June 30, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XII): Sketchy Stories (1)

Mr. Ferrara writes as one with authority. “A library full of books has been written on this subject,” that is, the previously cited market-skewing by anti-Catholic capitalists, “but within the constraints of this book the following examples will have to suffice to sketch the immense picture of the history of ‘political capitalism’ and its effects upon both the illusory ‘free’ market and social order at large.” (14)
They will have to suffice because Mr. Ferrara has not mastered the books in that library. By training and profession he is a lawyer, not an historian. He delivers nothing more to his readers than an opinion, one that selective readings from secondary sources superficially support, and which some masters of the primary sources have contested. Never once pausing to address the question of his competency,1 Mr. Ferrara nevertheless proceeds to “document” his vendetta against Austro-libertarianism.
Part of an earlier post is germane to what we will be doing in the current series of posts:
What the book [TCATL] . . . parade[s] before the reader is one external criticism after another, each resting on the author’s superficial grasp of (a) the historical controversies to which those criticisms refer and (b) the literature that evaluates those controversies.2 Of course, had Mr. Ferrara tried to evaluate that literature, he would have had either to confine his scope to a narrower range of topics or write many volumes the size of TCATL. To achieve judiciousness in all of them in a mere 326 pages, however, the caliber of one’s mind would need to rival that of Jacques Barzun. Alas, Christopher Ferrara is no Jacques Barzun.
To which we immediately added:
And neither is the reviewer. Apart from having done graduate-level work in philosophy, this cradle Catholic, who intellectually converted to Austro-libertarianism in 1983 and enjoyed the friendship and guidance of Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) for the last dozen years of his life, claims no expertise in any of the fields for which our author presumed to play tour guide. As we shall see, however, expertise is not required in order to discern that Mr. Ferrara does not have any. Our series of posts aims at exposing the disservice he did his readers by way of inexcusable omissions and distortions. 
Before evaluating his support for his eighteen claims, spread out over twenty-five pages, and about whose bearing on the Catholic reception of Austro-libertarianism the reader may rightly wonder, we list them together without comment for his or her convenience.
1. The post-Catholic State’s massive seizure of Church property and its enclosure by the new “owners.” (14-17)
2. Early capitalist laws imposing the creation of an industrial economy. (17-21)
3. The widespread use of slave and convict labor in capitalist enterprises. (21-22)
4. The protection for creditors and slave-owners built in the United States Constitution. (22-23)
5. The rise of the limited liability, publicly held corporation. (23-27)
6. The government-subsidized transportation network. (27)
7. The use of State power to impose the legal and social uniformity required for “efficient” large-scale commerce. (27-28)
8. Corporate cost externalization: the “nanny state.” (28-29)
9. Fractional reserve banking. (29-30)
10. The Federal Reserve System. (30-32)
11. The international credit system: usury unchained by government. (32-33)
12. Government-Sponsored Monopoly. (33-34)
13. The use of patent and trademark laws to bar entry into the market by competitors. (34-35)
14. The use of the compulsory public school system to skew education away from the liberal arts and toward technical or scientific skills. (35)
15. The creation of a vast cartelized defense industry. (35-37)
16. Government subsidies that reward overproduction, even non-production, and price small local producers out of the market. (37-38)
17. The skewing of the “free” market toward goods and services related to the social outcomes of government-subsidized industries. (38)
18. Government protection and subsidy of the “free” market’s promotion of cultural and moral degeneracy. (38-39)
To Be Continued 
1 In an earlier post we wrote: “. . . in his ‘Acknowledgements,’ Mr. Ferrara didn’t discharge the customary authorial duty of taking full responsibility, and absolving all those he thanked, for ‘any remaining errors.’ I have always delighted in observing how many ways an author can creatively reword that ethical boilerplate. Mr. Ferrara may have deprived his readers of that sample of his creative literary powers, but his silence reveals much more: he will not acknowledge even the possibility of his own error. But what propagandist in history ever had? “An Overview of an Overview (II),” March 23, 2022.
2 Mr. Ferrara does have a working relationship, if not also a friendship, with a theologically like-minded professor of history whose Ph.D. was earned at Oxford University. I am relieved for the latter’s scholarly reputation that his name appears nowhere in TCATL—neither in the reference notes nor in any ad copy—and that any help he may have given to Mr. Ferrara during its writing was anonymous. 

June 27, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XI): The Fed Is to Greed as the Net Is to Lust (Except the Fed Is Worse)

