Markets in everything ctd.

I think Jason and I disagree less than his critique of my post would suggest.  He is correct that my rather brief treatment of markets (and the purpose of markets) leaves a great deal to be desired.  I was not intending to write a piece explaining the many benefits (or limitations) of markets per say – mainly because, like Jason and the other libertarians here, I am an advocate of the free market.  I am not terribly interested in arguing the merits of a free market economy.  Certainly this will lead only to partisans in both camps hurling strawmen at one another.  As Jason notes, both the success and failure of markets can “discover distributed and inarticulate knowledge about preference and utility.”  And this is a good thing.

I think Jason’s strongest point is this:

But the real question is not whether markets work perfectly. It’s whether any of the alternatives can do the job as well or better. When we consider that the real work of markets is to gather up distributed knowledge and render it publicly legible, it seems clear to me that few other social institutions are even seriously trying. Many of the worst of them, government programs above all included, act as if this work has already been done — as if Hayek’s dispersed knowledge had already been aggregated once and for all, and as if the action at hand weren’t going to upset it all in the process.

To be perfectly clear, markets aren’t the be-all and end-all of public policy for me. They are, however, the option we ought to try first, because properly designed, they tend to tell us what’s going on. This is tremendously important, and it’s very difficult to admit that we don’t know it.

He goes on to argue that markets should also be a last resort – and that if there is a market failure, it is often as not a failure of the “given ruleset” not necessarily the market itself.  Healthcare is a prime example of this.

And of course, in order for markets to work, for human progress to continue, and really for a sane and somewhat rational, stable economy to flourish, above all else we must maintain choice.

Indeed, Jason’s advocacy of choice is compelling, and I tend to agree that the more choice the better, if only because I could not tell you where or with whom we should limit it.  The more freedom the better.  I certainly don’t want to be constrained in my own choices, and I am not nearly paternalistic enough to want to constrain others in theirs. Whatever constraint or sacrifice we make based on coercion is a false one.

 

And so, as a matter of policy preference, I prefer as few rules as possible. Like Gary Johnson, I don’t like people telling me what to do.  Indeed, I have become increasingly libertarian in my beliefs on public and economic policy.  The fewer government restraints on our choices the better.  We should stop locking people up because they choose to smoke a relatively harmless plant, for instance.  Nor should we go about banning cigarettes simply because they are flavored, or requiring that bars – bars, for goodness sakes! – should do away with smoking altogether.  Freedom and social stability go hand in hand – at least up to a point.  I am no anarchist, after all.

Nevertheless, I think as a philosophy – if not as a policy platform – endless choice, ambition, competition, individualism and so forth are still antithetical to conservatism. Perhaps these things should merely be thought of as letting well enough alone – minding our own business and that of our families and neighbors.  And I suppose what I’m driving at is that conservatism needs more than just markets or the language of markets as its philosophical foundation.  More importantly, however, conservatism needs to quit subverting culture to the whim of politics.  Everything – even marriage – has become in the hands of contemporary conservatism a political bludgeon.  The sanctity of marriage is threatened more by its use as a talking point in endless political debate than by the prospect of gays marrying.

If this is a somewhat incoherent argument on my part, I apologize.  I’m working out my thoughts on this concept of an anti-political politics.  My discomfort with contemporary conservative politics is not its embrace of markets – which I support for all the reasons Jason mentions – but the vapid and rather shallow philosophical mooring which accompanies this embrace.  Everything has become a talking point.

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41 thoughts on “Markets in everything ctd.

  1. Can we talk meta for a minute? How we have this conversation, rather than the meat of the thing?

    Here’s the problem: Jason K., from my perspective, allows “I can’t see any other way to do it” to mean “there is no other way to do it.” And to that I just say, again, that human progress is not done. There are potential alternatives, and the fact that they are hard to get to or come up with is not a reason they can’t ever be achieved.

