Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jane Galt's Got a Gun

Over at Cogitamus, the recent post Jane Galt's Got a Gun has two excellent observations.

First, on carrying guns to town hall meetings:
The guns that people bring to these events are designed to kill people -- that is their sole purpose. When I strap one on and wear it to an event I am saying to my fellow citizens "if you fuck with me, I am willing to kill you." The gun is not designed to stimulate debate, it is designed to end it. It is not a symbol of civil liberty, it is an instrument of solipsistic incivility saying rather clearly that I intend to have the last word[...]

Second, echoing my dislike of the corporate propaganda of NPR's Marketplace program:
Maybe NPR should consider a show called "Workplace" which would focus on the 90% of Americans who really don't give a fuck about the "numbers."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Progressivism explained.

Tyler Cowen and Arnold Kling attempt comically inept descriptions of progressivism through libertarian blinkers. But worse, neither of them see the big picture.

I'll take a stab at describing progressivism.

Progressivism is a political philosophy that takes the "pursuit of happiness" seriously. Pursuit of happiness in a more Aristotelian sense: human flourishing. Not beer parties. Flourishing means being able to become what you want and do what you want. Progressives want more human flourishing. In this sense, early liberals were progressives and most modern liberals are progressives. And not just flourishing for elites, but for everybody at every age.

Progressives see many obstacles to human flourishing: poverty, disease, tyranny, corruption, monopolists, bigotry, ignorance, traditions, pollution, crime, war, etc.

Progressives believe that humans can flourish better if these obstacles are removed or circumvented, and that society can find solutions. This improvement is the progress in progressive.

Some of the solutions to problems of human flourishing include markets, regulations, unions, corporations, education, laws, publicity, privatization, takings, antitrust, buyouts, public works, infrastructure, balancing powers, social provision, etc. Progressives are pragmatic: they are not committed to one set of solutions (such as traditional solutions or markets): they will look at the history of experimentation with these solutions accross the planet and select what they think will work best in their situation, even if it is untried. In this sense, the founders of the US and authors of its Constitution were progressive.

Progressivism demands improvement, but not perfection. Early liberal enfranchisement of white, male landowners with the vote was progressive, but far from perfect. Later enfranchisement of blacks and women was further progressive improvement. And civil rights voting acts to enable blacks and other minorities to actually register and vote was further progressive improvement still.

This doesn't mean that progressives all perceive the same problems and would choose the same solutions. Progressives are a heterogeneous lot, and can disagree strongly. But their pragmatism and lack of perfectionism allows them to work together and with others easily through compromise.

It may appear that progressives turn away from markets and towards government, but that is because there is little progress to be made by markets that markets aren't already making. In some cases, markets create problems (such as redlining) that require regulation to undo. In some cases, conspicuous market failures require either government incentives or government provision (such as for roads and schools.) In some cases, government institutions were under-performing (such as representation of the indigent in courts: the solution was access to free legal services.) And sometimes government is oppressive: hence the ACLU.

Progressivism has often been defined by its history and people. The history of progressivism is usually a list of issues that progressives have fought for such as 8 hour work days, universal enfranchisement, antitrust, etc. What unites all these issues is that they were viewed by progressives as solutions to the problems they saw for human flourishing. Lengthy work days provided no opportunity for leisurely pursuits, education, family matters, health issues, etc. Voting restricted to men meant women's issues (such as their legal status, whether they could own property, etc.) were not attended to. Monopolies and trusts created hardship for farmers and the poor by keeping prices artificially high.

Viewing progressivism by its history and people, rather than by its basic objective, causes a "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. But a moderately good list is available at Progressive Living.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Libertarian corporate catspaws.

The American Enterprise Institute has published a very successful propaganda piece opposing Michael Pollan that is being widely circulated on the web. But it's not a real argument: it's denialism. Luigi over at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog noted the black and white framing: that's a good guideline for spotting the propagandistic nature of the article.

As propaganda, you can't trust any provided numbers or anecdotes: the turkey drowning story is an urban myth. His calculations on the amount of table scraps needed for fertilizer make all sorts of ridiculous, inefficient assumptions.

And of course, the techniques that he endorses such as no-till were developed precisely to deal with "agri-intellectual" complaints against loss of topsoil to erosion. And they were developed by "agri-intellectual" researchers at public universities. And it took a whole lot of convincing to get farmers to begin using them.

50 years ago, Hurst would have written a screed against "agri-intellectual" concerns about topsoil loss. He wouldn't have had the vision to dream that solutions could be found, so he would deny the problem, ridicule the identifiers of the problem, and claim it couldn't be solved anyhow. Hurst has that same lack of vision for these newer concerns.

The American Enterprise Institute is a propaganda organ for conservative corporate capitalism. They don't really care about Pollan's book: all they care about is that they can present another
denialist club for bashing liberals and progressives who criticize capitalists for trampling over our health, environment, politics, and culture.

There's a good criticism at The Big Money.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Austrian Economics can't count.

Austrian economists are notorious for their rejection of mathematical models in economics. Considering this evidence that they can't count, we can guess what their REAL reason is.

Seven Periodicals

Our monthly The Free Market examines the economic and political scene from a classical-liberal viewpoint. The Austrian Economics Newsletter links our academic network with in-depth interviews. The Mises Review surveys new books. The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (the successor journal to the Review of Austrian Economics), is the premier setting for new research and ideas in economics. The Journal of Libertarian Studies is the scholarly venue for political theory and applications.

They say seven, but only list 5 (or 6 if you give them the benefit of the doubt.) Taken from About the Mises Institute.