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Block on Anarchist Nature Preserves

I emailed Walter Block the following question: Can a nature preserve exist in an anarcho-capitalist society? By the definition of this term, a nature preserve cannot have any human labor mixed with it. So it seems that it will always be unowned and therefore capable of being homesteaded (and developed, thereby ceasing to be a preserve) by someone else.

In addition, if it stays unowned, it will be unmanaged and uncared for and so may suffer the tragedy of the commons.

But what if a small preserve could be a profitable business if it could come to be owned? The owner could gain by selling tickets or licenses for outdoor activities, hunting, or scientific research on wildlife. What if such use is in fact the most socially valuable for a given lot?

He replied with a link to his paper addressing this very question.

Now first, my question assumes the correctness of the labor theory of property (LTP). In his paper, Block assumes this, too. I argued before that the LTP is not without serious defects.

The second assumption is that, even if the LTP is valid, it is the only way to homestead property. Block thinks so, but as we will see, perhaps not entirely sensibly.

Block defines a nature preserve as fully pristine and unspoiled wilderness. The owner "will not allow any customers to tread upon his territory, since to do so would be incompatible with a pure nature preserve. He will charge them a fee for keeping the land untouched; they will benefit from the mere contemplation of this offering."

He then goes through and rejects several possibilities of how one can mix labor with this land without "imprinting a stamp of his own person," as Rothbard put it, onto it. Placing popsicle sticks all over the grounds, sending out cows, planting trees all involve untoward interference with nature. Block concludes with the following prescription: the homesteader is to capture and immediately release "beetles, frogs, ants, worms, snakes, butterflies, caterpillars, and other such species" within the area. We capture them

either with birds we have trained for this purpose or by utilizing nets with long poles. Thus we homestead and thus come to own these creepy, crawly creatures. Subsequently, we release the members of these species we have previously homesteaded and thus now own to do our homesteading of the land for us. ...

We own these living things, they now "work" for us, whether they know it or not. ...

We release these creatures right back where they came from, where we got them from, thus obviating any objection on the ground that we are upsetting nature in this terrain.

Hilarious. I suppose it's an amusing exercise. But let's be honest: the recommended procedure seems like a meaningless ritual. Labor is being mixed but without any discernible goal. In fact, there is no goal at all other than formally to satisfy the letter of the homesteading law; it's a complete waste of scarce resources.

This magical incantation is in its spirit completely unlike what Block writes earlier. Normally, homesteading involves the following work: "For agricultural purposes, he must clear the tree stumps, move away the big rocks, plow the land, seed it, and gather a crop from these efforts of his. For urban areas, he must build a road or a house or a factory on it," and so on. The process of homesteading in this manner creates wealth. It contributes to society both in itself and as a sign that the development and improvement of the land will continue in the future, once the title to the property is granted.

The process of homesteading a nature preserve described by Block actually harms society. Even as a sign, it signifies only that precisely no improvements will ever be made.

Would it not be simpler to add a special proviso to the LTP instead: another way to homestead wilderness is to go to the local temple of Zeus and sacrifice an ox to him. It would be just as effective -- or rather as ineffective and absurd -- but possibly less costly.

An admitted virtue of Block's solution is that the amount of work it requires to create a nature preserve may deter greens from stealing huge tracts of land from the people by making them so obviously unproductive. On the contrary, making a sacrifice to Zeus does not specify which land is to be homesteaded or how much of it. It's too easy.

Well, one possibility is to make the number of oxen to be sacrificed proportionate to the "fair market value" of the land, if there is such a thing. This way, if maintaining a nature preserve is truly the most profitable use of the land, its homesteader will need to pay the opportunity cost of this use measured in the cost of the sacrifice.

At any rate, I did not have in mind the fanatical greens who want to keep the land 100% untouched. I was thinking about a piece of wilderness that on the one hand is somewhat removed from a park but on the other allows plenty of human activities. Perhaps there is a mountain there for climbing or extreme sports, or herds of deer for hunting (who will need to be carefully conserved by the owner), or ways to engage in a study of plants and wild animals. Although in this case, even such a place will probably need some "paths, lighting, bathrooms," and so on which will be sufficient for ordinary homesteading.

