A Response to ‘Democracy, Coercion, and Liberty’

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633 Responses

  1. Avatar pete.mack says:

    Madam, would you sleep with me for £1M?

    How about £5?

    What kind of lady do you think I am?

    We’ve already decided that; now we’re simply negotiating a price.

    Your argument is indistinguishable from Rawls’, except in degree. Its the veil of ignorance seen from the perspective of an optimst.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Well, I always thought Rawls misunderstood his own theory, and that the veil of ignorance actually led to a more libertarian perspective than he did.  I mean, hell, if I don’t know what position I’m going to have in a society then I damn well want to put some really severe checks on the government so I don’t end up as one of <a href=”http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2005/06/10/zimbabwe-bulldozers050610.html?ref=rss”>these folks</a>.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        James, I agree with you on Rawl’s veil. I would choose a creative, productive society with plenty of liberty and reasonable safety nets that encourage self sufficiency.

        Indeed, the key to a sustainable and compassionate society is to make Rawl’s choice come to life. People need the right of choice — to select among competing institutions, and then live with their choices (or change them).

        We can argue ideology forever and never change a single mind. Allowing people to live with their choices will allow us to learn.

         Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Curiously, I just began reading the personal essays of James Buchanan, the founder of public choice theory (which formed the basis for my approach above).  To my surprise, he explicitly noted that discovering Rawls’ work in the ’50s, especially the veil of ignorance, helped him feel that he was on the right track in his own work.Report

        • Avatar D.A. Ridgely says:

          I could easily be mistaken, but I am unaware of Rawls’ use of the notion of the Veil of Ignorance until A Theory of Justice published in 1971. Earlier drafts were circulating prior to publication,  Indeed, I read chapters from one such draft as an undergraduate. Prior to ATOJ, Rawls was probably best known for his article “Two Concepts of Rules” (1955)  which was taken at the time to be a defense of sorts of Rule Utilitarianism. It’s a small point, in any case, and I make no pretenses of being a historian of philosophy.

          As you may recall, my primary objection to Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is what I take to be his inadequate defense of what one does and does not know in this hypothetical state, the result being that Rawls ends up tacitly assuming certain morally relevant prejudices of exactly the sort the Veil is supposed to avoid.  Otherwise completely rational and self-interested people vary, for example, in their aversion to risk.  If Rawls permits this variety behind the Veil, it is not at all clear that all rationally self interested people will opt for the sort of society preferred by liberally inclined philosophy professors.  If he doesn’t permit it, he’s stacking the deck by importing or imputing the fairly high level of risk aversion he takes to be rational.

          Anyway, my two cents.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            D.A.

            I read somewhere but don’t remember where that Rawls even admitted he established his (awkward) assumptions in order to get the answer he wanted.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            DAR,

            I could easily be mistaken, but I am unaware of Rawls’ use of the notion of the Veil of Ignorance until A Theory of Justice published in 1971. Earlier drafts were circulating prior to publication,

            I wrote carelessly.  Buchanan was referring to early developments in Rawls’ work that later crystallized into the explicitly named veil.

            I do, now that you remind me, remember your critique of Rawls.  It sounds right to me, although in all honesty I couldn’t bring myself to read Rawls’ carefully.  I do remember my more left-leaning grad school acquaintances criticizing Rawls for magically ending up with a conclusion that remarkably resembled the U.S. system, rather than something distinctly more left-wing.Report

  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    I need to read this again.  Okay, a couple more times, actually.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      I’ve read this several times and simply regret that the entire conversation has gotten so big while I dithered that I have no place to jump in. 489 posts and counting. Any six dozen of them would be the kernel of another excellent OP or ten.

      Good work James.Report

  3. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    “Hey, you want to help us stop the War on Drugs?”

    “No thanks, you’ve failed to come up with the solution to a problem that no society has ever faced, and that no society is likely to face in our lifetimes.  Therefore I can’t take you seriously.”

    Jesus wept.Report

    • Avatar bluntobject says:

      Oh, if only.  I see a lot more of this:

      “Hey, you want to help us stop the War on Drugs?”

      “Ewww, you’ve got Koch brothers cooties!  Get away!”Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      Given the electoral weight of the libertarian movement, isn’t this akin to “Daddy and me killed the bear!”?Report

    • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

      I knew deep down you weren’t an atheist. 78% of chess grandmasters are theists. However, if you are, in fact, an atheist, there’s still plenty of time,no problem–just takes a dunk or two. And NO–no water boarding!Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        Oh Christ.

        “Jesus wept” is an expression of severe, world-shaking exasperation.  It’s not an affirmation of faith.

        I am an atheist, and an atheist I will remain.Report

        • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

          Of course I understand the multiple shades of meaning when using, “wept”–I actually physically felt it in your usage of it–how about, “Jason wept”? Jason wept when the doors to God’s Kingdom were abruptly closed in his face. He immediately sought out St. Joseph to have his soul cleansed and borne again. Oh God, now you really might have wept.

          Jason, there really aren’t many Poles who are atheist. When did this most distressing malady afflict you? You can be helped, sir. I can sense deep, existential terror in you when you comment on this disease because you don’t want to be rejected, or have your hopes dashed again. The abyss can be terrifying. An uncreated universe is terror to the tenth power. Either way, this is one helluva trip we’re all on or in, and one of us will be right. Please do stop by for a visit if I turn out to be correct. And if you’re correct? That’s a hard one. I guess if that phone doesn’t ring that’s me calling you and cursing you for eternity!

          By the way, could you PLEASE help me with something?? Pretty, pretty, PRETTY please? One day I’m banned, another day I’m not banned and so on and so on. I think I’ve made a sincere, good-faith effort to temper my remarks, be civil, polite and remain on-topic. Yet, I’m still banned. It’s deeply frustrating and I have no idea what redemptive behavior I must additionally exhibit. I’m quite sure 99% of my remarks and comments go unread, so the toxic fallout can’t be that deleterious to ongoing conversations. What’s more, even you have to admit, Libertarians banning flakes and oddballs is the height of absurdity. What’s left, if that is the case?

          One other thing, Jason. Just recently heard Bobby Fischer’s rant following 9/11. Wow–my goodness. He was just living in the aether’s. Bottomless madness. Everything is the Jews in that warped but gifted brain of his. It’s a very interesting trajectory of him spiraling in such a severe and downward spin. Is it a common thing that playing chess in such a remote, elevated sphere leads one more easily to mentally unbalanced states? A crackpot that really cracked. After Deep Blue left Kasparov with half his hair pulled out and his clothes ripped to shreds, is that the final word? The machine won, the human race vanquished forever? Naturally, Fischer was blaming the Jews for the whole debacle, claiming Deep Blue
          “cheated” and was controlled Jews in far away places. For a machine to be capable of “cheating” would be the ultimate milestone for artificial intelligence–I think.

          Sorry for the length of this and THANKS for any help you may be able to provide regarding my banning. I would be deeply grateful, honorable sir–really.

          And what’s with Polish jokes? First of all, the most beautiful women on earth are Poles–(you can speak for the other half of the population) and secondly, without Polish intelligence, Europe loses the war. They were actively operating in every country in Europe, army, air force, and navy and they were the FIRST to crack German codes, Enigma among them–they destroyed key V-2 rocket parts and were instrumental in providing intelligence for many amphibious landings in North Africa. No Polish intelligence, no Operation Torch.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            in every joke, there is a grain of truth.

            Poles get picked on because they’re So Effin Proud of ANYTHING that was made in Poland. Even if it was made better somewhere else — hafta keep it their way.

            And you prove the point in the midst of your bitching! Well done, sir.Report

  4. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    James, I have two general responses to this – neither of which I suspect you are going to like.

    The first is that when I see arguments like this, from either side of the L v.L debate, what strikes me most is that both camps aren’t actually opposed in very much.  From an outside observer, it kind of looks like on a scale of 1 to 10, one side is pushing hard to set things at 5.5 and the other at 4.5, with each side believing they are in different end zones altogether.  You yourself note that “most of us libertarians, at least those with whom I have any regular communication, are just trying to encourage marginal improvements in our current society.”

    What, then, is the point of the whole liberals vs. libertarian debate?  Why is it best not to note instead that the two sides agree on most things other than degree, and pragmatically hash out where the best spot is on a case by case basis?

    The second point is to libertarians in general, not you.  (I also want to weed out Jason in particular before I say this, as I think one of the things that makes him awesome is that he does not fall into this category.)

    I notice that libertarians in general use bumper-sticker language when making arguments or criticizing other political strips.  But whenever I see people respond to the bumper sticker arguments, there is kind of a collective outcry by libertarians that they are being made into cardboard caricatures.  It wastes a lot of energy and can make it a bit of a headache to engage you guys.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      I notice that libertarians in general use bumper-sticker language when making arguments

      Do liberals really do differently?  I suspect there is a case of selective attention bias here.  (And to be fair, I may suffer from that from my end as well.)

       

      what strikes me most is that both camps aren’t actually opposed in very much

      That doesn’t bother me at all.  I’m pretty sure I said something similar in one of the earlier posts on this topic. On lots of actual policy issues we’re fairly far apart, but not radically so.

      But we do have some fundamental differences that prevent us from closing that gap and moving toward each other.  Libertarians are simply far more dubious about the capacity and propensity of government to create socially productive outcomes than liberals are and liberals are far more dubious about the capacity and propensity of the market to create socially productive outcomes.

      We’re in the same stadium and on the same football field, sure, but our respective marching bands will never meet and merge at the 50 yard line.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I consider this a good thing. all ideas improve by throwing them against a good defense.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        “I notice that libertarians in general use bumper-sticker language when making arguments….” Do liberals really do differently?  

        You mean, as in do they make bumper sticker arguments?  They do, of course.  So do conservatives.  But when I respond directly to something that a liberal or conservative said, I don’t then have to spend time explaining that when responding to what he/she said I was not making them into a cardboard character, but rather quoting them.  This really is a libertarian odd tick.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Maybe, and maybe I just have that tick.  But it really does seem to me like liberals responding to libertarians seem to turn them into bumper stickers as much as or more than libertarians beginning that way.

          I mean, I’ve never heard a libertarian say all he wanted was to lower taxes and smoke pot, but I’ve heard countless liberals say that about libertarians.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Is a libertarian tick anything like a goldbug?Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Tod,

          Speaking in terms of bumper stickers has its place, but it requires backup.

          Can I provide my take on the last 3 weeks of discussion (since I started commenting regularly)? The libertarians have consistently supported and explained their positions and principles. James H and Blunt — specifically — have been paragons explaining their  ideology and justifying their statements.

          On the liberal side, Creon has been every bit as responsible and thorough. However, most of the other liberals have avoided justifying their ideology. Many don’t even bother to respond to many of the substantive comments directed at their own opinion pieces.

          Indeed, I still do not get what fundamental ideology liberals are espousing. None have explained the fundamental principles in a way that is coherent — to me. Anyone want to take a shot?

          Just about everyone has done an occasional snipe or bumper sticker comment, and it is easy to be influenced by our biases on these topics. I am sure I am  biased.

          How about we just agree that going forward both sides will try their best — when engaged with a fellow gentleman?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I notice that libertarians in general use bumper-sticker language when making arguments or criticizing other political strips.

      It’s either that, or we go on for thousands of words and never know when to shut up.

      Can’t win for losing, I tell ya.Report

      • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

        Just to add to your list, I would say the thing that bugs me the most is the constant recourse to first principles. Although that’s not really mutually exclusive w.r.t. the other items on the list.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          the constant recourse to first principles.

          OK, I’ll accept that.  Conservatives do that, too, and it’s annoying as sin.

          But just to poke a bit, isn’t the concept of social justice, or something along those lines, something of a first principle for liberals? (Although, to their everlasting credit, they don’t tendentiously state “let us return to first principles” over and over like a Antonin Scalia windup toy.)Report

          • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

            I’d actually say that one of the things that bothers me the most about liberals, generally speaking, and the thing that probably keeps me in this weird place where I’m just a terrible team player, is insufficient recourse to first principles. What too often gets lost is exactly what the heck we’re doing. Things like Obama’s assassinations/wars leave me feeling like the thing we’re fighting for is, “Feel free to kill bad guys, but only if you’re really sure they’re bad.” That’s a really stupid principle, and it could probably benefit from some of the kind of interrogation libertarians are good at with their thousands of words.

            I realize this makes me sound like I’m having my cake and eating it too, but so be it.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          Maybe the reason libertarians so often return to simple phrases and first principles is that it really IS that simple.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            The simplest way to spot an organization that’s genuinely scary is that it consists of people who think it really is that simple.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Sometimes you just have to waterboard people. Or censor them. Or Threaten their children to get them to comply.

              Hey, not all of us have the luxury of living in a world where these things are off the table.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic says:

      what strikes me most is that both camps aren’t actually opposed in very much

      I don’t understand how you reach this conclusion, libertarians and liberals may make some tactical political alliances from time to time in the limited space where their outlooks overlap. But there is significant pull in opposite directions. CATO and the Center for American Progress won’t be merging anytime soon, just to take an issue I disagreed with James Hanley on recently, paid parental leave, here’s CATO, The Argument Against Paid Family Leave by Nita Ghei and here’s CAP, Paid Parental Leave Helps Families and the Economy by Ann O’Leary. Guess which side argues, in discussing paid parental leave mind you, “the federal government should look for ways to reduce the regulatory burden on employers”.

      Greg Mankiw lays out core left-right distinctions that apply pretty well to the liberal versus libertarian divide as well. Each side will have different answers to these questions with dramatically different public policy preferences as a consequence, my paraphrasing Mankiw,

      1. How distortionary, if at all, are taxes?
      2. How frequent are market failures and how successful is government in addressing them?
      3. How much government intervention in markets is required for effective markets?
      4. How do we conceive of individuals’ decisions, as rational actors capable of protecting their interests or as making systematic errors requiring government protection?
      5. How effective is the government in allocating resources?
      6. How should the government approach income distribution, do markets produce largely fair or unfair outcomes?

      Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Could I just riff off of Lenny Bruce’s line that liberals can understand everyone else, but remain bewildered that nobody else can understand them, with how understanding they are? If there’s anything I’ve noticed in these discussions, it’s that liberals don’t really understand at all what libertarians believe, but object to how libertarians misrepresent the liberal position. If there’s anything else I’ve noticed, it’s that libertarians don’t really understand at all what liberals believe, but object to how liberals misrepresent the libertarian position. It’s like watching an old married couple in marriage counseling.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Rufus, Creon, Antigone and all,

          I will be the first to admit that I absolutely do not get liberalism.

          I understand and agree with most of the libertarians on this site. I understand how conservatives think and though I disagree with their fundamental assumptions, I can see how their philosophy would make sense if I agreed with these foundations.

          But I do not get liberalism/progressivism. It makes no sense to me at all. It just seems to me to be a bunch of people posing around good intentions regardless of the results. “I care about the poor and hate the rich, so let’s set up a bureaucracy to fix it all!”  I jest, but not too much.

          If someone could lay out the fundamental principles — I would be very appreciative. Seriously. Could a liberal — or someone who understands liberalism — explain the foundations of said belief?Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            Roger- This isn’t what you were asking for but if, as i liberal, noted that i think the stronger social democratic model in western Europe works well would that mean anything. I can point to plenty of liberal ideas which work well ( lots of those places seem pretty nice). There are many universal health care models that have good results, many far better then we have. Is it somehow impossible to say progressive taxation completely fails???  Have enviro regs not improved the environment? I can easily argue the EPA has improved the environment (hell even a wet noodle like John Stossel says that). Does worker safety regs not make workers safer? Maybe you can point to this particular aspect that doesn’t work but then we are debating policy not overall philosophy.

            I can even see how moving some things in a more libertarian area would work well.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Thanks Greg,

              I don’t really disagree. I can see many good policies. Indeed, I was kind of baiting the liberals to rise up to some kind of defense of the ideology. It doesn’t seem to be how they argue though. I will keep taunting.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I was kind of baiting the liberals to rise up to some kind of defense of the ideology. It doesn’t seem to be how they argue though. I will keep taunting.

                I’ve been trying to get some to do that, too, but it hasn’t yet happened here.  There are enough liberal bloggers here that I would like to think one of them would rise to the challenge.  Especially as much as they keep questioning us libertarians in a way that effectively demands we justify our ideology, it does seem to me that decency demands that they provide some justification for theirs.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Have you considered an Opinion Piece directly challenging them to explain their ideology? “A Libertarian Challenge to The Left — Please Explain Yourselves.” Would they let you post that as a guest? I really want to understand them.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Roger, I don’t want this to sound combative because it’s not meant that way at all, but is it possible that your difficulties in understanding liberals don’t actually come from their failure to explain themselves to you, but are at least partly caused by your preexisting notions about what they believe? I mean, as someone who borrows liberally (ha!) from both traditions (and rejects pretty liberally too) what’s most striking here is that the notions that libertarians express on this site about what liberals believe are generally pretty bizarre and off-base. The same certainly applies to the things liberals post about libertarianism, but at some point, explaining your beliefs to someone else requires them to first drop their conviction that liberalism is really a feeling that the rich should have their money taken away because they’re evil, or that libertarianism is really a conviction that the corporations should be allowed to pollute and exploit to their heart’s content because I got mine. This, of course, leaves out conservatism, which is wildly misinterpreted here as well.

                Actually, maybe a better word of advice when considering fairly widespread political convictions is to assume that the person holding them is a rational and decent person and try to figure out what convictions they might have come to by virtue of those character traits, and then assume that the fleeting irrational impulses that every political group falls prey to from time to time are not central to the belief system- basically, the opposite of what we generally do when considering other people’s beliefs.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Hi Rufus,

                Everything you wrote makes sense to me. I was being jokingly sarcastic, and apologize. I’m still working down the comments, but I promise to keep an open mind. I really want to hear it in liberal’s words.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Roger,

                I think you’ve found your first guest post!Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                James,

                How does one go about submitting a guest post? Is their an FAQ? Who do I send it to? Do you have any advice?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Oops, I just went to the guest post page. Any suggestion on which member I should send it to?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Roger,

                E.D. Kain is the League’s administrator, and he’s the one to whom I send my  requests for a guest post.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Perhaps the problem you’re having is that you’re treating those of us who trend even somewhat liberal as if we’re an entirely different species rather than a person who doesn’t trust the marketplace anymore than they trust the government.

                And as for the reason that the liberals here (where I fall amongst them, I do not know) ask questions of the libertarians is because this is an excellent forum to do so. I suppose people questioned can say, “Why do I always have to defend what I believe?” but why write about in a public space otherwise? To have a parade in your honor? To celebrate the greatness of your own thought? What fun is it unless somebody is saying, “What about this?” and “What about that?”

                By all means, continue to act as though we’re incapable of breaking bread together and see where it gets you. Perhaps though I could offer one other suggestion: ask us what parts of liberalism you don’t understand/get/whatever. That would be far easier to respond to than saying, “Can you write a casual defense of all liberal political thought here in this comment box.”Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam,

                You and I have already had good discussions. I do want to delve deeper though and try to get to the underlying ideology and principles, if possible. Viva la discussion.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Then let’s pick a particular issue and figure out where we’re coming from.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sam,

                The liberals here very often write as though libertarianism must be an unyielding extremist ideology.  They assume the worst about it.

                At the same time, they treat liberalism as so obviously right and normal that it must not possess any risk of extremism.  They assume the best about it.

                Here’s my primary questions: How do liberals know when to engage in a social policy, whether regulatory or redistributory?  That is, what is it that enables them to know when it’s really needed, when it will really be beneficial, and that they’re not going too far?  Saying, as Stillwater does below, that it’s about pragmatic solutions doesn’t really tell us much, because how do you determine when a solution is pragmatic or not?  Like “fair,” “pragmatic” isn’t really measureable, and I don’t know what principles allow us to distinguish pragmatic vs. non-pragmatic solutions.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Pragmatic socialism understands most societies collapse when a hardened core of dispossessed persons within that society rises up and overthrows it.   We see this most recently in the Arab Spring movements.

                How might a given society gauge the benefits of a given policy?   Pretty simple, really.   If the policy produces more or fewer productive members, we can say it’s a success or failure.   E.g.:  better education produces more taxpayers, therefore it is a wise use of money.

                Stacking fatherless children up in public housing is a bad idea, chiefly because concentrating poor people in a high-rise slum means they can’t get to jobs.   If a child on public assistance gets health insurance and his mother gets a job which won’t provide health insurance, that mother has a powerful disincentive to work.

                Insofar as public assistance has become a trap, it ought to be refactored into a more-effective ladder out of poverty.

                It’s not all that hard to fathom how such policies might be measured.   It’s pretty much inevitable some of these programs will have unintended side effects.   So change the policy.   One specific instance:  the cost of medicine has risen hugely, yet we won’t permit Medicare to make the bulk purchases which could bring down those costs to society.

                It’s high time the Libertarians got off their own high horses and entered into a meaningful dialogue about yardsticks.   The Libertarian prescription to every evil in society seems to be to Do Nothing, lest there be some evil side effect.   At some point, they have to either defecate or get off the porcelain.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Stacking fatherless children up in public housing is a bad idea, chiefly because concentrating poor people in a high-rise slum means they can’t get to jobs.

                Of course housing projects were a “pragmatic” liberal policy in the first place.

                It’s high time the Libertarians got off their own high horses and entered into a meaningful dialogue about yardsticks.

                Blaise, I’ve rarely had an on-line discussion with anyone on as high a horse as you’re riding.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Get real.   Kissinger once said academic quarrels were so vicious precisely because the stakes were so small.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                That has nothing to do with the hypocrisy of someone who has been writing with the tone you’ve been using telling someone else they’re on their high horse.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “Pragmatic socialism understands most societies collapse when a hardened core of dispossessed persons within that society rises up and overthrows it.   We see this most recently in the Arab Spring movements.”

                This is wrong both generally (why most societies collapse) and specifically (the dynamics of the Arab Spring).

                As Orwell explained, revolutions are led by the high middle that strive to switch places with the elite.  Never the ‘dispossessed’ as i think you are using that term.  (otoh, they are the ‘dispossessed’ in the sense they are leaders that the existing elite has not managed to assimilate, co-opt, or neutralize)

                The Arab Spring is primarily motivated by economics – those same high middle (and young) people that are unemployed and underemployed due to massive structural inefficiencies in most Arab economies (and the outright corruption).  But a system inheritted and still largely based on Nassar socialism – the original ‘pragmatic socialism’.

                The fact that there is no political pluralism made the system brittle, and the fact that the security apparatchiks didn’t  go all Hungary Tienanmen allowed the revolutions to be successful (where they were).  (As I have previously said, it will be interesting in the Chinese proverb sense the first time China’s economy hits some rocky shoals)

                But importantly, nobody so far among the Springers has had an election, and in Egypt (the largest and most successful of the ‘revolutions’) the military is <a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/egypts-military-extends-detention-of-prominent-blogger/2011/11/13/gIQAjZPdHN_story.html”>still in charge. And are <a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-military-guards-its-own-power/2011/11/10/gIQA7QVVFN_story.html”>working to keep it that way</a>Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                And of course ‘collapse’ is normally a different thing than ‘revolution’.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                James,

                First and last time I hope to hear racist policies called liberal. Public housing was a place to stick “undesirables” who weren’t given the public largesse of FHA loans.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                B.S., Kimmie.  I’m going to call that latter-day liberal revisionism once even they became aware of what a failure public housing projects were.  Conservatives just didn’t give a damn about the poor (politically) and didn’t want to spend money on them.  Liberals wanted to do something for the poor–good intentions but totally fished up execution.  LBJ’s Great Society welfare program is another example.

                It’d be a great day in politics if one party–either one–could just step up and say, “well, we bungled that policy, but we still value the goal so let’s try another way.”

                I like what Chicago’s doing, with tearing down its big projects and subsidizing poor people to live in relatively decent neighborhoods.  I think about the difference between a kid growing up in the projects where there are few if any stable 2 parent families with a dad who goes to work every day and one living in an upper-lower class or lower-middle class neighborhood where those things are fairly common.  Kids learn what they see around them, and that approach provides an opportunity to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty for a hell of a lot of people.  It being Chicago, the idea obviously was pushed through by liberals, but it’s one conservatives can approve of, too.  (Who originally came up with it I don’t know.)Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                James,

                … and truce! Yeah, I’m willing to kvetch at the Democrats for bungling the whole thing. Glad to hear Chi-town’s getting it’s act together.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @Kolohe: Distinction without difference. Young people with half-decent educations who cannot find work are fundamentally dispossessed in my book. Orwell’s High Middle isn’t entirely appropriate in the Arab Spring. It is, as you point out, the have-nots who are behind these revolutions.

                What follows the revolution might be expressed as some High Middle replacing the ancien régime. That much is true. Point taken. It won’t be the fellahin who replace Mubarak’s elites. The same intransigent military Egyptian military which stood by and let Mubarak fall, by definition a High Middle, have taken his place.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Who cares who replaces Mubarak?

                They can’t fix Egypt — no one can. The breadbasket of the Middle East is dying.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                James,

                How do liberals know when to engage in a social policy, whether regulatory or redistributory?

                I want to say that you’re overthinking here, but that misses the point a bit. Liberals look at the world, see problems X, Y and Z, and want to change things. So the question ‘how do liberals know when to engage in policy advocacy’ is self-evident: when they perceive social injustices, harms, unfairness, etc.

                Now, I think your bigger question here is about underlying principles. And as I said below, I think in general the ‘underlying principles’ are normal morality, warts and all.

                That is, what is it that enables them to know when it’s really needed, when it will really be beneficial, and that they’re not going too far?

                I think this is the more interesting question. What are the checks on liberal policy prescriptions? What constitutes a constraint on rampant liberalism run amok?

                I think real world phenomena do the best job of this, and that means having a recursive loop which takes evidence back to the normative prescription which drives decision-making. And liberals have that loop. So, to take an example that I think is in the forefront of your and Roger’s mind here: when, from a liberal’s pov view, does redistribution infringe on the rights of others?

                I think it’s easy enough for non-liberals to prop up a straw-man and conclude that liberals simply like to coercively take from the rich and give to the poor. But I don’t think that’s ever been the liberal position on redistribution. The argument is manifold, including (but not limited to!): issues of social morality given a society-wide economic system that has structural unemployment built into the model (usually targeted at about 4-5%); that ameliorating poverty is consistent with maximizing the basic rights people can (in principle) act on (this is a libertarian argument in favor of welfare, btw); moral concerns of the welfare of worst off; the idea that those receiving the greatest benefits from institutionalized (and often codified) social arrangements ought to be taxed in proportion to the benefits received.

                Now, this might seem like a slippery slope leading to radical socialism and communism, but – speaking as a liberal – I can say that I’ve never felt that was one of the consequences of redistribution.

                how do you determine when a solution is pragmatic or not?  Like “fair,” “pragmatic” isn’t really measureable

                Liberals don’t determine whether a solution is pragmatic or not, since evidence, practicality and political feasibility are built into the decision-making model. This can be challenged by highlighting certain types of empirical evidence, or a type of argument. So it’s up to others to determine whether that solution is pragmatic or not. But if the response to the liberal position is merely that it violates some a priori first principle, then I think the game has already been won.

                If, on the other hand, you’re wondering how a liberal keeps ideology from creeping in, I would only say this in response: if a liberal argues for a policy position and the only thing they can say ‘tax the rich, feed the poor’, then I’ll be right there with you criticizing them.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              I can even see how moving some things in a more libertarian area would work well.

              Dude! baby steps. One soul at a time…

              Actually, except for serious issues about the legitimacy of democracy, I dont think we’re that far apart. Its just the way we talk blows up all these differences we have…

              Onward Liberaltarian Soldiers!Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Roger,

            But I do not get liberalism/progressivism. It makes no sense to me at all. It just seems to me to be a bunch of people posing around good intentions regardless of the results.

            Well, I think there is a mistake in the way you’re thinking about it. Liberalism in  a nutshell might be thought of as extending basic rights and protections of existing rights to everyone. Lots of really good things in our world resulted from liberal thinking and policy advocacy, especially in contrast to the institutions that existed at the time prior to liberal change.

            I think at root, liberalism is differentiated from conservatism and classical liberalism by the role the harm principle plays in decision policy decisionmaking. Libertarians have an ultra narrow conception of the harm principle, conservatives less so, and for liberals the principle is more expansive.

            Another difference, getting at what James was wondering about below, is that liberalism isn’t an ideology in  the conventional sense of the word. There are no first principles, no conclusions derived a priori from first principles, no coherent view of policy advocacy other than responding to perceived injustices, etc. Thinking that liberalism is an ‘ideology’ gives it too much credit. But liberals tend towards liberalism precisely because it isn’t ideological: it embraces a looseness that permits the adoption of views in situational contexts that might not be held in the context were different.

            In short, liberalism, as i understand it, is a mish-mash of pragmatic solutions/presecriptions to social problems based on normal morality (understood as the pre-theoretical conceptions of fairness and justice) endorsed within the constraints of practicality and possibility.

            Also, if you think liberalism is merely about ‘posing’ you’ve internalized liberals successes to the point that they seem commonsensical and unarguable instead of remembering that once-upon-a-time, things were radically different.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Thanks for the comments Stillwater,

              What basic and existing rights? What is their source? Is it a consensus thing? You later reference normal morality, but my experience with liberals is that they often (like libertarians) reject normal conservative morality. When a conservative and liberal disagree, how do we resolve it?

              What exactly does a liberal mean by the harm principle, and why is it more expansive? Does this tie back to our discussions on wage rates, and some wages being inherently not good enough? Who gets to decide? We’ve already agreed that many libertarians are more utilitarian. How do liberals decide what is just or good?

              You write: “liberals tend towards liberalism precisely because it isn’t ideological: it embraces a looseness that permits the adoption of views in situational contexts that might not be held in the context were different.”

              How do you agree on these views, and is it OK to use coercion or force to push them on others? Why? If so, by whom?

              You : “liberalism, as i understand it, is a mish-mash of pragmatic solutions/presecriptions to social problems based on normal morality (understood as the pre-theoretical conceptions of fairness and justice) endorsed within the constraints of practicality and possibility.”

              Can you see why libertarians would misunderstand this as attempting to force your values and opinions on others? It seems kinda…intolerant.

              You: “Lots of really good things in our world resulted from liberal thinking and policy advocacy, especially in contrast to the institutions that existed at the time prior to liberal change.”

              No argument there from me, but again, libertarians (classic liberals) and progressive liberals share the same roots, and we often fought for the same principles. Yes, things are different now, and better. Equal opportunity, no slavery, free trade, limitations on government, separation of powers, etc. But libertarians also stood with conservatives against the more destructive changes beloved by progressives — eugenics and Marxism come immediately to mind.

              Thanks for stepping forward, and others please feel free to join in. Its OK to have different opinions. Heaven knows the libertarians don’t all agree.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Roger,

                What exactly does a liberal mean by the harm principle, and why is it more expansive?

                To focus on only one example, consider a situation in which blacks are systematically under-represented in the workforce. Is this an injustice? A libertarian might say the following about that scenario: the situation is unfair and ought to be mitigated, but the role of government does not extend to violating the rights of employers to redress this social harms. The liberal, on the other hand, would – and did! – say that systematic descrimination is a violation of the rights of black people which government has an obligation (as being the entity which enforces the protection of rights) to redress.

                So, for a liberal, the harm principle encompasses a broader spectrum of rights than for the libertarian or the conservative. But the liberal justifies this expansion of applicable rights not by creating new rights, but by extending existing rights to other not currently in the right’s bearing community. In the above case: the right to property and the right to opportunity.

                Does this tie back to our discussions on wage rates, and some wages being inherently not good enough?

                To some degree, yes, it factors in. But recall, that argument wasn’t only about wage: it was the entire employment situation some people find themselves working in. If those situations constitute a violation of rights, and if government could act to redress those harms, then government ought to do so (since the minimal role of government is to protect rights). Whether government can or should so act was not a significant part of the discussion we had.

                 

                 Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Stillwater,

              I think liberalism does have first principles, and I don’t mean that as a criticism of liberalism, but from observation of liberal arguments.

              I am quite bothered by the phrasing “pragmatic solutions.”  By itself that’s not sufficient.  How do you define a pragmatic solution so that we can distinguish it from non-pragmatic solutions?

              I do agree with your phrasing “perceived” injustices, and that is part of my problem with liberalism.  I think there is a tendency to run with perceptions rather than dig in deeper to analyze the structures of what’s really happening and what institutions are causing the perceived problem.

              Following up on the concept of pragmatic solutions, I’d really like to see League liberals address the question of how they would know when liberal policy proposals have gone too far and become counter-productive.  That’s essentially the question they keep asking me when I post/comment–“But if you do the libertarian thing, you’ll end up way over here!”  So why is it not the case that if we do the liberal thing we’ll end up way over there (i.e., with truly socialist policies that fundamentally undermine the productivity of the economy).  It’s not that I’m making a slippery slope argument that liberal policies will inevitably lead us there, because in fact I don’t believe that’s true (a generosity I wish I could get from the League’s liberals re: libertarianism).  But how would liberals determine when their policies are going too far?  Put another way, what are the limits of liberalism?

              I’d also like to ask liberals to explain why they place so much trust in government regulatory/redistributory policy given the frequency of agency capture and the abysmal failure of LBJ’s Great Society programs?  (I’ll give them SS, which in fact has worked pretty damn well to keep the elderly out of poverty, and unemployment compensation which has been a nice automatic stabilizer.)

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              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                James and Roger,

                I liked it better when I was grilling you guys on your views. 🙂

                Here goes, and I’m gonna just respond to quotes from James comments, hoping that it covers what Roger was wondering about too.

                I think liberalism does have first principles, and I don’t mean that as a criticism of liberalism, but from observation of liberal arguments.

                In specific cases I’m sure that’s quite likely true – people can argue for whatever they like however they like. I think in general, tho, liberals’ views are based more on evidence and basic (pre-theoretical) morality than they are based on first principles, where ‘first principles’ would be understood as principles distinct from normal morality that are both a priori determined and have or entail prescriptive empirical content. So first principles would be distinct from the fully general moral principles which most people possess simply as part of the intellectual/moral equipment necessary for being a moral agent. They would, so to speak, exist one level above (or removed from) normal morality. (Eg, that the natural right to property is a fully general trumping right.) (The distinction presented may be fuzzy.) But the claim here is that liberals in general base their political views on a combination of pre-theoretic moral principles and situationally specific relevant evidence.

                I am quite bothered by the phrasing “pragmatic solutions.”  By itself that’s not sufficient.  How do you define a pragmatic solution so that we can distinguish it from non-pragmatic solutions?

                Yeah, this is a tough one. On my view, pragmatics is differentiated from ideology in the role evidence plays in determining a policy prescription. Is the determination that policy P ought to be adopted based on relevant historical, conceptual, contextual, situational, etc., evidence, or is it based on purely a priori normative and substantive considerations? Is it both politically and practically possible?

                The way I phrased this in RTod’s post about ideology v. pragmatics a few months ago is that really robust ideological thinking contains no algorithm to take the ideologue back to reality, so relevant evidence is fundamentally discounted as being a necessary consideration for determining policy. I think this contains a few problems, the most important being the paradoxical situation the ideologue finds himself in: that a priori principles which entail empirical content aren’t recursively informed by empirical content.

                So one way to provide an account of pragmatics is to emphasize the role evidence plays in decision-making (or judgments). If it’s heavily determined by evidence – situational, historical, empirical, conceptual, etc. – it trends in the direction of a pragmatically motivated decision. And on that score, I think liberalism not only fundamentally includes evidence in decision-making, but it includes a far larger spectrum of relevant evidence than the alternative views.

                I’d really like to see League liberals address the question of how they would know when liberal policy proposals have gone too far and become counter-productive.

