Thursday, February 28, 2013

Challenging Delegation and Symmetry as Limitations on Government Action

Localism is compatible with most libertarian thought,because it is just a framework to protect local autonomy.   Instead of government devolving into one big box containing one set of rules, there are many little boxes which are protected from being swallowed up into the one big box.  But what people put into those boxes is up to them.  One state could be libertarian, another limited-government conservative  another, for however long the free market of government would permit it, could even be liberal.   In that sense, Localism could be useful to minarchists who could accomplish in little steps what they could not achieve all at once- the actual implementation of their ideas.

Anarchist philosophy is more absolutist, and is only with great difficulty incorporated into any other framework.  The logic of anarchist thought is sound, but I do take issue with some of the premises, and of course faulty premises will lead to the wrong conclusion even if the logic is sound.

 I have already described my issues with "self-ownership" as understood by anarchists.  Why do we own our paycheck? Well, we worked for it, we created the wealth it represents, we chose to provide a service, etc. I can't help but notice that none of these things apply to self-ownership. The reasons that we might give to say we own things don't apply to ourselves. But please read the article on that one and let me move on to the subject for today- the concepts of Ethical Symmetry and Delegation of powers.

Ethical symmetry is the concept that what is moral for one man is moral for another. If one man claims rights or privileges that another man does not have, then we have ethical asymmetry.  Anarchists attempt to apply this principle to make the case that government agents should not have any powers that an individual does not have, since any power a government has (according to this view) are powers delegated from other people.

That brings us to the related concept of delegation of powers.  Under this view the government of the people cannot logically have powers or rights not delegated to it by the people.  If I do not have the right to steal, nor does the government via it's IRS agency. Someone must have the right to "steal" via taxation for the government to have that power. 

I believe that both these concepts in a subtle way deny the existence of an absolute moral order.  It is my position, and that of many others, that such a law exists, and that the Lawgiver (God) exists.  In such a case ethical asymmetry also exists if one is acting on behalf of the higher moral law.  In other words, ones authority to be the upholder of the higher moral law might be delegated to them by other persons, but the authority of the law itself comes from a higher source than fellow citizens.   

What I am getting at is that if there is a transcendent moral order, it "owns" us in the sense that it is our moral superior, not our equal. It owns the state too. That is to say, each individual does not get to re-create moral reality for his or her self from a blank sheet of paper. Nor does the state get to do so. Both the individual and the state start with a blank sheet of paper, but the moral order of the universe is what they are obligated to try and write out on that blank sheet of paper, though we all do so imperfectly. The state is not supreme over the individual nor the individual over the state, both are fallible humans and neither are sovereign in a transcendent sense of the word. Both are subject to the moral law.  

But if there is a Creator (and the Founders believed there was, and He was the source of all rights) then, while we have freedom of choice in this life as to whether we care to recognize Their sovereignty, they would still be sovereign on the same basis that you claim ownership of something you create. A Creator-Created relationship does not need to be symmetric in order to be just. 

Nor would the "delegation" of powers be limited to actions one could justly take as an individual.  The "delegation" comes from the Creator to the government, and from the Creator to the individual. The individuality may delegate powers to their government, but they are not solely the individual's powers.  They are recognizing a power beyond them, and giving their consent to the state to wield those powers.  One may be like Ron Paul and believe that the Creator's moral code is to grant the individual the maximum liberty possible without hurting others, but basis for such a view would not be individual sovereignty, it would be based on it being a key component of the moral code. I.E. the Sovereign gave the individual freedom to choose whether to conform to the moral code, not that the individual is the Sovereign over it.

The classic Christian position, which helped birth the governments which provided the most liberty in human history, did not share the premise that government is in a symmetric relationship with its subjects and that its powers were limited to those of its subjects.   Romans 13 describes agents of the state as "God's ministers" who are authorized to "honor those who do good and bring wrath on evil doers."   

That does not sound like a symmetrical relationship to me!  Nor does it sound like the powers of government are limited to a delegation of whatever powers an individual can have, at least on a morally relativistic basis.  God can do things to us that we can't justly do to Him, because He created us and knows more than us and is purer than we are. He is the parent, we are the child: Another well-known asymmetric relationship   And if agents of the state are also agents of God, so can they.

