Monthly Archives: March 2024

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Sassy 100 – Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme

This is a postscript to my Medium essay, “Sassy 100: Celebrating the Sarah Vaughan Centennial“!

Today, March 27, 2024, to mark the actual date of the Sassy Centennial, an audio recording of Sarah Vaughan’s appearance with Mel Torme on The Merv Griffin Show, which aired on Metromedia Channel 5 in NYC (circa 1976-77), has been posted to my YouTube channel. Merv Griffin’s musical director, Mort Lindsey, leads the band. The only track that has been seen in video format on YouTube is the song “Oh, Lady Be Good!” I recorded this from my TV when it originally aired. The montage presents the songs performed on that show in their entirety for the first time:

  1. Someone to Watch Over Me – Sarah Vaughan (solo)
  2. Porgy and Bess Medley – Mel Torme (solo)
  3. Oh, Lady Be Good! – Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme (duet)
  4. I Got Rhythm – Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme (duet); an impromptu and fun jam session!

Applied Austrian Economics

Today, I’d like to bring attention to two videos that deal with topics surrounding the Austrian school of economics.

The first is the Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture given by my long-time friend and colleague, Ed Younkins: “Ayn Rand and the Austrian Economists” [YouTube link]. Ed is particularly qualified to have delivered this very interesting lecture. He has authored many books and essays exploring the interconnections between Rand and Austrian theorists, including Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism (2011). He was also a contributor to the Spring 2005 Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) symposium, “Ayn Rand Among the Austrians,” for which he wrote the essay, “Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond.” That symposium featured important essays by a dozen authors, including George Reisman, Walter Block, Roderick T. Long, Peter Boettke, and Steven Horwitz. And as a coeditor, with Roger Bissell and me, of The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (2019), Ed also contributed an essay to that anthology, “Freedom and Flourishing: Toward a Synthesis of Traditions and Disciplines,” in which he argues for an integration of Aristotelian, Randian, and Austrian insights.

Clearly, this is a subject matter that has preoccupied Ed for many years. In this lecture, Ed draws from the neo-Aristotelian realist core in the works of Carl Menger, founding father of the Austrian school. Ed sees fruitful connections between Menger’s approach and that of Ayn Rand. He makes a case for integrating the praxeological insights of Ludwig von Mises with a larger normative (and meta-normative) vision, drawn not only from Rand but from the neo-Aristotelian philosophers, Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl. (It should be noted too that Ed and the Dougs were all on the Advisory Board of JARS for years, so it’s nice to see continuing cross-pollination!) And he addresses the thought of Murray Rothbard, who sought to reconfigure Mises’s Kantian-influenced praxeology on surer Aristotelian footing. As Ed puts it, the neo-Aristotelian and Objectivist worldviews can provide a more robust context for Austrian economic insights. And there is much to be gained from the intellectual exchange of these perspectives.

The only Austrian theorist not discussed in Ed’s presentation is Friedrich Hayek. Hayek departs from Misesian praxeology and is not generally considered a neo-Aristotelian. But there is much affinity between Hayek’s critique of constructivist rationalism and Rand’s rejection of rationalist thinking. On this basis alone, I have long argued that an engagement between Hayekian and Randian perspectives can be fruitful—and I’d strongly encourage integration of key Hayekian insights in any attempted integration of Austrian theory and Objectivism. (I explore Hayek’s views in depth in my book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, and I engage the Hayekian and Randian perspectives in my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, especially chapter 8.)

Coincident with the release of Ed’s lecture is a YouTube presentation by two dear friends: Ryan Neugebauer (Ryan N) and Ryan McGaughey (Ryan M), or as I like to call them: “Ryan Squared” (I can’t provide a superscript ‘2’ here, but you get the idea!)

This discussion, “Austrian Economics, Political Economy, and the Case for the Mixed Economy” [YouTube link], is as provocative as its title suggests. Their aim is to invite feedback as they move toward a coauthored essay that uses Austrian insights to make the case for a mixed economy.

The Ryans begin with a discussion of my work on dialectical libertarianism, specifically Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism and its critique of Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism (ancap). With dialectics—the art of context keeping—as methodological backdrop, they seek to promote the project of human freedom and personal flourishing with a recognition of the conditions that exist. They oppose reductionists on either side of the dualistic divide—those anarcho-capitalists who envision the market’s absorption of all governmental functions and those socialists or communists who propose the government’s absorption of the market. This false alternative leads the purists in both camps to embrace what Karl Popper once called “canvas cleaning.” The ancap would ‘push a button’ to eliminate the state as surely as the communist would ‘push a button’ to demolish the market, no matter how many bodies are left in the wake of wiping the slate clean. Moreover, even if such a button could be pushed, the proposed resolution ignores the need for a cultural transformation that might nourish and support any such radical social change.

