Better Progressive Rhetoric? Obama Is Building That

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Conor P. Williams

Conor Williams on Twitter. More background here.

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159 Responses

  1. Avatar James Hanley says:

    There’s a lot to chew on there, and quite a bit to agree with. But Gopnik’s argument is non-sensical.

    It isn’t just that a free market can survive regulation; it’s that the free market is the product of regulation, regulation designed to protect the public from the kind of arrangement that, let’s say, allows people with undue influence on the government to have a lower tax rate than people who don’t

    First, the free market can function quite well with regressive tax rates. That doesn’t mean they’re a good thing, but to suggest that progressive tax rates are one of the necessary regulations for creating a free market is simply wrong.

    Second, he’s talking about government regulations that forbid government from doing things (giving lower tax rates to the influential). But ultimately government regulations can’t forbid government from doing things–for any inconvenient regulation the government can simply make exceptions whenever it wants. This kind of argument about government regulation constraining government is common, but it’s fundamentally confused.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    the question over social control of property, as Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse put it, is “not of increasing or diminishing, but of reorganizing, restraints.”

    I agree wholly that property rights are not pre-political. But what’s wrong with our current property rights structures that reorganization of them is needed?Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

      The various areas in which they create assorted tragedies of the commons or anti-commons, most notably the environment and IP law?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

        Don,

        If we’re talking about changing property rights regimes, and the focus is on tragedies of the commons, then isn’t the logical response to de-commonize them? The tragedy is occurring with resources that are currently publicly owned, right?Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

          Maybe, maybe not. I’d want to know what our options are for internalizing the externality (Pigovian taxes? Regulation? Privatizing the Commons? stoning of polluters by decree of Philosopher Kings?), how well those approaches or ones like them work in the context of the particular Commons/anticommons problem we’re facing, how high transaction costs are, whether they deal with intergenerational/intertemporal harm, what is politically possible, etc.

          So when somebody brings up Coase, I first think that in fact allowing private parties to sue to assert their rights to unpolluted air is, in fact, a reorganization of our property rights. But after that I’d say that I don’t have any problem with this approach in theory, but that in practice I doubt it would be very effective, and I think that all too many libertarians/conservatives use this argument on an intellectual level to justify saying no to more statist solutions to environmental problems, but then never follow through on their alternative policy. As I said downthread, I’m not very invested in how we get to a world where we don’t poison the air we breathe and the water we drink. I just want us to get moving now.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

            That’s a thoughtful response. I have to run to the hardware store and get back to work on my kitchen. No time to give it as much thought as would be required to do any justice in my own response, but I wanted you to know I saw it and didn’t ignore it.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Don Zeko says:

            So when somebody brings up Coase, I first think that in fact allowing private parties to sue to assert their rights to unpolluted air is, in fact, a reorganization of our property rights.

            By some perspectives on law, it certainly is.

            Yet if one takes a Hayekian approach to law — which I do — this “reorganization” looks very different.

            Hayek believed that the law derived its moral force and its power to compel by virtue of its successfully articulating commonly held beliefs and values. Not all of these beliefs or their implications are necessarily made explicit, but if the law screws up, people do get mad and will eventually change it. In a well-functioning legal system, law and our common sense of fair play will often come to reinforce one another, and where the law deviates from common sense on some point or another, it does so because it has no other choice, given the other dictates of our common sense.

            As such, the right to be protected from air pollution really just validates what any one of us would agree already was an implicit property right, just not one that the written law contained. If we want our written law to command respect, we’d better change it accordingly.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              In that respect, I don’t think there’s actually a disagreement here. Both of us think that we ought to have a legal codification of property rights that, one way or another, protects our rights not to have somebody else dump their negative externalities on us. But I’m more interested in the practical side of things here, and this agreement is only the start of a conversation about how exactly we should do this.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

      “what’s wrong with our current property rights structures that reorganization of them is needed?”

      Some people have more money than others and that’s, like, bad, or something?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

        When money can purchase political power, indeed, that’s the only way to get any political power these days, we can safely dispense with all this dumbassery about some folks having more money than others. If our politicians have become whores and our much-vaunted Democratic Principles transmogrified into a sham and a lie, who cares if we have honest politicians or that money corrupts them? Not you.Report

  3. Avatar MFarmer says:

    “I’m more convinced than ever that the Left needs to get its moral vision clear—trendy demographic studies and rhetoric-of-the-day issues aside, this election is really about whether or not the relationship between government and economic life.”

    I’ve got stuff to say, but maybe more if the above sentence is completed.Report

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    Conor,

    I must disagree.

    “[L]iberty” for one comes at an expense of “liberty” for another. Since there’s no neutral way for the government to set these rules, certainly no abstraction like “economic liberty” to guide the path, the question over social control of property, as Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse put it, is “not of increasing or diminishing, but of reorganizing, restraints.”

    First, not all liberty comes at the expense of others. If I read this as applying to property rights ( which I believe it does) then I would restate it that property rights are about who makes decisions in regards to property or ideas. The same hackneyed liberty argument could be applied to people, you know. Our freedom to determine our own actions requires that we limit others freedom to use us as slaves. 

    Good property rights are ones which lead to good outcomes. I present the modern world as the first example of good outcomes since the advent of agriculture ten thousand years ago. Not perfect yet, but better than ever.  The other concern I have here is it is basically setting up the argument for top down, guided interference. Again, I suggest we review how that backfires and leads to the opposite of what is desired. Specifically it will lead to an avenue for those with influence and persuasion to manipulate results even worse than today. 

    “It isn’t just that a free market can survive regulation; it’s that the free market is the product of regulation, regulation designed to protect the public from the kind of arrangement that, let’s say, allows people with undue influence on the government to have a lower tax rate than people who don’t.”

    Of course the free market is grounded in an agreed upon set of rules. It is not based upon a set of progressive master planners which manipulate outcomes to get better results for favored groups which always seem to be loyal voters.  

    Despite your Gopnik quote, those with influence, on average, still pay considerably more in taxes than those that don’t. How can you assert the opposite? 

    “So if we find that our traditional conceptions of contract and property rights lead to brutal treatment of individual humans and/or staggering economic inequality, we can make changes in order to bring conditions better in line with the American Founding’s promises.”

    What if we find they lead to doubling of lifespan, lifting 5 billion people out of poverty, reducing work week to less than forty hours, better education, more freedom and widespread literacy?  What if it leads to the poor living better than prior era rich? What if “progressive” actions are slowing down or stopping this progress of opportunity?

    I admire Dewey, but my guess is that most of the above human prosperity came after his rant about how fished up we are. In other words, his diagnosis was absurd. 

    “If leftists want to justify financial reform, environmental regulations, progressive taxation, and most of the rest of their policy preferences, they urgently need to be able to explain how public institutions enhance economic life.”

    I suggest if they really want to advance the plight of humanity, they should first learn HOW institutions enhance and harm our lives.  Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Roger says:

      First, not all liberty comes at the expense of others. If I read this as applying to property rights ( which I believe it does) then I would restate it that property rights are about who makes decisions in regards to property or ideas. The same hackneyed liberty argument could be applied to people, you know. Our freedom to determine our own actions requires that we limit others freedom to use us as slaves.

      Quite so. The key here is to return to the classical liberal idea of the law of equal freedom — given that as people in a society we can’t all have full, unfettered liberty (as we might each have separately on a desert island) we should all have the maximal freedom that is compatible with a like freedom in others.

      It isn’t a zero-sum proposition, either. Your freedom of religion protects my freedom of religion, too. Your freedom of commerce protects mine as well — and it even enriches me.

      The idea that there is no such thing as greater or lesser liberty, only a reconfiguration of restraints, is refuted by reference to all the various unfree states in the world. Either we move toward what they are like, or we move away from it. That’s a meaningful difference.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        That’s all fine and good. Problem is, that’s not the way the law works. A law forbids or compels. Read your JSMill.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

          It is a remarkable bit of rationalism to suggest that there is no meaningful difference in liberty between the United States and China… because of something John Stuart Mill once wrote.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Stop squirming. China’s become utterly corrupt. We have unregulated free markets in China run by technocrats, mercifully untroubled by pesky regulators. Do not attempt to drag China’s lack of liberty into this discussion while you preach the virtues of unfettered freedom. The Chinese punish people who get in the way of economic progress.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

              We have unregulated free markets in China

              Utter nonsense. There might not be controls on working conditions — controls I commonly don’t have much of a problem with, here — but from what I understand, if you want to run a good-sized business in China, you either join the Party, pay it off, or go broke. That’s not a free market.