                I think that’s a good question too, and one I can’t give a short answer to. In fact, my misgivings regarding liberalism as I’ve described it here mostly revolve around this very question. But I don’t think it’s a fatal objection, just a sticky one. From my pov, the question amounts to this: how is the liberal project constrained given that there are no robust principles to act as a guide?

                One way to answer is this is based on the dynamic nature of political power struggles. The liberal views his project as competing with prevailing or entrenched power. If the liberal oversteps his bounds, then reality kicks in and pulls things back. It doesn’t mean that the liberal gives up on his goals, of course, but the liberal is willing to concede that other people don’t agree with his/her preferred views. So the dynamic nature of political power struggles acts as a constraint, and liberalism is blunted, in some sense, only by how far liberal policies can practically go. Once they go too far – forced de-segragation in housing is a good example – the liberal project stops.

                I’d also like to ask liberals to explain why they place so much trust in government regulatory/redistributory policy given the frequency of agency capture and the abysmal failure of LBJ’s Great Society programs? 

                I think the regulatory capture is one of the most important libertarian contributions to the way we look at political machinery. And liberals don’t focus enough on it, in my mind, for a couple of reasons. One is that they’re ignorant of the extent to which capture presents real problems. Another is that liberals tend to think government plays a positive role in society, so they view RC as a specific problem rather than a general indictment.

                But on another level, some liberals (and I’ve made this argument before) believe that since the most egregious negative effects of capture can’t eliminated (since private actors would act even more poorly without regulation), the best solution is to expose the corruption and thereby reduce it rather than eliminate regulatory oversight altogether. That might be an incorrect view, but it follows from the liberal’s premise that democratically elected government with checks and balances (the whole nine yards) is the best way to reduce/eliminate injustices the derive from centralized private power (economic or social).Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                StillwaterNovember 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

                Stillwater,

                Great food for thought. Help me understand it though…

                Once a liberal comes to their moral principles, how far are they allowed to go coercing others to go along? What happens when conservative moral principles oppose you? It seems to me like this could lead to some kind of war of intolerance. Are you just stating that you are willing to live in the world as determined by this struggle? If conservatives win, you are OK with no abortions or gay marriage? Is this OK as long as you get a voice in trying to change it?

                I get pragmatism and situational conditions, but how do you resolve disagreements on the standards used to judge success or failure? Is it democracy? If your society says it is just to prohibit abortion, how do you convince them they are wrong?

                 

                 

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              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Roger, I think this

                Once a liberal comes to their moral principles

                is what I’m arguing isn’t the case. Liberals don’t ‘come to’ their moral values. In general, they simply have them. The difference I’ve been suggesting is that liberals merely act on those moral values within the parameters of evidence, practicality and political possibility whereas classical liberals and conservatives act on a priori first principles which form the basis of a broader theory but are one-step removed from basic morality. Eg., liberals believe in a right to property, but refrain from believing that property is a trumping right.

                how do you resolve disagreements on the standards used to judge success or failure? Is it democracy?

                Disagreements in policy are resolved by the political process; disagreements between people are resolved by appeals to evidence and argument.

                If your society says it is just to prohibit abortion, how do you convince them they are wrong?

                We in fact had a society which thought it was just to prohibit abortion, and that view changed as a result of rational argument and public advocacy. According to current law, the right to abortion follows from other constitutionally protected rights. On the supposition that the law were rolled back, I think the argument to restore it would be the same as the one that got us here.

                What happens when conservative moral principles oppose you? It seems to me like this could lead to some kind of war of intolerance.

                War of intolerance? I’m not sure I get the suggestion here. It presumes that liberals are instigators of intolerance, but that certainly isn’t supported by evidence. This is the second time you’ve brought up intolerance in this discussion. In what specific way is liberalism uniquely intolerant?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater,

                I am pretty sure you are not suggesting ONLY liberals have moral values, so is it correct in reading you to infer that Conservatives override or add to their moral values with first principles? Is this then a mistake?

                If the Conservatives start making gains then for the next few hundred years and they roll back all right to choose, and make gay sex illegal, and outlaw affirmative action, privatize SS, etc. Are you OK with living in this society and working within the rules to fix it? If you and those with your moral values realize there is no way in the foreseeable future to persuade the conservative majority, what would you do or consider?

                My use of the term intolerance is actually meant to apply to any coerced solution — by any party. Let me try to defuse the term a bit. If we attempt to require a centralized, top down solution that applies to everyone, then I am using intolerance to suggest that those that don’t agree have to follow it too. In the Conservative caricature above, it would be a Conservative forcing their values via coercively prohibiting abortions. An example of intolerance from the other side is coercively requiring a Conservative to contribute to the welfare of a drug using teen trying to have a baby on the public dole. (These examples are intended only as obscene caricatures to make a point on my word intolerance).

                My war of intolerance then implies this dynamic where both sides push their values via democracy on the other side.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Roger, I think I understand what you’re getting at here. The ‘both sides do it’ dynamic manifests as a struggle to impose values on people who in fact reject those values, but the best society is one free from the imposition of other people’s values. Is that about right?

                Well, I agree with that as a basic premise. The problem is what follows from it. So, suppose that the old Confederacy argued that the Invaders from the North were trying to impose cultural values on them which restricted their liberty, specifically, their liberty to enslave people. It’s easy to suppose this, of course,  because it’s true. Now, what follows from the premise which we’re both accepting here? Is attempting to abolish the right to enslave merely the imposition of one groups values onto another group? Surely the answer here has to be no, since the argument for abolition is that the liberty to enslave others is inconsistent with the basic conception of liberty.This type of argument runs through liberal thinking about the role government plays generally, whether it’s granting women the right to vote, adopting the policy of affirmative action, ensuring CB rights, creating SS and Medicare, and even ‘redistribution’ of revenues in the form of welfare. (Obviously, lots of people don’t agree with liberals about some of these issues.)

                In short, one persons liberty can be another persons tyranny or injustice. But, and here’s the thing which differentiates liberals from conservatives and classical liberals, a liberal views an institutionalized injustice as fundamentally constituting the imposition of one groups value preferences upon another group. So the policies a liberal advocates for are (often) intended to ameliorate harms that can be thought of as satisfying the very conditions you objected to earlier: one group imposing their values on another group.

                Of course, the libertarian response is that government ought not play a role in ameliorating those harms, but if the harms are actually rights violations, then government – even according to minarchism – has to redress those harms, since the minimal role of government is to preserve and protect basic rights.

                So, the assumption that the best society is the one which limits the imposition of values can, and as a matter of fact does, entail the coercive imposition of values.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Stillwater.

                OK. This is helpful.

                In short, one persons liberty can be another persons tyranny or injustice. But, and here’s the thing which differentiates liberals from conservatives and classical liberals, a liberal views an institutionalized injustice as fundamentally constituting the imposition of one groups value preferences upon another group. 

                Yeah, I see this. Conservatives are obviously very guilty here. Outlawing pornography, prostitutions, drugs, abortion, anal sex, etc.

                The progressive version of “imposition of one group’s value preference upon another group” is usually more subtle. My silly example was imposing the value of providing welfare upon a conservative (via a tax) to someone the conservative believes does not deserve such aid (think drug abusing welfare queen stereotype).  They may even believe that funding such behavior incentivizes it. They may even believe it jeopardizes the recipient’s immortal soul.

                This is the dynamic of intolerance that I so poorly explained. Progressives try to impose their values. Conservatives try to impose theirs. Both believe they are justified. Democracy plays out as a metaphorical battle.

                An interesting aside about the left though, is that one of their values is TOLERANCE. Yet by combining their proclivity for collective action with this value, they can actually support imposing tolerance.  Seems odd, but whatever — I understand the intent.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                An interesting aside about the left though, is that one of their values is TOLERANCE.

                Ahhh, yes. Good. I was waiting to see if you’d own up to deliberately invoking this hackneyed trope against liberals.

                Nice.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Here’s a horribly truncated bill of materials for a Liberal Progressive:

            Which yardsticks can be used to measure an arbitrary society? The Liberal starts at ground level. How does a given society treat its elderly, its insane, its criminals, the wards of society? How does it treat women, children, its foreigners, its ill?

            Don’t show me the skyscrapers and fighter jets and palaces and monuments to the wars. Don’t show me how well some folks are doing. Others are not doing well.

            Progressive Liberals believe we will either hang together or hang separately as a society. Though we are individuals, we cannot deny we exist in a larger context. This we share with the Social Conservatives, who come in for a great deal of scorn for their stands on abortion, etc. The deeper truths of ethics are given expression in what a society will tolerate: this overlap between Social Conservatives and Progressive Liberals was seen in the anti-slavery debate, both in the USA and in Great Britain.

            Nowadays nobody would dream of defending slavery but it was once as problematic an issue as abortion is today. The Dredd Scott decision was decided on the basis of property law. There is a role for ethics in society. Unfortunately for the USA, a huge body of law hangs on the 14th Amendment, written to bring an end to the 3/5 Compromise.

            I do care about the poor. I do not hate the rich. Law without an enforcing bureaucracy is moot. I see these so-called Conservatives telling us which bureaucracies they’d eliminate. If I could eliminate one shibboleth about Conservatives, it’s this one: that they don’t care about the poor. The Social Conservatives are generous with their money, especially through their churches. Though you’ll see them loudly bellow about how Libruls and the Poverty Pimps, those Conservatives are out there stocking and working at the food pantries and the nursing homes and taking the elderly to the doctor and teaching literacy in prisons.

            I come from among deeply religious Conservative people: it is a lie to say they don’t care about the poor. They do damn the selfish rich from their pulpits. “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”

            I’ve often said Morality is what I believe to be wrong, what I won’t do. Ethics is me telling you something’s wrong. Both Social Conservatives and Progressive Liberals want to society to act against manifest injustice. We’re not all that different.

            Conservatives don’t want government to solve all our problems but they do want society to enforce their own ethical constructs. We differ mainly in our route to enforcement: Progressive Liberals want government to act where Social Conservatives want private citizens to act – and vice versa. Social Conservatives want laws against this-‘n-that where Progressive Liberals want private citizens to make their own choices. In a very real sense, we can substitute Progressive for Social as the adjective best-used to describe the Social Conservatives. Progressive implies change.

            That which aggravates us most in others is what they find most aggravating in us. The Progressive Liberal points a bony finger at this society and says “Mene mene tekel upharsin, thou hast been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” If we demand changes, pointing to our measurements of this society, the Conservatives know those yardsticks were produced in their own workshops. You may always measure the unfairness of a given response to an argument by its straw man quotient.

            Putting “I care about the poor and hate the rich, so let’s set up a bureaucracy to fix it all!” in quotes, as if someone actually said it, well, it’s neither honest or reasonable. We do not hate the rich. We hate the cheaters who have manipulated and avoided the laws of this nation. We do care about the poor, but were the truth known, likely less than actual Social Conservatives, who give generously to help the poor. It’s only our own respective blind spots which keep us from finding common ground.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              How does a given society treat its elderly, its insane, its criminals

              In the US, we give them a voice.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Very nice, Blaise.  Hit several of these points meself in a reply to Rufus, before I read your comment.

              When the modern age mutated [Christian?] charity into “rights talk,” communitarianism left the realm of the voluntary and/or consensus for cosmic abstractions, which by nature are semi-coherent at best.

              This applies as well to social conservatism, which is left only with the argument that “morality” is the product of consensus, and has no cosmic abstraction like the Bible as an overarching authority.  “Imposing” morality is only achievable by consensus, again by the nature of our political system and the fact that all morality is conventional, i.e., the product of the moral deliberations of men.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Thanks Blaise,

              As we go forward, I will try to avoid discussing conservative philosophy, as I am not one, and they are not usually well represented here. There is no shortage of progressives and libertarians though. I will avoid jesting too, as it does not seem to be working for me.

              To paraphrase you, I am reading that your yardstick for a good society is the wellbeing of societies most disadvantaged. Is this absolute wellbeing or relative? Who decides on who gets disadvantaged status? What are our duties or responsibilities to the disadvantaged, and how do we ensure they are met? How do we resolve differences of opinion on meeting these needs?

              You: “Progressive Liberals believe we will either hang together or hang separately as a society.”

              What does this mean to hang together? Libertarians tend to believe in voluntary social cooperation as fundamental to wellbeing, so what differentiates the progressive on this? People do have different opinions, goals and values, so why do we have to hang together? Can those of us that want to hang apart do so if we want?

              You: “I do care about the poor. I do not hate the rich. Law without an enforcing bureaucracy is moot.”

              This is what gets often sets libertarians off (as you have already seen in this discussion). We seem a lot more concerned that we just keep trying to legislate/regulate morality with bigger monopolistic bureaucracies and these then get captured by the elite against the middle class. This can cause us to question progressive sincerity. It seems that the bureaucrats and politicians and their privileged friends always get their slice of pie. The dynamic is frightening (see Greece, California government service unions and AIG).

              I totally agree with the comment that progressives are like conservatives in wanting top down solutions enforced by government, but that they differ in what they want enforced. My bumper sticker phrase on this is “two denominations of the same church,” with the church being trust in top down coercive action by the state.

              Do you see this dynamic of conflicting visions of what gets coerced as problematic? Doesn’t it seem to imply government is good, but only if we are in charge? Otherwise, isn’t it bad? For example, what is to keep conservatives from forcing laws against homosexuality or abortion? How are they fundamentally different than laws requiring aid to others’ rent?

              Certainly I agree that, “Progressive implies change.” However, there always seems (to me) to be an unstated assumption that the fastest and surest  path to progress is top down. Libertarians probably believe this route causes more problems than it fixes.

              You: “We do not hate the rich. We hate the cheaters who have manipulated and avoided the laws of this nation.”

              Libertarians believe cheating manipulators are endemic to society and that they will do everything in their power to carve out privilege and rents. We naturally look for these scalliwags in the places where regulations are  being lobbied, drafted and enforced. We find the system totally infested, and wonder why others don’t learn. Coercive master planning and regulating — beyond a minimal level — is not the solution, it is the problem.

               


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              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @Tom: All societies in times and places have indulged in Rights Talk and imposed societal ethics on its subjects. As you continue to conflate Morality and Ethics, I’m unable to make further sense of what you’re trying to say. In a just society, ethics become laws by a process of consensus building in a legislature.

                As for charity, it’s not limited to Christianity or even religion. Bertrand Russell was once asked why he didn’t give to charity. He replied: “I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong. We are Socialists. We don’t pretend to be Christians.”

                Therein the crux of the biscuit. Socialists believe society ought to care for its members without obliging them to listen to a sermon before giving them a bowl of soup and a bed for the night.

                @Roger:

                I believe any society can be measured by how it treats its unproductive members. I am unclear by how absolute and relative enter into the discussion: the lower boundary condition would be measured within that society. Sophistic arguments about yardsticks – I have set forth my criteria. If you do not like them, propose others.

                Libertarian philosophy concerns itself with individual liberty. Thereafter, it quickly fragments into just how such liberties ought to be preserved. For my money, Libertarian is more an adjective than noun. A socialist might espouse libertarian principles, trying to keep the authoritarians at bay. Or he might be a barely-disguised anarchist. I have yet to see a Libertarian give a damn about the fate of the poor and dispossessed, offering them instead the spartan comforts of Anatole France’s park bench.

                Freedom, you see, is also the freedom to fail, the freedom to go hungry, the freedom to die of preventable diseases. Society has no obligation to the poor, selon les libertaires. And do not attempt to gainsay that statement: let the state act in the defense of the defenseless and all we hear from the Libertarian crowd is screams of outrage about Freedom and Coercion. The tyranny of poverty is very great and the Libertarian has no interest in overthrowing any injustice beyond what might impinge on his own personal freedoms.

                Libertarians might believe cheating manipulators are endemic to society but they have yet to rise up against anyone but the regulators who might have the mandate to restrain them from force and fraud. Libertarians seem tragically naive in this respect.

                I would welcome a contradiction from the facts.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                 let the state act in the defense of the defenseless and all we hear from the Libertarian crowd is screams of outrage about Freedom and Coercion.

                Once again we find a statement about libertarianism that treats it as absolutely extreme, and that exists in contradiction to specific statements made by libertarians here at the League, like the multiple statements recently about favoring a well-funded indigent defense system, and despite general support for constraining externalities like pollution (which nearly always hurt the poor more than the wealthy).

                No, despite what’s actually written by libertarians here, we have yet another liberal who ignores our writings to tell everyone what we really believe.

                I would welcome a contradiction from the facts.

                I don’t believe you.  You are no open to the facts because you have already made up your mind about libertarians.  They’re a convenient bogeyman for you; or at least your strawman version of them is.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I asked to be contradicted from the facts.   I have seen no such postings, here or anywhere else.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                Again, “like the multiple statements recently about favoring a well-funded indigent defense system, and despite general support for constraining externalities like pollution”

                Your failure to see these comments doesn’t mean they haven’t been made.  If you’re not going to actually read what libertarians write, that’s fine, but don’t then pretend you know what they do and don’t believe.  You’re arguing from a position of ignorance.

                You might start by re-reading my OP, where I talk about the value of gov’t creating such goods as legal systems and sewer systems–the poor benefit from these much more than the wealthy (even despite the crappiness of our legal system).

                Then note bluntobject’s comment.

                Then read here.

                Then do your own research instead of making so many baseless assumptions.

                I’ve been complaining here at the League for a few weeks now about liberals who misrepresent libertarianism without actually understanding it. You’re providing a case study in that. If you are an intellectually honest person you’ll put some more effort into understanding libertarianism before you make any more claims about what libertarians believe.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Blaise, Mr Hanley’s objection to your characterisation of libertarianism should already be indictive of whhether that is valid characterisation. But if Mr Hanley’s objection is not enough consider the following sufficient.

                I am a libertarian. I am a libertarian precisely because I think libertaarian policies are demanded by the principles of Justice. libertarian policies are going to be the best for the worst off. I am a libertarian. I think it perfectly consistent with libertarianismthat public goods be publicly funded. I also think that there should be some kinds of social programs for the indigent. However, these social programs should not take up too much money because every marginal dollar taxed impacts the worsst off negatively. While social outlays to the poor will mitigate  this, universal programs (defined benefit) are not the way to do this. The bst way to go about protecting the elderly is through a  universal defined contribution program which is more sustainable and does not contain as many disincentives (although there is a crowding effect aainst personal svings) All other government welfare is to be provided in a means tested fashion. Care must be taken not to crowd out private charities either. I live in a society which comes close to doing many of these things (it could improve on some things like its taxi system)Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                Does this meet your specifications?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I have said Libertarian is an adjective, not a noun.   If the statements of the Libertarian Party or Bastiat are any guide to what you lot propose in practical terms, let Bastiat serve my purposes rather better than what you or I might say:

                Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                JB, James H and K, Murali and Tom,

                Once again we are starting to let the discussion go to principles and justification of libertarianism. We need to offer them as a comparison to progressivism, but I think we should try to keep looping back to what the liberals think of THEIR ideology. We already know we won’t convince them of ours.

                I am still baffled. It can’t all just be ad hoc moralizing and top down coercion.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                Have you actually read Bastiat’s The Laws, or did you just find a quote that tickled your fancy?  Actually reading him might be enlightening.

                I’ll stand with an awful lot of what Bastiat says, including this quote.  We’ve already talked about rent-seeking on this thread, and you yourself have expressed dismay at agency capture, which is a form of rent-seeking.  And what is rent-seeking but an effort to use the state to live at the expense of everybody else?

                You won’t find any of the libertarians here saying there should be no government, but we take far more seriously than you do the danger of people using the power of the government for their own private purposes rather than for true public purposes, that they will normally use the claim of a public purpose as a cover for their actions, and that even when there is a true public purpose we have no guarantee that government will necessarily make things better.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Roger,

                I hear you, and thank you.  Yes, we need to demand the same justification of liberalism that the liberals are demanding of libertarianism.

                At the same time, I’m going to keep calling out those who, like Blaise, are misrepresenting libertarianism and insisting that it is something other than what libertarians themselves say it is.  I’m wondering how folks like Blaise would react if we were saying that his support for regulation really did, despite any claims he makes to the contrary, show that he hates the rich and wants to destroy the capitalist system.

                I’m not so much trying to persuade them to agree about the validity of libertarianism, but I am wondering just what it will take to get them to recognize what a strawman version they are perpetuating, and ultimately how dishonest it is.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Do us both a favour, Hanley.   I have read Bastiat, a good deal of it in French.   Bastiat is a reaction to the statist economies of Napoleon.   He really didn’t understand what he was advocating:  I’ve already made the case for risk market regulation, much to your intellectual distress, wriggling and shrieking as I led you through how such regulation is entirely necessary.   You’ve yet to admit risk markets require regulation and I’ve given up trying to convince you, the mountains of evidence of malfeasance over the last few years showing why you’re wrong.

                Krugman worked Bastiat’s Railway problem for quite some time and won a Nobel Prize for it.   Markets are considerably more complex than Bastiat could have envisioned at the time.   Bastiat was utterly and completely wrong:  he had never actually seen a free market in operation.

                While Libertarians fear government, sensible people fear life without government.   Ever and anon, when the evidence is shoved into his face, the Libertarian will grudgingly admit some regulation is necessary, then immediately launches into an psychotic tirade about how such regulation will lead in time to tyranny.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                He really didn’t understand what he was advocating

                Is there anybody that we can’t say this about? Anybody at all?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’ve already made the case for risk market regulation, much to your intellectual distress, wriggling and shrieking as I led you through how such regulation is entirely necessary.  

                Blaise, you led through nothing.  You repeated vague statements about the necessity for regulation without ever getting into details or specifics.  I have come to the conclusion that you actually don’t understand the difference between making a claim and substantiating that claim.

                You’ve yet to admit risk markets require regulation

                That’s false.  I never denied that some regulation is necessary.  At a bare minimum I believe in regulations against fraud, as I’ve said before, and I’m open to considering regulations beyond that if you can specify the elements that create the need for regulation and what the appropriate regulatory structure is.  You’ve failed to do that because you persistently refuse to get specific.

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Poor Hanley. There’s nothing to say to you. You asked me to explain what a swap was. I did, with rather more precision than anything you’ve had to say on this subject. I said swaps should be regulated like insurance is regulated because that’s what they are. That you can sit there say I haven’t gone into specifics, it would be funny if it weren’t so tragically ignorant. You haven’t understood what I proposed. I strongly suspect you still don’t understand what a swap is, to this minute.

                You might be forgiven your haughtiness, the snark about having read Bastiat for instance. Since you obviously have never run a trading account, you might have asked how a market like Eurex or CME actually regulate swaps, or how states regulate insurance firms, or simply looked it up for yourself. I do not propose to instruct your young ass on the substance of futures trading, market making, arbitrage or esoteric instrument composition. This you either cannot or will not do. You don’t know where to begin to look. The details are there, young man. Open a trading account, you will be thrown in, balls and all.

                If I ride a high horse, I have ridden it long enough to detect youth and ignorance and I have ridden that horse all over your puny argument. I will not forgive you for calling me a liar.   I wish I knew, after all these years, about a third of what you think you know.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                No, clearly you have not learned how to identify either youth or ignorance, since I am most assuredly not that young, and you most assuredly fail to recognize the public choice background of most of my argument, a field in which I appear to be rather more well-educated than you.

                And you still don’t know what it means to get specific.  To say “regulate it like insurance” is indeed better than a simple “regulate it,” but it still fails to actually address the specific ways in which insurance needs to be regulated.  Again, “because of risk” doesn’t actually explain the type of regulations we should develop.

                And every time I ask you to get specific you get very high and mighty, but you don’t get more specific.  It’s a curious dynamic that gives me the impression that you’re using indignation as a cover for an inability to discuss specifics.

                And by the way, not that I’ll ever persuade you, but I did know what a credit default swap was because I looked it up quite a while back when everyone started talking about them.  Indeed I didn’t know before then, but I do like to educate myself.  My point in my challenge to explain it was that–until now–every liberal I’d met who talked about them could not define them when I asked.  Obviously you could, a point which I long ago acknowledge on this thread.  It was the only point in this discussion at which you gave anything remotely resembling specifics.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @Hanley: I want a five paragraph summary of commercial insurance regulation in the United States. Let’s see how you do.

                No simplifications. No vagueness. Get started.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, at what point have I claimed a substantive knowledge of commercial insurance regulation?  I don’t know anything about it.  Why do you think I kept asking you to get specific about it?

                If you really do know about it, which all along I have assumed you do, then you should be able to provide me with that  summary, explaining what problems that would occur in an unregulated market are the target of specific regulations.  That’s what I’ve been asking for, and then you turn around and ask me for it?  (No, that doesn’t contradict knowing what a swap is–that’s one specific item, not insurance markets in general, and I don’t claim to know all the implications of such swaps.)

                Let me repeat again, and maybe this time it will get through that concrete block sitting on top of your shoulders:  I have never said there should be no regulation; I have only said that just saying “there should be regulation because there’s risk” tell us nothing about what types of regulations there can be; and without that greater level of detail we cannot make good judgements about whether the regulatory scheme we have is, to paraphrase Goldilocks, too soft, too hard, or just right.

                Based on the kangaroo rat example below, and your surprising thickheadedness in this subthread, it seems clear to me that you honestly cannot grasp the distinction between just being pro or anti regulation and being concerned about evaluating specific regulations.  Unless and until you come to grips with that distinction, you’re not worth my time talking to, because you’re failing to grasp something that the vast majority of undergrads I work with can grasp.

                Unless you’re going to get off your moral hobbyhorse and start talking about specifics instead of just repeating that regulation is good, I’m not going to waste any more time with you.  There are people here who are actually insightful and thoughtful, with whom I can have an intelligent conversation.  So far that’s not you.

                 Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @Hanley: I still expect five paragraphs from you. I’m tired of playing Alice to your Humpty Dumpty, you lazy and intemperate creature.

                Do you want me to make an argumentum ad verecundiam? Very well then. I’ve written the rules-based AI system which enforces Citigroup’s loan application policy, a rules-based claims validation system and risk analysis for the underwriters of four Blue Cross franchises and the Blue Cross Association, loan administration software for the US Department of Agriculture, a rules-based system for Allstate Insurance, three trading systems for Rand Financial and a goodly chunk of TradeStation. You might say, after 30 years of writing AI software for risk-based applications, I have juuuust a little insight into the problem.

                Citigroup’s system was refactored, against my advice and that of the underwriters. Where once loan applications were rejected, I was instructed to route them into a pricing tree, increasing interest rates for people who shouldn’t have gotten loans in the first place. When I pulled out of their parking lot for the last time, I fully expected the place to implode. It took two years.

                Now here’s the problem and its solution: insurance firms aren’t regulated by the Feds. It’s a state issue. The Feds have a backstop. It’s called McCarron-Ferguson and it came into play on 9/11 and when AIG went bust. There’s also some Fed oversight where insurance firms handle pensions, called ERISA. But for the most part, the states manage commercial insurance and that is where reforms ought to be make.

                The financial industry depends on available credit. What’s a financial firm? A bank takes in deposits and makes loans: they’re regulated and insured by FDIC. When Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and Amex flew into the side of the mountain, they were forced to become bank holding companies, regulated by the SEC and registered with the Fed. Money-market funds were regulated by Reg Q and since Glass-Steagall was repealed, they’re regulated by Reg D. Hedge funds and private equity funds are supposed to be regulated by SEC in the recent Dodd-Frank legislation but we can count on the usual bastards to oppose even the most sensible regulations.

                Are you beginning to get a picture of how interconnected this system becomes? The regulators are all blind men and the financial system is a greased elephant, more precisely, a large and hungry Ouroboros perfectly capable of swallowing everyone, the larger, the better. In the bad old days, it was just a matter of insuring deposits against runs on the bank. The previous paragraphs outline the regulation of the other facets of the modern financial industry. It’s simply inadequate for modern times.

                Now comes the over-the-counter market. If two such regulated entities engage in an OTC trade, one’s basically absorbing risk outside of a regulated environment. If one such trade goes sideways, bringing down one firm, it has a ripple effect all over the financial industry. The problem isn’t really Too Big to Fail. Everyone’s too connected for any one counter-party to fail. In a regulated environment, there would be sufficient capital to back such insurance-like instruments and a clear picture of who’s thus exposed.

                These OTC boys had no clear idea of the valuation of those supposedly AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities. Everyone was just humpin’ along, doing a day’s work, paying for their McMansions, running up their credit cards, watching Flip This House. Heady times. Regulation was for old fuddy-duddies. AIG was a legit insurance company but its true exposure to OTC trades wasn’t clear: they’d made so many bets on things going up – when things went down, even just a little, they blew up and took out most of Wall Street like so many dominoes in the process of detonating.

                When AIG blew up ( AIG is a Delaware corporation, so is my incorporation ) couldn’t possibly cope with the insurance company failures. All these idiots who yammer about how we should have allowed them to fail has no fucking idea how bad things would have gotten. Everyone in the world would have gone down the tubes, dragged in by their own participation in the financial industry, both as creditor and debtor.

                So, let’s review, for the slow and stupid among us. OTC trading is not trading at all. It’s issuing unregulated insurance. The solution is so goddamned obvious, I shouldn’t have to explain this to anyone capable of understanding how a check clears. It goes through a clearing house. But the insurance companies were where the financial IEDs were planted: the traders were playing often millisecond-short-duration bets in what should have been a long-duration market, mortgages. They got away with it because the state regulators and backstops weren’t there. Though each firm would act in what it thought were its own best interests, they clearly had no idea how exposed they ALL were to the problem. They all need to trade on a regulated exchange, with bids and asks and financial backstops.

                There’s also the little matter of how these risk-takers do their accounting. I’ve written enough already. It seems enough to say you’re too lazy to do your own research, Hanley.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                There you go, Blaise.  That’s what getting into detail is all about.  It’s a shame you can’t do it without resorting to all sorts of whining and insults. (While hilariously calling me intemperate! Sure, I am, but I rather think you’ve demonstrated you’re not a smidgeon more temperate than I.)

                Unfortunately I have a class this evening, and tomorrow is my heavy class day, so I may not be able to make a more considered response until tomorrow evening or Wednesday.  But I will get to it as soon as I can.

                For now let me focus just on one specific element here.

                Where once loan applications were rejected, I was instructed to route them into a pricing tree, increasing interest rates for people who shouldn’t have gotten loans in the first place.

                What do you think should be the regulation here?  What is the outcome that we should be pursuing?  Should higher interest loans for people who don’t qualify be absolutely forbidden?  Should the mortgage companies that offer them have to hold onto them longer before they sell them off?  Should the federal government refuse to back them?  What role should Fannie and Freddie play here?

                I don’t ask those questions to be snarky or nasty.  I’m a policy guy, so I’m concerned with the details of policies, and I accept that you know this area better than I do, so it’s worth picking your brain–even if I argue with you I’m still picking your brain, trying to dig out the information.  When we pass regulations we are not selecting among outcomes; we are selecting among tools for the one that we hope will achieve the desired outcome.  That’s why I object to a simple “it should be regulated” mantra–it doesn’t answer any of the hard and interesting questions.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I’ll tell you what’s a shame:  you acting like somehow I’m obliged to school you before you grasp the obvious.

                As for outcomes, gosh, do you think I have any interest in schooling you on prob and stats and the fundamentals of underwriting?   Get a fucking underwriting license, then we’ll talk.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Blaise, would it be okay for me to have an opinion on these things if they happened to agree with your opinions?

                I’m asking for a friend.

                Thanks.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                As for outcomes, gosh, do you think I have any interest in schooling you on prob and stats and the fundamentals of underwriting?

                Blaise, that’s not what I asked for at all.  I understand prob and stats, so you don’t need to teach me about that, and you don’t need to talk about prob and stats in depth to answer my very simple question.

                See the issue here is that I wrote a blog post.  You wrote a critical response.  I criticized your response and asked you to defend it.  And then you bitch about being asked to defend your critical response.  If you don’t want to be asked to defend the claims you make, then don’t tip your toe into the conversation.

                My perspective on this is undoubtedly a reflection of my profession.  If we make a claim we have to provide a detailed argument supporting it, or we’re going to be completely ignored.  No policy article will get published if we don’t define the problem clearly and specifically, explain the structures/institutional arrangements that cause it to be a problem, and specify how the proposed solutions will correct the structures/institutional arrangements.  You can piss and moan all you want about my “dumbassery,” but it just doesn’t strike home because I know what it means to define and develop policy.

                But if you’re not willing to get serious about defending your initial critical response to me, then I suppose we can just call it off at this point.  But seriously, from my perspective it looks like you aren’t even capable of specifying with any reasonable level of clarity what outcome you’re looking for, or what type of policy might achieve it.  Add that to your inability to understand an example of counterproductive regulation (the kangaroo rat example), and it’s pretty clear that despite all your chest-thumping and puffery you’re pretty clueless about the field of regulatory policy.  C’est la vie.  Live long and prosper.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I made my point clear enough. You didn’t get it. As varies risk, so must vary regulation. Therefore the “free” market is anything but.

                I proposed putting the OTC swap market onto legit swap markets like Eurex and CME. Now if you understand prob and stats and how derivatives create risk, you’d recognize the obviousness of that solution and you’d have the tools and vocabulary to grasp why my answer was as detailed as it could be without a tedious lesson on how OTC swaps tear hidden holes in the financial system. You said it was vague. It was not.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Wow, with a resume like that… I’m wondering how many people your programs have killed (knew a guy that wrote code to preferentially delay AIDS patients from getting medication.)…

                See folks, it’s telling that people like Blaise are liberal. I think they understand exactly how evil (in the greedy and non-market-serving sense) corporations can be.

                If you didn’t regulate insurance at all, the companies would rob us blind.

                BUT, as always, there are multiple ways to fix it. 10 points to the first person who gets the “libertarian” answer.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                1. Basic laws against fraud.

                2. A third-party private organization that the insurance companies pay to get their seal of approval, like ANSI or ISO.  Those companies have a financial incentive to play it straight that government regulators lack.

                Thank you for the 10 points.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Socialists believe society ought to care for its members without obliging them to listen to a sermon before giving them a bowl of soup and a bed for the night.

                I don’t know that this is necessarily true. I think that the content of the sermon is different, certainly… but there are enough family similarities to see that there’s a cousin thing going on.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                JB,

                The Big Kahuna — Some pray to Big God, other to Big Government. Hanson’s Overcoming Bias Blog had some interesting observations on this mind set the other day.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Some pray to Big God, other to Big Government

                And others to the one true God:

                The Market giveth and the Market taketh away.  Blessed be the Name of the Market.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Mike,

                The Big Kahuna fallacy isn’t the belief that God or Government exists, it is that solutions must be top down. The closest I’ve seen of the opposite (that solutions MUST be bottoms up) would be Hayek, or at least extreme caricatures of Hayek. Good point just the same.

                PS — Selma is my favorite HeyekReport

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                If I appear Sophistic, it is because I want to learn more. I fail to understand how you and I know or agree what this criteria of yours is on who is disadvantaged and what it means in terms of duties or responsibilities.

                How do you resolve differences of opinion and values? When liberals and conservatives disagree with each other on what we force others to do, how are we supposed to decide what is right?

                And how do you propose we deal with regulatory capture?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                I am trying to discover your thoughts on liberalism. Are you OK with me probing deeper? I am not asking you these things to trip you up. I really want to know how you would answer them.

                You mention taking care of the disadvantaged is critical. Who or how do we decide who gets disadvantaged status? What are our duties or responsibilities to the disadvantaged, and how do we ensure they are met? How do we resolve differences of opinion on meeting these needs?

                You mention it is critical to liberals to stick together.  When people do have different opinions, goals and values,  do we still have to hang together? Can those of us that want to hang apart do so if we want? Why not?

