Libertarianism & Power

Freddie reads this post by Nick Gillespie on the arrest of a Reason reporter at a D.C. taxi public forum and writes:

In a poor, majority-black city with a long history of drugs, crime, and endemic lack of opportunity, Gillespie looks out and sees that the truly powerless are… libertarians. (That Mr. Epstein had the social and material resources to immediately gain the aid of a noted First Amendment lawyer seems not to have factored into Gillespie’s determination of Epstein’s power or lack thereof.)

I find this entirely in keeping with the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview: a total and disqualifying inability to measure or account for power as it exists in the real world. When libertarians argue endlessly about the tyranny of paying taxes and the poor, oppressed state of enormous, multinational corporations, while remaining consistently silent on the plight of the urban poor (on the material dimensions of their freedom), they reveal an ideological framework that is stunningly incapable of reflecting the world as it is rather than as ideal theory would prefer it. They have no vocabulary of power as experienced, so even if they were inclined to help those on the bottom, they would lack the understanding capable of doing such a thing. They have nothing to say on the issue.

I would compare this issue to the DC handgun ban. I’m agnostic on gun control, in many instances; I don’t know if I can support banning the legitimate use of something because of its misuse by others. But I also recognize that DC is a community that has been absolutely ravaged by gun violence for decades, and that desperate residents and city officials were attempting to solve an intractable and debilitating problem. But during the Supreme Court case that overturned that ban, I saw essentially no commentary from institutional libertarianism that acknowledged the ugly aesthetics of a bunch of white, privileged libertarians working to undermine efforts to reduce gun crime in an impoverished black city. It was as if those people and that problem simply didn’t exist.

I have several problems with this, but first let me acknowledge where I think Freddie is correct. I think many, many self-described libertarians are much more interested in pushing for low taxes and railing against government than they are with the actual ways that government can help sustain or exacerbate problems with poverty. When I look at the Tea Party, for instance, I don’t see a group of people that is particularly interested with the plight of the poor. (I’ve written about this before.) These people may indeed lack the language to even speak of things like poverty. Many are little more than conservatives playing the libertarian part by saying freedom a lot and claiming they read von Mises at the beach.

That being said, I don’t think this applies very well to the libertarians that make up at least a small nook in the libertarian movement (such as many of the folks at Reason, for instance, or Radley Balko, et alia) and I don’t think it speaks at all to the actual ideas behind libertarianism. Maybe I have an insular perception of what libertarianism is or ought to be; perhaps I infuse it with too much of my own sentiment – but when I look at the ideals of libertarianism, they are not the ideals of winners and losers at all. They aren’t really even about government exclusively, but rather about the nature of power – and yes, how that power is particularly concentrated in the state with its ability to kill, imprison, make war and so forth.

What I see in libertarianism is a deeply progressive streak often unfortunately colored by a long history of affiliation with the right. To me libertarianism is all about anti-authoritarianism, about tearing down barriers and class divisions and the many ways that the powerful elite and the state conspire to create artificial scarcity, to entrench rent-seekers and prop up monopolies, and to create more and more rules and laws by which to maintain an unjust hold on power. To me, protectionism is a profoundly conservative thing, and the more I gaze out on the political landscape, the more I see both progressives and conservatives as essentially conservative actors arguing for different visions of what to actually conserve (and in many ways progressives are truly conservative, while conservatives are more revanchist). Libertarianism of the non-right-wing-nationalist-Tea-Party variety I see as an ideology that is essentially liberal, essentially about change and yes, freedom, including the freedom to escape poverty.

I keep seeing in myself the urge to gravitate toward more conservative, even reactionary stances. My delving into organized labor, or my education traditionalism – these are both, I believe, expressions of my own conservatism. Libertarianism, if we are to practice it honestly, requires as much self-denial as possible, as much abandonment of special interest as possible.

But to speak more directly to Freddie’s comments, I think he’s off-base in saying that libertarians lack the language or the compassion necessary to attempt to solve the plight of the poor. When I write about the War on Drugs, for instance, most of the sources I turn to are libertarian sources. This is largely because they are the most consistent advocates of an end to the War on Drugs. Or the foreign wars. Or the security-surveillance state. Or the TSA. Or mass incarceration. Or many of the other multitudinous ways that the state (and its corporatist cronies) literally create chaos and violence in the lower classes and help to sustain poverty.

If you want to see gun violence go down in D.C. a gun ban isn’t going to do the trick. It just isn’t, no matter how much we wish it would. Criminals will find guns or other weapons to continue the violence. The trick to ending the violence there is to end the War on Drugs and start treating addicts as people with medical conditions. Take the market away from the dealers, destroy the black market altogether. This is how you stop this cycle of violence or at least seriously curtail it, and this is what many libertarians believe. It’s what many liberals believe also, for sure, and it’s why I truly believe that there is room at the same table for libertarians and liberals to talk about things like ending poverty and violence, creating a society that is more fair, and working toward prosperity and justice. I just think both sides mistrust the other, and write these horribly broad, sweeping generalizations about the other, and the language barrier gets higher and higher. And both sides are at fault, and maybe neither really cares.

P.S. I should add that I don’t think all progressives or that progressivism itself is fundamentally conservative or even necessarily so. Only that this is one way that progressive politics can manifest (just like libertarian politics can manifest as a particularly odd form of right-wingery).

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432 thoughts on “Libertarianism & Power

  1. Great post. I’m curious on one point. I see both “civil libertarian” & “liberaltarian” used to describe the intersection you point to above. (Particularly on the issues in the paragraph beginning with “But to speak more directly…”)

    Do you prefer one term or the other, and do you think there are substantial differences between them in meaning?

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    • I think civil libertarian is perhaps a broader category than liberal-tarian. Civil libertarians could essentially be full-on socialists so long as they cared about civil liberties. Liberaltarians are probably better viewed as economically still fairly libertarian but with a more egalitarian streak (though that is a poor summary).

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      • No, liberaltarians are libertarians who see the political solution as “forming bridges with liberals” versus “forming bridges with conservatives” or “going the third party route” or “it’s not worth any effort”.

        As for egalitarianism, minus the objectivists, there are plenty of libertarians that are committed to “egalitarianism” via voluntary redistribution (i.e. charity), and would love nothing more to give money to good causes and get government out of the way owing to its inefficiencies and obstructionist tendencies.

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        • I’ll make an amendation:

          “What I see in libertarianism is a deeply progressive streak often unfortunately colored by a long history of affiliation with the right.”

          what I see in liberalism is a deeply progressive streak often unfortunately colored by a long history of idealistically believing that “with the right people in power the world will be better”.

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        • “Economic egalitarianism” is only achieved through authoritarian policy, power and politics. There’s a structural problem here.

          “the freedom to escape poverty”

          Figure that one out and you’re getting somewhere. FDR’s “freedom from want” isn’t liberty atall, it’s welfare, and illustrates the confusion of terms and concepts: liberty and freedom should be at least somewhat synonymous, but as we see here, “freedom” has been perverted beyond recognition.

          Not that Hayek or many libertarians—or conservatives for that matter—are against helping the needy either on moral or utilitarian grounds, even on sentimental ones. That “conservatives [or libertarians] don’t care about the poor” is a slander: their reservation about welfare is solely that it perpetuates the cycle of poverty, and is antithetical to “the freedom to escape poverty.”

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          • Disagree. As a libertarian, my reservation about welfare is not that it perpetuates the cycle of poverty (which I don’t see any particular evidence of) but rather that the moral questionability of non-consensually appropriating someone else’s assets is not assuaged by the fact that it’s going to charity.

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            • Mr. Yonemoto, yr libertarianism is repugnant to those like Mr. Kain. Hell, I’m a conservative [I don’t mind] and I’m not very good with your principle. If we as a people consent to tax ourselves to provide for the poor—and we have and do—I’m fine with it, for both utilitarian and moral reasons.

              Principles need not be a suicide pact, nor the rejection of all morality.

              “The freedom to escape poverty.” That’s what’s interesting, and you may have a libertarian point to make in there—that schemes to give or enhance that freedom for the poor might infringe on someone else’s freedom, esp since lefties tend to see the human equation as a zero-sum game more than libertarians and conservatives might.

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              • Well, I’m not saying government should not be allowed to appropriate funds for certain things (I’m not an anarchist), but that those things should be proscribed and carefully restricted. Last I checked providing for welfare (as opposed to promoting welfare) was not in the federal constitution. If states want to do redistribution, that’s more acceptable provided it’s in their constitution, although I would still be wary of government in general participating, since it tends to be inefficient and obstructionist, and prone to capture.

                Case in point:

                http://www.iwatchnews.org/2011/07/06/5120/stimulus-funds-w-virginias-handicapped-and-poor-instead-goes-lobbying-consulting

                I once quit volunteering for a charity when they asked me to help them lobby, and I made it very clear that was why I was leaving.

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                  • Shhh, Mr. Yonemota. Liberals don’t do subsidiarity. And it’s bad manners to let reality intrude on a perfectly useless theoretical discussion.

                    ;-)

                    The federal program’s own watchdog had warned at the outset that some of the money in the Energy Department’s weatherization program, part of the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus intended to give a jolt to the economy, could be wasted.

                    “I have said from the beginning of the [economic] recovery program that weatherization is high-risk,” said Earl Devaney , who as chairman of the Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board is Washington’s top cop overseeing how stimulus dollars are spent. Noted Devaney in a statement to iWatch News : “There was little in the way of internal controls.”

                    Mismanagement in West Virginia ranged from giving preferential treatment to state employees and their relatives, to shoddy work at the homes of disabled and poor people who were supposed to benefit the most, the Energy Department’s inspector general report found. “We found problems in the areas of weatherization workmanship, financial management, prioritization of applicants for weatherization services, and compliance with laws and regulations,” the report said.

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                • Last I checked providing for welfare (as opposed to promoting welfare) was not in the federal constitution.

                  Neither was providing for safe drinking water, or clean air, or blacks being accorded citizenship. (Oops, that did make it in, didn’t it? Women get to vote, too.)

                  Hmmm. I hope you do continue to comment here.

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                    • Whoops! I didn’t see the word amendment at the bottom.

                      So only if there’s an amendment would you agree that the federal government has the power to regulate emissions/polution/waste?

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                    • oh it has the power, but not the authority. And it’s an authority I would argue it SHOULD have. However, if something pollutes in a way that doesn’t affect other states or international waters (such as poisoning the wastewater in the great divide basin – admittedly a very minor corner case) then the feds should butt out.

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                    • Well, he said “emissions amendment.” Besides, fighting toxins [or say communicable disease] seems constitutional, and just the sort of thing a libertarian would see as proper gov’t.

                      I think the distinction was drawn between providing welfare for individuals vs. “general” welfare. Congressman Davy Crockett ran into the same constitutional problem.

                      “Mr. Speaker, I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity, but as members of Congress we have no right to so appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Sir, this is no debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

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                    • Why doesn’t it have this authority? I know we’ve had our disputes about the meaning of ‘welfare’ and the phrase ‘promote the general welfare’, but assuming ‘welfare’ doesn’t mean food stamps, why doesn’t the fed gov have the Constitutional authority to regulate dumping of toxins into our water via this provision?

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                    • Because the first part of Article I, section 8 is the “topic sentence of the section”, and the remaining clauses (save the last) enumerate exactly which “general welfares” are the enumerated powers. There is no enumerated power to deal with emissions, because the framers didn’t have the foresight to imagine that emissions would become an issue.

                      If that’s not enough, how about the “an abundance of caution” principle.

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                    • Because the first part of Article I, section 8 is the “topic sentence of the section”, and the remaining clauses (save the last) enumerate exactly which “general welfares” are the enumerated powers.

                      Bullshit. I mean, bull shiiiit. I’ve heard that before from some libertarians, but seriously, it’s such a post hoc rationalization of a pet reading of that section that it’s comical. It requires treating section 8, which is structured exactly like the rest of Article 1, as being written in a completely different structure from the rest of Article 1 (the other sections don’t have “topic sentences”). It also requires a serious amount of self-delusion.

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                  • Wow, reading fail. And school house rock fail.

                    “provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare”

                    How far into the constitution did you get before you gave up?

                    BTW – it’s also in Article I, section 8, clause I.

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                    • Promoting welfare /= promote the general welfare. The words look the same but have different meanings. They’re homonyms. Plus, the word ‘general’ changes things up a bit.

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                  • …I would argue that “general welfare” is also not the same thing as what we call “welfare”. Much like how a “kinetic military actions” is a war, even though we don’t call it a war. The framers discussed at length that public charity ought not be a function of the government, and i think the proper interpretation of the constitution is somewhere between textualism and originalism (with the caveat that amendments should be interpreted in the context of the era of their passage, not of the original framers). I’m alright with judicial activism, so long as it is activism in the direction of disempowering government. That’s not just for partisan reasons – there is a strong moral difference between an organization deciding that it has the authority to do something and an organization deciding it should exhibit restraint and not do something.

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                    • I’m alright with judicial activism, so long as it is activism in the direction of disempowering government.

                      So, affirmative action es muy malo, no? Even tho there was institutional racism that prevented blacks from expressing the full spectrum of rights accorded them via the constitution given their citizenship?

                      Just more bad government intrusion into peoples lives, I guess. Right?

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                    • affirmative action is especially odious since it breaks the 14th amendment. I think that the institutional racism myth is that private institutions contributed a lot to racism, when it was really primarily backed by the state.

                      It depends on what your “full spectrum of rights” is. Should you have a right to an equal vote? Should you have have the right to a driver’s licence? Should you have the right to be free from police invasion, false arrest, double jeopardy? Hell yes. Should you have the right to demand that someone serve you food? I’m not so sure. Should you have the right to demand that someone employ you? Almost certainly not.

                      Conversely, if you are a private institution that wants to do affirmative action, that’s your damn business. I’m not even sure that affirmative action is good policy. If I were a minority that were subject to affirmative action, I am not certain I could get over impostor syndrome.

                      FWIW – I’m also opposed to civil rights acts imposing rules on private companies? Why? Because in the 80s my parents and I went to a diner and we were refused service. No civil rights act protected us then.

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                    • affirmative action is especially odious since it breaks the 14th amendment.

                      Well, hell. Why not just go back a ways and say that it violates the 3/5ths clause. It’s definitely cleaner. And easier to remember.

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                    • I’m sorry, you just don’t fucking understand. I have to try TWICE as hard because I’m a “MODEL MINORITY”. There is no affirmative action for me. Despite the fact that eighty years ago, my people had their property (de facto) wholesale stolen from them by the government and carted off to the middle of the desert with no due process.

