Archive | November, 2008

Olbermann in the Neutral Zone

Keith Olbermann, mad strangler I got a giggle out of Keith Olbermann’s claim (conical hat tip to Lew Rockwell) that he refrains from voting in order to maintain his objectivity and neutrality – as though Olbermann’s relentless attacks (70% laudable and on target, 30% barking mad) on the Republicans haven’t provided far more help to the Democrats than his periodically marking a box or pulling a lever could possibly do. What is this mystique about the magical power of the ballot – which is actually one of the least effective forms of political action for an individual?

One reason I don’t embrace the agorist/voluntaryist anti-voting position (though I like its arguments a lot better than the pro-voting arguments) is that both the anti-voters and the pro-voters strike me as making the same mistake of vastly exaggerating the significance of voting. Whatever contribution it makes to the good result of getting the less bad doofus in power, and whatever contribution it makes to the bad result of helping to sanction and prop up the system, are both minuscule. (Mind you, I think minuscule contributions can be morally relevant. But public advocacy still has a heck of a lot bigger impact than either voting or not voting.)

These Deaths Have Been Brought To You By The Number Eleven

Everything you need to know about Veterans Day – from Bill Anderson:

Flag Eagle! At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, 90 years ago today, the fighting on the Western Front stopped. What most people do not know is that because the generals wanted the 11-11-11 slot, there was another 11 on 11-11-1918: thousands of men, including my great uncle, Ralph Cowell, fell that day. Ralph was one of 320 Americans to lose his life before 11 a.m.

There needed to be no fighting that day. The Germans had agreed to pull back, and everyone was anxious for the fighting to end. But that was not good enough for the powers that be, who wanted to do something cute with the number 11.

Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Mine, that is. There’ll also be a round of responses and counter-responses over the next week or so (the “Cato Unbound” format).

Cato Institute building with Alliance of the Libertarian Left logo superimposed Here’s Cato’s summary of my essay:

In this month’s lead essay, philosopher and libertarian theorist Roderick Long draws a sharp contrast between corporatism and libertarianism properly understood. He argues that liberals, conservatives, and even libertarians have all been guilty to some degree of obscuring this difference, and that the quality of our political discourse has suffered accordingly. He suggests that libertarians should guard themselves against falling into the trap of “vulgar libertarianism,” in which all things good spring from business, and particularly from business as usual. Corporations, he argues, should be no more free of scrutiny than any other institution in a free society, and often businesses have done more than their share to hamper free economic relations in the industrialized world.

One implication of all of this is that the truly free market is farther away than we imagine. Long suggests several ways in which a freed market might look different from what we see around us today. Notably, nearly all of these differences are to the benefit of the consumer and the small or start-up business. These likely outcomes of laissez faire suggest new grounds for left-liberals and libertarians to revise their thinking on economic issues and on politics more generally.

And here’s Cato’s introduction to the whole exchange:

This issue tackles a grave misconception: the idea that corporations and markets are synonymous, and that what’s good for the one is good for the other.

Astute economists have noted that far too often, corporations act to restrict the free operation of the market. Corporations that have become successful in a free or quasi-free market don’t like to face competition any more than any other entity, and their success gives them the resources, unfortunately, to stifle would-be competitors. In these cases, corporations and governments can often find themselves in an unholy alliance against consumers, other firms, and liberty itself. Corporatism, in other words – a system that seems to value corporations as an end in themselves.

And after that – what’s an advocate of the free market to do?

lying thieving mutualist conquers all In this month’s lead essay, philosopher and libertarian theorist Roderick Long examines the often tangled relationship between governments, corporations, and those who argue both for and against laissez-faire capitalism. Is a truly libertarian politics possible? Or do libertarians always run the risk – despite their best intentions – of sounding like, or acting like, apologists for an alliance between the state and corporations?

In the rest of the issue, we will hear from three authors with different takes on corporatism and its relationship to free-market advocacy. Political analyst Matthew Yglesias has expressed skepticism about libertarian and free-market advocacy in the past, owing to corporate entanglements. Economist Steven Horwitz has argued that many of our current economic troubles owe precisely to corporate entanglements with the state, and has urged liberals and libertarians to recognize the many potential points of agreement they might find on these issues. And economist Dean Baker has criticized what he refers to as the “conservative nanny state,” or the ways in which the wealthy use their resources to harness government power to their own advantage. Be sure to stop by through the week as our contributors debate these very important issues for the future of a free economy.

Needless to say, I’m excited to have such a prominent forum for the promotion of the cause, and I’m particularly happy to express my gratitude to Jason Kuznicki for offering me this opportunity, as well as to my various left-libertarian comrades on whose ideas I have freely drawn in my essay. Our quest for world domination continues ….

The Face on the Barsoom Floor

Under Too Many Moons of Mars Check out the latest update on the upcoming John Carter of Mars movie.

Man, I’d really like to see them do this right; but I’m a bit worried that the guy who’s going to write and direct it has so far been involved only with animated films (albeit really good ones) aimed primarily (though of course not solely) at fairly young audiences. Still, he seems to be saying the right things. Keeping my fingers crossed – all twenty of them ….


Okay, I just read this related story and now I’m more worried. The Frazetta approach is “stale”? Grrr ….

A Heap of Slavery

Nozick’s Tale of the Slave is online. You should go read it (it’s short) before continuing this post.



heap of slaves Okay, welcome back. Although the story ends with a question I think it’s clear that the intended answer is “none of them,” and that the sequence of cases is meant to be a kind of argument for that conclusion.

It’s important to see, then, that Nozick’s argument is not merely a Sorites argument.

A Sorites argument has the structure “A isn’t different enough from B to belong to a different category; B isn’t different enough from C to belong to a different category … and so on … so all the instances A through Z must belong to the same category.” Thus a pile of three pebbles isn’t a heap; a pile of four pebbles isn’t different enough from a pile of three pebbles to be categorised differently – so no number of pebbles can ever be large enough to count as a heap.

Although there’s philosophical disagreement as to how to describe exactly what’s gone wrong, that kind of argument is clearly fallacious; so if that’s all that Nozick’s argument were doing it wouldn’t be very impressive. But I think there’s a more charitable way of understanding the argument – namely that in each transition from one case to the next we are meant to recognise that the essence of slavery has not been affected – that slavery isn’t at all about how kindly or cruelly one is treated, for example. In a Sorites, each stage is a bit more heaplike than the next, whether it gets all the way to heaphood or not; but – Nozick wants us to see – each stage of his story is not any more freedomlike.

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