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Friday, July 06, 2012

Mailvox: I couldn't possibly say

JH makes a prediction:

Vox,

I know you love predictions, so I will predict that your views will more and more trend with Wilhelm Roepke over the coming years. While you got me started down the Austrian path years ago with the Mises AGD book study, the moralist and idealist (and perhaps wishful thinker) in me settled on Roepke. I have read a couple of his books, but I like the essay linked here, and it shares many of your recent themes:

Freedom, in other words, means being less dependent on the highly unstable modern economy as much as it does being less dependent on government. This is the point missed by many conservatives: they fail to see that decentralizing the economy is as vital as decentralizing the govern­ment. Dependency is indivisi­ble: dependency on an unstable market naturally leads to dependency on government when market difficulties arise (e.g., from the downside of the business cycle). Government is sought as a substitute, not simply for the market but more specifically for stability.

and

Roepke acknowledges that because the pursuit of self-interest does not always lead to harmony government intervention in the econo­my is sometimes needed. Here Roepke makes the important contribution of distinguishing between "compatible" and "incompatible" interventions. The former intervenes in the market in such a way as not to freeze the price mechanism and thus allows the forces of the market to adjust to the intervention. A protective tariff would be one example of such an intervention.

and

Roepke is not opposed to all forms of technical innovation. What he bemoans, however, is the indis­criminate application of these same tech­niques where they are inappropriate (as in agriculture) or where the social costs outweigh the immediate econom­ic benefits.

and finally

But Roepke is not a "dogmatic democratist," recog­nizing not only that democracies have their weaknesses but can sometimes be the most despotic form of govern­ment. More important than the particu­lar form of government and narrow consideration of political rules is the (meta-governmental) spirit which informs and controls it. That spirit must be liberal in the properly understood sense. There is a distinction between a liberal order and its opposite, "collectivism." The latter is the tendency to destroy those healthy forms of society and government identified above. It must recognize the proper spheres and limits of government, of the economy, and other institutions. It is entirely possible, and there are historical examples of this, for a government to be "democratic" but not "liberal." ... The opposite of collectivism is not democracy ...


Me: Is it "pie in the sky" thinking to envision a hierarchical society where people have a sense of common purpose, have a physical connection to the land and production of their food, work in small to medium sized businesses producing high-quality or innovative items that fuel not just the spirit of consumption and competition but the (entrepreneurial) spirit of creativity and pride also? Sure, especially in our "multicultural wonderland," as you (validly but too often) like to point out. But still, I like Roepke's nuance, passion, conviction, and clarity. And as the cliche goes, you can't hit a goal/target that you can't see, Roepke's vision of a "third way" would serve as a good goal.

Back to my prediction - I have seen you back off or fight the hard line libertarian dogma when you see its faults because you are great at reason and logic, and not wedded to ideology but right/wrong. As fragile as Roepke's vision is, it seems to agree with you, albeit it may be too "nice" and "pretty" for you. ;-)
I don't know, since I've never actually read Roepke, although I remember Congressman McCotter speaking well of his ideas when I interviewed him the first time. But one thing that some people have a tough time grasping is that the libertarian goal of maximizing human liberty not only doesn't necessarily mean embracing the principles of the American Libertarian Party, but also does not mean maximizing the permissible range of human behavior.

This concept should not be difficult if you understand that maximum tax revenues do not usually coincide with maximal tax rates. In the same way, maximal human liberty is unlikely to coincide with a complete absence of law... even though we acknowledge that the law, as it exists in the USA and most other states, is a transparent fiction to which the elite no longer even pretend to subscribe.

Labels:

38 Comments:

Anonymous Noah B. July 06, 2012 2:01 PM  

@JH

Can you explain what you and/or Roepke believe(s) makes certain technology or techniques inappropriate? I don't quite follow you there.

Anonymous WinstonWebb July 06, 2012 2:03 PM  

Roepke acknowledges that because the pursuit of self-interest does not always lead to harmony government intervention in the econo­my is sometimes needed.

