How the left can elevate the level of political discourse (and stop making a fool of itself)

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Shawn Gude

Shawn Gude is a writer, graduate student, activist, and assistant contributor at Jacobin. His intellectual influences include Chantal Mouffe, Michael Harrington, and Ella Baker. Contact him at shawn.gude@gmail.com or on Twitter @shawngude.

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    “In reality, the vast majority of the right does not give a damn about free markets; it just wants to redistribute income upward.”

    That’s what the vast majority of the right cares about, is it? In reality?Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Yeah. I was going to mention something about that myself. It’s very odd, especially in the context of supposedly elevating the political discourse.

      I don’t know a single conservative for whom that applies, or even know of one.Report

    • Avatar Nathan in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Never attribute to malice what could more easily be explained by stupidity.Report

    • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      I think it’s wrong to say the “vast majority” wants to redistribute income upward, but that wish seems to predominate among the leadership and sub-leadership of the GOP, at least in Congress.  I do think I agree with James K. above, and I’ll add that it’s possible for people to favor policies that have the effect of distributing income upward without necessarily wishing or intending such distribution.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      IN the same way that the reality of the Gilded Age is more complex than the simple narrative, the reality of contemporary conservatism is more complex than Shawn suggests.

      Even speaking as a liberal, I don’t believe that the “vast majority” of conservatives want to distribute wealth upward.

      The conservative movement is comprised of factions like any other political group.

      There are certainly the 1% who do infact want to use the tools of government to bring themselves wealth. But as has been pointed out many times the rest of the conservative coalition is interested in cultural dominance, ideology, or ethnic tribalism.

      But I think Shawn touches on a valid point- that trying to argue against “free markets” is a losing issue for us, because the concept of “free market” resonates even with the lowest of low information voters (its even got the word “free” right there in its title, man!).

      I notice we have gotten a lot more traction by pointing out hypocrisy of the bailouts and the inumerable ways in which the business interests simultaneously suck at the public teat even as they shirk their public obligations.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Liberty60
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        I think Shaun’s point isn’t that the vast majority of conservatives want to distribute wealth upward. I think Shawn’s point is the vast majority of conservatives _in power_ want to do that.

        No, your random Republican Congressperson from Indiana doesn’t think that, but the person funding his campaign via 527’s and such? Oh yeah, he wants to make the middle class as unstable as possible.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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          says:

          The person funding his campaign via 527?s and such? Oh yeah, he wants to make the middle class as unstable as possible.

          Don’t confuse outcome with intent.

          There certainly may be people in both parties who are out to cause as much misery as they can (I don’t think this is very likely, but it’s possible).  It is much more likely that there are sociopaths in both parties who are more concerned with their own internal idea of “the game” than they are with external consequences; sociopaths aren’t necessarily sadists, though, and “leveraging power to get more power at the expense of (foo)” is different from “screwing foo for fun and getting more power as a bonus!”.

          Finally, it’s a certainty that there are people in both parties who are following their principles (or their dogma) and are either blind to the unintentional consequences of their actions, or do not believe that those consequences will come about, or believe that those consequences will be ameliorated by some other factor.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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            says:

            Patrick, I’m detecting the ‘both sides do it’ thing here. As in, both sides to it equally. Are you saying that Democratic politicians are just as likely to push policies which redistribute upwards as Republicans politicians?Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Not precisely.

              Democratic politicians are more likely to push policies that redistribute downwards than upwards.  Republican politicians are more likely to push policies that redistribute upwards than downwards.  However, in neither case is that the intended outcome for most of the people pushing the policy change, per se.  Something else is the intended outcome.  A faster-moving economy.  Reduced poverty.  Children with better access to education.  Sometimes you have both sides agreeing on an intended outcome but they’re each pushing a policy that is much more likely to redistribute in their preferred default than actually address the intended outcome.

              And in both cases, the intended outcome is usually not the actual outcome.  Or, in the best case, the intended outcome is the actual outcome, but the costs are much higher than anticipated.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Dean Baker: “In reality, the vast majority of the right does not give a damn about free markets; it just wants to redistribute income upward.”

      If Mr. Baker’s going to put it that way, it seems only fair to add something like, “In reality, the vast majority of liberals and progressives don’t give a damn if the government intervenes to protect the interests of the poor and disadvantaged, they just don’t want to do it themselves.”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        Or “libdems want to create a culture of dependency to solidify their necessity.”

        I hear that one a lot.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will Truman
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          says:

          The funny thing is how often those two come right after each other, when they’re… well, let’s just say that anyone who was operating under both of those principles simultaneously would be a bit bonkers.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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            says:

            Some people mistake crass cynicism for insightful wisdom.Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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            says:

            Really, Pat? It doesn’t seem that hard to me.

            “Libs want to engineer the welfare state so as to create a culture of dependency and protect lib political interests. If the welfare state apparatus actually happens to help the poor and disadvantaged, so much the better. If it doesn’t, no biggie.”Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Koz
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              says:

              It doesn’t surprise me that you’re able to square this circle, Koz.

              Let me ask you this: if creating the culture of dependency is the engineering maxim: to what end?

              Are all liberals into the game just because they’re seeking to aggregate power on the backs of the poor’s dependency on the liberal?

              If so, why?  Is it because they’re all sociopaths?  Are they nihilists out to destroy the conservative agenda, for no other reason than, “It’s there”?Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                First of all, I won’t say that prior comment exactly represents my own pov. The main point was that these two right wing talking points are not contradictory but in fact are actually very easy to reconcile. The only reason to think otherwise is the desire to feed a prejudice of right wing crankiness or irrationality. Real examples of that can be found but we shouldn’t assume that where it doesn’t apply for the sake of convenience. Check the tape.

                As far as the actual ends for lib intentions, the big one is to preserve their cultural alienation from mainstream America. Ie, they look around the demographics of America and what they’re afraid of is that Sarah Palin or Rick Santorum and the demographics they represent will be in charge. Again, this has policy causes and consequences here and there but it’s mainly a matter of social anxieties.

                Note speaking in my own voice, I would never say that libs intentions toward the poor are as blase as what I quoted. That’s actually quite a complicated subject. Certainly libs’ self-understanding of their own intent is geared toward providing for the disadvantaged. Part of the complications come from the fact that it’s not obvious that either America or the poor are better off for that being the case.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Koz
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                says:

                The main point was that these two right wing talking points are not contradictory but in fact are actually very easy to reconcile.

                No, they’re only very easy to reconcile if you make a pretty bald-faced assumption; all of your opponents are both evil and stupid.  Which, to be fair, is also a conclusion often reached by people on the Left about conservatives, and that is likewise insane.

                This is like the conspiracy theorists who tell me that Big Pharma pushes vaccines because they’re in it for the money.  It ignores the fact that it doesn’t make any goddamn sense in the real world, unless Big Pharma is both Evil Overlord and Incredibly Stupid.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                “No, they’re only very easy to reconcile if you make a pretty bald-faced assumption; all of your opponents are both evil and stupid.”

                Not at all. It’s very plausible to make inferences of libs’ political intent from their repeated actions. Evaluating the moral content of those intents comes later, if at all.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Koz
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              Mr. Koz, even if true, your war on leftism would be better served to give them the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions, since

              Libs want to engineer the welfare state so as to create a culture of dependency and protect lib political interests

              is mere [and boring] ad hom.

              Neither do I think it’s particularly true except in the “doing well by doing good.”  See Huey Long, Tammany Hall.  They genuinely believed [or had convinced themselves] that they were the protectors of and providers for the poor.  And ya know what? They were, and that’s why they kept re-electing them.

              That welfare statism produces a cycle of dependency and in the end hurts those it purports to help is the stronger argument, non-ad hom, and happens to hold a great deal of truth.

