What Does “Bionic Mosquito” Mean by Culture?

His original definition is as follows:

Culture... is all of the behaviors in our lives that are not answerable by or even addressed by the non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle addresses when it is proper to use aggression; it is a political principle. The NAP says nothing about many things: haircuts, clothes, religious affiliation (or not), car color, etc. It speaks to the proper use of force, nothing more.

Oddly, my own definition of culture seems at first glance to be very similar: it's what people, I say, having obeyed the law and abided by justice (the "NAP"), do with their freedom. Culture is as super-diverse as the food in the supermarket. By its essence, then, culture cannot be managed, controlled, or protected by governments. So far America has survived without a "Ministry of Culture," and thank goodness for that.

But in fact Bionic has something much more specific than this. He stresses the alleged importance of culture to libertarians by asking questions like:

How much labor is to be mixed with land or other unowned resources in order to transform these from unowned to owned?

How much punishment fits the crime? The NAP [binds only the upper limit].

What are acceptable family relationships?

What is an acceptable greeting between two businessmen?

Proper attire?

Greeting a person of the opposite sex?

Hand holding in the park?

What is the age of majority, everywhere?

What is the proper "justice" for stealing an apple, everywhere?

Define the term "aggression," everywhere.

Define property, everywhere.

Based on these, I think he divides culture into 2 forces. First concerns some aspects of practical application of libertarian law.

Regarding the amount of labor needed for proper homesteading of land, I agree that there may not be a single best answer. But still general limits can be easily established.

Regarding punishments, Rothbard, for example, favored the retribution theory. He notes at one point that a thief in addition to his main crime also puts his victim

into a state of fear and uncertainty... So that for proportionate punishment to be levied we would also have to add more than double so as to compensate the victim in some way for the uncertain and fearful aspects of his particular ordeal.

What this extra compensation should be it is impossible to say exactly, but that does not absolve any rational system of punishment -- including the one that would apply in the libertarian society -- from the problem of working it out as best one can. (Ethics of Liberty, 89)

Is Rothbard's system therefore vain? Is proportionality of punishment a useless ideal because of the practical difficulty of imposing just the right (in Rothbard's system) amount of punishment? There are, of course, other criteria of punishment, such as utilitarian deterrence. The idea is to minimize the combined cost of (1) crime to the victims, (2) punishments to the criminals, and (3) the justice system itself including investigations and enforcement such as prisons to the taxpayers. But that, too, is very empirical which implies not just that different cities may punish differently, but that in the same city, punishments should usefully change from time to time. If we grant that to Bionic, have we thereby conceded that a penal code is a "cultural question"? Not really, because the difficulty of arriving at the correct answer does not entail that no correct answer exists. A "culture" that got it right is objectively superior to a culture that made a mistake.

The age of majority for sex is definitely greater than 8 and less than 21 everywhere. Of course, opinions may differ but hardly exceedingly greatly. Regarding drinking, there should be no "legal" age of majority. Regarding being drafted into the military, there should be no draft. If there is volunteer military, then the government which owns the military can decide on its own authority how old people can be to join. Regarding voting or ability to make contracts, it's the "age of reason," probably somewhere around 14 years old, the age at which young Catholics perform the confirmation sacrament.

Alternatively, we can use Rothbard's criterion that the age of majority is attained when a child asserts his full rights to self-ownership, namely, "when he leaves or 'runs away' from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own."

The proper justice for stealing an apple is perhaps a small fine or mandatory service to the apple merchant for a few days. A judge issuing a sentence will be guided by a number of considerations, and his judgment will have to be "wise," an objective virtue.

Aggression can be obvious, like getting punched in the face, or more controversial, like being bombarded by photons from the lamp in a neighbor's window. The latter, however, are rarely problems; and the former are the legal system's chief concern.

"What is property?" is not a trivial problem, either. One obvious controversial issue among libertarians is intellectual property. But that well-reasoned opinions regarding it differ again does not entail that there is no best or true opinion. The answer to this question surely is not "it's an entirely arbitrary convention, as impervious to rational examination as a choice between a vanilla and chocolate ice-cream."

So much for this aspect of Bionic's "culture." His second apparent definition is "non-coercive social pressure."

I think our author has definite views on the proper incentives he personally would like to establish to other people in the course of their daily lives for proper business / opposite sex greetings, proper attire, proper family relationships, and so on.

If a person will not greet him the way he likes, Bionic will refuse to do business with him. If a girl fails to greet him well, he will not date her. If his lawyer is dressed inappropriately, he will forsake him for a more respectable person. As for hand-holding in the park, the park's owner can make up his own rules.

It's perfectly fine to ruminate on these, but I personally find these issues fairly uninteresting. Why should they bother a person qua libertarian? All a libertarian will argue is that it is each person's right not to be punished by the state for an "improper" greeting or attire. A private property owner, of course, can establish definite rules and enforce them with threats of ejection of troublemakers from his land.

