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批判 R. Nozick及公民自由權主義 - S. Metcalf
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The Liberty Scam

Why even Robert Nozick, the philosophical father of libertarianism, gave up on the movement he inspired.

Stephen Metcalf, 06/20/11

Recently, I overheard a fellow Amtraker back off a conversation on politics. "You know, it's because I'm a libertarian," he said, sounding like a vegetarian politely declining offal. Later that afternoon, in the otherwise quite groovy loft I sometimes crash at in SoHo, where one might once have expected, say, Of Grammatology or at least a back issue of Elle Decor, there sat not one but two copies of something called The Libertarian Reader. "Libertarianism" places one -- so believes the libertarian -- not on the political spectrum but slightly above it, and this accounts for its appeal to both the tricorne fringe and owners of premium real estate. Liberty's current bedfellows include Paul Ryan (his staffers are assigned Atlas Shrugged), Glenn Beck (he flogged The Road to Serfdom onto the best-seller list), Slate's Jack Shafer, South Park, the founder of Whole Foods, this nudnik, P.J. O'Rourke, now David Mamet, and to the extent she cares for anything beyond her own naked self-interest -- oh, wait, that is libertarianism -- Sarah Palin.

With libertarianism everywhere, it's hard to remember that as recently as the 1970s, it was nowhere to be found. Once the creed of smart set rogues, H.L. Mencken among them, libertarianism all but disappeared after the Second World War. What happened? The single most comprehensive, centrally planned, coordinated governmental action in history -- that's what happened. In addition to defeating fascism, the Second World War acted as a magnificent sieve, through which almost no one, libertarians included, passed unchanged. (To pick one example: Lionel Robbins, the most prominent anti-Keynesian before the war, served as director of the economic division of the British War Cabinet; after the War, Robbins presided over the massive expansion of the British higher education system.) By the '50s, with Western Europe and America free, prosperous, happy, and heavily taxed, libertarianism had lost its roguish charm. It was the Weltanschauung of itinerant cranks: Ronald Reagan warming up the Moose Lodge; Ayn Rand mesmerizing her Saturday night sycophants; the Reader's Digest economist touting an Austrian pedigree.

Libertarians will blanch at lumping their revered Vons -- Mises and Hayek -- in with the nutters and the shills. But between them, Von Hayek and Von Mises never seem to have held a single academic appointment that didn't involve a corporate sponsor. Even the renowned law and economics movement at the University of Chicago was, in its inception, heavily subsidized by business interests. ("Radical movements in capitalist societies," as Milton Friedman patiently explained, "have typically been supported by a few wealthy individuals.") Within academia, the philosophy of free markets in extremis was rarely embraced freely -- i.e., by someone not on the dole of a wealthy benefactor. It cannot be stressed enough: In the decades after the war, a kind of levee separated polite discourse from free-market economics. The attitude is well-captured by John Maynard Keynes, whose scribble in the margins of his copy of The Road to Serfdom reads: "An extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in Bedlam."

And then came Robert Nozick.

To my knowledge, in writing Anarchy, State, and Utopia, his breathtaking defense of libertarianism, Nozick never accepted a dime other than from his employer, the philosophy department at Harvard University. (Unless it was from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, the "minimally structured academic institution bordering on individualist anarchy" as Nozick put it, where he wrote the book's early chapters.) In fact, Nozick was the disinterested intellectual that laissez-faire had been searching for since Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act of 1933. Nozick started out a classic of the type: a Brooklyn kid, one generation off the shtetl, toting a dog-eared Plato. But along the way to a full Harvard professorship, attained at the age of 30, he'd lost the socialist ardors of his upbringing. "For a while I thought: 'Well, the arguments are right, capitalism is the best system, but only bad people would think so,' " he once told a journalist. "Then, at some point, my mind and my heart were in unison."

The Times Literary Supplement ranks Anarchy, published in 1974, as one of the "100 Most Influential Books Since the War," and that, I think, is underselling it. To this day, left intellectuals remember where they were when they first heard Nozick's arguments against not just socialism but wealth redistribution of any kind. "It is no exaggeration to say," the Telegraph wrote, after Nozick died in 2002, "that Nozick, more than anyone else, embodied the new libertarian zeitgeist which, after generations of statist welfarism from Roosevelt's New Deal to Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, ushered in the era of Reagan and Bush, pere et fils." Prior to Anarchy, "liberty" was a virtual synonym for rolling back labor unions and progressive taxation, a fig leaf for the class interests of the Du Ponts and the B.F. Goodriches. After Anarchy, "liberty" was a concept as worthy of academic dignity as the categorical imperative.

As a moral philosopher, Nozick was free to stretch liberty further than even an Austrian economist. That is, he was able to separate out a normative claim (that liberty is the fundamental value of values, and should be maximized) from an empirical claim (that the most efficient method for allocating goods and services is a market economy). Free to pursue liberty as a matter of pure principle, Nozick let nothing stand in his way. Should we tax the rich to feed the poor? Absolutely not, as "taxation of earnings is on par with forced labor." (Or more precisely: "Taking the earnings of n hours of labor is like taking n hours from the person.") Well, isn't at least some redistribution necessary on the basis of need? "Need a gardener allocate his services to those lawns which need him most?"

To the entire left, Nozick, in effect, said: Your social justice comes at an unacceptable cost, namely, to my personal liberty. Most distressingly, to this end Nozick enlisted the humanist's most cherished belief: the inviolability of each human being as an end unto himself -- what Nozick, drawing on Immanuel Kant, calls "the separateness of persons." For Nozick, the principle of the separateness of persons is close to sacred. It affirms, as he writes, "the underlying Kantian principle that individuals are ends and not merely means; they may not be sacrificed or used for the achieving of other ends without their consent. Individuals are inviolable."

I like to think that when Nozick published Anarchy, the levee broke, the polite Fabian consensus collapsed, and hence, in rapid succession: Hayek won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974, followed by Milton Friedman in '75, the same year Thatcher became Leader of the Opposition, followed by the California and Massachusetts tax revolts, culminating in the election of Reagan, and … well, where it stops, nobody knows.

True, a recondite book by an obscure professor wouldn't have made any difference if it hadn't caught the drift of public feeling. But also true: Public feeling might have remained begrudging, demagogic, sub-intellectual if the public's courage hadn't been shored up (or its conscience bought off, depending on your point of view) by intellectuals like Nozick. Take Margaret Thatcher's infamous provocation -- "There's no such thing as society" -- with its implication that human beings are nothing more than brutishly competitive atoms. Now listen to its original formulation, in Anarchy: "But there is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good. There are only individual people, different individual people, with their own individual lives." The tone is different -- it's Kantian, not Hobbesian -- and so is the moral emphasis: Society is unreal not because individuals are brutish but because they are dignified

With the solemn invocation of individual lives, the liberal humanist ought to push away from the table, take a deep breath, and ask whether any of this remarkable assault is true. Can it really be that eliminating the income tax shows maximum moral respect for others? I thought a fraction of a rich man's fortune is to the rich man only money but to a starving man is freedom. Am I a moral idiot? It is impossible without writing a book (and many have) to do Anarchy justice. Nonetheless, one argument from its pages is considered its most central, most famous, most bewitching. This is the so-called "Wilt Chamberlain" argument, and pausing to pick it apart, we can begin to see why Nozick's defense of libertarianism, as Nozick himself came to believe, collapsed.

