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Author Topic: "Book club"  (Read 5653 times)
myrkul
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June 30, 2012, 10:50:07 AM
 #1

OK, guys, here's what this thread is about: Over in the NAP thread, niemivh challenged me to read some books to see his point of view. I accepted, contingent on him reading books that I suggest in return. He accepted that, and so we now have struck a deal. His first book for me was The National System of Political Economy, by Friedrich List. My first book for him was The Machinery of Freedom, by David D. Friedman. To facilitate an enjoyable reading experience for myself, I have converted both of these into ePub books. As both books are freely available on the web, I see no harm in sharing these conversions with you. They are DRM free, and can be easily converted into any format of ebook.

The purpose of this thread is both to help me keep track of the reading and discussion, and to allow others to join in on both, if they choose, and make doing so as easy as possible. As such, I am hosting those ePubs I have created, and will include links to them here. If you wish to suggest books for us to read, feel free to do so, though books that are freely available on the internet are preferred. I'd rather not raise an economic barrier to entry to this discussion, if at all possible. I'll continue to host any freely available books, and post the links here.

So with no further ado, I present to you our first two books:
The Machinery of Freedom
and
The National System of Political Economy

My second recommendation is Healing Our World - The Other Piece Of The Puzzle, by Mary J. Ruwart. My third suggestion is The New Libertarian Manifesto, By Samuel E. Konkin, III. As my fourth, and probably final, presentation, I offer up Universally Preferable Behaviour by Stefan Molyneux.

These books present a fairly broad cross-section of how libertarian beliefs have evolved over the years, and a firm basis on understanding my position.

 I will update this post again when I have niemivh's second suggestion.

Update: The discussion over my first book suggestion has gone in an interesting direction. Those of you wishing to do more reading on that subject might want to read The Case for Discrimination and Defending the Undefendable, both by Walter Block. These aren't my next suggestion for the "book club", but some additional reading for those interested in the topic.

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June 30, 2012, 10:04:18 PM
 #2

The Dominant Animal - Paul Ehrlich
The Weather Makers - Tim Flannery
The Wolf's Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity - Cristina Eisenberg
Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development - Herman Daly
The Future of Life - Edward O. Wilson
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July 01, 2012, 03:28:30 AM
 #3

Note to armchair economists, libertarians, etc.: if you can't get a handle on the information that exists in the titles listed above, then you're not in a position to pontificate, speculate, or blow hot air about economic theory. And if you don't understand why, then once again, you're not in a position to spout your pontifications and speculations.

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July 01, 2012, 09:58:34 PM
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Opening of "The Machinery of Freedom" says:
Quote
The central idea of libertarianism is that people should be permitted to run their own lives as they wish. We totally reject the idea that people must be forcibly protected from themselves. A libertarian society would have no laws against drugs, gambling, pornography —and no compulsory seat belts in cars.

The law compelling people to wear seat belts in backs of cars greatly reduced deaths and injuries.  Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

Is there any point in carrying on?  The guy clearly thinks society in an infinite money tree to pick up the costs of his carelessness. 


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July 01, 2012, 10:09:46 PM
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Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

How, exactly?

I think you're making an assumption here that you shouldn't be.

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July 02, 2012, 02:04:22 AM
 #6

Note to armchair economists, libertarians, etc.: if you can't get a handle on the information that exists in the titles listed above, then you're not in a position to pontificate, speculate, or blow hot air about economic theory. And if you don't understand why, then once again, you're not in a position to spout your pontifications and speculations.


Opening of "The Machinery of Freedom" says:
Quote
The central idea of libertarianism is that people should be permitted to run their own lives as they wish. We totally reject the idea that people must be forcibly protected from themselves. A libertarian society would have no laws against drugs, gambling, pornography —and no compulsory seat belts in cars.

The law compelling people to wear seat belts in backs of cars greatly reduced deaths and injuries.  Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

Is there any point in carrying on?  The guy clearly thinks society in an infinite money tree to pick up the costs of his carelessness. 




Aaaaaand thread derailed by our favorite sock puppets before it even began.

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July 02, 2012, 06:49:43 AM
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Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

How, exactly?

I think you're making an assumption here that you shouldn't be.

Ambulances are not free.  Accident and Emergency wards are not free.  Coroners are not free.  Even if run  by a charity, they must be paid for. 

