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Libertarian Revolution? Not Exactly

December 27th, 2010 at 3:58 pm | 72 Comments |

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Libertarians, medicine of both left and right, prescription haven’t been this close to power since 1776. But do we want to live in their world?

Thus says the subhead of New York magazine’s article “The Trouble with Liberty, mind ” by Christopher Beam, a piece that’s gotten praise from Reason editor Matt Welch as offering “a pretty fair and quote-rich argument for us living in something that at least approaches a ‘libertarian moment.’”

Upon seeing that subhead, I tweeted:

Libertarians, of both left and right, haven’t been this close to power since 1776.” http://bit.ly/fPraNw So much wrong with this sentence.

But truly doing justice to what’s wrong with that sentence requires more than a tweet. So here are my objections at greater length:

1. Nobody used the political label “libertarian” in 1776. The term only became reasonably familiar in a political context in the 1960s, its prior usage typically having to do with philosophical arguments about freedom of will. The American founding fathers did not call themselves libertarian.

2. The American founders were not exactly “close to power” in 1776, as they were waging a decidedly uphill struggle at that time against the British Empire. Moreover, during the early years of the Republic, it became clear there were considerable divisions between Federalists and anti-Federalists about whether to ratify the Constitution and, subsequently, between Federalists and Republicans (later known as Democrats) over how much to centralize power. The New York subhead glides over these distinctions — as do many of today’s Tea Partiers when they talk about what “the” founding fathers stood for.

3.  There’s little consensus as to what constitutes libertarianism today. Some people will tell you anarchism (“anarchocapitalism”) is the only true libertarianism; others will distinguish libertarianism from anarchism. Some self-described libertarians are “minarchists,” advocates of a minimal state, however defined; others are evidently amenable to much more expansive government. Some emphasize social liberalism or non-interventionist foreign policy as a key element of libertarianism; others don’t. And some who call themselves libertarian are actually left-leaning like comedian Bill Maher.

4. Ron Paul gets considerable play in the New York article as an exemplar of libertarianism (and Reason has largely embraced him as such too, despite some past qualms). It is highly debatable whether Paul’s political prominence signifies a “libertarian moment” or rather just a tragedy whereby libertarianism becomes conflated with a particular strain of illiberal, conspiracy-minded twaddle. It is also quite questionable whether Paul’s particular policy preferences (such as, notably, ending the Fed) will have any substantial impact on actual policy (as the New York article acknowledges).

5. In sum, it is quite easy — and often lazy — for people to call themselves libertarian and to suggest the founding fathers were too. It is also tempting for people who’ve gotten some political notice to think they’re more politically powerful than they are. All these bad habits converge in 14 error-packed words in New York magazine.

Recent Posts by Kenneth Silber



72 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    “Is the Libertarian Revolution Finally Here?”

    No.

  • Non-Contributor

    No.

  • Carney

    No.

  • Saladdin

    My guess is no.

  • busboy33

    You guys are so negative.

    Is the Libertarian Revolution here?
    Possibly.

    The more important question is . . . does it stand a snoball’s chance in Hell of being anything other than a colossal trainwreck?
    No.

  • balconesfault

    In sum, it is quite easy — and often lazy — for people to call themselves libertarian and to suggest the founding fathers were too.

    Yep.

    I like the definition I read elsewhere long ago:

    The difference between actual Libertarians and Republicans hiding from their tarnished name is quite easy. Actual Libertarians are concerned about the freedom of individuals. Actual Libertarians realize that for individual rights to have any meaning, they require the presence of a body that can ensure those rights. They know that freedom can’t be maintained in an absence of information, and that there must be agencies that create the transparency needed for effective individual action and ensure there are consequences to dishonesty. Real advocates of the free market realize that term has no meaning unless the market is free from coercion and the law is not defined by “might makes right.” They know that individual freedoms are incompatible with a system where corporations are treated as super-citizens, and that Libertarianism requires that workers be more valued than abstract entities that live only on paper.

    Conservatives use Libertarian as a code word meaning “I want to continue to enjoy all the privileges I do now, but I don’t want to share them with you and most of all I don’t want to pay any taxes.” Push come to shove, they’re happy to abbreviate that to “Screw freedom. I just don’t want to pay taxes.”

  • KBKY

    I admit, clicking on this article, the headline, and the first 4 “No” comments, followed by busboy’s call for positivity (followed by a more diplomatic “no”) made me laugh.

  • SallyVee

    “…illiberal, conspiracy-minded twaddle…”

    Just doing a flyby and my drone locked on to that unexpected and perfect little pearl. Type on, Mr. Silber. Love it.

  • WillyP

    Libertarians, of both persuasions, are without a doubt a force for good, generally speaking.

    Right leaning libertarians, which I am personally close to, do not worship at the alter of the state. They view the political objective as freedom, and wish to use the state to positively promote freedom, and truncate its tentacles after this has been achieved. (No, things do not remain in permanent stasis, but the the institution of government is defined by force, and force has very limited, quite well understood roles in promoting a free and vibrant society.)

    Left leaning libertarians are a bit of a different breed, but appreciable in some respects. While I do not consider Wikileaks a virtuous enterprise, I’m also not comfortable with attacking what amounts to a whistleblower. The creepy, self-absorbed Assange is not a diplomat or a military commander. Most people are sensible enough to recognize that even well-intentioned state officials can act in a depraved manner (order the murder of innocent civilians, deal with nefarious regimes, make deal that the public would overwhelmingly scorn). To the extent that we are able to peek behind the curtain every few years and keep our bureaucrats circumspect and fearful of public reaction, I am not altogether opposed to leaking certain state secrets.

    Libertarians will never be in power because they universally detest it. It is like herding cats. Their political debates end in metaphysical discussions on the ultimate source of ethical imperatives. There is no way, period, that we are on the verge of a revolution of libertarianism.

