Libertarianism and Privilege


James K

James is a government policy analyst, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. His interests including wargaming, computer gaming (especially RPGs and strategy games), Dungeons & Dragons and scepticism. No part of any of his posts or comments should be construed as the position of any part of the New Zealand government, or indeed any agency he may be associated with.

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312 Responses

  1. Avatar Herb says:

    Honest question: What do libertarians think they can learn from liberals?

    What part of the libertarian ideology needs improvement?

    Which policy recommendations do libertarians think they need to revise?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I think that the answer to your first question is that they already have learned from Liberals. Many Libertarians got to where they are in their journey with a detour through thinking that technocratic Paternalism was the ideal way to apply government… I’m sure that, along the way, many of them had seen these techniques and how much *HARM* they do rather than how much better they make things.

      One eye-opener for me was Immigration Policy. Getting Maribou here to the US was a nightmare. We’re two reasonably intelligent, reasonably educated, English-speakers and it was a maze. I ended up calling my Congressman and working with his INS Liason who helped us get through the process.

      I’m sure that one response to this might be something to the effect of “LOL! A Libertarian asked the government for help! What a hypocrite!!!” Well, at that point in my life, I wasn’t exactly Libertarian… the fact that there is so much bureaucracy to do something as simple as marry a Canadian helped me open my eyes when it came to such things as Government management of Immigration.

      The response to 9/11 was another eye-opener. I saw (and engaged in!) arguments about why it was important for us to go into Afghanistan and rebuild it. And Iraq too. We needed to go into the cesspool of the Middle East and remove the chains of tyrrany from those poor and oppressed people who surely had desire for Liberty beating in their hearts and would greet us, the midwives to their Democracy, with flowers.

      As it turned out, we didn’t do a good job of midwiving much of anything. Then the Green Revolution in Iran happened, and then the Egyptian thing, and now the Syrian thing… I can’t help but come to the conclusion that our intervention is making things worse.

      It’s not that the best-case scenarios painted by Liberal Technocratic Policy aren’t lovely and desirable. Of course they are!

      The difference between the best-case scenario and what actually happens is what pushed me in the direction I’m in. I understand that, say, a country needs an immigration policy lest it become… something. I don’t see what the immigration policy of the US has become as something that addresses the issues for which it was created. It seems more of a Brezhnevian bureaucracy that exists for its own sake than something that succeeds in what it’s doing.

      As for your last question “Which policy recommendations do libertarians think they need to revise?”, I’d say that they’ve probably revised the stuff that they think they need to revise and have reached an equilibrium.

      If, for example, the War On Drugs ends and there are even more gang wars and even more drug-associated crimes, I’m sure that the Libertarians would be flummoxed and engaged in some serious revision. Until then, I’d say that there haven’t been enough examples of applied Libertarian philosophy to cause Libertarians to say “well, we really need to rethink that one!”Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        So how did the free market solve the problem of Acid Rain?
        How did the free markets build our National Parks?
        How did the government over fish almost every major fishery in this country?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          We outsourced our Acid Rain to China. Feel free to ask how the free market solved the problem of manufacturing jobs in the US.

          The National Parks were there when we got here. The government didn’t build them. They just put a fence around them.

          There is a problem when it comes to jurisdiction once you enter international waters. When it comes to national fisheries, I’d say that licensure is an example of government colluding with fishing companies to overfish fisheries. Fish fish fish.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            Actually the parks weren’t there. The “fences” allowed them to no be mined and hunted out like many other lands. The current “fences” allow all Americans to enjoy public lands for a minimal fee while protecting what is special about them. You clearly don’t know the history of over fishing. Fishing companies wiped out vast stocks of fish while the gov didn’t interfere at all. The market destroyed many fish runs, and not the gov is trying to maintain what we have. Up here is AK it works well, which means of course every group that can’t fish as much as it wants screams bloody murder.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              > Fishing companies wiped out vast stocks
              > of fish while the gov didn’t interfere at all

              Read the international maritime science community’s estimation of fisheries. Then come back and tell me that this situation is improved. Hint: it’s worse.

              Although we have managed to protect the sea otter and the manatee. They’re cute.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          A more serious answer to your questions would be that of course there are areas where the government provides a better solution than the free market.

          These areas shouldn’t be used as justification for the drug war or any other bad policy. Me saying that the role of the government should not be to kick down doors and arrest two consensual adults for humping should not have a response of “well, we need the government to deal with Acid Rain and overfishing”.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            I don’t think there is any disagreement that the gov does some things poorly or that shouldn’t be done and is vital and needed for somethings.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            These areas shouldn’t be used as justification for the drug war or any other bad policy.

            A brave position.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Please understand that I live in a world where a discussion of my personal experiences with the boondoggle that is Immigration Law and the problems of Nation Building get me asked questions about acid rain, national parks, and overfishing.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            oh… did anybody say it is okay to stop to people humping so we can protect fish stocks???Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, I was talking about immigration law and the war on drugs and you asked me about acid rain.

              I thought we were deliberately jumping around.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I think the answer regarding whether government should do something or not depends on the situation. It’s easy to come up with examples of government or the free market doing things well or poorly. Context and the actual real situation are what we need to understand to know what to do.

                Our personal experiences are great and usually biased. I’ve seen government bodies do things very well, sort of meh and poorly. Same thing with the market.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The problem with dismissing “bias” is that “bias” is another way to say “preference”.

                Exactly which of your preferences do you think would be best outsourced to the government to make decisions on your behalf?

                What decisions are better made by technocrats than by you when it comes to you?Report

          • Avatar RTod says:

            JB: “of course there are areas where the government provides a better solution than the free market.”

            greginak: “I don’t think there is any disagreement that the gov does some things poorly or that shouldn’t be done and is vital and needed for somethings.”

            Then maybe you’re all having the wrong argument.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          So how did the free market solve the problem of Acid Rain?

          Cap and trade in SO2 emissions.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Welfare was one area as I alluded to in my post, but I think environmental policy and consumer protection are two other areas where liberals have some good points to make. I’ll go into more detail in a follow-up post.Report

  2. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I think James alluded to this in the welfare section.

    Fantastic post, James.Report

  3. Avatar BSK says:

    A general comment…

    Isn’t conflating Freddy with liberalism just as problematic as Freddy’s conflation of some libertarians with libertarianism?Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    As a Liberal, here are a few rejoinders:

    Corporations are the children of the 50 states, not the Federal government. A corporation does not enrich itself. A corporation operates in the best interests of its stockholders. If there’s any enrichment at the expense of wider society, that’s the point of the corporation and we must not grumble overmuch about that fact. As with the separation of Church and State, Liberals observe the Corporation and the State have an unhealthy tendency to indulge in the frottage of fascism, by definition the union of Corporation and State.

    As with the Church and State issue, some folks want to blame, or at least prefer the arguments of one side or the other. Some would say the Church is cuddling up to the State to impose its moral value system on the society at large. Others will say the State is cuddling up to the Church for the imprimatur of moral supremacy. Both are equally true and the combination is explosive. While I do not have a complete understanding of the theological niceties of Libertarianism, I observe there’s a tendency for the Libertarian to blame the State to the exclusion of the Corporation for the abuses of power. Curiously, despite the fact that unions represent the interests of workers, the Libertarian singles them out for especial criticism, as if in their collective representation of individual workers, using the only tool at their disposal to effect changes in society, were somehow an impediment to the improvements we now see in society such as workplace safety and child labor laws.

    The Financial Crisis was the final nail in the coffin for the Free Market. Henceforward, anyone who says the market is self-correcting might as well say the Earth is flat. The need for regulation varies directly with risk. This was no merely speculative bubble: it was an end run around market regulations. Over-the-counter trading in financial instruments of increasingly bizarre complexity led us to the point where trillions of dollars were riding on these insane bets. Glass-Steagall had been enacted, written in blood to prevent exactly this sort of trouble, but the Free Market Idiots would have none of it. They just knew better. Sure they did.

    There is an obvious and trivial solution to this problem: force these financial instruments into a trading pit in a regulated exchange such as MERC or CBOT, just like bills and bonds.

    Here’s the difference between Liberals and Libertarians. Libertarians say “The government.” Liberals say “Our government.” Liberals believe government is a perfectible thing, not a perfect thing. As with law itself, government must evolve, mutatis mutandis, the instrument whereby the governed are cheered and checked by that selfsame sky.

    Our worldviews are completely different and there is no sugarcoating the differences. It may well be I have an imperfect understanding of Libertarian philosophy, but when I asked for a Libertarian perspective of poverty, I was told in no uncertain terms the Libertarian had no solutions. The Liberals do have a solution to poverty: using the power of government to act on behalf of its most disadvantaged, for the poor, the sick, the insane, the prisoners, the homeless and the unemployed – these are the yardsticks by which we shall be measured, not by our skyscrapers and fighter jets and technology.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      A corporation operates in the best interests of its stockholders.

      Given the state of corporate governance, it often operates in the interest of its management, chasing short-term profit in the interest of stock options and bonuses, and leaving the stockholders to pick up the fallen house of cards.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Well, there is that part of the problem, but I’m in no mood to start slamming the Corporation while the Revolving Door is whirling faster than a proton in the CERN ring. The Gummint is just as much to blame for this essentially fascist chicanery.

        Fascism was always obsessed with modernity, with doing away with inefficiencies and old modes of thinking. As it grows increasingly more difficult to distinguish the Government from the Governed, the shrill rhetoric about Vile Bureaucrats grows accordingly. It has all been heard before. Inevitably, it leads to dictatorship, by definition the most efficient form of government and the worst.

        But at its heart, fascism truly believes in the wisdom of the powerful, that might makes right, that our problems are all the fault of external and conspiratorial entities. The poor and unsuccessful are, well, beyond redemption. They deserve their fate and should quit complaining. They should be inspired by the successes of the powerful and watch The Fountainhead so they can pick up a few pointers on how they, too, could be members of the Overlord Class.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Given the state of corporate governance, it often operates in the interest of its management, chasing short-term profit in the interest of stock options and bonuses,

        Yes, but keep in mind that things like stock options were an effort to get the managers more in line with stockholder interests.

        The problem with saying, as Blaise did, that corporations act in the interests of their shareholders is that it ignores the principal-agent problem. Stockholders are the principles, but they don’t run the business themselves. They select an agent, the managers, to do that for them. And then the principals run headlong into the problem of trying to make sure that the agents’ interests line up with their own. Stock options were one way to try to do that. Whether it worked well or not is certainly arguable (obviously they haven’t worked great, but just eliminating them obviously wouldn’t make managers interests more congruent with stockholders interests, either), but that was their purpose.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “The Financial Crisis was the final nail in the coffin for the Free Market. Henceforward, anyone who says the market is self-correcting might as well say the Earth is flat.”

      But the market is self-correcting. They don’t call it a “bubble” because it keeps on inflating forever…

      “This was no merely speculative bubble: it was an end run around market regulations.”

      and then you say…

      “Glass-Steagall had been enacted, written in blood to prevent exactly this sort of trouble, but the Free Market Idiots would have none of it. They just knew better. Sure they did.”

      So, wait, was there effective regulation or wasn’t there? The regulatory agencies were told to back off, both by the regulated industry and by the legislators who direct them. If I jam a penny in the safety valve of my water heater and it explodes, the appropriate conclusion is not “we should all take cold showers because hot water is too dangerous”.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    “…these programmes [Social Security and Medicare] are not designed to transfer income from rich to poor, but rather from young to old. And older people are, on average, richer than young people.”

    When Social Security was introduced, the poverty rate for the elderly was significantly higher than the poverty rate for the non-elderly. Numerous studies show that without Social Security, we would be back in that situation. When Medicare was introduced, there was a very serious problem of the elderly not receiving reasonable health care — for most the insurance premiums were unaffordable, and there were many that the insurance companies wouldn’t cover at any price.

    Is the libertarian position that the young have no obligations to care for the elderly, or simply that such an obligation must not be handled collectively?Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      There is already a perfectly good market mechanism for transferring income from your younger self to your older self – it’s called savings. If people don’t earn enough in their lifetime to save enough then they the problem is that they’re poor, not that they’re old.

      I’m not saying there aren’t old and sick people who need help, I’m saying that treating all old and sick people as if they needed help (and a lot of help, given how much Social Security and Medicare cost) is a mistake.Report

  6. RE: “Honest question: What do libertarians think they can learn from liberals?”

    Goals: Libertarianism’s only goal is to maintain the process we call ‘freedom’ so that economic innovation and class rotation is as high as possible, and therefore delivers the highest standard of living.

    So libertarians seek a PROCESS not ENDS. Progressives (liberal is a stolen term), seek ENDS. Libertarians recommend means of achieving progressive ends that do not empower the abstract corporate monopoly we call the ‘state’ such that it reduces freedom, and thereby reduces ability to generate prosperity.

    Libertarian solutions suggest that competitive privatization of public services is preferable to bureaucracy because even the largest private institutions collapse within one or two generations, and bureaucracies perpetuate and expand.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Alas, that laws must be enforced by bureaucrats. Federalist #51:

      But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

      This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

      It is a statement of sovereign truth that every scheme which believes men to be angels, that freedom is the highest good, that the public good shall be subordinated to the private interest, is either a recipe for tyranny or a Panglossian panegyric devoid of any understanding of human nature. We are free insofar as others are constrained from encroaching upon our freedoms.

      The Libertarian does not really understand Prosperity as much as he might think he does. That would imply he understands the necessity of an abstract entity called government which stands apart from the self-seeking interests of the powerful. In every market since the dawn of time, a Master of the Market has tested the scales and weights of the merchant and forgery was punished by death. As the Free Market depends on regulation, so a Free Society. If the State is our enemy, it has proven a marvelously useful one, for corporations have their bureaucracies as well, ready and willing to sell us melamine in the milk and export our jobs from countries where workplace safety is too burdensome an expense to bear.Report

      • RE: “Alas, that laws must be enforced by bureaucrats.”

        Nope. Read Hoppe and Rothbard.
        Read your English history.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          I’ve read Rothbard. He’s a quack. Spontaneous Order is Phlogiston. It’s crazy talk. No congruence to reality.Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

            Really. There’s no emergence?Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Poor old Rothbard. Born about two centuries too late. Rothbard hectored the world, telling everyone everything they knew was completely wrong. And if you read him for a while, you think, jeez, this guy’s awfully bright, there has to be a pony in this pile of horseshit somewhere.

              But there’s no pony. He never understood human nature or human society or even practical ethics. His economic theory was complete batshit upside-down madness, he didn’t understand markets, he didn’t understand the role of government.

              I ask myself — where was Rothbard right, even once?Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Let me expand on that thought. Rothbard was a quack because he did not understand the fundamental nature of money. He advocated a return to the gold standard, which is patent nonsense. I’ve traded in futures markets all my life, but I don’t trade in currency futures because I’d have to do it 24 hours a day to stay ahead of the arbitrageurs, there’s no parking a position in currencies.

          I own gold and I own a lot of it and I’ve owned it for five years now. Gold is no substitute for money. Going long gold is a bet on panic, which I foresaw when oil went crazy in 2007. As money poured into the commodities futures markets, I saw the bubble rising. I did not foresee the housing crisis, all I saw was my regular trades in markets I understood, the grains markets, going haywire with high stochastics. My trading model would enter a position then exit on its risk or profit stop within the hour when I’d planned to stay in the market for a week at least. So I went long gold on a high theta and hit my profit stops for years. The only reason I’m doing so well is because there are tons of dumb, scared people out there.

          But I know gold is going to take a dive. It’s gonna dive when people like me running trading models like mine decide theta is large enough to leave it. We won’t exit into cash, more likely we’ll move into grains, since China’s drought is driving up demand over there and the drought in the American Southeast is lowering supply over here. It’s just another commodity structure, supply and demand. We move where the value is.

          Rothbard’s criticisms of the Federal Reserve are astonishingly stupid. Money is not a commodity. If it were, and if it were backed by gold, nobody would use the stuff. There wouldn’t be enough of it, at any rate. The economy would be one crash after the other as folks tried to work out how to denominate their trades and reconcile accounts. The lights would go out on global markets. We’d be back in the bad old days before the Fed, when all these little banks were issuing their own currency, and when there was a rush on the bank, and there’s always a rush at some point, the banks would collapse.Report

          • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

            You might even call the whole financial system a “spontaneous order”.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Uh, no. You need a trading account. You need a house badge and a coat to get on the floor. You need to clear your trades through the Fed. You have to make margin calls. None of this is spontaneous. All of it is heavily regulated, both within and without.

              Ain’t nothing sadder than the line at the Outtrade Window. Buys gotta match Sells. Checks gotta clear. Taxes gotta get paid.

              Now iguanas evolved in response to evolutionary pressure, but they never developed risk markets. That requires regulatory pressure, the opposite of evolution.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                Didn’t those regulations comes after the fact? It seems to me your argument is a variant of the “can’t be moral without religion” one.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Erm. No. The bazaar has been with us for many centuries and with it, the Master of the Market, who operates as a regulatory agent. But to make risk markets work, those rules must be established before the market can open. Jeebus, Chris.

                Pick up a copy of The Basel II Risk Parameters: Estimation, Validation, and Stress Testing by Berndt Engelman. It’s pointless explaining risk markets and banking in this little comment box.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                The Commodity Exchange Authority was instituted by Congress in 1926. The Chicago Board of Trade was founded in 1848.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Richmond and Whiting set up CBOT. There wasn’t any law to govern the establishment of such a board, so they went to Springfield and Washington to get such legislation enacted and they got their charter within the year. Until they could get a charter, they acted only as an advisory board, but they immediately set up inspectors of produce, under the auspices of the City of Chicago.

                I repeat myself: no regulation, no market.Report

              • What regulates flocks of birds?Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I’m not saying that markets don’t presently exist within the regulatory structure. I’m saying that they don’t have to.Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      Can you demonstrate how, practically, the libertarian ideal of a free process increases class rotation?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Ideally, the libertarian ideal of a free process would be a meritocracy. You’d want to hire the best guy for the job, the best programmer, the best quarterback, the best sous chef, the best barista.

        It doesn’t matter what caste s/he’s from or what his/her parents did for a living or what. If you want to get ahead of the other guy, you’ll hire an untouchable if the untouchable can get the job done.

        In the same vein, you’d probably fire a guy who screws everything up even if he’s a Brahmin.

        Stuff like inheritance screws things up. The great-grandfather who made billions in railroading more likely to have a great-grandchild who has regressed to the mean than one who is a businessman in his or her own right. The great-grandchild still gets the trust fund, though.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Your restaurant will hire an untouchable waiter, and tell the customers “He’s a great waiter. If you don’t like it, go eat someplace else.”? I don’t think so.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Tell the customers what they need to know. Calorie counts. That sort of thing. His caste is irrelevant to their dining experience.Report

            • Avatar BSK says:

              But if a shortcoming by a member of his caste is viewed as an irredeemable character flaw while the exact same shortcoming by a member of a higher caste is viewed as a quirky personality trait, the deck remains stacked against him.

