Progressives vs. Libertarians

I really think the two sides in this argument – the libertarians on the one hand and progressives on the other – simply have a very hard time understanding truly where the other is coming from. For instance, I think many libertarians simply take for granted that corporations will act in their own self-interest, and that they will – if they are able – take advantage of government (via regulatory capture or lobbying efforts or various other avenues) in order to use government to stifle competition or bend the rules in their favor. Often new regulations can provide well-moneyed interests to get the upper hand on potential competition, or to entrench bad behavior via legal protections. So libertarians look at this and say “This is crony-capitalism. If we limit the ability of the government to protect corporations from competition, we will create a more level playing field and a more fair, free economy. Limiting government also limits the power of corporations.”

Now, many progressives don’t see it this way, because all they see is the conclusions libertarians reach – they don’t look at the reasons many libertarians want to limit government, they just hear “limit government” or “government is evil” and assume the worst. So progressives say “All libertarians care about is blaming government for everything. They must be on the side of the corporations!” Various allusions to Ayn Rand and the Koch brothers follow (and admittedly, Objectivism and such have not helped libertarians reconcile their differences with welfare liberals). Meanwhile, progressives want government to act as the counterweight to corporate power; libertarians think government generally sides with corporations and doesn’t act as a counterweight at all. Progressives think that if government is empowered, and its employees paid well enough, and the tax system is fair enough, then the corporations can be tamed. Libertarians are quite a bit more skeptical.

Both sides distrust the motivations of the other. Somewhere in all of this, communication breaks down, and natural allies become awkward enemies. Or perhaps libertarians and progressives are not natural allies, and an allegiance with fiscal conservatives makes more sense for libertarians, whereas progressives find a more sensible ally in organized labor.

Last thought on this point: deregulation is not always the answer, and even if it were and even when it is, deregulation is subject to the same risks regulation is subject to – namely some form of capture.  There is no magic bullet for corporatism. But behind every rule and regulation there must be always be a question: Is this regulation helping or hindering a level playing field? Does this regulation benefit specific players within an industry at the expense of their competition? Regulations of some sort will always be necessary but it’s important to think about how special interests game the system to make regulations work for them at the expense of competitors and consumers.

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278 thoughts on “Progressives vs. Libertarians

  1. “Deregulation is not always the answer, and even if it were and even when it is, deregulation is subject to the same risks regulation is subject to – namely some form of capture.”

    There is also the confusion of what the term “regulate” actually means. If it means, “keep regular”, then there are various interpretations of what kind of mechanism that entails. To what degree do we allow fraud and deception? How do we balance business rights with general welfare?

    If “regulate” means simply “government involvement” then what do we make of privatized entities? How do we even evaluate varying degrees of regulatory capture?

    “Deregulate” is even more confusing, because it depends on how we define “regulate” plus it has its own varying definitions.

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    • Obviously questions of regulation and deregulation are going to be complicated and it’s going to depend a great deal from one issue to the next. In a broad discussion of ideas I don’t think it’s necessary to get terribly specific, but in a more tightly wound discussion of specific policies, one would need to assess the nitty gritty of each rule and whether it passes muster. I think Carter’s deregulation of the trucking industry is a case in point. Trucking in this country used to be an impossible maze of rules and regulations, going so far as to determine what order trucks had to pass through various cities. The new regulations generally focus only on hours on the road, safety concerns related to accidents, and the gathering and transparency of that data. One might conclude that even the new rules are too time-consuming, but it’s obvious that they’re better than the old rules. Deregulation, in this sense, worked but it did not strip away all regulations of the trucking industry – only some of the more onerous, anti-competitive ones.

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      • Is it possible then for people to accept trade-offs. I always hear people talk about regulation versus deregulation and growing government versus shrinking government as these zero sum games. But, wouldn’t progressives accept (in an ideal world anyway) that, if they were willing to greatly reduce the power of the state in enough areas, there would be increased support for the regulations or social safety nets they think most important. Even people who are truly sick of increased statism aren’t arguing for no government at all- well, unless they’re anarchists. So, couldn’t progressives say, look, we’ll make a deal- if we cut government spending by 50%, can we have strong welfare programs? It would seemingly work better than everyone taking this “not one inch” mindset.

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        • I’ll strongly disagree with your comment that “even people who are truly sick of increased statism aren’t arguing for no government at all- well, unless they’re anarchists.”

          Let’s remember Grover Norquist’s famous quote: “I want to shrink government down to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.”

          Sounds to me as if he wants to do away with government. And he is no fringe oddball. He is a leading Republican figure and his thoughts on nothing but tax cuts all the time along with absolutely no government regulation are part and parcel of the modern republican party.

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          • My God, I can’t believe I’m defending Norquist, although I’m not really defending him as much as parsing the parts of government he wanted shrunk. He’s really talking about the economic regulatory government. He may not give a shit about the rest of the government, e.g., the behavior and moral regulatory government, but many of the rest of his ideological brothers do. Oh, and the military. I’m guessing Grover has carved out an exemption for the military spending of government.

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            • I’m with you — I can’t believe you are defending Norquist either.

              I’ve heard his speak on more than one occasion and he isn’t an anarchist. He wants to completely do away with government in favor of private, commercial entities. He just believes that only people that can afford it should be able to have the sorts of things that government provides. Such as law enforcement and security and fire protection.

              He is completely crazy.

              And yet … he is a darling of the libertain/republican right.

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        • > I always hear people talk about regulation versus
          > deregulation and growing government versus shrinking
          > government as these zero sum games.

          Yes, you do. Because that’s the narrative.

          I’m of the cynical opinion that it’s the narrative because everybody is too godawful stupid to realize that there *are* other types of games, not just the politicians but also the public to whom they pander.

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  2. I’ve noticed that in the US progressives and Libertarians also have a bit of a association dilemma going on. Lets say, for a thought experiment, that the neoliberals that by and large play the wise old men for the Democrats decided the country would be better off with a strong libertarian caucus in the government. In the US libertarians have been bundled up very tightly with the social conservatives and foreign policy hawks. You’d be hard pressed to find many political figures that come close to libertarian principles; usually they’ll have a couple pet subjects where they’re libertarian and they’re otherwise conservative or silent on everything else.
    So you want to get some libertarians into government to reduce corporate subsidies, foreign entanglements and inefficient regulation. But when you have them come in you end up with bans on gay marriage, abortion and other culture war issues.
    That’s why I really agreed with the liberaltarian idea. It would probably help the libertarian cause a lot if there was a segment of libertarians who could at least talk to liberals and progressives without using the freighted language that the conservative coalition minted.

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  3. What I find surprising is how weak the alliance of Libertarians and the Libertarian Party is. The LP is on the ballot in every state and, issue for issue, it’s in exceptional agreement with the small-l libertarian platform. Still 90+% of Libertarians choose to vote for one of the two major parties and the offices below President on its ballot line generally lie fallow or end up cross-endorsing major party candidates.

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  4. …whereas progressives find a more sensible ally in organized labor.
    Not happening.
    I know this is something of traditional wisdom, but its time is long past. Of course, the origins of unions are definitely Leftist, but not in the same sense as the so-called “progressives” of today.
    As far as that progressivism is made up solely of entrenched identity politics, then throwing in labor might make some sense from the sidelines. But the temperament is totally different.
    I can’t think of one single thing outside of manning the labor board that the unions might be in agreement with the Left. Perhaps some broader economic policy.
    I thought about it before I wrote this comment. I have been a journeyman for about 7 years now. I can’t think of one single occasion where someone spoke to me about some Leftist concern on a job site. I can give you several examples of people telling me why the Democrats are so bad and why they must be stopped at any cost, etc. There are a few times at meetings where I remember someone expressing a particular Leftist view, but that is very rare.
    I’m thinking that the sooner the unions become unhitched from the Left, the better. It’s already started to happen. Something like 40% of the membership voted Republican (split ticket here, as always). The break has already happening. When the leadership finds someone on the Right that they can work with, it will be a done deal. The membership is already there.

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    • I think it’d be healthy. Then the right could become the social conservative, economic protectionist party and the left could be the social libertines and the free trade party. Though that’d put libertarians in a bind.

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      • The biggest issue when it comes to coalition, or so it seems to me, is that where Libertarians and Liberals overlap is goals but not means and where Libertarians and Conservatives overlap is means but not goals (note: this is a gross oversimplification, etc).

        If the Republican Party becomes the party of moral busybodies who have discovered the joys of telling other folks how to live, the Libertarians will jet like it’s 2006.

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          • Touche’.

            There are two types of moral busybodyism at work in the two parties, of course. The Republicans make more noises about government being small and letting the culture do the heavy lifting of approval/disapproval… but it’s the Republicans who have most embraced the anti-homosexual thing, the anti-abortion thing, and so on.

            I should tighten my criticism… give me a second.

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            • If I may make another sweeping generalization, it’s the Conservatives who use the language of morality for things that are traditionally moral dilemmas (“traditionally” is the most important word in that sentence).

              It’s the Progressives who use the language of morality for things that haven’t been. So things like smoking, or salt in soup, or adopting a puppy from a shelter rather than a breeder, or what have you becomes an opportunity for a moral sermon when, until recently, it was a matter of taste. It’s like vegetarianism only it’s not vegetables it’s freakin’ *EVERYTHING*.

              (Just yesterday a facebook friend showed a picture of a new puppy… and one of the first comments was something to the effect of “I hope you got him from a rescue shelter!” And, no doubt, this very comment will inspire subsequent comments involving puppy mill horror stories. Yeah, I don’t like puppy mills either. That’s not the point.)

              But, yes, both parties excel at mistaking matters of taste for matters of morality (and vice versa). It seems to me that Conservatives are better at making traditional mistakes between the two and Progressives are better at making new ones.

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                • Sorry. I should have said that “such-and-such is endemic to any manifestation of governance” or discussed such-and-such’s “ubiquity” or “omnipresence”.

                  It’d say the exact same thing but mask it behind multiple syllables… which may force the opposing opinion to actually address whether such-and-such is really endemic, omnipresent, or ubiquitous rather than rely on the argument that “you said that such-and-such is endemic, omnipresent and/or ubiquitous!”

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              • Why ‘mistakes’? The anti-smoking campaign is probably the best example of a successful combination of cultural change and government legislation you could find. It’s gone from being ubiquitous to being relatively rare, and we’re all healthier because of that. Additional legislation (no smoking at bus stops! no smoking in proximity to buildings!) is getting ridiculous and isn’t worthwhile given the minor added benefits, but I wouldn’t consider the fact that our workplaces, restaurants and airplanes aren’t full of tobacco smoke a negative.

                It’s certainly true that liberals can be annoyingly sanctimonious about their causes, but anti-smoking was a success.

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                    • Here’s the wacky part of the dialectic (for lack of a better word), once you start socializing the particular matter of taste, it transubstantiates into a matter of morality.

                      The example I always use for this is when the War On Drugs really kicked in: After the War on Poverty. Another example would be food stamps and the argument that people on food stamps shouldn’t buy pop or chips or “junk food” with them but food stamps should only be used for “healthy” items.

                      And now that we’ve taken a step closer to socialized medicine, I expect to see more health matters turned into matters of morality.

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                    • Fat people are dicks and should be executed.

                      Entitlement reform begins with Logan’s Run. Aging at a natural rate beyond a certain point is decidedly unhealthy, and steps should be taken to prevent it.

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                    • light up, I meant.
                      Excellent suggestion.
                      I would like to amend the above statement to read:
                      “Fat people are dicks and should be burned at the stake like sizzling balls of bacon with popping grease and fizzle flashes from the ooze after the flesh peels away.”

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                  • Why do you choose to say ‘of morality’ here, rather than ‘of policy,’ ‘of law,’ or ‘of compulsion.’ Because that’s what they are being made into as a matter of fact. You may see that as automatically turning it into a matter of morality, but others may not – it’s an interpretation of your own. why not leave the question to us, or at least state accurately what is really being done and say that, as you see it, making it matter of law also makes it a matter of morality. While claims about morality certainly drive a great deal of lawmaking, not all laws necessarily claim to encode moral truths. Or are you saying they do? I’d like to hear that argument (no snark).

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                    • It’s the whole “coercion” thing.

                      We agree that the whole “mayo vs. mustard” debate is a matter of taste. It’s absurd to imagine a cop kicking down a door over it.

                      Let’s move on to something a little less absurd. Two dudes fishing. It wasn’t *THAT* long ago that Lawrence v. Texas made it to the Supreme Court. What happened there? The cops kicked down the door and found two guys fishing. They were arrested because it was illegal for two men to fish in Texas. You and I, enlightened as we are, know that two dudes fishing is not something that we need cops kicking down doors for. Why? Because we know that such is a matter of taste and not a matter of morality.

                      I would argue that if you think it appropriate to have a cop kick down a door and point a gun at me to take me off of the streets because I engaged in some (variable), then the law against (variable) is a matter of morality and not a matter of taste… and I’m not talking about driving on this side of the road vs. that one.

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                    • Again, I certainly see the problem with making matters of taste into matters of law, but that’s still all I see you demonstrating here. Some things are illegal out of concerns about safety, like smoking meth for example, that don’t necessarily imply a moral judgment about the action (though, again, you can see it that way, it’s just that you write as though everyone must), nor are they merely matters of taste, but rather they’re an effort to protect people from doing physical harm to themselves (and of course we can argue whether that is appropriate or not). At least in my view. I don’t begrudge you seeing it differently, and obviously you have every right to write it as you see it (i.e. skipping over the step where something being illegal must be a moral judgment), but to me it raises the question because it’s not necessary that everyone sees it that way prima facie, at least as far as I can see.

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                    • I have had conversations with people about ending, for example, the drug war.

                      My arguments, if anything, lean toward the cynical and coldly pragmatic. It’s the counter-arguments that explain, no, it’s a moral argument.