It is not favorable to Mr. Ferrara’s reputation as a writer that he employs Kevin Carson’s writings in his propaganda war against Austro-libertarianism, especially its Rothbardian foundation. For the particular aspect of those writings that Mr. Ferrara highlights only develops a thesis that Murray Rothbard pressed for over forty years, as even a cursory glance at Mr. Carson's reference notes confirm. Rothbard encapsulated his view, expressed in many studies from the early 1950s until his death in 1995, in this passage:
For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and classical liberals is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business. There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se . . . and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neo-fascist corporate state, bigness is a priori highly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection. [Murray Rothbard, private letter, 1966]
Mr. Carson’s complaint, uncritically repeated by Mr. Ferrara, may be fairly directed at some libertarians, but not at Austro-libertarians to the degree that they identify with Rothbard’s thought, which on this point, if on no other, Mr. Carson does.
That concurrence notwithstanding, Mr. Ferrara ridicules Austro-libertarians for explaining so much of modern history, including the development of “crony capitalism,” in terms of “statism,” or more precisely, the political struggle over control of society’s central apparatus of coercion, “rather than the sheer greed of the entrepreneurs who demanded favors from the state.” (12) Mr. Ferrara offers not one suasive consideration, let alone an argument, in favor of such a simplistic etiology. (Oh, he will, as we shall see, treat his readers to a gallery of historical sketches, but offer no theory that makes sense of history.)
Perhaps Austro-libertarians don’t favor his causal hypothesis, assuming they give it any thought, because greed, (φιλαργυρία, avaricia) is a constant in human history (as is every other deadly, capital, or cardinal sin). What is present all the time, however, distinguishes no time from any other.
The ability to resist the temptation to commit a deadly sin varies from person to person, but we can generalize to say that no one is immune from being "within range" of an occasion of sin. We can imagine how the ways of being within its “gravitational pull” can vary in number and intensity from territory to territory and from era to era. But by what conceivable warrant might one propose that in the general European population in, say, 2008, there was more (or less) latent greed—the inherent capacity to act on a greedy impulse—than there was in 1917, 1848, 1776, 1688, 1517, 1492, 1378, or 1204?
As we said, we can contrast one period of history with other in terms of the occasions it makes available for the expression of a given vice, but human nature’s fallen state is not an historical variable, at least not for Catholics. The advent of photography, for example, brought with it more opportunities to excite lust (πορνεία, fornicatio) than existed in the age of oils, graphite, ink, and charcoal; the age of film brought even more; then came home video, and now the Internet. But is there a good reason to believe that this technological progress corresponds to or reflects an increase in the level of latent lust? We can think of none.
The moral hazard that is the State offers many occasions for the expression of greed (to name no other sin), and they vary with the power of the particular state. A state with a central counterfeiting agency, more politely called the central bank, creates many more opportunities for greed to express itself than does a state without one. And while many people may wish they could exercise their influence over the state's personnel in order to create, through the implicit violence of state edicts, non-market advantages for themselves, only a few will be able to, and historical investigation is necessary to ascertain the identity of those criminal conspirators. Just as advances in technology decreased the fear of “getting caught” consuming pornography, so did the central bank in the financial markets decreased the fear of suffering losses for making bad loans. As Peter Schiff put it regarding the 2008-2009 Meltdown:
Just as prices in a free market are set by supply and demand, financial and real estate markets are governed by the opposing tension between greed and fear. Everyone wants to make money, but everyone is also afraid of losing what he has. Although few would ascribe their desire for prosperity to greed, it is simply a rose by another name. Greed is the elemental motivation for the economic risk-taking and hard work that are essential to a vibrant economy.
But over the past generation, government has removed the necessary counterbalance of fear from the equation. Policies enacted by the Federal Reserve, the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (which were always government entities in disguise), and others created advantages for home-buying and selling and removed disincentives for lending and borrowing. The result was a credit and real estate bubble that could only grow—until it could grow no more.
While it is unfortunate that Schiff conflates the combination of entrepreneurial foresight and the virtue of industry with the cardinal sin of greed, his point holds even if foresight and virtue were wholly absent from the marketplace and only avarice ruled  (which Schiff is not saying).  For his point is that fear checks vice, and taking fear out of the equation removes a barrier to the commission of vice. The central bank is to the cardinal sin of greed as the Internet is to the cardinal sin of lust, except the Fed is morally worse: the Internet has more, and more morally acceptable, uses than facilitating the discreet consumption of pornography, whereas the Fed has but one evil purpose: to defy the divine injunction regarding honest weights and measures. (Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:13-16)

June 24, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (X): What Do We Mean?

