Libertarian Follies

At The Y Files, Cathy Young writes:

Most Democrats who support choice on abortion also seem to believe that Americans aren’t smart enough to manage their retirement or their children’s daycare and schooling. They support not only greater government reach into the economy but their own version of government-imposed morality (through workplace diversity measures, for example).

It’s my impression that most democrats and lefties realize that being smart is not an absolute guarantee against needing help at retirement. Even smart people can be hurt by bad investments, bad decisions or bad luck. The delusion that poverty is primarily caused by stupidity is the province of smug libertarians (see: Murray, Charles), not Democrats.

That said, I think it’s also the case that stupid people are more likely to wind up poor than smart people, all else held equal. So what? Stupid people don’t have less of a need to eat in retirement. Saying “smart people will all successfully plan for retirement,” even if it were true (and it’s not), would still be no answer to the question of what to do about elder poverty.

I’m not sure what “workplace diversity measures” means. Is it just affirmative action, or is Cathy also referring to laws making it illegal to fire people, or refuse to hire them, based solely on their race? I disagree with her either way.

The flaw in Cathy’s thinking – and in the thinking of most libertarians – is that she mistakenly writes as if the government were the only possible threat to freedom. In fact, the government is only one of many threats to freedom.

“Freedom,” as libertarians use the word, never seems to mean anything other than freedom from government intrusion. Real freedom, however, means having a wide range of attractive options. When someone’s options are eliminated by the marketplace, by illness, or by lack of available assistance, that is as real a threat to their freedom as government intrusion.

When a black person has their economic opportunities reduced by widespread racism in the marketplace, that is a more significant threat to their freedom than when the daughter of a wealthy person has to pay estate taxes.

When someone too old to find work has no money, that is a far more significant threat to their freedom than high marginal income tax rates are for the freedom of well-off people.

The inability of libertarians to understand this is why they don’t understand that a poor, untaxed person who has nowhere to sleep but under a bridge, is in fact less free than a well-off person faced with the tyranny of reasonable government regulations or even the horror of progressive tax rates.

Edited to add: Okay, that last paragraph was unfair – possibly even as unfair as “Democrats seem to believe that Americans aren’t smart enough to manage their retirement….” is. I don’t mean to say that libertarians are heartless, or that they don’t understand at all that poverty can limit freedom. But I do think that libertarians massively overestimate the tyrannical effects of mild government regulation and taxes, and massively underestimate how constraining of freedom discrimination and the marketplace can be.

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94 Responses to Libertarian Follies

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  5. 5
    Brandon Berg says:

    I understand this point perfectly, and I think many (but by no means all) other libertarians do, too. I suspect that, in general, the economic left is at least as guilty as economic libertarians when it comes to not understanding the arguments of the other side.

    I’m not saying that you’re attacking a strawman, since there are libertarians whose argument is little more sophisticated than this, but you are attacking one of the weaker versions of the case for libertarianism.

  6. 6
    Grace says:

    But Cathy’s paragraph does make precisely that argument. She conflates two things that are completely different: moral freedom and economic freedom. For moral freedom, the government just has to butt out. Get out of the bedroom, don’t look over my shoulder at the library computer, let me make my own decisions that affect only other consenting adult individuals. But for economic freedom, the government has a role: in mitigating the tyranny of the market and ensuring, at the very least, equality of opportunity and a safety net to keep innocent citizens from starving to death. Someone working for $5.15 an hour is not free to save for retirement; they’re spending their whole income on rent and don’t have enough left over for food and heat, let alone savings. Someone working three jobs is not free to make unfettered decisions about their children’s education; they don’t have the time, money and expertise to send their kid to private school or home-school it, or even to make a completely informed decision about those options.

  7. 7
    pbg says:

    The basic difference is, in the realm of ideas, restraint from interference is all that’s needed–while in the realm of money, power also plays a part.
    Predation is part of economic life, and you not only have to be smart (as in prudent), you have to also be able to defend yourself.
    A GM employee could be seen to make a prudent life-choice to work for the big company and retire with a good pension–until GM decides to take back elements of that pension.
    That’s not lack of intelligence, that’s lack of power. (unless you get into the juvenile “Well, they should have been smart enough to know not to trust GM, and smart enough to become millionaires and put their money into bullion.”)
    Democrats know that people are smart, and they know that part of that intelligence is to supply muscle against the forces that can squash people’s lives.
    And anybody sufficiently smart would see that protection against predators is part of planning for retirement–and that collective protection is the only one that makes sense.
    The problem is that many libertarians view America as being peaceful and predator free–or worse, that the only predators are Eevil Gummint. Anybody who’s brushed the fangs of the health-care industry knows different. Without power, even the clever, resourceful and virtuous in this society die impoverished and alone, and that is what Democrats get that libertarians do not.

  8. 8
    PDXNAG says:

    On retirement:

    Suppose the federal laws governing pension trustees prohibited them from investing in any entity that exceeded 25 million dollars in value. This would put the stocks that are traded on the major stock exchanges off limits. The public purpose would be to acknowledge that an economy that is dynamic is better than one that is stale. It would reduce one of the barriers to entry, access to capital, to the great displeasure of folks who favor monopoly, regardless of whether that monopoly is publicly owned or privately owned.

    The inverse, that of effectively restricting access to capital to all entities that are not traded on the major exchanges, is the net effect of most retirement regulation. This distortion of access to capital from individual savings is being repeated for medical savings accounts and college savings accounts. The progressives, those folks that hate both capitalism and monopoly except when they themselves are the owners, go along through the team effort of state treasurers.

    Limiting the size of the entities to which pension trustees may invest would slap back at monopoly both against rich individuals and against the increasingly adventurous progressives. It would slap back at the phony baloney stuff the spews from CATO as to savings. When credit rating folks offer their little thoughts on states as to the “funded” level of public employee pension schemes the sole focus is the exertion of power to transfer local tax dollars, and local savings, into a river of cash that flows to wall street. This is hardly part of a small government philosophy. It is economics, Albania style.

    I do favor a dynamic and efficient economy, based on decentralization and choice. I do see that the aggregation of management of savings into fewer and fewer hands is about as vibrant and free as a Soviet era five-year plan. But hey, I’m only The Wild Economist, what would I know?

    Any vote to subsidize wall street or to subsidize empire-builder-state-treasurers is about as anti-capitalist as one could get. It is also about as un-egalitarian and inequitable as one could get as well. Your choice in the present scheme is limited to picking from two alternative slavemasters.

  9. 9
    Decnavda says:

    The flaw in Cathy’s thinking – and in the thinking of most libertarians – is that she mistakenly writes as if the government were the only possible threat to freedom. In fact, the government is only one of many threats to freedom.

    The flaw Amp attributes to “most” libertarians is more specifically their belief that the powers outside of government that Amp fears were not created by governments themselves. Corporations are fictional entities created by the government. Landlords are created by the government using force to exclude some people from parts of the earth. Heirs are created by the government enforcing the wishes of the dead on the living. Restraints against abuses of power by the wealthy and massive “redistributions” (really predistributions) of wealth can be justified without violating any libertarian principles, and in fact honoring them better than the right-libertarians who have unfortunately captured the term “libertarian” in present-day America.

    Moral freedom and ecconomic freedom ARE inseperable, however moral freedom does not lead to the ecconomic outcomes that right libertarians think they do.

  10. 10
    Rad Geek says:

    Someone working for $5.15 an hour is not free to save for retirement; they’re spending their whole income on rent and don’t have enough left over for food and heat, let alone savings.

    I don’t understand this argument.

    People who make $5.15/hour are already forced to turn over 6.2% of their wages to FICA and another chunk to the state and federal government in tax withholding. The FICA withholding is, according to the government’s accounting fictions, “saving for retirement” in the form of funding Social Security and Medicare. So presumably if there were no FICA (or better, no tax withholding at all) they could voluntarily put aside up to 6.2% of their wages for savings in an IRA and be no worse off than they were before.

    You might say, “Oh, but if they wouldn’t put aside that money if they’re not forced to, because they have all these other pressing costs that they need to pay now.” There are certainly cases where that’s true, but it doesn’t follow from that that being forced to put the money aside is the best thing for them. Having lived on around $5,000 a year myself (due to a combination of low-paying jobs and long-term unemployment), I can tell you that when you don’t have enough money to spare for savings, being forced to put the money aside anyway has a direct consequence: debt. If (ex hypothesi) I’m being forced to put aside money that otherwise could have paid off current bills, then those bills still have to be paid off somehow, and when I don’t have the money now, that means they have to go on the card. And the debt accumulates a lot quicker than whatever “returns” I’m supposedly getting on my “investment” in Social Security and Medicare.

  11. 11
    Decnavda says:

    Amp, could you please consider using the term “right-libertarian” when making arguments that apply primarily to them? I realize that simply saying “liberarian” is probably clearer both in your mind and to most of your readers, however:

    1. Outside of the U.S. the term libertarian has generally not refered only to those with a right-wing conception of property rights, and left-libertarians are gaining greater prominence in the U.S. as well. For example, a major figure in the worldwide left-libertarian movement, Philippe Van Parijs, has recently taken over John Rawl’s former chair of political philosophy at Harvard.

    2. Allowing the right libertarians to control the use of the term “libertarian” is a major victory for right libertarians specifically in making the possibility of left-libertarianism seem oxymoronic, and a victory for right-wing ecconomics generally in America, where concern for individual liberty is such that anytime the debate is framed as individual liberty versus government regulation or redistribution, those on the side of regulation or redistribution are going to lose.

  12. 12
    Rad Geek says:

    “Freedom,” as libertarians use the word, never seems to mean anything other than freedom from government intrusion. Real freedom, however, means having a wide range of attractive options. When someone’s options are eliminated by the marketplace, by illness, or by lack of available assistance, that is as real a threat to their freedom as government intrusion.

    This is a common misunderstanding (and there are a number of libertarians, even, who encourage it by their practice). “Freedom” in the political sense that libertarians use it doesn’t mean “freedom from government intrusion;” it means “freedom from violent coercion” (hence the “non-initiation of force principle”). Government comes into the picture only when libertarians go on to suggest that government officials don’t have any special prerogatives to violently coerce peaceful people any more than ordinary civilians do. (But this entails — though vulgar libertarians don’t tend to recognize it — that systematic violence such as lynch law in the Jim Crow South, or union-busting gang violence, or pervasive male violence against women, are just as much matters for libertarian concern as invasive government is.

    Nor do most libertarians claim that this is the only thing that can be intelligibly described as “freedom,” or that it’s the only valuable form of freedom, or even that it’s the most important form of freedom to any particular person at any particular time. What libertarian theory does demand is that you not try to promote other forms of freedom at the expense of freedom from violent coercion, because forcing people against their will to be “free” in other senses is (1) unlikely to work well, or (2) immoral, or (3) both. (Which one of these options the libertarian appeals to will vary depending on what kind of libertarian she is.)

    (More to say, but it’ll have to wait until after work…)

  13. 13
    Jake Squid says:

    The problem, Rad Geek, is that in the US those libertarians who are visible to those of us non-libertarians hold, espouse & publicize the views that Amp is responding to. Granted, in Washington state the Libertarian party also endorsed SSM, but they also hold the stereotypical right wing economic positions.

    I’m curious about the “state created landlords” thing mentioned earlier. Are libertarians against landlords? I figured, based on the vocal libertarians in the US, that if you wanted to rent out your property that is just fine but that it would be better if there were no governmental interference with how/to who you rent. More details, please.

  14. 14
    alsis39.5 says:

    Rad Geek wrote:

    I can tell you that when you don’t have enough money to spare for savings, being forced to put the money aside anyway has a direct consequence: debt. If (ex hypothesi) I’m being forced to put aside money that otherwise could have paid off current bills, then those bills still have to be paid off somehow, and when I don’t have the money now, that means they have to go on the card. And the debt accumulates a lot quicker than whatever “returns” I’m supposedly getting on my “investment” in Social Security and Medicare.

    Well, following that line of reasoning, it’s obvious to me that all we need to do to save SS forever is to enlist MBNA and its fellows to lobby on our side. After all, if SS is helping them tempt struggling wage slaves toward their magnificent 23.99% interest slices of Heaven, credit card orgs, banks, and their brethren in the predatory lending industry have a vested interest in keeping the program alive. Unfortunately, that would also mean that they have a vested interested in keeping the taxation system which feeds SS as regressive as it is now, but you can’t have everything… ‘Scuse me. I need to get Harry Browne on the phone…

  15. 15
    Decnavda says:

    First, it was me, not Rad Geek, defending left libertarianism.
    As for the landlord thing, while their are many types of both left and right libertarians, the step that crosses one from right to left is in dealing with natural resaorces, such as land, but also including oil, minerals, air, broadcast spectrum, etc. Libertarians mostly all agree that property can arise from labor – if you make it, it’s yours. But who created land, ect.? No living human, that is for sure. Right libertarians think that property from land can arrise from discovery, use, or just being the first to assert the claim. Left libertarians think that each person has a natural right to use of the entire earth, or at least an equal share. Asigning property rights in natural resources may be practically necessary to prevent people from interfering in each other’s use, but those denied their fair share of resources should at least be compensated by those with more, and reasonable restrictions on use may be premissible as long as the point of the restrictions is to allow the greatest use by all. The government enforces all of this by sending guys with guns to arrest “treaspassers” when the exclusive rights of the “owners” of natural resources are violated.

