A response to Rafal Smigrodzki, Part 1

From: Technotranscendence (neptune@mars.superlink.net)
Date: Thu Dec 20 2001 - 16:40:47 MST

On Monday, November 05, 2001 4:26 PM Smigrodzki, Rafal
SmigrodzkiR@MSX.UPMC.EDU wrote:
>>> Is there in your opinion any conceivable situation where
>>> the economic interaction of free people, without fraud,
>>> "third party" intervention, direct coercion, but acting within
>>> a legal system respecting property rights, could have
>>> undesirable consequences, necessitating a coercive
>>> intervention on behalf of some of the persons involved?
>> It could have undesirable consequences because the future
>> is uncertain.
> Exactly. Even what we think is right and good can turn out to
> be wrong in a longer time-frame. So all assumptions and
> social ideas have to be frequently reexamined and chnaged
> if new data requires it.

I don't disagree here, but there are two problems. One is that both the
public and the government's attention will turn elsewhere. In other
words, a program, such as Social Security, will be put in place to solve
a seeming problem, then basically forgotten about. Generally, in
coercive policies -- as almost all government policies are -- the
tendency is to ignore the policy and move on to other things. This is
why we see cycles of neglect followed by reform followed by new neglect.

The other is that coercive interventions necessarily create or reinforce
interest groups that either want to maintain or expand current
interventions or even create new ones -- regardless of results. We see
when any cut back in an obviously failed program, such as Social
Security, the Import Export Bank, or the various deposit insurance
programs. (I can multiply examples here, but I don't want this post to
be too long.:) In all these cases, intensive lobbying by the interests
supporting program outflanks both reality (the obvious failures) and
those who want to reduce or abolish such programs.

We see the creation of new programs with, e.g., the expansion of
affirmative action programs and the creation of new collective rights --
e.g., for Blacks, women, gays, the disabled, and probably next for the
overweight. We see even ephemeral coercions basically teaching people
that coercion is a tool just like any other, when it's not. It's not
because it's effects are to distort cooperation and, ultimately, to
spread social conflict as one individual or group sees every other
individual or group as an adversay -- either as victims or villains.

As Milton Friedman once said, there's nothing more permanent than a
temporary government program. Granted, this is hyperbole, but part of
the exaggeration rings true. So, we should be extremely careful
advocating any new coercive policy -- even a temporary one. (An example
of this. The Mexican bailout of the early 1990s led US investors to
expect further bailouts and other changes, from the bailings out of many
to US firms and banks in the Asian crisis and the Russian crisis and the
arrangement with LTCM. See, e.g., "Too Big to Fail?: Long-Term Capital
Management and the Federal Reserve" by Kevin Dowd at

>> Whether such conditions would necessitate "coercive intervention" is
>> another matter. Wouldn't one want to err on the side of freedom and
>> reason?
> Always. Freedom and reason are right at the top of my "good" list.

Then why coercion? In my mind, force and reason are pretty much
opposites. (The Objectivist influence on me.:) Ergo, any initiation of
force means foregoing the use of reason. Would you, e.g., give up the
scientific method or the laws of logic because you couldn't get the
results you desired in a specific experiment or argument?

> Again, yes, to some of it, except there would be no civilization
> without governments.

I see the causality going the other way: there could be no government or
no government over and above simple chiefs temporarily ruling small
bands without civilization. Civilization, as it progresses, creates
huge amounts of wealth and capital that governments can live off.
Governments basically consume. You should read Hoppe and others on

>>>Or is such situation in principle and in practice absolutely
>>>impossible and ruled out by the very foundations of your
>>>moral system?
>> It's ruled out by my moral system, yes, but I am willing to
>> entertain the question from an economic and sociological
>> perspective.
> Now here I am a little bit confused - intervention can be entertained
> as a question but is ruled out by basic moral considerations?

Yes, and for the same reasons as above. I would I hope no sooner give
up logic in thinking than freedom in action.

> Does it mean that your answer to my first question is a principled
> "No" and any discussion is only an intellectual pastime?

I'm not unwilling to change my morality, but it would take evidence and
argument -- not some vacuous claim about being openminded, but real,
hard data. Thusfar, I've not seen much in that direction -- and not for
lack of looking. After all, not only am I intensely interested in the
effects of coercion, but I live in a society where most people want and
advocate for even more coercion.

Also, morality for me is not separate from empirical issues or reality.
In fact, I'm basically in the Objectivist and neo-Aristotelean
traditions here. (I might add, I also agree with much of what Lawrence
C. Becker has to say in his _A New Stoicism_. I mention him because
he's modernized stoicism and the result is quite good, IMHO.) Since I
also think of politics as reality based, the same applies for it. Note,
my arguments in this area are generally backed by historical examples.

I'll respond to your scenario in Part 2 of my response. I figured it
good to send out Part 1 now because I've delayed long enough.


Daniel Ust

"Legislation appears today to be a quick, rational, and far-reaching
remedy against every kind of evil or inconvenience, as compared with,
say, judicial decisions, the settlement of disputes by private arbiters,
conventions, customs, and similar kinds of spontaneous adjustments on
the part of individuals. A fact that almost always goes unnoticed is
that a remedy by way of legislation may be too quick to be efficacious,
too unpredictably far-reaching to be wholly beneficial, and too directly
connected with the contingent views and interests of a handful of people
(the legislators), whoever they may be, to be, in fact, a remedy for all
concerned. Even when all this is noticed, the criticism is usually
directed against particular statutes rather than against legislation as
such, and a new remedy is always looked for in 'better' statutes instead
of in something altogether different from legislation." Bruno Leoni,
_Freedom and the Law_, p7

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