Times Square Isn’t the Free Market

What would a world of unfettered free markets look like? If you fear everything turning into Times Square–style advertising, you can probably rest a little easier, at least on that point:

About a year ago, the Wall Street Journal‘s Metropolis blog ran an item by Aaron Rutkoff on zoning and advertising in Times Square, called “Good Taste in Times Square? It’s Illegal.” As it turns out, the bright lights and “colorful corporate orgy” of Times Square advertising — as paradigmatic a symbol of American capitalism as you could hope for — is the result, not of unfettered free-market commercialism, but of a detailed set of mandates handed down in New York City’s special zoning ordinance for the “Special Midtown District:”

Mandating among other things that a certain proportion of all buildings be covered by brightly lit signs that stay on until 1 AM. Blinky signs can’t go dark for longer than three seconds. There are detailed rules for luminosity and the directions that the signs may point. And so forth.

Charles Johnson comments:

[A] story like that of the Times Square zoning code is… paradigmatic… of how large-scale, in-your-face commerce typically works in these United States, and how it interacts with the corporate economy throughout the world. That’s why I have often referred to myself (following the example of Kevin Carson) a “free market anticapitalist” — because I believe in a really broad and radical version of property rights and market freedom in economic ownership and exchange, but (unlike, say, the Wall Street Journal) I think that the features conventionally associated with American capitalism — large-scale, top-down firms, the predominance of wage labor, corporate domination of economic and social life, the commercialization of social space etc. — are as often as not the products of state intervention, not of market dynamics. And, further, that a genuinely and consistently freed market would tend to undermine the prevalence and significance of these features in everyday life.

What would a freed market look like? The truth is that probably none of us know. It’s likely to be very weird and to require cultural adjustments that none of us can imagine. There are theoretical reasons to suspect it will be a whole better than what we have, but I’m well aware that not everyone finds these reasons convincing. The strongest arguments that actually do convince are those for incremental movement — this licensing scheme doesn’t do any good; that trade barrier should be abolished; this environmental problem can be solved by defining property rights just a little bit more clearly and strictly. And there is much to be learned along the way, for all of us.

A previous generation of libertarian thinkers seems to have picked up from their socialist counterparts a dangerous longing for utopia. Yet the implications of their own social thought should have made them anti-utopian pragmatists, well aware that none of us know enough to design a perfect society in the here and now. Baby steps. There are knowledge problems everywhere, even in the attempt to let markets solve knowledge problems.

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135 thoughts on “Times Square Isn’t the Free Market

  1. Excellent post, Jason. I think a lot of people look to markets as though they are some sort of panacea, but market failure is half the point. Knowledge problems are solved through myriad sets of trial and error. The hard part is allowing the failure to occur and then moving forward with whatever knowledge is gained (especially since this happens unconsciously so much of the time). The really hard part is not allowing failure to become a clarion call for intervention into markets, bailouts, etc.

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  2. The most insidiously seductive thing that you can possibly offer anybody is eschatology.

    You phrase it just right, you give the right set-up? They will follow you until the end of days.

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  3. Sorry, no. A utopian faith in the efficacy of deregulation is what defines libertarianism. I am open to the possibility that specific regulations are counterproductive and we could benefit from their elimination, while understanding that my ability to judge that result ahead of time is limited. That makes me a mainstream liberal, not a libertarian.

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    • Thanks clawback! I keep getting confused by the pesky things people actually believe, so this kind of firm clarification is helpful.

      (This is why we need programs, or we’ll just go thinking we believe any fool thing.)

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    • A “utopian faith” does not define libertarianism. Utopianism is actually the anithesis to libertarianism, and, had you bothered to actually look either one of those words up, you would have known that.

      “Utopian” has been and always will be associated with a kind of organization, usually a top-down one from a state. In this, libertarians are not utopians, and the fact that most libertarians understand that there is no such thing as “post-scarcity” means that we will never be utopians.

      Secondly, if you acknowledge that your “ability to judge that result ahead of time is limited”, and you presumably impute that limitation upon other human beings, then how do you justify regulations in the first place? After all, humans, being of limited knowledge and judgment, do not possess the capacity to determine outcomes “ahead of time”, so how do we as humans justify regulations, which attempt to do exactly that?

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        • This is undoubtedly true — “our capacity to determine outcomes is limited, but not entirely lacking.”

          But it doesn’t give much guidance as to which human beings should get entrusted with the power to make decisions over others, and on what, and why.

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            • The federal republic model is the best we have, actually. If you drill down, once upon a time, we had a small federal government, states that handled most governing tasks, but even those states, in many cases, doled out “home rule” to towns, townships, and counties to handle the majority of those tasks. If the best way, for human happiness, to avoid overbearing government is to simply move, then it behooves us to have a system that promotes many, many different kinds of governments, so that moving is a matter of going across town, rather than across the globe.

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              • And corporations will have to comply with a vast patchwork of local regulations to perform interstate commerce and someone will have to regulate that and we will have big government again.

                Or they’ll bribe new regulations into existence and you will no longer be able to move somewhere with differing political climate because it won’t exist and now you’ve lost your advantage again.

                But I’m just a drive-by snarker. What do I know?

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                • If you are inclined toward “there is nothing to be done”, well, then there is no convincing you. I am not someone who thinks that we can set out a perfect political-legal system and it will just “run” like a machine. Eternal vigilance and all that.

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                  • No, I’m inclined towards “Do things that have a non-zero chance of producing a desirable outcome.

                    When it comes to things which really matter, kicking the can down the road until it lands in every unincorporated one horse town in the name of “freedom” doesn’t stand much of a chance of actually making more people’s lives better or free-er (sic) than they currently are any more than putting every person in charge of their retirement meant we statistically ended up better off than we would have been if we all had defined benefit plans. It just meant that there would be winners and losers. And some people are happier with that.

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            • “[M]aking such decisions case by case” is exactly what regulations are designed to prevent. Regulations are one-size-fits-all standards that prohibit case-by-case analysis. That is our whole point.

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            • we’re stuck with making such decisions case by case

              Part of the problem is that once you outsource a particular decision to someone else, you tend to not be able to get it back, like, ever (if that someone else is the gummint).

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              • I disagree with the “able to” part of this.

                I think that sometimes when people complain about the gummint they forget the whole we live in a democracy thing. There is a difference between “we are not able to get it back” and “we don’t care enough to get it back.” I think sometimes when someone says the gummint is doing things the people don’t want it to, what they mean is it’s doing things they don’t want it to. If the people didn’t really want it being done that way, it would quickly change.

