Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chomsky on US foreign policy

Okay, let it load, and then take a look at the conversation around 6:30. Then scroll down and take a look at my post on the possibility of a welfare liberal libertarian...

LSS in the WS

Okay, she beat me to it, but here is Ezra Levant's take on this year's Liberty Summer Seminar:

If you're curious, here was last year's write-up on the LSS in the Standard:

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Western Standard at it again...

I don't know if you saw it, but there was a site up at the url lampooning the Liberal Party and their sometimes odd stances on Middle East affairs. That site was shut down, after the ISP for the site received a lawyer's letter from the Liberal Party. But the Western Standard is eager for a little bit more controversy.

From Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant comes this:
So, we're going to do at the Western Standard what we've become accustomed to doing: having a little bit more guts than our competitors. We're going to host that website. Not because we agree with it but because the Liberals think they can bully their opponents into submission.

Well, try bullying us. We weren't afraid of defying rioting mobs, and we sure as hell won't be afraid of taking on some Liberal lawyers. (Mr. R├ęgimbald, our address for service of any writs can be found here.)

You can see the revived website here, hosted on our server. Whether you agree with the content or not isn't the point. This is about stopping a bully. And about having some fun with some thin-skinned pols who can dish it out pretty good, but can't take it.

A welfare liberal libertarian?

I sometimes consider myself a Rawlsian libertarian. Not always, but sometimes.

This is because I agree with the intuition that it is morally right that "we" (royal "we") have a responsibility to help the worst-off, the badly treated, and the trotted upon. We really *should* have welfare-like institutions.

I call them "welfare-like institutions" rather than just welfare for three good reasons. For one, we can't conclude from the fact that we have a moral responsibility to help the badly-off that it is some precise and specific institution that should do this. It's an open question whether the government is the right institution that will allow us to put our moral responsibility into practice. It just doesn't follow.

For two, moral responsibility implies a choice. There is a difference between a legal responsibility and a moral responsibility. Setting up a governmental welfare institution is to generate a legal responsibility, and not necessarily a moral one. We fail to act on our moral responsibilities if we are made to act in some way for fear of some evil befalling us. Like being sent to jail. Or being fined. Or getting grounded. A child is not acting morally when she shares her toys with her brother because she is under the threat of being grounded if she does not share. She acts morally when she chooses to share for the reason that she thinks it is the morally right thing to do.

The same is true with welfare. We do not act morally when we pay our taxes when we do so out of fear of being punished. We might if we do so out of a sense of moral responsibility.

And for three, it might turn out that non-governmental institutions will do the trick. This is an empirical question, and needs empirical studies to work. Maybe people will deny that this is true. Maybe charities and voluntary, non-governmental institutions will not be sufficient. Maybe. But we need to at least answer the empirical question, since governmental institutions come at a significant expense compared to equivalent voluntary institutions.

It's interesting to point out that Rawls himself, in the preface to the second edition of his A Theory of Justice (somewhere around pages 11 - 13), writes that he did not intend to justify the welfare state. To make sense of this claim we have to take the above three points into consideration. I take it that Rawls had something like the three things above in mind when he made this claim.

So that's one reason for thinking that a Rawlsian, or welfare liberal, libertarian is not entirely implausible. Here's another reason. This reason should appeal to ordinary welfare liberals from the left, and it is a reason that appeals to me.

Suppose the following is true. Suppose Bob, a welfare liberal, strongly supports a welfare state. His theory of justice demands the inclusion of a welfare state. Suppose he also virulently objects to a warfare state. His theory of justice says that war, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is morally illegitimate. Suppose further that Bob ranks his opposition to war higher than his support of government-run welfare. We might say that he considers the benefits of a welfare state at, say, 60, but the negative harm of a warfare state at -90.

I think Bob describes a great many Americans and Canadians who consider themselves on the left of the spectrum. We should help one another, even make people help one another, these sorts of people would say, but we should not engage in wars.

