Coverture Chronology; Default Rules and Signaling

I’m going to be as charitable as I can be to Bryan Caplan about coverture. I think he was largely ignorant of the history of coverture when he first started writing. His choice of sources (eHow and Wikipedia) suggests as much, anyway. And the alternative — thinking that he was well aware of what follows below — would be a whole lot less charitable. It would mean he was quite dishonest in saying that women could just bargain their way out of coverture, and thus obviously they were happy when they remained within it.

I think Caplan probably intuited that the issue was a teachable moment about contracts, Coasean bargaining, and default rules, and he jumped to that conclusion in part because these concepts really are so interesting. But in part he also jumped because of his ignorance about what coverture really meant, even in 1880, his putative ideal date.

Here’s what Caplan still doesn’t seem to get. Even if we’re being excruciatingly careful about chronology, and even limiting ourselves to the situation on the ground in 1880, women still faced legal disabilities that would make Caplan’s proposed solutions completely impossible.

Married women’s property acts were (mostly) in force by 1880, but women still could not contract with their husbands about anything. Contracts made between husband and wife were almost always void, and contracts agreed to before a marriage were invalidated by the act of marriage itself. Historian Hendrik Hartog writes:

[T]he predominant legal position was that contracts between husband and wife, in particular contracts that varied significant terms of the marital relationship, were presumptively unenforceable and void. Even when judges ruled in favor of the validity of such agreements, they did so with a long (and usually long-winded) preface that set the scene as one where such agreements were, necessarily, inconsistent with marriage as it ought to be understood. (p. 82)

To give one fairly significant state-level example, this situation prevailed in New York until 1916. (p. 214) And this demolishes Caplan’s claim that contracts or the mere threat of contracts would bring 1880 marriages into something like an equal power relation, if only the parties so desired. Such an equal power relation was completely impossible until the early twentieth century at the very earliest.

What about legally unrecognized negotiations? What about the informal power to make your marriage partner’s life more or less pleasant? Even here, the claim doesn’t hold.

That’s because men had all kinds of legally established bargaining power that they could bring to bear on any informal negotiations. In 1882, again in New York, a court declared that custody of children was always at the disposition of the husband, and never at the disposition of the wife. The wife could only have custody at the husband’s pleasure (ibid). Husbands could surrender that custody whenever they liked, but even afterward, they could reclaim it if they wanted. Such power makes a theory of informal bargaining between equals into a fairly sick joke.

Below the fold, I’ve got some further noodling about a hypothetical or two.

If we’re remaining charitable, and if we’re inclined to forgive Caplan his ignorance, we’re still left with an interesting question. Given an abstract theoretical situation not at all like real coverture, but rather of the type Caplan imagines, are the default rules really just so many words on a page? In other words, do bargaining costs ever reach zero in the real world? If not, why not?

It is exceedingly strange, for example, that Caplan remains so worried about soft paternalism in our own day, but that he would have been unconcerned about soft paternalism aimed at women in a hypothetical state of coverture-plus-bargaining. (Conversely, it is strange to see left-liberals keen on soft paternalism that will make us stop smoking or eat right, while at the same time they are incensed at the softest aspects of paternalism toward women. I’d be inclined to consistency here, and to rejecting them both.)

Perhaps this muddies the waters a bit, but let’s consider a default rule that’s far afield from our discussion. I think it illustrates an important principle much more clearly than the above. The default rule is as follows:

  • The testimony of a Jew is not admissible in court.

Now, this is a horrible default rule, but happily it can be contracted around! All the Jew needs to do is swear on a Torah (like a Christian, mutatis mutandis), while also standing on a chair, wearing a funny hat, wearing a belt of thorns, and/or standing on the skin of a pig (very unlike a Christian).

Now, obviously, this makes everything right and equal again, doesn’t it? I mean, you’ve got your bargaining? And your formal legal equality? And the Jew’s testimony is admissible now? All right and good, no?

Before you accuse me of an overactive imagination, this practice was entirely real. It was called the oath more Judaico, and it was in force in some parts of Europe as late as 1916.

