at least in the short term.

As Shermer suggests, a state is likely to deploy its military domestically in an effort to put down such a rebellion. If the rebels are competent, they will blend into the general population when they are not actively engaging their opponents. Thus, using military hardware against the revolutionaries would cause many civilian casualties, especially in the case of area-effect weapons. Just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today, the state’s response to the rebels would cause more people to join the rebels to try to avenge their fallen friends and family members. The state would also damage the infrastructure that it needs to operate in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Shermer seems to believe that military vehicles and personnel are invincible juggernauts that the average citizen could not hope to defeat. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. Military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the rebels present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform each of those tasks. Someone must deliver the resources for both those tasks and the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves.

While leftists tend to deride such suggestions as pure fantasy, anyone who has bothered to seriously think through such possibilities knows that they are not, including high-ranking United States military personnel who are responsible for preparing plans for such scenarios.

“The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.”

That these are not useful case studies for the possibility of rebellion against the United States government has been demonstrated in the previous section. One must also consider the difference made by Timothy McVeigh. Although his actions cannot be defended from a deontological perspective, the Oklahoma City bombing appears to have had positive consequences with regard to how the state handles armed resistance. By the standard of Ruby Ridge and Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and the Malheur standoff in 2016 all should have ended in mass casualties. But because McVeigh made such massacres costly for the state in terms of blowback, responding to such armed standoffs with overwhelming deadly force has become unpalatable.

Government Failure

“And in any case, if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.”

The previous two sections clearly refute the idea that the politicians and their agents can just shoot the public. As for citizens armed with legal counsel, they are going into a government courtroom, of government law enacted by those very politicians, presided over by a government judge, funded by taxes that the government extorted from them via the guns carried by those very police. This is a conflict of interest of astronomical magnitude that would never be tolerated in any situation that does not involve the state. The idea that a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun for resolving trouble with a government is thus risible at best.

“A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public.”

The correlation between declining violence and the civil society he describes does not establish a causal link, so Shermer commits another cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. He also assumes that the state is necessary to provide these essential services. In fact, the opposite is true. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law and not vice versa. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law, as well as the peace and justice that follow from it, is to have no state.

The civil society Shermer describes has its own set of intractable problems. First, the professional military may protect its citizens from external threats, and the police may protect civilians from internal dangers, but this is the security of a farm animal rather than the security of a free person. The state uses its military and police to prevent exploitation of its subjects by other powers only so that it may monopolize their exploitation. And should this monopoly decline and fail, the citizens will be less secure than they were before its inception. The criminal and civil courts cannot perform their functions correctly due to both the conflict of interest explained in the previous section and the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

“States reduce violence by asserting a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, thereby replacing what criminologists call ‘self-help justice,’ in which individuals settle their own scores, often violently, such as drug gangs and the Mafia.”

The goal of those who wish to create a superior form of social order should be a reduction of aggression, which does not necessarily entail a reduction of violence because aggressive violence may be reduced by overwhelming displays of defensive violence. That being said, government agents murdered over 200 million people in the 20th century, which is hardly a reduction in violence compared to pre-modern conditions.

Shermer then presents a false dilemma between a state monopoly on criminal justice and a vigilante free-for-all, completely ignoring the possibility of market provision of criminal justice through competing private businesses. He also neglects the fact that drug gangs and other organized crime make much of their income through goods and services which do not involve aggression against people or property but have been outlawed by the state regardless. Without state interference in the economy, much of the economic activity which currently involves violent dispute resolution between criminals would instead involve peaceful dispute resolution between legitimate business interests.

Finally, given that the state monopoly on force creates a system in which justice for the crimes of its agents is functionally impossible coupled with anarcho-tyranny, there are cases in which “self-help justice,” better known as vigilante justice, is superior to no justice at all.

“Homicide rates, for example, have plummeted a hundredfold since 14th-century England, in which there were 110 homicides per 100,000 people a year, compared with less than one per 100,000 today. Similar declines in murder rates have been documented in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (American homicide rates are around five times higher than in Europe, owing primarily to the deadly combination of guns and gangs.)”

Again, this does not tell us why homicide rates have fallen. Better economic circumstances and declining exposure rates to toxic substances that increase aggressive behavior also contribute to declining violence. That guns and gangs are primarily responsible for the higher homicide rate in America is simply asserted and may thus be simply dismissed.

