# Romney Logic

Mitt Romney believes that he lost the presidential election because many voters (as many as 47%, maybe more!) who benefit from government programs were incapable of basing their votes on anything other than their interest in maintaining these programs. In other words…

“For all x such that x is money and x is given to a voter (y) by government programs (z), then x causes y to vote in the interest of incumbent Democrats.”

In formal logical notation, it oughta look something like this:

Contrast that with Romney’s view on gifts he received in the form of campaign donations from wealthy conservative donors:

“For all x such that x is money and x is donated to Candidate Romney (y) by a plutocrat (z), then x does not cause y to govern in the interest of z.”

The formal version:

So, in still other words…

Big gifts” to voters  (life-saving health coverage, college loan reform, etc) = Voters were materially blinded and voted for Democrats

VS.

Gifts to Romney (dollars, cents, etc) = Romney would not be blinded by these gifts and still would have governed in the common interest

Presumably material incentives should operate similarly in these two situations, no? Either there’s a missing logical variable, or ex-Candidate Romney is just blowing smoke.

[Note: It’s entirely possible that I’ve screwed up the logical notation above. It’s been some time since I flexed those “muscles.” Feedback welcome.]

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## 108 thoughts on “Romney Logic”

1. DensityDuck says:

Considering where the tax revenues mostly come from, you could argue that if Romney had been elected and given benefits to the rich then he’d be giving them their own money back.

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2. Mike Schilling says:

Predicates:
M(x) : is money
P(x,y.z): x provides y ro z
S(x,y): x supports y
R(x): x is Romney

(I’ll use right-sight-up A’s and E’s and ‘>’ to mean “implies” and ‘&’ to mean “and” to avoid font issues.)
Then we have
(1) AxAy(Ez(Mz & Pxzy) > S(yx))
and
(2) Ay(R(y) > Ax(~(Ez(Mz & Pxzy) > S(yx))))

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3. Brandon Berg says:

Well, one difference is that the government handouts are contingent on the Democrats actually getting elected, so they can enforce quid pro quo. Not individually, but at least collectively. They don’t get elected, they can’t deliver on their promises.

Campaign donations precede the election, so donors can’t enforce quid pro quo. They can decline to donate for reelection, but that’s not as powerful a lever.

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4. If it were the case that not everyone but only some high fraction of people voted in favour of their own financial interests, say 90%, it is less plausible to deny that most people in whose interest democratic policies were voted democrat. It is more plausible (if only somewhat) to assert that Romney just happens to be the kind of guy who wouldn’t do that.*

*Well, given that this is Romney the chameleon, it is even less plausible than that. The basic point is that it is more plauible to believe that one person is an exception to a rule than that some large fraction of people are.

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5. BlaiseP says:

Heh. All quite logical but you’ve forgotten Corporate Welfare. The same equation applies to the GOP: don’t their favoured few obtain government largesse and government contracts and low taxes?

Don’t Red States grift more than their share of federal dollars? Now I don’t care if people in the Red States get a bit more than those Blue States: their economies are suffering, too. Rural poverty is awfully dire: it’s no accident homeless people drift into cities. Of course, anyone who might agree with that conclusion might open himself up to being called a Redistributionist in so saying.

Stick a fork in him, folks. Romney’s done. I remember his father, bravely marching with the NAACP. George Romney was a true friend of the working man. When George Romney was in the Nixon administration, he tried to do the right thing and Nixon shut him down and that was the end of that good man’s political career. Nixon had an election to win and he needed the Bigot Vote and by God he got that vote, too.

Mitt Romney was nothing but a salesman working his PowerPoint pitch deck. I don’t believe Romney ever meant a thing he said on this campaign. But there was a day when Romney did want to do the right thing, back in Massachusetts, when he was governor. What ever happened to that guy? Hard to say. Did money and fame and all that adulation warp him somewhere? Did his ambitions get the better of him?

This much seems clear: he was warped somewhere along the line. All ambition begins with noble intent: Romney’s health care plan provided a model for how an entire population might benefit from the actions of enlightened government. When did he stop believing in his own greatest success story? When did he start to sacrifice his principles on the altar of ambition?

Adam Smith observed in Wealth of Nations: No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.

Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.

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• zic says:

This is very nice, but . . .

As I recall, Romney’s health care plan was (I’d just left the state, this is from friends in state and state gov.) was mostly written by the Democratic legislature, they’d been at work on it for a while; and parts were tweaked to make it more suitable to Romney. He signed it into law knowing if he didn’t, the legislature would override his veto pen.

While governor, he did veto over 800 bills and had over 700 of those vetoed bills were overturned by the 2/3 majority.

So be careful even here; the shapeshifting perception of what Massachusetts law makers did vs. the Governor is awkward and deceiving. That man we saw out on the campaign trail, the one who looked like he was running from his record as governor? He probably was running, because what we look back and see as his record was something else; his time on Beacon Hill a parody of how he might really govern.

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• BlaiseP says:

I heard a different story. One of Romney’s best friends is the guy who owned Staples, name of Tom Stemberg, who said health care reform was a way to help the most people. Stemberg was one of Romney’s health care advisers.

There’s a footnote to that story, when Stemberg’s ex-wife Maureen was suffering with cancer, Stemberg cancelled her health insurance.

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• zic says:

I’ve interviewed some of the Staples founders, though not Stemberg. I’ve heard the same view that universal health care is crucial for business success; but we’re also talking about a retail business where most of the front-line employees are low-skill, low-wage workers.

But this does not mean Romney crafted the plan, it means he was influenced by these people, certainly they influenced how Romney adapted the law, and that was likely customizing it to better suit their business needs.

