Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 158.
The slides for this lecture are appended below; links for“suggested readings” for the course are included in the podcast post for the first lecture, episode 153.
LECTURE 6: POLITICAL ISSUES AND APPLICATIONS; HOPPE Q&A
The Social Theory of Hoppe, Lecture 6: Political Issues and Applications; Hoppe Q&A
Mises Academy, Aug. 15, 2011
STEPHAN KINSELLA: Final class. We have a lot to cover. Before I start, let me say don’t be intimidated by the length of the slides if you see them later. There’s a lot of slides. I put a lot of text in there for your reading pleasure later. We’ll skim over some of that. It’s there for – just for a full sort of, almost like a paper for you to study later and for resources. I’m going to try to cover as much of it as I can, and I suspect we’re going to go the full 90 minutes on the lecture. And I’ll be happy to stay as long as we need after that for Q&A, so that’s my plan.
So let’s get going. Slide two. So we talked about economic issues and applications last week. We have a few more to finish tonight, and I will post the final quiz later this week. I think only maybe 15-20% of the class took the midterm, which is fine. You’re not – don’t feel under an obligation to take it. But some of you might find it fun and a good refresher, and you’re not really graded on a per-class basis. It’s just personal grading. So today, we’re going to cover the – we’re going to finish the economic applications and issues from last time.
We’re going to go over the Hoppe Q&A. He did provide me with answers to a bunch of questions that you guys submitted. And then we’re going to talk about a variety of political issues and applications. In addition to the ones we’ve already discussed, of course, argumentation ethics, which is a political-type issue, but some other applications tonight. I didn’t give any suggested readings for this week. There’s just so many little issues. All the links are in these slides, and we’re going to go over them tonight.
So I thought that was sufficient rather than giving you – Karl is asking about the midterm. I don’t – I think it’s probably close already, but Danny can let you know that. If it’s not, I wouldn’t mind having it held open a little bit longer if people who haven’t taken it yet want to take it. Okay, fine. Stephen says it’s still open, so just – it’s only 16 or 18 questions, all multiple choice. Some are funny. Some are harder. Some are easy, so feel free to take it as a refresher.
Karl says sounds went out. Can anyone else hear me? Okay, Karl, it’s your issue. Maybe Danny can help you. Okay, now – so I’m going to get to one of the remaining issues that we had here. I’m only – I’m going to go over these, and a lot of them cover what I think are the highlights so that we can cover a lot. Okay. So a brief review. There is, in the Austrian economics literature, an issue called the “Economic Calculation Debate,” 1920 or so.
Mises wrote a famous article where he argued that one problem with a centrally planned socialist economy, that is, an economy where the government, the state owns the means of production, is that there won’t be market prices for these things. And therefore, you won’t know how to compare alternative projects. When entrepreneurs think about the future, they compare possible uses of resources they have available. And they compare them in terms of what kind of profit they can make in the future, that is, monetary profit.
So the only way to do that is to try to imagine, if I do project A, I might make a million dollars. If I do project B, I might make $2 million, etc., and you compare the projects that way. And then you choose the one with the highest profit, other things being equal, risk, etc., and you do that. So that’s the standard Austrian idea of entrepreneurship, and Mises pointed out, well, without private property ownership of the means of production on a free market, you won’t have prices. And then so the central planners won’t know how to compare these things. They won’t know how to compare a bridge versus a tunnel. You won’t know which one uses more resources. You won’t know which one is more efficient.
So the action they – the decision they make will not be economic even if you just – even if you forget about all the other problems with it, which is self-interest and collusion and corruption etc. So there’s a – for a long time – and then Hayek came along, and Hayek built on Mises’ theory with his knowledge ideas about how – Hayek said that, well – at first he was working within this idea of Mises, the criticism of socialism. And he said, well, another aspect of this is that actors on the market know things, but they don’t know how to express them. Like you know how to tie your shoe, but you might not be able to say that. You know other things.
He called this tacit knowledge, but his point was even though knowledge in the economy is dispersed and widespread and held by different people and a lot of it’s tacit, it can be expressed in action when people make decisions on the market. They affect prices, and so this knowledge that people have tacitly and in a dispersed form is spread throughout the economy by sort of a signaling mechanism of the price system. And for a long time, Austrians said that Hayek had sort of illustrated Mises – or sorry, expanded on Mises or built on that or was sort of the flipside of the coin.
In 19, I want to say, 90-something Joe Salerno, in a postscript to the republication of Mises’ 1920 or ‘21 argument, points out that Hayek’s argument was really different than Mises’. That’s called the de-homogenization debate. He de-homogenized Hayek and Mises, and that started a series of articles in the review of Austrian economics, which are fascinating to read if anyone is interested in this. Look in the later issues in the 1990s, articles by Leland Jager and Hoppe and Joe Salerno and Jeff Herbener and others about this calculation debate. It’s a fascinating debate.
So I can’t go into it in detail, but Hoppe takes the side of the Salerno de-homogenizers here, and let’s go to slide five. Just a few quotes here. You’ll see the basically Misesian/Hoppian take on this is that Rothbard himself – this is before he died, 1995 – he concluded, the entire Hayekian emphasis on knowledge is misplaced and misconceived. And Guido Hülsmann, a Hoppe student, also discusses how the knowledge problem is irrelevant. And Salerno talks about how the price system cannot be what the Hayekians claim it is, and it I can’t go into that here. But finally, let me just mention Hoppe comments that Hayek’s contribution to the socialism debate is false, confusing, and irrelevant.
So just be aware of that. If you’re interested in going into that in more detail, I suggest some of these papers I have linked here. But just be aware that there is a difference at least on the Misesian side. They believe that the way the Hayekians and the Misesians view knowledge and calculation is fundamentally different. Okay. But you’ll hear Hayekians like, I don’t know, Steve Horowitz and Pete Boettke and these guys – Pete Boettke; I just typed his name there – who will say that the Hayekian knowledge stuff is a flipside of the coin. Or it’s like another way of explaining the insight Mises had, or it’s complementary to it.
But some of the Hoppians and Misesians still believe that. They believe that it was a misleading emphasis. I tend to think they’re correct, although I do think there’s something about Hayek’s emphasis on knowledge that you could integrate into the way of looking at the role of knowledge in human action that I’ve been talking about lately with respect to intellectual property. But that is neither here nor there, and I’ll leave it for now. If anyone has any questions about this, we can maybe take it up at the end, but let’s move on now to what would have been, I think, the final topic I was going to talk about last time.
Some of you may have seen one of Hoppe’s graduate – advanced graduate seminar talks on Mises University from a few weeks ago where his topic was about Malthusianism. He also gave a similar talk about this at the Property and Freedom Society earlier. I think it was this year or last year. I’ve got the link up here. And he’s got a draft paper as well, which I think is not online. I have a copy, but it’s not up yet.
And as Hoppe notes, Mises actually talks about, Thomas Malthus’ theories. Now, some of you may have heard of Malthusianism, and you might have thought of it as an outmoded or crankish doctrine. But in fact, Mises was extremely praiseworthy of it and said it was one of the most amazing achievements of human thought, etc. The basic idea of Malthusianism, Thomas Malthus was a thinker, oh God, I don’t know, in the 1600s or something. Maybe someone else knows when he had his ideas. Modern-day Malthusians are people that are afraid of population increase. They think that if we have too many people, it’s bad.
That grew out of Malthus’ ideas where he basically formulated some economic laws. So he talked about, in capital accumulation in an economy, you have different factors that combine to produce your goods. And so he said, well, you have to have an optimal combination like two parts of this and three parts of that to produce the optimal outcome. So he said, well, if we if we focus on two of those factors, labor, human effort, or which depends upon the number of humans, and other resources—human bodies, etc.—that, if we look at land and labor, then you get the law that there’s – for a given fixed amount of land or natural resources, then there’s an optimal amount of population.
So the idea is that, when you have a low number of humans, as they increase in population, we become more productive. But at a certain point, when you reach this optimal combination of land and labor, then if you have more population, then income per person would go down. Income per capita would go down. Now, Mises says this is a brilliant law, and it seems to actually be true for most of human history until about 200 years ago. Okay.
Let me flip to the next page. If you if you download these slides, by the way, I think that’s on the next page. Let’s go on and go to slide – yeah, Danny, this is right. This is – if you see on slide seven, Danny is right. This is about the law of returns. It’s an application of the law of returns. It’s the Malthusian law of population, which is the case of the law returns, but let’s go to slide eight. Well, slide nine is where the figures start. I have a couple of figures that Hoppe used in his recent lecture. And if you – they may be hard to see here. If you download these slides, which are available, you can see a full-size view of these things.
So the idea is that if – now this is a key part. This is a key part to explaining what I’m about to talk about, Hoppe’s theory about how we got out of the Malthusian trap because, you see, the idea is that when technology is fixed at a given level, then a population increase beyond the optimal level leads to a decline in income, so that’s the Malthusian idea. Okay, but as you can see from this trap from – this is, like B.C. 1000, and my understanding is records go back even farther than this. Human income was roughly constant until around 1800. You can see there’s a sharp spike in income in the year 1800. And this is called the Great Divergence. So we were in the Malthusian trap, and then the Industrial Revolution happened around 1800, and society took off.