  16. 16
    PDXNAG says:

    Loaded words are inherently hard to use in analysis.

    The spectrum of beliefs about the proper role of government is too broad to be reduced to a small list of loaded words. It would not capture the notion that holding one set of beliefs, momentary understandings, does not also mean exclusion of other competing and conflicting beliefs. I look upon libertarianism as a description of a set of concepts rather than of political alignment. Self-labeling by any group is odd, in that it seeks to weaken debate by substituting the weight of the number of followers for the rigor of reason and debate.

    Thus there are no “libertarians.” Jake Squid’s point is clear:

    in the US those libertarians who are visible to those of us non-libertarians hold, espouse & publicize the views that Amp is responding to.

    There are folks who only claim to represent Libertarian views.

    Restraining the exercise of monopoly power is a notion that should overlap with most common labels, from Liberal to Capitalist to Free Market to [everything but the monopolist themselves]. In economics the notion of the extraction of economic rent is bad, never “good.” It represents the absence of freedom of the consumer to obtain reasonably priced goods and it is the absence of an effective opportunity for competitors to enter the market to offer the goods at a lower price. Only a mis-self-labeled Libertarian would openly promote reducing the individual liberty of the masses to serve the liberty of one to extract economic rent. It is all relative. Protection of oil monopolies, under the notion of the free market and so-called Libertarian ideology, is just one example of mis-labeling of ideologies for political ends.

    It feels like we are living a perpetual masquerade ball where we take head counts of the most popular labels, costumes, rather than summarize and describe the actions and beliefs of the folks behind the masks.

    “Freedom,” as libertarians use the word, never seems to mean anything other than freedom from government intrusion. Real freedom, however, means having a wide range of attractive options. [Amp]

    I say unmask the impostor, as you have.

    Decnevda, assume that natural resources have no inherent value only a potential value when used to meet the demands of consumers. There is a notion even in the Mining Claims Act that the resource that is claimed must be put to use, implicitly meaning that it reaches consumers rather than be horded so as to prevent delivery to the market. The value of the resources is determined in the market by the aggregation of demand by the ultimate consumers. I suppose your “left” libertarian could form a consumer cooperative and designate a party to perform the extraction of the resource, or act in like manner to a horder by preventing the resource from reaching the market. A capitalist would say that the market itself is the most efficient way to assign a value to the resource, based on consumer demand. [Pardon me, I just used a mask as an identifier, oh well.]

  17. 17
    Decnavda says:

    I agree resources only have potential value to user and no inherient value, as well as that the free market is the most efficient way to determine the value of resources. The question is who do we, as a society, assign as the initial owner? A left libertarian believes that it should be all of us equally. In theory, that means that the rights to extract the resources should be auctioned, and the proceeds distributed equally to all. Practically, there might be more efficient means of taxation to capture the fair market value of the resource, and possibly better ways to use the money to increase everyone’s freedom than simply dividing it up, but the auction/division is the ideal. Whether the actually extraction is done by an individual, corporation, or co-op does not matter inheirently.
    I would also agree that everyone’s views just are what they are and should be assessed on their merits, and that lables are primarily used for political purposes. But politics matters.

  18. 18
    djw says:

    Real freedom, however, means having a wide range of attractive options.

    I don’t disagree, but you don’t even need to go this far to reject libertarian conceptions of freedom. A less controversial conception of freedom might be “the absense of arbitrary interference/domination.” That can come from the state or from various private/civil society sources. We need a strong civil society to keep the state in check, and vice-versa. The goal is to craft a state has the powers and limits and institutional design best calibrated to fend off to fend off the twin threats of imperium (state domination) and dominium (private domination).

  19. 19
    John Howard says:

    I like your defense of stupid people. Being stupid doesn’t mean you deserve to have bad things happen to you, yet often people have no compassion for someone if they can just call that person ‘stupid’. It’s not just money, but also health issues, like getting a girl pregnant just shows he’s an irresponsible idiot, therefore we don’t need to worry about that happening.

    Another related thing is when people blame parents for doing a bad job making sure their kids aren’t watching porn on the internet or staying away from drugs, as though blaming the parent somehow stops the kid from being harmed.

    I have always hated the way smug Libertarians think that calling people stupid somehow gets their policies off the hook for all the damage they cause.

  20. 20
    Grace says:

    Sorry, I should have been a lot clearer – I was assuming that the libertarians’ fantasies had been granted and that there was no Social Security or any other form of government safety net, but that people making minimum wage were expected to scrimp and save for their own retirement entirely unassisted. Someone who could actually accomplish that feat wouldn’t be “smart”, they would have magic powers. Especially because if the libertarians had their way, there presumably wouldn’t BE a minimum wage, so they’d be working for even less.

  21. 21
    Robert says:

    What porti0n of the workforce remains at minimum-wage level for the duration of their working lives? (Some 50+ years at this point for most folk.)

    I used to get the minimum wage. In high school. And then later, after the dot com collapse, I got the minimum wage again. In neither case was it a permanent condition.

  22. 22
    Brandon Berg says:

    Grace:
    97% of the US work force makes more than minimum wage, and half of those who don’t are under 25 and/or part-time workers. 1.1% of full-time (40+ hours per week) workers and 1.8% of people 25 and over make minimum wage or less. You’re not expected to save for retirement while making minimum wage, because you’re not expected to make minimum wage for your entire life.

    If you do, you’ve failed. You had your chance, and you blew it. Then you had another chance, and you blew that one, too. And almost certainly several more. It may take magic powers to save adequately for retirement on minimum wage, but it doesn’t take magic powers to get a job that pays more.

    Also, the problem with Social Security (one of them, anyway), is that it isn’t a safety net. It’s a dragnet.

  23. 23
    alsis39.75 says:

    If you do, you’ve failed. You had your chance, and you blew it. Then you had another chance, and you blew that one, too. And almost certainly several more. It may take magic powers to save adequately for retirement on minimum wage, but it doesn’t take magic powers to get a job that pays more.

    Thanks, Brandon. I’m going to put this on a banner when I do my lecture tour entitled “Why I Will Never Embrace Libertarianism.”

  24. 24
    Decnavda says:

    I simply do not believe Brandon’s 97% number. Where does it come from? And does it include:
    1. Undocumented workers
    2. People making minimum wage in states and localities where the minimum is higher than the national minimum
    3. People making more than the current national minimum, but less than what the national minimum would be if it had been indexed to inflation when established at its current level?

    I actually agree that eliminating the minimum wage would be a good policy, but only AFTER the establishment of a subsistence level basic income.

  25. 25
    alsis39.75 says:

    I suppose it would be too much to hope that the suits who decide what “subsistence” means would have to live as “subsistence” citizens for a few months. You know, so they can see whether it really elevates one’s character or not. >:

    I need to learn to stay off threads like these. Given my own prospects, they inevitably end up giving me nightmares that would put Wes Craven to shame. >:

  26. 26
    Robert says:

    According to the BLS, in 2004 about 2.7 percent of hourly workers earned minimum, which comes to about 1.6% of all workers. So Brandon’s figure is conservative. Figures on undocumented workers are nonexistent, naturally. To the best of my knowledge, nobody collects statistics on the what-ifs Decnvada mentioned.

  27. 27
    Decnavda says:

    Forcing the people who decide what “subsistence” means to live on that income for a few months would be a great idea, just as it would probably be a great idea to force the people who currently decide what the minimum wage is to live on that for a few months. While we are at it, could we force the people who currently decide what should be given to SSI, TANF, and Food Stamp recipients to live off of THAT for a few months? A lot people seem to think my clients live in mansions and drive cadilacs.

  28. 28
    Decnavda says:

    The BLS also does not include my 2nd category, which includes, for instance, California, with one out of every eight Americans. Part of the reason for the what-if number 3 is that the salaries of many people working just barely above the minimum are also determined by the minimum. So anyone who gets a $0.10 per hour raise after working the minimum for six months is no longer a minimum wage worker, but it is highly likely that they would not be earning the current minimum if the minimum did not exist.

  29. 29
    Robert says:

    So anyone who gets a $0.10 per hour raise after working the minimum for six months is no longer a minimum wage worker, but it is highly likely that they would not be earning the current minimum if the minimum did not exist.

    Why did they get the 10 cent raise?

  30. 30
    Decnavda says:

    They got the ten cent raise because it is cheaper to pay the extra 10 cents an hour than to hire and train another worker at minimum wage, and the raise makes any other job the employee could get – at minimum – a reduction in pay. Without the minimum, both the new employee wage and the trained employee wage could be lower and have the same effect of locking in trained employees.

  31. 31
    Brandon Berg says:

    Decnavda:
    You’re right—I hadn’t considered the effect of state minimum wages, nor had I considered that there might be a bulge in the distribution at a level trivially above minimum wage. I couldn’t find data that detailed for hourly wages, but here’s what I found on an annual basis:

    Exhibit A: For workers 15 years and older who worked at full-time jobs and who worked for 50 weeks or more, 15.3% made less than $20,000 in 2004, and 7.4% made less than $15,000. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that this category consists of workers who were employed for at least 50 weeks and who worked at a full-time job at some point during the year (i.e., they didn’t necessarily work full-time for the whole year).

    I realize that this excludes those with unstable employment, who probably have lower wages, but this is the best I can do with the data I have.

    Exhibit B:
    Some characteristics of households in the lowest income quintile (which tops out at $18,500):
    -58.9% are non-family households (with 94% of these being one-person households).
    -37.9% are headed by people over 65, and 9.8% by people under 25.
    -59.5% had no income earner. In only 16.9% did the householder work full-time for more than half of the year (of those who worked full-time year-round, only 7.4% were in the lowest quintile).
    -49% own their own homes (Not really relevant, but still interesting).

    Alsis:
    Cute. But the mere fact that you find it objectionable doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

  32. 32
    Decnavda says:

    Thanks Brandon, the numbers from A are closer to what I expected. The numbers in B are interesting, but I am not sure how they impact our discussion. And I think they argue against your “You blew it” theory. If roughly one in seven citizens blow their life’s chances, maybe we should rethink the chances we are giving them. But I suppose that’s a subjective judgement that cannot be strictly proven with numbers.

  33. 33
    Rad Geek says:

    Brandon Berg:

    If you do, you’ve failed. You had your chance, and you blew it. Then you had another chance, and you blew that one, too. And almost certainly several more. It may take magic powers to save adequately for retirement on minimum wage, but it doesn’t take magic powers to get a job that pays more.

    Whether this is true or false, it’s irrelevant.

    There is some population, greater than zero, of people who, whether for reasons that are culpable or reasons that are blameless or a mixture of the two, will make wages at or not very much above minimum wage their whole lives. Whether or not this makes them “failures,” whether or not it makes them bad people or foolish people or contemptible people or pitiful people, they are going to get old and they are going to reach a point in their lives where it will be very hard for them to continue working, and if they have neither accumulated savings nor a pension (gov’t issued or private), then they are going to suffer a lot in their old age.

    But that doesn’t mean that they deserve to suffer, or to suffer that badly, whatever you may think of how they have lived their lives. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that a free society could — indeed ought to — include things like mutual aid for health, retirement, etc. needs in old age, charity for people facing extreme poverty, and so on. The only requirement is that people can’t legitimately be forced to turn over money for it. That’s what’s wrong with government “welfare” programs, not whatever vices or failings you might think the proposed recipients might have.

    Moralistic contempt for poor people forms no essential part of the libertarian argument against the moral legitimacy of Social Security or other government “welfare” programs. In fact free market economics suggest that an end to government interventionism will help out the people with the worst economic prospects the most, since government intervention and ossified structural poverty systematically hurt poor people and aid the rich. The idea that libertarian theory is the body of economic thought of, by, and for Ebenezeer Scrooge has just got to die.

  34. 34
    alsis39.75 says:

    Uhhh… no, Brandon. Fear of destitution coupled with the fear that some asshole will proclaim a complex problem a mere matter of “blown chances” –thus absolving society of any obligation to do anything for the destitute, isn’t anything close to cute. Unless Sanrio has produced a new line of “Hello Kitty, Street Person” toys and I missed it. >:

  35. 35
    Lanoire says:

    Moralistic contempt for poor people forms no essential part of the libertarian argument against the moral legitimacy of Social Security or other government “welfare” programs. In fact free market economics suggest that an end to government interventionism will help out the people with the worst economic prospects the most, since government intervention and ossified structural poverty systematically hurt poor people and aid the rich. The idea that libertarian theory is the body of economic thought of, by, and for Ebenezeer Scrooge has just got to die.

    Interesting, RadGeek. I just want to say that I appreciate your comments, because I’ve just recently discovered libertarianism that isn’t of the “conservative statism but with a side order of pot-smoking and legalized prostitution” variety, and am trying to learn more about it.

  36. 36
    Robert says:

    What RadGeek said.

  37. 37
    Jake Squid says:

    In fact free market economics suggest that an end to government interventionism will help out the people with the worst economic prospects the most, since government intervention and ossified structural poverty systematically hurt poor people and aid the rich.

    Have there been any real world examples of this?

  38. 38
    Rad Geek says:

    Jake Squid: Have there been any real world examples of this?