When I think with my own brain and look with my own eyes, it's obvious to me that some combination of civil rights, democratic institutions, educational capital, social trust, consumer choice, and economic opportunity make me free. This is not what Nozick is arguing. Nozick is arguing that economic rights are the only rights, and that insofar as there are political rights, they are nothing more than a framework in support of private property and freedom of contract. When I study American history, I can see why America, thanks to a dense bundle of historical accidents, is a kind of Lockean paradise, uniquely suited to holding up liberty as its paramount value. This is not what Nozick is arguing. Nozick is arguing that liberty is the sole value, and to put forward any other value is to submit individuals to coercion.

How does so supple a mind end up committed to so seemingly brittle a belief system? The leap of faith here is, no surprise, in the construal of liberty itself, which unlike other values (says the libertarian) makes no restricting or normative claims on anybody; liberty is instead like oxygen -- invisible, pervasive, enabling. Every other value, meanwhile, represents someone else's deranged will-to-power by which, under the guise of high-mindedness or disinterest, he would "pattern" all of society to his own liking. "Almost every suggested principle of … justice is patterned," Nozick says, by way of setting up the Chamberlain argument. "To each according to his moral merit, or needs, or marginal product, or how hard he tries …" By way of showing us how an unpatterned, or libertarian, society is more just than any patterned one, Nozick asks the reader to consult her own preference, and choose a society patterned in any way she sees fit -- Marxist, bell-curve meritocracy -- you pick. Now call that pattern D1. Then, Nozick writes:

"Wilt Chamberlain is greatly in demand by basketball teams, being a great gate attraction. (Also suppose contracts run only for a year, with players being free agents.) He signs the following sort of contract with a team: In each home game twenty-five cents from the price of each ticket of admission goes to him. (We ignore the question of whether he is "gouging" the owners, letting them look out for themselves.) … Let us suppose that in one season one million persons attend his home games, and Wilt Chamberlain ends up with $250,000, a much larger sum than the average income and larger even than anyone else has. Is he entitled to his income? Is this new distribution D2 unjust?"

Nozick assumes our dream society is in some respect egalitarian; that to prevent Wilt from grossly out-earning his fellow citizens, the system we've imagined in D1 will curtail Chamberlain's right to the whole fruit of his own labor. To the liberal humanist, Nozick is saying: You don't take your finest hero, Kant, seriously, because if you did, you would never sacrifice Wilt's autonomy to the social planner's designs. To the socialist, he is saying: You don't take your own finest hero, Marx, seriously, because if you did, you would never expropriate his surplus value (via taxation) as blithely as the capitalist. And to his own fellow Harvard professors, he is saying: You don't take your own finest hero -- yourself -- seriously, because if you did, why would you ever curtail the prerogative of a superstar?

For all its intriguing parts, Anarchy can be thought of as one long Excuse me? in response to one Harvard colleague in particular, the political philosopher John Rawls. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls argued that our talents are not really our own, because they are not morally intrinsic to us. Rawls asked us to imagine that we know nothing about our life advantages -- that how gifted, smart, attractive, charismatic we are, as well as the socio-economic status of our parents, lie behind a veil of ignorance. He then asked us to design an insurance policy against poor accidents of birth. That insurance policy would be "justice," in the form of a society that was fair even from the perspective of its least well-off citizen -- who, after all, passing through the veil of ignorance, might turn out to be us.

To this, Nozick replies: All that intellectual pomp, arrayed to convince me that my talents are not mine? But my talents aren't like fire and disease. They aren't fatalities I insure against. Quite the opposite: My talents constitute the substance of who I am, and I am right to bank on them. Having cornered us with Kant, with Marx, and, most of all, with our own vanity, Nozick concludes, "No end-state principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference with people's lives," confident that "interference" is sufficiently morally offensive to carry the day.

Here the liberal humanist needs to relax, take a second breath, and realize that, while clever, the Wilt Chamberlain argument is maybe a little too clever -- i.e., what seems on first blush to be a simple case of freedom from interference is in fact a kind of connivance. Anarchy not only purports to be a defense of capitalism, but a proud defense of capitalism. And yet if Anarchy would defend capitalism unashamedly, why does its most famous argument include almost none of the defining features of capitalism -- i.e., no risk capital, no capital markets, no financier? Why does it feature a basketball player and not, say, a captain of industry, a CEO, a visionary entrepreneur? The example as Nozick sets it out includes a gifted athlete (Wilt Chamberlain), paying customers (those with a dollar to see Wilt play) -- and yet, other than a passing reference to the team's "owners," no capitalist!

In Nozick's example, we know what portion of every ticket (25 cents) represents the monetary equivalent of every paying customer's desire to see not the game itself but Wilt Chamberlain play in it. Bearing in mind that all thought experiments beg our indulgence without requiring our stupidity, notice that, in order to abstract out this allegiance from allegiance to the team, to the sport, etc., and give it a dollar figure, Nozick has assigned what amounts to a market price to Wilt's talents while also suggesting the price was achieved by negotiation between Wilt and the owner. Now, here we must pause, and note that "price" is not an incidental feature of a libertarian belief system -- it is what obviates the need, beyond enforcing the basic rule of law, for government. To a libertarian, price is, in effect, the conscience of society finding its highest expression in every swipe of the debit card. Just as the thought experiment, "If there were purple cows on the moon, they would certainly be purple" tells us nothing about the moon, cows, or the color purple, assuming a world in which labor and management arrive at gentleman's agreements -- and in which those agreements capture the precise value, down to the penny, of labor's marginal product -- tells us very little about justice.

Put another way, Nozick is cornering us into answering a ridiculously loaded question: If every person were a capitalist, and every capitalist a human capitalist, and every human capitalist was compensated in exact proportion to the pleasure he or she provided others, would a world without progressive taxation be just? To arrive at this question, Nozick vanishes most of the known features of capitalism (capital, owners, means of production, labor, collective bargaining) while maximizing one feature of capitalism -- its ability to funnel money to the uniquely talented. In the example, "liberty" is all but cognate with a system that efficiently compensates the superstar.

The connivance is thus hidden in plain sight. "Wilt Chamberlain" is an African-American whose talents are unique, scarce, perspicuous (points, rebounds, assists), and in high demand. We feel powerfully the man should be paid, and not to do so -- to expect a black athlete to perform for (largely) white audiences without adequate compensation -- raises the specter of the plantation. But being a star athlete isn't the only way to make money. In addition to earning a wage, one can garnish a wage, collect a fee, levy a toll, cash in a dividend, take a kickback, collect a monopoly rent, hit the superfecta, inherit Tara, insider trade, or stumble on Texas tea. For each way of conceiving wealth, there is at least one way of moralizing its distribution. The Wilt Chamberlain example is designed to corner us -- quite cynically, in my view -- into moralizing all of them as if they were recompense for a unique talent that gives pleasure; and to tax each of them, and regulate each of them, according to the same principle of radical noninterference suggested by a black ballplayer finally getting his due.

