Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Philosophical Basis of Libertarian Party

In the days of Nicolous Copernicus (1473-1543), the interest in the stars had to do with the practice of astrology (predicting the future) much more than an academic interest in astronomy. The fortune telling calculations based upon the idea that the earth was the center of the universe, were long and cumbersome and only too often wrong. Copernicus suggested that the calculations would be easier and more accurate if the Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus, 2d cent. A.D.) view that the Earth as the center of the universe was changed to one in which the Sun was the center of the universe. There were two problems with Copernicus’ suggestion, the first was from fellow astrologers who thought the calculations should be difficult and have some element of fate or uncertainty involved. The other was resistance from the religious authorities calling into question the dogma of the time as to the divine nature of the world. It took 150 years, the birth of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and the development of calculus to dispel these superstitions.

What I will be presenting will show that what you have always believed to be true about the material world is in fact a shabby imitation of a much better view. For almost all of the past 6,000 years, mankind has believed that better living could only be obtained by following the right kind of rules, at the right time, enforced by the right people. This belief has come to dominate public thought so thoroughly that there is no discussion to the contrary. All organized religions codify principles in an attempt achieve a better existence here and everlasting life in the future. Even Reason Magazine (3.04) states that there is no philosophical basis for the belief that prosperity is born through freedom of thought and action. The literature of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Thomas Herzek, and other Libertarian writers is dismissed as unreliable. It is argued that just because a planned state has never worked in the past doesn’t prove that it will not work in the future.

The simple observation that planned economies have never delivered what they promise and that every civilization in all recorded history has collapsed would seem to support the libertarian literature that planned societies are doomed to failure. This being the case there should be some philosophical argument that would support the cause of individual freedom. To understand my argument we must understand some specifics concerning philosophy. Philosophy comes from the Greek meaning “the study, pursuit, or love of wisdom.” Traditionally, philosophy has five main branches: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and logic. The unifying feature among all the branches is the use of reason as their primary tool of inquiry.

The field of philosophy concerned with knowledge is epistemology. In the early 18th century, David Hume wrote that all human knowledge was acquired a posteriori, through experience and contact with the world. He made a case that we could never be able to Know (in the capital K sense) anything. Hume then went on and explained that there were two types of knowledge, analytic and synthetic.

Analytic knowledge is known by reason alone, the example that ‘all bachelors are unmarried’ is true because the concept of unmarried is part of the word bachelor. This is necessarily a priori (through reason alone) because it does not require any observation or experience to know it is true. It also delivers very little knowledge of the world.

Hume’s synthetic knowledge as in “all bachelors are bald” cannot be proven by any amount of sheer reasoning. One must examine the population (by experience a posteriori) until you find one hairy unmarried male, then you will know the statement is false or have examined every unmarried male and found out at this instant in time all unmarried males are indeed bald and the statement is true. Because the statement is true at this time does not mean it will be true tomorrow as a hairy bachelor may be born tonight. This is the argument we believe today. Although many believe that personal freedom and prosperity are linked, this is not necessarily true. Every civilization in all recorded history could have failed because we have just not had the right laws at the right time administered by the right people.

In 1979, Milton and Rose Friedman wrote Free To Choose, an a posteriori argument (as suggested by Hume) that prosperity and the freedom to choose are linked. The Reason panel was correct when they said this was not a philosophical argument, but the evidence cited by Friedman is so overwhelming that one would believe that a philosophical argument has to be possible.

In 1760, Immanuel Kant wrote a rebuttal to Hume in his Critique of Pure Reason called “Transcendental Aesthetic”. He argued that synthetic a priori knowledge is possible at least in the area of mathematics. It would seem that 7 + 5 = 12 is a merely analytic proposition, and follows the principle that the 12 is part of the number system that defines 7 + 5. Kant argued that an examination of the 7 and the 5 yield no knowledge that the union of the two sets is in fact 12. Only through intuition (immediate and sensuous thought) and the aid of our five fingers adding to the concept of 7 ,one by one, can we see the number 12. This knowledge is independent of whether we are counting apples or zebras. It requires no experience of the world except to know that there are physical material objects that can be grouped, counted, and added.

