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« Is Libertarianism a Political Theory for Self-Directed Individuals Only? | Main | "I always find it refreshing to take a quick, clean intellectual shower in the cold, pure waters of libertarian thought ..." »


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Beautifully written: in one essay you have briefly summarized the economic case for anarchy, identified the most important insights supporting it, and described the means by which we can persuade others.

Over the three decades I've been an activist, I've become persuaded that the hard cases are the most important to address in public discussions. Many times in recent years, I've discovered that some economist with a connection to GMU has written a paper that gives me just the ammunition I needed in such discussions. As your post has made clear, this is not a coincidence.

Brilliant article.
Perhaps a complementary approach is to show, in as many cases as possible, how government inteventions to correct for 'market failures' are far worse that coordination resulted from relatively unhampered markets, especially in the medium and long term.

Critics need to adduce their own, contrary studies.

Smith's organon of sympathy is a sort of presumption of man inherently immersed in cooperation. His organon is to see the cooperation in any human action. (The disregard, even defiance, of this organon, btw, is why I disliked the film No Country for Old Men.) The issue is cooperation in what?

I submit that that perspective really alters the issues you are dealing with.

I haven't followed Pete L.'s work closely, but it is my impression that he really doesn't come to terms with the fact that for the most part pirates were cooperating in evil. Greg Clark's JEL review also raised this matter.

Here is Smith's sole remarks about pirates:

"Great warlike exploit, though undertaken contrary to every principle of justice, and carried on without any regard to humanity, sometimes interests us, and commands even some degree of a certain sort of esteem for the very worthless characters which conduct it. We are interested even in the exploits of the Buccaneers; and read with some sort of esteem and admiration, the history of the most worthless men, who, in pursuit of the most criminal purposes, endured greater hardships, surmounted greater difficulties, and encountered greater dangers, than, perhaps, any which the ordinary course of history gives an account of."

RE Chris's important work, my concern is how we deal with the counterfactual of a world without the US government raining its powers on regimes of evil cooperation. How much evil has "Team America" prevented? Chris shows that observed efforts at nation-building so often seem to fail. But does he show what would happen in a world without the US bully primed to beat on other bullies? I am entirely sympathetic to Chris's positions on these matters, but does he deal with this facet of the issue? That facet is really hard to deal with, of course, but does Chris adequately acknowledge it?

Again, Smith's organon is cooperative man, and the issue is cooperation in what. Hayek's work on man's instincts and our inheritance from the Paleolithic band fits nicely with this organon. Hayek says in FC that the "Hobbes problem" has all along been something of a red herring. Deirdre says the same. Yet you still seem to be treating the Hobbes problem as primary. "Cooperation" to you means voluntary association, but there are no grounds for confining the term is such fashion. We need subscripts on "cooperation." Smith is not about achieving cooperation, he is about discriminating among types of cooperation. The virtue of his organon is to refocus on that latter concern. It is a cultural project in making our cooperative penchants more enlightened. It is a cultural project, not in finding a sense of duty, which is essential to man, but in improving the character of our duties. (BTW, I just saw the film Roman Holiday -- an exquisite piece on doing our duty, advancing to a higher self-interest, and the poignant, becoming sacrifices that doing so entails. The becoming use of what is our own.)

Your words on this matter are laden with something of a presupposition that, in any instance, if govt power is stayed, then it is spontaneous voluntary cooperation that will follow. But if one bully is stayed maybe it is local, more grievous bullies that bubble up. Bottom-up evil.

The view of man as inherently cooperative puts Pete's work in a quite different light. If a relatively liberal bully is available, why not use it to put down pirates? Doing so can augment overall liberty, even though some liberty is sacrificed in the process. Pirates, or evil factions, are a primary justification for government power. Another question: By what cultural process would we anticipate pirates graduating toward liberal enlightenment? Maybe when the sea is tranquil they would hold collquia on Locke on toleration?

