A Scandal in Bohemia

Tomorrow I’m off to the PCPE. Here’s the paper I’ll be presenting. Those who read me regularly will find nothing new in it; the aim of the paper is simply to introduce the general ALL/C4SS approach to a Prague audience.

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One Response to A Scandal in Bohemia

  1. MBH March 23, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    Great read. I wonder if you’ll say why you put more emphasis on counter-economics through voluntary commerce than counter-economics through voluntary non-commerce (Creative Commons, Open Source, etc.). And I’m not saying it should necessarily be reversed. I’m curious why they shouldn’t stand on equal footing, at worst. I mean, it seems like you’re dismissing both anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism, but then you decide to come down on the side of private property as fundamental — allowing voluntary non-commerce to be an outgrowth of the private system. I suppose my question is: aren’t these systems both self-sufficient? Isn’t trying to ground voluntary non-commerce in a voluntary commercial system like trying to ground logic in materialism? I hope I’m not coming off overly-critical: I’m with you at least 90% of the way. I just worry that you might be grounding voluntary non-commerce in voluntary commerce, rather than thinking of them as stand-alone systems that deeply intertwine with one another. It also seems to me that voluntary non-commerce (VNC) is what opens the door to voluntary commerce (VC) (though not necessarily that VNC is the grounds for VC, but that VNC is a prerequisite for access to VC).

    First, as Hayekians argue, most of the relevant information about preferences is local, inarticulate, and constantly changing; second, as Misesians argue, even if you could get this information, it would all be in the form of ordinal rankings, and without translation into cardinal prices there’s no way to combine the ordinal rankings of different people; and finally, even if you could get the information into cardinal form, in order to use it to plan the economy you’d have to solve millions of simultaneous equations at rapid speed.

    But VNC doesn’t want a planned economy. It just wants to do as much as it’s capable of doing better than VC and hand off what’s left to VC. And it may turn out that it does more than 50% of human interactions better than VC. It may do 2% better than VC. But the percentage is irrelevant. What matters is that VNC is prior to VC. And you may agree with that; I’m not really sure. But I get the impression (mostly through a boiling pot of your work, Kevin Carson’s, John Robb’s, and Yochai Benkler’s) that counter-economics will be best served by VNC as primary with VC playing a supporting role, rather than the other way around. Professor Benkler delivers this dimension — well, I read it as implicit in his work — in The Penguin and The Leviathan.

    So I wonder if you and/or KC, RG, etc. will say whether you think this conceptual distinction is useful, whether you think your work respectively treats VNC as prior to VC, vice versa, or as simultaneous, whether you think they stand alone or whether one is grounded in another. Tactically, wouldn’t it be more appealing to focus on VNC, making it explicit that VC handles what VNC can’t, but stressing VNC as the sort-of first-level principle of counter-economics?

    To address the part of the paper that says, paraphrasing, some people say that we should prune the branches of the state and then once we get far enough, then we can decide whether to strike at the root. I take what I’m saying to be, aren’t there two ways to strike at the root? Don’t VNC and VC both represent root-strikes? Why should we want a society based on VC (on the assumption that otherwise we’ll be slaves) if a society based on VNC also takes out the root (and keeps it out by handing off to VC what it can’t handle)?

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