Bionic then proceeds to affirm that he "would love to live in a community (however large or small) governed entirely by generally accepted common culture and custom, and not governed at all by law." But if in this community a certain punishment for theft is imposed, what does it matter whether the system of "governance" is based on "common culture" or law? Is it simply that one is unwritten and the other written? But what's the big deal? Wouldn't a clear unambiguous written law be far more efficient, anyway?

Suppose further that in that community a death penalty is imposed for stealing an apple. A traditional libertarian will say this is unjust. But Bionic apparently disagrees, saying that as long as everyone in the community agrees to be bound by this restriction, all is well. Perhaps he would look contentedly at a socialist commune, too, as long as its every member entered it voluntarily. Now I agree that generally, the affairs of one city are none of any other city's business. But the institutional aspect of libertarianism which in part does indeed consist of massive decentralization is very much incomplete without its ideological aspect of laissez-faire capitalism and natural law.

Further, how would Bionic ensure a common culture? There are two ways; one is coercive restrictions on individual culture-making, such as the government forcing everyone to worship the same celebrities. I am pretty sure our author is not in favor of that.

The other is people forming like-minded communities and self-segregating. The "common culture" can arise only within relatively small private civil associations. Even in those, there may be written "bylaws" or contracts if it's a business firm and so on. Again, I do not find his distinction between written and unwritten laws to be compelling. If the community stones you for adultery, an injustice is committed against you regardless of whether the killers are guided by law or "common culture."

Finally, people with very different values -- and who share no common culture other than libertarian law -- can not only co-exist but profit handsomely from each other's existence. If Bionic does not understand this, then he has not been paying attention to the main points of libertarianism or economics, for that matter. In the economy, diversity (in complementary skills) is strength. There is no need for a thriving and perpetually improving commonwealth to feature any shared culture beyond commitment to libertarian justice.

Mises put it this way: "It is precisely because of [economics'] neutrality that people with different evaluations are able to live peaceably together. This is one of the most important ideas that came out of the Industrial Revolution and the development of modern science. It was an idea that was absolutely foreign to the most eminent minds of the sixteenth century. Very few persons then could have understood that people with different religions, values, and ideas, could live together in the same city, the same country, or the same world."

In short, I am unconvinced that the focus on "culture" is useful for our libertarian project.

There Are No Black Libertarians

A black conservative or -- per impossibile -- libertarian is a huge trophy. Look, we say. A black guy who is not a loser in his personal life, who is not a complete idiot, and who -- incredibly -- was somehow able to cobble together a decent ideology! What miracle! What a strange and amazing development! We want to display this remarkable creature to all concerned.

I understand and sympathize. On the whole, however, black people are completely useless to libertarians. Which is unfortunate but also is the reality of the situation.

Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, for example, are minor celebrities that illustrate the point. If they were white, they would be non-entities.

Libertarian Strategy

A libertarian revolution has two components: ideological and institutional.

Ideologically, we can promote laissez-faire capitalism and Rothbardian natural law.

Institutionally, it seems obvious that the US federal government is unreformable. It must be destroyed utterly. David Gornoski has put the matter this way:

The answer to globalism is nationalism.
The answer to nationalism is localism.
The answer to localism is your property.

I have been a "city-state libertarian" for a very long time. This is consistent with Mises' position on secession, namely, that

the right of self-determination... is not the right of self-determination of nations, but rather the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit.

If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.

This is impracticable only because of compelling technical considerations, which make it necessary that a region be governed as a single administrative unit and that the right of self-determination be restricted to the will of the majority of the inhabitants of areas large enough to count as territorial units in the administration of the country. (Liberalism, 109-10)

A city, in my opinion, is both necessary and sufficient to provide almost all the essential government services. There is no need for any government larger than what we understand as "local."

Within these hundreds of thousands of towns, libertarian ideology needs to be fully accepted.

A final key libertarian political institution is fully private (not merely "independent") judiciary. It was a major error on the part of the founders of the United States to put judges on the government payroll. It has resulted in the state becoming its own judge.

Regarding the "open borders" problem, in a fully libertarian world in which massive inequalities in the standard of living between cities are not observed, there ought to be 100% open borders on the level of cities; but the borders of any smaller explicit private community or organization within a city will be managed entirely by the property owners.

Libertarian Philosophy vs. Strategy

To appreciate the difference between them, consider that the strategy outlined in the Jeff Deist's "blood and soil" speech is a little devious.

Surely, we reason, the leftists who hate Trump would not mind their own country ruled by Hillary. Perhaps we can persuade or trick them to isolate themselves in their own contemptible ghetto. Let the freaks stew in their own juices. Ah-hah! We have furthered the end of a libertarian society by removing unnecessary strife between conflicting ideologies.

This political success does not mean that no ideology is true. It does not mean the leftists in Hillary-ville will be just as happy as the rightists in Trump-istan, as though each group were choosing merely between ice cream flavors. It is on the contrary very possible that the nation of leftists will collapse, and everyone there will starve to death. What we have actually done is forced the leftists to fully internalize the costs of their errors.