“There’s no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. But it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise. Far superior are nonviolent democratic checks and balances on power, constitutional guardians of civil rights and legal protections of liberties.”

There is indeed no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. What Shermer fails to understand is that all states are necessarily tyrannical and must abuse the freedom of their citizens in order to perpetuate their operations. The idea that it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise has been thoroughly refuted above. Nonviolent democracy in the context of statism is a contradiction of terms because the state rests upon a foundation of aggressive violence, and democratic forms only pour gasoline upon the fire by setting part of the citizenry against another part. Checks and balances do not really exist in practice, as the various parts of a state apparatus invariably come to conspire together toward their common goal of dominating the society under the leadership of the most powerful branch of government. The Constitution itself and the laws passed under it are similarly useless as guardians of rights and protections of liberties because the very powers they are supposed to limit (if we ignore the fact that the Constitution expanded state power far beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed) are in charge of their interpretation, enforcement, and amendment.

Conclusion

Shermer’s case is deeply flawed from beginning to end. His cherry-picked studies fail to demonstrate his case, as studies with opposing findings exist and the aggregate is inconclusive. He makes unfounded assumptions regarding self-defense and suicide, has thoroughly failed to understand the use of self-defense against the state, and presents a view of civil society that is starry-eyed and naive. Contrary to Shermer, the only bulwark against tyranny is the credible threat of forcible removal of tyrants from power, and this requires the possession and use of guns.

Why Price Gouging Is Good

When a natural disaster strikes, it is almost guaranteed that there will be yet another uproar about price gouging. Media pundits will take to the airwaves to virtue signal against people who would dare to exploit disaster victims. Government officials will use the crisis to score political points by portraying themselves as defenders of the common people against greedy capitalists. But how accurately does this reflect reality? Let us explore the nature of price gouging to see the economics of such a situation and explain the behavior of journalists and state agents.

Economic Forces

In order to intelligently approach the concept of price gouging, one must first define it. Price gouging is a sudden, sharp increase in prices that occurs in response to a disaster or other civil emergency. Though this defines the act well, it does not explain the mechanisms behind it. When a disaster approaches, there are certain goods that people wish to acquire in greater quantities than normal, such as clean drinking water, non-perishable foods, wooden boards for protecting windows, and so on. If supply is held constant, then this sudden increase in demand for such goods will produce a sudden increase in their prices.

If left unhindered by the state, this upward pressure on prices will produce important benefits. First, it serves as a signal to producers and distributors of those goods that more supply is needed. The producers and distributors thus learn where their goods are most urgently in demand, allowing them to engage in mutually beneficial transactions with disaster victims. This is how free markets are supposed to function in order to meet the needs of customers.

Second, price gouging encourages proactive preparations. A potential business model for a firm is to invest in equipment that allows it to operate when a disaster would otherwise force it to close, and use the proceeds from price gouging to amortize the cost of the equipment. This helps consumers by allowing them to purchase goods at higher prices rather than be left without essential items during a crisis.

Third, price gouging provides an important benefit by conserving the fixed amount of resources which are present before more deliveries can be made to the disaster area. The higher cost of scarce goods disincentivizes people from buying up supplies that other people need, thus helping to keep the items in stock. This keeps scarce resources from being wasted on marginal uses, directing them toward their most valued uses and the people who most need them instead.

Markets And Malice

Unfortunately, not every instance of price gouging is so benevolent. Business owners who seek to exploit vulnerable people in order to make money do exist. But engaging in such behavior in a free market produces a short-term gain followed by a long-term loss. In a pure capitalist environment, reputation is everything for a business. Whatever profits may come from gouging disaster victims in the present will be more than outweighed by the sales that one will lose in the future because of the damage that this does to one’s brand. After all, most people would view such behavior as adding insult to injury and vote against it with their wallets. Though it is impossible to accurately count sales that do not happen, to dismiss this effect as nonexistent is to commit the broken window fallacy.

