The Broad and the Narrow, or How to Beat a Dead Horse

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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49 Responses

  1. Avatar Pat Cahalan
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    says:

    > Instead, in effect, he is simply arguing here that a system
    > of redistribution in the name of justice must be able to
    > point to specific unjust transactions it is rectifying if the
    > system is to avoid causing injustice itself.

    At the very least, some sort of endgame or at least a battle plan ought to be necessary.

    “If we reach state A, we’re done. If we veer into state B, we’re going the wrong way and we need to stop. If we get to state C, which seems to be progressing both towards A and B, we need to stop and think about what’s going on.”Report

  2. Avatar tom van dyke
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    says:

    A defense of Metcalf [below]; LOOG gets a link.

    “Reactions thus far from the Blogosphere: The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait approves; Brad Delong quibbles about Keynes; The Cato Institute takes note– no real response to the central argument here; Reason‘s Matt Welch is personally offended, and goes Anne Feminam (not an example of reasoning, I’m afraid); there’s The League of Ordinary Gentleman; and classic Leiter: “overstates the importance of Nozick (certainly relative to Hayek, who is dismissed with some silly ad hominems), presumably because the author then wants to tear it down. Some bits of the essay are interesting enough.”

    Update: The Economist corrects Metcalf on Mises and Hayek. Mahablog sees Metcalf’s central argument as “spot on”:

    “The “liberty” promoted by libertarians is a scam. It’s a utopian fantasy that assumes individuals acting in rational self-interest will create an economically just society in which people are rewarded according to what they contribute, and a free market naturally will generate and distribute what goods and services people need.”

    via

    http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2011/06/21/stephen-metcalf-on-the-liberty-scam/Report

  3. Avatar Pat Cahalan
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    says:

    I will say this: I don’t know any libertarian who has ever tried to sell me on utopian anything.

    That’s the libs and the cons.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to Pat Cahalan
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      says:

      True, but the general knock on libertarians by their critics isn’t that they are ok with crushing the innocent trying to create the perfect world, it’s that they are ok with the innocent being crushed because the world isn’t perfect.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to RTod
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        says:

        Yeah, that’s the general knock.

        Most practicing libertarians that I’ve met aren’t okay with the innocent being crushed because the world isn’t perfect, either.Report

        • Avatar beejeez in reply to Pat Cahalan
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          says:

          Au contraire. If they’re practicing libertarians, as opposed to dreamy or fantasy libertarians, then they are indeed OK with the innocent being crushed because the world isn’t perfect.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to beejeez
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            says:

            You don’t know many libertarians, then. Libertarians are libertarians largely because they think that libertarianism would result in fewer innocents being crushed than the alternatives. They believe that attempts to create utopias in which no innocents are crushed are destined to end in dystopias in which more innocents (and, for that matter, innocence) are crushed.

            They may be wrong about this, and I’ve no doubt that liberals and conservatives believe of libertarianism precisely what libertarians believe of liberalism and conservatism (ie, that they will result in more innocents being crushed), but the fact is that just about all of them believe in good faith that their philosophies will minimize the number of innocents who are crushed (there may, concededly, be varying definitions of “innocents” but that’s not exactly an objective term).Report

            • Avatar RTod in reply to Mark Thompson
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              says:

              Perhaps for critics, then, the difference is this:

              They believe that libs/cons feel that the innocent are crushed because there is a flaw in the system that needs correcting; they believe libertarians feel that those crushed deserve it for being lazy/unworthy.

              I know these beliefs are not true; but based on much of the rhetoric I hear from those in the main stream spotlight that trumpet the word “libertarian” I also recognize that it is an easy conclusion for them to draw.Report

  4. Avatar mac
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    says:

    Do men have rights after they die? If so, why? If not, is a 100% estate tax an infringement on “rights”?

    The classic Keynesian chestnut still rings true: “In the long run, we are all dead.” This aphorism is a specialization of natural law: in all species except humans, inheritance is a combination of genetic inheritance and immediate social standing. Only humans get to stack the deck after their death with material inheritance.

    So, a perfect Nozickian Utopia would be a 0% income tax and a near-100% inheritance tax. Andrew Carnegie was right!Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    Gee whiz, is it possible I may end up actually having to make myself read this thing?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Sorry to add to the rehash on all of this Mark.

      “But instead, by virtue of the fallacy described above, we’re left debating whether the Chamberlain argument proves or disproves the inherent justice of inequality and modern capitalism, which is an argument that can only lead to both sides ultimately resorting to their usual talking points.”