In contrast, the libertarian philosophy exhibits no deviousness at all.

Abortion: Consequences of Outlawry

If I am right, and Rothbard has not proved beyond reasonable doubt that abortion is a natural right, perhaps we can look at the consequences of legally prohibiting it.

The result will surely be (1) aborting fewer and (2) conceiving fewer.

Now first, the pro-choicers argue that prohibiting abortions will lead to women self-inducing abortions in the back alley using dangerous methods ("coat hangers"). This is definitely a social cost. But it is also very likely that the number of illegal abortions committed in this way will be smaller than the number of legal abortions committed now. Isn't that a desirable social goal? How much smaller, no one can tell, so why not experiment to find out? Let's repeal Roe v. Wade, let states handle abortion decisions, and do a thorough study a few years after to see by how much abortions have declined.

Second, it will encourage more responsible sexual behavior. People will be more careful if they know that the cost of conceiving is having to bring the baby to term and be a parent or at least, if the baby is given for adoption, bear the burden of knowing that you have a child whom you were meant to rear and whom you will, however, never see. Again it is very hard to say by how much the number of abortions will drop, but drop it surely will.

For example, suppose that when abortion is legal, every year 10 million children are conceived, and of those 10 million, 5 million are deliberately aborted. After the prohibition is in place, we should expect something like the following: 2 million children are never conceived in the first place due to the new incentives, so only 8 million are conceived; furthermore, of those 8 million, not 3 million but only 1 million are aborted.

A cost associated with this consequence is less sexual fun for the people, but then again perhaps free love is neither in the first place.

A further benefit might be that some abortion doctors will find a less disreputable occupation.

These considerations should be weighed against two things: (i) the harm to undeterred women and doctors from the punishments inflicted by the authorities; and (ii) the extra costs to the taxpayers of additional law enforcement.

“After-Birth Abortion”

Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva find no reason to outlaw infanticide. They appear to make no distinction, however, between killing and letting die.

Given this caveat, Rothbard would agree with the authors 100%:

The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. ...

This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g. by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die. (EoL, 100-1)

A parent enjoys natural guardianship rights but is burdened by no guardianship obligations. The rights expire when the child asserts his full rights to self-ownership. That occurs

when he demonstrates that he has them in nature -- in short, when he leaves or "runs away" from home. Regardless of his age, we must grant to every child the absolute right to run away and to find new foster parents who will voluntarily adopt him, or to try to exist on his own.

Parents may try to persuade the runaway child to return, but it is totally impermissible enslavement and an aggression upon his right of self-ownership for them to use force to compel him to return.

The absolute right to run away is the child's ultimate expression of his right of self-ownership, regardless of age. (103)

Walter Block has added the refinement that if the parents want to abandon their child, they can't just let him starve in their house. They must do so by following the customary formal procedure of abandonment of any property. The point is to let everyone know that the guardianship rights have indeed been relinquished and to grant other people some time and opportunity to "homestead" the now unguarded child.

I fully agree that it's a clear absurdity for Smith to abandon ownership of a parcel of land, say, without notifying the whole world of this through some established means. The property would be objectively up for grabs, but if people falsely thought that Smith still owned it, no one would be able to homestead it. A useful to society resource would then for all intents and purposes be destroyed. Similarly, parents can be obliged even by libertarian law to care for the child during the entire period of time that custom or convention has decreed will be given to neighbors to pick this child up and give him a new home.

Abortion: Block vs. Rothbard

Notice the difference between the Rothbard's and Block's approaches to abortion. As Sadowsky argues, "My first comment is that the majority of abortions do not fit the above description. What is wanted in most cases is precisely the death of the child. Most of those seeking abortions would be horrified at the thought that the child might survive his expulsion. Just ask your friends if all they are after is simply a premature birth."

To this Rothbard replies: "Jim Sadowsky stresses the point that most mothers who commit abortion in fact desire not only the ejection, but also the death of the fetus (or, as he persists in referring to it, of the 'child'). Here I don't think the intention of the parent makes any difference. If the objective act itself -- the ejection of the fetus -- is licit and not an act of aggression, then the subjective intentions of the parent make no difference."

But that cannot possibly do for Block. For he is an "evictionist" who argues that the mother never has the right to destroy the fetus but only to "abandon" it. These have different consequences when it comes to abortion. As far as Block is concerned, Rothbard's reply to Sadowsky simply begs the question. The ejection of the fetus is licit only when every effort is made to allow the fetus to be picked up by any willing step-parent (even if no such picking up actually occurs and the fetus will die from lack of care).

Thus, if the parents fail to advertise the impending abortion publicly (some weeks ahead of time, perhaps?), even take some "reasonable" steps to finding a new guardian, and follow through all the formalities laid down by their community regarding legal abandonment of property titles or guardianship rights over children or fetuses, then the parents, in aborting, are, as per Block's logic, committing murder.