              Your current argument is just the flipside of the attacks on the evil corporations and faceless powers-that-be, that they want to hurt people [or are indifferent either way]  in feathering their own nests. Equally ad hom, equally boring.  Nobody rubs their hands and twirls their mustache in delight of the evil they do.

              Adam Smith covers this elegantly in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that we admire only motives, not results, not net effect.

              Not the reality.  Fact is, if welfare statism or capitalism [or both!] have a net positive result, the adult mind must recognize that, and not give into mere sentiments that amount to no more than ad hom [or pro-hom!].Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                Nobody gets cancer because of food stamps. On the other, loosening of environmental restrictions?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                Food Stamp Nation or relaxing enviro-laws so people have jobs and feed themselves?  Stay out of the deep end of the pool, Jesse, esp when I’m getting your back, because if anybody has a case of the smugs and cares more about moral preening than the effects of his self-righteous intentions it’sReport

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                As soon as you’re willing to move downstream from the chemical plant after all those Marxist socialist job-killing environmental regulations are eliminated.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jesse Ewiak
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                Jesse, I admit an inability to discuss reality with my moral superiors. Peace.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                or relaxing enviro-laws so people have jobs and feed themselves?

                Does it matter that some of those environmental laws actually prevent businesses from imposing costs on unwilling third parties?  Or do their concerns not matter as long as someone else gets a job?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to James Hanley
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                Yes, James, we libertarians want to get rid of ALL environmental laws because that’s how we roll.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                TVD, I’ve been enjoying you immensely lately. This

                That welfare statism produces a cycle of dependency and in the end hurts those it purports to help is the stronger argument, non-ad hom, and happens to hold a great deal of truth.

                if I take you rightly, is spot on. The compliant here is about focus. The liberal wants to help the poor in short term cycles which keep getting reupped, but fails to consider the long term consequences. The conservative thinks long term and says that ultimately, the poor have to find some damn work, but skips right over the current problem: they’re starving.

                Both views have merits, both views ultimately fail.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                “The liberal wants to help the poor in short term cycles which keep getting reupped, but fails to consider the long term consequences.”

                Actually, I don’t think they do. In the liberal mind, helping the disadvantaged is downstream of liberal political power, and sometimes not even then.

                This has a particular fairly recent historical context in America. For the New Deal up through the Great Society, there was at least a rhetorical emphasis in helping the disadvantaged in the engineering the welfare state. This underwent a subtle metamorphisis in the Reagan Administration that was completed under Clinton. Gradually it evolved that the middle class became the beneficiaries of the welfare state and again, by the time Clinton was President this was taken as a given.

                The real blame for the libs is not so much that the welfare state at some level is supposed to help the poor. It’s that they have given themselves a propietary ownership of it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Koz
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                says:

                In the liberal mind, helping the disadvantaged is downstream of liberal political power, and sometimes not even then.

                I have some questions about this. What makes you think you know anything about the liberal mind? Have you been there? Or is it that you’ve seen it in action, actual situations in which liberals – the whole motley group of us – collectively decide to leverage the poor into OUR camp to support OUR political aspiration by ensuring that only WE get their votes? And unions too, for that matter: liberals created and support unions just to get their votes. That’s just a fact, too, I guess.

                But if voting is the crucial aspect of this, Koz, then isn’t your argument really against Democrats and not liberals? Oh yeah, that’s right: the Democratic party is just the political arm of liberalism. I almost forgot that part. Ben Nelson, Al Franklin, Nancy Pelosi and Mary Landrieu are all ideological brethren in the struggle to realize their (our!) Something-something Totalitarian Ideal.

                And hell, given all that, I guess I completely understand the GOP’s efforts at voter suppression across the country. Those votes aren’t freely cast, they’ve been purchased. The poor, just by being poor, have surrendered their right to vote! Same for blacks and union workers and latinos and even some women! And you can tell just by looking at their – our – minds. It’s all a ruse! So it makes tons of sense that by suppressing their ‘right’ to vote all across the country, the GOP is actually defending freedom!

                How’d I not see this before.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Thx for that, Brother Still.  To you & Mr. Koz: Most of us want a “mixed” system that provides for the poor.  Even if the argument that it’s better done by private charity, private charity has not always sufficient resources, whether it be long-term or even short-term.

                Gov’t has to get in, at least when push comes to shove, which it always does.

                Mr. Koz, my mom was an FDR Democrat and fiercely partisan. [Dad’s a Limbaugh Republican, which made things interesting around the house.  Both were Depression babies.

                So when you write

                The real blame for the libs is not so much that the welfare state at some level is supposed to help the poor. It’s that they have given themselves a propietary ownership of it.

                the fact is, they do have—and deserve—proprietary ownership of it. I remember Mom going off in that Democrat way: “And what did the Republicans do?  Nothing.  Nothing!”  With tears in her eyes.

                And she was right: the GOP, esp in her younger days, did nothing. To this day, they [we, I’m one] are fabulously uncreative for the lot of the poor, exc perhaps better at the long-term picture: vouchers, etc.

                I did check out the Great Society once, and iirc, the stats say that LBJ took the poverty rate down from 30% to 20, where it has held steady, more or less from Nixon’s time onward.

                And even if we minimize LBJism, that it got the “easy ones,” the ones that only needed a leg up to break the poverty cycle, the fact is the Republicans did nothing.  So if the Dems want to claim proprietary ownership of getting that 10% [a third of the poor!] out of the cycle, their claim is valid.

                This isn’t to say that the GOP might not have a better way for the rest, or to deny that trillions have been wasted trying to pry them out of the cycle.

                My point here is that we need to break out of our paradigms, our ossified conventional wisdoms, and clear the decks [without endangering that one-third who are squeaking by above poverty, mind you] about where we should go from here.

                I have given up on the lefty moralists hereabouts, that they’ll ever behave themselves as gentlemen and adults, but as you are rather one of the vocal minority of the right, that perhaps you’re capable of moving from condemning to convincing.  [You are making no converts.]

                Further, a reading of Mr. Stillwater above shows him conceding a point for his “side” in the interest of productive discussion, that libs are more concerned with the immediate gratification of assuaging the suffering of the poor without any thought to ending it on any permanent basis.  It’s good to yield a point back, esp when there’s truth to it:  the Great Society has had negative consequences, but it has also done lasting [semi-permanent, anyway] good, and the GOP has no grounds for denying them the credit.

                [As a rhetorical note, I again urge you to use “left” instead of “liberal.” Although I’m more my daddy’s son on politics, since that talk with my Mom, I’m also a bit of an FDR liberal.  And as a Burkean conservative, I want to conserve as much of FDRism and even the Great Society as we can afford.  They have done much good.

                Most of your criticisms are valid against the ideological left. Liberals, not so much.  Liberals are people, too.]

                [The left, not so much.  ;-P]

                 

                 

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                “the fact is, they do have—and deserve—proprietary ownership of it. I remember Mom going off in that Democrat way: “And what did the Republicans do? Nothing. Nothing!” With tears in her eyes.”

                No no, that’s very very bad. First of all because it’s allowing our understanding of the past to determine the future. Whatever can be said about the Depression that was 80 years ago. For say, thirty years at least, the general structure of the welfare state to help the disadvantaged hasn’t been a big partisan issue.

                But way more important than that, it wouldn’t make any difference if she were right. Government policy towards poor, like government policy towards anything else, is at bottom a collective expression of the government, and sometimes the people itself. It is never the proprietary interest of one political faction. Every times libs think that it is (which is reasonably often) they are hurting all of us.

                Or put it another way, depending on the circumstances libs can take credit that a policy or a thing exists, but for our collective resources they can never legitimately assert a propietary interest or attempt to control it as though they owned it.