                In the “Tie Everything To SongFire & Ice Wherever Possible” spirit, I tend to think of our voting populous as King Robert. All the power is in our hands to make things different and better, but we can’t be bothered.

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              • It’s sad because it would be great if we could rely on some simple rule to determine whether a regulation is needed. For example, “regulations are always bad” would certainly be a simple solution that would make decision-making easy. But welfare is not always maximized nor is justice always served that way. We have to make that judgment case by case.

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                • Funny, I think we both get to the same place from different ends.

                  I am always so suspicious of “one rule” methods that when I am told we can’t use them I feel relieved – like I don’t have to be paying attention to where the other show is going to drop.

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                • I agree with this. I would also like it to work both ways.

                  Regulations are not always bad. And there sure are lots of cases of regulatory capture.

                  The nation’s top aviation accident investigator blamed the delay in issuing final rules on the influence of airlines that put profit ahead of safety.

                  “There are special interests who are holding this rule up because it’s not in their financial self-interest,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman told The Associated Press this week. “The American people expect safety to trump special interests, not the other way around.”

                  But that doesn’t give license to ‘professional’ government officials (even if they are political appointees) to claim ipso facto that since they want a rule, the rule is good and any contrary views (including in this case a 4 star Air Force general) are ‘special interests trumping safety’

                  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hPWUSCMg3JpuKnsyvI0Nq69h3YOg?docId=e789254d45cb4ccd8a72cf3f0346dc50

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    • Well…I think the discussion above is largely sufficient as to why the libertarianism=utopianism argument is pretty bunk. My point in calling out that comment in the first place is that it’s really very unhelpful to getting at the discussion at hand. Blanket-judging an entire group and/or political philosophy is pretty unhelpful generally speaking.

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      • No, discussing libertarianism=utopianism is indeed helpful in getting at the discussion at hand, since the point of the last paragraph of the post is to warn that it is a danger for current libertarians, and was in fact clearly true for some previous generation of libertarians. So please explain again why it is somehow out of line to discuss it.

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        • We may certainly discuss whether libertarianism necessarily means utopianism.

          But to expect the assertion to stand, seemingly unsupported and without admitting of any possible challenge — that’s the thing that’s out of bounds.

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          • I’m not expecting it to stand unsupported and unchallenged; I’m expecting it to be challenged on some substantive grounds. There’s nothing in this post I find objectionable; it can all be supported by anyone in favor of good governance. Yes, sometimes regulations are poorly constructed; yes, sometimes they are enacted to the benefit of some privileged interest group; yes, it’d be great to get rid of the bad ones one by one. All of his could have been written by me. But I’m not a libertarian. I suspect there are substantive differences between your position and mine, and that those differences can be summarized as “a utopian faith in the efficacy of deregulation,” though I’m certain you would characterize it somewhat differently. Anything less makes you simply an advocate of good governance, which I’m pretty certain does not define libertarianism.

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            • I’m not expecting it to stand unsupported and unchallenged; I’m expecting it to be challenged on some substantive grounds.

              Can you understand how I might not have gotten that impression? Your first statement was as follows:

              Sorry, no. A utopian faith in the efficacy of deregulation is what defines libertarianism.

              Things true by definition aren’t up for debate, so I found this a bit confusing.

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            • Anything less makes you simply an advocate of good governance, which I’m pretty certain does not define libertarianism.

              That’s the fundamental tension here. If you merely advocate good governance wrt a multiplicity of variables, you’re a pragmatic. But libertarianism, in any of the forms I’m familiar with, isn’t pragmatic. It promotes a normative thesis about governance derived from first principles – in particular, market principles.

              I don’t know how a weak libertarian squares the circle of embracing a circumscribed set of a priori first principles on the one hand with a fully general pragmatic view of governance on the other. Alternatively, strong libertarianism is all ideology and makes no gestures at pragmatism whatsoever.

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              • By the way you framed the issue, it’s pretty clear you think ‘the market’ ought to regulate its ownself. Otherwise, the issue isn’t ‘what’ does the regulating, but ‘who’. And if it’s who, the answer is clear: gubmint.

                But please, argue some more – your doing a better job proving clawback’s point about utopian ideals than any non-libertarian could do.

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                  • One of us is assuming correctly here: I choose the gov’t. You appear to now be saying that you choose for private enterprises to regulate themselves. That’s even crazier than the idea I gave you credit for.l

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                    • No, I didn’t say that private companies should regulate themselves. although many likely would once they realize the penalities of dissatifying customers. The private sector can develope regulatory means. Regulation doesn’t have to come through government, and, in fact, this is the least effective way to regulate businesses, especially in the Information Age. The lobbying industry has become gigantic because of government regulation, and companies with handsomely paid lobbyists receive favors which hurt small businesses, and eventually hurt consumers in society who have no political power in DC. For all the talk about wanting to help the powerless, it escapes me why progressives want to maintain a powerful State that hurts the powerless.

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  4. One of the dangers I have seen in rough-and-tumble libertarian boards is that some libertarians will, many times, promise that libertarianism will solve a particular problem. I have seen libertarians, for example, argue that libertarianism will promote walkable neighborhoods and denser urban centers, in order to court liberals who hate urban sprawl. That is an unkeepable promise, and just one of many examples.

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    • Welllll it’s keepable in a way. In places where the market, geography and population recommend it libertarianism would promote walkable neighborhoods and dense urban centers wouldn’t it? Without state subsidized free highways and state imposed building bans (or God(ess?) help us rent control) wouldn’t dense walkable urban sites develop? It seems likely.

      I mean obviously it can’t promise it everywhere, but heck the Arizonans have like a bajillion miles of empty sun baked sand with an occasional bored gecko every couple miles. Let em sprawl.

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      • As Jason said, we just do not know. It may be the case that cities would look entirely different. However, it may not — which is kind of Jason’s point (and a sort of counterpoint to Charles Johnson). You cannot just take “X” and say that libertarianism will solve for X, where X = something someone somewhere just does not prefer (sprawl, Time Square gaudiness, corporate-“drone” life, etc.)

