We Require Exchange and 'Calculability', Not Yet Another Arbitrary Moral Argument

Regarding: New Libertarians: New Promoters of a Welfare State


[G]ood piece. Although, I’m critical of philosophical pretense in social justice as much as I am in the market.

If any judgment is beyond our perception, and any concept of social justice is, then we must, as in all other matters where complexity exceeds our perception, develop some kind of instrumentation and means of calculation such that we can reduce that which we cannot perceive, to some analogy to experience that we can perceive. Moral rules are not sufficient for achieving that kind of instrumentation, or performing that kind of calculation.

The problems (of instrumentation and calculation) require formal institutions as a means of calculation. For example, we have the market for cooperating on means even if we disagree on ends. We have the government for forcing cooperation on means and ends by majority rule. We have accounting to assist us in the perception of that which we cannot possibly grasp without it. And we have economics to attempt to measure our success. But we have no such instrumentation and means of calculating “social justice” – or even defining such a thing as social justice. (Which current psychologists and economists suspect is reducible to status seeking, and insurance against risk, and nothing more.) Hayek addresses this thoroughly in TCoL.

While we might continue to try to rely upon the methods of the past (philosophy), and attempt to concoct yet another empty incalculable moralism for the purported common good, these results are value judgements and nothing more. They are incalculable. Non Empirical. Unascertainable.

[M]ost of the post-enlightenment philosophical effort has considered society a monopoly, in contrast to the pre-enlightenment condition of most urban cities, as federations of minorities denied access to political power, and forced to compete outside of politics, in the market. So the idea of social justice is an artifact of monopoly democracy rather than a federation of disparate interests. This is a fallacy. We have no common goals, only common means of cooperating to achieve disparate goals.

However, libertarians rightly argue that the only moral test is that of voluntary exchange free of violent coercion. I argue that this ‘test’ is incorrect, since no in-group human organizations demonstrate that low a level of trust, And instead all groups demonstrate and require higher standards of trust, tah also forbid free riding, deception, cheating, as well as burdening other group members indirectly. However, whether we accept a low trust society and high demand for external authority that low trust societies demonstrate, or a high trust society and the low demand for external authority that high trust societies demonstrate, the underlying argument that the only test of moral action is voluntary exchange. So the effort that political philosophers left, libertarian and right have expended under the universalist assumption of the enlightenment has been to find some justification for moral decision making even if the knowledge to make such decisions is impossible both in the market, and afterward, using the profits created from the market.

The question instead, is how to construct institutions with which groups can conduct voluntary exchanges, which are by definition moral. Majority rule does not allow this. Majority rule is sufficient for the selection of priorities in homogenous polities with homogenous interests. The market is the means by which heterogeneous polities cooperate on means despite different interests on ends. But how can we construct an institutional system that allows the construction of commons, and other exchanges between groups and classes, but is not dependent upon a monopoly bureaucracy, majority rule, or representatives open to influence, special interest, and corruption? Because a government of contracts, not laws, would allow the exchange of say, adherence to traditions and norms, or requirements for married families in order to obtain redistribution. This would make government a means of cooperation rather than the source and facilitator of conflict.

Curt Doolittle
The Propertarian Institute

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