A Romantic, a Monk, and a Neoliberal Walk Into a Bar…

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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112 Responses

  1. Patrick Cahalan says:

    Anybody who thinks that family represents the ultimate tyranny… they don’t have children.

    Children, even at their youngest, are not nearly so pliable to the demands of the parent as an adult is to the demands of the family. The child has whims and opportunities and endless time. The adult has responsibilities and demands and a ticking clock. Well, assuming non-horrible parents, which is a huge assumption.

    There is nothing so tyrannical to the moral philosopher as being a parent, and yet it is a tyranny to which we typically submit voluntarily, and enjoy.Report

    • I think when we talk about the tyranny of the family we’re speaking of potential tyranny rather than inevitable tyranny. Think of abusive families, or the fact that marital rape was legal until 1976. The family is ultimately very private and things can go on that are really, really bad. The state can’t counter most of these things without taking extreme measures.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Erik Kain says:

        I think that’s what Robin is getting at. FWIW, my take on his take about these issues is that conservatives – and lots of libertarians wrt this particular issue – want freedom from constraint on the exercise a traditionally accorded privilege of unilateral power over others. It’s part of his larger critique of conservatism as being functionally defined by resistance to social progress which undermines the exercise and legitimacy of culturally established privileges in general.


        • Erik Kain in reply to Stillwater says:

          Sure, but I’m not taking issue with his discussion over various tyrannies so much as I am with the blanket neoliberal statements and the notion that the root of libertarianism is a belief in private dictatorships. I think that’s a stretch. I think valuing the family is not the same thing as wanting total power and dominion over your loved ones.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Erik Kain says:

            Yes. I think Robin makes a mistake – an understandable one, to some degree – by lumping libertarians in with conservatives and then applying the same critique to both groups. I think he sees the libertarian-conservative alliance that existed over the last few decades as evidence that libertarians are functionally indistinguishable from conservatives (at least during that time). He also views the right-wing’s acceptance of libertarian economics as further evidence that libertarians are functionally conservatives (tho his argument here – if I understand it correctly – is clearly a mistake). So, he views M. Freidman, Hayek and Reagonomics as falling in the same political camp.

            Which leads to his understanding of neo-liberalism: he defines it by the way trade principles were (imperfectly) implemented by Reagan and Thatcher rather than by the more abstract theories which attempt to justify those principles. So he includes lots of warts in there, like Pinochet.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Erik Kain says:

        Oh, sure. Hence the “assuming non-horrible parents, which is a huge assumption”Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Erik Kain says:

        What if I said that my political principles give me very serious pause about ever spanking my child?

        They do. And I’ve never once spanked her.

        Yes, there are worse things than spanking. I don’t intend to do those, either.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Nice post.

    The comparison that comes first to my mind is “Marriage”. When you think about it from a distance, it’s being in love, it’s making love, it’s holding hands, it’s cooking together, it’s feeding each other with your fingers, it’s having a baby, it’s all kinds of fuzzy/squishy things.

    In reality, marriage is a lot like running a small non-profit. The guy (or gal) who makes financial decisions is also responsible for emptying the trash in the bathroom. The guy (or gal) who signs the checks also is in charge of catering the meeting discussing old business, new business, and short-, middle-, and long-term scheduling. Sure, there’s lovey-dovey stuff that happens in there too, but marriage as it is practiced is a lot more C-Span than Hallmark.

    So it goes with politics.Report

  3. Kris says:

    “Freedom to exit is a powerful thing, and too often those on the left who critique so-called neoliberal policies understate the value of choices.”

    Can you give some specific example of this. I’m curious as to what cases you have in mind where the left is too against choices. (Certainly not abortion.)

    You might say “charter schools” but I think lefties are okay with schools that have experiment with different curricula and plans as long as the teachers are protected by unions and the school is accountable to the state the way public schools are.

    You might say “privatized social security” or “vouchers instead of medicare.” Those plans are more “choicy” in some sense, and the left is against them on largely empirical grounds. Do you think the left is wrong to be against these things?

    Maybe you mean the left is against people being able to choose to own guns or the choice not to enter unions.

    The traditional left was split on drug criminalization, so that’s not an issue. And the left and the libertarians are aligned on respecting people’s choice to say X, Y, or Y and not be hassled by the government.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

      The choice to enter contracts outside of certain parameters. The choice to, say, work for less than minimum wage for a time while you’re being trained. The choice to borrow money at a rate that a lot of people think is too high. The choice to hire non-union personnel. The choice to have your hair cut by someone without regard to certification.

      I’m not saying that liberals are wrong for curtailing these choices (some of them I quite agree with), but a lot of economic regulation comes down to “We don’t believe you should have the option of doing that.”Report

      • Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Will Truman says:

        The choice to enter contracts outside of certain parameters. The choice to, say, work for less than minimum wage for a time while you’re being trained. The choice to borrow money at a rate that a lot of people think is too high. The choice to hire non-union personnel. The choice to have your hair cut by someone without regard to certification.

        Well, I think that liberals do oppose most of the things on this list (but haircuts???Do you honestly think that haircuts are a liberal issue?) because there is the promise (or threat) of coersion in these “voluntary” transactions.Report

        • Maybe if liberals got their hair cut once in a goddamn blue moon, they’d see the license issue differently.Report

          • dexter in reply to Jaybird says:

            Maybe if libertarians knew how many carcinogentic materials are used in some of those beauty salons they would demand more training.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to dexter says:

              Hurray! An opportunity to treat businesses that cater primarily to women differently than businesses that cater primarily to men!

              You’d think that the Libertarians would be all over that.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to dexter says:

              Meh. If we want to limit who can deal with all of the chemicals that we don’t use in day-to-day life (shampoo/conditioner/gel) to a relatively small subset that goes through hazmat training, it’s no skin off my nose since I just want my hair cut. If I wanted more than that, having fewer suppliers would not be an unmitigated good.

              At most, though, I want such requirements to be limited only to those who do more than just cut hair. My understanding is that this is not always the case.Report

        • I think what a lot of this comes down to are the thresholds we have for when an agreement becomes coercive or fraudulent. Libertarians set that threshold high, liberals set it lower. My own view is somewhere in between. Coersion can and will occur in any arrangement, depending on the external disparities of power. The question is how often it will be coercive, how often it will be fraudulent, and so on. When you look at an arrangement that could not exist but for coercion and fraud, then I think most agree for some sort of state action. But how often must an arrangement be one of these things before we act? That’s a matter of perspective.

          Regarding haircuts, virtually any time I have seen someone suggest that we do away with licensure, the objections come most vociferously from the left. Ditto plumbers. I am not entirely unsympathetic to this point of view, if only so you can take it away when someone acts irresponsibly, though once licensure is established I fear they can become something else, more about establishing a standard rather than simply rooting out (err, no pun intended) transparent misbehavior. (By way of example, I remember reading about how New Jersey was going to require that anyone who dealt with hair care receive training on hair chemicals, even if they weren’t planning on using anything more than shampoo.)Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

      Are “feminists” part of the traditional left? (Only the “radical notion that women are human beings” feminists and not the “radical” ones?) In that vein, was the PMRC part of the traditional left?

      Are the no-smoking-in-bars folks part of the traditional left? The no-sodas over 20-ouncers?

      Was the pro-Communist left of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s part of the traditional left?

      There’s a lot of nannying out there. Not all of it is coming from the sexually-repressed puritan Republicans (who, may I point out, are on their second divorce, third marriage).Report

      • Kris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear what my question was. I was more interested to find out what specific cases of “choice-restriction” that E.D. had in mind as being too restrictive that were accepted by most of the left (defined as he sees fit) that showed there was a problem with the left. My question was more about finding out about E.D.’s place on the libertarian-liberal spectrum than in having a debate about libertarianism and liberalism.

        I agree that it’s true, pretty much by definition, that libertarians are more in favor of choicy-ness than classical liberals. Nobody out “choicy-nesses” the libertarians, except maybe some kind of anarchist. By contrast, classical liberals are okay with some paternalism when necessary. (They all agree that employers should not be allowed to offer “have sex with me or be fired” contracts to their female workers. As opposed to libertarians, apparently.) Of course, the left disagrees about how much paternalism is justified and for what reasons.

