12 Sep 2017

Even Without Tom Woods, I’m Still Contra Krugman

Contra Krugman 29 Comments

Because of the hurricane, I had to host episode 103 by myself. The issue was Krugman’s column discussing Jeff Sessions’ statement about DACA. Some highlights:

6:00 From the media and pundit reactions, you’d think Trump announced women couldn’t vote anymore. But in truth, this was a 5-year-old policy that Obama himself said was a temporary stop-gap measure at the press conference unveiling it.

8:20 Krugman’s description of Sessions’ statement is “incredibly dishonest”–not a phrase I use lightly. Krugman outdid himself on this one.

14:45 I again explain why Trump says the US is the “highest taxed nation” when talking about tax reform.

16:00 I high-five Krugman’s ridicule of the notion that there’s a fixed number of jobs, in the context of the immigration debate. (Remember, I’m tough but fair.)

17:00 It creeps me out to view immigrants at tax cattle a la Krugman.

18:20 I critique the “secular stagnation” approach.

20:20 I flip the Japan example.

22:10 I give a backhanded compliment to comedian Dave Smith, who will be performing on the Contra Cruise.

23:00 At this point I put aside Krugman’s column and just start talking immigration, in terms of the economics and libertarian theory.

28:30 I criticize the slogan “open borders.”

30:20 “OK Murphy, given that we don’t live in your an-cap utopia, what should the federal government’s policy actually be?”

29 Responses to “Even Without Tom Woods, I’m Still Contra Krugman”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob’s criticism of the term “open borders” brings up a long-standing question/criticism I’ve had about libertarianism. I have yet to see a satisfactory justification of the principle of homesteading. Suppose I was a left-libertarian/anarcho-communist who believed that people have a right to their own body, but not to other physical objects. That is, people are allowed to use any object any way they like, they’re allowed to walk on to any piece of land, etc. as long they don’t engage in violence against the bodies of other people. (This is what Matt Bruenig has called “Grab World”.) How would you convince me that I’m wrong, and that it’s justified to use violence against other people’s bodies if they go onto a piece of land that you homesteaded?

    • Dan says:

      I mean I could just flip that. How would they convince me of their philosophy? Whether they can convince me doesn’t validate or invalidate their position and vice versa.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Dan, here’s the thing. I am neither a left-libertarian nor a right-libertarian. I believe in big government in fact. But when I first heard of right-libertarianism, I found it at least somewhat appealing because I kept hearing claims that “it’s the only philosophy that consistently follows then non-aggression principle”. But then I came across various blog posts by Matt Bruenig describing “Grab What You Can World” (Grab World for short), basically the left-libertarian position I outlined above. Bruenig argued, convincingly I think, that Grab World better captures what we intuitively mean by “the non-aggression principle” than right-libertarianism does.

        So at least as I see it, until I see a convincing argument for why right-libertarianism is correct over left-libertarianism, I don’t see any reason why I should even consider believing in right-libertarianism.

        • Dan says:

          “So at least as I see it, until I see a convincing argument for why right-libertarianism is correct over left-libertarianism, I don’t see any reason why I should even consider believing in right-libertarianism.”

          Well, I’d hope you wouldn’t support any position that you don’t believe is correct. Regardless, whether someone is capable of convincing you that an idea is correct doesn’t validate or invalidate the idea itself. I’ve been unable to convince some people the planet is round, and they find all arguments about a round Earth unconvincing. Doesn’t make them right and me wrong.

    • Tel says:

      I think the “anarcho-communist” position is reasonable if held consistently (very few “Progressives” are consistent about anything other than they consistently take whatever position this minute gets them what they want).

      For example, the people calling themselves “Antifa” show a double flag red and black, which would imply anarchy and communism… however they do claim the right to use violence to control who is allowed to speak and what they are allowed to say. Thus they are not satisfied with allowing other people to even so much as own their own bodies. Anyway, getting back to the point here…

      In order to have a “Non-Aggression Policy” you also need to decide some boundary where individual property rights come to an end. There’s a definition problem which doesn’t automatically spring from any simple starting point. Let’s look at a real example: suppose I can and do walk around the countryside in general as a method of transport. Then someone builds a fence to keep their animals in, or they build a taller fence to secure their factory. This fence now prevents me from walking over that patch of land… yesterday I could do it, today I cannot. Therefore my property right in being able to use that land as transport necessarily conflicts with other people’s property rights to build fences and claim chunks of land for their own personal use.

