Democracy and the rhetoric of protests: A response to Will Wilkinson and Julian Sanchez

Manichean rhetoric is employed, nuance is jettisoned, and catchy sloganeering reigns supreme.

To believers in the primacy of intellectual honesty, the cacophony of protest can be disconcerting, the participants obstreperous. Will Wilkinson and Julian Sanchez certainly seem to think so. In recent posts, the two libertarians urge occupiers to stop occupying and start engaging with the political system.

Sanchez had the opening salvo:

“A small group of people self-selected for their commitment to some set of shared goals and values may be able to pick a set of slogans to chant in unison, or resolve their limited disagreements by consensus process.  But real democracy in a pluralist society involves deep and often ineradicable disagreement—and not just on the optimal uses of public parks and other commons. It’s true, of course, that concentrated and wealthy interests routinely capture the apparatus of government, and use it to serve ends inimical to the general good. But a frame that sets up an opposition between “the 99%” and “the 1%” —or, if you prefer, between “Washington/media elites” and “Real America”—suggests a vain hope that profound political differences are, at least in some spheres, an illusion manufactured by some small minority.”

Wilkinson, similarly rankled by protesters’ antipathy toward pluralism, also decried their ideological presumptuousness: Why can’t the protesters accept that a huge chunk of “the 99%” doesn’t agree with them without questioning the naysayers’ lucidity? (It’s a funny gripe for a guy whose brand of liberal-libertarian fusionism has been implicitly based on the idea that liberals just need to adopt libertarian policies to achieve their desired ends.) At bottom, Wilkinson and Sanchez have two principal beefs with the occupiers: their rhetorical reductionism and puerile conception of democracy.

The two correctly characterize the 99-1 dichotomy as simplistic. But Wilkinson and Sanchez are missing the point of a catchy slogan—or any protest chant, for that matter: They’re succinct, and thus, require some explication if one is seeking nuance. (The “1” arrayed against the “99” simply means that the wealthy and powerful have a criminally large influence in our political economy, and they use that influence to perpetuate an unjust system). Parliamentary bargaining and cerebral discussions have their place—indeed, I wouldn’t blog at the League if I thought otherwise. But agitation outside the ballot box or the walls of Congress is a necessary antecedent to social change. As Howard Zinn felicitously phrased it, it’s “that healthy commotion that has always attended the growth of justice.” That might upset Wilkinson, Sanchez, and other populist critics, but dispassionate policy papers don’t catalyze social change. Visceral exhortations must supplement cerebral appeals.

On the question of expunging pluralism from the American polity, Wilkinson is right: Too often people blame ideological differences on obfuscation or ignorance. But the pluralistic give-and-take that Sanchez and Wilkinson invoke is, at present, illusory. Even Sanchez acknowledges “that concentrated and wealthy interests routinely capture the apparatus of government, and use it to serve ends inimical to the general good.” The 1 percent isn’t monolithic, nor is it a moustache-twirling, scheming phalanx of elites arrayed against a homogeneous 99 percent. The truth is less conspiratorial, less coordinated, and comparably banal. But pernicious it remains. In addition, there’s a good case to be made that institutional factors impede the passage of more egalitarian policies.

Look, I share the two libertarians’ (abstract) devotion to pluralism. But what about the pluralism of democratic expression?

When Sanchez writes things like, “To imagine protest not as prologue to politics, but as a substitute for it, suggests a denial of the reality of pluralism, and an unwillingness to find out what democracy actually looks like [italics mine],” he’s offering up an overly constricted vision of democracy. Wilkinson is also a defeatist. To him, our debauched democracy “does about as well as democracy can be realistically be expected to do, given the size and diversity of this country.” (I suspect Wilkinson’s cynicism about our process’s prospects is also tied to his affinity for public choice theory.)

To democratic minimalists like Sanchez and Wilkinson, democracy is electoral politics. Citizen participation means voting, if one is so inclined. Enhancing citizen power is gratuitous. But this is exactly the kind of narrow, elite-enhancing conception of democracy that the Occupy movement so clearly eschews. What many occupiers do seek is a more vibrant democracy in which corrupt influences don’t dictate policy and average citizens can meaningfully influence the forces and decisions that shape their lives.

This desire for democratization is comparable to the radical agrarian movement of the late 1800s, as Lawrence Goodwyn describes in his masterful work Democratic Promise: “To the extent that the reformers were able to develop new modes of political expression, they were engaging in an attempt at cultural redefinition of what constituted genuine democracy. The extent to which they succeeded in enlarging prevailing frames of reference measured the meaning of Populism.” The Occupy movement is similarly concerned with reshaping popular conceptions of democracy and citizen participation.

That includes some good old rabble-rousing. Zinn again:

“Democracy is not just a counting up of votes; it is a counting up of actions. Without those on the bottom acting out their desires for justice, as the government acts out its needs, and those with power and privilege act out theirs, the scales of democracy will be off. That is why civil disobedience is not just to be tolerated; if we are to have a truly democratic society, it is a necessity. By its nature, it reflects the intensity of feeling about important issues, as well as the extent of feeling. This fills a vital need in a political system accustomed to counting heads, but needing also to measure passions.”

After facilitating at a general assembly several weeks back, one of my best friends received a message from a participant thanking him for the empowering experience. Even in the “world’s greatest democracy,” she had never felt as engaged in the democratic process. At a recent Occupy DSM statement of principles working group meeting, one member said he never dreamed of trying to solve the world’s problems. He said it partly in jest, but these anecdotes get to the heart of what I think the Occupy movement is all about: augmenting agency and correcting deep societal power imbalances.

In the face of this reality, the most democratic, discourse-shifting left-wing protest movement in years is now being implored to funnel all its aspirations into a moribund, perverted political process.

Uh, I think we’ll pass.

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251 thoughts on “Democracy and the rhetoric of protests: A response to Will Wilkinson and Julian Sanchez

  1. If the “average” person could “meaningfully influence the forces and decisions that shape their lives”… they wouldn’t be average. Most people throughout history, regardless of the form of political organization in which they exist, have never had any ability to do any such thing any more than they have the ability to carefully choose their parents, or the time and place in which they are born.

    What you call “vibrant democracy” a lot of the rest of us call unbridled chaos. Some people in OWS would actually prefer that, being anarchists and all, but even amongst the protestors they’re a minority. Which makes the whole thing kind of self-defeating. As Sanchez and Wilkinson so cogently observed.

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  2. I suspect Julian and Will are either in denial or simply unobservant about the message that the small, localized direct participation aspects of the occupation areas hints at.  While there are fellow traveler elements that are basically Democratic-but-seriously-this-time, I overall get a vibe of Think Small from it that IMO shouldn’t inherently be a turnoff for libertarians.  If our big problem is central government authority, then a movement that happens to question it by example can’t be all bad.

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    • ya. Signs everywhere about “peace not war” (vets mostly), “no fracking’, “save public transit” — these are small, local problems.

      to the extent that people like federalist solutions they should be cheering for OWS.

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  3. In the face of this reality, the most democratic, discourse-shifting left-wing protest movement in years is now being implored to funnel all its aspirations into a moribund, perverted political process.

    Uh, I think we’ll pass.

    Ok, but this type of thing: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle … story.html

    makes y’all look really stupid. And it sure as heck ain’t an example of augmenting agency, in fact just the opposite.

    Query- “Can I invite you over for dinner?”

    Agent – “Yes!” (or “No thanks”, it make no nevermind)

    Non-Agent – “Let me check with the crowd.  But first, let me check if I can check with the crowd”

    More charitably, your movement doesn’t seem to know the difference between collective action problems (when democracy and moreover consensus are important) and not-collective action problems (where individual autonomy should reign supreme and nearly plenary)

     

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  4. My question for you is what mechanisms for change in the power structure will be employed if not through politics? I understand the desire to transcend politics in a free society which works together through persuasion to affect change in society, but in order to limit government power, if that’s the goal, you have to go through politics first, because the State has amassed quite a bit of power and it will not relinquish power voluntarily — representatives have to be sent to DC to make systemic changes in government, and once the changes are made and limits placed on government, the State has no muscle to suppress the power of the private sector. It’s my understanding from OWS that they want more government interventions in order to dismantle Wall Street power, but this is just a transition of power and politics from one group to another within basically the same statist system — it’s not transcending politics and coercive power, which is the way to freedom and equality of opportunity. Does OWS want to limit government power, or does OWS want to increase government power to favor their worldview?

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    • “What OWS wants” is not so neatly defined, but as a partcipating member of an Occupy movement, I will give this a go.

      The Occupiers certainly favor government power to enforce a set of agreed-upon rules.

      In reality, I don’t think there is anything radical in the Occupy grievances, listed here; What they complain about would be very familiar to the Founders, which can be summed up as too much power in too few hands.

      No one that I have met in the movement would argue for unbridled power, in either the hands of the State, or Corporations. But the main grievance is that too much power in private hands inveitably leads to too much power in government hands.

      Today’s story about Henry Pulson meeting with, and advising Wall Street hedge funds about the government’s plans is a perfect example- it is the government that obeys the corporations, not the other way round.

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    • “It’s my understanding from OWS that they want more government interventions in order to dismantle Wall Street power, but this is just a transition of power and politics from one group to another within basically the same statist system – it’s not transcending politics and coercive power, which is the way to freedom and equality of opportunity. Does OWS want to limit government power, or does OWS want to increase government power to favor their worldview?”

      Why should we care what OWS wants. We can only hope OWS just goes away quietly instead of going away at great destructive cost.

      Whether you’re sympathetic or not, it’s not too hard to see that OWS’ complaints are somewhere in the same zip code as legitimate grievances. But that’s only a small part of the picture. I don’t think we can get away from the reality that such a huge percentage of them are stupid, ignorant, and mean-spirited. Any one of them is a big problem, but with all three I don’t think there’s much to hope for.

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  5. “But the main grievance is that too much power in private hands inveitably leads to too much power in government hands.”

    I think you have this exactly backwards. If there are strict limits on government power, then the government has nothing to sell. Government created the feeding trough and then performed their best hog calls. SUUUUUIE!

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    • Government will ALWAYS have something to sell,namely  the holy grail of private interests, which is the power of the gun vest with the authority of the state.

      What private person or entity wouldn’t love to control the power of the police, or the military? To use the government for my own personal bidding?

      Isn’t that what the private mandate is, the insurance corporations using the police power of government to force us to buy their product? Isn’t that what the private prisons and colleges are all about, using the authority of the state to force us to become customers of private interests?

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      • To me, this assumption that to eliminate crony capitalism we just need to get rid of government power is like saying that to eliminate organized crime we just need to get rid of law enforcement.

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        • Government is the primary enabler of crony capitalists in a way that law enforcement isn’t with regards to organised crime. (or if your law enforcement is, then you are in deeper doodoo than I know how to get out of)

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        • First of all, a limited government would punish crime, so the comparison with organized crime is bogus. That was surely written in haste. Slow down.

          According to this mindset, OWS efforts are useless because the nature of government can’t be changed — if you can’t limit government power, then we can’t change the cronyistic relationships — we can’t change the system, so fatalistically we should chill or join in on the scams and heists. It gives me a fuzzy feeling of hope and inspiration. Jeez, what weak-kneed cynics some people have become.

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        • , perhaps I had written to briefly, but my analogy wasn’t about crime but rather about cause and effect. To break it down: crony business frequently colludes unjustly with government so we should get rid of government to get rid of crony business / the mob frequently colludes with law enforcement so we should get rid law enforcement to get rid of the mob. In both scenarios, it just doesn’t make sense to me that less regulation (either removing government or the police) will necessarily result in more regular agents. I probably am coming at it from a reactionary stand-point, but that doesn’t make it make more sense.

          @Murali: Government is the primary enabler of crony capitalists in a way that law enforcement isn’t with regards to organised crime. To me this isn’t self-evident unless you’re defining crony capitalism in a very specific, government-dependent way. There’s a great deal of corporate malfeasance that goes on outside or in-spite of government and I think it’s pretty hard to quantify how much. More to the point, let’s imagine that law enforcement colluded with organized crime to the extent that you think government colludes with crony business. Would the reasonable response then be to, indeed, get rid of law enforcement?

          I can imagine some cases where no police would be better than corrupt police, but they’re pretty extreme (basically, 1984); do you believe that the relationship between government and business have reached such extremes? What was the tipping point?

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          • I think you might be confusing “crony capitalism” with other complaints about capitalism.  Crony capitalism is specifically when government cronyism leaks into the business sector.  Without government involvement in business, crony capitalism couldn’t really exist.  You might have other problems, such as monopolies, insider trading, good-ol-boy networks and such, but not crony capitalism.

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            • That’s a really good point, one which I think confuses the topic being discussed to a great extent. If cronyism is the only thing we’re trying to prevent, then – as you say – since it depends on government, the only way to eliminate is to eliminate/reduce government.

              But is cronyism the only issue in play here? It seems too often libertarians focus on this as either the entry point to why their views of political economy are better, or alternatively, that eliminating cronyism is only (that is, the principled sufficient reason) justifying their views. As Hanley has taken great pains to point out, this isn’t necessarily the case for all libertarians. Yet the libertarian fixation on cronyism is real, and it undermines, in my view, some of the better arguments libertarians put forward since it treats a complexpower dynamics as if they were unitary and in some sense static.

              Alternatively, liberals (like me!) think cronyism is only one of several power related issues that government plays a role in either ameliorating or fostering. So even if increasing the size and scope of government increases the likelihood of cronyism, a liberal will base his judgment on whether the direct positive effects of policy outweigh its indirect negative effects.

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          • I can imagine some cases where no police would be better than corrupt police, but they’re pretty extreme (basically, 1984);

            Well, I’m a libertarian, not an anarchist (and a lot of libertarians would find me squishy on all sorts of  things like the welfare state) So, I am not saying no government. Hell, most libertarians arent saying no government. we’re saying less.

            Let’s say hypothetically, the mafia had bought over the police commissioner such that the police tended to harrass small time crooks while looking the other way when it came to the mafiosos. Maybe some of them would double up as body guards for the don on their off days. Some could even be enforcers to rake in just that extra bit. Shake loose the odd store owner for protection money etc etc. Then, we still wouldnt want to get rid of cops entirely, but we would probably think that things would improve if we had fewer of them. We would especially think it a bad idea if people started saying “let’s have more cops”

            Same thing here. The government through regulation entrenches big businesses at the expense of small and medium enterprises. Minimum wage laws make it harder for small businesses to operate. Governments often give sweetheart deals in the form of government contracs to political supporters and this often exacerbate exploitative conditions. All that doesnt mean that we should get rid of government completely. We may even think it a good idea to take power away from those regulatory bodies which were suborned by big businesses. It is definitely a bad idea to give them more power.

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            • I’m not saying no government, either, and I made that clear, so, Trizzlor, once again, you were too quick — you didn’t think this through. Slow down. Limited government doens’t equal no government, and it doesn’t equal incompetent or ineffective government. A limited government can perform with excellence its limited duties, and one duty is punishing the violation of rights by maintaining the rule of law, so Goldman Sachs can’t walk into my house and force me to give them money. But, with government help, Goldman Sachs can steal from the entire nation.

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              • How do you solve the national security issue of “too big to fail”? When is the gov’t allowed to break up a company because it presents too much potential for wrecking havoc with the entire economy/military/gov’t to get what it wants?

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                  • Is it your allegation that the economies of scale actively prevent corporations from becoming too big to fail, in absence of regulation? I’m somewhat dubious about that, but certainly willing to listen to evidence.

                    Being “too big to fail” does not mean that one needs to be inflexible. Walmart’s a decent citation for that. Am I wrong?

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                  • Why not allow a free market to break up large, slow, inflexible, incompetent, monster companies, rather than regulate smaller and medium sized companies out of competition?

                    Not to sound to dogmatic about this point, but this comment is precisely where I think the libertarian position is conceptually unsound. When you say ‘why not allow…’, who are you referring too? Who’s doing the ‘allowing’? The public? Government? I mean, presumably, the suggestion only makes sense if government has already been coopted by private power. The issue here isn’t about allowing a certain action to take place, but rather taking the power of government out of the hands of the few who benefit from it the way you’re describing. So isn’t it really about using the power of government to compel and impose a different set of principles than are currently being acted upon?

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            • You suggest that the best way to deal with regulatory bodies that have been corrupted by business is to reduce the power of the regulatory bodies?

              In what way does this lessen the power of business to infringe upon our liberty?

              As I mentioned upthread, the holy grail of private interest is to gain control of the police power of government; even ht emost minimalist, limited government will always have a police power, to coerce citizens into following the law.

              Reducing the power of government, while leaving hte power of private itnerests unchecked, will result in the capture of government by the hands of the few.

              This isn’t a theoretical argument; this is the standard modus operandi throughout the 3rd World- governments that are only strong in service to private interests, but weak at controlling them.

              All the “successful” nations- that is, ones that support both liberty and prosperity- have assertive, powerful regulatory bodies.

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              • “In what way does this lessen the power of business to infringe upon our liberty?”

                One imagines that really bad businesses will be more likely to fail rather than be bailed out by the government they’ve captured.

                For one.

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                • True, if by “bad” you mean “incompetent”.

                  False, if by “bad” you mean “ruthless, power hungry and unethical”.

                  Any powerful institution, whether it be a religion, corporation, individual, or government will become monopolistic tyrannical, and crush the liberty of citizens.

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          • crony business frequently colludes unjustly with government so we should get rid of government to get rid of crony business

            Trizzlor,

            As Murali and MFarmer said, the issue is not “get rid of government.”  No libertarian or conservative here is arguing for that.

            Instead, what we’re arguing for is constraining government’s authority in precisely that area that is so attractive to capitalists–its power to offer them special benefits.   That still leaves quite a bit of government left over.

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            • But Trizzlor’s point remains unanswered. His complaint is that the presence of any government permits, at least in principle, cronyism. In fact, reducing the scope of government doesn’t necessarily limit the degree to which private power could coopt policy to its own advantage, it merely limits the extent to which specific mechanisms of that policy can be cronified.

              Another point he made or implied is that whether or not increased cronyism constitutes a larger share of governmental action then not is an empirical question (his ‘tipping point’ comment) which requires an answer. Since the potential for cronyism is built into the model from it’s inception, what is the argument that government has as a matter of fact  become too cronified? Is it emprically determined or is it a principled argument? If it’s principled, then the libertarian view doesn’t get off the ground on the assumption that even minarchist government could engage in the behavior. If it’s empirical, what specific evidence supports the view that tolerating cronyism at present levels isn’t still beneficial given that the policies permitting cronyism have social utility?

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              • I can’t say I have a fully complete model of how to eliminate cronyism forever.

                I can say, however, that I have some idea of what the problem is, and I’m not treating that problem as a solution.

                Every time I see OWS protesters get pepper sprayed, and aside from a gross civil liberties violation, I see an absurdity on both sides:

                –The protesters are demanding, in part, more vigorous public-sector unions.  These are the very unions that, when they work for the police force, will lobby as hard as possible for broad discretion in exercising the police power — in other words, even more pepper spray in protesters’ faces.

                –And the police are pepper spraying them… in opposition to that.

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                • I’m not sure the behavior of the police union necessarily condemns the teacher unions, the firefighter’s unions, etc. That unions will lobby for the preferred policies of the people they represent seems like a strange thing to condemn anyone of. The problem lies with the police, not with the union: the police, as they’ve become increasingly militarized, perhaps aided by union lobbying, but not driven by it, have developed different preferences. Getting rid of the unions won’t help this in any way.

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                  • The problem lies with the police, not with the union

                    That’s not entirely true.  While most cities have shown themselves unwilling to get rid of bad cops, unions exacerbate that issue by making it harder to get rid of bad cops when cities are willing to do so.  The purpose of unions is to protect their members–a bad cop is a member, so he gets protected, just as a good cop does.  There’s not much unions can do about that unless they do some fairly radical restructuring so that they have the authority to discipline/expel members.

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                    • The union’s job is to protect cops. But mostly to protect them from False Charges. There’s a secondary duty to be “hey man, we’re on the same side” — but that duty comes with the compulsion to shame/shun those who act outside norms.

                      “Brother, you beat that guy up. you are going to anger management classes, and you’re going to sit a desk until you can handle a baton again.”

                      It should be fairly obvious how helpful it is, to hear good counsel from someone explicitly on your side. I know how much of a knucklehead I can be, at any rate.

                      Transforming the system need not be about destroying parts of the system that might help.

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                    • Oh, I don’t mean to imply that unions don’t do anything that makes the police force worse, only that they don’t cause the militarization, which makes scenes like the violence at recent Occupy protests pretty much inevitable.

                      I don’t think unions are perfect. However, I think that the counterveiling forces are more imperfect, and pernicious, so I prefer strong unions, bad stuff and all, to weak or no unions. That goes for public and private unions.

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              • Stillwater,

                Reducing the scope of government can inhibit, if never eradicate, cronyism, because reducing the scope doesn’t necessarily mean an overall pulling in of authority (like shrinking the size of a circle), but excising certain areas of authority.

                My approach would be to draft a constitutional amendment making it unconstitutional for the executive or legislative branches to pass any rule or law that favored one industry over another, or favored any particular firm over any other firm in the industry, and prohibiting any subsidies to any private firm.

                This would still allow for generally applicable regulations for purposes of health, safety, environmental protection and the like.   It would only put some real constraints on the ability of government to grant favors.  There’d still be a lot of room for corporations to attempt influence–e.g., by pointing out how much an environmental regulation would harm a particular industry–so it wouldn’t be a perfect solution.  But it would eliminate the authority to pass generally applicable laws then give special exemptions to favored cronies.

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                • This I can get on board with. I think the libertarianism I am amenable to (maybe its marginal libertarianism) is the one which starts with eliminating areas of government involvement that are clearly antithetical to both markets and conceptions of social justice (those may be harder to find than I’m suggesting here) and which can carved off without undermining the positive social utility those institutions provide. This conception isn’t inconsistent with Liberalism, but an extension of it.

