October, 2009

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Is all social legislation bad?

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Therefore, “law is…to consist of abstract rules which make possible the formation of a spontaneous order by the free action of individuals through limiting the range of their actions” (i.e., through preventing coercion), and it is not to be “the instrument of arrangement or organization by which the individual is made to serve concrete purposes” (p. 71).

Prior to reading this book, I always wondered why legal terminology was written so ambiguously. Hayek presented the answer when he discussed how law needed to be written in abstract terms so that it can evolve with society. The abstract nature of legal terminology allows for laws that were made in the past to be applicable in our time to certain cases. The system even prevents one judge from radically changing an existing law, which allows for law to slowly evolve over time. Hayek rigorously defended this type of law in his book.

Problems seem to arise when individuals create new laws for their own special interests. Hayek chose to coin such directed laws as “social legislation”. Hayek mentioned a few types of “social legislation” including minimum wage (141), welfare (142), unions (142), and large scale government legal actions that allow legislators to create as many social laws as possible, like in the case of the U.S. Supreme Court during the New Deal (142).

Even though some forms of social legislation may constrict our freedom, Hayek claims that not all forms of “social legislation” are freedom constricting. In particular, he claimed that even though welfare was a form of “social legislation” it, “would not make the private citizen in any way the object of administration”.

Principles vs. Expediency

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

I agree with Hayek’s claims.  The fact that the experiment that is the United States of America has become a world superpower is almost proof enough for the claims that Hayek makes.  The US constitution was written as a set of guiding principles that allowed liberty and freedom to fuel the fires of innovation and growth, and consequently, we have enjoyed (looking at a broad spectrum of data, not any specific point in time) the highest standard of living in the world for a very long time.

As the guiding principles become more blurred and forgotten, our standing in the world declines.

We are still as free as we are because certain traditional but rapidly vanishing prejudices have impeded the process by which the inherent logic of the changes we have already made tends to assert itself in an ever widening field. (62)

I cannot make the case more eloquently than Hayek, whose entire chapter on Principles and Expediency lays out the arguments refuting the contrary position.

I have to reply to Kelsei’s post – her third question especially.  The invocation of the phrase “general welfare” from the constitution has caused more damage to this country than any other two words – it’s a favorite justification of politicians because it’s arbitrary nature makes it absolutely impossible to measure.  The second part of the question is intriguing, and also near impossible to answer, because you can’t “prove” a hypothetical, and (unfortunately) the results of any action (legislation, war, aid, etc.) are only truly known after the action has been undertaken.  However, I agree with the premise that we as a people need a better way to force politicians to simply and concisely justify their actions, share honest and complete results, and not fear accountability.

Kosmos or Cosmos?

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

The power of the human mind is limited. I’m sure that much to the dismay of the progenitors of classical liberalism, the ideas that they advocated have been taken to their extreme to the detriment of the possibilities of human thought. As Hayek so eloquently describes, as people came to believe that everything could and therefore must be logically explained those very same people fell into a trap of the mind. By denying all that cannot be understood by logic, are we not inhibiting our imaginations? Hence, we are inhibiting the possibilities that we at some future date may achieve.

An example of this, in my mind, is the progressive science of the universe. The study of our planet, then our solar system, then our galaxy, and now our universe is a course in the dangers of completist Cartesian rationalism. If we left our study of the universe, which is likely not as complex as the interactions of men that form “society,” to what can “rationally” be ascertained by the human mind, we would likely not have knowledge concerning gravitation or the curvature of space/time. Only as astronomers such as Kepler and Newton accepted that they could not explain everything mathematically or logically, but could observe phenomenon and formulate principles around them, did the science of astronomy emerge as more than theology. From them came Einstein and then to our time of quantum physics.

I apologize for the digression, but I feel it illustrates the point that Hayek makes quite well when he says, “The fact is… that to make reason as effective as possible requires an insight into the limitations of the powers of conscious reason and into the assistance we obtain from processes of which we are not aware” (29). Hence, the ability of individuals to use their knowledge for purposes that they choose, when guided by general principles, plays a role in society that we may not fully understand. But, if we do not admit this in our studies of society we may never stumble upon a great truth that would give us the ability to create the conditions in which a prosperous society can grow.

What is “Just Conduct”?

