Friday, July 31, 2009
Happy Birthday to Milton Friedman, who would have been 97 today. I had the honor of dining with his widow and frequent co-author Rose Director Friedman last night at the home of Chris and Melodie Rufer. Rose is 97 and as sharp and charming as ever. Here's to you Mrs. Friedman! There's no place in the world I would have rather been.
George Gilder is one of a kind. When he becomes excited about an idea, he is able to take it places no one else does. His most recent interest is Israel, which he sees as "an extension of Silicon Valley that is excelling its source." Do read the whole interview -- I plan to read the book -- but here is a provocative excerpt:
Then, in the early 1990s, the U.N. and the West sold out the country to Yasser Arafat and his terrorist forces. The Palestine Liberation Organization became the world’s leading per capita recipients of foreign aid as international organizations squandered billions on them and thus transformed the Palestinians from entrepreneurs and workers into terrorists, welfare queens, and political poseurs of victimization and violence.
This is not the normal story of Palestinian advancement, but lets assume it is true. Then the Oslo Accords become one of the unbelievable disasters in modern history. Not only do they allow for the empowerment of terrorists, they cause great suffering to the Palestinians.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Robert Nozick's fascinating and very politically incorrect book Anarchy, State, and Utopia was published 35 years ago. The book makes a philosophically rigorous case for the "minimal state" and against redistributive government. It is a philosopher's charter for something like libertarianism. Nozick was a powerful thinker and writer: the book made a deep impression at the time, and to this day it is the acknowledged intellectual counterweight to John Rawls' left-liberal Theory of Justice, which came out at about the same time.
Comrade Tom's recent reference to Peter Singer - who just wrote a New York Times Magazine piece on "Why We Must Ration Health Care" - reminded me that Singer reviewed Anarchy, State, and Utopia in the New York Review of Books when Nozick's book first came out. It turns out that it was a very interesting review, well worth reading (or re-reading, if you happened to be around in 1975).
The extraordinary thing about Singer's review, from today's perspective, is how fair, respectful, and intellectually honest it is. Peter Singer was and is a left-leaning academic, albeit very much more original, more interesting, and surely more quirky than most of the leftish academic tribe. And the New York Review, of course, was even then a left-leaning paper.
It seems to me unlikely that Singer would write in the same tone and with the same serious-mindedness today. And it is vanishingly unlikely that the New York Review of Books, now far gone in Bush Derangement Syndrome and crude leftist partisanship, would publish such a review. In fact, (re-)reading Singer's review brings out graphically the transformation of American academic life - and American intellectual life more broadly - over the course of the past 25 years. There has been a cascade to the left on campus, in the schools, in the media, and among the NPR-listening classes generally. The New York Review of Books simply panders to its readership in this. And today's leftism is far cruder, more bullying and intolerant, and more a kind of substitute religion than could easily be imagined when Singer reviewed Nozick in 1975.
Robert Nozick's book is a major event in contemporary political philosophy. There has, in recent years, been no sustained and competently argued challenge to the prevailing conceptions of social justice and the role of the state. Political philosophers have tended to assume without argument that justice demands an extensive redistribution of wealth in the direction of equality; and that it is a legitimate function of the state to bring about this redistribution by coercive means like progressive taxation. These assumptions may be correct; but after Anarchy, State, and Utopia they will need to be defended and argued for instead of being taken for granted.
The position Nozick takes is a radical departure from the theories of distributive justice discussed by most philosophers, especially in recent years... Nozick again follows Locke, although his account is more precise. Then there are legitimate ways of transferring things you own, especially voluntary exchange and gift. As a result there is no pattern to which a just distribution must conform. People may choose to retain what they start with, or give some of it, or all of it, away. They may make profitable investments, or unprofitable ones. They may live frugally and hoard what they have, or dissipate it in a wild spree. They may gamble. So long as their original holdings were justly acquired, and the decisions they made involved neither force nor fraud, the result will be just no matter how widely people's holdings vary. The entitlement theory of justice makes the justice of a given set of holdings depend on the history of those holdings, and not on the conformity of the outcome to a given pattern.
Both the strengths and the weaknesses of the entitlement theory are immediately apparent. On the one hand, can it really be just that one baby should come into the world with a multi-million-dollar trust fund, the best possible schooling, and family connections with the nation's leading politicians and financiers awaiting him, while another baby faces life in a dingy apartment with no money and nothing else to help him on his way in the world? Neither baby at the moment of birth can possibly deserve anything; an equal division would therefore seem the only just one.
On the other hand, if the father of the first baby acquired his holdings legitimately, violating no one's rights in the process, doesn't he have the liberty to give whatever is his to his son, if he should so choose? Isn't it implied in someone's owning something that he has the right to do with it what he will, provided he violates no one else's rights? And surely it is far-fetched to hold that the poorer baby has a right to some of the other baby's wealth, merely because his ancestors were less fortunate, less astute, or less frugal in their handling of their holdings.
