Long on zaxlebax

Don't be surprised if you keep hearing me refer back to this one speech by Roderick Long, because it's so damn good and stimulating. It has everything: Rand, Long, libertarian theory, and (entangling?) alliances. You don't have to agree with all of it to have your hair blown back anyway. Here's a tasty sample:

While I've said I don't want to dwell on terminological issues, I can't resist making a point about "capitalism" and "socialism." Rand used to identify certain terms and ideas as "anti-concepts," that is, terms that actually function to obscure our understanding rather than facilitating it, making it harder for us to grasp other, legitimate concepts; one important category of anti-concepts is what Rand called the "package deal," referring to any term whose meaning conceals an implicit presupposition that certain things go together that in actuality do not.[11] Although Rand would not agree with the following examples, I've become convinced that the terms "capitalism" and "socialism" are really anti-concepts of the package-deal variety.

Libertarians sometimes debate whether the "real" or "authentic" meaning of a term like "capitalism" is (a) the free market, or (b) government favoritism toward business, or (c) the separation between labor and ownership, an arrangement neutral between the other two; Austrians tend to use the term in the first sense; individualist anarchists in the Tuckerite tradition tend to use it in the second or third.[12] But in ordinary usage, I fear, it actually stands for an amalgamation of incompatible meanings.

Suppose I were to invent a new word, "zaxlebax," and define it as "a metallic sphere, like the Washington Monument." That's the definition — "a metallic sphere, like the Washington Monument. " In short, I build my ill-chosen example into the definition. Now some linguistic subgroup might start using the term "zaxlebax" as though it just meant "metallic sphere," or as though it just meant "something of the same kind as the Washington Monument." And that's fine. But my definition incorporates both, and thus conceals the false assumption that the Washington Monument is a metallic sphere; any attempt to use the term "zaxlebax," meaning what I mean by it, involves the user in this false assumption. That's what Rand means by a package-deal term.

Now I think the word "capitalism," if used with the meaning most people give it, is a package-deal term. By "capitalism" most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist system simpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by "capitalism" is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term "capitalism" as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market. And since the prevailing system is in fact one of government favoritism toward business, the ordinary use of the term carries with it the assumption that the free market is government favoritism toward business.

And similar considerations apply to the term "socialism." Most people don't mean by "socialism" anything so precise as state ownership of the means of production; instead they really mean something more like "the opposite of capitalism." Then if "capitalism" is a package-deal term, so is "socialism" — it conveys opposition to the free market, and opposition to neomercantilism, as though these were one and the same.

And that, I suggest, is the function of these terms: to blur the distinction between the free market and neomercantilism. Such confusion prevails because it works to the advantage of the statist establishment: those who want to defend the free market can more easily be seduced into defending neomercantilism, and those who want to combat neomercantilism can more easily be seduced into combating the free market. Either way, the state remains secure.

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Good catch, Randall. This is

Good catch, Randall. This is an annoying enough problem that in most cases it results in less confusion to simply use "free markets" instead of "capitalism." But I think it makes sense to define socialism as the opposite of the market process -- allocation of resources by management/planning rather than the price mechanism. Of course, on this view firms are miniature socialist economies imbedded within a larger catallaxy. (As Coase says, there is an optimum amount of planning in an economy.)

One thing I disagree with is

One thing I disagree with is Rothbard's linking of libertarianism with radicalism:

>[T]here developed in Western Europe two great political ideologies …
>one was liberalism, the party of hope, of radicalism, of liberty, of
>the Industrial Revolution, of progress, of humanity; the other was
>conservatism, the party of reaction, the party that longed to restore
>the hierarchy, statism, theocracy, serfdom, and class exploitation of
>the Old Order…. Political ideologies were polarized, with liberalism on
>the extreme "left," and conservatism on the extreme "right," of the
>ideological spectrum.

I think radicalism in any type is a bad idea, and think the libertarian infatuation with it is one of the things that limits the success of the philosphy.

It's also, to some extent, adopting one of the tenets of statism: that various emergent associations of individual are purely arbitrary and can be reengineered at will according to the desires of some central authority. The only difference is the libertarians want to apply that to government instead of the markets.