                      In 2008, I went to my local caucus and tried to caucus for Mike Gravel before my group (of one) was broken up. Being Democrats, the floor was opened to resolutions and I suggested ending the drug war.

                      Counter-arguments included:
                      “What about the children?” (given by a schoolteacher)
                      “While I agree that it’s unfortunate that the hammer of the law falls hardest on minorities, we can’t just give up.” (given by a middle-aged African American gentleman)
                      “Maybe we shouldn’t use as much force here in the US but we should still be able to fight drugs in other countries!” (given by a middle-aged Caucasian woman)

                      The tone these people were using was a tone of moral approbation.

                      (One of the guys for whom this was obviously not their first caucus tabled my suggestion.)

                      The matter of law *IS* a matter of morality… because the folks who believe in the law are doing such things as protecting children, taking the fight to other countries, and while it’s unfortunate that the hammer of the law, etc, they’re not just going to give up.

                      I’d love to have a cynical and dispassionate conversation about this. Other folks, however, see it as a moral question.

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                    • I don’t see in any of those examples evidence that moral judgment drives their views on drug laws. It seems to me they could just as well be concerned about the well being of people they care about and believe drug laws help protect it. From there, they may react defensively in a way that you interpret as moral judgement. And it may be one – but it would be of you for standing in the way of their being able to use this tool as they would like to do as a way to promote the health of their loved ones, not of you for perhaps wanting to occasionally light up a J. But that’s not the same as being for drug laws because one sees drugs as morally bad. On the other hand, they might too; I just don’t see where it’s clearly one way or the other in these examples.

                      And I think that you could persuade everyone that choosing to ingest any given substance into one’s own body carries no moral consequence and still find a lot of people supporting drug laws because they believe drugs are physically bad for people (including children, especially peoples’ own children) and have other negative life consequences, and they want to keep the law as a tool to decrease the choice to do so.

                      I’m obviously not saying any of that is the right policy, and clearly there is the matter of what distinguishes their views on legal drugs from illegal drugs, but that doesn’t mean they at least don’t understand their view on illegal drugs to be motivated primarily by concern for the physical and general well-being of their loved ones, not moral approbation.

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                    • I think we are. In the scenario I’m sketching it’s a outcome-based personally interested stance. I.e. ‘It’s more important to me that I keep the law the way it is as a tool to keep my kids from starting smoking pot than it is to recognize your right to let up.’ I don’t see a moral view of smoking pot there per se. It is a moral claim to say that my interest in securing my kid’s welfare trumps your right to legally smoke, and if that is what you are referring to, not moral ideas specific to peoples’ attitudes about specific substances, then I take your point. That applies to all policy balancing everywhere, though, then. I thought you were saying that the matter of taste that was being converted to a matter of morality was simply an attitude about the morality of the activity itself, whoever might be doing it.

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                    • Btw Jay, I’ve clearly talked my way around to understanding what you mean when you say this now. I just never understood which moral claim you were referring to – I always thought it was the one relating specifically to whatever the proscribed activity is, in all cases of the action, i.e. the ultimate cause for some folks to want it illegal. But you mean the moral claim implied by the position that a person thinks it justified to make the thing illegal, all claims being weighed, whether they be moral, practical, safety, etc. I get that. I’d only say that it actually is possible for people to self-interestedly support policy and not claim that a law is broadly just when saying they want it. But you’d be right to say that they don’t tend to do so, and you’d also, logically, be justified in rejecting the proposition on justice grounds (the only problem being that you both retain your votes). In this analysis, of course, it also is as much you as they who is making a moral claim if you chose to go the route of saying that their proposal to deny you a freedom was not morally justified given the balance of interests they were presenting.

                      I think the reason that I understood you to be identifying a first-instance question of taste relating to how people feel about marijuana use writ large in the population is because I do see that as a matter of taste, whereas I see how people feel about the prospect of their children taking up drugs to be rather more a direct question of interest for them, certainly in the way they likely perceive it. Some people consider it core to their personal interests that they have all the tools available to dissuade their children from using drugs, certainly to including retaining prohibition (even for adults, fearing the lifting of public sanction would act as an encouragement to children), however misguided that view is in terms of actually aiding prevention. In taking this position, they may not even be bothering to formulate am oral defense of this preference, merely claiming it as the prerogative of free electors, though now that I understand the moral claim you are describing, I can imagine better the tone in your caucus interlocutors that most likely was a reflexive moral reaction to your challenge of this policy preference. Even in that case though, I can imagine people having motivating concerns (The children! *MY* children!) that I would have a hard time reducing to simply “matters of taste,” though I can also imagine others that I would agree with you in that assessment.

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                    • I probably ought to have used “homosexual acts” rather than “marijuana”. It would have set a starker contrast… and heightened the whole “what about the children?” question to where I probably wanted it seen.

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                    • “(One of the guys for whom this was obviously not their first caucus tabled my suggestion.)”

                      I forget exactly how much this applies to you, Jaybird, but it would be useful to quit blaming my team for the Drug War. It really is a bad rap. (Besides which, what good can possibly come from caucusing with the Democrats?)

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                    • Koz, Nixon literally coined the term War on Drugs. Regan doubled down on it and HW Bush brought both the CIA and the US Military strongly into play in the prosecution of it along with minting the office of “Drug Czar”. Under what (drug induced) line of reasoning would you blame the War on Drugs entirely on the “other side” ??

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                    • “Under what (drug induced) line of reasoning would you blame the War on Drugs entirely on the “other side” ??”

                      I don’t. I blame it on interia, a surprisingly misunderstood force in politics. Most things happen (or precisely most things continue) because of inertia. Some things happen as the result of a partisan turf war.

                      The tendency is, that libertarians/moderates/third party types like to delude themselves into overestimating their ability to influence policy by positioning themselves into the middle of Left-Right discourse. The problem is, it takes a huge amount of activism to force a particular into mainstream frame of reference. The Drug War is Exhibit A. If we can leave aside the question of the Drug War being eliminated altogether, there’s probably a decent-sized majority of Americans willing to dial it down a few notches. But that doesn’t matter because for the moment the Drug War is outside the mainstream frame of reference.

                      Libertarians for cultural reasons like to blame this on my team but it’s a bad rap.

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              • Jaybird,

                I realized the dual nature of the problem when I wrote it and apologize for making you think I was being myopic in my criticism. Indeed, there are busybodies in all corners.

                Some of the smoking issue (and I’m not saying you disagree with the anti-smoking venture) can best be summed up by a quote from an old head and neck cancer surgeon I used to play golf with: “Having smoking sections inside is like having peeing sections in a swimming pool.” And I smoked for 15 years so I’ve been on both sides of this one.

                I suppose much of my beef with the conservative moralists is that so much of their crusade is tied up in their unprovable religious views.

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                • Well, I was so obviously *WRONG* that I needed to have this pointed out.

                  Thanks for being gentle about it!

                  I mean, if someone had said “dumbass, what about Doctor Fishing Dobson?”, what could I have said? “I wasn’t counting him”?

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                  • OK, I admit to not being familiar enough to read you accurately here. And I’m not sure I’d understand it if I did, feeble mind and all. But I certainly don’t want you to think I was chastising you for anything. 5 years ago, I’d have excused the left’s busybodies. I’m not that delusional anymore.

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      • I’ve even made the case on my blog that young voters are not completey tied to the left — they just don’t see a good alternative.

        I have a feeling that if Democrats don’t answer the debt problem and the unemployment problem, and if state budgets get deeply cut affecting social programs, they are going to unravel. Progressivism is in trouble — the problem is that conservatism is in trouble too. The Repulicans have an opportunity to be creative, bold and innovative, but it will take more courage and vision than Boehner or McConnell now possess.

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        • I have so many problems with your comment. I’m not sure why you think that the “debt problem” and unemployment are problems for the Dems.

          Regarding the debt, let’s think back just a few years (if you can even remember back that far) to the Clinton presidency. He left office with a shrinking deficit and a budget surplus. Then we have Cheney’s famous quotes that “deficits don’t matter.” They certainly didn’t to the Cheney/Bush administration. An unfunded new entitlement program**, two off-the books unfunded wars, huge corporate bailouts, huge tax cuts for the wealthiest and the biggest transfer of wealth in history later we have the largest deficit in history.

          As for jobs, the Dems created more jobs in 2010 than the Repubs did in eight years under Cheney/Bush.

          As for state budgets, I’d hope (without any evidence for any actual hope) that the electorate is smart enough (silly me) to understand that years of the one note Republican plan to solve any and every problem — more and deeper tax cuts and subsidies to the ultra wealthy — might just be the major reason that state budgets are in such trouble.

          As for any “creative, bold and innovatice” ideas from the Republicans: baaahaaaahaaaahaaa. You so effing funny, MFarmer.

          They just took back the house and what are their creative and bold ideas? Why more tax cuts for the wealthy because it worked so well at creating jobs during the first eight years of the new century.

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        • Mike, I think you have a pretty sharp observation that young people are much less attached to the Left, progressivism, certainly the Dem Party, etc., qua political affiliations than they are commonly portrayed to be. But at the same time, as ever, I think they are as instinctively moderate-progressive with social libertarian impulses (while not necessarily labelling themselves as such) as they ever were. They continue to like public aid for tuition and spending on public education at various levels. they like the idea of a robust social safety net, especially when emerging from educational years of increasingly questionable marketable value into punishing job market conditions. They basically buy the idea that it is the government’s responsibility to pursue policy that involves “doing things” that result in good or improving economic conditions. There is always the crop of young conservatives that has embraced opposing ideas, but they are the minority in their demographic. (Things change as time passes, as I know you know.)

          It doesn’t follow that you’re wrong that progressivism is in trouble. But if it, I think it s for reasons other than greatly changing views of young people. Young people as a class have good structural reasons to tend to be instinctively pretty (what some call) progressive, or (as I know you do term it) statist in a lot of areas, though also libertarian in others, and I don’t think that’s actually changing much, despite the fact that their political affiliations and self-descriptions do change.

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      • The spokespeople are paid to be spokespeople, but I think the actual divide is deeper than that.
        The unions had their roots in socialism. Something about the American unions made them co-opt capitalism and split from socialism (ie ownership of means of production). Public employee unions notably excepted; these are organizations where a privatized bureau of an entity enters into bargaining with other bureaus of that same entity.
        What we know as “progressive” is mainly the remnants of the student rallies of the 60’s. Through the 70’s, they became respectable and formed organizations. Through the 80’s, they were embedding their constraints into the culture. Pure radicalized identity politics.
        The current union model requires separate entities, while the Left is sort of notorious for their reliance on government.
        Most of the membership of more of the blue dog mold. I think they might see progressives as allies in roughly half of all cases, maybe less. They’re really from two different worlds.

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  5. What about the other aspects of the progressive agenda? Are you equating progressives with liberals? Although progressives/liberals definitely want business to be regulated, they seem more concerned about redistribution of wealth and the creation and funding of government programs to benefit the non-wealthy.

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    • If you think the GOP hasn’t been VERY concerned about the redistribution of wealth the past few decades, then you haven’t been paying attention or you’ve been watching far too much Fox news.

      We’ve had a massive redistribution of wealth this past decade under the GOP, all of it upward. We now have the greatest income inequality in history.

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      • I hear what you’re saying, and I agree. I’m not a Fox viewer, by the way, and consider myself an independent.

        But, I think conservatives have won the public relations battle on this front. When Democrats talk about programs to benefit the downtrodden, or even the middle class, people automatically assume their wallets are going to take a hit to pay for people who aren’t carrying their load.

        When Republicans/conservatives talk about helping business or giving businesses tax breaks, people tend to think they’re creating prosperity for the country, as well as jobs.

        The Wall Street bailouts did cause people to change their perceptions somewhat, but only barely. And, Democrats weren’t able to take advantage of the situation because they were seen as complicit or even entirely responsible for having bailed out Wall Street.

        Chrystia Freeland has written an article for the Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/the-rise-of-the-new-global-elite/8343/ where she talks about the global elite. A reviewer on this site sort of panned the article, but I think Freeland’s article deserves wide distribution.

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  6. It’s far more simple than that.

    Corporations, left to themselves, are secretive, greedy and sociopathic. Stockholders have no insight and no real control (unless they themselves are corporations and major holders), board members are cronies and self-policing is a joke. There must be oversight of some sort, and the legal system is insufficient to provide it (being largely a tool of the wealthy and well-connected).

    Governments, left to themselves are also not the best behaved but they have a well-defined method of control and influence which is (ad argumentum) equivalently available to all persons over whom it has jurisdiction. In reality the wealthy and well-connected have more sway here as well but at least there is some transparency.

    Progressives believe that with the appropriate amount of transparency and with a well-educated population that government can do well without running amok.

    Libertarians believe that government tends towards corruption and that’s bad. And that corporations do too (by your admission). And that we can control neither of them. So what’s the solution they offer?

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    • Just an observation. I’d say it’s like:
      “Progressives believe that with the appropriate amount of transparency and with a well-educated population that government can do well without running amok.”
      and:
      Libertarians believe that with the appropriate amount of transparency and with a well-educated consumer population that corporations can do well without running amok.

      And that criticisms of either view tends to be that they’re a tad too optimistic in their thinking.

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      • I’d say this: Progressives believe that more government regulations and a better government is the best way to keep corporations in line. Libertarians believe that more competition is the only way to keep corporations honest, and that more regulations tend to lead to less competition, thus protecting corporations from the best tool we have to keep them honest in the first place.

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        • The driving force of corporations is the need to maximize profits. Competition can deal with problems related to prices and customer service, unless the corporations form a cartel, but it’s not going to deal with problems like environmental damage, hazardous working conditions, or poor wages, because that’s not at the top of the list of what most buyers (or investors) take into account, and it takes a lot of effort to get an in-depth knowledge of the practices of different corporations in those areas. So in those cases, we need government intervention to reduce the adverse effects of corporate activities.