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                    • In high school, my best friend got into MIT and I did not. I told him to go, but he did not. I will never know for sure, but I think he was unjustly scared to go. Instead he went to TCU and got pulled over for DWB coming home from a party at vandy. He had to drop out; it was a mistake anyways since he wanted to be a physicist and the department there was abysmal. In any case he’s doing fine now, he’s chief security officer of an internet bank – but I can’t help but think that the mere specter of affirmative action set him on the wrong course, and also drove a wedge in our friendship for several years.

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                    • > In high school, my best friend got
                      > into MIT and I did not.

                      Er, hold on. Is this an indictment of affirmative action because you didn’t get in? Or is it an indictment of affirmative action because (s)he thought they only got in because of affirmative action and you didn’t?

                      I applied to MIT. I didn’t get in. It never once occurred to me that I didn’t get in because I’m a white dude. It also never once occurred to me that I didn’t get in because I wasn’t smart enough to go to MIT (I was arrogant that way).

                      I just didn’t get into MIT because about a thousand men get in (now) out of about ten thousand male applicants. When you’re differentiating on the top half of one percent of the country, you’re probably not differentiating on grades or SAT scores or any other one single metric.

                      I worked on an admittance committee once (not for a college, but a private high school) and out of the incoming applicants, maybe 20% were selected straight off the top of the pile as exemplary cream-of-the-crop-top applicants. 20% were pretty much rejected as not-gonna-make-it-here. The remaining 60% were all accepted or rejected for a number of reasons… including “we have 50 other guys like this guy and our historical acceptance-to-enrollment percentage for guys like this guy is 80%, that’s enough guys-like-this-guy”.

                      You’re trying to fill N spots, knowing that if you give out M acceptance letters, M-O people are going to show up at the door.

                      If M-O > N you might have a problem. If M-O < N you probably have a problem. If M-O = N you have a great story to tell at the next faculty meeting.

                      But "O" is an independent factor in the decision.

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                    • you’re not asian. You don’t understand how it works. I mean, it’s really stunning to get a third place award at the international science fair and not get into MIT.

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                    • > I mean, it’s really stunning to get
                      > a third place award at the
                      > international science fair and
                      > not get into MIT.

                      Why is this stunning?

                      Do you know the demographics of all of the rejects from MIT?

                      If you don’t, how can you surmise whether or not you’re better or worse than the other people who were rejected?

                      If only 10% of the applicants get in, and you’re comparing yourself to some set of the applicants, that’s only half the equation.

                      If you’re also comparing yourself to the 90% of applicants who *didn’t* get in, then you might know something.

                      I imagine a great many science fair winners don’t get into MIT.

                      At any rate, I imagine that MIT accepts people it thinks will do well there. I imagine MIT also rejects plenty of people that it thinks will do well there.

                      That’s because there are more people who will do well at a good school who apply to it, than people who can actually *go* there.

                      Also, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere: it’s provable that most metrics for success at the high school level are poor predictors of success at the college level.

                      Given that *THAT* is the case, rejecting people who have good numbers or extracurriculars over somebody who writes a particularly interesting essay isn’t outside the realm of “good idea”.

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                    • I don’t know the demographics of MIT applicants/rejects, for that year I only have a dataset of three (my friend, my ex-girlfriend – who was applying from an altogether different school in a different part of the country, and me). I’m not really that bitter about MIT, I got into the UofC, which was probably a more rounded education and also took my writing skills to 11. And I got my comeuppance when I rejected MIT for grad school.

                      Again, I can’t say for sure that I got rejected because MIT felt it had too many asians. But, it sure seems like it.

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                    • Since California banned affirmative action, it’s pretty hard not to notice how Asians have come to completely dominate the premier universities. Whites are underrepresented at UCLA, Berkeley, UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, UC-Riverside. Asians are overrepresented by an order of magnitude (and attend in greater numbers than whites).

                      Yonemoto may be right or may not be right about MIT, but he’s not crazy to believe that affirmative action seriously holds Asians and Asian-Americans back. They, far more than whites, seem to bear the brunt of the policy.

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                    • Yet another example.

                      (Incidentally, I shouldn’t have used the word “dominate” as they are typically a small majority or plurality. Even so, their representation is astonishing. Especially when compared to schools that are not forbidden to use race as a criterion for admission.)

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                    • keep in mind that undoubtedly many of those students are basically denied admission to private and public schools outside of the california area – or know well enough to not bother trying – because of formal or informal quota systems, and so these students are picking the california schools as their second or third choice, so the overrepresentation itself is somewhat skewed higher.

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                    • Will

                      > Since California banned affirmative
                      > action, it’s pretty hard not to notice
                      > how Asians have come to completely
                      > dominate the premier universities.

                      Correlation does not imply causation, m’friend. And in any event, there are numerous other contributing factors involved. Also: how useful is the term “Asians” here? Also, also: are you certain that this isn’t just a case of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy?

                      > Yonemoto may be right or may
                      > not be right about MIT, but he’s
                      > not crazy to believe that affirmative
                      > action seriously holds Asians
                      > and Asian-Americans back.

                      Let me rephrase that a tad. He’s not crazy to come to a first conclusion that it might be the case that AA affects Asians more than Whites, but he ought to use that as a basis to find out more, not to come to any conclusions about policy. It’s a pretty weak set of evidence.

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                    • Pat, I am open to alternative theories, but the combination of what is going on in California and Thomas Epenshade’s look at the Ivies and Colburn’s look at Cal-Texas-Florida do lend themselves to certain conclusions. Getting rid of affirmative action appears to benefit Asians most. Affirmative action policies appear to be to their detriment. The arguments I’ve run across against this have been pretty weak, either focusing on law school or making abstract political arguments (“diversity is good for Asians, affirmative action promotes diversity, therefore affirmative action is good for Asians”)

                      “Asians” is all we have, really, because that’s how they’re classified by the counters. That’s how affirmative action policies approach them. Given how international students are classified separately, one assumes that we’re mostly talking about Americans of Asian ethnicity.

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                    • Mr. Yonemoto strikes me as the only libertarian hereabouts, with the exception of Mr. K, who makes a go of it on selected subjects.

                      As a “model minority” [good one, that, Mr Y] he has the standing to make the politically correct squirm. I’m quite enjoying him.

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  2. The piece is a joke and the author is clearly caught up in his own ‘holier than thou’ self delusion. Did he get to the part where the people who are getting fucked by the cab proposal are in fact poor immigrants? Jesus Christ, libertarianism has plenty of problems but reading most liberals write about it gives me a feeling similar to hearing nails scratch a chalkboard.

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  3. Actually the tea party is only financially libertarian, a lot of them favor state control of other behavior (war on drugs, same sex marriage, abortions etc). There are few true libertarians who hold that you should be able to do anything as long as it does not touch the end of the other persons nose. I go so far as to include assisted suicide for the terminally ill in the category of libertarian, for the ability to die is a form of liberty. Perhaps here the Japanese point of view on suicide is better than the Abrahamic view of suicide.

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  4. To me libertarianism is all about anti-authoritarianism, about tearing down barriers and class divisions and the many ways that the powerful elite and the state conspire to create artificial scarcity, to entrench rent-seekers and prop up monopolies, and to create more and more rules and laws by which to maintain an unjust hold on power.

    Jesu Christo, EDK, back to the fiction so soon? ‘Tearing down barriers and class divisions’? Really? Sorta definitionally, the libertarian will support class divisions and barriers just so long as they aren’t constructed and perpetuated by the state. And tearing down ‘the many ways that the powerful elite and the state conspire’? Really? Haven’t you been following: it’s not the conspiring the libertarian wants to tear down, it’s the state, which would leave the private co-conspirator, with enormous power, to go his merry way. Or is this no longer the central tenet of libertarianism? Or are you using the word in a newfangled way?

    But I’ll give you points: it’s a lovely picture you paint.

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    • You know, I get that this is how you think of it, and I get that this is probably how many libertarians think of it too (or rather, don’t think of it at all) but it’s not the way *I* think of it, and I don’t think it’s the right way to either. I’ve been writing in a series of posts about how I view the situation created by state and corporatist powers-that-be. Maybe I will compile them to dispel this “so soon” stuff.

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      • I hope you write about how the government funnels money into corporations by debasing the money supply and forcing middle class citizens to invest in order to survive.

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    • Haven’t you been following: it’s not the conspiring the libertarian wants to tear down, it’s the state, which would leave the private co-conspirator, with enormous power, to go his merry way. Or is this no longer the central tenet of libertarianism?

      So let’s have the state tear down the corporation! We’ll put together a committee! And… well… hrm. It looks like the bill the committee passed actually enacts barriers to entry for competition, strengthens protections for established players, and has tax cuts? How did those get in there??? And a rider for bailouts when the corporation fails???

      But, wait, let me guess… it was not your intention for this bill to be the bill that passed. It was not your intention for government capture. You wanted a government that wasn’t corrupt.

      Maybe the next committee that convenes will be better. Maybe the next multi-page law will be different.

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      • Yes, I’m sure libertatians would never become corrupt in any way, shape, or form. It’s just those evil liberal and conservatives.

        But, when Reason comes for Colonial-style limits to the power of corporations, including a 30-year shelflife on them, get back to me. For some reason, I think I’ll be waiting a while.

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            • Please, keep the cliched responses coming. All at once you can say “your ideology never actually gets any power” and “your ideology is responsible for X, Y, and Z” – how exactly does this work?

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              • Yes, because whenever conservatives use libertarian ideas to advance the interests of rich people, libertarians go, “well, if we were in power, that wouldn’t happen even though we’d pass basically the same law, only with even less regulation!”

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                • The use of the word “regulation” is often just lazy. Did airline regulation help big business or hinder it? What about the laws against homebrewing? What about trucking laws? Were these regulations that kept big business in line while helping the consumer?

                  I’m not actually against all forms of regulation, either. There is a place for regulation. But too often people talk about it like it’s one way or another and there’s no details or nuance or context at all.

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                  • Exactly. People from all sides do this which leads to silly generalizations. To many people can’t seem to facts of a specific case instead preferring self-righteous ideological preaching.

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        • Libertarians are just as likely to become corrupt. This is not some morality play. This is about the nature of power and institutions, not the goodness or wickedness of individuals.

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          • I think Libertarianism recognizes that power corrupts. The best way around this is to limit the sources of power.

            Regulation of various sectors is necessary, but regulation always seems to be captured by the regulated. Loopholes, special exemptions, etc… Limit the available power to blunt and curtail the results of corruption.

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      • You’re hardly worth responding to anymore. If you really think that liberals want to destroy corporations, you’re deluded. More to the point, libertarians ought to be but in practice aren’t opposed to corporations and want to tear them down because they exist only via a dispensation from the state, and as such are illegitimate market participants.

        Wtf, dude. Don’t you even know your own ideology?

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        • No, I don’t think that liberals want to destroy corporations.

          I think that they think that the government will keep the corporations in check, instead of the corporations keeping the government in check.

          And, after more power is given to the government to keep the corporations in check, the liberals express surprised that, no, the corporations are *STILL* keeping the government in check.

          It must be the fault of those libertarians!

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          • So, what’s your solution? You know, given that corporations both desire to do bad things but also have the power to get away with it.

            Will ending regulation resolve this conundrum?

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            • “Ending regulation”, no, I don’t think that I’m advocating for ending regulation.

              I do think that, when given the choice between corporations colluding with government and corporations not colluding with government, I’d choose the latter every time. It also seems to me that the best way to do that is to weaken government… because weakening corporations will result in regulatory capture that will create barriers to entry, strengthen protections for established players, give tax cuts, and set up mechanisms for bailouts.

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              • because weakening corporations will result in regulatory capture that will create barriers to entry, strengthen protections for established players, give tax cuts, and set up mechanisms for bailouts.

                You’re right. Weakening corporations only makes them stronger. I can see the problem.

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                • Weakening corporations only makes them stronger.

                  I was imagining what would happen.

                  An initiative would be announced. People would clap. A committee would be formed. This committee would find facts. Then they’d start writing a law, then they’d find more facts, then they’d continue to write the law, then we’d have an election and maybe shuffle the members of the committee (probably not, though), then give a law, written by lobbyists, unread by the politicians who voted on it, unread by the president who signed it, who would then go on to declare that corporations were weakened.

                  And, only then, would we find that barriers to entry were created. Protections created for established players. Tax cuts granted. Bailouts set up.

                  What do you think would happen? We’d get a principled group of congresspeople writing a bill that they wrote themselves and then edited by the principled senate to be given to a principled president who would then sign and enforce it resulting in weakened corporations?

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              • Jaybird –

                It also seems to me that the best way to do that is to weaken government… because weakening corporations will result in regulatory capture that will create barriers to entry, strengthen protections for established players, give tax cuts, and set up mechanisms for bailouts.

                Could you explain further why you think this is so? I completely understand your argument that increasing the power of government only enables more powerful collusion with corporations, but I don’t see how weaker corporations lead to more regulatory capture.

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                • I don’t see how weaker corporations lead to more regulatory capture

                  This was a joke on my part. The joke was that the corporations would capture the regulatory process that would supposedly weaken them and, instead, we’d end up with regulations that would be captured.

                  Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

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          • Btw, if what you say is right, then all the screaching and whining and public relations spending and lobbying congress and all that from corporate America about specific legislation must be part of an elaborate con job. Christ! I never realized how deep the rabbit hole goes!1!11

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              • With respect to these issues, they’re definitely not helping. Let’s see: we got rogue corporations dumping toxic waste into people water supplies, and libertarians want to rescind state water quality regulation. No. I don’t see much help there.

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                • Really? I suspect that libertarians would instead be talking about how the liability caps would protect the corporations more than was warranted thus allowing them to engage in risky behavior without worrying about consequence if they, say, engaged in a spill.

                  You sure about the water quality regulation thing?

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                  • Actually, I’ll try a snark free response.

                    Libertarians can talk about liability caps till their blue in the face. But just so long as there a law on the books which legally constrains corporate activity, regulatory agencies will be compelled to act responsibly (not that they always will).

                    I still don’t understand the argument you’re making which says that a) corporation X will do horrible things to people and places and b) this is often sanctioned by the regulators, and get to the conclusion c) that the regulators are the problem. It’s almost as if you’re saying that without the regulators, corporations wouldn’t be inclined to dump toxic waste in our water because it’s cost effective.

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                    • I’m saying that the regulators give official cover to the dumping of the toxic waste in our water.

