A Dialog on Liberty and Equality Wanders into the Guns In America Symposium
John Howard Griffin (a stalwart friend of the Ordinaries) and I have been discussing Liberty, Equality, and What Would Libertarians Do to address the issues faced by non-whites. “The kind of Liberty that non-whites want is entirely different than the kind of Liberty that most libertarians talk about on this site.” is one of JHG’s starting points and, yeah, it’s one of the things we’re exploring in our back and forths.
What follows is one of the tangents that we (I) went off on and JHG was kind enough to indulge me. JHG will be in bold, I will be in italics. (The background was looking at the BLS numbers for unemployment for White folks vs. Black folks and noticing how the charts pretty much look identical… except the Y axis for white folks goes from 5 to 10 and the Y axis for black folks goes from 10 to 20.)
Excerpts of our exchange behind the cut.
The numbers say something. It must be determined what that is.
Then, we would need to discuss what to do. But, best to let the data tell us what needs to be addressed first.
The problem isn’t that things don’t get better for blacks when things go well. The problem is there is such a discrepancy between the baselines, such that things are so much worse for blacks overall. Why is that? Why is there a delta between blacks and whites? Is it because of something about blacks? Is it because of something about whites?
This is the basis of a problem I usually have with libertarians, who tend to say that it’s ok as long as all boats are lifted when things are good. From my perspective, it’s clearly not ok for those in the group with the discrepancy.
I’m also interested in other comparisons/situations in society that show a similar discrepancy, and what the cause is (for example, the gender gap). However, that is another post.
I can look for some more data, but I don’t think it is necessary for the discussion. I’m interested in reading what you want to say about this. And what others want to say.
It seems to me that any policy (other than “liberty”) will, in practice, come down harder on you than on me.
“Well, we should pass the following laws.” WHAM. Jail time.
“Well, we should enact the following policies” (which will have the following unofficial exceptions in the following parts of town).
“Well, we should change the culture.” (I don’t even need to explain where the cultural problems will be assumed to reside.)
In a culture where the rule of law has become something negotiable, it strikes me that “liberty” would result in more help for more people than “policy” could possibly hope to do.
If any policy will come down harder on me than on you, I wonder why that is? What is it about America that would cause any of the policies you have considered to negatively effect me more than you? Is it possible to address whatever THAT issue is?
Will the rule of law (greater equality and liberty in the application of it) change all of the numbers presented, or only some of them, or maybe none of them? I’m a fan of greater equality under the law, but I don’t see it changing a lot of this (though it’s possible that it will change some of it).
I’m all for ending the drug war, and it would greatly help some single parent families. However, would it really close the gap in Family Income or Unemployment by Educational Attainment?
And, to be clear, I refrained (or tried to) from making MY policy prescriptions in the post because I am more interested in hearing about how libertarians would grapple with these issues. They are thorny issues without clear and easy solutions, yet they are immense problems for certain groups.
However, the government isn’t the solution to this. It can help, though. Strangely enough, liberals don’t think the government is the solution to everything.
From my perspective, the problem is due to our society. We, as a nation, tolerate these discrepancies. For, if we really addressed them, one of the main results would be that whites would have less, would have to give up some of the advantages that they have. Since whites are a majority, this is resisted across nearly all political stripes. This needs to change. I can only think of a few things that are powerful enough to change society. The biggest thing is that these things must be considered priorities and must be discussed. Up until now, they haven’t been considered priorities, and I rarely hear libertarians discuss them. Repeating: this needs to change.
Let’s look at a recent event that happened on Meet the Press.
The president of the NRA was on the show and a reporter (David Gregory) challenged him with a magazine that holds 30 bullets. This magazine is illegal to possess in Warshington DC, where Meet the Press has its studios.
The Right-Wingers have been screaming that the cops need to arrest this guy and the Left-Wingers have been rolling their eyes.
Now, here is my question: Should David Gregory be arrested for possessing this illegal magazine?
Now, I am going to assume that your initial inclination is to say something to the effect of “it’s silly to waste resources on this” or “it’s obvious to me that David Gregory wasn’t going to hurt anybody” or something like that (“they’re just grandstanding”). Fair enough. I agree.
So we agree that we have this law. We agree that it’s silly to charge this guy with breaking this law.
So you ask: “If any policy will come down harder on me than on you, I wonder why that is? What is it about America that would cause any of the policies you have considered to negatively effect me more than you? Is it possible to address whatever THAT issue is?”
It’d be easy to say “racism” but I don’t know that it’s quite that clear-cut. (I’d say it’s an evolution of what racism has evolved into.)
It’s because we have laws that everybody agrees should not be applied equally to everybody. When we get someone like David Gregory breaking this law, we all know how silly it would be to charge him with breaking it.
It’s when someone that we don’t know that it’d be silly to charge with breaking it actually breaks it does the hammer of the law come down.