        I think Robin and the Crooked Timber folk are right to see liberalism as agreeing with libertarianism that maximizing choice is good (thus the traditional left is not Hobbesian, but rather very pro-individual choice) but also asserting that the state sometimes needs to, say, restrict the power of local bullies which may take away, say, the freedom to offer “have sex with me or be fired” contracts.

        I’m not sure whether we should call the restaurant smoking ban, “a left” policy. (Lots of righties I know like it a whole lot now that its in effect, anyway.) I’m in favor of it, anyway.

        My question is whether E.D. thinks that this is too paternalistic for him. (The choice to drink more than 24 ounces of soda in one cup as opposed to two cups is not a choice worth discussing here.) Or what sorts of things E.D. thinks are too choice-restricting that the left is associated.

        My guess is that E.D.’s policy preferences are going to come out pretty close to left-leaning (but somewhat centrist) Democrats.Report

        • Kris in reply to Kris says:

          But I could be crazy-wrong. I only really know about Kain’s positions on education, which I find really interesting.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

          As opposed to libertarians, apparently.

          Beria was personally responsible for more rapes than the entire Libertarian caucus. He said the right things in public, however. Or, at least, opposed the right people.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

            Beria was personally responsible for more rapes than the entire Libertarian caucus.

            Citation please!

            Actually, I think the correct response is that contracts including forced unwanted carnal knowledge are anti-libertarian. At least, they are for the libertarians at this site.Report

          • Kris in reply to Jaybird says:

            I think when we talk about “the left” or “the right” or “libertarians” in these contexts we’re talking about contemporary, living people who are somewhat mainstream in their own movement.

            It’s very telling -to me, anyway- that we’re talking about “the left” and you think of Beria as an example of someone on the left. He’s a murderous leader of Stalin’s secret police. (Even, the Soviet’s tried him for treason, condemned him, and he was shot. Though that and everything else to do with Beria had nothing to do with the left.)

            I’m not saying libertarians like rape. Not at all. I’m arguing that their position allows local bullies -sexually abusive bosses are just one example- to bully people and this shouldn’t be legal. Libertarians (or many of them) are clearly against this morally but they think it should be legal.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Kris says:

              Very telling indeed. It’s the filter thru which many of them many process all liberal views.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m just irritated that the dynamic is “how dare you associate leftism with Communism? Now get back to explaining why you think it’s okay for bosses to threaten women with firing if they won’t have sex with you because you’re a libertarian!”Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Dude, I get that. I’ve been dealing with that same issue in reversie with one of our better commenters here as well. It’s a drag.

                Personally, I thought Kris was misinformed on that issue and not deliberately taking a pot-shot at libertarians. There are libertarians in the wild who espouse those types of beliefs.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                There are libertarians in the wild who espouse those types of beliefs.

                The whole “rubber meets the road” thing happened for liberals in the mid-90’s. You’d think that they’d use a different example.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah, I was puzzled by that whole BHL/Crooked Timber/Marginal Revolution debate about workplace harassment. So puzzled in fact that I didn’t bother intervening.

                In the end, the whole thing seemed to me to be about where to draw the lines between shitty workplace behavior and actual crimes.

                But that wasn’t what the left wanted it to be about. No, it was just about how libertarians secretly love rape and wish there were more of it.

                Better not to dignify that with a response.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Better not to dignify that with a response.

                I was happy to leave it there. Then it came here.Report

              • Simon K in reply to Jaybird says:

                I thought we managed to hit a few obvious points (eg. assault is illegal regardless of who you do it to or why), that CT mysteriously missed.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’d think that they’d use a different example.

                Sure, but it’s an example that strikes them as providing a reductio, so it’s the one they grad onto.

                Look at it this way: a liberal comes into a libertarian discussion about the limits of the state on side of things, and voluntarily agreed upon contracts on the other. From a libertarian perspective, the limits of what constitutes a legitimate contract is an open question. Can it, for example, include a clause demanding sex in exchange for employment? Does the state have a role to play in prohibiting such a contract if it’s agreed to by consenting adults?

                Of course you realize that the argument justifying this type of contract isn’t advocating rape (or anything else for that matter). It’s an argument attempting to determine the conceptual limits of state intervention given voluntary contracts. A person who doesn’t understand this will reflexively think the worst, tho: that it’s a coded argument attempting to justify sexual harassment in the work-place.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

              You don’t like Beria? Fine. How about a major American Politician?

              Let’s say that a Politician told a subordinate “have sex with me or be fired”.

              Would you say that the left would be more likely to attack this politician as being in violation of the rights of women?

              Would you see it as more likely that they’d attack the women as golddiggers who should have appreciated the attention and, anyway, we don’t even know if it really happened and, anyway, god only knows what the Republicans would dig up to discredit the Democrats?

              Because I have my theories about what the left would do in such a situation. I wonder if they align with yours at all.

              (And what would the Libertarians do, do you think? Again, I have my theories…)Report

              • Kris in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think that what your hypotherical politician, who is employing staffers, is doing should be illegal. (Do you? I know you think its gross and immoral. But do you think it should be illegal?) Notice that to make that behavior of the politician illegal would be to use the coercive power of the state prevent a certain kind of contract, i.e the employer offering the contract “to stay employed, employee X will work 40 hours a week and offer me sexual services X, Y, and Z.” That is the state entering people’s business to prevent predatory contracts.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                But we’ve had this debate already. Really, extreme paternalism and extreme avoidance of any sort of paternalism are out. The question is how much paternalism do you allow and for what reasons? I wanted to know more about how E.D. decided when paternalism was okay and when it wasn’t. It’s possible he’s a complete causist about this and just decides as he goes. But my guess is that he has some rules of thumb about when and where to go libertarian and when and where to go more liberally.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:


              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                I thought that the Libertarian argument would be equally likely to say something like “there should be spheres of privacy that are not the employer’s business” which would make them say stuff like “it’s not the company’s business if employees smoke” or “it’s not the company’s business if employees do drugs on their off hours so drug testing shouldn’t be allowed” (though I admit to being wobbly on that one… I can see why you wouldn’t want the metal press guy to be stoned).

                Isn’t the idea that there are spheres of privacy that anyone can say “THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS” an essentially Libertarian idea?

                Or, wait, let me guess. It’s not because Libertarians support “At Will” Employment laws which, to your mind, are the equivalent of Beria telling ballerinas that if they want to stay with the Bolshoi, they’ll submit and so, technically, Beria was essentially Libertarian?

                Does that sum your argument up?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                I think that what your hypotherical politician, who is employing staffers, is doing should be illegal.

                So if I could come up with an example of a politician doing this, we could come up with examples of the Left pretty much agreeing with this position (I mean, sure, there will always be *SOME* stragglers and iconoclasts who disagree with the consensus) but, in general, the left would agree with this position?

                If it turns out that they wouldn’t, would you be an outlier when it came to how the left would respond to a politician doing this?Report

              • Kris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well Bill Clinton slept with his employee, and I find it morally disturbing, but she wasn’t bullied. If she was, he should have been charged.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                If there were a lawsuit brought against this politician, would you say that the left would say that the lawsuit deserved to be heard or would you guess that the left would claim that the lawsuit was just a Republican dirty trick that should not be given the time of day? (I mean, in general. We all know that there are always *SOME* people who disagree with the general consensus.)Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

                Cut to the chase: As governor, Bill Clinton got his mistress a state job [Gennifer Flowers]. No dispute, no controversy. Couldn’t type, was a totally useless poodle except it’s alleged she could suck a golf ball through a garden hose.

                That was the part he never got hassled about, but a corruption that should have ended his candidacy in 1992, really much worse than anything that’s popped up in election slime ever since.

                As for Paula Jones, I make her story possibly true, that he made some fratboy moves on her in a hotel room. That she was an Arkansas state employee was more a matter of coincidence than him using his superior status to bully an unwilling employee. She said “no thanks,” left the room, that was that.

                As for Monica, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. At first. I was outraged that an older and infinitely powerful man should hit on a girl who could be his daughter, the scum.

                Then it was clear she pursued him, that according to some friends she had come to Washington to Blow the President of the United States. That the most accomplished womanizer since Jack Kennedy would give in to her was both a moral and statistical certainty.

