Liberty & Democracy

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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293 Responses

  1. Avatar Tom Van Dyke
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    says:

    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.Report

  2. Avatar DarrenG
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    says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DarrenG
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      says:

      And yet if a libertarian is honestly going to assess their preferred program they must admit to a level of coercion on the part of the state in order to achieve and sustain their program.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Or just a good deal of patience, until the rest of the electorate mostly comes around to our way of thinking.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          That’s a very good deal of patience.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Pat Cahalan
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            says:

            I try to look on the bright side: It’s decades and decades in which I get to be smug.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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              says:

              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 🙂Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Pat Cahalan
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                resources are dwindling. are you really so confident that global wars of conquest are over for good?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kimmi
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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.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to E.D. Kain
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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.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to MFarmer
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          says:

          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?Report

  3. Avatar Murali
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    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.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Murali
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      says:

      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.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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        A government that gives me liberty without the right to vote is a contradiction in terms.

        Eh. See it as one making “important trade-offs”.

        “We have universal health care, 100% literacy, and crime no longer exists!”

        Cuba has achieved this, why can’t we?Report

        • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          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.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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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.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Murali
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              I don’t think that any sufficiently large group of randomly chosen people will exhibit rational self-interest or mutual disinterest.Report

            • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Murali
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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.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Murali
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Murali
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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.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali
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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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Murali
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                says:

                > Which is why they suck.

                Heh; you and Jaybird are on opposite sides of the value of people question.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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            says:

            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.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              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.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
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                says:

                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.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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        I think this is important. Some people view democracy as a means to an ends while others view it as part of the end-goal in and of itself. I think libertarians tend toward the former and liberals tend toward the latter.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to E.D. Kain
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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.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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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?Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              I would neither call those policies total failures nor entirely remove the label.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
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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.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley
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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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to wardsmith
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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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
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                what sectors?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi
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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.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Kimmi
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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”.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi
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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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kimmi
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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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi
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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.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley
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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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to wardsmith
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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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to wardsmith
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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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith
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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.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to wardsmith
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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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith
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                says:

                ward,
                get out of here. Carter passed basically nothing compared to LBJ, and even less compared to FDR. don’t be crazy.
                And his democratic congress hated Dat Peanut Farmer.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith
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                says:

                *blink!* point for wardsmith, quoting shadowstats.

                Next point: wardsmith, will you go with the free market on global warming? How about on who got the most votes in Florida? ; – )Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to wardsmith
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to wardsmith
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to wardsmith
                Ignored
                says:

                ward,
                Gold carry trade next?Report

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

            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.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Murali
      Ignored
      says:

      > 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.Report

  4. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
    Ignored
    says:

    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.Report

  5. Avatar Roger
    Ignored
    says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Roger
      Ignored
      says:

      Roger, minimizing coercion is a fine goal, but it doesn’t really clarify matters. Everything is a trade off, even in that pursuit.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger
      Ignored
      says:

      > 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.Report

      • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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        says:

        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 🙂Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to DarrenG
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          says:

          I would imagine a ton of that can be attributed to rationalization, though.Report

          • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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            says:

            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.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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        says:

        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?Report

        • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Roger
          Ignored
          says:

          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.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to DarrenG
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            says:

            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.Report

            • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Roger
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              says:

              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.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to DarrenG
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                says:

                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….Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger
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          says:

          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.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan
            Ignored
            says:

            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.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger
              Ignored
              says:

              > 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).Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan
            Ignored
            says:

            @Patrick, 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.Report

  6. Avatar E.C. Gach
    Ignored
    says:

    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.”Report

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

      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.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        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.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          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.Report

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

          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.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to E.C. Gach
            Ignored
            says:

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

            • Avatar dhex in reply to Patrick Cahalan
              Ignored
              says:

              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)Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to dhex
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                The irreducible rights are ones that exist without a context.

                i’m not as smart on this stuff as you guys, but it still sounds like the same thing.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to dhex
                Ignored
                says:

                And I’d just disagree with that sentence entirely. All rights have a context — the context of human beings interacting with one another.Report

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

                That’s fair enough.Report

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

                To clarify: I spoke wayyyy to loosey-goosey.Report

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

                Things kill and die all the time. It’s trivially easy to argue that there is no right to your person, “in nature”.

                No, but in society, you may assert a right not to be killed. Bears and germs don’t share a society with us and can’t be expected to hold to human norms.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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                says:

                Sure, “in society”. That’s the whole game right there. Talking about rights as if they come from somewhere other than a social contract we’ve more or less all agreed to is nonsense.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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                says:

                It’s not where rights come from but what they relate to, and in this case we’re talking about the nature of human beings and how best to achieve human flourishing. The nature of human beings, according to the best knowledge we posses regarding the nature of human beings, is that to become truly human we thrive in freedom with basic rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and to property. Property speaks to our natural need to work for our living and betterment, or else be dependent on someone or others who have worked and produced enough to share.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to dhex
                Ignored
                says:

                rights are not social fictions. Not unless you think morality is a social fiction. That almost sounds sociopathic man.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Erm, morality is rather obviously a social fiction. Rights are really, really obviously a social fiction.Report

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

                Has your sense of justice never been outraged by anything?