    Mr. Sibler doesn’t really seem to get it. Libertarians are attracted to LIMITED GOVERNMENT, and at a time when the Federal Government is involved in literally everything, there is an understandable lure of those who speak truth to power. Economics, which was a science developed to challenge the pretenses of arbitrary governmental power, is really the only vehicle which gives libertarianism political traction. The question of gay marriage is something that most libertarians are on board with, but I don’t know of any libertarian group that has “marriage equality” as its raison d’etre (if you’ll forgive my unnecessary French expression).

    The Founder and Framers weren’t “liberatarians.” They were against the ARBITRARY use of government power, especially centralized power. When it came to state and local governments, many of the Founders/Framers were comfortable restricting individual action according to local customs, especially religious customs. The revolution was one that preached REPRESENTATIVE government, not no government. The central government, the functions of which are adumbrated in the Constitution, was meant to be mainly innocuous. As I remember reading once, the only interaction that the typical citizen had with the Federal government prior to WWI/Woodrow Wilson was with the post office. National defense, treaties, tariffs are all fairly far removed from the typical citizen who isn’t either involved in State affairs in an official function or especially relevant in private commercial affairs (whose scope of legitimate action were occasionally challenged in Court at the Federal level). One might say that the Americans of yesteryear were by rote libertarians, by virtue of the American tradition of severely limited government and self-reliance. Think Thoreau.

    Although they will never be “in power,” Libertarians are important to our political process – Milton Friedman had the ear of Reagan, Ron Paul is now Chairman of the “Fed” Committee, H.L. Mencken continues to inspire and provoke readers today. The list of brilliant, influential “libertarian” economists is extensive; Hayek’s scholarship and contribution to political thought is as great as any other economist/political philosopher of the last century.

    The role of the activist Libertarian, as I see it, is to influence the most receptive of the two parties. The party of the last 60 years most receptive to libertarian ideas has been the GOP. However, if I were a professional libertarian, intent on advancing my beliefs, I would not limit myself. Go get Democrats, too. The more advocates of liberty the merrier; less worshipers of State power is good for all.

  • Watusie

    LOLz.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    kbky, yeah, me too.

  • buddyglass

    It’s hard to argue that the founders (of all stripes) weren’t generally paranoid of federal power to a degree that’s hardly seen today outside libertarian circles. Of course, that doesn’t mean they weren’t A-OK with centralizing power in state governments. Modern libertarians are for limited government at all levels. Colonial-era political thought seems to mostly have been suspicious of government power at the federal level.

    What I find ironic is when modern Tea Party folks claim Thomas Paine as one of their own, considering Paine outlined his own idea for a system of federal social security.

  • WillyP

    balcones,
    I’d say your quote, wherever it’s from, contributes basically nothing to the discussion. What does this even mean?

    “They know that individual freedoms are incompatible with a system where corporations are treated as super-citizens, and that Libertarianism requires that workers be more valued than abstract entities that live only on paper.”

    Are you recommending that we do away with the legal concept of incorporation? Silly me. FF IS the place of liberal platitudes…

    Still, referring to average, productive citizens as “workers” is an awfully stupid, and frankly insulting tactic that deserves to be left where it originated – 19th century France. Please drop the class warfare and consider me as much as a citizen as Warren Buffett.

  • balconesfault

    They know that individual freedoms are incompatible with a system where corporations are treated as super-citizens

    I refer you to William Rivers Pitt:

    We are not all created equal, in fact. This inequality is not based on race, or sex, or religion, but upon the slow development of a body of laws that have created and empowered a breed of super-citizens which rule over every aspect of our lives, almost completely beyond the reach of justice. These super-citizens exist today under the familiar name “corporation.”

    But wait, a corporation is basically a company, right? A corporation is a non-living entity, a group of people endeavoring to make money in a business enterprise or non-profit organization, right? Wrong. A corporation is indeed a non-living entity, a group of people looking to make money. But thanks to a Supreme Court decision, corporations are also actual living entities in every legal sense of the word, with all rights and privileges of citizenship – and several more besides – intact.

    The pertinent section of the Fourteenth Amendment reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

    Before the Santa Clara decision, this amendment applied only to living, breathing people. After Santa Clara, it applied also to massively wealthy corporations, groups of people authorized to act as individuals, but beyond the kinds of legal liabilities natural persons are subject to. The Santa Clara decision, and subsequent decisions affirming it, created the formidable distinction between the citizen and the super-citizen.
    ..

    Corporate perks like jets, elaborate headquarters, public relations firms, and executive retreats are all tax write-offs; the regular citizen, by contrast, pays for their perks with after-tax dollars. When a corporation screws up and destroys an ecosystem with a toxic spill, corporate liability shields protect them from financial and legal punishment, and the cost of the clean-up is borne by the tax dollars of the regular citizen.

    Today, corporations control almost every aspect of what we see, hear, eat, wear and live. Every television news media organization is owned by a small handful of corporations, which use these news outlets to filter out information that might be damaging to the parent company. Agriculture in America is controlled by a small group of corporations. One cannot drive a car, rent a van, buy a house or deliver goods in a business transaction without purchasing insurance from a corporation. Getting sick in America has become a ruinously expensive experience because corporations now control even the smallest functions of the medical profession, and have turned the practice of health care into a for-profit industry.

    The influence these super-citizens hold over local, state and national politics is the reason why so many privileges have been afforded to them. This influence has existed to one degree or another for decades.

    Small government libertarianism will never exist in America as long as corporations are super-citizens, and Citizens United just amplified this effect. The ability of government to provide benefits and protections for the citizenry will continue to erode, and the ability to provide profit opportunity to corporations will continue to grow.

    The modern day Republican-libertarian does not see this. The irony of the Tea Partiers is that the original Boston Tea Party was an attack specifically upon the economic power and supremacy of the British East India Tea Company, a corporation. The original Tea Party wasn’t just about rolling back the power of the monarchy, but also the power that it vested to corporations. Our modern Tea Partiers are more tools of corporations than foils to them.

    Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control of your dearest interests have been passed into the hands of these corporations.
    – Andrew Jackson, farewell address, 04 March 1837

    It is silly and sophomoric to construe a plea to limit the powers of corporations as a plea to disenfranchise corporations, btw.