                You mention that progressives are like conservatives in wanting top down solutions enforced by government, but that they differ in what they want enforced.

                Do you see this dynamic of conflicting visions of what gets coerced as problematic? Doesn’t it seem to imply government is good, but only if “we” are in charge? Otherwise, isn’t it bad? For example, what is to keep conservatives from forcing laws against homosexuality or abortion? How are they fundamentally different than laws requiring aid to others’ rent?

                 Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I get your distinction between morality and ethics, Blaise.  Since nobody else uses it, it is unhelpful here.

                In a just society, ethics become laws by a process of consensus building in a legislature.

                Previously stipulated with ““morality” is the product of consensus,” infra.  Free wi-fi for the poor and weak, whathaveyou.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Lots of unemployed people use the Internet service provided by the public library to search the job boards.   I do hope you won’t mind someone benefiting from that service.   Perhaps you’d advocate the closure of that library, lest the poor read the books therein, which they might buy in the book store.

                As for your failure to distinguish between morality and ethics, morality is conduct, ethics is custom.  Whether or not you or anyone else observes the distinction, it is a very ancient one and is usually taught on the first day of any Ethics class.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                morality is conduct, ethics is custom.  

                Tomorrow I’m going to ask the director of our Ethics Institute and our two philosophers who teach ethics.

                I’ll be interested in what they say.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I can hazard a guess.

                Blaise is oversimplifying, but I agree with the distinction.

                Morality is what is objectively Right.  Ethics is following the Code.

                Lots of people try to make both of ’em do the same thing at once, but they usually don’t work in tandem like that.  Problems with closure and completeness and whatnot.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                According to the director of my college’s Ethics Institute:

                Morality  is the behaviors, models, codes one lives by, etc.
                Ethics is the theory behind all that.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Stillwater, You’re one of my favorite people to be grilled by. 😉 Re: Your first principles argument.  Definitely worth thinking about.  I think I’d need to see some more commentary on it from others before I can clarify my own thoughts on the matter.  (The more philosophical things get, the more I’m out of my depth.) I don’t think it’s a fatal objection, just a sticky one. I agree fully.  I don’t think it’s fatal at all; I just don’t think liberals often  think about it as much as they should–not that I think there’s a really slippery slope there, but a better understanding of this would enable liberals to better understand their stopping points.  And for conservatives and libertarians who are inclined to listen openmindedly (all two or three of them), it might help allay some of their slippery-slope fears about taking a particular policy step. some liberals (and I’ve made this argument before) believe that since the most egregious negative effects of capture can’t eliminated (since private actors would act even more poorly without regulation), the best solution is to expose the corruption and thereby reduce it rather than eliminate regulatory oversight altogether. That’s entirely reasonable.  My concern is that because, as you note, they don’t take it seriously enough, they’re rarely in a position to effectively expose and reduce it.  That may be one of the crucial distinctions between a liberal and a liberaltarian or moderate libertarian.  Most of us moderate libertarians aren’t opposed to all regulation itself, but as a consequence of being more attuned to regulatory capture possibilities are much more skeptical about the prospects for successful regulation in practice. And thank you for, like Sam, being specific in your statements.  When I complain about League liberals who who stick to platitudes or bumper sticker slogans or who insist on reiterating strawman characterizations of libertarianism, I do not mean folks like you.  You set a standard for all of us, of all political stripes here, to follow, in the reasonableness of your method and style.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              How does a given society treat its elderly, its insane, its criminals, the wards of society? How does it treat women, children, its foreigners, its ill?

              That’s one of the critical, truly fundamental-level, differences, between us (between you and me, definitely, and I think between liberals and libertarians).  It’s not that libertarians don’t care about the elderly, etc., but that we are distrustful of the idea that “society” does anything.  To speak of society as an active agent is, I believe, a false understanding of the world.  Individuals have minds, so they have preferences, motivations, desires, and make decisions, take action.  Society is not a real being, it doesn’t have a mind, preferences, etc., and does not make decisions or take actions.  To begin analysis at the group level like that–the sociological approach–is a fundamental error that leads to fundamentally erroneous understandings and conclusions.

              I, and I believe most libertarians, are methodological individualists.  I’m not making an argument for that approach here, just noting that it’s an irreconcilably different approach.  If I say “we have to look at what individuals do,” and you say, “we have to look at what society does,” we’re rarely going to understand each other.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I am afraid to point out Libertarian philosophy cannot be squared with caring about the dispossessed.   You might care about their fates but I repeat myself in saying Libertarians prefer to do nothing about any injustice, lest it lead to some further injustice.

                Your problem, Libertarians, is that you don’t see yourselves as members of a society, with any obligations to your fellow man.   It’s the flabbiest philosophy in the history of the world, some perverse Ptolemaic Astronomy where the entire universe revolves around the individual.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Not necessarily.

                There certainly are Libertarians (and libertarians) that don’t particularly care about others… but there is also a theory out there that says “if we establish an official system to take care of folks, it will eventually turn into an intractable government system that exists for its own sake *AND* people (individuals) will no longer feel that taking care of folks is their own responsibility… after all, we have a government system that does that.”

                When “caring” consists of “finding someone else to pay for the stuff that I don’t want to do myself”, it will lead to, at the very least, an unsustainable system.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Not necessarily? The rest of your comment shows exactly why it is a necessity, according to Libertarian doctrine.

                Be at least honest enough to admit Libertarians view any Official System to take care of folks as an intrinsically Bad Thing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The rest of your comment shows exactly why it is a necessity, according to Libertarian doctrine.

                Because it’s so essential to create government systems that exist for their own sake and to divorce people from having to directly interact with the people they claim to want to help?Report

              • Avatar b-psycho says:

                It doesn’t help that in practice the administrators of these Official Systems and their friends benefit well out of proportion to the people their position is intended to exist for.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                And here BlaiseP presents almost a caricature of my criticism of League liberals’ claims about libertarianism.  I wouldn’t myself have dared to write a claim that they’re quite this blatant in their misrepresentations, but since Blaise himself wrote it, nobody can say it’s not an accurate representation of at least his beliefs.

                I am afraid to point out Libertarian philosophy cannot be squared with caring about the dispossessed.

                This is absolutely, fundamentally, false.  Libertarianism is not about selfishness, but about non-coercion.  You can care about the dispossessed from the perspective of a non-coercion principle–in fact it’s the dispossessed who are most likely to be coerced.  So libertarians care both that the dispossessed not be coercively treated by government, but also that government protect them from being coerced by non-governmental actors.  And of course libertarians can themselves get involved in acts that help and care for the dispossessed without having any faint semblance of a conflict with libertarian principles.

                You might care about their fates but I repeat myself in saying Libertarians prefer to do nothing about any injustice, lest it lead to some further injustice.

                This statement also is simply false.  If I steal from Blaise, libertarians will call for justice.  If I build a factory upstream from his source of drinking water and pollute it, libertarians will call for justice.  And of course libertarians recognize that government very often are the worst causes of injustice.  No other human organization has ever managed to kill and dispossess so many people, to enforce slavery as a matter of law and return escaped slaves to their masters, to define those classes that will receive the benefit of law and those that won’t.  to say libertarians prefer to do nothing about justice is to demonstrate a comprehensive misunderstanding of libertarianism.  Do we express concern about whether correcting injustice A involves creating injustice B?  Sure, who wouldn’t?

                Your problem, Libertarians, is that you don’t see yourselves as members of a society, with any obligations to your fellow man. 

                Again, false.  Libertarians don’t reify society and treat it as an active agent, but probably nearly all libertarians–except perhaps the extreme individualists–see themselves as existing within meaningful social organizations.  They just don’t conflate those social organizations with the state.  And of course libertarians see themselves as having obligations to their fellows–they have an obligation not to steal from them, or commit fraud, or to force them to follow our own personal codes of morality.  And many libertarians may see themselves as having obligations to take positive actions to help others–the key being that those are voluntary actions, not ones compelled by the state.  Feeling that it is one’s moral duty to give to charity, to help out those less fortunate, to save a drowning person or rescue a lost child; those are not in conflict with libertarian theory in any way whatsoever.

                So I repeat again, too many liberals here at the League are too damned eager to tell us what libertarianism really is, without taking into account what we libertarians actually believe.  Blaise undoubtedly thinks he understands libertarianism, and yet here he demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that he has no substantive understanding of it at all.  His view is a mere caricature, a strawman, that doesn’t relate to the reality of my libertarianism, or, from what I can tell in reading Jason K, Roger, Murali, bluntobject and others I’m forgetting to list, their libertarianism.

                Blaise, I’m calling you out.  You know nothing about libertarianism.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                (startled laughter) James, there is no denying Libertarian doctrine promulgates individual liberties to the exclusion of any societal virtue. If, by non-coercion, we are led to believe we ought to do nothing, lest worse befall us in so doing, that is merely non-intervention under a fig leaf. Pollution and poverty do go hand in hand with Libertarian politics and philosophy.

                As for your outraged calling me out, allow me to quote no less than the Libertarian Party on the subject of poverty:

                Almost everyone agrees that a job is better than any welfare program. Yet for years this country has pursued tax and regulatory policies that seem perversely designed to discourage economic growth and reduce entrepreneurial opportunities. Someone starting a business today needs a battery of lawyers just to comply with the myriad of government regulations from a virtual alphabet soup of government agencies: OSHA, EPA, FTC, CPSC, etc. Zoning and occupational licensing laws are particularly damaging to the type of small businesses that may help people work their way out of poverty.

                In addition, government regulations such as minimum wage laws and mandated benefits drive up the cost of employing additional workers. We call for the repeal of government regulations and taxes that are steadily cutting the bottom rungs off the economic ladder.

                In short, James, you are cordially invited to can your outrage. Whatever you may believe, the Libertarian Party does not believe EPA has a role to play in pollution abatement.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “Whatever you may believe, the Libertarian Party does not believe EPA has a role to play in pollution abatement.”

                I…don’t think you’re disagreeing with the passage that Hanley quoted.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let’s review:

                If I build a factory upstream from his source of drinking water and pollute it, libertarians will call for justice.  And of course libertarians recognize that government very often are the worst causes of injustice.

                Over and against:

                Someone starting a business today needs a battery of lawyers just to comply with the myriad of government regulations from a virtual alphabet soup of government agencies: OSHA, EPA, FTC, CPSC, etc. Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Again, with the delightful arrogance from the man who asks others to get off their high horse.

                there is no denying Libertarian doctrine promulgates individual liberties to the exclusion of any societal virtue.

                More bumper sticker liberalism.   Noticeably, Blaise, you just reiterate a claim without actually addressing the details of what I wrote.  Why don’t you get into serious details for once and explain why the libertarian doctrine that says coercing others is wrong excludes all social virtue.  I think most people would agree that not coercing others is a social virtue, even if they think libertarians take it too far.  And libertarians believe in voluntarism; that is, the voluntary coming together of people to solve collective problems, particularly on the local level.  Are you seriously claiming there’s no societal virtue in that?

                Again, Blaise, you really ought to pay attention to what libertarians themselves say.  And if you actually understood libertarianism, you’d understand that citing the Libertarian Party doesn’t carry as much weight as citing Reason, Cato, etc.  If you conflate small-l libertarianism with the large-L Libertarian Party, you’re demonstrating your lack of knowledge about libertarianism in general.

                Yet let’s take the above statement from the Libertarian Party (of which I’ve never been a part).  What part of it is false?  I’ll even grant that they go too far in their antipathy to these agencies, but tell me what part of that first paragraph is false.  You present that paragraph as though it speaks for itself in showing how ridiculous libertarians are, but you skip the real work of explaining where it’s wrong.

                I especially want to highlight this part, which you seem not to have read carefully:

                Zoning and occupational licensing laws are particularly damaging to the type of small businesses that may help people work their way out of poverty.

                And yet you say that libertarians don’t care about the poor.  I suppose you have some magical power to see what’s in their heads and you know, you truly factually know, no matter what any libertarian says, that what they really mean by that sentence is they want to help the rich get richer.  But the statement’s facial meaning is absolutely true.  Here’s <a href=”http://reason.org/blog/show/new-york-city-regs-strangling-stree”>one example</a>.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Let’s review:.., etc.

                Blaise, You seem to think that a statement that an agency is creating unnecessary and harmful regulations is a statement that all of the agency’s regulations are unnecessary and harmful.  That doesn’t logically follow.  Let me give an example to explain.

                In the central valley of California there is an endangered species called the kangaroo rat.  I’m an environmentalist.  I want to protect endangered species.  It’s a benefit for the public, so I think the public ought to pay for that benefit.  But in reality the cost is not paid by the public; it’s paid by the farmers who lose use of their land if the kangaroo rat is found on it.  That violates my concept of fairness, but more than that, we have to consider the incentives it creates.  You’re a farmer, you know you’ll lose use of your land if the rat is found on it, so what do you do?

                If you’re like most central valley farmers you plow year ’round to try to keep the rat from taking up residency.  This means you spend a lot of extra time and a lot of extra money for diesel fuel, as well as putting extra wear and tear on your equipment.  It also means there’s a lot of extra dust thrown up in the air, in an area (around Bakersfield) that already has among the most polluted air in the country.  I saw it happening with my own eyes when I lived out there, and you can read about it here.

                Very simply, Blaise, the fact that regulation is justified in a particular case does not mean the particular regulation will be justified, wise, efficient, or effective. That’s a critical distinction that you are overlooking.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Once, an old teacher of mine had a poster on his wall.    All covered in cobwebs, a knight in armor slumped in his saddle, resting on his lance.   The caption read “Be not merely good.  Be good for something.”

                Your kangaroo rat case shows why your sense of justice is strictly abstract.   Let some apotheosis of justice appear in the world, embodied in the kangaroo rat, you’ve seen it with your own eyes and reject such justice.  Be good for something, Hanley.   Until then, it’s all so much bloviating.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                Once again you don’t actually address substance, but just start spouting platitudes.  Are you afraid to address the substance of my example or are you unable to?

                What really makes you think the kangaroo rat example is not a good illustration of the problem libertarians have with misguided regulations?  Do you object to my claim that it is wrong to force specific individuals to bear the bulk of the costs for a benefit we all enjoy? Do you object to my claim that the regulation as it is (not the goal, but the actual real-world implemented regulation) is actually counter-productive, both failing to protect rat habitat and increasing air pollution?  Or is there some other specific criticism you have?

                Seriously, I’m beginning to think I’m dealing with someone too cowardly to get down to details.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Why don’t you get into serious details for once and explain why the libertarian doctrine that says coercing others is wrong excludes all social virtue.

                Wait, wait!  I know this one.  Sort of.  How’s this?

                Any philosophy that relies upon a finite number of stated, axiomatic root principles, must be flawed.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Uh, no, Pat.  Even if libertarianism is flawed, that doesn’t answer the question of whether what’s wrong with it is its objection to coercing people, nor does it demonstrate that coercion isn’t wrong.

                It’s like you’re not even trying.Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                Professor Hanley, this is getting close to a TKO!   You’re Buster Douglas and the poor, beleaguered Blaise is Mike Tyson  getting swatted around like an unwelcome gnat.  This is great fun.  May I add, Prof, I don’t know if it’s me or my imagination, but you’ve seemed extremely “on” lately, very sharp, on top of your game and while I’ve had many arguments with you, I can’t help but watch in appreciation your skillful performance tonight That being said, it would only be fair to have tested for some kind of mental steroids because you seem equipped and ready to take on Plato or maybe even , Deep Blue. What a performance!Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The problem with a Libertarian solution starts with a definition of the problem. Kuznickian theory of natural rights might start with less-tendentious prose than this little gem:

    “One feels sympathy likewise as we watch the plight of European thinkers in the shadow of Stalin—attempting more and more desperately to prop up their devotion to the Soviet system, even as that system repeatedly embarrasses and takes advantage of them. The whole way, we feel we’re in the company of some very smart people who are nonetheless terribly out of their depth.”

    In the Soviet era, the worker pretended to work and the State pretended to pay him. If the modern European economists and philosophers have fallen from grace, it’s over their failure to made the European Union into a hang-together or hang-separately proposition.

    George Soros has recently identified this as the weak link in the chain, blaming Angela Merkel for failing to support the EU in toto rather than bailing out each little country in turn. The lower-case s soviets were just such organisms, a Tower of Babel of committees, each able to avoid actual decision-making, deferring to the higher-ups. At some point, and here commenceth the lesson, the people must bear the consequences of their government.

    The Libertarian, like Isaiah Berlin’s Hedgehog, knows one great truth: that government shall not save us from ourselves. The Liberal knows another great truth: laws must be enforced to have meaning. From these two truths arises the Jeffersonian synthesis: that government must be restrained in law, confined to its proper role by enumerated rights.

    Allow me a brief digression on the word “paradise”. It arises from Persian, pardes, a watered garden, an artificial but entirely real place. Paradises are possible as long as you’re willing to do the hydrology to bring water to your “paradise”. The only remaining matter is who gets access to this paradise.

    We damn the wealthy at our peril. In so doing, we fall into the lying trap of Lenin and Mao Zedong. Marx never damned the wealthy: he delineated the forces which guided capitalism and argued the working man had to act on his own behalf. Stalinist / Maoist Communism only arose where feudalism held sway: in a society where the peasant owns nothing, its appeal is very strong.

    In the West, where even the poor understood the notion of private property and equity, the Trade Union arose to counter the Communist rabble-rousers. The trade union made headway in post-WW2 Japan: it promptly jumped in bed with management and created an economic miracle. For Japan had emerged straight from feudalism into the modern world: feudalism was not an entirely bad thing where fealty was rewarded with protection and loyalty.

    Why do so many Libertarians oppose the concept of the trade union so vigorously? It doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship: look at the various ESOPs as working examples of how such organizations might work. Insofar as some authoritarian system or owner class arises, the trade union seems to be a logical response to it. Maybe that’s an unfair characterization: Libertarian is an adjective, not a noun. Let them speak for themselves. Germany has an elegant solution: they have no closed unions but in corporations employing over a certain number of workers, they put an employee representative on the board of directors.

    The poor man comes in several flavors. There’s the temporarily unemployed person with desirable skills: he might spend a few months getting his next job. Then there’s the underemployed person who works fewer shifts than a full-time job. He might benefit from some additional training. The marginally employed person moves around picking crops or some such. Hard to figure out what to do with this guy: he’s an illegal alien, usually. Unless we want to pay a great deal more for groceries, this marginally employed guy will not rise in the world and unfortunately, the USA has been dependent on such labor for more than a century. Then there are the people who can’t work: the felon, the elderly, the mentally ill and other such persons. God alone knows the right thing to do by these folks.

    Without presuming to put words in the mouths of Libertarians, I believe they might be convinced, as was Romney while he was Governor of Massachusetts, of the need to look dispassionately beyond the problem itself to derive a most cost-effective solution. It’s a great pity to watch Romney walk back the dog of health care reform: it was hard-nosed pragmatism and compromise which guided him to that solution.   We might all be enlightened if we viewed the cost/benefit ratio of the solutions we propose, keeping the weeping willies at bay while honest men negotiate over how we will pay for it all.

    The free market is never free. It must be regulated else it collapses in shit and ruin. Nobody has confidence in an unregulated market or any confidence in an over-regulated society.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      The free market is never free. It must be regulated else it collapses in shit and ruin.

      Blaise, I like you based on most of what you write here, but this kind of unerspecified platitude drives me batty.  What does “free market is never free” actually mean?  What kind of regulations are we talking about?  Hell, libertarians are all for regulating against externalities, regulating against fraud, against extortion.  So if you’re going to make this kind of claim against libertarians, I think you have a responsibility to define what your necessary minimum of regulation is and how it differs from that of a libertarian.  Otherwise you’ve said exactly nothing of substance.  And we all know you’re normally a pretty substantive contributor.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Let’s start at the beginning.   You explain to all and sundry what a credit default swap is and how it works.   Be sure to explain why it’s an over-the-counter instrument and not actually traded on an open exchange.   Extra credit:  work in how a lack of transparency helps the free market system along.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Why is the beginning always that the libertarian has to play defense?  I’ve yet to meet one liberal complaining about credit-default swaps who can coherently explain what they are, much less why they’re evil.*  I’d be delighted to praise you as being the first.

          (*Note that I’m not making any claims about credit default swaps myself.  I’m just pointing out that, to date, not one liberal who’s told me how evil they are has been able to actually describe them.)Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            Also it’s assumed that credit-default swaps were the natural end state of a completely free market, like FHMA and CRA weren’t factors in the housing bubble at all.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            First, hie thee over to Calculated Risk or bonddad. Second, there’s plenty on DailyKos. In fact, there was a Sunday Edition on there about credit default swaps (http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2008/09/23/market-meltdown-three-times-is-enemy-action/ Devilstower, posting under his real name.)Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Well, I can explain them.   That’s because I’ve been a trader at MERC and CBOT.   A swap in all its forms is an insurance policy.   They’re traded on Eurex or CBOE but most of them are dreamed up by the counterparties.

            You have met the Liberal who can explain them.   Now I’m being hectored about Platitudes and much head-scratching over how Free Markets aren’t exactly free.   Markets have as much validity as they have regulation, both from within and without.   That’s a sovereign, absolute incontrovertible truth and all these jackasses talking about Free Markets have no earthly idea how wrong they are.

            The OTC market isn’t regulated enough, by my lights.   The current ICE and CME clearing houses are just a start.  I did some work for ICE when they set up for it.   Lots more regulation is needed.   Unless swaps of all sorts are traded on regulated exchanges like Eurex or CBOE, they’re huge landmines buried in the landscape, undetected.   ICE and CME are just forming up standard contracts and they’re supposedly able to act as a backstop, but mostly they’re just forming up the instruments and doing the auctions.

            Now a regular US insurance policy is issued by a state regulated corporation but that’s policy’s got a backstop in the NAIC in case the insurance company goes broke.   OTC swaps aren’t effectively regulated, though they are fundamentally insurance policies.    There’s the rub.   Without being exposed to the light of day on a working exchange, credit default swaps serve to hide serious defects inside corporations.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Good, I praise you as the first liberal who can explain them.  That means to me that I should listen to you when you critique them, as opposed to any other liberal I’ve heard complain about them.  (Of course I’ve also listened to economists who critique them.)

              Can we, perhaps, move beyond the relatively useless phrase “free” markets and talk about competitive markets?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                … you’ve not read Stiglitz or Krugman? Really?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Too fishing much.  Krugman’s books are pretty damn good.  Too bad his columns, which are more widely read, are nothing like them.Report

              • +1. I dig Stiglitz’s YouTube videos though.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I prefer Stigler (with whom I occasionally get Stiglitz confused because of the similarity of names).  Stigler developed the theory of agency capture and created the field of information economics.  If anyone’s going to read a Stiglxx, he’s the one who’s really worth the time.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Krugman’s research is useful — it’s why a friend of mine works with him. 😉 His columns often seem a place for him to vent on “everything that’s pissing me off today.” (kinda like hoocoodanode, except real people read it).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Just about every economist I’ve read who’s a critic of Krugman agrees his research was Nobel worthy.  It’s the disconnect between his academic work and his columns/blog that boggles their minds.  If you look at most econ blogs, their posts closely mirror their academic interests and claims.  Not so much PK.  There’s something of a cottage industry in the blogosphere of pointing out contradictions between his earlier published work and his current popular writing.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No.   Repeat after me.  Reg-u-lated markets.   I know you can say it.   Competitive says nothing.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, I don’t think I can write bullshitReport

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                More Steely Dan seems appropriate:

                Your black cards can bring you money
                so you hide them when you’re able.
                In the land of milk and honey
                you must put them on the table.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                What a gift! And it’s not even my birthday.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            I’ve yet to meet one liberal complaining about credit-default swaps who can coherently explain what they are, much less why they’re evil.

            It’s a bet masquerading as insurance, sold by an entity that cannot guarantee the ability to pay a claim based on it (i.e. there’s nothing analogous to a reinsurer), with the tacit assumption that only a tiny percentage of them will result in claims. In the case when that’s not true, the CDS vendor becomes insolvent, and all its CDS’s become worthless (more precisely: have their worthlessness revealed.)  They’re evil because they encourage over-leveraging by giving the illusion of safety.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Mr. Schilling is right on here.  A risk diluted to near-zero isn’t zero.  When the black swan appears…POOF! Further background here.:

              http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/04/magazine/04risk-t.html?pagewanted=allReport

            • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

              ding ding ding ding!

              I would also add that the “insurer” was not required to have assets on hand to pay in the case of a claim.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I would also add that the “insurer” was not required to have assets on hand to pay in the case of a claim.

                Thus putting the lie to the claim that it was insurance in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                It’s hard to insure yourself, ain’t it?Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                Yes Kimmie, it is.  The insurance companies gamble we’ll never die or get in a car accident or suffer any other kind of untoward misfortune.  But, as always, the bean counters rule and are highly efficient–much more than even Kreskin–in figuring out the how, who, and why events are likely to happy.  Why can’t we just settle this whole mess and issue every born, living human being a bottomless line of credit?   After all, isn’t that what the Greeks really want?  Or maybe everyone?   Look at the French.  During the heat wave a few years ago, the offspring of the elderly gambled they could just pack up, head to the Riviera and other coastal paradises, cool themselves off for a few months and then return home.  Well guess what–they forgot to provide their parents with air conditioners!  And guess what else?   Thousands died from heat prostration.   This is Nanny State-itus at its best and worst, but living in the land of milk and honey will inevitably give you curdled milk.  Oh, if you’re ever to appear on Jeopardy, and should be asked this question–what is the only edible substance in this world that goes bad or gets spoiled?   Answer: HONEY, honey! Blaise, how great to have your wild, untamed, ill-tempered, lively brain and soul back again.  No need to ever fear you’ll get the “wobblies”.  I’ve never seen your picture before, but I’d bet you have a wild mane of hair,  flowing hair, Lisztian hair, blowing in the wind, tirelessly marching on in your quest to beat sense and sensibility into the starving mediocrities of humanity.  Carry on, my friend! p.s. Monsieur Blaise, I know you’re a polyglot worthy enough to dine with Thomas Jefferson –do you know how to say the last seven words of Christ in Aramaic?  Haydn of course wrote that maniacally gorgeous masterpiece of an oratorio of same name and was curious of the actual words, the sound of those words.  One other thing>>>>>Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                Sorry–the Blaise section should have been paragraphed properly as well as several other sections.  Gentlemen and Administrators, please allow me the indulgence of  briefly going off-topic–I wanted to ask Blaise a question about music and language–Blaise, here is a section taken from Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament–how deeply and emotionally distressing are his thoughts in German!  Of course, I’m just trudging along here in my poor German–what kind of feeling do you get of Beethoven’s actual words here–words of almost inconsolable despair–without question, God, Fate, and Nature saved his life.  If it was only God who saved this one man’s fate, then humanity has been justly and amply rewarded.   A question, if I may–should society, humanity preserve and protect their geniuses and keep them out of harms way when it comes to war?  Should Beethoven have been battling Napoleon on the battlefield instead of fighting him, (much more effectively) with pen to manuscript-composing the Eroica Symphony and the Emperor piano concerto?Do you think music and one’s language are inseparable?  As in the music of Bach could never have been created within French culture nor the music of Ravel ever have been composed by a German.  The characters of both composers are so vastly different that they simply cannot be separated from the distinct cultures that spawned them, Many thanks gentlemen if you let this comment go through–I am grateful!Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                Sheeeesh  re honey, that’s NEVER goes bad or spoiled.  No doubt Tom, who actually DID win and walk away with Ben Stein’s money, would have known the answer!Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            @James Haneley: “Why is the beginning always that the libertarian has to play defense?  I’ve yet to meet one liberal complaining about credit-default swaps who can coherently explain what they are, much less why they’re evil.*  I’d be delighted to praise you as being the first.”

            I don’t consider myself a liberal, but I think you consider me one, so will this May comment count as the first?

            Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          If everyone is allowed to make credit-default swaps, and everyone who buys into them knows what they’re getting, and if nobody cries foul when the bubble market created by credit-default swaps pops, then credit-default swaps are just another kind of investment.

          The problem happens when A: we declare that credit-default swaps are too risky to allow but then allow some people to make them anyway, B: the swaps are touted as low-risk investments even though they actually aren’t, and C: when it all goes sideways the people who were heavily invested in credit-default swaps insist that it’s FHMA’s job to fix everything because the investments were based on property.

          In other words, the market was insufficiently free.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Oi, My Name is Bear Sterns, and I’d like to buy insurance from myself!

            No, Virginia, an opaque fucking market is still a fucking stupid idea.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            If financial types make large salaries, commissions, and bonuses selling each other snake-oil, and the resulting collapse ruins the economy that the rest of us depend on for gainful employment, at least we didn’t interfere with the holiness of the free market.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “A free market will inevitably lead to failure and ruin!”

          “Why do you think that?”

          “No, you tell me how it won’t because you’re the one who thinks it works!”Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        James,

        speaking as a liberal who does like libertarianism in her philosophy, it means Pay The Fuck Attention To the Boundary Conditions.

        1) A free market requires free and unprivileged flow of information.

        2) A free market requires the ability to choose, and choose again, so that the market as a whole can correct for poor choices.

        3) A free market requires relatively equal power balance between buyers and sellers.

        I’ve got times when I’d claim any or all three are violated, and those times require either regulation, or not using a free market under that situation. (disclaimer: I’m pulling these three off the top of my flippin head. your ideas may vary and are solicited).

        I claim that a free market is not a stable solution, but an unstable equilibrium that naturally trends towards oligopoly or monopoly (mostly through economies of scale — some through the sheer accumulation of power). This is yet another reason why a free market requires regulation.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I claim that a free market is not a stable solution, but an unstable equilibrium that naturally trends towards oligopoly or monopoly (mostly through economies of scale

          Name one free market monopoly.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Creative? (if what you’re trying to say is “no, silly, without another company, it can’t be free market” that’s just circular logic). There were plenty of other companies that made sound cards — including one that could make better tech for 1/100th the cost of Creative’s.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              No, I wasn’t setting up a trap.

              If “plenty of other companies” made sound cards, in what way was Creative a monopoly?  Was it somehow impossible to buy sound cards from those other companies?  Why were so many companies making sound cards if they couldn’t sell them to customers?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                You are rather missing my point. Creative muscled the others out of the market — this used to be a “free market”, and then became a monopoly, through its use of monetary capital (e.g. bought the rivals out) and advertising.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Rocketfish? Turtle Beach? Siig? Creative hardly has a lock on the computer-audio market. And every motherboard manufacturer has their own integrated audio chipset. And, on the musician side of things, there are plenty of manufacturers of MIDI interface cards. If you believe that Creative is the only option for sound cards then you haven’t done your research.

                Now Wilton, on the other hand, that’s a REAL monopoly…Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                take it away, brother.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                OK, I’m still waiting to hear how Creative is a monopoly.  Apparently it isn’t.

                I have no idea who or what Wilton is.  Persuade me that it’s a free market monopoly.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Well you could try Google, but I guess you’re too busy being super-smart to do that.

                I’m making a joke. My wife teaches cake-decorating classes, and there is not a single cake-decorating product in the stores where she teaches that doesn’t have “Wilton” on it. People who complain that Microsoft ships Windows with Internet Explorer bundled in would crap themselves if they saw how Wilton works it.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Kimmi,

          You mean market failures justify government intervention?  Congrats, you, too, may be a libertarian.  Because letting market failures go unchecked is not what we mean by a free market, contra the apparently permanent and unchanging understanding of some liberals.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            I try not to claim that I’m not a libertarian. What I do claim is that I am a liberal and a leftist. ; – )

            Now, what you and I both do with the question of “what should be a market” may be different. I’ve got a real idea that insurance in general is kind of not such a good place to have a market — and that even if it is a good place, we don’t have the level of communication that would be necessary to make it work. [I’m thinking particularly housing and health insurance — though “universal” life insurance has systemic issues that make it particularly hard to evaluate.]Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I stand by the quoted words.

      It’s really pathetic, in the proper sense of that word, to consider the way that communism let down people like Jean-Paul Sartre and Arthur Koestler, to name just two.

      I’m at a loss as to what any of that has to do with my ideas on natural rights, however.  To me they seem independent of one another.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Perhaps you might dispense some of the same guff with which you damn the Socialists upon the likes of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, whose wise nostrums about Deregulation and Free Markets led us into the present abyss.    In the shadow of Reagan, many an economist has been led astray,  finding its nadir in Greenspan who believed the banks wouldn’t destroy themselves, as Sartre couldn’t believe Stalin would actually murder the kulaks.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          You knew doom was upon us, the day George W Bush made a good appointment — Bernanke.

          Extra Credit: Bernanke’s field of study was the Great Depression.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Milton Friedman, whose wise nostrums about Deregulation and Free Markets led us into the present abyss

          Bzzt.  There’s some of that bumper-sticker argumentation that Tod was criticizing libertarians for.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Someone forgot to pay their income tax on that “alternate currency” that Friedman was advocating. Those people got jailtime.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I know this isn’t really on topic, but hey, BP started it:

        I don’t think “pathetic” really describes Koestler’s experience, but it does, I think, describe Sartre’s. Koestler got out early, and stayed out, seemingly never really suffering from a great deal of dissonance. It seems to have been a very good thing for him, in fact, as it caused his mind and his career to flourish. Sartre, on the other hand, dragged his support for the Soviet Union out, even going so far as to suggesting ignoring, if not excusing, some of its… excesses, until the invasion of Hungary in ’56. He lost a lot of friends, and the respect of many colleagues over it, not the least of which was Merleau-Ponty (from a philosophical perspective, this is a true shame). Since their leftism was in response to fascism, and often clung to for that reason, it’s not surprising that some, like Sartre, had a difficult time letting go, but it is pathetic (in the proper sense).

        It was also a good thing for the European left in the long run, I think, in that it led to splinter groups that weren’t beholding to the PFC and similar groups, and therefore limited by strict ideology. It’s in large part because the European left shattered into many pieces on the rock of Soviet atrocities that we got the intellectual diversity of the 60s and 70s, where Foucault, Marcuse, Habermas, and Sartre are all leftists despite very different ideas about the individual, the collective, political action, power, legitimacy, etc.

        I know the economic crisis of 2008 wasn’t in any way comparable to Soviet atrocities in the 30s, 40s, and early 50s (before the thaw), but it would be nice if it had provided some intellectual traditions with a rock strong enough to cause some splinters that might produce some genuinely new ideas. It hasn’t, and that’s pathetic in the more colloquial sense.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          The economic crisis of 2008 was pretty much inevitable, once the banks and insurance companies and mortgage brokers were all deregulated and in bed with each other, with the blessings of the Free Marketeers Jason extols later in the same essay,

          Kahan’s analysis of 20th-century intellectuals seems to me biased in a similar direction, such that he appears determined to sidestep a very significant counter-current of the 20th century that favored commerce and capitalism despite many other intellectuals’ turn toward communism. In Kahan’s account, the Frankfurt School, Heidegger, and Foucault (in his least libertarian guise) are each given an extended hearing—and yet, curiously, the 20th-century market backlash doesn’t get much discussion at all. Where are Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper, Murray Rothbard, and Anthony de Jasay?

          Well, that’s an excellent question.   Where were they? Let us at long last dispense with this absurd cant and call a spade a spade.   Free Market means exactly that, free to self-destruct in the absence of Regulation.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          From Gustave le Bon:  The Crowd:

          Nations have never lacked leaders, but all of the latter have by no means been animated by those strong convictions proper to apostles. These leaders are often subtle rhetoricians, seeking only their own personal interest, and endeavouring to persuade by flattering base instincts. The influence they can assert in this manner may be very great, but it is always ephemeral. The men of ardent convictions who have stirred the soul of crowds, the Peter the Hermits, the Luthers, the Savonarolas, the men of the French Revolution, have only exercised their fascination after having been themselves fascinated first of all by a creed. They are then able to call up in the souls of their fellows that formidable force known as faith, which renders a man the absolute slave of his dream.