          The difference in my view is that libertarians tend to believe all government regulation is bad, while progressives certainly DON’T believe that all government regulation is good. For progressives, the addition of regulation is a means to an end (reducing harm by corporations); for libertarians, the removal of regulations IS the objective, and the effects of doing so are secondary.

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          • Katherine – I agree that safety and environment regulations can be necessary. But it’s important to still look at those regulations closely and make sure they’re not driving out competition to entrenched players by raising the barrier to entry in the market too high.

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          • The removal or reduction of regulations is a means to an end for libertarians as well. Their goal is to increase competition among businesses, thereby increasing efficiency and lowering prices.

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            • I would agree with you that the removal or reduction of regulations is a means to an end for libertarians. But you are wrong — completely and sadly wrong — if you think it is about efficiency and lower prices.

              It is about one thing and one thing only: increased profits.

              In the current Libertarian/Republican economic model, maximized profits are the only thing that matters and the only thing that they find of any value in a society.

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              • My dad always told me that the Republicans were the party of business, and that the Democrats were the party of the “little guy.” This characterization may have been more true in the past when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, but it’s not really true anymore, as Democrats have become more corporatized.

                Yes, you’re right that profits are the main goal of business. Libertarians/Republicans/conservatives likely would claim that increasing profits is good for the whole economy though in that increased profits likely would grow jobs.

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                • Disagree. In a real sense, libertarians are the not-a-party-ideological-grouping really committed to the little guy.

                  It might be more fair to have characterized Democrats as the party of organized non-commercial interests and Republicans as the party of organized commercial interests.

                  Now, it’s fair to characterize them as the parties of monied interests that bankroll my status as a member of the elite. And the children. And security.

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                • Again, I have to ask if you have been paying any attention to what has been happening in our economy lately? Not trying to be rude, just really curious how you look at the economic numbers and still believe that increased profits grow jobs? Or at least how they grow jobs here?

                  Increased profits this past decade have grown jobs in China. Jobs that pay a few cents an hour. WooHoo! Success.

                  And increased profits have been siphoned by the uber wealthy to create the biggest income disparity in history.

                  So what, again, is so great about a singular focus on profit? How about looking at other metrics for success?

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                  • Out of curiosity, does the “haven’t you people been paying attention?” thing work in your private life?

                    “Honey, should we get Italian Hamburger Helper or Bacon Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper for dinner on Thursday?”

                    “I honestly have to wonder if you have been paying attention.”

                    I can only expect that such a response would result in a chilly stare.

                    Here’s one of the things *I* noticed:
                    In the 90’s, new technologies were introduced to the world. Computers, mobile phones, the internet… all of these things were so new that the government didn’t know how to regulate them (remember windows being blasted for “bundling”? good times) and jobs were being created hand over fist.

                    It was when the regulations started kicking in that I noticed jobs starting to dry up and get outsourced.

                    That’s what *I* noticed. What should I have noticed, according to you?

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                    • I suspect there are more jobs working with, say, web sites, today than there were in 2001 or 1995. I suspect there are more ‘cell phone’ jobs today than in 2001. By definition ‘outsourced’ means jobs, just jobs that someone other than you is getting.

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                    • Jaybird,

                      It was when the regulations started kicking in that I noticed jobs starting to dry up and get outsourced.

                      Which regulations caused a slowdown of growth in jobs in the high tech industry? How did they do so? Are there fewer jobs, as a percentage of the population, now than there were before “the regulations started kicking in”? If not, how does that impact your hypothesis?

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                    • That’s the neoliberal (and libertarian, if I may be so bold) answer, I think.

                      The company wants the best person they can get for the least money (and bennies) they can pay.

                      The guy in America is demanding $65k, comprehensive health, dental, optical, a 401k, 3 paid weeks off a year, 10 holidays, and gym access.

                      The guy in India is demanding $23K, 3 holidays, and 1 paid week off a year.

                      They both give the same quality of work.

                      Which would you hire?

                      And, interestingly, the Indian guy is made *MUCH* richer (relatively) by the $23k (or was in the 90’s) than the American guy would be by the $65k.

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                    • My impression was classical consolidation. There’s plenty of jobs and money in these things, but it doesn’t look the way it did when it was new. You can’t start a search engine in your basement anymore. Just about everyone has cell phones now so $7/hr clerks sell them at Wal Mart rather than botiques in the mall.

                      That’s a very old story, though. Rockefeller put thousands of small oil drillers out of business. Carnagie did the same with steel. 1860 to about 1910 was about thousands of railroads going bankrupt and consolidating. There was once dozens of car companies until they got consolidated into the ‘big three’. You can even say the same for the big Hollywood studios. None of this was about ‘regulation’ as much as a maturing industry where economies of scale meant a few large companies rather than lots of little ones.

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                    • Which regulations caused a slowdown of growth in jobs in the high tech industry?

                      I worked with a guy who was coming up on his 18 months working there who was told by his manager to get ready to be laid off for 3 months (“don’t worry, we’ll pay your unemployment”) because, at two years, the law was to permanently hire a contractor as a full employee.

                      I was not a contractor, myself. I was a consultant working for a managed service. This meant that I could work for the company indefinitely… just, not as an employee with all of those employee protections that had been mandated.

                      I think it was around the time that that loophole was closed that my job went to Singapore.

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                    • Which would you hire?

                      The one that I can manage face-to-face, give immediate feedback to (and get immediate feedback from), pull into meetings when necessary, ask to talk to customers and suppliers in emergencies, and not be separated from by 10,000 miles and 12 time zones. if you’re smart, you get that one right the first time. If you’re the typical penny-wise, pound-foolish businessman who’s blinded by the difference in pay, you get it wrong for a few years first.

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                    • I’ll quote Neil Stephenson because, hey, why not?

                      Hiro, in Snow Crash, says:

                      once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel–once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity–y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else: music, movies, microcode(software), and high-speed pizza delivery.

                      There are some of the particulars that I’d disagree with but that paragraph strikes me as pretty goshdanged true.

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                    • ,

                      because, at two years, the law was to permanently hire a contractor as a full employee.

                      You’ll have to enlighten me on this–where is this the law? It’s not a federal law, and no state that I’m aware of has this requirement.

                      Are you sure it wasn’t just company policy?

                      And if the guy got laid off “for three months” and still receiving a salary, presumably he was re-hired, so is that really a “job lost”?

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                    • I can’t name the law for you. I don’t know what it was.

                      I just know that I worked with a long-term independent contractor who told me that he was periodically laid off in order to not have to be hired on as a permanent employee.

                      I also watched a *HUGE* number of permutations of contractor/consultant/managed services rigmarole in the tech industry that struck me as *MONUMENTALLY* inefficient. (You may remember Microsoft getting into a *LOT* of trouble with regards to long-term contractors in the 90’s.)

                      When I had discussions with management about this, I was told that there were laws that covered employees that didn’t cover contractors (or associateds) and miscategorized “employees” were potential lawsuits.

                      At the same time, I watched tons of jobs outsourced to Singapore, India, Costa Rica… I couldn’t help but wonder if these things weren’t all connected.

                      I suspect that they were.

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                    • There’s only four things we do better than anyone else

                      It;’s not a question of better vs. worse; work requires communication among the people doing it. Replace what Stephenson said with VR conferencing as real as face-to-face, instantaneous language translation, and artificial “natural” light that makes day and night merely conventions, and his conclusions mgith follow.

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                    • That contractor lay-off is almost certainly a company policy enacted in response to the ‘permatemp’ class action lawsuit against Microsoft back in the mid-90s. Microsoft was shuffling applicants off to temp agencies that would then rent them back to MS. The judge decided that they were de facto MS employees because they had their job function defined by Microsoft, they worked alongside Microsoft employees and they were retained for extended (i.e multiyear) periods. In the wake of this ruling, most every company that had been utilizing temps and contractors in a similar fashion implemented policies to keep them from being sued similarly, either by separating them from regular employees or by regular layoffs.

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                    • If my “honey” asked me what kind of hamburger helper I wanted for dinner, and I had been a vegetarian for the past eight years, then “I have to wonder if you’ve been paying attention” seems an appropriate response. Chilly stare or not.

                      The next appropriate response would be to seek the advice of a divorce attorney. If after eight years my honey was still trying to shove meat (or tax cuts for the rich) down my throat despite all evidence that I don’t eat meat (or acknowledge that tax cuts for the rich don’t create jobs for Americans), then I think it is time to move on.

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                    • Jaybird

                      > The guy in America is demanding $65k,
                      > comprehensive health, dental, optical,
                      > a 401k, 3 paid weeks off a year, 10
                      > holidays, and gym access.
                      >
                      > The guy in India is demanding $23K,
                      > 3 holidays, and 1 paid week off a year.
                      >
                      > They both give the same quality of work.
                      >
                      > Which would you hire?

                      Well, I’ll throw a monkey wrench into the works and say that I wouldn’t hire either of these bozos.

                      Anybody who is only demanding $65K/year (at least, in my local geography) is either really overpaid for a beginner, hugely underpaid for a quality employee, or part of a squishy middle I want no part of.

                      Give me a $90K person who actually knows what they’re doing or someone who will come in at ground at $40K whom I can train to do things the right way. Those squishy middle guys always turn out to have too many bad habits and not enough experience to overcome ’em.

                      Here closeth the tangent.

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                  • Maybe I should clarify. I’m not saying that increased profits for U.S. corporations and other businesses automatically translates into more jobs for people living in the U.S. I’m saying that this is the Republican/conservative view and their message. They bought into the familiar quote that conservatives often attribute to JFK, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that’s their dominant philosophy (propaganda?). I guess the current tide is lifting the boats of people in other parts of the world.

                    Generally, Republicans/conservatives win the message war. Their messaging is much more effective, especially when they talk about lowering everyone’s taxes, than the Democrats’/liberal class war message that smacks of class envy.

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          • “The difference in my view is that libertarians tend to believe all government regulation is bad, while progressives certainly DON’T believe that all government regulation is good.”

            This seems a caricature of libertarians rather than understanding them as they are. There are strictly ideological libertarians that do think that all government regulation is bad, but there are also more pragmatic and moderate libertarians who consider the costs and benefits of regulation (or deregulation) or how a lack of appropriate regulation can actually end up reducing liberty and violating personal property rights. (such as the need for environmental taxes/regulation) I think one of the central libertarian insights is that regulation can be counterproductive and can have unintended consequences. For example, rent controls have the effect of reducing housing supply, thus increasing prices for everyone else and encouraging blight.

            It seems to me that there’s a balance between ensuring enough competition between businesses and lowering barriers to entry for new businesses, and having the government enforce safety and environmental standards, provide information, etc. etc. Libertarians may have a bias towards the former, but I don’t think it’s fair to say they all just want to remove all regulations.

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        • Doesn’t this assume that less regulation will lead to more competition without explaining how to deal with entrenched players already in place?

          I guess I find it somewhat presumptuous to assume that more competition is a fait d’ accompli in the absence of regulation. Regulatory capture and crony capitalism aren’t the only means of stifling competition. You’ve taken a reasonable statement like “Is this regulation helping or hindering a level playing field?” and broadened it too far.

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    • “Corporations, left to themselves, are secretive, greedy and sociopathic.”

      Come on now — what do you really think? Seriously, you might be right about big, bloated, hierarchical corporations enmeshed with government, but there are plenty of companies which are on the cutting edge — mobile, transparent, creative, decentralized, etc. — that given the chance, sans competition-killing regulations, will likely lead the way to a totally different business environment. I guess my experience gives me a different view of business in general — Big Corporations? Yes, a lot of problems — smart business models with good, educated employees working in America’s niche in the global economy, brain work and creativity? No, they are not as you describe. Plus, a freer market would generate, in today’s changed work-world, smaller businesses with closer relationships between owner/manager/worker — there’s a lot of self-management — there’s contract employees — there’re individuals finding creative ways to work for themselves — the workplace in many small/medium companies is a different deal than the big factories and and such of yesteryear. Even some big companies are moving from big, slow and bureacratic to decentalized and flexible — the global economy is changing everything, and government is blocking a great deal of the necessary adjustment. George Gilder and Tom Peters wrote about a lot of these changes back in the 80s — we haven’t yet met the potential, and right now it seems everything is bogged down in debt and big government programs.

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      • Come on now — what do you really think? Seriously, you might be right about big, bloated, hierarchical corporations enmeshed with government, but there are plenty of companies which are on the cutting edge — mobile, transparent, creative, decentralized, etc. — that given the chance, sans competition-killing regulations, will likely lead the way to a totally different business environment

        I submit that every publicly traded corporation is so. And by definition must be, given the definition of fiduciary responsibility in our society. It’s up to you to provide a counter-example (historical or otherwise) which disproves the general rule.

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          • As I’ve said so many times I’m sick of writing it, it’s not about defending BIG Business — hell, in this statist environment, unless I know what type of government favors a business is receiving, I wouldn’t dare defend any business. I defend economic freedom. If companies abuse that freedom through fraud or the violation of people’s basic rights, then they should be punished, but not punished through pre-emptive regulation according to what they might do, or not doing exactly what the Stae wants them to do.

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            • That would be fine if we weren’t talking about a political philosophy and its effects on the Real World (TM).

              A small corporation free-market utopia is all well and good but what does it say about us. Today. And how to get anywhere near it?

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              • Utopia is a world that could not work even if it existed. A free market is possible, and it will very likely work better than what we have, although it will be difficut to establish — now,actually, is probably the best time for a free market, knowing what we know — and the problem of establishment might be solved for us as statism unravels.

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            • I’ve come to see over time that you and I agree on more than I once thought, but here is where I get lost. You’ve made it abundantly clear that you hold no love for BIG business, but I don’t see how you can get economic freedom without solving the BIG business problem.

              The free market is anathema to BIG business, but they hold tremendous power, not only via government capture but also through their immense wealth, and they will not go quietly into a free market. Even collapse of the state, which is the only route to a free market I’ve ever seen you propose, would not necessarily zero out that power.

