Ignoring the Thrust

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137 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    So we, as Libertarians, have a responsibility to respond to his article more responsibly than he responded to our philosophy?

    Surely you can see how this could be seen as unpersuasive…Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Jaybird says:

      Depends on what your movement’s ultimate goal is: To feel good about oneself, or to persuade others?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

        I tend to try to start from first principles when I attempt to persuade others. We’re all enlightened folks here:

        Abortion.

        That’s a nice Libertarian topic, no?

        If we begin by asking the question “under what circumstances do we, as a society, have the responsibility to ask a woman to carry a child to term?”, do you see the fundamental disconnect between the question and our more enlightened viewpoint?

        We all know that this question has, at its foundation, assumptions that we, as enlightened people, do not share.

        We, as a society, do not have the right to force a woman to carry a child to term. It’s a non-starter.

        “But what if she’s getting an abortion because she found out that the baby is a girl?”

        We still can’t force her to carry the baby to term.

        “But what if she’s getting an abortion because she thinks that the baby might have the gay gene?”

        We still can’t force her to carry the baby to term.

        “But what if she’s getting an abortion because she’s recently been hired at a law firm and wants to go for partner and a baby will get in the way of that?”

        We still can’t force her to carry the baby to term.

        “What? Are you saying that there aren’t *ANY* reasons that we can force this woman to carry the baby to term?”

        Yes. That is what I am saying.

        Surely we, as enlightened people, all agree.

        Well, Libertarianism is similar to abortion. This is my body. You, as a society, don’t have the right to force me to do (large set of things here). I own myself. You do not own me.

        There are many things that follow from that.

        The War on Drugs, for example, becomes damn-near identical to the 18th Amendment and attempts to prevent drug use become damn-near identical to tyranny.

        The TSA. PATRIOT. Military non-intervention with other countries. Beef tallow french fries. Smoking. On and on and on.

        The fundamental question is always “do I own myself?”

        The next question I ask is “do I have the right to prevent you from doing (whatever)?”

        If I don’t and wouldn’t, then I don’t see why we ought to pay people whose job it is to throw people in jail for doing whatever.

        Would I have the right to force you to carry a child to term?
        Would I have the right to lock you in my basement for 10 years for selling plants to someone else?

        Here’s the fun part: would I have the right to keep you from spilling paint in a river? (It seems to me that I would.)

        Anyway, that’s how I’d try to persuade others.

        I’d try to avoid dealing with discussions about people I am supposed to idolize who have reached different conclusions than I have on different topics in an article that managed to get most of not only what I believe wrong but a good chunk wrong about the person I’m supposedly idolizing.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

          First principles are often unshared and just as often very weird.

          I try to argue by analogy and differentiation. The universe as a whole may not run on dialectical methods, but my mind certainly does, and it’s reasonable to assume that the minds of others do too.

          (See how that works?)Report

          • Interestingly, many of the folks that I’ve argued with don’t have articulated first principles as much as an attitude of “we’ve always done it this way” with a sprinkling of “but outcomes are better in my way than in your way.”

            Getting folks to articulate their first principles and say them out loud usually gets me a looooong way toward getting them to see my point of view (even if it means they don’t end up agreeing).Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

              ‘Struth.

              Getting people to articulate their first principles is hard, tho. For many, it’s impossible. They don’t have first principles; they have proxies.

              “My first principle is: anything the GOP does is wrong.”
              “My first principle is: anything Obama does is wrong.”Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

              Can “outcomes are better my way” or ” i think there is a ton of proof doing things this way is really good” an acceptable first principle. It seems like that isn’t considered a way to figure which way we should go in first principles discussions. Not philosophical enough i guess.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                I don’t think that those are “first principles” as much as “such and such are the most important positive goods”. So, like, let’s say that you believe that Life and Health are the most important positive goods… you can argue that we need Single Payer Healthcare.

                So when arguing for Single Payer, you argue that such is the best way to maximize Life and Health for the most people… because Life and Health are the most important positive goods.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jaybird, you should feel free to make several factual errors about Metcalf and those like him, in the course of actually responding to the substance of his article.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yes, of course Jaybird. Really, you’re going to pull the 5 year old response?

      “But my little brother didn’t clean his room so why do I have to clean mine?!”

      If you want to trash Metcalf, you have to do it on substance, not the most uncharitable reformulation of his arguments.

      Many claimed that he caricatured libertarianism. Whose version of libertarianism? The responses with the most content were from the Cato Institute, and they responded with the usual libertarian talking points. I don’t say “talking points” to delegitimize them, only to point out that they weren’t very different from what Metcalf was decrying in the article, which was about economic liberty and capitalism.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        If you want to trash Metcalf, you have to do it on substance, not the most uncharitable reformulation of his arguments.

        I am not trashing him at all.

        I do not see why it is incumbent upon me to engage with him given his treatment of me and mine.

        Many claimed that he caricatured libertarianism.

        Talk to the many, then. Tell them that the fact that they criticized his criticisms obliges them to treat the accurate criticisms scattered among his inaccurate ones with more than mere talking points.

        God knows, the legion of essays E.D. already linked to aren’t enough to meet this bar (and we’ve established that the responses deserve a much higher level of criticism than the original essay).

