Sunday, December 19, 2010

The pseudoscience of libertarian morality.

Ronald Bailey, in The Science of Libertarian Morality (an article in Reason) directs us to:

Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Roots of an Individualist Ideology by Ravi Iyer et al. Which, by the way, bases one of its "predictions" on the title of Reason. And thus the echo chamber is closed.

The fundamental fallacy of this paper purporting to discuss "psychological roots" that surveys DEVELOPED attitudes is that they do not consider the indoctrination process. Libertarians differ strongly from liberals and conservatives in that they are heavily indoctrinated at early ages. Ask a 25 year old how many liberal, conservative, or libertarian books they've read. Most liberal and conservative 25 year olds will say very few if any, but we know that the libertarians will reel off a list starting with Ayn Rand, the Friedman's, etc. You might just as well ask where Catholic ideas about God come from compared to atheists: it's the indoctrination, stupid.

If they truly wanted to study "psychological roots", they should start with 16 year olds (most of whom have no idea of libertarianism) and observe how they change with time.

They make the ridiculous "prediction" that "Libertarians will value liberty more strongly and consistently than liberals or conservatives, at the expense of other moral concerns." That's about as serious as predicting that "Zombies will value eating brains more strongly and consistently than humans, at the expense of other moral concerns." They cite the writings of Ayn Rand as a source for this prediction: I must then cite Dawn Of the Dead, I suppose.

Another huge problem is that they have really drunk the Kool-Aid of adopting libertarian terminology and propaganda claims throughout their paper.

Take, for example, "It is clear, then, that libertarians cannot be readily classified on the standard left-right dimension." No, that is not at all clear as anybody familiar with Lakoff 2002 would know. Lakoff clearly places libertarians in the conservative (right) end of the scale. They cite Lakoff 2002 just a few paragraphs earlier, but haven't the wits or honesty to admit that some real academics disagree. Nor is it clear that there is a single definition of "the standard left-right dimension."

The methodology is also highly susceptible to spoofing: they've used an internet survey site open to anybody. As anyone from Pharyngula would know, it is easy to send droves of readers with similar points of view over to any poll. And it took me about two minutes to find the first example of libertarians being steered over to it: "If you’re interested in answering that question, and consider yourself libertarian, register at and take the Moral Foundations Questionnaire."

What we have here is an attitude survey of libertarians which is larded by repetition of standard libertarian talking points with no academic credibility. These talking points are the product of decades-long public relations campaigns, which (among other things) rely on incessant repetition of propaganda. Funding of this "study" by an investment banker strongly suggests to me that this is just another excuse to repeat propaganda yet again.

I will be very interested to see where this "study" gets published.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Does School Choice "Work"?

Does School Choice "Work"

Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute gives a surprisingly lukewarm answer of "barely, and much less than had been promised." After more than 20 years of efforts, you'd think we'd see some clear results, but they are really equivocal.

And it's precisely what opponents predicted based on the fact that very few schools are in any way significantly different than public schools. They tend to draw from the same pool of teachers, texts, administrators, and students. They tend to teach to the same requirements.

My personal opinion (as a public school teacher) is that almost all of the low-hanging fruit for school improvement has long since been picked. Class sizes have been reduced. Early learning opportunities for preschoolers have been greatly increased by educational television, good day care and more preschool. Disabilities are tested for and recognized much earlier, before much harm is done. Many of the social issues such as equal access, integration, language barriers, cultural insensitivity, and access for the handicapped have been dealt with. These are huge improvements since the 70s.

And all these have been done by public schools, without bashing teachers or public schools, and with the enthusiastic support of teachers.

They have been unsuccessfully blocked by conservatives who (a) want to maintain patterns of class and racial discrimination (b) don't want to spend the money or (c) want public institutions to fail so that their religious alternatives look good. These are many of the same people who are agitating for school choice and a host of other attacks on traditional public schooling.

Enormous pressure is put on administrators and school boards to keep improving public schools, but you can only get so much blood from a stone no matter how hard you squeeze.

The remaining big, relatively easy improvement in education will come from parents creating better family environments that encourage learning. Train parents to inspire their children to be well educated, and to perform the needed supervision to keep students on track in their studies. There is huge room for parental improvement, and we should vigorously explore public and private options for providing training and inspiration for parents.

It would also help if there is a promising economy that can provide jobs for all the educated: our 10% unemployment rate does not inspire scholarship. Imagine if we promised employment opportunities to anybody with a HS diploma as a form of social insurance, with government counter-cyclicly providing useful low-wage jobs when the private sector does not (such as in a recession.) That would be a HUGE incentive to graduate.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

World's Biggest Writing

World's Biggest Writing

Time for a contest for the world's biggest ridicule.

