State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Property Rights: The Foundation of Freedom

In the United States, we tend to study the Constitution to secure and understand our freedoms.  This is a bit strange as our freedom throughout history has been secured mainly by property rights.  This was understood by the founders and many others.

 

There is a “diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate…. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.”[1]

James Madison’s Federalist 10

 

“The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.” John Locke

 

“No other rights are safe where property is not safe.”

Daniel Webster

 

“Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.”

Calvin Coolidge

 

Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

Ayn Rand “Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 94, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/property_rights.html

 

“Property rights … are the most basic of human rights and an essential foundation for other human rights.”[2]

Milton Friedman

 

Property rights in the United States were a matter of state law for most of its history, with the minor exception of the Fifth Amendment.  Thus to gain a better understanding of how our freedom is secured, we need to study property rights.  This is a big subject and this post will focus on the historical development and the philosophical foundations of property rights.

The concept of property rights started with some sense of ownership of food and personal possessions among nomadic people.  People had the idea of a superior moral claim to the apple they picked or the deer they killed or the clothes they made and wore compared to other people.  With the advent of the Agricultural Revolution people began to think they had a superior moral claim to the land they cultivated and the crops grown on this land, which was the beginning of the idea of property rights in land.  However, these were not real property rights, because the King or other political body almost always reserved the power to trample peoples’ property rights when it was politically expedient.  In the Middle Ages “property rights” were thought to reside ultimately in the King or the sovereign.  Legal realists still hold onto this idea.  During the Renaissance legal theorist worked on a rational basis for property rights, starting with Hugo Grotius in the early 1600s.  Adam Mossoff has written an excellent paper explaining the historical development of property rights theory including the major theories today, called What is Property? Putting the Pieces Back Together.[3]

After Grotiuss, John Locke continued the work of developing a rational theory of property rights.  Locke’s formulation is that anything in a state of nature (unowned) that someone makes useful, results in them having a property right in the item they made useful.  So if you shoot a deer you have property rights in the deer or if you plant olive trees on some ownerless land you have a property right in the land and the trees.  This is true according to Locke because you have an exclusive moral claim over yourself (body and mind) and anything you create value in gives you property rights in the item.  This is commonly summarized as having property rights in one’s self.

It is important to understand that all of law is based on property rights logically (and historically).  Some libertarians have tried to postulate systems where property rights are some sort of contract.  You cannot have a contract unless you have an exchange and you cannot exchange something you do not own.  You also need to have property rights over yourself to enter a contract.  Contract law presupposes property rights law and to reverse the process results in nonsense.  Tort law makes no sense without property rights.  If you do not own yourself or some property how can you claim to have been harmed.  This is true of all other areas of law also.

Property rights law was developed in common law countries and in the United States along Locke’s theoretical formulation for at least a century or more.  For instance, in the United States the Homestead Act (of 1862) provided that any adult who had not taken up arms against the U.S. could acquire 160 acres of land by farming and living on the land for five years.  The Act made the implicit assumption that the land was in a “state of nature” and that people could obtain property rights by making it more valuable.  This is almost an exact formulation of Locke’s theory of property rights, except that the land had to be surveyed first and the acquirer had to put in an application.

There are several interesting things about the Homestead Acts.  One is that they were first proposed before the U.S. Constitution was ratified and many other homestead acts were passed after the one in 1862.  The Homestead Act of 1862 was clearly passed as part of the politics of the Civil War in the U.S.  Another interesting point is the Homestead Act implies that land grants by Kings did not result in valid property rights.  For instance, the land grants to George Washington for his military service from the British Crown did not confer valid property rights in the land.  Washington had problems with squatters on this land, who seemed to understand that Washington’s property rights in this land were invalid since he did nothing to create value in the land.[4]

Another interesting thing about the Homestead Act is that the surveyed plats were separated by roads.  There were no taxes to create or maintain these roads, so they were un-owned land or land in which no one could have property rights in.  It is important to note that property rights in land that cannot be accessed make those rights meaningless.  An essential element of all property rights in land includes access to and from the land and the rest of the world.  This does not mean that the owner of the land cannot exclude people from their land, but it does mean that property rights in land cannot interfere with reasonable travel.  This is one of those questions in law where the philosophy lays out the general theory, but the law has to work out some practical realities in which there is no exact answer.  In the Homestead Act, they decided that roads had to exist around every square mile block of privately owned land (one mile grid).  This obviously would have to be modified sometimes for terrain and another distance or pattern for the roads could have been selected without violating the general principles.

It would also be an abridgement of people’s right to travel if property rights in land could imprison people.  People exercised the right to travel over land before there were any property rights in land.  Thus property rights in land that unduly impinge on the ability of travel violate other people’s rights.

It appears the Romans understood this.  In the twelve ancient Roman tablets that set out the law, tablet seven appears to require land owners to maintain the roads.  “1. Let them keep the road in order. If they have not paved it, a man may drive his team where he likes.”[5]  Table eight requires “Where a road runs in a straight line, it shall be eight feet, and where it curves, it shall be sixteen feet in width.”[6]  Tablet nine requires “When a man’s land lies adjacent to the highway, he can enclose it in any way that he chooses; but if he neglects to do so, any other person can drive an animal over the land wherever he pleases.”[7]  The Roman tablet eight also require space between buildings, “A space of two feet and a half must be left between neighboring buildings.”[8]  This last law could have been for travel or to keep fires from spreading through the city.  Unfortunately, there does not appear any commentary to let us know.

Some people have suggested that this ownerless land for roads in the Homesteading Act is inconsistent with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism: “Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.”[9]  This mistake is based on a misunderstanding.  There is no such thing as property.  There are property rights and things in which people may have property rights.  In informal language we often use the shorthand property to refer to something in which we or other people have property rights.  Unfortunately, this shorthand results in confusion.  Correctly interpreted what Rand’s statement is saying is that governments cannot have property rights in land or anything else only people can.  What the government has is a custodial duty.  The government cannot have a moral claim to have made something useful, only individuals can do this.  Rand explained it this way with respect to the Homestead Act of 1862:

Thus, the government, in this case, was acting not as an owner but as the custodian of ownerless resources who defines objectively impartial rules by which potential owners may acquire them.[10]

Rand did not directly address the concept of property rights, however she laid out many of her ideas in two articles in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal: 1) The Property Status of Airwaves, and 2) Patents and Copyrights.  Rand echoes Locke when she explains the origin of property rights, “Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.”[11]  Rand is stating that because you made/created something valuable you have a moral claim to the item that is greater than other peoples’.  Rand’s main refinement over Locke is to make it clear that this includes mental effort (in a way Locke leaves more ambiguous), “thus the law establishes the property right of a mind to that which it has brought into existence.”[12]

One important point that should be clear from this discussion is that dead people cannot have property rights.  Property rights are a moral and legal relationship between a person and an item (tangible or intangible).  A related point is that when someone abandons their property rights by no longer making something useful, then it is ownerless again and therefore in a state of nature.  This means that someone else can come in and make the item productive again and therefore acquire property rights in the item.  This is a very complicated subject and covering it in even a cursory way could be a whole book, however I will point to some examples.  In common law there is something called adverse possession, which “is a situation when a person who does not have legal title to land (or real property) occupies the land without the permission of the legal owner” and gains legal title to the land.[13]  Another complicated situation where these principles come into play is when a person dies or estates law.  A dead person cannot have property rights in anything, so suddenly those items they had property rights in are ownerless.  Property rights in land do not go on forever as many people assume.  A detailed- discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this article.

We have talked about how property rights arise, but not what they are.  Many people think that their property rights in their land are unlimited that they go up infinitely into the sky and down to the center of the Earth and they can do anything they want on their land.  Why do they think this?  Did they create value 500 feet below the surface of their land?  Did they create value 500 feet into the air above their land?  Of course not.  The property rights you obtain are related to the value you created.  The most common form of property rights is called “fee simple” in the law.  Fee simple allows you (ignoring building codes) to farm/ranch and have a house (building), run a business, etc. on your land.  It does not allow you to put a commercial hog sty on your farm next to your neighbor’s house.  This would violate nuisance laws, which ensure that you have reasonable enjoyment and use of your land.  On the other hand, you cannot buy a farm and then build a house next to your neighbor’s pig sty and then sue them for nuisance.

In addition, there are other groups of property rights such as mining rights, which come in two varieties, lode and placer.  Lode mineral rights are designed to ensure that the person who discovers a vein of say gold is the owner of the whole vein.  Otherwise it would be easy for other people to say they discovered the obvious other end of the vein and profit at the expense of the true discoverer of the vein.  These rights may not include any rights to the surface land above them, while a place type of mineral rights does.  There are also grazing rights, water rights, easements, trademark rights, property rights in chattel, copyrights, patent rights (inventions), trade secrets, etc.  All of these property rights are different and come with different rights of action and rules, based on the value that was created.

The property rights you obtain are related to the value you created

Property rights are not monolithic as many people seem to believe.  As Adam Mossoff explains in his paper, Why Intellectual Property Rights? A Lockean Justification:

As Locke first explained, property is fundamentally justified and defined by the nature of the value created and secured to its owner … To wit, different types of property rights are defined and secured differently under the law.

Some property rights come with the right to exclude, however grazing rights do not include a right to exclude unless the person is interfering unreasonably with the grazing rights owner’s ability to graze the land.  Even with “fee simple” ownership of land your right to exclude is limited to using reasonable means to exclude people who are interfering with you enjoyment and use of your land.  This means you cannot shoot someone for crossing your land.

Property rights are a vast and complex area of law of which this article just touches on.  Property rights are the most important area to securing our freedoms and all law starts with and builds on property rights.  The key philosophical foundations of property rights are:

Property rights is the foundation of all law

Property rights are a moral and legal claim to take action with respect to an object

Property rights arise when a person creates value

The rights obtained with property rights depend on the value created

– they are not monolithic.

Property rights are the foundation of all our freedoms and

much more important than the Constitution in securing our freedoms.

 

[1] The Economic Principles of America’s Founders: Property Rights, Free Markets, and Sound Money, Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter, accessed 4/15/17,  http://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/the-economic-principles-americas-founders-property-rights-free-markets-and#_ftnref3

[2] Milton Friedman’s Property Rights Legacy, Forbes, Ken Blackwell, accessed 4/15/17 https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/31/milton-friedmans-property-rights-legacy/#238d1416635d

[3] Mossoff, Adam, What is Property? Putting the Pieces Back Together. Arizona Law Review, Vol. 45, p. 371, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=438780 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.438780

[4] George Washington, Covenanter squatters, http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-28F accessed April 30, 2017.

