Liberty & Democracy

Liberty & Democracy

John Stuart Mill

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I was being slightly hyperbolic when I suggested that libertarians dislike democracy; let’s also shuffle aside the Michael Lind article I linked to and the various quotations from famous dead libertarians like Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek. All that aside, we can move forward with more clarity.

I believe that most of contemporary libertarians believe that democracy is the least bad option among many. Most contemporary liberals believe that democracy is basically good but agree with libertarians that there are appropriate limits. The difference comes when we begin dissecting those limits.

Various rights frameworks are conceptualized by both camps, including differing notions of property rights. On net, I’d say that libertarians prefer a good deal less democracy than most contemporary liberals and progressives; most contemporary liberals prefer less democracy than most socialists; and that even the socialists of modern times prefer less democracy than socialists of past eras.

In other words, we all view the balance between individual rights and democracy as just that: a balancing act that at once allows for peaceful democratic consensus and the protection of basic civil and economic freedoms from the whim of the majority. When someone like yours truly makes a case for democracy then, I’m not making a case for blunt majority rule. Similarly, when Jason makes a case against (that thing we call) democracy he’s not making a case for autocracy. What we’re really doing is skirting around the question of balance. We differ on the particulars, largely because we have somewhat different values and perspectives on the world. In many other areas, we see very much eye to eye.

The state is a coercive entity. We craft a balance of powers, of democracy and legal constraints on democracy, and then find ways to pay for the apparatus of the state. This is typically done through some form of taxation. Many though not all libertarians hold strict views of property rights – which I think they value more, at least in the abstract, than they do democracy – and view taxation as a form of coercion. Some are more radical in this belief; others are merely wary enough of the state that they view taxation as bad whether or not it’s a coercive act, or whether or not that matters. But for the most part, coercion looms very large in libertarian thought, often for good reason.

Still, coercion is inevitable, and the point of my initial piece was not so much that libertarians dislike democracy but rather that any attempt to limit democracy is going to require some use of force or coercion. The constitutional limits on democracy in this country are coercive, enforced by the rule of law.

I talk about end-goals in my initial post because I think our conception of the ideal society is important. I do believe that most libertarians, if they could start from scratch, would go much further toward limiting democracy in order to expand and better enforce property rights than what is on offer in our current system. I don’t think this assertion is being contested. And I believe, regardless of the merits of this, that it would require anti-democratic coercion in order for it to work.

Now the point of all of this is simply that any discussion of coercion, then, like any discussion of democracy, is not a discussion of whether or not there will be coercive acts of the state but really what form said coercion will take. Depending on the things you value, how that balance is struck may appear more or less coercive or invasive. For me, I don’t view taxes as a very coercive act or a particularly important aspect of property rights. I believe in things like the social contract and in the need for society to work collectively to tackle big problems like access to healthcare. I believe the accumulation of wealth is largely due to the fact of society and collective well-being and so redistritibution of wealth strikes me as necessary and just. I also think that if we’re talking about striking a balance of power it’s important to talk about domination of the non-state variety: workplace coercion, the accidental coercion of hunger, poverty, and crime, and so forth.

In other words, everything we’re talking about here sits on some sort of grand, gaudy sliding scale. The abacus of democracy and liberty. We all have to determine what our collective vision of the good society will be. Even the coercion required to implement a less democratic state is a collectively decided upon act. The libertarian agenda would still need to be decided by society at large, and enforced either through consensus or through strict limitations on democratic politics.

Coercion is inevitable. The question is what kind of coercion do we find acceptable. Nobody has cornered the market on freedom. We all simply have different ideas about what makes us free and which chains are the most fearsome.

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293 thoughts on “Liberty & Democracy

  1. The lacuna here, Brother EDK, is “society,” that thing that lies between the individual and his government. [Or must.] That man is a social animal lies between the totally “free” individual in the “state of nature” [the hermit] and man as political animal [where men play their primacy games].

    Find man the social animal and you will find man. Not as the hermit, not even as philosopher-king. [No decent philosopher would ever want to be king, but that’s another story.]

    For “society”—man—also includes women. No woman wants to be Plato or Caesar or Hitler or even George Washington. Here at the League of Relatively Unimportant Gentlemen, we forget that.

    Respectfully submitted. Man is man, and all the systems and plots in the world shall not change him. Ask any successfully married woman. You work with what you’ve got.

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  2. This brings to mind the classic Belle Waring And a pony blog post, specifically the “Now, everyone close your eyes and try to imagine a private, profit-making rights-enforcement organization…” part.

    I think the major disconnect is that liberals (modulo a few random anarchists and uber-Marxists) grant your premise that a state with coercive power is a necessity, whereas many libertarians don’t. Fundamentalist anti-statism is very much a primary value within some libertarian factions, and a strong impulse among many of the others.

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            • We’re goin’ on ten thousand years or thereabouts of agriculture, and arguably aside from around 800 ad in Ireland, there hasn’t been much in the way of practical attempts at implementing libertarianism.

              Of course, geopolitical military history is a factor. One can make a plausible case that a libertarian state could actually exist today, now that global wars of conquest are impractical.

              Either way, I feel confident that you’ll be smug for a while :)

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                • Yes. I’m not quite certain of anything of course, but I’d say this is outside the bounds of reasonable probability by a wide margin.

                  You cannot form a large military empire, any more. Single acts of conquest are still theoretically possible, of course (China and some of its smaller neighbors). We’re in Afghanistan and everybody wants *out* for real reasons.

                  The three main problems are nukes, widespread dissemination of small arms, and the prevalence of bomb-making materials. The resource depletion you mention is another, actually. It’s hard to sustain an invading force for a significant amount of time when your supply lines are so dependent on the originating country and there is too much sensitivity to local partisans blowing up your supply trucks.

                  Barring a general societal meltdown (where the mere act of supporting a state would be dicey… thus making a military-focused state difficult to start)… I don’t see it happening.

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      • It appears the majority prefers to prevent to the type of coercion which prevents the type of coercion which violates individual rights. It’s almost surreal to describe as “coercion” the act of establishing limits on government so that my individual rights are protected. As far as I know, there are no rights to steal, obstruct freedom to live as you want to live as long as you’re not violating anyone elses rights, enslave others, or kill when it’s not self- defense. I support a government which “coerces” you to not steal from me, to not obstruct my freedom as long as I’m not violating anyone’s basic rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and to own property and use it as I see fit, to not committ acts of violence against me, to not make me a slave, or to not kill me — and this prevention of the violation of my rights is just another form of coercion which has to be thrown into the debate to find balance? Astounding. I know the answer will be that everyone supports the prevention of theft, enslavememt, violence and killing, but not the right to own property and to use it as I see fit as long as it doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. However, the more we allow violation of property rights, the weaker all individual rights become. Because as long as the State can say what I own is part of the collective effort, then I have very little freedom and a limited ability to enjoy the bit of freedom I’ve been granted by the benevolent State, which can be limited further when the need of the collective becomes greater, or when the State decides I should do more for the greater good.

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        • I’d like to second my thoughts to what you’ve said above Farmer. In a true Libertarian society, property rights would rein supreme, and there is no property more dear than self.

          The Chinese have a saying, “fu bu guo san dai” – fortune is gone in 3 generations. Kain wants to redistribute wealth, just because. This makes him not a Libertarian, but what he’s been accused of being, a Liberaltarian.

          The liberal credo is contained in the following: I believe in things like the social contract and in the need for society to work collectively to tackle big problems like access to healthcare. I believe the accumulation of wealth is largely due to the fact of society and collective well-being and so redistritibution of wealth strikes me as necessary and just. Redistribution of wealth – coercion at its finest.

          Now if there were a proper social mileau (and we’re almost in one now), the very wealthy would feel a social obligation to share their own wealth. This is world’s apart from having society do it /to/ you.

          Why do I prefer the wealthy sharing their own wealth to having the gov’t simply take it? Obviously the gov’t is going to blow it on all the things governments blow money on, and worse, they will create a new class of hidden wealthy bureaucrats, politicians and political cronies who will magically /neglect/ to share their wealth. Or do you think it was a just tragic accident that so many in Obama’s administration had no idea how to fill out a tax return properly?

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  3. Coercion is inevitable. The question is what kind of coercion do we find acceptable. Nobody has cornered the market on freedom. We all simply have different ideas about what makes us free and which chains are the most fearsome.

    In fact, we can know which chains would be the most fearsome. We just have to go into the original position to find out. Consider, if you had no other moral theory or principles to go on and you didnt know who you were going to turn out to be, you would rather be in a situation which guaranteed your freedoms even though it denied you the vote than a system which gave you the right to vote but could deny you (at least some of ) the freedoms if you were a minority.

    So, fair enough. We dont want the above to be subject to democratic control.

    Even if we grant that economic systems are not best chacterised under the rubric of freedom, there is some definite rubric to evaluating systems which does not involve the extent to which the basic structue expresses people’s actual preferences whatever they may turn out to be. Really, the only reason we may want deomcracy is if it was a means to achieve justice in all the other aspects. Seriously, if we can stably achieve and maintain a basic structure that conforms to the two principles of justice without democracy, then there is no legitimate reason for having it.

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    • Like all original position arguments, this relies on silencing me to give me voice. Why tell me which situation I would rather be in when it’s just as easy – and far more coherent – to tell me which situation *you* would rather be in?

      I think there are important senses in which democracy is an end in itself. A government that gives me liberty without the right to vote is a contradiction in terms.

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        • That’s fine, and I agree. I’m just responding to the “original position” claim being made, which, like all original position claims, relies on a massive amount of assumption that one’s interlocutors may or may not share.

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          • That’s fine, and I agree. I’m just responding to the “original position” claim being made, which, like all original position claims, relies on a massive amount of assumption that one’s interlocutors may or may not share.

            Ryan, to clarify, are you saying that you dont see the normative force of original position style arguments, or are you saying that you dont think that behind the veil of ignorance when people have no idea whether they will end up in a majority or not, rationally self interested and mutually disinterested actors who do not know what their conception of the good will turn out to be will decide to value the right to vote only instrumentally.

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            • I think original position arguments can’t have normative force without either assuming or demonstrating a unanimity of purpose or belief, and that I don’t see how they can possibly do the “demonstrating” portion of that.

              On the other prong, though, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that rationally self-interested people will all come to the same conclusions about much of anything. That’s really the key thing here, and it’s a problem for all of the stilted moral and political philosophy that gets done.

              Finally, I have no reason to believe that people will uniformly value the right to vote instrumentally, and as evidence I present the fact that I don’t view it that way. Granted, I’m not behind the veil of ignorance, but facts certainly beat conjecture.

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              • Finally, I have no reason to believe that people will uniformly value the right to vote instrumentally

                Behind the veil of ignorance, strictly speaking, there is nothing you value for its own sake. The primary goods are by definition instrumental goods. Nevertheless, when we come to the basic liberties, possessing them to an extent such that everyone can possss them to the same extent necessarily removes certain kinds of obstacles to the achievment of your various ends. However, political power is problematic in that it might be used to the detriment of the pursuit of your ends. Without further information about the specific society you are going to be in (what stage of development etc) you would nto want to risk those liberties. There may after all be situations where democracy might be the best solution.

                Granted, I’m not behind the veil of ignorance, but facts certainly beat conjecture.

                This is naive. The argument from the veil of ignorance is not a mere conjecture, but a deductive argument. You preference outside the veil can entirely be attributed to you knowing the special circumstances about yourself, or possessing an unreasonable view about justice.

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                • Dude.

                  This thought experiment does indeed get you where you want to go.