But the point is that the legislature wanted universal care. The voters wanted it. I doubt Romney would have tacked it of his own initiative.

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• Roger says:

Universal care would have been better than what we got.

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• BlaiseP says:

Jon Gruber wrote most of what would become the Massachusetts law. He’s still one of the chief advisers to the program.

Romney called Gruber, not the other way round. It may well be Gruber was also advising the Democrats but it seems fair enough to say it wasn’t just the Dems pushing this onto an unwilling Romney.

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6. Jason Kuznicki says:

This is no defense of Romney, so please don’t anyone read it that way.

In the founding era, the missing variable would have been obvious: Romney is already independently wealthy, and thus he is relatively impervious to gifts.

Consult the founders’ debates over the presidential salary if you don’t believe me. The idea was floated that a president shouldn’t receive a salary at all, because only a man of means ought to occupy the office anyway. Property requirements for voting are an even stronger example of the same sort of logic.

Stripped of the assertion, crass to our ears, that the poor are easily bribed, the logic makes no sense. Add it back in, and at least it doesn’t fail on its own terms.

And again, this is not a defense of Romney.

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• Stillwater says:

There’s a concept of privilege there (that property owners are in a better position to determine what constitutes “good policy” than non-property owners), but also a pragmatic argument (that as a matter of fact, property owners are in a better position to determine what constitutes “good policy” than non-property owners).

Insofar as ownership of property entails a nexus of interests that is not just larger but also more important than other interests, the position you outline upthread might make some sense. But it’s inherently anti-democratic (I know you know that) as well as liable to entrench other privileges that probably don’t enjoy an independent pragmatic justification. Still, the foundational premise of the view is that a person pursuing their own self-interest wrt property (primarily ownership of land and its fruits, at the time) is natural and normatively correct (is/ought stuff).

So, the view seems to the type of bribery the poor are open to is categorically different (it’s necessarily wrong!) than the type of bribery the rich are open to (it’s natural and normatively correct).

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• Mike Schilling says:

Given the cost of presidential campaigns these days, there are, what, a few dozen people at most who could afford to run a self-financed one. (I’d vote for Gates over any Walton or either of the Koch brothers.)

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• Kim says:

+1 for Gates, he seems like a decent chap.
+2 for Buffet, he seems pretty smart.

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7. Roger says:

When I donate to the Obama campaign, it is a voluntary act. I choose among candidates for the one that I believe will do a better job. Alternatives to donations of money include donating time, or lending my support if I have access to public influence via the media or a pulpit.

Subsidizing people via government redistribution is a zero sum act with a huge likelihood of coercion. Politicians take from less favored groups or those that are not organized or aware and give it to favored groups, creating dependency upon further and greater coercive redistribution going forward. This practice self amplifies or snowballs into a destructive negative sum game as more and more is forcibly redistributed to those with power.

It is true that there are similarities with campaign donations and government redistribution and favors. But there are differences. It is like saying there are similarities between gladiatorial combat and football. There are. But it is the differences that matter

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• BlaiseP says:

It’s not exactly zero-sum if “redistribution” is done properly. One man’s redistribution is another man’s investment, if you get my drift here. The creation of wealth is also redistribution, don’t forget. Putting money back into the bottom of the economy has a multiplier effect, the deeper it goes, the higher the multiplier.

Here’s the problem we face as a society: some pay taxes and others don’t. It’s not just the poor who don’t pay taxes, the rich can also avoid taxation with any number of schemes. In like manner, it’s not just the poor benighted Dumbocrats who are on the dole: the rich benefit from all sorts of government programs.

As you say, it’s the differences which matter. Money really is power, you know. If we’re to run a nation for the benefit of all, we shouldn’t care how much more wealthy the already-wealthy become. Our yardstick should be the poor: is government redistribution (and let’s not mince words, it really is redistribution) turning non-taxpayers into taxpayers? That should be the goal.

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• Roger says:

Blaise,

“It’s not exactly zero-sum if “redistribution” is done properly.”

I agree completely with this sentence. The question then becomes what institutional rules do we use to do it properly. See my comment on Murali’s thread on the importance of voice and exit rights. The libertarian recommendation is designing institutions which optimize choice and minimize coercion.

“The creation of wealth is also redistribution, don’t forget.”

Wealth creation is positive sum by definition and thus not zero sum. Since we cannot compare utilities between individuals, and due to the dynamic effects (response and counter response of game theory) the only way to ensure actions are expected to be positive sum for all parties is to make them non coercive or unanimous.

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• BlaiseP says:

Wealth creation arises from the transfer of money. If we want to create Taxpayers and not yet another crop of Morlocks, society ought to invest in children with that end in mind.

Trouble is, getting anyone on your side of the fence to view Gummint Redistribution as anything but Handouts and the cries of the poor as anything but Whining is very difficult.

Oh, and don’t play with me about Game Theory. You’re just trying to sound like you have a clue. Wealth isn’t a zero-sum proposition and poverty costs a nation dear. The wealth part you get. The poverty part is lost on you entirely.

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• Roger says:

Why do you have to jump into the personal attacks so soon, Blaise? Your last two paragraphs were just a chain of insults.

Could you please try to play nice?

As for your redistribution comment, you are ignoring the distinction above on voluntary, positive sum interactions and involuntary, zero sum ones.

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• BlaiseP says:

I write AI solutions for a living. Don’t presume to give me that Games Theory twaddle: games theory pays my bills. It’s irritating and condescending. And what’s more, it’s wrong.