[5] http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/12tables.html, accessed May 7, 2017.

[6] http://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm, accessed May 7, 2017

[7] http://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm, accessed May 7, 2017

[8] http://www.constitution.org/sps/sps01_1.htm, accessed May 7, 2017

[9] “What Is Capitalism?”Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 19 Ayn Rand Lexicon, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.html accessed May 7, 2017.

[10] Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The unknown Ideal, The Property Status of Airways, p. 132.

[11] Ayn Rand Lexicon, “The Property Status of the Airwaves,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 122

[12] Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Patents and Copyrights, p. 141.

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_possession, accessed May 7, 2017.

May 20, 2017 Posted by | -History, -Legal, Legal Philosophy | , , | Leave a comment

Is Objectivism Compatible with Austrian Economics?

There have been a number of papers comparing Objectivism to Austrian Economics.  The motivation appears to be Rand’s relationship with Ludwig Von Mises, since both are known for advocating Laissez Faire Economics.  Most of these papers have focused on ethics, particularly whether the subjective theory of value in Austrian Economics (AE) is consistent with Objectivist ethics.  The majority of these papers have argued that AE (at least the Menger-Mises side) and Rand are actually very similar and compatible, but not all including Rand herself.  In order to arrive at these conclusions, the authors have often provided nuanced explanations of what the Austrians or Rand said.  For instance, Richard Johnsson argues:

It seems to be a well-established fact that there are similarities between Rand and Menger, despite the objectivist/subjectivist issue.  Once we concede that something can be intrinsic value, in Moore’s sense, I believe the differences between Austrian subjectivism and Rand’s Objectivism vanish.[i]

Roderick Long concludes in his paper, Praxeology: Who Needs It:

I have argued that the features of Misesian praxeology that Rand found most objectionable—its aprioristic methodology, its value subjectivism, and its claims about motivational psychology—can be reinterpreted in ways that make them congenial to Rand’s philosophical principles while still preserving the essential points that Mises was seeking to make. Hence there is no reason for those of a Randian philosophical bent to deprive themselves of the powerful methodological instrument developed by Mises and his fellow Austrians: praxeology, the a priori science of human action.[ii]

And Ed Younkins argues:

Objectivism’s Aristotelian perspective on the nature of man and the world and on the need to exercise one’s virtues can be viewed as complementary with the praxeology of Austrian economics.[iii]

Objectivists are generally more critical of the Hayek branch of AE.  For instance, David Kelley writes “if a defense of freedom depends on individualism, and individualism presupposes individuals capable of genuine self-direction, Hayek cannot successfully defend freedom.”[iv]  Ed Younkins says this about Hayek, “Hayek is primarily concerned with the nature, scope, limits, use, and abuse of reason in human life. For Hayek, a man’s knowledge of the world and himself is at best limited, incomplete, and uncertain.”[v]

This paper will focus primarily on the similarities and differences of the epistemology of various Austrian Economists (Menger, Mises, Hayek) and Rand.  Rand and the economists will be taken at their word.  Unlike many previous researchers, this paper will argue that the epistemological theories of Austrian Economists are incompatible with Objectivism and inconsistent with the science project of the Enlightenment.

 

Menger

Menger lays out his epistemology in his book Investigations into the Method of Social Sciences.[vi]  Lawrence H. White in the introduction to the book, explains.

Fortunately, Menger draws and even emphasizes a suitable distinction between the “realist-empirical orientation of theoretical research” and the “exact” orientation (p. 59). The search for so-called ,”exact laws” alone is more appropriately considered the task of purely theoretical research in economics. We can make sense of “exact laws” as theoretical propositions which (necessarily) take an “if-then” form: if conditions A and B hold, then condition C must also obtain. Menger rightly insists (pp. 70, 215) that realist-empirical generalizations (e.g., A and B are usually accompanied by C) can by their nature never attain the strictness that necessarily characterizes logical implications. The two sorts of “laws” are on different epistemological planes. So without too much dissent from Menger’s thought we may divide economic theory from economic history where he divided strict theory from what he considered an empirical sort of theory. What is empirical is really historical, and this accounts for its different status from what is deductive.[vii]

Lawrence H. White goes on to explain:

But this is not because, like some economists, he (Menger) sees empiricism or positivism or falsificationism as the only proper method for both social science and natural science. Instead he argues (p. 59 n. 18) that both the search for empirical regularities and the formulation of non-empirical, non-falsifiable (“exact”) theories are methods common to both economics and such natural science fields as chemistry. In viewing theoretical research in every field as having a non-empirical proposition at its core, Menger’s position bears some resemblance to that of modern philosophers of science. [viii]

As a person who has a masters’ degree in physics and a BS in Electrical Engineering and has worked with scientists and engineers his whole life, I am unaware of any so-called theoretical side of chemistry or other natural science that is ‘non-empirical, non-falsifiable (“exact”)’ nor have I ever heard such an idea proposed by others.

Ed Younkins describes Menger’s epistemology as:

Menger distinguishes between the empirical-realistic orientation to theory and the exact orientation to theory (36–44). Whereas the empirical-realistic branch of economics studies the regularities in the succession and coexistence of real phenomena, the exact orientation studies the laws governing ideal economic phenomena. He explains that empirical-realistic theory is concerned with regularities in the coexistence and succession of phenomena discovered by observing actual types and typical relationships of phenomena. Empirical realistic theory is subject to exceptions and to change over time. Theoretical economics in its realistic orientation derives empirical laws that are valid only for the spatial and temporal relationships from which they were observed. Empirical laws can only be alleged to be true within a particular spatiotemporal domain. The realistic orientation can only lead to real types and to the particular. The study of individual or concrete phenomena in time and space is the realm of the historical sciences.[ix]

Younkins and White both seem to agree that according to Menger there is theoretical side of economics that is exact and cannot be tested empirically.  Menger argues there is also an empirical side of economics, which is not exact and subject to change over time.

Menger’s epistemology should be familiar as it is a restatement of the analytic-synthetic distinction.  “Analytic propositions are true by virtue of their meaning, while synthetic propositions are true by how their meaning relates to the world.”[x]  Not surprisingly the origin of this distinction can be found in Kant and comes from his metaphysics, in which he argues there is a noumenal and phenomenal realm.[xi]  The noumenal realm is a realm of pure ideas and phenomenal world is a realm where our senses are engaged.  This logically gives rise to an epistemological analytic-synthetic distinction.

Leonard Peikoff states, “The theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy presents men with the following choice: If your statement is proved, it says nothing about that which exists; if it is about existents, it cannot be proved.”  Menger seems to disagree with at least the analytic (theoretical) side.  Menger seems to argue that theoretical laws of economics can be derived by just thinking about them.  Somehow these theoretical laws can tell us something empirical about economics.  Whether that is true or not, it is not consistent with Objectivist epistemology and it is not science.  The philosophy of science is a complex topic especially now days when Karl Popper is supposed to be the foremost philosopher of science and the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics appears to undermine objectivity and even the law of identity.   However, even these deviations in the philosophy of science do not suggest that science can be divorced from empirical evidence.

 

Mises

Mises’ epistemology is described in his praxeology, which is supposed to be the study of human action.  The Action Axiom is the fundamental starting point of praxeology and it states “that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals.”[xii]  According to Mises the principles (axioms) “are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts. They are both logically and temporally antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts.”[xiii]  Mises continues, “A fashionable tendency in contemporary philosophy is to deny the existence of any a priori knowledge. All human knowledge, it is contended, is derived from experience.”[xiv]

According to Long, Rand objected to this idea of a priori knowledge in her marginalia of her copy of Human Action.  “There is no ‘a priori’ knowledge,” Rand insisted in the margins; “[t]here is no knowledge not derived from experience” (Rand 1995a, 113–14).”[xv]

Long argues that Rand’s definition of axioms is the same as Mises’ a priori.  Long admits that Rand ultimately bases her axioms on reality while Mises does not, but relies on Rand’s explanation of an axiom as “a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.”[xvi]

According to praxeology the attempt to deny the action axiom necessarily means that you are acting towards a purpose.  While it might be true that the person arguing against the action axiom is taking action toward a goal, it is not true that a person having a seizure is taking ‘conscious actions toward chosen goals’.  A person in an abusive relationship suffering from ‘battered person syndrome’ is not engage din conscious actions toward chosen goals.  Advocates of praxeology might argue that the abused person feels responsible for the abuse they are suffering and therefore they are working toward the goal of relieving their guilt.  Any impartial observer would say that the abused person’s actions are not working toward relieving their guilt or getting out the abusive relationship.  In economics it is at least an open question whether the idea of unintended consequences fits the action axiom.  In that case the result obtained was not those the person(s) was striving for.

Note, Rand says that an axiom requires a person accept it in any attempt to deny it.  Arguing that person having a seizure is not engaged in conscious actions toward chosen goals, does not mean that they have accepted the action axiom.

Another part of Mises’ action axiom is, human action is necessarily always rational.  According to Mises, “the term ‘rational action’ is therefore pleonastic and must be rejected as such.  When applied to the ultimate ends of action, the terms rational and irrational are inappropriate and meaningless.”[xvii]  Mises further states, “however one twists things, one will never succeed in formulating the notion of ‘irrational’ action whose ‘irrationality’ is not founded upon an arbitrary judgment of value.”[xviii]

This is a clear contradiction between Rand and Mises on an epistemological and ethical level.  This is not a minor disagreement, but goes to the very fundamentals of Mises’ praxeology and Objectivism.  Long however argues that this is not the case.  “Mises of course did not mean that people always pursue the most rationally defensible ends (for Mises there are no such things) or even that, given their ends, people always choose the most rationally defensible means to their ends. In part, what he meant was simply that human action is purposeful.” [xix]  According to Long, when Mises says people always act rational, he means “in a manner appropriate to their situation in the way of actually seeing it that is constitutive of their action. And this is a claim that Rand has no reason to reject”[xx]

Rand defines reason as, “reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach.  The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.”[xxi]  Thus for Rand to act rationally is to act in accordance with reason.  This does not include all purposeful actions.  Hitler acted purposively to kill off the Jews, but this action cannot be considered rational according to Rand.

All the massaging of what Rand and Mises meant cannot reconcile these two radically different positions.  While English was Mises’ second language, his ideas about praxeology were fundamental and Mises never retracted his statements or reinterpreted them and neither did Rand.  An informal review of video lectures by Austrian Economists shows that they take Mises at his word.  It is very dangerous to reinterpret what people are saying.

Mises is clear that praxeology is a type of philosophical rationalism.