    Meanwhile it is wonderful when the interests of wage-earners, entrepreneurs, and investors all align. But very often they don’t. And unfortunately, pretending that they do has been a tool for erosion of middle class wealth in America for over 30 years now. A very successful tool, I might add.

  • WillyP

    I refer you to the Hayek the Eminent, and you send me the prattle a brat progressive?

    What credentials does this man have to analyze what he purports to analyze (economics, business organizations, law/regulation)? An English professor? I could understand if he had a history of writing on the topic, but his bibliography consists of little more apoplectic attacks on GWB and the rise of “conservative fundamentalism,” whatever he means by this.

    “Today, corporations control almost every aspect of what we see, hear, eat, wear and live. Every television news media organization is owned by a small handful of corporations, which use these news outlets to filter out information that might be damaging to the parent company. Agriculture in America is controlled by a small group of corporations. One cannot drive a car, rent a van, buy a house or deliver goods in a business transaction without purchasing insurance from a corporation.”

    Yes, well corporations are businesses, and since business (and NOT government) produce the products/services we need, I expect that just about everything I consume will be produced by corporations, LLCs, LLPs, etc.

    I relegate him to irrelevancy.

  • Watusie

    Hayek the Eminent? Is that like Ronaldus Magnus?

    The desperate need on the right for authority figures who can’t be questioned is…well…desperate.

  • think4yourself

    “•a political philosophy maintaining that all persons are the absolute owners of their own lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property, provided they allow others the same liberty” en.wiktionary.org/wiki/libertarianism. (yes I understand Wikipedia’s faults but I’m not going to spend more time researching definitions.).

    Kudos to WillyP for covering some of what Libertians believe, even though saying Libertian is like saying Democrat – there is a wide latitude in the philosophy. For example, I don’t hear Ron & Rand Paul are screaming out in defense of a woman’s right to determine what happens in her own body without the state’s interference. So their Libertarian philosphy is more aligned to Republican, Evangelical philosophy.

    While I like the idea of a Libertarian philosophy, I think that it is not feasible in a society as complex as ours. For example, do Libertarians think that we should have no institutions that attempt to insure the safety and efficacy of drugs? Should we not have building codes (look at what happened to buildings in Haiti)? Or should we go back to the days of sweat shops where garment workers were locked in buildings to ensure they worked, even when it cost them their lives? Our structured society with its entangling safety net that Libertarians hate means that our lives are better than countries that do not have those institutions in place, like Somalia. Everybody hates gov’t intrusion, except when it benefits them (not to many Libertarians over 65 are sending their SS checks back on principle).

    While WillyP makes a good argument that Libertarians are interested in a gov’t that is less intrusive, Balcone is also correct about the Corporation as Super Citizen and his(?) second post makes the point quite well. As an individual there are limits on how I can influence political discourse that corporations don’t have to deal with. Nor is Balcone suggestmg we do away with corporations, simply making the observation that the courts have granted entities that are not people, power and privileges that people have and more without restraints that individuals have.

    I view the Libertarian argument to limited gov’t as more principled than the Republican one and I appreciate hearing voices that cry restraint.

    As to the original question about revolution: no – the Repubs claiming the Libertarian mantle don’t have the self-discipline to remove themselves from the trough any more than the Democrats do.

  • JimBob

    “particular strain of illiberal, conspiracy-minded twaddle”

    What conspiracy minded twaddle are you talking about Silber??

  • WillyP

    watusie: re “Hayek the Eminent,” it was a joke. lighten up. and remember you voted for a clown who claimed he would get the oceans to recede. quite the opposite of the wise king canute. “once there was a silly old ram, thought he’d punch a whole in a dam…. because he’s got high hopes, hiiiigh hopes.” yes, this prez does, but we’re all wallowing in the gutter while he learns he ain’t no god. (I don’t entirely blame the out-of-touch megalomaniac obama. he is entitled, as an allegedly native born citizen, to run for office, and i would not deny him this alleged right. the constitution can do nothing to set a minimum for mental maturity for candidates. i therefore equally blame the unthinking voters who elected him president. did you happen to catch that he listened to a rabid anti-american preacher for 20 years? and had an amiable, professional, and mutually productive relationship with a domestic terrorist? thought you might like to know for 2012.)

    as for the ill-considered critique of the legal distinction of incorporation, it’s not as if law is unsophisticated in this regard. people can be held PERSONALLY responsible for negligent decisions made in business, whether that be a hastily conceived engineering project or corporate fraud. but very few people challenge the idea that somebody who fails in business should be thrown into personal bankruptcy, or for that matter debtor’s prison.

    corporations are groups of people. corporations are representatives of people. they are just as avaricious, deceitful, conniving, and dishonest as the people who run them. i fully admit this and refer you to our legal system for recourse.

    would liberals only admit that exactly the same is true for government and the incredibly arrogant gaggle of liars who run IT. as for the recourse, it works sometimes (commonwealth of virginia v. sebelius) and other times you get the sense that you’re the slave appealing to your master (wickard v. filburn ).

  • WillyP

    think4urself:
    “While I like the idea of a Libertarian philosophy, I think that it is not feasible in a society as complex as ours.”

    Actually, precisely the opposite is true. The more complex a society the more decentralization of decision making is necessary to maintain the productivity which enables living standards to rise above poverty. This is why you really can’t go back to central rule once you’re an industrialized nation. You’ll literally destroy industry and millions will starve (this happened last century in China, Ukraine, Russia, etc.).

    At any rate, there seemed to be a time when people discussed these issues in theoretical, non-partisan terms. It was called a debate in the social sciences. Nowadays, to suggest such a thing only invites the Pavlovian “Republicans are EVIL!” response from angry leftists who absolutely hate to admit that even their best intentioned “plans” lead to chaos, starvation, impoverishment, unemployment, despair, losing elections, and so on.

