Archive for August 2009
A post at Peter Rollins unmasks Batman as the ultimate capitalist superhero. I disagree with the heart and soul of his thesis, namely that
Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else.
I consider the exact opposite to be the case. Bruce Wayne perpitrates no crime by day; he violates no property rights nor does he have a State-granted monopoly over his industry. His workers and customers are free to associate with other businesses. From this it follows that Wayne can only satisfy his greed from creating products that satisfy his consumers needs and by offering his workers decent working conditions.
This is precisely the reason that socities built on private property ownership were historically regarded as the most altruistic and charitable. In addition to providing really cheap kerosene to Americans, John D. Rockefeller was a prominant philanthropist. Socities where forced altruism is the norm result in cultures of entitlement, violence and contempt for property and fellow humans.
There is however one obvious reason why Batman is the ultimate capitalist superhero. The buraucrats of Gotham city preside over a monopolised judicial and domestic defence system. All monopolies are bad from the point of view of the consumer as such arrangements will tend to raise the price and diminish the quality of the service provided. Gotham is constantly under threat from thieves, drug-dealers and murders. However Gotham’s residents cannot choose an alternative defence provider, nor will they receive compensation from the city if it fails in its defensive duty.
Quite simply, Batman is the challenger to Gotham city’s self-sanctioned monopoly over justice and protection from coercion. He circumvents the State’s monopoly on legitimate violence and acts as a privately-provided “public” good as an alternative to a poorly maintained, currupt State-run monopoly.
Perhaps this is why Batman is Ron Paul’s favourite superhero!
As World War II raged, an amazing thing happened in Irish politics. According to Wikipedia’s entry for Seán T. O’Kelly:
O’Kelly was appointed Minister of Finance in 1939. He secured the passing of The Central Bank Act in 1942. On 17 July 1942 at the fifth and final stage of the Dail debate on the “Central Banking Bill”, he argued that the owner of the credit issued by the Central Bank of Ireland, should be the private property of the joint stock banker and not the property of the people of Ireland. This debate was carried out when only five Deputies were present in the Dáil.
“There are two methods of rebutting the contention that credit money here belongs to the Irish people. One is the method of denying its existence, and that, as I understand it, is the position of the Leader of the Opposition. The position taken up by the Leader of the Opposition and by those who think with him is that a banker lends the money of his depositors and shareholders and nothing else, and that, therefore, the public have no concern with the activities of a bank, other than their personal dealings with it.
I propose to submit to the House that, far from that being true, the day the banker gets established, the least of his business is the lending of his money or that of his depositors and shareholders, that that represents only one-tenth of his activities and that the remaining nine-tenths of his total activities consists in lending and dealing in a commodity called credit money which he creates on the strength of the fact that he is functioning in a community consisting of law-abiding men who maintain, by their several individual exertions, a stable community.
This conception is so revolutionary to many persons who have never given any study to banking that a large number of people, without examining the evidence, simply throw their hands in the air and say that it could not be true; but the astonishing fact is that it is true, and, by the mercy of Providence, these facts were made manifest and placed forever on record in the evidence of the Committee on Finance and Industry which sat under the chairmanship of Lord MacMillan in 1931, and the minutes of whose evidence have been reported.”
I sometimes feel like I’m living in some kind of bizarro world. Eichengreen and O’Rourke have done an excellent job at tracking the Second Great Depression. Here is the link for those of you who’ve been living in a cave. After showing us excellent graphs of falling industrial output, they graph the overall policy responses of governments and central banks in 1929 and 2009. Take a look:
Now the conclusion to draw from this surely is: “world governments and central banks are doing exactly the same as what they were doing in 1929 only on a bigger scale”. And yet, this is not the conclusion that E-O draw: “The good news, of course, is that the policy response is very different.” Bizarre, no?