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      • I would certainly promote walkable cities. Being from one of the most walkable cities in the US, I can attest to how freaking wonderful it is. In a free market, I’d be beating the drum for walkable cities. I believe I would make a good ambassador for walkable cities — I would even like to be the mayor of a walkable city, and maybe even get on Piers Morgan’s show to talk about walkable cities. I think I can say that in a free market, most people would promote walkable cities — we can’t know for sure, just like we can’t know if Piers Morgan is really human, or if he would ask me questions about abortion, when all I want to do is promote walkable cities. We can be pretty sure that when people consider the alternative, unwalkable cities, they’d want a walkable city. I’m going for a walk — later.

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        • The issue about promoting walkability is really if Piers walks – at all. If he walks, then walking is in. You gotta do your research here, tho, make sure if Piers walks or not. Always know the answer to the question being asked.

          Does. The dude. Walk.

          And if he asks you questions about abortion, rephrase: can a woman walk to, or walk away from, an abortion? It’s all about walking bro.

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    • Yeah, I’ve seen this a lot.

      I like to think it’s because they get caught up in the moment and argue against people who are making promises that they can’t keep by making even bigger promises that they can’t keep.

      The WoD gives the easiest place for me to give an example. After the WoD ends, people will still die from overdoses, people will still steal from their mom to buy product, people will still ruin their lives because they put much more emphasis on the next two hours than on something approaching sustainability.

      Those who argue to keep the war on drugs, however, point out that people (loved ones!) have died from overdoses… people have stolen from their mothers… people have ruined their lives. And you want to make this poison LEGAL???

      And it’s much easier to argue that all of these things will go away and we’ll enter into a new era of peace and prosperity than it is to say well, fewer will die, fewer will steal, fewer will ruin their lives with poor impulse control, compare to prohibition alcoholism prior to the 21st Amendment and afterwards, here are numbers…

      Living is difficult. Freedom is difficult. Liberty is difficult.

      As a matter of fact, it doesn’t solve a whole lot of problems either. The only diseases it’s a cure for are iatrogenic diseases.

      The iatrogenic diseases are pretty bad, though.

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  5. Yeah, I really like this post too. Believe it or not, Jason, you’re saying a lot of things in this post that I’ve been struggling to articulate here. My general take is this:
    1. There are many areas where the free market will obtain much better results than a state-controlled economy and, yes, I agree with libertarians that we should be working towards a freer market economy overall,
    2. However, gradual incremental change is to be preferred to sweeping, wrenching change either from the top down or via revolution,
    a. As a side note, I would suggest that there are limits to how much instability the average person can tolerate and we should be aware of that,
    3. Finally, making grandiose claims about the benefits of a free market and downplaying the various pains that will quite likely come with them is a surefire way to aggrandize the state. When people don’t get the pony they’ve been promised, they’re going to demand that somebody give it to them.

    Last of all, I’d contend that pointing out all of this doesn’t make one unsympathetic to the libertarian argument or particularly sympathetic to tyranny.

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    • I’d like to add a 2.b to Rufus’s excellent list:
      Strategic libertarians should be aware of how spongy the support is so the rollback of state power ideally should begin with the most obnoxious examples of state power helping the wealthy that can be found in order to build confidence and then work its way down to safety nets. To wit, ending corporate welfare first might be a better strategy than immediately going after Aunt Rita’s welfare and food stamps.

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      • This is an excellent strategic point, North. I’ve often wondered why this isn’t the rule and not the exception. Is it because many libertarians today have arrived where they are from the conservative/Republican path, and it’s just the arguments they’ve historically used/found persuasive?

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        • Because the majority of libertarians, rather than being intelligent people like some on this blog, are university, upper-middle-class Randians who follow the “the poor are moochers; let them starve” theory of governance.

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          • If you are done winging about stereotypes, you will find Rand making repeated references to doing away with government subsidies of businesses and calling them “moochers” just as much as anybody else. Most of her fictional villains were well-to-do, you would be smart to note.

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            • Yanno, stereotypes become stereotypes because there is some truth to them, mis-attributed truth but truth nonetheless.

              And the stereotypical libertarian *is* a Randian who follows the “the poor are moochers; let them starve”.

              That is a caricature of libertarianism on the whole. However, there *are* a heapin’ helpin’ of these people, and they identify themselves as libertarian – the people upon whom the stereotype is based *do* exist, after all.

              If you don’t like the fact that they represent libertarianism to the general public… you need to disavow them, not pretend they aren’t there or that they aren’t the public face of libertarianism to a lot of people.

              To be fair, there’s similar stereotypes for every political group. The GOP has theirs, and the Democrats have theirs, and even the mofreakin’ Socialists have theirs.

              Personally I think the Socialists are the ones that are tarred with the worst brush, but that’s just me.

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                • No, what I’m saying is that if you’re identifying with a group, you have to accept the fact that other people might also publicly identify with the group whom you may want to clearly distance yourself from.

                  If you don’t, then it’s hardly cricket to complain when someone says, “Oh, you’re a Republican? Foo is a Republican, and he’s an idiot!”

                  “Not all Republicans are Foo” or “Foo is a RINO” is/might be certainly true, but it is less compelling of a rejoinder than, “I agree with you that Foo is an idiot, but there are stupid people who call themselves Democrats, too. Let us instead talk about what my idea of Republicanism is, and since you specifically brought up Foo, I will explain how my idea of Republicanism is different than Foo’s. Then maybe you can see why I call myself one.”

                  Engage your stereotype, and you can help destroy it. Claim you’re victimized by your stereotype, you’re probably not going to get anywhere.

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                    • That’s a fair rejoinder. Very often you’re probably dealing with exactly that situation. In the particular case of defending libertarianism, I imagine one can get mighty tired of just that.

                      However, if you’re talking to someone who *might* be willing to engage you, opening up engagement might get you somewhere, right?

                      Kvetching about stereotypes (even if it’s justified and true) is probably just going to make you come across as an apologist.

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              • “And the stereotypical libertarian *is* a Randian who follows the “the poor are moochers; let them starve”.

                That is a caricature of libertarianism on the whole. However, there *are* a heapin’ helpin’ of these people, and they identify themselves as libertarian – the people upon whom the stereotype is based *do* exist, after all.

                If you don’t like the fact that they represent libertarianism to the general public… you need to disavow them, not pretend they aren’t there or that they aren’t the public face of libertarianism to a lot of people.”

                I don’t know you can prove this assertion, or how I can disprove it, but from my experience, what you’ve written here is not true. I don’t know any libertarian who says let the poor starve. There might be someone somewhere who says this, but to say this is a significant representation of libertarianism just doesn’t ring true at all.