                      On top of that, the liability caps give the corporations that had official cover a maximum responsibility that they have to deal with despite whatever damage they officially do (because, remember, they have cover from the regulators).

                      You watch what happens: people will say that processes were followed, the regulators will point out that “hey, we regulators were doing our job”, and a fund will be set up for those harmed by the corporation containing far, far less money than the profit made before the sludge was dumped.

                      And you will blame the libertarians for this.

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                    • I certainly won’t blame libertarians for that, cuz (as has been pointed out on this thread) libertarians don’t have the power to enact, let alone influence, major policy decisions.

                      But I will say that despite the worst case scenarios you describe, the threat of regulation coupled with an actual law to prevent that behavior is infinitely more workable and effective than what it seems your advocating (even tho you denied you were advocating it).

                      Liberals, and regulation supporters, don’t think regulation is a silver bullet. But it at a minimum a) makes the regulations public so that people so inclined know what to look for wrt violations and b) has the potential for actual enforcement, which voiding regulations preempts.

                      Libertarians like to complain about regulatory capture as if there were a better solution out there. There isn’t.

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                    • Libertarians like to complain about regulatory capture as if there were a better solution out there. There isn’t.

                      I’d just like to point out that there is only one person in this conversation defending State Regulatory Agencies colluding with the commercial entities that it is supposed to be regulating and it ain’t me.

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                    • And I’d just like to say there’s only one person so fixated on the possibility of collusion that they fail to see the positive effects of legislation and regulatory oversight.

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                    • As in, ‘since it’s possible that all regulators become captured, we should get rid of all regulations’.

                      You’re more opposed to state collusion with corporate malfeasance than the corporate malfeasance itself. I find that interesting. It’s like the ‘how many innocent need to go to jail so that one guilty man doesn’t go free’ thing.

                      Jaybird’s answer: all of them!

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                    • So let’s say that I assume that the only options are passing more (and better!) laws and the other option that you mention of “getting rid of all regulators” (which has only been mentioned by you so far), and I come to the conclusion that passing more (and better!) laws will once again result in capture and not make things better but will, instead, make things worse… then what?

                      Should I instead hammer the table and claim that other people want there to be no regulation at all because of the “possibility” that corporations will collude with the government against the citizenry?

                      You’re more opposed to state collusion with corporate malfeasance than the corporate malfeasance itself.

                      I assume that the best way to deal with corporate malfeasance is to do such things as allow corporations to go bankrupt when sued, or to refuse to bail them out when their bad decisions result in bankruptcy. (Perhaps we could sell their assets for pennies on the dollar to corporations who hadn’t been sufficiently malfeasant yet.)

                      This seems far preferable to me than the status quo.

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                    • I assume that the best way to deal with corporate malfeasance is to do such things as allow corporations to go bankrupt when sued, or to refuse to bail them out when their bad decisions result in bankruptcy. (Perhaps we could sell their assets for pennies on the dollar to corporations who hadn’t been sufficiently malfeasant yet.)

                      This seems far preferable to me than the status quo.

                      Certainly, a direct application of Jaybird’s Theory of Libertarianism. And, I don’t necessarily disagree.

                      But, if there will always be capture, how does your scenario ever play out? Wouldn’t those companies capture (via regulation, statute, or legislation) the government in such a way that what you describe never happens – at least to them?

                      So, then the question becomes: how can you stop humans from being humans, and always capturing benefit for some over others?

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                    • I guess I prefer a world where representative democracy stops toxic waste dumping, not violence.

                      (And yes, I know to libertarians, regulation is worse violence than being shot in the face.)

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                    • Did representative democracy protect the Yellowstone river?

                      Would it be a misstatement of your position to argue that all bad things would be prevented by just *MORE* representative democracy?

                      Does it matter if I misstate your position?

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                    • Representative democracy and regulation isn’t perfect, but it’s done a sight better job than just letting the market do what it wants when it comes to the environment, worker safety, etc., etc.

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                    • Not really. There are problems, and big problems in certain sectors of government regulation (Hello FCC and Mining Industry!), but look, recalls still happen, OSHA still works even when the GOP is in office, etc. I’m a cynical person when it comes to the political process, but I’m an optimist when it comes to public sector employees.

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                    • This seems far preferable to me than the status quo.

                      Well, it does to me too. So we don’t disagree on that score. You say you’re not opposed to regulation. You admit that malfeasance ought to be punished by governmental structures (the courts). Hmmmm.

                      How is this supposed to happen given that we’re presupposing very powerful corporations? You want to make government cleaner by eliminating the backscratching, right? How exactly? By voting the bums outa office? But rolling things back via revolution?

                      I don’t get you’re argument here Jaybird other than that your really pissed off that corporate power tilts justice in its favor. You’re not alone there, my friend. But that’s about the only thing I see you arguing here.

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                    • If influence of large corporations is a problem (either through regulatory capture or else), then just get rid of large corporations.

                      Remove the limited liability for any corporation above size X. The mega corporation will be gone in a couple of days while they all divest themselves to be below X.

                      Hey, they might actually get back to work at core competencies that way. Also, being unable to capture their own suppliers or distributors means that their competitors will be able to use their suppliers and distributors and competition will be encouraged.

                      The other option is to tax the shit out of them so that they can’t be worth more than X.

                      I really don’t have a third solution. Anyone? Trusting the government not to take money for privilege and trusting the corporation not to offer kickback for the same seems futile.

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                    • Public financing of elections. It won’t stop lobbying, since lobbying has existed since Gog wanted Og to build a fire closer to his cave than Bog’s cave. But it will lessen the direct hold that corporations have on politicians balls.

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                    • That’s a third solution.

                      If Citizens United is our current baseline, it behooves us to get behind a Constitutional amendment to get that done. Public financing of elections ain’t coming about any other way.

                      That’s actually probably easier than either of mine.

                      Anyone got another?

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                    • > Give the initial caucuses/primaries
                      > to different states based on a lottery.

                      I like that one, too. In practice that’s hard to do without a federal amendment, though, since it sorta trumps states deciding when to have their own primaries.

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                    • Pat Cahalan: Personally, I think some of the ideas presented are unworkable given institutional structures as they currently exist. One mentioned would be to heavily tax corporations. That’s a non-starter, ISTM, since this solution would require that the corporate/government nexus was already broken.

                      I mean, the real problem here is that institutional change cannot come from within the institution. Or at least, the type of change we’re talking about. So only stuff that creates change from outside that structure will work. Public financing of campaigns would go a long ways to taking corporate cash out of the election process (depends on whether PAC’s, etc., would be permitted to advertise), and hence eliminate corporate influence in the legislative process as well. Regulatory capture would still be a problem unless laws were enacted preventing government employees from working in the private sector for some period of time after leaving public service. But that’s an instance of the same core problem again.

                      I personally think instant runoff voting would also be effective in at least rattling the cages of incumbents and those too cozy with private power.

                      Revoking corporate charters is another possibility, but that requires action by state, and only an unimaginably powerful public demonstration could compel, say New Jersey, to revoke Union Carbide’s charter.

                      Which of these (there are others) is possible? Not publicly funded campaigns at the national level (I think the SC would shoot that down if it meant PACs and others couldn’t exercise first amendment rights); not laws preventing private sector employment (Obama tried to get Congress to bite on that one, to no avail); not revoking corporate charters; not taxing the hell outa them.

                      So personally, I’m not sanguine about the prospects for reducing corporate influence. Or at least, for reducing it via methods beyond what we already have in place.

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                    • Stillwater

                      > Personally, I think some of the
                      > ideas presented are unworkable
                      > given institutional structures
                      > as they currently exist.

                      Not to tip my rhetorical hand too much, but that was actually part of the point.

                      Here’s where I now announce my frustration with partisanship and once again mention that I’m not a political ideologue of any stripe.

                      Look, if what we’re talking about is a pernicious embedded problem in a system, quibbling over who should or shouldn’t be elected, or who is or isn’t responsible for their own crowd of sheep following the wolves, or whose approach to band-aiding over these pernicious embedded problems is least effective is *just wasting time*.

                      Large organizations don’t change due to small external or internal changes. They change due to crisis.

                      Jesse voting for Obama because he’s the best he’s got? Wasting time. Treading water. Koz insisting we ought to elect Republicans? Wasting time. Treading water. Jaybird and ED complaining that Wall Street got bailed out? That’s a consequence of the system. It’s *inevitable* the way things are now.

                      Odds that another bailout will happen within 20 years? 5-1. You can bet $10 to win $50 from me if it doesn’t happen. Odds that there will be a bailout within 50 years that is bigger than the most recent one? Also 5-1. We will do this never again, until next time we’re forced to do it.

                      Most regulations are crap because they’re too complicated. They’re complicated because they have to look like they’re solving a problem while simultaneously giving that one dissenting senator an out that he can sell to his major donor so that he can vote for the thing. This does exactly what Jaybird and ED says it does: it prevents new bad actors, and it takes some of the existing potential bad actors out of the game, and it gives official cover to the last potential bad actor.

                      And given that the official cover is going to go to the potential bad actor that *already has shown willingness to bypass the legal system by buying a vote*, that potential bad actor who gets the official cover is nearly certainly one of the worst possible bad actors to get official cover. This is ass-backwards.

                      Simplistic description, but good enough for a working frame to describe what I’m talking about.

                      Most nefarious behavior begins at the edge of any system; because that’s where the audit control is going to be weakest and the liquidity is going to be loose. Once a nefarious actor gets enough cheddar, or the domain gets big enough, they embed their badness in the rules so that they can look respectable while continuing to profit off of everybody else, without adding any real value.

                      If you want to make this problem go away, you have to introduce serious consequences. Put some of these fuckers in jail.

                      You don’t even have to target these hugely privileged dudes with money who will drag a case out for five years and then get off with a fine and time served. That’s tilting at windmills. You can get one, or two, or a dozen, and you’re not going to change the culture of business because each businessman is *primarily* motivated by the conditions at his/her business, not by the government.

                      Why is nobody at the MMS in jail?

                      Seriously, why? Rubberstamping a safety document that okays operations when your regulatory suspect is the one that filled out the document? How is that not falsifying a federal filing? Shouldn’t that be worth… oh, I dunno, 20 years? If someone dies as a result of you fudging your paperwork, shouldn’t that be grounds for an accessory before the fact charge to manslaughter? Why isn’t it?

                      Hell, even if you don’t think you can make that case in court… even if you think *that* case will go 5 years and the guy will get off… why don’t you file? Have Eric Holder show up at the front door with 100 FBI agents and go into that agency and treat it the way they treat someone who’s accused of dealing drugs. Book people. Get their faces in the news. Scare the crap out of every government employee who thinks that they need to do what their corrupt boss tells them to do or they might lose their job… into thinking what they need to do is report their corrupt boss or they might wind up going to jail.

                      You want to clean the regulatory house, don’t try to reduce corporate influence at the corporate side. They have the money. If they want to act badly, they already have a huge power imbalance to leverage. If you go after them, it’s “Government vs. Business”, which is politically hard to deal with.

                      Go after *yourself*. Corrupt government workers aren’t going to have a fleet of 100 top-paid lawyers to get them off. “Government vs. Government” is a huge political winner, even the GOP would have to give you (public) grudging respect for cleaning house. Libertarians would love it. Liberals would love it: even if they’re big government supporters, there’s nobody anybody likes to see get screwed more than somebody who’s screwing the public.

                      And it would actually change the culture inside the bureaucracy of the government.

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          • Thanks for the link. I’m pretty familiar with anti-corporate-charter arguments myself. I thought I’d hit Jaybird with it tho to see what sticks to him.

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  5. Libertarians have great critiques of many of the problems with government and state/gov collusion. The problem is those good points are seen to cover every issue, so there is rarely or never a place for gov action or where the market fails. Libertarians are often like a good hitter who can absolutely crush high fastballs, but then thinks every pitch is a high fastball. Where they are good they are great but every problem ends up being a nail.

    Everybodies philosophy works great is theory and in the cases that best fit its model. The true work comes in real situations that don’t fit your model well. Since libertarians as a group have little power they haven’t truly had to face up to the inevitable failures ( since no theory is perfect and the real world makes a hash of all our dearest ideas) of what their ideas would entail.

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    • I disagree. Honest libertarians believe that the market is constantly failing and that this is exactly the point. Though yes, I agree many libertarians turn a blind eye to many issues, or want to cut welfare first and ignore other more pressing ways we should limit government, etc.

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      • I can point to the problem with libertarianism and markets in one sentence. Libertarians looks at Wall Street and say, “the problem was that Wall Street had too many rules.”

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          • No. The problem was that Democrats and Republicans allowed Wall Street to do whatever it wants for the past thirty years. 2008 was just the endpoint.

            The bailouts were a problem, but I’d prefer that over the total economic collapse libertarians seemed to have preferred. (Personally, I’d have pulled a Sweden and nationalized the mofos, but we’re talking about what happened, not what should have happened.)

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            • FWIW: the Nobel committee issued prizes to a number of individuals who created formulae for calculating risk, which then was applied widely, increasing the risk of the new financial instruments. Regulators failed to regulate these instruments in no small part because it had been approved by the intellectual community.

              People are not evil, they’re just most often, simply ignorant, idealistic or stupid.

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          • Yeah, I’d say it’s more accurate to say that the problem with Libertarians and markets is that Libertarians look at Wall Street and say, “The problem with Wall Street is that they were bailed out.”

            Because we already have a volume of history that says, should Wall Street get itself into a sufficiently big pickle, Wall Street *is going to get itself bailed out*.

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            • Quite. Unfortunately, if someone owes you $100 they have a problem. If someone owes you $1000000000, you have a problem. We got ourselves in a state where Wall Street owed us all rather more than that. The hard part is, how do we stop that from happening?

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              • I suspect that this one is actually pretty easy; I don’t know enough about financial law to know if I’m right, though.

                The problem isn’t that banks are too big. The problem is that banks used to provide one function (intermediary with private lenders and the Fed) and now they provide two (that plus financial services).

                This ought to be a one-line fix. You don’t even need to make a bunch of rules dictating who gets to be a bank or who doesn’t get to be a bank or what a bank is or anything else that would require committees or political maneuvering or negotiations.

                Change the FDIC deposit insurance rules. An institution can only qualify for FDIC coverage if they maintain a asset/liability ratio of N/M, and they are a wholly owned entity.

                You can also change the liquidity rules for people who want to borrow money from the Fed itself (and you probably ought to do that), but this step alone solves a lot of the problems.

                Now financial houses can’t buy up banks and use depositor’s money to add juice to their financial services operations, by proxy making the government underwrite their riskier financial services operations… at least, not without giving up the government coverage.