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July 02, 2012, 07:39:38 AM
 #8

Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

How, exactly?

I think you're making an assumption here that you shouldn't be.

Ambulances are not free.  Accident and Emergency wards are not free.  Coroners are not free.  Even if run  by a charity, they must be paid for. 

Of course. But why do you assume that these costs would be socialized?

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July 02, 2012, 09:05:28 AM
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Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

How, exactly?

I think you're making an assumption here that you shouldn't be.

Ambulances are not free.  Accident and Emergency wards are not free.  Coroners are not free.  Even if run  by a charity, they must be paid for. 

Of course. But why do you assume that these costs would be socialized?

Because you will never leave a injured person die.  Even if they are not covered by insurance, you will always send an ambulance.

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July 02, 2012, 09:32:51 AM
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Since people hurt in car accidents need to be be rescued, failure to wear a seat belt imposes a cost on everyone else. 

How, exactly?

I think you're making an assumption here that you shouldn't be.
Ambulances are not free.  Accident and Emergency wards are not free.  Coroners are not free.  Even if run  by a charity, they must be paid for. 
Of course. But why do you assume that these costs would be socialized?
Because you will never leave a injured person die.  Even if they are not covered by insurance, you will always send an ambulance.

Right, but that is a service, like any other, and there is no need to socialize the cost of any service.

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July 02, 2012, 09:41:27 AM
 #11

Its a cost imposed on society by the careless.  Saying its not "socialised" may mean something to you but all I see is that people are wasting time and money that is not theirs to waste.

I won't reply now until I finish the book or give up.  After a shaky start, he finds his tone in the second chapter and its a good read.

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July 02, 2012, 09:45:02 AM
 #12

Its a cost imposed on society by the careless.

Why should you have to pay for his ambulance ride? Why should anyone but him? It's his bill, let him pay it.

Oh, and enjoy the book. I'm still trying to work through the "history" part of Political Economy. I sure hope the "theory" part is less snooze-inducing.

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July 02, 2012, 03:39:02 PM
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Its a cost imposed on society by the careless.

Why should you have to pay for his ambulance ride? Why should anyone but him? It's his bill, let him pay it.

Oh, and enjoy the book. I'm still trying to work through the "history" part of Political Economy. I sure hope the "theory" part is less snooze-inducing.

Read my books, whether you like me or not. They're not snooze-inducing, and they will share with you facts about the world which your ideals do not address.
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July 02, 2012, 03:40:55 PM
 #14

Its a cost imposed on society by the careless.

Why should you have to pay for his ambulance ride? Why should anyone but him? It's his bill, let him pay it.

Oh, and enjoy the book. I'm still trying to work through the "history" part of Political Economy. I sure hope the "theory" part is less snooze-inducing.

Read my books, whether you like me or not. They're not snooze-inducing, and they will share with you facts about the world which your ideals do not address.

And just in case you didn't hear me:

Read my books, whether you like me or not. They're not snooze-inducing, and they will share with you facts about the world which your ideals do not address.
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July 02, 2012, 06:10:43 PM
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Empire of Wealth: The Epic History of American Economic Power by John Steele Gordon

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July 02, 2012, 06:30:57 PM
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Regarding the ambulance discussion, hopefully you will both be able to choose the option you prefer.  Personally, as anarchistic as I am, I'd probably still pay an HOA fee to provide transportation/clean up for injured individuals in shared areas (parks, water, roads).  And I'd probably choose highways that include at the very least towing vehicles & moving injured people off the road in their toll amount.  I'm not sure if this could be accomplished on a state or even city level though because I'd be forced to pay for places I'm not interested in.  I foresee a AAA ambulance service for yourself/friends/family instead of 911.

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July 02, 2012, 06:42:16 PM
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OK - read "The Machinery of Freedom" by David D. Friedman.

First impressions are that this was not intended as a book but as a series of essays submitted to magazines.  Some are very good; the writing is clear and the tone is light.  Some are just rubbish.  One of the likeable things about the book is that he freely and openly contradicts himself.  "Life is messy, these questions are complicated, why shouldn't I contradict myself?" is what he seems to think and I agree.  

