Crime, the State and libertarianism: a personal experience and some ramblings

September 30, 2009

We recently got back from a lovely vacation to Hawaii (apparently not too many people are vacationing these days).  The vacation would have been perfect had our car been at home when we got home.  Instead it had been stolen.

We've been living in Seattle for about 14 months.  We moved here from DC and we are preparing to move back to DC in about a month.

While we were gone, someone pried open a window at the back of the house.  They piled up some of our backyard furniture.  They used an implement to keep the window open and crawled through.  Once in the house, they made their way to the front door, grabbed the car keys and helped themselves to our car.

They didn't take anything else from the house – we're assuming this means that they thought we were at home while they were in the house.

We're in the process of getting another dog, a security system and a couple of shotguns – it's very unsettling to get robbed.

The cops attitude to the crime was essentially: this happens all the time (I checked, it does), the car usually turns up in a week or two and either way, it's insured.

Apparently, in the US, it's become OK to take a car as long as the owner gets it back in a few days or gets paid for it.  They perps generally use the car to commit some other crimes and then leave it somewhere.  At that point, I guess, someone eventually reports an abandoned car.

As we've asked around, apparently the same thing has happened to a bunch of our friends.

I tried to call the police to see what was happening with the investigation.  After calling 6 numbers (!) I got someone at the impound lot, who informed me that my "car is still stolen."

After 4 more numbers, I got the office that investigates the crime.  No one answered the phone (of course) and the recording said not to call to ask about the status of the case.  I guess I'll never get the "evidence" they took from my house.

Libertarians have a strange attitude to crime – it's not even hard to find some who will claim that virtually all crime is committed by the State.  For example (from today), here's one who is defending someone who has been convicted of sexual battery – our libertarian doesn't even try to discern the facts of the case before defending said batterer (which is my point).  I've gotten closer to the reactionary view of late, from Mr Moldbug:

Libertarians: note that at present, your risk of having your human rights violated by a private actor is much greater than your risk of having your human rights violated by a state actor [I must interrupt here to point out that if said libertarians believe that taxes are a violation of human rights, this claim is not true, but I don't think this invalidates the rest of the post]. Which hurts more? A cop hitting you over the head with a club, or a mugger hitting you over the head with a club? In my mind, they hurt about the same. Thus, as a libertarian, my most serious complaint against the State is not any alleged abuses of the security forces, but its tolerance of widespread anarchy and disorder – by several orders of magnitude. . . .

Here are some random facts about the present California which, I feel, are violations of order. The major cities are full of racist paramilitary gangs. Large sections of them are unsafe at night. Other sections are unsafe by day. Millions of people are in California illegally. California has no secure list of the people who are authorized to reside there, nor does it know the addresses and occupations of its residents, nor does it have their biometric identities. If an unlocked bicycle is left on the street, it will be stolen. Many Californians are idle and not independently wealthy. Many schools approach the zoological. Graffiti is everywhere, as is garbage. Etc, etc. (You'll note that by the global standards of 2009, California is actually quite orderly.)

Mr Moldbug hits the nail on the head, the problem (and my current frustration) is that the police seem to be totally tolerant of this crime and the ensuing anarchy and disorder.

I've never really understood that hardcore libertarian arguments in favor of private security forces, but the idea seems a lot less crazy to me now.  The only parties that care about the fact that my car was stolen are: 1) me and my wife and 2) our insurance company.  Notably absent from the list is: the State.

Despite this, there are historical times in which this behavior was not tolerated by the State.

From this it's easier to see the confusion of libertarians.  They are correct that much police work is useless and mis-directed.  They are incorrect in suggesting that this means we shouldn't enforce laws or that we should be more lenient on criminals.  What we want is stronger, more effective police – once they achieve this goal, their actions will no longer seem random and mis-directed.  They can get smaller as they get more focused and effective.

Thanks for the opportunity to rant.

Sentence of the day

September 30, 2009

From Mr Bardamu:

Light your torches and load your shotguns, because the end is coming.