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

When I first read Hayek’s statement that “a condition of liberty in which all are allowed to use their knowledge for their purposes, restrained only by rules of just conduct of universal application, is likely to produce for them the best conditions for achieving their aims,” my attention was drawn to the ambiguity and subjectivity of the statement “just conduct.” Hayek brings up two points about this: first, he states that “no one can foresee all the effects of any action” and secondly, that “most changes of plans which new circumstances suggest to some are likely to be to the disadvantage of some others” (102). Even with the subsequent description of “just conduct,” I still feel like the definition of “just conduct” is, more than anything, a function of many cultural factors. Setting that aside, it almost goes without saying that the best conditions for an individual to achieve his/her aim are created by the situation where only rules of just conduct prevail. However, this is even more evident when viewed in the context of Hayek’s distinction between rules of just conduct and rules of organization. By the very nature of the individual liberties implied by this situation, it makes sense that “such a system is likely to be achieved and maintained only if all authority… is limited in the exercise of coercive power…” What is less intuitive and more significant is the fact that it is actually better for everyone in the system – individually AND collectively. The reason for this is that systems in which attempts are made to interfere with the “spontaneous order” will “always over-estimate the advantages” of such interference (57).

“Sacrificing” our liberties and freedoms

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

A condition of liberty in which all are allowed to use their knowledge for their purposes, restrained only by rules of just conduct of universal application, is likely to produce for them the best conditions for achieving their aims”, and “such a system is likely to be achieved and maintained only if all authority, including that of the majority of the people, is limited in the exercise of coercive power by general principles to which the community has committed itself” (P. 55)

Allow me to finish this quote. Hayek continues, “Individual freedom, wherever it has existed, has been largely the product of a prevailing respect for such principles which, however, have never been fully articulated in constitutional documents. Freedom has been preserved for prolonged periods because such principles, vaguely and dimly perceived, have governed public opinion.” (p.55)

Hayek explains that his ideal system can only be achieved if all authority is limited by the general principles that the community has committed to. He argues that our individual freedom (which he briefly defines on pg 56) has been sustained by the individuals’ mutual respect for the principles he explained. I believe the principles he is referring to are concerned with the individual freedom to carry out our interests, as each of us perceives to be to our best advantage (without infringing upon others’ rights). Yet, the rights concerned with the use of our labor have been greatly constrained, and thus, our individual liberties have been usurped.

The issue I see in this fact is that Hayek attributes the safety of our liberty and freedom to the fact that these principles have (had?) been guarded by the public opinion.Thus, has the current public opinion changed so much that we knowingly encroach upon these freedoms? Or, rather, is it that we cannot see the consequences of our actions?Further into Hayek’s argument he states that since freedom rests on opportunities “… it provides for unforeseen and unpredictable actions…”, thus, we will not know what we lose through particular restrictions of our freedoms. Hayek argues that many restrictions, may be aiming at a certain foreseeable result, but we are still blinded as to the unknown effects of the rules and/or what may have been prevented as a result of the restriction.

 Hayek continues this argument by stating, “The direct effects of any interference with the market order will be near and clearly visible in most cases, while the more indirect and remote effects will be mostly unknown and therefore disregarded.” Hayek’s argument illustrates the unknown effects of many of the restrictions that are placed on people and the market by suggesting that certain progressions may be prevented by the restrictions.This leads to the conclusion that we will never know what may have come about had we not placed restrictions upon the market. His thesis proves his argument that “Freedom can be preserved only by following principles and is destroyed by following expediency”.  

Thus, my points / questions of interest are as follows: 1) Has our public opinion shifted (or been warped) to the point that we are no longer satisfied with just adhering to the general principles for just conduct? What has caused this shift? Fear? Lack of trust in the market? Social issues? 2) Hayek proves the seen/unforeseen argument with his thesis, thus why do we ignore the argument when considering various restrictions and rules? 3) Most of our laws and regulations (and wars) are justified by the argument that it is “for the general good” of our country, but how often is that the case? In addition, why don’t demand that this “result” be proven?

Ok and I will try harder to stick to the limit of 250 words from now on, sorry.

Nov 11

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The agenda for this semester said that former Koch Scholars will join us, along with representatives from teh Koch Foundation, on Oct. 28. Because of scheduling conflicts, they will join us on November 11 instead.

Hayek Challenge Question

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Respond to one or all of the following claims by Hayek:

a condition of liberty in which all are allowed to use their knowledge for their purposes, restrained only by rules of just conduct of universal application, is likely to produce for them the best conditions for achieving their aims”, and “such a system is likely to be achieved and maintained only if all authority, including that of the majority of the people, is limited in the exercise of coercive power by general principles to which the community has committed itself” (p. 55). “[W]hat the spontaneous order of society provides for us is more important for everyone, and therefore for the general welfare, than most of the particular services which the organization of government can provide, excepting only the security provided by the enforcement of the rules of just conduct” (pp. 132-133). Therefore, “law is…to consist of abstract rules which make possible the formation of a spontaneous order by the free action of individuals through limiting the range of their actions” (i.e., through preventing coercion), and it is not to be “the instrument of arrangement or organization by which the individual is made to serve concrete purposes” (p. 71).

I Choose Neither

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

In most countries people go into the private sector in order to get wealthy, and then retire and go into public service to do good.  You see the exact reverse order in Africa.  Individuals go into the private secor to do good only after having gotten into politics to get rich.