Now, some actually got worse, and of course, some of the socialists have said that the reason the West has done well is because of exploitation of the South or the third world. But of course, look at the graph here. There’s no way that – there was not enough wealth to rob from the south to make the West as rich as it was. Something else happened here for the Great Divergence. Likewise – let’s go to slide 10. This is – it’s hard to see here. This is a graph of human population, and you can see it rose slowly until around 1800, and then it expanded exponentially. I believe we had less than a billion humans at 1800, and now we have like 7 billion in the world. So it’s risen exponentially, along with the rise in income per person, which is contrary to Malthusianism. Both are contrary.
So, now Hoppe points out that during the Malthusian age until 1800 or so, what would happen – the reason you can have some population growth is because, as population would grow – well, there was gradual technological improvement. So there was some room for growth of humans because we learned to exploit the resources a bit better but not radical and different. And people expanded to take over new continents and new lands, but gradually the world became, so to speak, as Hans would say, filled up. There’s also a really funny part of his lecture where he talks about Mises’ term, the supernumerary specimen, which are the extra people who come at the margin of when you surpass the optimal number of humans.
And they’re basically useless, and they have to be weeded out, and they’re weeded out by evolution. And this is where what’s called the iron law of wages held sway, where when you’re at or near or above the optimal level of population, then people’s incomes tend to be right at the subsistence level. So all these things sort of go together, and I have a little note here. Just had a friend about 20 years ago, a Spanish friend, and she told me that in Spain that there was a way to categorize all the young men who had to come do their mandatory military service.
And they would classify you if you’re healthy, you’re healthy, but if someone was like, I don’t know, had colorblind or flat feet or some other physical issue, the army would classify them as totally useless. And I just thought that was funny, and that reminded me of Hoppe’s being tickled about the supernumerary specimens comment, reminded me of that. Hoppe makes a joke in his lecture that if you come across a lowlife in the future, just don’t call them a lowlife or a loser. Call them a supernumerary – think of them as a supernumerary specimen.
In any case, Stephen says, like Paul Krugman. Yeah, he’s a supernumerary specimen. Right. So economists and social scientists have often wondered how did we get out of the Malthusian trap. And the standard answer is, well, property rights and institutionalization of property rights. But as Hoppe argues, there’s actually little evidence for this theory because there is actually nothing in history that shows some kind of radical improvement in property rights in 1800. In fact, they were probably more secure in 1400 than they are in 2011 in a lot of ways.
So Hoppe points out that property rights are not enough, and savings are not enough because, if you don’t have ideas about what to do with savings, then you cannot progress. Okay. And he points out that if Crusoe on his on his island didn’t have the idea of a net, then having secure property rights, which he would have, because there’s no other people, and saving a lot of fish wouldn’t help him because he wouldn’t use the extra time to build the net to improve his efficiency.
So it’s about ideas. It’s about improving technology. So Hoppe’s theory is that it was intelligence, so he goes by a more Darwinian idea that there’s natural selection in human history. And he believes that humans of today are different than humans of 10,000 years ago, and 100,000 years ago. And, as he points out, in earlier ages when we were hunters and gatherers and then agriculturalists, the people that were intelligent, that is, they had the ability cognitively to adapt to reality, would tend to be more successful. They will live longer. They would be wealthier. They would have more children, and so they would have children that were more intelligent than other people. So, in other words, he believes until the modern age, evolution bred out selected for intelligence.
And so then the – then he resorts to just general evidence, the idea that, in certain climates, Northern Europe, etc., they evolved faster, and they got to this intelligence threshold first, a threshold where we can escape from the Malthusian trap. Basically, his idea that certain areas of the Earth, humans finally became intelligent enough where we could escape the Malthusian trap. We could come up with enough ideas to become technologically efficient enough to escape the Malthusian trap.
Now, he talks about some theories out there that the distribution has to be a certain shape, like you have to have enough geniuses and enough average intelligence. So the geniuses have – you have to have enough geniuses to come up with the ideas, and by genius, we mean like the top 10%, the very intelligent people.
Danny says this is opposite of Mises’ position. It may be, although he does recognize the Malthusian trap. I don’t recall, Danny, what Mises’ theory was for how we got out of the Malthusian trap. He might have had the standard idea. Yeah, probably right. But if you look at Hoppe’s talk, he rejects this idea. In other words – well, Karl says capital formation. Well, I think Hoppe’s right that there was no radical revolution in property rights around 1800, say, in England or in other places in Europe. Capital formation – that could be an explanation, but you wonder why it didn’t happen in other countries like Africa, South America, etc. – well, South America wasn’t very developed at that time.
Jock suggested closures. I don’t know, Jock, whether that’s – I don’t know the theory of how that – I don’t know a lot about that theory as a solution to the Malthusian problem, could be. Anyway, Hoppe admits this is just an empirical theory of his. I think it’s interesting, and it’s worth reading. He may write about it sometime in the future. But as he points out, one implication of it is that – well, egalitarianism is to be rejected because it shows that different levels of intelligence in different populations is what causes the success and prosperity and our ability to get out of the Malthusian age.
He’s also got a really fascinating analysis of the role of state and how it’s different in the Malthusian age and in today’s age, the post-Malthusian age, and how, in the Malthusian age, the government could only expropriate so much because we weren’t that prosperous. And in fact, when they weeded out the population, they might have done some good because they helped increase per capita income, whereas in today’s age, we have ever increasing prosperity every generation, and the state can just parasite off of that. And they’re just like a huge permanent drag on growth that we otherwise would have.
And also, he talks about how, under regular Malthusian conditions, intelligence is selected for by natural selection. That is, more intelligent people tend to have more offspring. But in today’s system, number one, we have welfare etc., which basically means there’s little penalty to people that are stupid, basically, and on welfare. So – and intelligent people tend to be more intelligent about the resources. They have fewer kids, and people are bred – people are rewarded for being more political in their tendencies instead of being more successful technologically or with their ideas. So we sort of have a different effect going on now. And Hoppe even supposes that we might be regressing now. Humanity might have reached the point where we’re getting stupider. Yeah, Dante is right. We’re basically paying stupid people to have kids.
Cam talks about Idiocracy. Actually, Idiocracy, which is a movie, which is – I didn’t find it that funny. A lot of people did, but it’s a pretty good illustration of the eugenic effects of our current state. I actually should mention that to Hoppe. That’s a good point, Cam. I don’t – Karl mentions Nietzsche’s view of the last man. I actually don’t know about Nietzsche’s view of the last man. I do know – I’ve read Fukuyama’s Hegelian book, The End of History and the Last Man, but I don’t think it’s different. Fukuyama, by the way, has a brand-new book out. In any case, let’s move on, cover some more things.
So let’s get to the Q&A. Someone had asked – and some of these I’ve already answered in writing to the class, not all of them. And I’ll put my answers here, and I’ll go over what Hoppe replied. So I sent these questions and my sort of initial answer to him, for him to agree with or add to or adopt or disagree with or whatever. So someone in the class asked earlier about how Marxism itself defines property and how they could define it as anything other than an answer to the question, who gets to use a scarce resource at a given time?
And I had mentioned earlier Hoppe’s view is essentially that every political system has to have an answer to that question. Who owns this thing now? So slide 17. So Hoppe said he agreed with what I had written, which was reiterating what I just said. He says that the Marxists basically avoid this question because they assume that humans’ nature would transform under socialism, and there will be no conflict. And remember, conflict is the basis of property rights in the Rothbardian, liberal, Misesian tradition.
The purpose of property rights is to respond to the fact of conflict over resources. So if you assume there’s some kind of harmony of men’s interest and they can never conflict with each other, then you would have no concept. You wouldn’t need to answer the question who owns this thing, but as Hoppe said, of course, that’s unrealistic. And if you drop this assumption of harmony, then the only alternative is what the socialists did in Russia and communism, etc. They put the state in charge of the means of production, which is the most important sort of property in that kind of economy, and they decide who owns it. So they have an answer. It’s whoever the state says owns it. The state owns it, and then they direct who can use it. So basically, that’s Hoppe’s answer there.
Now, someone asked about abortion. Is it a crime? What about positive obligations of parents to children or fetuses? And my argument is that, well, you can have positive obligations. You can have positive obligations under libertarianism, things that you’ve undertaken by your actions or in other ways that you’ve undertaken. And some libertarians, myself included, believe that if you create a child, which has natural needs—it’s an infant—the natural relationship between the child and the parent is that the child has needs. It’s similar to pushing someone into a lake who needs to be saved from drowning. In that case, you would have an obligation to save the person you’ve pushed in the lake.
Some people believe that if you create a child having similar needs of support without which they’ll die or be seriously harmed, then the person who put them in that situation, which is the parent, has an obligation to help them. So you could argue that, well, that also means you have an obligation to the fetus not to abort it, to save it, to keep it healthy, etc. So my view, which I propose, is that I think the best libertarian way to look at it is if you leave out religion, etc., at some point humans develop rights.