Enter The State

Most people are economically illiterate, so they tend to focus on the malevolent type of price gouging and be unaware of the benevolent type. In a democratic state, this has predictable results. Politicians and other government agents will frown upon price gouging and seek to punish anyone who they believe to be engaging in it. But it can be difficult to distinguish the natural effects of demand spikes and limited supplies upon price from the efforts of greedy exploiters of disaster victims, especially for government officials who are too far removed from the disaster area to be intimately familiar with the economic dynamics there. Thus, all price gouging is suppressed by the state, and while this may protect a few people from exploitation, it causes more harm than good by disrupting the market signals which would have informed producers and distributors that their goods need to be sent to the disaster area. The end result is that scarce goods are depleted and not replaced, leading people to once more blame the market for failing them when the actual cause of their shortage was a government failure.

Suppression of price gouging has several deleterious effects. First, by placing price controls on goods, the state deprives entrepreneurs of the profit motive to bring additional supply to the disaster area. Without state inteference, people who live outside of the disaster area and are willing to travel there in order to bring supplies could charge enough for their goods to recover their travel costs and be compensated for the inconvenience of spending time in a disaster area, all while making enough profit to make such a venture more attractive than other economic opportunities. Price gouging laws remove such action, leaving only state agencies and altruistic private groups to provide aid. Note that like all government regulations, price gouging laws are subject to regulatory capture by the largest businesses.

Second, removing the incentive for proactive preparations makes untenable the business model for operating during a disaster described above. Third, removing the conservation effect of price gouging forces business owners to sell goods below their market-clearing price. This incentivizes hoarders to buy more than they need and scalpers to buy goods for resale. The existence of scalpers also makes desired goods more difficult to find, as resellers will be more difficult to locate than established stores. Thus, laws against price gouging do not eliminate the practice, but rather shift it from primary markets to secondary markets and cause a different set of people to profit. Taken together, these effects result in artificial scarcity that makes conditions in a disaster area even worse.

A Pair of Razors

Given the clear case in favor of price gouging, one may wonder why so many people in positions of political power rail against it. Reece’s razor suggests that we look for the most cynical explanation when attempting to determine a motive for state policy. No other possibility prioritizes the self-interest of politicians and their minions over the lives and properties of citizens quite like the idea that government officials want to suppress the natural response of markets in order to make government disaster relief agencies look effective and necessary, thus justifying their existence and expansion, so Reece’s razor selects it.

However, it is not in the rational self-interest of elected officials to increase the suffering of disaster victims who are capable of removing them from office in the next election. A better explanation is offered by Hanlon’s razor, which says that one should not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. In this view, government officials are not trying to increase the harm done during a disaster; they simply know no better because they are just as economically illiterate as the electorate, if not more so. This razor is a better fit for the available logic and evidence.

Conclusion

It is clear that price gouging has an important economic role in ensuring that goods both go to those who need them most and remain available in times of emergency. Market prices are important signals that tell producers and distributors where their goods are most urgently needed. When the state interferes with this process by imposing price controls, it turns off the signal and incentives for market actors to send aid, encourages hoarding and scalping, and discourages conservation and farsightedness. These effects mean that laws against price gouging harm the very people that they are ostensibly supposed to help. Therefore, price gouging should not be punished by the state or demonized by the press.

A Case Against the Eleventh Amendment

The first amendment to the United States Constitution following the Bill of Rights is the Eleventh Amendment, which reads:

“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”

This Amendment was ratified in 1795 in response to the Supreme Court decision in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793). The case came from the Revolutionary War, when Captain Robert Farquhar, a resident of South Carolina, supplied goods to the state of Georgia for which Georgia did not fully pay. Farquhar died in 1784. In 1792, Alexander Chisholm, the executor of Farquhar’s estate, filed suit against Georgia in the US Supreme Court over payment that Georgia still owed for the goods. US Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued the case for Chisholm, but government officials in Georgia claimed sovereign immunity and refused to appear. The Court found by a 4-1 margin that the grant of federal jurisdiction over suits “between a State and Citizens of another State” in Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution granted federal courts the power to hear cases between private citizens and States, and that States did not enjoy sovereign immunity in such cases.

The Eleventh Amendment was written mostly for the purpose of overturning the Chisholm decision, which stands as one of only a handful of court rulings to be overturned by a Constitutional amendment. The ruling in Hollingsworth v. Virginia (1798) held that every pending action under Chisholm had to be dismissed due to the ratification of the Eleventh Amendment. The only remaining way at the time for a state to be sued by non-residents of the state was for that state to consent to the suit.