The implicit libertarian view of nature which I personally share here is that nature is to be fully conquered and subdued. The Garden of Eden is to be ultimately recreated on the global scale. Perhaps the proper answer to this problem is that nature preserves are vicious and inhuman institutions which have no place in a civilized and perpetually economically improving society that libertarianism promises to all people.

As a result, that the labor theory of property appears to prohibit keeping any parcel of land forever idle is a virtue of the theory, not its weakness.

What Caused the Industrial Revolution?

In the previous post I suggest that at some point in the development of the economy in its feudal stage, serious difficulties arise that make felicitous a transition to free-market capitalism.

Mises supplies two additional reasons why the Industrial Revolution in particular was so successful:

First there were the teachings of the new social philosophy expounded by the economists. They demolished the prestige of Mercantilism, paternalism, and restrictionism. They exploded the superstitious belief that labor-saving devices and processes cause unemployment and reduce all people to poverty and decay. The laissez-faire economists were the pioneers of the unprecedented technological achievements of the last 200 years. (HA, 619)

Second:

The general improvement in political tranquility, which had reached a certain degree about 250 years ago, contributed to an increase in population. This additional population was too much for the social system of those ages. The countries where political conditions were most favorable became infested with robbers, thieves, and murderers -- people for whom there was no place under the existing economic situation. ("Capitalism and Human Progress")

[There would arise a] huge mass of landless proletarians. Then a wide gap separates the disinherited paupers from the fortunate farmers. They are a class of pariahs whose very existence presents society with an insoluble problem. They search in vain for a livelihood. Society has no use for them. They are destitute. ... Laissez faire and its off-shoot, industrialism, converted the employable poor into wage earners. In the unhampered market society there are people with higher and people with lower incomes. There are no longer men, who, although able and ready to work, cannot find regular jobs because there is no room left for them in the social system of production. (HA, 835-6)

And again,

Neither farming nor the guilds had any use for the additional hands. ... The number of people for whom there was no room left in the rigid system of paternalism and government tutelage of business grew rapidly. They were virtually outcasts. The apathetic majority of these wretched people lived from the crumbs that fell from the tables of the established castes. In the harvest season they earned a trifle by occasional help on farms; for the rest they depended upon private charity and communal poor relief. Thousands of the most vigorous youths of these strata were pressed into the service of the Royal Army and Navy; many of them were killed or maimed in action; many more perished ingloriously from the hardships of the barbarous discipline, from tropical diseases, or from syphilis. (HA, 618-9)

The factories freed the authorities and the ruling landed aristocracy from an embarrassing problem that had grown too large for them. They provided sustenance for the masses of paupers. They emptied the poorhouses, the workhouses, and the prisons. They converted starving beggars into self-supporting breadwinners. (Ibid., "Popular Interpretation of the 'Industrial Revolution'")

There is a sense in which the substitution of one economic stage to another happens naturally. An old system suffices for a while, but the improvements introduced during its reign eventually make it exceedingly confining and inadequate at serving society.

But of course "neither a low standard of living nor progressive impoverishment automatically liquidates an economic system. It gives way to a more efficient system only if people themselves are intelligent enough to comprehend the advantages such a change might bring them." (Mises, HA, 860) Hence, the inherent problems of each stage in its mature condition must be coupled with an understanding of how to transcend them. A new system does not come about with the inexorability of a law of nature; it must be invented, and its benefits, demonstrated to all concerned.

Summary of Economic Stages

I have described the 4 economic systems and compared the position of a "worker" under each.

I've also described the 2nd slave stage in some detail.

The first stage is characterized by the invention of the state. This signals an end to total war.

The second stage arises as soon as people recognize the benefits of specialization and trade between their tribes. Specialization between firms is distinct from division of labor within firms.

