Mein weltanschauung

I wrote a post, which I still largely agree with, detailing some of my views and mood affiliations and this one is similar, except it’s dealing mainly with the sources of my beliefs and stances, rather than their content. It’s quite similar to my friend Sam Bowman’s both because we’re independently alike, and because he has had a gigantic and outsized influence on pretty much every area of my thinking.

Economics

Robert Hetzel, "Monetary Policy in the 2008–2009 Recession" (2009)

Jeffrey Friedman, "A Crisis of Politics, Not Economics: Complexity, Ignorance and Policy Failure" (2009)

Friedrich Hayek, "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945)

Eugene Fama, "Banking in the Theory of Finance" (1980), this email exchange with John Cochrane, Ivo Welch & others, and this interview with the New Yorker.

George Selgin, "Are Banking Crises Free Market Phenomena?" (1994) and basically everything he has written, including many many excellent posts on the Free Banking blog.

Milton Friedman, "The Role of Monetary Policy" (1968)

Greg Clark, "Genetically Capitalist?" (2007) and "Markets and Economic Growth: The Grain Market of Medieval England" (1999)

Politics

Mencius Moldbug, "A Formalist Manifesto" (2007) and "An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives" (2008)

Scott Alexander, "Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell" (2013) and "A Response to Apophemi on Triggers" (2014) and "Compound Interest is the Least Powerful Force in the Universe" (2014) and pretty much everything Scott has written on his two blogs, which are probably the best on the internet (and don’t all fit under politics).

Derek Parfit, "Equality and Priority" (1997)

Michael Huemer, "Is There a Right to Own a Gun?" (2003) and "Against Equality and Priority" (2012)

Don Kates & Gary Mauser, "Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide" (2007) and various other writings by Mauser on the subject including his chapter in Prohibitions.

Jeffrey Friedman, "What’s Wrong with Libertarianism?" (1997)

Anthony Harris, Stephen Thomas, Gene Fisher & David Hirsch, "Murder and Medicine: The Lethality of Criminal Assault 1960-1999" (2002)

Hillel Steiner, "Individual Liberty" (1978)

Handle, "Review of The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz” (2014)

Science

Linda Gottfredson, "Why G Matters" (1997) as well as "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (1994)

Arthur Jensen, "The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons" (1982)

Brian Tomasik, "How Much Direct Suffering is Caused by Various Animal Foods?" (2007) and "Does Vegetarianism Make a Difference?" (2006) and just about everything else on his website.

Neoliberalism

Many libertarians, including the early me, see neoliberalism as essentially a boogeyman. They’d never use the term for their worldview themselves, preferring “liberalism”, “libertarianism”, “classical liberalism”. But left-leaning people seem addicted to the term, which makes sense if you see it as essentially the same thing as those views with a few extra negative connotations attached. There’s some truth to this perspective, but on balance, I now think there is a much truer approach. Indeed, I think three things can be said about neoliberalism, none of which I’d expect past me, or the average libertarian to endorse.

1. Neoliberalism is distinct from libertarianism and classical liberalism.

Neoliberalism does reside roughly in the same area of the political map as libertarianism. But while both the Adam Smith Institute and the Economist could be described as neoliberal, only the ASI could be described as libertarian. Neoliberalism is not about reducing government interference in the market and in people’s personal life, in the context of property rights, but it is socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

It just does this in an importantly different way. As opposed to libertarianism, which says government should get out of the way and let the market work, neoliberalism likes to design solutions to perceived social problems on a case by case basis—this is a very important part of point 3—and it does this by considering (often very complex and ingenious) market mechanisms. But it is not tied to market mechanisms, and it is just as content with quasi-markets, and incentive systems libertarians would see as “artificial” or “corporate welfare”.

When it comes to social liberalism, libertarianism says “do not use the legal system to favour or disfavour any particular lifestyle”. Neoliberalism says “work to make sure society is approximately neutral between different lifestyle choices”. These are very very different! Libertarianism is, in theory, comfortable with cultural discrimination if done through “legitimate” means (i.e. respecting personal and property rights). Neoliberalism wants anti-discrimination law—whether regarding religion, race, gender, age, sexual preference—enforced on private businesses, charities and the government alike.

2. Neoliberalism is by far the dominant ideology today

Neoreactionaries say that "Cthulhu swims left". What they mean, is that if you look at institutions, orthodoxies, policies a few decades apart, the later period will always look much more left-wing than the previous period. Libertarians are fond of claiming that the left-right axis contains multitudes, and there’s a bit of truth to this, but I think it’s overstated (and so do reactionaries). Most societies, policies, views can be more or less accurately ranked according to their leftness or rightness. Leftness means equality and social justice are judged important by society and the government. Rightness means order, stability and traditional justice/values are held as important—inequality between those judged unequal is not seen as a problem.

Now these claims might seem to be refuted by some of recent history. Consider the USA and the UK. Sure, today’s society is far to the left of the society of 1900, but the story vs. 50 years isn’t as clear. Wasn’t there a post-war/New Deal consensus, where left-leaning parties, with large majorities, enacted redistribution, welfare policies, nationalisation, extensive regulation and so on? Didn’t this get, to a large extent rolled back by Reaganism and Thatcherism? Aren’t markets accepted as a central institution in society by the mainstream of the left-wing parties in the UK, US and elsewhere, whereas even the right-wing parties were once happy to preside over nationalised telecoms, airlines, and state-directed universities?

