The Art of Letting Go

Some long, rambling thoughts on what it means to be a libertarian. At least, if you’re me.

Preliminaries on Dissent: I’ve been thoroughly bemused at many of the responses to Erik’s post below. Larry M writes:

Even confining ourselves to legitimate libertarians … There’s CATO, which does some good work, but the stuff from them that gets publicized tend to be (a) not the positive stuff that Kain highlights, and (b) fitting confortably into the NYT stereotype.

First, it’s Cato, not CATO. But I do love the Gallicism. And there’s this from Mike Schilling:

The very antithesis of wanting to be taken seriously is (as Cato did) giving a senior position to Tucker Carlson.

Schilling very reasonably objected to Carlson saying that Michael Vick should have gotten the death penalty. Carlson’s opinion is not, incidentally, libertarian by any stretch of the imagination. I know that if it were my job to talk on TV every day, I’d probably say some foolish things too… but still, this one was a real doozy.

But look, people, if stuff like this keeps you from working harder to end the war on drugs, to fix our eminent domain system, to restrain our surveillance state, or to preserve our civil liberties… isn’t that rather pathetic? Aren’t these about the weakest excuses around? That you don’t agree with everything at a full-service policy shop? Or that TV folk sometimes say dumb things?

I’m sorry that some ideas from Cato get more leverage in the media than others. But I don’t see how this counts as a strike against any of our good ideas in particular. And if Cato’s still not your thing, I hope you’ll consider giving to some single-issue activist groups like Flex Your Rights, the Institute for Justice, NORML, the Innocence Project, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Castle Coalition, the National Rifle Association, or any of the others you can probably find. (These were only my favorites among the national, single-issue groups.) If your critique of Cato is really all that sophisticated — they’ve got the wrong emphasis! — then you’re plenty capable of finding worthwhile groups to support.

More importantly, you don’t have to agree with everything from Cato or everything in Reason magazine to be a libertarian. I myself disagree with quite a few things my colleagues have published. Not only am I still counted a libertarian, but Cato still cuts me a paycheck. I think the Politburo could find it in their hearts to forgive you, if we even had a Politburo.

You might recall that I’m a complete, total squish when it comes to global warming. Unlike most people, I feel a very low degree of confidence in my conclusions on this issue, so I rarely write about it. But a squish I am, and a squish I remain. As I once wrote, the largeness of a commons problem is no argument against solving it. Other things might be, but not this.

Here are some more. My forthcoming policy analysis on marriage will disagree, respectfully, with Cato’s president and founder. I think there actually might be a proper role for the government in recognizing marriages, and I argue for what I think it should be. (The paper is due out on January 12; I’ll discuss it further then.) Or just put me in a room with Roger Pilon, and I’m pretty confident we can find a few things to disagree about, too. Look here and there in the Cato@Liberty archives, and you’ll likely find others.

Ultimately, though, these disagreements don’t mean we can’t share a think tank or even a political philosophy, including above all a set of guiding values as we approach the many hard questions of politics. I think it would be a lot more frightening, not less, if we all agreed on every conclusion in all the particulars. It would also make us much less credible, and it would put many of us in a morally compromising position if perfect, lockstep agreement were expected. That’s why it isn’t.

Mere Libertarianism So what does unite us, if anything? Is there a “mere” libertarianism, akin to C. S. Lewis’s mere Christianity? I think there is. I could be wrong, of course, but I’ll try to explain how I think a mere libertarianism ought to be understood.[1] It may still seem that many folks calling themselves libertarians in the real world don’t match up to my mere libertarianism, but that’s okay. When we mint a label, we give up all pretense of controlling it.

With that said, here goes. I think libertarianism rests on two basic premises:

1. Individuals are generally far more competent at running their own lives than they are at running the lives of others. This insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.

2. When coercion is used, it should be considered either a failure or a last resort. Likewise, this insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.[2]

I generally term libertarian those arguments invoking either premise.

By these terms, many people hold a wide array of libertarian views. You don’t have to be a Cato sponsor to think that this is atrocious. Almost everyone is a little bit libertarian, and that’s not a bug; it’s a feature. We could hardly have a proper society at all if things weren’t so.

Determining who really counts as a libertarian is tricky, and the payoff is low. People hold many different views, and no one bases all of their thinking on my two premises anyway. (Is Glenn Greenwald a libertarian? I don’t know, and he doesn’t label himself, but I’m very, very thankful for the work he does.)

Still, libertarian arguments have already prevailed in many important areas of life. Our institutions in these areas have already been reformed to reflect the idea that individuals should decide for themselves, and that coercion should be banished. Consider:

America [has] a rather long-running experiment with very generous religious freedom, so that it constitutes a valid case study for the point I wish to make: When people are left alone to use this very, very potent thing as they see fit, they don’t degenerate to a “state of nature”, and (for the most part) they don’t form mobs to kill off the other religions (though we have formed mobs for other purposes). This powerful cultural practice, something with great potential for evil, is simply left lying around for anybody to use however they like, and somehow our society works. Moreover, our society remains fairly pluralistic in regards to religion, and has evolved toward ever greater (if not perfect) tolerance for minority faiths. While Muslims in America hardly have it easy, (1) they still have it easier than Sunnis in Iran or Shias in Afghanistan and (2) they probably have it easier than unpopular Christian groups at various points in US history.

I see this as an example for libertarians to point to: Individuals can handle potent ideas and activities if left to their own devices. They will form communities, adhere to traditions, and band together to work through the psychic turmoils that it can produce. If the results are not always perfect, they are at least no worse than the results in places with less religious freedom, and are often far, far better than the results in places with less religious freedom.

If religion had never been invented, and if someone came up with it today, I can guarantee you the government would step in — wrongly. How much more, then, this conclusion should apply to other, less harmful things. Often, we do okay without the control.

The Art of Letting Go Libertarians view, or should view, the story of politics as one of fitfully learning to let go of power. Letting go is most certainly an art to be learned. It doesn’t come to us intuitively. Instead, it appears intuitive to think that planning, regimentation, and following a consciously designed order are the only rational ways to run a society. As a result, letting go can appear to be a default on our responsibilities. Yet letting go often has very good results, as with religion.

One might ask — Where and how often can we expect good results? And just how good will they be? The honest answer is twofold.

First, we don’t entirely know yet. There are sound empirical reasons to think that many forms of letting go should be tried right away. There are moral arguments that take us further. But we won’t know until we try, and this means one thing — caution is still in order. As I said, libertarians often premise their thinking on the idea that individuals aren’t terribly competent to run the lives of others, and it only stands to reason that even as we let go, we won’t always get everything right.

Second, a lot depends on what we try to let go of, in what order, and how. If all that you “privatize” is the choice of whether public officials perform their duties, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out that you’ve let go in a way that enhances arbitrary power, rather than doing away with it. The ensuing scandal was not a failure of letting go, but a failure of arbitrary power — the very thing that we are trying to let go of.

Libertarians not only believe that we have a surplus of arbitrary power; we also believe that the surplus is very, very often misused. And why? Well, look at who gets that power. It’s generally those who are already wealthy or influential. And those who most enjoy wielding power over others.

Such people tend to be the best connected, the best informed, and most inclined to grab even more as they go. The military-industrial complex should be taken seriously by libertarians. It’s a manifestation of just this problem. With very few exceptions, politicians should not be our most-admired people.

The people most likely to have more power channeled in their direction are not, therefore, the most deserving. People who would give political power to the disadvantaged often seem to ignore an important middle term — how do you get power to them, without it being diverted? One of the areas where libertarians and their fellow travelers have made the most progress in the art of letting go has been in the analysis of regulatory capture. It strikes us as odd how little others consider this problem.

Libertarians, when faced with the task of empowering the powerless, should be sympathetic, not contemptuous. (Alas, sometimes we are contemptuous.) But we should insist, by the very reason of our sympathy, that difficulties abound. If we want to help the poor, we should, for another example, consider welfare traps unconscionable — not merely an unfortunate side effect, but a dash of poison in the soup. Eliminating them should be the first thing any genuine liberal would do to improve our welfare state. Only feudalism wants permanent clients.

This brings me to one way in which libertarianism is different from most other political theories. Libertarians often find others engaged in what seems to us a game of divvying up. Who gets which power? How can I be sure that my group gets while the getting is good? Whose dog are you?

This is the very business we propose to escape. We find that the problem of power is not solved by allocating. It’s solved by containing and, ultimately, by renouncing. Our job is to figure out how to do it properly, so that to the greatest extent possible, no group has its hands on the levers of coercion. Presbyterians don’t run the state religious council. Muslims don’t run it either. That’s because there is no state religious council.

Order and Markets What reasons do we have to expect that letting go is an improvement? One is the human tendency toward spontaneous order. Often, the result of letting go is not chaos, but a set of shared, flexible, robust norms and institutions that emerge from repeated interactions among a group of people — in short, a civil society. Many of our institutions, including law, language, money, and markets, have been the products of human action, but not of human design. These point the way forward, to some extent.

One need not look very far to see norms and institutions emerging in a space of very minimal coercion. Wikipedia is anarchic — and yet remarkably effective. We all joke about it — and yet we all use it. Continually. Its control structures were engineered on the fly, they remain incredibly loose, and the degree of central planning has been virtually nil. That’s a spontaneous order.

I have said very little yet about markets. I avoided them because, as a commenter noted, when one writes of markets it is usually assumed that one is writing merely of the status quo. I’m not here to champion the status quo. A market of a particular kind, however, is certainly an institution worth having.

Yet whenever one invents a term for the let-go market, whenever one labels the thing that is honest exchange without coercion, favoritism, or damage to bystanders, the label is understood to mean the status quo, or worse, it’s considered an endorsement of giving more power to corporations — as if libertarians were still in the divvying-up business, rather than trying to escape it.

Jim Peron lately writes of “depoliticized markets,” and it’s a good try. One of its virtues seems to be that we can’t plausibly use it to describe the status quo. “Free markets,” “laissez faire,” “capitalism,” and many others have fallen before it, but hope springs eternal, I suppose.

His description of what markets do, culturally, is a good one, and I endorse it by way of closing this already too-long post. In it I’ve tried to synthesize a huge amount of thinking, using many new terms. It’s probable that I’ve royally screwed up here or there, so I welcome suggestions for improvement. One doesn’t write like this without courting disaster. The least I can do is be a little aware of it, which I am.

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[1] Libertarian arguments are usually understood to come in two flavors, utilitarian and deontological. These, it’s often claimed, are incompatible with one another. I think they in fact are compatible, at least for a wide variety of subjects. Their results are often either the same or very similar, and this need not imply that either approach is invalid. But if there is any point at which my mere libertarianism is eccentric, it’s here.

[2] Defining coercion is of course very tricky. I incline toward the definition that holds coercion to be that which defeats the will, while not convincing the intellect. I am not intellectually convinced that my wallet belongs in the mugger’s hands, although my will may find itself complying anyway. Whatever makes it comply is coercion. N.b., this definition encompasses both the use or threat of force and also most things usually called fraud.

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216 thoughts on “The Art of Letting Go

  1. I agree – excellent post. Though the devil’s in the details, it is hard to argue with this general philosophy.

    I think you’ve really hit upon the crux of the difficulty with this point, though: “a lot depends on what we try to let go of, in what order, and how.” The biggest concern with calls for deregulation to my left-leaning self has always been that doing so without first dismantling the politicized advantages currently ensconced in the markets will inevitably lead to further concentration of power in the hands of those who already hold most of it.

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  2. Jason,

    I particularly like your libertarian minima. And I think we could say, roughly, that the more areas of life one applies those minimal to, the more libertarian one is.

    One of the things I have particularly objected to is those who think libertarians *want* to give more power to corporations. The very idea of giving more power to anyone/thing but the individual’s authority over him/herself is anathema to “mere” libertarianism. It’s ok if someone thinks the unintended consequence of our beliefs would be that outcome; I’d think they were wrong, but at least they wouldn’t be imputing anti-libertarian motives to libertarians.

    The other thing to which I’ve most particularly objected is the claim that libertarianism is selfishly individualistic. I think those critics fail to recognize that coerced society is not necessarily a healthy society, and that libertarians support more voluntary social arrangements, rather than being simply anti-social.

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    • Sadly James many people identify themselves as “libertarian” or acting out of “libertarian” goals when simply they are opposing gov regulations. Opposing regulations does nothing to bring about voluntary arrangements and is often designed to give more power to corporations. Libertarian is commonly abused word which only reflects poorly on other libertarians.

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      • greginak,

        Opposing government regulations may be a necessary step to bringing about voluntary arrangements, because government regulations may crowd out private arrangements.

        And may I please express my extreme frustration that you repeat precisely the error I complain about in your response to my comment, when you say, “opposing regulations…is often designed to give more power to corporations.” (emphasis added)

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        • It may be a necessary step in that direction except that without other changes it will never get there. In many cases cutting regulation does nothing but give corporations more power, which is the entire goal. Yes i think that is the design of things pushed by Repub’s although they use libertarian language. I don’t think that is necessarily what “real” or “thoughtful” libertarians think but its how some things are sold. If you pay attention to the new Repub’s coming into congress you’ll here plenty of talk about freedom and getting the gov off our backs and Tea Party/Libertarian verbaga when what they mean is stuff like corps can pump whatever they want in the air or less worker safety regs.

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        • The problem is that you speak of “Opposing government regulations” in the abstract. Politically speaking the easiest kinds of regulations to oppose are the ones opposed by the biggest and most powerful operators. This makes “Opposing government regulations” a prime mechanism driving regulatory capture.

          Libertarians need to be really careful and really precise about opposing government regulations. Otherwise you are just another brick in the road to regulatory capture.

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          • Urgh! I’m sorry, Mr. Ppnl, but regulatory capture is driven by government regulation. When customers regulate markets, the only way to capture them is to offer them a better deal. It is only when governments regulate markets that regulatory capture is a problem. “Reform” or “deregulation” drives regulator capture. There is only such thing as “deregulation”. Markets are regulated by governments or they are regulated by customers. They are never “free” — a totally free market is one in which producers can sell anything they want, and customers have no choice but to buy. The goal of “deregulation” is to inhibit customer choice while at the same time minimizing government control over the producers.