The ‘mixed economy’—that catchall term for various mixtures of markets and states—has existed for eons and there is no foreseeable future in which this phenomenon will wither away. Indeed, it is no coincidence that classical economics was viewed as the study of political economy, for politics and economics have been inextricably intertwined in various ways. Ultimately, the question is: What kind of mixture is optimal for the nurturing of freedom and flourishing?

Before even considering this question, however, the Ryans’ focus here is on the ways in which the Austrian school of economics has helped us to understand the nature of a market economy. As Ryan M puts it, the Austrian school has provided core notions that were essential not just to the marginal revolution spearheaded by Carl Menger, but to the tradition he founded. Among those ideas was Menger’s insistence that value is not inherent in material objects, but in the subject’s valuation of those objects. This is the kind of ‘subjectivism’ that Ed Younkins views as fully compatible with Menger’s Aristotelian realism and Rand’s Objectivism, insofar as material objects are evaluated in an agent-relative manner that is fully engaged with the world, rather than cut off from it. (Rand distinguished her Objectivist alternative from the classical objectivist position, which she dubbed “intrinsicism,” insofar as it placed intrinsic value on the objects in the material world, rather than value-as-evaluated-by-a-conscious-subject.)

Other core notions in the Austrian tradition include an appreciation of the epistemic role of markets and an understanding of the non-neutrality of money. In his works, Hayek explained the function of the price mechanism in transmitting inarticulate (tacit) knowledge across social networks as a means of coordination. And, as Ryan M emphasizes, the Austrian view of the non-neutrality of money is crucially important to Austrian business cycle theory. Austrian theorists cast light on the differential ways that inflationary infusions of money redistribute wealth to those who are its first beneficiaries. In his 1938 work, Theory of Money and Credit, Mises pioneered this view in a way that fully embraced the discipline of political economy. While Austrians long championed the notion that money as an institution evolved through the division and specialization of labor, they also recognized the state’s intimate involvement throughout history with coinage, banking, and structural variations in the supply of money. Hence, to say that money is not neutral is not merely an economic observation; it is a profoundly political one as well. Mises’s approach was a scathing indictment of static equilibrium models in favor of a process orientation. It also pointed to a class dimension in the business cycle, a dimension explored more comprehensively by Mises’s student, Murray Rothbard.

This intermingling of economics and politics shows up in both Austrian economics and libertarian politics. Indeed, as Ryan N observes, it is often difficult to separate Austrian economics from the purest libertarian politics upheld by certain Austrian economists. Some Austrians, most notably Hayek, departed from these purist demands, favoring political means for the provision of social safety nets. The Ryans wish to utilize the economic tools of Austrian theory in ways that might bolster the case for a mixed economy. They are not unsympathetic to anarcho-libertarian ideals. But in the real world, those ideals have never been actualized. They might be implicit in some real-world social relations, but the rules of the game have been corrupted throughout human history. What is called “capitalism” today is not the “unknown ideal” of its advocates. In “capitalism: the known reality,” as I’ve called it, the structures of property ownership were historically constituted by the enclosure of the commons, conquest, and colonialism such that any notion of Lockean ‘just acquisition’ is rendered almost incomprehensible. To this extent, the dichotomous view of market and state is ahistorical, for the economic and the political have always been organically linked.

The Ryans maintain that those of us who are concerned with justice can’t rewind history and undo the damage of centuries of wealth and land redistribution. But we can attempt to make up for it. And that is the springboard for what the Ryans propose. Given the context that exists, how might Austrian insights be used to improve our society?

Moving forward—in building the case for a mixed economy, indeed, for a better mixed economy—I’d encourage my friends to address issues raised in the Austrian literature by two of its contemporary representatives: Don Lavoie and Sanford Ikeda. In National Economic Planning: What is Left? (1985), Lavoie is concerned with those state-centered mixed economies that tend toward the militarization of economic life, bolstering not only the welfare state, but the warfare state as well. This organic conjunction of welfare and warfare is something that has been a part of U.S. history, but it has had a global impact. And it has deep class dimensions.

Critiques of the mixed economy have been offered by Marxist, public choice, and Austrian thinkers. Marxist theorist Paul Mattick published a 1964 essay, “Dynamics of the Mixed Economy,” that explored these issues. Ikeda’s work, Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism (1996), draws from both public choice and Austrian insights to address the “spontaneous order” that is distinctive to political processes in real existing mixed economies.

Any case for the mixed economy should grapple more fully with this literature.

I very much enjoyed both Ed Younkins’s lecture and the Ryan Neugebauer-Ryan McGaughey presentation and I highly recommend both YouTube videos to Notablog readers. Links below.