          The arousing of faith — whether religious, political, or social, whether faith in a work, in a person, or an idea — has always been the function of the great leaders of crowds, and it is on this account that their influence is always very great. Of all the forces at the disposal of humanity, faith has always been one of the most tremendous, and the gospel rightly attributes to it the power of moving mountains. To endow a man with faith is to multiply his strength tenfold. The great events of history have been brought about by obscure believers, who have had little beyond their faith in their favour. It is not by the aid of the learned or of philosophers, and still less of sceptics, that have been built up the great religions which have swayed the world, or the vast empires which have spread from one hemisphere to the other.

          The likes of Sartre and Milton Friedman have more in common that might be supposed.   If Sartre was cuddling up to Castro and other disgusting Communists, Milton Friedman was cuddling up to the equally disgusting proteges of Augusto Pinochet.   Both lent considerable cachet to their respective brands.   In some ways, Sartre was a mere bystander where Free Market Friedman prescribed the bitter pills which the Chilean junta brutally rammed down the throats of Chile’s people.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Heh.   Merit.   Thank you for favoring me with a little remembrance.   When Sartre was advocating Communism, the French were attempting to turn Vietnam into one vast rubber plantation for Michelin and engaging in Tit for Tat Terrorism in Algeria.  A fine example the French were setting, having been liberated from Nazism. That Sartre and Beauvoir and those silly Vietnamese would embrace Marxism should surprise nobody.

              Once, long ago, I fought the Communists.   Still hate the ideology.   But I’ve lived long enough to see what came of the triumph of Capitalism.   If the USSR bled out supporting foreign wars and eventually collapsed under the weight of its lies, the Free Market is now in tatters.   Once-proud regimes stagger under burdens of debt.    Our track record on human rights and privacy is as bad as some old third-string linebacker’s:  yes he’s big and dumb, but he’s slow too.

              Well, Communism has been discredited.   Now it’s Milton Friedman who’s been discredited.   What was deluxe becomes debris:   free market capitalism and deregulation brought about the largest financial debacle in history, yet still the Free Marketeers remain unconvinced there’s any flaw in their logic.

              The old Communists and Marxists have much in common with their erstwhile Free Marketeer enemies.   Both were Slaves to the Dream.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                the Free Market is now in tatters.   Once-proud regimes stagger under burdens of debt

                There’s something of a non-sequitur.  Unless you can describe the necessary causal linkage between free (or competitive) markets and government debt.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                The free market failed, because it failed to shovel cash into social welfare programs fast enough!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No.  It’s incumbent upon you to point out why the notionally-capitalist regimes ended up with that mountain of debt.   We have three sovereign examples of such collapses:  the Great Depression, the S&L Debacle and now the Great Contraction of 2008.

                I contend these three collapses were predicated on unregulated markets.   I further contend the government ended up shouldering the consequences of those collapses.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s like saying that an earthquake is a reason that global tectonics failed.

                No, earthquakes are part and parcel with global tectonics.

                The business cycle is part and parcel with a free market. We get the uptimes that everybody loves and we get the crashes that everybody hates.

                Going out of our way to prevent earthquakes is likely to result in only putting them off for a very little bit but also make the inevitable earthquake *WORSE*. I’m also not sure I’m a fan of “let’s stretch the earthquake out as looooong as possible to minimize the damage”.

                “But don’t you care about people being hurt in earthquakes?”

                “Would my caring about people being hurt in earthquakes help, particularly?”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Oh please.   Earthquakes?   Jeebus.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Jay,

                I ‘unno. Pittsburgh hasn’t seen a bust since the 70’s. It seems to do better than most places because of that. (houses can’t bubble here, we ain’t got nuff people fer that.)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Jay,

                you taking Mises view on why crashes happen? How does that influence your view on re-education?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There are two schools of thought.

                If we have fewer and lower peaks we’ll have fewer and higher troughs. This year will be much like last year which was much like the year before and next year will be much like that. Predictable and dull. “May you live in interesting times” is considered a curse.

                The other school of thought is that the large and huge peaks drag us forward and are worth the price we eventually pay in the deep trough that will follow… AND HERE’S THE POINT, that trough will be higher than peaks in the past. Always moving forward, always going up and up and up. Always interesting and nervewracking. The fact that “may you live in interesting times” could be seen as a curse is incomprehensible here.

                My view on re-education is currently percolating. I think it’s good for some but nowhere near most or even half. A few days ago there was a comment (Roger?) that said “the problem is that half of the kids eat the marshmallow” and that has stuck with me. We need a system that can incorporate the kids who eat the marshmallow and give them a place/purpose of their own.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Jay, plain and simple. Bubbles are costly. XYZ costs more when it’s in high demand then when it isn’t. Therefore anything bought during a bubble gets more expensive than otherwise.

                Perhaps we just got done building enough houses for the next twenty years — but we did that at substantially more cost than if we had built them constantly for the next twenty years (even going with 0 inflation, even disregarding the timevalue of money, and also disregarding the number that will be in ruins before someone wants to occupy them.)Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                Bubbles are costly in monetary terms.

                You’re still not going to make them go away.

                I do think that Blaise has a particular point, though; he’s talking specifically about risk markets.  Risk markets serve a purpose, but they certainly are at a level of abstraction that is removed from actual wealth to the extent that the market, itself, shouldn’t be allowed to be valued at more than it actually is.

                Capital flows follow profit as their first signal, they don’t follow wealth.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Pat,

                I think firing greenspan would be a great way to avoid bubbles in the future. ; – )

                [In all seriousness, yeah, some amount of bubbleage will always happen — money’s got to go somewhere. But why can’t we (da fed) target something simple, like 2% inflation? Taking Mises side, it will get misallocated somewhat, but at least we’ve somewhat minimized the amount of damage.]Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Pat,

                My problem with the current stock market is that it follows “NOW profit” well in advance of “FUTURE profit.” This has literally destroyed companies (CircuitCity) and put others on their last legs (bet me one of the life insurance companies goes under…)Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                The stock market is going to do that anyway.  I can’t see a way to get rid of that problem unless you want to put conditions on limited liability.

                You can, of course, choose not to play that game.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Pat,

                with all due respect, this sounds like the whole “health insurance” thing all over again. The market wasn’t nearly as bad in the 1950’s, in terms of trying for “short term profit over everything” — we invested in our corporations, and they lasted. Hell, it wasn’t so bad in the 1990’s.

                This isn’t a pure “failure of the market” unless you want to make the argument that the market has “optimized itself” recently.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Well, whose theory do you want?  There’s the Keynesian theory, there’s the monetarist theory, and there’s the Austrian theory, to name the three most prominent among economists.  The Keynesians are vague about the market forces that cause such financial crises but they believe government can pretty readily solve them by increasing spending and cutting taxes.  The monetarists think the problems are all caused by the Fed’s bad management of the money supply, but that getting out of them is easy enough just by increasing that supply.  The Austrians think it’s just a natural business-cycle restructuring thing that will work itself out reasonably quickly if government just doesn’t meddle to much.

                But none of those theories assumes that mountains of unsustainable debt are a necessary outcome of market economies.

                And I have to say that you have a clearly false premise (and appear to have contradicted yourself).  You explicitly said there are no free markets, but that all of them are regulated, yet you’re now blaming those markets for the problems.  If they’re not free, if they are regulated, then you certainly can’t blame free markets for the problems, and you are logically required to consider whether the structure of the regulatory regime contributed to those outcomes.  Of course it’s theoretically possible that the regime did so by not regulating the market enough–an outcome I’m sure you’d find more satisfactory than I–but a priori you can’t make that claim stick and logically it is necessary to ask whether, and if so to what extent, the regulations caused the problem by constraining the proper functioning of markets.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I have said no such thing.   I have said markets only exist in the presence of effective regulation which can separate losers from winners.   I have furthermore said deregulation of markets leads to overexposure, malfeasance, panic and collapses.   I have recommended the route of regulated exchanges for the conveyance of instruments of risk between parties.

                I have not asked for a Theory.  I have asked for an explanation of how Free Market Capitalism ended up at this sorry pass.   I have not been given one.   As a participant in risk markets, I am exquisitely aware of the need to make a buy match a sell.

                Anyone who says I’m contradicting myself simply doesn’t understand how risk markets actually work.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, First you tell me the free market is never free, then you ask me to tell you how free markets caused our problem.  That’s not reasonable.

                Anyway, I don’t believe it was simply free markets that caused us to “end up at this sorry pass,” so I reject your premise.

                I get you don’t think government regulations can possibly have been the cause of these economic crises.  I think that’s nonsense.

                markets only exist in the presence of effective regulation which can separate losers from winners.

                That sentence is simply incoherent.  How does regulation separate losers from winners more effectively than the market.  Regulation generally picks winners and losers, usually based on which one has more political influence.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                This is the last time I’m going to say it.  Risk markets are never free.   They must be regulated.   As varies risk, so varies the need for regulation.

                I don’t have a premise.  I have a conclusion, one you refuse to accept, that deregulated markets in risk have repeatedly led us to disaster.   There is a necessary market for risk.    There are regulated markets for such risk, again, I repeat myself in saying so.

                Who shall regulate such markets?   Both the markets and the government.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                Tulips! Or cite me a regulation. (seriously, there was a long spate of business cycles before we started the Fed, and before gov’t “really” started regulating).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, Risk markets?  OK.  As I look back through, the first time you used that limiting adjective was in the last post I responded to, and I missed it there, sorry.  But in all of your prior comments you just said “markets” without that qualifier, so HTF was I supposed to know you had such a limited portion of the overall market in mind?

                That’s why I talked about airlines, milk, etc.  Those are markets; they were or are regulated.

                All I know about risk markets is that we screw things up when we protect people from the consequences of their risky investments.  That, of course, is also a form of government regulation.  My point there is not that everything, or perhaps even anything, should exist in a market where there are absolutely no regulations of any kind, but that a blanket “pro-regulation” stance is fairly thoughtless in that it fails to take account of how easy it is for regulation to go wrong and the incentives for regulatory capture.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James, Blaise,

                It should be fairly evident now that you’re on the same side. So stop agreeing and move onto something a bit more interesting 😉

                (Derivatives are regulated under the Department of Agriculture. Isn’t that mindboggling? Isn’t it crazy how easy it is to buy farm-country senators?)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                As varies risk, so varies the need for regulation.

                Sincere question, Blaise.  What kind of risk are we talking about?  If we’re talking about risks to third-parties, I’m fully in agreement with you.  If we’re talking about risk to the parties directly involved in the transaction, then–sincere question again–why does it need to be regulated?

                If, really, your concern is about risk to third parties, then we’re not really in disagreement; we’re just arguing because of a failure to specify carefully enough what we’re talking about.

                If your concern is primarily risk to the parties involved in the transaction, then I think we’ll probably remain in disagreement.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                You contend that  “free market capitalism and deregulation brought about the largest financial debacle in history, yet still the Free Marketeers remain unconvinced there’s any flaw in their logic.

                Compared to what?

                As a rule, free marketers don’t usually deny the existence of business cycles. What a lot of free marketers do recommend is that we let the market play out and that we not bail out failed institutions. Indeed bail-outs increase the size and risk of said cycles and the state debt.

                But the major concern I have with your case is you are comparing free enterprise to… what?

                Free enterprise and science — the cornerstones of liberty — have for the first time in the history of the entire fricken universe — raised the standards of living of the majority of people above a couple of dollars a day. We can now support 7 billion people, with a steadily increasing standard of living for much longer lives, with more literacy, freedom and less violence.

                Where is the debacle? What are you comparing free enterprise to?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Roger,

                Okay, we’ll put you under the guns and cigarettes crowd.

                Because that’s where no bailouts head.

                People without their heads up their fucking butts at the time were shitting their pants. Sane, reasonable people. Even free market Republicans.

                 

                But, hell, let me play along — no bailout in 2008. What do you do when money ceases to have a known value? How does the free market “fix itself” when money itself, along with most assets, ceases to have a fixed/stable/slowly-drifting price?Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Kimmi,

                No problem from me. If the alternative is between total melt down and bail out, I would choose bail out with some penalties for those getting us in the situation and safeguards that it isn’t repeated.

                Financial (and health care) regulation are examples of what I call RULE WRESTLING. The quickest path to success in these fields no longer comes from creating value, but by working the rules and regulations and regulators to capture more of the zero sum pie. These fields are hopelessly FUBAR.

                I do have a solution: the rules need to be as simple as possible, consistent, transparent and resistant to manipulation (James supermajority rule would work well here).Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                The greatest invention in the history of the human race, the transistor, would never have been possible with the stultification and stifling of free markets by government regulations.  “Let er rip’ is why just about every significant technological invention in  this world has been invented either by a native American or a European immigrant.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Iceland. Look it up, man!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh, @Kimmi.   Deregulation is the answer to all the world’s problems.    I swear, these Free Marketeers sound just like the Communists of Old, blaming the failure of communism on its implementation.

                Slaves of the Dream.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Deregulation is the answer to all the world’s problems.

                Sure, and for liberals re-regulation is the answer to all the world’s problems.

                Perhaps you want a return to the days of regulated airline travel?  That allows high-income people like you to travel in luxury and avoid the necessity of having to crowd in with the hoi polli.

                I don’t think you’re actually like that, but that’s the effect of a lot of regulation.

                There’s also the issue of regulation of milk prices through the New England dairy cartel.  I’m sure you’re a fan of driving up milk prices for poor families.  Except that I’m pretty sure you’re really not, and just are somewhat mistaken about what regulation really means.

                You might also want to do a bit of reading on the concept of regulatory capture.  It won’t make a libertarian of you, but it might cause you a bit of discomfort in your comfortably pro-regulatory stance.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                WTF is this about regulated airlines?   I merely ask for enforceable contracts on risk markets.   Toss all the sand in the air you like, the problem remains.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                … you know ValuJet? The one where the tail fell off the bloody airplane? You know what it’s called now, right? Ain’t that a grand market in action. Rename, Rebrand, escape Consequences.

                What is the difference between regulatory capture and TooBigToFail? In the first, the government is aware of the collusion, in the second it is merely blackmailed. (terrorized, if I can use O’Neil’s term)

                Blaise,

                So if we get enforceable contracts, you’re okay with 50x leverage? If you’re pro-regulation, can you please provide what regs you Want?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let’s discuss regulatory capture.   Let’s take the example of one such regulatory body, the CFTC, one which affects me as a commodities trader.    When Enron was allowed to gin up false trades by the truck full, it couldn’t have happened without the connivance of the CFTC.

                Well, it’s happening again.   The silver market got jacked last year and the CFTC did nothing.

                I’m not asking for Rampant Socialism.   I’m asking for market regulators to do something about Regulatory Capture in the form of Wink ‘n a Nod Crooked Capitalism.   All this Libertarian crap about Force and Fraud, when it actually happens, when Fraud goes down and the regulators politely thank the whistle blower,  that’s what happens when the regulators get in bed with the regulated.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                … you know ValuJet? The one where the tail fell off the bloody airplane? You know what it’s called now, right? Ain’t that a grand market in action. Rename, Rebrand, escape Consequences.

                AirTran is the domestic carrier with the best safety record of any airline.

                If I didn’t know better, Kimmi, I would swear you were deliberately trying to make up the most embarrassing nonsense you could.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                According to Wiki, ValueJet also lost $55 million after the crash and replaced its CEO.  Yep, no consequences whatsoever.  Fishing markets.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                now, was that brought to you by the same people that brought you Ebay?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                Let’s discuss regulatory capture.  

                Yes, let’s.  You describe a textbook case of what people like me predict will happen.  Your very use of the example supports my position.  So where do you go next with it?  What’s your proposed solution?  To say that you’re “asking for market regulators to do something about Regulatory Capture” is to say that you’re asking for the crooked cops to do something about the gangsters that are bribing them.

                That’s not a proposed solution; it’s wishful thinking.

                All this Libertarian crap about Force and Fraud, when it actually happens, when Fraud goes down and the regulators politely thank the whistle blower,  that’s what happens when the regulators get in bed with the regulated.

                Exactly, and for christ’s sake that’s what we libertarians are pointing out has happened, is happening, and unless you can come up with some heretofore undiscovered solution will fishin’ keep happening!  How the hell you get any kind of a criticism out of libertarians at exactly the point where you start repeating our points is a mystery that surpasseth all understanding.

                You recognize the problem, and yet all you ask for is more of the same formula that causes the problem.

                So what would a libertarian propose?  First, let the fishers fail.  If we have to bail out some to prevent economic meltdown, bail out as few as possible and let the rest fail.  Not only does that provide more incentive to avoid failure, it provides more incentive for us average folks to take more responsibility with our investments.  Second, promote the use of civil actions instead of relying fruitlessly on the regulators.

                Will that create paradise?  Will it be perfect?  Of course not, and you’ll never hear me claim that it will.  Will it be worse than the current system?  It’s hard to imagine how?  But at least it’s not as mindless an approach as saying, “X aint’ working, let’s use more X.”  You know what they say about the person who keeps doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result?

                 Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                It’s grerat that AirTran has an excellent safety record now, but according to Wiki,

                By this time, ValuJet’s accident rate was not only one of the highest in the low-fare sector, but was 14 times that of the big carriers. After the Flight 592 crash, many of ValuJet’s other cost-cutting practices came under scrutiny. It had allowed one airplane to fly 140 times despite a leaky hydraulic system, and allowed another airplane to fly 31 times with a malfunctioning weather radar.

                Oh, and the severance agreement with ValueJet’s CEO:

                Robert L. Priddy. In connection with the retirement of Mr. Priddy as an executive officer of our Company in 1997, we entered into a consulting agreement with Mr. Priddy. Our consulting agreement with Mr. Priddy provided for payments of $100,000 per year through 2002, $20,000 per year for 2003 and 2004, and for certain health and medical benefits.

                That showed him!Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Mike S,

                The implication of what the ValuJet comment was that ValuJet did not pay a price for its malfeasance and merely opened up a new shop under a new name, representing a market failure. And indeed that would have been problematic, but in addition to changing their name, they also changed their practices as well (apparently).Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Will,

                which in turn shows the power of the market to reuse products of a failed business model in a new one, through the power of advertising.

                somehow, though, there are still all sorts of factories out there rusting…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, well. At last we come to some semblance of sanity in this discussion. Regulatory Capture of the sort I describe cannot be allowed to thrive. Yet it does, not because the regulations are unsound but because the regulators are crooked. The Libertarians aren’t quite ready to admit markets aren’t free and they’ll spin themselves into Klein Bottles before they’ll admit regulation needs teeth. You want failure? Fine. How do you propose to enforce failure on these bums?  Make the margin call, like the regulated market would?  Stop them out of their positions?   Oh, that’s right, we don’t need actual enforceable contracts.

                I have long since concluded unregulated capitalism inevitably produces Chapter 10 of Animal Farm. This happens, not because capitalism can’t work, it works just fine. If you think the cops are crooked, forgive me for reading your latest post as advocating a world without cops at all. With my scheme, you wouldn’t need bailouts at all. Nobody gets bailed out on CBOT or CME. Wins and losses get processed through settlement. And oh, by the way, nobody’s too big to fail with my scheme. It’s real capitalism, not this idiotic laissez-faire capitalism that shall solve all our problems. Clearly, you have no idea what actual failure looks like. Neither did that idiot Greenspan. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,”

                Civil actions? Excuse me a moment of dark hilarity.

                And while we’re on the subject, don’t put words in my mouth about proposing more of the same formula. I’ve proposed something quite different. I want real winners and real losers and a referee to pull someone’s hand in the air when he wins and a ticket with a timestamp and a counterparty code from the middle of the trading pit. The truly free market is a fucking economic Somalia and don’t you forget it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Obviously we just need regulator regulators that can’t be captured the way that the regulators were. Perhaps some regulator regulator regulators would help with that.

                Also: We should have them be union jobs.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Blaise,

                do you comment at hoocoodanode? (you’re starting to sound more like ’em)

                I say we get fresh faced econ grads. About every four years. Don’t let ’em marry, and watch them careful for too much spending (let ’em live like Volkher. they’re econ grads, they should already know how).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Uh, Jaybird… want to see how this might work in practice?    Get on the next plane to Vegas.   They say it’s family-friendly these days.

                Wake up.   Gonna run a gambling operation?   Start with a good pit boss and two accountants.   Each accountant is sposta keep an eye on the pit boss and the other accountant.

                See, this is where I find Libertarian philosophy more than slightly naive.   Y’all need to spend more time around the actual Free Market, climb down from your ivory towers and get an actual trading account and a jacket and climb into the Corn pit.   Your first outtrade will be an interesting experience.   Ain’t nothing sadder than standing in that line at the outtrade window.   That was Greenspan’s problem, too.    He just got sloppy.   Couldn’t understand how greed and stupidity could lead the markets into the abyss.    Trusting idiot, thinking those banks would actually operate on behalf of their clients and not their own criminal self interest.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                You are arguing yourself into all kinds of weird corners. As a free marketer, I  think financial regulation should be minimal, clear, consistent and have teeth.  I think none of these were true 3 years ago, and none are true today.

                As a free marketer, if I argue for deregulation, I am not arguing for economic Somalia. I am arguing for minimal, clear, consistent regulation with teeth. Are you with me or against me?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Kimmi, except they are “reusing the products” in a much safer manner, apparently, to judge by their safety records. So either the planes were the problem, in which case they must have been replaced, or (more likely) maintenance and safety checks were the problem, and a problem that has been fixed. They did more than just change advertising. They became a (comparatively) safe airline.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                And while we’re on the subject, don’t put words in my mouth about proposing more of the same formula. I’ve proposed something quite different.

                You’ve proposed more regulation, without actually specifying how it would function differently.  That’s not proposing something quite different.

                I want real winners and real losers and a referee to pull someone’s hand in the air when he wins and a ticket with a timestamp and a counterparty code from the middle of the trading pit.

                This is just frickin’ word salad.  You’re not defining your terms, you’re not explaining what any of that means, and you’re not explaining how any of it would actually be designed and function.  Hell, I still don’t even know what you mean by “regulation which can separate losers from winners.”  It’s meaningless gibberish.

                The truly free market is a fucking economic Somalia and don’t you forget it.

                Calling Tod Kelly–here’s some more of that bumper sticker language, and guess which side it’s coming from?  Wow, Blaise, that’s just a stunningly compelling argument.  How about this, “Government is a fucking killing machine, and don’t you forget it.” Now you’re persuaded aren’t you?  Yeah, about as much as I am by your idiotic statement (and I actually have more empirical evidence to back mine up).

                 Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Roger,

                That depends. Are you okay with a trader who deliberately rigs the game to trigger someone’s insurance policy (that he has access to from within his larger financial organization)? How about deliberately gaming the system to drop prices to hit stops?

                I figure we’re on the same side. Blaise is merely skeptical and a liberal — which does mean he for “free markets” (which is not actual free market ala Russia or Somalia.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                this is where I find Libertarian philosophy more than slightly naive.   Y’all need to spend more time around the actual Free Market, climb down from your ivory towers and get an actual trading account and a jacket and climb into the Corn pit.

                Blaise,  I have two problems here.

                First, you haven’t actually shown us why the corn pit doesn’t actually work.  You’ve thrown around lots of claims, but you haven’t actually provided one fishing scrap of real solid evidence or explanation about why trading corn futures or something like it has to be tightly regulated.  Maybe if you tried to do so you could explain the gibberishy “regulators picking winners and losers” business.

                Second, you keep writing as though that market you work in is the sum total of the market.  How fuckiing sheltered are you in your Madison Avenue penthouse (which is probably about as realistic as my alleged ivory tower).  Do you realize that I operate in markets every goddamed day of my damned life?   Do you realize that my grocery store is part of the market?  That my auto mechanic is part of the market?  That my HVAC repairman is part of the market?  That my college is part of the market?  That Amazon.com is part of the market?  That the Dell computer with Windows and Intel inside and the Mozilla window in which I’m typing this are all part of the market?  That the YMCA where I take my kids for swimming is part of the market?

                If you can only think of the market as the exchange of securities, it’s a bit rich for you to be calling other people naive.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                Google nestle boycott. not to get into whether or not the boycott is a good thing, but can you see why Blaise considers a free market to be an Economic Somalia? If not, you should look up currency traders, and how they manipulate currency to devastate poor countries (and make Money!)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                I’ve cited above reasons why the securities market is failing to be well-regulated. It’s one thing to be big enough to cause a sag in a stock, it’s another to do that deliberately to profit off of it. So has Blaise, in a letter about silver.

                Shall we just talk about derivatives, then? After all, they’re more money than the entire world’s GDP. http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/06/09/risk-quadrillion-derivatives-market-gdp/

                If you have to generalize, generalize big.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                @Roger.   If these seem like weird corners, maybe it’s because I’ve been around this problem and they aren’t weird to me.   I’m very much with you.  If you believe effective regulation of risk markets is required, that’s a demonstration of sanity.

                The problem is OTC trading of swaps.   We solve that problem by calling it insurance and regulating it as such.

                What’s a free marketeer?  Someone who believes in a well-run market.   Lay off all this talk of Minimal, I don’t want any more regulation than necessary.   But I’m telling y’all plainly, as varies risk so must vary regulation.   So lay off all this talk about Weird Corners, will you?

                Thank you for your consideration.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Blaise,

                OK. I know absolutely zero about swaps.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, there’s also this to consider, from economist Tyler Cowen.

                We probably don’t have any solution to the hazards created by our financial sector, not because plutocrats are preventing our political system from adopting appropriate remedies, but because we don’t know what those remedies are (emphasis added).

                It’s easy to assume that there A) are solutions, B) that we can know, and C) that we can effectively implement them. But each of those three is questionable, especially in the financial sector. If we start regulating like blind monkeys just because we feel the need to do something there is absolutely no guarantee we’ll make things better than worse. Look at your own proposal–it’s an outcome, not a procedure. The question is how you structure a procedure to arrive at the desired outcome, and anyone who’s done any serious policy study will tell you it’s a lot harder than almost anyone ever expects it to be.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The corn pit works fine. It’s an octagon, four sides for buy and four for sell. It’s a highly regulated market at the end of Jackson Street in Chicago. Preez to read comment.

                It hardly matters what you think the market is. I’ve confined myself to the risk markets, where the trouble is. Your grocery store is directly impacted by what goes on in the commodities and futures markets. Everyone’s impacted by those markets. That’s where prices for everything are discovered.

                Now I’ll tell you what’s rich, Hanley, is thinking you aren’t directly impacted by the shenanigans of dirty OTC swaps. You can save your chihuahua snarling for someone else. By my reckoning, seventeen fucking trillion dollars just blew off into space like some solar eruption, all because a bunch of naive saps refused to believe the banks were stupid enough to self-destruct.   Maybe when the Libertarians finally come to terms with Force and Fraud like their Objectivist cousins, they’ll stop sounding like so many sullen teenagers whining about Dad ‘n Mum enforcing a curfew.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise, I didn’t ask where the corn market was.  I’m actually familiar with where the Chicago Board of Trade is.  If that’s where you happen to work, maybe we can have a drink when I’m in Chicago next April.

                But you haven’t actually “explained” it.  Almost all of your “explanations” are vague statements absent any particularly useful detail, and yet you expect them to be compelling.  It doesn’t work that way.

                It hardly matters what you think the market is. I’ve confined myself to the risk markets, where the trouble is.

                Aha, so you are saying that most markets are not where the trouble is.  I’ll take that as an admission and then wait for you to object.  And of course it doesn’t matter what I think the market is–it doesn’t matter what you think the market is, either.  But from an economic perspective the market is the whole universe of voluntary exchange for value, and I’m not inclined to let you hijack the debate and pretend that the risk markets are the only part of the market of interest.  This is my post so I get to define the terms of debate, and the terms are that the post applied to all markets, not just one part of them.  So when you began this particular exchange and spoke of just markets, without qualification, obviously I took it to mean markets in general–the fault was yours.  And now I’m happy to distinguish between markets in general and the risk markets, but if you think that ‘m willing to let the discussion focus only on risk markets, you’re making a mistake.  And no you don’t get to make that determination because you stepped into my discussion and in my discussion you’re not in charge of the terms of debate.  If you don’t like my rules, go find another discussion.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Okay Roger, here’s swaps in a nutshell.   Say you’ve taken a big position.   How do you make sure you’re not going to get ruined?   See, you don’t actually make or lose money on a position until you exit that position and your futures contract converts back to cash in your trading account.

                The way I manage this is to enter a market with three orders.  If I’m betting on the market going up, I enter with a buy and two sell orders at market.   That way, I’ve set risk and profit stops.   I enter at market.   If the market goes up to my sell price, the profit stop is executed and I book the profit.   If, however, it sags, I don’t lose my shirt, because my risk stop sell order goes off, and I’ve only lost that much.   Turn it inside out, I’m betting the market is going to sag, I enter with one sell and two buys.   Doesn’t matter which comes first.  “Buy low, sell high”

                But there’s another way to compose that insurance policy.   I can enter into a swap.   I can lock in a maximum price for a given commodity.   Think about an oil refinery.   It can process B barrels of oil every month, and wants to lock in a delivery price.   But there’s money to be made (or lost)  on the difference between the market price and the fixed price I’ve agreed to.  The fixed end, well, that’s easy to contemplate.   The floating end, different story.

                Now this swap business works quite well for people who actually use those commodities.   But the swap zoo is full of fierce animals.   If you own your home you’ve probably got mortgage insurance:  hard to close on a house without it, purchased through some state-regulated insurance company.

                But if you own hundreds of mortgages, purchased on a tranche of such mortgages, what you want is a steady stream of money coming in from the homeowners.   We call this an annuity in accounting, money you can count on every month.   There are helpful people out there in this wicked world who will agree to take on the risk involved in such a proposition, for some people will default on their mortgages.

                These tranches come in various flavours.   Some are riskier than others, but under most circumstances, you’d think only a few mortgages out of the whole bundle would fail.    And that’s how a few big insurance companies like AON bet.   They issued Ackshul Fackshul Credit Default Swap Insurance.

                When the shit hit the fan, the insurance failed and a relatively arcane acronym entered the American vocabulary, CDS, the credit default swap.

                So.   Let’s review.   A swap is an insurance policy.   No big deal under most circumstances.   Issued by an insurance company, it’s a routine backstop for risk.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The implication of what the ValuJet comment was that ValuJet did not pay a price for its malfeasance

                Does ValueJet mean the management of the stockholders?  The latter (I’m guessing) took it in the the shorts when the stock valuation plummeted, but they’re guilty only oh having made a bad bet.  Management, who are directly responsible for the slipshod safety practices, were rewarded with nice parachutes (unfortunate metaphor not intended.)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                When there’s too much speculation, the ships don’t sail.

                When there’s too much speculation, people get robbed (natural gas, last I checked, was significantly undervalued. The barons are banking it, then they’ll let it bound up and sell their bank. it’s a good racket, and not healthy for the marketplace)Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                Unless you’re talking things that ain’t commodities (or publically traded companies), the risk markets affect everything. I remember the run on rice a few years back.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sigh.  Kimmi, the issue is not regulation vs. no regulation.  It’s what kind of regulation and how much, and for that we have to be specific about the details of the problem.  The repetition ad nauseum of the word “risk” never gets us to the point of specifics.

                That’s why I kept asking questions, that unfortunately weren’t actually answered. When I asked for an explanation of the corn exchange, I meant what are the problems inherent in such an exchange that need to be regulated, and what I got instead was a description of its physical location and shape (but I’m pretty sure that it’s location on Jackson St. in Chicago and the fact that it’s octagonal aren’t relevant issues when discussing what type of regulation it needs).  Likewise, I asked about third party risk vs. direct participant risk–those call for different types of regulation because direct participants can legitimately be asked to shoulder a lot of the risk on their own (in fact we can legitimately ask whether they shouldn’t have to shoulder all of it if they want to play the game), whereas third parties shouldn’t, in most cases, be asked to do so.  But I got no answer to that, either.

                Let’s say that my friend suggests that I play Russian roulette, and if I survive he’ll roll two dice and give me $10,000 if he rolls snake eyes.  That’s risky, but should that be regulated?  If so, what elements of it make it legitimately regulable?  And what ought those regulations look like?  Just saying, “Oh, that’s risky so it should be regulated” doesn’t actually tell us anything useful.

                Tod Kelly wrote about bumper sticker language.  “It’s risky so regulate it” is nothing more than a slogan designed to fit on the ass-end of a car.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James,

                stop giving the gov’t and corporations the means and method to collude in financing Dumb Money through our own dollars. I think that’ll help markets, as it will mean that the actual investors will have some fucking skin in the game. More than 50% of the stock market going “buy and hold” on mutual funds that they can’t influence on a reasonable timescale is kinda… idiotic. I told people to get out after the first jiggle of a crash, way back when. Don’t think anyone took me up on it — more fool them.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                James think you’re defining risk a trilfe differently than Blaise means it. he means “odds of death/disablement/extreme poverty” — large scale risk, not merely mathematical risk. The former is a stronger argument for regulation than the latter, as experiencing the downside on many things is likely to ruin you (Unless you have Screaming Babies, and can appeal to the Government, to INSURE you when private companies refuse to. Gulf Coast, here’s looking at you!)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                How is Iceland doing today compared to Greece?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                With a government takeover of the banks, massive foriegn loans, and capital controls, it’s doing pretty well. A government stimulus didn’t hurt, either.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If you’re going to implode, implode first.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Chris,

                for all intents and purposes, Iceland is no longer a soveriegn state. Multinational Corps for the win!Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                If all regulations were removed from commercial airlines, would flying in unsafe airplanes be the risk airplane travellers should be allowed to take?   I would also hope getting one helluva discount on airfares was part of the package. And also, you have a pilot like Sully to get you safely to your destination even if it involves landing on the Hudson River. And your “pilot” getting on the intercom radio speakers, announcing this: “This is Captain Jarrah, “Ladies and gentlemen: here the captain, please sit down and keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on board. So sit.”

                And then, it’s “Let’s roll…”Report

              • Avatar Franz Schubert says:

                And also, just about ALL of pharmacological research and development is and has been done in the good ole U. S. of A.   It’s a billion dollars right out of the chute–how else do think Canada can parasitically steal our drugs? Any drugs getting made, researched and developed in Saudi Arabia? Ireland? Venezuela? Germany and the United States account for 95% of all drugs invented, researched, developed and sold in the world. Remove all regulations on every single item sold on the free market and overnight, the world is a much better and prosperous place. It really can’t be argued otherwise.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Now you listen here, Hanley. First it was some dumbassery about how the corn pit didn’t work. Which you got wrong, because you weren’t reading. It does work, precisely because it’s a regulated market. Then you’re trying to tell me you know where Jackson Street ends. I have no intention of having a drink with anyone who argues with me about the obvious, drunk or sober.

                Here are the Particularly Useful Details. I want this country to regulate risk markets, in particular I want the swaps market regulated, as it regulates the insurance industry, because that’s exactly what the fuck it is.

                Where have I proposed to regulate any other market? I’ve said as varies risk, so must vary regulation. If you’re selling food, I fully expect the health inspector to put in an appearance to ensure you’re not going to kill people with rotten food. But of course, since it’s not all that risky, what’s a few people’s lives in the larger picture, we can do away with the food inspectors. Minimal is the Watchword of Hanley. Two can play this game of putting words in people’s mouths, dude. Minimal food poisoning. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, eh?

                It doesn’t matter which market we’re talking about. Get a competent actuary to derive the degree of risk, I’ll tell you within a micron how much regulation it needs.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                Get a competent actuary to derive the degree of risk, I’ll tell you within a micron how much regulation it needs.