      The theory of “homesteading” is that first economically beneficial usage always takes precedence (just making empty air claims is worthless, needs to be genuinely productive and you need to really do it). Thus, I can claim my ability to walk the land was there before anyone started building fences. The problem is that it gets difficult… did I walk exactly that patch of land? Can I claim the potential path over some hill even when right now I’m not using that, but some time soon I will want to use it?

      Again, it’s vague and poorly defined. What if someone builds a fence to keep some animals, but then decides on second thoughts, don’t bother keeping any animals? Who gets to decide what is sufficient? If building a fence was enough then I can just build a small circular fence and then claim everything outside that fence as my own, with the remainder for everyone else being inside the circle.

      So the first question for an economist to ask is “Does a Tragedy of the Commons exist?” For example, suppose we all attempt to graze our animals on the one small patch, the grass will be gone, the patch becomes worthless. Then you devolve to a locust economy as we all raid the next patch, and the next. Hopefully it’s kind of evident why this is unproductive.

      The next question, “Are property rights too cumbersome such that people waste their time resolving property issues and don’t do real work?” In my opinion the Patent system has ended up very much like that because you have obscure Patents floating around that might cover a lot of things but no one knows until it goes to court. Sometimes juries get bamboozled by a bunch of technical jargon and the outcome comes pretty close to flipping a coin.

      Between those two extremes you are still going to be stuck with overlapping edges and unfortunately I’m going to recommend Democracy as a final tie breaker. Ultimately the only property rights that exist are the ones that can be defended and in most situations that comes down to having a lot of people willing to back you up. Since violence is undesirable, there Democracy as a convenient substitute for open warfare.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Tel, you may be the wrong person to answer my question, as you don’t sound like a die-hard anarcho-capitalist. I think only someone who believes in the Rothbardian non-aggression principle on deontological grounds (as opposed to utilitarian grounds) would be in a position to answer my question. Thankfully we have plenty of such people who comment here.

    • Harold says:

      The concept of homesteading seems flawed to me. How much do you have to do to add value? To what bit of land? Does moving a twig, walking over a patch of land so it is marginally easier to walk over it a second time? It does not seem to be a coherent idea. Even self ownership does not seem to be properly defined but depends on some sort of understanding like “you know what I mean”.

      Maybe someone could point to a convincing explanation?

      • Dan says:

        I have no doubt that anything I link will be unconvincing to you, but there is enough written material on this topic to keep you busy for a long time if you actually wanted to understand what libertarians believe. https://mises.org/library/how-we-come-own-ourselves

        • Harold says:

          Thanks Dan. I see that self-ownership is a pretty good rule of thumb – a working arrangement. Where I object is the claim that it arises from the principles objectively.

          The essay you link to says that first use does not work for bodies. The criterion for ownership must be an objective link. But there are many objective links. A person that is asleep cannot move their leg, whereas their companion can – does that give the companion an objective link? How do we decide which objective link is the one we should use?

          Hoppe says “On the one hand it must be the case that the body called “mine” must indeed (in an intersubjectively ascertainable way) express or “objectify” my will. Proof of this, as far as my body is concerned, is easy enough to demonstrate: When I announce that I will now lift my arm, turn my head, relax in my chair (or whatever else) and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by my will. ”

          So when the sleeper’s companion announces that they will now lift this arm, or leg, and these announcements then become true (are fulfilled), then this shows that the body which does this has been indeed appropriated by their will. See – the whole premise is a failure.

          The whole thing fails.We need to use something like “has most control” or “more of the time” or some fudge. Then what about paralysis? Does the person cease to own their body?

          Direct and indirect control is similarly subjective.

          In this part we can see it clearly:
          “That is, parents have a better claim to the child than any outsiders, because of their natural link to the child. However, when the child “homesteads” or “appropriates” his own body by establishing the requisite objective link sufficient to establish self-ownership, the child becomes an adult, so to speak, and now has a better claim to his body than his parents.”

          So there is a fudge – at some point the ownership shifts. Both parties have an objective link, but we use some arbitrary criteria to decide which should have precedence. We must subjectively weigh these factors, just like we have to do with other political systems.

