The Epistemological Problem in Ideology

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162 Responses

  1. Avatar Zac says:

    Interesting post, Saul. I think the fourth graf is really the beating heart of this thing. I’ve often said in the past that the reason I find conservatism in particular so unconvincing is because I think its central axioms are untruths (or rather, truths about some weird alternate reality most conservatives seem to have convinced themselves is the world they actually live in).

    BTW, y’all, my surgery is tomorrow. Hopefully all goes well.Report

  2. Avatar Caleb says:

    The argument for price surging during a hurricane for an example is that it will lead to increased supplies and/or people naturally rationalizing their purchases and buying only as much product as needed like wood planks to board up their windows. I simply don’t buy this as a given. My bet is that the rich would merely purchase just as much as they would in the circumstance because they can afford the hit. I would also bit that a good number of lower-income people would be priced out of necessary supplies and need to whether a hurricane or other disaster without food or protective supplies. This will only lead to anarchy and thievery.

    The thing is, these statements are not axiomatic expressions. They are predictions of fact which can be measured and correlated with reality. It would rational to advocate the implementation of differential policies for similar disaster response scenarios, and measure the relevant factors that result. The natural experiment is a powerful empirical tool.

    You use the phrase “my bet is” If a natural experiment could be arranged to measure your factual predictions, would you be willing touse that phrase literally?Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    My issue is that both viewpoints rest more on faith than anything else and this is a problem which seems to come up largely across many ideologies on many issues.

    One thing that I wanted to see if there were numbers for is: “how many people out there have Wal-Mart as their first job?”

    I’d also be interested if the numbers in, say, South Dakota were significantly different than, say, California and, if so, in what direction.

    Sadly, I wasn’t able to find those sorts of numbers.

    One of my issues with libertarianism is that it seemingly (to me) takes a lot of faith in the ideas of classical economics and that free-market Capitalism will always lead to a natural and/or desirous outcome because it reflects true rational self-interest.

    My take is closer to “Central Control will usually lead to an unpleasant outcome that beggars belief while free-market capitalism will only screw things up within believable parameters.”Report

    • Avatar ktward in reply to Jaybird says:

      @jaybird My take is closer to “Central Control will usually lead to an unpleasant outcome that beggars belief while free-market capitalism will only screw things up within believable parameters.”

      So, your preferred economic and political modes within a democratic social system are … what?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ktward says:

        My preferred economic modes are the ones that mess things up mostly within acceptable parameters.

        I am also big fans of political modes that say “We don’t care what you (verb), so long as you don’t scare the proverbial horses or otherwise cause chaos in the commons.”Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      Walmart is a monopsony in a sizeable part of America (southeast, primarily).Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      Jay,
      “My take is closer to “Central Control will usually lead to an unpleasant outcome that beggars belief while free-market capitalism will only screw things up within believable parameters.”

      How much peroxide can you inject into someone before you kill them?
      Oh, wait. I’m not believable, am I?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        … and this is me trying to be polite and not nightmarish.

        Maybe I should have mentioned the private sale of a daughter (age 8) to a foreigner as a “bride to be.”

        Nah, that’s still too believable. But, take heart, I can make it worse.Report

  4. Avatar Gabriel Conroy says:

    My question is whether these are always going to be walls that divide people or whether there is a way to bridge divides and gaps and understand that we all operate on different axioms, tautologies, and assumptions.

    That’s a noble goal, and one I, for one, ought to keep in mind. As for whether there will “always” be such walls?…..Probably.

    The more interesting question is your second one, what is to be done? I think one answer is to try to rephrase the arguments of one’s opponents in a way that they would recognize as their own and in the way that portrays those arguments in the strongest light possible while remaining sensitive to the issues as stake.

    As someone who is much more comfortable with Walmart than you are, I find your re-phrasing of position #2 to be less than faithful than how I and others might state it. Even there, there’s some truth to your re-phrasing. I remember, for example, one commenter here a while back in another thread using the to my mind very derogatory term “unemployables” to describe Walmart employees.

    Here’s how I’d phrase the position in #2 that is more amenable to how my own:

    1. Local and small-owned businesses don’t and didn’t necessarily pay better than Walmart now does.

    2. Walmart, for all of the charges of discriminatory hiring practices, is probably less discriminatory than at least some local businesses.

    3. The decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs is a problem, certainly for the short term and probably for the intermediate term and possibly for the long term. But that problem is not caused by Walmart. Many of the rust-belt communities whose businesses are allegedly destroyed by Walmart were probably very much weakened by the decline of manufacturing jobs long before Walmart came in. It is possible, I think, that the monopsonistic and monopolistic trends Walmart represents may be somehow implicated in the larger changes that caused the decline in US manufacturing jobs. But the link is not direct.

    4. Walmart tends to offer things for cheaper prices. Maybe the quality is sometimes less, but not always. Also, sometimes it’s better to buy something of poor quality that one needs soon than to save up and eventually buy something of higher quality.Report

    • Building bridges is a worthy goal, and Saul seems like a nice and earnest fellow, so I believe he really would like to build those bridges. Giving your “opponents” a thoughtful reading and interpretation is part of the way to do that (it might also help you crystalize your own opinions). I think Saul generally tries to do that, with limited success (and we all have limited success in this sort of endeavour).

      I think the other way to try to build these bridges is to try to find common ground, and I think this post does less of that. There are some pretty straightforward critiques of Wal-Mart from either a libertarian or conservative perspective. If he were to write about that in attempt to take aim at a common enemy, I think he’d get farther.

      A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the common ground between urban activists and rural activists. It was linked on Linky Friday (find it here). Saul and I went back and forth a bit on the extent that there is such common ground (obviously, there are limits). Interestingly, the rural organization I mentioned in the post was quite receptive to the idea.

      At the very least, the attempt to find common ground can change the dynamic of the debate, making it less confrontational. If we move away from “liberals think this {insert stereotype/strawman}” and “libertarians think that {insert stereotype/strawman}”, we’re more likely to get somewhere.

      And if one seriously can’t figure out a non-caricature interpretation of someone’s opinion, just ask for clarification. (Remember Kazzy’s “FYIG A Question” posts? Those were useful.)Report

      • @jonathan-mcleod I missed that post when it was first put up on Linky Friday. I wish I hadn’t now – you make some great points in there that I hadn’t ever thought of before.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        @jonathan-mcleod

        True, and I think what I wrote was less about Saul’s point and more my own axe on Walmart. He does a good and sincere job of approaching the issue, and I should have paid more attention to his epistemological question.

        You’re right. Common ground is important.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      Gab,
      Walmart has institutional incentives for discriminatory hiring practices, as do all large businesses. I can cite some chapter and verse on “Why Certain Businesses Hire Only Women.”

      It is an entirely different level of discrimination than “local merchant is a bigot.”

      Walmart discriminates because it makes solid business sense to do so.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    One of my issues with libertarianism is that it seemingly (to me) takes a lot of faith in the ideas of classical economics

    Fair enough. And likewise one of my issues with liberalism is that to me it seems to take a lot of faith in the wisdom and benevolence of government.Report

    • Avatar Saul DeGraw in reply to James Hanley says:

      I find it takes a lot of faith to put my trust in the hands of banks, business people, and corporations. They fuck up and do unethical things oh so often.

      Government is not perfect like all other human systems but I would like something to be able to counteract and balance the decisions of businesspeople and avoid things like the London Whale or GM covering up safety issues in cars or Pharma companies covering up safety issues in the drugs they sell.

      I am not a cavaet emptor kind of guy.Report

      • Saul, I think you’re mixing up “classical economics” with “banks, business people, and corporations”. I mean, I get where you’re coming from, but it’s quite easy to have faith in economics and recognize the fallible nature of people.

        In fact, part of my “faith” in economics is that–given the right (read: wrong) incentives–banks, business people and corporations (and government actors, too) will do some pretty f-ed up things.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @jonathan-mcleod

        Perhaps I am. My other problem with classical economics (at least as I understand my history).

        1. They saw boom and bust cycles as completely natural

        2. Any government intervention to ease suffering during the bust/depression times was immoral and wrong. I take the Clement Attlee stance on poverty cannot be eased by private charity alone so letting people suffer in a recession/depression because it is natural/necessary is wrong to me.

        There also seems to an issue that an environment that does not create bad incentives for government does create bad incentives for corporations and business types.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Saul,
        there are environments that do not create bad incentives for government?
        Where are they?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Kim, Scandinavia.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @saul-degraw

        I find it takes a lot of faith to put my trust in the hands of banks, business people, and corporations. They fuck up and do unethical things oh so often.

        And government doesn’t? Seriously?

        Seriously?

        What’s worse, our recent economic (pretending, for the moment, that it was solely businesses at fault, and government played no role) or the Iraq War? What’s worse, banks redlining neighborhoods or government refusing loans to black farmers and letting syphilytic black men go untreated so they could “study” them? What’s worse, Wal Mart not paying for shit or the war on drugs and its effects on the black community?

        Government is not perfect like all other human systems but I would like something to be able to counteract and balance the decisions of businesspeople and avoid things like the London Whale or GM covering up safety issues in cars or Pharma companies covering up safety issues in the drugs they sell.

        Ahem. Fraud is considered by classical economists a legitimate subject if regulation.

        I am not a cavaet emptor kind of guy.

        I want a refund for A Million Ways to Die in the West.

        Any government intervention to ease suffering during the bust/depression times was immoral and wrong.

        Wrong. Saul, you really have a lot of misperceptions about classical economics. You’re talking really confidently about something of which you have very simplistic understanding.

        Kim, Scandinavia.

        No. Just…no. Just because you like what the Scandy govt’s do does not mean they don’t have bad incentives. Bad incentives in government are an inevitable feature, given that governments are responsive to organized pressure groups, and given that governments have no way to determine the efficient price/quantity of publicly provided goods and services (due to the separation of prices and consumption, there is not even a theoretical solution to this problem).Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        And government doesn’t? Seriously?

        I think Saul’s point would be that government acts as another actor.

        Given you’ve got a bunch of actors involved, if they sometimes fuck up, provided they don’t have sufficient power to cover up the fuck up, the other actors will make them come around and at least make some sort of pass at either changing behavior or rectifying it.

        So business fucks up, the courts and tort make them pay for it, the regulatory body prevents them from doing it in the same way next time.

        Government fucks up, the private citizenry with or without collusion from private business works to make government correct itself.

        It’s a bunch of related rates problems dealing with interactions, not a simple “YES”/”NO” dichotomy on “does this agent fuck up”?

        They all do. The question is what happens after that.

