How to Privatize

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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173 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I certainly hope there can be some consensus about these ideas.Report

    • Avatar LarryM in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I would hope so also. This isn’t one of those areas where I feel my “side” has the more compelling argument, this is one of those areas where there should be no two sides – where any critical thinking person should realize that “contracting out” has no relation to “privatization” at all. Contracting out government services is a rent seekers wet dream. We have the worst of both worlds – the advantages of the private sector do not obtain (because the contracting process in no way resembles a free market), opportunities for rent seeking abound, and accountability is worse because there is an additional layer of insulation from the voting booth.

      Now, in certainly very limited circumstances (primarily with regards to purchase of good rather than services) government contracting is necessary. But don’t confuse those cases of necessity with any kind of desirable “privatization.”Report

      • Avatar LarryM in reply to LarryM says:

        I would ad that vouchers, though a more fraught issue than many libertarians admit, are a mixed case, without some of the disadvantages of pure contracting out of government services.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    My understanding of “feudal” political system is that it is characterized by a) a hierarchical structure of personal (not institutional) loyalties bilaterally and vertically binding together key players in the military/juridical power structure, and b) the geographic distribution of jurisdiction amongst the holders of those ties of political power, with the business end of implementing the exercise of power (collecting taxes, enforcing criminal law, mustering soldiers) actually done primarily by the elites on the lower end of the hierarchy.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Burt Likko says:

      True, but the modern joint stock corporation didn’t exist then. Still, feudal lords administered courts and prisons (which imprisoned far fewer than ours, I’d add). The geography angle strikes me as the same today as back then.Report

      • Avatar Matty in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Still, feudal lords administered courts and prisons (which imprisoned far fewer than ours, I’d add).

        Isn’t this because they preferred punishments based on killing and maiming rather than from any lack of punitive intent?Report

        • Avatar Simon K in reply to Matty says:

          It depended. The high point of killing and maiming as punishments was probably the early modern period. The medieval era was different – outsiders might well be killed or maimed, but a feudal lords tenants were his capital, and provided they remained loyal killing them was wasteful. There also weren’t really many offsense the lord would actually care about – basically just theft and trespass, and even then only from the lord’s property or his immediate inferiors. Violence against a superior would also get some attention, but little matters such as peasants murdering one another or stealing each other’s turnips would be assumed to get sorted out locally.Report

  3. Nothing disturbs me more than the combination of government-sanctioned power or privilege with a profit motive.Report

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    Bravo! Nothing to add.Report

  5. Avatar cfpete says:

    New York state is doing this:
    NY Times story
    Anyone want to go in on a prison?
    Mid-Orange Correctional Facility looks good – lakefront property!Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    “There used to be a word for contracting out the use of government force. That word was feudalism. And there used to be a political faction dedicated to stamping out the remaining traces of feudalism. They were known as the liberals. It would do much for our clarity of thought simply to employ these more accurate terms.”

    Good on you for writing this. I’ve tried and failed to put similar thoughts into words recently.Report

  7. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Jason –

    This is a bit tangential, but I’d love to get your take on it.

    One of the things that niggles at my brain when we talk about privatizing important government social services to for-profit corporations (e.g.: schools, prisons, safety nets) is what happens when the mission of the corporation does not overlap with the social mission? I assume that the missions will usually overlap, but I also worry that about those times that they don’t. Prisons as a revenue generator is a good example, of course, but so is a government funded private school in a poor neighborhood. It can be problematic, but one of the tensions I like about public schools is the school pushing for more services, tools and qualified personnel against voters without a vested interest in that school pushing to reduce costs. If the majority of the voters doesn’t really want to pay for an inner city school, what checks a corporations search for ways to increase profit margins to stop pushing for improved conditions that have a cost attached to them?

    The most obvious answer I can think of is “you’d have govt oversight.” But since you have that now and it doesn’t work so great, how would privatization make things better? Don’t you need an vested body fighting for the mission of the social service?Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I think you right on with one of the main liberal type fears about privitizing some services. Private companies are focused on profits. that is not, i repeat not, bad. H0wever it often leads to profit maximazation over all other, which does not lead to better services. It easily possible for a company to squeeze more profit out by hiring cheaper workers, gutting benefits, cutting resources,etc. There is no guarantee there will always be tons of competition to create better schools. For all the upset over public unions, teachers mission is to teach and are often focused on advocating for better schools. There is no reason in the real world why a private company is going to be any better, and i would say often worse, at advocating for better services.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to greginak says:

        Well, there’s plenty of examples of exactly how it works.

        Kids taking over administration jobs, learning from DVD’s and videos instead of teachers — basically any corner that can be cut.

        The history of charter schools here is not perfect. For every success story, there’s a school where the kids didn’t learn anything other than how to do make-work for a year while the “charter school” sucked down as much money as possible before being disbanded.Report

        • Avatar M.A. in reply to Morat20 says:

          And whenever pushing for more charter schools or more “funding for school choice” (code for: handing gov’t funds to religious schools) the one assurance you can have is that the actual statistics on charter schools overall will never be published by the side advocating for them. What you’ll get is a bunch of cherry-picked anecdotes revolving around one or two fairly new charter schools that have had brief success.

          As it turns out, charter schools don’t really work all that well and when they initially look like they do, it turns out to be more a result of an initial crop of highly motivated kids and parents to get in on “the newest” charter school than any real curriculum changes – so the results have more to do with involved parents and kids being pushed to learn, and we learn yet again when the supposed “innovations” of the charter school are attempted in regular schools that the key element is still missing.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to greginak says:

        When I argue for choice and competition in schools, it is because I see it as benefiting from a problem solving system. The free market works by creating a variety of potential solutions (in this case of educating kids). Some of these work better than others. Those that don’t work well are then deselected by consumers (parents). The failed institutions are then replaced with better institutions.

        The free market is creative, constantly experimenting with new ways to solve consumers’ problems. Many of these experiments fail, the failure is essential in the cumulative improvement process which occurs over time.

        The central planners have usurped three industries. Government services, health care and education. Guess which three industries are failing and getting more expensive and less efficient over time? The services which are most protected from competition, consumer choice and experimentation are the ones that are getting worse.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

          I am currently interviewing for a remote gig for a large Greek fraternity in Mississippi, intent upon creating educational software. It’s a tough gig to get and I want it very badly: I may just offer to work on this on an unpaid basis, so strongly do I believe in this concept.

          But it’s not a free-market solution. Oh, they’re ready to pay good money to develop this educational software, but it’s not market-driven. Khan Academy isn’t market driven either. I see this sort of educational process as the crucial link between the excellence of the ancient Socratic Method and factory-based assembly line Dewey/Condorcet Pedagogy.

          We should not be charging anyone to learn elementary mathematics or the rudiments of logic. That’s rote materiel, a complete waste of a teacher’s time. Teachers ought to be poking and prodding and detecting excellence and motivating and getting kids over obstacles. Handling exceptions.

          The entire debate about Choice and Competition is just more of this wicked Factory Line Thinking. Education isn’t a block of cheese in the grocery story, it’s a human right. Any society which wishes to advance in the world will prepare its citizens for an unknown and largely un-know-able future by giving them a map to what is presently known because those little lumpy kids picking their noses in fifth grade are gonna be running this country in two decades and they’d better be ready, not stuffed full of facts and trained to jump through hoops of fire like Georges LeFarges’ Trained Flamingoes (insert can-can music here) but as able thinkers. And that’s not something you can buy off the shelf, not even at the most expensive prep school in the land.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Blaise,

            Sounds interesting. I think you make good points that education can also be addressed by volunteering and acts of altruism, especially as technology becomes more influential.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

              Machines will never be able to cope with the exceptions. That’s where we’ve always shone as a species: we don’t have wings or claws or stingers or particularly good eyesight. We’re not particularly good predators on our own. We’re pack animals, but our greatness as a species has always been mastery of specialised skills, interdependence, the delicate balance between the Individual and Society.

              Tech can only go so far. It’s getting better at reaching conclusion on the basis of rules and I’ve had a substantial part to play in that sort of application. Fact retrieving, well, what’s a fact? Its Google ranking? The Web was invented to integrate what was known into a better system of footnoting. We’re only just beginning to derive the fundamentals on that front. Look what the Web became, though, a vast wasteland of opinion and dumbassery, much heat and no light.

              …here is, it seems to us,
              At best, only a limited value
              In the knowledge derived from experience.
              The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
              For the pattern is new in every moment
              And every moment is a new and shocking
              Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
              Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
              In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
              But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
              On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
              And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
              Risking enchantment.
              Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Roger says:

          You think education is failing? What’s your proof of this? I can look at OECD scores and if you remove the rampantly poor, America’s scores are top in the world.

          Which means, oh, 90% of public schools work just fine. Now take the horribly poor — the ghetto urban, the backwoods hicks, and you see lives of grinding poverty, high crime, violence….

          And there have been a MILLION attempts to fix this — private and public — and guess what? It turns out no educational theory, no awesome new type of school, can actually fix poverty, violence, and broken homes. It turns out those kids do poorly at schools because their home lives are hell and education is a very, very distant priority.

          Charter schools and private schools DO manage to suck off the top — the kids that are salvagable because they have parents willing to prioritize education, and thus willing to try to get their kids into such a school. But guess what? Public magnet schools do the exact same thing.

          And dude? The central planners have taken over health care? REALLY? I’ll let Cigna know they’re run by the government.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Morat20 says:

            Morat,

            The cost of 12 years of school has doubled over the past 40 years adjusted for inflation and results are flat. Education is inefficient and getting more expensive , bureaucratic and bloated. It is sorely lacking in market competition, and the teachers unions are trying to run it for themselves rather than the customers.

            Yes health care had been usurped by central planners. I can’t believe you are arguing against this obvious fact. Do you have any idea how many hundreds of pounds of regulations and market interferences have been written in this industry? I can see arguing that socialism would work better than markets in this industry, but to suggest it is a free market is kind of silly.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to Roger says:

              The cost of 12 years of school has doubled over the past 40 years adjusted for inflation and results are flat.

              [[CITATION NEEDED]]

              State funding to schools for educational purposes – not the bullshit of making a brand new stadium for the religious ceremony of high school football (hey, at least we don’t kill the winner any more like they used to do at Chichen Itza) – has been constantly cut. K-12 teachers no longer have teachers’ aides to assist with grading or to help watch troubled kids during class. Universities have had to shift the cost as “state funded” schools went from approximately 50% state funding in 1980 to less than 20% for the flagship universities – and even less for non-flagship – today. The costs shifted from state budgets to “tuition increases”, creating increasing reliance on student loans as the high school diploma became insufficient to get an entry level job, replaced by the associates’ or bachelors’ degree.