The oath more Judaico illustrates an important principle regarding default rules: The state’s choice of default rules never is cost-free. Default rules are how the state does signaling, and signaling has costs. Default rules don’t always constitute the physical power structure, although they certainly can. Default rules do, however, constitute the psychic power structure. In this they impose costs, and these, while hard to quantify, are hardly unreal. Coverture-with-bargaining — that hypothetical that’s never existed in the real world — would be a lot like the oath more Judaico in this sense. It’s a loud, clear signal to people who might be inclined to presume, or try to construct, full equality before the state. It would say, “No, not really.”

Reference: Hendrik Hartog, Man & Wife in America: A History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

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50 thoughts on “Coverture Chronology; Default Rules and Signaling

  1. To no end does it bug me that people point to Caplan and say “yep, libertarianism has now been officially discredited.”

    I reckon they won’t point to this and say “wait! Libertarianism is viable again!”

    Thanks for writing stuff like this, dude… even if the people you most want to read it won’t show up.

      • @Koz,

        I don’t imagine that Caplan’s post will influence too many people on the margins to change their evaluations from positive or neutral to negative, but it will certainly strengthen the negative opinions that a lot of people already have. I’m also afraid that my posts (and Will Wilkinson’s, and Jacob Levy’s, and Tyler Cowen’s, and…) will only just rally the troops who were already on our side, too. Caplan’s argument gets all the weight in deciding what “the” movement believes. Alas.

      • @Koz,

        It could be a lot of different reasons. Here are the three I favor:

        1. There really are a lot of culturally conservative libertarians out there. I’m not at all one of them. I think they’ll get a rude surprise when libertopia dawns and almost no one wants to live life their way. But in the meantime, they are out there, and they’re noisy.

        2. Confirmation bias. People have pre-existing notions about what it means to be a libertarian, and this just fits them, unfortunately. Many of these pre-existing notions come from the classical liberal literature of the mid-twentieth century, which was far too uncritical of the nineteenth century, in a way that was more plausible at the time but vastly less so now.

        3. Extremeness aversion. Even a moderate libertarian political program would badly upset the status quo. People don’t like this, so anything that appears to dismiss libertarianism always gets added weight.

      • @Jason Kuznicki,

        I think these things are important but cut much differently than you’re supposing. First of all, we ought to recognize that by trope and stereotype the libertarian position on something like coverture ought to be opposition. Ie, coverture is a government interference in private property, unjustifiable as a historical anachronism. And that seems to be what most libertarians really do think with the prominent exception of Caplan.

        Therefore the idea that this particular stance on coverture discredits libertarianism is ridiculous on its face. It’s like saying Hamas is discredited because of excess affinity for the Jews.

        But confirmation bias and aversion are important. Mostly liberals/Leftists/Left-libertarians really can’t handle any critique of their fundamental assumptions of society. They’ll go to quite a lot of trouble to avoid having to be accountable for defending them. In particular, they are very defensive of the perceived libertarian challenge to the modern welfare state (and especially so in the current economy).

        Therefore the collectivists are grasping at straws trying to preemptively discredit the libertarian pov long before the subject of pensions for government employees, eg, comes up.

        It’s interesting to me that the association with liberals has corrupted libertarianism to the point where libertarians like Jaybird (and yourself, perhaps) feel defensive or embarrassed about the need to defend libertarianism on this score. Whatever black marks there are on the intellectual scoresheet of libertarianism, you can be assured that this is not one of them. And even if it were, the whole issue is almost entirely irrelevant anyway.

      • @Jaybird

        Who cares? The contributors and commenters at Crooked Timber have way more problems than an unsophisticated view of libertarians.

      • @Koz, you statists and your “you shouldn’t care about this, you should care about *THAT*.”

        I know! Maybe you should vote for a president who will be in charge of telling everybody what they should care about.

        We can put his bumperstickers on our priuses and rub our nipples while we wait in the drive-through for our wheatgrass and tofu lattes.

