Two Parts of Socialist Computation

In Human Action, Mises considers a curious hypothetical scenario:

If the memory of all prices of the past were to fade away, the pricing process would become more troublesome, but not impossible as far as the mutual exchange ratios between various commodities are concerned.

It would be harder for the entrepreneurs to adjust production to the demand of the public, but it could be done nonetheless.

It would be necessary for them to assemble anew all the data they need as the basis of their operations.

They would not avoid mistakes which they now evade on account of experience at their disposal. Price fluctuations would be more violent at the beginning, factors of production would be wasted, want-satisfaction would be impaired.

But finally, having paid dearly, people would again have acquired the experience needed for a smooth working of the market process. (337)

Apparently, even a complex market like ours could recover after a wound as grievous as the destruction of the knowledge of all present / immediate past prices.

But can a socialist dictator also solve his many millions of simultaneous equations to determine the "shadow" equilibrium prices of the factors of production if similarly afflicted? I think not; this problem is too hard computationally.

And this is just the first part of the socialist calculation problem. Even if one has a fully solved system, the next task is how to improve it, to re-configure the entirety of the structure of production upon introductions of novelties into the system and inventions of new technologies and methods of production, and to do so every day.

This second problem is, in my view, completely intractable with a complex economy.

Governmental Process?

Contra Sanford Ikeda, I am not sure there is such a thing.

Ikeda defines "process" as ordered change. That corresponds well enough to my own change-amidst-permanence or creative advance that leads from a more primitive and less coherent economy to one superior on both counts.

The market process on an abstract level is an interaction of innovation and imitation that, when woven together, bear fruit in the form of economic improvement.

But either the government is a gang of bandits who randomly prey on the populace with unpredictable raids, thereby being all crazy and destructive yang, pure chaos; or it operates according rules and regulations that are strict, ossified, inflexible, and indeed also very unprocess-like, being all unchanging yin, pure order.

Pure yang can also manifest itself through price controls which check basic equilibration, as well as in socialist planned chaos.

On their own and without their complement, both yang and yin are barren.

To be sure, bureaucrats, too, "spontaneously adjust to changing circumstances," (77) but only through political pressures, budget cuts, and major technological shifts. These pale in comparison with the glory of the market process.

Unitary Executive

In an interesting article, Andrew Napolitano describes the doctrine of "unitary executive" as follows:

That concept, which was accepted in theory by the federal government until the Watergate era, states that the president is the chief executive officer of the federal government and therefore everyone in the executive branch works for him.

I contend that it is actually a very good theory, but not for the reasons Napolitano adduces:

Because he and he alone in the executive branch is answerable to the voters, this theory relates, there can be no people or entities in that branch that are not subject to him.

Were this not so, then vast areas of governance would take place and vast amounts of government resources would be spent by those not answerable to the people, and that would violate the right of the people to be governed by a government to which a majority of the voters in the states have consented.

But look, the majority of the people did not prefer Trump's rule to no one's rule; they did not prefer Trump's rule to 1,000 other contenders' rule; they merely preferred him to one Hillary Clinton. That is hardly much of a vote of confidence.

Nevertheless, having every federal bureaucrat obey Trump is a very good idea. We want Trump to be able to exercise effective and personal control over every aspect of his administration. This becomes impossible if the bureaucracy grows large. Thus, Mises argues:

For under government interference with business the unity of government policies has long since disintegrated into badly coordinated parts. Gone are the days when it was still possible to speak of a government's policy.

Today in most countries each department follows its own course, working against the endeavors of the other departments. (Bureaucracy, 85)

We need Trump himself personally to make the entirety of the federal executive branch's policy on all things within its competence. Incidentally, this will shrink government dramatically. This will also suppress the ongoing coup d'état against him by the "deep state." It will do so by entirely eliminating the deep state.

"I see no good in having several lords: Let one alone be master, let one alone be king." Amen, Odysseus.

Hayek on Security

Hayek writes in The Road to Serfdom:

With every grant of such security to one group the insecurity of the rest necessarily increases.