      My own feeling is that, the basic political point being made is that, a bunch of people think that most wealth is acquired in a morally blameless way. We don’t cite Chamberlain today, but usually Bill Gates. Bill Gates earned his billions…how could you take that away from him (say with a 90% marginal tax rate)!?

      That is the crux, and whether Metcalf rightfully or wrongfully claims that we owe that libertarian undercurrent to something Nozick wrote or said, that is a popular sentiment in American political discourse.

      So whether or not Metcalf is correctly engaging Nozick, the Chamberlain example has morphed from whatever Nozick meant it to be into a common political shorthand for attacking taxes, labor laws, regulation, etc.Report

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

        Sorry, meant that to be on the main thread.Report

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

        This doesn’t really make sense to me. If we’re discussing the Metcalf piece, then we have to discuss the arguments actually presented in the Metcalf piece, which was primarily about Nozick and his role in the libertarian movement. Most libertarians who have responded to the arguments presented have to my knowledge explicitly stated that they do not now, nor have ever, held as a central tenet that most wealth is acquired in a morally blameless way. Certainly, Jason K. has tried to emphasize this. For the most part, we’re agnostic about the question – what is important is whether at least some wealth is acquired in a morally blameless way.

        There is, to be sure, a strong undercurrent of belief that such wealth that is acquired in a morally blameless way has a tendency to provide unique and massive social benefits. IOW, the point of the Bill Gates example, to the extent it is used as a derivative of the Chamberlain example, simply exists to in effect ask the question “what amount of redistribution of unjustly acquired wealth would be sufficient to overcome the harm caused by the loss of entrepreneurs like Bill Gates?”

        Metcalf is hardly the first to suggest that a core tenet of libertarianism is the belief that wealth is inherently, or even primarily, justly acquired. Libertarians are largely tired of saying that they believe no such thing or, at the very least, that such a belief is irrelevant to their philosophy (conservatives may take a different view, though it’s also worth mentioning that even in Atlas Shrugged most of the villains are just as wealthy as the protagonists).

        By pointing at Nozick, then, Metcalf’s argument serves (I don’t know if it is intended as such) as a way of essentially saying that whatever libertarians may claim to believe, the alleged flaws in Nozick’s arguments demonstrate otherwise, especially given Nozick’s purportedly foundational influence on libertarian thought.Report

        • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          I understand your larger point and even find it agreeable.

          But this:

          Libertarians are largely tired of saying that they believe no such thing or, at the very least, that such a belief is irrelevant to their philosophy

          implies that it’s everyone else who just doesn’t get it.Report

          • Avatar RTod in reply to Elias Isquith
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            says:

            Here’s a thought to tie into Elias’s:

            Perhaps, if libertarianism is to really become a mainstream or even majority political philosophy, those that consider themselves it’s stewards needs to refocus their sights. In addition to spending so much time and energy on those they see as their ideological opponents, maybe they should focus more time on those that are in the spotlight declaring themselves to be libertarians who are no such thing.

            While I understand everyone’s frustration with those outside the fence attributing dumb and mean-spirited ideas to libertarianism, I think it would be wise to recognize that those inside the fence are mostly out of sight. I know enough libertarians to have a good sense of what they stand for, and appreciate the quality of their moral compassion. But Im not sure most people do.

            In any given day – on the radio or on cable TV – I will hear maybe 4 or 5 guys declare that this country needs to be libertarian like they are; and then bash the poor, and say that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed basic rights, and that medical marijuana should be made illegal because they’re just a bunch of hippies that should be thrown in jail, and act as champions for corporatist policies, etc.

            Sooner or later, it seems, libertarianism needs to decide if it is better to get the publicity (and followers) these more visible players give them, of if they want to take the word “libertarianism” back in the main stream arena. Until they do that, though, it seems folly to have more visible and famous pundits and pols tell the world libertarianism is something that it isn’t, and then get upset when others think this is the case.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to RTod
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              says:

              1. See below.
              2. Remember what happened when someone on this site suggested that Muslims needed to do a better job of educating the public about what they actually believe and of distancing themselves from terrorism? Good times.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Mark Thompson
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                says:

                1. There is a difference between a popular AM radio windbag saying “those OTHER people are awful, because X” – where X is a lie – and that same blowhard saying “I am a libertarian, and you should be too, because we believe in X” – where X is a lie. In my own business, I can easily deal with the competition tells a whopper about my team that is supposed to make us look bad. Clients and prospects assume that lie is not true. Far more damaging to our success, however, is when someone from my own team goes out to a client or prospect and tells a whopper that really does makes us look bad. THey assume that lie IS true.