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                  • Stillwater,  then we’re on the same page, which is nice.  I won’t pretend all libertarians take that view, but I think most of them would be pretty amenable to it, even if for many it was only a first step.

                    For my own part, when I hear a libertarian arguing for revocation of all regulatory power, including the power to regulate true market failures like pollution, I have to wonder what they really think libertarianism means.  Because if it’s primarily about not allowing people to coerce others, then promoting negative externalities is hardly a libertarian position.

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                  • Heh. I’d hoped to dodge that one… ;)

                    First, I would write the amendment so that it’s fairly broad, banning laws whose purpose and/or effect is to promote one economic interest over another.  The “effect” clause is crucial, since purpose/intent can be fairly easy to hide, and there are other areas of the Constitution where the Court invokes the purpose of a law, so this would be well within the norm of how our Constitution actually functions, although it would be novel phrasing for an amendment.

                    Second, I’d include a clause stating that any negatively affected interest would have standing to challenge any such law (which  is really just a constitutional codification of existing standing doctrine).

                    Beyond that we just have to pin whatever hopes we have on the Supreme Court, the critical attribute of which is the degree to which justices are protected from interest group politics.  In most cases they have little to personally gain from any particular decision (beyond ideological or juridical satisfaction), so their incentives are not as routinely perverted as are those of the political branches.

                    And really, it’s pretty good at keeping its decisions within spitting distance of the Constitution, so I think there’s reason to believe special-privilege rules/laws would be curtailed, even if the amendment did not achieve our overall goals.  That kind of half-a-loaf outcome is pretty standard in politics, so as a political realist I can live with it.

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                    • And really, it’s pretty good at keeping its decisions within spitting distance of the Constitution, so I think there’s reason to believe special-privilege rules/laws would be curtailed, even if the amendment did not achieve our overall goals.

                      Yeah, but that’s because SCOTUS defines what counts as within spitting distance of the Constitution.  I mean current interpretations of the Constitution have effectively nullified the 9th and 10th Amendments.

                      Still, you’re right a clause like the one you describe would doubtless raise barriers to special favours, and that’s good for something.

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                  • Btw, This is a persistent question of mine wrt to radical libertarianism. Even minarchism. There is no mechanism to constrain government from acting according to the initial, perhaps very narrow, libertarian principles adopted. Historically, and perhaps even conceptually, the answer to the question is democracy. So I’m always surprised when I hear libertarians taking a negative view of democracy when the logical limits of their view contain no other mechanism to constrain the exercise of governmental power.

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                    • There is no mechanism to constrain government from acting according to the initial, perhaps very narrow, libertarian principles adopted.

                      This is a problem any ideology faces over time.  Isn’t it?

                      I don’t see that democracy is a good answer, either.  A lot of things that wouldn’t pass a democratic vote in 1970 would definitely pass today.  And vice versa.

                      Democracy decides between ideological stances insofar as they are presented to it.  But it does nothing to preserve any particular ideology, except insofar as it instantiates democracy-as-ideology itself.  (Whether the act of holding an election makes future elections more likely is an interesting question, actually, but somewhat removed from what we are discussing.)

                       

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                    • Stillwater,

                      The historical problem was not primarily a lack of democracy, but a government with too much authority.  Libertarians favor democracy over authoritarianism, but tend to see it as only a half-way measure as it still allows for a government with “too much” authority (“too much” as defined by libertarians, of course).  Their real goal is a much more radically limited government, still elected democratically, but with much greater constraints on the authority of the majority to use government to regulate and rule the minority.

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                    • Jason,

                      This is a problem any ideology faces over time.  Isn’t it?

                      Maybe, but I’m not so sure. A lot of this hinges on what we mean by ‘ideology’, of course, but if your political views begin with a premise that historically (and I think even conceptually) government primarily served/serves the interests of privileged private power, then one’s ideology may simply be to increase the power of the non-priveleged by wrestling unitary control of government from the privileged few. In that sense, the ideological commitments can’t be subverted since they fully embrace the dynamic nature of power struggles, and are defined by persistently pushing against (what are perceived to be) social and economic injustices.And in fact, I think that’s a pretty good description of the liberal project.

                      Re: democracy: I think democracy is inconsistent with the liberal project, since one of the goals of liberalism generally is to grant more power to people to determine policy, even if a specific democratically determined policy is inconsistent with liberal’s preferred views.

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                    • James, the view I expressed assumes that once upon a time, private power simply was the state: the two things were one and the same. It also assumes that private power could, in the absence of a formal government, create one. If either of those things is true, then historically determined non-violent antidote to institutionalized injustice is permitting the expression of will of the people.

                      I know we disagree about this, but on my view, the causal origins of government are private power. The conceptual roots of government are to serve the interests of private power. The broadly liberal  project in the course of modern times is challenging that power, opening it up to increasingly more citizens. And one of the necessary means for this, short of violence, is democracy, which permits people garner more power than they previously had by extending protections and permission to those previously denied them.

                      I think if there is one place you and I continue to get stuck, it’s on this point.

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                    • James, I forgot to address this:

                      Their real goal is a much more radically limited government, still elected democratically, but with much greater constraints on the authority of the majority to use government to regulate and rule the minority.

                      Well, that’s an entirely different goal than say, limiting cronyism, or limiting market interference, or limiting corruption, or even limiting coercion.

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                    • Stillwater:

                      on my view, the causal origins of government are private power. The conceptual roots of government are to serve the interests of private power.

                      That’s basically how I see government as well. Which is why I’m puzzled when people who agree on that claim to be able to wrench a legitimate concept of common good out of it. Strikes me like trying to teach a fish to ride a bicycle.

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                    • Stillwater,

                      [ME]: Their real goal is a much more radically limited government, still elected democratically, but with much greater constraints on the authority of the majority to use government to regulate and rule the minority.

                      [You}:Well, that’s an entirely different goal than say, limiting cronyism, or limiting market interference, or limiting corruption, or even limiting coercion.

                       

                      I don’t think so.  I should also add that I’m opposed to a minority putting constraints on the majority, and that actually happens in a democracy as well.  And limiting cronyism and corruption is very much within that latter, broadly understood, and both of those are firmly and inescapably within the concept of limiting coercion.

                      As to your other comment, it requires some more thought before I respond, and I have to rush away for a couple of hours.  For the moment, let me say that I agree that the origin of the government is in private power, and I think I can explain why that leads me to want to minimize it, even if it’s democratic.

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                    • Stillwater,

                      the view I expressed assumes that once upon a time, private power simply was the state: the two things were one and the same.

                      Yes, I agree.  As I’ve noted, I agree with Jared Diamond that the origin of the state is associated with the development of agriculture, ash control of food surpluses offered the first real means of totally subduing and dominating a population.  Those who had the brute power (and, Diamond adds, religious authority to cast a spiritual aura over that brute power) became the government.  They tended to buy off the population’s acquiescence in part by sponsoring public projects with the wealth they’d co-opted from the people, and it is in that area that the concept of government authority as a separate arena of “public” power probably originated.

                      It also assumes that private power could, in the absence of a formal government, create one.

                      Yes, unfortunately.  I think government is inevitable.  Anarchy is a non-equilibrum position.

                      If either of those things is true, then historically determined non-violent antidote to institutionalized injustice is permitting the expression of will of the people.

                      Yes and no, depending on what you mean by the “will of the people.”  I fully agree that historically the solution has been permitting the influence of an ever greater proportion of the people (obviously modern democracies’ origins begin with expanding power merely to the nobles, then bit by bit to the adult population as a whole–a several hundred year process).  If by “will of the people” you mean there is some kind of Rousseaun “collective will,” then I must stop short of that.  I don’t assume you necessarily meant it to mean that much, though.

                      The conceptual roots of government are to serve the interests of private power. The broadly liberal  project in the course of modern times is challenging that power, opening it up to increasingly more citizens.

                      Fully agreed, but therein lies the seed of disagreement.  To whatever extent government’s power extends, libertarians will generally agree with the liberal project of broadly dispersing the influence over it; e.g., opening it up to increasingly more citizens.  But simultaneously libertarians want to reduce that scope of power–not simply allow more people to influence the power as it is status quo ante, but to reduce that power from the status quo ante.

                      Liberals agree with this to some extent.  They don’t want to turn over to the masses the governmental authority to discriminate on the basis of race–indeed they fought vigorously to deprive government–to deprive the demos–of that power.  But they are not as consistent or principled with it as a libertarian would be.  For example liberals generally support freedom of speech, but a good number are inconsistently favorable toward it, being willing to limit speech that they find offensive (hate speech, and increasingly political speech).

                      So, ultimately, l fully agree with you up until the point the demos gets the reins of power–the question then becomes what we do with it.  The libertarian says, tie our own hands much more completely; the liberal says, tie our hands in a few areas, but  expand the use of that power in other areas.  That allows for a lot of overlap between us, and agreement on certain issues, but still leaves a basis for disagreement at a pretty fundamental level, I think.

                       

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            • This discussion is certainly a lot more complex than my pithy comments so let me first clarify a few errors I made: a) When talking about “crony-capitalism” I was using this term as if it included all forms of corrupt business practice – price-fixing, monopoly, etc as well as government collusion – when it is formally defined as merely the latter; b) I’m aware that few people here are against government entirely, so when I say “getting rid of” government/law-enforcement I mean reducing the current scope. My fault for being imprecise. That side, I think there are two basic points here: when, if ever, is shrinking government (police) not the best way to deal with government (police) corruption? and if so, how should government be shrunk and when do we know to stop?

              To the first point, Murali said: “Let’s say hypothetically, the mafia had bought over the police commissioner … Then, we still wouldnt want to get rid of cops entirely, but we would probably think that things would improve if we had fewer of them. We would especially think it a bad idea if people started saying “let’s have more cops”“. This seems like a major cognitive difference between the way liberals and libertarians see such a problem. My gut reaction, for example, is indeed “let’s have more cops”. Specifically, let’s have more cops in Internal Affairs to investigate corruption, and let’s have more cops rotating through the system to limit stagnation, and let’s have more cops teaching seminars on proper police procedure, etc. In fact, I would be as weary of the people saying “let’s have fewer cops” because it doesn’t address the systemic corruption issues and provides the mafia with more room to work.

              I realize we’re pretty deep in the analogy, but my general point is that government-business collusion can be fixed by a) shrinking: getting rid of the positions of power that tend to be corrupt; b) growing: adding layers of oversight and transparency to such positions; or c) some combination of the two that doesn’t impact the size of government at all. In the mob-police corruption scenario and elsewhere I do not yet see why a) is necessarily the preferred choice. Or, to put it more precisely, what conditions must be met for a) to be the preferred choice?

              To the second point: James H said “My approach would be to draft a constitutional amendment making it unconstitutional for the executive or legislative branches to pass any rule or law that favored one industry over another … This would still allow for generally applicable regulations for purposes of health, safety, environmental protection and the like.” I think this is a great idea in principle but very difficult in practice. The main problem is that most specific regulations can be re-written in a general way while still impacting a specific industry. For example, a general regulation that restricts air-pollution is likely to effect a large factory but not a person selling home-made crafts on the internet; and vice-verse for a general regulation on direct-to-consumer on-line sales. So either you can’t regulate air-pollution or you’re keeping the door open for a sweetheart deal. The same could be said for subsidies, which would merely be re-written as general fees on any corporations that don’t satisfy some criteria that is, by nature, only met by a specific industry. In other words, the amendment would simply obfuscate the regulations and subsidies we already have in place.

              James again: Their real goal is a much more radically limited government, still elected democratically, but with much greater constraints on the authority of the majority to use government to regulate and rule the minority.

              This is a great point: the free-market is, essentially, a limited democracy where your vote is weighted by your spending power. As such, it’s not self-evident that we should always strive to move more in it’s direction.

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              • “This is a great point: the free-market is, essentially, a limited democracy where your vote is weighted by your spending power. As such, it’s not self-evident that we should always strive to move more in it’s direction.”

                Our “votes”, as consumers, are whether businesses meet our wants and needs at the prices we’re willing to pay. But, again, you make a big mistake of simplifying something that is very, very complex. It seems to me you’d benefit from reading some good books regarding markets and economics. Seriously, and I’m not patronizing you. It just appears that you haven’t studied these issues in depth. The current popular, facile criticisms of markets make good signs at protests, but they don’t do justice to the subject. Even the concept of limited government is nuanced and more complex than just saying we cut government programs and hope for the best. I suggest you read everything Thomas E. Woods, a Harvard educated economist, has written, and even if you don’t agree with him, you’ll better understand the arguments. Woods is one of the best current writers if you want to understand libertarian/classical liberal thought.

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                • Thanks, I’ll check out Woods. Some of the stuff that I’ve read at the von Mises Institute is pretty creepy (their views on child-labor, for example) but Meltdown looks interesting. I realize that these systems are complex – which is why I’m trying to extract some basic concepts of what’s the norm and what’s an outlier – but I didn’t think my view on the free-market was controversial.

                  In that vein, if 100 people are unhappy with the way a business meets their wants then in a free-market their combined power is equivalent to that of a person earning their combined income – in a democracy that can regulate that business it’s one hundred times more. Is that not the tyranny of the majority that James H. was referring to?

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                  • P.S.  I recommend staying away from mises.org.  Not quite as bad as lewrockwell.com, but still not the most reputable source–more ideological than analytical.

                    if 100 people are unhappy with the way a business meets their wants then in a free-market their combined power is equivalent to that of a person earning their combined income – in a democracy that can regulate that business it’s one hundred times more. Is that not the tyranny of the majority that James H. was referring to?

                    No, I think not.  If I follow you correctly, you seem to assume a binary option–the business meets their needs or it doesn’t.  In politics, such binary choices are very common (that is, by the time they get down to the voters; not at the initial policy development level).  But in a market there is another option, if the business fails to meet their needs someone else can pop into the market to meet their needs.  Also, any particular business can offer different bundles of services/goods to customers, so it’s quite plausible that the business could actually meet the needs of the 100 customers as well as the needs of the one.

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                    • James H: so it’s quite plausible that the business could actually meet the needs of the 100 customers as well as the needs of the one.

                      Yes, it’s plausible but it’s not guaranteed. And even where it’s plausible it may require decades of creative destruction before the ideal business rises up to save the day. I’m sure you can imagine a luxury-goods company that generates a great deal of pollution but caters to the needs of one wealthy individual whose buying power outweighs that of me and my 99 friends. In a democracy, we can pass a clean-air regulation but in a free-market we’re stuck. The free-marketer in my head responds in three ways:

                      i) Just wait until some inventor comes up with a way to make those luxury-goods without pollution and they’ll be able to out-sell the bad business. Which, yeah great, but how many endangered bird species are we gonna lose forever before that happens?
                      ii) That rich guy buying the luxury goods earned his money because he was more clever than you and your friends, so he actually deserves a heavier hand than you do. Just like those illustrious and clever Hilton daughters.
                      iii) That may be, but it’s still better than the alternative: a majority which could force it’s prejudice on a minority and leverage a corrupt regulatory regime.

                      The last point seems the most convincing to me and was my interpretation of your authority of the majority objective function.

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                    • Trizzlor,

                      In a democracy, we can pass a clean-air regulation but in a free-market we’re stuck.

                      Hell, no!  Because it is a negative externality, pollution is a market failure.  As a market failure it can legitimately be regulated, without the economic system being turned into an un-free market!   Why is that so damned hard for so many people to understand?

                      And pollution is not what he was talking about, so you’re responding to something I wasn’t even defending.  Your example of the luxury goods company that’s polluting has absolutely no damned relevance at all, because we’re not talking about a market in pollution.  To keep it to the framework given above the demand of a few rich people for luxury cars would have to prevent the production of cars available to the non-wealthy.  Good luck making that example work, or any other example of production for the rich preventing the poor from getting some substitute good at their price level.

                      The free marketer in your head is a totally made up strawman that knows nothing about economics or markets.  Please don’t let him speak for real free marketers anymore.

                      For Christ’s sake, ending pollution is ending an illegitimate coercion.  Pollution is a consequence of a manufacturer forcing others to bear part of their production costs without compensation.  Ending it is entirely legitimate within the framework of a free market, and I sincerely can’t believe I’m having to explain that on this blog for something like the hundredth time.

                      As long as liberals keep pretending that free marketers support unbridled pollution they’re going to be bravely attacking a defenseless, and mostly undefended (except by raving idiots) strawman.

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                    • James: Because it is a negative externality, pollution is a market failure.

                      I’m starting to see the daylight between our views shrink on this, so I’ll assume my view of “libertarians” was shifted way too far into the anarcho-capitalist direction. Okay, so, in your view, are there any negative externalities the government fundamentally should not regulate? As a liberal, I look at high-tech derivatives trading as a kind of financial pollution which must be regulated and insured. Likewise for health & safety minimums in factories, proper labeling of food products, etc. Where do you draw the line on this?

                      BTW, I feel like this dovetails with the sweat-shops debate in a weird way; where the liberal side saw a spectrum of desperate choice and the other side saw only a binary.

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                    • Okay, so, in your view, are there any negative externalities the government fundamentally should not regulate?

                      Some are so minor it’s probably not worthwhile, or would entail more constraints on liberty than it would limit coercion.  I think of choice of house colors this way, even though my neighbor’s godawful lime green may have some measurable effect on my property values, or my other neighbor’s propensity to listen to his radio and subject me to ranchera music while he’s working in the backyard (OK, I actually sort of like that, but assuming I didn’t).  But anything that imposes serious costs (and, yes, that’s a fudge, because what counts as serious inevitably ends up being contentious) it’s legitimate to regulate.

                      But–and this is a very serious but, that lies at the core of much of my critique of government–just because government can legitimately regulate something does not in itself provide us any basis for believing they can/will regulate it effectively or efficiently.  Government regulation can be extremely inefficient, imposing more social costs than are prevented.  That’s a separate question from what you asked, but I throw it in there because the legitimacy of a general course of action and the value of the specific course of action are almost wholly unrelated.

                      As a liberal, I look at high-tech derivatives trading as a kind of financial pollution which must be regulated and insured.

                      They may be, but not because some people who’ve invested lose their shirts; only because third-parties not involved in the transaction also get harmed.

                      Likewise for health & safety minimums in factories,

                      I don’t actually have a problem with this in concept, but of course one can argue that employees are free agents.  I think that argument is not strong enough to successfully carry the day against any and all such safety regulations, because some relate to harms that employees are unlikely to be able to know about (and thus can’t take into consideration in making their choice to work there), but is strong enough to argue against going too far with health and safety requirements.

                      proper labeling of food products, etc.

                      I’m all for it, not because of externalities per se but because good information is vital to consumers making good choices.  From my perspective it just has to be a law of general applicability, not singling out particular producers/sources.

                       

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                    • James, all fair points … I’ve been doing a lot of nodding along reading them. One point regarding negative externalities, and I think this is a place where social conservatives and liberals lean on the same support. How do we judge negative effects on society and culture? In a direct sense, a person who acts in a self-destructive manner (say, privately taking drugs) has a negative impact on the people around him, his dependents, the tax-base, etc. Indeed, the same could be said of a person who chooses to work in a dangerous factory. Indirectly, things like violence on TV, public nudity, or no-fault divorce can have a negative effect on culture; with ripple effects of negative impact.

                      I’m against this kind of regulation mostly for visceral reasons, and if you really press me I’ll say that cultural impact is too hard to quantify and the potential for harm too great – civil liberties and all that. But I don’t have any hard way to really quantify it.

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                    • Trizzlor,

                      How do we judge negative effects on society and culture?

                      I don’t treat society and culture as real enough to count.  Individuals are real, harm to them is real, so I count that.

                      Society is an abstraction, harm to society is a hypothesized affect on an abstraction, so I don’t count it.

                      Culture is more real than society, but less real than an individual.  But culture constantly changes, and what people define in the moment as harm to the culture nearly always ends up later being understood as change in the culture, so I don’t count that, either.  This, for example, is a reason to not stress about same-sex marriage.

                      If you can’t point to how some individual is being harmed, I’m very unlikely to accept the legitimacy of regulation.

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                    • If you can’t point to how some individual is being harmed, I’m very unlikely to accept the legitimacy of regulation.

                      Okay, culture is ephemeral, let’s set culture aside. Surely the avoidable, self-inflicted death of an individual has a negative impact on their family and immediate social group. Does government have a right/responsibility to regulate actions that lead to avoidable deaths?

                      In that sense, the work-safety regulations are not dissimilar from drug-use regulations: both limit individual rational agents based on the harm they willingly choose to do to themselves. I think I could make an argument for lack of work-place safety as a kind of false-advertising (people expect a level of safety from their employer and may not be aware of all dangers) but that’s more a distinction in taste rather than a qualitative difference.

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                    • Trizzlor,

                      Surely the avoidable, self-inflicted death of an individual has a negative impact on their family and immediate social group.

                      Yes, it does.

                      Does government have a right/responsibility to regulate actions that lead to avoidable deaths?

                      No, the rights of the individual in this case trump the suffering caused to others.

                      In that sense, the work-safety regulations are not dissimilar from drug-use regulations: both limit individual rational agents based on the harm they willingly choose to do to themselves.

                      Agreed in the similarity.  But I would not limit individuals from harming themselves.  I draw the line at paternalism–protecting other people from you is legitimate, protecting you from yourself is not (in my view).

                      I think I could make an argument for lack of work-place safety as a kind of false-advertising

                      Yes, and to the extent that argument is sustainable in a particular case I can support the regulation.  If, for example, you’re told that the chemicals you’re working with are non-hazardous when in fact they’re toxic, and you can’t be expected to have the knowledge to figure that out, I’m happy to regulate that.  Mind you, I might–not certain, but I might–argue just for enforcing truth in advertising, rather than enforcing an actual safe environment.  (Or at least I could make that argument; in the real world I’m not that strict a libertarian.)

                       but that’s more a distinction in taste rather than a qualitative difference.