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                • Let me put it to you this way, Mr. Farmer.

                  I went a long way through life before I had a political conversation with someone who identified themselves as libertarian. He was just like that. Boilerplate stereotypical.

                  So were the next several people with whom I had these conversations. Boilerplate stereotypical.

                  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I’d known a few libertarians for *much longer* than I thought I had, because the reasonable ones just hadn’t wound up having political conversations with me. This includes some people that turned out to be fairly libertarian-leaning who I long thought were something else entirely.

                  I think this is a not-uncommon experience for people who grow up with a lot of liberal people in their local environment. It might not be a common experience for people who grow up with a lot of conservatives in their local environment.

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        • This has been my long-held position, actually. I view it as an inevitable side effect of 2 party coalition politics – any like-minded group with an interest in effecting political change must ultimately align with one or the other major political coalition. They can drift from coalition to coalition, mind you, but they cannot permanently stay independent. During the period where a group is within a coalition, they will have some effect on the positions of the coalition, but so too will the coalition have an effect on the smaller group, especially in the arena of priority setting.

          Ayn Rand and Ralph Waldo Emerson are largely two sides of the same coin; when libertarians are aligned with the Right, however, their priorities will look more like the former than the latter. I suspect that if/when they are aligned with the Left, their voice will be a lot more reminiscent of the latter than the former.

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        • The path taken is a part of it I think, but I’d posit that another significant reason that it isn’t the rule is that libertarianism has had more demonstrable successes in the past twenty years in coalition with their conservative/Republican collaborators than vice versa.

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      • Well, from a practical standpoint, which kind of welfare consumes more taxpayer resources: SS/Medicare/Medicaid or Subsidies to ADM? The former outweighs the latter 10 to 1, I would wager.

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        • There are structural reasons for this.

          If you don’t want to untangle all that, just look at it this way: if you want libertarianism to take hold (really, honestly take hold in this country as opposed to having some of its principles used as a rallying cry for one of the longstanding two political parties), you need to build popular support.

          More than half of the country either outright depends upon, or is heavily dependent upon, SS/Medicare/Medicaid. Very, very small numbers of voters are dependent in the same way upon subsidies to the ADM.

          Chip away at the subsidies that don’t have such a dependence, and you can show all sorts of good outcomes (presuming, of course, that your political philosophy actually works). You can build momentum. You can gain a presence at what is otherwise a two-party table. And then when a big enough demographic shift is occurring you can potentially get behind libertarianism and PUSH.

          I’d argue that this is a political strategy that has some chance of working. But if you think the other route has a better chance, you go on with your bad self.

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        • Well, from a practical standpoint, which kind of welfare consumes more taxpayer resources: SS/Medicare/Medicaid or Subsidies to ADM? The former outweighs the latter 10 to 1, I would wager.

          Undoubtedly correct. However.

          First, government spending does not equal loss of liberty. The two are only distantly related.

          Second, I would venture that nearly all government favors to corporations come through the regulatory system, not through subsidies (we’ll set aside the military-industrial complex for now, though we shouldn’t).

          These regulatory favors are not cost-free. We will never see the costs of businesses that can’t get started, jobs that will never be offered, inventions that will never save lives… but they are real nonetheless, and we are bearing them right now.

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          • Second, I would venture that nearly all government favors to corporations come through the regulatory system, not through subsidies (we’ll set aside the military-industrial complex for now, though we shouldn’t).

            Tracking the regressive effects of the regulatory state is really important, but even if we are just comparing chunks of the budget, I’d also note that if you include subsidies to J.P. Morgan Chase, say, or AIG, the balance looks … somewhat less tipped in the direction of so-called “social spending.” I hear those guys got a little bit of money from the government a couple years back.

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        • As several others have noted it’s not as simple as just looking at the categories and labelling them “welfare” and “corporate welfare”. How much regulation and trade restriction is corporate welfare? How much of the DoD’s budget is actually corporate welfare?

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    • Not exactly sure where this comment fits into this discussion, but … I’ve repeatedly found myself mystified by this commonly accepted opposition of state vs. free market. Has there ever been a free market without a state?

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      • Considering that the kind of abstract concepts like “property” can only be protected by non-private actors (i.e. a government)…no, I don’t think that a “free market” in the sense people mean is possible without a state.

        It’s certainly possible to revert to feudalism, but I doubt that’s what people have in mind (and besides, feudalism is just a group of very small states.)

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        • Considering that the kind of abstract concepts like “property” can only be protected by non-private actors (i.e. a government)

          I dunno. Seems a high wall and a large arsenal would work in an awful lot of property cases.

          Intellectual property, now that’s an abstract concept.

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          • “Seems a high wall and a large arsenal would work in an awful lot of property cases.”

            That’s not “property”. That’s “I’m a bigger monkey”. Property is something you have no matter how many guns either side has, because the government (who has more guns than anyone) has declared that you own it.

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            • That’s not “property”. That’s “I’m a bigger monkey”. Property is something you have no matter how many guns either side has, …

              Well, there’s the part where you say it….

              because the government (who has more guns than anyone) …

              … And there’s the part where you take it back.

              My own view is that ownership is primarily a moral, not a legal, relationship, and doesn’t depend on what some authority declares you have a right to, but rather on what you have earned the right to by your actions. Getting a declaration from the biggest monkey of them all is no doubt a clever way to secure your position, but it has no strong relationship to the moral question of property rights. Sometimes governments respect rightful property claims; a lot of the time they don’t (I would argue that they are especially likely to ignore or bulldoze over the rightful claims of the poor and socially marginalized).

              Considering that the kind of abstract concepts like “property” can only be protected by non-private actors (i.e. a government)…

              I don’t know what justifies the “i.e.” instead of an “e.g.” here. Government is not the only kind of “non-private actor” that might involve itself in questions of property claims or disputes over questions of legal right. There are lots of social institutions other than government; what Anarchists generally suggest is not that we do away with all social institutions in favor of everyone for herself and devil take the hindmost; rather, what we propose is that one particular social institution (the coercive monopoly known as the State) should stop usurping control over all other institutions, and should stop demanding the unique privilege to confiscate the material support for its activities by means of force. Part of the reason for this is because we value sociality so much and would like to see free association able to flourish and address social needs outside of the coercive confines of political government.

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              • “Sometimes governments respect rightful property claims; a lot of the time they don’t…”

                Congratulations, you’ve identified the difference between fee simple and allodial title.