                “Lieutenant, I am half-Vulcanian. Vulcanians do not speculate. I speak from pure logic. If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen.”

                Of course, as it turned out, “that woman” Miss Lewinsky came to love Bill Clinton, and like Jack Kennedy before him, Bill had a pale affection for his, um, love interests as well.

                I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never.

                Well, by ‘sexual relations’ Bill meant doing the nasty, in the heteronormative sense. And by all accounts, he/she/they didn’t.

                As for the suborning perjury bit and all the rest, it’s water under the bridge—except that I just heard that President Clinton is going to be featured bigtime at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

                This is how it ended as Bill Clinton left office, January 19, 2001:


                Under an agreement with Independent Counsel Robert Ray, Clinton’s law license will be suspended for five years and he will pay a $25,000 fine to Arkansas bar officials. He also gave up any claim to repayment of his legal fees in the matter. In return, Ray will end the 7-year-old Whitewater probe that has shadowed most of Clinton’s two terms.

                “I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and am certain my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false,” Clinton said in a written statement released Friday by the White House.

                The admission, which came on the president’s last full day in office, stems from the same allegations that led to Clinton’s 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives, and the later acquittal by the Senate.

                In a statement minutes later, Ray said “the nation’s interest has been served” by Clinton’s admission.

                “This matter is now concluded,” Ray said.


              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                Tom, I’m not interested in the Republican victory lap being replayed for their glorious defeat of The Clinton resulting in the even more glorious Dubya presidency.

                I am, however, of a mind that the accusation from the Left that Libertarians would (or even *SHOULD*) support sexual harassment of employees because, hey, Right To Work laws is one that we actually saw play out before us… and I’m interested in how The Libertarians responded and how The Left responded.

                Because, seriously, this particular accusation bugs the crap out of me far more than the circumstances surrounding Bob Livingston’s resignation (you know who replaced Bob Livingston? David Vitter! No crap!) or other casualties of The Flynt Report.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                I really think this Clinton and Stalin stuff is completely off the rails. Really makes me lose hope that we can have any sort of fruitful conversation.

                If Clinton committed crime X, he should be charged with X. if Stalinist Y committed rape, he should’ve gone to jail. Jones came after Clinton and he settled, eventually. His guilt or innocence is a factual question that is beside the point. If some liberals were hypocritical to defend him that’s beside the point.

                Libertarians are still wrong to assert that it should be legal for employers to tell their employees “have sex with me or be fired.” Clinton doesn’t change that. Neither does Stalin. Neither does the fact that hippies are dirty.

                Distraction, change the subject. Get angry, liberals are a tribe, consevratives another, politics is a war between them, blah, blah, blah, blah. I might as well turn on Rush Limbaugh to hear that level of discussion.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                Libertarians are still wrong to assert that it should be legal for employers to tell their employees “have sex with me or be fired.”

                Have Libertarians asserted this?

                I ask because I can provide examples of prominent politicians sexually harassing employees and the response of Liberals to this sexual harassment.

                Like examples that *ACTUALLY* *HAPPENED*.

                Of course, discussing how The Left responded (with, of course, some stragglers) to something that *ACTUALLY* *HAPPENED* turns the conversation into something akin to “are Libertarians better than The Left (with, of course, some stragglers) proved themselves to be *IN* *PRACTICE*?”

                For the record, my position is that there are quite a few spheres that are none, absolutely none, of the employer’s business. The employee’s junk is in one of those spheres.

                So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you for an example of a Libertarian asserting what you’ve said they’ve asserted.

                Because I think that you can’t provide anything much better than “well, they support Right To Work laws” (or something equally representative of the fact that you’ve got nothing at all behind that bald assertion you’re making).Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

                Jaybird, I’m hurt. Clinton’s disqualifying corruption was Gennifer Flowers’ state job. The rest I make excuses for.

                Blowing the boss got Gennifer a cushy job, and it got Monica kicked out of the White House. I’m a feminist, you know. I find both indecent and unacceptable. The rest, eh.

                Saw “My Favorite Year” the other night. Uncle Morty asks movie star Alan Swann [the Errol Flynn character] about a paternity suit, “Well, did you shtup her???”

                Working from memory, Peter O’Toole replies, ” Sorry to disappoint you, Morty, but no, I didn’t. People like me get accused of all sorts of things.

                On the other hand, because of who I am, I get away with murder…”

                So it is with President Bill Clinton. We knew what he was when we elected him, Gennifer Flowers and all. C’mon, JB, you know me by now. I’m not running for anything, least of all class president around here.

                I think Bill Clinton getting Barack Obama’s back at the convention and onward is gonna be goddamm interesting. If I’m Bill Clinton, if I can’t own him, I torpedo the little shit once and for all. Word up.


              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                I’m not accusing libertarians of anything.

                Do you think that “sleep with me or your fired” contracts should be illegal?

                If you do think it should be illegal, how do you reconcile that with the libertarian doctrine that the government shouldn’t ban people from entering into certain contracts?

                I’m not saying libertarians like sexual harrasment. As such, the argument that liberals like me are hypocrites for not being angry enough at Bill Clinton are completely irrelevant to anything I said. (Moreover, I doubt many liberals would have defended Bill Clinton by claiming that what he was accused of doing -never found guilty- with Paula Jones should be legal.)

                Do you think it should be legal? Yes or noReport

              • Fnord in reply to Kris says:

                Pointing out a single example of hypocrisy isn’t a policy argument.

                Does the left have tribal tendencies, that sometimes make them more interested in “fighting” their political “enemies” than actually implementing the policies they nominally stand for? Absolutely. By showing that, you’ve proved that the left is made up of humans.

                And by bringing up, you’re part of the problem, making the discussion about tribalism rather than policy.

                If you’re annoyed about the implication that libertarians are not a fan of sexual harassment laws, say that. Although I suspect Kris’s argument are less about Right to Work inevitably leading to sexual harassment and more about, say, Ron Paul saying he doesn’t like sexual harassment law.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

                “Do you think it should be legal? Yes or no”

                What is “it,” Kris?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                I’m not accusing libertarians of anything.

                Ah, but you also said Libertarians are still wrong to assert that it should be legal for employers to tell their employees “have sex with me or be fired.”

                I asked you for a single example of Libertarians asserting that. *JUST* *ONE*.

                Now, interestingly, I can give examples of folks on the Left saying stuff when a prominent politician did something akin to what you’re saying that, let me quote you here, “Libertarians are still wrong to assert”.

                *THAT* is what I think is interesting here.

                So… do you have a quotation?

                (Oh, and by the by, I already answered your question. It involves the word “spheres”.)

                Fnord, I think that “tribalism” is a very good explanation for accusing Libertarians of doing something, in theory, that Liberals have done, in practice, and then claiming superiority to Libertarians thereby.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


                Libertarians are still wrong to assert that it should be legal for employers to tell their employees “have sex with me or be fired.”

                I’m not accusing libertarians of anything.


              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

                Seems to me that there are at least a couple sorts of “sleep with me or you’re fired.” One would think that a brothel could refuse to fire a prostitute that doesn’t put out.

                So one scenario would be that a woman takes a job, leaves her previous job and/or forgoes other job opportunities, and then the boss springs on her “Oh, yeah, sleep with me or you’re fired.”

                There are libertarian objections to this. There are questions of fraud (this should not have been left off the job description), coercion (now that you have sacrificed other job opportunities, he has undue leverage over you), and so on.

                On the other side, however, is if it’s within the job description, understood as part of the job description, and so on. This would be the case with someone signing on to a brothel.

                I’m not a libertarian (so don’t attribute what I am saying to “libertarians say…”), but it does seem odd to me to say “You can have sex for money, or you can be a maid, but you can’t do both.” Because that’s exploitation?

                None of this applies if you oppose the legalization of prostitution, of course. But in addition to libertarians, liberals are among the most inclined to support legalization. So sex-for-money isn’t entirely a libertarian concept.