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          • I think I pretty much agreed with you about Big Corporations, which probably wouldn’t exist in my free market world.

            The trend in many industries (software, for instance), is toward consolidation. Why would that change?

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            • I don’t know how it works with all industries; but I know that in Oregon/Washington when companies that reach the tipping point where they become too large to be efficient and competitive, they are bailed out by governments. They get tax breaks at almost every level of government. In Oregon, some corporations area able to negotiate little or no taxes with the threat that without that treatment they will take their jobs elsewhere and leave many very unhappy voters behind.

              It’s a bit more indirect than you were looking for, I’m guessing, but I suspect that without such favors consolidation at a massive not be so profitable, and consequently wouldn’t happen.

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      • “Plus, a freer market would generate, in today’s changed work-world, smaller businesses with closer relationships between owner/manager/worker”

        Really? Are you kidding me with this? Since the Regan 80s we have been on a deregulation binge. And where are all those smaller companies you talk about? You see it, perhaps in emerging tech markets. But otherwise the trend is toward larger and larger corporations.

        Finance is a great example. Largely deregulated over the past few decades and now we have five banks that control something like 90% of the market.

        How’s that deregulation working for you in creating smaller businesses that foster a closer relationship with owner/manager/worker?

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      • I’ve worked for startups, and I know oodles and oodles of more people that have as well.

        In my experience, the vast majority of them die. A smaller percentage, but the vast majority of the survivors, start to model the big corporations.

        The “new business culture” companies are vanishingly small percentage of business entities.

        It seems to me much more common that everyone who makes management forgets everything they learned about leadership in business school.

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    • “Libe0rtarians believe that government tends towards corruption and that’s bad. And that corporations do too (by your admission). And that we can control neither of them. So what’s the solution they offer?”

      Property rights. Ie, the opposite of progressivism.

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      • “Libertarians believe that government tends towards corruption and that’s bad. And that corporations do too (by your admission). And that we can control neither of them. So what’s the solution they offer?”

        Property rights. Ie, the opposite of progressivism.

        Yeah. Nice soundbite. Exactly how does my property rights prevent, say, Bhopal?

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          • It might not. Question is, can Bhopal be prevented?

            If not we better hang it up as a species.

            Note to E.D.: This is yet another anecdote which leads towards that nasty “Libertarians don’t care about people” meme you decry so much.

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            • I care about people. Really. You seem to have a chip on your shoulder, if you don’t mind me saying so. Do you really think that libertarians don’t care about people? What does that even mean? We’re some soulless species not quite human?

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            • Koz – if I recall correctly – is not a libertarian, he is a conservative. And he has a point – up to a point. Some things can’t be prevented or predicted, no matter how hard we try. I don’t fall into the camp that says no regulations ever on anything; I believe safety regulations should be soberly applied to industrial outfits. But take the financial sphere – can we regulate them faster than they can find and exploit our loopholes?

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              • Call me naive, but at the popint that we discover these financial entities doing underhanded and fraudulent things, is there no way to hold them accountable? And does this speak to the larger issue of corporations as people? In other words, the corporation takes the hit for the bad thing while the individuals responsible have immunity?

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                • As long as you are looking for ways a free market can’t exist the further we get from ever creating one — the problems of protecting people from unlawful actions and unscrupulous actors can be solved. It takes creative solutions. In the specialty, private hospitals where I worked, we voluntarily became accredited through a nationally recognized, respcted, private agency who gave the seal of approval — we wanted the approval to give confidence to referral sources and consumers — they checked EVERYTHING with fine-toothed comb — there are ways. And, as I said, in a free market, corporations are unprotected. When your survival is solely dependent on consumr satisfaction and public relations/image, esp in the internet/information world, it would be suicide for a company to be unscrupulous. There would be no gain for a quick con. As consumers become even more sopisticated knowing they should do due diligence, at the tip of their fingers is the info they need.

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                  • I think I agree with you, but to a point though. It almost sounds like you’re arguing that the reason companies can act like douchebags, pollute the enviroment (like BP), poison the air and kill people (like Dow Chemical), etc. is that they are given to much help from either regulation or government? That’s where I’m not sure I follow. I mean, the stock may have taken a hit and this may have forced the companies to slash the easy line-items (labor) in response, but how have the actors who were responsible for these decisions (and here I’m talking about the faulty well construction and operation at the BP rig) held accountable?

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                    • I bet there would be cross-ideological support for criminal penalties for what are now largely considered “civil” crimes.

                      The Oil Protection Act of 1990 [a reaction to the Exxon Valdez in ’89] has criminal penalties for company executives for spilling oil, even if only by institutional [but willful] negligence. The principle is already established.

                      Bad faith insurer denial of medical procedures [like Roy Scheider in in Grisham’s “The Rainmaker”], stuff like that.

                      I think there are few who don’t get righteously indignant when somebody steals $100 million and are fined 50, or when people die who shouldn’t have.

                      I’m not a huge tort reform guy meself, since often that’s the only justice available to the wronged. However, I’d rather see smaller punitive monetary damages and a few more crooks in jail. The chilling effect on malfeasance of potentially doing time is surely stronger than the threat of mere fines and financial compensations, which are already figured into the price of doing business.

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                    • Bingo, Tom. Especially when the guys, when they have to pay, are already making bank to begin with or manage to have their wealth tied up in property that is protected from bankruptcy laws or being seized in civil penalties.

                      And right again on the tort reform. Being that it is the little guy’s only recourse, it seems problematic to tinker too much. My concern has always been folks who argue for tort reform based on the ridiculous McDonalds “Hot coffee” lawsuit in order to protect the really big fish from financial penalties when they are negligent.

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                    • I like that, Mike. It seems I’d heard that there was a cap on liability. And here is where I think folks end up going right past each other depending on who the villians are in their worldview. Some people see this as bad companies buying the votes that enact this kind of cap while others see bad government in the fact that they basically sold their votes and enacted bad policy thatharms us all in the long run. One of the other smarter folks commented on this very thing in another thread a few days ago and said much the same thing. Sometimes we end up fighting with each other because we don’t get pissed off about the fucked up results, we get pissed off that the other guy doesn’t see the same villian we do. Regardless, the results are the same and the blame is certainly not so unilateral re: government v. big business.

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                    • I’m sure you’ve hit on something there, Tom.
                      I was thinking about this. There are an awful lot of safety regulations that I have to follow these days. A lot of the old-timers are against all of the safety. They tell me that, in the old days, you pretty much knew what was safe and what wasn’t, and the regulations are just an excuse for the company to get rid of someone that they want to let go.
                      But historically, before there were these safety regulations, there was insurance. So many men would die on such-and-such project, and they had it pretty much figured out months before it would happen. Get the insurance company to pay off the family, and everything’s ok. And there’s always going to be enough desperate people in this world that we’ll never run out of cannon fodder, so the company really has no issue in replacing workers. Everyone’s happy.
                      Except the dead guy. He’s still pissed.
                      At any rate, once the penalty became more than buying an insurance policy, measures were put into place to promote worker safety.

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                    • Yes, Will H. “Corporate responsibility” is an oxymoron outside $$. Personal responsibility is all there is in any “moral” or “ethical” sense.

                      [I do not quite know what those words mean anymore. I seldom use them, as their use has become idiosyncratic, and therefore largely useless. What is immoral for you is ethical for me, and vice-versa. Fish that.]

                      [I hate this fishing threading. I could not reply directly to Mr. WH’s very good comment because the threading limit has apparently been reached.]

                      [Fish!]

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                  • Regarding hospitals and accreditation, hospitals aren’t required to get accredited now.

                    Unless they want to get paid.

                    Insurance companies — public as well as private — refuse to pay medical bills from unaccredited institutions.

                    The only “clinics” that can afford to go without accreditation or licensing are those that cater to very wealthy or very desperate individuals who can afford to write a check for the “treatments” they receive.

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              • “Some things can’t be prevented or predicted, no matter how hard we try.”

                That’s true but it’s only part of the answer. In addition, the actions that are intended to cause or prevent some outcome can have other consequences as well. Therefore we should be careful not to extraneously pollute our intent and purpose.

                The fewer things we try to accomplish the more likely that we can accomplish them.

                Can we prevent a chemical plant from releasing poisonous gases into its surroundings. Well, yes.

                Can we run such a chemical plant to be profitable? Probably.

                Can we run such a plant to produce x tons of y every month? Maybe.

                Can we run such a plant if the unionized shift workers get ten minutes for a cigarette break each hour?

                ………..

                Can we run such a plant where all vendors must be committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?

                At some point the answer is going to be no.

                As a practical matter there’s a lot of value in trying to figure out what can be done instead of what we want to do.

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              • E.D.

                > But take the financial sphere – can we regulate
                > them faster than they can find and exploit our
                > loopholes?

                Probably not, if we allow them the opportunity to cross-pollinate their business operations. So, just… don’t let them do that?

                If you lock down capitalization requirements for an organization operating as a classical bank, you’ll wind up with a lot of boring conservative banks that make 3-5% a year and never show up on the “fastest growing” index and don’t have any flashy CEOs (and people can actually invest in reasonably safely)… and a financial industry that has to decouple itself from that in order to offer riskier investments.

                There’s nothing wrong with riskier investments, mind you.

                If you’re playing the arms race with regulation, you’re probably doing it wrong. You’re certainly putting in as many loopholes as you’re taking out. So don’t bother.

                “This is a bank. If you want to borrow money from the Fed, you need to look like this. If you don’t look like this, you’re not a bank and you can’t have a bank as a wholly owned subsidiary, nor can you be owned by a bank as a wholly owned subsidiary. You can still do anything else you want, but you can’t leverage your other financial operations using capital from deposits that are secured under FDIC.”

                I like simple regulations, myself.

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  7. we limit the ability of the government …

    Stop right there.

    How? Every one of the 50 states has a government of general powers. The federal government is, largely, one of general powers that defers certain topics to the states. The attempt to restrain the power of the federal government failed over 75 years ago. Despite a great deal of moaning by libertarians and certain conservatives on this point, no one, repeat no one, of any stature in the Republican party has launched a major concerted effort to amend the Constitution to restrict the federal government’s powers.

    The liberal view is that government is (a) one way in which power is exercised and (b) a major way in which conflict is resolved in our society without violence. The liberal view of libertarians is that libertarians want liberals to retire from the field of competition over government, so that conservatives and oligarchs can have unrestrained power to shape government to their advantage.

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      • And let’s face it, it’s not quite true on its own terms either. As various people have noted at this blog, there’s a substantial legal war over the health care bill and right now it could go either way.

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    • “The liberal view of libertarians is that libertarians want liberals to retire from the field of competition over government, so that conservatives and oligarchs can have unrestrained power to shape government to their advantage.”

      Well, yeah. If liberals had anything useful to contribute we would have seen it by now.

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        • Yes, and we have. That’s the crucial difference between conservatives and liberals. As conservatives, we defeated Communism, reformed welfare, strengthened the military and restored the economy during the last existential crisis.

          For whatever deficiencies we can assign to George W Bush (and there are many) or any other conservative or Republican, we can always say, “Check the tape.” We get our seat at the table. Liberals can’t say the same.

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          • As conservatives, we defeated Communism

            Really? And all this time I was thinking it was left-wing movements in Eastern Europe like Solidarity….

            reformed welfare

            Would that be the welfare reform that Bill Clinton campaigned on in 1992 and worked to pass? It did have more Republican than Democratic votes, but over 50% of Democrats in Congress voted for it….

            strengthened the military

            That would be the same military currently engaged in two losing wars?

            restored the economy during the last existential crisis

            I don’t think that conservatives take much credit for TARP.

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            • “Really? And all this time I was thinking it was left-wing movements in Eastern Europe like Solidarity….”

              Yep, really. In fact that’s actually an interest of mine. Suffice today, the main antagonists of the Cold War were the US and the USSR. The spiritual crucible where the endgame occurred was in Eastern Europe.

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              • Please describe how, specifically, conservatives defeated Communism. Because the traditional narrative of the arms race doesn’t hold any water when you look at the real numbers.

                What is clear is that Solidarity, the Velvet Revolution, etc, etc, etc, were the primary cause of the fall of the Warsaw Pact and, eventually, the Soviet Union. Conservatives did very little to aid this process.

                Indeed, I’d argue that Pope John Paul II had a much larger role in defeating Soviet/Eastern European Communism than anything any American did.

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                • “Indeed, I’d argue that Pope John Paul II had a much larger role in defeating Soviet/Eastern European Communism than anything any American did.”

                  I nothing but tremendous respect and admiration for the role of JPII in the fall of Communism.

                  Nonetheless the main antagonists of the Cold War were the US and the USSR. In particular, the United States under the leadership and energy of President Reagan successfully asserted (in many ways) the superior anthropology of the capitalist West. Supposedly somebody once asked of Reagan his understanding of the Cold War. He replied, “We win, and they lose.”

                  Among other things see How Democracies Perish by Jean-Francois Revel and John O’Sullivan’s book.

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                  • In particular, the United States under the leadership and energy of President Reagan successfully asserted (in many ways) the superior anthropology of the capitalist West. Supposedly somebody once asked of Reagan his understanding of the Cold War. He replied, “We win, and they lose.”

                    Are you saying that Reagan’s rhetoric caused the collapse of Soviet Communism?

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                    • Actually, the intent behind the rhetoric was the critical element.

                      The Reagan-era Cold War had many fronts: Poland, Central America, Afghanistan, the arms race/SDI, and the public debate as well. It was Reagan’s intent to vigorously contest the Cold War on those fronts. It was the intent of the Greater Red State America of the time to empower Reagan to do it.

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                    • The Reagan-era Cold War had many fronts: Poland

                      Which was pretty much fought by the Poles and the Pope with little, if any, American involvement. (Reagan HIMSELF said this.)

                      Central America

                      In which Reagan supported right-wing terrorist despots in their wars against left-wing democracies with no appreciable harm to the Soviets.