              “Public universities” today are “public entities” that are more than 80% privately funded. And they still provide a great bargain; a quick look at my local public university shows that it’ll run roughly $3K per 15-hour semester.

              For comparison a “private” degree mill like DeVry will run you $9K/semester. A degree at someplace like Liberty University, whose degree granting ability is an insult to everyone with an actual degree from a real university, and even an insult to people with a degree from UPhoenix or DeVry? Also $9K/semester.

              I’m getting sick and tired of your bullshit assertions about teachers’ unions and about dedicated educators.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Great question Tod. I anxiously await the answer. And without this sounding snarky or trying to oversimplify to the point of caricature, the answer to the question

      Don’t you need an vested body fighting for the mission of the social service?

      is no. Competition in open markets takes care of it. That’s the whole idea of the invisible hand, right? That there is a naturally occurring ordering of preferences, price, and goods/services which is optimal only when unnecessary outside intervention (read: government tinkering) is eliminated.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      what happens when the mission of the corporation does not overlap with the social mission?

      You remind me of Pournelle’s Iron Law. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s this:

      “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”

      What I think you’re talking about is something that happens universally. (This isn’t intended to be a “they do it too!” comment as much as a “this is intrinsic to established bureaucracy” comment.)Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

        [W]hat happens when the mission of the corporation does not overlap with the social mission?

        This is where the art of letting go gets really difficult, because there are a lot of cases where it’s not entirely clear where to draw those lines. The only universally right answer would seem to be to go case-by-case, which isn’t an answer at all.

        Very few social enterprises of any kind, public or private, are optimized with reference only to one factor. There are always tradeoffs. One reason market price signals do a good job at a lot of things is that they enable calculation as if we were optimizing for one factor, price. For goods that are easily monetized, the answer is often to monetize even further. For other goods, including criminal justice and public health, that’s not the case; higher values intervene, as they should.Report

    • Avatar Rod in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      One of the things that niggles at my brain when we talk about privatizing important government social services to for-profit corporations (e.g.: schools, prisons, safety nets) is what happens when the mission of the corporation does not overlap with the social mission? I assume that the missions will usually overlap, but I also worry that about those times that they don’t.

      The first thing that has to be understood is that the only mission of a for-profit corporation, any for-profit corporation, is profits. Everything they do is geared to that singular bottom-line. I don’t say that as a condemnation or even a criticism, but it’s something that just is and has to be taken into account. Whatever product or service the corporation provides to the marketplace is simply a means to that end.

      And that means that the management of said corporation has a legal, fiduciary, duty to the shareholders to do whatever they can to increase profits. A privately-run prison operates on essentially the same business model as a hotel. That means they seek to maximize revenue and minimize costs. But whereas a hotel maximizes revenue by providing superior services to entice customers, a private prison is dependent on the government convicting people for crimes and imposing prison sentences. The more the better and the longer the better. Lobbying and campaign donations accomplish what advertising and customer service does for hotels.

      If the mission of the corporation and the “social mission” overlap it’s only because the social mission has been modified to fit.

      A similar, though not identical, chain of reasoning applies to guard’s unions.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Rod says:

        “The first thing that has to be understood is that the only mission of a for-profit corporation, any for-profit corporation, is profits. Everything they do is geared to that singular bottom-line. I don’t say that as a condemnation or even a criticism, but it’s something that just is…”

        Let us keep in mind that this is a relatively new attitude, and largely confined to the US. Until 1960 or so companies had, or at least acted as if they had, obligations beyond profits: to their employees, to the communities where they operated, etc. In much of the developed world, for-profit companies still act as if they have those obligations. Additionally, it is hard to make the case that the company is being operated solely for profits if the CEO takes home $100M in a year when the business loses money overall. Well, in that case it’s being operated for the CEO’s personal profit, but that’s not what I think you mean.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      When a government just contracts services out, rather than legitimately privatizing them, there’s no particular reason to assume that this will result in any improvement. There’s still no competition, so the contractor has an incentive to improve service only insofar as the government monitors quality and enforces standards. But if they could do that with a contractor, they could have done it when they were running it themselves.

      For proper functioning, markets require profit motive, competition (or at least the possibility of competition), and consumer choice.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        But if they could do that with a contractor, they could have done it when they were running it themselves.

        Actually, this might not be true, if the government employees are unionized, and the contractor’s are not.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        When a government just contracts services out, rather than legitimately privatizing them, … There’s still no competition,

        That’s not actually true, unless the government hasn’t engaged in competitive bidding. When contracting out is done right–which it often, but not always, is–there is real competition because different firms are bidding for the contract. And when it’s done wrong, without competitive bidding, it’s the government that’s doing the contracting out that has screwed up (see: Bush, George W. No-bid Contracts.)Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Sadly, no. Long-term incarceration is the fate which awaits about a quarter of the poor people in this country. We might ask ourselves what sort of society might condemn so many people to long prison terms by beginning with an analysis of the people we actually send there.

    Of course, this analysis might arrive at some startlingly un-Libertarian conclusions such as the fact that the prison population is nowhere congruent with society as a whole. The statistics are congruent with poverty statistics though. This might lead politicians to conclude we might keep people out of prison if we got them out of poverty and gave them a decent education. Alas, this sounds too much like a Statist Solution for anyone but Liberals to support.

    Feudalism didn’t contract out government force. Interlocking contracts bound small duchies to larger kingdoms through fealty and alliances concluded through marriage and inheritance. For all practical purposes, feudalism was entirely private. Though the kings and emperors claimed the Divine Right, they were entirely private and there was no division between government and private enterprise. We might with considerable justification conclude the exact opposite of your point: not until such a division appeared with Magna Carta (and that didn’t last so long, as the autocratic and absolutist Tudors would prove ) what anyone would call the State in those times was more akin to a Corporation.

    Every time I hear a Liberarian use the word Coercive, I secretly laugh. All Actors are Coercive unless they are powerless for Coercion is Power. It seems to me the Libertarians do not understand the world at large, where those with money and power coerce everything and everyone. No, Jason, I want a State powerful enough to defend my rights in law and I will have no truck with any of this dangerous twaddle about reducing the power of the only entity capable of defending those liberties for those liberties were hard-won and are under constant assault, not from government but from private persons intent upon reducing this republic and its government to a troop of whores.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

      We might with considerable justification conclude the exact opposite of your point: not until such a division appeared with Magna Carta (and that didn’t last so long, as the autocratic and absolutist Tudors would prove ) what anyone would call the State in those times was more akin to a Corporation.

      There’s quite a bit of air between having a court system not beholden to the king — and selling the administration of justice. I suppose you find it convenient to pretend otherwise. I think it’s fighting dirty.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        In feudal times, the serfs came along for the ride with the sale of the land. No, Jason, I’m not fighting dirty. Words like enfeoffment are still in use today. Ask any real property lawyer, he’ll clue you in. The State is the ultimate owner of land under its jurisdiction. Read up on Estates in Land, all this business of Allodial Title and Fee Simple start appearing. It all emerges from the feudal world and we’re still stuck with it. The very word feudal emerges from feod a synonym for allodial title.

        The feudal world was privately owned, whole and entire.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

          So you’d be fine with selling public office?

          I’m really struggling to understand what you’re getting at here. Because your claims about the origins of property are neither new nor terribly relevant. Maryland has ground rents, I know about the legacy of feudalism in property law. I just don’t agree that it’s fine to sell off coercive government services thanks to the precedent.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Oh, I’m no fan of feudalism. How often have I said Communism is a weed which can only arise from the soil of feudalism? As I recall, it was the Conservatives, not the Liberals, who stood up to the very real threat of Communism. The Liberals kept on making excuses for Stalin and his excesses. In those days, I called myself a Conservative.

            Then, of course, the situation changed, rather like the last few paragraphs of Orwell’s Animal Farm. The pigs became indistinguishable from the people. Both Communism and Conservativism lapsed into what can only be described as fascism. They’re great friends now, as we can see, both sides Makin’ the World Safe for Corporatism.

            Let the billions of dollars unleashed by Citizens United demonstrate beyond any argument that public offices have price tags.Report

      • “I think it’s fighting dirty.”

        I think it’s a disagreement over how to define feudalism.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

      …I want a State powerful enough to defend my rights…

      …and why with power would they give a flying fish about you?Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Blaise writes: “Of course, this analysis might arrive at some startlingly un-Libertarian conclusions such as the fact that the prison population is nowhere congruent with society as a whole. The statistics are congruent with poverty statistics though. This might lead politicians to conclude we might keep people out of prison if we got them out of poverty and gave them a decent education. Alas, this sounds too much like a Statist Solution for anyone but Liberals to support.”

      I will set aside that a huge percentage of the incarcerations are over something libertarians suggest should not be a crime. I will also set aside that the statists were the ones we empowered to provide that “decent education.” Let’s just consider these inconvenient truths.

      I do want to point out that as explained in my post on inequality, people differ in time horizons. Those with short horizons are substantially more likely to become chronically poor, fail at school, become addicted to drugs and alcohol and to break the law.

      https://ordinary-times.com/blog/2012/06/17/dont-eat-the-marshmallow/

      Before suggesting another poorly designed statist solution, I suggest we begin to understand the problem. Better yet, maybe we should avoid statist solutions wherever possible.

      Sincerely,
      Roger the MoronReport

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

        I can’t oblige anyone to reach my conclusions. I would ask they look at the data and reach their own. I won’t contest your conclusions about the short horizons conclusion if you won’t contest mine about the congruence between poverty and incarceration.

        There are other causal factors: the poor do not generally receive competent representation at trial, though it is a right afforded the accused. If that representation resolves to some harried PD with a dump truck full of case files, it is better than nothing.

        We might also agree on the facts about public education being unequal in many respects. Truth is always inconvenient and is always in short supply. Any truths you can bring to the table are not only welcome, but essential.

        The Libertarians are big on dumping our drugs laws over the side of the ship of state. A drunk driver just killed an Amish family’s horse and destroyed their wagon out here a few days ago and put two children in the hospital. We repealed the 18th Amendment but did not entirely repeal human nature. Nobody enjoys a frosty alcoholic beverage more than me and I am inclined to agree this society ought to change its drugs laws. But it won’t change anything in terms of consequences to American society: drunk driving statistics are appalling and I do not wish to see meth heads behind the wheel any more than drunk drivers.

