Misusing the Social Contract


Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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174 Responses

  1. Jason Kuznicki says:

    A picture for this post? Perhaps Uncle Sam on stilts?

    My sense is that this is very loose:

    That anyone, suitably situated** would have chosen a particular regime*** over another means that everyone has sufficient reason to support that regime. And that if you ask for a different regime even so, you are being unreasonable.

    The reason the “if you don’t like it, go away” line of argument fails has nothing to do with social contract theory. It fails because it’s bad argumentative ethics: It says, or purports to say, that I don’t really have an interest in arguing the point at hand. I’d rather argue a different point, to wit: “Resolved, you should go away, because you are not arguing in good faith, or you’re just too weird, or you’re simply unfit to live in our wonderful society.” And suddenly we are not arguing the original point at all. We’re discussing the personal qualities of one of the arguers.

    Before one argues, one implicitly chooses a subject on which to argue about. Sure, a casual conversation can and will wander a good deal. But that’s by mutual consent. Changing the terms without mutual consent is rude, and this is particularly so.Report

  2. BlaiseP says:

    What is a social contract? Two cans of worms are simultaneously opened: social virtue theory and social well-being theory. Liberals would say society ought to act as an efficient and disinterested proxy, maximising for individual freedoms and benefits within the constraints of the law and available resources. Nobody wants to see the poor suffer for lack of care nor does anyone want to see muttawwa’in religious police enforcing laws against vice and the promotion of virtue.

    But in like measure we’re all against child molesters. No problem with that, I should hope. But the laws which condemn child molesters also convict teenagers who had consensual sexual encounters with people on the wrong side of the bright line age limit. That’s where it gets dodgy and some people might find the enforcement of that part of the social contract a bit draconian.

    On to social well-being. Poor people are subsidised, even in Singapore. Within every such subsidy system, problems always emerge. Well-meaning legislators attempt to create equitable schemes to keep the poor from crash landing but is all comes down to enforcement of those schemes. How long should a dying person stay on a respirator? How much help should the parents of a disabled child receive? What about minimum wages or public education? Here the social well-being part of the social contract becomes painfully anecdotal, beyond the scope of overarching policy.

    And how congruent is any given social contract to the society which gave rise to it? The world’s changed and marriage law has changed in some places, thankfully. Laws change in accordance to the incongruence but they don’t change all at once and it’s never a perfect overlap. If this is so, is the social contract really a contract? If the contract is continually being amended, wouldn’t it make more sense to call the Social Contract a Master Service Agreement and all these revisions Statements of Work?Report

  3. DRS says:

    Libertarianism is not a philosophy or ideology, it’s a post-adolescent affectation. The right-wing equivalent of wearing a Che t-shirt and feeling oh-so-radical-and-above-it-all.

    Sometimes the invitation to emigrate should be seen as nothing more than “Oh would you please shut up already! You’re turning into a dead bore on the subject! Whine, whine, whine. Never any positive statements just complaining.”Report

    • Jaybird in reply to DRS says:

      … until 2016 at which point “wait, maybe we should go for a liberaltarian project… hey! We’re good on a few minor social issues! We want to balance the budget too! Don’t pay attention to the last few years! That was all the fault of the congress!!!”Report

    • Roger in reply to DRS says:

      Che looks cool in a beret. Friedman or Hayek would look like total dorks wearing one. We need a better, or at leat more photogenic, mascotReport

      • Jaybird in reply to Roger says:

        Today is your lucky day.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

        The selfish don’t need a mascot, not when they have a mirror.Report

        • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Asking for impartial rules and self responsibility is not selfish. Demanding handouts from others or expecting others to pay for one’s values is.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

            Asking for impartial rules after greatly benefiting from decidedly non-impartial rules is… hmm… certainly not not selfish.Report

            • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

              So, since at one time we had non-impartial institutions, there are classes of people who are permanently prohibited morally from arguing for impartial institutions?

              How do we determine who is morally exempt or not*? How long does the moratorium last?

              Kazzy, it seems like you are arguing for a ceasefire only when all members of the Hatfields and McCoys agree that the death tolls are equal. I argue that will happen on the same day there are no more of either family alive.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                Impartial government is what you think is impartial. Alas for the world, that we are governed by laws and not by wise men such as you.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                That is where social contract theory does come in. Impartial is not what one person says it is. The institutional solution to creating fair and impartial solutions is libertarianism 101.

                Allow the players to agree to the rules before the game starts, or in more complex situations, allow them to choose which pre-established game they want to enter. Again we are just getting back to the concepts of voice and entry/exit freedom.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                You want impartial rules, yet you also want self-responsibility. You may not have them both. Who’s going to enforce your impartial rules? You? So it seems.

                As for this Exit business to which you’ve alluded, it’s just wishful thinking. The individual is the most inefficient of all possible forms of governance. The Libertarians are lost in the fun house of mirrors.

                There are players all right, rules too. You lot just want to make all the rules. That’s why you’ll never win an election. You don’t play well with others. But most damningly, you don’t play well with those in your own camp. Put ten of you on a desert island and not one of you would be alive in two weeks.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “You want impartial rules, yet you also want self-responsibility. You may not have them both.”

                I am not sure why you believe these two are contradictory. Could you explain, please?

                “Who’s going to enforce your impartial rules? You? So it seems..

                Who would agree to play a game where the other party gets to determine the rules? I would find it insulting to even suggest such a scheme. I don’t want to set the rules, I want the rules to be set in such a way that they are agreed to as fair by all parties.

                “As for this Exit business to which you’ve alluded, it’s just wishful thinking. The individual is the most inefficient of all possible forms of governance.”

                All types of institutions use entry and exit “rights.” Markets are not fanciful daydreams. For an example of the principle in government institutions, just look at the relative growth rates of various states and locales over time.

                ” That’s why you’ll never win an election. You don’t play well with others.”

                I will ignore the insults which follow, but one reason we don’t win elections is we don’t believe in the game as it is played today. How can you say I don’t play well with others when I keep assuring you I only want to play with people that also want to play with me?

                Blaise, I will be the first to admit that I may be wrong. Could you help me understand where I am wrong in a constructive way? I will do the same with you. Do you agree to these rules, or are we wasting our times with this game?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Responsible people get to work on time. That’s what’s expected of us. Responsible people pay their bills, else the power will be cut off. Responsible people care for their children or they’ll end up in front of a judge for neglect.

                We are not responsible to ourselves. We are responsible to others. Responsible means answerable and that implies a question. We are always playing by rules made by others.

                Sartre said (my own translation follows loosely) we want freedom for its own sake via particular circumstances. But in desiring such freedom, we find out it’s dependent on the freedom of others and theirs is dependent on mine. Freedom for one man isn’t dependent on other people but no sooner do we make a commitment, I’m forced to make other people’s liberty my own. I can’t wish for freedom unless I also wish freedom for others.

                Responsibility is the making of just such commitments. Therefore you can’t wish for both impartiality and self-responsibility. Both are illusions, Roger. The rules of society are always changing. You’re part and parcel of that society and you’re changing, too. You can fight it, or you can participate in it.Report

              • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

                According to the online dictionary, “personal accountability” Is woven into the term of responsibility. I won’t argue that we are using responsible in a social way rather than a Robinson Crusoe manner. There certainly is no contradiction with agreeing to social rules which are based upon personal accountability.

                As to your Sartre quote, sounds like classical liberalism (aka libertarianism to me). Freedom for me is dependent upon agreeing to a truce with others that grants them the same freedom. That is why libertarianism isn’t based on selfishness. If it was it would be desiring freedom for myself and not others.

                “Responsibility is the making of just such commitments. Therefore you can’t wish for both impartiality and self-responsibility. Both are illusions, Roger. The rules of society are always changing. You’re part and parcel of that society and you’re changing, too. You can fight it, or you can participate in it.”

                I am not following your logic at all. It certainly is possible to agree to a set of rules which say that I am accountable for this, and you are accountable for that. And these rules can evolve over time.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Naturally you won’t follow my logic. Personal responsibility is accepting the consequences for actions in a larger context, a concept and a context you’ll never accept. We are responsible to each other and every such Sartre Commitment is a constraint upon personal liberty.

                I’m sick of this Libertario-Marxian redefinition of every word in the dictionary. What’s the purpose of continuing this debate?Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Roger says:

                Allow the players to agree to the rules before the game starts, or in more complex situations, allow them to choose which pre-established game they want to enter.

                This strikes me as, well, impractical at best and hopelessly naive at worst. To pick an obvious example, what about the right of the pre-established games to limit entrance? On a state/country scale, to simply say, “We have enough land, water, energy and other resources to support the current set of players, but no more.” In the future, this is likely to be an issue in parts of the American West. Much of the Lower Colorado River Basin has already outgrown its sustainable water supply, and the people already there are going to have to change the rules in some fashion in the future.Report

              • Roger in reply to Michael Cain says:


                Any idea can be taken too far. I am simply offering suggestions to ensure games are more fair as opposed to less fair. I also clarified that exit and entry rights are not the only way to ensure fairness. Voice is important too.

                The players of a game can of course put limits or rules on who can enter. White people did this to people of color for years, as other majorities in other places. In other words this idea can be taken too far also.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                I think there is a tone-deafness to a lot (but certainly not all) libertarian advocacy. Asking for impartial rules after uniquely benefiting from some historically very partial rules and offering no way to account to this partiality is my biggest criticism of the libertarian movement.

                Note: Liberals have not a particularly good job of addressing the partiality, despite claiming to do so.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                Fact is, the Liberals have addressed the partiality. Every time we do, BOHICA, here come the Slings ‘n Arrows of Outrageous Fortune again. Taking up arms against this sea of troubles is a fool’s errand.

                The Libertarians get to define all the terms, abuse logic incessantly, deny the obvious and play little games of every mendacious sort. Every time anything another Libertarian said is pointed out to them, they’ll sniff and say they don’t hold with that particular doctrine. It’s buffet-style theology with them — of a particular obnoxious and whiny sort, no different than the Catholic church’s centuries of Ptolemaic astronomy: the world revolves around the Individual.

                Anything which might arise from statistical inference is discarded if it doesn’t fit into their little Bed of Procrustes. Well, yes, some markets might require regulation but they get to define what market means, despite quoting from the dictionary a definition which directly contradicts all that follows. Well, true, we ought to invest in our society but not with their money. And oh, let’s sell the national parks.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It always comes down to the individual though. Just because I like something doesn’t mean that you should be forced to subsidize it… or vice-versa. That’s a good way to end up with Opera Houses paid for with lotto proceeds.

