Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ten Reasons Why Statism Is (Nearly) Universally Accepted and a Brief Note on Why It Matters to Know Them

It seems scarcely an exaggeration to say that today’s inhabited world is almost universally statist. Thus, the task facing libertarians remains comprehensive and formidable. Since the shape of social reality is ultimately determined by the ideas people hold, undermining the influence of any given doctrine requires prior understanding of the reasons for both its active espousal and its passive acceptance. Consequently, in order to oppose statism effectively, it is necessary to get a grasp of the factors that make the societies of the world endorse or at least consent to the existence of centralized monopolies of aggression, violence and coercion. What follows is my attempt at compiling a succinct list of what appear to me to be the main driving forces behind the phenomenon just described.

1. Intellectual propaganda. The statized education system managed to accomplish a formidable task of creating a number of very potent mental viruses – the theory of social contract, the theory of public and collective goods, the theory of political obligation, various theories of monopoly and other “market failures,” various theories of “positive legislation,” the doctrine of the divine right of kings, etc. The examples could be multiplied ad infinitum. To non-intellectuals, these propagandist concoctions oftentimes seem to be serious, rational justifications for obeying the dictates of monopolies of force. To intellectuals, on the other hand, even if they see the (quite flagrant) logical inadequacies of these sophistical constructions, their adoption and propagation usually appears to be one of the safest ways to secure permanent, lucrative and influential job positions.

2. Emotional propaganda. People whose life is by their own admission bland and uninteresting often turn their attention to the antics of various celebrities. Statism never fails to jump on this opportunity to make people emotionally attached to public figures by trying to confer as much notability as possible on politicians, bureaucrats and other high-ranking representatives of the apparatus of institutionalized violence. As a result, the majority of the state’s subjects fall prey to the large-scale version of the Stockholm Syndrome, feeling genuine sympathy for their oppressors even if they do not belong to their immediate electoral clientele.

3. Self-deception. It would seem quite natural to suppose that for the majority of right-minded, decent people the realization that one is being systematically robbed and threatened with severe violence in case of non-subordination is abhorrent to the point of being psychologically unbearable. And yet, since this is precisely what happens under statism, a natural psychological self-defense mechanism for such people is to engage in self-deception and attempt to justify the systematic depravities inflicted upon them. Thus, they are browbeaten into accepting the double “morality” that every rationalization for the ethical distinction between the rulers and the ruled has to rely on.

4. Simple ignorance. It is a sad testimony to the quality of intellectual perspicacity of the majority of the human race that in principle statism can flourish even in the absence of any additional intellectual propaganda on the part of its adherents. As was acutely observed by Bastiat (and reiterated by Hazlitt), it is enough for people to look only at the short-term consequences of a given action, or only at its consequences for a given group, to accept the notion that the apparatus of institutional coercion can create prosperity for some without destroying the prosperity of others. It is of course imperative for the statists to exploit these widespread cognitive deficiencies to the utmost extent.

5. Fear. This element could be understood in a twofold manner. On the one hand, it is fear of responsibility for one’s own life and its shape, which culminates in the conviction that it is desirable to be able to have recourse to an institution capable of forcibly shifting this responsibility onto others. On the other hand, it is a more general horror vacui – fear of independent thinking and acting, fear of living in a world devoid of any ultimate temporal disciplinarian, whose final, indisputable argument is the authoritative argumentum ad baculum, the ability to subordinate a recalcitrant reality by means of legalized (or even sanctified) coercion. After all, it might be quite dispiriting to realize how difficult it would be to accomplish one’s wishes were they not aligned with those of the unquestionable institution just mentioned.

6. Laziness. Drawing on Oppenheimer’s distinction between the economic means and the political means, it can immediately be noticed that using the former to earn one’s bread is time- and effort-consuming, whereas the latter – as soon as the apparatus of institutionalized violence is already in place – can be utilized relatively quickly and effortlessly. Modern-day social democracy epitomizes the redistributive function of the political means. If one can regularly “vote himself” the property of others rather than obtain it through voluntary exchange of independently produced, valuable goods, why shouldn’t he – in the absence of any inhibiting scruples – opt for the former alternative and support the system that enshrines it?

7. Envy. The egalitarian ideology of modern statism, based on the coercive demand that the stream of politically redistributed goods and valuables flow specifically into the hands of those who did nothing to deserve their acquisition, is exceptionally useful in channeling envy and dog-in-the-manger resentment into support for the system that institutionalizes these low and base instincts. Unlike meritocracy, whose results come about through the medium of the totality of voluntary interpersonal interactions, egalitarianism needs to marry statism in order to achieve its envy-driven aims. And since envy is unfortunately a very widespread characteristic, we should not be surprised by the level of backing for the monopolization and centralization of force that it generates.

8. Lust for power. There might be good evolutionary reasons for the contention that human beings are naturally prone to trying to dominate their fellow brothers and sisters. Perhaps noticing that others enjoy a higher standard of living, and consequently higher chances of passing their genes into the future, creates in many an instinctive eagerness to gain similar opportunities in the most convenient manner, even if that means forcibly appropriating someone else’s resources. Be that as it may, we should not forget that a rational morality can be argued to be precisely the tool for disposing of some of the more questionable elements of our putative evolutionary inheritance.

9. Habituation. Statism and its destructive offspring – war, slavery, expropriation and intellectual corruption – have proven themselves to be very resilient and long-lived social plagues. Consequently, it is relatively easy for statists to describe these phenomena as historical, civilizational or even metaphysical necessities. Furthermore, the apparent robustness of monopolies of force allows its rulers and employees to depict non-statist social arrangements as, at best, a radical an precarious unknown, and, at worst, a system prone to endless conflict of everyone against all. Under such conditions, becoming aware and convinced of the viability of voluntarist alternatives, as well as working towards their implementation, is all the more difficult.

10. Resignation. The ultimate goal of statism is to throw every single individual into the state of passivity and lethargic inaction as regards the efforts to shake the parasitic classes off one’s back. This goal is exemplified by fostering the all too known “taxes and death” attitude. Thus, even those unconvinced of the moral or economic necessity of the existence of monopolistic apparatuses of coercion, or even those actively opposed to their existence on intellectual grounds, are supposed to reconcile themselves to the fact that their doubts and objections have absolutely no influence on the shape of binding social arrangements, neither today nor at any time in the future.

Having clearly identified the above factors, libertarians should be able to pursue their fundamental aims with much greater efficiency. As I emphasized at the outset, social reality is ultimately shaped by the ideas held by its inhabitants. Pinpointing the most prevailingly pernicious among them should make it far easier for the supporters of freedom to counter their symptoms and fight their root causes successfully.

[Reprinted from]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rejoinder to Block's Defense of Evictionism

The present paper is an attempt to show that Walter Block’s defense of the ostensibly libertarian character of evictionism against my original criticisms is unsuccessful, though certainly informative and thought-provoking. In my exploration of Block’s counter-criticisms, I focus in particular on the role played in his account by the principle of proportionality, as well as on the putative disanalogy between cases of abortion and child abandonment on the one hand and my airplane thought experiment on the other hand.

[Read More]

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Academic Publications

Below is a list of my publications, including peer-reviewed journal articles, academic monographs, and book chapters:

38. “The Proactive Society: an Introductory Exposition”, in Transition Economies in Central and Eastern Europe: Austrian Perspectives, ed. Sielska, A., Routledge, London-New York (2023), 133-39.

37. “The Ethical Structure of Production”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 28, 1 (2022), 25-38.

36. “Economics and Ethics: Neither Independent nor Intertwined, But Mutually Relevant”, in Defending Liberty: Essays in Honor of David Gordon, ed. Rasmussen, D. B., Wiśniewski, J. B., Ludwig von Mises Institute (2022), 227-52.

35. “Defending Liberty: Essays in Honor of David Gordon”, ed. with Rasmussen, D. B., Ludwig von Mises Institute (2022).

34. “The Capital Structure of Libertarian Production”, Studia Humana 11, 2 (2022), 1-9.

33. “Przedsiębiorczość jako fundament dynamicznej analizy gospodarczej”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 27, 2 (2021), 63-80.