                This isn’t, by itself, going to prevent nefariousness in the banking industry (you’ll still have to deal with the fact that you have accounting rules dictating what’s an “asset” and what’s a “liability”), but we already went around that maypole once with the S&L crisis. If we didn’t learn anything from that, well.

                Note: yonemoto points out elsewhere that 401k/403b’s are still something of an issue, because many Americans now hold more in *those* than they do in their normal bank accounts. That still needs to be addressed, or financial houses can still get “too big to fail”.

                But the bank/financial house link is the killer that needs to be broken first.

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                • I finally sort-of finished my comment in the other thread, Pat. Its relevant here if you have time to read it.

                  A couple of much briefer points – we have asset/liability ratios. They’re called capitalisation ratios and we’re in the process of revising them upwards. There are a couple of other cute ideas, like having banks issue debt that automatically converts to equity when their capitalisation falls. But basically its all a bit beside the point because the banks found a way shunt almost all of their actual lending and borrowing activity into the secondary market which isn’t regulated. Actual banks really serve only as store fronts these days, and that hasn’t changes post-crisis.

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                    • You can, sadly. Regular banks securitize essentially all of their loans, and broker virtually all of their deposits. What shows on their balance sheet is the resulting assets and liabilities – these look very clean, because they’ve already been paid for the loans, and they have a supposedly regular income stream from the deposits. The actual business of using the deposits to fund the loans is done by the market. We could stop this, or regulate it, but it came about basically because it was becoming almost impossible for banks (especially small banks) to make any money off the interest rate spread once they filled their regulatory responsibilites.

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          • oh please. The bailout sucked. But they crashed the economy before that. They F’d us all. You don’t like the bailout…fine. But the bailout was a solution, maybe wrong, to the problem. Don’t confuse the questionable cure with the disease.

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            • Which libertarians crashed the economy? Most of the regulations set up for Wall Street directly benefited the large firms over potential competitors. That being said, I say we break up the banks. They’ve benefited far too much from the revolving door.

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              • I never said libertarians crashed the economy. WS did. However i don’t see how Libertarian views on regulation would have prevented WS from screwing things up. WS benefits from having the power to buy access and votes. Take away that, as libertarians would, as WS would still have tremendous power and no regs.

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                • Because somehow, removing all regulations would be better than the relatively little amount of regulation left over after Gramm and Clinton got done with Glass-Steagall.

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                  • I’d rather have no regulations at all than regulations that only some people followed.

                    If there are no rules, then there are no rules. But if there’s rules that you can get an advantage by breaking, then you’re encouraging people to break the rules. And that’s not going to stop with the piddly silly useless rules that nobody would ever enforce.

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                    • > I’d rather have no regulations
                      > at all than regulations that
                      > only some people followed.

                      Then you will have no regulations. There will always be nefarious actors.

                      > If there are no rules, then there
                      > are no rules. But if there’s rules
                      > that you can get an advantage
                      > by breaking, then you’re
                      > encouraging people to break
                      > the rules.

                      Er, sort of? This assumes no default standard of behavior and no audit. That’s not really how security systems work, and regulations are just another kind of security system.

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                    • You rarely hear anyone say that the problem with sports is that we don’t allow more performance enhancing drugs. Or allow “corrective” surgery to speed up someone’s fastball or improve their cycling efficiency. Or genetic therapy to improve red blood cell counts.

                      I listen to these discussions about business and I wonder why.

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                    • Personally, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if professional athletes told their employers, collectively, to take their drug tests and shove them up their butt. It might start a useful trend.

                      I don’t mind amateur competitions protecting the integrity of the sport. I don’t see how this is really relevant to professional sports. There *is* no integrity of the sport in professional sports. You want integrity, go watch 8 year olds play.

                      You want entertainment, go watch professional sports.

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                    • I thought about it for three more seconds and boy howdy does the anti-drug rules in sports demonstrate the fairness of a libertarian argument better than you think.

                      Say, who broke all the records in the last decade in professional sports? Guys that did HGH, it seems like. Say, who got paid the most in the last decade in professional sports? Guys who did steroids, it seems like.

                      What exactly did drug testing do, except give a bunch of ethically bankrupt doctors with access to performance enhancing materials a nice audience? Because it sure as hell didn’t stop drug use, did it?

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                    • More performance enhancing drugs! More! More! I want them bigger and stronger and hitting harder and STILL GETTING BACK UP!!! If Angel Dust is the only thing that will do that, then Angel Dust is the only thing that will do that.

                      I want them on motorcycles. I want them with chainsaws.

                      I WANT THUNDERDOME!!!!!!

                      Seriously, if you want to watch a bunch of girls playing tennis, that’s what ESPN 2 is for.

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                • From *this* starting point – I agree entirely actually. We need to be very careful that *deregulation* isn’t captured. That’s a very likely scenario, actually. Libertarians need to give much more thought to how this process would work, because it’s just as likely that WS would take advantage of deregulation as it would regulation. It’s a Catch-22 in a way.

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                  • We need to be very careful that *deregulation* isn’t captured. That’s a very likely scenario, actually. Libertarians need to give much more thought to how this process would work…

                    No, they don’t. The answer is already in: there is no libertarian answer. Short of government intervention, how can you ensure actual non-monopolostic competition? Can’t be done. Even Jaybird couldn’t do it.

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                    • Stillwater, I’m no libertarian myself but I do know enough about it to answer that libertarianism says that sustained monopolies are typically a result of government intrusion: government regulation, government barriers (*blackhat interjection: government enforcement of copyrights and trademarks) to entry etc.. which prevents monopolies from being undercut and destroyed by competitors in a free marketplace.

                      I makes sense in theory, the sad caveat being that there’s never been a free market to test it in in practice.

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                    • but I do know enough about it to answer that libertarianism says that sustained monopolies are typically a result of government intrusion

                      Of course they do. They have to, don’t they?

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                    • That doesn’t address their assertion bud. I’m a liberal myself (maybe closer to neo liberal than you are) but you don’t win arguments or change minds with just snark and I honestly think we can (and should) do better. Libertarians have a pretty good point on monopolies. Name a monopoly past or present and one can burrow down and typically find the government outcrop that the monopoly’s foundation is built on.

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                    • I’ll give libertarians a little credit. I think for a true monopoly, you need help from the government. However, what deregulation does is create oligarchical power structures (sp?), which are just as bad. For example, see the market for cell service.

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                    • That doesn’t address their assertion Bud.

                      Bud? Hmmm….

                      Here’s an assertion: If it weren’t for teachers unions, every student – and every teacher! – would be above average!

                      Look, that monopolies are the result of government interference is a conclusion fro libertarian first principles, so in order to be consistent, they have to say that. Empirical evidence would also refute the claim – unless you discount the long history in which private wealth simply was the state, but that discounts about 98% of human history. So, excepting that (roughly) 98% of history, I guess there’s an empirical argument to be made that monopolies result only from state activity.

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                    • what deregulation does is create oligarchical power structures

                      Exactly my point. I’m using the term ‘monopoly’ as Milton Fredman used it not too long ago: when a handful of firms control 50 % or more of the market.

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                    • I’m gonna skip the first paragraph since that’s not really a libertarian position. Sounds more like something W would throw out so maybe faux libertarian?

                      I’d agree that oligarchies can do well without the state (which is why I’m sympathetic to the concept of antitrust but then I’m a liberal) but I think you’re putting it a little too strongly. Monopolies don’t result from state activity but rather state activity can enable monopolies to persist where as absent the state market forces would otherwise undermine them. I’m honestly trying to think of a famous monopoly that didn’t have significant state involvement and am coming up blank.

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                    • You’re having trouble coming up with monopolies that didn’t have state support?

                      What definition of monopoly are you employing here? What definition of ‘state support’? Suppose three trucking companies comprise 80% of national market share: is that the result of state support

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                    • Oops. That got cut off, but you see where I’m going. My question is this: what constitutes state support in the creation of monopolistic (or oligoplistic) markets? Microsoft for a time was a literal monopoly. In what sense was that a product of the state? (IP protections notwhitstanding.)

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                    • Well, maybe. I ‘notwistandinged’ it because IP is often viewed as a legitimate property right by libertarians, and certainly by status-quo-ists. But your right about it being a big caveat.

                      The bigger point was to get clearer on what constitutes state support/intervention wrt monopolies. I’m not sure what a libertarian would think is sufficient state involvement for a monopoly to be deemed a product of the state.

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                    • not true of all libertarians at all. Nina Paley, for example, is a fairly important libertarian anti-IP activist. She made a full-length animated movie and released it under CC licensing.

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                    • Stillwater, I’m thinking of historical monopolies, as in actual companies that existed in the past that were the undisputed tyrannical masters of their fields; monopolies we all loved to hate. I don’t know how well Microsoft fit the bill, yes their operating system was and is rather ubiquitous but when you factor in how easily replaceable it was with parallel technology it feels to me like it wasn’t a very impressive one. Do you have a historic example of the big bad monopoly that springs to mind when the word is mentioned? I have some but when I think about them I always can think of government support that enabled them to flourish and maintain their monopoly.

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                    • No, I can’t think of any monopolies that occurred without state involvement. I think there’s a couple ways to go on that. Surely IP and patent law has alot to do with corporate success, but it’s not obvious that these things are bad, and certainly from the pov of the inventor they’re not bad. So I’m not sure I would be inclined to say that private sector financial success could be fairly called, in these cases, a product of the state. (There are principled and pragmatic arguments for IP protections. I’m not sure where I fall on the issue.) Also, state power is used to constrain competition in certain markets, create or open other markets, secure resources, permit anti-competitive practices, etc.

                      But here’s the thing: I think all this behavior, or lots of it, would have occurred in any event. That is, private power would choke off competition either with or without the state, either with or without ‘legal cover’. So I guess my short take on it is that government creates a situation in which private power can socialize costs and risks and gain cover for what would otherwise be called ‘anti-competitive practices’, but that’s behavior which they would pursue even in the absence of the state.

                      This is too quick, and I’m sure I misstated on some points. But that’s the jist of it.

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            • Well let me rephrase: I don’t personally think the problem with WS is that they had too many rules. I think that the rules they did have benefited the biggest banks and I think the bailout made it much worse.

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              • “Wall Street had too many rules” is of course a highly simplistic thing to argue, and it’s unlikely many serious people did. I’m just saying that the question Jesse raised was not, “What was the problem?” but, “what did libertarians argue the problem was?”

                And I would argue that’s because that’s how you’ve essentially framed this discussion, indeed many of your discussions, Erik. You seem often to arguing for what Ideological-Identity-Group-X (with whom your affiliation, I’d add, often seems unclear or inconsistent at best) ought to be arguing (or what they ought to be arguing more, or less…), rather than just arguing what you, Erik Kain, see as the forces that really drive our problems. Given your acknowledged tendency to wanderer among political identities, why not just go with the unaffiliated approach altogether, and let libertarians and liberals themselves sort out what and how they argue? That’ll free you up to just say what you really think on substance, because you won’t have to expend all this energy trying to square the many, contradictory things that liberals and libertarians all say within their tents with your ideal vision for what these ideological camps should be focusing on.

                I think you have a unique take on social, economic, and political life, E.D., but that doesn’t mean that the endeavor to put a foot each in two warring camps and pull them both toward yourself is a fruitful, or even a legitimate one. “Liberals should argue more long the lines I want them to, and for that matter so should libertarians” is a pretty hubristic position to put yourself in, and moreover, I’m not sure I get what you get out of putting so much energy into trying to maintain it, rather than just allowing your own voice to be heard, let be classified as it may. Your investment in the reform of and shifting affiliations with these various ideological movements are entirely your own choices. I often wonder if they are the best ones for you.

                To put it another way: I’m comfortable calling myself a liberal, but it doesn’t seem to me like I care nearly as much what liberals happen to be arguing on a given day as you do about what libertarians are arguing — and I was under the impression you only at best partially identify with them. Remember: EVERYONE is a little bit libertarian. You don’t have to throw in with the actual movement whatsoever to hold whatever views you want to hold. What Nick Gillespie, Radley Balko, and, for that matter, Freddie DeBoer say does not have to matter to you in the slightest.

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                    • Oh it’s very much my choice. And I’m well aware that working through these ideas in a public forum opens me up to charges of inconsistency. I may indeed be inconsistent on some levels. On others, not so much. That’s the way it is and I’ll live with it. As I mentioned in one of my last posts there are some tangible truths that I have held on to, and many areas that are murky and gray that I’m working on understanding better. I defend liberals and libertarians from accusations I think are untrue. I don’t believe I’ve gone full-throttle into any camp in particular. And I find the notion that it’s hubristic for a pundit to change minds or attempt to “bring both sides together toward my own opinion” or whatever – well I find that notion very strange indeed. Would I be guilty of less hubris if I tossed out my opinions without worrying about libertarianism or liberalism?

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                    • Absolutely. because if they were just openly your opinion on direct matters of substance, you wouldn’t be implicating entire political movements’ own decisions about how to conduct themselves. It’s one thing for a conservative to react to liberal ideas by saying, “That’s a bad idea.” That’s just what that person (being a consevative, though you could just do it as ‘being Erik’) happens to think of the thing on the merits. It’s quite another for a sometime-partial-affiliate of an actual political-ideological movement (and I’m not charging you with anything — there is nothing wrong with what you are or where you’ve been in recent months) to say, “From the movement’s own perspective, it would be better if they did this not that.” And it’s still another thing to stand kind-of-in/kind-of-outside more than one such movement and say that about each of them at the same time. I guess I’m just having an intuition about dues-paying here to some extent, but more I just feel that when I observe you lately I feel that the only position I feel you can really legitimately take is your own — that you’re not in a position to say what libertarians ought to be doing with regard to their movement or liberals with regard to their cause. But perhaps many libertarians or liberals feel differently. I just wonder where it stops. I don’t dig walking around saying, ‘Here’s what this group — by it’s own lights ought to do. I’s only feel comfortable, and then only maybe, saying what a group I’ve made some commitment to — paid some dues to — ought to do by it’s lights. By my and by extension my society’s light’s — i.e., “Godless Liberals are ruining America!” — that’s different. But I have no idea what libertarians ought to do vis-a-vis some correct libertarianism. I barely think I know what liberals ought to do vis-a-vis liberalism, and I think about it a lot. And, if I were a long-affiliated member of either group, based on your positioning with respect to each group, I wouldn’t particularly welcome being told by you what my group (which I hardly have control over to begin with) is doing, unless you’re at least willing to say you’re unreservedly part of it.