      • @Jaybird,

        “…..you statists and your “you shouldn’t care about this, you should care about *THAT*.””

        Uhhh, no. I wouldn’t have thought of that angle, though it does bring up an interesting point. Citizens in a republic care about what they choose. The people at CrookedTimber are largely on the take, trying to manipulate the ethos of the modern industrial society toward stealing more of other people’s money. What they think is supposed to have less weight. And that’s a way bigger deal than 19th century marital jurisprudence.

      • @Koz, allow me to restate, then.

        I care. I care because, for the most part, the intellectual left is where I feel closest to “at home”. I was raised and trained to be a Brahmin… yet I see a HUGE number of problems, blind spots, prejudices, so on and so forth within.

        I spend the majority of my time now with vaishyas and feel a great deal of camaraderie and affinity for them… but they can tell that I was born and raised Brahmin. I’d kinda like it for the Brahmin to actually act like Brahmin ought rather than Vaishya stereotypes of Brahmin… as exemplified by Crooked Timber and their commenters.

        That’s why I care.

      • “I care. I care because, for the most part, the intellectual left is where I feel closest to “at home”. I was raised and trained to be a Brahmin… yet I see a HUGE number of problems, blind spots, prejudices, so on and so forth within.”

        Exactly. In fact it’s your particular quasi-Leftist version of libertarianism/liberaltarianism/whatever that’s part of the problem. The idea that you could persuade actual liberals/Leftists to be liberaltarians if it weren’t for Bryan Caplan is laughable. But more imporantly, even if you could it wouldn’t be worth very much because that variant of libertarianism really isn’t much of a help to the cause of freedom in America, self-image of such libertarians notwithstanding.

        I’m assuming the caste stuff is supposed to be metaphorical btw, let me know if that’s wrong.

      • @Koz, not what I’m saying. The response to Caplan is a symptom of the Brahmin *NOT* acting like Brahmin. I want to get them to act like Brahmin again.

        In fact it’s your particular quasi-Leftist version of libertarianism/liberaltarianism/whatever that’s part of the problem.

        Yes, I get that a lot. How’s this? When the Republican party starts nominating people who are not obvious shills for corporations, neo-imperialists without the colonialism, and statists who very much want matters of taste legislated as matters of morality, maybe I’ll give your party a look. Until then, I’ll be over here being part of the problem.

        Also, of freakin’ course it’s a metaphor.

      • “….not what I’m saying. The response to Caplan is a symptom of the Brahmin *NOT* acting like Brahmin. I want to get them to act like Brahmin again.”

        Ok, I didn’t get that part. Why are you supposing that the contributors or commenters to CrookedTimber are Brahmins in any social context?

        As far as the reasons why you don’t vote Republican, we’ve obviously been through that before. I just want to point out that your mentality makes a lot more sense in a Derbish, we-are-doomed context.

        Speaking for myself, I don’t believe that we are. Of course our political leaders are going to have our fair share (or more) of idiots and rentseekers (do I really have to explain this to a libertarian? Apparently I do, which is why I don’t believe you really are one).

        It’s up to us to move the cause of limited government in spite of those people. If somehow that is too cool for you, the problem is you, not them.

      • @Koz, it comes down to “at home”. I hate to say “you can just tell” but, when it comes to caste? You can just tell.

        As for “our fair share (or more) of idiots and rentseekers”, of *COURSE* I know that the Republicans will.

        My problem with the Republicans is that when it is pointed out that they have idiots and rentseekers, Republicans respond not with “we ought clean things up” but, at best, “well, you have to understand, the democrats would be worse, politics is the art of the possible” and, at worst, “why are you giving Aid and Comfort to The Enemy?”

        I am 100% down with moving the cause of limited government.

        Let me know when the Republicans are.

  2. For, the record, I’m a liberal who has almost no time for libertarianism, and I think it’s great that libertarians are standing up to Caplan. I think you realize how important this is, and are taking action, and are doing a great job, and it speaks well of you. Keep it up.
  3. This whole discussion seems to me to be a little question-begging.