32. “Spontaniczność instytucji a współpraca społeczna”, in Niech żyje rewolucja: 150 lat zasad ekonomii Carla Mengera, ed. Sielska, A., Wydawnictwo UwB, Białystok (2021), 129-38.

31. “Austrian Economics as a Paradigm of Golden Mean Thinking”, New Perspectives On Political Economy 16, 1-2 (2020), 39-51.

30. “Is Statism an Amoral Philosophy?”, Studia Humana 9, 2 (2020), 121-26.

29. “On the Impossibility of Intellectual Property”, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 23, 1 (2020), 33-45.

28. “Dobra i zła interdyscyplinarność w ekonomii”, in Ekonomia jako dyscyplina naukowa i kierunek kształcenia. Aktualne trendy i pożądane zmiany, ed. Rutkowska-Tomaszewska, E., Kwaśnicki, W., Difin, Warszawa (2020), 94-105.

27. “Wpływ teorii makroekonomicznych na etyczną jakość praktyki finansowej”, Annales. Etyka w Życiu Gospodarczym / Annales. Ethics in Economic Life 22, 4 (2019), 7-20.

26. “Austrian Welfare Economics: A Reply to Wysocki and Megger”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 25, 3 (2019), 25-8.

25. “Word, Action, and Entrepreneurship”, Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric 57, 1 (2019), 161-74.

24. "The Economics of Law, Order and Action: The Logic of Public Goods", Routledge (2018).

23. “Etyka gospodarcza jako refleksja nad jakościowym potencjałem działalności ekonomicznej”, Annales. Etyka w Życiu Gospodarczym / Annales. Ethics in Economic Life 21, 1 (2018), 47–56.

22. “Legal Polycentrism and Contractarianism”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 23, 2 (2017), 75–82.

21. “Repugnancy, Marginalism, Transitivity, and Population Ethics”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 21, 3 (2015), 21–37.

20. “A Note on Collective Action, Cooperation, Collusion, and Voluntary Production of Public Goods”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 21, 2 (2015), 55–8.

19. “A comment on the concept of desire satisfaction and the Mises-Hayek dehomogenization debate”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 21, 1 (2015), 63–8.

18. “Legal Polycentrism, the Circularity Problem, and the Regression Theorem of Institutional Development”, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 17, 4 (2014), 510–8.

17. “Defense as a Private Good in a Competitive Order”, Review of Social and Economic Issues 1, 1 (2014), 3-35.

16. “The Methodology of the Austrian School of Economics: The Present State of Knowledge”, Ekonomia - Wroclaw Economic Review 20, 1 (2014), 39-54.

15. “Legal monocentrism and the paradox of government”, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 16, 4 (2013), 459-78.

14. “Non-excludability, Externalities, and Entrepreneurship – An Overview of the Austrian Theory of Common Goods”, Journal of Prices & Markets 1, 1 (2013), 57-68.

13. “Nonrivalness, Subjectivity and Capital – An Overview of the Austrian Theory of Club Goods”, New Perspectives On Political Economy 9, 1-2 (2013), 24-37.

12. “Abortion, Libertarianism, and Evictionism: A Last Word”, Libertarian Papers 5, 1 (2013), 153-62.

11. “On Regime Uncertainty and Legal Entrepreneurship”, Independent Review 17, 2 (2012), 253-6.

10. “A Note on Being Healthy”, Diametros 31 (2012), 133-5.

9. “Irreducible Holism”, Diametros 30 (2011), 76-92.

8. “Do Moral Dilemmas Tell Against the Consistency of a Given Moral System?”, Reason Papers 33 (2011), 44-59.

7. “Robust Political Economy and the Question of Motivations”, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 14, 1 (2011), 56-65.

6. “Well-Being and Objectivity”, Libertarian Papers 3, 7 (2011).

5. “Response to Block on Abortion, Round Three”, Libertarian Papers 3, 6 (2011).

4. "Rejoinder to Block's Defense of Evictionism", Libertarian Papers 2, 37 (2010).

3. “A Critique of Block on Abortion and Child Abandonment”, Libertarian Papers 2, 16 (2010).

2. “Well-informedness and rationality: a philosophical overview”, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 12, 3 (2009), 43-56.

1. “Free Will and Preactions”, Libertarian Papers 1, 23 (2009).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Collective goods theory vs Rothbardian welfare economics and vice versa

My fellowship presentation on Rothbard's welfare theory, its criticisms and counter-criticisms, delivered at the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Auburn, AL) on July 22.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Libertarianism and Its Impersonators

The distortion of reality begins with the distortion of the words used to describe it. That is why, whenever one notices that a word one thinks of positively experiences an upsurge in popularity, one should remain cautious. It is certainly possible that such an occurrence indicates a genuine increase in the appreciation for and understanding of the ideas that the word in question signifies. But it is equally possible that it indicates an attempt on the part of some relatively popular interest group to dress its members’ own ideas in what they take to be an attractive and fresh-looking costume. This, in turn, allows the groups openly hostile to what the original term stands for to launch their polemics against straw-men and caricatures, which allows them to wage the battle of ideas more effectively without displaying any genuine logical superiority over their intellectual opponents. Hence the necessity to keep the terms that constitute any well-established and well-developed intellectual tradition faithful to their original meanings if any sensible and fruitful discussion of them is to remain possible.

Libertarianism – perhaps on account of its principled and clear-cut character – has been a relatively frequent target of such attempts at hostile appropriation by means of semantic distortion. In what follows, I would like to describe a few positions masquerading as the original doctrine under consideration and point to the dangers they pose to the message of liberty. Consequently, my suggestion is that the values it carries can be preserved only by sticking intransigently to its intellectually pure and unadulterated version. Having made the above brief introduction, let me now move to enumerating the aforementioned approaches:

1. Utilitarian or Coasian “libertarianism.” According to this theory, the primary function of property rights is to reduce transaction costs – that is, the costs associated with finding the person with whom we wish to transact, coming to a mutual agreement with her, drawing up a requisite contract, enforcing its terms, etc. And while it is praxeologically true that the recognition of property rights is absolutely indispensable for overcoming some of the fundamental so-defined transaction costs (e.g., the costs stemming from otherwise irresolvable ownership conflicts, the costs associated with the inability to perform economic calculations and thus rationally allocate resources, the costs relating to the absence of the signaling function of prices, etc.), it is not necessarily the case that any given pattern of originally appropriated and contractually acquired property titles is bound to minimize the total amount of more detailed, circumstance-specific transaction costs. Imagine, for instance, that someone owns a parcel of land that constitutes a pass through an otherwise nearly impassable mountain range separating two merchant colonies. It would be highly beneficial for the inhabitants of both of these colonies if a road could be made through this pass, but the original owner refuses to sell his land to any of the road-building companies since it has been in the possession of his family for centuries and it has a sentimental value to him. Obviously enough, making detours around the mountain range is bound to generate significant transaction costs (measured in terms of market revenue, not in terms of psychological utility) as compared to the counterfactual scenario in which the road is built through the pass. In such cases, the recommendation of utilitarian “libertarianism” is to expropriate the recalcitrant owner and then offer him an “adequate” monetary compensation, corresponding to the anticipated market value of the road. But there is clearly nothing even remotely libertarian about such a recommendation – it involves an exercise of coercive force against the life and property of an independent, self-owning individual. It conceives of individual liberty as subordinate to collective money-making efficiency. Thus, even putting aside all the value-free, economic objections to the feasibility of making interpersonal comparisons of utility, the belief in which underlies the approach in question, it fails the essential moral test of paying unconditional respect to private property rights in one’s own body, labor and the fruits thereof.