                      On the other hand, other members of the group may well have solicited your opinion on the matter without asking me about it, in which case you’re perfectly entitled to respond. And in any case, you can say what you want, of course. I’m just saying that I see it as a somewhat hubristic and empty enterprise, given your de facto non-affiliation with the groups whose decisions you are reviewing. To this point, I think you’ve carved yourself a somewhat lonely path. I’m not charging you with anything. I’m just saying that, looking from the outside, you’re not in much of a position at this point to tell any particular political group or affiliation what it ought to be doing by your understanding of its own imperatives (rightly understood, accoring to you). My intuition is that you have to pay some dues in one of them (possibly to include going after its opponents in some sustained way for a period of time) in order to be able to do that. But my assertion is that there really isn’t much in it for you to do that, nor even to worry about the path these movements take all that much (they’re not filled with dummies, after all!), because you have such a well-developed take on matters that is all your own. (And just because you may have developed ideas within your broad approach to analysis with reference to ideas these movements have in turn developed, doesn’t mean you don’t fully own your unique viewpoint outright, nor owe anything to these worldly movements for it. Affiliation, sporadic or fanatical, remains a choice.

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      • Honest libertarians believe that the market is constantly failing and that this is exactly the point.

        I for one cannot make heads or tails of this statement, but would like to be able to.

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  6. I would compare this issue to the DC handgun ban. I’m agnostic on gun control, in many instances; I don’t know if I can support banning the legitimate use of something because of its misuse by others. But I also recognize that DC is a community that has been absolutely ravaged by gun violence for decades, and that desperate residents and city officials were attempting to solve an intractable and debilitating problem. But during the Supreme Court case that overturned that ban, I saw essentially no commentary from institutional libertarianism that acknowledged the ugly aesthetics of a bunch of white, privileged libertarians working to undermine efforts to reduce gun crime in an impoverished black city. It was as if those people and that problem simply didn’t exist.

    This is quite a paragraph in its own right.

    My problem is that this sentence fragment here: “But I also recognize that DC is a community that has been absolutely ravaged by gun violence for decades” might lead someone with no knowledge of the issue to assume that DC did not have a ban, or an insufficiently broad ban, or, perhaps, a ban that those in power didn’t particularly care to enforce… nope.

    When we get to “But during the Supreme Court case that overturned that ban” we then find out that there *WAS* a ban. A ban that, apparently, did nothing to address the “intractable and debilitating problem”.

    How bad was the ban? Well, the case that went to the Supreme Court was about a guy who carried a gun for his job but was refused a permit to own a handgun. That was representative of the ban and not an outlier. So we’re talking about a ban that doesn’t, say, restrict felons or, say, restrict people with a history of domestic abuse, or, say, a history of suicide attempts. It was a sweeping ban that even extended to folks who were expected to carry a gun as part of their job… which brings us to Freddie’s conclusion of the paragraph.

    Freddie’s problem with the Libertarians was that none of them acknowledged the “ugly aesthetics of a bunch of white, privileged libertarians working to undermine efforts to reduce gun crime in an impoverished black city. It was as if those people and that problem simply didn’t exist.”

    The problem of the optics is also the problem of the nature of the ban. The nature of the handgun ban was not acknowledged by Freddie. It’s like it didn’t even exist. The ban had been in DC since 1975. 33 years from the ban until the Heller Case. This was never acknowledged by Freddie. The ban was only mentioned in passing until it became time to look at the people who opposed it at which point it became something to criticize the opposition for insufficient attention to optics.

    No discussion of whether the ban was working. No discussion as to the nature of gun or otherwise violent crime in Washington DC. The only discussion of the right to own guns was an acknowledgment of Freddie’s own agnosticism on the topic… which gave him vantage to snipe at those privileged white people who wished to change things while the natures of those who fought for things to stay the same just aren’t there.

    It’s like they don’t exist.

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  7. E.D. –

    I’m not surprised you don’t see eye to eye with Freddie. He hits libertarianism as a worldview with a total and disqualifying inability to measure or account for power as it exists in the real world and you follow with 3 paragraphs on the ideals of libertarianism held by a small nook of libertarians you read.

    To defend against Freddie’s charge, don’t you need to provide examples of where libertarian ideas have been successfully applied against entrenched power in the real world?

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    • Dude, just read the taxicab post all this was sparked from. They’re going to put tons of low-income, largely immigrant (minority) workers out of a job to protect the interests of established cab companies with connections to government. Boom! One example right there. Bailouts of Wall Street? Boom! There’s another. The War on Drugs – another. What on earth do you even mean?

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        • Not true Will. There has to be some set of principles beyond truisms that define the ideology. We’re not in Humpty Dumpty land. I mean, to just say that libertarians are opposed to the WOD is a bit vague, since it dosen’t capture the right people – eg., I oppose the WOD. It’s also unhelpful to say that yeah, well, libertarians strenuously oppose the WOD.

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      • Speaking as someone with friends in DC, the problem is that some cab companies are shady as hell. I live in Seattle. Cabs are plenty regulated. Not too many white people driving cabs. I think basic regulation won’t mean suddenly that former Heritage Foundation interns are driving cabs or anything.

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        • I think basic regulation won’t mean suddenly that former Heritage Foundation interns are driving cabs or anything.

          This isn’t basic regulation. This is a medallion system, with government officials handing out the medallions. If you think they’ll be systematic and fair about that, I have to doubt you’ve actually lived in D.C.

          And you’re right, the same immigrants and minorities will likely be driving cabs. It’s just that once the bill passes, most of them will have to fork over 30% or more of their income to a cab corporation owned by a guy with connections to the city councilman who introduced the bill. To add insult to injury, you can bet that part of that money they’ll now have to fork over will go toward getting that same councilman reelected.

          By the way, the libertarian Institute for Justice has been fighting bills like this one all over the country.

          But remember, libertarians hate minorities, and bow down before corporations.

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          • But remember, libertarians hate minorities, and bow down before corporations.

            You guys are so sensitive! Look, I’m a liberal and I’m willing to admit – no, I fully accept – that some liberals are racists. Why can’t you admit that while libertarianism isn’t pro-corporate some libertarians are?

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              • Aren’t all libertarians pro-corporate by default, since removing government regulation of industry essentially lets them loose on society? A big part of my trust and respect for “big government” comes from the protections it offers me from corporate externalities.

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                • It’s like saying that someone who is “pro-free speech” is “pro-fiction”.

                  I’m not *ANTI* corporate. I kinda think that only corporations ought to be taxed and individuals ought not be (you know, in exchange for corporate personhood and the legal protections it provides, you abandon your rights to privacy, etc).

                  This is generally seen as something that libertarians don’t believe when I bring it up, for some reason. Even though, seriously, I totally do.

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                • The government causes many of the externalities you worry about so much. There is no such thing as a complete lack of malfeasance in the private sector, but the difference is that government can apply a great deal of force, both physical and economic, to enforce its wishes. Corporations can’t, unless of course they make use of government power. That’s the whole problem.

                  The core philosophy of libertarianism is that people should be free to act as they will provided they do not infringe upon the freedoms of others. That means no force or fraud, which is why government is supposed to exist: to protect the few from the powerful.

                  So in other words, protecting you from corporations (or anyone else, including the government) depriving you of your rights (including your right to your money, which is property) by force or fraud and punishing those that do is a legitimate function of government.

                  The problem comes when government “regulation” is nothing more than code for stifling competition, restricting entrance into the marketplace, attempting to force business to invest in certain areas, enforcing a social agenda, etc.

                  In this particular case, it’s tough to make an argument that there’s a compelling need, even if you ordinarily support massive regulation, to tightly regulate taxicabs, particularly when those regulations are quite obviously targeted at smaller and especially independent cabbies, but directly benefit the larger companies who, I’m sure coincidentally, have the deep pockets to lobby government for “regulations” that do little more than restrict entry into the marketplace.

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                  • “The problem comes when government “regulation” is nothing more than code for stifling competition, restricting entrance into the marketplace, attempting to force business to invest in certain areas, enforcing a social agenda, etc.”

                    Aw shucks. These are the kinds of regulations that me and all my liberal friends love and you’re telling me they’re a problem?

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                    • Seems like someone has to, particularly when government has a track record of aiding and abetting those corporate externalities you maintained in your earlier post they protect us from. Plenty of folk in the liberal and conservative camps have no problem whatsoever with regulation that does those things when its their goals that benefit. The fact that you totally didn’t bother to discuss what I said tells me that I’m likely wasting my keystrokes.

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          • Why not either hand out as many medallions as desired, you pay your fee to the gov you get a medallion, or else issue on an annual basis, and auction them off every year. Capture the rent of the medallion owner to the city.

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            • Because the people who lobbied for medallions don’t want just anyone to be able to get one. If there was an unlimited number of them being handed out then the advocates wouldn’t want it there at all. The entire point of the medallion system is to establish oligopolies.

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              • But if libertarians were consistent they would push for giving the medallions to any who ask. Just like they would allow anyone to run a jitney. Regulation is regulation no matter if it is federal, state or local. Consider some cities regulate placing flagpoles for example.

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                • They are consistent. They say “get rid of the medallions” then everyone effectively has a medallion and it doesn’t cost them anything.

                  And don’t get me started on pointless excess regulations, I’m no libertarian myself but I am mightily simpatico with them on that subject.

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                  • Except then you get the condition in DC where there are many shady cab operators who overcharge, etc. And I know, free marker! But there isn’t a free market when it’s 2AM, snowing, and almost below zero outside. You’re taking the first cab that comes down the street, whether you’re an anarchic communist or a fascist.

                    Which is my point. Yes, the medallion system may not the correct fix to this problem. But to say that there’s no problem to fix is just inane.

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                    • Medallions don’t prevent the crap cab at 2AM with the shifty driver/stinky driver/dirty back seat. Medallions just limit the number of cabs so suddenly ~all~ the cabs are overcharging because they don’t have to worry about getting undercut by new entrants. New York has had a cap on cab entrants for ages. Do we hear paens to the affordable courteous pleasant New York cabbie? Of course not. But we hear about how expensive they are constantly.

                      Doing something harmful to yourself that doesn’t fix the problem you’re purporting to fix is considerably more inane than claiming that the problem is something one just has to live with or develop personal strategies to get around.

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                    • Per capita. I’ve heard more horror stories about DC cabbies overcharging/dropping people the wrong place/etc. than New York cabbies by a huge factor. Ancedotal evidence and all. Plus, I never said cabbies had to be pleasant – just have seat belts and not overcharge people. :)

                      As I said in another post, I’m not arguing that a taxi medallion system would be the best possible solution. But tighter regulation of the cabs would be an improvement. And that’s something quite frankly, I’m sure the same libertarians would act like is ‘taking jobs away from immigrants’ as well.

                      Finally, here is no personal strategy to get around having the only cab that pulls up at 2:30 in the morning is the one that will double charge you.

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                    • Well here’s one. Don’t go travelling round at 2:30 in the AM in bad weather when you’re dependant on a cab? Or if cabs in DC are so horrible why not just pick one service provider that’s decent and call them specifically for pick ups?

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                    • But there isn’t a free market when it’s 2AM, snowing, and almost below zero outside. You’re taking the first cab that comes down the street, whether you’re an anarchic communist or a fascist.

                      If a cab driver is willing to be the only cab out and about at 2am when it’s snowing and below freezing outside, why shouldn’t he be able to charge you more? There is no “right” to have a warm cab to come pick you up on a cold night, much less to have one do so at a rate you determine is reasonable.

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                    • There is no “right” to have a warm cab to come pick you up on a cold night, much less to have one do so at a rate you determine is reasonable.

                      There is no God-given right. But there is the expectation based on advertising, consistency of company policy, the fact that the cabbie works for a company that advertises and embraces a company policy. Hell, if markets are supposed to work at all it’s because a consumer can have a reasonable expectation of the goods or services rendered.

                      You’re correct that it’s not a right to have a cabbie show up at 2am. But what the hell does that have to do with anything?

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                    • Because being in favor of any regulation means you think people have a ‘right’ to that thing, I guess? I don’t know.

                      Yes, shockingly, I think if the DC Cab Commission says cabs shall charge 3.00 for the first 1/8 of a mile, a cab at 3 AM doesn’t get to say, “actually, it’s 5.00 a mile.”

                      Just like I think a Home Depot in Florida in mid-July shouldn’t be able to charge $500 for a piece of plywood as Hurricane Bob is coming to down. I realize libertarians would say, “free market”, but I say to that, “fuck the free market. We’re a society.”

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                    • Jesse:

                      You don’t see a little bit of a light between an extra $2/mile during off hours and price gouging for possibly life-sustaining hardware in the event of an upcoming major disaster?

                      I think there might be a little bit of daylight in-between the two.

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                    • That’s the price they agreed to when they signed up for the license. If they don’t want to abide to the rules, they don’t have to do the job.

                      Now I agree there’s daylight, but overcharging is overcharging.

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                    • Well, that’s kind of the libertarian’s point: what the fish business is it of the State’s that a cab charges $2/mile extra during off hours?

                      The attack against that is, “Well, you also want to let people charge what they want when a hurricane is coming!”

                      Why don’t we just answer the question?

                      I don’t have a good one. Why *are* we letting the state decide how much a cab charges in off-hours? If we’re worried about someone actually getting gouged in the event of a crisis why don’t we just establish a reasonable cap on how much you could charge for a given trip and let it go at that?

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                • Then what would be the point of the medallion if anyone who asked is given one? That would just be an extra, unnecessary step that wastes lots of time and resources.

                  Cabbies are already licensed in the district. There is some regulation. I can’t drive down to DC right now in an unmarked car and start shuttling people around for money.

                  Also, why would libertarians have to push for handing out more in order to be “consistent”? Every detractor here has been straw-manning the hell out of libertarians. You know, the ones sticking up for low-income immigrants so they can earn a living while providing a service that its customers are pleased with as is.

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      • Whether or not the cab commission’s proposed system is enacted remains to be seen. The Bailouts of Wall Street happened and the War on Drugs continues apace. Is this what you call successful application of ideals?

        Jaybird’s got an excellent point with Gay Marriage in New York, but one person’s civil liberties triumph is another person’s “crony activism”.

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          • E.D. –

            I’m not saying libertarian ideals are wrong. I love libertarian ideals, especially the ones you focused on (TSA, foreign wars, mass incarceration) in the OP.

            I’m saying you hold on to the deeply progressive streak you see in libertarianism, by waving away the importance of the truly successful application of libertarian ideals managed through libertarianism’s long affiliation with the right, such as historically low levels of taxation and regulation. If you want your preferred view of libertarians to hold sway with someone like Freddie, I would think you’d want to point at similar successes against the corporatists you clearly oppose.

