Self-Interest, Moral Sentiments & Rationalism-Some Links

Many reactions to the market are moral ones, from the anti-corporate, romantically primitive, ideological collectivists on the Left to the biblically inclined, revelatory faithful who clearly see in the teachings of Jesus Christ reasons to doubt:

And Larry Arnhart looks at a Straussian: ‘Joseph Cropsey’s Straussian Attack On Adam Smith:’

‘Thus, Smith showed how the opulence and liberty of a commercial society would provide philosophers like Hume and himself with the intellectual commerce, the individual liberty, and the leisured independence necessary for living a philosophic life with their friends. Cropsey ignores all of this because it contradicts his argument that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith’s commercial society.’

Worth a read.


A brief introduction to Adam Smith’s ‘Theory Of Moral Sentiments’

Beware the men of systems, moralizers, rationalists, idealists and utopians:


As previously posted: Steven Poole at Aeon: ‘We Are More Rational Than Those Who Nudge Us.’

‘And so there is less reason than many think to doubt humans’ ability to be reasonable. The dissenting critiques of the cognitive-bias literature argue that people are not, in fact, as individually irrational as the present cultural climate assumes. And proponents of debiasing argue that we can each become more rational with practice. But even if we each acted as irrationally as often as the most pessimistic picture implies, that would be no cause to flatten democratic deliberation into the weighted engineering of consumer choices, as nudge politics seeks to do’

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences. It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

Related On This Site: Cass Sunstein’s got to create some space between the Bloomberg backlash and the totalitarians on the Left: Daddy’s Gonna Make You Do It

I’ve got enough friends, thanks: Repost-Cass Sunstein At The New Republic: ‘Why Paternalism Is Your Friend’

Anarcho-syndicalist, libertarian socialist and sometime blind supporter of lefty causes: Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

New liberty away from Hobbes…toward Hayek…but can you see Locke from there?: Repost-From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Catholic libertarianism: Youtube Via Reason TV-Judge Napolitano ‘Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Government is Dangerous’

Leo Strauss argued there is great danger in this approach, i.e. the problems of Europe. Political science, the social sciences, economics and the explanatory power of these products of reason and rationalism could increasingly form the epistemological foundation for explaining the world, people’s interior lives, how we ought to live and what we ought to do. This includes where our rights come from and who should be in charge: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Modern Distress-Poverty Chic

Modern to postmodern objets d’art (you can already imagine the blurbs) and mass-produced market items have been dovetailing recently, two once separate activities increasingly becoming one.

Yes, you too can pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of shoes that merely appear to be old and worn.

Frankly, I’m too ignorant to offer much insight, dear reader, but maybe one can trace a line from Marcel Duchamp’s readymades to the current fad of ‘distressed’ items.

Everyone’s a Self, you see, and every Self deeply wants fame and recognition, or at least to be fresh, new and ahead of the curve in the marketplace.

Or do you?

Here you are, just a chump watching another more famous chump eating some Burger King.  It’s important and it isn’t. Give it the meaning you think it deserves.  You’ll get your 15 minutes one day.  Or not.

Don’t set your sights too high, this pickled basketball seems to be saying, for your aspirations, too, may be empty as the liquid void in which this Spalding hovers.  Gaze upon your hoop dreams within the silence of the ideal… hallowed as you temporarily are within this modern secular temple called…MoMA.

The marketplace delivers us that which we want, enriching our lives and fulfilling our desires but that’s not really what we want, is it?

Or it is.  Ho-hum.

We all know clothes decay while trends come and go. Beauty fades, and people live in houses built with real materials which fall apart.

Ah, well. Buy some music, celebrate Art and be a Self.

Addition-Let’s say that both modern art and the market may be done a disservice, here:

Related On This Site:   A museum industrial complex…more complexes…who are the people museums should be serving? James Panero At The New Criterion: ‘Time to Free NY’s Museums: The Met Responds’

From Bloggingheads: Shakespeare and The Second Law Of ThermodynamicsStanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus.  A very good Goya page here.

