Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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  • Jason Soon
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    Friday, May 23, 2003
    Wahhabi - Islamic Protestanism?
    This month's Quadrant has a well researched article by Sophie Masson (who was born in Indonesia) on the Islamist killjoys out to destroy the traditional syncretic Javanese culture which pervades most of Indonesia. There's a nice quote in her article which is worth highlighting. from pp. 34-35 of this month's issue:

    Mant Western commentators have said that Islam needs a Reformation, when the problem is that the Reformation is already occuring, in all its zeal and fury...

    Folk Islam, adat in Java, can be usefully compared to medieval folk Catholicism, which could incorporate both the pagan and the Christian, local traditions and universal philosophy, within its matrix of belief, custom and thought. Moderate reformist Islam does not seek to destroy all tradition; like state-sponsored Anglicanism or Episcopalianism in the West, it attempts an accomodation with the past. Strict reformist Islam, however, can be compared to the extremist Puritan Protestant movements.

    The similarities are striking: both are paradoxically both backward-looking (back to the fundaments) and forward-looking (breakers of tradition). Like Puritan Protestanism, extreme reformist Islam , or 'Islamism', is iconoclastic - in Java in 1985, such a group blew up two of the stupas at the magnificent Buddhist temple complex of Borobudur. In Afghanistan, the same impulse led to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas ...
    Aceh, realpolitik and the battle between liberal secularism and medieval barbarism
    Scott Wickstein hits the nail on the head with his musings on Indonesia and Aceh. After decades of entrenched corruption and excessive military influence, Indonesia finally has a chance to clean out its house and move towards a pluralistic liberal democracy. It already has most of the ingredients, among which - the principle of separation of religion and state and pluralism embodied under Pancasila is precisely what so angers many of the so called 'Free Aceh' separatists. Splitting Aceh from Indonesia will allow theocratic barbarians in the movement to establish a Taliban-like state in Aceh, enslave their own people under the rhetoric of 'self determination' and provide a HQ for JI and Al Qaeda nutters. Indonesia needs time and space to adjust and to tactfully detach itself from excessive military influences. This process will not be helped if Australia takes too heavy a hand in criticising its neighbour for dealing with what is essentially an Islamicist terrorist insurrection. Human rights abuses and collateral damage should be minimised in this exercise - but Australia has no national interest in seeing a Taliban state formed from a chunk of its populous Muslim neighbour. Meddlers like Kylie Moon who support a 'Free Aceh' are wishing upon the people of Aceh the loss of the sorts of freedoms they take for granted. If the Aceh people have a valid complaint about being ripped off by Indonesia re oil and gas royalties, that's an issue that in principle can be dealt with under a better designed autonomy proposal.
    Read all about it
    John Lott Jr aka Mary Rosh accuses the NY Times of deceit.

    Thursday, May 22, 2003
    Philistine moralist conservatives
    Why are alleged conservatives so ignorant of literature and the humanities? I haven't read that notorious book by Catherine M so I can't comment on the merits of that particular book but Janet Albrechtsen's views of the French literary genre which Millett writes in shows she is just way out of her depth:

    Maybe Millet's newest fans among Australian intellectuals are unfamiliar with the porn genre. No plot, no characters. Sex in strange places, sex with strangers, lots of them, usually at once, in clubs, bushes, toilets, car parks, tunnels, on railway platforms, on car bonnets. Oral sex, anal sex, any sex. Millet's 186-page ode to gang-bang sex is porn in a mechanical tone ...

    Her book gives the highbrow club the chance to read porn and pretend it's art. When Millet is not performing a blow job on readers, as a Le Monde critic so elegantly put it, she's doing a con job on them. She throws in just enough pseudo-psychological stuff – "My true clothing was my nudity, which protected me" – to allow the art and academic world to utter, in modulated tones, "Oooh". They wank on in reviews about the "new literary libertine" who, according to New York's Village Voice, pits "arousal against intellectual contemplation".

    Why the effusive praise of porn as performance art? Simple. Millet is female, French, an art critic and founder of a "serious" art magazine, Art Press – a genuine Paris intellectual. So academics such as Kath Albury (Opinion, Monday) describe her as someone who "thinks deeply about her body and her sexuality" and her work is "important and unique". But what is so mind-blowing about the fact that a woman who puts out, gets it?