        The biggest problem with government is that it can do at least one fuckup that nobody else can do, and that’s start throwing bombs at somebody. But even the most libertarian-leaning government-that-isn’t-a-miniarchy has that weakness.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Patrick,
        The Electric Company (TM) is capable of killing about as many people simply by blowing up the power plants. As we saw in NYC, they are quite capable of doing this. (Yes, ConEd is NUTS).Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        @patrick

        if they sometimes fuck up, provided they don’t have sufficient power to cover up the fuck up

        Therein lies the rub, government almost always has the power & incentive to obscure & cover-up bad behavior & fuck-ups (at the very least until everyone involved is safely retired or moved on).

        Give me a government that is even 90% transparent & courts that aggressively enforce that transparency, & I’ll be a lot more confident in the benevolence of government.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        MRS,
        Shall I post how many governmental people have investigations by the FBI currently running? (discl: I only know pittsburgh). Even our Boy Mayor wasn’t able to keep the FBI out of things.

        Has it been 10 years since the Centre County DA went missing? Sometimes I think corporations are better at covering up blatantly illegal conduct. Fairly certain if you ran the numbers on murders, you’d find corporations doing more harm than the government (including Police, Excluding Military as irrelevant).Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Yes Kim, you do that. Then pull up every single corporation under investigation for anything by any governmental investigative body at any given level, and we’ll compare numbers.

        The problem is that there are very few investigative agencies that have the task of pursuing governmental bad behavior (the FBI being one, State Police being the equivalent body in many states), which is a problem, because that is not the only task they have, and they have a lot of political crap & obstructionism they have to wade through at any given level. So the State Police or the FBI might nail some little fish without much political pull, but you know they feel the pressure if the target is bigger & better connected, which makes it harder to arrest & convict the more dangerous & damaging individuals.

        Tack on the fact that our political betters now dump everything the government is not interested in sharing under the heading of “National Security“, or they just ‘lose’ all the documentation (see IRS & Lois Lerner, or Philly Census), and any concept of transparency goes right out the window. I’d like to see a corporation that is under investigation try to pull that off without getting slapped with more charges.

        As for corporations doing/getting away with murder, that can only happen with collusion by government, and is further enabled by the utter lack of transparency we exist with. If we had an even remotely transparent government, we would never hear of trouble with FOIA requests except when people request them from the CIA or the military.Report

    • Avatar James Pearce in reply to James Hanley says:

      “And likewise one of my issues with liberalism is that to me it seems to take a lot of faith in the wisdom and benevolence of government.”

      Speaking only for myself, I have no faith in the “wisdom” or “benevolence” of government. I do believe, however, that some kind of governance is necessary and that efforts should be made to make it both “wise” and “benevolent.”Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        You’ll not encounter many people arguing for no government, and none, I think, here at the OT. So at least for these pages, the “believe in some kind of government” is best treated as a common starting point, not a point of argument.

        Just as I understood that a basis of Saul’s argument was that he believes in some kind of market, and was not arguing for only government.Report

      • Avatar James Pearce in reply to James Pearce says:

        It’s the second part where we get into disagreement. Liberals believe that effort should be made the make government both “wise” and “benevolent.”

        Libertarians*, generally, do not. They tend to believe that governments can be neither wise nor benevolent, no matter the effort put into the endeavor. This is why they prefer to limit government, even (and perhaps especially) when it’s trying to be “wise” and “benevolent.”

        * I would prefer to avoid an argument today about the various subsets of libertarian belief. Good, bad, vulgar, sophisticated, it’s a common starting point that libertarians don’t like the “nanny state.”Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Pearce says:

        They tend to believe that governments can be neither wise nor benevolent, no matter the effort put into the endeavor.

        As an example, one can point to, say….FEMA, whose competence of late seems to be directly related to what party holds the White House.

        If you don’t believe FEMA can ever BE competent, why would you bother taking it seriously — or chose competence in a relevant field when appointing the people that lead it?

        I don’t think it was exactly unrelated that Clinton, for instance, had a noted disaster recovery expert head up FEMA, and the younger Bush had a, well, not a disaster recovery expert.

        Whether or not you think it’s possible for government to be well run, I think we can all agree in theory that if the politicians leading it don’t act like it can be, it certainly won’t be.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Pearce says:

        Whether or not you think it’s possible for government to be well run, I think we can all agree in theory that if the politicians leading it don’t act like it can be, it certainly won’t be.

        And is it possible for business to be well run?

        Because if competence is possible, it is possible in both government and business.Report

      • @james-pearce @morat20

        While I understand the appeal of this argument, it’s actually not as much a challenge as it appears. The libertarian view – or at least the view of libertarians who think participating in democracy is worthwhile – isn’t that government can never be made wise or benevolent at all, it’s that government is unwise or malicious because it does too much, and that therefore it will function better by having it cease to do specific things that libertarians view as being counterproductive. As Jaybird used to be fond of saying around these parts, libertarianism is a vector, not a destination.

        Now maybe any given libertarian has a whole list of agencies he wants to get rid of entirely. And that’s cool. But that doesn’t mean that a hypothetical libertarian president ought to put such persons in charge of those agencies; instead, it means that such hypothetical president may seek to eliminate that agency by legislation, but should in the interim put someone in charge who has ideas of how to make the agency more effective by reducing the amount of things it does.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Pearce says:

        Business failure is handled by the market, with no external correcting method needed. If a business is unacceptably poor at providing a service, its customers choose another provider, the business loses revenue, and eventually it runs out of money and closes. If a business makes decisions that its customers dislike, then they can choose another provider, the business loses revenue, and so on.

        If a government is unacceptably poor at providing services or makes decisions the citizens don’t like, the citizens can…just learn to deal with it, because we’re all in this together, and maybe sometimes not everything gets done exactly how you’d like but who are *you* to be treated so much better than everyone else, why do *you* get to be so pointlessly unique (but still dependent on cops and firemen paid by those taxes you hate so much!), if you don’t like it then vote for the other guy next election, our failures are really the result of partisan infighting and outright sabotage, and so on.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        James Pearce, you want to tell us what libertarians believe, then beg off a discussion of differing libertarian perspectives? Isn’t that convenient?Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Pearce says:

        Business failure is handled by the market, with no external correcting method needed
        And is not government failure handled by the ballot box? That seems quite an external corrective method.

        Democracy seems quite like a market to me. Everyone has a vote, and a handful of politicians try to sell themselves as worth it for the services they will provide.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        @morat20
        And is not government failure handled by the ballot box?

        That’s the basic democratic theory, but we have good reason to doubt it. Voters are either irrational or rationally ignorant (or are rationally non-voters). Elections are collective action problems for which we don’t have solutions. Concentrated benefits and dispersed costs are a powerful dynamic. The scope and bias of the pressure system “speaks with an upper (middle, perhaps) accent (to paraphrase E.E. Schattschneider). Deals are made in back rooms and special interest items folded into legislation with no source record–responsibility is so purposely diffused in irder to keep us from being able to effectively hold officials accountable.

        And government’s not affected by falling profits because we’re dissatisfied, nor does it risk losing most of its customers/citizens to a competitor.

        It’s still incomparably better than dictatorship, but that’s a pretty low bar.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Pearce says:

        And government’s not affected by falling profits because we’re dissatisfied, nor does it risk losing most of its customers/citizens to a competitor.
        Really? It certainly seemed to in 1776.

        Then there was the Civil War. And lesser examples — 1994 and 2006.

        As for rational and irrational actors — are there not rational and irrational customers? Yet business works. It proceeds. You do not declaim capitalism because “Oh, many buyers are irrational” (which they certainly are).

        Your objection seems more that people have not done these things — voted out the bums, changed the system, shrunk the bureaucracy and assume it is because they can not. Perhaps they simply don’t wish to, in aggregate.

        In the end, libertarianism is a very minority view, yes? I’m not sure you can call government ‘bad’ for not adhering to it’s principles, given that the vast bulk of voters are not libertarians nor do they vote for them.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        Morat,

        Revolutions and civil wars are extreme and unusual events, no? Democracy tempers that by providing some degree of responsiveness. As I said, it’s better than dictatorship. But that democracy provides sufficient responsiveness that people don’t feel it worthwhile to put their life at risk to revolt is, again, a pretty low bar.

        As to rationality, there is a difference when you are in a market matching prices directly to goods and services, compared to when you are selecting a proxy for a bundle of goods and services where the costs and the benefits are separated from each other. That last part is crucially important, but little understood.

        I’m not arguing that democracy is horrible, an utter bust, just that it is less responsive and less efficient than markets.Report

      • Avatar James Pearce in reply to James Pearce says:

        @mark-thompson

        “it’s that government is unwise or malicious because it does too much, and that therefore it will function better by having it cease to do specific things that libertarians view as being counterproductive.”

        In my old age, I have come around to accepting “a government that does too much” as a feature of our democracy and a sign of the modern age.

        @james-hanley

        “Isn’t that convenient?”

        No, I just don’t want to get into a discussion about how the “true and good libertarians” don’t hold common libertarian beliefs.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Pearce says:

        They’re quite extreme — but they happen. Government changes — what we have today is nothing like what we had in 1950 or in 1990 — tax rates, regulatory structures, social structures….things have changed markedly.

        Government changes to the whim of the governed — indeed, much of the design is to prevent it from changing too fast at a whim. Again, how do you tell between “government failure” and “government not working the way I want”?

        I suppose, a Democrat who was paying attention during the Bush years — I am keenly aware that government can perform responsively and swiftly, and in a way I totally dislike and am 100% in disagreement with. I wouldn’t call that failure, any more than I’d call McDonald’s popularity a market failure. It’s more popular than what I like, is all. Maybe I should make a better product, or sell it better…

        As to rationality — the ‘irrational voter’ bit just reeks of elitism. I’m really leery of political arguments that start with “I know better than the masses”.

        Perhaps politics is simply, as you put it, different. You’re still placing your judgement above the voters, saying “They don’t see as clearly as me” — that is a argument very susceptible to error.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        Morat,

        If that’s your position, then I’m sure you’ll never complain about voters who don’t believe in global warming or evolution, who think lower taxes always produce more revenue, and think our budget deficit is due to foreign aid.

        Since I doubt you’ll stop critiquing them (nor do I think you should) I’ll recommend Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter for your reading pleasure.

        In a nutshell, market decisions reward rationality (which is not to say everyone always is rational in the market), but voting does not; it provides no real incentive to make rational decisions.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Pearce says:

        Really? So you’re saying the government has NO impact on my life? The masses getting it wrong never, ever, ever impact themselves?

        The invisible hand is notoriously slow on occasion, yes? So why should governmental corrections be any faster?

        As to complaining — of course I complain! Why wouldn’t I? Good lord, that’s like claiming the free market means a business can’t advertise.

        If government is business, complaining about politics and political decisions is like badmouthing a product you think sucks. Which is, you know, marketing.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Pearce says:

        In a nutshell, market decisions reward rationality (which is not to say everyone always is rational in the market), but voting does not; it provides no real incentive to make rational decisions.

