11 Mar 2014

More on Slavery and the Free Market

Austrian School, Economics, Shameless Self-Promotion 171 Comments

Since I got the sense that not many of you appreciated the full brilliance of my original post, I have returned to my claim that slavery could not exist in an otherwise free market. An excerpt:

First, let’s switch contexts away from the emotional one of slavery. Instead, think about tools. Suppose in the middle of the night, gnomes sneak into carpenters’ toolboxes across the country, and sneak thousands of handheld electric drills out of their starting places and deposit them into the desks of secretaries. For whatever reason, the next morning the law recognizes the secretaries as the legitimate owners of the electric drills. The secretaries find the tools quite useful as paperweights and doorstops.

Now: In this silly example, does anyone think that it would take a massive war, with hundreds of thousands of deaths, to return the electric drills to use in carpentry? Of course it wouldn’t. Even though the secretaries can use their new property in the office setting, the electric drills are far more productive when in the hands of carpenters (and electricians, handymen, etc.). Even though the secretaries are the legal owners, they wouldn’t retain the drills in their desks, for use as paperweights and doorstops. Instead, they would realize they could sell the drills for their market price, and (if they wanted) use the proceeds to buy “real” paperweights and doorstops for a fraction of the money raised.

171 Responses to “More on Slavery and the Free Market”

  1. Lord Keynes says:

    “If, somehow, we found ourselves in such a ridiculous situation, then market forces would quickly rearrange the property titles so that these very productive “factors” were held by new owners, working in different lines. This movement of property titles would involve payment of money from the (former) slaves to the plantation owners, but it would be in the form of “future money” since the slaves initially wouldn’t have any money of their own. etc. etc.”

    This argument is incoherent and just assumes that slave owners would

    (1) allow all their slaves to buy their freedom.

    (2) ignores the way owners have an incentive to breed new slaves from old ones to perpetuate slavery.

    Here’s the mentality of an *actual* southern US slave-owning cultivator in 1858 right here:

    “I own a woman who cost me $400 when a girl, in 1827. Admit she made me nothing — only worth her victuals and clothing. She now has three children, worth over $3000 and have been field hands say three years; in that time making enough to pay their expenses before they were half hands, and then I have the profit of all half hands. She has only three boys and a girl out of a dozen; yet, with all her bad management, she has paid me ten per cent. interest, for their work was to be an average good, and I would not this night touch $700 for her. Her oldest boy is worth $1250 cash, and I can get it. “
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/experience/gender/docs5.html

    That is, slave reproduction and new slaves are an important part of your investment.

    And given that the slave population of the southern US grew by an average rate of 2.4% per annum from 1810 to 1860 even after slave imports were outlawed after 1807, it is clear most of the growth came from slave breeding.

    • Andrew' says:

      Oh good. This means for a second time I get to point out that they did allow them to buy their freedom. That is until it was made illegal almost assuredly because this practice would have ultimately precipitated the end of slavery.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        “That is until it was made illegal almost assuredly because this practice would have ultimately precipitated the end of slavery.”

        No, it wouldn’t: history shows us that large slave-owning societies generally just breed their own new slaves, even when there’s some level — perhaps even high level — of granting of freedom to slaves.

        Therefore it is highly probable even a high level of emancipation of slaves after some years of work will not necessarily eliminate slavery

        • Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

          LK,

          Could you please explain how slavery ended without a large-scale war in every country other than the United States?

          Thanks.

          • Lord Keynes says:

            In most countries, a little thing called government intervention and legislation and enforcement of it?:

            1811: Spain abolishes slavery at home and in all colonies except Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo

            1814: The Netherlands outlaws slave trade

            1815: Congress of Vienna. Eight victorious powers declared their opposition to slavery

            1818: Treaty between Britain and Portugal to abolish slave trade.

            1818: France abolishes slave trading.

            1834: The British Slavery Abolition Act comes into force, abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire. Legally frees 700,000 in West Indies, 20,000 in Mauritius, 40,000 in South Africa. The exceptions, territories controlled by the East India Company and Ceylon, were liberated in 1843 when they became part of the British Empire

            1836: Portugal abolishes transatlantic slave trade

            1841: Quintuple Treaty is signed; Britain, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria agree to suppress slave trade

            1843: East India Company becomes increasingly controlled by Britain and abolishes slavery in India by the Indian Slavery Act V. of 1843.

            • Ken B says:

              Forgot one. In 1791 the very first legislative act of the parliament of the colony of Upper Canada outlawed slavery.

            • Richie says:

              Those were all large-scale wars?

              • Ken B says:

                Well are you playing a game, that only wars in large countries can count? Because the revolt in Haiti was large scale in proportion to Haiti.

              • Ken B says:

                The distinction relevant to the argument Bob raises is whether markets ended slavery or “statist violence” did. All LK’s examples, and mine from Canada, are the latter.
                Haiti was a slave revolt.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                LK and Ken B:

                If the government imposes a minimum wage below the market wage, or not much above the market wage, then it would be rather naive to claim that the government caused wages to be where they are.

                Abolishing slavery through law doesn’t imply the law is what caused it to end, or be reduced.

                I’m pretty sure Bob wasn’t arguing that slavery was abolished everywhere else in the world except the US without any government laws outlawing it on the books.

            • Ben B says:

              And what monopoly was responsible, and failed, to make slavery illegal in the first place?

              • Ken B says:

                You think slavery antedated the modern state? France did not have serfs until the Capets took over?

              • Ben B says:

                That doesn’t answer my question. Why did States fail to make slavery illegal? Weren’t they responsible for the laws?

              • Lord Keynes says:

                Because there was a moral revolution: public and influential groups of people opposed to it and making the argument that it was immoral, and able to command wide assent too.

              • Ben B says:

                Ah, good. We are getting somewhere. So it is public opinion that determines the scope of the Law. Now, we just need a moral revolution that views all aggression as immoral; then, we won’t even need a State.

            • Ken B says:

              Hey LK
              Do you see all the prevarication and shifting going on? Bob makes a claim about the effect of the market on slavery. Several of us rebut. The responses to those rebuttals do not address the substance. Instead we get nonsense about history or tu quoque or other non sequiturs.

              • Ben B says:

                You do realize that there are sub-threads, don’t you?

                Let it be known today: Ken B does not ever deviate from the main topic.

              • Anonymous says:

                Subthreads justify false claims? I did not know that.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                Indeed: I have still not seen anyone properly address the simple point: large slave owning societies tend to breed new slaves from old ones to perpetuate slavery.

                2000 years ago in ancient Rome as described by Columella:

                “To women [sc. slaves], too, who are unusually prolific, and who ought to be rewarded for the bearing of a certain number of offspring, I have granted exemption from work and sometimes even freedom after they had reared many children. For to a mother of three sons exemption from work was granted; to a mother of more her freedom as well. “
                De Re Rustica, Book 1.18.19
                http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Columella/de_Re_Rustica/1*.html

                1900 years later in the American south it was no different:

                “Gradually, however, American slaveholders realized that they could acquire slaves more easily through breeding than buying. …. etc, Some masters even promised slave women freedom if they bore a certain number of babies. Women slaves thus did double duty, laboring in the fields and creating new capital for their masters in the form of babies”
                Dorothy Schneider and Carl J. Schneider, Slavery in America, p. 51-52.

              • Hank says:

                “large slave owning societies tend to breed new slaves from old ones to perpetuate slavery.”

                I think one of the problems is lack of clarity on your part. Do you think ALL or SOME large slave owning tend to perpetuate slavery this way?

                You lack a positive theory about why the few that perpetuate slavery continue to engage in it.

                Also, you don’t address the primary common claim, which is that slavery almost always tended to die without resorting to large scale wars. Yet it seems, again from lack of clarity, that you disagree the South ever could do this merely by pointing out the absolute rate increase in slaves right before the Civil War. This is disingenuous for at least 2 reasons:

                1. Absolute rates vs. Percentage of Population for which I concede I never looked up

                2. This statistic gives in no way gives any predictive power about future events in the longer term.

            • Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

              LK,

              You know its entirely possible for government to lag behind the market, pass legislation to reflect things the market was already doing, and then take credit for it right?

              Technically speaking, government also ended Jim Crow in the south. Nevermind that some of the staunchest opponents to Jim Crow were private businesses who wanted to be able to serve all customers equally.

              All hail the state, because without it, we’d still have those awful Jim Crow laws that the free market created, right?

