Boeknotities: Governing Least: A New England Libertarianism, van Dan Moller

ma, 13/05/2019 - 12:16

Dan Moller's visie op "libertarisme" en de rol van de overheid.

  • Locke, private eigendom en libertarisme:
    Contrary to views on both the left and the right, property is not a social convention or function of laws we can adjust willy-nilly so as to promote the social good. There are actions that agents can perform that endow them with moral claims to exercise control over goods, and that is what constitutes ownership. Moreover, the famous mixing of labor Lockeans talk about has been widely misunderstood by Lockeans themselves. Labor, it turns out, is just one among many morally relevant factors; Locke himself focused on a special case that has tended to artificially narrow the scope of discussion ever since. The claims to property arise from any one of several lowerlevel facts that can strengthen or weaken our claims in concert with one another. These moral claims to our property are not absolute, but they are often strong enough to constrain the state up to some high threshold. The empirical truth that I map out is that modern economic value is overwhelmingly grounded in services people have recently provided for others, not in physical goods or even in the transformation of those physical goods through manufacturing. For this reason, the actual history of acquisition and transfer of property in the distant past is largely irrelevant. We cannot reject the libertarian view because of complaints about the past. The upshot, eventually, is that the libertarian assumption that we are generally entitled to our property is sustained.
  • Het overdreven belang dat gehecht wordt aan "land" en "immobiliën" en "natuurlijke hulpbronnen", terwijl diensten veel belangrijker zijn:
    Contrary to what one might suspect, the weight of services is not skewed by especially remunerative fields like financial services or the law; services dominate the percentage of workers per sector in about the same proportion as contribution to GDP.9 And on the other hand, the value of natural resources is comparatively low. Saudi Arabia commands staggering oil reserves, yet its GDP per capita is less than that of Israel or Japan, which have few natural resources of value. The value of all known oil reserves is equal to only a few years of the Gross World Product, to give a very rough intuition-check.10 Real estate, likewise, is fairly trivial in the scheme of things, with the value of all real estate in the United States estimated at perhaps a single year’s worth of economic output in some sources and a few years’ worth in others—a few decades if these estimates are off by orders of magnitude.11 The value of these resources is enormous in absolute terms (especially when concentrated over small populations), but the point is that just a few years’ worth of service-related work would produce their equivalent. There is of course capital which produces hefty returns in relation to overall economic growth, but much of that capital was in turn originally produced by services, not natural resources, which is inevitable when one considers that exponential economic growth ensures that most wealth is recent wealth, meaning that current means of getting rich tend to dominate past means of getting rich.13 Fortunes from the distant past eventually dilute by the forking of the family tree, and by the ever greater value generated by successive means of wealth creation. J.D. Rockefeller was the richest person in recent times and his richest current heir, David, is still a billionaire, but his fortune doesn’t compare with Bill Gates’s, whose own greatgrandchildren will have little in comparison to the next generation of rich, judging by historical trends (though they will still be rich in absolute terms, and relative to most people). If nothing else, the size of the market is likely to be much bigger, leading to increased opportunities, even as the forking family tree tends to diminish fortunes of the past, meaning “old money” rooted in agriculture or resource extraction is unlikely to figure prominently in an accounting of the sources of contemporary (and future) income and wealth. And then of course there are the periodic shocks from wars or economic cataclysms that occasionally reset the field.
  • Economische vrijheden zijn niet minder belangrijker dan andere, integendeel:
    It is incoherent to claim that interfering in markets is all right because market freedoms are less important than other goods, when market transactions are often prerequisites for those other goods.