                      I disagree.  I do see it as a qualitative difference–it’s the difference between knowing the ramifications of your choice and not knowing the ramifications of your choice, and that distinction is, I think, of unsurpassed significance.  That’s why I can so readily jump in on your side there.

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                • “you make a big mistake of simplifying something that is very, very complex. It seems to me you’d benefit from reading some good books regarding markets and economics. “

                  Leave it to a libertarian to bring a religious tract to a fact-fight!

                  I mean, seriously- we have centuries of actual data and observable case studies of government/ business collusion; we have actual freaking situations published daily in the newspaper!

                  But, no, you tell us, lets not talk about real life economies (e.g.. Germany/ Canada/ Australia/ Scandinavia) where an agressive government is producing real working examples of both liberty and prosperity, compared to real life economies of weak and corrupt governments (e.g. any 3rd World kleptocracy)

                  Instead, lets go read a book! Lots of books! Then lets talk endlessly about abstract theory. The more abstract, philosophical and jargon-laden the better!

                  Because, of course, the real life societies which have been humming along efficiently for the better part of a century cannot possibly exist- therefore we must not study them, must not emulate them.

                  Instead, lets wank  postulate about a libertarian society which has never existed anywhere outside the pages of a fantasy novel or the midnight buffet on the National Review Cruise.

                  Inside every libertarian is a socialist who glommed onto a new religion to replace the one with feet of clay.

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                  • “I mean, seriously- we have centuries of actual data and observable case studies of government/ business collusion; we have actual freaking situations published daily in the newspaper!”

                    Obviously, you haven’t read Woods, because he uses a plethora of data, history, case studies and facts. You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re just reacting emotionally.

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                  • Inside every libertarian is a socialist who glommed onto a new religion to replace the one with feet of clay.

                    This is the kind of dishonest argument that ought to be discouraged by the League.  It’s not an attempt to engage in serious debate; it’s just an attempt to shout down one’s ideological opponents.

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                    • The 4 most basic premises of the liberal state are trade unionization, progressive taxation, social safety net, and regulation of the private sector.

                      I suppose you could weaken or any one of those four and still have a robust prosperous democracy. And for the record, I would not  imagine for a minute that any of the nations I mentioned are utopias- they have their inequalities and injustices. and inefficiencies like any other.

                      But they are a living, working model of something that deserves more respect than an imaginary hypothetical.

                      Like that old legend about the bumblebee being unable to fly because of the laws of aerodynamics, if you described these nations to a gathering of political pundits, you would be laughed at and told it couldn’t work.

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                    • But they are a living, working model of something that deserves more respect than an imaginary hypothetical.

                      Everything’s hypothetical until someone’s actually tried it.  The logic that “we can’t consider that because it’s never actually been done before” is a logic that would destroy any type of progress whatsoever.

                      You do realize that once upon a time nobody had tried a social welfare state, right?

                      I’m not saying this proves libertarians right about their hypothetical state.  I’m just saying that “it’s never existed before so we can completely dismiss it” is one of the least intelligent arguments available.

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                  • International comparison are fraught with peril there’s a lot of noise in that data.

                    However, while we’re being simplistic, I should point out that the countries known for having the best governance (the Scandinavian countries, New Zealand and Singapore) combine relatively light-handed regulation with a welfare sate (or compulsory savings in Singapore).

                    That combination, which could fairly be called liberaltarian, is one I think the left should take more seriously than it does.  Lets consider lightening up on the regulation, and in the meanwhile talk about how we want the welfare system to run, and how much of it we are prepared to pay for.

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              • the free-market is, essentially, a limited democracy where your vote is weighted by your spending power. As such, it’s not self-evident that we should always strive to move more in it’s direction.

                The free market is indeed democratic in the sense that it shifts power to the demos, in their guise as consumers.  But there’s very little problem with your vote being weighted by your spending power because unlike political democracy in the market we’re not trying to make rules over other people.  If I spend all my dollars on lollipops there’s precious little, if any, effect on your life–my choice certainly doesn’t try to tell you what you may or may not do.  That’s part of what makes market democracy so desirable.

                Another approach to this is to note that the lack of weighted votes in political democracy means people can’t express the intensity of their preferences very strongly through the vote.  This is necessary, of course, precisely because we want to limit the coercive power of discrete groups.  But it means that politics is a lousy way of aggregating the demos’s preferences because it doesn’t measure them with any real accuracy, whereas the market does.

                Finally, democracy often presents us with a much more limited set of choices than the market does.  A system that begins by constraining our range of options so severely is, again, less able to actually satisfy the demos’s collective preferences.

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                • ” If I spend all my dollars on lollipops there’s precious little, if any, effect on your life”

                  OK, lets go with that analogy (I won’t use real world data , because that might be awkward and unpleasant. I will keep things on the plane of abstraction and theory.)

                  If I produce “Icrosoft-TandardOil” brand candy canes, and desire to coerce you to buy my candy canes instead of your beloved “Acintosh” lollipops, what am I to do?

                  Hmm, one strategy is to use my market share and declare that any store that sells Acintosh lollipops will not be allowed to sell Icrosoft-TandardOil candy canes.

                  And any 3rd party supplier who does business with Acintosh will be forbidden to sell to Icrosoft-TandardOil.

                  And I donate funds to the privatized police force to increase patrols around the Icrosoft-TandardOil factory and reduce them around Acintosh.

                  My market share and purchasing power in no possible way diminishes yours. You are completely free to spend all your money on lollipops, if you can find them. But I am sure that you will prefer my Icrosoft-TandardOil candy canes, seeing as they are cheaper and more available.

                  I guarantee it.

                   

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                  • one strategy is to use my market share and declare that any store that sells Acintosh lollipops will not be allowed to sell Icrosoft-TandardOil candy canes.

                    Go for it, but you’d better have the best damn candy canes in terms of net value or the stores will just choose to sell Acintosh candies instead of yours.

                    And I donate funds to the privatized police force to increase patrols around the Icrosoft-TandardOil factory and reduce them around Acintosh.

                    Who said anything about privatizing the police forces?  You’re arguing with the free marketeer in your head, but not with me.  Let’s keep the irrelevancies out of the argument, eh?

                    (I won’t use real world data , because that might be awkward and unpleasant.

                    Indeed it would, because then you might have to explain the terrible harm caused to consumers by Icrosoft-TandardOil driving the price of candy canes down so low that all consumers could afford a lot more of them, and particularly how TandardOil (when it was a stand-alone company) pioneered a wide range of new uses for the by-products of candy-cane making that resulted in less pollution, more value for customers, and greater economic productivity as a whole.

                    Seriously, if you think you can embarrass me by referencing either Icrosoft or TandardOil, you haven’t spent much time arguing with me.

                     

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                    • “you’d better have the best damn candy canes in terms of net value or the stores will just choose to sell Acintosh candies instead of yours.”

                      Nope- My candy canes are crap, actually, and contain both lead and fecal matter. But since I control 90% of the market, why would a store walk away from that market especially if I force them to choose?

                      And as the chairman and CEO, I proudly agree with your assertion that I have benefited consumers by pioneering a wide range of new uses for the by-products of candy-cane making that resulted in less pollution, more value for customers, and greater economic productivity as a whole.

                      Which is why it irritates me that there are still 3 or 4 people who insist upon defying me and buying lollipops.

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                    • Nope- My candy canes are crap, actually, and contain both lead and fecal matter. But since I control 90% of the market, why would a store walk away from that market especially if I force them to choose?

                      Tell me, sir, how does one “control” 90% of a free market with an inferior product?

                      And as the chairman and CEO, I proudly agree with your assertion that I have benefited consumers by pioneering a wide range of new uses for the by-products of candy-cane making that resulted in less pollution, more value for customers, and greater economic productivity as a whole.

                      That in fact is the real history of Standard Oil, not corporate propaganda.  When they incorporated their evil trust (which was really just a multi-state corporation, the likes of which we accept as normal today), the dominant use of oil was just the fraction that was good for kerosene, and the rest was dumped as a waste product.  Standard Oil drove down the price of kerosene to a small fraction of what it had been, and pioneered uses for the other fractions of crude oil, putting it to productive uses instead of dumping it in our rivers.  The only ones who really suffered from their competitiveness were uncompetitive companies that weren’t meeting customers’ needs as well.

                       

                       

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      • … practically anyone in Japan (police are incompetent, and the defense force doesn’t really invest in itself as a NOW-capable military force). this is why private companies over there have… exceptional capabilities.

        Or, rather, should I cite the machine guns on some of the old mansions up in New York? (see, that’s citeable from pictures)

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        • The last time I asked you about these “exceptional capabilities” you linked a Sony shareholder statement that said nothing about its supposed paramilitary defense force.

          I wasted a good deal of time reading that thing.  At least I know it’s more than I can say for you.

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  6. For my part, Shawn, you’ve beautifully given voice to my general feelings about OWS–if the political process is co-opted, to whatever extent, then somebody needs to circumvent the process somehow to get their message heard. This is what I like so much about the people’s megaphone. By taking away the protesters’ megaphones, the protesters were forced to invent what turned out to be a really moving method of getting their message out to the media, and thence to a frustrated but distracted public.

    I also want to echo b-psycho: I don’t understand what about OWS is so distasteful to so many libertarians. Maybe it’s a feeling that this is energy that could be better spent if focused elsewhere? But I see the possibility for real change having its strongest potential in the cities that drive our economy. In NYC, yes, but also in Oakland, and Des Moines, and Davis, CA, because the great thing about a free and open economy is that it should be diverse and, therefore, hard to break. Wall Street managed to make the economy brittle, and anything that makes it clear the overworked and distracted, but frustrated American public are not completely alone can be empowering.

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  7. I agree with Shawn that democracy is broader than how Wilkinson and Sanchez define it.  In a sense what OWS is trying to do is what political scientist William Riker called heresthetics; trying to redefine the collective understanding of a particular issue.  If that’s not democratically legitimate, I don’t know what is.  After all, that’s how a “nigra problem” turns into “civil rights violations.”

    But that’s a separate issue from whether their approach is actually effective.  I  have seen little to convince me that it is.  It’s made the participants somewhat giddy with the sense of participation, but has failed to gain widespread support.  And that’s where I think their “We’re the 99%” slogan, as catchy as it is, is actually backfiring on them.  Those who are predisposed to like the OWSers are reading it as a claim that “you’re really one of us,” and their reaction is, “like hell I am!”   It doesn’t even matter whether it’s supposed to be taken seriously–messages are only as good as their reception, and the reception of this slogan has not been good.  This is an ad campaign that played well in the boardroom but didn’t move customers.  Clinging to it because of its catchiness is short-sighted.

    And while Wilkinson and Sanchez are wrong about democracy, they may be right about tactics.  If continuing to occupy rather than shifting tactics is actually causing a loss of support, it may be a foolish approach, regardless of its fundamental legitimacy.

    I’m reminded of what my undergrad mentor said of the Green Party: “It’s not a political party, it’s a social club.”  I suspect that OWS is not really a social movement, but ultimately only a social club.

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    • OWS is the vanguard of a far larger social movement. Boomers should sit up and pay attention. It’s possible to quench a large-scale movement before it starts, but that should not be understood that the movement did not exist.

      kinda like pan-semitism

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  8. “To believers in the primacy of intellectual honesty, the cacophony of protest can be disconcerting, the participants obstreperous. Will Wilkinson and Julian Sanchez certainly seem to think so. In recent posts, the two libertarians urge occupiers to stop occupying and start engaging with the political system.”

    I think this is what I was trying to get at with my post about triangles. I find WW reliably unreadable; not because he isn’t smart, but because he thinks he’s Hippasus, when in fact he’s just another pythagorean

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  9. (I suspect Wilkinson’s cynicism about our process’s prospects is also tied to his affinity for public choice theory.)

    Presuming that you dont have said affinity to the theory, why dont you have one? Seriously, I know that a lot of (pro-)democratic theorists just seem to ignore public choice theory. If we have some institution X,, and the success of X in its goal depends on people being unrealistically selfless, and that minor deviations from this standard result in a lot of things going to hell very quickly, then there is a really deep problem for X.

    the most democratic, discourse-shifting left-wing protest movement

    Not to sound like a stuck record, but why should we care that is the most democratic? Why does being democratic count in its favour?

     

     

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    • Presuming that you dont have said affinity to the theory, why dont you have one? Seriously, I know that a lot of (pro-)democratic theorists just seem to ignore public choice theory. If we have some institution X,, and the success of X in its goal depends on people being unrealistically selfless, and that minor deviations from this standard result in a lot of things going to hell very quickly, then there is a really deep problem for X.

      Strongly agree with this.  An institution that fails to take Public Choice theory seriously is doomed to failure.

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      • But public choice theory is immoral because it makes people cynical about politics.  If we ignore it, people won’t be cynical, and then politics will work well.

        (At least that’s how I read the anti-public choice political scientists’ argument.)

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          • Yes, but it’s our fault, we public choice cretins, and the fault of the capitalists, and the fault of politicians (mostly, right-wing ones and ones who pretend to be left-wing but sell-out their ideals to the corporate class)…  (I always get a giggle at the implicit public choice foundations of the anti-public choice crowd’s critique.)

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        • James, You’re picture of things (correct me if I’m wrong) is that citizens, via the democratic process, vote for candidates who will pass very broad legislation to achieve specific policy goals, and that the TE then writes the specifics of how those goals are best realized. Murali’s picture is that (correct me if I’m wrong) that democratic policy determination at any level is hopelessly flawed, and that the TE not only ought to determine the mechanisms of policy, but also the policies themselves.

          His view takes the inherent incoherence of the democratic process seriously, yours seems to limit the scope of that to merely the specifics of policy implementation. But why limit it there? Why aren’t you opposed, as Murali is, to democratic determination of policy goals as well? Or have I been misreading you on this?

           

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          • Stillwater,

            I’m not sure I actually follow you.  I suspect the meaning of “TE” is blindingly obvious, but I’m missing it at the moment.

            As for the differences between Murali and me, I think that’s just a difference of emphasis at the moment, and not really a difference in understanding.  I don’t think there’s any real conflict between how your described my position (a fair description of what I’ve emphasized on this thread) and his.  As a public choice theorist I do believe that the development of policy in a democracy has some flaws that are impossible to alleviate, primarily due to the impossibility of property aggregating our preferences via the political process.  That said, authoritarianism is not an improvement on those grounds.  After that basic fundamental, we get to the issue of selection of legislators and the problems both in that selection process and in the choices those legislators make.

            I do want to constrain policy goals–that’s why I want to constrain the authority of government, to set more policy goals off-limits to democratic determination (just as we now set free speech, freedom of religion, etc., off-limits (mostly) to democratic determination).

            If he and I differ on this–and he’d have to confirm this–it’s that I accept that there’s no legitimate way, in the U.S. to get to my destination without using the democratic process to get there.  He comes from a less democratic country, so in his context democracy may not be necessary to get there.  So to some extent we may just be talking about different contexts.  But it’s also possible that he’s more optimistic about authoritarianism than I am.

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            • He’s arguing for something far a stronger than you are, I think. But it’s based on, or at least his arguments for it are, taking the conclusions of public choice theory to their logical limits. As I understand him, not only on this post but previous ones, he’s arguing for an authoritarian structure with TEs writing as well as determining policy.

              But I was more curious about this issue: how do square your rejection of democracy on choice theory grounds while preserving it wrt determining policy goals? I don’t mean this as a challenge, but these two views seem inconsistent to me. And I get the pragmatics part of it – that you can’t get to your preferred state without democracy coming into play. But insofar as democratic participation is still built into this picture, it seems to me it preserves the worst aspects of democracy while only eliminating the ability of legislators to act corruptly within the framework of the existing democratic incoherence..

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              • This is a better way to say it. On the one hand, you want to limit the scope of what constitutes the legitimate uses of government. That doesnt’ require a TE to accomplish. On the other hand, you want TEs to write legislation for the purpose of eliminating corruption. But that doesn’t constitute a restriction on democracy, but rather on the powers currently held by legislators. Given this, I don’t see how public choice theory enters into the argument in favor of a technocratic elite.

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      • democratic means grassroots, means not engineered by someone up above. which means, in turn, less propaganda. ain’t that a good thing?

        Let us concede that democratic means grassroots.

        Of course if something is grassroots, it is bottom up and not top down.

        Depending on what you mean by propaganda, your next step is false. If you mean (mis)information disseminated by elites to control the masses, this could very well be true. But elites are far from the only source of mis information.

        But, if you are talking about political mis-information, then it is false. Political misinformation increases with democratic deliberation. The reason, as I have mentioned before, is due to something known as discourse failure. Discourse failure happens because the social sciences are hard and the theories feature long complicated causal chains and lots of abstractions. People find that harder to process and accept. By comparison, pop theories feature short simple causal chains and are vivid and concrete with fewer abstractions.

        So, when people are interested in politics and watch political debates and talk to their friends and do stuff on the internet, and person A presents the truth, which is deeply counterintuitive to most, while person B presents a falsehood (he need not be deceptive, just mistaken) which is a lot more intuitive, people will accept the intuitive thing. The effort it takes to discipline your mind against easy intuitive answers is so much that most of us, if not all, fall prey to it some time or another, although some do it a lot more often than others.

        What this means is that most people will pick the intuitive theory irrespective of its truth value. More democracy means more grassroots which means more deliberation which means more misinformation. This leads to bad policy. Also, because voters’ beliefs can put or remove politicians from power, in a democracy, politicians have an incentive to make the people believe things that will get them in power and give them more power. i.e. politicians in a democracy have certain pecuniary interests in the contents of your head. By contrast, in a technocratic dictatorship, the consent of the people is irrelevant. technocrats don’t care what you think or say, they only care about what you do. As Frederick the great of Prussia said

        My people and I have come to an agreement which satisfied us both. They are to say what they please, and I am to do what I please

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      • democratic means grassroots, means not engineered by someone up above.

        I get Kimsie’s point, and I’m truly sympathetic to it.  But it’s worth noting that political scientists generally agree large-scale democracy is inconceivable without political parties–and that inevitably means folks up above engineering our organization into effective political groups.

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        • I’d be curious to hear what political scientists would have to say about an organization like Anonymous. Granted, that is self-selected…

          I’ve got a particular meaning when I say “folks up above” — and it’s not well meaning folk who mean to get things done, on either side of the aisle.

          It seems the right wing learned a great new trick after the French Revolution (first tip that when I say right wing, read it again) — that turning the poor against each other keeps them from chopping your heads off.

          Stop me if you know the drill…

          Welfare Queens

          Greedy Vets

          Greedy Unions

          Affirmative Action (blacks stealing our rightful jobs!)

          Illegal Aliens using our hospitals!

          Gun-hating liberals

          The list goes on, and it’s widespread. But the pattern remains the same — turning one person against his neighbor, because the other person is getting more than him.

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        • Kimmi,

          I think you have the mistaken assumption that at some point in time government was mostly run by “well meaning folk.”  The evidence suggests such cases are rare occurrences.

          As to what political scientists have to say about anonymous, I’m sure some have been paying attention to it, but I haven’t stumbled across them yet.  I’m probably just not running with the right crowd to hear what they’re saying.

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          • Indeed they are rare occurrences. But it’s a cultural rarity, not an “isolated individual” rarity. It took the democrats about forty years to become corrupt in washington. It took the republicans about six. This says something about their respective cultures. (also, in general, the amount of interconnectedness of the Abramoff scandal, vis the guy with money in his refridgerator, who was promptly hung out to dry.)

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              • Montana, Minnesota, Maine. cultures that value fairness, and good government.

                If you were to measure the amount of cronyism, favors, etc in various locales, do you honestly think you’d find it relatively level? I don’t. I think that there are many places where regulatory capture exists on such a level that causes people to die. And other places (those I’ll name if needed) where the same agency isn’t captured and is doing its job.

                If you can find places where a significant majority of the government is working as its supposed to, haven’t you found a culture of good government?

                (I realize at this moment, and not earlier, that I’ve rather shifted the discussion from politicians to civil servants. Switch it back if it bothers you — I have easier-to-understand info on civil servants)

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                • Kimmi,

                  I’d expect variation.  Duh.  But variation isn’t the question–the question is prevalence over time and place.  (Perhaps you’d like to try that, “but it’s not level” argument AGW sometime?)

                  And if you honestly think there’s no cronyism going on in Montana, you might want to take a gander at how the mining industry there works, or how much influence ranchers have.

                  Dig into any state’s politics and you’re going to find it.

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                  • 1) Compare Tennesee or Kentucky politics to Montana’s. Some places are much much worse than others. And they are geographically concentrated. (FWIW, Montana got cited because of surprisingly honest election standards… something I’m not going to say about Ohio or Wisconsin, sadly…they used to be good republican areas.)

                    The Northeast and Midwest have a real culture of having the trains run on time. Most places where you see articles written about corruption mean that you’ve got whistleblowers — the culture is actively rebelling against the corruption.

                    There are plenty of places where the corruption is so pervasive that nobody ever needs to know nothing, and where people just know the score, and don’t question it. I’d wager there’s plenty of places down south where the person the sheriff likes most gets to keep his illegal immigrants (slaves?). And the sheriff likes the guy who gets him the most money. Same sorts of places where asking the wrong question gets you run out of town — and where the police/gov’t will actively cover up for industrial malfeasance. People die because of this — it’s no joke. But there are places that are relatively free of it.

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                • It would seem that there are, but I suspect the strongest effects are cultural, the reason our politicians don’t engage in some of the shenanigans that take place in the US is that there would be a strong on reaction of the public, and even their own colleagues.

                  A few years ago, a politician from one of the minor parties was found to have used money from a programme she was associated with for her own benefit – her own party ejected her from their caucus and spent the next couple of years trying to get her thrown out of Parliament.

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                  • Ditto what James K. wrote.  Certainly differential institutions will favor/disfavor corruption*, and of course the traditions those institutions create will feed back into and shape culture.  But at rock bottom, I think it’s a cultural issue, and culture helps determine what kind of institutions we will have.

                    *E.g., the different effects of the spoils system vs. the civil service system on how bureaucratic agencies deliver public services.