    Ie, we seem to be trying to answer the question of what was the status of women in America as though the typical American woman circa 1880 was a proto-Ayn Rand.

    For that matter, the same can be said about your complaint about the gay death penalty in Uganda. I don’t buy the whole business about how we can’t criticize such things for fear of cultural imperialism, but I do suspect that the faults of Ugandan jurisprudence are far deeper than that one bill or statute, whatever it is. And I do question how much influence do we expect to have in the matter.

    • @Koz, There were indeed proto-Ayn Rands in the 1880s, as Will Wilkinson reminds us. (Here’s more on the awesomely named Voltairine de Cleyre. You can’t make up a name like that in fiction. Not even if you actually are Ayn Rand.)

      The more important question, though, is not how many proto-Ayn Rands were out there. It’s which potential life paths were open, and which ones were curtailed by the law.

      The exact same is true of the death penalty for gays and lesbians in Uganda. Although I can’t presume to speak for Ugandan gays and lesbians, I think I’m on safe ground to say that they would prefer not to be hunted down and killed. I don’t need to make a systematic evaluation of Ugandan law to feel confident of this conclusion.

      • @Jason Kuznicki,

        “The more important question, though, is not how many proto-Ayn Rands were out there. It’s which potential life paths were open, and which ones were curtailed by the law.”

        That’s exactly the question, but the answer is not necessarily what you think it is. Your prior formulation glides over some important differences in perspective. Ie, a Ugandan homosexual probably cares a great deal about the availability of a plausible life path where he can practice homosexuality, but Uganda as a nation cares less, and we care less than that.

    • @Koz, We’re footing the Ugandans bills to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. I’d say we have hundreds of millions of dollars worth of influence.
  4. I am not inclined to be charitable to Bryan on this. He’s wrong even on narrowly libertarian ethical grounds and even in his fantasy-1880s, as even most of the Econolog commenters seem to agree, and in spite of that he seems to be standing by his position.

    Its the standing by his position that’s really the telling part. He didn’t just make a mistake and think it was possible to contract out of coverture and non-consensual sex. He didn’t really care – he just sort of made some stuff up based on his knowledge of the present, accidentally assuming all sorts of features of modern liberal society, like full legal equality, that didn’t exist in the 1880s. And now that’s been challenged he’s just trying to wiggle around it, further demonstrating that the actual facts about what happened to women in the 1880s don’t really matter to him.

    This demonstrates a point about right-libertarian arguments about what happens to people in their ideal world who start with some kind of disadvantage. Its not that these arguments are wrong as such but that they’re sloppily constructed in a way that strongly implies that the arguer doesn’t really care – he’s just trying to make himself feel better and convince his liberal interlocutors that he’s not a complete shit – so he assumes in all kinds of features of the present day that wouldn’t necessarily be there and where necessary just makes stuff up. Such are arguments are, to use the technical term, bullshit, and Bryan has unwittingly exposed this fact with unusual clarity.

    Now I happen to really believe that more freedom rather than more state help is probably the best way to help disadvantaged people in the present, but this sort of thing just makes it clear how distant that makes me from someone like Bryan. Lets be clear about what his position actually now is – he’s trying to claim that women in the 1880s were more free in spite of the lack of legal personhood, proper protections for their bodily integrity and any kind of real property rights, because (some) taxes were lower, because if their husbands were up for it they might have managed to negotiate some pseudo-rights for themselves. Just. This reflects a total lack of perspective – even if you believe taxes and regulations are wrong in principle how on earth could they ever rank ahead of the absence of protections bodily integrity and property rights and access to the law?

    All of this just confirms one’s suspicions, as a liberaltarian type, that Bryan and his buddies aren’t really much different from the pro-business “conservative” politicians we know and love. Were they to actually obtain any power, they’d certainly remember to eliminate income taxes, eliminate or privatize entitlements, deregulate the financial markets and ease immigration, but they might just inadvertently forget about easing the regulations around opening a small business, protecting immigrant’s civil rights, ending the drug war, decriminalizing prostitution, ending police discrimination and persecution. And so on. Because of course, those are “largely symbolic issues”.