Follow me so far? Okay, here's the other important assumption I will ask you to grant for the sake of argument. Suppose that it is true that the governmental institutions we set up for the purposes of a welfare state have a 70 per cent likelihood of also engaging in war. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that governmental institutions are like that, for some reason.

Bob, the welfare liberal, makes the following calculation.
"If we set up a government, we can expect a benefit of 60. There is, however, a 70% chance of this government engaging in war, which would yield a harm of -90. If we multiply the probability of engaging in war by the harm of a war, we get -63. Subtracting the expected harm from the expected benefit yields a net expected benefit of -3."
Bob wants a welfare state. He is a genuine welfare liberal. But he really doesn't want war. He sings to himself, "War. Huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" And he believes the lyrics. But his calculation has led him to the conclusion that he should expect a harm if we set up a welfare state, even though Bob wants that. What should Bob conclude? He should conclude that, in practice, we shouldn't have a welfare state (because it is likely to engage in war) even though, in theory, we should have a welfare state.
"If only we could have a welfare state without a warfare state," he laments to himself. "But I'm not a naive welfare liberal, I take empirical facts seriously, and I am honest about what I expect."

All I am trying to show is the possibility of a welfare liberal libertarian. I am making no claims about the status of the numbers used. If you adjust the numbers, you might conclude something else. Suppose you think the benefit of a welfare state is 70, rather than 60, for instance, keeping the probability of war the same. That would mean a net benefit of seven to our society. In that case, the welfare liberal should support government-run welfare, even though he can expect wars.

Whether or not any particular welfare liberal should fight for a libertarian society will depend on her beliefs about the probabilities, and her rankings of the relative benefits and harms of a welfare state as compared with a warfare state.

On what basis should she ground her probability claims? One approach would be to take a historical sample of liberal welfare states, and see how many of them also engaged in the sorts of wars that she strongly opposes. My (strong) suspicion is that the probability will be higher than 70 per cent.

I have abstracted away one other component of the argument for simplicity's sake, but I should at least mention it since it will strengthen my claim. The benefit that we have assumed comes without a probability assesment. But the benefit is not guaranteed. Welfare states make mistakes. Sometimes rich people get welfare. Sometimes poor people fall through the cracks. No welfare state is perfect. Thus, we must also downgrade the expected benefit of a welfare state by appeal to a probability of actually getting the benefit. That probability will be less than "unity" (as they say), or 100%.

There will be a less-than 100% probability of the benefit (welfare), just as there is a less-than 100% probability of the harm (war). It would be neat to put together a welfare liberal libertarian calculator, so that you could input your own preferred probabilities, and your own preferred relative benefit and harm assessments. I don't have the skills for this. But I wonder just how many welfare liberals would actually turn out to be libertarians, for non-traditional (or non-standard) reasons.

You would be, morally speaking, a welfare liberal. You would be, politically speaking, a libertarian.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Bush is an idiot

You might hear that from lefties, and others in a bar conversation. But would you expect it from a University? That's the strategy taken for drawing attention to Lakehead University, who had the, uhm, "gumption" (?) to use this sort of image to draw attention to itself:

"Graduating from an Ivy League University
doesn't necessarily mean you're smart"

Yup... that's their advertising campaign. Here's the website, and here's an article on the subject. At least some of the faculty and higher-ups at the University aren't big fans of this. Neither am I. (Which isn't to say that I think Bush is particularly intelligent. I just think this is a poor PR move).

PS. Yes, the campaign seems to work. My blogging about it is an indication of this fact. It's still a dumb move, though.

National Newswatch?

Nealenews was the news aggregator for me. I checked it daily. I was a bit upset when Brian Neale decided to pack it in. Not only was the layout superior to Bourque's, I also tended to click through more links on Nealenews as compared to Bourque. Neale's choices were better, near as I could tell, especially for someone like me. Part of the reason for this was his decision to link to blogs ahead of Bourque, and to include sources like the Western Standard.