The secret "subjective intentions" of the parent may make no difference, if by that we mean that the parent may in the privacy of her mind want the fetus to die, but her behavior will be very different for Block than for Rothbard. Rothbard would permit all abortions on grounds of self-defense; Block would permit only those abortions which are self-consciously styled as abandonments of the parent's guardianship over the fetus, and as long as the parent jumps through all the legal hoops to impart their neighbors with a genuine opportunity "easily" to "homestead" the fetus.

Abortion: Proper Blockian

Note that a Proper Blockian abortion can have 3 outcomes:

(a) the expelled or evicted fetus is non-viable, cannot be saved, and dies;
(b) the fetus is viable, someone chooses to adopt it, and it lives;
(c) the fetus is viable, but no one wants to care for it, and it dies.

Walter Block argues "progressively," i.e., by appealing to future improvement in technology and economic conditions to generate consensus, that (b) and (c) are inherently lawful, and as society advances, cases like (a) will become increasingly less frequent. Hence, "in 100 years, libertarians will be considered to be 100% pro-life."

Abortion: Sterility of Evictionism

The following two scenarios further clarify my proposal that abortion lies midway between Sadowsky's view and Rothbard's.

1. You are flying a medium-sized airplane while participating in a race which is important for your career. You're pretty confident you can win. For some reason, the plane feels sluggish. You turn around and see a stowaway, a fat guy just sitting there staring at you. You realize that with this bastard on board, you're going to lose. Yet we probably agree that despite the high costs that the stowaway imposes on you, you still can't get rid of him. Could a similar argument be made in the case of abortion?

2. Smith was shipwrecked on a desert island which over the years he has thoroughly homesteaded. Then Jones gets shipwrecked near the island, swims ashore, and is greeted by Smith who tells him: "This is my island. You are trespassing on private property. Go back where you came from. Go swim in the ocean." Does Smith have the right to do that, or is it murder?

By the way, I doubt these examples are original; I'm sure these issues have been discussed by libertarians before.

It seems to follow that when a "career woman" has an abortion so she may focus on climbing the ladder, that may be made illegal. Similarly, perhaps a girl wants to get married well, and if she has (especially illegitimate) children, then her prospects will be dim. Perhaps abortion for such a reason, too, should be legally proscribed.

It's interesting how after a detour into evictionism, we have landed straight in the middle of the general controversy. Abortion is not Ok for the sake of convenience but is permitted if the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest or ...

Evictionism is theoretically important but turns out practically to be of little value.

I've distinguished between abortions of type (a) or Proper Blockian abortions, in which the fetus is unambiguously and in full health expelled, and abortions of type (b), where the fetus is destroyed inside the womb and the remains are sucked out. Now suppose that human biology worked in such a way that the dead fetus could not be extracted (though perhaps a live one could be); rather, the mother digested the remains. Clearly, in (b) no eviction of any kind any longer happens. Smith does not escort Jones out onto a public road; he kills Jones and dissolves his body in a vat of acid right there on his property. Does the woman really have the right to kill the trespasser and eat its flesh?

Abortion: Evictionism vs. Self-Defense

Stated differently, since most abortions are not Proper Rothbardian / Blockian and of type (b) (or praxeologically very similar to type (b)), evictionism is a pleasant theory -- one which I like a lot -- but it's inapplicable to real-world situations.

The theory that is actually used to justify abortions -- by none other than Rothbard himself -- i.e., the self-defense theory, is one which reasonable libertarians can disagree about. Statements like "an assault on someone's body is a more heinous crime than the theft of his property" already entail that the difference is not in kind but in degree, and we can immediately ask whether the killing of the fetus is proportional to the woman's injury, etc.

Again, the Sadowsky debate shows how great a role raw intuitive emotions play in this issue.

On the one hand, we have Sadowsky's stowaway on the airplane. Of course, it would be crazy for the pilot to insist on his property right and throw the poor guy overboard.

On the other hand, we have Rothbard's pianist hooked up to your kidneys. Moreover, you've been kidnapped. I imagine you lie in some Matrix-like cradle with wires coming out of your body to sustain the pianist. In this situation, I'll be damned if I let this continue. To hell with the pianist; I'm ripping the wires off and getting out of there!

Pregnancy is clearly somewhere in between. Therefore, the correct answer is harder to discover.

This middle ground between the Sadowsky's example and Rothbard's is a slippery slope in both directions. Here's how we can slip toward the Sadowsky's extreme. Smith is seriously ill, and Jones is paying to prolong his life. With this help, Smith is estimated to live for 9 months; if Jones stops paying, then Smith will die within days. If Sadowsky is to be taken seriously, then we must conclude that Jones has no legal right to quit paying. And that seems deeply wrong. However, slippery slopes can and should be resisted.

Abortion: Vindicating Rothbard

Rothbard has seized upon an important but accidental feature of human procreation, namely, that the child is attached to the mother.