This bozo claims he drove a route that mapped out the message "Read Ayn Rand" across the USA.

Just what is he compensating for? Snigger.

All that driving because he wouldn't ask for directions, and relied on "Wrong Way" Rand.

Judging from the picture, he lost his crayon and so decided to write it bigger.

The hi-tech equivalent of writing in the snow.

You try too: think of some creative ridicule for the comments.

(Hat tip to Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

What Is Libertarianism?

I'm working on a new page for my site. Here's a preliminary version, for comment, criticism and suggestions.

What Is Libertarianism?
It's obvious that definitions of libertarianism by opponents are prone to bias. By the same standard, self-serving definitions by proponents are also prone to bias. The simple solution is to present multiple viewpoints, each true to some degree, to construct a picture of the whole. The story of The Blind Men and the Elephant illustrates how ridiculous clinging to a single viewpoint can be, and how building a more realistic picture would require critical acceptance of multiple viewpoints. Viewpoints of proponents of libertarianism are well known; here are some viewpoints of opponents.

* A Rhetoric Of Liberty

Libertarianism is united only by a rhetoric of liberty. "Liberty" is the central glittering generality of libertarian propaganda.

Who can reject "liberty"? That makes it a powerful rhetorical tool; as long as you don't start getting specific. Different people have different ideas of liberty, and can divide over those issues. The defense against attempts to get specific is "equal liberty", but that rhetoric also begs important questions. We all might have equal liberty to kill each other, but do we want such liberty?

"Liberty" unspecified is vague enough to justify any atrocity. We routinely see libertarians promoting Barry Goldwater's "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." In the name of liberty, John Galt plans genocides dwarfing those of Communist states in "Atlas Shrugged". In actual history, liberty to own slaves was a frequent claim. Liberty to head your own family and religious liberty excused beating wives and disobedient children, sometimes fatally.

"Liberty" is the rhetorical tool of choice that unites libertarians: it can back any claim they make, no matter how bizarre. Libertarians have no single claim in common except this rhetoric, and they can gloss over their conflicting beliefs through the persuasion of their own rhetoric of liberty.

* A Rightwing Populist Movement In Miniature

While libertarians may profess socially left ideas such as freedom of choice, their right-conservatism becomes obvious if you ask them what parts of the right-wing economic agenda they'd be willing to sacrifice to realize their left social goals. They just won't give up their opposition to government and taxation, nor will they give up their allegiance to absolute property. No matter what social goals you propose in exchange.

* A Childish Selfishness

Libertarianism is a tiny movement of people who primarily want (a) to freeload on society by not contributing their share (b) to avoid social prohibitions and (c) want to lock in their good fortune. It's really that simple: all the supposed philosophy is really just after-the-fact (post hoc) rationalization. Everything springs from the childish "I don't wanna pay", "I wanna do that anyhow" and "no, it's mine!"

* A Catspaw For Corporations

A great deal of libertarian literature is written by corporate hirelings. Sure they can throw in the occasional socially liberal complaint about warmongering to genuflect towards the purported ideology, but they do NOT bite the corporate hand that feeds them. Otherwise they'd be pointing out that corporations are government creations of special privilege, and asking that they be abolished the way they ask that public schools be abolished. And those authors would be looking for new jobs, as we've seen so often from think-tanks. Professional libertarians tend to be reliant on the corporate right-wing welfare employment of think-tanks, lobbying and astroturf organizations.

The liberty these corporate hirelings write of is generally the liberty desired by corporations, not the liberty desired by ordinary people. Hence we see propaganda such as the "Index of Economic Freedoms".

* A Long-Running Public Relations Campaign

The extent of libertarianism today is largely the result of decades-long public relations campaigns that have been working on insinuating libertarian ideas throughout our society. The time, the ambition and the resources applied over the past 60 years are extraordinary. Generations of propagandists, scholars, lobbyists, think-tanks, astroturf organizations and political parties have been financed by large corporations and billionaires.

They have attempted (quite successfully) to subvert the language, to pack propaganda into textbooks and academic publications, to subvert science (smoking, pollution and global warming), to create intellectual shock troops to disperse their propaganda, to stack the legal system with specially trained judges, to direct politicians with think-tank plans and offers of revolving-door employment, and a host of other activities.

Because "he who pays the piper calls the tunes", the result is that libertarianism has benefitted major corporations and billionaires far more than it has benefitted the middle-class pot smoker (now approaching lower class.)

* Philosophical Fairytales

There are three dominant libertarian fairytales. They are natural rights, the Nozickian night-watchman state, and Objectivism. All three are non-positivist: they are not founded on observable facts and just plain make stuff up that contradicts what's known of reality. Each has produced large, complicated apologetics that attempt to explain away their myriad failings. Like science, they create models, but unlike science their models cannot be validated because they presume the unobservable.

