Each week, IHS Staffers will share their top links from the week across the web.
My link is from March 2011, but I picked it because it syncs up with the book I started reading this week: Thaddeus Russell’s “Renegade History of the United States.” Russell is a left-leaning historian with some libertarian inclinations, but most of all an iconoclast who’s directly challenging some of the more annoying habits of the history profession – “consensus history,” a bias toward group analysis and against the individual, and tendency to prop up “great figures” on both the right and left. Reason interviewed him back in February.
Just for fun, Russell also wrote a blistering critique of the tenure system at The Huffington Post.
I agree with Roderick Long’s post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians that Michael Lind’s dichotomy of democracy and autocracy is crude, and false. But sometimes critics of classical liberal views draw the false dichotomy in a different way. For example, critics like Peter de Marneffe sometimes conflate being anti-democracy with favoring only liberties that correspond to rights to be left alone. On this view, being a libertarian just is to hold that all political liberties should be negative claim-rights not to be interfered with by coercive authority. Likewise, civic republicans such as Philip Pettit hold that liberty is not being dominated, i.e., arbitrarily subject to another’s will, so here they draw the dichotomy as between non-interference and non-domination.
This depiction of libertarian views is unsurprising given that many libertarians themselves endorse liberty as just being non-interference. But I think this framework limits how we conceptualize liberty: in terms of being left alone from interference versus having an equal share of voice in a democratic decision procedure, or being left alone versus being free of arbitrary power. I think sometimes the temptation to dichotomize possible conceptions of liberty leads us to overlook the important connection between recognizing social rules and lawful authority on the one hand, and the normative reasons we have as moral agents on the other hand.
So, what about another alternative conception that people sometimes overlook: freedom as not being subject to coercion whose rationale fails to accord with one’s reasonable normative standards (one’s values, beliefs, etc.)? Any contender authority – democratic, civic republican, or a liberal property rights regime premised upon giving people jurisdiction to make their own decisions free of interference – must accord with a person’s reasonable normative standards or else the person subject to this authority is unfree. Freedom is not about merely being always free of interference (if that is even possible or desirable). Nor is freedom about being free of another’s arbitrary will – as if being subject to a _non-arbitrary_ will solves the problems that motivate us to seek a proper conception of freedom. Rather, freedom is about not being subject to an external will at all. It’s about self-rule.
Gary Becker, in a Wall Street Journal editorial, lays the blame for the last few years of economic turmoil squarely on the shoulders of government intervention. Regardless of what you think of the particulars of his argument, his point about comparing government failure to market failure is perennially important but often overlooked.
The Texas Supreme court invalidated the use of eminent domain for the purpose of building a private oil pipeline. The analysis from The Volokh Conspiracy is the best I’ve seen so far. (If you were wondering, the land seized in the infamous Kelo v. New London eminent domain case is being used as a land dump for debris from the recent hurricane.)
IHS staffer Isaac Morehouse wrote an article for the Mises Institute arguing that environmental protection is a consumption good. I’m intrigued by his argument, but I have come across many environmnentalists who cite studies that climate change will have the greatest effect on the world’s poor, who depend on the few crops they grow or livestock they raise each year for survival. From this perspective, if climate change led to widespread famine, it would have the gravest impact on the world’s poor, since the wealthier nations are capable of building reserves, or simply paying the higher premium for food. I wonder how Isaac would respond to such a turnabout, where the environmentalist claims the world’s poor are harmed more severely by climate change than forced regulation.
Update: Isaac responds, “Before letting claims that ‘global warming will be catastrophic’ move us to government action, we need to seriously study how government action actually works in the real world. Does it actually make things better? What costs are associated with it? This is the public choice analysis I only alluded to in my article, but I beleive a thorough assessment may lead us to conclude that, like it or not, no government action gives us a better chance of meeting potential global warming challenges than government action.” I couldn’t agree more.