                “It’s good to yield a point back, esp when there’s truth to it:…”

                Tom, I can see why you would want to see this, but your premises don’t check out. The reason I contest this or that claim from the libs is not obstinance. It’s the reality that libs are claiming something that’s wrong or misleading or unproductive. Believe me, I very much wish we could do it another way.

                As far as “liberal” vs. “Left”, they mean slightly different things. I tend to use liberal to mean the libs’ philosophical and policy preferences and Left to mean their political associations. Though truth be told, I probably haven’t been super-consistent in that usage.Report

              • Avatar Koz in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                “Neither do I think it’s particularly true except in the “doing well by doing good.””

                No Tom, that’s not right, and it’s actually a very important point.

                Leaving what I quoted and gearing toward my actual beliefs of libs’ motives, the libs’ self-justification for the welfare state is definitively not its effectiveness. Libs do not in general agree to shut down ineffective programs and in fact make substantial effort in engineering such programs to prevent that from happening.

                It comes from a self-asserted propietary interest fueled by the cultural alienation from mainstream America, especially Greater Red State America. Ie, America by itself won’t do anything for the poor or disadvantaged. Therefore we, the liberals, have to and anything we do is more or less good. And, even where we fail we must hold on to power as best as we can to prevent America (or Republicans, or white people) from undoing what we’ve done so far.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Koz
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              Koz’s post illustrates for me the fallacy of trying to discern ulerior motives- liberal middle class taxpaying voters like me secretly want to ensnare poor people into a cycle of dependency, because…um, well, just because.

              As I mentione dupthread, very few conservative voters really think they are voting agains ttheir interest. And most liberal voters really beleive we are pursuing policies in the public interest.

              And the politicians motives? Irrelevant. As long as we get the outcome we like.Report

  2. Avatar Murali
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    The problem, then, isn’t free markets. We don’t have free markets. The problem is corporatism. It’s not just intellectually dishonest for the left to suggest otherwise but, as Baker adeptly argues, rhetorically boneheaded

    +1Report

  3. Avatar Sam
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    I mean this gently, but the libertarian definition of “free markets” is an almost entirely dead concept in American politics. Demanding then that the left elevate the discourse by using the libertarian’s definition of the word, as opposed to the far more politically potent conservative’s, is a touch unrealistic. After all, the left is as interested as the right is in winning elections, and since we live in a country where the left competes with the right (while the libertarians sit up in the balcony like Statler and Waldorf), they’re bound to respond to each other’s turns of phrase. When the right says it supports free markets (even though they obviously don’t), the left responds to that concept. What political good would it be to the left to say, “Excuse me, My Right Counterpart, but you are using the term free markets incorrectly, and I will not respond until you develop another term that more accurately accounts for the corporatist views that you hold!”

    To put that another way, the libertarian definition of “free market” is the RC Cola of American politics.  Some people really like it, but when we think of soda, it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.Report

    • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Sam
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      Because allowing people to use “free markets” when they mean “corporatism” means you’ve already lost the argument.

      The correct response to someone saying they support “free markets” is to say “Bullshit. Demonstrate it. Repeal corporate subsidies. Stop the bailouts. Stop SOPA and intellectual property laws in general. Repeal patent laws.” Etc. Etc.

      It’s not semantics. By using the term “free markets”, these people are lying. They are saying the exact opposite of what they mean. You can’t let them get away with that and hope to win anything.

      And remember, the most important government intervention of all is the creation of corporations themselves. Corporations only exist because the government charters them; they are entirely foreign entities to most human societies. All power that corporations have is legislated by the government. The biggest distortion of “free markets” is the very existence of corporations.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Grant Williams
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        And everything you just said is going to go over the head of not only the average voter, but the average politician, which is why the textbook definition of the term “free market” no longer substantively matters in American politics. What matters is the practical use of the term, which in this case is overwhelmingly used to defend policy that are corporatist in nature.

        I recognize the frustration in seeing a cherished idea stolen by morons, but stolen it has been and protesting otherwise isn’t going to change that fact.Report

        • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Sam
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          “everything you just said is going to go over the head of not only the average voter”

          And why is that? Because the average voter is stupid? No, because the average voter is uneducated, because they’ve been lied to, repeatedly, and grown up in a culture that refused to educate them and harshly discouraged intellectual curiosity and attempts to educate themselves.

          This is something liberals do very, very often (and for the elites, it’s hard to imagine it’s not intentional, even though I, too, believe very strongly in Hanlon’s Razor): allow the opposition to dictate the terms of the argument such that they (liberals) have no chance of winning.

          It’s ridiculous to say that we can’t change the rhetoric–that’s, after all, how “free markets” came to mean what it does today, and have the currency (NPI) that it does today–corporatists waging a protracted campaign to change American political culture and values. It may have taken them forty years, but they have their victories today because of that rhetorical struggle.Report

          • Avatar Sam in reply to Grant Williams
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            says:

            Grant,

            Who or what are you angry at? Me? For pointing out that “free market” in the popular political vernacular doesn’t mean the same thing that it does to you? I would apologize save for the following: I’m right. The popular definition ISN’T the textbook definition.

            Meanwhile, what’s with the blame for the misuse of “free market” falling squarely on liberals? Who is it that have been championing corporatist policies for decades while claiming that they endorse free markets? Conservatives. Who else has been responsible for badly misusing the term? Conservatives. The notion that the incorrect definition of free markets is something falls entirely upon liberal shoulders is ludicrous.

            Meanwhile, the reason that you won’t find many liberals having faith in the genuine definition of free markets is because they have no faith that those free markets will produce results any better than what our current corporatist system produces. They see a system in which the only mechanism to control the bad actors (regulation) is stripped while nothing is taken from those bad actors and they reasonably wonder, “How is that supposed to improve anything?” It is an entirely justifiable concern.Report

            • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Sam
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              1. Liberals and conservatives don’t exist except in the self-comforting delusions of the political class. But we’ll table that.

              2. I don’t give a shit who is to blame for changing the rhetoric of free markets, except in so far as I’m interested in how it was done–which is that corporatists pushed for it, and nobody in the political class pushed back. “It’s not our fault the bankers are looting are country and selling it off piece-by-piece to the highest bidder. Why should we try to do anything to stop it?” No, it’s not your fault, but fault is meaningless. (Or, as someone better put it: INTENT IS NOT FUCKING MAGIC.) It happened. If you don’t like it, and you are able to fight back against it, and you roll over, you do not get to complain about it.

              3. The point is not to support free markets, the point is that free markets cannot exist. They are a fantasy of capitalists (and incidentally the fantasy goes back to Enlightenment humanism and arguments to justify slavery, as Graeber superbly/horrifically documents in Debt.) Markets are created by people; they are defined by people. They are simply another form of governance, in addition to the power of the state and cultural/social normative enforcement. (Incidentally, the free market is thus a fantasy of abdicating responsibility in the same way as the fantasy of government regulation, treating government as an “other” to be delegated to, rather than something we continuously construct through our social and thus cultural interactions.)Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Grant Williams
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                “Markets are created by people; they are defined by people. They are simply another form of governance, in addition to the power of the state and cultural/social normative enforcement. ”

                You know, I can sort of get behind this analysis, though I disagree with some of the other items in this comment and some others upthread.   I would probably substitute the term ‘money’ as a more general case for when you use the term ‘markets’ though. (But I’m not sure if that would be quite sufficiently canonical either)

                 Report

              • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Kolohe
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                Depends on how you define “money”. I think markets/exchange are probably better–“money” is more nebulous and is more a tool/symbol used in a variety of interactions not restricted to markets. Money has a lot of sociocultural functions, for example. But the idea is that there are different modes of organizing human behavior, and that governments/states, markets, and social interaction/culture/tradition are all roughly equal (or at least, not inherently linked to certain activities or rules).Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Grant Williams
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                I would strongly disagree that they are not often intelinked with each other (as a trivial example, the Abrahamic religions detailing rules for both money and cooking), and now understand why I also disagree with you above on the notion ‘freeing’ the market from the other two main vectors of human organization is one of the most morally good, utilitarian wealth enhancing, and fundamentally important of the Enlightenment ideas.Report

              • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Kolohe
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                Err, what? I never suggested such a thing.