Most libertarian authors rely on natural rights.[1] Natural rights were originally invented to oppose stories such as rights of kings. They are "nonsense on stilts" that is as popular, insubstantial and unprovable as souls.

The supposedly just and non-coercive Nozickian minimal state of Anarchy, State and Utopia is notorious for its failure to justify initial acquisition of property, the basis of the entire scheme. The whole thing appeals to gut feelings as fallaciously as Steven Colbert does, starting with the first sentence: "Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights.)"

Objectivism starts with the fairytale of a priori knowledge. "A is A", for example. But that doesn't work for the real world, because the real world has time: A at time 1 is not necessarily the same as A at time 2. It's never the same water in the river, and even protons can spontaneously decay. There is no supposed a priori knowledge that doesn't have this basic sort of problem.

* A Justification of Personal Righteousness

Which emphasizes the notion of virtue in selfishness and has as its historical genesis the exceptional American experience. As such, it appeals mostly to white American males who are moderately above-average in intelligence, economically secure, independently-minded, and prefer simplistic theoretical constructs for making political and moral decisions. It validates their own affluence/privilege not by group affiliation, but by inherent individual merit; and it likewise superficially validates the poverty and lack of privilege of others not on the basis of group affiliation, but inherent fault. In this it mimics a meritocratic view, which allows the libertarian to congratulate himself on his lack of bigotry; but, in fact, it is a facade behind which his true bigotry hides. Keith M Ellis

* A Simplistic Ideology

Kevin Carson calls this "vulgar libertarianism": "Them pore ole bosses need all the help they can get." Simple rules for identifying friends and enemies, righteous and unrighteous. Private or public? Statist or freedom loving? Individualist or collectivist? Market or coercive? Ignorant or enlightened? Libertarians portray themselves as elite because of their ideological righteousness: but they are really just the bosses favorites, the house slaves. Read some Atlas Shrugged to learn that mentality.

* A Blinkered Ideology

Libertarianism is often easy to recognize by the things it will not consider. For example: market failures, public goods, benefits from government, benefits from spending tax money, deadweight costs from private sources, threats to liberty from private sources, rights other than property rights, values other than economic values, social harms from private actions (such as drug usage), anything but methodological individualism, Keynesianism, etc.

Shunning these ideas is essential for "consistency" in the beliefs of many libertarians. If you don't admit contrary data, your theory is unfalsifiable.

* A Cargo Cult

Many libertarians expect gifts from the sky if they perform the right philosophical rituals: surrender of political rights, surrender of all government property claims, etc.

They wish us to hand over political sovereignty of the richest, most powerful nation in the world. They wish us to hand over the lands, roads, and other property held in common by the government. They wish us to hand over the biggest pot of money in the world: social security funds for the retirement of essentially the entire US population.

What do they offer the rest of us for these enormous gifts? Nothing. They do not expect us to do it as an exchange, but as a magical summoning. They summon these gifts magically by re-interpreting liberal philosophy and Constitutions.

* A Millennialist Cult

Many libertarians think they can promise pie-in-the-sky in libertarian heaven. In the libertarian future we would all be amply repaid for having had the faith to bring about the fabulously free and wealthy libertopia where the privately owned streets are paved with gold, a gun in every pot field, etc. They have the unrealistic assumption that if they succeed, they will have an advantage because they learned libertarian principles first. But in reality, a class of oligarchs would quickly form as they did in Russia, leaving the majority in much worse condition. The large middle classes we enjoy are a result of government programs promoting equality. They do not occur otherwise.

* Technological Utopianism

Much libertarian literature relies on technology to create their fantasy world, usually by creating a new frontier. Heinlein and others relied on space travel to open a new frontier. Transhumanists look forward to recreating humans to develop new frontiers. Many libertarian authors write of a forthcoming singularity in technological development. Seasteaders look forwards to marine frontiers in international waters. Rand relied on fictional technology to conceal Galt's community.

What they all miss is that creation of a new frontier doesn't change those left behind into a libertarian society. And as the frontier matures, density and competition will bring about the same problems that led to the governance that libertarians object to, the same as happened in other frontiers in the past. Libertarianism might "work" on the edges of expansion, but creates problems that grow until a government solution is needed.

* Conclusion

No one libertarian exemplifies all of these viewpoints, nor do any of these viewpoints match all libertarians. There might be a libertarian who doesn't match any of these viewpoints.

But it is easy to find libertarians who are well-described by any these characterizations. A large, diverse ideology such as libertarianism requires large, diverse description the same way blind men describing an elephant used a lot of analogies.