                2. I remember – with the same nauseous feeling you seem to – and am not sure what your point is…? That that was a good example of why *not* to inform people in the mainstream of what libertarianism is or isn’t? (Not challenging, just not following.)Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to RTod
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                says:

                There is a difference between a popular AM radio windbag saying “those OTHER people are awful, because X” – where X is a lie – and that same blowhard saying “I am a libertarian, and you should be too, because we believe in X” – where X is a lie.

                It is not infrequent that Al Sharpton (or some other self-professed lefty who is far from representative of liberalism) shows up to then be Exhibit A of how no, really, this is exactly what liberals believe.

                2. I remember – with the same nauseous feeling you seem to – and am not sure what your point is…? That that was a good example of why *not* to inform people in the mainstream of what libertarianism is or isn’t? (Not challenging, just not following.)

                The point was more that libertarianism as it exists in the mainstream and the mainstream of libertarianism are two very different things. People in the mainstream of libertarianism would love nothing more than to have a voice in the mainstream writ large; they advocate constantly for their beliefs to such audiences as they can find. But the mainstream writ large does not look to the libertarian mainstream to find the face of libertarianism.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Mark Thompson
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                “It is not infrequent that Al Sharpton (or some other self-professed lefty who is far from representative of liberalism) shows up to then be Exhibit A of how no, really, this is exactly what liberals believe.”

                True enough. But I think most people in the center, be they right or left center, recognize that Sharpton is a guy on a small island. When I look at how most center people view libertarianism, and who they identify libertarianism with, it seems to be the Ayn Rands and the AM radio dweebs. And I think this is a long-term problem for growth of influence.

                Regarding the rest of your comment, I agree 100%. And in fact I think that this is the point I’ve been trying to make all along. Where we may differ, I think, is that I think if the libertarian mainstream that I see here (not just LOOG, let’s include all the folks Erik linked to in his post for example) spent less time going bonkers the Metcalfs and more time challenging the Limbaughs or Rands when they tell mainstream writ large what you’re all about, you’d be better off in the long run.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to RTod
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              says:

              One of the problems with Libertarianism is that we don’t have Popes. Bill Maher calls himself a Libertarian and I don’t know that I have the authority to say he isn’t one. Who’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from Maher?

              I don’t know that I’d have the authority to say that he isn’t one either.

              I don’t know where one would get such an authority.Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                I don’t think you need a pope, or authority. You just need a voice directed outside the fence. A personal example:

                In my radio market, we have a local guy that is starting to go national named Lars Larson. He is the poster boy for the vocal, libertarian-declaring guy I spoke of above – the one that wants harsher drug enforcement, believes the constitution to be changed to make it a Christian First nation, thinks that the government should be allowed to tap/search whatever the hell they want (so long as that government is not run be a Kenyan interloper), and is on a mission to ensure that bikes (?) should be made illegal. He gets calls from liberals all day long telling him that shouldn’t be the government’s business if they smoke marijuana. Never heard a self-described libertarian make a similar call. In fact, the guys who run the State Libertarian Party (which, you have to admit, is very libertarian in name if not policy) come on his show all the time to congratulate him on his liber-t bona-fides. I bet there are a lot of people that listen to him, and say: Hey! I hate pot-smoking hippies and Muslims, I must be a libertarian! – and then go tell others in the community that that’s what libertarianism is all about.

                I’m just suggesting that if you want a bigger ground swell of support, you need to have a better message of who you are to the mainstream. Otherwise the only people that are going to know that someone like Metcalf doesn’t know what he’s talking about are the 5,000 people that have read and remember Anarchy, State & Utopia.Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Elias Isquith
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            says:

            It’s not meant to, or at least to the extent it is, it’s not meant to portray libertarians as unique victims. Put it this way: I think it’s safe to say that most liberals are tired of having to explain that, no, they really don’t believe [insert ridiculous thing Rush Limbaugh says liberals believe here]. When these denials aren’t enough for Limbaugh and his ilk, what’s the next thing that usually happens? Limbaugh et al find some piece of literature that they purport to be uniquely influential upon liberals, take a quote or two from that literature, and then say “SEE? Liberals really do believe this, even if they deny it.”

            Sometimes of course, the literature really is indefensible but it’s also extraordinarily obscure. Other times, the literature is influential, but the passage is being used in a way that misunderstands the actual argument.