    I’m not sure what you’re asking for. Real world examples of government intervention and ossified structural poverty hurting poor people and aiding the rich? Sure, lots. Kleptocratic government is a pretty well-known phenomenon, both in the U.S. and abroad.

    Or real world examples of the benefits of free markets for the worst-off? Well, sure; but it’s harder here because there are so many different cases to consider and because there isn’t any way to quantitatively compare actual state-distorted markets with counterfactual free markets under otherwise equivalent circumstances, or actual free markets with counterfactual state-distorted markets under otherwise equivalent circumstances. But here are some examples of ways in which freer markets would help the worst-off more than the better off: by ending the “War on Drugs” (which imprisons and destroys the lives of lots of people, usually the worst-off people, because the best-off people rarely take the fall); by stopping police harassment of women in prostitution; by ending agricultural subsidies that systematically subsidize huge planters and agribusiness to the detriment of the rural poor; by drastically reducing food prices currently inflated by those same agriculture subsidies and price floors (which matter more to the worst-off than to the best-off); by repealing the (regressive) payroll tax, thus directly increasing poor people’s income by a greater percentage than rich people’s; by removing regulations and red tape that systematically constrain small competitors against established corporate players; etc. There’s a lot of different ways in which government intervention harms the poor, and a lot of different ways in which prosperous free markets tend to help the worst-off most of all (N.B.: as opposed to pseudo-prosperous mercantilist markets of the sort that bond traders and politicians like to promote). I realize this hasn’t clarified very much but I’d really probably need a more specific question to give a better illustration or explanation.

  39. 39
    Jake Squid says:

    Rad Geek,

    I guess what I’m asking is… Are there any real world examples of a free market unfettered by government intervention? All the examples that you give are possible with the same amount of government intervention in a free market economy – you’d just have to have a government with economic policies matching those that you have named. IMHO, you can never have a pure free market economy. Even if it were possible, I have less faith than you in the ability of a free market to counteract the worst we see in the freest market economies that we see now. I’ve never understood how monopolies are prevented in a free market economy, for example.

    I guess it comes down to two things for me (with my current knowledge). First, I don’t see the possibility of having an economy totally independent of government. Second, I believe that most of the problems that you identify as consequences of government intervention that exacerbates the problem of the poor would be solved by taking the money out of elective politics (publically financed campaigns, no accepting of gifts by elected & appointed officials, etc.). In short, I don’t see how the promise of Libertarian economic theory is any better than that of non-privately financed electoral politcs managed economy theory (if you can understand what I mean by that last label) & I’m trying to understand why Libertarians think that a freer market would be best.

  40. 40
    Robert says:

    Jake, the best example of a nearly-pure free market out there was Hong Kong.

  41. 41
    Brandon Berg says:

    Rad Geek:
    Whether poverty is the result of bad luck or bad behavior is a very important factor in deciding how to deal with it. If the poor aren’t responsible for their lot—if the only difference between them and us is luck—then maybe income redistribution isn’t such a bad idea. On the moral side, it’s not their fault. And on the practical side, there’s not much moral hazard. It’s not as though subsidizing bad luck is going to encourage people to be less lucky.

    But if the poor are poor due to bad behavior—things like dropping out of school, getting involved with drugs or crime, not showing up for work, or having chlidren before they can afford them—then things are different. Morally, it is their fault. And practically, incentives matter. When you subsidize bad behavior, you get more of it. When you pay people to have children they can’t afford, more will. When you promise to give people money in retirement, they’ll save less. When you pay people not to work, fewer will. Policies that mitigate the effects of bad behavior are much more costly than those that mitigate the effects of bad luck.

    And my point isn’t that people who fail to fulfill the basic requirements of successful adult living deserve to have something bad happen to them. It’s that all this talk about the “tyranny of the market” and how some people can’t be free without massive government intervention is utter rubbish. The primary barriers to escaping poverty in the US today are cultural, not material, and there can be no long-term solution to the problem of first-world poverty that fails to take that truth into account.

    Jake:
    It’s interesting that the first thing that comes to your mind as an example of abuses of the free market is monopolies, yet your solution to this problem is to give even more power to the biggest, most abusive monopoly there is: the government.

    That said, monopolies, by definition, do not exist in free markets. Colloquially, people use the word “monopoly” to refer to a company that has a vaguely-defined supermajority of the market share, but this is both semantically and economically incorrect. It’s very difficult to exercise monopoly power without true insulation from competition, and simply having 90% of market share doesn’t give you that. Can you give an example of an abusive monopoly that wasn’t given monopoly privilege by a government?

    Other than that, the problems with government intervention are legion. Tell me your favorite interventions, and I’ll tell you what’s wrong with them.

    Also, I doubt very much that taking the money out of politics will make things much better. First, if everything is controlled by moneyed interests, then why do we still have a corporate income tax, and why do the rich still pay the highest personal tax rates? Why does something like 70% of the Federal budget go towards giving money away to the lower and middle classes? Anyway, your proposed solution doesn’t address the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs.

  42. 42
    craichead says:

    It’s not so much about smarts or decisions to me. To me it’s more about time and the fact that if we give retirement investments more time everyone would be a lot better off.

    Here’s an idea:

    At birth, every American baby has a 401K type account opened for him/her for $10,000. At an average growth rate of around 7% which can happen, by the time that person is 65, he’ll have around $1.5 million to retire with. Each person would be taxed over his/her lifetime to pay back the original $10,000.

    At current birthrates it would cost around $40 billion/year to get it running, but once the babies hit the workforce it doesn’t really cost anything since the $10,000 gets paid back.

  43. 43
    Jake Squid says:

    Brandon Berg ritted:
    First, if everything is controlled by moneyed interests, then why do we still have a corporate income tax, and why do the rich still pay the highest personal tax rates?

    Ummm, the many deductions & loopholes in corporate income tax law means that many corporations pay little or no income tax at all (Enron, anybody?). There is, effectively, no corporate income tax. Loopholes like the one allowing your company to operate outside the country combined with almost no enforcement budget for the IRS allow corporations to escape nearly all corporate taxes. If you like, I’ll get you the name of a book that details how these taxes are avoided. Different, but equivalent, loopholes in US tax law allow the wealthy to avoid most income taxes as well. It is simply not true that the rich pay the highest personal income tax rate – we have a progressive tax structure on the books but any rich person who wants to can make use of the loopholes. For example, in Oregon in 2000 (or 2001, I didn’t write it down):

    Percent of all income earned by top 2%: 34%
    Percent of all Income Taxes paid by top 2%: 24%
    Percent of all income earned by bottom 98%: 66%
    Percent of all Income Taxes paid by bottom 98%: 76%

    This is reflective of federal income taxes as well. So, while the top 2% of all income earners (and this is reported income, mind you) earn 34% of all income, they only pay 24% of all income taxes. Also:

    Income Taxes as a percentage of Total Income (AGI):
    All Oregonians: 11.3%
    Bottom 98%: 13.1%
    Top 2%: 7.9%

    So effective tax rates aren’t what you think they are. I suggest you look at the data before saying things like that.

    Rad Geek,

    Brandon Berg is a perfect example about why I fear (even more than currently) for the poor under a free market system. People can’t avoid making moral judgements about others and inevitably people will want to see the poor as at fault for their own poverty (we don’t like to believe that it could happen to us, therefore the poor are morally bad or stupid or whatever). That being the case, you wind up with far fewer resources dedicated to alleviating poverty.

  44. 44
    nobody.really says:

    [M]onopolies, by definition, do not exist in free markets.

    Language is infinitely flexible so anyone can define any word to mean anything, I guess. But classical economics uses the word “monopoly” to refer to circumstances wherein the supply of a product is constrained to keep the price above the marginal cost, thereby depriving society as a whole of some potential benefit. Statements like “monopolies do not exist in free markets” suggest a failure to appreciate how the supply and demand curves for different goods differ.

    Classical economics argues that the greatest social good results when we keep producing more of a product until the benefit to be derived from producing one more unit is no greater than the cost of producing that unit. A market with multiple suppliers is sustainable when the marginal cost of each additional item increases, which is often the case. Consider: You’re a farmer with more land than you can cultivate. Which acre do you cultivate first? You cultivate your best acre first – maybe the land with the richest soil, or closest to the water, or closest to your home or equipment, or closest to the rail line for shipping, or some combination of these factors. And if you have opportunity, you might cultivate your second-best acre, also. But, by definition, your second-best acre will not be as good, and you will expect that your cost per bushel of output will increase for that acre. And so on for your third-best acre, your fourth-best, etc. You have “diminishing marginal returns on investment.”

    But what about products that have no diminishing marginal returns? For example, what is the marginal cost to i-Tunes of letting someone copy “Hey, Jude”? Damn near $0. Yet the price is $0.99. Somebody has a monopoly on the rights to “Hey, Jude,” and is choosing to restrict distribution of the song for no other purpose than to drive up the price. Now, maybe this dynamic occurs because of some evil government regulation, but that’s far from obvious to me.

    More generally, wherever the economies of scale exceed the diseconomies of scale, then each additional unit produces will have a lower marginal cost than the previous unit. This “downward-sloping demand curve,” results in a “natural monopoly” – that is, the most efficient outcome can be achieved by having one firm do all the production of a given product.

    Consider a water utility in an area that lacks potable well water. Sure, rival firms could arise, incurring costs to build water-cleaning operations, and then competing to run pipes to each premises. But experience has shown that the least-cost option will arise when the cost of the water-cleaning operation is defrayed among the maximum number of premises – that is, when one firm serves all customers. But then, in the absence of competitors, the monopolist can charge more than its marginal cost, unless government intervenes.

    Many natural monopolies are overlooked because of their small scope. Given the high fuel cost to run a cement truck to a given location, the cement trucking firm that is closest to a job will often have a natural monopoly on that job; no, the firm cannot charge an infinite amount for a job, but it can charge more than its marginal cost. Given the degree of congestion on the electric transmission grid, various electric generators have localized monopolies and can charge above-marginal cost for their services. The local baby-sitter may be able to charge substantially more than she would be willing to accept because she knows that the neighborhood parents are disinclined to drive across town to hire a rival baby-sitter.

    More significantly, natural monopolies can arise in network economics. No one outlawed the beta format for videotape, but the economies of scale that arose when the majority of people adopted a single format proved to be irresistible. A similar circumstance is arguably happening regarding the Windows operating system. The internet has flourished under the umbrella of utility regulation, arguably to everyone’s benefit. Today telephone companies are seeking to extract rents from internet firms – not because the firms cause the utilities to incur greater cost, but because they provide an opportunity to charge above-marginal cost. The idea that everyone should drive on the right-hand side of the road is arguably no better than the idea of everyone driving on the left, and maybe libertarians would prefer that people be permitted to drive wherever they like on the roads, but frequently one idea achieves a monopoly over the other. Naturally.

    And natural monopolies can occur where, as in the “Hey, Jude” example, the marginal cost of production is practically $0. The cost of researching a new drug is great; the marginal cost of producing that drug is small. The cost of building a road is great; the marginal cost of letting people drive on a road is small. The cost of writing a novel is great; the marginal cost of reproducing the books is small. If price were set at marginal cost, the investors would go broke.

    I am not aware of many economists that deny the existence of natural monopolies. Rather, the controversies arise regarding whether government intervention does more good than harm.

  45. 45
    nobody.really says:

    In fact free market economics suggest that an end to government interventionism will help out the people with the worst economic prospects the most, since government intervention and ossified structural poverty systematically hurt poor people and aid the rich.

    I share much of RadGeek’s perspective here; doubtless government intervention can produce bad results. But I am not persuaded that government intervention cannot also produce good results. Where do we find the highest standard of living, lowest infant mortality, longest life expectancy, etc.? And what degree of government intervention do we find in these societies?

  46. 46
    Jake Squid says:

    Whoops. A correction:

    Loopholes like the one allowing your company to operate outside the country….

    Should have been:

    Loopholes like the one allowing your company to operate outside the country with your only foreign holdings being a PO Box & bank account…

    I hope that is a little bit clearer.

  47. 47
    alsis39.75 says:

    nobody.really, I think so far the answer to your question would be in mixed economies like Denmark or Sweden. You know, places where neither the state nor free enterprize has exclusive power.

  48. 48
    Mike Enright says:

    First, I don’t see the possibility of having an economy totally independent of government. Second, I believe that most of the problems that you identify as consequences of government intervention that exacerbates the problem of the poor would be solved by taking the money out of elective politics (publically financed campaigns, no accepting of gifts by elected & appointed officials, etc.).

    This is a dangerous idea. Lets take the premise that funding strongly determines elections. If the government were to fully and exclusively fund campaigns, then the only people who would determine a candidate’s election budget are elected politicians. The conclusion is that currently elected government officials would strongly determine the outcome of future elections. At least the way it is right now, people without connections or power have some chance. In the system you propose, only the governing political elete and those they favor could ever become governing political elete!

  49. 49
    Jake Squid says:

    Mike,

    Publically funded elections mean that all candidates for a position have the exact same election budget as all of their opponents. What is your problem with that?

  50. 50
    Robert says:

    Jake, what happens when David Duke runs for office? How much taxpayer money do you want to shovel in his direction?

  51. 51
    odanu says:

    Robert. One of the cornerstones of public elections is that only candidates with “significant” proveable backing get financed. There is a strong possibility Duke wouldn’t qualify. Granted, this is one of those “devil in the details” issues that usually requires some significant fine tuning.