We know that in the world in which we live, certain material objects can be grouped, counted, and added and the sums of those objects are equal to the parts at all times irrespective and regardless of the objects. The philosophic certainty of this, along with the knowledge that these material objects are finite in number gives us a fundamental insight into the material world. The first person to examine the world of transactions or distribution of material objects was Wassily Leontief.

Leontief is credited with inventing Linear Programming (Nobel Prize 1973) with his input-output technique. In input-output analysis a table is constructed where the rows of the table represent what one industry sells to another (supply constraints) and the columns represent what one industry buys from another (the variables). It is apparent that all material distributions (or transactions) can be modeled using this technique. It is simply grouping items in columns and rows and adding them. There would be a row with my name, which would list all my transfers to others (money and materials) and a column that would list everything material I received from others.

As an example, let us consider Chevrolet Blazer automobiles. They were created and identified by immediate and sensuous thought, we can count them, and as with all material objects they can be grouped. Let us say there are only three, one in my driveway, one in my neighbor’s driveway, and one still at the dealer. In Leontief’s model, there would be a line for Blazers (the supply constraint), total would be equal to three, distributed with one in my Blazer column, one in my neighbor’s Blazer column and one in the dealer’s column. My columns would not only include the Chevrolet Blazer column but also on all the other rows representing supply constraints it would have colums for me also, it would list out all my other material possessions. Leontief’s equations are nothing more than identifying, counting, and adding all the material objects around us.

While Leontief believed that the purpose of math is numbers (he was always attempting to build bigger and bigger tables), I believe the purpose is insight. Because I cannot (nor can anyone) write all the equations describing all the world’s material distributions or program a computer to solve them, doesn’t mean we can’t understand how they work. Kant used the example of a straight line being the shortest distance between two points. He argued that it was a synthetic proposition because the concept of straight contains nothing of quantity just quality. Intuition must be used to synthesize the concept and relationship between straight and short. Euclid used this as his fourth postulate in describing the world as we see it. For a person interested in knowing the shortest distance between Minneapolis and Chicago, Euclid’s mathematical (philosophic) knowledge that the shortest line will be the straightest will be of absolutely no help because the distance has to be measured. Though it will tell us with certainty that the line will not run through Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The same can be said for Leontief’s input-output models. Leontief’s models were neither a predictive nor a measurement tool and for this reason have been relegated to the backwaters of modern economic thought. But what has been overlooked is that they are an exact representation of all possible distributions of material objects and as such deliver enormous knowledge of the physical world around us. As in Kant’s example, while they will not tell us the best possible distribution of physical objects, they will tell us how the distribution works.

George Dantzig developed the insight into these models in the late 1940’s. He knew that Leontief’s equations form a mathematical geometrical shape called a polytope. A polytope is a set of mathematical equations that bounds a region of feasible solutions. It can be thought of the area inside a sort of geodesic dome where the outer surface is represented by the mathematical equations formed by the rows in Leontief’s table. It describes all possible distributions of material items. As a point is the name for the pictorial representation of a one-dimensional equation, the polytope is the name for the area bounded by a set of multi-dimensional equations.

While mathematicians have developed many geometries, each based upon different postulates, Linear Programming is based upon only three, the postulates that material objects can be identified, counted, and added. Rene’ Descartes, in 1632, published a book showing the relationship between algebraic equations and geometric figures. This start to the science of analytical geometry allowed Danzig to realize (by examination of the polytope and intuition) that the optimum value for a solution to a system of linear equations would always be on the outside surface of the bounded space at an intersection (corner point) of these equations. In finding an optimum solution, he reasoned, all one has to do is to move from corner point to corner point till an optimal value is reached. This is an exact analogy to Euclid’s postulate that the shortest line is the straightest, except it concerns multi-dimensional space and not plane geometry.