        I don’t understand why it’s incumbent upon me to give him the benefit of the doubt that he refuses others.Report

  2. I think this fits your Category 1:
    http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2011/06/nozick-wilt-chamberlain-and-theories-of-justice.html

    “The Chamberlain example is not a moral defense of any and all voluntary transactions and certainly not of any attempts at acquiring wealth. It is an argument for the way in which his preferred entitlement theory of justice is compatible with liberty in a way that pattern or end-state theories of justice are not. It’s an argument against a particular kind of theory of justice on the grounds that such theories will of necessity seriously violate liberty. It is nothing more and nothing less.

    In fact, Nozick even tells you what his point is: “The general point illustrated by the Wilt Chamberlain example…is that no end-state principle of distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference with people’s lives.” (163) Would it have killed the critics to actually look at the text?”Report

    • Avatar jrship in reply to Steve Horwitz says:

      Besides quoting exactly the line that this criticism alleges he didn’t read, Metcalf cites later passages suggesting Nozick came to think that his earlier conception of liberty would require continuous interference with people’s lives, insofar as we are social animals entitled to form democratic political institutions to undertake collective action. Quoting Metcalf (who quotes Nozick):

      >>How could a thinker as brilliant as Nozick stay a party to this? The answer is: He didn’t. “The libertarian position I once propounded,” Nozick wrote in an essay published in the late ’80s, “now seems to me seriously inadequate.” In Anarchy democracy was nowhere to be found; Nozick now believed that democratic institutions “express and symbolize … our equal human dignity, our autonomy and powers of self-direction.” In Anarchy, the best government was the least government, a value-neutral enforcer of contracts; now, Nozick concluded, “There are some things we choose to do together through government in solemn marking of our human solidarity, served by the fact that we do them together in this official fashion …”<<

      Perhaps the later view does not fully renounce the basic criticism of "end-state" theories but it quite liberally expands the legitimacy of processes of democratically coordinated action. To the extent that one of the things we may, in solemn marking of our human solidarity, act together to do is make society more fair, in Rawls' sense, the daylight between the libertarian and liberal is really shrinking and certainly becomes more meta-ethically significant than normatively.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to jrship says:

        Metcalf would hardly be the first writer to have quoted a passage while giving it exactly zero conscious thought.Report

        • Avatar jrship in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          The suggestion that Metcalf is a zombie strikes me as a bit unwarranted. I think, and agreed here, there’s a risk of overstating the intended significance of the Wilt argument that makes Nozick’s later views appear more starkly contrasted, when in fact the basic meta-ethical structure is unchanged. So maybe Metcalf is guilty of that, but it’s not a mistake that warrants calling him a zombie reader. The quotes he used were clearly chosen to point to a significant contrast between early and later views held by Nozick, and I’m sure Metcalf thought about them seriously and selected them quite intentionally and thoughtfully. Notwithstanding the persistence of meta-ethical difference between Nozick’s revised view and Rawls’ view there’s a really interesting question about how expansive the class of “things we choose to do together through government in solemn marking of our human solidarity” may be in determining normative implications. Metcalf may have overstated the changes in Nozick’s view and mis-understood the core point of the Wilt example. Let’s grant that. It doesn’t answer any of the significant questions raised by the contrast between early and later views that Metcalf draws by quoting Nozick directly on democracy and human solidarity. I suspect that there’s lots to said about these issues by political philosophers more steeped than myself in Nozick and Rawls. Columnists, bloggers, and thinktankers tend in general to raise philosophical points at a level of generality that often obscures the subtlety found in the philosophical journals. Some of the reaction to Metcalf has been so hyperbolic, so unwilling to grant the pinch of salt required of popular exposition, that it’s missed an opportunity to open up discussion of some interesting issues he raised.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to jrship says:

            Here’s the thing, though – it’s difficult to see what questions Metcalf is trying to raise here if you lack faith that Metcalf “thought about the [chosen passages] seriously and selected them quite intentionally and thoughtfully.” In other words, we have to accept Metcalf as someone with a solid understanding of Nozick who is trying to stir up a discussion about the basis for Nozick’s evolution of through rather than someone who is just cherry-picking quotes to create a caricature of Nozick or of libertarians. This is, to say the least, extraordinarily difficult to do given the numerous factual errors and complete misinterpretations of Nozick’s point on the Chamberlain argument. Assuming those errors were made in good faith, their existence discredits the notion that Metcalf is adequately knowledgeable about Nozick to have “thought about the [chosen passages] seriously and selected them quite intentionally and thoughtfully.” We are, in other words, left with being asked to take seriously an argument seeking to undermine libertarians based on the evolution of Nozick’s thoughts as interpreted and selected by someone who is demonstrably lacking in the level of knowledge and understanding to speak at all about that evolution with any credibility.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mark Thompson says:

              So am I the only one that comes into contact with people everyday for whom the underlying principle, or better yet, the underlying sentiment of the Chamberlain example is precisely why they are against certain government actions that interfere with economic activity.