I mean it’s pretty clear that young children have rights. They’re similar to adults. Most of us believe that infants, newborn babies have rights. And there’s not much of a difference between a newborn baby and a late-term fetus, so they probably have rights too. Maybe you could say a one-celled zygote or whatever one day in the pregnancy has no rights, but it’s something odd or maybe immoral about aborting on purpose, a young, young embryo or fetus just optionally, although it’s not a rights violation.
So you can imagine a spectrum. So that’s kind of my take on it. It’s a spectrum where it’s immoral kind of from the beginning. It gets more and more immoral until becomes a rights violation. However, that doesn’t mean that it should be against the law because—I’m on page 19 now—because that would require an invasive or an intrusive state. Basically, the idea under libertarianism is that such a thing is a family-centered affair. The family, the mother should be the one who decides. So basically, the right way to look at it is the jurisdiction for settling these issues should be with the mother.
So – and as Hoppe said, he basically agrees with his take, and he said, look, even if there’s something wrong with the abortion issue, with aborting, morally or even legally, who is the representative of the fetus if not the mother? Who’s going to go after the fetus? Is it the state? Well, there should be no state. Is it the public at large? Really, what business is it of a public at large to rescue this unborn baby from the actions of a family? That is sort of my approach. I do suspect that abortion would be frowned on and much less likely in a free society. But it’s hard to imagine that would ever be a crime like murder would be, although an optional late-term abortion for no purpose but convenience of the mother may be so close to being treated like murder that there will be such social penalties that it would be rare. That’s my guess.
Danny – talking about Malthusianism, Danny is talking about how Mises talks about, in the West or the North, they created property institutions to permit capital accumulation. But still the question is – but there was no really difference in the institutions in the 1800s that explained this. Now, it could be that capital just accumulated to a certain point. Danny’s got a previous quote here which – anyway, I can’t go over that here now, but you guys are free to read that, and maybe I’ll send this to Hoppe later.
Okay, let’s go here to this. This is an interesting topic. Oh someone asked about abortion, Stephen. Regarding abortion, what about parental rights and the requirements to notify others that you’re abandoning your property rights? Well, this is something I think Walter block has written about. He’d use it that – well, for children, he thinks that you don’t have a positive legal obligation to take care of your children. But that sort of your right to be their caretaker is conditioned upon your doing that, so if you choose not to be their caretaker, then you have no right to take care of them anymore. And then you have to notify others or at least allow them to come rescue the child. So you couldn’t stop someone from entering your house or your property to get the kid, or you should deliver the kid to a new caretaker.
Now, for abortion, I believe Block’s view is that if a trespasser, and you have the right – the mother had the right to eject that trespasser. But she should do it in the least invasive way possible. But under modern technology, that means killing it. But the killing is just a byproduct of ejecting it. There is a book called Solomon’s Knife by Victor Koman, which says – which imagines a future history – it’s a libertarian science fiction novel, which says that it imagines that there’s a possibility of a procedure called transoption, which means one pregnant woman could be – have the fetus taken out and put in another woman’s womb and carry to term.
And he says that would change the dynamics of the debate. And I think by Walter Block’s view, it would because he would have to argue that you would have to – instead of just aborting the baby, you would have to allow it to be transopted because that’s the least harmful way to eject the fetus. Hoppe’s view I’ve already gone over what I think Hoppe’s view. I don’t know how he would answer this question.
Edward asks about friends of babies’ organizations. Actually, I tend to think that could be a possibility that they would be a representative of the baby. So I think Hoppe’s – now, his answer here was off the cuff and informal in response to these questions in this class. So I don’t think he gave it much thought, but I do think there could be a representative of children or babies or fetuses. The problem with, again, whether it’s a state or some vigilante or charitable group, it’s just too intrusive and invasive to police internal family relations to even know that there was an abortion, to know that she was pregnant to get involved in it. I doubt that that’s going to be policeable. Babies and children that are born I think are a different matter. But let’s go on so we have more time to cover more things here.
By the way, Rand – Antonio Lopez mentions Rand’s view on that. I think Rand was wrong. Rand actually mentioned explicitly that in late-term abortion, it could be a different matter, but she didn’t elaborate. So she implied that she could see an argument that late-term abortion is infanticide. But of course, that contradicts her view that unborn people are just potential humans. So I think even her view, if you think about what she said about late-term abortion, is similar to the spectrum idea that I mentioned earlier.
My view is that the mother morally ought to try to have the baby. You can’t take it – if you don’t want the child and have the baby and have an adoption. There’s plenty of parents. I mean it does seem to me that in most cases, the abortion is for convenience to avoid embarrassment or inconvenience. And it seems to me that if you perform an action that results in a new child in your stomach, then take it to term and then live – move on with your life, but why kill a young human? I mean – anyway, that’s my idea.
Dante asks about whether – about Frank Van Dun’s paper, “Argumentation Ethics” and whether we can extend the law of reason to babies. I mean, look, libertarians differ on this issue: Randians, Hoppians, Rothbardians, Lockians, others. It depends on what you think is a source of rights. Loren Lomasky has an argument, which I think is interesting, in his book Person’s, Rights, and the Moral Community where he says, look, there’s sort of a contractarian, societal basis for rights. And he looks at people that are sort of in comas or very old and defective or severely disabled or retarded or fetuses as edge cases that we allow to piggyback, he calls it. If you’re interested, look up Loren Lomasky and search for piggybacking.
He said they piggyback onto the main case of rights.1 I think there’s something to it, but it’s – Hoppe’s view is that rights proceed from the capacity to respect other people’s rights, which means rationality. Now, how you would extend this to an infant or to a fetus, which doesn’t quite have that capacity yet, or maybe has the potential for capacity, I don’t know. I think you can look at it as a borderline case or a continuum issue as Walter Block calls it. So libertarians can differ on exactly when rights start. Now, Christian or religious libertarians think it’s our humanity, and that starts from the day of conception because you have a soul. I’m not sure how that kind of argument can be made rationally. To non – people who don’t share your religious views.
Okay, so let’s talk about this now. This is something – I’ve written – in 1995, I wrote an article, which Hoppe published as editor of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, discussing the civil law and the common law. And I believe someone in this class sent me this quote, which I liked and which I sent the Hans for his comments. And he points out that – that’s right. I did respond to this already in the class. So let’s go over it. So the loose transcription of Hoppe’s earlier talk, he talks about how people from the English – England and its colonies are sort of arrogant about how superior the common law is, and this has infected a lot of libertarian talk too, primarily because the main libertarian movement has been in America, which is the English former colony and a lot in England too, to some degree.
And so they talked about the Commonwealth superiority. He said Max Weber had a comment that the alternative system is the civil law in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, etc., France, everywhere really in Europe. And they have these civil codes, which are written codifications of the law unlike the common law, which is sort of scattered. It’s a bunch of decisions of judges. And he sort of points out Max Weber hypothesized that, look, it’s in the interest of the lawyers in England to keep the law inscrutable and hard to figure out.2
So maybe it’s not as much an advantage as the English talk about to have this sort of, we’ll say, unwritten but not codified set of law. And in fact, Americans are often confused at the idea in England of the unwritten constitution. There’s a constitution, but it’s unwritten. We’re used to thinking of a constitution as a document, like a meta document or a charter or an articles of incorporation of the government, which we have in the US. We have a written constitution.
So when the Brits say, well, we have a constitution too, there’s a famous treaty. I think it’s Dicey’s Constitution. They say, well, where is the constitution? And the Brits say, well, it’s sort of spread across the institutions of the queen and the monarch and the parliament and our tradition and the Magna Carta, etc.
Right. Antonio mentions the Magna Carta. That was written, but that wasn’t for everyone. That was just for some. By the way, on this topic, if any of you are interested, the movie Robin Hood, the most recent version, has a fascinating part about the forest charter. And I had a blog post maybe a year ago, when the Robin Hood movie came out. I think it was on the Libertarian Standard about the forest charter. You might want to look that up.
There’s some fascinating stuff about how the forest charter sort of complemented the Magna Carta and was even better in some ways because it applied to the common people. And it was narrow and specific about forest rights, like hunting and all this, but it was interesting. So look up – if any of you are interested, look up the forest charter. It’s on the Libertarian Standard. I think I blogged that there, maybe on Mises.org. Anyway, now, I have a long comment to this, and I’ll just explain it here. I have the comments here on pages 21 and etc.
But my point is this, and I’ll give you a brief lecture on the civil law and the common law. I’m from Louisiana, which is the one state in the United States of the 50 states that has a civil law-type system because we were influenced by Spanish and French traditions at the time of Louisiana Purchase or when Louisiana was ceded to the US. So we have a civil law system, so I’ve always had an interest in it, and I wrote on it, and the way to look at it is contrary to the standard way you’ll hear about it.
You’ll hear – here’s – let me just lay it out. The best way I think for the libertarian to look at it is the Roman law is a magnificent body of law, legal principles developed over a roughly a 1000-year period from minus 500 to plus 500 B.C. roughly, which was like the common law which came later in England. They were both similar in that they were decentralized. They were basically the accumulation of decisions of judges or jurists or judicial experts applying previously developed legal principles to new [indiscernible_00:40:35] situations or cases basically.