              I forget what ballplayer pointed it out, but they noted that when Jason Giambi yelled at his teammates on the field, he was seen as a leader who wasn’t afraid to stand up to his teammates and kept everyone motivated and focused. When Miguel Tejada did the same thing, on the same team, he was seen as a hot head who couldn’t handle his emotions and showed up his teammates. (The player was talking about the media/fan perception, with that of the latter largely being informed by that of the former.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                How much of merit is just perception?

                That’s an exceptionally sticky question that I’ve never really thought about before.

                I mean, I know that they’ve done studies where they give two groups of people a glass of the same wine and they tell one group that it’s a 3 dollar glass and another group that it’s a 30 dollar glass and the former shrug and say it’s okay while the latter start talking about the various notes and hints of chocolate and smoke and whatnot and they rate the glass as a five star glass and the folks who were told that it was a cheapo glass gave it two or three.

                Is this something that can be overcome by something as simple as saying that the guy’s a Maratha?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > How much of merit is just perception?
                > That’s an exceptionally sticky question
                > that I’ve never really thought about
                > before.

                I’ve got some reading for you.

                Long story short: merit is contextual. One example of millions: a bad-ass programmer who can’t work for crud in a group but can re-write three thousand lines of bad code in a weekend is great for a company that needs to ship code on Monday. They’re going to be a huge drain on a structured group that works well together and needs to ship code in 9 months.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              His caste is irrelevant to their dining experience.

              I agree, but the customer might not.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                To what extent is it cool for me to lie about the guy’s caste?Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Apparently it happens a lot.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Make this the US instead of India. What stands in for caste? How easy is it to hide?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Race? Gender expression? Perception of sexual orientation?Report

              • Avatar gschu says:

                I think another good example might be economic class. To use Jaybird’s analogy, we signal what kind of glass of wine we are through our actions and words. But just like the experimenter telling a participant that a glass of two buck chuck is really worth 30 dollars, ones ability to act according to educated middle class social norms signals quality while their are actual work experience and aptitude may be closer to the two buck chuck.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                But think of it in the reverse. A guy may be educated, thoughtful, kind, creative, etc, etc, etc… everything you look for in a $30 glass of wine. But he’s black. So many people will see 2-buck-chuck no matter how he handles himself.Report

            • Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

              Alas, markets are agnostic to value. Indulging in bigotry is like any other market good: people will pay for it. You might think that having an untouchable waitress is immaterial, but the aggregate of consumers won’t necessarily agree, and those who believe such will pay more for an untouchable-free experience.

              Homo Economicus is not a crass utilitarian, but a fully formed human being.Report

        • Avatar BSK says:

          Your last point is where the “practicality” of the matter breaks down. Especially when you consider all of the great-grandfathers who made their money through owning slaves or subjugating women or by working in industries that were legally and socially exclusive to a relatively small percentage of society. Juxtapose that with all of the great-grandfathers/mothers who were slaves or were forbidden to vote or go to school or own property or run for office or work certain jobs.

          Yea, most people will hire a black guy from Compton if he graduated from Harvard Law and ignore whomever might be uncomfortable with his background. But how much harder is it for black guys from Compton to graduate from Harvard Law for things completely out of their control? That is where the meritocracy ideal breaks down. It sounds great on paper. But we don’t live on paper. Which is why the practical reality of more freedom = greater class movement breaks down. I love the idea, but I’m yet to see anyone demonstrate that it can and will work.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            What works better, though?

            We agree that the caste system sucks, right?
            I’m pretty sure that the idea of the class system sucks too, right?

            What we tried for in the US was just the ability to up’n move and start over. If everything is screwed up, just move. Pick up and go. Go West. There’s a town in Montana where nobody knows you or anybody who knows you. Live there. Start fresh.

            It ain’t perfect but… is there something you can point to that’s better?Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Yes, moving to Montana is a great idea if you happen to be white, male, and straight. Also, in general, people who have a life that sucks can’t exactly move on a button. As has been said here before, poverty is expensive.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                So the problem is not that it is possible for a subset to do X but that we’ve not yet figured out how to do X for everybody?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Also, in general, people who have a life that sucks can’t exactly move on a button.

                This is a common argument, but it’s not backed up by the evidence. Poor people in the U.S. have surprisingly high mobility considering their lack of resources. I think what accounts for it is that they have much lower costs–they may not have a mortgage, they have fewer possessions to move, etc. Cases in point, black migration from the south to the north in the early to mid 20th century; Latin American migration to the U.S. today. It turns out poor people are more resourceful than we often expect them to be.

                On the other hand, I know single non-home-owning middle class people sitting in Michigan wishing they could find a job and refusing to leave the state to look for work while the unemployment in some other states is low enough to guarantee finding something.

                And, by the way, you don’t have to be straight, white, and male to enjoy Montana. Ask any Montana woman, for starters, and I have it on good authority that Montana has a surprisingly large gay population. I think what you’re inadvertently showing is the real reason people don’t pick up and move. They fear new places, assume they are worse than they are, and they fear leaving their comfort zone.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                What guarantee is there that Montana is any better?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                You want a guarantee? Buy a toaster.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Fair enough. But the argument being put forth is that more freedom = more class mobility. If more class mobility is, “Well, you can take your chances in Montana,” I’m not really sure you have much of a leg to stand on anymore.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                What does class mobility look like in practice?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                What guarantee is there that Montana is any better?

                There’s no need to assume that Montana is any better (as to guarantees, nothing is guaranteed so that need not enter the discussion at all). All we need to do is assume that people can make reasonably good judgements about whether a particular locale is better or not. It’s pretty obvious right now that Fargo, North Dakota, with a 3.5% unemployment rate, is a better place to look for a job than Saginaw, Michigan, with an unemployment rate of 9.6% (both numbers as of May, 2011).

                And nobody says you have to commit to a Montana or a Fargo for life.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                What guarantee is there that Montana is any better?

                He’s in the Hall of Fame.Report

            • Avatar BSK says:


              I will fully admit to not having a better plan. Which perhaps makes my objections disingenuous, but they do come from an honest and concerned place, not just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking.

              For most of American history, laws were designed to favor one group (rich, white, straight, property-owning Christian males) and marginalize or repress pretty much all others (blacks, Native Americans, Asians, hispanic/Latinos, women, gays, religious minorities, immigrants (including many from Europe who were not given the distinction of ‘white’ for several generations), non-property owners, etc, etc, etc). Most, but not all, of these laws have since been repealed. In many instances, laws were put in place designed to undo much of this discrimination and/or protect members of the marginalized groups from further marginalization. Regardless, social rules and customs have continued to marginalize these groups, often in direct violation of these laws. Equally problematic is that many of these laws are ineffective and/or further marginalize the groups they intend to help, however well intentioned they are (you won’t get any arguments from me that welfare is just as likely to continue the cycle of poverty as it is to move families above it and that affirmative action, as necessary as I feel it is, is practiced in a way that reinforces racism through lowered expectations).

              What I hear from libertarians is that things will be better if we remove all these laws and policies. Some, such as Rand Paul, have argued for the repeal of anti-discrimination laws. I understand that, in the abstract, there is a logic to these proposals. But we don’t live in the abstract. Businesses and the government already engage in horribly biased practices. Are they going to do so less when it is legal to do so? Hard to believe. Many say that the market will correct these injustices, but can’t point to much evidence that that will be the case. How is Cracker Barrel doing nowadays? At the end of the day, most people don’t care enough to drastically alter their buying habits or other lifestyle choices because of causes that don’t directly impact them. The strictest libertarians will say, “Well, dems da breaks,” or “Move to Montana.” And I could possibly get behind these arguments. IF the deck hadn’t been legally and socially stacked against groups, creating a system where the negative effects of a free market are concentrated on certain groups who are essentially powerless to change the system. If we had started from a place of absolute equity and certain groups or individuals put themselves in disempowered positions, it might be okay to say, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” But women, for the most part, didn’t make their bed (they might be responsible for 5% of it but most was out of their control); it was made for them. Yet they are being told to lie in it and deal with the consequences. Consequences they are not responsible for. How is that moral?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                How much of this is culture, though?

                I mean, let’s agree that the laws are bad and need to be changed. We change the laws. The culture has not yet changed and, as a result, nobody follows the new laws… not even the people the laws were created to benefit.

                Then what?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Not sure I follow… do you mean that the culture might be such that, regardless of laws, people are going to discriminate and exploit those they can? Well, we can make that as hard as possible through stronger laws and policies. Though I doubt that gets much traction here…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Charlton Heston talked about Planet of the Apes and how the actors dressed like apes ate with apes, orangutans with orangutans, and chimpanzees with chimpanzees.

                This seems to be something that goes *VERY* deep. Deeper than we are comfortable talking about.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Oh, no doubt. I have seen lots of research about the biological/evolutionary basis for such behavior. Which is not to say it can’t be overcome, but sure as hell is hard as hell.

                I suppose we could throw our hands up and say, “Well then, maybe we should voluntarily segregate, as is in our nature, and those who choose to cross such boundaries must willingly accept the consequences.” The only problem with that is the fact that America has much of the diversity it does because white folks took over lands belonging to one type of brown folk, forcibly brought over another type of brown folk to work as slaves, while other white folk raped and the pillaged the whole of the continents where those brown folks came from.

                Now, I realize that is overly simplistic. But the point stands. A certain segment of the population is historically responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, continues to benefit from the mess we find ourselves in, and, as far as I’m concerned is largely responsible for fixing the mess. And moving folks to Montana doesn’t qualify as a “fix”. And I say this as someone who is a card carrying member of that group in almost every way possible (I’d be a perfect 10 if not for my blasphemous 20th century Italian immigrant heritage).Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                The in-group, out-group stuff is pretty deeply ingrained, for sure, and it’s universal. Visual cues make it even stronger (so ape suits or people who wear skinny jeans, for example). However, there are deeply ingrained and universal ways of overcoming in-group/out-group biases, too. Perhaps not completely, but enough for a chimp to eat at the same table as an orangutan and neither feel the least bit uncomfortable about it (the chimp may not dig the orangutan’s music, though).

                Also, I wouldn’t have sat at the same table with that bastard Heston no matter what he was wearing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The question becomes not whether “ought we do X?” but “will the costs associated with enforcing X be higher than the benefits accrued from doing so?”

                If someone wants to up and start over, start fresh. What, exactly, might be preventing that? A bus ticket to anywhere costs a negligible amount. What, beyond that, is Our Responsibility As A Society?Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                Montana has the same issues facing the rest of this country. And moving between countries (legally) is incredibly difficult, especially for the poor.Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          “Ideally, the libertarian ideal of a free process would be a meritocracy. You’d want to hire the best guy for the job, the best programmer, the best quarterback, the best sous chef, the best barista.”

          Yeah, but that’s every team’s perfect world ideal.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            True; there’s some people out there whose idea of “best guy for the job” is “whoever hasn’t had a turn yet”.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Goals: Libertarianism’s only goal is to maintain the process we call ‘freedom’ so that economic innovation and class rotation is as high as possible, and therefore delivers the highest standard of living.

      So libertarians seek a PROCESS not ENDS. Progressives (liberal is a stolen term), seek ENDS.

      I love semantics too.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Semantics are usually much more fruitful discussion fodder than syntax.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Depends on what you want to discuss.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I prefer discussing semantics, for the most part.

            There is also a deep joy to be found in correcting another’s English. There are upsides to talking about syntax but it’s usually not a mutually enjoyable experience.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Oh sure, if syntax=grammar, then it’s mostly just fun for a quick jab, though I’d swear that it backfires at least 75% of the time when done in blog comment sections.

              However, I meant syntax in the more formal (and empirical sense), which is not so easily separated from semantics.

              Then again, all I meant in the original comment is that Curt was just playing with words to make it look like there’s a distinction where there is none.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                And my grammar in that last sentence sucked, too! (Verb agreement is for wusses).Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                You probably could have said it better by pointing how he is making a distinction without a difference. Or is it a difference without a distinction? Maybe that WOULDN’T have been better… never mind.Report

      • Is there a logical statement or criticism in there somewhere?Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          It was a snarky way of saying that there’s no there there. Or put differently, you’ve made a distinction without a difference. Or still differently, yawn.Report

          • You mean that there is no difference between means and ends?

            When the entire problem of political coordination rests on that difference?Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              No, I don’t mean that at all. There is certainly a difference between means and ends. You simply haven’t used the words to denote one.

              By the way, “liberal” wasn’t stolen. It has a history that is more varied, perhaps, than you are aware. It may be used inaccurately these days, but not for the reasons I suspect you believe.

              “Libertarian,” on the other hand, was stolen. In Russia in the 1860s, I might have been considered a liberal, and in Western Europe, a libertarian, despite the fact that I’m nothing like what you would consider liberal or libertarian (in fact, so much the opposite that it almost comes around full circle).Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Heh heh. Welcome to the jungle, Mr. Doolittle.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            You and Tom should get along great, Doolittle. Tom has been using a lot of words to say nothing for a long time ’round these parts. 😉Report

          • Hardly a jungle. Learning the rhetorical strategy of any new group is simply a matter of patience and testing. Rarely is there much value in those who engage in distracting deceitful eristic dialog. There is value in understanding their positions so that one can discredit them however.

            (ERISTIC / “Eristic Dialog” : a type of dialogue between two or more people where the aim of participants is to win the argument, not to work to discover a true or probable answer to any specific question or topic.” NOTE: An Eristic debate in a public forum, is effectively a form of propagada speech, that uses the ruse of productive debate for the purpose of creating an autistic propaganda message through a process of repetition.)Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              I think it’s interesting, by the way, that you’re under the mistaken impression that we’re having a debate. I do, however, think with that kind of condescension, you’re going to fit right in with Tom and Blaise.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That which annoys us in others, they find annoying in us. It is all a matter of definitions.Report

              • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

                I’ve probably posted hundreds of comments here over the year or so I’ve been regularly commenting, and only a handful of times did I feel like I was having a debate.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                We don’t need no stinkin’ debait!Report

              • Chris: You are under the misconception that the epistemic need for legal equality implies that we are indeed equal in knowledge and ability. And furthermore, that your consent is of material importance. Statements are true or not, whether you like them or not. That is why we use economics rather than morality or religion in political discourse in this century.:)Report

              • WHHAAAATTT!!?!?!?! Curt Doolittle in this thread: “Since there is considerable debate about these issues among even the top twenty economists, I do not think it would be in your purview to discredit the ‘austrian’ system of thought without understanding economics. There is a vast diference between finance and economics. Finance is calculable. Therefore it is simple. economics may or may not be calculable. And that is the fundamental problem.”Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > Statements are true or not, whether
                > you like them or not.

                Only if you’re a mathematician or a theologian (I’ve been one and played at the other).

                In the real world, statements are probabilistic, and that’s about as close as you’re going to get to the truth.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        libertarians seek a PROCESS not ENDS. Progressives (liberal is a stolen term), seek ENDS.

        But as someone wise once said, “the highest morality is almost always the morality of process.” The danger of seeking ends is that it’s too easy to conclude that the end is so important that any process that achieves it is justified. So I would much prefer that libertarians not learn goals from liberals.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Again, James, I find this distinction to be pretty meaningless in this context. It is clear to anyone who looks that both libertarians and liberals (and conservatives, for that matter) have in mind a particular type of social order (James K even says in the original post that liberals and libertarians ultimately have the same such goal in mind, with different ways of getting there: a distinction that would be impossible were it not about process and goals in both political positions, eh?). And both also have in mind particular processes by which it is OK to get there, and those by which it is not OK to get there.

          Also, the claim that the morality of process is the highest form of morality is kind of odd, from the perspective of the various types of moral theories of the last, oh, 2500 years. And it’s particularly odd coming from a consequentialist like yourself.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            What is this common goal shared by Libertarians and Liberals alike? We’d have to go back to the era of Andrew Jackson to find a classical liberal in American government. At that point, we might find some congruence with the Libertarian but not thereafter.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              Oh, I don’t know that you have to go back that far to find classical liberals. It took more than one depression to shake that nonsense from the heads of American politicians.

              And perhaps you should ask James K what you think the common goals are, since he made the claim. I of course think that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians are all one side of the same coin, the other side of the coin being not so much the opposite as the converse of the first side.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, you did observe that anyone who looks would find some common social order, parenthetically including conservatives.

                The coin metaphor is particularly gooey and nebulous. Coins have obverse sides, not converse. To fit all these political angels onto the face of your coin, it would be a rather large one, of necessity. Perhaps one of those great stone discs used as currency on the island of Yap might serve your purpose. Ten feet across, weighing thousands of pounds.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Blaise, ah, I see where I worded things poorly. I meant that they both have, individually, particular ideas about the social order. I didn’t mean to imply that they have precisely the same ideas. They do have a pretty huge overlap: both materialist, both broadly capitalist and pro-market (whatever idiots who have no idea what Marxism is might think), both largely designed to maintain entrenched power (whether they admit to it, even to themselves, or not), etc.

                Also, the metaphor was meant to be nebulous, representing only our flattened discourse and the fact that even the other side is inseparable because of a certain amount of basic ideological agreement (e.g., starting from materialism and markets). To me, there’s little difference between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, even if in practice certain observable surface differences arise (abortion, gun control, unions, etc.). Those differences, while real, tend to mask the underlying flatness, rather than provide actual differences in depth. The other side of the coin is part of the flatness, and is not the opposite, just the same pieces in reverse: economy->freedom, freedom->economy, even if that’s a bit oversimplified.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:


            I disagree. Liberals tend to have a pretty clear set of outcomes in mind, whereas libertarian intellectuals often emphasize that we don’t know, and can’t know, what the outcomes would look like in the libertarian social order, because that desired social order is the process of on-going voluntary exchange. Libertarians believe good things will come out of that. Some believe that those good things will undoubtedly come out of it, so they can perhaps reasonably be called outcome-oriented. Others believe so strongly in the morality of the process itself that the outcomes are seen as barely relevant (e.g., they think that even if the outcomes are undesirable, they cannot be undesirable enough to justify the immoral action of coercive constraints on voluntary agreements). But in either case they generally don’t claim to know just what the outcomes will look like, but are willing to leave that up to the process–the spontaneous order approach.

            So Curt Dolittle is correct enough in claiming libertarians seek a process, whereas liberals are more focused on the end goals. Such ends/means distinctions can be semantic, and rarely is the distinction absolute. I agree with you that much. But there is enough distinction in this case that it’s worth noting, because I think it really is a distinction in the world view of liberals.

            For example, I’ve heard both liberals and libertarians criticize democracy. Liberals who criticize it do so because it doesn’t produce their desired outcome (“what good is democracy if it can’t get us X?”), while libertarians tend to criticize it because it’s a process that disrupts and overrides the voluntary exchange process (“the majority says you and I can’t sell you Y, even though we both would enter the exchange voluntarily.”).Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              James, I’m sure there are some libertarians somewhere who think that the process matters in itself. I haven’t met any such libertarians. The ones I’ve met, including the ones I’ve met here on this site, all ague that in order to get outcome X, which is desired, you have to go through process Y (or at least you shouldn’t go through process Z, ’cause that will lead you down the road to perdidion!). This is true whether we’re talking about gun control, drug legalization/decriminalization, deregulation/privatization, or removing marriage from the state, there’s always an end in mind, and the end isn’t the process itself.