One consequence is that a Proper Rothbardian abortion would proceed as follows: (a) the child is carefully extracted from the womb, alive and well, placed near the mother, and then slowly dies from exposure and lack of nutrients, if no one is willing to pick it up.

But don't actual abortions occur in a different way, viz., (b) the child is killed inside the womb, and the remains are sucked out? Rothbard himself writes that "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children," but do not most abortions do exactly that?

Furthermore, praxeologically, (a) and (b) constitute a distinction without a difference. The child dies either way, and the parents go home happy either way. A non-philosopher may well ask what the big deal is in this hair-splitting.

Thus, the question of whether unborn children have rights does not become irrelevant even if we use Rothbard's approach.

Here's the formal argument.

(1): Rothbard: "a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children."

(2) According to a non-philosopher, either both (a) and (b) are permissible or neither (a) nor (b) is permissible.

(3) A pro-life person would disallow both; a pro-choice libertarian would seem to be committed to disallowing (b) only.

(4) Only the pro-life position appears at first glance to be consistent.

Here's another illustration. Let Smith be trespassing on Jones' property. (i) = Jones' bouncers escort Smith out. (ii) = Jones kills Smith and dumps his corpse in a public waste disposal site.

Clearly, these are very different. (i) is obviously Ok, (ii) is obviously not.

But in the case of abortion, (a) and (b) are almost indistinguishable. What is Ok and what is not Ok is no longer "obvious."

A clue toward a Rothbardian reply can be found in his debate with Jim Sadowsky:

"Sadowsky is worried about ejecting a stowaway on an airplane. Yes, I suppose that would be 'overkill,' to coin a pun. But the point here is that, just as an assault on someone’s body is a more heinous crime than the theft of his property, so the trespassing on or within a person's body is a far more heinous trespass that merely strolling on his land or stowing away on an aircraft. For the crime of trespassing within a person's body, any means necessary to evict the trespasser should be legitimate."

Any means, including (b). So, (b) is legitimate, if it is the only way to abort. Hence, the argument fails at (3). The parent is not aggressing against the fetus but is defending herself. If Smith, instead of walking on Jones' land, was a demon who tried to possess Jones' body, then surely, Jones would be justified in killing the demon.

On this reasoning, abortion of type (a) is permissible for the less controversial (in libertarian circles) reason of the rights of the mother to her body.

Abortion of type (b) is permissible for perhaps somewhat more dubious reason of self-defense: the mother is defending herself against a dangerous parasite who is preying on her, and if she has to kill it to get it out, then so be it.

America As a Chosen Country

Americans fanatically and falsely believe in their own specialness.

In their own eyes, they are above the law.

News flash, freaks: you are a ruthless corrupt empire about to fall apart.

In his well-known near-death experience, Howard Storm is told that

the people that they gave the privilege of leading the world into a better age, blew it. That was us, in the United States.

The United States must change immediately and become the teachers of goodness and generosity to the rest of the world.

Today the United States is the primary merchant of war and the culture of violence that you export to the world. This will come to an end because you have the seeds of your own destruction within you. Either you will destroy yourselves or God will bring it to an end if there isn't a change.

This occurred in 1985. Since then, America's hubris has become far worse and even less justified.

The word "holy" means set apart by God. But God does not separate his beloved from the mass so that they could wreak havoc around them. "Holy" does not entail antinomian or allowed to act unjustly. It means the exact opposite: a holy person is one who is exceptionally scrupulous in obeying the moral law.

The only reason God has not given this country over to the demons is that every other nation on earth is unfortunately on the whole even worse. But what kind of a pathetic consolation is that? Must we continuously test our Lord's patience?

Consumer Sovereignty, 2

I would actually be very impressed if a leftist were to use the argument in favor of anti-discrimination laws from "consumer sovereignty" analyzed in the previous post. It would demonstrate some understanding of how the economy works. But I fear that's hopeless.

In addition, of course, the left and the mainstream cheer when big business like Google and Amazon de-platform non-leftist dissenters. So, they are precluded from using this argument at the outset by their casual hypocrisy.

Whether “Discrimination” by Private Enterprise Is Ok?

The various Civil Right Acts, such as of 1964, grossly violated property rights of private businessmen. This was done by spuriously labeling "facilities which are open to the public -- hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments" "public accommodations."

The libertarian argument from basic justice insists that property rights are absolute and the state cannot lawfully interfere with their exercise. The argument is powerful and correct; but I wonder if there is a more to it. What is the rationale for such callous treatment of business owners? To justify one's nonchalant contempt for basic justice requires considerable ingenuity. I have argued that that answer may lie with the misunderstood notion of "consumer sovereignty" which has been taken from its context within pure economic theory and given a perverse normative meaning.

