Abstract: Authors in the Austrian tradition have made the credit expansion of a fractional reserve banking system as the prime cause of business cycles. Authors such as Selgin (1988) and White (1999) have argued that a solution to this problem would be a free banking system. They maintain that the competition between banks would limit the credit expansion effectively. Other authors such as Rothbard (1991) and Huerta de Soto (2006) have gone further and advocated a 100 percent reserve banking system ruling out credit expansion altogether. In this article it is argued that a 100 percent reserve system can still bring about business cycles through excessive maturity mismatching between deposits and loans.
Abstract: In 2007, I toured Moundsville Penitentiary, a tourist spectacle that was once—and fairly recently—a working prison. I wrote about the experience as would a journalist, except that my working paradigm was the postmodern theory of hyperreality, which Jean Baudrillard used to describe the complex tensions between reality and illusion. A term of semiotics, hyperreality refers to the disappearance of the referent and its subsequent, oft-replicated simulation. It almost always involves strategically controlled images that distort and conceal true meaning. The International Journal of Baudrillard Studies published my essay in January 2009. Shortly thereafter, many of my libertarian friends and colleagues wrote to ask for clarification or to express their disagreements. In what follows, whether I’m describing hyperreality or speculating about the horror-themed attractions at Moundsville Penitentiary, my principal concern is laying the libertarian foundation for my argument. I do not mean to defend my theories so much as explain them; nor do I insist that my cultural criticism is somehow “the” right way. I simply hope to fill a critical vacuum and to generate conversation not only about the condition of the American prison system writ large, but also about state-run tourist attractions that glorify the history of the sovereign at the expense of real knowledge about human suffering.
Abstract: In my recent article on these pages (Crovelli 2009) I argued that members of the Austrian School of economics have adopted and defended a faulty definition of probability. I argued that the definition of probability necessarily depends upon the nature of the world in which we live. I claimed that if the nature of the world is such that every event and phenomenon which occurs has a cause of some sort, then probability must be defined subjectively; that is, “as a measure of our uncertainty about the likelihood of occurrence of some event or phenomenon, based upon evidence that need not derive solely from past frequencies of ‘collectives’ or ‘classes.’” I further claimed that the nature of the world is indeed such that all events and phenomena have prior causes, and that this fact compels us to adopt a subjective definition of probability.
David Howden has recently published what he claims is a refutation of my argument in his article “Single Trial Probability Applications: Can Subjectivity Evade Frequency Limitations” (Howden 2009). Unfortunately, Mr. Howden appears to not have understood my argument, and his purported refutation of my subjective definition consequently amounts to nothing more than a concatenation of confused and fallacious ideas that are completely irrelevant to my argument. David Howden has thus failed in his attempt to vindicate Richard von Mises’s definition of probability.
Abstract: The discussion of what is and what is not inflation has become central among the Austrian economists in their debate between free banking with fractional reserves versus banking with 100-percent reserve. Many Austrians also turn to the writings of Mises to find out what the dean of Austrian Economics thought about inflation, but there is no agreement on the interpretation of his writings either. This article tries to contribute to the interpretation of Mises’ concept of inflation.
Abstract: Frequency probability theorists define an event’s probability distribution as the limit of a repeated set of trials belonging to a homogeneous collective. The subsets of this collective are events which we have deficient knowledge about on an individual level, although for the larger collective we have knowledge its aggregate behavior. Hence, probabilities can only be achieved through repeated trials of these subsets arriving at the established frequencies that define the probabilities. Crovelli (2009) argues that this is a mistaken approach, and that a subjective assessment of individual trials should be used instead. Bifurcating between the two concepts of risk and uncertainty, Crovelli first asserts that probability is the tool used to manage uncertain situations, and then attempts to rebuild a definition of probability theory with this in mind. We show that such an attempt has little to gain, and results in an indeterminate application of entrepreneurial forecasting to uncertain decisions—a process far-removed from any application of probability theory.
Abstract: Karl Widerquist has recently argued that libertarians face two dilemmas. The first dilemma arises because, contrary to what Widerquist takes libertarians to suggest, there is no conceptual link between robust property rights and the libertarian state. Private property rights can legitimately yield non-libertarian states. Libertarians must thus remain committed either to robust property rights or the libertarian state. I call this the “Conceptual Dilemma.”
The second dilemma is empirical in nature. Libertarians can try to undermine state property rights by showing that the means by which all present states came to have their property was unjust. However, doing so would presumably undermine almost all the property claims of private individuals. So the dilemma is that libertarians can undermine state property rights only by undermining individual property rights, on the one hand. On the other, libertarians can vindicate private property rights of individuals only by vindicating state property rights. I call this the “Empirical Dilemma.”