              Maybe everyone thinks this is a moot point, which seems to be the general gist, that well, of course no one believes that what one earns is rightly his/hers and shouldn’t be taxed or any part of it withheld, but I’m pretty sure the more libertarian commenters of around here have don’t feel that way.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                No, you’re not the only one. Lots of people think most wealth-accumulation is more Chamberlain-like than not. Its a fairly typical position for everyone from Matt Yglesias right-wards, with some important exceptions. The problem is that that wasn’t the point Nozick was making, and Metcalf seems to have just completely elided that. If you want to pick a fight with Nozick over whether or not various transactions truly are blameless, there are much better places to do it. So why did he pick this one?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Simon K says:

                I don’t know. This is Jason,

                “This is simply wrong. For a libertarian, it’s only Wilt Chamberlain’s particular type of wealth that is morally blameless, not all the rest. Which kind is his? The kind acquired through voluntary transactions, without coercion or fraud. The kind that comes from Nozick called capitalist acts between consenting adults.”Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                I’m not sure quite what your point is. I agree there’s a little rhetorical sleight of hand going if you call something a “capitalist act”, show that its morally blameless, and then claim not to care how much of it exists in the real world. If you’re going to call something a capitalist act you should be prepared to stand up for its relationship to actually-existing capitalism. But this is my problem with Nozick in general – on close examination he doesn’t prove as much as it looks as if he does, and when you look even closer he doesn’t even claim to.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Simon K says:

                What Nozick is saying, ultimately, is that the real world is dynamic. Pick whatever wealth distribution you want. Enact it by force. It won’t stay that way. And it will deviate by way of things that we all have a very hard time condemning.

                The only way to prevent those deviations is to apply even more force. You can either do that — or allow the participants to actually own the property, and control, and exchange, and improve upon, and even consume it.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

                Sure, and I get it as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go very far. Even when we’re using the tax code to redistribute wealth, something that Rawls actually didn’t favor, we’re not trying to maintain a static distribution.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Simon K says:

                @Simon K – I would argue that, at the time, the argument got a lot further than it does now, though I suspect it was never intended to go overly far since its primary use was just as one logical proof along the road to a much bigger argument. But at the time, 1974, the Soviet bloc existed and in fact even looked like it might defeat the West. I also do not doubt that a Soviet-style economic system had much greater support in the academy than it does now, since the atrocities of the politburo could still be plausibly denied.

                But now? There’s not a very large constituency West of the Caucasus that would advocate for imposition of a truly static wealth distribution.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Simon K says:

                @Mark – Yes. I initially included a digression on that point in my comment, but it seemed unnecessary. Nozick’s ideological adversaries were never communists. They were (and are) high liberals like Rawls. Rawls never advocated a fixed distribution. The point about considering distributions from the original position was to consider the consequences of a set of rules. Nozick gives us a good reason to reject any set of rules that tries to maintain a fixed distribution, but the Rawlsian response to this might as well be “duh”.

                The real disagreement is between some kind of rule consequentialism, and a natural rights theory.Report

  3. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I’m sorry, but this is all very wrongheaded. Here’s what Metcalf claimed of libertarians:

    In addition to earning a wage, one can garnish a wage, collect a fee, levy a toll, cash in a dividend, take a kickback, collect a monopoly rent, hit the superfecta, inherit Tara, insider trade, or stumble on Texas tea… The Wilt Chamberlain example is designed to corner us—quite cynically, in my view—into moralizing all of them as if they were recompense for a unique talent that gives pleasure; and to tax each of them, and regulate each of them, according to the same principle of radical noninterference suggested by a black ballplayer finally getting his due.

    If you want to defend him, you need to defend that.

    The problem is that it’s a very straightforward misunderstanding of what Nozick wrote. He offered the Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment to show that no matter what distributional principles you wanted to offer, people were inevitably going to come along and upset them — often, with things that are morally blameless. Like a basketball game.

    It’s not a defense of whatever wealth people happen to have. It’s a defense of a particular method of acquiring wealth.

    How much of that method exists in the real world? Irrelevant. Totally irrelevant.

    Further, the fact that Chamberlain owes some of his ability to luck is likewise irrelevant. I’m sorry it bums you out that you’re not a star basketball player. But at no point in the Chamberlain thought experiment was any of that money yours to distribute. (Remember, you got to do that at the beginning, and presumably you shifted all the money you could toward the talentless!)

    Now it’s not your turn to redistribute anymore. It’s everyone else’s turn. And they are giving their money to someone with talent.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      i>”It’s not a defense of whatever wealth people happen to have. It’s a defense of a particular method of acquiring wealth.

      How much of that method exists in the real world? Irrelevant. Totally irrelevant.”

      Why is that part irrelevant?

      I’m sorry Jason, but through my failing or yours, I’m having trouble understanding you here.

      Correct me here if you see it differently, but I was under the impression that Metcalf was arguing that in general, the Chamberlain example is not a good example of blameless wealth accumulation, and that it this assertion, “no matter what distributional principles you wanted to offer, people were inevitably going to come along and upset them — often, with things that are morally blameless. Like a basketball game,” is untrue.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

        Why is that part irrelevant?

        That part — the question of how much wealth is acquired in the real world via Chamberlain-like methods — is irrelevant because here it forms step three of a thought experiment.

        The question of how much it happens in the real world doesn’t matter because we can even set it to zero and still do the thought experiment anyway.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          To clarify…

          Step One: Imagine what you believe to be a perfect pattern of wealth distribution. (Lots of people do this in the real world.)

          Step Two: Put it into practice. (Lots of people try this in the real world.) Perfectly. (No one ever does this in the real world, but this is a thought experiment.)

          Step Three: Enter Wilt Chamberlain. Basketball ensues. Pattern is wrecked.

          See why it doesn’t matter now?Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            “The question of how much it happens in the real world doesn’t matter because we can even set it to zero and still do the thought experiment anyway.”

            If we set it to zero, how does it remain analogic enough to the real world to have consequences that carry over?

            Also, why does Chamberlain break the pattern in every scenario? This last part is less me arguing, and more me asking to be educated on a writer whose work I’m still not that familiar with.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

              If we set it to zero, how does it remain analogic enough to the real world to have consequences that carry over?

              Are you suggesting that no voluntary exchanges ever happen? As in, ever?