    To Janet, even literature is all about scoring political points against feminism and lefty intellectuals. Like the PC crowd whom she usually condemns, all books have to pass ideological tests to be deemed worthy literature . Has she read the book? What does she mean when she says that Catherine M is given a pass for writing this stuff because she's female? Catherine M's work is clearly in the genre of works like Georges Battaile's Story of the Eye (which I have read) which is also depicts an almost cold, piercing eroticism devoid of romance. It's a different style with various possibilities and some people used to more traditional story telling find it offputting but it's not without its merits. I'm not sure how well Catherine M pull this off (insert pun) as I haven't read the book but who is to say it's not worth reading just because it doesn't fit into Janet's black and white policy world? Oh, by the way, Georges Battaile is male and his work has been long acclaimed by many enthusiasts of French literature.

    Janet also writes:

    The intellectual hucksters of laissez-faire sex – like Millet and her admirers – fail to answer one fundamental question. Where is one to draw the line? Will we next be titillated by, and told to tolerate, tales of man-boy love – the euphemism favoured by pedophiles to describe their sexual exploits?

    Whoops! Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer much admired by the intellectual right because he also happens to be a reformed Marxist and a committed Thatcherite just found one of his fine books in Janet's bonfire - In praise of the stepmother - a beautifully written, lyrical work which unfortunately depicts a woman's sexual encounters with an underage boy without any judgementalism - and therefore technically it's much too soft on pedophilia and cannot be considered good art according to Janet.

    I'm with Oscar Wilde- literary fiction is to be read and judged as literary fiction, not moral philosophy or Sunday school parables (the fact that Catherine M claims to be writing her memoirs here is irrelevant. After all, Janet claims they're mostly fabricated anyway and it's not Catherine M's life which is being praised, it's the way she narrates it and mines it into a book).. People who can't tell the difference between the two need their heads unscrambled. I'm as against expanding the terms of Writer Social Responsibility as I am Corporate Social Responsibility. (Incidentally I think Janet A's use of the term 'wank' can be faulted - not on moral terms but aesthetic ones.)
    Favourite blogs
    Tex has announced his own Blog Awards so I thought I'd hone in on the act too. Usual caveat - I don't have time to follow all the blogs on my links list daily anymore so by no means should any bloggers who don't win take this as a personal slight:) It's just a matter of picking from the list of the ones I read most often nowadays.

    Best solo blog: Brad de Long (sorry, Virginia but you just don't update often enough anymore!)

    Best group blog: Gene Expression (I'm one of their occasional contributors so I really shouldn't be nominating it but what the hell. In particular read it for the contributions of Razib and David Burbridge who actually know what they're talking about when they write about biology. I'm just the resident dilettante.)

    Best blog commentary on the war: Steve Sailer (and a master of understated one liners)

    Most addictive daily feed for weird stuff: Hot Buttered Death

    Best new blog: Prestopundit (though I wish he'd call it something else appropriately Hayekian - how about 'Cosmos and Taxis'?:))
    With a confident fisk, a tentative gloat and a ragged cheer for Machiavelli

    After an interstate trip-related hiatus I have decided to return to regular blogging. Blogging, like drama, is no fun without adversaries. So I have decided to pick on...everyone. The Target of Opportunity for today is Tim Dunlop who revisits the so-yesterday debate on "why were we in Iraq". He plaintively asks was it to:

    liberate the people of Iraq and/or is to disarm Saddam? Could we justify our involvement if it was only about getting rid of Saddam Hussein? Or was it really just about WMD?...yes, there is a humanitarian argument to be made, but no, that alone is not a reason to be part of the "coalition's" war

    Dunlop uses the conflicting rationales offered by leaders of the "coalition of the willing" to deliver a moralistic "gotcha" denunciation of the PM, who he accuses of - wait for it...not being straight with the Australian people about his reasons for the military expedition:

    instead of taking responsibility for putting the troops in harm's way to do a job that didn't need doing, he is taking credit for them doing something he said they would never be asked to do.