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct

The end of the ‘greatness’ model?: From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?From 2 Blowhards-We Need The Arts: A Sob Story

Some Links: Dealing With Ebola, The Scottish Enlightenment & Feminism

From The New Yorker: ‘The Ebola Wars’

Pretty much a straight-up account of how the virus is spreading and some of the people encountering it.

But, this being the New Yorker, ebola coverage is also geting political, as it’s clearly the other side making it political, not many folks at the New Yorker.

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Many reactions to the market are moral ones, from the anti-corporate, romantically primitive, ideological collectivists on the Left to the biblically inclined, revelatory faithful who clearly see in the teachings of Jesus Christ reasons to doubt:

And Larry Arnhart looks at a Straussian: ‘Joseph Cropsey’s Straussian Attack On Adam Smith:’

‘Thus, Smith showed how the opulence and liberty of a commercial society would provide philosophers like Hume and himself with the intellectual commerce, the individual liberty, and the leisured independence necessary for living a philosophic life with their friends.  Cropsey ignores all of this because it contradicts his argument that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith’s commercial society.’

Worth a read.

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From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Perhaps way too much in the weeds for many regular readers, but there’s real work done in the piece.  Have a go, oppressor.

Related On This Site: Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘The Brown Case: Does It Still Look Like Rape?…The Personal Ain’t Political-Holding The Line Against Rape Ideologues-Conor Friedersdorf On George Will

Christina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Defending Eliot Spitzer…as a man who ought to be free of prostitution laws…but didn’t he prosecute others with those same laws?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

From FIRE.org-’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

A Few Thursday Obamacare Links

Megan McArdle At Bloomberg. ‘Latest Obamacare Delay Is Probably Illegal

‘Ultimately, if Obamacare is going to hang together and not break down into an expensive mess, the administration is going to have to force some people to take unpleasant medicine. Until it demonstrates that it is willing to do so, the law and the insurance market remain at risk.’

I think many Americans see a role for the government to play in regulating competitive marketplaces and all the shenanigans found therein.  The ACA goes many steps beyond this, however, to an enormous, centrally-planned bureaucracy, freezing much of the current health-care delivery dysfunction in place and controlling these markets from above.  To many still supporting this law in principle if not in practice, there is knowledge enough, technology enough, and political leadership enough to make this happen and thus meet their moral and ideological commitments.

It’s the right thing to do.

So, is there necessarily knowledge, technology or political leadership enough to meet the demands this law places upon all of our heads?

Ed Morrisey at the Fiscal Times:

‘Hayek took von Mises’ argument a step further. Not only would such command economies fail, Hayek argued, but they would produce increasingly arbitrary governance and eventually erode the rule of law altogether. “[T]he use of the government’s coercive powers will no longer be limited and determined by pre-established rules,” he predicted. “The law can, and to make a central direction of economic activity possible must, legalize what to all intents and purposes remains arbitrary action.”

In order to make the law what you want it to be, you may have to selectively enforce the law in the meantime.  That’s not exactly a good definition of fairness, justice, nor equality under the law.

Richard Epstein still has some good ideas:

‘As I have noted before, there is only one type of reform that can make progress in meeting the three goals of a sensible health care system: cost reduction, quality improvements, and public access. That reform requires massive deregulation of the many market impediments that are already in place. Lower the costs, drop the excessive mandates, and thin out administrative costs, and people will flock back to the system voluntarily.’

Related On This SiteFrom The New England Journal Of Medicine Via CATO: ‘The Constitutionality of the Individual Mandate’From If-Then Knots: Health Care Is Not A Right…But Then Neither Is Property?… From The New Yorker: Atul Gawande On Health Care-”The Cost Conundrum”Sally Pipes At Forbes: ‘A Plan That Leads Health Care To Nowhere’From AEI: ‘Study: ‘Obama Healthcare Reform Raising Costs, Forcing Workers Out Of Existing Plans’

Still Looking For Alternatives-Charlie Martin At PJ Media: ‘Obamacare vs. Arithmetic’

Full piece here.

Let the markets work!

Click through for some spit-balled suggestions, including some kind of mandate upon all individuals to purchase a basic minimum plan (as Martin acknowledges, this is always open to abuse and expansion of power).