              Forgive me, but I can’t imagine this.

              As to whether Chamberlain breaks the pattern in every scenario — no, probably not. Acting alone, he wouldn’t break a sufficiently loose pattern. And some patterns he would only confirm (“People over 6′ in height should be the wealthiest.”)

              But it’s easy to generalize from him to other similar exchanges, and to see that collectively they do a whole lot of pattern-breaking.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Clawback from Mark’s post:

                The Chamberlain argument is muddled. It starts from a “patterned” distribution (D1), applies the Chamberlain thought experiment, declares the resulting distribution (D2) no longer patterned but just, and concludes, remarkably, that no patterned distribution is just. Who is to say D2 can’t meet his definition of patterned? One could easily define, for example, a patterned distribution in which all inequalities resulting from purely voluntary exchanges unaffected by market power to be acceptable. Then the thought experiment doesn’t transition us from patterned to non-patterned, and the rest of Nozick’s argument falls apart. His argument only works if the transition associated with the thought experiment is necessarily inconsistent with a patterned distribution, which, if I understand his definition correctly, it is not.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                “voluntary” with all the metaphysical trappings that seems to entail? No. Does not occur.

                At least, looking at it in the most philosophically and scientifically rigorous way, no I’m not sure I would vouch for the existence of voluntary actions in the sense that most models would require in order to bestow a kind of moral impunity to them. Another way of saying that is that I don’t buy into “voluntary” enough to grant that contracts are sacred.

                I grant that in a folk psychology way, one can be acting voluntarily vs. involuntarily for instance, when coerced via force. But I also don’t see a hard and fast barrier between social pressure and political pressure that libertarians do. So for me, while the may be different in degree, physical threats being much more extreme than social ones, to the extent that they can pressure people to do various things, well, often it seem the social pressure is a much better motivator. And in those cases, I think it’s hard to call an act that is heavily motivated by social forces, “voluntary.”Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.C. Gach says:

                “voluntary” with all the metaphysical trappings that seems to entail? No. Does not occur.

                If you’re a determinist, nothing’s voluntary. Consider me unimpressed.

                Likewise with arguments that the internal drive to get the necessities of life is the moral equivalent of external compulsion.

                If it is, then we are in a ridiculous situation, because you have declared — in effect — slavery to be blameless. Just like the drive to obtain necessities.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Morally blameless? Perhaps, but we don’t have to go down that road. I thought you would pick up on the following:

                But I also don’t see a hard and fast barrier between social pressure and political pressure that libertarians do. So for me, while the may be different in degree, physical threats being much more extreme than social ones, to the extent that they can pressure people to do various things, well, often it seem the social pressure is a much better motivator. And in those cases, I think it’s hard to call an act that is heavily motivated by social forces, “voluntary.”

                Powell was drawing a distinction between political values and other values, between political life and social life, e.g. we can pressure our neighbors to be charitable, but not politically compulse them. I find that division unsatisfying, at least as it pertains to a conception of “voluntary.”Report

  4. How much of that method exists in the real world? Irrelevant. Totally irrelevant.

    Then why is it worth talking about? I always thought the point of politics was to decide how best to govern ourselves out there in the real world.

    From my vantage, the argument is still being presented that the Wilt Chamberlain example should inform public policy — because in that case the money he’s making, in theory, is not “yours” to redistribute. Which brings me back to the start: we’re either using the Wilt example to draw broader conclusions about public policy or we’re not. If all you/Nozick are advocating is a Wilt Chamberlain Exemption to taxation, however…Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      So you’d forbid the thought experiment as a method in moral philosophy?Report

      • No, I wouldn’t forbid anything because I’ve not yet fulfilled my plans for world domination, and would thus risk looking very silly.

        But I’ve never found them particularly useful, be they from the left or the right, when it comes to shaping public policy to reach my desired ends.

        EDIT: To use the parlance of our times/this thread, I suppose I should just say that I find the horror with which Nozick regards “end-state theories” to be disproportional, bordering on overly convenient.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        What would happen if we did forbid thought experiments as a method in moral philosophy?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Mike, you win the thread.Report

        • I forbid anyone to answer this.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            Forbid away…

            But I’m thinking that doing away with anaolgies would do a lot to clarify thinking. We would be forced to articulate our principles clearly and make sure our arguments flow logically. Maybe we should even number our arguments.

            Consider an analogy with mathematics…Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Murali says:

              I giggled.

              I actually *giggled* when I read that. Like a little girl.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

              I’ve had the same thought as Mr. Murali here, that we lean on analogies way too heavily. They are not proofs, they are not the thing itself: they may provide a new light or new angle for viewing an issue, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar no matter how you look at it.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Murali says:

              Doing away with analogies wouldn’t help to make things clearer.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Re analogy vs. straightforward argument, the below seems right up your alley, Chris,. I look forward to your thoughts.

                http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/proceedings/2005/docs/p304.pdfReport

              • Avatar Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, I was there. If I remember correctly, there was another poster, or maybe it was a paper, criticizing Keane’s work on analogical arguments at the same conference. It’s never been published in a journal for a reason.

                But the larger issue is that analogical arguments are so prevalent because that’s the way our minds work. If you stray from them, pretty quickly you’ll end up making convoluted arguments that eliminate any advantage non-analogical arguments might ordinarily have.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Chris says:

                It was an open question, Chris, since this is Main St. for you and I’d rather stay engaged while not re-litigating old unpleasantnesses.

                I’ll admit to only skimming the paper and I admit taking an “Executive Summary” approach.

