Democracy, Coercion, & Liberty

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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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333 Responses

  1. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    E.D., I think you’ve stated your issue much more clearly this time. Very nicely done.

    Here’s my first run at a response.

    First, can we all (not just E.D. and me, but all the more-or-less gentlemen) collectively agree that the libertarian society we’re talking about is minarchic rather than anarchic? Too often in these debates someone has come along and assumed that we libertarians are opposed to having any elements of government at all, which just isn’t the case for at least most of the libertarians here.

    That said, and operating from a minarchist p.o.v., I agree with some basic points here, such as that too much inequality, unfairness, and inhumanity are destabilizing. At some point people will revolt, and I can agree that a society that breeds revolt thereby provides sufficient evidence of its undesirability. I even agree that some coercion is necessary, both to keep out invaders and to respond to the inevitable bad apples that will exist in any society.

    But there’s a vital assumption built into your argument that is implicit in the following statement.

    In a society that is very libertarian, how do we create a system that is fair enough and humane enough to be sustainable? A system with too great a degree of inequality of opportunity or outcome is not a politically viable system. Redistribution of some kind, if only to create stability,

    You assume that the very libertarian (minarchist?) society would not be “fair” and “humane” enough, and would have such serious inequalities in either or both opportunity and outcome that it would be unsustainable. But you haven’t demonstrated that a libertarian society would have these characteristics.

    This is important, because libertarians don’t accept that assumption. Rather than thinking that in a libertarian society we need to “create” such a system, libertarians tend to claim that a libertarian society “is” such a system. So from a libertarian perspective, the question arguably doesn’t even make sense. As an analogy, it sounds bit like someone asking “why don’t market societies provides goods people want?”

    Here’s why. We know from observing the world that authoritarian states–states with very extensive and powerful government–tend to exhibit those characteristics. They are inhuman, unfair, and severely constrict equality in every way. And we know that while democratic states also exhibit those characteristics, they do so to a much lesser degree, which is what makes them so much more preferable. So a libertarian argues that decreasing the power of government even further will create a more humane, more fair (just?) society, with more equality of opportunity at least, if not necessarily outcome (which we admittedly tend not to value as much), because opportunities are more prevalent and widely available in the absence of government constraints.

    So your argument, it seems to me, is that as the government-power curve continues its downward trend, at some point either before or at minarchy the unfair/inhumane/inequality slopes stop trending downward and go back upward, not just a little, but a lot. And I’m going to insist upon the “a lot” part, because otherwise your claim of unsustainability is critically weakened.

    Of course we should never just assume a trend will continue in a linear fashion (which is why I don’t assume there’s more humanity and fairness in the purely anarchic state, where there is no government authority), but it’s probably even less justified to assume it will suddenly reverse trend dramatically. So your assumption requires some causal theory that is, I think, absent.

    In short, I think libertarians are justified in rejecting the very premise of your question, and have no need–absent some heavy lifting on your part to defend that premise–to respond seriously to the question itself.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer in reply to James Hanley
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      Very well put, James. I’d also add that framing the libertarian philosophy as an extreme on one side of the divide is misleading from a libertarian perspective. A small business owner who is crippled through government intervention through bipartisan, “moderate” compromise would consider the intervention, the non-ideology ideology behind the intervention, and those who intervened, extreme from his/her point of view. Libertarianism is called extreme by a status quo that has defined extreme from their point of view. All the killing and waste of billions of dollars in the mideast is extreme from my point of view. 15 trillion in debt is exteme. The Fed’s central planning monetary manipulation is extreme. A government that can’t keep track of its defense spending is extreme.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to MFarmer
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        And, to a communist, framing communism as an extreme presupposes a world view in which the enslavement and exploitation of the working classes by the capitalists is assumed to be the normal state of society.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Mike Schilling
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          Correct, so each should be considerd on its merits, not marginalized because the status quo is considered the correct middle course.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to MFarmer
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            Fair enough.Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to MFarmer
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            Actually, we would be better off if all political philosophies are seriously considered on their merits, and are full-throatedly proposed by their adherents. The Centrist course which hides behind non-ideology is, as I implied, an ideology, because it’s based on a set of ideas which its adherents believe are the best set of ideas. Pragmatism is meaningless if its not proposing a course of action. If the course of action is described as implementing the best solutions available to a given problem, then this has to be justified by the solutions. Over a course of time, pragmatic solutions can be evaluated for their efficacy. For the most part, this is how the two party system has operated, through pragmatic problem solving, but what we’ve discovered is that most pragmatic political solutions haven’t taken into accout long-term economic consequences, and because economic principles have been subordinated, we are suffering the consequences — the long-term is here and we’re alive. Now, some are upholding certain principles to deal with the consequences and to set the course straight, but it’s seen as obstructionism.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley
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      We could point to the social democratic states in Western Europe as pretty nifty places to live which might suggest a good way to set up a country. You are honestly note that their is no reason to assume the trend will stay linear. Very true. I’d suggest it is to vague to just speak of democracy and coercion and power curves. Different problems needs different solutions. iPods and Twinkies are one kind of thing, health care and enviro regs are a very different thing.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak
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        I frankly don’t think there’s as much daylight between social democratic states in Western Europe and the USA as most would think in the big scheme of things. Even less so if one were to embiggen the comparison to ‘Western Europe (& Canada)’ which all have selected various combo platters from the full menu of the social welfare state (and other economic characteristics considered in the shopping cart of the left)Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Kolohe
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          Yes and no. If you listen to peeps on the right the social welfare system we now is communism and destroying the country and even mentioning Europe makes the founding fathers ghosts cry. Our systems are too expensive and under generous ( health care) or inefficient at times.Report

    • Avatar bluntobject in reply to James Hanley
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      If you want to pin down my ideology, rather than any pragmatic selection of policies I’d support tomorrow, you’d find me an anarchocapitalist. But I see nothing in your critique that conflicts with my point of view: I want to see a working stateless society, but I also don’t think one can achieve a working stateless society without developing mores and traditions that minimize unfair and inhumane treatment. (I also don’t think it’s likely to happen for at least five hundred years. In the short term I’m a bit of a deficit hawk and a lot of a liberaltarian.)

      In short, I want a stable and sustainable anarchocapitalism. If the anarchocapitalism I can get won’t be stable and sustainable, I don’t want it: I want something close to it, but still stable and sustainable… and then I want to work towards something that’s still stable and sustainable but a little bit more anarchocapitalist.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley
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      It’d help James is libertarians had some modern example states to point to. Otherwise it’s just dueling battles of what people imagine would happen. It remains to be seen, for example, if a pure meritocratic libertarian state would distribute the benefits of scarce resources sufficiently that the majority in that state wouldn’t decide to replace it with one with some proportion of redistribution from the most talented few to the less talented many.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North
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        North,

        It’s like needing previous work experience to get your first job!Report

        • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley
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          James, I truly sympathize, but until some minarchist statelet gets off the ground it remains either dueling “what would happen” theory or is treated (as I do) as a useful critique to measure current governing policy against rather than a plausible system of government in of itself. I know libertarians have been working on New Hampshire a bit but you’d think an ideology that has Atlas Shrugged as one of its seminal fictions would be more willing to get together and form a gulch in some small city or something ya know?Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North
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            a useful critique to measure current governing policy against rather than a plausible system of government in of itself.

            I agree, that’s the best we can do right now. I do like to think it’s pretty useful that way.

            Re: Atlas Shrugged. I’m one of those libertarians who despises Rand. I think she was right in noting how some people think successful entrepreneurs have a duty to “society” beyond the value of their innovations. But her conception of human nature is so relentlessly individualist and shallowly self-centered that I think if humans really were like that there would actually be no hope for libertarianism. It’s in part because I think she’s fundamentally wrong about human nature, because I think we’re naturally social, that there’s hope for libertarianism.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley
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              James, I personally consider it utterly indispensible. Now obviously I’m a pretty economically right wing sort of liberal (self described neoliberal though I’ve worried that perhaps I’m a self-mislabeled market liberal instead) but I’m of the opinion that person who is left of center should try to understand libertarian positions on most policy matters if for no other reason than to be able to write thoughtfully on why they disagree with it.

              Atlas shrugged was a snarky thing to bring up and I do understand that it’s far from true libertarian but my understanding is that a lot of libertarians I know came to libertarianism through Rand though for most objectivism was a highway rest stop rather the final destination; thank goodness!Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
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              I believe that most humans are good, decent human beings. I also believe that the exceptions tend to rise high above the crowd, in no small part because they have no qualms about screwing over the rest of us (in wall street, that means they’re quicker to strike deals).

              A friend of mine once put it, “I only started to get ahead once I started to cheat people.” (in all fairness, he’s cheating evil sociopaths).
              … and people around here wonder why I think not so highly of the rich!Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kimmi
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                Kimmi,

                Every social system prior to free enterprise required exploiting others (win/lose) to get ahead. The break through with widespread free enterprise was that it allowed people to enrich themselves BY enriching others (win/win). Certainly there are parasites that infest the free enterprise system by enjoying its benefits and cheating. This is NOT my general experience with the 1% I know, and I know them well — too well in many cases.

                As for your friend who cheats sociopaths, I assume you mean he cheats “those who strike deals on Wall Street.”Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger
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                Not every social system. I’m pretty sure most tribal societies that didn’t have slavery and did communal hunting were pretty egalitarian, and the ability to get ahead was by adding value to everyone.

                Do you know millionaires, or do you know billionaires. In my experience, the millionaires are a hell of a lot better folks than the billionaires (‘cept gates).

                He cheats people, they cheat him right back. They all know about the deals, and know when they’re being cheated. Smart bastards (yeah, some play wall street)Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to North
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        North,

        On libertarian example states… Don’t tell anyone, but the Libertarian Manifesto is giving the rest of you 8 more years to get on board before we just abandon you all. We know when we are gone, you will all collapse. It is pity that stays our hand.Report

  2. Avatar Dan Miller
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    I would question the premise of your questioning, though. Let’s look at the real world, where libertarians operate as part of an existing political coalition–namely, the right very broadly defined. Can we all agree that “libertarians who are active in politics, and their allies” have generally displayed less concern than the left, broadly defined, for inequality?

    In short, maybe some theoretically pure libertarian government would result in a more equal society, and maybe it wouldn’t. But we’ll never have that government. In the real world, giving more power to libertarians means giving more power to a whole group of people who have displayed little concern for inequality.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Dan Miller
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      says:

      Hi Dan,

      Your concern is probably understated. It is not just a matter of association. Most libertarians are opposed to pushing for equality of outcome. This isn’t because they are insensitive (though some probably are), it is because they believe the results will be counterproductive.

      Only absolute power can equalize all outcomes, and this power would destroy or devour all prosperity. Furthermore, equal results destroys the dynamic of the market which requires that producers change their behavior in response to the demands of consumers (in pursuit of wholly unequal profits and losses). In a nutshell, per the libertarians, equality cannot be achieved without impoverishing the masses and elevating an unequal class of exploiters.

      So the question becomes, at which point is there too much inequality, and what are the ramifications? Does prosperity partially offset this trend? After all, a poor person alive today is in many ways better off than a Duke 200 years ago. How can we reduce the negative effects of unequal outcomes without harming the engine of prosperity (as elaborated in the recent hand grenade discussion)?Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger
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        unequal outcomes/opportunity are the death of prosperity, not the fount of it. Read some Adam Smith.

        Reducing the unequal outcomes through a 75% tax on inheritance has always seemed sensible to me (put a threshhold on it, naturally, so that people giving $10k to their kids aren’t giving most of it to the gov’t)Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kimmi
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          says:

          “unequal outcomes/opportunity”

          …do not necessarily exist in concert. That a race has only one winner doesn’t mean that everyone started at different places along the track.

          “Reducing the unequal outcomes through a 75% tax on inheritance…”

          Why stop at 75%? Why not take it all? What reasons are there for justifying 75% that do not also justify 100%?Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to DensityDuck
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            … 100% over a certain minimum? (let’s be generous and call it ten million. we can haggle later).
            I feel like it’s not so bad that a parent can provide a bit extra for their kid. It’s bad if a parent provides so much that the kid can live off it for the rest of their life (but not legally-actionable). It’s too much if a parent provides so much that their kids, grandkids, unto the fifth generation can live off the money — and that should be taxed away. Ideally speaking.Report

            • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Kimmi
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              I feel like it’s not so bad that a parent can provide a bit extra for their kid. It’s bad if a parent provides so much that the kid can live off it for the rest of their life (but not legally-actionable). It’s too much if a parent provides so much that their kids, grandkids, unto the fifth generation can live off the money — and that should be taxed away.

              I’m not convinced that this happens often enough to be worth worrying about, let alone to be worth the distortive effects North mentions below. Are you arguing that the existence of any inherited super-wealth at all has a moral effect on the rest of society?

              If so, why wait for the kids to inherit? It seems to me that spoiled trust-fund brats (Paris Hilton comes to mind) would be equally destructive, as there’s no “grieving child” sympathy to offset the envy.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Kimmi
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              @Kimmi, well you’d have the Kennedy’s vote on that, er NOTReport

        • Avatar North in reply to Kimmi
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          It’d be a nightmare policy Kimmi, alas, and a terrible proposition. Then you have to police what elderly relatives give to their children in all of the final years of their lives. Also there’s the question of illiquid assets. If you exempt them then the wealthy would simply convert their assets to illiquid form to dodge the tax; if you don’t exempt them then, for instance, one of my acquaintances would have had to take out a loan to pay the taxes on some precious (both financials and personally) heirlooms she inherited (or sell the heirloom, horror of horrors).