  • Marktinterventies vernietigen veel waarde:
    More abstractly, it is worth reflecting on how much value is destroyed by interfering in markets—a topic critics of markets rarely dwell on. We can get at least a very rough sense of the answer by considering the extent to which government regulations reduce the amount of economic activity as reflected in real GDP. Between 1949 and 2005, the Code of Federal Regulations grew from 19,335 pages to 134,261 pages. Analysis suggests that this may have destroyed value measured in the trillions: “Federal regulations added over the past 50 years have reduced real output growth by about 2 percentage points on average. . . . That reduction in the growth rate has led to an accumulated reduction in GDP of about $38.8 trillion.”20 Some of the post-1949 regulations are ones we wouldn’t want to do without, obscuring the baseline, but precision isn’t important for our purposes. The fact that the impact is anywhere near a point of annual growth, and is thus to be measured in the trillions, is what matters. Combined with the earlier point that non-financial goods often require money, one can only conclude that interfering in markets has produced extraordinary harm. Some harms are permissible, so this doesn’t settle anything in itself, but we cannot plausibly claim that our interest in exchange is trivial compared to others we have. Saying so would be like saying we don’t have a serious interest in having double or triple our real income, or equivalently, the money to send our kids to better schools or buy better medical technology.
  • Het belang van economische groei:
    (U)ntil recently, your body may well have been stunted due to nutritional deficiencies and disease, making recent growth in stature a vivid, physical analogue to economic growth.5 Not surprisingly, the benefits of growth are also reflected in life expectancy, even if we set aside infant mortality, which we shouldn’t: American life expectancy in the mid-19th century was 38, and lower still in preindustrial England. These are just a few examples of the general improvement in actual welfare that has tracked economic growth. Growth isn’t important in its own right, but there is no reason to doubt the overwhelming impression that it is growth that has ultimately brought about goods like increased health and life expectancy, not to mention the ability to travel the world, build universities, reduce child labor, and increase leisure time.
  • Economische groei en toenemende welvaart is beter voor het milieu, niet slechter:
    Nowadays the environment is sometimes raised as a counterexample, but the historic tendency is for richer countries to improve the environment in important ways once they can afford to do so. Trends in air pollution, water quality, forestation, and many other metrics tend to get dramatically better once nations emerge from initial industrialization.6 Very few citizens in countries that have grown economically live in areas that are environmentally hazardous or unpleasant, and air pollution, which does still contribute to premature deaths in some areas, is the focus of intense abatement efforts. On the contrary, it is countries that have not managed to grow that often face severe problems like indoor air pollution or impure drinking water, and plenty of static, pregrowth societies have suffered environmental devastation.7 Of course, this could all change, and if we fail to respond to climate change, it could end in disaster. But there are perfectly sensible plans for responding to this problem, most obviously by introducing a carbon tax that takes into account both risk and losses from risk avoidance.8 If disaster ensues, it won’t be because growth is inconsistent with sound environmental policy, it will be because political dysfunction or social malaise blocked timely action, just as it did in many non-growth societies. Blaming this on growth would be like blaming auto manufacturers after we steer into a tree.
  • Het is incorrect om de toenemende inkomensongelijkheid te misbruiken om het huidige kapitalisme te veroordelen. Het negeert onder andere het feit dat de inkomsens van de armste bevolkingsgroepen er onder het kapitalisme zeer sterk is vooruitgegaan:
    Since figure 12.1 refers to averages, we might worry about within-country distribution. And there are of course disparities in rich societies that growth tends to exacerbate. But from an absolute-scale perspective, things look quite different. As one economist sums up, “economic historians agree that the [within-country] poor have benefited the most from modern economic growth.” The bottom fifth of Americans has seen real wages increase by a factor of 20 since 1890, not to speak of earlier times.9 Data on wages for unskilled workers at the bottom of the social pyramid over many centuries suggests the same.10 The gains depicted in figure 12.1 didn’t simply redound to the benefit of the elite; the gains for unskilled labor have kept generally pace with the exponential schedule of economic development, as predicted by Adam Smith.11 And once again, brute, physical measures like stature, caloric intake, etc. reflect that massive and sudden rise in welfare for the poor. The rise in median (as opposed to average) wages tells a similar story, once again confirming that what figure 12.1 captures is real, robust, and widespread. This doesn’t negate the disparities between rich and poor, but it suggests that they need to be interpreted carefully. In particular, it’s a terrible mistake to infer from the persistence of inequality that the currents of history haven’t enormously benefited all.