“[Praxeology’s] cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and particular features of the actual case. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori.”  Mises, Human Action, p. 32

“All theorems of economics are necessarily valid in every instance in which all the assumptions presupposed are given.” Mises, Human Action, p. 66

“Apart from the fact that these conclusions cannot be “tested” by historical or statistical means, there is no need to test them since their truth has already been established. Historical fact enters into these conclusions only by determining which branch of the theory is applicable in any particular case.”  Murray N. Rothbard https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics.

Philosophical rationalism is defined as “the doctrine that reason alone is a source of knowledge and is independent of experience.”[xxii]  Philosophical rationalism is commonly associated with Descartes and Spinoza.  Here is what Rand said about rationalism.

[Philosophers came to be divided] into two camps: those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts (the Rationalists)—and those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge from experience, which was held to mean: by direct perception of immediate facts, with no recourse to concepts (the Empiricists).[xxiii]

Mises’ epistemology is not science.  At a minimum science always requires that concepts (hypothesis) are checked against reality and reality is ultimate determiner of what is true.  William Thomas, Director of Programs at The Atlas Society, argues that Mises was not a philosophical rationalist and shows that some of the concepts Mises uses, such as money, can only be derived from experience.  This is another attempt to massage the words of Mises.  What this shows is that Mises’ praxeology and his ideas about money result in a logical contradiction.  Rand’s response from Atlas Shrugged might be “contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

An interesting point is that Mises’ subjective theory of value is fundamental to his ideas on praxeology.  “Let us note that praxeology does not assume that a person’s choice of values or goals is wise or proper . . . “[xxiv]  “However one twists things, one will never succeed in formulating the notion of ‘irrational’ action whose ‘irrationality’ is not founded upon an arbitrary judgment of value.”[xxv]  As a result, it is impossible to separate the subjective theory of value from Mises praxeology.

George Reisman makes some important point about Mises’ contention that economics (science) should be value-free.

The notion that science and value should be divorced is utterly contradictory. It itself expresses a value judgment in its very utterance. And it is not only self-contradictory, but contradictory of the most cherished principles of science as well. Science itself is built on a foundation of values that all scientists are logically obliged to defend: values such as reason, observation, truth, honesty, integrity, and the freedom of inquiry. In the absence of such values, there could be no science. The leading historical illustration of the truth of these propositions is the case of Galileo and the moral outrage which all lovers of science and truth must feel against those who sought to silence him. [xxvi]

 

Hayek

F.A. Hayek’s epistemological ideas are contained in his ideas on “cultural evolution”.  Hayek was proud of his ideas on cultural evolution and considered them central to his ideas on economics.  “The theory (cultural evolution), of which Hayek himself was proud, is on all accounts central to his economic, social, and political project”[xxvii]

Cultural evolution is the idea that social institutions, such ethics, law, and economic systems are created by a non-rational evolutionary process.  “According to this theory, rules, norms and practices evolve in a process of natural selection operating at the level of the group. Thus, groups that happen to have more efficient rules and practices tend to grow, multiply, and ultimately displace other groups.”[xxviii]

Bruce Caldwell describes cultural evolution as:

The term “cultural evolution” refers to the evolution of a tradition of learnt rules, norms, ethical precepts, and practices, “especially those dealing with several property, honesty, contract, exchange, trade, competition, gain, and privacy” (Hayek 1988:12). This cultural heritage emerged through “a process of winnowing and sifting, directed by the differential advantages gained by groups from practices adopted for some unknown and perhaps purely accidental reasons” (Hayek 1979:155). The traditions and institutions that resulted allowed the development of a vast extended order, one capable of sustaining huge increases in population, an order that would have been considered fantastical to earlier humans existing under more primitive conditions.[xxix]

According to Hayek, no individual is capable of using reason to determine which social institution will end up with the best result beforehand or why a particular set of social norms does work well.  Linda C. Raeder in Humantis makes this point and also points out that David Hume’s ideas entered the mainstream libertarian movement through Hayek.

“The picture of man as a being who, thanks to his reason, can rise above the values of civilization, in order to judge it from the outside . . . is an illusion.”  For Hayek, morals, values, and reason are entirely natural phenomena, evolutionary adaptations which have enabled man to survive and flourish in his particular kind of world.

Perhaps no other area of Burke’s and Hayek’s thought is as congruent as their understanding of the role of reason in human affairs; their views are so close as to suggest that Hayek’s thought on this issue is merely an elaboration, although quite an extensive one, of Burke’s theme. Hayek developed several of Burke’s most crucial insights: 1) the priority of social experience (or “tradition”) over reason; 2) the notion that inherited social institutions embody a “superindividual wisdom”  which transcends that available to the conscious reasoning mind; and 3) the impotence of reason to ‘design’ a viable social order.[xxx]

David Kelley elaborates on this point:

Hayek, by contrast, is a critic of what he calls ―constructive rationalism. His concept of rationalism is somewhat idiosyncratic, and is not equivalent to Rand‘s conception of reason. Nevertheless, it leads him to claim that ―no universally valid system of ethics can ever be known to us, which is obviously not consistent with her view. For Hayek, moral rules have a status lying ―between instinct and reason.

Is Hayek anti-reason?  It’s hard to say, however arguing that reason is fundamentally limited (as opposed to making a mistake) in understanding reality without any real evidence is an attack on reason itself.  Like Hume, Hayek cannot say reason is completely impotent, because what would be the point of writing.  Writing presumes some ability to reason.

Hayek’s case for freedom is based on the limits of reason.  In order for Hayek’s cultural evolution to work, you cannot substitute the decisions of a single leader (or small group) for those of the masses.  To do so undermines the evolutionary process.  As David Kelley explains:

This case for market freedom is essentially negative. Hayek seems to think that if socialist planning were possible, socialism might be the morally ideal system. But the inescapable ignorance of would-be planners excludes that possibility: ―If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty.

Hayek does not think that reason can tell you how or why social institutions, including the law and ethics work.  This is totally inconsistent Rand’s ideas and undermines the very idea of science.

Interestingly, Hayek’s position on ‘the subjective theory or value’ is a fundamental part of his epistemology, just like Mises’.  His cultural evolution requires that we cannot formulate a rational ethics because that would undermine the evolutionary process.  As a result, every ethical system is subjective and therefore so is every law.  The most we can do is put our faith in the process and blindly hope our ethical and legal systems are better than they were in the past because of the evolutionary process of cultural evolution.

 

Economics vs. Philosophy

It is clear that Austrian Economics’ epistemological positions are incompatible with Objectivism and science more generally.  However it is entirely possible that despite this, Austrian Economics has achieved great things in economics.  For instance, David Kelley has shown that John Locke made a number of epistemological errors with respect to perception, in his book The Evidence of the Senses, and yet Locke’s ideas on Natural Rights are still profound and fundamentally sound.

In this case however, when Objectivists and Austrians are talking they are not even speaking the same language.  For instance, when Rand says she is for capitalism, she means “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights”[xxxi]  By individual rights, Rand means a moral claim based on man’s nature and discovered using reason.  Austrians do not think that a rational ethics is possible.  As a result to Austrians, capitalism is an economic system that has low levels of governmental interference, based on some utilitarian criteria.  (You cannot live without an ethical system, so most Austrians default to utilitarianism)

When Objectivists talk about property rights, they mean an ethical claim to take action with respect to something, such as land.  This ethical claim is based on a rational, natural rights system.  When Austrians talk about “property rights”, they do not really mean a “right” in any way except a purely arbitrary legal claim.  Austrians argument for “property rights” is a purely utilitarian or historical argument (Hayek) that can be fudged to meet the utilitarian goal or historical precedence.

These differences result in real differences in economic policy.  Menger, for instance, advocated 1) public works constructed by the state such as roads, railways and canals, 2) government established agricultural and vocational training institutions, 3) state intervention to stop clearing of forests on private property in the mountains of Austria when this clearing had serious and bad effects on agriculture, and 4) government intervention to stop child labour.[xxxii]           Hayek was in favor social security, some sort of government provided health care, emergency government assistance for natural disasters, and suggested that manipulating the money supply might be used to alleviate recessions/depressions.[xxxiii]

Even Ludwig Von Mises waffles on economic policies that are inconsistent with capitalism as an Objectivist would define it.

There are certainly cases in which people may consider definite restrictive measures as justified. Regulations concerning fire prevention are restrictive and raise the cost of production. But the curtailment of total output they bring about is the price to be paid for avoidance of greater disaster. The decision about each restrictive measure is to be made on the ground of a meticulous weighing of the costs to be incurred and the prize to be obtained. No reasonable man could possibly question this rule.[xxxiv]

Note that Mises justification for fire regulations is based on utilitarianism, which Rand condemns as “’the greatest good for the greatest number’ is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.”[xxxv]

The Austrians sound a lot more like modern conservatives than capitalists.  When it is a government policy that Austrians are in favor of, they are quite happy to override peoples’ individual rights.  They just want these programs to be run more efficiently.  Austrians make a number of errors in their analysis of the economy also, however there is not time in this paper to take on these issues.

 

Conclusion

Austrians often argue that if you do not support the Austrian school of economics then which school (economists) do your support then, as if this was an election or a smorgasbord with a limited number of choice.  Science is a creative endeavor and we are not limited only the existing choices.

New Growth Economics’ central point is that wealth is created by the human mind.  This should be exciting to Objectivists, because that sounds very much like Ayn Rand.  It also points to an objective basis for economics.  Every human needs to acquire and consume a minimum number of calories or they die.[xxxvi]  This provides an objective standard that is very similar to Rand’s standard for her ethics.  It also ties economics to biology, particularly human biology, just like Rand tied her ethics to biology.

Inventions are the result of applying man’s reasoning power to the objective problems of life.  The way we become wealthier is by increasing our level of technology.  I explain this in more detail in my book, Source of Economic Growth; in my Savvy Street article, entitled ‘Inventing at the Intersection of Biology and Economics’; and in my 2015 & 2016 talks at Atlas Summit.

All species are biologically designed to spend most of their existence on the edge of starvation.  The fact that human beings, starting around 1800, were the first species to permanently escape this condition, needs a profound answer based on man’s unique nature, his ability to reason.

[i] Richard C.B. Johnsson, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol.6 no. 2 Spring 2005 pages 317-335.

Subjectivism, Intricism, and Apriorism,:Rand Among the Austrians, Penn State University Press, http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41560286.pdf.