Since then, three Supreme Court cases have made further exceptions to a state’s sovereign immunity. Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer (1976) held that Congress may abrogate the sovereign immunity of a state pursuant to a valid exercise of the Fourteenth Amendment, Central Virginia Community College v. Katz (2006) held that Congress may do the same in bankruptcy cases through Article I, Section 8, Clause 4, and Lapides v. Board of Regents of University System of Georgia (2002) held that a state waives the Eleventh Amendment if it invokes a federal court’s removal jurisdiction, which is the right of a defendant to move a lawsuit filed in state court to the federal district court for that location.

To make a case against the Eleventh Amendment, we will first note the problems with its interpretation, then we will examine the failings of the doctrine of sovereign immunity in general, as refuting this doctrine defeats the Eleventh Amendment a fortiori.

Procedural Problems

The first thing to note is that the interpretation of this amendment, like every other part of the Constitution, is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Thus, the Eleventh Amendment means whatever people in black costumes say it means, which need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because effective challenges to their power once the appeals process is exhausted are almost nonexistent. (There are the possibilities that a judge will be impeached and removed or that the Constitution will be amended, but these possibilities are rare enough to dismiss in most cases. Chisholm and the Eleventh Amendment are a rare exception to the latter.) The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means erring on the side of expanding the size and scope of government, kowtowing to popular opinion rather than handing down consistent rulings, and reducing government accountability. This constitutes a threat to individual liberty and tends toward the curtailment of civil liberties.

In their interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment, the Court has consistently sided with state governments and expanded sovereign immunity beyond the text of the Amendment. The Court has shielded states from nearly all monetary damage actions brought in any court. The text does not mention a state’s own citizens, but in Hans v. Louisiana (1890), the Court interpreted the Eleventh Amendment to give a state sovereign immunity against citizens of that state. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 5-4 majority in Alden v. Maine (1999),

“[S]overeign immunity derives not from the Eleventh Amendment but from the structure of the original Constitution itself. … Nor can we conclude that the specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise within the scope of the enumerated powers.”

This, despite what Justice David Souter observed in the dissenting opinion,

“The 1787 draft in fact said nothing on the subject, and it was this very silence that occasioned some, though apparently not widespread, dispute among the Framers and others over whether ratification of the Constitution would preclude a State sued in federal court from asserting sovereign immunity as it could have done on any matter of nonfederal law litigated in its own courts.”

Souter’s dissent in Seminole Tribe v. Florida (1996), another 5-4 decision defending sovereign immunity, is also illuminating:

“There is almost no evidence that the generation of the Framers thought sovereign immunity was fundamental in the sense of being unalterable. Whether one looks at the period before the framing, to the ratification controversies, or to the early republican era, the evidence is the same. Some Framers thought sovereign immunity was an obsolete royal prerogative inapplicable in a republic; some thought sovereign immunity was a common-law power defeasible, like other common-law rights, by statute; and perhaps a few thought, in keeping with a natural law view distinct from the common-law conception, that immunity was inherent in a sovereign because the body that made a law could not logically be bound by it. Natural law thinking on the part of a doubtful few will not, however, support the Court’s position. […] [S]everal colonial charters, including those of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Georgia, expressly specified that the corporate body established thereunder could sue and be sued.”

Souter’s dissents demonstrate that there is no textual basis in the Constitution for sovereign immunity. But even if there were, the concept should still be opposed. In the next two sections, we will see why.

Problems With Sovereign Immunity

There are a multitude of problems with the concept of sovereign immunity. First, sovereign immunity denies compensation to victims of statism. Those whose rights are grossly violated by government agents are deprived of a redress of grievances by sovereign immunity, as well as meaningful peaceful recourse. Second, immunity for government agents denies due process to the citizenry because due process requires a judicial forum, which sovereign immunity denies to those whose cases are dismissed on such grounds. Third, the unwillingness of courts to hear cases in which states violate legal provisions that are intended to limit state power can render those provisions unenforceable, and an unenforceable law is functionally equivalent to no law at all. The people are thus left to rely on the good faith of governments that they will not abuse the people, which if history is any guide, is not a realistic strategy.