To my critique of the Chamberlain example, a libertarian might respond: Given frictionless markets, rational self-maximizers, and perfect information, the market price for Wilt's services could not stay separable from the market price to see Wilt play. (Visionary entrepreneurs would create start-up leagues, competing leagues would bid up prices for the best players.) In a free-market paradise, capital will flow to talent, until rewards commensurate perfectly with utility. Maybe; and maybe in a socialist paradise, no one will catch the common cold. The essence of any utopianism is: Conjure an ideal that makes an impossible demand on reality, then announce that, until the demand is met in full, your ideal can't be fairly evaluated. Attribute any incidental successes to the halfway meeting of the demand, any failure to the halfway still to go.

How could a thinker as brilliant as Nozick stay a party to this? The answer is: He didn't. "The libertarian position I once propounded," Nozick wrote in an essay published in the late '80s, "now seems to me seriously inadequate." In Anarchy democracy was nowhere to be found; Nozick now believed that democratic institutions "express and symbolize … our equal human dignity, our autonomy and powers of self-direction." In Anarchy, the best government was the least government, a value-neutral enforcer of contracts; now, Nozick concluded, "There are some things we choose to do together through government in solemn marking of our human solidarity, served by the fact that we do them together in this official fashion ..."

We're faced then with two intriguing mysteries. Why did the Nozick of 1975 confuse capital with human capital? And why did Nozick by 1989 feel the need to disavow the Nozick of 1975? The key, I think, is recognizing the two mysteries as twin expressions of a single, primal, human fallibility: the need to attribute success to one's own moral substance, failure to sheer misfortune. The effectiveness of the Wilt Chamberlain example, after all, is best measured by how readily you identify with Wilt Chamberlain. Anarchy is nothing if not a tour-de-force, an advertisement not just for libertarianism but for the sinuous intelligence required to put over so peculiar a thought experiment. In the early '70s, Nozick -- and this is audible in the writing -- clearly identified with Wilt: He believed his talents could only be flattered by a free market in high value-add labor. By the late '80s, in a world gone gaga for Gordon Gekko and Esprit, he was no longer quite so sure.

Even in 1975, it took a pretty narrow view of history to think all capital is human capital, and that philosophy professors, even the especially bright ones, would thrive in the free market. But there was a historical reason for Nozick's belief: the magnificent sieve. Harvard's enrollment prior to World War II was 3,300; after the war, it was 5,300, 4,000 of whom were veterans. The GI Bill was on its way to investing more in education grants, business loans, and home loans than all previous New Deal programs combined. By 1954, with the Cold War in full swing, the U.S. government was spending 20 times what it had spent on research before the war. "Some universities," C. Wright Mills could write in the mid-'50s, "are financial branches of the military establishment." In the postwar decades, the American university grew in enrollment, budget and prestige, thanks to a substantial transfer of wealth from the private economy, under the rubric of "military Keynesianism." As a tentacle of the military-industrial octopus, academia finally lost its last remnant of colonial gentility.

At the same time the university boomed, marginal tax rates for high earners stood as high as 90 percent. This collapsed the so-called L-curve, the graphic depiction of wealth distribution in the United States. The L-curve lay at its flattest in 1970, just as Nozick was sitting down to write Anarchy. In 1970, there were nearly 500,000 employed academics, and their relative income stood at an all-time high. To the extent anyone could believe mental talent, human capital, and capital were indistinguishable, it was thanks to the greatest market distortion in the history of industrial capitalism; and because for 40 years, thanks to this distortion, talent had not been forced to compete with the old "captains of industry" with the financiers and the CEOs.

Buccaneering entrepreneurs, boom-and-bust markets, risk capital -- these conveniently disappeared from Nozick's argument because they'd all but disappeared from capitalism. In a world in which J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt have been rendered obsolete, reduced to historical curios, to a funny old-style man, imprisoned in gilt frames, the professionals -- the scientists, engineers, professors, lawyers and doctors -- correspondingly rise in both power and esteem. And in a world in which the professions are gatekept by universities, which in turn select students based on their measured intelligence, the idea that talent is mental talent, and mental talent is, not only capital, but the only capital, becomes easier and easier for a humanities professor to put across. Hence the terminal irony of Anarchy: Its author's audible smugness in favor of libertarianism was underwritten by a most un-libertarian arrangement -- i.e., the postwar social compact of high marginal taxation and massive transfers of private wealth in the name of the very "public good" Nozick decried as nonexistent.

And the screw takes one last turn: By allowing for the enormous rise in (relative) income and prestige of the upper white collar professions, Keynesianism created the very blind spot by which professionals turned against Keynesianism. Charging high fees as defended by their cartels, cartels defended in turn by universities, universities in turn made powerful by the military state, many upper-white-collar professionals convinced themselves their pre-eminence was not an accident of history or the product of negotiated protections from the marketplace but the result of their own unique mental talents fetching high prices in a free market for labor. Just this cocktail of vanity and delusion helped Nozick edge out Rawls in the marketplace of ideas, making Anarchy a surprise best-seller, it helped make Ronald Reagan president five years later. So it was the public good that killed off the public good.

Since 1970, the guild power of lawyers, doctors, engineers, and, yes, philosophy professors has nothing but attenuated. To take only the most pitiful example, medical doctors have evolved over this period from fee-for-service professionals totally in control of their own workplace to salaried body mechanics subject to the relentless cost-cutting mandate of a corporate employer. They've gone from being Marcus Welby -- a living monument to public service through private practice -- to being, as one comprehensive study put it, harried "middle management." Who can argue with a straight face that a doctor in 2011 has more liberty than his counterpart in 1970? What any good liberal Democrat with an ounce of vestigial self-respect would have said to Nozick in 1970 -- "Sure, Bob, but we both know what your liberty means. It means power will once again mean money, and money will be at liberty to flow to the top" -- in fact happened. The irony is that as capital once again concentrates as nothing more than capital (i.e., as the immense skim of the financiers), the Nozickian illusion (that capital is human capital and human capital is the only capital) gets harder and harder to sustain.

