Theory and History

Theory and History

Theory and History

Ludwig von Mises’ last book is an examination of social sciences as they are and as they should be. Mises characteristically spends time excoriating historians who pretend to be economists. His main effort, however, is on the proper delineation between psychology, economics, thymology, and, of course, history.

For those who have read Human Action, the distinction between historical science and economic science is well known. When a so-called economist models the price of onions in Venice in the 1850s, he is not furthering economic knowledge, but simply using mathematics to relate what happened in the past. That this work provides no economic insight and has no predictive power is a central theme of Theory and History.

Furthermore, Mises attacks supposed economic theories that are actually theories of history, and bad ones at that. He embarrasses Marxism for its foundational beliefs that technology determines the social state of affairs and that history is on an inevitable trend towards a final state of socialism. With his typical dry humor, Mises tears apart collectivist ideologies, though some may seem obscure to a modern reader.

On the other hand, his work on thymology is immortal. Continue reading

Anarchy in Afghanistan

There's no government, like no government.

There’s no government, like no government.

Dr. Ilia Murtazashvili and Dr. Jennifer Murtazashvili have done research on conflict resolution systems in Afghanistan that many ancaps will find interesting. In their paper, “Anarchy, self-governance, and legal titling“, they describe how most Afghanis choose traditional, decentralized conflict resolution solutions over state provided systems. Specifically, the paper focuses on conflicts over land and how, after doing extensive field research, the authors believe that “…it is time to rethink anarchy as a policy option in Afghanistan and similar fragile states.”

The Murtazashvilis are not suggesting total anarchy, but rather a complete laissez-faire system for resolution of disputes over land. This is not simply a matter of economic efficiency, but also the cultural and social norms of the various groups that live in the country.

From a historical perspective in different areas of the world, they point to other academic research:

“The experience on the American frontier provides ample examples of order in the pale shadow of the state. Anderson and Hill (1990, 2002, 2004) depicted how frontier settlers cooperated without relying on the American government in an ‘‘anarcho-capitalist’’ environment. During the California gold rush that commenced in 1848, individuals established informal systems of property rights to allocate access to gold deposits (Umbeck 1977).3 In fact, individuals in each of the major frontier sectors jumped the gun on land settlement by establishing government-like organizations to specify and enforce property rights during times when they had no formal rights to do so (Murtazashvili 2013).”

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Liberty is Not Enough

somaliaOpponents of libertarianism often ask the following question: if libertarians hate government, why not live somewhere like Antarctica or Somalia? From a very narrow perspective, they have a good point. Anarcho-capitalists could enjoy total liberty by living alone on a deserted island.

However, this would simply be trading one kind of freedom for another. Ancaps want to have freedom from crime, which is called liberty. Yet, they also want freedom from the the constraints of nature. That means technology, wealth, and division of labor in the free market. In a word: capital. If an individual only cared about liberty, any wasteland devoid of people would be paradise. However, ancaps care about capital, too. Hell, it’s in the name.

This is evidenced by the large ancap populations in places like New York City, where taxes are high, the nanny state is only overshadowed by the police state, and the government occasionally kills people for selling cigarettes. They prefer to suffer under the yoke of government and enjoy the high standard of living provided by capitalism. It is not perfect capitalism, but even the hampered market can produce an amazing abundance of prosperity. Continue reading

21 Words for Liberty

snow flakes

types of snow flakes

In some parts of the world one needs only a single word for snow, but people in cold climates might distinguish between sleet, dendrites, needles and graupel. Similarly, the current world of limited liberty is accompanied by a limited vocabulary for liberty. With all the progress that libertarian theory has made in the last half century, it seems about time for language to start to catch up. There should not be just one vague notion of liberty, but many precise and nuanced concepts. Unfortunately, most people do not even have a good understanding of the words we already have.

Freedom is a word that is often considered synonymous with liberty, but liberty is actually a specific type of freedom. Freedom means without restriction or constraint. Liberty means being free from constraint imposed by other people. Liberty is freedom from conflict. It is freedom from having your life and goals interrupted by others. In a libertarian society, an individual has the freedom to do as he pleases, so long as he does not prevent others from doing as they please. Even if one achieves a state of liberty, they could still find more freedom by Continue reading

Wrath of the Khans

The most evil series of events in human history occurred in the 13th Century. It was the birth of a government led by the infamous Khans of Mongolia. Its enormity can only be understood by both the enormous levels of death and destruction and the brutal depravity of how it was carried out.

Every libertarian should know the story, and one of the best ways to hear it is from Dan Carlin’s podcast, Hardcore History. His five part series called Wrath of the Khans does an excellent job describing the horrific details.

Listen to the podcast here.

Good, Evil, and Ethics

jack o'lanterns

Jack o’ lanterns

Good and evil are often portrayed as opposing choices in an individual’s life, or opposing forces of history. Yet, good and evil are not opposites and this mis-characterization often leads to confused thinking on the part of philosophers, storytellers, and others.

The first thing that should be noted about good and evil is that they are adjectives that apply to different things. Good and bad can describe just about anything, but evil only applies to things that people do.  One might have a good apple or a bad apple, but one would never have an evil apple. On the other hand, one could say that what someone does is good, bad, evil or the opposites of those.

As examples, one might say that it is good to exercise, bad to over-eat, evil to murder and not-evil to read a book. Aside from evil and not-evil, these adjectives are not mutually exclusive. So one might say that it is good, bad and not-evil to eat ice cream. Something can be good and bad in different ways, so there is nothing wrong with describing eating ice cream as both good and bad.

Similarly, as good and evil are not opposites they can be used to describe the same thing. An action that someone takes might be good and evil at the same time. For example, murder is an archetypal evil. Yet, if a politician that a farmer does not like is murdered, the farmer might consider that a good thing, making the murder both good and evil. Another scenario might be if a man robs a bank to buy medicine for his sick mother. Continue reading