                Anyhow, the devil is in the details. The phrase “sleep with me or you’re fired” indicates the first scenario, which a great many libertarians and deregulators would genuinely find unacceptable. I suspect that sometimes, at least, if a libertarian says that sex should be a part of a business arrangement, they’re thinking of the latter scenario. Which, while perhaps wrong, is not nearly as problematic in my view.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                When it comes to issues such as sex work, I admit to not having fully formed opinions but I think that I’m okay with signs that say “we reserve the right to refuse service” hung on one’s junk and/or other orifices.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kris says:

                I’m not a libertarian (so don’t attribute what I am saying to “libertarians say…”), but it does seem odd to me to say “You can have sex for money, or you can be a maid, but you can’t do both.” Because that’s exploitation?

                The problem isn’t with the sex or the money per se. It’s with the radical shift in employment terms after the fact. A similar objection would apply if a secretary were asked to do hard manual labor, I would think, or to clean toilets.

                If you sign up for those jobs, great. If not, then the employer defrauded you. The fact that it’s sex work adds an extra level of humiliation, of course, as very few other lines of work carry the same social stigma.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kris says:

                I think these types of issues are worth pushing libertarians on. And of course, libertarians push themselves on them as well.

                So, for example, is the following contract consistent with the non-coercion principle: person A will perform secretarial duties for employer B as a primary task but will also be required to perform any and all other as decided by B?

                If this contract violates the non-coercion principle, it’s only because we assume something like: a) that person A would be otherwise willing to perform any and all other tasks and so knew exactly what they were agreeing to, or b) that person A has enough other employment opportunities that accepting the extra clauses in the contract cannot be construed as coercive.

                Accepting either a) or b), however, leads us away from “pure” libertarianism, at least insofar as the principle of non-coercion is concerned. (Or SISTM.)Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kris says:

                > but will also be required to perform any and
                > all other as decided by B?

                That’s a slavery clause, essentially.

                This is typically a no-no.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kris says:

                {Or the types of things Bryan Caplan argues for.}

                Sure, but why is that not consistent with the non-coercion principle? Is it because of a logical inconsistency? A practical one? Something else?

                It seems to me that any answer will present problems of its own that need to be teased out by presenting a principled division between types of contracts that are inconsistent with the non-coercion principle.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kris says:

                Btw, Jason gave a pretty compelling answer to this when he argued against coverture laws, but establishing the boundaries where voluntary contracting conflict with coercion is something I’ve been trying to get clear on for a while now.

                On the one hand, voluntary contract by consenting adults is justified if it entails no external harms (or something like that). On the other, voluntary contract to perform otherwise extraneous duties may not be justified, even if it entails no external harms.

                Maybe it’s just a hopelessly murky situation, but it seems to me a lot of the theory hinges on how this issue is resolved.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kris says:

                From what I understand, 50 Shades of Grey opens with a contract offer that is then declined.

                The Libertarian ramifications have yet to be fully explored.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kris says:

                Re-read my post on Hegel?

                My answer to this would be that you, as an independent human being, have a theoretical right to enter into any contract you want, but it is problematic to entail yourself in certain ways, particularly when there is time involved.

                I mean, “I will let you punch me in the face for $10” isn’t necessarily endangering yourself any more or less than any one of a number of other oddball contracts you could enter into, with most parties (working in a coal mine is probably more dangerous unless the guy doing the punching is, like, Mike Tyson or something).

                “I will let you punch me in the face as many times as you want for $10” would be more problematic on the harm scale.

                “I will let you punch me in the face at some time between now and 2025” is problematic on the time scale. You’re entailing your future self, who may (say in 2023 when you’re out on the father-daughter date night or something) not have anywhere near the same utility function as you do, today.

                The concept of free exchange is a bit more complicated than, “Anything goes as long as both parties agree”.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:


                Btw, Jason gave a pretty compelling answer to this when he argued against coverture laws, but establishing the boundaries where voluntary contracting conflict with coercion is something I’ve been trying to get clear on for a while now.

                That assumes the boundaries must be clear, but why? All theories get tricky at the margins. Those margins are well worth exploring, but if we assume there must be real clarity there (for any normative theory) we’re probably expecting to see something that doesn’t exist.

                Consider the following cases, on which we almost certainly are in theoretical agreement. Rape is wrong, seduction isn’t–but can we define the boundary between the two with perfect clarity? Competition is good, wanting to humiliate the opponent isn’t–is there a clear dividing line between the two? Love is great, obsession is horrifying–etc.

                Maybe it’s just a hopelessly murky situation, but it seems to me a lot of the theory hinges on how this issue is resolved.

                What does “a lot” mean? Does it mean “some interesting details” or does it mean “the essential validity of the theory”? Or something else? The first I would agree with unhesitatingly. Finding the limits of where I’m comfortable going with libertarianism is an exercise I find very meaningful.

                But the second I’m not sure I’d agree with in relation to any theory, because it seems to me that any normative theory gets murky at the edges, and has tough cases it can’t resolve completely satisfactorily. And it seems to me that those cases say less about a theory than where it takes you before running into those tough cases does. For example, if you run into nothing but tough cases right off the bat, it’s not the tough cases themselves that make the theory questionable, but the fact that you can’t get very far before running into them.Report

              • Fnord in reply to Kris says:


                His wording was a bit unclear, but I don’t think “have sex with me or you’re fired” qualifies as violence under his rubric.Report

              • Rod in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jay and James,

                You can find a few here and in a couple other posts on that site. Particularly in the comment threads.

                Whether this is anything like the majority libertarian position I have no idea. But to say they don’t exist is simply wrong.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rod says:

                While I appreciate the link, I’d more appreciate a quotation.

                Here’s an interesting one from your link:
                Of course, the employer’s actions are wrong. (Okay, maybe I could cook up a weird scenario where this wouldn’t be wrong, but except in unusual circumstances, it’s wrong.) How is that threatening to libertarianism? Does Bertram think libertarians have to disagree? He’s a professional philosopher, so he’s professionally obligated to know better. (Later in the post, he reveals he does know better, but then he should also know better than to write a misleading introduction.)

                The ones that seem to fall under your umbrella of libertarians saying that that’s okay involve sex work… which, I think you’ll agree, falls into a different category than the one that everybody thought we were discussing when we showed up.

                Of course, if you have an example that isn’t sex work from the link you linked to, could you quote it? Because my cursory reading isn’t showing me what you seem to be saying it’s showing.Report

              • Rod in reply to Rod says:


                It’s not in the main post that time. About half-way down the page, commentator Martin Brock says:

                If the employee is a prostitute, nothing is wrong with it. If she’s not, she has the wrong employer and presumably doesn’t want to keep her job.

                You don’t want her to keep this employer, right? You want the employer fired by his employer, and you want the employee reassigned to another employer, right?

                The fired employer now needs another job, right? Is he permitted to starve? Does he have bills to pay and kids to feed? Do you and I feed, clothe and house him in prison for a few years, while supporting his kids as well, before he finds other employment?

                Why not cut out the middle man, let the employee find another employer herself and avoid supporting the employer and his kids?

                And what if the employer didn’t really say it? You need some due process here, don’t you? What does it cost? Who bears this cost? All of the employees you presumably protect from sexual harassment?

                This philosopher is all about protecting victims and punishing the guilty, because he imagines himself in this heroic role. In reality, he doesn’t solve this woman’s problem, because he cannot solve it. He can only imagine himself heroic.

                If you try a little bit it’s not hard to find other commentators espousing similar views. A lot of it depends on whether you find the concept of “exploitation” sensible or not. Some libertarians seem to not find any semantic content in that word.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Rod says:

                If you try a little bit it’s not hard to find other commentators espousing similar views.

                Similar to “this is a bigger can of worms than most people enjoy discussing”?

                Because the comment you quoted doesn’t say what Kris said Libertarians are arguing… whether or not it’s a bigger can of worms than most people enjoy discussing.Report

        • Erik Kain in reply to Kris says:

          Well this is a good question, and one that calls for something of a long answer. But I’ll give the short version.

          I think we should have as few restrictions over economic freedom as possible. At the same time, I think we should have as many programs available to create economic opportunity and stability as possible. So while I prefer a fairly deregulated economic system, I also believe in things like universal healthcare, public education, etc. I’m not really certain where I come down on school reform these days. I think there’s good and bad that comes along with school choice and the status quo, and the fact is I think we have high cultural barriers to education reform largely due to class and geographical divisions.

          When it comes to things like the soda ban, I’m totally against. It’s nannyism and it irritates me. When it comes to something like the ACA, I’m all for it, and think it moves us closer to a system such as Germany’s healthcare system, which is terrific.