              I’m glad, however, that we agree on China’s lack of liberty. The term is neither meaningless nor irrelevant after all.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Bribes are just a cost of doing business. If a few rent-seekers appear, well, think of it as fully-privatised government in action.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Bribes are just a cost of doing business.

                Bribes are private law — or, in a word, privilege. It’s the opposite of equality before the law, and completely incompatible with the principle embodied in the law of equal freedom.

                If a bribe makes doing business easier, it’s not a good thing. It’s usually an indication that something much bigger has gone wrong somewhere very nearby.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                But c’mon, you want it both ways. China’s economic progress has come at terrible cost to its people. Beijing is horribly polluted and now the US Embassy can’t even publish its own PPM data. When the Olympics came to China, they shut down a bunch of the really godawful polluters.

                So what do the Libertarians say about pollution? That we should give this solution over to the marketplace. With the exception of some truly awful cases where military bases have been polluting, how is this the government’s fault and why should we believe the private polluters won’t do to these individuals what they’ve been obviously and undeniably doing to the regulators?

                It’s just bizarre. Before the EPA, the situation was so disgraceful the Cuyahoga River caught fire. Help me get my head around this: I read Mises Institute who say we ought to find relief in the courts as private citizens. What you don’t seem to get is this: the private polluters will simply oblige the politicians to repeal those laws, as the financial industry has managed to repeal all the laws which would lead us to 2008.

                Then what? How is anyone going to bring a suit when the Clean Air Act has been repealed? You can’t have it both ways.

                Who’s all hot and bothered about pollution here in the USA?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I understand that the Libertarians in China are responsible for the extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Heh. Zhi fu shi guang rong.Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well this libertarian is perfectly OK with regulatory solutions to pollution, especially if you’re counting emissions taxation as a form of regulation.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Of course there are no unregulated free markets in China.
                They don’t exist, anywhere, either now or in the past or future.

                They, along with the pure socialist society, are the perpetual motion machine of politics.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “We have unregulated free markets in China run by technocrats”

              …that’s sort of like saying that you have anarchy run by a hereditary monarchy.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Sadly, no. China’s run by technocrats, all right. They’ve been sending the children of the elites over here to the USA for first-rate educations. They go back to China where they leverage their parents’ connections so they can get into the upper echelons of the bureaucracies. Not the businesses, that’s rather beneath them. The bureaucracies are where the real money is to be made.

                They’re not there to actually regulate: they’re the very worst sort of rent-seeker, the corrupt bureaucrat. The Chinese people call them tai zi dang, literally the Senior Children’s Party. But as usual, in Chinese, there’s always a buried joke in such epithets, tai in its adverb form means gross and excessive and dang means a gang.

                So in a very real sense, these kids are the beneficiaries of nepotism and are forming a new hereditary overlordship. The phrase is quite old, it was first used of the corruption in the late Manchu imperium.

                It’s not anarchic, there’s structure to it. The second generation, that is to say, the post-Deng Xiaoping bureaucrats were somewhat reticent about internal government corruption. The only meaningful administrations were the old Mao-era cadres and they were mostly respectable. As the Deng era arrived, China had been screwed up for so long most of those oldsters had no idea how to set things up on a reasonable basis, they’d been told capitalism was evil for so long, they kept themselves in power, simply to keep things from descending into anarchy, as was the case in the old USSR.

                They figured it this way: if we let capitalism in the door, let’s not abuse the ordinary people in so doing. We’ve read Marx, we know how bad things can get. We’ll have to manage this as best we can. Put up a firewall around Hong Kong, let the people get some money in their pockets, then we can accomplish political reforms, guided by what comes up out of the ground in the meantime: we just don’t know.

                But the Senior Children’s Party, they’re completely shameless. It’s the difference between the old Don Vito Corleone and Sonny. The oldsters, they held onto some veneer of respectability, they loved their kids — but they couldn’t control them. Venal and corrupt themselves, who were they to tell their spoiled children about respectability?

                I wouldn’t give China another decade in its current configuration. China’s already hollowing out. Any advantage they might have had as a cheap labour market is disappearing. Other countries are already eating their lunch.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

                I should add in passing, many of the taizidang do get positions in big corporations. They’re tasked with managing the kickbacks and corruption. It’s not quite featherbedding but it’s awfully close. If the West had any idea of the scope and magnitude of corruption in China, they’d be amazed and horrified. It’s a miracle that poor country can stand upright.

                Marx really did try to warn them about what comes of all this unregulated capitalism. They were taught this stuff since they were children.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’m pretty sure that the libertarian concept of free markets doesn’t include government with sufficient power to be worth corrupting.

                In fact I’m pretty sure it’s exactly the opposite.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Unless your libertarian state is truly tiny (in which case we have bigger problems), I don’t see how this could possibly be true. The Feds do all sorts of things that don’t involve large public expenditures that still have enormous dollars and cents consequences, and are therefore well worth bribing: the rules governing what is and is not permissible treatment of workers, allocating broadband spectrum, monetary policy, stances on culture-war issues like abortion, allocation of police resources…I could go on. Now maybe you’re the sort of Libertarian who wants the state to do none of those things, but if you are then we’re definitely in rainbows and unicorns land already, so why the hell not stipulate that nobody wants to corrupt the government?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Don,

                Well yeah, we tend to believe it was foolish to get government bureaucrats micro managing employer/employee relationships, broadband spectrum, bedroom behavior and such.

                Where we do need rules and regulations, they should be as simple as possible, as consistent as possible and changed infrequently. The path to simple, fair and consistent rules is what libertarians tend to focus on. There are certain approaches which will foster these types of rules, and other processes which lead to destructive, rent seeking “rule wrestling”.

                The range from minimal regulation to total over regulation is extremely grey and wide. It does not require a utopian focus to present arguments for less interference in any given industry or field. Some industries and fields are minimally regulated today. Some are basically socialized. I don’t need to point out how they differ in performance.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Set aside micro-managing for a moment. In your libertarian ideal, does the government regulate the amount of money in circulation? If so, it needs to decide how much is in circulation, which is an awesome power that makes the Feds worth bribing. In your libertarian ideal, does the gov’t enforce patents, copyrights, and other IP? If so, then it has to decide what sorts of things deserve that protection, how extensive the protection is, and how long it lasts. That is, again, an awesome power is well worth bribing somebody to manipulate. In your libertarian ideal, is abortion legal or illegal? Do both pro-life and pro-choice people exist? If so, then you’re going to have contentious political fights about the issue. The bottom line is that a minimal state is no escape from political disagreement and the injection of money into the political system.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Don Zeko says:

                And beyond all that, does your libertarian paradise contain people who would prefer that the gov’t was larger and more intrusive? If so, then it doesn’t matter what the gov’t does or doesn’t do. There’s still money to be made or lost if we leave the status quo, and therefore there’s still money in politics.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Don,

                You are hitting upon interesting issues. First I need to clarify that I am not arguing for a utopian perfection. Do you agree that it is good working toward less rent/privilege seeking as opposed to wishing for absolutely no privilege seeking?

                Let me clarify the difference. In one system we have a set of consistent traffic rules that apply to everyone. In another system we have a traffic cop that determines who has the right of way in every case. The second system is highly corruptible. The first system less so. Neither is perfect.

                The key to rules and regulations is that wherever possible they should apply equally to all. They should be rules which people would accept behind a veil of ignorance about what their particular role in society is. There are lots of ways to bring these types of rules about. One is to require supermajorities for rules. Another is to create competition between rule sets. Another is to try to avoid Rules which determine who wins and loses and instead focus on rules which allow individuals to voluntarily choose whether to participate or not.*

                When we start having thousands of pages of detailed rules and interferences the system is just begging to be infested with rent seekers. Indeed the nature of the game of success shifts from trying to win consumer approval to trying to gain larger rents and privileges. See GM.

                * I suspect some liberals hate this aspect of simple rules. They want to influence outcomes and tip the scales toward their favored groups.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Roger,

                At least at the level of abstraction, I agree. I prefer big, dumb, relatively simple regulations largely established by the legislature to regulatory systems that empower regulators, because I think that the latter is much more easily corrupted. For example, I would much rather have some combination of absolute limits on leverage and splitting up of the big firms than the Dodd-Frank approach to regulating our financial system.

                The problem is that such solutions are often very difficult to put into practice, as big dumb and simple don’t leave much room for legislative logrolling or industry buy-in. So the test is whether we prefer the bastardized version of regulation that emerges from Congress to nothing. Generally speaking I do prefer something over nothing, but there are also a number of relatively small reforms that I think would alleviate the problems of corruption and regulatory capture, like higher salaries for regulators, and a floors-not-ceilings approach to campaign finance.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I guess I prefer nothing. Congress does so much harm that it is better off not doing anything 99% of the time.