Here’s how game theory might actually apply to this situation:

Poverty is a huge impediment to a society: the poor end up in jail where they cost us more on a yearly basis than a college education. If we want to apply a stimulus to change this outcome, we’d start where we have the most ability to produce a positive outcome. As with a chess game, where the first eight moves have been exhaustively worked out, only a handful of such sequences are worth playing. The Nanny State you so clearly despise ought to be part of making sure the first eight years of a child’s life are good ones. That’s where we can make the maximal difference. A good deal of effort ought to go into identifying a child’s unique skills, much as the military will pull out an exceptional soldier based on his ASVAB test and apply him where his skills would be best utilised.

But not according to the Enemies of Redistribution. Not according to the Libertarians, anyway. With you lot, its all about the Individual. And that’s complete nonsense. Of course we can compare utilities between individuals. That’s the essence of what education ought to do, catch children doing something good and maximise their lot in life. Children are the future of the nation, the best possible investment in our own futures, for they will eventually have to care for us and for their own children.

Because you have no vision for society which encompasses us all, you Libertarians annoy and disgust the rest of us with your petulant assertions about Individuals and the Dead Hand of the State. What you really want, it seems to me, is for government to get out of your lives. Those whom the gods would destroy, to them are wishes granted. As poverty expands and wealth contracts, you have no answers for why this is so. Adam Smith told you, Hayek told you and still you will not listen.

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• Roger says:

I was not being condescending. For example I did not use the word “twaddle” when referring to your views. By game theory I simply was referencing the fact that we are dealing with situations of conflict and cooperation in a realm of interactive decisions.

Poverty is indeed a huge impediment to human welfare. It is in our best interests to solve this problem, and that may include investing in poverty reduction. The state is an important player in this game. That said, my institutional recommendations differ from yours (obviously). I am sure we both worry about free riders and coercive exploiters in this game, but our solution sets differ pretty markedly. As I said already, please feel free to show me where I am wrong, preferably in a constructive way.

I am not an enemy of redistribution. I am an opponent of using coercion to accomplish it. I believe it backfires and spins out of control. I can provide institutional suggestions that establish both a state and which minimize coercion, and I would suggest deliberative experimentation to explore these solutions. It isn’t all about the individual. It is about individuals all agreeing and thus cooperating constructively.

“Of course we can compare utilities between individuals.”

I am all ears. Please explain this one to me. How do you propose we compare utilities? What are your institutional rules and processes? Who gets to decide? How do we handle disagreement?

“Because you have no vision for society which encompasses us all, you Libertarians annoy and disgust the rest of us with your petulant assertions about Individuals and the Dead Hand of the State. What you really want, it seems to me, is for government to get out of your lives.”

The government isn’t really in my life. I pay zero income taxes. I’m not gay. I don’t use drugs or prostitutes on a regular basis. I don’t want the government out of my life, I want it to quit interfering with anyone if it doesn’t absolutely have to. This isn’t about me, it is about my vision for a better and more constructively cooperative society. It is for the grand kids.

I am sure there is such a thing as an egotistical, selfish libertarian. If you listen to Jason, James or me, I do not believe you could honestly characterize our philosophies as selfish. Wrong maybe, but not greedy or selfish.

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• BlaiseP says:

This is what you did say: Since we cannot compare utilities between individuals, and due to the dynamic effects (response and counter response of game theory) the only way to ensure actions are expected to be positive sum for all parties is to make them non coercive or unanimous.

I say we can compare utility between individuals. If one child isn’t given a decent education and another one is, which child will be happier? You wanted to apply game theory to the problem. Perhaps I spoke harshly. I hear a lot of people nattering on about Game Theory. Game theory says the early moves matter the most because they prune all subsequent possible choices down to good ones.

You want non-coercion and unanimity in society. You shall not have it. Ever. Get over it. You can dine upon half a loaf like the rest of us, in a network of freedom constrained by your own commitments and those of others. You are at liberty to petition your Congresscritter and present him with a draft copy of a bill and he will propose it and that’s the way we get things done in this society because our laws are coercive.

Your grandkids, like mine, are uck-fayed. Very seriously so. Thanks to the deregulatory madness of the last few decades, they will now shoulder trillions in dollars in public debt created by the Free Marketeers of Wall Street.

As for James Hanley, we really do try to get along as best we can. He’s not an idiot. He means well enough. The Libertarians, like the Marxists of old, are constantly redefining terms to suit themselves: Free Market is one such term. So in response, Roger, I’m going to define Selfish the way I see fit. It’s a synonym for Libertarian.

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• Stillwater says:

I’m going to define Selfish the way I see fit. It’s a synonym for Libertarian.

I’d say that’s not too far from the truth. If there is a non-pejorative understanding of the term “self-centered” (as in, “individual-centered”), I think that would probably be more accurate, tho.

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• I’d like to add that “selfish” has upsides. Oh, you want to get married to your long-term partner? I don’t care. Oh, you want to smoke marijuana to help with your headaches? I don’t care. Oh, you were just kidding about the headaches? I don’t care. Oh, you want to spend your own money on stuff for yourself? I don’t care. For others? I don’t care.

We can add some morality stuff about “people hurting other people” and the circumstances under which that would inspire a response, the responsibility of a society to provide a quality education for children, that sort of thing… but, for huge swaths of your life, I, seriously, DO NOT CARE.

If you want someone who cares about the goings on in your nooks and crannies and would be more than happy enough to pass laws to make sure that nothing untoward goes on therein?

You probably want to deal with someone much less selfish.

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• BlaiseP says:

Well, sure. Selfish does have its upsides — for you. Now, freedom for others isn’t selfishness, you are clever enough to realise freedom for others is really freedom for yourself, as Sartre explained so concisely.

