Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Anti-Aggression Principle: Better Than NAP/ZAP

 What I like best about my salvo tonight in my debate with StarChild is that I finally have come up with a nuanced but succinct Market Liberal alternative to anarcho-libertarianism's most important piece of bumper-sticker philosophy: the Non-Aggression Principle.  As embedded in the LP Pledge, the NAP (or Zero Aggression Principle) calls for absolute abstinence from the initiation of force.  I today christen my alternative the Anti-Aggression Principle, a name whose single use found in a libertarian context by Google or Yahoo was just as a synonym for NAP/ZAP. The AAP says: the role and incidence of aggression in human society is to be minimized. This is precisely equivalent to saying that the role and incidence of liberty in human society is to be maximized.

The challenge here was how to gesture in a short slogan toward the following two ideas. 1) It's more important to minimize aggression than to demand abstinence from it. 2) That liberty is the best way to maximize human well-being is a default general principle, rather than inviolable and unquestioned dogma.   The first idea motivates the "Anti" in the AAP's name, and the word "incidence" in its body. The second idea motivates the word "role" in the body, and references the economic theory of market inefficiency to distinguish between absolute and optimal levels of liberty.

StarChild and I have for several days been debating the wisdom of increased inclusiveness in the Libertarian Party. The most interesting new things I say are excerpted after the horizontal rule below. StarChild's attire and career are even more flamboyant than Wikipedia says, but he's also exceedingly intelligent, well-spoken, passionate, sincere, polite -- and handsome. Were it not for his vocational flamboyance, he would count as a formidable and serious Libertarian candidate anywhere in America, instead of just in San Francisco.

Thanks to Derek Jensen for pointing me to the Libertarian Purity Test by GMU anarcho-capitalist blogging economist Bryan Caplan. I got a 57.  Caplan is one of my favorite economics bloggers, and I hadn't realized he was the author of the Anarchist FAQ.  A couple years ago I had reviewed his FAQ's attempts to solve the public goods problem, and I still find his arguments unpersuasive -- and his historical examples even less so.

Under my revised Pledge, the party automatically becomes more ideologically pure as it becomes more successful, because as America moves north in Nolan space, the revised Pledge excludes marginal liberty-increasers that it used to include.

My guess is that 5% to 15% of Americans eligible to vote would agree that America should have both more personal/social freedom and more economic freedom. I think the extremism of the LP is the most important second-order reason for it not having anything like that mindshare. The most important first-order reason is the wasted-vote syndrome, but the biggest enabler of that syndrome is that the LP is too extremist to adopt a big-tent voting-bloc brokerage strategy to counteract the syndrome. I think the LP could be several times its size if it maintained 90% of its ideology while embracing the tactic of brokering the votes of the millions of Americans who want a net increase liberty.

I dispute the premise that the Non-Aggression Principle (or Zero-Aggression Principle) is the essence of libertarianism. I would say that the essence of libertarianism is the Anti-Aggression Principle, which says that the role and incidence of aggression in society is to be minimized. (This is precisely equivalent to saying the role and incidence of liberty in society are to be maximized.)

I define a government (i.e. the state) as the institution, or hierarchy of institutions, that maintains a formal monopoly on the initiation of force in a given territory.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Anti-War Libertarians: Wrong On Principle

