Efficiency or Property Rights: Thomas Woods’ comments on the Chicago School of Economics

This was originally posted at City of God.

Thomas Woods, in his book The Church and the Market, spends a little time in the first chapter distinguishing the Austrian and Chicago schools of economics. One major difference between the schools is on the issue of central banking and monetary policy. We’ve had occasion to discuss this on the blog in the past, and I’m not particularly interested in raising it again here. However, Woods brought to my attention another difference which is of much greater concern to me, and this is over a moral issue. The difference is this:

The classic case in Chicago law and economics, famously described by Ronald Coase, is the example of the train that emits sparks that set fire to a farmer’s crops. (The example occurs prior to the introduction of diesel engines.) Either the farmer or the train will have to bear the cost of this damage. On the basis of strict liability, of course, the farmer has the right to the property in question and therefore the right to enjoy its fruits unmolested. The train should compensate him for his loss or install some kind of spark retarding device. But Chicago decides this case in such a way that overall wealth is maximized. (25)

Thus economic efficiency becomes an ethical value that is weighed against the property rights of people. The Austrians vehemently disagree with this point. They argue

that the rights of property should not be compromised in order to satisfy any wealth maximization calculus, and that as a rule strict liability should be observed. (They offer these critiques in their capacities as moral philosophers rather than qua economists, a point to which we shall return in our discussion of economics as a value-free science.) Walter Block has described it as “evil and vicious to violate our most cherished and precious property rights in an ill-conceived attempt to maximize the monetary value of production.” (26)

Woods provides one quote from a defender of Coase to make clear that the Chicago school explicitly teaches what he says they teach:

In defense of Coase, Chicago economic Harold Demsetz argues that “[e]fficiency seems to be not merely one of the many criteria underlying our notions of ethically correct definitions of private property rights, but an extremely important one. It is difficult even to describe unambiguously any other criterion for determining what is ethical.” Here is efficiency analysis with a vengeance. (26)

Now, I’m not sure any other way to describe this theory besides the words Block used: evil. Quite clearly, this is a form of coarse utlilitarianism, and one which will undoubtedly help the well-connected over against those who have little wealth. And I think this point is something where those on the left and those who support a view of property rights as natural rights (be they conservative or libertarian) can find agreement.

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Human Rights?

Is this a human right?

[Cross-posted at City of God.]

“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women…” ~ From the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Here is something that I wonder: does Western civilization have a coherent argument for the existence of human rights?

How do we determine what is a right?

An article on the Mises.org blog from a while back raised this question in a vivid manner:

Every once in a while, something comes along that perfectly encapsulates the idea of so-called “social justice” in action. For all the wonderful critiques that have been written about this wretched concept by its many detractors, none quite match the elegant simplicity of a recent work by some of its advocates. I am referring here to a recent video made for the World Day of Social Justice in which students and teachers complete this sentence:

Everyone has the right to _____. Continue reading

Half-Korean basketball players for social justice and egalitarianism!

I got into this discussion at Prof. Stackhouse’s blog about affirmative action.  I contended that it has watered down academics by filling empty academic posts first from the handful of women candidates instead of also taking into consideration the much larger pool of white angry males.  When Wayne Park called this point into question, I wrote:

I for one do not believe that the sacrifice of quality at the altar of diversity has been beneficial to academic standards in higher learning. Before I started job hunting, one of the colleagues in my field, explained to me how they did a job search at his California University (this was in circa 1994). He testified that they would receive maybe 100 applications. They would take the 95 or so from men and file them in the trash. Then they would choose three from the five women applicants and interview them, and then choose the best candidate from those three.

This means then that a woman can find a job in academics quite easily and men have a much harder time. This scenario is confirmed even by Prof. Stackhouse own confession above. Faculties will go out of their way to “recruit” women; but to hire a man, they just have to post the position and the applications come in.

The same holds true for racial minorities of the correct sort–forget it if you are either Jewish or Asian; that won’t help, because these are over-represented minorities–in fact only the best Chinese or Jewish kids can even get into some schools.

Now imagine if they did this with the NBA. Ok. We are going to give half-Korean men (they are underrepresented in the NBA, quelle horreur!) and females the preference for hiring. How long would it be before people would stop even watching the NBA and just start watching European league basketball instead? But in academics they’ve been selecting the team not to win championships (based strictly on the people with the best talent and the strongest dossier) but to create diversity–then telling the entire world that the team is better because of it. Well perhaps the faculty page on the website looks less monolithic, but I would rather watch European league academics where the concept of diversity has been much slower in catching on.

Wayne Park then proceeded to insinuate that I believed that white Europeans are more intellectual than other races, not to mention that he found my comments demeaning to women.  Also, he did not like that I used “sarcasm”.  My comment about half-Korean men in the NBA was the point of contention and he did not find the analogy helpful.  I guess I made the mistake of forgetting that I guy named “Dunn” should not assume that guy name “Park” would immediately understand such a line to be self-deprecating humor but would perhaps consider it instead an attack on Koreans in general. But maybe it is a good question:  why aren’t there more half Koreans in the NBA?

Where am I supposed to go after all?  Studies have shown that half Koreans excel in the academy, and so we find no special treatment there.  If anything, we are lumped with other over-acheiving Asians and discriminated against.  Full Koreans in Korea generally appreciate purity– have you ever played the Asian game Mah Jong? My Korean grandparents taught me when I was eleven; the game rewards every conceivable form of purity and eschews mixture: a game with a mixture of pung and chow is called a “chicken hand” and is considered worthless.  I am a person of Korean and white race (mostly Scottish) and am therefore a “chicken” person.  So I won’t get any special favors if I went to Korea.  The special word for half-breed in Korea is togee or something like that.  I learned the word years ago from an article about a poor, starved half-Korean girl who was adopted by American parents.