[ii] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[iii] Edward W. Younkins, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol.6 no. 2 Spring 2005 pages 337-374, Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond, Centenary Symposium, Part II Ayn Rand Among the Austrians, http://quebecoislibre.org/younkins28.pdf

[iv] David Kelley, Rand versus Hayek on Abstraction,  Symposium: Rand and Hayek on Cognition and Trade, Reason Papers Vol. 33, https://reasonpapers.com/pdf/33/rp_33_1.pdf.

[v] Edward W. Younkins, The Road to Objective Economics: Hayek Takes a Wrong Turnhttp://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Younkins/The_Road_to_Objective_Economics_Hayek_Takes_a_Wrong_Turn.shtml

[vi]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS

[vii]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS, Introduction, p. xi.

[viii]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS, Introduction, p. xiii, Lawrence H. White.

[ix] Edward W. Younkins, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies Vol.6 no. 2 Spring 2005 pages 337-374, Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond, Centenary Symposium, Part II Ayn Rand Among the Austrians, http://quebecoislibre.org/younkins28.pdf

[x] Wikipedia, Analytic–Synthetic Distinction, Accessed  October 21, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic%E2%80%93synthetic_distinction.

[xi] Kant’s noumenal/phenomenal distinction is restatement of Plato, in which there is a realm of forms (ideas) and the imperfect world we live in.

[xii] Murray N. Rothbard, “Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics”, https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics

[xiii] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, p. 32, https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf

[xiv] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, p. 32, https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf

[xv] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, p. 300, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[xvi] Galt’s Speech,, For the New Intellectual, 155, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/axioms.html

[xvii] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, 1.I.32, http://www.econlib.org/library/Mises/HmA/msHmA1.html

[xviii] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition, p. 104.& https://mises.org/library/what-do-austrians-mean-rational ,  What Do Austrians Mean by “Rational”?, MISES DAILY ARTICLES, Accessed 6/9/16.

[xix] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, p. 309, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[xx] Roderick D. Long, “Praxeology: Who Needs It JARS, p. 310, http://praxeology.net/praxwho-x.pdf

[xxi] “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, 62, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/reason.html.

[xxii] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/rationalism, accessed October 22, 2016.

[xxiii] “For the New Intellectual,” For the New Intellectual, 30, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/rationalism_vs_empiricism.html.

[xxiv] Murray N. Rothbard, “Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics”, https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics

[xxv] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition, p. 104.& https://mises.org/library/what-do-austrians-mean-rational ,  What Do Austrians Mean by “Rational”?, MISES DAILY ARTICLES, Accessed 6/9/16.

[xxvi] George Reisman, Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, p. 36, http://www.capitalism.net/Capitalism/CAPITALISM_Internet.pdf.

[xxvii] Erik Angner, The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, p. 3, http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf.

[xxviii] Erik Angner, The History of Hayek’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, p. 3, http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf.

[xxix] Bruce Caldwell , The Emergence of Hayek’s Ideas on Cultural Evolution, p. 6, http://www.gmu.edu/depts/rae/archives/VOL13_1_2000/caldwell.pdf.

[xxx] Linda C. Raeder, The Liberalism/Conservatism Of Edmund Burke and F. A. Hayek: A Critical Comparison, HUMANITAS, Volume X, No. 1, 1997. National Humanities Institute,  http://www.nhinet.org/raeder.htm.

[xxxi] What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 19, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.html.

[xxxii] Social Democracy For The 21st Century: A Realist Alternative To The Modern Left, http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.mx/2012/08/rescuing-menger-from-austrians.html, accessed October 23, 2016.

[xxxiii] Nicholas  Wapshott,  Hayek on health care, social safety nets and public housing (quoting from Road to Serfdom) https://sites.google.com/site/wapshottkeyneshayek/hayek-on-health-care-social-safety-nets-and-public-housing  accessed October 23, 2016.

[xxxiv] Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition, p. 741, https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf.

[xxxv] Textbook of Americanism,” The Ayn Rand Column, 90, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/utilitarianism.html.

[xxxvi] Calories make a convenient catch all for all human requirements including air, water, micronutrients etc.

May 10, 2017 Posted by | -Economics, bioeconomics, philosophy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ayn Rand’s Ethics: Natural Rights and Self-Ownership

There seems to be a lot of confusion on the issues of whether Rand’s ethics is (or is consistent with) a natural right ethics and the idea of self-ownership.  These issues seem to bring up a lot of hidden assumptions and emotions.

 

Natural Rights:  Any logical analysis of whether Objectivist ethics can be classified as a natural rights ethical system has to start with some definitions.  The word “rights” here means that this term is only concerned with the ethical interaction between people.  Usually, this is even further limited to the ethical basis of governments or political systems.  Objectivist ethics covers more than just natural rights.

Natural means that the ethical system is based on nature or reality.  Logically, a “rights” system is either natural or unnatural there are no other choices.  That is basic logic and is called the law of the excluded middle.  (If you comment that there is some third choice, expect a harsh reply explaining that you do not understand basic logic.  If you double down on this irrationality, expect an even harsher reply).

The question then boils down to whether Objectivist ethics is based in nature (reality) or whether it has a non-natural basis and the only non-natural basis would have to be a supra-natural or completely arbitrary basis.

It is clear to anyone who has studied Rand’s ethics that it is based in nature, specifically the nature of man.  I have written on this extensively, see here.  It is clear that Rand’s ethics is in the broad category of Natural Rights.

If you want to argue that Rand’s formulation of rights is different than the Founding Fathers or Locke’s or other natural rights philosophies, that is fine, but that is not the question.  Do not comment that Harry Binswanger or Leonard Peikoff or someone else disagrees.  Objectivism is about reason, not about ordained leaders.  Arguing from authority, without providing a rational argument, is dishonorable to Objectism, Rand, and turns aynrandstampObjectivism into a religion.

 

Self-Ownership:  Once again we start with a definition.  Self-ownership is defined as having ethical and legal control over one’s body and mind.  If you disagree with this definition then you need to provide you own and you need to explain why you are not using the standard definition, which has been around for hundreds of years.

Based on the definition above it is clear that Rand’s ethical system is consistent with self-ownership.  If you argue it is not, then you do know what a definition is or alternatively what Rand said on the subject (expect harsh replies if you argue this irrational position).

Now you might argue that “self-ownership” is not axiomatic (or a fundamental observation) of Rand’s ethics and you would be correct.  Technically, it is not an axiom in Locke’s formulation of natural rights either.

January 6, 2017 Posted by | philosophy | , , , | 4 Comments

FEE: Ayn Rand Predicts Its Intellectual Bankruptcy

FEE or the Foundation for Economic Education has proven to be intellectually bankrupt.  For instance, their position against patents and Intellectual property shows that they do not understand property rights or rights generally.  They also revere the work of the philosopher David Hume, who argued “cause and effect” does not exist, induction is just correlation, and that a rational ethics is not possible (the so-called is-ought problem).  This means that Hume undermined reason, science and ethics.  Despite this FEE thinks Hume is a great guy.  FEE also promotes Matt Ridley who denigrates human achievement in science and engineering, calling Nobel Laurites in science and inventors frauds, for more click here.

Interestingly Ayn Rand predicted this.  The founder of FEE, Leonard Read, sent Rand a prospectus for his plan to create FEE.  Rand told Read that his premises were flawed.

The mistake is in the very name of the organization. You call it “The Foundation for Economic Education.” You state that economic education is to be your sole purpose. You imply that the cause of the world’s troubles lies solely in people’s ignorance of economics and that the way to cure the world is to teach it the proper economic knowledge. This is not true–therefore your program will not work. You cannot hope to effect a cure by starting with a wrong diagnosis. (The whole letter is reproduced below)

 

According to FEE reason and capitalism are incompatible, which is why they promote the works of Mises, Hayek, Menger, and Rothbard.  You cannot defend capitalism successfully while attacking reason and a rational ethics.  These ideas are incompatible with Natural Rights, which is what created econgrowth.smallthe United States and capitalism.  FEE is worse than the socialists, because they undermine the very basis of freedom.

Hat tip to Christopher Budden for finding this letter.

To Leonard Read

February 28, 1946

 

Dear Leonard,

 

I have read the prospectus of your proposed organization very carefully. No, you have not given our case away. But you have not presented it completely. You have covered only one minor, secondary aspect of it. The partial presentation of a great issue, featuring a secondary aspect, will amount in practice to giving the issue away. Therefore I don’t think that your organization will serve your purpose—if this prospectus represents its program.

 

The mistake is in the very name of the organization. You call it “The Foundation for Economic Education.” You state that economic education is to be your sole purpose. You imply that the cause of the world’s troubles lies solely in people’s ignorance of economics and that the way to cure the world is to teach it the proper economic knowledge. This is not true–therefore your program will not work. You cannot hope to effect a cure by starting with a wrong diagnosis.

 

The root of the whole modern disaster is philosophical and moral. People are not embracing collectivism because they have accepted bad economics. They are accepting bad economics because they have embraced collectivism. You cannot reverse cause and effect. And you cannot destroy the cause by lighting the effect. That is as futile as trying to eliminate the symptoms of a disease without attacking its germs.

 

Marxist (collectivist) economics have been blasted, refuted and discredited quite thoroughly. Capitalist (or individualist) economics have never been refuted. Yet people go right on accepting Marxism. If you look into the matter closely, you will see that most people know in a vague, uneasy way, that Marxist economics are screwy. Yet this does not stop them from advocating the same Marxist economics. Why?

 

The reason is that economics have the same place in relation to the whole of a society’s life as economic problems have in the life of a single individual. A man does not exist merely in order to earn a living; he earns a living in order to exist. His economic activities are the means to an end; the kind of life he wants to lead, the kind of purpose he wants to achieve with the money he earns determines what work he chooses to do and whether he chooses to work at all. A man completely devoid of purpose (whether it be ambition, career, family or anything) stops functioning in the economic sense. That is when he turns into a bum in the gutter. Economic activity per se has never been anybody’s end or motive power. And don’t think that any kind of law of self-preservation would work here—that a man would want to produce merely in order to eat. He won’t. For self-preservation to assert itself, there must be some reason for the self to wish to be preserved. Whatever a man has accepted, consciously or unconsciously, through routine or through choice as the purpose of his life—that will determine his economic activity.

 

And the same holds true of society and of men’s convictions about the proper economics of society. That which society accepts as its purpose and ideal (or to be exact, that which men think society should accept as its purpose and ideal) determines the kind of economics men will advocate and attempt to practice; since economics are only the means to an end.

 

When the social goal chosen is by its very nature impossible and unworkable (such as collectivism), it is useless to point out to people that the means they’ve chosen to achieve it are unworkable. Such means go with such a goal; there are no others. You cannot make men abandon the means until you have persuaded them to abandon the goal.