‘Whatever solution we look for though, the really important point is this: the whole basis of Obamacare, the notion that we can have more people, getting more benefits, and pay less, is just impossible. The arithmetic doesn’t work. And if you think that’s “unfair,” I’m sorry.

Avik Roy addressed this before the 2012 Romney/Obama presidential election, before we really started taxiing Obamacare down the runway:

‘Obamacare’s approach to pre-existing conditions, in summary, may help a tiny minority with pre-existing conditions to gain coverage in the short term, but the law will drive up the cost of insurance for everyone else, leading to adverse selection and higher premiums for all. And the price of Obamacare is steep: the individual mandate; trillions in new spending and taxes; deep cuts to Medicare providers.’

Epstein’s position:

The best way to deal with the risk of catastrophe is for people to buy their coverage early, when they are young, so that premiums are low. In any well-functioning market, they can acquire a renewable policy with guaranteed rates. At that point, does it become morally reprehensible to deny additional coverage to those individuals who passed on this possibility? No. Sadly, the abysmal performance of the American healthcare system lies not in the market economy that Kristof deplores, but in the elaborate network of regulation that shrinks the domain of voluntary choices, and leaves consumers with fewer choices than they would have had if the government had just stood by.’

Now the government isn’t just standing-by, it’s forcing people out of their current plans onto exchanges that don’t function, exacting high costs on individuals as part of an enormously flawed law in theory, which is being put into practice.

Daniel Mitchell At CATO@Liberty: ‘Daniel In The Looter’s Den: My Adventures At The U.N.’

Full post here.

‘I was at the United Nations yesterday for something called “The High Level Thematic Debate on the State of the World Economy.”

Well, this is the U.N.  He gives his impressions on his fellow attendees, reasonably:

‘My message, by the way, was very simple: Higher taxes won’t work. The “growth” vs. “austerity” debate in Europe is really a no-win fight between those who want higher spending vs. those who want higher taxes. The only good answer is to restrain spending with—you guessed it—Mitchell’s Golden Rule.’

Mitchell’s Golden Rule:

‘The private sector should grow faster than the government’

But that’s probably where Europe is, politically, at least, if we’re lucky (nowhere near having the private sector grow faster than the government).

Related On This Site:  Have you downloaded the apps…and the concepts of Enlightenment and post Enlightenment liberty that can lead to runtime errors and fiscal failure? Sachs and Niall Ferguson duke it out: CNN-Fareed Zakaria Via Youtube: ‘Jeff Sachs and Niall Ferguson’

Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India, and it involves much more state involvement here in America:  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis

The endlessly perfectible state?: Francis Fukuyama At The American Interest-’The Two Europes’

Youtube Via Libertarianism.Org-David Friedman: ‘The Machinery Of Freedom’

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From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Full piece here.

Ou author, Daniel Ben-Ami, makes some good points while reviewing Robert Frank’s the Darwin Economy. Here are some quotes from the Princeton Press page on the book (found at the link):

‘The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviors but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That’s a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept.’

It’s good to know there are people arguing for such a collectivist moral and political philosophy out of the Origin Of Species and Darwin’s theories of natural selection. Of course, this view requires our betters to gently steer the Ship Of State through the stormy seas of human irrationality, manipulating its levers of taxation wisely, with only the stars of reason, Darwinian group selection, and the dismal science as their guides.

Ben-Ami invokes the fact/value distinction:

‘Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.’

Well, if we do use the fact/value distinction, we should acknowledge that all economists (e.g. Milton Friedman) would fall short of achieving factual knowledge on this view….but point taken.  There is a deeper debate about where to ground our knowledge and what it is that we know.  Economics and potentially unfalsifiable theories are here presented as knowledge upon which to organize all of our lives.   Ben-Ami goes on:

The focus of The Darwin Economy is to work out how best to resolve such conflicts. To do so, he turns to an influential approach developed by Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate in economics based at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s. His concern was to find a pragmatic way to resolve conflicts rather than having to rely on moral principles

To illustrate his argument, Coase gave the example of a confectioner who had used his business premises for many years. A doctor moved in to occupy the neighbouring property and the confectioner’s machinery did him no harm till he built a consulting room at the end of the garden, next to the confectioner’s premises. The noise and vibration of the machinery began to disturb the doctor’s work.

