EPISTEMOLOGY IN QUESTION
Although it is difficult to make any sense of it, "Economics, Ethics, and Epistemology" by Alan Reynolds (REASON, February 1972) is apparently an incoherent defense of the Chicago economists' philosophical and economic failings, as demonstrated by the Austrian school. After conceding his ignorance of epistemology, Mr. Reynolds immediately provides a proof of this fact for anyone who still had any doubts; he states that he is going to define "positivism" and then does nothing of the kind. Yet in order to accomplish his purpose, he finds it necessary to attack the epistemological basis of Von Mises' economic writings.
Von Mises did not have the Objectivist epistemology available to him for his writings, so it is small wonder that he made errors. Yet his basic ideas can be interpreted in a manner consistent with correct epistemological principles. For example, when Von Mises refers to the fundamental categories of action as not being derived from experience, the context shows that he means that they are a priori in the same way that the laws of logic and the validity of sense perception are a priori in Objectivist epistemology. The citation of Leonard Peikoff's remarks on innate ideas is just an attempt to obfuscate the possibility of viewing von Mises' writings from the correct perspective.
This attempt sets the stage for the presentation of the absurd Reynolds/Chicago approach to economics and philosophy. He writes, "A relation between economic magnitudes is deduced, and this hypothesis is then tested against rival notions for its comparative ability to predict the effects of changes in the relevant variables. The hypothesis which is least-often refuted by observation is acted upon as true and certain.…" We stand aghast. How, Mr. Reynolds, can a hypothesis which has been refuted, even once, be true?
After such an atrocity, it is pointless and unnecessary to enumerate further errors in Mr. Reynolds' article. Besides, it would be too gruesome a tale of horror.
Santa Monica, Calif.
Sorkin and Sandin have not provided an alternative definition of "positivism," nor have they supported the untenable analogy between Misesian behavioral postulates and rules for the self-consistent use of language. Current Misesians do have access to Objectivist epistemology but have not embraced it.
In the quoted passage, I was, of course, referring to partial refutation (contradiction would have been a better word). In order to be aghast at this passage, one would have to believe that a hypothesis can be wholly refuted by a single observation. Such an extreme (positivist?) position, which is apparently taken by Sorkin and Sandin, is surely much further from that of Von Mises than I am willing to go.
MARCH ISSUE SCORES
We enjoyed the March issue of REASON more than any other issue to date—and find that we can again recommend the magazine to friends and associates, assuming you have revised your stance on anarchy and will no longer advocate its ideological growth through a preponderance of anarchist articles.
Tibor Machan's commentary on Robert LeFevre's absurdity on justice was well timed…James Kuffel was a nice surprise, coming from the Britannica…Ron Heiner's article made a number of good points (if you could weed through his writing style), perhaps the best of which was "the ideas of justice and equity of the large majority of individuals, not the funds of privately soliciting clients involved in disagreements," with respect to "protection agencies". Also, ",…if voluntary re-evaluation proves unacceptable…to either one or both parties, then the resolution of the dispute is beyond the services of the market; and at this stage, unless continual conflict is to arise, the majority must be prepared through some general nonmarket, coercive apparatus to prescribe the legitimate sphere of coercive interaction and to restrain those who are unwilling to so limit their actions."
Charles Barr's article "Anarchaos: A Critical Look at Rothbard's 'Defense Agencies'" was the best of the lot, in that he totally demolished Rothbard's supposed support of the private protection agency concept by pointing out that Rothbard has a "basic legal code" "and a monopoly code at that, which binds every member of the anarchist 'society'!" If Rothbard admits there is no possibility of settling all disputes nonviolently without an ultimate arbiter/legal code, then there is no spokesman remaining for the (absurd) anarchist position.
Don and Norma Lindsay
APRIL ISSUE LAUDED
Early this month I read the April issue of REASON but haven't had time to comment until now. I've been reading libertarian publications for nearly three years so far and never before found such consistently high quality writing in one issue. I enjoyed every article.
The article I liked best was Robert Poole's, "Contracts—Key to Urban Rebirth." This piece has done more than any other to convince me of the workability of proprietary communities.
Also of great interest was Dick Pierce's review of the book ARCOLOGY: THE CITY IN THE IMAGE OF MAN, by Paolo Soleri. I had heard of Soleri's work a few years ago and was fascinated by his architectural inventiveness.