              It may be that libertarians take a more axiomatic approach to process. That is, they may be more likely to believe that their favored processes, of which there are a limited number, are likely to produce most or all of their favored outcomes, whereas liberals are more likely to take a case by case approach largely because, at this point, they don’t have any process-level axioms (with the possible exception of being pro-labor, which they barely are anymore). I suppose for a casual observer such as Doolittle, this creates the illusion that one side focuses on process and the others on outcome, but in reality, that’s simply not true. It’s also not true that liberals will try anything, of course. They have a sense of what is and what isn’t a valid process. They just don’t have the sorts of axiomatic approach that libertarians do. And by and large I don’t think that’s to their detriment. Facts matter.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Let me expand on that last two-word sentence a bit, since it’s basically comprised of fighting words if left to stand on its own. I don’t think libertarians ignore facts in the everyday world. I know they don’t ignore them. However, every axiomatic approach is divorced from facts on the ground to some extent. So, libertarians, in my experience, are quite good at critiquing the practical inadequacies of liberal and to a lesser extent conservative policies (when those conservative policies don’t look a whole hell of a lot like libertarian ones), but that’s about it. This is something libertarianism, in its American form, shares with Marxism: a dogmatic approach that works great as a critique of other ideas but that falters on the shores of the real. As an idealist myself, I find a Marxist critique more appealing than a libertarian one, even if my own view of how things should work doesn’t particularly fit with either.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I think you done been reading the wrong libertarians, and reading the ones on this site wrongly. While your critique of libertarians here has more than enough truth in it, I don’t see it as even even more applicable to them than it is to either liberals or conservatives. As to being only able to critique, I think you’ve failed to notice that the critiques nearly always entail a proffered alternative. Just because the alternative is “do nothing instead of Y,” rather than “do X instead of Y,” doesn’t matter. And if you’re honestly saying that James K, or Jason Kuznicki, or even I have never offered more than simple critiques, then I am going to confess myself disappointed. You’ve previously written comments with which I’ve disagreed, but never before written a comment which felt so false.

                Had you left things at “facts matter,” I actually would have been far more satisfied.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve been reading as much Libertarian material as I can practically manage. I’m fascinated by it, as I was with Trotsky, far earlier in life.

                I read Ayn Rand long ago and dismissed her without a third thought, though I did give her a first and second thought. I knew, instinctively, her works were reactionary cant, that economies and talent and this Selfishness Principle were wrong: she was reacting to what she’d seen in Russia and to her love affair with the skyscrapers of NY City.

                Murray Rothbard was my next big endeavor. As with Rand, I was intrigued by the depth of his passion but I’d been around government and markets long enough to know the government was not the monster monopoly he had envisioned. Rothbard’s hatred of Communism arose from growing up within it. But like Ayn Rand, he went off the deep end, throwing out many a baby with the bathwater. I have said elsewhere Rothbard, for all his undeniable knowledge, never understood the human condition, how malleable we are to society’s power of suggestion pushed upon us every day. He had never seen a private militia: I had. Very nasty things, private militias in Guatemala, used to evict squatters from the vast fincas owned since colonial times by a few landed gentry. These patrullos civiles would go on to murder tens of thousands of people: they’re just now digging up a huge mass grave near Guatemala City.

                von Böhm-Bawerk is an interesting case study in how theory never translates into practice. Though I am not a economist, most of my work was in linguistics, I spent a great deal of time on the creation and unification of Germany and Austria, for the German language was not a single thing, nor is it now. von Böhm-Bawerk was an obstacle to progress, one of the main reasons Austria never advanced as did Germany, though he did reform Austria’s economy and institute an income tax. Because von Böhm-Bawerk didn’t build roads and infrastructure, doing business strictly on a cash basis, scared to death of issuing state bonds, Austria became an economic backwater. Eventually he was forced out, as are most incompetent ministers. But he would go on to teach Ludwig von Mises, the very worst of the lot.

                The Austrian School is as Chris observes, a doctrinaire philosophy, quite useful as a critique but no more than a critique. As Trotsky tried to bring Marx to the masses, only to be stymied (and eventually murdered) by the followers of Lenin, so the early classical liberals, with their emphasis on the plight of the working class, were ignored and eventually shoved aside by what would become called the Libertarians and the Austrian School.

                The Libertarian philosophy is useful as a bulwark against the overweening power of the State but it is more a tendency, a reaction, not an actual philosophy. The Individual is really not all that important in the larger scheme of things: we do not live to ourselves or die to ourselves.

                Perhaps there are Libertarian philosophers I have not read. These listed above I have read, and found their conclusions woefully lacking.Report

              • BlaiseP: It’s a pleasure to find someone who has actually read meaningful texts and at least apparently understands them.

                A couple of thoughts for you.

                1) Libertarianism consists of two wings:
                a) Jewish anarchism (rothbard and rand),
                b) Christian Classical Liberal (Hayek and perhaps Nozick).

                Where you put Mises in that spectrum is probably in the second grouping although Mises makes his own mistakes. If you were to read all of mises and all of hayek and ignore rothbard and rand you would find the lessons more suited to your advanced level of comprehension than you would the populist ideological nonsense that passes for libertarian theory among amateurs. (Ideologies must be easy to grasp, emotionally exiting, radical, and promise immediate change – this is their purpose.) Philosophy is simply the search for solutions to practical problems by reordering the arrangement of current values, methods and processes.

                2) Anarchism. As you state, the anarchist case is overplayed by the amateurs who frequently comment on what they understand little about. In particular, classical liberals do not disagree that a small state and regulation are necessary. They purpose of the Hayekian program is largely to provide proof that only constitutionalism and rule of law (and all that those ideas entail) can provide freedom, and that freedom is necessary in order to conduct the trial and error required to both invent, and provide the incentive to people to invent at all levels of society.

                3) Austrian Economics. The libertarian program, and in fact the ‘Austrian Classical Liberal Program’ has been somewhat ‘hijacked’ by the jewish anarchist program – a fact which is often lamented by the crew at George Mason University. My dear friends at the Mises Institute who are rapidly popularizing Rothbardianism Anarchism under the name “Austrian Economics” have somewhat intentionally worked to sway the public interest in that direction. They are the primary promoters of Rothbard, and since Cato is the primary Hayekian outlet, and Mises is far better at distributing information and Cato is far more interested in affecting policy, the Mises Institute’s Rothbardian program is simply the only channel available to the current wave of libertarians. Furthermore, the classical liberal program has not been as successful in altering policy as has been the Friedman/Chicago program on monetary policy, or the Mises/Rothbardian program on political ideology.

                4) Libertarianism. The anarcho capitalist research program has been fruitful for political science, in particular Hoppe’s work based upon Rothbard’s. (Democracy- The God That Failed) The Propertarian ethical program (which I use) has finally made it possible to dispense with the myth of a moral debate and simply analyze all human action as transfers.

                You may disagree with privatization but where it is tried, it works – and even if it only works ‘as well and no better’ the externalities that are created by state bureaucracies are far worse than those created by the market. And economists consider externalities even if individuals do not.

                BTW:You are right that charter schools are what they are. But then, that is a problem of selection bias. The issue is that our children are indeed being harmed by the current school system, and the reasons are a) national educational bureaucracy and the national educational curriculum rather than school by school curriculum, and b) inability of principles to fire incompetent teachers due to collective bargaining c) teachers are from the bottom 16% of graduating classes because teaching is not a professionalized discipline requiring an advanced degree, and d) starting children too young in school, e) teaching narrow achievement rather than broad knowledge. (See the research on the Singapore, South Korean and Finnish education programs.) So, independent schools are needed. Libertarians do not care if the state pays for it, they care that the ‘market’ for teaching can function.

                5) Corporations. Your criticism of Corporations (bureaucracies with extra-market influence on consumers due to their ability to capture credit under fiat money) is understood by Libertarian thinkers. So your criticism is an unintended straw man. The problem is, that we cannot find examples of this behavior being TRUE except where it is the result of government sponsorship or intervention. (Go ahead and try. I’ve been at this for years and I can’t find a single example.) Although, there is a problem of asymmetry of influence that is unaccounted for in all current political thought. But back to the regulatory point at hand: you can find problems that the market cannot solve – almost entirely due to

                6) Experience. You take for granted the system that you know well without criticizing whether or not it’s “good”. I am sure you and I could go back and forth on this topic quite a bit, and learn something from it. But I think as a trader, while you are experienced with the system as it operates, you do not understand much about economics. A to pic about which Mises, Rothbard and Hayek certainly do. (And which I do.) So the question is, whether possessed of that knowledge, you would grant the same value judgment to your experience that you do today — and I suggest that you would very likely not. There is very little that is ‘good’ about how we trade today, and very much ‘bad’ about our monetary system. In that light, as an economist, rothbard’s history of banking is accurate. The admittedly luddite desire for the gold standard may or my not be a good idea. But that can be determined only if you are capable of making judgements about the different risks of the two alternatives systems: a) the inter-temporal system of redistribution and inflation that harms savings we call fiat money monetarism vs b) the inter-generational program of saving and interest. And lastly the likelihood that the Keynesian-Knight-Samuelson program of aggregate equilibriums that seeks to maintain a constant rate of interest is a beneficial rather than risk-exacerbating program compared to the international uniform gold standard program. (I am only touching the very surface of these issues.)

                Since there is considerable debate about these issues among even the top twenty economists, I do not think it would be in your purview to discredit the ‘austrian’ system of thought without understanding economics. There is a vast diference between finance and economics. Finance is calculable. There fore it is simple. economics may or may not be calculable. And that is the fundamental problem.

                7) Given the attacks on the constitution and constitutionalism by Wilson, the FDR administration and those by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the classical liberal program basically folded as an opposition force to socialism. The libertarian movement took hold of political dialog as a radical system of thought suitable for attacking pervasive socialism. The conservative movement was unsuccessful until the 1980’s after the disaster of the Carter administration. The conservative strategy was no longer to compromise but to adopt socialist tactics of accumulating debt that would force a confrontation. (I’ll leave this for now rather than go into detail. The point is that the libertarian and conservative programs were driven by the failure of the classical liberal program of respecting the rule of law and the constitution, and the idea that ‘laws must apply to all equally’ and “if a law does not exist, there cannot be a crime”.

                I kind of doubt that you will find anyone online able to answer your level of inquiry. The people who can rarely ‘waste’ there time here, and focus on the graduate students that are already consuming their time. I know a lot of these people either personally or at least tangentially, and they focus on ‘their people’. As a member of the Mises org for a long time, and a member of Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society and one of the more prolific critics out there, I know how hard it is to find someone worthy of one’s time in discourse.

                Thanks for asking intelligent questions and positing intelligent criticisms.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                And it’s a pleasure doing business with you, Curt. When I approach a subject I don’t understand, I usually do my research in historical order, for it’s often the case each writer is attempting to make his own points historically. I began with Hayek’s Road to Serfdom but knew it wasn’t a big enough text to explain the matter of Libertarianism. I scratched around and started in re-reading John Stuart Mill and have made a few desultory pokes at Bentham and Adam Smith, sensing they’re the root stock of what I need for understanding Hayek, the balance of whose writings I’m reserving for somewhat later. Only then will I get, at long last, to Mises.

                My own views of how we might better educate the general population are a subject apart: education is a great equalizer and is the strength of a nation. It ought to be taken at least as seriously as national defense in an era where more than ever, knowledge is power. If I defend teachers’ unions, those who attack them always seem to exempt firefighters and policemen from their obloquy. It is the height of hypocrisy: demonizing teachers’ unions is a naked attempt to wrest control of education to the attacker’s own ends. The Incompetent Teacher is a myth. Good teachers leave the profession, as good soldiers leave that profession. My wife left after 20 years and five physical attacks, three in the last year.

                Yes, I am a trader, and have been since I was in my 20s. It may well be I am too close to that situation to comment dispassionately upon it, but I do not trust economists who have no practical experience in risk markets, which seems to be all of them. They are all unscientific lunatics, astrologers, phrenologists, busily predicting the past. Macroeconomics is unadulterated bullshit and that’s that.

                I spent some time working for a market analyst of sorts, a ridiculous gentleman who offered the dubious service of taking someone’s trade book and superimposing all his trades on the historical data. We had all the data for every day of trading against the CBOT and Mercantile Exchange, going back to the very beginning, so this was relatively trivial. He would then put on his wizard’s cap and try to find predictive value in this post-hoc chart: why had the trader chosen to enter the market on winning trades and why had he entered only to lose money? It was nothing but a Rorschach test of sorts, with a bit of Tarot thrown in for good measure, but these credulous traders would then be persuaded to have us build a trading model looking for these signs and portents in the ether. Eventually I quit in disgust and went on to build my own trading models.

                This much I know about economists: Keynesian economics worked well enough in Keynes’ day. They might not work so well today, what with our country routinely spending more than it collects in taxes. Friedman’s economics served Reagan well enough, but they couldn’t cope with the problems thus created. Markets don’t always work, especially when they’ve been deregulated and circumvented to the point where the whole thing collapses in shit and ruin as it did in December of 2007.

                Times change: today’s solution may not work tomorrow. Libertarians come in many flavors and they argue with each other with all the venom and pedantry of Talmudic scholars. Henry Kissinger observed academic quarrels are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. Though I make no pretense of fully understanding Libertarians, I am deeply repelled by what the Amateurs have to say about it. To that end, I took to teaching a course on John Stuart Mill to a group of Minnesota Tea Partiers, horrified and humbled by the extent of their ignorance of history. Classical Liberalism was a fine thing in theory, an absolute nightmare in practice. Let Jacksonian Democracy be what the Germans call a Mahnmal, not a Denkmal. Both are memorials of a sort, but a Mahnmal is a memorial to a great crime.Report

  7. RE: Corporation.

    THe state is a monopoly corporation. While any dispute requires a final arbiter, there is no compelling reason why, anyone within the state corporation needs to be PAID by the state. We only think so because of habit. But in general, privatization is always superior to public provision of goods. Always.

    If only for the fact that the state wastes 50% or more of every dollar we give it. Private enterprises are much, much more efficient.Report

    • (Too much complexity stated with too much brevity. )

      The state is a monopoly that can compete with corporations. But the state instead need only be an arbiter, with all other services provided by private industry, thus preventing the rise of bureaucracy, which is not only a competitor to private organizations (corporations) but to the process by which individuals perform experimentation and innovation (freedom.)Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Heh. I’m a software contractor. Want to see colossal inefficiencies and wasteful spending? Get close to any installation of Websphere or SAP. By contrast, the government is a model of efficiency.Report

        • Avatar KenB says:

          By contrast, the government is a model of efficiency.

          This is overstating the case. I’m in software as well, in a small company that helps big bureaucratic companies work with a big government bureaucracy, and both sides are pretty screwed up — bureaucracies are bureaucracies.Report

          • Except that private bureaucracies cannot create involuntary transfers through the threat of violence, unless they are sanctioned by the state. No great company in 1915 is a great company in 2011. Private Bureaucracies die. Public Bureaucracies are Zombies.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Of course, that’s completely different from the point you were making earlier, which was a flat statement about relative efficiency.

              By the way, how old do you think General Electric is? Exxon? Chevron? The J P Morgan Company? IBM?Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              > Public Bureaucracies are Zombies.

              Where is that Roman Empire, again?Report

        • Avatar Art Deco says:

          I thought you were a commodities trader.Report

        • People choose to pay for that inefficiency. I don’t choose to pay for the department of education, or health and human services. 🙂Report

          • Avatar RTod says:

            Sure you do. You do at the ballot box. Sure, you might not be enough by yourself to eliminate them. But then you can’t use your personal buying power to get Honda to do R&D or anew product you want or keep them from producing one you hate.

            Dems da breaks in da big city.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Not when the citizens are the stockholders.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        To grab a handy Marxist term, there is a great deal of alienation/estrangement between the stockholders and the fruits of the labor.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Yes indeedy. People forget Marx wasn’t a Marxist. He understood the terminus of unregulated capitalism. What he didn’t foresee was the rise of the trade union to counteract the pernicious effects of his proposed solutions.

          Nowadays in civilized countries like Germany, which got a gutful of fascism and communism both, they have the good sense to put a workers’ representative on the board of directors. Following Galen’s doctrine of signatures, the diagnosis of fascism follows the symptom of hatred of trade unions.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            What he didn’t foresee was the rise of the trade union to counteract the pernicious effects of his proposed solutions.

            Marx didn’t see the rise of trad unions? Or are you saying specifically that he didn’t see trade unions working against Marx’s solutions?Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Here’s the background stuff.

              In short, not really, and especially not Engels. Bismarck used the trade unions to forestall the advance of Communism. The workers were mollified: they didn’t take to the barricades and overthrow the government as they had in Russia.

              See, here I have to simplify things a bit, to the point of error. Communism only took hold in feudal societies, where the people really had no possibility of owning land or escaping their serfdom. Socialism was another story, socialism was a bargain with the state, not co-opting the state entirely as Marx had predicted. It’s no accident the fascists of Germany took the name National Socialism for their party, they knew Socialism wasn’t Communism.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                OK, the second claim.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                Um, no.

                Russia had serial agrarian reforms between 1861 and 1906 and was in the process of working out regularized land titles in the period immediately before the 1st World War. With other agrarian reforms conducted in the 19th century (except that in Prussia), the end of hereditary subjection was accompanied by the extension to peasants of allodial rights to rustical lands in place of rights of occupancy.

                Regarding Eastern Europe after the 2d World War, the only country in which a Communist government was founded predominantly on election results and not force and fraud was Czechoslovakia, the country most industrialized. In Latin America, Communist parties were at their most vigorous in Chile, a country dependent on extractive industry.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            civilized countries like Germany,…have the good sense to put a workers’ representative on the board of directors

            What kind of fairy dust magic makes that work? It sounds like a perfect recipe for capture to me.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Expand on this capture rhetoric. AufsichtsratReport

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I was partly tongue-in-cheek, but only partly. I’m sure there is some value to labor…I mean unions…from that rule, but I’m willing to bet it’s more limited than its advocates think because of the potential for agency capture.

                Stick a labor rep on the Board, and at least three things can happen.

                1. S/he can be influential, presenting labor’s…I mean the union’s…views and concerns, influencing the Board’s actions by presenting information the Board members find valuable

                2. S/he can be looked down upon by the corporate board members and ignored–any arguments made will be listened to in a pro forma manner, then the Board will move on as it would without that person there.

                3. S/he can be captured by the Board. The thrill of being in among the bigwigs, going to important meetings in fancy hotels, eating good food on someone else’s dime, etc. The Board members have an incentive to try to capture the representative so that s/he is less disruptive and easier to work with. As well, the representative is also getting new information, better financial and business perspective on the company, which will change his/her understanding of things. All of these things will undermine his/her capacity to effectively influence the Board.

                Of those three possibilities, exactly one provides for real meaningful influence, and given human nature and the incentives at play it seems the least likely to happen.