But helping others? Not a Libertarian trait. That’s where the Selfishness begins. You might not care who gets married, but insofar as their children are neglected, who gets to deal with that situation? Where’s the Libertarian Solution for that problem?

YOU DO NOT CARE who gets married, well, that’s great. Glad to hear it. We Liberals have been railing on about civil rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights for longer than Libertarians have been around. WE LIBERALS DO CARE, precisely because we do view ourselves as our brothers’ keepers. And it was LIBERALS, not Libertarians, who got all that changed, not that we’ll ever get any praise or thanks from anyone and not that we want any. We believe in a concept called Fairness, one which I don’t think the Libertarians have ever extended beyond the First Person Singular.

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• dhex says:

selfish stuff we like is called “social justice”.

:)

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• Jason Kuznicki says:

Can you see how all this caring might itself sometimes become a little scary?

Social conservatives also care a whole lot about who marries whom.

It’s also at least debatable whether LGBT rights has been a “liberal” issue for longer than the libertarians have been around. The Libertarian Party was the first to advocate repealing the sodomy laws.

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• BlaiseP says:

No, Jason, I don’t see the dangers in caring for people when it comes to tolerance of victimless crimes. The American Law Institute first proposed an end to laws against victimless crimes in 1950.

The Libertarian Party in the USA doesn’t even start until 1971, a decade after Illinois repealed its sodomy law. You’re just plain wrong on the history.

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• I don’t see the dangers in caring for people when it comes to tolerance of victimless crimes.

All you have to do is point out that there is *ALWAYS* a victim, perhaps a neglected child!, or point to how the person himself is harmed by his drinking of a 32 oz. Big Gulp and, suddenly, you’re someone who cares about *CRIMES*.

You don’t even need to use a whole lot of sophistry or anything.

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• BlaiseP says:

Now, now. We Liberals have our limits on this Sartre Commitment business. You can drink as much pop, smoke as much weed, engage in as many carnal pleasures as your fevered little twisted imaginations can summon up and we Liberals will support you in all of this. We’ll even buy you free condoms.

Thank the Conservatives, they who rattle on about Moral Turpitude and would tell us all, Liberals and Libertarians alike, that we’re just Damaging Society by letting those darn homos get married. Michael Bloomberg is a Republican for crissakes. Well, now he calls himself an Independent but we know he isn’t a Liberal or a Democrat.

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• One dynamic I’ve noticed. The places where libertarians overlap with the liberals are libertarians just not being *COMPLETELY* stupid. Just mostly stupid. Well, of *COURSE* they like the idea of gay marriage. Of *COURSE* they want weed to be legal. Of *COURSE* they approve of more liberal immigration law. They want spending cut? They’re wanna-be Republicans! Wait, they want the military cut as well? Well, of *COURSE* they do.

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• BlaiseP says:

Oh quit whining. A Libertarian is a Liberal who hasn’t had a major medical crisis bankrupt him yet.

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• Jason Kuznicki says:

To compare apples to apples, the Democratic Party didn’t advocate repealing sodomy laws until… I believe it was 1980.

There were voices here and there in the 1950s asking for their repeal, and many of them were libertarians. So, as I said, the point is at least arguable.

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• BlaiseP says:

Heh. Funny how these debates go, Jason. I point out how Liberals have done all the heavy lifting and you want to tell us about how the Libertarians were supervising the operation which eventually righted many serious injustices.

No the Libertarians bloody well didn’t. Ron Paul was shrieking about how “mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white ‘haves.’ “ Now that’s what Libertarians were saying at the time and they’re still saying it, though not with any racial overtones to be sure, that’s bad manners. Jason, I was there for it. Were you even out of diapers at that point?

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• Jason Kuznicki says:

Heh. Funny how these debates go, Jason. I point out how Liberals have done all the heavy lifting and you want to tell us about how the Libertarians were supervising the operation which eventually righted many serious injustices.

I said nothing of the kind. I’ll only repeat what Jaybird observed earlier: When libertarians agree with liberals, we get zero credit. When libertarians disagree with liberals, it just proves how obviously stupid we are.

I would add that even Ron Paul himself both (1) disavows being a libertarian and (2) has disavowed the newsletters you’re referring to. It’s not clear how he is relevant, even if he does occasionally attract some libertarian support. Me, I gave up on him when the newsletters came to light.

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• DRS says:

When libertarians agree with liberals, we get zero credit.

Well, why should they? Agreeing is kind of the least effort anyone can do, isn’t it? The real work consists of bugging congresspersons, writing letters and submissions and articles, protesting and marching in public demonstrations, making a presence felt. I simply can’t take this libertarian stuff seriously – just so much talking about abstractions, the exact opposite of changing society and influencing fellow citizens.

And before you snark on me again, Jason, you might want to consider that if that’s all you bring to the table, it’s not worth much to anyone. I can see it now: “Congressperson X, if you don’t support same-sex-marriage/whatever, then my libertarian colleagues will cop an attitude at you!” “No, no anything but that!!!! I’ll sign! I’ll sign!!”

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

Well, actually, depending on the issue, sometimes liberals and libertarian may agree on a solution, but they don’t agree what the problem is.

For example, with gay marriage. Many libertarians believe the problem is that government is recognizing any marriage at all. Liberals believe the problem the government is only recognizing one sort of marriage.

So, even though we agree on part one of the solution (eliminate bans on civil society recognizing people), part two is where we part ways.

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• BlaiseP says:

Yeah, yeah. Ron Paul wasn’t a Libertarian. And he didn’t write those dreadful articles. Some evil cabal of orcs musta hijacked his printing press.