            Don’t believe me? Look at the things which have been called “deregulaton”.

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            • Yes it is true that if government does not regulate then there can be no regulatory capture. But unless you claim that government should never ever regulate anything then it isn’t clear what your point is.

              Many regulations start out with honest intent. They may be misguided or ineffective but they can start out honest. Regulatory capture proceeds as government is powerless to protect itself from powerful interest groups. These interest groups can be within the regulated industry trying to promote the industry or outside the industry trying to kill off the industry for some reason.

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              • ppnl:
                Regulatory capture proceeds as government is powerless to protect itself from powerful interest groups.

                Powerless to protect itself? That assumes government has some desire to protect itself. But government is actually just a collection of people, a great number of whom not only have no desire to protect government from regulatory capture, but a positive desire to be captured (iron triangles and all that).

                greginak:

                one huge part the Libertarian view misses is the Repub party has functioned as a pro-regulatory capture party.

                Here we go again with the mischaracterization of libertarians. One of libertarians’ most consistent criticisms of Republicans is that they aren’t truly pro-free markets, but are corporatists. Please criticize libertarians on truthful grounds, instead of criticizing them for things that they don’t actually do anywhere outside the imagination of liberals.

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                • What you say about the motives of government is true. But even if you assume the best motives you will still get regulatory capture. Politicians find that they have to do many things that they don’t want to do in order to get elected. Regulatory capture is more of a property of the system than a desire of politicians. I believe this fact is a cornerstone for libertarian skepticism of government. I believe this skepticism of government is justified and critically important.

                  And I agree that many libertarians are very critical of republican claims to be pro-free market. Many republicans are also critical of their own party for the same reason despite the fact that self criticism is very difficult for republicans. The republican position on markets is again more of a property of the system than the desire of any given politician. Our only defense is a profound skepticism toward government.

                  The republican failure is not in their position on markets. Their failure was in not applying their skepticism to themselves. This caused a party that was advocating small government to waterboard some dumb twit 87 times, fight two unfunded wars and enact a massive unfunded entitlements increase. And lowering taxes does not lead to less government if you spend the damned money anyway.

                  Libertarians are not immune to the same property of the system. Opposing regulation in the abstract is no different than republican advocating small government in the abstract. It can actually lower the barrier to regulatory capture.

                  What I’m saying is that you need to be very skeptical about any move to reduce regulation. Without that skepticism you become your own worst enemy.

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                • I know some “real” libertarians are aware of against corporatism. Thats not my point. The belief that regulatory capture will always corrode any regulation is not quite true. If both parties and the public were committed to regulation it would be much less likely to be captured

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                  • If both parties and the public were committed to regulation it would be much less likely to be captured
                    And if everyone would just stop fighting we’d have peace. I’m sorry, but you can’t make a meaningful argument out of, “if everyone would do X…”

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                    • Oh really, we have a consensus in this country regarding militarism and invading countries: people seem to agree and lead directly to an outcome. It is not set in stone that one party will always be in the pocket of certain industries ( how we fund campaigns matters). It is entirely plausible for people to agree not to covertly gut any laws they don’t like.

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                    • I’m less familiar with Japan’s model, but I see them as being fairly corporatist as well. Corporatism is basically where the major economics powers in a country (government,major industries, major unions etc.) run the economy by consensus. Now that’s the pure version, but that should give you the general idea.

                      An economic model that focused around empowering favoured corporations or economic groups is really more of a mercantilist idea, though I use the “neo” prefix because modern incarnations of mercantilism tend not to be as colonialist as the version Adam Smith railed against. For all their belligerence, the neocons aren’t trying to recreate an 18th Century empire.

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            • Regulatory capture is real thing but one huge part the Libertarian view misses is the Repub party has functioned as a pro-regulatory capture party. For years Repub’s in power have continually said they believe gov regs should serve to help industry and have quite recently allowed lobbyists to write their own regs. Certainly Dem’s fall pray to that to a degree in certain industries, but still the point stands. One party makes it a point to make regs weaker to serve industry.

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        • First, let’s clarify our terms. Deregulation of an industry does, at the most literal level, increase the “power” of the corporations in that industry to make decisions, vis a vis the government. By definition.

          But many liberal argue something a little different – that deregulation often benefits the regulated industry, at the expense of the consumer, or the nation at large. And that that is often the DESIGN of the deregulation. And I bet that’s what Greg meant, and that’s what you took him to mean.

          And it’s worth unpacking that a bit. Let’s move on from “design” for a moment. IN PRACTICE, does deregulation benefit corporations at the expense of consumers? Well, at a minimum you can say “not always.” Maybe even “not usually.” One can certainly point to many examples of deregulation that helped consumers: the airline industry and trucking, to name two.

          But sometimes deregulation does benefit corporations at the expense of consumers or the larger body politic. See, e.g., at least arguably, financial services deregulation. Even there, I would make the libertarinish argument that deregulation failed (in part, at least)because of other government interventions – inculding but not limited to bailouts (and the expectation of bailouts). The devil is in the details; in the context of the world we live in, with a powerful government intervening in the economy in many ways, deregulation often doesn’t work.*

          And here we get to the question of intent – “design.” I’m not going to question the sincerity of libertarians on this point – the vast majority of whom genuinely beleive (again often correctly) that the consumers will benefit from deregulation.

          But the people actually doing the deregulation – our law makers. What’s their intent? Color me more skeptical on that front. In that sense, yes indeed deregulation is often designed (by lawmakers) to benefit the regulated industry at the expense of consumers.

          *Of course this does’t even address regulation which addresses a legitimate market failure.

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          • Somebody needs to remind everyone that Rockfeller liberated the poor and working class by providing a very cheap source of energy, affordable by all====OIL!!! Robber barons, my ass!

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    • “It’s ok if someone thinks the unintended consequence of our beliefs would be that outcome; I’d think they were wrong…”
      Eh, I’m not sure I really think that would happen either. But, can you elaborate on “they are wrong”.

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      • Rufus,

        By “they are wrong,” I mean I’d think that they were wrong about the effect of deregulation being more power to the corporation (by which I mean more power over consumers). But at least then I’d think they were arguing in good faith.

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    • I suspect, nay, I’m quite certain that if you asked 100 conservatives/Republicans and 100 liberals/Democrats in the U.S. whether they agreed with your 1 and 2, that is, people are better at running their own lives than those of others and that coercion should be a last resort if at all, you’d find that 95 of each group did agree. This is partly because those two criteria are pretty abstract, vague even, but also because they seem like common sense. But when you build up from them, or around them, then you quickly find that the devil is in fact in the details, as 62across said, and that the resulting differences in interpretation, combined with inherent differences in world views, result in those 190 people being able to justify just about anything their favored political party does.

      That doesn’t mean, or at least doesn’t necessarily mean, that those two things aren’t an important part of a political philosophy, just that they’re not very good candidates for a “mere” libertarian, or else just about everyone is a mere libertarian.

      Not being a libertarian myself, I wouldn’t want to even attempt to define what one is, at either the minima or the maxima. I would, however, as someone who studies concepts, and who’s quite familiar with how we represent and use them, suggest that trying to distill libertarianism down to its essence is a losing cause, because like every other concept of this sort (that is to say, abstract, social, and human), an “essence” is probably not there to be found. It’s going to be a family resemblance sort of thing, with a label much better suited for reasoning about individuals or ideas than for rigid designation. This particularly true when, as for libertarianism, the abstract social construct we’re trying to define is itself built upon other abstract social constructs, which are in turn…

      Of course, this lack of an identifiable essence to exactly the sort of perversion of the term, or at least unwanted use, both by opponents and seeming proponents, that leads to misunderstandings. It’s not surpsing, for example, that some see libertarians as being in favor of increased corporate power when there are visible individuals who use the label to describe themselves and act in such a way to increase corporate power. It’s also not surprising that some see libertarians as being selfish egoists, because of all the Randian crap that gets bandied about by some libertarians (I’ll leave aside whether they’re accurately reflecting Rand’s philosophy). I suppose you have two choices if you want to avoid association with the uses of the term libertarian that you find inapt: use a different term to describe yourself, which will at some point result in repeating the process for the same reasons, or if you think it’s important, work hard to point out why the particular views of libertarianism with which you disagree don’t apply to you. It sucks to have to do that regularly, but it is the price one pays for using a label, and it’s a price that’s paid all the more by people who use a label to describe themselves that most people wouldn’t. Jason and James obviously do this well, but I’m afraid that you’re both going to be doing it for a long, long time.

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      • You make an excellent point about essentializing the definitions of socially shared concepts. Philosophically, I can’t disagree with you, and there are certainly libertarians who are likely to argue with my approach, even to the point of telling me I’m quite wrong about my attempt at synthesis. Even if they didn’t exist, they would always be possible.

        Still, though, I can’t agree that most people from the two major parties would agree with my two minimal concepts. In particular, I doubt that they would usually agree with the addendum to each: “This insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.” That to my mind is what gives each of these premises its sting — and what separates the libertarian view from others.

        In other words, of course both Democrats and Republicans think that individuals are better suited to run their own lives than the lives of others. Of course they dislike coercion (although this one may be arguable!). Regardless, when it comes time for these ideas to have political consequences, we seldom find very many from them.

        As to strategies for avoiding misunderstanding, I can’t exactly renounce the word “libertarian” anymore. I’ve worked several years now for Cato, and if that weren’t enough, my name is on the title page of The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Disclaiming it now would cause more confusion than anything else, particularly given that my political views really are what most people would term libertarian. So I’m going to have to explain myself from time to time. Right now seemed a pressing moment, and I do appreciate how well you seem to grasp my situation.

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        • I think most people would agree with your minimal concepts, however what you don’t mention are collective action problems and any sort idea of the Commons. To pick an obvious example it great to say everybody is better suited to run their own lives then you are, until they start dumping toxic waste upstream from you. Then maybe you do have a say in what they do and maybe the collective We has an interest in telling them exactly how to do certain things.

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          • You’re entirely right. I didn’t give much attention to them. It’s a significant gap, but not necessarily an unbridgeable one. Notably, there has been a lot of market-based economic research on how to solve externality problems, and even problems of trust and assurance.

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        • In particular, I doubt that they would usually agree with the addendum to each: “This insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.”

          One question that comes to my mind is whether one ceases to be a “libertarian” once one comes to the conclusion that that addendum is false. So take religious freedom in the US . Perhaps religious freedom is not “sufficiently reflected” in our institutions, but it’s pretty darn close. Would one cease to be a libertarian on religious issues if one acknowledges that fact?

          I realize that this is an unfair question because all definitions are circular if you push them far enough and because I am taking a special case to challenge a generalized definition.

          However, I like your definition of libertarianism overall because it reinforces why I am not, or at least not yet, a libertarian: I am still too willing to accept that in certain important areas, people are not better at managing their own lives than others (where others are not necessarily only “other people,” but can also include systematic checks on individual action). I realize there are authoritarian and even totalitarian implications in what I believe (and I think these implications, if they come to fruition, are unacceptable), but I cannot escape that I still believe them to some extent.

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          • I am still too willing to accept that in certain important areas, people are not better at managing their own lives than others (where others are not necessarily only “other people,” but can also include systematic checks on individual action).

            What areas of your life do you believe should have parameters set by someone else?

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            • I don’t know; I’ll have to think about it for a while. I was speaking, probably, too loosely.

              The only example I have is more of a bias on my part than anything well-reasoned enough to convince someone who doesn’t already share the bias. That is my belief that “markets” (the definition of which I’m still uncertain) are inherently fragile and they require either force or the threat of force to maintain. I also tend to think that the customs and norms that “spontaneously” evolve in what is considered a civil society do, in themselves, contain an element of coercion or threat of coercion, and that therefore they do not necessarily resolve the problem, but put it off onto a non-state entity.

              In an important sense, I haven’t really answered your question. For example, Mr. Kuzinicki’s minima don’t say that coercion ought never be used, but that it be considered a failure or a last resort, and if markets are really as fragile as I assume–although cannot prove–them to be, then maybe I don’t necessarily disagree with him (or libertarians) about anything more than where to draw the line and whether I’d prefer the state or some voluntary association to set rules. But this is as good of an answer I can offer right now.

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          • One question that comes to my mind is whether one ceases to be a “libertarian” once one comes to the conclusion that that addendum is false. So take religious freedom in the US …

            Well, one way to look at religious freedom in the United States is that coercion already is at, or near, an acceptable minimum here. There are certainly still borderline cases, and these remain important, but they are nothing like the wholesale religious oppression that we find in many Muslim countries, China, or formerly in the Soviet Union.

            What determines the acceptable minimum? Well, that gets us into the deontological/utilitarian divide inside the libertarian movement, the various approaches within each camp, and the like. But I think most people are quite happy that we have religious freedom, and in this sense, the libertarian/not-libertarian distinction isn’t a terribly salient one.

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        • “Still, though, I can’t agree that most people from the two major parties would agree with my two minimal concepts. In particular, I doubt that they would usually agree with the addendum to each: “This insight is not sufficiently reflected in our existing political institutions.””

          I think that your observation here is entirely wrong.

          I have a number of good friends on all points of the political spectrum, and I feel confident that every single person would agree with all of what you said. In fact, I am pretty sure that every single one of them would agree that this is what makes there political philosophy so much better than everyone else’s. And it adds fuel to embers that have been trying to catch on in my head for a while now:

          In our country, the vast preponderance of us – regardless of class or party – are pretty much on the same page with what we want our communities to be like, and even how we want to accomplish it. However, we also belong to these tribes. We love clinging to these tribes, and imagine that others around us are far, far different than they really are. Far more worrying, we are willing to prop up, defend and encourage things we don’t really believe in or want, just to be part of our tribe. An example I see a lot in my work life:

          One of the things my company focuses on is employee safety for construction companies. A generation or so ago, when building a skyscraper, the rule of thumb was one death or dismemberment for every story over 20. Today any serious injury is unacceptable; and most of that is due to OSHA and the government using punitive measures against employers for not using safe practices. Now, whenever I discuss safety regulations with people of any political stripe as individuals, every single person is on exactly the same page: Safety regulation is on the whole a great thing; no one wants to go back to the old ways. And, bureaucracy being bureaucracy, everyone agrees that much of the regulation seems to be made by committee, is inefficient and counterproductive, and should be eliminated. And people I know rarely even disagree on what statutes should go into which columns.