                  The preconditions to enabling this thought experiment to be run as an empirical experiment (even granting a very wide latitude on imperfect attempts) make this… ah, beyond impractical.

                  At least, in my opinion.

                  A perfectly well formed thought construction that cannot survive in the real world is of very limited utility in describing or deriving any sort of political organization that by definition has to exist in the real world.

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                  • The preconditions to enabling this thought experiment to be run as an empirical experiment (even granting a very wide latitude on imperfect attempts) make this… ah, beyond impractical

                    The point is not to run the original position in the real world so to speak, but to identify what the principles of justice are merely from the thought experiment itself. This tells us what to prioritise. After that we have to be pragmatic about stuff and see which of the real world options we have best satisfy the abstract ends I determined.

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                    • Oh, fair enough.

                      Here’s the disconnect: I think this thought experiment is a grand way to prioritize issues of justice. I’m a fan.

                      I think many (if not most) of the general electorate disagrees, fundamentally, with this prioritization.

                      In fact, I think a non-trivial percentage of them would disagree strenuously with this prioritization.

                      This leads to “my agenda looks like this”, wherein the agenda is prioritized for optimal justice… but is conversely not prioritized for optimal chances of implementation.

                      This is basically the same thing Erik posted upteen-times upon: the “libertarian agenda” (if such a thing could be said to exist) is focused most on the prioritization of their internal metrics for justice… not on an external measure of what is politically possible.

                      To be clear: the converse approach is necessarily the most optimal one, either.

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                    • I think many (if not most) of the general electorate disagrees, fundamentally, with this prioritization.

                      In fact, I think a non-trivial percentage of them would disagree strenuously with this prioritization.

                      Which is why they suck.

                      This is basically the same thing Erik posted upteen-times upon: the “libertarian agenda” (if such a thing could be said to exist) is focused most on the prioritization of their internal metrics for justice… not on an external measure of what is politically possible.

                      I’m not sure I get this. Feasible policy options A, B and C are on the table. D, E and F being unfeasible (politically at least) are off the table, but may provide a useful critique of the current situation if any of them do far better in their compliance with the principles of justice. I think it is perfectl all right to feel really upset about all of this as the only obstacle to implementation of the super-duper stuff is the stupidity, incompetence and/or malfeasance of politicians/electorate. That said abstract philosophising still gives us he tools to decide between A, B and C. In so far as we still have a rubric to judge between A, B and C where all three are politically feasible, it is not clear how it ignores what is politically feasible.

                      Of course you might say that in practice libertarians tend to talk a lot more about D E and F rather than A B and C, which I will grant benig guilty of it. One thing is that we may be rather frightened of even giving A B and C any kind of support at all as they may be so far behind our ideal policies.

                      If I think that the best thing to do is to eliminate the minimum wage, I would be really reluctant to even support the status quo against raising it further.

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          • I agree with you here. This comment reveals what you’re getting at:

            you would rather be in a situation which guaranteed your freedoms even though it denied you the vote than a system which gave you the right to vote but could deny you (at least some of ) the freedoms if you were a minority.

            So the choice behind the veil is between a ‘guarantee’ of basic rights against the ‘possibility’ that those rights get infringed on by democratic participation.

            Even behind the veil, I would not concede that any form of government could guarantee my rights. I probably would be inclined to say that a government in which centralized authority is checked by citizen participation offers the ‘best hope’ for protecting my rights in the long run.

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            • in which centralized authority is checked by citizen participation offers the ‘best hope’ for protecting my rights in the long run.

              See, you are conceeding my larger point, which is that these political liberties are valued only to the extent they serve justice and no more.

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              • Well, there’s two issues at play here. One is whether behind the veil I would adopt a system of government that would do X vs one that would do Y. Another issue is whether, still behind the veil, I would view my own participation in determining X or Y a necessary condition on accepting it.

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        • I think any group that never wins an election is likely to be a little sour on democracy, at least once in a while. I also think any group that routinely wins elections is — of course — going to insist on how very, very valuable elections are.

          In this context, it’s actually quite surprising how much praise libertarians (and, yes, socialists) still have for democracy.

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          • Libertarians as a party may have never won an election, but the policies they advocate have been implemented in broad outline. Reagan’s economic policies, as I seem to recall, were viewed as broadly libertarian by many/most people once upon a time. Until the negative consequences caught up with the intentions and the libertarian label was removed. By libertarians.

            Doesn’t that count as a political victory?

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            • Reagan’s economic policies, as I seem to recall, were viewed as broadly libertarian by many/most people once upon a time. Until the negative consequences caught up with the intentions and the libertarian label was removed.
              We must live in alternate universe Americas. I’m pleased the internet crosses between dimensions.

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              • In the Simi, CA Reagan library is a well-worn book called, “The Road to Serfdom” written by Hayek. Not only that, but virtually EVERY page has notes written in Reagan’s own hand on the margins, and key points underlined.

                Reagan had multiple wars to fight on multiple fronts. First he had to contain the runaway inflation monster inherited from Carter. Second he had to lower taxes from their confiscatory levels of almost 90% (state plus local). Third he had to contain or defeat the Soviet Empire. History can judge how he did on those agenda items.

                Bush on the other hand probably couldn’t even spell Hayek. His was a pale imitation of Reagonomics with little to no understanding of the underlying principles gleaned from Hayek. The failure of Bushanomics has nothing to do with Reagan and everything to do with Bush.

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                • First [Reagan] had to contain the runaway inflation monster inherited from Carter

                  Not true. Not even remotely true. Although I defended Reagan above, let’s keep the historical record clear.

                  Carter should get credit for defeating inflation, because he appointed Paul Volcker to be head of the Federal Reserve. It was Carter who inherited a problem with inflation, and Carter who appointed the Fed Chair who ended it. That’s why there was a recession in the last part of Carter’s term, because Volcker clamped down on the money supply to end the inflation problem.

                  When Reagan took office, he asked Volcker why the Federal Reserve mattered. Volcker was dumbfounded, but after explaining it to Reagan, he seemed to accept it, and he re-appointed Volcker, then appointed Greenspan. Of course early in Reagan’s term when Volcker loosened the money supply a bit, inflation started up right away just because everyone had gotten accustomed to it and expected more of it, so Volcker clamped down again, hard, causing the so-called “Reagan Recession.”

                  So Reagan does deserve some credit here, to be sure, but to ignore Carter’s role, and to say he inherited “runaway inflation” from Carter is historically wrong.

                  Also, Reagan’s most crucial policies were deregulation of certain economic sectors where regulation was strangling innovation and growth. But that trend actually began under Carter, with Reagan continuing it.

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                    • Between the two of them, trucking, railroads, airlines, natural gas, telecommunications, and banking. Obviously there’s criticism of the latter, so perhaps it went too far, but the banks were clearly too tightly regulated before that. Trucking, railroads and airlines were prevented as a matter of law from competing on prices, and trucking firms actually were often prevented from even competing on the same routes (e.g., taking a particular product from one particular city to another particular city, if another firm was already doing that). And the telecom boom would have been impossible under the old regulations.

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                    • Should have said it better. Carter was passing legislation at a phenomenal rate but obviously couldn’t pass more than someone who was there for 4 terms in his single term. He added the Dept of Energy and Dept of Education. Look how much just those two spend (blow) a year.

                      I just love how Carter is the liberal’s darling, even with such boners as: “April 3, 1976 Answering a question about public housing, Carter says that people should be allowed to maintain the “ethnic purity” of their neighborhoods”.

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                    • Wardsmith,

                      Well, I’m not a liberal and Carter’s not my darling. But I do care about getting the historical record right.

                      Carter actually didn’t pass legislation at a phenomenal rate, but I agree he tried to. He had a poor understanding of how to work with Congress and he shoved bills at them faster than they could work with them, and when his own party leaders asked what his priorities were he effectively said, “all of them.” His ignorance of how Congress worked–thinking it was pretty much like the Georgia state legislature–caused him to be a pretty ineffective chief legislator.

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                    • ward,
                      Carter had his problems all right, but the man doesn’t deserve to be demonized.
                      You’re really kvetching about Los Alamos now?
                      xxx.lanl.gov did something to you?
                      Bettis is Such a goddamn waste of money. You know what the saying is for the people who work there?
                      “High wages, early death”

                      I ain’t kiddin’, that’s in my backyard.

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                    • wardsmith,

                      Living through an event like that isn’t sufficient. I know too many people who lived through it as adults and still don’t have any idea of what happened. The media at the time hardly understood what was happening, either. I don’t get my info about it from the media, but from reading economists.

                      As to the interests tightening after Reagan’s term began, that has nothing to do with Reagan being more hands-off than Carter, and everything to do with Volcker realizing that his first efforts had not been enough. His initial effort caused a recession, and he at first thought that was sufficient to put the pinch on inflation, and began to ease up on the money supply, at which point inflation began rising rapidly again, and so he decided stronger medicine was needed. Who occupied the oval office at any given point in that process was completely irrelevant.

                      I will be happy to educate you further on how foreign capital inflows (and outflows) effect the Fed’s ability to control the money supply another time.
                      Heh, not necessary, but thanks for the offer.

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                  • Always hated revisionist history. I’m guessing you’re younger than me James, so you have an excellent excuse – taking various historians’ word. I on the other hand lived through these administrations as an adult. Here’s the numbers do with them what you will James: “Inflation under Carter climbed by 6.6 percentage points from 5.2% in January 1977 to 11.8% in January 1981”.

                    Yes he hired Volker. Period.

                    I personally read the WSJ article during the time when Volker said he could lick this problem (under Carter) if he were given a free hand. Micro-manager Carter did NOT give him free rein. Reagan did – nuff said.

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                    • wardsmith, two points.

                      First, hiring an inflation fighting Fed chair is not only more than sufficient for fighting inflation, it’s the only thing a president can do to fight inflation. As M. Friedman wrote, “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” and the guy who controls the money supply is the Fed chair.

                      Second, “historical revisionism”? That’s standard economic history. See, for example, here and here.

                      If you want to say Carter was to blame for inflation, you’ll have to explain how a President can affect the inflation rate.

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                    • Oh, and as to Carter not giving Volcker a free rein, the Fed is an independent agency, not actually within the control of the president. Once Carter appointed Volcker, he had no more control over him.

                      Keep in mind that the Fed chair’s term overlaps the presidential term, so each president gets to stick the next prez with a Fed chair. Carter had come into office with a Nixon appointee in that role, Arthur Burns. Inflation began under Burns, and he has been criticized by economists for allowing it to happen. When he resigned, Carter appointed George Miller, who served for a year and a half until Carter appointed him Secretary of the Treasury and replaced him at the Fed with Volcker. Volcker immediately began to jack up interest rates. If you are in fact older than me–I’m 46–you’ll remember that. Interest rates were jacked up to decrease the money supply (standard fed practices, just to an unusual extreme). Check out this graph, and look for any evidence that Carter was–despite not having any authority or ability to do so–somehow restraining Volcker in 1980.

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                    • James,
                      I don’t take Friedman as the word of God. I’m pretty sure killing the Gold Carry Trade would do a pinch towards fighting inflation (might even cause deflation, who knows?)

                      Certainly, stopping shorting for a while on financial institutions was a good way to bankrupt a good few hedge funds (and since they were leveraged, that decreases the general money supply).

                      Now, mind, we might not be talking good ways to reduce inflation, but the government has many ways in its toolbox.

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                    • James, we should have a separate discussion of monetary policy and presidents where there is more room and I can grab my books on the subject (far better than magazine articles as reference fodder).