    In a sense, there is absolutely no rationale for being a leftist when it comes to economy. Their plans are always counter-productive, their defense of policies necessarily obscurantist. Did Obamacare lower costs? No. Why? Because of greedy insurance companies, not additional regulation – or so say the leftists. How about those banks that aren’t lending money? The Fed was supposed to “fix” this problem. Yet, they still aren’t lending, despite having $1 trillion in excess reserves. Ah, it’s the Scrooge bankers who don’t wish to share the generosity of the Fed – or so say the leftists.

    Only an ignoramus who hasn’t studied either economics or history would be foolish enough to think that government can “cure” a recession through additional spending and “strong” regulation. Which is why I, as a proponent of education, always point the comment gallery to insightful, careful analysis. Here, take a looksie:

    http://mises.org/books/individualismandeconomicorder.pdf

  • Stan

    WillyP, spending in the first Roosevelt administration didn’t cure the Depression, but it alleviated it considerably. In fact, the US Gross Domestic Product in 1936 was higher than in 1929. At that point FDR listened to people like you and brought on the Roosevelt Recession of 1937 by cutting federal spending. Spending peaked up again after World War II started in 1939, and by the end of 1941 the Depression was over. No administration, Republican or Democratic, will apply your economic ideas to cure a business downturn. We tried that in 1929, and it didn’t work out well.

  • WillyP

    Stan,
    “No administration, Republican or Democratic, will apply your economic ideas to cure a business downturn. We tried that in 1929, and it didn’t work out well.”

    That is blatantly untrue. Show me how Hoover was a fiscal conservative vis-a-vis Calvin Coolidge. I defy you.

  • busboy33

    @WillyP:

    ” Show me how Hoover was a fiscal conservative vis-a-vis Calvin Coolidge. I defy you.”

    Oh year? Show me, with Venn diagrams, how Hoover was an Impressionist vis-s-vis the French Revolution.

    Check and mate.

  • WillyP

    Busboy,
    Incest does have its disadvantages.

  • balconesfault

    corporations are representatives of people. they are just as avaricious, deceitful, conniving, and dishonest as the people who run them

    Actually, corporations are inherently more avaricious than the people who run them. Any individual might be subject to bouts of selflesness where they decide to give away large portions of their personal wealth … sometimes even anonymously. Individuals will very often decide that a certain income is sufficient and donate their time and services with no real goal or possibility of recouping any benefit from their generosity besides personal satisfaction (and perhaps a place in the afterlife of their choice).

    A corporation will do none of these things. The only sufficient amount of profit for a corporation is the maximum amount it can legally earn without harming its public standing and place in the marketplace. A corporation inherently is slave to its fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, and thus internalizes the priciple that serving greed is the greatest good.

    I hear people making the argument “individuals who profit from corporate success are empowered to do altruistic things with their money, thus vindicating the necessary greed of the corporation”. That’s a specious argument – if I were to consider the corporation an agent of good because someone uses their dividend check to build a new wing for the orphanage, I’d also have to consider the corporation an agent of evil if they used it to build a dungeon and hire thugs to drag teen-age girls there under the dark of night.

    Other times I hear people arguing that corporations provide essential goods and services that improve people’s lives. Again, corporations also spill pollution into our rivers and air, send dollars to tyrants around the world when it fits their business model, and sell people crap that often might even be harmful to the consumer’s health.

    The corporation is neither good, nor evil. It is a profit generating engine. Arguing that corporations will best serve the public good when left unregulated is like arguing that a fire in the forest will do the best job of providing warmth if we don’t constrain them to fire rings but let them reach and consume whatever fuel they find available.

  • WillyP

    balcones,
    i’m sorry. the nadaresque critique of business is just too much to disentangle.

    suffice to say that affecting the environment contingent on human survival and prosperity. corporations pollute? fine. they also FEED YOU, HOUSE YOU, and PROVIDE YOU WITH LEISURE GOODS.

    you are at fault for encouraging them to produce what you and i consume. you cannot wholesale attack business without acknowledging the fact that without business, you would be a pauper, if not a caveman. do you have a problem with the business practices of haliburton? of monsanto? of general electric? then specify. don’t make unthinking, unintelligible, chomsky-ite blanket statements which are so fatuous so as not to require a response.

    you know what? i don’t like the fact that people vote for over-zealous statist buffoons who ruin societies. but at least i make an attempt to enlighten those who i disagree with, and not simply say “tyrants ruin industrialized economies!” without providing ample theoretical, and historically specific evidence (in addition to citing and linking to scholars, articles, essays, and books that support my argument).

    and, i may add, you did nothing to address the fact that your beloved institution of centralized government is operated by a gaggle of liars and half-convicted (e.g. censured) criminals.

  • rcthompson

    @balconesfault… your understanding of human nature is fundamentally defective. Corporations and individuals are both self-interested and typically act as such. Individuals and corporations engage in values laden activities because they receive some benefit from them whether it makes them feel warm inside or serves as a tax deduction. Acting like individuals are somehow morally superior ignores that individuals make such choices because they receive an internalized benefit.

    The corporation is the second best invention of the English speaking peoples behind their invention of representative government.

  • balconesfault

    fine. they also FEED YOU, HOUSE YOU, and PROVIDE YOU WITH LEISURE GOODS.

    For a price, when it fits their business model.

    you are at fault for encouraging them to produce what you and i consume.

    Here you go assigning fault. That’s silly. You’re looking at this in a juvenile fashion.

    you cannot wholesale attack business without acknowledging the fact that without business, you would be a pauper, if not a caveman

    You cannot attack fire without recognizing that without fire, we would be sorely lacking. Yet we employ fire-fighters and post up Smokey the Bear warnings. Figure that?

    I fail to see in your writings any acknowledgment that regulation of corporations is necessary. Without that, it’s hard to take you as anything but a cartoon cutout of a libertarian.

  • balconesfault

    Individuals and corporations engage in values laden activities because they receive some benefit from them whether it makes them feel warm inside or serves as a tax deduction.