The book was published in 1973 and the ever present threat from the Russians affects a lot of his ideas.  For those young enough not to remember, until 1976 it looked a safe bet that Communism would win and that our societies would be remembered as corrupt failures.  Friedman makes clear that freedom is better in economic terms - something we take for granted now but was radical in its day.

If try to summarise the book:
1. He is a small state libertarian who would like to have no state but doesn't see that as possible.  "I would still regard the government as a criminal organization, but one which was, by a freak of fate, temporarily useful. It would be like a gang of bandits who, while occasionally robbing the villages in their territory, served to keep off other and more rapacious gangs."
2. Friedman sees government as being the best answer as to how to provide defence.  He is OK with taxes for defence and with conscription if an enemy that requires that level of manpower appears.  The book was written during the Cold War when "big" wars were still possible so its understandable that he felt that conscription had to be an option.
3. Friedman hates the idea of a libertarian foreign policy but he does believe that its needed.  For example, he supported the US aid to the Shah of Iran including training of the secret police for use against democratic Iranians.  He was anxious to persuade Germany and Japan to re-arm to lighten the defence burden the US carried.
4. Friedman sees that government has to provide courts.  He prefers the idea of arbitration but "[Arbitration arrangements without some enforcement mechanism are a satisfactory substitute for the courts when the problem is merely an honest disagreement and the matter being settled is less important than continued good relations
between the two parties. In other cases, arbitration may be unsatisfactory if the arbitrator, unlike the court, has no way of enforcing his decisions. If one party refuses to accept a decision, the other's only recourse is to go to court...
"
5. Friedman has an idea for private alternatives to the police and courts.  This is one of the chapters where he struggles to make sense.  He defines government as "legitimized coercion."  He imagines a robbery by a Joe Bock being investigated by a "protection agency" called Tannahelp.  This agency has the power to go after Joe, enter his property and punish him.  It chooses its own punishment if he does not submit to them.  This act of legitimate coercion makes it Joe's government.  There are no limits - it's staff can kill him if they feel like it.  
6. Joe may have a "protection agency" that is against the death penalty.  Joe has paid for this protection.  If Joe goes to arbitration, this agency can say they feel opposed to capital punishment.  Tannahelp is free to ignore this feeling.  Friedman thinks they won't "If the opponents of capital punishment feel more strongly than the proponents, the agencies will agree to no capital punishment." unless the person robbed has paid for capital punishment.  In that case, its steal a TV and you die.  Isn't that fraud on poor Joe?
7. Friedman thinks laws will emerge that represent economic value.  So in a free market of laws, stealing a TV will result in a proportional punishment.  The proportion depends on what percentage of TV thieves get caught.  Frankly it all gets a bit weird here but he thinks it will all work out well as the whatever the market provides is justice.


Criticisms:
1. Morals matter.  Even if racial discrimination is economically effective for whites, its still wrong.  Friedman implies a restaurant should be free to exclude blacks as part of the owner's property rights.  Fine - perhaps that is economically good for the white owner.  It's still wrong morally and that the law is right to prohibit it.
2. Law influences behaviour.  Everyone knows that seat belts save lives.  In a free society, 37% of people wear seat belts.  That 37% are the people who save up for old age, maintain their buildings and generally are the backbone of society.  When the law makes seat belt compulsory, 94% of people wear them.  That extra 57% of the population are the people who will do the right thing if told to but otherwise are just passengers on the ship of state.  6% of the population won't wear seat belts come what may.  Any plan for society has to include that 6% of stubborn misfits. Friedman's ideas only work for the "nice" 37%.
3. Religion matters.  Where I live, a free market in law would have female circumcision legal and beer illegal.  Just because the market comes up with this, that doesn't make it right.  
4. Foreign powers matter.  There is an essay on how the anarchic system in Iceland was destroyed by a foreign power picking sides in disputes and ending up controlling the country.  Recently we have seen a decent society in Somalia destroyed the same way by Ethiopian sponsorship of clan wars.  We may soon see the same in Libya.  Anarchy is unlikely to work but even if it does, you can't go first or you will have foreign powers create civil wars.
5. I think the market is over-rated.  Just because something makes sense to an economist does not mean we have to live by it.  Who made Paul Krugman or Edwin van Mises into God?  If a decent society is slightly poorer, then who cares?  Morality always involves doing without nice stuff.  Otherwise we would all be saints.