I think that the body of work you write of gets at good libertarian points on the hubris and folly of bullying, but that response has to do, not so much with the documenting of mere cooperation, but in understanding the evolution of what it is that people cooperate in.


I think both Chris and Pete in various papers have addressed your comparative point --- see the work on Somalia as well as the work testing the "normal country" thesis, etc. But obviously thinking about the counterfactual is a point that we all think is important since we are doing comparative political economy. I've been pretty concerned about the counter-factual and the fallacy of "after this, therefore because of this" causing all sorts of interpretive problems for us.

Regarding the point about pirates, bandits, prisoners, black marketeers, etc. --- there are two issues there, first I don't think you are acknowledging the methodological point about complex coordination among actors that theory predicts will not be able to achieve such cooperation without third-party enforcement; second, we recognize your point about "graduation" --- the move from personal to impersonal exchange; the evolution of small scale trade and small scale capital accumulation to medium scale trade and medium size capital accumulation to large scale trade and large scale capital accumulation (from subsistence to exchange in Bauer's language). I tried to capture this under the rubric of scalability.

Anyway, we have a lot of work to do, but there are a lot of thinking behind what we are doing and why.


I'm wondering if there is not complementarity and not competition between the two perspectives offered by Peter Boettke and Daniel Klein.

Pete's point, if I understand it correctly, is that the Mises/Hayek framework focuses on the potentials for cooperation and coordination that tends to develop "spontaneously" from any circumstance that seems to offer discovered mutual gains from trade, which, in turn, tends to generate rules of order among the participants for peace and predictability for their interactions.

The "case study" method offers a field for many examples of these processes at work that are able to build upon the a variety of "Austrian" presuppositions: intentionality and purposefulness in all conscious human action; explanation of the development of complex social orders from the actions and interactions of individuals; and emphasis on the qualitative processes through time through which such institutional orders emerge, take form, facilitate social life, and continue to evolve over time.

Thus, the Scottish philosophical and "Austrian" traditions are drawn upon to demonstrate the workings, logic, and historical reality of much in society that is "order without design."

Danny's point, drawing from aspects of Adam Smith's analysis, is that not all such orders are equal in terms of fostering certain types of rules, morals, attitudes and institutional arrangements for harmony and peace.

(This follows upon some earlier critics of Hayek who challenged what they interpreted as Hayek's view that all that developed "spontaneously" was, therefore, inherently superior and "good." I believe that this interpretation of Hayek, by the way, is incorrect. Hayek often admitted that certain spontaneous orders were less "progressive" than others and even potentially social dead-ends.)

Speaking very broadly, as an example, there is the comparison of ancient Athens and Sparta. Both "spontaneously" developed sets of social institutions and rules of social behavior and conduct. But during the high water-mark of Athenian civilization there was the fostering of a culture of reason, science, tolerance and a degree of freedom (though far from perfect for either free citizens or certainly for the many slaves). Sparta developed a more militaristic social order that placed greater emphasize on collective obedience and far less understanding of and tolerance for human autonomy and free discussion).

Not only is there the issue of what type of "virtues" different social orders develop, foster, and respect. There is also the dilemma that collectivist orders and systems of thought often have greater (destructive) potential and power in the short-run that threaten the stability and survivability of more individualistic orders and systems of thought.

While liberal pacifists debate the "pros" and "cons" of forms of self-defense, collectivist aggressors attack and destroy. While the French and the Belgians debate whether it is a violation of freedom of religion to issue traffic tickets to orthodox Muslim women who cover their faces while driving, Islamic religious fanatics debate the best targets to plant bombs in urban areas. While liberals lose sleep over the ethics and expediency of capital punishment, crazy men who hear voices in the air figure out where best to end their lives as suicide bombers.

Now, before any who knows my strong non-interventionist and laissez-faire views on all matters concerning both domestic and foreign policy start to believe that I am drifting towards the "dark side of the force," I am merely pointing out realities and not preferences.