It has been our practice to have the title of a series of posts reflect the character of the section of TCATL under review. The title for the current series thus directly comments on that of Chapter 2, “The Illusory ‘Free’ Market.”
Before continuing with the critique of that chapter, however, we must pause for a conceptual interlude. We need to explain just how “real” modifies “free market” in the title of the current series of posts. After all, we have claimed that “free market” refers to an abstraction, a non-actual theoretical construct, and that the hampered markets of economic history and political commentary are, to the degree they are hampered, not free. This philosophical excursus will not only explain how we relate the theoretical to the practical, but also inform our subsequent evaluation of the gallery of historical “sketches” on display in the rest of the chapter.
By “real” we mean the logical contrast of the illusory, the delusional, the fictional, the artificial, etc. When we know or suspect that we are in the presence of the latter, we appeal to some notion of the real to negotiate our encounter with it. A good analogy is found in the contrast between the true and the false: the notion of truth emerges only through the experience of falsehood. (If we could never experience being in error, or being deceived or lied to, we’d have no use for a notion of truth.)
Whatever is a function of real entities is also real. A market is a network of exchanges that persons, according to their human nature, spontaneously form. (That is, they do not engage in exchange because they read in some book that that's what they must do.) Markets are functions of persons, and persons are real. (Persons are entities with causal efficacy, however, markets are not.)
The market is an order—specifically, a network of exchanges—that persons naturally create in pursuit of their flourishing (which exceeds in value their mere biological sustenance and continuance). Since persons generate that order by acting in accordance with their nature, it is a natural order, one level, aspect, or dimension of several that make up the universal natural order. Violations of that order, which tend toward human self-destruction, is not to be put on the same ontological level as that which contributes to human flourishing.
Persons are the network’s “nodes” out of whom radiate catallactic “ties” (as distinct from, say, familial, ecclesiastical, or military ties). And so the reality of free markets is the reality of persons who, in order to achieve their goals freely make, accept, and decline offers of goods and services that are within their natural right to make, accept, or decline. (What A offers to B can only be title to scarce resource R that A has justly acquired.)
The reality of the free market is a function of the natural desire of real persons for a good life or happiness (in the sense of human flourishing) to which free markets are conducive. A person may, of course, have a desires that are not conducive to that end, which are therefore not even implicitly a desire for free markets. Further, the existence of free markets may be a necessary but is by no means a sufficient condition for human flourishing.
The desire for human flourishing—εύδαιμονία, eudaimonia, “living and doing well”—is real, and that reality extends to the network it generates, despite any failure to eliminate all forcible interference with voluntary exchanges. Eudaimonia is not, however, the concern of economics (catallactics) per se. The pursuit of economic knowledge—the logic of human action and interpersonal exchange—can only presuppose an interest in it on the part of those who pursue it. But there is no necessary connection between the two. Malevolent people can join their analytical knowledge of the laws of supply and demand, for example, to their empirical knowledge of the supply and demand for a particular commodity and act to effect human misery. This holds true for the knowledge of any other kind of causal laws. Economics, however, does not judge the malefactors. Only a eudaimonistic ethics, which affirms that the end of man is eudaimonia or happiness and that end ought to be pursued and misery and extinction avoided, can so judge them.
Catholic ethics shares its commitment to eudaimonistic ethics with many non-Catholic schools of thought, including some that self-identify as libertarian. It is a point of connection among them. They will differ, of course, over how they conceive of the cosmos within which the flourishing is pursued and the means by which it is attained.
The free market is a good of order, as distinct from goods of immediate satisfaction. The regular enjoyment of such goods requires that persons explicitly regard the good of order as worthy of attainment and protection. (Not just, for example, “This meal for me now,” but also “Good meals for me and my family several times a day, every day.”) Persons face a moral challenge when they realize that they can enjoy a good of immediate satisfaction only by rending the fabric of the good of order. In the name of eudaimonia, they must at times forfeit particular satisfactions.
Human beings enjoy essential freedom. They are free by nature. They can conceive of alternative futures, prefer one of them, understand the causal path to it, and act so as to set that causal chain in motion. But although it is natural for them to honor the good of order, they are perfectly capable of perversely, self-destructively, dishonoring and undermining it. That is, they can perceive a conflict between the good of order and a satisfaction attainable only at the cost of that order and still subordinate the order to the satisfaction.
That is, although they are naturally ordered to pursue a good life, which depends upon the good of order, human beings can, through their exercise of essential freedom, irrationally act to undermine that good. One consequence is the diminution and even loss of their effective freedom, a constriction of the range of choice. (The smoker, for example, has less effective freedom to quit smoking than he or she had to start, even if his or  her essential freedom to conceive of a smoke-free life has not diminished.) Human beings can, and do, inject the surd of sin into the historical equation, effectively “throwing a spanner in the works.” Sin is not just immoral, but also irrational, absurd. There may be non-rational causes, but never a reason for it. 

One way to describe history is as the story of pro-market and anti-market choices and their consequences. By counterfactual praxeological analysis, we can understand the logic of market exchange. By eudaimonistic criteria, we can morally approve of the pro-market side (peaceful offers of exchange of justly acquired property and responses thereto) because it favors human flourishing; anti-market choices (violent interference with peaceful offers and responses thereto) invite only deterioration, poverty, enslavement and other miseries, and which can logically terminate only in human extinction. And if that most unnatural telos is programmed, so to speak, into the anti-eudaimonistic ethic of anti-market ideologies, then they have no ethics worthy of the name.

Freedom and the attempt to suppress it are not ontologically on the same footing, any more than are natural living shoots and the artificial concrete slabs that, although temporarily stronger, will crack and crumble as the burgeoning tree slowly but surely pushes through. One is in accord with man’s nature, for it promotes his flourishing; the other, unnatural and potentially fatal to him. The free market that human beings generate, however imperfectly and inconsistently, is therefore as real as they are, and attempts to hamper it are only as real as sin, surds for which there are no reasons and which enjoy no permanent abode. 

June 21, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (IX): The Kevin Carson (Side-)Show (5)