          Seriously, it’s a horrible can of worms to contemplate even as a functional and practical matter.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to North
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            Gifts are already taxable income. I don’t see much problem with a “if you’re giving it away early” you get taxed X, and if you keep it, you get taxed Y. yeah, it’s certainly less than ideal. But if you have a high enough threshhold on taxes in general, you ain’t got no problem.

            …*references the post above yours* these heirlooms, were they more than 10 million?Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Kimmi
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              Definitely not Kimmi but gifts are very hard to track. Crank the inheritance tax up to 70% or more and you’re going to have to spend (waste) an utter fortune tracking the rich to make sure they don’t sneak their money to their heirs ahead of time. The economic distortions, the inefficiencies (legions of lawyers and accountants), the lobbying and the trouble it’d cause wouldn’t be worth it and that’s even assuming that people with that kind of income wouldn’t just emigrate. Remember, once you’re capping things at ten million we’re talking about the fiscal equivalent of the government diving into the couch cushions for change. You probably couldn’t raise trillions annually even if you took it all.

              Hell if you wanna sock it to the rich you can do it more easily by simplifying taxes. Kill the corporate tax rate, eliminate the capital gains exemption and simplify everything while keeping progressive taxation brackets and you’d get more money out of the rich with far less howling and you’d get a more efficient economy and businesses flocking to the country to boot.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to North
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            As Kimmi said, I’m perfectly fine with a high ceiling so those supposed farmers and small businesses don’t have to be sold, but after that, tax it all.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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              Yeah, why should anyone have the right to decide what to do with their own assets when the majority says otherwise?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
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                Bluntly, yes.

                If the Congress decided tomorrow all income over fifty cents would be taxed at a rate of 99.9 percent, it’d be perfectly legal. It’d also would be absurdly stupid, but it wouldn’t be illegal. You have no ‘right’ to your income or to decide what to do with it, especially after you’re dead.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                ooooh I’m gettin’ some popcorn because this is gonna be epicReport

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                And that’s what’s wrong with liberals. The idea that we don’t actually have any rights except what the government allows us.

                I’m in too foul a mood at the moment to actually address this. I’d probably give it all the vitriol such a position really deserves rather than engage in a measured argument that might have a chance to be persuasive.

                But, man, this whole you-don’t-have-a-right-to-your-own-income business…fish that all to heck. Every time I think I might actually be a liberaltarian I hear a liberal say something that shockingly repulsive and I realize why I’m really no closer to liberals than I am to conservatives. Apologists for tyranny all.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to James Hanley
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                Actually, I’m not sure if a disbelief in natural rights is a liberal argument or not. I don’t believe in ‘natural rights’ because history has borne that without a higher authority, whether it being a king, legislature, or church, humans are nasty pieces of business that will kill, rape, and plunder for their own ends. Eventually, we reorganize and pretend the bad things didn’t happen, but in the absence of a authority we deem as valid, we do horrible things to one another.

                So, no, you don’t have the right to your income. Just like unfortunately, that woman in Saudi Arabia didn’t have a ‘natural right’ to choose her own husband, the Christian in China doesn’t have the ‘natural right’ to freely practice his own religion, or any of that. Now, we may not like it and try to do things so the woman in Saudi Arabia can marry freely and the guy in China can worship freely, but they don’t naturally have that right. They have the claw and fight for that right, just as our ancestors did.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                I don’t even like natural rights arguments much and I still find your argument here horrendous, verging on evil. You are justifying the majority doing absolutely whatever the hell they want to do to a minority. Heck, you’re justifying anybody doing whatever they want to anyone else.

                Slavery? Maybe not a good idea, but nobody’s rights are violated.

                Rape? It’s not a nice thing to do, but nobody’s rights are violated by getting raped.

                Randomly selected to be publicly tortured for the pleasure of the crowds? You’ve got no right not to be.

                Sometimes you have to stop and think about exactly where the implications of your arguments lead. If you think all that is outrageously beyond what you were saying, then define for me the principle that distinguishes between “the state can take all my assets, wealth and income” and “the state can enslave me.”

                This gets to the heart of what’s been bugging me so badly here lately. All these liberals demanding that we libertarians justify our arguments down to the finest of distinctions, and yet here we have a liberal saying “you’ve no rights to anything beyond what your government gives you” and he apparently feels no need to examine the awful implications of that position.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                If I’m reading you correctly, there’s no distinction between a ‘right’ and an act permitted by law. Anything we can manage to “claw and fight for”, and acquire, becomes a ‘right’. Antebellum slaves didn’t have a right to freedom until Mighty Whitey From The North fought for it and gave it to them.

                Wow. It’s like Hobbes without the redeeming humanism.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                (Er, that last post was in reply to Jesse Ewiak, not James Hanley.)Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                Short of rebellion against the government, if 2/3 of the states and 2/3 of Congress rescinded all those amendments around thirteen, then yeah, the state could enslave you.

                I wouldn’t be for it and I’d gladly take up arms beside those who also weren’t for it, because it’s against what freedoms I believe humanity should have, but it would be legal. Destructive, wrong, and horrible, but legal.

                I realize the implications are awful. That’s why I’m for a strongly informed citizenry electing representatives who are answerable to those who elect them, not those who pay for their election.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                I realize the implications are awful.

                Then maybe you need a better goddam political philosophy!

                Seriously, you’re ignoring my question. What principle do you use to draw the line since you’re so insistent we don’t have any rights to anything unless and until the majority grants them to us?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                Only all the other political philosophies lead to even worse results. 🙂

                But seriously, I don’t draw the line for society. Society draws it’s own lines through voting and other means of political activism. There are things, such as the return of slavery I’d take up arms for. There are things I’d get in the streets for. There are things I’d send money in favor of. There are things I’d make short blog comments in support of. And so on and so forth.

                Everyone’s priorities are different and hell, societies priorities are different depending on where you are. Thus, as I said, I’ll lobby my lawmakers to not do business with nations that don’t respect their people and take any other legal avenues they can to better their place, but I won’t argue that we have the unilateral ‘right’ to invade those places to put forth our values.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                James,

                What kind of rights are you talking about if not natural rights? Legal rights arise from the protections of the law that exist in a jurisdiction; they’re a convention; human rights rely on a natural rights argument; what kind of rights are more fundamental than and prior to legal rights, but less metaphysically mystical than natural rights?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                …Rights as social conventions? I can’t imagine that is a more adequate grounding for you than simply limiting rights claims to those which are legally protected…Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                seriously, I don’t draw the line for society. Society draws it’s own lines

                Not good enough, Jesse. You’re avoiding dealing with the implications of your philosophy. As long as you do that you have absolutely no basis for claiming other political philosophies are worse, tongue-in-cheek or not.

                Your position actually justifies slavery, even though you’d take up arms against it. So you must have some other principles in mind–what are they? What are the logical limitations of your political philosophy? If you don’t draw lines for society, how can you take up arms to prevent slavery–that is drawing a line? So what other principles are you using to constrain the implications of what you’ve just argued?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                It seems to me that your claim of no natural rights would undermine your claim that society can make any claims upon my wealth. Where do they get such a right? It’s ultimately incoherent to say it’s socially determined, because all you’re really saying is that the majority can determine for themselves what their rights are–but where does the right to do so come from?

                Imagine a small society of three people living peacefully in a state of nature. One morning Adam says to Bob, let’s make Charles our slave. Bob agrees, so Charles is outvoted despite his objections. From where did Adam and Bob get the right to make such a claim of right over Adam?Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley
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                I don’t think this argument is about the government “allowing” us rights as if it is up the gov to give us what the gov feels we can handle. I think its thats whatever rights we have only exist within the structure of the gov we live in. In our case that is the constitution, courts, etc. If we lived in Iraq our “natural” rights and rights in general would be quite different.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject in reply to greginak
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                I think its thats whatever rights we have only exist within the structure of the gov we live in. In our case that is the constitution, courts, etc. If we lived in Iraq our “natural” rights and rights in general would be quite different.

                I think (I hope) you’re confusing the presence of natural rights with the presence of a government and broader society that’s willing to respect them. James and I argue that Iraqis have precisely the same rights as we do, but that those rights aren’t being as closely respected as they are on this continent.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to greginak
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                And I may agree that I want Iraqi’s to have the same rights we do. But if a majority of Iraqi’s within the Constitutional bounds of their own laws want to limit whatever right they want, then dem’s the breaks.

                We can lobby, cajole, or whatever else we want to, but we should not interfere in their internal politics directly no more than the Belgian Air Force should bomb Oklahoma City because of the limitation of the rights of gay people in that state.Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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              Only taxes on imposts and duties and tariffs on imported goods. No sales, wage, or profits taxes…much happier people.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Dan Miller
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      In the real world, giving more power to libertarians means giving more power to a whole group of people who have displayed little concern for inequality

      That’s because inequality is the wrong metric with which to think about things (at least vis a vis justice). The way to think about things is in terms of absolute welfare of the worst off.

      Though, to take Erik’s point seriously, stability may be endangered by vast amounts of inequality. Much of that may arise if people feel that they lack the requisite opportunities.

      As far as stability goes, a significant part of it is to get people to think about what exactly they want out of social cooperation. It just doesnt seem plausible that people would prefer everythingelse being equal to have less in the way of primary goods if that means that those who are better off lose out more.Report

  3. Avatar Roger
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    ED: “I think we combine the best aspects of a market economy and civil society within the framework of the welfare state. As technology advances rapidly, and the job market continues its eternal churning shift, this is more important than ever. We can and should quibble about the details, and I think that’s where the recent discussion of pity-charity liberalism and neoliberalism has been taking place: what sort of welfare state do we want? What overlap do we want between civil society and the state?”

    I agree and would just add that different people have very different values and desire very different societies and outcomes. As long as we use democracy to arrive at decisions that are then pushed top down, we will continue to get sub-optimal compromise, gridlock and one size that fits nobody.

    One value of the market is that it is not just creative and experimental, but that it tailors itself to wide ranging values. A more decentralized, competitive democracy with choice, opt out and subsidiarity would create more options for a wider set of values, and establish an environment where people can test their ideals against comparative benchmarks.

    I would join a social community which had good social safety nets (social welfare) and safeguards against free rider parasitism. Other could choose as they see fit. New institutions could prove themselves or improve over time. Failure to adapt and improve would mean that people would abandon it.

    Evolution and history are both full of phase transitions from one type of life or community to something completely different. I believe the window to the next phase transition involves increasing the choices and options within democracy. I call it constructive competition.Report

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

      One value of the market is that it is not just creative and experimental, but that it tailors itself to wide ranging values.

      On the one hand I’m very sympathetic to that view, and think it holds a lot of water.

      But what about local tyranny? What are the differences between majoritarian rule in democracy and in markets? People vote with their ballots and their pocketbooks. If I have a value not supported by the masses, or the local community, markets appear to offer me no more recourse then democracy would.

      Except democracy has the added bonus of actually discussing and engaging with values, where as markets keep values largely underground and inexplicit.Report

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

        Hi E.C.

        Free markets are no panacea either, of course, but they thrive on niches. It is frequently more profitable to ID an unserved/underserved market niche or need (of small but not negligible size) and create products and services that serve them. Indeed, that is what I did before retiring.

        As the market size gets bigger, the niches get smaller and more segmented. Free enterprise has a healthy and good dynamic that way. Yes the needs are often implicit or hidden, but that is why the returns are there for those of us that unearthed and met them. I was paid to discover needs and fulfill them. I won’t disclose what I built, but my guess is that many of the Gentlemen have either heard of or bought my products.

        Democracy tries to do some of this, but runs into the problem of majority rule. Minority ideas are greatly squelched and ignored. I would address this by creating more options, alternatives and choices in Democracy. In other words, I would take what I see as a good thing about markets and try to import it into governance. This gets back to my suggestion to E.D.Report

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

          What would you say to this counter argument ( http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/11/01/357979/what-kind-of-businesses-support-barriers-to-entry/ ):

          “If I look around and see which kinds of businesses are benefiting from anti-competitive barriers to entry, I think it’s largely the small businesses. For example, in DC they don’t license 7-11 and CVS to sell beer and wine and they don’t license those chains or grocery stores to sell hard liquor. This allows for the existence of a robust small business segment running liquor stores, almost all of whom would certainly go out of business if national retail chains could compete with them. Many small businesses in America are law firms, and law firms are extensively sheltered from competition by rules against non-lawyers providing legal services. There’s also some kind of unusual rules about the ownership structure of law firms that ensures they’re generally organized as partnerships. And you see this more or less across the board. There’s a competitive market selling refrigerators in the United States, but that means there are something like half a dozen options to choose from and they’re all large firms. Free entry and robust competition in a larger country means a marketplace dominated by a handful of large firms. When you see a market segment dominated by a vast proliferation of small enterprises, you’re frequently looking at regulatory bars to expansion and competition.”