So they’re actually similar in this way, and in fact, the Roman law greatly developed the common law. And then what happened was later on in the 1600s/1700s, you started having codifications of the Roman law principles in Europe by Napoleon, for example, his Code Napoléon or his famous civil code and others. So it codified the Roman law principles that were still surviving, and they survived, by the way, because of the earlier codifications of the Emperor Justinian. They weren’t modern, systematic, codifications, but they at least collected the existing Roman case law – excuse me – and teachings.
Anyway, the civil law, as it exists now, is a codified version of the Roman law plus canon law, church law, and customs that had developed over the ages in Europe. But its hallmark is not only that it’s codified. It’s also that it enshrines legislative supremacy. So Napoleon says, here’s the law. We’ve gathered all these customs and these Roman laws and these decisions, and this is going to be the law. It’s what’s written down here.
So it had the advantage that the average person, which is what Weber and Hoppe were referring to. The average person can open the civil code and look at it and say, well, this is the law. Whereas there’s no such code in the common law. You have to pour through thousands of decisions, which is the expert – the domain of experts like lawyers. So that’s one thing they’re talking about there. But now, I would say this. Nowadays, in today’s world, the distinction between – so I would say this.
The Roman law and the common law were similar. They were both decentralized. They’re both very good, although Roman law was superior in most ways, I believe. The civil law is good because it’s a codification of the Roman law principle. So it’s – there were great intellectual achievements and good for the common man. But they also enshrined legislative supremacy or legal positivism.
Anyway, in the meantime, in the last, say, 200 years since codes arose at the peak of the common law in England, the common law and the Commonwealth countries—England, the United States, etc., Canada, Australia—have been overwhelmed by an increasing body of legislation. So – and the same thing has happened in France and other countries that have civil codes. The civil code is still great largely, but now there’s a whole superstructure of other statutes that surround it at the European level or at treaty level or at the national or state level. So basically, nowadays, in both the common law countries and the civil law countries, the dominant form of law is special purpose and ad hoc and unsystematic legislation. So the common law is getting – largely being lost. The Roman law, as codified in the civil codes, is being submerged, so that’s our current situation.
Antonio says the civil code cannot address all possible instance of the law and yields more and more code. Well, the theory of the civil code is that – I have a quote in the article that I mentioned, my 1995 article, which I think I have a link to here. The civilians view the civil code as existing in a plasma, they call it. So they basically think of all the code articles as being consistent with each other, and if you can’t find the code article directly on point to a given situation, you try to basically interpolate between code articles, or you analogize because there’s an assumption that every code article is part of a plasma, an organic, harmonious whole of law, whereas in the common law, the judges have always been jealous of their domain, and every time a statute is written, it’s seen as an intrusion into their space.
And therefore, the judges in the common law always interpret or have tended to interpret statutes very narrowly, which is one reason statutes and legislation in the common law is uglier than in the civil law because the legislators know they have to enumerate every possible – so they have so many synonyms. They’ll say a vehicle, a car, an automobile, a truck, whatever, whereas in the civil law, they know the judges want to try to expand the interpretation broadly in this plasma idea. So they’ll just say a transportation device, or they’ll say some general term. So you’ll – and this difference actually leaks into contract drafting in civil and common law countries too. In the common law world, the contracts are uglier. They specify everything in such detail because they’re afraid that if you don’t, that someone will read around it. Anyway, let’s get to what Hoppe said about this.
You can see these slides 23 and 24, I’ve got a lot more material than I actually went over here, but I think you can read it later if you’re interested in following up on this in more detail. So Hoppe says he agrees, and he says the better distinction is not between, say, decentralized and centralized or between Roman and common or civil and common. But it’s between private law and public law. And common law and civil law were initially private law.
And he’s right—civil law, if you think of its roots in the Roman law. So the English common law and the Roman law were private in a large sense, but they’ve become increasingly democratic or public, that is, legislation. And he calls it elsewhere statutory – democratic lawmaking. That’s what statute law and legislation is. Okay. Someone had a question, which I did not answer because I didn’t know the answer, but Hoppe did give an answer.
Someone asked, in Hoppe’s book, he says – he uses the term conservative socialism with a negative connotation to talk to people who use the state to conserve their place in society. But later, he uses the term conservative socialism or conservativism in a positive way, and Hoppe wrote back to me that he only later, after TSC, which is 1988 or so, became aware of the work of Robert Nisbet. And I’ve got actually several of his books here that Hoppe recommended to me, and he’s great, which gives a different and better understanding of conservativism. So that explains his shift in meaning, but he said that his sort of interpretation of conservativism that Nisbet uses and as Hoppe uses later in his later book, Democracy: The God that Failed, he wouldn’t count people like Reagan as a conservative, so it’s a different meaning of the term.
So I would highly recommend like – oh sorry. I thought I had the book right on my shelf. I could grab it to show you, but it’s – they’re not in alphabetical order today. Anyway, there’s a lot of Nisbet books. If anyone’s interested, email me, and I’ll give you a list of the top two or three that Hoppe – actually, Stephan says The Quest for Community. That is one of the ones Hoppe recommends. Okay, so let’s go on to this one.
Now, I tried to give an answer to this. I’ll go over it briefly because I already answered in detail, and Hoppe basically – I think he just agreed. He rubber-stamped it. Let me go to last one and make sure I’m right. Yeah, Hoppe had no comments on this. So let me just briefly explain this. Someone said, in part of TSC, Hoppe says – he wanted to know if there’s a contradiction between what he talked about, socialism’s effect on personality types because he says, number one, it makes people rely on family relationships, personal relationships.
On the other hand, it makes them uninteresting and have uniform personalities, and these seem to be at odds. Quickly, you can reread my answer I gave earlier because Hoppe basically agrees with it. He’s just talking about two incentives that the state sets up. And remember, the state doesn’t have to be consistent. It can set up competing incentives. For example – excuse me – with income tax, the state punishes hard work, especially with a progressive tax. So in a way, it penalizes you from working harder because the harder you work and the more income you earn, the less you’re able to keep of it.
So in a way, it disincentivizes people from working hard. On the other hand, by its spending policies and by its taxation, it impoverishes people, and it makes them poorer. So it makes them have to work harder to survive. So there are contradictory incentives there. So the fact that there might be contradictory incentives set up by the state is the state’s fault, but it’s possible.
Now, in this case, we’re just talking about two sort of different phenomenon, and I actually don’t think they’re actually contradictory to each other. So one is simply that, to get – to be successful or to get things done in a socialized economy, you have to be more political. You can’t just – if you need your plumbing fixed, you can’t just call a plumber because they’re in short supply. You have to have a cousin who’s a plumber or have done a favor for someone. So that sort of political-type relationship becomes more important. Yeah, as Jock says, you have to play the system.
So that’s one tendency that comes out under socialism. But Hoppe also talks about a different phenomena, which is that the state regulates and taxes things that it can see, that are visible. So they tax income. They don’t tax bartering because bartering is not in money terms. It’s harder to see, so people tend to move into areas that are invisible to the state or harder for the state to regulate. And to do that, they keep a low profile. No, I know they do try, but it’s just – Jock says they try to tax barter. Yeah, of course, they tax bartering here too, but that’s not the main source of the state’s income. And the fact is it’s easier sometimes to evade income tax if you barter because there’s no record of it.
And like there’s – it’s easier to evade it if you do cash transactions, which people do in the sort of gray market or black market or our agorist market, whatever you want to call it. So I think those are just two different phenomena. Basically, one is you have an incentive to become more political, to get good at relationships and political to get things done because you can’t just pay someone in person like a plumber. And the other incentive – the other tendency is to keep your head down if you’re engaged in activities that are trying to escape the radar, trying to keep the state from noticing you, so I don’t think those are inconsistent and Hoppe agrees with this.
So freewill. We talked about this earlier. I won’t go into too much detail because I’m not going to finish now as I can see. I tried to explain earlier that on the dualist point of view, the Misesian view that you look at – you can explore two realms of a phenomena systematically. One is teleology, human actions, purpose of action. And one is trying to figure out causal laws. And from that perspective, you could look at humans, either from either perspective. If you look at them as actors, then you’re thinking of them as actors, as acting, which means as choosing. So you have to format or categorize your thinking of them in terms of human choice, which means freewill in a sense.
On the other hand, if you were to view human bodies as collections of particles governed by the four physical laws, and you look at their behavior or emotions instead, we really can’t do that. We’re not super computers. We’re not omniscient beings. That’s one reason we look at them as actors as to how we understand each other. It’s more conceptually efficient for us. But as Mises and Hoppe say, that theoretically, if some external super being could look at our actions in terms of causal laws and predict what we’re going to do by using causal laws, that is, if we’re determined, then maybe that’s possible.