 

Now the choice of a personal purpose or of a social ideal is a matter of philosophy and moral theory. That is why, if one wishes to cure a dying world, one has to start with moral and philosophical principles. Nothing less will do.

 

The moral and social ideal preached by everybody today (and by the conservatives louder than all) is the ideal of collectivism. Men are told that man exists only in order to serve others; that the “common good” is man’s only proper aim in life and his sole justification for existence; that man is his brother’s keeper; that everybody owes everybody a living; that everybody is responsible for everybody’s welfare; and that the poor are the primary concern of society, its holy shrine, the god whom all must serve.

 

This is the moral premise accepted by most people today, of all classes, all stages of education and all political parties.

 

How are you going to sell capitalist economics to go with that? How are you going to get them to accept as moral, proper and desirable such conceptions as personal ambition, economic competition, the profit motive and private property?

 

It can`t be done. Their moral ideal has defined these conceptions as evil and immoral. So modern men are consistent about it. Our “common-gooder conservatives” are not. It’s one or the other.

 

Here is the dilemma in which the public finds itself when listening to our conservatives: the public is told, in net effect, that collectivism is a noble, desirable ideal, but collectivist economics are impractical.

 

In order to have a practical economy, that of capitalism, we must resign ourselves to an immoral society, that of individualism. This amounts to saying: you have a choice, you can be moral or you can be practical, but you can`t be both. Given such a choice, men will always choose the moral, because it is preposterous to expect them to choose that which, by the speaker`s own assertion, is evil. Men may be mistaken about what they think is good (and how mistaken they’ve been! And what lying they indulge in to deceive themselves about it!), but they will not accept evil with full, conscious intent and by definition.

 

Nor will men accept the idea that a moral ideal is impossible, that it cannot be achieved in practice. (And they are right about that, too—it’s a thoroughly *unnatural* proposition.) Therefore it is absolutely useless to tell them that Marxist economics are impractical, so long as you`re also telling them in the same breath that Marxism is noble. They will merely say: “Well, if that’s the ideal, and it cannot be achieved through the economics of capitalism, to hell with the economics of capitalism! If Marxist economics do not work, we’ll find something that works. We must find it. So we’ll go on experimenting. At least Marxism tries in the right direction, while capitalism doesn’t even try to achieve the collectivist ideal. Capitalist economics do not even try to offer us a solution.” How often have you heard this last one?

 

Now the most futile and ludicrous of all stands to take on this question is the one attempted at present by most of our conservatives. It may be called the “mixed philosophy.” It’s a parallel to the theory of a “mixed economy,” just as untenable, silly and disastrous. It’s the idea that capitalism can be morally justified on a collectivist premise and defended on the grounds of the “common good.” It goes like this: “Dear pinks, our objective, like yours, is the welfare of the poor, more general wealth, and a higher standard of living for everybody—so please let us capitalists function, because the capitalist system will achieve all these objectives for you. It is in fact the only system that can achieve them.”

 

This last statement is true and has been proved and demonstrated in history, and yet it has not and will not win converts to the capitalist system. Because the above argument is self-contradictory. It is not the purpose of the capitalist system to cater to the welfare of the poor; it is not the purpose of a capitalist enterpriser to spread social benefits; an industrialist does not operate a factory for the purpose of providing jobs for his workers. *A capitalist system could not function on such a premise.*

 

The economic benefits which the whole society, including the poor, does receive from capitalism come about strictly as secondary consequences, (which is the only way any social result can come about), not as primary goals. The primary goal which makes the system work is the personal, private, individual profit motive. When that motive is declared to be immoral, the whole system becomes immoral, and the motor of the system stops dead.

 

It’s useless to lie about the capitalist`s real and proper motive. The awful smell of hypocrisy that accompanies such a “mixed philosophy” is so obvious and so strong that it has done more to destroy capitalism than any Marxist theory ever could. It has killed all respect for capitalism. It has, without any further analysis, simply at first glance and first whiff, made capitalism appear thoroughly and totally phony.

 

The effect is precisely the same as that produced by Willkie, Dewey and all the rest of the “me-too,” “I’ll-get-it-for-you-wholesale” Republicans. Do not underestimate the common sense of the “common man” and do not blame him for ignorance. He could not, perhaps, analyze what was wrong with Willkie or Dewey—but he knew they were phonies. He cannot untangle the philosophical contradiction of defending capitalism through the “common good” —but he knows it’s a phony.

 

Is there anything more offensive and preposterous than to tell an unemployed worker that the millionaire who is throwing a champagne party on his yacht is doing so only for his, the worker’s benefit, and for the common good of society? Can you really blame the worker if he then goes out and demands that the yacht be confiscated? Is it economic ignorance that makes him do so?

 

The more propaganda our conservatives spread for capitalist economics while at the same time preaching collectivism morally and philosophically, the more nails they’ll drive into capitalism’s coffin. That is why I do not believe that an economic education alone is of any value. That is also why you will find it difficult to arouse people`s interest in the subject. I believe you are conscious of this difficulty; your prospectus shows anxiety on the scope of “creating a greater desire for economic understanding.” You will not be able to create it.

 

The great mistake here is in assuming that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophical and political principles and considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them. *It can’t be done.*

 

The best example of that is Von Mises’ “Omnipotent Government.” That is precisely what he attempted to do, in a very objective, conscientious, scholarly way. And he failed dismally, even though his economic facts and conclusions were for the most part unimpeachable. He failed to present a convincing case because at the crucial points, where his economics came to touch upon moral issues (as all economics must), he went into thin air, into contradictions, into nonsense. He did prove, all right, collectivist economics don’t work. And he failed to convert a single collectivist.

 

The organization desperately needed at present is one for EDUCATION IN INDIVIDUALISM, in every aspect of it: philosophical, moral, political, economic—in that order. (That is the actual order in which men’s thinking proceeds on these subjects.) As part of such a program, an education in sound economics would be essential and valuable. Without it, it is a wasted effort.

 

I suspect that you might have been misled by the fact that you have heard businessmen accept the most preposterous economic fallacies; and you concluded that once the fallacies are exposed, the trouble is cured. Do not be deceived by superficial symptoms; the trouble goes much deeper than that; the trouble is not in the nonsense they accept, *but in what makes them accept it*.

 

I have written all this at such great length because I consider an organization created by you as potentially of tremendous importance. I consider you the only man in my acquaintance who has the capacity to translate abstract ideas into practical action and to become a great executor of great principles. Therefore I would hate to see you fail in what could be a great undertaking, by attempting it on the wrong premise and in the wrong direction.

 

I am particularly worried by the fact that you intend to start on such a grand scale (a $3,000,000 budget). If you do not lay the proper foundation first, a three-million-dollar skyscraper will collapse on you more surely and more disastrously than a little bungalow. You will find yourself widely, publicly known and tagged as another ineffectual outfit like the N.A.M. or the Industrial Conference board; your name will become that of “another one of those conservatives,” instead of a new, powerful figure that would attract national attention by representing a real cause, and gain a following through courage, integrity and an unanswerable case, which is what I want you to become. You will find yourself caught in the ruins and forced to go on by the responsibility of so expensive an organization. The end of such a process is—Virgil Jordan.

 

It would be so much better and so much more practical to start in a smaller way and grow by a natural process rather than a forced one. You do not have at present the men and the educational material to use on a $3,000,000 scale. It would be better to gather your specialists and train them first, rather than release on the nation a flood of unprepared, “mixed philosophy” propagandists.

 

This letter is my contribution to your cause. If it helps you to analyze the situation, that is the best help I can offer you. If you agree with my analysis, I can continue to help you in this way, in the matter of philosophical direction. I know you have plenty of economists to call on for your work, but no people capable of undertaking the philosophical-moral part of it. Your main problem is to find them. And I will help you long-distance, to the extent that I can.

 

I shall be most interested in your answer to this.

 

As to your proposed radio program, I don’t think it’s a good plan. Personally, in spite of my interest in the subject, I’m afraid I would not listen to such a program. I think it would bore me. Five men talking on the same subject from the same general viewpoint would be more monotonous than just one man making a connected speech. The fact that the five men disagree on details would only add confusion, dilute and diffuse the subject and make the whole of the broadcast inconclusive and probably pointless.

 

If you decide to use Anthem in The Freeman, let me know. I’d like to have you do it, only I’d want to edit the story a little first; it’s old and there are some passages which I think are bad writing and which I’d like to straighten out.

 

Ayn Rand

January 1, 2017 Posted by | -Economics, -Philosophy, Intellectual Capitalism, Patents, philosophy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Philosophical Foundations of Carl Menger

There has been a lot of interest in the philosophical foundations of Carl Menger.  Many Objectivist writers have emphasized Menger’s Aristotelian training, while other have suggested that Menger’s ideas align with Kant and Popper.  Most scholars agree that Franz Brentano, who was an Austrian Philosopher, had a big influence on Menger.

Carl Menger was an Aristotelian although not a pure one. He read Aristotle and studied the works of Franz Brentano (1838-1917), a contemporary of Menger at the University of Vienna, who taught Aristotelian philosophy there. Brentano has been considered to be the leading Austrian philosopher of the late nineteenth century.

In order to obtain a better understanding of Menger’s philosophy, it is important to understand Franz Brentano’s philosophical ideas.  Brentano’s work focused mainly on the philosophy of psychology.  Sigmund Freud was his student and highly influenced by Brentano.[1]

Brentano argued that philosophy should be scientifically rigorous, as rigorous as the natural sciences.[2]  However, Marx and many others Mengerhave said they were doing science.

He emphasized that all our knowledge should be based on direct experience. He did not hold, however, that this experience needs to be made from a third-person point of view, and thus opposes what has become a standard of empirical science nowadays. Brentano rather argued a form of introspectionism: doing psychology from an empirical standpoint means for him to describe what one directly experiences in inner perception, from a first-person point of view.[3]

This passage starts strong with knowledge based on direct experience, but then shifts making the observer part of the experiment and then it redefines empirical to mean “inner perception”.  This inner perception is the means to absolute truths according to Brentano.

Brentano argues, “that they (mental phenomena) are only perceived in inner consciousness, while in the case of physical phenomena only external perception is possible” (Psychology, 91).  According to Brentano, the former of these two forms of perception provides an unmistakable evidence for what is true.

Brentano says that it (inner perception) is the only kind of perception in a strict sense.[4]

According to Webster’s Dictionary, science is “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.”  By observation, Webster’s does not mean inner perception.  While Einstein was famous for his “thought experiments”, they were a way of conceptualizing a problem in physics.  They were not actual experiments nor did they substitute for actual experiments.  Brentano is not doing or proposing to do science, despite his statement.