Some of these characterizations are repulsive: hurrah for the libertarian who avoids matching the repulsive ones. There aren't too many of them in print because the vast majority of libertarian authors are sponsored by corporate funding (especially the Koch brothers) or rely on philosophical fairytales. A great many libertarians are repulsed by each other for one or more of these problems.

* References

1 David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer pp.82-87

Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought

An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought

Tony Endres' scathing review of Rothbard's magnum opus. "Rothbard has produced two volumes which are highly jaundiced and purblind." From History of Economics Review.

This is in three indexes: reviews, revisionism, and austrianism.

Endres honestly recognizes some strengths in Rothbard's work, but explains the major failing to be Quentin Skinner's described "mythology of doctrines": finding hints or glimmers of the true doctrine throughout history and damning those without them.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Channelling political energy.

In the gilded era, worker unrest was channeled by management into ethnic and racial competition (until unionism broke that game and allowed workers to unite.)  Management divided work into black jobs and Irish jobs, for example, so that the groups could fight over what work they were entitled to instead of uniting to demand better working conditions and higher wages.

Many other passions are channelled in our society: lust for competition is channelled into business competition and sports.

Can we do the same for conservative populism?  Can we divide the factions and pit them against each other in a more effective manner?

Have we been doing it all along?

Has Koch money broken the traditional divisions, allowing conservative populists to unite in the Tea Party?  Koch money has been indoctrinating shock troops for almost 40 years, readying them to take control of populist movements with a unified antigovernment ideology.  Students are targeted with tiny little grants to inflate the importance of the indoctrination.  Endless founts of think-tank propaganda are created, all funded for the same goals by the same money, to drive conservatives into the arms of these Koch-spawned leaders.

We've seen inevitable-looking surges of right-wing influence before: one was called the Reagan Era.  Sooner or later they founder on the practical experience of their idiocy and harms: they produce their own opposition.

The question is, how do we hasten that opposition along and then keep them divided again?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.

Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.

Jane Mayer's The New Yorker article on Charles and David Koch. They have financed libertarian propaganda with more than 100 million dollars over more than 30 years. They founded and control the major libertarian think tanks Cato, Reason, Mercatus, and others. See: Koch think tanks at SourceWatch.

Posted in the Criticisms of the Cato Institute and Criticisms of George Mason U. Economics (and Mercatus) indexes.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Space Cadets

Space Cadets

Charlie Stross, the SF author, points out the fact that space colonization is incompatible with libertarian ideology, contrary to innumerable SF stories by major authors such as Heinlein.

That's to be expected: it's also incompatible with all historical society anyhow.  But there are particular circumstances involved in space.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets

Debra Satz, Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets, looks like a really good read.  This link leads to the introductory chapter, via Google Books.

She has the useful idea of noxious markets, which have one or more of the following characteristics:
* vulnerability (must take whatever bargain you're offered because cannot afford not to)
* weak agency (poor information or influence on economic decisions)
* extremely harmful outcomes for individuals (contract killings, for example)
* extremely harmful outcomes for society (vote buying, for example)

In such cases, she discusses alternatives such as blocking the market or alleviating the problems that arise.

Wealthcare: the Cult of Ayn Rand

Wealthcare: the Cult of Ayn Rand

Jonanthan Chait's big-picture view of Objectivism's influence after reading the two Rand biographies.  I would have posted this when it first came out, but it was difficult to find an ungated version.

Posted to the Reviews Of Books Related To Libertarianism and Criticisms of Objectivism (or Ayn Rand) indexes.

Here's the money line:
"But the basic inverted Marxism at the heart of her ideology has become the central focus of both modern conservative thought and Republican policy-making. (That ideology holds that the world is fundamentally divided between virtuous creators of wealth and lazy parasites, the identity of whom is the reverse of what Marx believed.)"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TheLowlyPhilosopher's foolish defense of the Austrians.

It's always amusing to me what bad assumptions people make when interpreting my arguments, and it is particularly funny when somebody who styles themselves a philosopher is so dreadfully incautious.  And sometimes I really enjoy performing a good, vicious fisking.

In a response to my Parable of the ship: why Austrian Economics fails, TheLowlyPhilosopher wrote:
After perusing this blog and in particular reading the entry, The Parable of the Ship: Why Austrian Economics Fails among others, I felt that if there were others who read this blog in general, and in particular the Parable of Ship and (even though this was originally posted over a year ago) it would be beneficial to offer some criticisms of Mike Huben’s general “philosophical belief system” or rather perhaps what he would prefer should be labeled, his “scientific belief system” and in particular his claims concerning science versus philosophy.
What beneficent intentions!  I'm sure we will all be incredibly grateful.  Not.