Yes, but: Long makes the

Yes, but:

Long makes the same sort of contradictory conflation he identifies here by use of a formulation like "government favoritism toward business". I infer that by this he intends to mean the type of government regulations which protect existing/well-connected/larger businesses from competition. These regulations are generally defended on the grounds that they uphold consumers' or workers' rights.

The problem is that in popular usage "government favoritism toward business" is taken to mean the government siding with businesses over consumers or workers, the remedy for which is...regulations to uphold consumers' or workers' rights.

I'd say that the real issue is the popular attachment to regulation and the fact that few understand the unintended (and intended-but-concealed) consequences of such regulation. Set against this, the "branding" of terms like "Capitalism" or "Free market" is secondary.

Long writes: "By

Long writes:

"By "capitalism" most people mean neither the free market simpliciter nor the prevailing neomercantilist system simpliciter. Rather, what most people mean by "capitalism" is this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world. In short, the term "capitalism" as generally used conceals an assumption that the prevailing system is a free market. And since the prevailing system is in fact one of government favoritism toward business, the ordinary use of the term carries with it the assumption that the free market is government favoritism toward business.

And similar considerations apply to the term "socialism." Most people don't mean by "socialism" anything so precise as state ownership of the means of production; instead they really mean something more like "the opposite of capitalism."

So what? It doesn't help most people if you speak more precisely about markets and socialism. There's no private return for thinking clearly about such things and no private cost for getting it wrong.

While I like Long, there

While I like Long, there were so many "wings" in his speech I had to keep ducking to avoid getting flapped to death.

You got to the guts of it tho.

Yes, John, we all know about

Yes, John, we all know about rational ignorance, but sometimes we talk about politics and economics with other people, people who may not agree with us and might fall for such package-deals without realizing it. I welcome Long's clear thinking as a tool in such discussions. Now, if you're arguing it's pointless to talk about politics, then you may have a point, but your presence here belies it.

Long says most people don't

Long says most people don't know what they're talking about when they discuss capitalism and socialism. That will remain true no matter what he does.

Stormy: I think the idea is

Stormy: I think the idea is that the state has been manhandling societal relations for a long time, and weakening it would strengthen the natural order, at least in advanced countries.

Frank: You have a valid point, but he addresses it in the speech. Convincingly or not is up to you.

I don't think he really

I don't think he really addresses the point at all. He persists in using terms like "Business interests" or "Pro-business" knowing full well what precisely they mean to anti-capitalists ("Not enough regulation of business") as if this was the same thing as saying that Business regulation protects certain types of businesses at the expense of others.

This is a characteristic (and doomed) attempt to draw anti-capitalist left wingers into the libertarian tent and to excoriate libertarians for being insufficiently occupied by class-warfare. And one which ultimately fails because of this conflation. The bottom line is that libertarians generally don't support, say, anti-Walmart policies because they are enamoured by Walmart, but because these policies fail on their own merits. And the reason that left-wing anti-capitalists don't want to come into the libertarian tent (and aren't generally welcome) is that they have core preferences (for example individual versus group interests, property rights), superceding any concerns about government industrial policy, which are inimical to Liberalism.

Randall, First, FYI we're

Randall,

First, FYI we're trying to work out the plans for the ATL libertarian blogger meetup. Currently we've decided on Saturday, May 20 at 7:00, at the Midtown Vortex... If possible, since you started this idea, let us know if that works.

More to the point, I think this is something that is common everywhere. Trying to argue with someone when you're both working off different definition of terms is fruitless. I would think the readers and writers of this blog would be particularly sensitive. If you walk down the street and ask someone what their opinion of "anarchists" is, it will be based on a definition far different than the society of anarcho-capitalists. They think anarchism is people running around blowing sh*t up. And to statists, perpetuating the idea that anarchism means "chaos" instead of "without State" certainly helps them to keep people dependent on the state. The same thing occurs when you call what the state sanctions a "marriage", when it would be more proper to call it a civil union. When marriage becomes both a religious definition and a legal definition, changing the legal structure of it offends the religious. To the religious, keeping the terms the same allow them to frame the debate in the way most suitable to their own interests.

