29 Nov 2009

More On God and Self-Ownership

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Stephan Kinsella brought this article by Skyler Collins to my attention. Since we have been discussing the intersection of Christianity and libertarianism lately, I thought it would be a good thing to analyze.

I think Collins’ piece is mostly correct insofar as it goes, but I also think he hasn’t proved as much as he thinks he has proved. He writes:

Whether or not you believe that God exists, or that he owns our bodies, it must be understood that libertarian philosophy only concerns the relationships between mortal men. It does not concern the relationship between men and animals, or men and the earth (insofar as it unrelates to other men). And it absolutely doesn’t concern the relationship between men and God.

Don’t misunderstand me. What a man does with himself in relation to anything may or may not be God’s concern (I believe it is), but the libertarian principle of self-ownership is used to distinguish what men can legitimately do to each other. Not what God can do to man.

This quote by James A. Sadowsky is instructive,

“When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use.”

It really says it all. The purpose of arguing for self-ownership is to understand if the actions of other men are justified. Though God may own our bodies, this fact would not alter the relationship between men. For example, I own a laptop computer. I acquired this through trade. What I traded was legitimately earned, therefore this laptop computer is legitimately my property. It is an extension of myself. If a man named John took my laptop computer without my permission, that would rightly be considered theft and a violation of my property rights to my laptop computer. God only enters the equation if John claims God told him to take the computer from me because it was his will that John have the computer instead of me. Unless God corroborates this claim to me personally, I can rightly consider it theft and a violation of my property rights.

So as I said, I don’t object to the above per se, but I think Collins believes he just disposed of theocracy. I don’t think he did.

First, what if “God corroborates” the claim not directly to the alleged sinner/property violator, but in a book codifying His views that even the alleged sinner/violator endorses? For example, Jewish adulterers in the time of Jesus. They couldn’t honestly say, “Oh c’mon, you’re telling me God doesn’t want me sleeping out of wedlock? How do you know–did a burning bush appear?”

Second, I think many secular libertarians are taking this type of view to demonstrate that people trying to enforce “God’s will” are necessarily committing aggression. But even if that’s true, it’s not a decisive end to the issue. For example, I’m sure the pagans who were slaughtered by the Israelites when they came into what they called “the Promised Land” didn’t agree that the Lord owned the earth and could divvy it out to whichever people He wanted. But I doubt Collins (LDS) would say the Israelites under Joshua really should have relied on Lockean reasoning as opposed to divine revelation.

OK let me now address the obvious (and horrified) retort. “Is Bob endorsing theocracy?!” No I’m not. Let’s quote from the object of Collins’ critique, Gabriel Fink, who had previously written:

Libertarian theory holds that adultery is not a crime, because no forgery or robbery has taken place. If two unmarried people decide to have intimate relations, there is no property violation, and hence no crime has been committed. A law prohibiting adultery therefore would be considered unjust. If man is the rightful owner of his body, then this understanding would be correct.

As has been shown however, man is not the rightful owner of his body. One of the terms and conditions set forth by the Lord for those who chose to receive the stewardship of a physical body is that sexual relations are only authorized between a man and his lawfully wedded wife. Any person who does not adhere to this restriction has aggressed against the property of the Lord and is in violation of the principle of non-aggression.

This is how adultery was considered a crime, and is defined as such in scripture. The Lord has given man the authority to punish the crime of adultery. Civil laws which punish adultery are not a violation of the non-aggression principle. All acts of adultery however, are a violation.

OK so Collins’ attempt to rebut these types of claims (both in the comments of the original piece, and his own full article) is to state that property rights deal with relations between people. I’ve already shown why I think that’s an inadequate response, and I wouldn’t expect Mr. Fink to change his views based on the argument.

However, there are all sorts of things in the Mosaic Law that are a bit…harsh. Does Fink endorse all of those too? Note that this wouldn’t prove him wrong, I’m just wondering how far he takes the principle he’s supporting.

No, I don’t think the political authorities should punish adultery. Why not? First, I think political government is itself in violation of Christian principles. You’ve got the LORD’s warning–in the Old Testament of all places!–of the dangers of establishing a king, and there is plenty of other Scriptural evidence in favor of Christian anarchy. (Try this, though I don’t necessarily endorse everything Redford writes here.) If this is shocking to you, try this route: I think there is a strong case for pacifism based on Jesus’ teachings; Tolstoy thought the same. If Jesus doesn’t want us to resist evil (especially with swords), then I would argue He doesn’t want us to employ men with guns to throw adulterers in a dungeon.