    • @Simon K,

      “All of this just confirms one’s suspicions, as a liberaltarian type, that Bryan and his buddies aren’t really much different from the pro-business “conservative” politicians we know and love.”

      ROFL. Who, pray tell, are Bryan’s “buddies” in this scenario?

      People who think that way have waaaaaay too much time on their hands. Like somehow Bryan Caplan and some cohort are what’s preventing the law and social status of those issues from changing in the first place.

      • @Koz, Bryan blogs with 2 other GMU econ professors with similar views to his. Those are the specific buddies I was thinking of, although I don’t think this kind of essentially reactionary “libertarian” “thought” is exactly unusual. Bryan and his co-bloggers obviously aren’t preventing anything much, but they’re also not likely to help in changing anything in a more libertarian direction
      • @Simon K,

        Actually, I don’t think Henderson is on the facultyGMU. In any case, from what I can see, Caplan seems to carrying the water on this one himself.

        “Bryan and his co-bloggers obviously aren’t preventing anything much, but they’re also not likely to help in changing anything in a more libertarian direction”

        I find that genuinely puzzling. I think those three plus Tyler and Alex at MarginalRevolution are writing some of the most interesting stuff out there. If any libertarians are contributing anything to our public discourse, it has to be them, and they do it every day.

        Among other things, Arnold Kling has written extensively and persuasively, imo, about the Great Reset or Recalculation (ie, qualitative differences between this recession and prior ones). It’s a little surprising that people like Mark Thompson seem to ignore that while winding themselves up over coverture.

      • @North,

        Reading people out of the movement is a hopeless gesture. If ever I were tempted to abandon the “libertarian” label for myself, perhaps out of disgust for coverture-apologists or whatever, I’d have to recall that perhaps 90% of the policies I favor start with the words “Abolish,” “Legalize,” or “Reduce.” Even if I refused the label, it would still get stamped on my forehead.

        Ditto all that to Bryan Caplan. The only proper thing to do is point out when he’s made a very serious mistake, document it, and then move on. It’s not like an alternative even exists. We’ll be thrown together whether we’d like it or not.

      • Heh, Jason I was referring more to Koz’s reading poor Mark and Jaybird out of the Libertarian movement than anything.
      • @North, I compare it to saying “so-and-so isn’t a *REAL* Christian.”

        Once you hear it applied to Presbyterians, it changes how you respond when you hear it applied to Mormons.

        Though, granted, it does make more sense to listen to a Greek Orthodox Patriarch explain why Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t *REALLY* Christians than it does to listen to a 2nd year Philosophy student who finally got to Existentialism explain how the only “real” Christians are snake handlers.

      • @North,

        Understood. But these things seldom end without someone getting read out of the movement. Which never works even when self-described libertarians do it.

      • @Jason,
        Ah okay I follow you. It’s fun for me to watch. Being a neoliberal is usually something people get read into rather than out of so I have to take my “being read out of” experiences vicariously.
      • @Mark Thompson

        Ok something here is exasperating, what is it? You definitely seem to be on the coverture bandwagon, I think that’s fair.

        Do object to my characterization that you have essentially ignored Arnold Kling’s recalculation thesis? Do you object to my belief (not directly stated but implied) that recalculation is much more topical and interesting than coverture?

      • @Koz, I object to the implicit assumption as to why I am interested in objecting to the treatment of women in the 1880s. I am wonderfully interested in libertarian economics; I am not, however, an economist. I am also wonderfully interested in the direction of the libertarian movement; oddly enough, I also happen to be a libertarian.
      • “I object to the implicit assumption as to why I am interested in objecting to the treatment of women in the 1880s.”

        Ok, what implicit assumption is that? I don’t see one there.

        Whatever the reason you in particular are interested in coverture, etc., the whole thing is (pretty clearly it seems to me) just not very important. Let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that Caplan is wrong. It doesn’t mean anything else without resolving a host of attempting to resolve a bunch of other issues which are better taken directly (eg, the circumstances where we evaluate the past through our preferences vs. those who lived it, etc).