The latter develops during the third stage as part of purely technological progress. The complex capital goods require complex worker skills. 2nd-stage slavery is revealed as unsuitable for the task of the empowerment of workers, since it does not supply the proper incentives to workers; and is burst asunder, giving birth to feudalism.

The final capitalist stage arises when capital accumulation has reached a certain level. When capital is very scarce, there is no particular need for entrepreneurial freedom to easily shift capital from one project, factory, location, and purpose to another. It became necessary for goods to move easily from place to place and from owner to owner. Labor, too, needed to become highly mobile, an ideal which helped fully to abolish feudal serfdom. Lower transportation costs offer invaluable help. The development of economics as a science helps people to grasp the advantages of laissez-faire and market process, and the resulting ideological revolution at this stage releases all of society's "productive forces."

And that's it. There is no "progress" past laissez-faire capitalism.

Whether the Catholic Church Needs Immigrants?

Lyman Stone says yes, for the following reason:

Given the church's heavy Hispanic demographic, immigration policy in general looms large for the church and its parishioners. ...

For the most part, the only growing religious groups in America are those that count immigrants prominently among their numbers. ...

Delegitimizing the evangelization of immigrants is a swell way to hasten the end of Christianity in America.

This is preposterous. If a Christian immigrant moves to America, thereby increasing the number of Christians in America by 1, he by that very fact moves out of Mexico, thereby decreasing the number of Christians in Mexico. Overall, there is no advantage.

That Americans are leaving the Church is condemnation of the efforts of present Christian evangelists and intellectuals. Relying on immigrants to compensate is a cop-out.

But of course, the issue is actually far simpler. It's not so much the confession of faith that we need to follow here, but money. "The Church and related Catholic charities and schools have collected more than $1.6 billion since 2012 in U.S. contracts and grants," Washington Times revealed in 2015. "Catholic Charities USA, the largest charitable organization run by the church, receives about 65 percent of its annual budget from state and federal governments, making it an arm of the federal welfare state." "Most of the money is used for refugee services and rehabilitation," Newsmax points out.

The Church wants to keep and increase the taxes it unjustly eats. It has become a willing participant in the looting of the populace by the predatory state. Its "love" for illegal immigrants is adequately explained by this illicit profit motive.

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 in mind. He stresses the alleged importance of culture to libertarians by posing challenges 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 believe 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.

Walter Block suggests, for example:

For agricultural purposes, he must clear the tree stumps, move away the big rocks, plow the land, seed it, and gather a crop from these efforts of his.

For urban areas, he must build a road or a house or a factory on it.

To use the territory for a park, he must clear the land, build paths and bathrooms for his intended clients, place lighting there, etc.

He is then and only then justified in calling the land his own, being able to legally repel invaders, etc.

The possibility of hard cases does not detract from the fact that most cases are easy.

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 these to Bionic, have we thereby conceded that the 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 9 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 must 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 inflicted 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."

The relations between these civil associations which do not have much in common other than desire for mutual benefit through commerce and trade -- their "foreign policy" -- ought to be based entirely on libertarian ideology.

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 sum, 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.

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)
X
X
Y
X
Z
X
W
Initial Allocation
X Y Z W

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)
X
X
Y
Y
X
Z
Y
Z
X
W

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."

“Need”

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.

Thoughts and Feelings

God knows my "secret thoughts," but He does not feel my feelings. This is because He cannot live my life for me. The experiences of my will, i.e., my pleasures and pains, joys and sorrows are entirely my own and fully private.

That's precisely what makes charity so amazing, because, despite the natural inner privacy of feelings, love involves an intertwinement of wills: a spiritual union and mutual indwelling of hearts.

At the same time, my body and my outward behavior are fully visible and public, yet my body remains my private property which it would be unjust to violate.

And my intellect is in between. My thoughts are private except to God, but unite with the thoughts of others through a conversation. There is virtuous intellectual combat: sometimes I refute another, thereby metaphorically punching him in the brain; sometimes I am refuted, yet with mutual profit and no injustice. Finally, plagiarism, a kind of theft, is everywhere considered highly disreputable.