Now as I have pointed out in my comment on an article by John Goodman, the government tends to distinguish between consumers and producers in banning or regulating things. For example, regarding the Alcohol Prohibition, the 18th Amendment did not outlaw drinking or threaten drinkers with fines or prison terms; it rather outlawed "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors," i.e., the acts of business that precede drinking and in fact supply the essential means to drinking.

(The current Drug Prohibition is an odd exception to the rule, since it ignores this distinction. Even consumers are punished when caught.)

Perhaps there is some sense among the people that "discrimination" is un-American. First, private property in the factors of production is a means to an end. The rights to capital goods and money capital are precisely not absolute but conditional on whether they promote the greatest good for the greatest number. Businessmen serve the consumers. They "should" care for nothing but monetary profits, because that is how they fulfill their social function. They should not discriminate between the consumers. It is "wrong" for businesses to do anything other than make money.

Second, value judgments are the domain of the consumers. Any consumer is free to buy whatever he wants, to change his tastes, to spurn a product or develop a loyalty to it. But the market should be fully responsive to these desires. It should manufacture whatever is being demanded, whether toys for kids, hard liquor for adults who beat their kids, or atomic bombs that vaporize kids. It's not the job of business to play favorites or to judge which consumer desires are "virtuous" and ought to be satisfied and which are "vicious" and ought to be despised. The ideal entrepreneur is value-free, though in a different sense than an ideal economist. He satisfies 1st-order desires or increases narrow happiness and "should" abstain from all judgments of his customers' characters. He should always ask his customer simply, "What's your poison?" and promptly deliver the poison to him, not shower him with contempt for his choice of a pleasure and refuse service.

Everyone's money is exactly like anyone else's, green and valuable. It's "irrational" to discriminate. Moreover, Smith must think pretty badly of Jones if he goes so far as to decline Jones' money for an ordinary everyday product of Smith's company. I can understand if Jones would feel like an outcast or loser after such treatment.

Hence people seem to think that it is perfectly Ok for a homosexual consumer to choose which business firm to patronize and which firms to wave aside regarding his wedding cake, but illegitimate for a devoutly Christian business owner to choose his customers.

I have four objections to this argument.

First, the economic distinction between businessmen and consumers is irrelevant when it comes to law. It is fine to assert that an entrepreneur produces but does not labor while a worker labors but does not produce; or that production is distinct from consumption; or that a corporation is a "legal person." But when we reduce this down to the individual level, all we see is market actors exchanging goods and services for money. The position of every member of society, regardless of his specific economic function, is 100% symmetrical. "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest," as per Adam Smith. These interests should be able legitimately to include any personal biases.

Second, this Americanist spirit hardly holds sway universally across the board. Homosexuals and blacks can sue for discrimination, but midgets and bald people cannot. The left in this country, in search of "classes" to sic on each other, has identified a number of official "Victim Groups" who in their eyes are being unjustly oppressed. The "victims" have been granted special privileges and become powerful and ruthless government pressure groups. The rest of the people are supposed to endure their insolence quietly.

In fact, the actual purpose of the victimhood ideology is not to secure some utilitarian outcome but to humiliate, intimidate, and loot the majority.

Third, actual discrimination is rare in today's America. Even if a bakery refuses to do business with a homosexual, the latter can easily find another company that would eagerly sell him a cake. It's not as if no one will do business with him, and he'll literally starve to death. So, it's unlikely that any civil rights legislation adds much good to the already existing happiness for greatest number. Another aspect of this is that some people may, realizing that the law requires them to serve even those people they dislike, be deterred from starting a business in the first place. Society loses when people are forced to forego occupations in which they would be especially efficient.

Finally, even if we grant that discrimination by businessmen between their customers is indeed un-American, it does not follow that it should be illegal. Communism is un-American, but communists are not thrown in prison on account of holding false and vicious political views. Moreover, the practical problems of enforcing non-discrimination are quite serious and costly to society. For example, if the refusal to cater to a gay wedding is due to one's religious beliefs, the courts may rule that having such beliefs respected overrules the importance of non-discrimination. Thus, Christians who will not serve to gays will not be prosecuted, but a business owner who dislikes gays because, say, he was raised by two lesbians and has bad childhood memories is outside the pale. This introduces needless complexity to law and creates arbitrary precedence of values, precisely what Americanism told us to avoid. Some groups (gays) are privileged not to be discriminated against, yet other groups (Christians) override this privilege, and only in some contexts, and so on. Is it not better for all simply to respect private property rights than to try to settle personal scores by battling for political power?

For these reasons, I think the argument from "consumer sovereignty" fails even on its own terms.

Our “Post-Christian” Times

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful," said Seneca.

The idea is that the corrupt power-hungry priests as part of the union of throne and altar taught the masses to be mindless, lobotomized slaves or serfs of the power elite, and to toil for their overlords without ceasing and without question or protest. The masses' only hope and respite was some promise of rest and peace after death.

Those overlords then devoured the product of their serfs' labor greedily until they were fat and happy and could devour no more.

