Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Read Virgil Storr

OK, so I'm goofing off at work, jumping around the net looking at articles on Austrian Economics. (Is that geeky, or what? But of course, in my line of work this kind of goofing off is called research. ) I've been reading Chris Sciabarra's Total Freedom (I'll have more to say on dialectical libertarianism soon) and I ran across his discussion of the work of Don Lavoie on Austrian economics and philosophical hermeneutics. I'm very sympathetic with Gadamerian hermeneutics (blended with American pragmatism, the later Wittgenstein, and recent empirical work in cognitive science) so I naturally wanted to follow up. Check out Don Lavoie's homepage (sadly, he passed away in 2001). He, Peter Boettke and Virgil Storr have an article called "The Subjectivist Methodology of Austrian Economics and Dewey's Theory of Inquiry." Haven't read it yet, can't wait. (BTW, Dewey's model of inquiry and his notion of ends-in-view has strong similarities to the praxeological critique of indirect consequentialism put forward by Roderick Long. But that's another story.) So who is this Virgil Storr guy? He worth a read, that's who he is. A sample (on the more popular end.)

In the fight against truly free-trade and truly free-markets, the anti-globalization movement has been the unwitting pawn of big business. The Enrons, the Bechtels, the WorldComs and their champions in the Republican Party want free trade even less than the Steel Workers Unions and the Greenpeaces do. Why? Because markets are the only effective check on corporate greed, corporate excesses, corporate profits and corporate power. Being pro-business is not synonymous with being pro-markets; in fact, those two positions are diametrically opposed to each other. Trade, in its most basic form, is simply two people agreeing to voluntarily exchange goods or services. We're all familiar with this kind of relationship: I'll give you my three white marbles if you give me your cat's eye rainbow marble. Markets are these types of relationships, the African bazaar, the West Indian open air market, the Arabian souk, the Latin American mercado, writ large. It's when corporations begin filling their pockets with politicians, bureaucrats and regulators, it's when states sponsor monopolies, it's when access to capital and credit get restricted, it's when the IMF and the World Bank assume they know best that markets become pernicious. Oh, and btw, it's when markets become corrupted that free-market activists cry the loudest.

Multinationals, on the other hand, want government subsidies and preferential tax treatment at home and abroad; they like environmental and other regulations which make it harder and more expensive for competitors to check their ability to bilk customers and underpay workers; multinationals love exclusive contracts with foreign governments to exploit natural resources. In this way, the so-called ambassadors of globalization are but modern day, networked and satellite telephoned versions of the East India Corporation and the British South Africa Company, with one dramatic exception. Although the colonizers talked endlessly about their bringing civilization, education, religion and ultimately freedom to the colonized, everyone, the colonized in particular, saw right through those pronouncements. Everyone, for instance, recognized that when the British said they were bringing civilization what they really meant was that they were engaged in brutal, beastly, bloody conquest. Multinationals, however, seem to have convinced the world that what they're promoting is actually free-trade and free-markets. The Good Guys have a legitimate beef with someone but it's not with markets. They're aiming at the wrong target and what's worse they're helping the big-businesses that they hate so much.

But wait . . .

Respecting property rights is all well and good if the existing regime of property ownership is legitimate but if it's illegitimate, if property was got through theft, through corruption, through racial privilege, through, say, colonial conquest, then that's another matter. Markets don't correct this sort of injustice in fact they perpetuate it, they have no way of compensating the victims, no mechanism for disbursing reparations. And, so its no wonder that the Good Guys (however misled they are about the economics of free trade) are deeply suspicious of markets.

Jamaica Kincaid, in A Small Place, made the point quite brilliantly. "Do you know why people like me are shy about being capitalists? Well, it's because we, for as long as we have known you, we were capital, like bales of cotton and sacks of sugar, and you were the commanding, cruel capitalists, and the memory of this is so strong, the experience so recent, that we can't quite bring ourselves to embrace this idea that you think so much of." Let me make the point another way. If I were to walk into a room full of people and rob them at gun point, it's unlikely that I'd be able to convince them that now, after my crime, we should respect each others property rights and only engage in voluntary exchanges going forward. And even if I were to convince them, perhaps by gun point as well, they're not likely to be happy about it. Certainly, any moral case for establishing a free market that I attempted to make in that room under those circumstances would be sensibly rejected.

Yet that's what so many black and brown hued people around the world are being asked to do by free market advocates. Never mind that you're renting land that would have been yours had it not been stolen a hundred years ago, never mind that your employer is educated and wealthy and that you're not largely because for generations his ancestors denied opportunities to yours, never mind past injustices, let's do the best we can given the current allocations of resources. In a phrase, that's morally bankrupt.


Indeed.

Also check out his "Defining Anarchy as Rock N Roll." That's all for now.


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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy new year, everyone! I just returned from the APA in NYC. I gave a paper, "Enacting Worlds: Karma and the Construction of the Lifeworld." It was a very preliminary attempt to give a contemporary reading of the Buddhist take on karma. It was a Buddhist philosophy, cognitive science, phenomenology thing. Anyway, it went well. Also, I attended the Molinari Society's session on "thick" and "thin" versions of libertarianism. Interesting stuff, though I have to say that I found RadGeek's commentaries more interesting than the papers themselves.

I haven't done a substantive post in a few weeks, but I've got some stuff on deck. I dropped in on a discussion between Brad Spangler and Battlepanda on the topic of transport subsidies. In the exchange, Battlepanda argued that in a libertarian society folks would have no recourse against a polluting factory. I'll soon be posting on some of the topics in and around that issue. Also, I've got some thoughts on my own (very sketchy) version of thick, dialectical libertarianism that I'd like to develop. Oh, and maybe some stuff pro-labor libertarianism.

Also, check out the new blog Black Guile. Good stuff.


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