                I’m against Enlightenment ideals. If you’ve read Debt, Graeber makes (IMO) a very persuasive argument that Enlightenment humanism grew out of attempts to justify slavery (the greatest freedom you can have is to sell your own freedom).

                I think the popular notion of individual liberty is inherently tied to the misrepresentations of capitalism. Individual liberty is an abdication of responsibility–it’s avoiding externalities, like pollution.

                I think the cultural paradigm needs to shift from individual freedom to ecology and sustainability (the interconnectedness of all things, or rhizomatic thinking, if you’re into Theory).Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kolohe
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                Well I’ll be damned, I’m happy you’re here Grant! The League now has a resident person who’s against the enlightenment ideals based on criticisms from the left to contrast our dear Bob Cheeks who’s against the enlightenment ideals based on criticisms from the right. I must confess, I feel a certain delight over this. Like finally acquiring the missing dish in a matching set.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe
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                says:

                Individual liberty is an abdication of responsibility–it’s avoiding externalities, like pollution.

                Regardless of the ideology of the person making it, this argument never approaches being correct.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kolohe
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m against Enlightenment ideals.

                Without exception, everyone I’ve ever met who holds this position considers themselves an eventual member of the Upper Party.Report

              • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Kolohe
                Ignored
                says:

                Thank Shawn. I followed him from twitter. (We also were in the same graduating class at the same college but never actually met, strangely.)

                Also, most of the Enlightenment thinkers would count as Upper Party members. Humanism, for all its advantages, is only a sacred creed in Western tradition–tradition that, of course, goes hand in hand with capitalism. I’m an anarcho-syndicalist. Virulently anti-state. Hardly Upper Party material.

                Individual liberty is, like markets, a logical contradiction. The extreme example is, of course, freedom to murder, etc. But every action that you take impacts other people. *shrug*Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Grant Williams
                Ignored
                says:

                1. How on earth can you claim “liberals and conservatives don’t exist” immediately after arguing that liberals were to blame for the current popular meaning of free markets?

                2. It’s not that nobody in the political class pushed back. It’s that the political class embraced the corporatist message, and that new hybrid began describing what was happening as a free market outcome. And I wasn’t complaining about this; I was simply saying that the free markets as it is commonly used by politicians and pundits more often refers to a system which might be described as naked corporatism here.

                3. Of course free markets are fantasies. Anybody who believes that such a thing could exist is lying to themselves about the human condition and they way in which some amongst tend to function. To put that another way, there is a reason there is no evidence anywhere of a free market ever actually existing without actors within it who attempts to control, cajole, manipulate, or otherwise influence the market’s outcomes. Or, to put that in short hand, there will always be men with guns.Report

              • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Sam
                Ignored
                says:

                1. When did I say they were to blame for it? I never used that word. I said they allowed it to happen. You’re assuming that I’m assigning fault. I don’t believe in fault or blame (interconnectedness of all things).

                2. And I’m saying that’s not semantics to be brushed aside but the core of the issue: misrepresentation. (Or, lying.) Your argument seems akin to saying the anti-war movement should accept the premise of wars “of liberation” and still try to protest wars. You cannot protest corporatism if you do not point out what corporatism is and does.

                3. No, you’re making the same mistake everybody else does. You’re still in the mindset that a free market could logically exist, but human beings are flawed and inherently corrupt and therefore it would never practically exist. But that’s not true. Free markets are a logical contradiction, because a market is a social space whose rules and boundaries are defined by human beings.

                That’s the essential lie you have to understand. Even a “true” libertarian free market, with a bunch of human drones conditioned not to use violence or whatever you might need to populate it, is still an artificial construct. It’s whatever we want it to be. There is no natural market that preexists humans. A market is not an emergent phenomenon (again, superbly documented by Graeber: markets emerge with the state, not in opposition to it). It is a system of government.Report

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

                Constructs can be artificial and yet not be arbitrary.

                A perfect circle is an artificial construct.  It’s certainly not arbitrary.  The existence of “close enough to perfect” circles means that we can use the mathematics of the perfect circle to approximate the real-world circle’s nature within relatively fine degrees of accuracy.

                Now, that might not be the case for “free” markets, but that case needs to be made, not simply asserted.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                But he’s saying that even the idea of a perfect circle with respect to markets makes no sense. They are whatever we intend them to be. So the idea of a ‘perfect market’ depends on prior conception of what you think the purpose of a market is and what constraints need to be built in.Report

              • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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                says:

                Stillwater,

                Exactly. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Patrick Cahalan
                Ignored
                says:

                A perfect market is similar to a perfect relationship.

                While it might be the case that someone who oversaw the Jaybird/Maribou relationship would have a point when they regulated against Jaybird wantonly calling Maribou at work and burping into the phone, they are likely to also inadvertently regulate against other things that are perfectly fine between the two individuals in question and create tensions and perverse incentives and whathaveyou.

                Metaphorically, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Grant Williams
                Ignored
                says:

                Sam, Patrick and Grant,

                Patrick’s comments are spot on. The concept of a free market is of course an ideal. The point isn’t to have some Platonic ideal, it is just to have free markets. These begin to emerge whenever two or more individuals agree to begin voluntarily exchanging things. This leads to specialization and defined property rights and so on and so forth.

                Free markets do require rules. Free markets do get infested with nefarious characters that try to cheat. And everybody is rewarded by seeking a privileged position — therefore everyone tends to work to carve out their little private exceptions to the rules.

                The point is that where free markets tend to prevail over alternative economic systems, the prosperity and opportunity is dozens if not hundreds of times higher than alternative systems. Free enterprise has done more for humanity and especially the poor than any other institution ever.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger,

                You’re making the same, consistent mistake: you’re assuming that because two people agree to engage in voluntary exchange, the market has been free. You make no mention, for instance, of where the two people got the things that they’re voluntarily exchanging. For example, I might voluntarily exchange the television I stole from you to Patrick for $50. I doubt you’d think the market was working like gangbusters.

                As for your claim that free markets prevail over alternative economic systems, I would again like you to specifically name one of these marketplaces that has been entirely free of government intervention. You say that free enterprise has done more for humanity and especially the poor than any institution ever, but where did this institution exist without the presence of governance?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Hi Sam,

                Actually I am assuming that they got the goods via legitimate means according to the rules of free enterprise. That is — they produced it or traded for it. If they stole it, they should be punished and asked to return it by the referees of the system.

                Who suggested free markets have to be free from government involvement? Government is (usually) the referee.

                Free markets may not be perfect, but they are not a fantasy.

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar Grant Williams in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Roger,

                You’re speaking economics 101, which is entirely false. There are any number of documentations of the many and fundamental historical errors–factually false declarations–of economics. My suggestion would be Graeber’s Debt, both because I think its anthropological perspective is more useful and because I will use any chance I get to pimp that book, because it is amazing.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger
                Ignored
                says:

                Grant,

                It would be more productive if you just told me what your problems are with markets or with my statements. i am not going to read something based upon the recommendation of someone who asserts free markets are a logical contradiction and that the Enlightenment was a conspiracy to defend slavery. If you have a good argument, let’s hear it.