          I’m glad we have political parties and political labels. I’m just not sure they’re always terribly accurate. I’m a free market social democrat when it all comes down. I believe in civil liberties, anti-violence, etc. which places me quite a ways away from many centrist Democrats, and I don’t think of myself as a centrist at all.Report

          • Kris in reply to Erik Kain says:

            Thanks Erik. That helps me understand a bit, but I’m still a bit confused about where you’re coming from.

            Would you be against the soda ban if someone proved to your satisfaction -which hasn’t been done, IMO, but you can imagine someone proving this by studying countries where it was implimented- that it was likely to reduce obesity rates and improve health in a significant way. (I know that’s a hypothetical, but I’m trying to understand your thought procesa.)

            Or does the utilitarian benefit in terms of health and happiness not enter into the equation at all? I think the utilitarian aspect should be part of the equation, but maybe you don’t?Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Erik Kain says:

            Erik, ace essay. It ain’t about the Karls, it’s about the Benjamins, and that’s neo-liberalism in a nutshell.

            That’s what I thought Bill Clinton was, and what I considered “centrist Democrat.” Still is, and he gets in trouble trying to help Barack Obama because Clinton’s neo-liberalism leaks out when he starts pontificating.

            Bill Clinton don’t do Marx, cosmic justice, class warfare and all that crapola. It’s free markets, high finance, capitalism, entrepreneurship, the whole megillah. Then we tax them as much as the market [and the Laffer Curve] will bear, and spread the proceeds around to the needy.

            Bill Clinton, a classic neo-liberal, is gonna campaign for Barack Obama, who is not. This is gonna get interesting.

            Not as interesting as the LoOG national sport, mind—our liberals dogging our libertarians and the libertarians trying to distance themselves from the conservatives and not get kicked out of the cocktail party.

            But almost as interesting.Report

            • Annelid Gustator in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

              Bill Clinton, a classic neo-liberal, is gonna campaign for Barack Obama, who is not. This is gonna get interesting.

              This just doesn’t square. The President’s policies are all technocratic neo-liberal, all the time. That he attempts to use moral rhetoric where Prez. Clinton did not is irrelevant.Report

              • North in reply to Annelid Gustator says:

                Well yes, but the right really would prefer him to be an extremist left president; makes the narrative run better. So they massage his numbers a bit*. Personally I think Tom is elegantly on message.

                *a lot.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

                Well, here’s an area where I’ll cut Tom some slack: the use of moral rhetoric when you’re a technocratic neo-liberal is false advertising.

                I look at President Obama and I see a technocratic neo-liberal who talks like a moral crusader, because (a) I think that’s actually part of his motivation and (b) it sells. Mostly (b), but there’s definitely some (a) in there.

                Tom sees the (a) and says, “This is a guy who, regardless of how he *acts*, he *wants* to be a moral crusader”. That’s a non-falsifiable statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

                Only the Big Man Knows for certain.Report

              • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t disagree with that Pat, lord knows I think Obama is to the lesf of ol’ Bill (note I was a Hillary supporter in the primary and still think she’d have done a better job). It bears noting, I think, that such assertions as Tom’s while being strictly unfalsifiable are also firmly on message for his party this election season.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

                Let’s see what happens will Bill campaigns for Barack. BTW, your demurrals are unfalsifiable, too. y’know. ;-PReport

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

                Tom sez:

                > BTW, your demurrals are unfalsifiable,
                > too. y’know.

                Oh, yeah. That’s one reason why I’m becoming increasing disinclined to play the game of interpreting meta, and just sticking with results.

                North sez:

                > Firmly on message for his party this election season.

                I ask myself: if I’m a Democratic political strategist, is this a feature or a bug?

                And I’m thinking most Democratic political strategists think it’s a feature, not a bug.

                In other words, I see this as a war they *want* to have. Meaning that the GOP is rhetorically following the plan. Whether or not that’s a good idea on either party’s part we won’t know until November.Report

              • North in reply to North says:

                I’ve played your game on that one before Tom ol’ boy. When presented with more concrete arguments that Obama isn’t an extreme socialist you tsk aloofly about competing narratives and pirouette away. As one regular around here often says “fool me once…shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. “ My time to comment on various and sundry matters is limited so I try not to expend it futilely.
                This much I can predict with great confidence; Bill’s endorsement of Obama will be unstinting and his campaigning on his behalf will be an asset.

                Pat: As you say results are what matters and it is why I can only respond to GOP assertions of Obama being an “extreme” president and such socialist similarities with an eye roll or some push back as I did here.
                Obama’s actions as President have been pretty much uniformly within the center spectrum of American politics (except on foreign policy where he’s been downright center-right) and he has entire mounds of frothing disillusioned liberals (and platoons of livid civil-rights focused libertarians) to prove it.
                Anyone asserting he’s been otherwise needs to back up that assertion with more than just their own say so.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to North says:

                Ix-nay on the personal, Mr. North. Obama’s paralyzed his presidency with the “tax the rich” stuff though it would raise only $60-100B out of a $trillion-plus deficit. It’s ideology.

                Now he’s staked his candidacy on it. Bill Clinton would never have given that “you didn’t build it” speech, first of all because as a neo-liberal, it’s not him.

                “What I would like to say to the president and Speaker Boehner is, O.K., you both have your deal. Go work it out. Meanwhile focus on putting American back to work because it just confused Americans. Americans lost the fact that whatever you feel about this millionaire surcharge, it won’t solve the problem.”

                “The bottom line is, things start growing more unequal again. In general that has not sparked riots in America. We don’t have a lot of resentment against people who are successful. We kind of like it, Americans do. It’s one of our best characteristics. If we think someone earned their money we do not resent their success. That’s why there’s been very little class conflict in American history.”

                Now that’s a neo-liberal talking. That is not Barack Obama.

                This much I can predict with great confidence; Bill’s endorsement of Obama will be unstinting and his campaigning on his behalf will be an asset.

                OK, but Clinton’s already subverted Obama.


                But perhaps he’ll keep it in his pants from here on in. But I have reasons for my opinions and haven’t received my GOP talking points since the fax broke. My observations in this matter are my own and as a longtime Clinton-watcher, well-grounded.

                Cheers, and good luck. Bill Clinton is a two-edged sword.Report

              • North in reply to North says:

                To your very first part, please allow me to introduce you to kettle. Feel free to call it black as much as you’d like.

                Now, to the interesting stuff:

                On the subject of Bill I think you’re trying to build an awful lot of mountain on top of that molehill. What’s more this remains a lot of talk about talk. Action wise O and B have not differed greatly… well except B tried to enact single payer healthcare and failed while B tried to enact an (arguably garbled and complex) market based healthcare system and succeeded. Which of those actions are the more neoliberal? Hrmm, now that I think about it Bill oversaw a not insignificant tax hike while Obama’s so far (in my opinion to his detriment) shied away from them (and cut deals to prevent them). Obama’s blown up a lot more foreigners than Bill too. Which one of them is the leftist here again? Oh that’s right, we’re ignoring actions and only focusing on rhetoric. I’ll give you those Obama talks a lot more squishy liberal lines though I was very young when Clinton was presiding so I suspect he had quite a few red meat liberal riffs too.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Erik Kain says:

            Now I can see that you are not a libertarian


            My point on right-wingers still being hypocritical for calling liberals and people on the left utopians still stands.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Erik Kain says:

            What do you think is the line between economic freedom and consumer protection?

            As an example:

            I am considering trying to find a new gym. Preferably one that is closer to work. My current gym is near my apartment but I would rather not get up at 5:20 so I can be at the gym at 6 in the morning (I hate working out after work).

            So I began searching on the net for gyms near my office. The problem is that very few (only one) gave prices for membership on the website. The rest of them either provided information on their types of membership (without price) or required you to fill out a personal information form so they could have you talk to a membership services person.

            I’d rather not do this. All I want is the price and this seems very simple to put on a webpage. I’m very cranky about businesses that make me hand over data before getting information on prices or go through with being signed up.

            Would you say it is against economic freedom to compel companies to list their prices in clear and visible language? Why should my only option as a consumer be to jump through hoops in under to get the information I need to make an informed decision?