        You see, Libertarians are fundamentally optimists. I’m not. I can’t fault you guys for believing as you do, that the State is always the Villain, that if only the State would get out of the way that we should return to some Garden of Eden where man would treat his fellow man with respect. Any study of the problem reveals even little children are cruel and selfish to each other.

        The problem isn’t the State and the problems we face as a nation and a species will not melt away in the absence of Statist Solutions. The problem is each other. We all agree, for better or worse, to be bound to the rule of law. That implies the necessity of the State to some degree. We might wish for Less State and Moah Freedom but history hath shewn in Great and Horrid Exacktitude what happens when the State backs off and lets men trample on the rights of other men. You wish for a State which confines itself to matters of Force and Fraud. Well, so did the Marxists. I will remain a Liberal, convinced the State is only composed of the people who man its battle stations, that unenforced laws are moot, that our worst enemies are not the State but each other.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Blaise writes: “Every time I hear a Liberarian use the word Coercive, I secretly laugh. All Actors are Coercive unless they are powerless for Coercion is Power. It seems to me the Libertarians do not understand the world at large, where those with money and power coerce everything and everyone.”

          The dictionary.com defines coercion as  “the use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance.”

          I use the term coercion in a manner which corresponds to regular usage.  Your laughter seems to arise because you are using a private version of the word that doesn’t match what we are talking about. 

          Blaise writes “I want a State powerful enough to defend my rights in law and I will have no truck with any of this dangerous twaddle about reducing the power of the only entity capable of defending those liberties for those liberties were hard-won and are under constant assault, not from government but from private persons intent upon reducing this republic and its government to a troop of whores.”

          I wonder who has killed, assaulted and even coerced more people over the past few centuries, private persons or governments? I am fine with using government to protect my “rights,” but when we empower it too much, pretty soon we all become the eggs that need to be sacrificed for the omelette. 

          Let me be specific. I agree with your concern with men trampling each others rights. I thus endorse empowering the state with monopoly power of using coercion as a last resort to prevent and discourage private coercion. I also observe that the state is the most coercive rights trampler of all, by every possible measure. A couple hundred million eggs have been cracked by statists as they cook their omelettes, yet they never actually seem to have created a breakfast anyone even wanted to eat. How much more evidence do you require?Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

            Yeah, I do laugh. Remember back when you were first learning about the rudiments of physics, where someone explained the difference between Energy and Work? Work actually accomplishes something. Coercion is getting someone else to do something. The power to effect change in the world is fundamentally coercive.

            You Libertarians, jeebus, I swear, it’s exactly like the Marxists of the 60s and 70s, it’s uncanny. You’re the sweetest, noblest people who ever lived and Libertarianism is a deeply attractive philosophy to me, personally, I won’t deny it. But as with the Marxists, sometimes Libertarians are the nastiest, most dangerous, doctrinaire, excuse-making SOBs and it always appeared with the Marxists when our differences resolved to vocabulary and outcomes.

            Do you wonder who has killed more people? The answer is perfectly obvious, going back to the American Revolutionary War and fast forward through to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. The casualties are mostly civilian on civilian. I repeat myself in saying you Libertarians are noble folk and your most earnest wish is that mankind shall be liberated from tyranny. But I’m an old guy who lived long enough to reach some conclusions about the fundamental nature of mankind and got to see what man does to his fellow man. I got to watch a group of Hausa hack an Ibo man to pieces with machetes, knelt in the back of my father’s old Peugeot sedan. Roger, don’t ask me to believe that man is good or wise. He isn’t and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. There are no omelettes. There are only smashed eggs and dead chickens in the street.Report

            • Avatar b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

              If man is innately terrible, then how does it make sense to trust some among mankind with power over others?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to b-psycho says:

                John Locke wants a word with you.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Stillwater says:

                I take it you assume since I’d pose such a question that I’m not familiar with his work…Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to b-psycho says:

                No. I assume you are. But Locke was interested in answering two questions: can government be justified and if so, how do you guard the guardian? Apparently, you don’t like his suggestions. Where do you think he goes wrong?Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Stillwater says:

                The constant failure of every attempted measure to guard the guardian makes it highly difficult to believe the answer to the first one is anything but “No”.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                The constant failure of every attempted measure to guard the guardian

                Are you saying there is no governmental policy which serves the interests of the body politic? Every governmental policy serves only the private self-interest of those in government?Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Stillwater says:

                For the most part. The occasional crumb as revolt insurance doesn’t even dent their own interest, and is still far dwarfed by what they actually do.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to Stillwater says:

                Guess it’s back to total anarchy and murder-makes-right then.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Stillwater says:

                Anarchy as “murder makes right”? How many graveyards have states filled by now?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to b-psycho says:

                There are other arguments than Locke’s. Consider the synthetic arguments of the Federalist Papers, especially at Federalist 13, Federalist 47 and Federalist 76.

                The Founders chose a Republic as their ideal form of government, the least-worst of all other options. The day trippers call Hobbes a dreadful old monarchist and yes, I suppose that’s true to some limited extent. But what did both Locke and Hobbes want from a State? Effective leadership with a view to the whole, with a minimum of faction.

                I presume every intelligent person has read the Federalist Papers. They remain as interesting and relevant as ever. These were men who understood mankind’s terrible nature.

                @ 13, Civil power, properly organized and exerted, is capable of diffusing its force to a very great extent; and can, in a manner, reproduce itself in every part of a great empire by a judicious arrangement of subordinate institutions.

                There’s the trick, folks. Yes, this is taken slightly out of context, but civil power, if it’s to be of any use, doesn’t just set up in the Capital and sent out post riders with edicts to the countryside. It delegates and spreads out, reproducing itself here and there so tyranny can’t take hold. People can believe in local government. That’s why, despite the country’s obvious hatred of Congress, they like their own local Congresscritters.

                We kinda broke the Republic Model with the 17th Amendment. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but it broke the Senate, which should have been (and still ought to be) a great bulwark against tyranny. What we got was just another edition of the House of Representatives: no longer responsible to the local politicians in the States which once gave the Senate mandate.

                Want less tyranny? Keep government local. Keep it respectable and keep it consistent. Need larger frameworks? Build on the already-established local frameworks.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Rudolph Rummel has estimated that governments killed 169 million people in the 20th C. The killings by private parties is statistical noise compared to these numbers.

              And no, coercion is not “getting someone else to do something.” I have no concerns with getting someone to do something as long as deception, threats and force are not used. Yes, if we defined coercion as the power to effect change, then yes libertarians would be goofy to stress non coercion. We don’t though.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Rudolph Rummel is fuller of shit than a Christmas goose. Since the advent of the nuclear bomb, nation states have increasingly delegated their dirty work to proxy armies and local patrullos civiles.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                And Einstein was a poopy head.

                The data shows you made up your argument. You have nothing but anecdotes and personal assurances that you are smarter than the rest of us.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

                And in doing so, he effectively acted as an apologist for democide.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Rudolph Rummel is fuller of shit than a Christmas goose.

                This is precisely the kind of thing that reveals you as a complete buffoon, Blaise. Rummel has spent his career doing very careful analysis of democide, working up the best available estimates of the numbers of people killed by government (and those estimates don’t even include those killed in battle). Your response to this inconvenience? “He’s full of shit.”

                No, Blaise, you</i are full of shit, because you reject Rummel without having read him. I can tell you haven't read him because of your reference to nation states using proxie armies, and that's not that's Rummel is talking about.

                That 169 million killed by governments in the 20th century (his estimates are now higher, due to new info from the PRC) is of civilians killed by the governments that control their territory (democide), not of people killed in battle. In actually trumps the number of people killed in battle, but if you add together the number of deaths from democide and in battles it's a godawful amount of people.

                And even if we were to take your line of thought, nation states using proxies to do their killing for them is still nation states engaging in killing. If you hire a hit man, you're still responsible for murder.

                By Rummel's estimate, the Soviets killed over 60 million of their own citizens. The PRC killed over 35 million of their citizens. Germany killed over 20 million people in the territories under its control in Hitler's reign. The KMT in China killed over 10 million Chinese civilians. Japan killed almost 6 million. The Khmer Rouge, those pikers, killed only around 2 million–but that was almost 1/3 of the population.

                And you ignore all that with the truly brainless "he's full of shit" line. You just made yourself an apologist for mass murder by government.

                Are you truly so horrible a person, so eager to promote strong Hobbesian government that you'll just dismissively shrug at the problem of governments killing millions of civilians under their control? Jesus, talk about full of shit. You exemplify it on a daily basis here.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Libertarians are fundamentally optimists

          Wrong again. It’s amazing how often the critics of libertarianism can’t be bothered to learn it’s fundamentals. And yet it seems they never have even feel the slightest embarrassment about being making very public errors.Report

          • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

            “I could explain what libertarianism is. Or what I think it is.

            But instead I’m going to scream “no true scotsman” over and over again while never giving a detail or explaining where I disagree with what someone says.”

            DRINK.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

              M.A.,

              You apparently don’t understand the no true scotsman fallacy, as you keep using it wrongly. I recommend you look it up.

              You seem to think you know what libertarianism is, so I shouldn’t have to explain it to you, eh? I mean, it’s all FYIGM, right? Nothing else to know?

              But if, buried in your feeble attempt at superiority is the ghost of a sincere request, I’ll just say this. Libertarians tend to distrust humans enough that they don’t really want to give any of them a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and to the extent we find it necessary we want to really really constrain them. Simply put, for an awful lot of libertarians, it’s pessimism about humans’ use of power over others that makes us wary of government. Optimism? If we were optimistic we’d have faith in government officials!Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Simply put, for an awful lot of libertarians, it’s pessimism about humans’ use of power over others that makes us wary of government.

                As opposed to allowing “free markets” to devolved into monopolies and de facto governments that become little fiefdoms.

                Libertarians are morons. They’re too scared of “government” to see the real monster with its hand in their wallets and a knife at their backs.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                Libertarians are morons.

                And I’m supposed to believe that you actually care whether I explain libertarianism or not? You’re not looking for thoughtful discussion; you just want a place to engage in diatribe.

                Dime a dozen, boyo, dime a dozen.Report

  9. Avatar James K says:

    You’re right that “private prison” is a misnomer, the proper-term would be Public-Private Partnership (PPP). We shouldn’t speak of “privatising” prisons, but rather of contracting them out.