                Of course these aren’t entirely exclusive potentialities–there can be some degree of each going on, so it’s not at all impossible that the rep has some influence. But I’m dubious that their influence is huge or that the benefits to labor are that great. It sounds to me like the classic kind of reform proposal made by people who have ideological concerns while never having studied organizational behavior. It’s not a useless or damaging idea, but probably of pretty limited value.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yeah, I figured as much, brevity is the soul of wit. But now you’ve got me thinking. Did you take a look at how the Aufsichtsrat setup works in practice? About 25% of Germany’s workers are unionized, but curiously, there are no closed shops in Germany.

                I return to Bismarck and the unions, mostly because I’ve only really studied the Second Reich and Marx: here’s another backgrounder chunk. It seems important to recognize Bismarck hated the socialists and did everything he could to keep them from gaining the upper hand, mostly because they didn’t seem loyal to the German state. Cynically, Bismarck enacted meaningful social reform laws to undercut them. To everyone’s delight and surprise, including the socialists, Germany’s economy took a deep breath and charged ahead, inspiring social reforms in many other countries.

                Over the last few days, I’ve been looking at the roots of liberalism in the context of Adam Smith, who I consider to be the first recognizable liberal. Adam Smith had an awful lot to say about the then-new working class. I call myself a Liberal, but of old I was a Republican and in my youth entertained some Libertarian principles. Alas that both the GOP and the Libertarians have devolved into the sorry lumps of contumacious gristle they have become, for once their philosophies were meaty and useful, in the spirit of Adam Smith.

                No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.

                Why shouldn’t the Libertarians take this to heart, looking at the problem of poverty through the lenses with which they look at the War on Drugs for example? It’s not so much that a certain percentage of people are poor, surely no more significant than the fact that a certain number of people are addicts. If the Libertarian were serious about the Individual, they’d see the individual in the context of a flourishing and happy society.

                Which brings me to your point about Capture. Insofar as the workers aren’t seen to be a seething, exploitable lump, but rather as they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people. Surely they should have such a share of the produce of their own labour, and in the Aufsichtsrat system, they do, because they’re part and parcel of the decision making process.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Why shouldn’t the Libertarians take this to heart, looking at the problem of poverty through the lenses with which they look at the War on Drugs for example?
                You don’t think libertarian critiques of government-monopoly education in the inner cities is taking the problem of poverty to heart and looking at it through the lens with which they look at the drug war? You don’t think libertarian criticism of the way welfare has traditionally been structured is that? (It was libertarians, after all, who first proposed the idea of a reverse income tax, that would strip away the social control features of the welfare system to focus purely on aid to the poor). You don’t think opposition to the war on drugs is itself in part a focus on harm to the poor that helps keep them poor?

                Without intending this nastily, I honestly think you are interpreting libertarianism through a liberal lens rather than through a libertarian lens. That is, what you think libertarians think is not really an accurate representation of what they actually do think. I won’t try to claim they emphasize poverty issues as much as liberals–that would clearly be false–but they don’t simply ignore it as you seem to suggest.

                As to the Aufsichtsrat, perhaps they work well, but you haven’t demonstrated that. You’ve argued the theory behind them, and I’d argue none to clearly. “Surely they should have a share of the produce of their own labor?” That happens very well in a competitive market system without any employee representation on the boards (employees in the U.S. have pretty doggone good shares of the produce of their labor), so it hardly seems that could be the real purpose of them.

                Having looked at the Wiki page, though, it appears to me that if the system works well for the laborers, it’s because their representation on the board is substantial, rather than merely nominal. That institutional structure could indeed largely mitigate the issues I pointed out. Whether it actually accomplishes actual social good I couldn’t say without more study. But I’m afraid you haven’t actually given clear examples of the social good produce by them. so I remain uncertain about what their value–beyond an ideological attachment to the concept of empowering labor–is supposed to be.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                (humbly) Look, I’m quite willing to be convinced otherwise, but no, I do not see the Libertarian critique of poverty, especially not the critique of public education as valid. My wife was a public school teacher in just such schools. I bought her classroom computers. I bought school supplies for her classroom. The Libertarians are dead wrong on public education. Private education has been tried and found wanting: charter schools do not produce better results for the same money. I tried to start one. They’re bullshit. The problem is the parents, not the students. The problems of public education go deeper than the source of funding or regulation, they go to the nature of this society.

                I am interpreting Libertarianism based on what its writers have to say. I just got finished teaching John Stuart Mill to a small group of Tea Partiers. We took a brief excursion into Bentham and Adam Smith, to get a picture of what the classical libertarians were onto back when the working class arose.

                As for the War on Drugs, I would prefer to say nothing more. All I say on the subject has been treated with derision and perhaps I deserve it. This much I will say, when I asked for a Libertarian response to the problems of poverty, I was told there was none. It may well be I have been misinterpreting the Libertarians but I do know they descended from the classical liberals. But Adam Smith might as well be an extraneous appendage, like the femurs of whales, still present in some form, but you’d have to dissect the beast to find them in the Libertarian.

                I don’t have to demonstrate the benefits of Aufsichtsrat. Germany’s economy is doing quite well, though it is not what it might be. I put the links up so you might reach your own conclusions.

                It has been an interesting few days. I don’t feel good about any of it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                charter schools do not produce better results for the same money

                Actually, there are case studies of charter schools that have done badly, and case studies of charter schools that have done very well, because not all charter schools are equal. A libertarian would say that the important thing is to study both cases and see what worked and what didn’t. In fact that’s precisely the libertarian argument about breaking down the government monopoly in public education, to experiment. I’m not doubting your experience with a charter school–I’m saying let’s learn from it. Surely there’s a more deeply considered answer than, “this case failed so all cases must fail.”Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                The data indicate that charter schools are producing comparable results for [a lot?] less money, at least what I’ve poked through.

                That they could produce better results for the same money has not been reliably tried on any scale, and the formulation “they produce better results for less money” is usually a claim put forth not by supporters, but by opponents as an easily refuted straw man.

                Few supporters would deny that the hard cases—be it special needs, the criminally incorrigible, or simply those with indifferent or fully shitty family situations—will require a lot more special attention and thereby finance.

                That charter schools and the like may be more economically efficient for most everybody else should be the question. “Self-selecting” student populations need not be an obstacle, if most students are relatively untroubled as opposed to troubled, amenable to self-selection on some level.

                The question is not whether charter schools are a panacea, because they clearly ain’t, but that’s an unfair and unwise way to put the question, and usually put that way by their opponents, not proponents.

                The question is whether charter schools can be increased in scale, if they do get comparable results for the same money.

                Anybody for the Atlanta schoolteacher scandal?


                Just askin’. ;-}Report

  8. Avatar greginak says:

    It often seems like a state that is so limited it “can’t do special deals”, with companies, as you phrased it, is also to weak to exercise ( appropriately) its coercive power to prevent companies from dumping various poisons into the air and water or from sacrificing worker safety. That same weak state also may be prevented from doing thinks that create various public goods, like national parks, or filling in where the market fails. To often libertarian complaints slam any and all gov action, even in case like keeping poisons out of the air, they can’t admit the market fails or can’t even imagine a concept like a public good. For all the econo speak of many libertarians something like an externality is a foreign concept.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Not to this libertarian, environmental policy is one area where I think libertarians can learn from liberals. And I don’t think the strong-weak spectrum is very helpful here. What I want to do is make government pass general rules, rather than letting government do special deals. An institution may have a lot of power in some areas and very little in others.Report

  9. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    “If there’s a problem with rouge taxis screwing passengers or kidnapping people for zoo meat or something.” – That conjures up quite a funny image.

    I’m not familiar enough with the histories of various licensing schemes to know whether or not taxis were actually going around plowing into children and old ladies, thereby necessitating regulation, or whether taxis too were just caught up in some progressive tsunami of ideas, or whether big companies saw their window and legislation to capture the regulatory apparatus and was slipped through quietly without media coverage or Congressional alarm.

    Intentions don’t matter, but if we had some idea of the motivations behind the creation of such regulatory structures, we could at least know whether the opinions of the people on the ground are being discounted or stomped on; and this could motivate people.Report

  10. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    “Corporations. Corporations can exercise a lot of power, it’s true. They use the power of the state to enrich themselves at the expense of wider society, at least sometimes. I don’t think liberals and libertarians disagree on this at all. ”

    I think liberals and libertarians agree less than you think here. Certainly, corporations use the power of the state to enrich themselves at the expense of wider society; but they also use their own power, and that’s just as objectionable to us liberals. The focus on abusing state power leads a lot of liberals to believe that libertarians are unwilling to criticize corporations qua corporations.

    For a concrete example, look at antitrust law. Monopolies can abuse consumers without any help from the state whatsoever; but you see a lot of libertarians (not all, but a lot) objecting to the very idea of antitrust law on principle. In general, the government is seen by libertarians as the root of all evil, ignoring evils that had no origin in government action; and incapable of preventing any of the evils mentioned above. Liberals hold neither of those views, and it makes trusting libertarians difficult.Report

  11. Avatar Anderson says:

    Great, great post. I like the way you approach these polarizing problems with humility and an understanding that complex situations in a 21st century, globalized world require more than just a yes or no answer.

    Something I would like to see in the liberal-libertarian debate is a shift away from “big vs small government” tirades, which always seem to fall into talking points, toward a more “good vs bad government.” I like to hear people speak in specifics, with an understanding of precedent and evidence-based-research (not as much anecdotal), about what policies actually work. This, along with an acceptance that the political process involves dealing with myriad opinions and interests; we can’t re-invent the wheel overnight. Instead of listening to vague philosophical arguments that often depend on straw man fallacies, I’d like to hear about events that have happened, and are happening, not just in the U.S., but around the world. What are these countries doing (or have done) that is applicable to our policy problems? What have we done here in the U.S. that other political climates could learn from, or build off of?
    Yes, I know a large part of libertarian theory is that small government is always better government, of which I heartily disagree, but I still think there is plenty of room to discuss problems without resorting to “big government=BAD, small government= GOOD,” or vice versa (not that many people even really make that argument.)

    Although a part of me thinks that I am being naive, even as I write this. We are always going to have large (dare I say insurmountable?) philosophical differences, and that’s a most wonderful thing that many many places don’t have the pleasure of expressing in an open forum. So maybe it’s worthwhile every now and then, after an epic liberal-libertarian battle, to just sit back and relish our differences. Life is much better with them than without.Report

  12. Avatar Anderson says:

    Also, random question for any libertarians out there: What is the general libertarian stance on selective incorporation of constitutional rights? Gideon v Wainwright for the 6th amendment, or Mapp vs Ohio for the 4th, or the recent McDonald v Chicago for the 2nd come to mind…On the one hand, the sovereignty of the states is being overruled by a federal court. On the other hand, the federal courts are merely extending the Bill of Rights to all U.S. citizens as a matter of protecting individuals against intrusive state governments. Anyone able to voice an opinion on this, or point me to others that have?Report

  13. Avatar Sam says:

    I recognize that Obama’s bad on the drug war. His positions are indefensible. But suppose Obama had said on the campaign trail, “I’m all for legalization!” or the more complicated to the average voter, “The war on drugs has failed and as a result, we have to cut our losses.” How do you imagine that Republicans would have handled those statements and critiques? The man was trying to get elected. That’s why he laughed off the perfectly reasonable question. Enough Americans aren’t moved by the War on Drugs to take the side of a candidate opposed to it. There’s no rational reason for a presidential candidate who has a chance of winning to take that position.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      That is all politically defensible, but unsupported by the facts of Obama in office. If Obama had sentiments sympathetic to the abolition of the drug war he has enormous power to advance that cause. That he is, policy wise, a clone of the execrable Bush the Lesser is pretty much case closed that Obama is either a paternalistic liberal proponent of the drug war or is so utterly indifferent to the issue that he sold out to the drug warriors for a handful of beans and lets them do as they will.

      All that said; ultimately the legwork against the drug war has to be done in the electorate at large so that someone who’s honestly intent on ending the drug war can be elected and the Dems honestly do have to seriously think over this issue since there are some prominent politicians at least in the GOP who are to their left on the WoD.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The wacky thing is that the electorate at large has made peace, to some extent, with medicinal weed (and is willing to roll its eyes at occasional recreational use).

        The feds have refused to reschedule marijuana (in opposition to the findings of their own experts). The president’s DOJ has moved forward with busting dispensaries despite the president having made noises about overlooking dispensaries that operate in accordance with state law.

        It would be very easy to do nothing on this instead of acting in opposition to it.Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        It is entirely unrealistic to expect a first term president to act as though he’ll never face re-election. Whether or not we like the rules of the game, they exist, and the fact remains that when he took office, the drug war wasn’t a huge priority, nor is it now. Perhaps it ought to be, but I seriously doubt you can create a scenario where aggressively opposing the drug war during his first term made any political sense for Obama, never mind opposing the drug war before even being elected.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          We’re not talking about opposing the drug war, Sam. We’re talking about not busting dispensaries acting in accordance with state law like he said he would.

          It’s not like we’re asking for the legalization of heroin, here. (Well, some of us aren’t.)Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            I agree that his position on the matter is ugly. But he doesn’t seem like somebody who’d make a cavalier decision about something like this; unfortunately, the politics probably point toward the dispensary busting. We can hate that decides not to die on that particular hill, but I can’t imagine how it’d be politically advantageous for him to do so.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Sam, I don’t see it. If Obama ~wanted~ to dial down the drug war he could have very easily enforced a hands off policy. There is a large constituency that might punish him for coming out against the drug war openly but if he were just, to take Jaybird’s example, not bust dispensaries that were legal in their host states then there wouldn’t be any serious political consequences for him in terms of votes. The anti-drug fanatics aren’t in his base or really in the swing vote realm and even they wouldn’t be much aware of it because the Drug Warriors wouldn’t be able to make much hay with it.
              I’m sad to see that his rhetoric is so much fluff on this subject but politics really isn’t an excuse for what he’s done. On the subject of the Drug War the candidate of Hope and Change has proven to be the politician of Status Quos and Same-ol Same-ol.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                But Obama wins with the voters on the margins of his supporters. The hardcore supporters are going to be there if he takes the hands-off policy, but for him to win again, he needs to hold those voters on the margins, the ones who voted for him because he wasn’t Bush, because he wasn’t McCain, the ones who voted for him for reasons he can’t necessarily account for. The reason you don’t end the raids entirely is that you know who your opponents are: they’re the people who will claim anything at anytime, regardless of evidence. Suppose the raids stop; how long before the chain emails begin: “Obama Legalizes Marijuana!” The point is trying to minimize whenever possible the ammunition that those types have. Not they’ll stop; they’re never stop. But the idea is minimizing the damage they can do. Because, let’s face it: supporting the end of the drug war isn’t a big deal on the national stage. It just isn’t. It ought to be, but it isn’t.

                As for accusations that Obama has been business as usual instead of a change agent, I think that the change was always going to end up being in the eye of the beholder. If you didn’t like government to begin with, chances are you don’t believe Obama changed a goddamned thing. If you’re a gay soldier fearful of being honest about your life, maybe Obama’s promises don’t seem so empty.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But Obama wins with the voters on the margins of his supporters.

                I think that the fact that he wasn’t Bush did more to help on the margins than anything else.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I agree. That said, his political calculus necessitates keeping those voters, and I’d assume his camp has figured that the overwhelming majority of those voters didn’t sit down on election day and say, “I’m voting for this guy because he’ll stop the raids of marijuana dispensaries while John McCain will likely continue them.” I doubt it’s an issue that ever crossed their minds. (Whether or not that’s a good thing is a different conversation.)Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                If medical marijuana was politically toxic, he never should have set the policy that he wasn’t going to raid the dispensaries to begin with.

                If this is politics, it isn’t shrewd politics so much as it is cowardly politics. The raids won him no votes. The fear is that the issue could, at some point in the future, possibly cost him votes, if it maybe becomes an issue. Not busting the dispensaries was pretty safe. But they feared even that.

                Letting the dispensaries do their thing wasn’t bold politics. It was sufficiently safe that they set the policy in the first place. There is no indication that he would have died – or suffered more than a paper cut, if that – on this particular hill. But even that was too much to ask.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                We’re not talking about gay rights (though on gay rights Obama’s support has consisted of getting out of the way and letting congress do the work for him), Sam, we’re talking about the War on Drugs. As will noted right above this has been very typical of Obama in his term. He’s been an astonishingly cowardly Executive on issues that he campaigned on being bold on. And I say that as a person who both voted for him and (reluctantly) donated to his campaign. He’s got one hell of a fight deficit in him and on the WoD he’s either completely two faced or utterly craven.Report

  14. Avatar James Hanley says:

    If there’s a problem with rouge taxis screwing passengers or kidnapping people for zoo meat or something

    Hey, why pick on the red taxis? I drove a red taxi and never even contemplated kidnapping anyone for zoo meet. As a former cab driver (3 whole months, waaayyy back in 1990), it’s clear to me that the medallion system is nothing more than an effort to limit competition. That shifts money from the consumers to the medallion owning companies. (The driver is a transit point–whatever extra might get shifted from the customer to the driver gets taken by the company in increased cab rental fees.) This legislation is one of the more blatant efforts at rent-seeking that you’ll ever see.

    There is no price mechanism for charity, so there is no reason why one would expect the “market” for charity to clear.

    Now that’s something I’d never thought of before. Very insightful; thanks.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      I agree with you about the medallions–really a terrible idea–but it’s worth pointing out that in DC, unlike in a lot of large cities, many cabs are owner-operated, so a good chunk of the medallion revenue would be captured by cabbies themselves.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        in DC, unlike in a lot of large cities, many cabs are owner-operated, so a good chunk of the medallion revenue would be captured by cabbies themselves

        Actually, no, at least according to the video.

        The number of medallions would be substantially less than the number of current owner/operators; preferential treatment would be given to the minority of owner/operators who actually live within D.C. itself (rather than in the VA/MD suburbs), with the first chunk of medallions going to them; then the next set would be sold to companies that want to get into the business (the legislation is being pushed by a guy who wants to make sure his company can buy up a bunch); and only then would current owner-operators who live outside D.C. proper be able to buy, if there are any left over at that point.

        A permitting process for cabs would be absolutely legitimate, if it were focused on safety–making sure cabbies were competent drivers operating safe equipment. I’d have annual inspections of the cabs and some way to deal with drivers who have accidents and moving violations, whether its suspension of licenses, revocation, or further driver-training. But basically telling people “we’re closing down your franchise without any compensation and transferring it to someone else” is legalized theft.

        As Jared Diamond wrote in Guns, Germs, and Steel, “at worst [governments] function unabashedly as kleptocracies.” I know liberals complain when libertarians argue that government regulation can be legalized theft (and I know libertarians play that card way too relentlessly and without meaningful distinction), but cases like this show the underlying truth of the claim.Report

  15. Avatar James Hanley says:


    I can’t speak for the “general libertarian stance,” but I can tell you mine. I’m a strong federalist, but I believe that the rock bottom basis of federalism has to be that citizens have fundamental rights in all localities. So if Georgia only wants to spend $400 per year on education, while Massachusetts spends $4000, that’s fine. But Georgia shouldn’t get to deny its citizens any basic constitutional rights.

