The limits of liberalism: Good boundaries must be discovered



Abstract: Determining good boundaries for governance jurisdictions is among the most difficult problems in political theory and political philosophy. But to whom the rules of a given jurisdiction applies is a problem that afflicts private as well as public governance. Clubs have boundaries no less than cities, states, or nations. This essay applies Hayek’s conception of competition as a discovery procedure to boundary problems, arguing that good jurisdictional boundaries are subject to a great deal of contingent variation according to particular the conditions of time and place. Philosophical speculation, therefore, cannot fully replace a trial and error process that facilitates social learning about where good boundaries fall. I outline the features of good boundaries that make them subject to such variation, then evaluate two criteria for evaluating whether existing jurisdictional boundaries are good: one that emphasizes ex ante consent to boundaries, and one that focuses on the ability of individuals to exit from jurisdictions ex post, arguing that the exit-focused approach is underappreciated.

Hume on Education



Abstract: Hume claims that education is ‘disclaimed by philosophy, as a fallacious ground of assent to any opinion’ (T and that it is ‘never . . . recogniz’d by philosophers’ (T He is usually taken to be referring here to indoctrination. I argue, however, that his main concern is with association and those philosophers who emphasize the epistemic dangers of the imagination. These include Locke, Hutcheson and Descartes, but not Hume himself. Hume praises education, highlighting its role in the formation of general rules, and in fostering social conditions that encourage the growth of knowledge and moral virtue.

Trade, Power, and Political Economy: Reason vs. Ideology in Edward Stringham’s Private Governance



Abstract: In Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life, Edward Stringham explains that private ordering is sufficient to secure full exploitation of gains from trade within a society. After describing the logic of Stringham’s claim on behalf of private ordering, the remainder of this essay examines an enigma that Stringham’s argument entails: private ordering is sufficient for social coordination and yet public ordering is ubiquitous. The exploitation of gains from trade might offer a useful ideology, but this provides but an incomplete basis for a theory of society. In this respect, societies are rife with antagonism and envy, though these often manifest themselves ideologically as claims about justice and fairness. Politics goes where the money is; private ordering reveals targets that public ordering subsequently exploits. The challenge for political economy is to integrate the autonomy of economizing action with the autonomy of political action, for these dual autonomies provide the crucible out of which emerges the material of political economy. Stringham has deepened our appreciation of what private governance can accomplish, but much unfinished analytical work confronts theorists of political economy.

Private Governance and the three biases of political philosophy



Abstract: Private Governance shows that philosophers, political and legal theorists, and social scientists mistakenly believe in legal centralism, the view that order in the world depends upon and is made possible by state law. In fact, most governance not only happens to be private, but must be private. This paper extends Edward Stringham’s argument by claiming that philosophers tend to suffer from three biases. Diffidence bias means they are overly pessimistic about people’s willingness and ability to cooperate without state enforcement. Statism bias means the overestimate the degree to which cooperation is secured by the state. Guarantee bias means they overestimate the value and need for legal guarantees.

Property and the Creation of Value


ECONOMICS & PHILOSOPHY, Volume 33, Issue 1

Abstract: Following Locke, philosophical discussion of private property has tended to focus on the acquisition of natural resources as central. In this paper I first pursue the idea that the resource paradigm doesn’t apply to most developed economies, and show how this creates problems for many accounts of property. My second ambition is to draw a normative conclusion by showing that redistribution of wealth generated in the context of services is more difficult to justify compared with the natural resource paradigm philosophers have often focused on.

Language Shapes People’s Time Perspective and Support for Future-Oriented Policies



Abstract: Can the way we speak affect the way we perceive time and think about politics? Languages vary by how much they require speakers to grammatically encode temporal differences. Futureless tongues (e.g., Estonian) do not oblige speakers to distinguish between the present and future tense, whereas futured tongues do (e.g., Russian). By grammatically conflating “today” and “tomorrow,” we hypothesize that speakers of futureless tongues will view the future as temporally closer to the present, causing them to discount the future less and support future-oriented policies more. Using an original survey experiment that randomly assigned the interview language to Estonian/Russian bilinguals, we find support for this proposition and document the absence of this language effect when a policy has no obvious time referent. We then replicate and extend our principal result through a cross-national analysis of survey data. Our results imply that language may have significant consequences for mass opinion.

The Problem of Natural Religion in Smith’s Moral Thought



Abstract: Adam Smith is one of the philosophers whose views on the relation of morality to religion have been very actively debated. It is accepted that Smith had unorthodox personal religious beliefs. The crux of the debate, however, is whether or not the God of natural religion is essential, in one or more ways, to Smith’s moral theory. A number of recent interpretations defend the description of Adam Smith as “a strong supporter of natural theology.”2 This paper argues [End Page 73] against that claim, using both novel evidence and familiar evidence applied in novel ways. I demonstrate here that Smith took positions at odds with a commitment to natural religion’s importance for morality. In particular, I show that it is hard to square Smith’s alleged support of natural religion with his account of conscience, his natural-rights theory, and his omission of piety from his catalogue of virtues.