                The problem comes when we start discussing things like the need for the poor to receive a quality education, libertarians think about stuff like “bad teachers” and, suddenly, the dicussion turns from the need for the poor to receive a quality education and into discussions of how libertarians hate teachers, how libertarians want to break unions, and the difficulty of figuring out how someone might be a bad teacher.

                When we discuss the importance of regulation in the marketplace, libertarians point out regulatory capture, barriers to entry, cartelization, and so on and then the discussion turns into how libertarians just want to live in an anarchist libertopia but none of them are willing to say what that’d be like.

                When we discuss the way the world is and talk about how “we need to stop doing that”, the liberals suddenly turn into conservatives and hope and change become things that only stupid adolescent children believe in.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                We do have bad teachers, in present times. In accordance with good sound Libertarian principles wherein we get what we pay for in the marketplace, teachers are paid shit wages and therefore all the people who ought to be teachers aren’t. And why is this so, we might ask ourselves. Because some folks feel they’re being forced to subsidise an Opera House.

                Well, the Libertarians are not alone in this sentiment. Nobody wants to pay for schools, not unless they have kids in those schools.

                But in prosperous school districts, lord, they load themselves up with property taxes so they can keep their real estate prices up. Do you know, in DuPage County in Illinois, there are groups of Concerned Citizens who actually solicit donations at the PTA so their schools can have lots of extras? They round up just gobs of money. Send their kids to Washington DC to see the Capitol and the Smithsonian. They even supplement teachers’ wages. But then again, should such people be asked to fund schools up in Kane County, where the schools aren’t so good, well, that’s just nonsense. Coercion.

                The Libertarians annoy me horribly. Rather than point to the obvious, that the schools are bad and getting worse, rather than play to their strong suit which would include eliminating inefficiencies and bringing market forces to bear on the problem, with them any public endeavour is a crime against nature. Never mind that they also say We Get What We Pay For, hiring qualified teachers for more money just won’t do.

                But, as I’ve said, no sooner do I point out such things than the Libertarians will Eat Cheeze as they always do, tut-tut and say they don’t really believe such things on an individual basis.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                “…rather than play to their strong suit which would include eliminating inefficiencies and bringing market forces to bear on the problem”


                libertarians are the first ones to claim that a market-based solution would solve most of the education system’s problems

                “hiring qualified teachers for more money just won’t do.”

                hi im the teachers union, saying you arent allowed to pay teachers other than union scale, which begins and ends with time-in-gradeReport

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                Erm, yes, Duck. That’s exactly what a Libertarian would say. Anyone who looks at the problem of education seriously would say “If we want to improve things, maybe we’ll have to pay for those improvements”.

                But since the debate’s all about those Wicked Teachers’ Unions and not about the shit wages we actually pay teachers, even the Libertarians are singing the Dumbalujah Chorus.Report

              • Brian Houser in reply to Jaybird says:

                “Anyone who looks at the problem of education seriously would say “If we want to improve things, maybe we’ll have to pay for those improvements”.”

                No, that’s what we’ve been doing: throwing more and more money at this and it just keeps getting worse. There are many teachers among my family and friends, and they don’t complain nearly as much about their pay as they do about the system they have to work within. They come into contact with very few “bad” teachers. I don’t believe we have a teacher problem. Teachers are paid what they are because of what the market demands (as distorted as it may be). At some point you have to step back and realize a lack of funding is not the problem.Report

              • Patrick Bridges in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’ll partly agree and partly disagree, Brian.

                I agree that I don’t think we have a teacher problem – there are some bad teachers, some mediocre ones, and some great ones, but by and large teachers are well-meaning, hard-working, and want to do what’s best for the kids. People who spend their time worrying about teacher quality are worrying about the margins that really don’t matter.

                That said, school funding and teacher administrative workload *does* matter – students need individual attention, and teachers who have to work with classes of 30 or more don’t have the time for that. Likewise, making teachers spend their time dealing with the latest administrative spreadsheet monstrosity to make sure they’re doing a good job spend less time with students. Schools need enough money to give teachers reasonable size classrooms, and to effectively support high-quality teacher support and classroom intervention staff.

                In many cases, states are spending too much money on administration and testing and formulas and such hoping for a magic bullet to fix schools instead of just providing teachers the support they need to do their job well.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                Fair enough, I guess, though it is impossible (and counterproductive) for me to argue with what various sources you are concerned with.

                It is probably more constructive for us to agree that past transgressions should be addressed where possible. Going forward, it is essential that we try to make the games as impartial as possible, and it is very very dangerous to try to correct the game by adjusting rules on the fly.

                Does this make sense? If not, are there areas of agreement that we could arrive at on how to set the rules both impartially and in ways which support social “victims?”. For example, think about how the NFL draft is both impartial and biased toward losers. Seems like a good idea to me.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

                I think that, by and large, impartiality ought to be the goal. I think it is ideally phased in slowly over a long period, with incremental steps and appropriate accounting for past partiality where appropriate. Partiality is more often used to exacerbate disparities than appropriately correct for them. As such, the goal should be to eliminate it.

                The analogy I often use is that libertarians often seem to want to start a “fair” race with equal rules, ignoring that the prior rules gave them an athletic advantage and a 50 yard head start. “Why are you complaining? We’re all starting at the same time!” Um, no. Is that what all libertarians think? Surely not. Even the ones who seem to present this way often don’t actually think this way. I think messaging is a huge issue for libertarians.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

                One issue with the messaging is that we pretend to let conservatives speak for us. Big mistake.Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Kazzy says:

                And once some group wins the race, they will use their winnings to give their children an unfair advantage over the losers’ children. Rinse repeat and eventually libertarian meritocracy turns into aristocracy or oligarchy.

                The only way to prevent the winners skewing thelaying field for their children is if the state pools resources to make sure the worst off and the children of the worst off have the same opportunities as the winners. This requires transfering wealth from the rich to the poor so that the poor can afford the same schools and healthcare and access to capital that are necessary to get an education, start a business, or work your way up from a bad job to a good one.

                That’s why we should have publically funded schools, subsidized student loans, a strong social safety net, a progressive tax code, and laws to help low-paid workers (the losers) organize to negotiate for better wages.

                Now there are people I know who call themselves libertarian, who like all of the above, butnwant to modify them (e.g. make public schools into publically funded charters, simplify taxes but keep them progressive, weaken social security, give medicaid to the states, etc.) But I don’t see how such people aren’t better described as neo-liberals.

                Indeed, how can a libertarian be in favor of the government stealing hard earned money (a higher percentage from the rich) to pay for social services or to pay economic losers to help their loser children?

                If you believe what you think is a moderate libertarianism that allows for some things like subsidized healthcare subsidized schooling, and help for poor children, why don’t you call yourself a neo-liberal? That seems to me to be what neo-liberalism is all about.

                You can call yourself whatever, but I reserve the term libertarian for someone who thinks no transfer of wealth from rich to poor is ever just. Neo-liberals disagree, but want to use market-like entities (charter schools with public money, for example) to distribute money and wealth and opportunity, because they think that is more effective than a traditional bureaucracy (in some cases.)Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:


                Honestly, I never felt I was racing someone else’s children. I wish them all the fortune it the world to invest in their kids. The point is that the world does not have to be zero sum. As long as they are not allowed to use their resources to harm my kid, then god bless them. Indeed, if we limit our interactions to non coercive ones, the way their kids will make fortunes is to use their education and resources to create and exchange with my kids. Thus improving my kids lives.
                I don’t worry about rich people or China… A long as we all agree to play uncoercively.

                And yeah, I would call those of us with views as you describe CLASSICAL LIBERALS. I have no idea what a neo liberal is, and I agree some libertarians are extremists.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Kazzy says:

                Rinse repeat and eventually libertarian meritocracy turns into aristocracy or oligarchy.

                This exactly.

                Roger’s fishing stupidity:
                As long as they are not allowed to use their resources to harm my kid, then god bless them.

                The creation of exclusive, high-cost schools to keep their kids away from the hoi polloi isn’t a harm to those economically less-well-off kids?

                The creation of entire networks into which the hoi polloi are given very little chance to enter, but into which the children of the rich are given entry since birth?

                You miss the most obvious problems with your models. The upper classes have ALWAYS prospered by doing harm to the lower. Those few who enter the upper from the lower have a tendency to pull the ladder up behind them as well. It is the nature of the Libertarian “meritocracy” to become an economically coercive (there’s that word) oligarchy.

                The force of arms is replaced by the force of debt, or the simple force of economic crushing power. And we can either have a government that stands athwart it – with the higher tax rates we had on the upper end through much of the last century – or we can embrace the Libertarian model of creating a new oligarchy and reducing everyone else back to serfdom.

                Where Libertarians are lying, and dishonest, whatever other words you want, is this: they claim they don’t want a system that reduces all but the few to serfdom.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                But some things ARE zero sum. There is only so much land, for instance. What do we say to the Native Americans who were stripped of their land, which was then used by some folks to generate massive fortunes?Report

              • Shazbot5 in reply to Kazzy says:

                Hi Roger,

                Here is a primer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism

                In short, neoliberals want the government to modify markets and market-like structures to bring about the same goals of a more classical liberalist’s ideas about distributive justice. So, things like publically funded charters, vouchers, even subsidized loans for college are very neoliberal, imo. I am not a neoliberal entirely, but they get a fair bit correct, and their view isn’t radical.

                I suspect most of the libertarians here are really neo-liberals and not radicals, MFarmer and Wardsmith excepted.


                I do think parents compete to buy their children advantages and this does sometimes hurt the children of the worst off, at least economically. I see a lot of bright, hard working, virtuous kids where I teach, and they will never earn as much (okay, maybe 1/1000 will) as some of the unvirtuous, somewhat lazy kids I know who have all the advantages that their parents could buy them.

                That is unmeritocratic, unfair and unjust to the good kids who lose out economically when they deserved to win. They would’ve done better on a fairer playing field, and so they have been hurt by an unfair playing field. And it is bad for society when a large number of people percieve (correctly) that their odds of moving up the economic ladder are low despite talent and work ethic. Incentives for success can (pervesely) be destroyed in a system that is too libertarian.

                Actually, every upper-middle class (or wealthy) parent that I know worries about buying their child advantages more than anything else in the world. Many lower class parents that I know spend their time trying to get their children(as they get closer to college age) to not dream to big about life.

                Sometimes I think I might be okay with libertarianism if we

                1.) Ended all inheritance of any kind
                2.) Ended all educational opportunity inequality (no buying your way into private schools)
                3.) Ended all nepotism in hiring. (All hiring would have to be based on tests or third-party evaluations, by law.)
                4.) Some other stuff (not sure)

                Of course, 1-3 are pretty radical, so it will never happen.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

                Where Libertarians are lying, and dishonest, whatever other words you want, is this: they claim they don’t want a system that reduces all but the few to serfdom.