            Think about how you, as a liberal, feel about that whole process. That’s exactly how libertarians feel when this line of argument comes up.Report

            • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Mark Thompson
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              says:

              I understand and think up to a point you’re on solid ground. But I think there’s a 1:1 ratio being slightly implied here that doesn’t exist.

              What I mean is that, to go back to your Al Sharpton example, there are many liberal figures out there — Ezra Klein, Lawrence O’Donnell, Markos, etc. — that have enough of a profile that they’re taken at least somewhat seriously when they disown Sharpton or push back against his silliness. This doesn’t mute Sharpton, but I notice that he gets most of his work now from Fox, and is more or less an irrelevant pariah among the moderate/mainstream left.

              I think it would behoove the moderate/mainstream libertarian community to consider treating John Stossel or Rand “radical speech = deportation” Paul in a similar manner. I don’t at all mean to say that you, as a self-identified libertarian, have some kind of “duty” to do such a thing; rather, I just wish more well-known institutions of libertarianism (like Reason or Cato) would put aside the political expediency of backing these guys with whom they agree sometimes and just once and a while say: Hey, insofar as we can say what is and isn’t us, that’s not us.

              I don’t think this is important in the grand scheme, mind you; it’s just where I think a lot of the supposed confusion vis-à-vis libertarianism comes from.Report

  6. Avatar clawback
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    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 Mark Thompson in reply to clawback
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      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.

      This is incorrect. It concludes that no patterned distribution, except on very small scales, can completely maintain its pattern without interfering mightily with individual decisionmaking in a way that advocates of patterned distribution would likely find unconscionable. The point is simply that, absent continuous interference in personal decisionmaking, D2 will fail to be identical to D1.

      Again, Nozick is explicit about this conclusion when he writes “no end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice can be continuously realized without continuous interference in people’s lives.” Also, keep in mind that this conclusion is reached not only based on the Chamberlain thought experiment, but also on a much less-known thought experiment to demonstrate how even under an idealized socialist regime, private entrepreneurship can exist that will ensure D2 differs from D1.

      There is a nuance here that is very important: the Chamberlain argument does not actually say or even imply that no patterned distribution is just, which is a normative question. It makes only the empirical claim that patterned distributions are unstable except under rare circumstances. The injustice in this analysis is not the patterned distribution itself, but rather the measures that must be undertaken to maintain the patterned distribution continuously and permanently.

      There are, as I said, plenty of responses to this, though I think they all involve conceding the point, but minimizing its significance. The most obvious of these is probably just that outside of extreme forms of socialism, no one actually seeks to create a completely static patterned distribution. Any tax-based system of redistribution in which the top tax bracket is less than 100% implicitly accepts that there will be deviations from any idealized pattern of redistribution.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Mark Thompson
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        But that is true only if an “end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice” can only be implemented using “extreme forms of socialism”. Perhaps that is what he meant. But one can imagine an “end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice” that permits transactions such as those envisioned in the thought experiment. Such a principle can certainly “be continuously realized without continuous interference in people’s lives” as he demonstrates in the thought experiment itself.

        If he only meant the Chamberlain argument as a critique of “extreme forms of socialism,” few would argue with it. It is, however, most often used as a criticism of any form of redistribution. Thus, “conceding the point, but minimizing its significance” is exactly what is needed in public discussions.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to clawback
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          But one can imagine an “end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice” that permits transactions such as those envisioned in the thought experiment.

          Please describe what such an end-state principle would look like and how it would be implemented. Because outside of a very small-scale implementation, I cannot imagine this.

          If he only meant the Chamberlain argument as a critique of “extreme forms of socialism,” few would argue with it.

          What we call extreme forms of socialism in 2011 were not viewed as being nearly as extreme in 1974. The Soviet Union existed, as did the Eastern Bloc. They even had apologists in the West. Also, the Chamberlain argument is a necessary but not sufficient part of a larger argument, with which plenty of people disagree (myself included). Proving it wrong would prove the larger argument wrong. But accepting it as correct and then saying that it fails to independently prove the larger argument does not actually prove the larger argument wrong.

          Thus, “conceding the point, but minimizing its significance” is exactly what is needed in public discussions.

          Absolutely. But this of course requires “conceding the point.” And in order to concede the point, one must first understand exactly what the point was.Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to Mark Thompson
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            Please describe what such an end-state principle would look like and how it would be implemented.