I find it ironic that Fink would choose adultery as his illustration, since we know exactly “what Jesus would do” when asked whether to enforce the Mosaic Law against an adulteress caught in the act.

Now you might be wondering, “Well what the heck, Bob, why are you bringing this up if you generally agree with the conclusions of the secular libertarian anti-statists?”

The reason is that a lot of libertarians use abstract reasoning to “deduce” the legitimacy of their views, and to “prove” that everyone else is wrong. If my observation about God owning people’s bodies (and everything else physical) is correct, then those “proofs” are wrong and libertarians should stop invoking them.

Stephan Kinsella has responded to my point on this when I made it with Gene Callahan in our JLS critique [.pdf] of Hans Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Stephan recently wrote:


I’m not surprised you bring this up–you raised a similar notion as some sort of criticism of Hoppe’s argumentation ethics years ago in this piece. In my reply thereto, I noted:

MC introduce supposed “counterexamples” of God and slavery. … As for God – you can’t just posit that God owns everyone and “therefore” we are not self-owners. Moroever, even if God does own us, it could be that we are still self-owners vis-a-vis each other. In any event, this in no way refutes the conclusion that only the libertarian norms can be argumentatively justified in discourse.

If there is a God, since He is Good, we can assume he’s libertarian and has decreed a libertarian moral law within his universe. So even if God owns A and B, A still has a better claim to A’s body than B does.

OK two quick observations:

(1) In our article Gene and I did not “just posit that God owns everyone.” We said that it was a logical possibility, and that Hoppe had not disposed of it in his proof. Since his proof concludes, “…and therefore everyone starts out as a self-owner,” his proof is obviously incorrect. I would give an analogy here, except I think it would just confuse things because we’d then be arguing about why the analogy was or was not analogous. It frustrates me that Stephan still doesn’t get our basic point on this.

(2) What if the parents leave the house and tell the babysitter that the 8-year-old can’t use the computer? Then the 8-year-old starts using it, and the babysitter picks him up and walks him out of the room, locking the door behind him. The 8-year-old, if a fan of Kinsella, could argue, “Sure my parents ultimately own the computer and can lay down the rules of engagement, but as far as my claim on the property versus the babysitter’s, I have the stronger claim–I will inherit it all eventually. For all I know my parents never told my babysitter I couldn’t use the computer. So the babysitter just violated my property rights.”

Yes, the 8-year-old would be right as far as he goes, but what is the proper libertarian response to all this? Does the babysitter have to slap his forehead because he didn’t get a notarized letter from the parents expressing their wishes, or record it on his iPhone? No, he enforces the will of the actual property owners, and dismisses talk of “well excluding the views of the actual owner, my claim is stronger than yours” as irrelevant.

All right, I’ll stop here while I still have some loyal readers. I do believe I managed to disagree with everyone who has chimed in on these matters!

29 Nov 2009

Joe Romm Cuts Through the Lies of ClimateGate

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The most entertaining part of ClimateGate has been to watch the folks at RealClimate and ClimateProgress spin this as a huge disinformation campaign by the “deniers.” The best one I’ve seen so far is (not surprisingly) Joe Romm, who writes:

Michael Mann, one of the country’s leading climatologists, has coauthored a major new review and analysis of climate science since the 2007 IPCC report. Mann…is much attacked by the anti-scientific disinformers because of his work on the paleoclimate “hockey stick” reconstructions of temperature over the past couple of millennia. Contrary to what the disinformers continue to say, however, the hockey stick was essentially vindicated by the National Academy of Sciences…

Since some of his email exchanges were made public by the recent illegal hack of documents from the University of East Anglia, he has also distributed a response to various members of the media and bloggers…

Misrepresentation of these emails is so common that the Washington Post issued one of the fastest retractions/corrections in its history. I had blogged on their November 25 op-ed “Climate of Denial” hereWell, one day later, they “clarified” one of their assertions about Mann…So this should be a cautionary tale to the media to go to the primary source before simply repeating what others have said.

Wow, Romm makes it sound as if the Washington Post spread baseless gossip that is totally unconnected to the hacked emails, doesn’t he? I wonder what scurrilous charges the innocent scientist–just minding his own business, trying to save humanity from climate catastrophe–was accused of, before the WP had to retract their libel?