2. Minarchist or militarist “libertarianism.” These are in fact two conceptually separable positions, but there are good theoretical and empirical grounds for claiming that acknowledging the legitimacy and desirability of the former invariably leads to the deadly excesses of the latter. I think it is fair to characterize the adherents of the approach under consideration as subscribing to the following catchphrase: We hold liberty to be the supreme value, but we realize that in order to secure the maximum feasible amount of liberty, some of it has to be sacrificed to the necessary evil of the monopolistic apparatus of coercion. In other words, unless one consents to the abrogation of some of his private property rights, one will not be able to enjoy any private property rights at all. The literature countering this claim on economic grounds is vast (see, e.g., here), so it would take too much time to even summarize it here. Instead, let me ask in this context just a couple of short, critical questions of mainly moral and psychological nature. Is it reasonable to assume that statist coercion is necessary to enforce contracts, but the alleged “social contract” that is supposed to establish the state needs no meta-state to enforce it, thus effectively becoming a self-enforcing anomaly? Is it prudent to expect that ceding the task of maintaining justice onto an entity that is both monopolistic and coercive will not lead to it continually perverting justice in its favor? Is it sensible to claim that an institution that forcibly imposes its protective services on others, unilaterally determines their price and excludes all competition in this area will not attempt to benefit from initiating conflicts or letting them develop rather them resolving them or preventing their occurrence? If one is ready to answer these questions in the negative, and it seems to me that there exist very good reasons for doing so, then one should not be puzzled by the suggested slippery slope from minarchism to militarism. And one should not be surprised by the contention that neither holds much promise for preserving individual liberty.

3. Anything goes “libertarianism.” This approach suggests that any social, political or economic change that lightens the burden of statism in even the most infinitesimal way should be considered libertarian and those who bring it about should be regarded as libertarian-minded. In other words, if a political party reduces the income tax by one percentage point or repeals one out of a hundred thousand regulations, its members should be thought of as fundamentally decent people and sincere supporters of personal freedom. Such an attitude, of course, trivializes libertarianism and induces its putative followers to rest on their laurels much too easily. If a communist system is replaced with a social democratic one, this is surely a welcome change, but it seems a grave abuse of language to call it libertarian. If a band of local highwaymen decides to lower the tribute it regularly extorts from the other inhabitants of a given area, should it be praised as a group of committed individualists and voluntarists? What use can there be in such semantic equilibristics other than to shift the spectrum of intellectual discourse in the direction opposite from that pointed to by the original and properly radical version of the discussed theory? It does not help a good cause to try to subsume every acceptable development under a program aimed at advancing it. The more inclusive a given position gets, the more it runs the danger of becoming meaningless. In order to avoid that danger, let us bear in mind the crucial difference between the changes that, relatively speaking, move us towards the libertarian vision and the changes that are also consistent with its principles.

4. Countercultural “libertarianism.” This particular doctrine puts paramount emphasis on the necessity of liberating social customs from the shackles of violent paternalism and coercive moralizing. And while this is certainly an effort worthy of support, since the acceptance or rejection of any given set of social customs should be entirely voluntary (here I am obviously, though implicitly, treating the non-aggression principle as something much more than even the most respectable custom or convention), it has to be borne in mind that liberty in matters social and customary is a natural and inevitable consequence of liberty in matters moral and economic, but not necessarily the other way around. Hence, the priorities of countercultural “libertarianism” turn out to be badly misplaced – its adherents strive to secure a single beneficial result, whilst overlooking the need to trigger (or even openly spurning) the only cause capable of bringing it about (together with many other essential human values). That is why it should not be surprising that the original countercultural “libertarianism” of the 1960s was hardly a movement for private property rights and unhampered freedom of economic activity. If any modern form of counterculture is to become a better ally of genuine individualism and voluntarism, it has to reassess its priorities on a fundamental level and put property rights at the very center of its positive program for change.

5. Anti-hierarchical “libertarianism.” As the name suggests, the cornerstone of this position is the rejection of hierarchies, in this context meaning arrangements of people in which they are represented as being “above,” “below,” or “at the same level as” one another according to some specified criterion. Again, this appears to be a reasonable attitude to take insofar as any such criterion is forcibly imposed on a given person, which results in her coercive subordination to the relevant hierarchy. Modern democratic statism, for instance, violently subordinates hundreds of millions of people to the hierarchy of political influence and the accompanying ability to amass and utilize large-scale aggressive force. In sum, anti-hierarchism is perfectly justifiable on libertarian grounds to the extent that it is aimed against coercive hierarchies. However, the doctrine under consideration, especially in its so-called “left-anarchist” incarnation, is aimed against all sorts of hierarchies, including the voluntary ones (existing in, e.g., firms, clubs, churches, scholarly associations, etc.), thus effectively contravening the basic libertarian principle of unhampered freedom of association. Insofar as left-anarchism regards a hierarchy stretching from the owner of a non-state-subsidized company to its lowest paid employee as inherently oppressive and hence suitable for forcible liquidation, its followers are indistinguishable from ordinary statists, whose final argument is always the use of their truncheon. In conclusion, it is very difficult to conceive of these outright opponents of private property rights and natural inequalities as reliable advocates for liberty.

As was perceptively noted by Murray Rothbard, human rights are property rights – either to one’s body, one’s mind, one’s labor, or the fruits thereof. Thus, libertarianism can convincingly lay claim to being the only position that genuinely champions human rights. The same does not apply, however, to all the doctrines that try to capitalize on libertarianism’s good name while leaving out its most important element – an unflinching and unconditional endorsement of private property rights. Let us never forget that fact whilst seeing the word libertarianism passed around more and more generously.

[Reprinted from]

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dwadzieścia jeden powodów, dla których etatyzm jest radykalną i radykalnie niespójną teorią

Po napotkaniu twierdzenia, że pewne stanowisko nieetatystyczne (np. anarchokapitalizm) jest praktycznie niebezpieczne z uwagi na swój radykalny charakter, warto wskazać na rażący radykalizm każdej formy etatyzmu. Następnie, po zasugerowaniu, że to nie radykalizm danej teorii stanowi jej problem, jeszcze bardziej warto wskazać, że etatyzm jest teorią nie tylko radykalną, ale też radykalną w swej niespójności. Wydaje się to odpowiednim opisaniem stanowiska, które twierdzi, między innymi, że:

1. Jedynym pewnym sposobem obrony przed agresją, przemocą i przymusem jest podporządkowanie się ogromnemu, monopolistycznemu aparatowi agresji, przemocy i przymusu.

2. Jedynym pewnym sposobem obrony swoich praw własności jest podporządkowanie się przymusowemu podmiotowi którego reprezentanci nie posiadają żadnego z aktywów składających się na ten podmiot, a mimo to przypisują sobie prawo wywłaszczenia dowolnego prywatnego właściciela dla celów, których wartość i użyteczność wyceniają wyłącznie oni sami.

3. Gospodarka wolnorynkowa, której uczestnicy – chcąc prosperować – muszą zaopatrywać się wzajemnie w produktywne dobra i usługi, a także ponosić pełną odpowiedzialność za swoje potencjalne niepowodzenia, może przetrwać wyłącznie wtedy, gdy podda się ją regulacji monopolistycznej grupy osób bezproduktywnych, które zawsze mogą obciążyć osoby produktywne kosztami swoich błędów i porażek.

4. Państwowy przymus jest niezbędny do egzekwowania umów, a mimo to rzekoma „umowa społeczna”, mająca ustanawiać państwo, może zostać wyegzekwowana bez udziału jakiegokolwiek meta-państwa, tym samym stając się samoegzekwującą się anomalią.

5. Zarządcy dowolnego monopolistycznego aparatu przemocy i przymusu używają go z pobudek dobroczynnych, ale jeśli mieliby zaprzestać używania metod opartych na przemocy (tzn. działalności politycznej) i zwrócić się w kierunku metod opartych na dobrowolności (tzn. działalności rynkowej), to ich altruizm natychmiast zamieniłby się w nikczemny, powodowany chciwością egoizm.

6. Państwa, instytucje odpowiedzialne za 200 milionów okrutnych śmierci w samym tylko wieku XX-tym, mają zapewniać ochronę przed “prywatną przestępczością”, która nawet w swej najbardziej zorganizowanej formie międzynarodowych sieci mafijnych nie zdołała zebrać nawet najmniejszego promila etatystycznego żniwa śmierci.

7. Stan anarchii pomiędzy jednostkami, z których każda może finansować swoje działania zasadniczo wyłącznie z własnej kieszeni, doprowadziłby do niedopuszczalnej eskalacji przemocy i rozlewu krwi, ale stan anarchii pomiędzy państwami, z których każde może obciążyć kosztami swoich działań (również działań wojennych) prywatne jednostki, jest znośnym i stosunkowo bezpiecznym układem.