    A politician lies about militaristic power. I'm shocked! Shocked!

    Cut to the Real World I: The US's geo-political rationales for military action in the ME have been deceitful for a number of reasons relating to the pathological politics of the region, the morally sensitive nature of US domestic political discourse and the perennial need to engage in Machiavellian deceit when attempting to deal with the Hobbesian power struggle in SW Asia, sometimes known as "the Great Game".
    The truth is that the US is simply following standard strategic doctrine to arrest and reverse an adverse shift in the balance of power in an area of vital national intererst. I shall take this opportunity to indulge in a quiet gloat over a the preliminary success of the Strocchi/Davis theory of US hegemonism, that so perplexes our friends to the Left and Right. Iraq was invaded because the US needs to ditch the Saudis/hitch the Iraqis for reasons of:

    • geo-politics: to secure sympathetic regime in the SW Asian region as it's allies (Pakistan, Arabia, Israel) are in danger of falling into the hands of fundamentalists (Bin Laden) or threatened by "rogue statists" (Iran, Syria);

    • geo-economics: to construct a sympathetic oil supplier in the Gulf before the inflection of the Hubbert curve allows OPEC's assorted fascists and fundamentalists to tax the US industrial system to the hilt.

    So far, this theory is the only one to correctly predict US power moves in the Gulf.
    The geo-political implication of the ditch Saudi/hitch Iraqi theory has been confirmed by the:pullout of US bases from Saudi and the push-in of US bases in Somali, Qatar and Iraq:

    The United States is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region,

    The geo-economic implication of this theory has been confirmed by the US aim to increase Iraqi oil production to six million barrels a day over the next four to five years:

    This number has a magical ring to Western oil experts, since it is the critical mark needed to break Saudi Arabia's dominant position on the world market and, with it, the power of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

    These aims, although defensible for moral and strategic reasons, cannot be blurted out in public. Hence the devotion of the neo-cons to the works of Leo Strauss, the notoriously Machiavellian Platonist. Bloggers need to read between the lines, truth is not manifest brothers!

    Cut to the Real World II: Howard was involved in a second-order or derivative deceit, defending both the dubious US rationale and the even more dubious Australian national interest rationale for involvement. Whether the US rationale was authentic or disingenuous, Australia has to pitch in to pay our dues to the US alliance. We owe the Americans a favour that Lefties bloggers ought to be acutely aware of. The US Navy helped us recolonise E Timor, our military helped them reccolonise Iraq. That's the way it goes in the real world of geo-politics, you scratch my back I scratch yours.
    It's called the political favour bank, and it works longtitudinally (per family generations) rather than latitudinally (per firm transactions). We may be needing more favours like that if Indonesia or Melanesia continue to melt down, especially if the PLA decide to exploit the power vacum created by the South Pacific "arc of crisis".
    The truth is always a casualty in a deadly play-off between the Cheyneys And Bin Ladens of this world. Ideologists of the Left and Right need to deal with the realities of this power struggle before satisfying their lust to moralise.
    Well, I never thought I'd see the day. Both John Howard and Miranda Devine, fountainheads of socially conservative thinking, say that the NSW medical marijuana laws are alright. So now the Daily Troglodyte has just politically isolated itself. And a National Party MP decides to come out in support of proposed laws equalising the gay and heterosexual age of consent at 16 because his son is gay.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2003
    News vs views
    The Daily Troglodyte, arguably NSW's or Australia's worst newspaper (funny thing is the Murdoch press also produces the nation's best newspaper, The Australian), purports to run a news item on the NSW Labor government's commendable reforms to age of consent laws and medicinal marijuana laws and headlines the item 'Plain dopey'.
    Buchanan on Powell
    A Pat Buchanan column I can endorse:

    The presence of Powell, a realist in the War Cabinet, is today the best guarantee the president will not launch the kind of utopian crusade that brought down all the other Great Powers. For while the neocons were doing graduate work at Harvard and Yale, Powell was doing his in Vietnam. That is the difference. The Powell Doctrine that came out of Vietnam—Don’t commit the army until you commit the nation!—is the quintessence of conservatism. Powell’s belief that war is a last resort, but that if we must fight, we go in with overwhelming force, win, and get out, is also faithful to U.S. traditions from Washington to Wilson.