Brentano is widely regarded as Aristotelian and studied Aristotle extensively.  He also was fascinated with the Scholastics and Descartes, but disliked Kant and the German idealists.[5]  Brentano and Aristotle appear to agree on Universals, which Peikoff explained as:

Universals, he (Aristotle) holds, are merely aspects of existing entities, isolated in thought by a process of selective attention; they have no existence apart from particulars. Reality is comprised, not of Platonic abstractions, but of concrete, individual entities, each with a definite nature, each obeying the laws inherent in its nature. Aristotle’s universe is the universe of science. The physical world, in his view, is not a shadowy projection controlled by a divine dimension, but an autonomous, self-sufficient realm. It is an orderly, intelligible, natural realm, open to the mind of man.[6]

Brentano’s rejection of Platonic abstractions may have accounted for his distaste for Kant.

Despite the appearance of agreement with Aristotle on metaphysics, Brentano’s position in epistemology significantly differs from Aristotle.  Brentano rejects that our senses are how we initially obtain knowledge about the world.

In fact he maintained that external, sensory perception could not tell us anything about the de facto existence of the perceived world, which could simply be illusion. However, we can be absolutely sure of our internal perception. When I hear a tone, I cannot be completely sure that there is a tone in the real world, but I am absolutely certain that I do hear. This awareness, of the fact that I hear, is called internal perception.

External perception, sensory perception, can only yield hypotheses about the perceived world, but not truth. Hence he and many of his pupils (in particular Carl Stumpf and Edmund Husserl) thought that the natural sciences could only yield hypotheses and never universal, absolute truths as in pure logic or mathematics.

Franz Brentano maintained that our senses were invalid and could not tell us anything about the world. [7]

This is the exact opposite of Aristotle.

[H]e (Aristotle) thinks that we can and do have knowledge, so that somehow we begin in sense perception and build up to an understanding of the necessary and invariant features of the world. This is the knowledge featured in genuine science (epistêmê).

Brentano and Aristotle are completely opposite on one of the most fundamental points of epistemology.  Because this issue is foundational, it will affect everything else the two men have to say on science and philosophy.  I think it is a mistake to argue that Brentano was Aristotelian.

With this background this paper will examine Menger’s epistemological positions.  Menger lays out his epistemology in a book entitled Investigations into the Method of Social Sciences.[8]  Lawrence H. White in the introduction to the book, explains.

Fortunately, Menger draws and even emphasizes a suitable distinction between the “realist-empirical orientation of theoretical research” and the “exact” orientation (p. 59). The search for so-called, ”exact laws” alone is more appropriately considered the task of purely theoretical research in economics. We can make sense of “exact laws” as theoretical propositions which (necessarily) take an “if-then” form: if conditions A and B hold, then condition C must also obtain. Menger rightly insists (pp. 70, 215) that realist-empirical generalizations (e.g., A and B are usually accompanied by C) can by their nature never attain the strictness that necessarily characterizes logical implications. The two sorts of “laws” are on different epistemological planes. So without too much dissent from Menger’s thought we may divide economic theory from economic history where he divided strict theory from what he considered an empirical sort of theory. What is empirical is really historical, and this accounts for its different status from what is deductive.[9]

Lawrence H. White goes on to explain:

But this is not because, like some economists, he (Menger) sees empiricism or positivism or falsificationism as the only proper method for both social science and natural science. Instead he argues (p. 59 n. 18) that both the search for empirical regularities and the formulation of non-empirical, non-falsifiable (“exact”) theories are methods common to both economics and such natural science fields as chemistry. In viewing theoretical research in every field as having a non-empirical proposition at its core, Menger’s position bears some resemblance to that of modern philosophers of science. [10]

Menger is arguing that science involves a theoretical side that is impervious to empirical data.  This sounds a lot like Brentano’s idea of “inner perception”, which “provides an unmistakable evidence for what is true.”  Menger says there is a second side of economics (science) which is empirical and never provides “exact” true theories in economics or science generally.  This is very similar to the explanation of Brentano’s ideas on empirical evidence: “External perception, sensory perception, can only yield hypotheses about the perceived world, but not truth.”[11]

Brentano’s and Menger’s ideas match up fairly well.  Neither of their positions fit Aristotle’s epistemological ideas.  Both of them have misappropriated the word science.  In science reality is always the final judge.  There is nothing that man knows that did not start with our perceptions and nothing in science that is “exactly true”, i.e., independent of empirical observation.

While Bentano and Menger appear to be opposed to Kant, their epistemological positions are a lot closer to Kant than Aristotle.  Menger’s theoretical-empirical split fits Kant’s noumenal and phenomenal realm when translated to epistemology, which results in the analytic-synthetic distinction.  “Analytic propositions are true by virtue of their meaning, while synthetic propositions are true by how their meaning relates to the world.”[12]

Menger and Brentano’s empirical side is a precursor to Karl Popper’s mistaken ideas on science.  Popper appeared to accept David Hume’s skepticism of induction and his response is the same as Menger’s and Brentano’s, which is that empirical evidence never gives us the truth, just closer approximations.  This is not the philosophy of science and is based in-part on an incorrect understanding of what knowledge is.  Knowledge does not mean being omniscient or having “perfect knowledge”.  It is impossible to gain knowledge by just thinking about things (Without reference to the reality).

Menger’s ideas are inconsistent with Objectivism.  They undermine science and economics.

 

 

[1] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/brentano/#method,  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Franz Brentano (First published Wed Dec 4, 2002; substantive revision Tue Aug 26, 2014)

[2] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/brentano/#method,  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Franz Brentano (First published Wed Dec 4, 2002; substantive revision Tue Aug 26, 2014)

[3] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/brentano/#method,  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Franz Brentano (First published Wed Dec 4, 2002; substantive revision Tue Aug 26, 2014)

[4] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/brentano/#method,  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Franz Brentano (First published Wed Dec 4, 2002; substantive revision Tue Aug 26, 2014)

[5] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/brentano/#method,  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Franz Brentano (First published Wed Dec 4, 2002; substantive revision Tue Aug 26, 2014)

[6] Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels, 29, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/aristotle.html.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Brentano, accessed November 11, 2015, Wikipedia, Franz Brentano

[8]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS

[9]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS, Introduction, p. xi.

[10]https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Investigations%20into%20the%20Method%20of%20the%20Social%20Sciences_5.pdf ,  INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE METHOD OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ECONOMICS, Introduction, p. xiii, Lawrence H. White.

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Brentano, accessed November 11, 2015, Wikipedia, Franz Brentano

[12] Wikipedia, Analytic–Synthetic Distinction, Accessed  October 21, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic%E2%80%93synthetic_distinction.

December 6, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, -History, philosophy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Your Position on Patents Reveals About You

It is surprising how much your position on patents reveals about your philosophical premises.  We need to first understand five fundamental facts about patents.

 

  1. The wealthiest countries in the world have the strongest patent systems.

This fact should be readily apparent to anyone who has looked into this subject.  There have been a number of studies on point and the correlation is at least as strong as the economic freedom index.

 

  1. Almost all new technologies are developed by the countries with the strongest patent systems.

This fact should be readily apparent to anyone who has looked into this subject.  This obvious fact has been verified by studies.

 

  1. The Industrial Revolution started in the countries (Great Britain and the US) that had the first functioning patent systems.[1]

Again this fact should apparent to anyone who has looked into this subject.

 

  1. Ayn Rand called patents (and copyrights) the most fundamental of all property rights.aynrandstamp

 

  1. Patents are enshrined in the US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8.

Patents and copyrights are the only rights mentioned in the original Constitution.  Note the Bill of Rights was not part of the original Constitution.[2]

 

Conclusions

Here are some straight forward conclusions we can draw from these facts.

 

  1. When a person is against patent rights for inventors, they are not an Objectivist, they are a poser.

 

  1. When someone argues that patents inhibit economic growth, they have an almost insurmountable burden of proof to overcome.

 

  1. When someone argues that patents retard the growth of new technologies, their position is not just wrong, it shows the person is irrational.

 

  1. When a person is against patents they are not pro-Constitution (a supporter of the Constitution), they are a poser.

Many libertarians and Austrians want to act like they support the US Constitution, but attack the property rights of inventors (patents).  You cannot have it both ways.

 

Here are some other conclusions that we can draw that are not quite as straight forward.

 

  1. People who attack patents have rejected Natural Rights.

Patents are built on Natural Rights (as is the founding of the US).  Under Natural Rights theory anyone who creates something has a property right in their creation.  Note that the libertarians and Austrians (economics) who argue against patents have all rejected Natural Rights and adopted Utilitarianism as their political ethics.  The socialists who argue against patents have adopted Altruism as their political ethics.

 

  1. People who attack patents believe reason is limited.

The Libertarians that attack patents are all enthralled with the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, like Hume, Mill, Burke[3], and Hayek[4].  David Hume was an extreme skeptic that said humans could not even show we existed.  Hume argued that cause and effect did not exist.  He also argued induction and therefore science were nonsense.  He attacked Natural Rights and argued that a rational ethics was impossible.  (Hume supporters will argue he was just skeptical of these things, but the ferocity with which he attacks them shows that this was not just an interesting academic exercise on the part of Hume).  All of these philosophers undermine reason.  Many like Kant say they are for reason, but reason is limited.  That is a contradiction, but beyond this post.  Of course it is clear that the socialists also have rejected reason.

 

 

 

[1] The first patent system was Venice in the 1400s and Venice was one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced cities in the world at the time.

[2] The Writ of Habeas Corpus is not a Right, it is a procedural guarantee.

[3] Burke is sometime considered part of the Scottish Enlightenment and sometimes not.  In this case he should be included.

[4] Intellectually Hayek fits the Scottish Enlightenment to a tee even though he is not normally included in this group.

September 16, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, News, Patents | , , , , | 3 Comments

Austrian Economics: Not Just Wrong

Numerous Objectivists and well-meaning advocates of freedom are surprised when I show them that Austrian Economics is not a pro-reason, pro-freedom, intellectual movement.  When I show them what the Austrians are saying, they make all sorts of excuses for the Austrians, including that the Austrians do not mean what they are saying, that these errors do not affect the excellent economic work the Austrians have done, and that these problems are limited to a small minority group of Austrians.  It is time that we take a good look at what Austrian Economics says and examine whether we want to lend our good name to this movement.  Below I discuss some of the common talking points.