Dantzig used an ‘objective function’ to measure the value at each of the corner points. The ‘objective function’ was developed using arbitrary values for the attractiveness of the material objects. In the real world, the objective function is formed by the strength of each person’s desire for material goods vs. the cost, a property known to economists as the ‘utility’ of an item. It is also clear that each person’s desires (utility) as regards to items (respective to the their own best self interest or not) must be additive and can form the ‘objective function’ in the real world. This being the case, we can now begin to understand how the material world operates.

We realize that because the solution with the highest utility value is always on the outside surface of the space bounded by the constraints it is impossible to add constraints to get a solution with a better value! Contrary to all modern thinking and the Reason Magazine panel, prosperity doesn’t come through the right number and kinds of laws (constraints) being enforce by the right kind of people. Any constraint on the distribution of material objects will either have no effect on the total or else produce a less optional situation.

An example on how it works would be if all possible situations (distributions of material objects) were represented by a standard piece of typing paper. The edges of the paper would represent the physical constraints. The present situation would be on a corner, lets us say the top right one (regardless if the constraints defining the corner are real, imagined, or artificial). Lets say that at this point there are many real problems; loss of manufacturing jobs, uncontrolled immigration, lack of security, unemployment, huge deficits to name a few. It is the common wisdom to think that by passing some laws (adding constraints) these problems can be solved. Laws limit the available choices. Passing a law is like tearing the piece of paper in half. If you eliminate the top half of the paper (with the present situation), the new situation will be on the line where the paper was torn and the material utility value of the new situation has to be lower. An example would be minimum wage laws. Right now the Federal Minimum Wage is $5.35 per hour. The ‘real’ minimum wage is higher in almost every area of the country. The present minimum wage law does not effect the economy because there are no jobs paying that scale. If the minimum wage laws were raised to $20.00 per hour there would be significant economic consequences and the resulting situation (utility value) would be worse than it is today. The constraint controlling the economy would become the minimum wage.

If you eliminate the bottom half of the paper (the piece without the present solution) as you can imagine the present situation will not change. No new situations have been created that have a higher utility value have been created. (The present minimum wage is an example, we have eliminated all jobs paying less than $5.35 per hour but since there are no jobs paying that scale anyway it makes no difference) The only way things can get better is to eliminate the constraints that are holding us back. As can be seen in my simple example the only way to make things better, materially speaking, is to add a second piece of paper to the one we have at the top of the existing situation, to make more available situations. But these new situations have to be at the constraints defining the present situation. Adding a second piece of paper to the bottom of the first will increase the amount of freedom and the number of choices; but will not change the present situation. It would be like lowering the present minimum wage to $2.00 per hour. Because the present ‘real’ minimum wage is much higher, it would have no effect even though it would increase the amount of freedom in society.

There are three types of constraints that control our behavior, real, imagined, and artificial. Real constraints are the laws of the physical universe that control the material world around us. The acceleration of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, and the size and shape of the world around us are examples. They are constraints that cannot be changed. The second types are the imagined constraints. They are one’s personal constraints. Our belief of how things work. To change personal beliefs requires education and experience. It is how we choose to live. At one time people believed that the world was flat. Through education and experience we learned it was in fact spherical and that the limits were only an imagined constraint. Today we fly around the world without a thought. The last types of constraints are the artificial constraints imposed upon us by our fellow man, society, and government. These artificial constraints are the ones we should be identifying and trying to remove. These are the laws of the land characterized by religious dogma, prejudice, ignorance, violence, and malice. These are the laws limiting our freedoms.

To summarize:
#1. 1740, Hume writes that all knowledge is by experience.
#2. 1781, Kant makes the case for synthetic a-priori knowledge. In mathematics, we can gain knowledge without experience.
#3. 1930, Leontief develops input-output method to represent any and all distributions of physical objects with linear mathematical equations. These linear equations bound all possible distributions of material items; mathematical shape is called polytope.
#4. 1948, Dantzig showed why optimum solution must be on the surface of polytope and that there can be no better solution inside the polytope. Better solution can only be outside polytope at point where present solution exists. To get a better solution, the constraint has to be moved or removed.
#5. 1979, Milton and Rose Friedman write Free to Choose.

