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catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for December 2006

'Big man' Rudd?

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As Terje Petersen draws to our attention, Kevin Rudd is going around giving Hayek free publicity again. On one level, all publicity is good publicity. But Rudd’s hackneyed Cliffs Notes ‘understanding’ of Hayek needs to be constantly knocked on the head. The most howling reading of Hayek by Rudd is where he says:

The Prime Minister’s fundamentalism is driven in large part by the neo-liberalism of Friedrich Hayek, who argued that the only determinant of human freedom was the market. In fact, Hayek also argued that any form of altruism was dangerous because it distorted the market. To avoid inefficiencies, altruism had to be purged from the human soul. Hayek described altruism as something belonging to primitive societies that had no place in the modern world.

Rudd succeeds in making Hayek sound like Ayn Rand, the same Ayn Rand who regarded Hayek as ‘real poison’ because she thought him too moderate. Where does Rudd get this from? I surmise that it must be Hayek’s references to ‘the atavism of social justice’. Basically Hayek argued that the idea of social justice was animated by instincts evolved in early human society when people lived in small tribes and therefore societies were governed like families. Under such conditions, people got used to the idea that not only was it important to iron out disparities in wealth within such ‘families’ but that it was feasible to. The other implication of such small tribe living was that laws could be personalised and the idea of ‘the rule of a particular lawgiver’ who had maximum discretion to adjust conditions between individuals living in such small tribes was both accepted and feasible.

Hayek argued that as the boundaries of society expanded beyond those of the small tribe, the sorts of political habits of mind which evolved under such tribal conditions was inappropriate. If Rudd had been reading Hayek properly he would have been aware of all this because he cites the money quote in his speech to the CIS (Note these are quotes by Hayek picked out by Rudd himself):

“When I pass from the morals of the hunting band in which man spent most of his history, to the morals which made possible the market order of the open society, I am jumping over a long intermediate stage…From it date those codifications of ethics which became embodied in the teachings of the mono-theistic religions”.

“As an example, continued obedience to the command to treat all men as neighbours would have prevented the growth of an extended order (i.e. societies within markets). For those now living within (this) order, they gain from not treating one another as neighbours but by applying in their interactions the rules of the extended (i.e. market) order…instead of the rules of solidarity and altruism”.

Now, one may wish to query the anthropological foundations of Hayek’s argument but what he is saying in his comments on the atavism of social justice, which are developed in his later books like Law, legislation and liberty is actually a far cry from saying that ‘altruism is undesirable’. Nothing in what Hayek says is disapproving of people continuing to be altruistic to each other or for them to treat, say, their family members better than any stranger off the street. But that is a different issue from whether or not the laws that govern interactions between members of society should necessarily enforced prescriptive moral codes that, for instance, require individuals to be altruistic by requiring them to do certain things for their neighbours as opposed to merely refraining from doing certain things to their neighbours.

More importantly, what Hayek finds undesirable are the political habits of mind that he thinks were developed under the conditions of living in small tribes such as personalised justice (i.e. the rule of men as opposed to the rule of law which treats individuals impartially regardless of whether the judge is related to the person before the court), excessive discretion being given to the ‘tribal chief’ and xenophobia. So what is Rudd on about? Does he want us to go back to ‘Big Man’ tribal rule with him doling out favours to his mates? If not, he should have no problems with Hayek’s normative conclusions about the implications of ‘small tribe’ political habits though he may choose to argue within the bounds of reason that Hayek’s attempt to categorise ‘social justice’ within these conceptual categories is controversial (I happen to agree with Hayek but that’s off-topic).

So what’s going on? Commenter Scott Wickstein on the ALS thread may be spot on when he says:

I don’t think even Rudd himself is taking his articles about Hayek particularly seriously. He’s just writing them to impress the Canberra Press Gallery that he is smarter then they are, and smarter then Howard to boot.

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December 20, 2006 at 4:05 pm

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Friedman and Pinochet

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Brian Doherty sets the record straight on the late Milton Friedman’s association with the Pinochet regime:

    For years, the University of Chicago had a program in partnership with the Catholic University of Chile providing scholarships to Chileans to study at Chicago. Pinochet’s economic advisers were thus University of Chicago-trained, and known as the “Chicago Boys.” But Friedman’s only direct connection was when he was invited by fellow Chicago professor Arnold Harberger–who was most closely involved with the Chilean program–to give a week of lectures and public talks in Chile in 1975.
    While there, Friedman did have one meeting with Pinochet, for less than an hour. Pinochet asked Friedman to write him a letter about his judgments on what Chilean economic policy should be, which Friedman did . He advocated quick and severe cuts in government spending and inflation, as well as instituting more open international trade policies—and to “provide for the relief of any cases of real hardship and severe distress among the poorest classes.” He did not choose this as an opportunity to upbraid Pinochet for any of his repressive policies, and many of Friedman’s admirers, including me, would have felt better if he had.
    But that was the extent of his involvement with the Chilean regime—and it fit with a recurring pattern in Friedman’s career of advising with an even hand all who would listen to him. It was not a sign of approval of military authoritarianism. Friedman, in defending himself against accusations of complicity with or approval of Pinochet, noted in a 1975 letter to the University of Chicago school newspaper that he “has never heard complaints” about giving aid and comfort to the communist governments to which he had spoken, and that “I approve of none of these authoritarian regimes—neither the Communist regimes of Russia and Yugoslavia nor the military juntas of Chile and Brazil. But I believe I can learn from observing them and that, insofar as my personal analysis of their economic situation enables them to improve their economic performance, that is likely to promote not retard a movement toward greater liberalism and freedom.”

This assessment of the realities facing Friedman is perfectly consistent with my earlier post on this issue here.

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December 20, 2006 at 2:23 pm

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Are libertarian parties a waste of time?

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CL draws to our attention in the Open Forum a recent article by Bruce Bartlett which sets out the kind of arguments which LDP activists will inevitably come against eventually from sceptical observers (putting aside the US specific considerations). I’m sure John Humphreys and others will have perfectly cutting responses to the following comments of Bartlett’s so let’s sort them out here:

    The Libertarian Party is worse than a waste of time. I believe it has done far more to hamper the advancement of libertarian ideas and policies than it has done to advance them. In my view, it is essential for the Libertarian Party to completely disappear before libertarian ideas will again have political currency …

    Furthermore, to the extent that third parties exist, they invariably hurt the party closest to them ideologically …
    Over the years, I have known a great many people who have flirted with the Libertarian Party, but were ultimately turned off by its political impotence and immaturity. C-SPAN runs Libertarian conventions, and viewers can see for themselves how unserious and childish they are. They show that the Libertarian Party is essentially a high-school-level debating club where only one question is ever debated — who is the purest libertarian, and what is the purest libertarian position?
    At times, serious people have tried to get control of the Libertarian Party and make it a viable organization. But in the end, the crazies who like the party just as it is have always run them off. In the process, however, they have also run off millions of voters who have supported libertarian candidates at one time or another. After realizing what a waste of time the Libertarian Party is, many became disengaged from politics and don’t vote at all.
    The result has been that libertarian-leaning activists have been drawn away from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party by the Libertarian Party, leaving the major parties with fewer libertarians. In other words, both major parties have fewer libertarians than they would without the Libertarian Party, meaning that the net result of the party has been to make our government less libertarian than it would otherwise be.

Bartlett’s article does also have some constructive criticism. His proposal for an alternative to a libertarian party is as follows:

In place of the party, there should arise a new libertarian interest group organized like the National Rifle Association or the various pro- and anti-abortion groups. This new group, whatever it is called, would hire lobbyists, run advertisements and make political contributions to candidates supporting libertarian ideas. It will work with both major parties. It can magnify its influence by creating temporary coalitions on particular issues and being willing to work with elected officials who may hold libertarian positions on only one or a handful of issues. They need not hold libertarian views on every single issue, as the Libertarian Party now demands of those it supports.

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December 20, 2006 at 11:26 am

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Justice in Iraq II

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Two military detainees were “placed in cells at Compound 5, the high-security unit where Saddam Hussein has been held.” Their “legal rights, laid out in a letter from Lt. Col. Bradley J. Huestis of the Army, the president of the status board, allowed them to attend the hearing and testify. However, under Rule 3, the letter said, ‘You do not have the right to legal counsel, but you may have a personal representative assist you at the hearing if the personal representative is reasonably available.’

First Lt. Lea Ann Fracasso is a “spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s detention operations in Iraq.” The detainees “were permitted [to attend] their hearings only because they were Americans, Lieutenant Fracasso said. The cases of all other detainees are reviewed without the detainees present, she said. In both types of cases, defense lawyers are not allowed to attend because the hearings are not criminal proceedings, she said.”

“At the hearings, a woman and two men wearing Army uniforms but no name tags or rank designations sat a table with two stacks of documents. One was about an inch thick, and the men were allowed to see some papers from that stack. The other pile was much thicker, but they were told that this pile was evidence only the board could see.”