                “There are lots of social institutions other than government…”

                Which, when acting in the role you suggest they could play here, are functionally identical to a government and can be treated as one.

                “My own view is that ownership is primarily a moral, not a legal, relationship, and doesn’t depend on what some authority declares you have a right to, but rather on what you have earned the right to by your actions. ”

                Ah-heh. Your “view” lets me justify taking anything from anyone, because all I have to do is declare that they haven’t got the moral right to it.

                If property is a moral concept rather than an objective one then it doesn’t exist. The whole point of property is its objectivity.

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                • DensityDuck: Congratulations, you’ve identified the difference between fee simple and allodial title.

                  Well, no, the comment you’re quoting had nothing in particular to do with the legal distinction between fee simple and allodial title. My remark was not limited to real property at all, but intended to encompass property in chattels as well as in land and other immovables. The point rather has to do with the distinction between claims based on moral right and claims based on superior force.

                  In your earlier comment, you first claim that “Property is something you have no matter how many guns either side has,” but then you say that it has to do with the what the government says belongs to you, because (?) the government has more guns than anybody else. The difficulty here, you see, is that if you’ve just said appeals to force are just a matter of “who’s the bigger monkey?” and not really a matter of property rights, then it seems odd to try to justify government’s exclusive say-so on questions of property rights by appealing to its full-spectrum dominance in the use of force. My own approach is, by contrast, that property rights are not a matter of anyone’s say-so, but rather a matter of what people have earned the right to, and what they’ve earned the right to is a matter of what they do, not a matter of what first, second or third parties say about it.

                  Which, when acting in the role you suggest they could play here, are functionally identical to a government and can be treated as one.

                  Functionally identical for your purposes, maybe; not for mine. Government is not just a matter of what an institution does but how it does it; governments are institutions which claim not only the right to settle disputes, but a special kind of sovereignty over dispute-settling, and they are thus, among other things, centralized, monopolistic, territorial, tax-funded, and non-consensual. But it is perfectly possible to conceive of social institutions that do various things that government claims to do (e.g. protecting rightful claims of property) while lacking one or some or all of those features — that are, for example, non-territorial, or funded only by voluntary contributions, or don’t make any claims of an exclusive prerogative, or…. Now, maybe you want to claim that a non-governmental institution would be ineffective at defending property claims if it didn’t have all the features that sovereign governments have (e.g. territorial monopoly or non-consensual sources of funding). You can do that, but if you do, you need to argue for that position, not simply define the alternative out of existence. Or you might want to use the word “government” in a broader sort of way — for example, not to mean a territorial monopoly on the legally legitimated use of force etc. etc., but rather just something like “any institution that offers effective settlements of interpersonal or social conflicts, no matter how it does so.” If that’s how you want to use the word, you can do that too, but you should then realize that you’re now discussing many institutions that are “governments” by your definition, but not “governments” in the sense that free-market Anarchists oppose.

                  Ah-heh. Your “view” lets me justify taking anything from anyone, because all I have to do is declare that they haven’t got the moral right to it.

                  I don’t know why you put “view” in scare quotes. I promise you that it really is a view, not something else. (What else would it be? An end-table? A duck?) And it really is mine.

                  Anyway, all this would be an accurate criticism if I held that moral rights are a matter of what you personally declare moral or immoral. I don’t, so it’s not.

                  In fact I specifically contrasted moral relationships (as I use that term) with relationships which are defined either by force or by arbitrary say-so.

                  If property is a moral concept rather than an objective one then it doesn’t exist. The whole point of property is its objectivity.

                  And this would be an accurate criticism if I agreed with your (apparent) view that moral relationships are somehow “not objective” relationships. But I don’t, so it’s not.

                  There are probably too many cans of worms already open at the moment, so let me table the word “moral” for the moment, and just repeat that on my view property rights are not a matter of “declaration” at all (not by you, not by the state, and not by any other party). They are a matter of what, objectively, you have done or have not done with respect to the stuff that you are claiming as your property. Not what the government says about what you have done, but what you have in fact done.

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                  • “My own approach is, by contrast, that property rights are not a matter of anyone’s say-so, but rather a matter of what people have earned the right to, and what they’ve earned the right to is a matter of what they do, not a matter of what first, second or third parties say about it.”

                    but that’s a say-so. Who defines what’s needed to “earn the right” to property? And why is that not “first, second, or third parties” having a say about it?

                    My intent in citing “the government is bigger than anyone” is to counter the argument that “property is what you can hold in your hand”. That only works until someone bigger comes along and takes your stuff.

                    “[P]roperty rights are not a matter of “declaration” at all (not by you, not by the state, and not by any other party). They are a matter of what, objectively, you have done or have not done with respect to the stuff that you are claiming as your property.”

                    How does that deny the notion that abstract concepts can be treated as property–protected, exploited, transferred, sold, repossessed, etcetera?

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                    • …but that’s a say-so.

                      Well, no, that does not follow — not unless you have just ignored my specific claim to the effect that “What they’ve earned is a matter of what they do,” not what they or someone else say about what they do. Perhaps you disagree with this claim; but if so you need to give an argument against it, not just proceed with an argument that presupposes its falsity.

                      My intent in citing “the government is bigger than anyone” is to counter the argument that “property is what you can hold in your hand”.

                      OK, so you’re countering an argument that nobody in this thread made. But why?

                      You made a claim earlier that one cannot have property protections without government, and NoPublic responded with a way that you could. The claim was not that anything someone successfully defends is (therefore) their property; rather, the claim was that if something is someone’s property, it can indeed be successfully defended even without the state. Your entire argument seems to be a confusion of claims about necessary condition with claims about sufficient conditions. And your response seems to amount to “Well, property is what the government can hold in its hand, because government is more powerful than anybody.” The bit after the “because” is false (governments fail and fall all the time), but even if it were not, what you’ve just recommended is no less authoritarian than the theory you thought you were responding to.

                      How does that deny the notion that abstract concepts can be treated as property–protected, exploited, transferred, sold, repossessed, etcetera?

                      Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about here. NoPublic’s implicit objection to “intellectual property” laws? I don’t think I said anything about that one way or the other. (As it happens, I am against so-called “intellectual property,” but I’m not very interested in arguing the reasons why here — I don’t think it has much to do with this thread of conversation.)