I don't know much about this guy. Depending on his opinions on monetary policy, the above statement MIGHT just be the simple caveat that it appears to be. However, the use of the weaselly "not always" and "sometimes" in any sentence that also contains "government intervention" is a serious red flag.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 2:22 PM  

It seems like Roepke is just repackaging distributism...

One note is that the instability he's using to argue for increased government intervention is actually caused by government intervention. He specifically uses the business cycle as an example. If he can't understand that the business cycle is caused by government intervention in the form of central bank tinkering with interest rates and the money supply, I see no reason to pay him attention.

Anonymous patrick kelly July 06, 2012 2:24 PM  

" However, the use of the weaselly "not always" and "sometimes" in any sentence that also contains "government intervention" is a serious red flag."

Is this always true, or just sometimes?

Blogger Earl July 06, 2012 2:30 PM  

I am kinda Jeffersonian too (small to midsize businesses, abolish intellectual property) but is it pie in the sky? One thing fiat and corporatism have going for them is sheer economic power manifesting on the global stage resulting in (so far) American dominance. Are we willing to trade our fiat and corporatism in for what seems like an arrangement that will not be able to compete on the global stage? Or am I making a false dichotomy?

In other words, folks (like Vox) are willing to make moves to protect American interests by focusing on slow but real growth. But is that really the best way to compete right now? You have to admit that fiat worked for what it was designed to do: rapid exponential economic growth. Thank fiat for your computer chips and prosthetics.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 2:32 PM  

From wikipedia:

The main elements of the social market economy in Germany are the following:[7]The social market contains central elements of a free market economy such as private property, free foreign trade, exchange of , and free formation of prices.In contrast to the situation in a free market economy, the state is not passive and actively implements regulative measures.[8]Some elements, such as pension insurance,universal health care and unemployment insurance are part of the social security system. These insurances are funded by a combination of employee contributions, employer contributions and government subsidies. The social policy objectives include employment, housing and education policies, as well as a socio-politically motivated balancing of the distribution of income growth. In addition, there are provisions to restrain the free market (e.g. anti-trust code, laws against the abuse of market power etc.). These elements help to diminish many of the occurring problems of a free market economy.[9]

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 2:33 PM  

So it's still an economy with government looting and counterfeiting, but it's called "humane".

No thanks.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 2:35 PM  

Or am I making a false dichotomy?

You are.

Anonymous duckman July 06, 2012 2:40 PM  

Roepke's vision of a "third way" would serve as a good goal.

After Mussolini, "third way" is a "third rail" phrase.

Anonymous Noah B. July 06, 2012 2:45 PM  

"Thank fiat for your computer chips and prosthetics."

Don't forget to thank fiat, too, when your computer chips are gathering dust because the voltage on the power grid is barely stable enough to keep an incandescent light bulb flickering.

Anonymous bob k. mando July 06, 2012 2:47 PM  

OT:
new record for falsified science -
http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/07/new-record-for-faking-data-set-by-japanese-researcher/

interesting blog is keeping track of the acceleration of faked papers -
http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/

http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/is-science-becoming-less-honest-join-retraction-watch-in-a-live-chat-with-science/

Anonymous jerry July 06, 2012 2:49 PM  

The government needs to be severely hobbled or hamstrung.

Make political office the most unrewarding, unfulfilling, and unprofitable duty one can perform, and limit every participant to one term.

When this happens freedom will ring. If it does not happen, tyranny will triumph. It's as simple as that.

All your hand wringing and "libertarian central planning" will accomplish nothing but to give aid and comfort to tyranny.

Anonymous patrick kelly July 06, 2012 2:53 PM  

"what seems like an arrangement that will not be able to compete on the global stage?.."

In a world of nations with governments funded by taxes, any group of people who tries to do without either will be removed or assimilated by their "competition". This is the inherent flaw in anarchist or libertarian ideology that keeps me from completely embracing either, no matter how attractive they sound in theory. Unless someone want to try and tout Afghanistan or Somalia as exceptional examples. No? I didn't think so.

Having stuck my neck out with that, I still think this country could move much further in the libertarian direction before reaching that ideological abyss.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 2:53 PM  

You can't have libertarian central planning...