8. Brak zewnętrznego, monopolistycznego podmiotu egzekwującego umowy pomiędzy prywatnymi jednostkami doprowadziłby do niekończącej się serii konfliktów, ale brak zewnętrznego, monopolistycznego podmiotu egzekwującego umowy pomiędzy poszczególnymi organami państwa nie uniemożliwia im współpracowania w sposób skuteczny, a nawet dobroczynny.

9. Scedowanie zadania podtrzymywania sprawiedliwości na podmiot, który jest działającym w oparciu o przemoc monopolem, nie doprowadzi do regularnego wypaczania sprawiedliwości tak, aby służyła ona sprawie rzeczonego podmiotu.

10. Pojęcie równowagi sił, zgodnie z którym rządzący kontrolują rządzonych, a rządzeni rządzących, nie stoi w sprzeczności z zasadą brzytwy Ockhama, sugerującą, że rzeczoną równowagę mogłaby z powodzeniem zachowywać pojedyncza grupa jednostek samorządnych.

11. Rządzeni są wystarczająco kompetentni, by wybierać swoje władze, ale nie dość kompetentni, by wybierać sposób wydatkowania swoich pieniędzy.

12. Para podróżników, którzy natknęliby się na siebie w środku odludnego lasu, nie skoczyłaby sobie natychmiast do gardeł tylko z powodu strachu przed państwowymi sankcjami.

13. Instytucja, która siłowo narzuca swoje usługi ochronne innym, jednostronnie ustala ich cenę i delegalizuje wszelką potencjalną konkurencję w tej dziedzinie, nie będzie starała się czerpać zysków z wzniecania konfliktów i umożliwiania ich rozwoju, nie zaś z ich rozwiązywania lub niedopuszczania do ich zaistnienia.

14. Przymusowa konfiskata nieruchomości prywatnego właściciela nie musi być koniecznie uznana za naruszenie czyjegokolwiek prawa (pod warunkiem, że wywłaszczonemu przekazana zostanie “adekwatna rekompensata pieniężna”), ale niezgoda na odebranie sobie części samodzielnie wytworzonego lub zdobytego na mocy dobrowolnej umowy dobytku jest jednoznacznym przestępstwem.

15. Prawa polityczne poprzedzają prawa własności, co przypuszczalnie oznacza, że osoby zawierające rzekomą “umowę społeczną” spisały ją na ścianie jaskini przy świetle ogniska, chyba że warunki świata sprzed zawarcia wspomnianej umowy umożliwiały (przynajmniej) wytworzenie kapitału niezbędnego do zakwaterowania uczestniczących stron oraz zaopatrzenia ich w papier i atrament w jakiś tajemniczy, bezwłasnościowy sposób.

16. Fakt posiadania wystarczająco dużej klienteli przekształca coś, co zwyczajowo uznaje się za rabunek, w coś, co przyjmuje się jako część niezbędnej służby społecznej.

17. Stosunkowo mała grupa ludzi jest w stanie posiąść więcej wiedzy i podejmować bardziej kompetentne decyzje w kwestii kierowania czynnościami danego społeczeństwa, niż cała reszta rzeczonego społeczeństwa.

18. Pojęcie równości wobec prawa dopuszcza istnienie funkcjonalnych przywilejów.

19. Bezwarunkowy szacunek dla zasady nieagresji jest ‘absolutystyczny’, ale bezwarunkowy szacunek dla państwowego ustawodawstwa taki nie jest.

20. Powszechne występowanie etatyzmu świadczy o pożyteczności etatyzmu, tak jakby tego samego nie można było kiedyś powiedzieć o astrologii, niewolnictwie czy usankcjonowanej prawnie dyskryminacji rasowej.

21. Każde z powyższych twierdzeń jest rzetelnie uzasadnione, zarówno teoretycznie jak i empirycznie, podczas gdy zaprzeczenie któregokolwiek z nich leży zasadniczo poza granicami rozsądnej dyskusji.

Po wymienieniu powyższych (lub innych) powodów, warto skonfrontować etatystę z zadaniem obrony rzekomo umiarkowanego charakteru doktryny, którą wspiera. I nawet jeśli przełknie on podaną mu gorzką pigułkę i uzna radykalizm etatyzmu, warto wówczas natychmiast skonfrontować go z kolejnym, równie trudnym zadaniem – z zadaniem udowodnienia domniemanej spójności etatyzmu. Jeśli nasz rozmówca przyzna się do porażki również na tym polu, nie powinniśmy być intelektualnie zaskoczeni, ale możemy być przynajmniej taktycznie usatysfakcjonowani.

29 kwietnia 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ten Briefly Described Problems of Egalitarianism

I tend to agree with Isaiah Berlin and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn that liberty and equality do not naturally go hand in hand. In fact, more often than not the choice between them is an either/or one. Let us make no mistake here – I am not referring to the kind of equality than no libertarian would hesitate to endorse, that is, the equality of possessing the natural rights to life, property and the pursuit of one’s conception of happiness within the bounds drawn by the principle of non-initiation of force. I am referring to coercive, redistributive equality of wealth, whose promotion forms the backbone of the doctrines grouped under the name of egalitarianism. In the following text, I would like to offer a brief description of what I take to be the ten most flagrant problems with the doctrines under consideration.

But before I move on to their enumeration, let me deal first with the question of whether a libertarian society could not voluntarily implement the goals of wealth egalitarianism. It appears that on a conceptual level there is no necessary incompatibility between the two – it is possible to conceive of a community in which people endowed with superior profit-making skills retain for themselves only that portion of their income which suffices for living a modest life, while committing the rest to various charitable endeavors. However, since there is also no guarantee that entrepreneurially skilled people in a free society would act in such a manner, egalitarians take it upon themselves to ensure that they do by making society sufficiently and relevantly unfree. Furthermore, even in the society of the good Samaritan businessmen, the people in question would still have to wield a substantial amount of capital if they were to be capable of generating huge streams of wealth ready for charitable distribution. In other words, even such a society would have to remain distinctly inegalitarian. Thus, the traditional opposition between liberty and (wealth) equality is, as far as I can see it, real and substantive.

Having commented on the above attempt at reconciling the two values under consideration, let us now proceed to the gist of the text, namely, to a concise list of what I take to be some of the main weaknesses of egalitarianism, and hence, by implication, some of the major strong points of libertarianism:

1. Simple egalitarianism, i.e., the doctrine that one should strive to make everyone’s resources unqualifiedly equal, can easily lead to straightforwardly disastrous consequences. Imagine the following scenario: there are five mortally ill people and 20 vials of medicine ready for distribution (let us assume that they belong to a charitable institution committed to fighting mortal diseases). In order to be cured, one needs to drink five vials. Now, if the distribution of vials were to be left to a follower of simple egalitarianism, he would give four vials to each of the ill, thus saving none of them. In light of the above, it might be argued that the egalitarian exhibited the virtue of impartiality, leaving all the persons involved to an equally bad fate, but it would be absurd to argue that his brand of egalitarianism is in any sense geared towards helping the needy or expanding the range of social opportunities.

2. What about a more sophisticated and at the same time more mitigated form of egalitarianism, claiming that what matters is not equalizing people’s resources simpliciter, but lifting everyone to a position of sufficient financial security? Although in my opinion clearly more reasonable than the previous proposal, this particular approach remains highly problematic. First of all, it still involves a forcible imposition on the whole society of a single vision of how to solve the problem of poverty. As a result, it undermines the efficiency of a variety of voluntary, cooperative methods aimed at achieving the same goal, as well as discourages people from utilizing such methods in the first place. More specifically, it undermines the spontaneously emergent institutions of family, neighborly kindness and general human charity, while encouraging dependence, inaction and even parasitism.