                      Afghanistan

                      In which American policy began with Carter and was largely continued by the liberal Democratic Congress, particularly the very liberal Charlie Wilson.

                      the arms race/SDI

                      Policies that Reagan abandoned in 1983, after which he began a very vigorous policy of arms reduction talks with the Soviets. A policy which was very popular — among everyone but conservatives, who derided him as weak. In 1987, the Washington Times editorial board compared Reagan to Neville Chamberlain.

                      But even this disarmament policy had little, if anything, to do with the collapse of Soviet Communism. Soviet Communism collapsed because of left-wing Eastern Europes successful, peaceful toppling of Warsaw Pact governments, combined with Catholic opposition and — PRIMARILY — because Communism isn’t a sustainable economic system.

                      and the public debate as well

                      Public debate in the Cold War was over means, not ends. Both parties were staunchly anti-communist. You may recall that Kennedy ran against Nixon by claiming that the Eisenhower Administraiton was too weak in the face of Soviet power.

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                    • Alex, I don’t think that this is a winnable argument. Koz writes liberals out of his equation; unsurprising considering his position as the Leagues resident GOP apparatchik. But he’s not wrong.
                      My understanding is that Regan did ramp up the military which forced the USSR to follow suit. But the economies of the market west had grown and strengthened while the economies of the communist east had atrophied and the strain overloaded them which led to Gorbachev’s attempt at retooling and then led to the collapse.
                      Koz leaves out, of course, the roles of Liberals and Democrats in containment and all the other policies of the Cold War administrations and conveniently forgets that it was the liberal response to the communist critique of capitalism that led to skyrocketing improvements in the welfare of the average worker and improving opportunity and equality for people of all walks of life that bolstered the west and undermined the communist Raison d’être. But when push comes to shove the final blow that shattered the Communist façade was delivered by Regan so I don’t begrudge the Gipper his claim to it. Pity the GOP’s pretty much been coasting on that ever since.

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                    • “Public debate in the Cold War was over means, not ends. Both parties were staunchly anti-communist.”

                      No no no. The era Harry Truman and Scoop Jackson was long gone by then. Among other reasons, this is why I have emphasized living memories in this line of comments (as opposed to end of slavery or child labor laws or whatever).

                      I know for a cold fact that anti-Communism was considered the province of the Right during the early-middle 80s. I can’t think of a solitary person who would be fairly characterized as anti-Communist liberal at the time, either among my friends and acquaintances or politically prominent people. The Democrats who supported Reagan’s anti-Communist foreign policy either became Republicans a la Kirkpatrick or Boll Weevils like Charlie Wilson.

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                    • “Koz writes liberals out of his equation;….

                      Come on North, gimme a little more credit. I’d hope we could agree by now that after having killed millions of pixels writing about the horrific and manifold failures of liberalism, I plainly do not write liberals out of the equation.

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                    • “Policies that Reagan abandoned in 1983, after which he began a very vigorous policy of arms reduction talks with the Soviets.”

                      Yikes. Certainly you’re aware that SDI started in 1983, right?

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                    • ,

                      I know people like to give credit to the Gipper, but I fail to see what he actually did to make Communism fall. Moynihan noted in a speech in 1986 that Soviet collapse was pretty much inevitable.

                      ,

                      I know for a cold fact that anti-Communism was considered the province of the Right during the early-middle 80s. I can’t think of a solitary person who would be fairly characterized as anti-Communist liberal at the time, either among my friends and acquaintances or politically prominent people. The Democrats who supported Reagan’s anti-Communist foreign policy either became Republicans a la Kirkpatrick or Boll Weevils like Charlie Wilson.

                      First of all, Charlie Wilson was no Boll Weevil — he was one of the most liberal members of Congress.

                      Secondly, the primary debate regarding the Soviets in the 1980s was not over anti-Communism, it was over the necessity of hawkish postures and increased defense spending. Ted Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Tip O’Neill were all anti-Communist, but disagreed with Reagan’s approach — not the fundamental anti-Communist character of U.S. foreign policy.

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                    • The thing Reagan did that we should all be thankful for was realizing that glasnost and perestrokia were real, and that engaging with Gorbachev was the right path forward. That led directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union and a peaceful resolution of the Cold War. In this effort, Reagan had the full support of the Democratic Party. He was opposed by the usual gang of alarmist idiots (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, etc.) who thought that Gobrachev was pulling the wool over the eyes of a naive, idealistic, and perhaps senile Reagan. (Now they all worship at the shrine of St. Reagan, of course., expecting the rest of us to have short memories. )

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                    • ,

                      You’re right – my mistake to allow your mistake of lumping the arms race/SDI policies together when they are, in fact, quite separate.

                      Reagan abandoned the arms race in favor of disarmament prior to the 1984 election and spent his second term being accused of weakness by conservatives.

                      SDI, however, was just a defense boondoggle that did not impact Soviet collapse and still, 28 years later, isn’t even close to working.

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                    • ,

                      The thing Reagan did that we should all be thankful for was realizing that glasnost and perestrokia were real, and that engaging with Gorbachev was the right path forward. That led directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union and a peaceful resolution of the Cold War.

                      That’s an excellent point. You’re right – we do owe Reagan, the real man, credit for that part of the Cold War. But not Reagan, the myth.

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                    • “Soviet Communism collapsed because of left-wing Eastern Europes successful, peaceful toppling of Warsaw Pact governments, combined with Catholic opposition and — PRIMARILY — because Communism isn’t a sustainable economic system…..”

                      Whatever can be said for this, it’s clearly post-hoc. The mainstream Left did not believe this at the time, and in fact was substantially organized around the opposite proposition.

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                    • The mainstream Left did not believe this at the time, and in fact was substantially organized around the opposite proposition.

                      Are you kidding? Democrats opposed hawkishness in favor of the traditional doctrince of containment, which was PREMISED on the idea of Sovet collapse.

                      Both Zbigniew Brzezinski and Daniel Patrick Moynihan were prominent Democrats who argued that Soviet collapse was inevitable, and the Carter Administration had contingency plans in place for Soviet collapse.

                      On the right, those who thought Soviet collapse inevitable, such as current SecDef Robert Gates, were generally derided as delusional.

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                    • “That led directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union and a peaceful resolution of the Cold War. In this effort, Reagan had the full support of the Democratic Party. He was opposed by the usual gang of alarmist idiots (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, etc.) who thought that Gobrachev was pulling the wool over the eyes of a naive, idealistic, and perhaps senile Reagan.”

                      No no no. It is true that Reagan was very concerned about the moral implications of nuclear weapons, and the rest of the Right didn’t care about it or made their peace with them. But nuclear weapons were only a part of the equation, arguably a small part at that. The real key to engagement with the Soviets was pretty simple, “We win and they lose.”

                      That’s what crossed all the fronts that’s where the Left in America was on the other side. Mostly because they misjudged the nature of Communism but also because a significant number of them were plainly disloyal, it’s worth remembering.

                      More significantly, and contrary to the thought of nearly the entire liberal-Left at the time “we win and they lose” was not a belligerent strategy. It was the refusal of the United States to forclose on its own future and the best outcome of all parties.

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                    • “Or does his anti-communist stance, by definition, disqualify him from being considered a liberal?”

                      The liberals thought so (after the Carter Administration fell and he had no official portfolio).

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                    • The real key to engagement with the Soviets was pretty simple, “We win and they lose.”

                      That’s what crossed all the fronts that’s where the Left in America was on the other side. Mostly because they misjudged the nature of Communism but also because a significant number of them were plainly disloyal, it’s worth remembering.

                      Please name one prominent Democrat, holding political office during the 1980s, who fits this description. Show your work and cite your sources.

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                    • Koz, as you like to say: no, no, no.

                      Interesting how you need to cherry pick history to try to make your point. You go from Truman to Reagan, completely dismissing the very anti-communist democratic administrations of Kennedy and Johnson and then Carter. You also seem to want to forget the Nixon administration that was often berated from the far right for not being anti-commie enough.

                      You also expect us all to take as “cold hard fact” what you and your friends felt at the time as being historically correct.

                      No, no, no.

                      You also seem to equate somehow being anti-Reagan and anti-Star Wars as being pro-communist. You were foolish enough to believe the corporatist GOP rhetoric of the time that lobbied hard for the huge increase in defense spending to line their pockets.

                      I thought you libertarians were against the collusion of corporate and government power?

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                    • “Implying that you ignore liberals is indeed quite inaccurate.”

                      Well, I’m glad we could correct the record on that score at least.

                      As far as the positive liberal impacts go, I don’t write them out of the equation, it’s just that for the most part they don’t exist and to whatever extent they do isn’t worth worrying about.

                      For example, there is a theory (I think you alluded to), that the New Deal was in fact the saving grace of capitalism, otherwise we in America would have gotten caught in the socialist/Communist undertow that consumed most of Europe. There may be something to be said for that theory and I for one don’t have any particular objections to it.

                      But, it’s necessarily obscure for us. The important facts, ie relative strengths of cultural currents and political allegiances, are out of our memories and we have to accept secondhand opinions for. And, the connections to the present political environment are more or less nebulous.

                      For real contemporary accomplishments that don’t have those problems, there just aren’t any. That’s the point of this line of comments.

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                    • “You go from Truman to Reagan, completely dismissing the very anti-communist democratic administrations of Kennedy and Johnson and then Carter. You also seem to want to forget the Nixon administration that was often berated from the far right for not being anti-commie enough.”

                      Well, yeah. Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson’s foreign policy don’t fit in contemporary lib-Demo politics, that’s the whole point. And you have heard the cliche “Nixon to China” right? Ie, because he was Nixon he had the credibility to that as an anti-Communist.

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                    • Koz,

                      If you only want to talk about people and administrations that fit the contemporary Dem/GOP political dynamic, then you don’t get to talk about Reagan.

                      As much as the right-wingers like to idolize Reagan, he wouldn’t stand the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected as a Republican today. He might make it on a Dem ticket, however.

                      Reagan was a very moderate, centrist conservative by today’s GOP standards, which are extreme right and moving even further to the right with each election.

                      Today’s political dynamic is between the extreme right GOP and the centrist Dems. Sadly for those of us who are more liberal, there is very little liberal or progressive about today’s Democratic party. Which is why they don’t get my support as a party.

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                  • “Please name one prominent Democrat, holding political office during the 1980s, who fits this description. Show your work and cite your sources.”

                    Ted Weiss, Ronald Dellums for starters.

                    http://www.knology.net/~bilrum/ips1.htm
                    http://www.chronwatch-america.com/blogs/330/The-socialistcommunistradical-background-of-Ron-Dellums.html

                    For Sen Edward Kennedy, the existence and purpose of his 1986 trip to Russia might still be controversial I think but there’s substantial reason to suspect he was playing for the other team as well.

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      • “If liberals had anything useful to contribute we would have seen it by now.”

        Are half the people on this blog twelve years old with no knowledge of history?

        Just a few of the things liberals have contributed off the top of my head:
        – Universal education
        – Child labor laws
        – Food safety laws
        – Medical safety laws
        – Worker safety / protection laws
        – Environmental protection laws
        – Women’s suffrage
        – Civil rights for women and at least some minorities
        – Voting rights
        – End to slavery
        – Legal contraception (particularly popular)
        – Integration of the military
        – Our social safety net
        – Legal protection of religious freedoms

        So that’s a very few. I’d love to see a list from conservatives/libertarians.

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        • “- End to slavery”

          Who are you, the last surviving hundred-some year old son of a veteran of Sherman’s march to the sea? I doubt it.

          There’s a lot to quibble with on your list about what liberals are responsible for. But it is telling that they’re all in the history books. When it comes to people’s living memory it gets real thin real fast.

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          • Koz, I think you and Bucky are off-base here. Liberals and conservatives have both contributed to all sorts of good and bad in this country. I would give liberals and religious activists credit for the Civil Rights movement, for instance. Abolitionists were a mixed bunch – some liberals, yes, but also a number of very socially conservative Christians. The political spectrum was obviously much different in that time. The Republican Party ended slavery, after all.

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            • “Koz, I think you and Bucky are off-base here. Liberals and conservatives have both contributed to all sorts of good and bad in this country.”

              Well, on this one we might actually agree more than you think. My points are, whatever liberals are claiming credit for:

              1. is a long time in the past.
              2. has a nebulous connection at best to the current Right/Left divide in American politics as we understand it.
              3. ignores the changes in generally apolitical American public opinion which in many cases were primarily responsible.

              That’s why I like to talk about things like Kemp-Roth or the welfare reform bill, which

              1. are in the living memory of most adults today.
              2. where the political environment was more or less the same Left/Right divide we see today,
              3. where the political Right beat, co-opted or rolled the Left,

              and most importantly,

              4. actually accomplished tangible good things for America.

              That’s exactly where Left has nowhere to hang their hat.

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                    • I thought that was supposed to be a right wing cheap shot. In any case, whatever Al Gore did to invent the Internet was not a Right-Left battle.

                      The tax hike of that time is a much better example. That was a situation where mainstream conservatives clearly got rolled. It’s plausible to say that now that that bill was a good thing. It’s less plausible to say that it’s world-alteringly meaningful.

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                    • No, it wasn’t a right/left battle, but I’m not sure it has to be. What it was, it seems to me, was a liberal legislator visualizing the potential of a universally accessible information network and then having the federal government step in to make it so.

                      I’m not a big fan of liberalism, but I can’t deny that the results are pretty fabulous.

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                    • “No, it wasn’t a right/left battle, but I’m not sure it has to be.”

                      But it does for my point. If Left-liberal activism has accomplished essentially nothing there is no reason to participate in it.

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                    • My bad, then. I thought you were saying that liberals had never accomplished anything that made the country tangibly better. Didn’t know that marching with signs prior was a prerequisite.

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                    • “Didn’t know that marching with signs prior was a prerequisite.”

                      Yeah, otherwise what are the people marching with signs expecting to accomplish? Damn little really.