    For me the merits of the idea depends on the institutional capability of the government doing it, and how the contract is actually written. Since the various US governments have a poor track record when it comes to contracting prisons out, that suggests to me that its a bad idea for the US to try at least.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James K says:

      To me the biggest question is what we hope to achieve in privatization. The free market is very good at some things, but not at everything. Are its strengths a good fit here?

      Corporations in my view tend to outdo governments at innovation. But how much innovation do we want in the administration of justice? Isn’t justice supposed to be regular and predictable? Corporations are great for making money. But this has never been the point of a prison system. They are great for coming up with new lines of business or new products, but there’s something very unseemly about finding new avenues for ever more punishment.

      Who are these corporations competing with? If it’s no one in a given jurisdiction, then why do we imagine that the benefits of competition are somehow still to be found?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        For decades, off and on, I’ve done government consulting. I generally appear at the third tier of contracting, in other words, my invoices are paid when two tiers of consulting firms above me get paid. There’s the primary contractor, CSC, SAIC and Northrop Grumman are three big ones. Then there’s the local pimp outfit which does business with them, those guys find me.

        But nothing prevents me from subcontracting work if I wanted to, and I have. They could do the same.

        There’s a guy I know, photographed his wedding. He’s in the Army, an E6, handles munitions, deployed to Afghanistan last month. Contractors are doing all the work for which he was trained. That’s a function of government losing its ability to manage.

        Wisconsin used to administer its own non-emergency medical transport. Some outfit named Logisticare came in to do it all. Now everything is completely screwed up and the transport firms are pulling out of the system, which is all to the good for Logisticare’s bottom line: fewer rides means more money in their pocket and they’re using Medicare money to do all this. Big business opportunity for me, unscrewing this up, composing n-order routing and dispatching for these rides using PostGIS.

        So how am I going to attack this problem? I go to my state representative, a Republican. He’s hugely interested. Save the state big money, get this leech off the state’s ass, put the dispatching back in the hands of the private operators, let the market sort this out. It was the previous governor, Doyle, who installed Logisticare between the State and the People.

        Corporations don’t innovate unless they’re under pressure. It’s far more convenient for them to invest their money in someone’s political campaign so they can get some Big Contrax. The very best sermon the Libertarians could be preaching these days is a half hour of vigorous Hellfire ‘n Brimstone about the Quasi-State, the multiple tiers of contracting leeches on Uncle Sam’s ass and all the states, too.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        They certainly don’t do it cheaper. Interjecting a profit layer is rarely a way to make something cheaper, without them cutting corners you didn’t want cut or you’d have done it in the first place.

        The way most people complain about government you’d never imagine the reality of it — everyone’s trying to do too much with too little (because, defense aside, 99% of government is unglamorous and tedious and certainly doesn’t attract Senators to it’s defense), Congress, the Leg or the local board is constantly looking to cut your budget in favor of whatever it’s current super-sexy to the voters plan is, and EVERY election it’s grandstanding about “Fraud and waste” followed by endless audits.

        Because every incoming batch SWEARS that a program running a 3% overhead must somehow be hiding billions in fraud and waste, despite the fact that it’s audited yearly by an indepdent government body, it’s books are subject to (and frequently the subjet OF) open records requests, and the last four Senators in a row decided to toss the department looking for change under the seat cushions.

        Seriously, the only waste there is the forty-three layers of auditing when you could get the same approximate efficiency with just one.

        Tossing that over to a private company isn’t going to fix it — and in my experience and from what I’ve seen, it just costs more for crappier work.

        Privatizing is basically the same short-term idiocy that outsourcing your design department to India is. In the long-run, it’s generally cheaper and better not to.

        Student loans are an excellent example of how that works out.

        And don’t even get me started on the private security crap we picked up in Iraq. Why on earth the military even allowed outsiders to handle it’s own supply lines is beyond me, but the CF that resulted….good lord.

        Halliburton made bank, though. Government spent more. Troops got less.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Corporations move towards incentives, just like anything else. Tell ’em that they don’t get one buck for a returning prisoner (recidivist), and they’ll figure out right quick how to keep people from coming back.

        (well, that’s the bet the corporations Wanted to make on health care. Figure it’s about the same thing, though).Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        As I alluded to upthread, doing an end-run around the government employees’ unions might result in some legitimate cost savings.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          To clarify, I mean that a contractor might be able to hire outside the government employee unions when the government itself could not do so directly.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            So what you’re saying is…you’d get better results, by paying people less?

            Bear in mind that studies have shown that government employees only get paid more on the lower levels — janitors and the like. As you go up the chain, it reverses.

            Skilled labor is about the same, and once you through in degrees government pays LESS.

            So it’d depend on the sort of work you want done. Of course, you can always take a look at the TSA. They’re not unionized. And what…service.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Morat20 says:

              So what you’re saying is…you’d get better results, by paying people less?

              I think in the above comment he’s saying you could get comparable services for less cost, not that you’d get better services for less. Looking at it the other way, tho, his view entails that a private firm could provide better services for the same costs. So somewhere in the middle of those two things is what you attribute to him: better services derived by paying people less.

              I’m not sure that model holds up tho. Once a private firm is intrenched as the provider of a government service, institutional knowledge and integration with other systems and a bunch of other factors combine to create a situation where the private firm has excessive leverage over government to demand ever higher fees for service provision. So privatizing essential services recreates the same problem it was intended to solve, with the only difference being that the lions share of the “graft” going to ownership rather then employees.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

                This. I might extend this point by noting these contractors get in the door via campaign contributions which are nothing but de-facto kickbacks. Furthermore, institutions like the FBI up in West Virginia and NASA in Houston and the new NSA facility in Utah are pure instances of politicians bringing bureaucratic largesse to their home states. Whether we call this Bacon or Pork depends on your ZIP code.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I might extend this point by noting these contractors get in the door via campaign contributions which are nothing but de-facto kickbacks.

                And you end up with private individuals with an entrenched interest using tax dollars to lobby congress for less accountability and higher fees, and who would employ the threat of a ‘strike’ to pressure government to agree to their demands. Would libertarians criticize that arrangement on the same grounds they do public unions?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Stillwater says:

                With the Libertarians, it has passed in axioms and articles of faith that Gummint is Bad and Corporations are Good. There really is no discussing the matter with them. One might as well debate the nature of Infant Baptism or the Holy Trinity with them, you won’t get anywhere. The inherent contradictions are all neatly packed into boxes labelled Mystery.

                When Corporatism meets Government over dinner and drinks, followed by sordid trysts in hotel rooms, the unholy love child of this union is called Fascism. But that useful and highly descriptive word has fallen into the abyss of hyperbole and cannot be safely used any more without someone shouting Godwin every time it is uttered.

                We have the best government money can buy and the Supreme Court has given its imprimatur and nihil obstat to its sale with Citizens United. When I had the temerity to point out the ugly fact that Feudalism was Private Enterprise writ large, I was told I was Fighting Dirty.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s not like they can’t give examples from living memory…

                I feel like I should point out again:
                supremecourt.gov/?oral_arguments/?argument_transcripts/?08-205.pdf

                The government argued that it had the power to ban books under this law.

                Citizens United was a *BAD* law, even if it did have the best of intentions behind it.

                If we want to play the “fascism” game, we can also ask the question “you know who else argued that the government should have the power to ban books?”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Do expand on that thought, Brother Jaybird. I wonder where it will lead.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I edited the comment (thought I had time!) and put my expanded thoughts in there.

                I’m even arguing this with a friend online who wonders why I keep fixating on the government arguing that it had the power to ban books when Corporations now are, effectively, people with unlimited funds!

                I guess I know more people who read than who watch commercials.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Libertarians, it has passed in axioms and articles of faith that Gummint is Bad and Corporations are Good.

                Corporate status itself is a creation of government. Fish ’em both.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Corporations can order me to urinate in a cup. Corporations can read my email. Corporations can log my keystrokes. I am routinely compelled to sign non-compete agreements.

                Let’s face it, Libertarianism is not a philosophy. It is a religion. It operates on articles of faith. It sets forth its sins and virtues and these are absolutes, not up for discussion. It is fundamentally utopian in every possible facet of examination. Its villains are cardboard cutouts. Its heroes are simplistic and often insane prophets. And like religion, it gets sorta embarrassed by some of those prophets. It is schismatic, like religion, periodically casting out theologians as heretics. And like religion, it has no basis in the real world and is completely incapable of compromise with it.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                @b-psycho: Corporations are the creation of the several states. I wouldn’t say “fish ’em both”, for to fish one is to fish the other these days. The nation state as we understand it is slowly being strangled by corporate interests. These are not governments of the people any longer: they are increasingly owned by corporations.

                We are returning to fascism, by leaps and bounds, and the Libertarians cannot cheer this trend loudly enough. Every reasonable regulation which might have kept the regulated separated from the regulators is being repealed. It’s them what’s doing the “fish”-ing and it’s BOHICA for the rest of us.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Corporations can order me to urinate in a cup. Corporations can read my email. Corporations can log my keystrokes.

                When you work for the government, can’t they do these things, too? I recall someone saying that sometimes the government makes this a requirement of companies that it contracts work to. Sometimes it’s the government making the corporation make you pee into a cup.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                @Blue: Peeing in the cup is now standard practice everywhere, public and private corporations demand it. Half the time, when it comes time to do the background check for private corporations, I just give them a copy of my last SF85P form and last credit check. They’re gonna do those pulls anyway.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s not like they can’t give examples from living memory…

                This is a misuse of induction. If government does bad things in situation X, and X is just like all the remaining Ys, then government does bad things in all the Ys.

                That’s a really bad argument.

                For the conclusion to follow, you need a lot more than empirical evidence. You need claims of necessity. Hence BPs comment above.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                With the Libertarians, it has passed in axioms and articles of faith that … Corporations are Good

                Wrong yet again, my curmudgeonly friend. Another fundamental error by the League’s great critic of libertarianism–a man so confident in his knowledge that he doesn’t even need to actually learn about the subject on which he is passing so much wind.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “You don’t understand libertarianism. I do, but I’m only going to tell you you’re wrong, not explain anything about why I think you’re wrong. Oh, and – no true scotsman.”

                DRINK.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                M.A.,

                Still using no true scotsman wrong, buddy-0.

                And it’s market competition that constrains corporations that we like, not the corporations.