    So my own libertarian position on selective incorporation is that it’s a travesty, not because of the incorporation itself, but because it’s only been selective. I stand with Justice Black–total incorporation is the only legitimate outcome.Report

  16. Avatar Freddie says:

    I mean, look, this is all cool and all, and it’s the identical shpiel that always comes from over here.

    But what Erik and Jason are describing has nothing to do with the actuality of institutional libertarianism. Liberaltarians need to train their guns on the very powerful (within the movement) and quite dogmatic libertarian think tanks in order to achieve change. And if they can’t, they need to publicly disavow them.Report

    • Avatar Simon K says:

      I’m sort of surprised, Freddie, that you know what “institutional libertarinism” is in actuality. I mean, I don’t and I’ve been trying to figure it out for …. 20 years. The only conclusion I’ve reached is there isn’t such a thing. Jason works for the Cato institute for goodness sake, shouldn’t he know what the “actuality institutional libertarianism” is? Is he deluded about it or trying to deceive us?

      Because libertarianism lacks an actual policy program, it can be used to justify any number of things. This isn’t the fault of “libertarianism” but of the specific people doing it.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:


        I don’t want to speak for Freddie, but I’ll take a crack at answering your question.

        My scope of the Libertarian World is fairly limited, but in that limited view I see essentially two worlds.

        The Fist World – and for the purposes of your question I’ll call this the World of Institutional Libertarianism – is what I see in the everyday public arena. In my job, for example, we do a lot of volunteer work on State Public Advisory Committees and Panels that pertain to Risk Management: work-site safety, managed healthcare plans, and BOLI/human resource regulation being the biggest. Every time there are opportunities for public testimony on laws and administrative rules the biggest number of private citizens (that is, not directly affiliated with a trade association, political party, lobbying firm or PAC) are self-described Libertarians. But people here might not recognize them as such; they sound nothing like anyone I see at the League. Instead, they sound like people I hear on national and local TV and radio programs that tell mainstream America what Libertarianism is; they sound like your more well known pols that talk about Libertarianism and Freedom. They sound like our state Libertarian party, who frequently go on said local radio shows to kiss the ass of the hosts who champion the WOD and govt intervention in your bedrooms. Here is a quick summation of what Libertarianism stands for with these people:

        * They are against all government programs, save the military, period, even though they are simultaneously for a whole lot of social government intervention
        * But anything curtailing liberty that the Rs want is cool
        * All US wars should never be opposed and all who do should be seen as suspect characters, unless a Kenyan Socialist is commander in chief.
        * Gays need to be taught a lesson, and taken out of public debate entirely or even deported
        * Only hippies smoke weed, and it should never ever be legalized
        * Muslims are evil, and need to be dealt with
        * This country was founded as a Christian Nation, and the government needs to make it officially so again
        * America is for Americans, so no immigrants

        In 8 years of sitting through public testimony I have never heard a libertarian quote or reference any of the philosophers I see combed over on this sight. I have never heard reference to “bottom up solutions,” or the need to take the path that allows the greatest amount of freedom to the electorate. Instead, the points I noted above are gone through in *very agitated tones,* and the number one original source of libertarian wisdom that is consistently put into public record is Glenn Beck, plus whatever historian Glenn Beck is peddling at the moment of that testimony.

        The Second Libertarian World I see is I will call the LoG World of Libertarianism, because that’s my personal reference point to it. *This* world is far more thoughtful and consistent, and recognizes that you can’t simultaneously ask for less government intervention and a federal anti-SSM amendment or a war on drugs. I have major props and respect for this world. In our committee meetings, I would welcome public testimony from this kind of libertarian. It would be awesome. But somehow they never bother to show up. And the truth is outside of blog/salons like this or referenced in the occasional think tank piece, I never really see them anywhere.

        My problem with the First World is… well, everything, if you ask me. They are like children.

        My problem with the Second World is exactly what Freddie says above: it gets bent out of shape and acts both angry and wounded when people assume that libertarianism is what those that people who say they are libertarians in tv, radio, town hall meetings, public testimonies, and popular books – in other words, most of society – say it is.

        I don’t often agree with much of what I see quoted by him here, but Freddie is 100% correct with the thrust of his comment: If you don’t want the world at large assuming that the vast and far-more-visable-than-you machinery that is claiming your mantle is the True Libertarian Ideal, you’d be better off served by focusing more disdain on that machine and less at the people who see and hear it and make the obvious conclusion.Report

        • Avatar Simon K says:

          RTod – I sort-of agree with you. I don’t call myself a libertarian for a variety of reasons, most importantly that I’m not opposed to welfare or social insurance unless other quite stringent conditions are filled, but also partly because of the people you talk about. We have one here who wants desperately to abolish to local healthcare district which costs everyone a grand total of $22 per year on their property tax. I mean, really? That’s the great violation of liberty you chose to challenge first? Nothing else going on worth fighting first?

          I disagree on just two things:

          1. If you’re going to call something “actual institutional libertarianism” it should presumably have actual institutions associated with it. There aren’t a lot of actual libertarian institutions, but surely Cato, Reason and the libertarian blogosphere would be amongst them. Aren’t they generally in your second world? I think Freddie has something else in mind other than the crazies you’re talking about.

          2. Libertarianism, in spite of its lack of a concrete program and consequent appeal to people whose primary interests are very different, is a specific uniquely American political tradition that emerged from the fusion of strains of classical liberalism and individualist anarchism with the relatively weak early American state(s), especially in the west. It has a specific meaning, which obviously runs contrary to some of its popular uses. The same is true of liberalism and conservatism, and yet liberals and conservatives get to point out when loonies are coopting their names (although sometimes they refrain for the sake of big tent party building). I don’t see why libertarians shouldn’t have the same privelege.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Let’s say that I am a member of a particular belief system.

            To what extent ought I apologize for a subset of people who also claim membership of this particular belief system who do bad things?

            Are Libertarians more like Christians who should be expected to decry violence against abortion providers or are they more like Muslims who should not be expected to apologize for 9/11 just because the kooks who flew the plane were Muslim?

            Are they like Christians insofar as they are culpable for such things as the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or slavery or are they like Marxists who, it should be pointed out, have nothing to do with Stalinists, Leninists, Castroists, Maoists, or any other historical monster who co-opted the name “Marxist” without taking into account the fact that Marx never talked about the need for mass graves?Report

            • Avatar Simon K says:

              Personally, I don’t think you’re at all obliged to apologise for your co-believers behaviour in any of those cases, because you’re not responsible for it.

              The claim actually being made, though, is that something bad – I’ve lost track of precisely what – is somehow inherent in libertarian ideas or inevitable in their actual practice. Presumably “institutional libertarianism” is supposed to apologise, or something.Report

  17. Avatar Freddie says:

    Incidentally– I’ve seen no actual reference to the fact that Gillespie referred to a Reason reporter as “the powerless.”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The article he quoted was effectively a curtain-raiser for a 5 minute video in which the issue of the Reason journalists was mentioned for about 10 seconds. At least 10 times as much time was devoted to taxi drivers themselves, including a great many who at least sounded like ethnic minorities (I listen to the audio version of their videos, so I haven’t actually watched it) explaining how they feared their autonomy would be lost to larger corporate taxi companies. And yet all Freddie could do was focus on the fact they also wrote about the DC local government violating the First Amendment and how it meant that really all libertarians care about is white privilege?

      This is in the original post.

      I’m surprised you didn’t see it.Report

  18. Avatar jfxgillis says:


    Funny. Had a similar thread on Yglesias’s site, and he mostly agreed with you (and about taxi medallions and you’re all just …. wrong.

    The “market” is casual transport simply doesn’t work without strict government regulation, including, if necessary, and it almost always IS necessary when a city gets big enough to matter, artificial barriers to entry.

    What will happen to those “poor” taxi drivers balleyhooed by is that they’ll get even poorer if Reason has its way.

    This isn’t really a philosophical or even a political point. It’s empirical. It’s not debateable in terms of more or less “liberty” or more or less “justice.” It simply isn’t. We know from the history of hackney carriages going back to the first licensing in London in 1635 what makes a casual transport system function well and what doesn’t.

    This is not to say that D.C.’s system functions well. Or New York’s. Or Boston’s (where I spent my yoot as a taxi driver). Only that Reason magazine is LITERALLY, and I literally mean that literally, the last persons on earth I’d ask to think about how to improve it.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      And that is because…?Report

      • Avatar jfxgillis says:


        Because they’re more interested in vindicating their ideological principles than in creating a functional system of casual transport for a densely population urban region that needs such a system.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      The “market” is casual transport simply doesn’t work without strict government regulation, including, if necessary, and it almost always IS necessary when a city gets big enough to matter, artificial barriers to entry.

      As far as artificial barriers to entry go, you are simply wrong. I cannot think of a situation when you would ever need to impose artificial barrier to entry as a deliberate policy. And you are wrong empirically, New Zealand has no medallion system and our taxi services run just fine, even in Wellington and Auckland, our highest density areas.

      What is it exactly that you think a medallion system does that makes it so essential?Report

      • Avatar jfxgillis says:


        “I cannot think of a situation when you would ever need to impose artificial barrier to entry as a deliberate policy.”

        Um. I just gave you one. Casual transport in a densely populated urban region.

        I’m not strictly committed to medallions, but in the absence of them some other artificial barrier needs to be constructed once an area gets large enough and densely populated enough to matter.Report

          • Avatar jfxgillis says:


            Dunno. What’s interesting about Montgomery?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              They had some illegal taxicabs there for a while.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                Oh. If they were illegal, I presume the state lowered its iron fist righteously upon the miscreants. If not, that’s a problem of overall governance.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It tried, that’s for sure.

                I find it hard to be on anybody’s side but the taxis’, though.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “I find it hard to be on anybody’s side but the taxis’, though.”

                That’s actually a brutally difficult problem/value judgment, since one way to think of the primary conflict is as between incumbent taxis and potential taxis.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Not a fan of the incumbents either. Why should they be able to tell customers that they can’t take a ride with someone else?

                Who are you to tell me that so-and-so can’t give me a ride for a dime but, instead, I have to pay him 45 cents?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Jaybird, it is important to note that there are economic advantages to price transparency and standardization. To be able to hail a cab and know that it’s not going to be cheaper or more expensive than the next one. So that I don’t have to hail four before I find the one with the good price.

                That being said, there is a solution in this for street cabs vs livery cabs. You can transport people for whatever price you see fit, but if you want the little dome light above your car on public streets, you have to charge $x.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Actually, no. The set prices become price floors, not price ceilings. It doesn’t really matter if cab X would charge more than cab Y. Sometimes Burger King charges more than McDonalds, too. And sometimes the price differentials are worth it. If cab X is cleaner, safer, and with a pleasanter driver, it’s worth it to pay more. (I might ride in cab Y, with the spring sticking out of the seats and the driver who hasn’t bathed in days, but I’d insist on paying less.) And if the cab is picking me up in an area where cabs are scarce, it’s worth paying more than if its picking me up in a place where cabs are plentiful.

                If there are enough cabs, it would be devilishly difficult for the drivers to take advantage of customers. When I drove a cab, I gave far more discounted fares on a Monday night than I did on a Friday, because on Mondays the cab to customer ratio was so much higher than on the weekends. Keep the cab to passenger ratio high, and all the customers will benefit.

                (And if you ever want to negotiate a fare, do it before getting in the cab! Once you’re in you’re captive and your bargaining power disappears.)Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I’m relatively flexible here. You can use livery cabs for un-services parts of down. Or you can have tiered pricing where I can tell whether it’s going to be premium or discount before even approaching the cab. Or have an opt-out system, where those that want to charge more or less than the “standard” price have some sort of easily visible signal.

                My main point is that price transparency can be a collective virtue. It’s one of the things I hate about shopping in foreign countries. Everything is a haggle. I end up buying nothing.

                Whether it’s the role of the government to force these standards, is a matter of philosophy as much as anything. But I find the notion of the Indian Market Square for something as time-sensitive as street cab selection to be headache-inducing.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                If I came across arguing against price transparency, that’s my bad. I absolutely believe in price transparency, I just don’t think it requires fixed prices. That’s why I suggest negotiating ahead of time (when that’s possible), because then the consumer knows and agrees to the price prior to entering the cab. And I’m 100% in favor of using the interwebz to spread information on cab costs in various cities. There’s already a web site that does that and it could easily be expanded, even in a system of unregulated prices.Report

        • Avatar James K says:

          Except that you are wrong, there is no need. Why do you think there is?Report

          • Avatar jfxgillis says:


            Except you’re wrong and there is a need.

            This particular market has needed state intervention since before people even knew about such things formalistically. 1635. Every attempt to allow such a market without intervention failed. Every attempt that succeeded (to varying degrees and/or with arguable tradeoffs) included some strong element of state intervention.

            It doesn’t have to be a medallion, but it has to be something. Since and most other libertarians hate that something on principle no matter what it is, they are especially ill-qualified to design it.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              But Jfxgillis you still aren’t explaining what this intervention does or why it’s required, nor are you addressing the multiple markets James has cited that do not have such interventions and yet have fully functional transit cab systems?Report

              • Avatar Herb says:

                Really? I spent 2 seconds looking this up and found pretty quickly the reason why NYC instituted the Medallion system and what it’s intended to do.

                Seems like you guys (James K included) are assuming things based on your particular philosophies and are not even bothering to get all the facts.

                James K basically admitted he can’t conceive of a situation where artificial barriers are required, so…conclusion: There is no need.

                (Aren’t taxis in London also heavily regulated? I think they are.)

                As for the comparison to Auckland or Wellington, is either of those cities even comparable to NYC in population or density? Did either city ever have more cabbies than passengers? Are we comparing apples and oranges here or what?

                I mean…honestly, this isn’t a case of you guys making bad arguments. It’s a case of not even bothering to make arguments at all. You just plug the issue into the Libertarotron and see what answer comes out. If its divorced from context or history, that’s okay. It’s consistent with Libertarian philosophy and that’s all that matters.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Full disclosure I’m not a libertarian myself; I just like to see my fellow lefties make good arguments. Are you honestly saying that rather than expect regulation supporters to support their assertions their opponents should be expected to go look up why supporters support regulation themselves? That’s ridiculously weak tea.

                So far the only actual argument you’ve presented is that a bunch of big cities have done it. That’s not very persuasive. New York is the national capital of rent control for goodness sakes. All this tells us is that a bunch of these cities at one point or another in their long history got their governments captured briefly by some taxi oligopolies that then wrote some rules to lock out all their competition to the detriment of poor cab drivers and taxi users alike.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, I don’t know necessarily what intervention is needed. Medallions appear to be the favorite of most jurisdictions, but I’m not personally committed to them if a superior method can be demonstrated.

                As for why intervention is needed, when you have the critical mass sufficient to sustain a functioning system of casual transport (population size and density, relatively high living standards, probably some geographical elements and such), all kinds of problems crop up in maintaining the system. Races to the bottom, collective action paradoxes, externalities, etc., etc.

                I was simultaneously both disappointed and pleased when I looked up the first hackney carriage act, in London in 1635. Disappointed because I expected the reason was to establish trustworthiness in drivers but I wrong (that came later). Pleased because it turns out Charles I was pissed off that the developing industry was screwing up his roads, which is an argument you hear to this very day, though more commonly about things like double- and triple-trailer trucks.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Could you be a little more specific about the problems? More specific than “collective action paradoxes”?

                So far, James K and James Hanley, who are libertarian-minded, are kosher about enforcing regulations for safety and the like. Ditto for me, to be sure. You could even get me on board for subsidizing them, if they can’t be profitable and they serve a public good. The libertarians right here (and North) aren’t opposing all regulations*. They’re opposing medallions. Which is why they keep returning to that subject, despite your saying you’re not set on medallions.

                For my part, I’m not a libertarian and I am not opposed to regulation where needed. But I do get antsy when I hear “We need regulations! We just have to figure out what?” when I think the approach is “Such-and-such is a problem that needs addressing, which we will have to do it through regulation.”

                * – From the original post: “Note that ‘this medallion system is bad is not the same as ‘all regulations are bad’. “Report

              • Avatar North says:

                That’s fine jfxgillis, I’m not wedded the medallions myself.
                So based on your list you feel that limiting the number of (legal) cabs in a given city prevents races to the bottom (I’m guessing you mean quality, not price), collective action paradoxes and externalities (Along with some etcs)?

                Now I’m having trouble seeing where much of this would be helped by this kind of regulation. Aren’t externalities already priced in by taxes, fees and permits for automobiles in general? Aren’t collective action paradoxes best fixed by leaving the actors the maximal amount of room to maneuver around each other? Aren’t races to the bottom in quality counterbalanced by consumer choice and races to the bottom for price? Over all don’t these policies essentially help middle class and affluent consumers and providers at the cost of more impoverished cab users and drivers?

                I mean I’m fine with regulation if it makes things better and perhaps it does in this case. I certainly am not familiar with cab medallion regulations or its ilk but on the surface the arguments don’t seem very good for regulation.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “But I do get antsy when I hear ‘We need regulations! We just have to figure out what?'”

                To be perfectly honest, a cold and clear-eyed examination of, oh, let’s say, ALL OF RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY, indicates that something like that is pretty much the source of all regulation.

                You can sit around pondering how Bastiat would approach a problem and submitting crazy ideas to libertarian think tanks, but political authorities don’t have that luxury. They have devise real policies for the real world in real time for real problems suffered by real people.

                “You could even get me on board for subsidizing them, if they can’t be profitable and they serve a public good.”

                Personally, I’d go with that or something like that in place of medallions. But that wasn’t on the agenda in NYC back in 1936.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                “You could even get me on board for subsidizing them, if they can’t be profitable and they serve a public good.”

                Personally, I’d go with that or something like that in place of medallions.

                So even though the system is actually producing the desired good, at quantities and prices desirable to the public, you’d coercively transfer money from other people to subsidize it?

                I’m honestly at a loss to understand why.

                It appears to me that you’re looking for an outcome that doesn’t involve any tradeoffs, but of course that doesn’t exist and this suggested policy doesn’t achieve it, either.

                jfxgillis, I’m not trying to be nasty, but it’s still not clear to me what exactly it is you want, and why you see a system that’s providing lots of a desired good/service at a low price to be a bad thing. Your argument also seems to suggest that scarcity is good.

                If you want to persuade that politicians are just devising real solutions for real-world problems, you have to make it clear just what the problem is, and you have to explain why you don’t think it’s the case that politicians are devising real-world handouts for real-world rent-seekers.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                They have devise real policies for the real world in real time for real problems suffered by real people.

                Okay, but how about we determine what the problems are, first. Then we can match the solutions to the problems. And decide if the proposed solutions would be preferable than the problem they combat.

                You know… “Such-and-such is a problem that needs addressing, which we will have to do it through regulation.”

                Instead of “Support regulation (whatever regulation) or move to Somalia!”Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Oh, regarding subsidization. I only support that in the event that the market cannot sustain itself acceptably without subsidization, or there is not an acceptable substitute. I support bus subsidies, for example. I would support rail, but I rarely see plans that make sense in comparison to the alternatives.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “Okay, but how about we determine what the problems are, first.”

