Fred Foldvary Interviewed by Wayne John Sturgeon

1) Please could you introduce yourself?
I am an economist, having taught economics at several universities, including Santa Clara University and San Jose State University.  My BA is from the University of California at Berkeley, and my PhD is from George Mason University in Virginia.  My books include The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free-Market Economics.  My specialties are social ethics, public finance, real estate, and governance.  I have lived in Berkeley and now reside in the mountains south of Los Gatos, California.
2) You have written a book entitled “The Soul of Liberty: The Universal Ethic of Freedom and Human Rights.”

The basic premise of the book is that there exists an ethic that is independent of culture, and that applies universally to all human beings as a moral imperative.  The book derives the ethic, compares it to what philosophers have written on natural moral law, and applies the ethic to governance, economics, the environment, and social issues.

3) What is the Universal Ethic?

The Universal Ethic applies to all action and all persons.  It is logically consistent and non-arbitrary.  The premises from which it is derived are the independence of individual thinking and feeling, the equal moral worth of all persons, and the personal ethic that each of us has.  The U.E. defines harm as an invasion, in contrast to offenses that depend merely on our subjective values and beliefs.  The three basic moral rules are:
Acts that are welcomed benefits are good.
Acts are evil if, and only if, they coercively harm others.
All other acts are evil.
4) Is the universal ethic compatible or not with Islamic “Shariah law”?
The Universal Ethic is compatible with any religious law that prohibits murder, theft, kidnapping, trespass, and other coercively harmful acts.  Since the U.E. is the ethical basis of proper law, any other religious law, such as the prohibition of interest payments, should be applied as voluntary action for those in that religion, and not enforced by law.
What other philosophical traditions have been formative on your development of the universal ethic?
I have been influenced most by the natural-law philosophy of John Locke, and his followers in the libertarian movement, such as the phillosopher John Hospers.  I have also been influenced by the writings of Henry George on the ethics of land ownership.  Also formative for me have been the writings on private communities by Spencer MacCallum, and the anarchist thought of Lysander Spooner.  I also like the thoughts of Adam Smith and by Austrian-school economists such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and George Selgin.
5) what do you think of Ayn Rands concept of ethical egotism?
Ayn Rand properly recognized the moral wrong of initiating force on others.  However, her derivation of moral law from Aristotle’s ethics, and her rule that life is the standard of value, are flawed.  I think Adam Smith had it right in his book Theory of Moral Sentiments, that one of the human motivations is sympathy for others.  Ayn Rand and her followers have a good position in opposing forced sacrifice for others, but are misguided in deploring altruism.
6) what do you think of anarcho-capitalism as defined by Murray Rothbard?
Anarchism is compatible with the universal ethic, but the atomistic view of anarcho-capitalism of people individually contracting with particular services such as protection is flawed.  Human beings have always lived in organized communities, so without imposed government, they would most likely live in communities such as condominiums, civic associations, and cooperatives.  The main problem with Rothbard’s thought is his misunderstanding of public revenue from land rent.  He either did not understand, or overlooked, that the community collection of land rent would be based on the potential rent of land, rather than what an individual landlord charges a tenant.
7) What is Geo-Anarchism?
“Anarchism” in general is the political philosophy that we can have social peace without an imposed government.  The “geo” in geo-anarchism is based on both “land” and Henry George.  In geo-anarchism, public goods are provided by voluntary communities that collect the land rent from the members, like land trusts do today.  There would be a bottom-up multi-level structure in a confederation of voluntary communities.  That would create a uniform rule of law, if most people belonged to the confederation, in order to benefit from its services.  Land rent would provide public revenue without hampering the free market.
8)To what extent is Henry George an influence on the universal ethic?
From Henry George I learned that land rent comes from the differences in productivity in various locations, as well as the additional rent generated by population, commerce, and public goods.  The moral thought of Henry George is that human equality requires an equal benefit from natural resources, including spatial land, in contrast to the homesteading principle of Rothbard that those who first occupy land can claim the rent forever.  Georgist economists now recognize that there is enough land rent to pay for the public goods that have net benefits to society.
9) You appear to advocate the need for a one world government in your book – do you see the current UN as a template for this or do you think it needs considerable reforming?  Also the voting rules of the UN are arbitrary.
The U.N. is deeply flawed, as its representatives come from tyrant governments.  The reforming has to start with national governments, to change the structure of voting into a decentralized bottom-up structure.  In that case, the national parliaments would elect a world council like the UN, but the authority would ultimately come from the people, who would be able to recall representatives at will, from bottom to top.
10) How would the universal ethic apply to modern banking and international finance?
The U.E. prescribes a free market, including free-market money and banking.  As Austrian-school economists have written, in free banking, there is no central bank, no deposit insurance, and no restriction on branch banking.  Eventually, commodity money such as gold would replace today’s fiat money, and we would have a stable but flexible currency.
11) How central or important are national,racial,or cultural identities in relation to the application of the universal ethic?
The Universal Ethic lets each culture express itself freely so long as its members do not impose their will on others.  The U.E. is applied regardless of any cultural belief, since its purpose is to be rational and universal.
12) What are your current projects and where can one find out more?
I write a weekly editorial for The Progress Report at www.progress.org.  My web site is www.foldvary.net  You can search the Internet for topics I have written on.  My current projects include a peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that involves the payment of rent for land, a book on real estate economics that includes the real estate cycle, and a course I will teach on “law and economics”.  I am also teaching courses on public finance.  Additionally, I plan to update my booklet Depression of 2008 to forecast the next economic crash as the Depression of 2026, based on the 18-year real estate cycle.