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My Political Compass

I forgot both the last time I took it as well as my score and while browsing Professor Bainbridge's place, I ran across it as an alternative to the recent attention an older political orientation quiz has received. So, where do I sit on the Political Compass?

Economic Left/Right: 6.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.26

Some of the questions were difficult to answer. When this happens to me, it is almost always a result of the questions' ambiguities. Several times I defaulted into a "what do they think such-and-such answer implies?" mode of responding due to the way the questions were posed.

For example:

  • Multinational companies are unethically exploiting the plant genetic resources of developing countries.
What is being asked here? Someone who thinks it is immoral for a company to develop natural resources without the consent of the local population or authorities might answer "agree" or "strongly agree." Someone answering the same way might also think it is flatly immoral to tamper with genetics in the first place. On the other hand, someone who thinks it is immoral for a company to develop natural resources with the force of government compelling obedience from dissenters might also answer "agree" or "strongly agree." Similarly, someone answering the same way might also think these companies aren't developing natural resources fast or thoroughly enough and are therefore violating a moral rule. Yet, even though these four respondents responded the same way, they are hardly saying the same thing and putting them in a room together to debate the question is likely to generate more friction than agreement.

I answered "disagree" because while I do believe there are examples in the past and present of companies who have sought and received government assistance in developing foreign agriculture, I doubt that's the substance the question is testing. I think the question is designed to ask us whether or not we think big businesses are right to genetically modify agriculture in foreign lands. From that perspective, I say they are...provided they acquired the property through free market exchange with legitimate property owners.

  • All authority should be questioned.
Here's another meaty query. As an anarchist, I do believe people who claim authority - in particular, the kind that they use to justify bringing violence against me - should at the least have that authority questioned and examined. In the case of government authority, it should be approached with a rigorous skepticism.

But I can't answer "strongly agree" to this one because what about our authority as the owners of private property? I think the authority derived from legitimate ownership of property does bestow a certain degree of authority to that owner. The authority of a homeowner to demand a burglar to leave immediately or get shot; the authority of a shopkeeper to charge whatever he or she wants for his or her goods and services; the authority of an individual to decide what substances to inhale, eat, drink, or inject into that person's body; the authority of a mother or father to set the standards of behavior for their children. These are examples of "authority" that I do not reject or question.

I answered "agree" because I think the question is aimed primarily at questioning state authority. In reality, we have to contend with the much less intrusive but far more pervasive micro-authorities of individual persons and their organizations.

  • It is regrettable that many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society.
There are two (and a half) big glaring issues with this. The first is with the word "regrettable." It's inherently vague because different people can regret things to a vast variety of degrees and against just as vast a variety of standards. It is possible for someone to regret making a correct choice. Perhaps they underestimated the ultimate consequences of that choice and found themselves in a undesirable position several years later. It is also possible to regret part of something and yet still remain convinced it was the right thing to do. Then there's the mushy post-modernist conception of regrettable, which ends up being a very mild "oh, darn." Politicians frequently engage in this when their words and actions (or the words and actions of people with which they are affiliated) are exposed as a sham.

The second issue is with the presumption that "people who simply manipulate money" and generate vast wealth "contribute nothing to their society." I reject this on its face. First of all, even if these money-manipulators are as unpleasant as they are made out to be, it would be their very unpleasantness that counts as their contribution to society. You can "contribute" a negative. However, currency speculation (assuming this is the type of activity targeted by the question), is not necessarily a negative. Even if the net result of a speculator's work was neutral in terms of one country's monetary system versus another country's monetary system, the wealth earned by the speculator is going to be spent on goods and services somewhere. His family is a likely beneficiary. The businesses he frequents (as well as new ones he'll want to try out) will benefit.

Then there is the not-so-small matter of implying those who don't "contribute to society" are at best greedy materialists and at worst sociopaths uncaringly destroying others. I've yet to read a convincing argument that proposes not just a positive moral duty for humans to "contribute to society" but a clear explanation of what that means.

I picked "disagree" for this question. I don't think it is regrettable that many people have become rich as a result of buying and selling foreign currency. I didn't pick "strongly disagree" because in our age of interventionism, it is inevitable that these speculators can get rich as a result of the greatest manipulator of money - the state - favoring some over others.

  • Military action that defies international law is sometimes justified.

During the early years of this blog, I enthusiastically supported the invasion of Iraq and did so partially on the grounds of preventive necessity. I remember smirking and applauding the Bush Administration's unilateral bypass of the United Nations, emotions almost entirely the result of wanting to see what I thought of as legitimate international action taken in direct contradiction to the "will of the international community."

While that support has faded over the years and I have reversed into rejecting the US presence in Iraq, there is something to be said for legitimate military action undertaken in spite of existing international law. For example, given that I view all governments as intrinsically unjust criminal organizations, I'm not going to complain if someone uses military force to overthrow a government, particularly if the usurpers then refuse to impose a government of their own. I support freedom fighters, in the true sense of people fighting for their own and others' freedom from tyranny.

But that isn't what most people think of or reference when "military action." No, what comes to mind first are great government armies, funded through the theft of taxation, obliterating that which opposes them. A sea of camouflaged statues and machines, trained to either efficiently destroy people and property or taught to support those who do. Military action, in the general context, means a nation attacking another nation or a nation attempting to defend against such an attack. From this perspective, I cannot help but have strong reservations against the military action that we find commonly crossing borders.

In this instance, however, my general disdain for global government constraints on behavior trumps my skepticism of what the authors really mean with their terminology so I chose "agree." There are times when the international community is wrong and there are times when organized forced is legitimately employed against others.

So, given my score and general orientation towards the Libertarian Right quadrant, what do the authors of the quiz recommend for reading?

  • The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, by Thomas L. Friedman
  • The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, by Ludwig von Mises
  • The Law, by Frederic Bastiat
  • The Money Mystery, by Richard J. Maybury
  • Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt (one of the books I'm currently reading)
  • Irrepressible Rothbard, by Murray Rothbard
  • The Ethics of Liberty, by Murray Rothbard (I've read this, and contra these authors, he is not at all a "neo-liberal economist")
  • Eat The Rich, by P J O'Rourke
  • Capitalism - the Unknown Ideal, by Ayn Rand (I've read most of these essays)
  • The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand
  • The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand (read it, prefer it on a literary level to Atlas)
  • Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand (read it, prefer it on a philosophical level to Fountainhead)
  • The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek
  • Individualism and Economic Order, by F. A. Hayek
  • The Fatal Conceit, by F. A. Hayek
  • Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman
  • Bright Promises, Dismal Performance : An Economist's Protest, by Milton Friedman
  • The Political Economy of the New Right, by Grahame Thompson
I haven't taken it again since March of 2004, but I did score a perfect 160 out of 160 on Brian Caplan's Libertarian Purity Test. I also scored as a secular centrist in a quiz from Harvard.

How's that for setting a benchmark for a new year?

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