“Libertarianism and Madisonianism

~ by James Hanley

BlaiseP made the following Madison-inspired comment about libertarianism:

It is a statement of sovereign truth that every scheme which believes men to be angels, that freedom is the highest good, that the public good shall be subordinated to the private interest, is either a recipe for tyranny or a Panglossian panegyric devoid of any understanding of human nature.

I would need to write several lengthy posts to unpack and analyze all the implications of that sentence (which is a compliment–there’s a lot of tightly compressed substance in those few words), but for present purposes the only thing I want to focus on is the foundational assumption of the argument, that libertarianism is a “scheme which believes men to be angels.”

I hear the claim that libertarianism depends upon the goodness of men frequently from liberals, but I have also heard it from conservatives. And to avoid any game-playing I need to emphasize that I think perhaps there are libertarians who either believe it or who inadvertently give the implication that they believe it. (For example, I think any libertarian who argues that people in government are fundamentally different–worse–than others are implying that other people are more angelic.)

But it nevertheless is a misrepresentation of libertarianism as a body of thought. I’m truly not well-read in libertarian theory (I don’t even own a copy of Boaz’s A Libertarian Primer), so I can’t say with certainty that no libertarian theorist believes in the angelic vision of humanity, but I can say with certainty that no writing by a libertarian theorist that I’ve ever read myself even begins to suggest such a concept.

Three crucial (I think) and universal (I’m pretty sure) elements of libertarianism directly undermine the claim: Libertarians recognize and oppose coercion; libertarians do not believe in unconstrained behavior; libertarians see government as the most dangerous venue for coercion.

1. Libertarians Recognize and Oppose Coercion
Angelic beings would not tend to engage in coercion, yet to libertarians coercion is an inevitable (or nearly so) feature of the human condition, and their main concern is how to minimize it. Of course a person can argue fairly that the libertarian solution is terribly wrong, and would make the problem worse rather than better (which, in fact, is a standard liberal argument), but I don’t think anyone can argue fairly that libertarians don’t see coercion as a fundamental feature of human society. In fact the minimal night-watchman state that even very strong libertarians favor is their grudging acceptance that some government is necessary, because the sole purpose of the night watchman state is to correct cases of coercion. If they truly believed in the angelic vision of humanity they wouldn’t even accept the necessity of the night-watchman state.

2. Libertarians Don’t Believe in Zero Constraints on Human Behavior.
If we were angelic, no behavioral constraints would be necessary. The issue is the nature of the constraints, and libertarians prefer constraints that are less coercive, the two primary means being competition and self-sorting. Competition limits the ability to be un-angelic toward each other because it is based on seeking out reciprocal, voluntary exchanges. If I cheat or harm others, I will find it harder to persuade others to enter into exchanges with me. That reality, which liberals doubt, tends to break down primarily only when real competition breaks down. The more competitive the market, the more fairness towards exchange-partners we will find. For example, Wal-Mart and Target have extraordinarily generous return policies, a recognition how important it is in their competitive market to avoid even the appearance of having cheated their exchange partners.

More broadly, and incorporating that concept of voluntary exchange in competitive systems, self-sorting allows us to seek out associations only with those we find trustworthy. In extremely fluid social structures, there is great potential for “hit and run” cheating–anyone who intends to interact with you only one time, then move on to a new location, is not constrained by the reputational effect discussed above. But by self-sorting we minimize the capacity for being cheater by such bad characters. And in using reputational effects to join others we voluntarily bind ourselves reciprocally, accepting that they are using our reputation in deciding whether to join us or let us join them.

3. Libertarians See Government as the Most Dangerous Venue for Coercion.
The primary reason libertarians are opposed to an expansive government is that government is fundamentally based on the capacity for coercion. The dominant definition of the state is Max Weber’s claim that it is the institution that “successfully claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.” As Weber notes, the state cannot be defined by its purposes or activities since their is nothing it does that has not been done by private entities. The sole distinction is in its successfully persuading others that its use of force is legitimate. And without that force, what would be the point of government? Government, at its best, exists to correct what does not go well in its absence, and that requires force. And government at its worst is pure force, not to set things right but solely to benefit the governors.

Jared Diamond, in Guns, Germs, and Steel, describes how formal government appears to have risen in direct consequence to agriculture and the subsequent development of food surpluses. That is, formal government (as opposed to the more informal rule of chiefs and “big men”) developed primarily for the purpose of controlling those food surpluses, and doling them out in varying amounts dependent on the varying degrees to which individuals were favored. This was not pure kleptocracy, perhaps, since the governors also took responsibility for protecting the food surpluses from rot and theft by others, but neither was it anything remotely resembling pure public spiritedness. And R. J. Rummel, in Death by Government has shown that in the 20th century governments killed up to or even more than 170 million people, not including those who died in battles. Add in the tens of millions who died in the wars fought by government, and its clear that governments are often little more than merciless killing machines. And who is most likely to seek out this force? Do good, gentle, other-concerned people seek this power out as relentlessly as those who are evil, self-interested, and tyrannical in spirit? (The primary, or even sole, advantage of democracy is that it gives the good people a better chance, and gives the governed better opportunity to keep those bad people out of power.)

One doesn’t need to believe that human society in the absence of government is remotely paradisaical to believe that government is even more hellish. Again, it’s wholly fair to argue the libertarian conclusion, but it’s clearly in error to dispute the libertarian assumption

Conclusion: Libertarians are Madisonians (but not vice-versa)
Because libertarians believe humans are not angels, they grudgingly accept the necessity of some degree of government. But because they believe humans are not angels, they are also desperate to keep that government very limited. That is, in fact, precisely Madison’s position. He said, “if men were angels, no government would be necessary,” and that because governments were administered by men, rather than angels, it is necessary “oblige [government] to control itself.” To the extent they differ from Madison, libertarians are just more dubious about the capacity to make government self-controlling. This does not mean Madison was a libertarian–that would be anachronistic, at best–but it does mean libertarians are tolerably Madisonian.

But believing humans are angelic? That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the conceptual foundations of libertarianism.

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0 thoughts on ““Libertarianism and Madisonianism

  1. One need go no further than Hayek’s “Individualism: True and False” where he argues that whole classical liberal tradition from Smith and Hume on down was about how to ensure that “bad men do the least harm.” We are not fallen angels, but risen apes. Libertarianism assumes the worst in humans and asks what set of institutions would check those worst instincts most effectively.

    If we were really angels, we should be happy to give all the power and guns to one group of us. Given that we’re not, why in heaven’s name would we want to do so?

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    • Brief note: Sorry, all, about the egregious title. I actually titled it “Libertarianism and Madisonianism,” but forgot to include that in my email to E.D., so he published it (appropriately) under what I intended solely as a description. I hope all of it doesn’t read as pretentiously as my inadvertent title.

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      • Hanley rules. [I never miss a chance to embarrass him or damage his credibility. Hopefully, I’ve just done both. Hi, James.]

        Libertarianism is empirical in its observation that man is best when he is free, that more good is created than bad as a consequence. This is why Adam Smith calls it “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” It’s an a posteriori tract, an attempt to explain the phenomenon of economic liberty. And fully aware of its downside, which is collusion among the “haves,” which only dampens the creation of wealth.

        Although I believe libertarianism takes a certain amount of order for granted, which critical readers of human history tend not to: most human beings have lived in shit, not farted through silk, suffered far more oppression than be in a position to oppress. It pisses people off and human history is more the story of pissed-off people than anything.

        And I must say that there’s a certain critical mass necessary for the initiation of any enterprise of great scale that needs an East India Tea Company, the settling of America, the Apollo Project, and quite literally per “critical mass,” the Manhattan Project.

        Ya just can’t do the Manhattan Project in yr garage. You could try, but bad things would probably happen.

        Libertarianism likely never gets us to nuclear power, or to the moon, or probably not much further than low-earth orbit until centuries from now. It certainly doesn’t end slavery in the United States or defeat the Axis or the Soviets, at least not in anything resembling its current form.

        The Axis or the Soviet Union would have got to the moon, though. Mebbe even invented Tang. Go figure. Me, I hate fucking Nazis and damned if I’m gonna sleep under a communist moon.

        Or sun.

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  2. This is a very well-written post. I’m a Hobbesian libertarian myself, and I see my libertarianism as conditional on my Hobbesianism. A strong, central Rule of Law established via constitutional democracy and maintained by its rigorous defense is the only way to prevent the war of all against all.

    “If I cheat or harm others, I will find it harder to persuade others to enter into exchanges with me.” – I’m not sure this is true anymore, or at least we no longer have the structures in place to make sure it is true.

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    • Chris, as I see it, the only structure that is necessary is widespread information (reputation), which allows people who are voluntarily deciding whether to enter an exchange or not to opt out of exchanges with those they don’t trust. And such information is more widely spread than ever before. Where do you see the problem, and what would such structures do that pure information doesn’t?

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      • The food industry comes to mind as a good case study. A lot in the Penn and Teller wing of libertarianism dismiss food safety concerns, but there are a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous that make it fairly easy for big food companies to put crap that’s bad for us in our mouths. Most people eating chicken at fast food joints have no idea that they’re actually consuming antibiotics-laden supervirus breeding grounds. People eating corn are unaware that it’s illegal to sow seed that doesn’t originate from Monsanto in certain states. Labels like “all-natural” and “organic” are twisted and marketed to mislead and manipulate consumers.