        I don’t think this is true. I don’t think market decisions reward rationality, I think it as likely market decisions reward profit, status, trend, style and a host of other things that are often irrational; particularly in a mature, 1st world economy. I’d posit that markets here in the US are functionally different from markets in the developing world, and different rationalizations come into play, too.

        Equally, voting seems to me an expression of most people’s rationalization of their preferences. There are people who opt for competence over charisma, for instance. And there are people who opt for the person who best expresses their irrational hopes or soothes their fears. (A liberal might vote for someone incompetent because hey soothe the liberal’s fear of global warming, for instance. A conservative for the anti-immigration candidate because of fears of scary brown people.)

        More importantly, the very notion of what’s rational is not fixed; it changes with time and new information, and unintended outcomes.

        Suggesting markets are rational and voting is not conveniently reinforces a particular set of perceived preferences detached from actual policies and their outcomes. And of course, we always come back to that most basic premise that markets function within the framework of the rule of law, which is, of course, government.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        @james-pearce
        @Mark Thompson
        “it’s that government is unwise or malicious because it does too much, and that therefore it will function better by having it cease to do specific things that libertarians view as being counterproductive.”

        In my old age, I have come around to accepting “a government that does too much” as a feature of our democracy and a sign of the modern age.

        @James Hanley

        “Isn’t that convenient?”

        No, I just don’t want to get into a discussion about how the “true and good libertarians” don’t hold common libertarian beliefs.

        In other words, you want to tell libertarians what their beliefs are, and you don’t want to have to listen to any actual libertarians tell you what their beliefs are.

        After all, why challenge your comfortable tribalism? I mean, other than to be a decent intelligent person, that is.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        Morat,
        Really? So you’re saying the government has NO impact on my life?

        Of course not. I never said anything remotely like that. But market decisions are different than voting decisions because of the differing ability to make the preferred outcome happen. Let’s say you’re in the market for a car. If you know what you want, and how much you’re willing to spend for it, you can make a choice that does a good job of matching up the costs and the benefits. Rationality is rewarded, because the person who buys the right car at the right price is more satisfied than the person who buys the wrong car at the wrong price (or even the right car at the wrong price). (“Right” car and “right” price are, of course subjective).

        But that doesn’t happen with voting. You don’t even control the outcome of whether your favored candidate gets elected or not, and if your favored candidate does get elected, you have no control over whether you get the policy outcome you want, because a) you have no control over the candidate’s choices (as you do over your own in the car market), and b) even the candidate by herself cannot directly control the policy outcome. So there are multiple layers between your vote and any policy outcomes. Voting rationally is not rewarded, because no outcomes would change if you decided to vote irrationally, or randomly.

        Government’s policy affect you all, right, but your choices don’t affect you policywise, whereas the choice of car you buy directly does. That’s what I mean by the market rewarding rational choices and voting not rewarding rational choices.

        As to complaining — of course I complain! Why wouldn’t I?

        I mean you complain about the irrationality of certain other voters, right? Yet you got mad that I used the phrase “irrational voters.” I suspect that we in fact agree there are irrational voters, whether or not we agree on which ones they are.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        @zic

        I don’t think this is true. I don’t think market decisions reward rationality,

        Really? A market decision doesn’t reward matching benefit to cost? Doesn’t reward the enhancement of utility, as opposed to diminishing it? Because when I’m talking about rationality in economic terms, that’s the type of rationality I’m talking about, nothing else. If you want to talk about a different type, that’s fine, but don’t come around telling me I’m using rationality wrong–you’re just deciding to have a different conversation than the one I’m having.

        I think it as likely market decisions reward profit, status, trend, style and a host of other things that are often irrational;

        Market decisions don’t reward profit; profit is the reward. As to the others, those are factors that go into calculating a decision–a rational person will consider status, trend and style if those things matter to the decider. The preferences are not, as a matter of economic definition, either irrational or rational because they are exogenous to the decision. It may be, from a casual use of the term, irrational to care about the latest fashion trends, but that is not the technical use of the word rational, as I am very carefully using it here. So, again, that’s a different conversation.

        Equally, voting seems to me an expression of most people’s rationalization of their preferences.

        Sure, but “rationalization of preferences” is an entirely different thing than a rational choice.

        More importantly, the very notion of what’s rational is not fixed; it changes with time and new information, and unintended outcomes.

        Well, of course. Rational decisions are based on the information available. To be rational you have to let new information into your cost-benefit calculation. You’re not critiquing me here, you’re agreeing with me.

        Suggesting markets are rational and voting is not conveniently reinforces a particular set of perceived preferences detached from actual policies and their outcomes.

        I’ve done nothing of the kind. See my reply to Morat above. Markets reward rational decisions because the individual matches cost to benefit and her choice determines whether she gets that match or a mismatch of cost and benefit. Voting–except for the consumption value of taking satisfaction in having voted and in who you voted for, which is real–does not allow the voter to control the cost and benefit outcome (of their preferred policies).

        And of course, we always come back to that most basic premise that markets function within the framework of the rule of law, which is, of course, government.

        Oh, you mean that basic premise that none of us here have disagreed with? Is this yet another implicit claim that we libertarians here are actually pure anarchists who don’t think there’s any need for government, not even to create a rule of law?

        The level of strawmanning is getting so high I’m about to invest in straw futures.Report

      • Avatar James Pearce in reply to James Pearce says:

        @james-hanley “In other words, you want to tell libertarians what their beliefs are”

        Why must we act as if libertarian beliefs are an unknown quantity? If I was wrong, point out my error.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        Oh, you were right, which is why I wasn’t addressing that. I was addressing your “you people believe X, but I don’t want you people to talk to me about what you people believe” follow up, which was a real dick comment.Report

      • Avatar James Pearce (aka Herb) in reply to James Pearce says:

        @james-hanley ““you people believe X, but I don’t want you people to talk to me about what you people believe””

        That’s not what I meant. What I meant was that I didn’t want it to become a discussion about these libertarians versus those libertarians. One should be allowed to discuss libertarianism generally. Libertarianism is, generally, an anti-government philosophy. That’s doesn’t mean all of its adherents believe in no government, but it does mean that all of its adherents don’t really believe in government. Some of them even have good reasons.

        Must this be established every time before we discuss those reasons?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        James Pearce,

        The evidence on this very page is that every time we have to establish that libertarians aren’t seeking the elimination of all government. So your plea for consideration falls on rather jaded ears.

        This goes the other way as well. Some of our libertarian commenters aren’t always fully fair in their representation of liberalism, and there’s always a quick liberal correction, as there ought to be.

        But if we libertarians started saying “liberals want to do X, and I don’t want to hear that some liberals don’t,” I think there’d quite properly be a critical response. But I don’t remember yet reading a libertarian doing that here. Not that I don’t think we’re capable of it. Rather, I think it’s a numbers thing. The preponderance of liberals here does create a certain liberal superiority in tone sometimes.

        Overall, whatever ideologies we’re talking about, It’s just not within the bounds of polite discussion to make claims about the other side followed with a refusal to hear what the other side has to say about that claim. That’s true even if the claim is correct. It’s pre-emptively trying to shut the other side down, to keep them from participating in the definition of their own beliefs, and to privilege your own claim in any ensuing discussion. That’s not cool. If you had left your original comment without that un-cool conclusion, you wouldn’t have come across as a dick. (That is, you wouldn’t have come across as someone like me.)Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to James Pearce says:

        James – I think you are making too strong a claim here. To use your example of a car, when I decide to buy I have certainly made my best guess as to what benefits I expect to accrue at what cost. And the market has provided me some means to estimate the likelihood that those benefits accrue and what the expected costs (whether that be taxes, maintenance, gas) will be. But I have no way to ensure those benefits accrue or those costs stay as expected. When I bought my car, I didn’t expect the transmission to break at 20,000 miles, and if I would have known that, I may have purchased another car. I also expected to get the 20 MPG it stated on the window, but I don’t.

        This strikes me as similar to voting. I have the benefit I want to accrue when I vote, and tempered by the likelihood that I think such a benefit will accrue, balanced against the costs/likelihood I expect to incur as result of that vote. And I think the market has provided me some information to estimate the likelihood that those benefits accrue or the costs stay as expected.

        That is, your claim:

        “Markets reward rational decisions because the individual matches cost to benefit and her choice determines whether she gets that match or a mismatch of cost and benefit. Voting–except for the consumption value of taking satisfaction in having voted and in who you voted for, which is real–does not allow the voter to control the cost and benefit outcome (of their preferred policies)”

        is only true to the extent you are the one determining what my cost and benefit expectations are. That’s something you generally try to avoid, right? I mean, I’m a lot more certain about what I’m going to get from a vote for a politician (I just imagine being a huge dickwad, and wonder what I would do) than I am when I ask my doctor for assistance, or agree to a websites terms of service, or take out a loan with a bank.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Pearce says:

        @james-hanley

        We recently did an experiment with a totally free market — the synthetic derivatives market. This market was completely unregulated, so there were no ‘government distortions.’ The demand for synthetic derivatives was so great that at it’s height, for every dollar lent out in home mortgages, there were $50 of bets placed on if that dollar would be repaid; which is what synthetic derivatives were (and those bets were not attached to the underlying security, either.)

        This led to the near collapse of the global economy.

        So do not try and tell me that markets are rational. They may be rational. And they may not. But it depends on each individual instance. In this case, very few people actually grasp what the problem even was — they blame irresponsible borrowers. But that was a symptom; home loans were not the problem, the demand for loans on which to place bets (synthetic derivatives) was the problem.

        There’s also a great deal of talk about how government intervention in markets distorts them; often in the guise of ‘regulatory uncertainty.’ Yet for ordinary people participating in a market, regulatory certainty is essential. If you had stock, either directly or through a fund, in a bank, the lack of regulation of the synthetic derivatives market created the uncertainty.

        Just imagine that you owned a few shares of a company like BP. You know they’re working in a highly regulated environment, and as a shareholder, you’re depending on that environment to help protect your interests in the company; you’re presuming the company is managed properly within those regulations. Failure to do so can have catastrophic results, as BP shareholders discovered. Or the people in West Virginia who had their water supply poisoned. So there is an often unexamined benefit that I like to think of as regulatory certainty that protects people within markets; and as both the financial collapse and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill suggest, failure to both regulate and enforce regulation can cause deep market distortions and great harm — irrational markets, in fact.

        I’ve said repeatedly, over and over through years of posting here, that government is neither good or bad, it’s the specifics that are good or bad. I would also say the same is true of business and markets. Wal-Mart’s externalities — labor, pollution and transportation costs — are not priced into their product prices, so their products are subsidized in thousands of ways; they’re not ‘cheap,’ the real costs are just passed to others. Taxpayers who fund the safety net programs, air, water, and soil pollution in far-away places, and cruel labor practices for people you and I will meet.