            How do you feel about binding arbitration clauses in consumer contracts between parties of uneven bargaining power?Report

            • Erik Kain in reply to NewDealer says:

              I think there is a balance to be struck between economic freedom and consumer protection, though largely that should be upheld through contracts. I don’t think gyms should be forced to list their prices. Rather, I think that a gym that was upfront about their prices might be able to compete against those that were not.

              Meanwhile, economic freedom is no different than any other kind – it ends when it infringes on the rights of others. Ergo, I support regulation of pollution, safety, etc. And I do think we should have better regulation of finance as well, given the systemic problems financial crashes cause (though I also believe that our problem is not necessarily too *little* regulation, but regulation that is ineffective and plagued by cronyism.)Report

            • Nat C in reply to NewDealer says:

              “Why should my only option as a consumer be to jump through hoops in under to get the information I need to make an informed decision?”

              You’ve described a set of circumstances where the criteria for making your ‘informed decision’ appear to be a) proximity to your workplace; b) price. Neither of those might be necessary for another consumer to make an informed decision. For instance, I might view the gym being open at a certain time as necessary for making my decision, or that the gym provide certain equipment. Should the gym be compelled to provide me a tour of the facilities before we do business? Should the gym be compelled to allow me to sample the equipment?Report

            • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

              “Why should my only option as a consumer be to jump through hoops in under to get the information I need to make an informed decision?”

              It’s not. You can tell the gym flat out that you won’t fill in one spot on any form until they give you the price information you want. And if they don’t, you walk.

              It’s a two-way street, right? You’re also an economic actor. So where do we balance economic freedom (for you) against business protection? Should we require you to provide proof of ability to pay before the gym gives you any information?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

                Typically you are required to give proof of ability to pay for a gym membership.

                This is not a government compulsion, granted, but they’re not going to give you a membership without running a credit check of some sort (similar to your cell phone service).

                The compulsion to release information seems to be a more interesting sticky widget for free market libertarians than anything else. Markets work best without information asymmetry, and yet liberty principles usually conflict with coercing one party to provide full disclosure.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                What I meant was, why not make the consumer give that proof before the gym gives the consumer any information. That seems to be the reverse example of what is asked for above. I find both silly.

                There’s no doubt the market works best with full information. I’m all for full disclosure of nutrition information, and have no problem with country of origin labels on clothes (even though I think it’s silly for people to care about that). But those are cases where it’s hard for consumers to ask for the relevant information–who expects the clerk at Wal Mart to know where that shirt was made?

                But if consumers can’t really be bothered to tell a gym that they need price information up front or they’re going to get their workout by walking away, then I’m skeptical of just how badly they want that information. They want somebody else to do the job for them so they don’t have to ask or insist? Consumer protection sometimes seems to take the form of ensuring consumers have no responsibilities. There are limits to caveat emptor, to be sure, but we still have to accept that we, as individual consumers, are ultimately responsible for ourselves.

                I think of bargaining in markets in other countries, and how bad Americans tend to be at it. And I think of the recent flap here in Michigan when we repealed the law requiring individual item pricing in the grocery store (the price still has to be readily visible, but instead of each box of cookies having a price sticker, a price sticker on the shelf face suffices), and how some were complaining about how unfair this was to consumers.

                The issue makes me shake my head in wonder, because not only does it demonstrate what helpless spoiled brats Americans are, it also leads to higher prices by discouraging bargaining. People simplistically think that bargaining in a market gives the advantage to the seller, but with just a little experience that’s not really so, whereas a listed “take it or leave it” price does favor the seller–the listed price may be less than the initial asking price in a bargaining market, but will certainly be higher than the lowest price the seller would be willing to take if bargaining.

                My own experience in cabs testifies to this. As a cab driver, I would always let people bargain down the price a bit (before I started driving) if they tried to, but almost nobody realized they could bargain–they all thought the meter price was a legally required price (and many cab drivers are happy to persuade them that it is). As a passenger I’ve negotiated fares, as well, always to less than the metered fare.

                The same is true in hotels. The list price is not always the price they’re willing to take. And I don’t mean just going on priceline, but going up to the front desk and offering a lower price. It won’t work everywhere, and it won’t work in all situations, but it can work. So getting a price up front isn’t necessarily the type of information that works to consumers’ advantage.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

                Good points, James.

                I am interested, though, in what sort of compulsory information disclosure the libertarians on the blog think are warranted in support of the market, and which ones they think are too infringing on the liberty of the parties.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I haven’t really thought about it enough to give a decent answer, though. Off the cuff I’m tempted to suggest a standard that would touch on the type of information that is kept hidden essentially to defraud the customer. E.,g., I’m fine with payday loan rules that require disclosure of the actual cost of the loan, not having it hidden in technical jargon or low-sounding weekly rates. But then I wonder if that means I’d have to disclose full maintenance records when I sell my car (problematic, since I’m not the type to keep such records), and whether we’d end up defining undisclosed price discrimination as fraud (“What? You paid $5o less than me for your airline seat!?”). I’m sure there’s at least some starting point in the preventing fraud standard, but not having thought about it I’m damned fuzzy after that.

                Hopefully someone who actually has thought about it will weigh in.Report

              • greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

                Some people absolutly hate bargining. My wife will never bargin, she would not buy something if she had to bargin. On the other hand i have a friend who loves to bargin. I think bargining for prices is an actual hobby of hers. Bargining requires a certain amount of skill and, more importantly, energy. Personal energy is often in short supply and not worth spending on something people aren’t even aware they can do.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to greginak says:

                So don’t bargain. Pay the asking price. Sure, for some people bargaining is too costly. For others, not being able to bargain (paying the above rock bottom list price) is a cost.

                The best circumstance, of course, is when bargaining doesn’t take much energy. I once spent a delightful hour and a half in a below-street level shop in the Souq Al-Hamidiyah in Damascus, drinking tea, eating cookies, and bargaining desultorily over a small silver jewelry box. If only shopping for a car was 1/10th as pleasant!

                But seriously, I learned some important lessons about bargaining from my time there. It seems to me most people hesitate to bargain because they don’t really know how far to go or what to say–they’re intimidated not by lack of a clear price, but lack of understanding about seller’s reserve price and lack of understanding about the process. But in a situation like that (this won’t necessarily work when bargaining over salary), the tricks are:

                1) Relax and enjoy your time in the store–if they don’t give you cookies and tea or the equivalent, go elsewhere.

                2) Don’t argue, and don’t make an offer–just keep smiling and shaking your head. Never agree to their request that you name a price, just keep acting like you’re not really that interested in the item.

                3) Don’t be that interested in the item. If you have to have it, the seller’s got the advantage on you. E.,g., on a rainy Saturday night, the cab driver has the advantage over you, but on a quiet Monday night you’ve got the advantage over him. Be willing to walk–if you find that you’re reluctant to walk, then you should force yourself to walk, right then, and stay out until you’ve developed more resolve.

                4) As a rule of thumb in a traditional market, shoot for between 1/3 and 1/2 the first asking price. I’ve not managed to get below 1/3 (which isn’t to say someone else couldn’t), but I’ve always managed to get below 1/2.

                5) Don’t let them confuse you by adding in another item and changing the price. That’s a classic trick, and a bit infuriating (because it’s effective). Either reject the other item out of hand (“too ugly!”) or figure out a price you’d be willing to pay for each of them separately and make the seller work down to a price lower than that sum. Don’t let them pull the trick repeatedly as you’ll eventually get confused; just keep sweeping the extraneous stuff aside and focus only on what you can mentally handle. When you’re satisfied with that price, then, if you want, casually say, “and how much more if we add in this one?” Just remember, if at any point you get confused, sweep away everything but the one item you’re most interested in and and get back to it.

                6. You’re the shopper; you’re actually in control because they need your money more than you need their product.Report

  4. Levi John Wolf says:

    I like the conclusions you’re drawing, but it seems you’re vulnerable yourself to a bit of “romanticism,” specifically concerning the term romanticism.

    Ill-conceived nouns (neoliberal) and a lack of definition isn’t fairly termed “romantic,” which is (I think) the implication you’re trying to draw. I’m sure we don’t need to get into a discussion of the finer points of romantic aesthetics, but for all of its large brush strokes, cadenzas, and emotive capacity, its structures and forms are relatively well defined.