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            • In other words, your issue is that the most politically successful faction of libertarians happens to be the faction most useful/least threatening to the ruling class.

              Apologies in advance if this comes off flippant, but I can’t think of a distinguishable ideology active in representative politics that doesn’t have that problem.

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      • Wouldn’t the libertarian policy towards marriage be to get government out of it entirely, to remove all laws and regulations concerning the relationship? In other words, how is it in any way libertarian to expand government regulation to include homosexual relationships?

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        • Not a problem for libertarians. If libertarians removed government from marriage entirely then no one would be able to get more married than any other person and everyone would be equal. Liberals wouldn’t really have any ground to kvetch on if government got out of marriage; everyone would be equal.
          Now of course I’ll be flapping my arms and flying to the moon before any politician ever even considers talking about taking marriage privileges away from heterosexual couples which is why the ideal libertarian solution to the marriage issue is somewhat of a cop out but in principle it is completely sound.

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  8. Pingback: How a Single Nick Gillespie Sentence Indicates "the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview," or at Least Is a Good Enough Reason to Pre-emptively Discount a Piece of Journalism About Black People Getting Screwed Over in D.C. - Hit &am

  9. Will someone please expand on how Libertarians might address the problem of poverty? There has to be more to it than eliminating the War on Drugs: that’s not the central problem. Reward varies with risk: the two-bit drug dealer on the corner, selling his wares to suburban kids driving up with the money to pay for them, he’s a symptom, not the problem. Educational and economic opportunities denied them, the poor will resort to crime. Not Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread, but a hardened gang banger: the abused become the abuser.

    A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
    Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
    Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
    That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
    Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
    Of any world where promises were kept,
    Or one could weep because another wept.

    There seems to be a finite limit to economic disparity in an arbitrary society. Of old, the rich feared the poor and did what they could to keep them from rebelling. Of course, what they gave with one hand they took with the other and eventually the ancien régime of hereditary power would be overthrown and replaced with other sorts of aristocracies.

    While the poor have no power, they’re harmless. But in great numbers, given a clever enough rabble rouser and a feckless government, they are to be feared, The siren song of revolution always starts out with a few verses about bloodied banners raised against tyranny and impure blood watering the furrows and hordes of slaves and traitors and conjured kings and chains and manacles prepared for the people.

    The usual outcome of all such singing is more tyranny and more wars and the chains and manacles prepared for the people are used on the critics of the new regime. Therein lies the greatest weakness of Libertarian thought: it preaches a sort of equality based on the individual, with no clear concept of justice beyond Anatole France’s park bench.

    I am quite willing to abandon this position if I could get an actual, self-described Libertarian to get beyond this Equality business and get around to Equal Justice, especially how such justice might be visited upon the poor.

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    • “Will someone please expand on how Libertarians might address the problem of poverty?”

      Get a job. And if there isn’t one, then make one. And if you can’t make one, then we don’t need you around, because when someone loses weight we don’t cry for all the lipids.

      “Educational and economic opportunities denied them, the poor will resort to crime. Not Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread, but a hardened gang banger: the abused become the abuser.”

      So you’re saying that helping poverty is neither empathy nor charity, but more like the deal that Aethelred made with Tryggvason? Interesting. And if that’s your attitude then you’re not thinking economically; a .44 Magnum round costs less than a cheeseburger and you only need one.

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      • But the poor do have jobs. The great myth about poverty is how the poor don’t work, they do. Often, they work more than one job.

        Try again. This time, let’s dispense with the mythology. And do spare me the tough talk and tales of Norsemen.

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          • The commie-Left need, nay require, the poor in order to stay in power. There will always be those people willing to vote themselves largesse and there will always be those politicians willing to provide that largesse, which is the result of the hard work of others.

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        • A libertarian would say that if your wants exceed your means, then either get better means or get rid of your wants, because you deserve no more than what you’re able to take for yourself.

          In other words, get a job. Or get over it. Either way, the poverty of one man is not the obligation of another, in the libertarian way of thinking.

          (The libertarian could also be a real dick and point out that if obesity and overuse of recreational drugs are considered endemic problems of poverty, then maybe our definitions of “poverty” are so fucked-up as to be nearly useless. But that’s a different argument entirely.)

          And “tough talk”? I’m not the one who suggested that we bribe the poor because otherwise they’ll riot and kill us. And if you don’t understand the very basic historical allusion I made then I’m not sure what to say to you.

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            • More like “got mine, go get yours”. But hey, if you consider it the responsibility of the have-mores to give to the have-less, then what are you doing here posting? Shouldn’t you have given your computer to a starving orhpan?

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              • Ah yes, the ole ‘if you haven’t given all your money to charity or aren’t paying Clintonian tax rates voluntarily, you’re not a real liberal’ canard. Wow, never heard that one on the Internet before.

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              • The problem is, perversely, when the have-mores pay the have-lesses better wages, they earn even more, as Henry Ford proved way back when.

                Why is Costco doing so well, payin’ its people a living wage? Their stock’s near an all-time high. They sell better stuff than schlocky old Sam’s Club.

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          • Belay all this nonsense about means and wants. You didn’t read what I wrote. A real Libertarian seems to understand the poor are surprisingly expensive no matter what approach is taken: locking them up is quite a burden on the taxpayer. For this reason, actual Libertarians quite sensibly advocate a more humane approach to our drug problem.

            The poor are surprisingly resistant to bribes. They really just want a decent paying job. The jobs are there, but the decent pay is another story. At the little Mexican tienda in Eau Claire, there’s a handwritten sign in the shop window with a phone number offering work on the farms hereabouts. Naturally, only illegal aliens will do this sort of work and the folks don’t like those Mexicans ’round here. Those Mexicans aren’t obese, they work too hard to stay fat for long.

            I understand that reference rather better than you might suppose, well enough to understand you don’t have anything to say to me. My degrees are in linguistics. I studied the formation of the English language and read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

            The periodic invasions of England were staved off by the payment of large ransoms. Alfred the Great paid such ransoms, too: they were cheaper than war. The Byzantines bought their enemies off in like manner. Ethelred’s history was written by his enemies but a good many of his courtiers would serve under Canute, only to see the Wessex kingship return to England. So much for ancient history.

            Again, bribing the poor and paying them an honest wage are slightly different propositions.

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            • Don’t you understand? The working poor get paid what they’re worth! Econ 101.

              Everyone knows a typical Fortune 500 CEO is worth 10,000% more per hour than that company’s average worker.

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            • “Naturally, only illegal aliens will do this sort of work and the folks don’t like those Mexicans ’round here.”

              Ah yes, the age-old “merkins be lazy” slur.

              That Eli Whitney. What a fucker, inventing machines to comb cotton. When we had perfectly good colored to do that for us! And they were happy to do it, too. Just look at ’em, workin’ out in that field. Outhouse? Hell no, boy, you give ’em an outhouse they’ll be hidin’ in it all day.

              “Alfred the Great paid such ransoms, too: they were cheaper than war.”

              Yeah, once.

              And I think it’s important to point out that you’re continuing with the theme of “the poor are violent animals and the only way to keep them from rioting and burning our cities is to bribe them”.

              “Oh but it’s not a bribe! It’s education and health care and food and a little extra money for entertainment and family care!” Yeah, if you’re giving people these things so that they won’t kill you then you are bribing them. The fact that you’re bribing them with things other than big sacks of cash is irrelevant.

              And–I guess I need to make this explicitly clear–I don’t think this stuff is bribes, because I do not believe that those who are in poverty are going to violently destroy society.

              But then, if you think that danegeld was a good deal and a good way to go, then I guess none of that makes sense to you, does it?

              “A real Libertarian seems to understand the poor are surprisingly expensive no matter what approach is taken…”

              Oh, so it’s about economics after all? Back we go to my earlier comment about bullets costing less than cheeseburgers.

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              • Poor Duck. The day you successfully put words in my mouth, there will be two moons in the sky. I have not said Murkans are lazy. I have only pointed out a simple fact: farms jobs are advertised at the Mexican store in Eau Claire. If you do not like that fact, feel free to cram it up your ass. Or better yet, move to Eau Claire and take that job. You’ll enjoy shoveling shit. You’re not so good at shoveling it now: I’m sure the Mexicans will teach you how to properly fill the wheelbarrow.

                As for Eli Whitney, more slaves were imported to the USA after his invention than before. Cotton became profitable on a truly huge scale.

                And I don’t give a fuck what you believe about bullets or cheeseburgers. Vae victis.

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                • “I have only pointed out a simple fact: farms jobs are advertised at the Mexican store in Eau Claire.”

                  Yes, because undocumented Mexicans can’t complain about being underpaid and forced to work in poor conditions.

                  And no, it’s not like I’m dreaming of some halcyon day when there were hundreds of good old white boys out there pickin’ beans. If the Mexicans weren’t available then there’d be machines doing those jobs. And that’s because these are shit jobs that nobody should have to do anymore.

                  No American would take a job as a rickshaw puller, either; would you claim that rickshaw pulling is an engaging and rewarding job that Americans are too fat and rich and happy to be willing to do?

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    • There are problems that are all intertwined together.

      Education.
      Minimum wage.
      Unskilled issues.
      Cultural issues.

      I think that one thing at least worth *TRYING* would be some form of homesteading with much of the unused land out there. Have people grow their own corn, tend their own chickens, work their own land. Of course they’d need assistance and of course they’d need additional food sent them… but every day, they’d have a bunch of things they would do with their hands and they would be able to eat the fruits of their own labor.

      Which strikes me as a damn sight better than the status quo.

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          • It’s certainly hard to say that if we’re going to give stuff away for free, we get to change our mind what the criteria are after we’ve given it away.

            It’s also unreasonable to put too many criteria on it in the first place. Just accept the fact that if you give a bunch of land away for nothing, a bunch of people are going to sell it to someone for a pack of smokes and a car.

            Keep in mind also that someone you don’t like is probably going to be the guy who gets all the land for 50 Fords and 50 cartons of Pall-Malls.

            If you don’t like that outcome, well, them’s the breaks.

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      • This sort of scheme was tried in Central America, in Guatemala specifically under Arbenz. The United Fruit Company was displeased and the CIA shooed Arbenz off the stage with all possible haste.

        Farming, as I’m coming to learn out here in rural Wisconsin, is serious business. There is no unused land and hasn’t been for a century in the USA. Subsistence farming is woefully inefficient and simply won’t address the issue of poverty, the charms of the bucolic life notwithstanding.

        I am currently plotting and planning, working out how urban farming might work in abandoned shopping malls. Recent advances in LED technology, especially by the Philips corporation, are driving down the cost of growing food indoors.

        Abandoned malls have several advantages. They’re close to large work forces and to the markets and restaurants. They’re already wired for power, HVAC and water. As transportation costs rise and populations migrate to the cities, it seems like a natural progression.

        My business model would follow this general outline: a smallish operation begins by conducting surveys of what vegetables restaurants and other high-markup operations would like to have on their shelves and menu, if they could get it. Often it’s surprisingly simple stuff: lettuce, baby carrots and the like. These high markup operations would pre-order these veggies with an expected delivery date in mind: in 57 days, they’ll take delivery of five pounds of lettuce every day. The grower then sets the process in motion.

        So much for Green Acres. Instead of stoop labor in the Salinas Valley and semis pulling the produce across the goddamn desert in a refrigerated trailer, a little van goes around the city, dropping off plastic bags full of lettuce that were in the hydroponic solution not 20 minutes before.

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      • JB, damn you’re a republican after all!
        I totally agree!
        This is what Jefferson was calling for. A man, working his land, building his home/family, striving to improve his holdings, free of the vagaries of the market, of gummint oppression is a darn sight better American than so poor blighter stuck in the city, slowly going mad, or some poor welfare recipient whose on achievement is that of parasite.

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    • Okay, I’m an actual libertarian (small L).

      There is no way to eliminate poverty, or at least relative poverty. The War on Poverty started in the 70s and has been a complete and utter (and amazingly expensive) failure. Not only has it not worked, but the argument can be made that it has actually institutionalized the underclass and made it even more difficult to escape poverty. The percentage of the population living in poverty now is exactly the same as it was before the War began. That being said, most of what qualifies as poverty in the United States would be considered doing quite well in many parts of the world. But the first thing to realize is that there is no magic solution, libertarian, government, or otherwise.

      Libertarianism at its core is all about equal justice, which is why I find your challenge puzzling. The whole point is that you are free to act as you will, provided your actions don’t infringe upon the rights of others. Government exists to protect you in the event someone else tries to take your rights away and is supposed to do that without regard to the relative wealth of the offender. Similarly, libertarianism does not permit a government that takes your rights away itself merely because it thinks the goals are noble.

      You are free to get a job, or not get a job, as you see fit, but you are not free to demand money be forcibly taken from someone else. That person, on the other hand, is completely free to give you money or other assistance should they wish to do so, which is why so many of your respondents are completely wrong about “what a libertarian would say”. We would recognize that Americans give billions of dollars to charities every year without needing the government to tell them (or force them) to do it.

      The bottom line is that the government has not stopped poverty or created social justice, or even helped, despite the gigantic price tag. Indeed, it may have worsened the problem. Continuing to believe that one more government program is going to fix things, or that somehow those that already exist will suddenly start working, is insanity.

      As a libertarian, I don’t have a solution to poverty. There isn’t one, but there is at least a partial solution to the problem of equal justice: realize that government is supposed to protect us from those that would harm us by taking away our rights and design accordingly. Yes, that includes getting rid of the war on drugs, which disproportionally affects the poor, but it goes far deeper than that. Stop allowing the government to pick winners based on who gives the most money to a campaign or has the best lobbyist. Stop sending the military, who is made up primarily of people from lower income backgrounds, to fight non-defensive wars that don’t make their families safe and kill or maim the primary breadwinners. Stop having a regressive FICA “contribution” that takes money away from the working poor to give money to old people. In other words, stop doing most of the things the government does.

      In conclusion (and I could write a lot more on the subject), there is no “solution” to poverty nor is there a way to create equal justice 100% of the time. But government has failed, often and repeatedly, to do either and indeed has made the problems much worse. The more we try to make a utopia, the worse it gets. If the costly regulations and government overreach produces the same or worse results, why do we have it? Hope that helps.