                What I got was that straightforward argument is more effective, but if the analogy is carried deeper—with more bullet points of similarity, presumably making the case for the legitimacy of the analogy—it begins to become more effective in the mind of the audience.

                [I also took a look at the initial study; the linked one was an “answer to their critics.”]

                Past the science of what is effective rhetoric, I got that people spend more time evaluating the aptness of the analogy than thinking about the issue itself. This I’m not interested in, in fora like these or in my life of the mind in general.

                Genuine and sincere moral philosophizing may start with analogy, but it must not end there. Abortion isn’t murder, it’s abortion, sui generis.

                In fact, what I draw from the study is that once the listener rejects the obvious inaptness of the analogy/metaphor, he is less likely to consider the actual question itself. Analogy is a tool, but it can just as often be an obstacle, depending on the skill of the sophist. In this case, since abortion isn’t exactly murder and certainly isn’t the systemic extermination of Jews that was the Holocaust, to use inapt analogy is to undermine one’s own argument.

                I don’t question that the human mind works via analogy, to associate a new piece of information with one that the mind already accepts as true.

                Philosophizing is the active [strenuous!] resistance to that, to putting each piece of new mail in its already-constructed destination box. And so, back to my original comment, that we we lean on analogies way too heavily. They are not proofs, they are not the thing itself. The metaphor is not the reality, the painting is not the thing itself, no matter how well crafted.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to tom van dyke says:

                Tom, to see the science of analogy use in the real world, I recommend this paper:

                http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~dunbarlab/pubpdfs/dunbarTICS.pdf

                It’s not politics, I know, but you’ll see how analogy flows naturally, and how it aids in expression and comprehension.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        The thought experiment is problematic in at least one sense in that it is an intuition pump. While popular lately due to their ease in conveying a point across and getting people to feel the force of the argument more, they are problematic precisely because they are carefully tailored and detractors can always say that the situation defers from real life sufficiently that the intuition does not apply. A surer way to justify a conclusion is to arrive at it through pure deduction.Report

  5. Avatar Murali says:

    that it’s a very straightforward misunderstanding of what Nozick wrote. He offered the Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment to show that no matter what distributional principles you wanted to offer, people were inevitably going to come along and upset them — often, with things that are morally blameless. Like a basketball game.

    Given my libertarian cred, in defence of philosophical rigour, the argument only works against instantaneous distributions. i.e. the distribution of wealth at time t. After some transactions, at t + 1, that will be upset and will require massive interference to correct.

    But, if, as Rawls did, you conceived of the distribution over a lifetime, it is immune to the criticism. When you look at the way Rawls talked about primary goods, he was talking about how many of said goods a person could enjoy taking into account all the transactions he made. i.e. if you take distribution as encompassing the whole lifespan instead of just an instant in time, then none of the transactions made changes said distribution as those transactions are already factored in. Of course, if you change the basic structure (the ground rules of the game as you will) different transactions take place and different distributions result. How do we choose between the different basic structures? We choose the one which first of all provides an adequate scheme of liberties that can be similarly held by all, there is a fair equality of opportunity for positions that confer wealth and power and that differences are arranged to the benefit of the least advantaged. What Rawls failed to realise is that a libertarian basic structure best realises these principles. All we can fault Rawls for is a lack of empirical understanding.

    The problem with Nozick is that there are many places where he mis-understands Rawls and therefore fails to see the deep libertarian potential in Rawls’s theory. This in the end has been to the detriment of libertarianism as a whole as libertarians have for a long time followed his lead and conceded Rawls to the social democrats.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

      The problem with Nozick is that there are many places where he mis-understands Rawls and therefore fails to see the deep libertarian potential in Rawls’s theory. This in the end has been to the detriment of libertarianism as a whole as libertarians have for a long time followed his lead and conceded Rawls to the social democrats.

      I would actually agree with this, particularly given Loren Lomasky’s “Libertarianism at Twin Harvard.”

      But at the same time, Nozick really does deal a fatal blow to pattern principles of justice, and saying the pattern applies “over the course of a lifetime” doesn’t get us off the hook. Certain people will always want to transfer their money to other people, and this will always upset patterns. Moreover, the very idea of transfer itself is implied in the idea of possession. If you can’t transfer something, in a very real sense you don’t own it at all — and we’re thrown back on a totalizing collective ownership.Report

  6. Avatar Simon K says:

    The first is that we don’t live in a world where these kinds of presumably “pure” interactions can take place. That is, we don’t have perfect information, we don’t have frictionless markets, etc. If we did have those things, perhaps we might be able to glimpse the pure and blameless kinds of wealth accumulation Kuznicki suggests. Second, where Kuznicki would make it look easy, figuring out whether “consent” exists, or “coercion” occurred is far from easy. And it is exactly in these phenomena that all the arrangements of capitalism arise.

    Regardless of the merits of Metcalf’s piece, I think this is an interesting point that should be dealt with on its own, since its a common source of disagreement between libertarians and liberals and contains a possible confusion between a utilitarian argument often made by economists and the natural rights argument Nozick is making.

    From Nozick’s point of view, which I think most libertarians share although I don’t, consent and coercion are simple. Providing nothing you owned was stolen or used where you would have prevented it, and providing you weren’t threatened with bodily harm, you consented. If those things did happen, you were coerced. If they happened to you only because you did them to someone else first, you effectively consented because you were the first to violate someone’s rights. Whether you had the right information, or a real choice in the matter are considered irrelevant. There’s an exception made for fraud where one party deliberately misleads the other, but that’s it. Frictionless markets and perfect information are not required.

