Enough About Me

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I’m Jason Kuznicki, editor of Cato Unbound at the Cato Institute.

I sometimes write policy analyses and blog for Cato. I teach intern seminars on political theory, and I do internal review for lot of material that Cato publishes (or declines). As a side project, I blog at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. And I tweet.

I’m married to a guy. We have an adopted daughter who is almost three. I’m a foodie, a homebrewer, and a long-distance runner. I’m a francophile who would trade Washington for Paris on the shallowest of pretexts. I should probably translate more French poetry than I do.

Every month Cato Unbound recruits four very smart people to discuss with one another. Choosing the topics and the authors is a major part of my job, and I shamelessly enjoy my work.

I am, alas, a generalist. In any area of public policy, a specialist will always know more than I do. I’m bothered by this, and it’s a big reason why I don’t write more “serious” pieces, but I do try to make the best of it. Generalism is itself an increasingly rare specialty, and someone should probably stop and think about how all the rapidly moving parts fit together.

As I once wrote, I’d love to have Michel Foucault’s old job: Professor of the History of Systems of Thought at the Collège de France. I think most systems of thought are arbitrary, brought together by culturally mediated intuitions, signaling, and the vagaries of luck in politics and/or the battlefield. I despise battlefields.

If we’re going to play the libertarian labels game, I am a Hayekian thick libertarian who is increasingly agnostic on the question of philosophical anarchism. I’m an atheist and a transhumanist. Unlike many libertarians, my reflexes twitch left; I ascribe this to the abject insanity that followed September 11.

But the chance that either major political party is substantially correct seems astronomically small to me, particularly once we consider the venal, self-serving ways that their positions are really generated, and the voters that they are forced to satisfy. Virtually anyone standing outside this awful process is more likely to be right, just by that sheer fact alone.

If anything saves libertarianism from being yet another a bunch opportunistic, thrown-together political positions, it’s that we libertarians are far removed from the corrupting cesspools of power. We aren’t going with the historical flow. And we certainly aren’t obeying the interests of any economic class.

That said, many so-called privatizations and “free-market” reforms aren’t anything we should cheer for. Many who claim to champion the market process don’t seem truly to understand it. I think we all still have a lot to learn about politics, and not one of us would recognize Utopia if we stumbled onto its gold-paved streets.

I’ve gone on long enough. A better way to approach guest blogging is maybe just to open the floor to questions, then start answering them. Which I will do right now.

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33 Responses to “Enough About Me”

  1. #1 |  Mattocracy | 

    Good discussion about “privatization.” I really wish people would call the privitizing of government stuff what it really is more often than not, outsourcing.

  2. #2 |  RogerX | 

    “I’m an atheist and a transhumanist. Unlike many libertarians, my reflexes twitch left; I ascribe this to the abject insanity that followed September 11.”

    I like you already. *Follows on Twitter*

  3. #3 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Wow. It is so refreshing to find someone on the internet who thinks even close to the way I think about things. I have felt extremely alienated from my fellow Americans — not quite since 9/11, but rather, since the day that the policy of pre-emptive war was announced in summer 2002. I left the US from 2003-2007 mostly because I couldn’t stand the Iraq War jingoism.*

    I think people wonder why I have so long now commented on a libertarian blog/discussion board/whatever you want to call it (mostly this one, and Hit’n’Run before that). You express well why I consider myself a libertarian, even though other libertarians don’t.

    I have felt so alone on these “big picture issues” for so long that it is weird to hear an actual person say what I think about the US and the world in general. It weird, I am almost choking up. I probably wouldn’t be such a bitter person if there were a few more like you.


    * In this same vein, I once left a well-paying job I liked over pee-in-a-cup — even though I wasn’t taking any drugs.

  4. #4 |  Marcus Redmantheagitator.com | 

    It took me only 25 seconds to reach for my Concise Oxford Dictionary to read “Discuss: v.t.”, i.e. “discuss” is a transitive verb. i.e., one that requires an object.

    But the guest blogger from the Cato Institute tells us that “every month Cato Unbound recruits four very smart people to discuss with one another”.