But in all seriousness, let’s take a look at a few points the author makes against libertarianism:
The first fallacy [of libertarianism] is one I call the Fallacy of Revolution. It can be found in any movement that seeks to radically revise the underpinnings of society, whether by abolishing money, imposing a theocracy, eliminating undesirable ethnic groups, repealing all law, organizing everyone’s diet according to principles of macrobiotics, or whatever other secret of a perfect society any group comes up with… The fallacy can be expressed more or less as follows:
By making these radical changes, we are removing the root cause of all the failures and evils of society as it presently stands. This will eliminate all of the existing problems, and since we have no knowledge of what new problems might arise, we can assume there will be none. Everything will work right, because there are no foreseeable things that can go wrong.
Let’s set aside the association of libertarianism with communism, nihilism and ethnic cleansing for the moment. Does this carry any weight? Yes, and no. While a libertarian might claim that removing the root cause of many problems [government] will lead to overall betterment, it is a massive non sequitor to suggest that everything will work out right, and a perfect society will be achieved. I know of few libertarians who reason this way. A libertarian might point to a government price control as the cause of a shortage of good x, but by no means will the removal of the price control lead to a utopian society where everyone can possess good x.
The author continues:
The second fallacy is one that I personally refer to as the Libertarian Fallacy…It can be expressed as the idea that freedom is measured by absence of laws. Another way of stating it is that only the government can restrict your rights. (Some Libertarians strongly support this wording, saying that a law removes or restricts your rights, but a private entity can only infringe on your rights without changing them.) To me, this is an artificial double standard, which labels a restraint on your freedom by one outfit in a completely different way than the same restraint by a different outfit, because one has the label of “government” and the other does not. Indeed, much of the fabric of reasoning in Libertarianism is based on presuming that the government is uniquely unlike any other entity, and therefore must be judged by entirely different standards from how anything else is appraised.
Firstly, a government is a unique entity. It is at the helm of a territorial monopoly of coercion and ultimate-decision making. It unilaterally decides the price of its “services”. It is the final arbiter in all disputes, including disputes involving itself. You cannot legitimately refuse to participate in “trade” with the government. The libertarians appear to have a point. No private entity has these qualities, despite the Public Choice School’s attempts to portray the government as just another market firm.
It is also incorrect to suggest that libertarians claim that only governments can restrict your rights. After all, libertarians acknowledge the existence of private murderers, rapists, thieves and con-artists too. However these private actors don’t claim to be legitimate thieves, murderers and con-artists, whereas the government maintains the status of the sole legitimate rights violator, hence libertarians focus fervently on its removal.
To me, the question is how much power others have over you and how constrained your choice of actions is, not whether the constraint is by public action rather than private action. In the viewpoint of those who hold this fallacy, what matters is how free you are on paper, not how free you are in what choices are actually open to you right now in real life. According to this view, a destitute person with no public support is more free than one who gets some kind of pension or welfare, despite the fact that the latter is the one who can do many things that are closed off to the former.
The above paragraph appears to be putting words in the mouths of all libertarians. For example, I doubt that a libertarian would claim that one person can be more free than another. Both the destitute person and the welfare recipient can be free [absent of institutionalised coercion], or they could both be unfree. There’s no way of telling with the information given.
…the “freedom-to-starve” argument rests on a basic confusion of “freedom” with “abundance of exchangeable goods.” The two must be kept conceptually distinct. Freedom is meaning fully definable only as absence of interpersonal restrictions. Robinson Crusoe on the desert island is absolutely free, since there is no other person to hinder him. But he is not necessarily living an abundant life; indeed, he is likely to be constantly on the verge of starvation. Whether or not man lives at the level of poverty or abundance depends upon the success that he and his ancestors have had in grappling with nature and in transforming naturally given resources into capital goods and consumers’ goods. The two problems, therefore, are logically separate. Crusoe is absolutely free, yet starving, while it is certainly possible, though not likely, for a given person at a given instant to be a slave while being kept in riches by his master.
This goes to show that we can assume that all critiques of libertarianism are a priori strawmen.
is meaningfully definable only as absence of interpersonal