Sustained it is, though. Just as Nozick would have us tax every dollar as if it were earned by a seven-foot demigod, apologists for laissez-faire would have us treat all outsize compensation as if it were earned by a tech revolutionary or the value-investing equivalent of Mozart (as opposed to, say, this guy, this guy, this guy, or this guy). It turns out the Wilt Chamberlain example is all but unkillable; only it might better be called the Steve Jobs example, or the Warren Buffett* example. The idea that supernormal compensation is fit reward for supernormal talent is the ideological superglue of neoliberalism, holding firm since the 1980s. It's no wonder that in the aftermath of the housing bust, with the glue showing signs of decay -- with Madoff and "Government Sachs" displacing Jobs and Buffett in the headlines -- "liberty" made its comeback. When the facts go against you, resort to "values." When values go against you, resort to the mother of all values. When the mother of all values swoons, reach deep into the public purse with one hand, and with the other beat the public senseless with your dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Calling yourself a libertarian is another way of saying you believe power should be held continuously answerable to the individual's capacity for creativity and free choice. By that standard, Thomas Jefferson, John Ruskin, George Orwell, Isaiah Berlin, Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault, and even John Maynard Keynes are libertarians. (Orwell: "The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians." Keynes: "But above all, individualism … is the best safeguard of personal liberty in the sense that, compared with any other system, it greatly widens the field for the exercise of personal choice.") Every thinking person is to some degree a libertarian, and it is this part of all of us that is bullied or manipulated when liberty is invoked to silence our doubts about the free market. The ploy is to take libertarianism as Orwell meant it and confuse it with libertarianism as Hayek meant it; to take a faith in the individual as an irreducible unit of moral worth, and turn it into a weapon in favor of predation.

Another way to put it -- and here lies the legacy of Keynes -- is that a free society is an interplay between a more-or-less permanent framework of social commitments, and the oasis of economic liberty that lies within it. The nontrivial question is: What risks (to health, loss of employment, etc.) must be removed from the oasis and placed in the framework (in the form of universal health care, employment insurance, etc.) in order to keep liberty a substantive reality, and not a vacuous formality? When Hayek insists welfare is the road to serfdom, when Nozick insists that progressive taxation is coercion, they take liberty hostage in order to prevent a reasoned discussion about public goods from ever taking place. "According to them, any intervention of the state in economic life," a prominent conservative economist once observed of the early neoliberals, "would be likely to lead, and even lead inevitably to a completely collectivist Society, Gestapo and gas chamber included." Thus we are hectored into silence, and by the very people who purport to leave us most alone.

Thanks in no small part to that silence, we have passed through the looking glass. Large-scale, speculative risk, undertaken by already grossly overcompensated bankers, is now officially part of the framework, in the form of too-big-to-fail guarantees made, implicitly and explicitly, by the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, the "libertarian" right moves to take the risks of unemployment, disease, and, yes, accidents of birth, and devolve them entirely onto the responsibility of the individual. It is not just sad; it is repugnant.

http://www.slate.com/id/2297019/



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The Liberty Scam, Part II



Responding to the critics of my essay on Robert Nozick, the philosophical father of libertarianism.



Stephen Metcalf, 06/24/11



In writing about Robert Nozick earlier this week, I wanted to ask whether our drift to the right has at its core a basic misconception about the relationship between human nature and individual rights, between talent and just deserts, and whether a version of that misconception could be found a) in germ form in Nozick's 1974 treatise and b) virtually everywhere, implicit and explicit, in contemporary American discourse. Much of the critical reaction to my essay has been merely spastic or courtesy of peopleaccustomed to the shady comforts of the fringe. Obscurity, munificent sponsorship, and echo-chamber "debates" -- each contributes to the presumption one is shepherd to a pure flame and not a minor water carrier for class interests.



Setting aside the predictable liberty-league seizures, there is an error in the piece, there is a potential conceptual muddle in it, and one especially bizarre criticism has been levied against it. All three ought to be addressed outright.



Delong points out, I ran together Keynes' angry marginalia in Hayek's review of Keynes' A Treatise on Money with Keynes' angry published review of Hayek's Prices and Production, and then -- an act of wishful thinking -- placed the comment in the margins of Keynes' copy of Road to Serfdom. Delong is right in saying Keynes wrote Hayek telling him he admired Road ("a grand book"), but since Delong's primary interest is in pampering his own self-image as the scourge of a lazy world, he leaves his reader with a false, or at least, incomplete impression.



By the time Keynes wrote to Hayek (a letter Delong might study for its tone of confident generosity) he had all but crushed Hayek as a potential rival and regarded him with some pity, as evidenced by his ginger-to-the-point-of-condescending tone. He is gently pointing out to Hayek that though his principles may be sound, they are all but meaningless. ("But as soon as you admit the extreme is not possible … you are, on your own argument, done for …") Nothing about my overall point -- that Keynes' patronizing attitude toward Hayek was representative of the "polite" academic attitude toward libertarianism after the war -- is refuted by my admittedly careless error.



Julian Sanchez and Mark Thompson make related points about



whether or not a single four-page example is sufficiently representative of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, much less of Nozick, much less of all


libertarianism, to hang my argument on. On the narrow point, as I made clear, an entire book is necessary to grapple with ASU, but an essay seems an appropriately scaled venue to pick apart one of its more renowned and persuasive examples. (A critical technique common to Biblical, Talmudic, Koranic, literary, and philosophic scholarship, however ardently Sanchez implies my CV doesn't qualify me to write about his beloved hero.)


More crucially: Is it possible to



a) construe the example, as I have, as a somewhat willful, even sinister muddle of a historical reality (of the plight of the black athlete) with an abstract argument about justice, interference, and coercion and



b) extrapolate from that muddle to the current state of political debate, influenced now as it never has been by self-proclaimed libertarians?



On point a) I'm tempted to let the essay speak for itself, but let me add: Why, if Nozick did not want to game his example, did he choose Wilt? After all, if Sanchez is correct, isn't the point made just as well with, say, a happy-go-lucky doofus who rides a wave of Internet exuberance and cashes out big, all while adding to the world precisely zero utility? Absent an injustice in each step (the prospectus is accurate, the bankers price the IPO fairly) the resulting gross inequality itself cannot be regarded as unjust. But I didn't choose Wilt Chamberlain; Nozick chose Wilt Chamberlain. I.E., he wanted to harvest all of the sentimental associations from a historical reality while leaving behind all its real-world complications. Sanchez takes this criticism as indication I'm unfamiliar with thought experiments. But if my thought experiment begins, "Imagine a robber baron, glutted on Christmas-day turkey, while little Tiny Tim attenuates, hungry in the corner …" am I still doing philosophy?



On point b), Thompson argues that even if the Chamberlain argument is flawed, I've ratcheted down on a relatively narrow set of passages, then suddenly pulled back to invalidate Nozick, libertarianism, etc. -- and that this is finally too argumentatively tendentious.



To understand why this criticism is strictly merited but ultimately trivial, imagine the country had swung to the left over the past 30 years, as far as it has now swung to the right. An entire news network devotes itself around the clock to keeping the left's Communist fringe in a state of permanent arousal. Its talking heads nightly pound their respective tables with copies of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; its anchors routinely quote St. Simone and Fourier. The message is unrelenting: A libertarian menace awaits us -- a world of vast inequalities, poor health care, and slow, chronically delayed passenger trains -- should we lower taxes even a fraction.



