Archive for February, 2011

I have long been impressed with the legal thought of Richard Epstein.  Lately I’ve been reading from Simple Rules for a Complex World (Harvard, 1995).  I’m struck that the simple rules he comes up with are something that would have a broad appeal to libertarians of many stripes.  The rules are:

  • Self-ownership and autonomy
  • First possession
  • Voluntary exchange
  • Protection against aggression
  • Limited privilege for cases of necessity
  • Taking of property for public use on payment of just compensation

Wouldn’t most libertarians love moving to this type of a minimal state compared to where we are currently in the Western world?

Of course, many can’t stand his type of reasoning, though I love it.  He pursues consequentialist logic with a vengeance.  Thus he ends up moving “backwards” from “social consequences” to these rules (what he calls a “reverse engineering”) rather than forward from a starting position founded in, say, Locke’s state of nature.  By doing so he avoids the “clash of moral absolutes that has so dominated philosophical discourse in this area.”

One of the most appealing features of his analysis is that the limits to his rules are built right in.  As he says, “precisely because the justification for the rule is empirical, it is possible to state something of a the limits of its desirability, given the familiar trade-off between administrative simplicity and desirable incentives.”

So what we end up with is strong protections of native rights as well as a system of building in the limits to rules that all well-functioning societies must have.  In his chapter on property (from which I’ve quoted above), his approach is also flexible enough to both justify private property and to argue why common property needs to exist and must be governed by slightly more complex rules.  Brilliant.

He gets my vote for philosopher king.

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I am quite pleased to announce that Elizabeth Price Foley will be joining Pileus as one of our Authors.  Elizabeth is sure to be a great addition to our lineup, especially given that she has an expertise in health care and constitutional law.  Here is her impressive bio:     

Elizabeth Price Foley is Professor of Law at Florida International University College of Law. Her research centers on the intersection of health care and constitutional law. She is the author of Liberty for All:  Reclaiming Individual Privacy in a New Era of Public Morality (Yale 2006), The Law of Life and Death (Harvard 2011), and is currently working on a book about the tea party for Cambridge University Press. 

Professor Foley clerked for the Honorable Carolyn Dineen King of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and spent several years on Capitol Hill as a health policy advisor, serving as Senior Legislative Aide to U.S. Congressman (now U.S. Senator) Ron Wyden (D-OR), Legislative Aide for the D.C. office of the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, and a Legislative Aide for U.S. Congressman Michael Andrews (D-TX). She served as a member of the Committee on Embryonic Stem Cell Guidelines of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and as a Fulbright Scholar at the College of Law of the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Foley is a converted ex-progressive who now unabashedly embraces classical liberalism. She lives in Key Largo, Florida with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a dog named Thomas Jefferson.

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The following is from the Winter 2010 issue of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy:

Although some libertarians propose to “privatize” marriage, treating marriages the way we treat baptisms and bar mitzvahs, supporters of limited government should recognize that marriage privatization would be a catastrophe for limited government.   In the absence of a flourishing marriage culture, families often fail to form, or to achieve and maintain stability. As absentee fathers and out‐of‐wedlock births become common, a train of social pathologies follows.   Naturally, the demand for governmental policing and social services grows.

…Strengthening the marriage culture improves children’s shot at becoming upright and productive members of society.  In other words, our reasons for enshrining any conception of marriage, and our reasons for believing that the conjugal understanding of marriage is the correct one, are one and the same: the deep link between marriage and children.

In an idealized world where government simply does not respond to increases in a demand for services, the argument above would not be relevant.  But in the world we actually live in, it makes a lot of sense.

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No two things are more inseparable than liberty and life.   Don’t miss Robert George’s eloquent tribute to Bernard Nathanson:

There are many lessons in Bernard Nathanson’s life for those of us who recognize the worth and dignity of all human lives and who seek to win hearts and change laws… [T]he edifice of abortion is built on a foundation of lies.   Nathanson told those lies; indeed, he helped to invent them. But others witnessed to truth. And when he was exposed to their bold, un-intimidated, self-sacrificial witness, the truth overcame the darkness in Nathanson’s heart and convicted him in the court of his own conscience.”

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I caught a little bit of flak around the Internet for my piece, “Why Isn’t Violence the Answer?,” during the early days of the Egypt protests. I was galled by official demands from the U.S. government and other places that Egyptian protestors remain nonviolent, no matter what. Thankfully, significant violence wasn’t required to get rid of Mubarak, although if protestors had not fought back against the thugs that invaded Tahrir Square, who knows what would have happened?

Libya is an even clearer case of just rebellion. Gaddafi has been one of the region’s most repressive dictators, and his reaction to what started as peaceful protests shows us all we need to know about his regime. But if Libyans hadn’t undertaken an armed rebellion, there would be no chance of getting him out of power.

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At Hit & Run, Ron Bailey expresses a surprisingly confident explanation of Arab countries’ economic and political woes: oil. Yes, the resource curse is back in the news. But as longtime readers of Pileus know, recent research suggests that the resource curse may be a myth. To the extent that oil wealth explains poor economic performance, it only seems to do so contingent on other factors, such as the ownership of the resources. State oil companies are notorious failures, while private ownership of the means of extraction is associated with better growth.

Bailey points out that Saudi Arabia’s GDP is lower today than it was in 1981. True enough. But it doesn’t follow that oil has hurt Saudi Arabia’s economy. Oil prices were very high in 1981 but declined substantially in 2009 and 2010. Of course petrostates have lower GDP when oil prices are low. Just think about it for a moment: if Saudi Arabia had no oil, would it be even half as wealthy as it is? Of course not! Oil is no economic curse to Saudi Arabia. But might it be a political curse? Again, once the counterfactual is properly conceptualized, it seems unlikely. If Saudi Arabia were simply just another low-income, intensely religious country in southwest Asia, the predicted probability that the country would be democratic or at all liberal (in the Freedom House sense) would be tiny.

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Justin Logan – Cato Institute colleague of Pileus guest blogger Christopher Preble – takes on Robert Kagan and “benevolent global hegemony” in the American Conservative.  My favorite part of the post is this:

The disconnect between the academy and the Beltway foreign-policy community could hardly be starker. Forty-five years ago, Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser sketched what they termed the “economic theory of alliances.” They explained that when several countries join together to protect a shared interest, smaller members have an incentive to free ride in the presence of a much larger, wealthier partner. Once the large, wealthy partner has stated its own vital interest in the objective—in this example, security—smaller countries believe that the larger contributor will pay for the goal itself even in the absence of “fair” contributions from the other partners.

The basic insight has stood the test of time. Ignoring this reality, Washington blindly subsidizes allies’ domestic welfare programs by allowing them to channel resources away from self-defense. There are many terms that could describe this phenomenon, but “fiscal responsibility” is not one of them.

And the almost inevitable result of this is that the collective goods provider goes into relative decline.  Sounds like a great plan to sustain American interests, no?  Time to gently nudge the allies out of the nest and to restore a realistic foreign policy to Washington.

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