          • Ken B says:

            Flapdoodle.
            Haiti.
            Slavery still exists in much of the muslim world.

            Care to retract your bogus factoid?

    • Michael says:

      aren’t you just arguing price here, not principle?

    • Major_Freedom says:

      “This argument is incoherent and just assumes that slave owners would”

      If the argument is “incoherent”, how in the world are you parsing any coherent “assumptions” out of it?

      Coherent. That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      ————————–

      “Here’s the mentality of an *actual* southern US slave-owning cultivator”

      So I guess the existence of one person who rejects Keynesianism implies that any Keynesian argument about the economy is necessarily false?

      Here’s some advice…when you see an argument about incentives, you are not seeing an argument about predicting what every last individual will do.

  2. Lord Keynes says:

    And, furthermore, the whole argument just boils down to a totally tautologous proposition:

    “A truly free market system eliminates slavery, ”
    where “truly free market” is taken to mean *by definition* a system where slavery cannot persist.

    That’s fine if you want an analytic a priori proposition with no necessary truth about what happens in the real world.

    • Seth MacLeod says:

      Wow, you really didn’t read the post where Murphy explicitly says that he is not assuming that and then goes on to explain his argument which doesn’t in fact rely on that.

      Kudos.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      LK wrote:

      And, furthermore, the whole argument just boils down to a totally tautologous proposition:
      “A truly free market system eliminates slavery, ”
      where “truly free market” is taken to mean *by definition* a system where slavery cannot persist.

      LK, I have said over and over–at the start, middle, and end of each of these posts–that that is NOT what I am doing. In the analogy, did I say, “By definition, secretaries can’t own electric drills, so that’s why they would be returned to the carpenters”?

      Do you like it when people say, “Keynesians just like to rule people, that’s what their arguments for stimulus boil down to”?

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      That’s not Bob’s argument. He’s saying that if you had a society that was free in every way other than some people being other people’s property, then slavery would naturally go away due to market forces. He’s not merely saying that if a society was free in every way then there would be no slavery. That would be a tautology as you said.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        “He’s saying that if you had a society that was free in every way other than some people being other people’s property, then slavery would naturally go away due to market forces.”

        And is this a necessary truth, or a contingent one? Is Bob Murphy really committing himself to historical necessary?

        Is he saying that in any society in the real world in the past or future with this alleged freedom that it is necessarily true that slavery will always disappear?

        Can’t you see that a man who commits himself to such an argument — and refuses to recognise that his argument on this subject should be contingent and probabilistic — has effectively invented an analytic a priori world where things just boil down to truth in virtue of terms used?

        • Lord Keynes says:

          **”himself to historical necessity?”**

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          I’m not sure whether he’s stating this as a theorem of praxeology, but if he were he’d presumably view it as synthetic a priori, not analytic.

          But this doesn’t seem to me like a praxeological result, because it’s not couched in ceteris paribus language, I.e. in terms of an unfalsifiable statement about what would obtain in a counterfactual world. (I think Austrians believe that all nontrivial praxeological results are in that form.) But then again, the regression theorem doesn’t seem praxeological either, for the same reason.

          • Hank says:

            As conceived by Mises, all praxeology is analytic, not synthetic. Please stop confusing this. Here is David Gordon:

            “I made the mistake. I thought Mises said the truth of economics is synthetic a priori truth. What do we mean by synthetic? Well synthetic a priori truth would be one that is a priori. We can know its true just by thinking about it. It would not be one we could just discover to be true just by looking at the implications of the concept. It would be one that’s true about the world but not one that’s just true from the nature of the concept. So at one time I thought ‘Mises said the truth of economics are synthetic a priori, but in fact he doesn’t say that in Human Action. He says they’re tautologies, which would be that they’re not synthetic a priori truth. Whether he’s right to hold that view is another question, but that was his view.”

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJjSeCUK2uU

            Here is Walter Block on the regression theorem. Note how he says he is not aware of any formal discussion.

            “In my view, the regression theorem is apodictic, praxeological. This brings up the question of the bitcoin. It is not yet money. It is not now a generally accepted means of final payment. But it is now at least a quasi money. More than just a few people treat it as a money. Probably, the govt will soon blow this out of the water with regulations, taxes. But, if not, it might become a money. If so, would this be a violation of the regression postulate? Yes, if we interpret it as saying that nothing cannot become a money unless it was at one time a valuable COMMODITY. Of course, bitcoins were never a valuable commodity. But, if we more sympathetically interpret the regression theorem not in terms of a commodity, but in terms of SOMETHING of value, then when and if bitcoin becomes a money, it will not contradict the regression theorem for, surely, before it became a money (if it does) it was SOMETHING of value, albeit not a commodity, because it cannot be denied that some people valued it.

            I’m not aware of any formal discussion of this in the literature. But, I went to the Mises web, and found this:

            http://archive.mises.org/18767/bitcoin-implodes/
            http://archive.mises.org/17356/another-bitcoin-crash/
            https://mises.org/daily/6401/Bitcoin-Money-of-the-Future-or-OldFashioned-Bubble
            http://archive.mises.org/17294/a-clear-concise-look-at-bitcoin/
            http://archive.freecapitalists.org//forums/t/25162.aspx
            http://archive.mises.org/17249/ideological-and-irrational-exuberance/
            http://archive.freecapitalists.org//forums/t/23845.aspx

            • Lord Keynes says:

              Gordon is wrong, and Mises may not say explicitly in HA that praxeology is synthetic a priori, but that is precisely what he needs to make his epistemological statements work: to have statements both a priori true and saying something necessarily true of the real world.

              Also, Mises defends the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge in The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method (1962):

              “The essence of logical positivism is to deny the cognitive value of a priori knowledge by pointing out that all a priori propositions are merely analytic. They do not provide new information, but are merely verbal or tautological, asserting what has already been implied in the definitions and premises. Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions. There is an obvious objection against this doctrine, viz., that this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a—as the present writer thinks, false—synthetic a priori proposition, for it can manifestly not be established by experience.” (Mises 1962: 5).

            • Hank says:

              Lets clarify what Mises thought, SETTING ASIDE WHETHER HE IS CORRECT.

              “but that is precisely what he needs to make his epistemological statements work”

              I would argue that Mises disagrees with you about the precise requirements for epistemological statements.

              Also, I have no idea how you come to your conclusion about this quote. He says:

              “Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions.”

              You see? ONLY experience. a posteriori. This statement EXCLUDES the a proiri.

              “this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a—as the present writer thinks, false—synthetic a priori proposition”

              You see? The synthetic a priori proposition in question, he thinks, is FALSE.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                No, hank, your shoddy reading of Mises is wrong.

                Mises:

                “There is an obvious objection against this doctrine, viz., that this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a … synthetic a priori proposition, for it can manifestly not be established by experience.”

                Mises is defending the existence of synthetic a priori knowledge.

              • Hank says:

                LK,

                Are you just trolling me right now? Or do you actually believe what you just wrote?

                It is not wrong. You are again blinded by what you WANT to believe is true. I have a professional philosopher backing up my claims. A man who has a PhD in philosophy. Furthermore, Mises doesn’t say it in his MAGNUM OPUS. You are misreading the quote.

                “this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a—as the present writer thinks, false—synthetic a priori proposition, for it can manifestly not be established by experience.”

                He says it right there. He thinks it is FALSE, because it cannot be established by experience, because he said earlier,

                “Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions.”

                It’s okay to be wrong about this. It’s not okay to be stubbornly deny something just because of your desperation to deny praxeology based on your opinions about Kant.

              • Hank says:

                Experience is undeniably synthetic. To Kant, to Aristotle, to everyone. Sensory perception is commonly used as examples in logic textbooks for synthetic propositions.

                “The horse is white”
                or if you prefer,
                “Wages fell during the Great Depression”

                This is established by experience (either yours or someone else), which Mises thinks is the ONLY way to make synthetic propositions. Whether he is correct is another matter. But he says it RIGHT THERE!

              • Ken B says:

                Let’s re order and reword.

                i say the claim “there are no blue statements” is a blue statement. I think it is a false statement.

                Question. Do I believe there are blue statements?
                Answer. Yes, because I called the claim there were none false.

                This is correct even if blue is some confused or imprecise notion. What blue is matters not here. I believe on blue.