Now imagine my Lefty Land self wrote a piece (and, for the record, my Lefty Land self would write such a piece) arguing that Rawls, while a great philosopher, had helped along the country's drift left; that his Theory of Justice, while reprieving an emergent yuppie class from the awful burdens of self-making (allowing them to exit the rat race, turning instead to family, worship, aesthetic contemplation, and large public projects aimed at elevating the public good -- principally, air-conditioned trains that go 280 mph) had finally chased away too many animal spirits; and that a return to market discipline was, on balance, a good thing.



Reversing ideological polarities, I hope, better measures the extent to which a climate of extremism has become our new normal, while pointing up how willfully distractive, not to say silly, many responses to my piece have been. My interest in Nozick is not pedantic; it is informed by a general reality that I find, to put it mildly, alarming. The point of much of the reaction to the piece is to throw as many obstacles (in Lefty Land, the equivalents would be Don't you know Marx once wrote X? Don't you know Fourier once repudiated Y? Don't you know Rawls was an intellectual giant? Don't you know Rawls was only a minor figure?) in the path of an enlightened discussion about the market and whether it conduces to just or merely random outcomes. The very cunning muddle at the heart of the Chamberlain example helps tease out how confused we still are about this question.



Especially bizarre to me, in light of the context of the piece, is the claim that Nozick never sincerely repudiated libertarianism. In his essay "The Zig-Zag of Politics," he wrote, quite clearly, "The libertarian position I once propounded now seems to me seriously inadequate," adding that joint action can only take on full symbolic coloration when undertaken on behalf of the social whole and concluding: "The point is not simply to accomplish the particular purpose -- that might be done through private contributions alone -- or to get the others to pay too -- that could occur by stealing the necessary funds from them -- but also to speak solemnly in everyone's name, in the name of the society, about what it holds dear." That Nozick in an interviewlater repudiated this repudiation only demonstrates the man could not make up his mind about libertarianism, for or against -- hardly an advertisement for the ware.



Let me conclude by acknowledging that high-church libertarians, following Nozick and Hayek, are (mostly) honest about the market's inability to distribute fair outcomes. That is not what the market is for; fair enough. But if the intellectual right truly is committed to high-church libertarianism, of the kind that argues market outcomes may be unjust but do maximize negative liberty, then the left has an easy task: point out the injustices, then allow voters to choose between justice and negative liberty. But the left has so committed itself to market economics, to squaring the circle of Keynes and Hayek (and basking its gifted Third Way eminences -- men such as Larry Summers and his mini-me Brad Delong -- in numinous intellectual authority) that it's lost its touch at pointing out even the most grotesque market injustices. The point of my piece was less to say, "Look at these godawful libertarians," than to say, "Look what we have done to ourselves."



http://www.slate.com/id/2297590/




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The Broad and the Narrow, or How to Beat a Dead Horse

Mark Thompson, 06/22/11

[Ed. Note - I realize this is beating a dead horse at this point, but in my defense, the below was primarily written prior to the last two or three posts on the Metcalf article.  Also, I'm more interested in discussing the logical fallacy herein than in defending Nozick, though it is inevitable that in the process I must defend Nozick, at least to some extent].

There’s an argumentative fallacy that I’ve noticed a number of times in the last few months in any number of places.  The fallacy occurs where one takes an argument that seeks to prove a thinker’s fairly narrow point and assumes that the argument is supposed to be an absolute proof of a much broader point commonly associated with the thinker.   When the argument intended to demonstrate the narrow point shockingly(!) turns out wholly inadequate to prove the broader point, the broader point is proclaimed disproven and the argument dismissed as absurd.  It’s not quite a straw man fallacy – quite often the thinker really does believe the broader point, and the narrow point may well be closely related to the broader point or even one early step in a logical proof of the broader point.  But in this fallacy, the narrow point is never intended as a standalone proof of the broader point yet is treated as if it were.

A perfect example of this is the much-derided-by-libertarians recent Slate piece by Stephen Metcalf, and the pieces in support thereof, purporting to disprove libertarianism largely by attacking Robert Nozick’s famous “Wilt Chamberlain” argument.

Anyhow, Metcalf writes of the Chamberlain argument:

“Put another way, Nozick is cornering us into answering a ridiculously loaded question: If every person were a capitalist, and every capitalist a human capitalist, and every human capitalist was compensated in exact proportion to the pleasure he or she provided others, would a world without progressive taxation be just? To arrive at this question, Nozick vanishes most of the known features of capitalism (capital, owners, means of production, labor, collective bargaining) while maximizing one feature of capitalism—its ability to funnel money to the uniquely talented. In the example, “liberty” is all but cognate with a system that efficiently compensates the superstar.”

Similarly, Jon Chait pairs Metcalf’s claims with a discussion of corporate executive pay that appears to be at odds with actual corporate performance and states that:

“If one wants to mount a Nozickian moral defense of unvarnished inequality, these are the sorts of facts one ought to explain.”

As E.C. Gach points out, Wes Alwan provides a good summary of Metcalf’s attempt to engage Nozick:

Nozick can only assign liberty the overriding value he does, argues Metcalf, by assuming that absent government interference, recompense naturally lines up with talent and hard work, and so to interfere would always be unjust. Which is to say that the markets naturally find a way to give everyone what they deserve.

The trouble with these approaches is that they all assume Nozick’s use of the Chamberlain Argument was intended as a standalone defense of unvarnished inequality or capitalism and that Nozick’s argument against redistribution assumes that, but for government interference, “recompense naturally lines up with talent and hard work.”  But it was not intended as a standalone defense, even if Nozick may have been ultimately unconcerned with unvarnished inequality or may have believed modern capitalism to be an inherently superior economic form for other reasons. The Chamberlain argument is but one step in Nozick’s attempted proof.[2]  Moreover, Nozick explicitly disclaims the idea that absent “patterned redistribution” or even government interference, recompense will naturally line up with talent and hard work.

In some ways, Nozick’s point is in fact much more subversive, and indeed is more empirical than normative.  It must be remembered first and foremost that Nozick was offering the Chamberlain argument as a logical proof to demonstrate that what he termed “patterned” systems of distribution cannot maintain the desired state of justice without restricting the choices of both the beneficiaries and the targets of the redistribution in a way that proponents of such systems would likely find unacceptable.   Nozick in fact explicitly states his point thusly:

“The general point illustrated by the Wilt Chamberlain example . . .is that no end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference in people’s lives.”[2]

The Chamberlain argument, then, exists for the limited purpose of demonstrating that inequality is not inherently unjust, or, even of it is, it cannot be rectified in a permanent manner without interfering with people’s lives in a manner that few would find acceptable.  Saying that inequality is not inherently unjust is a far, far cry from saying that it is inherently just, or even that it is more often than not just.

The Chamberlain argument merely seeks to demonstrate how an unequal distribution might (as opposed to must) result from entirely voluntary and knowing exchanges in which the least well off are not seeking to maximize what others might conceive of as their greatest benefit.  It says nothing, and does not pretend to say anything, about whether there are other situations where inequality would be unjust.