                I don’t want to horn in on Herb’s game, but I’m going to make an inference here. I have strong feeling Herb read the Haas Report from New York City, 1936, or a detailed summary of it’s findings, because I did, too, and it’s not that hard to find on the internet.

                The City of New York DID INDEED find out “what the problems are, first,” and the system they installed solved many of those problems.

                Was the system they installed the best possible? Probably not. Are there new problems? Sure.

                Is the idea of adopting Lima, Peru’s system for Washington, DC a viable policy? Don’t be a freaking idiot.Report

          • Avatar Herb says:

            Actually, if there’s no need for a medallion system, then jfxgillis isn’t wrong. New York’s TLC is.

            And they’ve been wrong since 1937, when the Haas Act was signed into law to deal with certain problems…among them, an over-abundance of unprofitable, poorly maintained taxis.

            Indeed, the “no need” argument seems to have its basis in abstract philosophy, independent of and contrary to the lessons of actual experience.Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              Herb, New York’s local government practices rent control, which one of my fellow economist once described as the surest was of destroying a city short of bombing it. I’m not surprised when they get something wrong, I’m surprised when they get something right.

              And an abundance of unprofitable, poorly-maintained cabs is not a market failure, in fact it is most likely a sob story told by taxi companies in the hope the legislature would be mutton-headed enough to buy it, and legislate them more profits. If the badly-maintained taxis are a danger on the road, then enforce vehicle standards. If the surplus of taxis is causing congestion, then use the tax system I outlined in my original post. And if profits in the taxi industry were really too low, people would leave and go do somethign else which would drive up taxi fares to restore equilibrium. None of these scenarios require a medallion system.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


      You have made claims, but presented neither evidence nor a chain of logic to support the claims.

      I drove a taxicab for a while, and within days it became clear to me that the medallion system did not exist to protect the public but to protect the companies. The purpose and the effect is to limit competition, driving up taxi fares. The medallion system does not guarantee safety–I drove some cabs that frankly frightened me.

      If the issue is safety, that can be addressed directly through permitting that requires safety inspections. But simply limiting cab numbers does nothing for safety (quite the reverse, probably, since there is less competition there is less incentive to do the things that would attract customers, like make sure your vehicle is in peak condition).

      Someone else said NYC had to institute medallions because there were too many unprofitable cabs. So? That’s the cab drivers’ problem. There are too many unprofitable restaurants in the U.S., too–should governments solve the problem by issuing restaurant medallions and carefully limiting the number granted? Simply put, failing businesses do not constitute a market failure justifying government intervention–they are the natural consequence of a well-functioning competitive market.

      You say this is an “empirical” issue, and I agree. Unfortunately, you have the wrong empirical answer.

      And folks, pointing out that cities, from NY to London, actually have these types of regulations does not logically work as evidence that the market need those regulations. The theory of rent-seeking predicts that rent-seekers will seek such protective regulations so we would expect to see those regulations despite their lack of justification. But, simply as a matter of basic logic, an “is” cannot create an “ought,” so pointing to the existence of regulations as proof of their necessity is an insupportable approach.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        jfxgillis and Herb,

        Check out Hernando DeSoto’s The Other Path. There’s a section in there about unregulated–in fact wholly illegal–public transportation services in Lima, Peru. Amazingly, they operate very well.

        You might also want to check out the Wiki article on “Taxicabs of New York City,” which notes that (unsurprisingly) the limited number of medallions has created a black market for illegal taxicabs. Now I’m not too terribly worried myself about those illegal cabs, but if your goal is to ensure adequate regulation of taxicabs, creating a system that encourages black markets seems a rather perverse way to go about it.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        “Someone else said NYC had to institute medallions because there were too many unprofitable cabs. So? That’s the cab drivers’ problem.”

        While I agree that the medallion system is fucked and that the supposed aims of the medallion system can be achieved in much better ways…

        …having too many unprofitable cabs on the street has an impact beyond the cabbies themselves. Traffic in NYC is bad enough as it is. Dump another few hundred or thousand cabs on the road and it only gets worse. This impacts everyone and not just as a minor inconvenience. Time lost, emissions, gas (and money) wasted matter. Many of these aspects will lead to increased prices for a variety of goods. On and on. I don’t think any of that justifies the medallion system, which frankly doesn’t give a shit about those issues. But let’s not pretend that the impact of too many cabs on the road is concentrated solely on the unprofitable cabbies.Report

      • Avatar jfxgillis says:


        I’ve said three freaking times now that I’m not committed to a medallion system per se. For a variety of reasons, not all of which are strictly related to maximizing efficiency, the medallion system has become something of a standard municipal response when problems associated with casual transport that we’ve known about for 400 years begin to crop up in a given jurisdiction.

        I will readily concede that SOMETHING else might be better than medallions, and if it is, I’ll go for it. But there has to be a SOMETHING. Your nothing doesn’t cut it.

        As for evidence and chain of logic, I learned a long time ago not to waste my time. If I point out clear evidence of market failure to some ideologue who a priori rejects the concept of market failure, what’s the point? If I employ the logic of the collective action paradox to someone who denies such a thing is possible, or that it should be addressed if it seems possible, again, what’s the point?

        “That’s the cab drivers’ problem.”

        No, it isn’t. It’s the CITY’S problem and all the people in the city who would be served by a functional system of casual transport. That’s what you and Nick Gillespie and all the other libertarians will never understand, and that’s why I don’t want you or Nick Gillespie or any other libertarian (I should say “classical liberal” since, as I pointed out, you have MattY on your side) anywhere near an urban casual transport system. Except in the back seat muttering about Bastiat while the driver is muttering about the All Blacks.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Okay jfxgillis what regulation do you feel is necessary on cab systems in large systems? What need does it satisfy that is vital and that is not addressed in an unregulated cab market? Is limiting the number of cabs in these given cities a bug or a feature in your opinion?
          I’m not a libertarian myself so I don’t have an automatic hate on for regulation. I’m just trying to understand your point of view. When you mean regulation do you mean like drivers liscences and car inspections? Because if that’s all then I probably agree but the original subject was capping the max number of cabs in a given area. Are you in support of that specific aim of regulation?Report

          • Avatar jfxgillis says:


            “Is limiting the number of cabs in these given cities a bug or a feature in your opinion?”

            Grrrr. If the number is set too low or too high, it’s a bug. If it’s set about right, it’s a feature. And the right number is basically a case-by-case thing in part depending on local conditions. That’s why some idiot storming a municipal council meeting spouting crap from von Mises is laughable.

            Capping the maximum is a means, not an end. Capping the maximum isn’t an “aim” it’s a method that aims to sustain a viable casual transport system.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Dude, I’m too ignorant to know who von Mises is.

              As to the policy; what is the end that capping the maximum number of cabs is the means to doing and how does it accomplish this end?Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “what is the end that capping the maximum number of cabs is the means to doing ”

                99% of it can be attributed to two forces. On the part of the municipality, it’s to reduce externalities. On the part of the driver, it’s to impose average incomes high enough to maintain a living, and for the owner high enough returns on investment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                On the part of the driver, it’s to impose average incomes high enough to maintain a living, and for the owner high enough returns on investment.

                I repeat, not a legitimate regulatory concern! If people join a business where they can’t make enough money, they will quit it voluntarily–you don’t need to force them out. If any business owner doesn’t make high enough returns on an investment it’s really unwise to protect them from their bad decisions by protecting them from competition.

                All you are talking about really is harming the consumer by driving up prices.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                All you are talking about really is harming the consumer by driving up prices.

                And reducing availability.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Will, yes, thanks. Higher prices and higher waiting times–a double whammy in costs to the consumer.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “I repeat, not a legitimate regulatory concern!”

                Sez who? Rothbard?

                The SYSTEM collapses to the CITY’S detriment if that is not a regulatory concern.

                So if a city decides it prefers having a functional casual transport system to not having one, or having a dysfunctional one dominated by low-wage, high-turnover drivers, then that’s the city’s choice. Not Nick Gillespie’s because Ayn Rand wouldn’t like it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The SYSTEM collapses to the CITY’S detriment if that is not a regulatory concern…So if a city prefers having a functional casual transport system…

                No, I’m not letting you off that easy. You have not explained how the causal transport system collapses. I’m telling you flat out that that it won’t, because A) having so many “extra” drivers out there means there’s readily available casual transport opportunities for customers, and that’s very functional, since the purpose of the casual transport system is not primarily to make drivers well off but to make transport readily available to passengers; and B) the facts on the ground in Lima, Peru, as extensively documented by Hernando De Soto, where the system was not just unregulated but wholly illegal, was very very functional.

                Again, I’m not anti safety regulation. I’m anti-limiting the number of cabbies. You say too many cabbies lead to a collapse of the system, but you haven’t explained how, or what “collapse” actually means.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Jfxgillis, thanks for the clarification, much appreciated.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              If the number is set too low or too high, it’s a bug. If it’s set about right, it’s a feature.
              And how does the government figure out the right number? That is explicitly the socialist calculation problem, which Hayek demonstrated to be impossible about a half-century ago. The best system ever devised for figuring out the best number of suppliers in a market is…the market. You’re arguing against a well-demonstrated theory yet you’re accusing us of not knowing what we’re talking about?

              Your nothing doesn’t cut it.
              I haven’t suggested “nothing.” I’ve suggested regulating safety by requiring permits (but not limiting them), ensuring the permit holders have and keep a good driving record, and inspecting their equipment annually. Pray tell me how that is nothing?

              But you argued that there is justification for barriers to entry, and we’re still waiting for you to explain that. Whether it’s medallions or some other means of regulatorily limiting the numbers, why is that a desirable policy?

              You’re telling us there’s something we don’t understand, but you’re not explaining it to us, either. You suggest that cab drivers going broke means there is not a “functional system of casual transport,” but you don’t explain what you think the linkage is. If cabbies are going broke it’s because the customers–the ones who need the transport service–have so doggone many to choose between that they’re driving down the prices. For the customers, that’s a really really functional system! For the cabbie who can’t cut it, it’s not functional, but your recommendation is to not let him quit when he decides it’s no longer worthwhile–you want to kick him out because he can’t make enough money before he’s ready to quit because he can’t make enough money.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I wonder if the subject of wages isn’t one of the factors at the root of the disagreement here. I would personally rather there be 10,000 cabs with the drivers making $45k per year than drive the wage up to $60k per year by limiting the number of cabbies to 7,500. I’m honestly not sure what the argument is for the latter, except by arguing that putting 2,500 cabbies out of work is a price worth paying to raise the wages of the other 7,500. I’m sure that a lot of the 7,500 cabbies would agree with that, but I’d be with the other 2,500 cabbies.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Ah, sorry to go on, but I wanted to address jfxgillis’s “race to the bottom theory.” I reiterate that I drove a cab in San Francisco, a city with a medallion system. The system did nothing to prevent a race to the bottom. Several times in the mere three months I drove a cab I was given cabs I was extremely uncomfortable driving–twice so much that I returned it and insisted on being issued another cab for my own safety. Medallions and races to the bottom are, if anything, quite complementary.

                On the other hand, if there is relentless competition, how would I as a cabbie best win customers from other cabbies? Not just price but quality! Competition drives increases in quality–it is a serious misunderstanding of competition to think that it drives a race to the bottom. (Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood sports all these years!)Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “Medallions and races to the bottom are, if anything, quite complementary.”

                That’s an argument for better regulation. The appropriate regulatory tool for the kinds of situations you describe is to suspend or withdraw the medallion.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                My point is that limiting the number of cabs bears no relation to increasing cab safety. And nobody here is arguing against regulation for cab safety. So why limit the number of cabs–what specifically is that supposed to accomplish? Prevention of “system collapse” is too vague to be a good answer—what would “collapse” look like, and why would too many cabs cause it?

                Can you name any economic sector that has suffered “system collapse” because of too many competitors?Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                I really haven’t been making the safety argument, although as I point out, a medallion is actually a very powerful tool for ensuring safety if the issuer chooses.

                I don’t know why you keep saying I haven’t answered your question when I have multiple times. The medallion artificially increases average incomes (drivers) and returns (owners) thereby ensuring a superior workforce than a natural price equilibrium would, plus it reduces externalities.

                My quick Google seemed to indicate fare prices in Wellington are set by statute. Is that correct?Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “Can you name any economic sector that has suffered “system collapse” because of too many competitors?”

                Missed this earlier, sorry.

                Yeah. The agricultural “panics” of the 19th century in which oversupply caused a collapse in prices with regularity.

                The extry-special bonus of that particular example is that it occurred during your libertarian/classical liberal/lassiez faire paradise of utopinan goodness and wonderfulness.

                And if I may add, that’s one of the reasons my rejoinders to all this libertarian hogwash get so short and sometimes ill-tempered.

                We had a bunch of these stupid arguments a hundred and fifty freaking years ago. And we already know the consequences of lassiez faire and WE DON’T LIKE IT. If we did like it, we wouldn’t have installed regulations to ameliorate it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                OK, your definition of a failed sector is one in which the suppliers are competing with each other so fiercely they can’t make a profit.

                I could not possibly overemphasize how strongly I disagree with that view. Because what you’re describing is an economic sector where the consumers are receiving very large quantities of the good/service they desire at prices that allow them to enjoy lots of that good/service. What you call a failed sector I call a win (so of course I dispute your example). Consumer surplus is maximized, and that’s a very good thing.

                I absolutely do not believe that rigging the rules against consumers to ensure businesses an adequate return is a legitimate government purpose. All you’re really arguing for is eliminating real market competition in favor of cartels. You may call that the empirically correct position, but I have yet to see what your actual argument in favor of it is.

                1. Why is it government’s responsibility to protect businessmen from their own bad investment decisions?

                2. Why is it legitimate for government to rig markets against the interests of consumers?

                3. Why is an economic sector with high consumer surplus a failure?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I really haven’t been making the safety argument, although as I point out, a medallion is actually a very powerful tool for ensuring safety if the issuer chooses.

                But in no way even a smidgeon more powerful than a safety-based permitting system that doesn’t put an artificial limit on the number of cabs!Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “I could not possibly overemphasize how strongly I disagree with that view.”


                I think you’re wrong. You think I’m wrong. And it’s fundamentally a normative conflict, as your use of the term “very good thing” indicates.

                I do not accept that maximizing consumer surplus is a priori a good thing (nor that it’s a bad thing) or that it’s a workable First Principle for social organization. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s important as one of a set of competing principles that should be accounted for.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                Fine, but you’re still not explaining why you think it all is a bad thing. You’ve only said it’s bad, and you’ve called it a systemic collapse without defining what that means.

                Seriously, will you please explain why suppliers of a good/service going out of business is a bad enough thing that costs have to be imposed on others in order to correct it? I honestly don’t know why you think that, and you seem unwilling to simply explain it.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “Seriously, will you please explain why suppliers of a good/service going out of business is a bad enough thing that costs have to be imposed on others in order to correct it?”

                Because when the system provides social utility, the society suffers a decrease in utility.

                New York City, London, and for that matter, your example of Lima, Peru, all function better as CITIES when there is a functioning system of casual transport. Bankrupt businesses and a stream of low-wage (no-wage) high-turnover labor makes for a constantly degraded SYSTEM nothwithstanding the maximized utility in the case of any individual consumer.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                when the system provides social utility, the society suffers a decrease in utility.

                Eh?!? The provision of social utility causes a decrease in utility for society? I can’t begin to wrap my head around how that might even possibly make sense. But even more, you’re still pitching everything at the level of an abstraction. I think that’s because you have a vague idea in mind that you’ve never actually thought through very carefully, so you’re unable to specify it concretely. And if you ever did think it through very carefully, you’d find that you’re still unable to specify it concretely because the vague idea doesn’t resolve to any concretely accurate or meaningful claim. The vagueness is the refuge that allows you to hold on to the idea.Report

              • Avatar Herb says:


                “1. Why is it government’s responsibility to protect businessmen from their own bad investment decisions?”

                Um, the Medallion system wasn’t implemented because cab companies made bad investment decisions. It was implemented because the taxi industry was so unprofitable that operating a cab company was in itself a bad investment decision.

                The point of any enterprise is to make money. If slavish devotion to “free market” principles ends up with a scenario where no one makes money, what’s the point?

                Also, you seem to be confusing quantity with quality. Why would an overworked driver in a poorly maintained vehicle provide more value to the consumer than their regulated counterpart? Competition is important, but it’s a means to an end (better value) not an end in itself.

                Now to your questions:

                “Why is it government’s responsibility to protect businessmen from their own bad investment decisions?”

                Where are these “bad investment decisions” you’re talking about? From what I understand, the Medallion system wasn’t implemented because a bunch of cab companies made bad investment decisions. They were implemented because operating a cab company became a bad investment decision. For something as vital to a modern city as a working taxi service, that’s a recipe for disaster.

                “Why is it legitimate for government to rig markets against the interests of consumers?”

                I can’t really answer this question because to do so, I’d have to accept its premise. And I don’t see how an unprofitable free-for-all is in the interests of consumers in the first place. Indeed, it wasn’t, which is why they implemented these systems in the first place. (Historical context beats abstract theory every time.)

                “Why is an economic sector with high consumer surplus a failure?”

                I don’t think you can automatically call an economic sector with a high surplus a failure, nor do I think you can automatically call an economic sector with a high surplus a success.

                If you’ve got a surplus of cab drivers all chasing the same ever-diminishing dollar, to me that hints at some deep-seated inefficiencies just crying out for an intervention.

                Now here’s where you say that without intervention, the market would have worked itself out eventually.

                And that’s when Keynes would say, “In the long run we’re all dead.”Report

              • Avatar North says:

                So then in this scenario our concern is not with the welfare of the poor; whether they be customers of taxis or drivers of low rate taxi’s but rather with the welfare of either the middle class or the well connected class (which is synonymous with upper middle class or wealthy) yes? Government is stepping in to make sure that well connected people can turn a comfortable profit in taxi services without competing with new market entrants at the direct expense of consumers of taxi cab services (higher prices, possibly lower quality) and of poor cab drivers (you’re not allowed to drive cabs unless you can convince the local Government to give you a permit). With respect this strikes me as a pretty harmful regulation.

                What is the alternative to regulation? It seems to me the likely alternative is that people either get out of the cab business or go bankrupt until the supply of cabs decrease thus resulting in the price going up until the customers are paying enough to keep the remaining cabs in business. What seems highly less plausible is that all of the cabs in the given area would simultaneously go out of business/stop providing service which is what I assume you would mean by a total collapse. Have we ever seen one of these hypothetical total collapses of unregulated taxi services before? My very meager Google skills haven’t yielded any results to the concept but it’s somewhat complicated so perhaps I’m missing it.

                Now I’m no great student of economics nor of mass transit history but it strikes me that this kind of policy should be abhorrent to liberals. I mean one would be literally forbidding some minorities from starting a business and commanding that people be at the mercy of cab companies for price/quality. Why on earth would the party of antitrust be so eager to establish oligopolies?Report

              • Avatar Herb says:

                I read stuff like this:

                “Government is stepping in to make sure that well connected people can turn a comfortable profit in taxi services without competing with new market entrants at the direct expense of consumers of taxi cab services”

                and think “why even bother arguing with these people?”