If you guarantee to some a fixed part of a variable cake, the share left to the rest is bound to fluctuate proportionally more than the size of the whole.

And the essential element of security which the competitive system offers, the great variety of opportunities, is more and more reduced.

He means, I speculate, that if 90 ounces of a 100-ounce cake is guaranteed to be given to the privileged, then if the size of the cake declines by 5 ounces, the share to the non-secured declines by 50% which is greater than 5%.

Hayek's observation that the "the great variety of opportunities" is the essence of security under laissez-faire capitalism is nothing but eye-opening. So you lost your job? Your business has gone under? Find another way to make money! There are plenty of opportunities to outshine your competitors in some area of production.

However, the more people are protected from your competition, the smaller your range of action, and the less secure you are against your own competitors wherever you happen to be if you are not protected. If, however, everyone is protected, then we obtain Cuban-style socialism, certainly something highly undesirable.

Your security under free market is found in the insecurity of others.

Looting Directions

Logically, legal plunder can flow either from a minority to the majority or vice versa.

In the first case, the minority is simply outvoted. Of course, expropriating wealth or progressive income taxation so obviously lead to economic stagnation that only abject stupidity can cause the voters to decide to loot the "rich" in this manner.

In the second case, the stupidity is of a different sort. Here the people falsely believe that being looted is either in their own interest or in the interest of the common good.

Thus, for instance, young people agree to pay payroll taxes to finance old retirees, imagining that they, too, one day will benefit from this system. Again, the public, thoroughly in thrall to the Keynesian ideology, is sanctioning the awful money and banking regime that so spectacularly undermines economic progress.

What else but a mass hallucination of the tax victims can account for the fact that trillions of their dollars are taken from them and fed to the American war machine? Either they are really enamored of the "beauty of their weapons" or they are just fucking idiots.

Concupiscible Powers

Those are centered around bodily senses, particularly sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. But they also include the goods and evils, and pleasures and pains associated with them. Thus, for sight, we have beauty and the love of it, and ugliness and hatred of it. Some of these might be more intellectualized than others; perception of beauty may have a more robust cognitive component than of a delicious dish, but all senses come with apprehension of reality (such as again texture for touch) and delight or discomfort thereof.

To these it must be added sexual pleasure which seems to have no corresponding pain, other than for women in childbirth. (It's unlikely there would be new generations at all if women did not thoroughly crave cock.) Of course, there is plenty of "pain" in relationships, but it's more akin to sorrow, i.e., not sensual.

Further, there is the pleasure of the operation of a fit and healthy body. This is divided into is the pleasure of rest and the pleasure of exercise, such as a mastered sport. The pain of a decaying or dying body or of an illness complements it.

It is curious that that the pleasures of health tend to be much less intense than the pains of sickness or dying. Nevertheless, some genetic luck and a healthy lifestyle can ensure that pleasure rather than pain is felt most of the time.

Overall, when all the pleasures and pains are tallied up, it seems that our human sensual experience is well-nigh balanced in these terms.

Divine Goods

Mercy is plentiful; glory is scarce.

What Is a “Republic”?

It's a local government that combines with a measure of harmony commonwealth-democracy for the legislature, aristocracy for the judicial branch, and monarchy for the executive.

Drugs: A Constitutional Amendment

The legislature shall make no law restricting, nor shall any judge abridge, the right of the people to manufacture, transport, sell, trade, or consume marijuana or any of its ingredients.

All existing state laws to that effect are repealed.

All existing federal laws to that effect are null and void.

No special tax shall be imposed on any marijuana product with an express purpose of discouraging consumption or production of marijuana.

The right of private property owners to regulate the use of marijuana on their premises shall not be infringed.

The last clause is to ensure in our crazy world that no one can complain if, say, a company prohibits smoking marijuana at its place of business.

Gratitude in Political Obligations

Simmons points out nicely that it's hard to feel grateful to a faceless bureaucracy and have those feelings generate political obligations.

Another point is that in our interventionist society, the legislators are often bought by moneyed interests. The lawmakers run their own feudal fiefs. It is only in this sort of corruption or social de-evolution that gratitude may play a role.