    Even if Duke did get backing under public finance laws, do you really think that his ideas could stand against more positive ideas on an equal footing? Perhaps more exposure to his extremist ideas would be a good thing, raising the corner on the “racism is a thing of the past” malarkey that keeps getting spread around, and letting us see just how much has been shoved under that particular rug.

  52. 52
    Robert says:

    One of the cornerstones of public elections is that only candidates with “significant” proveable backing get financed….

    David Duke got more than 50 percent of the white vote when he ran for Senate in 1990 – about 32% overall. You gonna tell me that a candidate who can draw a third of the electorate isn’t going to get funding? In that case, it’s completely bogus.

    …Even if Duke did get backing under public finance laws, do you really think that his ideas could stand against more positive ideas on an equal footing?

    Is this a serious question? Which species do we belong to? The one where some of us torture one another for fun, last time I checked.

    Having “but people will be decent in the end” as the backstop against disaster is a less than overwhelming selling point for an electoral system.

    If Duke had gotten state funding, he could very well have won.

    Public financing has to go in one of two directions: either it ends up making it easier for nutjobs to run credible campaigns on the taxpayer’s nickel, or it ends up restricting the candidacies to those approved of by the public financing committee (IE the current government).

    Neither option is even slightly appealing.

  53. 53
    Charles says:

    odanu, David Duke actually did quite well in his LA Senate race, taking a majority of the white vote.

    And yes, I’d rather see even David Duke get public campaign money, since I think that the benefits of publicly financed campaigns for public office would greatly outweigh the distaste of some public money going to odious political candidates.

    Mike Enright’s idea that public campaign financing would be written in such a manner that the current incumbents get to choose who does and doesn’t get financing on an individual basis strikes me as a silly worry in a functioning democracy.

  54. 54
    Charles says:

    I haven’t been able to find funding numbers for David Duke’s senate race, but without those numbers, I think any prognistication on how well he would have done with public funding is pointless.

    Likewise, even with funding numbers, unless he was massively outspent, I’d assume that he did about as well as he would have done with anything except massively outspending his opponent. I’d guess that his positions were about as well known as they could have been, and that he would have needed to blanket the airwaves to have significantly reduced his negatives.

    I’m not sure why the decisions of rich people to financially support or not support particular candidates should be taken as a good protection against horrible candidates like David Duke (and without data, I’m unwilling to assume that that was what protected us from having Duke in the Senate).

  55. 55
    Robert says:

    Me either. (Stupid Google – we demand our perfectly-organized free information NOW!) So yeah, it’s difficult to say with any meaningfulness what the financial picture was.

  56. 56
    Robert says:

    Actually, Charles, I’ve actually been reflecting on this, and I think David Duke is actually the example that we ought to be looking at. Not for the money issues – it’s not important whether government money is what puts a despicable candidate over the top.

    Rather, it’s the fact of compelling support from the public for figures and views they may find deeply repellent. This is an across-the-board issue: everyone has candidates who they would profoundly unwilling to support. I don’t want David Duke to get my money. Barry is an opponent of the Slade Gorton for President ticket. And so on.

    Even worse, being required to have tax dollars aiding a campaign means we are compelling the promotion of political speech. I can think of few non-corporeal punishments more awful for many people. Give us $20 to pay for Pat Robertson’s televised spot on why gay marriage causes global warming, or we’ll throw you in jail. If a private citizen did it, it would be extortion.

    I can see that there are some merits to a publicly-funded system. But this objection seems to me insuperable.

  57. 57
    Charles says:

    If a private citizen did pretty much any of the things a government does, it would be unacceptable (e.g. sieze your house, tear it down, and build a road through it), so that is a non-argument.

    I’d accept a system in which everyone had a refundable tax credit to allocate for political contributions. Now, that would still mean that in some sense your tax money might go to someone who wasn’t paying taxes who would then allocate it to David Duke or the green party, but that is reaching a level of indirection that I can’t begin to care about.

    Another solution would be to allow people to register their names on a list of people unwilling to contribute to a particular candidate, where the candidate’s public funding would be cut by the fraction of the population who registered to object to funding that candidate. I wouldn’t expect that many people to go to the effort of doing this, so I wouldn’t expect it to have much effect, except in the case of particularly famous and particularly odious candidates. Perhaps only people who paid taxes would be able to register, although I strongly prefer a system in which money is allocated on a per person basis, not a per tax dollar basis (although even that would be better than the current system).

  58. 58
    Grace says:

    EVEN if 100% of adult poverty is purely the result of bad decisions made by the individuals themselves, and EVEN if it were morally acceptable to let people starve to death as a result of making bad life choices, what about those children they’re irresponsibly having? It’s not their fault they were born. Is Brandon advocating mandatory loss of custody and state-run orphanages? Doesn’t sound very libertarian to me …

  59. 59
    alsis39.75 says:

    So I guess the Libs wouldn’t be too crazy about the current Voter-Owned Elections in Portland. I personally think that it’s a great idea. If some local David Duke wants to qualify for campaign funding that way, let him. Cockroaches should be exposed to the light of day, because it makes them scurry. We’d be at least as safe having them run under their own banners as we are having them subsumed into either of the Big Two, where their machinations are harder to detect because more “respectable” fans of the same sort of policies are there to soft-peddle them to the public.

    It’s not, in fact, a politician as blunt as David Duke that you’d have to worry about: It’s the stealth racists and sexists who’d doubtless have elaborate codes and sugar-coated terminology for the sort of crap they’d want to enact if elected. I’m guessing those folks would be more common, and more in need of watching, no matter what sort of public financing we ended up with.

  60. 60
    Mike Enright says:

    “Publically funded elections mean that all candidates for a position have the exact same election budget as all of their opponents. What is your problem with that?”

    Do you really mean all candidates? Does that include the libertarian candidate or the green candidate or the candidate from whatever the traditionalist conservative party calls itself these days? Probably not. And how do they determine which primary candidates to fund from the Republicans and Democrats? Everyone who applies. I doubt it.

    Someone above talks about “significant provable backing”. How can candidates from third parties prove or develop backing? They have to spend money on campaigns. But that is precisely what is forbidden.

    People here think that my notion is “silly”. I suggest you look at campaign finance laws as they are right now! Any campaign finance law that treats limits to incumbants and challangers as equals, as I believe things are now, inherently favors incumbants and makes success much more difficult for challangers. I wonder why they would do this? They are protecting their own position. Why would it be any different in the future? Why would we want to give elected polliticians even more power to protect themselves?

  61. 61
    Rad Geek says:

    Brandon Berg:

    Whether poverty is the result of bad luck or bad behavior is a very important factor in deciding how to deal with it.

    Of course it’s true that how you should treat poor people depends partly on the reasons that they are poor — just as the way you should treat anyone depends partly on their virutes and vices. What I deny is (1) that there’s any reason why, if people are poor because they are foolish or bad or failures, we shouldn’t try to provide for some forms of relief for them anyway (because I don’t think that anyone deserves to suffer like that); and (2) that believing (1) or not believing (1) has any bearing at all on the libertarian arguments against the legitimacy of Social Security, TANF, etc.

    If the poor aren’t responsible for their lot–if the only difference between them and us is luck–then maybe income redistribution isn’t such a bad idea. On the moral side, it’s not their fault. And on the practical side, there’s not much moral hazard. It’s not as though subsidizing bad luck is going to encourage people to be less lucky.

    Brandon, this only follows if you think that moral hazard, incentive structures, moral desert, etc. are the only reasons that you shouldn’t rob one person in order to help out another. But I don’t think that: I think that robbing one person in order to help out another is immoral. Not because I have any opinion at all about the virtues or vices or the right way to treat the recipient, but rather because of the way that treats the victim. That’s the essential libertarian case against government “welfare” programs. The rest, whether true or false, is a bunch of policy wonkery, and secondary to the moral question of whether or not you can legitimately force people to go along with your favorite social programs. Isn’t it?

    First, if everything is controlled by moneyed interests, then why do we still have a corporate income tax, and why do the rich still pay the highest personal tax rates?

    Brandon, you are aware that there are forms of taxes other than the personal income tax, aren’t you?

    Why does something like 70% of the Federal budget go towards giving money away to the lower and middle classes?

    … It doesn’t.

    About 19% of the broader budget goes directly to military spending (not counting legacy spending such as veterans’ benefits) and about 9% to repayment of interest on the federal debt. Unless you intend to claim that the rest of the broader budget not devoted to “giving money away to the lower and middle classes” constitutes 2% of the broader budget, it’s not mathematically possible for the Feds to be spending 70% on that.

    It’s worth noting here that the two (by far) largest entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare, at 21% and 14%) that the government maintains are not means-tested and are funded by the regressive FICA tax. Characterizing either program as “giving money away to the lower and middle classes” would be a serious error.

    Jake Squid:

    Brandon Berg is a perfect example about why I fear (even more than currently) for the poor under a free market system. People can’t avoid making moral judgements about others and inevitably people will want to see the poor as at fault for their own poverty (we don’t like to believe that it could happen to us, therefore the poor are morally bad or stupid or whatever). That being the case, you wind up with far fewer resources dedicated to alleviating poverty.

    Jake, if you think “people” (I’m not sure whom or how many you intend to include) “can’t avoid making moral judgments about others,” and that “inevitably,” “people” “will want to see the poor as at fault for their own poverty,” then why do you trust the government to responsibly and adequately provide for respectful, helpful poverty relief?

    The government’s made of people, too, isn’t it?

  62. 62
    Brandon Berg says:

    Rad Geek:
    I don’t like theft any more than you do, but we both know they don’t take that coin here. That’s what this post was about. And the point I’m trying to make is that even if you see institutionalized theft as a morally legitimate means of achieving your goals, it’s still a lousy way to run a country.

    You’re right; I did overestimate a bit. It’s actually a bit over 60%, not 70%. And I should have said “money and other services,” not just “money.” In 2005, the Federal government spent $251B on Health (excluding VA, but including about $30B in research), $299B on Medicare, $346B on Income Security, and $523B on Social Security. Altogether that’s about 61% of the budget. It’s about two-thirds if you exclude interest payments (which IMO you should, because Congress has virtually no control over them).

    Social Security and Medicare aren’t means-tested, but since 95% of the population is in the lower and middle classes, very little of the benefits go to the rich.

    And sure, they’re paid for with taxes which come largely from the middle class, but so what? If the government started mailing checks to everyone making over $100,000 per year, you’d call that giving money away to the rich, wouldn’t you? But that money would be coming mostly from progressive income taxes, wouldn’t it?

  63. 63
    Jake Squid says:

    I trust the government more than the unfettered free market to allocate resources for the poor because there can be laws requiring allocating resources to the poor in a government whereas, by definition, you can’t have those laws in an unfettered free market. Also, government spending is not decided by individuals. Senator X can’t decide that he is putting his percentage of the budget towards building a spaceport on his own. He needs approval of the rest of the Senate & the House to get that done. In Libertarian utopia, Senator X (who would determine only how he spends his own money) could decide to use all his capital towards building Senator X spaceport. There is a big difference between how a representative republic determines resource allocation & how 300 million private citizens determine resource allocation. But I don’t think I’m being really clear about all this now. Perhaps in a week or 28 when I have time to think & clarify I’ll be able to have this conversation coherently.

    Yes, Mike, I really mean all candidates. Usually the criteria for qualifying for public funding for an election campaign is gathering x number of signatures. If you can gather that many signatures, you get funding. End of story. Please go read about publicly financed campaigns. A google search will lead you to the info quickly.

  64. 64
    Rad Geek says:

    Brandon:

    I don’t like theft any more than you do, but we both know they don’t take that coin here.

    My reason for stressing the moral illegitimacy of theft over arguments based on judgments about the recipients, is that it’s true, not that it’s agreed-upon. That said, if you’re really interested in strategically attuning your argument to the audience, I think you’re mistaken if you suppose that you’re going to have an easier time convincing people here to share your views about the poor than you would just trying to convince them that they shouldn’t force people to support their poverty relief programs — even if those programs are noble and valuable. Moreover, the rewards are greater: if you can make a case there, you’ll also have made a case for libertarian politics as a whole; whereas if you make your case based on the qualities of the recipients you haven’t made any case against other forms of forced redistribution, most of which are just as bad if not worse.

    As far as the statistical wonkery goes, you cited federal entitlement programs as a reason to believe that “monied interests” aren’t exercising a heavy influence over politics. But you can’t count Social Security and Medicare spending as examples of the greater influence of the poor and middle class over the government unless they actually tend to financially benefit the poor and middle class at the expense of “monied interests.” But they don’t; if anything fact they are paid out disproportionately to the rich. Of course middle class people are most of the recipients, because nearly everyone is a recipient and most people are middle class. But the higher your annual income (up to the cap, currently about $90,000 / year) the more money is paid out to you, and richer people tend to live longer than poorer people, so the money ends up being disproportionately paid out to well-off people as compared with the elderly paupers the system was allegedly designed to serve. In any case, since the program is a more-or-less universal entitlement program, it can’t be passed off as a class redistribution scheme; the main redistribution of wealth involved is (1) from young people to old people, and (2) from ordinary people to the government.