The types of social orders and the systems of ideas that have evolved, taken form, and mold both thinking and action, therefore, matter.

Just as pirates had their evolved rules of social order, so did bootleg gangs during Prohibition. And its all fine and good to understand the methods and procedures that Al Capone and other gangland bosses developed to minimize conflict among themselves, their customers, and the law enforcement agencies.

But a superior social order is one in which those gangland "sub-orders" do not and will not have to emerge and develop. And, that I believe, is what Danny is reminding us of, and which should be part of the interpretative and evaluative process of social analysis.

Richard Ebeling

I was having a related discussion on the comments thread of the "Crooked Timber" blog. http://crookedtimber.org/2010/06/19/chutzpah-alert/#comments

We were discussing Matt Ridley's book "The Origin of Virtue". In it Ridley treats these issue through the lens of the "Tragedy of Commons". He discusses how the ability to set up local rules of property can negates the "Hobbesian war" problem. He mentions Lin Ostrom on this point. He also mentions how the tragedy of commons negates the value of total anarchism.

On that point an anarchist and supporter of Kropotkin was very critical. Surely, this is contradictory. If local altruism can work then why support selfishness at all?

This is where we get to the more complicated issue that there are small-scale tragedies-of-commons that can be dealt with, but there are large-scale tragedies-of-commons that are more difficult. That's why Ridley picks conservative libertarianism as a sort of middle ground. People are too self-interested to make pure anarchism work, but they are not so un-altruistic that authoritarian socialism is needed to keep them in check. And, due to their self-interest authoritarian socialism wouldn't work anywhere. I don't like this that much since it doesn't stress information problems enough.

But, what we must be aware of here is that we really are picking a sort of middle-ground. Libertarianism is "Anarchy plus a constable", even if that constable is a market provided service. It's hopefully anarchism without the pirates. But, exactly where the best middle ground is is a complicated matter.

Your main point and concluding paragraph I agree with - "So what is the central point --- pick cases that are most unfavorable to the argument you want to make, not those that are most favorable. .. it is important to realize as we step back that there is a methodological argument for the comparative historical approach to political economy and the research program of the positive political economy of anarchism."

However, I wonder whether this is too narrow:

"First, the methodological commitment to the universal application of a rational actor/methodological individualist perspective to the analysis of social problems. Second, that the core analytical problem of economics is one of explaining how social cooperation under the division of labor is possible let alone achieved without any central direction/command."

Perhaps this is the Mises program -- but I see the insights of Mises and Hayek as being applicable much more broadly. First, I question strict methodological individualism. I always have, but more and more I find issue with it, and think that Austrian-influenced economists should question their own assumptions in this regard. Yes, humans act - and we must include the individual human actor in our models - but the individual's preferences are influenced by others, by social environment, by legal and other kinds of institutions, etc. (For more on this, see for example Hodgson, "Institutional Economic Theory: The Old Versus The New," in Prychitko, Why Economists Disagree.)

Second, although spontaneous order, coordination without command, etc are at the heart of understanding economics, yes, is the core job of the economist only to explain this? Shouldn't economists (or some economists - division of labor) concentrate more on e.g. (1) What happens when certain policies are taken, policies which many voters desire, and whether the costs do or do not exceed the benefits; (2) The flaws in markets, which may in fact be fixable (see #1), which may occur if e.g., some individuals are unable to work and hence cannot demonstrate their preferences, or because of public goods problems or something else...

So, I think that your research program - while commendable - may be more narrow than it could (should?) be. I think, in addition to theory, it is wonderful to use case studies--this is very important, I think. I know some GMU-related economists also supplement with econometrics, which if done properly is also a good idea. So, in terms of methods, I think I am squarely in your camp. But methodology--pure methodological individual--and focus I think are too narrow.

thanks for sharing.. I like this, because it related to my research

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