        You don’t have to be an economist to care about the nature of the economy any more than you have to be a feminist to care about the mistreatment of women.

        The only reason why I juxtaposed recalculation and coverture in the way I did, is that for one of them we can engage in public discourse with the legitimate hope of gaining wisdom and knowledge to change our lives for the better. For the other there is no such hope.

      • @Koz, Mark is quite right to get worked up over converture. I’m pretty worked up myself. Bryan has revealed that his priorities are very different from mine, in spite of technically being of a very similar political persuasion.

        Arnold Kling’s work on the causes of the housing crash is persuasive and even-handed. His “recalculation story” is just a justification for his policy preferences and is only every going to convince someone who shares them already. Lets be clear about exactly what he’s saying: the cause of the bubble was banks lending too much money to unqualified borrowers in with the collusion of the government (ie. it was a sectoral positive nominal shock), and its collapse came when those debts defaulted (ie. it was a corresponding negative nominal shock), but the resulting recession is purely caused by workers and investors in housing needing to redirect their energies and therefore no form of fiscal, monetary or credit policy could possibly help. The fact that the need to retrain carpenters in Nevada has somehow create a worldwide recession of unprecedented proportions is just one of the mysteries of the universe.

        Its an excuse to have your cake and eat it – blame the government for the problem but then claim the government can’t help solve it and everyone just has to suffer. In other words it is, like Bryan’s coverture argument, bullshit. Kling hasn’t really thought it through. He’s just throwing it around because it makes his pre-determined policy preferences seem plausible.

      • @Simon K,

        “This demonstrates a point about right-libertarian arguments about what happens to people in their ideal world who start with some kind of disadvantage. Its not that these arguments are wrong as such but that they’re sloppily constructed in a way that strongly implies that the arguer doesn’t really care –….. “

        Putting myself in Bryan’s place for a moment, let’s stipulate to this. You are correct that (as a matter of tendency), we don’t care.

        But the reasons for this are much different than you suppose. It’s absolutely fundamental (though surprisingly obscure) that we accomplish our wants and needs with the resources that we have. If we go the Winn-Dixie and buy Froot Loops, we have to pay the cashier three dollars.

        But this is more than financial. We have social, cultural, political wants, and social, cultural, political (and financial) resources to pay, as it were, for them. People all over the political spectrum have to come to grips with the reality that if we don’t have the resources that our wants cost, we can’t satisfy our wants. We can either get the resources that our wants cost, or live without them being satisfied.

        Given that, I can’t see what we’re blaming Bryan for. Ie, what are you inferring Bryan’s priorities to be (presumably deficient in some way from what they actually are)?

      • @Koz, Well first I should say that “care” was doing double-duty in that sentence. I was primarily saying that Bryan didn’t care one way or the other about the truth of falsehood of his argument. He was making it because it was convenient, not because it was true. ie. It was bullshit. You shouldn’t put yourself in Bryan’s place in that accusation, since in general you do seem to care about the truth or falsehood of your arguments.

        I was secondarily saying that right-libertarians don’t much care about what happens to the disadvantaged in their ideal world. I assume its that that you’re stipulating that you agree with Bryan about.

        I think I was fairly clear about the set of things that my liberaltarianism would make high priorities and Bryan’s libertarianism would not above. I basically agree with what you say about resources above. I’d only add the proviso that the resources we have consistent mainly of capital (in an extremely broad sense including the human kind), capital results mostly from labour of the long haul and that capital is only generally developed to fill demands that are presently both real and profitable, and that the market processes that reveal those demands are generally extremely distorted, usually to the detriment of people who lack political clout.

        To use a simple, contrarian and topical example (the best kind), one reason for spiraling health care costs is the extreme and largely unnecessary cost in time and money of qualifying to provide even basic medical care. This came about because the likes of me and Bryan Caplan, who have good insurance, care much more about guaranteeing the quality of our care than we do about making sure its universally affordable, so we let the AMA continue its legal quasi-monopoly and then try to “fix” the result. Were I forced to become dictator of the universe, fixing this would feature fairly high on my to-do list. I doubt it would on Bryan’s.

