Argentina’s Disordered Liberty (marcos falcone, 12/03/23, Law & Liberty)

To explain the evolution of Argentine law, it is useful to examine constitutional changes, and particularly those that were made to the 1853 Constitution, which is still active today. Juan B. Alberdi, who had the most influence at the time of writing, purposefully followed the model set by the American Founding Fathers so as to establish the kind of rule of law that a classically liberal society would need. Argentina declared, in the 19th century, that everyone in the world who wished to do business in the country could do so; that internal, bureaucratic barriers to free trade were to disappear; that no privileges would be extended by the government to anyone; and that private property was an inviolable right. As Isaiah Berlin might say, the document considered liberty in a negative way. The state’s role was simply to set rules for individuals to act and flourish.

Ever since its inception, though, the Argentine Constitution has suffered from several changes that have modified its spirit. In many instances throughout the 20th century, new articles incorporated into the Argentine Constitution have recognized social and collective ‘rights,’ the enforcement of which depends on increased government intervention. The 1949 reform, for example, instituted a ‘social use’ of property that directly paved the way for the state to violate property rights. That change, though later overturned, would serve as the basis for Article 14 bis of the Constitution, which was added in 1957 and is still active. This section, among other things, guarantees the existence of a minimum wage, mandates ‘fair’ salaries for workers, demands that they get a share of whatever capital gains exist, and effectively bans the state from dismissing public employees. 

Further reforms solidified the increasingly interventionist spirit of the Constitution. The 1994 Convention, for example, added the concept of ‘environmental rights’ in a way that implies proactive government intervention. This and other third and fourth-generation ‘rights,’ particularly those that demand affirmative action for various groups to ensure the ‘true’ enforcement of other constitutional rights, show that the concept of liberty embedded in the document is no longer negative, but has become positive: The state is to actively intervene in order to bring about specific results.

Unsurprisingly, Argentine law has become more and more interventionist. Congress has, at various times in the past, nationalized private businesses and pension funds, and it has established and increased dozens of different taxes with the result that effective total tax rates are over 100%. But bureaucracy has also increased so dramatically that complying with legislation costs small and medium businesses 500% more time than their counterparts in neighboring countries such as Brazil. And even though the evolution of bureaucratic stringency is difficult to measure over time, available evidence for the past decades suggests the situation has gotten worse: According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom Ranking, Argentina ranked 36th in 1970 but ranks 151st out of 165 countries today in terms of regulation, which means it has become more and more bureaucratic. It is no wonder, then, that informal employment now accounts for as much as 45% of the total workforce. The ‘tendency towards illegality’ that Nino identified in the Argentine society seems to be caused by the state itself.

We too much take republican liberty for granted.


Why MBS wants peace with Israel: Saudi Arabia would quietly welcome the demise of Hamas (DAVID RUNDELL, 12/03/23, unHerd)

[P]eace with Israel would be a massive boost to Saudi Arabia’s national security. It would improve Saudi Arabia’s relations with its most important security partner, the United States — and reduce opposition to those relations among the Saudi public. What’s more, peace would strengthen Saudi Arabia’s hand against Iran, which since the 1979 Iranian Revolution has challenged Saudi leadership in the Muslim World and sought to extend its influence in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Despite the recent Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, Saudi and Israeli leaders still share many reasons to resist Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony and nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have another goal in common: suppressing radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, Isis, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Like the Shi’a revolutionary government in Tehran, many radical Sunni Islamist groups seek to destroy both Israel and the Arab monarchies. Having suffered from numerous al-Qaeda attacks themselves, the Saudis understand the threat of jihadist militants. They have a long-strained relationship with Iranian-backed Hamas, as well as its junior partner, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Saudi authorities have arrested or deported Hamas supporters in Saudi Arabia and would quietly welcome the organisation’s demise. This gives Saudi Arabia and Israel further grounds for cooperation.

This last approaches the real point: it’s about maintaining regimes that deny Muslims self-determination.


The Existential Foundations for Science Fiction (Tyler Hummel, 12/02/23, Voegelin View)

[M]ore challenging and artistically complex cinema is still being made and wildly embraced. In the past decade, a number of surprisingly challenging and thematically complex works of science fiction have broken out into mainstream popularity in a manner that would seem surprising, were it not that this small wave of intelligent films seems to have momentarily crested.

This cluster is the subject of SUNY Polytechnic Institute associate professor Ryan Lizardi’s new book Existential Science Fiction, which offers a narrow but meaningful unpacking of this strange trend. As he argues, between 2012 and 2019, audiences received numerous high-budget science fiction films that managed to be both audience-pleasing spectacles and high-minded examinations of the nature of identity and human connection—these including Prometheus, Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Annihilation, and Ad Astra.