I attempt to diffuse both of these dilemmas here. I argue that the Conceptual Dilemma relies on a misunderstanding of the libertarian’s commitments. In particular, I show that libertarians need not think robust property rights can yield states more extensive than Nozick’s minimal state. I then argue that Widerquist ignores libertarian scholarship aimed at meeting the Empirical Dilemma. Many libertarians have attempted to demonstrate that there are legitimate private property rights which are illegitimately disregarded by current states. The upshot of this discussion is that there are no genuine dilemmas posed by Widerquist’s “A Dilemma for Libertarians.”
Abstract: Essentially, there are two competing views of how to overcome an economy-wide recession/depression. The Austrian view understands the free-play of competition as the most potent means to overcome the short-run mismatch between an excessive boom-level of nominal wages/prices and depressed crisis-level volume of aggregate spending. In the Keynesian view, the disastrous mismatch between desired saving and planned investment inherent in capitalist economies requires the government to step in and take up the burden of spending to infuse the lacking demand for products and labor.
The thought experiment presented in the paper is designed to provide the reader with a direct comparison of major analytical claims of the two competing approaches to assess the ability of each of the two to affect, positively or negatively, employment, capital accumulation, and the general standard of living/real wages.
Abstract: As the transaction cost theory of the firm was taking shape in the 1970s, another important movement in economics was emerging: a revival of the ‘Austrian’ tradition in economic theory associated with such economists as Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek (1973; Dolan, 1976; Spadaro, 1978). As Oliver Williamson has pointed out, Austrian economics is among the diverse sources for transaction cost economics. In particular, Williamson frequently cites Hayek (e.g., Williamson, 1985, p. 8; 1991, p. 162), particularly Hayek’s emphasis on adaptation as a key problem of economic organisation (Hayek, 1945). Following Williamson’s lead, a reference to Hayek’s ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’ (Hayek, 1945) has become almost mandatory in discussions of economic organisation (e.g., Ricketts, 1987, p. 59; Milgrom and Roberts, 1992, p. 56; Douma and Schreuder 1991, p. 9). However, there are many other potential links between Austrian and transaction cost economics that have not been explored closely and exploited.
This article argues that characteristically Austrian ideas about property, entrepreneurship, economic calculation, tacit knowledge, and the temporal structure of capital have important implications for theories of economic organisation, transaction cost economics in particular. Austrian economists have not, however, devoted substantial attention to the theory of the firm, preferring to focus on business-cycle theory, welfare economics, political economy, comparative economic systems, and other areas. Until recently the theory of the firm was an almost completely neglected area in Austrian economics, but over the last decade, a small Austrian literature on the firm has emerged. While these works cover a wide variety of theoretical and applied topics, their authors share the view that Austrian insights have something to offer students of firm organisation.
Download Paper: Austrian Economics and the Transaction Cost Approach to the Firm
Abstract: This article draws general economic arguments against central planning, state licensure and regulation from Milton’s Areopagitica, a 17th Century pamphlet on free-speech. Though Milton’s work was written primarily as a defense for moral man and a warning against religious encroachment by government it provides some of the best and most foundational general arguments, both moral and practical, against government intervention in any field. Milton’s accessible and persuasive style and his ability to combine practical and moral arguments made his work a monumental case against censorship. However, the work has more to offer than a defense of free-speech. Libertarian economists can find in Milton many compelling arguments against central planning, licensure and regulation which have been and should continue to be reiterated.
Abstract: Whilst some defenders of the minimal, limited state or government hold that the state is “a necessary evil,” others would consider that this claim that the state is evil concedes too much ground to anarchists. In this article I intend to discuss the views of some who believe that government is a good thing, and their arguments for supporting this position. My main conclusions will be that, in each case, the proponents of a minimal state, or “minarchy,” fail to justify as much as what they call government, and so fail to oppose anarchism, or absences of what they call government.
Download Paper: “Minarchy Considered”
Abstract: The general concept of law as an order of persons and the means (and actions) that belong to them is formalized in an axiomatic system. At this stage, no distinction is made between natural and artificial (“legal”) persons. The aim is to explicate the common logical core of most material theories of law in the Western tradition, without going into their semantic and pragmatic aspects. Then the concept of natural law, as an order of natural persons, is given a similar treatment, so that it becomes possible to investigate the status of natural persons in various theories of law that answer to the general concept of law analysed previously. Finally, the concept of human law is introduced to investigate the status in law of human persons.
Download Paper: “The Logic of Law”
Abstract: Adolf Reinach (1883–1917) was a German phenomenologist and legal theorist. This is a previously-unpublished translation (by Dr. Berit Brogaard) of Reinach’s 1905 dissertation for his PhD earned under Theodor Lipps at the University of Munich, which was published as “Über den Ursachenbegriff im geltenden Strafrecht” (Leipzig: J. A. Barth 1905), and reprinted in Adolf Reinach, Sämtliche Werke. Textkritische Ausgabe [Collected Works: Critical Edition], Karl Schuhmann & Barry Smith, eds., 2 vols. (Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 1989), pp. 1–43.