  • De wereldwijde divergentie is het gevolg van de rijke landen sneller rijker zijn geworden dan de arme landen. Maar ook de arme landen worden rijker:
    What figure 12.2 renders vivid is that the rich countries got rich by pulling away from the poor, who were originally on par. The poor countries, in turn, became “poor” simply in virtue of holding steady, or, more often, merely by failing to grow as fast. Similarly, the less rich became less rich by failing to grow as quickly. Note the difference, for example, between the United States and the United Kingdom, which was first to begin growing, but settled into a slower long-term growth rate. Figure 12.2 also displays a more positive phenomenon, the lately commenced Great Convergence, most spectacularly in the case of postwar Japan. There is reason for guarded optimism that at least a significant portion of the gap will be closed within a few decades or centuries in much of the world. To sum up: the last few centuries of economic growth represent an astonishing shift, significant at the species-historical level. (If that sounds overblown, notice that space exploration and artificial intelligence owe as much to economic growth as to science.) The rise in quality of life, including for the within-country poor, has been literally exponential. It bears repeating that unplanned economic growth has done more to improve people’s lives than all of the intentional beneficence of the world combined. Unfortunately, not all countries have grown simultaneously in the same one-thousandth part of human history, and thus some remain mired in poverty, but poverty in this context simply means growing less quickly than others.
  • Dat hoge uitgaven voor sociale voorzieningen niet noodzakelijk nadelig zijn voor economische groei is een punt dat libertariërs kunnen erkennen:
    These findings can be (and have been) contested in detail or read more pessimistically in light of the ongoing international pension crises and the like. And the free lunch isn’t really free, since there seem to be persistent problems like high unemployment and especially youth unemployment associated with many of the European welfare states Lindert has in mind, problems which few have managed to curb consistently. “Free” here needs to be understood narrowly to mean only that the impact on growth doesn’t seem to be large. More interestingly, some have argued that the free lunch depends on someone or other pursuing a more aggressive, high-risk/highreward approach that motivates innovations that others can then copy and benefit from. “Someone gets to be Sweden, but not everyone can be,” runs the thought.
    Still, the fact that a case for a free lunch of sorts can be made at all is significant—as Lindert points out, one would think that paying people not to work or to retire early would have devastating consequences clearly visible and beyond dispute. And even if growth rates are lower compared to some conjectured minimal state, absolute levels of growth and prosperity matter. Just as trying to deny the positive story of growth in the capitalist epoch seems desperate at this point, inconvenient though it may be to one’s ideology, so classical liberals should grant Lindert’s central point. There is nothing inconsistent between prosperity and growth on the one hand, and a welfare state with inefficient transfers on the other. Certainly if the comparison is between actual, observable states, it would be willful to deny a narrow free-lunch effect. Sweden, Germany, and other countries have had to make reforms and will continue to do so, but they aren’t nearing collapse. We should accept that there is a sense in which the classical liberal state may give away a free lunch, or at least a lunch whose costs are surprisingly low compared to what is achieved by forgoing it.
  • Piketty's verwaarlozing van het feit dat meer mensen dan ooit in staat zijn om een fatsoenlijk leven te leiden, is niet terecht:
    Earlier, I pointed out that the evidence suggests that even the worst off in developed countries generally have it in their power to lead a decent life, and I urged that this is what matters. The Rousseauian tradition rejects this because it views inequality as intrinsically unacceptable. In this respect it is telling that Piketty, unlike Marx and Engels, makes virtually no attempt to examine the powers of citizens to attain a decent living, to examine how standards of living have improved over time, or to consider the absolute level of welfare of the people he is concerned for. No newspaper reports of children being worked to death here.15 He does point out that 19thcentury novelists depict a world in which an income of 30 times the average of the day was required to feel comfortable and not to suffer some form of real indignity—living at average levels was unthinkable for Jane Austen or Balzac.16 He then acknowledges that this has completely changed, while noting that contemporary TV shows often depict well-educated experts, which he attributes to a dubious myth of meritocracy. But nowhere is there reflection on why Jane Austen’s attitudes would no longer make sense, even though we’re supposed to be on the verge of the return of the rentiers. It is worth pursuing this theme. A modern Jane Austen story should focus on a romance between someone living “decently” and a high-powered lawyer or doctor or manager who is rich. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary (1996) self-consciously follows Pride and Prejudice and still serves as a plausible mirror of our society. The protagonist starts off as a publishing assistant whose salary is not given, but whose world fits comfortably in the range of average incomes. Adjusting for her single status and fudging her salary and lifestyle a bit doesn’t make much of a difference. What matters is that a modern novelist can depict something vaguely average without either seeming disingenuous or depicting some great horror—unlike Jane Austen. Marrying an international human rights lawyer would of course be nice, but living as Bridget Jones already does just isn’t all that appalling. The inequality may not have changed very much, but it’s misleading to ignore massive changes in absolute levels of welfare. Austen’s picture as Piketty presents it is as relevant to us as is Fritz Lang’s industrial Moloch in Metropolis. Nor is there any real evidence that the inequalities Piketty refers to go back to the kind of unfairness that Marx and Engels were concerned with, whereby those with capital could force workers to accept injustices. Piketty tries to suggest such an unfairness with zero-sum phrases like “appropriated three quarters of the growth” and the “transfer of US national income” to the richest, but these are deeply misleading. “Appropriating the growth” just means that the rich got richer at a faster rate than the less rich; there was no fixed sum up for grabs that the rich somehow stole for themselves. Income was “transferred” only in the sense that the rich made more money in the relevant period, which doesn’t mean that there was some fixed, independent stream the poor might otherwise have received. The rich, the less-rich, and the poor are not in a zero-sum competition for national income falling from the sky. In most of the kinds of cases Piketty has in mind, it was the activities of the rich “supermanagers” that generated the additional wealth that was “transferred” to them. There aren’t more than a few casual references in Piketty to instrumental reasons to avoid inequality. The focus is pure inequality. (This is particularly salient in the emphasis on the partitioning of inequality toward the top—the concern that even within the top 10%, the top 1% are further segregated, which can only matter for reasons of pure inequality.) The Rousseauian thought is that there is something morally objectionable about the very idea of some being richer than others; in philosophical terms, egalitarianism in this guise isn’t a vehicle for prioritizing the worse off, but for inveighing against the very existence of a gap..
  • De focus op ongelijkheid is onterech (cont...):
    Perhaps Lockeans, with their classical liberal bent, and Rousseauians are constitutionally incapable of reconciling their differences, particularly the weight that pure inequality should get. What is puzzling from the Lockean perspective, though, is that the Lockean approach has led—with ups and downs and plenty of pathologies—to broad prosperity. Again, if the capitalist panoply is so bad, how come it has worked out so well in absolute terms for the worst off? Figure 13.4 displays the real wages for unskilled and production workers in the United States for the last few centuries.18 There is plenty to worry over in detail, especially the recent stagnation in wages, but the long term nevertheless displays the staggering, indeed exponential, gains to the worst off in the capitalist epoch, in the country Rousseauians like Piketty are most exercised by. This same period saw the life expectancy increase by decades. Some got even richer obviously, but surely those other facts do not deserve to be glossed over lightly, and it seems telling that the argument has shifted so dramatically from Marx and Engel’s focus on the actual quality of life of workers to handwringing over pure inequality. And we should remember that even when we do focus on a class of people, “the rich,” this class is fluid across individual lifetimes, with many attaining “riches” at some point, and few staying there very long. In the United States, about 70% of the population will spend time in the top 20% of the income distribution (60% for two or more years), and only about 20% will remain there for 10 years or more.
  • De toenemende ongelijkheid is niet altijd het gevolg van onrechtvaardige processen:
    It is worth further stressing how inequality can increasingly result from processes that are not obviously unjust in themselves. Consider the significance of the size of the market. Globalization and development abroad mean that certain forms of labor are worth more, merely in virtue of scale. To see this, consider the difference between local and potentially global workers, the difference between those who can market a product or service to the entire world, like a software engineer, and those who serve only a local market, like a daycare worker. Global workers can take advantage of increasing scale in a way that local workers cannot, both directly by selling to more people, and indirectly as firms are capitalized at ever higher levels and pay more for slight differences in skill or experience. (Being a skilled programmer is worth more to Google the more customers the company has.) Moreover, those reaping the benefits of global scale no longer require as many employees; Henry Ford’s factories required more workers per dollar in revenue than Facebook or Google do. How strong an influence these factors are on wage gaps is of course an empirical question, but my point is only that these and similar factors can create large inequalities without any obvious wrongdoing. The fact that more people want to buy your stuff than mine is not the sort of thing it is easy to describe as an injustice (which isn’t to say that it might not be an important social problem).
