02 Apr 2015

Hot Button Phrase: “FEMA Camp”

Conspiracy 5 Comments

Second perhaps only to “chemtrails,” when the responsible, sober libertarians on Facebook want to mock the paranoid ones, they bring up “FEMA camps.” A relative sent me the following video, which apparently shows footage from Florida of a drill in which U.S. military pretend to march U.S. citizens into a detention camp. Then the anchor (Franchi) goes on to give other reasons that he doesn’t think this is a paranoid theory.

As the Onion asks: What do you think?

02 Apr 2015

Sean Hannity vs. Pat Buchanan

Foreign Policy 8 Comments

The realpolitik-ish von Pepe sends me this awesome exchange:

Make sure you watch to the end when Hannity plays the Hitler card.

01 Apr 2015

Ed Schultz Does Not Respect Argumentation Norms

All Posts 13 Comments

31 Mar 2015

Stephan Kinsella Discusses Argumentation Ethics With Tom Woods

Libertarianism 47 Comments

Here. Let me emphasize that I really do think I get what Hoppe is trying to do here, and I appreciate how awesome a project it is. It’s like Aquinas’ arguments for God; they are really hardcore and so much more fundamental than the usual thing you hear in a debate.

I just think Hoppe’s argument  doesn’t work, I’m sorry. It’s not that I have a grudge against Hoppe’s style; for example, I love his Economic Science and the Austrian Method–he says the action axiom solved the mind-body problem. Absolutely blew my mind. But I just don’t think the argumentation ethics works.


==> Gene Callahan and I have at least three independent objections to it in this article that, in my opinion, are devastating. If just one of them goes through, it’s dead.


==> The very act of debating presupposes that we freely control our bodies and are standing on a piece of real estate. By making that observation, did I just prove that every non-criminal needs to own a plot of land in a just society? Of course not. But yet I’m pretty sure Stephan thinks it proves that every non-criminal needs to own his or her body. How?


==> At several points in his analysis, Stephan has to appeal to the fact that libertarian rights are reasonable and make sense, otherwise his argument doesn’t go through. For example, at about the 80% mark of the interview, Stephan discusses a guy who goes on a rampage on a farm, and the farmer imprisons the guy in his house while figuring out what to do next (like notify the law enforcement people). Stephan says the prisoner could demand, “How do you justify imprisoning me while you’re free?” and the farmer could say, “Because you just attacked my family!” Stephan’s point is that that is a legitimate reason, not like the arbitrary and/or non-universalizable reasons that social democrats would give to justify why they are using coercion to (say) imprison Wesley Snipes for tax evasion. But of course, the reason it seems reasonable to Stephan to imprison a guy for trying to steal private property, while it seems arbitrary and illegitimate to put a rich guy in a cage for not paying taxes, is that Stephan is a Rothbardian. Leo Tolstoy might think imprisoning the first guy would be arbitrary (especially if he was trying to take food or animals, not just hurting people and breaking stuff), and most Americans don’t think it’s arbitrary to lock up a selfish citizen who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes. So in other words, to get anything out of argumentation ethics, you have to say, “First, let’s stipulate that libertarianism is right. Now, I can show you that anybody who denies libertarianism is wrong…”


==> Something that didn’t occur to me until listening to this podcast: Hoppe got the idea for this approach from his teacher, Habermas. Apparently Habermas himself used the approach to justify not the libertarian ethic, but a broader social democratic one. I haven’t looked it up, but I wonder if it goes something like this? “To properly debate, you need to be educated, have access to a good diet and exercise regimen, not be exhausted from working 80-hour weeks with no vacation or childcare, etc. So clearly, anybody arguing against the modern welfare state is contradicting himself.” So whatever methods Stephan uses to show why that is wrong, will also show why we don’t get to retain full-blown libertarianism either. As I said before, the only way you get libertarianism, is if you already believe it for independent reasons.


==> I’m exaggerating a bit (and hence being a bit unfair), but I want to make my above claims clear: Imagine somebody said, “2+2 = 4, therefore libertarianism is the only ethical system.” Then I say that’s a non sequitur, and the guy who proposed it is stunned. “But Bob, you’re a libertarian. So why are you playing dumb and pretending you think maybe there is a rival system that’s just as ethical? Or are you now saying math can be whatever people assert? Do you support Common Core?”