So even though I have a degree from the University of Cambridge, and very high g.p.a. from both Regent College and my undergraduate studies, nobody has ever offered me a full-time job in academics.  So I feel free to express bigoted comments about the academy, though I have many friends who are academics.  When you hear about how people bend over backwards to hire blacks African-Americans, Hispanics, white et al. women, and First Nations, it’s maddening.  I mean I’ve often considered changing my last name to Muktuk and saying that I grew up in Bethel, Alaska, of a Yupik father and a white mother–I know just enough of the language to be able to fake it in the interview, arigato very much.  My brother’s best friend in high school was half Yupik, half white, and looked a lot like him, and their teachers mixed them up. So I could do it, and then I’d be on the short list for every job I applied for.

So why not the NBA?  Why shouldn’t social justice and egalitarianism for half Koreans start with the NBA?  My high school basketball coach did a short stint with the LA Lakers, but I don’t think he really liked me, and he certainly gave me no playing time; he seemed to prefer the high-flying African Americans to me and my steady set shot.  Ok, so I’m 5 ft, 9 8 in. with 26.5 inch inseam.  My standing vertical jump is about six inches.  But I can shoot a mean three-point shot; the NBA player that I try to emulate is Steve Kerr.  My high scoring game was 44 points; it was circa 1984 at Northwest College, an intramural game–ok, I admit that the other team only had four players.  So I think in order to give half Koreans a step up, they should get preferential treatment in the NBA.  Every single NBA team should be required by law and social pressure to hire at least one half Korean.  I volunteer to play on the Raptors.  I would be at the same time the first half-Korean and the oldest player in NBA history.

The one great thing about DIY trading is that nobody asks you your race when you trade, unlike the US census.  It’s anonymous.  And as a half Korean, a member of a despised group both in Korea and in the other half of the world, I find great solace and refuge in that anonymity.

Streams of Justice: Against recycling

The latest endorsement from Streams of Justice, Dave Diewert’s social justice group, is of “The One ‘R’ Posse”:

Communiqué from The One ‘R’ Posse!

Operation Knock Over Recycle Bin and Strew The Contents All Over The Street!
Just say no to Recycling! If you Reduce and Reuse, there is no need to Recycle. Recycling is just a way for capitalism to ride the back of environmentally conscious people with out ever having to actually change their fundamental system.

In Seattle during the anti-WTO convergence, in 1999, we set a dumpster of cardboard recycling on fire. This action was widely misconstrued as a bunch of hooligan police provocateurs attempting to besmirch the good name of respectable protesters and rioters alike.

Our goal in Operation Set Cardboard Dumpster On Fire was to prevent the recycling trucks from coming to pick it up, using fossil fuels and ever increasing road networks to bring it to the recycling depot, process it then transport it in more trucks to factories to manufacture it into goods consumers would drive their cars to malls to yet again purchase, starting this whole ‘recycling’ charade all over again. How many times can one recycled box be recycled before the recycling process itself becomes just another toxic pollutant!

After being lambasted in the corporate media and ruthlessly chastised by all factions in the Left, we stopped everything we were doing and retreated to re-evaluate and perfect our strategies. After a decade of intensive internal theoretical and strategic development, we finally returned, only to find our actions meeting the same merciless critique by our allies.

On Feb 13, 2010 as part of the convergence against the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the One ‘R’ Posse knocked over a recycle bin in solidarity with the Left, and to move forward our own cause of stopping the ‘recycling’ ruse consumers have been duped into by so called environmentalists who are decreasing their carbon footprint with one foot while just making another one with the other foot!

The One ‘R’ Posse took into consideration that setting that cardboard dumpster on fire, while preventing the production of greenhouse gasses in transport and manufacturing only added to Global Warming by adding milligrams of smoke into the atmosphere. After being thrust into the global spotlight of criticism and a decade of internal reflection, we changed our tactic. We realized the world just wasn’t prepared for the radical reality of a dumpster fire. We needed to take action that makes sense under current social conditions. Littering was the solution we chose. City workers were thus employed to clean up the plastic bottles, creating jobs and showing solidarity with Union workers. At the same time Environmentalist NGO’s can rest easy that no carbon emissions were unnecessarily created. Workers and environmentalists are finally united over the same bin!

This is beyond satire. I’ve tried to satirize these people. But the reality is so much more farcical and ridiculous than any satire that I could imagine.

This sort of thing on the part of Christian social justice group makes Glenn Beck’s recent statements seem not only justified but eminently fair and sober minded:

In recent radio show, that was broadcast on more than 400 affiliates, he told his listeners to leave any church that uses the phrases “social justice” or “economic justice.” “I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site,” he said.

“If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” He went on to say, “If you have a priest pushing social justice go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them. [Ask them] are you down with this whole social justice thing?”   (Read more: http://network.nationalpost.com/; The National Post is now on Facebook. Join our fan community today.)

Of course in the National Post article did not interview Canadian theologian Dr. Craig Carter who has a series on the problem with the term “social justice” that pretty much agrees, in a sophisticated manner, with Glenn Beck’s warnings.

Craig Carter did two recent posts on “social justice”:

What is my beef with social justice I

What is my beef with social justice II