                That’s pretty funny given that you haven’t managed yet to explain with anything remotely resembling clarity just what types of regulation are needed and the precise problems that require it.  “Risk” is a vague term.  And now you’re claiming you can tell me within a micron just how much regulation is needed for any specified market?  That’s fantasyland talk.

                But even assuming you could, you haven’t answered the question of how to get such regulations passed, and then how to ensure the regulators don’t get captured.  Your Vegas example doesn’t work.  In Vegas the pit boss and accountants are normally working with new clientele all the time rather than having regular collaboration with the same folks in perpetuity, and they don’t have a congressional committee breathing down their necks.  The structures that encourage regulatory capture aren’t there, so the analogy fails.  You seem to think it’s an amazingly simple task, and yet you seem to agree that somehow we’ve never accomplished it.

                Now you listen here, Hanley. First it was some dumbassery about how the corn pit didn’t work. Which you got wrong, because you weren’t reading.

                No, I never said the corn pit didn’t work.  I was asking for an explanation of how the actual trading structure worked as the necessary precondition for explaining what types of regulation were necessary for it.  Instead you told me it’s physical shape.  Not too helpful.

                Here are the Particularly Useful Details. I want this country to regulate risk markets, in particular I want the swaps market regulated, as it regulates the insurance industry, because that’s exactly what the fuck it is.

                Funny that you capitalize “Particularly Useful Details” (TM?), despite not actually giving, you know, actual details.

                A trader once told me that a monkey could do his job.  You’ve convinced me he was right.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                No.  I’ll tell you what’s funny, having to explain prob and stats to some bloggo blowhard.

                Risk is quantifiable.   Expected value.   It’s defined in general terms as the probability of a loss and the value of that loss.   Though airliners are quite safe, the value of any one is quite high and the number of souls aboard implies we ought to have safety inspections.

                Nothing vague about risk.   And I’ll take that monkey comment as a compliment.  When I was a kid, we raised a little vervet monkey.   She grew up and moved into the mango tree out back.   She would have great fun with the chickens, jumping from the top of the tree, sailing down through the branches and bouncing off the corrugated tin roof of the first chicken house, then the second chicken house and onto the surrounding fence, reducing the chickens to hysterical clucking.   Eventually she matured and left to join a troop of vervets.   She came back to visit a few times with her babies in tow.   She’d let us touch her but not her babies.   Jojo.   Fond memories.  Monkeys don’t need to calculate risk but there’s only so far they’ll go out on the branch to get fruit.

                Every day, I’d take the train to downtown Chicago.   On the way back, a baby was screaming at the top of his little lungs.   I remarked to the guy sitting across from me, “If I could get that kid to scream ’40’, I’d have him in the corn pit tomorrow.”

                The gambling analogy is rather better than you want to admit, probably because you have no clear idea of what a pit boss actually does.   The pit boss handles cheating.   He manages the floor through delegates, the floormen.   The floormen manage the dealers and croupiers.   They watch the dealers as closely as they watch the players.

                I’m through with you.   I’ve said how swaps should be regulated:  as we would regulate an insurance company.   In the USA, insurance is regulated through the several states.   Gambling follows the same regulatory pattern.   I’m not going to be blackguarded with obviously uninformed guff.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m through with you.   I’ve said how swaps should be regulated:  as we would regulate an insurance company.

                That still doesn’t provide any detail, because you don’t explain how we would regulate an insurance company in your preferred regulatory system.

                And not only don’t you need to explain stats and probability to me, you haven’t explained them.  It’s just like your talk about risk.  Merely saying such things exist is not remotely the same as explaining them.

                The part that’s disturbing is not that you disagree with me, which is perfectly fine and legitimate, but that you think saying “we need regulation because of risk” is actually an explanation rather than a slogan, or at best, a thesis statement still begging for its supportive arguments.

                I’d still buy you a beer when I’m in Chicago, though.  Maybe face to face would work better than on-line.  And I’d love the see the Board of Trade in action.  I always point it out to my students so they at least know it exists.

                 Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                 That Sartre and Beauvoir and those silly Vietnamese would embrace Marxism should surprise nobody.

                You know, I’ve heard basically that sentiment, and much of the rest of your comment, somewhere in this thread. I can’t remember where. But it’s so good to have you back.

                Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That the French, so recently liberated from a cruel overlord, would visit the same cruelties on their erstwhile colonies was, well, a bit much.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          I don’t think “pathetic” really describes Koestler’s experience…

          Possibly not, but Darkness at Noon is definitely the reflected story of a great real-world betrayal, in a way that The Gulag Archipelago just isn’t.  Solzhenitsyn never had any illusions.  Well, not about communism anyway.

           Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I think Koestler was betrayed, but in a different way than Sartre. Koestler joined the party prior to, or at the beginning of, the worst excesses (the civil war was a civil war, and while quite bloody, not unusually so for a civil war, particularly in that part of the world, so it was easy to excuse those excesses). He left when the excesses became quite clear to people outside of the Soviet Union… ’37 or ’38 if I remember correctly (the year, or the year after, the purge). He was betrayed in the way that a lot of Soviet communists were: they thought they were getting a dictatorship of the proletariat, and instead got a dictator, and an historically ruthless one at that. Koestler thought he was joining a party that would work for the workers, only to find out that it had no problem killing them at any moment for any reason. That sucks, but at least he didn’t struggle with it so much that, as Sartre did, he excused, ignored, or otherwise avoided what the Soviet Union was doing to its people. Koestler was a youth betrayed, as most youth are. Sartre was something much, much more than that.Report

  6. Avatar 62across says:

    James –

    I am having a hard time reconciling this:

    Most of us libertarians, at least those with whom I have any regular communication, are just trying to encourage marginal improvements in our current society, rather than trying to radically restructure our society in the short-term to create this largely mythical libertarian paradise.

    with the rest of your post. I am hoping you can clarify.

    As you proceed through your post, you state directly that a libertarian society is likely unsustainable due to perverse incentives, then offer a solution that represents a substantial (granted hypothetical) departure from the current state of affairs. Could you offer some examples of marginal improvements that you see would lead to a sustainable, more libertarian society?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      62 Across,

      I was arguing for the semi-sorta-ideal libertarian society because I was responding to the frame of Erik’s question.  And often on here I argue from that position just to define what I see as the effective theoretical limits of libertarianism.  So it’s not really contradictory with what I claim is our primary goal, although I can see how that misunderstanding could occur.

      As to marginal improvements I would like to see today, here are 10 (they’re not necessarily a “top 10,” and they’re in no particular order):

      1. End the war on drugs.

      2. Radically reduce the armed forces (ok, that might be beyond marginal, but I think changes at the margin there are unlikely to stick).

      3. Eliminate our current welfare programs and shift to a negative income tax.

      4. Pass a constitutional amendment that bans subsidies to any for-profit corporation.  (I’m not a fan of subsidies for not-for-profit ones, either, but I don’t want to get rid of the tax deduction for contributions to non-profits, which is a de facto subsidy.)

      5. Repeal the corporate income tax.  It gets passed on to consumers anyway, so it’s just a way of pretending we’re making corporations pay their fair share, rather than substantively doing so.  And it would reduce accounting costs and diminish the incentive to engage in rent-seeking in looking for special exemptions to it.

      6. Promote the expansive use of school vouchers.

      7. Eliminate the federal law that allows for the creation of agricultural cartels.

      8. Change our health care system so that it’s actually more of a market system, reserving government’s role primarily for catastrophic care and the very poor.  At a minimum this requires severing the link between employment and health insurance (which is what is actually blocking most unemployed/self-employed people from getting health insurance), and making it easier to set up inter-state buying networks.

      9. Allow same-sex marriage.

      10. Constitutional amendment to overturn the Kelo decision.

      Note: Many, perhaps most, libertarians would add “get rid of the Federal Reserve” to that list.  I disagree with them, but enough do that it’s fair to jump ferociously on us as a group for that.

      One complaint I’ve received in the past about these is that they’re not distinctly libertarian policies, but a mix of liberal and conservative policies.  Yes, but the mix and the type of mix, reducing government authority in each case, is what makes it libertarian.  That makes it distinct from a liberal set of policies, a conservative set of policies and a mixed set that increased government authority in each case (banning credit-default swaps and abortion, for example).Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

         At a minimum this requires severing the link between employment and health insurance

        You want to pass a law forbidding employers from providing health care as a benefit?

        Repeal the corporate income tax.  It gets passed on to consumers anyway,

        If a firm can raise its prices by N to cover its taxes, why can’t it raise it prices by the same N just because it feels like it?Report

        • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

          I think it would likely be enough to remove the tax subsidy for employer-provided health insurance. Some would choose to continue to do so, some would not. Of course, where Hanley and I part ways on this is that I think the only appropriate way to make that kind of system work justly is to provide a public option (or, better yet, single payer).

          As for the latter, your argument maybe proves too much. What stops firms from just raising their prices freely now?Report

        • Avatar bluntobject says:

          You want to pass a law forbidding employers from providing health care as a benefit?

          Shitcanning the employer health-insurance tax subsidy would be a good start.

          If a firm can raise its prices by N to cover its taxes, why can’t it raise it prices by the same N just because it feels like it?

          “Passed on to the consumer” doesn’t necessarily mean “prices go up” (although often it does, as increased corporate taxes give those companies cover for raising their prices — “the gummint made us do it!”).  The money to pay increased CITs have to come from somewhere, and if demand’s too elastic to raise prices it could come from lowering quality (switching to cheaper/inferior suppliers or components), firing least-productive workers, increasing service fees, or &c.

          CIT pressures apply to all firms in a market, too, so considering one firm in isolation is a bit dodgy.  Fix a market segment.  If the CIT were to disappear overnight, prices wouldn’t immediately drop to compensate.  Maybe firms would discover that they could keep the same prices and make higher profits without consumers complaining (more liquidity, more investment? Works for me).  Maybe one or two firms competing in that segment would realize that they could lower prices while remaining profitable, and undercut the rest of the segment for a month or two before a new price equilibrium established itself.  A great deal depends on demand elasticity.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            The money to pay increased CITs have to come from somewhere, and if demand’s too elastic to raise prices it could come from lowering quality (switching to cheaper/inferior suppliers or components), firing least-productive workers, increasing service fees, or &c.

            Or out of profits, which is what the CIT is intended to tax.Report

            • Avatar bluntobject says:

              Assume that corporations are greedy self-interested.  Why would they cut profits if they could cut anything else first?  (And what happens to the pension funds that depend on those corporate profits by way of investment?)Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                They could do all that cost-cutting CIT or no. Why, as rational actors, wouldn’t they always?

                And the pension funds, also rational actors, could elect a board of directors that would cut management salaries and perks to sensible levels.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject says:

                They could do all that cost-cutting CIT or no. Why, as rational actors, wouldn’t they always?

                Suppose you have a worker who isn’t very productive — let’s call him Bob.  Bob racks up costs of $1.00 for every sale he makes, but because you gain a profit of $1.01 on those sales, you keep Bob on the staff.  You’re not making much profit off of Bob — just a cent per sale — but you’re making something.

                Now the CIT goes up by two cents per sale.  Bob still costs you $1.00 per sale, but you’re only getting $0.99 per sale.  Bob no longer pays for himself.  You fire Bob.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                In the real world, the sales manager fires Bob, because he’s killing the team’s productivity stats,  and finds someone better.  Or in the real real world, he fires Bob and raises everyone else’s quota.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject says:

                Or in the real real real world, there are fixed costs to firing Bob — not least of which is hassle for the sales manager — so Bob gets to keep his job as long as the company’s profitable enough that the fixed costs appear to outweigh Bob’s drain on the company.  And of course, in the real real real real world, other complicating factors intrude which aren’t present in any of the simplified models we’ve constructed.

                You seem to be arguing from a model in which the Iron Law of Wages actually holds true, and markets are full of rational agents who relentlessly pursue reduced costs.  Observed reality begs to differ: many unproductive workers do keep their jobs; most firms don’t cut every corner they can possibly find in order to squeeze out another infinitesimal increment of profit; pension funds and other shareholders don’t commandeer boards of directors to slash executive salaries to the bone, even though that would seem to increase profits and thus returns on investment.  I don’t get it, and I think we’ve gone so far down the rabbit hole that we’ve lost sight of daylight.  Can you restate your original argument?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                My original argument is that the CIT isn’t fully passed on the the consumer, because the company is already maximizing profits and cannot raise prices merely because it considers its profits too low.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Or out of profits, which is what the CIT is intended to tax.

              One of the critical differences between the public interest theory of government and the public choice theory of government is that the former assumes intentions generally are achieved by the compliance of the policy-target, while the latter assumes they generally are not achieved due to the self-interested avoidance behaviors of the policy-target.

              One area where liberals and I (and many libertarians) agree is distrust of corporate intentions.  So I’m not sure why a liberal would think, contra what I think, that corporations would actually pay their taxes out of profits if there is any way they can manage not to do so.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Why are they only maximizing profits in the presence of the CIT?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Eh?  They’re always trying to maximize profits.

                They could do all that cost-cutting CIT or no.

                They do, as a matter of course, if they’re engaged in price competition.  But CIT is one more cost they have to cover, so ceteris paribus, either their prices have to rise to cover it or they have to find yet another cost-cutting measure, just as if their utility bills went up, or their insurance costs increased, or the union negotiates a wage increase.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          You want to pass a law forbidding employers from providing health care as a benefit?

          There’s your liberal coming out, Mike.  The only solution you see is “pass a law forbidding” X.  No, I would not.  And since I would not, and since it is such an entrenched tradition now, it would probably take some fairly proactive government policy to promote the market-based alternatives that would undermine it.  I’m willing to accept those, in concept, as an improvement over the the status quo.

          If a firm can raise its prices by N to cover its taxes, why can’t it raise it prices by the same N just because it feels like it?

          Standard economic theory.  In a competitive market rents are competed away, bringing revenues down to where they just cover business costs (which includes normal profit, as well as taxes that have to be paid).  Once N has disappeared as a cost, a firm can cut their price by N-s to gain a competitive advantage.  Another firm can cut their price by N-(s+s) to gain its own competitive advantage, and so on.  If the market is not competitive, so that firms aren’t engaged in price competition, that won’t hold.  But most firms are engaged in price competition (and probably most that aren’t are ones protected from it by regulatory barriers to entry, which of course we libertarians want to see fall).Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            OK, Ryan and Blunt both pre-empted my “require pro-active policy” by proposing elimination of the tax subsidy.  Somehow I forgot about that.  Assuming that would be sufficient, that’s what I’d go for.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Would it be sufficient?  As I’ve mentioned before, the positive of having insurance negotiated for me by a professional, with the company’s buying power behind him, results in a much better deal than I’d get on the individual market. (For one thing, much less risk of being uninsurable because of pre-existing condition.) That’s value, even without the tax benefit or the employer’s contribution.  I expect the result of the “market reforms” would be the usual ones: greater profit for the insurers and higher costs/worse coverage for me.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                the positive of having insurance negotiated for me by a professional, with the company’s buying power behind him, results in a much better deal than I’d get on the individual market.

                Hence, health insurance buying networks.  There’s no necessary need for you to negotiate directly with the health insurer, and given that masses of Americans (me, too) would not want to, such networks would surely arise.

                How is that different from your employer providing health insurance?  You get to shop around among networks, choosing the one that is best for you, which is both easier than negotiating with the insurance company and allows more people to get the price/level of coverage they prefer.

                In my union, we just ratified a new contract with health insurance changes that have most of us saying, “meh,” but a few of us steaming mad.  The necessity that we all have a very limited set of choices is harmful to them.  And in fact for a young, single, healthy employee, there’s no particularly good option because they’re primarily designed for folks with families.

                Now, can I say those things would absolutely work brilliantly?  No, and I won’t pretend to be an expert in the field.  Is there a good logic behind them that’s better than the logic behind employer provided health insurance?  I think so.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I won’t say you’re wrong, because I’m not an expert either.  But this is common in libertarian solutions: we’ll kill something that’s working now and trust that the market will provide something else that’s even better.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                It’s not working now.

                If you’ve ever worked at an organization of under 100 people, where one of those people has a dependent with an extremely costly persistent medical condition, you wind up changing medical insurance providers every year.  And the PPO option is ridiculously priced, primarily because that one person completely skews your collective bargaining ability.

                Collective bargaining in the medical insurance market is a bad idea unless you can keep all the outliers out of your local pool of the collective.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Thank you, Pat.  I was surprised to see the claim that employee based health care is working, given that it’s one of the causes of our current problems.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Emp based health insurance is a killer for small business. Way back in the 90’s it was mentioned to me that my son’s expenses ( which were considerable) were a huge fraction of all the medical costs our insurer paid when i worked a small mental health center. Emp based health insurance blows and sucks.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                This has become one of my hobby horses. I’m increasingly convinced that our demand that we choose our own doctor is one of the things that makes cost-containment so difficult.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                On the other hand, if you’re a very large conglomerate that mainly employs 20-30 year olds, it’s awesome.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I work for a company that’s quite small. I also (as a legal fiction) work for a company that handles benefits for may, many small companies, and has the purchasing power of a large company.  I’m sure that (like everything else that keeps me above the bare subsistence level) it’s unsustainable in the long run.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                @ Will

                I’m increasingly convinced that our demand that we choose our own doctor is one of the things that makes cost-containment so difficult.

                I’m not so sure that it is; or rather, I think this is less of a root cause than a proximal one. For the most part, a good doctor-patient relationship will reduce costs, I’d suspect, because your doctor can make more accurate diagnoses if they know the patient (with their foibles) well.

                The demand that we choose our own doctor when we have to change doctors due to insurance carrier decisions is definitely a cost, though; your medical history sucks when it needs to be assembled piecemeal.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                 I’m sure that (like everything else that keeps me above the bare subsistence level) it’s unsustainable in the long run.

                I certainly see the potential for your legal fiction to screw you if one of your dependents comes up with a persistent medical condition.  For the greater good, of course.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                For the most part, a good doctor-patient relationship will reduce costs,

                I think there is some truth to that, though it gives providers all kinds of leverage during negotiations. So in that context, it’s problematic. And I think the Kaiser model writ-large would do a better job of containing costs despite the pain of changing doctors.

                With regard to medical history, though, that’s something that is slooooowly sorting itself with EHR.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          If a firm can raise its prices by N to cover its taxes, why can’t it raise it prices by the same N just because it feels like it?

          Simple.  If a firm is raising its prices by N to cover its taxes, then all other firms in the market are going to have to raise prices similarly.

          If a firm is raising its prices by N just because it feels like it, then that firm will have to compete with the other firms that don’t raise their prices by N.  If the firms don’t collude, they won’t get away with it.

          Collusion of this type is very hard to get away with, at least in the absence of a government making it happen (say, via taxes).Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            Simple.  If a firm is raising its prices by N to cover its taxes, then all other firms in the market are going to have to raise prices similarly.

            Assuming that they’re all similarly profitable and thus paying the same level of taxes.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              True.  If it’s a sales tax or a per-unit excise tax, it will just put the less-profitable firms that much closer to being out of business.Report

      • Avatar 62across says:

        Thank you for that. I could find myself working with you to encourage most of these ten.  I like that it is a mixed set and I agree with you that that is what makes the prescription distinct.

        Alas, as I can’t fathom a coalition that could achieve any of these ten in our current (and foreseeable) political climate, except #9 perhaps, it doesn’t seem to me this list is any less mythical than a full-blown libertarian paradise is.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Not to say you’re wrong, but I think any particular one of these is potentially achievable, although not any sizable subset of them together.  But I listed those as marginal not primarily because of any optimism about achieving them, but because each by itself would just be a marginal improvement that would not get us near to the mystical libertarian paradise, but would make our current society better (more libertarianish, ceteris paribus).Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “Pass a constitutional amendment that bans subsidies to any for-profit corporation.”

        Note, of course, that some people consider the existence of roads to be a subsidy, the existence of air traffic control to be a subsidy, the existence of public order to be a subsidy…

        I mean, I agree with you, just remember that people have very odd definitions of the word “subsidy”.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

          This is one of the ones I meant when I talked about “coming to terms” below. It’s a little hard to see exactly how this would affect any number of things. You’d have to reword it, but I’m not sure how you’d do that while preserving all the ends you have in mind.

          That said, state-owned air traffic control is an utterly bizarre socialist experiment that I would be ecstatic to end. Maybe James and I could form a two-man lobbying firm.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        James, wouldn’t your #5 necessitate also doing away with the preferential taxation of capital gains? Otherwise you’re replacing double taxation with half taxation for certain income groups.Report

  7. Avatar North says:

     This is quite well written. I’m going to have to mull it over a bit but one part that lept out for me was the portion regarding buying off the poor. I thought that was rather well done, normally libertarians I chat with just assume that the poor in the libertopia would naturally be noncoercively provided with enough to satisfy them as a matter of course. Good job.Report

  8. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Why do so many Libertarians oppose the concept of the trade union so vigorously?

    Corrupting influence of conservatives who thought “trade-union = commie” & Objectivists (the latter being ironic, since what John Galt called for in that book was essentially a strike). To a lesser extent, also the de-radicalization of organized labor in the U.S. forced by the state, which had the effect of turning what labor movement that remained from an open challenge of the existing power structure to “huge conglomerates in cahoots with government power are A-OK with us as long as we get a pension”.

    The current stirrings of labor agitation here are basically the result of the state-capitalist “consensus” being gradually dismantled, by way of the party to it with the real power backing out of their side of the deal.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho says:

      Dammit, that was supposed to be a response to BlaiseP.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        The trade union movement in the USA got off to a violent start.  There’s enough tar and brushes to damn everyone involved:  corporations, unions and government alike.   I think the closed union is always trouble, I’d prefer them to be open.   But as I’ve pointed out before:  unless the workers have some say-so in the board room, there’s always going to be some adversarial relationship with management always having the upper hand.  Perversely, for all their talk about Opportunity, the anti-union crowd can’t see the obvious benefits they brought to our society, especially the abolition of child labor and workplace safety.Report

  9. Avatar Sam says:

    When reading this, am I to assume a phantom, unnamed country, or am I to assume the United States? This matters to me insofar as the notion that people have what they “deserve” is very different depending upon us speaking in a philosophical sense and us speaking in a real sense.

    As one example, in a philosophical nation state, we might imagine that rights have always mattered. In a real nation state, we can all be relatively certain that rights have only mattered insofar as the powered classes were willing to apply them (often only to themselves). Saying then that somebody has what they fairly deserved has very different meanings in these two separate environments.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Sam,

      Since it’s a hypothetical that we’ll never reach, let’s make it a phantom un-named country.  I recognize the legitimacy of your point about rights, and would be happy to discuss that sometime, as it’s a difficult and interesting issue.   But for here I think it would be a distraction from my point as it calls up the whole “but how do we get there” question.Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        I appreciate the response. Seems like what you’ve written here already has you overwhelmed, so I’ll stand down from this particular conversation, as I’m always troubled when people propose theories that might work very well philosophically and yet simultaneously refuse to engage the historical events that have lead us into our current situation. For instance, anybody who says they endorse our modern conception of property rights believes in them as they are RIGHT NOW; the fact that millions of people might have very good claims on property now possessed by others (see this continent’s native population, for example) is simply ignored as being a problem too complicated to fix. To put it simply, saying, “Let’s take the property that everybody has now, assume it was fairly acquired, and we’ll do up the property rights thing going forward,” is awfully convenient if you’re the person with property.

        If we’re talking though about a phantom nation, none of these objections really matter, and so I say carry on.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          saying, “Let’s take the property that everybody has now, assume it was fairly acquired, and we’ll do up the property rights thing going forward,” is awfully convenient if you’re the person with property.

          Agreed.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve never been as big a fan of Nozick as I guess I’m supposed to be.  I thought he punted on that (although some of my libertarian friends disagree).Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Sam and James (sounds like an R&B group)

            If we agree to redistribute property now, when and how do we decide when it is fair? That argument NEVER ends. I’m no fan of Nozick either, but it is essential that we stop zero sum win/lose struggles and begin positive sum activities. Nobody will invest in improving property if they have no legitimate claims in their productivity.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Roger,

              No argument there. At worst the problem of not being able to go back in time to a suitably appropriate original moment can become an excuse for not making any appropriate moves now.  So the “oh, you want to start libertarianizing now, as though our current distribution of property is fair!?” objection probably is one we ought to simply reject as valid.  Given that regardless of where we start  we can’t predict the distribution of property three or four generations out, it may be that the initial distribution matters less than people think; certainly it matters less (in terms of how much affect it would have on the three-generations-hence outcome) than ensuring a non-coercive system promoting positive-sum exchanges would.Report

            • Avatar Sam says:

              Roger,

              I respectfully disagree. What you’re saying is that abuse and lawlessness and violence and theft, while all being bad things, must be tolerated as they have gotten us to this point, and because it is too complicated to go back into history and know who should or would own what, let’s just ignore the problem entirely. That’s a convenient answer for those who are winning the game at this moment in history; it’s not nearly as good for those aren’t.

              Saying, “Property rights are a very important thing that we must respect starting TODAY,” essentially okays potentially illicit gains that may have occurred YESTERDAY, nevermind years and decades and generations ago. I do not abide.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam,

                We have a dilemma. We can’t start progressing until we make property rights secure, but we can’t have justice until we adjust for theft and violence. Can I suggest a solution?

                Use the rule of law to punish transgressions of theft and violence. Start now with property rights.

                Of course this doesn’t go back in history, but I am not even sure how this could work. Are you suggesting that since my wife is half indian that she gets some of our property? Does she take it from her non-indian half, or from a total non-indian?

                I am being silly, but what exactly are you suggesting for crimes of the distant past? Are James and I missing any other illicit gains?

                 Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                What we assume when we say that property rights will matter going forward is that all possessed property at this point was gained in a fair manner. Or perhaps, more insidiously, we don’t assume that and we simply intend to advantage the upper classes, the whites, the men, etc. Either way ignores the long and often ugly histories that have lead us to the current split of the total pie. That is my point.

                There is obviously no practical way to go back and account for the various abuses (unequal schooling that lead to unequal earning, unequal voting that lead to unequal representation that lead to unequal laws that lead to unequal schooling, etc. etc. etc.) but for somebody to say, “Property rights are very important!” and then say, “But we can’t give back the native populations what was stolen from them.” seems to imply that either the property rights didn’t matter then or they only matter when the speaker is advantaged by them. In either way, the implication is grisly.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam,

                What do you recommend in our case then?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Well, this is where it all falls apart, right? I can identify the problem – we have a society that has been shaped by routine violations in the rights that many of us claim to care about but we don’t want to redress those violations because doing so would be incredibly difficult at best and most likely nigh impossible – but don’t know then what the solution is. The immediate answer that springs to mind is to keep things as they are, which might be described as the least worst solution. But we have to remember that how things are is the result of so much suffering and so many violations. I suppose if I knew more I’d be a politician and not some commenter on a website.Report

  10. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    I like this piece but see 2 [related] structural problems:

    1) In the panoply of political schemes, even “liberty” is an ideology.  In the materialist-collective worldview, physical well-being of the greatest number, being more objectively measurable, holds primacy over abstractions like “liberty.”

    The empirical/epistemological battle is still on Square One: the libertarian manifesto that man is best when he is free is not in the clear.  On the contrary, man is best when his needs are cared for, and lives in a “fair” society without income inequality, or has parental leave or, etc., etc., etc.

    Therefore, even in the American context [via a Kuznicki view of rights], rights are contingent, not unalienable, and exist only with the sufferance of “pragmatism,” which is inherently subjective.

    2) I find a rather coherent strain in “libertarianism,” from its manifestations at the LOOG to the more majority varieties at Cato and Reason.  I’m often puzzled when it’s misrepresented as anything but minarchy, that government that governs least governs best.  This is not anarchism.

    The problem in the L vs. L equation is defining liberalism.  The collectivist-left strain simply does not speak of “liberty” in any meaningful way [beyond bedrooms and bongs anyway], except along the lines of FDR’s mutation of it in the Four Freedoms’ “freedom from want.” It has no common language with libertarianism.

    There are liberals who do: The neo-liberal Democratic Leadership Conference that died with Bill Clinton, and more recently, my two picks for the 2016 Dem nomination, Andrew Cuomo and Evan Bayh, who are not uncongenial to Dr. Hanley’s vision here of a “pragmatic libertarianism.”  Bayh:

    “While I support efforts that contribute to a cleaner environment, the effectiveness of a regulation must be weighed against the economic detriment it will cause through lost jobs and higher costs. This is a particularly bad time to add to the burdens of families and businesses.”

    What’s not to like?  Still liberal, but not left, enough room for a libertarian to breathe.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

      What an odd comment.

      A) It’s a weird misrepresentation of liberalism. As least as weird as any of the things I have recently been accused of getting wrong about libertarianism. The notion that the “collectivist-left” – whatever the hell that is – doesn’t speak meaningfully of liberty is just… wrong. Being a member of that collectivist-left (I assume), I can assure you I talk about liberty all the time.

      B) I’m not even sure what the hell the mention of Evan Bayh is supposed to prove. A thoroughgoing corporatist centrist is exactly the kind of subjective pragmatist TVD savages in point 1. What Evan Bayh has in common with libertarians on the philosophical level alleged here is an utter mystery to me. Even that quote, which is supposed to show Bayh’s commitment to liberty, doesn’t mention liberty in any way, unless you have prejudged that “liberty” = “not having to pay more for things”.Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “And then we buy off the poor.”

    Nice to see you admit that, ultimately, you believe welfare and other transfer payments aren’t about charity but are in fact bread and circuses.

    Doesn’t really square with your subsequent rant about how libertarians need to not be so bitter-clingy about principles, though. Indeed, I’d think that “bribe ’em so they don’t riot” is a more libertarian attitude than “you don’t know how hard life is for people who can’t afford an iPhone”. When you bribe someone there’s no implied moral judgement, no quibbling about who “deserves” the money or how the recipient ought to spend it.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      bribe ’em is the libertarian argument. and it’s pretty damn sound. I like it, in fact. I also like the liberal argument, which isn’t about charity so much as Make The World Better — with flowers and rainbows!Report

    • Avatar Renee says:

      I like the “bribe ’em” formulation because it moves the conversation away from what is ‘fair.’  Which is mostly a ridiculous conversation to have.  Perhaps to twist the words of OW Holmes:  Welfare is the price we pay for a civilized society.Report

  12. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Then speak of liberty meaningfully as a “collectivist-leftist,” Ryan.  I’m all ears.  Let’s see where it goes and how it holds.

    Evan Bayh’s openness to confronting the “moral” dilemma of environment vs. jobs is at least a pragmatism, and stands in high relief to BHO’s [left] ideological handling of the equation, which is squelching a million-plus jobs.

    Since Drs. Hanley and Kuznicki show a strong sympathy for a “good of the commons” libertarianism, I believe a Bayh [or Cuomo, I think] offer a way out of their dilemma of patent antipathy for the Right on one hand and an anti-libertarian Left on the other.

    Your mission, which you have already accepted, Ryan, is to argue that collective-left is somehow compatible with libertarianism.  Many have tried, all have died.  Good luck.

     Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Your mission, which you have already accepted, Ryan, is to argue that collective-left is somehow compatible with libertarianism.

      Tom, did you mistype your last word there, and intend to write liberty?  That would make sense and be consistent with what you wrote above.  As written, I don’t see that it is compatible with what either you or Ryan wrote.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        James, since I posit that libertarians speak meaningfully of liberty and the collectivist-left doesn’t, either locution works, I think.  So, you or Ryan may feel free to follow whatever hurdles the words and gets to the concepts.  I’m easy.

        My central argument is about the incompatibility of worldviews [IMO], of what is best for man, when he is at his best.

        Plato’s Socrates barely needs liberty atall: philosophizing is the best life, and one can do it in prison or in the marketplace.  But it’s tough to do when you’re hungry.  Or dead.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I don’t know.  Theoretically it’s possible for Ryan to speak meaningfully of liberty from a collectivist-left perspective (whether or not he is that himself or not) without making it remotely compatible with libertarianism.  Positive liberty and all that, I suppose.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Yes, James, I invite him to do so to see what happens.

            Ryan, you spoke of a handful of issues, but not liberty as a libertarian would.

            Pls know although I oppose it, I find a worldview that does not speak meaningfully of liberty still valid, which is why I mentioned Plato.  In fact the EU godfather, Alexandre Kojeve, saw a Univeral and Homogeneous State with no war or want, and everyone becomes a philosopher, Plato’s “best life.”

            What’s not to like about that?

            But the issue at hand is L vs. L, and their divergent conceptions of what governments are even for.  The twain may meet occasionally at a handful of common points, but they are as non-harmonious sound waves, perpetually out of sync.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

      What are you arguing for here? Jobs or liberty? You seem to believe those are the same thing, and it makes your argument incredibly hard to get my head around.

      Obama’s “ideological” handling of environmental regulation is a response to the inability of Congress to do anything useful. I’m not here to defend it, because I think a great deal of it is nonsense, but if you want an actual policy response to our environmental situation that tries to square doing something with liberty, congressional Democrats – and the hated Nancy Pelosi – gave it to you: cap and trade. I might argue for a carbon tax instead, for enforcement and regulatory-capture-avoidance, but both are market-based mechanisms for internalizing the costs of externalities. They are explicitly based on a notion of liberty that includes recognition of costs imposed on others. This, incidentally, is one of the foremost instances of liberals/the left adopting libertarian critiques of their economic policy and adjusting accordingly.

      As for compatibility, I’m pretty sure plenty of others have done a finer job of that than I’m going to do here. Will Wilkinson, for instance. At root, libertarianism and liberalism are cousins. They are both concerned with dignity and liberty (it’s in both of their names – hint!), and they are both motivated by skepticism of authority. Look up above at James’ list of marginal improvements. I would agree up front with half of them, and I’d be happy to come to terms on 2-3 more. The only place he’d have zero traction with me is the health care one, and while I realize that the new vogue is to pretend that health care policy is the only important thing in the world, I have to believe that broad agreement between a liberal and a libertarian over something like 80% of suggested policy changes suggests a fair amount of political kinship.Report

      • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

        Also, James doesn’t even have immigration on his list of improvements, but that’s a place where liberals clearly take liberty far more seriously than conservatives. Although, again, since you seem to think liberty and jobs are synonyms, I can see why you might be inclined to disagree.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Ryan,

          I thought about immigration.  In my ideal I’m for totally open borders.  But since we’re talking about marginal improvements in that list, I left it off because I think we’re more or less at the achievable margin right now.  That is, effectively immigration to the U.S. is pretty wide open, but to the point where there is substantial backlash.  My real-world policy ideal on immigration is wide-open to just prior to the point where you get a really nasty anti-immigrant backlash that results in either violent social disruption or a major reversal in immigration policy that dramatically limits the flow.

          My spidy sense tells me we’re right about that rate right now, which means there’s no marginal gain available to be made at present.  So that’s why I didn’t list it on my marginal policy list.

          I agree with you that liberals take liberty more seriously on that issue than do conservatives.  One of a good number of areas where liberals do.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        Yes, this is more aligned with liberaltarianism than libertarianism.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

      Also, it would be nice if you could just stop saying “collective-left”. It makes you sound like an internet conspiracy theorist. Just call us liberals, howbout?Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        Ryan, since I draw a distiction between leftists and liberals, I cannot comply.  I have used the sunnier “communitarian” as less pejorative in the past, though, so if it’s more agreeable, pls substitute that for “collectivist” above.

        I’m more interested in the concepts.  Your correspondent apologizes for letting the words get in the way of the ideas.Report

  13. Avatar Sam says:

    I’m not sure I understand what this debate is about because it seems to be straying toward philosophical grounds. However, if we take the issue of gay marriage, can it not be said of both that they’re supporting aggregate increases in liberty if one (libertarians) support the end of state involvement in marriage and the other (liberals) support extending marriage rights to gay citizens? Both are aggregate increases within the issue, because the institution is equal for all in both conceptions (although it would be toothless for all in libertarianism, and valuable for all in liberalism).