                While on vacation I read some interesting debates on how some economists believe we have regulated progress out of many industries. We are still making progress, but it is increasingly coming from the newer, less over regulated industries. Over time these will be corrupted too. When we gum up the system enough, progress will creep to a stand still. If we are lucky, it will re-emerge somewhere else. My take of history is that this pattern has been endemic.

                Progress requires change. Change hurts incumbents, who are well organized and concentrated. They use their power and influence to prevent change and seek unfair privileges. system gums up. People flee to new areas without rent seekers. Progress reappears. This creates succesful incumbents. Repeat…Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Roger,
                those studies you read? they holding out EUROPE as a beacon of hope?
                I know folks in the car industry. Can’t build a damn thing in America without regs in the way. Isn’t that way at all in Europe, where the people who make the laws understand a bit more physics.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

          A law forbids or compels.

          Sometimes a law just allows.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

      I agree with you that not all liberty comes at the expense of the liberty of others but there are plenty of times when the liberty of one can or does conflict with the liberty of another.

      Civil Rights is a good example. On the one hand, you have the rights of minorities to fully participate in the civil and economic life of a country. On the other hand, you have the rights of people to conduct business as they please and hire who they want or serve who they want. There were and are plenty of people who argue against civil rights legislation on the grounds of personal liberty.

      I disagree with this stance. In this case, the better and more moral option is to allow minorities to fully participate in civil and economic life as equals and not be forced into segregation. I don’t think the market would have eventually gotten rid of segregation in private and public facilities. History seems to show that segregation can act as a strong enough force that a business person who wanted to buck the trend would have been driven out of business.

      On a smaller level, there is also the idea of each person having the quiet use and enjoyment of their property. I don’t quite enjoy my apartment as much if I live next to someone who thinks they have a right of liberty to blast Megadeath* in the wee hours of the morning. The same would be true in any suburb where the housing is not as close but not that far from each other either. In this case, nuisance lawsuits are about one person’s liberty trumping another person’s liberty.

      I firmly believe that the Constitution cannot change social prejudice but it can’t stand by it either. The Constitutional option is always for laws that prohibit social prejudice in civil and economic life. Bigots can keep their bigotry in their hearts but they cannot and should not be allowed to operate businesses or anything else in a way that conforms to their prejudices.

      *Or any other music. I do have someone who lives across the street who plays Opera at one or two in the morning every now and then. I live across the street from some kind of assisted living facility. I enjoy the Opera more than Megadeath. At least it allows me to imagine who this old soul is with their opera on at 2 AM.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to NewDealer says:

        The processes you describe are precisely examples of working out the law of equal freedom in practice.

        Note that no business can discriminate on the basis of anyone’s race anymore. That’s not maximally at liberty, to be sure, but one can’t say it’s unequal. The day may come when these laws are unnecessary, but I don’t expect to see it myself.

        Nuisance laws are similar; a freedom that imposes costs on others is supposed to be curtailed. That’s the whole idea. In this situation, unequal (but maximal) freedom is had by the principle “Everyone plays whatever they feel like, and the person who wants quiet is out of luck.” But this puts the person who wants quiet in an unequal position with regard to everyone else. A law of equal freedom tailored to this question might run, “Everyone plays whatever they feel like, just not so loud that others are disturbed by it.”

        It’s not maximal freedom, but it’s a lot of freedom, and it’s certainly equal.Report

  5. Avatar Murali says:

    As a matter of philosophy, of rhetoric, of ethics, of politics, of political economy, and so much more…Konczal’s got it exactly right

    Actually, no he doesn’t. His position is either basically incoherent or so radically revisionist that we might as well say that he doesnt believe in rights.

    Why should we imagine ourselves away from our current context in order to set the rules for settling problems within that context?

    The short answer is that the initial situation models various aspects of a free-standing conception of justice. As a free-standing conception of justice, there is a sense in which it provides a value neutral frame of reference from which we can decide which rights we ought to have.

    So sometimes, rhetorical questions are just that: rhetoric. They don’t actually move the argument along.Report

  6. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    The basic problem with this idea is that trust in public institutions is lower than it’s ever been. An argument that says “Hey, we’re all working together, and the government has a role to play in the maintenance of a prosperous society” is going to ring pretty hollow these days.

    This is the 2010s, not the 1930s. In the 1930s, the government wasn’t doing much, and there weren’t all that many regulations in place. So coming along and saying “Hey, the government needs to step in and do a lot of this stuff” had a certain cogency. Trust in public institutions was also a lot higher than it is now.

    But today, the government is more intrusive than it’s ever been, and there are plenty of regulations on the books. Regulations which, if enforced, would have prevented a lot of the problems we’re now facing if it weren’t for cronyism, political incentives, and outright corruption. So instead of “Hey, they screwed it up, give us a shot,” it’s “Hey, we promise we’ll do better this time.”

    That’s gonna be a tough sell.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      Heh. Are you saying there ought to be regulations against Cronyism, Political Incentives and Outright Corruption? If government were anywhere near intrusive enough we might have such regulations. That we do not yet have such Government Intrusions, that our government is essentially for sale to the highest bidder, should serve as a great comfort to the Libertarians and all who complain of such intrusions. Remedies for this Intrusion Problem are for sale.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      I’d hazard a guess that political corruption and cronyism were more widespread in yesteryear, with a smaller impact on individual occurrences.

      Nowadays you get fewer of them, but they’re for big money.Report

  7. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    the question over social control of property, as Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse put it, is “not of increasing or diminishing, but of reorganizing, restraints.”

    Can you say that with a straight face to Suzette Kelo?Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    And while you’re at it, can you take a look at this?

    When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

    As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.”

    If your thesis is correct, and if all we are doing is reorganizing restraints in a liberty-neutral manner, why shouldn’t we prefer restraints that (1) isolate smart, well-educated, thin, tasteful people like ourselves and (2) give us a higher net worth and (3) make it harder for poor fat slobs at the bottom to make their way up?

    Seems like those are good choices, from a purely self-interested standpoint. What do you say, Conor, shall we support our current land use regulations? If not, why not? If it’s really a matter indifferent, as regards individual liberty, then you and I ought to opt for self-interest and for keeping the poor held down.

    That’s not, however, the position of my colleague at the Cato Institute, Randal O’Toole, who actually cares about individual liberty. (Why? Oh, I dunno. Individual liberty is an antiquated idea not worth bothering about in this progressive age.)Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Why not, indeed? When it comes to lopping the tops off mountains and filling the creeks with mercury, there are no greater friends of Liberty to do so than our friends the Libertarians.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

        When it comes to changing the subject, there are no greater friends than BlaiseP.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Says the guy who drags Suzette Kelo in here, heh heh.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

            If we are trying to make regulation seem infinitely benign and merely a question of taste, why not start at the hard cases?Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Sure, a strip mine here, a strip mine there… pretty soon we might be talking about actual side effects of privatisation.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                So long as we conveniently forget that libertarians seek to eliminate externalities through privatization. Give me water rights to that stream, and I’ve got both an incentive to fight the miners tooth and nail and a stronger legal foundation than currently exists.

                You’re thinking the privatization only halfway through–you would privatize the resource that results in harm, but not the resource that is harmed. I’m not sure why you think that’s libertarian logic.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                While we’re dreaming, can I have a pony?Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Are you a brony?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                The physics of a stream say the rain fell on the strip mine first and thus remains the property of the strip mine operator. So much for that specious line of rhetoric.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Talk about specious….do you actually believe water law is based primarily on physics? Really?

                There are various ways to legally define water rights. We can define it as a certain quantity that X will receive before Y can receive, we can define it as riparian rights, and we can certainly define it as being of a certain minimum quality. Some streams in Britain have (or at least used to) private fishing rights, held by fishing clubs, which could easily include a right to enjoy fish not tainted by mercury.

                Your logic, however…well, it’s a an approach the law could take, but not even remotely an approach the law must take. For one thing it directly conflicts with the common law principles of trespass and negligence. E.g.,

                Trespass requires proof that a polluter intentionally or knowingly contaminated a particular course of water. Yet, water contamination often results from unintentional behavior, such as industrial accidents. In such instances, the polluter may be liable under common-law principles of negligence…. Thus, a landowner whose water supply was inadvertently contaminated might bring a successful lawsuit against the polluter for common-law negligence where a lawsuit for nuisance or trespass would fail.

                Next time you want to try the ol’ smack down on me, you might want to make sure you know your ass from your elbow first.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Various ways, eh? The rain that falls upon the just falls also upon the unjust, upon the strip mine and Suzette Kelo’s erstwhile and much-lamented property and it all seems to follow the laws of gravity and hydrology.