    Corporations do not do things “because it makes them feel warm inside”. To do so to any significant degree would leave them open to stockholder lawsuits for fiduciary irresponsibility.

    Individuals have no such encumberances, except to the degree that they must meet existing financial obligations.

    I guess that’s the whole point – a corporation is inherently a financial obligation. An individual is not.

  • Rabiner

    Comparing corporations with people in this discussion is fruitless and will lead you down the path to nowhere.

    Are corporations a good thing? In the economic realm yes, very much so. Corporations are successful at leveraging private capital to produce things and in turn make profits.

    Are corporations a bad thing? In the political realm yes, very much so. Corporations have different interests than people do. They don’t care if the environment is polluted, workers are mistreated, and crime is unpunished…that is unless it hurts their bottom line. The interests of a corporation are 1 dimensional: profits. Allowing corporations political speech rights conflates the role of citizens voting with corporations drive for a dollar. Everyone complains about the short sightedness of the single issue voter, but the corporation is the ultimate single issue voter.

  • think4yourself

    WillyP, sorry for the long rebuttal post.

    SinceI have not read the entire works of Friedrich Hayek I won’t debate who is right between Hayek and Keynes. You and I would have some agreement on economic issues.

    You didn’t answer my questions, and you had an interesting statement that people don’t debate this issues in non-partisan terms while you were making partisan statements yourself (Pavlovian “Republicans are Evil”, “angry Leftists, etc.).

    As to your economic arguments, I’ll offer my comments. “Did Obamacare lower costs” – It hasn’t been implemented fully so it’s too early to tell. Certainly health insurance companies and other companies in the medical arena have used the specter of “Obamacare” to raise rates – but they were raising rates on those who had no bargaining power anyway, this was a convenient excuse to blame someone else. I am self employed and self insured; for the last 8 years the premiums for my family of four increased 20-25% every single year until this year when it hit $22,000 per year. The “invisible guiding hand” of the market did not offer a solution. BTW, I wasn’t looking for a gov’t entity to pay my premiums, I was looking for the ability to get a fair deal and the market wouldn’t help – the alternative is to go get a job for a company that offers benefits, which in my opinion stifles small business creation, which stifles new job creation. In my view a better healthcare plan than the one enacted would have been where individuals could buy into the plans available for gov’t employees (yep, a public option), with some smaller subsidies available for those who could not pay much – and I would make everyone pay something. I think that would create competition so that insurance companies would no longer be able to bully those who did not have the power of an employer behind them and it would have done a better job at lowering costs – but of course Republicans screamed that would kill the health insurance industry (really?).

    “Banks not lending money”. I would argue that TARP was designed to ensure that we did not have a wholesale collapse of the banking system, not necessarily get them to start lending again. On balance, I think that TARP did what it was supposed to do and ended up costing very little. I also think it will take market forces to stimulate lending, not additional gov’t intervention. That means a painful adjustment period where there will be winners and losers. I supported TARP as I felt that if 1/3rd of the major financial institutions collapsed it would affect business worldwide for a generation. I am ambivalent about bailouts, but don’t mind making strategic investments for future success. I didn’t support the stimulus plan as I believed that it did not solve the essential economic issues; for example cash for clunkers gave the car industry a short term boost but did not solve the underlying problems in that industry. Since 1/3rd of the stimulus was additional tax breaks, I also thought the stimulus plan would substantially add to the deficit without creating signficant additional demand and it wasn’t paid for with either increased taxes or spending cuts (you and I may be pretty close to agreement on the stimulus bill).

    As for only an ignoramus would think that gov’t can “cure” a recession through additional spending or “strong” regulation – while I don’t believe this recession can be cured through those means alone, in fact we have often used gov’t spending to create demand. I also think that the repeal of Glass-Stegall in 1999, a “strong” regulation was part of what led banks and financial institutions to make some of the economic mistakes that created this recession.

    But on to questions about Libertianism in a complex society:

    Do you think our country would be better off if we did not have strong building code enforcement( I already used Haiti as a comparison)?

    Do you think we would be better off if there was no organization to oversee food and drug issues like the FDA? I’m not saying the FDA is perfect, but it is a mechanism to deal with health problems that occur from business errors. Or better off without OSHA or workplace rules?

    Would we be better off if we did not have a Center for Disease control?

    Would highly populated cities have less deaths if every individual could carry a gun without restriction, even if they were not trained to use it (if you require training to carry a weapon isn’t that gov’t intrusion on your personal freedom?)? Since most of the guns in the hands of criminals both here and in Mexico came from the US should we have fewer gun sale laws? Is it really a good idea to allow guns in bars as TN & AZ recently have?

    In a global economy, should we have no standards for education? Since we live a global free market where other countries (China, India, Tiawan, Singapore, etc.) are specifically trying to beat the US economically, do you think having no educational standards would come back to haunt us in 20-30 years? Or should we just assume that “American Exceptionalism” will automatically trump strategic plans by foreign gov’ts?

    If we abolish the social safety net (social security & medicare), does that mean we let citizens starve to death or become homeless because they did not plan prudently enough, became disabled through no fault of their own, had economic reverses or just weren’t born into the right family? Or do we assume in a Libertarian utopia that our neigbors will pitch in and help everyone out of their plight?

    A Libertian viewpoint means that Terri Schiavo’s husband has the right to pull the plug and if I’m getting old, I have the right to die on my own terms (positions I agree with that most Evangelical Conservatives do not).

    Does Libertarianism mean that we should have no drug laws of any kind? Not only pot, but cocaine, heroin, date-rape drugs, etc. should be legal (I know Liberterians who think that)? If someone has a meth-lab in the house next to mine, is it okay because it’s his own property unless it blows up and takes my house with it? Or if it is a threat do I have the right to kill him with my .50 caliber machine gun or RPG that I can have because there are no restrictions on weapons?

    What do Libertarians think about the “right to life” or right of choice” i.e the abortion issue? Either answer is a form of gov’t intervention on someone.