“Five times in the first week, guards shackled the prisoners’ hands and feet, covered their eyes, placed towels over their heads and put them in wheelchairs to be pushed to a room with a carpeted ceiling and walls. There they were questioned by an array of officials who, they said they were told, represented the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Intelligence Agency.”

Both detainees were innocent and were arrested after one “pass[ed] information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.” That individual was held 97 days before he was released. He was a Navy veteran. The other was held for close to 50 days, the last 18 of which were after the “detention board met again, without either man present, and determined that [he] was ‘an innocent civilian’.”

“The fluorescent lights in [the first detainee’s] cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold.”

Michael Moss, New York Times, Former U.S. Detainee in Iraq Recalls Torment, 18 December 2006

(Yes, for those who think the messenger might be to blame, this is the same Michael Moss, whose credibility no doubt will be determined by the responses these stories generate.)

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December 19, 2006 at 10:52 pm

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Justice in Iraq (US-style)

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Baghdad:… Khalaf, an Industry Ministry employee seized by American troops who said they found 10 blasting caps and 100 sticks of TNT… stood… [before] a panel of three Iraqi judges of the central court.

The judges reviewed the evidence presented by an American military lawyer—testimony from two soldiers, photographs and a sketch of the scene… Khalaf had no lawyer.

The judges appointed one, but Khalaf had no chance to speak with him. Khalaf told the judges that the soldiers were probably chasing a rogue nephew and denied that the explosives were his or ever in his house.

“Let me examine the pictures,” he insisted. The judges ignored him. His lawyer said nothing, beyond declaring Khalaf’s innocence. The trial lasted 15 minutes.

The judges conducted six trials of similar length and depth before lunch, then deliberated for four minutes. Five defendents were found guilty; one was acquitted. “The evidence is enough,” Judge Saeb Khorsheed Ahmed said in convicting Khalaf. “Thirty years.”

…The stakes are rising. The court has begun sentencing… prisoners to death by hanging; 14 have been sentenced this year.

Almost every aspect of the judicial system is lacking, poorly serving not just detainees but also Iraqi citizens and troops trying to maintain order.

Soldiers who have little if any training in gathering evidence or sorting the guilty from the innocent are left to decide whom to detain. The military conducts reviews to decide whom to release, yet neither Iraqi prisoners nor defense lawyers are allowed to attend…

Tens of thousands of prisoners have been released… often under political pressure… but American soldiers complain they are apprehending many dangerous insurgents again and again. At the same time, detainees are held for long periods… without being charged, in some instances for as long as two years.

Even prisoners who are formally charged and brought to court have little ability to mount defenses.

Most defense lawyers are appointed by the court… they are largely unable to gather evidence because of the threat of violence.

One American lawyer said that in 100 cases he handled, not one defense lawyer had introduced evidence or witnesses…

Even though the U.S. military helps to prosecute cases… it does not always release detainees whose cases are dismissed, officials acknowledged in interviews… this has happened… in about 4 percent of cases.

Michael Moss, IHT, Monday, 18 November 2006, p. 1; an online version is here.

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December 19, 2006 at 2:23 pm

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Justice in US (Soviet-style)

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“Government lawyers argu[ed] that a prisoner could not testify that he was tortured by American agents because their brutality was a secret.”

International Herald Tribune, Editorial, Monday, 18 November 2006, p. 6

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December 19, 2006 at 2:16 pm

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So this is Christmas…

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Saturn, slip your fetters and come hither,
December tipsy with much wine,
Laughing Mirth and Wanton Wit;insnow6401.jpg
While I tell the glad festival of our merry
Caesar and the banquet’s drunken revel…

Statius, Silvae

Christmas, of course, does not belong to us.

‘Put the Christ back in Christmas’, we’re always told. ‘Jesus is the Reason for the Season’ they keep saying. Good people speak these things, earnestly and frequently. Unfortunately for such pious folk, Christmas is related to Christianity in the same limited way as Caesar’s wife is to history: only by marriage. Christ was never really in Christmas. In fact, when you celebrate Christmas by eating too much, drinking too much, feeling up the boss’ wife at the office party, driving the porcelain bus and/or spending a fortune on presents almost, but not quite, entirely unsuitable for the person to whom you gave them, you come rather closer to the real spirit of Christmas.