    Liberty is obviously in the eye of the beholder in this case, but I’m baffled as to the notion that ONLY libertarians have an interest in liberty.

     Report

    • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

      Well, TVD explicitly ruled out bongs and bedrooms, so the fact that liberals support individual liberty in cases involving drugs, sex, or marriage has been ruled out of bounds up front. That does, admittedly, mark off a lot of fruitful territory in an obviously-intentional way.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      There’s a big difference in the reasons that got them to where they were going, though.

      Sure, they got to the same place on gay marriage but that wouldn’t necessarily get them to the same place on child-rearing, for example.

      The liberal argument (sweeping generalization) is that society ought to support gay marriage because (list of reasons).

      The libertarian argument (sweeping generalization) is that society ought not prevent gay marriage because (list of other reasons that has some, but not a lot of, overlap with the list of reasons in that last sentence).Report

      • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

        For policy purposes, this difference is basically meaningless. It’s also a place where, contra TVD’s arguments, liberals and libertarians may not be on the same page, but they’re in the same book. Conservatives are somewhere else entirely. Because conservatives don’t care about liberty, and liberals do.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “We should pass laws to make our desired outcomes occur” is by no means a meaningless difference away from “we shouldn’t pass laws that stop our desired outcomes occurring”.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Ryan, by the time we gloss over their differences, libertarians are the same as leftists. But we know this is not so.

          Since my challenge of “speaking meaningfully of liberty” has not been taken up, this discussion is stillborn.  Further, “liberal” as a term remains problematic, for reasons given.  We all want to do nice things for people with other people’s money.  I’m a liberal, too, you know.  I am, however, not a leftist.

          As for gay issues, if you’re a one-issue voter, then by all means the Democrats are for you.  But as the discussions of the past months here @ LOOG have shown, “liberaltarianism” has proven neither fish nor fowl, and unsatisfactory to the lion’s share of either camp.

           Report

          • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

            You are still not actually having a conversation with me. I’ve said any number of things about liberty in this thread. What do you want? A song and dance? Do I need to look liberty in the eyes and belt out “Amazing Grace”? Take issue with something I’ve actually said, or go away.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Not really.

          Because when we get to child-rearing time, I can see any number of things that the liberal argument (we should mandate helmets for children at roller skating rinks) has *ZERO* overlap with the libertarian argument.

          This is that “first principles are so very important to the libertarians” thing you were complaining about earlier.Report

          • Avatar Ryan Bonneville says:

            Seems to me that helmets at skating rinks is not the same policy as same-sex marriage. I could be wrong about that.

            Obviously, this is the first principles thing. And it’s a good example of why it’s so maddening.

            Person A: Liberals and libertarians agree about legalizing same-sex marriage.

            Person B: No they don’t.

            A: But libertarians support legalizing same sex marriage, and so do liberals.

            B: Right, but they DISAGREE.

            Notably, A is right and B is a lunatic.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “But libertarians support legalizing same sex marriage, and so do liberals.”

              Therefore liberals should support legislation preventing trade unions and the repeal of tariffs, right? Or maybe libertarians should support rent control and immigration quotas. Because, after all, liberals and libertarians agree!Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Libertarians don’t really believe in legalizing SSM.  They believe in removing “married” as a legal category, which allows any group of 2 or more people to voluntarily enter into a contract which provides some or all the the legal consequences now associated with marriage.  (I’m not speaking for Jason or anyone else on LoOG, but relaying what I’ve learned from people I know in real life who call themselves libertarians:.)Report

              • Avatar bluntobject says:

                I suspect it’s more along the lines of “Libertarians would prefer to take the state out of the marriage business and replace state-marriage with a generic contract… but since that’s not going to happen any time soon, preventing the state from forbidding SSM is a great idea”.  But this gets back to the “libertarians keep trying to argue from first principles” thing Tod was complaining about upthread.

                For myself, given the amount of emotional baggage early 21st Century humans load onto the word “marriage”, I’m not sure that getting the state out of marriage entirely would be a great idea if we could do it tomorrow.  Give society a chance to adjust to the idea that zOMG gays are people too, throw in poly relationships, and maybe then we can start nitpicking about the legalisms.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                “I’m not speaking for Jason or anyone else on LoOG”

                Except me.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                We prefer decriminalization to legalization but legalization is a better option than criminalization.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Libertarians don’t really believe in legalizing SSM.

                There we go again, a liberal telling us what libertarians do and don’t really believe.  And once again, it’s wrong.  Sure, getting the state out of the marriage business altogether might be the ideal-world outcome for most libertarians, but since we’re living in the real world, we sure as hell really do believe in legalizing SSM.

                This misstatement is especially funny given that on this very page I previously said one of my policy goals was allowing same-sex marriage.

                 Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                OK, I’ll make sure the people who’ve told me this in so may words know that this guy on the internet says they;re not really libertarians.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Mike, I’m just amazed at how you consistently manage to stretch a statement way out shape.  Are you really no better than that?

                The point is not that whomever you talked to is not a libertarian, and I never made such a no true scotsman argument despite your sad attempt to pretend I did.  The point is that you made a blanket statement about libertarians and it was just flat out false, and now you’re trying to weasel out of just admitting to yourself that your claim was overbroad.

                Also, I’ll happily wager you on this.  Go to those people who’ve told you that in so many words and ask them, “assuming that we’re not actually going to be getting government out of the marriage business, and there are still going to be laws explicitly permitting straight marriage.  Ask them if in that case they believe in legalizing same-sex marriage to put it on the same legal footing straight marriage enjoys.

                Ask them that, and if more than half of them say no, they want government out of marriage or nothing at all, I’ll pay you $100.  I am not kidding.  And you don’t have to put up anything.

                Because it sounds to me like you took some folks first preference and ran with it, ignoring the reality of their second preference, because it fit better with your preferred strawman version of libertarianism, something simplistically anti-government and lacking any depth or subtlety.  Without knowing or ever having met these unnamed people, I am confident enough to make this wager.

                How do you know I’d pay up?  I don’t know how to persuade you other than to note that you can bookmark this page and point everyone back to it if I don’t.  My reputation’s on the line here.

                How can I know you’d be honest and not lie to get my money?  I suppose I really can’t, but in fact I think you’re a decent person and I’d take your word.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                For the record, James, I think you’d probably lose this one.

                There are a lot more pseudointellectual libertarians than you may realize.

                I think that was a pretty damn fair offer, though 🙂Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Yeah, they’re loony enough that I wouldn’t even try to predict their response.  I’ll ask, but won;t hold James to the bet.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Do let me know, Mike.  But I want to reiterate my main point–you can’t meaningfully listen to one or two libertarians and then say, as a blanket statement “libertarians believe X,” when you are simultaneously having a conversation with libertarians who do not believe X.

                The point, over and over and over, is that liberals, as non-libertarians, really should exercise a little caution in making pronouncements about what libertarians believe.

                And if I make mis-statements about liberals, feel free to make me eat my words.

                 Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                works real well until you start making those “Kim’s a libertarian” comments. then I start getting ideas.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                For what’s it worth, I think there may be a definitional issue that’s leading to your disagreement. I too know plenty of self-professed libertarians who remain opposed to gay marriage on moral grounds and believe that the state has a legitimate interest in preventing it. We might all agree that those only concerned with their own liberty aren’t necessarily libertarians, but that doesn’t stop them identifying as such, just as plenty of Apostolic Christians are horrified by Unitarians. (Perhaps that construction should go the opposite way around.)

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                ugh.  I’m sure there are some, and that’s a point where it’s exceptionally tempting to pull out a “no true scotsman” claim.  But that’s because for me SSM seems like one of the most obvious and least debatable policy issues for libertarians, with the only exception there being some willingness to allow federalism to play a role.  But even then, the “right” answer for a libertarian in my mind should be, “I’d let it be decided on a state-by-state basis, but I’m going to argue seriously for it in my own state.”

                But, yeah, even libertarians can have moral claims that differ from other libertarians.  Based on how Mike wrote his comment, though, his people don’t sound like anti-SSM moralists, so I’ll stand by my wager.

                Maybe I should start a research project to survey libertarians and map the differences in thought.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I too know plenty of self-professed libertarians who remain opposed to gay marriage on moral grounds and believe that the state has a legitimate interest in preventing it.

                In my experience, these people do not keep their libertarian identity for long.  Jennifer Roback Morse formerly called herself a libertarian, and much of her earlier work was certainly so.  Now however she is very openly a social conservative and does not even try to claim the libertarian label.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Well here you’re getting into the game of who is and isn’t a libertarian and that’s not easily won. The “these people” example that you offered us is a good one, but that isn’t somebody who is still a libertarian. Look within that community of self-identified libertarians though and you’ll find cleavages in belief that allow for liberty (and the threats to it) to be defined in wildly different ways. James, for example, can say that the “right” answer for a libertarian is to support the legalization of same-sex marriage on the state level, but how many Ron Paul supporters are going to go for that? Are those supporters then not the libertarians they claim to be? (Sorry to keep using him and his people as an example.)Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                James, for example, can say that the “right” answer for a libertarian is to support the legalization of same-sex marriage on the state level, but how many Ron Paul supporters are going to go for that?

                In my experience, many Ron Paul supporters are young, college-educated, and socially liberal.  They are in my opinion too quick to dismiss Paul’s ties to social conservatism.  But if I had to guess, I’d say that the overwhelming majority of them support same-sex marriage, either as a first-best or (at worst) a second-best choice, with their first-best being full privatization of marriage.

                I know probably hundreds of people who fit this description.  How many Ron Paul supporters do you know?

                 Report

    • Avatar Sam says:

      Although I think I was wondering why two people who agree that an aggregate increase is a good thing can’t at least be civil to one another, I think I’ll just assume that this isn’t the case.

      I also vehemently disagree with the notion that liberty is something that can only advocated for by libertarians. There are plenty of libertarians, self-described or otherwise, who advocate specifically for policies that will lead to aggregate decreases in liberty. See Ron Paul’s insane idea that states should be made more powerful; states are breeding grounds of the worst sorts of inequality. The notion that making them more powerful won’t lead to horrendous losses in liberty for some is insane. But it’s the “for some” that matters, because the people who support Ron Paul (libertarians? crypto-libertarians? theocratic libertarians?) don’t think that the state governments will crack down upon them, so they then assume that state governments will increase liberty.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Sam,

        May I explain why SUBSIDIARITY is expected to increase liberty? The answer lies in the dynamic. Indeed, if you do not think in terms of system dynamics and secondary effects, libertarianism makes no sense.

        The basic idea is that by moving regulation and control to the lowest level practicable (federal/state/local/individual) you increase the choices and the constructive competition between alternatives. Those valuing A can choose A and those choosing B can more easily choose B. Furthermore, we can all observe the effects of these choices. They act as experiments and can benchmark against each other.

        You are right, though. Subsidiarity will lead to both — more liberty and less. It is the creation of the dynamic that allows the system to learn and grow over the long term. Does this explain the issue?Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          If the solution proposed leads to an aggregate decrease in liberty, I cannot see how those who proposed to care primarily about liberty can endorse it. The problem also is that your idea that those choosing A and those choosing B can do so, what happens at the state level when what A chooses restricts what B wanted to choose, as is frequently the case in matters of social policy?

          As to your reliance on the long term to sort these things out, that undervalues the immediate needs that people have for long term gains that might never be realized. I’m not sure that is a fair trade to ask of people.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Sam,

            Awesome questions and concerns.

            If the aggregate long term result of subsidiarity consistently led to less liberty and prosperity, then libertarians would despise it.

            Some states/localities/associations will pursue MORE liberty. Some will pursue less. The lower the level where the decision is made, the easier it is for individuals to exit and vote with their feet. This creates risks and costs for the regulator and makes the effects of their decision more transparent. My ideal would be to allow individuals to make decisions wherever practical. For example, allow individuals to choose lower taxes/lower SS benefits, or higher taxes/higher benefits.

            The other concern is that you seem to assume benevolence of the federal government. If we put all our eggs in one basket, the the cost of our errors becomes greater — indeed catastrophic. What assurance do you have that exploiters won’t capture the mother ship?

            That said, I think the argument over subsidiarity and discrimination established a major divide in politics in the 60’s. Libertarians trusted the process and dynamic, but risked putting themselves on the wrong side of the discrimination debate.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Sam,

            One other thing. In looking back at your original comment, i glossed over your point that you believe some libertarians suggest increasing state power.

            Libertarians in general push for less  power, influence and regulation at all levels. They are not arguing more absolute power concentrated in the hands of states rather than federal. They are arguing for less power and coercion in both, but where there is any interference it should be made as low as reasonably practical.Report

            • Avatar Sam says:

              The effective result of devolving everything to the states is that states become more powerful, at least as far as they’re willing to accept the responsibilities abandoned by the federal government. My problem with what you’re talking about is that much of what you’re saying works on a theoretical plane but perhaps is not as likely in a real world application. The notion of being able to move, for example, is much easier to talk about than to actually do. What, after all, do you do if you have a job and a home and a family and roots in a place that decides your liberty is no longer as important as it once was? At a distance, we say, “Leave!” but surely reality lets us know that such a thing can be more difficult than simply saying it.

              As for the federal government: I don’t assume its benevolence. But I assume that it is easier to create liberty when only one organization is doing it than when 50 are. This might be unrealistic, but I don’t trust states any farther than I can throw them and I’ve got a bad back.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam,

                My back is giving me troubles too. I’m getting old.

                Excellent points. If we can convince libertarians of this unlikelihood, we could probably persuade many of them to agree with you.

                I think there is another argument in your favor, too. It deals with the idea that lots of disparate interests spread across a large country have trouble organizing. Mancur Olson has suggested that the larger the group, the more difficult it is for them to collude together to exploit the majority.

                Subsidiarity can be taken too far, and is just one dimension of libertarian emphasis on freedom, competition and choice. That is where R Paul is coming from, imo.Report

              • Avatar bluntobject says:

                As for the federal government: I don’t assume its benevolence. But I assume that it is easier to create liberty when only one organization is doing it than when 50 are. This might be unrealistic, but I don’t trust states any farther than I can throw them and I’ve got a bad back.

                I don’t trust state governments any more than I trust national governments (or municipal governments, or PTA boards for that matter).  I’ve basically given up on my ability, as an individual voter, to influence the edifice of the state — not least because most of the edifice of the state consists of bureaucrats, not elected officials, and most of the abuses of the state are petty abuses by those bureaucrats.

                To the extent that I support devolution to the states (and I’m awfully skeptical, for the same reasons you bring up), it’s because I think it’s hard to create liberty in any form of government, and if we have 50 of them going at once there’s a better chance of getting liberty than if we only have one.  100 states would be better than 50, and so on.  As you say, leaving is hard — but voting rights have failed, so I’m falling back on exit rights.

                Roger’s point above about scattered interests having trouble organizing is a good one, but once a subset of those interests manage to organize (transaction costs are constantly going down — for example, flying across the country to watch your football team play an away game is a matter of course for a lot of sports fans) that subset has a structural advantage over the others.  That sort of incremental power disparity seems like it can grow wildly, especially in a first-past-the-post electoral system.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                we just raised taxes. on an off-off election year. citywide vote. It’s nearly a miracle, considering the electorate.

                Things can work.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                or not, LOLReport

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                … bear in mind, this was a Library Tax. 70% for it. Props to the librarians, who were able to efficiently communicate why we should pay for their jobs. (and in that way, allow us to evaluate how good they are).Report

  14. Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

    Some will turn to crime, some will turn to government. There is some overlap between the two because both specialize in zero-sum exchanges, transferring wealth from one party to another without appropriate compensation.

    Depending on your definition of “crime,” it can be either a positive-sum exchange (e.g. prostitution, drugs) or a negative-sum exchange (e.g. robbery.)

    Of course, markets can generate negative-sum exchanges too, the obvious examples being negative externalities. Accounting for them is a thorny problem and I haven’t seen any systematic political philosophy avoid a lot of hand-waving where they’re concerned (well, except for radical conservatives who deny that they are a problem.)

    Similarly it’s a bit of an overstatement to say that governments engage in zero-sum transactions. I suspect you had transfer payments in mind, but even they are at worst somewhat negative-sum (thanks to the transaction costs) and at best positive sums based on differential utility across risk and time, exactly as insurance can be a positive-sum transaction in excess of transaction costs.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Re: Crime.  Of course crimes are politically defined, but obviously I was going with a libertarian’s view, in which prostitution isn’t criminalized.

      Re: Coerced positive sum exchanges.  Yes, theoretically if the government takes $10 from me and gives it to you, and you actually value that money more than I do, then it would be a positive sum exchange (if the transaction costs weren’t too high).  In reality, you have no way to judge those utilities, so the best first approximation is that the exchange is zero to negative sum because the fact of coercion itself has negative utility for the coerced person and because there always are transaction costs that are a deadweight loss.  It takes quite a leap of faith to assume transfer payments are in general positive sum.Report

      • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

        In reality, you have no way to judge those utilities

        That’s a bit overstated. Insurance is precisely the business of judging utilities of that sort, and I don’t think there’s much dispute about insurance.

        You yourself have argued in the past for the differential utility of safety net programs, which can be modeled on the differential utility of resources near the zero lower bound (food to someone starving has a huge payoff in preventing a writeoff of all the prior investment in that person, to name an extreme case.)

        Obviously, analysis is much easier in extreme cases.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Well, sure, if we stick to extreme cases we’re probably on pretty safe ground.  And that’s another reason why a libertarian–at least a utilitarian-leaning one–can justify a minimal social safety net.

          But of course that adds some subtlety to libertarian thought, and we can’t have that because I’m assured by liberals–who I assume are in a position to know–that no such thing is possibleReport

        • Avatar Roger says:

          D.C.

          Could you please elaborate on how insurance judges or allows objective comparisons of utility?Report

          • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

            The marginal utility of money, for instance, is not constant for any of us. When you’re down to your last dime and hungry, it’s worth more than when you’re looking over your budget to see if you can afford that trip to Hawaii.

            Now spread that across risk. The marginal utility of money today when you’re doing OK is less than the marginal benefit of avoiding bankruptcy if it all goes in the pot — thus, you’re willing to pay in excess of expected benefit for being insured against disaster.

            Likewise there’s a differential utility between money today and money tomorrow. This is what banks (etc.) work with when they lend to borrowers: both end up ahead because the borrower places a greater premium on having money today, so they’re willing to pay a premium (interest) for it. That also plays into insurance, most obviously in whole-life policies but also in others.

            A tiny slice of a large topic, but I hope it helps.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              DC,

              I am fine with utilities being subjective as well as context and time dependent. No argument from me there.

              Still not sure how insurance allows us to compare or contrast utilities between people though. Insurance works by allowing me to reduce my risk at a cost to me. Certainly individuals can judge their utilities and decide. How can I use this knowledge to compare marginal utility though between people? Based upon how much premium they would pay for the risk? What am I missing? (I assume I am totally missing something here).

              The larger problem though is how we can decide which non-voluntary win/lose interactions are positive sum and which ones are not. I know of absolutely no way to weigh and measure this. Indeed, I would recommend a Nobel prize for anyone who could conclusively do so.

              I would be OK with a supermajority decision though, along with sunset provisions and institutional competition.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              D.C., There’s an unexplained logical slide in there.  Yes, the value of a dime to me when I only have one and I’m hungry is more than the value of a dime to me when I’m fat and sassy.  But that doesn’t automatically translate into an interpersonal utility comparison–between my value of a dime when I’m poor and your value of a dime when you’re rich.  Sure, it seems plausible, but logically the connection doesn’t exist as long as utility is subjective; what you’ve done is slide from subjective utility to a form of objective utility.

              Now when we’re talking about the difference between Bill Gate’s marginal dime and a homeless person’s marginal dime, no one’s inclined to worry about that logical problem too much.  But if we’re going to build a logical political philosophy on it, you’re going to have to find some principled means of making those comparisons when the apparent values may not be so wildly disparate, and you don’t have the tools to do that.Report

              • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

                But that doesn’t automatically translate into an interpersonal utility comparison–between my value of a dime when I’m poor and your value of a dime when you’re rich.

                Metaphysically it’s impossible to compare “value” for you with “value” for me anyway, see Hume. At most we can say, “I value a kilogram of corn more than a kilogram of cabbage and you value a kilogram of cabbage more than a kilogram of corn,” and by a little quantitative juggling we can even create scalar comparisons.

                The insurance example illustrates that we can also compare utility across time and other parameters, but if you want to invoke some absolute scale of “value” that we use as the luminiferous ether of economics, you have to find a medium of exchange that has universal value in its own right — which is over my metaphysical pay grade.

                From a less abstract perspective, societies have come up with approximations that work more or less well. Time is one fairly good example: that’s why it’s become more common as a sanction in criminal law around the world than blood-price. Not perfect, because we know that an hour is not worth the same to any of us across time, but better than some other yardsticks.

                For better or worse, we end up creating these scales though because of the need to create policies that aren’t offensive — such as letting William Zantzinger kill any number of Hattie Carrols as cheap entertainment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Metaphysically it’s impossible to compare “value” for you with “value” for me anyway,

                Bingo.  That’s the point.
                From a less abstract perspective, societies have come up with approximations that work more or less well.

                But of course we have no way of determining whether it’s more or less.

                For better or worse, we end up creating these scales though because of the need to create policies that aren’t offensive

                And frequently fooling ourselves into thinking we’ve come up with a scale that’s meaningful enough to work in all policy arenas.Report

              • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

                And frequently fooling ourselves into thinking we’ve come up with a scale that’s meaningful enough to work in all policy arenas.

                I’m an engineer. We’re real big on “good enough.” Which is also the standard for evolution, and IMHO social systems are just evolved behavior that can can adapt a bit faster than DNA.

                So, if we can come up with a scheme for comparing utility across contexts that produces results that work out better than alternatives, it doesn’t really matter that they’re not perfect in some Cartesian sense.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                if we can come up with a scheme for comparing utility across contexts that produces results that work out better than alternatives,

                But from a utility standpoint you can’t actually demonstrate that scheme A is producing greater utility gains than scheme B.  You can’t actually demonstrate that either one is producing utility gains.  It’s not engineering because you can’t actually do any measurements.Report

              • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

                Of course you can do measurements. Marketing departments do it all the time. Any time you can create an ordered set, you have a measurement.

                Maybe your measurement is, “people prefer this community over that community” or “this community went the way of the Shakers” or whatever. (Choice of metrics is of course an issue in itself.) In the long run, survival is what counts. In the short run, other tests of vigor can save you the trouble of performing the Keynesian “in the long run.”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                No.  Marketing departments are just making estimates about how much money people will voluntarily exchange for a particular item.

                That’s not the same thing as making interpersonal utility comparisons, and so it’s not the same thing as trying to figure out how to maximize collective utility via redistribution.Report

              • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

                The marketing departments I know do research on what people value. Yes, they use a rather small subset of all possible metrics for “value,” but they’re not constrained to questions of pricing for various goods. They also get involved in measuring things like persuasive power of communications as well.

                Which may not answer the (we agree unanswerable) philosophical question of universal utility functions, but does get you a shortcut on figuring out whether people will change their minds about things like where they want to live or otherwise anticipating their decisions before the terminal stage.Report

          • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

            Could you please elaborate on how insurance judges or allows objective comparisons of utility?

            All comparisons are creations of ordered sets. I present insurance as a familiar example of a business built on comparisons of the value of money (a single commodity) across time, risk, etc. This has the convenient property of avoiding comparing corn with cows.

            Otherwise, don’t read too much into the insurance example.Report

  15. Avatar MFarmer says:

    As long as Democrats are given the moral high ground or libertarians pragmatically compromise regarding government assistance to the poor, the poor will continue to lose.

    It’s hard for most people to believe that a libertarian-minded person can be passionate about assistance to the truly needy, and maybe it’s because I grew up in poverty, but some of us oppose the welfare state and any government involvement through the War on Poverty because we care about the issue of poverty and the condition of those who need assistance. Government has harmed the poor long enough.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      MFarmer,

      … why not fix the government? Instead of removing it entirely? I find the government to be remarkably evenhanded, personally. It is perhaps its sole strength. Can’t we use it to save those people who private citizens will preferentially damn?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        why not fix the government? Instead of removing it entirely?

        Holy fish, Kimmi, who’s talking about removing the government entirely?   There’s that misrepresentation BS going on again.  It’s no different than a non-liberal constantly sliding in suggestions that all liberals actually want the state to take over everything.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          … James, MFarmer was making the claim that he wants to get rid of the welfare state (a perfectly libertarian viewpoint). Personally, I’d like to minimize it, not kill it. In the context of what he was saying, and the full of what I wrote, i think I’m being pretty clear. If this isn’t teh case, I do apologize. (and, MFarmer, if I am misrepresenting you, take me to task!)Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Oh, ok.  I took your “it” in “removing it entirely” to refer to “the government” in your prior sentence.

            Still, the question of “why not fix the government” has a lot of assumptions built in that I suspect Mike wouldn’t accept.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              True, but the Idea that “i’ll sign onto your plan, mostly, if you’ll just give me a little here” seems like a good bargaining plan.Report

  16. Avatar Roger says:

    James,

    Great post and notably nice job of sticking with the discussion as it plays out.

    You write: “So how can a libertarian society possibly sustain itself if damn near everyone has an incentive to undermine its voluntary (positive-sum) exchange basis by demanding—usually as a special exception in their case—a mandated involuntary (zero-sum) exchange? The short and direct answer is that it probably cannot.”

    You then go on to suggest limiting government via supermajority, constitutional constraints on privilege seeking and buying off the poor. I am fine with your pragmatic and utilitarian arguments (the natural rights arguments are mumbo jumbo to me).

    My initial reaction to buying off the poor is that it will never end — a culture of dependency and entitlement will develop, driven by the politicians and bureaucratic rent seekers that actually thrive on growing the problem. However, my concern is reduced if your supermajority is required to extend benefits to the poor. Is this the case? If not, the system dynamic will shift to an inevitable self amplifying pattern of rent seeking, imo.

    I would add that we need competing agencies to address the redistribution with local or individual choice in which institution gets their funding. This is necessary for efficiency and to minimize systemic parasites.

    We will also need to solve the issues of middle class redistribution — where the majority allows politicians to collect insurance inefficiently on their behalf. Perhaps this is another post though.

    My question now is to the liberals. Would any of you be happy with redistribution to the poor along with strong constraints on privilege seeking and a required super majority?  Why not?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      We will also need to solve the issues of middle class redistribution

      Ah, you noticed how I fudged that one, eh?  I couldn’t think of a way to constrain it.  It’s quite possible that the greatest danger to a libertarian society is the middle class, not because of any inherent characteristics of middle class folks, but simply as a function of its size.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Yeah,

        For the record, I don’t even believe inequality is a threat to sustainable republics. It is just an excuse for those that exploit from above to justify their exploitation. This is simply one tiny arrow in their arsenal. They have countless other arrows.

        So, have you figured out what liberals disagree with in your post yet? Any clue on what they recommend instead?

         Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          So, have you figured out what liberals disagree with in your post yet?

          Pretty much the same as always, they take issue with my belief that large amounts of top-down control and redistribution are not necessary preconditions for the good society.

          Any clue on what they recommend instead?

          More of the same–hope springs eternal, you know?Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            They will never be convinced. Hayek is right that institutions aren’t usually arrived at via rationality and argument. They evolve. This is true of both successful institutions and unsuccessful ones.

            Fortunately, people are drawn to successful institutions. Unfortunately, I believe we are also drawn to destroying them. Yin and yang.

            If liberty, prosperity and knowledge are going to advance, we need to be constantly creating new institutions, based upon the best of those that came before. Because the older ones become sclerotic and clogged up with rent seeking and parasites and “progressive” rationalizations.

             Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            Can you point us toward the actual example of the thing you’re describing? You say that the preconditions to a good society aren’t top-down control and redistribution, but where has that NOT happened in human history and still produced a society that you’d want to be a part of?Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          ” It is just an excuse for those that exploit from above to justify their exploitation. ”

          Yes, disparity will be even greater, with little opportunity to advance, in the egalitarian’s world of social justice, if history is any indication. Some are always more equal than others, whether it’s benevolent representatives of the people, ruthless thugs who cheat and bully their way to power, or those who succeed through hard work and smarts. The only thing we can try to do as a society is instill and maintain through diligence equality before the law.Report

      • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

        It’s quite possible that the greatest danger to a libertarian society is the middle class, not because of any inherent characteristics of middle class folks, but simply as a function of its size.

        That problem depends on the historically atypical condition of a demographically dominant middle class. In most of the world and most of history, that’s not a problem.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I can’t disagree with that.  And obviously I’m assuming a libertarian society would have a sizable middle class.  (An assumption that I’m sure is not universal here.)Report

          • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

            I suppose the question is, what properties would a libertarian society have that would act to prevent the concentration of wealth? After all, wealth concentration stems from some pretty basic economic processes. Absent reasons to expect otherwise, I’d expect a libertarian society to be at least as prone to concentration as most others.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Actually no.  Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction goes a long way toward explaining how concentrations of wealth can get broken up in a dynamic market society.  I think nothing concentrates wealth as well as government can.  That’s not to say government inevitably will, just that government can do so far more effectively than the market.Report

              • Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

                Oh, government can concentrate wealth. However, government isn’t a sufficient condition for concentration of wealth.

                The question is whether it’s a necessary condition. Now, you can make this tautological by defining any sufficient concentration of power as functionally equivalent to government, but that doesn’t answer the question. You can also trivialize it by observing that government is necessary for accumulation of wealth thanks enforcing property rights. Again, I don’t see that as a useful distinction.

                Having, I hope, disposed of the less interesting cases I’m still interested in whether there’s any mechanism known (as in, empirically) to overcome the widely-observed phenomena which drive societies to concentrate wealth. (I trust we needn’t go over those, since they’re fairly well-known.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The question is whether it’s a necessary condition. 

                It’s not certain whether government is a necessary condition, but I don’t think that really is the question.  We need to focus on which institution is more likely to concentrate wealth.  I think government’s track record there wins hands down, in part because of the distinction between positive-sum and zero or negative sum transactions.  For example, Rockefeller became phenomenally wealthy with Standard Oil, but he also created tremendous value for nearly everyone by dramatically reducing the price of fuels.  When governments concentrate wealth they don’t generally create so much value for others.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                DC,

                There is nothing inherently problematic with wealth accumulation. Now there might be if we use the term “wealth concentration,” (as you do) as the latter term implies some kind of zero sum win/lose dynamic.

                This is where free enterprise solves the ten thousand year dilemma of history. For the first time, the dominant path to wealth accumulation has been to create value and wealth for others via voluntary win/win interactions. The more wealth Bill or Steve create, the more consumers (the rest of us) benefit.

                The other thing about free enterprise is that it constantly threatens dominant producers with new innovative threats. Free enterprise prohibits interfering with new competitors and better ideas entering the field.

                For most of recorded history in just about everywhere economic historians have looked, the dominant class has protected its concentration of predominantly stolen wealth via prohibiting new entrants from innovating and competing.

                Free markets are the best defense against exploitive wealth concentration, while also being the best path toward win/win wealth creation.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

       a culture of dependency and entitlement will develop, driven by the politicians and bureaucratic rent seekers 

      This was about the poor, not about bankers and defense contractors.Report

  17. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I certainly see the potential for your legal fiction to screw you if one of your dependents comes up with a persistent medical condition.  For the greater good, of course.

    Why?  It’s large enough that my personal expenses are down in the noise, which is really the point.Report

  18. Avatar Roger says:

    James,

    You write: “But the happy fact that government can create positive-sum exchanges should not obscure the fact that a great deal of what it does consists of creating zero-sum exchanges…  So how can a libertarian society possibly sustain itself if damn near everyone has an incentive to undermine its voluntary (positive-sum) exchange basis by demanding—usually as a special exception in their case—a mandated involuntary (zero-sum) exchange?”

    You are hitting upon a very important issue here that would deserve an opinion piece of its own.  The point is that any interaction between individuals can be evaluated borrowing some terms from game theory.

    Free enterprise by definition involves an expected win/win, positive sum interaction. Voluntary acts of trade, employment and (most) investment basically involve win/win arrangements. Prosperity (or something of value) is created for both parties. Utility is clearly — yes even objectively — created according to the respective parties. (Externalities needs to be factored in of course)

    Coercion, force or fraud are required to enforce expected win/lose (exploitive) interactions between rational adults. These are usually referred to as zero sum interactions, but this assumes there is an objective way to measure, compare and add/subtract utilities. There is not! All we really know is that it is a gain for one and a loss (or suboptimal gain) for the other.

    Win/lose interactions are not just value re-distributors, they are usually value destroyers. Why?

    1) Because the efforts and actions put into redistribution could have gone into value production (opportunity cost)

    2) Because the parties involved will logically enter into an arms race of defense and offense to increase the exploitation or increase the defense against it. Perversely, it is logical to spend $1000 to get $1001 in NPV redistribution, and it is logical for the other party to spend $1000 to avoid the $1001 redistribution. Talk about waste and campaign contributions!

    3) Because incentives are destroyed. Why produce value if it is going to be redistributed away? And if you can get redistribution rather than produce value, why produce value?

    4) Leaky buckets. As politicians and bureaucrats redistribute, they use the redistribution to fund themselves every step of the way.

    In summary, the prosperity of society is to a great extent a measure of the positive sum productivity of rational voluntary interactions. Coercive, win/lose interactions destroy incentives, reduce productive efforts, engender wasteful arms races and fund a non-productive class of parasites.

    The key to widespread prosperity is to optimize voluntary positive sum interactions (aka liberty), and to minimize win/lose exploitation and coercive redistribution. Since some redistribution is probably necessary, the question is how to create institutions where redistribution is voluntary. Liberals interpret this as meaning “charity”. They are not thinking big enough.

     Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Roger,  Yep.

      1. Classic rent-seeking theory from the Public Choice literature.

      2. There’s a good Public Choice book by Laband and McClintock, The Transfer Society touching on that.

      3. Hobbes and Locke revised to be Public Choice theorists!

      4. More Public Choice theory.

      You’ve pretty much outlined all the issues I touch on regularly in my classes, particularly my Public Choice theory class.  😉

      Truth be told, I was pretty much a rather left-leaning liberal until I started reading the Public Choice literature.  It really opened my eyes.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Lightbulb!

        I just got the tin man gravitar. If I only had a heart!

        Any other good public choice theory books and articles you recommend?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Roger,

          If you’re thinking Wizard of Oz, buzz, but thanks for playing.

          As to Public Choice books, how technical do you want to get?  Most of them run at a fairly high level, which is frustrating because my political science undergrads get spooked by math (and I’m not too strong at it myself).

          A book I use is Beyond Politics, by Bill Mitchell (who coined the term public choice, but didn’t much like math either) and Randy Simmons.  I think Simmons recently put out a new revision.  It’s available from the Independent Institute.

          A classic set of papers that helped develop the field is collected in James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock’s The Calculus of Consent, tough going at times but accessible to any intelligent person.  Buchanan and Tullock are more or less the founders of Public Choice theory (although they always point to antecedents working with similar ideas), so this is a standard reference work.

          The magnum opus, of sorts, is Dennis Mueller’s Public Choice III, which some consider to the definitive Public Choice work.  Very heavy-going, though; it’s for those who really like to take the mathematical approach.

          Another pretty accessible work is William Riker’s Liberalism Against Populism: A Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice (another term essentially synonymous with Public Choice).  That would actually be a great text for the League to use in its on-going discussion of democracy and power.

          Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice, by Tullock, Seldon and Brady is supposed to be a layman’s introduction.  It might be worth getting a used copy for cheap.  I found it badly written, though, as though they’d slopped it off quickly, and parts of it are confusing just because of poor writing.

          I’ve recently found a book called Understanding Democracy (An Introduction to Public Choice) by J. Patrick Gunning.  The author wrote it to introduce a class of, iirc, Japanese students to the concepts, so it’s supposed to be introductory level.  I’ve only had a chance to read the first few pages yet, so I can’t comment on its overall quality.  But it appears to be designed for beginners.  It seems to be out of print, but can be ordered from (and samples downloaded for free) from Nomad Press.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Thanks, I will start digging in. Obviously, without reading any of these sources, I have been exposed to some of these memes. The question arises as to why this is not being presented to the public in more accessible forms. Seems like a great opportunity for someone.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            James H,

            I put 4 of these Public Choice books on my Amazon Wish list. Several are real cheap used. Thanks again.

            To wrap up the discussion with liberals on their ideology, I never did learn much on what they believe — at least in terms of coherent foundations. I guess I should take them at their word — perhaps many don’t ground their ideas in ideology. They seem to be projecting their values as absolutes and just stopping there. Maybe it is easier that way.

            I did learn some things about how they think and how futile it is to argue or even just probe too deep with them. I think they thought I was being either quite rude or tricky — perhaps both. Perhaps I was.

            I did continue to see a bias in their thought patterns toward centralized top down problem solving and a corresponding blind spot for the potential for decentralized bottoms up emergent problem solving. This was combined with an extreme fear or envy or distrust of those with power but not in government. Conservatives seem to trust God, not Government. Liberals trust Government and not God or those not associated with Government.

            I also saw patterns to think in terms of zero sum rather than positive sum. I probably shouldn’t read to much into one forum’s worth of discussions though.

            Did you learn anything?Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Roger,

              I agree with you on several points, particularly the focus on zero-sum over positive-sum interactions.  There does seem to be a bias towards top-down (even technocratic) problem solving as opposed to our bias towards bottom-up (Hayekian?) solutions.

              I’m really still struggling with Stillwater’s comments, though, and haven’t figured out how to respond.  When he’s talking not having principles but just being pragmatic and using feedback loops it sounds to me like an argument for comparing results to an undefined, or at least ill-defined, standard and if it doesn’t meet that poorly defined standard we make further changes.

              On the one hand I think he might be right.  Liberalism seems more often to run on feelings than on any precisely measureable goals, and because those feelings happen with some bounded range it does provide a check against going all the way to total redistribution because somewhere along the way it stops “feeling right.”  On the other hand I’m extremely uncomfortable with such vagueness and reliance on feelings.  I want something more cognitive and precise.  The discussion we’ve all had over the word “fair” is a case in point.  Stillwater and others feel that certain voluntary exchanges are unfair, and even if they can’t precisely define why, it doesn’t change how powerful that motivation is for them.  For us, something more precise is needed, so we argue for the standards of voluntarism and positive-sum exchange because that’s something that can be defined much more precisely.

              I think there’s a real dispositional difference there.  I won’t claim that all libertarians are like us, though.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                James,

                All I can think of is that liberals are convinced time and momentum are on their side.

                They are right. They know they are right, and they just have to wear down the conservatives and history will prove their case. They genuinely don’t take the possibility of the conservatives winning as a possibility. Perhaps this assumption is partially correct, by the way.

                Liberals push the consensus — some times too far as per SW — and Conservatives pull back. But it does seem to progress in a direction that they agree with.Report

              • This back-and-forth reads like a dialogue penned by a professor who last week asked the class the read Friedman’s “What’s Wrong with Libertarianism.”Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Elias,

                What a weird coincidence. That very article is at the top of my reading list in my Safari browser. Seriously! I better dig in now.Report

              • I liked it a lot, and would imagine a devoted libertarian hardly coming away converted, but at the same time considering it the least-offensive and wrong-headed critique they’ve read (at least in a while). His criticisms of Hayek and his fans’s understanding of what liberalism is, though, is what I was reminded of in particular. It’s a very readable essay, though, so I bet you’ll breeze right through it.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Elias,

                I’ll start this afternoon. I hope it is better than Scanlon’s recent odd attack. He seemed to try to tear down libertarianism by stating that it can’t be founded on appeals to liberty for liberties sake.

                Wilkinson gave a long reply before just getting to the point that “the priority of liberty in libertarian theories is established by the appeal to a plurality of values.”

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Eh, I found Friedman unconvincing.  After you read it, also take a look at ;”What’s Wrong with ‘What’s Wrong with Libertarianism.'”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Damn this new commenting system! It’s so simple, but I can’t break my old habits. So here’s that link, hopefully done correctly this time.
                “What’s Wrong with ‘What’s Wrong with Libertarianism.'”Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I sympathize. I finally get the hang of it, but then I leave a few comments on the subblogs and get out of the habit. FIFY.Report

              • I read that response, too. I thought it was a lot of prevaricating and unrealistic semantics…Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Perhaps so, but I didn’t find it any less persuasive than the article it was responding to.

                I really suspect that Friedman’s article is naturally persuasive to liberals and naturally unpersuasive to libertarians.  That is, I don’t think it’s objectively persuasive, but that it’s degree of persuasiveness is almost wholly dependent on one’s prior intellectual commitments.

                 Report

              • To some degree, inevitably yes. But I’ve read plenty of assaults on libertarianism from the left that I found to be less intelligent, cogent, or well-reasoned than that piece. I don’t think your argument is in a good place if it rests on saying “well, although that’s what a bunch of libertarians of fame and influence have written and said, what they REALLY meant was…”Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Elias and James,

                I am not a fan of Rothbard and Rand’s philosophical attempts to defend libertarianism around natural rights and all that, so I won’t comment on Friedman’s critique of that wing.

                His attack of the consequential wing is a bit extremist. I have no idea why a libertarian would be expected to prove government  failure is always and forever more likely than voluntary interactions. Or why public employees need to be 100% selfish. These standards are absurd. There is a choice between government intervention and non intervention, and a rule utilitarian like Mises would be content with an ideology which was practical for most circumstances.

                My intuition is that some coercive redistribution would be good. My belief though is that as a general rule it is bad. It leads to a bad dynamic of  win/lose struggling and special interests. The dynamic is destructive. The alternative rule of voluntary interactions limits human freedom to productive or win/win activities.

                Friedman also seems to ignore how government interference and coercion destroys the machinery of free enterprise. It interferes with the incentives and feedback of prices and profits and shifts sovereignty from the consumer to the technocrat.

                Friedman seems to have certain assumptions that government has to be a coercive monopoly. He wonders why libertarians think inefficiency is endemic to political institutions but not other institutions.  This too is nonsense. All institutions and bureaucracies are prone to inefficiency and internal/external privilege seeking over time. It is competition and selection and the constant formation of new, younger institutions which is needed to offset this.

                If people want to choose a government solution that works via coercive redistribution I fully support their efforts. Indeed, if it did work better I would join them. My concern is with them forcing this solution on others that disagree. The free exchange of goods and services can’t solve every problem, but free choice and competition can be extended to the roles of institutions, even government.

                In summary, Friedman does a good job of pointing out the silliness of extreme libertarians (every ideology has its extremists), while ignoring the fundamental dynamic of experimentation and choice in the pragmatic wing.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Friedman seems to have certain assumptions that government has to be a coercive monopoly. He wonders why libertarians think inefficiency is endemic to political institutions but not other institutions.

                And of course it’s the monopolistic nature of government that is a major cause of its inefficiency.  Any libertarian with a bit of grounding in economics, and probably most of those without any such grounding at all, would agree that a monopolistic non-governmental organization will be inefficient.

                There’s also the problem of not being able to price things well in government policy.  Friedman should have read Hayek’s work on the socialist calculation problem.Report

              • I took the piece to be focusing exclusively on Libertarian absolutism/extremism, though. He seems to often concede that it is a valuable general set of guidelines to use in a case-by-case manner; his intention is to show how it cannot be defended as a kind of panacea.

                That’s my sense, at least.

                I also think his critique of libertarian criticism of liberalism is valuable, because, really, a lot of the time I read libertarians talk about how they think liberals think or what liberals want, it seems completely disengaged from any kind of mainstream left post-1965 (at the *very* latest) — at least in America.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Elias,

                Can any critique of an ideological position’s extreme version be particularly useful?  Let’s critique extreme conservatism for turning into fascism.  Let’s critique extreme liberalism for turning into communism.  I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be that impressed.

                As to libertarians not understanding liberals, I can’t argue that at all.  But does any ideological group tend to really understand other ideological groups?  I mean a good number of liberals here at the League really don’t have a decent grasp of libertarianism despite this being a pretty good place to learn about (good in the sense that the ideas are presented well and in that it doesn’t require liberals to suffer through a totally libertarian-devoted blog to get to those ideas).  And of course the conservatives here don’t really get liberalism, and I’m not sure the liberals here get conservatism.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I am glad I read it. I enjoyed it and learned things (new ways to view Murray’s argument — for example) even as some of his extremist rebuttals irked me.Report

              • Although I consider myself liberal(-ish), I think I “get” libertarianism, or at least understand some of its key points.  Indeed, it provides the most lucid checks on the justifications I offer for the (largely liberal) policies I prefer.

                But for the life of me, I don’t “get” conservatism.  I’m not even sure how to define it–i.e., as it applies to the modern-day US–other than in terms of specific policy preferences or nominally “conservative” constituencies.Report

              • James,

                As to Q 1 — no, but considering his target is the head of Cato, a very influential organization, I think the distance between Communism and liberalism is much farther than that between mainstream libertarianism and extremist libertarianism. If you were to grant most of his critiques but claim no one actually holds those views, I think more than a few libertarians would call you a LINO or whatever phrase is employed.

                As to Q 2 — I think that there are undoubtedly more well-informed, influential, and engaged lefties who have a real or at least sufficient understanding of libertarianism, not “libertarianism,” than there are the inverse. There’s a different between rhetorically uncharitable (as a lot of liberals are here towards libertarians) and being flat-out wrong (as a lof of libertarians are about liberals). I mean, the idea that liberals are pining for central planning…it’s as if the DLC/New Labour never happened *or* as if some libertarians cannot conceive of *any* regulation existing w/out it being the second-coming of the New Deal.

                A lot of the rhetoric from libertarians re: Obama’s health insurance reform bill — which was strenuously crafted along market-centric lines — is a useful case-in-point.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Elias,

                Funny thing is that this was not the only forum in which I have been asking what the central ideology of the left is. On Econlog, a self described leftist gave me the most concise answer of them all stating:

                the left-wing is defined by the idea that “inequalities of wealth and/or power could and should be eliminated or, at least, reduced, by collective action”

                Obviously this is just one voice. So let me ask you… what do you think the central ideology or defining idea of the left is? If it includes collective action, is that driven from the top down?

                PS — I HATE THE PASTING FUNCTION!Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Pierre,

                I think I get conservatives, but not the progressives. What is your view of the core essence/ideology  of the left? (I better not try to speak for the right any more than I just did on gays).Report

              • Roger,

                I’m not sure.  I think by “liberal” I usually think of someone with a lot of faith in the ability of the state to enforce some concept of economic justice,  usually by redistributionist goals.  There is, of course, a component of individual rights that I also see as an almost essential concern of most people whom I call “liberal,” although I would also think that “liberals” tend to favor economic rights–a la liberty of contract–less than other rights, such as citizenship rights, or prestige rights, or certain “fundamental” rights like freedom of speech, religion, etc.  (I realize I’m throwing around the word “rights” without really defining them.)

                As for “the left,” I don’t know if I can identify a core ideology.  I think many people on “the left” see some group, usually marginalized in some way, as constituting a specific “interest,” and that if this interest would only act collectively, it could end its marginalization.  (E.g., the Marxist’s claim that all members of the working class–however defined–share the same objective interest; or the radical feminist’s claim that all women are similarly oppressed by the patriarchy.)  I’m not sure if I’d be willing to go out on a limb and insist that all putative leftists can be thus described, but that’s my stab at it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Elias,

                I mean, the idea that liberals are pining for central planning…it’s as if the DLC/New Labour never happened

                Wellllllllll… Bill Clinton was a major DLC figure, and he selected Robert Reich for his administration, and Reich was a big supporter of industrial policy, which is a form of central planning.  So I’m not sure how you see that belief as that far-fetched.Report

              • For one, that was almost 20 years ago. For another, it’s more important what policies are being advocated than what one member of the cabinet happens to believe on a certain issue. But even all of that aside, Reich is not an advocate of running an entire economy via centralized planning, full stop. That this is the best example kind of proves my point.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                For one, that was almost 20 years ago.

                Or, we might say, one Democratic president ago.  And let’s not be too sanguine about Obama.  His health care reform policy is a central planning approach; when the gov’t took over GM he took the opportunity to require it to produce a certain type of vehicle; his green energy plan is central planning.

                  Reich is not an advocate of running an entire economy via centralized planning, full stop.

                But the operating assumption here is that Democrats are not full-on socialists.  We’re agreed on that, and I’m not trying to make that argument.  And each of these policies has some logical justification to it, so even if I disagree with them I’m not saying they’re obviously, indisputably, wrong (and of course they don’t prove Obama is a socialist, despite what conservatives say).  But they do demonstrate that liberals still believe in substantial amounts of central planning (and I don’t think total central planning was ever part of the liberal mainstream anyway).

                .Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                @Pierre Cornielle,

                I think I “get” libertarianism, or at least understand some of its key points.

                You do.  I’ll vouch for that.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                NB: The center-left [“moderate”] Democratic Leadership Council died earlier this year.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Leadership_Council

                The neo-liberal [New Labour] “Third Way” appears to have been a mid-1980s response to Reaganism/Thatcherism.  RIP, back to business as usual.Report

              • Or, we might say, 59000392382342 minutes ago. Eyeroll.

                HCR being a central planning policy seems to me to be rather objectively wrong.

                In any event, none of this changes the fact that disagreeing with libertarianism isn’t the same as being a Progressive Era-styled Big Statist, no matter how much you like Hayek.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                none of this changes the fact that disagreeing with libertarianism isn’t the same as being a Progressive Era-styled Big Statist

                That might be a devastating comeback if I had ever suggested it was.  And as for health care reform not being a form of central planning, when the government gets itself deeply involved in something that is 17% of the economy, starts requiring citizens to buy into it, determines how practitioners are educated and providers are paid, prohibits insurers from setting annual spending caps, sets maximum annual deductibles, and creates government organized health exchanges,  it sure looks a lot like there’s some central planning going on.

                I think our definitions of central planning differ.  But I think mine fits well within the <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_planning”>Wiki definition</a> of planning, as well as with (and I hesitate to link here, something I have never done before) <a href=”http://blog.mises.org/18028/what-is-central-planning/”>Mises.org’s definition</a>.Report

              • James,

                That definition seems to me to encompass basically any and all government intervention. It’s borderline the kind of tautology that Friedman spends so much time criticizing as endemic to libertarian thought.

                Roger,

                I didn’t notice your earlier Q about what is leftism. To me leftism is classical liberalism + recognizing that inequality of opportunity exists and renders the whole rest of the construct faulty and morally hollow. Inequality in and of itself is not, it seems to me, the problem — but the person you asked might have more of a legitimate claim to Leftism than me. I’m pretty milquetoast, ideologically. (And I would say that collective action *has* to be bottom-up to be legitimate.)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Elias,

                I think it’s fairly standard in the econ lit.  It’s not really about all regulation, but about regulation that tries to determine the economic outcome.  That is, we’re not just running a welfare program that helps those who need help, but trying to create a top-down organization of a large portion of the economy.  If that’s not planning, what is it?

                Noticeably, you haven’t suggested any definition of planning and provided any kind of source to back it up, so please forgive me if I get a bit pushy here and suggest you’re working a vague but convenient definition, or even non-definition.  And I’m going to be even more pushy–not trying to condemn you personally, but pushing a friendly liberal hard on being clear about their beliefs–and suggest that this vagueness is coming to appear to be a typical liberal approach, based on the explanations/defenses of liberalism that I’m seeing on this thread.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Thanks Pierre,

                This certainly matches up with what others have responded on this HUGE thread.

                A lot of emphasis on collective action, the state and correcting inequality/injustice.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                On social issues, liberals win everywhere, mostly because they’re repeatedly proven correct when the calamity that conservatives always see on the horizon never comes to pass. On economic policy though, we still have the nation our Founders intended: by the rich, for the rich, at the expense of all others at all times.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’m betting you attended college, Sam.  Mebbe even graduated.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Tom,

                Are you taking the position that ours ISN’T a nation set up to protect and promote the wealthy? And that it hasn’t been so for the entirety of its existence?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I’m not sure what you mean by “even divorce.”Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Well, you say that social conservatives have been repeatedly proven wrong about the consequences of liberalizing social issues, right? I think that’s what you’re saying. So, I look back on the things they’ve warned repeatedly about: gay rights- I agree that it didn’t lead to whatever catastrophe they said it would; feminism- hasn’t exactly destroyed the family; secularism- I think the number of religious adherents is still pretty high in the US- so I’d agree with you on all of those. But what about something like divorce, where social attitudes were fairly cavalier when I was a kid, conservatives warned about the ill effects that would come of that, and this generation actually seems to be quite a bit less cavalier about divorce- probably because plenty of us saw our parents get divorced to go find themselves and it was fairly traumatic for us? I mean, were the conservatives right on that point?

                I’ve pointed out here before that the crime rate is dropping, divorce rates are dropping, adultery and abortion rates are dropping, and that those things suggest that cultural conservatives are wrong when they say that public morality is in serious decline. But, it seems fair to ask if those things aren’t dropping because a lot of people very quietly agreed with the social conservatives that the behaviors that they said were harmful really are harmful.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Rufus, I’d submit that what we’re seeing is just a natural conclusion of a social flood. Social conservatives had a dam against divorce, the dam broke, there was a flood of divorce. The built up pressure has normalized and divorce is dropping to what would have been its natural level if it hadn’t been prohibited in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                North, cultural trends are too varied across societies and times to be totally natural though. I’d agree that things have tended towards the more rational and reasonable after a burst of intense liberalization, transgression, or whatever we’d like to call it. But that period of left cultural radicalism didn’t last. On one hand, I really do miss the days when the left actually thought a different and more exciting cultural world was possible (which was the point of that notorious culture wars post of mine); but maybe what happened was somewhere smack in the middle of the conservative nightmare apocalypse and the liberal age of enlightenment.Report

  19. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Forgive me if someone else commented on this already because I haven’t gone through all 328 comments yet, but I was amazed not to see anything on it in the 200 or so I did read. Look, I agree with the gist of this post, with the exception of this weird reading of E.D.’s question:

    “He asks how we create a system that is “fair” and “humane” enough that it’s not too “vulnerable to political backlash.” But political backlash only incidentally overlaps with fairness and humanity. No liberal can seriously doubt that; all they have to do is look at cases of conservative backlash to dispel any doubts that political backlash has any dependency on the fairness or humanity of the system.”

    This is pretty sophistic. In the first place because he’s clearly not asserting that political backlash has a necessary “dependency” on the fairness or humanity of the system, which I have to assume you recognize in what he wrote. Obviously, if I assert that Condition X is likely to bring about Outcome W, this is not equivalent to saying that Outcome W can’t come about without Condition X causing it.  And the fact that some other condition can bring about Outcome W is quite likely irrelevant to the truth of the statement. Secondly, because showing that there isn’t this necessary dependency (that he didn’t actually claim) doesn’t thereby establish that there is an “only incidental overlap”. To be blunt, this combined with the irony quotes, suggests to me that this section is a rhetorical ploy to suggest that E.D.’s saying something less rational than what he actually says, which I suspect you do mainly because you then go on to agree with what he’s saying! When you say that there’s a danger of very poor people turning to crime or the state unless you pay them off, you are coming to the same conclusion, but it seems important to establish that you came to the same conclusion by cold reason and he was just being illogical or emotive. I imagine this is because the value of rationality is central to the libertarian self-concept in the same way that the value of compassion is central to the liberal self-concept. And, it probably doesn’t matter in that I agree with the conclusions that both of you came to here. But it’s really not a fair reading of E.D.’s fairly straightforward question.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Rufus, the problem starts with what “fair” means, and then making it synonymous with “just,” which then takes on the quality of a moral imperative.

      Our civilization is agreed that provision must be made for the poor: Scrooge is a straw man here, that it’s better they should die and decrease the surplus population. This is not the libertarian [or conservative] argument, at least not in real life.  For them, the concern is limits, one of degree, not kind.

      So that’s why these discussions are over before they start.

       

       Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      Rufus, the problem starts with what “fair” means, and then making it synonymous with “just,” which then takes on the quality of a moral imperative.

      Our civilization is agreed that provision must be made for the poor: Scrooge is a straw man here, that it’s better they should die and decrease the surplus population. This is not the libertarian [or conservative] argument, at least not in real life.  For them, the concern is limits, one of degree, not kind.

      So that’s why these discussions are over before they start.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Tom, I totally agree that that’s not the libertarian or conservative position- I can’t imagine where I implied that I thought it was.

         Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Not directed @ you, Rufus.  The point is that “fair” is a term of art invulnerable to disagreement.  Any ‘discussion” with ‘fair” in it is likely a non-discussion; the goalposts are on wheels.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            Okay, I can see how that’s true in a rhetorical sense, which of course is pretty much paramount when it comes to politics.

            The problem is when E.D. talks about political stability being attached to the ‘fairness’ of a society, I can roughly understand what he means without assuming it’s just a political trope on his part. Here’s what I hear: I’m an able-bodied young man who is willing to get up in the morning and work hard all day at a job to earn money. If I work hard every day and obey the laws of my society, it seems ‘fair’ that I should be able to earn enough money to provide myself with a domicile of some sort, even if it’s meagre, clothing, and food; and perhaps be able to save up for the occasional luxury. I’m willing to bet that this is a fairly common understanding of a “fair\’ social contract- and that it’s common in most cultures.

            Let’s agree that it’s not a clear-cut rock solid definition of fairness. Regardless, if I live in a community in which working hard every day and obeying the laws doesn’t mean it’s possible to make enough money to support myself, whether it’s due to a corrupt government, economic collapse, that it’s become a “spoiler’s paradise”, or most likely all of the above, the result is that I’m likely to come to the conclusion that playing by the rules of that society is a sucker’s bet and I’m more likely to check out from those rules- whether by moving out, turning to crime or the government, marching against the state, or throwing a trash can through somebody’s window.

            To be honest, my own highest value is probably no more noble or clear than social stability. I’ve lived in areas where a small majority had checked out from the rules of the society- those place suck. So I’m not thinking of it in terms of ‘fairness’ either, but when E.D. uses the term, I have a pretty good idea what he means, and I’m guessing the likely results of his conclusions aren’t a lot different from the likely results of mine- or yours or James’s for that reason. I’m guessing if we were working together on this problem, we’d end up with nearly the same answers.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. says:

              Incidentally, the emphasis on fostering social and political stability was, at one time, seen as “temperamentally conservative”. I have no idea if it still is in the US, but there are still echoes of that here in Canada, which is perhaps why my family here thinks of me as a conservative and absolutely nobody in the US thinks of me that way!Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Rufus, I cannot agree that “fairness” is a common usable term for both libertarians and progressives.  Yes, there is a lowest common denominator like you describe, but the libertarian is disposed to stop there.  For the progressive-liberal-left, it’s merely the starting point.

               Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Rufus,

              Is it also fair to force others to agree with your foundation of fairness?

              If my brother flat out rejects it, can he do so without being forced to subsidize your opinion? Or to state it the other way, if my sister has a more demanding view of fairness (hers includes free internet and a cell phone), can she force us to go along with her?

              Why can’t I just tell my brother and those like him to do as they want and my sister and those that agree to follow their conscience?

               Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Is it also fair to force others to agree with your foundation of fairness?

                All I’m really saying is that reasonable people can come to a basic understanding and agreement of the word “fairness”, which of course will require quite a bit or persuasion on all their parts; but, no, I don’t believe that we’re going to come to the conclusion that the word is devoid of all meaning. Tom calls this consensus the lowest common denominator, but I think that’s pretty much the norm when it comes to social consensus.

                I don’t know how to get logically from that to the idea that this implies the use of force to get others to agree with the lowest common denominator, but it’s interesting as a non-libertarian that so many conversations with libertarians go there almost immediately. There’s a sort of pop psychology aspect to these conversations: is it that you’re okay with forcing others to do what you want? Or is it that you fear freedom for yourself? 

                Well, neither. I just assume that libertarians have a conception of fairness as well and we can have a conversation about that. Of course they do. For instance, James talks about giving the indolent poor money they don’t “deserve”. I know what he means by that because we both agree (I suspect) that it’s fair that hard work should earn you money, and so in some sense it will be unfair that people who don’t work will collect welfare. So, I find it hard to believe that libertarians don’t have some conception of fairness that they’re working from, and I’ve yet to hear a libertarian suggest that their having such a conception logically implies they’ll try to force it on others.

                So, no, I’m not working with the understanding that, if we can’t reach consensus, we’ll just use force.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Actually, I do know how to get logically from point A to point B. If society comes to a consensus about funding anything, there will be people who will be opposed to their money going to that thing. So, you’re asking what do we do with them? Correct?

                Fair enough (so to speak, but I don’t know why  “fairness” is uniquely vulnerable to this in a way that say the social consensus on “security”, which the Federalist papers start with as the basis of the social contract, would not be. Actually, I don’t know why anything that society determines to be a worthwhile use of government wouldn’t be vulnerable to this problem. I know that libertarians will talk about ‘minarchy’ instead of ‘anarchy’, but I don’t really understand why consistency doesn’t require you to be anarchists instead of minarchists. Is it that some government functions are legitimate, even if they’re coercive? If so, then this is an open discussion that should be able to lead us to some sort of consensus.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            “fair” is a term of art invulnerable to disagreement.  Any ‘discussion” with ‘fair” in it is likely a non-discussion; the goalposts are on wheels.

            Agreed wholeheartedly, Mr. Van Dyke.  I think “fairness” is too easily used (not always, I note) as a debate-stopper.  How can anybody argue an “unfair” position?  Fairness demands a definition, and if we cannot agree on a definition, then we cannot really come to the point of understanding each other because we are using the same term to mean different things.Report

            • Avatar Sam says:

              Fairness is everybody starting at the same point and seeing who wins the race. Fairness is not starting some people by the finish line, then not only throwing a parade for them when they step across over it in front of everybody else, but simultaneously telling the people who finish last that they’re worthless moochers whose only occasional complaints of unfairness constitute a baseless and undefined claim.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I think there’s an excluded middle there, Sam.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                You asked for a definition of fairness and I gave you one: a race in which everybody starts from the same point. Is there a middle that I excluded in my explanation? Sure – they’re the ones being asked to blow very, very hard so those same people starting at the finish line can have a tail wind when they step over it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sam,

                I mean it’s not an either/or thing with the two options you listed.  And if your definition of fair is an absolutely unachievable standard, is it really a valuable one?  I think it likely that at least something within that excluded middle could plausibly be considered fair, or at least reasonably fair, or “fair enough to work with in an imperfect world.”   No?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                James,

                You seem like you want to play a rigged game. You ask for something and I give it to you. You acknowledge that it is what you asked for but then insist that because it happens to unachievable, it doesn’t count. It seems to me you’re tacitly acknowledging the problem that I’m getting at – one in which certain populations are advantaged and then demand further advantages from everybody else, all while acting like the game isn’t fixed – but since you see no easy way to fix the problem, you instead propose we abandon it instead.

                One of the (very) difficult things I find about supporting libertarianism even superficially is that I am asked to say that those who are ahead in the game should be advantaged further and those who are behind in the game should be disadvantaged until the market works out in an indeterminate amount of time at some point in the near or perhaps very distant future and oh by the way, the market might never work out that solution that has been promised.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Sam,

                I honestly don’t want to play a rigged game.  But since we’re demanding that people justify their beliefs and explain where they lead, please tell me why you have such a restrictive definition of fairness and how we can actually make use of it.

                (Sure, you gave me what I asked for, but every time I give a liberal what he asks for here I just get pushed to defend it further and further.  That seems to be how the game is played here, and so I’m just turning the tables. You seem like a decent guy and I don’t mean this as an attack on you, but it’s high time the League liberals started holding themselves to the standards they’re demanding of others.)Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Gentlemen [Sam, Blaise, et al.]: 400 comments later, James Hanley’s OP still hinges on “fairness.”  If perennial foils Hanley & Van Dyke have no language barrier on this, perhaps there’s some utility to it.

                I do think the lion’s share of James’ remarks here are in the interest of clarity, not persuasion.  As I’m familiar with his case, he has not even been permitted to conclude his opening remarks.

                And meself, TVD, am quite content to let “libertarianism” bear all the slings and arrows here that are usually reserved for “conservatism” as the frustrator of human progress.  Non-left/progressives are not only enemies of the state, they’re enemies of humanity.

                It’s quite clear that James Hanley is the enemy of humanity.  Give us Barabbas.

                 

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I do think the lion’s share of James’ remarks here are in the interest of clarity, not persuasion.

                Thank you, Tom. I sincerely appreciate that.

                It’s quite clear that James Hanley is the enemy of humanity.

                I also appreciate that, although in a different way.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                On the latter statement, James, misery loves company, so I unfairly conscripted you.  Or, as he said in Room 101

                ‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’ 

                Oh, hell.  I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough.  I didn’t even get to who Barabbas is.

                 

                And, yeah, props on the clarity thing.  This is the first concern of the honest man.  Rock on.

                 Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Rufus,

      I get where you’re coming from here, but you misunderstand me (I say that without criticism, because I think it’s an understandable reading of what I wrote).

      But rather than try to assert or imply that E.D. meant “that political backlash has a necessary “dependency” on the fairness or humanity of the system,” I was simply trying to create some specificity where it was lacking for the purpose of developing a thorough response.  I’m not sure E.D. had a clear meaning when he was talking about fairness and political backlash, or if he did it wasn’t expressed (and I didn’t feel like I knew what he meant, without making too many assumptions), so I just wanted to disaggregate two possibilities for the sake of analysis: 1) that backlash could occur because of unfairness, and 2) that it could happen despite the absence of unfairness, and from there to specify that I didn’t think a libertarian society would necessarily be unfair, but that even so it could still be subject to backlash.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Okay, that makes a lot more sense. And I agree that a fair society can be just as subject to political backlash. I guess E.D.’s going to have to weigh in on this, but my assumption here is really just that we can come to a base level understanding of the word and work from there; also that there’s quite a bit of similarity between E.D.’s idea of political backlash and your idea of the indolent poor turning to crime or the state. He might use the word “fair” and you might use another word, but I think we can at least understand his question.Report

  20. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Kolohe:

    As Orwell explained, revolutions are led by the high middle that strive to switch places with the elite. Never the ‘dispossessed’ as i think you are using that term.

    Would you say that that inherently discredits revolutions?Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      For the most part.  Pete Townshend and the boys also summarized it over about four chords.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        Would it surprise you if I said I at least somewhat agreed?Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        To clarify: this is why despite my views I’d prefer the state as we know it and the power relations it defends be undermined into irrelevance than overthrown head-on.  Violence tends to just plug in a new boss, I want the very idea of the degree of control that empowered the previous boss and would empower the next with a sudden change to be seen as pointless to pursue.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Kolohe,  You’ve made an excellent point.  I think it’s consonant with my point about the middle class, but adds substantially and significantly to it.

      It’s worth pointing out that one reason the dispossessed are less likely to revolt (and if they do, to revolt successfully) than those from a higher socioeconomic status has to do with their disparity in critical resources,not so much monetary, although that matters, too, but in organizational knowledge and capacity.  A sad reality is that those who are least capable of succeeding in whatever the current system is are almost always going to be least capable of successfully challenging that system.

      But it is possible that the revolutionary leaders, if successful, can give some representation to the interests of the dispossessed, if for no other reason than to give them reason to be the footsoldiers of the revolution.  It might be foolish to put too much faith in their sincerity about the interests of the poor and dispossessed, but in general they are likely to be no worse than the current rules in that regard and have incentive to be at least marginally better.Report

  21. Avatar Sam says:

    The damned Reply button disappeared again. That’s the second time in this thread that I’ve been unable to hit Reply within the thread itself. Is there a trick I’m missing?

    Anyway, James asked why I have such a restrictive definition of fairness. In my defense I was offering an example of a situation (in which everybody begins a race at the same starting point) which I considered to be fair, something that is obviously very different from how our current model works. That said though, I’m not sure why I’m bound to actually provide fairness itself within my model. To my mind we keep these definitions in mind not because we can imagine a time in which we arrive there, but because we want something to keep in our sights. (I feel the same way about libertarians, their ultimate goal being however it is that they define liberty – which is why I balk at Ron Paul supporters).

    So when I offer the example of the race, the idea is that you’re not biasing society toward particular outcomes, and if you are, then you’re attempting to minimize that bias in such a way as the most talented (rather than the most connected or most well off) are able to succeed while simultaneously attempting to account for everybody else.

    Meanwhile, the victimology accompanying some of the responses to queries… If they are that much of a problem for you, stop responding to the comments, make the website subscription only, make commenting subscription only, or do something more proactive. As it currently stands, the website is set up to encourage reader feedback, and that feedback isn’t screened for ideology. I’m baffled as to why you’d adopt that model if you didn’t actually want to create (mind-bogglingly long) threads like this one.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Nah, you just made it all the way to the right.

      Replying like this is the best course of action for everybody involved.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Sam,

      That’s a good response.Back to it in a second.

      My criticisms aren’t about victimology, but about an unconscious hypocrisy, and a general failure of League liberals to engage in public defense of their assumptions.  The thing is I like to defend libertarianism, so I don’t mind their question; I just wish they would apply that value of pushing explanations to succeedingly difficult levels  to themselves, and that they would answer libertarians’ questions in that direction instead of ducking by redirecting the debate back to a critique of libertarianism, as though by critiquing it they are somehow building up a defense of liberalism.

      Now to your comment.  I wholly get your point about setting a standard or goal to keep in your sights.  You’re right to compare that to libertarians’ approach.  That’s what makes your reply better than most–instead of condemning libertarians for having an unachievable goal while surreptitiously holding onto one yourself, like many do here, you openly express your unachievable goal, your ideal. and recognize the way in which it correlates to libertarians’ ideal.  I respect that.

      Now in a way it’s unfair to pick on you further, because you’ve already done more than so many liberals here (with some exceptions to be sure, but in stark contrast, for example, to some other commenters here), but because I’ve had so many liberals here follow up each response with further pressure, and because you’re modeling what other liberals here ought to be doing, I want to ask a question liberals here have frequently asked of me.

      So how do we move toward your model of fairness, and given it’s impossible-to-achieve nature, what should we actually do in the here-and-now?Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        You want actual policy prescriptions? Am I able to make these changes without approval from any authorities or do I have describe politically feasible plans?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Sam,

          Well, I go back and forth between those two myself, so I’m hesitant to tell you it has to be one or the other.  How about limiting it to things that are within the realm of potential human achievement, without demanding that you limit it to things that are imaginably achievable in the current or near-term forseeable political climate.Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            Here are five, in no particular order, that will likely be very unpopular here.

            1. Raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, returning to them to Reaganite levels. The money can be used to underpin various social programs (including increased spending on education) and, obviously, to more aggressively pay down our national debt. Similarly: means test some forms of welfare and eliminate the Social Security contribution rate.

            2. Reduce military spending and repurpose that money elsewhere (be it debt relief, health care, education, or literally anything but more tanks).

            3. Invest in infrastructure including road and rail improvements, because access to marketplace is one of the greatest things this nation has ever done to allow for innovative development. Allowing for people to get from here to there with their goods creates a flexibility that underpins market function.