The state of modern economics – as seen by a non-economist

September 30, 2009

I have an undergrad degree in Economics (and Electrical Engineering) – but I don't think that makes me an economist by today's standards.  So here are my two cents about the state of economics:

In the first half of the 20th century Keynes' economic theories dominated mainstream economic thought.  In the later part of the century, the Chicago School made serious inroads into mainstream thinking.  Behind all this, the Austrian theory was kept alive by a set of devoted followers (the biggest influence of this theory is in money management and trading, where Austrian theories have stayed popular).  That's all the background you're getting.

The recent crisis revealed that the Chicago/Friedman School is dead.  Yes, Friedman was influential.  Yes, a lot of people at U of C won Nobel Prizes.  But, when push came to shove, virtually none of their followers remained principled defenders of free markets.  When times got tough, Chicagoans turned into watered-down Keynesians.  (The few that didn't basically sounded like watered-down Austrians).

So, there is only one theory of economics that is acceptable in mainstream circles.  The Austrians are keeping-it-real in the background, but they have no mainstream influence.

Let's discuss these two theories based on the assumption that the current policies of USG (US government) have gotten us out of the recession.  (Note: I do not believe this is true and neither do many Austrians.  Nevertheless, let's cede that argument to the Keynesians and see what happens).

Keynes' theory – having USG print and spend incredible sums of money in a recession to get us out of recession – seem to have worked in this recession.

Austrian theory has been predicting the imminent destruction of USG and the US economy for a long time.  To oversimplify, the Austrian believe that economies that print so much money cannot survive

From my perspective, Austrians need to realize that the economy is much more stable than they give it credit for.  Nevertheless, in the end I think the Austrians are still correct.

USG went into this recession with $8-9 trillion of debt.  It will be lucky to leave the recession with $13 trillion in debt.  So, let's assume that for Keynes theory to work and for the economy to get out of recession, USG will have to increase it's debt by 50%.

I believe Keynes suggested that in good time, USG should run surpluses and pay down its debt.  The problem with this idea is that USG has never, ever done such a thing.  This idea is ridiculous.  Broad-based democracy basically prohibits it.

It's safe to assume that when the next Great Recession comes, in say 20 years, USG will have a debt that is well above $13 trillion.  Let's assume that another recession comes in 20 years and at that point, USG's debt is $20 trillion.  Let's further assume that Keynes' suggestions can get us out of the recession with printing $10 trillion – leaving the debt at $30 trillion (after monetization).  This process can be repeated indefinitely.

How long can this go on?

In the end, the Austrians – who may underestimate the resilience of the economy – will eventually have to be correct.  Clearly, some level of debt is too much for USG to maintain.  The only way my argument can be wrong is if USG can pay down some of its debt in good times.  I don't see that happening – our political system is set up to virtually guarantee that debt reduction is impossible.


Libertarians and the Confederacy

September 30, 2009

I've been traveling and on vacation for a couple weeks now, so blogging has been light.  However, while I was away, I noticed a few posts on libertarianism and the Confederacy.

The argument in these posts is basically that libertarians shouldn't sympathize with the Confederacy, because the Confederacy did not pursue libertarian policies.

This statement is, of course, true – to some extent.  The flip side of the statement is also true – libertarians shouldn't sympathize with the Union because the Union did not pursue libertarian policies.

Libertarians who are concerned with ideological purity should be against both sides.  After all, war is the health of the state.

I would argue that the people in the war who deserve the most sympathy from those who love peace and who love non-authoritarian, non-centralized government were a segment of the Confederate troops.  For the reasons why, let's turn to Charles Francis Adams (who fought for the Union and whose liberal credentials are unassailable) – from my review of his essay:

He [Adams] goes through a long argument about how Lee was not a traitor.  For if we wish to call Lee a traitor, we would have to call Washington, Cromwell, William of Orange and Hampden traitors as well.  Lee was loyal to his state, which was where he believed his primary loyalty lay.

