I’m a Libertarian, You Know, But We’ve Gotta Have a Few Limits…

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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81 Responses

  1. Avatar Dylan
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, you were the one who was defending government as a necessary evil previously. This would be the downfall of that argument: everyone wants to limit the parts of government that they see as not beneficial to them while keeping the parts that re-enforce their own ideology (in your case that would be the parts of government that make industrialization possible).Report

  2. Avatar Jonathan Dursi
    Ignored
    says:

    “The stuff about calories was, as alert readers already know, a MacGuffin.” Um, then why did you spend almost half of the column talking about calories? It seems a bit much to spend 250 of a 470 word article talking about calorie counts then be offended that people mistake your position to have something to do with calories. (It’s also pretty nutritionally ignorant; soda for instance has diabetes risks significantly above that just from its calories (eg, http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/07/repost_sugary_drinks_weight_ga.php ). It just isn’t the case that eating 2,000 calories in sugar and taking vitamin pills is the same as eating properly.)

    But even aside all of that, your column makes no sense. As a libertarian, don’t you believe that people renting space available to vendors should be able to decide which vendors to rent to? Or do you believe that individuals have some positive right to demand that soda pop be for sale *anywhere* they want, a positive right so fundamental that it overrides the vendors right to decide what they do or don’t sell? Do you regularly go into hat shops and pitch fits that they don’t also sell Dr Pepper? Or automobiles?

    Soda isn’t being banned in the city; a body is deciding that on their property, a particular product won’t be sold, just as many stores that sell magazines have made a decision they nonetheless will sell (say) pornographic magazines. Deal with it.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan Dursi
      Ignored
      says:

      @Jonathan Dursi,

      The stuff about calories was not altogether useless. It did demonstrate, I thought quite well, that the chosen means were unsuited to the stated ends, which had nothing to do with diabetes, incidentally. That might have been enough, if it weren’t also a matter of individual choice.

      As to the private property argument, in a word, no. If the government is going to offer space on its land for private vendors, it needs to do so impartially. The government is different from private entities. It’s not allowed to play favorites.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,

        If the government is going to offer space on its land for private vendors, it needs to do so impartially.

        In the sense that it shouldn’t favor the mayor’s cousin over another vendor of similar products, yes. In the sense that it can’t choose what to use its limited space for? Nonsense.Report

      • Avatar Sam M in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,

        I am pretty libertarian, but I am not so sure about this. Forget all that distracting talk about porn. Think in terms of, say, the gift shop at an art gallery. I think the government is going to have a lot of say in what it offers there, and would (rightly) not consider RFPs from certain kinds of retail outlets. Or, let’s say, the shops at Yellowstone, or a Civil War battlefield. I bet you could make a ton of money selling lottery tickets and Budweiser at the Gettysburg gift shop. Is it necessarily wrong for the park directors to forego the highest bid in order to accept something more in line with the mission of the place? Should the cafeteria at the Smithsonian switch over to selling graphic anti-abortion photos if Operation Rescue were to come up with an attractive bid to do so? Even if this were to leave the Smithsonian without a cafeteria for its patrons? Is it OK for the government to decide that quenching the thirst of museum-goers is more important than the bottom line?Report

  3. Avatar Jonathan Dursi
    Ignored
    says:

    “If the government is going to offer space on its land for private vendors, it needs to do so impartially. ”

    Really; so they make the decisions how – by lottery? Or by quota? Who sets up the lottery rules? Or the quota rules? How is it decided which pieces of city property are available to vendors at all? Darts thrown randomly?

    At some point, someone has to decide what goes where. The democratically-elected city council has decided that the vendors they’ll be licensing to sell on public property won’t be selling soda, much like they likely also have a similar rule about pornographic DVDs. They’re not banning them from the city, they just prefer it to not be sold on city property. If the citizens don’t like the rule, they’ll vote other governments in – that is, the public is deciding, indirectly, what will and won’t be sold on the land the public holds; just like public shareholders have an indirect say about the products being sold by the company they collectively own.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan Dursi
      Ignored
      says:

      @Jonathan Dursi,

      You have a remarkably partial view of impartiality. There are any number of methods I could imagine that would be fairer than just picking the beverages unpopular with the political elite and excluding them (despite their obvious popularity with consumers).