                LK is right and Hank is wrong.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                No, hank

                (1) nobody — including me – disputes that Mises accepts synthetic a posteriori statements. You’re just throwing up a straw man

                (2) your pathetic misreading of the Mises quote continues:

                “this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a … synthetic a priori proposition, for it can manifestly not be established by experience.”

                (3) Mises’s statement right here in HA requires synthetic a priori knowledge:

                “The theorems attained by correct praxeological reasoning are not only perfectly certain and incontestable, like the correct mathematical theorems. They refer, moreover, with the full rigidity of their apodictic certainty and incontestability to the reality of action as it appears in life and history. Praxeology conveys exact and precise knowledge of real things.” (Mises 2008: 38).

              • Hank says:

                I would like to say you guys are completely insane.

                LK

                1) I was not trying to imply that. I was only trying to be more clear.

                2) I may be pathetic, but you don’t have to call me out. Thanks.

                3) This is according to your own criteria, not Mises’

                Ken B,

                “i say the claim “there are no blue statements” is a blue statement. I think it is a false statement.”

                He did not say “the claim there are not blue statements” is false.

                Subject: The claim there are no blue statements

                Predicate: is false

                The above is the wrong interpretation.

                He said the claim that there are no blue statements is itself a blue statement is false

                Subject: the claim that there are no blue statements is itself a blue statement

                Predicate: is false

                So I am correct and you fail at logic. You should have said:
                *Hank and David Gordon are wrong

                I am fine with being on the side of David Gordon. Thanks.

              • Hank says:

                Furthermore, Mises adds, “for it can manifestly not be established by experience.”

                Why would he add this? Because he said earlier in the quote:

                “Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions.”

                You get that? ONLY EXPERIENCE

                “this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a synthetic a priori proposition”

                Is this established by experience? NO

                Therefore, since this proposition is not established by experience, it is not synthetic according to Mises, because he said “Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions.”

                Furthermore, you guys are most definitely biased against everything Mises, which supports my case.

                Furthermore, he does not say it in his magnum opus, Human Action, which supports my case.

                Furthermore, a PhD in philosophy agrees with me, which supports my case.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                LK and Ken B are, unsurprisingly, wrong.

                Ken B:

                You are approaching that statement from a linguistic perspective when it is in fact a statement grounded in action.

                Yes, if you declare that “blue statements do not exist” is a false statement, then yes, you are saying that “blue statements exist” is a true statement.

                At this point you are only willing to recognize the existence of blue statements. And that is because you are interpreting Mises as only saying they exist. But that isn’t what Mises meant. He wasn’t just arguing over whether someone has written down or verbally uttered a synthetic a priori statement, such that Mises is saying “People have made those statements!” In distinction to others who have said “Nobody has written or uttered any synthetic a priori statement!”

                That is a ridiculously stupid interpretation.

                No, Mises was arguing not just that they exisy, he was claiming that there exists TRUE synthetic a priori statements.

                For consider who he is arguing againsy. His target was not those who deny synthetic a priori statements have ever been written down or uttered. His target are those who deny that there are TRUE synthetic a priori statements.

                Just because Mises didn’t explicitly write “true” before the word “synthetic”, it doesn’t mean that wasn’t what he was thinking. Mises was heavily influenced by Kant, and Kant is most famous, or infamous if that suits you, for holding that there exists true synthetic a priori statements. Kant didn’t spend his career making sure everyone was aware of merely that people were making such statements. He spent his career arguing that there are true such statements.

                You are making a stupid point based on the most superficial of readings. It’s clear you havent’t read Mises or his influences. All you are doing is taking one interpretation based on context denial, which to a casual reader might seem plausible because it doesn’t include thw word “true”, and then you are seeking validation from LK agreeing with you but is only possible if he too has such a superficial understanding.

                Consider now the following:

                There is no such thing as true synthetic a priori statements.

                This is what Mises meant as false because it is itself a synthetic a priori claim.

                So how about you my intellectually non-courageous snarkmaster mcgee?

                I ask you: Is that statement true? That there is no such thing as true synthetic a priori statements?

                If so, then I know that you are committing a performative contradiction, because the statement is itself synthetic a priori.

                Neither you nor LK have collected every statement ever uttered by everyone and tested them all and concluded they are all a posteriori. No, what you and LK are doing when you say there does not exist true synthetic a priori propositions, is from your armchair, from your a priori (in your case flawed) reasoning.

                Do you want a towel?

                ———————–

                LK,

                What I said to Ken B above also applies to your birdbrained interpretation of what Mises wrote.

                It’s a chore to wade through your rookie mistakes.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                So MF are you saying that Mises never said that praxeology yields synthetic a priori knowledge?

                Yes or no?

              • Lord Keynes says:

                and the whole purpose of your statement above is to insist that Mises thinks synthetic a priori knowledge is real and praxeology yields it, which is **exactly** my point.

                It is only you who are so stupid that you misunderstand Hank.

              • Hank says:

                Furthermore, LK, there is a another huge contradiction you are over-looking, that further supports my case.

                Through Human Action, Mises calls them “tautologies” like a thousand times.

                Clearly, tautologies are analytic, not synthetic.

                To say something is a tautology and synthetic is a clear contradiction in terms.

                For the record, I am pretty sure MF and I are in disagreement.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                No, Hank, Mises uses the word “tautology” but once and “tautologies” but twice in Human Action:

                “Aprioristic reasoning is purely conceptual and deductive. It cannot produce
                anything else but tautologies and analytic judgments. All its implications are logically derived from the premises and were already contained in them. Hence, according to a popular objection, it cannot add anything to our knowledge.
                All geometrical theorems are already implied in the axioms. The concept of
                a rectangular triangle already implies the theorem of Pythagoras. This theorem
                is a tautology, its deduction results in an analytic judgment. Nonetheless nobody would contend that geometry in general and the theorem of Pythagoras in particular do not enlarge our knowledge.”
                …..
                The theorems attained by correct praxeological reasoning are not only perfectly certain and incontestable, like the correct mathematical theorems. They refer, moreover, with the full rigidity of their apodictic certainty and incontestability to the reality of action as it appears in life and history. Praxeology conveys exact and precise knowledge of real things.”
                (Mises 2008: 38–39).

                That passage is actually denying that a priori reasoning only yields empty tautologies.

                And in the other passage he making the same point:

                “The modern natural sciences owe their success to the method of observation and experiment. There is no doubt that empiricism and pragmatism are right as far as they merely describe the procedures of the natural sciences. But it is no less certain that they are entirely wrong in their endeavors to reject any kind of a priori knowledge and to characterize logic, mathematics, and praxeology either as empirical and experimental disciplines or as mere
                tautologies.”

              • Major_Freedom says:

                LK:

                So are you making the synthetic a priori claim that there does not exist true synthetic a priori statements?

                “and the whole purpose of your statement above is to insist that Mises thinks synthetic a priori knowledge is real and praxeology yields it, which is **exactly** my point.”

                Your point is moot, because you are not engaging the statement “There does not exist true synthetic a priori statements.”

                You are not denying it.

                You are not affirming it.

                You are tip toeing around it.

        • Ken B says:

          Bob is really just arguing that the market will always move assets to their most valuable use. If free labor is more efficient than slave labor Bob argues that a free worker is a more valuable asset than a slave worker.
          I think this argument fails because a slave is comparable to a laborer whose property is being stolen.

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            “Bob is really just arguing that the market will always move assets to their most valuable use.” Look at my discussion with Transformer for my argument against this:
            http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2014/03/more-on-slavery-and-the-free-market.html#comment-310538

            • Ken B says:

              Yes, similar idea. There just is no reason to assume the transaction would be feasible. Because, due to slavery, an owner/employer can extract a non market level surplus from using the slave. As well as any psychological rewards.

              For an example of the latter, we have Christian charity. If you believe as did John C Calhoun, of sainted memory on this particular blog, that slavery is good for the slave then that burden the owner might be willing to bear, from charity.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Are there really people on this blog who like Calhoun?

              • Ken B says:

                Well there’s Tom Woods and his defenders.

                Some links here
                http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2013/12/where-are-the-rothbardian-defense-agencies.html#comment-118816

                Note in the exchange Bob’s reflexive defense of woods and Calhoun with the Jefferson thing. As i pointed out it’s fair to call TJ a complete hypocrite, but so very very wrong to liken his writings to Calhoun. TJ was never pro slavery as an idea, he just liked his perks.