                Stick around and keep badgering me; I’m happy to teach anyone who’s got the minimal integrity it takes to want to learn.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                If I thought you had the slightest interest in actually explaining what you believe libertarianism is… fish it, you would have started doing so.

                But instead your entire purpose here is to keep shouting “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, that’s not libertarianism, you’re wrong” without saying the FIRST GODDAMN THING to offer your explanation of what was wrong with the statement, or what you believe libertarianism actually says. Your only response, repeating like a broken record, is that anyone who says anything about libertarianism is “wrong about” what libertarianism says.

                Drink up and get back to trolling.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                A very cordial and businesslike chuckle for you, James. I refer you to Brother Stillwater’s response.

                Logic, only logic will be your salvation, o ye Libertarians. Be freed of your delusions. The government is not your enemy and the corporations are not your friends.

                Hie thee to the Optometry Shoppe and get your eyes checked. Force and Fraud run like herds of wild hogs through the streets and for all your much preaching on these evils, do not recognise them when you see them. The agents of Force and Fraud are all around you and you still insist, every whit of evidence to the contrary, on the efficacy of Privatization.

                There are people in this world who very badly need locking up. Among them are the agents of private enterprise who are spending billions on corrupting and deregulating this country. Where are the Libertarians who condemn such corruption? Nowhere.

                So just you go on saying I don’t understand. I hear that from religion, too. Go back and read the Bible, I was told, when my own growing sense of disbelief in the literal interpretation of the Bible began. I have read the Libertarians. You can recurse over this problem all you like and tell me I don’t know. But if you guys are any guide to the matter, why haven’t I gotten the point yet? Why would I reach these conclusions if this wasn’t what I’d seen from you and from your prophets? You are a religion. Nothing you say squares up with the real world.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                If I thought you had the slightest interest in actually explaining what you believe libertarianism is… fish it, you would have started doing so.

                That’s pretty funny, considering how frequently I have done so, since long before you stumbled across this blog. And I’ve tried to do so in your case, too, but all you could say in response was “FYIGM!” I’ve been explaining; but you refuse to listen, and then you pretend I won’t explain.

                But instead your entire purpose here is to keep shouting “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, that’s not libertarianism, you’re wrong” without saying the FIRST GODDAMN THING to offer your explanation of what was wrong with the statement, or what you believe libertarianism actually says.

                Wrong again.

                Your only response, repeating like a broken record, is that anyone who says anything about libertarianism is “wrong about” what libertarianism says.

                No, only when people who don’t actually know what they’re talking about make false statements. I know it gets really frustrating to be told you’re wrong, but the real solution is not to get mad about it, but to spend some time actually learning what libertarians are actually arguing. If you’ll listen to me, instead of falsely insisting that I refuse to say anything, or if you’d listen to Roger, instead of just screaming at him, or if you’d read what Jason K says with an ear to understanding instead of just looking for the argument, you wouldn’t say so many wrong things about libertarianism.

                ….get back to trolling.
                That’s cute, in a “ah, look, little Johnny said ‘poopie,'” kind of way. Not really possible to take seriously, but it does make me giggle.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Classic, Blaise. When caught in a basic error, you go off on a tangent. There’s not one line in your response that is apropos to the question of whether libertarians believe corporations are good.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                James, you’re really beyond conversation. I am not even going to ask what this Basic Error is. Go on frothing and raging. Your precious Market Forces are producing elemental fascism in this country and you cannot praise it enough. That much is clear enough.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise,

                You made two basic errors. You said libertarians are fundamentally optimistic (no, we tend to be quite pessimistic about what people will do with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force) and you said we think corporations are good (no, we think the pressure of competition in the market is good, which we like because we don’t actually trust the corporations themselves, as they’re also run by people, the same critters we don’t trust with power).

                Now, we could be wrong on both counts, and I don’t really have any problem with you saying so. I disagree that “market forces are producing…fascism,” but I don’t really have a problem with your difference of opinion on that. That’s legitimate disagreement. But your false claims about libertarianism are not legitimate, no more than if I said that liberals are fundamentally driven by envy.

                Now, how pointing out your mis-representations of libertarianism is “beyond conversation,” is a bit of a mystery to me. Are false claims the basis of good conversation?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                How are these errors? The Libertarian believes in the freedom of the individual and would abolish the coercive state, replacing it with a system of voluntary associations. This mindset takes an optimistic view of the individual and of mankind in general.

                As for corporations, these are the apotheoses of your voluntary associations, the agents of the Free Market paradise we are promised by your prophets. This point cannot be denied. They are doing what the Libertarians say ought to be done: they are tearing out vast swathes of regulatory bureaucracy and replacing it with their own bureaucracies.

                These facts lead me to the inevitable conclusions I have reached.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, the conclusions are certainly not inevitable as a matter of logic.

                The Libertarian believes in the freedom of the individual and would abolish the coercive state, replacing it with a system of voluntary associations. This mindset takes an optimistic view of the individual and of mankind in general.

                Libertarians, speaking generally, are pessimistic about what happens when you give humans power, so we want to minimize the power any human can have over another. By sorting ourselves into voluntary associations we limit the amount of power others have over us, and we can choose to associate ourselves only with those who have demonstrated their trustworthiness. I have friends I know I can trust and rely on, acquaintances I know I can’t trust or rely on, and strangers whom I don’t know if I can trust or rely on. So I associate mostly with those friends, have cautious interactions with strangers, and minimal interactions with those I know I can’t trust. That’s not an optimistic view of the world. It’s a view that says you can only trust a limited number of people, and you can’t trust any of them with great power over you.

                Of course we’re pessimistic about the prospects for that working particularly smoothly, so we do tend to believe that at least some minimal state is necessary, but by god we want to constrain it tightly because we’re pessimistic about how it will turn out.

                It’s not a bad thing to misunderstand that. What bothers me is that you assert the opposing view as though it is indisputably true, but you never made the effort to know if that in fact is how libertarians saw themselves. You made an assumption about others; you didn’t bother to find out what they actually thought.

                As for corporations, these are the apotheoses of your voluntary associations, he agents of the Free Market paradise we are promised by your prophets. This point cannot be denied.

                The point not only can be denied, but it must be denied. Corporations are but one type of voluntary association, not “the apotheosis” of them. My neighbor is a member of a motorcycle club; my mother is a member of a church; I am a member of the YMCA. Corporations (for-profit, I think we both mean) hold no place above those in libertarian theory.

                We do prefer voluntary associations to involuntary ones, to be sure. But if we actually had such reverence for the corporation we’d have no quibble with monopolies. In fact, libertarians tend to dislike and distrust monopolies, because there is no competition to discipline them. In fact a monopoly corporation is very much like a non-voluntary association, so we want competition to keep things voluntary.

                It’s possible we’re fundamentally wrong in our diagnoses and conclusions. That’s a legitimate basis for disagreement, and I make no argument for it here. But telling us what we believe? I really do think we know that better than you do, just as you know your own beliefs better than do I.

                I’m not asking that you stop criticizing libertarianism. All I’m really asking is that when you criticize it, you actually base your criticisms on accurate statements about what libertarians believe. I don’t feel that it’s too much to ask.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise,

                On optimism. Jason K. is a libertarian. Here is his comment on another post.

                I firmly believe that children are cruel until they are taught not to be. Teaching them not to be takes a long, long time, and often it never happens at all.

                That’s not an optimistic view of human nature.

                I’m sure there are optimistic libertarians–we’re not wholly monolithic. But that’s my point, we’re not wholly monolithic, so to say our views are based on optimism is to overlook a very pronounced strain of pessimism among libertarians about human nature, the pessimism perfectly expressed by Jason in this comment.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                One more on optimism. This is from uberlibertarian Murray Rothbard (I’m not really a fan, and this is from lewrockwell.com, of which I’m really not a fan, so I’m not just cherry-picking).

                Myth #5 Libertarians are utopians who believe that all people are good, and that therefore State control is not necessary…

                On the contrary, most libertarian writers hold that man is a mixture of good and evil and therefore that it is important for social institutions to encourage the good and discourage the bad. … the institution of the State establishes a socially legitimatized and sanctified channel for bad people to do bad things, to commit regularized theft and to wield dictatorial power. Statism therefore encourages the bad, or at least the criminal elements of human nature. As Frank H. Knight trenchantly put it: “The probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender- hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation.”…

                We can approach our thesis from another angle. If all men were good and none had criminal tendencies, then there would indeed be no need for a State as conservatives concede. But if on the other hand all men were evil, then the case for the State is just as shaky, since why should anyone assume that those men who form the government and obtain all the guns and the power to coerce others, should be magically exempt from the badness of all the other persons outside the government? Tom Paine, a classical libertarian often considered to be naively optimistic about human nature, rebutted the conservative evil-human-nature argument for a strong State as follows: “If all human nature be corrupt, it is needless to strengthen the corruption by establishing a succession of kings, who be they ever so base, are still to be obeyed….” Paine added that “No man since the fall hath ever been equal to the trust of being given power over all.”11 And as the libertarian F.A. Harper once wrote:

                “Still using the same principle that political rulership should be employed to the extent of the evil in man, we would then have a society in which complete political rulership of all the affairs of everybody would be called for…. One man would rule all. But who would serve as the dictator? However he were to be selected and affixed to the political throne, he would surely be a totally evil person, since all men are evil. And this society would then be ruled by a totally evil dictator possessed of total political power. And how, in the name of logic, could anything short of total evil be its consequence? How could it be better than having no political rulership at all in that society?”

                … the classical liberal F.A. Hayek pointed out: “The main merit of individualism… is that it is a system under which bad men can do least harm [emphasis added–JH]. It is a social system which does not depend for its functioning on our finding good men for running it, or on all men becoming better than they now are, but which makes use of men in all their given variety and complexity….”

                It is important to note what differentiates libertarians from utopians in the pejorative sense. Libertarianism does not set out to remould human nature. One of socialism’s major goals is to create, which in practice means by totalitarian methods, a New Socialist Man, an individual whose major goal will be to work diligently and altruistically for the collective. Libertarianism is a political philosophy which says: Given any existent human nature, liberty is the only moral and the most effective political system. …

                Again, we could be wrong. Rothbard may be off his rocker. But he’s certainly not overly optimistic.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It is wise to doubt the goodness of mankind. It is also wise to avoid giving too much power to one person. This paradise of self-association is nothing but tribalism writ large, a sort of Hobbesian Hell you would tell us is a Heaven. Dangerous and naive thinking, all of it. It’s actually worse than Marxism: they at least understood the truth about power and its origins. But the Marxist paradise bears a startling resemblance to yours. Your vision of mankind does not encompass what happens when the state’s power has been divided as Marxism divided the shortages among the peasants. All your little voluntary associations will be crushed as surely as the kulaks.