                Really?Report

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

                See below. My sense of justice is outraged by things all the time. So is my sense of taste. That doesn’t make my hatred of onions a fact of the universe.Report

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

                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?Report

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

                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.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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                says:

                They are a social construct or abstraction, not a social fiction. If they are the former, they are still binding. Fictions are not.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ryan Bonneville
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                says:

                I’ve seen you call things “evil”, dude.

                Are you saying that you were merely saying “that is displeasing to me!” in the strongest terms you had available?Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                We were discussing the story of “The Little Red Hen”.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, the Little Red Hen is my exception. That’s definitely evil. Platonic Form, casts a shadow on the wall to be apprehended by my weak fleshy brain evil.Report

              • Avatar Ryan Bonneville in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Also mayonnaise. Evil.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Mike, I would hazard a guess that people who have existed in such an environment might be skewed far off of what the Founders were.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                “Mike, I would hazard a guess that people who have existed in such an environment might be skewed far off of what the Founders were.”

                And it would be just a guess, with no real reason for thinking that it’s true in general.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Have you “lived in conditions where you have no rights and are totally under the control of arbitrary, cruel power”?

                If not, then you’re guessing, too.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to Murali
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to dhex
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

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

                > It is only the dignity and moral
                > worth of personhood that
                > allows us to say such things

                That sounds pretty irreducible.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                If they lacked natural rights, they would have no claim whatsoever to say that the regime under which they suffered was in error.

                There are any number of moral and political theories that don’t rely on natural rights under which they could make this claim, starting with the practical observation that it’s demonstrably more pleasant to live virtually anywhere else.

                Natural rights always seem like pornography — people who spend lots of time talking about them can’t define or enumerate them, but know them when they see them.Report

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

                To say that the obligations one owes to a group of people often go unfulfilled does not mean that the obligation is unreal. It just means it’s unfulfilled.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki
                Ignored
                says:

                I would have put it differently, but I share the sentiment.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
              Ignored
              says:

              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.Report

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

            natural just means not given from god or the state. meh — it’s an old term.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki
          Ignored
          says:

          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.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Murali
            Ignored
            says:

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

            Oh, wait, I said that already.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali
            Ignored
            says:

            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).Report

  7. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      Not true. What if your coercion prevents me from enacting the sort of political system with the sort of redistribution that I and others prefer? This is an illusion that libertarians try to weave together, but it’s hardly true.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        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.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to James Hanley
          Ignored
          says:

          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?Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain
            Ignored
            says:

            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.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

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

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                This is such a bizarre argument. To fight more coercive government is coercive? Then self-defense itself is coercive. The concept empties of all meaning.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to DarrenG
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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 🙂Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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).Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to DarrenG
                Ignored
                says:

                DG if you think that set is tough, try a Venn diagram of say, Christianity?

                Googled for Venn diagrams and picked the most complex image that showed up. Just happened to be kind of interesting in its own right.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith
                Ignored
                says:

                Hell that one’s easy, Ward.

                Here’s the one circle, they’re the Catholics and they’re correct.

                Everyone else is a heretic.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to wardsmith
                Ignored
                says:

                There you go again, starting another Hundred Years’ War (that really lasted 130 yrs)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to wardsmith
                Ignored
                says:

                Thirty Years War, perhaps? The Hundred Years War was entirely about dynastic politics, and had no religious component at all. (Joan of Arc was hanged as a witch because she was French; make her English, and the French would have killed her just as readily.) The Thirty Years War started out as Catholic vs. Protestant, though by the end it was largely Catholic Bourbon vs. Catholic Habsburg.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to DarrenG
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Koz
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Some of the items in some set S^n could be intrinsically illegitimate for the government to do no matter how many people wanted it.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                What if everybody wants it?

                Is it still illegitimate?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Exactly.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                Maybe it is, Stillwater.

                I won’t discount the possibility. After all, nearly everybody right now thinks the world is round, and it isn’t (close enough for government purposes, but still).

                But I’m curious if Murali thinks so 🙂Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                The difference is, you’re not forced to join. You can leave.

                You mean secede?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Yup. As an individual. Hell, as a whole group if you can find someplace to take you. Or be able to win a war against those whose lands you want to take.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Didn’t work so well last time did it?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                You might be able to get away with it now.

                I don’t recommend it, though.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                There’s no way we would stop Hawaii (for instance) if they could demonstrate that they want to go. Probably not Texas, either.

                But the states are wiser than that.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                This is true on a practical level. On a moral level, this is in effect saying that anyone who sees themselves as oppressed – no matter how much truth to their claim – needs to just deal with it.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                Needs to deal with it, find other people who feels the same as him/her to join them, or find someplace that agrees with his or her point of view.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                But he can’t really use freedom as an argument, because he is just wanting to infringe on the freedom of the guy to keep him in chains.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                “You can leave. ”

                This is an arrogant position which assumes that statism will prevail. I wouldn’t make that assumption.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                I said that was one of three choices.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

            • Avatar DarrenG in reply to James Hanley
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              says:

              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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to DarrenG
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                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.)Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                And I’d argue nature has made the guy that wants your stuff has made him stronger than you, so why should government step in?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Do you really want to start playing the game of extending arguments to their most extreme logical implications, instead of looking for clearly defined stopping points? I’m just wondering how well your favored political philosophy would come out, whatever it might be.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Because I don’t see the night watchmen state (national defense and basic citizen protection) as a clearly defined stopping point. You can make the same arguments about nature about national defense and police protection. It’s an arbitrary stopping point.