An important underlying point here, which makes Nozick’s argument so subversive, is that he’s suggesting that by reducing the concept of justice to a set formula, a “pattern,” one assures that inequality produced for undeniably just reasons is treated as indistinguishable from inequality produced entirely unjust reasons.  Indeed, Nozick gives much space to advocating for an alternative, “historical” principle of justice, in which an inquiry ought to be made as to the justness of each particular transaction.

Moreover, Nozick is most definitely not using the Chamberlain argument to claim that inequality in a purely capitalist system is inherently just.  Anarchy, State, and Utopia in fact is seemingly unconcerned with a defense of “capitalism” as that word is commonly understood.  Indeed, the word “capitalism” does not even have an entry in the book’s index, even if Nozick might have otherwise had strong feelings in favor of capitalism as compared to other extant economic models.

None of this makes the Chamberlain argument an indisputably successful rebuttal to the existence of a welfare state, though, and I don’t think Nozick would have suggested as such.  Instead, in effect, he is simply arguing here that a system of redistribution in the name of justice must be able to point to specific unjust transactions it is rectifying if the system is to avoid causing injustice itself.  It is simply not possible to say that deviations from a particular idealized pattern of distributive justice are inherently unjust, even if some or even most such deviations are a result of unjust transactions.  Except for very rare circumstances, any such pattern will ultimately have to either allow for deviations or impose otherwise unacceptable restrictions.

There may well be, and I assume are, entirely appropriate ways of defending systems of redistribution against Nozick – after all, I assume Rawls is as or more popular than Nozick 40 years later for at least some reason.  I myself think Nozick’s arguments here are ultimately unpersuasive when applied to the real world and even, I think, when applied to Nozick’s own minarchist ideal.  For instance, one could argue that the “historical” principle of redistribution is impracticable outside of the smallest society – too many unjust transactions will be impossible to identify and undo after the fact and thus the injustices caused by imposing the patterned system of redistribution are less than the injustices caused by undiscovered unjust transactions.  One could also argue that the “historical” principle lacks a sufficiently legitimate historical starting point in the real world – at this point, the proceeds of just and unjust transactions are so intermingled and impossible to unravel that it is appropriate to assume that all transactions are tainted in at least some way, and larger transactions disproportionately so.  And so on and so forth.

Those are the arguments that would be interesting and useful to hear, and indeed could well be persuasive.  But instead, by virtue of the fallacy described above, we’re left debating whether the Chamberlain argument proves or disproves the inherent justice of inequality and modern capitalism, which is an argument that can only lead to both sides ultimately resorting to their usual talking points.

[1]  I’m not at all certain that Nozick was in fact completely unconcerned with unvarnished inequality or believed modern capitalism to be inherently superior, though whether he did is irrelevant to the point here.

[2]  And even this claim of Nozick’s is qualified, as he writes that “perhaps some very weak patterns are not so thwarted” by individual choices as to require continuous intervention in people’s lives.

http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2011/06/22/the-broad-and-the-narrow/
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Nozick、公民自由權主義、與思考實驗 -- J. Sanchez
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Nozick, Libertarianism, and Thought Experiments

Julian Sanchez, 06/21/11

In a piece over at Slate, Stephen Metcalf seems determined to prove that there’s nothing too fundamentally confused to be published on the site as long as it gets in a few good jabs at libertarians. My Cato colleagues Jason Kuznicki and David Boaz have already chimed in on the topic, but I wanted to add a couple comments of my own.  In part, as David notes, this is because I’m a great admirer of Robert Nozick, who I interviewed way back in 2001 as a student at NYU. A central contention of Metcalf’s rambling essay is that Nozick—whose influence outside the academy I think he probably overstates severely—eventually totally repudiated his old libertarian views.  But, as you’ll see in the interview—and can hear him say to me for yourself—Nozick always thought of himself as a libertarian in a broad sense, right up to his final days, even as his views became somewhat less “hardcore.” (Not terribly surprising: Like many people who continue to think of themselves as “libertarians,” my own views are a good deal less extreme than those of 1974-vintage Nozick, let alone someone like Murray Rothbard, but it’s still the closest fit for how I think.)  I see it had slipped off my site in one of the updates I’ve done over the years, until I reposted it today, but it’s been floating around the Web this whole time, and you’d think a little Googling might have turned it up.

The more important question, of course, is whether Nozick’s arguments hold up, and Metcalf chooses to focus on just one very brief passage from Anarchy, State, and Utopia as representative of Nozick’s thought: A famous thought experiment that’s come to be known as the “Wilt Chamberlain Argument.”As Reihan Salam observes, there are many provocative and insightful responses to Nozick out there in the philosophical literature.  Metcalf’s is, to put it as kindly as possible, not among their number.  The first sign that we’re in for a painful read comes with a grossly unfair and factually challenged attempt to dismiss F.A. Hayek as some kind of paid corporate shill.  The second is his claim that “Nozick is arguing that economic rights are the only rights,” a claim so wildly disconnected from anything Nozick says that I’m left to wonder whether Metcalf actually read the book, or just skimmed the Wilt Chamberlain bit on the advice of a friend.

A little bit of context is needed to understand the point of the Wilt Chamberlain Argument. Nozick is taking issue with what he calls “patterned” conceptions of justice, which is to say, views on which the justice or injustice of a society’s economic arrangements can be discerned simply by looking at the distribution at a given moment. On the simplest such view, it might just be that everyone must have roughly equal shares—and so if you want to know whether the holdings in a particular society meet the standard of economic justice, you just have to look at what everyone has, and see whether it fits your criteria—which, of course, are on many theories substantially more complex than “equal shares for all.” Here Nozick sets up a dilemma for the advocate of a strongly patterned view. Suppose, he suggests, that whatever distribution you think just (whether it’s equal shares or something more convoluted) is realized in a miniature society. Enter Wilt Chamberlain:

Wilt Chamberlain is greatly in demand by basketball teams, being a great gate attraction. (Also suppose contracts run only for a year, with players being free agents.) He signs the following sort of contract with a team: In each home game twenty-five cents from the price of each ticket of admission goes to him. (We ignore the question of whether he is “gouging” the owners, letting them look out for themselves.) … Let us suppose that in one season one million persons attend his home games, and Wilt Chamberlain ends up with $250,000, a much larger sum than the average income and larger even than anyone else has. Is he entitled to his income? Is this new distribution D2 unjust?

Nozick has deliberately set this up to be as unobjectionable a historical transition between distributions as can be imagined: The primary resource Chamberlain employs is his own body and talents, and the service he provides is by any reasonable standard a sort of luxury good, such that we’re inclined to see each individual decision to transfer a relatively small amount of money to Chamberlain as genuinely voluntary and free. Metcalf—because he utterly fails to comprehend what Nozick is doing, or how this argument fits into the larger structure of Anarchy State and Utopia—imagines that this is some kind of tricky rhetorical ploy, further loaded by making the hero African-American, and raising the spectre of the plantation for anyone who would deny him the fruits of his labor.  Actually, the failure is broader than that: Metcalf seems not to really get how thought experiments typically work in philosophy, or what their function is. Because after some snarky (and stunningly obtuse) remarks about the uselessness of thought experiments that don’t sufficiently resemble reality, he goes to great pains to point out that this ginned up example involving the natural talents of a basketball superstar isn’t exactly representative of most transactions in a market economy. He then goes to still greater lengths exploring how it might be that a thinker widely regarded as a dazzling intellect even within the rarefied air of Harvard could have imagined otherwise, and left out of his thought experiment all the complicating factors that are involved in real-world economies.