    Reification isn’t romanticism. I’d agree with your essential characterization of the problem, that these newly radicalized people are reifying some opponent ideology and then acting based upon their dialectic. But, that’s kind of the point of “radicalization!” If “right and wrong isn’t defined by our ideology or our principles,” I’d really like to know: what criteria are used to justify “right” action for an individual at all? Coherent sets of warrants, assumptions, definitions, and axioms (principles) are the substance and stuff of ideology. Understanding problems requires ideology. If you don’t mean “right and wrong” in a normative sense, then how can effectiveness and utility be determined when differing ideas of what’s required exist?

    I think this anti-ideological stance is a pretty common (and pretty inaccurate) claim that self-classified “centrist/pragmatists” make concerning the validity of their own judgements. They claim that they’re not ideological, implying that to be ideological is to become beholden to some non-truth or partial truth, and that only by refusing to be ideological can you somehow grasp the important functional truth.

    It’s centrist false-consciousness. I’d argue you’re just letting the ideology grasp you.Report

    • I’m making two accusations. First, that the politics of Occupy Wall Street and the left-movement it’s attracted are romantic (in a similar way to the politics of the Tea Party and their notions of the Founding Fathers, etc.) Populism in particular can be very romantic.

      The second thing I’m saying is that politics is the one realm where we can play fast and loose with definitions. Neoliberal strikes me as a term used to bash any liberal that certain people on the left disagree with. If you think markets can be an efficient and useful tool, or believe that globalism is, in the long run, good for the world, then you’re just a filthy neoliberal. But what does that actually mean? Clinton is often termed as a neoliberal, but he was far more war-like than I am, or than many libertarians are. But libertarians and market-oriented liberals are all lumped under the same banner. It starts to lose meaning.

      I don’t have an anti-ideological stance, either. Nor do I consider myself “centrist” – a term I find quite appalling actually. I do think that pragmatism is useful, and that determining policy based solely on first principles can be a waste of time. But I find most of the worst our government does is done in the name of bipartisanship, spearheaded by centrists.

      I am a romantic, and I have to constantly temper what that can do to my political opinions. But I’m mostly a cynic these days. I mostly think that this political system we have is designed to craft abysmal laws and then have a very hard time repealing them. There’s a decent flipside to this – good policies are also hard to overturn. But it’s frustrating, and I’m pretty jaded and burnt out on politics right now.

      Centrist false-consciousness though? Yeah, no. Thinking that economic freedom, civil liberties, non-violence, and robust safety nets are the best combination of guiding lights by which to craft public policy does *not* make me a centrist. Centrists want everyone to come to the center. I would prefer a total end to the war on drugs, a 75% slashing of our defense budget, a huge increase in the roll the federal government plays in public healthcare, and broad sweeping efforts to deregulate the economy and promote free trade…Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Erik Kain says:

        How do you feel about people who argue for sustainable growth instead of just growth, growth, growth?

        While I still support capitalism, this does not necessarily mean I think the preferred policies of business need to always be followed. My impression of Matt Y is that he is still a bit too innocent on how the neo-liberal mantra of growth, growth, growth has not translated into growth for everyone. I think there is something to be said about wage stagnation and how the 1 percent is capturing way too much of the wealth.

        This gets into pesky and hard issues. We should reward innovation but by how much? Yes successful CEOs deserve a lot of money but they also seem to have created a world where they get a lot of money whether they do well or do piss poorly. This is a luxury that very few people have.Report

        • Erik Kain in reply to NewDealer says:

          The trick when we talk about sustainable growth vs. just growth is that it’s very vague. Obviously we don’t want growth that’s an illusion (i.e. the a bubble) because it will inevitably backfire. But how can we plan for sustainable growth as opposed to whatever the other kind is? Rapid growth can be very beneficial. For instance, look what happened after we came up with electricity or the assembly line or the cotton gin or the internet. Technological innovation can spur rapid growth and economic change – how do you plan for “sustainable” when the future is uncertain?

          I think you can plan for disruption, however. Social programs (healthcare, education, etc.) can help bulwark workers and ordinary citizens against a down economy or even just a shifting economy.

          I agree entirely that people at the top of the corporate ladder tend to make too much money. In fact, I’d say the traditional hierarchical corporate model is deeply flawed and will not last forever. Companies like W.B. Gore and Valve have much flatter, more democratic business models that reward creativity. In a high-tech economy, the old hierarchical models basically need to evolve. Maybe that will lead to lower CEO salaries, maybe not.

          I think we get deep into the weeds on a lot of this stuff, though. Growth is good! Lots of growth is really good! But a lot of times people trade real growth for the illusion of growth, and that’s where we run into problems. Which is why we need efficient regulations, good consumer watch groups, a better and more attentive media, etc. Most problems with inequality have, at their root, an information imbalance. Technology has helped tilt that imbalance a little bit closer to the consumer/citizen, but we have a long ways to go.

          I think rectifying information asymmetry is a more important goal than attempting to fix economic inequality.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Erik Kain says:

            I agree that growth and sometimes very rapid growth can be good and that the trick is figuring out what is real growth vs. another bubble.

            Humans seem to fall for a lot of bubbles or there is the real deal in growth (Goggle, Amazon, PayPal, Ebay) that can also be part of a bubble (a ton of other tech companies). Maybe a lot of us have trouble distinguishing between growth vs. the illusion of growth.

            There are also non-economic considerations. There was another thread recently where someone mentioned that the meaning to life is more than economics. I think most people would agree. The problems seem to be that my version of “there is more to life than economics and growth” might be one where another person thinks that economics or growth are more important.

            NIMBY v. Development seems to be the strongest area where this disagreement comes up. I agree that a lot of NIMBYism is very out of hand and can often go to far and there might be too many hoops for developers/builders/home owners to jump through before getting their permits. However, I also think that neighborhoods do have collective rights to retain the appearance of their neighborhoods. Maybe not in keeping single-family housing but certainly in preventing someone from just buying a lot, tearing down the existing structure(s) and building something that sticks out like a sore thumb.

            There should be a middle ground option between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses that can make most people happy or at least give each side some of what they want but not everything.*

            *I’m a firm believer that political compromise of this sort. The problem is a lot of people are not. Look at Jim DeMint and the Club for Growth as a good example.Report

  5. North says:

    Great post E.D. but then as a center leftist neoliberal I’d be expected to think so eh?Report

  6. NewDeal says:

    The problem with terms like “romantic” and “utopian” is that like hypocrisy, it is very hard to see in your opponents or other people but extremely hard to see in yourself.

    Libertarians and the Right always seem to like to accuse liberals of being nothing but dreamers with their heads in the clouds while painting themselves as the true realists on human nature. A quick look at the “non-fiction” best seller list of the NY Times reveals that there is quite a cottage industry in right-wing books making this exact message.

    I call bullshit. There is just as much romanticism and utopian on the right especially in social politics. There is probably just as much utopianism and romanticism in libertarian politics.Report

    • MFarmer in reply to NewDeal says:

      It’s neither bullshit nor romanticism to witness the libertarian world rise and break into a never-ending genius wave of innovation, peace, creativity, productivity and prosperity. I for one am a willing Hero- for -Liberty, committed to the realistic and glorious transformation from the dark ineptitude of meddling statism to the incredible brightness of joyous spontaneity .Report

      • Rod in reply to MFarmer says:

        This comment pretty speaks for itself…Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Rod says:

          MFarmer strikes me as a very clever performance artist or as a variant of Poe’s law in action.

          Yes I know Poe’s law only deals with religious extremism but I use it as a more broad thing like when I can’t tell whether something seems like it belongs in the Onion or not.Report

          • MFarmer in reply to NewDealer says:

            “MFarmer strikes me as a very clever performance artist or as a variant of Poe’s law in action.”

            I choose the first option. I miss the old gang I was a part of on a writing forum many internet-years ago. We did this thing we called deep-play and it was fun, especially when people like Rod would take us seriously — it’s all in fun and good cheer.Report

            • Rod in reply to MFarmer says:


              I know a guy, a pretty hard-baked libertarian, that I know for a fact wasn’t engaging in performance art (because he simply doesn’t have that much of a sense of humor) write an essay that ended with the proclamation that the unfettered free market would be “ultimate bliss.”