Mr. Ferrara’s sideshow featuring Kevin Carson is drawing to a close. Unfortunately we must subject ourselves to more of the former’s innuendo and hand-waving.
Even if Catholics cannot possibly go where left-libertarians would take them, one must admire Carson’s intellectual honesty. (14)
Pray, where would left-libertarians take Catholics, for whom Mr. Ferrara presumes to speak, where they cannot follow? Would the implementation of Mr. Carson’s version of the good society pose an obstacle to that of Mr. Ferrara’s? We are given not a hint of an answer, just innuendo.
We charitably presume that his own Distributist arrangements will be peacefully established and maintained, that they will pose neither obstacle nor threat to other peaceful arrangements, even those animated by non-Catholic ideologies, that they would be, in effect, anarchist communities (regardless of what they call themselves). That is, no permanent monopoly of force and violence would be established within Distributist territory.
Realistically, we conjecture that while the state has no redeeming value in the eyes of Mr. Carson, Mr. Ferrara feels compelled to provide permanent employment for the civil magistrate, who would enjoy just such a monopoly. But why does Mr. Ferrara leave it to our powers of conjecture? He had just praised Mr. Carson for his intellectual honesty. Why didn’t exercise a bit of it here? That is, why didn’t Mr. Ferrara just spell out what evil allegedly lurks in the hearts of left libertarians? Doing so would have saved him from the appearance of uncharitably provoking unwarranted suspicion.
We wonder whether the following sentence holds the record for TCATL’s longest:
For the truth he recognizes (not unsympathetically to the Catholic Church, by the way) is that from the time of the Protestant revolt to the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, to the American and French Revolutions, and down to the present day, proto-capitalists and their capitalist descendants have done everything in their power to skew the “free” market their way in an alliance with secular nation states whose unprecedented centralized governments have wielded power no Christian king could even have imagined. (14)
A few observations.
Mr. Carson’s pro-Catholic sympathies, expressed en passant, count for something on Mr. Ferrara’s balance sheet while Murray Rothbard’s positive appraisals of the Church as a libertarian force in the history of the West, more centrally and frequently expressed in his writings, do not.
Obviously, except perhaps to Mr. Ferrara, markets, to the degree that they are “skewed” by political forces, are to that degree not free. If the skewers were and are capitalists, then by libertarian standards -- Austro-libertarian, left-libertarian, and garden variety -- those capitalists stand condemned. We shall infer that Mr. Ferrara condemns all such historical skewing of markets for political reasons whenever he discovers an instance of it, no matter whose ox is being gored, and hold him to that standard.
We shall also defer to Mr. Ferrara’s insight into the imaginative poverty of Christian kings of yore. It seems that the difference is chiefly technological: we shudder to imagine, for example, Louis XIV of France, that ostentatiously pious Christian King, a Catholic “Sun King,” who cordially resented the presence of heretics among his subjects, with modern weapons and methods of surveillance.
Mr. Ferrara respects Mr. Carson’s intellectual honesty, yet fails to realize an implication of one of his chief concerns, namely, the “subsidy of history.” By that phrase he refers to the role of state coercion in the historical genesis of the mutually convenient arrangement between throne room and boardroom. “The extent to which present-day concentrations of wealth and corporate power are the legacy of past injustice,” he writes, “I call the subsidy of history.”
Mr. Ferrara broadcasts Mr. Carson’s indictment yet arbitrarily keeps from his readers’ notice those instances in which the Church was the indirect beneficiary of such subsidies.
That is, Mr. Ferrara expresses no interest in how certain kings who professed Christ acquired the land they then magnanimously donated to the Church, some of which was then “redistributed” by modern editions of the State.
Those beneficent monarchs did not originally homestead the land in good Lockean fashion. They took it by force or inherited it from those who did. The land had blood on it when it was donated. Such circumstances nullify justice in title. The forcible loss of what was never properly one’s to begin with may be experienced as a misfortune, but it entails no violation of rights beyond that of the stolen land’s original owners, who had worked it. Justice demands that title be reassigned to their descendants, ceteris paribus, if they can be identified.
Vulgar Catholicism anyone?
To Be Continued

June 17, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (VIII): The Kevin Carson (Side-)Show (4)

In the Winter 2006 issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies (JLS), several leading libertarian scholars examined Kevin Carson’s distinctive economic, political, and historical theses and invited him to respond to their criticisms on its pages, which he did. Here is Mr. Ferrara’s tendentious description of this symposium:
Carson’s devastatingly effective critique of “vulgar libertarianism” . . . has provoked a barrage of articles against him the Journal of Libertarian Studies by no fewer than two “Senior Scholars” and two “Adjunct Scholars” of the Mises Institute (Walter Block, Roderick Long, Robert Murphy, and George Reisman). (13-14)
As those gentlemen really are senior and adjunct scholars, Mr. Ferrara’s use of scare quotes here is (once again) uncalled for, but par for his propagandistic course. And since they were not among the Austrians Mr. Ferrara wanted us to “meet” in Chapter 1, we’ve linked their names to pages that provide some evidence of their scholarly productivity.
Professor Long, then-editor of now-defunct JLS (reincarnated as the wholly online Libertarian Papers) introduced the alleged “barrage” of “attacks” in this Editorial:
Individualist anarchist Kevin A. Carson’s recent book Studies in Mutualist Political Economy seeks to revive and defend the mutualist position on these topics, while incorporating some Austro-libertarian concepts along the way. For example, Carson defends the labor theory of value—but in an “Austrianized” version that, unlike its Marxist counterpart, attempts to incorporate both  subjectivism and time-preference; and Carson’s account of the historical role of the corporate power elite draws on the work of radical Austro-libertarians like Murray Rothbard and Joseph Stromberg.
Yet while Carson’s mutualist version of libertarianism has much in common with the Austrian version, Carson—like his mutualist forebears, but unlike most Austrians—indicts as unjust the separation of workers from ownership of the means of production. His brief against “capitalism” (in this sense of the term) is interdisciplinary in character, deploying economic arguments as to the dependence of such separation on state interference with the market, historical arguments as to the process by which this separation actually came about, and philosophical arguments as to the proper principles of justice governing the acquisition and transfer of property rights.
The assessment of Carson’s arguments must likewise be an interdisciplinary enterprise. Carson’s provocative claims deserve a hearing to whatever extent they are right, and require a refutation to whatever extent they are wrong. Accordingly, the present issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies is devoted to an appraisal of Carson’s book from an Austro-libertarian standpoint (or rather from several Austro-libertarian standpoints). Articles by Robert Murphy, Walter Block, George Reisman, and myself critically examine the various aspects of Carson’s thesis—economic, historical, and philosophical; a reply by Carson follows.
A rather different, calmer impression from the one Mr. Ferrara’s language created. An appraisal, not a "barrage." Let’s sample another of his gratuitous assertions:
It is remarkable that four holders of doctorates, considered “heavyweights” of the “Austrian School,” felt compelled to answer a self-published work by Carson, who describes himself as a “health care worker.” But it is easy to see why: Carson’s rejoinders completely outclassed his professional academic critics in scholarship, critical reasoning, and polemical style. (14)
Ah, yes, polemical style, right up there with scholarship and critical reasoning. In Mr. Ferrara’s world, it is remarkable that scholars would engage serious criticism if it originates from a non-academic source. We think that speaks highly of their integrity.