    On land that is not private property (public lands), who gets to decide what happens with those lands? Can I do anything that I want on those lands? Should there be any sort of gov’t regulation/interference? In August, eight spectators were killed at race in the Mojave Desert on public lands – should the gov’t have done more to ensure that the event was safe, or were the attendees at fault because they were there? If I want to camp at a pristine meadow, do I have the right to peace and quiet, or do you have the right to ride your ATV through that meadow all night long while drinking? If you do that, do I have the right to kill you with the claymore mines I laid out to protect myself?

    Do I have the right to drive without a seatbelt? Or ride a motorcyle without a helmet? When seatbelt laws became mandatory, I was mad as hell and when motorcycle helmets became mandatory in my state, I joined ABATE until I saw motorcycle deaths plummet (along with healthcare costs borne by the state) while those against helmet laws claimed that helmets were unsafe because there was an increase in the number of paralyzed motorcycle riders (some that would have died became paralyzed instead).

    Here is my point. I believe in the rights of the individual. But I also believe that in a large, complex society when people are disenfranchised by those more powerful they do need a voice that only gov’t can provide. If we abolished all of those departments mentioned above, in my view our society would be much worse off in the future. We can and should question the role of those departments and debate how much authority we give institutions over us. But Libertarianism by itself isn’t the answer. Somalia IS a good example of Libertarianism run amok.

    I’ll enjoy reading your response.

  • kevin47

    “Nobody used the political label “libertarian” in 1776.”

    Correct, but manifestly irrelevant.

    “The American founders were not exactly “close to power” in 1776, as they were waging a decidedly uphill struggle at that time against the British Empire.”

    Huh? If you are close to the top of a hill, are you not close to it, simply because you are beneath it? So much wrong with this sentence.

    “There’s little consensus as to what constitutes libertarianism today.”

    Nonsense. Simply because Bill Maher decided to co-opt the term doesn’t mean there is not consensus as to what the ideology stands for. It refers to an ideology that prefers as little government as possible, and for that government to be as de-centralized as possible. I can guarantee you the majority of self-described libertarians will agree with what I just wrote.
    “It is highly debatable whether Paul’s political prominence signifies a “libertarian moment” or rather just a tragedy whereby libertarianism becomes conflated with a particular strain of illiberal, conspiracy-minded twaddle.”

    This isn’t an argument. Mostly, it’s just adjectives. I find most of what is written on the Frum Forum to be twaddle, but that has no bearing on whether it is influential.

    “In sum, it is quite easy — and often lazy — for people to call themselves libertarian and to suggest the founding fathers were too.”

    In sum? You haven’t defended this thesis at all. I haven’t read the rest of the comments yet, but I’d guess you’ve got the lefties here pretty geeked up. If that was your intention, good for you.

  • buddyglass

    kevn- Allow me to suggest there’s less consensus than you suggest. See Brink Lindsey getting canned at Cato, etc.

    Then there’s the usual conflict between the zealots and more pragmatic believers. Case in point Ron Bailey at Reason, who now favors a carbon tax as the preferred means of addressing what he considers to be a legitimate problem (climate change).

    You’ve got those who want to totally dismantle Medicaid and Medicare, then you’ve got guys like Lawrence Kotlikoff who want to provide universal health care using a voucher system.

    There’s a spectrum.

  • kevin47

    “Case in point Ron Bailey at Reason, who now favors a carbon tax as the preferred means of addressing what he considers to be a legitimate problem (climate change).”

    You will not find a prominent adherent to any ideology that will not depart from the ideology one way or another. Ron Bailey departs from the libertarian position on the climate change issue. But that is quite different from suggesting that there is no real definition of libertarianism. If there wasn’t one, this blog would not feel compelled to condemn it.

  • larry

    The framers were generally mercantilists. That’s what they knew. Smith’s 1776 ideas were new and unassimilated. And he was no “libertarian.” Why engage in wish-dreams and fantasy?

  • Non-Contributor

    ^Because like the teabaggers, libertarians make things up as they go along.

  • Cato

    I love those who comment saying they just love individual rights but that our society is just so complex that we need Big Brother to step in a save us from those who mean us ill. You woudl think no one ever dies anymore from food or drugs due to the FDA, while in fact the regulation of the FDA serves mainly to shield the company from THE RULE OF LAW by providing safe harbors for the “regulated”.

    They would have us worship at the Fed as if since 1913 we have had no inflation or recessions or depressions; while our currency has lost a vast amount of purchasing power.

    Such people do not believe in freedom, they instead put their trust in The State! The warfare-welfare state. The very idea of freedom terrifies them so much that when one simple line in an article opines the Founders as libertarian, they take to their keyboards as they have to smash the very thought!

    They try their best to rewrite history: Quincy Adams admonition that we do not go abroad searching for monsters doesn’t work for the proponents of the welfare warfare state. Washington’s admonitions about favored states or eternal enemies is equally disturbing to proponents of war.

    When you open FrumForum and you see all the attention paid to such an article/quote, you know the libertarian movement is growing and the Establishment is about to go on the attack to try to put out the fire of freedom.

  • WillyP

    think,
    Obamacare will absolutely not lower costs when it is fully implemented. It will only raise them further. Matter of fact, Obama admitted this himself, saying in effect, how did people expect cost to go down as he added “30 million” to the insurance roles? Remember that? Yes, so basically he and Sebelius lied and then blamed insurance companies. Exactly as one would expect. Sure, we’ll get the “in the long run” nonsense, which is convenient because it is unverifiable in the present. But anybody who has studied the history of government intervention into markets knows that a 3,000 page regulation bill is virtually guaranteed to raise costs, cartelize the insurance industry, and shift power to government. As for “the invisible hand” failing you, it’s not as if healthcare wasn’t regulated before Obamacare. Matter of fact, it was already the most regulated (consumer) industry in the entire country, on the municipal, state, and federal level. So don’t blame the free market when there wasn’t one to begin with.