Before one jumps to condemn me for trying to "impose my morality" I should point out that the Non-Aggression Principle itself, when used as a law, is itself an attempt to impose morality. It says the lines should be here, and not there.   Of course, everyone says that the code they attempt to impose on all is the most reasonable.   Yet we find that reasonable conclusions can vary based on the starting premises.

I am not even saying that the Non-Aggression Principle is wrong.  I can't know that. Maybe the Non-Aggression Principle is also the moral principle that the Divine Moral Order wants governments to operate under.  Maybe a government set up with the Non-aggression principle as the law would produce the best government the world has ever seen.  I am all for its adherents getting a chance to try it, and under localism they can.   My personal belief is that the Non-Aggression Principle is just that, a principle.  That is, something that is generally true.  This varies from the definition of a law, which is something that is always true without exception.

What I reject is "Ethical Symmetry" in the sense that "if you can't as an individual justly initiate force against me for something then you can't delegate the government to do it either."   When one is acting on behalf of another who is greater than they are, then they can justly behave in ways that they could not were they acting on their own authority.  If I am a middle manager for a company, I can't go outside my department and fire another middle manager and take over their department. But if the owner of the company authorizes me to do so, then I justly can. 

Christians are told "do not take your own revenge."  They are told that God will repay.  They are also told that the State is His Minister to bring wrath on evil doers.  In other words, in God's moral order this is an asymmetric relationship where the state can justly do things to an individual that another individual cannot justly do.

I have a similar objection to Delegation as used by anarchists.   God raises up governments, and when they grow either too just for their population or not just enough relative to their population, He brings them down.   The individual, when they elect, set up, consent to, or recognize a government, are agreeing that this is the body they will accept as executing God's will with the respect to the establishment of justice. 

This view of government has been lost, but it is consistent with the view that Republican government was founding on.  That view has produced a lot of human liberty, and I believe could have produced even more if it had been sustained.   Now whether that produces a government that is libertarian, or limited-government conservative or whatever is a different story, or likely one-hundred different stories depending on the character and desires of the people.  

The main thing I want people to take away from this is that there is more than one possible right answer to some very fundamental questions, depending on which premises are true.  Because of that, whatever kind of government you want to have, I hope you will see the benefit of getting there through a localist framework.


The Problem With Self-Ownership

I believe that localism represents the best chance libertarians will have of getting their philosophy implemented into practice.  The most probable path to a libertarian government passes through Localism.   That's because Localism is really just a framework for keeping smaller and smaller units of government free to organize as they see fit.   It is designed to stop what Jefferson called "the natural order of things"- I.E. tyranny (the centralization of power) to grow and liberty to yield ground.   Localism is simply a container to protect against centralization of political power.  What is placed in that container is up to the people in each locality.  Then the market will resolve what systems of government are attractive to people and which aren't.  

With that said, let me begin to explain why I am not a libertarian by noting that of the three generally accepted libertarian pillars, the only one I agree with fully is the Rule of Law.     The other two pillars are the non-aggression principle and Self-Ownership. As a caveat, I recognize that not all libertarians consider Self-Ownership to be an essential philosophical foundation of the creed- they would substitute other things. Those other principles have weaknesses that I will not delve into here. Self-ownership is considered foundational by many if not most libertarians, so let's talk about Self-Ownership.

 Here is the definition from Wikkipedia:
Self-ownership (or sovereignty of the individual, individual sovereignty or individual autonomy) is the concept of property in one's own person, expressed as the moral or natural right of a person to havebodily integrity, and be the exclusive controller of his own body and life. According to G. Cohen, the concept of self-ownership is that "each person enjoys, over himself and his powers, full and exclusive rights of control and use, and therefore owes no service or product to anyone else that he has not contracted to supply."
Who could argue with that?  Lot's of decent people, once you apply that absolute to some sticky situations.  An example might be whether a man who got a woman pregnant had any obligation to pay child support.   Insisting someone share the bill for national defense, or anything else with "free rider" issues, might be another example.  