                BTW, I do agree with you that corporate welfare, bailouts and most patents are BS.Report

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

                The point is not to support free markets, the point is that free markets cannot exist.T… Markets are created by people; they are defined by people. They are simply another form of governance,

                Of course they are created and defined by people.  Whether they are a form of “governance” per se depends on how widely you want to define that term.  They are certainly a form of human coordination.

                But none of that disqualifies them from being “free.”    This repetitious recitation of the claim that there’s no such thing as free markets, that no such thing can exist, seems to stem from a serious misunderstanding  of the concept.  What I’ve noticed in every case where this mantra is recited is that the claimant never pauses to define the term–it’s just presumed that we all share the same, unspecified, definition.Report

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

                The free market is the market that exists a priori government intervention. It is what emerges naturally between people engaged in rational exchange following the laws of economics.

                That, at least, is how most economists I’ve met define it.Report

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

                But since most economists agree that a free market depends on well-defined and secure property rights and enforcement of contracts, a role for the state is assumed within their definition of a free market.

                I agree that in a state of nature, voluntary exchanges for mutual advantage also can be classified as free market (indeed it’s hard to see what else they could be called), but the state of  nature is not really part of economists’ assumptions about the free market.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                it’s just presumed that we all share the same, unspecified, definition.

                That’s actually his criticism of free market CW.To take just one example James: you discount exploitation as unfair but consistent with a ‘free’ market. Others might think exploitation is unfair and inconsistent with a free market.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Grant Williams
        Ignored
        says:

        You don’t often see someone angrily declare that making markets truly free would involve the abolition of property protections.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Sam
      Ignored
      says:

      “(while the libertarians sit up in the balcony like Statler and Waldorf),”

      Balcony?  Please, they are proper libertarians, in *box* seats, the best in the theater!Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F.
    Ignored
    says:

    I believe the best way to reduce the corrupting influence of corporations in a corporatist state is to reduce the power of the government. Similarly, I believe that the best way to make Johns behave virtuously is to limit the bargaining power of prostitutes.Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F.
    Ignored
    says:

    Here’s the thing- I’ve been complaining about corporatism for years. When right wingers would talk about “socialism” coming to the US, I would say that what they really need to worry about is corporatism, which can (and generally does) have all the same ill effects as state socialism (hey, I can even plug Hayek here!). Similarly, when left wingers would talk about the ill effects of “corporate power” and talk about needing to grow the state as a counterbalance to corporate power, I’d say, no, no, that’s missing the point too.

    Frankly, the increasing reach of both the state and corporations piss me off. If I could pick one side to be angry at, it’d be a lot easier to vote I suppose. Let me give an example: Recently, my wife and I went to eat at a local branch of a chain restaurant because we were too tired to cook. The next day, I received a “special offer” from that particular chain and branch through my Facebook account, along with a special offer for psoriasis cream. I did not say anything about having psoriasis or eating there online, or anywhere else. This leads me to believe that, most likely, the information was gathered from my credit card account by some unknown entity, or there was one hell of a fishing coincidence. I can only hope that said unknown entity doesn’t sell any of that information to the government, given some of the books I’ve bought.

    I think I’d be a better right winger (libertarian or conservative), if I remembered that corporations have interests that align with my own, and they don’t have as much coercive power as the state, and stopped worrying so much. I think I’d be a better left winger if I remembered that the only entity powerful enough to counterbalance corporations is the state, and trusted that their considerably greater surveillance and coercive powers wouldn’t be used against me, since their interests align with my own, and stopped worrying so much. At least, I’d have more faith that contemporary political philosophies don’t amount to the rhetorical organization of hatreds in the interest of gaining power.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Rufus F.
      Ignored
      says:

      Rufus, which dot do you believe in?Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Rufus F.
      Ignored
      says:

      Businesses exist to make money.  They (generally, when we aren’t speaking of Bond villains) only seek power as it pertains to making more money.  Ideally, the only power a business can wield is that of persuasion.  All associations with a corporation are voluntary.

      Government exists to wield power over society, ostensibly for the good of society & to manage society, but whatever the reason, it wields power & uses force.  Association with government is mandatory.  It need not persuade, it can demand.

      Of the two evils, I’ll take a business over a state any day.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
        Ignored
        says:

        Government exists to wield power over society, ostensibly for the good of society & to manage society, but whatever the reason, it wields power & uses force.

        Agreed, but with one addition: historically, the state wields power and uses force to serve the interests of private power.

        One area I disagree with libertarian thinking is the view that the police state or the WOD wouldn’t be occurring if it weren’t for pro-government liberals expanding governmental power. I think that’s a mistake. Both those things are the product of private power and private concerns being exercised through government and have nothing to do with liberals (or conservatives). Nor do they have anything to do with government’s embiggedness. They’d’ve occurred in any event. Privileged private power doesn’t like the thought of impoverished blacks storming the castle gates; it doesn’t like the thought of people challenging it’s privilege generally.

         


        Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          How representative is stuff like “Prohibition” or “The War on Drugs”?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            Well, you and I’ve kinda gone around on this JB. My view is that the WOD has its origins in social control of inner city blacks, and grew out from there into a broad nexus of ridiculous policies and practices. I don’t actually know anything about the origins of prohibition, so I can’t say how analogous the two things are. But if ‘morality’ or ‘get people to work’ or ‘make it illegal so the Kenedy’s get rich’ was the purpose, then they’re disanalogous uses of governmental power.Report

        • Avatar karl in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          Try using your credit card or Paypal to give money to Wikileaks.  Is this a vision of corporatism-to-come?

          Will the day come when two people with similar financial histories get different credit scores because one subscribes to The Nation and Mother Jones and the other to The National Review and Reason?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater
          Ignored
          says:

          One area I disagree with libertarian thinking is the view that the police state or the WOD wouldn’t be occurring if it weren’t for pro-government liberals expanding governmental power.

          Actually, I think most of us blame the police state and the WOD on pro-government conservatives, and shake our heads in wonder at why liberal politicians go along with it.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
        Ignored
        says:

        This is a great distillation, though when I first read “Bond villains” I assumed you meant debt security bonds. I’ll add a few amendments from my liberal perspective:

        Ideally, the only power a business can wield is that of persuasion.
        Ideally, yes; but in a practical world that persuasion can be built on lies and disinformation, or the businesses can work together to make my choices a Hobson’s choice, or they can choose to break the law but keep it a secret. Even of all these actions are illegal and out in the open, my capacity for legal recourse is limited entirely by my resources; which means the strong are still in a position to take advantage of the weak.

        Association with government is mandatory
        Not entirely, (when we aren’t speaking of fascists) if I feel that a government action is fundamentally unjust there’s a protocol for me to get legal recourse – same resource issues apply as above. But, unlike in the above, if many people with few resources feel that a government action is unjust, they can also address that issue directly at the voting booth.

        Government establishes a code of justice and a bureaucracy of inspectors to make sure it’s followed and it provides me with a path to fight injustice that’s much less skewed towards the wealthy.Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to trizzlor
          Ignored
          says:

          Which is why, much like with religion, there should be a wall of separation between business & state.  The courts do a pretty good job enforcing that wall wrt to religion.

          BTW, like most libertarians, I am not opposed to government, I merely seek to find a way for government to be an instrument of justice, instead of a bastardization of law & welfare.  The whole “enforce laws & contracts” thing.  The impartial arbiter of conflicts.  That is a far cry from anything we have today.Report

          • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
            Ignored
            says:

            Can the “law” be an impartial arbiter of contracts, such as one between a consumer and a corporation when one side has dozens of lawyers from the best law schools in the nation while the other has a fourth-tier lawyer from a third-tier law school?Report

          • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
            Ignored
            says:

            I merely seek to find a way for government to be an instrument of justice, instead of a bastardization of law & welfare.