Good stuff:
1. Friedman is great on monopolies.  
2. Friedman is great on school vouchers.  In Ireland, if you are unhappy with your school, you can withdraw your child and the budget goes with her.  The effect is that schools have to struggle for excellence.  For all of Ireland's problems, it still churns our educated people at very low cost compared to the US and UK.
3. He is great on the US welfare system.  Americans tax the poor and subsidise the middle class and he rightly tears into that system.
4. The whole book is driven by facts and logic.  For example, I bet that he would change his mind about seat belts now that we have facts and figures that were not available in 1973.
5. He is funny about how libertarians respond to criticism: "When I put such questions to other libertarians, one common response is a frantic attempt to reinterpret the problem out of existence."

Surprise:
He dismisses the ideas like the NAP as meaningless.  I did not expect that at all.

Good book - thanks for the suggestion.

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July 02, 2012, 08:25:46 PM
 #18

Regarding the ambulance discussion,

The problem is, he views harm done to the passenger as a result of him not wearing the seat belt as a cost to society, and I view it as a cost to that passenger.

Quote
Criticisms:
1. Morals matter.  Even if racial discrimination is economically effective for whites, its still wrong.  Friedman implies a restaurant should be free to exclude blacks as part of the owner's property rights.  Fine - perhaps that is economically good for him.  I still think that is wrong morally and that the law is right to prohibit it.
2. Law influences behaviour.  Everyone knows that seat belts save lives.  In a free society, 37% of people wear seat belts.  That 37% are the people who save up for old age, maintain their buildings and generally are the backbone of society.  When the law makes seat belt compulsory, 94% of people wear them.  That extra 57% of the population are the people who will do the right thing if told to but otherwise are just passengers on the ship of state.  6% of the population won't wear seat belts come what may.  Any plan for society has to include that 6% of stubborn misfits.
3. Religion matters.  Where I live, a free market in law would have female circumcision legal and beer illegal.  Just because the market comes up with this, that doesn't make it right. 
4. Foreign powers matter.  There is an essay on how the anarchic system in Iceland was destroyed by a foreign power picking sides in disputes and ending up controlling the country.  Recently we have seen a decent society in Somalia destroyed the same way by Ethiopian sponsorship of clan wars.  We may soon see the same in Libya.  Anarchy is unlikely to work but even if it does, you can't go first or you will have foreign powers create civil wars.

1. Agreed, racial discrimination is wrong. That is why I would not patronize an establishment that practiced it. I would tell my friends about it, and suggest they might want to avoid it as well. By practicing racial discrimination, the shop owner has excluded an entire segment of the population, as well as another, potentially larger, segment of your potential customers (even with the policy) that disagrees with the policy. So, it might work, but an inclusive policy would get people more business.
2. These stats are all very nice, but the fact remains that someone who does not wear their seat belt endangers only themselves.
3. No, not where you live, for the people whom you live near by. I suspect you will cry, "semantics!" but it's an important distinction. Also, keep in mind that they would need to negotiate deals with the other REAs in the area, meaning that making something objectionable like female circumcision "legal" would be more difficult than placing voluntary restrictions on behavior, such as banning alcohol.
4. This is actually your best point. Realistically, I can't think of a way to prevent this, aside from arbiters that allow a foreign power to influence their decision losing the reputation of impartiality that they depend on for continued business.

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July 02, 2012, 08:41:19 PM
 #19

As I said, I know its economically better for the restaurant owner to exclude blacks but its still wrong and in a decent society, it will be illegal.

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July 02, 2012, 09:06:57 PM
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As I said, I know its economically better for the restaurant owner to exclude blacks but its still wrong and in a decent society, it will be illegal. 

No, it's economically better not to exclude blacks, or any other ethnic group.

If you have 100 potential customers, of all creeds, skin colors, etc, and you turn away 25 of them because of one of those factors, you now have only 75 potential customers. If there are enough people who disagree with that policy that if voted on, it would be made illegal (in this case, 51 persons), you have further reduced your potential customer base. Even assuming that all of the excluded group object enough to vote against it, you've still reduced your potential customer base to 49.

The other 51 people, your excluded group included, would go elsewhere. That means you are giving your competition more business than yourself. That's not good business, especially when you consider that not all of those 49 potential customers will translate into actual customers.

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