                I really do not care what you think of yourselves. Mankind is the animal who lies to himself and his lies grow more abominable as vary his ideals. You want freedom and howl like children about coercion. Regulation without enforcement is moot. Your voluntary associations are a dream world. In the real world, gangs are also voluntary. If you want to be taken seriously, and this is by no means obvious to me, you will prove to me that Libertarians understand the principles of republican government and its necessity in a world where men obey the law more from fear of its consequences from any high-minded beliefs in some association and its ideals.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise,

                You’re going off on a tangent again. I am not engaging in an argument about whether libertarians are right. The issue I raised is whether what you claim about their beliefs is correct.

                If you want to be taken seriously, and this is by no means obvious to me, you will prove to me that Libertarians understand the principles of republican government and its necessity

                And if you want to be taken seriously, you would recognize that every single libertarian at the League, from Jason to Roger to Jaybird to me to any that I’ve just missed, has agreed to the necessity of government, and would stop pretending that we are opposed to all government. That is the third fundamental error you have made in just this thread.

                How can I take you seriously when you claim to know what libertarians believe, yet make so many mistakes about their beliefs?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Jaybird’s britches have fallen down around his ankles. As the French say une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps.

                Poor Roger, where do I even begin to choose? The rich panoply of his error-laden sophistry provides so many options: let’s just start with his Free Market Education line of hokum. I did manage to get in a few words about how education ought to be a human right, an investment in our nation’s future and not a chunk of cheese for sale.

                As for Jason, his entire Feudalism line of argument has been demolished. He did observe it’s going to be hard to let go of power. The sheer hubristic nonsense of that sort of wishful thinking makes me laugh: when the Libertarians get any power in this world of sin and error, then they can talk about letting go of it. In the mean time, we who remain undeluded about the nature of power and its origins will put our trust in a government of laws, yes, one with sufficiently coercive powers to enforce those laws and protect our freedoms, made by people we elect, people whose own selfishness can be applied to Mr. Madison’s great engine to everyone’s benefit and not those of the few.

                And we shall not put up with any of this Siren Song of Freedom from Coercion, for it is only the dispassionate coercion delegated to our elected officials which keeps the evil of corporate force and fraud from oppressing us all, government included.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                My poor britches.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                [Jason] did observe it’s going to be hard to let go of power. The sheer hubristic nonsense of that sort of wishful thinking makes me laugh: when the Libertarians get any power in this world of sin and error, then they can talk about letting go of it.

                It’s amazing how you are such a thoughtful reader with anyone who isn’t a libertarian, but then…

                My claim was not “once libertarians get power, it’ll be hard to give up.” My claim was “power can be hard to give up.” For anyone.

                If that’s “sheer hubristic nonsense,” then nearly all of the important thinkers about government have been writing sheer hubristic nonsense since the dawn of history.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Still changing the subject, eh, Blaise? The issue is not whether Jaybird’s lost his pants, Roger’s a sophist, etc. The issue is whether the things you’re claiming libertarians believe are in fact things they believe or not.

                But you’ve made it clear already that you have no interest in being truthful about this. What else could, your statement that you “really do not care what you [libertarians] think of yourselves” mean, when the issue is the claims you’re making about what libertarians think.

                I can respect someone who says, “OK, I was wrong.” But a person who who refuses to admit error, and who goes even further and announces their preference for remaining in error rather than getting their facts straight, that person cannot be respected.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                I am tightly focussed on the subject at hand: How to Privatize. You wish to dragoon Roger and Jaybird and even Jason into your little squad, that’s your business. You make a great fuss about what things are Not, but my conclusions are based on what was actually written.

                Too many compliments have been paid already, pleasantries about how nice Libertarians are, how noble are their sentiments. Your most earnest wish, to be free of tyrannous government, has no follow-on plan, nor indeed a proper strategy for how you might evict tyranny from government. It’s all so much feeble Levio-SAM wand-waving about Dispersing Government Power. Power is not so easily dispersed as all that. The Marxists tried. It all ended up in the hands of the tyrants, now that’s what happens when Idealistic Dumbasses overthrow tyrants. They become tyrants themselves.

                No, I’ll go with Mr. Madison and not the Libertarians. Mr. Madison understood things of which you clearly have no conception: what genuine tyranny looks like at close range. I know what it looks like, too, having lived under enough of it and worked to overthrow a few of them. All these Libertarian nostrums too closely resemble the fascist flapjaw I’ve heard all my life from tinhorn dictators. They kept their number of coercive actors small, too. The ferocious Guatemalan and Nigerois dictators always acted in the name of the people and would periodically arrange the deck chairs on their own little SS Titanics and they’d be gone by the next rainy season, replaced by yet another dreary iteration of same.

                And you know what, James? Every time one of these coups would go down, I’d always get excited, thinking “This time, they’re serious about good government, this time there will be land reform, this time there will be a free press, this time there will be elections.” And it never fucking happened.

                I’m too bitter to ever believe political power can be dispersed. I’m a Liberal now, whoda thunk? Not me in my 20s. See, power needs to be both concentrated and divided. Disperse it too widely, we get Hobbesian Brutes, not your Socialist Heroes. You Libertarians are just so shallow, so completely unaware of the form and nature of political power and how it is used. That’s because you’ve never had any, so you’re like so many virgins just itching to give it away. More precisely, you’re hoping someone will give you some. That won’t happen because you’re really nothing but the same old Socialist Anarchists we’ve known in the world since Bakunin.Report

              • Blaise, the broader subject may be about how to privatize.

                This thread within the subject is about whether you are accurately describing what libertarians actually believe.

                Not whether you believe their beliefs are valid or correct, but whether you are accurately describing what libertarians actually believe.

                Not about whether you think libertarians are idiots, but whether you are accurately describing what libertarians actually believe.

                Not your personal opinions and utter disrespect for people who disagree with you, but whether you are accurately describing what libertarians actually believe.

                Not how world-wise you are and how piss-ant libertarians are, but whether you are accurately describing what libertarians actually believe.

                And again, not whether the libertarian worldview is valid, but what their views actually are, and whether you have accurately depicted them when you have discussed what their views are. Calling them more names or further arguing that they are wrong, repugnant, or whatever else you choose to hurl in their direction, does not address whether you are accurately portraying the views that they hold when you talk about them.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Still changing the subject. You made three claims about what libertarians believe: 1) we’re optimistic; 2) we loves us sum corporations more than anything else; 3) we want to eliminate government. I challenged all three of those claims.

                Your response so far? To talk about other things. In the world I live in, people are expected to face up to errors (or to generous, accusations of error), not duck them. It’s an issue of integrity, and it’s an issue of confidence. A person who truly has confidence in themselves can either back up their claims or admit them and move on. The “look, a zebra!” approach; that raises questions.

                so you’re like so many virgins just itching to give [power] away. More precisely, you’re hoping someone will give you some.

                Well which is it, man?! Do we want to give it away or do we hope somebody will give us some? Maybe we hope somebody will give us some so that we can give it away? Throwing in the word virgins is always good writing, in my opinion, but it doesn’t obscure the essential ridiculousness of the statement.

                And you know what, James? Every time one of these coups would go down, I’d always get excited, thinking “This time, they’re serious about good government, this time there will be land reform, this time there will be a free press, this time there will be elections.” And it never fucking happened.

                What kind of response do you anticipate? Am I supposed to be surprised? Impressed? Sympathetic? Romantic naivete degraded into self-pitying bitterness doesn’t spark any of those emotions in me.

                You Libertarians are just so shallow, so completely unaware of the form and nature of political power and how it is used.

                Dude, we know it really damned well. That’s why we’re libertarians!

                And if you ever actually listened to anyone you were corresponding with here, you’d know that’s why I’m not an anarchist. Anarchists are–like you–romantics. Show me an anarchic society and I’ll show you a bunch of suckers that are about to be raped and pillaged. Why you keep insisting that we want anarchy, despite our repeated statements to the contrary…. I don’t know ,man, you’ve obviously got a lot of native intelligence, but for some reason you seem unable to realize when you’re playing a buffoon.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Morat20 says:

              The CBO says that Federal employees with a Master’s Degree or lower have higher total compensation.

              It’s not really acontroversial that unions raise costs for employers, is it? It is one of their selling points, after all.

              And even without paying less on a per-worker basis, efficiencies could still be realized by making it easier to fire redundant or otherwise unproductive workers, reducing featherbedding, and eliminating losses due to strikes.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Competent bureaucrats are pure gold. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to observe we can get more value from a competent supervisor than almost anyone else? I don’t want the lowest-paid jamoke from Hempy-Tempy Rent-a-Schmuck Services LLC running a billion dollar bureaucracy, enforcing the laws and providing government services. I want someone competent. I wouldn’t care if he cost twice as much if he diligently serves the nation.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Blue in reply to BlaiseP says:

                One of the things about the public sector is that they make it difficult to pay the competent bureaucrat twice as much as the incompetent one. Pay schedules are set up specifically to avoid that kind of thing. If we paid all bureaucrats twice as much, regardless of whether they were good or bad, that might help recruiting.

                I don’t mind paying government employees more, as long as we start rethinking the structure of their compensation and make it easier to act in favor of good employees and against bad ones.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mr. Blue says:

                Singapore, hardly a paragon of democracy, does seem to understand how to manage this: they pay their bureaucrats top dollar. Keeps corruption down. Considering how much money goes through their hands, paying a good bureaucrat is not only money well spent, it makes sure our money is well-spent.

                If, however, we’re content with our bureaucracies looking like TSA, a bunch of piggy eyed temp workers, stealing things out of our luggage and treating us like cattle, let’s just go on outsourcing government to the lowest bidder.Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to BlaiseP says:

                This is an important point. To me it makes a lot of sense to pay folks like cops and prison guards well, AND to backload a healthy part of their compensation in the form of a generous pension. Why? So they have something to lose, something that can be taken away from them if they fish up.

                The same logic applies to anyone handling public funds. If they’re going to be bribed I want that bribery to at least be REALLY expensive. (And hopefully happen a lot less often.)Report

      • Avatar James K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        The only thing I’d expect to get out of outsourcing prisons is lower cost. How much of that gets realised in practice is of course an open question.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to James K says:

          In reality? None. Zero. Zilch. Will actually end up costing you more, bar a very few areas that have ridiculous prison costs as a legacy of something else. (And why they don’t just fix that is beyond me, I guess it’s polically unpopular).