You know what, Jason? I remember debating the Marxists. Here I’m going to make an Old Man Noise, I’m entitled, I think. Back then, in the 1960s, they were still trying to pretend Stalin hadn’t such an awful guy, that the Communists were going to set the world to rights, that the Horrible US Gummint was an Imperialist Oppressor and if Stalin made some mistakes, well, we were making bigger ones in Vietnam. That sort of thing.

I know the smell of denial, of what people say when their precious ideology smashes to pieces on contact with the real world. The Libertarians want a revolution. They haven’t quite worked out how they’re going to prevent tyranny from arising, but they’re sure the current system is bad enough to warrant that revolution. They’re very afraid of the Liberal approach, you know, the one which does care about people enough to see them as individuals.

The Libertarian contempt for society is truly astonishing. When I point out it was Liberals who struggled for freedom, you have the unmitigated gall to tell me the Libertarians were on the problem long before us. You have become the tools of tyrants as surely as all those earnest young Communists so long ago, though you cannot see it and will surely deny it. But it’s true nonetheless. It doesn’t matter what people say, what matters is what people hear. And I have heard all this before, and far more eloquently. At least the Marxists gave a shit about human society. The Libertarians can’t get that far.

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

Actually, Ron Paul isn’t a libertarian. He’s a socially conservative isolationist goldbug.

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• Yeah, Ron Paul is a Paleocon.

There’s some overlap with Libertarians, but it’s mostly about process.

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• BlaiseP says:

I remember a group of Objectivists back in the day. Now I suppose, in typical Libertarian fashion, we can’t call Ayn Rand a Libertarian, for only people who haven’t said anything stupid are allowed that title — but anyhoo.

Back then, the Objectivists were quite fashionable. They hung out with the Squares and talked about how much they had in common, how government had no business telling anyone what to do. The hardcore Communists were another gang entirely, they hung out with the Oppressed and carried on about how society would be ever so much better once the Revolution arose.

So when the subject of Segregation came up, the Objectivists said the government shouldn’t make laws against it because it would only let the Government Camel farther into the tent. They thought, poor dears, that social opprobrium would be sufficient to solve the problem.

Everyone laughed at them, especially the Communists, who said they were all so many Capitalist Stooges. And the Objectivists proudly and haughtily admitted as much and told the rest of us they’d be running the world in a few years.

They aren’t running the world these days. That’s the great thing about living in a fantasy world, if it ever came true, they wouldn’t have anything to dream about any more. We Liberals won the desegregation fight and lived long enough to see equal pay for women become the law of the land, gay marriage, a black man elected president. Our dreams came true. Not in the way we wanted, mind you. Schools are even more segregated than ever. The poor are pretty much as poor as ever. The working man’s on food stamps and his job’s gone overseas. We didn’t foresee that. We didn’t much like the unions back then, they were racists, too. Now Intel’s running chip fabs in Vietnam.

Be careful what you wish for. I got what I wished for, most of it anyway. Didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I got the Change. I lost the Hope.

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• “Be careful what you wish for. I got what I wished for, most of it anyway. Didn’t work out as I’d hoped. I got the Change. I lost the Hope.”

So how did that happen? How might it have played out better?

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• BlaiseP says:

Jeebus, Major Zed, that would require writing a mighty freight of prose to answer. But as usual, the poets say it best:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

Somewhere else, I said ambition always begins with noble intent. The concept of the Rights of Man always thrilled me and thrills me still, that we might at long last evolve and transcend our differences by lifting up the poor and lowly via the establishment of basic human rights.

The rich, well, let them get richer, I didn’t care at the time. Capitalism always concentrates wealth but it’s still the best approach to lifting up the poor. The wealthy always come around to philanthropy anyway, once they’ve reached a certain point. As long as the green shoots were sprouting, surely the fruit would ripen in time. I still believe this to be true. Where other Liberals get all feisty about the Greedy Rich and made stupid noises about them, I knew better.

We Liberals did win most of the battles we fought. They seemed terribly important at the time. Were they the right battles? Why hasn’t capitalism lifted up the poor any more than it has? Why weren’t we as concerned about deregulation of the markets as we were about equal rights in the workplace, in the bedroom? We sorta lost sight of what really mattered. We didn’t shepherd capitalism in the direction it could and should have gone, into the creation of wealth for the many. We’d alienated the Moneyed Crowd. We could have convinced them investing in the poor was good value for money.

In short, we Liberals were kinda stupid.

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• “We sorta lost sight of what really mattered. We didn’t shepherd capitalism in the direction it could and should have gone, into the creation of wealth for the many. “

Yes, the engine seems to be sputtering. Household incomes have been stagnant since 1999-2000 and have been declining since 2006-07 across the board from 20th to 95th percentile (in constant dollars). Except for a 2011 uptick, even the average income of the top 5% is following the same pattern. Something is definitely wrong. Any theories?

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• Roger says:

“I say we can compare utility between individuals. If one child isn’t given a decent education and another one is, which child will be happier? You wanted to apply game theory to the problem.”

We certainly can predict what people like. People tend to like food and entertainment and security and status and stuff. Thus we can reasonably predict that we will make someone happier when they get something they like. We can also say that those that got what they wanted in an interaction are probably happier with the interaction than those that did not.

The problem is that providing these solutions to life’s desires has costs. They do not fall from heaven. What we do not know is if the costs outweigh the benefits. Where an individual solves a problem on their own, we can be reasonably sure that they attempted to weigh the costs and the benefits and they chose using a consistent set of utilities. Where they find they made a mistake, they also learn from the feedback and thus can improve over time. W can also be reasonably confident in an interaction where it was voluntary for all parties involved.