  • Fernand Braudel's éénzijdige en vooringenomen visie op het kapitalisme:
    However, two flaws ultimately vitiate this Rousseauian analysis. One is now familiar: Braudel, too, tends to ignore the actual condition of the worse off, and how it changes over time and under capitalism. Like Piketty, Braudel displays little interest in the actual welfare of the people he discusses, as against their relative status. It would be entirely possible to read all three volumes of Civilization and Capitalism and come away thinking that the worse off were living at about the same qualitative standards in 1960 as in 1580. A brief discussion of growth is included, but nothing would indicate that this produced astonishing gains in lifespan or health, or that the capitalist panoply had taken people who were literally stunted and brought them to the point that overnutrition was their major health problem. (One may criticize Coca-Cola for fattening up the youth, but let us do so with a sense of reverential awe.) Tracing the commonalities in economic systems across time is misleading when uncoupled from the actual effects they have, and the changes in those effects. As evident in the swipe at Smith’s invisible hand above, Braudel seems to reject the very idea of unintended benefits to society in the form of capitalist enterprises that pool investments and enable vast and efficient production. This may be because he is determined to define capitalism as the “nasty” part of commercial enterprise, but of course this starts to look circular. Most social institutions will come off badly if we insist that the nice versions thereof “don’t count.” And as we have seen, once we do consider real effects and change over time, it is unclear why we should be fulminating rather than celebrating. The other flaw is to ignore the means that particular capitalist enterprises adopt. For Braudel, giant multinational corporations are but the latest incarnation of an eternal force with the same inhuman agenda. But the means by which elites arrive at their elite status and manage to produce huge concentrations of wealth surely matters. Getting rich by a piratical monopoly licensed by the state is different from making a gadget that everyone wants, and yet the Dutch East India company is treated as somehow on par with modern-day firms in the Rousseauian tradition. In a sense, this is right. The Dutch East India company and Apple are both joint stock companies with immense power across the world and are indeed the face of the inequalities Rousseauians decry. But it is misguided to overlook the way in which that power is deployed. None of this is to void incrementalist criticisms, say of worker conditions in Chinese factories, but failing to cognize the moral gulf that remains can only obscure things. Apple’s employees and its investors are not fundamentally rich because they have undertaken moral depravities from which others would shrink. The same is true of individuals who come into vast holdings. Zeal for underlying continuities becomes misleading once we fail to distinguish the fortunes of merchant-conquerors, and say Nathan Rothschild, who came to hold a non-trivial fraction of the entire wealth of England by supplying Wellington with the bullion to wage war on Napoleon, and making huge bets in the bond market on the effects that peace would have.25 Some will decry the resulting inequality, but that still wouldn’t make it useful to run together thinly veiled conquest and peaceful trade.
  • Kapitalistische ondernemingen doen soms immorele dingen, maar niet meer of minder dan anderen (een punt ook gemaakt door Tyler Cowen):
    The same distinction between permissible and impermissible means applies to the idea that capitalist enterprise has managed to organize society around its aims, offloading unremunerative tasks like education and healthcare onto other institutions, while shamelessly looking for handouts and tax dodges. On the one hand, there are the corrupt practices, say the company that secures favors and loopholes by bribes or campaign donations. But the more general idea of getting others to pay your expenses is hardly limited to capitalist enterprise. Public choice theory suggests that individuals of all stripes will band together and seek to bend the state toward their will. Theories like this are sensible if depressing, but singling out specific groups vying for favorable treatment is more dubious and tends ultimately to reflect one’s ideological sympathies, rather than principled concern for justice. To see this, notice that the elderly form a powerful political constituency, albeit one that is harder to scold than the dreaded multinational. It is easier to denounce the pinstripe suit than the cookie apron, and yet from a public choice perspective, the pressure, say, to enact intergenerational transfer policies looks no different than pressure to subsidize weapons manufacturers or agribusiness.26 In other words, it makes sense to criticize the outright corruption one sees in occasional scandals nowadays or in the merchant capitalism of the past; it also makes sense to criticize at a grand, philosophical level the fact that democracies succumb to interest groups of all shapes and sizes; it does not make sense to subject enterprise to scrutiny while ignoring pay-as-you-go entitlement programs with a net-expropriative structure. Yet Braudel’s criticisms rely on this sort of invidious distinction.
