Two philosophies defended

Larry’s discussion of the different conceptions of capitalism and stateless society in his tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin reminded me of the discussions of capitalism and utopia in G.A. Cohen’s Why Not Socialism? and Jason Brennan’s Why Not Capitalism?

Cohen’s tiny book is a classic and an ambitious one. Though it barely clears 80 pages, it sets out to make the case that the utopia that we should wish for—even strive for—is a socialist one. As Brennan points out in his 99-page response, for many years Cohen’s opponents granted his claim that socialism doesn’t and can’t work, but if it could, and if we were good enough, it’s the morally best system to embrace.

Brennan makes it clear—more clear than Cohen does—that this is all Cohen argues for. He grants that the “design problem” of coming up with a workable economic system to replace capitalism might be one that we can’t overcome. All Cohen asks is that we want to overcome it, that we want to do better than capitalism. But this is ground that Brennan refuses to cede.
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Ursula K. Le Guin, An Appreciation

Ursula K. Le Guin. Meet-the-author Q&A session; Bookworks bookstore, Albuquerque, NM, USA; July 2004. Photo taken by Hajor, 15.Jul.2004. Released under and/or GFDL.Ursula K. Le Guin did not care for capitalism.

What have I, a pro-market libertarian, to do with Ursula K. Le Guin, and what would move me to write an appreciation of her work?

Le Guin, who died last week at the age of 88, was an American novelist (her preferred designation) who mostly wrote science fiction and fantasy but also wrote poetry, “young persons’ fiction” and essays. Her novels won her five Locus, four Nebula, two Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award. Unsurprisingly she was also granted a number of lifetime achievement awards, all of them richly deserved. She was a feminist and an environmentalist, whose fiction pioneered themes of gender equality.

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Libertarianism: the Jaworski definition

Several years ago, Peter Jaworski sketched out a definition of libertarianism that I’ve since come to think of as the only workable definition. I’m reposting it from Facebook.

The definition was fleshed out in response to (yet another) debate—this time involving Stephan Kinsella, but replayed many times between many people—about who “counts” as a libertarian.

The old accusation was that someone who doesn’t base their morality on the non-aggression principle can’t be a true or at least not truly committed libertarian. This accusation is bound to rile up some anarchist consequentialist, but more importantly, purges from libertarianism figures as important as Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. Today there are others who would like to disqualify from libertarianism those who worry about such distasteful goals as pursuing economic nationalism or those with more mainstream views on border controls and immigration. I wouldn’t say that these people are part of the same political project as I am, but (alas) I don’t think their underlying reasons for smaller government disqualify them from the label.

This is the strength of Jaworski’s definition: it moves libertarianism away from purity tests and purges and instead allows for a sort of pluralism within libertarianism and accommodates the many different and even disparate missions that libertarians pursue. Read more

How Bitcoin Destroyed Venezuela

Rising alarmism about the amount of energy used to mine bitcoin is leading to a proliferation of confused articles like Eric Holthaus’s Bitcoin could cost us our clean-energy future (Grist, Dec. 15, 2017).

Most of these articles repeat an error popularized by Christopher Malmo, who has written and rewritten the same article about bitcoin’s awful energy consumption for Motherboard since creating the genre with Bitcoin Is Unsustainable back in 2015. The error is based on Malmo’s conviction that bitcoin is mostly a replacement for credit cards. The fact that a single bitcoin is at present worth more than $14,000 CAD might help him see the difference if he were interested, but he isn’t, because he insists on repeating his conviction in each new article.

Why is this important? Because it leads him into a more serious error, which is confusing bitcoin mining, which takes a lot of energy, and bitcoin transactionswhich do not (except in the sense that the mining, for the time being, validates them). This leads to a raft of horrifying comparisons: each bitcoin transaction “uses as much energy as your house in a week” (my house in frigid Montreal, or Malmo’s house in temperate Vancouver? dunno, but either way he’s wrong); bitcoin consumes as much energy as [ insert name of tropical country here ]. The truth, of course, is not that simple. Read more