31 Mar 2015

DeLong Gives Me Whiplash

DeLong, Market Monetarism, Scott Sumner 33 Comments

[Two UPDATEs below, one embedded and one at the end.]

I have to be brief, so if you’re a newcomer to this blog, you won’t get much from this. But back in early 2009, Brad DeLong was very skeptical about the ability of the Federal Reserve to rescue the world economy from the ravages of the Great Recession. Here’s DeLong from January 2009: “The fact that monetary policy has shot its bolt and has no more room for action is what has driven a lot of people like me who think that monetary policy is a much better stabilization policy tool to endorse the Obama fiscal boost plan.”

[UPDATE: I realized I didn’t give a long enough quote to see why there is no wiggle room here. Earlier from DeLong’s January 2009 post:

The difference between now and 1982 was that back in 1982 the interest rate on Treasury bills was 13.68%–there was a lot of room for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates and so reduce unemployment via monetary policy. Today the interest rate on Treasury bills is 0.03%–there is no room for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates, and so monetary policy is reduced to untried “quantitative easing” experiments. [Bold added by RPM.]]

Then later, when Scott Sumner was the toast of the town, DeLong made it sound like he’d been on board with NGDP targeting all along. For example, in January 2011 DeLong put in a seminar paper:

Delong loves NGDP

So a bunch of us went nuts at the time, pointing out what a total rewrite of history this was. (E.g. here’s Sumner.) I can’t find the link, but at the time DeLong bit my head off for daring to suggest that he had ever cast aspersions on the power of the Fed in the beginning of the crisis.

And now we’ve come full circle. In a book review DeLong writes:

The dominance of Friedman’s ideas at the beginning of the Great Recession has less to do with the evidence supporting them than with the fact that the science of economics is all too often tainted by politics. In this case, the contamination was so bad that policymakers were unwilling to go beyond Friedman and apply Keynesian and Minskyite policies on a large enough scale to address the problems that the Great Recession presented.

Admitting that the monetarist cure was inadequate would have required mainstream economists to swim against the neoliberal currents of our age. It would have required acknowledging that the causes of the Great Depression ran much deeper than a technocratic failure to manage the money supply properly. And doing that would have been tantamount to admitting the merits of social democracy and recognizing that the failure of markets can sometimes be a greater danger than the inefficiency of governments.

The result was a host of policies based not on evidence, but on inadequately examined ideas. And we are still paying the price for that intellectual failure today.

Fortunately, we don’t need to speculate on how the above three positions all mesh perfectly, as I expect Daniel Kuehn will inform us in the comments.

UPDATE: Daniel Kuehn in the comments tries to defend DeLong by making a distinction between conventional and unconventional policy, and that’s what DeLong did back in 2011 when I noted the apparent inconsistency. But that won’t do. DeLong in 2011 is claiming that pre-crisis, he thought the Fed could and would do whatever it took to keep NGDP growing–including “helicopter drops.” In case it’s not clear, let me make it so: A “helicopter drop” means the Fed literally gives money to the public, without even bothering to buy assets. It is further from conventional monetary policy than QE is. You don’t rely on interest rate adjustments if you’re using helicopter drops to boost aggregate demand.

So, the only way to make sense of DeLong’s 2011 post, in light of what he said in 2009 (and now), is this: “Back before the crisis, I was convinced the Fed would ignore naysayers like me when it implemented unconventional policies. I am frankly astonished they took me seriously.”

26 Mar 2015

Tom Woods and I Talk About Krugman and Keynesianism

Austrian School, Shameless Self-Promotion, Tom Woods 11 Comments

It’s all here… BTW in the interview I implied that the tradition of explaining business cycles as due to purely real factors (as opposed to monetary) is centered in Chicago, but actually I think it’s more nuanced than that. (In contrast, the Efficient Markets Hypothesis is definitely associated with Chicago.)