  • Hebzucht, Utopia, het socialisme van Star Trek en The West Wing en de "road to serfdom":
    Thomas More’s Utopia, appropriately enough, illustrates the wrong way of handling both sides of the coin. On the one hand, he proposes an idealized version of slavery. More’s fictional and sometimes satirical work shouldn’t be confused with an academic treatise, but his, or rather his mouthpiece Raphael’s, suggestions about a slightly less grim institution of slavery seem to have been serious (“The Utopians enslave prisoners of war only if they are captured in wars fought by the Utopians themselves. . . . The children of slaves are not automatically enslaved”).10 This is a remarkable and disastrous concession to realism, since it wouldn’t have taken much imagination to see one’s way past that institution in 16th-century England. On the other hand, More succumbs to magical thinking when he wrestles with pathologies of rapacity and greed. The Utopians, he tells us, despise wealth and use gold mainly to manufacture their chamber pots. He says this because he is frustrated by the question, “What kind of justice is it when a nobleman . . . or someone who makes his living by doing either nothing at all or something completely useless to the public, gets a life of luxury and grandeur?”11 It is reasonable enough to wish to respond to this familiar sentiment, and imagining greed out of existence provides an easy solution. But in doing so, More presents us with a less compelling project, one that ultimately is entertaining but intellectually barren. Imagination is no substitute for the hard work of devising mechanisms to deal with our inveterate flaws. And at the risk of mixing high and low, it is interesting to observe much the same in pop-culture depictions of ideal societies. This suggests that the mistake at issue is pervasive and temperamental, not just intellectual. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek represents an approach to trade and money that bears a depressing resemblance to More’s. One encounters such suggestions as, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity,” where the context makes clear that the idea isn’t just a modest one about keeping things in perspective, but a rejection of any desire to earn money or possess luxuries.12 And yet such luxuries are one of our oldest legacies, going by the archaeology of burial sites; the stubborn texture of humanity is once again imagined away instead of being dealt with. The television show The West Wing is another example, where systemic and institutional problems of democratic social organization are implied to be solvable by appointing a kind of economist-king as president, surrounded by a court of selfless geniuses. If we help ourselves to such leadership we can imagine things going rather well, but this is to think through the happy consequences of solving the problems, not to think through how actually to solve them.
  • Vertrouw niet te veel op experten, vertrouw daarentegen op markten:
    In order to shed light on justice, we should avoid making heroic assumptions about the capacity of experts to assemble the relevant knowledge and to motivate others to respond to it, and we should likewise be realistic about the ability of social systems to solve critical problems. Positing a civil service system composed of welleducated technocrats tasked with managing a limited range of government functions (e.g., wildlife management) and a congruent social system is reasonable enough; positing philosopher-kings with direct knowledge of the good, or central planners capable of determining efficient production and allocation schedules, is not. Hayek and others have made obvious how various incarnations of socialist doctrines are likely to go wrong in this respect, but market enthusiasts aren’t exempt; there is no use in pretending that vast social problems like monopoly, inequality, and the destructive part of “creative destruction” will be eliminated by free markets, or that lower taxes will always result in more revenue.15 A sober approach to these problems must involve recourse to extramarket remedies in the form of government action, or else emphasize the badness of the alternatives if, say, vast swaths of creative destruction and the attendant social ills are simply to be tolerated. Disposing of these problems with optimistic prognostications about a particular social system looks like utopian daydreaming.