          And going back to the problem of majoritarian markets, say a local majority is in favor of putting a Walmart in one of the nearby commercial lots. There’s just no recourse.

          That’s not to say that Walmarts are bad, but it seems that individuals are at the whim of markets all the same. And the ways in which we might try to introduce more diversity and choice into into democracy might be done just the same in markets…via democracy.

          Where as in democracy one appeals to reasoned argument and supporting evidence, most markets tend to operate on convenience, e.g. there are cheaper prices over hear, but hell it’s just to far, and impulse, e.g. I really don’t need to buy this product, but I feel like doing that at this moment because it will give me a self-esteem boost or satiate some material desire.

          One might say that democracy functions similar, just look at the character of our elections. But I think there’s an argument to be made that these elections are reflections of modern markets, rather than inherint in how democracy functions.Report

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

            When you see a market segment dominated by a vast proliferation of small enterprises, you’re frequently looking at regulatory bars to expansion and competition.

            And higher prices, as you’ve restricted the availability of economies of scale. See also the “food desert” phenomenon and things like this protest over a Whole Foods trying to open in Boston, which also speaks to your Wal-mart example.

            Regulations protecting a small liquor-store segment drive up the cost of a beer or three after work, at which you might scoff, but they also drive up the cost of alcoholism. Licensing regulations protecting law firms drive up the cost of legal representation, putting it out of reach for poor people. Medical licensing that prohibits Nurse-Practitioners from treating patients for basic non-emergent conditions drives up the cost of health care (similarly for Dental Hygienists and dental care).

            The classic example of rent-seeking licensure is medallion schemes for taxis, which not only drives up costs for people who can’t afford cars but restricts independent entry into the sector. Great news if you’re a “small business owner” who’s already started a cab company, bad news if you’re a prospective small business owner who wants in on the game.

            I submit that anticompetitive regulations, even those that help small business, are inherently regressive.

            Small businesses are not good things in and of themselves. Small businesses are good things as part of a broader market, where they can add local variety and cater to niche markets.Report

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

            Good points EC,

            Yeah, I see all kinds of strange unintended consequences from entry barriers. I think there are lots of examples we can’t see that work the other way though (we can’t see them because they not there to be seen). Entry barriers to taxi drivers, surfboard rentals on the beach by private parties, and so forth.

            On your larger point, Walmart is successful because it packs in so many options at a low price. Retailers can’t compete because most consumers are looking for product solutions, and Walmart just does it better for less. We have astronomically more choice today, at significantly fewer retail establishments.

            Do you see value in more choices and options in Democracy? What risks do you foresee?Report

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

            E.C.,

            For example, in DC they don’t license 7-11 and CVS to sell beer and wine and they don’t license those chains or grocery stores to sell hard liquor.

            I don’t know about the case in D.C., but often this has less to do with the small retailers exercising political power than large wholesalers. Let a large national chain of drug or grocery stores into the business and they can either set up their own wholesale distribution chain or exert more leverage in negotiations with the wholesaler than a bunch of mom-and-pop shops can.

            There are a lot of places in this country where wholesalers have government-enforced monopolies over a particular region. (And in my own idiotic state of Michigan, the state sets minimum retail prices, driving up the cost of my bourbon, the bastards.)Report

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

              I think Matthew’s point is just that having more competition doesn’t mean having more small businesses, and that more competition usually works in favor of those who can compete better, e.g. large companies with lots of resources. Yes there are exceptions, but on the whole the big ones have a lot going for them.

              And yes, once they get big, they can use regulatory policies to their advantage, but I think that only further consolidates their power, rather then being the sole thing that makes them so invulnerable.Report

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

                more competition usually works in favor of those who can compete better, e.g. large companies with lots of resources

                Superficially, yeah, but you’re ignoring how those companies got big. They didn’t begin that way, you know. Wal Mart began small, but outcompeted other companies by doing something much better than them–inventory management. There are also big companies that have gotten either complacent or couldn’t figure out how to manage their bigness and ended up failing. (Check out the changes in the Fortune 500 over the last 50 years.)

                Microsoft is huge, but didn’t begin that way. Ditto Apple, Nike, etc.

                I used to work at the world’s largest family owned hardware store–Jerry’s in Eugene, Oregon. They were basically a Lowes or Home Depot, but privately owned (a single store then, two now, I think). They couldn’t compete on prices, so how did they do it? Service–daily I had people tell me they came there instead of Home Depot because the service was so superior. It does take resources to offer good service, because we had bi-weekly training sessions and that does cost some money, but it’s something that’s within the reaches of small companies.

                Here in my small town we have an Applebee’s. A friend of mine used to run a competing private restaurant and he repeatedly bemoaned the fact that they had the advantage of national advertising, while he didn’t. And yet there are several small private restaurants the compete very successfully with Applebees, including a steak shop that opened up in the middle of the recession (in a county with 15% unemployment) and thrived from the get-go.

                So, yeah, big companies have resources small one’s don’t. But all big companies began small and grew despite not having the advantages of size.Report

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

                I think Matthew’s point is just that having more competition doesn’t mean having more small businesses, and that more competition usually works in favor of those who can compete better, e.g. large companies with lots of resources.

                Subject to James’ caveat that specialized small businesses often thrive in niche markets, I’m willing to agree. But there’s an implicit claim here that small businesses are good by virtue of the fact that they’re small businesses, and especially in cartelized markets like taxis I have a hard time buying this claim.Report

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

                I agree, think “small businesses are better,” usually is shorthand for more diverse and decentralized business is better.

                Isn’t there something about cellphone providers needing to be placed next to one another, so that customers always have a choice, no matter what shopping center their frequent? I’m not sure where I heard that but I think it gets at the idea that ideally we’d have a bunch of small businesses to always choose between.

                The Internet helps approximate that, but of course not without certain other costs.Report

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

        But what about local tyranny? What are the differences between majoritarian rule in democracy and in markets? People vote with their ballots and their pocketbooks. If I have a value not supported by the masses, or the local community, markets appear to offer me no more recourse then democracy would.

        Principled Libertarian Answer: Markets don’t assign themselves a monopoly on the use of aggressive violence. You might not be able to find a smartphone that suits your preferences, but Apple’s not going to kick down your door and shoot your dog for writing Objective C programs without a license.

        I was going to say something about niche markets, low transaction and startup/overhead costs in the age of internet commerce, and the long tail, but Roger did a great job before I got here.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to bluntobject
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          says:

          yawn. tell it to russia. considerable corporations will use violence if it suits their purposes (makes more of a profit). While it is true that they do lack a Monopoly on force, that is not to say that they won’t use force if it suits their purposes.Report

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

          A smartphone isn’t a value. I’m talking about what people value, and how they demonstrate that through financial support (in the form of making certain transactions instead of others).

          When we say that people “vote with their pocketbook,” we’re in effect saying that markets are only another form of democracy, in which case I’m not sure why they are necessarily superior.

          Apple knocking down people’s doors is kind of ironic, since they did do that in one instance. Plus, private security does all kinds of things. And if the public sector shrinks, the private will necessarily grow, replacing public police with private security that patrol privately owned parks, squares, shopping malls, and office buildings.

          I’m not sure what the benefit to trading collective police force for fragmented private police force is? Would you explore that point for me?Report

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

            Out of curiosity, do you feel safer in your local (I don’t know the name of your supermarket chain there… let’s assume it’s SuperValu) SuperValu after 9PM or do you feel safer in your local park after 9PM?Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              This seems a poor analogy, since one is inside a lit building and one is outside in the dark. A better question might be if you feel safer in your public park or in the parking lot of SuperValu.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              Depends on the market and the park.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jaybird
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              says:

              depends. is the park in VT, where some are open to camping? or is the park in Pittsburgh, where 9pm is “nobody goes here, offlimits people!”Report

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

              Great Q Jaybird, and a very complicated one.

              There’s this one mall for instance, where me and my friends use to antagonize the rentacops when we were in middle school. One had a chickelt mullet, but that’s neither here nor there. A lot of it has to do with the relative affluence of the area though.

              That mall was at the lower end, and not very safe…plus local psychiatric wards use to dump patients there for lack of anywhere else to send them. At one point one of the previous patients shot the place up with some automatic weapon.

              On the other hand there’s a mall I currently frequent a lot that’s super ritzy. Lots of high end cloth shops, starbucks, classy food court etc. Here, I feel very safe, especially because of the kind of people that frequent, and the social expectations. That is, I’m white and usually dressed in business attire, so I’m looked upon as potential customer, unlike kids who look like they’re just “hanging out” and minorities who look like they might not “belong there” (Pretty Woman style).

              So a lot of how safe I feel in privately owned spaces depends on whether I “belong.” I live in a gentrified area with two super markets. I feel more welcome at one than the other and more safe there. The bum outside does not, though the promise of more pocket change walking by makes the risk of getting booted worth it.

              A lot of this is speculation though, and as both cases require the ultimate “power projection” of public authorities, I’m not sure how valid it is.Report

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

            By the way James, Jaybird and Blunt would you mind if I ask for a pragmatic libertarian take on social security and medicare?

            Considering that you won’t be able to eradicate them or fundamentally replace them with something better (read more voluntary), where do you guys stand on balancing the cost with the taxes to pay for them?

            If the middle class is committed to a silly coercive transfer process via inefficient government bumbling, do you support that the program actually pay for itself…or not?Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger
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              says:

              SS basically pays for itself. Boomers ain’t that big. Medicare needs real fixing, though.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger
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              says:

              Actually, contra Kimmi, SS outlays have begun to exceed revenues, because in fact the boomers are that big a group (they’ll also be the longest lived generation, just to make it all more difficult). But I think the Social Security fixes are fairly simple, involving changes at the margin plus more immigration (since it’s primarily about the ratio between workers and retirees). Ultimately population growth will slow down and we’ll have harder fixes, but that’s far enough in the future that we can worry about that after we fix other problems.

              Like…Medicare. I haven’t studied the issue closely, but I’m not familiar with any good, relatively simple, plans for making the prescription drug plan solvent. I’m far more worried about the effect of that than of Social Security, because even though SS fails to completely pay for itself, it still mostly pays for itself, whereas the Medicare prescription drug plan (a Republican-passed bill, let’s remember) has no dedicated funding source.

              So, yeah, pragmatically I prefer them to be solvent. But not being a good taxes and finance guy, I don’t see how we’ll do that with Medicare.Report

            • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Roger
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              says:

              I think it’s pretty obvious that taxes need to go up to keep deficits under control before debt-service payments explode, and that medicare is going to be the biggest driver of deficits in the short- to medium-term.

              I’d like to see medicare get means-tested — I think that’s the only even vaguely plausible way to control its costs, since the SGR is a manifest failure. I’d also like to see military spending cut significantly, and the debt-ceiling debate makes that seem at least within shouting distance of plausible. Beyond that, I’d like to see a bunch of tax subsidies go away, which has the benefit of (a) raising taxes mostly on the affluent and “big corporations” and (b) removing distortive forces from the market. Since both sides seem to be able to agree on axing tax subsidies in the abstract, I’m firmly convinced that it’ll never actually happen.

              A means-tested medicare would be a manifest transfer programme, so I wouldn’t expect it to pay for itself. As for SS, I’m not as optimistic as Kimmi, but it isn’t the biggest problem.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger
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              says:

              I am 100% for means-testing of social security. If you have $X/month in retirement income, there is no reason you should get the full check from Social Security. If you get $10X/month in retirement income? You don’t need the check at all.

              I’d put different emphasis on Medicare. Maybe tell doctors to suggest smoking to their Medicare patients. Bacon. Put it under the umbrella of “quality of life”.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                “If you have $X/month in retirement income, there is no reason you should get the full check from Social Security. If you get $10X/month in retirement income? You don’t need the check at all.”

                Wait just a minute buster, shouldn’t you be a bureaucrat before you make this statement? And hey, Rooooosevelt said everybody’d be treated the same, now you wanna rob from the rich to entitle the poor. Who do you think you are, Robin Hood?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks
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                says:

                It was always meant to come to this point, Bob.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Thanks for the replies on SS and Medicare, guys (where are the ordinary ladies?),

                Going back to E.D.’s original thread on democracy and coercion, it is clear that our limited libertarianish response is different than the Tea Party/Republican line. We don’t just side with lower taxes uber alles (Jesse may or not be surprised).

                Two of you mentioned means testing. The trouble I have with that is that it confirms our worst fears of coercive taxation as theft. People paid in for 40 years in and then get nothing back.

                I suggest a more moderate and transparent alternative. Allow people to choose what they want in the future. The choices will be narrow at first. You want to collect SS at the current designated age — then you can if you pay 1% more FICA premium (example). You want to pay current FICA and no more — then your retirement age goes up a couple of years. (the choice should be obvious for older citizens).

                Similar (more dramatic) choices can go into Medicare. If you expect current grand benefits, then be willing to pay big premiums. If you want to continue to pay current premiums, then expect less.

                The benefits of this approach:
                1) It makes current transfer systems sustainable (and if we really care about people we need it to be)
                2) It allows people with different values and needs to voluntarily choose the program that is right for them
                3) It establishes the beginning of a libertarian dynamic that can potentially grow to complete opt out all together (such as 1% FICA for no retirement benefits at all)
                4) It allows libertarians to offer a compromise position to both liberals and conservatives. It doesn’t matter that we are a small minority — they can only get what they want by enlisting our support. This becomes the cost of our vote.