Anonymous Orion July 06, 2012 2:58 PM  

Third way... wasn't that Marx's spiel? Thesis, anti-thesis, then synthesis? Not to conflate the two, it is just interesting to hear that phrase brought up.

Anonymous Orion July 06, 2012 3:04 PM  

"Are we willing to trade our fiat and corporatism in for what seems like an arrangement that will not be able to compete on the global stage?"

The question is, with the current system, with what are we competing on the global stage? Besides raw materials production?

Anonymous jerry July 06, 2012 3:21 PM  

You can't have libertarian central planning...

And yet here you sit, an "elite" minority worshipping at the altar of Roepke - a libertarian who advocates capping the size of cities and industries.

Your problem, (and the problem with nearly all libertarians) is that you believe that government is broken and needs to be fixed.

In truth, government is fixed - and needs to be broken.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 3:59 PM  

Um...I'm not the one praising roepke...

Blogger Justus Hommes July 06, 2012 4:08 PM  

@ Noah B. regarding technology.

First, think of Roepke as a moralist as much or more so than economist. Roepke wants to pause before accepting a technology and consider the consequences, and ask if it will truly lead to a better state for humans. Perhaps technology allows us to make, sell, buy more stuff from big box retailers and make more trips to our fast-casual chains, and do all these things 24/7, but in what way does this enrich us as humans?

There is a famous Roepke/Mises story (excerpted from the web):

In 1947 Ludwig von Mises and Wilhelm Röpke met in Röpke’s home of Geneva, Switzerland. During the war, the Genevan fathers coped with shortages by providing citizens with small garden allotments outside the city for growing vegetables. These citizen gardens became so popular with the people of Geneva that the practice was continued even after the war and the return to abundance. Röpke was particularly proud of these citizen farmers, and so he took Mises on a tour of the gardens. “A very inefficient way of producing foodstuffs!” Mises noted disapprovingly. “Perhaps so, but a very efficient way of producing human happiness” was Röpke’s rejoinder.

What most people feel to grasp is that just about everything in life carries with it diminishing returns. More trade, more production, more efficiency, more money, more choices, more whatever DOES NOT equate to more happiness. The counter-intuitive (and I think deeply Christian as well as Aristotelian) truth is that happiness and human "flourishing" often comes from denying short-term satisfactions, desires, short-cuts and gains in exchange for a more stable long-term development. This can be true on a personal and societal level.

So technology becomes a potent way to create short-cuts, and do things faster and easier than before. Specific to technology, and just off the top of my head, I can think of a few areas where technology results in unintended and potentially disastrous consequences:

First, VD recently discussed the uneasy tension of machines replacing human labor. I will not speak for VD, or Roepke, but I can personally see that once you start down that road, it is hard to return, and the choice you are quickly left with is higher-wage button pushers in the US vs. low-wage button pushers in another country. And regardless of location, pushing a button (or series of them as I am doing now on a keyboard) may be less satisfying (spiritually, personally) then actual engagement in the creation of a tangible work product.

Second, mobile devices have made many professionals (myself included) slaves to a "24/7" work cycle. China calling at 10:30 PM? Better take that. Important prospect looking to kick-off a project on a Sunday? If I don't respond he may go elsewhere. The very devices that make us work more efficiently also cause us to work more, longer, and at lower wages (often off the clock altogether). Again, we are well down this path, and if I don't answer that Sunday email my competitor might, so I do, but has it made my life any better? Am I any happier? Is our society much better off?

Third, and I will get push back here for sure, but is it really good for humanity that technology has made us so efficient at spying, stalking, and killing each other? I certainly wish electronic surveillance, Nuclear and Chemical weapons, and drone warfare wasn't advancing at the pace it has...

One last thought. Roepke was a German but escaped to Switzerland, and grew to love the Swiss system. The multiple languages, the quirky and unique structure of the different cantons, the small towns with rich community, the artisan trades (watches, chocolate, etc.) that focused on craftsmanship - all of these things made Switzerland very inefficient on many levels, yet the quality of life he encountered and was able to live was rich. This, along with his deep Christian faith, went a ways to changing and/or bringing nuance to his Austrian economics.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 4:24 PM  

It also helps that the Swiss don't have a penchant for military adventurism or for inviting in third world immigrants...