    At that point I said to myself “This very smart person doesn’t know a transitive from an intransitive verb” and stopped reading.

    How in the name of Odin can one do translations if one doesn’t know which verbs take an object and which don’t?

  5. #5 |  UvalDuvalCuckoo | 

    Foucalt def had a great job. I was so fascinated with the cover of the Order of Things that I ended up reading everything else of his I could find… interesting dude for sure, but way cool.

    The francophile thing is a little hard to overlook but everything else is cool enough, i’m willing to give you a pass. Look forward to your posts Jason

  6. #6 |  Leah | 

    Woohoo! I love your stuff on twitter – you’re a great guestblogging surprise! What’s currently fermenting?

  7. #7 |  KristenS | 

    If we’re going to play the libertarian labels game, I am a Hayekian thick libertarian who is increasingly agnostic on the question of philosophical anarchism.

    I really need to GTFO of DC, because I have no idea what language this is in.

    Do you truly believe that libertarians are vying for some kind of Utopia? My experience with my fellows has not borne this out. Most of us seem to just want the best system we can think of, which happens to be one of limited government and maximum individual liberty. I haven’t seen or heard of anyone promising a libertarian life free form risk, pain, and consequences. Quite the opposite.

  8. #8 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @Burgers Allday –

    There are more of us around than you might think. A big problem is that the news media likes to collapse all libertarians into the conservative movement. I don’t think that’s at all justified, but they do it anyway.

    @UvalDuvalCuckoo –

    Why am I a francophile? Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, de Gouges, Say, Bastiat, Tocqueville… or maybe it’s just the food. But either way.

    @Leah –

    I’m currently fermenting my seasonal favorite, Island King Pineapple Wheat. It’s a very light, pale, refreshing wheat beer with lots of fresh pineapple juice. Currently on tap is Temptation Maple Porter. It’s rich, almost jet-black, and complex, with lots of floral and maple aromas. It’s also really really strong, unlike the pineapple wheat.

    @KristenS –

    “Do you truly believe that libertarians are vying for some kind of Utopia?”

    Absolutely not. Liberty is a direction, not a destination, as the saying goes. But I am very, very, very used to hearing the charge that libertarians are just a bunch of utopians, and I’ve written a lot about it by way of rebuttal.

    Central to the libertarian project is the idea that not all problems have a political solution. If we’re right about that, and I think we are, then an ideal libertarian government (if such even exists) will not solve these problems. Not because we haven’t gotten around to them, but because we know better than to try.

  9. #9 |  Marty | 

    good stuff- I’ll check out your blog and tweets.

    if you’re looking for ‘big picture’ questions or thoughts…

    I love the Kiva concept of microlending. We’re already partially mortgaging our futures with all the welfare programs. I’d love to see a system where we can use our Roths to make self-directed contributions or loans to people for housing, medical expenses, living expenses, etc and there’d be a repayment schedule and the whole thing would be voluntary. Like Kiva, there’d be sponsoring organizations guiding the borrowers and these sponsoring organizations would have incentives to monitor people in their organization, because their credit risk rating would be a determining factor in how easy it is for them to get loans… I would put part of my pension on the line for a 5% return to help some people out.

    As a big picture guy, do you see anyone coming up with concrete libertarian solutions to all the welfare and subsidies being doled out?

  10. #10 |  Jess | 

    I’m not sure if this is what you mean by “philosophical anarchism”, but I call myself an anarchist now because the craven corporatist capitalism of many think-tank libertarians has chased me out of the tent. I swear, some of these guys think the main task of government is to preserve monopolies. If you have any sympathy for AT&T, we can’t share a political philosophy.

    As an anarchist, I oppose arbitrary authority. As a rational human being, I see a great deal of extant authority as arbitrary.

  11. #11 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “A lesser but still quite grave offense is the buying or selling of privileges — government grants of exclusive economic activity. Privileges are bad because while, yes, they are bought and sold, they are still, at rock bottom, grants of highly unequal force and protection. When you buy an economic privilege, you buy the forced inactivity of your neighbors. It’s good to minimize this kind of buying and selling.”