                Your thoughts/concerns/suggestions with this approach would be valued.Report

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

            A smartphone isn’t a value. I’m talking about what people value, and how they demonstrate that through financial support (in the form of making certain transactions instead of others).

            Can you give a concrete example? I know people who buy iPhones because they value the elegance and convenience represented by Apple products, and people who buy Androids because they value the more open development architecture and dislike Apple’s closed system. Two years ago I knew people who bought Blackberries because they valued the commitment to the corporate status quo that it signaled, but well, RIM seems to have been voted out of the market.

            Apple knocking down people’s doors is kind of ironic, since they did do that in one instance.

            You mean the Gizmodo iPhone-prototype thing? As far as Google will tell me, that was actual cops, not Apple employees.

            I’m not sure what the benefit to trading collective police force for fragmented private police force is? Would you explore that point for me?

            That’s pretty far afield from the argument I was trying to make, which is that market activity isn’t necessarily predicated on violence. Taking your Apple/Gizmodo/iPhone example, you’re asking me whether it would be better for Apple to get state cops or rent-a-cops to kick down Jason Chen’s door. But that’s Apple-as-corporate-citizen, not Apple-as-market-actor. What I was trying to argue — badly, apparently, given the responses I got — was that absent its interaction with the legal system (“democracy and the state”), Apple would have had no standing to have Chen’s door kicked down in the first place.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to bluntobject
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              says:

              wouldn’t need standing. without gov’t, all you need is power.

              That said, of course not all market interactions involve force.Report

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

              Then again, the production of those products is predicated on violence, at least to some of us, which brings us back to the question of exploitation, i.e. exploiting workers situation and having them work in dangerous/unhealthy conditions.

              As far as valuing the elegance/aesthetic, I’ll have to think more on that.Report

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

                Are… are we having a calm, reasoned discussion? Is that allowed?

                Then again, the production of those products is predicated on violence, at least to some of us, which brings us back to the question of exploitation, i.e. exploiting workers situation and having them work in dangerous/unhealthy conditions.

                Yep (with the caveat that we both know we’re going to disagree on exactly where the line between “voluntary” and “violent” should be drawn wrt sweatshops). Both liberalism and libertarianism stem from the observations that (a) there’s a lot of injustice out there that comes from the powerful abusing the weak, and (b) we should fix that by mitigating the power differential. The only question is how we should go about (b).

                Libertarianism, at its best, tries to remove violently coercive tools from the powerful (e.g. Apple’s ability to call the cops on Gizmodo editors, or a sweatshop’s ability to get local cops to beat up union organizers) while increasing the power of the individual by providing better BATNAs. Liberalism, at its best, tries to provide a countervailing power (government) to preempt or punish the worst abuses of the powerful, while increasing the power of the individual through positive government supports.

                Libertarianism, at its worst, justifies indifference to the abuses of the powerful in the name of voluntary choice. Liberalism, at its worst, provides the powerful with more tools through regulatory capture.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to bluntobject
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                says:

                +1 (only because plus googolplex isn’t allowed)Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to bluntobject
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                says:

                This is exactly right.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to bluntobject
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                says:

                best summary ever.
                And why we need both around, along with some curmudgeonly conservatives to say “wait a minute! That won’t Work!”Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Kimmi
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                says:

                ……wait a minute, that won’t work!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to bluntobject
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                says:

                Good summary, bluntobject.

                Wait a minute…bluntobject….blunt object…blunt object.  You are just a conservative who wants to smoke pot!Report

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

        But what about local tyranny? What are the differences between majoritarian rule in democracy and in markets?

        The difference is that the majority in a democracy imposes a single value that you must accept. A market rewards multiple competing values.

        Another way to look at it is that in a democracy, you cannot win by targeting simply a minority, whereas in the market you can. Do you think the majority of Americans contribute to Audubon Society, for example?

        Very seriously, it’s far far better to be a minority in the market than in politics. In the market a perpetual minority has better choices than taking up arms.Report

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

          Better distractions it often seems. I could get involved in social change, but tonight I’d rather settle to watch How I Met Your Mother on My LCD TV.

          But seriously, I’ve got my Audubon society, but what about my paid maternity leave?Report

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

            Ah, the market doesn’t supply you with everything you desire, so it is therefore inferior to….well, to what? I’m pretty sure government isn’t going to supply you with everything you require, either.

            And of course demanding paid maternity leave means demanding that somebody else pay you for providing nothing of value to them. It’s not the kind of policy I’d put near the top of my “must-repeal” list, but still, have you ever thought about the morality of that demand?Report

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

            But seriously, I’ve got my Audubon society, but what about my paid maternity leave?

            What are you entitled to?

            (Aside: the trailer for In Time bugs the crap out of me. Is the implied moral “I am entitled to live forever”?)Report

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

              I’m entitled to take a few months of raising my child properly in exchange for future productive citizens.

              It’s a pragmatic policy. But what’s more, it’s the wrong question to ask, what do other people owe me, because you’ve already started from the bogus position that starting now, at time T, the distribution of resources is legitimate and thus no one can rightfully lay claim to what falls on another’s balance sheet.

              Before we go down this road, defend yourselves from accusations of moral relativism/non-cognitivism ahead of time please, rather than leading me to do so later and then complaining that I’m misreading you.Report

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

                it’s the wrong question to ask, what do other people owe me, because you’ve already started from the bogus position that starting now, at time T, the distribution of resources is legitimate and thus no one can rightfully lay claim to what falls on another’s balance sheet.

                Or it could be quite the opposite–perhaps I’m questioning the validity of all those claims upon others’ wealth. I am a libertarian, after all, and I’m pretty sure you realize where we stand on that whole issue.Report

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

                …in the wrong of course.

                But kidding aside, we might as well burn this bridge before traversing it and falling into a bottomless pit mid way across.Report

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

                I’m 100% down with accusations of moral relativism. (I don’t think they’re accurate but, hey, if you want to call me a “sinner”, go for it. It’s ground I’m comfortable arguing from.)

                Could I ask you about where you get your morals from? What God whispers into your ear? What Hell will you threaten that I will be sent to if I don’t agree with you loudly enough?Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Jaybird
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                No God, no hell, just some people behaving badly and others behaving better.

                Border cases can obscure morality, but there tends to be large agreement in particular instances, and certainly on what is better than or worse then.

                But you can’t be a libertarian and a moral relativist, so asking me where I’m encountering this morality rather than why it’s one thing and not another seems unhelpful.

                Good luck getting to a position of maximized negative rights without making moral claims.

                As such, we’d probably be better off arguing over why our more or less shared moral claims about negative rights lead us to opposing views on their end result.Report

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

                Can you expand, EC, on why you can’t ce a libertarian and a moral relativist? Not to be overly simplistic, but I would think the idea of the marketplace deciding what is allowed, who will succeed and who will starve seems to at least brush up against moral relativism.Report

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

                Perhaps moral plurality?

                But I was under the assumption that libertarians make claims to negative rights, which incidentally lead to a marketplace of ideas which has its own benefits.

                If they are urging a marketplace outright, I’d have to ask why? And if it’s because it will be the best, or at least a better system of doing something, we’d have to ask what the something is or why we’re valuing it, which is where I’m guessing the morality bit would come in and not in the relativist way.

                Sorry to all if I sound snarky, the Starbuck’s just became overrun with loud little children and ineffectual parents…that and I’m a closet evangelical.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to RTod
                Ignored
                says:

                Perhaps moral plurality?

                Works for me.

                Negative rights can also be justified on a utilitarian basis (you can argue it doesn’t justify them very well, but my point is that there is a way to argue from utilitarianism to negative rights).

                And negative rights are a sort of minimum–they concern what one person may not legitimately do to another, but they don’t really say anything about what anyone ought to do for another. Personal morality can take off from there in a variety of ways.Report

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

                I’m more than happy enough to make moral claims but they put a lot of emphasis on the flourishing of moral agency that follows from responsibility for one’s own benefits and costs associated with them due to the state of arrested development that can arise with having decisions made for one on one’s behalf by a (well-intentioned, even!) paternalistic overseer.Report

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

                moral agency, then there is a shared language we can discuss this with.

                I suspect Jaybird that we just have different sets of eyes, and no matter how hard I try I keep seeing two people kissing where you see a vase.

                That is, we both bet the farm on moral agency, but see different ways that moral agency can be maximized, or what kinds of things are more demonstrative of moral agency.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                I keep seeing two people kissing where you see a vase.

                Ah, you see sex in everything, don’t you? No wonder you’re so concerned with morality! 😉Report

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

                you can’t be a libertarian and a moral relativist

                Wow, both an absolute statement and yet another liberal claim of what libertarians must be.

                Since I mostly tend toward utilitarianism myself, despite my outburst on this thread in defense of some degree of natural rights (mostly the right to be goddam well left alone to pursue your own utility maximization), I’m not sure I actually can be anything other than a moral relativist. Or at least a moral minimalist, very willing to let others set whatever moral standards they want to live by, just so long as they don’t try to impose them on me.Report

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

                You can blame the philosophers, but for a whole host of reasons moral relativism is problematic and often best left to the uninterpretable followers of Derrida and Foucault.

                But if you tend toward utilitarianism, the thing your maximizing involves a moral judgement.

                I’ll settle for moral minimalist, though I still think the idea of minimizing morality’s scope goes against what it means for something to be moral. Morality seems, where relevant, to take priority over every other consideration.Report

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

                E.C.,

                If they are urging a marketplace outright, I’d have to ask why? And if it’s because it will be the best, or at least a better system of doing something, we’d have to ask what the something is or why we’re valuing it, which is where I’m guessing the morality bit would come in and not in the relativist way.

                Good question. My response is that practical libertarians allow you to choose the ends. We believe that the market (via voluntary division of labor and exchange) is just a really good way to accomplish these ends.  I think Mises’ brand of pragmatic utilitarianism works along these lines. There are some ethical libertarians that get at the same basic place, but I think it involves sacrificing chickens or something. Maybe Jaybird knows….Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger
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                says:

                Dude, I don’t know nothin’.Report

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

                And choosing ends for oneself makes perfect sense, but as soon as those ends begin to practically affect others, a moral dimension enters the calculus.

                I’m with Jaybird (I think).  No one should be regulating “tastes,” outright, but as soon as those tastes affect other people, as soon as they translate into actions which impact the community (or commons if you like), we regulate.

                Now where we part ways is that I think it’s pretty difficult to find examples of actions that don’t practically impact other people.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Like two guys holding hands?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Now where we part ways is that I think it’s pretty difficult to find examples of actions that don’t practically impact other people.

                Actually, I agree with that.  So where you and I at least part ways is in the significance of that.  Standing by itself it seems to justify regulating almost everything anyone does.  But I don’t think you’re willing to go to that extreme any more than I am, so where we part ways is on where we draw the lines.  I draw the line very narrowly–real direct harm normally needs to be shown, and it can’t just be incidental.  E.g., the decision of my neighbor to paint her house a hideous green affects me in that my stomach heaves each time I see it and it probably has a small affect on m property value.  Tough luck for me; that shouldn’t be regulable unless we’ve both contracted into a community with CC&Rs.  (Now if she slapped some of that green paint on my house…)

                It also can’t be an affect in the absence of action, “an effect by ommision.”   That is, my refusal to contribute to your paid parental leave does affect you, but it’s an effect by ommison on my part, so it’s not legitimately regulable (in my view).

                The reality is that in a social species, we can’t avoid having our actions affect others.  So if we’re going to justify not regulating everything people do, we have to come up with standards to justify where we stop short of that.  It’s in choosing those standards, and the conceptual justifications for them,  that libertarians and liberals part ways.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
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                says:

                EC,

                Adding on to James, the market mechanism implies minimal rules of free enterprise. People get to control their own body and acquire property rights via putting their labor into something or via voluntarily exchange. Voluntary transactions between rational adults are considered positive sum transactions that are expected to benefit both parties. Certain win/lose activities — as displayed by coercive force or fraud — are prohibited.

                Externalities such as pollution may very well need to be handled via non market mechanisms. Democracy can be similarly agnostic toward ends though. We address pollution because it is a majority end.

                Of course, many libertarians dislike any state, as they believe it invariably grows like a cancer until it controls and destroys everything. They may be right, and every time I read what the progressives at this site write, I am reminded of it.

                 Report

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

            … my distractions pay for social change! (what? I woot!)Report

  4. Avatar James K
    Ignored
    says:

    I think you and I are in a similar place Erik, I may call myself a libertarian but my vision of government has a welfare state in it. And the reason I support welfare is a strictly pragmatic one – while I take seriously the moral objections more orthodox libertarians have to welfare, I’m not willing to value the moral principle above the death and suffering that would result from removing the welfare system.Report

    • Avatar Plinko in reply to James K
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      says:

      I think there’s also room for a different sort of pragmatism – the notion that several aspects of the welfare state are liberty-enhancing on balance. Good public education is liberty-enhancing welfare in that it provides a valuable good to children regardless of their circumstances. Bankruptcy laws, unemployment insurance and public health programs can be both welfare and liberty-enhancing in that they allow individuals to take risks in life (start a business, take a job, buy a home) with less fear of extreme downside risk.
      I think of myself as a progressive that takes the libertarian critique very seriously. I wish we would see more libertarians grapple with the possibility that state institutions might cost x in terms of liberty but provide 4x liberty.