But now even the state has rejected religion as a tool of oppression. Religion is no longer useful to the rulers.

There are then 3 groups of people, as per Seneca: the common, the wise, and the rulers. As long as at least 2 out of these 3 promoted religion, this majority caused religion to endure. Regarding Christianity, there is now just 1 Christian group left, the common people, and that's not enough to keep religion alive in the longer run.

That's the reason why we are living in "post-Christian times."

If Christianity is to survive, the wise will need truly to wise up and arrive to faith.

Tyrants Are Not Crazy

Says Ryan McMaken, objecting to the portrayal by the politicians and media of foreign leaders they hate as "irrational, unhinged, or even downright insane":

David C. Kang also concludes: "Kim Jong-un may be many things, but he is not suicidal. Deterrence will continue to work."

Contrary to the idea that Kim and the North Koreans are crazed loose cannons, the North Koreans behave exactly as any other regime bent on maintaining its regime. Far from seeking to die in a blaze of glory, Kim wants to go on living as a dictator indefinitely.

As Peña notes, Kim wants "to secure his own survival and that of his regime, much like his father and his father's father before him. That would certainly explain the executions and assassinations of those who might usurp him, which include family members."

The regime wants to survive -- and not be a victim of "regime change" which is exactly why, as Kang writes, "North Korea isn't unpredictable; rather, it is the most predictable country on earth."

There is a theoretical reason for this conclusion which should be obvious to any Austrian economist. America is sufficiently capitalist and free to allow every citizen to plan and act for himself. It is impossible to predict what your neighbor will do next, or what business firms will be operating in the market a year from now, or future popular culture. In particular, even in regard to national events, no one knows who will be President in the next election. Almost no one, after all, predicted that Trump would win in 2016.

North Korea, on the other hand, is a socialist totalitarian state. Only Kim Jong-un plans and acts; everyone else is his tool or slave and just obeys. Therefore, Kim is the only variable in NK to be taken into consideration; unlike in America where everyone has the power to influence politics. As a result, America is one of the most unpredictable countries on earth, while North Korea is one of the most predictable.

And I think McMaken is right in his actual prediction that Kim lacks any mental illness and can be easily understood. At the very least, peaceful co-existence is eminently possible.

Sola Scriptura?

When the Skeptic's Annotated Bible is done with it, nothing whatsoever is left of the Protestant "sola scriptura" doctrine.

Take the problem of apparent Biblical contradictions, such as between Acts 9 and Acts 22 regarding the details of Saul's conversion; or between 2 Samuel 8 and 1 Chronicles 18 regarding how many horsemen David captured upon defeating Hadadezer; or between Luke and the other 3 gospels regarding the penitent criminal who was crucified near Jesus.

One argument is that these details are not important, because they do not impinge in any way on faith or morals. But Christianity is supposed to be grounded in actual historical events. If these details are wrong, what other history is wrong, too?

It may be replied that this "slippery slope" argument is uncharitable and prejudicial. It is rarely trotted out against other books. If someone sees an error in a history or science book, we don't say that it must be disregarded in its entirety.

But no history or science book is claimed to be 100% inerrant.

In fact, everyone assumes the opposite, namely, that future discoveries might invalidate any present historical or scientific consensus.

The Bible, on the other hand, is supposed to be inerrant for all time. When this claim is exploded, Christians would seem to have a problem.

A cynical person may even suggest that if the Bible had proposed both that 2 + 2 = 5 and that 2 + 2 = 77, there would be people who would eagerly set out to prove to their own satisfaction that there was no contradiction here whatsoever.

I'm not a Biblical "scholar" and do not want to become one. The fanatics can enjoy "resolving" Biblical contradictions and absurdities to their heart's content.

Perhaps a good move is to say that the Bible is inspired, as in teaches divinely revealed things that are above human nature, but not inerrant in every way. Moreover, when there is a seeming contradiction between two accounts, the two all but annihilate each other, and in such a case, we end up lacking any information about what actually happened. So, let's find all such contradictions, disclaim in every case that we know the truth, and see what remains. It is open to Catholics to argue that in the Bible everything supports and nothing contradicts the authoritative teachings of the Church on faith and morals.

That's why I prefer simply to hold that the Catholic Church, over its 2,000-year long existence, has, through Herculean effort, distilled a modest but indispensable number of true articles of faith from the astonishing phantasmagoria of the Bible's historical assertions. The Bible is raw material, and one of many others, out of which the essentials of the Christian doctrine must be fashioned. As St. Augustine said, "I would not believe the holy Gospels if it were not for the authority of the Holy Catholic Church."

An Economic Theorem: Austrian Edition

The proof I have provided that "the most efficient thing to do with an item you've produced is to sell it to the highest bidder" has a distinct neoclassical flavor.

It has a methodological flaw, however. It assigns to the consumer surplus a definite monetary value. In so doing, it assumes cardinal utilities. But money is "merely" a medium of exchange of goods. Thus, one problem is that more money can for whatever reason fail to secure a superior basket of goods. For example, an economy may be so primitive that $4K will not buy you anything better than $1K.