        In short, economies of scale have created information problems such that consumers aren’t really deciding who to trust based on reputation so much as they’re deciding who to trust based on branding. Big companies that already have outsized power due to economies of scale and regulatory capture also have outsized power in marketing.

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        • I forgot to mention that all that matters for maintaining a business’s reputation is to manage a good face for the customers. But so much of business is B2B at this advanced stage of capitalism with revenue-maximizing machines selling to revenue-maximizing machines and all protected by trade secrets and whatnot and so much information to go through that it defies regulation that we really don’t know what the hell we’re getting.

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        • If people genuinely are concerned by the things you mention, then it should be extremely easy to start a business that does not do them and is successful.

          “Oh, but there’s so many regulations that favor big business–” and there’s that coercion by the government we were talking about earlier.

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          • The problem is access to information. The amount of information that I would have to go through to make an informed decision about a product is almost insurmountable. Multiply this by every economic transaction that is made and the difficulty of putting unscrupulous operators out of business becomes apparent.

            It is worth pointing out here that companies spend billions to inform us about their products, it just so happens that the information that they present is not that helpful. Who would have guessed.

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        • Christopher,

          In some of these cases it sounds more like the problem isn’t a lack of institutions to let people know, but the existence of institutions designed to prevent knowledge. To me, at least, that distinction is fairly important–it distinguishes between whether we’re in a situation where we need to create some functional institutions or in a situation where we need to tear down some dysfuntional ones.

          I don’t think the chicken case falls into that response category, but there is in fact a number of institutions passing that information around. They may not be wholly satisfactory yet (how many people know the info or don’t is an empirical question), but they exist, so if they aren’t yet as good as they should be it’s at least just a job of improving them, not starting from scratch.

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          • I generally agree that it makes more sense to improve or renovate existing institutions, but I think a lot of our existing institutions don’t really go well with modernity (or they go better for one party than they do for another). For the most part, as you suggested, these problems could be resolved by entrepreneurship, but some of them can’t because their being resolved is anathema to the existing system.

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                • Mr. Carr, bagging on a Frank Luntz is so dog-bites-man in these parts it raises not an eyebrow or requires a principled defense or explication.

                  This may be indicative why you have never felt obliged to debate or defend your content. For just to mention a Mark Halperin approvingly brings down the forces of nature. ;-)

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                  • Well, searching for “Frank Luntz” in the upper right reveals no results, so I assume you’re either at the apex of laziness or trolling me. Your reference of Mark Halperin is to assert liberal bias at the League? The fellows over at Balloon Juice would beg to differ.

                    But, if you insist, here is an article I wrote last year on the man: http://www.theinductive.com/blog/hot-luntz.html

                    The last paragraph: “I think it’s time to take a page from the Dan Savage playbook and invite readers to submit definitions for the new slang term “Luntz,” I welcome any and all suggestions.”

                    Before we switched the site commenting system over to Disqus, there were a variety of submissions. The winning submission was: “To Luntz: when only two people are in an elevator, one farts loudly, and then blames it on the other person.”

                    You’ll notice also one of the tags at the bottom is “turds”. Currently filed under “turds” are articles about Luntz, Russ Feingold getting ousted by the Tea Party, BP, and Disney. I’d be open to including Nancy Pelosi in this category as well, but so far, I haven’t been compelled to write about her.

                    If the aim of your ridiculous ad hominem was to provoke this kind of response, it worked.

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                    • If that is you, Mr. Carr, then you owe me an apology for accusing me of laziness or of trolling you. That wasn’t right.

                      As for your anti-Luntz screed, I was merely observing that such anti-GOP attacks tend to pass without notice or challenge hereabouts. It’s the lingua franca, hence you have a rather easy go of it.

                      As to the substance of your attack, the Dem Party hired their own version of Luntz.

                      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/17/AR2010051703823.html

                      Me, I have no problem with any of it. Lawyers routinely use jury selection experts, they hold mock trials to test their rhetoric and techniques before doing the real thing. It’s the 21st century; science rules.

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                    • I think we’re more in agreement than we both initially thought. I apologize.

                      As to the substance of your point, I think I’m generally tougher on the GOP than I am on the Democrats, but with Sarah Palin, Frank Luntz, Michelle Bachmann, Michael Steele, and John Boehner forming the core of their lineup, and with certain depth on the bench, Team Unreality kind of warrants attacks.

                      I find that I generally disagree with the Democratic leadership, but at least they try to cooperate and put problem solving before politics more often than the GOP.

                      Romney I don’t mind as a leader even if I find him goofy as a human being (I think he may be a reptilian). I’d favor Gary Johnson, Mitch Daniels, and even Ron Paul – all GOPers – over any other candidates. Unfortunately…

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                    • I accept, Mr. Carr. But Team Unreality? Unnecessary. I don’t even want to get into who’s ignoring a genuine crisis, one that the leadership of the entire Western World sees except ours.

                      But Sarah Palin? Michael Steele, bounced as GOP figurehead and now collecting a check from MSNBC? This isn’t the party, they’re facile fish in the barrel.

                      As for John Boehner, two words: Nancy. Pelosi.

                      As for Michelle Bachmann, she represents 1/4 of the party, true. But she is not quite the fool that her enemies paint her to be. I think we could put Joe Biden’s gaffes up against hers anytime, and I would be comfortable with her debating Biden. Shit, by many accounts he lost to Sarah Palin, and Bachmann has infinitely more on the ball.

                      I too am unhappy with the GOP cast of candidates for 2012, Romney probably being the default choice. But the GOP bench is mighty, like it or not [and I don’t expect you would]. Rubio, Jindal, Christie, Kasich and more. There are few if any on the Dem horizon of that caliber.

                      Evan Bayh, who was the best man in either field in ’08. It’s a cryin’ shame he’s not president now, but he couldn’t run against his ally Hillary.

                      So there you have it from my chair. This is the wrong forum to change anyone’s mind about anything. I’m just sittin’ here watchin’ the wheels go round and round.

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                    • I’d rather have Michelle Bachmann as POTUS than Evan Fucking Bayh. You know what you’re getting from Bachmann. Evan Bayh is king of corporate whoredom and I thank Jebus is deficit chickenhawkery is no longer gumming up the DNC.

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  3. This is instructive to learn that libertarians re: man as a ‘fallen’ creature. But, fallen in what sense? Certainly the ‘good’ libertarian requires an appropriate atheistic perspective? But, he argues, a gummint can potentially, be devised that will inhibit our inclinations-libido dominandi- to participate in sundry grotesquries (as Ms. Flannery might say)?
    I may be in error (again) but isn’t this worldview opposite the librul who sees man as potentially perfect in some Marxian sense..the Superman?
    Is so, and I am merely making inquiries among the cognescenti, that would mean that the librul and the Libertarian are, in a secular sense, at war with one another. That the Libertarians represents a greater threat for the librul than the ever decreasing numbers among the faithful ‘Christians’?
    “Risen Apes” leaves me aghast and forlorn among the moderns.

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    • I understand, RC, whether man is “risen” from the apes or “fallen” from grace.

      I am comfortable with the poetry of each, made from clay or booted from Eden. If he is a created being, he isn’t perfectible either way on his own.

      Thomas is fairly called a “semi-Pelagian,” and fairly, in my view. Man is not intrinsically good, nor merely amoral like the animals. Even animals can respond to the “good” even if they are incapable of originating what we call morality. [Or “consciousness” or whathaveyou.] If there’s an “innate moral sense” in man, he follows it, even if he initially stumbles over “what is good” by trial and error. And that’s not even getting into “revelation.”

      C’mon, Robert, it’s the 21st century, and natural law is making an empirical comeback. It’s a fun time to be alive.

      What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
      Reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving
      how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
      in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
      world! the paragon of animals!

      Or perhaps you’re a humbug like Hamlet.

      and yet to me, what is
      this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
      nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seeme
      to say so…

      No matter, Rosenkrantz, to whom this is addressed, is dead. Guildenstern, too, BTW.

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    • but isn’t this worldview opposite the librul who sees man as potentially perfect in some Marxian sense..the Superman?

      I think it would be more precise to say that contemporary liberals see others as ‘clients’, as people in the social work trade used to put it. That would be everybody but the tradesmen themselves.

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      • Professor Haney, when I say ‘librul’ in this context I’m guilty of throwing together all YOU people who have some faith in a secular statism that can nurture, alter, improve, perfect a human nature that, as an atheist, you probably consider a matter of chance, fate, probablility?
        As I’ve oft revealed here at the League that my belief system is orthodox and predicate on the delightful mytho-speculation found in the revelation of scripture, the preachments of the wise and erudite Classical Greeks, et al, and in a small cadre of thinkers (von Schelling, Stein, etc) who have warmed the coccles of my heart with the fecundity of their intellectual labors.
        Alas, ‘so many books, so little time’ and we must continue to seek the spiritual unity with the God of Abraham, who for reasons I can not phathom saw to it that His Son died for my sins. The beauty, indeed the Love, that conjured such an event, is beyond my frail and very limited ability to comprehend but I believe it to be the Truth, to be Reality. As has been accurately pointed out here at this august site many times in the past, my faults are legion, my frailties profound. Pray for me a sinner.

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        • throwing together all YOU people who have some faith in a secular statism that can nurture, alter, improve, perfect a human nature that, as an atheist, you probably consider a matter of chance, fate, probablility?