                Yes, James, I am talking about Specious. If we are to take the Libertarian seriously, and I see absolutely no reason to do so at this point of the discussion we will either take up the notion of public externalities from private concerns or we will not. The progressives are greatly concerned about this topic and every time we prod the Libertarians to some valid response to our complaints, all we get out of you lot is a whole lot of shit flinging and Market Based Solutions.

                Our government is for sale. That’s beyond dispute. We already live in your paradise, James. We who call ourselves progressives believe government must be reformed, that public good trumps private money. But let anyone say such a thing, we may count on the Libertarians to snarl and bark. You are toothless dogs and we do not fear you. We fear your corporate masters more, whose causes you serve.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                While this all has a certain theoretical attraction, I don’t think that Libertarians as a group are either willing to or capable of delivering this, as they are a small group that only tends to be successful when their project aligns with the interests of industry and the Republican Party. So when we talk about Coase and enforcing these rights through private torts, we’re talking about what Utopia looks like. I don’t care about Utopia, our water and air are being poisoned now. So get me some government and get it quick.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                In other words, Blaise, you’ve got no defense of your erroneous claim about water law? Just lots of hand-waving rhetoric that doesn’t actually say anything?

                Our government is for sale. That’s beyond dispute. We already live in your paradise, James.

                $100 to your favorite charity if you can show me that libertarians include the sale of government to the highest bidder in their description of paradise. I know you get mildly irritated when I point out that you don’t know much about libertarianism, but, you know, you kind of demonstrate the point over and over again.

                Again, it’s that whole ass and elbow business. I recommend it.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                So when we talk about Coase and enforcing these rights through private torts, we’re talking about what Utopia looks like.

                No, Don, these types of cases happen in the real world. Right now.

                Now I’m not arguing that the tort approach solves all problems, that the good guys always win, that it’s the only way to go, or that we should eliminate all statutes and regulations about the issue. I’m not making any such argument here. All I was doing was pointing out that Blaise was, first, wrong about what libertarians propose, and second, wrong about how water law works. Not making a big grand argument about what should be, just correcting a guy who loves to yap about things he knows jack all about. No more, no less.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                If I’ve got anything to say, I’ll say it and you can quit putting words in my mouth, Hanley. As for Libertarians in the business of selling government to the highest bidder, who said this?

                Take a look at the state of Nevada. Do the people own the property in Nevada? No. Who’s the biggest landowner? It’s the federal government. I would like to see the development of this state the way that Texas had the privilege of developing. Before we went in the Union, it was owned entirely by private owners and it has developed all the natural resources, a very big state. So you can imagine how wonderful it would be if land will be or should be returned to the states and then for the best parts sold off to private owners.

                You may make the check out to American Red Cross.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                The fact that certain types of water rights are already enforced through private torts hardly implies that private torts is a realistic or effective way to deal with water rights writ large, fisheries, air pollution, etc., much less that it’s realistic to expect such a legal regime to exist any time soon.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                If I’ve got anything to say, I’ll say it and you can quit putting words in my mouth, Hanley.

                What words did I put in your mouth? Seriously, point them out. Be specific.

                “As for Libertarians in the business of selling government to the highest bidder, who said this?”
                Take a look at the state of Nevada. Do the people own the property in Nevada? No. Who’s the biggest landowner? It’s the federal government. I would like to see the development of this state the way that Texas had the privilege of developing. Before we went in the Union, it was owned entirely by private owners and it has developed all the natural resources, a very big state. So you can imagine how wonderful it would be if land will be or should be returned to the states and then for the best parts sold off to private owners.

                You’re seriously arguing that selling public land is the same as selling government? Are you serious?

                My town right now is trying to sell off some easements it has that it no longer makes use of. Very small bits of real estate, some only a couple hundred square feet. They’re contacting the adjacent land-owners and asking if they want to buy them for a pittance. I had no idea my town was actually selling its government.

                Come on, don’t pile stupidity on top of stupidity. Setting aside any argument for or against the federal government selling off parts of, say, the Inyo National Forest in Nevada, doing so wouldn’t give the purchasers any greater hold on government.

                Three errors in a row. I don’t suppose you happen to remember the first rule of holes?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Don,

                Please re-read my comment. I wasn’t making that argument. I was just explaining why Blaise’s belief that physics dictates ownership of water (“The physics of a stream say the rain fell on the strip mine first and thus remains the property of the strip mine operator.) was wrong. I’m not going to engage in the argument you’re having, not because I’m uninterested, but because it’s just the wrong thread for it.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

                > Talk about specious….do you actually believe
                > water law is based primarily on physics?

                I believe that water law – in practice – is operationalized largely on who can hire the more better (read: expensive) lawyers.

                There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but riddle me this, James:

                In civil court, the legal standard is preponderance of evidence, right?

                So, let’s say someone studies 10,000 civil court cases. How often do you expect the person who spends the most money on legal defense wins? More than half, less, or about that?

                What about a case of “plaintiff has spend two orders of magnitude more than “defense” – Much more than half?

                Are the people who can afford more expensive law firms really in the right that much more often than those who cannot?

                (disclaimer: I have not done this study, I don’t know that anyone has, but now I’m very, very curious. I fully admit that I have a very high degree of confidence on the outcome, which is either an indicator that I’m right, or I’m very biased).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                I didn’t make the terms of the bet, Hanley. Pay up or be a welcher. Your choice.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                What in the world are you talking about, Blaise? You haven’t shown that libertarians favor the sale of government. You’ve only shown they favor the sale of some government assets.

                Maybe you aren’t aware of it, but governments sell off assets all the damn time! The Feds even have a website for it. If I buy a truck from Idaho National Labs, do I own more government than you?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Patrick,

                That’s part of it, but not all of it. That approach isn’t sufficient to explain why water law varies in different places. It’s a complex area of law and I can’t really do it justice (even given the space, I couldn’t do it justice). All I really know is that the lawyers, judges, bureaucrats and legislators aren’t constrained by physics in quite the way that was suggested.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                The sale of old vehicles hardly helps your cause, James. That’s only more chalk on my side of the board. The government also sells timber off its lands, to the highest bidder, natch, grazing rights, too. I believe the terms of the bet were as follows:

                $100 to your favorite charity if you can show me that libertarians include the sale of government to the highest bidder in their description of paradise.

                Now I furnished a Ron Paul quote to that exact effect, a noted Libertarian whose express wish is to sell public lands to the highest bidder. A hundred dollars won’t kill you, Hanley.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

                It’s funny, if Blaise had cited David Friedman on medieval Iceland or similar, I might have said he had won his bet.

                But I’ll remember the principle: Any time the government sells off public land, that means it’s selling off the government.

                Perhaps we should return all land to the feds, the better to live without government control?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                $100 to your favorite charity if you can show me that libertarians include the sale of government to the highest bidder in their description of paradise.

                Does the libertarian argument for “denationalizing public roads” count?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Medieval Iceland be damned. I’ll expect notification of Hanley’s donation within 24 hours.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to James Hanley says:

                Medieval Iceland be damned. I’ll expect notification of Hanley’s donation within 24 hours.

                Sure. And I’m going to donate my house to the state of Maryland. Because I didn’t realize that my ownership of it was “privatizing the government.”Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

                I have to say that this is utterly typical of BlaiseP. The argument isn’t working, so trot out some realtalk war-story, throw in a dash of “just ask me I’ve seen it all”, and then tell everyone who disagrees that they Just Don’t Understand How Things Really Work.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Go home Duck. You’re drunk. And when you get drunk, you get nasty. And when you get nasty, I can’t resist teasing you. Which isn’t good for the decorum of this joint. Because it always ends up with you yelling something like “BlaiseP is a Poo Poo Head! The P stands for Poo Poo!”

                It’s never about the points I make after a while around here. Now I’ve trapped poor Hanley, whose mouth has outrun his ass, as it always does, and now I am going to torment him a while because I know he’s not going to pay up. And calling me a Poo Poo Head will only frost my cupcake all the more.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Blaise,

                When the government sells off assets, be it an old warehouse, timber, or public lands, those assets are no longer government. The new owner has no ownership rights over government.

                When the government sells itself, the buyer has ownership rights over government itself; the buyer has control–or at least excessive influence–over subsequent public policy.

                Now, I think any reasonable minded person would call the second example “selling government,” even if we’re not talking about a true sale, but just traditional bribery. I think any reasonable minded person would not call the first example “selling government.” So you seem to think you’ve trapped me, but you really only seemed to be trapped in the tarpit of your own bungled logic.