    Jake Squid:

    I trust the government more than the unfettered free market to allocate resources for the poor because there can be laws requiring allocating resources to the poor in a government whereas, by definition, you can’t have those laws in an unfettered free market.

    Why do you trust the people in the government to make the right laws for tackling poverty, if you don’t trust people outside of the government to make the right decisions of their own accord? Is there any evidence that elected politicians have some kind of special knowledge or virtue that the rest of us don’t when it comes to poverty and the people facing it?

    Also, government spending is not decided by individuals. Senator X can’t decide that he is putting his percentage of the budget towards building a spaceport on his own. He needs approval of the rest of the Senate & the House to get that done. In Libertarian utopia, Senator X (who would determine only how he spends his own money) could decide to use all his capital towards building Senator X spaceport.

    I consider this a virtue of libertarianism, not a vice. If somebody wants to sink their own money into a spaceport, I see no reason why he or she shouldn’t. What I object to is my money being sunk into foolish and destructive projects — or even noble and constructive ones — without my permission.

    As a practical matter, Senators and Representatives get funding for all kinds of outrageous pet projects all the time; most of their colleagues don’t care about the projects that the tax money is going to, but they don’t see any reason to object, since it’s not their money that’s being wasted, and since by logrolling you can get support for your own pet projects in return. If you think that individual people are inclined to do all kinds of stupid things with their own money, why would you think that they are going to be more responsible with other people’s money, when they need only the approval of a few score of like-minded and similarly self-interested colleagues to sink it into any damnfool project they dream up?

  65. 65
    Ampersand says:

    Radgeek, since you’re willing to be here doing Left Libertarian 101 for us, I hope you won’t mind answering a couple of questions: Do you think there should be a government at all? And if so, how should that government be financed?

    (Questions intended to be sincere in tone, not snarky.)

    I’ve been dying to participate more in this thread, but I just haven’t had time. Don’t go away, please. :-P

  66. 66
    Robert says:

    What I object to is my money being sunk into foolish and destructive projects … or even noble and constructive ones … without my permission.

    Hear, hear!

    RadGeek, what do you think of this old idea:

    The Congress sets a general tax rate for the year, and each major department makes a public budget showing their priorities for the year.

    Taxpayers, as part of doing their return, put down the departments they wish to fund with their taxes that year, on a percentage basis. (So mine would look like this: Defense 70%, Transportation 20%, Social Spending 10%, and Amp’s would probably be the reverse.) Then the actual budgetary allotment for each department is what the taxpayers decide – if everybody decides “fuck the TSA”, then the TSA is fucked. Congress can lay out a recommended or default allotment, for those taxpayers who just don’t give a damn and want to be done with it; the rest of us can snub or favor the governmental actions we prefer. What with teh computers and internets and all, the allotment process could probably be incredibly specific – by God, I want every nickel of my taxes to go to the Robert Heinlein Memorial Space Elevator Project earmark in Colorado.

    Of course this isn’t even close to a pure libertarian idea per se, but it does shift some power to the taxpayers, and I’ve seen it kicked around. Be interested to know what you think of it.

    I’ve been dying to participate more in this thread, but I just haven’t had time. Don’t go away, please. :-P

    What he said.

  67. 67
    Rad Geek says:

    Radgeek, since you’re willing to be here doing Left Libertarian 101 for us, I hope you won’t mind answering a couple of questions: Do you think there should be a government at all? And if so, how should that government be financed?

    Amp, I’m an anarchist, so the answers are “No,” and “N/A.”

    Minarchist libertarians do exist, usually either (a) favor some very low level of taxation and try to come up with an excuse for it, or else (b) favor various kinds of schemes for voluntary government funding (donations, lotteries, voluntary “contract fees,” etc.). I think that (a) simply means being inconsistent (because there aren’t any good excuses under consistent libertarian principles), and (b) solves one problem with governments but not others (it makes the funding non-coercive, but not the activities that are being funded; the governments imagined by minarchists still exercise a coercive monopoly over the legal authority to exercise defensive force). In principle there could be minarchist left libertarians (I guess the folks at Freedom Democrats qualify), but as it happens most of the other left libertarians I know (Roderick, Kevin Carson, MDM, et al.) happen to be anarchists too. I’m not entirely sure what the reasons for the disproportionate anarchist tilt is, although I suspect it has something to do with the Left’s greater historical willingness to turn its skepticism towards the cops, the military, and other supposed forces of Law & Order, which means knocking the last leg out from under the minarchist state.

    Robert:

    … Taxpayers, as part of doing their return, put down the departments they wish to fund with their taxes that year, on a percentage basis.

    Well, that would be better than what we have, in that it gives people more power over how their money is used and would serve as a powerful roadblock to sustaining unpopular and expensive programs. I think that the standard moral objections would still apply: people have a moral right to refuse to have any of their money committed to any government project, if they want, because the government hasn’t got the right to take it. But if there were a realistic political proposal on the table for moving from our current system to one like this, which is less invasive and lets people choose less destructive uses for their money, then I’d support that as a provisional step along the way towards freedom. (I feel the same way about other reformist measures that give people more control over the gov’t, such as term limits, voter initiatives, etc.)

  68. 68
    Robert says:

    I’m not entirely sure what the reasons for the disproportionate anarchist tilt is…

    Pragmatism? Left libertarians know that they’re not going to get their wish. (Well, we all know we’re not going to get our wish, but lefties more than most folk.) They have absolutely no expectation of having to govern (or to not-govern) so they can be intellectually pure at no cost. Hell, might as well be an anarchist then. The drugs are just as good, and you can hate the mailman for being a tool of the fascist state.

    Right libertarians expect to be part of governing coalitions, at least intellectually, and so have to compromise their positions. I’d be a right anarchist if I was in (say) Sweden and knew that my right-libertarian leanings had no chance of ever being the norm.

  69. 69
    nobody.really says:

    Taxpayers, as part of doing their return, put down the departments they wish to fund with their taxes that year, on a percentage basis.

    At last, pure corruption! Why monkey around with bribing politicians when we can simply replace the principle of One Man/One Vote with One Dollar/One Vote? Who needs shady characters like Jack Abramoff when everyone is his own special interest?

    Among the myriad problems with this idea is the Tragedy of the Commons: Where you have private actors making individual decisions about how much to sacrifice for the public good, you create an incentive for people to stint the public good in favor of private benefits. Why would I vote any money for national defense when I can vote for a new construction project in my district instead? Heck, let people like Robert pay for national defense.

    By the second year of such a system, civic-minded people like Robert would become appalled at the dwindling contributions to national defense and would allocate 100% of their tax dollars to that purpose. Civic-minded people like Amp would become appalled at the dwindling contributions to public welfare and would allocate 100% of their tax dollars to that purpose. Why are all the contributions dwindling? Because uncivic-minded people like me are enjoying the free ride provided by Robert and Amp while voting for things that provide narrow benefits to themselves.

    So thank you kindly, Robert, for spending your tax dollars to shield my ass. And thank you kindly, Amp, for spending your tax dollars to remove a homeless nephew from my doorstep. And you can both thank me for spending my tax dollars to provide tax breaks for people with my initials. What’s not to like?

  70. 70
    nobody.really says:

    On anarchy: Rousseau spoke of a “state of nature” in which people would be free to pursue their interests unperturbed by the state. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But if you want to be free to pursue your interests unperturbed by your neighbor, things get trickier. For that purpose, a state can be really handy.

    See, the Big Guy tends to get his way regardless of what anyone else says. If that happens to be you, great. Otherwise, you may be tempted to join with your neighbors to form a “Bigger Guy” to resist the Big Guy. Yeah, where you and your neighbors don’t agree on things you might need to compromise, which kinda screws up the whole “pursue your interests unperturbed by your neighbor” thing. But you figure you can compromise up to the point where you’d be better off dealing with the Big Guy all alone.

    Which leads to Anarchy Rule #1: A “state of nature” means living subordinated to the Big Guy, whereas society means living subordinated to – and yet hopefully helping to steer – the Bigger Guy. But in neither case do you get to pursue your interests unperturbed by your neighbor. The State does not deprive people of this kind of freedom; this kind of freedom never existed.

    This is not an entirely philosophical proposition, because we can make observations. In real states of nature, real primates tend to live in more or less hierarchical groups. Similarly, we can study how humans live in the absence of functioning governments. Consider Beirut during the long civil war, or Bagdad today, or life outside the walls of medieval villages, or on the high seas or deserts or in the arctic before the days of air travel and radio. To be sure, social norms can arise prescribing a measure of hospitality to strangers even in the absence of governmental enforcement; indeed, both the Inuit and the Bedouin are famous for this. But these norms are insufficient to keep some percentage of the population from taking advantage of the vulnerable. And this fact depresses social interaction and investment to a huge degree.

    So, Anarchy Rule #2: Where anarchy exists, it’s expensive. Yeah, pirates added a lot of drama to the world of shipping, but have you checked out how much shipping has increased as piracy has declined? Sure there was something romantic about the open frontier of the Wild West, but it’s hard to dispute the direction of property values since then. Maybe you don’t need a Haitian police force if you can afford your own private security force, but have you checked the GDP of Haiti recently? I’m not disagreeing that something intangible is lost when civilization arrives. But something tangible is gained, and in a big way.

  71. 71
    Rad Geek says:

    Robert:

    Pragmatism? Left libertarians know that they’re not going to get their wish. (Well, we all know we’re not going to get our wish, but lefties more than most folk.) They have absolutely no expectation of having to govern (or to not-govern) so they can be intellectually pure at no cost.

    Robert, that’s may be a good explanation for a number of the “small government conservatives”-cum-libertarians who have drifted in and out of the movement over the past 20 years; but it’s complicated by the fact that most of those folks don’t accept the intellectual arguments for anarchism, either, so if pragmatic considerations are figuring into their beliefs it has to be on a subconscious rather than explicit level.

    Objectivists, on the other hand, are both stridently opposed to anarchism and also at least as pessimistic about electoral politics as most left libertarians are, so it doesn’t seem like this explanation will cover the whole field, anyway.

    nobody.really:

    Why would I vote any money for national defense when I can vote for a new construction project in my district instead?

    Please. Are you seriously suggesting that submitting the question to the legislature serves to curtail pork-barrel spending? Have you examined the riders on any major spending bill lately? The problems you cite are problems inherent in any system whatsoever in which people have to decide how to allocate money to public goods, including systems in which those people are legislators with constituents to bribe. Making it so that the issue is decided by people who bear none of the costs of their decisions makes it more likely, not less likely, that useless or destructive pork will be put through.

    And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But if you want to be free to pursue your interests unperturbed by your neighbor, things get trickier. For that purpose, a state can be really handy.

    You need to be clearer about your terminology here. Anarchist libertarians aren’t concerned with whether or not you can “pursue your interests unperturbed by your neighbor.” They’re interested in whether or not you can peacefully pursue your interests without coercive interference from your neighbors. A stateless society can exist peacefully with or without internal hierarchies (in the church, in neighborhoods, in families, etc.), as long as those hierarchies are not violently enforced on peaceful dissenters. I’m a member of the anti-authoritarian left wing of anarchism, so I happen to think that most of those hierarchies ought to be undermined (because they are bad in their own right and also because I think authoritarian cultural structures tend to encourage coercion, even if they don’t entail it). But you don’t have to agree with me about that to be an anarchist; you just need to agree that people ought to be free from the violent enforcement of social hierarchies so long as their “disobedience” isn’t violating anyone else’s rights.

    This is not an entirely philosophical proposition, because we can make observations. In real states of nature, real primates tend to live in more or less hierarchical groups. Similarly, we can study how humans live in the absence of functioning governments. Consider Beirut during the long civil war, or Bagdad today, or life outside the walls of medieval villages, or on the high seas or deserts or in the arctic before the days of air travel and radio. To be sure, social norms can arise prescribing a measure of hospitality to strangers even in the absence of governmental enforcement; indeed, both the Inuit and the Bedouin are famous for this. But these norms are insufficient to keep some percentage of the population from taking advantage of the vulnerable. And this fact depresses social interaction and investment to a huge degree.

    You could, and people have, used exactly the same kinds of lazy arguments to try to prove that patriarchy, xenophobia, war, rape, torture, etc. are all “natural” and “inevitable” rather than products of specific cultural and political orders. I do not accept those arguments there, and I do not accept them here. Even if you think that there are good ethological or evolutionary reasons to believe that humans are naturally predisposed towards coercive hierarchies (I don’t, but that’s neither here nor there) that does not prove that cultural changes can’t overcome whatever natural predispositions you think that we’re born with, and it doesn’t prove either that we don’t have a moral duty to make those cultural changes. If we were all predisposed to rape or burn down other people’s houses whenever we could get away with it, we’d have a moral obligation to do whatever we need to to counteract that tendency, not just pass it off as the commandment of Nature.

    Where anarchy exists, it’s expensive. Yeah, pirates added a lot of drama to the world of shipping, but have you checked out how much shipping has increased as piracy has declined?

    You’re aware that a substantial number of pirates during the 17th and 18th centuries were commissioned government agents, aren’t you?