        At the end of the day, this is my real concern about markets in general — they tend to operate on a metric of profit and loss only, and discount other important measures. But I’m not a fan of big global economies at the expense of strong regional economies, either; both matter. Just because bigger may be more efficient in measure of costs, does not mean that it’s better, particularly because so many important externalities are not included in the cost. What I see is a nod from libertarians that, yes, eternities matter. But I do not see a structure that finds ways to tie the externalities to the market.

        It’s the same as my challenge to Jaybird; what government is okay? What regulation is okay? Ending the war on drugs is easy compared to actually hammering out what is and is not acceptable government in libertarian ideology.

        /and stop saying I’m straw-manning. You know I’ve thought about these things, and you know I work hard to understand your perspective. I’ve told you before, I’m a prime candidate for converting. But the devil’s in the details, and they are, sadly, obscure.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Pearce says:

        ” When I bought my car, I didn’t expect the transmission to break at 20,000 miles, and if I would have known that, I may have purchased another car.”

        Or bought an extended warranty.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to James Pearce says:

        Markets don’t reward rationality.

        Markets reward behaving according to incentives.

        There’s a subtle difference between the two, but it’s why you guys are down in the weeds.Report

      • Avatar switters in reply to James Pearce says:

        @patrick – Care to explain? I’m genuinely having trouble coming up with a behavior that would fit one but not the other. I.e., I don’t get the subtle difference.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        zic,

        We recently did an experiment with a totally free market — the synthetic derivatives market. This market was completely unregulated, so there were no ‘government distortions.’

        Yes, there were government distortions. The derivatives market would not have been so highly sought after absent a housing bubble that resulted from government policies. Not to say the investors weren’t overly confident, but in large part the market’s frenetic activity was itself a government-produced distortion.

        every dollar lent out in home mortgages, there were $50 of bets placed on if that dollar would be repaid;

        Why would investors be betting so much betting on default if there was no distortion of the market?

        There’s also a great deal of talk about how government intervention in markets distorts them; often in the guise of ‘regulatory uncertainty.’

        Regulatory uncertainty doesn’t refer to the existence of regulations; it refers to uncertainty about what the regulations will be tomorrow. The regulations affect cost-benefit calculations for investment, so regulations that are expected to remain unchanged–even if they are bad regulations in of themselves–provide certainty for investors, who will adapt–however grudgingly–to them.

        Yet for ordinary people participating in a market, regulatory certainty is essential.

        Not just for ordinary people. No investor likes constantly changing regulations. They only like the ones that change in their favor.

        Nobody–absolutely nobody–is arguing against regulatory certainty, and de-regulation or lack of regulation is not itself regulatory uncertainty. It can create a less certain investment environment, yes, but that’s not quite the same thing. Regulatory uncertainty is a subset of investment environment uncertainty.

        What I see is a nod from libertarians that, yes, eternities matter. But I do not see a structure that finds ways to tie the externalities to the market.

        You might want to check out the SO2 exchange. Libertarians’ preference for common law solutions to externalities, however brilliant or misguided it may be, also tries to tie externalities to market decisions.

        You’re doing a lot of telling us what libertarians do and do not, but as with the claim that libertarians want to get rid of all government, your claim here is just wrong. It could be that that libertarian proposals don’t tie externalities to the market to a degree satisfactory to you, and that’s an entirely fair position. But to make an absolute claim that they don’t suggest any ways to do suggests you literally don’t know what you are talking about, but are once again relying on the simplistic caricature of libertarians.

        /and stop saying I’m straw-manning.

        I don’t believe I have staw-manned you. You’ve made basic errors.

        you know I work hard to understand your perspective.

        I once thought so. I would no longer agree that I “know” that.

        I’ve told you before, I’m a prime candidate for converting.

        I doubt either Jaybird or I are asking for a down-at-the-alter moment. Don’t worry about converting. Just stop focusing on the most extreme vision of libertarianism, stop making inaccurate absolutist claims, and think about Jaybird’s position that libertarianism is a vector, and start thinking about where you are on that vector, and how far you think you might be willing to go on it. Where are your limiting points? Where are you firmly in agreement? Where are you dubious but open to listening?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Pearce says:

        switters,
        re incentives:
        http://www.rooseveltinstitute.org/taking-stock-executive-pay

        Or the simplest — the difference between “buying lowest bidder” and “buying middle of the road, with more incentives to do the job right” — dramatically different road performance for DOTs everywhere, depending on waht they choose.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Pearce says:

        Patrick,

        Are you sticking to the strict economic definition of rationality when you say that? Because from that perspective, I don’t see it. Economically, rationality is responding appropriately to incentives.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to James Pearce says:

        Are you sticking to the strict economic definition of rationality when you say that? Because from that perspective, I don’t see it.

        No. Sorry, it was an offhand observation, I should have been my more-usual pedantic self I guess 🙂

        Economically, rationality is responding appropriately to incentives.

        Yes, sure. But from a cognitive psych perspective, that’s not what rationality is, and from a social collective perspective, rationality is often implicitly orthogonal to economic rationality.

        Rationality is one of those loaded words. Sticking to responding to incentives keeps the pathway clear when talking to non-economists.Report

  6. Avatar Murali says:

    @saul-degraw

    Whether you believe in an ideology or not requires believing in certain things as being axiomatic and/or tautologies

    I don’t see why treating tautologies as axiomatic is problematic. In fact, if you do have any axioms, it is better if they are tautologies because tautologies are necessarily true.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

      I think the problem comes in when people try to infer more from tautologies than is warranted. The problem comes when people treat as axiomatic, propositions which are neither empirically well grounded nor tautologous.Report

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    So let’s deal with faith and economic systems. As James said above, I find the faith and “wisdom” of faceless bureaucrats, toiling for the common good, dubious. We’ve had those conversations and we know how incentives work. Coupled that was the historical behavior of socialist countries and their tendency to, oh, how shall I say it, exterminate vast quantities of human beings for 1) being educated, 2) being in the way, 3) a certain religion.

    When you couple that with the desire of leftist gov’ts, and people of that mindset, to want to tell me how to live my life and INVOLVE THEMSELVES IN EVERY MAJOR DECISION IN MY LIFE, I’m pretty sure which side I’ll put my faith, such thas it is.

    Now, as to the point in Saul’s article about price surging, what’s the alternative? In my state we have an anti-profiting law on the books so prices can’t be raised more than a set amount. What happens? The same thing as when gas prices were fixed back in the day of oil shortages: lines. Everything is rationed in this world, either by price, or time, or some other measure. No law can change that. And where a legit market gets distorted, you’ll see the black market arise.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Damon says:

      I don’t understand why you focus on bureacrats to the exclusion of elected officials.

      As to price surging, yes. Saul’s assumption that with higher prices the poor will be priced out completely ignores that with sudden higher demand, they’re likely to be squeezed out even without higher prices at the store. In the event of a hurricane, who’s more likely to have advance warning of a storm coming? Who’s more likely to own a truck, trailer or be able to afford to have plywood delivered? Who’s more likely to be able to pay the higher spot price charged by the guy who bought a truckload low and is selling high?

      I appreciate Saul’s concern for poorer people, but it can’t be ignored that all he’s done is make a very speculative argument about how the market will leave them more vulnerable in case of a hurricane without providing an alternative solution– he doesn’t explain how a law against price surges will ensure availibility of plywood to poor people in the path of a hurricane.

      It’s that kind of liberalism that requires faith, faith that if we just make a rule against this one thing we don’t like it will solve the problem without creating any other problems. But because it doesn’t, we propose another rule, then another to deal with that problem, until we end up with a Rube Goldbergesque set of regulations that still don’t reliably putt the ball into the cup.*

      This is why I’m not impressed by liberals who say one of libertarianism’s problems is that it doesn’t suggest policy solutions. “Leave it be” is a policy, and it’s a policy choice that is consciously in contrast to inadvertent** Rube Goldbergism.
      __________________
      *This is how we end up with an environmental regulatory system that has a majority of environmental lawyers agreeing that it’s imposssible for large firms to fully comply, because compliance with some regs produces non-compliance with others.
      **Some libertarians think the Goldbergism is intentional, but I think that’s not so. It’s a consequence of desire to do good things and a difficulty in seeing how pieces interact, as well as some opportunism by lobbyists, whose clients can benefit from some strategic kinks in the system.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to James Hanley says:

        James,
        I focus on them because they are unelected and therefore they cannot be removed from their job. Unlike politicians, who THEORETICALLY can be removed, although practically, aren’t. Worse, bureaucrats expand the law. They intrepert what Congres wrote and they have administrative judges, so “offenders” don’t even have the protection of real courts, and their purpose is to expand their perview, and to constantly justify their existance and spending.

        Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty to complain about regarding poltiicans…..

        Other than that issue I agree with every thing else you said.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Hanley says:

        “I focus on them because they are unelected and therefore they cannot be removed from their job.”

        Exactly. The common response to “business owners are jerks who mess everything up!” is “well, shop somewhere else then, or don’t buy anything, that’s how the free market works.” There exists a similar response to critiques of government: “vote for somebody else, then!”

        If the issue is the bureaucracy, you can’t vote for someone else. The closest anyone in, say, the FDA gets to a ballot is that their boss’s boss’s boss is the President. Maybe a court case will help you out…ten years from now.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        Jim,
        If I’m not allowed to punch a customer, and am only allowed to refrain from patronizing businesses… Well, a lot of businesses I really sincerely loathe are still going to keep on murdering their employees.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Damon,

        I understand that. But for the most part bureaucrats can’t benefit personally from their positions, and being buffered from political pressures means they can apply expertise with minimal pressures from purely self-interested constituents.

        I don’t advocate technocracy ovet democracy, and I don’t argue that bureaucracies are self-interest and ideology free philosopher kings. But I do find them generally less disreputable than the class of folk who have to bow and scrape for public approval.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        If the issue is the bureaucracy, you can’t vote for someone else. The closest anyone in, say, the FDA gets to a ballot is that their boss’s boss’s boss is the President. Maybe a court case will help you out…ten years from now.

        So bureaucrats are…locked into the Constituon, requiring a 2/3rds majority of both houses to get rid of?

        I mean, for starters — should we actually be ELECTING IRS auditors? The guy at the DMV? Someone’s got to the do the job, and our experience with privatization has been a bit of a mixed bag, yes? Do we want to have tax farmers again, because I’d rather have the unelected bureacrats than guys who profit off every tax dollar they bring in.

        I’m just confused: Why can’t you get rid of the bureacrats? The Civil Service system? Is THAT in the Constitution?