Check out the WP clarification. I don’t want to spoil it. Let this be a lesson to all those who dare to criticize the world’s leading climatologists!

28 Nov 2009

All ClimateGate, All the Time

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* Here is George Monbiot’s yes-it’s-embarrassing-but-the-deniers-are-still-idiots op ed. (BTW if you don’t know Monbiot, he is a leftist with a purple heart. Seriously, he has street cred. The most I ever did was write internet articles critical of Dick Cheney.)

* That HARRY_READ_ME file is actually more damning than the excerpts I previously linked to. Check out this version. Note in particular the numerous references to “avoid the decline,” and not just post-1960 but in the 1940s as well. That wasn’t a one-off comment in someone’s email. You cannot look at this thing and tell me, “These are some unfortunate phrases taken out of context. There was no ‘trickery’ involved.” And again, let’s recall that the standard line coming from the establishment on climate science has been, “This is complicated stuff. You need to trust us that these fringe guys are making mountains out of molehills. The science is settled, we understand these issues very well, we have high confidence in our models on the important issues that the skeptics attack.” Really?

* So as to be balanced, here’s more of the RealClimate guys’ response. Some of the comments are funny. I could be mistaken, but I think Gavin is letting more critical stuff through than he used to, for obvious reasons.

I am obviously biased and am surely not giving Gavin et al.’s explanations a totally fair shake. But it seems clear to me that Gavin is downplaying the things uncovered in the CRU leak. For a different example, try this. At Comment #51 in the thread I link above, Silke posts a link to that Eduardo Zorita who explained why he thoughts Jones et al. should be barred from the IPCC process. (Just skim the link if you didn’t read it when I posted it here before.) So in response to that, Gavin says:

Response: Unfortunately, this episode is being seen as an opportunity by some to imbue their personal and professional conflicts with particular researchers with a greater importance than they have. I am not going to comment on the history of tension between certain people, nor doubt the sincerity of people’s clearly deeply held views. But talk of blacklisting scientists from assessment bodies is, at best, foolish. These panels require a full spectrum of the community to take part in order to constructively come up with language that all can accept. Excluding people because they have criticised your work in the past (and vice versa) is not the way to go. Lindzen took part in the 2001 IPCC and the NAS 2002, John Christy was on the CCSP panel on tropsohperic trends – excluding them because of a history of disagreements or perceived personal failings would have been a mistake. The same goes for the scientists mentioned in the above link – especially since one of them at least has no apparent connection to any of the issues raised by these emails. This is not a topic for further discussion. Sorry. – gavin

Really? Zorita was merely saying, “Jones and Mann criticized my work in the past, so I think they should be barred from the IPCC process”? C’mon. If Gavin thinks someone leveling charges of “conspiracies, “bullying,” and “intimidation,” in order to “convey a distorted picture” of the hockey-stick graph, is merely complaining of criticism, then he should stop commenting on this controversy because he obviously doesn’t understand the charges. I’m not saying Zorita is necessarily right, but it’s nonsense to dismiss his claims as whining from someone whose work was criticized by other academics.

28 Nov 2009

"By Our Powers Combined…"

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Newcomers to Austrian economics often ask me about the Great Schism. Here’s the short version: Almost a century ago, a dark wizard swept through the economics profession, mesmerizing almost all who came within earshot of his siren song. He and his apprentices–most notably Darth Samuelson–hunted down and exterminated almost all of the practitioners of the bright arts.

In this chaos, a good and very powerful wizard retreated to the Dagobah system, where he lived in a swamp with funding from a private foundation. There he worked on an amulet codifying the spells of the bright magic, which had the power to beat back the forces of the dark wizards.

Upon his deathbed, the old wizard handed the amulet to those gathered around him. In their jealous grasping, they fumbled the amulet and it smashed into three pieces, each going to a different lieutenant. Although the amulet’s powers remain, it cannot defeat the dark wizards in diluted form.

It is prophesied that a young wizard will one day rise from the ranks and reunite all three pieces of the amulet. Then its light will burn brightly, forcing the dark wizards to cower in the shadows of Fed posts.

(For a slightly different rendition, see here.)

28 Nov 2009

The Core of What Economics Teaches

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Tom Woods alerted me to this. I am embedding it below to get you hooked, but if and when you decide, “Dangit I have to listen to the whole half hour!” then you should click on it and watch it in High Quality widescreen.