                      You didn’t take my bait and let me in on your age, I’m thinking 35ish? Living through history is substantially different than reading it. Carter (like Obama for awhile) enjoyed massive Democrat majorities in both the Senate and House and was able to ramrod through more legislation than anyone had in 100 yrs. That legislation had its own pernicious effect on the economy and inflation.

                      Yes ONE of the things a president can do is hire an inflation fighting Fed chair. However one of the things that same president can do is /fire/ a Fed chair, which is what Carter threatened on more than one occasion and which led to the brakes coming off the “medicine” policy too many times. Interest rates bobbled all over the place and S&L’s were hammered because they locked in too high interest rates for CD’s to attract investors only to see rates drop again. Also foreign exchange has a huge effect for multiple reasons, something I can get into later if we have the right OP.

                      Of course today we can’t even compare the numbers with those days because the CPI has been totally jiggered. Only a few diehards are going through the laborious effort to tease out the reality from the fiction in current gov’t statistics on inflation, GDP and unemployment.

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                    • Wardsmith,

                      Actually I did give you my age. Look again, I’m 46. As to continuing the debate, you’re getting too many facts wrong for me to be eager to do that. Kimmi already pointed out your error on legislation (I would add that FDR was less than 100 years before Carter, and also passed far more legislation in his first term). I’d add that you’re wrong about the President firing the Fed chair.

                      I’d like to see a cite on Carter threatening to fire the Fed Chair. He may have, but of course he couldn’t actually do it.

                      Foreign exchange doesn’t determine inflation. Whatever effect it might have is totally offset by the Fed’s control of the money supply.

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                    • James, I like you, I like what you say and I don’t want to have a fight. The key point I was trying to tease out vis a vis age was exactly how old you were during Carter’s presidency. You appear to have been about 11-12 when it started. I was more than a decade older, it had a profound effect on me.

                      The newspapers and magazines of the day (unfortunately pre-internet so no links available) talked about these things, including whether Carter /could/ ask for Volker’s resignation. There was pressure and it did cause some amelioration of otherwise intelligent measures. Your own graph shows the majority of the tightening of the money supply occurred during the Reagan years, exactly what I started this conversation by stating. It was to quote Volker “harsh medicine” and could have cost Reagan his presidency. I recommend you re-read your own link to me: If we are transparent in all that we do, we will have the public’s support when tough medicine is needed again.

                      Last, we learned that we need strong leaders. Paul Volcker was vilified for years because of the steps he had to take to break the back of inflation. “Wanted” posters targeted him for “killing” so many small businesses. Yet he remained resolute, doing what he knew was best for the country in the long term. We are also fortunate that President Ronald Reagan supported Volcker and the cause of price stability.

                      Let’s hope we always have such strong leaders at the helm

                      Whether it is fair that presidents take the blame (or credit) for acts done by the quasi-independent Fed is another discussion.

                      I will be happy to educate you further on how foreign capital inflows (and outflows) effect the Fed’s ability to control the money supply another time.

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          • To be fair, no one representing my political philosophy has been in a position of power in the United States during my lifetime. My only consolation is that cultural forces are pretty relentlessly driving a lot of policy the way I want it to go anyway.

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    • > Consider, if you had no other moral theory
      > or principles to go on and you didnt know
      > who you were going to turn out to be

      The problem is that you can’t get there from here.

      And even if everyone who was rational and right-thinkin’ jumped on that bandwagon, you can’t get rid of all the others’ moral theories and theology.

      Barring a colony.

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  4. Most contemporary liberals prefer less democracy than most socialists; and that even the socialists of modern times prefer less democracy than socialists of past eras.

    Most socialists would be horrified at the results of pure democracy in practice. To say the least, it would not resemble socialism.

    In fairness to the socialists, though, it wouldn’t resemble much of anything else on offer by the mainstream political parties either. People’s actual preferences are very different from current public policy and often simply incoherent, and this is something that a fully formed theory of democracy needs to take into account, particularly as it considers any example drawn from current U.S. politics.

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  5. E.D.

    If you were to state that you can not envision how we can get from where we are to a place of no coercion, then I would agree with you. I do not see the path either. But you are declaring that coercion is inevitable, and that we should just argue over the balance. I think that the inevitable statement is too bold, and the balance statement is a mistake.

    Let me try to rephrase the problem:

    1) People must constantly solve problems to survive and thrive.
    2) They accomplish this via individual acts of production (grow, design, create, build,etc)
    3) Or they can accomplish this in interactions with others (Trade, marry, steal, rape, etc)
    4) Coercion is a situation where one party expects gains and another party loses. It is a win/lose interaction. This is a zero sum interaction according to the two parties.
    5) The value of liberty is that reasonable adults can be expected to engage in productive (wins) activity. Interactions that are mutually voluntary can thus be expected reasonably to be win/wins. They create value. Nobody is harmed and all gain. Mutual freedom solves lots of problems.
    6) One way to discourage win/lose activity is to convert the incentive to win at others expense (to lie, cheat, steal, rape) into a lose/lose via punishment. It may not be the best way, but it is a solution to the problem.
    7) By converting individual coercion into a negative situation, coercion is rationally minimized.
    8) Secondary effects and win/lose externalities also have to be accounted for (pollution, etc)

    Again, I can not envision getting to zero coercion. But this is just argument via incredulity. It certainly is possible to explore paths toward or approaching zero exploitation/coercion. The path involves discovering institutions and protocols and technologies which foster positive sum interactions and which discourage the initiation of coercion. I could elaborate, but won’t for sake of space.

    My point is this. I believe rather than pursuing a balance between liberty and coercion, we should pursue a minimization of coercion. Further, I believe the future will belong to those that succeed best in this quest (meaning that the balancers will come to adopt the solutions of the minimizers).

    But then again, I am often wrong.

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    • > 4) Coercion is a situation where one
      > party expects gains and another party
      > loses. It is a win/lose interaction.
      > This is a zero sum interaction
      > according to the two parties.

      It’s very difficult to frame coercion this way, generally. People engage in zero-sum transactions all the time where somebody wins and somebody loses, but both parties walk away satisfied and they both entered the deal without anyone forcing an outcome.

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      • Nor are all coercive interactions win/lose unless you argue circularly that the coercion itself is the loss. People can be coerced into doing something that they consider a net win afterward, as any parent of a young child can tell you :)

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          • I’m not so sure that’s the case, but even if it is, it’s not like all human actions can be scored via easily numerable means.

            “Winning” or “losing” a given interaction is a matter of perception in many cases and different people can conclude different things about the same outcome based on individual differences in values and priorities.

            In short, I don’t buy the definition of coercion above, either.

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      • Patrick and Darren,

        Thanks for your comments. I really am interested in your opinions and would appreciate if you could work through this with me.

        Let me first clarify that no path is fool proof. Just because a rational ADULT makes a choice voluntarily does not ensure he won’t make a mistake. And yeah, it’s tough adding up all the pros and cons and choosing wisely. However, in most cases, nobody understands the values, constraints, context and tradeoffs better than the individual. In addition, the individual making the choice lives with the feedback — positive or negative and thus has the best incentives to learn from and correct mistakes and to repeat and amplify successes.

        Second, I agree that it is possible that both parties can come out ahead (of the original position) even after coercion. The point is that absent coercion, at least one of the parties felt he could have done better, or coercion was unnecessary. Coercion in this case would be a loss compared to what could have been expected without coercion.

        Third, I agree that people can voluntarily agree to zero sum games — gambling etc. To paraphrase the “Master” in Rocky Horror, when people pursue zero sum outcomes, “They shall receive it, in abundance.” That said, much of game playing is really a zero sum game embedded within a positive sum one. We both enjoy playing tennis (W/W) and are tussling over the points (W/L). The tussling actually makes the sport more enjoyable.

        I believe framing coercion in terms of win/lose is quite effective with the above caveats. What we are talking about here is of course what Mises would call Human Action and which is studied under Praxeology. Though I am unfamiliar with any hybrids between Game Theory and Praxeology??

        DG: “I’m not so sure that’s the case, but even if it is, it’s not like all human actions can be scored via easily numerable means.“Winning” or “losing” a given interaction is a matter of perception in many cases and different people can conclude different things about the same outcome based on individual differences in values and priorities.”

        The point is that in voluntary, mutually agreed upon exchanges (without coercion) both parties expect to win personally. Their perception of the other’s outcome is irrelevant. Their perception and values of their situation is what matters. Yes, value is subjective in that sense. It becomes a win/win not from some view from above but based upon the opinions of the players.

        Once coercion is introduced within the interaction, the reasonable response is to resort in kind. An arms race of coercion begins and the best result is to get out of the interaction all together. Value is no longer created.

        Thoughts?

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        • The point is that in voluntary, mutually agreed upon exchanges (without coercion) both parties expect to win personally. Their perception of the other’s outcome is irrelevant. Their perception and values of their situation is what matters. Yes, value is subjective in that sense. It becomes a win/win not from some view from above but based upon the opinions of the players.

          I don’t believe this describes how most humans approach interactions. People often enter an interaction with the express intent that the other party loses, and will reject interactions where they win but the other party wins in some perceived-to-be-unjust manner (i.e. got the bigger slice of pie).

          Nor are most of the important decisions one makes governed by atomic value propositions of the sort you describe. Marriage, parenthood, military service, career path, education choices, and such all may involve submitting to some type of coercive regime for a perceived benefit.

          You also haven’t really dealt with the tension between your points 5 & 6 above. People can, and do, routinely engage in murder, theft, rape, fraud, and many other forms of coercive behavior toward one another for personal gain, so what is a non-coercive way to prevent or reduce the incidence of these?

          To E.D.’s original point, I don’t accept the premise that many (most?) interactions have a clear-cut choice between involving coercion and not involving coercion, but instead involve trade-offs between who is allowed to engage in what types of coercion within a specific interaction.

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          • Thanks Darren,

            DG: “People often enter an interaction with the express intent that the other party loses, and will reject interactions where they win but the other party wins in some perceived-to-be-unjust manner (i.e. got the bigger slice of pie).”

            If the other party is expecting to lose they will not voluntarily participate. I am not suggesting people are saints or don’t try to harm others. It takes coercion or voluntary immersion into destructive zero sum games. Again absent coercion, I don’t care what ways they want to interact. They can even succeed individually. Collectively they will not.

            As for your “unjust win,” if it is not desired by the participant it is not a win at all. If he would rather the situation in total would not develop it is — in total — a perceived step backward. (That said, I do agree I totally botched the language on “the other’s outcome is irrelevant.” It is each individual’s take on the situation that determines if it is a good or bad move.)

            And yes, “submitting to some type of coercive regime for a perceived benefit” is a long term perceived win as revealed by your words “perceived benefit.” That is a win, and another word for submitted is “volunteered” or “un-coercively chose.”

            And yes, people do engage in coercive acts of theft and violence. This can be managed by creating a system with institutions and protocols that convert win/lose actions into lose/lose actions. You steal and cheat and I won’t trade, marry or hire you. None of these is coercive. The “loss” is no longer being asked to play at all. This is important. In a positive sum value creation game (such as free enterprise) we can discourage coercion without coercion by refusing to cooperate with the violator. Ebay is an obvious example.

            Of course, as a last resort retaliatory coercion may be necessary. The goal is not retribution, it is incentivizing non-coercion. My point to ED was that our goal isn’t to balance coercion. It is to minimize coercion. The retaliatory threat’s goal isn’t to balance it, it is to snuff it out.

            Coercion is like cocaine. A little seems like a good idea, but we better watch out where it takes us. Democratically driven coercion is no different.