And from that perspective, our action from the action perspective is just an illusion, but it’s a necessary illusion. So this, to me, helps to think about and solidify what has long been the attempt to bring the dilemma of freewill versus causality and determinism into compatibility, which is called compatibilism. So I sort of lean personally towards compatibilism, although it’s still a mystery to me. But I think that the Misesian/Hoppean/dualist position helps make the most sense of it. So all I can say here is that Hoppe agrees with this way to present it. [Update: See also quotes from Hoppe related to this, in KOL154 | “The Social Theory of Hoppe: Lecture 2: Types of Socialism and the Origin of the State”.]
So I’m going fast here I know, and it is because I’m not going to cover everything, but if anyone wants to slow down or go over anything again or answer any questions now, I can do that. Then we can take a short break and continue with more material. Any requests, questions at this point? You need coffee, Cam? Cam says he needs coffee. Okay. All right, let’s continue for a few more minutes, and then we’ll take a short break.
By the way, quick question for the class. Let’s take a quick and just chat for a couple things. Number one, feel free to send anonymous or private or whatever constructive criticism later. This is my fourth or fifth class now, and I sometimes feel I’m going too fast, but if I don’t go this fast, I’ll leave out material. And luckily, you can rewatch things, so should the general pace of these things be slower or faster, or is it okay? I mean I think it should be as fast as possible as long as people can absorb it. So I’m curious about feedback on that either now or later or privately or anonymously or whatever. Send it to Danny if you want to. You can send it privately. He can send it to my anonymously if you like.
Number two – yeah, actually, someone said that quote is from Economic Science and the Austrian Method. I think I actually quoted that in my – in an earlier set of slides or somewhere. In any case, I think I’ve got a blog post where I quote this and a Mises quote, which is very similar. Mises has a very similar book.
Jock says, David Gordon goes through one philosopher a week. How is David’s latest courses? Is it interesting, Jock, and useful, informative? Anyway, while you consider answering that, the second question is I am considering – not this year, maybe in a year or two or three, writing a book, sort of like – there’s a series of books. It’s called the – maybe you’ve seen it. It’s called Past Masters series. I think it’s called now A Very Short Introduction. I think they’ve changed it.
Anyway, it’s about a 100-page, systematic overview of the thought of a given philosopher. I’m thinking about doing a book on Hoppe similar to that, and I’m curious if anyone thinks that might be taking the material from this course and expanding it of course and covering some gaps. I’m curious if anyone has a thought about whether that might be a worthwhile thing to do. So feel free to send me feedback about that.
Okay, it is 7 o’clock p.m. central time. I guess it’s – what is it, midnight? 1 in the morning, Jock, your time in England, in Oxford? 1 a.m. So why don’t we take a seven-minute break and pick it up in a few minutes? Smoke them if you’ve got them.
… the feedback, Stephan. Edward asks about the various – yeah, I think the Very Short Introduction series – I’ll show you. Yeah, so this is what the series used to be. It’s called the Past Masters, and there’s a lot of them there, but then they replaced it with this Very Short Introduction, which – so you’ll see books on Amazon like this book. You can find this book under either title. And there’s another one that’s similar called the Fontana Modern Masters, and these are about 150 pages each.
These – I like these. These are about 100, and I think these are better from what I’ve seen in the – I’ve read about maybe a dozen of them. So they’re pretty good overviews from people. I’m not proposing doing a Hoppe book for one of those. I doubt they would take it because he’s not a past master. He’s still living, but maybe the Mises Institute would publish it, something like that.
In any case, by the way, for people – let me just mention something quickly while we’re – this is one of my favorite books, and everyone here is probably interested in philosophy. This is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. I read it 25 years ago. It’s – can you see it? From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest by T.Z. Lavine. It’s a paperback. It’s a really, really, really, really wonderful overview of philosophy in a lively way. If anyone is interested in philosophy and you don’t have a lot of background in it yourself, this is a really good introduction.
Okay. Anyway, so let’s get going again. Any other questions before we continue? And it’s wine time now. I always get my wine out for the Q&A for the last 30 minutes. Antonio says it’s in Kindle format. What’s in Kindle format? The Philosophic Quest is in Kindle format now? Is that what you mean? Oh, cool. I didn’t know that. That’s new. It’s really good. I read it – you can see. I read it, for those that are interested in – Budapest 1991. I used to write down in my books when I read them, and I was backpacking across Europe in ‘91 and read it. I loved it, loved the book.
Anyway, good deal. I’d love your – Jock, email me what you think about it after. I have some friends that are philosophers that have never heard of it, which surprised me because it’s so good. Anyway, let’s go on. Any other questions before we resume? By the way, I’m sorry I couldn’t get Hoppe to do a guest actual lecture. That just couldn’t be worked out because of timing and because of technical issues. What do you call a reading pile on a Kindle? I don’t know, but I wish Kindle would allow you to sort your books into different categories like iBooks does, and I bet you they’ll do that in the future. Oh, do they? I think you’re right. I’ve got to try that. I’ve seen that, Jock. They do allow that now, don’t they?
Okay, let’s – we might not get much into the topics beyond the Q&A, but I tried to organize these slides into the priority like the less important ones to cover are at the end. Okay. Let me try to explain what this is about. So someone talked about Walter Block’s view on inalienability. And what’s interesting about this course, and you guys then put in the questions this actually – this question made me think about it, and I wrote Hans. He agreed with me. But his answer and my thinking about it made me realize I think I was wrong in my earlier writing about Rothbard.
Let me quickly try to explain it. I won’t go over my slides here. You can read them later. Let me just present it in a few minutes how I see it. So I view Mises as the culmination of Austrian economic thinking. I mean he wasn’t the first. Carl Menger, etc., came first, but Mieses was really the most systematic and comprehensive and rational and scientific presentation. Now, in the years we’ve improved on it, there’s been elaborations, etc. Well, happy birthday Carl and Jock whenever that is.
But in any case – and I think Rothbard is sort of like the Mises of libertarianism, and I also give credit to Rand. She inspired Rothbard in lots of ways, and she was a big influence as well. But Rothbard is the guy. But I think Hoppe sort of cleared up and improved by combining the two on a lot of Rothbard’s stuff under this modern Hoppian/Misesian/Rothbardian, but primarily Hoppian framework. Here’s how I view this issue of inalienability. It comes up because people ask the question, well, could you voluntarily alienate your rights? Could you become a slave by signing a contract to be a slave? Would that be enforceable?
So that question is one of these perennial questions. Now, my view is Walter Block, people like him, who are a minority of libertarians I believe – there’s only a few libertarians. Probably, I don’t know, 0.1%. I mean not many libertarians believe this, but there’s a small minority of libertarians that think that if you sign a contract saying you’re going to be someone’s slave, then it’s enforceable. And the master, the slaveowner, is entitled to use force against you to do whatever, what you agreed to, to kill you or to beat you or to punish you or to discipline you or to kidnap you or to jail you or to prevent you from running away, etc.
Rothbard’s view is opposite. And for a long time, I thought Rothbard was correct in his conclusion but confused in his reasoning. But my current view, gathered just a few weeks ago, is that Rothbard wasn’t confused in his reasoning. He just – he hadn’t fleshed it all out. But the way he wrote about it led me to think he was confused. So let me just tell you what my view is and what I think is Hoppe’s view. And then I’ll go back and talk about – I’ll talk about Rothbard and Block.
So my view is this. If you remember the Hoppian view, what is the connecting – what is the central thing? What is the common element between property rights in our bodies and in other things? It’s the libertarian idea that the person with the best connection or link or claim to a thing that’s scarce should have the ownership of it. So that’s what’s in common. It’s not the first user, which is the homesteading idea of Locke. That is how you apply the general idea, best link.
You apply that to the case of bodies. You apply it to the case of things we own differently because they are different. You can’t homestead your body because homesteading implies you already own your body. Homesteading means there’s a person walking around the Earth who already owns his body, who is using his body to homestead new things. So homesteading already presupposes body ownership, so they can’t be based upon the same principle.
So the bottom line is – and by the way, this is not that explicit in Hoppe either because, when I wrote my article on how we come to own ourselves, I thought about it a long time. And I actually had to find, Hans – Hoppe finally told me he had written something in German, like in 1982 or something that had never been translated. And I think I got Guido Hülsmann to translate it for me, and that’s the paragraph I cite, and it finally became clear to me.
This is the essence of what Hoppe is getting at, that we own our bodies because we have the best connection to it because we have a direct control of our bodies. This goes back to that natural condition Hoppe talks about. I – we use the – in language, we use the possessive. I own my body. It’s my body. Now, that’s a natural thing, and if I want to move my arm up, I move it up. So I have a direct control over my own body. And this central fact is what gives me the better claim to my body than other people have to it.
So if someone else – A and B are fighting over who should have the right to control A’s body, well, naturally A has the better connection to it. A has the better claim to it. And in fact, for B to claim he should own A’s body, he has to presuppose he owned his body first. Why? Because he has the direct control over it. So he had to presuppose a basis for my ownership of my body in his challenge to my body.
So that’s the basis of body ownership. The basis of ownership of things that we acquire is that it was previously unowned, and then I used my will and my actions to transform it and emborder it. I incorporated it into my patrimony, we might say, or my estate, and I put up a signal to others that, hey, I’m claiming ownership of this. There’s already a signal put up about my body because I’m the one using it. Everyone knows that I’m using my body. They’re using their body. So the signal, the borders of my body is already established. It’s inherent in who I am. I mean even dogs know property rights. If one dog is munching in a bowl and the other approaches them, they start growling. I mean this is not hard to understand. But the point is that property means the right to control.