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      • That’s depressing. The War on Poverty reduced abject poverty in this country by about a third, from 17% to 11%, though we could discuss the modus ponens of whether or not poverty might have been reduced by other causes. One thing is clear: the War on Poverty was not an abject failure. Certain parts of it were unwise, but those were the results of compromises, notably the huge housing projects such as Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini Green. By reducing people to abject poverty before giving them any assistance, we’ve created a trap for the poor from which they cannot easily escape. If poverty has increased, it’s because the elderly are no longer in the work force. There, the War on Poverty really did work and continues to work.

        America has always depended on cheap labor from its inception. We imported slaves and indentured servants and screwed every generation of immigrants who followed them to these shores. We screwed ourselves when we outsourced our jobs: now the immigrants are seriously considering staying home.

        Perhaps this business of Equal Justice is semantics, but I do not think so. You have already conceded the Libertarian has no solution to poverty, indeed you believe no such solution is possible. Perhaps that bit about Anatole France was a bit glib on my part, presuming you knew his famous statement: La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain. == The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

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        • Bingo. As I pointed out in another thread, the War on Poverty worked when it was actually funded, which was about 1963 until about 1970. Since then, a series of center-right to right-wing Presidents have been in charge who really didn’t care about poverty as much as LBJ did.

          Plus, as I also pointed out in another thread, Social Security turned extremely poverty among the elderly from something that was just accepted to nearly non-existent. As Blaise said, some programs were bad ideas in the long-term, but this idea from libertarians that the government has never abrogated poverty through social spending just isn’t true.

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        • There are two things that the War on Poverty did and one of them was really awesome and one of them was really bad.

          The really good one was the idea that every house in America ought to have running water and sewage. I want to say that, when Kennedy was elected, there was still some ungodly number of folks (I want to say more than 20%) who still had to rely on outhouses and pumps. By the end of the 70’s, that number was down in the single digits.

          *THAT* strikes me as one of the things that government is *FOR*.

          The bad thing was the creation of poverty traps. (I also have theories about how the War on Drugs followed the War on Poverty due to people hating the idea of people getting welfare and enjoying unapproved amusements but we’ve been over that.)

          The addition of clean running water and sewage into more or less every home is the kind of anti-poverty measure that helps everybody below a certain threshold to reach a minimum standard of living. We should have more programs like that rather than stuff that seems to address relative standards.

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        • I’m not sure where you’re getting these numbers. From the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan website:

          “In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22.4 percent, or 39.5 million individuals. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.1 percent, or 22.9 million individuals, in 1973. Over the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but it began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to 35.3 million individuals, or 15.2 percent.

          For the next ten years, the poverty rate remained above 12.8 percent, increasing to 15.1 percent, or 39.3 million individuals, by 1993. The rate declined for the remainder of the decade, to 11.3 percent by 2000. From 2000 to 2004 it rose each year to 12.7 in 2004.”

          Even if we accept your numbers at face value, the question becomes whether or not the cost was worth it, particularly now as we face down the Social Security and Medicare funding problems that both parties have been continually ignoring for years. I disagree with you as far as the programs working for the elderly. Though they may have in the short term, they are going to be a very serious fiscal problem in the long. As you graciously point out, there were also other factors which may have played a role in reducing poverty.

          As far as me conceding that the libertarian (again, it’s a small L, the large L is a member of the party) has no solution to macroeconomic poverty, I maintain that there is no way to end it. There will always be relative poverty. As another poster points out, a lack of indoor plumbing is now virtually unknown, even among the very poor. Does that mean they’ve gotten ahead? I do disagree with him that the government is responsible, however. I do not see how me pointing out that poverty has always existed and that getting rid of it, regardless of the means, is extremely unlikely, is an argument for continuing a policy of extremely expensive social programs that may or may not have reduced the poverty rate, depending on how and by whom it is measured.

          I am familiar with the gentleman’s quotation. In a libertarian world, the law would not prohibit begging, though stealing bread would still be a nonstarter.

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          • Thank you for your response. Assessing poverty on a strictly numerical basis is a statistical nightmare: so many other factors come into play. I work with US Census Bureau numbers, which seem congruent with the U of M site.

            Social Security and Medicare are simply not that big a deal, numerically. Should they be abolished, the concomitant costs to society would be horrid. Had we gone the Bush route, putting SocSec money into the stock market that money would have disappeared into thin air. Nor will I say Medicare is a well-run program: it is not. We could realize enormous cost savings through bulk purchases of commonly used drugs and supplies.

            Macroeconomics is bullshit, all of it. As with politics, all economics is local. If you and I can warily stipulate to all sorts of factors driving people in and out of poverty, this is because we know better than to hang our asses out the metaphorical window, ascribing this gain to that policy or this debacle to that legislation. Yet consider, turning the tables around, you play the Liberal chess pieces and I the Libertarian pieces, if I were in a position to enforce laws against force and fraud, half the CEOs and damned near every investment banker in this country would be in jail. At present, it seems the likes of Geithner and Bernanke have turned the regulation of the markets over to the very people who nearly destroyed the world.

            Was it worth it? We might ask the same question of the exportation of our jobs and the crippling of our unions and the deregulation of the financial industry. Qui bono? This country has been screwed by more than the government. Some “industry”, the financial industry: what has it made and who sustained the losses? I cannot see how the government warrants such naïve abuse while the so-called Free Market remains the Libertarian’s little pet cow. The Free Market is not free precisely because it is not regulated: see previous paragraph. For all their cheap talk about caveats for acting against Force and Fraud, the libertarians do not recognize it when they see it.

            The libertarian is a hothouse flower, a political and economic naïf. Like the Communist of old, all he says about the history of democracy and capitalism is true. The self-deception begins with the descriptions of his solutions to those problems of democracy and capitalism. Let the horrible example of the most famous libertarian of all, Alan Greenspan, stand in mute witness to what happens when libertarians are allowed to pull the levers of actual power. Greenspan simply couldn’t understand how the collapse of 2008 could happen, because he had faith in markets for solutions only government regulation could provide.

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            • Let’s see, how can I best put this…

              Your statement that according to small-government “libertarians” — that is, the ones who are not anarchists — who make allowances for state enforcement against fraud, a substantial amount of the heads of high finance should be in handcuffs if that enforcement were taken seriously, I would personally agree with.

              And I’m a frickin’ anarchist.

              If you’re asking yourself how that is possible, it’s because while you have a different interpretation of markets as they should exist than I do, we’ve come to related conclusions about the market as it currently exists. Rampant fraud did occur, that much is true. The divergence is you look and say “free market run amok, where were the regulators? Where was the government?”. I’d say, as far as capitalism as it actually exists goes, the fraud is the point, not market discipline, and government is (and inherently will be in some form, IMO) in on the con. They don’t apply rules against fraud to high finance because rules are for little people. The neighborhood small time drug dealer doesn’t provide the institutional support that the big financial players do, so they get slammed to the pavement and dragged off to do double digit sentences while fraud in the billions gets waved off until it unravels, at which point the perpetrators get cheap money from the Fed.

              Progressives look at this and say the system failed. I look at it and say the system did exactly what it was intended to do: perpetuate itself and screw us to the fullest extent it can manage without triggering revolt. Of course the state isn’t going to nail bankers to the wall, they’re so deeply involved that they’d have to arrest themselves afterwards.

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              • For the life of me, I cannot see how we disagree on anything. I am an old-style Liberal, not really a Progressive, though all this boils down to semantics and shibboleths. Liberals understand government is in on the con.

                Government, where it is needed, is a necessary evil, the operative word being Necessary. When it comes to markets, we must accept the premise that as varies Risk, so varies the need for Regulation.

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                  • If you use the word “Libertarian”, some people cannot help but exercise their inner Matoko_Chan.

                    Perhaps we could change the term to “Keeper Of Civil Health” or something obscure that won’t cause people’s heads to melt the second they see it.

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                    • Libertarians need better marcom. Currently, they’re pretty much a curse and a byword and the butt of bad jokes, not because of what Libertarians actually believe but because of the Flamin’ Idjits running around calling themselves Libertarians. These Idjits are really just Republicans who still like to smoke weed. They have also never met up with a heroin addict or a meth head so they believe the War on Drugs is a bad idea.

                      Keeper of Civic Health. Jeebus. Keeper of the Collective Adolescent Delusion about how horrible Dad was to enforce a curfew.

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                  • I like your continued optimism. And I think you’re right that in general </i< there's lots of agreement about these matters. The disagreement shows up in identifying the causes, and proposed solutions.

                    I mean, like BlaiseP said, liberals understand government is in on the con. I think critics of liberals don't understand this, or won't admit it, and perpetuate the false idea that liberals want bigger government as an end in itself> (this view is so common as to be indisputable), and want regulation as an end in itself, and etc.

                    But there’s a reason for this (what I think is a ) deliberate misrepresentation (it gets to one of the things RTod wrote in a nice comment about letting ideology drive the narrative), and it’s this: by admitting that liberals oppose all those things but believe that they are (as BlaiseP saays) necessary evils, a liberal critic takes ideology right out of the debate. The conversation would then devolve to pragmatics, and what’s politically possible, and what’s economically possible, rather than being the more confortable shit-storm of accusations and blame assignment.

                    I mean, look: anyone who seriously thinks that liberals favor regulation because they ‘like big government’ is just deluded. Liberals, as has been said repeatedly, believe government is the antidote to excessive private power, economic or otherwise. So insofar as one holds the belief that reducing centralized private power is a goal of politics – and it appears to be for libertarians as well as liberals and conservatives – the pragmatic argument for regulation/legislation/code enforcement/etc., ought to be on the table and embraced. Instead, the opposite happens, and a mythical nirvana of free competition creating sustainable economic institutions benevolently serving the interests of the body politic is put forth. All under the guise that liberal fucked things up by advocating for big government.

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                • Government being in on the con doesn’t discredit government from being a response to it?

                  I’m not saying just leave them alone. Rather, instead of looking to an inherently corrupt 3rd party to qualify their holdings, since they’re based on theft anyway just refuse to recognize them as valid. Think of it like the financial equivalent of jury nullification.

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                  • Government being in on the con doesn’t discredit government from being a response to it?

                    Not trying to be glib here, but question you ask here is what gave rise to democracy. There’s a very interesting history about this. Beginning with Hobbes.

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        • “The War on Poverty reduced abject poverty in this country by about a third, from 17% to 11%”

          The poverty rate had already been decreasing rapidly for at least 15 years prior to the War on Poverty. I’m not aware of any particular reason to attribute the continuation of this trend after 1964 to the War on Poverty rather than to the economic boom.

          Really, why would you expect welfare programs to lower the poverty rate? Welfare doesn’t pay enough to move make poor people not officially poor. If anything, it may have ended the decline in the poverty rate by enabling poor people to have more children.

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  10. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the fault lines between libertarianism and liberalism exist and can lead to language (and policy) barriers and the many unfortunate ways things are lost in translation. I write about these often. I am just a little more than perplexed that the conversation here, at this blog, takes this course. I am not arguing from a profoundly different viewpoint of any of the liberals here at all – at least, I don’t think so. The difference seems to be that we see power accumulating and dispersing in different ways with different effects.

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    • > The difference seems to be that we see power
      > accumulating and dispersing in different ways
      > with different effects.

      That’s a useful observation. Me, I see power accumulating in the same ways since we stopped going with family authority and switched to tribe and then clan… about 10,000 years ago.

      And the effects are usually the same.

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    • The difference, to me, seems to be more that when each looks at an unhappy person, the liberal’s first thought is “who did this to you?” while the libertarian’s first thought is “what did you do that got you here?”

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      • I disagree Duck. I think the libertarian response should be what structural, systemic conditions led to this particular state of affairs and how can we remove those conditions (whether they are barriers to entry, over-incarceration, etc.)

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        • libertarian response should be what structural, systemic conditions led to this particular state of affairs and how can we remove those conditions (whether they are barriers to entry, over-incarceration, etc.)

          Not to rain on your parade, but this is a pretty decent summary of the progressive liberal view of these matters. To say it ought to be a libertarian response is simply to say that libertarians ought to be more like progressives. Most of the issues listed are – from my pov – outside the scope of libertarianism. But that’s just my take on it.

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    • I am a pretty firm believer that a whole lot of politics simply comes down to who we like and who we don’t. I read an extended conversation on Unfogged where everybody bent over backwards to suggest that Balko’s role in the Maye case was somehow despite his libertarian leanings, or that it doesn’t count because he’s a token, is a formerly brain-dead libertarian mugged by a trip he took to Mississippi a few years ago, he’s not representative, and real libertarians detest minorities.

      LoOG is generally better than all this, but alas nowhere is perfect.

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    • E.D. I think what it boils down to, especially here in the U.S. is that libertarians have been shacked up with conservatives for so long they don’t even know how to speak to liberals anymore (if they ever did). It goes both ways of course, liberals pretty much assume any libertarian they see if just a conservative with a pet liberty project on one subject. There is a lot of bad blood between the two camps; this wasteland of mistrust and misunderstanding. It would benefit both liberals and libertarians enormously to cross that land and get together on a lot of things but the act of trying to cross, to make concessions and actually connect would be painful, arduous and runs the risk of you arriving on the other side and discovering they’re not going to play ball.
      So they say on each side of the divide and yell back and for across it.

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      • I think this is largely because libertarians have let conservatives borrow their rhetoric for so long without challenging its misuse.

        When someone talks about a “free market” or “free trade”, nine times out of ten they mean “a market rife with special privileges for corporations and big business” or “trade carefully managed by governments to benefit the right firms while keeping the riffraff out”.

        It’s hard to have a conversation with an honest liberal without defining all your terms first. Which makes the discussion rather clumsy.

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    • to abuse a bastiat quote by mild modification:

      “[Progressives and conservatives], like the ancient ideas from which it springs, [confuse] the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, [they] conclude that we object to its being done at all.
      [Libertarians] disapprove of state education. Then the [progressives] say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the [conservatives] say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then [progressives] say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the [progressives and conservatives] were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. “

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  11. Pingback: How a Single Nick Gillespie Sentence Indicates “the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview,” or at Least Is a Good Enough Reason to Pre-emptively Discount a Piece of Journalism About Black People Getting Screwed Over in D.

  12. I am going to surprise some people with this, but I think Freddie is far more correct here than libertarians ought to be comfortable with. I had intended to do a full post in response explaining why I think this, but time i short this week.

    I will say that Blaise’s comment above probably says 75% of what I wanted to say, and much more clearly that I might have put it.

    There are times I wonder if libertarian (up to and including myself) discussions of poverty and related issues don’t come across much the same as Boston grad students from upper middle class families fighting against Whole Foods putting a store in a comparatively low-income neighborhood. (Regular Balko readers will get this allusion better than others, but I think others should still get the point).