                Now here’s the deal on the deal. You don’t get to single-handedly determine that you’ve won; nor do I get to single-handedly determine that you haven’t. As Hobbes said, “No man can be judge to his own cause.” Now if you can get one of the principles here at the League, someone with a title like editor or manager (I believe that will include Erik and Mark, at least, and I don’t know who else), to agree with you that selling public lands equates to selling government, the check will be on its way in the next day’s mail.

                Ball’s in your court.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Went to the county fair, watched daughter number 2 compete in the quiz bowl finals, nearly succumbed to the excessive heat, came home, ate dinner, still waiting.Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                James,

                Have you ever read Peter Barnes’ Capitalism 3.0? It lays out a way to do exactly that. His solution is quasi-market based utilizing legal trusts as owners/managers of commons such as rivers. Free download; interesting read.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              When we were discussing gun control, hard cases made bad law. And, regardless of how much you disapprove of Kelo, worse things happen every single day than people being forced to sell property but getting full value for it.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Oh, Mike, you poor benighted soul. If a fracking operation pushes coal oil and mercury into the water table, well, the market as always will solve that problem. Buy Dasani water.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t see how the community potentially affected saying “this is OUR water, foul it & you’ve got hell comin'” is somehow incompatible with libertarianism as a whole or a property rights emphasis in particular.

                They shouldn’t have to buy water, they own some by location and their right to keep it clean should be recognized. The problem is that it’s not, because politically their property rights are outweighed by how much money there is to be made by ignoring them.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to b-psycho says:

                True.

                They’re getting ignored by the polluter and the government, though.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to b-psycho says:

                Well, whose water is it? Water rights are hotly contested and they are for sale. Phoenix went far and wide to purchase those rights to fill ten thousand swimming pools in that concrete frying pan. It’s surreal, to be sure, but rest easy, Libertarian friends, it’s a problem the market solved. The market solves every problem. It’s just a question of money and power. You haven’t lived until you’ve dived into 47,000 gallons of snowmelt in the heart of the desert.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Natural resources are rightfully, primarily, the common property of the people in the area. The current operating assumption that since one person does not own them as defined by government documentation nobody owns them and they can be spoiled at will is an injustice.Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to b-psycho says:

                You should see what happens out in the rural areas. Commercial confinement hog operations that dump gobs of nitrates in the water table (not to mention a stench that befouls the air for miles, literally). I’ve seen the water supply of many a small town ruined that way and the state legislature is so in the pocket of the commercial ag operations that nobody can do squat about it.

                Right now we have that exact situation where I live. The nitrate level is high enough that vulnerable persons (infants, pregnant females, that sort of thing) are strongly advised to drink bottled water or install reverse osmosis filters. So now I’m waiting for the local hog farmers to pony up for my whole house water filtration system.

                Waiting… still waiting…Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Rod says:

                Oh, I’ve heard about those…

                Isn’t it amazing how much garbage we tolerate in the name of sacrificing to the almighty sprawling agribiz gods? Health, food quality…bah!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rod says:

                Out here, there’s a movement afoot to generate methane from hog and cattle operations. That stink is worth good money if you can compress it and put it in a tank.

                Aunty Entity: We call it Underworld. That’s where Bartertown gets its energy.
                Max: What, oil? Natural gas?
                Aunty Entity: Pigs.
                Max: You mean pigs like those?
                Aunty Entity: That’s right.
                Max: Bullshit!
                Aunty Entity: No. Pig shit.
                Max: What?
                The Collector: Pig shit. The lights, the motors, the vehicles, all run by a high-powered gas called methane. And methane cometh from pig shit.
                Report

    • Avatar david in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Surely there are rubrics besides “accord with individual liberty” to distinguish between different land-use regulatory regimes.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to david says:

        Sure, there’s the inequality rubric, which Jason explicitly mentions.Report

        • Avatar david in reply to James Hanley says:

          So we can answer his question with “because those set of restraints are not inequality-reducing?”Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to david says:

            The evidence suggests that restrictions on housing increase inequality.

            A scholar of land use at the Cato Institute suggests getting rid of them. Why? Both individual liberty and greater economic equality and mobility.

            Here’s where progressives have to make a difficult choice:

            1. Side with the Evil League of Evil, and agree.
            2. Allow the regulations to stay in place, while waving the hands about and insisting that one regulation is as good as any other, and because individual liberty is a myth.
            3. Change the subject.

            So far, I’ve seen a lot of (3).Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Where exactly are you talking to Liberals that have some great ideological attachment to land use regulations? I suspect if we were to actually reform these things I’d decide that we’ve done enough and get off the bus before you do, but as the world is now I certainly agree that lots of land use regulations are actively harmful to inequality, economic growth, the environment, etc. and ought to be reformed/abolished. Oh, and all of that goes double for the real low-hanging fruit, like DC’s building height limits, minimum parking requirements in cities, and so on.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I’m talking to Conor, who seems to have concluded that there is no real difference in various coercive regimes, as regards his desiderata of economic equality and/or mobility.

                It would be great to see him admit that these regulations (at the very least) matter, that getting rid of them would help, and that doing so can also be accurately depicted as an increase in individual liberty.

                I’ve long been on record as agreeing that all government requires some coercion. The question is indeed how we distribute it. But the answer matters, both in terms of economic outcomes and in terms of how we should or should not treat our fellow man. It’s not merely an artful rearrangement of stuff, conducted by disinterested technocrats.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Well sure, different configurations of regulations are more or less compatible with human freedom and welfare. Without presuming to speak for Conor, I don’t think that he’s arguing that. But the point that I think he’s making (and if he’s not, I’ll make it for myself) is that you can’t jump from that truism to the assumption that more regulation leads to less freedom/welfare and vice versa. I get that a lot of folks on this site are philosophically inclined than I, and therefore aren’t satisfied with this, but I see no better guidepost here than regulations with good effects are good, but regulations with bad effects are bad. The decision-making is all on the empirical side.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Well sure, different configurations of regulations are more or less compatible with human freedom and welfare… But the point that I think he’s making (and if he’s not, I’ll make it for myself) is that you can’t jump from that truism to the assumption that more regulation leads to less freedom/welfare and vice versa.

                I would love to agree with you, if only people would stop telling me what I simply must believe (because I am a libertarian). Some regulations should very definitely exist, but a whole lot of them are just pushing wealth to the already wealthy. Why? Because they can afford to get the regulations written in the way they want.

                Can we agree on that? Great. Now let’s look at our regulations and start sorting them out. (Please?)Report

              • Avatar Rod in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Deal. Now we just have to get the people who actually make these decisions to listen.Report

              • “I’m talking to Conor, who seems to have concluded that there is no real difference in various coercive regimes, as regards his desiderata of economic equality and/or mobility.”

                I haven’t seen Conor say this, although perhaps I’ve missed it.

                It would, however, strike me as more collegial, not to mention charitable, to note that the logical implications of what Conor is saying leads one to believe there is no real difference in various coercive regimes rather than to assert outright that he “seems to have concluded” this. Even so, he seems to embed what he’s talking about in current practices that what he says strikes me as almost radically *insisting* that different coercive regimes are different as regards the desiderate you refer to.

                I’m harping on this in part because that’s what I do, but also because think it represents a certain question-begging use of the word “liberty” that I think libertarians sometimes fall prey to. I’m talking about uses of the word “liberty” where it’s already assume we agree on what we mean by liberty. So, for example,

                That’s not, however, the position of my colleague at the Cato Institute, Randal O’Toole, who actually cares about individual liberty. (Why? Oh, I dunno. Individual liberty is an antiquated idea not worth bothering about in this progressive age.)

                I see Conor as saying that the liberty he’s talking about is something embedded in current practices and is not easily abstracted into something independent and autonomous of those practices. You might disagree that that’s the right way to look at or define “liberty,” but it appears (to me) to be what he’s getting at, when he says, for example,

                It [the Left] needs to argue that markets rest upon these public goods, and that individual economic success depends upon the fabric of community life.

                and

                As I’ve argued before, rights take their effective meaning from the actual degree of freedom that they make possible—NOT from their correspondence to some pre-ordained order of things or the “natural” constitution of human beings.

                Again, like Don Zeko, I can’t speak for Conor, but that is how I’m reading his post.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                I’m harping on this in part because that’s what I do, but also because think it represents a certain question-begging use of the word “liberty” that I think libertarians sometimes fall prey to.

                This is one of the areas I think liberal criticism of libertarians is justified. It’s also where the libertarian rejoinder against liberals has merit as well. In short, there are many ambiguous and inconsistent meanings of the term “liberty” which can be employed in any given argument.