          So I am fine with you saying that you believe we own our bodies, or that we get the best outcomes if we say we own our bodies, but the philosophical underpinnings for the argument that we objectively own our bodies does not seem to be demonstrated here, or anywhere else I have seen.

          A good summary perhaps is the last paragraph:
          ” But it should be clear that what distinguishes libertarianism from all competing political theories is its scrupulous adherence — informed by sound, i.e., Austrian, economics — to the idea that property rights in scarce resources must be assigned to the person with the best, objective link to the resource in question;”

          Best objective link? Who decides which is best? You cannot have both best and objective. All objective is then is low bar to get into the selection competition.

          • Dan says:

            Harold, I’d recommend you spend some time reading Hoppe’s and Rothbard’s books. Try to get the underpinnings of the philosophy down. Then maybe dive into some of the work on a free market judicial system. There are going to be disputes over who the proper owner is of a given object even among Rothbardians or anyone else. That’s just a fact of life. Some matters will be settled in the courts. A free market judicial system will provide that service much better than the state. But if you’re looking for libertarians to explain how we achieve the Garden of Eden you’re going to be disappointed. We aren’t offering utopia.

      • skylien says:

        I am just curious. I have seen so many people criticizing homesteading, but what is actually the alternative? I am well aware of the problems of it, however absolutely nothing comes to mind that has any less problems.

        All alternatives imho have all the problems homesteading has + some more.

        What do you think?

      • DZ says:

        I don’t think the homesteading concept is meant to hold answers to all gray-area scenarios intrinsically. Homesteading claims are subject to judicial oversight and and arbitration when challenged. It is up to a legal system to decide.

        • Dan says:

          Dr. Murphy has produced some really good content on how a free market judicial system would push us toward better and better decisions. I find a combination of Kinsella’s approach to the logic behind the libertarian view on property rights, and Murphy’s work on conceptualizing how things can work is very compelling.

    • trent steel says:


      Real question: In Grab World, can I grab an apple out of your hand that you’re about to bite?

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        trent, if I just have an apple on my open palm, then I don’t think it would violate the principles of Grab World to take it. But if I’m gripping an apple tightly and you need to hurt my hand to take it, that wouldn’t be allowed.

        To use an analogy, in Black Friday shopping people will often fight over shopping items. If you take a shopping item from someone else’s cart or even from their hand, that would be rude and the store owner might decide to kick you out of the store, but you wouldn’t face any legal action. But if you use force against another person to take the shopping item away, you’d be subject to legal action.

        • DZ says:

          So under anarcho communism, if I build a house, there’s no problem with someone burning it down as long as I’m not in it at the time? Don’t focus too much on the house, but simply anything. If I gather previously unused sticks and rope and create an item used to satisfy some want or need, there’s no legal violation for someone who destroys that item as long as it doesn’t harm my physical being?

          • Dan says:

            How about if I get a sandwich, fries and a drink. If I don’t manage to tightly grip them all at the same time can someone come up and grab whatever is left sitting on the table? If my wallet falls out of my pocket is it up for grabs?

          • Richie says:

            So I can grab someone’s wallet as they are paying for something and, as long as I don’t hurt his or her hand, I can have it. That is so awesome.

            • Transformer says:

              I don’t think grab-world has anything to do with left-libertarianism and its tenets. Its just a thought experiment to show what a consistently applied Non-Aggression principal would be like.

              As soon as people start claiming its OK to use violence against other people as long as its in defense of ‘property rights’ then (it is claimed) you have opened the door to anyone justifying their own brand of violence just by defining ‘property rights’ in a way that makes their kind of violence ‘self-defense’.

              Grab-world would avoid this issue and be the only one where the NAP could be consistently applied. The fact that it would also be a world where no-one would want to live is (I think) meant to be a damning argument against libertarianism and the NAP.

              • Dan says:

                Transformer, sure if they want to redefine the NAP to me something absurd then following the NAP would be absurd.

                “As soon as people start claiming its OK to use violence against other people as long as its in defense of ‘property rights’ then (it is claimed) you have opened the door to anyone justifying their own brand of violence just by defining ‘property rights’ in a way that makes their kind of violence ‘self-defense’.”

                You mean like how they justify using violence in defense of their property right in their own body?