Lizardi defines “existential” as “[what] it means to exist as a human being.” These films all come from different philosophical backgrounds, but what they share in common is a desire to muse on difficult questions about what it truly means to be human. These films, despite their science-fiction dress, are fundamentally about us, as human beings. As our author writes,

What is it about our current cultural landscape that fosters content dealing directly with questions about our identity, our memory, our continuity of self, but does so through the setting of science fiction and space exploration? These works seem to be leveraging the external trappings of the science fiction genre … to explore internal thematic ideas of reaching without and within ourselves to find a continuity of our individual and collective identities.

The trend doesn’t stop with cinema. He also identifies the video games Assassins Creed, Bioshock, Soma, and Death Stranding as high-concept science fiction games worthy of discussion and extends his study to include the television shows Legion and Westworld. Lizardi doesn’t necessarily thread the needle of this trend with any sort of theories as to why this trend happened. He acknowledges fully that Hollywood is a capitalist industry and that these trends are likely profit-driven more than intentional, particularly given the diversity of the artists and mediums behind this trend.

The point being where profit lies: the Culture Wars are a rout.


PODCAST: Philip Goff — The Purpose of the Universe (Michael Schermer Show, 12/02/23, Skeptic)

In contrast to religious thinkers, Goff argues that the traditional God is a bad explanation of cosmic purpose. Instead, he explores a range of alternative possibilities for accounting for cosmic purpose, from the speculation that we live in a computer simulation to the hypothesis that the universe itself is a conscious mind. Goff scrutinizes these options with analytical rigour, laying the foundations for a new paradigm of philosophical enquiry into the middle ground between God and atheism. Ultimately, Goff outlines a way of living in hope that cosmic purpose is still unfolding, involving political engagement and a non-literalist interpretation of traditional religion.


America’s undying empire: why the decline of US power has been greatly exaggerated (Tom Stevenson, 30 Nov 2023, The Guardian)

The US has military superiority over all other countries, control of the world’s oceans via critical sea lanes, garrisons on every continent, a network of alliances that covers much of the industrial world, the ability to render individuals to secret prisons in countries from Cuba to Thailand, preponderant influence over the global financial system, about 30% of the world’s wealth and a continental economy not dependent on international trade.

To call this an empire is, if anything, to understate its range. Within the American security establishment, what it amounted to was never in doubt. US power was to be exercised around the world using the “conduits of national power”: economic centrality, military scale, sole possession of a global navy, nuclear superiority and global surveillance architecture that makes use of the dominant American share of the Earth’s orbital infrastructure.

If proponents of the end of the US global order do not assert a decrease in the potency of the instruments of American power, that is because there has been no such decrease. The share of global transactions conducted in dollars has been increasing, not declining. No other state can affect political outcomes in other countries the way the US still does. The reach of the contemporary US is so great that it tends to blend into the background of daily events. In January 2019, the US demanded that Germany ban the Iranian airline Mahan Air from landing on its territory. In September 2020, it sanctioned the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court for refusing to drop investigations into American citizens. In February 2022, at US request, Japan agreed to redirect liquefied fossil gas, which is critical to Japanese industry, to Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia over Ukraine. At the height of that conflict, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, found the time to visit Algiers to negotiate the reopening of a gas pipeline to Spain via Morocco. These were all quotidian events, unremarkable daily instances of humdrum imperial activity. The practical operation of the empire remains poorly understood, not despite its ubiquity, but because of it.

From this perspective, the menial adherence of Britain to the US global project is at least intelligible. Historically, American planners divided their approach to the rest of the world by region. In western Europe and Japan, American interests were usually pursued by cautious political management. In Latin America and the Middle East, constant interventions, coups and invasions were needed. In east Asia and south-east Asia there was military exertion at scale. As long as it lasted, the Soviet Union was cordoned off and contained, against the wishes of the generals in the US Strategic Air Command, who would have preferred to destroy it in a nuclear holocaust. The major US allies were on the right side of this calculus and had less reason to begrudge it.

When dealing with the US, elites in countries on the periphery of the global economy still often behave as though they are dealing with the imperial centre.

It’s not just that other nations aspire to be like America but that the only way to achive that is Americanization. No one can escape the End of History in the long run.


The first results from the world’s biggest basic income experiment: Money always helps, but for the very poor, one lump sum can last a long time (Dylan Matthews, Dec 1, 2023, Vox)

The latest research on the GiveDirectly pilot, done by MIT economists Tavneet Suri and Nobel Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee, compares three groups: short-term basic income recipients (who got the $20 payments for two years), long-term basic income recipients (who get the money for the full 12 years), and lump sum recipients, who got $500 all at once, or roughly the same amount as the short-term basic income group. The paper is still being finalized, but Suri and Banerjee shared some results on a call with reporters this week.