3. Furthermore, it involves a forcible imposition on the society of a single vision of what constitutes a (sufficiently) good life, an act which I deem as incapable of escaping the objection of moral arbitrariness. After all, one does not have to be an egalitarian (or even a sufficientarian) to care for the plight of those who are dying of hunger (predominantly due to being subject to the rule of political regimes with equality of wealth on its banners), but I presume that no self-conscious non-egalitarian would be willing to make a pronouncement that, say, homelessness is a phenomenon to be unconditionally fought with by means of compulsory wealth transfers. In other words, I presume that every self-conscious non-egalitarian would be capable of comprehending that for some people homelessness may be a distinct and valuable way of life (which, incidentally, has a distinguished religious tradition known under the name of itinerant asceticism), and therefore refrain from exploiting the homeless as a source of excuses for one’s coercive meddling with the lives of others.

4. In connection with the previous point, it has to be noticed that as soon as it becomes clear that there is no non-arbitrary (or, equivalently in this context, no non-subjective) standard of what constitutes a sufficiently good life, sufficientarianism turns out to be a dog-in-the-manger doctrine, based on the coercive demand that one should unconditionally get for free what someone else acquired through his socially useful work or through a third party’s voluntary display of good will. Unhampered transactions between consenting agents hardly need moral justification (provided they do not involve aggression towards third parties), since they are mutually accepted as utility-increasing. Consequently, meritocracy is a natural, morally justifiable arrangement of social relations, in which those who manage to engage in the greatest number of the abovementioned transactions are, unsurprisingly, those who acquire the greatest number of their socially valuable fruits. Egalitarianism, on the other hand, turns the order in question on its head by demanding that the stream of goods and valuables flow specifically into the hands of those who did nothing to deserve their acquisition. If the sole reason for enacting such a flow were to be thought of as an attempt to increase the psychological satisfaction of the undeserving, then it is difficult to conceive of this process as anything else than a symptom of institutionalized envy.

5. But what if the “deserving” mentioned in the previous point do not really deserve their success? If, pace Rawls, free-market deserts and entitlements result from “the accidents of natural endowment and the contingencies of social circumstance”, then is it obviously morally justifiable for the most effective market participants to keep all the fruits of their labor to themselves? There are two issues to be remarked upon here. First of all, even if we were to accept the doctrine of absolute genetic determinism and conclude that the notion of desert is therefore devoid of substance, it would not imply that the market distribution of wealth is in any sense unjust. After all, nature does not use anybody as a means for the attainment of its own (or anyone else’s) ends, while the same cannot be said about egalitarian-minded politicians and bureaucrats. Thus, at the very least, even given absolute genetic determinism, the consequences of everybody’s using their natural endowments in a society based on voluntary interactions are just in the Kantian sense (which is not a totally unimportant point in the context at hand, since Rawlsianism is considered to derive its inspiration from Kantianism). Secondly, if the notion of desert is to lose its force (since all achievements are ultimately traceable to unearned genetic advantage), then the poor no more deserve their position of welfare beneficiaries than the rich deserve their position of the social elite. If the poor do not deserve their poverty, then why should they deserve welfare payments forcibly extracted from the equally undeserving rich? In sum, as soon as we buy into Rawlsian genetic determinism, every argument for coercive compensatory redistribution of wealth fails by default.

6. At this point, one might suggest that the fundamental Rawlsian insight does not refer to how things are in the actual world, but to how they would be like in the hypothetical world in which any deliberation as to what constitutes just rules of social organization would involve placing its participants behind the “veil of ignorance” (i.e., in the situation in which they are unaware of their natural endowments, inherited wealth, etc.). The decisive problem with this suggestion is that the whole concept of deliberating behind the veil of ignorance appears to be straightforwardly self-contradictory. After all, how could people in such a scenario start to deliberate in the first place if they were to be unaware of the extent of their reasoning skills and the shape of their psychological dispositions? Claiming, as Rawls does, that under such hypothetical conditions people would decide to create a coercively egalitarian social safety set requires assuming that they would be equally and highly risk-averse, as well as equally prone to statist rather than voluntary solutions, which is both a flagrant petitio principii and a violation of his own theoretical premises. Furthermore, to the degree that the actual world resembles the Rawlsian “original position”, his assumptions concerning people’s risk-aversion, intellectual courage and active self-reliance are falsified – after all, every entrepreneurial decision is made from behind a partial veil of ignorance, and it is certainly not the case that people (entrepreneurs and wage earners alike) do not often embark on highly risky (and sometimes highly successful) ventures.

7. By advocating the creation of a monopolistic, redistributive apparatus of coercion (it has to be remembered that egalitarianism, in almost all of its varieties, is an essentially statist doctrine), egalitarians support the establishment of a fundamentally inegalitarian order – i.e., an order in which a select group of people hold the socially legitimized power to use initiatory violence against others, while the latter have very little practical possibility of defending themselves, let alone effectively abolishing the legitimacy of the former group’s control over their lives. What egalitarians routinely seem to overlook is the fact that monopolized coercion, far from equalizing wealth or any other value, is uniquely suited for undermining and ultimately destroying every value apart from its own lust for control. Hence, even if the endorsement of full-blown redistributive statism were to carry any hope for genuine equalization of wealth, the accompanying danger of opening the door to practically unlimited use of initiatory violence should give pause to even the most ardent supporters of compulsory transfers of income.

8. Even if egalitarians were to succeed in imposing their project on society and effecting massive, regular redistributions of wealth from the supposed haves to the supposed have-nots, they would still have to reckon with the very likely possibility that the latter group will upset their preferred pattern of wealth distribution simply on account of its representatives still being individuals with different and fundamentally unequal needs, preferences, hopes, ambitions, etc. This, coupled with the fact that the haves possess superior skills with regard to satisfying those needs, preferences, etc., would very probably initiate the process of reverse redistribution, which could be stopped only by equalizing (read: forcibly narrowing down) the set of spending opportunities that the have-nots would be free to pursue.

9. It is often claimed that one of the most persuasive rationales for egalitarianism stems from the law of diminishing marginal utility, i.e., from the fact that a marginal dollar is worth much less to a millionaire than to a pauper. However, even though the law in question is indisputably true, it does not justify egalitarian policy prescriptions. Three points should be made here. Firstly, utility is a purely subjective, psychological magnitude, measurable only on an ordinal scale and only from the first-personal point of view. As a result, utility cannot be aggregated interpersonally and translated into any social welfare function. Secondly, no external observer can determine whether a marginal dollar accruing to a given person does not make her cross a utility threshold, meaning that this marginal dollar, qua being the final element of a unit belonging to a new class of goods, is worth more to this person than the previous one (as an illustration, think about the difference between the 99th and the 100th element of a collection comprising 100 elements). And thirdly, even if it were possible to perform interpersonal comparisons of utility and forcibly redistribute wealth to the greater benefit of society as a whole, it seems more than likely that repeated use of such a procedure would drain the entrepreneurial energy of the market, while at the same time encouraging dependence, flippancy and laziness, thus eventually decreasing social utility in the long run.

10. Finally, it has to be realized that a society organized around the libertarian principle of unrestricted freedom of association can contain all sorts of voluntary, egalitarian enclaves (communes, cooperatives, neighborly networks, monasteries, etc.), but not the other way around. In other words – libertarianism is compatible with voluntary egalitarianism, but coercive egalitarianism is incompatible with libertarianism. And since nearly every currently fashionable form of egalitarianism is essentially coercive, while there is by definition no coercive version of libertarianism, we can get quite a clear picture of the motivating forces behind these respective doctrines. It is no good claiming that a free society would not voluntarily endeavor towards achieving valuable egalitarian goals and therefore needs to be forced to do so. After all, given such a view of human nature, why should the coercers be thought of as any more egalitarian-minded than the coerced? Furthermore, why not morally require of egalitarians that they finance the implementation of their goals out of their own, rather than someone else’s income? Again, if, in contrast to everyone else, they are supposed to be exempt from the requirement of financing one’s activities out of one’s own, contractually acquired money, then such an exemption would have to be part of a flagrantly inegalitarian order.

This concludes my list of the ten most conspicuous flaws in the doctrine of egalitarianism. If they can be remedied, then I am open to reconsider my skeptical assessment of its feasibility and desirability. But until then, I will continue to regard libertarianism as the only game in town.