In short, consumer surplus is a psychic phenomenon and cannot be measured in money. The neoclassical proof is extremely vivid and simple, however, because of the ease with which the consumer surplus when viciously given a monetary value is compared with the entrepreneurial profit which is perfectly correctly expressed in this way.

An Austrian economist can supply his own proof, however, and it's even simpler. Let the known preferences be as follows, with letters standing for goods rather than money:

Me Smith Jones Robinson
Y (formerly $7K)
Z ($5K)
W ($3K)
Initial Allocation

As economists, we cannot calculate distances between utilities, so it would be inappropriate even to allow that Robinson, if I exchange my X for his W, may become "much" happier, while Smith, if I exchange my X for his Y, only "a little" happier than before. Regardless, these Smith, etc. are merely placeholders, names for abstract, unidentified, and undifferentiated persons, so regardless of who I exchange with, there is equality: either way, exactly one other person will become better off. But we know for sure from these values scales that I become happiest when exchanging with Smith. Hence that's the most efficient thing to do from the social point of view.

If the Austrian proof is forced to imitate the neoclassical proof, then at first, it becomes inconclusive. Now the neoclassical proof assumes quite a bit more than the original Austrian proof just presented. First, the valuations are more explicit:

Me Smith Jones Robinson
Y ($7K)
Z ($5K)
W ($3K)

Given the same initial endowment, there are now 4 possible equilibria:

Me Smith Jones Robinson
(1) Y X Z W
(2) Z X Y W
(3) W X Z Y
(4) W X Y Z

As we can see, X still finds its way to Smith in all cases. However, none of these are unequivocally better than any other.

If the Austrian now adds the second assumption that there is production going on assisted by economic calculation of profits and losses (which the neoclassical proof depends on implicitly), then the same conclusion will follow. But even that assumption requires a peculiarly Austrian conception of the market process on which the neoclassical is free-riding.

With it, allocation (1) can be judged superior, because as before, there is no reason for me to share my entrepreneurial profit with Jones and / or Robinson, and this for 3 reasons.

1. The higher my own profit is, the more beneficial to society my reallocation of resources has been as compared with the previous state of the economy.

2. The greater, moreover, the incentive becomes to potential imitators to copy me and eventually arbitrage away my profits down to zero, also all to social good.

3. Finally, Jones and Robinson are deprived of spurious income and are forced to do something actually productive.

To reiterate, "the market process and therefore economic improvement proceed most sprightly and vigorously when everyone is seeking profits with his whole soul in the game."


As I argue in my defense of price gouging, a "need" to be rescued can at times arise in emergency situations. There can be a corresponding moral (not legal) duty to rescue. This duty is imperfect and applies to no one in particular. Rather, if various conditions are met, such as you are in close physical proximity to the person in danger, you have no more important rescues to undertake (the problem of triage), you are capable of succeeding at your task, you can undertake the rescue without taking excessive risks or bearing excessive costs, and so on, you may become obligated to help out. This duty is obviously not present when a person is dying of old age where genuine rescue is impossible. Even with the right circumstances, individual judgments can differ. And even when we apply this duty to "community" as a whole, saying that people should strive to save each other from dangers to life, things are pretty undetermined.

Bottom line: if there is a guy next to you, and you notice an anvil falling down on him, you should seriously consider pushing him out of the way. That's basically the extent of it.

Take-and-pay cases fall under need, as well.

My main point in this refinement of this concept, however, is that rescuing a person is not a form of "welfare." Once delivered from imminent danger to his life, the person is left alone to go on living and provide for himself with no further assistance.

The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates a rescue by an individual, not permanent monthly food stamps allotment by the "welfare state."

Even if a person is seriously disabled and has no one who loves him to care for him, a charitable organization is by the nature of its mission not obligated to do more than sustain his physical life. It is not required to feed him pomegranate juice.

Price Gouging & Luxury Items

Before I settled on the ketogenic diet, I liked pomegranate juice by Bolthouse Farms. Only one store in the area, namely, Krieger's Market, had this product and not always. Half the times I'd visit the store and find its shelf missing this juice.

So, my trip would be at least in part wasted, and I would be disappointed.

This always annoyed me. What is this, Soviet Russia? I can't afford a lot of luxuries, but this was one thing I was willing to pay for. "Why don't these guys just raise the price?" I wondered. It's already at $9 per bottle, but I'd be willing to pay more. "Raise it to $12, and you'd still sell everything, but I'd be the one who would get this stuff."

I don't know who was responsible for this outrage, Krieger's or Bolthouse, but at least one of them clearly kept making entrepreneurial errors and failing to serve me, a loyal customer, properly.

There is nothing wrong and everything right with high market-clearing prices for luxury goods.

In a disaster area, all goods for a very short period of time become luxuries. They should be priced accordingly.