            Fair enough, but what does this mean in practice (honest question, at least with regards to where in the Rothbard, Rand, Nozick, Hayek … Goldwater spectrum your thoughts lie)? Or what does it mean for the usual hypothetical: You’re a single self-sufficient subsistence farmer with young children, a factory moves in next door and starts dumping waste into your crops, destroying your only source of income. In the current society, you notify the EPA, get on welfare and look for a job, put your kids on S-CHIP/Medicaid and into a public school, move to subsidized housing if your property is in bad shape, etc … years down the line you get your settlement and pay a bunch of capitols gains taxes to support all the other farmers who are now in your old shoes. What happens in a society with a wall of separation between business & state?Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to trizzlor
              Ignored
              says:

              That seems like a pretty straightforward property rights violation, and as such, it is something law enforcement should deal with.

              One would think that a reduction in the ability of business to influence government would also lead to an inability of business to complicate law such that a corporation could effectively bankrupt anyone who stood against them in court.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
        Ignored
        says:

        Can someone please explain to me why libertarians hear the sentence “I have a problem with something a corporation did this one time” as directly equivalent to “I have naive faith in the state that you, Sir libertarian, should try to dissuade me of”. Yeah, I get it- the state sucks. I know that. Trust me- I probably hate the state more than you do. I’m just not ideologically restricted from also taking offense to private entities the way you guys are. The two don’t cancel each other out for me. It is, I swear, possible to bitch about a company without that being a vote in defense of the state at all, so your canned arguments, which always amount to, “Sure, you can bitch about a corporation fishing with you if you’d like, but I’d have you remember that the state sucks more and they can use force, so maybe you should shut up”, come across as totally predictable and largely irrelevant to me. Seriously, you don’t need to try to argue people down every single time they bitch about a private entity. After a while, it comes across as if libertarianism is just a pseudo-intellectual, knee jerk defense of the prerogatives of capital, which I’m pretty sure it’s not. When it comes to most issues, you guys have plenty of interesting things to say. So, maybe you could come up with a better response to me saying I don’t like an unknown private entity presumably selling my credit card information to a third party without my consent than to remind me that shopping is optional while paying takes is not?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus F.
          Ignored
          says:

          Well, let’s do a little role-play of the last few times that I, at least, have had similar conversations:

          I don’t like an unknown private entity presumably selling my credit card information to a third party without my consent

          “You’d think that there’d be a credit card company out there that would say ‘okay, we’re a couple of points higher, but we will respect your privacy and no one will know you have one of our cards unless you pay for something with it!”

          Man, I’d love to have that option! I’d take it in a heartbeat.

          We should start our own company!

          (The next day, they both go to venture capital company with idea about “GYP” credit card. Guarding Your Privacy! (For only a few points more, we will keep your information perfectly private))

          Young men, we are very impressed with your idea but we do not believe that the market can really sustain a credit card company whose unofficial motto is “higher rates”. Thank you for your time.

          Man, those people just didn’t understand what we were trying to do! We should enact revenge upon them. (Takes out lightsabre)

          (After this it gets a little slashficy so I’ll stop it here.)Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            See and that’s a good response. Honestly, another response I’d also accept from a libertarian would be, “Well, sure you can worry about that, Rufus, but it’s not something that worries me”. Fair enough. Happens to me all the time.

            At that point, I’d ask why they felt compelled to give me the lecture about how the state uses coercive force, which I totally know. Again, trust me- I hate the state too. I’d also probably ask why they assume that said credit card company or data gatherers wouldn’t also sell my private information to the state, or if that would be totally cool too, since I’m free to pay in cash if I want.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rufus F.
              Ignored
              says:

              since I’m free to pay in cash if I want.

              Fiat money? Christamighty Rufus, don’t you see the coercion there!

              Chickens work. Or eggs. How to get that off the ground is bit of a paradox.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rufus F.
          Ignored
          says:

          Rufus,

          I’m not sure which comment above you’re specifically responding to.

          That said, I’ll give general support to your complaint.  To my point of view, a proper libertarianism is based on non-coercion, so when businesses are engaging in coercive activity (although we may not always define that the same way), the libertarian should recognize and condemn it.

          Beyond that, though, the libertarian is more likely than the liberal to think that a market-based response may be both possible and more appropriate than a government response.  I think it’s the liberal tendency to assume that each instance of market failure necessarily requires a government response, rather than looking around for non-governmental, market-based, responses that causes libertarian twitchiness.

          But I’ll grant you libertarian twitchiness, and admit that it’s frequently overdone (even my own, most likely).Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rufus F.
          Ignored
          says:

          Sorry, that one got away from me. I’ll try again.

          I don’t like an unknown private entity presumably selling my credit card information to a third party without my consent.

          “You’d think that there’d be a credit card company out there that would say ‘okay, we’re a couple of points higher, but we will respect your privacy and no one will know you have one of our cards unless you pay for something with it!”

          And charge more? Nah. I just want the government to do something about it.

           

          For the record, if I jump to conclusions, that’s why. That conversation (or a variant involving anything from tobacco use to beef tallow) is one that I have actually had. When I hear someone say “Corporation shouldn’t do something”, I assume that my suggestion that there be more competition and fewer barriers to entry for potential competitors will be waved away with a suggestion that the grownups just will a better solution into existence leaving everything else exactly the same.

          I shouldn’t… but I do.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jaybird
            Ignored
            says:

            James, I was responding to something or other way up thread, but you and Jay both got where I was going with that. In my experience, libertarians often assume the sentence following “Man, this private company did something that just pissed me off!” will be, “We need the government to do something about it!” and start having that discussion right off. The thing is I see “We need the government to do something about it!” as being about as sensible as “We need the unicorns to do something about it!” Maybe it’d be nice in theory, but it’s a fantasy scenario. I’m way too pessimistic for that. I’m probably too pessimistic to be a liberal in general, although if it helps people to think of me that way, I’ll let them. Some days, though, I identify with Robert Anton Wilson’s joke line, “I let people think I’m a libertarian, but really it’s just because anarchist freaks them out”.

            Incidentally, have we ever talked about Robert Anton Wilson here?Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Rufus F.
              Ignored
              says:

              Who the hell has to be optimistic to be liberal more than any other philosophy? Is it optimistic to think gov can provide uni health care or oppress polluting businesses into cleaning up? It would only be optimistic if there was no evidence those things might actually be possible.

              Every belief depends to some degree on optimism because it suggests the world actually follows the tenets of that belief. The world, i guess, likely gets a good laugh out of people beleiving their theories completly describe the world.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to greginak
                Ignored
                says:

                Hey, I’m aware this is likely more a problem with me than with political philosophies, but my exprience with most of them is about like:

                Politically-committed individual: “Man, X is a real problem!”

                Me: “Yeah, it sure is!”

                Politically-committed individual: “You know what we should do about X? Y!”

                Me: “Ah, that won’t work”.

                Politically-committed individual: “Well, what do you suggest?”

                Me: “Fish if I know. You want to go grab some beers?”

                 Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh sure…answer a question with beer and being amiable. Where do you think that is going to get you, this is the Internet!Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Rufus F.
          Ignored
          says:

          My point was simply that of the two evils, I find private business to be the lesser.  YMMV.Report

  6. Avatar Dan Miller
    Ignored
    says:

    Except that I think it’s fair to say that the left’s goal is not necessarily free markets, at least not in every instance.  A rhetorical posture in favor of free markets could be conceivably interpreted to favor eliminating the minimum wage, Medicare, affordable housing…whatever you think the merits of these programs are, it’s going to be a tough sell to the left.  It’s a long way from “we don’t have free markets (so they aren’t the [only] problem)” to “free markets, if they existed, would be totally great and should be the ultimate goal of political action”.Report

  7. Avatar Liberty60
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t think we need to elevate the discourse. Usually “elevating the discourse” means moving from actual issues to a higher plane of abstract economic theory.