Nealenews will be missed. In its wake comes the National Newswatch. Hopefully it will do a similarly good job of aggregating the news, so that I don't have to. But the layout really has to change...

The Tragedy of Economic Ignorance

Courtesy of Janet Neilson's astute eye for economic ignorance, we have this from the TTC:

The advert reads: "People don't litter at home. Why do they do it here?"

Uhm, duh!

(And when you're done understanding why this question is dumb, you can play a little game here).

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lindy @ LSS

Lindy at the 2006 Liberty Summer Seminar. Video courtesy of Janet Neilson.

Videos galore!

Okay, so this year we took advantage of the possibility of videotaping some of the talks at the Seminar. And by "we" I mean, whoever it was that got the digital camera video of Lindy (from the post below), Janet Neilson (whose video is just above this post), and Stephen Taylor.

You can check out all of the Google Videos by clicking this link (or by searching for "liberty summer seminar" at

Or, follow this link to see John Carpay's (Canadian Constitution Foundation) talk, this link for a talk by Fraser Institute founder and former Executive Director, Dr. Michael Walker, and this one here to watch Dr. Jan Narveson's (Prof, University of Waterloo) talk.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lindy on YouTube

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

LSS? Awesome

I'm just beginning to recover from what I think was the best Liberty Summer Seminar ever.

On the Saturday, the Seminar was nearly flooded out with a torrent of rain. It was unbelievable. Just as soon as the second speaker (Pierre Desrochers) came up to speak, the sky opened up and let loose. Some from Alberta explained that they had never seen rain quite like that.

We took a few minutes to get everyone under the tent, to move some of the electrical things under cover, and to see if the rain would pass (it didn't), and then started up again. Even with the rain, no one really seemed to mind. Some even thought it added drama and excitement to the event (by "some" I mean "Ezra Levant").

Other than the rain, the Lindy concert was one to remember. You can check out a little bit of it by going here. Someone (and I don't know who... let me know if you know) had a digital camera and made a mini video of the concert. I wish more folks would bring some video equipment and make little clips like that for the rest of us to see.

At any rate, you can't see it in the video, but just off to the corner was Mike Walker (sitting right by me... here's a picture:)

He was awesome. Not only did he stay up later than the rest of us, he also rose early in the morning (8 a.m.) to play tennis with Ian Ferraro. I was supposed to play too, but managed to sleep through the first thirty or so minutes and, well, just sort of stayed in bed. At any rate, here's the very first quote back about the Seminar from none other than Mike Walker:

"This is the most fun I have had in years!"

He said that a few times, actually. Mostly while dancing on the stage in a circle with myself, Ollivia Sexton, Janet Neilson, Matt Bufton, and a few others (I had a few too many Liberty Ales to remember everyone in the circle). He bought up a copy of Lindy's CD and sent him an email letting him know that he's listening to the CD over and over on his trip through Newfoundland.

Really, check out Lindy for yourself over here on my space.

It was also cool to have a few conversations with Jason Cherniak, who blogs about the Seminar here. It's a nice post, and it looks like Cherniak will probably come back next year for another round of libertarian good times.

Speaking of blog posts, Chris Edey (a pretty cool UW grad) posted about the Seminar over here. He mentions the great Mike Walker story, and the rain.

Victor Wong, who blogs at the Phantom Observer, has a good post about Ezra Levant being a "liberal" (go read it yourself). It is a bit irksome that he decides to call the event "conservative" and concludes by saying that events like this Seminar show that conservatives aren't stuffed shirts. It's not that, of course, it's libertarian. I always ask the speakers to speak on subjects where they happen to agree with libertarians, even if they are not. And I don't care who attends. In fact, I prefer it if non-libertarians attend, since libertarians already agree with what most of the speakers talk about. At any rate, I guess this will become pretty clear if and when we decide to focus on something like the War on Drugs, say.

I'm sure there will be more blog buzz about this in the next few days. I'll link to anyone who talks about the Seminar, so long as you let me know (email me, or drop me a comment).