                Hey, check this out.

                Now, I certainly have my disagreements with the Heritage Foundation, and I’ll be happy to discuss them elsewhere, but every time I see that graph — really — what do you imagine that I’m thinking?

                Am I thinking “I hope we become more like Burma and Vietnam and Syria”? Or am I thinking “I hope we become more like the United States, Hong Kong, and Singapore”?

                You see, if I really were trying to turn everyone into serfs, or for being more like Burma/Vietnam/Syria, the way I’d have to achieve it would be to implement more economic controls.

                What I’m asking for is the opposite: Whenever we possibly can, try to do the same good with less regulation. Why? Because I want everyone to be rich. Yes, everyone.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’d be OK with Austrailan levels of economic freedom or Sweden, wherever they are.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’d be OK with Australian levels of economic freedom or Sweden, wherever they are.

                They both score very well; in the latest tabulation, Australia even beats us (as does Canada).

                Much of the index is concerned with how easy it is to start a business, the level of corruption in the country, and the like. These things do a lot more to constrain economic freedom than the presence of a welfare state. I think that that’s both correct as a judgment and informative about how to shape economic policies.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kazzy says:

                Great. Would you still be just as unhappy about the Austrailan or Swedish economic system as you seem to be about the American economic system?

                Because it seems, the problem is that as soon as liberals say, “OK, we agree with you on this silly regulation, that odd law, and these wacky requirements”, libertarians seem to immediately go to, “cool, so I bet you agree on the minimum wage, basic environmental controls, and any estate tax, right?”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                It should be noted that independent schools are not “full of rich kids”. Most have a substantial portion of kids on financial aid/tuition assistance. My school is currently at 70%, up from a pre-recession norm of about 40%. Now some of these families are faculty/staff, some of whom who do come from wealthy families but receive aid/assistance as a form of employee benefit. Others are families that might be solidly middle or even upper-middle class but need a certain percentage to make it work (especially if they have multiple kids). And many are families that would never sniff the inside of an independent school if it were not for aid/assistance, which generally comes from full pay students’ tuition dollars and donations and other charitable given by the wealthier families, alums, etc.

                I’m not really weighing in on the school debate itself but figured it best we worked from an accurate understanding of their demographics.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Or, in a nutshell, independent schools tend to function in a highly socialist, redistributive manner.

                Cost of educating a student = $25K
                Tuition = $32K
                Student A pays full ride, all $32K.
                Student B is on TA and pays $18K.
                Total payments = $50K, enough to educate both students.Report

              • Roger in reply to Kazzy says:


                We should give it back to the survivors. My wife is part Indian, so I get dibs on Southern California. Not all of it though. We will settle for Encinitas.

                Seriously though, I think those we steal from should be compensated by those doing the stealing.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

                Why is it we hear most of the talk of privilege from the privileged?

                Yes, their schools spread it around a little, but their raison d’etre is educating rich kids.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Kazzy says:

                Much of the index is concerned with how easy it is to start a business

                Which is affected by far more things than you think. Canada beats us on that metric BECAUSE they have “socialist” universal healthcare for instance – it allows people to start a business without the fear of some crippling medical event ruining them and in many cases, allows someone who’s been through or was born with a crippling or disadvantaging medical situation to compete on a more level playing field.

                the level of corruption in the country

                Which is very much independent of your theories.

                In short, the Heritage Foundation’s graph is cherry picked BS on two fronts: both the nations they choose to examine and the metrics they choose to work with.

                For instance:
                “The U.S. Rating slipped slightly, largely because of high taxes and increased government spending.”

                Taxes are at the lowest point they’ve been since the early 1930s.
                Government spending is up because of countercyclical pressures.

                To use either of these as a measure of “freedom” is a fishing joke even if they weren’t just lying about the numbers.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                Individual school’s success at promoting egalitarianism or whathaveyou are a mixed bag, at best. There are still many ways in which independent schools remain elitist institutions. I just wanted to clarify the assumption that every kid in the building is coming from a family of millionaires, which is not the case at most schools.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                And, in some areas, the best schools are parochial, which tend to have much lower tuitions than non-parochial independents.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

                I get it, Kazzy: the difference between Albert Schweitzer and Jean-Paul Sartre.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Kazzy says:

                the best schools are parochial, which tend to have much lower tuitions than non-parochial independents.

                Parochial schools, of course, have the alternate issue of religious exclusivity. Either your kid is forced to participate in religious observances and rituals you may not believe in, or you exercise an “opt out” and run the very real risk of being branded a heretic and having your kid bullied on that score.

                From personal experience, the religious-school bullies are only marginally better than the public-school bullies, and you’re less likely to be able to find friends in a school of 200 (average parochial school size) than a school of 1000 after such a branding.

                Parochial school administrators are much more likely to take a “well it’s just the heretic causing trouble” and not believe your kid’s report if he goes to them for protection from said bullies.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, I’m not directly agreeing w/ all MA said, the only time I was ever asked about my families religion by other kids was when I went to a Catholic school for six months.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                I don’t know who either of those people are. But there are families in my school who are straight up poor. Again, this is not to say that independent schools are perfect bastions of egalitarianism; just that not everyone there is a Vanderbilt.


                While I’m sure your accounting here is accurate in some cases, it is certainly not accurate in all cases. And, again, my point is simply that an independent school education is not exclusively available only to the uber-wealthy.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kazzy says:

                A private school education is available to ALL the wealthy and a few of the others.

                I had linked to the Panahou School as a bit of a wry irony. Barack Obama’s radicalism doesn’t come from the streets of Chicago or the pulpit of Jeremiah Wright, it comes from a near-lifetime under the tutelage of the Caucasian elite.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                To provide an environment where students can:

                Develop moral and spiritual values consistent with the Christian principles on which Punahou was founded, affirming the worth and dignity of each individual.

                Develop intellectual, academic and physical potential to the fullest degree, preparing them for college and for challenges facing them now and in the future.

                Develop and enhance creativity and appreciation of the arts.

                Appreciate cultural diversity and develop social responsibility.”

                This, to you, is radical?

                BTW, here are their “Christian principles”:
                “Punahou is dedicated to honoring its Christian heritage in the midst of the school’s ethnically and religiously diverse community. An emphasis on moral and spiritual education and development pervades Punahou and can be experienced in classrooms, through community service programs and character education, in Chapel worship and worship-related experiences, and in the school’s ethos and daily life.”

                Radicalism? Really?

                I think the radical schools are the ones where the full pay parents have been known to say that parents whose children are on tuition assistance have no right to complain about the cafeteria food.Report

              • Mr. Cheeks in reply to Kazzy says:

                Wasn’t it Bill Ayres, or Saul Alinsky who famously said, “let he who has two coats give one to the man who has none”?

                No wonder Obummer wants to spread the wealth around.

                I’m Mr. Cheeks and I approve this message.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

                Were you Bob Cheeks all along?

                Wow. Just wow.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

                You’re only reading what’s on the website immediately in front of you, Kazzy, and it’s just not worth parsing or litigating. Better to look up Schweitzer, Sartre, and most relevantly, Sowell.


              • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                What else would you like me to do? Visit the school and report back?

                I work in an independent school. I’ve worked in two others. I’ve read literally dozens of mission statements, if not more. I speak fluent “teacherese”. I don’t see anything radical on the Punahou website, including the page you linked to.

                I’m really stumped as to what your point here is.Report

              • The 2nd link shows Punahou, where young Barack attended, is a rich kid school. And yes there’s enough left-lib “teacherese” nonsense on wtheir website to get the gist of it.

                Occidental is also a famously PC college, then the rest of BHO’s life is Ivy league, of which no more need be said.

                If your purpose is to circle the wagons around the educational-industrial complex, so noted. if you’re interested in the wry and elegant observation

                Barack Obama’s radicalism doesn’t come from the streets of Chicago or the pulpit of Jeremiah Wright, it comes from a near-lifetime under the tutelage of the Caucasian elite.

                you’ll do some investigating on your own. I happened to hear about Punahou’s eliteness from a Democrat friend of mine from Hawaii, and then the rest of the picture fit. No conspiracy theory about “anti-colonialism” necessary—he’s just another typical American victim of “The Vision of the Anointed.”

                [Wattenberg-Sowell interview here:


              • BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Ooh, those wicked teachers and their terms of art. Liberal arts, that is. Makin’ shit up about how some Christian school in Punahou is some circus cannon that shot Barry into the stratosphere and landed him like some Agent of Subversion upon our shores.

                Doubtless, he was met on the shores of Venice Beach by trained agents of wickedness, who whisked him up I-10 to Rosa Parks Highway (gosh, the coincidences are just a-pilin’ up like cowshit in a feed lot!) to the 110 and into the wilds of darkest Pasadena, enrollin’ young Barry in a secret anointment program.

                The rest you know. But thanks to ol’ Tom, now we knew the back story.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                All independent schools are “rich kid schools” in that they are going to have a disproportionate amount of students who are wealthy. But not all of their students are wealthy.

                And is there really anything interesting about the idea of a liberal person coming out of and/or being attracted to liberal institutions? You speak of schools promoting liberalism as if they are promoting Nazism.Report

              • Not Naziism, Kazzy. Read the Sowell interview. Downright prescient.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’d rather not. If you have a point to make, make it here in the comments. Until then, it still seems that you object to anyone promoting liberalism as if it is entirely meritless.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

        Veronique de Rugy?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DRS says:

      It’s remarkable. If I’d wanted an example to support the claims in my comment of 7:51, I might just have used DRS’s comment here. Except he hadn’t written it yet.

      “If you don’t like it, go away” still fails as an argument, and if you don’t have anything better, then… well… readers can judge who has the better argument.Report

      • DRS in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        It’s “she”, for the record.

        And it’s not an argument, more like a plea to pipe down until the movie’s over. Defensive much, Jason?Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DRS says:

          I’m sorry that I confused your gender. I don’t recall any indication on your part.

          And I am intrigued by your critique of libertarianism. Truly, I’d never heard before that I was engaging in an adolescent rebellion.

          So very original, and so thought-provoking!Report

          • DRS in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I said “post-adolescent affectation”. You’re not exactly rebutting me here, you know.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to DRS says:

              I’m post-adolescence but pre-death.Report

            • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DRS says:

              To attempt a rebuttal would be to concede the validity of your ad hominem.

              I do not concede its validity.Report

              • DRS in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Don’t pout, Jason. It’s not becoming. What would Ayn say?Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DRS says:

                I don’t really care what Ayn would say. I’m an individualist and prefer to think for myself.