    Most people’s view of government is based on the notion that government exists to remedy injustice.

    Remedying injustice inevitably comes down to balancing power- restricting the power of this group, enlarging the power of that group for the purpose of creating a just outcome, regardless of how that fits with economic theory.

    Which explains why people are opposed to the estate tax when it is presented as applying to small family farms, but in favor of it when it applies to the 1%.

    Few political theologies like that sort of outcome-based thinking. They prefer to think of the estate tax in broad abstract terms, no matter who it applies to.

    But since our theories are flawed, inevitably theory produces unjust outcomes- “easing suffering” becomes paying people not to work, and “encouraging risk taking and hard work” becomes favoring the powerful over the citizenry.

    “Elevating the discourse” usually feeds the power of theology, away from justice by viewing every situation as an example of some theory or another instead of  “is this unjust or not?”Report

  8. Avatar David Cheatham
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    says:

    Just accepting the concept of the ‘free market’ is a bit stupid to start with. Without the government, there is no such thing.

    Ah, but wait. Someone is going to try to leap in with some Platonic ideal of property ownership, where people have the right to pick up sticks off the ground, sharpen them, and trade them with others for deer meat that others caught using those sticks. Or something like that. And the government has the right to use force to stop others from using force in violation of consent to just take the deer meat.

    That system is not only utterly unlike anything we have, it’s something that does not, in fact, include all the stuff that people pretend it includes.

    For example, where is disallowing fraud under that? Even the staunchest libertarian argues that isn’t allowed, but I can’t really figure out how ‘lying’ and ‘using force’ have managed to become the same thing, especially as we don’t consider it the same anywhere else.

    And a more obvious problem that’s attempted to be addressed: Property rights. There’s all sorts of theories how this might work, but most fall down because, while you can say the rule people ‘can’t take your stuff’ applies to your house, it requires some tricky semantics to argue that attempting to living in your house with you is ‘taking’ it. ‘Being under a roof’ is not a ‘possession’. Random people can’t tear down the walls you’ve built, but that seems to be the most you can get out of ‘natural’ law.

    ‘Free market’ is right up there with ‘corporation’ and ‘building code’…it’s an invented thing. Anyone who argues as if there is some magical thing out there that we are ‘close’ or ‘far’ from is not arguing in the real world. The right does argue that, and the article is right…the left needs to start pointing that out. (Which can be via pointed out how ‘messed up’ it is here, but no one should forget it literally does not exist all. Just like, for example, corporations. It’s fiction that we have decided makes the world a better place.)Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to David Cheatham
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      says:

      David,

      There was a bit of confusion above with some progressives assuming that free markets means some kind of market without rules. You are of course correct that free markets implies rules of property and non-coercion and such. Thus it implies both rules and enforcement mechanisms. These are usually supplied by some type of governmental body — though not always.

      Free markets, property rights and governments, along with corporations and building codes, are institutional solutions (the term I would use rather than “fictions”).

      To be honest, I have no idea why the above posters have this odd idea of what free markets are.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger
        Ignored
        says:

        I have no idea why the above posters have this odd idea of what free markets are.

        Because it’s convenient, perhaps eve necessary, to their ideology.Report

        • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley
          Ignored
          says:

          Or, perhaps, because it is difficult to square the notion of a free market with the idea that the free market has to be regulated, especially when that opinion is coming from people who seem to whole-heartedly oppose regulation. I recognize that is very easy to say, “Oh, well they’re just being stupid!” but perhaps the marketing of the idea could use some work.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam
            Ignored
            says:

            I’m sure it could use better marketing, but at the same time, the word “free” is interpreted by market critics in a wholly singular fashion.  When we say Americans are a free people, we don’t assume that they have absolutely unfettered liberty to do as they wish whenever they wish to whomever they wish without any repercussions from higher authorities.  Yet somehow when the adjective “free” is attached to the noun “market” it is assumed to have a far more radical meaning than it normally does.

            I fully admit that there are plenty of libertarians who make that error, too.  But an error it is, and anyone making it–liberal, conservative, libertarian or whatever else–bears the burden of explaining why the word “free” is used in an absolutist sense only in relation to the market, when it’s not used in an absolutist sense in other cases.

            Because ultimately the concept of a free market is directly tied to the concept of free citizens.  If you and I are free to exchange widgets for dollars in an exchange that satisfies both of us, that’s a free market.  It doesn’t require that I be allowed to renege on the contract or just steal the widgets from you, because neither of those are exchanges you have entered into voluntarily.Report

            • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley
              Ignored
              says:

              Respectfully, I would offer that your definition is a somewhat limited view of the marketplace’s scope. You offer up a definition (“if you and I are free to exchange widgets for dollars in an exchange that satisfies both of us, that’s a free market”) that doesn’t take into account anything more than the transaction itself. It doesn’t take into account the production of the widgets or the acquisition of the money. It doesn’t take into account the honesty of the transaction. It doesn’t seem to take into account anything beyond the transaction itself.

              It is laudable to want to create an environment in which widgets and dollars can be exchanged for one another. But lots of people want that environment, not just “free market” advocates. It’s just that those other people are defining the transaction in bigger terms than you are.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam
                Ignored
                says:

                Sam, using this level of scrutiny, could you explain why a managed and regulated marketplace is likely to be better?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam
                Ignored
                says:

                Sam,

                I don’t want to be obnoxious, but your response seems to me like that of someone who’s looking for a way to disagree with the definition, rather than thinking it through.

                It doesn’t take into account the production of the widgets

                Of course it does.  The exchange of money for widget was a symbol for the process of exchange, and the production of the widgets is just a cumulative series of exchanges.  I’m the widget company owner: I exchange with the bank for capital; I exchange that capital for land, equipment, and raw materials; I exchange with utilities for power; I exchange with workers for labor; and so on.  Once you understand that at all levels it is about exchange, then it’s hardly necessary to detail each and every one of them; any one is a symbolic stand-in for all the others.

                It doesn’t take into account the the acquisition of the money

                I have no idea what you mean here.  It takes into account either borrowing money or having exchanged other things for money.  Money is not something special and outside of exchange–it is merely a medium of exchange.

                It doesn’t take into account the honesty of the transaction.

                To quote myself:

                It doesn’t require that I be allowed to renege on the contract or just steal the widgets from you, because neither of those are exchanges you have entered into voluntarily.

                So, yes, it is taking the honesty of the exchange into account.  The only question of honesty here is your dishonest reading of my argument.  You seem to be so dedicated to demonstrating that there’s something wrong with the definition of free trade that you’ll pointedly ignore my actual words so that you can repeat a falsehood despite it having been already rebutted.

                Very simply, Sam, the standard understanding among economists of the term “free trade” assumes honest exchange, and treats government intervention to ensure honesty and rectify dishonesty as perfectly legitimate within the concept of free trade.  The repeated claims by certain liberals that free trade means there is no protection against fraud is just plain wrong.  That people continue to make that argument only demonstrates that they are deeply ignorant or essentially dishonest.  Here’s hoping that you are neither of those and will not continue to make that fundamentally false argument.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                James,

                If you’ve sold widgets with lead in them than I didn’t know about, and I’ve given you money that I stole from Tom Van Dyke, then a free exchange of money for widgets has taken place. But the larger reality of that exchange is one of misleading information of theft. I think then that the people who scoff at the idea of free trade aren’t doing so to be jerks, but because the reality is more complicated than the example.

