Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Social Welfare State, beyond Ideology

Newly added:

Jeffry Sachs' Scientific American article on how social welfare states do as well as or better than low-tax, high-income countries. The punch line is that Friedrich Von Hayek was wrong.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Markets in everything: murder

At Marginal Revolution, the article Rent Seeking Kills makes an argument to legalize organ sales.

One respondant writes:

The people who are worried about slayings committed to involuntariyly harvest human organs are jumping at shadows. It might happen once in a great while under a regime of legalized organ sales, but far less than under a black-market regime. If anything, the option to pay for an organ from a voluntary donor is a substitute for knocking someone on the head and stealing it.

Outside the fact that this fellow has no real evidence about frequency (he's merely asserting it), we might ask if this same argument applies to murder. Right now there's a black market in murder: should taking lives be marketized?

A common theme at Marginal Revolution is "markets in everything". A common libertarian fantasy. So what would a murder market look like?

If you wanted to murder, perhaps you'd be required to negotiate for suicide, or buy a hunting/execution permit.

Or perhaps people would be issued a "life rights" deed, which they could hold onto or sell. The holder of the deed would be able to kill the "property" at whim.

We can explore this, but the basic problem is what societal purposes are being served with the creation of this market?

Additionally, our initial revulsion at this concept indicates subtle problems due to undermining of traditional underpinnings of our social institutions, especially the basic liberal assumptions of bodily security which are essential to political and commercial activity.

Iraqi oil revenues.

Jane Galt writes in Trust in oil? about some foreseeable problems with the idea of an oil trust for Iraq. Fair enough: we certainly couldn't expect perfection to spontaneously emerge, and the more problems anticipated, the better the designed solutions can be.

But she and the libertarian repondants miss the big point: who's getting the oil money now? Is the current distribution of oil profits and revenues anywhere near as good for the Iraqi people as even a flawed oil trust would be?

It would be nice if she had included a link to the original post.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Wiki propaganda watch: Rights

The wikipedia article on rights is badly in need of a rewriting to present a clear overview and index to the subject.

For a start, it does not address the fundamental difference between moral and legal rights. Moral rights are claims, can multiply like angels on a pinhead, and can conflict willy-nilly. Legal rights are claims that are enforced, and where they conflict they need to be resolved lest enforcement conflicts (battles) ensue.

In addition, it's entirely missing the Hohfeld taxonomy of rights, which emphasizes that every right creates an obligation (duty) for others.

But the annoying thing is this grotesque paragraph viewing rights through the ideological lens of positive and negative rights:

The conception of a right to something that implicitly creates an obligation on someone else to provide that thing (a positive right) is widely challenged. You can not enforce your wish for something (under the auspices of a right) if it implicitly constitutes an obligation on another to do something for you. However, one person's right to something creates a negative right in that you have the right for that thing not be interfered with by another, and that other is obligated not to interfere with your right to it. The obligation test is widely used to determine what constitutes a right. To illustrate: You have the right to own an axe, but you do not have a right to an axe. If you do own an axe, others have an obligation not to steal it.

This isn't a description of rights: it is an application of a libertarian theory of ethics to rights. In first world societies, positive legal rights abound, ranging from rights to jury trial to social welfare rights.

Revising the whole rights page would be a great deal of work: perhaps we should start small and address this one paragraph.

New Feature: Wiki propaganda watch

Posting frequency has been way down in this blog: I'm fairly busy, and don't want to get to involved in lengthy arguments. In addition, most of the things I want to write are longer than one sitting's worth of work.

However, it just occurred to me that there's something simple to do which could build traffic to this site and encourage others to perform a service.

Wikipedia is usually a fine starting point for investigating a subject. But as people come to rely on this, they become vulnerable if wikipedia can be corrupted by propagandists, ideology, business interests, and a host of other aggressive people who wish their viewpoint to become dominant.

Just as libertarians have injected their ideology in most web forums, they infest wikipedia. There are a number of wikipedia authors fighting the good fight to keep things more objective, but they are not omniscient. I'd like to help out by pointing people to some places which bear unmistakable marks of libertarian propaganda. Hopefully, some of you will feel inspired to make changes to improve the articles so that they won't indoctrinate innocents looking for basic information.

It will be interesting to see whether my suggestions produce some action, even if only in the discussion.