            I believe one can imagine an “end-state principle or distributional patterned principle of justice” which permits all purely voluntary transactions in which the initial conditions are untainted by any previous injustice, and accepts the resulting income distribution. Other transactions are fair game for some redistribution to compensate for their involuntary or tainted nature. Do you agree this would meet his definition of “patterned?” Then we need only observe that the set of such purely voluntary untainted transactions is essentially null, and we’ve gotten exactly nowhere. We’re left with the reality of coercion and messy morally questionable initial conditions, and faced with the difficult problem of how to compensate for them. Sadly, trite fables about sporting events provide little assistance.Report

            • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to clawback
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              Do you agree this would meet his definition of “patterned?”

              No. What you describe is almost precisely what Nozick terms an “historical” principle of distribution, which he supports.

              You correctly state however that the “set of such purely voluntary untainted transactions is essentially null.” You will see that my post describes this as a particularly strong objection to Nozick’s broader argument against redistribution, as I wrote:

              One could also argue that the “historical” principle lacks a sufficiently legitimate historical starting point in the real world – at this point, the proceeds of just and unjust transactions are so intermingled and impossible to unravel that it is appropriate to assume that all transactions are tainted in at least some way, and larger transactions disproportionately so.

              Indeed, I find this fatal to any practical attempt to implement Nozick’s prescription in the real world. That said, Nozick was writing a work of political moral philosophy beginning from a state of nature, not a public policy book – that it may be impractical in the real world thus does not necessarily render Nozick’s argument invalid. The impracticality renders the argument of little use in the public policy sphere, but it does not affect its utility as a work of philosophy. Moreover, the argument does at least serve as a reminder that the issue of redistribution involves difficult moral questions that can’t just be waved away. It demands that arguments for redistribution recognize that redistributive mechanisms require a serious balancing of harms, the search for the point at which the moral harm of redistributing in a particular manner outweighs the moral harm of not doing so.Report

  7. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    says:

    “The point is simply that, absent continuous interference in personal decisionmaking, D2 will fail to be identical to D1.”

    Sort of like, failing to cut my grass, the grass will grow differently than I like? Seems logical enough.Report

  8. Avatar Maxwell James
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    I can’t get myself to read through Metcalf’s shoddy argument (and I’m not a libertarian by a long shot). But I can’t help but note that Nozick’s book was written in the early 1970’s – a time when there was much more redistribution, and public support for it was much stronger.

    Which is to say, even if he was correct I think we have gone more than far enough in rebalancing that particular equation. Certainly there is little standing in the way of today’s Chamberlains – as well as less uniquely gifted people who take advantage of anticompetitive policies and personal networks – to maximize their earnings.

    If anything, what we need now is to tear down government-created barriers to competition while also ensuring a reasonable standard of living for even the long-term unemployed or unemployable.Report

  9. Avatar E.C. Gach
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    says:

    So what exactly do a sizable portion of libertarians believe?

    Jason’s Cato piece seemed pretty maintstream. And he did say that the Chamberlain example was an example of blameless wealth accumulation.Report

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

      I honestly don’t know what a sizable portion of libertarians believe about whether the percentage of wealth in this country that is currently accumulated in an unjust manner. To the libertarian, what is important for purposes of this particular discussion is just that some wealth can be accumulated in a morally blameless manner.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Here’s a weird example of a voluntary exchange that happened:

    Post 9/11, a number of folks donated and they wanted the money to go to the victims’ families. A number of the victims’ families got money because of this… and, when one of the widows used the money to purchase breast implants, it created a minor scandal.

    It was insufficiently patriotic, I suppose. Or they wanted the money to go towards school for the children or rent now that the breadwinner was dead or whatever.

    In any case, a whole bunch of people gave the families money following the tragedy and then got upset when the money was used “frivolously”, I suppose.

    Excessive taxation on Wilt Chamberlain (or Brad Pitt) helps rectify the fact that they won’t use the money that people give them for stuff like school books or educational filmstrips. Since Wilt would probably buy another pinball machine or whatever the male equivalent of breast implants would be with the extra money.Report

  11. Avatar jfxgillis
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    says:

    Mark:

    “Saying that inequality is not inherently unjust is a far, far cry from saying that it is inherently just, or even that it is more often than not just.”

    Just spotted that quote on the Dish. I believe said something similar on one of the earlier Nozick LoOG threads, i.e., that if I were arguing formalistically I would agree with the former proposition and disagree with the latter.