          But discuss any of this as a political issue, and everyone’d opinion changes: Conservatives and libertarians talk of government as if it is not a group of people, but some nefarious evil entity, and insist that all regulation is awful, intrusive, and people would happier if it were like it used to be. Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, argue that corporations (again, not groups of people but faceless evil entities) are trying to Keep the Working Man Down, and that any discussion that some regulation is counterproductive is just some Machiavellian Trojan Horse, and that it should be countered with MORE regulation.

          It bears saying again that these are the exact people who are all on the same page as individuals.

          The more I think about this pattern, the more pervasive I think it may be. As individuals, we are pragmatic about knowing that there are certain things that we may subsidize for others, and things others may subsidize for us, and are generally OK with that. As members of our tribes, we are outraged – outraged! – that our tax dollars are being used for (insert thing we don’t use or really care about one way or another here). As individuals, we live in a time and place where even in our worst economic time in almost a century, we are living pretty fucking large from a historical perspective; where even most of our impoverished live on a whole different plane than what counts for impoverished in most other times and places. As a tribe, however, we wail about End of Times, and how the exact current rate of estate tax/chance that two men might marry/ability of our neighbors to purchase firearms even though we don’t care for them/use of phonics in public schools /etc. is proof that we live in the most god awful place and time in the History of America, and maybe even the world.

          In short (he said after several hundred words) is it possible that all of us – Libertarian, Conservative, Liberal, What-Have-You – are getting in the way of enabling Jason’s almost universally desired premises simply by virtue of creating and fostering our political philosophies – our tribes, if you will?

          Because I’m starting to suspect that our desire to create, perfect and defend our macro- and micro-political philosophies is taking us farther from where we want to be.

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        • Jason, I don’t mean philosophically, I mean practically. We don’t think like that, so that when we try to come up with minimal criteria like these, they can quickly be undercut by others. Nietzsche once said that he profits most from philosophers who live their philosophy. To my mind, the best way to “define” libertarianism, or any other ideological position, is simply to live it (in this case, I’d include writing it). Libertarianism is what libertarians say and do, and there’s no one set of conditions that comprise that.

          Also, I highly suspect that most people would say that their political party embodies those two principles, but the other one doesn’t.

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  3. Pingback: Ordinary Gentlemen on libertarianism « Blunt Object

    • Rufus, the attrition rate is exceedingly high because Libertarianism ultimately proves to be, rings, around rings, around rings, around, nothingness. As in, “there’s no ‘there’, there.”

      All people are born alike – except Libertarians and Libertarians.

      (Hope you don’t mind, Groucho)

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      • Heidegger,

        This is a very non-responsive reply, given that Jason is trying to make a case for the there that actually is there. So it’s not legitimate to just reassert that there’s no there there; you have to demonstrate why his there isn’t there.

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        • New Year’s Greetings, Mr. James! And , yes, indeed, I left just a bit too much out there without any specifics offered on my part. (And Jason, that was a very, beautifully, well-written essay that you posted.)
          That being said, James, I’m having a very difficult time grasping what a core , Libertarian philosophy, in fact, is. It seems to be a hybrid cast-off, embracing many elements of both Left and Right, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat. I’m left asking myself, “well who wouldn’t be a Libertarian” to, how could anyone embrace such fanciful hodge-podge set of ideals that could never become a reality. I mean, it certainly is fun to discuss and entertain these subjects and ideas, but at some point, the rubber needs to meet the road.

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          • core , Libertarian philosophy,… seems to be a hybrid cast-off, embracing many elements of both Left and Right, liberal, conservative, Republican

            Or, as libertarians tend to see it, it’s a more consistent vision than either the left or the right. The left tends to reject government authority to regulate your personal life, while the right tends to reject government authority to regulate your economic life. Libertarians tend to say that you can’t make such a neat distinction between personal and economic–it’s all your life, so we reject government regulation of it.

            It’s not that we’re taking elements of conservatism and liberalism, but that each of those is taking an element of libertarianism but are afraid to apply it broadly.

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            • Jim,
              I would argue that a libertarian’s government would exist primarily to prevent coercion through force, fraud, or unjust expenditure of commons. So, national defense, internal policing (preferably managed at the local level and kept clean by a federal-level agency), and regulation of activities that adversely affect commons.

              So, I can’t see how anyone but an anarchist could flatly reject all government regulation. I respect anarchical political theory, but I think you confuse matters to say it’s basic to libertarian thought to reject government regulation out of hand.

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  4. 1) I like the work of Eggers and O’Leary. They have a view of libertarianism I like quite a bit.

    2) Libertarians have no good way to get from Here to There. It would be a great philosophy with which to start a new country somewhere. You would think libertarians would understand the importance of capital, in all of its variations.

    3) Libertarians need a better grasp of history. The 1800s really kind of sucked unless you were a land owning, well to do white male.

    4) Libertarians need to come to grips with the downsides to their ideas. Just come out and say that you are ok with having people die from a lack of safety nets, that liberty has a price.

    5) Please resolve the idea/issue of positive liberty.

    Steve

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    • You have odd ideas, Steve. Libertarians do indeed have many plans to get there from here. There will be no revolution, but many small revolutions. You want just one plan to gain a more libertarian society? Stop the war on drugs. Why do you think libertarians care about the 1800s? Of course there are downsides to libertarian ideas. What an absurd idea that there is not! But I refuse to believe that people will sit by while people die from a lack of a safety net. Or are you suggesting that people will vote to be forced to do something that they won’t voluntarily do? If so, you have an odd understanding of human nature.

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      • Russ, you can legitimately criticize steve for being insufficiently aware of the vast amount of libertarian thought about how to get from point A to point B. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a point.

        Among other things, in nation where every move in a more libertarian direction is going to necessarily be a compromise made in conjunction with statists of the left or the right variety, it’s not always going to work out. Empirically is HASN’T always worked out, for reasons which are entirely consistent with libertarian analysis. We’re dealing with complex systems & unintended consequences. Even if you believe that an entirely unregulated economy would be better than the status quo, it DOESN’T logically follow that every move in that direction is beneficial. Partial deregulation often suffers from the precise problem that Steve identifies. The financial services industry is a fine example – even if one buys into the libertarian belief that the problem wasn’t too little deregulation, but too much, one can argue (correctly, in my book) that the pre-deregulation equalibrium was better (for the nation and for consumers) that the partial deregulation that we actually got (and not to beat a dead horse, this is especially true in a world where bailouts are an unfortunate fact of life).

        And your last three sentences are risable – not your belief, which I think is naive but defensible, but you suggestion that any contrary opinion is “absurd.” In fact, there are any number of examples of properous societies where “people will sit by while people die from a lack of a safety net.” Would our nation be one? I don’t know, but I at least entertain some doubts about the contrary position.

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        • Why do you refuse to believe that people will sit by while people starve? It is a part of our history. Dont you have any living relatives who made it through the Great Depression? Absent the safety nets we have created, it would happen again. I cannot find any historical examples of a charity based system caring for the poor and elderly that did not result in starvation for some.

          Steve

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          • It’s interesting that you bring up the Great Depression… I remember the scenes in that book where the government was burning oranges in front of groups of protesting people. Remember that scene?

            Here’s an excerpt from livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/crops_17.html

            During the early years of the Depression, livestock prices dropped disastrously. Officials with the New Deal believed prices were down because farmers were still producing too many commodities like hogs and cotton. The solution proposed in the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was to reduce the supply.

            So, in the late spring of 1933, the federal government carried out “emergency livestock reductions.” In Nebraska, the government bought about 470,000 cattle and 438,000 pigs. Nationwide, six million hogs were purchased from desperate farmers. In the South, one million farmers were paid to plow under 10.4 million acres of cotton.

            The hogs and cattle were simply killed. In Nebraska, thousands were shot and buried in deep pits. Farmers hated to sell their herds, but they had no choice. The federal buy-out saved many farmers from bankruptcy, and AAA payments became the chief source of income for many that year.

            Would you consider FDR’s government as bad as Libertarians when it comes to burning food while people starve? Would you consider it a government that sat idly by?

            Because, from my perspective, the Libertarian plan (whatever it would have been) would *NOT* have involved purchasing and slaughtering and burying hogs while people starved… or plowing cotton under while people were cold.

            Out of curiosity, do *YOU* have any relatives who made it through the great depression? Ask them stories about the government burning food. Ask them about the crops that were plowed under.

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            • Again, go talk with people who lived then. I come from a farming family from the Midwest. Most of the animals killed were not seen as fit for consumption as they had not been able to feed them properly. If the libertarian plan is to keep government uninvolved, those animals would have just starved to death. One should also note that there would not have been a Soil Conservation program.

              As to the rest, I think that they were mistaken in their ideas about how to manage prices and what to do with that food. However, I am not sure that one set of problems justifies another. When charity is relied upon as the sole source of relief for those with inadequate food, people starve. It was that way in the US until we had adequate safety nets and it is that way throughout the world now.

              Steve

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              • I mean no offence Steve, but this is exactly the sort of comment that led to the “Aggrieved Libertarians” article. Abolition of the welfare state simply isn’t up for debate so why spend so much time arguing about it? Can we discuss the libertarian policy that are actually at the margins of modern policy debates? No one has all the answers to

                I’m a non-minarchist libertarian who is willing to support a welfare state (though I’m keen on restructuring it quite a lot). I’m also OK with government intervention in the case of market failure, so long as that intervention is well-conceived and implemented with reasonable care. I say this to point out that we’re probably not that far apart in our views. But I don’t spend my time arguing with other libertarians about welfare because there’s no point.

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          • Why do you insist that libertarianism must be perfect in the fact of failing human institutions everywhere? You have unrealistic expectations of liberatarianism, and you accuse us of having unrealistic expectations of it as well. Fix the beam in your own eye and you might have better luck finding the mote in ours.

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        • So, Steve says something ignorant of libertarianism, expects us to think that’s OUR problem, and you say that he (although wrong) has a point? Uh, no, he doesn’t have a point; he’s an ignorant slut.

          Your middle paragraph is confused. You are taking a point I have already denied, and are attempting to prove to me that I should deny it.

          Steve should have extraordinary evidence if he expects us to believe that libertarians think there are no downsides to a libertarian society. I know of NO libertarian who believes this; surely Steve can present us with even ONE example.

          You are not arguing well, Larry. I am underwhelmed.

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          • Sigh. I explicitly stated that I like a lot of what libertarians have to offer. In particular, I happen to like Eggers and Oleary. I would add Roberts, Kling and Cowen as some of my favored economists. However, at the margins, libertarians, like most economic/social philosophies, have problems which are usually overlooked or denied.

            Steve

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            • Keep working on pointing out those things, but start with things that really exist. Start by citing someone who fits into the libertarian camp as stated about yet who explicitly denies that there are any negative aspects to libertarianism; who claims that freedom is free. No, you don’t get to cite someone who merely doesn’t mention the negative aspects; they are assumed by any reasonable man.

              Start by citing someone who says that the 1800s was a libertarian paradise. I’ll counter that by finding the Freeman article which pointed out that power is more evenly distributed today than 110 years ago EVEN IF markets are more badly regulated.

              And I’ve already thoroughly dismissed your ignorance of the transition to a more libertarian world.

              You’re making points which are simply not supported by facts. You’re giving us the ignoramus view of libertarianism; so why are you surprised that we’re calling you an ignoramus?

              Now the very FACT that your views exist is THE problem for libertarianism. We don’t market our ideas well. HERE is how to market libertarian ideas (NSFW): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jBXg5PcMgI

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      • “But I refuse to believe that people will sit by while people die from a lack of a safety net. ”

        So, what – you believe no one has ever starved in a society where there has been food? Or died from lack of healthcare in a country that had the ability to cure the malady? Or died of exposure in a county that had heated buildings?

        Refuse to believe that it could ever happen you might; but you might just be making Steve’s point for him.

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        • Amartya Sen has a theory that Democracies have never had a famine.

          If you look at the 20th Century and count the number of people who died of hunger, you find a lot more of them in Socialist countries than Democracies, that’s for sure.

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          • Agreed, wholly and entirely. My point, though, was that if you beleive that people just won’t allow others to die because they don’t have access to safety net, you’re in for a big disappointment about the history of mankind.

            The fact that people can die of starvation in country where there is no famine, I think, kind of underlines my point.

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          • Well let’s see … “The libertarian utopia won’t be as bad an authoritarian dictatorship, and while sure, some people may die on the street, we won’t have a full blown famine!” The slogan justs writes itself.

            Seriously, you’re setting pretty low bar for yourself, as well as changing the subject from Russ’ claim.

            Look, the fact is than many (most?) libertarians end up supporting SOME type of safety net because they agree to some extent with steve. Others don’t, but they – the reasonable ones, at least – will, while arguing that private charity will take care of most of the people who would otherwise starve on the streets, would acknowledge that no system is perfect and that SOME people would fall through the cracks – but justify the results either on utilitarian grounds, or on the grounds that property rights and self ownership prevents coerced charity, whatever the consequences.

            However, I don’t think I’ve ever before seen someone who has argued a position as extreme as Russ’ on that point, let alone someone who has characterized the opposing position as “absurd.”

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            • The slogan justs writes itself.

              Please keep in mind that the assertion was that people would starve in a Libertopia.

              When it’s pointed out that when countries take a Libertopian vector, significantly fewer folks starve than when countries take a vector *DEDICATED* to social equality, this ought not be waved away as a trivial difference.