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        • Like Just John, I’m not entirely sure where this fits in but I do think there’s a need to keep something called “society” in our discussions of the free market and the state because I sometimes hear people oppose the two as if that’s all there is. But I suspect the growth of the state was largely at the expense of society. I remember Christopher Lasch once writing that, from one perspective, the history of the 20th century was about the steady taking over by the state of functions once served by the family. Well, in those cases, cutting back on the state would not be best served by replacing it with some sort of market I don’t think. Sometimes I hear people talk about aggrandizing the market in roughly the same way the state was aggrandized.

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          • Yes, I suspect this is very much the case — that “the state” has been cast in the role of a catch-all bugbear whose elimination would surely relieve us of the feeling that we’re impeded from expressing ourselves and acting freely. What an old friend of mine called his “god-given right to be left the fuck alone.”

            I just started reading Fukuyama’s “Origins of Political Order” and one of the first things he does is to point out that the primal individualism (term I’m improvising here, not sure it works well) as man’s natural state assumed and described in the work of the Hobbes-Locke-Jefferson line is ahistorical, and did not actually exist; that social behavior and organization predates humans in our evolutionary line. Very much enjoying the book so far.

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  6. Good post. Always important to remember that winners and losers will fill any market, whether that be more of a social market economy or a laissez-faire economy. Thus one should be skeptical to any claims of panaceas and promises of vastly-improved lives. Even as we change laws and policies, cultures and institutions do their best to resist change and instability. After all, as Rufus said above, “there are limits to how much instability the average person can tolerate and we should be aware of that.”

    Also, this: “And there is much to be learned along the way, for all of us.”

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  7. I have read a wide range of libertarian literature, and I don’t think I’ve read one libertarian author who promises certain things will happen in a free market. Everything I’ve read merely says that a free market will create an emerging, spontaneous order, and libertarians like Tibor Machan go further and say that the order can be influenced if society relies more on reason and ethics, in other words by relying on what we know from experience enhances our lives and relationships.

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  8. What would a freed market look like? The truth is that probably none of us know. It’s likely to be very weird and to require cultural adjustments that none of us can imagine.

    Or perhaps adjustments that none of us can make. In his novel Accelerando, Charles Stross posits that the economy could become something that humans can’t even understand, carried out entirely by algorithms on behalf of legal persons. In the book, humans are not only squeezed out of running the economy, but of participating in it; there is simply nothing that a human can manufacture or develop that is as profitable as the transactions the algorithms devise.

    Look at the financialization and program-trading developments of the last ten years, and tell me it couldn’t happen.

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    • Doesn’t that say all we need to know about Reason, really, after considered judgment? That no one is ever too young to learn the values of individualism, entrepreneur-ship and market presence? Or experiencing the intrinsic value of taking someone else’s money (your parent’s) and turning it into personal profits?

      Capitalism Cannot Fail!

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        • I see absolutely nothing wrong with entrepreneurship, and nothing wrong with teaching it to children, and I’m delighted that Reason opposes government overreach, both petty (as here), and the more serious stuff.

          If all they cared about were lemonade stands, that would be a problem. But in the real world, it isn’t.

          And finally, I find it reprehensible that Stillwater’s distaste for Reason leads him to cheer, in effect, when children get arrested. What a warped little conscience he must have.

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          • That no one is ever too young to learn the values of individualism, entrepreneur-ship and market presence?

            it’s not the worst lessons one could learn, to be sure.

            and though it be an ugly lesson, the sooner they learn about the idiosyncratic displays of power that will mark their lives, the better.

            it’s also just little kids selling lemonade.

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          • And finally, I find it reprehensible that Stillwater’s distaste for Reason leads him to cheer, in effect, when children get arrested. What a warped little conscience he must have.

            Lemonade Freedom Day. Really?

            Other than that, I’ll let the comment stand. I think it demonstrates both my point about Reason and Lemonade Freedom Day, as well as your method of argument.

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            • You know, busting kids for selling lemonade on the sidewalk was supposed to be a reductio ad absurdum.

              I don’t think anyone at Reason ever imagined someone — like you — being happy about it. Because kids shouldn’t be learning capitalism anyway!

              Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable. What’s worse, I doubt you ever felt exercised about this burning regulatory issue, until Reason took it up. Whatever they’re for, you’ve got to be against, even if it’s kids selling lemonade on the sidewalk.

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              • Jason, for someone who reflexively accuses other commenters of ascribing nefarious motives to your comments, what you’re doing here is rich in irony. What was the content of my comment upthread? Laughing at Reason. Laughing at LFD!. Laughing at the reductionism implied by thinking societal ills can be corrected by vigorously promoting and defending the ‘right’ of children (8 year olds!) to sell lemonade on the sidewalk.

                If you don’t think that’s funny or interesting, then so be it. Let it go, brother. I think there’s more important topics to discuss. Which was part of my initial point.

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                • You implicated these children in capitalism, which for you amounts to “taking someone else’s money and turning it into personal profits.”

                  They’re culpable in your eyes, and you still seem happy to see them get punished. I suppose it’s consistent, but hardly admirable.

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                  • They’re culpable in your eyes, and you still seem happy to see them get punished.

                    Ha! I just figured it out! You think I see them as lil Capitalists, and that I hatehatehate Captitalists, so I’m happy to see them punished!

                    Good Gawd dude! No wonder people think you have nefarious motives for your comments. Because you do!

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                    • Tell me, what other motive do you have?

                      If you think it’s insufficiently serious for a news magazine… have you looked at other news magazines lately? Or are you just holding Reason to a much higher standard? Because that would be… odd.

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                    • Tell me, what other motive do you have?

                      To make fun of Reason? Like I said upthread?

                      I could be wrong, tho, I admit. So let’s make a deal, Jason: no matter what words I write, feel free to re-interpret them according to your ‘liberal says X, :. liberal means Y’ meaning generator, and then inform me of what I really think about the issue.

                      That would save alot of time. And one of us might learn something!

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                    • No deal.

                      You’re the one who looked at the whole thing — from lemonade stands, to kids getting cited, to the magazine article — and identified the problem as “capitalism.”

                      That’s just plain ridiculous, and there’s no getting around it.

                      Does Reason deserve to get made fun of for this story? If so, why? I honestly don’t understand it. I just don’t.

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                    • Yes, the Reason article is very pertinent, just like the little girl who saved a woodpecker from a cat, nursed it back to health, then was fined over 300 hundred dollars by the Wildlife dept. It shows the absolute absurdity of the nanny state — and it points to something much larger and more important which is a State out of control — that’s pretty serious. But just the human interest in this story, young kids harrassed by authorities for selling lemonade, is serious enough. Anyone who dismisses this story as a joke doesn’t have any understanding of liberty and what it would mean to lose our basic rights.