It gets tougher when one pays the cost and another gets the benefit. This is a win lose interaction, an is usually accompanied by coercion or deception. All we know is that one was harmed and the other benefitted according to their values. Yes the child gained from the education, but what if his bill was paid by the parent needing the money to buy an operation to fix a cleft palette for another kid? There is no way to measure or compare these utilities in an objective way, because it is inherently subjective.

Adding the fact that the parties will begin responding to each other dynamically further complicates an already hopeless situation. The cleft palette parent will do whatever they can to avoid losing the happiness of his kid for the happiness of the other kid. The parents of the education kid will lobby congress for more of the cleft palette parents income and vice versa. It devolves into not just a zero sum game, but an inefficient arms race of negative sum games. Eventually the best move is to proactively cause harm to the other side. The politicians laugh all the way to the next election. And yes, early moves and the rules of the game matter most.

Now, if you think I am wrong about the above, please point out how. I really, really want to know, and would value your guidance, especially if done in a nice way.

And I will not engage on the libertarian blame for crony capitalisms bills. I am not even a fan of excessive deregulation, as I believe any change to a complex adaptive system is inherently risky.

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• BlaiseP says:

Absolutely none of that contests my observation that utility is easily measured. Utility isn’t just happiness, to my way of thinking. Utility is what Aristotle called eudaimonea, the individual excellence of a person. If a child is educated, well-fed, well-housed and treated with kindness, if his individual talents are honed and expanded, such is the beginning of eudaimonea.

And in some respects, the Libertarians are correct about all this. There can be no One Size Fits All Solution to any such problem. And yes, you’re correct, such solutions will cost money, as would any wise investment: we invest that we may eventually reap the rewards. You would say we don’t know if if the costs outweigh the benefits. That’s a cheap shot and unworthy of you. You know education is a wise investment, there is no wiser investment.

I cannot help but notice you simply will not respond to my point about education. This isn’t a matter of what people want. Little children would rather play and watch television than go to school. Hopefully, their schools will encourage them to play and learn and expand their horizons. Surely we can agree the goal of education is to empower the individual.

The goal, as I said, is to create the very sort of self-sufficiency we would both want from everyone. And yes, as a Liberal, I would expect those who benefited from those investments to repay them in kind to the next generation. A child with a cleft palate is certainly worth the cost of a surgery. It’s about 5,000 USD to fix that kid, maybe 10,000 if the cleft is severe. To pose some false dichotomy about education versus a routine surgery is beyond ridiculous. The benefits of both are obvious: they’ll save this society money in the long haul.

Ever seen an untreated cleft palate? I have. Used to see them all the time in Africa. They’re often deaf because their inner ears are infected. These kids often suffocate.

Really, I’m so disgusted with this debate, Roger. Volunteerism doesn’t enter into this discussion. In a working society, individualism matters. The kid with the cleft palate matters, fixing him for ten grand gives him a productive life. The kid in a bad school matters, if he falls through the cracks, guess where he’s going to land. Yes, that’s right, in the justice system, where his name will be read aloud and the charges against him too and some judge will sentence him and remand him into the custody of the State and guess who’s going to pay for that? That’s right, you and me.

So if you don’t think investing in other people’s kids is a good idea, if you want to go on saying there’s no objective measure for utility, rest assured, there’s a cost to not investing in those kids. The cost of incarceration is well understood. And as you don’t want to engage crony capitalism, you may return the favour and not bring up all those people in jail on drug offences, I don’t like that any more than you do.

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• Roger says:

I agree utility is broader than happiness.

I clearly did not take a cheap shot by saying education isn’t worth it. Nor did I say fixing disabilities isn’t worth it. Or curing a dieing child. These are obviously awesome things. But there are always tradeoffs and costs. I was pointing out the danger of coercively requiring people to pay for things that they disagree on.

I did not say it was not worthwhile to pay for these things. Obviously we both agree it is. Thus we both volunteer to belong to a society which pays for them. But since it is so totally self evident that it is worthwhile, why are you intent on using coercion? Why do you need to coerce behavior that is obviously worthwhile to everyone?

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• BlaiseP says:

Any sentence containing But might as well start with No. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s very good of you to admit the Awesome Sauce of fixing a kid with a cleft palate. The trade-off is nominal: we can easily recoup that ten grand in taxes over time.

Every time I hear a Libertarian use the word Coercion it fills me with the urge to defecate. You want Awesome Sauce on your pudding? Get ready to pay for it. These things are worth having as a society. So pay up and quit whining about coercion. And thank you for observing it is worthwhile for everyone.

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• Roger says:

Dude, seriously? I debated this issue across two threads in total sincerity with you and you end it this way? Seriously?

I give you an “urge to defecate?”

Can some other liberal please explain why I my discussion was so gross?

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• BlaiseP says:

I hate that word Coercion, okay? It’s not you, Roger. It’s just these Libertarian mantras I can’t deal with any more. They go through me like a dose of salts.

Either you believe something is worth having for everyone, in which case we all ought to pay for it — or lay off the Faint Praise for things you don’t want to pay for and therefore don’t want badly enough. Fixing a kid with a cleft palate seems like a good investment to me. Maybe not to you. I don’t know. All that Coercion talk just makes me sick.