    That’s just, like, a conceptual disagreement. But I think that the comments around here demonstrate the second part of the problem: insisting that every advocate for a different resource distribution system than the one we have now must therefore be placed into a “capitalism/communism” binary. And, you know, then you get the “you support genocide! That’s already been tried!” And on and on. The effect is to prevent someone like me from even having the right to express his real opinion and not have it twisted into something it is not.

    I mean, look at Jason’s comment to me yesterday.

    “First, they seem to presume a callousness on the part of free-market advocates that I find deeply insulting. It’s almost as if they really think we’d never considered the problem of poverty — because, look, the solution is just so obvious! Give the poor… stuff!”

    I never– literally never– said anything about callousness in that thread. Indeed, what I said was that it’s precisely this kind of hyper-sensitivity to the perceived accusation of callousness that functionally forbids my opinion. He proved my point exactly! I just want the existence of poverty and persistent material need to be on the table, but the minute I try to bring it up, Jason became extremely sensitive to the perception that he was being accused of callousness, started strawmanning me, and received kudos from the hoi polloi. This happens every time we talk about these issues here; someone gets sensitive, and the group decides that I am not entitled to have my opinion anymore. Jason went on to say

    “This brings us to my second problem with his argument — simply giving material goods to the poor via the state has huge problems. ”

    If you can find where I said that, seriously, you are a magician. Find where I said that in the thread! Jason is arguing with someone, but it isn’t with me. And that’s the problem with this space. The comments section of the League will not allow me to speak for myself. The minute there is anything resembling a call for a resource allocation system that differs in any real way from the system we have now, people insist on painting you into a corner and claim that you are saying something that you aren’t saying.

    Jason styles himself a libertarian. But he doesn’t extend to me the right to have my own opinion, really. Not one that he is willing to actually call what it is instead of setting up a strawman. All of that says nothing, meanwhile, of what is allowed in terms of content in arguments. So Jason can say, with a straight face, that the example of North and South Korea simply proves once and for all that we should pursue a strict free market system, in perpetuity. That simplistic of an argument is fine, if it flatters the preconceptions of the people who post around here. If I point out that Somalia has no government– really, no government!– and a perfectly free market, and is pretty close to hell on earth, well… then, I’m sure, there will be all sorts of complications that we should talk about. Or the fact that Haiti has a free market system, which has done nothing to deliver it from abject poverty– even worse than its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. Yes, Haiti and the DR have had different socioeconomic histories even though they are right next to each other! It’s almost as if geopolitics is incredibly complicated and can’t be reduced to childish, facile arguments about the beauty of markets!

    This is why this is a functionally conservative website. Not because of the voices of the people who post here, but because the comments section is filled with commissars who try to prevent argument from falling outside of a very narrow range of approved positions. That’s not in the spirit of this enterprise, I don’t think.

    Me, well. I’m sure people in feudalism thought that feudalism would be the truth of life for all time, that it was ordained by God, that it had been handed down by heaven to be the system for all mankind and for all time, that they had reached the end of history…. But things change.

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    • I can’t believe that you are telling people that they should not respond to your posts the way that they are inclined to respond to your posts. While not out and out censorship, it certainly creates a chilling environment.

      You know what else were chilling environments?

      The gulags.

      Now, seriously:
      I don’t (merely) think that people ought be allowed to disagree… I think that they are *ENTITLED* to disagree. And even disagree vigorously and viciously and ask such questions as “would Megan McArdle have saved Deamonte Driver’s life if it meant expanding government?”

      Hell, I even think that they’re entitled to say “you’re disagreeing with me! That creates a chilling environment!”

      I just think that other people are entitled to argue against you in kind… and, sometimes, that means treating you the way you treat others.

      If only there were a way to overcome the whole “people treat me the way I treat them!” problem…

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      • But believe it or not, Jay, you are not some perfect subjectivity floating on a cloud. Why don’t you ever turn those powerful X-ray specs on yourself? You are such a consistent– some would say obsessive– critic of mine. You’ve chopped me up and boiled me down, put me on Freud’s couch, shown me the Rorschach blots, described me in ways physiological, psychological, historical, sociological…. And, you know, bully.