Although I have taken some undergraduate economics I do not pretend to be an expert in Economics. My education is in Philosophy (primarily epistemology, logic and the philosophy of language). And it is from this philosophical education that I believe that Mr. Huben asserts views that are quite simply mistaken.
Please don't tell us where you learned your philosophy: they might be quite ashamed.

I will proceed with offering criticism of direct quotations that Mr. Huben espoused in the Parable of the Ship blog entry.
Those quotations being:
1) “But the great fault of Austrianism is that it is not scientific. Science is a better way of knowing than philosophy, because scientific theories have to explain close to all the scientifically collected data. For all the faults of conventional economics, it is far closer to a science than Austrianism because it relies heavily on data.”
2) “Since Austrians are innumerate, instead they must rely on their assumptions, which needless to say tend to have a very right wing bias. Science does not work that way. Nor can Austrians really defend their assumptions: no assumption about the real world is totally true which means that there is fallacy in all their logic about the real world.”
3) “This is not a new position: it is basic to science and ought to be basic to philosophy. Hume said it very clearly 260 years ago: Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
4) “When confronted with real-world problems that could have multiple causes, logical verbal models are insufficient. You MUST introduce measurement and mathematics into your models if you want to have any hope of valid answers. Logical verbal models are sufficient to specify possible chains (or networks) of causation, but telling which are significant is a quantitative problem that requires measurement.”
5) “Your faith in philosophy is touching. Science is much better explained anthropologically than by philosophy.”
From 1) “Science is a better way of knowing than philosophy”. That seems a rather strange statement to make. To know something, is to know something that presumably is true. Whether it is known philosophically or scientifically seems irrelevant. If something is known to be true it is true, is it not?
Step number one for the philosopher: start with a howling blunder.  I explain to my students that science is about honesty and validity: if they want truth, they must go to mathematics.

IMHO, science is better than philosophy because it is VALID: it works repeatably in the real world.

Mr. Huben additionally states, “scientific theories have to explain close to all the scientifically collected data.” Notice the use of the qualifier “close to all”. Thus by his own admission Mr. Huben admits that science does not explain all of the collected data. What we call Science at best is no doubt, a very useful conjecture or theory that does not completely explain all the observations.
Ah, the illegitimate demand for perfection.  As opposed to how much philosophy explains?

It's common knowledge, that I present to all my students, that science MODELS reality, and that the models give approximations of the measurements we take.  And often we have pretty good ideas of how close the approximations are and why they are only that close.  If only philosophy was that humble, and if only philosophers had the concept of confidence interval.

Indeed this is what philosophers of science particularly Popper argue; that science is open-ended. Science progresses by falsification. Indeed this is how we have changes in our scientific theory. It is by trying to fit new unexplained and incoherent observations into our present theory and when these observations contradict our present theory we must alter our theory. Kuhn also argued along theses lines when he talked of the Paradigms of science. 
If you take Popper as gospel, you are either showing your ignorance of other philosophy of science or your bias. 

From 2) If we actually take Mr. Huben’s argument to its logical conclusion (Science which by the way was once called “Natural Philosophy”) we must ask how can science be totally true?

After all does not Mr. Huben state that “no assumption about the real world is totally true” Then why are science’s assumptions accepted to be totally true?
Or perhaps Mr. Huben would claim that science is purely empirical, indeed when he quotes David Hume he appears to be arguing this. But perhaps he forgot the Philosopher Immanuel Kant who said
“But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience. For it may well be that even our empirical knowledge is made up of what we receive through our impressions and of what our own faculty of knowledge supplies from itself…Whether there is any knowledge that is thus independent of experience and even of all impressions of the senses. Such knowledge is entitled a priori. And distinguished from the empirical, which has its sources a posteriori that is in experience.”
From The Critique of Pure Reason
Your belief in a priori knowledge is touchingly naive.  I consider it a philosophical superstition, just as souls are.

The point is that to believe that the only valid knowledge is empirical or rather scientific is quite simplistic as Kant quite well pointed out.
Are you actually so simplistic as to think all philosophers agree with Kant, and that 200+ years of scientific learning about the nature of cognitive experience supports his superstition?

But perhaps Mr.Huben would claim that science has no a priori assumptions, which is patently false. The question is Mr. Huben, how can science prove itself to be true?
You entirely misunderstand the intentions of science, which CERTAINLY are not to "prove itself to be true".  Science is about modeling the world around us as accurately as possible.