As for capitalism, I think most people in this country think neomercantilism, not laissez-faire economics of the Adam Smith variety. How to really change that perception, I'm not quite sure...

Rothbards fatal flaw is that

Rothbards fatal flaw is that he was so enamoured with himself that he would make whatever alliance possible at the moment. This led him to try to bring communists into the libertarian tent thus, he spread lies about the Finnish War with the Soviets and made apologies for the most evil empire in history. The results of the love affair with the radical left linger today at such Pravda sites as antiwar.com.

Long is, unfortunately, following in Rothbards footsteps. Notice how it has become stylish for libertarians to precede every belief system with state such as state capitalism and state socialism. Does anyone really think this clarifies anything? Or is it merely an attempt to bring leftists into the libertarian tent by dressing up markets in communist chic? Might as well paint a hammer and sickle on the Gadsen. The left isnt against state capitalism, they are against capitalism. They are against free trade, for business regulation, for price controls, for union privilege, and against entrepreneurialism. Call it what it is: capitalism vs leftism.

Yes, the state should be

Yes, the state should be weakened.

But a desire for change isn't what defines radicalism. It's the desire for a near-instaneous top to bottom reorganization in order to match a perceived ideological ideal.

That was the mindset I was discussing when I said I felt radicalism was hurting libertarianism.

Jim, you're ignorant.

Jim, you're ignorant. Antiwar.com is hardly a mouthpiece for Pravda. Justin Raimondo's every-other-day articles constantly bash Trotsky (the Irving Kristol thing) and Communist apologists like Hitchens and his entourage. Raimondo may be hysterical, but he's no Communist. His WW2 revisionism - defection from the Soviet party line, to say the least - is quite blunt about its paleo-libertarianism. Other consistenly featured writers (the right hand column) like David Henderson, Ivan Eland and Charles Pena are libertarians. But I suppose a link to Mother Jones or The Nation are enough to indict in your mind.

But maybe you were just taking the piss with your comments, so I should pour a grain of salt upon your puddle. Go back to listening to Neal Boortz.

But I think it makes sense

But I think it makes sense to define socialism as the opposite of the market process – allocation of resources by management/planning rather than the price mechanism.

Problem is, the original socialists, even Marx himself, weren't opposed to markets at all. Rather they were opposed to certain social arrangements resulting from massive government intervention - the government intervention they called "capitalism". David Ricardo, one of the greatest economists ever, spawned a large following of socialists, based on his analysis of the labour theory of value.

If you're looking for a term that means "the opposite of markets", there's a perfectly serviceable one already available: "politics".

- Josh

Kennedy: There's no private

Kennedy:

There's no private return for thinking clearly about such things and no private cost for getting it wrong.

Isn't there?

Kennedy:

Long says most people don't know what they're talking about when they discuss capitalism and socialism. That will remain true no matter what he does.

So what?

Don't you have reasons for trying to think and speak clearly, whether or not you expect it to affect other people somehow?

Jeeze, do you guys really

Jeeze, do you guys really think there can be a totally pure free market society today in the world which we inhabit. Other than in theory, there is no use even discussing the issue. There hasn’t been any such thing as an entirely non- mixed business establishment ever. Even old style business men such as Rockefeller foisted all kinds of controls and restraints upon his employees, no drinking and you better go to church, and had cronies in the government. He still provided cheap good grade kerosene to the consumers and thus helped society.
Now each business must comply with endless, taxes, environmental and OSHA regs, sexual and racial restraints and set- asides, health, safety, and social regulations. We live in a mixed economy and that is inevitable and maybe even good. It is simply a matter of the public sector not killing the golden goose, which is always what unrestrained “progressives” would do inadvertently out of stupidity.
As long as business will fail if they make no profit, and can succeed without being propped up or strangled by the government, things will go along fairly well, which is about the best you can expect.

Dave, If hostility to free

Dave,

If hostility to free markets is in many cases a mistake resulting from hostility towards "capitalism", then it might serve some good to discuss a new brand name. Not necessarily to use in a quest to achieve totally free markets, but to achieve freer markets.