The Afghanistan and Iraq wars are for American libertarians as the Kosovo war was for American leftists and the Vietnam war was for American jingoists: it's the first time in their living memory that the circumstances of an American war have squarely challenged their spinal reflex to support or oppose them. These wars separated the critical thinkers from the dogmatists in the respective groups. The critical thinkers didn't always take the side opposite the dogmatists, but the arguments they used made it easy to tell them apart.
As I debate Libertarians who oppose America's liberation of Iraq, I'm building a taxonomy of the various arguments they employ.  Here are the ones I've seen so far, in rough order of decreasing weakness. The first five are just lame, and the next seven (in italics) are the ones whose use signals misguided dogmatism.
  1. ChickenHawk: If you've never personally faced danger or risked loss in this or any war, then you cannot argue this war was justified.
  2. Blowback: Invading Iraq might increase the danger you personally face (e.g. from terrorism), so you shouldn't argue that the invasion was justified. [renamed from "Chicken" 2009-12-23]
  3. Mercenary:  You just want to invade Iraq to get a discount on oil, or some other mercenary benefit. [added 2009-12-22]
  4. Patriotic: Americans would be justified in resisting a foreign invasion, so Iraqis are justified in resisting American invasion.
  5. Miss Congeniality: Invading Iraq decreased America's popularity abroad, so we shouldn't have invaded.
  6. Monday Morning Quarterback: The aftermath of the invasion isn't going as well as expected, so we shouldn't have invaded.
  7. Sovereigntarian: The state of Iraq did not initiate force against the state of America, and/or/thus invading Iraq was a violation of international law.
  8. NonCoercitarian: America's military is funded with coercive taxes, so anything it does is wrong.
  9. AmericaFirstItarian: The duty of America's military to defend human liberty stops completely at the current borders of the American state.
  10. CleanHandsItarian: America does not have clean enough hands at home or in the past abroad to try to increase liberty by force abroad now, even by toppling a murderous aggressor.
  11. WhiteGloveItarian: If a policy is likely to result in the death of even a single innocent, then that policy is immoral no matter how much it otherwise increases human liberty, or how much one attempts to avoid such deaths.
  12. Perfectionist: The new Iraqi polity isn't even close to anarcho-capitalism or libertarian minarchism, so we shouldn't have invaded.
  13. Fatalistic: Invasions have never increased liberty and will never increase liberty, so we shouldn't have invaded.
  14. Slippery Slope: If we invade Iraq under these circumstances, then there other countries we should be invading too.
  15. Pessimistic: We should have known that the invasion would yield too little liberty at too much cost, so we shouldn't have invaded.
These arguments are all easy to rebut.
  1. ChickenHawk: An obvious instance of the genetic fallacy.
  2. Blowback: This is as dumb as all the pro-war arguments that end with "then the terrorists win".  What's right is right, period.
  3. Mercenary:  Keep telling yourself that, if that's what it takes to rationalize my disagreement with you.
  4. Patriotic: It's just silly to pretend that all nation-states are necessarily interchangeable in the moral calculus of whether nations can be justly invaded.
  5. Miss Congeniality: It's absurd for a Libertarian in America to argue that what is unpopular must therefore be wrong.
  6. Monday Morning Quarterback: Because time travel is not available, the only interesting content of this argument is the part that overlaps with the Pessimistic argument. However, advocates of the Fatalistic argument need to press the MMQ argument to keep the Fatalistic from being further undermined by history.
  7. Sovereigntarian: It's absurd for a libertarian to invoke this argument, since libertarians believe that rights inhere in individuals and not in collectives like states.
  8. NonCoercitarian: This is a solid argument for an anarchist, but not for other libertarians. Anarchists are not optimal libertarians, because they value their personal first-use-of-force virginity over the actual minimization of aggression in the real world.
  9. AmericaFirstItarian: This argument depends on either facile xenophobia, or on anarcho-capitalists' idea that explicit mutual-defense contracts are the only valid exception to their every-man-for-himself  law of the jungle. True lovers of liberty deny that tyrants should only be opposed by their victims.
  10. CleanHandsItarian: True lovers of liberty don't automatically reject liberation just because the liberators fall short of some ideal. Only reality-impaired conspiracy theorists think that America invaded Iraq for discounts on Iraqi oil.
  11. WhiteGloveItarian: Once the absolutist version of this argument is refuted with the obvious sort of thought experiment, what remains is in fact the Pessimistic argument (below).
  12. Perfectionist: It's silly to measure Iraq's liberty by a standard that even America fails to meet.
  13. Fatalistic: U.S. military force has replaced tyranny with liberty or at least self-determination in the Confederate States of America, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Japan, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Kurdistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.  It's true that most invasions in human history have been inimical to human liberty, but America at the dawn of the 21st century is not your typical invader.
  14. Slippery Slope: Saddam's regime killed over a million people, invaded one neighbor, annexed another by force, fired ballistic missiles at two more, and defied UN disarmament mandates after building a track record of 1) harboring terrorists, 2) using chemical WMDs in a war of aggression and in genocidal attacks on its own citizens, and 3) pursuing nuclear WMDs. Drawing a bright line with only Saddam on one side is easy.
  15. Pessimistic: In Kurdistan and Afghanistan we had existence proofs that the U.S. military could depose tyranny in the Islamic world and replace it with increased liberty and reasonably stable self-determination. Unfortunately for Libertarians who fetishize the party's platform and misinterpret the party's pledge as a declaration for anarchism, the Pessimistic argument is unavailable because it makes a merely empirical case and admits the possibility of a prudently liberty-increasing invasion.
Each of these arguments and counter-arguments are more complex than is summarized above, but anti-interventionist Libertarians all too often act as though the counter-arguments don't exist.  That's  intellectually inexcusable.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Democracy Does Not Scale Well