Ultimately (induction, science, a posteriori knowledge) and (deduction, logic, a priori knowledge) both are systems that have axioms, principles, postulates, premises that in themselves are not proved to be true but are accepted to be true. Why is science (induction) inherently more conducive to the acquisition of truth than a priori deduction? If you reject a priori deduction (which is admittedly what Austrian economics is built upon) than you must reject the a priori premises that science (induction) is also built upon. But Mr. Huben does not do this. Why the inconsistency?
For the simple reason that truth is not the goal.  But you're to dim to understand that: you project the foolish goals of philosophy upon science.

As the philosopher Wittgenstein said, in his work On Certainty
189. “At some point one has to pass from explanation to mere description.”
192. “To be sure there is justification: but justification comes to an end.”
253 “At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.”
You don't "believe" in models.  You accept or reject them based on whether they are accurate enough to beat out other models.  Certainty is hardly an objective of science.  Science is heuristic, not certain.

341 “That is to say, the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.
342 That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted.”
If some things are not doubted in science, it is because evidence justifying doubt would be quickly communicated.

474 “ This game proves its worth. That may be the cause of its being played, but it is not the ground.”
The point of these examples is to refute the notion that science is not based on a priori principles (something that Mr.Huben criticizes Austrian Economics for).
Science is not based on a priori principles for the simple reason that a priori principles are a superstition.

All events have causes is the axiom that science is built upon,
My are you ignorant of science!  One of the basic ideas in quantum mechanics is that causality doesn't work at those scales.

but the axiom is in itself not proved to be true by science. It is accepted as being true (that is it is a necessary supposition for the pursuit of science). But these axioms are no less valid than the axioms that Austrian economics utilizes. Indeed all axioms ultimately are not provable; they are accepted as being true and the rest of the logical framework as it were follow from the acceptance of these axioms.
The basic ideas of science are not axiomatic: they are empirically observed.

I repeat, the criticism of Austrian economics because it is based philosophically on a system built from deductive a priori axioms is not valid in of itself for if it were, the same criticisms of accepting a priori axioms ought to and must be applied to the empirical scientific methods which are also built on a priori axioms. 
Ah, so as a philosopher you use repetition of errors to establish truth.  How curious!

From 3) It seems ironic that Mr. Huben quotes David Hume when the main contribution to modern philosophy that Hume is known for is his argument against the certainty of induction and thus science. Hume famously is known for his argument that just because the Sun has risen for billions of years we cannot be certain that it will rise tomorrow. We cannot derive certainty from scientific observations (induction). Thus Hume rejected the idea that science and induction could give us absolute knowledge only probable knowledge.
And thus Hume understood much more about science than you apparently do.

From 4) “You MUST introduce measurement and mathematics into your models if you want to have any hope of valid answers.”

The criticism is that the Austrian school of economics regards measurement (data and observations) as being overall, not important or very relevant for the study of economics. 

Indeed, the Austrians argue that what we call the economic system is so complex with multitudes of constantly dynamic variables that science cannot hold the independent variables constant to observe the dependent variables. The misconception is that the Austrians hate science or the scientific method. On the contrary they argue that science has great value in things that science can be relevantly applied to such as; Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry etc. 
Ah, so they rule out vast swathes of science such as ecology and evolution, huh?  After all, those are at least as complex as economics, and just as insusceptible of experiment.  Ooooo, I'd love to see the Austrian ecology and Austrian evolution pseudosciences!

But of course, the Austrian contention that dependent variables are always and everywhere concealed by multitudes of constantly dynamic variables fails as badly for economics as it does for ecology. 

It is just not (with very rare exceptions) applicable to the study of economics which is in their view purely deductive. That is, the study economics is similar to the study of logic in that is deductive from first a priori principles. 
Lots of people claim similar nonsense, such as Ayn Rand with "A is A".  Start with vague, waffle-worded "a priori principles" and you can mislead people in all sorts of directions.
The use of mathematical models and statistical techniques etc. the Austrians basically argue, you can call it what you want, but it is not really science, as it is traditionally known. 

Science, the Austrians would argue is repeating the same experiment over and over again with strictly controlled variables and observing the results. (The scientific method)
Observing results is not science: interpreting them is.  Statistics plays a major role in interpreting results in almost all fields of science, and Austrians who say otherwise are just wrong.

This cannot be done with a system as complex as the economy to any high degree of proficiency and certainty.
Now there are some waffle words.  Doesn't matter how good an economic model is: they it's not to a high degree of proficiency and certainty.

But their armchair philosophy must be perfect, even though they refuse to admit that the real world doesn't follow their predictions much.