                Would you like to discuss social contract theory with me? Or would you prefer to opine about my personal qualities? I’m interested in the former, but not so much in the latter.

                Can we try again, maybe?Report

              • DRS in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                This is my view of liberty, to start:

                “Without authority there is no liberty. Freedom is doomed to destruction at every turn, unless there is a recognized right to freedom. And if there are rights, there is an authority to which we appeal for them.” GK Chesterton, 1928

                Your social contract was signed a long time ago, and you live in a society that is the result of that social contract. It is a first-world fantasy to think that we can re-write or re-negotiate some kind of agreement every generation or so. We are the beneficiaries of the greatest form of democracy: tradition. Back to old GKC (1908) again:

                “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”

                We have an obligation to the past to keep the best of what they left us and discard the outdated or the worst, and an obligation to the future to restrain ourselves from encoding poor behaviour or prejudices in our laws. We are imbedded in our society and have no choice in the matter, however we may feel about it. The changes we make will be made within the framework of those who came before. Black enfranchisement and women’s suffrage came about because enough people finally saw that they were a continuation of the promises made in the nation’s founding in 1776, not a refutation or overthrow of them.Report

    • Damon in reply to DRS says:

      Also, post-adolescent affectation? I’ve found the logic and consistency greater in libertarian thinking much greater than it either the left or right side. There, the SOP is to rail against whatever the other side is doing and claim that things need to change. Once in power, all that stuff that was wrong and needed to get fixed falls by the wayside, because it was only about getting into power. Ex: Bush the torturer.Report

  4. Roger says:

    All this talk of social contract theory gets too confusing for a simple mind like mine.

    Let me simplify it in terms I can manage…

    We can peacefully influence institutions by three broad processes. The first is VOICE. We can vote, or give our opinion. The second is to assume a position of AUTHORITY so that we get to be the ones that decide. The third process is EXIT. This is choosing which institution we want to belong to. if I don’t like my local grocer, I can switch to another.

    Each of these processes has various procedural processes or protocols to ensure they function well. A few weeks ago we had a debate on the issue of voice as we discussed the importance of not putting unnecessary barriers in the way of voting. Everyone remember that?

    I basically agree with the left that by refusing to exit, we are consenting to the rules and tax rates, and to the protocols of voice or authority in influencing these via agreed upon processes.

    However, just as the left argues that barriers in voice are a problem, libertarians argue that limitations in exit also reduce the effectiveness and responsiveness of institutions. It also makes them more prone to exploitation. Thus our recommendations for easier routes of exit from what we deem are bad institutions. The recommendations are obvious. Where possible, make decisions more locally, create competing institutions, privatize non essential activities, blah, blah, blah.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger says:

      You’re screwed every which way. Herbert Spencer:

      “Perhaps it will be said that this consent is not a specific, but a general one, and that the citizen is understood to have assented to everything his representative may do, when he voted for him. But suppose he did not vote for him, and on the contrary did all in his power to get elected someone holding opposite views. What then?

      The reply will probably be that, by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And how if he did not vote at all? Why then he cannot justly complain of any tax, seeing that he made no protest against its imposition.

      So, curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted — whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter! A rather awkward doctrine this. “Report

      • LWA (liberal With Attitude) in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        My son was far more succint than Mr. Spencer when, at the age of 16, he declared “I didn’t ask to be born y’know!”Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to LWA (liberal With Attitude) says:

          To be born is a very different thing from granting consent.

          If you’d like to assert that they are equivalent, you have just granted your blessing to every government on the face of the earth, whether good, bad, or indifferent. They might all actually be better than any possible anarchy, but they don’t all deserve the same glib — if I may — approval.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            It’s not like abortion wasn’t an option.Report

          • LWA (liberal With Attitude) in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The next question in Herbert Spencer’s line of logic is exactly my son’s complaint. “But I didn’t consent to be born!”

            From the moment of our birth, since we could not give consent, our parents act in our name by enrolling us in the social contract.

            When you reached 18, your choice to continue receiving the benefits of being a member of society is the same as granting consent.

            So yes, you have consented to the terms of citizenship here.
            Part of the terms are that you get a voice in the process, if that makes you feel any better.Report

            • greginak in reply to LWA (liberal With Attitude) says:

              I think there is a real point regarding being born into a country and growing up with all its benefits. Unless we decide to start over with a Year Zero with a completly new gov then there is no real other option. Yeah that means we are all stuck with a fair degree of path dependence regarding all the various parts of gov, society, etc that has been developed before us. But what is the other option? Are the libertarians proposing a Year Zero? If we had that than doesn’t everybody born after that get just as screwed over by having to cope with the enevitable things they don’t like?

              It seems like we are just stuck with having to start our political lives from where the flow of history left us.Report

            • Jason Kuznicki in reply to LWA (liberal With Attitude) says:

              Libertarians aren’t necessarily proposing a year zero scenario. (Yes, some radicals are. I’m not one of them.)

              The insight I take away from this line of thinking is that government needs to act humbly and not presuppose too much. The fact that I could hardly help being born here, and the fact that the United States is clearly among the least bad options in the world, and quite possibly the best, does not add up to a carte blanche for all government actions.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I completly agree Jason. I don’t think anybody has been advocating that gov can do anything it wants or even that some things gov does aren’t actually oppreseive. What i see is libertarians and some conservitives claiming they are oppressed because they don’t like some things the gov does. I find that laughable and i’ve written up thread how lame i find that. Nobody gets everything they want in a democracy.

                I asked before for libertarians to say exactly how much the gov has to be designed in the way they want before they aren’t oppressed.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to greginak says:

                As I’ve often said here, all government is coercive. That’s what government is. And I’m even okay with that, provided that we take steps to minimize the coercion, and that we never stop considering how we might do with a little less of it here or there while achieving the same (or, who knows, better) outcomes.

                How far can we go? I have no idea. But that’s not a terribly interesting question compared to, oh, just picking one right here — why the hell do we lock away so many people in prison?

                The theoretical debate can be fun and interesting, but if it’s an excuse to stop listening when libertarians complain about mass incarceration, then I’d just as soon ditch the theory altogether.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Please get back to me when libertarians support moneybombs in favor of candidates who have a realistic chance of getting elected and actually putting forth policies that stop mass incarcaration instead of supporting moneybombs that help vanity runs by candidates who have the same chance of me or you of ever being President.

                It’s fantastic that a lot of libertarians who have columns and websites and fellowships and editorships care a lot about mass incarceration. Now, get your average liberarian too. Just like gay people got the average liberal to care about gay marriage.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                candidates who have a realistic chance of getting elected and actually putting forth policies that stop mass incarcaration

                It’s like saying “let me know when libertarians support a candidate who has a realistic chance of getting elected and won’t deport more than a million Mexicans from the US destroying innumerable lives.”Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                What makes you think that giving money to a mainstream candidate would do any good? The two major parties don’t support legalization or decriminalization of drugs. Giving them money would only reward the opposite of what I want on this issue.

                As to convincing “your average libertarian” to care about the drug war and the prison/industrial complex — have you talked to many libertarians? I have. They’re very committed to legalization and to stopping mass incarceration.

                It’s just that libertarians aren’t very numerous. Accusing them of ignoring the issue might be convenient to you — you get to think even more bad thoughts about them, which you clearly enjoy — but it simply isn’t accurate.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                I mean, seriously. This comment is more and more baffling the more I think about it.

                Let me know when libertarians support a candidate who has a realistic chance of getting elected and won’t kick down the doors of medicinal marijuana clinics operating in accordance with state law.

                Let me know when libertarians support a candidate who has a realistic chance of getting elected and will end extraordinary rendition.

                Let me know when libertarians support a candidate who has a realistic chance of getting elected and won’t have a secret kill list.

                I mean, my atheist god. Shit like this is *WHY* we are Third Party Kinda People, Jesse. Do you not comprehend that?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Did I say anything about supporting a mainstream Presidential candidate on this? There are multiple stories out there about Governor’s, Republican and Democratic pushing prison reform. Now, they’re doing it for budget related reasons, but it’s still the right. It’s still not the perfect thing, but if libertarians say, “this Governor/Sheriff/Mayor is doing the right thing, let’s send him money and publically support him using what media power we have”, that sends a bigger message than, ‘OK, time to slam Bush/Obama/Romney/Hillary/Rubio for this horrible policy again.’

                To your second point. Again, I have zero doubt that in the world of Cato editors, bloggers, and other Beltway-type libertarians that get links from each other, mass incarcaration is a big deal to them and the people they interact with.

                But, among the broader ‘libertarian’ populace I’ve argued and dealt with for the better part of a decade on various Internet fora? No, it’s really not. Drug legalization is, mostly pot, but actual compassion for the millions of people, mostly poor and non-white affected by mass incarcration? I’m sorry, I didn’t run into that many in my travels.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Did I say anything about supporting a mainstream Presidential candidate on this?

                You tell me. You wrote:

                Please get back to me when libertarians support moneybombs in favor of candidates who have a realistic chance of getting elected…

                …which really does sound like “just support one of the Big Two” to me. In fact, I literally have no other idea how I’m supposed to read that.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Instead of giving $10,000,000 to a guy that will never be President, maybe give $1,000,000 to a Governor who did prison reform, another 500,000 to a State Senator who has tried to get rid of three strikes, 750,000 to a Mayor who has promised to make pot offenses the lowest priority for police officers, and so on.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                The governor who does prison reform is bad on eminent domain.

                The state senator who got rid of three strikes did it because he really wants to make the Drug War “work.”

                The mayor made pot offenses the lowest priority but he’s really into the surveillance state/war on terror nonsense.

                Change the nouns however is’s necessary, but there’s a pattern here. It’s the reason why I don’t generally consider giving money to candidates a worthwhile act.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Look, elsewhere I’ve said there are two sets.

                Set 1: the law as it is.
                Set 2: society as it is.

                Set 1 is always trying to catch up to Set 2. It’s not a perfect process. Liberals think we can influence Set 1 by pointing out Mass Incarceration is a symptom of stupid laws. Every time these jamokes try to Legislate Morality, we get nonsense like Prohibition and DOMA and society simply won’t accept them.

                Third Party Thinking is just not feasible without changing to a parliamentary system. The USA is a republic. In republics, political parties are about winning elections and they’ll say anything to do it. You’re not going to influence outcomes without getting people elected.

                Now God bless y’all, you Libertarians are out there preaching the good word about government gone amok but in your entirely valid complaint lies the essence of your error: you’re not in control of government. And none of your friends are, either. The Republicans have stolen your message and transmogrified it — Obama’s waging a secret war without Congressional oversight — Obama promised us open government and hasn’t delivered — all those are Liberal action items, all valid complaints. We were making them about Bush43 back in the day. But now that it’s a Democrat with his finger in the trigger well, in our hypocrisy, we Democrats haven’t complained so bitterly about these issues, have we?