        But you talk as if 1) my preferred politics has nothing to do with this, when of course it does and 2) you are not guilty of a single bit of comments section bullshit or unfairness. And, Jay– nobody likes the guru on the mountain routine. So why don’t you take your considerable analytical powers and look at the man in the mirror. Ask yourself, am I really so different?

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        • Dude! Where do you think I *GET* this insight?

          Only I don’t complain when people treat me the way I treat them. As a matter of fact, it’s the complete opposite of a surprise when it happens.

          I’m also not surprised when they disagree with me and I certainly don’t consider it a chilling effect. If anything, it’s a place where we can hammer out what the true disagreements are.

          But if that’s not an option, talking about the other person instead of the topic at hand is usually cool too.

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          • Wounded boy? Who is sulking? I’m here; I’m always here. What you guys want is the ability to cocoon here. You want yesmen. Which is cool. But this site plays up its welcoming nature towards people who come from different political backgrounds, and I’m telling you all about the degree to which, in reality, that isn’t lived up to. Wounded? You think you guys can bother me? I was born for this shit. Cooked up in a lab for it. My life story couldn’t be a more perfect vehicle for creating someone bent on arguing with people like you. I was born to rumble and I will until I’m dead. I’m cool with all of it. But you all think you have a certain comity towards difference of opinion, and I am telling you that isn’t the case.

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            • Yes men? I’m a libertine paleo. No one here shares my views entirely. Tolerant? Not me. I harken back to old school Republican, of the French variety. Glad to see you show some back bone. Now quit wining and put out your policy positions.

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              • OK, here’s one: come up with a metric that replaces the way GDP is used in our politics with one that matches rate of economic growth up against the rate at which we have consumed natural resources. Hard to calculate, of course, but worthwhile, I imagine.

                I should also point out that there is a pretty enormous backlog of my policy positions in various places on this here blog.

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    • Well what is it that you propose Freddie? What is the third way? The man(woman) who finds a way to break our economic system out of the prison of the Command Economy-Market Economy spectrum will be a giant, lauded in history and society for all time. What is the third way?

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    • Though I agree with the substance of your critique that this is a fundamentally conservative website, I would actually agree, though mostly I think because the more recent topics have tended towards subjects where the POV’s of the regular commenters are pretty well established and our discussions have operated within a fairly narrow set of philosophical assumptions.

      Though the recent posts on sexuality have been a welcome change from that trend.

      What I disagree with is with both your evidence and the implication that somehow you don’t engage in the same behaviors.

      “I never– literally never– said anything about callousness in that thread.”

      There are two responses, first that it’s hard to escape the implications of callousness in your comments, particularly when saying, “…to find people in Hartford who are from their family’s third or fourth generation in poverty. What the bootstrappers of the world insist is that this is because of their own lack of virtue. They choose to be that way. And you have to ask– really?”

      Second, Jason actually wrote, “I’m always struck by two aspects of arguments like Freddie’s.” Which is hardly a preface for saying, in this exact thread Freddie said X and a standard segue to introduce a respond to a line of argumentation rather than addressing one exact argument.

      Then, “‘This brings us to my second problem with his argument — simply giving material goods to the poor via the state has huge problems.’
      If you can find where I said that…
      The minute there is anything resembling a call for a resource allocation system that differs in any real way from the system we have now…”

      So you were calling for a resource allocation system that doesn’t allocate more material goods to the poor via the state? If you were that wasn’t clear.

      Then there’s paragraph where you seem upset that Jason reduced geopolitics to a too simplistic and “facile” argument, but in fact do the same yourself, while distorting the actual context of Jason’s South/North Korea contrast to make it seem larger and more important than it was. Indeed, it was a response to a question of causality, that I thought was a useful exchange and not “childish.”