How does one know that all the variables are being held constant? As Mr.Huben states from 1) “For all the faults of conventional economics, it is far closer to a science than Austrianism because it relies heavily on data.” If the theory that is proposed to explain the “data” cannot be experimentally verified, tested and confirmed by repeating the experiment then would it really be science? 
There are several fields of economics that do look at multiple experiments.  I presume you're too ignorant to know of them.
Mr.Huben argues that you must introduce measurement and mathematics to have valid answers because verbal logic is not sufficient. What about symbolic logic? Are not the symbols and methods of mathematics ultimately translatable into algorithmic logical processes?
Evidently you don't read too well: verbal logic is insufficient because it is generally not quantitative.  Reread my statement 4. 
From 5) and in closing, to state, “your faith in philosophy is touching” displays a childish condescending attitude. Science is a branch of philosophy, indeed what is a PhD in physics anyways? A doctor of philosophy degree in physics. 
And humans are a branch of monkeys, as you obviously show with your poo-flinging understanding of the philosophy of science.  And if you are unfamiliar with the millennia-old traditions of condescension and disdain in philosophy, then you're an ignoramus as well.
The fact is whether Mr. Huben accepts it or not, Philosophy is the mother of all other intellectual pursuits. Everything intellectual is derived from and of Philosophy! 
Evidently you know nothing of cladistics, the science of classification, nor of history, else you wouldn't make such stupid statements.

But even if your contention is correct, that doesn't mean science isn't better than philosophy as a way of knowing.  After all, your mother could be a gibbering idiot and you could be a genius.  But it seems likely to be the other way around in your case, because you make such incredibly bad arguments.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Regulation and the Theory of Market and Government Failure

Regulation and the Theory of Market and Government Failure

Nobel Prize winner (economics) Joseph Stiglitz explains that government can improve economic efficiency because real markets don't have the properties of ideal markets. Technical, but not mathematical.

Posted in the Government And Economics and Liberal Criticisms indexes.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It

Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It

Yumi Kim (at Mises Daily) praises the customary clan law in Somalia, because cheap luxuries are available to the elites. No mention of piracy and kidnapping trades, and warlords are downplayed. At best, shows that warlordism may be better than centralized kleptocracy. Libertarians should move to Somalia!

Linked in the Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism index as an example of self-ridicule.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The 24 Types of Libertarian

The 24 Types of Libertarian

Ampersand (Barry Deutsch) identifies 24 libertarian points of view. Hat tip to Pharyngula.

Added to the humor index.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Rational Optimist

Matt Ridley joins the ranks of cornucopian libertarians with a similarly error-ridden and cherry-picked set of arguments.

I found a harsh review and a followup by George Monbiot:

The Man Who Wants To Northern Rock The Planet

Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist is telling the rich what they want to hear

These are in the book reviews, environmentalism, and freedom through technology indexes.

[Addition: I've found several more harsh reviews, and placed them at: Reviews Of Books Related To Libertarianism.]

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Krugman Blues

Sometimes it takes something special to make me appreciate a particular form of art. I'd never been impressed much by the blues, but this brings it home for me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Capitalism's Wicked Witch

Capitalism's Wicked Witch

Allen Barra's Daily Beast review of Anne Conover Heller's "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" and Jennifer Burns' "Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right".

He likes the books, and thinks they paint an accurate picture of just how odious Rand was.

Added to the reviews section of the web site.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Road to Serfdom in Cartoons

The Road to Serfdom in Cartoons

Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" is comical enough without being actually a comic book. It just hasn't happened anywhere, let alone in places like Sweden.

This has been added to the Make Or Break Views Of Libertarianism index.

A Dilemma for Libertarianism.

A Dilemma for Libertarianism

Professor Karl Widerquist argues that libertarian principles of acquisition and transfer without regard for the pattern of inequality do not support a minimal state, but can lead just as well to a monarchy with full the full power of taxation without violation of self-ownership.

He's done for property what G. A. Cohen has done in "Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality". He's used the usual libertarian assumptions to come to opposite conclusions with some deft jiu-jitsu. The key trick is to note that libertarians rely on a statute of limitations for their theory of property, else hardly any real world property would be valid (almost all can be traced to conquest.)

In a number of ways, this corresponds with points I've made in A Non-Libertarian FAQ (such as #16) and elsewhere.

This has been linked into my Philosophical Criticisms Of Libertarianism index.

Widerquist's encyclopedia description of libertarianism.

Recently, one corespondent suggested that I define libertarianism. I pointed out that it wasn't my job, that there are tons of people who are professional libertarians who could do it, and have done so.

But I've been rather dissatisfied with the definitions I've seen: usually they are written by people who have drunk the cool-ade so long that they're unaware of their own biases. And usually they focus on only a small part of the libertarian spectrum.