There’s certainly no danger of TCATL’s attracting such interest. Only the present writer, just another doctorate-less health care worker, feels compelled to expose this product of a small press (between which and “self-publishing” there is scarcely a difference these days) to the thorough criticism, even exposé, it deserves.
As for who “outclassed” whom (“completely,” no less), we will not ask our readers to take our word for it: they are in for a real treat if they examine that issue of the JLS—online, no access fees—for critiques of Mr. Carson’s thought by Walter Block, Roderick Long, Robert Murphy, and George Reisman, followed by Mr. Carson’s rejoinders thereto. We leave it to them to discover whether Mr. Carson “outclassed” those who invited him into their forum or merely held his own.
To Be Continued

June 15, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (VII): The Kevin Carson (Side-)Show (3)

It is not surprising that Mr. Ferrara, a connoisseur of the rhetorical slap-in-the-face, fancies Mr. Carson’s coinage of “vulgar libertarianism,”1 which refers to the habit (allegedly widespread in popular libertarian literature) of defending politically hampered markets in the name of free markets, and turning a blind eye to the sordid historical tale of the hampering. Mr. Ferrara intends to exploit Mr. Carson’s insult, but fails to show the empirical fit of that critique to Austro-libertarians. We’re still in opening pages of the chapter under review, but the rest of it, which we will examine in due course, does not satisfy the need for that fit, but merely trades on the rhetorical utility of Mr. Carson’s pejorative descriptor.

We repeat our intention not to get “blogged down” in a discussion of Mr. Carson’s distinctive contributions to contemporary libertarian discourse—certainly not his (in our opinion) quixotic attempt to meld the labor theory of value with Austrian subjectivism. Whatever the verdict on his labors, we believe he is to be commended for his efforts to broaden and deepen the historical context of the libertarian critique of the statist order. He has extended what is essentially a Rothbardian program of revisionism, and has creatively envisioned ways for “getting out from under” Leviathan.
It is unfortunate, however, that Mr. Carson went about furthering that purpose, at least in part, by holding certain other libertarian writers up to ridicule, going so far as to suggest that they are slightly demented, rather than asking them to assess the historical narrative that he favors, which was decidedly not the topic of their articles. It is a performance that had the unintended consequence of encouraging an illiberal propagandist who has no interest in improving the prospects for liberty as Mr. Carson and we understand the term.
In a book of Mr. Carson’s that Mr. Ferrara cites, the words of certain writers are quoted to illustrate “vulgar libertarianism.” Unfortunately for Mr. Carson’s (and Mr. Ferrara’s) rhetorical gambit, those writers were concerned in those articles to confute myths confabulated to justify further interference with free exchanges between property owners. Their purpose was not to morally evaluate the relationship of certain classes of property owners (e.g., multinational corporations) to any state and to its subjects. To say that Mr. Ferrara does not make this distinction is to understate things.
Specifically, Mr. Carson presents no evidence to the effect that these writers—Barry Loberfield2, Russell Roberts3, Stephen Spath4, and (as chance would have it) Thomas E. Woods, Jr.—defend either the existing level of hampering of markets or the historical evolution of such interference. That it, there is no evidence that they subscribe to what Mr. Carson mockingly refers to as a “nursery tale” of the evolution of capitalism. Their common point is that those who call for further state interference in the name of achieving a better outcome for one class of market players unwittingly work for the opposite result and thereby tend to harm the very persons their interference was intended to help.
Mr. Ferrara—and for that matter, Mr. Carson—should have charitably assumed that those writers share his moral outrage against State-facilitated robbery of the many to the advantage of the politically connected few until one has evidence that defeats that assumption. Murray Rothbard, for example, is hardly one of Mr. Carson’s “vulgar libertarians,” and that he liberally draws upon the work of that veritable anti-Christ of Mr. Ferrara’s nightmares is something else you would never know from reading Mr. Ferrara’s rendition of Mr. Carson’s thought.
With no disrespect intended to Messers Loberfield, Roberts, and Spath, we cannot relegate our comment on Dr. Woods’s Freeman article to a footnote:
Does capitalism, when left undisturbed, tend to increase everyone’s well being, or is government intervention necessary to prevent widespread impoverishment? This is what is at stake in the ongoing debate over the Industrial Revolution, and in this undertaking F. A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises were noticeably ahead of their time.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “A Myth Shattered: Mises, Hayek, and the Industrial Revolution,” The Freeman November 2001, an article cited in Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, 2004 online edition, p. 140.
One doesn’t have to champion “consequentialist ethics” to assert the relevance of increased standards of living when evaluating calls for further departures from the norm of voluntary exchange. There are no grounds for insinuating, rather uncharitably, that Dr. Woods is insensitive to any injustice that may condition, accompany, precede, or succeed the voluntary exchanges that bring that material improvement about. Both parties to a voluntary exchange must, logically must, expect to benefit from it or they would not enter into it. A third party has no business making light of that  benefit.
The crucial point, against which Mr. Ferrara offers invective but no argument, is that while the result of a voluntary exchange may yet leave much to be desired from the perspective of charity, that exchange per se cannot be deemed unjust. What would be unjust, that is, a violation of the dignity of the persons involved, is a third party’s forceful interference either with that exchange, or with future exchanges in any effort to “rectify” the result of the original exchange.
(Mr. Ferrara does not explicitly support such interference, but as we shall see, he does claim that the result of a voluntary exchange can be unjust, and a claim of injustice opens the door to the use of force to [re-]establish justice.)
The desire, born of humaneness and compassion, that one party to a voluntary exchange be in a stronger negotiating position, that it have options other than what the other is offering, is logically irrelevant to deciding whether a given exchange is voluntary and therefore just.
So that there is no misunderstanding: a voluntary exchange need not be a test of the virtue of charity. It would be, of course, morally praiseworthy were each party to exercise charity toward the other, but while one may enforce justice, one cannot, logically cannot, enforce charity. Justice requires that each gives the other his or her due, but charity is due no one. (To regard charity, which springs from the heart, so to speak, as something one owes another is to misconceive, if not actually offend against, charity.) Both parties may exercise charity, but their failure to do so is not evidence of injustice.