Anonymous VD July 06, 2012 4:43 PM  

hese citizen gardens became so popular with the people of Geneva that the practice was continued even after the war and the return to abundance.

They're still around. I've seen these from the train outside Zurich. I always wondered what they were for.

Anonymous JMH July 06, 2012 4:47 PM  

Is it "pie in the sky" thinking to envision a hierarchical society where people have a sense of common purpose…

No, not pie in the sky. But, um, tell me. Where exactly do you plan to sit in this hierarchy you speak of? Where do I sit? What do I do if I don’t like my place in the hierarchy? What if I don’t share your vision of our “common purpose?” Envisioning a grand harmony of dutiful yeoman happily toiling away in their appointed station, inclining their heads respectfully to the Lord of the Manor and expecting the tradesmen to knuckle their foreheads in return… well, it all sounds so, so… English. Perhaps the Vicar will stop by for tea next Wednesday and chat about Lady Drudsburry’s Turnip Festival. All very pleasant sounding, so long as you’re not cast in the role of Third Footman, or the scullery maid, or Ol’ Podger digging tubers all day.

First, think of Roepke as a moralist as much or more so than economist.

Gaia save us from the moralists. At least economists can be proven dead wrong, even if they won’t admit it.

Roepke wants to pause before accepting a technology and consider the consequences, and ask if it will truly lead to a better state for humans

Ah, quite sensible. Who is in charge of the pausing? Who does the considering? Who is it that answers the question? It matters, you know. The foreman at Amalgamated Buggy Whip Inc. probably doesn’t think those newfangled horseless carriages will lead to a better state for humanity. Best not to allow that technology into the mix. And the various executives of the InterUrban Commuter RailRoad and Steamship Company aren’t terribly impressed with those dangerous, noisy and unreliable aero planes. Goodness, let those things carry cargo or passengers and you’re just asking for death and calamity.

Blogger Crude July 06, 2012 4:58 PM  

Hey Vox. Have you seen this yet? PZ Myers' handling of the Free Thought on Freethoughtblogs is about what you'd expect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=o1mLHdTsmPc

Blogger Justus Hommes July 06, 2012 5:15 PM  

@ JMH,

1) Hierarchy does not have to mean immobile. Baseball in the US is an example of an organization based on both hierarchy and meritocracy.

2) No comment, as you would likely object to the terms philosopher, ethicist or theologian.

3) Pausing does not mean being a luddite. It's about education yourself, your family, and others, and not being conditioned to approach every new technology or development with naive acceptance and enthusiasm. Journalism and Government are in the back pocket of corporations (see VD's posts on vaccines), and you are right that people will tend to align themselves with their financial interests, but that doesn't excuse us and mean we should throw up our hands and embrace the shiny utopian future promised by science and technology.

Your comments are witty, though, I'll give you that...

Anonymous JMH July 06, 2012 5:28 PM  

Hommes, you never answered the question. Who decides? Who says this technology isn't okay, but that one is? Who promotes the kid from AAA to the Bigs and who DFAs the 38 year old catcher when his bat speed is maybe gone?

Who?

Anonymous JartStar July 06, 2012 5:31 PM  

Roepke wants to pause before accepting a technology and consider the consequences, and ask if it will truly lead to a better state for humans.

While I certainly don’t want Roepke being the “Decider” when it comes to what technology makes people happier, there is an important point here.

Some pretty good research into happiness has shown that money can buy happiness, but only when it is applied to making memories. A new iPhone may make life a bit easier when looking for information, and may amuse us, but it is very doubtful that it will make anyone happier. Eventually it is just another smart phone. Should you buy new solid oak flooring for your house or take the family on a ten day cruise? Take the cruise for sure. Over time the oak is just a floor, but everyone on the trip will have memories that will last this life and into the next.

Think of your happiest moments. They are unlikely to be caused by the acquisition of new, more efficient technology or process.