              We’re not just talking about twice as many people died under this system than that one. We’re not even talking about an order of magnitude or two orders of magnitude.

              The Nobel Prize-winning (just like Obama!) guy pretty-well documented argument was that famines do not happen in democracies. Compared to the 8! Figures! needed to count the pile of dead bodies in the social safety net countries in the 20th Century alone, I think that we’re a bit past comparing slogans.

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        • Yes, I believe that nobody has starved to death in America prior to government provision of a safety net. Feel free to name someone.

          I fully believe that somebody has died from a lack of “healthcare” (whatever THAT meanss — if I can’t get an MRI for my hangnail, it gets infected, and I die, did I die because of a lack of healthcare?) but I’d probably have an easier time finding them in a society where healthcare is rationed by the government (as a government must always do when an infinite amount of healthcare is available to everyone on demand). I also believe that somebody has died of exposure, but why are you asking me about beliefs that I don’t have?? I also don’t believe in the tooth fairy either.

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          • Right on Russell! Not one single person in the United States has died of starvation in the last 100 years! The lefty wing nuts love to portray us as callous, cold-hearted, capitalist swine—such rabid ideologues are not reachable, so don’t waste your time. Their very existence depends on seeing the most sinister, evil, motives for anything the US does—their pathetic, meaningless lives cannot survive without the us versus them narrative. America:evil; Everyone else: a victim of the imperialist capitalist tentacles of the United States….lesson learned—no good deed ever goes unpunished.

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            • Hehe, all sarcasm appreciated, but I’m not sure that anyone would count the “safety net” as having been around for 100 years. Nor should it surprise anyone that socialist governments couldn’t feed their people. (hint: Sweden isn’t socialist; they have a fully functioning market).

              Statists need to come to grips with the downsides of their ideas. Just come out and say that you are ok with having given up freedom to get security and then not being secure.

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          • If you don’t believe that anyone has ever died of starvation unless they lived in a socialist country, well – then I just don’t know what to say.  Point for the power of faith, I guess.
            What I mean by lack of health care: there are always situations, throughout history, that there are treatments thought to cure maladies – and they are not made available to everyone who needs them.  Think of 19th century healing spas, which centered on healing but were only for the very wealthy, as opposed to 19th century hospitals which acted as cheap places for terminally ill people to go and die so as not to be a burden on their families.
            Regarding exposure, your claim is that people won’t let other people die if there is no safety net.  Since I am pretty certain people have died of exposure throughout history in places where, if brought in from the cold by others, they might have survived, I think you may be wrong.
            I think, therefore, that what you are saying in general is tantamount to what college campus Communists make arguments about the foolproof logic of their philosophy: It sure would be pretty if the world worked like that.

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            • Out of curiosity, would it be possible to look at the history of the world and see which systems have resulted in the fewest starving?

              If we look at systems with more central control doing things like “deliberately starving millions” or “killing animals while people are hungry” or “burning oranges while people are hungry”, while systems with less central control do not do these things… can we reach any conclusions?

              Because if your argument is that we can’t, and maybe it’s just that the wrong people were in charge, could I ask you to compare these answers to those given by the aforementioned college campus Communists?

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              • Again, I think you may be drawing an incorrect conclusion about me, J-Bird: that since I notice that people are actually ok with others they don’t know dying when they don’t have to (or more accurately, ok with being blissfully unaware that they are dying) that I must prefer a socialist government.  But that’s not the case.
                 
                I agree with your point that the more democratic a country is, the better it is for its  citizens.  And I agree that governments that hold too strong a central power sooner or later end up committing terrible, terrible atrocities.
                 
                But it seems to me that you can acknowledge American democracy’s clear superiority (which I do in fact believe in) without having Russell’s fairy-tale like belief that if only we were more pure in our libertarian beliefs no one would ever starve, it would rain fine-crafted aged scotch and we would all be voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man of the year in 2011.

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                • Dude, I was the guy who pointed out that the US was slaughtering animals and burning food while people went hungry! This isn’t about someone yelling “USA! USA! USA!” but someone pointing out that when the US has failed most spectacularly was when central control was used the most.

                  The Great Depression had people going hungry… and what was the gummint doing?

                  This is an essential question. If we can come to the conclusion that folks would have been better off with the government doing nothing in cases like The Great Depression (let alone in countries like Russia and China), shouldn’t we actively avoid believing that we just need higher quality people in charge?

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                  • And again, we are totally in agreement.  Totally.  As in, completely.


                    My point was not that more government is good.  Or really, anything about government at all.  My point was that the claim that if you don’t live in a socialist country you’ll never have a preventable death because the community only lets bad things happen to you if they’re socialist is obviously silly.

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            • Hehe. You, sir, cannot name a SINGLE person who has died from starvation prior to the creation of the socialist safety net.  You are taking their existence as a matter of faith … and yet you say “A point for the power of faith” as if I were the unrealistic one without evidence. I mean, think about it, Mr. RTod, all you need to do is come up with the name of a single person. Just ONE. And yet you cannot do that. Perhaps that should shake your faith in what-you-know-to-be-true?

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              • Russell, I found one, I found one!   Joy Young died of starvation, December 16, 1916!!   Oh wait.  Hmmm.  She was a Progressive Movement hunger striker.  Does that count?  Hey, this isn’t easy. People just didn’t die of starvation pre-safety net.  Who would have thunk that?   I’m going to check the records of every hospital in the United States.   What’s going on here—the Left worshipped Stalin until he went a little “too far” with his unusual diet mandate.  Even resorting to force-feeding didn’t seem help the poor proletarians. 

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              • Russell –
                 
                I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Do you really believe that no one died of starvation prior to Karl Marx and FDR?  If so, I might suggest that you follow the Carl Sagan model of proof: that is, if you have an outrageous claim that is so counter the grain of common knowledge you should assume the burden of proof.  Or, as he put it, outrageous claims require outrageous evidence.  And asking someone who knows little about history in general to name a person as proof should be avoided as proof.  I can;t name a single person that died at Iwo Jima, but I wouldn’t advise taking that nugget and telling folks that the battle never existed.
                 
                But if you really require some kind of evidence, and wish to skip over all the famous examples, such as Edgar Allan Poe dying of exposure or the dust bowl issues that enabled FDR to pass his over-reaching programs, the winters of the Pilgrims, or – I dunno – the Donner party, you might take the time to read Billy G. Smith, whose work is devoted to the subject.  His book Down & Out in Early America will footnote man y examples of what you’re looking for; in addition, it will highlight that in early American times safety nets actually DID exist, and they were government mandated – though not federally so.
                 
                But at the end of the day – no one ever died of starvation ever anywhere until FDR and his cronies?  Really?

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                  • Of course, Ireland was, for all intents and purposes, a conquered land more resembling Haiti than the Ireland of today.  We are talking of a diet that was, at best, potatoes and water, as well as paying exorbitant rents for small parcels of land to absentee landlords, mainly, who lived in England.  The small plots of land made growing any other crops but potatoes impossible.,The Blight affected several other countries, but without the devastating effects suffered by the Irish–much like the way the earthquake destroyed Haiti.   Ireland was an utterly failed state and would not in any way, be an example of a famine causing mass starvation in a free, democratic state.   It didn’t help that there were extremely discriminatory laws, just prior to the Blight among which, made it illegal for Irish Catholics to receive any education whatsoever.

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                    • “Ireland was an utterly failed state and would not in any way, be an example of a famine causing mass starvation in a free, democratic state. ”

                      No, but it would be a fine example that people did in fact starve to death prior to the rise of the socialist state.  Again, I’m not arguing that bad government policy cannot create an/or worsen bad situations of any kind, including malnutrition and even death.

                      But to believe that no one ever starved to death – or died in any way that might have been prevented by community interaction –  before socialism in the 1900s is being willfully ignorant or just about all of human history in order to have it fit their political theory.

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                    • Damn–this reply system just sucks! RTod–thanks, interesting response but have to leave now but will get back.    Oh, lots of Irish, too–split right down the middle–Irish/German.   And Irish dancing really was a way of secretly communicating “subversive” thoughts and keeping them from their British landlords who pretty much owned almost the entire country.  Ireland for the most part, resembled one, big, British Estate. 

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                    • Then I look forward to your return, Heidegger.  Partly to wax rhapsodic about our shared hard-drinking heritage, partly to bitch about the British, and partly to ask about your avatar origin.
                       
                      I figure it’s one of three things:
                       
                      1. Your name is actually Heideggar.
                       
                      2. You are a fan of existential philosophers in general and Being and TIme in Particular.
                       
                      3. You are a big Python fan, as well as a boozy beggar who can drink me under the table.

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                • I’m just pointing out that you’re taking it on faith that somebody actually died of starvation. You have no proof. I expect that you’re right, and a few people died of starvation in the midst of plenty. But why be so positive of something when you have no evidence that it’s true?
                   
                  *I* am not taking this in faith — you are. So do PLEASE stop accusing ME of being the one who has blind faith in his ideology, okay? I know that libertarianism will suck, and that people will suffer under it. But I am also realistic enough to realize that it will suck less, and people will suffer less, than under the current system. You are the one who is acting on a blind faith and denying this reality … not me.
                   
                  Disagree? Provide evidence! If you have no facts, how can you possibly argue me into changing my mind?

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                  • I don’t know that I agree that libertarianism will suck, or that people will suffer under it.  Or at least I doubt that any more than would suffer anyway, because we live in a world where shit happens, and as much as we would like to believe otherwise, we all often turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.
                     
                    Russell, you and I probably (from what I’ve seen) actually agree on quite a lot from a political philosophy point of view.  It’s just that I think that saying things like starvation or other suffering that a community could have helped avert is due to Socialism, and that without Socialism the suffering would never happen is… well, it’s just sloppy thinking.  At best, it just gives libertarians a bad name (as in the NYT story); at worst, at some point in time we might actually have to govern rather than pontificate, and if we just assume that by not being socialists everything will work out fine we’ll fail pretty miserably.

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                    • I’m one of those weird duck radicals who believe that private charity organizations in a free market would alleviate suffering moreso than the welfare state.

                      I know, I know — I’m naive, crazy and a shill for the Koch Brothers, but I do have soul.

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                    • I would go so far as to say that charity organizations alleviate more suffering even when the are surrounded by a welfare state.
                       
                      And having soul is good.  Now, if we can just get you a rhythm section…

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                    • Yes, kind sir, Marty O’Heidegger at your service!  Only a true Irishman could say this: “we never speak out loud about the Time of Coming Sobriety.”   Brilliant!  And no, not Being and Time, but, Introduction to Metaphysics:  Warum ist überhaupt Seiendes and nicht vielmehr Nichts. 
                      Why is there something rather than nothing?  I love anything that takes me back to the gold old days, the Big Bang–when we were all just gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces. Nice and simple, symmetrical, too.  And now we’re supposed to figure out why lunatic megalomaniacs murder 6,000,000 fellow human beings all in the name of racial purity?   For that matter, why is this coming out in bold type–last response to you was eaten up by cyber predators just minutes ago.   Yes, yes, boozy beggar but would never presume to drink an Irishman under any table!     And complete adoration of Bach–who inscribed every piece of music he ever composed with, Soli Deo Gloria—To God, All the Glory!     Enjoy this link–

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    • 3) Libertarians need a better grasp of history. The 1800s really kind of sucked unless you were a land owning, well to do white male.

      Have these libertarians missed your point?
      http://reason.com/archives/2010/04/06/up-from-slavery

      http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/04/a-few-late-words-on-the-coverturenostalgia-debate.html

      http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2010/04/09/still-not-golden/

      Generalizations can get you into trouble (including that one :) ).

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      • Yes, I read that Boaz piece, and agreed with much of it. The fact that he needed to even write such a piece is indicative of the widespread belief that the 1800s somehow constituted a golden age for libertarians.

        Steve

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  5. Still, libertarian arguments have already prevailed in many important areas of life. Our institutions in these areas have already been reformed to reflect the idea that individuals should decide for themselves, and that coercion should be banished.

    To give a more recent example, consider the retreat of Socialism. The word may be thrown around a lot these days as an epithet, but actual socialism no longer has a seat at the table in most of the world. Up until 1997 the British labour Party’s manifesto included worker control of the means of production. The fact that the left in most Western countries is now corporatist* not socialist is a step in the right direction.

    * NB I’m using corporatist in its technical sense here, not to mean “pro-corporation” as it is more commonly used. Basically by corporatist I mean the French economic model.

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  6. I try to avoid “free market”. It’s better to talk about “government regulated” and “customer regulated” markets. Then you can point out that customer regulated markets produce results which are better for customers, and government regulated markets produce results which are better for politicians.

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    • What if you’re not a customer?

      Okay, maybe that’s too unspecific. If I’m a single mother living in a poor rural community in Appalachia and the jet engine factory nearby is polluting the groundwater, how reassuring is it to me that, hypothetically, I could decide not to buy jet engines from them?

      Or, to be even more personal, when I, Rufus, go to the mall to buy a tee shirt, I look for whatever’s cheapest. So, if the $24 tee shirt was made by Americans for a decent living wage in a factory with excellent environmental standards; while the $18 tee shirt was made by Indonesian children in a factory that is polluting their groundwater and where the children are beaten, I’m still going with the $18 tee shirt because I most likely didn’t research the practices of every company at the mall before shopping there. Meanwhile, the $18 tee shirt company, I’m guessing, isn’t too worried about losing the Indonesian child market as customers. So, I guess I’m a pretty lousy “customer regulator” in that regard. But aren’t most of us?

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        • Seriously, was there a need for that dickish comment? You posted something like “customer regulated markets” are good for consumers, but “government regulated markets” are good for politicians. I’m trying to clarify what those terms mean since I’ve never taken any econ courses and they’re not as self-evidently meaningful for me as they are for you. Did I ask about “non market problems” instead of “market problems”? I guess I did. Whoops! My bad. I still “fail” to see why you need to be insulting and dismissive, instead of just patiently explaining the terms you’re putting forth as useful to those of us who didn’t take econ 101. Judging by your tone throughout the thread, you might find that you encounter the heartbreak and frustration of talking with your intellectual inferiors far less often at other sites.