When we encounter Mr. Ferrara's apologia for (empirical) Catholic Social Teaching, which seems to deny certain opportunities for (unenforceable) charity by insisting that they are really matters of (enforceable) justice, we will have ample opportunity to beat this simple point to death (again).


To Be Continued

1 Mr. Carson’s discourteous tag, “vulgar libertarian,” now circulating in Mr. Ferrara’s “fraternal” overture to fellow Catholics, is of Marxist vintage (i.e., Karl Marx’s contempt for the “vulgar economists” who succeeded the “classical” economists, e.g., Adam Smith). As one who, we presume, respects the versio vulgata of the Bible, rendered largely by Saint Jerome into Latin, the common language of Western Europe in the Fourth Century, Mr. Ferrara might have taken pains to distinguish his sense of “vulgar” or “common” from Mr. Carson’s (and Marx’s).
2 “. . . the [anti-capitalist] activists, among others, will demand—on behalf of the union workers—government restrictions on the importation of bananas from Ecuador, while the economist will denounce those restrictions as harmful to everyone.” Barry Lorber, “A Race to the Bottom: Who Benefits from High Prices and Low Supplies?,” The Freeman,  July 2001, an article cited in Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, 2004 online edition, p. 140. The article opposes further governmental restriction on trade. It does not comment on such restriction as already exists.
3 “If we closed our borders to avoid ‘exploiting’ the poorer nations of the world, we would face higher prices and have a lower standard of living. . . . You can see the difference by imagining more and more severe forms of protectionism in the United States.” Russell Roberts, “Does Trade Exploit the Poorest of the Poor?: Both Parties Benefit from Trade Even When There Are Gross Inequalities of Skill and Productivity,” The Freeman, September 2001, an article cited in Carson, op. cit., p. 140. The article opposes protectionism. It does not celebrate any kind of privilege that multinational corporations enjoy at the expense of any group of taxpayers.
4 “The Harvard students wanted to force multinational corporations of the West to pay a ‘living wage’ to foreign workers in the developing world, just as they were demanding of the university with respect to its custodians. . . . activists like the Harvard students who believe their protests help the world’s poorest workers actually harm them by pricing them out of the market and denying them the opportunity to develop their skills and economies.” Stefan Spath, “The Virtues of Sweatshops: The Law of Comparative Advantage Directs the Production of Goods,” The Freeman, March 2002, an article cited in Carson, op. cit., p. 141. The article opposes third-party forcible interference in trade. It does not deny, or applaud the fact, that such interference is business-as-usual in most countries most of the time.

June 8, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (VI): The Kevin Carson (Side-)Show (2)