    Of course it's worth pointing out that Pat is no realist himself - all his past published work suggests he's an isolationist. But to a certain extent he's playing the game of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' - for isolationist purposes, a realist is preferable to a gung ho neo con. Just as for realist purposes, isolationists like Pat are a useful irritant against excessive neocon influence.
    Hayek on neural networks and free will
    One of Hayek's lesser known works is a very tough going work of theoretical psychology titled The Sensory Order. This book in combination with the wide range of his other works underlines Hayek's status as a great polymath. In The Sensory Order, written back in 1952, Hayek essentially anticipates the connectionist theory of the mind and the resulting 'neural networks' approach taken by some contemporary Artificial Intelligence researchers. Notwithstanding this range his works taken together exhibit a seamless quality. For instance The Sensory Order also contains many ideas which anticipate his later ideas about the importance of tacit knowledge to society and indeed how all knowledge is ultimately foundational on tacit knowledge, the impossibility of completely divorcing the individual mind from culture and society, and the notion of cultural evolution and memetics.

    This paper by Gary Dempsey of Cato on Hayek's views on free will and his anticipation of the 'neural networks' idea should be a treat for enthusiasts of both evolutionary theory and Hayek; and better explains the ideas alluded to above. Here is the abstract:

    This paper examines the evolutionary epistemology of the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek. I argue that Hayek embraces a connectionist theory of mind that exhibits the trial-and-error strategy increasingly employed by many artificial intelligence researchers. I also maintain that Hayek recognizes that his epistemology undermines the idea of free will because it implies that the mind's operation is determined by the evolutionary interaction of the matter that comprises ourselves and the world around us. I point out, however, that Hayek responds to this implied determinism by explaining that it can have no practical impact on our day-to-day lives because, as he demonstrates, the complexity of the mind's evolution prevents us from ever knowing how we are determined to behave. Instead, we can only know our mind at the instant we experience it.

    Regarding the intellectual genealogy of the neural networks concept, here is a key quote [1]:

    Once a 'thick' net of ordering connections is established in the mind, says Hayek, a range of possible neural routing patterns is engendered. Simultaneous classification, in other words, results in “a process of channeling, or switching, or 'gating' of the nervous impulses” (1967, p51). Yet Hayek is emphatic that this 'lock-and-dam' system of neural connections does not in and of itself specify the neural routing patterns that will be employed by the mind. Instead, neural connections constitute “dispositions” (1978c, 40) and only through competition among many different neural dispositions and combinations of dispositions will distinctly functional patterns be discovered. Hayek thus embraces the view that the physiological apparatus that enables us to know the world is itself subject to the pressures of the natural selection process. This view should not sound unusual to readers aquainted with the writings of nueroscientist William H. Calvin (1987, 1996b) and Nobel-laureate neurobiologist Gerald M. Edelman (1982, 1987), and it bears special noting that Edelman and Hayek were familiar with each other's work. In fact, Edelman cites Hayek in his book Neural Darwinism, [3] and Hayek cites Edelman in his book The Fatal Conceit.

    Also note the anticipation of the memetics concept:

    Hayek makes it clear that the discovery of neural rules is not going on in only one mind, but in everyone's mind, and that the discoveries made in one mind can “infect” (1967b, p47) other minds through speech and example. As such, he argues that humans are intelligent, in part, because neural rules can be accumulated and transmitted from person to person, generation to generation. “What we call the mind,” says Hayek, “is not something that the individual was born with...but something his genetic equipment helps him acquire, as he grows absorbing the results of a tradition that is not genetically transmitted” (1988, p22). [5] In other words, language, morals, law, etc., are not discovered ex nihilo by each mind, but simply constitute an epidemic of “imitation” (ibid., 24), of successful neural rules combining and spreading through populations. Under this view, “learning how to behave is more the source than the result of insight, reason, and understanding” (ibid., p21) and “it may well be asked whether an individual who did not have the opportunity to tap such a cultural tradition could be said even to have a mind” (ibid., p24).