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                    • Does Reason deserve to get made fun of for this story? If so, why? I honestly don’t understand it. I just don’t.

                      Careful here. Another few steps and you open yourself up to generally justified but contextually irrelevant ridicule.

                      Heh. Just kidding.

                      Look, Jason, I tend to think your posts and comments are for the most part ideologically neutral, in the sense that a rational non-ideologically biased person could both see your point and get behind the sentiment motivating the post.

                      But Reason, in general, doesn’t do that. It’s SO ideologically slanted without providing any justification for that bias whatsoever, that it opens itself up to ridicule. And I sometime slip up in ‘polite company’ and express that.

                      But let’s be crystal clear here (and you should already know this from discussion we’ve participated in). I’m not anti-capitalist. I’m not anti-market or anti-profit. I’m mos def not anti-private property. Hence, I don’t espouse the views you’re attributing to me. But that’s true of all liberals: they aren’t anti-capitalist, they (we) believe in regulated capitalism (see how capitalism is still part of the fundamental commitment?). And the reasons for that are something I’ve tried to express in comments at this site.

                      But to get back to Reason: Lemonade Freedom Day is simply Onionesque-level evidence of the ideological bias, and in my view unwarranted ideological bias, of Reason. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous for a media outlet to respond to a perceived but imaginary threat to Capitalism by advocating for the ‘rights’ of of 8 year olds to engage in ‘free market’ capitalism to make a point.

                      It strikes me as propagandistic on the first pass. And as deluded on reflection. And finally, that the people who wrote those things are so detached from reality that the only rational response is to laugh at them.

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                    • Mike Farmer’s comment helped clarify things a bit. I’m not criticizing Reason for the initial story about the young girls getting busted. I’m criticizing them for Lemonade Freedom Day.

                      I thought that was clear from the beginning of the thread, where my initial comment was a response to a link about … Lemonade Freedom Day.

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                    • Now I feel like we’re getting somewhere. There’s still a lot of space between us, but at least I can see the boundaries a bit better.

                      I wasn’t particularly struck by Lemonade Freedom Day as an exercise in ideology. I thought it was calling out an obvious regulatory overreach, one that even liberals would feel like they could condemn, too.

                      I know I’d feel horrible if it were my kid, whether her offense was selling lemonade — or helping an injured woodpecker, as MFarmer mentions at 5:15. It’s not really about capitalism or conservationism. It’s about the state just letting go once in a while and letting kids be kids.

                      I don’t see anything wrong with that, and I don’t see anything particularly ideological, either. If it does have an ideology, it may well be of the free-range kids sort, which isn’t affiliated with any one politics, but which does deserve support I’d still say.

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                    • It’s about the state just letting go once in a while and letting kids be kids.

                      And I’m sympathetic to that, of course. One thing to note is that kids all over the neighborhoods I go frequent have lemonade stands out all the time. (And I but usually buy from them FWIW.) So ‘the state’ isn’t making a concerted effort to fuck with kids or with those freedoms that – like you say – ought to be respected independent of party or affiliation. This is a crazy case of some few people who are so ruled bound that they can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s part of the human experience.

                      I think the whole thing’s been overblown.

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          • “I see absolutely nothing wrong with entrepreneurship, and nothing wrong with teaching it to children, and I’m delighted that Reason opposes government overreach, both petty (as here), and the more serious stuff. ”

            I’m glad you support the right of street bums to run out in traffic and smear newspaper all over windshields, and then stand in front of the cars and demand “tips” for the window-washing service.

            Oh, and you also like the idea of people appropriating the sidewalk in front of established businesses to set up their snack trucks.

            And I’m sure you like the idea of turning residential areas into short-order walk-up restaurants (an illegal quadrella, in that it’s illegal immigrants selling from unlicensed kitchens in an area zoned residential, and they aren’t paying taxes on the sales).

            I mean, it’s all about entrepreneurship, right? And those dumbasses who follow the regulations deserve to lose to the ones who don’t. Because any good capitalist knows what to call someone who follows the rules: a sucker.

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              • Part of ‘learning to run a business’ is understanding and working with local regulations. And it’s particularly important to understand why those regulations exist, and what their purpose is.

                Believe it or not, government bureaucrats generally don’t want to be the ones stomping on some little kid’s lemonade stand. I’m sure that they’d be happy to let the kids sell lemonade. But the regulatory scheme is not set up to enable a kid’s lemonade stand but disallow someone, e.g., selling lemonade from a truck in a stadium parking lot (and undercutting the vendor who’s paid $25,000 to rent stall space inside the park.)

                And, y’know, you can certainly make an argument that there shouldn’t be so many regulations. But if you want red-light window-smearing to be banned, then you need to write a regulation. And if you aren’t careful writing the regulation, then you’ll ban fund-raiser car-washes too. And if you are careful, then that’s how you get “omg what is all this gobbledeygook in this law, why can’t we just write simple laws anymore, it has to be all this lawyer garbage”.

                Are there bad regulations? Sure! Are all regulations inherently bad? No.

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                • Or to put it a little more simply, libertarians are great at seeing the supposed unintended consequences of regulation. But, they’re not so great at seeing the unintended consequences of a _lack_ of regulation. Now, you could say the opposite is true of liberals.

                  But I’ve never met a liberal or social democrat outside of a message board strawman who wants to regulate everything or everyone. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of articles from actual libertarians about how we just need to eliminate all regulations and if a company drops some toxic waste in your groundwater, just sue them and it’ll all work out.

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                  • But I’ve never met a liberal or social democrat outside of a message board strawman who wants to regulate everything or everyone.

                    Really? I’ve just met a couple of them here — including you — who would regulate kids’ lemonade stands, and you’re not going to tell me that that’s not “regulating everything.”

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                    • Actually, I’m pretty sure every liberal on this site would happily agree to something in the regulation that say it’s exempt for kids under 12 or something like that.

                      But yes, because we don’t want to immediately remove a regulation that may result in kid’s lemonade stands getting bothered by overzealous city workers/cops, we want to regulate everything. Come on now.

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                • You do realize, right, that the required permits take many months and hundreds of dollars to get? And that forcing kids to work within the system is tantamount to shutting down a harmless pastime?

                  How does that introduce them to business? I’ll tell you what message it sends: “You’d better be rich and well-connected before you even try, kiddo!”