    You are very much free to explain TARP in your own words, and make your own arguments for its necessity. However, neither you or I are free to rewrite history and claim that the Fed and the Federal government did not claim that TARP was designed to ensure the continuous flow of credit. It was to prevent a “credit freeze,” remember? And what are loans if not “credit” ?? I remember hearing about a “deep thaw” in the credit markets, and how the Fed was going to “inject liquidity.” This was patently ridiculous, to suggest that printed money could somehow function as true fodder for capital lending. Capital consists of food, supplies, machines, and other resources that enable production. Printed money, excuse me… digital money is none of those things. Without getting too deep into capital and monetary theory, I think I can assert without too much controversy that a burst bubble doesn’t need more fuel, but a chance to recover organically through market adjustment.

    To suggest that Haiti would benefit from a uniform building code is to overlook the reality of Haiti itself. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. If you went in there, good intentions flooding out of your ears, and insisted that all new structures in Haiti conform to a new “earthquake code,” you would succeed in doing one thing and one thing only: ensuring that people would live and conduct business without any shelter, because the cost to construct a new building would be far beyond what the Haitian economy would support. While we’re on the topic, Libertarianism isn’t Haiti’s problem – it is the mob-like, corrupt government that squanders resources and tramples on individual rights daily. I know people (for that matter families) from Haiti, and the amount of stories I hear of kidnappings and ransom, state-affiliated blackmail, and nefarious political deals would apparently surprise you.

    As to some of your other examples…
    Public land is public land. It is up to the government to decide what is permitted and not. I’m not sure why you’re asking somebody who would privatize almost all land what they think of the tragedy of the commons. As you might expect, I believe that public property is generally abused more than private property. Harry Reid has gotten rich off public land. Something like 80% of Nevada’s land is “public.” How silly is this?

    If someone wants to drive without a seatbelt, ride without a helmet, or ATV while drinking in an open field, let them. I am not in favor of laws that restrict personal behavior to such a degree. These are decisions made by adults and it will be the adults who bear the consequences. I never understood what it mattered to people if a stranger did not wear a seatbelt or a helmet. I wear my seat belt almost all the time, but occasionally don’t. (Always while driving.) In the back seat of a cab I almost never wear my seatbelt. Should I be fined? If I want to climb a mountain, I should be allowed, even though one misstep could result in my death. Same goes for white water rafting, hunting, hiking, or swimming. All potentially dangerous activities that result in fatalities each year.

    Milton Friedman was in favor of eliminating the FDA. As he saw it, the FDA has led to more deaths through arbitrary banning of life-saving drugs than it has saved through precaution.

    Generally speaking, however, you should consider who staffs your vaunted bureaus. It may surprise you to learn that they are industry representatives ;) Who else has the expertise? Who else can say what is safe and what is unsafe? It should not surprise you, therefore, that private industry uses government bureaus to restrict competition. Hey, it’s smart business. And you know what? It used to be called mercantilism.

    larry,
    To suggest that mercantilism’s first critic was Adam Smith is idiocy. Pre-Smith was Smith’s friend, David Hume, who contributed significantly to political economy. The Scotch/Frenchman Richard Cantillon wrote his masterly, systematic treatise in 1755. The French “Physiocrat” school was brilliant at exposing the myths of mercantilism decades before Smith. Its luminaries include Turgot and Quesnay. Thomas Jefferson’s favorite economist was Destutt de Tracy. There were famous Italian and Spanish Scholastic economists whose names we neglect, but who were influential in Continental thought.

    To be clear, our Founders were not acolytes of Smith; they were contemporaries. However they were of a similar mind in recognizing the organizing forces inherent in liberty and individually guided action, and the threat posed to this spontaneous order by a government which expanded beyond its legitimate reach.

  • buddyglass

    @kevin: “Ron Bailey departs from the libertarian position on the climate change issue.”

    See, that’s the thing. Bailey would disagree that’s departing from the libertarian position, or that his advocating a carbon tax (as a solution to anthropogenic global warming) violates libertarian “principles”. In his view those principles are not so inflexible that they preclude something like the carbon tax in light of (in Bailey’s view) the reality of AGW.

    I’m with you that there’s a kernel of ideas or vague principles that almost all libertarians would embrace. I’m just suggesting that the kernel may be smaller than you think, or that the principles excessively vague. For instance if you said libertarians were for “smaller government” then lots of Republicans would also say they value that principle. From a libertarian point of view they almost certainly don’t. At least, not according to the libertarian’s view of “smaller government”. So you have to refine that principle in specific ways. The more specific you get, the more likely you are to include a position some libertarians disagree with.

    @Cato: “I love those who comment saying they just love individual rights but that our society is just so complex that we need Big Brother to step in a save us from those who mean us ill.”

    I’m one who loves individual rights. I also think judicious govt. intervention can cause markets to function more efficiently. For instance, but providing consumers with better information (so they can act rationally) or regulating practices that stifle competition. I also think the govt. is an appropriate mechanism for meeting the most basic needs of the truly disadvantaged. However, the current hodge-podge of programs are truly abysmal.

    My four prongs:

    1. Return federal revenue to the historic level of 18% GDP. Currently it’s around 15%.
    2. Cut federal spending (on a rolling basis) to 18% GDP. That is to say, balance the budget in the long-term while accommodating short-term deficit spending.
    3. Collect that revenue in a simpler and more efficient manner.
    4. Spend that revenue in a simpler, more efficient and more effective manner.

  • sinz54

    balconesfault: For a price, when it fits their business model.
    And when it fits your budget and how much you want to spend. It’s an agreement by mutual consent.

    Likewise, I worked for such employers–only when their job offers met my salary requirements.

    No corporation, no matter how big, can force you to buy their product at a price you don’t want to pay. Nor can they force you to work for them at a wage you don’t find acceptable.

  • sinz54

    WillyP: Obamacare will absolutely not lower costs when it is fully implemented. It will only raise them further.
    Yep. Just like RomneyCare has already done to us MA residents.

    Supporters of ObamaCare should explain (if they can) why it can do a better job controlling costs than RomneyCare, which has the same basic model.