The method that Popper

The method that Popper suggests is perfectly reasonable, if your interlocutor is using language clearly and consistently, and if the terms she is using do not presuppose something that is false

I think that what Popper is recommending here is that one should try to avoid getting bogged down in definitional disputes and, more controversially, that ultimate precision about terms is *not* required for most purposes. The rough and ready approximate understanding of these terms does generally suffice. If someone describes herself as "anti-capitaist" we have a pretty good idea what she is opposed to and it is usually not barriers erected to prevent new entrants into particular markets. It is usually the "excessive" profits taken by business owners. If someone describes himself as an "anti-socialist" we also have a pretty good idea what he is opposed to and it is usually (compulsory) collectivism. For the vast majority of cases the rough and ready definitions apply and for the few minor cases where the anti-capitalist is actually opposed to tarriffs and regulations this can be elucidated by further discussion. There is no need to seek ultimate precision in terms before discussion can take place and in fact this sort of definitional distraction oftens prevents substantive discussion taking place at all.

There is considerably less ambiguity about terms such as "socialism" and "capitalism" than is asserted by Long here and I'd say he overstates the extent to which we are talking past each other.

Hi Rad, I'm all in favour of

Hi Rad,

I'm all in favour of criticizing people for being unclear or inconsistent but I don't think it is possible to escape equivocation in language and language has no authority. Meanings are never precise or perfect and there is no direct correspondence between words and things. Insisting on particular meanings for words is akin to insisting on particular spellings for words, both are an intellectual distraction. Despite this we can all usually understand one another well enough and if we focus on problem solving the words will take care of themselves, they are only tools after all and we can use a spanner to knock in a nail. Argumentation is not linguistic seduction but the criticism of propositions. That we can't sensibly talk about things unless we have precise meanings is false. We can, and do, all the time.

"Letters play a merely technical or pragmatic role in the formulation of words. In my opinion, words also play a merely technical or pragmatic role in the formulation of theories. Thus both letters and words are mere means to ends (different ends). And the only intellectually important ends are: the formulation of problems; the tentative proposing of theories to solve them; and the critical discussion of the competing theories."

Karl Popper, Unended Quest

Karl Popper has some good

Karl Popper has some good advice for Rod:

"One should never get involved in verbal questions or questions of meaning, and never get interested in words. If challenged by the question of whether a word one uses really means this or perhaps that, then one should say: 'I don't know, and I am not interested in meanings; and if you wish, I will gladly accept your terminology.' This never does any harm. One should never quarrel about words, and never get involved in questions of terminology. One should always keep away from discussing concepts. What we are really interested in, our real problems, are factual problems, or in other words, problems of theories and their truth."

Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge

Paul, The method that Popper

Paul,

The method that Popper suggests is perfectly reasonable, if your interlocutor is using language clearly and consistently, and if the terms she is using do not presuppose something that is false. But the linguistic situation that Roderick's addressing isn't like that: his claim is precisely that the words "capitalism" and "socialism," as commonly used, don't have a clear and consistent meaning, because they are defined so as to have an internal inconsistency, and to rest on a false presupposition (viz., the identity of the free market and actually existing neomercentilist outfits). If someone is using language unclearly or inconsistently it does no good to accept their terminology as-is in an attempt to get down to the factual questions, because there is no way to get down to factual questions through nonsense. Hence the point of using techniques like precisifying definitions, analytic distinctions, simple abandonment of some terms in favor of others (e.g. "capitalism" for "the free market" or "laissez-faire," etc.)

Of course, you may disagree with Rod that the situation with "capitalism" and "socialism" is what he claims it to be, but then that's a substantive disagreement over how people are in fact using the terms, not a disagreement over the method of criticizing unclear or inconsistent usage.

Paul, The issue here isn't

Paul,

The issue here isn't the need for "precise" meanings -- as a late Wittgensteinian I think that the quest for those is itself a form of linguistic delusion -- but rather for consistent ones. If Roderick is right that "capitalism" and "socialism" as commonly used don't have a consistent meaning, then even if you regard them as mere "tools" for the formulation and testing of theories, they are not useful tools for that purpose. If you're interested in getting down to facts then it is in your interest to critique uses of language that obscure them or deflect you from them.