    This was a very good point, Jason. Welcome to The Agitator. As a libertarian socialist, who is getting past his agnosticism on the question of anarchism, I would have significant disagreements with you over economic theory. But, I am always happy to see an American libertarian that can tell the difference between “free markets”–which haven’t really existed, at least in recent history, since kings, nobles and nation states have always tipped the market in favor of the elite–and corporatism. The Right (particularly in the U.S.) abuses the term “free market” so often that many Leftists just go right along and blame the “free market” for all the economic injustices that they see. If we could get past this misuse of this phrase, then classical liberals (or libertarians, if you prefer) and Leftists could have a real debate.

  12. #12 |  Quiet Desperation | 

    So how do we fight a system that bubble sorts the alpha sociopaths to the top levels of power, each backed by a sea of voters who “know what they know, dammit!” and cannot be swayed toward reality even if you went Clockwork Orange conditioning on their sad little loser faces?

    The news this morning is bandying about the concept of Los Angeles Mayor Tony Villaraigosa as a future presidential candidate. Those of us in the L.A. area know old Tony to be one of the most useless piles of wasted matter in politics today. We’re worried that some sort of Twilight Zone event has occurred and our L.A. County has slipped into a parallel universe. Seriously, what is going on out there? Villaraigosa? Are you media people insane? What color is your sky? Does pi = ~3.1415926535 there?

  13. #13 |  Mark F. | 

    Jason, are you still singing? I recall you were in a chorus a few years ago.

  14. #14 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @8 – A very expensive and intrusive way of doing it, and something which is inherently subject to bias. Someone’s the “wrong sort” of person in the eyes of the majority of the donors? They’re screwed. You end up with people falsely professing beliefs, for instance, to get charity.

    @10 – There’s a reason I use Corporatism or Capitalist Corporatism to describe the current economic situation, as a mutualist.

    @11 – If you think politics is bad, remember that big business does exactly the same thing. And there are far fewer checks, balances and oversight of private figures in business.

  15. #15 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @Marcus Redmantheagitator.com

    You’re right. I’m a moron. I promise not to blog here again, and I’ll send an apology to Radley immediately. Shortly afterward, my resignation from Cato.

  16. #16 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @Mark F.

    Jason, are you still singing? I recall you were in a chorus a few years ago.

    That’s my husband. I worked on stage crew. My singing is almost as bad as my grammar.

  17. #17 |  Jess | 

    Marcus, out of what orifice did you pull the “rule” that transitive verbs must have an object? Transitive verbs MAY take an object, but that isn’t a requirement. Here’s a perfectly grammatical sentence: “You suck!”

    The original sentence may not have been the most idiomatic, but it was not ungrammatical.

  18. #18 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #14 Leon:

    Perhaps you missed this part of my post:
    “As a libertarian socialist, who is getting past his agnosticism on the question of anarchism, I would have significant disagreements with you over economic theory.”

    So as a libertarian socialist, why would I be sympathetic to “big business?” I oppose capitalism and the wage system as we know it, so why would I support the hierarchal institutions that dominate western economies? Furthermore, I work in the private sector so I am certainly not naive about the loose ethical standards of private corporations. More specifically, I work for a not-for-profit healthcare organization. When I was hired, I thought that surely a not-for-profit medical center wouldn’t be as bad as a publicly-traded corporation. Well, it isn’t much better. They are dirty bastards too. In a way, it’s even worse because people expect more from such an organization.

    Summing up, Leon, I advocate an end to state capitalism and a gradual dismantling of the state apparatus. Then what? I don’t claim to have a blue print, but I agree with the Industrial Workers of the World that we should build the new society out of the shell of the old. Government is NOT the answer. Capitalism is NOT the answer. WE are the answer, Leon. If you view social democracy as the end all and be all, I suggest that you widen your gaze.

  19. #19 |  Leah | 

    Woah, pineapple… That sounds unique. Now I want to make a pineapple syrup next time we make a Gose, along with a banana syrup to emulate the one we had in Leipzig.

  20. #20 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Marcus is correct.

    In English grammar, transitive verbs require an object, and my sentence did not have one. That said, complaining about it was an absurd bit of pedantry on his part, and if he really isn’t going to read me anymore, then good riddance. I doubt he was ready to engage with my ideas sincerely in any event.