It's one of the holy paradoxes of Christianity.

In Defense of “Price Gouging”

Robert Murphy has written a marvelous article on the benefits to society of allowing merchants during a natural disaster the freedom to charge whatever price the market will bear for their goods.

For example, he describes the standard effect of prohibiting high prices of destroying the incentives to entrepreneurs elsewhere in the country to bring in new supplies quickly in hopes of reaping high profits during the disaster.

But in addition, he argues that the standing policy of punishing "price gouging" diminishes the chances that before the disaster falls upon the people but after it is predicted, entrepreneurs inside the affected area will stock up additional inventories.

The only way to profit from a disaster is to prepare for it successfully and better than most other people. To penalize folks for their own prudence, foresight, and resourcefulness to secure themselves and loved ones is monstrous. The ant in the fable labored heavily to get ready for his own disaster, winter, while the grasshopper chirped and sang. We are called by Aesop to admire the ant and to look askance at the grasshopper, but the modern state has perversely transvalued all values. In particular, it would be perfectly smart and just for the ant to squeeze the starving grasshopper for all he's got. At the very least, it would teach the grasshopper a useful lesson.

Even if the disaster was not predicted and occurred entirely out of the blue, there may be some people in the area, such as survivalist "preppers," who would be deterred by anti-price gouging laws from helping both themselves and society.

Another great point is that a disaster can last a number of days, and things may go from bad to worse. The market, when permitted to function, will tend to allocate the extremely scarce resources over the entire time period the disaster lasts and cleverly so, as Murphy demonstrates.

Finally, high prices promote efficiency in rationing even a fixed supply of goods. The use of a bottle of water for drinking is usually more valuable than its use for cooking. Faced with high prices, a family may choose to buy just enough water for drinking and leave the rest for other people who would in their turn also shell out just enough to satisfy their most urgent desires. The market thus effects a certain equality of distribution according to "need," as it will not pay a family to up and grab a huge part of the limited supply so it can bathe or water the lawn, while other families are dying from thirst.

(The word "need" has two senses. First, it can describe a means to an end. If you want to buy food, then you need to drive to the store. Second, and more pertinent to this discussion, it can mean "essential for physical survival." Pleasures can be traded off for each other; some can be set aside for the sake of more valued ends. One cannot "need" a pleasure, only want one. But survival is before pleasure, since a corpse does not pursue happiness. In a disaster, there can therefore be a need to be rescued.)

Murphy's example of conservation of gasoline is especially instructive.

Here are a few more reasons why market prices during a disaster are socially virtuous. First, I have supplied a proof of an economic theorem that "the most efficient thing to do with an item you've produced is to sell it to the highest bidder."

Further, if prices are kept artificially low, then what determines, during the inevitable disequilibrium shortage, who gets the goods? It may be the quickest or those who live closest to the store who will get them, which of course begs the question, "What makes these arbitrary fellows the most deserving?" But if there are lots of people in the store yet not nearly enough goods at the enforced low prices, the lucky recipient may well be he who is the most violent. "Why," such a person may think, "should the things I want be obtained by the person in front of me in line? If I were to shove him aside rudely, or beat him unconscious, or even kill him, then I'd get the stuff." A sense of community is especially important during a disaster, where people may sometimes need to risk their lives heroically to save others. Yet anti-price gouging laws pit people against other, encourage unjust violence, and hurt the "one for all, all for one" public spirit.

Further, high market prices in the affected area encourage not only the migration of goods from the outside into the area, increasing the supply, but also the migration of people from within the area outside, decreasing the demand. Both of these put a downward pressure on prices. Government price controls create an illusion that the situation is better than it is and delay the realization that goods are in short supply. Under interventionism, people may end up leaving, too, but only after they've become convinced that all the available goods have been consumed. This may take some time. High prices, on the other hand, offer an immediate and highly visible signal to the people that they could benefit financially by running away, such as to stay for a while with members of their extended families elsewhere in the country. This signal also conveys the market's sense of exactly how severe the crisis is expected to be.