I stumbled upon Karl Widerquist's encyclopedia description of libertarianism, and was very pleased with its thorough and evenhanded descriptions of left, right, and socialist libertarianism.

I've added this one to the So You Want To Discuss Libertarianism.... index at my site.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Doctorow and Stross to Write Authorized Sequel to Atlas Shrugged

Doctorow and Stross to Write Authorized Sequel to Atlas Shrugged

"Today the estate of Ayn Rand announced that they had authorized science fiction writers Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow to write an official sequel to Rand's bestselling novel Atlas Shrugged.[...]"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ayn Rand: Admirer of Serial Killer

Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer

Mark Ames' AlterNet article details her admiration for a sociopath, based on Jennifer Burns reports of Rand's early notebooks.

The article details William Edward Hickman's most gruesome murder, and how Rand admired his attitude.

Ames attempts to tarbrush prominent Rand fans such as Alan Greenspan, Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Sanford. with this pathology of Rand's. However, the objectivist classification of opponents as "parasites" is merely the beginning of the objectivist disdain for other people and democracy.

His conclusion doesn't need serial killers to stand on its own:

"Too many critics of Ayn Rand-- until I was one of them -- would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, hackneyed. But it can't be dismissed because Rand is the name that keeps bubbling up from the Teabagger crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington as The Big Inspiration. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town and out of our hemisphere."

Thanks to THE Rich Rosen for the lead. Rich also has a good (and funny) article on Rand: When Atlas Shrugs, People Listen... But Why?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

New Deal Denialism

New Deal Denialism

It's annoying to see libertarians (and right wingers) citing silly Austrian arguments that deny the success of Keynesianism in dealing with the Great Depression. Generally they attempt to focus attention on US history, ignoring all the contemporaneous world history that falsifies their arguments.

But even focusing on US history defeats their arguments. Eric Rauchway, a UC Davis historian who's written The Great Depression And The New Deal, lists 4 revisionist arguments and why they're wrong, especially focusing on Amity Shlaes' arguments.

As an aside, it's kind of sad to see intelligent libertarians such as David Friedman slide into such denialism, both for teh depression and for global warming.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The new icon.

For many years now I've been thinking of what sort of an icon I should have for my site and my blog. At first I didn't want ANY graphics, because they slowed the pages down and made the html coding more complex, but that was more than a decade ago, speeds are now excellent, and modern web tools such as blogs and wikis make that optimization unnecessary.

I thought of an upside down Statue Of Liberty, but people might get confused about who is inverting the idea of liberty, me or libertarians.

So instead, I've simply put the 4 most iconic libertarians together under a red circle and slash (meaning "no".) Rand, Hayek, Nozick, and Milton Friedman. I suppose people could argue for others such as Rothbard, Paul, Mises, etc., but let's not make things complicated: each represents a rather different major strand of libertarianism. It's good enough.

If anybody wants to propose a better icon, I welcome submissions.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


Peter Boettke and his colleagues at "The Austrian Economists" have announced a change of their blog name to "Coordination Problem" because "austrian economics" represents more than he wants.

The parallels between
The Austrian Economists -> Coordination Problem
Scientific Creationism -> Intelligent Design
are just too delicious.

Austrian economics and creationism both suffer from the same big problem. When you dismiss criticism from fellow economists or scientists in favor of authority and bad philosophy, you lose the ability to prevent other fools from larding up your system with numerous contradictory and stupid ideas.

Boettke is aware of this. He writes:
As an experiment, over the past six months we have been tracking the use of the term Austrian economics in the news and in the blogosphere. Less systematically, we have also been listening carefully to the use of the term among fellow professional economists and what they think the label means. The results do not fit our intention. Google alert, for example, inevitably points to financial advice or libertarian politics, rarely to the research paradigm of F. A. Hayek, never to the scholarship of Israel Kirzner. Mises is often mentioned, but Mises the ideological symbol, not Mises the analytical economist. The "Austrian" theory of the business cycle is mentioned, but only in relationship to anti-fed politics and hard money advocacy, and never as an ongoing research program among professional economists.

So the real question now is where is the "Coordination Problem" version of the Wedge strategy?

No discussion is permitted at the new web site. Bob Murphy provides a forum at Boettke Et Al. Engage in Product Differentiation for the sniping, back-stabbing, and other activities typical of authority-based factionalisms. (But to be honest, typical of academia and many other fields as well.) More sniping at Marginal Revolution: Peter Boettke's announcement.

At times like this, I really miss Steve Kangas. We would bust a gut laughing at this.

See also my Austrian Economics index.

[Disclosure: My father was Austrian (Viennese) by birth. He never had anything to do with Austrian economics.]

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive. Bob Murphy provides the Austrian Wedge strategy.