              • Ken B says:

                If you look at it Keshav, from Boot,s scorching review Bob extracts what he thinks is a killer objection, that Boot classes Calhoun as pro slavery writer! Bob chose that off his own bat as a way to play to the fans on this site.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Yes, Calhoun would gladly impose slavery in a society that didn’t have it. Jefferson was just conflicted about when and how to end it. and yes, arguably hypocritical about it.

                I just read the Weekly Standard article, it’s really shocking that Woods would cite the writing of Calhoun on secession, while he’s trying to convince people that the modern supporters of secession aren’t secret neoconfederates.

              • Ken B says:

                And I have been in several fights here on similar things. The usual tack is to deny, and then when confronted with such quotes, say oh, that, old news old news.

              • Ken B says:

                Thanks for the link Ben. It’s a non-denial denial. He is careful to not repudiate that statement only to point out that he made anticapitalist statements and has repudiated those. It is carefully worded.
                That the statements are 17 years old and the fact that he has never repudiated them is inculpating not exculpating.

              • Ken B says:

                Keshav
                It is so shocking and so unlikely to succeed that it invites the speculation that the intent is something quite different.

              • Hank says:

                You guys fall in the common logical error that just because Calhoun wrote some bad things doesn’t mean everything he wrote was bad.

                Bad Calhoun:
                Calhoun arguing that slavery is a positive good

                Good Calhoun:
                Calhoun’s class and political theories, expressed in the Disquisition of Government.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            He still has potential labor that isn’t being used precisely because his other labor is being stolen.

            If the value of labor withheld due to slavery is greater than the value of labor stolen, then I think your argument fails.

            • Ken B says:

              It depends on the numbers yes, as in Keshav’s example. But I’m only providing a counterexample Bob’s argument. I don’t have to give an example where it always is the case, only an example where Bob’s argument fails.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      “And, furthermore, the whole argument just boils down to a totally tautologous proposition:”

      “A truly free market system eliminates slavery, ”
      where “truly free market” is taken to mean *by definition* a system where slavery cannot persist.”

      Ahem…

      Murphy wrote:

      “I have returned to my claim that slavery could not exist in an otherwise free market.

      Slavery but otherwise free market != free market

  3. Andrew' says:

    It is basically an argument that if you peel back the onion you find that the same economic oddity that allowed slavery to persist a little while longer in the US south also contributed to abolition in the north while ultimately precipitating the economic instability between the two resulting in the war.

    That is to say, the North industrialized and urbanized which undermined the value of slavery. However they were dependent on the south who could however trade with Europe. Surely a civil war would just be breaking windows, except that the civil war made of the north what world war 2 made of the United States- the last man standing.

    It is really hard for me to believe that people truly believe The North did what they did out of some purely morally superior crusade. Not to mention these are the same people who would never believe that today. If there were no slavery there may not have been a war, but that’s not the same as slavery being the cause of the war.

    Bob will note that I did recognize the brilliance of his post, but also provided a caveat based on productivity. The problem with slavery, after all, was that it was involuntary!

    • Andrew' says:

      In other words, if slavery was so inherently profitable independent of economic factors, why did the North not explode with slave ownership? The North was just more moral on average than Thomas Jefferson…yeah yeah yeah, I get it.

      • Ken B says:

        I was right. Andrew’ is a random phrase generator hooked up to the net.

  4. Ken B says:

    Alas for Bob one of the secretaries discovers she loves owning a drill and won’t surrender it for any price the carpenters will pay.

    There is just so much wrong with Bob’s analysis. But this is an easy start. Consumption good.

    • Michael says:

      I agree that this is a problem for Bob’s approach, but what if we expand beyond a “one massive negotiation” scenario to one that is spread out over a longer period of time.

      Economically appealing offers are made to purchase slaves. Many, but not all slave owners are bought out. Slavery’s pervasiveness declines, but its still around. Another larger offer is made to hold outs, more takers in this round but there are still (as you’ve posited) some small % of slave owners who will not sell at any price.

      But at least the offers have diminished the slaveholding population to some fraction of what it was before, and now potentially the natural law (which I think slavery is in opposition to) is better situated to be enforced on these holdouts, as its no longer entire territories but only the most philosophically dedicated owners holding out.

      So if force/war/etc is required, at least the scope is significantly reduced.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      OK Ken so you concede that market forces would have eliminated as much of slavery, as we can observe from the number of people who currently hold electric drills as pieces of art?

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Bob, just because the two cases have some rough qualitative similarity doesn’t mean there needs to be any relation between the numbers. Why can’t it be that very few secretaries would value electric drills very much, but that many people would value enslaved house servants a lot?

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Why must it be?

        • Dan (DD5) says:

          It can be. Or in other words, a few secretaries reap a relatively high psychic profit from owning the drills, so that the opportunity monetary costs of not selling them do not exceed their total profit. This might be where the analogy breaks down. But in the case of slavery and you are dealing with real people, it’s not as simple. For one thing, the costs of maintaining the slave as oppose to a drill are vastly different. How will the slave holder cover his monetary losses over the inefficient slaves indefinitely? Second, although not unrelated to the first, the slave can run away, as oppose to the drill that cannot. Every incentive on the free market works against slavery. Not what you are left with is a few crazy evil persons, like some guy keeping some girl in his basement. Okay, nothing is perfect.

    • Tel says:

      So a very small number of drills end up in the hands of secretaries.

      Slavery continues today, so what are you doing about it?

  5. Blackadder says:

    Bob,

    Assuming that your argument is correct, couldn’t it still be the case that the process of the free market eroding slavery could take a long time (e.g. hundreds or thousands of years)?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      How long would it take secretaries to sell electric drills rather than continue to use them as paperweights?

      My gosh this is so frustrating.

      • Blackadder says:

        How long would it take secretaries to sell electric drills rather than continue to use them as paperweights?

        I don’t know. I suspect that some fraction of secretaries would never do so.(And of course electric drills don’t reproduce.)

        How long do you think it would take?

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Bob, why do these two processes need to take a remotely comparable amount of time?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Don’t bother me now, Keshav. I see apples selling on one side of the street for $1, and on the other for $10. I have an eight-month plan to profit from this, assuming you clowns would leave me alone.

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            Bob, I’m not talking about how quickly you can exploit a profit opportunity. I’m talking about how many profit opportunities there are. If people place a great value on slaves as house servants, then few if any people will be willing to sell them.

            • Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

              Keshav,

              Bob’s point is that in the vast majority of cases, people will place a greater value on free labor than on slave labor.

              You seem to be solely focused on “well what if people like having slaves” which is only half of the equation. It’s not about “liking” your slave, it’s about the fact that you’ll be able to easily make much more money selling the slave their freedom.

            • Transformer says:

              Bob is assuming they would be more productive if sold their freedom and hired back as house servants (who had to pay most of their wages back to the bank who lent them the money to buy this freedom!).

              That is the profit opportunity.

              If having slaves is considered a status symbol then Bob’s arguments doesn’t work for that class of slave.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Well, as opposed to plantation workers, where it’s a question of how much you can get them to produce, with house servants it’s just a question of having them follow your instructions.

                And yes, having them as a status symbol or otherwise just having them because you like the idea of having slaves will be all the more reason why they won’t be bought away.

              • Transformer says:

                According to Bob’s theory they follow your instructions more efficiently if freemen.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Transformer, I can understand that if you have two plantations and person A has slaves who pick corn at 40% efficiency and person B has free laborers who pick corn at 90% efficiency, person B would pay person A to free his slaves. But if we instead have a case where person A has slaves who follow his commands at 40% efficiency and person B has free house servants who follow his commands at 90% efficiency, I don’t see why person B would necessarily be willing to pay person A enough to free his slaves.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                The point is, the argument works in the plantation case only because both people are willing to pay the same amount of money for a given number of ears of corn picked, since the amount of money you get for each ear of corn is set by the market price, how much customers pay to buy corn. But in the case of house servants, person A and person B may be willing to pay different amounts of money for the same level of service from a servant.

              • Transformer says:

                I think the idea is that the slaves take out loans to buy their own freedom.

                To quote Bob:

                “This movement of property titles would involve payment of money from the (former) slaves to the plantation owners, but it would be in the form of “future money” since the slaves initially wouldn’t have any money of their own. (Perhaps the slaves would make arrangements with third-party financial institutions who would effectively make a loan of the spot price of a slave and then hold a lien against the former slave’s wages until the loan were paid off.)”