    Where they are required is for the utilitarian argument that free markets optimize welfare in a technical sense. Perfect competition, where individual producers and consumers have no sway over prices, requires perfect information and zero transaction costs. If you have perfect competition – which is of course impossible – you can prove that everyone’s welfare is optimized. It looks like you’re possibly assuming that Nozick is alluding to this argument in the Wilt Chamberlain example, but he isn’t, and generally liberals often seem to assume that this welfare argument is why libertarians favor free markets. It isn’t – most libertarians favor free markets because they think they’re just, not because they’re efficient. Although the fact they’re both efficient and just (at least given certain unrealistic assumptions) certainly is interesting and suggests a deeper connection. The actual purpose of the Wilt Chamberlain example is to show the supposed incompatibility of free markets and any fixed pattern of distributional justice a la Rawls.

    I think most liberals – including myself for these purposes – have an intuitive sense that market transactions where there’s imperfect information or large transaction costs aren’t completely morally unobjectionable, and therefore Nozick’s deontological argument misses something important. And of course its quite common for not-so-thoughtful libertarians and conservatives to hide behind this argument when trying to justify the continuation of unearned privelege. But its unfair for Metcalf to argue with the worst uses of libertarian ideas as if he were arguing with Nozick himself. If you want to prove someone wrong you normally want to argue with the most charitable, reasonable, version of what they said, right?

    As well as not capturing the fairly important moral intuition about transaction costs and information, I personally also think that Nozick’s argument falls down in accepting without question all voluntary transactions regardless of the cost of enforcement. If I devise a private contract with unrealistically high enforcement costs – for example, I demand that you never allow your hair to grow longer than 1 inch for the rest of your life – intuitively we don’t think you have a any right to have the state enforce it for you by following me around and checking my hair length. But Nozick effectively says that you do, because my allowing my hair to grow over that length would be “coercion” in the technical sense since I’d have defrauded you when I signed the original contract. This isn’t just a technicality. If you allow arbitrary voluntary contracts and the state has a duty to enforce them, you can’t get away from racial covenants and segregated private lunch counters.Report

  7. Avatar Murali says:

    Certain people will always want to transfer their money to other people, and this will always upset patterns.

    I think you are looking at it the wrong way.

    Given one kind of basic structure (Basic Structure A), people freely (or not) make various kinds of transactions. When we look at how well off these people are we dont look at them and say the have so much at T1 and so much more or less at T2. Rather we see how much they earn what they do with it all the way from birth to death. So that even if a person started out very poor, if he has had lots of opportunities and made himself rich by the time he died of old age that would be okay. And it would be okay even though at the time he died, there was someone else also very poor, but still had lots of opportunities to engage in enrichening transactions. Of course there may be some who had fewer opportunities or who made poorer choices and their lives turn out worse.

    Compare to basic structure B. Under B, there are different rules and different incentives. People make different decisions and there are different opportunities and different transactions. And if we evaluate people’s lives through all the transactions (voluntary and otherwise) then it happens that even the worst off person/ group in B are better off than the worst off in A. There are good reasons for this: better incentives, property rights, opportunities etc etc.

    Rawls’s claim is simply this: given that both systems are equally free with respect to civil rights, Basic structure B is more just than A.

    The fundamental thing that I think you are missing out is that the ground rules matter. The distribution such as it is is entirely a matter of what transactions are made and which aren’t. And that in turn depends on the basic structure.

    The competition isn’t between entitlement theories and patterned theories, but between different entitlement rules. Ultimately the only thing that can justify these different entitlement rules is the kind of pattern these entitlement rules produce.

    As a libertarian, I am making the substantive and (largely empirical) claim that having a libertarian basic structure best satisfies Rawls’s principles of justice (even and especially the difference principle)

    Moreover, the very idea of transfer itself is implied in the idea of possession. If you can’t transfer something, in a very real sense you don’t own it at all

    No one is saying you can’t transfer anything. All I’m saying is that when you look at the pattern you have to account for all the transactions that a person has participated in throughout their lifetime. So people will make voluntary transactions, and that contributes to the ultimate pattern that emerges. I can’t transact when I am dead. That’s when you stop counting (at least for me)

    and we’re thrown back on a totalizing collective ownership.

    I think I very specifically mentioned the opposite. David Schmidtz’s defence of private property is highly relevant here.

    But hell, why am I trying to justify private property to you?

    I would actually agree with this, particularly given Loren Lomasky’s “Libertarianism at Twin Harvard.”

    That’s paper basically inspired my current postgrad work I’m doing.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

      Shoot this was supposed to be in reply to Jason…Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

      I don’t dispute that the ground rules matter. (How could I, and continue to participate in this discussion?)

      What I dispute is somewhere in here, I think:

      The competition isn’t between entitlement theories and patterned theories, but between different entitlement rules. Ultimately the only thing that can justify these different entitlement rules is the kind of pattern these entitlement rules produce.

      I find this obviously false in the world of public policy and even more obviously false in Nozick’s arguments.

      In the policy world, left-liberals don’t typically look at economic inequality and say “we need to change the ground rules.” Changing the ground rules would entail things like easing intellectual property rights, licensure requirements, eminent domain, tax breaks for big corporations, zoning laws, and small business regulation. And of course the War on Drugs (or at least its more regressive aspects). Left-liberals aren’t interested in this project.

