Friday, June 10, 2016

Wake Up, Judge Napolitano!

Judge Andrew Napolitano sounds alarm: Wake Up, America!  But I wish he would wake up. His mind and passion could advance the free nation movement – if he would pay attention to what happens in the longer sweep of history.

The good Judge seems to believe that America may be saved from downward spiral into tyranny – if only more citizens will work to rein in abuse through the Constitutional, democratic process. The first step is education – 51% of the electorate must learn to vote responsibly.

I used to believe that too during the first decade of my conscious libertarianism, during the 1980s. But my own personal education, along with experience running for elective office as an unabashed libertarian, weakened my hope that liberty might be achieved through education of the majority. Most of us must remain rationally ignorant, after all, of most of the mechanisms that improve our lives.

In 1993, I founded the Free Nation Foundation to work on the plan that we libertarians could achieve liberty for ourselves – not through teaching others – but by completing our own educations.

Look at the history of states with an eye to see the sweet spots of prosperity and liberty. I assume prosperity and liberty go hand-in-hand because prosperity only grows where there is considerable freedom of trade, as even statist economists seem to agree. The US for the past 150 years has certainly been one of these sweet spots. Note however I do not claim that the US has been as free as libertarians would prefer; only that it has been very good when compared with the norm of states.

Here is a critical step in my argument. The US sweet spot was not planned or designed by liberty lovers. Rather it just happened. It grew as a spontaneous order in an environment where such growth was possible. The same is true of other sweet spots in history. They all grew as a consequence of human action but not of human design. (For more detail see my 2003 paper.)

We scholars and builders start there. How and why did sweet spots of liberty grow? Which of those circumstances, which gave rise to the sweet spots, can we influence? Which, when we gain better understanding of the process, can we shortcut around?

Teachers of math at the level of calculus normally insist that the students in their class start out with an understanding of math at the basic level, such as algebra and trigonometry.

I insist, for the Free Nation Foundation such as it was and may continue, that participants in the discussion be already educated at the basic level – that participants be already libertarian. If we start with libertarians we avoid the impossible task of educating the electorate. We avoid the impossible task of the interested 2% trying to educate the reluctant 98%. We can make progress if we libertarians face each other in this project.

We got a start during 1993–2000. See the archive. Much more needs to be done. A great man such as Judge Napolitano could encourage us, if he wakes up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A challenge to Ludwig von Mises and his followers on the history of political economy

In a blog post on July 20, 2015, Peter Boettke quotes Ludwig von Mises with this sentence from the closing paragraph of Human Action:
The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built.
I learn a lot from Mises about the impossibility of socialism. But Mises goes too far in this sentence concerning what has been accomplished with economic knowledge.

We (who study economics from a viewpoint which emphasizes spontaneous order and market process) tend to believe that we understand why some nations have grown prosperous, in contrast with other nations which have remained poor. We see differences in the institutions of property rights and law. We know enough, we believe, to explain what has happened. But we cannot claim that our knowledge has yet founded any successful, prosperous nation, as I described more fully in this 2003 paper. (I will allow however that some of the progress in China during the past 30 years has probably been encouraged by knowledge such as ours.)

Contrary to a literal reading of the Mises quote above, nothing much outside academia has been built upon our economic knowledge. We have too few followers among the rich and powerful.

There have been sweet-spots of prosperity in human history. But these have happened spontaneously — guided by an invisible hand which we are only beginning to perceive and describe. The need for perception and description of the institutions which make free nations possible encouraged me to start the Free Nation Foundation back in 1993. It is still a worthy project.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lessons in the Reformation

Last night I watched Martin Luther: The Reluctant Revolutionary*. The story contains precautionary lessons for free-nation activists.

Caveat: I am no authority on this history.  I see only that a person better educated in this history might have valuable insights pertaining to the dismantling of a social order which, although corrupt, was long established.

Civil law broke down after Luther's preliminary accomplishment in discrediting particular aspects of law which emanated from the Church in Rome.  There were massive uprisings.  These followed, I would guess, from individuals' suppositions that most of their unsatisfactory bonds were now open to challenge.  Luther opposed the bulk of these uprisings.  Brutal suppression of the uprisings came from local political authorities and cost 100,000 lives, as I recall the video.

I am struck that this unexpected revolution in civil order might be partially explained by Timur Kuran's book,  Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification. Kuran tells how people have private preferences which often differ from their publicly-expressed preferences.  Social pressures influence an individual's publicly-expressed preference.  But these social pressures are themselves a consequence of publicly-expressed preferences.  The consequence is that an entire population can be near a tipping point without this nearness being evident to anyone in the population, assuming I have understood Kuran.  Private Truths, Public Lies gives valuable insights.

Sequence matters.  I often think of a change-of-law scenario which seems to work: a cruise ship or an airline.  When you enter onto a ship or an airline, you understand that you are entering a different environment of law for the duration.  You understand that the Captain sets the rules, but usually you are happy enough with this arrangement.  You can see that it makes sense.  Normally, you willingly defer to the judgment of the Captain and the Captain's representatives, the crew.

On the scale of a tiny free nation, I propose that a similar change-of-law scenario might play out.  When the bulk of the population have picked themselves up from their prior situations and voluntarily moved themselves into a new environment, I suppose that they enter with an expectation that they do not yet know all the new local laws, that they will need to be cautious till they have learned the new local laws.  I sketched this further in Why Not a New Hong Kong?  But of course this is only one conjecture.  Spencer MacCallum's The Art of Community offers another useful view.

We need much more respectable and scholarly work in this line.


* A 110 minute video produced in 2002 by PBS, in its Empires Series.  I got it on DVD from Netflix.  But apparently it is also available for free in streaming format on the PBS website.

Statement of Purpose

This blog will offer occasional posts which continue the work of the Free Nation Foundation.

The focus is the FNF work plan, as first sketched in the founding prospectus Toward a Free Nation. I also intend to admit a blurry area around the focus, as appropriate for the FNF antechamber. But the intended audience is definitely limited to people who are already libertarian.

A few others, who are unfamiliar and unsympathetic with the FNF work plan, will probably find and read this material. But, if I succeed, my awareness of those other readers will not tempt me to address them in my writing here. I aim to host a discussion on an advanced level. Participants should have previously mastered some basic material.

Comments are moderated and will be held to this standard.