      I do see that often here, especially from E.D.s posts and the commentary.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Plinko
        Ignored
        says:

        I wish we would see more libertarians grapple with the possibility that state institutions might cost x in terms of liberty but provide 4x liberty.

        Fair enough, but at the same time I don’t see many liberals, even here, seriously grappling with the possibility that some of their preferred state institutions might cost 4x in terms of liberty while only providing x liberty.

        I agree, Plinko, that you take the libertarian critique seriously, but I am still arguing that the liberals here always insist that libertarians rush to defend, down to some very fine-grained critiques, while never putting half that effort into defending their own preferences, which they leave very broad and vaguely defined, certainly never willing to get just as fine-grained in defining their limits. It’s all a game of, “libertarianism, sure I’ll consider it’s claims seriously, but it’s the ideology that must justify itself, not ours.Report

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to James Hanley
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          says:

          Oh, I agree on liberals, though I am one, deep down, but in general there’s too much taking of our own views as granted to all right-thinking individuals. That’s why I don’t hang out at Balloon Juice, for example, though I often find Freddie’s work very compelling.

          I just don’t think that critique is particularly unique to liberals. An hour listening to conservative talk radio would put all such notions to rest, if not make one run back to Balloon Juice for to hear partisans with an iota of self-awareness. The weak-man arguments of partisans are extremely important to our overall political discourse but I don’t think they’re very useful for evaluating the value of their positions.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Plinko
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            says:

            Plinko,

            Oh, to be sure I was just speaking in the context of the League, where liberals and libertarians co-mingle and the demands seem one-sided. I can’t stomach either Balloon Juice or a similar right-wing blog, say Free Republic.

            But this blog prides itself on being better than those, and it mostly is (including its conservatives). But so far all these democracy and liberty threads have been along the lines of “hey you libertarians, justify this!” A lot of that has been good in a way, since as a libertarian I like exploring the limits of libertarianism, the points where I can’t go any further in that direction.

            For example, in one of the former democracy/liberty threads, I got pushed by other commenters to the point of admitting that at some point where real coercion doesn’t exist, there may be a type of leverage that is practically indistinguishable. At that point we were far into a libertarian world that had limits in rare cases that no one could clearly specify an example of. And yet that was treated as sort of an “aha! you can’t ultimately defend libertarianism.” Not in so many words, but in the assumption that the admission somehow justified a much more liberal world view, and yet there was no attempt at explaining the justification for moving from that very abstract limit on libertarianism to a standard liberal approach.

            The only one where I found any of the liberals beginning to seriously consider how they can justify their own views was the sweatshops thread, where Stillwater began to struggle with the difficulties of his position. That doesn’t mean he won’t find a satisfactory way to justify them, or that he was in any way forced to surrender his liberalism. It just means that he was the first liberal I’ve seen on this blog who grappled as seriously with justifying liberalism as we libertarians have been asked to grapple with justifying libertarianism.Report

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

              Balloon Juice = Free Republic? Really?

              Wow, that wins the false equivalence of the month award.Report

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

                Really? I find both sites repulsively ideological.

                Try this on or size. Go comment on Free Republic as a liberal and watch the responses. Go comment on Balloon Juice as a conservative and watch the responses.Report

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

                If a smart conservative actually posted or commented on Balloon Juice, that person would not get attacked by the commentariat in general. Now, he would get trolled, but that happens in a blog that your average post gets 100 comments. It’s easy for threads on here to stay ‘civil’ – the same 20 to 30 people comment.

                For example, some of ED’s more libertarian posts weren’t well liked, but for the most part, most people didn’t want ED to stop posting.

                But yes, I’m well aware BJ is the Big Bad aware because it’s not a genteel where all opinions are respected. However, if you’re willing to fight and scratch for your opinion, you will be respected. I mean, this is a blog that started as Iraq War supporting and pro-Bush.Report

              • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                says:

                Yeah BJ is often rough and tumble and always devolves into the same-old same-old factional squabbling. But if you’ve thick skin and the smarts/proof on your side, you’ll do fine. Sometimes weak arguments thrive in soft-hearted environs.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                “If a smart conservative actually posted or commented on Balloon Juice, that person would not get attacked by the commentariat in general.”

                And if someone posts and gets attacked by the commentariat in general, then ipso facto they were not a smart conservative.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Um, that’s how Balloon Juice essentially started. Conservative blogger, liberal commentariat and as the years went by, the blogger goes liberal.

                As I said, most people didn’t want ED Kain to stop posting more libertarian-friendly things during that two month period when he was.

                Yes, there were people who called him when he was wrong, there were some people just trolling him, and there were just some insane people, but again, this is a blog where the average comment thread gets 100-125 comments.

                If any number of the libertarians or conservatives responded to articles in the comment threads the same way they do here, they would be responded to. Some bad, some good, and in some ways, probably uncomfortable to those used to the League, but the majority of responses would not be attacks without merit.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Heh. I actually found a comment by me on Balloon Juice the other day, from more than six years ago.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                “O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing. I cite as supporting evidence the ACLU, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. The reason is, of course, that people who staff such bodies tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world. At which point Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy takes over — and the rest follows.”

                http://old.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback-jos062603.aspReport

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Um, that’s how Balloon Juice essentially started. Conservative blogger, liberal commentariat and as the years went by, the blogger goes liberal.

                ” O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing. I cite as supporting evidence the ACLU, the Ford Foundation, and the Episcopal Church. The reason is, of course, that people who staff such bodies tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world. At which point Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy takes over — and the rest follows.”

                http://old.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback-jos062603.aspReport

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Plinko
        Ignored
        says:

        Education in the abstract is a good, but when you drill down on public education, you find something much different, a failed system which is not a good for most poor children, and is at best fair for non-poor children. Liberals would also help themselves by grappling with alternatives to State provided social goods. The choice is not between education and no education but between public ed, private ed or a workable combination. Pragmatism can be judged by the two responses below:

        Libertarian: Public schools are, in general, failing our children and providing subpar results, therefore we should consider drastic reform with private solutions as a main consideration.

        Typical Liberal response: That is a utopian scheme. The private sector will not provide education for the poor. Once profit is involved, then considerations for the needy go out the window.

        Pragmatic Response: You might have a point. Perhaps we should consider private solutions and see if some combination with true competition is feasible. Maybe a slew of corporations could develope and fund their solutions, giving parents a choice to see which works better after a long enough period of observation and study. If private offerings make more sense and provide better results, then that’s the course we should pursue.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to MFarmer
          Ignored
          says:

          +1

          The post points up a common liberal assumption that public provision necessarily means public production. I.e., that having publicly funded schools–to ensure education (and opportunity) even for those who are too poor to afford a privately provided education–means the funded schools must themselves be public. It’s really no different than recognizing that roads can be provided for through taxation, but actually produced by private contractors.

          Perhaps for most libertarians there would be no public provision of education, but for us more pragmatical ones, we’re willing to accept some public provision of it, but would like to see more private production of it. In my ideal libertarian state, there would be enough taxation to ensure education for all (which probably puts me smack dab into E.D.’s corner), but all of that funding would be funneled through the taxpayer-recipients into the private school of their choice.Report

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

            Which is totally reasonable, I think (though I always worry about the potential for cronyism when public provision and private production are combined.)Report

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

              It’s certainly somethign to watch out for, eternal vigilance and all that.Report

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

              I always worry about the potential for cronyism when public provision and private production are combined.

              Agreed. I think, for example, we’re seeing that in the prison industry the cronyism and rent-seeking is proving far worse than having public prisons.

              But I think–and this is an empirical “think,” so it’s subject to revision based on evidence–that schools can be a more functional market than prisons.

              And I also worry about the cronyism of teachers’ unions.

              Plinko–the selectivity issue is important. But since we’re talking about public funding, it’s entirely legitimate to legislate constraints on that.

              As to the quality issue, yes there are excellent public schools. But where there are bad public schools combined with their monopoly power, what we have is a system that harms the worst. E.D’s post asks in part how, in a libertarian society, we could ensure enough equality of opportunity. I’d turn that around here and ask, in a liberal society where the teachers unions influence politicians, how do we ensure equality of opportunity when poor children are effectively trapped by law in a system that denies them equality of opportunity by denying them a decent education. This gets back to my critique of E.D.’s assumption, because it assumes a liberal society provides equality of opportunity, but here we see a liberal program that very clearly undermines such equality of opportunity, and an influential, mostly liberal, interest group that is fighting to keep that system in place.

              I’d like to see liberals spend some time working that one out–with something more meaningful than, “spend more money in those schools”–before they condemn libertarians for denying equality of opportunity. A sort of get your own house in order, mote-in-their-eye-log-in-your-own, issue.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                … I’d focus on building better video games. The public school system teaches people how to follow orders well, and work well in a factory. All well and good, but for thinking, you want people actively engaged — and that works best with video games.Report

          • Avatar Plinko in reply to James Hanley
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            says:

            I am not sure there’s any evidence whatsoever that private production of public education goods are in any way superior to what is produced by public institutions, excepting that they can be selective – which is at squarely at odds with the concept of public education.

            There is considerable evidence that lots of public education is subpar, meanwhile other public institutions are better, and some are even quite good.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to MFarmer
          Ignored
          says:

          ya. but you miss my critique:
          1) The poor will be provided for, with religious schools, which I object to, and were the original reason for public schools (make sure everybody gets taught the same thing, mingles together, and learns from each other)Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi
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            says:

            Sure, the structures that existed in the past are the only ones that could exist in the future.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              they’ve got more of a compelling interest in indoctrinating our youth. and i see the rich being able to successfully strip money away from “privatized” public education. “he’s got more than you, takeitaway!” seems to work well on most peasants.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                Having an incentive means they won’t go away. It doesn’t mean that’s all that will be there.

                And of course you’re totally ignoring the demand side of the equation.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                demand is kinda sticky when it comes to blackmail.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                Blackmail?

                Dare I ask what in the world you’re talking about, or should I just let this drop before it gets too crazy?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Rather than get into specifics, I’m going to talk a bit about game theory.

                It costs about $1000 (ongoing) to bribe a representative. That’ll buy you “preference that won’t harm my constituency too much.”

                What if you want more than that, though?

                If you want a representative to act against his constituent’s interest (to the point of impoverishing them, physically wounding them, and removing prospects of upward mobility — Mountaintop Removal explicity referenced, in case you’re wondering), you need to basically own the representative.

                There are two ways of owning a representative:
                1) buying them
                2) blackmailing them.

                Buying a representative carries with it the long term risk that they’ll “turn” to save their hides. Blackmail really doesn’t have the same risk.

                And it’s fairly easy to just throw an “important party” and either get someone drunk/drugged or frame them.

                It’s not that every company’s blackmailed every representative, just that most people have someone’s fingerprints on them.

                I hear tell this goes for economists too, strangely enough. If you’re a big enough shot, you’re going to wind up with someone’s fingers on you.Report

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

                A) That’s not game theory.

                B) I have no idea how you see that as applying to a system where individuals are given vouchers to direct to the school of their choice (i.e., consumer demand). (Unless you think Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern University are engaged in the bribing of congressmembers.)

                C) If bribery of government officials is a major concern of yours, perhaps you really ought to be a libertarian.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                James,
                … I appear to have wondered monsterously off subject.
                posting about blackmail isn’t terribly applicable to education (I think I thought I was on the thread about “let’s shift everything back to the states”)

                Can I be both a liberal and a libertarian? 😉 [shouting is heard from the prescriptionists amongst us.]Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley
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                says:

                Can I be both a liberal and a libertarian?

                To hell with prescriptivists. Why not. After all, isn’t that what liberaltarianism is about?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                … now back onto the original subject! I think that the wealthy and powerful will starve our public/private schools, leaving only religious schools not operating at a profit (it’s on their List. so’re veterans benefits. but I think that it’s an achievable goal for them). And of course british style “public schools” if you take my meaning.Report

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

      James K – agreed.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley
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    says:

    libertarians operate as part of an existing political coalition–namely, the right very broadly defined. Can we all agree that “libertarians who are active in politics, and their allies” have generally displayed less concern than the left, broadly defined, for inequality?

    Which kind of inequality? Outcome or opportunity? I’ve already said, explicitly, that libertarians tend to value equality of outcome less, so asking if we can agree to that is redundant at best. Equality of opportunity? No, I’m not ready to agree to that yet, but I’ll listen to an argument about it.

    However, can we for once have this discussion without commenters insisting on misrepresenting libertarianism? I.e., your “libertarianism is right wing” line. Let me rewrite your statement slightly, to demonstrate it’s fallaciousness.

    libertarians operate as part of an existing political coalition–namely, theright left very broadly defined. Can we all agree that “libertarians who are active in politics, and their allies” have generally displayed less more concern than the left right, broadly defined, for inequality humanity and fairness in the criminal justice system?