              Poe’s Law… yeah. It’s hard to tell the difference although your post did seem a bit over-the-top. Even for you. Good one.Report

    • Erik Kain in reply to NewDeal says:

      NewDeal, I’ve referred to myself as a romantic countless, countless times. Everyone calls everyone dreamers. And sometimes they’re right to do so! We can all be Utopian at times. Where am I being Utopian in this piece? Or romantic?

      And I’m not a libertarian.

      Anyways, don’t just call bullshit. Give me examples. Don’t just tell me what libertarians always do because frankly, Scarlet, I could give a damn.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Erik Kain says:

        Good points and sorry for calling you a libertarian incorrectly.

        Several years ago on NPR’s Planet Money podcast, they were interviewing various economists to give people a sense of the various schools: Marxist, Chicago, Austrian, Kensyian, etc. They interviewed one libertarian professor out of George Mason University who came very close to arguing that if you lift all government restrictions, we would all be happy shiny rainbows. His honest and sincere example was that he thought corporations would have come up with some miracle drug that allowed people to eat whatever they want without getting fat. It was only but for the pesky FDA that this has not happened yet.

        I’d say that is a rather romantic view. And one I will call bullshit on or at least using very bad science and going to our basest desires to promote libertarianism.Report

        • Erik Kain in reply to NewDealer says:

          I think a lot of libertarians suffer from romanticism. I really do think that almost all politics, but especially “purist” politics, suffer from romanticism. So-called “centrists” are some of the worst offenders. Those who believe that if we all just played nice and found middle ground all would be peachy are every bit as delusional as your George Mason professor, or anarchists, or whatever.

          I have my opinions about what works, and I try to base those off of working models, but even when you try to be pragmatic, plenty of what you come up with ends up being a little romantic and Utopian. So I include myself in my own critique, and I’m always looking for ways to debunk my own views.Report

        • wardsmith in reply to NewDealer says:

          corporations would have come up with some miracle drug that allowed people to eat whatever they want without getting fat. You mean the drug companies /wouldn’t/ have come up with cocaine in a pill if it weren’t for the FDA (and well, the DEA)?Report

  7. BlaiseP says:

    Romanticism, it seems to me, is mostly a triumph of emotional validation. This is true of most politics. Choosing a candidate is rather like choosing a lover. And like choosing a lover, often enough we make poor choices. We can’t possibly know we’re making the wrong choice at the time, so caught up in the maelstrom of emotion and desire. Judy Collins once said “It’s love’s illusions I recall / I really don’t know love at all.” It’s politics’ illusions we recall. The details are always a bit vague.

    The early Romantics understood fear. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein began as a little competition with a few of her husband’s friends, stellar figures in the Romantic Movement. Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings evoke what we would call Gothic horror but it was a uniquely Romantic horror. A safe horror, the delicious frisson of grotesque delight, reading old tombstones and wandering around ruined castles in the moonlight.

    I’ve only read Corey Robin’s book Fear. The take-away from Corey Robin’s Fear is this: fear is a tool. Once a despot reduces his subjects to frozen terror, he can never release his grip on fear. He becomes locked in what Go players call a ko, an endless repetition. Repression is countered with terror which then becomes the grounds for more repression. In chess, the threefold repetition is grounds for a draw.

    Well, Trotsky had always said power didn’t arise from weapons or even from the ability to kill the enemy. Trotsky said power arose from the enemy’s understanding of our readiness to die for what we believed. Stalin’s understanding of fear as a tool was rather more complete than Trotsky’s. Stalin would lead him to conclude that readiness to die was easily overcome by his own readiness to make his not only his enemies die for those beliefs but make his own people die for theirs as well. His Red Army would systematically rape and re-rape every German woman his troops could seize. Stalin, the true man of steel was sincerely mourned by a nation he had beaten into stunned submission with that rod of steel.

    Corey Robin fails to grasp why American Liberalism seemed to fade away. The simple fact is, with the signing of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, the Liberals had won. Bigotry became bad manners, a sign of backwardness. Like the dog that chased his tail and caught it, their struggle won, the last martyrs fell when the Ohio National Guardsmen fired on those kids at Kent State – and the Vietnam War came to an ignominious end.

    The Liberals were tired. Our heroes were dead. We’d won the war after losing all the battles. And what was left to accomplish? With the great riots of the 1960s culminating in 1968 and the death of Dr. King, what was left to defend? Nonviolence had produced some change but nowhere near enough change. The smoking ruins of Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, Washington were all that were left of our dreams of resurgent black neighbourhoods, of a better America. We were left with nothing.

    Kent State’s really where the dream died. Steely Dan observed:

    All those Day-Glo freaks who used to paint their face
    They’ve joined the human race.
    Life can be very strange.

    Every time a political movement appears with Neo- in front, we may safely substitute Un- for Neo-. Neoconservative, case in point. They weren’t conservatives. They were old disillusioned Pinkos. Same goes for the neoliberals: they’re just a bunch of free marketeers, disillusioned fascists to a man. And like the fascists, the neoliberals were obsessed with modernity, gutting every sort of restraint which might get in the way of the moneyed interests. Un-liberals all of them.

    Occupy isn’t democracy? Its enemies are constantly complaining about its lack of focus, ever the hallmark of democracy. When you ask what OWS stands for, they’ll give you a fair-sized pamphlet which reads very much like a standard political party’s plank inventory. If OWS seems a bit giddy, well, it is. It’s refreshing, to see young people, some of us oldsters too, standing up and using the word obscene to describe what’s become of our deregulated marketplace. Reminds me of that old Robin Williams routine about how parents react the first time their kid says “fuck!”.

    Language is important. It only seems fair to note what the Neoliberals have in common. Men and political movements are best judged by their enemies: no politician will tell you what he represents but will always regale you with what his enemy represents. The neoliberals began as an opposition to the social-democratic policies of Bismarck. They have been opponents of such policies wherever they have appeared.Report

    • Erik Kain in reply to BlaiseP says:

      See, but you’re using neoliberal again in a way that makes no sense to me. The neoliberals began as an opposition to Bismarck and social democracy? This strikes me as a bit too antiquated to be relevant here.

      No, Occupy isn’t democracy. It’s the gathering of like minds. Again, democracy is all about messy division and how to come up with solutions given that division. Democracy isn’t a bunch of people who agree with one another gathering in opposition to Evil Forces outside their control. What you’re looking for is “populism” – which is fine. I like to see that energy and enthusiasm as much as the next guy. I’m happy OWS exists (existed?) because I think the movement has helped spark conversation that needs to take place.

      But let’s not confuse it for this ethereal, romantic vision of what True Democracy is.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Erik Kain says:

        The first Neoliberals were obviously Hayek and Mises. Hayek has a great deal to say about Bismarck, his methods and especially his economists. If this doesn’t make sense, spend some time with Prices and Production, 1931.

        As for Occupy, they’re not as united as you might think, at least Occupy in Minneapolis/St Paul wasn’t. I also got to know a good many Tea Party folks in the Eagan area. Both Occupy and Tea Party claim to represent populism. I used to joke with the Occupy people that they needed to meet some Tea Party people for they made a good many of the same points.

        There can be no True Democracy. Democracy was always a bit anarchic at its core and thank goodness its core hasn’t quite solidified, like some cold dead planet. Here and there a nice toasty volcano erupts, all to the good.Report

  8. James K says:

    Well said Erik, I think this is one of those cases where our customary labels conceal more than they reveal.Report

  9. Rufus F. says:

    I’m about three months away from finishing a dissertation that has, in part, to do with Romanticism, so I can tell you how hard it is to define that word. I’ve found at least fifty different definitions. The one I like, because it’s my own, is that Romanticism was a negative response to the burden of social self-hood, which increased greatly within modernity. It tends to look back bitterly towards a time when self-hood was regulated by the sort of social structures that the Enlightenment and the Revolution, and hence modernity, wiped out, leaving (according to the Romantics) the individual unmoored and lost. You have to look to yourself- to your own creativity, irrationality, and genius- which might put you at odds with your society. Hence, Lord Byron was a Romantic, but so was Amy Winehouse.

    I’m sure none of this helps!Report