The answer, of course, is that he didn’t—that wasn’t the point. In the real world, we also don’t generally find ourselves confronted with elaborate assortments of runaway trolleys that can only be stopped by pushing fat men from footbridges. In the real world, you probably couldn’t actually keep it secret if you chopped up a healthy vagrant for organs to save five ailing patients, which would raise all sorts of complicating factors. Thought experiments are not supposed to be realistic, and as such they almost never suffice on their own to yield a determinate practical conclusion on questions of ethics, let alone political philosophy. Their purpose is to strip away complicating factors by stipulation in order to get down to bare principles, usually to resolve one narrow type of abstract question by artificially isolating it, as variables are isolated in a laboratory experiment. Nozick is here setting up a dilemma: Under these idealized circumstances, from what is stipulated to be a perfectly just starting distribution by your preferred theory, a series of free choices yield a very different, and much more unequal pattern. On what we might call a strictly or strongly patterned theory, then, Nozick observes that a highly counterintuitive conclusion follows: That from a perfectly just starting point, we quickly progress to an unjust state by a series of moves themselves involving no apparent injustice, but only people’s voluntary deployment of the holdings to which your favorite pattern theory entitles them. Alternatively, one’s preferred pattern might be loose enough to permit this transfer without dubbing it unjust—in which case one acknowledges that a pattern is not all there is to it, and one must know something about the history of holdings and transfers, not merely the overall distribution, to know whether it meets standards of justice.

Metcalf seems to imagine that this four-page argument—which occurs about a third of the way through a long, dense, and in places somewhat technical book—is in itself supposed to establish the injustice of taxation and redistribution, or the justice of real-world holdings arising from existing markets. Would that political philosophy were so easy! It’s not supposed to do that at all, of course: It is meant to develop an abstract point about the inadequacy of a certain (purely patterned) way of conceiving the criteria for evaluating the justice of property holdings. Maybe the Internet has so attenuated our attention spans that Metcalf can’t quite grok the idea that a single thought experiment might not be meant to fully justify an entire sociopolitical system in the span of four pages, but serve to establish a single lemma in a much longer sustained argument—albeit one riddled with gaps by Nozick’s own admission. In his defense, I should add that I think some of Nozick’s admirers sometimes take the Chamberlain argument to prove rather more than it does. Still, next time Slate decides it wants to try to take down one of the giants of 20th century philosophy, they might consider recruiting someone else and let Metcalf stick to his beat analyzing Lady Gaga and Teen Wolf, which seems likely to be more entertaining and a lot closer to his speed.

http://www.juliansanchez.com/2011/06/21/nozick-libertarianism-and-thought-experiments/

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Yes, It Is Another Slate Fail Edition...

Brad DeLong

I suppose that it might be considered good news that libertarianism is now at the point where Slate--the website for pointless contrarianism--thinks that libertarian-bashing is part of their pointless contrarianism mission.

But I read, in Slate, from Stephen Metcalfe, that:

Stephen Metcalf: The Dilettante: In the decades after the war, a kind of levee separated polite discourse from free-market economics. The attitude is well-captured by John Maynard Keynes, whose scribble in the margins of his copy of The Road to Serfdom reads: "An extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in Bedlam"...

and I wince.

Now Keynes did write, of one of Hayek's books:

The book, as it stands, seems to me to be one of the most frightful muddles I have ever read, with scarcely a sound proposition in it beginning with page 45 [Hayek provided historical background up to page 45; after that came his theoretical model], and yet it remains a book of some interest, which is likely to leave its mark on the mind of the reader. It is an extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in bedlam...

But Keynes did not write this on the margin of any book. He did not write it by hand. He said it in print--"Keynes at his witty bitchy best", as Bruce Caldwell puts it. Keynes published it in 1931 in the journal Economica--13:34 (November), pp. 387-97, "The Pure Theory of Money: A Reply to Dr. Hayek", and it was of Hayek's Prices and Production. It was about Hayek's business-cycle theory (where, Milton Friedman used to say, Hayek "was not a great economist") and not about his moral philosophy (where, I would argue, he was a great albeit flawed economist).

What did Keynes think of The Road to Serfdom?

Here are three comments he made:

In my opinion it is a grand book.... Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement...

What we need therefore, in my opinion, is not a change in our economic programmes, which would only lead in practice to disillusion with the results of your philosophy; but perhaps even the contrary, namely, an enlargement of them. Your greatest danger is the probable practical failure of the application of your philosophy in the United States...

You admit here and there that it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. You agree that the line has to be drawn somewhere, and that the logical extreme is not possible. But you give us no guidance whatever as to where to draw it...

So how did Metcalfe come up with the idea that "how... a remorseless logician can end up in Bedlam" was Keynes's judgment of The Road to Serfdom?

If you--or at least if I--google "Keynes road to serfdom" the first four results are the "grand book.... deeply moved agreement" quote.

If you--or at least I---google "Keynes a remorseless logician can end up in bedlam" I am led rapidly as I chase links either to the Economica original or to the reprint of "The Pure Theory of Money: A Reply to Dr. Hayek" in Contra Keynes and Cambridge...

Can't anybody play this game?

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/06/yes-it-is-another-slate-fail-edition.html



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Not Even Close

John Payne, 06/21/11

Sometimes an article comes along that is so blindingly stupid and misinformed that the mind reels in a vain attempt to understand how such a thing could be published by any semi-reputable organization. In my personal experience, these articles often discuss the history of the libertarian movement or libertarian ideas. I’m certainly not contending that this is the only subject that attracts wildly inaccurate commentary like a picnic attracts ants, but it’s the one where I can spot these stories most easily.

Today’s entry is this deeply confused article on the supposedly baleful influence of philosopher Robert Nozick and his 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The only proper response to a piece this nonsensical is something like this:

Nonetheless, I am going to attempt to correct some of author Stephen Metcalf’s more glaring errors.

First, the central conceit of the article -- or at least the subtitle -- is flat out wrong. Nozick did write that “The libertarian position I once propounded now seems to me seriously inadequate.” Metcalf assumes that this statement is a renunciation of libertarianism, but that’s not what Nozick meant, as Nozick himself explained in an interview shortly before his death:

What I was really saying in The Examined Life was that I was no longer as hardcore a libertarian as I had been before. But the rumors of my deviation (or apostasy!) from libertarianism were much exaggerated. I think this book makes clear the extent to which I still am within the general framework of libertarianism, especially the ethics chapter and its section on the “Core Principle of Ethics.”