    As I recall, liberals were saying that a public option was the ONLY real way for ObamaCare to reduce costs. When the public option was rejected by Obama, they swiftly changed their tune. Let’s see them answer the question of what features of ObamaCare can lower costs as well as a public option would have (according to them).

  • WillyP

    guys and gals, we are forgetting something in our attempts (well, mainly your attempts) to define libertarianism. as FF contributors, we should shun labels. as should ken silber.

    who’s to say what’s libertarian and what’s not? what’s it matter what we call ourselves? just call me “brother.”

  • sinz54

    Cato: Quincy Adams admonition that we do not go abroad searching for monsters doesn’t work for the proponents of the welfare warfare state.
    At least twice, the monsters came to our shores anyway: Once on 12/07/1941 and once on 09/11/2001. And in 1917, Germany’s attempt to get Mexico to declare war on the United States and seize the Southwest on Germany’s behalf sure sounded like a clear act of aggression.

    Finally, during the Cold War, the invention of the nuclear ballistic missile meant that monsters anywhere on the planet could devastate the United States within 20 minutes. That necessitated a strategy that was far more aggressive than libertarians liked. So be it. We won the Cold War and defeated Communism (the antithesis of libertarianism)–and we did it OUR way. By going abroad and defeating those monsters.

  • Nanotek

    “No corporation, no matter how big, can force you to buy their product at a price you don’t want to pay. Nor can they force you to work for them at a wage you don’t find acceptable.”

    Ever visit a prison run by a corporation?

  • Cato

    Sinz54, in either case, do you think US foreign policy played a part in bringing the monster to our shore, thus the admonition of the Founders…

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    Sinz: “Supporters of ObamaCare should explain (if they can) why it can do a better job controlling costs than RomneyCare, which has the same basic model.”

    At the height of the HCR debate you were steadfastly defending RomneyCare and criticizing Obama’s plan precisely because, in your opinion, RomneyCare had mechanisms for containing costs. Whenever I pointed out to you that costs in MA were rising and that no such mechanisms had actually been implemented yet, you slavishly defended RomneyCare based on its future promise of controlling costs. And now you want to criticize the ACA because it hasn’t controlled costs despite the fact that most of its provisions won’t be implemented for 3 more years? What a joke.

    “As I recall, liberals were saying that a public option was the ONLY real way for ObamaCare to reduce costs. When the public option was rejected by Obama, they swiftly changed their tune.”

    I don’t know of any prominent liberals who changed their tune by claiming the public option was not the best way (and by far) of controlling costs, and you don’t know of any prominent liberals who are saying this either. What liberals have always said is that those provisions in the ACA that promote a delivery model similar to the Mayo Clinic’s delivery system have a demonstrated record of controlling costs.

    As usual, you’ve created a straw man in a feeble attempt to advance a purely partisan (and unmeritorious) argument.

  • WillyP

    spartacus,
    you know, I told sinz a while back that he was wrong about RomneyCare, and to his credit, he now agrees. before the rise in costs became manifest, it was merely me spouting theory (reliable theory, but theory nonetheless). now that the verdict is in, we know what RomneyCare did – raise costs.

    Do you disagree? Then you disagree with empirical evidence represented by price quotes.

    The nice thing about Federalism is that it allows for experimentation. We know where Obamacare leads because we’ve tried RomneyCare. Got it?

  • balconesfault

    I love those who comment saying they just love individual rights but that our society is just so complex that we need Big Brother to step in a save us from those who mean us ill.

    It’s not that people mean us ill, necessarily.

    It’s that the free market by and large doesn’t allow corporations to care about what effect their work practices, pollution, and products might have, outside the constraints of regulations and tort law.

    I am absolutely sure that nobody is sitting on the board of directors at ExxonMobil declaring that the next time a tank farm explodes in a heavily populated area, killing a number of people, this is a good thing.

    I also know that ExxonMobil must balance the costs of maintaining certain equipment standards, certain time/cost intensive work and safety practices, even certain amounts of open space buffer between their tank farms and the fenceline, with the cost of competing against a bunch of other oil companies who are trying to sell a product virtually indistinguishable from theirs at a price point that will maximize their profit.

    So in the absence of regulations, what would ExxonMobil have to do if a major competitor (an LLC, of course) was clearly shortcutting safety standards in order to deliver cheaper product to the pump, thus diverting business and revenue from ExxonMobil’s pumps? Accept a lower profit margin in order to compete? Sit around and wait for the inevitable major accident by the competitor to kill a lot of people and lead to civil damages that shuts the competitor down? Cut their own safety standards in order to maintain their position in both the marketplace and with the short-term focused investment community?

    A strong regulatory presence by government is actually of value to the economy. It eliminates the possibility of those who would take higher risks with the public health and safety from profiting by those risks. It supports companies long-term investments in health and safety practices since those investments won’t be “stranded” by a company needing to abandon maintaining them in order to compete against corporations which eschew such measures. It reduces societal costs due to resources loss and remediation when an LLC conveniently disappears after a mistake results in damages that can be many times more costly to reverse than the value of the LLC itself.

    Yeah. Getting rid of regulations is a great pathway to prosperity. Define what “overregulated” means and we can discuss.

  • Watusie

    WillyP “now that the verdict is in, we know what RomneyCare did – raise costs”

    I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find WillyP peddling an untruth.

    If you are interested at all in reality, you could if you wish, start here and follow the links: http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2010/12/19/health-care-apocalypse-not/

    All in all, the Massachusetts results would be good news–if Republicans operated on the basis of “news,” rather than ideological fear-mongering, on this issue.

  • WillyP

    watusie,
    You sure are selective, you know that? In the article you link to, we read,
    “The cost of health care continues to rise…”

    And yet you accuse me of “peddling an untruth.” What untruth?

    “now that the verdict is in, we know what RomneyCare did – raise costs”

    So explain to me and to everybody else how “the cost of healthcare continues to rise [under RomneyCare]” is incompatible with “RomneyCare did … raise costs.”

    Please. This should be a mental contortion even for you.