          Mr. Cheeks, I’m afraid I have to say that I honestly don’t understand. I have no faith in the state or any other human institution (in which I, personally and without meaning insult, would include the church), can change human nature at all, for good or ill. I believe there is a basic human nature that is the product of evolution. It’s not precisely fixed in that it continues to be subject to evolutionary pressures (and, curiously, our cultures and institutions are part of those pressures), but “perfectability”? That requires a standard, and evolution doesn’t provide that kind of standard except for increased reproductive success.

          So I stand by my response that I hope libertarians don’t believe in that foolish idea of human perfectibility. On the other hand, I do believe our social, legal, political, and economic institutions can be designed to give incentives either to the better aspects of human nature or the worser aspects of it. The human nature does not change (in the short run), but the elements of it that get expressed may.

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          • Professor Hanley, please accept my apologies for lumping you with the mass of commie-dems who lounge here. While we’re not in agreement re: evolution, and probably not the definition of human nature, it’s attributes et al, we seem to agree that man is not perfectible. That fact, in and of itself, places you and yours beyond the derailed progressivists’ ideologues of the past century and defines something of a movement away from the gross failures of the Enlightenment and its sanctification of the moi.

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            • we seem to agree that man is not perfectible. That fact, in and of itself, places you and yours beyond the derailed progressivists’ ideologues of the past century and

              Not disliking liberals as much as you seem to do, I wouldn’t phrase it quite that way. I think many, perhaps most, liberals actually don’t believe in the perfectibility of man (i.e., most liberals, even ones who define themselves as progressive, aren’t Marxists). My experience with liberals is that they want strong government because they think humans have too many bad qualities, and they’re not trying to perfect humanity as just control it. I actually think conservatives tend to be similar, just worried about a very different set of behaviors. That is, I think conservatives and liberals have a similar approach to human nature and government, but have deeply conflicting moral values. Libertarians share that distrust of human nature, but instead of wanting to use government to control humans’ bad side are afraid to give that much power to such fallible creatures.

              But of course there are, or at least have been in the past, those who believed in the perfectibility of humanity, and I share your belief that the belief is fundamentally flawed. Even if man is not created, lack of creation does not equate to any capacity for control and direction over our species’ nature.

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              • Professor, even if man is created, I am quite in agreement with your above analysis. Those ‘libruls’ who instituted that nasty bidness of wholesale human slaughter in the previous century were rather more serious about political science then the current crop (forgive the snark, couldn’t hep myself.)
                So please forgive me if I take too much pleasure in annoying my Leftist friends and admirers.
                To continue to the analytical thread, the primary difference is that the person of faith has quite a different view of the sanctity/value of human life then the secularist/atheist, generally speaking and, following Voegelin, the tension is defined by the Augustinian poles of the Sartean ‘moi’ and the God of the Cosmos, though I do expect the beloved and attentive Chris to rise in protest. Sadly, this tensional definition/construct results, essentially, in two distinct beings. One, connected to the divine through the gift of life in love and freedom; the OTHER, an evolutionary, bipedial, cosmic accident.

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              • Erm, here’s what an actual Liberal thinks: we don’t hold with this doctrine of depravity business. We observe laws without an enforcing bureaucracy are no laws at all. When government wants to be rid of a law, it first begins by failing to enforce it. When they don’t want to enforce a law, they eliminate the enforcers, and to eliminate the enforcers, they just cut the funding. No problem. If a tree falls on a French mime in the middle of a forest, will anyone care?

                Humanity evolves, but not as fast as technology. Liberals could care less what any one person does, we are, after all, about liberty. But it’s liberty in the context of a society which alas, requires aircraft and produce to be inspected. I do hope we’re not going to trust the butchers to inspect their own meat. When Bismarck talked about Law and Sausages, you would be nauseated to learn what was actually put in sausages back then. Let’s just put it this way, they weren’t kosher hot dogs.

                We have no interest in pointing out the bad side of people. Human behaviour is, in the main, mostly force of habit.

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  4. First, I owe you a word of thanks for addressing the point about men not being angels. The larger point made by Madison:

    In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

    I am not one of those Liberals who believe honest men have nothing to fear from their government. Madison made the same point in two parts: first, that government should be powerful enough to control the governed, and last, that government should be obliged to control itself.

    Let’s stipulate to the fact that neither of understand the finer points of Libertarian philosophy as well as we should like. Let us start where we can agree: I contend, and nobody seems to deny the point, that Libertarians descend from the classical liberals. They were a rum lot in toto, the classical liberals, their points seem fearful, clumsy and antiquated in an era where our cell phones betray our position every moment, where the IP address of this computer and the cookie in my browser fill in BlaiseP when I created this post.

    Scott McNealy, when asked about Internet privacy said “Privacy is dead. Deal with it.” To which I would respond, as a software analyst who begins his projects with the security model, quoting James Jesus Angleton, father of the CIA, “When your objective is to hide a leaf, there is no better place than the floor of a forest.” It is not hard to find my real name, but I don’t appear very high in the search engines and there’s a reason for that. Consider the order of the Bill of Rights and you will see why.

    Contra the Coercion Argument: First, a bit of pedantry. Angels did coerce men. Every time an angel appears in Scripture, it terrifies the beholder. “Fear not” is how their pronouncements begin. The angels were messengers from God, malakh-elohim, more akin to Hermes in mythology, more to be feared than loved. The stories tell us the angels did coerce men, Jacob wrestled with an angel who dislocated his hip. The Angel of Death killed the firstborn of Egypt. It was an angel who patrolled the border of Eden, keeping Adam and Eve at bay. It little matters what the reality of the angels might be: when Madison wrote of angels, his audience had read the Bible all their lives and understood the metaphor rather better than we who live in the tradition of the milky and asexual creatures of Victorian art.

    And let’s not play games with what Liberals say or don’t say. If the Libertarian takes the notion of Coercion seriously and stipulates to the necessity of night watchmen, he opens the floodgates to ten thousand such stipulations.

    Recently I engaged in an idiotic fight about pasteurized milk. The Japanese have a proverb about their predilection for eating fugu, the poisonous pufferfish: roughly translated it comes out “you’re crazy to eat fugu, but you’re crazy not to eat fugu.” Not all stupid things should be made illegal, but that’s the way to bet when it comes to car seats and innocent children who don’t understand the safety issues involved in the physics of a car crash. Recently, some idiot by the name of Philip Contos of Parish, New York became a candidate for a Darwin Award: while protesting motorcycle helmet laws, he fell on his obviously empty head and died on the spot.

    Government is not the worst agent of coercion. It is only the most obvious. It is also the only neutral agent capable of preventing coercion in many circumstances. Case in point: before Rudy Giuliani became Mr. 9/11, he had a huge model of the Five Boroughs built in software, detailing where and when crimes of various sorts had been committed. A predictive model ran over this dataset, acting as a dispatcher of sorts, pre-positioning NYPD resources near the locations where crimes were likeliest to occur. It worked: when crimes did occur, police were on scene much faster to deal with it, and the guys who worked on it told me there was plenty of inferential data to suppose the police presence prevented crimes.

    Contra the Zero Constraint Argument: For some years, I spent time online arguing against Microsoft, calling them monopolists operating in restraint of trade, for I favored another operating system available at the time, Digital Research’s DR-DOS, which I would embed in cash registers. In the course of this ongoing dispute, I came to learn more about monopoly law than I ever wanted to know.

    Who could do anything about Microsoft and its hegemonic grip on the industry? Ultimately, not even the government could do much. Netscape had been destroyed, Digital Research was acquired by Caldera and Microsoft paid Caldera 150 million dollars to destroy all incriminating evidence. Microsoft remains on top of the PC heap.
    Government is not the worst agent of coercion, only the most obvious. Microsoft continues to plague the world with its jimcrack software. Microsoft is the only industry in the history of the world to spawn follow-on industries to clean up after its crap. It is the elephant shitting in the middle of the parade and the virus protection industry is the little Hindu with the big shovel who follows it around.

    Even the US government is beholden to Microsoft: its desktops still run Microsoft’s crappy products, many still running XP, even computers running on the secure networks. It’s a huge problem, the largest strategic vulnerability in American history. I am not so much afraid of my government as I am afraid for it.

    As for Libertarians and Madisonians, I’ve made my point clear: Madison’s angels were not the mild and meek creatures of Victorian stained glass. They were ferocious things, perfectly capable of coercion, agents of a holy God, qodesh haq-qodeshim, bearing flaming swords and striking down the children of tyrants. You must fit your metaphors around what Madison actually meant, not what you get from the angels of Burne-Jones.

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    • One of the biggest blind spots that Libertarians have is the issue of children. They require protections that adults do not and they require services that adults must provide for them and that they cannot provide for themselves. A sufficiently antisocial guardian can turn a child from a productive citizen into yet another antisocial guardian (or worse). Most of the Libertarians I’ve met and/or interacted with do not have children. I have been told that if I had children, I’d change my mind about my own relationship to the government.

      I dunno.

      But kids are a major blind spot for Libertarians.

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      • A quote from Jean Bethke Elshtain:

        “All of us come into this world in a dependent position and most of us leave in the same circumstance”.

        The former director of the Buckeye Institute has said that one of the things that perturbed him about the libertarian nexus (‘ere he abandoned it) was that its leading exponents tended to be childless. (The gentleman in question now works in sales and has six kids).

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      • I am trying to resist wielding the Tar Brush when it comes to damning the Libertarians. As with any other -ism, it’s a reaction. Libertarianism is a reaction to perceived tyranny. We must never forget there’s plenty of evidence for such tyranny in history and if they err in some respects, they do not err in all.