By almost every financial metric, the lump sum group did better than the monthly payment group. Suri and Banerjee found that the lump sum group earned more, started more businesses, and spent more on education than the monthly group. “You end up seeing a doubling of net revenues” — or profits from small businesses — in the lump sum group, Suri said. The effects were about half that for the short-term $20-a-month group.

The explanation they arrived at was that the big $500 all at once provided valuable startup capital for new businesses and farms, which the $20 a month group would need to very conscientiously save over time to replicate. “The lump sum group doesn’t have to save,” Suri explains. “They just have the money upfront and can invest it.”

Intriguingly, the results for the long-term monthly group, which will receive about $20 a month for 12 years rather than two, had results that looked more like the lump sum group. The reason, Suri and Banerjee find, is that they used rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs). These are institutions that sprout up in small communities, especially in the developing world, where members pay small amounts regularly into a common fund in exchange for the right to withdraw a larger amount every so often.

“It converts the small streams into lump sums,” Suri summarizes. “We see that the long-term arm is actually using ROSCAs. A lot of their UBI is going into ROSCAs to generate these lump sums they can use to invest.”


India’s Jingoism Lost at the Cricket World Cup: Nationalism is replacing sportsmanship in Modi’s India (TUNKU VARADARAJAN, DEC 1, 2023, The UnPopulist)

Neutrals cheered Australia on Sunday—a team that has historically been unloved outside its own shores—because most cricket fans worldwide are thoroughly sick—fed up, pissed off—about India’s bully-boy dominance of world cricket. I don’t mean sporting dominance, which neutral fans can live with (as was the case with the West Indians of the Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards era, or Brazilian football in the time of Pelé). It’s the wholesale takeover by the BCCI of [international] cricket’s financing, values and calendar, giving them a grip over the game that is stronger, more ruthless and vice-like, more absolute and remorseless, more self-serving and mercantilist, than that once exercised by the game’s original overlords in England (who might, at some level, have been forgiven their assertion of ownership over cricket because they did, in fact, give us the game).

The BCCI has warped cricket, distorted it, making it so India-centric that other proud nations—some with better pedigrees than India’s—have been reduced to bit-part players, mendicants, petitioners for match-time. Everything is now about India: the crowds, the songs, the scheduling, the pitches, the money. The one element the BCCI cannot control, mercifully, is the outcome of a match. Try as India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party might—for the BCCI is now the BJP in cricketing form—the result of a match cannot be influenced to suit its needs the way an election can. International umpires are not the Indian judiciary. The International Cricket Council is not (yet) the Indian Election Commission.

That India lost in the final was karmic payback for the BCCI’s sins against the game, and also for the Ahmedabad crowd’s unwillingness to be sporting and civilized, to appreciate cricket as something other than a jingoistic exercise in which India must win every game to the chanting of “Jai Shri Ram” [“Glory to Lord Rama”] and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” [“Hail Mother India”]. Let us never again hold the final of a World Cup in such a city, a place in which cricket is but the means to petty nationalist ends, where few stand up to applaud an opposing batsman who scores a magnificent, match-winning hundred. Stay with Chennai, with Mumbai, with Kolkata, where the crowds love cricket (and not just winning).

In the end, justice was done. Australia won.


GOP Melts Down As Dick Durbin Uses Its Tactics For Advancing Biden Judges (Jennifer Bendery, Nov 30, 2023, HuffPo)

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had full-blown meltdowns on Thursday after Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) held votes on two of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees without allowing debate on them, saying he was simply following the “new precedent” established by Republicans when they did the same thing to Democrats, twice.

Durbin appeared to completely blindside Republicans by moving straight to votes on two U.S. District Court nominees, Mustafa Kasubhai and Eumi Lee, without opening up the floor for discussions on them.


Disinflation Dream Come True (Alexander W. Salter, December 1, 2023R, AIER)

The current target for the federal funds rate, which is the Fed’s key policy interest rate, is between 5.25 and 5.50 percent. Using core PCEPI growth, the inflation-adjusted range is 3.29-3.54 percent. As always, we must compare this to the natural rate of interest. Sometimes called r* by economists, this is the inflation-adjusted rate consistent with maximum employment and output, as well as non-accelerating inflation. We can’t observe this rate directly. But we can estimate it. Widely cited figures from the New York Fed place r* between 0.57 and 1.19 percent. That means current market rates are roughly three times as high as the estimated natural rate!