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            • Thanks. Going to mull this over a bit more, but a couple initial thoughts:

              – Just because one party enters an interaction with the intent of making the other lose does not imply that the counter-party must enter the interaction with the intent of losing. Think fraud…

              – eBay’s reputation system works (for certain values of “works”) because it is a closed system and purely and simply transactional. It’s difficult to see where that would scale to handle even a significant portion of economic interactions, much less non-economic ones.

              – Choosing to submit to a coercive arrangement for perceived benefit seems to counter your imperative to always minimize coercion, a point I could have made clearer above. There are times when it is perfectly rational and desirable to choose to have more coercion rather than less. We *could* run the military in a much less coercive manner than we do, but it would be a very, very bad idea.

              – I’m not clear at all on how your reputation-based non-coercive interactions would scale to multi-party interactions (especially where “multi” refers to millions of people), or handles interactions with partial or asymmetric information as in Patrick’s example below.

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              • Thanks again Darren,

                I agree people knowingly or mistakenly enter into zero sum forms of interaction. I would not coercively prohibit them either. I would encourage them to join in the social circle of voluntary win/win relationships. That is the path forward.

                I also agree Ebay is just an example of an institution engendering win/win. Other institutions, protocols, technologies, mores, etc are needed. This is — to a significant degree — how societies progress. Encourage value production and discourage value destruction.

                I also agree that shorter term it is tempting to take the path of coercion. I think it is risky and often self defeating longer term. But as of today, I do not see a path to eliminate all coercion. (Self Defense) That just gives future generations something to look forward to! LOL

                The free enterprise system is a reputation-based interaction system with asymetrical information and billions of participants. It can’t handle all social problems, but it certainly has created unimaginable value. Science is another such system. So are organized sports.

                I think we need to use what we can learn from free enterprise/science/sports and take it into democracy and government. That would be a major topic though….

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        • On zero sum and valuation:

          Let’s say you’re religiously opposed to killing cows.

          You have no cows. You have no interest in consuming cows as meat. There is no market relationship between you and the beef industry.

          If a law is proposed that forbids the raising of cattle for consumption, how is it even possible to equate your valuation of the merit of this law with your average American citizen, let alone the beef industry? There’s no way to even put these things on an ordinal measure of value, let alone a ratio measure.

          On coercion:

          You should quit smoking. You know you should quit smoking. It is very bad for you. However, you still like to smoke, and at the present time you don’t actually want to quit.

          I follow you around all day with a gun to your head and force you not to smoke.

          That’s obviously coercion, yes?

          You might even argue that you benefit from it, because you really want to quit smoking and you just can’t by yourself.

          > The point is that in voluntary, mutually
          > agreed upon exchanges (without coercion)
          > both parties expect to win personally.
          > Their perception of the other’s outcome
          > is irrelevant.

          This is actually not generally true. The perception of the other’s outcome is not only relevant (for most people), it’s a giant game changer.

          Let’s say you and I are walking in the woods and we find a rock that I happen to know is worth $1000, but you have to spend 5 hours of your expert time to make it worth that much. If you don’t, it’s only worth $200. I’m an expert, you’re not.

          Is it fair for me to offer you $100? That’s half the finder’s fee for the rock that’s worth $200, and $200 is all it’s worth to you because you can’t make it worth $1000. If you were walking around with anybody else and you found the rock, you’d be happy to take $100 and let him take $100.

          Most people are not going to take $100 if I get $900, because the $800 for the 5 hours of my time seems grossly unfair to them.

          There’s lots of psych research on this. People will actually choose nothing for both parties over a perceived imbalanced reward for both parties.

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          • Patrick,

            I agree that I have absolutely no clue how to establish an ordinal measure of value on legally and democratically forbidding “the raising of cattle for consumption.” I do know that ranchers would likely consider this coercive. This would be a clear cut perceived “Loss.” This regulation is a clear example of a win/lose coercive situation. Ask the ranchers!

            I believe we should pursue non-coercive solutions to the problem. Consumer awareness, meat substitutes, culture grown beef, whatever.

            See my comments above on democratic coercion and cocaine. Win/lose battles careen out of control. I suggest the longer, positive sum path to the short and dirty path.

            And yes, I am OK with someone voluntarily agreeing to join a club where they have to stop smoking or they get shot in the head. LOL I don’t recommend it though. I certainly do not recommend that as a regulation. That is about as coercive and demeaning to human volition as I can imagine.

            Finally, see my mea culpa on my language on perceptions of other’s outcome. I agree with your response. The fairness of the deal is fair game in the perception of the individual and their perception of whether it the optimal step forward or not. We define “Win” in very complex ways. Indeed, an act of voluntary charity is clearly a “win”. Why else would I choose it over the alternatives?

            In summary, I believe liberty and a diligent emphasis on minimizing coercion — even democratically induced coercion — is the best path forward to problem solving and value creation. That means I think it is the better path forward to a better society. I think ED’s emphasis on balance is at best penny wise and pound foolish.

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            • > the best path forward to problem solving
              > and value creation

              It’s certainly the best path forward to certain types of problem solving, I’ll give you that. I don’t know that it is the best path forward to all sorts of problems, though.

              As for value creation, well, that’s another kettle of fish. It depends on what you mean by value.

              We borrow lots of money from the Chinese, not the other way around. That says something about who has surplus cash, doesn’t it?

              (not that money is a good measure of value, but that’s a whole post in and of itself).

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              • Patrick,

                P: “As for value creation, well, that’s another kettle of fish. It depends on what you mean by value.”

                But it doesn’t. That is the value of win/win interactions. It depends upon what the individuals voluntarily interacting mean by value. It was the best move forward at the time according to their values. Both move forward.

                The intersection point of two voluntary interactions (let’s ignore externalities and mistakes for now) objectively creates value based upon the subjective beliefs of everyone involved. Indeed, the point where supply meets demand is by definition the optimal number of win/win interactions available under the circumstances.

                Mine is a decentralized, bottoms up way of both establishing and pursuing (or should I say creating?) value.

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          • , Your cows example, while amusing for us in the US is actually happening in India as we speak. The minority in India (Muslims) enjoy raising and eating cattle. The majority (Hindu) feel their religious beliefs are being trampled. This argument fairly regularly erupts in violence. India is the world’s largest democracy.

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  6. I talk about end-goals in my initial post because I think our conception of the ideal society is important.

    The key is to agree that community self-government, civic deliberation, democratic participation, or whatever else we want to call it, will all require coercion at some point, as you say.

    I think where the water gets muddied is when some libertarians assume their ideal society as the base case, from which all other proposals are necessarily deviating, rather than just another option on the list.

    This is in part a result of fuzzy and confused terminology like “natural rights.”

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    • EC, I’m with you on the fuzziness of ‘natural rights’ talk. And I agree with most of what you’ve written earlier about it: that talk of rights outside of a social situation are somewhat incoherent. The right to property, for example, in some very real sense, exists only when other people are around to contest your claim.

      Try as I might, when I look for them I can’t find em. All I see are agreements between people based more on emotions and pragmatics rather than anything like a natural (albeit abstract) property.

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      • The right to property, for example, in some very real sense, exists only when other people are around to contest your claim.

        Of course. Rights are a set of moral claims about the individual’s life in society, about how it may be conducted and how it may not be conducted.

        That’s not to say these claims are unnatural, or that they are mere creations of the government, or that any set of rights would be equally compatible with human nature. Consider that some formulations of “rights” are obviously better or worse than others, and that — had we no government at all — one of the first things we might try to do would be to set up a government. Why? Because we were concerned about protecting our rights.

        And yet — stay with me here — none of the foregoing presumes that we have a perfect understanding or instantiation of individual rights, either in this society or in any other.

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        • I feel ya. I think my worry with – or criticism of, really – so-called ‘natural rights’ is that they are assumed to be intrinsic properties of an individual. That a person living in isolation can be meaningfully said to ‘have natural rights’.

          And of course I agree that in the absence of government, or even supposing its existence, people are very concerned about protecting personal interests against the claims of others. But this goes both ways: my right to property may conflict with your right to life (say, to eat from the trees that I’ve claimed as my own).

          I just don’t see that invoking the idea of (say) a ‘natural right to property’ somehow settles the dispute between conflicting rights claims. That’s so in part because the idea of an intrinsic ‘natural right to property’ strikes me as incoherent.

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        • Rights are important, definitely.

          But the insinuation tends to be that they are “natural.”

          My problem isn’t with rights, but with the term “natural,” and confusion over what it means and whether that has any bearing on a thing’s intrinsic value, e.g. it’s “natural” for most planets to be barren rocks devoid of life. Ergo the abundance of life on earth is “unnatural.” And yet that hardly seems to tell us anything useful.

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            • irreducible sounds better than natural, but they’re both saying basically the same thing.

              natural/irreducible rights are one of those social fictions that are actually incredibly useful for everyone to believe in, regardless of how fictional they actually are. i certainly would like my neighbors/countrypersons to believe in them, even if i cannot logically bring myself to. (though i’d still act as though i believe in them because they’re useful, if that makes any sense)

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              • Natural presupposes a axiomatic existence. This right is “natural” if it is a fact of nature: that is, violating this right is violating the purpose of the universe, really.

                I’ve always hated this frame, because I can pretty trivially come up with long slongs of examples of things that exist that violate this principle. Hell, it’s trivially easy to argue that there is no right to life, “in nature”. Things kill and die all the time. It’s trivially easy to argue that there is no right to your person, “in nature”. All the arguments against it just fudge around with definitions of “nature”. The whole thing smacks of True Scotsman.

                Irreducible just means it doesn’t come from anything else. Like Murali points out just below, some rights are institutional in that one must first accept that the context is legitimate before one accepts the right as legitimate.

                The irreducible rights are ones that exist without a context.

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                    • Is that what morality is? Our internal sense of justice/moral outrage (I have read these are related to the emotion of disgust)? Is this also what underpins rights?

                      To the extent morality and rights are “real” and “natural,” is it only to the same extent that they are rooted in human instinct? Or not?

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                    • Is that what morality is? Our internal sense of justice/moral outrage (I have read these are related to the emotion of disgust)? Is this also what underpins rights?

                      By many definitions, yes. I would add that we absolutely must engage in a process of critical reflection that refines and brings coherence to these intuitions, while curbing those that can’t be made workable in light of the rest. Instinct and intuition are the beginning, not the end, of the process.

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                • Or, if you prefer, morality is a statement of personal preference, and personal preference is real enough. But the notion that there is some spooky place where moral statements exist like bunnies romping about is self-evidently not true.

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                    • Maybe. It means different things in different contexts. I’m not saying that rights-talk and ethics-talk is useless, to be clear. I think there are things we do – like drone strikes against women and children in Yemen – that are in tension or opposition to the social contract we have. I think it’s worth arguing that we should stop doing those things because they offend my preferences (or even “sense of justice”, as Jason puts it, as long as we recognize that my sense of justice is mine and yours is yours), and I think I can get a lot of people to agree with me because we share similar preferences. That’s how we got the social contract we have, and it’s also what each generation inherits from the social contract that came before them. The social contract isn’t meaningless!

                      That the intensity of my horror when faced with the incineration of women and children is orders of magnitude greater than when I eat an onion, though, is not enough to demonstrate what a lot of people think it demonstrates.

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                    • I doubt that any here have lived in conditions where you have no rights and are totally under the control of arbitrary, cruel power. If you had lived under such conditions you would understand that rights are deeply rooted in the nature of human beings.

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                    • Let’s just say I know what I’m writing about. But you are trying to minimize the truth of what I’m writing through mental games. How anyone who’s read the history and the persoanl accounts of those who’ve lived under cruel tyrannical conditions cannot simply agree with what I wrote is a mystery to me.