        Children are not evil because their limbs are not yet strong enough. That’s Jonathan Swift. I’ve raised three and cared for several more children over my life and I treated them as much like adults as their minds and hearts could handle. When my children were entering puberty, I sat them down and made a deal with them. And here is how it went:

        Five hundred years ago, I told my daughter of 12, you would be married next year and have given birth five to eight times before you were thirty. Several of those children would die and you would live to the age of perhaps 45. You are now physically an adult, with many adult emotions. This society will not treat you as an adult, for various reasons, but I will treat you as much like an adult as you are prepared to demonstrate. It will be terribly frustrating, to be so limited in your options. You will reach the age of 21, deeply angered by the intervening years to come. Most people look back on their adolescence with some anger, but I will do my best to ease the struggle. You may come to resent me and your mother, for we will be forced to do most of that limiting, but I will be there for you, at the other end of this terrifying journey into adulthood and I will always love you.

        “Oh, no! I’ll never resent you, Dad.”

        “Oh yes you will. And with good reason.”

        And she did resent me, loudly, and lived long enough to ruefully apologize for it later in life. I did let her do things other kids didn’t get to do, in the house. There were lots of parties, and our home became something of a refuge for troubled kids. But when the Libertarians talk about the overweening power of the State in the lives of children, especially adolescents, they do have a point and you will come to see the vicious hypocrisy in how this country treats its children and the rhetoric it uses to restrain young people who are essentially adults, people who would act more adult if they were treated with some respect.

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        • Yeah, the flip side of that is that the most self-seen-as-benevolent nanny portion of the state would be cheerful to prolong the adolescence of its citizens.

          Moral Agency (if it exists, of course) is a muscle. If you do not exercise it, it atrophies.

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          • This is the rub, isn’t it? When it comes to the welfare case, I don’t worry about giving to those who can’t take care of themselves. I support it. I turned in my libertarian card a long time ago. But there are residual, and general, concerns about what these mechanisms do to the otherwise able. It’s actually the more capable and intelligent that are best able to utilize and exploit whatever tools we put at the disposal of the needy. On the other hand, it’s generally the most incompetent that fall into the swamp of freedom and drown where the more capable can tread water and find their way to solid ground.

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            • This. There’s another horrid wrinkle to the Welfare State: it’s the capable and intelligent who have the chutzpah to engineer solutions to benefit themselves, not merely the Pore ‘n Needy.

              If the incompetent fall into the swamp of freedom, there were never many well-designed footpaths in that swamp. Dealing with refugees for years has given me a few trusty landmarks in that swamp, but I can’t see how anyone who hadn’t been a swamp guide for many years could find his way to through the benefits bureaucracy. Most of those are at the state level, though some are federal. The confusion factor is designed in.

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      • Quite true, Jaybird. Quite true. Libertarian philosophy certainly can take into account protections for children, but, sadly, often doesn’t.

        But all is not necessarily lost for you if you do have kids; my wife actually moved towards the libertarian camp when we had kids (I wouldn’t say she’s all the way there, but certainly has libertarian-ish sympathies).

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      • But kids are a major blind spot for Libertarians.

        Are they, really? I think that most libertarians would agree that it’s legitimate for government to intervene when it comes to reckless endangerment of children.

        Where libertarians tend to object is where there’s a perception that the government is overreaching and stepping in where the benefits of regulation don’t clearly outweigh the costs.

        Insofar as the opinions of parents and nonparents on these sorts of issues differ, it’s not at all clear that parents are right and nonparents are wrong. Parents, by and large, just aren’t able to perform the sort of dispassionate cost-benefit analysis of child-affecting policies that nonparents can. Emotional investment may make for good parenting, but I suspect that it makes for bad policy.

        At the very least, I would say that “Children are a major blind spot for libertarians” is less true than “Adults are a major blind spot for nanny-statists.”

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    • “Who could do anything about Microsoft and its hegemonic grip on the industry?”

      I guess that’s why everyone’s smartphone runs Windows Mobile, and Microsoft-branded servers with Windows Server OS fill the racks of every data center in the country, and Bing is everyone’s first stop for web searches.

      Oh wait. None of that is true.

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      • Not anymore. It was once – as with the examples given. Monopolies often get complacent, forget how to innovate, and then get caught with their pants down when the NEXT revolution comes along.

        I don’t know that, aside from the monetizing of software (licensing & leveraging OS), MS was ever really that great of an innovator. It bought out and copied lots of good products, sure, but innovated? Maybe I’m wrong.

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        • How is that end of story? It’s not as though government couldn’t shift away from Windows based machines, or that Microsoft could do anything about if they did. The fact that nobody has yet come up with something that steals large numbers of their competitors doesn’t mean nobody can. There are network effects and path dependency, to be sure, but there are no real barriers to entry. Any company or any yahoo tinkerer in his garage is free to enter the market.

          Too often people who don’t like a particular market outcome mistake their distaste for it as evidence of a market failure.

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          • As a software contractor, I am obliged to live in the real world, where the laws of inertial momentum are still in force. Microsoft stood at the nexus of control for many years, the troll under the bridge connecting hardware and applications software. It stands there still.

            It is good to see you stipulate to network effects and path dependency, for they are crucial to understanding market outcomes. I do not care what my clients choose for their operating system platform: I have worked in everything from hardware without any operating systems to embedded operating systems to mainframe zOS hosting terabytes of data. Curiously, every client I have ever worked for has set me up a Microsoft Outlook login. I accept this fact, though I do not like it.

            I am that yahoo tinkerer. I know what the market will tolerate, for I am the guy people call when the shit hits the fan, after the lo-rent types have fucked up the implementation. I specialize to screwups. I charge too much to do anything else. And every day when I rise, I thank the Lord for the existence of Microsoft and especially SQL Server, that great wasteland of asshattery, a valley littered with the bleached bones of the unwary and optimistic.

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    • BlaiseP,

      This is exceptionally uncharitable of me, but I tuned you out at, “Who could do anything about Microsoft and its hegemonic grip on the industry?”

      Funny how everyone in the world thought Microsoft was a monopoly except people who are experts in the concept of monopolies–economists. I remember a newly minted Ph.D. in philosophy arguing with me that Microsoft was a monopoly and that no other OSs were available, despite that on his own computer he used Redhat, which he’d gotten for free.

      Simply put, a monopoly exists when the buyer has no other meaningful options. Monopolies drive up prices and don’t invest in R&D. Do any of those three things characterize either Microsoft or the computer market over the last 20-30 years? Microsoft may have been a ruthless and nasty competitor. They may even have broken some laws (although much of our anti-trust law should be broken, with lethal intent). But they were never a monopoly.

      What actually made their competitors angry was that Microsoft did such a better job of giving customers what they wanted. Their competitors too often focused on creating better systems, but with better defined by the techie end of the market, not the consumer end. When Microsoft was accused of monopolistic practices for giving consumers more of what they wanted for the same price (“bundling”) I knew we’d entered the bizarro world of anti-trust policy, where badly educated lawyers play at being well-trained economists.

      I am afraid I must argue that while you may have learned more about monopoly than you ever wanted to know, but you did not, unfortunately, learn very much about what true monopoly actually means. Most likely you were learning it from the legal perspective, which is shockingly bad, and not from the economic perspective.

      This was an issue I followed and debated with techies for years throughout the ’90s and early noughts. I’m sure there are some, but I never met a techie who actually understood the economic concept of monopoly, and I met precious few who understood that the ultimate driver of the market was not the genius of the technology but what consumers wanted and were willing to pay for.

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      • Monopolies are what monopolies do, not what they merely are. I studied the law pretty closely. The monopoly only gets in trouble when it acts in restraint of trade. When Microsoft’s Paul Maritz used words like “extinguish” and “smother” to describe his plans to eliminate the Netscape browser, it crossed the line between being a monopoly and behaving like a monopoly.

        This techie did not have to understand the law: he paid attention to the lies that were told. Microsoft lied at trial: the famous disappearing icons showed they were attempting to mislead the court. When this was proven, Microsoft dropped its claim that Windows was damaged by the removal of Internet Explorer. Microsoft lied again at trial, completely falsifying its evidence related to the ease of installation of Netscape over AOL.

        In short, don’t condescend to me, as if somehow I’m incapable of reading a law book. It little mattered that Microsoft was and remains the dominant OS in the workplace. What mattered was that Microsoft lied at trial and was founding guilty of lying.

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        • I studied the law pretty closely.

          That’s the problem, you studied the law instead of economics, and the law doesn’t know what a monopoly is. The law is wrong on this point, completely uninformed, misguided and geared toward attacking companies that are just too much better at satisfying their customers.

          In short, don’t condescend to me, as if somehow I’m incapable of reading a law book. I don’t doubt at all your ability to read a law book. But reading a law book will only tell you what lawyers think a monopoly is, not what a monopoly really is.

          When Microsoft’s Paul Maritz used words like “extinguish” and “smother” to describe his plans to eliminate the Netscape browser, it crossed the line between being a monopoly and behaving like a monopoly.
          No, that’s what lawyers say. Economists call that competition. Lawyers get panicked about ubercompetitive companies; economists praise them. The only way Microsoft could really have extinguished Netscape was to satisfy consumers that much better–and that’s what we want from competition. And even if they had managed to extinguish Netscape, there was no way they could ever have smothered or extinguished all the the potential browser developers. For all my defense of Microsoft, I never use their browser–and it’s never been a problem to use a different one.

          the lies that were told. Microsoft lied at trial: the famous disappearing icons showed they were attempting to mislead the court
          That’s not about being a monopoly. If Microsoft committed perjury, by all means punish them appropriately. But giving false testimony has zero bearing on the economic facts.