26 Mar 2015

A Critique of Jerry Taylor’s “Conservative Case for a Carbon Tax”

Climate Change, Shameless Self-Promotion 31 Comments

My latest at IER, though the team helped me a lot with this one. An excerpt, and keep in mind that Taylor is the president of the new Niskanen Center:

Although he doesn’t come out and say it, Taylor’s argument here rests on the belief that the hodge-podge of energy interventions currently exist because the Left really wants to limit carbon dioxide emissions, but gosh darn it those stubborn conservative Republicans are taking the efficient “market solution” of a carbon tax off the table, leaving only direct regulation. Taylor needs such a belief for his argument to work. The only reason we could possibly expect the environmental Left to honor a carbon tax deal, is if they said, “Phew! Now that we have an adequate mechanism in place for bringing emissions down to their socially optimal level as the economists inform us, we can decimate the EPA and tell everybody working at the Department of Energy to get a real job.”

Does Taylor actually believe that? What would William Niskanen have to say about the prospects of getting rid of huge bureaucracies once their apparent mission had been accomplished?

25 Mar 2015

Financiers vs. Academic Economists

Economics, Efficient Markets Hypothesis, Eugene Fama 5 Comments

My friend tipped me off to this speech by Charlie Munger that is quite provocative and funny, mostly because he says stuff that only rich old guys can get away with saying. For context, Munger is Vice-Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, and apparently Warren Buffett refers to Munger as “my partner.” Munger is a self-made man worth more than a billion, who has made many millions of dollars worth of philanthropic donations.

What amused me most was Munger’s discussion of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis:

[E]conomics is in many respects the queen of the soft sciences. It’s expected to be better than the rest. It’s my view that economics is better at the multi-disciplinary stuff than the rest of the soft science. And it’s also my view that it’s still lousy, and I’d like to discuss this failure in this talk. As I talk about strengths and weaknesses in academic economics, one interesting fact you are entitled to know is that I never took a course in economics. And with this striking lack of credentials, you may wonder why I have the chutzpah to be up here giving this talk. The answer is I have a black belt in chutzpah. I was born with it. Some people, like some of the women I know, have a black belt in spending. They were born with that. But what they gave me was a black belt in chutzpah.

For a long time there was a Nobel Prize-winning economist who explained Berkshire Hathaway’s success as follows:

First, he said Berkshire beat the market in common stock investing through one sigma of luck, because nobody could beat the market except by luck. This hard-form version of efficient market theory was taught in most schools of economics at the time. People were taught that nobody could beat the market. Next the professor went to two sigmas, and three sigmas, and four sigmas, and when he finally got to six sigmas of luck, people were laughing so hard he stopped doing it.

Then he reversed the explanation 180 degrees. He said, “No, it was still six sigmas, but is was six sigmas of skill.” Well this very sad history demonstrates the truth of Benjamin Franklin’s observation in Poor Richard’s Almanac. If you would persuade, appeal to interest and not to reason. The man changed his view when his incentives made him change it, and not before.

Now to be sure, the PhDs in Chicago and elsewhere can always come up with ways to incorporate the empirical facts into their theory. But that’s the point I have been making for years: In practice, economists believe in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis as a framework with which to interpret the world. That’s not a bad thing per se, but they should stop thinking that they are “letting the data speak for themselves.”

The best example of this was after the financial crash of 2008. There were academic economists and finance guys explaining that the crash just proved how efficient the stock market was! Specifically, Jeremy Siegel argued in the WSJ that, “The EMH, originally put forth by Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago in the 1960s, states that the prices of securities reflect all known information that impacts their value…The fact that the best and brightest on Wall Street made so many mistakes shows how hard it is to beat the market” (italics added).

I hope I don’t need to tell the reader that during the boom years, with executives earning bonuses and “quants” getting paid top dollar to use physics models to price derivatives, people weren’t writing op eds in the WSJ explaining that this success disproved the EMH.

I don’t mean to be too hard on the academic economists who are so enamored with their beautiful theories. Before the financial crisis, I too was far too trusting of our current financial system’s ability to quickly weed out systematic errors, and I thought much more of the Chicago School’s approach to modeling the financial market than I do today. One of the biggest differences between real-world investors and academics is that nothing really bad happens to you if you’re systematically wrong in academia.