    My view is that the rules of grammar exist to help readers grasp an author’s meaning. Beyond them, however, there are a near infinite number of ways to achieve the same purpose. In casual writing — and in poetry — any of these is potentially acceptable.

    In the original post, you’ll also note an abundant use of scare quotes, a jocular set of parentheses, many omitted words, and at least one fairly glaring sentence fragment.

    If anyone found my prose difficult to read owing to any of these problems, I hereby apologize to them. Frankly, however, I doubt that even Marcus had any (sincere) difficulties.

  21. #21 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Woah, pineapple… That sounds unique. Now I want to make a pineapple syrup next time we make a Gose, along with a banana syrup to emulate the one we had in Leipzig.

    It’s almost unique. The only commercial pineapple beer I’ve been able to find online is from China. I’ve never tried it, and nor has anyone I know. Online reviews are poor, and some indicate the presence of actual pineapple chunks. (A no-no for me; they’d clog up the taps.)

    It puzzles me why more commercial breweries don’t try to work with this very popular flavor.

  22. #22 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Update on the beer — there are more commercial varieties of pineapple beer out there than I thought; searching on ratebeer.com reveals quite a few. I’ve never tried any of them.

  23. #23 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @18 – And where in my comment did I launch an attack on you?

    You’ve once more launched into an attack on a straw man, given I’m a mutualist. Moreover, you want to weaken the state’s role of oversight and thus empower corporations, so in fact…

  24. #24 |  EH | 

    Personally, I would love to read Foucauldian takes on battlefield abstractions. Looking forward to whatever you come up with, even if it’s about something else! There is certainly more Foucault in society these days than he is given credit for. As a non-academic autodidact I don’t get so much into his litcrit, but the political stuff always blows my head off. “How have we not learned from this by now?” I say to myself…often.

  25. #25 |  KR | 

    @23 Corporations only have power because of the state. Weaken the state and you weaken corporations as well.

  26. #26 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #23 Leon Wolfeson:
    And where in my comment did I use the word “attack.” Nowhere. Please don’t try to start a silly flame war. I find that tiresome. If you are indeed a mutualist (which has been identified as a form of anarchism since P.J. Proudhon), you should know where I’m coming from. And notice that I said that the dismantling of the state should be gradual. That means I would prioritize certain changes (say ending the drug war, ending wars of choice and/or aggression, ending corporate welfare, etc) over weakening oversight of corporations. Corporations are creatures of the state, so we might as well play the two beasts against each other until we can bring them both down.

  27. #27 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    Care to share your favorite homebrew recipe?

  28. #28 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Care to share your favorite homebrew recipe?

    I’ll make it a top-level post soon.

  29. #29 |  Happy birthday to me « Blunt Object | 

    […] get up from Jason Kuznicki’s intro guest post at The Agitator and look through the peephole, only to cast my eyes upon a rather corpulent individual in a Mk. 1 […]

  30. #30 |  Sancho | 

    Very vanilla question here, Jason, but why do you think self-identified libertarians skew so much to the right?

    I’m in Australia, where political-ish people tend to grab leftover ideology from the dominant superpower and treat it like original thought (I’m probably as guilty as anyone), and where “libertarian” means, in almost all cases, far-right wing beliefs including support for massive government intervention in pursuit of traditional conservative ideals. It’s the classic case of conservatives who like pot choosing to repackage themselves as iconoclasts.

    Or, if it’s a less-dead question, which elements of conservative thought that are usually rolled into libertarianism do you believe should be excluded by default?

  31. #31 |  On Fusionism | The Agitator | 

    […] Sancho asks: [W]hy do you think self-identified libertarians skew so much to the right? […]

  32. #32 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @26 – Your tone wasn’t exactly friendly. Setting that aside…I mostly agree. I’m not a non-interventionist, though, since the vast majority of the issues in those countries are the fault of the West in the first place.

  33. #33 |  alexa-blue | 

    Jason: I would think the direct object was implied but not stated for lyrical reasons (anyone could guess form context that you discuss *things*). This is a valid use of a transitive verb.