      And are you — or anyone — really as offended by soda as you are by pornographic DVDs? Such thin skins we have nowadays.Report

      • Avatar Jonathan Dursi in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        Don’t project; *I’m* not offended by anything here. The good people of the city can choose to use their land in whatever way they think best; I might think it a good choice or bad choice, but I completely agree they have the right to make that choice.Report

      • Avatar Travis in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jason Kuznicki, “beverages unpopular with the political elite” is an implied assertion that there’s no grounds for the decision beyond political fiat — which, as you yourself admitted, is simply untrue.

        Maintaining and improving public health is a long-established legitimate governmental interest. Choosing vendors who will only sell relatively-healthier beverages on government property seems to be a legitimate extension of this interest.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Travis
          Ignored
          says:

          @Travis,

          ““beverages unpopular with the political elite” is an implied assertion that there’s no grounds for the decision beyond political fiat — which, as you yourself admitted, is simply untrue.”

          You’re darn right it’s an implied assertion. And I don’t think I said anything to contradict that. I really do believe it’s political, and I think it’s utterly obvious in its politics.Report

    • Avatar Jonathan Dursi in reply to Jonathan Dursi
      Ignored
      says:

      In fact, why not rail against San Francisco’s implicit rule (they don’t even have the courage to write it down! Fascist cowards!) against pornographic DVD vending machines on city property? Or kiosks for callgirl services? I’m sure the margins would be significantly higher than for a pop machine. Why is the gummint stomping all over not just free enterprise, but the very freedom of speech itself?Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan Dursi
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jonathan Dursi,

        Why not? Because you’re being silly, that’s why. Given that one can (still) legally consume beverages in front of strangers in public, but one cannot legally show pornographic material in front of strangers in public, the difference is obvious, and no further argument is needed.Report

        • Avatar Jonathan Dursi in reply to Jason Kuznicki
          Ignored
          says:

          @Jason Kuznicki, but you don’t have to show anything; the DVDs could just have nice expurgated covers and be sold in brown paper bags.

          You’re trying to argue that cola vendors have some sort of inherent right to sell their wares on city property, a right which is being unfairly infringed by the dictatorship of the people of San Francisco (who, you know, own the property). I’m trying to point out that for other products, even you would find this argument “silly”. So why is cola in such a privliledged place, vending-machine wise? Shouldn’t you be arguing for vendors “impartially”?Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jonathan Dursi
            Ignored
            says:

            @Jonathan Dursi,

            Unless you find cola equally offensive, brown paper bag or not, you have no argument whatsoever. None. It’s not that cola is in a privileged place. It’s that pornography is in a less-privileged place. That’s a decision western culture made long, long ago, and not one remotely at stake here.Report

            • Avatar Jonathan Dursi in reply to Jason Kuznicki
              Ignored
              says:

              @Jason Kuznicki, “That’s a decision western culture made long, long ago, and not one remotely at stake here” — wait, but the position of cola in San Francisco’s culture is sacrosanct and inviolate, and the people of San Francisco are explicitly disallowed — by you — from changing that? Give me a break.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki
              Ignored
              says:

              @Jonathan Dursi ,

              Yes, I absolutely do mean that San Francisco isn’t allowed to start treating soda as it might treat porn. And I do mean that we should push back when the government restricts our choices in new ways. The position of soda isn’t sacrosanct, but this is not the way to change it.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    How much decision-making power ought we outsource to people who can’t even be trusted to pick the “right” drink at lunchtime?Report

  5. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    “The United States is at its best when it allows and encourages individual choice, and when it invites people to bear — cheerfully or otherwise — the consequences of their choices. Today, though, we’re more and more a country about authorities making choices for us, and then congratulating themselves about how wise they are.”

    Of course the caveat with this statement is that it seems to only apply to public sector authorities and never private sector authorities. How much of the popularity of soda is due to marketing and cultural attitude shaping by mass media and consumerist conditioning from advertising? Or due to particular chemical formulations that are habit forming? All made by people who have an incentive to downplay the serious negative health effects of consuming large quantities of soft drinks and who are under no obligation or even any accountability on what they sell.Report

  6. Avatar Boegiboe
    Ignored
    says:

    I think smaller localities, like cities, have more leeway to experiment with uses of government that aren’t explicitly contradictory to state or federal law. I’m not sure what principle supports this, except a feeling that people do have a right to try to make the place they live suit themselves better, and people often have a choice of what city, or what ward or district, or what street to live on. Generally, the smaller the jurisdiction, the easier it is for someone to avoid any restrictions they may not like.