    But, of course, in the synthetic world of actual civil discourse and genuine policy disputes, those propositions are treated as synonymous. That is why right-wingers, Republicans and the more vulgar sort of libertarian are constantly accusing left-wingers, Democrats and assorted variations of Social Democrats of “class warafare” any time any sort of distributive economic justice policy reaches salience.

    In the analytic world of Nozick, detached libertarian bloggers and assorted other pointy-heads, Yes, of course that’s a “far cry.” But in the real civil discourse and the real policy world we live in, it’s a very near cry.

    The fundamental problem is code-switching. People “mis-read” Nozick and Wilt when they talk about practical politics because Nozick was operating at the level of abstract principles (which is pretty much what Metcalf did). On the other hand, Nozick’s “defenders” are simply making the reciprocal mistake.

    If the question is “What Nozick Meant” then that ‘s fine. And if the Question is “What does ‘What Nozick Meant’ mean for public policy,” then that’s fine, too.

    But those are two radically, and I mean RADICALLY different questions.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to jfxgillis
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      I might not have said this well, or perhaps didn’t say it at all, but this is my general position with regard to the Metcalf/Nozick scandal.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to jfxgillis
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      The appropriate thing to do there, then, is to find a statement from someone who is actually claiming that the existence of Wilt Chamberlains proves, of and by itself, that inequality is inherently just….and then argue with that person.* If they cite Nozick (and they almost certainly will not since they will almost never have even heard of him), then guess what? You’ve won the argument, because you get to say “that’s not remotely what Nozick meant with the Chamberlain example!” But simply accepting your opponent’s citation of Nozick as true (even though you know otherwise), and then attacking it as if it were true? What does that achieve? Answer: nothing.

      *FWIW, I rather doubt that you will find any movement libertarians who actually say this since we’re not the caricatures of your imagination. Movement conservatives? Maybe. But movement conservatives will have gotten the analogy from somewhere other than Nozick, who: 1. they quite possibly despise; and 2. was hardly the first person to argue that one can acquire obscene amounts of money through entirely moral means and that the effects of prohibiting this from occurring are not positive. In fact, when something akin to the Chamberlain argument is used, it is usually used as an economic argument about incentives and innovation, even though Nozick was a philosopher who was not making an argument about incentives and innovation. But surely there were plenty of economists who used something akin to the Chamberlain argument with respect to incentives and innovation prior to Nozick using it as a matter of moral philosophy.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Mark Thompson
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        One more thing: if one is going to attempt to dispute a formalistic argument, then one must do so formalistically (and, FWIW, I do think that this is what Metcalf was attempting to do) and engage it formalistically. If, on the other hand, one is going to attempt to dispute what one perceives as a political use of a formalistic argument, then one must demonstrate the existence of the political use of the formalistic argument.Report

        • Avatar jfxgillis in reply to Mark Thompson
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          says:

          Mark:

          “(and, FWIW, I do think that this is what Metcalf was attempting to do)”

          I could not disagree more. Here’s what Metcalf said near the conclusion:

          “Another way to put it—and here lies the legacy of Keynes—is that a free society is an interplay between a more-or-less permanent framework of social commitments, and the oasis of economic liberty that lies within it. The nontrivial question is: What risks (to health, loss of employment, etc.) must be removed from the oasis and placed in the framework (in the form of universal health care, employment insurance, etc.) in order to keep liberty a substantive reality, and not a vacuous formality?”

          Those are public policy questions, not analytic questions of abstract philosophical import. Even Metcalf’s nominally “abstract” definition of freedom turned out to be highly empirical and grounded in public policy and practical politics, “… some combination of civil rights, democratic institutions, educational capital, social trust, consumer choice, and economic opportunity.”Report

          • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to jfxgillis
            Ignored
            says:

            I have reason to believe he intended otherwise, but let us take what you say here as true. The piece then becomes little more than a straw man because it fails to identify a single libertarian of any note who actually thinks that accumulations of wealth are inherently just, much less one who uses Nozick to reach this conclusion.Report

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

        Apparently I’ll have to escape from my bizarro fantasy land first.Report

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

          How about you just start small by citing an actual statement from someone who most libertarians would agree is a libertarian that you think supports your contention that libertarians think accumulations of wealth are inherently justly acquired?

          That wouldn’t of course prove that a substantial number of libertarians agree with that statement, but it would at least be evidence worthy of consideration.

          As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s worth recognizing that even in Atlas Shrugged, the biggest villains are as or more wealthy than the protagonists.Report

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