      Finally, “I just want the existence of poverty and persistent material need to be on the table, but the minute I try to bring it up…”

      If that’s your point, and I do think that’s an actual question, I really think you ought to think about your approach. More often than not you point the conversation towards “how do/can we address poverty and persistent material need in this framework.” Because instead making that actual critique, Freddie, you wade in and accuse libertarians or conservatives of having not addressed the issue in the first place. Which is insulting to the people who have and disagree on perhaps scope. Precisely because of your approach I question whether your point is more to bring a discussion of poverty to the table or to chastise others for not having done it previously.

      I think perhaps it might be worth reflecting on whether people are responding to what you are saying, even if it isn’t necessarily what you intend to say.

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        • Oh no, there could be. In fact, I’d be super curious to explore the former. It’s just you’re the one saying there’s a meaningful difference and from my point of view, without distinguishing the former, I don’t think the latter is egregious strawmanning, given that presumably this system would at some point involve providing poor people things via the government.

          Is it an oversimplification, Yes. Is it an oversimplification of an unarticulated point? Yes. Double fault?

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  2. I just want the existence of poverty and persistent material need to be on the table…

    It very certainly is. I observe two general systems in practice: One has very extensive redistribution and/or places collectivized property nominally in the hands of the poor, with the aim of enriching them. The other has a relatively free market, subject to some regulation and a modest degree of redistribution.

    The one system has quite a few poor people in it. The other has vastly many more poor people in it. By what subtle logic do we condemn the system that works relatively better? How is it that those who support the free market are reminded again and again to think of the poor — as if we had not made them very center of our argument?

    Jason styles himself a libertarian. But he doesn’t extend to me the right to have my own opinion, really.

    You are free to have your opinion. I am free, I trust, to find it ill-conceived.

    Your examples of Haiti and Somalia are both instructive, but not in the way you think. I would classify each as having experienced long periods of kleptocracy, in which, yes, there were few government regulations on private industry, but in which the state simply and routinely confiscated whatever it wanted. This is nothing like a free market, in which at the very least property rights have meaningful protections.

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  3. I certainly don’t want to be constrained in my own choices, and I am not nearly paternalistic enough to want to constrain others in theirs.

    This is my fundamental intuition right here.
    “Would someone else tell me that I don’t have the right to X?” (And I’m not using the phrase “tell me” in the “free speech” sense of the term but in the “AT THE POINT OF A GUN” sense of the term.)

    If I come to the conclusion that, yes they would, it’s easy for me to say that I have the right to tell other people that they cannot X.

    The problem keeps coming up that there are a great many values of X where I cannot see someone having the right to tell me to not do it. Many of them involve things in the privacy of my own home or are on my property but some have to deal with such things as barter in the commons, for example (or smoking in bars!).

    What values of X am I okay with people telling me things? Well, pollution is an excellent example (hey, North!), people committing violence against others (including, but not limited to, The Children), and such things.

    If I cannot come to the conclusion that I would be okay with someone pointing a gun at me and forcing me to stop/start doing X, I cannot come to the conclusion that it would be okay for Us As A Society to do that.

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  4. Jason,

    You’re demonstrating Freddie’s point. Anyone suggesting that “a relatively free market, subject to some regulation and a modest degree of redistribution” has left in its wake a great deal of poverty and destitution must be hastily rebuked because all economies lie on a gradient between this and the atrocity of a pure command economy.

    How is it that those who support the free market are reminded again and again to think of the poor — as if we had not made them very center of our argument?

    I’d say the hysterical reaction to (for example) Naomi Klein or Barbara Ehrenreich shows this isn’t the case.

    Freddie,

    Quit whining.