    Oh dears, it appears libertarians are obviously part of the political left, doesn’t it?Report

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

      Rats, my strikeout tags didn’t take. In the above quotation, mentally strike out every word that appears immediately before words in bold.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley
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      says:

      On the specific questions of taxation and social safety nets, I think it’s safe to say that libertarians are friends with Grover Norquist–they’re not uniformly right-wing, but a win for the right is generally seen as a good thing for libertarians. And that has distributional consequences that are at best unconcerned with equality of outcomes or opportunity. It’s not true on all matters, but on taxes and welfare spending, most libertarians have hitched their star to the conservative movement. Do you really disagree?Report

      • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Dan Miller
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        says:

        Libertarians are anti-conservative in several respects — when it comes to social conservativism, libertarians, in general, are against government intervention in women’s choice re: abortion, against government intervention in marriage, against the War on Drugs, against the Patriot Act, against government intervention with regards to pornography, and, although non-interventionism was once a conservative value, against foreign intervention such as the mideast wars which is a conservative and neo-conservative value.

        When it comes to conserving the values of statist government system, which has been valued by conservatives and liberals for almost a century, libertarians are anti-conservative here, too.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to MFarmer
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          says:

          Sure, but this post was specifically about economic inequality, taxation, and the social safety net (or at least that’s where I thought the focus lay).Report

          • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Dan Miller
            Ignored
            says:

            But, these issues have been under government control and that’s what I’m getting at — government solutions haven’t worked in regards to economic equality of opportunity, taxation or the safety net. Libertarians like myself want to empower the private sector by people keeping what they earn, finding innovative ways to fund a limited government and to provide private assistance to people in need — and to allow the private sector the creative space to develope insurance and retirement offerings better and more efficient than SS, unemployment benefits, Medicare, etc.Report

            • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to MFarmer
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              says:

              But–and this is my key point–we’re not talking about an ideal set of libertarian policies. We’re talking about libertarian-supported policies, as they get interpreted by our political system.

              Let me give you a concrete example: the 2001 Bush tax cuts. I hope we can all agree that these tax cuts were dramatically tilted towards the wealthy, and that they undercut both equality of opportunity and outcome (Outcome; for opportunity I’ll merely note that they zeroed out the estate tax).

              Nevertheless, most libertarians active in politics saw them as, if not ideal, then at least as a step in the right direction. Here is Cato calling for the permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts; here is Ron Paul claiming that not extending them would be “devestating”; here is the Mercatus Center calling for the tax cuts to be extended.

              Maybe, if there was some libertarian dicator who specified the tax code without input from anybody else, the resulting system would be more equal than the one we currently have. But the policies that libertarians actually advocate for, and pass in the real world? Those make society less equal, in terms of both outcomes and opportunities.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Dan Miller
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                says:

                But–and this is my key point–we’re not talking about an ideal set of libertarian policies.

                Really? By what right do you determine what the limits of the discussion are? E.D.’s question assumed an extant libertarian state, so that pretty much does mean we’re talking about an ideal set of libertarian policies as our starting point. So who are you to say that’s not what we’re talking about?

                the policies that libertarians actually advocate for, and pass in the real world? Those make society less equal, in terms of both outcomes and opportunities.
                Really? Advocating for equality for gays makes society less equal? Advocating for an end to an out-of-control police force that predominantly targets the poor and minorities makes society less equal?

                Seriously, Dan, you keep mentioning just a single issue, then you extrapolate from that to make judgements about the whole of libertarianism. That’s not legitimate.Report

            • Avatar Plinko in reply to MFarmer
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              says:

              haven’t worked in regards to economic equality of opportunity, taxation or the safety net.

              I think that’s an extremely tendentious statement. Obviously we do not live in a utopia, but I don’t think it’s arguable that over the last century or so the U.S has made considerable progress in terms of equality of opportunity while doing exactly the opposite of what you advocate.Report

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

        On the specific questions of taxation and social safety nets, I think it’s safe to say that libertarians are friends with Grover Norquist–

        Bullshit. Grover Norquist is defending specific tax exemptions and subsidies tooth and nail. Find me some libertarians who are defending subsidies. You’re insisting on the most simplistic, un-nuanced comparisons.

        they’re not uniformly right-wing, but a win for the right [on taxes] is generally seen as a good thing for libertarians.
        Yes, and a win for the left on same-sex marriage, the war on drugs, and an end to invasive wars is also generally seen as a good thing for libertarians.

        And that has distributional consequences that are at best unconcerned with equality of outcomes or opportunity.
        Yes, same-sex marriage has real distributional consequences. And end to the war on drugs would have real distributional consequences. And end to invasive wars would have real distributional consequences. And presumably you like those distributional consequences. And yet because on some issues you don’t agree with us, you paint us as skipping along hand-in-hand with the right.

        It’s not true on all matters, but on taxes and welfare spending, most libertarians have hitched their star to the conservative movement.
        Of course, because you liberals want far more taxes and welfare spending than we do. So obviously in that case libertarians are going to work with those who are more in agreement.

        But so fishing what!? That doesn’t mean libertarians are really right wing, unless you conveniently and very dishonestly–and I am beginning to think that is the issue–ignore a whole range of other issues.

        I have some Democratic friends who are staunch supporters of gun rights. I guess that makes them toadys of the right-wing, too?

        If you want to limit the analysis to just one issue out of many, you can all kinds of misrepresentations about people–George Bush supported immigration reform, so I guess he was really a good buddy of the left wing–but it’s just dishonest and shallow.

        Go read this and tell me if Jason Kuzknicki sounds like he’d be welcomed with open arms by conservatives. Or read this and tell me how conservative it sounds?

        Oh, but apparently being anti-authoritarian doesn’t count for determining whether we’re right-wing or not, only our stance on taxes and welfare? Go fish yourself. I’m tired of that crap.Report

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

          OK, clearly I’ve touched a nerve here. It wasn’t my intent to offend. But I stand by my statements that:

          0) Libertarians aren’t doctrinaire right-wingers–on important issues like gay marriage and the drug war, they’re in sync with the broad left (and I personally think their stances on these issues are pretty admirable!).

          1) Point 0 notwithstanding, on the issues of taxes and social spending, libertarians favor less of both. The real-life outcomes of this are generally increases in inequality, as in the Bush tax cuts, Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, Rick Perry’s flat tax, and basically every other tax plan put out by the broad conservative movement.

          2) This actually matters, because a pure libertarian plan of the type that Mfarmer argues would reduce inequality, simply can’t exist, in the same way that a pure social democratic or communist or pure what-have-you scheme can’t exist. Actual laws have to be passed through the actual Congress, and to do so must have the support of an existing or new political coalition that takes into account the constraints on government–both constitutional and political. Yes, it would be hypothetically possible for Congress to eliminate all tax deductions tomorrow. But assuming we both agree that this will never occur, what kind of things are worth advocating for?

          I’m not even contending that the libertarian position is necessarily illegitimate or wrong. I’m merely pointing out that if you think inequality is a problem, then libertarian solutions will generally make that problem worse. One option is to disagree that it is a problem, as murali does above; another is to claim that it is a problem, but making it worse is an acceptable price pay to accomplish other goals (this is my feeling towards lower tax rates, btw). But to claim that libertarian approaches to tax policy will have beneficial impacts on inequality is just unreasonable, IMHO.Report

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

            Yes, you did touch a nerve. I’ve become very sensitive to the on-going liberal distortion of libertarianism here because it’s dishonest, lazy, self-serving, and undermines any chance of real meaningful discussion between the two camps. It’s no different than if we libertarians kept accusing you liberals of all really being Marxists. (In fact there are lots of libertarians who will do that–I invite you to see if you can possibly have a meaningful debate with them. Maybe then you’ll see where I’m coming from.)

            OK, then, as to the claims in this particular post, they are well-stated, but I’m not going to address them because I still reject your effort to focus it on pushing policies through the extant U.S. Congress, because that’s not what E.D. is asking about.

            He’s trying to ask a serious question; he’s had trouble getting the threads to focus on that question, and here you are insisting that we discuss something other than his question. Go back and re-read E.D.’s original post and try addressing that. Out of courtesy to him, even if you don’t give a fig for a cantankerous git like me.Report

          • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Dan Miller
            Ignored
            says:

            It wasn’t my intent to offend.

            File this one away for those rare occasions when you do wish to offend, because it does a damn good job.

            Point 0 notwithstanding, on the issues of taxes and social spending, libertarians favor less of both.

            This statement, as Creon might say, is doing a lot of work. I want lower taxes and social spending, sure. But the implication here is that as a libertarian I should see a tax cut and love it, regardless of how it’s targeted. Because I’m not innumerate, for example, I strenuously oppose things like the mortgage tax deduction and the employer health insurance tax subsidy. I’m not particularly worked up about the Bush 43 tax cuts, although I see income taxes as mildly distortive, and perhaps I’m mistaken but I don’t see support of the Bush 43 tax cuts as a libertarian shibboleth.

            When it comes to social spending, sure, I’d like to see Medicare spending reined in before it becomes an existential threat. But otherwise… meh. Social safety nets bug me in the ideological sense that I wish I lived in a world in which they didn’t have to exist, but because I’m not a drooling moron I can actually look at budget projections and see where the big expenditures lie — long-term health care and short-term military spending, for the most part. Long-term health spending is hard to get rid of in a humane fashion, so I see sharper and sharper military cutbacks as the only plausible way forward in the next, say, five years. Go on, tell me I’m in league with the conservatives. (And wait ’til you hear what I want to say about immigration!)

            What offends me here is that you’re trying to shoehorn me into the conservative mould, then stuff a joint into my mouth.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Dan Miller
            Ignored
            says:

            Dan,

            You wrote: “I’m not even contending that the libertarian position is necessarily illegitimate or wrong. I’m merely pointing out that if you think inequality is a problem, then libertarian solutions will generally make that problem worse.”

            I respect your opinion, and on the surface you are correct. Libertarians recognize that chasing equal outcomes is the path to failure. Pursuit of equal outcomes leads to self amplifying state interference, it destroys the feedback mechanisms of free enterprise and science that drive prosperity and enlightenment, and it encourages parasitism and privilege seeking.

            Furthermore, libertarians are aware that there are two sources of social solutions — top down AND bottoms up. The libertarian argument for lower taxes recognizes that capital can often/usually do more good from the bottom up than the top down. And do more good is especially true for the poor.

            Does the libertarian argument make sense to you? Where is it wrong? Your feedback is important to me.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger
              Ignored
              says:

              To riff off of Roger’s comment…

              Dan, can you specify what you mean by equality? Equality of outcome or of opportunity?

              If it’s equality of outcome, we’ll hardly have any room to talk about the issue, and we’ll just have to agree to talk about sports or movies or our favorite travel destinations. For libertarians equality of outcomes is out because it requires such massive state (top-down, as Roger correctly puts it) intervention in darn near everything.

              If we’re talking about equality of opportunity, I wonder if “equality” is not really the proper word we’re looking for. How could anyone possibly equalize the opportunities my kids will have available, compared to the opportunities Bill Gates’ kids will have available, compared to the opportunities a kid in South Central L.A. will have available?

              Aren’t we really interested in expanding opportunity? We can’t make opportunities as realizable for the South Central kid as for the billionaire’s kid, but we can try to ensure that they have real opportunities.

              Obviously government can help with this, primarily through ensuring education and adequate child nutrition and health care. As a libertarian, I ‘fess up on that one. But have you thought about the ways in which government policies limit people’s opportunities? Is it that hard to realize that the devastating decline in stability of black families in America is largely a consequence of (perhaps well-intended, but ultimately harmful) public policies?

              Consider our agricultural policies, which by ensuring subsidies year after year, allegedly to support family farmers, increases the market price of farmland to the point where it’s increasingly difficult for anyone but an agri-corp to buy it? (And, yes, American liberals support our farm policies, even though they drive up food prices, harming poor people.)

              Public monopoly schools in poor cities are failing, depriving those kids of precisely the type of opportunity government is supposed to be so good at providing. But liberals battle against the one thing that historically has been shown to increase quality–competition. I’ve talked with many liberals who rail against monopolies, but then instantly defend the education monopoly because “it’s different” (not that I’ve ever heard a good argument for why it’s different).

              Small businesses in America are declining–we now have a smaller proportion of our economy and our jobs occurring in small businesses than most western European countries. Regulation is a large part of that; regulation largely championed by liberals, but which works to limit the opportunity for self-employment.

              The error in liberal thinking is to assume that opportunity disappears in the absence of strongly regulatory government and to ignore the extent to which such a government ultimately destroys opportunity.

              Big corporations frequently don’t mind regulation because they can lobby the regulators to write them in a way that is favorable to extant businesses and limit potential start-up competitors.

              By contrast, competitive markets have repeatedly created opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t have had it. Heck, the end of the feudal system in England was caused by a labor shortage that drew serfs off the land (illegally) and into the cities. In the absence of those expanding markets, the lack of opportunity for serfs would have continued on. And government did nothing to help them, quite the contrary. Not that I’m suggesting a liberal would support a feudal system (although, according to you, the serfs would have had no right to seek better opportunities), but it’s important to recognize that in that case it was solely the market that created opportunities.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                James,

                To keep the riff going until Dan rejoins… It is amusing to read your summary of unintended consequences from top down interference and compare it with the angst on middle class stagnation on the OWS/Crony thread.