 

1) Patents

The Austrians have been at the center of the anti-patent movement.  They argue that patents hurt the economy and slow down technological progress.  The wealthiest countries in the world have the strongest patent systems; almost all new technologies are developed by the countries with the strongest patent systems, the Industrial Revolution started in countries with the first and strongest patent systems and those countries with the strongest patents systems correlate well with their economic freedom index.  If a socialist ignored this amount of overwhelming macroeconomic evidence, we would vilify them.

humeHowever it is worse than just ignoring the evidence  Matt Ridley, author of the Rational Optimist and darling of the Austrians, is an example of how the Austrians are willing to lie to win their points on patents.  Ridley makes the claim that technological progress does not require patents and then cites a number of technologies that were never patented.  The book (Rational Optimist) states that a number of inventions were never patented, p. 264, such as automatic transmission, Bakelite, ballpoint pens, cellophane, cyclotrons, gyrocompasses, jet engines, magnetic recording, power steering, safety razors and zippers.  Five minutes of competent research shows that all these technologies are subject to numerous patents.  The case of Bakelite shows that Ridley is not just incompetent, but a liar.  A simple internet search shows that chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944) invented and first patented the synthetic resin that we know as Bakelite in 1907.[1]  I have made this point publicly and I have heard no apologies or retractions from Ridley or the Austrians.  The Austrians do not even appear bothered by this blatant lie, they continue to repeat the essence of the lie whenever they get a chance.

If Al Gore did this we would ridicule him.  But when it comes to the Austrians, we stand aside and make excuses for them.  It is worse than that, because the Austrians are part of a machine to manufacture lies about patents faster than they can be refuted.  See Adam Mossoff’s paper on point http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2015/11/19/repetition-of-make-them-true/id=63302/.  Note, that this is exactly the technique AGW environmental Nazis use.

Liars should not be trusted at all and it turns out the Matt Ridley has doubled down on his lies.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal he states:

                “Simultaneous discovery and invention mean that both patents and Nobel Prizes are fundamentally unfair things. And indeed, it is rare for a Nobel Prize not to leave in its wake a train of bitterly disappointed individuals with very good cause to be bitterly disappointed.” http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-myth-of-basic-science-1445613954

What Ridley is saying is that Nobel Prize winners and inventors are frauds.  He states that “technological evolution has a momentum of its own.”  Ridley is saying that scientists and inventors do not create anything, society does.  Ridley is not just a liar- he is EVIL.  Where did Ridley get these ideas?  They are straight from F.A. Hayek’s “Cultural Evolution.”  Ridley is not alone or anomalous among the Austrians.  Reason Magazine, the Cato Institute, Foundation fo Economic Education, and the Wall Street Journal have all joined in to propagate the Austrian lies to promote their anti-patent agenda.

Diedre McCloskey is another Austrian Economist that denigrates the work of inventors, engineers and scientists, suggesting that technological progress is on auto-pilot.  These attacks are exactly the same anti-achievement, anti-reason attacks you get from the left.  They sound like James Taggart from Atlas Shrugged:

’He didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression.  He couldn’t have invented HIS metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. HIS Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention?  Everybody uses the work of everybody else.  Nobody ever invents anything.’ (Jim Taggart) She (Cheryl) said, puzzled, ‘But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time.  Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?’”

This Austrian position is a repackaging of Hayek’s Cultural Evolution.  This vicious attack on human greatness is not a minor flaw or error.

 

2) The Austrians use reason and evidence to support their positions?

Mises: The Austrians are clear that praxeology and their economic theories are not based on empirical evidence.

                “[Praxeology’s] cognition is purely formal and general without reference to the material content and particular features of the actual case. Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori.”  Mises, Human Action, p. 32

“All theorems of economics are necessarily valid in every instance in which all the assumptions presupposed are given.” Mises, Human Action, p. 66

“Apart from the fact that these conclusions cannot be “tested” by historical or statistical means, there is no need to test them since their truth has already been established. Historical fact enters into these conclusions only by determining which branch of the theory is applicable in any particular case.”  Murray N. Rothbard https://mises.org/library/praxeology-methodology-austrian-economics.

You can find Austrians (Mises) saying this all over and supporting it.  If the Austrians (Mises branch) are using evidence to reach their conclusions, then they have to admit praxeology is wrong.  If praxeology is right, then you have to admit that they are not using empirical evidence.  There is no middle ground here.

 

Hayek: These Austrians are clear that reason is impotent.

                “According to this theory, rules, norms and practices evolve in a process of natural selection operating at the level of the group. Thus, groups that happen to have more efficient rules and practices tend to grow, multiply, and ultimately displace other groups. The theory, of which Hayek himself was proud, is on all accounts central to his economic, social, and political project.” (Emphasis Added) http://institutoamagi.org/download/Angner-Erik-The-history-of-Hayeks-Theory-of-cultural-Evolution.pdf

“Burke and Hayek, then, shared a common enemy as well as a common understanding: Enlightenment rationalism. Perhaps the most characteristic attribute of Enlightenment thought was its cavalier dismissal of ‘irrational’ tradition as mere superstition and prejudice.” (Emphasis added) http://www.nhinet.org/raeder.htm

According to Hayek, reason was not the driving force behind cultural evolution, but rather co-evolved in the course of this process.  (Emphasis Added)  http://www.bath.ac.uk/economics/staff/horst-feldmann/feldmann-2005-hayek-theory-of-cultural-evolution.pdf

“Hayek tells us that that rationality (he does not explicitly distinguish between either “”reason”” and “”rationality”” or “”reasonable”” and “”rational””) is “”no more than some degree of coherence and consistency in a person’s actions, some lasting influence of knowledge or insight which, once acquired, will affect his action at a later date and in different circumstances.”” Hayek also maintains that behavior guided by habit, custom, and tradition is rational in the sense that such behavior is not contrary to intelligent action.”  https://home.isi.org/hayek-role-reason-human-affairs#sthash.1zV4WFR9.dpuf

“Hayek’s argument is primarily directed against certain epistemological views that he associates with the philosophy of Rene Descartes and the Enlightenment, views he labels “”constructivist rationalism.”” For Hayek, the constructivist mentality is characterized by 1) belief in a socially autonomous human reason capable of designing civilization and culture; 2) a radical rejection of tradition and conventional behavior; 3) a tendency toward animistic or anthropomorphic thinking; and 4) the demand for rational justification of values.”  https://home.isi.org/hayek-role-reason-human-affairs#sthash.1zV4WFR9.dpuf

“This tradition is characterized, moreover, by an evolutionary perspective that conceives social institutions and practices—law, morals, money, the market mechanism, habits, language—not as products of conscious construction or enlightened invention but of a suprarational trial-and-error process of cultural evolution.”  https://home.isi.org/hayek-role-reason-human-affairs#sthash.1zV4WFR9.dpuf

“However, Hayek seemingly came to doubt there could be any such thing as properly constructed rule of law.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friedrich-hayek/#LawEcoNic

“In his philosophy, Hayek relegates reason to a minor role. He argues for a modest perspective of people’s reasoning capabilities. He contends that reason is passive and that it is a social product.” http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2015/08/rand-hayek-comparison/

Hayek’s writings on cultural evolution are long winded and therefore do not make for clear quotes.  This is not surprising when people are arguing against reason they are often long winded, such as Kant. When the Supreme Court writes a long opinion you can be sure that they are not using reason and attempting to bury the irrationalism of their argument in lots of words.

It is clear from the quotes above and related papers (most by Hayek supporters) that Hayek thinks that reason cannot be used (is impotent) to understand any social institutions.  At best Hayek is saying that reason is useful in the limited sphere of hard sciences.  If so this is just a variation on Kant.

If the Austrians (Hayek) are using reason as the Austrian apologists argue, then they have to abandon the whole idea of cultural evolution.  If CE is right, then the Austrians are rejecting reason.  Hayek was clear that Cultural Evolution (CE) underlies all his ideas in economics.  If CE is wrong then Hayek’s whole case for freedom falls as does his ideas on spontaneous order.  His ideas on spontaneous order require Natural Rights, which Hayek rejects.

We have to take people’s ideas seriously.  The Austrian fans are always making excuses for why Hayek, Mises, Menger, etc. don’t mean what they are saying.  When we are reviewing socialist ideas, such as Keynes, we hold Keynes not only responsible for what he said, but the logical conclusions of what he said.

It is a logical contradiction to use words to be against reason and therefore most people are polite or generous and assume that the Austrians do not mean what they are saying.  This is fine in casual conversation, but when people are writing about their ideas you have to take them at their word.

Mises and Hayek are both rejecting reason from different points of view.  This is not surprising because the intellectual tradition of Austrians is David Hume.  Hume is perhaps the worst anti-reason philosopher in the last 300 years.  Hume and Adam Smith were great friends.  Hayek is a straightforward extension of the Hume- Smith line of irrationalism.  Menger and Mises follow a slightly different path of Hume to Franz Brentano, who elevates emotions to the level of epistemological absolutes.  Hume and Smith did the same thing.

Apologists for the Austrians always suggest that I am making huge leaps without evidence.  If I said that Keynes is the product of the Kant-Marx line no one would suggest that I am making outrageous leaps.  Intellectuals are responsible for not only exactly what they say, but also the logical conclusions of what they say.  Just because Austrians spout that they were for free markets does not mean that we can hold them to a different standard than the socialists.

 

3) Are the Austrians Really for Free Markets?

Menger pushed the following ideas: (1) public works constructed by the state such as roads, railways and canals. (2) government established agricultural and vocational training institutions (Menger 1994: 123). (3) government subsidies to certain sectors. (4) state intervention to stop clearing of forests on private property in the mountains of Austria when this clearing had serious and bad effects on agriculture. (5) government intervention to stop child labour (Menger 1994: 129), according to this article http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.mx/2012/08/rescuing-menger-from-austrians.html.

Hayek was willing to make all sorts of compromises with the idea of free markets, because he was committed to Cultural Evolution, not reason and not Natural Rights.  For instance, he was for the government providing everyone with a “Basic Income” according to this article http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/why-did-hayek-support-basic-income.

In this quote Hayek argues for mandatory insurance.  “Once it becomes the recognized duty of the public to provide for the extreme needs of old age, unemployment, sickness, etc., irrespective of whether the individuals could and ought to have made provision themselves, and particularly once health is assured to such an extent that it is apt to reduce individuals efforts, it seems an obvious corollary to compel them to ensure or otherwise provide against those common hazards of life.”  The Constitution of Liberty (1960)

Mises supports fire regulations according to this article http://socialdemocracy21stcentury.blogspot.mx/2010/10/was-mises-socialist-why-mises-refutes.html.

The claim of Austrians that their founders are for a pure free market is absolute nonsense.