Arnold Kling quotes an argument by Terry Anderson and Peter Hill that democracy does not scale well:

"It is always costly to ensure that agents [government officials] act on behalf of the citizens and that they do not use their power to extract rents from their constituents...  The costs of monitoring agents increase not only with the geographic size of the collective but also with the number of people in the collective. This is because in a larger collective each member captures a smaller share of the [benefit] created by collective enforcement and therefore has less incentive to monitor the agent...With the stake in the collective inversely related to group size, we can expect less monitoring and more rent seeking and rent extraction as group size increases."

In 1790, the largest state in the union, Virginia, had a population of under 700,000. Today, Montgomery County has a population of over 900,000. Our nine-member County Council answers to about the same number of registered voters as the entire House of Representatives of the United States at the time of the founding of the Republic. We cannot have an accountable democracy with such large political units.

He goes on to propose a hypothetical reform in which we 1) increase the membership of Congress to decrease the number of voters each member represents, and 2) have the members be chosen by state legislatures.

It's an interesting thought experiment, but if granted a single Constitutional wish it wouldn't be my choice. Instead, I'd enshrine two principles about the scope and purpose of each level of government. The first is that no level of government should do something that can be done by a more-local level of government. The second is that no level of government should do something that can be done by private markets, as determined by the standard textbook analysis of rivalry and excludability.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Microcapitalism Meme Is Spreading

Yahoo hosted yet another interesting non-Internet-related speaking event today (three days after some congressional staffers visited, a week after Freakonomics, and three weeks after the Governator). Berkeley's Eric Brewer was a co-founder of Yahoo's Inktomi search engine, and spoke about Technology and Infrastructure For Emerging Regions. It's nice to see a Berkeley professor echoing Hernando De Soto's market-oriented analysis of dead capital -- third-world capital like squatter's land that cannot be borrowed against because the legal system doesn't recognize title to it. Being a technologist and not an economist, Brewer however did botch the definition of a public good. Economists define it as a non-rival non-excludable good that benefits almost everyone in a polity. But Brewer described a public good as "things financed by taxes", and gave education as an example. Education is in fact far from being a pure public good, since the positive externalities of education (the benefit to the rest of the economy) pale in comparison to the positive internalities (the benefits to the student). Despite this mistake, Brewer's talk (and recent paper) is full of good examples of how microcapitalism is better than philanthropy at helping the developing world.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Story Of Hurricane Georges

As Hurricane Dennis retraces Ivan's steps from 2004 towards the Gulf Coast where my family lives, it's a good time to post this hilarious account by my brother Terry about 1998's direct hit from Hurricane Georges.

The Story Of Hurricane Georges

by Mississippi correspondent Terry Holtz

Saturday 8:00 am - 4:00 pm ( day before storm)  Help secure parents home by bringing inside all 27 bird feeders, various concrete gnomes, windmills and other pieces of lawn "art."