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          • Russell –
             
            Also, your dickishness aside, I’m unsure why Rufus’s point isn’t valid.  It seems the two examples he gave are pretty spot on in finding a weakness in the system.  The fact that you choose to call one “customer driven market” rather than “free market” hardly belays that.
             
            You were the one that stepped up to the plate saying that using the terms “customer driven” was more helpful that free market.  Well, OK, show us.  How does your change address Rufus’s problem?

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            • Rufus’s problem is caused by expecting one entity to solve a problem which is not within its remit. Why does football allow touchbacks? It’s a dumb rule. I want to you to fix it. When are you going to change it??
              Oh, you don’t MAKE the rules of football? So it’s not a proper question for me to ask of you, is it?
              When you buy property, you don’t actually buy “property”. You buy a set of rights to make use of that property. You don’t, for example, control every use of your property no matter how far off the ground this activity occurs. You don’t get to collect a tax on airplanes that fly over your property.  Similarly, who owns the rights to make use of the groundwater? If she didn’t buy that right, then it’s an unfortunate state of affairs, but she has no recourse. If, on the other hand, she does own the right to groundwater, and some wealthy entity starts stealing that from her, they should expect to be sued.

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          • No more dickish than your comment “buy jet engines from them”.  It’s not that I’m smarter, it’s that I’ve already made a fool of myself by posting ignorant opinions just as you have done. Now, I’m less ignorant and less sure of myself.
            Okay, then, let me try assuming that you are an honest inquisitor who is seeking after the truth.
            A customer-regulated market is one in which customers decide what they will buy, not a third party. So, for example, if I want to buy drugs from you, then he doesn’t get to say that I can’t. Doesn’t matter what kind of drugs. A government-regulated market, on the other hand, tells the seller “You can’t sell that” and the buyer “you can’t buy that”. Thus, every government-regulated market makes both the buyer and the seller worse-off because it denies the transaction that the seller and the buyer have both decided is in their best interests. Who gains from this? The politician does, through his expression of his power. The citizenry does, through their desire to control the citizenry (they presume, of course, that THEIR OWN interests will never be interfered with).

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            • I’ll leave it to others to decide if my apparently improper questions were as insulting and unnecessary as your repeated assertions that I’ve ‘failed’ and ‘made a fool of myself’ through my ‘ignorance’ for asking them. I asked you questions because you obviously knew better than I did what your terms meant, and have been repeatedly insulted for asking those questions, or for asking them the way I did. So, if some other libertarian wants to go over the, most likely equally ignorant, questions I have about your answers, they can email me at rufus138@gmail.com and I’ll try to be more polite in how I ask them. But, obviously, this discussion isn’t likely to go anywhere.

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  7. Mr. Kuzinicki,

    I really like this essay, but I also have a thought about where some conclusion comes in with libertarianism, and, potentially, almost any type of “ism.” Your very well thought out definition helps clarify, to the extent possible, what libertarian is as an ideology or a philosophy.

    But the term “libertarianism”–again, like many other ism’s, including “conservatism” and “liberalism”–is also a marker of a constituency, the set of people who claim that mantle or who use arguments consistent with the first definition to advocate. As you point out, of course, neither you or any other libertarian really has much control over who tries to use this label, and you can’t be particularly blamed if, for example, corporations use libertarian arguments to oppose governmental regulation, an opposition that will end up benefiting the corporations in the short term.

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    • Thank you. When corporations resort to convenient libertarian arguments — for policies that represent, in my terms, a badly considered form of letting-go — it falls to libertarians to condemn them. If we really are motivated by a concern for individual autonomy and minimizing coercion, we should do no less.

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  8. Great post. As I said elsewhere in the same thread you are referencing, I don’t label myself a libertarian – or anything else. By you generous definition of what it means to be one, though, I fit the bill. By and large I agree with everthing in your post – with maybe a caveat or two along the way. For exmple, I think your point one is tricky – I agree with it, not so much because I think most people are all that good at running their own lives, but because I think people tend to be REALLY bad at running other people’s lives.*

    And yet. I think that many times the real bones of policy contention – at least between liberals and libertarians, who are closer to each other than to conservatives on a political philosophy basis (if not necessarily on policy) – are on issues where #1 doesn’t come into play (because the program reglation isn’t paternalistic**), and where (2) proponents of government action are quite convinced that coercion IS a last resort. Now, they may often be WRONG – I think they are, often (I still haven’t laid out all of my policy preferences to you guys, but my sympathy for libertarian goals is not limited to drugs, corporate welfare, the national security state, and land use issues). My point … well, I’m not sure what it is, except that I often see libertarians seem so convinced that people would OBVIOUSLY agree with them if they accepted a couple of basic assumptions and reasoned properly from them (I mean, Reason magazine – come on). And it isn’t. Though obviously the tendency to think your opponents are stupid or driven by bad motives is not limited to libertarians.

    Now, let me also touch briefly on your opening paragraphs. As one of the people mentioned in the initial paragrpah,speaking only for myself: none of my frustrations with Cato (ahem) or other libertarian organizations stops me from doing what little I can do to “harder to end the war on drugs, to fix our eminent domain system, to restrain our surveillance state, or to preserve our civil liberties.” My frustration is, I think the opposite.*** I wish those organizations would do more on those issues, all of which I agree with. Now, as someone pointed out to me in the thread, it’s not necessarily reasonable for me to expect my priorities to match the priorities of, say, Cato and Reason – fair enough. But IN PRACTICE, for the most part, (and yes there are exceptions) I see those organizations despite their good work on those issues, not achieving much at all in those areas. Cato especially in my opinion has had a significant policy impact in one area – global warning. And on that issue, I, like you, am a “squish.”

    Now, all THAT said, your other points are well taken – and I CERTAINLY welcome alliances with like minded libertarians – or heck, even a little parallel movement down the same path. Sometimes, though, I get the impression that many (not all by any means) libertarians reject such alliances – with liberals, at least, or with frankly anyone other than conservatives. And that impression is reinforced by the explicit statements of many libertarians, who work for, or vote for, Republicans as the lesser of two evils, or don’t really care much about the libertarian issues that I care most about. Which is their privilege, or course – but then is isn’t me with the “weak excuses.”

    *And, while somewhat inclined towards utilitarianism, I have enough of a deontological commitment to liberty to believe that the “burden of proof” belongs on those who would limit that freedom – that is, to take a somwhat artificial example, if we are reasonably certain that a given paternalistic program will makes decisions that are (say) 10% better, I’ll stick with freedom and somewhat worse decision making.

    **Of course definition of paternalism, like coercion, can be tricky. Are securities regulations paternalistic? Some certainly are; I understand the libertarian argument that all or most are. But in “real world” terms, it’s hard for me to see most securities regulations as being paternilistic in a meaningful way. (Given information asymetries, among other things) (Parenthetically, my own preference would probably be for a (relatively) low regulation, but no bail out regime. But in a world where bailouts of the financial services industry are (unfortunately) a fact of life, some regulation is needed. A point that many fairly doctrinaire libertarians agree with in pronciple, while (rightly) objecting to at least soem of the regulation in practice, as rent seeking and public choice issues rear their ugly heads).

    ***Of course, context is important also – I wasn’t so much bashing those organizations as arguing, correctly I think, that they contribute to unfair stereotypes.

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  9. Good post. Let’s just note what’s not here, the idea of generalized political culture upstream from the politicians, laws, regulations and court cases. Aside from any particular policy idea this is imo a substantial hole in the libertarian imagination. Certainly the libertarians who are active here (I’d venture are representative of libertarians in general) don’t believe in letting go of political power for a minute when the opportunity occurs to reverse the Arizona immigration law or establish gay marriage by judicial fiat.

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    • Individuals are generally far more competent at running their own lives than they are at running the lives of others.

      If it takes judicial fiat to make this happen, vis a vis gay marriage, why would you be opposed to it? Or does this get carved out in the niche of acceptable limits on liberty?

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      • No it operates at the level of premise. Ie, that libertarianism doesn’t exist as a state of nature. If it exists at all, it is the result of the demographics and culture of the people in general, and depends on some level of acquiescence from the people for legitimacy (as does governance in general).

        (Since as I understand it, the essential part of gay marriage is the insistence of public recognition of gay relationships, I also don’t accept the idea that gay marriage is an example of people being allowed to run their own lives but that is something of a different issue.)

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        • Not public recognition but legalrecognition. This may be the difference between the perception of them flaunting it as opposed to enjoying the freedom of it.

          And there is no ism that exists simply as a state of nature short of anarchy without some acquiescence by society. That doesn’t change the fact that, if the idea is to maximize the amount of liberty, there needs to be some overwhelmingly obvious reason for why that liberty should be limited.

          And as far as you not seeing this as people running their lives as they see fit, I assume you then don’t find it problematic when an individual is required to go through a bunch of government mandated hoops in order to sign contracts with other individuals or start his or her own business, etc. I understand it ruffles some feathers when we focus strictly on the contractual nature of the relationship, but this is what it boils down to: Two people who want to bind themselves contractually so that they can enjoy the same benefits as any two other (heterosexual) contractually bound individuals enjoy, e.g., inheritance, visitation, insurance. And we aren’t talking about religious implications or restrictions on religious freedoms at all here.

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          • This is a fine example of the devil being in the details.
            I don’t care to argue the point or defend it, but it should be said.
            What some people call “marriage equality” others see as “the right of predatory convicts to prey on susceptible women.”
            There is no discussion of alleviating the concerns for all by revising probate law.
            There is no discussion of disallowing the distinction of “non-persons” to remain in place.
            It’s all about setting your sights on the goal, and damn the consequences.
            But then, in order to buy into it, we have to believe that (at minimum, on occasion) actions are completely without consequence.
            Couching the matter in sedate terms does in no way address those concerns.
            Perhaps there is a better term for being incapable of recognizing that the concerns of others might be legitimate in some way; as for myself, I tend to alternate between “blindness” and “foolishness” in reference to this phenomenon.
            Procedure matters.

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            • “Perhaps there is a better term for being incapable of recognizing that the concerns of others might be legitimate in some way; as for myself, I tend to alternate between “blindness” and “foolishness” in reference to this phenomenon.”

              This was actually the point of my original comment in the Goldberg thread.

              Other than that, I can’t make heads or tails out of what you’ve written here.

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          • “Not public recognition but legalrecognition. This may be the difference between the perception of them flaunting it as opposed to enjoying the freedom of it.”

            Well, I mean public recognition. Ie, not anything about “flaunting it”, rather the insistence that other parties in and out of government have to recognize the legitimacy of gay relationships (or at least recognize them on equal terms to het rel’ps). Ie, it’s not about running their lives as they see fit but rather thought control over other such parties. But again, for me this is something of a side issue.

            For me, the real interesting part of your response is this:

            “And there is no ism that exists simply as a state of nature short of anarchy without some acquiescence by society. That doesn’t change the fact that, if the idea is to maximize the amount of liberty, there needs to be some overwhelmingly obvious reason for why that liberty should be limited.”

            What you’ve written here isn’t exactly wrong necessarily but it does glide over (in a typical libertarian way, not that you yourself are a libertarian) the importance and necessity of culture, even for libertarians. Ie, there’s an unspoken premise that the text of a statute or regulation is sovereign. If we are to have any kind of republican legitimacy, it’s not, or at least not relative to the ability of the people to change it.

            This is obscured by the fact that intertia is a very powerful force in political culture and most of the time the great mass of people will acquiesce to whatever the political class implements. But it’s important to note that is not the same thing as saying they will (or should) acquiesce every time.

            And for me at least, this has a very important libertarian or at least Hayekian insight. The political class doesn’t have enough information to successfully regulate the economy or society in general. The people as a whole might. And in particular, I trust the American people’s judgment a great deal. Not that they’re infallible, but imo they are much better than the alternatives.

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            • Don’t you think what you just wrote is tantamount to saying you trust the majority more than the alternative? Even if you reside in the minority?

              Because then I’m interested in whether you think if 51% of people voted for tremendously egregiously progressive taxation, like 90% rates for those making over $250,000 dollars, etc. then this would be tolerable. Or would this be one of those moments where the American people would be fallible? And, if so, doesn’t this then simply come down again to taste? If I disagree with gay marriage but am steadfastly opposed to taxation, I’m going to, as James Hanley put it earlier, want the government out of my economic life but into your personal life. Conversely, if I favor gay marriage and progressive taxation, I’m just the opposite.

              BTW, I’m with you on Will H.’s comment. I really didn’t get much about it other than the residue from the last gay marriage thread where he insisted that it was all moving too fast and that it was going to happen sometime down the road so just let it breathe and enjoy the freedom at some indeterminate point in the future when society decides to let it happen.

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              • “Don’t you think what you just wrote is tantamount to saying you trust the majority more than the alternative? Even if you reside in the minority?”

                Let’s emphasize the inertia thing again. The American people will acquiesce to most things. It’s the things they get out of their seat for, so to speak, that are important.

                As far as taxation goes, if 51% of the American people want to tax personal income for those making >$250K at 90%, America would be a much less significant country than it is. Ie, let’s bear in mind that what you’re suggesting is profound counterfactual, not a trivial one.

                Having said that, if that were the case, we might be better off trying to get the American people to change their mind rather than trying to keep the tax rates low in defiance of their wishes.

                Re: Will H. I didn’t participate in the last gay marriage thread so I’m not familiar with what was written there.

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        • Can we maybe at least acknowledge that ANY libertarian take on gay marriage has to confront the fact that, in the messy reality of the contemporary United States, any libertarian commentary on policy is going to have to confront the fact that we are dealing with a the context of a large government with its fingers in a lot of places where it doesn’t belong?

          More sacrificially – the libertarian (minarchist) ideal would be a government that doesn’t endorse ANY sort of “marriage,” except to the limited extent of enforcing contractual relationships between marriage partners.