Not New Math

I would like to emphasize I am not writing about some new kind of mathematics but of using mathematics to better describe the properties of the material world around us. We all see the material world, but we cannot see the interaction between all the material objects around us. It is like walking through a forest, while we can see the trees, we cannot see the forest. We can refer back to Copernicus. There is no way you can see that the earth orbits the Sun vs. the Ptolemy model that the Sun orbits the earth. Only when Sir Isaac Newton explained the laws of motion and gravity did it become clear that the modern idea of the solar system was a better representation (more consistent) of the material world. Anyone who has spun a weight around their head on a string or observed the fall of an object has to know that the Ptolemy view of the universe was wrong, but until these experiments were explained there was no way to really know. The same can be said for the material world. It becomes obvious why adding constraints cannot make things better, because they offer no new choices.

Because we can see that all material action is ‘constrained’, either by real constraints, imagined constraints, or the artificial constraints of our fellow man; the present situation has to be the one with the highest ‘utility’ given the present constraints. To return to my Blazer example, the number of Blazers are constrained in that at the present price there are only two people who want one, my neighbor and I. For the dealer to sell the last one he will either have to convince someone that their personal constraint that they would rather walk than buy a Chevrolet is wrong. This he has to do with education. Or he can lower the price so that the difference between a person’s desire for a Blazer and the cost (this is by definition the utility) is great enough so that they will buy. On the other hand many people may want to buy Blazers. If this is the case, after the dealer has sold them all, the remaining people who want one are constrained because there are no more to buy. ‘Immediate and sensuous thought’ and a General Motor’s assembly line can only produce more. The ability to produce more Blazers then becomes the constraint.

Even without understanding the mathematics, we can begin to see that all material goods that are created by immediate and sensuous thought must be constrained, either on the supply side or the demand side. This being the case, adding more constraints can only reduce the number of options available. This is what is mean by a philosophical understanding. Based upon reason alone, we can make the general case that in societies (or in the more general case, universes) that have material objects created by sensuous and immediate though, the prosperity (number of items produced) will be directly proportional to the freedom (amount) of the sensuous and immediate thought (the number of choices).

The philosophical implications on modern thought are as revolutionary as Copernicus’s thoughts about the solar system were in the 16th century. The implication is that while controlling man’s right to choose may not make the present situation worse, it cannot make it better. Every law or regulation that reduces our right to chose becomes another constraint in the system. The far-reaching consequences of this discovery are stunning. Our whole worldview has to change, it turns out nothing is as we have believed for the last 6,000 years. The most stunning realization is that the philosophical examination of the material world guarantees us that there can be no utopia. Utopia in the material sense of prosperity without labor, without immediate and sensuous thought. The material world is built on the worry, woe, and work of individuals now and those that have gone ahead. Galt’s Gulch is just as much a figment of imagination as a worker’s paradise or the socialist state. The most prosperous material world will be achieved with the greatest amount of freedom to choose and the willingness to accept the consequences of those choices, but this in no way means the world will be more peaceful, easier, or safer than it is now. Actually we realize it will be the opposite.

It has always been believed that the purpose of civilization would be to make life easier, safer, and more pleasant. While this is done without losing the right to choose, society will deliver the maximum amount of material prosperity to the individuals. But when individual choices are eliminated, while it doesn’t force things to get worse, it eliminates the possibility that things get better. This has been the case for every civilization in all 6,000 years of recorded history. When individuals in society lose their freedom to choose, society looses its ability to continue to grow and expand. Any action taken to increase safety, equality, or to make things easier will only be successful at the expense of material prosperity.

The second thing we realize is that not all constraints are holding us back. Only the constraints that are actually “in solution”, as Danzig would say, are actually holding us back. While I agree with Milton Friedman’s (Free to Choose) a posteriori arguments for increased freedom to choose, he misses the point that not all constraints are holding us back. We end up spending a great deal of time and effort in working to gain freedoms that don’t matter.