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                    • I’ve read some personal accounts of what it was like under some oppressive regimes.

                      Heck, Granddad was a POW at Bataan. I’ve read some pretty personal accounts of what it was like under some oppressive regimes.

                      I’m not Jesse, aiight? I don’t believe that rights are entirely social constructs. Our current understanding of them might be, but that’s just observer bias.

                      I’m just not a big fan of Revealed Truth; those who put the eyes on the Truth come away with different ideas about what was Revealed.

                      Exigent circumstances put a whole different lens on the affair.

                      I like Murali’s Rawlsian approach myself. Logical Discovery vs. Inherent Property.

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                • of course they are. they rely upon the belief of everyone around you to exist. i don’t think that’s sociopathic (whatever that means in this context).

                  i can illustrate my biggest issue with “natural” rights is a place like north korea. don’t those people have these natural rights? no, because the society around them doesn’t believe they exist, and so boom headshot and so forth and so on while kim jong remains the illest.

                  in other cultures and contexts, it’s different. because rights are a social fiction. very useful, and i wish people believed in them harder.

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                  • my biggest issue with “natural” rights is a place like north korea. don’t those people have these natural rights? no, because the society around them doesn’t believe they exist, and so boom headshot and so forth and so on while kim jong remains the illest.

                    Those people do have natural rights. If they lacked natural rights, they would have no claim whatsoever to say that the regime under which they suffered was in error. It is only the dignity and moral worth of personhood that allows us to say such things, and the preservation of that dignity and moral worth is the aim of rights theory itself.

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            • I vote we get rid of “natural rights” as a label and use “irreducible rights”.

              I’d be down with the name change if the semantics didn’t just track along. If an ‘irreducible right’ is intrinsic to the person, then the problem just arises further down the line.

              For my part, I think rights are inherently relational, and to a great degree socially constructed. The only part of them which isn’t is the emotional commitment people make to defending stuff they think is theirs, or the emotional commitment people make to defending access to the opportunities which provide personal rewards. It’s this feature of a right – that it’s often confused with a self-interest-so-strong-it-must-be-based-in-something-bigger-than-myself! – that gives them an otherwordly kind of feel.

              But I think they’re just emotions and pragmatics.

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        • Rights are a set of moral claims about the individual’s life in society, about how it may be conducted and how it may not be conducted.

          Fair enough

          That’s not to say these claims are unnatural, or that they are mere creations of the government, or that any set of rights would be equally compatible with human nature

          I’m not sure unnatural is the right way to put it. Some rights like liberty of conscience are natural in that they govern natural acts. Others like the right to vote are purely institutional. They arise only under specific institutions. i.e. the institution is logically prior to the right. If we want to justify the right, we must justify the institution first.

          Specifically, property rights are institutional in that to talk about a specific right in a particular property you have to talk about an institutional background which lays out norms for property formation, acquisition transfer, rectification etc. Now pace David Schmidtz there are good reasons to have private property norms. It is just a mistake to think of them as natural.

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          • Some rights like liberty of conscience are natural in that they govern natural acts. Others like the right to vote are purely institutional. They arise only under specific institutions. i.e. the institution is logically prior to the right. If we want to justify the right, we must justify the institution first.

            Rights theory has a language for this. There are natural rights, which are claims you’d seek to preserve or protect under any (or no) government. And then there are civil rights, which are promises made by the current government, and to which you may assert a claim (like voting, or trial by jury).

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  7. In other words, we all view the balance between individual rights and democracy as just that: a balancing act

    Yes. Agreed.

    the point of my initial piece was not so much that libertarians dislike democracy but rather that any attempt to limit democracy is going to require some use of force or coercion
    Accepted. But my response to it is that your type of coercion attempts to force me to live my life by your rules, whereas my type of coercion leaves you free to live your life by your own rules.

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      • What I mean is, you still get to live your life by your own rules. Your own life. To say “living your life by your rules” means “forcing others to contribute to you” takes it beyond the realm living your own life.

        And in your own life, you and like-minded others are free to redistribute among yourselves as much as you like. You asked yesterday about what rules I’d set up where I the libertarian dictator. One of my rules would be that there’s absolutely no rule against a group of folks joining together in a totally voluntary commune.

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        • But your rules would prevent me from forming even the most basic democratic government. What if I wanted – along with a majority of others – to set up a government? So that we could collectively defend ourselves, prevent crime, start a public school, and levy taxes to pay for these things?

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          • But your rules would prevent me from forming even the most basic democratic government.

            Ah, and now you’re effectively back to calling a hater of democracy again. And after a post where you had, I was pleased to see, backed off from that.

            I’m wondering how many times I have to repeat that I’m not opposed to forming a government–that I just want to limit that government to those few very necessary things like national defense and crime prevention–before you’ll actually stop saying that I don’t want a government even for the purposes of national defense and crime prevention?

            Because getting killed by invaders, or getting murdered by thugs, those are things that prevent me from living my own life in my own way. So government in those cases promotes my ability to live my own life in my own way, by my own personal rules.

            I really don’t want to get nasty, because I think there’s room for reasonable debate here. But when there’s a repeated misstatement about my beliefs that I’ve already repeatedly corrected, I begin to wonder if certain other people are actually committed to reasonable debate.

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              • I want government to do S={some set of stuff}.

                You want government to do S’={some other set of stuff}.

                The next N people want government to do S^1..S^n={n sets of stuff}.

                There’s nothing inherently unreasonable about saying:

                A just form of government would be the intersection of S, S’, S^1… S^n.

                There is a case to be made that:

                A just form of government would be a majoritarian (for some value of “majority”) intersection of the same set of sets.

                In the first case, government can only do what everybody wants.

                In the second case, government can only do a set of things that most people want (for some value of “most”).

                Neither position is inherently an unreasonable one to take.

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                • I’d argue that the first case is indeed unreasonable to take in a nation of 300+ million individuals, as the intersection set is almost certain to be null.

                  An interesting question would be what is the largest group of people you could have that could agree on a non-trivial and non-null intersection set.

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                  • Yes, that would be an interesting question.

                    I’d be more surprised at a null set intersection in the first case than you are. People* might disagree on what constitutes “national defense”, but I don’t know that there is significant debate that whatever it is, it’s the responsibility of the government.

                    * granted, at least 15% of any populace is not mentally competent, and another non-trivial % has a *completely* irrational and inconsistent view of government.

                    I don’t think James qualifies as either, though.

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                    • another non-trivial % has a *completely* irrational and inconsistent view of government.

                      This is exactly the sort of thing I was thinking of when I wrote my response. How do you filter out this nebulously-defined group when calculating your intersection?

                      I think that once you start having to determine whose view of governance is rational and whose isn’t you’ve pretty much conceded my point that there really isn’t a near-universal consensus on minimalist government :)

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                    • Well, there isn’t really a near-universal consensus on anything.

                      For the sake of argument, though, I would imagine that the commentariat here doesn’t exactly qualify as either imbeciles or insane. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the intersection of our policy preferences wouldn’t be trivial. Right?

                      So would that be more just or less just than setting some percentage of the League (hey, it doesn’t even need to be majoritarian) and set the limit of government on the intersection of *those* numbers of people?

                      If we can find a set of things we all agree upon, why should we toss that out in favor of a larger set of things that fewer of us agree upon?

                      (There’s an set of answers to that question, I’m just curious as to what your answer is).

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                  • Darren and Patrick,

                    DG (responding to P’s intersection of values):” An interesting question would be what is the largest group of people you could have that could agree on a non-trivial and non-null intersection set.”

                    My win/win positive sum model is indeed a bottoms up way to arrive at just that. Interactions between individuals if voluntary and non-coercive can reasonably be expected to be what the individuals want. Free enterprise takes such trade/employment/investment decisions and combines them infinitely.

                    It cannot be designed top down. All you can do is non-coercively create a system of rules that allow those wanting to enter the system to play by them.

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                • Otoh, government can also exist to act on the union of the S’s as much as the intersection.

                  Whether it tends to act on the union or the intersection is an important part of the political process, arguably the most important part, and is itself a significant partisan issue.

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                  • Oh, absolutely, Koz.

                    I’d argue that over time, this is where we got.

                    The Dems come in, they push some stuff into the pot. They leave, the GOP comes in, they push some other stuff in the pot.

                    Everybody makes noise about taking things out of the pot when they aren’t in charge, but they’d rather put stuff in than take it out when they’re in charge.

                    Over time, this turns into a messy union.

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                    • Patrick,
                      think you’re missing something: I believe that the Democrats are rather genuine about wanting to take things out of the pot (when Henry ain’t Catholic, at any rate).

                      I believe that wall street works to keep the people in power at any point as the ones most likely to put more things in the pot.

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                    • Kimmi, I’m going to pull the same thing out I pull out when Koz tells me that the GOP is really about fiscal responsibility… because I really, really misbelieve this.

                      Show me your evidence. Show me a track record of the Democrats acting to pull functions out of the governmental pot. Explain to me why we still have the Patriot Act, or why the MMS wasn’t cleaned up prior to the BP spill, in a way that doesn’t completely destroy your thesis.

                      Because it’s very easy to pseudoscientifically make this claim. “Well, of course the Democrats want to do this! It’s just in all these cases when they wanted to do this they were stopped by Wall Street/Big Pharma/Big Agriculture/Big Labor/Whoever. And the GOP, they totally don’t want to do this! Look, in all these cases they just were pretending to want to do this and were paid off by Wall Street/Big Pharma/Big Agriculture/Whoever!”

                      We’re talking on another thread over at Elias’s place about education. The U.S. used to have a manufacturing labor sector. As we increased efficiency, we got to the point where we now produce about the same amount in raw goods that China does (they’ve caught up) except we do it with 11 million people and they do it with 150 million.

                      During this time, we essentially got rid of 140 million of our own manufacturing jobs. Our response to these people, by both parties is “Hey, go to college, we’ll help pay for it! You can totally get a job as an accountant or something!”

                      Now we have a workforce that has paper certificates saying that they can be an accountant, but over half of them are shitty accountants because they were never cut out to be an accountant in the first place.

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                    • Pat,
                      Continuing to maintain the stance that both sides are blackmailed. This constitutes a fundamental problem.

                      You’re tossing a bit of chaff into the wind, when you mention the Patriot Act — TSA would have been a better choice, as we’re talking mostly economic policy.

                      What shall I say? Deregulation of small time seedings/agricultural farming under the Democrats? Removing corporate subsidies (and governmental guarantees) to NelNet?

                      Or maybe I can just point to some states (nb.: i actually lack the knowledge here), to show how democrats can actually decrease the size of gov’t.

                      But I don’t think it’s a case of “one side is right, but can’t overcome” and “the other side is wrong and faking positions”. That’s a total misread of what I’m saying.

                      Democrats: “Corporations only deserve free gov’t handouts when the world is falling apart” (see BoA signs for general bank closing).

                      Republicans: “Corporations should have a tax-free existence! If we cut taxes, things will get better for us, and not China. ”

                      (note: i realize I am exaggerating the Republican stance. forgive moi!)

                      Ergo, due to Stated Positions, the obvious choice for corporations is Democrats when corporate profits are tanking, and Republicans when corporate profits are rising.

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              • So, you want to limit my freedom to form a government that does more than you want?

                Yes, because what I really want is to limit your freedom to form a government that is any more coercive of me than is absolutely necessary to ensure that I can live my live in peace.

                What right have you to coerce me into anything more than that? If you want more, voluntarily engage with others to do that “more” that you want. Hell, I’m not that anti-social, and I might even join. But you’re demanding the right to force me to join. That’s a lot different than me demanding the right to prevent you from forcing me to join.