During a natural disaster, a shopper is upset at the Kwik-E-Mart owner that he is selling bottled water at high prices. Perversely, the shopper is not upset at the other shoppers in line who are not only not selling bottled water at all (and who therefore pathetically made no preparations for the disaster and proved themselves useless to society) but are competing with him for the existing water, thereby showing that they failed so much as to bother to leave the area while making explicit demands to be served by society and arrogantly daring to insist that the poor Kwik-E-Mart owner sacrifice for them.

Regarding Murphy's final question, namely, whether it is moral to profit while others suffer, I don't think a natural disaster establishes communism, abolishes property rights, or suspends the Constitution. We might even argue that such hard times test the people's willingness to obey the law. If they viciously and with malice in their hearts report "price gougers" to the authorities, in order to get revenge against their slightly better-off fellows, they demonstrate only that their morals are a pathetic facade that the storm has swept away as surely as it did their cars. And if Murphy's (and perhaps my own) arguments fail to persuade them of the social value of the free market, then their minds, too, are as weak as their moral fiber. They would then fully deserve their misery.

Lastly, while heroic works of mercy may occasionally be called for during a disaster, and we honor those who thereby risk their lives, the principle of every man for himself in fact works wonders in saving lives. It is precisely when each person knows that he alone is responsible for the safety and well-being of his family that he exercises maximum diligence and effort in providing for it. If everyone imagined that the "community" would take care of them, then I think a disaster would have truly terrible consequences.

Oceans Pollution

The problem of the pollution of oceans is a very recent one. It may indeed be a serious issue. But a lot of people think about it in the wrong ways.

Some imagine that polluting the oceans is a moral wrong, a personal sin. We must repent and do better. And by "better" these people mean that we must destroy our own economies, die out, and that the remaining survivors must adopt primitive subsistent existence.

Others think the problem indicates that the human race as a whole is stupid and pitiful. We are playing with fire or forces we do not understand. We are bound to destroy ourselves in our conceit that we are masters of the earth. The gods will punish us for our impudent presumption that we can build and continuously improve our civilization.

Finally, there is talk that pollution arose due to "greedy capitalism." We need to create some sort of global government that will regulate pollution for the sake of the common good.

All of these points of view are inane.

It is obvious that oceans suffer from excessive pollution because they are not anyone's private property. They are what economists call a "common resource," and they have of late begun to suffer from the tragedy of the commons: overexploitation and pollution. No one has an incentive to protect either the fruitfulness or the cleanliness of oceans, unlike land where pollution is naturally minimized as property owners "selfishly" pursue their own interests.

Nothing particularly sinful is going on. One way to fix this problem is to privatize the oceans. The difficulties here are that water flows, which means that pollution tends to be either everywhere or nowhere; and that privatization seems technically tricky.

Another solution could be some sort of technological wonder, such as an autonomous robot that would swim around the world, find plastic in the waters, and devour it. The human race remains as ingenious as ever; however, no such technology exists for now.

Finally, pollution has nothing to do with capitalism. It's a fundamental and inescapable limitation of the world, a metaphysical evil. Our world is marked by entropy. Machines are not 100% efficient. Any social system whatsoever, whether capitalism or socialism or any despicable third way in between, that is at all committed to production and improvement in the human standard of living, as opposed to enforced primitivism, will inevitably generate industrial waste and trash. The only question is how safe disposal of trash is best achieved, and capitalism proves itself superior in regard to this task just as much as to any other. Socialist dystopias tend to be massively polluted.

These considerations suggest that for now at least, we are almost entirely helpless against this formidable problem. Fixing up the oceans is still beyond human power. Since ought implies can, and we can't help ourselves, we are under no obligation to do anything or worry overmuch. However, there is no need to give up hope. The planet's salvation is not in our primitive past but in the advanced and prosperous future. We'll come up with something.