To summarize:

The philosophical examination of the material world leads us to the conclusion that while adding constraints may not necessarily make things worse, it cannot make things better. One can draw a line between two points as short as a straight line, but even the right person, at the right time, with the right pencil cannot draw a line between two points only half as long as the straight one no matter how many curves it has.

Freedom, while it brings prosperity and material wealth, comes with it a price. Many Libertarians believe that as freedom increases, life will get easier. This is not true. Life may get better, be more meaningful, deliver greater satisfaction and self-esteem (materially and spiritually), but it will not necessarily be easier. To live in a free society requires the values of courage, responsibility, and a sense of tolerance and cooperation. These values, and the life they demand, are not easy. To live in a prosperous world is not easy, safe or equal.

What are the constraints holding us back?

In February 2005, Richard Parker wrote an article in the Boston Globe titled: “The pragmatist and the utopian”. In the article he blamed Milton Friedman and the Free market advocates for every economic misfortune since the 70’s. Parker’s criticism is that in no way has the world achieved more equality, requires less effort, or is safer than it was 25 years ago. He is absolutely correct. Friedman set himself up for this blame because he did not emphasize that freedom to choose requires work, worry, and woe. While these arguments are hidden between the lines, I believe he should have put more emphasis on them and explained that Parker’s desire for a utopia of soft, safe, and slow leads to economic, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy.

As I have pointed out in the preceding chapter, to deliver material prosperity requires we eliminate constraints. Also to review, there are real constraints which we don’t know how to remove (laws of nature), the personal or imagined constraints which can be removed through education and experience, and the artificial constraints imposed upon us by society and fellow man. These artificial constraints are the ones we should be looking to remove. Also at this time I would like to point out that killing a person is the ultimate artificial constraint. It eliminates all a person’s choice of freedom of thought and action, while robbing and defrauding are also artificial constraints that diminishes freedom of thought and action.

If there are real constraints holding us back, we have to live with them, if there are imagined constraints we should explain and educate, and if there are artificial constraints, we should remove them. Identifying the artificial constraints that are holding us back and eliminating them will solve many of problems in the material world. Removing constraints that are not holding us back, while laudable, is a waste of our time and effort.

In eliminating constraints the first question we must ask is, “Are we going to increase every man’s freedom to choose?” Any action we take that limits or reduces our choices, by definition, will either not change the utility of the situation or it will make it worse. The second question (if the answer to the first is positive) is “will it make a difference?” i.e. is it the thing that is holding us back, and is it really an artificial constraint? This is the most important point I would like to stress. Only by removing the constraints that are holding us back will we be able to make things better. The insight of the philosophy is that passing new laws will not, can not, at any time solve our problems. Every material problem we see is caused by the present laws and constraints, and adding more cannot make things better, only worse. But eliminating laws at random may not make things better either because the laws we are eliminating might not be the ones holding us back.

So what are the artificial constraints that are holding us back? While I don’t know in the epistemological sense, I can take a guess. At this point we are like the surveyors trying to find the distance between Minneapolis and Chicago. If we are in Cedar Rapids we are not on the right track. I believe the controlling artificial constraints in our society are the ones causing the most crime. This seems like a contradiction, laws causing crime (maybe not), but at the same time the logic is inescapably attractive.

If we can imagine the material polytope as being a huge geodesic dome with the flat panels being the constraints, the number of people on the outside of the dome tells you where the constraint is that is holding us back. The utility is so high that people will break the law and risk the penalties to enjoy that utility. This is why I believe the artificial constraints holding us back are the ones producing the most crime.