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• Patrick Bridges says:

I can’t speak for Blaise, but as a fellow liberal Computer Scientist, I’ll speak for myself about what gets frustrating in conversations with libertarians. I’d guess that Blaise has just gotten tired of same old worn-out arguments and tactics that seem like they downplay the *actual successes* of liberal government and the *actual failures* of market-only solutions. In particular:

1. It often seems libertarians ignore when liberal policies actually work and solve real problems. Liberals and liberal governments (and I use the term liberal broadly here) have been doing the heavy lifting for civil liberties and a free society for a long time, and with remarkable success. Sometimes libertarians arguments come across an awful lot like “Well, libertarians would have fixed that, too, just with more FREEDOM!”

2. It often seems that evidence of libertarian-eque policies not solving problems are dismissed out of hand or ignored. When liberals bring up real problems like poverty in the gilded age, pollution in the 70s, health care from the 90s through today, and global warming today and in the future where the market didn’t solve the problems in any timely fashion, it’s often brushed off with something like is “The Market would have (eventually, in the long run) solved that, too, with more FREEDOM, but didn’t because of the evil Government.”

3. From a practical standpoint, as Blaise points out, requiring unanimity before the government can address a problem is just another way of saying government won’t be allowed to address a problem. My kids get a good education and health care, but if you’re poor and worry about your kids? FYIGM. Similarly, saying “charities can deal with that” doesn’t ring true to us either – we point out that historically it simply *hasn’t* and number (2) above gets invoked.

4. Finally, for many of us who grew up in the south (like me) or during the civil rights movements (like Blaise, I assume), cries of “oppression” and “states rights” and “federalism” from those who have wealth, power, and privilege sound very familiar and ring very hollow. This doesn’t mean the people making them are racists, just that we’ve heard them so many times from people who *are* that we are skeptical of them *for good reason*.

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• BlaiseP says:

Welcome, Dr. Bridges. You seem to have it pretty well summed up.

I make these points about investments in society, how education can change lives, how a modicum of common sense would lead even the most cynical and self-centred people to view such investments as a hedge against disaster. None of it registers with these Libertarians.

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• “I’m going to define Selfish the way I see fit. It’s a synonym for Libertarian.”

I’m compelled to respond to this comment because it’s the most annoying, pervasive remark I hear said about libertarians.

First, by nature, animals (including humans) are all selfish. If you think otherwise, you’re kidding yourself. So, rather than claiming libertarians aren’t selfish, I’m making it clear that our opinions on political philosophy don’t differentiate our selfishness.

We libertarians have the same underlying goals as liberals: a pleasant society to live in. We even agree on the basics of what that means: no poverty, equal opportunity, etc.

The difference is in how we think those goals should be achieved. Libertarians feel individuals acting voluntarily are best suited to determine the desired outcomes and methods for achieving them. Liberals believe the force of government is required (or at least optimal) for achieving these ends.

And that’s why it’s so ironic when liberals talk about how selfish libertarians are: liberals selfishly want to use the power of government (i.e. force) to accomplish their goals whereas libertarians altruistically ask for others’ help in these endeavors. Government is the selfish way to cheat when you can’t get your way by building a consensus voluntarily.

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• Patrick Bridges says:

Except that there’s plenty of research showing that people aren’t just selfish utility maximizers. In fact, there’s a lot of well-designed experiments showing that human adults, infants, and higher primates all value fairness even when it’s not in their selfish best interest.

And again, continual cries of “coersion!”, “force!”, and “theft!” just serve to shut down discussion by belittling others, just as do liberal cries of “Somalia!” Want to convince liberals that libertarians are serious? Propose meaningful solutions to actual societal problems that liberals care about and are already working to solve like educational opportunity, pollution, and helping the destitute. This will be much more impact than implying we’re a bunch of bullies or thieves.

This conversation was much more interesting when you were trying to sketch out what a libertarian alternative to social security might look like, Brian.

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• “Except that there’s plenty of research showing that people aren’t just selfish utility maximizers.”

Your just not carrying the logic quite far enough. Yes, some animals do exhibit a tendency toward fairness and altruism, but they ultimately do it for selfish reasons (they “know” that doing something for others will benefit them (or their heirs) in the end). If you know of examples where this is not the case, I’d like to hear about them.

Sorry if you found my comments inflammatory. Just trying to point out the irony of liberals calling libertarians selfish.

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• greginak says:

Doing unselfish things for selfish reasons?? Please you are stretching there. People and animals do things out of sense of fairness or just to help others. A chimp doesn’t know that being altruistic will slightly enhance the chance its genes will be passed on. It “knows” that helping the group is a thing they do. If you want to take that as helping another person leads to better outcomes for the group then fine. That isn’t unreasonable. However you have also just hit upon the rational for lots of liberal policy preferences. Natural as can be.

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• Patrick Bridges says:

I’m carrying the logic plenty far – I’m well aware of the long-term payoffs in terms of fairness and results there from things like the iterated prisoner’s dilema and similar game-theoretic results.

Spefically, I’m thinking of experiments like those involving the Ultimatum game (wikipedia has a good page here). In the Ultimatum game, one player is given a pile of money and proposes a division between two people. The second player decides whether both players get the proposed division of money, or both players get nothing. The game is played anonymously and exactly once, and both players know this. Game theoretically, the proposer should give the decider the smallest non-zero amount of money he can, and the decider should accept this division.

The thing is, this isn’t what people do, even when it’s made abundantly clear that they’ll only play once! Proposers tend to divide mostly-evenly even though it’s not in their selfish best interest, and choosers tend to reject divisions they view as unfair even though it’s not in their selfish best interest to do so. There are other similar experiments that show similar results.

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• DRS says:

Dr. Bridges nails it perfectly. Great job!

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• Patrick Bridges says:

I only have the undergrads call me Dr. Bridges, and then just because it’s important that 18 year-olds occasionally admit that someone might actually know more than they do.