Fourth, that who are immune from civil damages and criminal punishment are unaccountable is a tautology, so sovereign immunity is obviously incompatible with government accountability. Fifth, this lack of accountability creates a moral hazard for those who wield state power. Any such unaccountable power is magnetic to the corruptible, who would abuse that power for their personal gain and the health of the state at the expense of the people. Sovereign immunity thus incentivizes the worst people to seek positions in government in order to abuse state power. Sixth, any just system must be no respecter of persons or affiliations. But the doctrine of sovereign immunity creates a double standard; some people may violate the law with impunity while others may not. Thus, equality before the law is impossible in the presence of sovereign immunity.

Finally, the absence of a peaceful method of obtaining justice through an established system means that those who demand justice must either live without or seek justice violently on their own. Though this is morally justified when done by citizens against government agents, there is a greater possibility of irreparable errors being made through vigilante methods than through judicial methods. There is also a risk of chaotic societal breakdown if vigilantism should become normalized in the absence of the organization and alternative institutions necessary to replace the state with a superior form of social order. Eliminating sovereign immunity would open a new avenue for obtaining justice peacefully.

Objections

In addition to making the case against sovereign immunity, it is necessary to refute the common arguments in its favor. First, proponents will argue that allowing people to sue the state for damages will endanger the public treasury. This could allow people to gain private ownership of government buildings as payment for civil judgments if the treasury is bankrupt, as well as pass on financial burdens to taxpayers. The standard counterargument is that these concerns are outweighed by the positives of eliminating sovereign immunity that were enumerated in the previous section. The sharper counterargument is that these are features rather than bugs. The money in the public treasury was obtained by demanding money from the citizenry and threatening them with violence for nonpayment. Although a monetary judgment would not, for the most part, return these funds to their rightful owners, the recipients would hold the money more justly than the thieves who call themselves by the euphemism of tax collectors. Government buildings are likewise built and maintained by extorted money, and are generally built upon conquered or otherwise stolen land. Passing on financial burdens to taxpayers is a moral evil, but this could be partially remedied by cleaning out the finances of individual government personnel and/or auctioning government assets before tapping into the treasury. On the other hand, increasing the tax burden on the citizenry may inspire them to either leave the state-sanctioned economy for the informal economy or think in revolutionary terms.

Second, there is the argument that sovereign immunity preserves separation of powers by preventing the judiciary from dominating the executive branch. But because a lack of ability to sue the government removes accountability, neuters provisions that limit state power, and creates moral hazard, sovereign immunity removes the very sort of checks and balances that its proponents claim to protect by keeping the judiciary from restraining the executive branch.

Third, there is the argument that there is no authority in the Constitution or other federal law for suits against the government. This is not an argument for the righteousness of sovereign immunity; only an argument that it currently exists. By this argument, such authority need only be created by Congressional legislation or a Constitutional amendment if it did not already exist. But such authority already does exist under the Constitution in its mandates for due process, government accountability, and the supremacy of federal law.

Fourth, there is the argument that adequate alternative methods for redress exist, making the elimination of sovereign immunity unnecessary. Not only does this argument fail to deal with the problems described above, but there are not always alternative methods. Injunctive relief redresses future violations but not past violations, suing individuals may not produce sufficient civil judgments, and statutes may immunize government agents from suit. This argument would once again leave people to rely on the good faith of governments that they will not only not abuse the people, but will perform restitution when they do.

Finally, defenders of sovereign immunity will appeal to tradition, citing the fact that the United States government has enjoyed some form sovereign immunity for most of its history, as have its constituent states. For example, in United States v. Lee (1886), the Court held that “the United States cannot be lawfully sued without its consent in any case.” But appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy; there should be some other reason for continuing a policy besides its longstanding in order to validate the choice.

Conclusion

It is clear that the doctrine of sovereign immunity causes many problems, and that the arguments in favor of it are easily refuted. Further, there is no basis for it either within the text of the Constitution or in a nonoriginalist view. Repealing the Eleventh Amendment and ending sovereign immunity for US states would be a positive step, but it would not go far enough. As shown above, all sovereign immunity should be ended so that agents of the state may be held to the same moral standard as everyone else and many abuses of power may be prevented.