That said, it is a serious error to compare the relationship between clear language and true theories to the relationship between letters and words, or between hammers and nails. Of course it's true that whether or not to use a particular word to express a particular idea is a purely pragmatic decision that you ought to make on the basis of the audience and the conversational context. But Roderick's issue is not with the word "capitalism" as such, but rather the way in which that word is commonly used. And that's quite a different issue. In this sense, language is a means to (among other things) formulate and test theories, but it is not an instrumental means to an end that can be spelled out independently of it. Theories are, after all, made of language, not just made with it, and using language clearly is a constitutive means to an end of which it is itself a part. (In a sense, singing "Tochter aus Elysium" in the second line is only a means to the end of singing the Ode to Joy. But it would make little sense to say "Quit worrying about singing 'Tochter aus Elysium' in the second line; just worry about singing the Ode to Joy right, and the second line will sort itself out." If you fail to use the right means here, then you have also failed to achieve the end.)

Frank:

I think that what Popper is recommending here is that one should try to avoid getting bogged down in definitional disputes and, more controversially, that ultimate precision about terms is not required for most purposes. The rough and ready approximate understanding of these terms does generally suffice.

Roderick's point has nothing to do either with the alleged need for precise definitions, or with the "right" definition to attach to the words "capitalism" and "socialism." What he says is that "the rough and ready approximate understanding of these terms" as commonly employed conceals an internal inconsistency. Criticizing common usage, if it is indeed as he says it is, doesn't turn on any claims about precision in definitions; it turns on the idea that incoherent meanings don't get you anywhere.

Of course, you also claim that you disagree with him on the way in which the words are commonly used. But then your issue with him is one of substantive disagreement over what the linguistic situation is, not the sort of methodological disagreement that Paul's quotations from Popper are trying to suggest.

As far as that substantive disagreement goes, I agree with you that it's usually pretty clear that calling yourself "anti-capitalist" usually conveys pretty clearly that you're opposed to the free market. But I don't see how that's inconsistent with what Roderick said. If your understanding of capitalism is something like "this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world," then saying you oppose "this free-market system that currently prevails in the western world" will (among other things) commit you to opposing the free market. The problem is that it also commits you to thinking that what you're opposing is the actually existing political economy in which we live. If your "pro-capitalist" opponents buy into the package-deal that you are employing, then they will think that they are committed to defending the actually existing political economy in which we live as part of defending the free market. But since we don't live in anything like a free market, it's foolish for them to do so.

And frankly I simply have no idea what is meant when someone calls herself "pro-capitalist" or "anti-socialist." Some people tend to use these terms strictly to describe their adherence to free market principles; others tend to ue them strictly to describe their solidarity with actually existing big business; others (probably most) tend to use them to describe the chimerical combination of the two attitudes that they've mistakenly bought into. In practice I have seen plenty of people denounce voluntary strikes for higher wages, advocate for "right to work" laws which explicitly violate the right of free contract, endorse explicitly protectionist arguments for copyrights and patents, apologize for government lending agencies such as the IMF and World Bank, endorse state auction "privatization" schemes, etc., all in the name of being "pro-capitalist" or "anti-socialist." Clintonian liberals, for that matter, often use this sort of language to justify anti-trust interventions and the institution of government-run, completely fabricated "markets," such as those in transferable political correctness "credits" of various sorts. Of course, whenever someone does that (and they do it very often), you could insist, "But no, you see, 'capitalism' really means a free market! Not patronage for big business!" But then it's you, not Roderick, who's getting bogged down in semantics. It is precisely by exposing and dealing with the inconsistencies in common usage that we can avoid that kind of unproductive squabbling.

Rad, "Don’t you have

Rad,

"Don’t you have reasons for trying to think and speak clearly, whether or not you expect it to affect other people somehow?"

