Some Friday morning links

Lynne Kiesling

Some arguments and ideas catching my eye this morning:

At their Why Nations Fail blog this morning, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson point out that central planning predates Marxist ideology historically, and is an instrument that political elites use to control and “extract resources from society”.

At the Huffington Post, economist Ben Powell points out how government regulations like zoning stifle civil society institutions, such as giving a small number of free lunches to those in need of a meal. Think about that the next time someone tells you that “government is just us working together to achieve a desirable objective”. No; see the remark above from Acemoglu and Robinson.

Tim Kane and Glenn Hubbard have a new blog called Balance of Economics, in advance of their forthcoming book of the same name. The focus: “We’ll explore topics such as power accounting, the role of political institutions, and the lessons history has for the current American institutional model.” Should be a good read; added to my RSS reader!

One of my favorite political philosophers, Jason Brennan, writes a very clear argument for why Paul Ryan should not be considered, as I saw in the comment thread on a CNN post earlier today “an Ayn Rand fanboy”. Jason argues that despite Ryan’s rhetorical posturing and invocation of minimal-state arguments from Rand, or Hayek, or others in the umbrella of small-state small-l-liberalism, his actions show him to be a much more standard neoconservative: “Rand would regard our current government as an unjust, rights-violating, bloated monstrosity. It is a monster Paul Ryan helped create. Ryan may admire Ayn Rand. He may quote F. A. Hayek in interviews. Yet his voting record is right out of the neocon playbook.” On the same topic and theme earlier this week, Conor Friedersdorf says that we should “stop calling Paul Ryan a Randian“. The other good thing about both of these arguments is that their authors represent Rand’s ideas in an informed manner, unlike many other arguments I’ve read since Ryan’s selection.

I don’t link to Conor Friedersdorf nearly as much as would reflect my appreciation and respect for his writing. (I attribute that to my attempt to minimize discussion of politics here, but if politicians insist on intruding even further into economic activity, well, …) On Wednesday he wrote a good argument for why liberals need to start holding Obama responsible for his policies, particularly his acceleration of the Bush-era subversion of civil liberties and increase in executive power. From the progressive portion of the political spectrum, Glenn Greenwald has been making this argument for some time, most recently with reference to the U.S. government’s lethal drone strikes in Pakistan and the refusal of those in the west to condemn these strikes. Just today comes news of a drone strike last night in Pakistan, the fifth this week, that killed 18 people, some of whom are likely to be innocent “non-combatants”. Another worthwhile read on this issue is an essay from actor John Cusack that was published this week, and is a thoughtful piece of writing. The link also includes notes from a conversation between Cusack and constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, and shows concern from a progressive perspective about the “gutting of the Constitution”. This is a conversation that I think we have to have, if we are going to move beyond the fear-based policies that are eroding the social institutions in which we, as individuals and in our voluntary community associations, are trying to thrive. And that’s the connection back to economics; as I’ve argued before, the erosion of civil liberties has moral and economic consequences, and makes us less well off … which circles us back to the Acemoglu and Robinson point at the top of this post.

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