    As for the rest, it can be summed up in two rules:

    1. Statist Rule #1: if there are coercive hierarchies in a society, the people at the top of those hierarchies will tend to disproportionately dominate the State apparatus just as they do all the other social power structures. Thus, giving a monopoly on physical force to the State tends to amplify oppression and immunize it from criticism, not to curtail it. Whatever vices and follies you think most people are prone to, there is no reason (other than various theories of “natural aristocracy,” “divine right,” etc., which I doubt you’re ready to endorse) for you to think that those vices and follies won’t show up at least as often in the people who exercise effective control over the government as they do in the general run of the populace. And if they are invested with a monopoly on territorial power, the bad effects of their vices and follies will be magnified in proportion to the size, power, and reach of the government.

    2. Statist rule #2: if you have multiple warring governments vying for control of a territory, you have civil war, not anarchy. Anarchists don’t want multiple warring pretenders to State power; they want no pretenders to State power at all. However, trying to pass off creatures of the State as if they were “anarchy” is often an effective way to discredit anarchism to those who aren’t paying attention, so you can expect statists to do this as often as possible.

  72. 72
    nobody.really says:

    Are you seriously suggesting that submitting the question to the legislature serves to curtail pork-barrel spending? Have you examined the riders on any major spending bill lately? The problems you cite are problems inherent in any system whatsoever in which people have to decide how to allocate money to public goods, including systems in which those people are legislators with constituents to bribe. Making it so that the issue is decided by people who bear none of the costs of their decisions makes it more likely, not less likely, that useless or destructive pork will be put through.

    I am seriously suggesting that some people will be free riders if you let them. I am seriously suggesting that air has gotten cleaner not because people spontaneously and voluntarily decided to refrain from polluting, but because people collectively decided to regulate pollution. Are you seriously suggesting otherwise?

    What does “pork-barrel spending” mean? I refer to “pork” to mean spending that I think is not motivated by the best interests of the nation/the world. Yes, much of Congress’ spending arguably fits into that category. In contrast, pretty much ALL of my spending does. So it is far from clear that the general welfare is promoted by leaving all such decisions to private actors such as me.

    A stateless society can exist peacefully with or without internal hierarchies (in the church, in neighborhoods, in families, etc.), as long as those hierarchies are not violently enforced on peaceful dissenters.

    Great. And what happens when hierarchies are violently enforced?

    [P]eople ought to be free from the violent enforcement of social hierarchies so long as their “disobedience” isn’t violating anyone else’s rights.

    Generally I understand “rights” to refer to an individual’s ability to call upon the power of the state to protect her discretion from intrusion by others. In the absence of the power of the state, what does “rights” mean? When someone intrudes upon them, what should happen?

    You could, and people have, used exactly the same kinds of lazy arguments to try to prove that patriarchy, xenophobia, war, rape, torture, etc. are all “natural” and “inevitable” rather than products of specific cultural and political orders.

    In the entire history of the world’s cultural and political orders, how many have been devoid of patriarchy, xenophobia, war, rape, torture, etc? Whether or not you call these conditions “natural” or “inevitable,” I find it difficult to believe that any society can long endure that does not take these practices into account.

    I do not accept those arguments there, and I do not accept them here. Even if you think that there are good ethological or evolutionary reasons to believe that humans are naturally predisposed towards coercive hierarchies (I don’t, but that’s neither here nor there) that does not prove that cultural changes can’t overcome whatever natural predispositions you think that we’re born with, and it doesn’t prove either that we don’t have a moral duty to make those cultural changes. If we were all predisposed to rape or burn down other people’s houses whenever we could get away with it, we’d have a moral obligation to do whatever we need to to counteract that tendency, not just pass it off as the commandment of Nature.

    Agreed. And I suggest that part of fulfilling that “moral obligation to do whatever we need to do to counteract that tendency” is to band together to oppose people who try to rape or burn down houses. And I suggest that when people band together they need to make certain decisions collectively, and then they need to enforce those decisions. How ’bout you?

    1. Statist Rule #1: [power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.]

    Agreed. I merely suggest that people wield power with or without a state. Patriarchal families are hierarchies, too. If I want to abuse my kids, who’s gonna stop me? How does the absence of a state promote the autonomy of my kids?

    2. Statist rule #2: if you have multiple warring governments vying for control of a territory, you have civil war, not anarchy. Anarchists don’t want multiple warring pretenders to State power; they want no pretenders to State power at all.

    Acknowledged; anarchists don’t want pretenders to State power. I did not mean to suggest otherwise.

    But again I ask, what are anarchists prepared to do when pretenders to State power arise?

    I largely agree that “government” is just a bunch of people, and all the normal human foibles remain when people form governments. But I also observe the converse: The foibles of governments are largely the foibles of people. Thus “warring governments” are just people – people with an inclination to dominate, or to obey, or whatever. What are we gonna do about them – whether or not they call themselves a state?

    Resistence to hierarchy can arise from a desire to promote freedom of conscience and diversity. Yet I can’t help feeling that many utopian ideals are founded on the denial of that very impulse. For if people are truly free, then I fully expect to find people living in a broad variety of ways – including some who will choose to live violently and oppressively. If you believe that free people will somehow naturally conform to YOUR preference for avoiding violence and oppression, I must humbly suggest that you are denying freedom and diversity.

    I acknowledge diversity. Because I acknowledge it, I acknowledge that some ways of living are simply incompatible with others, that we need some means of resolving conflicts, and that we need some means of enforcing those resolutions. If that makes me a “statist,” so be it.

  73. 73
    Decnavda says:

    The definition of a “libertarian” theory of justice is that it contains, at its core, a belief in self-ownership. Each individual is a self-owner and may not initiate the use or threat of force against another individual. This is compatible with 3 levels of government.
    1. Anarchism – None
    2. Minarchism – government should only exist to prevent and redress harms that citizens do to each other
    3. A Rights Respecting Government – government is contrained only by the same requirement to respect rights that individuals and other groups are. government provided pensions and health care are not necessarily problematic, it is the morally of their funding we need to inquire about.

    A right-libertarian believes that the first use or occupency of natural resources creates absolute and eternal property rights in the place or thing used. After that, the property may only be ailienated morally with the consent of the proper owner. Any deviation from the above makes one a left-libertarian. Typical deviations include the common ownership of natural resources, the belief that property rights end with the death of the owner, or the belief that property rights end when use ends (ie no absentee landlordism).

    A utilitarian right libertarian is a minarchist or anarcho-capitalist who does not think that taxes and coersion are wrong, just wasteful, and that the free market will always be better for everyone than government interference. A utilitarian left libertarian might be someone who agrees about the free market versus government, but factors in marginal utility effects and demands an unconditional universal basic income at the highest rate taxion will sustain.

  74. 74
    Sergio Méndez says:

    Nobody Really:

    Concerning your argument about pollution…it may be true that the state has promoted laws to clean air…but will air be cleaner in the first place if the state hasn´t favored oil cartels and big buisness industries who contaminate it?

  75. 75
    Charles says:

    Sergio,

    Who exactly would have stopped the industries from polluting at the maximum rate possible other than the government? And yes, even in places where the government doesn’t favor industries, the industries still pollute. Only when you reach the level of anarchy and chaos where it is pointless to try to build a factory because some one will tear it down for scrap metal do you stop getting polluting industry, and even then the smaller scale industry pollutes. Everyone tries to externalize their costs (often in the hopes that they can externalize them into oblivion rather than with full knowledge that they are dumping them on someone else), and lots of externalized costs end up as pollution. And if you think that I’m totalizing or universalizing when I say everyone externalizes their costs, find me someone who converts their CO2 back into O2, and who decompresses their foot steps as they walk through a forest.

    I was once an anarchist, but I’m finding myself in complete agreement with nobody.really. Anarchist principles are good cautionary principles to use as limitations on statist power, and they are good guidelines for running small to middling groups, but there are too many questions concerning the structuring of larger groups that they can’t meaningfully answer, or that they answer incorrectly.

    Nobody.really pointed out that there are always people who behave badly in the absence of government force, some of whom form the worst sort of tyrannical mini-governments. This doesn’t require any sort of innate predisposition to do so or anything along those lines, it merely requires a recognition that no community is ever successfully at completely inculcating all of its members with its beliefs and principles. People are capable of coming up with a very wide variety of ways of acting, and behaving horribly and seizing other people’s stuff can be an effective method of surviving. People who come up with it are able to make a mess of the lives of everyone around them, and are often enough able to push the culture over into one in which their behavior is acceptable. So, what do you do to stop that?

    The anarchist response seems to be that you should form temporary voluntary associations for the purpose of doing violence to those who would do violence to others, and that is okay as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. It is easy for such an idea to lead directly into clan warfare, where we do violence to you because you did violence to us and back and forth. Also, temporary voluntary associations of violence aren’t as effective as trained soldiers, so if one sub-group gets onto the kick of doing violence for power, it will quickly be better than most of the voluntary temporary associations that try to put it down. Finally, voluntary temporary associations arise on the basis of the perceived need, which leaves open the possibility of gaming that perceived need.

    Creating a permanent structure for how to handle violence, who gets to handle the violence, etc, produces a more stable situation, where when my neighbor decides to take my stuff, I know who to turn to, and I know with reasonable certainty that the powers that be will side with the one who has the legitimate right to the stuff.

    Obviously, the powers that be often end up being tyrants, but the question of how to prevent them from becoming tyrants (or how to stop them from being tyrants once they become them) is not really answered by saying let their never be powers that be in the first place.

    How, under anarchist principles, do you prevent the rise of tyrants? How do you prevent the development of clan feuds?

    In relation to taxes, it seems to me that taxes, when used in either an egalitarian redistributive manner to balance out developing inequalities, or when used to purchase public goods, or both, are one of the things that serve to reduce power imbalances which lead to governments becoming unjust servants of entrenched non-governmental power, and therefore they seem to me to be a good which should be balanced against ownership rights. The worse a state becomes, the more taxes have to be coerced, but in a fully functioning state, I think most people view their taxes as merely an inconvenience and at best as a fair trade of fees for services. However, fully voluntary taxes lead directly into a collective action problem, where everyone’s individual actions for their own minor benefit lead to everyone being worse off. This is why very few organizations have fully voluntary membership fees.

  76. 76
    Rad Geek says:

    Charles: How, under anarchist principles, do you prevent the rise of tyrants?

    Shoot them. Jesus.

    If your objection to anarchism is that it does not provide magic wands for resisting evil, then anarchism stands guilty as charged. But so does statism: magic wands like that don’t exist, and given the abattoir that was the 20th century, I hardly think that the State has a very good historical record of providing people with the means to stop relentless tyrants.

  77. 77
    Robert says:

    It isn’t that anarchism doesn’t provide a magic wand for resisting evil, RadGeek, it’s that the solutions to evil that will arise organically under anarchism are the seeds of the state.

    Which is how we got into this mess in the first place.

  78. 78
    Rad Geek says:

    As a further note on my brusque earlier reply.

    Many of the common lines of criticism against anarchist theories succeed only by holding anarchy and anarchists to higher standards than the State or statists are held to. The line of how anarchists intend to stop tyrants (petty or grand) is one of them. Nobody in the world, anarchist or statist, has a perfect theory of how to resist oppression; democratic states, republican states, aristocratic states, constitutional monarchies, absolute monarchies, grand empires, humble city-states, stateless societies (medieval Iceland, medieval Ireland), etc. have all, at some time or another, fallen into tyranny or into civil war; have been conquered in war; have systematized and ritualized forms of violent oppression by one class or caste or sex over another. Revolutions fail; societies decay; things fall apart. Judging from the results of the late unlamented century, most of the powers that be don’t even have a good theory of how to stop that: hundreds of millions of people were murdered because major powers engaged in tyranny and imperial warfare, civil war, terror famines, and genocide, and because even when they were not actively doing these things themselves, they were either powerless or unwilling to do anything to stop the others. So while these are reasonable questions to ask of any theory of social life, a bit of recognition that the topic is hard and that it’s unfair to hold any theory to the standard of needing a complete solution to the problem of evil, would go a long way.

    That said, here are some things that anarchists typically stress.

    (1) For just about any form of successful oppression, it’s hard to see how introducing the State will dampen the problem rather than amplifying it. If there is a discernible ruling class then it’s a matter of course that they’ll have disproportionate power over the apparatus of the State; if you have a centralized Leviathan that is able to assert and enforce its claims to sole authority then that means a corresponding increase in the capacity of oppressors to violently enforce their will over the oppressed. Without a central state, there is no guarantee that the oppressed will be able to successfully resist the aggression of oppressors, but when a central state with unchallenged police power, military power, intelligence capabilities, etc. is systematically turned against them, the prospects are correspondingly much bleaker. You might say, “But look, what that means is that the oppressed should have access to state power so that they can defend themselves. Wouldn’t that be great?” But then you need to (1) figure out how they are going to get it (magic won’t do) and (2) how whatever means help them to get it (organizing, moral agitation, cultural change, nonviolent resistance, etc.) wouldn’t work just as well, or better, if it were focused on direct action rather than on trying to influence or take control of government decision-making bodies.