                So why don’t you just join up and get involved with Liberals who can win elections? You’ve allowed the best to become the enemy of the good. The Conservatives were never your friends. So why do you hang around with them and take their money and eat their cheeze? Why can’t Cato open a line of communication with think tanks like CAP or NDN?* It’s clear you define yourselves by exclusion, if that’s the way you want to play, hell, we’ll go along with you guys. We stand for things, you stand against things, there ought to be a good deal of common ground there. We think investing in America is the only sane approach to the future of the republic — at least warn us of the dangers inherent in making stupid investments. That’s where you shine. Be not merely good: be good for something.

                * –for all I know, such lines of communication might exist. Still, a Liberal-Libertarian summit would be an excellent venue for both sides to blow the smoke away from our rhetorical differences and find some common ground. Not sure how the Kochs would react to it, but that goes without saying.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Indeed, Jason. People aren’t perfect. Gay people didn’t stop voting or giving money to Presidential canddiates because they immediately became in favor of gay marriage in 1989. They pushed and eventually got a POTUS to speak in favor of it.

                Now, you can continue to give money to people who are ‘great’ on every issue, but have zero chance to get elected or you can act rationally and support people who are good on some issues when you can. It’s not that idealistic, but it’s also politics.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                As I said above, “I don’t generally consider giving money to candidates a worthwhile act.”

                As a result, I generally don’t give money at all. I believe my husband made a donation to Obama last time around, but I don’t think our house made any monetary contributions to candidates this cycle.Report

        • My son was far more succint than Mr. Spencer when, at the age of 16, he declared “I didn’t ask to be born y’know!”

          Proper fatherly reply: “I brought you into this world and I can take you out!” [Bill Cosby]Report

  5. zic says:

    With you right up to the recommendations, Roger.

    They are, in all honesty, the ‘gut feelings’ Republicans had that Romney was going to win in a landslide. You feel they’re the solutions to proper exits.

    I like Nate Silver’s model a bit better, which also resembles how insurance markets function, how gambling markets function.

    We know x% of people will not support themselves; we know y% of people will be incapable. We understand z% will cheat the system. We do this in real life; 40,000 automobile deaths a year, etc.; so the probability of paying for those deaths is built into the system, and there’s some incentive to bend that number downward. Better to expect and plan for these statistically then to get all huffed up and cry a river when we don’t expect what we should have planned for.

    Silver’s model kept aggregating new polls; it kept refreshing its data. We don’t do that very well in government; we pass a law, and let it sit, get captured and twisted, and it’s really difficult to analyze it, refine it and improve it. One benefit of sunset provisions is that they sort of encourage this, but not directly. It’s like only cleaning your closet once a decade, or never cleaning it at all. Leads to government hoarding.

    I’d argue that it’s the hoarded privilege of enacted law, without scrutiny of what we should statistically expect, collecting in the Registries of our legislative bodies that drowns out the voices, props up authority that couldn’t otherwise stand the light of day, and blocks the exits.Report

    • Roger in reply to zic says:


      I am not following you. I guess because I don’t have any interest in what rationalization the GOP used to boost their egos before the election.

      I like sunset provisions though where reasonable.Report

      • zic in reply to Roger says:

        Well, let’s take an example. We have CityA. We understand the demographics, that there are a range of X numbers of kids who live in poverty, a range of Y numbers of single-parent homes, a range of Z-numbers of drug-addictions.

        We should, for that city, expect and plan for those things; not be surprised that z-numbers of drug addicts become drug addicts, and heap a whole lot of blame and shame. Plan for and treat addiction instead of criminalize, because no matter what we do, there’s that % of the population that trends toward addiction.

        If we understand that we have X numbers of children living in poverty, we can plan for them — would early-childhood health care help? Education, such as head-start or full-day kindergarten? Better after-school care options? Giving them books and having their pediatricians screen for learning differences when they go for a well-being checkup, something that’s been shown to increase reading proficiency at very little cost?

        But you can’t just fix it and forget it, despite what the infomercials say. You’ve got to go back and probe the fix; and I’m of the opinion this should be built in and expected function of governing. When you’ve got a road where there a lot of accidents, and so you fix the problem, you may be creating more problems as people now drive faster on the improved road. Maybe you put bumps in that road; leave the corners sharp, or otherwise impede the traffic. Maybe not. Maybe you’ve made it difficult for pedestrians to walk safely beside the road, so more folk drive and the traffic increases, people’s weight increases, fuel consumption increases, air pollution increases. We should have the habit of evaluating built into our governing process instead of only responding to the next crisis intersection.Report

        • Roger in reply to zic says:


          Yeah, insurance and mutual aid societies operate in similar ways. I see the state as filling this role too, with certain checks and balances to ensure they don’t devolve into Greece.

          One caveat… The formal and informal institutions feed back into the system. If we “subsidize” poverty, unwed motherhood or drug addiction, all else equal, we are likely to get more of these activities. Thus we need to be careful safety nets do not become hammocks. Social shame and tit for tat reciprocal relations help manage these processes. Libertarians agree more with conservatives on this issue. In other words, if you come to the aid of an addict, it shoul be accompanied by social reprobation and requirements for aid.Report

        • Patrick Bridges in reply to zic says:

          I think this is one of the big disagrement points between most liberals and most libertarians and conservatives, though libertarians tend to be a little more sane on this than many conservatives in my experience – just how big a problem is abuse of anti-poverty systems, and how much should be done to prevent it?

          There are certainly people who will game any benefit systems, be they governmental, charity, or anything else to minimize the amount of work they do. On the other hand, I I don’t see much evidence that the actual loss in these systems is large compared to the size and actual effectiveness of these programs. Sure, such stories make good copy on the evening news and talking points for Sean Hannity because they’re great at ginning up outrage, but in terms of a quantitative problem, how much of a problem are they actually?

          So I guess I’m not worried about “subsidizing” poverty in most systems I see proposed. You could clearly design “anti-poverty” programs that actually discouraged work in a large way, but the amount and ways in which anti-poverty programs currently and have traditionally worked. Does anyone have any actual data on the amount of waste, fraud, and abuse in programs like Medicaid, SNAP, etc.?Report

          • greginak in reply to Patrick Bridges says:

            I dont’ think there is evidence of massive fraud in social welfare systems. I used to work with man chronicly mentally ill people and one of the things we would try to do is get them on social security disabilty since almost none of them were functional enough to work. Hell we could barely keep most of them out of the hosptial. The rule then, and now, is everybody gets turned down the first time they apply for disablity. Why? to limit fraud. It doesn’t matter how much evidence, support you have or how solid your case is. So it takes going threw the process again which takes months or years. Its a great way to make the needy suffer to prevent fraud.

            I’d love to hear the examples of subsidizing poverty. Its to easy to be vauge and never prove these kind of statements. Lets deal with specific issues not generlized complaints.

            I put this in another thread recently. When i was a therapist i worked with a family where the mom couldn’t afford to get a job since she would lose her gov health insurance. she had two kids with chornic health problems. She would only be able to get entry level work; she was young without and special skills. Getting a job meant losing health insurance and her kids not getting medical treatment. So any nitwit who says health insurance isn’t health care is really missing a few screws and a basic understanding of how being able to pay for things allows you to get things. Its also an example of a more generious safety net leads to people being more able to get out of poverty and into work.Report

            • Patrick Bridges in reply to greginak says:

              Hmmm, nice example; I assume this was some kind of Medicare eligibility cutoff or something?Report

              • greginak in reply to Patrick Bridges says:

                Yes, the amount of money she could make before losing benefits was very low. I’d seen other people in that circumstance. At least here its mostly better. The really poor don’t lose their insurance as easily. Now its the already working poor who get boned by losing their benefits due to having a good enough job not to be destitute but not enough to meet all their needs.Report

  6. NewDealer says:

    I agree with you that people are allowed to complain about things they don’t like in their country. It does not mean I need to find their complaints valid or compelling though.

    The left is engaged in a bit of pushback with the right about moving to another country for not liking policies from the Obama administration. I think a lot of us are tired of being considered unAmerican for our liberalism. This has been discussed numerous times this week, the American Right wing (including a small percentage of libertarians like Dunderooo) have engaged in a decades (if not longer) war against liberals and claimed that our liberalism is a contradiction to being American. Contrary to their belief, we do not hate our country or are ashamed of being American (most of us anyway). We are fed up with being called unAmerican and are now fighting back.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

      It does not mean I need to find their complaints valid or compelling though.

      If you don’t like it, why don’t you move to a country where the complainers have complaints that you do find valid or compelling?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        There are plenty of complainers on the left whose complaints I find valid and compelling in the United States.

        Plus no other country has New York. Though I would not say no to an opportunity to live in London or Paris.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

        And I am still too much of a Yank to fit in anywhere else probably.

        Though there were people in Stockholm who are amused/entertained by my New York accent. I apparently sound like I am “right out of a movie”Report

      • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

        Because valid and compelling complaints from other places are really hard to find when you live in the American Media Bubble™.

        Break on through to the other side. And when you break stuff, just like when you give stuff away or when you take stuff, people complain.Report

        • dhex in reply to zic says:

          “imma move to canada” looks kinda dumb when the other folks are doing it. (kinda dumb is a gentle kindness)

          donderooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo is sui generis. he could no more be constrained by ideology than he could by logic, decency, sanity, or decorum.Report

  7. Stillwater says:

    Here’s my two cents;

    The liberal views you’re critiquing rely on a fixed and in some sense immutable view of a social contract, probably the reversie of the conservative view of it: ie., conservatives think the contract we all accept by “being an America” is to hold a limited set of individual rights as foundational and inviolable as well as a very specific relationship between federal government and the states. For the liberal, it seems to be a contract comprised of policy arrangements which exist now (tho, interestingly, not necessarily on any conception of that word).

    Brandon is right to point out that the possibility of emigration doesn’t render complaints of certain policy arrangements invalid. In fact, given the permutability of those arrangements, and the contingent justifications on which those policies rest (some of them, anyway), complaints and advocacy for change (at least insofar as we view the merits of a specific policy as an open question) ought to be not only permitted but encouraged.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Stillwater says:

      Brandon is right to point out that the possibility of emigration doesn’t render complaints of certain policy arrangements invalid. In fact, given the permutability of those arrangements, and the contingent justifications on which those policies rest (some of them, anyway), complaints and advocacy for change (at least insofar as we view the merits of a specific policy as an open question) ought to be not only permitted but encouraged.