                Here’s a few: “Liberty” can be defined as: 1) absence of state power to constrain individual actions; 2) absence of any constraint on individual action; 3) absence of constraint on any action which entails no direct harm to others; 4) absence of constraint on any action which entails a direct or indirect harm to others; 5) the maximal set of mutually agreed upon individual actions which cause no harm to others, 6) any action mutually agreed upon by two parties even if it causes harms to one of them…

                Often these definitions are used ambiguously by all parties within and across the various discussions we all find ourselves participating in, but what constitutes a harm also requires disambiguation, which in practice is no easy task. For example, in a debate about a single issue, it seems to me that a a conservative, a libertarian and a liberal will appeal to different conceptions liberty, each will presuppose a different conception of what constitutes a legitimate harm.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

                A very insightful comment.

                I would define coercion first, and as follows: In the context of a social order that otherwise commands our assent, coercion is that which defeats the will without convincing the intellect. Examples may include the use of violence, stealth, or trickery, as all may achieve the purpose.

                Liberty is the absence of coercion. In a maximally free society, everyone would have liberty to do all things that were not themselves coercive. The only time a justified coercion could be deployed would be against those who had initiated an unjustified coercion. The killer or the thief is not at liberty, nor should he be. Why not? Because the rest of us deserve to be, and he doesn’t.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Stillwater says:

                That’s a broader definition of coercion than I expected from you, Jason. It would cover – for example – the creatively concealed charges some banks rely on, or some of the trickery employed by timeshare and home improvement salesman, since in these cases every effort is made by one party to conceal the terms of the deal from the other, short of completely failing to disclose them. Do you support regulations designed to reduce the incidence of these kinds of stunts? If not, why not, since they qualify as coercion?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well, I don’t know. I would want to look at them on a case by case basis.

                On the one hand: When I signed our mortgage, I made sure I understood what I was signing. I made sure we could afford it, both now and in the future, without having to rely on any refinancing. I made sure I wasn’t behaving irresponsibly. We have had a few financial ups and downs, but we have never missed a payment. Never even been close.

                When I point this out, I get a very condescending response — I’m told that almost no one else has the ability to do what I just did.

                Which I think is nonsense. Banks were certainly to blame for the financial crisis, but so were many consumers, who thought they could get something for nothing. Or who just didn’t think (or read) at all.

                On the other hand: I’ve read that a typical user would need more than year to read all the online privacy agreements that he or she signs in a year. That’s wrong, and obviously it can’t work out to the consumers’ good in the long term.

                So, case-by-case.Report

              • I’m not a libertarian, and I am anyway sympathetic to regulations that govern disclosure requirements. I like the idea, in principle, that says if a bank is going to advertise a “free checking” account, then that account has to have certain features, like no annual or monthly fee or no minimum balance requirement. I can imagine drawbacks, however, if the requirements are so few, for example, that “free checking” means virtually nothing.

                I tend to agree with Jason about whether something is coercion depends on a case by case basis. Coercion might have to do with how sophisticated the person entering the contract is, how vital the contract is for everyday living, and the circumstances under which the contract is offered.

                Example of potential coercion: I once visited a gym–I’ll call it “23 1/2 Hr. Fitness,” but that’s not its real name–and the tactics they used were so high pressure, that I almost signed a multi-year contract even though I knew I didn’t want one. In fact, I was saved because they didn’t have an “account rep” (or whatever they called it) available. I did surrender my phone number, and for a week afterward, they kept calling to “finalize the deal.”

                Was that coercion? In some it wasn’t because it’s a free country and nobody was holding me prisoner there while they made the sales pitch. In other ways, it was, because I have a very suggestible personality and don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, and I think the 23 1/2 Hr. Fitness people intuitive knew that–or knew I was vulnerable in some way–and were trying to profit from it.

                The solution? I’m not sure. In that case, I’d like a law that allows the customer to bow out of the contract after a certain–preferably longer than shorter–period of time. Maybe such laws are already in place.

                In general, I would recommend more disclosure and more protections for the less sophisticated participant in a transaction.

                Even in Jason’s case with his mortgage, he read what he was doing carefully, but I bet he had to at least initial if not every page, then at least every page that contained something new. In other words, the process is at least slowed down so the signer has a chance to read or at least ask “what am I signing here.” I also can imagine situations where the lender is so intent on getting the sale, he or she puts a lot of pressure on the person to sign right there and then.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Where exactly are you talking to Liberals that have some great ideological attachment to land use regulations?

                Go west, young man! Take a walk through, say, Portland, Oregon, wave your hand to get attention, ask if there are any liberals around (there will be), then say, “Land use regulations suck!” Duck and cover.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                Perhaps that’s my problem. Here on the east coast, I associate them with NIMBY-ism and naked rent-seeking, not liberalism.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I’m less familiar with that coast. I hear some people really like it, but I haven’t figured out why. 😉Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

                I’m guessing you need to go farther south (just not too far). The Upper South is where it’s at.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Actually, Don, if I ever move again, it’s going to be both north and west.Report

            • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Back when I was a conservative I would criticize land use regulations on the grounds that they are toothless; Look, I would say, at Los Angeles versus Houston.
              LA has a 3 inch thick zoning code that covers every conceivable measure of a building’s envelope; Houston until recently had no zoning code at all.

              Yet the 2 cities are remarkably alike in their physical form, layout, and operation.

              For all the rending of garments over land use restrictions, the use of land is, as always, driven primarily by market forces.
              When regulations limit density to less than market will bear, in almost every case, the city modifies the regulation.

              I have yet to see a sollid case that eliminating land use restrictions would increase the housing stock in any significant way.
              I would also point out that even homebuilder lobby groups like the NAHB are not terribly interested in making any more than modest changes to them.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Liberty60 says:

                I think that there has to be a reasonable balance between preventing too much NIMBYism and also addressing valid concerns for historic preservation and such. A distinct architectural style adds economic and/or psychic benefit to a community. San Francisco has the Edwardians. Brooklyn has the brownstone, etc.

                Everyone talks about how San Francisco is the home of too much NIMBYism but I don’t have any concrete (pun intended) evidence on whether this is true or not. There does seem to be plenty of construction going on but there is also places that have been boarded up for years with no sign of sale or development. There is a theatre a few blocks from my apartment that has been unused for about a decade or so, maybe more.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to david says:

            Which question?Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We’ve heard this song before, though, haven’t we? This is a cover tune, not an original.

    Do you really think you can stop singing the song before you get to the next verse where it’s pointed out that we’ve asked too little from those receiving our charity for too long?

    “Oh, you’re beating up a strawman!”, I hear.

    Really?

    We’ve sung this song before, Conor. We’re getting ready for the chord change in Europe. I’d ask that you pay attention to what happens next.Report

    • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jaybird says:

      I open with a deuce of snark-
      You are correct Jaybird, in that we have asked far too little of the Wall Street banks who have received our charity; less even than we have asked of the military contractors who have repeatedly defrauded us while gouging us on prices.

      Then lay down a queen of sincerity-
      Can I assume you are actually speaking of the classic “welfare” recipients? Food stamps, and the like?
      In truth, there’s nothing unfair about asking them to help with their own support. But then we would be having a micro discussion about the specific rules and regulations of SNAP or TANF, about eligibility and levels of support.

      But that might be a bit off topic.Report

  10. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The “you didn’t build that” line serves as a line in the sand for Obama, who at last is beginning to exhibit some testicular fortitude. Romney’s campaign went for it, hook, line and sinker. Obama is a great tease.

    If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.

    The Conservatives and Tea Partiers are of choleric temper. Their every utterance is a fart of outrage. They have no message. All they offer is a litany of complaints: solutions beyond them, they say they’ll fix things.

    Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town. Some in rags and some in tags and some in velvet gowns.

    Conservatives hate government because their entire constituency is composed of greedy panhandlers. If the constituency is beggars in velvet gowns, any honest man would want to reduce handouts. But that’s all they have, the Conservatives. It’s not like Conservatives don’t have charitable instincts, they do. They know who gets Gummint Cheeze and it ain’t the beggars in rags and tags.

    Forget freedom. Freedom is beside the point. Government is about money and power over it and who gets that money and who doesn’t. Economic Liberty is a contradiction in terms for effective regulation and sound money lies at the heart of a sound economy.