                Its a bit wacky but I think the economics hold up as long as the assumption of people being more productive when they have self-ownership is assumed to be true.

                I suspect also that the loans required by the slaves to buy there freedom might also have a very high rate of interest because they may feel no moral compulsion to repay them once they had used them as a tool to become free and might just flee. This might scupper the economic viability.

              • Anonymous says:

                Yes, the slave doesn’t just have to be more efficient, he has to be a lot more efficient.
                If I can work Bob and he worked at 50 efficiency but I keep 49% , then you have to find a very valuable alternative use for him indeed to be able to sublet him and have him pay me 49%. Are there that many alternative uses? These are questions of degree. So therefore also is the rate at which this could possibly work. It is complicated by the fact that if there is a demand for my slaves I can have my current ones breed new ones.

              • Keshav Srinivasan says:

                Transformer, I don’t think the argument even works if the slaves can take interest-free loans. Suppose person A has house slaves who follow his instructions at 40% efficiency, and he values his slaves at 500 dollars per slave. Person B has free house servants who follow his instructions with 90% efficiency and he values the service of his servants at 400 dollars per servant. (That’s just because person A and person B have different preferences.)

                Then even if a slave belonging to person A would work at 90% efficiency if he were freed and could go to person B’s house, he would only be paid 400 dollars per year, whereas person A values his service at 500 dollars, so he wouldn’t make enough money to free himself.

                The point is, different people value the same level of service differently, so just because you provide more efficient service to person B than person A doesn’t mean you provide service that’s worth more to person B than person A in terms of dollars.

              • Transformer says:

                I think Bob’s logic is that when A sells his slaves their freedom he sets a price that more than compensates him for the entire future stream of services they would provide.

                He can use that money either to hire them back or hire other servants who (as they are more productive) will be better value.

                So he ends up ahead.

                The slaves now have their freedom (albeit at the cost of a debt burden) so Bob would claim they are ahead too. (and of course some would go on to earn incomes way higher than their debts)

  6. Transformer says:

    So slavery is legal and the best option for slave owners is to sell slaves their freedom back (its even more profitable than working them).

    Sounds like a great opportunity for the enslavement business!

    • Tel says:

      And the protection business, hence serfs and yeomen.

  7. Alexis de Brokeville says:

    Tocqueville analyzes this question thoroughly in Democracy in America. He points out what was by then obvious to many observers: that slavery was a terribly inefficient economic system. It had to be maintained by a system of legal restrictions and social norms because economic forces would have obliterated it in a heartbeat.

  8. Gamble says:

    A slave owns none of the fruits of his labor. Slave may be given some basic clothing, room and board.

    Today, Americans do not own 39% of the fruits of their labor. They receive no basic clothing, room nor board.

  9. Major_Freedom says:

    Murphy, if we take the economic logic you’re presenting, and apply it to other initiations of violence in isolation vis a vis an otherwise free market, then is it not true that ANY initiation of violence will tend to come to an end by otherwise market forces?

    Substitute slavery for dark alley theft, or rape, or murder, or torture.

    Does it work?

    If so, how useful is it?

    I mean, we live in a world where there is more than just one type of initiation of violence. If all we can say is that in all possible worlds with only one specific type of violence, the market forces are too strong to allow that one specific type of violence to continue, then how does this translate to our world where the “otherwise free market” is instead severely hampered? Wouldn’t that make market forces insufficient to ending slavery in an already violent world? If so, isn’t it reasonable to think that we can’t end slavery now by depending on what’s left of market forces? That straight up (defensive) violence is the only way?

    Not trying to take away from your article, so much as trying to apply it to the world. For some reason my spidey sense is sounding an alarm when considering the hypothetical world of pure laissez-faire….except one of the most egregious violations of individual liberty there is; slavery. How is it even possible for everyone to be against initiations of violence against people for EVERYTHING ELSE, but for some reason are OK with enslaving people?

    It just doesn’t make sense to me. My idea is that if we’re considering a world with slavery, then by golly, we’re talking about a world where people believe that ENSLAVING PEOPLE is OK. Wouldn’t those types of people be OK with all kinds of other forms of violence against people?

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      “How is it even possible for everyone to be against initiations of violence against people for EVERYTHING ELSE, but for some reason are OK with enslaving people?” Well, what if they believed (as many did) that black people are subhuman creatures, and thus they have no rights?

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Perhaps, but then I think the same sort of problem remains. If certain people view others as “subhuman” according to their race, then why not some other collectivist conceptualization, like gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity? Wouldn’t there likely be animosity and violence against people because of that, GIVEN they are already enslaving people because of what group they are perceived as belonging to?

        Is it reasonable for people to collectivist regarding race only, and totally indivodualistic and libertarian otherwise? It’s still far fetched.

        • Keshav Srinivasan says:

          Well, treating a certain group of organisms differently isn’t so clearly an anti-libertarian impulse. Presumably you would be in favor of allowing humans to force chimpanzees to obey them, even though you’re not in general in favor of humans forcing other humans to obey them. So just as you’re making a distinction between one species that has rights and another that doesn’t, what if people thought (as people did) that black people were a completely different species, more akin to chimpanzee than to Man, and as a result they had no rights? (In fact that’s why skin color is called race, because they were thought to be completely different races or species.) How would that be any more anti-libertarian than you considering chimpanzees to have no rights?

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            Stephen Jay Gould said “Human equality is a contingent fact of human history”, meaning that there are possible alternate worlds in which different races would actually be completely different species with little in common. So is it implausible that people might think that this conceivable state of affairs was actually the case?

          • Major_Freedom says:

            I agree in general to what you’re saying, but I don’t think you’re getting my point.

            I am saying the REASONS some people viewed other actual people as less than human, would likely not stop them from concluding the same thing about other groups of people based on some other “you don’t look or act like me” characteristics. IF a person’s race is a reason, then I am saying that it is likely that wouldn’t be the only attribute. And if you observe, the same white male slave owners regarded female humans as sub human as well. I am saying these are not independent considerations. They are each deriving from the same anti-individual, collectivist viewpoint of humanity as such.

    • Shailesh says:

      MF said:

      “If so, isn’t it reasonable to think that we can’t end slavery now by depending on what’s left of market forces? That straight up (defensive) violence is the only way?”

      isn’t ‘straight up (defensive) violence’ also a ‘market force’?

      • Major_Freedom says:

        If we define all actions consistent with, not contradictory to, and in defense of, individual property rights, then sure.

        But I don’t think those are the market forces Murphy had in mind. I think Murphy was constraining “market forces” to catallactics. Not 100% sure though…

  10. Andrew Keen says:

    Hi Bob,

    I’m normally with you on things like this, but here I really don’t understand your argument. Are you saying that the slaves would buy their own freedom? If so, with what resources? By definition, a slave does not have the right to keep what he produces.

    I would really like you to be right about this. It would make the argument for free markets so much easier if markets really worked this way. Unfortunately, I just can’t follow your argument.

    • Ken B says:

      He is saying that unhindered entrepreneurs could buy or lend the funds to the slaves and make a profit whilst still benefitting owner and slave.

  11. Harold says:

    The argument rests on two things.
    1) That free labor is more productive than slave labor, and
    2) In a free market this would necessarily lead to the rapid end of slavery.
    I think I agree with the above, but point 1) is far from proved by Mises weak arguments. And although Bob cites government intervention as the only barrier to the free market, there are other impediments.

    The price of slaves was rising up to the civil war. The investment was considerable, amounting to many thousands of dollars in today’s money. If free labor was more productive, then why would the price have been rising?

    Either the slave actually picked more cotton. This makes slaves more productive in absolute terms and 1) is wrong. A (n otherwise) free market would not lead to the end of slavery.

    Or slaves added some other value so the total worth of the slave was worth the purchase price. In this case the slave is still more productive of total value than the free man even if he picks less cotton. There is no reason for a free market to end slavery.

    Or the slave productivity was lower, but some market failure allowed the continuation of the practice. These market failures may take other forms than Government interference, although these contribute. The prohibition on education was not imposed on an unwilling slave owning community.

    The analogy with the secretaries and the drill would be ,more accurate if we could show that secretaries were already buying drills.