          But we aren’t in that world. In the world we live in,m there are two issues:

          (1) Should homosexuals partners be able to create the same contractual relationships that are enjoyed by heterosexual partners? (In some jurisdictions, they can’t.) The libertarian answer should be an unequivocal yes, and to the extent that it takes judicial fiat to achieve that goal, that is not only okay, but desirable.

          (2) Given the non-libertarian institution of state sanctioned “marriage,” should homosexuals have an equal right to participate in said institution? This is a harder question, but on balance I think the proper answer (from a libertarian perspective) is “yes.” And given that libertarians would argue that democracy does not trump fundamental rights, I would think that judicial fiat overriding democratic preferences would not be especially problematic.

          In this context. “insistence of public recognition of gay relationships” is, IMO a very UN libertarian way to frame the issue.

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          • “Should homosexuals partners be able to create the same contractual relationships that are enjoyed by heterosexual partners?”

            No. I think you’ve phrased this in a way that causes you to mislead yourself. Homosexuals in agreement have the freedom to contract with each other anything for that it’s plausible to write a contract to do. But a homosexual couple can only contract with other parties for things that the other party is willing to consent to.

            “In this context. “insistence of public recognition of gay relationships” is, IMO a very UN libertarian way to frame the issue.”

            Libertarian or not, I think that’s where the issue is right now. In particular, it seems like there’s a lot of energy about gay marriage disparaging civil unions.

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            • “No. I think you’ve phrased this in a way that causes you to mislead yourself. Homosexuals in agreement have the freedom to contract with each other anything for that it’s plausible to write a contract to do. ”

              But they don’t (in many jurisdictions) have the right to have those contracts enforced. Are you saying that that is an acceptable status quo from the libertarian perspective?

              “bertarian or not, I think that’s where the issue is right now. In particular, it seems like there’s a lot of energy about gay marriage disparaging civil unions.”

              I think you are obfusicating. In the contemporary United States, the government has, for better or worse, created a type of relationship which confers certain rights which are unavailable outside that institution. Should that right be limited to only some citizens? I think the libertarian answer should be no.

              Now, that said, if civil unions conferred ALL of the legal rights which obtain upon marriage … that’s a tougher question (i.e., whether from a libertarian perspective that would be sufficient).* But it is my understanding that most or all civil union proposals would confer lesser rights than “marriage.”

              *I think the answer would be yes, but even there I find it hard to see the libertarian position on gay marriage being opposition, as opposed to being agnostic.

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              • Wait a minute.
                If all of the necessary elements of a contract exist, and the writ is properly registered, then why on earth would it be unenforceable?
                Lack of auditing provisions, maybe?
                I’m wondering.

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                • Yeah, I’m wondering about that myself. Again, talking about contracts where the main element of consideration is between homosexuals as opposed to some recognition of status by some third noncontracting party.

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                • Hmm, I gotta spend some time researching the specifics, as opposed to merely repeating what I think I read in the past. As a former lawyer, I can tell you that there are contracts that are not enforced because of specific public policy reasons. We are not, after all, living in the libertarian utopia.

                  There is some stuff you CAN’T contract for, though, because third parties are involved. The tax benefits which accrue to married people, for example. Now, the quick libertarian response is … a contract between two people shouldn’t bind a third party. But what if that third party is the government? Or, say, a private entity that is regulated by the government in such a way that they are required to accommodate “married” people but not “civil partners?” Not so clear, is it?

                  Messy, I know, from a libertarian perspective. Which was part of my original point.

                  I’ll try to get back to you.

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                  • “Or, say, a private entity that is regulated by the government in such a way that they are required to accommodate “married” people but not “civil partners?” Not so clear, is it?”

                    I dunno, pretty clear for me.

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                    • Well I could explore this further – I don’t think the libertarian response, as to your personal response, is as clear as you think. But that aside, what about rights where the third party is the government? Tax preferences for example. Or public benefits. I’d go further – I think it IS clear. I can’t see a libertarian justification for that kind of unequal treatment from the government. None.

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              • Oy, my comment just got eaten. In any case, I’m not obfuscating at all. Reality creates a relationship between het couples (that doesn’t apply to gay ones. The United States (and every other jurisdiction) has recognized that relationship and the US has also applied it to this or that circumstance. In no case that I’m aware of has the US prevented gay couples from contracting between themselves for that which is theirs to dispose of.

                Again, this is a side issue for me. The main point is the letting go business. Ie, the American people, their culture and their preferences filter into the political culture. That creates reality that looks like the state of nature for the political class. The political class accepts this as something that constrains them and deal with (or ought to) as opposed to something they can manipulate and control.

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                • That simply ignores the REALITY of the (legal) institution of marriage in the United States, which creates many rights which can’t be duplicated by contractual relationships. Yes, they involve third parties- usually the government As a libertarian, I assume you don’t approve of that. Absent scrapping all of those “rights” – you’re saying that we should maintain the status quo which grants them only to certain people?

                  As for the “letting go” business. This would make perfect sense in a nation where the government wasn’t ALREADY heavily involved in the marriage business. It doesn’t make much sense in the world we live in.

                  And as for “the American people, their culture and their preferences.” As a general rule, libertarians do not support bowing to those preferences where they violate libertarian principles. Not sure why all the sudden they should have much sway here, especially where they demand differential treatment of people based upon their sexual preferences.

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                  • “That simply ignores the REALITY of the (legal) institution of marriage in the United States, which creates many rights which can’t be duplicated by contractual relationships.”

                    No, not for one minute. It’s simply letting go, on the part of the political class, the desire and/or ability to change it.

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                    • Let’s restrict ourselves to those marriage rights that involve the government as a third party – child custody, tax benefits, public benefits and the like.

                      Let’s see … government establishes a public institution – let’s call it public schools. Government decides to allow only some people to partake in that institution – or – maybe – heck, this is a better analogy than I at first realized – relegates certain people, for an arbitrary (or worse) reason to a second class version of that institution.

                      “Absent scrapping [public schools] you’re saying that we should maintain the [early 1950] status quo which grants them only to certain people? “

                      Yes? I want to maintain the civility for which this site is known, but I’m having a tough time respecting your position on this. It lacks even the spurious but often deeply sincere moral objection that you get from the religious right.

                      And call it what you will – it isn’t a remotely libertarian position.

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                    • For myself at least, I don’t mind you going down this road but if you do try to differentiate clearly where you’re arguing from direct inference and where you’re arguing from analogy.

                      In this case, if I believe (as I do) that it’s a misuse of resources for the political class to create gay marriage by fiat why would I think it’s an appropriate use of resources for the political class to resegregate the schools?

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                    • I’m arguing by analogy.

                      And “re-segregation” misses the point. My point is that the same arguments you are making could have been deployed AT THE TIME against the original desegregation decision. Consistency would require you to say that AT THE time Brown was wrongly decided (on prudential grounds – set aside the legal issues). Even if you would make a distinction w/r/t re-segregation.

                      Now, no analogy is perfect. But I’d be curious to hear why you think it is not a good one.

                      As for the ” misuse of resources for the political class,” I’m not sure that signifies anything meaningful. The “political class” has tended to have as little as possible to do with the issue, if we are talking about politicians and the political establishment writ large – because (until recently) public opinion was very unfavorable. That’s shifting some … as public opinion shifts.

                      Now, of course, some courts (and more often Republican judges) have been ahead of the game on this. Judicial activism? This isn’t Roe v. Wade or commerce clause cases (rightly decided IMO but questionable on textual grounds.) These cases are pretty straightforward application of equal protection principles. I mean, libertarians more than anyone should respect the fact that constitutional restrictions on government can and should trump the popular will.

                      Of course it’s increasingly clear that your objections are more conservative (in the Burkean sense) than libertarian. Which is fine, I guess. But I think from a libertarian perspective I have the stronger position (fwiw).

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                    • I’m glad we’re clear that we’re arguing from analogy here because the simplest response to your question is that, fortunately, we don’t have to answer it since, now, the force of inertia works in favor of desegrated schools as opposed to segregated ones.

                      As far as a more complete answer goes, I don’t think that’s tremendously difficult either. If we were in 1954, we could say that ending school segregation was a prudent use of fiat resources and that, societally speaking, the benefits were worth the costs.

                      As far as the political class goes, I’m including the judiciary (as well as the relevant litigators and interest groups). In fact, because I’m talking about the divorce of public policy from republican legitimacy they’re really the most important part.

                      As far as being a Burkean rather than a libertarian I’ve got no problem with that. Among other things, my participation here has made it clear for me that I’m an enthusiast of the Hayek-style limited government at the expense of Rothbard-Nozick school libertarianism.

                      At the expense of a little digression, the Rothbard-Nozick school is only tenable largely because the proponents of it only talk among themselves, ie no one else is really interested. Some of the more philosophically inclined libertarians have allowed themselves false confidence in their belief system since they haven’t met anyone who refutes it. Therefore, they tend to include that nobody can. Instead it’s more the case that the people who can tend to spend their time and energy doing other things instead.

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                  • Exactly.
                    I don’t see why the taxpayer should be required to support marriage ahead of any other type of arrangement.
                    If someone is to receive a tax credit due solely to fertility, then why should it come from the public purse? Isn’t this child support under a different name?

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                    • Well sure. I’m not knocking the libertarian position on marriage as a whole. I’m merely asking, in a world where such a public institution exists (and it isn’t going away – drug legalization will come first), does a libertarian sanction unequal treatment. w/r/t that institution?

                      The further we take this conversation, the more convinced I am that the EASY answer is that the libertarian position favors extending the public institution of marriage to everyone.

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                    • Exactly.
                      I don’t see why the taxpayer should be required to support marriage ahead of any other type of arrangement.
                      If someone is to receive a tax credit due solely to fertility, then why should it come from the public purse? Isn’t this child support under a different name?

                      Are you unaware that allowing same-sex marriage would save taxpayers’ money? Because it would, primarily through two mechanisms — the rule that welfare recipients must declare spouses’ incomes when they meet eligibility requirements, and the remaining marriage penalties in our tax code. The idea that SSM would cost extra money is a myth.

                      And even if same-sex marriage was objectionable because you have to pay for it… well… I object to the endless war we’re in. You ready to end it for me?

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                    • But Jason, don’t you see? It would allow same-sex marriage. Sorry for the snark, but no matter the arguments about extensions and maximizations of liberty or even cost effectiveness, it still comes down to letting gays marry.

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                    • It’s not about whose marriage it is or not.
                      It’s not even really about paying child support for kids that aren’t yours.
                      It’s really about the lack of oversight on government discretion to show favoritism to certain entities according to their composition. Like a marked deference to large corporations while ignoring small business owners. Or a corporate structure over a proprietorship.
                      Why is it proper that they should concern themselves with the organizational structure in the first place?

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                    • It’s not about whose marriage it is or not.
                      It’s not even really about paying child support for kids that aren’t yours.
                      It’s really about the lack of oversight on government discretion to show favoritism to certain entities according to their composition. Like a marked deference to large corporations while ignoring small business owners. Or a corporate structure over a proprietorship.
                      Why is it proper that they should concern themselves with the organizational structure in the first place?

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                    • So I copy my reply to you from farther down and insert it here, because this sounds like where you have to be heading in terms of governmental recognition of relationships.

                      —–

                      And if you’re all for getting government out of the relationship regulating business, then I am, too. That way everyone will have to go through all the pricey, legal hoops that people are required to go through to set up the contractual arrangements that are established by the simple act of civil marriage. I’m good with that.

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                    • Why is it proper that they should concern themselves with the organizational structure in the first place?

                      Amen! Let’s return to the days of the 9th and 10th Amendments!

                      Wait. I’m looking at the table and that isn’t on the table.

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                    • And it should be.
                      Maybe even be the table itself.
                      For every concern I hear brought up, gay marriage keeps popping up as the only solution, and I think that’s only scratching the surface. The issues are a lot more fundamental.
                      Really, I don’t care about gays one way or the other. I don’t care how gay they are, and I don’t care if they threaten to go on strike.
                      I really don’t care about marriage all that much.
                      But there are fundamental underlying issues that concern me. And that’s important stuff.
                      We need to get past this thing where the answer is always some sappy ceremony involving two gays and look at the bigger issues.

                      @Boggs: Ok, so if gays are so adept at regulating their own behavior, then answer me this: Why is it that gay couples go to San Francisco and Boston to get married? Wouldn’t San Juan be a better target for the Gay Vegas? You can get a room for a week in San Juan for what you would pay for three nights in Boston. The beaches are cleaner. The food is great. I don’t see why anyone would want Boston, but that’s ok with me if that’s the top of your list.

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                    • Gays tend to be higher earners than the median American, so price isn’t so much of an object? I’m not sure why they choose Boston or San Francisco unless it has something to do with the fact that it’s legal in those states and that they are, after all the papers are signed, etc., legally bound with all the rights and benefits given to two opposite sex people who are also married.

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                • In no case that I’m aware of has the US prevented gay couples from contracting between themselves for that which is theirs to dispose of.

                  But I would imagine at a far greater cost in legal fees having all of these contractual things drawn up by lawyers rather than the one stop, get my marriage license and all those things are covered. Plus, as I understand it, it is not terribly difficult for wills to be challenged by blood relatives in these type of situations which leaves the problem in a judge’s hands instead of where it ought to be: between the two people who have the contractual arrangement.

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                • ” In no case that I’m aware of has the US prevented gay couples from contracting between themselves for that which is theirs to dispose of.”

                  My prior posts have treaded somewhat lightly on this, because I was relying upon imperfect memory. But 5 minutes of The Google will confirm that numerous state DOMAs at least purport to severely restrict such contracts. Now, those laws are (at least) of questionable enforceability because of constitutional equal protection rights.

                  So .. serious question. Are federal court decisions overturning these provisions:

                  (1) To be celebrated as vindicating the right of contract, or

                  (2) To be condemned as “judicial activism?”

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            • I find that interesting.
              it seems like there’s a lot of energy about gay marriage disparaging civil unions.
              It darned sure does.
              And I’m wondering, what other manner of civil unions might be subject to the same level of disparagement?
              If this, then what else?