Then Adams tries to make a distinction between Virginia's decision to secede and other Cotton States' decisions to secede.  The latter states seceded when Lincoln won the election.  Virginia did not.  Virginia believed in secession (as did everyone who ratified the Constitution, according to Mr Adams).  Virginia was willing to let the other states peacefully secede, but did not wish to secede with them.  Only after the US government tried to re-supply Sumter, an act of war against a sovereign state (i.e. South Carolina), according to the logic of Virginia and the original understanding of the Constitution, did Virginia rebel.  According to Virginia, the North had effectively changed the Constitution at that point and Virginia seceded to defend the original Constitution.  Mr Adams understands this argument but sees it as hopeless outdated and out-of-touch.  Nevertheless, he sees it as consistent.  Lee then went with his state.

The Civil War was a disaster of epic proportions.  The North freed the slaves, but left the slaves in a condition often worse than slavery for the next several decades.  The net result for the "former" slaves was hardly a significant improvement.  On the other side, government chosen by the people was dead.  There is no way to argue that Southerners have agreed to live under the Constitution.  The State expanded like never before.  Even the idea of limited government was shot – as Lincoln ignored the Supreme Court at will.  There is little here for libertarians to sympathize with.

The South of course was, in large part, fighting for slavery.  However there were some in the South – as Adams was intelligent enough to note even though he fought a war against the same men (I wonder why today's commentors can't view the war with the same level of detachment?) – who fought for their idea of limited, freely chosen government.  To the extent that libertarians should sympathize with any men fighting at that time, I would pick these few, proud men.

[For more of my Civil War book reviews, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here]

Review of "Zodiac" by Neal Stephenson

September 29, 2009

You can find the book here – and this being Stephenson, you can find a quick summary here.

Stephenson's early stuff is good.  It's not great though – he makes a big jump into great books all of sudden.  There are some inklings of the great stuff to come in the early stuff, which makes them worth reading.

I was worried that this book was going to be cliched environmentalism, but Stephenson avoids becoming cliche, for example he rips on the government environmentalist, do-good, liberal types:

I don't mean the EPA, the chemical Keystone Kops. Offices full of  mediocre chemists, led by the lowest bottom-feeders of them all: political appointees. Expecting them to do anything  controversial is like expecting a hay fever sufferer to harvest a field of ragweed. For God's sake, they wouldn't even admit that chlordane was dangerous. And if they don't have the balls to take preventive measures, punitive action doesn't even enter their minds. The laws are broken so universally that they don't know what to do.

And the do-gooders in the universities:

This shouldn't have surprised me, because the ability to think rationally is pretty rare, even in prestigious universities.

His environmentalist even rips on other environmentalists (or "duck-squeezers"):

Debbie insisted on following the rhythm of the waves.  Typical duck-squeezer sex: slow, frustrating, in tune with nature.

Stephenson has found a way to write an environmentalist novel that doesn't put off non-environmentalists – that's the inkling of genius.  His environmentalist isn't out to save the earth so much as he's out to piss off people and to fight – it doesn't really matter why.  In that sense the character comes across as almost neutral on environmental issues and then the good science writing takes over and carries the book.  Anyway, if you're looking for something to pass a long flight or to read on the beach, then enjoy.

Review of "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens

September 29, 2009

I listened to the book over a long period of time.  I can certainly see why it is so popular, but if it's Victorian novel time, I'll always take Trollope over Dickens.

Sentences of the day

September 25, 2009

From Mr Sailer:

I think we should have a Fantasy Football league for schoolchildren. I'll play versus Bill Gates. He can pay for all the early intervention for his draft choices that he wants if he'll pick, say, the Hungarian Gypsy kids while I pick the Hungarian Jewish kids, he picks the Untouchables while I pick the Parsis, and so forth. A dozen years from now we'll compare test scores and settle our bets. C'mon, Bill, ante up!