                Most of what they complain about — education, housing and health care are the very things the BIG KAHUNA has its hands in. I pay more in property tax than I do in interest on my mortgage.

                And as for playing the regulation game, I could go on for hours about how that actually works. I spent most of my life weaving through and influencing financial regulations. The do gooders NEVER get what they expect. As the regulations became more and more complex (even when not something we wanted) it always hurt smaller companies with fewer lawyers and actuaries more than it hurt us.) Inefficient large companies with large legal/lobby staffs are privileged by over-regulation. Entrepreneurs and consumers are crushed.Report

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

      I can’t really agree with the last bit. While I do see libertarians rightly objecting to the War on Drugs, I don’t see them insisting that states like Texas provide for competent and adequately funded defense counsel in capital cases. Is it a coincidence that the first reduces government expenditures and the second increases then?Report

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

        I support more-than-adequately-funded public defenders’ offices, but I’ll accept I’m out of the libertarian mainstream on that and accept your point. No, the spending issue surely isn’t a coincidence.

        On the other hand, a libertarian would tell you that if you ended the war on drugs the need for public defenders would diminish a lot–the same amount of spending we currently have would go much further.

        So how does a liberal justify putting more effort into demanding increases in public defender spending than into ending the war on drugs?Report

      • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        While I do see libertarians rightly objecting to the War on Drugs, I don’t see them insisting that states like Texas provide for competent and adequately funded defense counsel in capital cases.

        You have heard of Radley Balko, right? And Reason Magazine?

        Or perhaps you’re arguing that they’re insufficiently representative of libertarian thought?Report

        • Avatar Plinko in reply to bluntobject
          Ignored
          says:

          It’s easier to just deal with the weakest arguments.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to bluntobject
          Ignored
          says:

          Given the libertarian antipathy toward state power over the individual, I suppose a well-funded PD system is one of the government programs a libertarian wouldn’t find it too hard to justify. Collectively, we probably don’t support it loudly enough, though. It’s so easy to let Radley do all the work because he’s so damned eloquent.Report

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

            You have heard of Radley Balko, right? And Reason Magazine?

            And their calls for strengthening the parts of the government that protect individuals?>Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling
              Ignored
              says:

              I think it’s more that they argue that the government acknowledge that individuals have rights and engage in restraint from doing various things that violate the rights of said individuals.

              It’s not “we need a second government strong enough to prevent the first government from shooting dogs!” but “we need the first government to refrain from shooting dogs”.

              Then they start talking about all this crazy shit about “incentives” and “the drug war” without mentioning “the children” even once!Report

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

              And their calls for strengthening the parts of the government that protect individuals?

              Sigh. You were given the keywords to do the search yourself. But here, in the spirit of generosity, I’ll do some of the work for you.

              From Radley Balko, writing for Reason:

              If we’re serious about giving everyone a fair crack at justice, indigent defendants need access to the same sorts of resources prosecutors have, including their own independent experts and investigators. If we’re going to generously fund the government’s efforts to imprison people, we need to ensure that everyone the government pursues is adequately defended and protected from prosecutorial overreach.

              Or try David Boaz:

              But our real concern is power. What kind of power does the government wield over the people? Powerful state institutions tend to be large, but that doesn’t mean that a larger state is necessarily exercising more power. Imagine a small town that adds two officers to its police force. Now it has more police officers, and that costs more money; the government is “larger.” But if the officers now do a better job of arresting violent criminals and protecting the lives and property of the people—and refrain from arresting or hassling non-criminals—then the government has not expanded its power. Indeed, better eight officers protecting lives and property than six officers enforcing drug laws and blue laws. We should focus on what is actually important—the exercise of arbitrary power over others.

              You know, Mike, you could actually take the time to read what libertarians actually say, instead of relying on your stock strawman. It’s easier, I know, but as with most things, you get about as much value out of it as you put into it.Report

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

                The problem is, smart libertarians may say that. Hell, they may even believe it. But, the vast majority of libertarians then turn around and vote for the guy who will cut their taxes above all else. I have no problem with big L libertarians who say what they say and vote accordingly. My problem is small-l libertarians who are the majority of libertarians whose overriding concern is cutting taxed and spending.

                Yes, I’m well aware there are many forms of libertarians out there, but when it comes down to it, libertarians such as Jason and other people on this site eventually have to deal with the fact that most of their fellow travelers aren’t people truly committed to liberty and worried about government encroachment, but selfish assholes worried a poor person might get a cent more than they ‘deserve.’Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Let’s do a little happy fun word substitution:

                I’m well aware there are many forms of (political types) out there, but when it comes down to it, (political types) such as (person) and other people on this site eventually have to deal with the fact that most of their fellow travelers aren’t people truly committed to (ideal) and worried about (downside), but (bad people) worried about (strawman).Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Selfish assholes exist. I think that’s an important datum. There are a lot of them, which is also important.
                I do not believe we need a system whose incentives are rigged to benefit selfish assholes.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                Kimmi,

                Then why do you insist on designing a system that the selfish assholes can expropriate? The exploiters love useful idiots (on both sides) that give them more power in the guise of stopping the “bad” guys.

                You don’t stop selfish assholes by empowering new, more powerful selfish assholes.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Sunshine is the best disinfectant.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Jesse,

                We have given clear explanations why cutting taxes and spending are better for prosperity and especially for the poor. Why do you insist on calling that selfish? I support lower taxes for others (I don’t even pay income tax any more). Could you try to address our arguments?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                I’ve addressed the arguments before. Here’s my point. Let’s take two candidates.

                A – Raise taxes, raise social spending, repeal most of the bad parts of the PATRIOT Act, install public financing of elections, make the borders more open, and decriminalize drugs.

                B – Cut taxes and social services greatly, increase the military state, keep the WoD at the current state, and try to close the borders as much as possible.

                My problem is I have no doubt most of the libertarians here would vote for Candidate A, but most libertarians would vote for Candidate B.

                That’s not a problem with other philosophies – 95% of liberals will vote for the ‘liberal’ candidate, 95% of conservatives will vote for the ‘conservative’ candidate, but the question of who the libertarian candidate is mostly defaults to, ‘who will cut spending and taxes more’ for most libertarians. Now, this isn’t all the fault of libertarians. It’s also the fault of a two-party system.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Jesse,

                Fair enough. But with a two party system, and two imperfect choices, siding with the least objectionable does not make one selfish. Nor does not wanting to pay higher taxes make one a “selfish asshole.”Report

              • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s not a problem with other philosophies – 95% of liberals will vote for the ‘liberal’ candidate, 95% of conservatives will vote for the ‘conservative’ candidate, but the question of who the libertarian candidate is mostly defaults to, ‘who will cut spending and taxes more’ for most libertarians. Now, this isn’t all the fault of libertarians. It’s also the fault of a two-party system.

                I’d say it’s contingent on this particular two-party system, where you’ve constructed a “liberal” party and a “conservative” party and then pointed out (correctly) that neither one is a “libertarian” party for which all libertarians will consistently vote. That’s not a problem with libertarianism-the-philosophy. It would be easy to construct another hypothetical, with a “libertarian” and a “conservative” candidate, and complain that 5% of liberals would vote for the anti-war libertarian while 95% would vote for the law-and-order conservative.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger,
                no, but it does make a good indication on who are selfish assholes and who are not.

                Fifty or so black kids show up on Halloween in my neighborhood (our landlords give out books) — not that they’re from our neighborhood, mind.

                They do NOT go to the equivalent Republican neighborhood.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                i dunno. I kinda LIKE Acadia. And veteran’s benefits. And I kinda don’t like the foolz you’re carrying water for.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                Kimmi,

                Different opinions are healthy. These opinions will lead to different social arrangements. Some will do well and some won’t. Some more prosperous. Others more economically equal. Some will just be full of a-holes.

                My hope is that you can choose yours and I can choose mine. If you are right and I am wrong, will you let me change my mind and join… if I ask real nicely?

                I will of course always keep the door open and the light on…Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger,
                if I’m right and you’re wrong, you’d better be prepared to bring more than nice words. But I’m gloomy today, so ask Northie, or a more optimistic liberal.

                Kindly let me know how removing our ability to go to our national parks, which are net prosperity generators, is a good idea? Or are you not on board with that one — yet?

                Strikes me that if we slash veteran’s benefits, we get societal rejects (even more so), rather than crack troops. Seems like those might be more prone to abuses.

                And I’m not even touching the Bonus Army. Yet.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Jesse, do you have any idea how many libertarians favored Obama over McCain in the last election? I have no hard numbers, but on a personal level most of the libertarians I talk to preferred Obama, whether or not they voted for him, voted for a third-party, or didn’t vote at all.

                Now the real problem in your analogy, for me, is that it still doesn’t provide enough information. That’s a bit unfair to you, so I don’t mean that really critically. It’s just that I’d need more detail about what kinds of taxes and spending were increased or decreased. I get where you’re coming from, and it’s a legitimate first pass, but the candidates are still too much of paper cutouts for me to really say.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                … this seems fair (asking at least a little more deeply than paper cutout. maybe wooden cutout, aka potemkin village).

                Did most of them vote democratic in 2006? (a better test, considering the psyops on McCain.)Report

              • Avatar bluntobject in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                when it comes down to it, libertarians such as Jason and other people on this site eventually have to deal with the fact that most of their fellow travelers aren’t people truly committed to liberty and worried about government encroachment, but selfish assholes worried a poor person might get a cent more than they ‘deserve.’

                That’s a… masterful job of framing the argument. Sticking within your terms, we’re reduced to arguing about the nature of people (a) who aren’t represented on this site and (b) whom we both dislike. Well done, sir.

                In all seriousness, there’s a lot of concern on the libertarian side of the fence over entitlement programmes. Part of this is basic numeracy and understanding of (a) demographics and (b) compound interest, but a depressingly large amount of it is “OMG ONOZ, some guy on welfare just bought a flatscreen TV with taxpayer dollars!” The liberaltarian movement (which I’ve more or less signed onto) is a direct reaction to the second part, which you (rightly) criticize.

                I respect your concerns about “cut mah taxes” libertarians, and share many or perhaps even most of them, but I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that they have gone entirely unaddressed.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to bluntobject
                Ignored
                says:

                oddly, though I am also a liberaltarian (as kos describes himself as, I might add…*snerk*), I describe myself first as a leftist/liberal.
                Flagwaving says a lot about people, I think, though it’s in no small part because I’m a contrarian/reaction-oriented person that I describe myself that way.Report

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

                Jesse,

                “Most,” “most,” “most, ” “I’m certain.”

                Nothing like a little hard data to back up your claims.Report

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

                Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of academic papers on hypothetical election scenarios. 🙂

                I only have my opinions after dealing with libertarians on the Internet (because that’s the only place you can find them in large numbers outside of Ron Paul rallies) since I was a teenager, for the large majority of them, it always come back to taxes and spending, not liberty in general.

                So yes, it’s anecdotal evidence, but notice that unlike other things I’ve said, the other libertarians on this site aren’t saying it’s untrue or beyond the pale to make that argument.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, is that what you’re waiting for?

                Dude, you’re totally wrong. I have no idea where you hang out with libertarians because the ones in your head aren’t like any of the ones that I’ve met (online or otherwise).Report

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

                So, most of the libertarians you know would vote for Politician A in my example?

                (And no welching by saying they wouldn’t vote or vote for a third party or they’d spoil their vote.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak
                Ignored
                says:

                Thanks to the benefits of the third party system, most of the Libertarians I know *HAVE* voted for the candidates most likely to have talked about ending the drug war, ending PATRIOT, or opening the borders.

                (Hell… I’ve even met Libertarians who voted for Nader in 2000! I’m one of them!)

                If you want me to demonstrate that Libertarians would be more likely to vote for Candidate A than Candidate B without pointing out third-party candidates who are actually not that different from Candidate A, I’m going to ask you to name names from recent elections.Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    I can’t find anything to disagree with in this post. I would only add that this conclusion in wardsmith’s post immediately antecedent informs much of my libertarianism:

    “There’s (mostly) nothing wrong with being law-abiding. Making the laws easier to abide by seems an obvious solution”

    This applies across the spectrum, not just in criminal law, but also regulation, and yes, redistribution.Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    Erik, with each post I see you moving closer to the Dark Side I inhabit. We will have to get you fitted for a uniform soon.Report

  8. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    So I wrote this and then the day exploded. I will get to at least some of these comments as soon as possible. Sorry.Report

  9. Avatar dL
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve addressed (1) Kain’s argument and (2) coercion in the 2 posts below

    http://rulingclass.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/no-accountability-in-liberal-democracy-a-reply-to-e-d-kain/

    http://rulingclass.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/free-market-and-coercion/

    Summary:

    If we define coercion as a form of a moral claim, then I would concede that all social interactions(and contractual arrangements) are “coercive.” Cooperation itself entails coercion, although not in the sense that the power of the gun is necessary to enforce it, but rather in the sense that to enjoy the benefits of it(the surplus), the human agent must constrain it’s actions as a pure maximizer.

    The libertarian sense of coercion, however, involves a 2nd order qualification. For many, this is prefacing cooperative arrangements with the term “voluntary.” I, myself, take a bit of a different approach, more rooted in the the Lockean proviso as a boundary constraint than in, say, NAP.