          In short, whether you feel this is condescending or not, monopoly is an economic term, and to understand it correctly it has to be analyzed from an economic perspective. The anti-trust law in the U.S. is an absolute laughingstock, based on the idea that a monopoly is a business that is more successful than its competitors. You know what the law says, now go read the economic literature (especially the economic literature critiquing anti-trust law). I urge that because I do believe you’re wholly capable of understanding it.

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          • Et in Arcadia ego. Damn, this brings back memories.

            I am quite willing to accept a natural monopoly. What I will not accept, and clearly the Sherman Act does not accept, is a monopoly acting in restraint of trade and lying in court.

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            • What I will not accept, and clearly the Sherman Act does not accept, is a monopoly acting in restraint of trade and lying in court.

              A statement which presupposes the answer to the point in dispute here, whether Microsoft was a monopoly. Since it obviously wasn’t, by any standard related to the original, economic, not-yet-perverted-by-politicians meaning of the term monopoly, your assertion is irrelevant.

              Notably you insist upon calling Microsoft a monopoly without addressing the economic meaning of the term.

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                  • The interesting thing is that the market is currently putting Microsoft in danger of being irrelevant. That’s what markets do in the long run.

                    Still, in the short run Microsoft’s success was not so much their innovation or giving customers what they wanted as it was simply providing standards. As they owned those standards there was room for only one operating system. The barrier to entry was so steep that even IBM could not make a go of it. Apple held on by its fingernails only because of a fanatical fan base.

                    With the explosion of platforms from computers, laptops, tablets, book readers and smart phones there is far more room for diversity in the market. As a result Microsoft stock has been stagnant while Apple has grown and Google money has pushed Android and Linux as market contenders.

                    It is true that Microsoft played hardball in some unpleasant ways but the basic problem was that at the time there really was only room for one operating system. This fact probably did restrict competition and reduce innovation. But the idea to split Microsoft was a horrible government overreach and it might have prolonged the market conditions anyway.

                    If any action was necessary I would have limited it to requiring Microsoft to sell its operating system to everyone at the same price. No hardware bundling deals, no marketing rebates and no special deals for groups thinking of going to another operating system. This would prevent them from leveraging the operating system the way they did. But while this may have helped in the short run it isn’t clear that it makes any difference in the long run. It may have even hurt.

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                    • Which is, of course, what customers wanted.

                      Yes but this is why it is possibly a degenerate market condition. The market forced Microsoft to either own any new standard or crush it. That’s what the Netscape mess was all about. Bill Gates paranoia about anyone but him having a piece of the standards pie. Innovation is dangerous and destabilizing for anyone with a near monopoly.

                      Still, the market can work through these things in the long run. The only thing you need to watch is short term problems.

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    • …not wanting to pee in anyone’s porridge, Madison was something of a draft-dodging wanker. The prototype of the modern politican who ducks and dodges with each issue until he sees the polls. He was Jefferson’s go-fer.

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      • If ever there was a burlap bag of urine-soaked oatmeal, Mr. Cheeks, it’s your school of rotten revisionism.

        We have Madison to thank for this country, though I’m sure you’d never admit it. Madison went to war in 1812 and the British got far more fight than they ever expected. Madison’s greatness only emerges on paper. He may have lived in the shadow of Jefferson, his greatest friend, but many is the friendship which bring forth the best in the friends themselves. Preen before the mirror of history and brush the lint off your ill-fitting Confederate uniform, Madison saved this country at its most desperate hour, at its birth. You would have strangled it.

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        • I sense a certain tension?
          Historical truth, and the ability to analyze history and interpret it properly can elude us given the nature of, for example, the propaganda policies of the central gummint, sundry ideological doctrines, the derailed nature of public ‘edumacation,’ and the desire by some who just want to belong and be loved by the ‘whas happenin’ now’ crowd.
          Madison was, indeed, an ‘intellectual’ but that, in and of itself, is not a compliment. Why, we have our very own ‘intellectuals’ here as the League who are the definition of ‘poor, lost, souls.’ Madison was your stereo-typical rich man’s son and a man who embraced abstract moral principles (we gotta free the slaves!) but never had the knuts to actually act on anything, and in that sense he was much like Lincoln. One of the few things he did get right, the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, he abandoned in his dotage when the blackguard sensed public opinion was moving against him. Madison, the little twerp, betrayed the principles of the Republic that men, better than him, died for.

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          • Not exactly tension, Bobbo, but the tedious untangling of your backlashes on the spool of the fishing tackle of history. It may well be Madison was a twerp, though I do not think so. Banging your spoon on the table and babbling about “intellectuals”, careful to put that word in quotes, lest you be seen to be a man of letters and informed thinking, I cannot stop you. But I cannot help thinking this country for which men died in those times had not yet been formed. It would only materialize when the Constitution gave it life.

            And to a very large extent, Madison gave us the Constitution, separation of powers especially.

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            • Yes, dear Bp, but we have our fun!
              BTW, I read some comment of yours re: computers and I was wondering what you might recommend for a poorly educated, holler dweller in terms of a home computer. Bill Gates, that progressive degenerate, has let me down and I was wondering if you preferred Apple and what machine and what costs?

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              • Well, yes. All in good fun. As for which computer you should get, ask yourself what you will do with it. Though you may live back in the hollers, I will bet five dollars there’s a little computer shop back there featuring a druidic lad with computer building and maintenance skills. You cannot go wrong obtaining some of his wares: you will be supporting a local business and insuring whatever you buy can be maintained.

                Though I’ve worked with Apple’s gear, I believe it’s overpriced in terms of the value provided. You could do worse than have the aforementioned Druidic Lad put on a copy of Ubuntu Linux, the Chrome browser and OpenOffice.

                Ask yourself, seriously, is there a four wheeled vehicle on any car lot in this country which would intimidate you, for which you might ask for instruction from a Specialist before you drive it? I presume you are capable of shifting a manual transmission, the only caveat to this metaphor.

                And if not, why not? Could it be that all the cars you have ever driven have a round steering wheel, the gas pedal to the right, the brake to the left? The turn signal lever on the left, and so on and so forth… oh, you might have to look around to find the air conditioning switch.

                I tell you a great truth, Mr. Cheeks when I say Bill Gates has through his idiotic operating system and sickly interfaces been telling you that you are an idiot. The sad part is, you believe him. Would you ask me for advice on a car? Everything Microsoft builds has seventeen elbows and fourteen wrists and requires six years of training to be able to pour yourself a glass of iced tea.

                With Linux, there’s the exact opposite problem: there are seventeen ways to do the same thing and all of them are equally valid.

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                • Thanks Bp, you’re aces!
                  My son-in-law down in San Anton is a Linux dude with large employer and a computer science degree and a great deal of disdain for some old timer who worked with the first computers plugging in jumpers for 12AX tubes and always seeking the ONE.
                  I’m going to take your erudite advice and find a dude and do the Ubantu Linux thing. Again, thanks…owe ya one, palsy!

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  5. I think the biggest problem with libertarianism is that many people who self identify as libertarians are, in fact, not really. They are masking personal greediness and a paranoia about government digging in their trash with a philosophy that, on the surface, appears to agree with them. Unfortunatly, these are also the people who seem to make the most noise and are the “libertarians” we most see.

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    • That’s sorta unhelpful. This is perhaps the only place on the Net where I’ve found Libertarians willing to get beyond the simplistic Selfishness business of Rand et. al.

      Though I’m a Liberal, I’m convinced the Libertarian viewpoint is entirely necessary. There was a day, back when I was a young man, when Liberals viewed government with healthy suspicion. Unfortunately for everyone involved, what now passes for Liberalism and Conservatism have forgotten this entirely justifiable opinion. For all this cheap talk about the Founding Fathers, they understood how a well-meaning government could descend into a tyrannous regime in the name of Safety and Security.

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      • Again we see a (rightful) distrust of government but no mention of the idea that corporations or individuals can and will operate against the best interests of people. I am not saying that you believe that businesses and people can do no harm. However, by constantly riling against government while saying nothing about the need to ensure that bad actors in the private sector are limited, you foster the one-sided libertarian anti-government view we see so often in arguments against the philosophy. I believe this is the main reason why the misconception lives on.

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        • Here I must do some Advocatus Diaboli for the Libertarians. You’re half-right, insofar as corporations and individuals will act in their own best interests, contrary to what Joe Sixpack might consider the Best Interests of the People.

          But the Libertarians around here have long since conceded that point. Corporations, especially those with extensive ties to government, are a large portion of the problem of Big Gummint itself. I know, I do some Gummint Contracting myself, and I am within a few inches of an final interview with the local Federal Reserve to do AIX performance testing and solution architecting. I am part of the problem. We’re all part of the problem, insofar as the government services we feel are essential are paid for out of tax dollars. These services are seldom provided by government employees. If they were, I wouldn’t do so much Gummint Contracting.

          We are not talking to stupid people here: whatever Curt’s Amateurs have to say about the Wicked Owd Gummint, Jason et. al. are educated people, quite willing to concede a reasonably argued point. Furthermore, I want to burn down the Straw Men I’ve erected in the course of my brief time here.

          To make my point a bit clearer, in brief, here’s how I would have handled the Katrina disaster. I would have put JSTARS aircraft in loiter over the affected states, with the governors and a few important staffers aboard. JSTARS is to the ground what AWACS is to the air, a command and control center, geared to identifying and locating friendly and enemy ground components. We can substitute the victims for the enemy, the software works perfectly: putting friendly assets on the “enemy”. That’s where the role of government fits in.