    Stated that way, it does seem to me to be important that, when restrictions are instituted in a locality, they should be especially careful not to overburden less socio-economically mobile people while making the locality nicer for wealthier people who can really live where they want.

    So, I’d be curious as to whether poorer people were actually complaining about too many soda machines on city property. Poorer people are, after all, going to be more likely to use city property than wealthier people, who can more often opt for private locations for their business and pleasure.

    I can imagine frustrated parents who, standing in lines for driver license renewal or the like with their young kids, have found themselves giving in to buying kids sodas because it’s all that’s available at the DMV.

    I can also imagine frustrated middle-to-lower class workers at the DMV, now unable to have a cold cola at work on their break.

    I wonder which way the lower-income feelings went on this issue. And, I wonder whether the upper-income city government listened to them, or just imagined that eliminating sodas from city property would be good for the poor people who can’t make good decisions for themselves.Report

  7. Avatar Rufus
    Ignored
    says:

    I quit drinking my daily two bottles of Pepsi for the new year, although I still drink a bottle on Saturday. I’ve been surprised at what a difference it made. I’ve lost between 15-20 lbs and haven’t changed anything else about my diet or lifestyle. Now, the reason I quit had little to do with other people nagging me. Part of it was to prove to myself that I could still make changes in my life and stick to them. The other thing is I constantly see middle aged people in this city on those motorized scooters. Sometimes I see more of them than pedestrians. I asked my neighbour what the deal is and she claims most of them have diabetes. So that was probably better incentive than any official nagging.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus
      Ignored
      says:

      @Rufus,

      Oh, but some people aren’t as wise as you, Rufus, and for them, we have to use legislation. Given your own positive experience, I am sure you will agree. Never mind about a silly little thing like their liberties.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jason Kuznicki
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jason Kuznicki,

        Jason,
        I understand that people need to be allowed to make their own mistakes(the definition of liberty). So understand that I’m simply trying to figure out why this doesn’t outrage me.

        I suppose the main reason why this isn’t affecting me is because this doesn’t prevent someone from getting their soda and it doesn’t even increase the taxes on the soda. Compared to tobacco regulation which doesn’t trip my liberty sensors(maybe it should) this simple doesn’t seem that serious.

        Is the big issue equal access for the vendors? I think I can see the argument but it seems legitimate for the city to choose their vendors based on health concerns. Help me see where I am wrong here.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to ThatPirateGuy
          Ignored
          says:

          @ThatPirateGuy,

          The trouble with your non-outrage is as follows.

          First, the policy isn’t being advanced for a consistent health-based rationale, as we’ve already discussed.

          Second, choosing based on health presumes that everyone will agree with the choice. What if I don’t? What if I prefer a shorter, fatter, happier life? Why are my liberties the ones to be sacrificed?

          Third, it’s entirely obvious that we could do better at impartiality here. There could be a lottery for vending spaces. They could be made tradable. We could poll the workers in a given building every so often and ask them, as the main stakeholders, what they wanted. I’d think any one of these would be good enough to meet the impartiality hurdle. The latter would probably satisfy the consumers the most and be most adaptable to both diverse, changing tastes and aspirational values.

          And really, if we want to attack the soft drink problem, the way to do it isn’t through more regulation. It’s to stop subsidizing high fructose corn syrup. (That, too, would be a move toward a more impartial law.)Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jason Kuznicki
            Ignored
            says:

            @Jason Kuznicki,

            First, the policy isn’t being advanced for a consistent health-based rationale, as we’ve already discussed.

            I’ll have to read that section of the debate closer.

            Second, choosing based on health presumes that everyone will agree with the choice. What if I don’t? What if I prefer a shorter, fatter, happier life? Why are my liberties the ones to be sacrificed?

            Er, if that is what you want go for it. I don’t actually want to sacrifice anyone’s liberty to have a shorter, fatter, happier life.

            I am just having trouble seeing the liberty issue of the vendor selection based on trying to increase lifespan and reduce diabetes.(The guys making the actual decision might not understand the facts but the criteria seems valid.)

            Third, it’s entirely obvious that we could do better at impartiality here. There could be a lottery for vending spaces. They could be made tradable. We could poll the workers in a given building every so often and ask them, as the main stakeholders, what they wanted. I’d think any one of these would be good enough to meet the impartiality hurdle. The latter would probably satisfy the consumers the most and be most adaptable to both diverse, changing tastes and aspirational values.