        I mean, as far as I can tell Congress can rid themselves of the entire federal bureacracy in one fell swoop if they so desired, on a bare majority plus Presidential signature. Which seems to indicate the problem is that the elected officials, at whose whim these people work, don’t feel like doing anything substantive.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Hanley says:

        “Why can’t you get rid of the bureacrats? The Civil Service system? Is THAT in the Constitution?

        I mean, as far as I can tell Congress can rid themselves of the entire federal bureacracy in one fell swoop if they so desired, on a bare majority plus Presidential signature. Which seems to indicate the problem is that the elected officials, at whose whim these people work, don’t feel like doing anything substantive.”

        Congratulations, you agree with me.

        *******

        Hanley:

        “[F]or the most part bureaucrats can’t benefit personally from their positions…”

        I’d think that a professor of political science and economy would understand why that doesn’t necessarily mean we get a good result.

        “…and being buffered from political pressures means they can apply expertise with minimal pressures from purely self-interested constituents.”

        You say “purely self-interested constituents”, but I say “people who could really have benefited from brincidofovir being approved five years ago instead of having to wait two more years for it”.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        Jim,
        as far as I’m concerned, the government often functions as the Employer of Last Resort. It hires Mutants and Oddballs by design, as a “public service.” And then, as a further “public service” makes them pretty hard to fire, even if they’re somewhat derelict in their duties.
        [This obviously doesn’t apply to the Serious Stuff gov’t does.]Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        You say “purely self-interested constituents”, but I say “people who could really have benefited from brincidofovir being approved five years ago instead of having to wait two more years for it
        To point to a counter-example: There were a number of malformed babies whose mothers DID benefit from a lovely drug that reduced morning sickness.

        Now, if you want to talk drug trials for people who are going to die anyways — that’s one thing, but the FDA doesn’t foot drag because it wants to, or to show off it’s power.

        It foot-drags because when it gets it wrong, it costs everyone billions or more.

        I think the FDA’s probably a poor place to talk about overly powerful bureaucrats, because we explicitly empowered them to do a job that is, literally, life or death. And like everything else in life, it’s not like the FDA gets kudos for not approving a drug that ends up killing people, but they certainly get slammed when they DO approve such a drug.

        I’m not even sure what the alternative to the FDA and drug approval process is, really.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Morat, I’m on my phone right now so I can’t give you the link, but the FDA tends to be slower than the comparable European agency. Obviously that’s not a knock on bureaucracy in general, but it’s a knock on the FDA.

        jim-heffman
        I’d think that a professor of political science and economy would understand why that doesn’t necessarily mean we get a good result.

        You’re conflating corruption and bad results. The firmer is but a subset of the latter.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        Morat, I’m on my phone right now so I can’t give you the link, but the FDA tends to be slower than the comparable European agency. Obviously that’s not a knock on bureaucracy in general, but it’s a knock on the FDA.

        Absent further evidence, it is equally as likely the Europeans move too fast as it is the US moves to slow. The error can go both ways, obviously (too cautious, not cautious enough).

        I think even when you marshal evidence on that, it might come down to individual ideologies on acceptable risk — basic preference, really — on how to allocate the risk versus reward.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Morat,

        If there’s evidence of Europeans being more harmed than Americans by wrongly approved drugs, I’ll be happy for you to show it to me.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        Why should I show it to you? You claim the FDA is too slow and the Europeans are better — ie, closer to some objective “right answer”.

        I merely point out that the Europeans could simply be too fast. Very obviously, one can be too cautious or not cautious enough, yes?

        You’ve merely placed two points on a line and told me one is greater than the other, but you’ve not show where the proper answer actually is — you just asserted the Europeans are closer.

        Maybe they are! But I can’t just assume that, nor can I assume the FDA is better.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Morat,
        If Europe is approving drugs too fast, then they should be having more people harmed by approved drugs than the U.S. (Else there’s actually no problem.). If so, there should be evidence of that.

        I don’t think there is, but one can’t prove a negative. So if your point is right, you need to demonstrate it. If you’re just speculating baselessly, then you don’t have to bother supporting your likely spurious hypothesis.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        Saul listed one below, actually.

        I just pointed out you were assuming your answer. You say the FDA is too slow and supported it by claiming Europe was faster.

        That doesn’t actually prove the US is slow. That just proves the US is slower than Europe.

        If you give me two points on a line and say “X is greater than Y” I can’t tell which one is closer to point Z without further information. Z might be greater than X, less than Y or between the two.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

        And it could be that the European approval process is staffed enough to process approvals quickly, where as the US process has logjams in it because we wanted to make small government, not competent government, and slashed FDA funding.

        That’s one of the beautiful things about the small-government politicking. Slash and burn government to the point that it cannot function quickly or smoothly, and then it’s slow, backlogged, and peeves people to no end with shoddy service. See also Veterans Administration.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to James Hanley says:

        “it could be that the European approval process is staffed enough to process approvals quickly, where as the US process has logjams in it because we wanted to make small government, not competent government, and slashed FDA funding.”

        It could be. But it isn’t. The FDA requires companies that submit NDAs (New Drug Applications) to pay the cost of the review process. Basically, the FDA funds itself through user fees. It is not a lack of funding or staffing that causes the FDA to say “welp, Vioxx, therefore we don’t want to approve anything ever”.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        Jim,
        possible for companies to pay more to get approved faster?
        Maybe, maybe not.
        Consider: if 5 research studies are required here, and only 3 in Europe, well, the studies still take time. it might not be the bureaucracy holding things up.

        (And if at least one of those studies is because of Thalidomide, it’s Not The Bureaucracy’s Fault if we learned from experience).Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

      Damon,
      Lines don’t seem like a horrid price to pay for punishing stores that are using ineffectual JIT.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim says:

        Lines are an indicator of a messed up demand/supply curve. So, you either have rationing, the supply runs out, or the price goes up. In the case of a price floor, which is really what the scenario I described is, folks at the back of the line don’t get the product they wanted as the supply is exhaused before they can purchase. But at least we’ve prevented profiteering! Go society.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Damon,
        Grow up. In the scenario described, the corporation who best predicts the disaster gets more business (they have a bigger supply). The others are prevented from profiting from their own stupidity and poor planning.

        Seems like a decent incentive system to me (although I’d listen to calls for a bit of flexibility, if say an “actual unforeseen” disaster occurred — we can predict tornado season, we can’t predict “oil train explodes” season.)Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Kim says:

        @kim,
        Yeah, because the guy running the corner gas station has extra space to “stock up”

        And let’s not forget that logistics software ain’t cheap. You expect that from every store? Hell, I can’t JIT delivery of my wine. I have to special order it if it’s not a very common item.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Damon,
        The gas station could buy more land/tanks.
        Again, we’re actually legislating about something
        that occurs in a very small amount of a business’
        operating time.

        So we aren’t mucking up things too badly.

        JIT is a bit of my slang to talk about the conspicuous lack
        of storerooms and “supplies on hand” in supermarkets and
        many other stores. Wasn’t really suggesting they buy JIT software.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kim says:

        The gas station could buy more land/tanks.

        Think about what that would cost. Land and tanks are extremely expensive, and the only benefit to having them most of the time would be the “blessing” of having excess inventory that you’re not selling (read: money tied up in resources that aren’t producing a return). If you get lucky and there’s a spike in demand, you’ll get to sell just that tank’s worth of gas at a premium, so you’d better get a huge premium to make it worthwhile.

        If you want to speculate on fuel, you might as well just play in the futures market and let somebody else handle the logistics. Sure, you don’t get to bet on a natural disaster in your specific neighborhood, but how great is that for you anyway?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        tf,
        bear in mind that it doesn’t have to be that specific gas station bearing the cost of extra gas land/tanks. It could just be a more diffuse “fuel depot” system.

        I understand that these are expensive decisions. If they’re really that unlikely to pay off, we might could subsidize them under the heading “national security” (note: for a relatively minimal amount of petrol).Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Damon says:

      This sort of cracks me up. Because it suggests little understanding of what government actually does and a whole lot of imagined things that government doesn’t.

      Take economics, and the study of the US economy. You would be hard pressed to find any economist out there working on the US economy who does not use data generated by the US government. Take any business, say Wal-Mart, looking to expand into new markets. It’s going to use a host of data to analyze potential markets, including population, income levels, highway access, and that’s just the surface level. Or let’s look at a small company looking to establish overseas markets; they’re going to use customs data, turn to the Commerce Dept for assistance. It just astonishes me that so much of what makes your conception of the ‘free market’ function that flows out of government. Weather information. Food safety. Medical safety.

      You conflate politicians with the civil workforce; as if it’s all the same. It is not. And I’ll suggest that the recent government shutdown is an example of just how important government is to what you consider a free-market economy.

      I’m happy to talk about ways to improve government; to make it less intrusive into ordinary folks’ lives. But if you want to have that conversation, a damned fine place to start is with actual understanding about what government is; and it sure as hell ain’t what you imagine it to be.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Why is it that “what government actually does” is only good things?

        Why isn’t it that “what government does” is engage in racial discrimination, conduct unjust wars, and encourage rent-seeking?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        I have never claimed government only does good stuff; and I don’t think that’s what most liberals would claim. That’s a pigment of the conservative imagination. There is not check box with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ next to government; but there are a range of things that government does, some good, some bad, or even worse (shudder) some stuff with both good and bad outcomes, both.

        But racial discrimination, unjust wars, and rent seeking are not liberal policies; and most liberals would be very happy to weed them out. Conservatives, on the other hand? They seem to like dog whistles as a method of controlling the size of government, they seem to love their unjust wars, and rent seeking is mostly a rich man’s game, and we know how they vote.

        To my mind, those are not problems of government, they’re problems of incompetent government. Just like business can have incompetent management.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        So if you agree govt does bad things, then maybe you were too harsh on Brandon. He emphasized one set of things govt does, you emphasized another set, and his set is no more unrepresentative than your set.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        I think business does bad things, too. We should also shut down all the businesses, because some of them might be bad.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        Again with the assumption that libertarians are anarchists.

        Which is not to say that I’m not an anarchist when I’m drinking, but I’m not drinking now.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        I’ve got a cigarette lighter handy for that strawman, Zic.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        When I see a libertarian start listing the parts of government he or she actually approves of, supports, thinks does a good job, or might be necessary, I might actually start to believe that, @jaybird

        What I find is this general distaste that is ephemeral and diffuse; and while ‘small’ and ‘limited’ get bandied about, there’s generally no there there.

        You want to convince me you’re not an anarchist while not drinking? You gotta show me the money. Otherwise, it’s all smoke and mirrors as far as I can tell. What comprises limited government?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        Let me break down your “What comprises limited government?” with a quick discussion of “crime”.

        If we agree that “law enforcement” is an important part of what a government should be doing (and, hey, guess what? I AGREE THAT IT IS!) then why do libertarians always go so nutso over stuff like what the police are doing?