Public servants gain access to their nations resources, take bribes from anyone and everyone, and siphon public wealth into private accounts.  And this exploitation is enabled by the millions upon millions of dollars dumped into the lost continent in the form of foreign aid.
This is relevant to the question of giving V8 or cash to bums.  Foreign givers commit food or medicine or build schools in a country.  This in turn allows money that would have been committed by the government to be pocketed by governmental bureaucrats.  The alternative is to give money directly to the government under the aegis that they know how best to distribute it, which they in turn steal directly.  It seems a pointless debate to decide which is better then the other.  Either is a form of enabling, and doesn’t ever really solve the problem.  It seems prudent on the part of the giver to ask, not what is good, but what is the best use of their resources.

Any form of giving should be seen as lying somewhere on a spectrum, and although you can argue that one might be a little more good then the other, both are forms enabling. Both allow the continuation of a lifestyle that requires dependence.
There is something very noble to be said about someone willing to go to the effort to provide sustenance to a homeless person in need, and likewise for someone willing to give their money.  Both show the charity of the individual and the human desire to show empathy for a fellow being.  Both are good, But the question could well be asked what is the most good. I have a hard time convincing myself that either argument is convincing enough to follow.

A Little Charity

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

A few weeks ago my wife and I went to Las Vegas for our 2nd year anniversary. While we were wandering up and down the Strip, we noticed a man with a sign which read, “Hey, gotta be honest, I just want some money to buy beer.” We both had a good laugh, and I couldn’t help but admire the man’s honesty.

This experience came to mind while reading, The Invisible Heart, when Sam Gordon and Laura Silver are discussing “charity.” Laura basically feels that charity is doing what is right for the individual in need- something to be determined by the giver. Whereas Sam believes charity to be more appropriately determined by the receiver, on “their own terms.” According to Sam, the beggar will still make decisions we may/may not agree with, regardless of the nobility of our donation… therefore, why not give him something on his terms, it will most likely have the same outcome.

This is an interesting discussion and has a great deal of relevance to a number of situations. When a private citizen gives money freely to a beggar on the street, or makes a donation to a “charitable” cause, what are the intentions? Does the individual hope to shape the behavior of the recipient? Of course most of us would agree that we would like to see a beggar make something of himself, perhaps clean up a little, get a job, and become a more productive member of society. Nevertheless, do we really believe that this offering will transform his habits, and lead him onto a more elevated way of life? I would argue that such “charity” doesn’t in fact, cure the beggar of his idleness or vices. Instead, his behavior will change according to his desires, not the benevolence of the charitable.

When a higher authority seeks to “help” or “assist,” is the desire to shape human behavior? We have seen this time and time again here in the United States with the “War on Poverty.” Billions of dollars have been spent since the 1960’s in order to eradicate poverty, and help the downtrodden among us; sounds pretty noble, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, however, Sam is right. Despite all of this “charitable” activity on the part of the Federal government, poverty hasn’t been eradicated or significantly diminished; data has shown that after such policies were imposed, poverty levels actually increased for a time.

Today, despite all of this money we have spent as a nation, we continue to see the same problems that faced President Johnson’s “Great Society” more than forty years ago. Is the “charity” of the higher authority, therefore, right? Is it even effective? I doubt it.

Taking Responsibility

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

I agree that Sam Gordon is right – it is selfish of the giver to impose his charitable views on the recipient and consequently make more work for him, the recipient. The giver should respect the right of the recipient to choose what is best for himself. Like Sam says, “Its worse to treat adults like children […] there is less humanity when we are always being treated like children” (29). 

However, I think that both Sam and Laura forget the option to not give a homeless person anything. If I know that the homeless person really wants drugs and liquor, and I don’t agree with that, then I can choose to give him nothing at all. Consequently, he’ll have to find alternative means to obtain drugs and liquor or else change his priorities. Sam puts this idea perfectly when he states, “Life is about choices and taking responsibility. Its about learning from mistakes and growing up” (26). I’ve often found in my own life that I’m less motivated to change when someone tells me that a certain way is better. However, when I’ve made a mistake, recognize it, and am not happy with the consequences, then I am more motivated to seek advice and change.  

I believe there must winners and losers in everything, especially when it comes to wealth. As Sam puts it, “Someone must pay for it” (114). No, I would not like to be the loser. However, it is a reality of life. In terms of poverty, yet again Sam makes a poignant statement when he declares, “Never underestimate the power of self-interest” (12). If poor people are for the general part left alone or given charity that teaches them to be self-reliant, then it is in their better interest to improve themselves rather than rely on a type of charity that makes them dependent. According to Sam, “If you take the risk out of the future, you take away the choice and the challenge of grappling with the risk and the reward. You take away responsibility” (29-30).