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      • democratic means grassroots, means not engineered by someone up above. which means, in turn, less propaganda. ain’t that a good thing”?”
        in and of itself? of course not. there are plenty of grassroots groups that would probably scare the shit out of you. there are plenty of grassroots groups that scare the shit out of me. people can organically combine to make all sorts of terrible decisions, embrace hateful and even violent ideas, and otherwise be awful.
        of course, the general dodge is those groups one likes are “true grassroots” and those one doesn’t are “astroturf”. it’s certainly been the case with comparisons between #occupywilliamsburg with #occupycolonialwilliamsburg.

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        • try me. pull one of those groups, and show me how it’s not just more “us v.s. them” propaganda that’s been going on for 300 years.

          Hell,if you want, I’ll pull one (Black Panthers). But see, they don’t scare me. Anyone who’s trying to build something, secessionist or not, gets a good teaspoon of credit from me, for trying to do something good.

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          • Anyone who’s trying to build something, secessionist or not, gets a good teaspoon of credit from me, for trying to do something good.

            Bob Cheeks will be happy to hear that.

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            • even racialist/white power groups? i’m not sure their separationist rhetoric counts as “good”.

              less overt, the minutemen and their particular brand of nationalist idiocy.

              more recently, local pressure against mosque construction projects in various parts of the country.

              us v. them is the whole point of all these slogans, be they 99%’ers or “real americans” or whatever. some would argue that’s the entire point of building affinity groups in the first place.

              but that has nothing to do with the point that just because something is organic or “grassroots” or otherwise direct democracy isn’t always going to be something that’s good. if you think democracy is the highest manifestation of good, regardless of content, that’s something else.

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              • it’s the “us versus them” rhetoric that I’m denying — on the basis of the Black Panthers that I”ve talked to — they’re for building “black only” institutions, yes — but those don’t seem any different from “jewish free loan societies” or any credit union associated with a church.

                the white power folks, from what i’ve read, seem more explicitly about us versus them, more about tearing down other people than making good things. I say this, because there are places I can’t go in this state without taking my life in my own hands.

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                • i’m not even sure i understand, unless you’re saying “us versus them” is somehow undemocratic/ungrassrooty, which would make the OWS stuff inherently undemocratic since it’s entire thing, if you will, is us versus them.

                  i don’t see how something can’t both be a grassroots expression of a community and shitty at the same time.

                  actually, going back to the separatist aspects of building sub-structures within a culture/community/government, they’re also inherently us versus them, and often by necessity. the catholic school system in nyc came into existence because protestants ran the public schools.

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                  • re: schools “by necessity”?? see what the Jews did, also in NYC — made sure the public schools were secular.

                    turning poor against poor has always been a rich person’s trick. heck, it’s about the only one they’ve got. noting that the current crop of rich people are idiots and assholes is not shitty, it’s merely accurate. There are plenty of unpleasant truths, that’s just one of them.

                    The 99% chant is a bit of people saying “we know who the problem is” but it’s just as much “we’re watching you — and we ain’t happy. you don’t like us when we ain’t happy.”

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                    • With the hope that you’d find a counter, actually, as I’m kinda drawing a blank.

                      obviously, i think white power groups are an obvious counterargument. they are grassroots – they’re as bottom-up as you can get, if you don’t count the fbi infiltrations.

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                    • … no, I don’t think so.

                      Fifty years from now the money runs out on Lee and company anyhow.

                      as per the first sentence, hence my “i think we’re having two different conversations here” because grassroots clearly means something to you outside of the dictionary definition.

                      the second is opaque even by my standards.

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  10. A defense of catchy slogans?  Glad you asked!

    They’re succinct…

    And so it doesn’t matter if they are patently false.

    Look, I’m the 99% too, but — just guessing here — my ideas wouldn’t get too far at an OWS protest.

    That’s because OWS isn’t the 99%.  Getting consensus from the 99% is entirely, totally impossible.   In its place, OWS is a self-selected group with a very narrow ideological loyalty falsely claiming that consent.

    Now, that’s fine of course, and they are free to their beliefs.  But I’m also free to point out when those beliefs are absurd.

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    • falsely claiming that consent.

      In a sense, you are correct.  It is false that they are claiming there is consensus on some set of ideas among 99% of Americans, and it is false that they claim that there is 99% consent to their ideological loyalties.

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        • No, they mean that these people consider themselves to be a symbolic, physical, human manifestation of the bottom 99% of income earners.  None of which depends upon such a manifestation being either a totality, nor a representative sample of, the whole of that group.

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            • If I went out on the street and started yelling “I. Am. Aldine Avenue!”, I’d be a manifestation of the people who live on my street.  I wouldn’t represent Aldine Avenue in the sense that by saying that I’d be necessarily claiming that whatever else I had to say about conditions on my street was representative of what the block thought.  You might argue that I’d be claiming to “represent” the street in the sense that in a model of the solar system you might say that a ping pong ball “represents” Uranus.  So I guess I’d want to posit two senses of “represent”: one being roughly synonymous to “portray’, the other being roughly synonymous to “stand in for.”  Strictly speaking, I don’t think I out on my street, nor the protesters, must necessarily be understood to be claiming to represent the 99% in either sense, rather, they are a manifestation of it inasmuch as they are of it, and they have shown up in the streets with something to say, and when asked who they are, they are self-identifying as “the 99%.”  But if you insist that there is no distinction in politics between saying that you are a manifestation of a group that you unambiguously belong to by saying “We are [Group]” and claiming that you “represent” Group, then I can accept that with the understanding that the meaning of “represent” is akin to the representation of Uranus by a ping pong ball.  The ping pong ball is, in reality, very little like Uranus, but it stands in for it in a schematic that is meant to portray a larger idea.

              But I would reiterate that I don’t accept that there’s no meaningful difference in politics between claiming to be a  manifestation of a group and claiming to represent that group (your claim), and further i don’t believe that the slogan “We are the 99%” necessarily means more than “We are a manifestation of the 99%” (i.e. “we represent” or “we speak for the 99%” (James’ claim).

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    • OWS is a self-selected group with a very narrow ideological loyalty falsely claiming that consent.

      To the extent that’s true, it’s true of every protest movement, from ancient Rome to today. However, one of the things that I find interesting about OWS — not necessarily good, but interesting — is that their message is so abstract that it seems to have attracted a fairly broad, if entirely left wing, ideological mixture. There are a few anarchists (of the anti-globalization sort), a few socialists, some progressives (of the blogospheric sort), some mainstream economic liberals with hippyish lifestyles, etc. They are self-selected, of course, and they don’t represent the entire 99% (ideologically, I’d say they cover less than 20% of the spectrum of American political views), but they aren’t so narrowly defined as you seem to make out. Imagine, if you will, a group that encompasses Yglesias, Kos, Pandagon, Freddie, Greenwald, and IOZ. That’s not a narrowly defined group, even if it might seem so from a distance. They wouldn’t like your ideas, but your ideas and those in its family comprise a significantly smaller swath of the American political spectrum.

      For what it’s worth, I think that was true of the Tea Partiers (21st century version) as well: I remember seeing Birchers, Paulites, members of the religious right, and mainstream Republicans milling about their rallies.

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  11. We. Are. The 99%.  That’s the slogan.  You are the 99%.  You say so above.  You are, and they aren’t?  Or you all are?  If you all are, and if you can make the statement, “I am…”, then it seem to me they can make the statement equally.  So how is it false?

    The issue is representation.  To what extent, and in what sense, do the protesters claim to speak for the 99%, or for part of it, and what size a part?  To know, you’d have to ask them, because the slogan, as evidenced by the fact that you say it applies as much to you as to them and that you say it does apply to you, simply does not make an explicit claim on the matter.

    As to how your ideas would go over at a general assembly or working group meeting, that woud be very much an interesting thing to find out, wouldn’t it?

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    • If their signs said “We are in the 99%” then what you say would be true.  But the signs assert an identity, not just membership.  Obviously no one takes them literally, but it’s silly to deny the clear implication.

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      • In that case, Jason will have to change his comment in order to maintain a claim that what they say is false.  I agree that it would be maximally non-false to say “We are in the 99%.”  But “We are the 99%” isn’t false any more than “We are Penn Sate” is false.  It’s impossible that it could be literally true – there aren’t 290+ million people in this movement.  Given that, in the sense in which it can be expected to be true, it’s true.  Meaning, they have taken it upon themselves to be a physical, human manifestation of the statistical idea of a division between the top percentage of income earners and everyone else.  “That 1% you always hear about? We’re the other guys.  We’re the 99%.”, is what they are saying. That statement is clear enough in context, and it is not false.  And that is the context and meaning of this slogan. It’s not a claim to represent the 99%, nor to be all  of the 99% (of course), but to be a manifestation of it.  We are the 99%.  If you are as well, but you don’t find them to represent your view of membership in the 99%, you can by all means go into the street (or cyberstreet) and say, “I, too, am the 99%, and I am not them.”  But it doesn’t change the fact that they are the 99% in the very true sense that I just explained.

        So exactly what implication are you saying is clear?  It’s not clear to me.  The slogan is suggestive of many possible assertions, but it explicitly makes none.  In other words, it’s a damn good slogan.  One thing you say is true: they are most definitely identifying themselves for the purpose of this protest through their income level – that they make less than what the top percentile cut-off of income is.  The implication of that is that there is some matter of concern to them about how they are treated presumably via public policy, related to being of that group, as compared how those not in that group are treated.  The suggestion to observers, it would seem to me, is that if you, too, are (in) the 99%, you might want to look into whether you might have similar concerns – there might be something to concern you there. But it doesn’t say that not that it must be the case that you have such concerns, nor that they represent you in expressing the ones they have.  (indeed, they don’t have a unity of concerns even among those who identify with the movement).

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        •  I agree that it would be maximally non-false to say “We are in the 99%.”  But “We are the 99%” isn’t false any more than “We are Penn Sate” is false.

          What would lefties think if I went around carrying a sign saying “I am the 99%”?

          I suspect they would be dismissive.  In fact, I’m pretty damn sure of it.  That’s why I’m saying the claim to consensus implicit in the statement is false.

          Demographically, I am in the lower 99% of income earners.  Ideologically, I think the lower 99% would be much better served by policies far removed from those that seem to be emerging from OWS.

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        • We’re the other guys.  We’re the 99%.”, … It’s not a claim to represent the 99%,

          I can’t parse that.

          nor to be all  of the 99%

          “We are the 99%! (Well, not all of it…)”    Does not the second half of the claim contradict the first?

           to be a manifestation of it.

          How can a manifestation of something no be representative of that something?

          In other words, it’s a damn good slogan.

          Only if it actually works in bringing more of that 99% together, and doesn’t cause too many of them to turn their backs.  (I have visions of a 99% party that, like the Libertarians and Greens, perpetually gets 1.5% of the vote.)

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            • Are you sure that the slogan’s actually been successful in that?  Sure, it’s got people talking about OWS and about the slogan itself, but does it get them thinking about OWS’s ideas?

              I think it’s a slogan that’s thrilling to insiders, but off-putting to outsiders.

               

               

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              • If you’re talking about the slogan, that means you’re thinking about it, and the strength of the slogan is that it’s so clear what the basic concept being communicated is – to think about how the 1% are treated vis-a-vis the 99%, and to consider the differing fortune of those two groups over time.  So I would centend that if it’s suceeded in getting people talkng about it, it’s very likely succeeded in getting people thinking about the underlying ideas to a not-insignificant degree instead.  Additionally, even if it has turned some people off, it might also have clarified or given a frame for thinking about the issue to a number of people who only vaguely shared the concerns before, so it may have galvanized “insiders” as you call them, also a success. Incidentally, I’m not sure what makes, say, me an “insider” if the slogan appeals to me and you an “outsider” if it doesn’t appeal to you, if we’re both observing from afar.  If I’m sympathetic to the ideas and the slogan, this makes me an insider?  And if you simply changed your mind, you would suddenly become one as well?  Or not?

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        • “We are Penn State” is the perfect analogue — it implies a common identity uniting the “speaker” with an entire community organized around a particular common interest.  It’s a different message from just having a “Penn State” bumper sticker.

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      • It seem to me the moment someone claims “We are X,” they are claiming to speak for X.

        Precisely.

        I know for an absolute fact that 99% of all Americans haven’t been hanging out at the Occupy encampments.

        I also know that the Occupy encampments are claiming to speak for these people just the same.  To deny this is to deny the bleeding obvious.

        And finally, I know that 99% of Americans don’t actually agree with the stuff they’re saying.  Possibly a majority do, on some issues.  But it sure as heck isn’t 99%.

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      • JH & JK: see my #43 in this thread.  If this explanation doesn’t resolve the logical impossibility you see in this slogan for you, then we simply have irresolvable views of the necessary(important modifier!) meaning of this sentence.

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  12. ““A small group of people self-selected for their commitment to some set of shared goals and values may be able to pick a set of slogans to chant in unison, or resolve their limited disagreements by consensus process.  But real democracy in a pluralist society involves deep and often ineradicable disagreement—and not just on the optimal uses of public parks and other commons.”

    Not to deny your larger point about the ubiquitous forms democracy can take (outside of just the representative proceduralism of Congress/state legislatures).  But the above from Sanchez gets at a fundamental contradiction I’ve seen first hand from Occupy.

    And that’s the desire to act as a consensus building body built on participatory democracy, while at the same time negating those they do not agree with.

    The Occupy communities that have sprouted up can only funciton in their quasi-consensualist way because they do not include people with opposing view points.  The “people’s assembly” only encompasses a swath of people with political views that while diverse, are not nearly so pluralistic as the attitudes of the 99% for whom they claim fellowship with.

    As a protest movement Occupy has been mediocre.  And yet with the time and attention they seem to put toward fostering spontaneous community, these communities are anything but pluralistic or accepting.  They have no mechanisms for dealing with internal dissent, even as they themselves seek to dissent with the larger establishment.

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  13. Just an observation on the system – as currently constituted, the numbering system for the comments threads is useless, because the numbers aren’t assigned to the unique comment, but to its vertical position in the thread, which changes over time.  Hence the confusion above.  The link contained in the hypertext of the numbers is unique to the comment, however.

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  14. Liberty60 70:

    The 4 most basic premises of the liberal state are trade unionization, progressive taxation, social safety net, and regulation of the private sector.

    I wouldn’t call unionization an inherently state involved activity at all. Especially since there’s such a lengthy history of state repression of organized labor. To the extent political sabotage of labor has eased, it has come with strings attached that overall force acceptance of a power structure that still works against them.

    What do you think about the feasibility of, if labor obtained enough power, unions splitting from the current setup of looking to employers on benefits to effectively negotiating as a 3rd party independent of both management and government?

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    • I meant “liberal state” as nation, not government.

      I’m not sure what you mean about the feasibility of unions becoming independent of both management and government.

      Unions are much like corporations in that they are both legal fictions, nothing more than the legal form we give to groups of people who form associations for some purpose.

      Which is to say, both corporations and unions depend on the government to create a framework of rules to play by, and then enforce them.

      Examples of those rules would be patent enforcement, protection of private property, labor laws, tax treatment of corporations,  tort liability, and so on.

      In the successful 1st World nations the government, as the expression of the will of the people, acts as a neutral arbiter of fairness, attempting to provide a rough balance of power among the various institutions of society. I’m not sure why anyone has a problem with that concept.

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      • In the successful 1st World nations the government, as the expression of the will of the people, acts as a neutral arbiter of fairness, attempting to provide a rough balance of power among the various institutions of society. I’m not sure why anyone has a problem with that concept.

        -They generally could care less about the will of the people, unless it can be manipulated into backing whatever they wanted to do anyway.
        -They’re never neutral. In fact, they’re self-serving.
        -The “balance” of power ends up inevitably favoring whoever has the most connections to the proclaimed “neutral arbiter”.

        It isn’t that the concept is offensive. It’s that the concept is false.

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  15. James Hanley gets at an assumption I find odd here:

    Tell me, sir, how does one “control” 90% of a free market with an inferior product?

    Such an obviously terrible product would fail pretty quickly in an open market. Meanwhile, in the politically corrupted market we have now, they could get the government to make competitors labeling their candy “100% lead and turd free!” illegal, and threaten anyone who says the Crappy Canes taste like crap in public with a huge lawsuit.

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    • “Tell me, sir, how does one “control” 90% of a free market with an inferior product?”

      You don’t. First you gain control of 90% of the market, then as choice disappears, you can eventully force the public to buy whatever you want to sell them.

      Were it not for Teddy Roosevelt and the government control over monopoly, today you would have your choice of exactly one place to buy gas, er, candy canes.

      The first order of business of the free market is to eliminate the free market.

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      • First you gain control of 90% of the market, then as choice disappears, you can eventully force the public to buy whatever you want to sell them.

        You know very little about competition in an open market.  You can only gain control of 90% of the market by giving people what they want; then to keep that control you have to keep giving them what they want or somebody else will step in and start taking away your customers.  This is how 2 of Detroit’s Big 3 came to the verge of complete ruin and only survived with the aid of the government.

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    • Tell me, sir, how does one “control” 90% of a free market with an inferior product?

      Such an obviously terrible product would fail pretty quickly in an open market

      How do you explain Microsoft then? I’m reasonably sure the gov’t did them no favors.

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      • Yeah, yeah, the failed Microsoft example again.

        You do know that Apples were just as available for purchase in every city in this country, right?

        You do know that alternative operating systems were downloadable for free, right?

        Microsoft was the superior product because it gave consumers more of what they wanted.  They were smart enough to license when Apple foolishly chose not to.  They chose to make a full suite of office software available when Apple foolishly chose not to.   Sure, their operating system was not as good; but that’s not the sum total of what people were buying.  The overall package, for most consumers, was better.

        I’ve heard the Microsoft story over and over, and I’ve looked deeply into it (including reading the federal court decision where the judge blamed Microsoft for producing better office software options than Apple, and then explicitly excluded Apple from the relevant market when determining whether MS was a monopoly–I also had a philosophy Ph.D. insist that nobody had a choice except to use Microsoft, and that’s why he used a free linux program instead, go figger the logic of that).  The Microsoft argument is one of the least well thought out arguments ever.  Sorry, man, but I’ve dealt with it dozens of times in the past and it never gets one whit more sensible.

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        • James, /I/ wasn’t making the point you thought I was, I was responding to Liberty’s post up above wherein he claimed gov’t coercion and used Microsoft as a shorthand counter-example. Sorry I wasn’t more loquacious in my response (as you always are) I’ve been trying to be more pithy lately and pithing on my shoes apparently. :)

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          • Wardsmith,

            My apologies–I’m guilty of very quick, very sloppy reading.  I didn’t even realize you had written the comment and not Liberty.  That’s hardly to my credit, but your generous response is very much to your credit.

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    • “Tell me, sir, how does one “control” 90% of a free market with an inferior product?”

      1. Control a limited resource that’s a pre-requisite for the product.

      2. Suffer short-term loss to undercut any superior upstart business and then buy out their IP.

      3. Sell a product to the upper class whose production disproportionately hurts the lower class.

      (1 and 2) work best if you can also leverage a monopoly or an economy of scale.

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      • @Trizzlor,

        Control a limited resource that’s a pre-requisite for the product.

        Possible, but rare.  Please to give examples that demonstrate this is a frequent problem in competitive markets?  (I’ll grant the case of “natural” monopolies, but they are, of course, rare.)

        Suffer short-term loss to undercut any superior upstart business and then buy out their IP.

        Theoretically possible, but also rare at best.  Ultimately the monopoly rents bring more competitors into the market.  Buying out upstarts’ IPs also attracts more into the market (Microsoft’s practice of paying barrels of cash for new programs encouraged a whole generation of scribblers to try to be the next to hit that jackpot).  No company can perpetually suffer short-term losses so as to perpetually undercut all upstart competitors.  Again, please to give examples that show this is a frequent occurrence?

        Sell a product to the upper class whose production disproportionately hurts the lower class.

        That has no bearing on controlling 90% of a market that I can see.

         

        ,

        And it should be said, this phenomenon has been witnessed, studied, measured and documented, not something conjured up in a fantasy novel or theoretical whim.

        Oh, then you shouldn’t have a hard time directing me to the studies that have “studied, measured, and documented” these things?  Because I have to tell you, I’ve been studying this stuff for a good long time now, and nobody’s shown me any of those studies that empirically demonstrate that these things happen regularly.  You can be the first, if you can actually do it.

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        • James-

          First, you assert that monopolies are not a frequently occurring problem. I wonder why that is so?

          Whaddaya know- I checked with Google and as it turns out, there’s a reaon why we don’t see a lot of monopolies controlling 90% of a market today. Its the damn gummint.

          So monopolies, like polio and smallpox, are no longer a “frequent problem”. But at one time, they were in fact a frequent problem. Thats kind of why government was given the power to fight them.

          The practices I mentioned are the sort of practices Standard Oil resorted to- boycotting 3rd party vendors, bribing and threatening retailers, etc.Are you trying to assert this never happened?

          Second, there are no such animals as “competitive” markets as they are outlined in economic textbooks; all real world markets have some sort of anti-competitive distortions. So anyone who demands proof of something occurring in a “competitive market” is asking, “Can you demonstrate examples of True Scotsmen beating their wives?”.
          Third, you seem to be saying that even when monopolies develop, the marketplace automatically and naturally counterbalances them out.

          This is the essence of libertarian and socialist faith. That is, the fervent belief in a system of laws and mechanisms that will be self-regulating, so perfect and pure that intervention is never needed.

          All libertarian and socialist dogma begins with “If we do this, then that will occur.” These hypotheticals are rigorous in their logic, except they are not grounded in any real examples or observable data beyond theory.

          Where is this self-regulating market, or where has it happened? Links please. I would love to study it.