        Well, it’s because “crime” is defined so very broadly by the government *AND* the government’s response to crime is so freakin’ over the top.

        Remember the example from a few days ago about SWAT kicking down doors and throwing a flash bang grenade into an occupied crib? For the record, this is an example of a government that is far too expansive, that has its fingers in too many pies, and has a disproportionate response to a broken law and, I’m pretty sure, will not be held to account for it.

        Now, if we wanted to get into a discussion of how much power should the government have and under what circumstances should the government use it, the libertarians are the ones most likely to say “the cops shouldn’t be doing this and the only way to prevent the cops from doing this is to take away the power of the government to do this sort of thing and we need a lot more examples of cases where these tactics were, in fact, needed to reach a quick and peaceful solution than what if scenarios where these tactics *MIGHT* have worked in the past or *MIGHT* be needed in the future.”

        Part of the problem is that the government has named things to be crimes that, really, shouldn’t be crimes. The other part of the problem is that the government response to things that really shouldn’t be crimes is hugely inappropriate.

        I’m pleased to be on the side of the argument that says the government shouldn’t have the power that it has demonstrated that it abuses over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

        And I’m pretty sure that a world in which the government didn’t have the power to kick down doors and throw flash bang grenades would not be a worse world but, in fact, a better one.

        Let it fight crime still, but take away those particular tools.

        You know: limit it.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

        @jaybird you know that I’m pretty happy to see law enforcement reined in and all but violent offenders unjailed. I’m also pretty happy to eliminate most, if not all, of the war on drugs — I think there’s some good reason to make some highly addictive drugs controlled substances (and I’d curb much that’s been coming off the MD prescription pad here).

        But beyond that, you didn’t give an example of what good, limited government would be. There’s till nothing there.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Most libertarians believe in at least the night watchman state, with a legal system and a military limited to national defense capacities. The legal system aspect has been repeatedly mentioned here.

        Most libertarians are on-board with public roads, and public sewer systems.

        I just lost a lot of respect for you, Zic. If being openly dishonest about each other’s ideologies is going to be our standard, we might as well just be Fox News.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        But beyond that, you didn’t give an example of what good, limited government would be.

        Well, how’s this? You know our government? One like that one except one that doesn’t throw grenades into baby cribs. I mean, if someone mentions “hey, let’s kick down that door and throw a grenade in there”, the response is an automatic “no”.

        In addition to that, one that says that many of the things that are currently listed as crimes are no longer on the books. So, like, if it hears that a person is smoking a joint, it does *NOT* say “well, let’s send some men over there to arrest this person and throw him in jail”.

        So one like ours, only more limited in scope (fewer things that are crimes) and more limited in how it exercises power (fewer tools to use against its citizens).

        Now if you can imagine a government like ours but one that does not throw grenades into occupied baby cribs in the middle of the night, then you are on the right track.

        Is that an actual example yet?Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to zic says:

        Remember the example from a few days ago about SWAT kicking down doors and throwing a flash bang grenade into an occupied crib? For the record, this is an example of a government that is far too expansive, that has its fingers in too many pies, and has a disproportionate response to a broken law and, I’m pretty sure, will not be held to account for it.
        I dunno, that’s an awfully broad brush. By that logic, a single sweatshop is a stunning indictment of capitalism. (And the Robber Barons, for that matter).

        Policing is a bit weird — national, state, AND federal police. They’re highly independent, and the amount of cooperation they give each other is variable. Not quite as independent as local school districts, but I’ve seen places where the cops are courteous and places where they flash-bang a crib, so to speak.

        I’d say by far the most fascinating element is the fact that these quite disparate localities have militarized independently. (Honestly, I suspect because the money is there. Nobody ever puts budget pressure on law and order. Prisons, sure. Cops? Please). I’m quite happy to admit policing needs a thorough overhaul, from top to bottom, because whatever is driving it has pushed it all all levels and in areas that are quite independent otherwise. It’s not like there’s a jack-booted thug bureau to enforce standards on local cops, who are — in my limited experience — almost always the ones doing something ridiculously dumb and or unbelievable. (Sure, the Feds hose up and the state guys hose up, but it’s generally some city or municipality that’s really screwing up by numbers. Illegal stops, illegal tickets, stupid podunk town SWAT teams drawn from a very small talent pool, etc)

        Too many laws is another interesting judgement. Too many laws overall? Too many federal laws? Too much overlap? How can you tell what’s too many and what’s not enough? I’m really leery of judgements that boil down to vague “That’s too much!” — judging by what, really?

        It’s like guys complaining about laws because of the number of pages in the bill. “it’s 2000 pages long”. Okay, so? How is that an effective argument against it? “We should vote for it, it’s on white paper!” is an equally pointless argument.

        I can make cases for or against A law, but against a specific number? Like 2000 is okay, but 20,000 is wrong? Based on what, exactly? I note that the average contract between businesses is often incredibly lengthy and very convoluted — perhaps that’s a sign that business is too inefficient…:)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Morat,
        Jaybird’s not using that example to make a sweeping anti-govt argument, but to explain what govt he does want–ours, minus flash bangs.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        By that logic, a single sweatshop is a stunning indictment of capitalism. (And the Robber Barons, for that matter).

        Let me know when sweatshops (or robber barons) cease to be used as indictments of capitalism.

        Too many laws is another interesting judgement. Too many laws overall? Too many federal laws? Too much overlap? How can you tell what’s too many and what’s not enough? I’m really leery of judgements that boil down to vague “That’s too much!” — judging by what, really?

        Well, let’s just say something like “if you have more people incarcerated as a percentage of the population than any other country in the world, you have too many laws”.

        It’s not a quantitative assessment, but a qualitative one. Even so, I’m confident that it’s a good measuring stick.

        According to the wiki, we’re tied for the most people incarcerated per 100,000 in the world.

        The other country is Seychelles. Which, I admit, I had never heard of.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rateReport

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to zic says:

        Jaybird’s not using that example to make a sweeping anti-govt argument, but to explain what govt he does want–ours, minus flash bangs.

        Oh, I know. I just wanted to point out that he assumes “crime” is defined too broadly (he gives no examples — human behavior and ingenuity is complex, anything governing that is unlikely to be simple) and then talked about “law enforcement” as being “over the top”.

        Law enforcement is everything from the FBI investigating a multi-state credit card ring to Podunk Mississippi’s part-time SWAT team flash-banging a cradle.

        “law enforcement” is a really, really wide net to be making general statements about. We don’t have a unified, federal police force responsible for enforcing everything from local ordinances to the Constitution. We’ve got a hodge-podge.

        (Not that I don’t share his concern about what appears to be an upswelling of over-militarized responses from independent police groups, nationwide, which I suspect is rooted in the ‘War on Drugs’ and in the influx of ‘anti-terrorism’ money. Once you own an armored vehicle, human nature says you try to find a use for it).Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to zic says:

        Well, let’s just say something like “if you have more people incarcerated as a percentage of the population than any other country in the world, you have too many laws”.

        I dunno if that follows, actually. Too many convictions? Too many crimes with prison sentences? Not enough rehabilitation? Too harsh sentencing?

        Our homicide rate, for instance, is very high compared to the rest of the first world. I’m pretty sure that’s not because we have too many laws against murder.

        (I suspect for drug charges, for instance, our sentences are too harsh. Countries with similar drug laws use fines for many we jail for, and rehab where we send to prison).

        A good way to check would be to find out what’s crimes HERE but not THERE — like, what is illegal in the US but not England? Or Canada for that matter?

        We don’t need proxies for “too many laws” (as I noted, too many in prison can be other things) when we have, you know, lists of laws for every country.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Morat,

        Well, jay it’s doing his irritating cryptic game, but I think in this case it’s clear he’s indicting the war on drugs. Whatever, though, he’s more than rebutted the bullshit
        “no government at al” claim, for which Zic should ‘fess up to her mistake.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        Law enforcement is everything from the FBI investigating a multi-state credit card ring to Podunk Mississippi’s part-time SWAT team flash-banging a cradle.

        Luckily for my example, I was not complaining about the FBI investigating a multi-state credit card ring but a Podunk Mississippi’s part-time SWAT team flash-banging a cradle.

        For the record, if the FBI decided to respond to a multi-state credit card ring by kicking in a door and burning a baby, I’d oppose that on principle too. If, however, it does boring shit like “get a warrant” and “knock on the door” (or even “wait for the guys to leave the house and go to their various cars”) and then “arrest them”, I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t be able to find anybody who opposed that use of government power.

        It’s the stuff outside of reasonable limits that happens without accountability that is the problem.

        So I imagine you might want to say “BUT NOBODY DISAGREES WITH THAT!”, then I’d just point out that the government does stuff like “throw grenades into baby cribs” and “has the highest incarceration rate in the world” and how when libertarians bitch and moan about limited government, it starts an argument.Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to zic says:

        Jaybird,

        I know exactly what you’re complaining about. But it’s effectively like blaming, diagnosing every patient in a hospital with the flu.

        Sometimes you’re right, but that still doesn’t mean it’s not a pointless generalization.

        Now, in the case of law enforcement, we’re closer to something like an outbreak of the measles. The same problem is cropping up over and over in unique individuals, so what’s the common cause? It’s not “law enforcement” or “too many laws” (as noted: If we have too many laws, it should be easy to compare our laws with Canada’s or the UK’s and point out where we’re just going nuts).

        I think, as noted, it’s the war on drugs (which indeed, does fill our prisons. Canada and the UK have similar laws, but very different punishments for those) and (surprise!) federal influence in terms of “anti-terrorism” gear that was pushed, sold, or given to police over the last decade.Report

      • Avatar James Pearce in reply to zic says:

        @jaybird

        “So I imagine you might want to say “BUT NOBODY DISAGREES WITH THAT!”, then I’d just point out that the government does stuff like “throw grenades into baby cribs” and “has the highest incarceration rate in the world” and how when libertarians bitch and moan about limited government, it starts an argument.”

        I can appreciate the libertarian position on the drug war, and what’s more I agree with it. When the drug war finally ends, this country will owe a debt of gratitude to libertarians for 50 (60? 70?) years of consistent argument against it.

        But when a legal drug market is finally opened, and regulated and taxed as it will be, I do not expect the libertarian response to be, “This is awesome!”Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to zic says:

        But when a legal drug market is finally opened, and regulated and taxed as it will be, I do not expect the libertarian response to be, “This is awesome!”

        Probably not.

        But I will give them credit that they’ll still say it’s better than the current alternative.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to zic says:

        Almost as a matter of definition: for any state of affairs the liberatarian response will not be “this is awesome.” I mean, *nothing* will make them happy. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

        But when a legal drug market is finally opened, and regulated and taxed as it will be, I do not expect the libertarian response to be, “This is awesome!”

        My question is likely to be of the form “will the government regulation and taxation be onerous to the point where the black market will still thrive?”