Sadly, it doesn’t get any better from there. Metcalf quotes Keynes as highly critical of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, claiming that Keynes scribbled in the margins of his copy, “An extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in Bedlam.” Again, Keynes did write that and about Hayek no less, but the line appeared in his review of the dense economic tome Prices and Production. Liberal economist Brad Delong first blogged this error and goes on to note that Keynes was actually quite found of The Road to Serfdom, calling it ” a grand book….Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement.”

Even more importantly, Metcalf drastically overstates Nozick’s importance:

I like to think that when Nozick published Anarchy, the levee broke, the polite Fabian consensus collapsed, and hence, in rapid succession: Hayek won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974, followed by Milton Friedman in ’75, the same year Thatcher became Leader of the Opposition, followed by the California and Massachusetts tax revolts, culminating in the election of Reagan, and … well, where it stops, nobody knows.

Metcalf may like to think that, but that doesn’t make it true. Don’t get me wrong -- Nozick was one of the intellectual giants of libertarianism and made the philosophy a somewhat respectable position among academic philosophers. That’s a very insular group, however, and Metcalf presents no evidence that it was Nozick’s popularity that propelled Hayek and Friedman to their Nobel Prizes. Probably because that evidence doesn’t exist.

A more plausible explanation for the Sveriges Riksbank’s recognition of Hayek and Friedman is that the Keynesian consensus was collapsing in the mid-1970s, and Hayek and Friedman offered alternative theories. The combination of slow economic growth and high inflation known as stagflation is essentially impossible under classic Keynesian models, but both the British and American economies seemed cursed with it in the 1970s. Contrary to Metcalf’s nostalgia, the 1970s were a terrible decade economically, and Keynesian economics proved inadequate to address the problems we faced. I don’t deny that Nozick was a powerful advocate for libertarianism, but the economic crisis did more to shift people’s views on economic policy in a more market oriented direction than any single thinker.

Furthermore, although Nozick played an important role in the history of libertarian ideas, I believe he has been less influential than any of the other big names, by which I mean Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard. I’ve been active in libertarian circles for nearly a decade now. I work for a free market think tank. I probably know around 1,000 libertarians personally. Yet I have not heard even a single person credit Robert Nozick for making them a libertarian. I’ve heard all the others -- more times than I can count -- but Nozick comes up only occasionally as an influence and never as the decisive one. I readily concede that this is not a scientific measure of Nozick’s influence among libertarians, but this is not a huge movement, and after working within it for this long, I think I have a pretty good sense of who the big influences are…or at least a better sense than Stephen Metcalf.

All this might be forgivable if Metcalf’s assault on Nozick’s famous Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment -- which occupies a huge chunk of the article -- was accurate and interesting. Unfortunately, Metcalf only engages with a strawman version of Nozick’s argument. Metcalf seems to think that Nozick intended for the Wilt Chamberlain example to be some kind of allegory for the economy as a whole. Instead, Nozick was simply showing why a specific pattern of wealth distribution is impossible to maintain without constant government intervention. As Auburn University philosopher Roderick Long explained in a 2002 article commemorating Nozick’s life and work:

ASU‘s most famous argument -- the “Wilt Chamberlain example” -- is also its most misunderstood. Criticizing “patterned” theories of justice -- that is, those that regard the distribution of resources in society as just only if it fits some preconceived pattern (say, equality) -- Nozick asked us to imagine a society that in fact realizes the desired pattern. He pointed out that if people are free to transfer their resources as they wish, the society will quickly deviate from the established pattern, as some individuals, like basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, become wealthy as a result of the voluntary decisions of other members of society who are willing to purchase the exercise of their talents.

If the original pattern is to be maintained at all costs, then the government must “continually interfere to stop people from transferring resources as they wish”; hence no patterned theory of justice can be implemented without “continuous interference in people’s lives” (p. 163). Nozick thus rejected patterned theories in favor of a “historical” theory, according to which a given distribution of resources, regardless of what pattern it fits, is legitimate so long as it arose through a process involving no violations of anybody’s rights.

Metcalf’s abuse of the facts are by no means limited to those detailed here, but going through all of them would require an article far longer than his original. In fact, if Slate removed everything that is incorrect or misleading in the article, they’d soon be left with nothing but prepositions. For that reason, I believe Slate’s editors should retract this piece. Not because I disagree with many of Metcalf’s philosophical principles, although that does appear to be the case, but because even with heavy editing and correction, this article is so fallacious that it detracts from public discourse.

http://www.amconmag.com/blog/2011/06/21/not-even-close-2/



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Libertarians Aren't All Selfish Jerks

Conor Friedersdorf, 06/21/11

They're said to only care about themselves. So why do they toil for other people's freedom?

With the U.S. waging multiple wars, the federal government bigger in size and scope than ever before, and civil liberties under unprecedented attack from the surveillance state, Stephen Metcalf has written a jeremiad against libertarianism, which he singles out as a force that ails America. It isn't that his whole critique is without merit. My own "pragmatic libertarian" sensibility is offended by some excesses he mentions. But there is a lot more wrong with his argument than right.

I'll address just one small part of it. He writes, as an aside, that libertarianism is the same thing as caring for nothing beyond one's own "naked self-interest." Let's devise an empirical test to see if this accurately characterizes the ideology. Over at Reason, America's leading libertarian magazine, I see that the story atop the Web site
asks, "Why is the government doing so little to end sexual assault in prisons?" It's part of their July issue, dedicated to the criminal justice system, which it labels America's "national disgrace." On Reason's June cover is Sen. Rand Paul, who has recently tried to end America's war in Libya and to add civil liberties protections to the Patriot Act. The magazine's May cover story is about teachers' unions as an impediment to reform of public schools.

Over at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, recent cases have been fought on behalf of
DC tour guides, Florida interior designers, Louisiana casket makers, Nashville limo drivers, and Utah hair braiders keen on practicing their chosen professions without having to obtain a professional license. I fail to see how IJ lawyers or their libertarian donors benefit personally from lowering barriers to entry for far flung, mostly working class clients.

Meanwhile at the Cato Institute, David Boaz is
trying to end the war on drugs, my friend Julian Sanchez is paid to explain how the federal government is using its power in the war on terrorism to expand the surveillance state, and his colleague Gene Healy is a critic of executive overreach and editor of a 2004 book on the federal government's over-criminalization of American life.

There are a lot of libertarians working on issues that could be construed as self-interested - lowering taxes is the obvious example. There are even some hard core Ayn Rand sycophants who embrace little more than themselves. Find that repugnant? Have at 'em! But you're just misinformed if you think that libertarians as a whole care for nothing more than their self-interest. Countless libertarians are working to advance the freedom and fair-treatment of people other than themselves. Often they do so more consistently than some of the liberals who sneer at them.

I leave you with a clip from Lawrence O'Donnell's TV show. Like many civil liberties advocates at the ACLU, anti-war activists, and critics of the criminal justice system, he is a liberal who understands that libertarians are among his most reliable allies when it comes to standing up for the freedom of other people:
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/06/libertarians-arent-all-selfish-jerks/240757/



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