The great Scottish writer George McDonald,  who wrote both Children's books and works on Natural Law, once said "The first principle of Hell is 'I am my own.'"    Understand I am not saying that the state owns us, or that we own each other.    My position is that God owns us, and though He has placed us in this world and granted us much freedom to become who we want to be, we are and will be accountable to Him for the use we have made of our freedom.

If I asked you why you thought you '"owned" your paycheck, you might say to me that your labor created the wealth that it represents.   You might say that you made a voluntary agreement to exchange your efforts for the money and that you lived up to your end of the bargain.   That is, you choose to do the agreed-to work and have therefore earned the agreed-on price.   You may be able to think of other good answers.  But I can't help but notice that the reasons we might give to say that we "own" our paycheck cannot be applied to make the case that we own ourselves!

If you think about it, it's really hard to make the case that we "own ourselves."  We did not create ourselves.  We did not determine when or where we entered this world, and we do not get to decide whether or not we get to stay in this world.   Others did many things to us and for us- some with our permission, some without, which permitted us to reach adulthood.   Each day a thousand things we cannot control in the heavens and on earth are necessary to sustain our lives.    Self-ownership does not seem a rational position.

A much better case for "self-ownership" can be made in any eternal afterlife that might exist.    There it might be argued that our place of entry is determined by our own choices, that the being we have become is the result of our own choices.   So while we may have had no hand in our own creation in this life, we would in the next.   And the condition would be, unlike this world, permanent.   What McDonald called "the First Principle of Hell" makes sense as a reality in Hell.   In this life, if God exists, we can only be as children in the womb, preparing for the next life but no more "sovereign" in this one than children yet unborn.

The concept of personal sovereignty, in the absolute sense Libertarians present it, implies individuals get to determine their own morality (except for the few absolutes they attempt to impose such as the conditions under which force might be used).   Again, measured against the vast scale of the cosmos, the enormity of time which has passed in all ages, and the value of wisdom which has endured for generations before us, the idea that the four pounds of grey matter in our skulls can be the final arbiter of right and wrong, even for ourselves, seems ridiculous.

We can try and discern right from wrong, and a worthy life will spend time doing so, but the idea that each generation, and even moreso each person, gets to re-write morality from a blank slate seems ridiculous.    Any one of us is only a tiny part of the natural world.   We remain in it only an infinitesimal portion of the total time it has existed.  The idea that we can construct our own personal morality, to apply only to us, displays what seems to me an almost psychotic misinterpretation of our place in the universe.

That is why I am a Localist.   Instead of fighting over who gets to hold the single gun that is pointed at the rest of us from sea to shining sea, the central government would get no gun for enforcing moral imperatives, be that gun libertarian, fascist, conservative, liberal, or whatever.

States and localities would, retaining their right to sanction moral behavior such as mandating child support.  But let them be careful how they use such power!  For in such an arrangement states who go too far (that is, impose rules for moral behavior outside the underlying moral reality of the universe or beyond the scope of government compulsion) are bound to lose productive citizens to states which do not.  States and localities who did not go far enough would too. And in each case government would look more like what the citizens who live there would want government to look like,. Decentralizing power would make the government subject to the marketplace.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Answering Objections: Central State Needed for Recourse Against Localities?

OBJECTION TO LOCALISM: "In the end, the state provides a needed recourse against the abuses of petty dictators and misguided moral-crusaders. How would a system of appeals work in localism?"

ANSWER: First let's get a decent definition of what we mean by the question.  Clearly, the objector does not want any of their "rights" violated by the locality.  Localists don't either.  But who decides what one's rights are?  Or better, what rights the state will recognize?

 Rights are claims against the majority.   They are things an individual is entitled to even if the majority does not approve.   In a Republic, such as we once had in the United States, the founding document of the nation, and the states, listed what things they agreed were not subject to a majority vote.   That's the way we are supposed to still do it now, and that is the way it would be done under localism.  The difference is that for almost all matters, state courts would be responsible for deciding such cases, based on state constitutions.   Individuals aggrieved by the actions of a locality appeal to their state courts, except on matters where agents or associates of the state are interfering with their right of exit or property rights in a state which they have exited.