We see this with the war on drugs. Cops wouldn’t care if I happened to be found with a (small) bag. I have a job, I have a house, I have stability, I am not worth their time. If someone who was a border case happened to be found with a (small) bag, would the hammer come down?
My solution is “liberty”, that is, if we have laws that wouldn’t apply to me, then we shouldn’t have them apply to anyone. Whether it be the gun law we agree shouldn’t apply to David Gregory, the war on drugs, or what have you.
It’s the folks who argue that we NEED THESE LAWS… but we should be judicious to whom we apply them…
It’s those people that create tyranny.
Well, I’m a strange sort. I actually think David Gregory should be arrested and sentenced for the crime committed.
I think we should follow our laws strictly, for everyone equally. It will point out the laws that need to change and the ones that perform as desired. I think it is necessary to follow them strictly in order to achieve greater Equality. If David Gregory getting arrested causes society to change its mind on the law, I think that is something that the country could decide to do. If it doesn’t, then it’s an affirmation that we continue to support the law, and respect the law enough that we apply it equally. You know, actually doing the “Justice is Blind…” bit. But, for real.
You see, I DO NOT “think laws should not be applied equally to everybody” (as you wrote below). And, the decision of whether we NEED these laws is up to society. We affirm or deny the importance of our laws every day. When enough people think the law should go, it goes. That’s how democracy really works. So, if you’re looking for someone to justify all the laws, look to your fellow citizens. All of them. They are the ones that affirm, or otherwise allow the laws that exist to exist.
I agree with you that the problem is that there are a lot of people who don’t think David Gregory should be arrested. But, the solution isn’t that we need to justify laws. It’s that we need to apply them equally. Then, society will be able to truly vet which laws are accepted and which are not. There is no other way that this sort of thing works, other than this form of consensus. It’s ugly, it takes a long time, but it works over time. This is the only real good thing about democracy. It is self-correcting to the society. If the society is more good than bad, then the democracy will be more good than bad. But, it can take a long time to reach that equilibrium.
“Those people that create tyranny” (as you write below) is every citizen of the country.
I agree with you that “racism” as an answer to my questions is credulously simplistic. The answer, to me, is really “society”. It’s about what we ALLOW to happen. Because all sorts of stuff is going to happen. It’s what we choose to ALLOW that is what really defines us. Deep down, I think most people understand that (in relation to society/civilization/etc).
My final opinion on this is that the answer is a journey. There is no solution, no final set of policies, no education. It is the journey we are on as a society, a country, a people, a species, about what we will ALLOW to happen.
I apologize for attributing a view to you that you didn’t have. I’m sorry.
Most of the folks I’ve spoken to see charging David Gregory as a waste of time and something that would provide Aid and Comfort to the folks on the right.
I shouldn’t have assumed you’d be on board.
I think that whether or not you agreed with the view I mistakenly attributed to you is beside the point to some degree, though… if you agree that there is a *HUGE* chunk of people out there who see arresting and sentencing David Gregory as a “stunt” but go on to think that the law should apply to the bad people out there who break it.
(Because I’m pretty sure that we agree that a society that does this is less good than a society where there is something akin to Rule of Law)
No offense taken.
I agree with you that there is a problem here. A lot of people only want the law to apply to “those people” (where “those people” is defined differently by different people, but some majorities define sub-groups of “those people” fairly strongly). The problem isn’t to get rid of the laws because they don’t apply equally. It’s to do whatever we have to do to make sure that all laws ARE applied equally. Even against the majority and elite.
If the laws aren’t applied equally and/or a majority aren’t working hard to make sure they are applied equally, then we don’t really live in a democracy or a majority doesn’t really want to live in a democracy (which is nearly the same thing). It’s nearby to democracy, but it isn’t the same thing. Capitalism just interferes with that further. According to my attempts at logic.
The Scientific Method requires us to follow the rules very closely and apply them equally. We aren’t doing that with the law (and a number of other things). Nothing will change the law (and some of those other things) faster than when enough people suddenly finds that it applies to them.
In my opinion, the war on drugs (with regards to marijuana) really started changing once the police started treating folks in the middle class pretty much the same as they treated the lower classes. Once police realized that seizure laws allowed them to actually get their hands on some real money and real property, they enthusiastically went for it.
And, next thing you know, there are people who have digital cameras taking pictures of the cops treating white folks the way that black folks have been treated since the 70’s.
And what’s the next thing that happened? “Medicinal”. I think that 22 states have it now (the web says 18 plus DC… with 3 states that have pending Medicinal legislation… I’ll take it).
All of that within the space of 10 years.
When these laws get applied to everybody, they end up getting changed. (It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that MJ is rescheduled before 2016.)
So when it comes to how to deal with the fundamental disconnect between how folks like you are treated and how folks like me are treated, much of that has to do with how folks like me are completely ignorant of how folks like you are treated. Chappelle has a bit where he talks about the stuff his white friends get away with (“officer, I’m a little high… where is third street?” “HEY! You’re on third street! Get out of here.”)