Sure, and what does that have to do with the ideological alliances which are after all the point of this piece? When Long talks about most people being confused about capitalism and socialism isn't he clearly talking about changing that? Long:

"As I see it, then, Rothbard's "Left and Right" has never been more urgently relevant than it is right now. Today we face a situation remarkably similar to the one Rothbard was facing in the 1960s, including shifting ideological alliances and an increasingly unpopular war.othbard writes that "modern libertarians forgot or never realized that opposition to war and militarism had always been a 'left-wing' tradition which had included Libertarians," so that when the right wing revealed itself as "the great partisan of total war, the Libertarians were unprepared to understand what was happening and tailed along in the wake of their supposed conservative 'allies.'" He was talking about Vietnam and the Cold War, but his diagnosis would apply equally well to those libertarians who have allowed themselves to be lured into support for the current administration's military policy. But the architects of that policy have misfired: the 9/11 attacks initially appeared to have killed off the so-called "Vietnam syndrome" of aversion to war that the imperialist elite have so long bemoaned; but Bush and his cronies have flatfootedly managed to reinvigorate it, and to reawaken popular suspicion of presidential war rhetoric. Rothbard once said that Richard Nixon was one of the best organizers the antiwar movement ever had; Bush has a fair claim to share that august company.

The antiauthoritarian left is becoming newly active; even Rothbard's beloved Students for a Democratic Society has recently been revived, and has been explicitly welcoming of libertarian participation.[23] Likewise, just two days ago on the LRC blog I saw a letter from leading left-wing decentralist Kirkpatrick Sale to Lew Rockwell informing him about an upcoming secessionist convention.[24] The potential for a revival of Rothbard's left-libertarian coalition is certainly there."

As I shall be away from a

As I shall be away from a computer now for a few days I'll just add one more criticism of Rod's speech. Roderick says:

"Such confusion prevails because it works to the advantage of the statist establishment: those who want to defend the free market can more easily be seduced into defending neomercantilism, and those who want to combat neomercantilism can more easily be seduced into combating the free market. Either way, the state remains secure."

To see this for the empty 'Heads I win; tails you lose' bit of (self-)deception that it is consider this:

_Such confusion prevails because it works to the advantage of the anarchist anti-establishment: those who want to attack the free market can more easily be seduced into attacking neomercantilism, and those who want to defend neomercantilism can more easily be seduced into defending the free market. Either way, the state is insecure._

Perhaps Rod should be trying to propagate linguistic confusion in order to promote anarchism.

Rad, Yes, I know that our

Rad,

Yes, I know that our methodological differences spring from the fact of you (and Roderick) being followers of Wittgenstein in this matter and my being a follower of Popperian critical rationalism and his view that 'nothing of substance depends on words'.

To this point that you raise with Frank:

"In practice I have seen plenty of people denounce voluntary strikes for higher wages, advocate for “right to work” laws which explicitly violate the right of free contract, endorse explicitly protectionist arguments for copyrights and patents, apologize for government lending agencies such as the IMF and World Bank, endorse state auction “privatization” schemes, etc., all in the name of being “pro-capitalist” or “anti-socialist.” "

I would suggest that our intellect is more fruitfully employed in criticizing and refuting their erroneous theories rather than in designing a more consistent scheme of words with which they can continue to articulate their errors. Contra your assertion; it is precisely the 'exposing and dealing with the inconsistencies in common usage' that leads to unproductive squabbling. In concentrating on the one hand on the meaning of words and on the other of the 'attitudes' of the particular people who use them I think that you (and Roderick) are overlooking the key thing - the truth, or otherwise, of the theories being proposed.

"Meaning philosophies and language philosophies (so far as their concern is with words) are on the wrong track. In matters of the intellect, the only things worth striving for are true theories, or theories which come near to the truth -- at any rate nearer than some other (competing) theory"

Karl Popper, Unended Quest

If your “pro-capitalist”

If your “pro-capitalist” opponents buy into the package-deal that you are employing, then they will think that they are committed to defending the actually existing political economy in which we live as part of defending the free market. But since we don’t live in anything like a free market, it’s foolish for them to do so.