                But hey, go ahead and take a shot at social democracy.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                But hey, go ahead and take a shot at social democracy.

                I wouldn’t insult you by saying you’re dumb enough to think there’s a clearly defined stopping point between social democracy and totalitarian communism.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Sure, there is. Democracy. Now, I’ll easily admit social democracy can turn into totalitarianism just like conservatism can turn into fascism.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                I’ll leave you to ponder the incoherency of saying the logical stopping point of “social democracy” is “democracy.”Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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)?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill
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                says:

                Trumwill,

                It’s about humans regulating human behavior. For me that’s the bottom line. To talk about government regulating nature’s behavior seems to me absurd.Report

              • Avatar DarrenG in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Government spends a significant amount of money assuring an unnatural amount of sanitation, without which many of us would have died very young.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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’?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                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?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill
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                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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”Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Don’t get me wrong: I like America.
                But I’ve seen at least four people in my city actively hiding from authorities in foreign countries.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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?Report

              • Avatar karl in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

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

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to karl
                Ignored
                says:

                Can I coerce you into not doing religious things that contaminate the entire neighborhood? (vodun. mercury).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to karl
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Never hears of “herd immunity”?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, so it’s alright to say that someone else needs to nearly fucking die, just so that you don’t get “coerced” into doing something to help yer own life and those around you?

                … you still like traffic laws, right?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Kimmi,

                I’m sorry, but I don’t follow your line of thought in your last two posts. I can’t tell if you favor mandatory vaccination or not.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                James,
                There’s a certain subset of the population who can’t get vaccinations without severe health risks.
                Pro-mandatory vaccination, on their behalf (obviously, excepting them).Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                > 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.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Sure I have. But if I’m immunized, I’m immune regardless of whether anyone else in the herd is.

                That is, you think immunization is 100% effective under all circumstances and that germs never mutate.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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 DonneReport

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                > 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.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Can’t bring up vaccinations without bringing up Boulder

                It is no accident that South Park is based on Boulder.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                … what if we both paid people, and made it mandatory? ; – ) Positive reinforcement makes people less bitchy.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                @ 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.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to E.D. Kain
        Ignored
        says:

        You talk of the freedom to smoke pot.

        I talk of the freedom to institute a government that throws people who smoke pot in jail for a long time.

        We’re both talking about freedom.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Trumwill
          Ignored
          says:

          This is exactly right. We can debate preferred policies within this framework, but libertarians are not being honest when they say that their coercion doesn’t prevent me living life the way I want to live it while mine does.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain
            Ignored
            says:

            So the South was saying something meaningful when they talked of the freedom to own slaves?Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird
              Ignored
              says:

              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.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                fight, not find.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                So, Jesse, if another country has something you really think is bad, and wide popular support for it inside that country, your response is, “Megh, that’s their call”?

                Do you treat them exactly like some other country?Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Trumwill
                Ignored
                says:

                In the political world, freedom has as much of a clear meaning as liberty or justice. 🙂Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain
            Ignored
            says:

            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.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to E.D. Kain
                Ignored
                says:

                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.”Report

              • Avatar Herb in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Herb
                Ignored
                says:

                “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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Herb
                Ignored
                says:

                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.kReport

              • Avatar Herb in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                “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.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                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.Report

              • Avatar Herb in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                “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….Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Herb,

                Someone like you can’t be debated meaningfully because you’re violating the first rule of reasoned debate. You’re telling the other side what they really are.

                Sorry, but your definition of me is simply wrong. This is not about me losing at the polls, but about my considered view of whether and how government can be justified, and if so, how much of it. I began seriously pondering this issue when Clinton was in office, and I voted for him! So the sore loser thing just doesn’t work well.

                It’s simply not an honest way to approach a debate. All it does is enable you to avoid taking my argument on its own terms, or even demonstrating where it irreconcilably bumps up against your own terms. It’s a cheap tactic.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                James, how often does it happen that people who think you’re totally wrong and not very fair-minded in discussion turn out to *actually* be totally victimizing you and being the *real* sophists? A lot, right? Coincidences are weird!Report

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

                James, how often does it happen that people who think you’re totally wrong and not very fair-minded in discussion turn out to *actually* be totally victimizing you and being the *real* sophists? A lot, right? Coincidences are weird!

                This behavior is also precisely what we would expect if James’s interlocutors were, in fact, completely wrong, and yet unable to either admit it or grasp where they had made their errors.