  12. tomepats says:

    From wikipedia on the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850:

    “By 1843, several hundred slaves a year were successfully escaping to the North, making slavery an unstable institution in the border states.[1]

    The earlier Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was a Federal law which was written with the intention of enforcing Article 4, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which required the return of runaway slaves. It sought to force the authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters.

    Many Northern states wanted to circumvent the Fugitive Slave Act. Some jurisdictions passed “personal liberty laws”, mandating a jury trial before alleged fugitive slaves could be moved; others forbade the use of local jails or the assistance of state officials in the arrest or return of alleged fugitive slaves. In some cases, juries refused to convict individuals who had been indicted under the Federal law.

    In response to the weakening of the original fugitive slave act, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 penalized officials who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave, and liable to a fine of $1,000 (about $28,000 in present-day value). Law-enforcement officials everywhere were required to arrest persons suspected of being a runaway slave on as little as a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership. The suspected slave could not ask for a jury trial or testify on his or her own behalf.[4] In addition, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Officers who captured a fugitive slave were entitled to a bonus or promotion for their work.

    Slave owners needed only to supply an affidavit to a Federal marshal to capture an escaped slave. Since any suspected slave was not eligible for a trial, the law resulted in the kidnapping and conscription of free blacks into slavery, as suspected fugitive slaves had no rights in court and could not defend themselves against accusations.[5]”

    These would be examples of a not ‘otheerwise free market’. If instead of compromising, the North would have actually worked against the institution of slavery, the cost of slavery would have been driven up greatly.

  13. Ken B says:

    Shouldn’t bob’s argument work marginally? I mean aren’r well treated slaves likely to be more productive than ill-treated slaves? That certainly seems to be the position of Walter block in his famous comments about gruel for instance. Does that not open up the same kind of arbitrage arrangement that Bob thanks with free the slaves eventually? So why were not all southern slaves working for more enlightened and kinder masters? There would have been no complications from manumission laws or social pressure about actually freeing the slaves. Simply smarter slave drivers making more money from driving their slaves smarter.

    • Matt M (Dude Where's My Freedom) says:

      Economic laws are no guarantee that all humans will make the best decisions 100% of the time. I see no evidence that Bob’s argument DOESN’T work marginally, but “marginally” is not the same as “in all cases.”

      The marginal slave who is really on the fence regarding whether to work hard and be loyal to their master or whether to rebel and run away or what have you probably *is* in fact influenced by whether he is treated well or treated poorly.

      I’m no expert on this stuff, but my guess is that Keshav’s point above about the type of labor is relevant here. Plantation work is probably so backbreaking and unpleasant that no amount of kind words and warm gruel can make someone tolerate it, so brute force and constant threats of violence are necessary to keep people around. Meanwhile, house work is less demanding, so those slaves might be more motivated by positive reinforcement and the opportunity to earn perks and benefits.

    • Harold says:

      Maybe they did – anyone know how the conditions of slavery evolved?

  14. Gamble says:

    I simply do not understand why we still talk about slaves?

    Last time I checked, assault and battery is illegal.

    Todays slave, need simply to stand up and walk away.

    Problem solved.

    Is it not time to move forward, get over it?

    We all have to over come certain things.

    Freedom originates within… Free yourself.

    The only problem with everything I said above, is when government sends a swat team to your house because you refuse to be slave. Then somehow assault and battery is legal, condoned and possibly idolized.

    • Anonymous says:

      Because Rothbardians consider those laws a violent imposition upon their property rights.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Gamble, it should be obvious why there is theoretical quibbling over slavery. It has to do with ascertaining an optimal theory within which historical interpretations are to be constrained.

      There are two competing theories on the line here. One, that slavery in the 19th century US could have ended without the feds invading the states (or “civil war”, whatever theory you want to use to interpret that event), but rather using a European and worldwide solution of buy outs and (hampered) market forces. Two, that war was the only possible solution at the time.

      Now, given that history is unique, and given we cannot observe or experience any counter-factual world history, then I trust that you can understand that the only way we can settle two competing theories of the best way to end slavery, MUST be done theoretically.

      Hence the quibbling.

      • Ken B says:

        Mendacious falsehoods. Not even worth refuting, comparable to LK saying “There are two competing theories, Roddis’s that the moon is made of cheese therefore Keynesianism is wrong and …”

        • Major_Freedom says:

          In other words you can’t refute it.

          Comparable? Sure, if the common predicate is “things people say”.

  15. Ken B says:

    Who wrote this in reference to the passage LK quoted

    ” Actually LK I re-read that passage from the Ultimate Foundations and you’re right, that looks like Mises is saying he believes that there are true synthetic a priori propositions, because he seems to be saying the statement “there are no true synthetic a priori statements” is false. So, I am backing off my claim that Mises denied there could be such statements.”

    Hank, care to give it try?

    • Lord Keynes says:

      oh, yeah, I remember that debate.

      The author of that passage promised to get back to me on his claim that Mises does not defend synthetic a priori knowledge.

      To this day, there has been a mysterious failure to mention this topic again.

    • Hank says:

      “Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions.”

      This statement specifically excludes a priori, does it not?

      So from your position it follows that Mises contradicted himself. This also means you cannot say for certain about his true position.

      Or it could mean you are wrong, is that an option?

      • Lord Keynes says:

        ““Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions.””

        No, Hank, this view is imputed by Mises to the logical positivists:

        “The essence of logical positivism is to deny the cognitive value of a priori knowledge by pointing out that all a priori propositions are merely analytic. They do not provide new information, but are merely verbal or tautological, asserting what has already been implied in the definitions and premises. Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions. There is an obvious objection against this doctrine, viz., that this proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a—as the present writer thinks, false—synthetic a priori proposition, for it can manifestly not be established by experience.” (Mises 1962: 5).

        The existence of synthetic a priori propositions (which Mises believes in) invalidates and refutes the logical positivist view that “Only experience can lead to synthetic propositions”.

        • Ken B says:

          Imputed speech is hard for some people (and doorknobs. I have yet to see a doorknob correctly understand imputed speech).
          Your reading and my reading is transparently correct, and one assumes of the translator has done his job. However the question can be definitively answered by looking at the German text because in German imputed speech such as this would be in the subjunctive.

          • Hank says:

            I understand its imputed, Ken.

            Mises clearly is predicating the very last instance of the of the term “synthetic a priori proposition” in his aside “as the present writer
            thinks, false” because it is placed where an descriptor (adjective) would be placed.

            He thinks the entire proposition is false meaning it is not synthetic a priori according to him.

            • Hank says:

              If you are right, then this aside should be placed be before the first “proposition”.

              Of course, you could say Mises was bad a grammar, but I do not concede this.

            • Ken B says:

              Clearly not. You quoted a sentence. THAT SENTENCE was what was imputed BY Mises TO the logical positivists. It is the position his next statements refute.

              • Hank says:

                He is stating the position of the logical positivists. He is not refuting them. He is not agreeing with them.

                I was wrong to imply he agreed with the statement.

                His point was not to engage on this question. For in the next sentence he states:

                “The whole controversy is, however, meaningless when applied
                to praxeology.”

                The only positive statement he makes in the whole paragraph is the denial of that single synthetic a priori proposition.

              • Hank says:

                And I still hold that he in no way admits the existence of the synthetic a priori. Yet, he does not deny the synthetic a priori.

                I interpret it as a whole as him conceiving praxeology as an analytic a priori system. He is denying the proposition that “tautologies” do not expand our knowledge.

          • Hank says:

            According to you it should read like:

            here is an obvious objection against this doctrine, viz., that this—as the present writer thinks, false—proposition that there are no synthetic a priori propositions is in itself a synthetic a priori proposition, for it can manifestly not be established by experience.

            Alas, it is not.

              • Hank says:

                All views supporting Mises are rubbish by default.

                And you quote Mises saying his system is composed of tautologies as if this supports your notion that his system is synthetic, which makes no sense.

              • Lord Keynes says:

                No, Hank, Mises does not say that his system is merely composed of empty tautologies: he says that it is composed of a priori truths that give necessary knowledge of the real world: synthetic a priori truths.

              • Hank says:

                You are right, because he was arguing that the tautologies were NOT empty. That is the WHOLE POINT.

              • Hank says:

                Praxeology does not analyze the metaphysical grounds of the action axiom.