[Reprinted from]

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Critique of Block on Abortion and Child Abandonment

The present paper offers a critique of Block on the issues of abortion and child abandonment. Block regards aborting a fetus or abandoning a child as an instance of exercising one’s libertarian right of expelling trespassers from one’s private property. I argue that the above reasoning is flawed due to the lack of the appreciation of the fact that if one voluntarily initiates the causal chain which leads to someone else ending up on his property, the latter person cannot be considered a trespasser. Furthermore, in the light of the above observation, any direct effects resulting from that person’s eviction should be considered the responsibility of the property’s owner. All of this follows from the simple logical fact that in all links of the causal chain under consideration the owner is the ultimate causal agent.

[Read More]

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jaka piękna katastrofa

Gdyby nie to, że przewidzenie trwającej obecnie recesji i określenie kierunku jej rozwoju nie wymagało zdolności wieszczych, ostatnie wydarzenia w Grecji można by uznać za spełnienie się kolejnego kasandrycznego proroctwa ekonomistów Szkoły Austriackiej. Mieszanka bankowości centralnej, odgórnie narzuconego pieniądza fiducjarnego i keynesistowskiej recepty na pobudzanie rozwoju gospodarczego poprzez deficytowe wydatki ponownie okazała się wybuchową.

Wypadki greckie zdają się znamionować nadejście drugiego etapu recesji – po kryzysie instytucji finansowych przyszła pora na kryzys długu publicznego. W istocie są one przedsmakiem tego, co może przydarzyć się i Stanom Zjednoczonym, jeśli tamtejsza administracja kontynuować będzie działania oparte na przeświadczeniu, iż z zapaści gospodarczej można wydobyć się metodami politycznymi, bądź – by użyć dosadniejszego synonimu – nakazowo-rozdzielczymi. Jeśli natomiast feralnym skutkom tych ostatnich spróbuje się ona przeciwstawić poprzez monetyzację zaciągniętego długu, wówczas kryzys wejdzie w swą trzecią i zarazem ostatnią fazę – fazę załamania walutowego.

Bardzo podobny scenariusz grozi też strefie euro. Poza funkcjonowaniem parytetu kruszcowego (lub szerzej – towarowego), jednym z głównych ograniczników inflacyjnej samowoli dowolnego banku centralnego jest możliwość osłabienia się emitowanej przez niego waluty względem innych walut narodowych. Kluczowym ogranicznikiem budżetowej nieodpowiedzialności dowolnego rządu jest z kolei groźba, że to na jego kadencję przypadnie konieczność ogłoszenia niewypłacalności bądź programu oszczędnościowego niezbędnego do jej uniknięcia. Projekt polityczny, jakim jest wspólna waluta europejska, usuwa oba te ograniczniki – skutkuje on zjawiskiem „tragedii wspólnoty”, a więc pojawieniem się wśród krajów członkowskich strefy euro pobudki do tego, by zadłużać się kosztem swoich co zapobiegliwszych partnerów. Pobudka ta, co nietrudno było przewidzieć, bardzo szybko udzieliła się wszystkim członkom wspólnoty, niemal całkowicie pozbawiając ją cnoty zapobiegliwości. Dość wspomnieć, że co prawda nie wszystkie kraje eurostrefy znajdują się obecnie w sytuacji Grecji (czy powoli zmierzających w jej ślady Hiszpanii czy Portugalii), ale żaden z nich nie spełnia uzgodnionych wspólnie kryteriów dyscypliny budżetowej (włączając będące ich głównym orędownikiem Niemcy).

Rzecz nie tylko w czysto ekonomicznej, oczywistej obserwacji, że nie jest w stanie przetrwać jakakolwiek wspólnota gospodarcza, której wszyscy członkowie są względem siebie dłużnikami. Rzecz również w spostrzeżeniu natury moralnej, że we wspólnocie wyposażonej w pojedynczą walutę i mogący mnożyć ją na zawołanie biurokratyczny lapis philosophorum, każdy jej uczestnik zostaje poddany pokusie ukradkowego redystrybuowania tytułów własności od ogółu posiadaczy w kierunku siebie i swojej bezpośredniej klienteli; co więcej, każdy jego sukces na tym polu tym mocniej skłania pozostałych do podjęcia podobnych, w dłuższej perspektywie destruktywnych dla całości działań. Tak było w przypadku amerykańskiego kartelu polityczno-bankowego i tak jest w przypadku „kartelu” złożonego z krajów eurostrefy, w ramach którego Europejski Bank Centralny już w tej chwili udziela bankom komercyjnym świeżo wytworzonych, niskooprocentowanych pożyczek, akceptując jako porękę wyżej oprocentowane obligacje greckiego rządu.

W świetle powyższych uwag coraz prawdopodobniej brzmi prognoza Jima Rogersa, wedle której eurowalucie pozostało jeszcze najwyżej 20 lat życia. Warto jednak w tym kontekście dodać, że słabością euro nie jest jego „wyłączność” ani „pojedynczość”, lecz to, że jest ono jedynie kolejnym pieniądzem fiducjarnym. Aby takim być przestało, konieczne byłoby zlikwidowanie szeregu biurokratycznych przeszkód, począwszy od zniesienia wobec euro (oraz fiducjarnych walut narodowych) statusu wyłącznego środka płatniczego oraz zniesienia podatku od obrotu złotem (bądź jakimkolwiek innym kruszcem lub towarem mającym szansę na stanie się powszechnie akceptowanym, twardym zabezpieczeniem tytułów własności wykorzystywanych w transakcjach rynkowych).

Rezultatem wyżej wymienionych zmian byłaby prywatyzacja (lub rozumiana po hayekowsku „denacjonalizacja”) pieniądza, która z kolei wymusiłaby prywatyzację strat nieodpowiedzialnych rządów oraz ich klienteli w sektorze bankowym. Podobny rozwój wydarzeń nie tylko zabezpieczyłby własność prywatną politycznie nieustosunkowanych jednostek, ale też wyeliminowałby pokusę nadużycia wśród tych dobrze ukorzenionych w świecie polityki.

Czy wypadki greckie stwarzają jakiekolwiek szanse na pójście spraw w tym kierunku? Wydaje się, że faza kryzysu długu publicznego jest tu znacznie bardziej obiecująca niż poprzedzająca ją faza kryzysu instytucji finansowych. O ile punktem zapalnym tej pierwszej były kłopoty podmiotów powszechnie uznawanych za wolnorynkowe, podczas gdy ich etatystyczne fundamenty zdołały skutecznie ukryć się w tle, o tyle niewypłacalność rządową i deficyty budżetowe trudno w jakikolwiek sensowny sposób powiązać z domniemanymi słabościami gospodarczego liberalizmu. Trudno też będzie w związku z tym pozostać dłużej w ukryciu rzeczywistym winowajcom – i nawet jeśli społeczna reakcja na aktualne wydarzenia przybierze formę apelu o zastąpienie złego etatyzmu etatyzmem dobrym, będzie to musiał być etatyzm dużo potulniejszy, oszczędniejszy i mniej uciążliwy dla wolnego rynku niż ten obecny. A to oznacza, że w obliczu rozgrywającej się na naszych oczach „pięknej katastrofy” pozostaje miejsce na ostrożny, ale optymistyczny uśmiech.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Libertarianism and "National Tragedies"

I suppose that the issue I am raising falls into the category of libertarian ethics. Its background is this: little more than a week ago a substantial number of high-ranking Polish politicians, including the president, perished in a plane crash. Being a Polish national myself and currently staying with my family in Poland, I have since been witnessing an unprecedented outpouring of collective grief, lamentation and exultation of the deceased (most of whom were politically divisive figures, by no means universally popular). In other words, I have been observing a gigantic and almost religiously fervent consolidation of the local statist instincts. As many commentators put it: we have to forget about our political differences for the moment; after all, it was the president of all of us and the representatives of our state. This they take to be the final, indubitable statement on the matter. The question of whether there are some individuals who refuse to think in such categories in the first place is beyond the pale of public discussion.

I tend to agree with my like-minded friends that it is in such moments that libertarians (especially those of the completely non-statist variety) are expected by the mainstream to realize how hopelessly outnumbered they are. I would hope that it is also in such moments that libertarians come to realize how profoundly important is the intellectual shift that we are aiming for and how volatile and largely illogical (in a purely descriptive sense of the term) are the attitudes we oppose.