Coase then made the following assumptions:

  • If the doctor did nothing it would cost his surgery $20,000 in damage;
  • If he moved to a different location it would cost him $10,000;
  • The factory owner could eliminate the noise by installing soundproofing at a cost of $5,000;
  • The costs for the two to negotiate were minimal.

From these premises, it is clear that the two sides should be able to negotiate an agreement with each other for the installation of soundproofing. This is the case even if the government does not make the factory owner responsible for noise damage.

Why not just use the power of taxation to nudge people where you want them to go…if you already happen to know what is rationally in their best interest (or the common interest) anyways? Individuals come into conflict with each other while pursuing their own rational self-interest, and eventually many use the State to resolve their conflicts (property disputes, tort law etc), so why not just head them off at the pass?

And if you’re worried about your freedom?:

”To those who believe that such measures can lead to the denial of individual freedom, Frank enlists an unlikely ally: John Stuart Mill. The nineteenth-century British philosopher is normally seen as the arch proponent of liberty, but Frank turns him into its opposite. Mill supported the maximum possible freedom for individuals with the important caveat that they should not be able to harm others. For instance, I should be free to criticise individuals as harshly as I like but I should not have the right to punch them in the face. Frank extends the harm principle to cover more or less any behaviour that could be deemed harmful. His argument is not that harmful behaviour should always be banned, but government should in many cases impose extra taxes to make it more expensive.’

Don’t worry, these folks are on your side against the interests of large corporations, pretty much all industries, crony capitalists, the oligarchy etc. J.S. Mill’s harm principle is being used to rectify the harm done to individuals by the State through the laws by wielding that State power rationally.  If an individual lives downwind of say, a smelting plant, and comes to develop a disease he thinks can be proven to have been caused by the plant’s activities, he might be able to file suit.  This of course, may be proper legal recourse, but is also used to defend global warming, as virtually any industrial activity can be held legally and morally responsible for causing harm to the individual on this view (acid rain, climate change, rising sea levels, poorer air quality etc).  Scientism abounds.

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I could see this view getting much more traction in Britain, and Europe more broadly, because there is a much more entrenched Left (many more actual Communists, Socialists, Big Labor parties, Social Democrats, Humanists, Marxists etc) milling around.  Europe is actually run by techo-bureaucrats largely because such a large techno-bureaucracy is arguably the product of such Leftism and certain strains of collectivist, post-Enlightenment thought.

But is this really where the modern American Left is, as well?

Taxing soda in Seattle schools has unintended consequences.  It’s not just taxation, it’s banning happy meals altogether.

Related On This Site: …Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books Via The A & L Daily: ‘Rescuing The Enlightenment From Its Exploiters’… Repost: From The Strasbourg Observers: ‘Remembering Lautsi (And The Cross)’

From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?…Morality away from a transcendent God, but back toward Hume through the cognitive sciences?: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal:  Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”

Steven Pinker curiously goes Hobbesian and mentions an ‘international Leviathan’:   At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

The market will make people better off, but always leaves them wanting more and in a state of spiritual malaise, which invites constant meddling.  Can economic freedom and free markets reconcile the moral depth of progressive big-State human freedom?:  Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’…libertarians share a definition of liberty

Robert Bork called them the New Left: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

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From The Money Illusion: ‘A Post-Ideological Index Of Good Governance’

Full post here.

“Because I am a right-wing liberal who thinks incentives matter more than progressives believe they do, I’d vote for the Singapore/HK low tax model, not the Danish/Swedish high tax model.  I was glad to see Hong Kong scored number one in the world in the infrastructure category.  So much for Galbraith’s “private wealth, public squalor.”  But unlike many right-wingers, I believe the Nordic approach is also pretty successful.”

Passed along by a friend. I suspect part of the reason the Nordic approach works is because of much greater cultural homogeneity, which is very difficult in a country of 300 million people and “diversity” as one of the driving goals (with all of its logical flaws) for the past few decades.

Comments are worth a read.

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