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 cc.by.sa 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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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

In Praise of Shame

Human beings are flawed creatures. All of us are afflicted, to some degree, by laziness, greed, selfishness, dishonesty and every other distasteful characteristic that haunts our species. Living in civilized society requires us to suppress that side of our nature, and so we’ve developed all kinds of mechanisms to keep those impulses at bay. One of the more important ones, no doubt, is shame: the idea that there are certain things that one simply does not say or do in public, no matter how much one may want to, out of fear that those around us will disapprove.

I was recently reminded of the great value of shame, as I read an interview with Montreal restaurateur David McMillan. McMillan’s flagship restaurant, Joe Beef, needs no introduction to Montreal foodies. Consistently rated as one of the best in the country – if not the world – Joe Beef has flourished in one of the toughest dining markets around. Read more

Time to rehabilitate a pejorative?

As folks struggle to deal with the populist, anti-market realignment on the right, Godwin’s law has been making itself more relevant. People who make the mistake of equating today’s right-populism with national socialism might be forgiven, even if they go too far, for a more appropriate term has been drained of meaning: fascism.

Anyone who says that politicians today are fascist sounds nuts. The word has been applied indiscriminately to dismiss people and policies so often that it’s devoid of meaning, though it’s broadly associated with an unhinged lust for power, disregard for constitutional law, and eugenic racism. But the original intent of fascism aimed at none of these things. I’ve written on how modest the tenets of fascism sound in today’s political climate. Steve Horwitz has been pressing the applicability of the technical term since last summer. The fact is that, fallen as the word might be, there’s simply not a good substitute.

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The right’s brittle support for trade

As the American right jettisons support for international trade, globalist conservatives despair – and rightly so. An insular world is less prosperous and less peaceful. Opposition to trade seems to fly in the face of the core beliefs of Republicans in the United States and worries Conservatives in Canada, where broadly conservative pundit Ezra Levant has renounced his support for trade and Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch romanticises Trump’s victory.

Is the shift really so surprising? Since the end of the Cold War, the left has accepted limited support for markets, but conservatives have backed off of their deeply rooted support for trade. Many are worried by things like the ‘elephant chart’, shared widely by conservatives and progressives alike on social media, and what it means for… well, what trade means. But trade long ago became more a talking point than a pillar of conservative policy beliefs.  Read more