                That’s not an accurate description of what’s happening. The government isn’t “stepping in to make sure well-connected people can make a comfortable profit.”

                They’re regulating the WHOLE industry. They’re not picking winners and losers. They’re not guaranteeing profits. They are creating a situation in which profits can be made, which is a lot more than the doctrinaire “free market” position did or would.

                As for your “collapse” theory, who is saying that’s what would happen? WHO? What I’m saying is that competition, low barriers to entry, and hands-off regulation are a large price to pay for an unprofitable system that doesn’t even work.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                You can think whatever you’d like but I’d suggest that such an attitude isn’t very persuasive. Do you deny any part of the assertion? Who do you think gets these limited numbers of permits? Do you deny that when anyone (government or corporate) limits things the well connected (usually affluent) usually get the first shot at the supply? Is it not poor people, both cab drivers and cab users that the costs of this program fall on? Corporate corruption is a time honored liberal issue and your caustic unsupported dismissals don’t give me any reason to think it doesn’t apply to this scenario.

                Jfxgillis suggested that failure to do this kind of regulation could lead to a collapse. If you don’t subscribe to that then doesn’t it weaken your position even more badly? I also am struggling to understand how you would view low barriers to entry, competition and hands off regulation as a cost or price? Aren’t those kinds of things what government strives for and where are these examples of systems that were unprofitable and didn’t work? Am I missing them? Did Toronto adopt a hands-off policy to taxi cabs that resulted in a generation of taxi cab drivers living in boxes in the alleys? Where is your example of this system that doesn’t work??Report

              • Avatar Herb says:

                First, if you factor “attitude” into whether something is persuasive or not, you’re doing it wrong.

                “Do you deny any part of the assertion?”


                “Who do you think gets these limited numbers of permits?”

                The people who apply for them.

                “Do you deny that when anyone (government or corporate) limits things the well connected (usually affluent) usually get the first shot at the supply?”

                I don’t know…this question confuses me. Are you arguing that all the cab drivers in NYC with medallions are affluent?

                I’d argue that if you can’t afford to fund your business in the current regulatory framework (ie, factoring in the cost of obtaining a medallion into your business plan), then your enterprise is seriously under-funded and it’s going to fail whether the government is mean to you or not.

                “Is it not poor people, both cab drivers and cab users that the costs of this program fall on?”

                Nope. Do poor people pay more than rich people for cabs? Do poor cab companies pay more than rich cab companies for their Medallion. The policy affects rich and poor equally.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The policy affects rich and poor equally.

                The law in its infinite something something bridges something bread. Rich and poor equally. Something.

                Anyway, it’s totally appropriate here.Report

              • Avatar cfpete says:

                This seems to be the last place I can reply in this whole Medallion sub-thread so excuse me if I interrupt the “flow.”
                I just have to say that both sides engaging in this abstract argument about “regulation” are just a bunch of douches. You are a bunch of douches because not a one of you knows a damn thing about taxicab regulation in D.C.

                The anti – “regulation” side is full of douches because “Prosecutors said Kamus had a “financial interest” in the taxicab industry and bribed Loza to push legislation limiting the number of taxi licenses issued by the District” might be pertinent to your argument, but a lazy douche would not know this….. because, well, being a lazy douche.

                The pro regulation side, well you are just super douches. Your entire argument rests upon a competent and non-corrupt government. This suggests to me that not only do you not know about taxicab issues in D.C. but that you also know nothing about D.C. government. You are also lazy douches because you don’t know about the whole “The arrest of a D.C. Council staffer Thursday on bribery charges has roots in a corruption investigation of the District’s taxi industry that began more than a year ago” thing. You should have sat this one out.

                I would provide links, but I don’t reward lazy douches. Look it up yourself!Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Herb ol’ pal if your response to questions is to snort about why you even bother arguing with “these people” then yes that definitely makes you less persuasive both to me and I would presume to anyone else reading this. Particularly since I’m not, myself, much of a libertarian; I’m just a liberal.

                Per a quick Google leading to wiki: “The value of a medallion reached $760,000 in September 2009.” How many poor cab drivers do you know that can shell out that kind of dough? So to answer your question: yes a cab driver in NYC is affluent. They’re in possession of an asset worth hundreds of thousands of bucks.

                Now obviously the cost of this falls on the poor most heavily. The affluent can afford to get a medallion one way or the other (by buying it either from the medallion bureaucracy or from a cab driver directly). The poor have to wait in line and obviously the vast majority of them don’t get medallions. So yes the cost of this falls on the poor cab drivers and of course their artificially higher rates fall most heavily on the poor users. Who feels it more when they lose fifty bucks; the rich man or the poor man? Why on earth would we believe one thing about, say: progressive taxation and then turn it on its head when talking about costs imposed on the poor??

                And then finally is the question of why? Why is this whole rigmarole being done? You seem to indicate that it’s being done to force the cost of cabs up so cab drivers can make an acceptable amount of money. This of course is ignoring the fact that in general even without regulation markets tend to stabilize at a level where both parties are willing to participate. If the cabs were making too little money then the weakest and worst cabs would either quit the market or go out of business; then the supply diminishes so the cost of cabs goes up. If it goes up too much then cab drivers would enter the market again lured by the higher prices. So this regulation is supposed to do something the market does already?

                Do we have any historic examples of this natural ebb and flow of taxi rates being so wild that at some point there was serious widespread and persistent problems for it’s host city? When we argue about medallions can proponents say “well we have to do this or we’ll have another X on our hands where X is some place where this happened” ?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                err.. thanks for the caustic contribution Pete.Report

              • Avatar cfpete says:

                Sorry for the invective North, but why have a philosophical argument when one can discuss, you know, what is actually going on in the “real” world.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                You know, strangely enough, they had a huge protest about taxi cab licensing when I was in Marseille a few years ago- it shut down cab service all across France and was about something quite similar. In order to become a cab driver in France, you had (have) to have so much money for the license that nobody could do it who wasn’t already in a taxi driving family or had connections with one of the companies that amounted to being born in a taxi driving family. It was basically the old guild system and state privileges to the guilds that caused so much trouble in the Old Regime. In other words, it was basically a closed shop.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I can appreciate the joys of pointing out that everybody discussing a particular thing is completely wrong (seriously, I love that). If you want to change anything, however, you have to reward lazy douches by patiently explaining how the world works again.

                If the Libertarians have anything going for them (it’s the same with the Marxists), it’s the love of the monologue and the desire to explain it again and again and again to people who have just been told that they’re wrong.

                Pete, you’re doing it wrong.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                What can I say Pete? I am lazy (very) and I don’t live in DC (so it doesn’t directly affect me) but then again I’m not even a libertarian so what the heck am I doin in the thread anyhow?
                No need for apologies, I really do appreciate the real world interjection and information. I feel like I should tut about the use of douche since the level of discourse round here is important to me but really douche isn’t that horrible. Do consider calling us dingleberries or something similar instead next time though, we’re all Gentlepersons here at the league.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Rufus, that is sortof in the line of what I found with my meager searches for Taxi collapses.. but I don’t think Herb would want to cite those examples.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                “So then in this scenario our concern is not with the welfare of the poor; whether they be customers of taxis or drivers of low rate taxi’s but rather with the welfare of either the middle class or the well connected class (which is synonymous with upper middle class or wealthy) yes?”

                I don’t know how Herb is going to answer that, but for my part I’m willing to answer Yes with a single but significant exception.

                The system of casual transport that, as I argued earlier, makes for better cities, is in fact founded on the interests of the middle- and upper-classes as customers. Those are the people who use those systems, historically. The poor can’t use it because they’re poor.

                But then, one of the things that makes for better cities is an affluent middle class, so, it’s not a bad thing if certain aspects of city life encourage middle- or upper-class residency. If prompt and predictable casual transport is a selling point for the middle- and upper-classes, then municipal authorities do well to encourage it.

                But go back to my very first post on this thread. While I don’t care about the poor as consumers of taxi services, I DO INDEED care about them as PROVIDERS of those services. And the very model that James is touting of maximizing consumer surplus means the drivers are doomed to destitution absent intervention.

                That’s why I pointed out how dumb those “poor” drivers are to swallow Nick Gillespie’s libertarian hogwash. The divers are the ones with the most to lose, and who will lose the most in a consumer-surplus-maximizing system.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                jfxgillis, yes I think I can see the reasoning behind that. One system has a large number of poor cab drivers all puttering along on pretty much just as much money as they can net from the market. The other system has a significantly smaller number of poor cab drivers in a sheltered market making more money and a number of cab drivers who’d otherwise be driving cabs locked out entirely. I can see the appeal there but how do we know that the benefit accrues to the cab driver rather than being harvested by cab oligopolies as fatter profits instead?

                But I do agree with your point: the costs in terms of taxi cab rates would fall mainly on the shoulders of the middle class and affluent rather than the poor because the poor generally don’t use cabs; they can’t afford even cheap cabs.Report

              • Avatar cfpete says:

                Dingleberries – really? If douche is good enough for South Park? I will try to be less caustic in the future but, I can not believe how much effort you expended making the abstract argument when real world evidence favored your view. Rational progressives like Felix Salmon and Yglesias favor your view. Look it up.

                God Speed brother! Fight the good fight. I have neither the time nor the inclination to bang my head against the wall. Some people “have been fighting Libertarians for 20 years (where, on the street corner?).”
                Evidence contrary to their worldview will be ignored – see jfx-whatever above.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                That’s why I pointed out how dumb those “poor” drivers are to swallow Nick Gillespie’s libertarian hogwash. The divers are the ones with the most to lose, and who will lose the most in a consumer-surplus-maximizing system.

                And yet they, whose arses are really on the line, feel differently. That doesn’t give you pause? They didn’t reach that position because they read Reason magazine. Likely, they don’t care about libertarianism at all. Rather, they know that today they have a job.

                They know that, with a medallion system, they might not have a job anymore. In abstract conversations about regulation, freedom, and so forth… that actually kind of matters to the people involved. Gillespie isn’t as persuasive as the prospect of losing your job for the “greater good.”Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Pete, you’ve convinced me, if douche is good enough for Southpark it’s good enuff for me. I’m well aware of Matt and Felix’s positions since I’m very close to them policy wise on many things.
                As to why I argue abstractly; perhaps I enjoy it? Plus when arguing in specific real world issues there’re interpretation issues.

                Also it could be because I’m lazy, abstractions come easy, research requires effort.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:

                Will and North:


                “One system has a large number of poor cab drivers all puttering along on pretty much just as much money as they can net from the market.”

                Theoretically, maximized consumer surplus means ZERO net from the market, and Yes indeed it is the case that any profit that might nonetheless be generated would go to the owner before the driver.

                An artifically-induced labor shortage (the effect of medallions) may not allow for good living for drivers, but it’s better than literally nothing.


                “And yet they, whose arses are really on the line, feel differently.”

                They probably skipped Econ 101 class the day they went over equilibrium prices in conditions of perfect competition.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                jfxgillis, it can’t be nothing though. If they were getting truely nothing then they wouldn’t drive the cabs. It may be little, it may seem small to us but unless it’s enough to make them drive the cabs they won’t drive them. Therefore if the cabs are being driven they must be getting something.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:


                I thought you were the one arguing abstractly?Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Jfxgillis, yes but even in the abstract world cab drivers won’t and can’t drive their cars for no benefit. At that price level cab drivers would exit the market in large numbers until the prices went back up.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                They probably skipped Econ 101 class the day they went over equilibrium prices in conditions of perfect competition.

                Or maybe, just maybe, as actual cab drivers in DC, they know what kind of money they are making and find the money they are making to be preferable than the possibility of being unemployed because they can’t get a medallion.Report

              • Avatar jfxgillis says:

                Will & North:

                Last comment from me. The threading is just getting too annoying.


                Oh. Drivers exit the system en mass due to strong downward pricing pressure on labor costs? Whooda thunk?

                That would disrupt the system of casual transport which has social utility in cities. Authorities would do well to avoid that.


                So, you don’t think they skipped class, you think their thinking is dominated by short-sighted focus on a largely imaginary threat. Maybe you’re right.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                The threat that wages may fall to the point that their way of life is threatened is imagined. The threat that they might not be able to get ahold of a medallion is very, very real. More than that, it will happen to some of them. It’s not even a question. The medallion policy is not “everyone who’s currently a cabbie will get one.” Half of the policy is deciding which of the current cabbies will get one. Some won’t. This is the policy. It’s not imaginary.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Jfxgillis, I suppose it could be disruptive in theory but this is a scenario, remember, that posits that the reason they’re exiting is that there is a glut of cab service providers in the city. The departure of what would generally be the least competative of these drivers would in general not be particularily disruptive. It’s not like all the cabs would quite en masse. Some would fall out, then some more then as prices began to rise the number of drivers falling out would stop. I don’t think it likely that it’d be immensly disruptive nor historically am I aware of such a thing happening (though my historical economic knowledge is short so I could be proved wrong).

                In any event I appreciated the conversation. Thank you.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                North, you are more generous here than I am inclined to be. In any event:

                I suppose it could be disruptive in theory but this is a scenario, remember, that posits that the reason they’re exiting is that there is a glut of cab service providers in the city.

                For some reason, cabbies leaving the profession of their own volition is bad. Cabbies being frozen out by a quota system imposed by the government is good.

                I still haven’t figured this out.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Will, that’s a good point.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Um, the Medallion system wasn’t implemented because cab companies made bad investment decisions. It was implemented because the taxi industry was so unprofitable that operating a cab company was in itself a bad investment decision.
                Uh, what? Operating a cab company was a bad investment decision, but companies that invested in them didn’t make bad investment decisions? Fortunately there are no criminal penalties for abuse of logic.

                The point of any enterprise is to make money. If slavish devotion to “free market” principles ends up with a scenario where no one makes money, what’s the point?
                The point is that businesses then get out. If they’re truly not making money–not covering their costs, they will have to get out. They can’t keep going while losing money. The fact that they were staying in the business itself demonstrates they weren’t all losing money. But as to your question, the theory of the free market is that in a perfectly competitive market all profit above costs (including salary) are competed away. So when you ask “what’s the point,” you don’t realize that’s actually the very point in a competitive market. Because it means consumers are getting the greatest benefit from the market–nobody can possibly charge them too much. Providing lots of goods/services to customers at rock bottom prices, that is the point of markets.

                you seem to be confusing quantity with quality. Why would an overworked driver in a poorly maintained vehicle provide more value to the consumer than their regulated counterpart?
                You make a crucial mistake when you assume that such serious competition would result in overworked drivers in poorly maintained vehicles. Consider the situation when the market is that competitive–how do you, as a cab owner, persuade people to take your cab when they have a gazillion others to choose from? You can either compete on price or you can compete on quality. If I’m driving a fungus-covered clunker and you’re driving a clean air-conditioned car, people are going to prefer you over me. Competition always creates quality increases. This is microeconomics 101, so you’re not actually asking a stumper of a question–the answer to this has been well known for over 200 years; the only mystery is why so many people still think it’s something of a showstopper argument. And let me repeat, again, I drove a cab in a city with the medallion system–the limitation on competition did not prevent companies from putting dangerous cars on the road; if anything it made it possible because customers were too constrained in their cab options, because of the medallion limits, to turn down the next cab that came their way, no matter how bad it was.

                Where are these “bad investment decisions” you’re talking about?
                If people truly can’t make money driving cabs, it’s because there are too many cabs competing. That means people decided to invest in the cab business even though it wouldn’t be profitable. That is a bad investment decision.

                [Hanley]:“Why is it legitimate for government to rig markets against the interests of consumers?”
                [Herb:I can’t really answer this question because to do so, I’d have to accept its premise.

                So if customers are getting low price cab fares, and the government creates a system that raises those fares, you don’t think that’s rigging the market against the consumers? Every economist I’ve ever read or talked to would disagree. You are, of course, free to reject the premise, but it’s rather like rejecting the premise of evolution–when you’re rejecting a premise held by all the experts in a particular field, the burden of evidence to demonstrate why they’re wrong falls on you.

                And I don’t see how an unprofitable free-for-all is in the interests of consumers in the first place.
                I’ve already explained this, but let’s try it again. “Unprofitable” means revenues for the suppliers (cabbies, in this case) have fallen to the level where they just cover costs (including salaries, maintenance, equipment replacement, insurance, etc., etc.) If a cab owner can’t cover those costs they will leave the business, so everyone who stays in the business is covering those costs, even if they’re not making as much profit on top of that as they’d like. The revenues have been driven down to the level where they just cover costs because of competition for passengers, as drivers cut their fares further and further in order to entice passengers to ride with them instead of a competitor. This means passengers have lots of cabs–the quantity, which is good for them (especially when it’s raining!; and it doesn’t mean quality has disappeared)–and they can get those cabs at very low fares.

                Now, that again is standard microeconomics. I don’t think you’ll easily find an economist who will argue against the statement that high quantity and low prices are good for consumers. So the burden of evidence is on you, since you’re contradicting the accumulated wisdom of the discipline.

                But forget about that and just consider poor puzzled me. First jfxgillis and now you are trying to tell me that consumers are being harmed by having lots of a good/service available at a low price–but neither of you are telling me how any consumers are harmed by that! As cell phones have become more common and less expensive, has that harmed cell phone consumers? As calculators, computers, toasters, hair dryers, tennis shoes, etc., etc., have become more available and less expensive, have consumers of those goods been harmed? Have you personally been harmed by the low prices, ready availability, and improving quality of any of those items? If you haven’t, how have consumers in general?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The system of casual transport that, as I argued earlier, makes for better cities, is in fact founded on the interests of the middle- and upper-classes as customers. Those are the people who use those systems, historically. The poor can’t use it because they’re poor.

                Wow, just…wow! So here I am as the libertarian arguing for the interests of the poor against someone (a liberal? I’m not sure) arguing for someone who wants to promote the interests of the middle and upper classes. OK, that’s a normative position, and I despise that normative position.

                But there’s also a positive claim there, about whether poor people take cabs. Now I object to any arguments here that I’ve been making non-real-world arguments since I’ve repeatedly stressed what happens in the real world of cab driving, drawing heavily on my own experience. So let me say that jfx is just factually dead wrong. Poor people do take cabs! I regularly had customers who clearly had very little money, including taking people to and from their homes in the projects!

                And, if poor people can’t afford cabs, it’s because people like jfxgillis have supported a policy of limited cabs that increases the fares beyond their price range!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                North: how do we know that the benefit accrues to the cab driver rather than being harvested by cab oligopolies as fatter profits instead?

                jfxgillis: Yes indeed it is the case that any profit that might nonetheless be generated would go to the owner before the driver.

                It’s already been explained here that the proposed D.C. regulations would give a limited number of medallions to cab drivers who actually live in the city, then before any of the other existing cab drivers could get any medallions they would be put out to bids from companies, not current drivers. And because of the limit on medallions they get traded up to the highest bidder, always a company, which then hires drivers for its cabs. Those drivers do not get any of that profit—the company charges them as much rental fee for the cab as it can get, leaving the cab drivers still not making lots of money.