Sassy 100: Celebrating the Sarah Vaughan Centennial

Next Wednesday, on March 27, 2024, we mark the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of legendary jazz vocalist, Sarah Vaughan. My article in tribute to the Sarah Vaughan Centennial makes its debut on Medium today: “Sassy 100: Celebrating the Sarah Vaughan Centennial.”

Just as important, today is the debut on my YouTube channel of the full audio recording of Vaughan’s 1974 concert appearance, “In Performance at Wolf Trap,” which has not been heard or seen in its entirety in nearly fifty years. My Medium article discusses the concert, but Notablog readers can see the video montage I created here:

Practical Politics for Left-Libertarians

As of this date, despite the presence of various third-party candidates in the 2024 election cycle, it is virtually inevitable that either Donald Trump or Joe Biden is going to serve another term in the White House. But there are other political visions that are awaiting an audience.

As an advocate of dialectics—the art of context-keeping—I have long stressed that even the loftiest of political goals must begin with the conditions that exist. Or, as I like to paraphrase good ol’ Don Rumsfeld: We plan our way toward a better future based on the conditions that we have, not on the conditions we wished we had. There is no magic button that we can push to suddenly transform our society into one that nourishes human freedom and personal flourishing. This can be daunting for those of us who advocate radical social change—that is, change that emerges from a deeper understanding of the systemic and historical roots of a society’s problems as the means to resolving them.  

There are many different strains of libertarian thinking that have lent themselves to this radical project. Today, my very dear friend Ryan Neugebauer has published on Medium what he calls “A Dialectical Left-Libertarian Political Platform.” While there are many different dialectical left-libertarian approaches to contemporary problems, here, Ryan attempts to bring together a wide variety of practical, real-world strategies that would “unshackle society.”

I’m sure that readers coming from diametrically opposed political perspectives will be both attracted to—and abhorred by—various proposals that Ryan puts forth in this paper. There is no doubt, however, that Ryan’s political program is panoramic in its approach. He provides a check list of ways to free-up markets, by shrinking the intellectual property regime, tackling restrictive zoning laws, and addressing land value taxation. He discusses public options in healthcare, universal basic income or negative income taxes, education, gun control, drug prohibitionism, police accountability, restorative justice, immigration, energy policy, foreign policy, diplomacy, and global trade. Along the way, he also discusses “bottom-up” libertarian municipalism and cooperatives, while embracing a laissez-faire policy on contentious social issues.

However you receive any proposal put forth by Ryan, he is clearly committed to focusing on the “overall socioeconomic and political systems that we currently have” as the foundation for all that might be—while using eclectic strategies at our disposal in an effort “to increase freedom, equality, justice, and flourishing” within that context. On that basis alone, he’s passed the dialectical test resoundingly. Check out his essay here.

Looking Back 55 Years: Our Cat Buttons

On March 17, 1969, a neighbor’s cat gave birth to a litter of kittens and among them was our cat Buttons. He was the kitten we chose and in June of that year, he came to live with us. He was with us until March 16, 1987, when he passed away on the cusp of his eighteenth birthday. We have had other very dear pets in our lives—our dog Blondie, who lived for 16 years, and our adopted cat Dante, who lived for 17 years. None of them was as crazy as Buttons.

Buttons was insanely playful and mischievous, especially at the witching hour—when he would begin to run through the apartment like it was a marathon version of the Belmont Stakes. His favorite holiday was Christmas, no doubt—when he would routinely scale the Christmas tree. On one Christmas morning, my mother came into the bedroom, screaming: “Get up! Get up!!! Look what he did!” The living room looked as if it had been ransacked. The Christmas tree had been toppled and many of its decorations were broken, scattered throughout the room. The curtains were down. The curtain rods were bent. And our Christmas presents were buried somewhere underneath the avalanche. It is still a mystery how none of us heard what was going on in the middle of the night.

Destructive though he could be, he brought us countless hours of laughter and joy. We loved him very much. As with all our pets, Buttons was part of our family. On the fifty-fifth anniversary of his St. Patrick’s Day birth, here are three photos of Buttons and me (I was 9-10 years old at the time).

* H/T to my friend Kevin for the Photoshop!

Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand 25

Twenty-five years ago this past February, Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand was released by Pennsylvania State University Press, as part of their series “Re-reading the Canon.” To my knowledge, it was the first time that Ayn Rand had been included in a series of volumes on thinkers of the Western canon. To date, there are 37 volumes in that series, featuring collections on thinkers as varied as Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Emma Goldman. (The Rand volume is not available electronically, but can still be purchased as a quality paperback here.)