                Praxeology is literally composed of tautologies of the action “axiom”, according to Mises. This shows your giant confusion about the analytic-synthetic distinction.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            “Your reading and my reading is transparently correct, ”

            No, your reading is absolutely incorrect. You initially tried to challenge what Mises wrote by pretending he was only referring to the mere existence of synthetic a priori statements, rather than the truth, which is that he was referring to TRUE synthetic a priori statements.

            You are missing the “imputed” speech.

            • Ken B says:

              Tell it to Murphy, who agrees with LK and me in the quote I gave.

              And as usual you distort what I said. I maintain with LK that Mises believes in true synthetic a priori statements. I said so quite clearly.

              • Hank says:

                Tell it to David Gordon who actually specializes in philosophy.

                Tell it to this author who is the head of the philosophy department at a university in Germany:

                http://www.philosophie.uni-hamburg.de/Team/Cordoba/Materials/oc_Foundations-PraxEcon-05-final_2013-05-28.

              • Hank says:

                And I never claimed that you believed otherwise, meaning I never distorted anything you said.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                It is not usual for me to “distort” what you say. It is usual for me to show you the premises of your outward convictions that you often do not consider, where once you do consider them, they clash with your other premises, such that your emotional anxiety is interpreted by you as me misunderstanding you, or misstating you, or distorting what you said. I am not just saying this like it’s just a verbal burn in an inventory of them, but rather, I can see it even in your purposefully non-commited, evasive, rhetorical quibbling. You likely notice it as well which is why you find yourself DK-ian level muddled.

                You say you now “maintain” that Mises believed in TRUE synthetic a priori statements? Really? Then why did you attempt, in your response above about “blue statements”, to distinguish the mere existence of statements from the existence of true such statements, such that what Mises wrote about “Synthetic a priori statements do not exist” was interpreted by you as meaning just the existence of statements as opposed to the existence of true statements?

                Just admit you got caught making a foolish rebuttal and move on.

            • Lord Keynes says:

              No, Hank, yet again you are wrong and incompetent: Cordoba thinks – **contrary to Mises’s view of synthetic a priori knowledge** – that praxeology is analytic a priori (Michael Oliva Córdoba, “On the Foundations of Praxeology and Eeconomics,” 28 May 2013.
              http://www.philosophie.uni-hamburg.de/Team/Cordoba/Materials/oc_Foundations-PraxEcon-05-final_2013-05-28.pdf
              pp. 1–9.

              • Hank says:

                Sorry, he never once proposes this, which is why you don’t quote him.

                Of course, I am the one who is incompetent.

              • Hank says:

                As in, he never makes the proposition, nor the any equivalent proposition, “Mises says his system is synthetic”.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                What then if Cordoba’s claim that praxeology is analytic a priori? Since his paper is not an empirical test of a falsifiable theory he is proposing, where he explains how his theory could be falsified, his paper then must be a priori.

                So given it is a priori, is it analytic, or is it synthetic?

                Haha

              • Lord Keynes says:

                He tells you right on the first page that his approach is make praxeology analytic:

                “Today I am going to present to you the project of analytic praxeology. That is, I shall picture
                praxeology, the general theory of action, as an analytic approach towards the social sciences in
                general and economics in particular.”

                then on page. 2:

                “For don’t we know already that the truths of praxeology are synthetic,
                more precisely, synthetic a priori? And isn’t this view exactly what separates those true to Mises’s legacy from the logical positivists? This is a very natural reaction to face, the more so when we consider the writings of such important Austrians as Murray Rothbard, Walter Block,
                and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, when we look a Mises’ own later writings (post his 1940 Nationalökonomie),”

              • Hank says:

                Still he is not proposing it in this sentence. He said “This is a very natural reaction to face.”

                The problem is that you so biased, this makes you interpret this sentence they way you WANT to interpret it. It is called confirmation bias.

              • Hank says:

                This is why he never quotes Mises on the matter. He quotes Hoppe.

      • Ken B says:

        Well Mises was a confused thinker who said a lot of things over a lot of years often in a confused fashion. So he might indeed have said contradictory things. Which matters not at all to the point at issue, which is what did he mean in this passage.
        No guess? Too tough a nut?

        • Harold says:

          Some of hos statements seem a bit odd, to say the least. this one:
          “That reason has the power to make clear through pure ratiocination the essential features of action is a consequence of the fact that action is an offshoot of reason.”

          How does this work more generally? Can reason through pure ratiocination make clear the essential features of say, triangles? Yes, it can. Is this a consequence of triangles being an offshoot of reason? Well, according to Mises it would seem so.

          • Ken B says:

            Nice quote. This is a good example of precisely why this kind of woolly poetic (poetastic rather) rhetoric is no substitute for rigor. “offshoot” . Sons are offshoots of father, sweat is an offshoot of exertion, breathing ios an offshoot of nerve activity etc.

          • Hank says:

            Yes, the properties of triangles you have come about through reasoning are an offshoot of reason.

          • Hank says:

            Triangles themselves are an offshoot of Euclidean reasoning. i.e. they are three straight lines connected at three points.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Show how Mises, who was light years ahead of you, was a “confused thinker.”

    • Ken B says:

      It was Robert P Murphy.

  16. Hank says:

    I am sorry to leave so many comments, but I’m done. I have learned that Ken B and LK are not interested in logic, nor about what Mises actually thought. They are only interested in anti-libertarianism. They are so enthralled in this that they are blinded to actual arguments. They desperately want to ignore Mises by calling him a “confused thinker” when they have failed to understand what he actually said. I thought I could learn a few things from them, but I cannot because they are not interested in truth. They are interested in the distortion of truth.

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      I think Ken B is a libertarian.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        I think he is afraid.

    • Hank says:

      I would also like to not that whether you think that Mises admits the existence of the synthetic a priori in his quote in the Ultimate Foundations, which he does not, Mises never positively proposes that category of action IS SYNTHETIC. That is all.

    • Hank says:

      i.e. Mises never makes any proposition, nor equivalent proposition, “the category of action is a synthetic a priori proposition” or “the action axiom is synthetic a priori”. This is something they will never find in any of Mises works.

      LK will quote something in Human Action and say that Mises “needs” it to be synthetic. Of course this is only LK’s opinion. Mises never said this himself.

      • Lord Keynes says:

        Mises does not need to say it explicitly: it is entailed by his statements about epistemology: that praxeological statements are known a priori and give necessary truth about the real world.

        E.g.,
        Robert Murphy:
        “Mises affirms Hoppe’s interpretation regarding synthetic a priori truths (though not in these terms) when he writes,
        ‘It is consequently incorrect to assert that
        aprioristic insight and pure reasoning do
        not convey any information about reality
        and the structure of the universe. (p. 86)’”

        Murphy Study Guide to Human Action A Treatise on Economics, p. 26.

        Hoppe:
        “The characteristic mark of Kantian philosophy is the claim that true a priori synthetic propositions exist?and it is because Mises subscribes to this claim that he can be called a Kantian. “
        Economic Science and the Austrian Method, p. 18.

        Selgin:
        “In countering positivism Mises took refuge in Kantian epistemology and especially in Kant’s defense of the category of the synthetic a priori”
        Selgin, George, Praxeology and Understanding, p. 13.

        Thomas Woods:
        “Much has been written about how Mises and Rothbard justified the action axiom. Mises did so on Kantian grounds, arguing that this truth about human action was an example of the Kantian synthetic a priori: a statement which, made prior to experience, is both substantive and true.”
        Thomas E. Woods, The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy, p. 16.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          Selgin’s reading is a mischaracterization. It’s not that Mises arbitrarily rejected positivism and then searched high and low for some apologetic past writer to cling to in order to provide himself and others with justification for that rejection.

          On the contrary, Mises knew the positivists were going about it the wrong way because of what Kant taught him about knowledge.

          Selgin makes it seem like Mises only used Kantianism as an excuse.

          —————

          LK:

          You still have not engaged the statement:

          “True synthetic a priori statements do not exist.”

          Like I said above, if you claim that the statement is true, then you would be eliciting a synthetic a priori statement, since:

          A. Claiming such statements do not exist is not derived from experience, since you would be talking about all statements that could ever be written or uttered. Thus, it is not a posteriori, but a priori.

          2. Claiming that no human mind can ever know true synthetic a priori statements, which is a claim concerning the real world capability of real world human understanding of the real world, makes your claim a synthetic one, not an analytic one.

          So by eliciting the statement above, you are eliciting a synthetic a priori statement, and as such, contradicting the content of the statement. Thus, the statement is not true. It is false. So true synthetic a priori statements do in fact exist.