          But I would have called in Walmart and Kroger and Albertsons and Home Depot and all the bigger merchants who once had stores down there and told them to get those stores up and running, post haste, and I’d get those roads open. Stock those shelves, don’t mess around with military foodstocks and disaster relief materiel, that’s geared to a war zone. Identify everyone who comes in the store, the military and NatGuard can do perimeter security, but get private enterprise with its superior logistics operations operating on a sound footing. And that’s where private enterprise would enter the picture. It would not have taken years to get that mess cleaned up, had we relied on the faculties and capabilities of private enterprise to get those people back on their feet.

          And that’s where the Libertarians are right. It’s Richelieu and the Rope. In the era of Louis the Sun King, the most powerful monarch Europe ever knew, the French navy was no match for the British navy. What does it take to build a ship of the era? Miles and miles of rope. Richelieu set the poor of France to making rope. In the course of it, he damned near bankrupted the existing rope makers, who petitioned the king, who summoned Richelieu.

          Richelieu saw his error and it has passed into axiom: when government sets a man to do a job which could be done in the private sector, it has taken that job away from the private sector. There are jobs which cannot be done by the private sector, and I have yet to meet an intelligent Libertarian who will not stipulate to that condition, but let’s not conflate the Libertarian preference for private industry with a slack-jawed declaration of enmity to government action.

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          • BlaiseP,

            This is rather more charitable of me. I concur more wholeheartedly with your comment about Katrina response than I could express. Several years back I wrote the very same idea in a policy brief for a think tank. Put FedEx and WalMart in charge of getting stuff down there and get WalMart and every other consumers goods/grocery company to contribute. I may be naive, but I think they all would give. Many CEOs would do it, in fact, out of the goodness of their heart. The others would do it out of self-interest, not wanting to be the one or two companies that notably let hurricane victims go without food, water, and sunscreen.

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      • I suspect you would appreciate this, then, Blaise:

        http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2009/07/30/8953

        Especially this paragraph:

        So maybe the moral question isn’t, what use can libertarians be to liberals, but what use can libertarians be to anybody? We are not going to bring about either a minarchist or anarcho-capitalist society anytime soon, where soon can be translated as ever. Truth be told, I’m not convinced that a purely minarchist society would be all that great to live in. As for anarcho-capitalism, I think even a lot of an-caps agree that it requires a long-term project of learning how to live that way as society. I think libertarians are, rather, the court jesters of politics. I mean that in a good way. We whisper to Caesar that that he is mortal. We caper about, turning ourselves blue if necessary, reminding everyone that government power is inescapably violent and inescapably self-interested. You’re probably not going to care, but we’re going to make you actively decide not to care. And sometimes, maybe you’ll care after all. As a class, we can be stupendously silly people, believing and saying the most absurd things. But our rulers are silly people too, in different and more malignant ways. And as fools, we have the freedom to say so.

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        • The Libertarians are not the court jesters of politics. They are the feeble-minded and inbred dauphins, tottering around the palace, talking to trees and building ornamental castles. Of the poor beyond the gates of their palaces they remain blankly ignorant but vaguely fearful, for Papa the King says they are dirty, demanding people.

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      • “For all this cheap talk about the Founding Fathers, they understood how a well-meaning government could descend into a tyrannous regime in the name of Safety and Security.”

        And some of them tried their damndest to cause that descent, with the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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          • The people. They bounced John Adams, sent the Federalist Party to oblivion, the Sedition Act was permitted to expire, and Jefferson pardoned those who were convicted under it, and returned their fines paid.

            And had the Supreme Court had a crack at it, most scholars believe they’d have found it unconstitutional.

            Give me “cheap talk” about the Founders over the alternatives anyday.

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            • And what’s more, Jefferson got rid of all that pseudo-religious hooey like the National Day of Prayer and Fasting. He also established the supremacy of SCOTUS. If only he’d acted on slavery. Jefferson fascinates me. America’s most intelligent president, ever.

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              • Not to be that guy, but I say that John Marshall, who was a political rival of Jefferson, established the supremacy of the SCOTUS via Marbury v Madison (1803). Jefferson repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 (which set up federal circuit courts) and spoke out against “judicial tyranny,” saying, ” there is no danger I apprehend so much as the consolidation of our government by the noiseless, and therefore unalarming, instrumentality of the Supreme Court.” Jefferson was, at heart, a man who trusted the people over any form of government. He was not initially wild about the constitution by any measure. However, I think his greatest asset as President was his ability to moderate his more Jacobin-esque positions (like coming to peace with the central bank), while still curbing Federalist excesses like the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson showed that being President required humility, flexibility, and political courage; traits that certainly did not define him in his younger, more radical, years.

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  6. I’m truly not well-read in libertarian theory

    Oh, me neither. I’m planning to catch up when I teach this Enlightenment course in the fall. It’s funny though: most of my real-world conversations with libertarians involve me asking some question about libertarianism and them telling me that I’m clearly not sufficiently well read in libertarian theory. The Marxists used to do the same thing! You’d be a Marxist if only you’d read the second book of Kapital! I keep thinking the Libertarian Party should make that their slogan: “You’d vote libertarian if you weren’t so poorly read in libertarian theory!”

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    • This is so very far from my experience that I was stuck thinking “really?” and then I remembered: Objectivists.

      If you’re talking about non-Randroid Libertarians, I’m flummoxed because the libts in my circle all got there via being screwed over on some level and having libertarianism happen to them. (Immigration law in my case, others have pain management issues, others via the TSA.)

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      • Jay, yes! I generally assume they must be Objectivists too. That’s not to say that we haven’t had some conversations here go pretty much the same way, but when someone comes in with the arrogant record store clerck persona: “You uneducated poseurs know nothing about libertarianism. I was into Hayek when he was on an independent label!” I usually assume they’re an Objectivist and ignore them.

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        • I will say though that I envy your circle of friends because, seriously, I’m not in the same boat with the libertarians I interact with. Probably this has to do with working in academia- I meet a lot of libertarians who are about grad school age and have yet to be screwed over on any level. It’s pretty much the same with all graduate-level politics: a combination of supercilious superiority, being highly sheltered, and having read too many books with sweeping arguments. College Democrats and Republicans are just as irritating.

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            • I remember my first encounter with Objectivism. It was the first week of freshman year at college, and I was eagerly attending the activities fair on the East Campus Quad. “Objectivism” I saw. That sounds interesting. I wonder what it’s all about.

              I approached a straight-lipped girl wearing a brown sweatshirt with khaki pants. “What’s Objectivism?” I asked. She answered: “You know how like religions and society and philanthropic organizations teach that we like well-off people should help out like the weakest members and that suffering is virtuous and stuff?”

              “Yes.”

              “Well, Objectivism teaches the exact opposite.”

              “Oh.”

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    • Conversely, it’s pointless to criticize what I really don’t understand. There’s no excuse for not having a grip on history. Had they actually read Marx, fewer people would have been Communists and most of them would be better Capitalists. I always thought if Trotsky hadn’t been murdered, Socialism wouldn’t have gotten such a bad name. I’m intimidated by how little I know about Libertarian thought, it’s vastly more complex than I had first thought. Nobody’s political philosophy can be reduced to slogans and shibboleths.

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    • most of my real-world conversations with libertarians involve me asking some question about libertarianism and them telling me that I’m clearly not sufficiently well read in libertarian theory.

      Sigh, I wish I could disbelieve you, but I’m afraid that sounds all too realistic. I may even have done that to people on occasion. But on the upside, I would never say that you’d become libertarian if you read more libertarian theory. I’d say you’d become libertarian if you read and understood more libertarian theory. (Just a joke! Put down the eggs!)

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  7. Assuming a large proportion of the population is irrational, or mentally ill, democracy of any sort does have some problems. A fortiori, libertarianism does, especially the Randroid form (“the Ayn Disease”).

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  8. James

    I think the problem is that the effort to appropriate the term ‘libertarian’ by the ‘anarchist’ wing of the Classical Liberal tradition has been so successful that you are confusing ‘anarchism’ with ‘libertarianism’. When it is a radical offshoot of libertarianism.

    Here is the post by GMU discussing the problem:
    http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2010/01/new-thinking-for-a-new-decade-1.html

    Here is Lew Rockewell defending his organization by way of attacking GMU:
    http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/46025.html

    But the fact is, that most posts here, and you yourself, are arguing against Rothbardian Anarchists who have appropriated the term Libertarian. Classical liberals had to coin the term Libertarian because ‘liberal’ was taken over by socialists. Now they’re in the same position again. The classical liberals are challenged because it is a skeptical, rational and empirical system of philosophy that suggests ‘we simply do not know’. While the progressive and the anarchists suggest ‘we do know’. And it is far easier for humans to grasp principles that claim certitude than those which claim skepticism.

    I keep pointing our that your arguments are straw men, because libertarians (classical liberals) do not advocate the extremes that the Anarchists do.

    If you actually read Hayek (as Steve Horowitz points out above) you would understand that ‘Pop Libertariansm’ of Rothbard is just that. Hayek on the other hand simply points out practical reality.