Soleri's concept of a monostructural city is mind-blowing! What a giant step toward the totally controlled human environment! By combining the ideas of the two articles with libertarian philosophy, the way now seems open for the establishment of a truly prohuman anarcho-capitalist community.
A friend sold this particular issue of REASON to me and I've liked it so much, I'm sending in a check for a one year subscription. If the future issues turn out as good as this one, I'll resubscribe for three years.
Robert A. Robinson
Los Angeles, California
PENALTIES FOR OBESITY
I have always suspected that anyone with real feeling couldn't accept Ayn Rand's virtue of selfishness brouhaha for any lengthy period of time. Therefore, I was quite pleased to see REASON publish Professor Geis' thoughtful article which called for penalties for obesity. However, I believe that Professor Geis neglected the most important reason for such penalties. As everyone knows, every ounce someone ate which he didn't need, that person is taking away an ounce of food from a starving person. Remember—"to each according to his caloric requirements." When people are starving, there are no rights.
Having been a psychotherapist and marriage counselor for a number of Objectivists and Libertarians, I have long been concerned by the difficulty these usually very bright, very gifted individuals have had in seeking out therapy and, as well, in remaining in therapy long enough to accomplish their goals.
Part of the initial problem is undoubtedly the fear of the heavy liberal bias of most therapists and the difficulty in finding a therapist with a similar philosophical orientation. However, having supervised many different therapists, I do think that however liberal or leftist most therapists indeed are a good therapist can work successfully with someone of completely opposite political or philosophical views, and I therefore think that too many times this problem is used as an excuse to avoid the demands of therapy itself.
I have also long felt that the proper stress in an individualist philosophy on self-reliance is often distorted to mean that one has to be one's own therapist, which in most cases is about as wise as being one's own surgeon.
Finally, I would like to suggest that the time may be ripe for a national referral service of experienced, well-trained psychotherapists who also have an Objectivist or Libertarian orientation. Dr. Henry Jones (see his letter in November 1971 issue) and his associates in the Los Angeles area have made a beginning step in this direction, and I would welcome hearing from other therapists who might be interested in establishing such a service. If there is enough response, I would be glad to act as a volunteer coordinator.
I would suggest therapists who write to me include very briefly a statement of their philosophical and psychotherapeutic orientation, training background, years of clinical experience, fees, and kinds of therapy they do (individual, group, couples, child, etc.).
Finally, I want to thank you for the stimulation and satisfaction your magazine affords me. It is far and away the most mature, most rational voice of Libertarianism around. Keep up the good work.
Howard Ginsberg, MSW
399 Laurel Street
San Francisco, California
OBJECTIONS TO STATE ENTERPRISE
The "Trends" column (May 1972) considers the possibility of government run lotteries as an alternative to taxation. While in a free society competition with private lotteries would force the State to abandon monopoly prices (prize money is only 45% of revenues in New Jersey) lotteries could still conceivably be effective sources of revenue and the State may even be able to charge a "patriotism premium".
Now the question arises: If the State can raise revenue by running one enterprise (lotteries), why should it not run others? The major objections to State run enterprises under present circumstances are: 1) entry into the field is usually restricted (e.g., lotteries and the post office); 2) taxation power is used (at least implicitly) as collateral. Under a Laissez Faire system these objections would not be valid. While the history of State run enterprise is not encouraging, certain non-technological and less dynamic fields may be feasable, such as lotteries, certification (of health, safety of products, etc.), or even insurance.
Further consideration of these ideas by other Libertarians could be of value.
Randall K. Hylkema
I agree with the point Robert LeFevre was trying to make in his article "Justice On Trial"—that the quasi-religious status to which the "eye for an eye" ethic of retaliation has been raised is responsible for much of the trouble in the world today. But I think that his proposed solution is guilty of the very kind of "two wrongs make a right" attitude he denounces, by presenting one oversimplified, quasi-religious view to replace another.
Although the situations in which retaliation is the best policy are fewer than is generally supposed, there are a few such cases—and one reason that those cases are few is that the retaliation practiced is so effective. For example, take the case of "D.B. Cooper," the skyjacker who parachuted with $200,000 ransom. He was followed by a rash of imitators, and, if they had also succeeded, there is every reason to believe that this sort of crime would have grown geometrically, just like hula hoops or any other fad. The preventive techniques available are limited—such criminals don't fit the standard psychological profiles of the "take me to Havana" type, magnetic detectors can be defeated with a little effort, etc. The only effective preventive is the deterrent effect of swift apprehension—and the recovered loot in each instance itself pays the costs of that apprehension (a circumstance rare among crimes, and one reason retaliation is efficient in only a few crimes). In fact, the speedy capture of "D.B. Cooper's" imitators appears to have put a damper on further attempts.