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                • I understand that, but I want another example of the same phenomenon. I think I might be better able to see it clearly if I could look at it from a different angle.
                  I just want to be fair.

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                • I, personally, would have no problem with this if this what the state offered (assuming they’re going to be in the relationship business). In other words, there is no distinction between what heteros get at the license window or what gays get at the license window. If, however, we’re simply calling a tree something else simply so we don’t have to recognize what is de facto and de jure the same thing, then it says a bit about the opponents of civil unions for all, does it not?

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                    • I mean if you’re saying “we’re still concerned with gays” like gays are a “problem” needing some sort of regulation, then I’d agree that you’re still concerned with gays and will always be concerned with gays. If we’re talking about this from a libertarian position, there should only be two concerns: Maximizing liberty and extending that liberty equally and to all.

                      Now, you can argue all the possible extenuating contingencies involved with allowing gays to marry, but it seems at that point, you’ve decided to get off Mr. Kuznicki’s libertarian train and decided that there is a need to regulate or prohibit the contractual arrangements between two consenting adults.

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                    • No, it’s simply that the various types of civil unions in existence are at issue.
                      You seem to have an issue with contractual agreements being regulated, but all contractual agreements are regulated. You have the contract drawn up, then you look it over, sign and notarize it, and then it goes to the courthouse to be registered.
                      Not a single bit of which has anything to do with gays. So can we please stop talking about gays long enough to see the issue in larger terms? I think there’s an important manner of perspective which is lost by focusing too closely on one thing. I want consistency.
                      And I don’t really care about libertarianism one way or the other, except for those areas in which we are in agreement. If they have a valid issue which I have failed to take into consideration, then I would do well to recognize that, though I make no pretense of having been swayed.
                      I really don’t care to see the issue through gay-colored glasses.

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                    • OK, so then we agree. There should be no difference between the ability of two people to have a contractual agreement, whether gay or straight, that confers all the same rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.

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                    • No, we don’t agree, because you’re still stuck on gays.
                      I thought we were going somewhere with this, but it seems to have fallen into the old rut again.
                      I’m done.
                      No longer interested.

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                    • Mostly because I think you’re trying to figure out how to deny the right of two gay people to do the exact same thing as two straight people. It’s really simple. And I’m saying, from a libertarian perspective of maximizing liberty that the onus is on you to show me in more than a hand-waving, procedurally heavy way why they should be unable to do so.

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                    • And if it helps, I think any two people should be able to enter into that arrangement, e.g., mother and son, father and daughter, two sisters, etc. Oh, and gays, too.

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                    • I believe that what is known as a non sequitur.
                      It is generally accepted as a logical fallacy.
                      It means, “it does not follow.”
                      Again, you are too concerned with gays to even accept that there might be other considerations.
                      And I really don’t understand why you would think that I believe that gay people are so important that I would be willing to twist whatever is necessary to achieve this or that outcome.
                      But that’s exactly what I see from my end: The belief that gays are so important that any amount of twisting will do just to achieve a certain outcome.
                      Which I see as being intellectually dishonest.
                      And especially so, seeing as how I wasn’t really concerned about gays in the first place.
                      I only want to know what manner of civil union are currently available for comparison purposes.
                      And for some reason, you believe that gays are the one and only thing which should be contrasted or compared. I see that as simple-minded.

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                    • Yeah, I know what a non-sequitur is, but I appreciate you spelling it out for me. And it kind of does follow, your objections aside. You seem to be concerned with other forms of civil unions. I’m not certain exactly what kind of other civil unions are available, but there is one that is extremely common and handles much of the item by item procedural problems you seem to be concerned with and that is what we call civil marriage. I say simply extend this to ANY two consenting adults and we’re good. You seem to find this problematic.

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                    • Seriously, aren’t you telling me that gay people are incapable of regulating themselves, and require some manner of external regulatory environment?

                      I’m a lot more concerned about the method than the end.
                      Because I am a conservative, I would prefer to see the power of the government limited. And so, I see the expansion of existing discrimination laws outside of their original meaning to be hopelessly misguided, and filled with unintended consequence.
                      It seems far more prudent to simply do away with DOMA. Federalism. Conservative. Get that out of my government.
                      But of course, that makes me a bigot.
                      At least, it does if you’re intellectually dishonest, simple-minded, can see nothing other than gays, and are willing to twist whatever is necessary to achieve a desired outcome.

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                    • I think gays are great at regulating themselves just like heterosexuals are. And if you’re all for getting government out of the relationship regulating business, then I am, too. That way everyone will have to go through all the pricey, legal hoops that people are required to go through to set up the contractual arrangements that are established by the simple act of civil marriage. I’m good with that.

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                    • “And I’m saying, from a libertarian perspective of maximizing liberty that the onus is on you to show me in more than a hand-waving, procedurally heavy way why they should be unable to do so.”

                      For me at least, this is the key point right here. The whole subject of gay marriage is tedious and I wish the discussion didn’t turn there but somehow it always does.

                      What’s more interesting for me is that, contrary to your point above, to the extent that libertarianism is a good thing its foundation is not maximizing liberty but letting go. Letting go of the things we can’t or shouldn’t or are too burdensome to control.

                      This is why I draw the broad distinction between Hayek-style libertarianism (which is good) vs. Rothbard school libertarianism (which is not). The Rothbard people tend to be pretty smart and often have intelligent things to say, but they also in many circumstances ontologically and practically wrong. As a consequence, if we follow Rothbard we get to have marathon back-and-forth to consider whether someone has the right to marry another person of the same sex or shoot their dog.

                      If we follow Hayek, we can have robust private property (and prosperity), free speech and all the rest of it without ever having to worry about those things.

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                      • The whole subject of gay marriage is tedious and I wish the discussion didn’t turn there but somehow it always does.

                        Ahem. Somehow???

                        YOU were the one who first brought up gay marriage — in your very first comment to this post! Since then, you’ve mentioned it again and again, in nearly every one of your comments. If you really do find it tedious, then don’t bring it up. For this post in particular, it wasn’t remotely necessary.

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                        •  
                          No no no.  You’ve tried that move before but it still doesn’t work.
                          There’s been umpteen threads on this site that are either about gay marriage or morph into comment threads about gay marriage and they all seem to get ~200 comments each, the vast majority of which aren’t mine.  And on this thread I’ve written several times that the application to gay marriage is a side issue for me.  Other commenters have continued the subject without me (in this case Mark and Will).
                          Actually for me the title to the original post is much more interesting, ie, letting go (tho I suspect we mean different things by that).  The idea of maximizing liberty as a Kantian uberpremise is the foundation of libertarianism that doesn’t work.  Letting go of the things that are too burdensome maintain control of is the foundation of libertarianism that does work.  And, I also oppose the idea the law can or ought to be manipulated at will independently of the culture that supports it.  Everything I’ve written on this thread is in support of those two things.
                           

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                          • And, I also oppose the idea the law can or ought to be manipulated at will independently of the culture that supports it. 

                            This could get dangerous, don’t you think?

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                            • Incidentally, threaded commenting is broken again.  This is where I’ve made it my habit to bow out of a discussion, and I’m doing that here once more.  Too confusing.
                               
                              If the new interface was meant to fix threading in long threads, it didn’t.  (Also, the new interface seems to disallow URLs, which is annoying.  I had to go to the admin panel to get a URL in my previous post.)

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                            • Oh bullshit. This is not WW I and I did not assassinate the Archduke Ferdinand.

                              My point is that we, speaking for libertarians or the political class, should collectively let go of thinking that we can micromanage all of society by legislative or judicial fiat. And guess what, gay marriage is an example of that. If other people want to pick up on that I’ll play along, at least for a while. That notwithstanding, I still think it’s tedious.

                              But the general application to public policy is very important. So at least for this thread, if people want to pick up on gay marriage, I want to explain how this fits as an instance of a more general principle, which is what I’ve done.

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                              • Dude.

                                It’s like you think that we didn’t notice that you specifically mentioned bringing back Lawrence v. Texas.

                                If you think that it’s appropriate for cops to kick down doors on houses where two dudes might share a bed at times, I don’t think that it’s inappropriate for you to be called on your so-called small government bullshit.

                                Talk about micromanaging society!

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                                • That was actually a little bit inaccurate. I should have written that we could bring back Bowers v Hardwick instead of Lawrence v Texas. In any case, I’m not seeing the relevance, at least for now.

                                  The “small government” thing is your problem, not mine. The mainstream conservatives have been fighting that battle hard while the libertarians have been on sabbatical that semester. It would be nice if one of you could put a real shift in once in forever. And, referring to some of the things we’ve discussed in the past, a lot of the old excuses don’t even apply any more. Since the election there’s been some inside-game skirmishes about spending led or between various factions of the GOP, something which you said could never occur IIRC.

                                  Finally, it’s also useful to note that in this context the goal isn’t necessarily small government, but limited government. We can’t control the size of government until we control its purpose.

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                          • Sorry, koz, but that’s disingenuous at best, and bluntly dishonest at worst.  If you initiate the topic in a particular thread, you can’t legitimately complain that the thread turned to that issue unless you’re willing to ‘fess up and accept your share of the blame.  You seem unwilling to do that, which is hardly to your credit.

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                    • Which I say is fine, Koz, so long as the government gets out of it entirely.  No civil marriage at all.  Let ’em all lawyer up and get their contracts arranged that way.

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                    • Which, not to put too fine a point on it, but OK, don’t care, but get the hell outta the way.  It’s one thing to say you don’t care and it doesn’t mean a thing one way or the other to you personally.  That’s fine. 

                      I’d like to think that you might be able to see it through the eyes of those who have no access to the same rights and liberties that others do in their simple contractual arrangement, and in doing so, ask yourself how you’d feel if there were avenues that you were prohibited from exploring without there being a really damn good reason for that prohibition.  But that doesn’t seem to be of interest to you.  That’s fine. 

                      But tell two partners who have been together 30 years and now one of them is sick in the hospital and the other is not allowed visitation privileges or the will that they thought had been arranged is now being challenged by an angry father or mother, please tell them about the other, more important, fish that “we” have to fry.  You go fry those fish, but I’m hoping one of those fish is not to actively campaign against the right of two consenting adults, no matter their gender, to establish contractual relationships with each other.  Because you don’t care, right?

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                    •  
                      <i>”You go fry those fish, but I’m hoping one of those fish is not to actively campaign against the right of two consenting adults, no matter their gender, to establish contractual relationships with each other.  Because you don’t care, right?”</i>
                      Right.  Or to put it another way, as a matter of public policy, gay marriage is the wrong answer, straight marriage is the right answer.  However, the proponents of gay marriage are correct to see that widespread gay marriage is plausible or even likely in the medium-term future in America.
                      When push comes to shove, most of the Americans who oppose gay marriage will probably acquiesce to it instead of spending the energy to fight it.  Let’s note, however, that still doesn’t make it right.
                      <i>”But tell two partners who have been together 30 years and now one of them is sick in the hospital and…”</i>
                      As it happens, there’s a good friend of mine who’s the prior of a monastery and one of his monks has been in the hospital extensively battling cancer for a long time now.  My friend is grateful that the monk will be ok, but has complained that the whole ordeal has taken a great deal out of him. On the other hand, I haven’t heard a single word about hospital visitation rights (I’ll ask the next time I see him).  Yes, it is absolutely true that the other fish we have to fry are more important than resolving hospital visitation rights and it completely strains credibility to think otherwise.
                       

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                    • Ahhh…so now it’s a matter of right and wrong.  And the right and wrong in your perception.  It seems though that in doing that we open a whole host of moralistic claims of right and wrong that allow all sorts of people to claim all sorts of ability to outlaw this, that, or the other based simply on “their” perception of right and wrong.

                      Now, I’m just an amateur at all this libertarian stuff so I don’t claim infallibility, but it seems that “offense” or “disapproval” would hardly be sole grounds to prohibit something. 

                      And we aren’t just talking about visitation rights, we’re talking about the whole ball of wax, the hundreds of things that are dealt with by the simple act of a marriage license.  And it strains credibility to think that you really think that “visitation rights” is the sum total of the issue.  

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                    •  
                      “….in doing that we open a whole host of moralistic claims of right and wrong that allow all sorts of people to claim all sorts of ability to outlaw this, that….”
                      Maybe.  I just want to emphasize that just because you care about the issue more than I do doesn’t make you right.
                      In this context, the main application for this is Rothbard-school libertarians and their anthropology/ontology.  Because they end up talking almost exclusively among themselves, they get to convince themselves that they’re right.  But they’re not.  It’s just that other people would rather spend their energy doing other things than repudiating Rothbard’s ontology.
                       

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                    • And, given my stated amateurism on the subject of libertarian minutiae, I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying in regards to Rothbard, etc., and I’m not arguing about right and wrong, I’m arguing from a position of equality in the application of the law.

                      How ’bout I’ll go ahead and be wrong and in some objective world where can clearly delineate these things with precision, gays are bad and their marriages are even worse, but so long as they don’t adversely harm another person’s rights and their contract does not infringe on someone else’s rights, they should, in these United States and under all of the wonderful platitudes it stands for, be able to enjoy exactly the same rights the rest of us enjoy.  Then we both win.  You’ll be right, I’ll be wrong, gays will be objectively bad as will their marriages, but they’ll be able to have the same rights as you and me.  Fair enough?

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                    • “You’ll be right, I’ll be wrong, gays will be objectively bad as will their marriages, but they’ll be able to have the same rights as you and me. Fair enough?”

                      No. In the United States and all the great platitudes it stands for, gays already have the same rights the rest of us do. That’s (an important part of) the point.

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                    • They don’t have the same right to be left alone, Koz.

                      You’ve even mentioned “bringing back” Lawrence v. Texas.

                      When there are even so-called “small government” conservatives who want a gestapo whose job it is to kick down doors and arrest guys sharing a bed, homosexuals have every right to keep worrying about whether the so-called “small government” conservatives really think that they have the same rights as everybody.