      Right, but according to the social contract argument, democratically determined policies may not be optimal, and it may be a good thing to change them, but they can’t be illegitimate. By choosing to live in the country, you tacitly accept the fruits of the democratic process.

      Of course, that’s all bunk. There is no social contract. To think of politics as anything other than an amoral struggle for power is a category error.Report

  8. M.A. says:

    You completely misrepresent the point I was making, but I’ll forgive that.

    What I was responding to was this insane mumbojumbo:

    So my point is what if I’ve searched the world over, exploring the various so-called social contracts and realize hey, we do have the best system here. But it still sucks. Where can I go?

    We libertarians are tired of being included in this mystical social contract that we never signed and can’t get out of without leaving the planet or buying an island.

    and this:

    All that would all be fine if I had actually signed up for it. If I had entered into a business agreement for another company to help me develop healthy, educated, qualified workers; to build roads; to provide security; and so on, then of course I would expect to have to pay for these things.

    But with big government in the picture, in many cases, I don’t have any alternatives other than to be forced to go with their “solution”. And even if a good alternative exists, I still have to pay for one I’m not using.

    This is the standard, dishonest, worthless Libertarian “I didn’t vote for it so why the fish should I pay for it even though I choose to participate in and live in this system” argumentation.

    I’ll also refer you to my much longer response here, snippet of which:

    I don’t like the amount of my money going to the military. While I see the need for a military system, from my perspective a lot of our military is both anachronistic and a breeding ground for attitudes that aren’t very good for society (the crazy racist in Wisconsin who shot up a Sikh temple, who met and joined his white supremacist cell while inside the Army, is a good example). So I’d prefer not to be paying as much of the taxes that go to the military. At the same time, I’m rather obligated to understand that I’m not the only person in the nation and others feel differently on the matter.

    So, I don’t get that choice. There is no “I choose to save $2000 on my taxes by not paying for military funding” box on my tax returns.

    Elections are, in effect, a “renegotiation” of the social contract in many respects. Elections are when you get the chance to elect representatives who may change the laws as you desire; in some elections, you get a direct vote via referendum.

    What you don’t get to do is say “I lost the vote but nah nah I’m not going to pay.” What I was pointing out in the little snippet you took WAY out of context, is this: once the vote happens, win or lose, or even abstain, you are bound by the results until the next election or until you can change things by convincing your representative and at least a bare majority of other representatives to do so. That’s the way the representative government system works.

    Brian’s temper tantrums did nothing to lessen my low opinion of Libertarian “thinking” as of present time, and neither did being taken out of context in this piece.Report

    • Murali in reply to M.A. says:

      As you note, M.A. what I really wanted to post about was why Brian’s response was extremely silly. Only thing is, you seemed to have identified that it was silly, but got completely wrong what was silly about it. You seem to have bought into the same silliness as Brian. It is not that people actually consent to the laws they live in so long as they’ve got the option of moving away. Rather, it is that it is sometimes okay to have regimes which people don’t consent to because, sometimes, people’s withholding of their consent is itself very unreasonable.Report

  9. Brandon Berg says:

    If leftists get to say that libertarians should shut up about taxation because by staying in America, they already choose to stay and implicitly accept taxation by staying, why don’t conservatives get to tell liberals that they should shut up about gay marriage, or single payer, or illegal immigration because they are staying in America and by staying already consent to those laws?

    Indeed. It’s funny how the jokers who keep pushing this argument are dead set on fishing up America instead of moving to Europe, where they already do things the way leftists like.Report

    • greginak in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I think the option most D’s have taken is that whole election thing then try to advocate for what we want. Not perfect but its the best we got. Libertarins have an option to exit, allthough it certainly isn’t super easy for many countries. How exactly do we have to make the country fit your preferences before you aren’t being oppressed? Is there a way to move towards that end?Report

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

      Yeah, jokers like you who intend to fish up America, by turning it into some corporatist state where we’re all nothing more than chattel.

      This is the reverse side of the “well if Sweden’s health care system is so good why don’t all you libtards move to Sweden” bunk we had to put up with when working for health care reform, so why don’t you just shut the fish up already?Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    One argument that I find troubling is the whole “we all have obligations to each other” argument… (not the whole “I have obligations to society” thing, I like to think that I’m keeping on top of mine with the whole overpaying of taxes and obeying the law kinda stuff) but when I suddenly start wondering what “their” obligations are to me, the conversation takes a bit of a weird turn.

    That weird turn is interesting to me.Report

    • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

      What are their obligations to you?

      Well, did your kids go to school? Get accepted to college? Have jobs? Making that possible is one.

      Can you trust that your bank/credit-card company aren’t defrauding you? Because that’s another.

      Do you take a prescription drug? Do you trust it won’t kill you? That your doctor’s not going to prescribe snake oil? That the viagra you get at the pharmacy is really viagra? That the bridge won’t collapse when you drive over it? that the dam upriver won’t wash out? That the water’s safe to drink?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        No, I got my vasectomy early… but there are a lot of people in this web of folks who all have obligations to each other. I can appreciate that the FDA is making sure that my viagra is *REALLY* viagra. Thanks, FDA!

        There are a lot of people who I have obligations to, though when we discuss my obligations to others. What are their obligations to me? There are a lot of people who are not involved, in any level, with my viagra, credit-cards, topical ointment, bridges, or water… and many of these people are brought up when we start discussing my obligations.

        If we all have obligations to each other, what are theirs?Report

        • LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to Jaybird says:

          I think the point here is that everyone in America is sitting atop a huge pile of benefits and goodies which they were given, simply by virtue of being born in America in the 20th century.
          We didn’t work for them, we didn’t earn them, we didn’t pay for them. They were simply here, given freely to us.

          Our obligations to each other are to cooperate in the civic process, to pay taxes, among other things. You personally benefit from this, every day.Report

          • Oh, good. My obligations are being met.

            Now… are theirs? What do I do if theirs aren’t being met? Do I have an obligation to make sure that they are meeting theirs?Report

            • LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to Jaybird says:

              I’m not following- explain a bit?Report

              • Other people in our social contract. Pick a group. Any of them. If you’re confident that they’re meeting their obligations, pick another. Keep picking until you pick a group and you suddenly lose enthusiasm for talking about their obligations.

                That’s the interesting dynamic I’m talking about.Report

              • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hmmm, might this be privilege insecurity? Other folk want the same privilege I’ve already got? Recent immigrants want the opportunity to be citizens. Women want the right to control their bodies. Blacks want the chance for economic equality. Gays want the right to marry. Pot heads want the right to get high.

                Transgenders, now there’s a group without much hope of getting anything, because they need access to what’s deemed non-necessary medical care.Report

              • M.A. in reply to zic says:

                Hmmm, might this be privilege insecurity?

                The entire philosophy of libertarianism is based on privilege insecurity.Report

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

                Libertarianism is a critique of privilege.

                The entire philosophy of modern liberalism is figuring out who deserves which privileges: Not these people, pick those instead. And if we just get the smart people elected, I’m sure we can figure it all out.

                But the smart people have been getting elected for decades. Their absence isn’t the problem. The problem is that rearranging privilege isn’t going to help anyway. Dismantling it will.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to M.A. says:

                Please explain how the ability of insanely rich people to give all their money after they die to their children, thus giving them a massive head start not a privlige?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

                A critique of privilege? Libertarianism seems to be a critique of entitlement. Contra Rothbard, government is not the final arbiter of privilege: money is and always had the last word.

                It seems to me the Libertarians want nothing less than the complete repeal of any restraint on the power of the moneyed classes and the concentration of wealth into the hands of the few.

                Not these people, pick those instead.. No, Jason, those who pay the piper call the tunes.Report

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

                By that logic, the right to live in your own house is equally a privilege, and you ought to open it to absolutely everyone. Have you done so?

                Some private property distributions may bother you. I get that. Some even bother me. The difference is that where you would redistribute whenever you are sufficiently bothered, I would prefer to work at the institutional level.

                If these gains really are ill-gotten, then taking them away at death clearly isn’t ideal — the guy who got them has had full use of them in the meantime. We should limit the means by which people acquire great inequalities in wealth instead. It’s my belief, and you don’t necessarily have to share it, that the vast majority of these methods depend on state-granted privilege. Work there first: things like copyrights and patents, subsidies, tariffs, and unduly favorable regulations.

                Theoretically, this all goes back to Robert Nozick’s distinction between pattern and process accounts of justice in holdings. I don’t recognize pattern principles as having much claim to being correct. They typically require too much intervention by the state to be plausible.

                For example, you mention removing the right to inheritance. Let’s grant it for the sake of argument. But what about wealth transfers and other, less tangible benefits while the parents are still alive? To really enforce what you want, we would have to enact much greater restrictions on all forms of property, not just inheritance. Political power would then become much more lucrative, and going out and working for a living, much less.

                In the long term, that’s a very bad deal. It would tend to impoverish everyone — except, that is, for the state-centered elites.Report

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

                Please explain as well how the ability of the oligarchy-level rich, who can always command a profit off of whatever “business” arrangement they make, does not necessarily eventually deprive the rest of the populace of the ability to be anything but vassals?

                This is where you’re full of it. When you say “dismantling privilege”, you don’t actually mean that, you mean something different in the way that when Soviet diplomats used the words “peaceful coexistence” they meant that they wanted the capitalists to give in without a fight.

                The only functional system is one that would say people can get X level ahead, but after that face a system of diminishing returns. That’s the system that got us taxation rates at 70% or above for the highest marginal brackets, once upon a time. And strangely, it worked.

                I’ve yet to see a Libertarian policy that, once implemented, functioned as intended without incredibly bad “unintended” consequences that Libertarians always handwave away as it not being implemented “properly.” Maybe we should finally admit that the problem with Libertarianism, just like the problem with Communism, is that it fails the reality test and there IS no way to implement it “properly” the way Libertarians think it would become functional?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

                In point of fact, many refugees have come and gone in my house. As for the State, corporations pay no attention to such silly boundaries and constraints: they operate mostly as they see fit. Ezra Pound

                …Usura rusteth the chisel
                It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
                It gnaweth the thread in the loom
                None learneth to weave gold in her pattern;
                Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisi is unbroidered
                Emerald findeth no Memling
                Usura slayeth the child in the womb
                It stayeth the young man’s courting
                It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
                between the young bride and her bridegroom
                CONTRA NATURAM
                They have brought whores for Eleusis
                Corpses are set to banquet
                at behest of usura.

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

                I’ve yet to see a Libertarian policy that, once implemented, functioned as intended without incredibly bad “unintended” consequences that Libertarians always handwave away as it not being implemented “properly.”