Another flaw in his argument is the hypothetical situation he uses to refute the idea of competitive retaliatory agencies. His scenario goes something like this: Smith contracts with the Ajax All-Purpose Retaliators, while his neighbor Jones signs on with the Titan Regulators. Actually, because retaliation would be fairly rare, the main business of those who did retaliate when the occasion arose would be in providing such services as patrol cars cruising the streets, people monitoring burglar alarms, and the like. In these activities, there are considerable economies to be realized in having a single operation cover a given area—for example, a patrol car going down a street can check whether burglars are trying to break into any of the homes almost as easily as it can check one home. Thus the situation would be similar to that described by Spencer MacCallum in his book, ART OF COMMUNITY. However, there will still be areas where two or more services are contiguous, so neighbors subscribing to different agencies is a possibility to be taken into account.
LeFevre then supposes that Jones robs Smith and leaves clues pointing to himself. Smith calls the Ajax people, who then surround Jones' house and say, "OK, Jones, we know you're in there—come out with your hands up!" In many cases, there are better options open to Ajax than this, but again there will be some cases like this, so they must be considered. But now you assume that the Titan Regulators rush to the aid of Jones. Why should they? The situations in which Titan was obligated to aid Jones would be those specified in Jones' original contract. You are assuming that Jones' contract covered cases in which he was being retaliated against for his own wrongdoing. On what grounds do you make that assumption? Such a contract would be equivalent to an automobile insurance policy that covered damage sustained in a demolition derby or a life insurance policy that paid off on suicide. Insurance contracts written today stipulate that no payment will be made if a beneficiary deliberately causes the covered situation to exist; and only policies written by specialized companies like Lloyd's of London at ridiculous rates even permit beneficiaries to engage in activities with high risks. Therefore, I would expect most contracts with retaliatory agencies to stipulate that they are void if the person covered engages in initiatory force. Furthermore, since a pitched battle between agencies would be extremely costly to both sides (compare the going rates for mercenary soldiers, who expect to engage in pitched battles frequently, with the salaries of policemen, who may go through a 20 year career without firing their guns in anger), Ajax would have to be quite sure Jones was their man before moving, while Titan would want to be equally sure Jones was innocent before protecting him—and even then there would be a strong incentive for the two to make some kind of nonviolent settlement.
In short, armed confrontations would be extremely rare in a society that was more interested in economic efficiency than in picking fights for their own sake even between competing retaliatory agencies.
The heart of the matter is that the existence of anything close to a libertarian society presupposes a population that is not interested in power games. Given such a society, there is little chance of gang warfare breaking out (remember that no gang or government can long exist without at least the tacit sanction of the people in its area for its activities), competing retaliatory agencies or no. With a politically oriented population, some facsimile of the present situation will result, and no libertarian society will be possible, with or without competing retaliatory agencies.
The fallacy in LeFevre's approach is that he makes different assumptions when comparing the present situation with a libertarian pacifist one from those made when comparing a libertarian pacifist society with a libertarian society that admits retaliation. In the first instance, he implicitly assumes that people have abandoned their pursuit of power for power's sake, that they are willing to "turn the other cheek" when attacked, to establish the viability of libertarian pacifism. When he turns to the second comparison to refute the idea of competing retaliatory agencies, he implicitly assumes the opposite—that society is populated with Hatfields and Coys, with Al Capones and Bugsy Morans, with warlords and their vassals, who are going around with chips on their shoulders spoiling for a fight—looking for some excuse, any excuse, to annihilate their rivals, ready to open fire on the slightest pretext.
Frankly, I'm more inclined to agree with the second assumption. For that reason, I see my best opportunity to live in a libertarian way in separating myself, alone or with others of like mind, from most other people. However, if the larger society is ever to become libertarian, more will be required than replacing one oversimplified quasi-religious idea ("an eye for an eye") with another ("never use force against another"). For any libertarian community, large or small, to survive long, it will be necessary for its people to be able to appreciate far more subtle considerations than Le Fevre apparently gives his audience credit for being able to grasp. In the case of many if not most readers, he is probably correct in his estimation of their intellectual capacities—but in that case, the cause is hopeless anyway.
Erwin S. Strauss
Santa Barbara, Calif.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".