                In other words, we learn very little from the apparent behavior of our adversaries.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Elias,

                No, it’s only when people misrepresent my argument and then attack that misrepresentation. You’ve done that and Herb has done that. Some of the others I’ve debated here clearly think I’m wrong, and yet I don’t criticize them for arguing dishonestly because they haven’t.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes but there are basic standards of reasonable disagreement and discussion. Changing the subject, straw-man, putting words in yr opponents’ mouth; all of these things can be recognized as bad faith w/out being chalked up to difference of opinion.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Changing the subject, straw-man, putting words in yr opponents’ mouth; all of these things can be recognized as bad faith

                Yes, I agree. That’s why I’m so annoyed with you and Herb and anyone else who’s misrepresented my arguments.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                I really don’t think I’ve done this; and I apologize if I have. (I probably have paraphrased you uncharitably, actually, because I tend to do that too much.) But if a back-and-forth has fallen to pieces, like any relationship, it’s unlikely that the dynamic is entirely to be placed at the feet of only one of the participants.

                The best thing, likely, would be to take a step back and focus on *one*, *specific* plank of the disagreement. When things become unwieldy and wide-ranging, the perception that one is engaging in some kind of struggle rather than conversation is more likely to take hold.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Specific to your case, Mr. Isquith, you claimed I was conflating democracy with the contemporary U.S. system, when I noted the pathologies that are endemic to democracy (endemic doesn’t mean they cannot be ameliorated; it just means there is a natural tendency toward them).

                First I pointed out a case from an earlier era of the U.S.; Mississippi, which you rejected, on the spurious claim that it was not a democracy. But, in fact, the majority ruled and chose to eliminate political and legal equality for the minority. That potential outcome of democracy has been noted since long, long before either of us was born. In fact James Madison spoke explicitly of such dangers in Federalist 10. You accused me of having an “ignorant and narrow understanding of the idea of democracy,” and yet your understanding of it is, it would appear, conveniently narrow enough to exclude that uncomfortable case.

                But in the spirit of fair debate I let that go and just pointed out some non-U.S. examples where democratic pathologies were demonstrably present. And then, no reply. Well, people come and go in arguments, so I assumed you had other obligations that prevented you from coming back to it. I sincerely hoped, at least, that you didn’t just ignore those non-U.S. examples because they were inconvenient to your argument.

                But here you are, coming back not to consider where that debate stands, but to accuse me of being sophistic. It’s a bit rich, sir.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t think you can describe a police state as a democracy. The minority was threatened with violence and murdered by citizens in collusion with the government. I just don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that’s not a functioning democracy; I don’t think it’s what Madison was talking about. I mean, even Richard Epstein—hardly someone I agree with much—has argued that the Jim Crow system was not an example of a free, democratic society. It just strikes me as a glib comparison. Sorry.

                I didn’t see (and still haven’t seen) the non-U.S. examples you offered. What comment #?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Mr. Isquith, Go review our discussion on the other thread.

                It runs like this.
                JH: Claim about democracy.
                EI: Incorrect but understandable and reasonable claim that I am conflating democracy with the contemporary American system.
                JH: I’m not, and here’s why.
                EI: Your arguments are weak (without explaining where they were wrong)
                JH: If they’re so weak, it shouldn’t be hard for you to actually refute them.
                EI: Your arguments are faith-based and you’re a libertarian ideologue.

                And there’s where it changed from being a reasonable debate. You never did actually do the heavy lifting of pointing out real weaknesses in my argument, you just resorted to “faith-based” and “ideologue.”

                JH: Not faith-based, but based on public choice theory. More examples from the U.S. (bad strategy on my part, to be sure, since I was trying to persuade you that my critiques of democracy weren’t limited to the U.S.).
                EI: Still conflating, your argument is “stupid,” and you’re giving “airy and unsubstantial generalities. If you want to restrict the argument to public choice theory, “go ahead and actually make an argument on those terms.”

                OK, the conflation complaint was legitimate, since I foolishly stuck with just contemporary American analogies. But “stupid”? That’s pretty rich considering you never actually addressed my real argument, but only your strawman version of it. And “airy and unsubstantial generalities?” How in the world can you call specific examples and a reference to a comprehensive body of academic literature “airy and unsubstantial generalities?” That’s just a flat out false statement about your opponent’s argument. And yet you want to critique me for arguing unfairly? And as to public choice theory, I was in large part making my argument on those terms from the beginning. That wasn’t changing the subject–for me that is the subject when discussing the weaknesses of democracy.

                JH: So how many examples do I need before you’ll accept the critique as having some validity?
                EI: (crickets)

                Further down the thread:
                EI: Problems not endemic to democracy, just to U.S.
                JH: OK, here are non-U.S. examples.
                EI: (crickets)
                Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Um. If you tell me the comment # where you brought in non-US examples I will read it and respond. I did not see it the first time and don’t know where it is currently. The big hyperlink doesn’t take me to the comment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                I don’t think you can describe a police state as a democracy.
                It wasn’t a police state, except for the minority. There were regular and contested elections conducted by a majority of the citizens, in which the majority vote-getter won and took office. (Granted, it was effectively a one-party system, but that party’s primaries were in fact contestable and regularly contested.) The only way to deny it was a democracy is to define democracy in a way that is convenient to your purposes. But my point–and James Madison’s point, and Aristotle’s point–is that democracy has precisely that tendency of the majority f***ing over the minority. That’s why we hedge it about with all kinds of constitutional constraints. But to say it’s only democracy if it has those constraints is as indefensible as if I were to say it’s only really democracy if it’s pure majority rule.