    This doesn’t equate to saying “libertarianism is wrong as a philosophy or a guiding ethos,” by the way (though I’m sure Freddie would quite happily say that as well). It just means that libertarians could use a bit more self-awareness and a bit more interest in understanding what people actually care about. This is, in some ways, a marketing issue; but even more than that it’s a prioritization issue. Theories and first principles are lovely things, even extremely important things; but people don’t vote for theories, they vote for applications. More to the point, theories can’t put food on the table or take it off of the table; but some applications can.

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    • This is also why I suggest that libertarians ought to focus less on the terrors of the welfare state (which I have taken to calling remedial measures) and more on things like corporate welfare, militarism, police state, etc. You can’t address the one before the other or you just end up screwing the poor over even worse. You won’t hear me calling for cuts to Medicaid, for instance. We may indeed need to tackle entitlements at some point but it’s downright absurd to think we should do that before addressing other more important issues.

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      • As you know, I agree with you this 100%. But it doesn’t quite get at Freddie’s point, which is that the way libertarians talk about various issues tends to often bespeak an ignorance of the way in which those issues actually affect people.

        I used the example of the Boston Whole Foods protester for a reason. He’s someone who, in terms of his policy preferences and priorities, is probably a relatively typical liberal. And yet…. there’s something about what he’s doing that renders him completely outside the realm of the real world. The aesthetics of it are what they are; but that he seems completely unaware of those aesthetics makes his crusade a complete joke unworthy of being taken seriously by anyone – regardless of whether they agree or disagree with him on the merits.

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        • That’s funny, because as a libertarian, I’ve always thought that the way that liberals talk about various issues tends to bespeak ignorance of the way in which those issues actually affect people.

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          • for example: Liberals often talk about adding regulations on corporations. Last year I wanted to start a company to make PCR machines for high schools, $400 a pop. I gave up. why? Because the paperwork you have to file to start a company, get some warehouse space, clear regulations, get OSHA permits, compliance with state and federal human resources laws, etc.

            I thought it would be a neat way to leverage something awesome I’d worked on, and do some good for society, and not be unemployed. I couldn’t sell my product to a big company because I wanted to release the specs under a creative commons licence (and a company won’t buy you out unless you have IP). And even if I were, that would be “selling out”.

            So yeah, talk all sorts of stuff about “the need for regulation”. But really, you’re just being ignorant.

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            • Actually, I agree that liberals often sound pretty freakin clueless when they talk about regulation, though it’s not an exact parallel; they sure as hell rarely have an idea of the actual costs imposed by seemingly well-intentioned regulations(CPSIA comes to mind quickly).

              Thankfully, this changes my point not a whit. There is a reason I analogized this all to an unabashed liberal.

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              • well, here’s my take. If you admit that you’re unqualified to make sound decisions about something, isn’t it prudent to take a course of inaction and allow society to organically do what it will (absent violence, fraud or coersion) versus to impose your vision of “how society ought to be”? Especially since your conditions are going to be binding and have serious unintended consequences?

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                • You do realize I am a libertarian, right?

                  In any event, once a program exists, especially one that people rely on, undoing it is no more a course of inaction than adding a completely new program.

                  That doesn’t make it a wrong course of action, but we should not pretend that it is not a course of action at all. It matters quite a bit, from any perspective, the order in which government power and size are shrunk. This order should matter most of all to libertarians.

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                  • It matters quite a bit, from any perspective, the order in which government power and size are shrunk.

                    100%. If I were magically given the reins of power, I would take away social security, medicare, and welfare last – probably phase them out over 10 years, to be replaced with very-largely-endowed nonprofit organizations.

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                    • There they are again! Those people who would like ‘nothing more’ than to give their money to charity if only government would get out of the way.

                      Starve the beast, indeed.

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                    • I think you’re overemphasizing something that was a bit of a rhetorical flourish. Why are you so self-conscious about this? Are you one of those “champagne liberals” that is happy to live a life of luxury and pat yourself on the back for reaching into someone else’s pocket to do your charitable work for yourself? Or do you actually spend time in soup kichens and food banks?

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                    • Are you one of those “champagne liberals” that is happy to live a life of luxury

                      Jumpin Jesus on a pogo stick! How’d you know? I’m all about farming out my liberal ideals to fools too stupid to understand the game I’m playing. Good to know you’re not one of em.

                      But also, there’s this issue of hyperboly, the truth, and longingly-hoped-for myths that sometimes make me comment as I do. I trust you’ll be able to tease out which one of those was in play in the comment under discussion.

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                    • Maybe. I haven’t really characterized him – only responded to his comments. But I’m cool with it as long as both characterizations are equally ridiculous. If Ifeel I’m behind on this I’m gonna have to raise the stakes.

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            • Just how much trouble is starting a corporation? A whole lot less than actually running one. If you’re intimidated by incorporation paperwork, you should avoid writing, managing and fulfilling actual contracts in the real world.

              You don’t cut your own hair or fix your own teeth. So don’t do your own lawyering, either. A competent attorney is worth every penny you’ll pay him.

              Regulating corporations is mostly the province of the states. A Delaware incorporation will save you loads of troubles. If you’re interested in doing open-source work, nothing prohibits you from picking up a copy of the O’Reilly book on the subject and choosing for yourself.

              You clearly don’t understand the problem well enough to complain effectively about it. I’ve run my own corporation for many years and never felt the need to do my lawyer’s job nor that of my tax guy. I have my own job to do and that’s a gracious plenty for me. The corporation makes it possible for me to segregate my business from my personal assets and obligations. Of course corporations need to be regulated, both from within and without.

              My advice is that of Da Vinci: Experience is the mother of wisdom. Regulations are written in blood, without exception the blood of the innocent.

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    • Theories and first principles are lovely things, even extremely important things; but people don’t vote for theories, they vote for applications. More to the point, theories can’t put food on the table or take it off of the table; but some applications can.

      This is excellent, Mark.

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    • This is all fine and good, but Freddie did so by critiquing a bit of journalism that highlighted and criticized a crony partnership between big business and DC bureaucrats that seeks to push low-income, immigrant cabbies, who want nothing more than to be left alone so they can do their job and feed their families, out of competition in the cab game for the financial and political gain of a select chosen few. How this can be construed as another example of libertarians being a bunch of self-serving, out-of-touch-with-reality punks is beyond me.

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      • I hope you don’t view this as semantics because it is in fact Freddie’s entire point: the “powerless” in Gillespie’s sentence are not the cabbies, they’re the libertarian journalists who were arrested trying to help the powerless (so far as I can tell, Gillespie’s piece only references the cabbies themselves in the context of denoting what the journalists were covering). Those journalists aren’t even in the same league as the actually powerless – they had access to a good First Amendment attorney who swiftly beat the government down for its bad acts; one who is actually powerless, almost definitionally, would still be facing charges, and certainly not an attorney capable of getting those charges dropped swiftly.

        To give an idea of what actual powerlessness looks like – I once had a case where I was acting as a state-assigned counsel. The client was not only innocent, but the charges blatantly and obviously trumped up without even the most basic of evidence to support them (in fact, the evidence that did exist proved the client to be not only innocent, but in fact the victim of a crime by the accuser). Much like the journalists in this story, the charges were eventually dismissed. But unlike the journalists in this story, this client had to spend an entire month in one of the most infamous jails in the country before being so much as arraigned, much less given court-appointed counsel. Unlike these journalists, this client had every incentive to take a plea deal, and in fact probably would have taken such a deal were it not for a completely fortuitous set of events that I can’t get into. Unlike these journalists, this client faced mounting pressure from the prosecution to accept some sort of deal despite the complete lack of support for prosecuting her. And, unlike these journalists, the charges were dropped only upon a court order at the end of the trial. Meanwhile, the client’s ability to get a job and earn an income was put fully on hold and, for a month, separated from their children.

        That’s what powerlessness looks like.

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          • I think we can safely say that Balko, who has more than a little first-hand experience with these issues, is more exception than rule. I don’t mean this in the manner of “Balko’s engagement is in spite of his libertarianism”; I mean this in the sense of “Balko sees the application in practice because of what he does for a living.” I doubt for a second that he thinks what happened to the client in the story above could have happened to him, and you can tell this by the way he discusses what he writes about.

            At some point this gets hard to discuss in specifics, because there are certainly going to be exceptions (such as Balko and some libertarian criminal defense attorneys) to any aspect of this and for the most part we’re talking more about tendencies than hard and fast rules.

            It all boils down to a certain, I dunno, smarmy “know-it-all-ness” that seems to be a common trait amongst libertarians (probably myself included, though I like to tell myself I’ve gotten better about it).

            Let us assume that libertarian priorities on poverty-related issues look something like this (and there are certainly plenty of libertarians who would reverse these):
            1. End the War on Drugs
            2. Undermine the social safety net/welfare state

            Well, the problem is the expectation that number 2 should even be in the discussion at all, especially given that it is far more politically feasible in the near term than 1. What this tells people in poverty, at best is “the social welfare practices upon which you rely do you more harm than good, and ending the War on Drugs is one of the main reasons you’re poor. Even though we’d prefer 1 to happen before 2, we’re willing to abide by 2 happening before 1.”

            I imagine such a statement would come as a major shock to most people who actually spend their lives in poverty, who are, shall we say, in a vastly better position to know why they live in poverty. “Who are you to tell me why I’m poor?” they might say. Heck, the causal relationship between drug criminalization and poverty is pretty tenuous anyhow (drug violence certainly hurts economic development, but illegality of drugs also makes the drug game a pretty lucrative source of income, income that mostly stays in the neighborhood), though someone in poverty might be at least partially open to the argument.

            Now imagine someone who looks around and sees social programs as a critical bridge between their own life and death or the life and death of people that they know very well. And some know-it-all, who has never proven to them that any element of their platform helps them escape poverty, is going to tell them that they should be okay with that bridge being taken away? When it just so happens that taking that bridge away will immediately put more money in the pockets of that know-it-all or at least people like him?

            Puh-leeeze!

            Hence the comparison to the Whole Foods protester, who is sending a similarly ridiculous message: Whole Foods is kicking local owned businesses to the curb and charges too much for its food, and so means more poverty for everyone in this area! (A debatable point, but little more) and also: Whole Foods is taking jobs away! (WHAT?!?!?)

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            • Nice comment. Especially this:

              It all boils down to a certain, I dunno, smarmy “know-it-all-ness” that seems to be a common trait amongst libertarians

              I don’t think you fall in this category – and lots of others that comment here don’t either (some do) – but the ‘knowitallness’ is a good description, especially since us not-libertarians think most libertarian principles are not only not self-evident (gasp!) but they aren’t even remotely true. They’re more like the parameters of a video game. Or a fantasy novel.

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              • The smarmy know-it-all-ness is common amongst everyone who talks politics regularly. Anyone who sets foot near a rally, or on a college campus, will find know-it-all liberals, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, marxists, etc etc. It is certainly not unique to libertarians.

                I mean, Freddie used a piece that, regardless of any quibbling over the word “powerless”, outlined a very clear abuse of power by the state, as a launching pad to go off on libertarians. That’s being a know-it-all. And by the way, I disagree with his and yours view that “powerless” referred solely to Epstein. I took it as a more global term for the many reported abuses of 1st Amendment rights against journalists. In this particular instance, the journalist was lucky enough to be affiliated with Reason and have access to a good attorney. That is not always the case. Reason has been ahead of the curve about reporting police confiscating or destroying cameras and phones, and regularly bullying anyone who dare record public actions of sworn officials of the state. Those too are the powerless, and it’s happening daily.

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                • The smarmy know-it-all-ness is common amongst everyone who talks politics regularly. Anyone who sets foot near a rally, or on a college campus, will find know-it-all liberals, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, marxists, etc etc. It is certainly not unique to libertarians.

                  Yes and no. This problem is significantly mitigated in other ideological groupings simply by virtue of superior size (Che Guevara-worshipping Marxists being the exception that proves the rule), which means a more diverse set of intramovement life experiences – ie, enough people in the movement can speak knowledgeably enough about most subjects that it will alter the way in which the movement as a whole tends to speak and meaningfully understand those subjects.

                  I mean, Freddie used a piece that, regardless of any quibbling over the word “powerless”, outlined a very clear abuse of power by the state, as a launching pad to go off on libertarians. That’s being a know-it-all. And by the way, I disagree with his and yours view that “powerless” referred solely to Epstein. I took it as a more global term for the many reported abuses of 1st Amendment rights against journalists. In this particular instance, the journalist was lucky enough to be affiliated with Reason and have access to a good attorney. That is not always the case. Reason has been ahead of the curve about reporting police confiscating or destroying cameras and phones, and regularly bullying anyone who dare record public actions of sworn officials of the state. Those too are the powerless, and it’s happening daily.

                  Now we get to the root of the problem. Even if “powerless” is intended as a more global statement, it’s not really any better and in some ways it even better demonstrates Freddie’s point. The notion that the average libertarian, much less the average libertarian journalist, or even the average American journalist is in any way “powerless” just like the immigrant cabbies are powerless is, to put it bluntly, preposterous.

                  It was not mere luck that he had access to a good attorney through Reason. The fact is that were it not for guaranteed access to decent First Amendment attorneys, journalism in this country would look a whole heck of a lot more like journalism in, say, Pakistan. In other words, journalists in this country, so long as they are working for some publication or another, have power by definition. This is not mere “luck,” it’s definitionally a benefit of not being a member of the powerless class. By contrast, the luck I reference in my story above was a chain of fluke coincidences that delayed the client’s ability to accept a plea deal long enough for the exculpatory evidence to emerge.

                  Libertarians are disproportionately drawn from the middle and upper middle class. While we may not collectively possess much political power, we’re not even close to being “powerless” as individuals. Freddie’s point is simply that libertarians have a tendency to think that just because we may occasionally be subject to abuses (which we should certainly protest), we are in the same category as those immigrant cab drivers. This tendency, needless to say, has an effect on one’s worldview.

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                    • Certainly we can compare the poor and/or powerless in the US to the poor and/or powerless in Pakistan. The point, however, is that being a journalist for a relatively small, but indisputably independent, publication in the US carries with it many times more individual power than being poor in the US. By contrast, being a journalist in Pakistan for a relatively small, but indisputably independent publication carries with it little, if any, more power than being poor in Pakistan. Sure, it may mean more money (I doubt one can simultaneously be amongst the poor in Pakistan and a journalist of any sort), but you sure as hell aren’t going to be any more able to beat the state if they come for you.

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