      • “I was secondarily saying that right-libertarians don’t much care about what happens to the disadvantaged in their ideal world. I assume its that that you’re stipulating that you agree with Bryan about.”

        First of all, reading some of the other comments, I misjudged some of the context. I underestimated the extent to which this argument really was about theoretical minutae, something I shouldn’t have done considering what I know about libertarians.

        As far as not caring about the disadvantaged in the ideal world there are several things to be said. Yes, I don’t care about the supposed mistreatment of 19th century American women by coverture as an application of libertarian jurisprudence. #1., The “victims” are all dead (which I’m surpised nobody has mentioned, at least pro forma). #2., Little or none of the analysis has tried to connect the dots to show that the lives of these women in their full context would have been better off under some other set of laws and if so how much. #3., Even we agreed on some change in jurisprudence, it’s not at all clear to me that there’s any context where “we” have enough resources to implement such a change anyway, even assuming that we could go back to a prior life in the first place.

        As far as health care goes, it’s probably ok to take you and Bryan as examples as bourgeois American health care consumers but that’s about it. Among other things, I think econlog has hit the AMA angle pretty hard (though that may be mostly from Arnold). More than that, I’m sure Bryan would perceive the cost of health insurance as lost wages more than most and be motivated to increase his own compensation by reducing health care costs, according to his judgment of utility and economic efficiency.

        More than that, your bigger picture is flawed because there’s no context for costs and resources. The “costs” of decriminalizing prosititution or whatever are very very high because such things are woven deeply into our cultural fabric. I’m sure if Bryan were king of the world changing such things would be a long way down the to-do list among other reasons because his resources would be better spent somewhere else.

        To the extent you disagree with this I think the problem is with you instead of him. Ie, in political and cultural terms, you are likely underestimating the costs and overestimating the resources you have to work with.

      • @Koz, Yes, I would expect you to think that, given that you’re a conservative and I’ve been arguing that Bryan’s kind of libertarianism is basically conservatism for nerds.
      • @Koz, Tyler, no. He’s certainly a nerd (as am I) but he’s not a conservative, or even notably right wing really. Arnold is something else again, and I’m not quite sure what,
      • @Simon K,

        “Lets be clear about exactly what he’s saying: the cause of the bubble was banks lending too much money to unqualified borrowers in with the collusion of the government (ie. it was a sectoral positive nominal shock), and its collapse came when those debts defaulted (ie. it was a corresponding negative nominal shock), but the resulting recession is purely caused by workers and investors in housing needing to redirect their energies and therefore no form of fiscal, monetary or credit policy could possibly help.”

        There’s a lot to be said here. The first thing to note is that the bubble does not equal the recession. The second thing is that stopping or unwinding the cause of the recession is not necessarily sufficient for getting out of it.

        As this relates to Kling, the recalculation isn’t the cause of the recession as much as the consequence of it. It undercuts what I call the hydraulic metaphor for the economy which Keynesians and neo-Keynesians tend to like. They would like us to believe that somehow our knobs for controlling the economy are supposed to work when the underlying price information is faulty.

        In any case, it ought to be clear that public discourse of recalculation (or Keynesian pump-priming if you prefer) has within it the possibility of getting it right. Ie we can hope our culture and our political and economic leaders can adapt to our circumstances as best as possible for the benefit of us all. This is in direct contrast with coverture which has nothing to do with the price of tea in China.

      • @Mark Thompson, I did enjoy that, although I think most formal propertarian libertarians, including Bryan, are ultimately liberals rather than feudalists when push really comes to shove. They just try to not let push come to shove.
  5. @Jason,
    Ah okay I follow you. It’s fun for me to watch. Being a neoliberal is usually something people get read into rather than out of so I have to take my “being read out of the movement” experiences vicariously.

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