    Finally a direct quote from Hayek himself on the normative implications of his brand of materialism:

    we may...well be able to establish that every single action of a human being is the necessary result of the inherited structure of his body (particularly of its nervous system) and of all the external influences which have acted upon it since birth. We might be able to go further and assert that if the most important of these factors were in a particular case very much the same as with most other individuals, a particular class of influences will have a certain kind of effect. But this would be an empirical generalization based on a ceteris paribus assumption which we could not verify in the particular instance. The chief fact would continue to be, in spite of our knowledge of the principle on which the human mind works, that we should not be able to state the full set of particular facts which brought it about that the individual did a particular thing at a particular time (1989, pp86-87).

    Note too how Hayek's explanation for why the existence or lack thereof of free will has no normative implications is quite similar to his critique of central planning. Not surprising because the mind is also a spontaneous order.

    [1] For further background on this intellectual genealogy see this page of quotes compiled by Greg Ransom.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2003
    New addition to Catallaxy
    Professor Suri Ratnapala of Queensland University will be joining Catallaxy and blogging when he can spare the time. His latest published work is Australian Constitutional Law: Foundations and Theory and you can find a review of this book here. Many years ago I attended a Mont Pelerin Society Special Regional Meeting in Bali wherein Suri presented a superb paper titled 'The idea of a constitution and why constitutions matter'. What was most noteworthy about this paper was its attempt to relate constitutional theory and rule of law arguments back to evolutionary epistemology. I was Assistant Editor of CIS's Policy at that time and so enamoured of it was I that I ran a heavily edited version (because of word length considerations) which is now available here. Hopefully blogging will encourage Suri to present and develop these ideas to a wider audience.

    Monday, May 19, 2003
    Scattered thoughts on ethics
    As an antidote to all the stuff I wrote in the post below ...
    Of all the philosophical disciplines I have a lot of respect for epistemology. Ethical theory, however, is something else. I think the most useful and perceptive things that have been said about of ethics have come out of the implicitly (and then explicitly) evolutionary perspective that derives from the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers (David Hume, Adam Smith and his idea of the spectator who is capable of empathising with the pains felt by his or her fellow beings - see Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments), the natural sciences and game theory (the evolution of reciprocity as modelled by Axelrod, the ideas of evolutionary psychology as popularised by Matt Ridley). To be frank, concepts like the Kantian imperative conceptualised in a context devoid of social understandings and ingrained customary biases seems like a dead end - when was the last time anyone decided not to hurt someone because of the Kantian imperative. People refrain from hurting or killing other people because
    i) we grow up inculcated with particular views about the right way to behave which are essentially like traffic signals and this inculcation, although not based on long metaphysical chains of reasoning is so strong that in part we refrain from doing bad things because we can't imagine ourselves as 'that type' of person. I infer from this that people with high self-esteem are, all other things being equal, more likely to behave morally because they care about not letting their self image down. People with low self esteem are more dangerous because they have less to lose, less invested in a good self image. I also think this aspect of our ethical sense is what, ironically, may lead to other bad things such as racial prejudice. I've mentioned this before in the context of slavery. Which came first? Slavery or racism? The ancient Greeks and the Arabs used to enslave lots of people yet there is no indication that they held the view that the people they enslaved were their natural inferiors. When did slavery first become associated with racism? In Judeo-Christian societies. Why? Because Christian morality is more universalistic and impliedly forbids slavery so the only way that Christians who owned slaves could continue to feel good about themselves was either to become abolitionists and free their slaves or convince themselves that their slaves were naturally inferior and therefore didn't fit within the prohibition.

    ii) the whole fellow feeling thing explored by the Scottish enlightenment theorists. Adam Smith has a nice passage somewhere in his Theory of Moral Sentiments about how a spectator can squirm in sympathy with the tightrope walker he's watching and how from all this the basis of morality flows. All moral progress in the past has come not from some philosopher proving the validity of the Kantian imperative to everyone's satisfaction but from example and experience that convinces people to widen their scope of fellow feeling to previously excluded categories - from family to tribe to race to nation state to the international community - think of the civil rights movements and the highlighting of normal things people can identify with like not being able to use the local swimming pool. Because tacit knowledge rather than codified knowledge about the Other is so important to this process I think it leads to some conclusions that may seem counterintuitive. For instance people, especially lefties tend to think that trade and commerce is atomising. To me it's quite the contrary. Trade and commerce and social intercourse and dialogue more generally helps extend circles of fellow feeling. Think of people who feel sorry for other people who used to work for some well known company that subsequently becomes insolvent. Trading relationships are part of a continuum of social relationships, not some clearly separate category from other social relationships.