                Richard Epstein…has argued that the Jim Crow system was not an example of a free, democratic society.

                Are you conflating democracy and freedom? Because the series of threads here has been precisely about the extent to which democracy and liberty–which I think is essentially equivalent to freedom in this context–are compatible. No, it wasn’t perfectly free. Nor was it ideally democratic. But for the majority of people it was both free and democratic.

                I didn’t see (and still haven’t seen) the non-U.S. examples you offered. What comment #?
                #93 (for the moment). But name any democracy and give me a little time to research and I can provide you an example of a democratic pathology in that state.

                Look, the point is not that democracy is horrible and we need to get rid of it. The point is that a) pure majority rule democracy is terrible so we need to hedge it around with lots of protections for the poor; a position I’m sure you agree with, and b) because we’ve done that we’ve changed our understanding of what democracy means, which is all well and good, but c) those hedges don’t eliminate all the potential pathologies of democracy, which include the majority voting against the minority’s rights (ahem, France: Burkas), the system still being based on coercion, and applications of that coercion being legitimated by the mere fact that a majority wants it, and the impossibility of aggregating preferences in a really meaningful way through elections, and the necessity of politicians to respond favorably toward particular segments of their constituency or particular supporters without real concern for the whole, and that government at all (even democracy) involves over-riding of individuals’ opportunity to live their own lives without interference. Those problems don’t go away, although they can be–and should be–mitigated as much as possible.

                My position is that sufficient mitigation of those problems is not really feasible, and therefore we should accept those problems–i.e., accept democracy (and government at all, since it’s the only kind of government I want)–only when those costs are less than the costs of not having democracy. I think the set of issues in which those costs are less than the costs of not having government is much smaller than the current set of issues we allow government to act on.

                Now you obviously don’t have to agree with that. But you have so far just dismissed the argument with pejoratives (stupid, ideological, airy and insubstantial) without actually addressing it. I don’t hope to persuade you to agree with me, but I do hope to persuade you to understand what I am actually saying, rather than the obviously inaccurate version you’ve been ascribing to me.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                A one-party state where dissent is brutally silenced and disallowed—where not only the minority but those in the majority who may be sympathetic towards the minority are threatened with terror—is just not a democracy. The Southern Jim Crow system was an oligarchic system of government. The fact that there was a majority and a minority does not in and of itself mean democracy existed. The fact that the majority oppressed the minority is even more unconvincing as proof of a democratic order. Those are dynamics that exist in every political system on Earth. It seems axiomatic to me that a state in which X amount of people are barred from voting or speaking their mind under the threat of execution is not a democracy. You can say that I’m defining democracy in such a way as to make my argument work, but I don’t think you’re doing so is exactly in-keeping with the good-faith standard of debate you believe you’re maintaining.

                To the rest of your post, I don’t see how pure majoritarianism is relevant to our conversation. I mean, it certainly didn’t exist in the South. It doesn’t exist here in America…are we have any abstract debate about whether or not pure majoritarianism is a good thing? I didn’t think we were and I don’t think anyone really would argue that it is. I’m certainly not.

                And, yes, I understand that you’ve found my engagement with you previously to be unfair and unkind. This is well-established by now, I believe.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                OK I’ve looked at your international examples.

                Except for those instances where there’s rank corruption—officials being paid-off for votes—I don’t think you’ve outlined many problems structurally or fundamentally with democracy. I think you’ve outlined a lot of bad policy decisions…but these are policy decisions the people have either made or tolerated. You can find all manner of public opinion polling wherein they express their opposition—but part of the point of a modern democratic system is that those who care enough to do the grunt work of organizing and the like are given a means by which to influence public policy; consequently, while people may evince soft-opposition, it often is not equivalent in intensity to their counterparts and is thus less influential. *I* don’t think this is oppression. I think it’s decision by non-decision by all of those not interested in actually engaging but happy to voice displeasure. And just like there are means by which the agricultural lobby became so influential….so, too, could their opponents (or, say, libertarians) organize and influence. That they’re unwilling to convince enough people of the need for change is evidence of their lack of popularity…not their being oppressed.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Elias:

                One of the reasonable objections to libertarianism is that there aren’t too many (even close approximations) in the historical record. System can’t survive in the wild!

                If James points at a bunch of democracies and says, “Look, they all have a problem with corruption”, and you say, “Those are all different implementation details”, you might have something of a point.

                On the other hand, if I try something 100 different ways and each time I get 100 slightly different versions of corruption, being a big fan of probabilistic reasoning I’m going to start thinking that corruption is probably going to be endemic to any implementation of that thing.

                “Once more” probably ain’t going to get rid of it.

                This doesn’t mean that it’s not still the best thing out there, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have 100 different case studies to pick one with the least corruption, granted.

                But “it’s possible to do it right”, while theoretically true, is starting to look very improbable.