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                • The difference is, you’re not forced to join. You can leave. There would be downsides, such as leaving your family, friends, etcetera. But, just like the campus Communist has three choices – to organize a majority that supports his view, leave, or deal with it, so do you.

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                    • Thos who speak of the majority and propose a more vibrant democracy might think they have the power, but unless the economic system is creating new wealth, decline will destroy the State, or at some point there is the realization that freedom, innovation, creativity without State chains, are necessary, so a shift toward a free market comes about. The current Occupation of Wall Street is a prime example of how groups can become ignorant and self-destructive. By starting a war between the rich and everyone else, there is an assumption that everyone who is not in the top 1% wants to defeat and take the wealth of the top producers, and an assumption that there’s a neat divide. There isn’t. Agnew was on to something when he spoke of the silent majority — they still exist, and if they are roused into action, I don’t think they’ll be anti-capitalist in nature. They are people who don’t want to be bothered by government– they simply want to work, live their lives and try to advance to their level of comfort. Most don’t want to be Bill Gates, but they don’t want to destroy the Bill Gates of the world, either. I think a lot of you misread the majority. Yes, they are accustomed to the security-ideas of SS and Medicare, but they could live with another arrangement as long as their reirement is secure. Yes, they like the idea of unemployment insurance, but they could deal with a private solution as well, if the case was made. The majority is not sitting around licking their lips at the prospect of taking wealth from the top producers and destroying the capitalist system.

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            • Can you clarify the fundamental difference you see in forcing people to contribute to a national defense and criminal justice system (plus whatever else makes your own particular “necessary and proper” list) versus things like providing universal health care, attempting to assuage poverty among the elderly, regulating industrial waste, or any other activities from which you’d bar the state?

              In other words, what criteria do you use to determine where the state (and, presumably, state-sponsored coercion) is necessary and where is must be prevented from acting?

              And if you grant the necessity for a government, what mechanism would you suggest for erecting strong barriers against interference in areas other than those you deem necessary, since presumably you feel our current system is insufficient to the task.

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              • Can you clarify the fundamental difference you see in forcing people to contribute to a national defense and criminal justice system (plus whatever else makes your own particular “necessary and proper” list) versus things like providing universal health care, attempting to assuage poverty among the elderly, regulating industrial waste, or any other activities from which you’d bar the state?

                Sure, that’s fair. National defense is about preventing someone from coercing me in a way that prevents me from making my own choices about life. Criminal prevention is about preventing someone from coercing me in a way that prevents me from making my own choices about life. E.g., they’re about someone causing me harm–some other person is violating my individual integrity. I actually lump regulation of industrial waste in with those, because the factory dumping its pollutants in my drinking water is fundamentally similar.

                Lack of health care and being poor are not in themselves things someone is doing to me. They’re not cases of some person violating my individual integrity. It’s not that providing health care and alleviating poverty are bad things, and I support both market and voluntary provisions for them. (To be even clearer, I’m making the strong argument here. In the real world I don’t rail against welfare, SS, etc., because of all the things government does that I don’t think are truly justified, those are the least horrifying, and I can’t justify to myself ranting about those in preference to ranting about cops breaking down people’s doors, etc. So while I’ll make the theoretical argument against Obamacare, I’ll get around to marching in protest against that after we’ve solved the really really serious government abuses.)

                And if you grant the necessity for a government, what mechanism would you suggest for erecting strong barriers against interference in areas other than those you deem necessary, since presumably you feel our current system is insufficient to the task
                Yes. First and foremost I would strengthen the protections of the Bill of Rights. Second, I would pass an amendment preventing any government from passing regulations designed to protect any business or industry from competition (those are
                “screw the consumer” policies). Then, were I actually able to accomplish those things, I would pause and think about what my next priority ought to be.

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                • Thanks. Good stuff.

                  It’s not that providing health care and alleviating poverty are bad things, and I support both market and voluntary provisions for them.

                  What happens if the invisible hand fails to provide for a substantial portion of the populace, as it did pre-SS and pre-Medicare? Is there ever a case where government could play a role, or is it just “tough noogies” to those who continue to suffer under a purely voluntary, market-based system?

                  I couldn’t agree more with your priorities, though, and wish more libertarians agreed with us :)

                  First and foremost I would strengthen the protections of the Bill of Rights. Second, I would pass an amendment preventing any government from passing regulations designed to protect any business or industry from competition (those are
                  “screw the consumer” policies).

                  Can you expand on how you’d strengthen the Bill of Rights, particularly in light of how several of those rights have been steadily eroded over time?

                  Also, how would your anti-protectionist amendment be functionally different from existing legislation and regulation? Regulations designed to erect barriers to entry in various fields aren’t generally drafted with that goal spelled out, and often falsely claim to increase competition rather than the opposite.

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                • Can you expand on how you’d strengthen the Bill of Rights, particularly in light of how several of those rights have been steadily eroded over time?
                  Sadly, no. I’m extremely depressed about that, but I don’t see a clear way to stop this slide and turn it around.

                  What happens if the invisible hand fails to provide for a substantial portion of the populace, as it did pre-SS and pre-Medicare? Is there ever a case where government could play a role, or is it just “tough noogies” to those who continue to suffer under a purely voluntary, market-based system?
                  I’ll simply admit that’s the really really tough question. To the criticism of “that’s inhumane,” I’m not sure that I have a good response. And that’s why that’s so far down on my target list. In the end, I don’t know if I even would have the heart to target it. It’s worth noting, though, that the poverty rate in the U.S. fell consistently across decades–except for the severe blip of the recession–but stopped falling when LBJ’s Great Society programs were enacted. Coincidental timing with the power of the market to end poverty having reached it’s limit? Well intended public policy with inadvertently bad effects? Impossible to say definitively, but each is worthy of serious consideration.

                  Also, how would your anti-protectionist amendment be functionally different from existing legislation and regulation? Regulations designed to erect barriers to entry in various fields aren’t generally drafted with that goal spelled out, and often falsely claim to increase competition rather than the opposite.
                  I’d promote a constitutional amendment that looked to the effect of such regulations, as well as to their intent, much as the Supreme Court interprets equal protection and religious establishment cases today. Love the question–most people I pitch that to don’t get to that level of thought on it. You’ve clearly been looking at some of the same problems there that I have.

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            • Because getting killed by invaders, or getting murdered by thugs, those are things that prevent me from living my own life in my own way. So government in those cases promotes my ability to live my own life in my own way, by my own personal rules.

              You’re on murkier ground here, James. Because it really can just as easily be said that lack of affordable health care prevents someone else from living their life in their own way.

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              • it really can just as easily be said that lack of affordable health care prevents someone else from living their life in their own way.

                The important distinction, for me, is who or what is doing that preventing. If I stab you, then it’s me doing it to you. If you get cancer, I haven’t done it to you, nature has. Take nature to court and make her pay!

                (This is assuming I’m not a polluting industry that has caused your cancer. If in fact I am, then in that case I should be on the hook for your care, not millions of people who never did anything to you.)

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                • So why is it the government’s duty to spend tax dollars assuring your health (or trying to) in one context but not another? I understand that you can’t put cancer in prison, but why is a collective defense against criminal acts (even if some people could afford their own security thankyouverymuch) different than a collective defense against cancer (even if some people can afford their own health care thankyouverymuch)?

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                    • Why is government responding to (saying medical practitioners ‘regulate’ cancer or broken bones seems like an odd formulation, after all) health care needs inherently more absurd than voluntary markets responding to health care needs?

                      You can certainly argue that from a practical or economic perspective markets may do it better than government, but to say one is inherently absurd and the other not seems…absurd.

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                    • but to say one is inherently absurd and the other not seems…absurd.

                      Not “absurd.” One involves other humans violating my personal integrity and the other doesn’t.

                      That’s my bottom line. You don’t have to agree. But I’m willing to bet it’s at least as defensible as a matter of logic as your bottom line.

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                    • One involves other humans violating my personal integrity and the other doesn’t.

                      What if market based mechanisms violated your personal integrity rather than government? That would be just objectionable, right?

                      So suppose that instead of being in an economic situation in which you view yourself as a loser in the ‘redistribution’ game, you were a loser in the ‘market mechanism’ game, with no hope for remedy or redress. Suppose that the market mechanism in play is something pretty plausible, like inner-city poverty and the lack of social and economic opportunities or even personal safety experienced by the people living there. (There are other examples, of course, more extreme.)

                      Also, suppose that you didn’t advocate or support the market mechanisms that in fact determine the world you live in, and that the decisions effecting you (to ship the manufacturing base over-seas and all that that entails, eg.) were made by other people.

                      Is there a sense under which that market mechanism could be viewed as ‘violating your personal integrity’?

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                    • No. Because markets are defined as voluntary exchanges. Make it involuntary and it’s not a market exchange. That’s simply definitional. To say anything different is to say markets are something other than what they are.

                      Of course markets aren’t always perfect; flaws occur, which means certain elements of what are going on are no longer market exchanges. That’s where government is, for most libertarians, theoretically justified (which is not the same thing as saying the government will necessarily do a better job).

                      But let’s be clear that economists don’t see the economic world as being just about monetary exchanges between totally atomistic individuals. As Harold Demsetz said (slightly paraphrased), the more you study economics the more you realize it’s not about money. My wife and I, for example, engage in a continuous series of voluntary exchanges. It’s just that in the market of voluntary exchanges, some types of exchanges are lubricated by money and some are not.

                      Now, can someone lose out in purely voluntary exchange? If they’re voluntarily engaging in the exchange, then normally no. They wouldn’t voluntarily engage in the exchange if they didn’t expect to gain by it. Of course sometimes we make errors in judgment, but that’s just the reality of imperfect beings in an imperfect world. (Again, though, if the reason our expectations about gaining from the exchange involve deception or fraud, government is, from the general libertarian viewpoint, justified.)

                      So from that perspective, the question is why doesn’t someone benefit from voluntary exchange? And the only answer can be is that they don’t have anything of value that anyone else wants. Very few people are in that situation, and they tend to be either very anti-social or mentally disabled. To be sure, many mentally disabled people do have something to offer; love, affection, and devotion. So many will be cared for voluntarily. But of course we’d be fooling ourselves if we said that all such people will have someone willing to take care of them. From my basic standard, giving government a role in caring for them–via my tax dollars–may not be so easily justified, but I’m more than willing to accept it. Libertarianism is a theory based on the assumption of competent adults, and I think it has to make concessions for folks who don’t meet that standard, else it’s critics will assuredly be right that it’s inhumane.

                      But as for inner-city poverty, I think it’s a huge stretch to call that a market outcome. To do so is to deny the extensive set of government policies that promote it. For one thing, if we’re going to say it’s a government responsibility to provide housing for the poor, that doesn’t mean the government needs to build high rises designed by the least competent brutalist architects, and pack all of the poor people together as tightly as possible.

                      My point there is that beyond the question of when government action is justifiable, there’s a question of whether the government action will in fact improve upon the non-government outcome. Too often there’s the assumption that because government is different than business, elected by the public and not having the profit motive, it will necessarily provide better outcomes. Sometimes it will, but there are far too many examples of times it doesn’t to make that a general assumption.

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                    • Mike Schilling,

                      Government spends a significant amount of money assuring an unnatural amount of sanitation

                      Sure, and that’s not an effective critique of my argument. My poo has a remarkable similarity to industrial waste–it can kill you if I put it in your drinking water. Voila! It meets my standard for justification of government.