    Note what I'm not saying is that ethical philosophy isn't useful because it didn't directly contribute to moral progress in society. However what I am saying is that by the way it sets out its questions, it isn't even explaining the nature of ethics and ethical behaviour very well. Note too that my discussion of utilitarianism was of utilitarianism as a public philosophy for justfying particular policy approaches, it had nothing explicitly to do with ethical theory.

    Sunday, May 18, 2003
    Notes on liberalism and utilitarianism, Hayek and Rawls
    John Quiggin has had a series of good posts on utilitarianism which I haven't really commented on because I agree with most of what he has to say (see how much economists agree on the fundamentals despite popular perception?). The gist of it is that there really is no serious contender for utilitarianism (defined broadly to include all varieties of consequentialism and assessing policy based on their effects on welfare) as a public philosophy. This comment has attracted some criticism and response, particularly with references to Rawls and Nozick as alternative contenders, which John has responded to quite well. Here are just a few of my other additional thoughts prompted by John's posts:

    1) John argues "utilitarianism has always been the dominant Australian public philosophy, even more so for the social-democratic era of the postwar boom than it is today (when utilitarian arguments for free-market policies fail, as they often do, neoliberals sometimes fall back on natural rights claims about property".

    I'm sure the bit about how 'arguments for free market policies always fail' is a throwaway line as is the bit about neoliberals relying on natural rights theories. Truth isn't an opinion poll but nonetheless it should be considered significant that the vast majority of quite eminent economists (including in the US) would have little support for the contention that the market-based reforms introduced in Australia have been a failure or undesirable -I venture to speculate that this would include establishment left liberal economists like those in the Brookings Instutution as well as the AEI. The whole regulatory reform movement which is really far more responsible for the seachange in Australian politics than the writings of Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand is based on quite sound utilitarian-based economic reasoning and has support from economists of both inclinations (witness the AEI Brookings Joint Centre in the US). Furthermore this extends to John's own theoretical work - I've cast an eye on John's own theoretical writings and can find no determinative case for or against free market policies arriving from them. At best the actual detail of economic literature provides countervailing arguments on both sides and one might argue that economists of all persuasions start off with biases and the direction of that work may then be determined by such biases - but of course that doesn't mean the insights they subsequently uncover, whether the Chicago school exploration of business practices traditionally condemned by antitrust policy or a more market-sceptical economist's works on, say information asymmetries (Stiglitz) aren't equally valuable and don't have something to contribute to policy analysis.

    Essentially one could argue that the old saying that there is 'nothing new under the sun' is extremely applicable to economics and policy analysis more generally. Old truths are frequently being rediscovered in different contexts and re-elaborated for new contexts (the public choice insight dates back to Madison and even Hobbes, I'm sure one can find some precursor of the Coase theorem) . Debate in economics is a perpetual swinging of the pendulum - with viewpoints going from one extreme to another and needing correction from reinvigorated old wisdoms. The most powerful corrections to the excesses of social democracy which to me include public choice theory, the Hayekian-Austrian re-emphasis on a better understanding of the market process and the informational virtues of the price system, Coasian arguments about potential for private bargaining, work such as research on how earned income tax credits can be a better policy tool than excessive labour regulation which look at unintended consequences of policy and efficient use of policy instruments, etc may all have neo-liberal/libertarian implications but they are all tailored on an intellecutally sound utilitarian basis. As noted before, natural rights arguments have never given classical liberalism much extra credibility or persuasive force in policy circles and never will though they may make good rallying points. I think classical liberalism's most successful shift in the intellectual climate (its contribution to a correctional pendulum swing using my analogy) is to promote the point that one compares imperfect markets against imperfect public governance whereas before arguments for intervention based on the 'public interest' model tended to be conducted along the lines of the nirvana fallacy (a view of regulatory intervention as costless) that any situation where markets can be corrected should dictate a correction.