                Meanwhile, I think it also important to account for the differences that exist between libertarians and anarcho-capitalists and whatever other self-appointed variations exist. Frankly, it gets relatively complicated attempting the track the differences between free market advocates who mean a system bereft of government and a system with a government in place to prevent fraud and a system in place to prevent fraud and violence etc. It isn’t unreasonable to think it is complicated trying to forever track the places where government is and isn’t allowed within your proposed model of governance.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam
                Ignored
                says:

                If you’ve sold widgets with lead in them than I didn’t know about

                I defrauded you. You didn’t voluntarily enter into an exchange for leaded widgets, you voluntarily entered into an exchange for non-leaded widgets. So the exchange is in fact non-voluntary, and government can intervene without making the market non-free. This is non-controversial, so I don’t understand why you try to make it controversial.

                There is, of course, some degree of caveat emptor applies, because everyone has some individual responsibility, and there are also market responses to that kind of dishonesty.  But alongside of those, government intervention is perfectly legitimate within the definition of a free market.

                I’ve given you money that I stole from Tom Van Dyke, then a free exchange of money for widgets has taken place

                No, wrong.  For one, you’ve made me a receiver of stolen property, which is a transaction I did not voluntarily enter into. Second, because I will have to return that money to Tom if you are caught, I may not actually receive payment for the widgets, which I definitely did not voluntarily agree to. third, it’s actually you, I, and Tom who have entered into the exchange, since it’s his money paying for the widgets–and he didn’t voluntarily agree to his money going for my widgets.

                But most of all, you’re making the assumption that within the definition of a free market, whatever is done with goods or money after they/it have been stolen is considered legitimate!  Who the heck thinks that?

                I think then that the people who scoff at the idea of free trade aren’t doing so to be jerks, but because the reality is more complicated than the example.

                Look, you’ve misconstrued it at every turn to try to claim that the free market allows for or justifies various forms of theft.  That’s just not true–the foundational principle of a free market is voluntary exchange, and the less voluntary the exchange is, the more government intervention can be justified while the market remains a free market.

                You want to insist that the definition of the free market includes theft.  That’s wrong.  You can come up with as many excuses of people actually engaging in theft-like exchanges as you want, but examples of what people actually do aren’t relevant precisely because those particular behaviors are defined by free market supporters as illegitimate and legitimately regulated.  You seem to miss that point–tell a free marketer that someone’s stolen a toaster from Wal Mart, or took money to fix your roof but didn’t do it, or guaranteed they fixed your brakes just before you drove away from the shop and couldn’t stop at the red light….tell them any of those things and they’ll agree that free markets don’t justify those things, don’t make them proper, and that there’s a legitimate role for government there.  You’re just beating a dead strawman with that line of argument.

                 

                It isn’t unreasonable to think it is complicated trying to forever track the places where government is and isn’t allowed within your proposed model of governance.

                Heh, thank goodness it’s easy with liberals and conservatives proposed models of governance…wait, what?

                Seriously, there are precious few people who are actually arguing for a free market sans all government.  By focusing on them, you’re insisting that the most radical elements of your opponents are the proper definers of the term.  A more honest approach is to look to the mainstream–look at what economists say about free markets, not what yahoos living off the grid and building pipe bombs in their basement say.  Otherwise we non-liberals get to claim that, say, “environmentalism” means ecocentrism and the elimination or at least vast reduction of human life on Earth.  It wouldn’t be a fair thing to do, but it would be the game you’re playing.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                Respectfully, I don’t want to include anything in the definition of free market. I’m asking you to define it, and then I’m asking you questions about that definition. Your original definition was one in which widgets are traded for dollars voluntarily. When I pointed out that such a transaction could easily happen despite their being malfeasance on one or both sides, you claimed that those transactions don’t count as free market ones. Fair enough.

                All I was asking for though is definitional clarity. I’d like to better understand what it is that you’re arguing for. You’re right to assume that I don’t have much faith in the idea of free market transactions, mostly because I don’t trust people doing the selling or the buying of doing so honestly. But frankly, asking for clarification hardly seems like the unfair thing you’re making it out to be.Report

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

                Sam, way up above I wrote:

                But since most economists agree that a free market depends on well-defined and secure property rights and enforcement of contracts, a role for the state is assumed within their definition of a free market

                Right there that takes care of 90%+ of defining free markets as disallowing theft (via secure property rights) and fraud (via enforcement of contracts).

                And then in my first response to you, I wrote:

                If you and I are free to [trade with each other]* in an exchange that satisfies both of us, that’s a free market.  It doesn’t require that I be allowed to renege on the contract or just steal the widgets from you, because neither of those are exchanges you have entered into voluntarily.

                So when you write, “I pointed out that such a transaction could easily happen despite their being malfeasance on one or both sides” you were ignoring that I had already included reference to such malfeasance in my definition.  I’m happy to have you ask questions about the definition, which certainly is fair for you to do.  But I can’t pretend I’m happy to have you asking “Does the definition of free markets that excludes theft include theft”?  And when you ask the question again, after I had already answered no…well, I don’t know where you’re coming from at that point.  The uncharitable explanations include that you’re not ideologically blinkered or that you’re just very slow to catch on.  The more charitable explanation, perhaps, is that you’re tired, or busy and only half-paying attention.  I’d like to think it’s the latter, but this being the intertoobz, you being a stranger, and me being the suspicious type, I’m wary of being that charitable.

                I mean, I really don’t know how to put it any more plainly than this: The concept free markets does not require that we treat theft and fraud as legitimate and disallow government regulation of activities that equate to theft and fraud. It only requires that we be allowed to make such exchanges as are voluntarily agreed to by all parties to the transaction.

                • Theft–regulable in a free market;
                • Violence–regulable in a free market;
                • Fraud–regulable in a free market
                • Third-party externalities–regulable in a free market;

                Regulable because all of these are cases of non-voluntary exchange.

                Now when we get into specific policies, it’s not always easy to to decide whether something has enough non-voluntariness to be regulable or not, so this is not a crystal-clear guide to all government regulations.  But it’s the conceptual framework, and anyone–libertarian, liberal or conservative–who tries to say that this framework allows for theft or fraud is ignoring the most fundamental concept of the framework, voluntariness.

                This doesn’t always go where you might expect. Sure, it leads to opposition to minimum wage laws and mandated health insurance purchases.  But it also leads to regulation of coal-fired power plants, a legal right for me to sue the guy next door for dumping his used motor oil in a hole on his property that drains to the aquifer from which I pump my water, etc.   The concept of a free market is not an “everything goes” concept, because in an “everything goes” world, there’s a lot of involuntary activity.

                 Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Sam
                Ignored
                says:

                Sam,

                If free markets mean we have to allow theft and violence, does free love mean we have allow rape?Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley
                Ignored
                says:

                This exchange is demonstrating for me why I have such an aversion to the sort of debates that are conducted this way- constructed entirely of abstract academic lingo, with hypotheticals and loaded terminology that means everything and nothing.

                Because after all the terms and labels are stripped away, James Hanley, Sam, and I all agree on the following:

                1. The marketplace should exist;

                2. The government should exist;

                3. Government intervention in the marketplace should exist;

                4. Taxes, regulation, laws and the requisite power to enforce them are all part of this apparatus.

                Ok, so we are really just qubbling over the degree to which government should intervene- did I get this right?

                Or is there some fundamental first principles dispute that I missed?

                 Report

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

                Ok, so we are really just qubbling over the degree to which government should intervene- did I get this right?

                Almost.  But the disagreement is not just about “degree,” but also about what principles, or what type of factual issues/events justify government intervention.

                But if it’s phrased as a simple binary–“absolutely no government intervention” vs. “some unspecified amount, miniscule or great, of government intervention”–then, yes, we’re on the same side.  My principle objection is to that binary assumption, the assumption that “free market” = “absolutely no government intervention of any shape, size, or kind,”  which is dead wrong.  Unless we exorcise, kill, cremate and scatter the ashes of that absurd assumption we can’t have a reasonable conversation.Report

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