Download Paper: “On the Concept of Causality in the Criminal Law”
Abstract: In “Rothbard as a philosopher” (Feser 2006) Edward Feser harshly criticises the philosophical abilities of Murray Rothbard. According to Feser, Rothbard seems unable to produce arguments that don’t commit obvious fallacies or produces arguments that fail to address certain obvious objections. His criticism centres on what he regards as Rothbard’s principal argument for the thesis of self-ownership. In this paper, I attempt to show that Feser’s criticism fails of its purpose and that Rothbard is very far from being the epitome of philosophical ineptitude that Feser takes him to be.
Download Paper: “Feser on Rothbard as a Philosopher”
Abstract: Matt Mortellaro’s “Causation and Responsibility: A New Direction” is a brilliant Rothbardian analysis that makes numerous new and important points. It also critiques some of my own previous publications. In this piece I focus on Mortellaro’s rejoinders to me, and set forth a defense of my own positions.
Abstract: Properly speaking, money and law are natural outgrowths of human society, evolving over time via the voluntary cooperation that lies at the heart of the social enterprise. And as gold and the golden rule have for millennia formed the basis, respectively, of society’s money and law, they accordingly constitute the “twin pillars of civilization,” governing the social enterprise such that, in Mises’s words, “the human species has multiplied far beyond the margin of subsistence.” It stands to reason, then, that if money and law are corrupted, the social enterprise will be corrupted as well. And as this is precisely what the state has done, essentially toppling the twin pillars of civilization, it is necessary to understand what the state is, where it came from, and how it has systematically gone about corrupting money and law, and thus the social enterprise as a whole. For only then can money and law be returned to their rightful owners, and only then can the state be put in its proper place. Which is no place so far as the proper functioning of civil society is concerned.
Abstract: Since the financial crisis first erupted in the summer of 2007, the US Federal Reserve has sought to contain negative spillovers into the real economy by dramatically loosening monetary policy. Initially, this was done by lowering its key lending rates, but as the crisis has worsened, and rates have approached closer to zero, it has resorted to expanding its balance sheet in a historically unprecedented fashion. The Fed’s total assets have more than doubled to nearly $2 trillion since the summer of 2007.
Much of the debate surrounding the wisdom of this extraordinary increase in the production of money has revolved around its expediency–in other words, will it actually work to rescue the economy? Very little has been said, at least explicitly, about whether it is the morally right thing to do.
This paper seeks to fill this gap by providing a moral analysis of the Fed’s response to the financial crisis. For this purpose, we apply Aristotelian virtue theory, Lockean natural rights philosophy, Kantian deontology, and Benthamite utilitarianism. The idea is that if a consensus, or a strong majority, can be reached from differing philosophic assumptions and starting points, then the resulting judgment ought to be compelling for all neutral observers. On the basis that the Fed’s efforts are likely to result in a marked rise in inflation, we argue that every one of these four moral theories ultimately renders a negative judgment. As such, we conclude that the Fed is pursuing an immoral course.
Abstract: Progressive legal theorist Daniel Crane has argued that libertarians who believe that monopoly results from government intervention should accept antitrust law because the monopoly problem is a result of state government passage of General Incorporation Acts after the Civil War. The resulting corporate consolidation and control of industry necessitated federal antitrust law as a corrective. Crane has all of this wrong. State permission for incorporation was an ancient tool of mercantile grants of monopoly still in practice by state legislatures in the early 19th century, and the General Incorporation Acts were a major expression of a successful Jacksonian antimonopoly policy.
Abstract: Despite evidence that free market policies improve overall welfare, much of the world is making little progress in reducing state economic controls. Short-term transition costs may be the reason. A simple model demonstrates that it may be rational to weight these costs more heavily than the long-term beneﬁts of economic freedom.
Abstract: The private provision of road services and road privatisation has been extensively studied and has generated numerous debates among scholars. Block and Tullock exchanged on the possibility of having a completely privatised road system. Tullock defends the idea such a system is not viable, whereas Block shows a free market for road provision can be easily conceived.
This article proposes a re-examination of this debate and defends a pragmatic and realist approach. Although it shares Block’s conclusions on the possibility of having a free market for road services, it justifies them on a different ground. In fact, the ‘physical obstacle’ argument is less important that it could be previously imagined but it reflects more a socialist tendency to pose the problem.
Abstract: Milton Friedman is among those who have favored a value free, amoral defense of the free society. Here I discuss his basic reason for doing so, namely, that the claim to moral knowledge implies authoritarian politics. I argue that this is wrong because to act morally cannot require coercing people to do so–to quote Immanuel Kant, “ought” implies “can.”
Download Paper: “Milton Friedman & the Human Good”