Even if there are political obligations, on whatever ground, people differ as to how much government services are worth to them. Yet the tax system demands payments without discriminating properly. Grotesque taxation principles like "ability to pay" have been invented to loot the populace. However useful, even local taxes must still be condemned as unjust.

The Essence of Gratitude

There is an aspect of gratitude that remains even under robust capitalism, and that is personal love, such as between spouses, parents and children, or friends.

Now as I noted before, when one does good to someone he loves, the profit to the beloved is his profit, as well. But there is a complication. Personal relationships are complex, and one is rarely a mind reader. Therefore, there is a need for a somewhat ritualistic expressions of gratitude to assure the benefactor that his efforts have been enjoyed by the recipient of the benefits. That should be sufficient to satisfy the benefactor, as well.

Parents, too, need feedback as to whether their efforts are bearing fruit. The gratitude of children is precisely that. The children need not even necessarily repay the parental favors; their success and happiness in life are their own rewards to the parents who build their children up when they are young but ultimately leave them in command of their own counsel. But a sincere show of gratitude is still useful.

The Obscurity of Gratitude

Simmons wonders about the reasons why the phenomenon of gratitude has been neglected in modern philosophy. Mises had an explanation:

It is only the mentality of a capitalistic environment that makes people feel the indignity of giving and receiving alms. Outside of the field of the cash nexus and of deals transacted between buyers and sellers in a purely businesslike manner, all interhuman relations are tainted by the same failing. It is precisely the absence of this personal element in market transactions that all those deplore who blame capitalism for hard-heartedness and callousness. ...

Feudal society was founded on acts of grace and on the gratitude of those favored. The mighty overlord bestowed a benefit upon the vassal and the latter owed him personal fidelity. Conditions were human in so far as the subordinates had to kiss their superiors' hands and to show allegiance to them. In a feudal environment the element of grace inherent in charitable acts did not give offense. It agreed with the generally accepted ideology and practice.

Since our present society is "based entirely upon contractual bonds, ... to be an almsman is shameful and humiliating. It is an unbearable condition for a self-respecting man." (HA, 838-9)

The scope of grace and gratitude then has greatly diminished with the coming of capitalism. Gratitude has been relegated to etiquette.

Tacit Consent Through Residence

It can only be somewhat plausible on the local level, where the "choice situation" presents one with tens of thousands of cities to choose from as his home.

Socrates, therefore, in Crito, unbeknownst to himself, was right in linking consent to the "laws" with the fact that the city of Athens allowed free emigration.

The “Consent” Theory of Government

Isn't it obvious that we can't say that a (good) government is legitimate if and only if I have consented to it, because of the nature of public goods?

I can withhold consent from Sweets, Inc.'s claim on my money by refusing to buy its donuts. However, I cannot say that I refuse to benefit from the government's deterrence of crimes and thereby avoid taxes, because I can't be excluded from enjoying this good.

Simmons points out:

How is the consent theorist to avoid the charge that if unanimous consent is required for legitimacy, no government will be legitimate?

The answer, for Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, is found in the notion of "tacit consent through residence." For if mere residence can be taken to be a sign of consent, then unanimous consent is guaranteed.

This, however, seems to show more than the consent theorist wanted, for it seems to show not just that some governments are after all legitimate, but rather that all governments are legitimate. (73)

If the legitimacy of Sweets, Inc. depended on everybody's in some area wanting its products, then neither it nor any other private business could ever get off the ground. If, on the other hand, Sweets had the right to collect money from anyone who happened to reside near its headquarters, then Sweets would cease to be a business and become a tyrannical state. Clearly, there is a fundamental difference between business and government.

If consent to being ruled by a state can be given by living on the territory controlled by the state or using its roads or some such, what would constitute refusing to consent? The world has been partitioned between multiple states, and I have to live somewhere. Again, I can't help using the roads. How can I withdraw consent, and what would that mean?

For example, is the government immediately to be dissolved if even one person refuses to consent to it? If the majority refuses to consent? If the social elite?