    An example: “Marriage”

    In a first-order sense, marriage is a “coercive contract,” in that both agents must accept some moral constraints on actions as pure maximizers. Agents concede some moral constraints in order to enjoy the greater benefit of the cooperation(“the marriage”).

    Libertarians would not call this a “coercive contract” unless it was an involuntary one. I, on the other hand, would place the more pertinent condition on the ability to freely exit the arrangement if it became a bad bargain for either agent.

    The Lockean proviso is that the utility of the cooperative bargain for each agent must be greater the utility of the defection state for each agent. If the utility of the bargain is less than the utility of the defection state, then the agent should be able to exit the bargain without punishment.

    Coercion then is the use of force that prevents agents from (1) exiting bad bargains and/or (2) bargaining to improve one’s utility.

    From a social theory standpoint, this is what libertarianism–or should I say the “libertarian principle”–actually pertains to.

    So, in our marriage example, the libertarian principle would demand “liberal divorce laws” and no laws prohibiting marriage for any moral contractual agents(for example, gay marriage).

    Now in your defense of the State and “redistribution,” you claim need we need “redistribution” for “stability.” But it is a provable proposition that your “redistribution bargain” is going to make some agents worse off. This is so because the State, as a monopoly, is a creator of monopoly rents and contrived economic rents. This type of economic redistribution makes some agents worse off, relative to the defection state–i.e, no redistributive bargain–even if your bargain includes the ideal income transfer programs you ascribe to.

    It is likely a provable proposition that your “redistributive bargain” cannot allow agents to freely exit. The stability of it then relies on coercion to enforce compliance by those agents for which it is a bad bargain. The “redistributive bargain” is a violation of the libertarian constraint, and coercion is the the use of force to enforce the violations of the libertarian principle.

    If we return to our marriage example, it is social conservatives who employ a stability rationale to argue against “liberal divorce laws” and argue for prohibitions against “gay marriage.” This stability argument applies to the institution of marriage and the necessity of the stability of this institution for the stability of the social order itself and human cooperation.

    This socially conservative contention is rightly laughed at as bogus. It asserts more or less asserts that human cooperation and human cooperative arrangements remaining beneficial are a threat to human cooperation.

    However, you argument for the need of the stability of a “redistributive bargain” is more or less the same type of argument. It is a very conservative argument regarding the foundation of human cooperation. You view it as “pragmatist” and moderate. I see it as conservative.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley
    Ignored
    says:

    And once again, E.D.’s actual issue of interest goes undiscussed. Sorry, Erik, I’m sure it’s frustrating.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
      Ignored
      says:

      James, let’s pick it up again. EDK suggests in the OP that ‘balance’ between libertarian ideals of a market free from price-deflecting government interference and a society “that is fair enough and humane enough to be sustainable” is the key. You object that the downside characterization of libertarianism – as being ‘unfair, inhumane and unstable’ – is question begging.

      Let’s go through it.

      Unfairness: are “radically non-ideal” exchanges unfair? I think you’ve essentially conceded the point, being careful to distinguish unfairness from immoral. That is, I think you’ve been arguing that a level of unfairness is built in to the libertarian model, but that that unfairness is justified – and tolerable – just so long as explicit uses of coercion don’t create it. So, I take it, you concede that point.

      Inhumane: For my part, I think it’s just a datum of some sweatshop labor situations that they are prima facie inhumane. You object to this by claiming the judgment is question begging. I think this reveals a fundamental difference in values between us. But your argument here, it seems to me, is to deny that my judgment is legitimate when certain conditions are met: namely, rational expectation of positive utility given the alternatives. My response to this is (and has been) that even if the situation is rationally agreed to, it doesn’t follow that the situation agreed to is (in this case) a humane one (or broadly moral one). I think that’s just a fundamental difference in how we view things. On my view, subjectively determined rationality isn’t sufficient to ensure morality. (But as I’ve conceded before, I don’t know – at this point! – how to argue against your view here.) So wrt libertarian systems being inhumane – for example, insofar as sweatshop labor is tolerable and justifiable in and of itself – I think moral judgments can differ based antecedent value commitments and value prioritization.

      Insofar as unfairness and inhumanity are built into the libertarian model (not necessarily that a libertarian would concede the latter), libertarian societies will be more unstable than those with less unfairness and tolerance for inhumanity (assuming the tolerance continues to express itself in actual cases).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        Stillwater,

        No, I’m not going to concede much here. You’re assuming the default outcome of a libertarian society is sweatshops. But those sweatshops are occurring in systems that never have been libertarian. In fact I would argue that a libertarian could praise markets precisely because they are helping to break down the old authoritarian structure of those societies, even if not instantaneously (again, see Taiwn and Korea as examples, or even 17th/18th century England).

        What would a mature libertarian society look like? If in fact it still is composed largely of sweatshops, I would agree it did not meet my ideals. But on what basis do we make that claim that it would still be composed of sweatshops?

        Again we’re back to the assumption that a libertarian society would necessarily have such terrible inequality and injustice that it would be unacceptable to the people, hence unsustainable. But you haven’t made a good argument about that, and I’m not going to validate the assumptions by operating on their ground.

        I do want to get to E.D.’s actual question eventually, because in fact I may not be so terribly far off from him. But I, at least, won’t go there until this critical assumption is better justified. Because ultimately, asking a libertarian to work off that assumption is no different than asking a liberal to argue from the assumption that a liberal society is necessarily a socialist one. It’s demanding that the other side make a justification for something they don’t necessarily believe is true.

        And while you’re busy attacking the “unfairness and inhumanity” that’s allegedly built into the libertarian model, you’re assuming that a liberal model with an active government will necessarily be more fair and more humane. I find that assumption just as problematic, because the moment you legitimize an active government you make control of it a goal for everyone with an agenda of social control–whether left-leaning or right-leaning. I think there’s a real logical problem that’s not being considered when you say, “We’ll give group X a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and that will result in more humane and just treatment of all.”Report

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

          In the interest of trying to catch up with where you and Stillwater are in this discussion, let me know where you would be on the following James.

          A set of differences exist. People are unequal biologically, as well as in initial opportunity (the kinds of countries, locales, families they are born into). These differences usually lead to more broad inequalites, like disparties in, what should we call it, intellectual effectiveness? In various relationship attributes and socialability, etc.

          Now my understanding is that because libertarianism, popularly understood, aims at restricting broad forms of external coercion, i.e. some collective enforcing its arbitrary will, most of these inequalities would play out, and presumably, though constantly in flux, there would be an approximate equilibrium of distribution of people on economic and social scales.

          Now the two pronged question for libertariansm seems to be this: what degree of inequality would exist, i.e. how streteched out would this distribution be, and then, with that in mind, would that distribution be healthy, lots of mobility and activity, people going up/people going down, etc., or would it require certain tweeks to make the distribution perform more optimally.

          The question of how “humane” this distribution is, for many libertarians it at least appears, somewhat tacked on at the end by liberals and not wholly important, because defining “humane” is messy and not consentual, and that our best chance of both finding out what “humane” is, as well as achieving it, lies in the fertile chaos of the lively and unfettered (read: limited coercion) distribution.

          Is that at all on target?

          As an endnote, I’d wonder if the sweatshop as means to an end is what’s in question here. That is, pockets of extreme coercion in particular cases will arise, but also lead to their own undoing, kind of like air bubbles while frying pancakes. So that while Stillwater doesn’t see the existence of a sweatshop as a viable outcome, no matter how short lived, libertarians might be looking at the morality of the “flow,” or outcomes over time, rather than at any one discrete time frame.Report

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

            E.C.,

            At a quick read, very much on target, and very fair.

            I think it’s quite likely that there would be a lot of mobility in such a society. This is all sort of suppositional, of course, but please bear with me on that, since we don’t in fact have any truly libertarian societies to look to.

            Let’s start with downward mobility. There’s an old saying that the first generation earns the wealth and the second generation spends it. Without necessarily being strictly true, it’s clearly something that can happen. Having been given something causes a person to value it less dearly, and eases the need to strive. It’s not hard for great fortunes to dissipate over time (especially if the family size grows). Also, genetics matters but is not determinative, both because it’s only part of what we are and because any forefather/mother’s genetic legacy is diluted by half in each succeeding generation (how many Wilt Chamberlain, Jr.’s are there in the NBA?). Consider the great English tradition of poverty-stricken landed gentry. Only their social status remained, and even that diminished over time.

            As to upward mobility. Traditionally throughout history it was governments that limited upward mobility, because it is a threat to the privileged classes. Consider England again–where was upward mobility most possible? In its colonies, of course, which were–compared to perfidious Albion–relatively libertarian (economically, at least).

            The great value of competitive markets is that they create so many opportunities that someone with drive and ingenuity can exploit. I have something of an avocation of looking for obscure market niches (mobile Lasik surgery; multiple deer hunting magazines, each targeted to a different sub-audience) –they go mostly unnoticed, but when you start looking it’s amazing how many there are, and how often they are occupied by people who didn’t grow up with special privileges. But in closed, tightly regulated, markets where governments create barriers to entry, it is far harder to find, or create, and fill a niche. It takes a government to enforce a cartel–markets generally abhor them.

            Understand that for relatively minarchist libertarians, this all takes place within a framework of the rule of law that enforces contracts, punishes theft, etc. Government is not absent, but it’s role is far more limited.

            Now let me push for a case that is further than I might be willing to personally go. Let’s say government plays no part in education–you get it through private means or not at all. Does it follow that vast swarms of people would remain uneducated? Not necessarily, although we likely would find more professional education and less liberal arts education. Apprenticeships provide education (and, frankly, for many people even today an apprenticeship would provide all the education they either need or desire, and at far less cost). Groups of people could join together to pay for a schoolteacher. And for those people who moved themselves up to a higher economic level than their parents were at, there would probably be a willingness to invest in more education for their children than they themselves received (look at the behaviors of many immigrants to America). And of course churches and other charity organizations will provide some education as they always have (while walking in Placencia, Belize, for example, I passed by the, iirc, one-room Presbyterian schoolhouse). And for me this focus on inter-generational advancement, as you allude to in your final paragraph, is an important point.

            Would that be as satisfactory as a liberal desired? Obviously not. Would it be ideal? I don’t think that’s a meaningful measure, since no other system will be ideal, either. But would it result in such inequality that the system was unsustainable? It might–people as a whole might be worse than I think they are; the inter-generational rigidity of wealth might be stronger than I believe it to be. But I do firmly believe that nothing has ever managed to keep the poor “in their place” across generations quite like government, and not just ill-intentioned governments but even well-meaning but blundering governments (and libertarians are rather convinced about governments’ propensity to blundering–they are, after all, run by humans).

            Government obviously can help with social mobility, but it’s certainly not guaranteed to. And one of the things I think liberals need to grapple with is the recognition that when they create a government capable of doing great things, it attracts those who want to use that power for their own benefit. If we could keep the right type of liberals in power, perhaps all would be fine; but how will liberals ensure that the great machine they’ve created won’t be captured by more nefarious interests? How do you ensure conservatives never capture that power? How do you ensure that elite economic interests don’t entrench themselves by bestowing favors upon those who are in power, and working to undermine those people in power who don’t reinforce their entrenchment?

            I honestly think the liberal approach is ultimately self-defeating because it relies on creating a machine that its opponents will lust to control, and by creating a myriad of regulations to try to ensure fairness they will create a bewildering maze that only the most skilful can navigate, ultimately helping to reinforce the inferior position of the lower classes. They absolutely do, in their efforts to help, create dependency. Look at welfare rolls, for example–at their peak we had over 14 million people on AFDC, but after it was reformed into TANF the numbers plunged to under 2 million in less than a decade. Obviously that number has increased during the recent recession, but adding the current number of welfare recipients to the number receiving unemployment does not get us back up to the number previously receiving welfare (and that’s not even adding in the number that received unemployment back in ’94). We in fact were taking care of people who could take care of themselves; and it’s not that they were lazy sots sucking off the public teat so much as that we had inculcated in them the idea that they had no other options. I think liberals as a whole still have not taken that lesson seriously and pondered what it really means, in terms of lost wealth and wasted resources, and in terms of the denigration of those individuals’ spirits.

            And let’s not even get started on housing projects…

            So in sum, yes, I think there’s reason to be more optimistic than liberals are about social mobility in a libertarian society, but also less reason to be optimistic than liberals are about mobility in a liberal society.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              I think there is a need for a more activist government then you do. Certainly people who i disagree with may gain control of that activist gov and do things that i think are stupid. But that is democracy. I’ll advocate for the liberal policies that i think are best, but i’ll be damned if that means i think i always get my way. Democracy means nobody always gets their way. i may not always like it but there it is.

               

               Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to greginak
                Ignored
                says:

                greginak,

                I hear you, and rather than argue against you, I’ll just note that your comment brings us right back around to where this began several threads ago, and explains in part why I don’t value democracy enough to willingly turn over much of my life to its control.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Down here.

    Part of the problem is Action A. If you think that Action A is a matter of taste rather than a matter of morality, you’re likely to be called a “moral relativist” by someone who considers it a matter of morality.Report

  12. Avatar E.D. Kain
    Ignored
    says:

    This has been a fascinating thread and, I admit, a bit of a daunting one. Thanks.Report

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