                      This is actually very important for other reasons you might not expect, but I like to harp on whenever I get the chance. Liberals as people are very often tremendously talented energetic accomplished. Liberals as political actors are entirely useless.

                      Therefore it is to our benefit and theirs that liberals find other things to do except political activism.

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          • Then how about gay rights? Also, I’m not that old, and i remember people debating pretty viscously about whether or not States had a responsibility to forbid interracial marriage… you know, for the children.

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            • “Then how about gay rights?”

              That’s probably the best answer liberals have. Even there, a lot of responsibility has to go to the changing perception of homosexuality by Americans in general over the last twenty years or so.

              And, if the issue stays where it is (ie, widespread public acceptance of homosexuality but limited availability of gay marriage) the liberals might not want to claim it anyway. Their theory of gay marriage assures us that’s a horrible place to be anyway.

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              • “Even there, a lot of responsibility has to go to the changing perception of homosexuality by Americans in general over the last twenty years or so.”

                I think that’s the point. The pendulum always swings back and forth, and public perception is always changing. It seems disingenuous, then, to say things that liberals have accomplished don’t really count because attitudes were changing anyway, but things conservatives have accomplished are a testament to their awesomeness.

                And this coming from a conservative.

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                • “It seems disingenuous, then, to say things that liberals have accomplished don’t really count because attitudes were changing anyway, but things conservatives have accomplished are a testament to their awesomeness.”

                  I agree it seems disingenuous, prima facie, nonetheless to a substantial extent it really did shake out that way.

                  That’s why, we should look carefully into the political accountability where we recognize the players and we know where they fit projected into our current environment.

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                  • Perhaps, but I suspect that liberals would say the same. It seems more likely to me that both sides contribute good and bad, but we tend to remember our sides “goods” and the other’s “bads” disproportionately.

                    Hence, no liberals I know ever be reminded of the “what is the definition of ‘is'” silliness without wanting to change the subject, and no conservative I know can be reminded of the dire importance of the Freedom Fries Act without cringing.

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                    • Right, that’s why you should ignore the irrelevant gasbaggery and look at who got the big picture right and and successfully executed on it. For liberals it gets real thin real fast.

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    • “The liberal view of libertarians is that libertarians want liberals to retire from the field of competition over government, so that conservatives and oligarchs can have unrestrained power to shape government to their advantage.”

      What an odd view. If this is true, it ranks right up there with other crazy conspiracy theories, like Birtherism or Trutherism

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      • Oh really?

        Here are some of the really hard questions facing this country:
        How to pay for the delivery of health care / how to allocate health care spending;
        The size and responsibilities of the military;
        Unemployment;
        Allocation of gains in GDP;
        Pollution, including CO2 and equivalents;
        Inadequate infrastructure, including roads, rail, airports, water, sewer and data.

        The number of these problems that will be solved by deregulation: zero.

        The number of successes in federal deregulation in any field: very few, and all of those had bi-partisan support.

        Yes, EPA could move away from command-and-control regs in certain areas. But the Fed and the banking regulators gave our finance industry free rein for a decade and that little experiment required a multi-billion dollar bailout. Maybe Dodd-Frank binds a little too tight, but on the other hand Enron was one of a series of corporate corruption scandals. Yes, Obamacare could have taken a more market-friendly approach, but the Republicans’ last legislation addressing health care was to pass Medicare Part D, using borrowed dollars.

        So when libertarians talk about diminishing state power, the liberal response is “How?” If you’re asking us simply to accept less regulation of corporate activity, the answer is No. The deregulators had their chance in the Bush admin and cost the taxpayers staggering sums of money. We’re not inclined to repeat that mistake.

        So get in the policy weeds and start making the case for specific, targeted deregulation. Where precisely should government lift its heavy hand?

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        • “So get in the policy weeds and start making the case for specific, targeted deregulation. Where precisely should government lift its heavy hand?”

          We should repeal Obamacare. This will bring many benefits if successful, not least of which is saving the hundreds of billions of dollars on subsidy/exchange/mandate framework.

          Fortunately this is a top priority for the incoming Republican House of Representatives. You get the chance to support them and help America.

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          • *snort* They get to pass their meaningless repeal bill that’ll vanish without a trace into the Senate and then we find out if they have any actual ideas. Either they’ll propose either reforms to the existing “Obamacare” or they’ll propose an alternative.
            Since I haven’t seen any sign that the GOP has an alternative my money is on the bet that they’ll toss their symbolic vote to the tea party and change the subject. But maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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            • The actual fate of the health care bill is completely unpredictable at this point.

              The reason why your scenario may not come to pass is just what I wrote before. The subsidy/mandate/exchange thing costs lots and lots of money. The appropriation to fund those costs haven’t been made and the GOP has no commitment to make them. And in the current political environment unlike the past there is a lot of mileage in cutting government spending.

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  8. In theory, libertarians oppose corporations engaging in anti-competitive practices. In practice, they tend to support primarily anti-government solutions. Yet, as I read history, when government was smaller and weaker, the large corporations held just as much, if not more , influence as they do now.

    I think much of this tension between liberals and libertarians cannot be resolved. There is no perfect way to keep business and government apart. Where I think the two groups could form more common cause, is at the local level. I think that while we concentrate on federal issues, local regulations and taxes have more of an impact on smaller businesses.

    Steve

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    • “Yet, as I read history, when government was smaller and weaker, the large corporations held just as much, if not more , influence as they do now. ”

      Like how? The only way corporations can have coercive power is through government. But I don’t know what you mean by “influence” – influence is not bad, per se. Corporations, without government backing, can’t force anyone to do anything, unless they are enforcing a contractual agreement. But corporations can’t force people to buy products, which is why they are in business — they are not in business to influence in any other way that I know of, unless it’s to influence government to favor them, or give them subsidies — but that’s due to government taking on the ability to do so. I’m not sure what you mean. What do you mean by influence, and what is your example?

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      • I think that the railroads would be the best example. Government was smaller. Taxes were lower. You still had government and business colluding together. Any government effective enough to defend a large country also needs to be able to collect the taxes to do so. You have then established a minimum level of of ability by the government to collude with business. Therefore, concentrating on the government side of the problem alone, provides no answer.

        Steve

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        • Doubtful, Francis. So few people on this thread seem even marginally informed. Which might explain why they always vote (Republican) to support the rights of the extremely wealthy against their own best interests.

          Unless everyone commenting on this thread are leisurely heirs or overpaid incompetent corporate executives.

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          • Bucky:

            You are so right about us poor deluded folks that vote GOP. Thanks for opening my eyes to my exploitation. Someday I hope to be rich which certainly won’t happen with Dems in charge.

            Unions which at one time were necessary have become nothing more than company destroying wage extortionists. Breaking PATCO was one of the best things Regan ever did.

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          • Yes. Some of my employees have relatives killed in the Lattimer massacre. The abusive practices of the mine owners created the conditions. The sheriff and his posse were largely seen as employees of the coal mine.

            Steve

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            • “The sheriff and his posse were largely seen as employees of the coal mine.”

              When Libertarians whine about “regulatory capture”, this is one of the things they’re whining about.

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                • This is one of those things that strikes me as overdetermined.

                  First off, Reconstruction failed.

                  We’re within living memory of slavery… so we’re well within the window for people having an attitude of ownership of other people.

                  The miners are poor, uneducated, etc and the mine owners are “the elite”. The term “redneck”, for example, originally meant “union miner”. They wore red kerchiefs… and were derided by pretty much everybody because of the whole “Southern” thing.

                  Want me to mention gun control? I will, if you want.

                  Additionally, it’s a lot cheaper to buy one sheriff and one posse than address the concerns of the miners. (And a couple of senators, for that matter.)

                  There were a lot of things that all worked together and on top of each other.

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                  • I was hoping for response that would tell me something more about libertarianism, since I was not asking the question from a pure “please explain the causes” standpoint, since the whole example is brought up expressly to try to explore libertarianism. Is there something in this response I should be taking away to help me understand the libertarian view of why this kind of situation arises such that libertarian amounts to more than a moping sadness about the awfulness of human nature or at least the history of human group behavior? Who did what wrong to bring about Lattimer, sayeth the libertarian? If that person not doing that thing still wouldn’t have prevented t, that’s okay – I wouldn’t hold it as a defeat for libertarianism. Some things can’t be prevented even by the best philosophy correctly applied. But a minute ago you were not holding that libertarianism is silent wrt the causes of a situation like the one leading to the Lattimer event, or so it seemed to me. So whom does it indict? It’s entirely unclear to me from this response.

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                    • What would a Libertarian answer be?

                      Well, if we had a government that believed in, among other things, a right of the people to peacefully assemble, speak freely, freedom of the press, the government would have told the corporation “hey, they’re not doing anything illegal” in response to a call for help oppressing the miners.

                      So what if the government and corporations are both immoral?

                      Well, at that point, you’d best hope that your right to keep and bear arms has not also been violated.

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                    • The government would have acted in a more libertarian manner had they not squelched/murdered the protesters, that is clear. I was under the impression that libertarianism had a claim about policy failures in the town/region/country leading up to the massacres that caused political-economic conditions to be such that the government was captured by the town company and its actions to become a foregone conclusion. But perhaps that was my mistake. Perhaps on this one the doctrine just comes down to, “In that time and place, the government should have acted more morally and less in violation of the Constitution.”

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                    • “What is the Liberal answer to the question of a corrupt government colluding with a corrupt corporation?”

                      The same as the Conservative’s: When the other side is caught doing it it’s a clear sign of their political philosophy’s moral and intellectual bankruptcy; and when our side is caught, there is no corruption and even if there was the other side did it first/far worse.

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                    • But progressivism doesn’t consider a world where government isn’t captured by all these interests all at once – cuz in democracy it will be (the government will just comprise the winners in these territorial contests). Progressives (contra communists) spend almost no time thinking about how things would be in a near-ideal world (that’s why communists have such issues with trade unionists). They just try to push things around within the given, grubby arrangement to try to make things come out better for people who have to sell their time to and buy their stuff from corporations, and submit to the coercion of the government. They don’t try to separate the two as much, because they’d rather try to direct their energies against one another, understanding that the two will also as a result come to certain accommodations between them. But if the end result is that certain rough improvements in a crude material sense are finally realized for themselves, progressives call that a good day.

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                    • But if the end result is that certain rough improvements in a crude material sense are finally realized for themselves, progressives call that a good day.

                      In practice, this seems to result in 18th Amendments and Buck v. Bells liberally sprinkled among the stuff we’re still cheering.

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                    • I changed the term to Progressive, because what I describe here really is the traditional Progressive-Labor view of things. The Liberal view I think is much more agnostic on how to approach the question, though it allows for Progressive measures in a way obviously libertarianism does not. As I’ve said here quite often, I think Liberalism is a very broad category that is more tied to process than substance, though it has substantive elements. A Liberal is much more interested in trying various measures from Libertarian to Progressive so long as following the the public’s preferences as mediated by a prescribed, legitimately accepted process. That’s not quite what you were asking about, so I substituted in Progressive for Liberal to answer. I consider myself a Liberal, not a Progressive.

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                  • Then here’s a follow up question to MD’s question, JB. At what point do we say that libertarianism is similar to communism- that is, there will always be situational issues that allow it’s followers to argue “well, they just weren’t pure in their attempt so of course it went badly, we just need to be more pure next time and it will really really work?”

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                    • Not that anyone (by which I mean, myself) is claiming that anyone at the time of Lattimer was claiming to be implementing some version of libertarianism, or that they were somehow doing so despite themselves. I’m not at all positing that. I’m just asking, given that that was not at all happening, who (i.e. people in what positions) would have been doing what where had libertarianism been being correctly implemented in such a way as to maximize (though not guarantee) the chances that the Lattimer massacre, and the conditions leading up to it, could have been averted? A follow-up question might be, what might have been some of the opportunity costs for the country had that been the case?

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                    • The Marxism/Libertarianism question is one that pops up all the time. My answer to that is to focus on the whole “close enough” thing.

                      In the history of the world, have there been any countries that have come out and tried to apply explicitly Libertarianish policies and how close did they get and how badly did they screw up?

                      In the history of the world, have there been any countries that have come out and tried to apply explicitly Marxistish policies and how close did they get and how badly did they screw up?

                      Compare the upsides to the downsides. Compare the immigration to emigration rates. Compare piles of bodies.

                      Sure, neither has been “truly” implemented.

                      Were there any “close enough for jazz”?

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                    • I’ll take that as a, “I’m not sure exactly who woulda been doing what differently where in this example” answer and stipulate that I certainly don’t know any of that either beyond the narrow answer that the government officials immediately in question should have had more integrity, which I certainly agree with.

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                    • J-Bird –

                      Fair enough. Though, for the record, I wasn’t suggesting that Marxism was better than Libertarianism. It’s just that, even though I’m strongly Libert-Leaning, it seems like every time some one shows us a historical anecdote about how lack of government oversight has led to abuse and assorted bad things, our response always seems to be “well, that’s not real libertarianism…” and I’ve been noticing, uncomfortably, that it sometimes sounds just like the response far, far left people give when you mention those countries with piles of bodies.

                      I was curious about your answer to that because in the past I have found you smart, witty and – more importantly – less dogmatic than most.

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                    • It’s just that, even though I’m strongly Libert-Leaning, it seems like every time some one shows us a historical anecdote about how lack of government oversight has led to abuse and assorted bad things, our response always seems to be “well, that’s not real libertarianism…” and I’ve been noticing, uncomfortably, that it sometimes sounds just like the response far, far left people give when you mention those countries with piles of bodies.

                      Well, that’s not my answer.

                      My answer is something to the effect of “and giving more power to a corrupt and captured government would help exactly *HOW*?”

                      And the assumption is always that the government, ideally, would not be corrupt.

                      Sure. I agree that, ideally, the government would not be corrupt.

                      If you had some bread, we could have ham sandwiches, if I had some ham.