Drowned out by the sound-effects that enliven (in a “yellow journalism” sort of way) TCATL’s second chapter is the rather prosaic, boring fact that Austro-libertarians grant virtually all of Mr. Ferrara’s complaints against “crony capitalism” (or political capitalism; or historical capitalism; or empirical capitalism). That is, Mr. Ferrara beats a dead horse. He says Austro-libertarians “admit” this (as though against interest), but only by means of a “convenient inconsistency” or “tap dance.” (See previous post.)
We remind the reader that this blog is about TCATL and about the thought of others only to the degree that it bears on our task. It is therefore not about Kevin Carson’s distinctive economic, political, and organizational doctrines, which he has expounded in many publications, each of them resting on a large body of literature. Since Mr. Ferrara weighs in on exchanges between Mr. Carson and Austrian economists in the pages of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, we will not be able to avoid saying something about that as well. Mr. Ferrara’s exploitation of Mr. Carson’s anarchist thought to further Distributist propaganda is a side-show, however, and we intend to keep our time there to a minimum.
And now for that single paragraph of Kevin Carson’s that Mr. Ferrara’s finds “scathing” which, because Mr. Ferrara assigns such weight to it, is worth quoting in full:
Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market?” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”—implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of "free market principles.”
(Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy [2007], 115-116. The 2004 edition is available for free download here, where the words “the standard boilerplate article” are followed by “in The Freeman.” He deleted that phrase for the revised edition, published the year The Freeman began to publish his presumably non-boilerplate articles.)
Mr. Ferrara thought this paragraph “scathing.” Perhaps it is—to Mr. Carson’s reputation as a writer. I do not wish to prejudice my readers against his scholarly efforts, but I wouldn’t blame them if this first impression, courtesy of Mr. Ferrara, left a bad taste in their mouth. He seems to be a graduate of the literary finishing school Mr. Ferrara attended.
Mr. Ferrara apparently approves of Mr. Carson’s diagnosis of impaired memory (“they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next . . . .). It is not long before that is replaced by a suggestion of intellectual shadiness (“they’ll grudgingly admit . . . [b]ut as soon as they think they can get away with it . . . .”). So which is it? Are “vulgar libertarians” doddering fools? Or sneaky-petes? And is this merely a postulated definition of "vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism" that no one writer fully instantiates? Or is this a blanket smear against a whole class of writers, i.e., Austro-libertarians, as Mr. Ferrara’s use of Mr. Carson’s epithet seems to suggest?
What are we to think about an ostensibly serious writer who belittles his equally serious adversaries that way? And what are we to think of a Catholic writer who overlooks that want of charity in another in order to "admir[e] his intellectual honesty"? (14)
To Be Continued

June 7, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (V): The Kevin Carson (Side-)Show (1)

Mr. Ferrara makes something like a charge we can sink our teeth into on page 13. Oddly, he does so by invoking someone else’s authority, which invocation he qualifies, because that person is no authority in the area of Catholic controversy. But he provides a stick that looks useful for beating up on some Austro-libertarians, and that is too good an opportunity for Mr. Ferrara to pass up.
His mode of attack continues along the lines suggested in the first dozen pages of TCATL, that is, to insinuate, to create an “atmosphere,” to assert promiscuously and gratuitously, and occasionally to mimic the art of providing warrant for one’s assertions by citing anyone who anywhere has published an opinion concordant with his. That is, he continues to provide evidence of our impression of TCATL which was summarized in this blog’s very first post:
Even while rummaging through memories of my Marxist days, a period ranging from thirty-five to forty years ago, I cannot recall ever having encountered between two covers such a barrage of uncharitable construction, sarcasm, gratuitous assertion, name-calling, motive-questioning, playing to the gallery, assumption of facts not in evidence, digressive appeal to unqualified expert opinion, citing overvalued credentials, stereotyping, redefining key terms, abuse of scare-quotes, innuendo, misleading references, and theatrical laughter. 
The forensic antic of the hour is: digressive appeal to unqualified expert opinion. The unqualified expert whose opinion is adduced: Kevin A. Carson, self-described “free market anti-capitalist” libertarian theoretician, antagonist in an intramural libertarian squabble that has arisen over the last half-decade (and which has pretty much settled down).
Mr. Carson’s expertise in the historical, political, and economic areas on which he has written is at least debatable, and Mr. Ferrara cites that debate (of which more in due course). His expertise touching the Catholic reception of Austro-libertarianism, however, is not debatable: it is non-existent.
The charge of “convenient inconsistency,” applied with a broad brush to an undefined population of Austro-libertarian writers, gratuitously leveled on page 12 (see previous post), is treated as proven by page 13. On such a platform Mr. Ferrara will proceed to build. He now seeks to amplify its rhetorical force by appeal to another writer, whose side he will take in the aforementioned dialectic (wherein Mr. Ferrara is the unqualified non-expert witness). He begins by employing another epithet for the “inconsistency”:
No one has been more adept at exposing this Austro-libertarian tap dance than Kevin A. Carson, a left-libertarian “anarcho-distributist”* whose brilliant written commentaries have attracted a great deal of hostile attention in “right-libertarian” circles. Citing Thomas Woods and others as examples of what he calls “vulgar libertarianism,” Carson encapsulates the vulgar libertarian polemic in a single scathing paragraph. (13)
Since Dr. Woods is a person and not an ideology, no doubt Mr. Ferrara meant that Dr. Woods is an example of what Mr. Carson calls a vulgar libertarian. We’ll review the scathing paragraph presently, but we observe that all we have so far is Mr. Ferrara’s opinion of Mr. Carson’s “written commentaries” (“brilliant”) and of the kind of attention they have attracted (not critical but “hostile”).
We also note that Mr. Ferrara used quotation marks correctly when indicating that he’s citing Mr. Carson’s description of the ideas of certain libertarian writers. But thereafter Mr. Ferrara never uses his favorite punctuation device for that term again. He’ll never refer to so-called “vulgar libertarians,” but simply to vulgar libertarians. As we shall see, Mr. Carson’s polemical style has unfortunate traits that attract Mr. Ferrara.
To Be Continued
Mr. Ferrara, a Distributist, provides no warrant from Mr. Carson’s (or anyone else’s) writings for suggesting some sort of distributist commonality between their two positions, and I could find none. Perhaps some reader will inform me of the source. It doesn’t really matter, however, for after all, the descriptor appears between scare quotes. “I never said Kevin Carson was an anarcho-distributist! I said he was an ‘anarcho-distributist’”!