The answer is “yes”. There has been a big change since the 1950s and 1960s, and it can largely be seen as towards neoliberalism—a managerial but market-orientated ideology in the economic sphere. But this doesn’t mean society hasn’t rowed left on social issues. Even since the ’50s it has banned the death penalty and corporal punishment, then legalised homosexuality, then banned discrimination against homosexuals, then banned hate speech and even enforced marriage equality! We are incomparably more left on social issues than we were sixty years ago. And sixty years ago, we were incomparably more left on social issues than we were fifty years before then.

Thus the society we have today is neoliberal—it says that smart, knowledgeable people should manage social institutions to achieve good outcomes (and markets are a good such institution)—but it also says that the state should enforce a very strong version of liberal neutrality. Whereas libertarianism is compatible, at least in theory, with the dominant culture in society using social pressure to bring about conformity, neoliberalism is not, seeing this as an affront to equality.

3. Neoliberalism is compatible with, and indeed very similar to, social democracy

People who describe themselves as social democrats typically dislike or even abhor neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is seen by the communitarian left as a vulgar affront to proper values by bringing market structures where they don’t belong. And it is seen by the liberal left as caring insufficiently about the wellbeing of the badly-off. On top of that, other left-leaning people think markets don’t work that well, or at least have serious flaws which require correction very often. This might lead us to believe that social democracy and neoliberalism are very distinct, and incompatible.

But what characterises social democracy is extensive redistribution/welfare state, a social ideal of equality, and a democratic-managerial approach to social problems. When a social problem comes along, the social democrat looks at that problem—say, high rents—then looks for a solution to it. One solution might be market forces. Another might be a specific regulation, subsidy or control. What makes this socially democratic is that elected representatives, drawing on the knowledge and wisdom of technocrats, decide on economic issues on a case-by-base basis. Socialism and classical liberalism have prescriptions for most problems already. Social democracy, so long as equality is enshrined, and redistribution/the welfare state is in place, can take a “what works” approach to issues as they come up.

But this is exactly what neoliberalism does! Neoliberalism is comfortable with the state spending 40-50% of GDP, it is comfortable with minimum wages, redistribution, social insurance, state pensions and extensively-regulated finance. Sure, it likes to use market mechanisms in healthcare, schooling and utilities, but if these can be shown to be effective, why wouldn’t they fit into social democracy? And never ignore the relentless pursuit of equality neoliberalism and social democracy are tied to in the non-economic spheres.

Consider gay marriage, a policy that was absolutely a marginal crazy fringe view 20 years ago. Now, to have once opposed gay marriage is enough to have significant subsections of society hate you, and even boycott films based on your books! The pursuit of equality in this sphere is so relentless and rapid that it doesn’t really do to attack neoliberalism for insufficient zeal in other areas. And interestingly, the moves toward the desired goal, which include most importantly changing of social norms and mores, but also changes in laws and what we expect of politicians, don’t seem to reduce the desire for further progress. Instead, the focus moves onto other areas. Ideas like complete equality for and normalisation of trans* people (a noble goal!) and effectively open borders (a yet more noble goal!) will undoubtedly become completely hegemonic over the next 20 years.

List of mood-affiliations and opinions

For a long time I’ve thought that I should write down a list of my main views, beliefs, ideas and mood-affiliations, for reference and for neatness and for self-indulgent enjoyment. But now I come to doing so; to laying out my Weltanschauung as it more or less stands right now, I find myself very self-conscious. On top of that, they don’t really come to mind when you want to them to—it’s more that you want to write them down when they come to mind.

A starting point is my twitter bio, where I describe myself as “BHPLENGDPLT. Futarchist. Some neo-reactionary leanings.” The acronym stands for “Bleeding Heart Post Libertarian / Expected Nominal GDP Level Targeting”.

Bleeding Heart means I roughly subscribe to Jerry Cohen/John Rawls/Ronald Dworkin-type views about how you would justify a socio-politico-economic system. By “roughly” I mean that I to some extent believe in the difference principle, but only combined with a version of consequentialism somewhere in between preference consequentialism and hedonic consequentialism. I mood affiliate with feminism, animal rights, anti-racism and so on, although this has been slightly moderated by forays into neo-reaction.

Post-libertarian means I have been influenced by the scholarship of   Jeffrey Friedman. I am sceptical of many traditional libertarian claims, but think that the lower cognitive demands of markets, compared to democracy, may nevertheless be the basis of a case for property rights and markets as central societal institutions.

ENGDPLT means I am a market monetarist, like Scott Sumner. I think the best way to stabilise the demand-side of the economy is a simple rule that targets a market measure of nominal GDP (aggregate demand) expectations. This can stop real shocks (like the modest housing and financial crisis of 2006-7) turning into giant recessions (like the 2008-9 crash).

Futarchy is the idea of deciding policy based on hypothetical futures markets. It mainly stems from the work of Robin Hanson but, like market monetarism, is surely also influenced by the efficient markets hypothesis of Eugene Fama and Robert Lucas' work on rational expectations.

My claim that I have “some neo-reactionary leanings” is sort of a joke, and may sound even wackier than my other ideas. “Reactionary” is almost entirely used as a slur now, including by me up until very recently. But I have become more and more intrigued by neo-reactionary ideas, and believe many of them contain a kernel of truth.

This isn’t my entire Weltanschauung, and it doesn’t yet contain much justification of my somewhat out-there views. But it will be nice to get the first post on this sure-to-be-entirely-unread blog out of the way, so I will publish this now.