                To me, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Pat Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                oh man i just wrote a looong comment and then accidentally clicked cancel and i just dont have the stamina to do it justice again, sorry.

                in brief: i agree w/ you but the point youre pushing back on isnt the one i intended to make. i think most or all the examples he gave are not of corruption or oppression but rather policy that he happens to disagree w/. the only one that could be considered oppression is palestine and that’s not really useful since those in the west bank are not citizens. they all might be bad policies but for the time being public opposition to them is soft—or at least too soft to change the status quo—but these governmental systems offer the same means to undo these policies that led to their being enacted in the first place.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Elias Isquith
                Ignored
                says:

                i think most or all the examples he gave are not of corruption or oppression but rather policy that he happens to disagree w/.

                But here again you’re trying to change the terms of debate. I was never the one who emphasized just corruption or oppression. I was talking about what public choice theorists call pathologies of democracy, which includes bad policies. It’s not just that I disagree with these policies, but that they are examples of rent-seeking behavior–one group just using the political process to enrich themselves at the expense of another group. This has been in substantial part a policy argument all along, explicitly, because I’ve been explicitly saying that certain issues should be outside the reach of public policy. And anything that shifts money from the masses to a discrete group just because they’re well-organized and want it is part of what should be outside the scope of government’s authority (see, for example, my comment at #175, above).

                It’s absolutely fine to say those things aren’t “corruption” or “oppression,” but it’s irrelevant to the argument because at no time did I ever suggest I was limiting my critique of democracy to those things. Corruption and oppression are contained within the set of flaws of democracy, they do not constitute that set.

                E.g., on the other thread I said, “Which is why a good libertarian stance is to say, ‘I want that end to be met, but I don’t think it justifies government action,'” “costs tend to be hidden, and are disconnected from the benefits,” and “one of the areas of criticism of democracy is how badly it can, in practice, represent the real preferences of the public.” None of those are about oppression or corruption, but in fact they were my starting point in critiquing democracy.

                So from the standpoint of my claim that democracy tends to produce problematic outcomes, I was never limiting myself to the issue of corruption, and I’m not going to so limit myself now.Report

              • Avatar Herb in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                “Someone like you can’t be debated meaningfully because you’re violating the first rule of reasoned debate.”

                Says the guy who is taking the debate way too personally….

                If the ideas I’m talking about are ideas that you don’t subscribe to, then I’m not “misrepresenting” your views. I’m talking about views you don’t hold.

                If they are views you hold and you just don’t like the criticism, well…sorry, dude. Obviously at that point I’m not arguing against a straw man.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Pat (and Elias and James),

                Pat writes on (corrupt democracy): “This doesn’t mean that it’s not still the best thing out there, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have 100 different case studies to pick one with the least corruption, granted. But “it’s possible to do it right”, while theoretically true, is starting to look very improbable.”

                Good point.

                I would add though that looking at the historical trends I see success coming from liberalism and avoidance of coercion. 500 years ago free enterprise was much more restricted; and exploitation, theft, monopolies and coercion were much more common. Net result was a lot fewer people with substantially less prosperity, shorter lives, more violence and less opportunity.

                Free enterprise and science — and even democracy itself — are endeavors in the direction of liberalism. Our standards of living are the rewards. A great case can be made that we need to continue in this direction. One step at a time.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              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.

              The difference is context, and what that means is that if you want to insist on the difference, then you (not meaning you, James, cuz I know you don’t) can’t have an absolute position on the absolute value (as it were) of coercion. Meaning if you want to say one of these is bad and the other okay, then you have to admit that coercion isn’t just simply bad (and I know you do) – indeed government coercion isn’t all bad. But all coercion is coercion – the mugger, the law that is enfirced to prevent muggings, and the tax law that you may see as itself a mugging. It’s all coercion. None of it is inherently bad or good; it depends on context and it depends what we want.

              We do want to coerce intended murderers and rapists against carrying out those acts (at least I think we agree on that). We may not want to coerce people against smoking marijuana. So it’s a matter of what we do and don’t want to apply official coercion to. We discussed who we want making the decisin the other day, but it is a decision. I know you know all this; I think it’s what Erik’s trying to say as well. I don’t think you have much of a disagreement. He’s not saying all coercion is the same. He’s saying all coercion is coercion, and it differs, and we variably want or don’t want it, based on the context. So there’s no absolute answer; we have to decide, and where we decide is going to be precisely at some threshold point where the precise decision is not going to be perfectly clear, especially in a democracy.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to E.D. Kain
            Ignored
            says:

            Yeah, but what you’re missing is that this has to be evaluated in the context of the culture of those who are already here. Here in America, we have a substantial tradition of anti-folk Marxism, where people are not as interested in getting their hands in other people’s pockets. In other places, folk Marxism has a very strong hold on the political discourse.

            And guess what? Those other countries where folk Marxism dominates political discourse, in general they tend to suck pretty bad. Here’s a great link from David Goldman yesterday.

            http://pajamasmedia.com/spengler/2011/10/03/a-beautiful-mess/?singlepage=true

            For very important cultural reasons, Egypt is worse off than Turkey, which is worse off than Greece, which is worse off than Italy, which is worse off than Germany, which is worse off than the USA. But, all of that can change.

