Abstract: Action-based legal theory is a discrete branch of praxeology and the basis of an emerging school of jurisprudence related to, but distinct from, natural law. Legal theory and economic theory share content that is part of praxeology itself: the action axiom, the a priori of argumentation, universalizable property theory, and counterfactual-deductive methodology. Praxeological property-norm justification is separate from the strictly ethical “ought” question of selecting ends in an action context. Examples of action-based jurisprudence are found in existing “Austro-libertarian” literature. Legal theory and legal practice must remain distinct and work closely together if justice is to be found in real cases. Legal theorizing was shaped in religious ethical contexts, which contributed to confused field boundaries between law and ethics. The carrot and stick influence of rulers on theorists has distorted conventional economics and jurisprudence in particular directions over the course of centuries. An action-based approach is relatively immune to such sources of distortion in its methods and conclusions, but has tended historically to be marginalized from conventional institutions for this same reason.
Abstract: In this article we reply to George Selgin’s counterarguments to our article “Fractional Reserve Free Banking: Some Quibbles”. Selgin regards holding cash as saving while we focus on the real savings necessary to maintain investment projects. Real savings are unconsumed real income. Variations in real savings are not necessarily equal to variations in cash holdings. We show that a coordinated credit expansion in a fractional reserve free banking (FRFB) system is possible and that precautionary reserves consequently do not pose a necessary limit. We discuss various instances in which a FRFB system may expand credit without a prior increase in real savings. These facets all demonstrate why a fractional reserve banking system – even a free banking one – is inherently unstable, and incentivized to impose a stabilizing central bank. We find that at the root of our disagreements with Selgin lies a different approach to monetary theory. Selgin subscribes to the aggregative equation of exchange, which impedes him from seeing the microeconomic problems that the stabilization of “MV” by a FRFB system causes.
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Abstract: This paper argues that in attempting to protect the religious life from the sullying influence of worldly affairs, Roger Williams participated, albeit unintentionally, in creating the economic conditions that led to the birth of American capitalism. Although Williams argued for a separation of church and state, he did so not in the interest of defending economic liberty, but instead to preserve the sanctity of the church against the frequent immorality that seemed to him required in worldly governance. Questions of pricing and wages, lending and interest—issues that would until Williams’s intervention have been handled by the church in terms of Aquinas’ just price theory—fell outside of the church’s purview according to the new model described by Williams. The result was the creation of an “amoral” public space where the effective separation between spiritual and material concerns led to a kind of free-by-default economic marketplace. This paper traces the development and inadvertent consequences of this essentially theological idea as it took shape in the colonial era.
Abstract: This paper builds on the burgeoning tradition of Aristotelian liberalism. It identifies and critiques a fundamental inequality inherent in the nature of the state and, in particular, the liberal representative-democratic state: namely, an institutionalized inequality in authority. The analysis draws on and synthesizes disparate philosophical and political traditions: Aristotle’s virtue ethics and politics, Locke’s natural rights and idea of equality in authority in the state of nature (sans state of nature), the New Left’s conception of participatory democracy (particularly as described in a number of under-utilized essays by Murray Rothbard and Don Lavoie), and philosophical anarchism. The deleterious consequences of this fundamental institutionalized inequality are explored, including on social justice and economic progress, on individual autonomy, on direct and meaningful civic and political participation, and the creation and maintenance of other artificial inequalities as well as the exacerbation of natural inequalities (economic and others). In the process, the paper briefly sketches a neo-Aristotelian theory of virtue ethics and natural individual rights, for which the principle of equal and total liberty for all is of fundamental political importance. And, finally, a non-statist conception of politics is developed, with politics defined as discourse and deliberation between equals (in authority) in joint pursuit of eudaimonia (flourishing, well-being).
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Abstract: The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times, David S. Landes, Joel Mokyr, and William J. Baumol, eds., Princeton University Press, 2010, is a dense anthology that provides an “orbital view” of the history of trade and commerce. The essays encompass several theoretic frameworks while following three themes: the creation of enterprises; the distinctions between creative and corrosive capitalism; and the societies that engender those different modes.
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Abstract: In this paper we extend an argument originally developed in Hülsmann (2009) to analyze changes to the structure of production that occur when the demand for money changes. In particular, we show that Hülsmann’s argument, which contrasted such changes under commodity and fiat systems, applies as well to the case of 100% reserve systems contrasted with fractional reserve free banking systems (FR/FB). Specifically, we argue that under a 100% reserve system, the structure of production will change in response to a change in demand for money, and that it will not under FR/FB. In fact, such changes are beneficial. Since one of the central arguments in defense of FR/FB is precisely the fact that it avoids such changes to the structure of production (at least more readily than 100% reserve systems), we conclude that this argument amounts to comparing different mechanisms for attaining different equilibrium states, and hence is invalid as a defense of that mechanism (FR/FB) as such.
Abstract: In the inflation-deflation debate, deflationists view credit as the most important factor affecting prices. As far as they are concerned, the credit contraction of 2008 caused prices-in-general to fall, and prices will continue to fall unless bank lending resumes. But are these opinions based on a sound understanding of economics? The first part of this article examines the causes of price inflation and deflation from a theoretical perspective. The analysis is firmly in the Austrian tradition. The theory is then applied to recent historical data to show that the general price deflation that began in the wake of the financial crisis was not the direct result of a contraction of credit. The article concludes with a discussion of the prospects for price inflation and deflation in the future.
Abstract: This revised version of the author’s 1985 article “Contra Copyright” includes a new, introductory section explaining the background of the author’s path to copyright abolitionism. The main article surveys various libertarian debates on this issue, including the anti-intellectual property (IP) views of Benjamin Tucker and the pro-IP views of Lysander Spooner. McElroy argues that the issue of copyright hinges on the question: can ideas be property? Because only scarce goods can be property, and ideas are not scarce, copyright must be rejected as unjustified.