Now, by the way, I’m going to discuss this in detail. I already discussed it in my last class on libertarian legal theory, and I will discuss it again in the libertarian controversies course coming up next month. But there is a common, I think, misconception that owning something means implies the right to sell or alienate. The reason we think that is because we’re used to thinking of that in the case of owned things, like things that we homestead or acquire. But like Walter Walker says – he says, well, if you’re a self-owner, then you can sell yourself into the slavery. That’s his whole argument.
The problem with that is that, if you think about it, ownership means the right to control. It doesn’t mean the right not to control, which is what selling means. It means you got rid of your rights of control. So my view is this. When you homestead a thing that was previously unowned, you homestead it because you’re not temporarily possessing it. You’re owning it as an owner, and you’re making this claim clear to the world by establishing some border and by representing yourself as the owner.
But that means that if you cease to own it, if you cease to claim it as an owner, then you don’t own it anymore. In other words, you can abandon your ownership of something. In other words, it’s a symmetrical thing. If you acquire something, you can unacquire it. So in the case of acquired things, you could unacquire them. And of course, you could arrange it so that you can unacquire it so that someone else that you want to have it after you could have it.
So for example, I acquire a staff, a branch of a tree that’s fallen down in the common. Then I acquire it. I use it for years. I put runes on it. I carve it. It’s nice and polished. And one day, I’m tired of this thing, or I want to trade it for something Jock owns. How do I get rid of my ownership of this thing? Well, I could just leave it in the field and walk away from it and leave it, and I’ve abandoned it. Now, it becomes subject to re-homesteading by anyone. But if I want Jock to give me something in exchange for it, I need to make sure Jock is going to be the new owner.
So I hand it to Jock like a loan, so temporarily Jock owns this thing. He’s holding the staff that I own, but I’m giving him temporary right to use. That’s what ownership means. I have the right to decide who gets to use it, so I’m lending it to Jock. And then, while Jock is holding it, I abandon it. I say I hereby relinquish my claim to this. So what happens? There’s an instantaneous moment when the staff is unowned, and then Jock, as the new owner of it, as the new possessor, becomes the new owner. He re-homesteads it.
Anyway, this is my theory, building on Rothbard’s contract theory, by the way, of how and why, when you have ownership of an acquired thing, that means that there’s a way you can get rid of it and alienate it. But it’s not an essential feature of ownership. It’s just getting rid of ownership. It’s abandoning it. But your property right in your body, according to Hoppe, is based upon your direct control of your body. That doesn’t go away if you sign a piece of paper saying I’m your slave.
You still have direct control over your body. Therefore, if you say I give myself to you, so what? It actually doesn’t abandon your body as it does in the case of the staff that I just gave. So to me, this is the distinction. Ownership of property does not imply the right to sell. It implies it as an application of ownership in the case of acquired goods, but your body is not acquired in the same way because, to acquire, you have to be an acquirer. To be an acquirer is to be a human actor. To be a human actor is to be a person who already has a body. You can’t act in the world without a body.
Now, what’s interesting is – now, Hoppe agrees with this approach, as you can see from the following slides. But Hoppe has a – I’m sorry – Rothbard has a comment that the reason you can’t sell yourself into slavery is that the will is inalienable. Now, I thought his argument was this originally. Your will is inalienable. It’s impossible to alienate your will, and therefore, it’s impossible to sell yourself into slavery. But I immediately thought, well, but what about criminals? What about someone who you are punishing for a crime? Well – or what about animals? If we own an animal, they have a will. We use force against them to force them to do what we want. Or criminal—if you punish someone or at least use force against a criminal in the act of crime to defend yourself, you are using force against their body, but they have a will.
In other words, your use of force against their body is justified according to Rothbardian theory, even though they haven’t alienated their will. So my immediate thought was, well, Rothbard is a little bit off here because he’s wrong that the fact that you can’t alienate your will doesn’t mean you can’t alienate rights to your body. In other words, I can have the right to commit force against an aggressor, even though he hasn’t alienated his will.
In other words, it’s justified for me to use to – to overcome his will. It’s justified for me to use force that invades his body, even though he says no because he’s an aggressor. But this recent conversation made me realize, well, Rothbard was talking about the consensual case only because Rothbard clearly believes that if you commit aggression, you can be punished. So I think the context was he was only talking about this, and I think what he was getting at was something that Hoppe made more explicit later, which is that the basis of self-ownership is the fact that we have a will, or as Hoppe puts it, that you have direct control over your body.
So I think Rothbard, again, as he did with other things Hoppe made explicit later, had a proto-Hoppian theory, and this is because, I believe, a lot of this is implied in Misesianism in the first place. And I think Rothbard was such a great libertarian because he was such a great Misesian, and Hoppe the same, but Hoppe came after and built upon Rothbard’s progress, and so he had further insights himself.
Anyway, I’ll stop with that on this issue to go on to others. If anyone has any questions, let me know, but on the further slides – but my point is I believe Rothbard wasn’t confused. I think Rothbard was confused when he said debtors’ prison was theoretically justified, but that’s what made me think he was confused about inalienability because he didn’t have a consistent framework. And I think it was not consistent. He did make a mistake there. But I think in retrospect he was correct with his focus on the will. I think that was a crude way of saying what Hoppe had said – excuse me – more explicitly.
So any questions? Anything? Let me know now. I’m going to turn to the next topic. If there’s any questions, I’ll address them. Okay. Now, I’ll be quick on this one too because I answered this in writing already, and I assume everyone has seen this. Someone had a question in one of the previous lectures about the praxeological status of imaginary numbers because remember we talked about proto physics, how there are certain assumptions in math and physics that you can prove in human action that are realistic-based.
So someone said what about imaginary numbers? And now, I don’t know if a lot of non-engineers understand what this is about. In mathematics, the imaginary number i, which is the square root of -1 – it’s called i, small i. Actually, in electrical engineering – I was an electrical engineer. We call it j because i stands for current. I don’t know why. Anyway, i or j, whichever one you use to represent the imaginary number, square root of -1 is used in physics and in engineering as a convenient way to manipulate complex phenomena that have something to do with frequency, the frequency domain.
It’s not relevant here, but when you have radio signals, and you want to talk about the frequency of an FM signal or whatever, you want to manipulate it in the frequency domain. You sometimes move up, convert to the complex. We call it complex domain. So in my mind, it’s just a mental way of formatting the tools we’ve developed to manipulate frequencies, just frequencies, which is a real thing. How we think about these math tools and how we label them – I mean just because we call it imaginary doesn’t mean it’s imaginary. It turns out that’s a way to do it.
Anyway, I ran this by Hoppe. Now, I actually don’t know how much he knows about this application of physics and engineering and how imaginary numbers are used in real science or natural sciences. But his response was – let me go to – so he agreed with what I said, which I’ve just summarized. So he said some parts of math are aprioristic because they’re praxeologically grounded in praxeological reality, like action, like counting, the numeration, numbers. And so they’re realistic, but he thinks some parts of higher math deviate from reality much like a lot of economics today does. It’s just sort of gameplay.
So it’s just – it’s actually tautological. In other words, it would be subject to the criticism that empiricists make of apriorism. They say it’s all analytic. It’s all tautological. It’s all circular. So he’s saying some math is like that. And he says that Lorenzen, who I had mentioned earlier, who is the proto physics guy, talks about this a lot more detail. He thinks a lot of math is idle games, just like a lot of modern economics is when it tries to add and multiply and divide utility or utils.
Okay. Look, I am happy to go longer, but I know it’s late for a lot of people. So why don’t we do this? We reached the end of the 90 minutes, and I’d be happy to take any questions at this point and go as long as people here have perseverance to stand. So – and in the upcoming weeks, if you want to go over the remaining slides, and there’s about 30 more slides, feel free to email me questions, and I can reply, and the whole class can – we can talk about it that way. And I will post the final exam in a couple of days, and I’m going to cover up to slide 37 of tonight. Any questions, comments, anything anyone else wants to discuss? Feel free to shoot.
Edward says if monarchy is so much better than democracy, why did monarchists lead us into World War I, which destroyed monarchy? That’s an interesting question. Stephen has a question too, which I’ll get to. Let me try to think what Hoppe’s answer would be. Well, number one, Hoppe is not a monarchist. He is an anarchist, so he thinks monarchy and democracy are both flawed. And, of course, monarchy and democracy can both lead to war, and the outcome of war is unpredictable. And of course, World War I was sort of an unpredictable thing caused by this weird circumstance and confluence of events. And I guess you could also argue that war has been even worse. In the 20th century, war was worse in the advent of democracy. So I get the answer be monarchy is just another type of state, and they can make mistakes too.