I regard such moments as the touchstones of our intellectual and moral strength. It is not easy to resist the immense psychological pressure of mass movements and crowd emotions. It is even more difficult when one has to disentangle genuine, humane pity for tragically killed human beings from the cool, logical realization that there is no reason to pity those people more than any group of strangers wiped out in a large-scale disaster. In fact, in such cases as the one I am mentioning there seems to be a reason to be particularly restrained in one’s grief, since the victims belonged to a profession that the libertarian worldview univocally condemns as parasitical and destructive.

However, being surrounded by ubiquitous images of what appears to be authentic and sincere compassion, one can be tempted to share in the emotions of the moment – not in order to prostrate before the idol of the state, but in order to console one’s fellow human beings. This temptation has to be resisted if one is to avoid falling into an emotional trap set by the statists. In fact, I believe that given enough determination, it is even possible to turn the danger in question into an advantage. The point is to rationalize away some part of the grief of those whom one regards as at least minimally open to logical argumentation. More specifically, it is to make them realize that no matter how personally nice, warm and charming the deceased could have been (and on such occasions the state apparatus of propaganda will do everything it can to bombard everyone with endless testimonies to that effect), all their professional activities were ultimately based on a barbarous method of violent coercion.

And yet, I also believe that in such contexts the message in question should be delivered in a manner that is as subtle as it is intransigent. It needs to be noticed that the historical evidence seemingly points to the uncomfortable conclusion that on the whole the majority of people do not normally care about being free. As astonishing as it might appear to sound, contented half-slavery seems – historically and globally speaking – easier to accept than the struggle for full-blooded freedom. Furthermore, the rejection of the notion of individual responsibility breeds support for collective father figures with coercive powers – those who proclaim themselves capable of solving one’s problems by foisting them upon someone else. In other words, support for statism appears to me to be a combination of emotional factors and a certain twisted logic of intellectual laziness. Bearing that in mind, it might be the case that in the context of "national tragedies", where the emotional part of statism is the overwhelmingly dominant one, it becomes possible to tap into these emotions with the message of liberty, which, if done subtly and inoffensively enough, can substantially weaken the accompanying half-reasoned justifications for submitting to the Leviathan.

In sum, I suppose that my final, optimistic take on the matter would be this: even those events that appear to exemplify the triumph of coercive collectivism can, on closer inspection, reveal the contours of its fundamental weaknesses. Statism may yet turn out to be a colossus on clay legs – and it may so turn out at the most unexpected moment.

[Reprinted from]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Twenty-one Reasons Why Statism Is a Radical and Radically Incoherent Theory

Upon encountering the claim that some non-statist doctrine (e.g., anarcho-capitalism) is practically unsafe due to its radical character, it is worthwhile to point to the glaring radicalism of every form of statism. Having thus suggested, however, that it is not radicalism per se that is a problem with any given socio-economic doctrine, it is even more worthwhile to underscore that statism is not simply radical, but radical in its incoherence. It seems a very fitting description for the theory that claims, among others:

1. That the only sure way of protecting oneself against violence, aggression and coercion is to help institute and continually support a vast, monopolistic apparatus of institutionalized violence, aggression and coercion.

2. That the only sure way of protecting one’s private property rights is to help institute and continually support a coercive entity whose representatives do not own any of the said entity’s assets, and yet arrogate to themselves the right to expropriate any private property owner for the purposes whose utility it is up to them to appraise.

3. That the free market economy, whose participants – in order to prosper – have to supply one another with productive goods and services, as well as bear the full financial responsibility for the potential failures of their actions, can survive only when subjected to the regulation of a monopolistic group of non-producers, who can always shift the costs of their failures onto the shoulders of producers.

4. That statist coercion is necessary to enforce contracts, and yet the alleged “social contract” that is supposed to establish the state needs no meta-state to enforce it, thus effectively becoming a self-enforcing anomaly.

5. That the wielders of any given monopolistic apparatus of compulsion and aggression use it out of altruistic motives, but if they were to stop using coercive methods (political activity) and instead turn to voluntary methods (market activity), their altruism would be immediately supplanted by base, greed-driven egoism.

6. That states, institutions responsible for some 200 million cruel deaths in the 20th Century alone, are supposed to offer protection from “private criminals,” who even in their most organized form of international mafia networks never managed to take even the tiniest fraction of the statist death toll.

7. That the state of anarchy among individuals, each of which can generally finance his activities out of his private pocket only, would lead to an intolerable escalation of violence and bloodshed, but the state of anarchy among states, each of which can impose the costs of its activities (including warfare) on private individuals, is at least a tolerable and relatively peaceful arrangement.

8. That the lack of an external, monopolistic enforcer of agreements among individuals would lead to endless conflict, but the lack of an external, monopolistic enforcer of agreements among various organs of the state does not prevent them from cooperating effectively and even benevolently.

9. That ceding the task of maintaining justice onto an entity that is both monopolistic and coercive will not lead to it continually perverting justice in its favor.

10. That the notion of checks and balances whereby the rulers control the ruled and the ruled control the rulers does not violate the principle of Occam’s razor, suggestive of the vision in which a single group of self-ruling individuals keeps itself in peaceful balance just fine.

11. That the ruled are wise enough to choose their rulers, but not wise enough to choose the way to use their own money.

12. That a pair of travelers bumping into each other in the middle of a desolate forest do not immediately get at each other’s throats only because they fear being punished by the state.

13. That an institution which forcibly imposes its protective services on others, unilaterally determines their price and excludes all competition in this area will not attempt to benefit from initiating conflicts or letting them develop rather them resolving them or preventing their occurrence.

14. That compulsory expropriation of an individual’s private property need not be considered as a violation of anyone’s rights (given unilaterally determined “due monetary compensation”), but refusing to give up a portion of one’s independently created or contractually acquired belongings is a straightforward violation.

15. That political rights precede property rights, which presumably means that the supposed original social contract was concluded by a bonfire in a cave and written down on the cave wall, or else the conditions of the pre-contract world allowed for creating the capital necessary to (at least) house the social contractors and provide them with ink and paper in some mysterious, propertyless way.

16. That having a sufficiently large clientele turns what is normally considered a robbery into what is commonly accepted as part of a necessary social service.

17. That a relatively small group of people is capable of possessing more knowledge and making more informed decisions with regard to directing the activities of any given society than the whole rest of the society in question.

18. That the notion of equality before the law leaves place for functional privileges.

19. That unconditional respect for the principle of non-aggression is “absolutist,” but unconditional respect for state-legislated law is not.

20. That the prevalence of statism indicates the advantageousness of statism, as if the same could not be once said about astrology, witch-hunting, slavery and legal racial discrimination.

21. That each of the above assertions is solidly justified, both theoretically and empirically, while the negation of any of them lies essentially beyond the pale of reasonable discussion.

Having enumerated these (or other) reasons, it is worthwhile to confront the statist with the task of defending the allegedly moderate character of the doctrine he espouses. And even if he bites the bullet on this one and acknowledges statism’s radicalism, one should unhesitatingly confront him with another, equally difficult task – that of defending statism’s putative coherence. If he admits failure on this score as well, we should not be intellectually surprised, but we might at least feel tactically satisfied.

[Reprinted from]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Well-Informedness and rationality: a philosophical overview

There is a strong tendency in modern moral philosophy to impose restrictions on the range of desires that are to count as genuinely contributive to the desirer’s welfare. Perhaps the most frequent among such proposals is that only appropriately “informed” or “rational” desires are to count. I shall argue that the philosophical assumptions that underlie such suggestions suffer from the influence of equilibrium methodology and thus fall prey to the same shortcomings as it does. I shall also point to the similarities between the Austrian approach to rationality and the concept of “satisficing” (under a particular interpretation), which entered moral philosophy from the rational choice literature. Finally, I shall note that one crucial aspect of rationality that is ordinarily taken by the Austrians to be implicit in human action (i.e., the ability to grasp the logical relationship between the concepts that comprise the content of one’s aims and desires) should not be considered as such.