        Something to think about: Colorado has handed out 136 recreational marijuana licenses and there are over 100 recreational stores open (at least according to https://weedmaps.com/colorado-recreational-marijuana which probably isn’t 100% accurate but I’m willing to accept its numbers as good enough for a blog comment).

        Washington does not have a single recreational marijuana store open. No, not even one.

        The optimists that I’ve googled have said that the first stores open in July and the pessimists have said “later this summer” but the people of Washington voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, including the sale of it.

        And here we are, in June 2014, and there isn’t a single store open.

        I suppose it’s better than the war on drugs.

        I hope you agree that it’s fair to say that anyone who is saying “this is awesome” is probably saying it a hair prematurely. Maybe we’ll be able to say it at the end of the summer… but, at this point? Two years later? I can’t tell the difference.Report

  8. Avatar Kim says:

    Both the liberals and conservatives are right:
    But it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.

    Because Walmart, as currently conceived, is
    withering on the vine. And when Walmart leaves,
    many places will have nothing else.Report

  9. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    My bet is that the rich would merely purchase just as much as they would in the circumstance because they can afford the hit. I would also bit that a good number of lower-income people would be priced out of necessary supplies and need to whether a hurricane or other disaster without food or protective supplies. This will only lead to anarchy and thievery.

    That’s at least somewhat true (at least, the part about poor people not being able to afford critical goods). But the thing is that setting a price ceiling is the worst possible solution to the issue. The price ceiling distributes the goods at random (or at best, by willingness to queue, which could be driven more by the ability to profit on the secondary market than by actual need).

    If the government wants to solve the “poor people can’t get emergency stuff during emergencies” they should get money out to those poor people during emergencies. Then they can buy emergency stuff without breaking the price-based allocation system. And they can even buy the emergency stuff they need rather than whatever we’ve decided to price cap or the one critical thing they’ve had time to queue for. “Got a WIC EBT card? You’ll find another $200 in your account, good at any retailer.”Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

      You’re nuts, Troublesome Frog. The government needs to figure out what the poor people need and make sure they get coupons for that, and only that. Just like WIC.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to James Hanley says:

        That’s the real killer, isn’t it? We love telling poor people exactly what to do with the money we give them. “Here’s $100. Buy $100 worth of tortillas if you need that much. But you can’t buy anything but tortillas.” Now we have a bunch of people who have $100 worth of tortillas spoiling in the pantry, even if they didn’t want tortillas at all because, hey, you can’t spend it on anything else and somebody else is paying for it. Never mind that they would have purchased zero tortillas and spent the cash on rice and diapers if we’d just given them $100. “We gave you all those tortillas and now you want money for diapers??”

        But at least the poors aren’t buying lobster with the WIC money. Only tortillas. Mandatory.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        With our first two kids I was in grad school, and we qualified for WIC. It was helpful, no doubt, but the restrictions definitely made it less so. We finally stopped getting eggs because we had dozens of eggs in our fridge. I’m pretty sure the program was as much or more of a prop for the chicken industry than a welfare program for the poor. 😉Report

      • Avatar morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        James,

        Given the bird’s eye view of politics, I’m pretty sure such restrictions weren’t back-door subsidies but came from eagle-eyed folks wanting to make sure the money was spent “right’.

        What was the old Reagan saw? Strapping young bucks buying t-bone steaks on food stamps? Can’t have that.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Morat,

        Oh, certainly. But keep in mind that food stamps/SNAP is run by the Department of Agriculture. The poor are in fact only its secondary target of welfare.Report

  10. Saul, you make some good points. I think a lot of your observations have much truth to them. Nonetheless, please allow me a critique.

    I think there is a weakness in the way you’ve approached this post. You begin discussing Wal-Mart, and then, in the fourth paragraph, hit what I think is your main point (according to the title of the post), but you leave that point to then talk about pricing during emergencies.

    I think we can all see where you’re going, but I don’t think you’ve really addressed the meat of your issues; you’ve just brought up two examples (and they’re fairly general examples). It’s easy to get sidetracked into a lot of tangential debates. Further, I imagine there are lots of people who have attempted an empirical rather than ideological look at these two issues (though, of course, they may have entered their investigations with ideologically-based assumptions). I think it’s tough to build your case on just these two examples.

    Now, I know I’m treading really close to criticizing you for not writing the post that I would want you to write, and I certainly don’t want to fall into that trap. However, though I think you have a good point to make (and have pretty solid grounds to make it), I think the two examples are, upon deeper discussions, weak. Wal-Mart is a fine jumping off point for this post, but it can’t really be a main thrust (the effects of Wal-Mart aren’t even uniform–it likely has a different impact in different regions, and I would guess that the dynamic in my city is different and less-severe than in many othe cities).

    You could break these topics out into separate posts (and you’d probably have a darned good serious, if you did). If you want to get at the ideologies that we all operate from, it might be quite useful to pull apart these various topics, give your view and ask others to explain to you where they’re coming from. Otherwise, we run into the problem of talking past each other and just using our own preferred buzzwords and phrases.Report

  11. Avatar Roger says:

    Saul,
    In your honest attempt to characterize how classical liberals and conservatives think about Wal-Mart and jobs I think you actually miss the defining paradigm of those disagreeing with you. To a classical liberal or economist it is essential that one considers the perspective of consumers. After all, jobs are a means to an end, and that end is to create products and services for each other.

    Looking at economics through the perspective of jobs (which is what you are going here) adopts a dysfunctional paradigm, which if pursued to its logical conclusion makes no sense. It leads to the idea that the best way to optimize jobs is to pay people as much as possible to do as little as possible as inefficiently as possible. It leads to absolute and total impoverishment. We will all be billionaires with nothing to buy.

    Wal-Mart is an efficient means of bringing lots of goods and services to consumers at a lower cost than alternative methods. If you don’t like this, you don’t like economics. Full stop. It is like not liking gravity. Gravity doesn’t care.

    Supply and demand and economics are not ideologies which you can choose to believe in when it meets your preconceived notions on hiring, rent control and such. Like gravity, they don’t care whether you believe them or not.

    I actually hired people and set prices for a living. Economics wasn’t an ideology. It was a discipline necessary to avoid disaster. There was no blind faith, and if I ever hired anybody as idealistic as you they would have immediately learned the reality of the situation when they actually set prices (or tried to hire people) and watched what happened.

    “My issue is that both viewpoints rest more on faith than anything else…. Anyone who says otherwise is probably lying but this is also something I can’t prove and need to take on blind faith.”

    Before telling yourself this, I would suggest you learn more about how economics and markets actually work.

    “One of my issues with libertarianism is that it seemingly (to me) takes a lot of faith in the ideas of classical economics and that free-market Capitalism will always lead to a natural and/or desirous outcome because it reflects true rational self-interest.”

    Free markets are a problem solving mechanism for certain types of problems concerning certain types of scarce goods. Like all problem solving systems, it is imperfect and incomplete. It always searches, but one can never be sure it finds the best solution. This is not a matter of faith though, it is a matter of empirical fact when comparing the relative success and failure of markets compared to alternative problem solving and discovery systems for a given domain.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Roger says:

      You assume that Walmart has a functional business model.
      Walmart makes no such assumptions, and is busy paying people
      they should have hired in the first place to redesign their company.

      Given that state of affairs, I think it is manifestly obvious that
      Walmart is not actually delivering profit in such a way to please
      the Waltons. (If one could generate profit while doing nothing,
      a corporation would dive at the chance).Report

    • Avatar Francis in reply to Roger says:

      “Wal-Mart is an efficient means of bringing lots of goods and services to consumers at a lower cost than alternative methods.”

      And one of the ways they do it is by externalizing costs. Wal-Mart could, for example, insist that its entire supply chain live up to American labor and environmental standards. For a microscopically small sum of money — by Walmart standards — the company could permanently station a third party labor compliance monitor in every Thai and Chinese factory that wants the privilege of selling to it directly or indirectly.

      To take an extreme example, chattel slavery delivered cotton to the mill owners at low cost. Why was that intolerable in the US, but the functional equivalent is acceptable so long as it’s on foreign soil?

      Low-cost goods are not the only measure of the success of an economic system. The distribution of the pie. as well as its size, very much matters.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Francis says:

        You’ve garbled my comment.

        I said economics is a problem solving system within a particular domain. You then give examples of problems in other domains. Walmart did not gain its competitive advantages via unusually egregious pollution. I concur completely that externalities such as pollution are legitimate human concerns, though they are often solved via non economic means.

        As for the distribution of the pie, or equality of outcome, this is clearly NOT an expected outcome from economic problem solving systems. Markets thrive on unequal outcomes and differences in profits prices and wages. These are signals in the system, and any internal interference screws up the system.

        The confusion is to assume the only type of problem solving system is economics. There is politics, science, family, math, logic, blah, blah blah. Please though don’t malign a system which thrives on unequal outcomes because it leads to unequal outcomes.Report

  12. Avatar Citizen says:

    Saul, could you speculate the relationship between Wal-Mart and consumers if minimum wage never existed in any country ever?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Citizen says:

      In theory they could offer script to their employees like many employers did during the gilded age like Pullman.

      Do we know how many Wallmart shoppers are also employees?Report

  13. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    @james-hanley @morat20

    I can’t go into details for all cases but I can tell you from working on various drug cases.

    1. There are drugs and medical products that get heat from the FDA and their European and Australian counterparts at the same time including requirements for additional warnings and suggestions of voluntary recalls.

    2. Some drugs are not made by their original developer for the US Market because of FDA regulations and warnings but are available in Europe. Accutane is a good example of this. US Consumers can get generic Accutane but Accutane is a fairly strong medicine/poison and has led to people develop dehabilitating IBS and Chron’s Disease from taking Accutane, Seems like a big price to pay for anti-ACME medication.Report

  14. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    @james-hanley

    Re: Market rewards rationality

    But what do we do when the most rational thing is to kick a problem down the road until it is potentially too late to deal with or we don’t have to bother to deal with?

    Kevin Drum once described climate change/global warming as the ultimate grad school problem from hell because it is so slow moving. The worst effects will not be felt for 200 or so years is what I hear in some articles and reports and we will all be dead by then,

    So it would seem to me that it is perfectly rational to ignore climate change as an issue if this is true. That does not necessarily make it a wise decision though.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Your average libertarian would obviously point out that the atmosphere is a commons (quite possible one of the world’s most tragic and irreducible commons) and that CO2 is an externality. Libertarian theory says that regulating externalities is a proper role of government because they are by their nature incompatible with market solutions.