Stephen asked, how am I able to be a patent lawyer in clear conscience? So I do not participate in lawsuits against innocent people. What I do is I help my company acquire patents, which serve as a defensive deterrent against other companies suing us. And it’s only, say, 5% of my job, and I do want to get out of it because I don’t like it, and I’m working in that direction now. So that’s my answer. If I had to sue a company that was an innocent company for patent infringement, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. I wouldn’t feel it was justified. But some people do things to put food on the table in a given system. I try not to.
Edward, and maybe someone else can answer this question. My history is weak. Were European nations not very monarchical prior to World War I? Didn’t Germany have a welfare state started by Bismarck? Well, yeah, it did. It was – I guess I don’t understand the question. Yeah, they were monarchical before World War I, and sure they weren’t perfect. Bismarck did start a proto welfare state. Yeah, I think Hoppe’s idea is that the ideal form of monarchy would be this sort of earlier version of it that was somewhat limited by some constitutional or parliamentary institutions but more of a real monarchy rather than the ones we have now. But he explicitly says, and I have it in the slides here, which we didn’t have time to get to, but he is not a monarchist. He does not favor monarchy or a return to monarchy.
Jock says Hoppe’s explanation of socialism affects productivity helps understand Spencer’s survival of the fittest. I don’t quite follow that, but that’s good. Kevin: thoughts on corporate personhood? Well, that might take too long. I’ve written on this before. If you search my blog – search stephankinsella.com for Hessen, H-E-S-S-E-N. Robert Hessen has, I think, the sort of best treatment, although Roger Pilon from Cato, P-I-L-O-N, and Rothbard have some good stuff on this too. My view is that, in a free society, people could arrange their affairs by private property-based contracts to have collaborative ownership.
And they can call it different things: partnerships, firms. But the state took over part of this, and they monopolized it, and they claim the right to grant corporate charters to incorporate. And they said to be a corporation, you have to have legal personality, have to be a legal person we call it. And only we can grant you that, so then we can condition this grant. It’s a privilege, not a right. So we can tax you, regulate you, make you follow our SEC laws, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. I think the state is wrong. I think you don’t need a legal entity status or personality to be a corporation.
I think it’s just a totally private thing, so get rid of the state. Have a free market. People can form these firms. They can call them whatever they want. Corporation is probably not the best term because it does imply a body or a separate legal personality. I don’t know. Maybe it would be used. Maybe it wouldn’t. But it can be done privately by contract as Hessen and Pilon explained in detail. So just blog my website for Hessen and Pilon, P-I-L-O-N.
Antonio: He’s still confused about the difference between property and value. People thrive for wealth, not property. Property is a foundation of wealth. You can’t accumulate wealth without property. Well, I think – so we’re human actors. We live in a real world of scarcity. We have no choice but to employ scarce means to achieve our ends. Scarce means are things that we get property rights in so that we can use them productively. And so there’s one owner assigned to it so we can use it without people fighting over it with him.
So property in a way is a means. It’s a means to satisfy our desire to change the future, which is to achieve our ends. And when you do achieve your ends, when you make things better, we call that a profit, and another word for that is wealth. So yeah, they’re different. And value is just what you manifested in your action, what you want to achieve. So property is just a means to action, sure, of course, although it’s an end as well in the world we live in. I mean I might – my end might be to own this item, but in a way it’s a means to satisfying psychic or psychological ends, and then it’s a means to wealth in a sense. So yeah, I agree with you on this.
Karl asked question about limited liability. I mean I can talk about it, but it’s going to – it would take a whole lecture. I would just suggest blog my website for limited liability and corporations and maybe Hessen, the word Hessen. My short view is this. There are two types of liability. There’s liability for contracts, and liability for torts. The contractual case is easily taken care of. If someone loans my corporation, the ABC Corporation, money and they know that we’re calling themselves a corporation and that has a certain context or meaning they know that they can only go after the assets of the corporation, whatever those are, defined in a certain way, not the assets of the shareholders.
So they have no right to complain. And what happens actually in reality is, in a small company – well, in a large company, people take this risk because the company has more assets than the shareholders typically. And they have sufficient assets, and they tend to have insurance. In a small company, then the bank or the creditor or the customer who is extending credit, usually insists that the main shareholder, the founder, they have to sign something guaranteeing it. So basically, they look through this, and they make the owner become personally liable, but the point is it’s contractual.
For torts, to me, the question is, one – I have an article called – with Pat Tinsley in the QJAE on causation theory where I discussed this issue. Just look on my website, stephankinsella.com, for the article I co-wrote with a key named Pat Tinsley, Patrick Tinsley. And, by the way, Tinsley is the same name as Kinsella in Gaelic. They both come from some strange Gaelic name. In any case, my theory is that – my view is that, and I think Hoppe agrees with this, by the way.
The person who causes damage that is not consented to, if it’s a crime, it’s a crime. If it’s a tort, that’s sort of less intentional, but it’s still negligent. That person is the one that’s primarily responsible. So let’s take the case of a Coca Cola Corporation truck driver. He’s driving, and he’s negligent, and he runs over someone. He has a wreck. He damages someone negligently. Well, the basic theory is that he is responsible. To hold anyone else responsible, anyone else at all, you have to have another theory.
Now, in history, this is – by the way, we have to stop in a few minutes because I know it’s getting late for some people. So let’s finish this up in maybe a few more short questions. Anyway, the driver of the truck is responsible. To hold anybody else responsible is called vicarious responsibility. You have to find a reason to hold someone else responsible. Now, the laws that developed in the common law did find a way to hold the master or the employer responsible for the acts of the servant or the employee. It’s called respondeat – let me type it here, respondeat superior, which is a type of vicarious liability.
Now, that was based upon this feudalistic idea that there’s a master and servant, almost like a father for his child or a farmer for his goats. He had to be responsible for the acts of his servants or his serfs or his slaves. So you see a sort of paternalistic aspect to this, and that has been extended nowadays to say that the entire corporation responsible for the acts of the employees. And the people that want to argue against limited liability for shareholders have to say the shareholder should be liable as well.
But my response would be the employee is the one who committed the act. Unless a manager directed – excuse me – directed him to do this, why would his boss be liable? Maybe he set up a dangerous situation. Okay, so maybe you can find a few people liable in the chain of causation, which is why I refer to the causation article. But you can’t say the shareholders are liable. They just gave money to the company, and giving money to a company is not enough to make you liable. I mean a customer gives money to the company when they buy a product. A vendor benefits the company when they sell a product to the company.
A bank that lends money to the company gives them money. So getting money or getting benefit – is this aiding and abetting? Is this like a crime, a conspiracy? I don’t think so. So I think there’s no reason to hold a passive shareholder liable in the first place under the theory of vicarious responsibility or respondeat superior for the actions of an employee. The employee is the one that’s negligent. Now, I think in most cases the corporation would have insurance. By the way, Rothbard explicitly rejects the basis for respondeat superior.
If you look – again, some of these blog posts I’ve done, you’ll see links to that. If a shareholder knows – someone says if a shareholder knows a manager is committing a tort, well, but what if you know it? I mean a shareholder can’t control everything. They can only vote at the annual meeting for who’s going to be the director. The directors have control over who the officers are. The officers hire the managers, the managers and the employee. The managers hire the employees. I mean it’s a chain of command. You have to find causally who is liable for this.
But if you’re curious, look at my causation article and also blog my website for posts about – if you look for the word Hessen you’ll find them, H-E-S-S-E-N, Robert Hessen. He’s got a great book, In Defense of the Corporation. Maybe Hessen, Pilon – Google my site, stephankinsella.com for that, and you’ll find a lot of discussion about this for whoever is interested.
We still have 17 people up. That’s pretty impressive. I know it’s getting late for some. I’ll be happy to talk further if anyone wants to discuss anything. If I missed any of the questions above that you want to discuss, let me know. Let me see, Stephen. Stephen says Hoppe says a potential way out of our predicament is secession of small areas. What are the prospects for this, and how can we escape the grip of the state? Yeah, okay. So he does recommend secession, so this is why – he’s been criticized a lot for his views on immigration etc., but his real view, which I quote later in these slides, is that we should decentralized the power down to the smallest level possible.
Hoppe’s view, and you’ll see it was mirrored in the talk we had about Marxism and class consciousness – Hoppe’s view is that the central mistake of society is the error held by most people that the state is necessary. So ultimately, the only answer is education, somehow informing people, enough people, a critical mass of people, that the state is a mistake, and the state is not necessary. How do you do this? It comes from economic education. It comes from the leadership by elites.
So that’s why he’s devoted his life and why most of us libertarians try to educate ourselves and others about the possibility of a natural private property society, a free market order, and why the state is destructive to that and not necessary. Whether there’s any prospects, I’m skeptical. I will say one thing. Education can come not only from formal education like reading books or going to university or attending Mises University conferences or things like this, but it can come from experience.
And my view is that, since the fall of communism and ‘89/‘91, that event by itself educated a lot of people around the world in a sort of implicit empirical sense, or maybe an osmosis sense that communism just doesn’t work. So they have a sense that we need free markets. So my view, my hope, is that as the richer- I’m sorry – as the more liberal nations become more technologically advanced and more rich, that that will continue to give a lesson to people.