    You are obviously not aware of these events, but there is a growing movement among some of us to drop the Austrian/Libertarian label and start calling ourselves “NeoClassical Liberals” in order to escape the “Pop Libertarianism” of the Rothbardian anarchists.
    http://www.coordinationproblem.org/2011/03/neoclassical-liberalism.html

    I am not necessarily happy criticizing the Mises folks since they are largely responsible for promoting this pop culture, and I think that promoting pop libertarianism is not a bad thing in this particular era of post-american capitalism. It has attracted many people to the cause of freedom, and out of that many some will mature into more sophisticated thinkers. Advertising an ideology is by definition a function of appealing to the masses. So I would rather have a lot of ‘Pop Libertarian Rothbardian Anarchists’ and a few classical liberal deep thinkers affecting the political discourse than I would just a few deep thinkers.

    Personally I would prefer more people understood Hoppe’s contribution, that a private government is superior to a state (corporate) government, and why it is superior. Because then we would be able to have an adult conversation about government. A private government under the common law is by definition anarchic.

    The state is an unaccountable, epistemologically impossible abstraction, and thats the problem with it. It’s ‘god’. But that is far too difficult a conversation for people who are motivated by ‘Pop Culture Ideology” regardless of stripe.

    Rand is a literary doorway into philosophy for the young and inexperienced. As such she is valuable to philosophy. Rothbard is a great and often underrated historian but a pop philosopher at best. Hayek is a great philosopher. And Mises is the only saint among economists despite his reliance on an incomplete praxeology. You can judge anyone’s arguments in libertarianism by which person they’re quoting and referring to. Rand=> Rothbard=>Mises=>Hayek=>Both Mises and Hayek. If you simply used that scoring system you can easily tell who knows what they’re talking about and not.

    The only person I know that’s commented on your blog so far is Horowitz, and while he tilts more one way and I the other, his technical knowledge of the space is quite good. Out of the rest only BlaiseP is actually a skeptical rationalist. He lacks the knowledge of economics to be a skeptical empiricist.

    I will post this as an open letter to you on my site.

    Thanks
    Curt

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  9. Kind of a ridiculous question, but how many libertarians (or, should I say, what faction of libertarian thought) would support the U.S. constitution if asked to ratify it in 1788? After all, the divide between the Federalists and anti-Federalists was quite strong, with the ratification of the constitution being no certain thing at the time (in New York state it only passed by 3 votes; 2 in Rhode Island.) Of course, the Bill of Rights was tacked on afterwards to assuage the fears of those like Jefferson, Henry, Mason, and Clinton, but many still did not support our nation’s founding document in principle. This question comes to mind because, as I currently finish up Alexander Hamilton’s biography, I find myself thinking that Hamilton (who is undoubtedly one of the most important framers and defenders of the Constitution) would sound awfully heretical to many strains of libertarian thought: “Even to observe neutrality you must have a strong government” (on the U.S.’s relation to the French-British war) or “A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever may be its theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.” (from the federalist papers). While Madison agreed with the ratification of the constitution, he did not see eye to eye with Hamilton and, in fact, would stand as one of his main opposition figures throughout his tenure as Treasury Sec. Yet, both men had worked to create the document over which they wrestled and, in the end, Hamilton seemed to win out (the assumption of debt via the issuing of bonds, the national bank, the coast guard, the implied powers of the constitution, excise taxes, a standing army, etc). So, to return to my initial question, is the libertarian argument (or which strain of libertarian argument) that a.) Of course the constitution was necessary and proper, but it has since been misinterpreted, starting with Hamilton (as Madison thought). or b.) The Anti-Federalist viewpoint: The start of the downfall away from the most liberal and free society was the Constitution; the federal government has been holding us back ever since. Or c.) Whatever opinion you can possibly conceive of.

    I know, the question is counter factual and difficult to control for variables, but my primary interest stems from my reading of Hamilton, because he is one of the chief interpreters of the Constitution and “founding fathers,” but yet Madison (and by extension, James, your libertarianism) would seem aghast at everything he implied from his reading of the document. I’m just curious.

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    • Anderson, I think that’s a great question. I can’t even answer for myself, much less any other libertarians, but thinking about libertarianism vis a vis the purposes behind creating the Constitution, and the effects that would/could have been predicted in 1789 is a valuable exercise. All I could say off the seat of my pants about both Madison and Hamilton is that they saw the final product of the Constitution as a compromise, imperfect but necessary to avoid disintegration of the union; but of course they had different views on what parts of it constituted compromise.

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  10. 2 Questions About State vs. Federal Government:

    Many Libertarians appear to be sympathetic to the “states rights” argument of limiting the federal government (T/F?). The “states rights” argument first arose during the Civil War as in “a state’s right to engage in slavery.” or, in a broader less judgmental sense, to conduct their economic policies as they saw fit.

    So, assuming slavery was (is?) still in effect, on what side of the argument do today’s libertarians land: state’s rights to act in a tyrannical, exploitative manner toward their laborers, or federal government COERCION to end slavery?

    Also, aside from size of governmental organization, how is coercion at the state government level any more acceptable qualitatively than if that same restriction were at the federal level? Ex: If I, for hypothetical purposes a swarthy Hispanic citizen, am required to carry my citizenship papers on my person by my State’ laws (while whites effectively do not), but not Federal laws, am I not still being inconvenienced/coerced?

    Thanks!

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    • I’m pretty sure that most Libertarians have internalized the 13th Amendment.

      When I see the State’s Rights arguments given, it’s of the form “if Montana wants to legalize weed, they can, if Washington State wants to have school vouchers, it can, and if Tennessee wants to have single payer health care, it can.”

      There are a lot of things that have been appropriated by the Federal Government that ought to have been left up to the states.

      I’m also pretty sure that most Libertarians are 100% in support of full incorporation (any Libertarians out there who aren’t, I’m sure, will correct me).

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      • At that point, why have a nation?

        But at the very least, I’ll make a compromise. Let states go into debt and I’ll say the federal government has to do less on a federal level. The problem is that for the programs I want (single-payer health care, expanded unemployment insurance, etc.), when those programs are needed the most is when tax revenue is the lowest. Thus, why the federal government can only do so such things because they can spend themselves into debt temporarily.

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      • So single-payer is okay at the state level but not the federal level? Mandates and everything?

        I guess what I can’t grasp (yet?) is how is state-run single payer health insurance any less coercive ON THE “CITIZENS” of that state than if it was a federal program? Bottom line: aren’t they being FORCED to participate?

        As a side note: Insurance being insurance, isn’t risk best managed when it is distributed across the biggest, least homogeneous group possible? I’m pretty sure the answer is “yes”. So, wouldn’t a single-payer health care program be more “stable” (less risky) at the federal rather than state level, especially in the face of some Katrina-like regional natural disaster?

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        • how is state-run single payer health insurance any less coercive ON THE “CITIZENS” of that state than if it was a federal program?

          Jazgar, My answer would be that it’s easier for a citizen to move to a different state, if they dislike its policies, than it is to leave the country. I despise the term states’ rights, but I am a strong federalist, and my favored approach to federalism is a basic guarantee of political and legal equality throughout the whole country (which provides my personal answer to your slavery question) and then imposes constraints on policies by how easy it is to escape them, so that I would allow municipalities to impose more extensive regulation than states (because it’s easier to move out of town than out of state in most cases), and states to impose less extensive regulation than municipalities but more extensive than the federal government. (But I can’t draw precise lines; the lines between what’s acceptable at any level in this conception of federalism are inevitably open to debate.)

          That is not our U.S. system, and I don’t believe it is remotely characterizable as what most libertarians think. It’s what I think, and I believe it is commensurate with libertarianism.

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            • That’s not a very nuanced counter.

              I mean, one can argue that certain types of problems are best addressed at different levels of governance and that’s a perfectly reasonable stance. If you’re going to pull a reducto, it works all the way down, and all the way up.

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              • I wasn’t trying to counter, I was being snarky. But if you notice, above I pointed out how insane things could get if the mandate is _truly_ unconstitutional.

                But then again, I’m so far on the left, I think that if you a local entiny can regulate something, so can the federal government. I’d also eliminate the Senate if I ever became Supreme Dictator too, so that shows how much I care about federalism. :)

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            • Why should someone be forced to move from his hometown of fifty years in rural Washington because of a mandate placed upon him by the out-of-touch government of socialists in Olympia?
              I think states like Washington are too big, in some ways. But more importantly, every system will have points at which you can attack it like that, because there are no perfect human systems. We’re not looking for whether the system works perfectly for everyone, but for a system that has the greatest ratio of benefits to costs. (Of course that’s difficult because benefits and costs are often subjective, but that holds for any system that anyone might propose.)

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              • > We’re not looking for whether the system
                > works perfectly for everyone, but for a
                > system that has the greatest ratio of
                > benefits to costs.

                Personally, I think we’re better off aiming for the system that has the least ratio of suck to costs. Otherwise, +1

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          • Thanks for that thoughful reply. I do see that increased mobility might make certain kinds of regulation more acceptable at the state level than federal.

            Abortion is perhaps another example where women might abandon one state in order to have greater choice over reproductive/body issues for themselves and their offspring.

            As a former insurance policy analyst, though, I can say that the greater and more widespread and diverse a population the more stable any insurance system is. Imagine the impact of something like, say, a localized cancer epidemic caused by a nuclear disaster on a single state versus spreading it out over the entire US population. And of course, one can’t dismiss the leverage a larger group has to negotiate lower prices on products and services.

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            • Jazgar,

              Re: Abortion. That’s a tricky one because the opposing sides both claim the fundamental right issue.