                      Granted, I’d prefer that the disposal of waste be handled by the market, and to a very small degree it is. That is, people hire honeywagons to clean out their septics and outhouses. But that’s only because they’re directly affected by the failure to do so. If I drop my drawers just upstream from your water source, we’ve got a market externality problem; I’m causing you harm. And having government create convenient waste disposal systems may be a lot more efficient than having it try to find, try, and fine everyone who pees in a puddle. So, yeah, given the standards I’ve laid out, my local waste treatment plant is exactly one of the things I absolutely agree is a legitimate government project.

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                    • James Hanley,

                      Thanks for the lengthy reply. I think I misunderstood what you meant by ‘integrity’ – you’re using it as shorthand for coercion, I was understanding it more psychologically – as so my question was a bit misguided. But your answer did reveal one of the big differences between your view of things and mine: the idea that voluntary market activity cannot violate a person’s integrity because it’s not a coerced interaction. And actually, I agree with you completely about this.

                      But you and I disagree on the ways and degree to which a person’s economic choices are voluntary.

                      So let’s agree to scrap the word coercion for a moment and use the word ‘leverage’ to apply to market mechanisms.

                      It seems to me that certain market participants have varying degrees of leverage over other market players. And that leverage can be exercised in varying degrees and in various ways. One example of extreme leverage is (for example) the Caterpillar corporation saying to it’s workers that you either take a pay cut or we move the plant overseas. And further, it seems to me this type of leverage is not only a basic component of market activity, but that it’s excused (or even lauded) by supporters of ‘market based solutions’.

                      So, a question: Is there a level of private, market based leverage that meets the criteria of coercion, that is, is there a level of leverage under which it’s correct to say that, market mechanisms could violate a person’s integrity?

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                    • Stillwater and James,

                      Let me use Stillwater’s last response as a chance to jump in without just saying BRAVO JAMES!

                      Stillwater: “So let’s agree to scrap the word coercion for a moment and use the word ‘leverage’ to apply to market mechanisms… One example of extreme leverage is (for example) the Caterpillar corporation saying to it’s workers that you either take a pay cut or we move the plant overseas. And further, it seems to me this type of leverage is not only a basic component of market activity, but that it’s excused (or even lauded) by supporters of ‘market based solutions’. So, a question: Is there a level of private, market based leverage that meets the criteria of coercion, that is, is there a level of leverage under which it’s correct to say that, market mechanisms could violate a person’s integrity?”

                      Employment is a voluntary, non-coercive relationship between people. It is by definition an expected win/win otherwise both parties wouldn’t agree to it. However nothing in a voluntary interaction requires or binds the parties to continuing such a relationship forever (Unless the voluntary interaction is a contract of exactly these terms). By forcing Cat to employ people when it wants to no longer do so is EXPLOITATION (forced win/lose).

                      I would rephrase your imbalance issue in the following way. Voluntary actions are almost by definition expected win/wins. BUT, they may not be FAIR. If I meet you in the desert and you are on the verge of death due to thirst, I could offer you a canteen in exchange for a blow job. This would be a win/win (you are better off sacrificing your integrity than being dead). But it is most certainly not FAIR. I define fairness within voluntary interactions as voluntary with competing alternatives. The more alternatives the fairer.

                      Free enterprise thrives — indeed virtually requires — change to work. Every party constantly looks for a better deal in non-coercive ways. The trouble with this is that it creates the ever-present specter of loss by someone not interacting with you — discontinuing the exchange.

                      Employment discontinuance is best is remedied by private, risk adjusted employment insurance. Attempts to regulate in (coerce) win/lose relationships just jams up the free enterprise value creation system and leads back to fewer and fewer alternatives and less FAIRNESS.

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                    • Stillwater,

                      Me culpa on the ambiguous term “integrity,” I couldn’t come up with a more precise term at the moment.

                      As to your question. A) I largely agree with Roger, and B) I agree that leverage is an important concept and a much tougher one than outright coercion.

                      Specifically, Roger notes that market outcomes may not be fair. I may downplay fairness too much, because I find it such a vague concept. But I think some people equate any unfair outcome to being an unjust outcome. I understand the feeling, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s correct. I think forcing someone into an involuntary exchange–slavery, theft, rape, etc.–is an injustice, and somewhere beyond that I think we quickly shade into unfairness, rather than injustice.

                      Certainly some people have more leverage than others. That comes in all kinds of ways. If I have more money than you, I have more leverage over a car dealer’s decision than you do (I can purchase the car and deny you the chance to make that purchase). If I am more charming than you (doubtful) I have more leverage over people’s choices to do what I want than you do.

                      As to leverage in the business marketplace (to distinguish it from the purely interpersonal marketplace), leverage depends a lot on what is in more demand: jobs or labor. In the late 1990s the unemployment rate in some states was so low–less than 2%–that all of that unemployment was voluntary transitional unemployment, people who had quit their jobs because they were confident of finding a better job. The de facto minimum wage was as much as one-third higher than the de jure minimum wage. That is, labor was in such scarce supply that potential employees had an unusually high amount of leverage over employers.

                      In fields where there is a labor shortage, that degree of employee leverage always exists. The problem people worry about (hoping here that I am still roughly on the track you were on) occurs when labor is in abundant supply and jobs are in high demand. That most often, albeit not exclusively, occurs among those with few skills. To use Roger’s Caterpillar example, the people who lost their jobs were not Cat’s engineers and designers, but their much lower-skilled labor.

                      Did Caterpillar have real leverage over them? Yes, but only because A) they weren’t highly skilled, so that their labor was easily replaceable; B) the economy around Peoria, IL wasn’t strong, so their labor was easily replaceable; and C) other countries aren’t fully developed yet, so their labor was easily replaceable.

                      But does this meet the criteria of coercion? Obviously the term is loose enough to allow a claim that it does. It’s hard to persuasively claim that the boss saying “Do X, or I’ll fire you” doesn’t smack of coercion.

                      But, as Roger notes, the employment situation was one of voluntary contractual agreements. And it’s worth keeping in mind that employees were free to walk away from Cat anytime they wanted. In fact I’m confident that employees did all the time, because some degree of regular turnover of employes is the norm in manufacturing. So was Cat saying, “Work for $X or get out,” or was it saying “If you’re willing to walk away at $X, we can’t stop you”?

                      I’m uncomfortable with calling that coercion because there’s not something there that the employees are necessarily entitled to receive that is being denied them. Yeah, a “decent paycheck,” but not being willing to pay more money to someone who’s voluntarily working for you is, again, very different from forcing them to involuntarily give you some of their money).

                      If they don’t have better options, A) it’s not the employer’s fault; and B) the employer’s giving them the best option available, and that shouldn’t be condemned.

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                    • Roger,

                      You wrote Voluntary actions are almost by definition expected win/wins. BUT, they may not be FAIR.

                      And of course, as a simple sentence on a virtual page it’s hard to deny. It’s also hard to deny that much of what you say is true as a specific response to the question asked.

                      But I’d like to push this answer in another direction. Does it apply to non-market activities as well? I’m thinking of government here, and the voluntary agreement people make to live under a particular type of government. It seems to me that the same answer you provided can apply to libertarian (or other) critiques of excessive, right’s impinging democracy: that since you enter into the agreement to abide by the laws and policies of the US (you haven’t ‘quit’ you’re citizenship) you in some sense agree to the binding nature of policy enacted under the system you agree to live under.

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                    • Whoops! Submitted that before I was done.

                      Continuing: if so, then isn’t a fair response to say that while you feel that the a particular party has more leverage than you do with respect to (say) funding welfare with progressive taxation (or whatever), the outcome isn’t coercive but rather only unfair?

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                  • I’m thinking of government here, and the voluntary agreement people make to live under a particular type of government.

                    As much as I enjoyed learning social contract theories (Hobbes, Locke, Rosseau, etc.), I don’t buy them. Humans are born into particular societies–they don’t have a choice about that. Does remaining in that society instead of migrating elsewhere necessarily mean they have made a voluntary agreement to live under that particular type of government? Some say so, but I don’t think the argument can really hold. You write:

                    since you enter into the agreement to abide by the laws and policies of the US (you haven’t ‘quit’ you’re citizenship) you in some sense agree to the binding nature of policy enacted under the system you agree to live under.

                    Where have I entered into that agreement? Just because I haven’t quit my citizenship? My signature won’t be found on any such binding agreement to accept the system as it is, and increasingly I find the current system almost wholly unacceptable. Using this theoretical approach, there would seem to be some degree of change I cannot legitimately demand. That is, I can clearly advocate for a change in a particular public policy, and presumably I can advocate for an amendment to the Constitution, but can I legitimately call for a wholesale elimination of the current governmental structure and its replacement with something else? If not, I think this approach is ultimately monstrous. If so, then I’m not sure this approach has significant meaning.

                    However, if someone says, “I am willing to accept the decisions of the majority when I am in the minority, so long as our system allows me to try and try again to change the majority,” then I think it gets a little bit dubious to say “they’re being coerced.” (At that point it’s like saying a masochist is the victim of domestic violence; maybe, maybe not.) Instead, they’re just being democratic.

                    But that also has its limits, because all of us here agree that even in a democratic society some democratic decisions are off-limits. So the question is not just about whether> we accept the role of democratic loser and call it unfair but not coercion, but how far we are willing to take that role.

                    I’m very democratic in those things I think it’s legitimate for government to do. Let’s say I think the legal blood alcohol level should be .10, by my state legislature votes to set it at .08. I may criticize that on policy grounds, but I accept it as a policy decision and won’t complain that I’m being coerced into not driving with a blood alcohol level of .09.

                    But I do not give my consent that the demos can determine whether I can drink (or smoke, etc.), or what my blood alcohol level can be on my own property, or what my friends’ blood alcohol level can be when they’re on my property.

                    For example, today Congress is considering a bill to slap tariffs on Chinese goods. Some see this as protection of American jobs against unfair competition (it won’t save or create jobs, but that’s another debate). I say it’s government telling me that if I want to buy some particular good I have to buy it at a higher price than someone is willing to offer it to me at. Forget me, I’m pretty solidly middle class–they’re telling poor people they have to pay more for the stuff they need. I don’t accept that as legitimate.

                    In the end, I am willing to let others do things I don’t like, and I am willing to go without some things I would like that would be at their expense, in order to ensure that those others don’t try to stop me from doing the things I do like to do, and to keep them from trying to get the things they like at my expense.

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                    • James,
                      You’ve a lot of options at your disposal to change the social compact.
                      If you truly disbelieve that gambling is a social good, you can campaign against 401ks.
                      Or you can opt out.
                      Civil disobedience is still your right, to break laws that you consider immoral and defend yourself in a court of law, just as the Russian Anarchists did (they were to a one set free — the charge was murder, I believe).

                      If you’ve never seriously considered migrating to another country, I find you have an easy life, free of cares and relatively free of worry.

                      Most small-businessmen I know would not share your inability to consider their strategic options (or perhaps your lack of desperation)

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                    • Kimmi,

                      I have, in fact, seriously considered migrating to another country. But for someone of a libertarian bent, good choices are pretty limited. So I shrug my shoulders and say, “well, there’s my ideals, and then there’s what I can live with.”

                      Besides, I absolutely love the U.S.–not its form of government, but the people, the diversity, and particularly the landscape and geography. I’ve been in nearly every corner of the country and all the spaces in-between (only 3 states I haven’t been to), and I have enjoyed each of those areas. It’s a mistake to think of citizenship as being only about a relationship between the individual and the government, or to think of country as being equivalent to its government.

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                    • James,
                      … you’ve not been banished to another country, nor needed to flee on the account of the people in power signing death warrants.