I do realise this is the core point you and Long are trying to make but I'd say this isn't really borne out, despite the examples you give, by real world actual "pro-capitalists". The sort of people who defend the current system, tend to do so compared to some proposed alternative and not because of any intrinsic merits of the existing system. Just because one says current package deal X is better than alternative package deal Y doesn't commit one to defending every part of that package deal X. Using ambiguous formulations like "patronage for big business" only serves to obfuscate this point. You assert that many "pro-capitalists" feel some sort of "solidarity" with big business but such solidarity doesn't exist - unlike contemporary France or 1970s UK there is little "national champion" rhetoric in the US. The sentiment you misascribe as "solidarity" - perhaps projecting the solidarity the anti-capitalist might have for the workers and implicitly accepting the erroneous Marxist view of a zero-sum game between workers' interests versus bosses' interests - is merely a favouring of the type of system on grounds of liberty and prosperity over other systems (such as, say, that of France) which fare less well on either ground. That this system also happens to reward businesses is incidental and shouldn't be a problem unless you view the economy as a zero-sum game where the rewards of those businesses come at the expense of others.

I don't particularly want to get dragged into a debate about unions but I would point out that there are perfectly defensible arguments one might make from a broadly liberal perspective against, say, closed shops or about the nature of strikes without doing so out of some misguided solidarity with the bosses. It might be neat for your argument to assume that's the case but you'd need to do more to show this solidarity than simply infer it. Perhaps a less emotive example might be anti-trust action. As it happens I'm opposed to this sort of meddling, but I've found that people who favour anti-trust action tend to do so because they genuinely (if erroneously in my opinion) believe that such action is necessary to ensure the market has sufficient competition to benefit consumers. The thinking goes - for whatever reason, perhaps including the very business patronage to which you refer, firm X finds itself in a dominant position, therefore remedial action is required. Now, I'd say that the remedial action can't correct the original wrong and merely makes things worse. Generally people who tend to favour this action discount this but they don't really care all that much one way or another about the fortunes of the businesses affected and have no particular solidarity for such businesses.

More to come later when I

More to come later when I have a bit more time. For now:

Paul,

Yes, I know that our methodological differences spring from the fact of you (and Roderick) being followers of Wittgenstein in this matter and my being a follower of Popperian critical rationalism and his view that "nothing of substance depends on words".

Doesn't Wittgenstein rather famously also suggest that "nothing of substance depends on words"? (Cf. for example TLP 4.003, TLP 6.53, etc.)

Maybe the differences that you (and Popper) have with Wittgenstein -- and with me and Roderick -- actually have to do with something other than this methodological dictum?

I would suggest that our intellect is more fruitfully employed in criticizing and refuting their erroneous theories rather than in designing a more consistent scheme of words with which they can continue to articulate their errors.

The aim of the linguistic criticism isn't to furnish them with new language for articulating their errors, but rather to furnish us with new language for criticizing and refuting their erroneous theories. You might think that we could save time by just doing so with the old language we already had at hand, but if Roderick's right about the conceptual misdirections embedded in that old language, then it simply is not useful as a means to that end.

You could say, "common usage can go hang; stipulate meanings for your own terms to get any questions of meaning out of the way as quickly as possible, and then devote your energy to making your case, rather than punching at the tarbaby of other people's conceptual confusions." But as a practical matter, common usage really is harder to divorce yourself from than this suggests: even when you make explicit stipulative definitions it can be hard to divorce yourself from the conventional paradigm cases and the connotations you're familiar with (I think this often actually happens when many libertarians start talking about "market processes," but that's another long discussion for another time). And, perhaps more importantly, what Roderick's doing in the passages you cite is part of a different intellectual task than formulating your own theory: the task that he's engaged in is in fact criticizing someone else's false theory (statist political economy), so part of what he needs to do is to engage with what they are actually claiming and how they are supporting it. Otherwise, he is just punching at a strawman. So engaging with the way in which package-dealing language is commonly in framing the theory he's criticizing, and the way in which that language insulates the theory from criticism (by concealing where, and with whom, the dispute actually lies) is part and parcel of the task you are trying to urge him to devote himself to. Specifically, it involves knocking out one of the supports used to hold up the false theory -- e.g. by taking away the state socialist's ability to rely on the admitted evils of neomercantilism in order to make a case against free enterprise. And by making clearer where the dispute lies, it also makes clearer the sorts of evidence that need to be adduced in order to criticize whatever supports remain.