              You might be right about insurance systems. I’d have to think about it more to either fully agree or to argue against you intelligently, but I’d certainly take your argument seriously. As I said, there’d be legitimate debate over where the lines are drawn, and the less I know about a particular subject the less I could make a meaningful argument about where to draw the line on that particular one.

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              • He’s right about insurance systems (IMO). Also, it doesn’t make any sense to tackle that at the state level because sick people can come to State that Has Universal Coverage after they get sick and blow the model to smithereens.

                Note: HCR doesn’t exactly tackle this problem very well, which is why I don’t like it (well, one of the reasons).

                I’d hazard a guess that a significant percentage of California’s debt problem is because people come here to get support they can’t get elsewhere: our low income support system is bigger than most state’s total budgets.

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              • I don’t know from fundamental rights, but generally isn’t better to leave the decision in the hands of the family/individual affected and maybe their doctor rather than let some Washington bureaucrat decide life & death issues? These things can get pretty complicated.

                Again on principle: if we say it’s okay for government to impose reproductive decisions, what happens if, with global warming and all, we have a few years of drought, wildfires, tornadoes & famine and and a vast majority of Americans having to choose between starvation and Chinese-style population control measures, and they go with population control?
                (It’s a what if exercise) Enter Washington bureaucrat.

                If we’ve already said it’s okay for Federal or state government to decide these issues on behalf of a woman, mandated abortions for EVERYBODY it is! Or forced abortions after 1 child, whatever. Not acceptable.

                You honestly think government can be trusted to not sway with the changing winds of public opinion?

                No, no government intrusion into personal/family issues for me thanks. (QUALIFYING – as long as it’s consenting adults we’re talking about.) We’ll abide by our beliefs and your family can abide by yours, and so on. It’s another PRINCIPLE /slippery slope thing for me.

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                • Jazgar,

                  I might be in agreement with you on the medical decisions issue, but my agreement/disagreement isn’t really what I was referring to. I meant that a large portion of the public says abortion rights are fundamental and another large portion of the public says the right to be born is fundamental.

                  So when I propose a federalist system where fundamental rights apply across the whole system and can’t be denied by any state/municipality, I’m implicitly assuming we have agreement on what those fundamental rights are. In some cases we do, but on some we don’t. So I wasn’t meaning to argue against your belief about which of those fundamental rights claims (abortion or life) should be applied–I only meant that our society doesn’t yet have enough agreement on that issue to make such application easy.

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                  • Of course, speaking of paranoid pov’s, I also happen to think that introducing creationism/ID into a public science classroom could be a HUGE backfire for religionists. Pound for pound when you look at the issue in the framework of what counts as evidence in a scientific setting, it’s definitely not the home run Christians think it is.

                    Example: the CENTRAL idea of intelligent design says NOTHING of complexity can arise/evolve spontaneously; it has to be created by something of even greater complexity. If that’s true, then what complex-beyond-God being designed God? and so on?

                    Not to be sacrilegious, but there IS a pretty obvious inconsistency to the internal logic there, isn’t there? I mean, I KNOW God’s supposed to be outside of the whole framework, but WHY? And that’s the *CENTRAL* idea presented; the one everything is based on!

                    Plus once you open the door to examining theological ideas vs. science it gets more precarious. If you’re going to “teach the controversy” of evolution vs. intelligent design, the natural next step is teaching the “controversy” of whether god exists or not. In a Science classroom, and from a SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE perspective. Some might see it as Trojan Horse, but I tend to see it more as walking into a minefield.

                    I think we could likely see a vast increase in the number of teenagers leaving the church in coming years BECAUSE someone decided to waltz theology into a science classroom where it can be subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny. That’s like painting a big bulls-eye on it, and asking teachers to take aim. “What’s your scientific evidence for believing that?” will be ingrained into every child’s mind.

                    “Really? Came back to life? And you have proof for that?” “Turned water into wine you say? And by what means was this accomplished? If he only had hydrogen and oxygen atoms to start with how was he able to create the tannins, sugars and alcohol, etc?” “Heaven? Where’s that exactly, and why hasn’t it shown up on our weather satellites?” And so on.

                    But, I don’t know, if that’s what they WANT, who am I to say otherwise.

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          • I do worry though, from the perspective of ideology, or rather principle, about the extremely fine line between “more acceptable” and simply “acceptable”.

            For example, if we are able to sit idly by while the Governor of Michigan imposes an Emergency Financial Manager who is not elected by the populace and who furthermore can nullify the authority of elected officials, onto a town, then how can we possibly have ANY right to speak out if, say, President Obama did the exact SAME THING to a state in financial crisis like Minnesota(?) without looking like complete hypocrites without any true convictions whatsoever?

            At some point “more acceptable” is simply start of the slippery slope, is it not? Sometimes if one is to speak for or against an idea, if it’s unacceptable, then it should be unacceptable no matter the scale of government.

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  11. One of Caesar’s lieutenants (or RE Lee’s, for that matter) arrives at Farmer Nozick’s place with a few divisions, and asks politely for his wheat, cattle, water, petroleum and ….other staples for his soldiers, and even offers to pay for it. Farmer Nozick hands it over…or else. So much for holy non-interference: the State and eminent Domain will take precedence when times are tough (as was the case in Civil War as well, both sides–ie cough up brass, copper, iron etc). Nozick, refuted. MURRAY ROTHBARD???

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    • My dear J, dude, as much as I am devoted to the unique republicanism, particularism, etc, of the olde, beloved South, the Southern gummint was far and away more centralist during the ‘late unpleasantness.’

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  12. R.A Heinlein distilled it rather nicely.

    “Never appeal to a man’s “better nature.” He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.”

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    • “Never appeal to a man’s “better nature.” He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage.” – Heinlein

      So, if it’s in MY SELF-INTEREST, as I see it, to have a more progressive tax system, a more robust social safety net, better funding for schools, more stringent financial controls on a reckless market, product safety, less outsourcing of jobs, etc.?

      Then, what do I do?

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        • Doesn’t that run counter to the scenario I was suggesting? I believe the hypothetical goal was a more egalitarian, progressive image of society. One might even be tempted to call it “orderly” and/or “nurturing”, no?

          I hardly see how dropping napalm willy-nilly would be helpful in achieving such an end. IF one concluded that living in such a 1950’s/1960’s oriented New Deal society might be in his/her self interest. But, thanks!

          Again this is just a hypothetical situation, do not be unduly alarmed.

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      • Try to persuade me that it’s also in my* self-interest. In some cases you’ve got a decent shot of succeeding.

        (*With “me” as a literary stand-in for whatever libertarian you happen to be arguing with. Some of course, are more persuadable than others. Be warned, though, if you’re on their front porch trying to persuade them, some find a shot gun more effective than words at demonstrating their unwillingness to be persuaded.)

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  13. Ad hominem, you mean?

    Not exactly. References to Heinlein’s biography do not an ad hominem make. I’m not saying we should not consider Heinlein’s views because he was a militaristic blowhard and hack pulpmeister. Im just pointing out that…. he was a militaristic blowhard and hack pulpmeister..(read his West point speech from circa ’73 or so, or his “Nixon is soft” BS)

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    • Ad Hominem: an attempt to link the truth of a claim to a negative characteristic or belief of the person advocating it.

      Sorry, the tone of your post gave me the impression that you somehow believe Heinlein’s quote was not correct because Heinlein had personality traits you find offensive. Did I miss something there, or does that about sum it up?

      I suppose you could claim it wasn’t an Ad Hominem because you weren’t attacking me, but I don’t think so.

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  14. Did you read my previous comment on Eminent Domain and Nozick, refuted? Maybe try that and start over. For that matter, pointing out the political–and historical– implications of the libertarian quacks–whether Nozick, Rand or Heinlein– does have some relevance. (however nauseating Rand the person and Randianism is, Aynnie broke with the hawks on Nam, and pissed on Nixon and Kissinger, at least once. She also detested Reagan).

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  15. Nozick’s non-interference at any cost: quackness (ie, a-historical if not narcissistic perspective. And RN didn’t really understand Locke). Some of us actually read most of A S & U once–at least until nausea set in.

    Heinlein’s love of Reagan’s SSI: quackness. (He was palsies with L-Ron Hubbard for years, until he …decided it might be bad for bidness). I wager RAH attended a few soirees with the objectivists as he did with the scientologists.

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    • Heinlein liked missile defense because he agreed with the union of concerned scientists that nuclear war was the greatest threat to the ongoing survival of the species in the near-term. Now, you might think that missile defense was or is too expensive (I do) or that the modern world wasn’t going to engage in nuclear war regardless (I think this is a dicey claim to make, but knock yourself out)… or, finally, that the negative consequences of working on missile defense were potentially greater than the possibility that you might hammer out a working system (a workable theory, but there’s heavy lifting to do there).

      But Heinlein certainly had a lot of smart company who backed missile defense.

      Heinlein was friends with L-Ron for years, but so was most of the SF community. They were a relatively small cadre of people, after all.

      As for Objectivism, Heinlein’s writings would lead me to believe that he would find some of what Rand said to be interesting, and some of what Rand said to be counter to his own perception of people.

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    • J,

      You are of course free to disagree with Nozick (I didn’t really like AS&U, either), but to refute his normative argument about what states should not do you have to use a normative argument about whey they should do it; you can’t use an argument about what they actually do.

      Consider how your approach translates to other subject matters.
      A: People shouldn’t commit rape.
      B: You’re wrong, because people do commit rape.

      See, it just doesn’t work. Logicians call it the naturalistic fallacy.

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