                I know this jfxgillis—I was in that business and I experienced this. Then I went back to college, took an economics class just on a whim and found out that there was a whole field of scholarship explaining what I had experienced.

                Please, show me just one city that has restricted numbers of cabs where most of those cabs are owner-operators. You will not find that—you will find that in any city with restrictions on the total number of cabs the vast majority of medallions/permits/cabs are owned by cab firms, not by the drivers.

                Anyway, if you are right, why are the current owner-operators in D.C. so vigorously opposed to this policy?! If you’re right, they should be eagerly welcoming it, but they are not. Do you know something about how these owner-operators will benefit from limitations on numbers of cabs that they—who are actually making their living in this business—do not?Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                My quick Google seemed to indicate fare prices in Wellington are set by statute. Is that correct?

                You are mistaken. Taxis are required to display their prices, but prices themselves are not set by government.Report

              • Are you sure that’s true?

                As far as I know the rates are established by the DC taxi commission.

                In December of 2008 the current rate structure was put in place. This spring a $1 surcharge was added to rates to compensate for fuel prices.

                Here are the rates:


                The regulations require that rates be posted and meters to be used. But that is standard in most cities.

                The regulations are posted on the site.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I’m speaking of Wellington, not DC.Report

  19. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    James K, your list seems to focus on areas where liberals and libertarians don’t see eye-to-eye. One thing I’ve been considering lately along these lines is the issue of exploitation. It still seems to be a pretty important idea in liberalism that people can be exploited by private entities, and particularly when selling their labor. I don’t know exactly how liberals want to address the issue- it seems a bit glib to say they want to use to power of the state- I think plenty of them would rather use organizing and boycotts, which probably work better anyway. The point is that this is still a live issue for liberals.

    As for libertarians, I’m sure they recognize the existence of exploitation, but I can’t see where the libertarian position addresses it in terms of the private sector. “You’re free to work wherever you want. Unlike the government, private employers can’t take the fruits of your labor by force. Nobody’s got a gun to your head”, etc. etc. It’s not that any of this is untrue. But, if liberals believe that exploitation in the private sector (outside of the government’s role in perpetuating the problem) is a serious problem worth addressing, which I think they do, and libertarians really don’t, I’d imagine that’s a sticking point.

    A note: No offense to everyone else, but I’d really be most interested in hearing James’s take on this.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      Exploitation is a tricky word, ideally I’d like a few concrete examples. The only thing that comes to me (in terms of purely private exploitation) is an employer extracting monopsony rents from employees by offering them lower wages or poorer conditions than the market would bear. My response to this would be unions and perhaps antitrust law would be appropriate tools.

      Beyond that, I would need more details from you.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Oh, you know, I’ve lived in some really crappy towns and usually the employment choices were either not to work or to work what is colloquially known as shitwork. Let me think- I’ve worked at plenty of places where it was very strongly implied that, in order to keep up with the amount of work they expected, you’d have to punch out and keep working for a few more hours each day off the clock. I actually worked at a newspaper press where we all worked off the clock during the peak times. I’ve worked labor jobs where the pay was very low, especially considering what the contracts were bringing in or the work was unsafe and you were sort of on your own in terms of job safety. I remember one place that was randomly petty about bathroom breaks, which none of the women who worked there much cared for. I mean, usually the problems were boss-related harassment and things like that. Currently, my gripe is with low pay: I do all of the work getting these courses together and teaching them and I get paid 5% of the money the students pay in tuition. Anyway, it seems to me that liberals have an answer for things like this: they bring the emphasis on organizing they got from the labor movement. Right? Like they see shitwork as “exploitation”, so there are all sorts of things they would organize against. As for libertarians, I realize that their attitude might not be “screw you, I’ve got mine” like plenty of liberals claim, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a libertarian talk about economic exploitation as a problem, unless it was something like this medallion system, in which the state is an active player in exploiting a group of workers. But what about when it really is just a private entity taking advantage of people? It seems to me the libertarian answer would be that they freely entered into those contracts and can freely leave them. And, you know, fair enough; but I’ve lived in parts of the country where your choices really do run the gamut from bad to worse, and so it’s harder to cherish your freedom.Report

        • Avatar James K says:

          Thanks Rufus, that’s very helpful.

          It seems to me there are two reasons why this might happen:
          1) the boss is being an ass. In this case unions or looking for another job would be my recommendation, with the focus being on the first of those options if your alternative job prospects are poor in your area.
          2) monopsony rents, as I mentioned above. I’d definitely go with a union for this case.
          3) your marginal product of labour in your current job (marginal product of labour is at least as much about your employer as about your skills or work ethic) is too low for you get decent pay or conditions. All a union (or legislation for that matter) will do is drive the firm out of business. You’re only real option here is to get out, and if your town has nothing else you need to find a new town. That might sound a bit “let them eat cake”, but my parents have changed cities 4 times for work reasons (including just recently, in their early 50s). I myself have done it once, and I’m not yet 30. It can be hard, but people have been migrating for work since the Industrial Revolution at least. Plus, I have some thoughts about welfare reforms that would help make it easier to move.

          Does that make sense?Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            Out of curiosity, would you support a relocation program? It sounds like a joke, and it’s not really serious, but I was actually thinking of this earlier today when I was writing a post (on Hit Coffee) about my hometown and how bustling the economy here is, and how the best thing we could do for some people who live where I used to out west would be to give them a bus ticket to down south.

            But it brings to light a problem. The people who aren’t making enough where they are, can’t afford to leave (which I know you acknowledge). I’m not sure what we have in the way of options to make it so that they don’t have to somehow save up for transportation, first and last month rent, and enough to get by while they search for work. Except for the types of jobs where people have the leverage where they don’t need to move, employers aren’t going to move people down. So how do you get from here to there, figuratively and literally?Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              In New Zealand our welfare system allows people on the unemployment benefit to get one-off payments to buy basic clothes that can be used in job interviews, on the theory that it’s an investment in getting them off welfare. By the same token, offering people a ticket out of town (and perhaps relocation assistance) may have merit.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Regarding the suit, I’m told that the Mormon welfare regime involves expressly teaching people how to behave during interviews and in an office environment. One of the things I admire about the Relief Society is that they’re looking to get you off their roll as quickly as possible. Of course, they have the financial incentive to do so. But they do take the “teach a man to fish” mentality.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller says:

            I think this partially goes back to what I was getting at in my comment earlier. It’s not that there are no libertarian mechanisms for dealing with poverty, but they never seem to be any kind of priority for any segment of the libertarian movement. When was the last time you saw Cato or Reason advocating for the right to join a union?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Dan, but that’s not really a legitimate question. Basically you’re saying, “OK, they care about issue X, but when was the last time they advocated for a solution to X that violated their basic beliefs?” (Not that all libertarians think unionism is that bad, but it is technically a violation of free markets, so many do.) You can fairly ask “why don’t libertarians more aggressively advocate for solutions to problem X,” but you can’t fairly say, “why don’t libertarians more aggressively advocate for a non-libertarian solution to X.”

              To turn that around, I know that liberals don’t like the war on drugs, but if I asked, “So why don’t they advocate ending the power of the federal government to regulate drugs,” I’d be demanding that they embrace a non-liberal approach to our common goal, and that wouldn’t make much sense of be fair of me.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Seriously, why are unions a violation of the principle of free markets? Walmart can exert pressure on the price of a stick of gum sold in their stores where a mom ‘n pop store can’t. Following this logic, why can’t a union exert upward pressure on wages based on its size?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                For my part, I love private sector unions but abhor public sector unions.Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                So you are okay with unions as long as you are not paying the wages?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s more that I am okay with unions so long as I have the option of shutting down the business if the union doesn’t want to play ball.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:


              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I think that the issue is that union empowerment often comes with the state making requirements of employers.

                Right-to-work is anti-market, for sure. However, so is “You can’t fire people for joining a union” and “You can’t move operations to South Carolina to avoid unions” and “You have to deal with the elected representatives of the union and cannot choose to disregard them and let anybody who doesn’t like them quit.”

                None of this is to say that these are bad policies. They might be very good policies. But they’re still government intrusions into the market.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                First, unions can legally force the employer to negotiate with them. So there is an involuntary element there that doesn’t occur in a “perfect” free market. I’m not arguing for or against unions here, just noting that coerced negotiations don’t match up with free market principles.

                Second, WalMart can’t exert upward pressure on the price of gum, (like unions can exert upward pressures on their wages) only downward. So while WalMart can only take less (in hopes that ultimately it pays off more), unions are privileged to demand more. That’s not the same thing at all. It might be a good thing, and I’m not going to get into that argument, but the two things are different.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller says:

                I was reacting to James K’s comment where he advocates private sector unions as an antidote to abuse of workers by corporations.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Yes, James K is a dreadfully soft libertarian. He’s willing to advocate some policies most libertarians never would. I’d say he’s a lousy libertarian except that in 90% of those cases I’m pretty much in agreement with him!Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            James: Yeah, that all makes sense, and it gets at why I tend to be a big supporter of public transit- even though it tends to run at a loss everywhere that’s not Japan, there’s still a social benefit to allowing the people downtown to work uptown, even if they can’t afford to live there.

            I guess really all I was getting at with my question is that these sorts of issues are still really important for liberals, at least judging by the last few times I’ve looked at Mother Jones or the Nation and what sort of stories they run on NPR. For example, last week there was something on NPR about agricultural field workers and how they were being paid a pittance, had no shade to rest under, etc. so they organized and boycotted and changed things. It was a real tearjerker, triumph of the human spirit sort of thing. My point is just that liberals care about that sort of issue, even though it does seem to be one concern among many for them. Conservatives care about the working class in terms of how illegal immigration drives down wages and they tend to agree with them on a lot of cultural issues, but I’m not sure that they worry a lot about whether or not field workers are paid enough. Libertarians… well, I’m sure they care about these things; it’s just hard to think of how libertarianism really addresses whether or not field workers get paid enough, at least so far as the state isn’t the one setting wages. And, you know, I have no belief that they ought to concern themselves with those issues. It’s just that you can see where this would be a sticking point between liberals and libertarians, especially when you have the Randroid wing that tends to describe certain workers as parasites on the local lord “wealth producers” or whatever.

            I mean, conservatives and libertarians might not see eye-to-eye on some social issues, but I still think someone like Rand Paul demonstrates where a libertarian can also be a social conservative and basically make it work. It seems like the gap between liberals and libertarians would be harder to bridge. Maybe I’m wrong though.Report

  20. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    That seems like an awfully big concession. If I’m reading you correctly, the libertarian response to people being abused by their bosses under pain of firing is “tough”. Which is a point of view I’d endorse, but hardly one that’s friendly to Cato,.Report

  21. Avatar Speckk says:

    Can’t see anyone explaining the financial crisis, but here’s 4 words for you: Skin in the Game.
    Traders, politicians and executives took present profits with no concern for risks because they had no personal responsibility. If we forced half of profits to be held in escrow until contracts were fulfilled, we’d give bankers incentive to present clients with quality investments.

    That’s too heavy handed for this crowd, so simply requesting part of investment adviser pay be parked in the clients investment fund and making it fraud to misrepresent what shared stake a banker has with their clients would fix some incentives. Most 401k’s are just too hands off, but requiring 401k providers to follow transparent co-investment rules to maintain their 401k provider status, etc. would allow people to freely choose to play the game knowing how much they’re paying for the investment service and whether the banker believes in what he’s selling.Report

  22. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Bah, html fail. Try this for Ica, Peru.Report

  23. A Libertarian Insight:

    No member of a state bureaucracy may know enough to regulate quantities.

    But they may know enough to regulate fraud.

    The problem becomes determining the boundary between risk and fraud.

    Current financial products consist of attempts at attempting to measure aggregates for the purpose of estimating risk and value over a period of time – wherein it may not be logically and probabilistically POSSIBLE to assign the variables quantities.

    The problem with current financial regulation, is that the quantitative symbols that we use to represent value and risk may in fact not be ‘portable’ between individuals.

    The libertarian insight is that it is not POSSIBLE to assign these quantities, and therefore these products are de facto fraudulent. In fact, there is a substantive argument that loans should not be resellable, or at least, the originator must retain some percentage of ownership, since any act of reselling a forecast of necessity is fraudulent because such values CANNOT be attached to financial instruments under our Insured Fiat Money System, without creating perverse incentives that allow privatizing wins and socializing losses.

    The Anarcho libertarian solutions are to either a) let the market regulate these things – which is simply not sensible. b) punish people rather than regulate c) eliminate the monetary system that makes such things possible.

    These are all mistakes. The Anarcho Libertarian dogma is predicated on the assumption tat markets exist without governments. The truth is that they were created by governments. Trade may exist between people, but markets exist (especially in the west) because a group of fraternal land owners (aristocrats) created regulated markets that reduced the risk and cost of transactions. “Trade is not equal to market.”

    There is a difference between anarchists and libertarians. Again, the anarchists have appropriated the term “libertarian” as well as the term “Austrian Economics”. But anarchists are an outgrowth of those two classical liberal ideas. They are not synonyms.

    And that failure of distinction is why people who are ‘sensible’ find ‘libertarian’ dogma ridiculous: because anarchists are ridiculous.

    Hoppe’s insight is that the Private Governments of the european aristocracy were less warlike, more free, lower taxing, longer-sighted, more artistic, than the ‘state’ or ‘corporate’ or ‘bureaucratic’ governments that we have tried to create under socialistic influences. And that people in ‘private government’ have better incentives than do elected officials.

    And this certainly appears true in the data.

    We are successful because of innovations in technology and because of our aristocratic heritage. The fact that we succeed economically under socialistic bureaucratic abstract corporations that we call governments is that our freedoms allow us to, despite the negative and destructive impact of these governments.Report

  24. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    This looks to be a great post and thread, but I’m not going to give up my birthday to participate fully.

    It does seem to illustrate the disconnect between the liberals and the libertarians pretty well.

    > The City of New York DID INDEED find out “what
    > the problems are, first,” and the system they installed
    > solved many of those problems.

    Yeah, but were those problems actually worth solving?

    Liberals, on the whole, look at a complex system and come to conclusions based upon assumptions like this:

    > For something as vital to a modern city as a working
    > taxi service, that’s a recipe for disaster.

    Libertarians, on the whole, look at an imposed structure inside a complex system and come to conclusions based upon information like this:

    > Yes a cab driver in NYC is affluent. They’re in
    > possession of an asset worth hundreds of
    > thousands of bucks.

    (Thank you, North, for noting this as one of the liberals in the conversation)

    Libertarians, or the libertarian-leaning, look at the crazy-ass system of sociopolitical influences on our economic system and shake their heads and point at sections of the market that are massively over-influenced by policy, and ask why. Liberals, somewhat invested in the defense of at least parts of the crazy-ass system, argue against the Libertarian principles that are driving the Libertarians to ask the questions, instead of just answering the questions.

    If you require the creation of an artificial asset worth ten times the median pre-tax income of your average person in order to give you the system of “casual” transportation that you want, (a service which will presumably be provided by people who will be making at best the median pre-tax income of your average person), I’d argue that you’re making a system of casual transportation that’s really, really bad.

    That has nothing to do with urban planning expertise or lack thereof, or even economic analysis. It’s yet another systems problem.

    Your casual transportation is actually really expensive. You’re doing it wrong. Take the effing bus. And hey, if more people took the effing bus, it’d deliver faster, better, and more reliable performance, no? Who sez we ought to make things easier for these entitled middle-upper class people who are too important to take the bus, and thus remove all their potential resources from the public busing system, driving the public busing system *down* in the process?

    Maybe our ridiculous car culture would go away somewhat if we stopped explicitly supporting parts of our ridiculous car culture?

    A regulatory environment that is designed to solve actual critical infrastructural problems is fairly justifiable. One that is designed to solve a non-critical, largely cosmetic infrastructural problem while creating a massive externality seems to be lacking in gravitas.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Take the effing bus.

      How many cities have an unsubsidized bus system?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        And hey, if more people took the effing bus, it’d deliver faster, better, and more reliable performance, no?

        Well, maybe, but it’d still run at a loss. Almost all public transit systems run at a loss. Why do we, the taxpayers, subsidize them, in spite of their running at a loss? Because we’re willing to pay a little more in taxes so elderly people can visit their doctor for a few bucks, drunks can take the bus home from the bar, the blind, disabled, and those who are too poor to own a car can get to work, and in general so the really poor areas are not more isolated than they already are from the richer areas.

        There are people, naturally, who argue against public buses. But there are two problems I have with this: 1. In order to “introduce real competition” and drive up efficiency, etc. you have to first get rid of the public buses. In order to get rid of the public buses, you have to just do it without a vote because the public tends to like their buses and doesn’t want to get rid of them. So, in order to give them the real “freedom” of real competition, you just can’t let them vote on it. 2. I’ve seen what private buses would have to charge to turn enough of a profit to justify their existence and we already have taxis. I’d rather let the elderly pensioners see their doctors, even if I have to pay for that.

        Is this too much of a digression?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Because we’re willing to pay a little more in taxes so elderly people can visit their doctor for a few bucks, drunks can take the bus home from the bar, the blind, disabled, and those who are too poor to own a car can get to work, and in general so the really poor areas are not more isolated than they already are from the richer areas.

          And because every bus or train takes N cars out of traffic, letting the rest of us get around faster. That has a real value that’s simply not going to be captured by the market.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Is this too much of a digression?

          Since it’s my thread, is that my call? I don’t think it is. And I agree with you. Heck, even our roads are subsidized; we just lie to ourselves about that when we’re driving to work alone in a 7 passenger minivan (yes, I do that sometimes).Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        That’s a point, but if we’re going to subsidize one form of urban travel (for all the reasons Rufus and yourself point out below), do we really need to subsidize a competitor? Especially a less efficient competitor?Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          Sure. We subsidize passenger trains, buses, and let’s be honest, car travel. Why not travel via taxi?Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:


            To the extent we subsidize roads, we already do. But the reason not to further subsidize it is that it’s a market that gives every evidence of working satisfactorily when it’s only lightly regulated (i.e., safety regulations, but not barriers to entry). Since it actually does quite well, contra what some folks on another thread mistakenly think, what would be gained from the subsidies?

            Of course if we wanted to give Medicare patients taxi vouchers to make it easier to get to their appointments on time (as someone who missed a final exam due to public buses running late, despite having left home 45 minutes early, I’m all to familiar with that possibility), I think that wouldn’t be unreasonable in concept.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            Sure, we subsidize all those things.

            Doesn’t this seem broken to you, at all? Maybe it doesn’t. It certainly does to me.Report

            • Avatar Art Deco says:

              Not to the same degree. If you live where I grew up, the sum of expenditures by the state department of transportation, the county highway department, and the equivalent in the municipal government sums to about $610 per capita. The New York State Thruway is maintained through tolls, but the rest of the network is maintained by appropriations drawn from general tax revenues. Excises on gasoline and vehicle registration fees cover not much more than a tenth the cost.

              By contrast, financing the deficits of the Genesee Regional Transit Authority requires drawing about $39 per capita from those in its service catchment; mass transit, unlike the road network, can be conceived of as a social service.Report