On the other hand, you could always argue that Roderick's just saying something false about how the already existing language in the debate is commonly used, and that it is (as Frank claims) really much less ambiguous or incoherent than Roderick is claiming. But then you're punching at that tarbaby no less than Roderick is, since determining that that's the case just does involve doing linguistic analysis.

Rad, Thanks for the

Rad,

Thanks for the extensive reply. I'll respond by point.

"Doesn’t Wittgenstein rather famously also suggest that “nothing of substance depends on words"? (Cf. for example TLP 4.003, TLP 6.53, etc.)"

He doesn't seem to be suggesting it here.

"Maybe the differences that you (and Popper) have with Wittgenstein – and with me and Roderick – actually have to do with something other than this methodological dictum?"

I don't think so. Wittgenstein and Popper are clearly at odds over the merits of linguistic analysis. You, Roderick and Wittgenstein think it very important, Popper and I think it intellectually futile. This seems to me to be our main difference. This is good as it affords us the opportunity to debate this issue. Popper often reminds us that agreement is intellectually sterile and disagreement intellectually fruitful.

"The aim of the linguistic criticism isn’t to furnish them with new language for articulating their errors, but rather to furnish us with new language for criticizing and refuting their erroneous theories."

A completely otiose aim. Equivocation is inescapable, but this is not really a problem with words or langauge but a problem with us.

"if Roderick’s right about the conceptual misdirections embedded in that old language, then it simply is not useful as a means to that end."

Roderick has probably correctly identified some conceptual equivocation (no doubt there is much more to be found if one thought it worth bothering to look) but it is a false inference to think that this makes the language useless.

"You could say, .... stipulate meanings for your own terms to get any questions of meaning out of the way as quickly as possible, and then devote your energy to making your case, rather than punching at the tarbaby of other people’s conceptual confusions"

Stipulative definitions may assist on an ad hoc basis but simply speaking or writing clearly is usually enough and consistent conceptual precision is unachieveable and unnecessary. However I don't suggest that any energy should be spent 'making one's case', rather one should criticize other's proposed theories.

"But as a practical matter, common usage really is harder to divorce yourself from than this suggests: even when you make explicit stipulative definitions it can be hard to divorce yourself from the conventional paradigm cases and the connotations you’re familiar with"

As a practical matter, in the absence of deliberate deception, nearly everyone understands everyone else perfectly well. People are generally in thrall to false ideas not conceptual confusion.

"the task that he’s [Roderick] engaged in is in fact criticizing someone else’s false theory (statist political economy)"

He doesn't appear to be offering any criticism of it in the passage above. Perhaps he criticised it later in his speech after he tired of linguistic analysis.

"engaging with the way in which package-dealing language is commonly in framing the theory he’s criticizing, and the way in which that language insulates the theory from criticism (by concealing where, and with whom, the dispute actually lies)"

Langauge is utterly unable to 'insulate' any theory from criticism and the locus of the 'dispute', 'concealed' or otherwise, is extraneous to the falsity of the theory.

"it involves knocking out one of the supports used to hold up the false theory"

it would be better to engage directly with the theory rather than concerning oneself with its imaginary means of 'support'.

"by taking away the state socialist’s ability to rely on the admitted evils of neomercantilism in order to make a case against free enterprise."

If both disputants agree on the evils of neo-mercantilism then they can set that aside and offer criticisms of the points still at issue. I see no difficulty here.

"And by making clearer where the dispute lies, it also makes clearer the sorts of evidence that need to be adduced in order to criticize whatever supports remain."

The relevance of the location of the dispute remains mysterious and criticism still seems more aptly directed at the theory itself rather than the non-existant 'supports'.

"On the other hand, you could always argue that Roderick’s just saying something false about how the already existing language in the debate is commonly used"

Almost certainly he is saying _something_ false about that, but generally I think he has probably identified some conceptual confusion. It is scarcely a problem and it will continue to be the same non-problem in any new formulation of language that Roderick manages to succeed in popularising.

"But then you’re punching at that tarbaby no less than Roderick is, since determining that that’s the case just does involve doing linguistic analysis."

I would certainly counsel against 'punching tarbabies', all else besides, it just sounds so terribly cruel.