    If the Conservatives are for smaller government, who can blame them? Government doesn’t operate for the ordinary people any more. The tide of PAC-generated sewage rising through the grates and overflowing the gutters should tell us all it’s not about freedom any more. It’s about power and money. Solve the problem of money in politics and the rest will take care of itself. For once the politicians are at liberty to do their jobs, freed from the tyranny of constant campaigning and wheedling and begging for the millions of dollars required to stay in office, we shall see some honest politicians doing a day’s work, and not one day before then.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

      You think that the “we have a lien on your liberty because of all of the infrastructure we’ve provided you” is a genie that will go back in the bottle when it’s done making the tea party into better people?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Nah. There never was a djinn and there never was a bottle. The only part of that metaphor which still holds is that government grants wishes. Now, is it “The” Government or is it “Our” Government? We vote these guys into office, their mandate derives from us, if my old civics teacher was correct. But maybe she wasn’t. Maybe the politicians’ mandate derives from the people who funded their election campaigns.

        Lien on your Liberty. Eet eez to larf. If your liberties are to be any more than a vacation at the Anatole France Park Bench Resort, (though come to think of it, that park bench and the park itself might make a Libertarian unhappy, he’d solve that problem by privatising the park) it will be OUR government which protects them. We may safely discount the Panglosses who tell us about how we would all be better off if only that pesky old government would lay off the polluters.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

          There would be much more efficient use of the space under bridges if they were privatized.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Well, that would be up to our friends the Libertarians to work out: it’s their paradise. The homeless are so unsightly, I think you’d agree. Maybe we could do what we did with those pestiferous Injuns and send ’em off to some howling desert landscape. But that wouldn’t work, either, since that land would be privatised, too.

            Maybe we could just sell ’em. There’s a market-based solution for yez.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

              We’re not headed anywhere near that direction. I’d say that we’re much closer to a “look at all of the infrastructure we’ve provided for you, all of the help we’ve given you, all of the food we’ve fed you… and you haven’t made more of yourself?!?” speech given by someone in power.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh, I dunno. The current rhetoric, the stuff I’m actually hearing sounds like this:

                Dependency is death to initiative, to risk-taking and opportunity. It’s time to stop the spread of government dependency and fight it like the poison it is.

                That’s a noble sentiment. Doesn’t sound like what’s in quotes above. Not at all.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                The parable of the talents is a popular one.Report

  11. Why should we project ourselves into a pre-political (or extra-political, or supra-political, depending on the case) realm in order to determine the content of our political rights and institutions? Why should we imagine ourselves away from our current context in order to set the rules for settling problems within that context? Egregious use of rhetorical questions? How many of these can I use in a sequence before it’s no longer moving the argument along?

    I’m not sure I fully buy into this statement, because I think it can be useful to look at the extra-political. But in general, I tire very quickly of appeals to the extra- or pre-political.Report

  12. Phew. Didn’t expect anywhere near this sort of response. Sorry that I don’t have time to engage. One thing I’d like to note, though: it’s one thing to dismiss pre-political rights talk as nonsense, and quite another to dismiss any hope of making any political judgments at all.

    If the foregoing is any indication, that oughta be good for a few dozen more arguments. Have a blast, everyone.Report

    • Conor, I’m glad to see you and the Left [incl President Obama*] openly repudiate America’s founding principles, that “pre-political rights talk [is] nonsense.”

      The first pre-political assertion is that all men are created equal, and this nation is dedicated to that proposition. Rights talk flows from there, as does the first political question, by what right does one man rule another?

      Or in the case of a constitutional democratic republic, just how much does the 51% rule the other 49?

      So quote your Konczal, Gopnik, and Dewey [and Obama], cede your claim to the American Founders as honestly as you do here, and we can indeed discuss the future and need not “dismiss any hope of making any political judgments at all.”

      On the contrary. Except in a few arguable spots, the Constitution doesn’t bind us to the Founders’ vision of the good society, and does not bar us from embracing Dewey’s or Rawls, or Konczal’s or Conor P. Williams’.

      Go for it. If America follows, let it be with eyes wide open, is all I’ve ever had to say. I think most of us don’t quite understand the foundations we might be turning our backs on, and explications of modern liberalism like yours is just what we need to appreciate them.
      ______________
      * According to the title of your post here, and I quite agree.Report

  13. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    If the Left is ever going to reassert a “moral vision” for the country, it needs to strenuously make the case that public institutions help to guarantee a prosperous common life for individual citizens. It needs to argue that markets rest upon these public goods, and that individual economic success depends upon the fabric of community life.

    In the prior post on the “wonky left,” the blogger argued in favor of a moral vision, but mainly focused on the left’s not having much of one. He managed a few generalities on “moral principles like freedom, justice, equality, and prosperity.” It’s an odd group of four, both for what it leaves out and for what it contains. This post makes Moral Principle #4 stand out even more. How did “prosperity” become a “moral principle”? Generally speaking, striving after prosperity as though it could be a “moral principle” has often been taken as among the deadliest sins, or clearest signs of moral abasement. In the quoted paragraph, even the notion of any other moral goals has all but disappeared. There is only an even more reductively bourgeois economic vision, an obsession with prosperity, markets, economic success for “individuals,” as though the purpose of a decent community or human life at all is increased income, rather than the other way around. This isn’t even a losing argument. It’s an argument of the already lost, of someone setting out to sell his “moral vision” on the grounds that it’s a moneymaker. Whether it’s got Americans right for all intents and purposes is another question. One might hope not, though it’s clearly the assumption of, say, the vast majority of political pundits.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      In the quoted paragraph, even the notion of any other moral goals has all but disappeared. There is only an even more reductively bourgeois economic vision, an obsession with prosperity, markets, economic success for “individuals,” as though the purpose of a decent community or human life at all is increased income, rather than the other way around

      You’re making vague rhetorical guestures here. You’ve made similar guestures in the past towards the goodness of community etc. It would be kind of cool if you could do a gust post or for that matter a lengthy reply on what your positive views are: What are you axiological commitments and how do they relate to your policy preferences?*

      BTW, saying that general prosperity is an important consideration when designing economic institutions does not amount to saying that money is more valuable than having a decent life. There are other more charitable assumptions that could be made.

      *Yes: this is me more or less saying put up or shut up. Putting up pseudo arguments that do not actually amount to a decisive criticism of neoliberalism gets tiresome very quickly.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Murali says:

        if you could do a gust post

        I’d prefer it not be too breezy, myself.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali says:

        Murali,

        …nor would conceding that “general prosperity is an important consideration…” amount to calling it a “moral principle.” The questions might be what the moral principles underlying that consideration are, and what we could or should do with them once we know them.

        As for the invitation to put forward my positive views, or to enunciate my axiological commitments in relation to my policy preferences, in a post or lengthy reply, I’d frankly be concerned about holding the attention even of any LOOGers who, unlike you and other gentlepersons of good judgment, may not already find my pseudo-arguments too tiresome. Count me generally opposed to giving prominence to tiresome pseudo-arguers. In this specific instance, I’m not sure that I could hold even my own attention on what you seem to have in mind: a manifesto of CKMacLeodianism, or the CK MacLeod Party Platform, or CK’s Sermon on the Virtual Mount. Maybe if I had a model to work from… Can you point perhaps to other posts in which authors or guest authors have successfully – interestingly, excitingly – enunciated and explained their axiological commitments as such in relation to their policy preferences?

        I am more intrigued by the notion of authentic arguments actually amounting to a decisive criticism of neoliberalism, though I’m left to wonder what and for whom those authentic arguments would be expected to decide. There have been several (likely many, but only several with which I’m personally familiar) substantive and even quite elaborate, extraordinarily predictive, and to my mind quite persuasive critiques of neoliberalism, going back at least to the period in which the global system associated with neoliberalism was described as “Late Capitalism.” In recent years, the somewhat more descriptive if possibly also somewhat redundant phrase “financialized neo-liberalism” was introduced on the “New Left” (by now the old New Left) – as in this essay written in the immediate aftermath of the ’08 financial crisis -http://www.newleftreview.org/II/59/gopal-balakrishnan-speculations-on-the-stationary-state. It closes by acknowledging and even embracing the inherent and indefeasible limitation of such work: That, apparently, the critique of the global system tends to confirm the non-decisiveness or irrelevance of the critique of the global system within the global system as a global system. Put differently, the achieved or demonstrated decisiveness (or even the relevance) of the critique of the global system on the level of the global system and the actual dissolution of the global system would imply or require each other, but cannot co-exist. The impossibility of their co-existence would also be the principle of that dissolution, which last would have to arise immanently from within the system itself or not at all. The critique may be easier to understand as one of that system’s typical products, or product lines.Report

        • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          Put differently, the achieved or demonstrated decisiveness (or even the relevance) of the critique of the global system on the level of the global system and the actual dissolution of the global system would imply or require each other, but cannot co-exist.

          …are you saying that pointing out the problem means squat until it is solved? Isn’t that the whole point to pointing it out, to seek to solve it, or at least encourage others to do so?