The War on Drugs is my first choice for the most destructive and dysfunctional constraint upon society. A couple of years ago, a law enforcement officer told me that 80% of the crime in this country was caused by recreational drugs. This being the case, we can eliminate 80% of the crime in this country just by decriminalizing the manufacture, sale, and use of recreational drugs. (In a society where one is sued for selling hamburgers to fat kids, I have no idea how to legalize crack but I do know how to decriminalize it)

At best, the basis of the whole concept of prohibition is that it will somehow lower the costs of the dysfunctional in society. It doesn’t, you still have the base cost of the dysfunction and the prohibition just triples or quadruples the cost to society. (But as Libertarians you have heard the arguments.) . At worst, it is a belief that society in some manner owns the lives of its members and it is justified in controlling their appetites with legislation and prison to deliver a better society. As we can see from our philosophical view of the material world this will only happen through the cost of our prosperity. This can be seen by comparing the social costs of prohibition in the period 1928 till repeal in 1933 with any other 5-year period up till the drug war replaced it in 1960.

This, I believe, is the number one constraint and should be our highest priority. I believe that the War on Drugs and the belief that it is a moral course and in some way protects society is the cause of all the social dissonance we see in our society. The second area that is a problem is gun control. In the natural law upon which the constitution of this country is based, our right to life is inalienable. That means it can’t be given away, transferred, assumed, or surrendered. The people in the airplanes on 911 died because they followed the advice of the late Pete Shields, “[If attacked] put up no defense - give them what they want. (Guns Don't Die - People Do, N.Y.: Arbor House, 1981.)”. Only Tom Burnett Jr., credited with leading an assault on the hijackers, did anything to stop them. If United Flight 93 had been the only hijacked plane, Burnett would have been labeled a criminal and blamed for the destruction of the flight. This is wrong. If all the passengers on every hijacked plane since D.B. Cooper would have rioted and as a result killed all aboard, today we would be 3,000 people, World Trade Center, Pentagon, War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq better off than we are today. Our freedom to choose depends upon our right to protect our lives and property from those who would take them, even at the cost of our lives and property and others lives and property. Without this basic right we have no rights, only privileges. In the forty years since the assassination of JFK we have seen not only a complete abolition of our legal right to self defense but the destruction of the very nature of the natural law concerning every person’s right to self defense.

Our third priority should be the elimination of immigration quotas. Freedom to choose has to include the freedom to move and relocate. The most basic unit of material wealth is in Kant’s words, “Immediate and sensuous thought.” Our labor has to be the fundamental unit free trade. That we subsidize the less fortunate in our society should not in any way be an excuse to limit their behavior. If we don’t want to subsidize the less fortunate we don’t have to, there is no requirement in the constitution to help our less fortunate citizens. Illegal immigration is the second worst area of crime in this country and can be solved by simply making it legal. I would not necessarily allow immigrants to become citizens, being a citizen connotes having specific responsibilities and obligations, but to the rights to own property, to work, to travel, to pay taxes, and to contribute to the social security should be open to all.

In every action we take, we should be asking, does it increase our and others choices and is it going to make a difference. Social Security, good deal or bad, does it really matter? Will it change your life? School choice, does it matter? Does the size of the deficit, given that debt (public and private combined) is a measure of the growth of the money supply and a natural consequence of the Federal Reserve System, really matter? The right kind and amount of money is all that matters. Do you think that the Patriot Act will really impact your life the way the Drug War does? Do you think there would be a reason for a Patriot Act if there was no drug war? When gays get the right to marry will your life be more prosperous? Being a Libertarian doesn’t mean that everything has to be Libertarian, it means we have to identify the constraints that are holding us back and work to eliminate them. The only way to produce a better material world is through the increase in our available choices at the point we are being constrained. Not only is this apparent from the philosophy and examination of the mathematics, it is apparent in every society at every time in the history of mankind. Freedom to choose and material prosperity truly do go hand in hand.

To Summarize:

Any act that promises more equality or to make life easier and safer will only deliver those promises at the cost of material prosperity. Making some people’s part of the pie smaller (taxing the rich) will make other people’s piece of the pie larger (the poor) only if the total size of the pie is reduced. True equality, leisure, and safety will come only at the point we have all become overpass dwellers or tribal aborigines. Material prosperity will only be achieved at the cost of worry, work, and woe.


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