    (2) As a strategy for resisting potential new forms of oppression, a Leviathan state also seems like a risky strategy at the very best. Tyrants very often solidify their tyranny by taking over centralized structures of power that were already in place; it’s much harder to build an effective tyranny from scratch than it is to consolidate power over existing police, intelligence, military, etc. forces and then to turn them to your ends. In anarchy, any projects or organizations for self-defense are voluntary, decentralized, and don’t claim a monopoly on legitimate authority; that means that if a tyrant tries to subvert the existing structures there aren’t institutional barriers to withdrawing from them and setting up new ones that aren’t subject to her or his will. Under territorial states, no such option is available: there’s only one target that needs to be seized, and once it’s seized, the subjects of the state can’t do much of anything about it. The “stability” of an organized power structure is only a virtue if that power structure is, on the whole, benevolent; if it’s malevolent then the last thing you want is for its hegemony to be stable and unchallenged. The problem is how to protect yourself from the malefactors once you’ve already ceded your ability to resist back when times were allegedly good. Actually existing states don’t have a very good record on this count.

    (3) To be quite frank, nearly no State in all of recorded history (certainly not the United States, for one) could seriously be claimed to be a bunch of ordinary people banding together to protect themselves from marauders. The band of slavers and genocidaires who founded the U.S. government, to take one example, were pretty explicit that they aimed for the federal government to protect and systematize their own marauding against innocent Africans, African-Americans, and Indians not taxed. It’s not much different elsewhere — the people who oversee the formation of states are typically powerful and concentrated interests who hope to, and do, turn the newly-formed State to the pursuit of their own interests at the expense of the less powerful. The popular liberal myth of government by compact wouldn’t morally justify the State, even if it were true of actually existing governments; but it’s not true. The only “compacts” made have been pirate’s codes, and nothing more.

    (4) The strategic question of how to create, sustain, and defend anarchy is an important one to ask, and a difficult one to answer. But it ought to be understood that it is not, actually, the primary issue involved in whether or not anarchism is true. The primary arguments for anarchism are not strategic arguments, but moral ones; it’s not that anarchy is valued because it’s useful to attaining some other goods, but rather because violent coercion is wrong, whatever its effects may be, and the princes, potentates, and presidents of the world make claims of authority over other people that can only be, and are, backed up by violent coercion. So demonstrating that there are tricky problems for anarchists to solve doesn’t mean that anarchy isn’t the right thing to aim for; it just means that what you ought to aim for might be tricky to hit. But nobody said that the right thing has to be easy, or that achieving it has to be effortless. The emancipation of women, civil rights, the abolition of slavery, religious toleration, democracy, etc. have all been difficult propositions, tricky to achieve and difficult to sustain in the face of coordinated and unrelenting resistance. That raises questions about strategy and tactics, but it doesn’t provide any reason for thinking that the goal itself ought to be abandoned.

  79. 79
    Rad Geek says:

    Robert: It isn’t that anarchism doesn’t provide a magic wand for resisting evil, RadGeek, it’s that the solutions to evil that will arise organically under anarchism are the seeds of the state.

    Only if you think that the only way to resist oppression is to create or take over permanent, centralized, coercively funded, violently enforced, territorial, unchallenged power structures. I don’t; I don’t think this is even a particularly effective way of resisting evil under statism and I don’t see why it would be a particularly effective way of resisting evil under anarchy either. There are lots of means (nonviolent civil disobedience, direct action, boycotts, general strikes, moral agitation, cultural criticism, armed neighborhood defense, etc.) that people have resisted oppression, sometimes successfully, without having to become some sort of emperium in emperio to do it. I see no reason why these methods wouldn’t be even more important in anarchy, and no reason (other than double standards of the sort I mentioned) to think that there are special problems of defense against tyranny for anarchism that don’t exist under any constitutional theory whatsoever.

  80. 80
    Rad Geek says:

    I am seriously suggesting that some people will be free riders if you let them.

    The question is why you think that “people” have this problem but legislatures don’t (legislatures are, remember, made of people). Free-rider problems become more of a problem, not less, when the people making decisions about how money should spent bear no personal cost for how it is spent. If you’re seriously concerned about the free-rider problem, then you need to think harder if you think that externalizing costs for the decision-makers is the best solution to it.

  81. 81
    nobody.really says:

    And about that air pollution thingy…?

  82. 82
    nobody.really says:

    If your objection to anarchism is that it does not provide magic wands for resisting evil, then anarchism stands guilty as charged. But so does statism: magic wands like that don’t exist, and given the abattoir that was the 20th century, I hardly think that the State has a very good historical record of providing people with the means to stop relentless tyrants.

    * * *

    There are lots of means (nonviolent civil disobedience, direct action, boycotts, general strikes, moral agitation, cultural criticism, armed neighborhood defense, etc.) that people have resisted oppression, sometimes successfully, without having to become some sort of emperium in emperio to do it.

    Then let’s check that historical record. Could we get a list of the relentless tyrannies stopped by anarchists during the 20th century and compare it to the list of tyrannies stopped by states?

  83. 83
    Ampersand says:

    Rad Geek, are you claiming that folks in Congress do not pay taxes? If not, the claim that legislators “bear no personal cost” doesn’t make sense. In many cases, they bear about as much personal cost as typical citizens do.

    I’d like to pull back from discussing resisting tyranny, and look more at the original topic of this thread (albeit applied to anarchy this time). You wrote:

    For just about any form of successful oppression, it’s hard to see how introducing the State will dampen the problem rather than amplifying it.

    Someone who is oppressed by lack of affordable medical care will have that oppression significantly lifted if they live in France, where there’s an effective state-orchestrated medical care system available even to poor citizens. Nor is France the only example of a state with effective universal medical care.

    There are many states – France again, also Sweden, the Netherlands, and others – which have greatly reduced rates of both child poverty and elder poverty. Insofar as poverty is oppressive, this is an example of states acting to reduce oppression.

    In an earlier post, you wrote:

    You might say, “Oh, but if they wouldn’t put aside that money if they’re not forced to, because they have all these other pressing costs that they need to pay now.” There are certainly cases where that’s true, but it doesn’t follow from that that being forced to put the money aside is the best thing for them. Having lived on around $5,000 a year myself (due to a combination of low-paying jobs and long-term unemployment), I can tell you that when you don’t have enough money to spare for savings, being forced to put the money aside anyway has a direct consequence: debt.

    When we were living like that, in Boston, we didn’t actually go far into debt – probably because no one would have given us credit, anyway. We did go into debt to our landlord, and to the phone company, but that’s not the kind of debt that follows you around your whole life.

    If (ex hypothesi) I’m being forced to put aside money that otherwise could have paid off current bills, then those bills still have to be paid off somehow, and when I don’t have the money now, that means they have to go on the card. And the debt accumulates a lot quicker than whatever “returns” I’m supposedly getting on my “investment” in Social Security and Medicare.

    Since Social Security, unless you become disabled, doesn’t kick in until fairly late in life, of course current debts will show up quicker. That doesn’t show that the return of a guaranteed income supplement for as long as you live won’t end up being more important to well-being in the long run.

    If you have to live on $5200 a year (I changed the figure to make the math easier), that’s $100 a week. Payroll taxes will reduce that to about $ $94 a week. As someone who has lived on that kind of income (although not in many years, thank goodness), I know that the difference between $94 a week and $100 a week is negligible. In either case, you can’t afford to pay all the bills.

    I don’t understand what replaces social security, in an anarchist system. Could you go into that in a bit more detail? And also, what prevents a community from deciding by informal consensus that no one will sell property to Jews?

  84. 84
    Rad Geek says:

    nobody.really:

    And about that air pollution thingy…?

    What about it? Some forms of air pollution (e.g. pollution from small, decentralized sources such as automobiles) would be harder to limit under anarchy. Others (e.g. air pollution by large, centralized polluters such as oil, gas, and coal operations) would be easier to limit because the companies wouldn’t be subsidized and immunized from liability by the State. It’s currently very hard for people suffering from the local effects of polluters (in, for example, Port Arthur and other refinery towns in Texas) to demand compensation from the people who are poisoning them, because as long as the companies can convince bureaucrats that they’re dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s under the ex ante pollution regulations, they bear very little risk of being held liable for the actual effects that they are having on people.

    The best thing to do about air pollution is use demands for compensation (under principles of nuisance and documented harms) to internalize the costs of air pollution and require the polluters to bear those costs. That won’t always be easy (some major sources of pollution are decentralized and thus hard or impossible to deal with through direct means. In that case you’ll have to lean on cultural criticism, moral persuasion, economic boycotts, technological development, etc. Oh well; nobody promised that anarchism would solve all the problems in the world; any political theory that promises to is guaranteed to be bunkum. All I suggested is that it will solve or ameliorate some of them; and in particular that putting questions to legislators who don’t personally bear any of the costs of their decisions is typically going to make free-rider problems worse, not better. (Again, check out the riders on any large federal spending bill if you don’t believe me. I can think of several big, politically-connected polluters, for example, who wouldn’t be receiving a cent of my money if I had a say in how my money got spent.)

  85. 85
    Daryl McCullough says:

    Robert writes: It isn’t that anarchism doesn’t provide a magic wand for resisting evil, RadGeek, it’s that the solutions to evil that will arise organically under anarchism are the seeds of the state.

    Exactly right. If you dissolved government overnight, what would happen is that people would organize into defense collectives for protection. In time, mergers between these defense collectives would result effectively in small nation-states.

  86. 86
    nobody.really says:

    While most of the objections to anarchy have been practical, in fairness RadGeek notes:

    The primary arguments for anarchism are not strategic arguments, but moral ones….

    Got it. 1. Coercion bad. 2. States use coercion. => 3. States bad.

    I’m with you up until 3. But when seeking to minimize (or maximize) a variable, the optimal strategy may be to pursue a second-best solution. So if you cannot tolerate any coercion – that is, if you draw no distinction between some coercion and total coercion – then I can understand that you’d pursue a strategy of avoiding a state. But if you want to MINIMIZE coercion, then I can well imagine that you’d want to consider having a state – if for no other reason than to have a system for displacing more coercive states.

    As people have noted, the fact that you are not coerced by your state does not mean you are not coerced. You note that, when faced with an oppressor, you’d shoot him. No evidence, no due process, no proportional punishment, no chance for rehabilitation. Just vigil ante justice. The definition of “oppressor” is “whatever the guy with his finger on the trigger sez it is.” And everyone is free to draw their own conclusions about you. How exactly does this result in a less coercive world than the statist world we live in today?

    I hate to trot out the Love-It-Or-Leave-It argument, but aren’t US anarchists generally free to flee to whatever anarchy havens suits them? And if, perchance, they find no anarchy havens to their liking, perhaps that fact alone will express – more eloquently than anything I could say – something about the nature of anarchy. For if anyone demonstrated freedom of conscience and expression, it was Ayn Rand. She railed against the state her whole life. She was lionized; she was despised. Now, why do you suppose someone like her wouldn’t move off to some land with no central government and lots of good ol’ vigil ante justice…?

    I believe in revealed preference: what people do means more than what they say. The fact that Rand chose to live in her adopted homeland of the US reveals something about her own conclusions on this matter.

  87. 87
    Robert says:

    Only if you think that the only way to resist oppression is to create or take over permanent, centralized, coercively funded, violently enforced, territorial, unchallenged power structures. I don’t…

    But dear boy, you don’t have to think it. You don’t even have to be the one to do it. The point is that, faced with oppression or tyranny or banditry under anarchy, some group of farmers is going to get together, spit, and say “you know, if we each just gave 5 percent of our crop to a central body, and then the central body used it to hire soldiers to patrol each of our farms, that’d keep the bandits out.”

    Fine, you think the farmers would be better off having a vigil or going on strike or some other non-coercive, non-statist method. But I think they’re a lot more likely to just organize an entity that carries guns, and have it shoot their enemies. And once that starts, the entity itself will want to continue existing.

    The difficulty with the approach you outline is that it assumes everyone is a trained theoretical anarchist with a distaste for hierarchy and a commitment to avoid statist solutions to their immediate problems. I don’t think that’s a realistic premise. You’re going to have folks out there whose first solution is “let’s form a government”. And governments have a way of growing.

  88. 88
    nobody.really says:

    Some forms of air pollution (e.g. pollution from small, decentralized sources such as automobiles) would be harder to limit under anarchy. Others (e.g. air pollution by large, centralized polluters such as oil, gas, and coal operations) would be easier to limit because the companies wouldn’t be subsidized and immunized from liability by the State. It’s currently very hard for people suffering from the local effects of polluters (in, for example, Port Arthur and other refinery towns in Texas) to demand compensation from the people who are poisoning them…. The best thing to do about air pollution is use demands for compensation … under principles of nuisance….

    In the absence of a legal system, what are “principles of nuisance”?

    Are you suggesting that people suffering the local effects of pollution would have an easier time demanding compensation in the absence of statutes and courts and law enforcement? Perhaps, through threats of mob violence. But then, mobs could always extort money from people whether or not they had a grievance. And – call me a pessimist – that’s pretty much what I’d expect.

    Oh well; nobody promised that anarchism would solve all the problems in the world….

    A fair concession. But what you fail to concede is that anarchy basically eliminates the tools by which these kinds of problems may be addressed.

    People who have a rather simple concept of property – what I do is my business, and nobody else’s – may find this appealing. People who study property law know that property is socially defined, and what you do can very well be other people’s business. Anarchy makes dealing with other people’s business much harder. That’s it’s blessing and its curse.

  89. 89
    Rad Geek says:

    Robert:

    But dear boy, you don’t have to think it. You don’t even have to be the one to do it. The point is that, faced with oppression or tyranny or banditry under anarchy, some group of farmers is going to get together, spit, and say “you know, if we each just gave 5 percent of our crop to a central body, and then the central body used it to hire soldiers to patrol each of our farms, that’d keep the bandits out.”