I know that many people, especially anarchists and near-anarchist libertarians, have very strong opinions on what their rights are and what rights their state ought to recognize.  And under localism they have a much greater chance of seeing that vision implemented.  In the meantime, states are not bound to recognize what we think our rights should be, but rather they are bound to recognize what rights are recognized by the compact which established that state, the state constitution.  If the central government could not directly impose a list of rights more to your liking under this system then know also that it could not impose one less to your liking either.

The hope that the central government would force all states to do it the way you want is traded for the near certainty that if a state did not do it the way you wanted, you could find another more to your liking.  That hope is a vain one anyway, for when the power to define rights is concentrated in one set of hands with no competition, defending rights because the stated goal, but not the real goal, of the rights-defining body.   A survey of the history of how the modern central state treats its citizens should be sufficient to disabuse the open mind to the notion of how beneficial empowering a central state to be the sole arbiter of rights would be.

The more power you put into any one institution, the more attractive a target it becomes for those who want to use it to loot and impose their own will over others.     Since "rights" under our system represent things not subject even to majority vote, the power to define "rights" is the power of dictatorship,  And the new view is that groups can have "rights", not just individuals.

This madness puts politics over justice since the various groups can then form coalitions to seize the rights-defining machinery to grant them special privileges.   Thus the central "justice" system that critics of localism say we need to protect us from abusive localities becomes itself the primary source of abuse, and one that is much harder to correct (since it is not subject to majority vote anywhere) and much harder to escape (since it applies to the entire nation).

Notice I am not saying that this is not something that can happen when the power to define rights is centralized.  Rather I am saying it is what has happened, and what must eventually happen each and every time you centralize the power to define rights.  This unfortunate pattern will repeat until some future age where human nature itself has been altered.

Only by subjecting the power to define rights to competition and the market can one hope to keep this power in its proper boundary of defending the moral order rather than undermining it.    And the plain fact is that humans will have honest disagreements about where the boundaries for "rights" are.   There may be only one right answer to that question, but rational people ought to be wary of claims from people who say they know all of those answers for all people for all times.  We group about darkly along the path to virtue and justice.   Illumination often comes in the form of learning from our mistakes and seeing others who have found a way to do things better.   That process is short-circuited in a system with a single reference point for defining the outer boundaries of rights.

There is an interlocking system of checks and balances in Localism. I don't wish to type it all out here. The book is not a long read, but I really think it would be worth your while.

The short version is that the central government only guarantees freedom of property and movement from the states. The states uphold recognized rights from violation in the localities, but localities have the right to change states, or if enough counties get together, form a new state from within the old one (some of our largest states are the worst run). States can be kicked out of the union if the other states don't like the way they treat their citizens (after all who want to leave do so plus parts of the offending state vote to split and stay with the union). Again, this is the short version, and please don't compare it to perfection, compare it to the results we have from the central state concept we have now! The book makes more sense of it than I do here.

Nothing can guarantee that abuse of rights-definition powers will never occur.   But they can be minimized.  If I must for a short while have a dictator, I should prefer a "petty dictator" whom I could easily leave (thus leaving the "dictator" with the choice of changing their ways or having declining numbers to dictate to and gain revenue from!) than a Great Dictator of the sort we have seen work their malice in the guise of some alleged higher good (such as the protection of the "Rights" of their favored groups).

Objection: Local Governments Can Do More Evil

OBJECTION: "Yeah, but on the other hand, if locality imposes evil upon their society, you can't object to it."

ANSWER: But you can object to it. And not only that, your objections can actually be heard by the persons with the power to change it, since they are not hundreds of miles away and ringed by lobbyists (who in all probability encouraged the politicians to enact the policy to which you object).  When central governments "impose evil upon their society", it is much harder to stop them and it is much harder to escape them.

Don't you see that the further removed the decision is from neighbors the easier it is to see them as faceless peasants? Your toes will be stepped on harder and more often, with less effective recourse by you, if decisions are made centrally than if they are made locally. 