            That’s the problem with liberalism, or left-libertarianism for that matter: you cannot eliminate material privation without economic production. And economic flourishing doesn’t just come from the absence of coercion (though that’s important) but the presence of trust. Trust is built on performance, and all of us make judgments of who we trust and who we don’t.

            There is no problem that liberalism solves, therefore liberalism will never be a part of any organic part of any conversation or engagement that creates value. Liberalism will, as a strong tendency, impose itself of those conversations anyway and every time it does we pay a deadweight loss.

            Therefore in one sense, this question your coercion equalling my freedom (or is it the other way around) can be resolved pretty clearly. Which way creates trust in our community or culture in such a way that the participants in it can do economically or socially valuable things and which doesn’t?Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Koz
              Ignored
              says:

              The entire dialogue between James, ED, Jaybird, Koz, Darren, Herb, Jesse, Trumwill, and Mike gets to the danger of coercion. Once started it never ends. ED justifies his, James his (admittedly much more restrictive version) and so on.

              Coercion is a gateway drug!

              Just say no!

              The path forward is not to balance our addiction. It is to wean ourselves of it. Don’t worry, that should keep us busy for the next 3000 years.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                So you’re an anarchist?Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                So you’re a tyrant!Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                If we put you guys into the teleporter machine from “The Fly”, do we get the Ultimate Leader, or the Ultimate Evil Overlord?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                There was a fella named Drew
                who into a rage once flew
                his target the Mike
                said what he didn’t like
                cause his humor he truly did rueReport

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                that’s about the size of it there, ws.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to MFarmer
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s the last straw, Mike. Fuck you. Fuck you. If he wants all coercion gone, that makes me think he’s an anarchist, and that’s 100% fair. If he’s not, he can certainly say he’s not. It would be great to have an anarchist around here, because we have so many libertarians who refuse to answer questions as to the consequences of the logical extension of the anti-statist position – rightly, because that’s not their position. It would be great to have an anarchist we can ask questions of who will not protest that we are imputing a position to him he doesn’t hold, and so that when questions on anarchism do come up, libertarians (or others) don’t have to speak for a position they don’t actually defend.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                If he wants all coercion gone, that makes me think he’s an anarchist, and that’s 100% fair.

                But he didn’t say that.

                He said “It is to wean ourselves of it. Don’t worry, that should keep us busy for the next 3000 years.”

                There’s some interesting things hiding in that sentence. 50 years. 100 years. 500 years. 1000 years.

                You went straight to 3000 and asked about anarchy… and, when questioned in the exact same method you asked (one of my favorite tactics, actually), you reacted poorly.

                While it would be great if we had someone who was an extremist one of us, you’re stuck arguing against people who say “let’s just trying moving in the opposite direction for a while!”

                Explore the other direction instead of asking them about the ultimate destination if we keep on that vector for 3000 years.

                Or, I suppose, don’t be surprised when people ask you about what happens when we stay on the vector we’re on.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                He also said Just say no! In any case, I misrepresented myself – it didn’t make me think he was an anarchist, it made me wonder if we was, so I asked.

                Calling someone an anarchist, which I didn’t do, is not nearly the slur that calling someone a tyrant is, and Mike did do that.

                Roger (who can speak for himself I presume) might want it to take 3000 years, but he might take it if it came around next year, too. He didn’t say. Besides which, wanting anarchy to come around in 3000 years does not make someone not an anarchist. And I thought it would be cool if in fact he were an anarchist and wanted to hang around here and talk about stuff. So I asked.

                He can speak for himself. I hope we haven’t scared him off.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                While it would be great if we had someone who was an extremist one of us, you’re stuck arguing against people who say “let’s just trying moving in the opposite direction for a while!”

                Are you sure? We certainly don’t have to be. Anarchists actually exist. Today. Who would be okay with anarchy in the relatively short term. They could come here and comment. Or have you instituted a policy about their being unwelcome here that I was unaware of?

                Explore the other direction instead of asking them about the ultimate destination if we keep on that vector for 3000 years.

                Or, I suppose, don’t be surprised when people ask you about what happens when we stay on the vector we’re on.

                I’m not surprised, I’m not offended, I’m not unhappy, I’m used to it happening. It happens all the time. That’s what this place is all about. I’m a little confused how you could form that set of instructions to me as if we haven’t been conducting the discussions we have around here for the last year and a half that we in fact have been.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Have any of them showed up here???

                I mean, jeez, I’m probably the closest to a crazy anarchist we have and I hedge and waffle and sell out and say “OKAY FINE A NIGHT WATCHMAN STATE” and then people laugh and talk about how now we’re haggling and I’m just as much a whore as the person who wants universal living wages that aren’t tied to employment.

                I’m not surprised, I’m not offended, I’m not unhappy, I’m used to it happening.