          • Tel says:

            It’s unlikely that people would arbitrarily start burning houses… I would see that as an act of violence even if no one got hurt the first time, basically because sooner or later someone would get hurt.

            However, a more realistic problem (as mentioned above) is the “Tragedy of the Commons” scenario where anarcho communism ends up as a locust economy.

            People will not put investment into infrastructure when they know anyone can just take what they want. Suppose I spend a long time growing an apple tree but another person decides the tree would be more useful if they cut it down and made planks out of it, but then a third person says, “Hey I need some planks, I’ll take those!”

            Essentially we go back to being hunter-gatherers.

            • Tel says:

              I should follow that up with a more in-depth analysis. In certain areas you can have weaker property rights and it does work, and has been demonstrated to work. Consider the “Open Source” software movement… it’s a little bit similar to anarcho-socialism, in as much as you have no central planner, no government as such, and people voluntarily choose to release their personal work under an “Open Source” license such as GPL, BSD, etc.

              That is to say, when you write some software you get
              strong property rights under international Copyright treaty but a significant number of people choose to weaken their own property rights as part of a mutual pact where others also weaken their property rights. That’s the whole point of Stallman’s GNU Manifesto which every person should read at least once.

              Why does this work with software, but not with apple trees? Well, software is much easier to copy than apple trees. If you have software and I take a copy then you still have what you had before and only tiny, tiny cost was expended in making that copy.

              Now if very large amounts of empty land happens to be available, and if you don’t mind waiting, then apple trees are also somewhat easy to copy, because the first apple tree produces copious seeds… you just do the Johnny Appleseed thing and drop those seeds everywhere. Software is still easier, but apple trees aren’t too bad… takes time though.

              Land on the other hand, is very difficult to make copies of. So is gold for that matter.

              • Dan says:

                “I should follow that up with a more in-depth analysis. In certain areas you can have weaker property rights and it does work, and has been demonstrated to work. Consider the “Open Source” software movement… it’s a little bit similar to anarcho-socialism, in as much as you have no central planner, no government as such, and people voluntarily choose to release their personal work under an “Open Source” license such as GPL, BSD, etc.”

                Open source is completely consistent with capitalism. I mean I think that capitalism would make a lot of things free. It already does. Socialism isn’t just about producing things and giving them away for free. In fact, it’s nothing like giving things away for free. In a socialist society you’re giving away what you produce for the promise of your share of everyone else’s production. In a capitalist society is where you see things being given away for literally nothing guaranteed in return.

              • Tel says:

                It is consistent with capitalism, in as much as no one cheated or broken the rules.

                Then again, if you had a fully libertarian ancap society with strong property rights, it would still be consistent for some group to start a commune and share all their property… provided no one was forced to enter, and there was some way to get out again (possibly with less property than you went in).

                So if people start with stronger property rights, they might choose to voluntarily weaken those rights under certain circumstances. And we can see examples where that does happen.

                You could look at it the other way, if people start with only weak property rights but might be able to strengthen those with sufficient effort put towards enforcement, then they will choose to strengthen only the property rights that really matter to them (because of the effort involved).

              • Dan says:

                Yeah, I just hate when I see things being given away for free and it’s called a socialist act when in reality it’s a capitalist act. Socialism is about giving something away for the promise of everything else they need be given to them. Only in capitalist societies do you truly get something for nothing.

        • trent steel says:


          But your analogy… what about after they’ve bought the goods? (why anyone would “buy” anything in Grab World I haven’t the faintest idea, but that was your rejoinder)

          So it’s still in the cart, but you’re pushing the cart to your car. Mind you, you have no car, because someone grabbed it while you were in the store, but the point…

          So, obviously, there can be no consistency, transitivity, or coherence to Grab World. So if Libertarianism fails when compared to a lunatic vision of reality, it’s not really a failure. Try again.

        • Anonymous says:

          Keshav, you have an apple grasped tightly in your hand, I cannot forcibly remove that apple from your hand. Do I have this right so far? What’s this about homesteading?

  2. Tel says:

    Just thought I’d add a quick note … no offense intended but I like it better with both Tom and Bob on the show.

    • Matt M says:

      I listened to this episode and fell asleep halfway through.

      … PERHAPS that’s mainly because I was listening in bed, had been working 12+ hour days, and only got four hours of sleep the night before. But maybe Tom would take it as evidence of the value he adds to the show!

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