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          • Liberty, I have to jump in here, for a couple of reasons. One is that in broad outline, I agree with a lot of what your saying. The idea of self-regulating markets where price is determined via healthy competition rather than what consumers are willing to pay requires the Friedman-esque situation of a multiplicity of anonymous economic actors, none of whom have the size or power to distort price in any sustained way. But that, in turn, requires that market players don’t reach the level of monopoly-share, which Friedman defined as a few firms controlling more than 50% of the market. How is that state of affairs supposed to be sustainable short of government intervention? I don’t see it. So monopolistic-oligopolistic control of markets seem like the natural, in fact inevitable, feature of limiting government intervention. So again, I agree with you.

            The other reason I’m jumping in is sorta a ‘sticking my nose in it’ thing, so I apologize in advance. And it’s this: what you’re saying here certainly isn’t new to Hanley. He was once a liberal, and has certainly – I think, could be wrong – thought about these issues more than both you or I have. So attacking a strain of libertarianism which he doesn’t in fact hold by citing evidence that he’s already aware of isn’t a very effective method of refuting him. It’s gonna take more than that. Unless your content to agree to disagree with him.

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            • Stillwater,

              First, thank you.  What I enjoy about debating with you is that you pose serious, and often devilishly tough, questions without ever resorting to the dishonesty of trying to define my beliefs for me.  I hope I have managed to do the same for you.

              Now, onto business.  I hope to dig in and provide some more depth in the analysis of concentration of firms in competitive markets, and hopefully provide you a foundation for a little more confidence in them.

              First, you write; “The idea of self-regulating markets where price is determined via healthy competition rather than what consumers are willing to pay”

              I don’t get that.  What consumers are willing to pay is a part of competition, what we call price competition.  I don’t think the concepts of healthy competition and consumer willingness to pay are actually separable concepts.  Of course price is not the only thing on which businesses compete–design, service, functionality, status signalling, basically whatever consumes value are elements on which firms can compete, and a firm that can’t compete well on one element may be able to compete effectively on another.  A firm that can’t compete well on any of them is of no value to consumers and its disappearance from the market is normally no reason for concern.

              a multiplicity of anonymous economic actors

              Why anonymous?  I don’t see that anonymity is required at all.  One area in which businesses can compete is on making the customer feel like they’re part of a family; e.g., by reducing the degree of anonymity.  My plumber/HVAC guy and my auto mechanic are not anonymous to me (which says something about how often I’ve needed them!), and it’s the lack of anonymity that is part of the selling point each time my heat goes out or my car needs fixing, because through getting to know them we have developed a trust relationship which is crucial to my decision-making as a consumer.  It’s part of the way they compete against other businesses; if all mechanics remained anonymous to me they would be failing to compete as well as my consumer needs demand.  On the larger scale, obviously I don’t actually “know,” let’s say, Apple, but I know some thing about them, and what I know diminishes their anonymity and provides important information for my consumer decision-making.  In the classic theory of perfect markets in equilibrium all products are identical, but you won’t find many free market types who rely on that hypothetical ideal.  in dealing with dynamic (real-world) markets where there are significant information asymmetries between producers and consumers, the information contained in the name that undermines anonymity, while not perfect, is valuable and a point of competition, not anti-competition.

              How is that state of affairs supposed to be sustainable short of government intervention? I don’t see it. So monopolistic-oligopolistic control of markets seem like the natural, in fact inevitable, feature of limiting government intervention.

              First theory, then examples.

              Monopolistic/oligopolistic control of markets, or generally speaking, uncompetitive markets, lead to above normal profits because those excess profits are not being competed away.  That is attractive to other profit-oriented businessmen, so they will try to get into that market.  That is where the self-correction comes in.  Contra Liberty, it’s not faith; it’s just following the logic of self-interested profit-minded businessmen.  The question those of you who think those monopolies/oligopolies won’t get undermined need to explain what keeps the competitors out.

              One answer is predatory pricing.  That can work short term, but if the mon/oligopoly is going to last long term it’s going to have to do this repeatedly, and no such structure can survive long-term if it is repeatedly being forced to take losses.  (Besides, when it’s being forced to drop prices so low, consumers benefit, and that’s the purpose of a competitive market.)

              Another answer is natural barriers to entry.  These are rare, but exist in some cases.  For example in utility services they may frequently exist.  The cost structure of running multiple sets of electrical lines or water pipes down a street, each serving only a few of the houses, probably doesn’t allow for multiple competitors to survive.  In that case, we either need to regulate the monopoly or set up a system that allows competitors to dump their product into a common delivery system, which probably requires government regulation to function well.  (I’m open to people even more free market to pitch an argument against government there, but I’d listen pretty skeptically.)

              Finally, there can be the cost of entry to the market, and this gets to how capital-intensive a business is.  Labor intensive businesses are easy to enter because start-up costs are very low.  The local folks who opened up a steakhouse in my small town recently have had no trouble at all competing with Applebees, for example.  On the other hand, it can be harder to break into highly capital-intensive businesses because the startup costs are so great.  No local family in my town is going to start up a car company that can compete with Ford.  But, a company like General Electric could compete with Ford if it chose to enter that market.  John Deere could probably compete in pickup trucks if it saw a lack of competition in that market. And then there’s this.

              So we can expect that the more capital intensive an industry is, the fewer competitors there will be in the industry. At the extreme, for example, there are only a couple of producers of jumbo jets (but a few more producers of commuter-size jets).

              Finally, we have to think carefully about what the relevant market is. One of my big beefs about the Microsoft legal decision was that the judge explicitly excluded Apple as part of the relevant market, despite the fact that people like me hop back and fort between Apple and Microsoft products regularly. I’ll provide another example, in telecom, below. But I find that those who believe in the tendency toward oligopoly often inaccurately define the relevant market too narrowly, when in fact potential competitors, if they can’t get into direct competition, will find side avenues that de facto become part of the relevant market (even, sometimes, operating within a gray or black market).

              So much for theory, let’s look at some examples. I believe government creates barriers to entry more often than markets do. Once upon a time, the government created a monopoly in internet telecommunications service. There was only one long distance carrier for the whole country, and each community granted a monopoly for local phone service. Then we broke up Ma Bell and let the market go to work. Nobody is truly satisfied with the state of competition in the cell phone industry, but nobody can honestly deny that there are more choices now that do engage in competition with each other, making long-distance much cheaper than before. And when we don’t define the market too narrowly, we also have to count Skype, which is so damn phenomenal that I was able to talk to my kids–and see them–when I was halfway around the world, and it cost only fractions of a penny per second.

              Consider the auto industry. When it began there were literally dozens of competitors, and within a few decades, due to Depression and the capital-intensive nature of the business, they got whittled down to first 4 firms, then (when AMC went under) 3 auto manufacturers. Superficially that appears like support of your belief. But for most of that time the market had a government-created barrier to entry, in high auto tariffs. Eventually those tariffs got reduced and foreign companies started setting up factories in the U.S. Today, despite the capital-intensiveness of the auto industry, in the less regulated market there are at least 9 major auto manufacturers producing cars in the U.S., and the cars of other companies that don’t produce in the U.S. are readily available. Why has that industry expanded in numbers since we deregulated entry, rather than shrunk?

              Finally, prior to the deregulation of airlines there were only a few companies in the market. Since the deregulation most of the attention has focused on mergers between major airlines, which seem to mean fewer firms in the market (and of course it’s a very capital intensive market), but the cause of those mergers has been the ferocious competition from low-cost carriers, and there are actually more airlines in the market today than there were before deregulation.

              So there actually is good empirical evidence that when government allows markets to be more competitive we actually end up with more participants, precisely because there is money to be made and that will always draw in entrepreneurs looking to challenge the existing firms.

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              • James, Lots of stuff in this comment. Let me start with clarifying my above comments.

                The picture I presented wasn’t actually of my own devising, but the view of healthy, free markets as conceived by Milton Friedman back in the dinosaur-days. ‘Anonymous actors’ is a technical term he used (or at least I think it was him – it was so long ago I don’t even know the article where he said it) to imply the lack of power (economic or otherwise) to determine price, in either direction. Actors are (economically) anonymous in the sense that no single entity could effectively distort price in any sustained way – either on the price side, or on the supply/demand side. So, on this picture, no supplier of a good or service could lower prices enough to drive out competition or raise price in an effort to achieve more profits (since consumers would, all other things being equal, choose the lower priced option). No purchaser would have the unilateral power to distort price by buying sufficient quantities to alter supply. And given this as the normative baseline for ‘free’ markets, Freidman’s sorta arbitrary definition of monopolized market trivially follows: a monopolized market is one in which market participants control enough market share that their actions are no longer economically ‘anonymous’, that is, they have enough power to sustain price deflections otherwise inconsistent with the normative ideal.

                I think this view of markets has some merits, but at the end of it, I find it impractical and therefore sorta useless for many of the markets which exist today, which I’ll get to below, but which also reveals some of the problems with letting it go as the ideal picture. The virtue of it, tho, is that it presents a clear conceptual divide between price being determined by competition given consumer demand, and price being determined by willingness/ability to pay. And if the view makes any sense whatsoever, then one principle seems to follow: the fewer competitors there are on the provision side of a good/service, the more price will be determined by willingness to pay rather than competition. This might not be bad all on its own – making the judgment one way or the other probably requires the prior acceptance of a pretty rigorous theory – but I think this is the place where certain moral judgments enter the debate.

                As I mentioned, some markets aren’t receptive to this type analysis for a bunch of reasons you mentioned above. But one thing I think is also true is that too many providers of a service, and too few barriers to entry into a market, can create instability in markets themselves to the degree they provide less utility than they otherwise would. In fact, one argument I’ve mentioned here (which is consistently rejected) is that price controls in the Wilson era were imposed not so much to prevent exorbitant profits, but to stabilize otherwise competitive markets from destroying themselves. And they did this by preventing (price) competition from bankrupting too many primary sellers which undermined the market’s social utility.

                (Btw, another interesting contemporary example of this, and I can track down the links if your interested, is the organic farmers market. Lots of produce growers were making good money at farmers markets, so much so that increased competition drove down price to the point that many growers lost money, many markets shut down, and those that didn’t weren’t profitable. Now, the worry here isn’t that people go bankrupt (or lose money): it’s that unless there are barriers to entry into low-capital markets, too much competition creates instability which undermines the market itself. People can’t buy what they otherwise would have. It seems to me the way to resolve the problem in these types of cases is to construct barriers to entry (either market based or otherwise) which permit sufficient profits to providers while stabilizing the market so that it actually provides the most social utility to everyone involved.)

                So, getting back to some of the specifics in your comment, you write

                I believe government creates barriers to entry more often than markets do.

                And I certainly agree with that. So part of my point here is that some barriers to entry are necessary in all markets to reduce market instability. Those can be artificially constructed by government (and some of those, I would say, can have positive social utlilty). Others are a natural consequence of the prohibitively high cost of entering specific capital intensive markets. And others are the result of moving away from the Friedman-esque ideal of (economically) anonymous actors and permitting individual firms to have sufficient market share (and economies of scale) that competition has been limited by acquisition/merger and/or by having the purchasing power to make entry into the market of prohibitively risky. (This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list.)

                In most (probably all, really) markets, I would agree that a market-driven barrier is certainly better than a government imposed barrier. But this view requires us to shift our conception of how competition determines price since by definition individual actors are no longer economically anonymous. That means accepting that certain economic actors have the power to prevent entry due to not only there purchasing power, but also their predatory power . (Their ability to determine governmental policy given their economic power is of course a primary liberal worry, but we have to set it aside here since we’re assuming the libertarian framework.) At the end of it, tho, I think that in many markets oligopolies are the only way to achieve stability in the absence of government regulation which are both profitable and provide social utility. But the liberal worry is that by doing so, price isn’t an accurate reflection of competition (in one conception of that word) but rather an indication of consumers willingness to pay, which may be exploited in the case of essentials. If there are decisive argument that price simply ought to be determined willingness to pay, then liberals have some catching up to do. But I think the liberal worry here is that insofar as good/service either is or is viewed as necessary, willingness to pay becomes an aspect of the market that’s ripe for exploitation.

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                • Stillwater,

                  Finally getting back to you (busy family we4ekend!).  I get what you mean by anonymous now.  Another way of putting it is that those businesses are price-takers, rather than price-setters, and if I get you right I think your concern is about market sectors where there are few enough businesses that they can be price-setters.

                  That’s not impossible, of course, but even there it’s constrained by customers’ willingness to pay, and again the issue of whether there are actual barriers to entry matters.  It also matters what type of market-sector we’re talking about.  If some firm is a price-setter on the pet rocks they’re selling, I can’t work up much concern.  If they’re a price setter on housing, water, winter coats in Nome, Alaska, etc., then I’d be very concerned.  And of course varying levels of concern between those extremes.  In most cases I’d probably be hard-pressed to think government regulation to prevent the oligopoly was necessary.

                  I don’t follow your concern about market instability.  This sounds like the ghost of the old “destructive competition” argument.  As I’m an enthusiast of <a href=”http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/CreativeDestruction.html”>creative destruction</a>, so I tend to see market instability as beneficial to consumers, although it can be stressful as hell for businessmen and for labor as well.  I hear your organic produce argument, but in fact I haven’t noticed a lack of availability of organics.  What happens in these cases is that the inefficient producers are driven out and the efficient ones remain.  Really, what the loss of some producers showed is that there were more producers in that market than customers demanded.  But as long as customers continue to demand something, there’s no reason to believe that every producer will always go out of business trying to meet that demand. Keep in mind also that we’re talking about a new market that hasn’t matured yet–in the early 20th century there were literally dozens of small auto manufacturers in the U.S., too many to be efficient.  And one of the problems with organic producers was they originally filled a nice market where they could charge a premium, and that enabled them to operate inefficiently, for a time, and then not all were capable of adjusting.  I don’t see that whole story as problematic, but normal and ultimately desirable.

                  Actually, that type of market supports Friedman’s argument–in the beginning the organic producers could be price-setters, but as time went on and others were drawn into the market by their above-normal profits, “anonymity” set in and none of the producers could any longer affect prices.

                   

                   

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                  • James, I actually agree with most of the above, especially the point about certain sectors requiring different analyses. For the most part, I don’t think liberals and libertarians disagree on what constitutes a healthy market in the abstract, hence, I think there’s pretty broad agreement on the normative ideal that policy should be pursuing. Now, insofar as some structural market mechanism allows sellers to price goods/services at what might otherwise be viewed as extortionist or exploitative, then we both agree that some constraints are necessary correct it.

                    But I (tentatively) disagree on with you on this:

                    I tend to see market instability as beneficial to consumers, although it can be stressful as hell for businessmen and for labor as well.

                    Market instability is only beneficial to consumers if you begin with some robust principles about how markets ought to function and what their purpose is. If you think that markets are merely the place where consumers exercise their sovereignty as rational decision-makers, then markets serve no function or purpose over and above permitting the exercise of that sovereignty. If, on the other hand, you think that markets exist as a natural consequence of consumer’s exercising their sovereignty, but they also provide social utility beyond the mere expression of that soverignty, then you will conclude that insofar as market instability reduces social utility, instability ought to be reduced. (Social utility could be understood as function of the expression of sovereignty here. So maximizing social utility on this view entails maximizing liberty. I’ll leave that aside for now.)

                    So, fore example, limiting exploitative pricing and maximizing social utility are optimal outcomes which, from the liberal’s pov, sometimes requires government intervention. I think that liberals are in broad agreement that in some cases markets have achieved a naturally occurring stability (the case of certain oligopolies mentioned above), independently of whether government played a role in fostering that staibilty. In other markets, government has a role to play in limiting price (or ensuring access) of essentials. And in still other markets, those with effectively no barriers to entry, limiting competition is necessary (in my mind anyway) to maximize social utility.

                    Here’s an example: a few months ago there was lots of heated discussion about the medallion system  awarding cabbie licenses. The libertarian view was that eliminating government’s role in restricting access to the cabbie trade is justified since it a) violated the rights of prospective cabbies, b) was inefficient wrt pricing and service provision (that is, getting rid of it would increase social utility), and c) didn’t violate any rights of consumers since consumers have no right to cabbie services in any event. The argument for these conclusions, however, rests upon viewing individual rights/liberties of people at the point of exchange as being the only relevant value .

                    On my view, this is just wrong. Opening up the cabbie provision sector to people on an individual basis suffers from a few problems. One is that if cabbie services are an essential part of a larger social structure (for whatever reason!) and other important economic and social values depend on the reliable expectation of access to cabbie services, then cabbie services provide social utility which extends beyond individual voluntary agreement at the time of sale. Another reason this is wrong is that it presents a logic of collective action problem if we assume that cabbie provision does (not that it ought to) provide measurable social utility: individual rational action in pursuit of P can undermine achieving P unless constraints on behavior are imposed. (I may be thinking of markets as a commons here, and that might either interesting or devastating to what I’m arguing. Hmmm.)

                    So what government did (and does in similar cases) is grant licenses to private companies in order to maximize social utility, a necessary condition of which that those on the supply side can reliably expect to make a profit (a necessary condition of which is market stability).

                    Could a similar outcome be achieved in the absence of government? That is, could a private firm X sustain sufficient market control to make provision of the service profitable consistently with social utility concerns (like access, reliability, etc etc)? Maybe. But if the libertarian premise is that there ought be no non-natural barrier to entry for competitor Y, then instability is the logical outcome, undermining the social utility of the market as well as, perhaps, profitability (if stability is necessary to maximize profits).

                    Another thing I wanted to say here is more general: that libertarians and liberals like to pick and choose specific examples of market failures as evidence that their views ought to be fully general. But I think for both sides, arguing from anecdote (and in the case of some radical libertarians, constructing an a priori theory based on anecdote) is just a mistake. The real world contains enough diversity that each side can find examples to make their case. I think the mistake is thinking that one theory could be fully generally applied to all contexts and lead to whatever the desired goal is (maximizing social utility, maximizing liberty, maximizing the general welfare, etc).

                     

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                    • Now, insofar as some structural market mechanism allows sellers to price goods/services at what might otherwise be viewed as extortionist or exploitative, then we both agree that some constraints are necessary correct it.

                      In the abstract.  But I doubt we’ll often agree on what counts as extortionate or exploitative.  From my perspective liberals tend to see extortion and exploitation as occurring with great frequency, while libertarians see it as quite rare.

                      Market instability is only beneficial to consumers if you begin with some robust principles about how markets ought to function and what their purpose is.

                      The purpose of markets is to provide goods and services to consumers at the best prices/qualities.  All that business about consumer sovereignty is sideline stuff–it’s what happens in a competitive market, but it’s just a descriptor, it’s not the actual purpose.  And the only way consumers get the best price/quality combinations is through markets where there is competition that continually up-ends the established order.   Providing goods and services is the market’s social utility.

                      As to the cab medallion situation, I think you’ve misunderstood the situation.  The point about it being inefficient with regard to pricing and service is the same issue as your concern about “reliable expectation of access to cabbie services.”  Government granting licenses to certain companies to operate cabs does not maximize social welfare.  It limits the number of cabs available and increases the price of cab services.  It creates a cartel, and cartels never maximize social welfare.  I can’t stress that strongly enough–I figured this out as a cab driver even before I studied economics.  With limited numbers of cabs, guess where cab drivers did and didn’t look for customers?  You could always find a customer in the nicer areas of town, so drivers avoided the not-so-nice areas of town.  The poor end up getting screwed; they can’t get cab service at a lower price point, and they can rarely get a cab in their community.   And then people who do try to provide that service to poorer people get in trouble for it.  See <a href=”http://www.mackinac.org/article.aspx?ID=2536″>here</a> for another take.

                      I firmly disagree with your claim that market instability harms social utility, a concept which remains so vague as to be analytically unhelpful.  Market instability does not mean consumers lose access to goods and services; it means there is enough turnover among the providers of those goods and services to ensure that none of them can become a price setter; and it also means continual innovation in those goods and services, so as to provide ever-better things for consumers.

                      I am, in fact, quite surprised that you worry about firms being price-setters, but simultaneously worry about there being so much competition that no firm can be a price setter.  That’s rather like the problem of longing for warm temperatures in winter, then pining for the cold in the summer.

                      Ultimately, though, it’s hard to know what you’re actually looking for because your concept of “social utility” is so vague.  This is where your belief that liberals don’t have principles comes back again (I think) in a particularly troubling way.  While principles should not be gods, they should be guides.  And in the absence of anything you can clearly rely on, you are in the position of arguing for something vague, something that you can’t quite tell us what it is, but that we should have confidence will be known when we see it.

                       

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                    • James,

                      Ahh, yes. I made the wrong point in that example. I was confusing two different things, so my bad. The point I was trying to make is a more general one in which government awards firms contracts to provide cab services rather than government arbitrarily restricting the number of cabs. So given my confusion, I agree with your response.

                      The bigger point I was trying to get at tho, is that on your view, governmental restrictions on cab licenses (by granting firms contracts, say) creates worse outcomes than otherwise, which is something I disagree with. In fact, if I recall correctly, the medallion system was introduced in certain cities to correct the problems of too-low a barrier to entry: too many cabs on the streets, too much congestion, tooo many broken down cabs still on the streets, inefficient use of time drivers who had to troll for customers, etc. Those were deemed a social problem, and the proposed solution was based on increasing social utility. That is, prior to government intervention, the market wasn’t operating in such a way as to maximize social utility and it was only due to government intervention that some aspects of social value were maxmized. (Even tho the medallion system created other problems.)

                      So in this example, the social utility people were trying to maximize thru governmental power, would be a collection of economic, non-economic, instrumental and categorical values determined in the context under evaluation. That someone would deny the legitimacy of the concept of ‘social utility’ is clearly adopting a theory in which non-economic and instrumental values are arbitrarily excluded. And they’re excluded by a circular argument: that non-economic and instrumental values can’t be rigorously defined, so they don’t admit of rigorous analysis. Maybe, so. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. And that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be part of the analysis, or be necessary considerations when it comes to policy.