      Instead, left-liberals typically use the tax code to get at problems of inequality. The answer isn’t to fix the ground rules at all. It’s to restore the pattern. Which of course promptly breaks again. The ground rules guarantee it.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        And of course the War on Drugs (or at least its more regressive aspects). Left-liberals aren’t interested in this project.

        Which is why I’m a libertarian.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Instead, left-liberals typically use the tax code to get at problems of inequality. The answer isn’t to fix the ground rules at all. It’s to restore the pattern. Which of course promptly breaks again. The ground rules guarantee it.

        I also never said that they were correct in doing so.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

          So then there is, after all, a “competition between entitlement theories and patterned theories.” Both in the policy world and (much more obviously) in AS&U.Report

          • Jason, this definition of what “left-liberals” believe seems, to me, to have been written circa 1977.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            So then there is, after all, a “competition between entitlement theories and patterned theories.” Both in the policy world and (much more obviously) in AS&U.

            In the policy world, sure. There are vulgar liberals everywhere.

            In ASU, the major (and only) representative of so called patterned theories is Rawls. It is Rawls who explicitly calls for welfare to be judged over the lifetime and not at a particular instance. Everything I wrote above except that bit about empirically what satisfies the 2 principles is pure Rawls.

            i.e. In the place where Nozick is supposed to show opposition to his entitlemenet theory and level a major criticism at patterned theories, Nozick uses what is essentially a straw man of Rawls’s beliefs. And also, the Wilt Chamberlain example is not capable of addressing Rawls’s actual beliefs about patterns etc.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

              The Chamberlain example is quite apt for critiquing Rawls.

              Acting on Rawls’ difference principle, we might find ourselves compelled to forbid the basketball game, or to redistribute the resulting income — which, in the long term, would do away with such games by disincentivizing them.

              But, you say, the ordinary folks in the stands thought themselves better off after they bought the tickets? (And they wouldn’t have bought if they didn’t?)

              Then we are back at the individual as the proper judge of utility, and not public reason a la Rawls.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Unless, of course, Wilt Chamberlain can enter because of the pattern itself. Which, you know, is sort of the case.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Acting on Rawls’ difference principle, we might find ourselves compelled to forbid the basketball game, or to redistribute the resulting income

                While there is logical space for such a situation, this is not a problem for a number of reasons

                1. The principle of liberty can be very straightforrwardly interpreted to argue against any basic structure which permits a government to forbid spectators from paying to watch basketball.

                2. High taxes are counterproductive. As you yourself said, such high taxes will disincentivise economic activity. This reduces government revenue and exacerbates poverty by reducing the avenues through which the poor can escape poverty.

                Then we are back at the individual as the proper judge of utility, and not public reason a la Rawls.

                Unless you meant primary goods, I’m not sure how public reasons figure into this debate at all?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

                1. The principle of liberty can be very straightforrwardly interpreted to argue against any basic structure which permits a government to forbid spectators from paying to watch basketball.

                Undoubtedly. As you might imagine, I think Rawls’ first principle almost always overcomes his second. But if we allow the game to go forward, while (through taxes) frustrating the spectators’ intent that Chamberlain receive the money, have we not similarly interfered with their liberty as well as his?

                Unless you meant primary goods, I’m not sure how public reasons figure into this debate at all?

                I mean that Rawls intends that all that we claim would transpire behind the veil of ignorance is really a part of public, political reasoning about the first principles of a society. If we say “As a fundamental matter of justice, I am not qualified to judge this,” then we have backed away from Rawls’ entire mode of argument.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                But if we allow the game to go forward, while (through taxes) frustrating the spectators’ intent that Chamberlain receive the money, have we not similarly interfered with their liberty as well as his?

                Doesn’t this beg the question, though, Jason? The spectator’s intent to give Chamberlain money is formed under whatever the prevailing set of rules actually is. Providing the rules are consistent and predictable, why suppose what they intended is other than what actually happened?

                It seems like this version of the argument is much weaker than the one where we only get to set the distribution at the start, because for it to work we have to assume the spectators are constantly mistaken about what happens to their money. We have to assume that they believe they’re operating under Nozick’s preferred set of rules where in fact they are not. But why would they assume that?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                But if we allow the game to go forward, while (through taxes) frustrating the spectators’ intent that Chamberlain receive the money

                Why are we even assuming that Chamberlain will be taxed so highly that most of waht he earned from playing is gone? (back to the spectators and more likely the goevernment)

                Am I missing something? Because I seem to be repeatedly making the argument that high taxes, in fact, make the worst off poorer and am repeatedly ignored.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                If we say “As a fundamental matter of justice, I am not qualified to judge this,”

                It would be disingenuous as even Nozick presupposes that his entitlement rules are just. (he doesnt successfully argue for it but that is a separate issue)

                Being in principle agnostic (i.e. above my paygrade) on the justice of all entitlement rules for property means that you lose standing to justify or criticise said rules.

                then we have backed away from Rawls’ entire mode of argument.

                Backing away from arguments from the original position of course means that you have abandoned Rawls’s theory. It doesnt mean that you have abandoned public reason as well. Public reason refers to arguing from reasons which are in principle justifiable to everyone (even if everyone does not in fact accept those reasons). This is to be contrasted with non-public reasons like deep philosophical theories or religious arguments etc.