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                  • On the bus, I pass by, literally dozens of small businesses who have somehow managed to deal with the regulations that come with opening a business. And I’m pretty sure only a small amount of them are rich and well-connected.

                    The truth is, a vast majority of regulations in place aren’t odious, overbearing, or unneeded. It’s fun to point out the obviously silly ones or the ones that have been written to protect business x, but most of them are common sense, but they’re silly needed to be written down and enforced because it’d be cheaper to ignore them.

                    Also, since there are literally millions of small businesses, a large chunk of them in those urban areas filled with silly regulation by liberal elitists, it seems to be the people who talk about it being impossible for a new small business to open because of overegulation either don’t know what they’re talking about or have less acumen than the millions of people who have managed to pull it off.

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                    • On the bus, I pass by, literally dozens of small businesses who have somehow managed to deal with the regulations that come with opening a business. And I’m pretty sure only a small amount of them are rich and well-connected.

                      Nobody is claiming that there is no such thing as a small business. The left-libertarian claim is, generally, that in a freed market there would be many more small businesses, including a rich set of “microenterprises” far smaller than the storefront businesses that you seem to be thinking of, than there currently are. Not because it’s impossible to start one now, but because it is both difficult and costly. Not (just) because of the costs and risks that are inevitably involved in any business venture, but because the regulatory market makes it overwhelmingly more difficult, more risky and more costly than normal market factors would make it.

                      When I walked around my old neighborhood in southeast Las Vegas, I saw a fair number of “small,” locally owned businesses in which hardworking but relatively privileged and comfortable “small businesspeople” had set up shops. (These are in small storefronts that typically cost about $1,000-$2,000/mo for rent, or in out-parcel buildings that cost much more.)
                      But of course those who make enough money at their business to pay $1,000-$2,000 a month for a small storefront are already people who have, and are making, a fair amount of money, or at least have decent access to credit. I also saw a lot of the local homeless people who barely scratched by by gathering up discarded goods from dumpsters and curbsides, loading them into grocery carts, and carrying them down to an impromptu swap meet on some of the empty parking lots in the neighborhood. I suppose you can guess which of these two groups was more likely to have cops show up and force them to close up shop because they hadn’t paid out a hundred bucks for a business license. You probably also can guess which group of entrepreneurs was, relatively, more wealthy and more well-connected than the other.

                      Anyway. Where the regulatory state really cuts against small businesses, on the margin, is amongst people who would be able to make a living, in a very small scale business, but don’t have tends of thousands of dollars a year to spend on commercially-zoned storefronts, licenses, inspections, etc. etc. etc. And amongst those who can afford these things for the moment, but whose business is constantly on the edge of failure because of the very high fixed costs that the regulatory structure forces upon them.

                      (About 50% of small businesses fail within the first five years; but the reason for that is not just because it’s so hard to start a business. It’s because businesses face a cost structure that is extensively rigged in the direction of high compliance costs and potentially disastrous legal punishments.)

                      Right now, the kind of regulations that left-libertarians typically complain about (e.g., those that effectively require food vendors to have a separate, extraordinarily expensive commercial kitchen; those that exclude them from running businesses out of their homes; those that require them to spend hundreds of dollars on a business license before they can so much as sell things off a folding table or out of the back of a truck) cut against small businesses in general, and most of all against the kind of worker-run microenterprise that many ordinary people might easily be able to engage in, were it not for legal restrictions that effectively require you to be in a socioeconomic position to join the ranks of established “small businesspeople.”

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            • So let’s check in on the conversation about Lemonade Freedom Day.

              Libertarian: You know, I don’t think the police should be threatening or arresting children for setting up lemonade stands without asking government permission.

              DensityDuck: Oh yeah? By that logic, you must not have any problem with BUMS squeegeeing windshields, or people COMPETING WITH wealthy established brick-and-mortar businesses, or ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS [sic] making a living without paying taxes.

              Libertarian: You know, you’re right. I don’t have any problem with that. I kind of like it when the poor and socially marginalized are not harassed or arrested by police for peaceful attempts to make a better living for themselves. And I don’t think government should mainly be in the business of busting working folks or criminalizing their survival strategies, for the sake of the aesthetic sensitivities or the business interests overwhelmingly more privileged people and “established businesses.”

              DensityDuck: You libertarians are all a bunch of capitalist tools!

              Incidentally, I’d like to encourage you to get rid of the racist, scapegoating crap about “illegal immigrants” (i.e., undocumented workers) trying to make a living for themselves. There is nothing wrong with being from another country, and the problem with so-called “illegal immigration,” insofar as there is one, is the government’s brutally racist and classist persecution of desperate, marginalized people. Not the immigrants themselves.

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              • So you’re honestly saying that a guy who runs the cafe that he lives above shouldn’t have a problem with some dude selling sodas out of a cooler on the sidewalk next to his front door?

                What I want is for people to stop acting like there’s some kind of special Anti-Lemonade Task Force out there breaking everyone’s balls, like the government specifically wants to make little kids cry.

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                • The businessman running the cafe can “have a problem” with whatever he wants. What I am honestly saying is that he shouldn’t be able to deal with his business problems by having his competition arrested. I don’t believe that it’s government’s job to protect the bottom lines or captive markets of the economically privileged. Do you?

                  As for the police and lemonade, I’m sure that nobody in government very much likes making little kids cry. However, it is manifestly clear that they are willing to threaten children with fines and arrest if that’s what it takes to rigorously The Rules — which in this case happen to be Rules designed to enforce a set of anticompetitive regulations expressly designed to uphold the economic privilege of local capitalists.

                  Decent people often end up doing something cruel without quite realizing it, when they pursue a fixed policy, but decent people will generally stop and reconsider their life choices when they see that, for example, the Rules that they are insisting on involve pointless hostility towards innocent children, taking away a kid’s lemonade stands even though the kid isn’t hurting anyone or anything by having it, threatening children with insane punishments simply for playing a game without specific, detailed permission in advance. Realizing that you have made a child cry for no real reason at all is the sort of thing, in real life, outside of political power-trip la-la land, often serves as an effective reductio of the kind of rules you’ve been insisting on. But if there is one thing that legalistic sanctimony does, it is to do everything it can to cripple people’s sense of decency, and to obliterate any sort of scruple or principled argument in favor of the crudest appeals to authority.

                  And that is why I believe in getting legal force out of human relations to the extent that it is possible to do so.

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