          Frankly, state run prisons tend to be god-awful hellholes run on the cheap as it is. It’s not like the state lavishes a lot of money on them. (I can’t speak for California. I hear about their prison guard’s union, but don’t know much about it or the complaints. OTOH, I’m well aware of the mess their three-strikes law has landed them in).

          In general, however, I’d prefer my prisons run and staffed by people whose sole motive was keeping prisoners IN, rather than “How do I cut costs more” because, well, we didn’t jail those people to make money.Report

          • Avatar M.A. in reply to Morat20 says:

            I’d prefer my prisons run by people whose motive was to do what they could to make it so once the inmates served their terms, they didn’t re-offend and therefore didn’t come back.

            But in the long run that’d reduce prison population, which would mean less money for the privatized prisons. Ergo, you’ll never get privatized prisons to go for anything other than the minimal guards / lord of the flies / sardine can rooming approach.

            In this case, it’s crystal clear that the libertarianism and privatization method damages society in the long term.Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Morat20 says:

            Normally, a prison management contract has financial penalties for any escapes. Assuming the people writing the contract aren’t morons of course.

            Cutting costs can work in unintuitive ways as well. Bear in mind that labour costs are the bulk of the cost of a prison, so cost savings come from reducing the number of guards you need. It turns out one way to do this is to make prisons nicer.

            Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it doesn’t work this way in the US, which means that contracting prison services is a bad idea in the US. But the fact it seems to work elsewhere suggests that the problem is more the way its done in the US rather than the principle itself.

            Still, I see that as more of an issue of operational policy than one of ideology. I don’t think contracting prison services is a libertarian thing to do per se, and I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable with deciding that it’s out of bounds. And, as I said earlier history suggests that US government should avoid it as they don’t seem to be able to do it right.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James K says:

              Prisons keep getting worse here, largely because it’s so easy to demagogue any privileges as “coddling” and “wastes of taxpayer money”. Weight rooms were removed because, you know, who wants stronger prisoners? It’s possible that privatized prisons would be less subject to ignorant, emotion-driven micromanagement. But I wouldn’t bet on it.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Corporations in my view tend to outdo governments at innovation.

        Your trust in corporations is cute. Wrongheaded, but cute.

        Corporations are absolutely terrible in “innovating” in any direction that they don’t want to go. It the “innovation” you want is a DVD player for $29.95, sure, they’ll “innovate” that for you. It’ll come at the cost of only working for one year on average with a 90-day warranty, being made to break in pieces if you try to take it apart to so much as clean the lens, and generally playing back crap quality video.

        Corporate “innovation” is responsible for crap merchandise that breaks constantly. “Maintenance free” means “throw it away and buy a new one.”

        As for prisons, if you want to “innovate” for lower costs in the prison or justice system, you’re going to get cut corners. Automatically judge people guilty, institute a “plea bargain” system that gives anyone without the money to afford hefty representation a demon’s choice between pleading guilty and sitting in prison even if innocent or run the risk of charge upon charge stacked up to add up to a lifetime in jail.

        You may even get a kids for cash scheme or equivalents being even more prevalent than they are today. And in the “competitive world” of elected Judges and DA’s, you can forget about justice. Those lying assholes are there to pad their conviction counts and don’t give a damn about justice or the innocent.

        Roger Clemens, here is your choice. Either you plead guilty now or we make you waste years of your life and millions of dollars defending yourself in multiple trials while we drag your name through the mud in the press.

        How many other people have been in a similar situation as Roger Clemens, but without the millions of dollars to spend on their defense?

        Apply it to prisons. What does a privatized or outsourced prison have in the way of incentives? They have a reason to keep costs as low as possible – so, less guards. They have a reason to try to keep inmate count as low as possible, so programs to reduce recidivism rates are treated as disdainfully as possible. Recruiting a few “enforcers” from the top gangs helps keep everyone else in line and discipline issues off the books.

        I’ve watched the private sector fuck up commerce more and more as regulation was stripped away since 1980. Excuse me if I have absolutely no faith in the “free market” of the libertarians to provide anything resembling justice through the lowest bidder.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to M.A. says:

          Corporations are absolutely terrible in “innovating” in any direction that they don’t want to go. It the “innovation” you want is a DVD player for $29.95, sure, they’ll “innovate” that for you. It’ll come at the cost of only working for one year on average with a 90-day warranty, being made to break in pieces if you try to take it apart to so much as clean the lens, and generally playing back crap quality video.

          Guys, he’s right. This whole capitalism thing just isn’t working out. Sure, we can take a bucket of sand and transform it into a machine that can retrieve several hours of video and audio from a disc as thick as a nickel and five inches in diameter, but the average person has to work like an hour and a half to buy one, and it will only last for a year.

          Seriously? You chose consumer electronics as your example of how much the private sector sucks at innovation? Is the DMV the cornerstone of your speech about how awesome government is?Report

  10. Avatar wardsmith says:

    So when New London sells the Kelo property is that privatization or re-privatization?Report

  11. Avatar wardsmith says:

    So when New London sells the Kelo property is that privatization or re-privatization?
    Stinking no-edit button. 🙁Report

  12. Keep the number of coercive actors small.

    In the context of your post, I think I understand what you mean and I agree with it. But what about the idea that multiple coercive actors might in some cases provide a countervailing check against coercive action?Report

  13. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    I think Public-Private Partnerships like this one and the ostensible use of private funding mechanisms like “infrastructure funds” are as much a way to do an end run around revenue limitations as they are about other forms of power. Specifically they help circumvent the restrictions that you’d have in a budgetary sense by helping pour private money into the public coffers for the sake of expanding an area of state industry.Report

  14. Avatar Benjamin says:

    I often read that you’ll never change someone’s mind by arguing on the internet, so for the record, I wanted to put it out there that BlaiseP (over several threads) has basically talked me out of Libertarianism. To be fair, I was never dyed in the wool by any means, but I’ve been going back and forth for a couple of years now. I don’t have anything deep or insightful to add to the broader discussion..I’m a longtime lurker and will go back to lurking after this, but it felt like a good time to let (all) the great commenters here know that you’re not only talking amongst yourselves, and these these discussions/arguments can actually move people and their thinking.Report

  15. Avatar Kolohe says:

    As a broad thumbrule, if the government is a monosopy buyer of some service (like prisons) it should not outsource / privatize them, but if the government is just another buyer in the market (like pens and paper), then contracting generally works out better.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

      Kolohe,

      That’s an interesting thought. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the issue approached that way. Would you be willing to flesh that out some more? Some of the immediate questions that come to my mind are:

      1) What is it about being the monopsonist that makes outsourcing a bad idea?

      2) Is it quite accurate to say government “buys” incarceration of criminals?

      3) How would this idea work out with more borderline cases, such as roads and education?

      Those aren’t meant as attacking questions. Being a monopsonist is a distinctive enough characteristic that it has to have some kinds of important effects, so I think it’s possible you’re onto something meaningful here. I’m just not quite able to parse it out myself. I’ll blame a night of insomnia for my mental sluggishness. 😉Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to James Hanley says:

        “1) What is it about being the monopsonist that makes outsourcing a bad idea?”

        As said elsewhere on the thread (now that I’ve read it) by Brandon Berg and some others, because while all contracts are subjects to the vagaries and asymmetries (and sometimes political pressures) of the contracting process, a monopsony buyer has no way of checking whether or not she is getting a good deal. The proverbial (and apocryphal) 500 dollar hammer (and now 16 dollar muffin) come to mind (if they were true) as that sort of case where one can see if one is getting a good deal. In contrast, nobody really knows if a 7 billion dollar Ford Carrier or a 300 million dollar F-35 Lighting II is really a good deal.

        So maybe it’s less about of monopsony and more about liquid versus one-off markets. (incidentally, the pen & paper thing isn’t the best example either, the Govt generally gets it’s office supplies in special contracts with industries for the blind.)

        “2) Is it quite accurate to say government “buys” incarceration of criminals?”

        I suppose one can step back and say the government is trying to ‘buy’ “justice”, which is almost the classic public good. But in the narrower sense of just privatizing prisons, I think yes, it’s buying the service of the warehousing of people against their will that the State deems necessary. And as it’s the only one that allowed to warehouse people this way, they’re really aren’t any other competitors in this market. Plus, the whole principal-agent problem. As also said on this thread, adding a private prison industry to the mix adds yet another set of interests which are different, and may be opposed to, the interests of the State, the public, and heck, even the prisoners themselves.

        There’s also a concept that Ken @ Popehat has be bringing up lately with regards to lawyer advertising that I think has some relevance here. His recent maxim is “You outsource your marketing, you outsource your reputation.” In the context of the State and government services, there are certain things we have authorized the government to do, as the monopoly provider of force, and on top of that a whole host of rules & regulations *because* we have granted the government that monopoly on force. As things get closer to the essence of the State – to its essence as Violence – I am very reluctant, if not reflexively opposed, to the outsourcing of those functions away from State agents under the direct command and control of the Government.

        “3) How would this idea work out with more borderline cases, such as roads and education?”

        Education has already been discussed in this thread (to summarize my view, I’m a small c conservative in that I don’t want to fix was isn’t broken, and most of the system isn’t broken), so dealing with roads: Well, there are a lot of roads, and while the govt does buy nearly all of them, it is somewhat of a liquid market. I would though advocate transforming all freeways to toll roads, and encourage private construction and maintenance of any new freeways using tolls to pay for them. Like the Dulles Greenway in Northern Virginia and the ICC in Maryland. (and I think the HOT lanes on the Beltway are a similar model, but parts of that model are a bit troubling for me – i.e. I don’t think traffic optimization actually leads to revenue optimization)Report

        • Avatar M.A. in reply to Kolohe says:

          I would though advocate transforming all freeways to toll roads, and encourage private construction and maintenance of any new freeways using tolls to pay for them.

          I wouldn’t. Toll roads are a goddamn DISASTER in America. Trying to automate everything with “toll tags”, but every region has their own toll tag system that’s incompatible because there are no industry standards. Half the toll roads in America are “toll tag only” now in the name of not having wide-lane toll booths any more, and even those old style toll booths were the cause of such congestion and annoyance that it destroyed the concept of a “freeway” anyways.