                The template policy is the freedom of religion, combined with the separation of church and state.

                Obviously, those were a total disaster. It’s time we went back to a state-sponsored, state-run church. No more libertarian handwaving!Report

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

                The template policy is the freedom of religion, combined with the separation of church and state.

                Those are Liberal, not Libertarian. Trying to claim what isn’t yours scores you no points from me.Report

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

                Those are Liberal, not Libertarian. Trying to claim what isn’t yours scores you no points from me.

                I dunno. I tend to think that libertarians, or at least classical liberals, are the true heirs to Mr. Locke. Modern liberals are considerably less so.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to M.A. says:

                It’s the Libertarians who tend to scream about the original Bill of Rights and hammer on the 9th and 10th. This allows Liberals to call them racist. Once that’s out of the way, there are usual arguments over the 1st Amendment and whether Citizens United increased “free speech” or decreased it, and there’s usually a lot of quoting of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and the 2nd Amendment, and people asking if Iran shouldn’t be allowed to own a nuclear weapon, and Libertarians saying “why should we have the right to tell Iran it can’t” and Liberals getting all upset because that’s a Liberal position, and the 4th Amendment doesn’t mean *THAT*, and so on, and Liberals explaining that they are the true people who support the Bill of Rights, except for a narrow reading of this, that, and the other Amendment, because they’re the adults in this conversation, and the Constitution is not a suicide pact.Report

              • Major Zed in reply to M.A. says:

                “The only functional system is one that would say people can get X level ahead, but after that face a system of diminishing returns. That’s the system that got us taxation rates at 70% or above for the highest marginal brackets, once upon a time. And strangely, it worked.”

                In what sense did it work? Honest question, not being snarky. It seems that high marginal tax rates would be good for keeping people from becoming wealthy, not necessarily good for extracting funds from the already wealthy. Is that the intent?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to zic says:

                How do Libertarians feel about immigration? I’m for open borders, myself. How do they feel about birth control? How do they feel about gay marriage? Legalized pot? Hell, “economic equality for African-Americans”?

                I’m pretty sure that all of the Libertarians are 100% down with all of those. Aren’t they?Report

              • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, you’re the one who brought up the onion of special interest groups. I just tried to point out that the norm one compares to when defining what a special interest group constitutes is usually comprised of the part of the population who look like the founding fathers; the ones who started out with all the privileges the rest of us have had to group together to access.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Zic, who’s talking about special interest groups?

                I’m talking about obligations and how we all have them to each other.

                Surely you agree that we all have obligations to each other… do you not? We’ve established that, as an ongoing concern, I’m pretty much meeting mine… now I’d like to establish how I can keep tabs on others and make sure that they are meeting their own to me.Report

              • zic in reply to Jaybird says:


                I’d like to establish how I can keep tabs on others and make sure that they are meeting their own to me.

                Ideally, you don’t. That’s a heavy burden to carry. (Just look what it’s doing the Christian right.) You accept the fact that some people will cheat, will fail to live up to their obligations. And you set your rules so that you have some hope of flushing out the cheats, rule-breakers, shirkers, and ne’er-do-wellers.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Seems like waaaaaay too much burden. Can I go back to not caring?Report

          • Roger in reply to LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:


            Our obligation is to continue the process which got us here. Our prosperity was built upon the institutional accomplishments of those that came before us. Free markets, science, technology and democracy. We owe the same to our grand kids. Based upon the history to date of these over the last two centuries, the outlook should be great for those in future generations. This is of course contingent upon us not wrecking the machinery of progress. This is my goal.Report

          • Those taxes largely go towards keeping a connected elite in wealth regardless of how badly they blow their day job, violence against people who aren’t harming anyone else, and domination & outright murder overseas.

            Blood on my hands is not my idea of a “benefit”.Report

  11. greginak says:

    I never said Brandon, or anybody for that matter, doesn’t have the right to to complain about the gov we have. We have freedom of complaint in this country. Go for it, complain away. My point is simply that because he, or everybody else, doesn’t get the specific gov they want, does not mean they are being oppressed. Of course oppression happens, but everything isn’t oppression. In a later response i used the example of racism. Many on the right side feel liberal types call racism to often which i agree with. Not because racism isn’t still present and an issue but if you define a word to widely it loses meaning.

    Nobody gets everything they want in a democracy. That seems self-evident. So libertarians are never going to get exactly the country they want. Does that mean they are permanently oppressed? As i asked repeatedly; are Christian Dominonists oppressed because they can’t get the country they want? How about Nazi’s?

    The standard seems to be that since libertarians didn’t sign onto the social contract then they are being oppressed. But doesn’t that imply unless we run the country the way they want than they are being oppressed so the SC is being pushed on them. Or to put it another way, unless they get what they want, irregardless of elections or what anybody else wants, libertarians are always being oppressed? If the answer is no then how libertarian do we have to be, please be exact, before they aren’t being oppressed.

    Libertarians may not like many things in the gov, hell i agree with them on some of those things. As i said they are free to advocate for their point of view. Getting something done is even better that complaining so maybe libertarians should stop writing about how voting is a waste of time.

    Libertarians like Roger put a lot of emphasis on Exit. I agree its good for people to be able to leave if they want. What they don’t seem to note that leaving people able to exit does vastly limit the number and quality of solutions to problems. Libertarians seem to believe that their choices and preferences won’t have any impact on anybody else. But they would.Report

    • Shazbot5 in reply to greginak says:

      I agree.

      Furthermore, even a libertopia would have oppression defined as broadly as this.

      Suppose I see unused land on which I want to build my house. The owner comes along and says “no.” So, I keep looking, but nowhere do I find land that I can afford. So I go back to the orginal unused plot and build a house. Furthermore, suppose I wish to live life like Thoreau or some sort of hippy, not participating in money and trade, just living on a small spot of land, in some primitive cabin.

      Imagine that The owner goes to court and has the police evict me. The state and the owner took away my right to live where I wanted, how I wanted.

      Am I not oppressed in the broadest sense?

      Suppose I wish to make a burger joint called McDonald’s, and sell “happy meals” to children, or maybe a movie about Star War.” where rebels fight against an evil empire and a giant black knight. Can I do that?

      The enforcement of property rights requires some limits on human freedom, some oppression. But that’s just. Well, us non-liberals think there are other minimal limits on human freedom that are also just, especially some redistribution of wealth to create equality of opportunity and to take care of the worst off. Neither are unjust oppression like, say, what they have in North Korea.Report

  12. Shazbot5 says:

    Sorry to repeat myself, but I do have a question involving social contracts and libertarianism.

    I have always though of a libertarian as someone who has Lockean view (broadly construed) of the social contract. In brief, my body and my property (which is an extension of my body as I mox my labor with the earth) are mine, and yours are yours, and the social contract we have entered into says we can do anything we want as long as we don’t violate each other’s property or bodily rights. Property rights and the right to do with your body and life are sacred and inviolable. The sole proper role of government is to act as a magistrate to make sure no one violates anyone else’s property or bodily rights. (All rights in this libertarian framework are negative. I don’t have a right to healthcare or a right to a minimum standard of living, only a right not to be injured, stolen from, or interfered with.) If the government tries to take my property or violate my rights over my body, this is as unjust in a way akin to slavery, and I have a right to fight back.

    I can see how modern libertarians can allow some modifications of Lockean libertarianism. But how can a libertarian believe that any system (not just the ones we have, but the ones that conservative and neo-liberals propose to take thir place) that transfers wealth by supporting social safety nets, public school funding, or progressive taxation is just?

    How can a libertarian not be a radical? Conversely, how can a libertarian be moderate and not a neo-liberal?

    I mean this honestly.Report

    • Murali in reply to Shazbot5 says:


      I will try to answer this as best I can.

      Firstly, there is a lot of overlap between neoliberalism and libertarianism. One of the reasons why libertarianism is the preferred term is that there are circles where neoliberal is a term of abuse. As a matter of practice a lot of self describedacademic libertarians subscribe to wha you call neoliberalism or what they call neoclassical liberalism (which sounds a lot better doesnt it?)

      So, someone can be both a libertarian and a neoliberal, especially if they were moderate libertarians. However, there is not complete co-extensiveness between the two. neoliberalism also describes a range of policy positions. There may be some neo-liberal positions which are still too statist for even moderate libertarians.

      The second thing is that while Nozick, the archetypical libertarian was a Lockean, the libertarian movement is far more diverse. For example, I myself arrive at libertarianism via a more Rawlsian approach, and I am not alone in this. So do people like John Tomasi and Gerald Gaus.Report

      • Shazbot3 in reply to Murali says:

        Thanks Murali,

        I’m still confused.

        In what sense aren,t you a Rawlsian, maybe a right-Rawlsian?

        The term “libertarian” has to imply some principled difference with liberalism, no? If so, what is the difference between your libertarianism and a right-leaning or neoclassical liberalism?Report

        • Murali in reply to Shazbot3 says:

          Libertarianism is a species of liberalism and so describes a range of policy options that generally call for more civil and personal freedoms as well as calling for fewer and simpler economic regulations, lower and less distorting taxes and generally just treating the right to private property in productive assets as fairly robust. At one end of the libertarian spectrum, you are likely to find real hardcore folks like Brian Houser who think taxation really is theft. At the other end you will have more moderate folks like myself who are basically neoclassical liberals who are willing to have a social safety net if doing so keeps people from starving on the streets and provides opportunities for children to escape cycles of poverty.

          How are we different from high liberals and certain more left wing versions of neoliberals? We generally think that fewer regulations, spending and taxes are as justified as high liberals think. While high liberals may see privae property in productive assets as only instrumentally good, they tend not to see the exercise of people’s freedoms in such areas as an important expression of the self and a worthy pursuit in and of itself of one’s own conception of the good.

          So, as a matter of practice, high liberals would tend to balance things somewhat differently or maybe their empirical evaluation of situations may result in them proposing things which are on balance less market oriented than neo-classical liberals and libertarians.


          • Ramblin' Rod in reply to Murali says:

            While high liberals may see privae property in productive assets as only instrumentally good, they tend not to see the exercise of people’s freedoms in such areas as an important expression of the self and a worthy pursuit in and of itself of one’s own conception of the good.

            I think that’s both right and wrong, at least for this high liberal. As an instance of exercising personal autonomy it seems like a worthy pursuit, but I don’t see how it has a special status that would rank it higher than other virtues.

            But even if I grant it that special status, and maybe even particularly if we agree to grant it that special status, then it seems to me the libertarian has more work to do. Because that freedom is going to look a whole different to a young Mitt Romney, attaining the age of majority and going forth in the world exercising his moral powers and such, than it does to a poor teenager raised in the ghetto.