The consent of the governed tradition in this crude a form seems absurd. Some sense can be made of it is by distinguishing between the government's power and its might. My withdrawal of consent undermines the government's might but not straightaway its power.

Utilitarianism and Political Obligations

Again, utilitarianism rightly understood is addressed to the lawgivers or to the people in their capacity as voters. For example, the criminal code should according to utilitarianism be so structured as to:

  1. Maximize the benefits to the citizens from deterrence of crime;
  2. Minimize the pain to the criminals from their punishment;
  3. Minimize the costs of enforcing the law.

These goals of course conflict, and an optimum should be properly calculated.

But once the law has been laid down, a citizen is told to seek his own happiness as he sees fit and pay no heed to general welfare or total utility.

This implies that utilitarianism voices no opinion as to whether a man should seek his happiness by obeying the law or by disobeying.

Thus, utilitarianism does not generate any political obligations.

On the Meaning of “Government”

A. John Simmons considers an objection from Hanna Pitkin that "terms like 'authority,' 'law,' and 'government' are grammatically or conceptually tied to 'obligation,' in the same way that 'promise' is." As Pitkin writes, "it is part of the concept, the meaning of 'authority,' that those subject to it are required to obey, that it has a right to command." (39)

This is a confused mess. At the very most, the term "government" ceases to have a reference, when most people actually refuse to obey. In such a case, a government may indeed fall. Even that is not 100% certain, since such an unpopular government may be able to endure in the very short term through an attempt at repression.

There is no way to get from that to the idea that I personally right now have a duty to obey (which government?); nor that the term "government" ceases to have a meaning if I or whoever else decides to disobey some or another government.

The fact that today I may have exceeded the posted speed limit once or twice does not entail that I and Pitkin can suddenly not discuss problems of political philosophy without hopelessly equivocating on the word "government."

Reducing Drug Abuse

I like how Thornton mentions that people became "impatient" with the speed at which society improved and decided to force improvement by using the state.

But as Mises argues, capitalism (and peace, as Thornton adds), "deproletarianizes all strata of society. It raises the standard of living of the masses of the manual workers to such a height that they too turn into 'bourgeois' and think and act like well-to-do burghers." (HA, 669) Let us trust in this supremely effective civilizing process to diminish stupid and imprudent abuse of drugs rather than the state.

There will always be even under laissez-faire the underclass, i.e., a class of "lumpen-proles." But it is tiny and becomes ever smaller: the payoffs to self-control increase with economic improvement. The opportunity cost of messing oneself up with hard drugs is not enjoying all the legitimate goods the market has to offer. Becoming an addict or destroying one's health or losing one's savings are unhappy actions.

Hence, reality itself deters abuse.

It won't do to hurt society so enormously as the prohibitionists have done in order futilely to try to save these aberrations from themselves.

What Sort of Good Is Heroin?

If it's a regular old good like potatoes or pens, then its prohibition is not justified. Why should consumers be prevented from buying whatever pleasures they see fit?

If it's a peculiar good in that it harms the user gravely, then having it mutate into a super-potent super-rotten version on the black market is the exact opposite of what we want.

Again, the higher potency and lower quality (because that's one way to decrease costs and prices of a prohibited substance) of heroin would be a deterrent to regular consumers if heroin were a regular good. But they are an attraction to addicts and those who use it immoderately and imprudently if heroin is an "evil" good.

As a result, it is at least unclear that more people would ruin their lives with heroin abuse under freedom than they do nowadays under prohibition.

Drug Prisoners Are a Cost

The people serving prison sentences for non-violent drug offenses are not some demons locked in hell and forgotten.

They are not degenerate drug fiends, as if some undead filth, whom we, as if in a video game, are trying to wipe off the face of the earth.

From a utilitarian perspective, they remain full-fledged citizens whose welfare counts 100% in the total that we as lawgivers are trying to maximize.

Their great suffering cannot be neglected in our calculations. If properly taken into account, I think it alone condemns the drug prohibition.

Drugs: Legalize and…

... not tax. Legalize and not regulate. Just legalize and butt out of the new free market completely.