This is a very different speech from the kind I normally give, since the audience was (mostly) high school students. I even unveil my George Carlin impression, except I chickened out and didn’t actually “do” Carlin.

(Incidentally, the YouTube commenters clearly have no taste.)

BTW here’s Tom Woods’ talk from the same event; I opened and he closed. The other talks were good too: Doug French on money and inflation, Floy Lilley on recycling, and Jeff Tucker on innovation and Catholic monks.

27 Nov 2009


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OK I really need to get back to my paying jobs… But here are two more ClimateGate posts to throw into the mix. (Both links come from ClimateDepot, which admittedly is the Drudge Report of global warming skepticism.)

* First you’ve got this minor IPCC contributing author arguing that big guns Michael Mann, Phil Jones, and Stefan Rahmstorf should be barred from the IPCC process. A good excerpt:

I may confirm what has been written in other places: research in some areas of climate science has been and is full of machination, conspiracies, and collusion, as any reader can interpret from the CRU-files. They depict a realistic, I would say even harmless, picture of what the real research in the area of the climate of the past millennium has been in the last years. The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas.

These words do not mean that I think anthropogenic climate change is a hoax. On the contrary, it is a question which we have to be very well aware of. But I am also aware that in this thick atmosphere -and I am not speaking of greenhouse gases now- editors, reviewers and authors of alternative studies, analysis, interpretations,even based on the same data we have at our disposal, have been bullied and subtly blackmailed. In this atmosphere, Ph D students are often tempted to tweak their data so as to fit the ‘politically correct picture’. Some, or many issues, about climate change are still not well known. Policy makers should be aware of the attempts to hide these uncertainties under a unified picture. I had the ‘pleasure’ to experience all this in my area of research.

I thank explicitely Keith Briffa and Tim Osborn for their work in the formulation of one Chapter of the IPCC report. As it destills from these emails, they withstood the evident pressure of other IPCC authors, not experts in this area of research, to convey a distorted picture of our knowledge of the hockey-stick graph.

* Richard Littlemore of DeSmogBlog thinks that Jones et al., like Nixon, are handling their -Gate very poorly, and thinks Jones should offer to resign. Just so you know, DeSmogBlog is not exactly a friend of Big Oil. If you search for my name on their site, you learn all you need to know about me:

DeSmogBlog thoroughly investigates the academic and industry backgrounds of those involved in the PR spin campaigns that are confusing the public and stalling action on global warming. If there’s anyone or any organization, ( i.e. scientist, self-professed “expert,” think tank, industry association, company) that you would like to see researched and reported on DeSmogBlog, please contact us here and we will try our best.

If you need something more quickly, please let us know and we can arrange to have the process expedited for a small fee to cover research costs.

Robert P. Murphy

Murphy and the Institute for Energy Research

Murphy is listed as an economist for a Houston, Texas-based think tank called the Institute for Energy Research (IER). The IER has received over $200,000 in funding from oil-giant ExxonMobil.

The IER has strong links to other well-known industry-friendly organizations.

Robert Bradley, the president of IER, is listed as an “Adjunct Scholar” for the Cato Institute and an “Expert” for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Listed on the IER website are Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute, Tom Tanton of the Pacific Research Institute and Joel Schwartz of the American Enterprise Institute. Combined, these organizations have received over $4.5 million in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998.

Of the six listed IER Board of Directors, two are directly affiliated with IER, one is with the American Enterprise Institute and three are involved in the energy sector.

The IER operates a second site called Facts On Energy.

27 Nov 2009

Talk About Making Your Boss Look Good!

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Former Bush spokesperson Dana Perino may have exaggerated a bit when discussing the administration’s success in keeping America safe from terrorism (HT2 Media Matters):

27 Nov 2009

Hamilton vs. Krugman

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It’s Econbrowser in a cage match with Conscience of a Liberal. I don’t have the energy to referee this one. The topic is whether we should be worried about the government’s fiscal situation. Noteworthy is that Hamilton alludes to Krugman’s 2003 worries about the deficit, and Krugman responds.*

* And no, the response wasn’t, “I was a partisan hack back then, my bad.” It’s more like, “A 40% debt under Bush is scarier than an 80% debt under Obama, because Bush is stupid and evil.” You think I’m kidding, don’t you?