                      Along these lines, one other thing about cab services and whether government ought to play a role here. If, as was the case, the absence of government regulation (that is, the free market) permitted and sustained an entirely inefficient system wrt social outcomes (even tho it was consistent with individual rights, liberty and consumer autonomy!), then governmental restrictions on the number of cabs on the streets permitted makes sense. The medallion system isn’t the right way to do it, of course. But granting licenses to limited number of firms to provide cab services would accomplish this at least as well as private interests in the absence of government regulation, and even better given the historical evidence. For one, insofar as services to the poor are deemed economically rational, this will occur either way. Insofar as competition lowers price, this will occur either way. Insofar as social utility is maximized, this will arguably be the case. Especially given the historical starting point which justified governmental intervention to begin with.

                      Btw, social utility is something that I think you have to take more seriously since it’s the ultimate justification for any theory of political economy. If it doesn’t create better outcomes for people with respect to the totality of relevant values, then it ought to be rejected in favor of one that does.

                       

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                    • too many cabs on the streets, too much congestion, tooo many broken down cabs still on the streets, inefficient use of time drivers who had to troll for customers, etc. Those were deemed a social problem, and the proposed solution was based on increasing social utility.

                      Noticeably, none of those “problems” pay any attention to the needs of the customer.  Consequently the solution also paid no attention to the needs of the customer.  So how was “social utility” increased?  And what is your measure of “social utility”?  When you keep it so vague and undefined, how do you know you’ve increased it?

                      For me, social utility cannot be anything but the sum of individual utility.  Obviously the regulations harmed the utility of many cab customers.  They also harmed the utility of many cab drivers.  Consider the utility of that poor driver who has to spend so much time trolling for customers (believe me, I know too well what that’s like).  Is forcing him to give up his job driving a cab actually increasing his utility?  If so, he would have quit on his own.

                      So exactly whose utility has been increased?  If you can’t point to real utility increases for real individuals then talk about “social” utility is just a dodge, a shift away from real persons to an abstraction whose real utility you can’t measure, so conveniently you don’t actually have to demonstrate it–you can just proclaim it.

                      prior to government intervention, the market wasn’t operating in such a way as to maximize social utility and it was only due to government intervention that some aspects of social value were maxmized

                      This is what I mean by “just proclaiming it.”  You don’t actually demonstrate or explain how utility has been increased; you just know that prior to regulation the market wasn’t doing something that some people thought it ought to do, and after that regulation the market was closer to what some people thought it ought to be; hence, social utility was increased.  But you don’t make your case with any evidence about any actual utility.   It’s not persuasive.

                      If, as was the case, the absence of government regulation (that is, the free market) permitted and sustained an entirely inefficient system wrt social outcomes

                      No, you haven’t made the case that it was inefficient, much less “entirely inefficient.”  What “social outcomes” are you measuring by?  You don’t specify them or defend using them as standards.  I don’t even know what outcomes or standards are at issue here.

                      The medallion system isn’t the right way to do it, of course. But granting licenses to limited number of firms to provide cab services would accomplish this

                      Granting licenses to a limited number of firms is the medallion system, not something different from it.

                      insofar as services to the poor are deemed economically rational, this will occur either way.

                      No. Wrong.  With a limited number of cabs, competing just for the middle and upper classes can suck up all the available service, leaving the poor with less.  Go to the poor neighborhoods of any American city with limited numbers of cabs and try to flag a cab.  Then go the wealthier neighborhoods.  It’s eye-opening.  When I started driving a cab I was told explicitly by multiple drivers that I didn’t need to bother going to certain neighborhoods; it was too dangerous and there were more than enough customers in the safer neighborhoods.

                      Insofar as competition lowers price, this will occur either way

                      No, it won’t happen when you limit competition, which is what happens when you limit permits.

                      Btw, social utility is something that I think you have to take more seriously since it’s the ultimate justification for any theory of political economy. If it doesn’t create better outcomes for people with respect to the totality of relevant values

                      How can I take it seriously when you can’t define its elements clearly enough to measure them?  It’s something that can be whipped out at any time to trump the opponent’s argument.  Personally, when we’re talking about policies that harm consumers, particularly poorer consumers, I think taking social utility seriously us going to cut the legs out from under your argument.  Or if social utility means “something I can’t define clearly but it’s not the interests of the poor,” then I’m going to be particularly unserious in my scoffing at it.

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                    • James,

                      Do you or do you not believe that the situation which led to the introduction of the medallion system in NYC was a market failure, a failure which can’t be pinned on government intervention? I mean, this is one of the areas where I think Liberty’s criticism of libertarian thinking is spot on: an accurate description of the cabbie situation in New York prior to the implementation of the medallion system constitutes historical evidence that unregulated markets can and often do fail. Why libertarians continue to reject that basic fact is something that mystifies me.(Hence, Liberty’s article of faith criticism.)

                      Now, your response is that the claim it was a market failure is based on a prioir conception of social utility. Then, you further claim that the concept of social utility makes no sense. But social utility doesn’t have to be a theoretical term for the conclusion that decreasing the number of cabs on the streets can increase overall social and individual goods. Thaty’s just a matter of observation.

                      But I’ll repeat the definition provided above: social utility is the sum total of all relevant economic, non-economic, instrumental and categorical values held by all the relevant individuals in a specific context. One of the values might be reducing congestion (and etc.).  Another, tho, might be fostering a more efficient, stable, profitable system which serves customers, non-customers and cab service providers in a way consistent that collection of individual values. But your preferred values – letting the market continue on it’s own devoid of governmental interference – wasn’t a relevant value in NYC at the time the medallion system was introduced.

                      More to the point, tho, your preferred theory doesn’t discount non-economic and instrumental values in any way whatsoever. Rather, it holds that a society which minimizes government coercion and adopts principles analyzed exclusively in terms of economic and categorical values (rights) is sufficient for the maximazation those other values.

                      And alternatively, of course, sometimes you argue that those other values simply don’t exist. One example of that was the dispute we had over whether certain seatshop practices amounted to exploitation. On my view, the mere description of some of those states of affairs were paradigmatic examples of exploitation. But you simply rejected that they did. So at root, our values are radically different wrt to these things, and maybe irreconcilably so.

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                    • Do you or do you not believe that the situation which led to the introduction of the medallion system in NYC was a market failure, a failure which can’t be pinned on government intervention?

                      I do not, and you haven’t shown any evidence that it was one.  You’ve shown that it was an undesirable outcome by some people’s standards, but you haven’t defined the type of market failure it allegedly was and explained how it was such a failure.  Cabbies spending lots of time driving around looking for customers is not a market failure anymore than a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix having long lulls between customers is.

                      an accurate description of the cabbie situation in New York prior to the implementation of the medallion system constitutes historical evidence that unregulated markets can and often do fail.  Why libertarians continue to reject that basic fact is something that mystifies me.

                      I think there can be market failures, but I don’t think you’ve shown one here.   There’s an important difference between being shown a market failure and responding, “no, it doesn’t exist,” and being shown a market that doesn’t meet someone’s aesthetic idea and responding, “no, that’s not a failed market.”

                      social utility is the sum total of all relevant economic, non-economic, instrumental and categorical values held by all the relevant individuals in a specific context.

                      Groovy, so how do you measure it?  Seriously, what is your basis for claiming to know that reducing the number of cabs resulted in a net increase in “all relevant economics, non-economic, instrumental and categorical values held by all the relevant individuals” in the context of the market for taxicabs?  You’ve set yourself an impossible measurement task, yet you claim to know the answer.

                      your preferred values – letting the market continue on it’s own devoid of governmental interference – wasn’t a relevant value in NYC at the time the medallion system was introduced.

                      That’s horribly cruel and dismissive to the interests of cab drivers and poor customers.  Their values weren’t relevant.  Is that how your non-principled liberal system works?  By just dismissing as non-relevant the values of those who are harmed by your policies?  I wouldn’t have written such an apparently outrageous accusation on my own, but their values were the ones promoted by the market, and you’re the one who said the market wasn’t a relevant value.

                      Again, a) you have not demonstrated that a market failure existed; you have only shown that the market was aesthetically unpleasing to some people; b) you have no means of measuring the myriad of values you want to include in our social policy calculations so you have no true basis for claiming a net increase in social utility as a consequence of any particular policy; such a claim can only be purely made up as a matter of convenience, which is precisely the concern I expressed in an earlier debate about having an ideology without principles to guide it.

                       

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                    • Are you getting as frustrated as I am here? :)

                      I’m gonna take a break here, but I’ll mention two things. One is that the causally sneering tone in response to my comment about the situation in NYC prior to the implementation of the medallion system confused the point being made (intentionally? Unintentionally). And I can’t help but think you’re trying to score cheap points by saying that ‘principled liberalism’ leaves out the poor. I don’t know if you’re aware of this James, but I wasn’t part of the medallion decision in NYC back in the day, and I’ve said that I think it’s a bd idea. I thought we were talking on a deeper level than that. About the legitimacy of government intervention. For you to do an end around and criticize liberals for failing to help the poor seems to intentionally and self-servingly miss the point.

                      Another thing is this: is congestion measurable? Are the costs to infrastructure of X number of cars on the road measurable? Is the amount of time lost to congestion measurable? Are the costs incurred from increased accidents measurable? All of these measurable things contribute to the determination that cabbie services can be provided in a more efficient way, one of which is that profits can accrue to cabbies without by restricting the cabs on road in proprtion to the need for services. (The medallion system failed at this, but what’s that got to do with the point at issue?)

                      Alternatively, is exploitation measurable? It seems you want to invalidate the concept because we can’t precisely measure or identify the amount or degree of exploitation. I thought I’ve already done that in previous threads, but you not only rejected the analysis, you rejected it because it wasn’t rigourous enough. Which makes me wonder whether the only theory you accept is an axiomatic one with clearly identifiable principles which you force-fit onto reality. In which case Liberty deserves some apologies from me.

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            • Yes, I am content to agree to disagree. This actually isn’t my first argument with fundamentalism.

              I call it that, because when a guy can write a lengthy post on a blog that says in essence, Standard Oil was not a problem that needed government intervention, and that Microsoft is not a near-monopoly,and really, the market is a unversal solution for nearly any socio-economic problem,  we are in fact dealing with industrial-strength snake-handling fundamentalism.

              The point of dealing with fundamentalism is to draw it out into the open- the guy who posts a reasonable sounding comment about there being problems with the methodology of orbital trajectories will eventually after a series of posts admit that yes,he believes the world is flat.

              So the goal is not to have him slap his forehead and cry out why yes, you are right, how could I have been so wrong- the point is to innoculate the audience by exposing the nonsense.

               

               

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              • LIberty,

                I’ve had enough conversations with Hanley to think that he’s not a snake oil salesman. In fact, I give him the benefit of the doubt, for a number of reasons, the most important of which is his willingness to argue for his view rather than against his opponent.

                But apart from that, I think your generally correct: libertarians can’t constrain themselves from reinterpreting the world to fit their theory, and that might be the most substantive criticisism levied against them. Of course, to the extent they’re True Believers, they will or won’t admit a True Rejection of their theory. But even then, the disconnect between reality and what are often provably ridiculous first principles is LARGE.

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                • Stillwater,

                  Yes, I’m very frustrated, because at this point you seem to think there is clear evidence that the NYC taxicab situation indisputably justified government intervention.  But it is disputable, and I do dispute it.  To the extent you think there cannot be legitimate disagreement about that case, then it is you that is acting as a true believer, rather than me.

                  Of course things like congestion are measurable.  In fact congestion can indeed be a market failure because each driver doesn’t bear the full cost of their contribution, but is imposing costs on other drivers.  But it’s not a cab problem; it’s a problem of the total number of cars.  To define it as a failure of the cab market is to single out only one type of car, which makes no sense at all.  If it’s an automobile market failure, deal with the total number of automobiles, ala London’s congestion pricing.  But don’t fall for the pretense that it’s a cab problem.  Heck, in any U.S. city I’ve been in, and that’s quite a few (although not NYC), you could double the number of cabs without seriously increasing the congestion problem. So I am persuadable that there was a market failure, but you have not in fact demonstrated there was a cab market failure.

                  You ask if congestion is measurable–yes, it is, so show me the measurements of the congestion caused by cabs that led to the policy.  Was there any actual measurement made by the city before they created the medallion policy?  I’ll wager there wasn’t.  The mere fact that they created a policy is not proof that the “problem” to which they were responding was real.

                  I’m frustrated because you agree the medallion system failed, but you’ve still argued for limiting the number of cabs, and you haven’t explained how that’s different from the medallion system.

                  I’m frustrated because you object to my criticism that your approach hurts the poor, but you haven’t explained how limiting the number of cabs available won’t hurt the poor. It’s not that I don’t think you care about the poor; it’s that I think you are hesitant to think through how a policy limiting cabs actually affects the poor.

                  whether the only theory you accept is an axiomatic one with clearly identifiable principles which you force-fit onto reality.

                  That’s ironic, because when you have identifiable principles it’s harder to force fit reality to them because you can see when the reality doesn’t match up.  That’s the point with the taxicab situation–when my principle is “market failure,” I look at the reality, at least as you’ve described it (and as I’ve seen it described before), and that reality doesn’t fit to that principle.  But when your principles or values are sufficiently vague–when they lack analytical rigor–it’s very easy to force fit reality to them.

                  I don’t mean that to sound snarky.  I see it as the real problem here, and in fact it is frustrating to me that you think clear principles make it easier to force-fit reality.  Think of any type of sports, for example.  The game would be impossible to judge reasonably if there were not clear standards for defining fouls and scoring.  In the absence of clear principles there is a real risk that we end up playing <a href=”http://calvinandhobbes.wikia.com/wiki/Calvinball”>Calvinball</a>.  I am confident enough in your honesty that I don’t think you intend to do that or would do it intentionally.  The concern is how do you avoid doing it inadvertently?

                   

                   

                   

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                • I’m frustrated because you agree the medallion system failed, but you’ve still argued for limiting the number of cabs, and you haven’t explained how that’s different from the medallion system.

                  I haven’t argued for limiting the number of cabs. I’ve argued for two things: one is the legitimacy of government intervention to correct a market inefficiency that yields negative social utility, and the other is a system in which government creates a barrier to entry by awarding contracts to a limited number of firms (3? 5? 15?) to provide cabbie services. So in the proposed system, the market – not government – would determine how many cabs are on the road, but it would create a barrier to prevent extraneous cabs from decreasing overall social utility (that is, more than are necessary to serve demand). The number of cabs would be determined by exactly the same mechanisms as in an unregulated market: profitability and economic rationality. If it’s economically rational to serve poor neighborhoods, then it they will be served under this system. If not, then not. Just like in an unregulated market.

                  I think the problem libertarians have with government intervention of the type I’m suggesting here isn’t primarily that it distorts price, or that it coercively imposes one set of principles rather than another. Functionally, the government granting licenses to say 10 firms to provide cab services is functionally indistinguishable from an analogous market where only ten firms provide a good or service. In my experience talking to libertarians, its rather a different worry: that the power of government to dispense those contracts is a ripe target for public/private corruption. But that’s a completely different worry or argument than the one being discussed right now.

                  I’m frustrated because you object to my criticism that your approach hurts the poor, but you haven’t explained how limiting the number of cabs available won’t hurt the poor.

                  Limiting the number of firms doesn’t limit the number of cabs on the road. Profitability still determines that. And insofar as the companies receiving the licenses are economically rational, they’ll maximize the number of cabs on the road consistent with profitability, and the number of cabs on the road will be a better reflection of demand than otherwise. I mean, if market efficiency taken as a whole is a virtue – which it is, especially according to libertarian macro-economic principles! – then getting the number of cabs on the road closer to the minimum required to provide the service is a virtue.

                  It’s not that I don’t think you care about the poor; it’s that I think you are hesitant to think through how a policy limiting cabs actually affects the poor.

                  I’ve thought it thru James. For one, limiting the number of firms who provide cab services doesn’t limit the number of cabs on the road. For another, according to libertarian principles, economic rationality free from government constraint ought to be the determining principle wrt who gets what services. If so, then the poor will be served just as well by government granting licenses to a certain number of firms (whatever that number might be!) as they would otherwise. Since in either case, economic rationality determines who gets what services..

                  James, there has to be a starting point in your argument here rather than a spinning cycle of shifting criticisms. If the starting point is economic rationality of individuals at the point of sale, then whether or not government grants licenses to firms to provide cab services is irrelevant since after the dispensation of the licenses economic rationality still determines the number of cabs on the road and who the service is provided to. If government coercion is the starting point, then macro-economic rationality/irrationality (tragedy of the commons, free rider issues, etc), efficiency, social costs, public welfare, and a whole host of other issues are irrelevant and an acceptable consequence of ‘freedom’. If maximizing liberty is the starting point, then government intervention might logically follow if the liberty of poor people is in principle constrained due to their lack of access to cab services.

                  It seems to me that the really robust libertarian (which you’re starting to sound like) chooses from any of the above (and others) as  a matter of convenience to make their argument. And they do so as if each principle was independently justified, as if each follows from other more obvious first principles. But those are the first principles, and they’re clearly – to me anyway – arbitrarily employed and entail all sorts of inconsistencies.

                   

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                  • Stillwater,

                    I get your distinction between limiting the number of cab companies and limiting the number of cabs, but I don’t think it works, and I think a standard economic analysis explains why.

                    First, if you limit the number of cab companies sufficiently then you’ve created a cartel, and the cartel will find it profitable to limit the number of cabs to reduce competition.  That’s what cartels do, and there’s no reason to think it will be different in this case.  In this situation the poor will suffer due to lack fo cabs.

                    Second, if you don’t limit the number of cab companies sufficiently that they can act as a cartel, then you’re not actually limiting the number of cabs any more than the market did before.

                    In the non-regulated situation, prospective cabbies choose to offer cab services,and if they do not make money doing at it they exit the market.  In the regulated situation with a large number of cab companies, prospective drivers contract with one of the companies to drive a cab.  Because the cab companies make their money from renting out cabs to drivers, they will have an incentive to rent out as many as there are prospective cabbies willing to rent them.  That equates to those prospective cabbies choosing to offer cab service and exiting the market if they don’t make money doing it.  In other words, the number should be the same as in the non-regulated situation.

                    In this situation the poor will not suffer due to lack of cabs, because there will be just as many as before the regulation.

                    insofar as the companies receiving the licenses are economically rational, they’ll maximize the number of cabs on the road consistent with profitability, and the number of cabs on the road will be a better reflection of demand than otherwise.

                    Why the “than otherwise?”  You haven’t explained how the unregulated system doesn’t reflect demand, and just why a limited number of companies would do it better.  You make the assertion, but you haven’t demonstrated the logic of the assertion.

                    Understand, in the more open system, we can still talk about drivers receiving licenses to drive cabs; it’s just a system where there are a larger number of cab companies–more of them being single-car companies, whereas in your system there would be more multi-car companies.  And insofar as individual cab drivers are rational, they’ll maximize the number of cabs on the road consistent with profitability, and the number of cabs on the road will reflect demand, because those who are unprofitable will get out, leaving the field to those who can make it pay.  It seems to me that your argument relies on the assumption that there will be some substantial number of unprofitable drivers remaining in the game in the un-limited licenses system, but I don’t understand why that would be so.

                    The more philosophical point I’ll answer separately.

                     

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                  • If government coercion is the starting point, then macro-economic rationality/irrationality (tragedy of the commons, free rider issues, etc), efficiency, social costs, public welfare, and a whole host of other issues are irrelevant and an acceptable consequence of ‘freedom’.

                    No, that is not true at all.  A starting point does not mean all other values fall by the wayside.  If government coercion was a trump, a value that superseded all other values, then you would be correct.

                    But in fact “government” coercion is not the starting point.  Coercion, without the modifier, is the starting point.  Any non-coercive/voluntary action is presumptively just because no person’s will is violated.  That does not mean absolutely inarguably just, but it does mean that voluntary actions have a rebuttable presumption of justness.  And from my perspective it’s a hard row to hoe to argue that any particular voluntary action is unjust in a way that means it should be prevented coercively.

                    Any coercive action is presumptively unjust, but again that does not mean absolutely inarguably unjust, but that it has a rebuttable presumption of unjustice because somebody’s will is violated.  The strongest argument for a particular coercive act is that it’s restraining or correcting a prior coercive act. We might call that a distinction between first-order coercion and second-order coercion.  If I walk up to you and punch you with no provocation that is a first-order coercive act, and unjust.  If you respond by kicking me in the balls, that’s a second-order coercion, and the relevant question is whether as a response it was justified, which has to do with how measured or not it was.  E.g., kicking me in the balls might be, but knocking me out, tying me up, then torturing might not be.

                    So the starting point is in fact non-coercion, not just a reaction to government coercion, and for me there is an assumption that non-coercion maximizes both liberty and utility.

                    Government is justified to the extent it is limited to second-order responses that are appropriately measured.

                    Collective action problems (free riders), commons problems (just a special form of the collective action problem), and negative externalities are special cases where the rebuttable presumption for voluntary action and against coercion may in fact be rebuttable.  It depends on the extent of the disutility caused by the problem and how much coercion is necessary to solve it.  In the case of negative externalities, in fact we normally define that as a first-order coercion.  In the case of collective action problems (CAPs), the government action may be a first-order coercion because there may not be any other actual coercion–even broadly defined–that it is responding to; nevertheless it may–depending on the degree of disutility in the non-resolved CAP and the degree of utility to be gained from solving it–effectively rebut the presumption against first-order coercion.

                    I think there are CAPs that do in fact justify this, but I also think liberals overapply this too quickly, assuming any and every identifiable CAP justifies government coercion.  Sometimes a re-rigging of the structure of the situation can allow for a market solution, and sometimes we can persuade people through carrots rather than sticks.

                    As to efficiency, that is normally provided by the market.  It may be the market’s only virtue beyond voluntaryness. Except when the government is correcting an actual market failure, it’s unlikely to achieve efficiency.  But market failures are, as I have frequently noted, cases where government action can be justified.

                    It seems to me that the really robust libertarian (which you’re starting to sound like) chooses from any of the above (and others) as  a matter of convenience to make their argument.