4:00 pm  Return to my rented beach house and gather my electronics and all my valuables to bring inland to parents house.

4:30 pm  Realize that I don't own squat and have wasted my life.

Sunday 7:00 AM (Day of Georges)  Call from Dad. Wakes me up to help put hard-top on his classic 1957 T-bird. As he tenderly places the dust cover over car, mentions, (as an afterthought) "you can stay here too."

7:15 am  Realize that storm won't be here for another 10 hours, thank Dad for the wake-up call and decide to head back to beach house for some sleep.

7:20  As I'm leaving, notice Mom, Nancy and baby Charlotte, packing the Cadillac to head inland leaving Dad and me to our fate. Overhear them discussing whether "room service will be any good."

10:00 am  Wake to the sound of police bullhorn, something about "mandatory evacuation." But decide that this probably only applies to tourists and families with small pets.

2:00 pm  Leave beach to join Dad a mile inland (but still on the ocean side of the bayou). My brother-in-law stops by to check on us and mentions that his truck barely got through the water covering the causeway. Ronnie, a native Biloxian, oddly declines our invitation to weather the storm with us.

3:00 pm  First light winds and rain. Sheriffs car continues to disturb the peace with his loud "mandatory evacuation" suggestion.

7:30 pm  Power suddenly goes out, but phone service continues.I remind Dad of his electric power generator, but unfortunately "it's only for emergencies." [Jerry replies that this gasoline-powered generator could not be run indoors due to exhaust, nor outdoors due to the hurricane.]

8:00 pm  Dad decides we should sleep "in shifts." He gets the first shift.

10:30 pm  After listening to 5 hours of continuous radio warnings to not go outside, I get bored and decide to take a drive. Only at the beach is the weather rough. Wind and rain are surprisingly light with only small branches down.

1:00 AM Monday  Wind is picking up with a fair amount of rain. Dad takes over "storm watch" and I get some sleep.

3:00 AM Dad wakes me up saying "We've got a monster outside." We open a door to take a peek and it's like that scene where they open the door in "Poltergeist." The wind is absolutely screaming and the rain stings your face. Flashlights reveal the trees bending and whipping unlike anything I've seen. The sound of trees and branches snapping can occasionally be heard over the roar and the house is surrounded by rising water.

4:00 AM  As I'm eating a snack by flashlight, our neighbor who also stayed, calls to tell us that the local volunteer fire department just let him know that there is eight feet of water over the causeway. On the radio we hear that 172 mph winds have been recorded. For the first time, I notice how much my parents dinnerware pattern resembles "The White Star Line's." make a long story short, we survived. Where I ended the story was only the halfway mark. My house on the beach didn't get a scratch but a dozen or so houses were completely destroyed, down to a bare slab or pilings. On the eastern most point of Fountainbleau beach, 6 houses out of a dozen where destroyed. My e-mail only came on line this afternoon.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Social Security Favors Trophy Wives Over Poor Single Moms

My standard reasons for opposing Social Security are of course 1) that it is monumental inter-generational theft from young non-voters by voting seniors, and 2) that it socializes the retirement savings industry and thus reduces the nation's savings rate and ultimately its standard of living.  A recent Cato Institute article reminds us that the Social Security status quo is also unfair to minorities, poor single moms, gays, and couples in which both spouses need to work:

The overwhelming support for the status quo from the political left is shocking, and should be appalling to members of the Democratic Party or anyone who holds [its] liberal values.  [Democrats seek] to protect a system that systematically discriminates against core constituencies of the Democratic Party, a system that disproportionately benefits white women who have never worked a day in their lives over all other groups. Is that a status quo that the Democratic Party wants to be associated with?