    2) The difference between classical liberalism and the more interventionist form of liberalism that overlaps with social democracy is essentially
    i) an argument about how much weighting to give to the respective arguments above and how much weighting to give the respective imperfections of market and state
    ii) an argument about whether rule-utilitarianism or act-utilitarianism is preferred in the majority of cases(which is not to say that all interventionists go towards act-utilitarianism and all non-interventionists go towards rule-utilitarianism for instance social democrats accept the underlying general optimality of the rule that property+tort+contract as usually leading to efficient ordering of outcomes.)

    3) I fundamentally agree with John's assessment of Nozick and Rawls. Nozick was a great philosopher - however the strength of his reputation arguably rests on more technical philosophical works like his Philosophical Explanations (a very tough nugget of a book which I've been slowly ploughing through). Though his Anarchy. State and Utopia was better known it is essentially question begging in its starting premises, more so to an economist who would naturally argue that the whole concept of rights itself can and should be analysed for its efficiency implications (this goes back to the concept of rule versus act utilitarianism - a 'Nozick theorem' would essentially be a strong version of rule utilitarianism essentially saying the status quo boundaries of rights should not be revised, regardless of whether 'the heavens fall from the skies', a contention that Hayek strongly disagreed with). Rawls' was the superior approach to political philosophy and as John notes, really no different from utilitarianism in that the fundamental framework is based on asking the question of how rational maximising individuals in a condition of ignorance would like to pick particular institutional features to attain their multiple objectives. Rawls asked his question and got a particular result based on assumptions about extreme risk aversion.

    Hayek's approach to political philosophy, which focused on answering the question of how to maximise the probability of any randomly selected individuals' pursuing their objectives was not far different from Rawls' though he in turn arrived at different results (essentially the Hayek theorem could be characterised as a weak version of rule-utilitarianism) because of his own particular emphases on the efficaciousness of general, non-purposive rules which preserved the market process (conceived of as a dialogue to attain tacit knowledge) over rules which attempted to dictate outcomes. It is also worth noting this interesting discussion of Rawls by Hayek on p. 100 of The Mirage of Social Justice, Volume 2 of his Law, legislation and liberty trilogy:

    ... there unquestionably also exists a genuine problem of justice in connection with the deliberate design of political institutions, the problem to which Professor John Rawls has recently devoted an important book. The fact which I regret and regard as confusing is merely that in this connection he employs the term 'social justice'. But I have no basic quarrel with an author who, before he proceeds to that problem, acknowledges that the task of selecting specific systems or distributions of desired things as just must be 'abandoned as mistaken in principle, and it is in any case, not capable of a definitive answer. Rather the principles of justice define the crucial constraints which institutions and joint activities must satisfy if persons engaging in them are to have no complaints against them. If these constraints are satisfied, the resulting distribution, whatever it is, must be accepted as just (or at least not unjust)'. This is more or less what I have been trying to argue in this chapter.
    Welcome Antiwar readers!
    What strange bedfellows does fate throw in our direction. Checking my sitemeter stats I noticed I was getting lots of hits from this column by the infamous Justin Raimondo of Mr Raimondo was gracious enough to link to this site because co-blogger Jack Strocchi recently had an article published in the latest issue of The American Conservative. I have been in the past derisive of Mr Raimondo's S11 theories as crackpot and not been favourably inclined towards the Buchananite American Conservative. Nonetheless all publicity is good publicity, so welcome all! Furthermore in light of the expansionist neocons' increased stock, it's good to have pests nibbling at their heels. Unfortunately if you're looking for Mr Strocchi's writings, he has been remarkably quiet since the end of the war in Iraq. However for a good conservative anti-neocon piece I can recommend an article by Tom Switzer, published in the latest Quadrant, which I blog about here. Unfortunately Quadrant isn't available online.




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