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Abstract: This article is a critical review of Terry Eagleton’s latest publication, Why Marx Was Right (2011). Eagleton, one of the more celebrated Marxist literary critics in academia, presents his readers with a manifesto of Marxian individualism for the budding theoreticians of market socialism. This book represents Eagleton’s latest sally from the cloisters of stuffy English departments into the realms of economic theory. I cover many of the book’s most important talking points, debate his primary theses with ample counterpoints, and probe Eagleton’s vision of the socialist future from an Austrian angle to see where the author succeeds and falls short of his mark.
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Abstract: The goal has been to devise a strategy that protects as much as possible the rights and liberties of all agents, both users of fossil fuels and people whose livelihoods and territories are at risk if the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis is true. To achieve this goal the standard climate policy instruments, taxes and emissions trading, should be discontinued. There are weaknesses in the theoretical perspectives used to justify these policy instruments and climate science cannot provide the knowledge that would be needed to justify their implementation. In their place I propose a privatised policy, based on Austrian and libertarian frameworks of thought, which share an interpretation of climate change as a putative interpersonal conflict rather than market failure. The use of fossil fuels, like any other economic activity, should be subject to side-constraints designed to avoid the infringement of other people’s property rights. Tort litigation on the basis of strict liability would protect these rights, insofar as they need protecting. By providing a public arena for the competitive testing of scientific hypotheses concerning climate change, such litigation would also promote the public understanding and even the advancement of climate science.
Abstract: This paper raises the question whether the Economic Nobel Prize is ideologically biased. Based on a review of a significant number of the Prize Committee’s award justifications, the article concludes at a persistent bias against private property and the free market and in favour of collectivism and state interventionism. From a methodological point of view, the Prize has contributed to the widespread use by professional economists of formal mathematics within the positivistic approach. With respect to research findings, the Prize has favoured the doctrine that market processes are faulty, while government policies are an appropriate fix. Additionally, the paper casts doubts on the scientific integrity of the Prize, given the Committee’s acknowledged lack of concern for fundamental revisionism and outright dismissal of possible criticisms.
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Abstract: Can there be truth in philosophy? A problem: it is philosophy, its various schools, that advances what counts as true versus false, how to go about making the distinction. This is what I wish to focus on here and see if some coherent, sensible position could be reached on the topic.
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Abstract: In this paper, I investigate the issue of whether there exists an objective element of well-being, completely independent of anyone’s desires, interests and preferences. After rejecting health-based and convention-based approaches to objectivity, I conclude that the element in question consists in respecting autonomy, voluntariness of every purposive agent and the principle of non-aggression.
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Abstract: Block (2011) has offered a second round of counterarguments to my criticisms (Wisniewski 2010a, 2010b) of the claim that his theory of evictionism is compatible with libertarianism. In this paper I attempt to demonstrate that my critique still stands. In particular, I focus on analyzing the argumentative weight of such issues mentioned in Block’s latest response as, among others, the distinction between proper ex post punishment and proper ex ante defense, the question of whether my causal analyses of trespass imply a commitment to positive obligations, Rothbard’s distinction between contracts and premises, the supposed irrelevance of the principle of pacta sunt servanda in the context of abortion, and the extent to which custom can qualify the ambit of applicability of the non-aggression principle.
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Abstract: This article makes an argument for Atlas Shrugged as a highly unified and integrated novel. All of the sections of the paper explain how integration and unity are embodied in Atlas Shrugged. Part one discusses the philosophical and literary structure of Rand’s masterpiece. The next section is concerned with issues of political economy. Section three then examines Rand’s techniques of characterization and character development as demonstrated in Atlas Shrugged. The following part analyzes the philosophical speeches. The final major part considers Atlas Shrugged as a means for social change. The conclusion then discusses Atlas Shrugged as the manifestation of a fully-integrated philosophical novel.
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Abstract: The two main views on the abortion controversy are pro life and pro choice. In my many previous writings on this subject (Block, 1977, 1978, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010A, 2010B, 2010C, forthcoming; Block and Whitehead, 2005) I have offered a third alternative, evictionism. Wisniewski (2010A) has offered criticisms of this perspective. In Block (2010C) I argued against Wisniewski (2010A), claiming that evictionism was the correct libertarian analysis of this vexing question. Wisniewski (2010B) constituted a rejoinder to Block (2010C), insisting that evictionism constituted an incorrect analysis. The present paper is a response to Wisniewski (2010B), in which I again attempt to defend evictionism against his attacks on this doctrine.
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Abstract: Instead of Politics (Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2010), a new book by individualist John Kosanke, supplies a cornucopia of consequentialist arguments against a political society and for a free-market society.
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Abstract: This essay attempts to show that Plato’s thought makes important contributions to libertarian theory. Plato diagnoses the state as essentially a state of mind, one in which irrational desires replace natural reason as a guide to ethical conduct. The statist mindset is therefore marked by profound self-deception about what is truly good. Importantly, Plato contends that this self-deception plagues the rulers of the state as much as, or more than, the subjects. They mistakenly believe that wielding unjust power will bring them happiness, when in fact it brings them misery. The aim of Plato’s philosophy is to convince aspiring rulers of that truth.
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Abstract: In this paper, first, I want to clarify the nature and function of private property. Second, I want to clarify the distinction between “common” goods and property and “public” goods and property, and explain the construction error inherent in the institution of public goods and property. Third, I want to explain the rationale and principle of privatization.
Abstract: In this article I summarize Friedrich Hayek’s cultural group selection theory and describe the evidence gathered by current cultural group selection theorists within the behavioral and social sciences supporting Hayek’s main assertions. I conclude with a few comments on Hayek and libertarianism.