Will that mean that more places will make decisions that you don't approve of? Maybe, but if your philosophy is at all in accordance with moral reality there should also be more places that will make more decisions which you do approve of. Quite honestly it would not take much to improve on the current track record of government interference in our lives. 

The rules you don't like would tend to be in a city where you don't live. On average, over time, everyone but the unappeasables would live in a place where the bar was set more in accordance with their liking than it is now. That is more freedom. When every county and city is free to set the bar where they will yet still none of them suit you, perhaps the problem is not with them!

I can object to it ultimately by going to the next city (Jesus said "when they persecute you in one city, flee to the next.") Localism greatly lowers the "transaction costs" of escaping from bad (for you, maybe good to those who stay) government. Thus the market will swiftly punish governments who make rules out of harmony with the moral order of the universe.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Answering Objections: Rights Still Protected

OBJECTION:  "Yeah,you don't mind your community making the rules until they do something that you don't like.  You don't mind until your local community supports gay marriage, illegal immigrants, and becomes a totalitarian state, or something else you don't like, then you mind. "

ANSWER: Correct. It is not up to the rest of my community to adjust themselves to my preferences as to where lines ought to be drawn. To some extent, I should also adjust to them. That is my premise. Is the idea that everyone else ought to adjust to my preferences a more reasonable view?  And if I disagree vehemently enough on where they draw those lines, then perhaps I should not be living there in misery and making them miserable.  

Note that none of this applies against the recognized rights in a Republic. That is to say, each individual can stand against the majority as it pertains to the society not obeying their own rules regarding what rights they recognize. But it would be the constitution of the state, or as regards to the national government the nation, which lays out what rights are recognized. 

I can lobby for the recognition of other rights, but the majority is not bound by my belief of what my rights ought to be, but only by the plain language of the compact which brought the society together. I.E. they are bound by what the law is, but not by what I think it ought to be.

I am a little perplexed as to what you propose that is better than what I am proposing. Are you suggesting as a "solution" forcing everyone in all places to live under your personal preferences as to where the lines ought to be drawn?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Getting the ads right

Virtue, Capitalism, and Corporations


I noticed that a recent Forbes piece made the point that a certain amount of public virtue is assumed in order for free market capitalism to work.
"Yet those whose main concerns are with financial probity cannot afford continuing to neglect that capitalist economics presupposes a morally upright people." - Angelo Codevilla 
It's true.  Unbridled capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction.  This is because those who get to the top via the free market without ethical restraint will not hesitate to use their lofty position to pull the ladder up after them- lobbying government to put up barriers to entry for potential competitors.  It is also true on the bottom, because stolen hubcaps are a good deal for the "free trade" going on between buyer and seller, but a mis-allocation of resources if the losses of the victim are factored in.

The free market requires public virtue to survive.   That being said, commerce in this day is dominated by corporations, not individuals.   It is well known that people operating in groups make more rash and less ethical decisions than they would operating on a one to one basis.   Membership in the group to some extent buffers people from facing the fact they they are all making decisions with a moral component.  Group absolution is a moral hazard.

"The greater good" argument also applies.  A sage once noted that in Hamlet it might make sense for a man to go mad with guilt for taking one life to get to the top, but men who conned themselves into believing they were implementing some "greater good" beyond their own self interest slaughtered millions in the last century without blinking an eye.   What made the Stalins and the Hitlers and the Maos so guilt free about their bloodshed?   Well it helps being a sociopath, but along the way they had minions who were not sociopaths.  They simply believed they were working for some higher good, which just happened to  be coincident with their career interests.   This gave them excuse to commit evils that they would never do strictly for their personal profit.

Corporations provide just such an environment.   The executives don't want to do such and so, but they have a responsibility to the shareholders and so forth.  Everything about them, especially the limiting of liability and the magnification of power through group action, serves as a moral hazard.

Localism does not ban corporations, but it does place certain restrictions on them.  The book has the details.   Corporations under localism are treated as fire, a dangerous tool but a useful one.

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