          The impossibility of their co-existence would also be the principle of that dissolution, which last would have to arise immanently from within the system itself or not at all. The critique may be easier to understand as one of that system’s typical products, or product lines.

          I imagine it’s highly difficult to form a truly devastating critique of a system while having absolutely zero experience of it, to the point of appearing silly to even attempt it. That doesn’t sound like anything that should shock anyone though.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho says:

            It may be as much a logical as a practical-political problem, but that doesn’t make it any less the latter.

            Economism is not especially interested in anyone’s thoughts about economism, or any more interested in them than it is in any other thoughts that can be as profitably exploited. I’m not sure what makes you believe in the “truly devastating critique” (or Murali’s “decisive criticism,” or anyone’s possibly relevant critique) on the level of the system of systems. You sure it’s not a fantasy or wish? (We have lots of critiques. Who cares? Who can care? Why should we care if they care? What do our answers have to do with the object of criticism?) Also, I’m not sure what the “zero experience” part means. How can we say anyone we encounter today, in the real world or on-line or anywhere else, has “zero experience” of the global system? What makes it global is that we’re all in it.

            I think you should read the essay I linked.Report

            • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              It sounded to me like you were saying that because criticism comes from within the system that that fact in and of itself discredits it to a degree. If that is accurate, then my opinion is the opposite direction: criticism wholly removed, if possible, would be worthless.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho says:

                Not sure why we need to presume that either mode of criticism, detached or compromised, would be “worthwhile” in the sense of actually effective, relevant, decisive, etc., on the level of the fate or thought of the whole system.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                If criticism doesn’t at least to some degree chip away at the system being discussed — if, even further, it cannot — then there’s no reason for it. People who disagree with it might as well just sit silently and await collapse of its own accord then, consequence in the mean time be damned, as doing otherwise is just for the pleasure of hearing themselves speak.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to b-psycho says:

                Why must my criticism serve to bring down the system, by chipping or by any other means, to be of any interest or use to me or others? The original question was of a “decisive criticism of neoliberalism.” I was wondering what that means or could mean. For example, if I could outline the collapse or possible collapse of the neoliberal project, but could not identify or outline a total replacement or way of hastening it or otherwise affecting its course, that would still leave a field of potential investigation and action, perhaps freer of illusions. “Decide what for whom?” was and would remain a real question, or maybe become a real question for the first time.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Why must my criticism serve to bring down the system, by chipping or by any other means, to be of any interest or use to me or others?

                I thought *you* were saying it was irrelevant?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                …on the level of the system as a whole – as described by terms like “neoliberalism,” “financialization,” “late capitalism,” etc. Doesn’t mean “not relevant to anything.” Everything is relevant to something. And I don’t know for a fact that my assumptions about the near complete irrelevance of my analysis to its primary objects are correct. It’s just how I’d bet. Anyway, why isn’t the burden on you to explain why your chipping or attacking or whatever other activities are likely to achieve some good purpose?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Decide what for whom?” was and would remain a real question, or maybe become a real question for the first time.

                An objection is decisive if it is the case that anyone who holds on to a belief after hearing and understanding the objection is on that count irrational.

                We can even figure out who is irrational if you present your argument in a syllogistic form, we can see if the argument is valid and the premises true.

                For example, you could argue:

                1. Any system which engenders its own collapse is unsuitable as a practical normative ideal

                2. Neoliberal systems tned to/always engender their own collapse

                Conclusion: Neoliberalism is unsuitable as a practical normative ideal.

                And if we can establish that the C follows from the premises and that 1 and 2 are true (by appealing to other arguments) then we can establishthe likelyhood that the conclusion is true. People who still disbelieve your conclusions are therefore making a mistake.

                As for examples, here is one example of me putting forward my positive views.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                How do we know if we don’t try?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Murali, you seem to have in mind some kind of comparison of ideal “neoliberal systems.” From the perspective of the critique of a/the global system, such an exercise makes little sense. There isn’t some group of potential founders of some indefinite number of neoliberal approaches to global political economies. There is said to be one and only one real existing neoliberal system, characterizing a phase of world history, and we don’t have access to other worlds or other histories. In short, the notion of a decisive criticism may make sense in theory, but it may not be, or very often constitute, a meaningful political notion. In this instance, it would be an ahistorical approach to a strictly historical problem, to the primary historical problem itself.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Also, if you care to continue this dialogue, please consider starting again somewhere down below, or further over to the left, or under a new post!Report

  14. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    Half our office is working at home today to avoid the commotion caused by Obama’s fund-raising visit. He interferes with private enterprise wherever he goes.Report

  15. Avatar Murali says:

    @CK Macleod: Discussion continued here.

    kind of comparison of ideal “neoliberal systems.” From the perspective of the critique of a/the global system, such an exercise makes little sense. There isn’t some group of potential founders of some indefinite number of neoliberal approaches to global political economies. There is said to be one and only one real existing neoliberal system, characterizing a phase of world history, and we don’t have access to other worlds or other histories.

    As a system of organisation of political and economic institutions there are many neoliberalisms. Hong Kong and Singapore are neoliberal in ways that places like Denmark and Switzerland are not and vice versa. Few if any states have enacted all aspects of the neoliberal project. Hong Kong and Singapore do well on deregulation and small government while Denmark has a more democratic neoliberal model. Even as a global system, neoliberalism is not just one homogeneous thing. Different countries have integrated to different extents into the global economy. Up till recently, Myanmar was still fairly isolationist in terms of trade policy. There are still places like North Korea and other places in Africa and the Middle east which have in place reall significant trade barriers. i.e. neoliberalism as an ideology and economic system has not achieved complete global penetration yet. Speaking as if it has is a kind of mistake.

    In short, the notion of a decisive criticism may make sense in theory, but it may not be, or very often constitute, a meaningful political notion. In this instance, it would be an ahistorical approach to a strictly historical problem, to the primary historical problem itself.

    Well, that’s the problem right there. It is not a historical problem or at least not just a historical problem.

    If we can speak at all meaningfully of one kind of system being more morally appropriate than another, then we must have some criteria as to what counts as morally appropriate (i.e. what are the right making features vs a vis economic systems) as well as some facts of the matter as to whether some system fulfill those criteria and to what extent. The latter is certainly a-historical: Either a country possesses certain characteristics to a certain extent or it doesn’t. The former is arguably ahistorical as well. The very concept of moral rightness refers to, at the most fundamental levels at least, principles which are valid for all people at all times. Arguably, we can be ahistorical here as well.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to Murali says:

      Murali, I’m not going to attempt to prove that my understanding of the word “neoliberalism,” related to its use in an extensive political-historical discussion (as in the essay that I linked), is more valid than yours, and I don’t have time today to outline the critique of neoliberalism or financialized neoliberalism as phase in the development of the post-war political-economic order, but I don’t want to leave the impression that I consider your “many neoliberalisms” entirely irrelevant to or non-contiguous with my “single global neo-liberal project.” The relationship between the two conceptualizations may even be typical of a fundamental characteristic of “late capitalism” as defined by its critics, which was “rationality of the part processes, irrationality of the whole.” In some cases, we may even detect a morality of the part process coming into conflict with the immorality of the whole. This is not a new phenomenon taken in the abstract – classic political philosophy assumed that the prosperity of the city or of its citizens always implied deprivation for someone else – but its concrete manifestations take unique historical forms.

      It may not be too much of a stretch to see the wonders of applied neoliberalism in Singapore as an example of a rational part process. A major war, ecological catastrophe, or an extended global depression (or depressive “new normal”/”stationary state”) that impaired, distorted, or terminated Singapore’s continued development might give evidence of the irrationality of the whole. More to the point, it would give evidence of the existence of the whole, of a single world system whose functioning (and malfunctioning), far from requiring total homogeneity and penetration of a single governmental form or sub-form, depends on extensive heterogeneity, from the world’s cosmopolitan centers of wealth and power to its “sacrifice zones.” Berlin, Paris, the little town of Lindenfels, and Auschwitz were run rather differently during WW2, though not without some similarities, but all were for a time part of the same National Socialist system. Some countries or regions may be central to the functioning of global capitalism in its current phase, others not, and, as in any mechanical system, parts or part processes will have entirely different functions. I may have little interest in Swiss, Singaporean, or Zimbabwean public policy challenges and development. I will have substantially more interest in global processes and events that affect me as well as the citizens of those countries, though not, of course, identically. They may not affect my next-door neighbor in quite the same way as they affect me.

      I’m going to have to leave this discussion at that, for now. Maybe we can sort out our differences more satisfactorily at a later time.Report

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