            I like the asking the building residents one but the other seem worse than the city council deciding.

            And really, if we want to attack the soft drink problem, the way to do it isn’t through more regulation. It’s to stop subsidizing high fructose corn syrup. (That, too, would be a move toward a more impartial law.)

            I totally agree with you here.Report

          • Avatar agorabum in reply to Jason Kuznicki
            Ignored
            says:

            @Jason Kuznicki, The city government of San Francisco isn’t in the soda business. It’s in the government business. Rational regulation of the type of goods sold on city property is constitutional. As to your points:
            1. Optimal rationality does not exist.
            2. Choosing on health does not presume everyone agrees. It merely presumes that enough people will not object so strongly that it will topple the administration. And if you prefer a shorter life, the City still throngs with soda and lard vendors willing to trade with you. Walk into any market and buy a 2L cola and keep it on you at all times.
            3. We could spend a lot of money polling the bureaucracy, filling out forms in triplicate, caucusing, discussing, holding drum circles, etc. Sounds like a waste of tax money, though.

            Everyone who wants a soda can get a soda. There is no loss of any liberty. Just some choices by the local government not to allow certain beverage sales on its own property, due to perceived externalities. The most that will happen is that people have to walk a block to buy a soda. If the City bans possession of soda on city property or the sale in the city limits, you’ve got a case. But choosing this as your line in the sand in the defense of liberty is a mistake.Report

  8. Avatar Matt
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, you’re right but your answer requires a bit of scapular treatment, I think.

    Freedom and liberty is about being able to make your own choices, and the individual responsibility to make discerning value judgments. But the government has a responsibility to safeguard the ABILITY to make discerning value judgments, no? The banning of vending machines — which serve as not only a dispensary but as an advertisement — is one step closer to overturning the overwhelming ubiquity of unhealthy choices and education.

    Although, that was not the motivation…Report

  9. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    The ban on sweetened drinks applies *only* to vending machines on city property. It is the result of a decision made *entirely* by mayor Gavin Newsom, not the city counsel. If the citizens of San Francisco find the ban an appalling trampling of their freedom of choice there exists sufficient means to correct the injustice, elect a pro-choice mayor next time.

    http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/07/san_francisco_starts_soda_ban.htmlReport

  10. Avatar Andy Smith
    Ignored
    says:

    @Jason: The United States is at its best when it allows and encourages individual choice, and when it invites people to bear — cheerfully or otherwise — the consequences of their choices.

    I’m not really cheerful about bearing the increased cost of health insurance for people who overload on sugar. Their “choice” affects my wallet.Report

  11. Avatar Jonathan
    Ignored
    says:

    So, Jason, the empty calorie part was just an empty lede? I think we need a law about that…Report

  12. Avatar sam
    Ignored
    says:

    Yo, Jason, maybe this’ll make you feel better (a little, anyway — made me feel better):

    Swipe, Smile, Blow: Pa. Has Wine Vending MachinesReport

  13. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird, for some reason I have this vision of you sitting at your computer, tears pooling.

    Have no fear. People like me, if indeed they are like me, are 100% in favor of democracy, and it’s variant, representative democracy. We also have great respect for the Constitution. (No mention of sugary soft drinks.)

    When libertarians start winning elections I will support all constitutional laws they enact.

    No kidding, I’m all in favor of electing a pro-choice mayor in San Fransisco. Put that poison back on city property, I don’t care, I don’t drink it. (My poison is generally no available in vending machines anyway.)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob
      Ignored
      says:

      @Bob, nah, I’m not a tears pooling kinda guy.

      Imagine me more as a dumpy guy saying “feh!”

      I imagine you as one of those people applauding government intervention when it ain’t your ox being gored (“it’s a reasonable limitation… what, are you an anarchist or something?”) and, when it’s your ox’s turn, becoming a strict constructionist (“this is obviously protected by the Constitution!”) without wondering if there’s any connection between all of these gored oxen.Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jaybird, nah, I’m not a whining sort. I’m a head-scratching sort. I keep wondering, what do glibertarians really find to be legitimate governmental action? From smallest entity to federal?

