Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Liberty versus prosperity

A copy of two comments I made elsewhere (one of them on Facebook).


I grow less interested in economic arguments and more in ethical arguments. Here is why:

1) Economic arguments themselves are based on moral presupposition that "increasing wealth of the society = good".

I mean, you could objectively say that something is stupid, because it won't get you to the goal you set yourself; so, in that sense Hitler's decision to allow the 6th Army to be encircled at Stalingrad was a stupid decision (although I am personally glad he did that). We could analyze economics and politics from such a detached point of view: e.g., "politicians want to cure poverty, but their programs just exacerbate it for the following reasons...".

But I don't think anybody actually thinks that way. If it turned out that Stalin actually did want to starve millions of Ukrainians, we wouldn't call Holodomor an economic success. There is a built-in assumption that the purpose of economic policies is to increase wealth for a society through ethical means (not, for example, conquest).

2) I was reading some stuff about Germanic tribes and Roman Empire. And I realized that I'd rather have lived as a free German tribesman, albeit without the benefits of Roman civilization and prosperity, than as a Roman slave or semi-slave ("subject"). So, if I had a choice around the time of Arminius whether to ally myself with Germanic tribes or Roman Empire, I would do the former.

I care more about freedom and rights than about prosperity. That is my personal preference. I also think that resounds more with my views on objective morality, but even if there are no objective morals outside of religion, my subjective preferences are such that I abhor any violation of personal freedom in favor of some supposed prosperity for the greater number.

Normally, freedom correlates with prosperity, but not if there are confounds, such as difference in capital and knowledge accumulation (such as in the case of Roman Empire vs. Germanic tribes). So, there could be a case when freedom doesn't correlate with prosperity.

In such a case, I would choose freedom anyway.

* * *

And here is the other comment, where I elaborate on the second part above and contrast it with Roderick Long's views:

I was reading recently about Arminius and the ambush on three Roman legions by Germanic tribes. Very briefly, as Roman Empire was expanding into "Germania" during the times of Augustus Octavian, Romans started subjugating certain tribes just east of Rhine. They taxed them and introduced Roman law, replacing traditional Germanic law. This obviously provoked a great deal of displeasure from many people. On the other hand, contacts with Romans brought benefits from trade, exposure to new technologies and way of life, etc.

Arminius was a son of a Germanic chieftain who was taken as a child a hostage to Rome to be brought up as a Roman officer. He gained command of Roman auxilia and was eventually sent back to Germania by Augustus together with Varus, a new governor of the "province". Long story short, he sided with Germanic tribes, contrived a scheme to get rid of Roman presence, lured three legions led by Varus into German forests, where they were butchered by a confederation of Germanic warriors led by Arminius himself. This is basically an equivalent of Stalingrad Battle for Hitler. Despite some future wars with Germanic tribes and punitive incursions by Roman army into Germania, this basically was the end of Roman expansion east of Rhine.

Interestingly, at the time when Arminius was planning his scheme, some chieftains had to be convinced to side with him, because for them it was better off to live under Roman semi-subjugation.

So, as I was reading all of this, I realized that I don't agree with Roderick Long that justice is always profitable. (Let's assume that continuing to live under Germanic law in a relatively greater freedom = more justice here.) Maybe having absolute justice is more profitable than having absolute injustice, but you can have more justice and less prosperity and vice versa. I am not talking about just some chieftains who were in the Romans' pockets. One might imagine a situation when all Germans would be better off in terms of prosperity living under Roman rule.

So, which one would you choose?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i would choose neither Germans nor Italians of Americas and EU. i choose the West as Heifers to be slaughtered. Asia is all ready chosen for prosperity and administration of justice ad nauseam.