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

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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.