            4. Invest similarly in the infrastructure necessary high(er) speed internet availability throughout the nation because again, access allows for more participation in the marketplace. The more than participate, the more accurate the outcomes. (I assume somebody will develop a profitable cat-dubstep franchise and we’ll struggle to remember life without it.)

            5. Invest heavily in scientific research, and particularly, cleaner forms of energy creation and more efficient forms of energy usage.

             Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Sam,

              Thanks, I appreciate that.  I doubt most of that is really unpopular here.  I’d support several of those myself.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                This conversation ended up taking a weird an unexpected turn.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I think you might get practical pushback on #3, but the rest are probably going to get more support than not.

                Threads like these ones are where guys like James and Blaise are trying to shake the foundations of the earth with the root principles of their respective outlooks.  That makes you forget that generally, most people will agree to fairly uncontroversial stuff.

                I know for certain that most (not all, but most) of the League would trumpet hearty agreement with the cutting of the defense budget.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Right, because Lord knows the DoD never does *anything* useful.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Oh, they do plenty of useful things, Duck.  It wasn’t called ARPAnet originally for nothing.  We got GPS from the military.  Lots of very useful technology.

                They also represent a massive chunk of the budget, most of which is not spent on those useful things.  Indeed, much of that is spent on things that are very likely to be of very limited practical value (the surface fleet); or at the very least massive overkill (using M1 Abrams tanks as patrol vehicles in urban warfare).

                Military research during (real) wartime is a great time to spend money, there’s nothing like “they’re shooting at us” to encourage rapid development cycles.  Military research during peacetime is spent trying to figure out what someone might do when they might want to shoot at us, which involves a lot of assumptions that usually don’t turn out to be correct when shooting does start.

                In any event, we spend redonkulous amounts of money on defense, far more than any of our potential military competitors, and much of that goes for weapons systems we’re probably never going to use… not towards research that has ancillary value.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I have an accounting question.

              Does the superintendent’s salary count toward “money spent per child” in any given school district?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I am almost certain that it does. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t divide overhead by pupil, be it school overhead or district overhead.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You’d be surprised what the Feds consider an okay allotment of overhead.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                So you’re saying if the district is spending too much on overhead, it doesn’t get accounted on a per-pupil basis? What is the rationale for that?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I have no experience with state educational funding for public schools, so I have no grounds to talk, really.

                But let me tell you, when it comes to federal grants at the secondary level, the feds are an asspain when it comes to justifying charges.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        We already have you on record with the kangaroo rat.   It may thus be demonstrated you can simultaneously call yourself an environmentalist, yet when confronted with the extinction of a species, blather on about Public Good.

        I imagine those last few passenger pigeons were mighty tasty to the folks who ate them.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          This seems to present identically to some of the crap that Jesus screwed up.

          It doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters what you believe.

          It doesn’t matter if the laws are ineffective. It doesn’t even matter if the laws have unintended consequences that make things worse.

          The point is that asking questions about ineffective (or malicious) legislation is putting oneself “on record” as being opposed to the thing the ineffective (or malicious) legislation is ostensibly protecting.

          A good counter-argument, you’d think, would be one of the things Jesus got right. A good tree gives good fruit and a bad tree gives bad fruit. They don’t judge trees by their bark or leaves… but by their fruit.

          (Certainly not by the tree’s intentions.)Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          We already have you on record with the kangaroo rat.   It may thus be demonstrated you can simultaneously call yourself an environmentalist, yet when confronted with the extinction of a species, blather on about Public Good.

          Blaise, I think you have clearly demonstrated that you are either deeply dishonest or seriously lacking in mental acument.  You could not have bungled the kangaroo rat example so badly without one or the other being true.

          The preservation of the species is itself the public good as environmentalists would define it, so, first, the example does not set up a confrontation between species preservation and public good, and no intelligent reading of the example could mistake that.  Second, what is wrong with arguing that the public should to pay for the things we call public goods, rather than forcing a limited set of people to pay them?  In the most craven fashion you have ducked that issue.

          Second, the point of my example is that by designing the regulation badly we are actually discouraging preservation of rat habitat rather than encouraging it, and adding significantly to air pollution in that region to boot.  I don’t want to believe that you are so lacking in intellect that you can’t understand that the goal of a policy does not necessarily equate with the effect of the policy.  If someone points out that a policy is failing, it is immeasurably counterproductive to defend that policy by criticizing the person of not caring about the goal.Report

  22. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I feel compelled to add that nothing in this thread annoys me more than Blaise’s claim that libertarian ideology necessarily leads to a dearth of societal values. Of course he doesn’t bother to justify and explain the logic of the claim–he just throws it out there under the pretense that it’s so obvious that it doesn’t need explanation.  But in choosing not to explain he failed to come to grips with the necessary assumption underlying such a claim, which is that we can only express societal values indirectly through government.

    I don’t for a second believe Blaise actually believes that societal values can only be expressed indirectly through government and not directly by voluntary individual action; it’s a monstrous thought, and he’s clearly not a monster.   But if libertarianism truly is irreconcilable with societal values, that statement must be true.  If societal values can be expressed directly through the voluntary actions of individuals, whether it’s one individual acting alone or multiple individuals acting in concert, then libertarianism cannot be at odds with the concept of societal values.

     

     Report

    • Avatar Sam says:

      I cannot speak for BlaiseP, but I can say that I believe that the government is the best and most efficient mechanism of expressing those (and perhaps more accurately, BlaiseP’s vision of) societal values. While I recognize your objection to this and your deeply held belief that libertarian society would take care of the poor, the sick, and the elderly, I for one don’t believe it would do so as efficiently or as effectively as government does. Commence calling me a monster as you see fit.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Sam, you said government was the best and most efficient, not the only, so I’m unable to call you monstrous (and happy about that!).  I could quibble about government efficiency, but I’ll set that aside for the moment and focus on the following:

        your deeply held belief that libertarian society would take care of the poor, the sick, and the elderly

        1) Actually, I have some doubts about that, which is why I’m not an anarchist.  Certainly I would take care of my mother if there were no SS and Medicare, as people once did, and I think most people would.  But as James K says, there’s no market for charity for the poor, so we can’t expect that market to clear.  Speaking only for myself and not acting as a libertarian spokesman, at a bare minimum I want government to take care of those who truly cannot take care of themselves and have no one to take care of them.

        2) I don’t think taking care of the poor, the sick, and the elderly are the sum total of societal values.  I doubt you do, either, and I don’t think you intend to suggest that in your post.  But by phrasing the post as an objection or rebuttal to what I wrote, it could be read that way.  But since those are the entire set of societal values, even if libertarianism isn’t as effective at satisfying those as liberalism is, we have room to ask what other societal values matter to us and whether libertarianism or liberalism is better at satisfying those (conservatism, too, to be fair).  I don’t think there’s any reason to expect that any one ideology maximizes all societal values better than all other ideologies.  It’s more likely that each one is better at satisfying some values than others, so that the choice between them involves trade-offs between values (back to the whole freedom vs. equality business, but much more than that as well).  People likely gravitate toward particular ideologies based on which values they place more highly on the scale of substantive importance, and that’s exactly as they should do.  The problem comes in when they either suggest that those values must be met to the exclusion of all others (or even worse, deny that others have any validity at all), or cannot be satisfied with the reality that their ideology requires a tradeoff.  In either case they resort to demonization of other ideologies.  Before anyone says it, yes libertarians do that, too.  For better or worse, libertarians are every bit as fallibly human as folks of any other ideology.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Sam,

        I take it — despite your statement — that you don’t view current efforts to help the disadvantages as either efficient or effective. Or do you? (In other words I assume you are saying libertarians will make a bad thing even worse).

        Social organizations become inherently inefficient, bloated and sclerotic over time. They become bureaucratic from within and  — for government organizations — captured by special interest groups from without. The proven path to improving efficiency and problem solving ability is to create constructively competing organizations. This way, multiple paths can be explored, the results can be compared, they can learn from each other, and consumers (or citizens) can choose that organization that is most effective, less wasteful and most meets their values. The existence of a competing entity is important to keep social organizations healthy.

        The libertarian path is toward choice, experimentation and competition. Do you not see how this could generate better institutions?Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “Social organizations become inherently inefficient, bloated and sclerotic over time.”

          The problem is that this is not the intent of a social organization; it’s merely the historical evidence. It’s always going to be possible to say that this time will be different–we’ll write better procedures, we’ll have better auditors, we’ll keep dedicated people in the right places.

          It’s like pointing to economic problems and telling a libertarian that they’re the result of a free market. He’ll reply that if there is a geniune failure, then it’s the result of a market that wasn’t allowed to function properly. If only we took more steps to ensure that the market was actually free then the failure wouldn’t have occurred–so we should write better procedures, have better auditors, keep dedicated people in the right places…Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            It’s like pointing to economic problems and telling a libertarian that they’re the result of a free market. He’ll reply that if there is a geniune failure, then it’s the result of a market that wasn’t allowed to function properly. If only we took more steps to ensure that the market was actually free then the failure wouldn’t have occurred–

            Well, if you’re talking to an idiot that’s what he’ll say.  Any halfway intelligent libertarian knows that there really are market failures in a free market.

            Of course any halfway intelligent libertarian also knows that a lot of the alleged market failures libertarians point to aren’t in fact market failures but government failures.

            And any halfway intelligent person–libertarian or not–makes an effort to distinguish between the two.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            DD,

            Sometimes your comments are like Zen Koans. They can be read in multiple ways with different, even radically different interpretations. And like a koan, perhaps all rational answers miss the point.

            Let me offer some some reflections…

            The market is made up and policed by social organizations as well. I believe history reveals market participants and markets in general also tend to gum up over time.  I believe there are some potential solutions to the issue of market sclerosis.

            1) Keep the rules transparent, consistent and as simple as possible. Otherwise it is possible to shift the nature of the game from creating value within the rules to capturing values via the rules.

            2) Don’t put all our eggs in one basket. There needs to be competing social entities at all practical levels so that we can resist the tendency toward inefficiency. They need to compete constructively.  This may gradually evolve toward more or less rules over time.  Monopoly organizations can coerce value out of anyone using them.

            3) Do not restrict entrance of new social organizations. As the old ones become inefficient and get captured by special interests, allow people to choose new ones.

             

             

             Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      If societal values can be expressed directly through the voluntary actions of individuals,

      Some societal values can be expressed thru voluntary actions. Namely, certain types of market-based preferences. But not all societal values can be so expressed. We have the Free Rider problem, the Tragedy of the Commons, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, etc. We also have conclusions about societal values made under a Libertarian paradigm which some people think is not only not politically possible, but conceptually impossible. Given the fundamental premise of classical liberalism – that a rational actor is one who always chooses to promote his purely material narrow self-interest – moral values are not merely rendered secondary, they’re fundamentally disallowed from entering the definition of rational decision-making. So the view, if we consider the strong version of it, is entirely amoral. How can the view, then, claim to promote or reflect societal values as that term is normally understood?

      The problem with assuming that individual rationality will yield collective rationality, especially as it’s expressed by ‘societal values’ is that it’s false. Some restrictions on individual behavior are necessary, even within the domain of economic values. Add other, non-economic into the calculus and even more restrictions are required. And so we go galloping off into the world of retail politics.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        “Add other, non-economic values into the calculus…”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Stillwater,

        Yes to all of those things, which is, again, why I’m not an anarchist.  But keep in mind regarding things such as free riding and the prisoner’s dilemma that it is the single-shot game–a one-time only interaction–that creates the dominating incentive to defect.  Iterated interactions have been shown both theoretically and empirically to create incentives for repeated cooperation.  Axelrod’s “The Evolution of Cooperation” is an important and accessible book discussing that; Trivers’ seminal paper “The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism” shows how iterated interaction can result in the evolution of cooperation even between species; and the work of Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues has shown how local communities develop stable systems of cooperation to manage the commons.  For example, there are communally managed grazing commons in Switzerland that have functioned for over 700 years and collective irrigation systems in Spain and other countries that are hundreds of years old, in some cases as much as 600 years.

        That won’t happen for all cases, so free riding and tragedies of the commons do occur at times. The response to them has to be dictated by the seriousness of the problem, though.  If the problem is fairly small in terms of the costs it imposes socially, and can be ameliorated with a simple and inexpensive regulatory system, that’s all well and good.  If the problem is small in those terms but requires a complex and expensive regulatory system, then we are  likely better off accepting the cost.  If the problem is complex and imposes very large social costs, then government is clearly justified.  But then we run into the next stage of the problem, which is that the very thing that justifies government–the complexity and seriousness of the problem–are the very things that constrain government’s capacity to ameliorate it.  Which doesn’t mean we should just give up; it just means we shouldn’t be sanguine about how likely any given policy is to be successful.

        Frankly, I see the problems you address, along with the more straightforward problems of theft and violence, as going a long way toward defining the functional limits of libertarianism.  I’ll happily argue against any libertarian who suggests they’re not serious issues.  But I don’t think they necessitate a general liberalism, although a general liberalism is not an unreasonable response to them.Report

  23. Avatar Sam says:

    I cannot promise to be as verbose as BlaiseP. I will try to respond to these comments but cannot promise that I can do so in their entirety.

    James – You say the problem is that when some values are demanded to the exclusion of all others. You acknowledge that libertarians are as guilty of this as anybody. I agree. I am sympathetic to the idea that all political ideologies bring something to the table (although I remain highly suspicious of conservatism). I much prefer the idea that I be allowed to take from each ideology the things that appeal to me rather than be a Liberal or a Libertarian or a whatever other capital letter matters. I think that is likely true of most people, even libertarians themselves. This isn’t an answer to your question, which I’m not entirely sure I understood, but rather, an observation.

    Roger – Yes, I believe libertarianism will, in some cases, make a very bad thing very much worse, because the people who currently have all of the power would be freed from the meager restrictions that already barely contain them. You keep giving me the idyllic view of the libertarian worldview, the one in which choice, experimentation, and competition combine to create wonderful outcomes for all. I’ve said previously that I don’t trust the market to do any of that, primarily because I don’t think there are many good, sustained real world examples of this sort of thing happening. Furthermore, I object based upon the time issue. It is fine to say, “the market will do these wonderful things!” But if I ask when and your answer is, “eventually…” I start to become suspicious, mostly because there are many people who don’t have until eventually to wait for these idealized outcomes that you’re talking about.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Sam,

      I don’t think the market will do these things either. Why would free enterprise feed the homeless? (Answer — It won’t) I was recommending choice and competition within social organizations. Sorry for the confusion.

      For the record, I don’t believe the majority of people will ever believe in the power of institutional choice and competition until (or a sceptic could say unless) they see its successful effects in action. I believe people have a strong cognitive biases that need to be overcome. These include the bias that the world is zero sum (rather than potentially positive sum), that solutions are best solved top down (rather than bottoms up or a balance of both) and the bias that competition is destructive (rather than potentially constructive).Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        People think the world is a zero sum game because they recognize that there are winners and losers in it. The problem is that the game is rigged at the outset to choose, in most cases, who these winners and losers are going to be. (If you’d like a starting point for this grim reality, you could start with the creation of the Constitution, a document that assured white male hegemony for generations, a situation we remain saddled with to this day. It started long before that, of course, but that document is misunderstood as one that created liberty. I struggle to believe that given America’s history.)Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          I never said the world isn’t full of privilege seekers or “riggers.” My point — and one I assume you would actually agree with  — is that we can adopt rules of behavior which allow us to interact in a positive sum win/win fashion. Classical liberalism.Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            I don’t believe in that at all, because the people we would most need to adopt those rules are the ones who already winning the game. They are unlikely to voluntarily give up that advantageous position.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Sam,

              So you do not believe it is possible for you and I to have a positive sum interaction? What do you think marriage is? Or trade between honest people? You do admit some of us can be honest right?

               

               Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I’m not worried about you and I. I’m worried about me and corporations, me and employers, me and people more powerful, influential, and wealthy than me. Perhaps you are one (or all) of those things and I should be more worried than I am.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Free enterprise would feed the homeless if they were allowed to get some benefit from it.  Say, an opportunity to proselytize–“want dinner?  Go to church first”.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          DD,

          As soon as I hit the submit button, I started to wish I hadn’t said that. The other thing free enterprise could do is offer him a job. I chose my words poorly.

          Let me rephrase…. I do not believe free enterprise is good at addressing the needs of those that offer little or no value in return. FE rewards reciprocity… my labor for your money, etc. Orphans and invalids are probably handled better by non market mechanisms. I think there are a lot of problems that are handled best outside of markets. Science and sports and romance come to mind, though all three can be supported by market mechanisms.

          Was that any better?Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            “FE rewards reciprocity… my labor for your money, etc.”

            Yes, and sometimes the reciprocal is “allow me to proselytize”.  You talk about receiving a benefit, but what if the benefit is that you sit there and let me preach at you?

            The problem, I think, is that you’re assuming that the purpose of the free market is to maximize money.  The purpose of the free market is to maximize wealth.  And wealth is a measure of value.  And value is personal.  A person might feel that it genuinely adds to the wealth of the world to read a few chapters from Atlas Shrugged at a group of homeless people while they eat free soup.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              what if the benefit is that you sit there and let me preach at you?

              What if?  You seem to assume there’s something illegitimate there.  What makes this a problematic exchange?  As hordes of Christian missionaries discovered over the years, hungry people are <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice_Christian”>pretty good at faking</a> attention to such sermons.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                …?  I’m not assuming there’s anything illegitimate there.  I’m saying that the exchange is “you give me the opportunity to preach, and you receive food”.  The fact that money doesn’t change hands does not mean that it’s <i>not</i> a free-market transaction.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                OK, it sounded to me like there was an implicit critique of the exchange there.  Guess I heard wrong.  I think it’s actually pretty phenomenal that some people are willing to give away food to those who need it and all they ask in exchange is the chance to blather mindlessly.  I may start a mission in which I give out food to those who are not thriving in the free market in exchange for people listening to me extol the virtues of the free market, just for the perverse irony of it.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              DD,

              I concur with you. Mine was just another example of my error.Report

  24. Avatar Roger says:

    Why would you interact with a dishonest employer that did not provide more benefit than it costs? I wouldn’t. I only work when it adds value to me, and my experience with employers is they expect value in return.

    Why would you buy a product from a cheating company? What does power have to do with it if better alternatives are available? And if someone could get your business by being more honest, don’t you think they would?

     

     Report

    • Avatar Sam says:

      You are espousing libertarian ideals about professional interaction and back-and-forth transaction.

      For example, I live in West Virginia and purchase energy from the grid created by burning coal. That coal is dug in my state. The pollution and destruction of mining will be here for the entirety of my lifetime, pollution and destruction, I’ll note, that those coal companies are never going to pay for. Could I acquire energy by other means? Yes, but I cannot afford those other means. My options are the grid or nothing.

      You assume repeatedly that better options are available, either for products or employment. I don’t understand this assumption. Of course I would do things different given unlimited resources and unlimited storefronts to choose from, but I have neither in my real life.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I am not suggesting or assuming unlimited options, nor suggesting that you actually do have options on everything. Let me be more specific…

        Where you have choice among competing brands, do your interactions with corporations create value for you? Does the existence of more competition (and less collusion/market exclusion) put you in a better position (by giving you more choice and keeping them focused more on your needs)?

        One other line of questioning. Why do you think there are cars and computers and movies? Why were they created? Who created them? Would the government have created them without free enterprise?

         Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          Roger,

          Of course competition puts me in a better position, because it generates options. But we can imagine competition in which all of the options are necessarily bad or at least, aren’t good. Then what? Or is it your contention that all scenarios in which competition exists produce better outcomes?

          As for your  question about cars, computers, and movies…I’m not sure I understand. You’re not insinuating that the government had nothing to do with those creations, are you?Report

  25. Avatar Sam says:

    Rufus,

    Hey, down here! I can’t reply on the thread anymore where we are discussing marriage.

    Respectfully, I think you’re wrong to jump to the conclusion that younger generations are adopting socially conservative positions. Instead I’d argue that they’re being smarter about the things that give social conservatives the vapors. Younger generations aren’t less cavalier about divorce so much as they’re much, much smarter about marriage, by doing things like living together as a precursor to marriage itself. Younger generations might be getting fewer abortions, but that’s likely a result of knowing more about (and effectively using) birth control, not because they’re eschewing sex altogether. Younger generations are almost certainly having more sex, and that also is likely the result of knowing more about birth control.

    None of those are reflective of socially conservative positions, which tend to argue that cohabitation, pre-marital sex, and the use of birth control are utterly unacceptable human behaviors. (I could provide citations for all three, but perhaps I can simply point you toward your local Catholic Church instead.)

    Conservatives were right to observe that divorce was a problem but incorrectly diagnosed the solution; I think the younger generations recognized that this divorce thing was a huge problem, but also accepted that some marriages were never meant to be. The solution then isn’t the socially conservative one. It’s one wherein you approach marriage much more cautiously in an attempt to minimize the likelihood of a divorce happening.

    One other point: remember that for social conservatives, the outcome wasn’t always the goal. The method to the outcome mattered. We can all agree that the fastest way to decrease the abortion rate is the availability and effective use of birth control. Prevent the pregnancies that aren’t wanted and there will be no reason for the abortion itself. But social conservatives argue that the ONLY acceptable solution is abstinence, which, while it does produce the desired outcome, isn’t entirely realistic given the horndoggishness of the human condition. Obviously, marrying smarter will drive the divorce rate down, but for social conservatives, if that means cohabitation, multiple pre-marital sexual partners, etc, the road is an unacceptable one to take to the destination.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yeah, I’ve thought about that and it’s clearly right on a lot of levels. And again, maybe this is just my faulty memory, but I remember the 70s being quite liberal in a sort of knee jerk “revolutionary” way- there was a lot of discontent and anger at the bourgeois middle class existence that just seems to have dissipated. Who talks about breaking free and finding themselves any more? How long did the open marriage fad last? Could we maybe agree that the conservatives were right about encounter groups, cults, and the SDS? I mean, I definitely agree that people have gotten to been much smarter about those relationship matters, but I think there’s a lot more overlap than most people want to admit between smart behaviors and conservative ones, with the point of connection being that certain behaviors just minimize the amount of drama in one’s life; and most people just want to have stability in their lives.

       Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        I think there’s a lot more overlap than most people want to admit between smart behaviors and conservative ones, with the point of connection being that certain behaviors just minimize the amount of drama in one’s life; and most people just want to have stability in their lives.

        I think that’s exactly right, and what it reveals is the distinction between being personally conservative (“I” would never abort/smoke crack/sleep around) and being socially conservative (“You” must never abort…)  The former is absolutely fine, and in fact is quite consistent with being liberal or libertarian.  My brother, for instance, is pretty darn personally conservative, but politically pretty liberal.

        The latter is actually fine also, if limited to persuasion and not legal coercion.  There’s nothing wrong (except for a certain level of busybodyness) in pointing out to someone that their behavior is probably not conducive to health and happiness. There is something wrong with trying to force everyone else to live by one’s own moral standards.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Excellent comment, Sam.  I think you’re right about all this.  I just have one minor quibble.

      The solution [to divorce] then isn’t the socially conservative one. It’s one wherein you approach marriage much more cautiously in an attempt to minimize the likelihood of a divorce happening.

      Actually, approaching marriage more cautiously fits very much within the socially conservative mindset, although, ironically, so does getting married right out of high school.  I think those two come from class distinctions more than ideological ones.  But being cautious about making what is supposed to be lifelong commitment is a very Burkean approach.

      That said, the method by which young people go about approaching marriage cautiously, through co-habitation, is,as you note, not conservative.  It’s essentially a trial-marriage without promise of commitment.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        But being cautious about making what is supposed to be lifelong commitment is a very Burkean approach.

        That’s where I was going with the overlap between smart and conservative approaches. I mean, there’s a difference between conservative and right wing. To be honest, I see same sex marriage as a very conservative social movement too. Not right wing- in the US anyway- but conservative.

        For the record, though, I do agree with the points you made Sam.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Rufus,

          I figured I was just fleshing out your idea.  And I agree about same-sex marriage, although it took me a few years to get that point.  I think that’s one reason some conservatives support it; it’s the social right-wingers, the moralists, who can’t.  I think they realize the conservatizing power of marriage and implicitly recognize that it would destroy much of the basis of their criticism of homosexuals.  I think when they say it will destroy marriage, what they mean is it will destroy the gap they see, and want, between themselves and gays.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            James,

            Maybe that plays out in their motives, but let’s remember they believe that putting your talliwacker in another dude’s whichamajiggy can make you burn in hell for all eternity (same with cohabitation). If you believe this, you do not want to promote a society which encourages such activity.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              True, but they all believe homosexuals are inordinately promiscuous, and they also believe that marriage promotes less promiscuousness.  So they can’t sincerely believe same sex marriage promotes homosexual behavior.

              As the old joke goes, conservative should support same-sex marriage because we all know married people never have sex.*

              ________________________________

              *Which, in fact is not true.  Studies show that married people on average have sex more often that singles, and have more fulfilling sex lives.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Of course they can believe a socially approved institution that sanctions and “legitimizes” such activity promotes the activity.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Well, people can believe all sorts of things if they stick to the surface.  But I think they stick to the surface out of a sense that going deeper might not reinforce what they want to believe.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Seems like you are partially dismissing their position based upon a dismissal of their motives.

                I am sure you are right some homophobes just want to put a distance from themselves and this activity. Some are worried about their kids’ immortal souls. If I thought being married to a dude condemned my child to heck, I probably wouldn’t support it either. It’s for the kids!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                But I don’t think there’s any theological argument that it’s the marriage that condemns their souls; it’s the buttsecks.

                I’m not saying they’re not sincere about the lost souls issue, just that it doesn’t lead with any logic to worries about gay marriage itself.  Or at least, it seems to me, not as directly as status fears do.  Of course I could be wrong about that.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                What I fail to see Roger is where they make the connection. How does someone else being able to get gay married or have gay sex condemn a righteous person’s soul to hell?

                So the social right believes gays are condemned to hell? Clearly gays do not believe that. So why do the social right spend so much time trying to make life in this world a hell for gays as well? I mean they’ve got an infinity in the lake of fire ahead of them. Based on that, everything social cons do to make their limited time in this life more miserable is a hugely harmful and malicious act (and this is without even broaching the question as to whether the social right is correct or whether a God who set things up this way is worthy of adoration).Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                North,

                I can’t speak for the right. But if you think adultery is a sin, and gay sex is really bad adultery, it kind of follows, doesn’t it?

                And yes, I view them (and the left — in different ways) as intolerant. Indeed if I thought in terms of sin, I’d include intolerance as right up there with pride. (But no, I don’t think in these terms at all).

                In defense of Christianity. Most of the more devout ones I know would give the shirt off their back to a gay. They would try to do everything possible to help the “sinner” without indulging the temptation. But yes, their intolerance would keep them from endorsing gay marriage — for your benefit and the benefit of the kids.

                There are some messed up people in every group. It is easy to dismiss the group as fanatical nut cases based upon the illogic, pettiness racism or homophobia of the worst members.  In my opinion though, most of the intolerant religious conservatives and their counterparts of big government liberals actually mean well.

                 Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I think, for whatever this is worth, that the liberal position is not one of endorsement or embrace, but rather that the government simply leave people alone in certain circumstances (like when they’re trying to marry somebody that they love). It’s fine if Christians think the buttsecks is icky, but they don’t have to engage in it. It’s fine if Christian don’t believe in gay marriage, but they don’t have to perform them. The problem comes in when the solution to the problem is actively seeking to persecute the behavior.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam,

                Intolerance on the left usually comes in a different form.

                It is often intolerance of another not contributing to their system to correct inequality. If my brother believes it is wrong to subsidize the welfare of an unmarried drug-using teen mom, a tolerant liberal would allow him to “opt out” of such contributions.

                Both are examples of using coercion to push one’s values on someone else. And they are both doing it for the greater good!Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Roger,

                I can’t reply below (for some reason). I think you’re wrong though. I think liberals acknowledge that there are some people who are going to abuse every system, but to crash the entire thing because there will be the occasional “unmarried drug-using teen mom” is both foolish and short-sighted. Just as we don’t dismantle our military whenever a bomb is dropped on a wedding party instead of terrorists.

                The notion of giving people an opt out grinds democracy itself to a halt, frankly, and shouldn’t be taken seriously if the democracy itself is to matter.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam,

                I was giving an extreme case for illustration only. The point is that my brother may think trade restrictions, or mandatory contributions to SS or welfare in general are wrong. If he does, it can be intolerant to force him to do so. The fact that the majority demands it isn’t fundamentally any different than the majority demanding we no longer kiss boys, or that we subsidize wars in distant lands.

                The notion of giving people an opt out grinds democracy itself to a halt, frankly, and shouldn’t be taken seriously if the democracy itself is to matter.

                This is where I partially disagree. I believe we can build some choices and options into democracy and recommend careful experimentation in this direction. I can share pragmatic ideas if anyone is interested.Report

  26. Avatar Sam says:

    I want to be very cautious here about giving credit to “conservative” positions on things, for a couple of reasons:

    1. I question whether it is fair to describe people who are committed to their marriage and the institution as conservative in nature. I don’t think you’ll find many liberals who argue that marriage is a bad thing. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, plenty of liberals were willing to argue that marriage as it was constituted then was a bad thing, what with the inequalities that existed between husbands and wives for example. Conservatives argued that those inequalities were good (and in fact, continue to argue for those inequalities) and made for a strong marriage (as part of a general program as believing that a woman’s responsibilities were to her family, her husband, her home, etc.) That might be true in some specific cases, but it didn’t seem to be true generally, as women strove to be more than the person who stayed at home.

    2. Similarly, the worst pockets of divorce in this country are the ones wherein you’d assume socially conservative positions to be the strongest: Nevada, Wyoming, West Virginia, Idaho, and Arkansas all have rates over 5.0 per 1000 people (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0923080.html) whereas the following states have rates below 2.5 per 1000: Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, Iowa, DC, and Massachusetts (the lowest number listed, at 1.8). If commitment to marriage is such a fundamentally conservative thing (and if refusing to commit to marriage is such a fundamentally liberal thing), why aren’t these numbers reversed? Perhaps this measure doesn’t matter, but it does seem striking that the places with the worst rates tend to trend toward being what we might identify as Red States and the places with the lower rates trend toward being what we might identify as Blue States.

    3. To clarify: if we’re not going to confuse conservative and right wing, can we continue to use social conservative (which is synonymous with right wing)? And are we sure that we want to say that it is conservative to be committed to marriage? It seems more complicated a thing than associating it with a particular ideology, doesn’t it?Report

  27. Avatar Roger says:

    When does this post win a world record — or at least a league record — for most comments?Report

    • Avatar Sam says:

      Roger,

      Above you asked about the core beliefs of the left, an answer to which I do not have for you. However, I would like to say that amongst the core beliefs is that there are structural inequalities, created by history, culture, and policy, which have to be addressed in an attempt to give as many people opportunity as is possible. On social issues, liberals win over time, as more and more people are welcomed to the table by generations who realize that their inclusion isn’t causing an end to civilization. On economic issues, the argument is harder because the pie is, in some ways, so limited.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Thanks Sam,

        I have been noting that liberals share this winning over time perspective. Its kind of like an inevitable force progressing through society. Stillwater added that it can be self correcting too when liberals push to far.

        Don’t get me wrong, I am not disputing either of you. It does seem to me that there is a healthy yin and yang dynamic in the battle between the left and the right, between progress and conserve. I wish their was more of a yin and yang around top down and bottoms up.Report

        • Avatar Sam says:

          I’m replying to your above comment, about the unfairness of things. You say that forcing somebody to contribute to something via taxation is the same as forcing them them not to kiss their boyfriend. I fundamentally disagree. Taxation is something which everybody is supposed to pay. There are exceptions, of course, but that is for people who have very little money. The idea is that, if everybody making up to a certain amount of money (X)  will be taxed at a particular level. If you make X+Y, you might pay more, but the assumption is that you’re still better off, because X+Y-taxes paid is never going to equal the highest number possible within X. Thus, it is a fair system because everybody is treated equally by it, or is more advantaged than the person who isn’t.

          Whereas your example fundamentally divides people based upon who wants to kiss who. In that regard, the government treats people very, very differently, saying that Roger can kiss Mary, but cannot kiss Steve. Thus that would be viewed as an unfair system, because everybody isn’t treated equally, and those who aren’t are disadvantaged by it.

          To make the examples similar, you would need to have a progressive rate of taxation on people making X+Y of over 100 percent, thus canceling out Y and dragging a performer back into X.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Taxation is something which everybody is supposed to pay.

            But that’s not the relevant question at all.  The question is what types of programs can we legitimately force people to support.  If it’s for pure public goods such as national defense and quasi-public goods like sewer systems, you’re not going to find many objections.

            But I know plenty of liberals who object to paying taxes to support wars of aggression or to prop up murderous dictators.  They’re exactly right (and plenty o’ libertarians agree with them).  But if you leave the issue at “everybody’s supposed to pay their taxes,” you eliminate their basis for objecting.  I think that’s wrong.

            But once we grant them legitimacy in those objections, then we have to consider the legitimacy of conservative objections.  At a minimum, for example, conservatives have a very good argument against being required to help pay for abortions, even though a liberal can accurately claim that it’s poor women who are disproportionately affected by the lack of taxpayer funding.  I think you’ll have a hard time making the case that forcing someone to contribute to what they sincerely believe is murder is not at least as bad as forcing someone to not kiss their boyfriend.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Sam,

              Adding to James points, the discussion of taxes is about the means not the end (which I am calling an intolerant end). I am not disputing taxes as a means. A conservative could use taxes for intolerance too. They could establish a heterosexual marriage deduction (for the families!) That way they could push intolerance via a “fair” tax — after all everyone can theoretically marry heterosexually.

              Another way to approach the issue is that a conservative could argue that “laws are something that everybody is supposed to obey.” So they pass laws against porno or boy kissing.

              I agree liberals like them taxes and conservatives like them laws. I just want a wee bit more choice, competition, freedom and tolerance.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Roger,

                I disagree, because the laws you’re talking about are always specific to particular individuals. For instance, I would whole-heartedly disagree with a law against sodomy, but if it was applied equally against homosexuals and heterosexuals, at least it could be defined as fair. But it never was applied equally against homosexuals and heterosexuals. It was always a law designed only to punish homosexuals. That’s the problem. (Meanwhile, anti-pornography laws aren’t going anywhere because they’re specifically forbidden by the Constitution.)

                And again, I was merely stating what I believe to be a core-belief of the left: that there exists an uneven playing field as a result of history, culture, and policy, and thus the goal is making it level, as much as that is possible.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Sam, A law against same sex kissing is applicable to everyone. A law requiring 38% income taxes over a set deduction is applicable to everyone. I realize you have genuinely heartfelt convictions toward fairness. But the point we are making is that you are intolerantly pushing your values on those that disagree with you.

                The conservative same-sex kissing prohibition only affects gays. The 38% tax law only affects those that wouldn’t have otherwise contributed. They are both forms of value coercion for a (supposed or real) higher good.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Here we are getting into ideological territory, but the person born gay is slightly different in my mind than the person who doesn’t feel like paying taxes.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The law in its something something.

                -Dead White MaleReport

            • Avatar Sam says:

              James,

              I respectfully think that this was a discussion about ideology. I don’t think it appropriate for you to ask for an answer and then change the conversation’s focus. If you’d like to discuss whether or not making people pay taxes for things that they don’t support is fair, we can have that conversation, but my point was simply that many on the left believe in progressive taxation as a mechanism by which to level a playing field made unlevel by history, culture, and policy.

              (And your abortion example is a terrible one, because conservatives aren’t made to pay for abortions. The Hyde Amendment makes sure of it. I of course wish that the Hyde Amendment didn’