      Economics (not libertarianism), on the other hand, says that this question is complicated. For instance economics says that it may be that ecological and environmental palliative and coping strategies may be cheaper than the cost of prevention. If that is true than the correct action is to proceed with economic growth and fix the problems caused by global warming. It may also say that geoengineering would be cheaper to prevent Global Warming than preventing fossil fuel use. Heck, it even says nuclear power is probably a good low carbon way to prevent CO2 emissions. All three of those answers make environmentalists faces melt off like the Nazi’s opening the Arc of the Covenant and it’s that reaction is not due to any empirical or rational reasons.

      Err but I digress. Libertarians would probably say that Global Warming, whatever the solution is, is likely a proper role for some level of government. The biggest difficulty is that there is no global responsible government nor is there any prospect of some which turns Global Warming into one gigantic prisoners dilemma.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Saul, I think that example is a strange choice. As North notes, AGW is a collective action problem, which by definition are not generally solvable by markets. So to the extent kicking the problem down the road occurs with it, it’s really government doing the kicking.

      Not that kicking problems down the road doesn’t happen in the market sector, but your example is one I could have used to critique government.Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to James Hanley says:

        Although I lean towards Saul’s side of things, I do think you’re making very strong and convincing points here, James. My question is this: how do we decide which things are collective action problems and which aren’t? How, qua North, do decide what is an externality and what isn’t? For instance, it seems to me that unacceptable levels of economic instability (the boom-bust cycle referred to upthread) are an inevitable externality of capitalism; what then are governments justified doing in response?

        (Sorry if this is phrased confusingly, I’m on a lot of painkillers right now)Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        how do we decide which things are collective action problems and which aren’t?

        Good question. The term gets tossed around a lot, and it’s not necessarily clear if we’re all referring to the same thing all the time. Technically, a collective action problem has two elements: 1) there is a collective benefit (that is, if the benefit can be achieved, everyone will share in it, not just some); 2) it does not take everyone’s efforts to achieve it. That means some people will try to “free ride” on the efforts of others, getting the benefit without contributing to the cost or effort of achieving it.

        The problem is that it’s rational to free ride. If the benefit is achieved, everyone gets the value of the benefit (B, let’s call it), but while the free rider gets B straight up, the net gain for those who contribute is B-C (the cost of contributing), so the free rider’s better off. If the benefit is not achieved, there’s a net loss of C for all contributors, but the free rider loses nothing.

        So if everyone acts rationally, the benefit will never be achieved.

        AGW is a good example of a collective action problem. If enough other countries cut back on CO2 emissions, the US doesn’t need to. If no other country does, the US can only hurt itself by doing so.

        Are the boom and bust cycles of capitalism of that nature? I’m open to argument, but I don’t think so. I’m not sure it’s something businesses even theoretically can do something about. That is, countries can band together to limit CO2 production, if they can overcome the free rider problem. I don’t think businesses can band together to limit instability in capitalism–I don’t think the root difficulty is free riders, but the very nature of capitalism in its restless searching for efficiencies and new products and markets.

        That’s not to say the instability isn’t a problem at all. I just think it’s a different type of problem than a collective action problem, so analyzing it as one probably won’t help us understand it well.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        James,
        Aren’t you assuming that everyone wants Global Warming to not happen?
        I find that a questionable assumption. If there is profit in it, there are some people (Powers that Be) that will actively want Global Warming.

        After all, They can always Move. They’re building for it right now, in fact.Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to James Hanley says:

        “I don’t think the root difficulty is free riders, but the very nature of capitalism in its restless searching for efficiencies and new products and markets.”

        Well, I think you’ve landed on the main problem, at least to my eyes. That “restless searching”, as far as I can tell, causes truly massive amounts of human suffering. Hence why, like Saul, I think a better balance between socialism and capitalism would be more desirable (very basically, socializing goods that need to be provisioned universally, while using markets to distribute non-essential goods).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Not living a 19th century life does not come without a cost.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

        Zac, I hope you’re feeling better. I know that above comment made me feel better. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to James Hanley says:

        “Not living a 19th century life does not come without a cost.”

        That response is…a little more glib than I’ve come to expect from you, honestly. I look at countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and others, and they don’t seem to be living at a 19th century life. They also hew a lot more closely to the sorts of socialist/capitalist mixed economies I envision as closer to ideal than what we’ve got here in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are aspects of those countries that make it easier to implement those systems than it would be here (like smaller populations, or oil wealth in the case of Norway). But that’s not the same as it being impossible to turn the dial, so to speak, a little closer to what they’ve got.

        (Again, please pardon any incoherence, because I’m on enough Vicodin to kill a horse right now.)Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to James Hanley says:

        A lot of the Nordic countries have fewer business and trade regulations than the US and are thus except for the tax burden and labour regulation* closer to the libertarian ideal. While it would be nice to have lower taxes and fewer regulations, if one had to choose, getting rid of the regulations takes priority. I’m glad that you see the Nordic countries as an example.

        http://www.heritage.org/index/explore

        *In fact, it makes me wonder how they measure labour freedom as I know for a fact that there is no minimum wage in Singapore (or at least there by and large wasn’t one until recently when cleaners/ janitors got a minimum wage) and employment is at will for almost everyone except perhaps some highly paid professions.Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to James Hanley says:

        @murali : I actually agree that sometimes fewer business and trade regulations can be preferable; as long as the system is robust enough to accomplish the ends we desire, the total amount of regulation doesn’t really seem germane. As you point out, the Nordic countries are both more socialist *and* more libertarian than us. Given the results, that sounds like a good thing to me. Again, I think it comes back to finding the sweet spot on the dial. I just wish the U.S. would move a little (or in some cases a lot) closer to the spot on the dial that those countries have moved to.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Zac,

        That restless seeking is what leads to innovation, whether in a hunter-gatherer society (somebody had to think up, and later somebody had to improve, bows and arrows), a feudal society or a capitalist one. All the fine and helpful stuff we have these days is a product of restless seeking. Dampen the restless seeking and you dampen that innovation. You can’t destroy, it’s part of human nature, but you can diminish it by stripping away the rewards. If we’d done that in the 18th century, today we’d still be living in the 19th century.

        Of course lots of those innovations destroyed lots of jobs and created a lot of social upheaval. The invention of the shipping container was a major cause of the loss of textile jobs in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean we’d be better off without containers. My current favorite thing, autonomous cars, could eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in trucking, chauffeuring, and auto-building (on the assumption that fewer people would bother to buy their own cars, or at least fewer bother to be two or three car families). It might even reduce the number of medical-related jobs a little bit, due to decrease in traffic accidents. But that doesn’t mean we’d be better off without autonomous cars.

        That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to better prevent, or at least better handle, the really big disruptive events like our recent economic crisis. But that was really a product of two things: bad gov’t policy and overly risky decision-making by the financial sector (and of course derivatives and synthetic derivatives, CDOs and tranches, were all part of that restless seeking, and in many ways they were very productive).

        I think it’s fair to argue that we ought to work on those two areas. But there are too many gains from restless seeking for me to want to limit it too much. Part of that is general observation, part of it is purely personal–without those innovations, I’d be dead at least twice over by now.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Addendum: Not to knock the Nordic countries, or claim they’re actually socialist hellholes, but they do have their problems, too. According to this source, employment in the 15-30 age group fell from about 73% in 2007 to closer to 53% in 2013. Un/underemployment of people in their 20s is one of the big things we’re worrying about in the U.S., right now, too.Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to James Hanley says:

        @james-hanley : I pretty much agree with this, especially the second paragraph. I am fine with this dynamic (IIRC it’s referred to as creative destruction, yes?) and it’s not the part I see as problematic; I actually find it to be one of the best features of capitalism. What I see as the problem is when the profit motive is pursued as an end in and of itself, blind to any other rational concerns. If you have an hour to kill anytime in the near future, check out this recent podcast about the food industry (http://www.cracked.com/podcast/why-food-industry-way-more-evil-than-you-think/), because it identifies exactly the issue I’m trying to describe here. And yes, I know that Cracked is a comedy website but I think they actually have a really trenchant analysis in this particular podcast and I think you might find it surprisingly enriching. At any rate, it describes what I’m trying to articulate much better than I could.Report

  15. Avatar Gabriel Conroy says:

    Maybe a better answer for the “epistemological” part of Saul’s question:

    In addition to re-phrasing another’s point of view as that other would also recognize it, and in addition to Jonathan’s point about building bridges of common ground, another exercise could be framing our true rejections, those propositions that once disproven would change our mind.

    Framing true rejections isn’t necessarily only an epistemological question. It should also be valuational (or normative….I’m not sure which if either of those terms is the right one for what I want to say). The point is to set up what needs to be disproven to change your mind about, say, Walmart or price gouging or whatever. If you or I can do this, then everyone else can know better where we stand.

    I suppose at any rate there may remain certain indescribable or inscrutable senses of what’s right and what’s wrong along which it is very difficult to enunciate a “true rejection.” I have that issue, for example, when it comes to the question of allowing people to legally sell their own organs. I understand and think I agree with the arguments for that, but I just can’t really sign on to it. I don’t say that to highjack this thread, but that’s just an example of the shortcomings of my true rejection approach.Report

  16. Avatar James K says:

    I think you’re right Saul that much of ideological disagreement is driven by epistemic difference, or what I would call a difference of priors. The trouble with politics is that the evidence is of poor enough quality that everyone’s priors still dominate their beliefs, whereas in the physical sciences the strength of the evidence pushes everyone who’s seriously trying to grapple with the facts to almost the same point no matter where they started.

    However, I would draw a distinction between an ideology and an analytical framework, yes the two tend to be connected in any individual, but the frameworks of market economics are useful even if you reject the ideology that their biggest proponents hold.

    For example, consider price gouging in the event of natural disaster. Your morality recoils at the thought of rising prices, fearing that the rich will have their fill, and the poor will do without. The problem is that the real cause of people doing without is that demand suddenly exceeds supply. Without fixing that someone’s doing without. If prices don’t rise then there will be a run on inventory and anyone who arrives late will discover the price is now infinite. If I were to start from the premise that the government should do something to contain prices I wouldn’t control prices directly – that would be like trying to put out a fire by disconnecting your smoke alarm. Instead I’d have the government buy supplies in shortage from around the country, move them to the affected area and sell them at the pre-disaster market rate. This would cost the government, but it would actually fix the problem – meet rising demand with a surge of supply. Ideological battles spend far to much time arguing about whether the government should act, an neither of the primary factions puts enough analysis into how the government should act.Report

  17. » C’est d’ailleurs surtout sur l’aspect mental qu’il pense devoir progresser en regardant des vidéos «pour savoir où les défenseurs vont jouer, où mes coéquipiers vont se placer. “Je ne suis pas sûre que les enfants les mettent en perspective, mais ils peuvent être http://www.gelee-royale-pollenergie.fr/ touchés par un aspect de transmission”, affirme Carole Daprey,, qui trouve toutefois que ce mobilier est tout aussi bralph lauren pas cher diss&Report

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