Most people just don’t know.
I agree with you here, and where your thoughts have lead you. Most people just don’t know. So, is the solution to get more people to know? How could we do that? What does the libertarian position propose here?
I think something similar, but different enough to point it out: Most people don’t WANT to know. THAT is much more difficult to address. How do we get people to WANT to know?
To me, the answer is that you really can’t. So, the best alternative is for the government to step in (for the government does know, however inaccurately). There is no other alternative that I can think of; it must be forced because people don’t want to know and won’t change if they don’t know. “Getting government out of people’s lives” will do the opposite of what is needed here. In my opinion.
I read an article this morning on Senator Kirk (he had a stroke a year ago). It details clearly how people don’t really change their minds until something affects them directly. In this case, health care coverage for poor people who have strokes like him.
“Going through the health-care roller coaster gave him a different perspective on health care — but not enough that he would have endorsed the Affordable Care Act. He does plan to take a closer look at funding of the Illinois Medicaid program for those with have no income who suffer a stroke, he said. In general, a person on Medicaid in Illinois would be allowed 11 rehab visits, he said.
“Had I been limited to that, I would have had no chance to recover like I did,” Kirk said. “So unlike before suffering the stroke, I’m much more focused on Medicaid and what my fellow citizens face.”
Kirk has the same federal health-care coverage available to other federal employees. He has incurred major out-of-pocket expenses, which have affected his savings and retirement, sources familiar with Kirk’s situation said.”
This is the kind of thing that I both like and dislike. It shouldn’t take something this severe to change someone’s mind. And, when it changes their mind, it should change it for more than just the tiny granular area of the specific problem. It doesn’t usually, though. But, at least it’s something.
The libertarian solution, from my perspective, will tend toward always repealing bad laws due to the assumption that laws will be used to protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless. That whole “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread” thing that it has going on.
I look at the David Gregory incident and say “it’s obvious that we shouldn’t have a law that makes doing what he did illegal. We shouldn’t have that law.”
To get there? I think that we pretty much have to get more people to know.
To use another example, I think that most people hate the TSA because it is color-blind and doesn’t profile. There was huge support for it back in 2002… because the assumption was that the TSA would be fisting Arab-American males and everybody else would be unaffected. As it is, we’ve got gramma getting to 2nd base with a TSA agent and people are outraged because this is not what they signed up for… or, actually, it’s not what they thought they were signing up for.
So the solution will require us to be a nation of laws, not of men… but the problem with *THAT* is that there are parts of town that have a police presence and parts of town that do not have one.
When Maribou and I first got married, we moved into “Knob Hill”. This was, at one point, one of the classier parts of town. “At one point” was a looooong time ago. I was thrilled to find an apartment for $330/month. I later found that this price, as attractive as it was, was representative of a lot of things within the apartment complex’s community. Now, at the time, I was working from 6PM to 6AM, coming home, and crashing to wake up only to do it again and, it turns out, I was on the same schedule as those in the apartment complex. So while I thought that it was a quiet community, Maribou explained to me that, no, the complex was, in fact, a high crime area. (One set of neighbors, as they were moving out/being evicted, explained to us that we were the only apartment in the complex that didn’t sell drugs.)
When we moved away (shortly after being told that), we moved into the top floor of a house in the middle of “college student” territory. $500/month.
When we lived at Knob Hill, whenever we called the cops, it took them an hour to show up. When we lived in the middle of college student territory, we had reason to call the cops exactly once (and it was very, very close to the time we moved so maybe we were still just jumpy from Knob Hill) and the cops were there within 2 minutes. They helped us hang up the phone.
The bad part of town had police that were *CONSTANTLY* busy. The good part of town had cops that weren’t.
And that creates one hell of a feedback loop.
I don’t know what to do about that, other than “end the drug war”.
I get where you are coming from here, and agree about the TSA.
I wonder about this:
“The libertarian solution, from my perspective, will tend toward always repealing bad laws due to the assumption that laws will be used to protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless.”
It seems that it is implicit in what you are saying that we cannot prevent the laws being used to protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless. While I agree this is difficult to do completely, I think there is a lot of room for improvement.
Maybe that is the divide: I want everyone to be treated equally and want to spend all my time towards that end. If we do that, then the bad laws will be repealed (as defined by society) as part of the process. You seem to be accepting that it is not worth trying to fix that (or not possible), so better to just repeal the laws that protect the powerful at the expense of the powerless. I don’t see how we get equality in that world, for eventually we’ll have to repeal all laws.
And, as for “end the drug war”, I don’t disagree. But, I think our plans for how to get there might disagree. I think the drug war will end when it affects enough people that attitudes change (they already are). Attitudes will only change when the drug war affects them personally, and this will happen when the law is applied equally. To me, it always seems that the libertarian position starts with “get rid of the laws, end the drug war” without any changes being made to society that force the drug war to end.