June 3, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (IV): Confusion or Calumny?

Austro-libertarians proudly document how capitalists were heavily involved in the creation of the modern state (in both its welfare and warfare dimensions, we might add) and continue to be in its maintenance, from which they profit. But Mr. Ferrara does not wish to leave his readers with an impression of significant factual agreement between himself and his Austro-libertarian adversaries. His words prepared to admit poison that common ground, insinuating that they “concede” it, reluctantly, as it were, against ideological self-interest. (See yesterday’s post.) Nor will he allow this “admission” to stand unaccompanied by further casting of aspersions on Austro-libertarian motives:
. . . they do so with a very convenient inconsistency that allows them to condemn any kind of government intervention in favor of employees or consumers because it would interfere with the processes of the “unhampered market,” when they have already conceded that the market is not “unhampered” in the first place precisely because of massive government interventions in favor of big business among other factors. (12-13; emphasis in original.—A.F.)
As we argued in a previous post, the “unhampered market” was an object in the theoretical space of Ludwig von Mises (and that of many other economists, Misesian and non-Misesian). Theoretical constructs or “models” enable one to analyze otherwise humanly unmanageable complexities, whether generated by, say, subatomic particle collision or, radically differently, interpersonal property exchange. Models are not intended to account for historical contingencies or to help assign historical praise or blame any more than they are to account for why a particular physical, chemical, or biological event occurs.
Now, it is hard to tell whether Mr. Ferrara’s repeated confusion on this point, on which most of his case against Austro-libertarianism rests, is due to his intellectual inability to grasp this point, which would be morally innocent; or due to his refusal to do so, which is not so innocent. Our commitment to norms of charitable construction inclines us to the former alternative.
Working against that, however, is his suggestion that a “very convenient inconsistency” warps Austro-libertarian discourse. By what warrant does Mr. Ferrara impute disreputable motive to them? Intellectual confusion could account for his seeing a non-existent “inconsistency” in another’s thought, but he gives the game away when he describes as “very convenient.”
The theoretical model of the unhampered market illuminates the actual transactions of indubitably real persons with their flesh-and-blood divergences from that model. At least that is what Austro-libertarians claim for it, nothing more, nothing less. They have never conducted their researches in an ivory tower: the author of Human Action was, after all, a Gestapo target.
Human persons, even in their fallen state, can be intellectually converted to a standpoint informed by a true economic model; having grasped the certain consequences of disregarding that model, they may, by a further moral conversion, freely decide to attempt to realize that model as far as is humanly possible this side of the New Heavens and New Earth. The undeniable reality of human persons is the ontological ground of intelligent, reasonable, and responsible reference to free markets.
To Be Continued

June 2, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (III): The False Disjunction of “Statism” versus “Greed”

We gratuitously ignore Mr. Ferrara’s assertion regarding the fortunes of the marketplace during and after Christendom. He will eventually offer something like support for it, but we consent to getting bogged down in it only then, and not a minute sooner than we have to. Disentangling his conceptual and evaluative issues from each other is tedious enough, but to attempt to do so while entertaining his scattershot causal story is a fool’s errand.
Mr. Ferrara continues his practice of frontloading his presentation of Austro-libertarianism with his own biases:
Austro-libertarians are prepared to admit the long historical development of “corporate welfare” and “crony capitalism,” while attributing it entirely to “statism” rather than the sheer greed of the entrepreneurs who demanded favors from the State. (12)
Mr. Ferrara does not cite any writers dumb enough to attribute the rise of this phenomenon entirely to one factor, like “statism” (undefined). But then, we do not expect him to make his adversaries case intelligible before mocking it. We expect him to exaggerate, to put his adversaries in the worst possible light, and he does not disappoint.
He opposes the Austrians of his imagination, not over the silliness of assigning one cause for a complex historical phenomenon, but only over the identity of that fictive sole cause. They allegedly indict an ideology (“statism”), whereas Mr. Ferrara unabashedly imputes it to a grave moral defect, indeed, one of the seven Capital Sins (“greed”), thereby betraying a narrow understanding of the ways sinners can express their various moral defects.
Greedy persons do indeed transact on the marketplace, whose norm is peaceful cooperation. There is no shortage of them at any time in history. They also, however, walk the corridors of power where, unlike in the marketplace, they are in their element. Statism, which Mr. Ferrara characteristically holds up for ridicule in scare quotes, is the modern rationalization of the libido dominandi, the perverse desire for the power to coerce others. (See Saint Augustine's The City of God, Book I.) Those who wield great coercive power can influence the scope of greed by removing natural checks on its expression, like fear (e.g., by central bank credit expansion encouraging unsound investment).
Jesus commanded his disciples to resist the temptation to push others around (Matt. 20:25). This warrants a serious examination, rather than a contemptuous dismissal, of the anarcho-Catholic's claim that the State per se as a moral hazard. If the market can supply all the goods and services that the marketplace's peaceful cooperators need, including the means of dealing with violent non-cooperators, then there is no need for a State of which sheerly greedy capitalists can demand any favors.