Our intuitions lead us in both directions. One must be wrong. Nozick tries to convince us that it is the former set of intuitions—those relating to the injustice of inherited wealth and other inherited assets—that we should give up. He does not attempt the hopeless task of arguing that those born with large fortunes or valuable natural talents have done anything to deserve these assets. Nevertheless, he says, people are entitled to their inherited assets, whether or not they deserve them. In the case of wealth he points out that orthodox theories of justice overlook the right of the donor when they consider the worthiness of the recipient of the inheritance. As for natural talents, people do not violate anyone else's rights by having the natural talents they are born with. An artist has the right to keep a painting he has done even if his artistic talent was inherited and he did nothing to deserve it. So why shouldn't a born entrepreneur have a similar right to the fortune his talents have brought him through legitimate means?...
[W]hat I have said should be enough to show that Nozick's case against compulsory redistribution is strong. Can it be met, and if so, how?
Not by Rawls, whose Theory of Justice, according to Singer, is essentially refuted by Nozick. Singer argues that utilitarianism might justify Big Government redistributionism. But Singer is cautious even about this.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I got my chance to opine for 30 seconds this morning on the BBC's talk show World Have Your Say. I am "this blogger" who disagrees with Michael Sandell, I being of the opinion people should be able to sell their eggs, sperm or whatever if they want to. My ambition is eventually get to the point where I will be identified by name. Sandell of Harvard thinks that selling body bits is just too demeaning to be allowed, which has the downside of leaving lots of people without the body parts they need to go on living, see, hear, etc. But at least no one is demeaned.
The BBC apparently found the RC through the magic of google, read my post, and sent me an email, which I received about 30 minutes before the show was about to begin and 20 minutes before we were all scheduled to leave to go canoeing on the Payette River above the lake. I begged everyone to wait up so I could share my views with the world, emailed back, and a few minutes later, London was on the phone. Golly, modern technology sure is something, though the phone connection was not great, the last few miles in Idaho being on a legacy phone system whose continued existence is a puzzle.
I don't think a great deal was accomplished by holding up ownership of one's own body for 30 seconds, but fortunately we got on the river in due course and all was well, which was a good thing or I would have had an angry family on my hands.
Recently, my wife and I saw Yes and Asia in concert in San Diego. Boy, did this bring me back. I last saw Yes in concert 32 and 33 years ago, back when Yes (and I) were young.
Asia played first. Having ignored music for most of the 1980s, I hadn't really followed the group but I discovered that I knew many of their hits. It is very weird that a group that consists of a drummer from ELP, a guitarist from Yes, and a singer from King Crimson, would produce such pop music. By far, the highlight of their set was hearing John Wetton, formerly of King Crimson, sing "In the Court of the Crimson King." From the loud applause, I was not the only one who loved it.
Yes, then played, although whether it was Yes appears to be something approaching a metaphysical question of identity for some Yes fans. Long time band members Chris Squire, Steve Howe, and Alan White played, but vocalist extraordinaire Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman were missing due to health reasons. But they were replaced by younger versions of themselves. I really love Jon Anderson's voice, but Benoit David, who is a singer for a Yes tribute band, did a great job of sounding like Anderson. And Rick Wakeman was replaced by his son, Oliver Wakeman, a progressive rock keyboardist in his own right. Together, the five sounded pretty good.
The songlist included a great variety of songs from different Yes periods. I had stopped listening to new Yes albums after being very disappointed with Going for the One in 1977. But in anticipation of the concert (and with my new found obsession with progressive music), I listened to a lot of the later Yes and got to like some of it. The best of the newer stuff is from the 2001 album Magnification, but Keystudio is pretty good as well, and I am embarrassed to say I even like a few songs from the 1980 Drama record -- which contributed to some of the songs on the concert playlist. (Reportedly, Jon Anderson won't perform songs from that album, so Yes took advantage of his absence.) The other music from the 1980s, such as that from 90125, I still don't like.
A lot has changed in those past 30 years. Some of it is reflected in the way I enjoyed the concerts. In 1976, I got on line for general seating admission in New Jersey at noon for a concert scheduled for 8:00 PM. Recently, I had a first class dinner prior to the dinner at a restaurant connected with the concert venue. Both were great times!
In New Jersey, 44 people are arrested in for corruption. The press's narrative is that this is either a special problem of politicians or of New Jersey. What a laugh.
It took me a fair bit of time searching through Google to discover what I suspected. The corruption was undertaken by Democrats. Story and story left out the political affiliations of the defendants, except in a few cases to mention a Republican.
What are the real facts?
Bravo to AP, but I could not find that on Google.
Update: Others have noticed the silence about Democrats as well.
Sunday, July 26, 2009