                    One might, but I think quite clearly I haven’t.  Still, I have a hard time seeing how choosing one’s principles as a matter of convenience is fundamentally different from beginning with no guiding principles.  (Not that I actually believe you don’t have some a prior principles, but you’ve made that claim, and I’m still waiting for your explanation of how not having a priori principles provides firmer guidance in evaluating policy than actually having such principles, even if they’re misguided.)

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                    • James, I’m busy for the next few hours so I don’t have time for a more lengthy answer right now, but I wanted to clear up this misunderstanding about liberals and principles. Here’s the comment you’re referring to:

                      that this goes back to liberals not having a principled view of processes or outcomes that is in some sense measurable or clearly articulable.

                      I didn’t say that liberals lack principles. In that comment I was conceding to you (when I said ‘consider it a victory’) that liberal’s often don’t articulate their principles with sufficient clarity that even they can recognize when a policy is successful. And I was agreeing with you that the lack of a clearly stated principle in the context of standards of living works against liberal arguments when they claim rather obtusely that ‘the middle class ought to have more wealth’.

                      As I’ve said many times, liberals do have principles, but they are closer to pre-theoretical morality than they are ‘first principles’ derived from a priori reasoning. If that’s confusing I’ll write more about, or find the links to what I said previously. And that in turn is part of my argument that liberals lack an overarching political ideology, at least as it contrasts with libertarianism and the first principles employed by conservatives. This is a view I’ve argued rather extensively as well. (Not that you agreed with me.)

                      We’ve covered a lot of ground in these discussions, so it’s easy to get a bit lost in terms of where we’re at right now.

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                    • liberals do have principles, but they are closer to pre-theoretical morality than they are ‘first principles’ derived from a priori reasoning. 

                      Well, you’ll have to explain that to me sometime when we both have leisure and you can push through my impatience with philosophical reasoning.  It just sounds implausible to me, but I’ll listen with as open a mind as I can.

                      I was conceding to you … that liberal’s often don’t articulate their principles with sufficient clarity that even they can recognize when a policy is successful.

                      And I think that’s the case in our current discussion as well.  “Social utility” is all well and good, if we can actually make some clear measurement of it and show a) how the current system is diminishing it and b) how a different system will improve it.  But I admit that I’m cantankerous enough to get very cranky when the claim is made and insisted upon without any real evidentiary support.  My critique remains that it appears we’re supposed to trust liberals to find the best outcome despite their inability to clearly define, much less measure it.  The Potter Stewart approach to pornography was a bad approach to law, and to my mind it’s pretty much a bad approach to just about everything else.

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                    • “Social utility” is all well and good, if we can actually make some clear measurement of it and show a) how the current system is diminishing it and b) how a different system will improve it.

                      This really is getting frustrating. Didn’t I do precisely that wrt the bygone NYC cabbie situation upthread? The fact that you can’t hear those words is evidence to me that you’re deep in the throws of interpreting all evidence, all arguments thru an ideological filter. Here’s how those conversations went:

                      a) I said the impetus for the policy was social utility concerns, you said social utility can’t be measured, I said congestion costs are measurable, you said, well, of course those values are measurable but did NYC actually measure them prior to making changes? and my response is that that’s irrelevant since the issue is whether social utility is measurable.

                      b) I said that the state of affairs as they were, direct observable pre-theoretic evidence, was sufficient for city planners to advocate changing city policy, you said but what about the customers?, I said government intervention is justified if the goal is to increase social utility according to certain metrics (congestion and etc.) just so long as demand for cabbie services is met, you said what about the poor?, I said the poor would be just as likely to receive cabbie services as the free market could ideally provide, you said this constitutes a cartel, which is again irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is, to use your own words, whether government intervention in the market “will improve it”, not whether it leads to cartels (which may be a worry, but it’s a separate worry).

                      I mean, I hear you say these things and it just sounds like someone deep in the koolaid of ideological obsession, someone who can’t see evidence or argument except thru an ideological lens, and that lens is that evil liberals aren’t just confused, they’re deliberately corrupting all things holy. Christ, I don’t even know if it was liberals who introduced the medallion system and I don’t really care. It seems to me the decision was based entirely on pragmatics: that a current observable problem could be resolved by implementing a policy. That the policy is a failure all things considered is evidence for rejecting that policy, but it’s certainly not evidence that government intervention wasn’t justified, especially given the historical context which motivated the initial policy.

                      I’ll repeat that: especially given the historical context which motivated the initial policy. You seem to think that historical evidence has a liberal bias or something. But the evidence just is what it is. The unregulated cabbie market created observable, measurable social costs. The proposed policy was an attempt to correct it.

                       

                       

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                    • #Occupy, 1934: “By the 1930s the taxicab industry in the city was large and rife with corruption. Cabbies, many of whom at the time were Irish, Italian, or Jewish immigrants, were the frequent victims of unfair labor practices while passengers were often victims of price gouging. In 1934 more than 2,000 cabbies went on strike and occupied Times Square. In response, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia signed the Haas Act of 1937, which introduced official taxi licenses and the medallion system that remains in place today.”

                      http://www.nyctouristguide.com/new-york-taxi-cabs.asp

                      This gets better & better. Plus ca change…

                      [BTW, somebody paid $1 million for a medallion last month.  If they change the system, some folks are gonna be really pissed.]

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                    • Stillwater,

                      “Kool-aid”?  Really?  I’m saddened that it’s come to that.  Let me try this again, from the ground up, and with some new facts in evidence.

                      I operate from a public choice model.  That model says public policy is less often motivated by true public interest than it is by private interests’ desire to seek gains  through politics that they find themselves unable to achieve in the market.

                      This model works very well in analyzing politics.  Perhaps a couple of Nobel Prize winners in economics, a large professional organization, a couple of peer-reviewed journals, and several academic research institutions are all evidence of drinking the kool-aid, but maybe, just maybe, they’re evidence of a little bit more than that.

                      What that model teaches me is to be skeptical when the promulgators of a policy claim it is for the public good.  Anyone trying to skew public policy for their own interests will hardly be up front and honest about it, so we can never take claims of being for the public good at face value.  That is not being ideological, but analytical.

                      Now let’s begin with what for me are basics.  One, markets fail sometimes, but not as often as most people think.  Two, people who fail to achieve their goals in the market turn to politics.  Three, a claim of market failure provides a good cover for their goal of manipulating the market.

                      Now, to the taxicab market in NYC.

                      First, note Tom’s snippet.  Cab drivers were “Irish, Italians, and Jews.”  For me, looking at the U.S. in the early 20th century, that raises some red flags. These are unpopular immigrant groups, and often targets of prejudice designed to keep them in their place.  A cacophony of white Presbyterian cab drivers is, politically, not the same as a cacophony of Italian and Jewish cab drivers.

                      Second,as I noted previously, congestion is a “car market” issue, not just a “cab market” issue.  So to the extent congestion is a real market failure–and before you jump back on your “kool aid” claims, please note that I agreed it can be, and approvingly referenced London’s congestion pricing, which I wouldn’t do if I were ideologically blinded–it is a failure that encompasses more than just cabs.  So it’s quite plausible that either NYC made an honest error in focusing just on cabs to deal with congestion or that they used congestion as publicly palatable cover for something else.

                      Third, you missed my point about the cartel, which in fact is crucially relevant. Check out this source, which claims that:

                      Mayor Walker signed the Taxicab control law in January of 1932…Those in favor of it, of course, were the large fleets, while those against it were the independent operators

                      This is classic cartel formation–big players using the power of government to establish regulations that limit the ability of small players to enter and challenge. The article goes on to say:

                      However in the month of May of 1932 the whole plot was laid bare. Mayor Walker had been bribed [by the Checker Cab Co.] to create the Taxicab Control Commission to establish a monopoly for the large fleet corporations.

                      Now, do I know with certainty that this source is accurate?  No, but of course you have no more reason for certainty that your sources are accurate.  But this source is the type of behavior public choice theory would lead me to predict I would find.  Further, I found it because I found several references (including in the link Tom provided) to Checker Cab paying a bribe, and I wanted to find out what kind of bribe.

                      Now we have large players supporting a Taxicab control law (to the extent even of bribing a public official), small players opposing it who are almost certainly “dirty ethnic types” (by the stereotypes of the day), and a growing car culture that is creating more congestion.  The scene is set for a fairly predictable play, and who would you wager on to win?

                      Now could that analysis be wrong?  Of course.  I don’t have all the facts.  But is it so obviously wrong that it can legitimately be dismissed with references to kool-aid?  I think you’re honest enough you won’t pursue that line any further.

                      Now there is a further question about whether your preferred approach, not medallions but limiting licenses to some number of companies, would be better than either the status quo pre-Taxicab Commission or the Medallion system.  And here you  missed my point when you dismissed the cartel argument as irrelevant.  It is perfectly relevant because if you limit licenses to a small enough number of companies you create a cartel just as surely as the medallion system does.

                      But since neither you nor I like the medallion system, let’s say you don’t limit it to a small enough number of companies to act as a cartel.  Then I argue that the larger number of companies holding licenses will put just as many cabs on the street as would be there in the absence of licenses, because they will be in a state of complete competition and so they will put cabs out on the street until the marginal return equals the marginal cost, which is exactly what individual cab drivers would compete each other down to.

                      So my claim is that your proposal will effectively result in either a close copy of the medallion system or a close copy of the pre-regulation system, depending only on how many companies receive licenses.  I’m open to your arguments against that conclusion.

                      But, please, I’ve made serious arguments here, and you have no call to start throwing out the “kool aid” claim.

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                  • But, please, I’ve made serious arguments here, and you have no call to start throwing out the “kool aid” claim.

                    James, you’ve made circular arguments, denied the distinctions that undermine your arguments, evaded the challenge that you pull on a sequence of principles to conveniently justify your arguments, cite evidence that isn’t inconsistent with liberal positions to support your arguments, all pointing at the conclusion that liberalism is nothing more than a hopeless collection of undefined principles that in aggregate destroy freedom.

                    For my part, I’ve provided a description of liberalism, which you rejected. I’ve provided an account of liberalism, which you rejected. I’ve suggested an analysis of liberalism, which you rejected. I argued the fundamental purpose of liberalism, which you rejected. I argued the conceptual roots of liberalism, which you rejected. I argued the causal roots of liberalism, which you granted as legitimate, but you ultimately rejected that too. And you rejected all those arguments for the same reasons, which truth be told amounted to this: a) liberal principles are vague, and b) liberals aren’t libertarians.

                    On the other hand, I’ve argued extensively against the limits of libertarianism, the practicality of libertarianism, the possibility of libertarianism, the consistency of libertarianism, the conceptual coherence of libertarianism, all of which are were either conceded on your part of dismissed as confusions on mine, even tho I’m still persuaded that the view is radically inconsistent.

                    The extent of your arguments in this thread comprise an argument strategy you once criticized others for employing: comparing the libertarian ideal against the liberal reality. Something you also admitted is illegitimate. That you continue to argue from the libertarian ideal against liberalism demonstrates either a lack of intellectual honesty or fullblown commitment to the ideal, something that in saner conversations you admitted wasn’t politically practical or even conceptually possible. Furthermore, given your admission that no one knows what social structures will exist in libertopia, your insistence that it will provide more social utility, provide the greatest good for the greatest number, maximize liberty, is a pipe dream. A proposition of faith.

                    And that’s bullshit my friend. So don’t call me out for lack of precision wrt principles and policy goals when the entire outcome of your preferred theory isn’t even remotely predictable. And you’ve admitted as much.

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                    • I’m extremely disappointed in your approach here, Stillwater.  You have failed to actually address my arguments.  I presented a fairly clear (I hope) public choice analysis, and instead of dealing with the substance of it you have retreated to weak and unspecified claims about circular reasoning and convenient use of principles.  Are you able to deal with the substance of my arguments or not?

                      Please tell me why I am wrong to be skeptical of the claim that regulation of NYC taxicabs was done to achieve the public good instead of being done to achieve the private good.

                      Please tell me why I am wrong to suspect that limiting the number of companies receiving licenses will result in either a service-limiting cartel or the same number of cabs as unlimited licensing.

                      I sincerely regret and apologize for my comments about your principles.  I clearly misunderstood you, and my invitation to you to explain the distinction between a prior and pre-theoretical stands.  If that is what is behind your current remarks, I hope we can put it behind us.  On the other hand, if your indignation is just a consequence of my sticking to a public choice approach, then I would ask you to allow me to explain that approach to you before you reject it.  Or if, on the third hand, you sincerely believe I’m arguing circularly and choosing principles out of convenience, then I’ll ask you to be good enough to substantiate your claims rather than making non-specific accusations.

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                    • Please tell me why I am wrong to be skeptical of the claim that regulation of NYC taxicabs was done to achieve the public good instead of being done to achieve the private good.

                      You’re not wrong to be skeptical. That’s entirely warranted. Christ a mighty, man, it’s not like I deny that corruption occurs. What this discussion has shown me tho is that on your terms, any evidence presented in favor of interventionist public policy can be defeated as being question begging, conceptually mistaken, factually incorrect, the result of corruption, too vague, when compared against the conceptual ideal derived from a priori first principles not from evaluating real world situations and real world causes and effects. I mean, on the view your currently promoting, it’s just a necessary and a priori determinable fact that no broadly liberal policy has ever, not even once, achieved any successes whatsoever! That just seems laughably absurd to me.

                      Please tell me why I am wrong to suspect that limiting the number of companies receiving licenses will result in either a service-limiting cartel or the same number of cabs as unlimited licensing.

                      Look James, the purpose of the initial legislation was to limit the number of cabs! If it didn’t limit the number of cabs, it wouldn’t be the legislation that it is. And as a matter of fact, numbers of cabs were limited. Now here’s the dispute between us: you seem to think that restricting the number of cabs is necessarily an unjustified use of governmental power in an of itself. And that the consequences of artificially restricting the number of cabs will necessarily lead to worse outcomes than otherwise. And you think these things for a priori reasons. And James, this is where the koolaid stuff comes in: a deep commitment to the universality of a priori principles in radically different empirical contexts is a sure sign of koolaid consumption. And the evidence for your having drunk too much is apparent. You deny countervailing evidence because on your view, what would otherwise be contextually relevant distinction are rendered meaningless and subsumed under the a priori theory. The only reason the evaluation of empirical evidence matters at all to you at this point is to show that empirical evidence doesn’t matter at all. All government intervention necessarily leads to worse outcomes. Again, I think this conclusion is laughably absurd.

                      For my part, I think the NYC cab situation is a place where the use of governmental power is entirely justified. And for the same reasons as you think it is: maximizing social utility. This is something I think you still haven’t really come to terms with. I mean, why ought I accept your theory of political economy if I don’t think it will maximize social utility on a general level, or if a disagree that applying it in specific situation S will maximize social utility in S? So for me, the issue is whether the Act increases social utility or not. Does it decrease congestion costs? Does it increase cab drivers income? Does it reduce the hours worked for the pay received? Does it decrease the exploitation of workers and decrease the prevalence of price gouging? Does it improve the quality of the cabs on the road? All of those seem like perfectly reasonable social policy goals. Even if bribery and cronyism and restricting the cabs on the road occurs along the way!

                      So here’s my criticism against you: it increasingly seems like you hold your view independently of the evidence, context, historical conditions, institutional inertia, political culture, situational context, etc, real world problems exist in. That is, you compare current reality against an a priori ideal. And because of this you think interventionist policy logically (a priorily!) cannot ever be justified. I mean, this is exactly what you keep harping on in your criticisms of liberalism.

                      So it increasingly seems like you’re expressing the view that it’s an a priori necessary truth that free markets always provide greater utility than the alternative. And I disagree with that. But even if I did agree with you on that, I still think that situational context, prevailing cultural norms, institutional inertia, political possibility, practicality, and a whole host of other factors are necessary considerations for determining what policies ought to be pursued.

                      I don’t expect you to agree me about this, James, but does it convey the reasons for some of my frustration here?

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                    • What this discussion has shown me tho is that on your terms, any evidence presented in favor of interventionist public policy can be defeated as being question begging, conceptually mistaken, factually incorrect, the result of corruption, too vague, when compared against the conceptual ideal derived from a priori first principles not from evaluating real world situations and real world causes and effects. I mean, on the view your currently promoting, it’s just a necessary and a priori determinable fact that no broadly liberal policy has ever, not even once, achieved any successes whatsoever! That just seems laughably absurd to me.

                      Really?  Even though I twice praised London’s congestion pricing policy?  It seems to me that you’re taking my rejection in this particular case to be generalizable to all other cases.  I have no idea what you think justifies that.

                      And of course you didn’t ask me what I thought about licensing cabs per se.  Not limiting either the number of licenses or the number of companies that can receive them, but just requiring a license that is based on some basic requirements such as having insurance, a cab that is in safe operating condition, and a clean driving record.  Given that more often than not people get into cabs with an unknown driver and with whom they will probably never ride again, there is a market problem with lack of good information that can be overcome with a straightforward and relatively non-distorting regulation that I think would certainly qualify as broadly liberal.

                      You are mistaken to think that I was focusing on a conceptual ideal, though.  My starting point was what I have reason to believe the real market was like, compared to what I have reason to believe the real politics were like, neither of them perfect.  Rejecting government intervention in a particular case, and particularly rejecting a particular form of government intervention, does not require an assumption that the market is perfect.

                      you seem to think that restricting the number of cabs is necessarily an unjustified use of governmental power in an of itself. And that the consequences of artificially restricting the number of cabs will necessarily lead to worse outcomes than otherwise. And you think these things for a priori reasons. And James, this is where the koolaid stuff comes in: a deep commitment to the universality of a priori principles in radically different empirical contexts is a sure sign of koolaid consumption. And the evidence for your having drunk too much is apparent. You deny countervailing evidence because on your view, what would otherwise be contextually relevant distinction are rendered meaningless and subsumed under the a priori theory.

                      I don’t understand this at all.  What evidence have you actually provided to show that the outcome of restricting the number of cabs was superior?  You have claimed that social utility increased, but you haven’t actually provided what anyone could truthfully call evidence, that I can recall without reading through the whole thing.  I’m all for evidence.  But in fact I’m not relying just on a prior principles in claiming limiting the number of cabs has negative consequences.  I’m relying on well-developed economic theory which has been richly verified through empirical observation over at least two centuries, and I also provided the evidence of my own experience as a cab driver.

                      I don’t want to go the kool-aid route, but if you’re claiming that I’m drinking kool-aid because I’m rejecting evidence, on what basis can you avoid the same charge?  I think it’s better to just drop that line of argument, as it’s very unproductive, insulting rather than enlightening, and you can’t entirely avoid it’s rebounding onto you.

                      All government intervention necessarily leads to worse outcomes. Again, I think this conclusion is laughably absurd.

                      And, again, you’re inappropriately generalizing from this specific case to the general.  Please read the addendum on this post at my blog, in which I critique Obama’s delaying of new pollution regulations, arguing that if they actually will prevent significant externalities, then he should ignore the short-term economic effect and move forward with implementation.  The issue is not that I’m against all government interventions–the issue is a) that I’m skeptical of all of them (because even when justified in theory, the real-world intervention may turn out badly), and b) in this particular case you have presented both a real-world intervention and a proposed intervention that I find unpersuasive.  But that’s about this particular case, not about all cases.

                      For my part, I think the NYC cab situation is a place where the use of governmental power is entirely justified. And for the same reasons as you think it is: maximizing social utility.

                      Great, we disagree on this.  But I haven’t gone around calling you a kool-aid drinker, have I?

                      This is something I think you still haven’t really come to terms with. I mean, why ought I accept your theory of political economy if I don’t think it will maximize social utility on a general level, or if a disagree that applying it in specific situation S will maximize social utility in S?

                      You don’t have to, but of course I can ask the same question of you–why should I accept your theory if I don’t think it will maximize social utility?  Somehow my refusal to accept your approach is motivated by kool-aid, but your refusal to accept my approach is not?  Come now.  As to specific situations, that’s what we have been arguing about, and I’ve simply been trying to explain why I think in that specific situation the market does maximize social utility–can we not be reasonable people who disagree on that reasonably, without assuming the worst about each other?  Increasingly you seem to believe that we cannot.

                      Does it decrease congestion costs?

                      That’s a good question.  But you’ve just ignored my critique of the congestion argument, which is that it’s a total-car problem, not just a cab problem.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but if you’re so persuaded that I am, surely you can do better than to ignore my critique and pretend I haven’t already made it twice.

                      Does it increase cab drivers income?

                      I object to non-market means for increasing income because it means taking that income from someone else against their will.  Feel free to disagree with me, but don’t pretend there’s only blind ideology to my argument.  I doubt it would be hard to find  examples where you would agree (corporate subsidies, perhaps?), even if you don’t agree on this particular example.

                      Does it reduce the hours worked for the pay received?

                      This is another version of increasing their income.  I actually drove a cab, and I sure would have liked this.  But if we had increased my utility by diminishing someone else’s (by requiring them to pay more for cabs), how can we know if the product of that is a net increase in utility?  That requires that my utility be increased by more than my customers’ utility is decreased.  There’s no means of measuring that, and not really any reason that I know of to assume it would generally be the case.

                      Does it decrease the exploitation of workers and decrease the prevalence of price gouging?

                      If most cab drivers are owner-operators, exploitation becomes a tricky issue.  If by limiting licenses to some number of companies you end up with fewer owner-operators and more drivers who lease their cabs, it seems to me like the likelihood for exploitation has increased.

                      Price gouging is an issue we haven’t touched on yet, and it’s a tricky one.  The potential information asymmetry between driver and passenger (particularly if the passenger is new to the city) is real and makes gouging a real possibility.   On the other hand, price gouging is very hard if there are lots of cabs available.  As a passenger I’ve bargained for cab fares in the U.S. as well as in Syria, but I can’t do it when there’s only one cab around.  As a driver I also had passengers occasionally bargain with me, and it’s worth noting that each time I was willing to accept less than the metered amount.  My personal, as well as professional, opinion, is that meters do more to protect the cab drivers from cheap-skate customers than they do to protect customers from gouging drivers (although that undoubtedly can occur, too).  This is a tricky issue that has no easy answer either way.  It may justify government price-setting, but then we have to–as you insist upon–consider the real world situation, not an ideal, and consider whether we have reason to believe that government will be capable of setting the fares at the proper amount (and who’s going to have more influence in that political debate–the disorganized cab riders or the well-organized cab companies?).