[Read More]

Friday, February 19, 2010

Syndrom moralnej dysocjacji

Jak świat długi i szeroki, myślenie znacznej części społeczeństw na tematy gospodarcze zdaje się być obciążone przypadłością, którą można by określić jako syndrom moralnej dysocjacji. Syndrom ten streścić można w następujących dwóch tezach: 1) światopogląd moralny jednostki jest wysoce rozczłonkowany i labilny, a to, który jego człon wypłynie na powierzchnię, uwarunkowany jest przyjęciem przez jednostkę takiej lub innej roli 2) pozornie przeciwstawne cele moralne (bądź elementy światopoglądu moralnego) nie mogą być realizowane w obrębie jednej roli.

Nie zamierzam dociekać tutaj, jakie są źródła tak znacznego rozpowszechnienia się rzeczonej przypadłości. Być może pewną rolę odgrywa tu błędne przenoszenie na grunt moralny zasady podziału pracy albo uproszczone myślenie na temat społeczeństw w kategoriach klasowych, oderwane od rzetelnej teorii własności. Kilka innych potencjalnych powodów próbowałem też nakreślić w tekście pt. „Imperatyw Kontroli”. Tutaj natomiast chcę skupić się na opisie samego zjawiska i naszkicowaniu jego struktury, co może okazać się pożyteczne w zakresie wypracowywania efektywnych metod uwalniania innych spod jego wpływu.

Wnioski wypływające z przyjęcia pierwszej tezy składającej się na tytułowy syndrom opierają się na argumencie a contrario – skoro centralną rolę w światopoglądzie moralnym przedsiębiorców, właścicieli film i „magnatów” sektora prywatnego odgrywa mgliście rozumiany „interes własny” oraz nieco konkretniej rozumiana „maksymalizacja zysków” (pieniężnych), osią światopoglądu przedstawicieli tzw. „służby publicznej” – a więc polityków, urzędników i biurokratów – musi być równie mgliście rozumiany „interes ogółu” oraz maksymalizacja „zysków moralnych”. Być może budowanie tego rodzaju przeciwieństw bierze się z naturalnej chęci wiary w to, że skoro istnieją osoby zaabsorbowane interesem własnym, muszą też istnieć osoby zatroskane o interes cudzy. Dlaczego więc nie mieliby być to ci, którzy, technicznie rzecz biorąc, nie są w stanie maksymalizować swych zysków finansowych w taki sposób, w jaki robią to posiadacze aktywów kapitałowych, gdyż sami nie są właścicielami zarządzanych przez siebie zasobów, lecz ich kadencyjnymi opiekunami?

Nasuwająca się tu nieodparcie gorzka prawda jest taka, że jakkolwiek kuszące (i może przez to naturalne) jest powyższe rozumowanie, jest ono również zupełnie bezpodstawne. Jeśli nie istnieje żaden niearbitralny powód, by po danej grupie spodziewać się doskonalszego moralnie zachowania (jakim to powodem mogłoby być wywodzenie się z rasy aniołów, ale jakim z pewnością nie są deklaracje wyborcze ani solenne zapewnienia), to należy spodziewać się po niej dokładnie tego, co po wszystkich innych grupach, biorąc jednocześnie poprawkę na środowiskową strukturę pobudek. Władza korumpuje, a władza absolutna korumpuje w sposób absolutny, jeśli zaś przez władzę rozumiemy między innymi brak możliwości bankructwa w przypadku miernego spełniania życzeń swych protegowanych, to istnieją poważne powody, by przedstawicieli sektora publicznego uważać nie tylko za równie samolubnych co przedstawicieli sektora prywatnego, lecz również za dalece mierniejszych w zakresie wypracowywania jakichkolwiek społecznie pożądanych dóbr i usług. Jakkolwiek zdroworozsądkowy i pozornie oczywisty, powyższy wniosek był przez całe tysiąclecia wypierany ze świadomości społeczeństw, o czym świadczyć może fakt, że jego wyraźne i dogłębne wyartykułowanie w wieku XX przez przedstawicieli Szkoły Wyboru Publicznego i Szkoły Austriackiej zostało uznane za nowatorską i odkrywczą obserwację.

Ale nawet w świetle powyższych konkluzji syndrom moralnej dysocjacji nie zwalnia swojego uchwytu. Zdecydowana większość wciąż obstaje przy istnieniu sektora publicznego jako koniecznego dopełnienia dla sektora prywatnego, podchodząc do sprawy jak do transakcji wiązanej – owszem, nadużycia związane z brakiem ograniczeń w postaci rachunku ekonomicznego i możliwości bankructwa są bardzo groźne, ale mimo wszystko jeszcze groźniejszy byłby brak istnienia pewnych form pomocy społecznej, których dostarczyć mogą wyłącznie instytucje pozarynkowe. Niniejsze rozumowanie uwidacznia wpływ drugiej tezy składającej się na tytułowy syndrom – w opinii przyklaskujących jej osób bycie dbającym o zysk przedsiębiorcą wyklucza jednoczesne bycie bezinteresownym i skutecznym dobroczyńcą, a przynajmniej bycie dobroczyńcą równie skutecznym, co państwowy urzędnik.

Innymi słowy, teza ta wymusza przekonanie, że tak jak do wytwarzania zysków pieniężnych niezbędna jest klasa zawodowych przedsiębiorców, tak do przekuwania tychże zysków w społeczny dobrobyt niezbędna jest klasa zawodowych rozdzielców. Żadna z tych klas nie jest w stanie spełniać celów drugiej z uwagi na swoją ściśle ograniczoną rolę moralną, zdeterminowaną przez działalność, w jaką się angażuje. W związku z tym żadna z tych klas nie jest też w stanie przejąć metod działania drugiej, a więc jako że rozdzielcy nie zajmują się wytwarzaniem zysków, a przedsiębiorcy nie są skłonni dobrowolnie oddawać ich części na cele społeczne, ci pierwsi – aby uzyskać konieczne dla swej działalności fundusze – muszą uciec się do rozwiązań przemocowych.

Podobnie jak w przypadku rozumowania wypływającego z tezy pierwszej, powyższy wywód jest całkowicie nieuzasadniony. Jeśli tylko zgodzić się z wyprowadzonym wcześniej wnioskiem, iż struktura pobudek urzędniczych bądź politycznych sprzyja wytwarzaniu społecznie pożądanych dóbr i usług w znacznie mniejszym stopniu niż ta typowa dla sektora prywatnego, tym bardziej nieprawdopodobne staje się twierdzenie, iż świadczyć w odpowiedniej ilości nieodpłatną pomoc społeczną można tylko albo miernie, albo wcale. Innymi słowy, tym bardziej niewiarygodną staje się dychotomia skazująca na wybór pomiędzy systemem pełnej swobody gospodarczej i zerowej pomocy społecznej a systemem ograniczonej swobody gospodarczej zrównoważonej należytym zakresem pomocy społecznej.

Podsumowując, z jednej strony nie jest tak, że byt mający określać świadomość jest fatalnie rozczłonkowany i w pełni zmieniający się wraz ze zmianą ról społecznych, z drugiej zaś strony nie jest tak, że (przynajmniej z pozoru) bardzo odrębne cele nie mogą być realizowane w obrębie jednej roli. Powyższe wnioski, połączone z tymi wypływającymi z rzetelnej analizy ekonomicznej, podważają z kolei tezę o jakiejkolwiek pozytywnej funkcji spełnianej przez podmioty działające na zasadach przemocowych.

Wydawałoby się też, że niniejsze rozważania sugerują, iż zdemaskowanie syndromu moralnej dysocjacji jako zupełnie bezzasadnego uprzedzenia wymaga wcześniejszego uczulenia rozmówcy na konieczność uwolnienia się od innych, bardziej generalnych przypadłości, w znakomity sposób opisanych przez Fryderyka Bastiata – przypadłości patrzenia tylko na to, co widać, nie zaś również na to, czego nie widać, oraz patrzenia tylko na to, co jest, nie zaś również na to, co by być mogło. Wypracowanie jak najskuteczniejszych metod podobnego uczulania stanowi już jednak część szerszej strategii edukacyjnej, którą – jak sądzę – każdy zwolennik dobrowolności i swobody działania musi zaplanować i wykształcić osobiście. W czym wszelkiego powodzenia mu życzę.