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      • Actually, have you ever heard of a thing call organized crime?

        Uhmmm, they certainly have coercive power without government and are in fact, able to force people to buy things.

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        • Organized Crime tends to be a “black market”.

          It doesn’t force people to buy things… it provides them when you can’t get them elsewhere. The biggest example is alcohol during Prohibition. Today, the examples tend to be such things as drugs or prostitution.

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        • Bucky, these are terrible examples. You obviously have a very poor grasp on libertarianism and are arguing with the straw man that you and other progressives have erected in place of actual libertarianism. Organized crime? Monopolies? You really think these are issues libertarians haven’t grappled with? I’m pretty sure if libertarians had their way we’d have a hell of a lot less organized crime.

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          • EDK:

            I was responding to MFarmer’s ridiculous assertion that “the only way corporations can have coercive power is through government.”

            I am aware that libertarians have grappled with a variety of the problems of the “free” market. I just don’t see that they have any satisfactory answers. If so, please educate all us poorly informed progressives.

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  9. While I agree that crony capitalism is bad, it’s definitely an improvement over the laissez-faire of the 19th century. The problem is, most libertarians imagine that in a laissez-faire economy, they’ll be Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller, when the reality is that they’re more likely to be a match girl with Phossy Jaw…

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      • EDK, the “free market” is a libertaran/GOP myth.

        Power and money are seductive and most anyone that amasses much of either (they are the same) will use their influence to corrupt the market to gain more. Whether it is by government intervention or violence.

        From my viewpoint, libertarians seem to always seem to forget the dictum that “power corrupts.”

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      • E.D.,
        If you’re seriously arguing that, for example, mid-19th century England did not practice real “laissez-faire capitalism,” isn’t that essentially the same argument that leftists make when they say that the USSR didn’t practice “real socialism,” only some version of state capitalism in the name of the proletariat?
        In which case, whose fairy tale view of society should I prefer? Both you and them make a pretty strong case, and evidently I’m not allowed to use history to try and judge between them…

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        • Of course it’s the same sort of argument. And falling back on either of these – blaming Stalinism for socialism’s problems, or claiming that the days of tycoons and robber barons were the golden age of free markets – is to utilize not history but a black and white, shallow, two-dimensional view of history. Yes, we can use Stalin to skewer socialism at its worst; then again, Norway and Sweden and other similar countries make a much better case for socialist policies. We can use the 19th century to lambast free markets; but hell, again, we could look at the economic (if not redistributive) policies of Denmark or the Netherlands, where free trade and a hands-off government do pretty well. We could even look at our current system and compare it to a number of other countries with less free markets and surmise that yes, freer markets lead to greater prosperity and a more flourishing economy and culture. Not everything is a zero-sum game. Using these sort of extreme examples and then pretending that it means history is on your side is like rolling up history into a club and mauling one another with it. It does nobody any good.

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          • Blaming socialism for Stalinism’s problems is more typical of what goes on around here I’d say. Maybe that’s what you meant. It’s more often that the correction that what people at the time called laissez faire economic policy was not actually a free market approach gets made around here, so I’m glad to see you lending your editorial voice also to an honest assessment of which were Marx’s and which Stalin’s shortcomings and crimes.

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            • It’s much more common to write off libertarianism as purely Utopian or free markets as “myth” than to invoke 19th century laissez faire economics. I think this is because it’s easier to name names. So Stalin is invoked because he is a recognizable figure, and far more the villain, than any of the 19th century capitalists. In any case, I dislike any of these poor uses of history to justify current politics.

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          • The difference, Erik, is that laissez-faire capitalism has, as it’s ideal, a lack of regulation. It’s pretty easy to look to see what happens to industries when you don’t regulate them.

            And while I’d agree that Stalinism isn’t representative of socialism, it is pretty representative of COMMUNISM, which has been totalitarian pretty much everywhere it’s been tried outside of the Bible.

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        • You’re getting into the “Who was responsible for imperialism?” argument. On the one hand, the English government did give a monopoly charter to the private East India Company, but on the other hand, the East India Company was a private company.

          I offer an admittedly glib take, but I submit it looking to start some sort of conversation:

          Libertarians look back on it and blame the marriage of favored private enterprise and the legitimacy of government. Socialists look back on it and blame the marriage of favored private enterprise and the legitimacy of government. Libertarians say if only the government were not so corrupt and favoritist, the free market would have sorted that problem out to the benefit of everyone involved. Socialists say if only the corporations had not been so greedy and enterprising, the government would not have been corrupted. Essentially, both sides identify the same problem and offer radically different assessments of blame and therefore radically different solutions.

          Perhaps the only inescapable truth is that people caused those terrible atrocities and institutions have been assigned the blame.

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          • You don’t have to look at the marriage of government and business to see flaws in laissez-faire. You can just look at what happens when you don’t regulate business.

            For instance, in the 19th century, it wasn’t uncommon for factory owners to lock their workers in the factory during business hours, force them to work without safety equipment, force them to rent their homes from the company, pay them in scrip only redeemable at company stores, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

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    • So true about libertarians all being so certain that they will be at the top of the economic heap. Sad. But true.

      Which is why you tend to find libertarians skewing to the younger demographics (and no, I don’t have any evidence to support this but my own anecdotal experience). When I was in college many of my friends were Randian enthusiasts and libertarians. And then they grew up and saw the real world and now, few are.

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    • Also, Alex, this is an uncharacteristically broad brush you’re painting with. I don’t know any libertarians who think they’d be Andrew Carnegie in a truly free market system. Not one. Do you really think all the people you’re arguing with in this thread want that? Do you think this is a fair way to characterize your opponents?

      I could say “All modern welfare liberals imagine they’ll be Joseph Stalin” and be just about as accurate.

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      • Erik,

        I used to be a “big-L” libertarian. Active in the party. Active at protests, rallies, events. I spoke at libertarian conventions. Yeah, a lot of them think that in a truly free market, they’d be on top.

        But at the heart of libertarianism is a view of human nature that simply isn’t consonant with reality. Government intervention is to libertarianism what Original Sin is to certain variants of Christianity – the fatal flaw that causes all the evil in the world. Absent government/Original Sin, we’d all be free in the garden of Eden/Galt’s Gulch, happily trading with each other with no fraud, force, or anyone trying to take advantage of others.

        This view is endemic in libertarian views of economics, which is based on the idea of rational response to incentives that simply doesn’t exist in real life. Libertarians love to talk about Henry Ford’s innovation of treating his workers decently and paying them well so they could afford Ford’s products as being an example of how laissez-faire leads to benevolent business enterprises, but they fail to notice that Ford was the exception (and still, for all that, pretty brutal towards his workers.)

        The fundamental mistake of libertarianism is to assume that force and fraud are the only means of coercion. Consequently, libertarianism is blind to the ways in which unregulated business enterprises actively deprive people’s liberties.

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        • Libertarians love to talk about Henry Ford’s innovation of treating his workers decently and paying them well so they could afford Ford’s products as being an example of how laissez-faire leads to benevolent business enterprises

          So what is the significance of this case?

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  10. I think there’s a more important difference here than trust. Libertarians are un-American.

    Ok that’s a bit strong but there is I think a disconnect between the ideas of the Founders and the ideas of the Ayn Randish Libertarian mindset. The Founders cared a lot about government, Libertarians seem to think government is an afterthought. Read thru a lot of libertarian stuff and you start to get the sense that laws are somethng more like applied geometry or chemistry. You have your starting assumptions, apply logic and out pops all acceptable and non-acceptable laws. For just about everything, the impression seems to be there’s one, only one, correct libertarian answer. Hence not to long ago this blog talked about towns that provide weekly garbage collection and the libertarian minded here fretted about the ‘tyranny’ being imposed on those who wanted to have their own private garbage man cart away their empty Yohoo bottles.

    This then leads to the question of what exactly should gov’t and voters be debating and care about? The impression I get is that the only thing that’s left for politics to worry about is the most trivial of issues like whether the town’s busiest street should be named after Martin Luther King Jr. or what the official state flower should be. Of course libertarians do care a lot about politics but they care only because politics hasn’t adopted their ‘system’ of ‘mathematical policy making’ where all policy questions are resolved by deducting the proper libertarian answer. Any policy that cannot be confirmed as being consistent with libertarian theorem making is tyranny. Hence the image of libertarians getting all uppity over trash collection. No one cares about trash collection. They consider themselves oppressed not because they really are oppressed but because their ideology tells them they are being oppressed by a system not in perfect conformity with their theology.

    Hence there’s a disconnect from American political thought. Starting with the Founders, American thought cared a lot about gov’t. For example, a colonial motto was ‘taxation without representation’. But libertarians don’t really care about representation. Their motto is ‘taxation is theft’. Taxes imposed by representation are no different than taxes imposed by an evil Emperor or Robot Overlords….unless such taxes somehow conformed to libertarian ideology for the few approved libertarian ends to gov’t.

    Most American thought cares a lot about gov’t but in a real sense libertarian thought doesn’t. How a gov’t works seems irrelevant. If the gov’t complied with libertarian ‘solutions’ it doesn’t matter if its a representative democracy, a dictatorship, or even a theocratic state ruled by a cabal of elite ‘libertarian priests’. Libertarians seem to have a soft spot for the Founders because they think the Founders were trying to use things like representative democracy, a bicamel legislature, ‘checks and balances’, federalism, etc. as some type of social engineering to ensure that the gov’t of the US was as close to full libertarian compliance as possible. I have to wonder, though, if a supercomputer could reincarnate an Ayn Rand avatar would libertarians feel comfortable making the gov’t an eternal dictatorship under it provided she was ‘perfect’ in her ability to always render decisions in a disinterested libertarian manner?

    The mainstream schools of American thought do think gov’t matters. It’s often forgotten that the Constitution was written to *increase*, not *decrease* the gov’ts power (see the Articles of Confederation). One of the first big debates that the Founding generation had was between the Jeffersonian idea of a nation of small, private, land ownin farmers and Hamilton’s idea of a nation of industry, finance and commerce. Most American schools of thought cared about the process of how that debate should be decided. Were ‘special interests’ too easily able to shape gov’t policy? Or was the majority too powerful letting them trample the interests of ‘special interests’ unfairly. To a libertarian, though, this debate has to be absurd. The ‘theology’ says rule of law, contracts, free market and whatever society ends up being it will be…..if you even want to consider ‘society’ to be a non-fictional concept. Yet here we have the Founders, demi-gods in libertarian theology basically debating what flavor of ‘social engineering’ the early Federal gov’t would engage in. They thought there was a debate here and the ‘right answer’ for the United States may not necessarily be the right answer elsewhere hence the concern about the rules of how the debate would be conducted and decided. Libertarians, though, don’t realy believe in debate. Either your system produces the right answer or it doesn’t.

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    • For just about everything, the impression seems to be there’s one, only one, correct libertarian answer.

      Have you met more than one Libertarian?

      They can’t agree on someplace to eat for lunch.

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    • It’s instructive that out of all the claims regarding what Libertarians demand, think, feel, expect or believe, you don’t provide one example of a prominent libertarian thinker’s words, with context, to make your case.

      Actually, this makes me a little depressed. I’m not sure how someone who writes with such confidence regarding libertarian thought can be so wrong. If all the efforts from Bastiat to Narverson have come to this, I don’t know if there is much hope for libertarian ideas. I’m taking one my periodic breaks — see you guys soon. I’ll be at Bonzai plugging away if anyone wants to visit.

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      • A fair point, but then what’s the counter? What exactly would be ‘up for debate and decision’ in a country of dedicated libertarians? And I did provide an example, the debate that took place here over the trivial issue of some towns opting to have trash pick up and other towns opting to make residents contract their own pickup. When even this trivial issue has a ‘right answer’ and deviating from it is violating all sacred liberty you really do have to a wonder what exactly does gov’t debate and decide under a libertarian system beyond the state bird and motto?

        Jaybird’s point is good but a conservative (I mean one schooled on actual conservative thought, not Rush or Hannity) would point out that skepticism about the power of human reason is one of their key doctrines for a reason. When you get a movement that asserts history should be swept aside and combine that with an unlimited faith in the power of human minds to logically reason you are setting the stage for diaster. The fact that libertarians are so assertive yet disagree with each other so much just proves the point. The radicals of the French revolution and various communist revolutions weren’t that different.

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    • I assume it’s wrong to say that the libertarian motto really is “taxationios theft,” but I do definitely agree that the libertarians I have interacted with, which has primarily been at, you know, this one website I spend time commenting at, have a tendency to downplay the actual amount and legitimacy of the representation that goes on in Representative systems.

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  11. Say what you will about modern libertarians but their intellectual roots stem from classical liberalism, itself a reaction against the abusive long-lived regimes of European power, secular and religious. The rise of short-lived but no less abusive regimes of corporate power has created and sustained the progressive movement for more than a century now.

    Is it any wonder that because their roots stem from an exceptional wariness of power and its abuse, they can’t agree on any particular method of how to proceed other than opposition to that which they’ve always opposed?

    What’s worth pondering is how the two movements have been more or less successfully incorporated into modern liberalism and conservatism, each far more committed to the acquisition and use of power than either camp seems particularly comfortable with. Both have taken (unsuccessfully IMHO) to attempting to be moderating influences on the wielders of political power rather than making serious efforts at holding power accountable.

    In any case, I think the failure of liberaltarians to mount a serious challenge for leadership of the tea party movement will turn out to have been a missed opportunity for capitalizing on genuine grassroots feelings of powerlessness to form some kind of base for independent political support.