 

4) What Are the Supposed Great Achievements of the Austrians?

I am constantly told that the Austrian Economists made great contributions to economics, whatever their other faults.  Other than Menger’s Marginal Utility, Hayek’s flawed ideas on Spontaneous Order, and perhaps Mises’ insight that War does not create prosperity, I am unaware of any other great economic contributions by the Austrians to economics.  I have asked numerous Austrians to name the great economic contributions of the Austrians and they are never able to actually name any.

What the Austrians were good at was criticizing socialism and Marxism.  The ability to criticize is not the same thing as the ability to put forward good economic theories.

Here are a number of errors that Austrians make in economics.  They claim that fractional reserve banking creates money out of thin air.  This position is absurd and makes Austrians look like flat Earthers.  Here is an article on point https://hallingblog.com/2012/11/13/understanding-the-coming-financial-collapse-central-banking-fraction-reserve-banking-and-legal-tender-laws/.  The Austrian Business Cycle Theory does not fit the empirical facts and even some Austrians have admitted so in academic papers.  Of course this does not matter because empirical evidence is irrelevant (Mises) or we cannot use reason to analyze our own world (Hayek).  The Austrians obsession with the Fed (Central Banks) as the cause of all recessions results in them ignoring other important facts in the economy and creates a mystical obsession with Central Banks.  The Austrians position on Property Rights is not only wrong, it undermines capitalism and the law.

 

5) Ayn Rand on the Austrians.

Rothbard: Rothbard is the father of the anarcho-capitalism movement.  Rand described it as “a naive floating abstraction”.

Hayek: Ayn Rand in her marginalia launched a nasty attack on Friedrich von Hayek calling him, among other things, a “God damn fool” and a “vicious bastard.” (Mayhew, ed., Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, pp. 149 and 151.)

 Mises:  Rand called him the greatest living economist.  However, Branden appeared to speak for himself and Ayn Rand says:

“We must take the gravest exception, for example, to the general doctrine of praxeology; to the assertion that all value-judgments are outside the province of reason, that a scientific ethics is impossible; to the disavowal of the concept of inalienable rights; and to many of the psychological view expressed.”  (Branden 1963b, 34) The Journal of Ayn Rand Sutidies Vol. 6 No. 2.

According to Branden, Rand’s comments in the margin of Human Action were highly critical of Mises works.  Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand.

What Rand admired about Mises were his criticisms of socialism and Marxism.

Rand’s overall evaluation of the Austrians is damning.  Rand was initially attracted to some of the Austrians.  This only proves she was human.  Thus, it is not surprising that many Objectivists are initially attracted to the Austrians, as was I.   .

What is interesting is that most Austrians understand that Objectivism is incompatible with Austrian Economics, but many Objectivists have not figured this out.

 

 

6) Conclusion

 

Austrian Economics is not just wrong, it is actively working against Freedom, Capitalism, Science, and Reason.  The case against Austrian Economics is overwhelming.

  • -Austrian Economics rejects and denigrates the intellectual achievements of inventors, engineers, and scientist.
  • -Austrian Economics rejects and actively undermines reason and science.  (The modern Austrians are happy to lie to promote their positions.)
  • -Austrians are not defenders of the United States Constitution.
  • -Austrians undermine property rights, the law, and Natural Rights.
  • -Austrian Economics actively undermines the idea of a rational Ethics.
  • -The great Austrian Economists were not defenders of free markets and capitalism.  They were quite willing to allow government interference in the market, if it fit their goals.
  • -Austrian Economics pushes a number of economics theories that are laughably wrong.

 

If we hold the Austrians to the same standards we do for the socialists, we see that they are essentially the same.

[1] http://bakelitecollector.com/bakelite-history

September 12, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, Patents | , , | 1 Comment

Milton Friedman: Advocate for Freedom?

I have been criticized for pointing out that Austrian Economics, particularly Menger, Mises, and Hayek, is not consistent with reason, science, or Natural Rights and therefore not consistent with Capitalism.  In this article I am going to apply the same standards to Milton Friedman, who is also often cited as a great advocate of freedom and capitalism.

Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics and is not part of the Austrian School of Economics.  He is often classified as a monetarist or part of the Chicago School of Economics, I think the latter is more accurate.  Ayn Rand was no fan of Friedman.  She criticized his belief that economics must be morally neutral.   In this video, Rand states that Friedman is not an advocate for Capitalism and an enemy of Objectivism.Friedman

 

Epistemology

Milton Friedman laid out his ideas on epistemology in the essay “The Methodology of Positive Economics” (1953).  Some experts claim that the essay was a big influence on the Chicago School of Economics.  In this article he essentially argues for a pragmatic approach to epistemology, which boils down to if a model (theory) is predictive it is correct.

Friedman’s methodology, which appears to justify the eclectic and pragmatic view that economists should use any model that appears to “work” regardless of how absurd or unreasonable its assumptions might appear, has been deployed in service of a rigid theoretical orthodoxy.

Philosophy of Economics

Friedman argues that economic models are generally judged by the reasonableness of the underlying assumptions/propositions, however he thinks this is incorrect.

In so far as a theory can be said to have “assumptions” at all, and in so far as their “realism” can be judged independently of the validity of predictions, the relation between the significance of a theory and the “realism” of its “assumptions” is almost the opposite of that suggested by the view under criticism. Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions (in this sense).

The Methodology of Positive Economics (1953)

It is easy to show Friedman’s pragmatism is mistaken.  Copernican Heliocentrism with its epicycles of the planets was highly predictive, but it was not science.  In science/engineering this is known as a heuristic model.  Heuristic models are often created by curve fitting the observed data.  They predict how a system will work within very narrow circumstance, but do not explain the underlying physics (causes).  As a result, heuristic models cannot be extended or built upon, when people attempt to do so they lead to false conclusions.

Friedman’s epistemology boils down to pragmatic “pure empiricism”, which means he accepts the evidence of his senses, but denies logic and concepts.  Friedman disconnects assumptions/propositions from the results of the model, which is an attack on logic.  An analogy would be that it might make no sense that doing a rain dance causes it to rain, but our empirical evidence says that it is predictive of whether it rains in the next couple of days so it is a good theory.  As a result, we are supposed to ignore that there is no causal relationship between the rain and the rain dance.

Friedman’s epistemology is anti-reason.  In one case Friedman argued that we need freedom because of this epistemological uncertainty.  “I have no right to coerce someone else, because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong.”[1]  This is common position of libertarians and Austrians – lack of knowledge requires freedom.  This position not only undercuts all of science, it removes reason as the foundation of ethics, political philosophy, and law.  It is also unadulterated nonsense.

 

Science

Friedman is not proposing to do science, he is proposing to collect data that never leads to knowledge.  Science is based both on reality and reason/logic.  Friedman wants to ignore the reason/logic side of science.  While Friedman has different reasons for not proposing to do science, he is otherwise consistent with the Menger, Mises, and Hayek in rejecting science in economics.  Ultimately, Friedman’s ideas on science are just a rehash of Karl Popper’s misguided concept of science.

 

Ethics

Friedman is consistent with the Austrians in suggesting that economics must be value free – that is devoid of ethics.  Friedman argues in his paper The Methodology of Positive Economics, that for a discipline to be a science it must be free of moral judgments.  However, Friedman appears to making a finer distinction of where ethics fits in science and particularly in economics.

Positive economics is in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments. As Keynes says, it deals with “what is,” not with “what ought to be.”

The Methodology of Positive Economics

First, science requires a profound set of ethics that are unique in history.  This ethics requires reporting the data accurately,[2] follow the data to its logical conclusion, and never ascribing non-natural causes to the observations.

Second, imagine taking Friedman’s point of view in the science of medicine.  Medical doctors are not there to deal with ought to be, just to observe what is.  Are doctors biased in their observations, because they bring ethics into their science?

The question of ethics in economics disappears if the correct fundamental questions of economics iare defined and therefore the definition of economics is properly defined.  The most fundamental question of economics is: What is the source of real per capita increase in wealth?  This leads to the correct definition of economics which is the study of how man obtains the things he needs to live.  This puts the focus on human well-being, just like medicine.

Economists who pretend that they are not injecting ethics into economics are really pushing utilitarianism, often summed up as ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.  This always leads to disaster.  In the short term the greatest good for the greatest number always weighs in favor of taking the property of those who create and giving it to those who do not, for instance.  In fact, many philosophers who push utilitarianism also push socialism.  The counter is usually that stealing people’s property is not good in the long run, but this argument rarely wins over most people.

I searched if Friedman ever mentions Natural Rights or Locke and never found anything.  This is not surprising as he explicitly rejects ethics, at least in economics, and implicitly accepts utilitarianism.

Friedman is inconsistent with the founding principles of the United States, inconsistent with Objectivism, and not an advocate of Capitalism, which is the economic system that occurs when a country protects people’s Natural Rights.

Friedman, in my opinion, is highly influence by the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, which would not be surprising as Adam Smith is in this group and also Jeremy Bentham, one of the big proponents of utilitarianism. [3] The Scottish Enlightenment philosophers were also highly skeptical of the efficacy of reason.

 

Source of Economic Growth

Friedman did not write much about what causes real per capita increases in wealth.  I assume he accepted the standard neo-classical idea that increases in capital were the cause of economic growth.  This does not fit the empirical evidence.  Friedman’s lack of interest in the question is damning.  Although, he did focus his attention on what inhibits economic growth.

Friedman spends almost no time discussing inventions or inventors.  Inventions are the only way to increase real per capita incomes and define the upper bound on the standard of living in any given period of time.  The fact that Friedman ignores them shows incredibly poor judgment.

 

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the first time in history that real per capita incomes started to grow consistently.  Friedman’s only comments about the most important event in the history of economics was that the idea of robber barons was a myth.  This is not what I would expect of a scientist, however Friedman was clear that he was not doing science.

 

Conclusion

Milton Friedman hardly fares any better than the Austrian Economists.  Personally, I think his writing is much better than the Austrians and he is more likeable, which seemed to be part of his success in spreading his ideas.

Friedman’s ideas are inconsistent with reason, science, or Natural Rights and therefore not consistent with Capitalism.  He is not proposing to do science and undermines reason with his pragmatism.  However, unlike the Austrians, Milton Friedman’s supporters are not actively undermining property rights in his name.

 

 

 

[1] https://mises.org/library/friedman-intolerance-critique

[2] Something the so-called scientists studying Anthropomorphic Global Warming ignore.

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/07/31/milton-friedmans-property-rights-legacy/#264b72e06663

August 27, 2016 Posted by | -Economics, Innovation | , , , | 1 Comment