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    • Anyone suggesting that “a relatively free market, subject to some regulation and a modest degree of redistribution” has left in its wake a great deal of poverty and destitution must be hastily rebuked…

      Freddie included? I’m just wondering — so much of what he is saying doesn’t rest on any obvious policy recommendations. He doesn’t like the free market, because the market and its advocates don’t sufficiently regard the poor. What does he have in mind, practically? And what evidence does he have that it will help actual poor people in practice?

      As to Naomi Klein, I find her research shoddy at best and very likely just plain dishonest. A vigorous reaction (like this one) is sometimes appropriate. I’ll cop to not knowing much about Barbara Ehrenreich’s arguments. There’s only so much time in the day.

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      • I have a whole host of policy recommendations. But I can’t even bring them to the table as long as you insist on forcing me into this bogus binary. You have not recognized or apologized for building a ridiculous strawman and insisting that it is me. Because you can’t. Your whole philosophy is bent towards attacking this Bolshevist construct that no one has seriously advocated for decades. Look again– you start throwing complications into an overly simplistic portrait of Haiti or Somalia. And indeed you should! And yet you find the example of the Koreas not only instructive, but damning, in an incredibly facile and simplistic way.

        This is how all of these arguments go: there are complicating factors for the historical examples that damage your point; there are no complicating factors for the historical examples that support your point. You say that no truly free market existed in Somalia or Haiti; I say that no truly communist model existed in the Soviet Union or China (even while I’m not arguing for a communist system). What’s the difference? The difference is that you act as though one claim of “it’s never really existed!” is serious, while the other isn’t. You’re so incredibly myopic in a way that supports your own position you don’t even see the symmetries between how you argue and how your phantom opponents argue.

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    • To abolish inheritance, and to make that abolition stick, we would also have to abolish private gift-giving among people who were still alive. Otherwise, many would just give everything away before they died, rather than after.

      There are a host of other workarounds that people would use to avoid the ban, and we’d have to forbid those, too. For example, I might set up a joint tenancy with my husband in all of our property. This would allow him to keep my property, and prevent your government from adding insult to injury upon my death. Or I could set up a corporation or a trust that would hold all of our family property. Now that it’s not individual property, its ownership as corporate property is unaffected by my death.

      To achieve what you want, we’d have to ban many things that we take for granted every day, including trusts, joint tenancy, corporations, and the simple act of gift-giving. Honestly, I could hardly think of a policy with more totalitarian implications than to abolish inheritance, and I do not use that word lightly.

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    • Abolish inheritance?

      Only for other people. When I die, I hope Maribou gets my stuff and I’ll probably have some stuff in the will for my nephews.

      I want them to get that stuff.

      Would you think that the world would be a better place if Maribou did not get my stuff after I died?

      Or is that not what you’re talking about when you talk about inheritance?

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    • Wow, it’s dramatic all right. My brain stopped for a second after I read it.

      I assume we’d have somewhere else that the former goods of inheritance would be going? Do you mean like essentially an estate tax of 100% and no minimum estate size?

      Certainly that would produce an enormous amount of revenue.

      How would we prevent living people from moving their assets out of the country or prevent them from simply giving all their assets to their heirs before they died?

      Assuming it worked, what would we be spending all this revenue on?

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      • Certainly that would produce an enormous amount of revenue.

        North,

        I don’t agree.

        A tax policy of this nature would most certainly incentivize people to avoid the tax in all sorts of ways that Jason mentions above.

        It’s messy for other reasons especially when the assets in question involve more than cash.

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        • I would also like to know more about different means to distribute income and how this would help the poor. I’m being sincere. I hear a lot of the people on the left say that new ways of helping the poor are necessary, but I never hear a good plan which would actually help the poor. If there are creative ways not being tried, I’d sincerely like to know. I’ve recommended voluntary, private means, but I always get shot down as being utopian, that creative private assistance will never work. I still believe, however, they would work, and on a micro scale, I’ve worked with such solutions that have worked on an admittedly small scale. I don’t see the conservative bent in the commenter section here that Freddie sees — I certainly don’t see a libertarian bent, because I get hammered constantly.

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