            It reminds me, of all things, of open-source software. Sure, you can download and use it for free, which is undeniably cool, but the real draw of OSS according to its most fervent advocates, is the freedom to modify it to suit your own needs. Well that’s… nice, I suppose. But I’m not a programmer; I’ve tried to learn several times and I really don’t have a talent for it. “Well, then, you can pay someone else to do that for you,” they reply. Okay, but I don’t have that kind of money. So in the end, for most people, the distinction between closed, proprietary, freeware and shareware on the one hand, and “truly free,” open-source, software is entirely theoretical since I’m not situated so as to be able to really make any use of that particular freedom or liberty.

            The point being here is that there is such a thing as a formal, theoretical, liberty and an effective, realizable, liberty. A liberty that isn’t accessible to me may as well not exist, no? Because if I’m not situated to avail myself of that liberty it does me precisely no good.

            Can we agree that both liberty and equality are important civic virtues or principles? If so, I think this is perhaps where ultimately the liberal and libertarian part company. Because the sense I get from reading and discussing these things with libertarians is that the generally believe that equality flows as a consequence of liberty. I think that’s backwards. It seems to me that if you start with the presumption of equality then you wind up with liberty, if for no other reason than your desire for it for yourself necessarily entails your granting it to your fellows.

            And it can’t be just a formal, theoretical, equality. It needs to be a real, effective, and accessible equality. Consider our recent presidential election. In several states we had the situation where the (Republican, natch) Secretary of State had set things up so that it was very easy and convenient to vote if you were in a rural or suburban, white, majority Republican precinct, and extremely inconvenient if you were in an urban, majority Democratic precinct. This was primarily a matter of under-provisioning voting facilities in those latter areas, so that if you wanted to vote you had to endure standing in line for as long as 6 to 8 hours. While both classes of voters enjoyed equal, theoretical, liberty to vote, I don’t see how you could claim that they both enjoyed equal, effective, liberty to vote.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

              The benefits of open source software are mostly at the bottom line for corporations and developers, not end users. It’s simply more cost-effective to put in a Red Hat Enterprise Linux based server than its MSFT equivalent.

              Your browser doesn’t care what’s at the other end of the wire. That’s the genius of a protocol-based solution. IBM has put money into Linux and development tools such as Eclipse because these tools allow them to leverage their hardware business.

              As Murali observes, freedom to choose is the desired end goal. Open source software has become a valid choice: firms like Red Hat make money supporting Linux because developer people like me run out in front of Red Hat with a release called Fedora where we actually use what will in time become a supported Red Hat release. It’s not a matter of modifying open source software to your needs. For someone like you, the end user, it’s a matter of compatibility. You don’t want to have to think about it, for you and people like you, this stuff should just work.

              Put it this way, your available browser choices arise from the freedom we developers were given to create them.Report

              • Ramblin' Rod in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I understand all that, Blaise. I was mostly referring to the rhetoric of Richard Stallman. And his point isn’t invalid, it’s just audience-specific, since he’s generally talking to other developers when he says such things.

                I don’t want to get hung up in the weeds of OSS here; it was just an example. Do you see merit to my main point?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

                Oh, sure. I was just point out why you were right — aaaand Murali was right. 😉Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

                As for RMS, he’s an interesting crank. He’s a sort of conscience for the OSS community. We respect him for his perseverance in the cause of free software but the fact is, as you say, the usual order of precedence is Equality, then Freedom.

                There’s just too much work to be done out there and too few hands to do it. OSS and Free Software have done much to make that work easier and more direct. Software wants to be free, well sure. But first, let’s work out the protocols so we can be Equal.Report

            • Murali in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

              You don’t really have to give it any special satus, just the same consideration and space you would give other exercises of personal autonomy. So, generally, we think people should be allowed to do stuff in their own lives even if the stuff they do is not stuff we would do. We do this when it comes to religion and music etc. We do not avoid interfering completely, but we do require a fairly high threshold before we interfere. i.e. we give a fairly strong presumption in a lot of cases of the exercise of personal autonomy. Why? because we ourselves generally wouldn’t want others to interfere with our exercise of autonomy except when things are rather dire. In particular, the freedoms that are important are the freedoms that are crucial to the exploration of conceptions of the good. So log as we give economic freedoms the same weigh we give other freedoms, we shouldn’t think it permissible to reulate just because it would improve outcomes. We must think that the improvement to outcomes would have to be pretty significant, and the interference pretty light and unnoticeable. We should be particularly leery of proposals to impose high tax rates. We shouldn’t think that it is okay to say that “we will let you get ahead, but only by so much”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Murali says:

                But what about positive law? Case in point: Augusta Georgia wouldn’t promote black police officers. So a court case came through, said the police force should promote a few. But they didn’t: they found a thousand reasons why each black policeman shouldn’t be promoted.

                So the court forced them to promote a few.

                Freedom only takes us so far. Equality before the law should have produced a few meritorious candidates for promotion, statistically. But it didn’t in this case.

                So how would a Libertarian handle this conundrum? I’ve pointed out how the Objectivists of yore were against desegregation laws. Does this inequality merit interference?Report

          • Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

            I agree with Ramblin Rod.

            Liberals agree that autonomy, even economic autonomy, is an intrinsic good. (Marx himself, more left than liberals’ sees owership of what you produce as the most important good for you. People seem to forget that Marx and the Libertarians agree on that.)

            But classical and neoclassical liberals think we need a system that balances autonomy and certain basic protections for the worst off and between the autonomy of the current well-off and future generations. (This is what Rawls explains)

            If Libertarians do not believe that autonomy trumps everything, they are not liberal. But in that case, libertarians should not be moderates. Rather, they should see pretty much everything about the state as unjust, and pretty much everything about a more neoliberal state (with charter schools, less unionization, a negative income tax, a less bureaucratic and more voucherized welfare system, etc.) as just as unjust.

            If Libertarians believe that considerations of autonomy need to be balanced with utility and equality, then they can be moderates, and be logically consistent. But then they should call themselves Right-leaning liberals, because that is all they are, and they should distinguish themselves from the radicals.

            If you accept a species of liberalism, that should be clear from how you self-describe. IMO. Otherwise, we get confusion.Report

    • Brian Houser in reply to Shazbot5 says:

      “But how can a libertarian believe that any system that transfers wealth by supporting social safety nets, public school funding, or progressive taxation is just?”

      Ultimately, he can’t (unless all that stuff you mentioned is voluntary). However, contrary to popular belief, many (dare I say, most?) libertarians are realists. When we get caught up in these heated debates, we often sound like radicals, but most of us realize you’ve got to face reality and compromise when you actually want to get things done.

      So, when we adamantly say things like “taxation is theft” and “public education bad”, we mean it sincerely, but we’re usually willing to compromise as long as we’re moving at least a little in the direction of more liberty. So, we might agree to public education/welfare/healthcare if they’re done at the state or local level. We might agree to taxes, but we’d prefer a sales tax over income tax.

      Given the constraints on the executive branch, what would we reasonably expect at the end of President Paul’s first term? A federal budget of about the same size (perhaps executive branch appropriations cut significantly), much fewer military operations overseas, and all federal prisoners incarcerated for drug possession released (unless they committed violent acts). That’s probably about it.Report

      • Patrick Bridges in reply to Brian Houser says:

        Do you think it’s going to be easier or harder to work on generally find it easier to work meaningfully with someone on realistic problems after calling them a thief or a bully? If not, perhaps those catch phrases, while useful signaling to other Real Libertarians™ are part of the problem for the libertarian party, not part of the solution.

        Look, I’m more amendable than many liberals to market-oriented solutions to problems, and am interested in finding market-oriented solutions to problems, as long as people are realistic about what markets do and do not do well. Hell, I *prefer* the mandates in Obamacare to a single-payer system for that very reason. When libertarians spend their time implying that I’m a thief and an oppressor, though, it’s hard for me to believe they’re actually realistic about governing or working with others on solving real problems. They come across as more interested in being “right” and “principled” than in actually solving problems.

        Come do battle with the real world instead of sloganeering, and let’s see how well your battle plan survives contact with *that* enemy.Report

        • Patrick Bridges in reply to Patrick Bridges says:

          Okay, that was a little over the top. I’m just sharing Blaise’s frustration from the previous thread. I *like* this website because many of the posters and commenters *do* try to put forth meaningful solutions to problems like health care and poverty and such. I’d just like to see more of that and less of the standard liberal and libertarian tropes that seem to have popped up in recent threads lately.

          And some of that has been my fault, too.

          Mea culpa.Report

        • Patrick Bridges in reply to Patrick Bridges says:

          And boy, I wish there was an edit feature so I could fix the first sentence of that comment, which I completely mangled in over-editing it. “Do you think it’s going to be easier or harder to work meaningfully with someone on realistic problems after calling them a thief or a bully?” was what I had typed before I went to cut/paste hell.Report

  13. BlaiseP says:

    I probably owe some people around here an apology for my intemperate rhetoric yesterday. I had some code break and was writing in an Agitated State between runs. That’s my excuse. Jason, Roger, there are a few more, you know who you are.

    I was wrong.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I wish I had seen this before I made my somewhat grumpy post this morning.

      I accept the apology. I’d also point out that some at Cato have tried to reach out to the left. On neither side were the results especially encouraging. This is a very unfortunate thing, to my mind. The way I see our message ultimately winning is through an infiltration of both parties, and not really through third-party activism, and certainly not through being just an appendage of the right.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Very gracious of you to accept my apology.

        Well, perhaps it might work out better if a Liberal made the offer. I might try to write something up to that effect, see if it might bear some fruit. But honestly, your message has been co-opted by the Republicans. You ought to snatch it back. If anything good came out of the 2010 elections, it was the rise of the Tea Party, which did push back against the USA PATRIOT Act, a nasty a bit of tyrannous legislation as was ever passed since the Alien and Sedition Act. I can’t tell you how it burns my bacon to go through a TSA line at the airport, or knowing everyone with an Arabic Surname is on someone’s watch list.Report

    • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Thanks Blaise.

      I value your insights and love your writing style. I think you are absolutely brilliant. And I am often just as guilty of transgressions (I am especially bad at stooping to liberal baiting.)

      I would be really appreciative if you argued with me over my opinions rather than with your broader take on libertarianism. In general, if we both assume the other is well intentioned but wrong (and genuinely interested in learning) it would be more productive than to assume bad motives.

      The reason I come to this forum is to learn. I want to bounce my ideas off others to see where they are wrong, pick up new ideas, and try to improve my admittedly sub par explanatory or rhetorical skills. In other words I want use a dialectic process to discover wisdom with others.Report