        Can you offer some specifics as to legitimate actions, as you see it?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Bob
          Ignored
          says:

          @Bob,

          As with liberals and conservatives, you’ll find a variety of answers. The only difference is that, for some reason, this diversity is counted — for libertarians alone — as a fatal flaw. A conclusion I’ve never been able to understand.Report

          • Avatar Bob in reply to Jason Kuznicki
            Ignored
            says:

            @Jason Kuznicki, but, but but…I’m seeking some sort of minimal definition. Is it legitimate for the library board to establish a mill levy to keep it running. Is it legitimate for states to tax liquor, groceries, services, gasoline to support whatever the state supports, schools, roads, etc. What do they see as minimal and legitimate?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Bob
              Ignored
              says:

              @Bob,

              If I were to give you my own minimal definition, I fear it wouldn’t be the same as some other libertarian’s. And then, obviously, we are both refuted.

              But in all honesty I don’t care for minimal definitions. They implicitly presume that I know the optimal way to run a society. I don’t. All I know are some general principles that I believe to be solid, and some other things I find to be obvious abuses. Do I know exactly how they pay for roads in Utopia? I’ve never been to Utopia. How should I know?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob
          Ignored
          says:

          @Bob, “Can you offer some specifics as to legitimate actions, as you see it?”

          Sure.

          Would I have the right to pull out a gun and force you to X or not X?

          If I would not, then I don’t see how you would have the right to pull out a gun and force me to X or not X.

          And then, by extension, I wouldn’t see how you’d have the right to hire someone to do the same.Report

  14. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Mike Farmer, what do I see lacking, I’ll tell you. A sense of perspective. For example, all the boohooing over kicking sugary soft drinks off city property in San Francisco. Anti choice bastards!

    But we agree on the cup. Heaven.Report

  15. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Jason Kuznicki, this is what in mind as glib –

    “Performed with a natural, offhand ease: glib conversation.

    “Showing little thought, preparation, or concern: a glib response to a complex question.

    “Marked by ease and fluency of speech or writing that often suggests or stems from insincerity, superficiality, or deceitfulness.”Report

  16. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird, don’t you just hate it when this system runs out of reply buttons? I do. Gotta schlep all the way down here. Anyway, this in in reply to your 10:47 am.

    Sorry buddy, I don’t do understand woo. Having been raised Catholic I recognize woo but that’s it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob
      Ignored
      says:

      @Bob, what’s woo about my suspicion that you’ll totally dig the government you’ll be getting in the future?

      I’m sure it’ll be less and less and less (g)libertarian with each successive administration.Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @Jaybird, is it a “suspicion” or are you “sure?”

        No matter, I took it as predictive hence woo.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Bob
          Ignored
          says:

          @Bob, dude, if what motivates you to start posting up a storm is only the most ineffectual group in politics to ever have gotten 1% of the vote in a presidential election is libertarians, I reckon that the future will be nothing but sunshine and roses for you.Report

          • Avatar Dave in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            @Jaybird,

            At least he hasn’t told you to haul your ass to Somalia.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dave
              Ignored
              says:

              @Dave, that’s the argument that makes me turn green and rip off my shirt and wake up downtown.

              “We need to be more like Denmark so we should institute the following government programs.”
              “(libertarian crap)”
              “Why don’t you move to Somalia?”
              “RARRRR”

              I mean, Jesus. Has it never occurred to these people that they could, like, just move to friggin’ Denmark? They could totally live in a country just like Denmark at that point! Plus the US could be, like, different! It’d be like all diversity and stuff!

              But no. I am stuck here looking for another pair of purple pants.Report

            • Avatar Bob in reply to Dave
              Ignored
              says:

              @Dave, hey, Dave.Report

            • Avatar Bob in reply to Dave
              Ignored
              says:

              @Dave, Yeah, I didn’t mention Somalia but you sure as hell recommend moving to Denmark. Jeez.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dave
              Ignored
              says:

              @Bob, I didn’t tell you to do anything, Bob.

              I rarely tell folks to do stuff.

              Sometimes I ask them why they don’t do stuff analogous to the stuff they are telling me to do… and then they tend to get all huffy and say stuff like “that’s completely different” and start talking about how much I must not “care” about Justice, or The Children, or Gaia, or what have you.

              And that always turns into an even *MORE* fun conversation.Report

  17. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    “I didn’t tell you to do anything, Bob.”

    Jaybird, did I say anything about you telling me to do something?

    I don’t recall doing so.Report

  18. Avatar Bob
    Ignored
    says:

    Jaybird, I plead guilty, glib. But as JK said, “Superficial? It’s a blog comment. Of course it’s superficial. That’s what we do here.”Report

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