                So, if you were to argue from a narrow view of what the good life consists in we have abondoned public reason. But if we were to say “whatever the good life consists in we have certain all purpose means to reasonably achieving the good life like liberty and wealth etc” Then we are making statements that are broader and can in principle appeal to you even if you may nit-pick over the details. Backing away from Justice as Fairness does not amount to rejecting public reason as Justice as fairness is only a part of public reasonReport

  8. Oh, I’d love a definition that fits 2011. Hey, make it 2012, to stay ahead of the curve. 😉Report

    • Actually, I would, too.

      More than half the people I know who identify themselves as liberal claim to be against the War on Drugs, for example.

      Of course, about a third of *them* support three strikes.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Those people are kind of dumb.

        But, I honestly think in the next decade or so we’re going to hit a breaking point when it comes to the current War on Drugs and other things when it comes to jailing people. You have to remember that most of the people in power now came up in the political system when being ‘tough on crime’ was just how it was, right or left, Republican or Democrat.

        However, we’ve had falling violent crime rates for pretty much the last twenty years. It’s obvious that something has changed and short of large-scale Depression, we’re never going to hit violent crime levels like that again anytime soon. When the crime spree’s of the 80’s are before the memories of many voters, that’s when you’ll get significant change.Report

    • I basically agree with Matt Yglesias on most issues — except where he disagrees with DeBoer (on issues of labor) where I generally tend to find Freddie more persuasive.

      I guess you could say I’m not a left-liberal (but I’m not sure you’re allowed to purge people from a group unless you’re in fact a member).Report

      • You’re not left-liberal why, Elias? I’m not following this.Report

        • I mean since my chosen policy prescriptions are not to revamp the Great Society, as Jason seems to imagine is the left-liberal way, that I suppose you could respond that I’m not “really” a left-liberal.Report

          • I guess it’s a private joke, Elias. I took you as an unapologetic gentleperson of the liberal-left with no dodges or disguises, which I found refreshing in that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” sort of way. If you could have single-payer and cap-and-trade and troop withdrawals and more Keynesian spending and gay marriage and legalized drugs and no capital punishment and public union empowerment and green jobs and windmills and open borders and making the rich pay their fair share and corporations suck and if I missed anything I’m sorry, you would.

            Which, you know, doesn’t make you a bad person. I like knowing where a gentleperson is coming from.Report

  9. “Libertarians will blanch at lumping their revered Vons—Mises and Hayek—in with the nutters and the shills. But between them, Von Hayek and Von Mises never seem to have held a single academic appointment that didn’t involve a corporate sponsor.”

    So I’ve noticed something about liberal critiques of libertarianism, and I’m wondering if there is anything to it: they always seem to include “Von” as part of the surname, yet libertarians (and those thinkers’s contemporaries) seldom do.Report

    • This may be me being overly uncharitable, but I would certainly not be surprised to learn that the answer to this is closely related to the answer to the question “why do conservatives always seem to say ‘Barack HUSSEIN Obama” rather than just ‘Barack Obama.” Emphasizing the German-ness(or even just the Austrian-ness) of ideological opponents who were active during the 1930s has a tendency to conjure up certain images.Report

    • Avatar Simon K in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      True for Hayek – he never used the “von” himself and no-one with anything nice to say about him ever seems to either. Von Mises did call himself von Mises, though, as in his “Ludwig von Mises Institute” that contaminates every economics related google search.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Simon K says:

        I sometimes use the von for Mises, particularly in writing his full name, but I never use it for Hayek.

        In this I follow the established publishing conventions. I don’t believe I’ve seen a single Hayek book in print with the “von” added in. He was always either Friedrich A. Hayek or F. A. Hayek, in everything he ever did.

        The opposite holds for Mises, whose books always carry it. Mises was proud of his title in part because his family was one of the rare ennobled Jewish families in the old Austrian empire. Aside from being proud of that distinction, I suspect he was also proud of the cosmopolitanism this implied.Report

  10. “I’m not holding that the above is completely true or that the counter arguments are lack merit, only that the foundation of traditional libertarianism relies heavily on antiquated notions like the “rational individual,” and makes the large claim that extending liberty is not only a moral imperative: it is a means toward achieving greater prosperity and more just outcomes.”

    I don’t think this is true. Or at least I don’t think it’s true in the way I think you are using it. When we use the term “rational individual” we often think of some universally sterile character (perhaps Dr. House or the guys that write rational wiki) but really what we’re talking about is subjective rationality, or the idea that I know what’s best for me, which I obviously think is true. Combine this with the non-aggression axiom and I’d say you have the corner pieces to the libertarian puzzle.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Christopher Carr says:

      “I know what’s best for me.”

      Again, I think this is a loaded phrase that libertarians take to lightly. It really has a lot packed inside it.

      Do kids know what’s best for themselves? Or mentally ill people? Or really old and senile people?

      Is it rational for me to want what’s not “best” for me, or what’s more, to want something that’s “bad” for me?Report

  11. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    This is another point where libertarianism is faced with a tough challenge (at least as I see it).

    At the local level, say my township of 20,000 were all that existed, and we were to be self governed. Would I be a boob for trusting my neighbor to represent our neighborhood, and to call him out when he fails?Report

  12. “Nozick can only assign liberty the overriding value he does, argues Metcalf, by assuming that absent government interference, recompense naturally lines up with talent and hard work, and so to interfere would always be unjust.”

    No, not really. Primacy of liberty is a good heuristic because government failures tend to be more severe than market failures. I freely concede that a omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent dictator could design a system of interventions that would improve on a minimalist libertarian state. The government we actually get is none of these things.

    Interventionists see the motes in libertarians’ eyes and call for more government, ignoring the beams in their own eyes.Report

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