          “Toll Tags” also hide the cost of the toll from the driver. You don’t find out until later what the bill was, because there isn’t signage any more in the days of “dynamic tolling.” I’ve seen maybe two plazas with toll cost signage and by the time I could read it, I was already on the tollway. Maybe the locals get a notice in the mail, or just know when and where not to use the tollway because it’s expensive.

          Which brings up the other point: there’s a “discount” to local travelers, supposedly, in some of the toll tag systems. Have a toll tag, they cut the rate compared to what they’re charging the rubes from out of state. And if you’re from out of state, traveling the federal interstate system, this means a bunch of redneck hicks are standing guard over a FEDERAL roadway to take your money as an illegal tax for entering their state.

          Nothing good comes of toll roads. Nothing.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

            every region has their own toll tag system that’s incompatible because there are no industry standards.

            Industry standards are developing. I know factually that you can travel across Ohio, Indiana, and into Chicago using either of at least two automated toll payment systems (EZ Pass and I Pass). I think EZ pass can actually take you from NY/NJ, through Pennsylvania, and on to Chicago. Industry standards don’t develop overnight, of course. They develop as the market develops, so the lack of standardization in the early period of a market doesn’t signify much.

            Half the toll roads in America are “toll tag only” now in the name of not having wide-lane toll booths any more,

            I’ve never observed this, anywhere. I travel the Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois toll roads frequently, but not frequently enough to pre-pay. There’s always been a cash-only lane. I can’t quite imagine a toll road not having one, since there will always be some cash customers. I’d really need to see some evidence of this before I’d believe that there are any toll tag only roads, much less half of toll roads being that way.

            “Toll Tags” also hide the cost of the toll from the driver.

            Paying for roads via taxes hides the cost even more effectively. I can at least retroactively check out the cost of the toll, whereas it’s functionally impossible for me to figure out how much of my taxes goes to road building and maintenance. It’s also the case that tolls put the cost on the user, whereas taxpayer funded financing can put the cost on non-users as well, which seems less fair. That said…

            there isn’t signage any more in the days of “dynamic tolling.”

            That may be true, and if so it’s a problem. Not as bad a problem as hiding the cost in taxes, but still a case of imperfect information that ought to be corrected, especially as the cost of providing the information would be so low.

            there’s a “discount” to local travelers, supposedly, in some of the toll tag systems. Have a toll tag, they cut the rate compared to what they’re charging the rubes from out of state. And if you’re from out of state, traveling the federal interstate system, this means a bunch of redneck hicks are standing guard over a FEDERAL roadway to take your money as an illegal tax for entering their state.

            This is an interesting question. One the one hand, you’re right that it’s illegal to charge a fee for entering a state. On the other hand, despite being a federal system, the interstate highways are not wholly funded by the federal government, but in part by the states. So one could argue that the higher fee for out of state motorists is simply a fair share arrangement, since they are not paying state taxes to help with the financing. So it’s kind of like out-of-state tuition at a public university. Still, most of the funding comes from fuel taxes, and out of staters do have to fill up now and then. It’s an interesting issue; there’s no clear cut answer.

            Nothing good comes of toll roads. Nothing.

            Categorical statements just beg for refutation. Indiana leased its toll road for 75 years, for an upfront payment of $3.8 billion. That upfront money enabled Indiana to fully fund its road building/maintenance program for the next thirty years, the only state in the country in that position (in contrast, Michigan can’t even afford to maintain roads, and various counties are letting gravel roads return to gravel as a cost-saving measure). That in itself doesn’t prove toll roads are the way to go, but it does effectively rebut the charge that “nothing” good comes of toll roads.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill Mobile in reply to James Hanley says:

              FWIW, MA is correct about tag-only toll roads.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

              Just for you.

              You should pay attention when you’re driving. They are all over the place now.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                I don’t spend much time East of Michigan/Indiana, so paying attention where I drive won’t show me tag-only toll roads. That said, I think they’re a bad idea.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

              Indiana leased its toll road for 75 years, for an upfront payment of $3.8 billion. That upfront money enabled Indiana to fully fund its road building/maintenance program for the next thirty years,

              And then get screwed for the next 40.

              Short-sightedness FTW!Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

                And then get screwed for the next 40

                Get screwed how? Indiana got the money up front and has it invested. If you wanted to rent a house for 5 years, and the landlord made you pay all the money up front so he could spend it renovating the property over the next two years, I’m willing to bet you’d be criticizing the landlord rather than boasting about how you were screwing him for two years.

                Honestly, you’re so eager to argue that it seems you don’t take any time to think. When you end up arguing a line that actually contradicts your real ideological approach, it’s just silly season.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to M.A. says:

            Well, the funny thing is I advocate toll roads as a way of finding common ground with those liberals who lament the passing of long distance passenger trains as a viable concern*, as well as those who also always complain about sprawl and car culture in general.

            *outside the Northeast corridor that is. Which has, besides a high population density, a lot of toll roads.Report

      • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

        1) What is it about being the monopsonist that makes outsourcing a bad idea?

        You wouldn’t get scandals like this if prisons weren’t outsourced.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

          Dude, can you stop being stupid, please? My question wasn’t about private prisons, which I’ve long since looked at and become skeptical about. The question was “what is it about being a monopsonist that makes outsourcing bad? If you’re not going to address the question, please don’t bother pretending to give an answer. You just reinforce the impression that you’re in way over your head here.Report

  16. Avatar James Hanley says:

    while all contracts are subjects to the vagaries and asymmetries (and sometimes political pressures) of the contracting process, a monopsony buyer has no way of checking whether or not she is getting a good deal.

    I’m a bit skeptical. The traditional understanding of a monopsonesist is that they can dictate terms to sellers. A competitive bid process in which the government dictates terms seems like a good way to ensure you’re getting the best deal. I’m thinking, as an example, of the contracts between the National Park Service and the concessions companies that run the lodging, dining, and gift shops in Yellowstone National Park. Over the years, the NPS has gotten better at the contracting out process, limiting the length of the contracts so the firms are less entrenched, dictating the specific terms of the contract (for example, dictating significant investment in maintaining historically important structures), and having an actual competitive bid process.

    That would suggest government might do best at contracting out when it’s a monopsonist, but I’m not comfortable with that conclusion, probably because of the last item of yours that I’ll quote below.

    adding a private prison industry to the mix adds yet another set of interests which are different, and may be opposed to, the interests of the State, the public, and heck, even the prisoners themselves.

    Yes. On the one hand that’s true for every public-private partnership. Road builders lobby for infrastructure spending, for example. But the problem does seem to be more worrisome in the case of…

    As things get closer to the essence of the State – to its essence as Violence – I am very reluctant, if not reflexively opposed, to the outsourcing of those functions away from State agents under the direct command and control of the Government.

    I think that’s the heart of the problem for me, too. I think that’s an issue worth exploring in more depth. In my public administration class I ask students where they would draw the line on privatization–most draw it well before this point, and almost nobody is willing to this far. Our general intuitions seem to be fairly common here.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to James Hanley says:

      The more I think about it, I think monopsony was the wrong metric, and liquidity maybe be the better one (maybe dynamism? but more than just in the Virginia Postrel sense, though that works too). We don’t, after all, expect the government to build its own word processing software. But we do expect it to have rather custom spec’d cop cars. And, as said, it’s also probably more about ‘inherently governmental’ functions (which itself is a term of art and subject of much debate in government contracting circles.)

      Interesting example with the NPS. Part of the other reason that NPS contracting was so bad for so long was that there was a cultural mindset that ‘commerce’ was somewhat dirty and unworthy of the NPS mission and activities.* Which is one reason why the Mall in DC was such a commercial wasteland for such a long time. (still is, but getting a bit better) (well, the other problem is that it’s hard to have the same set of rules for western natural parks and eastern city parks, but they basically made them the same)

      I find myself increasingly against public-private partnerships in general, and I find it somewhat annoying when some libertarians (I’m looking at you reason) seem to tout them – esp when they are fairly transparent corporate giveaways. (or a way of routing around public sector unions, but then again, I don’t like public sector unions myself)

      *one of the examples of this mindset was the George Washington Parkway between Alexandria and Mt. Vernon. ‘Concerned citizens’ with no small amount of political influence were shocked and appalled that people had to travel from DC to George Washington’s home had to see all kinds of billboards and other signs & business accoutrements on US Rt 1. So they had the park service build a road.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

        I find myself increasingly against public-private partnerships in general, and I find it somewhat annoying when some libertarians (I’m looking at you reason) seem to tout them – esp when they are fairly transparent corporate giveaways.

        I’d like to hear more on this, if you’re willing.

        From my pov, a libertarian argument for (lots of types of) public-private partnerships confuses the purpose of libertarianism itself. If the point is to reduce the scope of government thereby reducing it’s overall size, then libertarians ought to oppose them: functionally, these types of arrangements act to entrench the scope of government as well as it’s size (wrt budgets, taxes, legislative and executive reach, etc) and increase the likelihood of graft and corruption on the back end of the process. Sure, it “privatizes” the service provision, but only by changing who receives the payment. And that doesn’t fundamentally change the scope or breadth of government in any interesting sense. So it seems to me that conclusion that “privatizing” those services leads to less government amounts to an accounting trick.

        But if could be – as Hanley likes to say – that I don’t understand libertarianism. 🙂Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

          “…is justified by an accounting trick.”Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:

          Stillwater,

          My instincts toward the partnership are based upon the introduction of competition, variety, choice and market pricing knowledge into the equation.

          If government monopoly could do a great, non coercive and efficient job at something in perpetuity, then I would be all for them doing it. I am not against govnment. I am against zero sum, win lose coercive interactions, inefficiency and a lack of choice and competition.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

          Nah, that’s basically it. It’s too often an accounting trick and a political game that my ‘side’ seems to latch onto too frequently & inappropriately and (among other things) gives ammunition to the ‘libertarians are Kocksuckers’ brigades.

          Like the OP and linked post said, *getting government out of the game* is how one reduces the scope of government, not teaming up with a private interested partner.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

          Stillwater,

          Actually, I’ve had the same thought about PPPs perhaps entrenching the scope of government. I also worry about the potential for them to become rent-seeking opportunities. On the other hand, I’ve seen them work well. No, they don’t diminish the size of government, but through the magic of competition they can make public provision of services more efficient, which is a good in itself. So I’m torn on the issue. But I think you have a good point about whether libertarians really ought to support them. It’s certainly something that probably needs to be given more thought.Report