The article is a good summary, but for the full extent of Social Security's inequities you have to read the entire statement of  the Urban Institute's Eugene Steuerle before the House Ways and Means Committee last month.  He details how Social Security is unfairly stingy to
  • minorities with shorter life expectancy;
  • non-working spouses who get divorced one day shy of ten years;
  • single heads of families, whose spouse can abandon them without any effect on the future benefits of him or his next spouse;
  • dual-earning couples (compared to couples with the same household income earned by a sole breadwinner);
  • unmarried couples, such as gays or co-habiting heterosexuals;
  • people who marry a lower-earning spouse after a ten-year marriage with a higher-earning spouse;
  • people who work for more than 35 years;
while being unfairly generous to
  • divorced people whose former spouse dies early;
  • trophy spouses whose high-earning spouses are much older; and
  • people with multiple ten-year marriages (who thus get to multiply the survivor benefits paid on their behalf).
For more on Social Security, see Cato's and the excellent coverage by Jim Glass at

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Questions About Heaven For Terri Schiavo's Parents

As someone who has lost a child, I can understand why Terri Schiavo's parents tried to keep Schiavo's body alive. What's harder to understand is why they worked so hard to keep her out of heaven for so long. My tentative hypothesis is that, for all the tenure and firmness of the grip that religion has on humanity, individual humans are intuitively skeptical that there is an afterlife. One way to check your intuitions about heaven is to consider the following questions:

If on Earth you tried but couldn't have a child, can you have one in heaven? If you had a miscarriage on Earth at ten weeks' term, is the child waiting to meet you in heaven? What about discarded human embryos? What about stem cells? If you were a fetus or infant or child at death and get an adult's mind in heaven, what determines your personality? If you were mentally disabled or senile when you received life everlasting, do you get an adult's mind? Are some people in heaven still smarter or funnier than others, or is everyone equally intelligent and witty? Is there humor at all in heaven? Will any joke still seem funny after 100 trillion years? Will you understand (or be able to learn) every principle of math and science? Will you eventually understand everything, and thus face an eternity of having nothing new to learn? Will you know (or be able to learn) every fact of the history of you, your loved ones, humanity, and the Earth in general? Will you know Earth's future, or be able to observe it as it happens? Will others in heaven know (or be able to learn) embarrassing things about your life? Will you be able to remember any sinful pleasures of your mortal life? Will your memory of your sins be wiped clean, or will you still have shame? Will you be able to play games (like chess) with other people in heaven? Will you ever lose? Can you ever improve at such pursuits? Will you be able to take naps, and if so for what duration? Will people ever have differing opinions, interests, or hobbies? Will there be any possible way to create new knowledge or new art? What intellectual person could be happy having an omniscience withhold knowledge from her? What intellectual person could be happy being omniscient and having nothing left to learn?

Will you have a material body in heaven? If so: Will you need to eat and use the bathroom? Will you be subject to the periodic reproduction-related episodes which our bodies experience on Earth? If you were obese all your life, will you be slender in heaven? If you were a bodybuilder, will you keep your muscles? Can you decide to start bodybuilding in heaven? What are the physics and topology of heaven? Is heaven infinitely big, or does it have an edge? Is there gravity? Do heaven's physical laws govern everyone there who isn't God? Is there conservation of mass-energy and momentum? Is there entropy and friction? Are there any material scarcities in heaven, or does God provide an unlimited supply of any material good you desire?

If there are scarcities, then: What are the economics of heaven? Is there an official currency? Is there private property in heaven? What is the discount rate in heaven? I.e., is there a time-value of money, or are all interest rates zero? Is there technology in heaven? Is there capital equipment to help you produce scarce things more efficiently?

What is the biology of heaven? Are there plants and animals, or are the gardeners and pet-lovers and bird-watchers and equestrians out of luck? Do all your dead pets join you in heaven? Can you breed animals in heaven, or do you get a fixed set of them? Do animals that were nobody's pet get an afterlife? Do kittens in heaven never shed, and puppies never chew on your stuff? Do puppies and kittens ever age in heaven?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Error: Integer Underflow In Time Machine

This universe does not allow time travel to moments prior to creation of time machine being used. To access earlier epochs, use an older temporal conveyance such as or