                      Does it improve the quality of the cabs on the road?

                      That’s a point on which we can agree, at least in terms of safety, as I noted above in my licensing proposal.  (We might disagree on what kinds of quality should be improved, and to what degree, but we’ll agree at either end–we’ll both support minimum safety standards, and we’d both reject, I assume, a requirement that all cabs be Rolls Royces; but we can, if we want, have fun debating the middle of that spectrum.)  But I can tell you in good faith that at least in San Francisco the licensing/medallion system did not ensure even minimum cab safety.  In the few months I drove a cab I returned a cab to the shop on three separate occasions, refusing to drive it on safety reasons.  One had ancient windshield wipers that didn’t clear away the rainwater, another had brakes that barely managed to stop the car, and the third had a suspension in such bad shape that at 40 mph I couldn’t keep the car in one lane. And I remember hearing one guy on the radio yelling in panic because his engine had suddenly caught fire while he was on the Bay Bridge and had  nowhere to pull off.  So in San Francisco in the 1980s at least, the licensing system failed at this most basic task.

                      Now, you accuse me of ignoring evidence. But I’ve presented quite a bit of evidence so far, and I don’t see that you’ve actually taken much account of it.  So again, let’s step back from the accusations that can come back to bite us.

                      Ultimately, I’m not going to claim that if you disagree with me on this specific case that you are an ideological interventionist who wants government to intervene in absolutely everything, and so I’m going to respectfully ask you to stop making the reverse claim about me.

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                    • Are you able to deal with the substance of my arguments or not?

                      Apparently not! No matter what I say in response, you deny it’s legitimacy. I say the purpose of the policy is to maximize social utility, which you say can’t be defined; I say certain non economic and instrumental values, you say those haven’t been identified; I identify them and you say they aren’t articulated clearly enough; I articulate them more clearly, you say they can’t be measured; I say they can be measured and you say well sure, those can be measured, but maximizing them will lead to less social utility. Which can’t be defined anyway. You’re whole argument is a circle.

                      Granted, you didn’t say the last thing, but it’s there whether you admit it or not. Why suppose that I ought to adopt a theory of political economy that isn’t justified because of it’s social utility? I mean, even on your view, libertarianism is justified by something, and it’s surely not the intrinsic value of limiting coercion. It’s because limiting coercion leads to a society which maximizes utility. Is it really that difficult to understand?

                      Here’s the thing James: if a society that minimizes coercion also leads to a society with cultural and economic instability (understood broadly), and cultural and economic stability are instrumental values necessary for the expression of other goods, then there are valid arguments against the sufficiency of the libertarian premise. That is, there is nothing necessary about the libertarian ideal, since it’s realization is contingent on a whole range of social arrangements actually being the case.

                      But despite that, it might remain the case that all other things being equal, the libertarian premise is still a good normative principle to employ in policy formation. It’s just that rarely if ever in the real world are all other things equal wrt policy choices.

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                    • Stillwater,

                      I say they can be measured and you say well sure, those can be measured

                      The only one of your social utilities that I have, at least to date, agreed is measurable is congestion.  I haven’t agree to that with the others, so in fact I haven’t played the game with them that you’re claiming I have.

                      you say well sure, those can be measured, but maximizing them will lead to less social utility

                      That’s false; 100% false.  The only one of your social utilities that I have yet agreed is measurable is congestion, and I at no point argued that limiting congestion leads to less social utility.  I twice said I approved of congestion pricing, so obviously I do think we can improve social utility by limiting congestion.

                      What I argued instead was that congestion is not just a cab problem, but a total number of cars problem.  I’ve said that three times previously, and you have not addressed that claim.

                      No matter what I say in response, you deny it’s legitimacy.

                      You haven’t even said anything in response to my argument about congestion being a total-cars problem rather than a cab problem, so it’s not possible that I’ve denied the legitimacy of your response.

                      But it just seems to me a bit much that you criticize me for ignoring evidence, then don’t respond to any evidence I present.  That you object I deny the legitimacy of your response when you haven’t made a response to any of the evidence I’ve presented.

                      … That is, there is nothing necessary about the libertarian ideal, since it’s realization is contingent on a whole range of social arrangements actually being the case.

                      Please stop making this about some grand libertarianism.  You are again extrapolating from my position in this particular case, based on the particular facts of it, in a way that is inappropriate.  You also are ignoring that I explicitly argued for a particular type of regulation in this case, which hardly fits with your suggestion that I’m a rigidly ideological and blind libertarian.

                      Look, I backed down from the “no principles” statement, and I apologize for it.  I misunderstood you on that.  I’m respectfully requesting that you be fair enough to back down from this “ideological” statement and address me where I actually stand.  Will you do that?

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                    • James, I think there are some confusions driving our current animosities. Here’s my effort at getting things back on track. You wrote upthread;

                      Ultimately, I’m not going to claim that if you disagree with me on this specific case that you are an ideological interventionist who wants government to intervene in absolutely everything, and so I’m going to respectfully ask you to stop making the reverse claim about me.

                      I think that’s the problem here. Wrt the conversation I’ve been having with you, I don’t either agree or disagree with you about the policy specifics. I don’t care about the policy specifics.

                      I’m not arguing for interventionism generally. And I’m certainly not arguing for intervention in the specific situation I’ve described, since I’ve managed to bungle most of the details. Most importantly, wrt to what you’re saying in the above comment, I’m not arguing for one policy over the other. Christ, why would I, I don’t know a damn thing about it! I threw that stuff out there as examples of the way intervention could satisfy the initial conditions that motivated the policy. But I make no claims to being a policy analyst.

                      What I’ve been arguing for is a set of sufficient conditions that would in principle justify government intervention. That’s it. I was making a case that government intervention can be justified. And maybe you don’t disagree so much with that claim as I thought, given the mis-interpretation of your comments. At least, your comment about using market mechanisms instead of outright regulation to promote certain values suggests as much. And I’ve already said that I agree market based mechanisms are better than outright regulatory mechanisms. On my view, that constitutes government intervention.

                      And my comments that libertarianism is inconsistent, etc, were directed at the radical version of libertarianism I thought you were (suddenly and mysteriously)  advocating. Not at the more modest libertarianism you in fact hold.

                      Now, of course, I don’t expect us to agree at this point on all things regulation related. But the point I was and am making is actually really small: that government intervention into markets (of one form or another) can be justified. I misunderstood your comments above (way earlier) to be saying the exact opposite. But you’ve said you don’t hold that view, so the dispute we’re having isn’t a dispute between our views in general, but in specific. And as I said, I have no specific policy views wrt the NYC cabbie situation.

                      I dunno James, does this get us back on track? You’re not arguing the positions I attributed to you; I’m not arguing the position you attributed to me. I think we’re closer on this than the last sequence of comments suggest. And I’ll take the blame here, for not being clear enough in my arguments and for reacting to your comments uncharitably.

                      And actually, last night I was harboring thoughts that marginal libertarianism was a myth, that advocates were nothing more than radical libertarians in moderate clothing. And since I’m warming up to soft libertarianism, I have to admit, that made me sorta sad.

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                    • I’m respectfully requesting that you be fair enough to back down from this “ideological” statement and address me where I actually stand.  Will you do that?

                      Absolutely. I’ll even apologize for it.

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                    • Stillwater,

                      Sorry for the slow reply–I’m deep in end-of-term grading.

                      I do agree that government intervention can at times be justified.  Where I come across as perhaps too harsh is that whenever someone says, “and here is a case that justifies it,” I immediately want to examine the case to see if in fact it does.  That is, I do care about the specifics, because I want to see if the “set of sufficient conditions” actually exists in the particular case.

                      To me that’s important because without digging into the details it’s too easy to make assumptions either for or against intervention.  That is, without digging into the details to very what conditions exist, liberals will too quickly assume from a cursory overview that of course intervention is justified, while libertarians will too quickly assume from their own cursory overview that of course intervention is not justified.

                      As they say, the devil is in the details.  Of course they also say God is in the details.  My interpretation of that is that it’s the details that determine whether you move towards heaven or hell.  Or maybe it just means that God and the devil are one and the same.

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              • Liberty,

                You still fail to provide any evidence for why Microsoft or Standard Oil justified government intervention.  You simply repeat your mantra that they did and expect it to be expected without providing evidence.

                Doesn’t that sound rather like religious faith?

                Above you said you looked forward to reading any evidence supporting my position.  Did you actually read the links I provided, or is your faith too weak to stand the challenge?

                I pointed out the ease with which one can buy non-MS operating systems, and you never have dealt with that challenge to your claim of monopoly; you just repeat that believing MS isn’t a monopoly is a sign of faith.  But faith exists without evidence, while I have provided evidence and you have not?  Who is the religious zealot here?

                The reality is that the received wisdom of the stories of both Standard Oil and Microsoft is false.  But you already know what you want to believe, and you do not have the courage to consider re-examining your convictions.  If you do, try starting <a href=”http://cafehayek.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Microsoft_and_Standard_1.pdf”>here</a>.

                 

                 

                 

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                • Re: Standard Oil.

                  1870: 4% market share; kerosene sells for 26 cents a gallon; Sandard’s refining cost was 3 cents a gallon.

                  1885: 80-85% market share: kerosene sells for around 8 cents a gallon; Standard’s refining cost was .45 cents a gallon.

                  Petroleum output increased from 840 million gallons in 1880 to 2.6 billion gallons in 1897, even though Standard Oil had close to 90% market share.

                  The problem with monopolies is that they restrict output to drive up prices and don’t invest in improving products and processes.  Both those things hurt consumers.  But obviously Standard Oil did not restrict production, and obviously they invested in improving the efficiency of the refining process.  Both of these actions were good for consumers.

                  Because it failed to invest in the Texas oil boom and was slow to switch to production of gasoline, by 1907 Standard Oil’s market share decline to 68%.  By 1911 it was down to 64%.  That was the year the Supreme Court ruled that it was a monopoly.

                  In other words, Standard Oil became big by buying out other companies, most of which were eager to sell out because they weren’t very competitive, and by instituting more advanced production processes which drove down prices for consumers.  But the market remained competitive despite their large market share (else they could have jacked up prices to make a real killing), and almost immediately from the point of their peak their market share began to decline as other companies continued to successfully compete with them.

                  That’s all from the peer-reviewed publication linked to above. Here’s another relevant article.  I encourage anyone curious about Standard Oil to read them.

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          • First, you assert that monopolies are not a frequently occurring problem. I wonder why that is so?

            Because in a competitive market that does not have natural barriers to entry, any market that manages to arise will produce one of two outcomes.  One, it will use its monopoly power to raise prices on captive consumers and choose not to invest in innovation, quality, service, etc, so as to maximize its profits.  In that case, the attraction of those above-normal profits will attract competitors who will come in and offer customers a better deal, eating away at the monopoly’s market share until there is no longer a monopoly.  Two, recognizing the danger of attracting that kind of competition, it will protect itself from that competition by not raising prices, by choosing to invest in innovation, quality, service, etc.–in other words, it will defend its monopoly position by acting as though it does face competition, hence meeting its customers needs.  In that case, the monopoly is not actually a problem.

            This is well established in the economic literature.  Very standard first year stuff.  That’s why I don’t find your challenge very intimidating.

            Whaddaya know- I checked with Google and as it turns out, there’s a reaon why we don’t see a lot of monopolies controlling 90% of a market today. Its the damn gummint.

            Um, no, you found out that there are laws against monopoly in the U.S.  That is not the same thing as finding out that it’s those laws that are actually the primary cause of lack of monopoly.  Assume, just for the sake of argument, that I’m right and that monopolies don’t exist in competitive markets.  Now assume that there are lots of people like you who believe they do and demand laws to prevent them.  In that case we would end up with anti-monopoly laws even though they are not necessary.  So even if you don’t believe I am in fact right, logic dictates that the existence of the laws does not in itself prove the functionality of those laws.

            Or do you think that the reason the U.S. hasn’t been invaded by any country in living memory is actually because we spend more than the next 10 or so countries combine (I found that with google, too!).  Surely it’s not possible that we have superfluous military spending is it?  If so, why not superfluous laws?

            So monopolies, like polio and smallpox, are no longer a “frequent problem”. But at one time, they were in fact a frequent problem.

            No, that’s the popular history of the robber baron era, but it’s factually wrong.  None of those companies ever held an actual monopoly, and while some briefly held an astonishing market share, each of them saw their market share eroded by competition, and in nearly every case the government came in to break them up only after their market share had been dramatically eroded.  For those who look at one brief moment in those company’s history and take that snapshot as the story, it’s easy to pretend they were monopolies.  But anyone willing to go beyond superficial stories and look at the subsequent history of those companies will see that not one of them was able to maintain their market share even prior to government involvement.

            Also, if you go back and re-read that article, you’ll notice that most of the monopolies it mentions were government created and protected monopolies.  That’s far more common than market monopolies, so if it’s monopolies you’re concerned about, you really ought to target government-created barriers to competition.

            The practices I mentioned are the sort of practices Standard Oil resorted to- boycotting 3rd party vendors, bribing and threatening retailers, etc.Are you trying to assert this never happened?

            Boycotting’s totally legitimate.  In a competitive market nobody has a right to your business, and you don’t have a right to anybody else’s businesses.  That’s just not a problem except for those who don’t understand how competition works.  As to “bribing and threatening,” it depends what you mean.  If you mean they threatened violence, that’s out of bounds of what’s considered legitimate free market competition. If by bribing you mean they said, “we’ll give you a better deal than they’ll give you,” and by threatening you mean they said, “if you buy from company X we won’t do business with you anymore,” then, no, I do not have a problem with it.  The free market means the freedom to determine with whom you’ll do business on what terms, and if the terms offered aren’t satisfactory, to take your business elsewhere.  Just as free markets don’t allow for violence, they don’t require niceness.

            And, seriously, on the history of Standard Oil, that’s a company that was successfully primarily by being far more efficient than any other company.  See <a href=”http://cafehayek.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Microsoft_and_Standard_1.pdf/”>here</a>.   It’s a source that’s a bit more respectable than merely googling.

            Second, there are no such animals as ”competitive” markets as they are outlined in economic textbooks; all real world markets have some sort of anti-competitive distortions. So anyone who demands proof of something occurring in a “competitive market” is asking, “Can you demonstrate examples of True Scotsmen beating their wives?”.

            Yes, markets are imperfect.  That’s hardly the knockout punch you imagine it to be. First, being imperfectly competitive is not at all the same as being non-competitive.  You seem to assume a binary variable, competitive/non-competitive, when in reality it’s a continuous variable with an infinite range of variation from very greatly competitive (biscuits-and-gravy breakfast joints) to not too terribly competitive (diamond wholesaling).

            Second, to what are you comparing these real-world markets?  It’s clear you’re not comparing them to real-world government, but to an idealized–textbook–version of regulation.  All real-world regulatory systems create distortions as well.  When you’re ready to look as critically at government as you do at markets–that is, when you are ready to have an honest discussion–let me know.

            Third, you seem to be saying that even when monopolies develop, the marketplace automatically and naturally counterbalances them out.

            Yes, and I’ve explained why above.  You, on the other hand, have made assertions about the ability of monopolies without providing any explanation of how a business in a real-world competitive market can manage to hang onto a monopoly.

            This is the essence of libertarian and socialist faith. That is, the fervent belief in a system of laws and mechanisms that will be self-regulating, so perfect and pure that intervention is never needed.

            Here you’re once again being the type of asshole that substitutes a strawman for reasoned debate.  You cannot read the discussion we’ve had so far and come to the conclusion that I’m saying intervention is never needed.  Very bluntly, I despise dishonest assholes like you because you don’t have the decency to refrain from lying about your opponent’s position.  I’m not even going to pretend to be polite about this because I’m sick of this damned dishonest framing that too many liberals pull.

            All libertarian and socialist dogma begins with “If we do this, then that will occur.” These hypotheticals are rigorous in their logic, except they are not grounded in any real examples or observable data beyond theory.

            Well, the first part is true of your beliefs as well.  “If we do regulation, then better outcomes will occur,” so I’m not sure how you find that a justifiable criticism.  Your second part is just wrong.  I mean flat out empirically wrong.  So wrong it’s prima facie evidence that you have made absolutely no real effort to understand this topic about which you are pontificating. Here are some case studies for you to start with, on one <a href=”http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FE/FE54400.pdf”>deregulation of trucking</a>, one on <a href=”http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_3.htm”>rent decontrol in Massachusetts</a>, and one on <a href=”http://www.taxi-library.org/indianap.htm”>deregulation of taxicabs</a>.

            Don’t argue with me anymore until you’ve actually given them an honest read.

             

             

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            • So let me see if I got this straight.

              You point  is that monopolies don’t exist, and if they do, then, competition naturally erodes them without government intervention.

              Which proves my point, that we are dealing in religious faith here, not rational thought.

              For all the readers of this thread, cast aside the fact that 90% of us are participating via a Microsoft product- pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Instead, lets drill down into the weedy thickets of arcane theory, follow countless links to detailed and longwinded analyses and I will prove to yu that you in fact have a wide variety of operating systems to choose from.

              When someone can wave away the textbook example of monopoly and successful government intervention with a haughty “look beyond the superficial” its obvious that the real subtext is “who you gonna believe, your own lyin eyes or my beautiful dogma?”

              I guess I could use your logic in all sorts of creative ways.

              Communist dicatorships have never existed, or if they did, they naturally eroded over time, so it is silly and pointless to struggle against them.

              Note for example, the Soviet Union- by the time Reagan engaged against them, they already had nearly collapsed, so really, it was the invisible free hand of something or other that destroyed them, not Reagan and Thatcher.

              In your willingness to let the Darwininan forces of the marketplace be the ultimate arbiter of the allocation of power you flatly contradict the underlying wisdom of the Founders, which was that power is a dangerous thing, and needs to always be counterbalanced.

              This is not any form of conservatism, but is a dangerously radical form of fundamentalism, replacing the “Dictatorship of the People” with Dictatorship of the Market”.

              Which is why I say, scratch a libertarian, you find a socialist.

               

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              • Liberty, you’re obviously not interested in an honest discussion, but only in scoring ideological points.  That’s a shame.

                cast aside the fact that 90% of us are participating via a Microsoft product

                Curiously, you cast aside the fact that it’s tremendously easy to access a non-Microsoft product, and that one can as easily buy an Apple and post from it as one can from a PC, as well as ignoring that one can download for free a linus-based operating system.  But you’ll ignore those facts about the easy alternative choices consumers have, which prove how little capacity MS has to coerce people into buying its products, in favor of  focusing solely on the standard of 90%.  OK, but don’t ask thoughtful people to be impressed.

                When someone can wave away the textbook example of monopoly and successful government intervention with a haughty “look beyond the superficial” its obvious that the real subtext is “who you gonna believe, your own lyin eyes or my beautiful dogma?”

                Just how anti-intellectual are you, anyway?  The request that you look beyond the superficial is a request that you use your own eyes more carefully.  If you’re afraid to look more deeply at the details, that’s a lack of intellectual courage, not a sign of strength of knowledge or conviction.

                Note for example, the Soviet Union- by the time Reagan engaged against them, they already had nearly collapsed, so really, it was the invisible free hand of something or other that destroyed them, not Reagan and Thatcher.

                Not that the example actually has much relevance to the discussion (thanks for the non-sequitur, I guess), but in fact my colleague in our history department who is an expert on Russia argues that in fact the collapse was predominantly internal, and had little to do with Reagan and/or Thatcher.  But to know that you’d have to go beyond the superficial reading of events, which you express a disinclination to to.

                Which proves my point, that we are dealing in religious faith here, not rational thought.

                Which proves my point that you’re not interested in an honest dialogue.  A person interested in actual debate, instead of just scoring points, doesn’t make claims like that.  In fact your whole comment is very superficial; it provides no examples or arguments in support of your position, nor does it try to explain any errors in my example.  Instead of dealing with the actual empirical evidence and the sources I gave you (which, as I recall, you falsely claimed to be interested in reading), you respond with nothing of any substance at all.

                When you’re ready to respond substantively, with real examples beyond the exceptionally dubious MS one (there’s no monopoly problem when it is ridiculously easy to access an alternative at a reasonable price), then I’ll be willing to have a serious discussion with you.  But you really need to check your ideological rantings at the door before I can begin to think of you as an honest intelligent adult worth treating respectfully.

                 

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              • Yes, guilds are a cartel.  As to government enforcement, I’d guess of the top of my head that it depends on where and when we’re talking about.  Absent government it would be possible in some circumstances for guilds to self-enforce through violence (smashing the equipment and burning the shops of competitors, for example).

                I don’t think government should enforce guilds, but that would probably be an improvement over self-enforced ones.  The threat of violence is just as real, but would more often remain potential than active, and the state’s violence against “illicit” competitors is likely to be more restrained than the violence of self-enforcers (although not inevitably so).

                But heavens, I’m arguing that a government intervention might not be as bad as the non-government situation!  Apparently I’m not allowed to do that (or at least no matter how often I do it I’ll still be accused of opposing all government intervention, anywhere, anytime, for any purpose).

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                • rofl. okay, so we’ve figured out that you’re willing to agree that monopolies were commonplace — just not in the 1800’s.

                  Awesome!

                  Thanks for factchecking some of us crazy libs on this site.

                  (and then you get into the really stick situations like the Mafia, where the “shadow government” is doing its own enforcement…)

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                  • so we’ve figured out that you’re willing to agree that monopolies were commonplace

                    Well, I don’t know about “commonplace.”  But if so, only through violence, not through market competition.  And the tendency for people to resort to violence to make the gains they can’t make in market competition is why I’m not an anarchist.

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