In the early days of the Church, Jesus Christ got along fine without a birthday. The Gospel writers were as unsure about his birth date as we are now: Matthew tells us that Herod the Great was on the Judæan throne when He was born, and then proceeds to narrate Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Luke, by contrast, times Christ’s birth to coincide with a Roman census. Herod died in 4 BC. Governor Quirinius carried out his census of Judæa in A.D. 6. Considerable interpretive latitude was thus already present in the narrative. No doubt the early Christians knew it and (sensibly) chose to leave well alone. In any case, birthday parties were worldly, pagan affairs, and Christians did not want to associate the good name of their saviour with any of them.

But when Christianity became a faith with claims to universality, the official religion of Constantine’s Empire, this lack of a birthday became something of an embarrassment. Besides, people still expected their twelve days off in December.

Lo! A multitude, handsome and well-dressed
Numerous as those on the benches, makes
Its way all along the rows. Some carry baskets
With breads and napkins and luxurious fare,
Others serve languorous wine in plenty…

Rome’s Saturnalia was a curious mixture of ancient fertility rite and social event. It celebrated the winter solstice, a time when people believed, perhaps, that they needed to make themselves a warm place. It also recalled – for all Romans – a mythical golden age in the distant past when the world was truly merry, a world without war, slavery or hunger.

Romans decorated their doorposts with holly and kissed under the mistletoe. Shops and businesses closed and people greeted one another in the street with shouts of Io Saturnalia! On one day of the twelve, masters waited on their slaves at table while, in the legions, officers served the ranks. A rose was hung from the ceiling in banqueting rooms, and anything said or done sub rosa went no further than the front door. That banqueting could get out of hand is attested to by Seneca, who tells of slaves detailed especially to clean up the spew. The government – in both Rome and the provinces – often laid on free public feasts. In the poem by Statius running through this piece, we’re told how the emperor Domitian held one such feast in the colosseum, somehow combining (and the organisation can only be marvelled at) vast quantities of food with entertainment. The Romans, I should add, had no weekend, no useless and unproductive Saturdays and Sundays, so they looked forward to their sanguinary feriae with considerable relish. The festival of Saturnalia was a time, too, for family dinners, for parties, for amours, for socialising, for wishing others well.

And, of course, the Romans also did something for which the proprietors of department stores the world over should be eternally grateful. They exchanged gifts. Originally (before Rome’s citizens acquired great wealth) these were small earthenware statuettes known as sigillaria. By the end of the first century, however, Martial provides a list of such gifts – with accompanying decorations in verse – that reads for all the world like the David Jones Christmas catalogue: backscratchers, socks, medicine chests, comforters, woolly slippers, board-games, gold-inlaid dishes, jewellery – among other things.

That the commercial aspects of Christmas are Roman in origin should not cause surprise. ‘No one in Gaul ever does business without the involvement of a Roman citizen,’ boasts leading lawyer (and later politician) Cicero in one of his defence speeches, ‘there is not a denarius jingling in Gaul which has not been recorded in the account books of Roman citizens’. Set into the mosaic floors of a number of homes in Pompeii are the phrases Hello Profit! and Profit is Happiness! The Romans were probably history’s first unregenerate capitalists.

Now, as the shade of night steals on
What song heralds the scattering of largess!
Here are young women stirred to lust, easily bought;
Here is all that wins favour with skill and beauty
Buxom Lydians, cymbals of Cádiz, shouting Syrians…

Statius’ picture is a beguiling one, and it is easy to forget that these same Romans could also be rather correct, formal people, militaristic and bloody-minded all at once. Saturnalia, like Christmas, was a time of licence, when people would wink indulgently at each other’s foibles or look the other way. We’ve all heard horror stories about somebody’s brother’s friend’s office Christmas party where the brother’s friend hopes that the boss, his accountant, the head of department, the fellow from the tax office – whoever – will have as little memory of the insults they received as the person who did the insulting.

Christmas is a venerable pagan festival, on a sort of permanent loan from Ancient Rome, and is, perhaps, the very antithesis of Christianity in the lines of its pagan decent. Some of the churches know this, and have left Christmas to the revellers, appalled as much by the Teutonic Christmas tree (which has its origins in Germanic and Norse tree worship) as by the libidinous connotations of too much wine and too little thought, and by the merry jingle of all those cash registers (well, merry beeping these days. The good old capitalistic bell of yore has gone, it seems, the way of the blue suede shoe).

How many years shall this festival abide?
Age will not destroy so sacred a season!
While the hills of Latium remain,
While Father Tiber flows, while Rome stands
With the Capitol you have made –

It will continue.  

[Free translations from Statius’ Silvae i.vi by me, from text as established in the Loeb Classical Library.]  

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December 19, 2006 at 10:27 am

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