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    • Here I think libertarians have a much more legitimate complaint (though caveat emptor) against their erstwhile political patrons The Conservatives than do progressives against Liberals (in your sense, which, hell, we might as well just call the Democrats). Democrats have basically enacted an ugly, corporatized, watered-down version of a progressive agenda, or they had as of the end of the 1970s (save for full-population health coverage). There was certainly plenty there to be dissatisfied with (especially after they went along with beginning to roll it back in the 80s and 90s), but at the same time, it’s pretty considerable edifice in its own right and nothing to sneeze at. Libertarians, on the other hand, I have come to accept, except in certain fairly narrow areas like finance, have basically been taken for a ride by crony capitalist conservatives for fifty years with really very little to show for it. There’s some degree of the same thing going on on both sides (but there would be in any real world), but it’s a pretty incomparably different degree in each case.

      As for seeking leadership in the Tea Party, I really think you underestimate the extent that the Tea Party, while it is certainly motivated by real limited-government principles, is also atmospherically a self-identified anti-Liberal group in its basic motivation, where Liberal is not the concept I describe above, but rather just what the word means in the popular (conservative) imagination. there just weren’t going to be any Liberal-anything Tea Party leaders. As for Libertarians in the Tea Party, well, that happened, didn’t it? Not all Libertarians are really Liberaltarians who’ve given up on the making nice with actual Liberals.

      Despite all that, I think you’re actually right on track here, Kyle. Good stuff.

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      • I would agree about the difference in degrees between progressives and libertarians, the former being more inclined to pragmatic compromises than the latter it would seem. Still the progressive movement seems to be serially confused as to whether it ought to be a principled outsider or a pragmatic collaborator. If I were more inclined to be a progressive, I’d probably be happier with the mixed record of accomplishment. Seeing as I’m not, I see how they’re continually stumping for politicians who hire from Wall Street, retire to Wall Street, and preside over previously unimaginable growth in corporate size and influence. Whereas there aren’t that many Reason/Cato types out there stumping for candidates seeking to expand the patriot act/drug wars/state police powers. I’d say the progressives have more and less to show for it paradoxically.

        I could be wrong about the tea party but IIRC, at its genesis Wall Street was every bit as unpopular as Washington and rarely does that axis align. Politics are framed as Washington versus Wall Street (choose the lesser of two evils) but really its when Washington and Wall Street are challenged, not least of which for their long history of collusion that I think you have an opening for more popular support of progressives and libertarians. Until then, you have libertarians hoping Wall Street will keep Washington in check and progressives hoping Washington will keep Wall Street in check. In the meantime, it’s Wall Street and Washington that have long decided that by “battling” each other they keep everyone else occupied.

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    • Say what you will about modern libertarians but their intellectual roots stem from classical liberalism, itself a reaction against the abusive long-lived regimes of European power, secular and religious

      Which reinforces my position that modern libertarians aren’t really American. Like socialism this is a movement that, at its root, is an alien doctrine on American soil. That’s not to say it has had no merit or influence, though. For example, I believe our relatively absolute view of free speech is probably more influenced by modern libertarianism than it was by the Founders view of things. But we tend to read the present as the past and we forget the past or at least some important elements of it.

      One idea that gets lost here is that the American system really was founded on the idea that the community would direct itself in its growth and form. Many of the early debates in the US revolved around just this idea (Hamilton’s ideas to promote finance and industry, Jefferson’s to promote ‘yoeman farmers’ by expanding westward, the debate about whether or not slavery would grow, the development of the west thru canals and later railroads). This is at odds with the libertarian idea of just getting a market system and then yielding such decisions to it. What has happened in some sense is that the early history of the US has been ‘retconned’ into a libertarian story which somehow got lost in the midsts of time or maybe was betrayed by evil or misguided people around FDR? TR? Lincoln’s? time.

      A problem with libertarianism is that it doesn’t really want to address its alienness. Socialism doesn’t have a choice since its a theory that required the industrial revolution to happen first leaving fewer ways to read itself back in the history of colonial America. In contrast it wants to pretend that it’s just restoring the status quo of the US before some unspecified statists ruined things (with modification, of course, slavery isn’t on the agenda but we will just pretend it didn’t exist in American history). IMO its more profitable to view progressivists and conservatives as more traditional American political philosophies who have been influenced by the European ‘pair’ of socialism and libertarianism.

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      • My first thought is that you’re probably onto something vis-a-vis progressivism and conservatism being political ideologies in an American tradition. In that American conservatism is distinctly more corporatist and less nationalistic than Europe’s right wing parties. Similarly, I would imagine that the growth of American progressivism as a reaction to American corporatism is sort of our version of European-style socialism, except being noticeably more enthusiastic about controlling private actors rather than folding them into some regime of state property/licensing.

        However, I don’t agree that modern libertarianism isn’t really American, in my view it’s probably the most classically American philosophy for better and for worse. America has changed significantly and dramatically since the founding and in some distinctly illiberal ways but nonetheless necessary. On the other hand the American Revolution was a distinct reaction to perceptions and actual abuses of state power and the arbitrary wielding of executive/police power. So to the extent that libertarians have stood out consistently as the voices against the same on behalf of the war on terror, war on drugs, etc… I think it’s hard to see how the philosophy is alien to America.

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        • On the other hand the American Revolution was a distinct reaction to perceptions and actual abuses of state power and the arbitrary wielding of executive/police power. So to the extent that libertarians have stood out consistently as the voices against the same on behalf of the war on terror, war on drugs, etc… I think it’s hard to see how the philosophy is alien to AmericaOn the other hand the American Revolution was a distinct reaction to perceptions and actual abuses of state power and the arbitrary wielding of executive/police power. So to the extent that libertarians have stood out consistently as the voices against the same on behalf of the war on terror, war on drugs, etc… I think it’s hard to see how the philosophy is alien to America

          It’s not quite so alien, but being against ‘abuse’ is hardly unique to libertarian philosophy. I think, though, you’re neglecting the parts of our history that don’t quite mesh with ‘retconning’ classical American views as libertarian ones. The American Constitution was a decade after the Revolution written with the intent of forming a stronger union, not a more limited one. The ink wasn’t dry before ideas of ‘social engineering’ were being floated and debated (see the Bank of the United States, the Lou. Purchase, the Homestead Act). This was not a libertarian POV. This was a POV that wanted planning, control, regulation and so on but wanted it in a way that represented a consensus of society with checks and balances for both individual and group liberties. Hence the Founders felt it was very important that the Constitution gurantee all states have “a republican form of government” but said nothing about “a free market economy”…. Technically libertarians would reverse that order and feel very comfortable with, say, a strong monarchy committed to open markets and financial freedoms, a type of state the Founders would not want as part of the Union.

          Likewise pre-occupations of ‘classical American’ politics like states rights are not very big on libertarian concerns. To a libertarian only individuals, not states have rights. “States rights” are therefore nonesense except maybe as a tool to counter non-libertarian Federal laws but even here the ‘states rights’ are only a means to the true end of individual rights. The classical American view sees communities like states, counties, towns as very real things that assert themselves in the debate and negotiations about gov’t just as much as individuals do, more so even. The libertarian perspective came in much later. Again note how our ‘ACLUish’ view of things like freedom of speech and religion as highly individual centered (with the textbook examples of neo-nazis being allowed to march through some town or school children being allowed to defy their principals and protest the Vietnam War) came about more in the 20th century than 18th or even 19th. This is due to the influence of libertarians. The view of liberty as a highly individualized right to be very ‘eccentric’ is a modern view, not a classical one. As you can see even though I put down modern libertarians, I do it gently. I think the importation of libertarianism has resulted in some good ideas. I think it’s better that we view, say, free speech today as highly individualized as opposed to the classical Americans who seemlessly adopted the 1st amendment and then proceeded to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, prohibited abolitionist literature beng sent thru the mail etc. But keeping perspective is also important and rejecting libertarianism is not the same as rejecting ‘classical American’ values. There’s a difference between something that just overlaps and something that perfectly overlays. Libertarianism is not the latter.

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          • Haven’t had time to really digest the thread, but this sparked something in the noggin:

            > On the other hand the American Revolution was a distinct
            > reaction to perceptions and actual abuses of state power
            > and the arbitrary wielding of executive/police power.

            Splicing this together with some of Booton’s other observations and baking for 20 minutes at 300 degrees…

            Could one say that the American Revolution was a distinct reaction to the abuses of state power and arbitrary wielding of executive power under the particular implementation of a historical parliamentary monarchy?

            I mean, it seems to me that the American Revolution was a very non-monolithic affair; the spectrum of political thought among the Founders is rather wide. However, they were able to unify under the umbrella of, “We can agree on one thing: that Dude Across the Pond is screwing us, and we can probably run things without enabling the screwing.”

            In this sense, it was less about the abuses or mechanisms of the state, from a class perspective, and more on the abuses and mechanisms of the state, in the particular instance.

            I think it’s fair to say that all of the Founders would have also agreed that they would not expect that their creation would turn around and turn into the same demon they just exorcised, but… since they pretty much knew they were starting a new political experiment… they would perhaps admit the possibility.

            So… one could argue that some of the Founders might actually *be* libertarians (in the modern sense), if they were still alive today, under the logic of… “We figured the abuse of power came with the parliamentary monarchy, we figured we could design a new form of government which would check-and-balance itself to prevent this, but now I see after 200 years of America that our idea itself was just as flawed for different but equally crippling reasons” and they’d adopt the screen name Jaybird and show up here arguing for a truly individual approach to freedom… while some of the others would say, “Well, the system no longer actually really has the checks and balances as we envisioned them and ick! If we tweak those back to the way we wanted them to be these problems would go away”… and still others would probably say, “Hey, this turned out better than we expected.”

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            • “Could one say that the American Revolution was a distinct reaction to the abuses of state power and arbitrary wielding of executive power under the particular implementation of a historical parliamentary monarchy?’

              You could but popular support for the pre-Tarentino-esque French Revolution makes it harder to say that somehow Americans as a population revolted because of particular disagreements with His Majesty’s Government rather than a more generalized distaste for arbitrary and authoritarian governments that lasted well into the 19th century vis-a-vis American-European relationships.

              Also, I’m sure you could say American political thought in 1941 contained a wide swath of political thought but that in and of itself wouldn’t change the casus belli there. The analogy isn’t perfect but it works well enough to point out that a shared grievance among parties that are not monolithic is still, in fact, a shared grievance.

              I grant the point that the founders were hardly a unified group and arguments about the nature of state and federal power, its use and misuse lasted well until 1861, really. Moreover, it stands to reason that those same disagreements and differences in values and priorities would manifest in differing political opinions in the modern world.

              What I mean when I say libertarianism is the most (not perfectly, of course) classically American of the modern political philosophy is that the much of the concerns about federal power, state power, protection of civil liberties that were the focus of arguments for and against ratification of the Constitution, things made explicit in the same document and concerns raised in letters and pamphlets of the Revolutionary Era are similar to the non-economic concerns of modern liberalism. Now that doesn’t speak to relevancy in the modern age, for which modern liberalism and conservatism are much more relevant. Nor does it give modern libertarianism some kind of Founder-blessed trump card. The past holds little relevance here.

              Ultimately, I don’t agree with to calling a political philosophy – the basic tenant of which is that I have certain rights that the government ought not and cannot violate, even if it’s convenient – alien to a country that was founded because revolutionaries felt men had inalienable rights that cannot be infringed upon.

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              • > You could but popular support for the pre-
                > Tarentino-esque French Revolution makes
                > it harder to say

                Harder, but not impossible. “Hey, the French helped us out, they’re buddies. And they want to be like us! That’s cool!” — there’s a lot of room in there for rationalizing a lot of things away. The functional differences between the French Revolution and the American one are pretty large, but public opinion has a tendency to gloss away detail, right?

                > Ultimately, I don’t agree with to calling a political
                > philosophy (snip) – alien to a country

                Oh, I agree with that; I think the “alienness” or not of a political philosophy is a silly taxonomic question, particularly given the Grand Journey nature of the American political exercise (you can’t really call it an *experiment*, per se).

                I think it’s passing fair to say that if you hauled the Founders into the present day, and if they were all capable of adapting psychologically to the changed environment without dissolving into cognitive goo, you’d have some who would identify as Conservative, some as Liberal, and some as Libertarian. If anybody’s alien at this party, it’s the Socialists.

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          • Maybe I’m missing what you’re saying but to say that libertarians would be fine with free, open markets and strong monarchy is well…seriously missing a few things and perhaps overstates the economic liberty side of libertarianism, which maybe gets more discussion but hardly is the sine qua non of modern libertarianism.

            In any case, I’m not terribly interested in whether any particular philosophy is or is not American, the entire exercise seems odd considering that America is a generative and young society – a self-conscious experiment. I think there’s something to be said for how it’s interesting that American historical traditions influence political and ideological development. Indeed, very interesting. However, I fail to see what the value is of pointing out that an idea is alien to America. Considering the exceptionally long list of ideas that at various points have been alien or synonymous with America, you might be able to see how the value of making such an observation is lost on someone.

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              • I cannot, do not, and will not speak for Libertarians as a whole.

                With that caveat out of the way, my particular school of Libertarianism deals mostly with the whole “who are you to tell me X?” kinda thing.

                There are folks out there inclined to ban music or books or movies (yay! Citizens United!). I ask the question: Who are you to tell me what I can’t listen to, or read, or watch?

                Some folks look at the royal person and see a king or queen.

                I just see yet another fishing German.

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  12. A very interesting comment thread — thank you all very much.

    If I might pick a nit, though, it’s with the term “free market” that has been bandied about quite a bit. Most people seem to be attributing to a free — ie, unregulated — market the positive attributes that economists assert for “competitive” markets. It is worth noting that a first-year graduate course in microeconomic theory will spend a lecture, two at the most, proving that competitive markets deliver certain desirable results. The next few weeks will be spent exploring the myriad of ways that nominally free markets can fail to be competitive, hence likely to fail in delivering all of the benefits.

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  13. Pingback: Libertarians vs Progressives « Libérale et libertaire

  14. Pingback: Libertarianism’s illusions « Merry jeremiad

  15. I work with a lot of libertarians. I’ve never heard a libertarian who has ever had a bad word to say about corporations. So maybe I have never met a libertarian such as the one that the author is familiar with.

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