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                    • And seriously, no they don’t.  As long as two men or two women cannot get a simple contractual arrangement that is the same arrangement as two heterosexuals, they don’t have the same rights.  Why is that so difficult?  Oh sure, they could go throguh the hassle and financially burdensome task of contractually arranging the over 1000 benefits granted by the simple act of civil marriage, but the only folks that win in that are the lawyers and the folks who try to argue that “See?  They have the same rights.” in an effort to make sure that they don’t.

                      I guess I thought that increasing freedom was what we were talking about.  I understand that you find it counterproductive to say that we increase freedom sometimes through judicial fiat or government assistance to which I replied that, fine, get rid of government in the relationship contracting business altogether, but you seem to want to say that government activity is warranted so long as we slam the door behind us and make sure that from this point forward, we work on that whole “letting go” thing.

                      I disagree.

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                    • “And seriously, no they don’t. As long as two men or two women cannot get a simple contractual arrangement that is the same arrangement as two heterosexuals, they don’t have the same rights.”

                      Sure they do. The government doesn’t know, and shouldn’t know, what gender a given person wants to have sex with or form a partnership with. Therefore, as far as the government is concerned a gay man marrying woman is exactly the same, logistically, as a straight man. And the same for women marrying men.

                      From the public pov, this is consistent with what we hope and expect our families to look like. Mommy and Daddy and their kids as one unit. Not Joe and three babymommas, not Jim and his gay lover, not that dude from the Big Love. We realize that not ever family is going to look like that, but we can keep the heterosexuality of marriage so that will be the default.

                      And for Jaybird, I just saw this at nationalreview.com a minute ago:

                      http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/256230/why-republicans-will-get-lot-exchange-raising-debt-ceiling-daniel-foster

                      IIRC, this was the sort of thing that you and Mark assured me could never happen under Republican leadership. At this point I think it’s fair to say that most of your premises were cut-your-nose-to-spite-your-face hating on Republicans. After all this, I’m still a little surprised how easy the today’s big issues of political culture are to resolve.

                      Vote Republican, cut spending, punish liberals.

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                    • From the public pov, this is consistent with what we hope and expect our families to look like.

                      Who the hell is “we”? Oh you mean you and people who think like you do about the issue. Oh, so we’re back to a possible majority rules type of thing, huh? I thought we were still discussing those great American ideals like freedom and such. Becuase it sounds like you’re having a hard time of “letting go” of the constraints on two men or two women to set up contractual arrangements with the same ease as opposite sex couples. Which I don’t have a problem with as long as we can get it out there and acknowledge that you are for limiting the liberty of these folks because of “what you hope and expect other people’s families to look like.”

                      Just so I’m clear.

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                    • The government doesn’t know, and shouldn’t know, what gender a given person wants to have sex with or form a partnership with. Therefore, as far as the government is concerned a gay man marrying woman is exactly the same, logistically, as a straight man. And the same for women marrying men.

                      And if the government shouldn’t know or care than it won’t matter one iota if two men or two women want this. But what you really mean is that the government should discriminate on whether you set that contract up with someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. Which again, leads me to find you’re insistence on letting go awfully hard to swallow since you seem to want to do everyone else to do all of the letting go after the status quo you like is established.

                      Just so I’m clear.

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                    • “And if the government shouldn’t know or care than it won’t matter one iota if two men or two women want this. But what you really mean is that the government should discriminate on whether you set that contract up with someone of the same sex or the opposite sex.”

                      Hold on. The government knows what sex you are, not what sexual orientation you have. A man and a woman with a lifetime commitment to each other is the (default) foundation of a family. That doesn’t apply to any other relationship, not two men or two women or any other arrangement, though there may be actual families of that kind.

                      Btw, I should have made clear that my last comment was intended to mention Mark Thompson, not Mark Boggs. And along those lines, Kevin Williamson posted this today:

                      http://www.nationalreview.com/exchequer/256240/not-pell-grants-defining-radical

                      I especially love the citation to Jonathan Cohn, giving yet more evidence of the efficacy of voting Republican as a means of establishing fiscal restraint. Sometimes the best answers are the easiest.

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                    • What was the default position regarding the legal status of blacks and women 150 years ago? The default position is not always the best or the one that allows the most freedom.

                      And I understand now that you aren’t arguing from a position of what brings the most freedom but from what brings the most freedom inside the parameters of what isn’t offensive to the masses which happens to include you. Now I’m clear. I actually thought for a day or two that you were trying to show me how we were maximizing freedom while still disallowing two men or women from enjoying the same rights as two opposite sex people. You clearly aren’t. Sorry to have bothered you.

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                    • “And I understand now that you aren’t arguing from a position of what brings the most freedom but from what brings the most freedom inside the parameters of what isn’t offensive to the masses which happens to include you.”

                      Sort of. I do reject the idea of maximizing individual autonomy as a categorical imperative. That’s the Rothbard premise I mentioned before.

                      We have to temper that with at least two things. One, to let go of aspirations that are too burdensome to attempt. And, to maintain the integrity of the republican-ness of the nation, ie, the sovereignty of the citizens.

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  10. I keep thinking about the issue of the commons; in particular the Asian carp making their way to Lake Michigan.
    How do you resolve this in a libertarian manner?
    Do you just shift into Plan B?
    Wouldn’t that be recognizing that libertarianism has innate limitations?
    Just wondering.

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    • Will H.

      Of course libertarianism has limitations. But that’s hardly a meaningful critique. Show me a political philosophy/ideology that doesn’t have limitations. What’s interesting is what the limitations are, not that there are limitations.

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  11. Pingback: The Art of Letting Go | Library Grape

  12. I want to disagree with your first point. I do not believe that people are better at running their own lives than they are running others. We often fail to see things as they truly are when we look at our own lives. Any one who has watched on as a friend has done something very stupid in the name of love can attest to this.

    However it is very clear that screwing up your own life is a much lower crime than screwing up the life of someone else. So given that you will screw up, the less you try to run others lives, the better off everyone is.

    It is in regards to markets that I left libertarianism. Markets are clearly very powerful and useful tools. But free markets do not exist in nature. They must be created and nurtured. The most basic element of any free market, transparent transactions, never exists without regulation. Regulatory capture is often about obfuscation of transactions so regulation does not mean free market. But absence of proper regulation guarantees markets will not be free.

    The final point with markets is that markets are not rational. Mandelbrot proved this 60 years ago but rational markets is a myth that will not die.

    I believe that from a political point of view, mere libertarianism (I do like that term) is the preferred position but given that 1) free markets are immensely powerful factors in any society, 2) free markets can not exist with out proper regulation and 3) even free markets will behave irrationally at times, how does a libertarian economic policy deal with markets?

    I know that most people on this blog will disagree with 1 or more of the points I make on markets. I too use to believe that free markets were rational and would exist in nature if the govt would just let them! However, the historical evidence is overwhelming that neither is true.

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    • regulation does not mean free market. But absence of proper regulation guarantees markets will not be free.

      That’s drastically oversimplified. To justify regulation you have to demonstrate that it will generally–or in the specific case–produce more efficient market outcomes than a non-regulated market would. No matter how poorly markets perform, the mere fact of regulation is no guarantee of improvement.

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      • Not really.
        I owned a franchise at one time, and there were several regulations that I had to comply with that had nothing to do with making the market more efficient.
        I have to pay a higher rate for electrical service. Efficient, or no?
        I have to pay a whole year of CAM when I really only need the office for 5 months. Efficient, or no?
        I’m not so sure that any manner of efficiency has anything to do with it.

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      • The specific case I was talking about is transparent transactions. Without open knowledge of what everyone had paid for an item there is no way to determine proper price. It is not a question if transparent transactions make a market more efficient or not, without transparent transactions a free market does not exist. Without transparent transaction, the game is rigged, by definition not free.

        Transparent transactions are minimum requirement for a free and true market and they never exist without regulations. No one, including myself, wants the world to know what I have done and unless forced to do so, I will not reveal what a paid for an item.

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        • I don’t see that.
          Before I had to pay the commercial rate for electrical service, I paid the residential rate.
          Never did occur to me what a great deal I was getting.
          I think it takes a bit more than transparency of transactions to make a free market “free.”

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    • Wow. Your ideas are so bizarre that it’s hard to know where to start. First, there are no free markets. There are only markets regulated by customers and markets regulated by governments. There are no markets where anybody is free to buy or sell anything they want. A buyer must find a seller and a seller must find a buyer. Without cooperation, there is no market.

      But as soon as you understand that, you realize that markets will always behave badly. Markets are regulated by people. People make misteaks. People do not behave rationally. There is no alternative to this, whether your markets are regulated by customers or by governments, because customers and governments are both people.

      I don’t understand exactly why ANYBODY thinks free markets have to be perfect markets. Is there some idiot in some university who is teaching his students this? Please, can we get this person’s degree taken away from them? Surely it’s not too late for that person to fail their qualifying exam if they’re doing something THAT egregiously stupid, is it?

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  13. The only definition of “libertarian” offered here is as an adjective for arguments, and a statement that “libertarianism” rests on two pillars is also offered. And there is a statement that determining just who is a libertarian is tricky, and has low payoff. Yet the authors goes on to repeatedly use the term to refer to people, himself included. If it’s tricky to figure out who is one, and therefore in this general discussion it is thought best to abjure an attempt to do so, does it not follow that it would be similarly best to set aside the label as a personal political identifier, at least in the piece, if not in general going forward? It makes a great deal of sense to me to say that libertarianism is simply a certain class of arguments and nothing more – that we all, owing to the fact that no one simply disregards his freedom entirely, make libertarian arguments from time to time, if in some cases only in internal political deliberation, and that on some matters in the world libertarian arguments, i.e. libertarianism per se, have held sway more than others. I am happy leaving libertarianism at that. But then either there are no libertarians or we are nearly all both libertarians and not libertarians at the same time (since very few of us, even self-identifiers, are in fact fully persuaded by the libertarian argument. And if that is so, then it makes no sense to continue going on promoting the idea of “libertarian” as a personal political identifier. This article seems to do all of the former with regard to libertarianism as a substantive argument, but then also goes on to continue with the latter as well. In that regard, then, I think it continues to beg the same question that I suspect, if the author is honest, he would admit motivated it to begin with, at least in part: namely, “What is it that a person saying about himself when he says that he is a libertarian, or that he identifies as one?”

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    • “…(since very few of are in fact fully [perhaps I meant maximally] persuaded by the libertarian argument at all times on all questions where it potentially applies.)” …I meant to finish that parenthesis out like that, not leave it as it is above.

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    • To me it’s the consistency with which a set of libertarian principles are held — then one can be said to be politically libertarian. One can be libertarian politically, socially liberal, conservative with finances — a number of combinations. I prefer to relate libeetarians to classical liberalism which WIKI describes sufficiently as ” Classical liberalism is a philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets.[1]”

      I know not all people who self identify as libertarians agree with this, but I think they fall under what you described — people with some libertarian sympathies, but not fully libertarian politically.

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  14. > Wikipedia is anarchic — and yet remarkably effective. We all
    > joke about it — and yet we all use it.

    This is actually… ah, misleading and basically wrong, Jason.

    Wikipedia, for the record, is not anarchic. It was, for the first N months after its launch. Some large parts of it still are, of course, particularly the low-traffic parts. However, starting from fairly soon after launch up until the present day, an increasing large number of chunks of the site are decidedly *not* anarchic at all (indeed, entire classes of knowledge are dog-eared as locked down stringently now). There are definite gatekeepers on Wikipedia, it’s much more of a hybrid top-down/bottom-up system than a bottom-up one. I can point you at a couple dozen research articles on the structure of Wikipedia if you want further reading.

    I’ve studied human organizations quite a bit in the last half-decade and there are definitely scaling problems with bottom-up organizations, particularly when you move information between layers of abstraction. They start off efficient and with great coverage over a small problem domain, but as the problem domain grows the coverage gets both inconsistent and in many cases contradictory. This is reflected in my own field fairly often with large scale information systems; two programmers in a garage build a revolutionary algorithm, but they don’t necessarily all turn into even a workable software product, let alone Google.

    The flip side problem with the top-down organizations is that as time goes on they lose certain types of efficiency, rather than gain it, because the farther away from a specific problem instance you get, the less efficient your problem solving process will be for resolution of that particular problem instance.

    The tricky widget is finding the right balance, inside an organization, for information transfer without unnecessary overhead (the tricky widget being the “unnecessary” part). I have yet to see either a solely top-down or a bottom-up approach that comes close to solving this problem.

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  15. IIRC, this was the sort of thing that you and Mark assured me could never happen under Republican leadership.

    I went and looked and, yep, the Republicans are raising the debt ceiling.

    IIRC, that’s exactly what Mark and I said that they’d do.

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    • Oh my God, Jaybird, they (R) really did raise the debt ceiling? Haven’t followed the news today–I knew it was on the table, but couldn’t imagine they would bite at that bait. Sickening. Maybe it is true, that there really are only two political parties in America–those who vote, and those who don’t. As I mentioned a few days ago, we should seriously consider operating this country with the exact same budget we had in 1810–it was close to zero.

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    • “I went and looked and, yep, the Republicans are raising the debt ceiling.

      IIRC, that’s exactly what Mark and I said that they’d do.”

      No, this is a much bigger picture than you’re letting on (maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think Mark has ever written anything here about raising the debt ceiling). What you and Mark wrote was that there was no way the GOP would ever be credible on fiscal restraint. Or in particular, that you wouldn’t support them until they accomplished it, which is horrible chicken-and-egg problem because they wouldn’t need you by then.

      In today’s political economy, the biggest problems are the easiest to resolve. Vote Republican, cut spending, punish liberals.

      Narrowly speaking of the debt ceiling, I disagree with you and I think Mr. Foster is being a little optimistic. I don’t think the GOP has much leverage, the debt ceiling has to be raised. We can’t cut enough spending soon enough to credibly think otherwise. (But we can cut some.)

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