    They’re welcome to arrange for the defense of their farms in this way if they want to do so. After all, those are their farms, so if they want to host armed patrols to protect it that’s their business. Although there are pacifist anarchists, I’m not one of them. You’ll notice that I listed armed self-defense as one of the options for ways to resist tyranny that don’t involve forming embryonic states. The important thing is that (1) farmers are not coerced into ponying up the money for the patrols, (2) farmers can refuse to allow the patrols access to their land, and (3) farmers can choose to arrange for a different means of defense if they decide that they’d prefer to. (N.B.: in the list of attributes I gave for miniature states, all of them are important. The example that you gave is not coercively funded, or violently enforced, and whether it’s permanent or unchallenged is thus far up to the farmers who support it.) Historically speaking, I doubt that they’d really want full-time mercenaries to tromp around in their fields; it’s expensive and usually unnecessary. This kind of stuff is what citizen militias used to be for.

    Of course, you may very well be right that if you have a lot of organizations like this around, and people interact with them in much the way they interact with government police forces today, it’s unlikely to be conducive to maintaining liberty:

    But I think they’re a lot more likely to just organize an entity that carries guns, and have it shoot their enemies. And once that starts, the entity itself will want to continue existing.

    The difficulty with the approach you outline is that it assumes everyone is a trained theoretical anarchist with a distaste for hierarchy and a commitment to avoid statist solutions to their immediate problems. I don’t think that’s a realistic premise. You’re going to have folks out there whose first solution is “let’s form a government”. And governments have a way of growing.

    But the simple answer to this is that anarchism has material and cultural preconditions for flourishing. That might seem like a liability, but it’s a liability that anarchy shares with most other political theories (democracy, for example, requires a population that’s at least minimally willing to, and interested in, participating politically in order to function; republican politics in general is supposed to work best when caste sentiment and class deference are weakest; most modern statist theories presuppose at least a certain respect for process and the rule of law; etc.). I certainly agree with you that a sudden transition to anarchy is not likely to be sustainable in the current cultural climate. But the current cultural climate will not always be current, and there are plenty of reasons to think that a number of the things you mention (lack of scruple about coercion, deference to ritualized hierarchies, adherence to traditional political forms, etc.) are not natural or inevitable facts, but rather facets of a culture that can and ought to be changed.

    nobody.really:

    I’m with you up until 3. But when seeking to minimize (or maximize) a variable, the optimal strategy may be to pursue a second-best solution.

    You’ve actually misunderstood my argument if you think that I’m primarily making a point about how to “minimize a variable” or suggesting that the primary reason for anarchism is that it produces the least coercion on net in society. Some anarchists lean on that kind of consequentialist argument; I don’t.

    To be clear, I think it’s true that anarchy is a necessary but insufficient condition for minimizing the total amount of coercion in a given society. But I don’t think that’s the primary reason to be an anarchist. The primary reason is (1) that it’s wrong for any one person to coerce any other peaceful person; (2) that the State, as such, exists by one group of people coercing another group of peaceful people; and (3) that peaceful people have no special obligation to defer to morally illegitimate commands. (1) and (2) together establish the moral illegitimacy of all governments, and (1), (2), and (3) together establish the moral legitimacy of ignoring, defying, or resisting arbitrary government demands. It’s not an issue of whether this maximizes liberty on the whole or minimizes coercion; coercion is something that each individual person is categorically obliged to abstain from, and liberty is something that each individual person has an inalienable right to exercise, independently of whether or not this “minimizes” the former and “maximizes” the latter on the whole.

    … For if anyone demonstrated freedom of conscience and expression, it was Ayn Rand. …

    Ayn Rand was not an anarchist. She said so in quite explicit and vituperative language (see e.g. her writings on Murray Rothbard). So her life decisions don’t say anything in particular about anarchism at all.

    That said, the argument you offer is frankly a silly one. I’m pretty fed up with the U.S. government, but where else would I go, and why? All this tells you about anarchism or anarchists is that (1) anarchists have reasons, much like everyone else, to stay in their own homes rather than uprooting their whole lives to move somewhere else, and (2) there aren’t any stateless societies that are worthy enough of relocating to to overcome (1). Back around 1740 there were many French-speaking republicans, who opposed the absolute monarchy and feudal privilege in France, but who did not move out of France to live somewhere else without an absolute monarchy and feudalist privileges. So what? Is that supposed to prove that late Bourbon monarchy was the ideal political system at the time? Or does it simply prove that sometimes your options suck and you have to go with the least-worst that’s available until something new comes up?

    There’s a lot of points that I haven’t answered yet; it’ll have to wait a while longer, I fear.

  90. 90
    nobody.really says:

    I’m pretty fed up with the U.S. government, but where else would I go, and why? All this tells you about anarchism or anarchists is that (1) anarchists have reasons, much like everyone else, to stay in their own homes rather than uprooting their whole lives to move somewhere else, and (2) there aren’t any stateless societies that are worthy enough of relocating to to overcome (1). Back around 1740 there were many French-speaking republicans, who opposed the absolute monarchy and feudal privilege in France, but who did not move out of France to live somewhere else without an absolute monarchy and feudalist privileges. So what? Is that supposed to prove that late Bourbon monarchy was the ideal political system at the time? Or does it simply prove that sometimes your options suck and you have to go with the least-worst that’s available until something new comes up?

    Yeah, ok.

    I was rebutting the argument that anarchies are “natural.” No one would argue that a French-speaking republic was “natural”; everyone would acknowledge that such a republic would have to be built. But if you assumed that anarchies are “natural,” then presumably no assembly is required! (Assembly – as in public meetings; get it? …anyway….) But the fact that we don’t observe any desirable anarchies suggests that 1) anarchies are not natural or 2) anarchies are not stable or 3) anarchies do not produce desirable places in which to live.

    But then RadGeek rebuts this argument by conceding that anarchies are not natural. To the contrary, RadGeek states that anarchies require “material and cultural preconditions” – even more elaborate preconditions than are required for existing forms of government.

    But RadGeek’s answer avoids the naturalism critique only by running headlong into the “freedom and diversity” critique. RadGeek correctly observes that liberal democracy does not spring easily into full flower; it requires a lot of cultural spadework. But liberal democracies do not deny the human impulse to freedom and diversity. To the contrary, they create institutions specifically dedicated to the proposition that some people both within and beyond their borders will hold values OTHER than liberal democratic values; they call these institutions the “military” and the “police.” It remains unclear how material and cultural preconditioning would control the Mafia or the Klan or the blitzkrieg.

  91. 91
    nobody.really says:

    [W]hen seeking to minimize (or maximize) a variable, the optimal strategy may be to pursue a second-best solution. So if you cannot tolerate any coercion – that is, if you draw no distinction between some coercion and total coercion – then I can understand that you’d pursue a strategy of avoiding a state. But if you want to MINIMIZE coercion, then I can well imagine that you’d want to consider having a state.

    It’s not an issue of whether this maximizes liberty on the whole or minimizes coercion; coercion is something that each individual person is categorically obliged to abstain from, and liberty is something that each individual person has an inalienable right to exercise, independently of whether or not this “minimizes” the former and “maximizes” the latter on the whole.

    Then I guess we understand each other. But just to be clear:

    I like wealth (among other things). In making my life decisions I considered various alternatives in terms of their likelihood of producing wealth, and I opted to pursue a professional degree.

    Admittedly, I did not think this was the best strategy for becoming the richest guy in the world. If I saw no distinction between being the second richest person in the world or being destitute, then I would have pursued a different strategy – perhaps buying every lottery ticket I could find. But instead I picked a “second-best” strategy, one designed to maximize not wealth, but likelihood of wealth. Sure, there will always be plenty of people more wealthy than I, but I’m reconciled to that.

    I don’t mean to suggest that there are no circumstances in which I’d go for broke. I’m losing during the last seconds of the final game of the season: go for the Hail Mary play. The mafia will kill me if I can’t come up with a million dollars by next week: buy the lottery ticket. Incurable fatal disease: take the experimental drug. Wherever losing by an inch is the same as losing by a mile, go for it.

    But for most purposes, I regard second-best as a lot better than 100th-best. Given the degree of freedom and diversity in the world, however, I’m not surprised to observe that people disagree about this. I sense that even if RadGeek shared my interest in wealth, I wouldn’t have seen him much during my long nights at the library, and he wouldn’t have seen me much while standing in line at the PowerBall window. Similar goals, different strategies.

    I can’t fault RadGeek on the nobility of his aspirations. Please forgive the cliche, but good luck; you’re gonna need it.

  92. 92
    Rad Geek says:

    nobody.really:

    But then RadGeek rebuts this argument by conceding that anarchies are not natural. To the contrary, RadGeek states that anarchies require “material and cultural preconditions” — even more elaborate preconditions than are required for existing forms of government.

    Neither anarchy nor statism is natural. There is no natural political order, if “natural” means something like what we tend towards apart from or independently of culture; politics is a cultural artefact, and like all artefacts it has material and cultural preconditions. I didn’t say, and don’t think, that the material and cultural preconditions of flourishing anarchy are “even more elaborate” than the material and cultural preconditions of various forms of statism. They’re just different, and not all of them are currently present.

    To the contrary, they create institutions specifically dedicated to the proposition that some people both within and beyond their borders will hold values OTHER than liberal democratic values; they call these institutions the “military” and the “police.”

    Why do you think that anarchists don’t advocate participating in institutions for co-operative self-defense? They do (even pacifists; they just advocate different means). The only requirement is that those institutions not involve coercive methods and that they not make claims to sovereign authority. Actually existing stateless societies (medieval Iceland, medieval Ireland, Catalunia during the Spanish Civil War, etc.) had armed forces for defense; they just didn’t have standing government armies or police forces.

    The problem that anarchists have with the military and the police are their aggressive and repressive functions, not their defensive function.

    nobody.really:

    I like wealth (among other things). In making my life decisions I considered various alternatives in terms of their likelihood of producing wealth, and I opted to pursue a professional degree.

    I understand the concept of trade-offs. What I deny is that virtue is a good of the same sort that wealth or pleasure is (specifically, it’s what some ethicists have called a “side constraint” on the pursuit of goals, not just one goal among many to be pursued). The issue isn’t “going for broke” (which is just one more strategy, often a foolish one, for maximizing a good); it’s that you, personally, have a categorically binding obligation to do the right thing, not just to “maximize” the quantity of doing-the-right-thing going around in society as a whole. It’s about what kind of person you’re going to be, not what “quantities” of virtue you or your neighbors are going to accumulate. The nature of the thing is such that talk about trade-offs (and thus also talk about “going for broke”) does not make sense. Trading off a little bit of ethics now to get a greater quantity of righteousness later (how?), or worse yet more of other goods, is not prudent planning; it’s just moral treason.

  93. 93
    nobody.really says:

    The two words most closely associated with philosopher Marilyn Friedman’s work are “feminism” and “autonomy.” But the images that perhaps best illustrate her approach carry a different tone: bridges and community, not islands and stoic self-reliance.

    “Many feminists thought that the moral ideal of autonomy represented male but not female modes of moral reasoning,” Friedman says. “Most people saw autonomy as a separation of self from loved ones – a kind of selfishness. I see it in terms of self-determination, and I didn’t think it had to carry specifically masculine associations.”

    “Autonomy has to be understood as embedded in social relationships,” Friedman says. “It’s about self-determination – living a life that reflects your values and wants and needs. The sources of self-determination include socially available options and socialization that enables us to be self-reflective about what matters most to us. If that means being in a committed relationship, or having children, it is still autonomy.”

    The book [Autonomy Gender, Politics] addressed very real issues in chapters such as “Romantic Love and Personal Autonomy,” “Domestic Violence Against Women and Autonomy,” and “Cultural Minorities and Women’s Rights.”

    “We need to change social institutions and practices so that women have a greater variety of opportunities to live fulfilling lives,” Friedman says. “But we should base those changes mainly on women’s perspectives on how their lives should be lived. Our culture needs to value autonomy for women, not just for men. If we followed these guidelines from a political standpoint, we would enlarge and diversify women’s social integration and improve the ways in which we socialize girls in our society.”

    Friedman’s most recent research has shifted focus slightly. In one current project, she analyzes some of the work of Princeton University’s Philip Pettit, who promotes what he calls “non-domination” as an important political value in democratic societies. Friedman is examining such questions as what it means to be dominated, whether a political system should secure its people against all domination, and, especially, whether male domination is different from domination in general. Friedman plans to connect this new set of issues with the work she began in her book chapter about women and cultural minorities.

    “What should we do when the traditions of cultural minorities in liberal democratic societies appear to be violating women’s rights?” Friedman asks. “How do we weigh the rights of cultural minorities against the rights of women within those minorities? These questions hint at how we are in the process of what I like to call a ‘globalization of morality,’ an emerging and progressive global dialogue about morality among people with diverse cultural and moral perspectives.”

    Excerpts from Washington University in St. Louis [alumni magazine], spring 2006, pp. 16-19,
    discussing Prof. Marilyn Friedman, author of
    Autonomy, Gender, Politics
    What Are Friends For? Feminist Perspectives on Personal Relationships and Moral Theory
    Political Correctness: For and Against
    Women and Citizenship

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