I was a co-editor on the project with Mimi R. Gladstein. The controversial anthology featured 20 essays from a diverse group of writers, including Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, Susan Love Brown, Sharon Presley, Wendy McElroy, Melissa Hardie, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Barry Vacker, Karen Michalson, and others.

One of the most enduring gifts from that collaboration has been my friendship with Mimi. As we got to know one another, she called our relationship “love at no sight.” I called her “sweetheart,” she called me “dear heart.” After the publication of the volume, we finally had a chance to meet in NYC. Till this day, we are the dearest of friends. Here are a couple of pics from those days …

Sifting through the Noise

We all face the problem of “epistemic flooding,” in which we are overwhelmed with information through online algorithms that appeal to our biases. Whether from the right or the left, it is incumbent on us to be diligent in our approach to information and how it’s presented. Being critically engaged with that information requires more than just recognizing any logical fallacies that might be at work. It requires stepping outside our “preferred” outlets and challenging not only views that we oppose but also our own grasp of the issues.

A fine piece appearing on Medium today, written by my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer, addresses this problem. “Sifting through the Noise: Thinking and Engaging in the Age of Mass Media and the Internet” focuses on how the mass media cultivates an atmosphere in which “people have fallen down the rabbit hole of online conspiracy theories,” placing many of us in an “emotionally charged echo chamber” of confirmation bias, which “closes us out of information/perspectives contrary to whatever we may hold dear …”

Ryan asks: “[H]ow do we strike a balance that sifts through the noise, helps us to think better and be better informed, keeps us out of reinforcing echo chambers, and preserves our sanity and decency when engaging in the process?” The essay provides various strategies for achieving this.

One strategy in particular strikes me as crucial. In critical engagement with those whose ideas we oppose, we should not strawman their arguments. It is best to “steelman” our opponent’s perspective and critique their arguments in their “strongest form possible.” Charitable readings are helpful in more ways than one:

Even using the term “opponent” can come across as too antagonizing or adversarial. It’s better to think of each other as conversation partners in disagreement or in a quest to figure things out. Let’s not approach the situation like we are in an arena getting ready to destroy the other, but rather in an open-ended conversation trying to figure out the best position. That invites friendly, civil dialogue rather than each person being put on the defensive and getting increasingly agitated or angry. Additionally, each person is looked at as someone who has something to offer the conversation rather than someone who is simply wrong and in need of correcting. This also lowers the temperature in the room and makes each person feel valued.

I can’t think of a more humane way to approach our interlocutors in an era of immense divisiveness. The whole essay is a worthwhile read—including the resources it reveals. Check it out here.

Song of the Day #2114

Song of the Day: Go Away Little Girl, words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was a #1 hit in 1963 for Steve Lawrence, who died today at the age of 88. He and his wife, Eydie Gorme (who died in 2013), made a terrific singing pair. One of the most memorable performances of this song was Lawrence’s delivery of it on the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon in the 1960s. Singing to a little girl—who took the lyrics seriously and began to cry—Lawrence embraced her and assured her that he wanted her “to stay”. By the time the song ended, she was all smiles. It was one of the most poignant moments I’ve ever seen on television. RIP, Steve Lawrence. Check out Lawrence’s rendition of this song [YouTube link].

The Project of Personal Flourishing

My very dear friend Ryan Neugebauer has published a wonderful Medium piece on the topic of personal flourishing. “Personal Flourishing for Everyone: A Commentary on Human Flourishing Accompanied by 25 People Exploring Personal Flourishing for Themselves” begins with a brief discussion of how the issue of human flourishing has been highlighted in both philosophy and psychology—from Aristotle’s focus on eudaimonia to the PERMA model developed within the tradition of Positive Psychology. Ryan recognizes the dialectical interconnections between freedom and flourishing, seeing an organic link between them: “You aren’t flourishing if you don’t have freedom, and you aren’t truly free if you aren’t flourishing.” But the central question here is: “What does ‘flourishing’ even entail?”

Ryan recognizes that there is no single way to flourish. In expanding on his vision for his own personal flourishing, he “explore[s] the many beautiful and unique ways that people flourish,” through the testimonies of 25 individuals. Though there is much differentiation in their outlooks, Ryan keenly observes “that since we all have a very similar biology and nature, you will see a lot of overlap throughout.”

I’m among the individuals interviewed for Ryan’s project. As I state in that interview, “personal flourishing is all about relationships—my relationship to myself and my relationship to others.” Folks can check out more of what I meant by that—and what two dozen other people say about their own unique visions in this insightful essay.

One of the nicest things to say about this compendium is that I have learned much about many people I have come to know and care for, while wanting to get to know many more people with whom I’ve never had the pleasure of interacting. Thanks so much, Ryan, for putting this project together!

Check out Ryan’s Medium article here.