Blogger Justus Hommes July 06, 2012 5:49 PM  

JMH, First and foremost, you. You should pause to consider the impact of technology, pause to consider the corrupt practices of banks and corporations, and pause to consider if you like your place in society and consider what you will do to change it if necessary. Then, you should teach your family to do the same. And you should advocate this approach to others. Do you bank with the mega-banks? Do you rely on Facebook as your primary tool for social interaction? Do you rely on a school or daycare to teach your kids how to think and (not) ask these type of questions?

I know what you are getting at. Is there a role for government to do the pausing and reviewing, and make a declaration forbidding/allowing/taxing every new thing that comes along? I may come down on the affirmative in some cases, and maybe in some areas you would disagree, but that is tangential to my point.

If as individuals and a society we can't wake up to the fact that the unchecked acceptance of technology, medication, financial innovation, debt, corporatism and so forth can have devastating consequences, then no government authority can save us. What is the saying, we get the government we deserve?

Blogger Justus Hommes July 06, 2012 5:54 PM  

JartStar, Roepke has been dead 50 years, so I doubt he wants to apply for the role of "Decider" but I could certainly have done a better job wording that, perhaps "Roepke would want people to pause..."

I like your point on using resources to create experiences and memories vs. simple consumption.

Anonymous Josh July 06, 2012 7:15 PM  

Is there a role for government to do the pausing and reviewing, and make a declaration forbidding/allowing/taxing every new thing that comes along?

Not no, but hell no.

Anonymous zen0 July 06, 2012 7:22 PM  

Josh July 06, 2012 2:22 PM


If he can't understand that the business cycle is caused by government intervention in the form of central bank tinkering with interest rates and the money supply, I see no reason to pay him attention.


I thought the actual argument was that the business cycle was PERVERTED by government intervention.

Anonymous jerry July 06, 2012 7:38 PM  

Um...I'm not the one praising roepke...

My mistake.

But go down the road of modern libertarianism and you will get to Roepke soon enough. Oh how the progressives will admire your compassion!

Anonymous VD July 06, 2012 7:38 PM  

Hey Vox. Have you seen this yet? PZ Myers' handling of the Free Thought on Freethoughtblogs is about what you'd expect.

That was hilarious. The amusing thing is that he's actually surprised.

Anonymous JMH July 06, 2012 8:26 PM  

Okay, I get to decide. Great. I already do. So we're good then. No changes needed. What were you talking about? Oh, right, a hierarchy, connected to the land, living with a common purpose.

Yep, still sounds like some sort of Disneyfied version of the Victorian English countryside. Nice place, but I'm pretty sure it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes folks toiling away to make it work, and I still don't think many people want to be the Third Footman. How is it you expect to achieve this idyllic society? The only hisotirical examples we have of such a thing were highly stratified, without a whole lot of social mobility. Plus, they generally were empires of some sort, relying on extracting colonial resources where there was even worse inequity.

Drop the "common purpose" and you have the American Colonies (and early United States). You get social mobility in exchange, but the "common purpose" just goes right out the window. Everybody was pursuing their own happiness. That was part of the genius of the Founders - they didn't feel the authoritarian need to harness everyone to some sainted "common purpose." That's for megalomaniacs. Society's just no damn good if we're not all on the same page, and - oh! Look at that! - it just so happens to be that's the page I'm already on. So, better get with it, Comrade, get with the program. You aren't one a wrecker or a hoarder, are you? An enemy of the people? A counter-revolutionary?

Oh, of course that's not what you mean, not at all. You'd never support re-education camps. Well, not for most things. For a few things, maybe. Maybe not the same things your other Roepkenites do. Oh, isn't that a bit of a worry? What if you have a falling out with your fellow remakers of society and they decide you're part of the problem? Jeez, I'd stay away from guys with ice picks if I were you.

So, I've had my fun. Yeah, big is often bad. How do you plan on achieving your Roepkeford-on-Blightyflow ideal? You might realize by now I care about the details, the nuts and bolts. Don't bother trying to sell me the vision, tell me what it costs. What's your asking price?

OpenID ampontan July 06, 2012 10:43 PM  

"Roepke is not opposed to all forms of technical innovation. What he bemoans, however, is the indis­criminate application of these same tech­niques where they are inappropriate (as in agriculture) or where the social costs outweigh the immediate econom­ic benefits."