We might reach a tipping point someday where the difference between controlled economies and relatively free ones is so great that people will get the message more and more and that you’ll have a runaway effect at some point. That’s my hope, and I assume it’s Hoppe’s hope too because he fights for a reason. But basically, it’s about education, how we educate humanity, enough people to be aware of the benefits of private property rights is a technical question. And it’s difficult evidently, but I think there’s hope, but it may take a while.
Did I miss any questions above, by the way? I see a lot of chatting about secession and charter cities, and that’s interesting stuff. It’s hard to persuade people. Edward asked me to comment on Hoppe talking about his encounter with the prince of Liechtenstein and his recommendations to the prince. Edward, maybe you can comment on that. I vaguely remember something about that, but I don’t remember exactly what the tenor of his conversation was. I do know that he’s told me in the past. He’s talked to a couple of monarchs like that. It may have been this one or one or two others, and he always is pretty frank with them, and they’re pretty receptive in a general way. But I don’t remember the details of that, sorry. Thank you, Karl.
Edward says Hoppe advised the prince how to stop the pro-democracy referendum that they had voted on. And the prince had threatened to leave Liechtenstein if any of his power was taken, and then the referendum failed. Interesting. I actually don’t know much about that. That doesn’t ring a bell.
Jock says the entire economy in African countries, some African countries, is smaller than that of a small English town. There’s the opportunity for something like charter cities. Yeah, I agree. I actually think – I mean I think these floating island things that Patri Friedman and the other guys come up with, I mean we’ve had these kind of ideas for decades now. They never come to anything. I don’t blame them for trying. I sometimes think the best hope is some kind of recognized regime that is desperate and uses its sovereign status in the world community to just try some experiment. But we’ll have to see. I mean I don’t know. Liberia didn’t work out, but I’m hopeful. I mean I think that the future lies with technology and knowledge and freedom, but it’s not going to be an easy battle.
Anyone have anything else? Feel free to post a question. Antonio wants to know if I think the US is at risk of splitting. I’m not the best person to ask. I don’t know. I don’t know any more than any of you do. I tend to think that the answer is no. I think that we are still the wealthiest country, and the state can use that wealth to maintain control for a long, long time to come. I do think if we had a severe economic problem, then Texas itself where I live could use the idea that we used to be a country, the Republic of Texas or the Lone Star State. They could overcome this patriotism that most people have and secede, which I would favor as a general matter. But no, I don’t think we’re going to have Mad Max world or – I think what we’re going to have is continued economic improvement, to be honest, because of technology.
And the market has not been killed. That’s my guess. Now, most Austrians would disagree with me maybe. I think the US and the West is going to keep improving because we have enough resources and technological improvements to keep overcoming the state increasing parasitic actions. That’s my guess. We could go up and down for a while, but I think we’re going to keep going up, and my hope is that eventually the technological free market sector can just outrun the state maybe 50 years from now, maybe 100 years. I don’t know. That’s my hope.
Stephen wants to know how to discuss anarcho-capitalism with people who are in the mainstream. Oh God. I don’t know. What stories have I had conveying messages, converting people? I mean there’s an essay by Nock I think. I think I’ve got a blog post on it. It’s called – or maybe it’s Leonard Read on the power of attraction, and it’s like, really the best way to persuade people is to have them come to you instead of being an annoying burr in their saddle. Being a good person, being successful, being intelligent, always having a measured response, and people will gradually come to you. When they come to you, it’s called the power of attraction.
And you can convert more people that way, and in a way I think I’ve kind of influenced heavily a few dozen people in my life just in family, friends, and things like that just because they hear the message repeated over and over in cocktail parties and work situations. And, well, things like this don’t count because people like this are already [indiscernible_01:44:44] ideas. But I try not to – there’s two approaches. One is like the burn your bridges and don’t give a damn and just go all out.
You might – some of you might want to blog Google for – there was a libertarian in the ‘70s called Michael Cloud, C-L-O-U-D, and he talked about what’s called the libertarian macho flash. That’s a sort of newbie libertarian impulse at a family Thanksgiving dinner to just stand up and tell his brother-in-law that he’s a statist and just be all libertarian, but then you alienate everyone. It’s called the libertarian macho flash. It’s kind of an interesting image of it. I mean over the years I tend to try not to word it that way.3
You have to measure how receptive people are to radical ideas, and if they talk about something – like for example, I talk to a lot of conservatives in Texas and Louisiana, and they just bitch about Obama left and right. And I’ll just calmly say, well, you just complained about X, Y, and Z with Obama, but George Bush did X, Y, and Z in bigger or littler ways himself. And they will usually say, yeah, yeah, you’re right. And then they’ll – what can they say? That that’s not the facts. So it sort of blunts their attempt to distinguish between how bad it is under Democrats and how bad the Republicans are. So you sort of get them to see that the left and the right are really the same. So if you take what they’re criticizing, and I’ve done this to the left as well.
When the left criticizes the right, I’ll point out that, well, Obama is locking people up in Guantanamo still too. And you finally get them to see that the left and the right are not really that different, and I’ve done the opposite with conservatives. I’ll say, well, the George W. Bush did what Obama’s doing too or vice versa, and that sometimes works. I find they have little response to that. I think it makes them think, and then you can emphasize your message that the left and the right are the same.
We are 25 minutes past. Maybe we should consider calling it. Let’s see what Stephen says here. You tried that approach, but people think their guy is slightly better than the other, and anarcho-capitalism is never going to happen. Well, yeah, but they’re not really – you’re not trying to get them to vote anarcho-capitalism. I think you’re trying to get them to see what policies we should favor.
That’s the main issue, and I think you can – of course there’s a Nolan chart kind of idea too. You just say, listen, if you’re a favor of this kind of freedom, you should be in favor of this kind of freedom. I mean you can always point out look. If you believe in freedom of the press and freedom of speech, you realize you can’t have that if the government owns all the presses. And I think they’ll see that nowadays. So they understand the importance of private property. And if they believe in due process, and you say, well, they take people’s property without due process, etc. It’s an uphill battle. I agree.
Edward says wouldn’t a secessionist community or a charter city suffer from a lack of capital goods and a lack of division of labor? Even a totally free society would be poorer without a developed economy. Can a complex economy with a large capital stock be created? Well, I don’t know if I follow your question because – by the way, Jock has a good point they condemn the looters in London, but the government loots even more. But people think it’s orderly, Jock. It’s orderly looting. It’s by the rule of law. It’s according to statute or whatever. Edward, I think – I mean I don’t know if you’re making the mistake that a lot of people make when we argue for – I mean you don’t have to be part of a self-sufficient nation like South Africa or France or the United States or Canada to be a sovereign area.
I mean we could secede down to the county level. That’s what free trade is about. You trade with other people that have goods that you don’t have. You can have the division of labor in a small area because you’re part of the division of labor. I mean maybe one small town makes oranges and that’s pretty much all they do, so what? They’re part of an international division of labor, even if they’re trading with other areas that are part of states. I don’t see the problem there.
If you’re talking about trying to turn a backwards area like, I don’t know, some province of Liberia or whatever, into part of the modern economy, I don’t think that’s a big problem nowadays. It just takes monetary investment and intelligence. This is Hoppe’s point in his Malthusianism thing. I mean if people that are Western capitalist move there, set up something, they can specialize in whatever they want specialize there. Maybe it’s gambling. Maybe it’s pirating. Maybe it’s drug production. Of course, some of those things would be frowned on and subject to attacks by the outside countries. So they have to be careful not to irritate the big countries too much, but they could specialize in lots of legal things: services, legal services, different havens, tourism. Who knows? Some kind of mining natural resources, etc.
Guys, I think we’re 30 minutes past. I think we should call it to an end. I’ve enjoyed very much the class. You’ve been a great class, and I welcome any requests, comments, further questions, discussions, feedback. So feel free to email me or post things in the class. Thank you, Danny, very much. Thanks, Kevin. Thank you guys. I enjoyed it too. Very much.
- As Lomasky writes at p. 40 Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community: “I shall offer an account of basic rights that is multivalent. By doing so I hope to avoid the troubles that plague theories of rights purporting to find in all rights holders some one essential property vouchsafed by nature (or Nature) such that it, and it alone, guarantees the possession of rights. Most, but not all, adult human beings are project pursuers. Therefore, they have reason to accord to themselves and to other project pursuers the status of rights holder. Unless there were project pursuers, there could be no basic rights. However, project pursuers are not the only holders of rights. Others, young children for example, also enjoy that status. They do so in virtue of the social relations to project pursuers in which they stand. They, as it were, piggyback on project pursuers. The development of this argument is found in Chapter 7.” [↩]
- Update: See the more extensive comments by Hoppe in this regard in the book based on these lectures, as quoted in Roman Law and Hypothetical Cases; see his Economy, Society, and History (Mises Institute, 2021; https://www.hanshoppe.com/esh/), p. 111. [↩]
- See Michael Cloud, “The Late, Great Libertarian Macho Flash” (1978; preserved at https://perma.cc/KY9P-V7K7). See also Jeff Wood, “The Triumphant Return of Libertarian Macho Flash,” (March 8, 2017; https://perma.cc/KE6W-WQK4). [↩]