                I completely misread your “fuck you”s, then. I apologize.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Mr. Drew:

                You realize that Mr. Farmer was making a funny, right?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                yeah, his version of it, Pat. i’m sick of it. i’m unemployed and in debt. i don’t need to be called a tyrant by anyone, ever, even just for laughs.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                J: There’d have been no FUs if there had been a question mark, like in my comment.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                You’re not a sellout, you’re just not an anarchist, Jay. At least, you’ve never mentioned being one before. If you don’t mind speaking to anarchism, that would be excellent!

                But if you really do want a certain-sized and -shaped state for very specific purposes, then you’re not – if it’s not a concession – then you’re not one. Maybe you’re a minarchist then. I have a hard time seeing minarchism as closer to anarchism than to libertarianism. But maybe you can explain it all to me.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Obviously (well, not obviously, so I’m saying so) I don’t want this to be a place where we make a practice of saying that. So I apologize to the community for that, and I’m willing apologize to Mike if he wants an apology from me.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Mike should have said, ‘fish’, or phuque because here at the League we’re concerned about civility and decorum, first!Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Right, Bob? I’ve had about enough of all that too. But I’ll play along.

                Again, though, I apologize to Mike if he took any offense (I suspect he can take it). Especially if it really was in jest and he was not trying to push the point in earnest. Of course, it does kind of have to be one of those or the other. Nevertheless, I regret the vulgarity. And I regret the overreaction if it was meant in jest.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not an anarchist. My position to ED was one of the original replies (now number 44) and was elaborated extensively (above) to Darren and Patrick. They had lots of questions and suggestions, and we worked through them.

                My position is to reframe the issue from “When or how much coercion is OK,” to the position that the path forward comes from pursuing positive sum and win/win interactions. Coercion moves us in a zero sum direction, forcefully.

                Coercion and zero sum games just get us fighting over whatever value has been produced by society. It becomes an arms race of one step forward, one back.

                The point of using coercion (as a last resort) to suppress coercion isn’t because there is a special platonic class of “good” coercion. It is because we are attempting to discourage zero/sum “I win you lose” activities. The threat of coercion rarely used can suppress initiating coercion.

                The path forward comes from individuals producing value (productivity and creativity) and by individuals interacting in ways where both move forward (trade, marriage, employment, contracts). By focusing on mutually voluntary actions between individuals (liberty) and discouraging zero sum kerfuffles (as revealed by the need for coercion) we advance as a society.

                You guys are arguing over what kind of coercion is good. I am arguing that win/lose gets us nowhere. Long term it takes us backward. When threat of retaliatory coercion discourages coercion from being initiated, we are using coercion judiciously to minimize exploitation (forced win/lose activity).

                There are a lot of ways to discourage coercion un-coercively. Institutions, protocols, social standing and so forth. The 3000 year comment is in reference to the need to design, develop and experiment with social institutions to minimize exploitation and optimize value creation.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Besides which, wanting anarchy to come around in 3000 years does not make someone not an anarchist.

                Well, it might them a realistic anarchist.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Do you really think that I think you are a tyrant, Mike?

                Yes, it was joke, just turning the question around to show the absurdity of hyperbole, although hyperbole at times is a useful rhetorical tool.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                I apologize — I’ve signed up for sensitivity training.Report

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

                Quite a few anarchists do post around here, as does at least one supporter of tyranny.

                I will leave their identities as an exercise to the reader.

                Other than that, let’s all just chill. Or maybe let the whole thread drop. Ask yourselves: Given that we all have theoretical commitments, and that most of them are surpassingly strange when compared to the government we actually have, how much room does anyone have for getting on a high horse?

                Not much.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                I just finished my first sensitivity class. I’m chilled, and I love you all. From now on just jokes about accountants, nuns and hot yellow lemonade.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger,
                The point of using coercion (as a last resort) to suppress coercion isn’t because there is a special platonic class of “good” coercion. It is because we are attempting to discourage zero/sum “I win you lose” activities.

                While that’s not the analytical approach I’ve taken here, I think it’s a very good way to approach the issue. Pareto becomes relevant from this approach, too.

                While there are probably some specific cases where it might not mesh precisely with the approach I’ve taken, I think the degree of overlap in outcomes would be substantial enough that I’d be satisfied using this approach. The big overlap in outcomes, of course, stems from voluntary exchanges as a class normally being positive sum interactions.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                James,

                Yeah, it is interesting that we are coming to very similar positions using different analytical techniques.

                I suspect most of those in this dialogue suffer from two fallacies: 1) They think problems must be solved top down, and 2) they believe value is inherently zero sum.

                If either was true, I’d probably push for coercive democratic solutions to my problems at other’s expense too.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger – thank you for coming back to clarify your views. Just so you understand, I didn’t think they made you an anarchist necessarily, but I did think they could be consistent with anarchism, to the point of suggesting to me you might be.

                To all – thank you for your understanding and forbearance.Report

  8. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    Thanks for your clarification Erik, I think we’re on the same page. Short of everyone miraculously deciding to be libertarian some kind of limitation on government would be necessary to stop people using their democratic power to do things contrary to whatever set of libertarian principles we’re using.

    In fact, this is one reason I think of myself as a libertarian technocrat. In many ways I want to stop people from foolishly doing harmful things. It’s just that the foolish things I think are most important are the foolish ways people try to run each others lives.Report

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