                      There are significant portions of the country that are unsafe for me as a person to visit, that I frankly loathe (if hanover, pa ain’t enough of a clue…) — Hughes line rings true again… “America never was America to me”

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                    • You know James, I’m not a big fan of parts of social contract/compact theory. Or maybe the better way to say it is that I disagree with the way lots ways people characterize the social contract/compact. But when combined with other more likely accounts of the origins of government (the stationary bandit theory, for example), you get a nice picture of how governance can and does evolve, and of the necessary role individuals and (justified) collective action play in determining what constitutes the legitimate authority of the state.

                      There’s lots to talk about there, and I don’t want to leave this too quickly, but I’d like to bring the discussion back to the earlier topic of leverage and coercion. In answer to one of my questions about agreeing to abide by the policies and laws derived from our political process, you wrote

                      Where have I entered into that agreement? Just because I haven’t quit my citizenship? My signature won’t be found on any such binding agreement to accept the system as it is, and increasingly I find the current system almost wholly unacceptable.

                      Couldn’t I say the exact same thing as a defense of my position that certain specific market mechanisms are coercive/heavily leveraged against my interests? Isn’t it in some sense true to say of current policy that I never agreed to accept nor signed any binding agreement committing me an institutional structure where my prospective employers exert enormous leverage over me in a system where I need a wage paying job in order to survive, and I find this current system unacceptable?

                      On both views, the fact that the current system wasn’t agreed to would be a condition on denying the relationship is voluntary. And if it’s not voluntary, then we get into fine shadings between heavily leveraged and coercive. And the finer line, perhaps, between injustice and unfairness. On both counts.

                      Or is that wrong?

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                  • Can I coerce you into getting a vaccination for contagious disease? Please?

                    No, just get one yourself and you won’t have to worry about whether I do.

                    Coercing me into getting a vaccination isn’t protecting yourself from me; it’s protecting myself from me.

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                    • James,
                      I’m sorry, but when does it become okay to force someone else to have a life-threatening vaccination, in order that you might not be “coerced”???
                      Theory, meet my fucking reality.

                      Your pretense that “I don’t need to do that, because you can protect yourself” is a threadbare sheet, and I can see right fucking through it.

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                    • Mike,

                      Sure I have. But if I’m immunized, I’m immune regardless of whether anyone else in the herd is. The great thing about vaccinations is that it enables us to easily protect ourselves on a voluntary basis. Look, this issue’s already been covered before, and I’ll reiterate what I said on that thread: I don’t oppose vaccinations; I myself get vaccinated and vaccinate my kids; and I think anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated is pretty foolish. But their foolishness can’t harm me, unless I voluntarily choose to put myself in that position of risk.

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                    • > But if I’m immunized, I’m
                      > immune regardless of whether
                      > anyone else in the herd is.
                      > The great thing about
                      > vaccinations is that it enables
                      > us to easily protect ourselves
                      > on a voluntary basis.

                      This isn’t quite right, James, you need to buff up on your medical epidemiology.

                      Immunizations are poorly termed; they’re not full shields, they’re just enhanced defenses. The better the immunization is, the less likely you are to get the disease.

                      Once you get a critical mass of people with sufficient defense, it’s difficult for a viral infection to “go viral” -> it can’t reach the point where it can infect enough people during its infectious stage to represent a major outbreak.

                      But you can get the immunization and still get the disease, in some cases. So having everyone get the immunization means that a larger percentage have sufficient defenses; not that everybody is immune.

                      If you drop below that critical mass, though, enough people are available with insufficient protection that they can get sick and retransmit to another person with insufficient protection.

                      As a side note, some people can’t get immunizations, or can’t get particular ones. So when the herd immunity drops below that critical mass, it becomes much more likely that they’ll get sick, because they are particularly susceptible to those infections.

                      Now, your obligation to those people may or may not exist, under your particular philosophy, but if you have an obligation not to dump your poop in their water supply because you might cause them harm, it’s not hard to also make the case that you also have an obligation not to breathe out viral-infected air in their common air supply, either.

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                    • Every man is an island,
                      Entire of himself.
                      “Continent” is a collectivist word for “islands”.
                      If a clod be washed away by the sea,
                      good.
                      We call that “evolution is action”.
                      Each man’s death is irreverent to me,
                      For “mankind” is another collectivist lie.
                      Therefore, send not to know
                      For whom the bell tolls,
                      It tolls for someone else.
                      Fish him.

                      Libertarian John Donne

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                    • Kimmi: OK, I get you now. That’s a tough one you’ve posed me. I won’t make a pretense of having an easy answer for it.

                      Pat: True, I was being careless. I’ll go back to the prior discussion of this, though, and argue that paying people to do it is a lot better than mandating that they do it. That argument was covered pretty well over there, so regardless of whether anyone agrees or disagrees with me, I’ll refer them back to it rather than go into it here.

                      Mike S.: Every man is an island, Entire of himself.
                      And once again you jump for the stereotype and misrepresent me. You’ve been around these parts long enough to know that lots of us libertarians, including specifically Jason and me, don’t think that way at all. My argument above only gets to that conclusion with massive leaps of logic and brute refusal to listen to the things I’ve actually said.

                      Libertarianism argues for voluntary collective action in place of mandated collective action. You may think it’s a pipedream, but voluntary collection action–voluntary working together to resolve collective concerns–is anything but a claim that each person is an island complete unto himself.

                      I’m not sure if you’re being dishonest intentionally or if there’s just a certain intellectual laziness there. I think if you go back through our discussions you won’t find that I’m regularly presenting misleading stereotypes of your views. I think your views are wrong, but I don’t go around implying that because you’re liberal you’re actually a collectivist.

                      I keep asking how long will it be before certain people on this blog who ought to know better stop making these misrepresentations. I guess it’s going to be a little longer.

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                    • > I’ll go back to the prior discussion
                      > of this, though, and argue that
                      > paying people to do it is a lot better
                      > than mandating that they do it.

                      Oh, fair enough. I’m not a mandatory vaccinations guy myself. Positive reinforcement is a good idea.

                      I will make exceptions under exigent circumstances when they occur, but that’s pretty rare.

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                    • Ward

                      FTA:

                      > Still, “parents here,” Schiappacasse
                      > said, apparently including himself
                      > in the category, “are more likely
                      > to be worried about fumes from
                      > a new carpet than they are about
                      > any infectious disease.”

                      This guy has the intellectual capability of a potato.

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            • I wouldn’t say it was meaningful. But, they had the right to say it and try to get majority support for that view. They obviously saw they were fighting a losing proposition, so they tried to form a nation of like-minded people. Unfortunately for them, the United States disagreed with them leaving the fold.

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              • I’m uninterested in discussing the right to say things or the right to secede. (Bob’s over there, for the record.)

                I’m more interested in the meaningfulness of “the freedom to own slaves” or “the freedom to keep women from learning to read” or “the freedom to exile homosexuals”.

                This goes back to the whole “where are rights seated?” question, I think. If they’re seated in the individual, the sentence is nonsensical on its face. If, however, “rights” are privileges extended by the powers that be… it makes a great deal of sense.

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                • Sure, if your Constitution doesn’t explicity deny it and you can get the correct amount of votes, it’s perfectly fine to allow slavery, ban education of women, or throw gay people out.

                  I wouldn’t be a fan of it and would tell those who represent me to not support a country that would do that and would find against those who would support things like that in this country, but yes, the only rights you have are those given to you or those you can stop others from taking from you.

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              • Thus crushing the freedom of the southern states and the democratic will of those within*. Because the freedom to own slaves is not substantively different than the freedom not to be one. The freedom to pursue one’s sexual desires is not substantively different than the freedom to throw people in prison for doing so.

                We’ve rendered the word “freedom” meaningless. Perhaps it always was. Should we ignore anyone that tries to invoke this meaningless concept?

                * – Just in case there is any misunderstanding: I take the North’s side in the Civil War.

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          • Yeah, I’m having trouble with this idea that there’s no meaningful distinction between a) coercing people to prevent them form coercively taking something from other, and b) coercively taking something from others. Certainly you can pitch an argument for the latter, but I don’t think you can claim it’s not substantively different.

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            • The problem is we enter into meaningless territory pretty quickly. Are you an anarchist? Do you believe in any government at all? Any taxation at all? Once you accept that government ought to exist, that democracy ought to exist, and that taxation is legitimate then the rest is just pissing over how much of each. So unless you’re an anarchist this is all just back to the sliding scale of what sort of coercion, what elements of democracy, what kind of redistribution everybody wants. To figure that out we use a mixed approach of democratic means and constitutional restraints. Your society isn’t less coercive than mine simply because I want to enact legislation that raises taxes higher than your society would.

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              • That’s ridiculous, Erik. You’re responding directly to a comment in which I made a meaningful distinction and you simply ignored that distinction.

                Trumwill’s take on it is exactly right. Or as I’d put it, is there really no distinction between you taking money from my pocket and me stopping you from taking money from my pocket. As I read you, you want to insist on just saying that each one is coercion and then treating them as equivalent.

                Hell, for only the third time in blogosphere history you’ve got Tom Van Dyke and me agreeing. You’re treating self-defense as coercive, as equivalent to the attack, and, as he says, “emptied the concept of all meaning.”

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                • Bah. The fact that you have money means you already bought into the “social contract” and all the little coercions that go with it, among them following the law and paying taxes. So yes, in a very real way, complaining about “being coerced” into following the rules of modern society really is meaningless.

                  You’ve already willingly agreed to participate. You’re just balking at the cost.

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                  • “The fact that you have money means you already bought into the “social contract” and all the little coercions that go with it, among them following the law and paying taxes.”

                    Actually, no. People don’t have to believe that, as a practical matter they don’t, and they’re fully capable of acting on that (non)-belief.

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                  • Oh, so I just have to accept the system as it is and can’t argue for change to what I think is a better system?

                    And just where do you find me suggesting that I don’t follow the law and pay taxes? Once again I see someone arguing with the strawman in their head and pretending they’ve pinned me down.

                    For god’s sake, some people are just bound and determined to lie to themselves about what the debate is about. I guess that’s easier than actually thinking, or more fun than honesty, or something disreputable like that.k

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                    • “Oh, so I just have to accept the system as it is and can’t argue for change to what I think is a better system?”

                      No, but arguing for change in a system you willingly participate in is different than saying you’re “being coerced” into participating in the system when you lose the argument.

                      In a democracy, libertarians often “lose the argument.” This is usually when their willing participation becomes coercion.

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                    • Utter nonsense, Herb. People in Stalin’s Soviet Union “willingly” participated, in the sense that they didn’t have real options. And they had money, which was your original standard. So by your argument, they couldn’t object to the system.

                      Your standard just doesn’t work.

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                    • “Stalin’s Soviet Union “willingly” participated, in the sense that they didn’t have real options.”

                      Seriously….I let the “some people are bound and determined to lie to themselves” comment go. I let the straw man complaint go.

                      I said, no, let’s not make this personal. Let’s make it about the idea.

                      And yet you seem unwilling to even attempt to understand what I’m saying. Am I saying there’s no fundamental difference between the Soviet Union and the United States? Nope. Am I saying that having money means you must accept being a slave? Nope.

                      This is what I’m saying: Libertarians are sore losers. Having lost the argument, they either complain about being coerced in the first place or pine for some kind of formal separation where they don’t even have to argue.

                      If you’re the type who has libertarianish ideas on certain issues, you might not have this problem. But then again, chances are…you were never a Libertarian in the first place.

                      Pure libertarianism causes people to OD on stupid. Best to cut it with something else….

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