          The first one you can learn is that very statement, that “True synthetic a priori propositions exist.” This is an example of a true synthetic a priori statement. Any attempt to deny it, would constitute an affirmation of it.

          Other true synthetic statements can be learned more easily after you learn WHY it is a contradiction to utter the statement that they do not exist. Hint: It has to do with the true synthetic a priori statement “I act.”

          • Lord Keynes says:

            “synthetic a priori statements do not exist.”

            is synthetic a posteriori and very probably true — in fact, my position was already explained to you in past posts.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              “is synthetic a posteriori”

              Ah, the old “Black swans do not exist” fallacious reasoning from past observations. The problem of induction rears its ugly head once again.

              Did you engage in an empirical testing of a falsifiable theory through observing statements in order to come to the conclusion that they do not exist? If so, where? And what theory did you use to interpret each statement as synthetic posteriori? Clearly that couldn’t itself be synthetic a posteriori as well, because then your method would only pick up synthetic a posteriori statements and be blind to all others. Which means you must have again been using synthetic a priori convictions.

              “and very probably true”

              So you again admit that there might exist true synthetic a priori statements.

              That would imply that you must be able to recognize them if they do exist. If you couldn’t recognize them, then your claim is moot.

              Are you even capable of understanding a statement to be true synthetic a priori if you considered it?

              Could you explain to me how you would know a statement to be true synthetic a priori?

              If you can’t explain it, if you are incapable of understanding a statement to be true synthetic a priori if it were indeed one, then you couldn’t possibly tell me that it is “very probably true” that they don’t exist. In order for you to know that, you have to be able to know that you are considering one if it were indeed one.

              Did you believe that a true synthetic proposition should be forced on you as true? That you’ll know they exist when your mind for whatever reason accepts them as true without your conscious activity, the way you know a pear is shaped different from a box without conscious choice?

              • Lord Keynes says:

                Sure, you have a criteria for recognizing synthetic a priori truth: that the statement is synthetic and has necessary truth and cannot be refuted by empirical evidence.

                But Kant’s defense of synthetic a priori was neither valid nor sound, nor any other one, and all examples of synthetic a priori truth can be strongly questioned as known a priori: e.g., Euclidean geometry is not a universally true description of space: non-Euclidean geometry is the most probably true one.

                And as for the problem of induction: the very existence of other acting human minds in the first place cannot be proved a priori. No philosopher has succeeded in proving a priori that other minds exist: the best you can do is an inductive argument from analogy, which only has probabilistic truth at best.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                “Sure, you have a criteria for recognizing synthetic a priori truth: that the statement is synthetic and has necessary truth and cannot be refuted by empirical evidence.”

                “I act” cannot be refuted by empirical evidence, because refutations are themselves actions. Even the supposed refuters are presenting themselves as purposefully refuting something, as opposed to automatically behaving in ways that should be interpreted as automatic responses to stimuli.

                “But Kant’s defense of synthetic a priori was neither valid nor sound, nor any other one, and all examples of synthetic a priori truth can be strongly questioned as known a priori: e.g., Euclidean geometry is not a universally true description of space: non-Euclidean geometry is the most probably true one.”

                Kant’s discussion of Euclidean geometry was not meant to be true for the “noumenal” world in addition to the “phenomenal” world. He never claimed that Euclidean geometry was true “universally”. He regarded it as a necessary category of thinking.

                This was not empirically refuted because Euclidean assumptions are still being assumed by the cosmologists. They are utilizing Euclid in the very empirical method you are claiming is capable of falsifying it, e.g. the equipment is constructed based on Euclidean principles, the distances between researchers and equipment is assumed by the researchers as Euclidean, etc.

                Kant only regarded Euclid as a necessary category of thought. And that is still true, and there is no reason to believe it will ever be otherwise. Kant was very specific that his philosophy is not meant to be a description of the noumenal world as well, or what you call “universal” reality. He only meant for it to be a philosophy of the world constrained to the structure of the human mind.

                “And as for the problem of induction: the very existence of other acting human minds in the first place cannot be proved a priori.”

                Praxeology is not meant to prove “the existence of other actors besides the praxeologist.” It is the study of action as such. It is up to each actor, where they exist, to recognize it as such on their own.

                Knowing the existence of other humans is an empirical, a posteriori exercise. I cannot know that other humans exist SOLELY by knowing I am an actor.

                What I am asking you about is not whether or not I am a human, but whether you can understand a proposition to be a true synthetic a priori proposition.

                I would like to see your empirical refutation of the statement “I act”, or “Action does not exist.”

                “No philosopher has succeeded in proving a priori that other minds exist”

                No philosopher have a posteriori or a priori proved that theirs is the only mind that exist.

                “the best you can do is an inductive argument from analogy, which only has probabilistic truth at best.”

                The proposition “The statement ‘I act’ is a true synthetic a priori statement” is not a proposition that requires or is based on “other human minds.” It is not probabilistic either.

                Each actor has the choice to consciously recognize themselves as an actor and as capable of knowing true synthetic a priori statements. No other humans are required other than the individual actor.

              • guest says:

                Lord Keynes,

                Would you be willing to acknowledge that analytic a priori statements can be true, whether or not anyone had conceived of them (including BEFORE someone conceives of them)?

                I am willing to acknowledge that no knowledge can be had without the experience which informs us of the information our minds are to work with, BUT since analytic a priori statements can be true before we are aware of them, we recognize that, not only do we not have to test these to know they are true, but they also can’t be tested empirically.

                I think this is what is meant by “synthetic a priori”.

                This is also why Rothbard was able to accept the Action Axiom as true, even though he didn’t believe in synthetic a priori knowledge:

                In Defense of “Extreme Apriorism”
                http://mises.org/daily/5195/


                Now the crucial question arises: How have we obtained the truth of this axiom? Is our knowledge a priori or empirical, “synthetic” or “analytic”? In a sense, such questions are a waste of time, because the all-important fact is that the axiom is self-evidently true, self-evident to a far greater and broader extent than the other postulates.

                Whether we consider the action axiom “a priori” or “empirical” depends on our ultimate philosophical position. Professor Mises, in the neo-Kantian tradition, considers this axiom a law of thought and therefore a categorical truth a priori to all experience. My own epistemological position rests on Aristotle and St. Thomas rather than Kant, and hence I would interpret the proposition differently. I would consider the axiom a law of reality rather than a law of thought, and hence “empirical” rather than “a priori.” But it should be obvious that this type of “empiricism” is so out of step with modern empiricism that I may just as well continue to call it a priori for present purposes.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                It should be noted that LK has long since accepted the truth of a particular synthetic a priori argument, namely, that there is no price system for the means of production in a world socialist economic system, and so economic calculation using a common denominator is impossible.

                He knows that we don’t actually have to observe or test a world socialist system, before we can know that there won’t be a price system for the means of production.

          • Harold says:

            “2. Claiming that no human mind can ever know true synthetic a priori statements, which is a claim concerning the real world capability of real world human understanding of the real world, makes your claim a synthetic one, not an analytic one.”
            I have been trying to follow this discussion, so some clarification would be helpful.

            I claim that square circles do not exist. This is analytic, because non-squareness is contained in the definition of circle. It is a priori, because its justification does not rely on experience. So this is an analytic a priori statement. I now say no human can experience a square circle. This is analytic a priori also, because no such thing can exist, therefore cannot be experienced by humans whatever the nature or reality of humans.

            So if I say “true synthetic a priori statements do not exist”, Then that man can not know such a thing does not make it synthetic if such a thing cannot be.

            Another one from Mises:
            “An unbridgeable gulf separates those animals in whose minds this cognition is present from those in whose minds it is not fully and clearly present.” There is implied a category of individuals with “not fully” present cognition. When does this become “fully” present such that the unbridgeable gap emerges?

        • Hank says:

          It does need to be made explicit, or you need to stop making baseless accusations.

          Mises did not say it. This means to attribute this view to Mises is disingenuous. Period.

          • Hank says:

            And this means all of the people you quoted are also being disingenuous when making the same claim.

          • Ken B says:

            Interesting principle. The Principle of Explicit Mention: only explicit mention not implication or inclusion count.

            The police can shoot Hank at will because the law never mentions Hank explicitly. MF does not object to municipal taxes in Livonia because he never discussed Livonia explicitly.

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