In other words, he is a de facto Luddite. The social costs almost always outweight the immediate economic benefits.

Blogger Earl July 07, 2012 4:00 AM  

JMH, why coerce people into a more natural state of affairs- joy, real production, stratification on merit, shared values about technology, etc. when you can get them to do it voluntarily, happily- as a result of removing the coercive effect the government uses to protect monopoly and all things artificial? Oh- and don't forget sharing the gospel. 'Cept I have this funny feeling you're not into that, and may never experience true joy and inner peace.

Anonymous JMH July 07, 2012 12:42 PM  

Earl,

Remove government's coercive force? I'm all for that. But in this discussion, J. Hommes has said quite plainly he's in favor of government coercion to prevent "inappropriate" technologies. Clearly he advocates banning most modern food production techniques, relegating a large percentage of the population to back-breaking toil in the fields. For their own happiness, whether they want that sort of happiness or not.

J. Hommes said he was in favor of government coercion "in some cases" and then claimed that was tangential to his point. No, it's not. It's central to it. People don't want to grub in the dirt all days for their food. They don't want to be bow-legged, dust covered, and smelling like a horse just to travel from one town to the next. They don't want to die from plagues and malnutrition. They like technology. Hommes and Roepke don't. They're luddites, fine. That's a choice they can make. I'm going to point out an example of unimaginvative thinking on your fellow Roepkean's part however, that is relevant to the discussion of technology.

...mobile devices have made many professionals (myself included) slaves to a "24/7" work cycle. China calling at 10:30 PM? Better take that. Important prospect looking to kick-off a project on a Sunday? If I don't respond he may go elsewhere. The very devices that make us work more efficiently also cause us to work more, longer, and at lower wages...

Alternately, those devices let us spread our work more casually, organically and naturally thorughout our lives, rather than concentrating it here and there in artificial "work days" and "work shifts." The notion of Sunday as a day devoted to worship is a religious one, but the notion of a weekend devoid of work is very secular. And German. I use mobile connectivity to allow me and my family the freedom to order our lives as we see fit. I work from home some days, from the office others, from the road on a family trip still other times. I take breaks in the middle of the day to do things with my family, and work late at night when they are asleep to get the work done. I control when and where I work. There is nothing inappropriate about mobile technology in my life, but Hommes is not so adept at managing his own affairs, so he wants to do away with this disruptive force and go back to a more orderly German model of work. He is perfectly free to turn off his cell phone on Sunday, not check email after 5pm, etc. Will that maybe cost him money? Sure, but if it buys him happiness, isn't that the goal he's after? Giving up short term financial gain for longer term happiness? Learn to do it in your own lives first before you preach it to me.

Speaking of preaching, you want to share the gospel? Please, go right ahead. A stronger civic society - the society of voluntary rules vs the coercive one of government laws- is a necessity. But you'll have to forgive me if I remain skeptical of a gospel preached by people advocating a German philosopher's vision of a hierarchical society tied to the land, with a "common purpose" and an aversion to technology, backed up by government "in some areas."

Blogger RobertT July 07, 2012 5:11 PM  

"Roepke is not opposed to all forms of technical innovation. What he bemoans, however, is the indis­criminate application of these same tech­niques where they are inappropriate (as in agriculture).."

I'm with this guy. Down with mechanized tractors, trucks, bailers and harvesters. Back to horses, buggies and and mules. And while we're at it, lets throw out telephones and electricity. Talk about inappropriate. All those wires strung all over the place.

Anonymous Orion July 08, 2012 5:22 AM  

"If as individuals and a society we can't wake up to the fact that the unchecked acceptance of technology, medication, financial innovation, debt, corporatism and so forth can have devastating consequences, then no government authority can save us."

Government authority can save us... that happens on a stopped clock basis. If you want an example of how a Scientific directorate would work read books from Jerry Pournelle's Codominium future history. Control of science would likely be done under the auspices that you think, but in reality be a way to repress various countries and competition. Yep, dead hand of government writ large.

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