Here, I just have an opinion, and it shouldn’t be any more or less privileged than anyone else’s. Patrick or PatrickB please.

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• “Proposers tend to divide mostly-evenly even though it’s not in their selfish best interest, and choosers tend to reject divisions they view as unfair even though it’s not in their selfish best interest to do so.”

Again, don’t stop there and assume they’re simply being altruistic. Think it through: why? The proposers feel guilty if they don’t give an equal division, or they are worried about their reputation (both selfish concerns). Choosers may be worried that accepting less than half makes them look like chumps. The Wikipedia article discusses these aspects and others.

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• Patrick Bridges says:

Perhaps you should look more carefully, too. “Even in anonymous one-shot settings, the economic-theory suggested outcome of minimum money transfer and acceptance is rejected by over 80% of the players.” Reputation and “looking like chumps” are non-issues in this case.

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• DRS says:

Here, I just have an opinion, and it shouldn’t be any more or less privileged than anyone else’s. Patrick or PatrickB please.

How about PB? Or is that too breakfast-ish?

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• Patrick Bridges says:

PB is fine, too. I’m really not too picky about it. I answer to bozo and moron at times, too, though in a public forum you have to worry about ambiguity when you use those terms. :)

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• DRS says:

Excellent. And I’ll try not to be ambiguous. :)

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• Kim says:

Wasn’t James just arguing for NOT using “free market”… um, like ever?

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• Kim says:

Blaise,
Lay off the folks who want a good safety net (like Roger). They’re on your side.
Seriously, sit around and figure out where folks are coming from BEFORE throwing insults.

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• LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

” The libertarian recommendation is designing institutions which optimize choice and minimize coercion. ”

This caught my eye, and I think explains a lot of the disagreement.

In the libertarian mind, liberty is the highest value, and choice is almost never allowed to be eliminated.

So if we are talking about the design for, lets say, a universal retirement scheme, the libertarian is only willing to allow schemes that feature opting in/ out, and constant choice.

The design fetaures that retirees actually care about- most security, higher payouts- is not considered as decisive. So libetarians schemes for the functions of government- schools, roads, health care, retirement- always feature choice as a prerequisite, even if they result in a worse functioning of the system.

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

Bingo. I don’t really see the upside to 5 different forms of Social Security, Food Stamps, and DMV. Now, if companies want to offer private supplemental retirement insurance, health insurance, or car insurance, great!

But, no, the average citizen shouldn’t need to choose among 23 options for everything in his life.

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• Roger says:

Is one bad system inherently better than three good ones, Jesse? How do we know if it is bad or not? Compared to what? How do we know if it could be better or not, by rational design? How do we know a good system is tracking with changing inductions? How do we avoid free riders and bureaucracies and other inefficiencies from entering into the institution?

How do you keep some members of the institution from exploiting others? How do you handle vastly different goals and values?

Monofolly always leads to the death of progress.

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

If there’s a bad system, it should be reformed or possibly privatized if there’s evidence it’d do better in the private market.

To most of the rest of your questions, it’s called democratic accountability. For most of the systems and government organizations we have, if enough people complain to their Congresspeople, it will be brought up. Now, this doesn’t always lead to the best solutions, but neither does the market. But, it’s not as if Medicare or the VA isn’t keeping track of results in its system just like the hospital down the road from me.

As far as free riders and bureaucracies, I hate to break this to you, but those happen in any large institution. After all, a libertarian may be a liberal whose had to deal with the DMV, but a liberal is a libertarian whose has to deal with a health insurance provider or the IRV for a cell phone company.

My larger point is that we don’t have to pick between 5 PMC’s for our national defense or our local law enforcement. We don’t have to pick between JudgeCO or All Judge for civil disputes. For basic things, why should the average person have to choose between 10 different services instead of just getting one service that works well?

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• Roger says:

Jesse,

You’ve assumed that a bad system is an objective property that reveals itself to us all. An institution is in effect a problem solving system. But the question exists of how do we know it solves the problem? How do we know the benefit is worth the cost? How do we know it couldn’t be done better, or cheaper, or more inclusively?

If the only way of delivering the mail is the monopoly system the galactic empire uses to deliver mail, how do we know it is remotely efficient? Compared to what? What process ensures experimentation and adaptive change over time? My experience personal and in reading the literature on institutions is that they invariably resist change and develop bureaucracy and sclerosis. This is an inherent property in them, and must be actively countered not just to ensure systems improve but that they don’t degrade and deteriorate over time.

The proven solution is creative destruction. It is the competition between institutions which partially, but never fully, mitigates the sclerotic erosion of institutional problem solving over time. Eventually, older institutions need to be replaced by younger ones.

Monopoly institutions are to be avoided.

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

Well, when you get right down to it, we don’t _know_ anything. Before we do something, all we have are studies and papers and models. Even the famed universe where there are 33 different companies offering retirement insurance is just that, a model.

The way we know whether something is worth destroying is determining whether it’s working well right now. For example, Social Security is working fine right now. Not perfectly, but no so bad we need fundamental changes to the program in order to work. For example, we might have to change to Chained CPI at some point.

OTOH, saying, “blow it up and move to this untested system” puts the burden of proof on those who want to blow it up to convince the populace, the decision makers, and so on that this new system will be so much better that it is worth the cost and pain of blowing up the old system. Again, I don’t doubt some libertarian programs might slightly outpreform the current model. But, is it worth the cost, both monetarily and the human cost to do a total changeover of society for a 7.3% effeciency bump?

Take for example, your postal mail system. How do I know it doesn’t need competition? Because by any measure, the vast vast vast vast majority (something like 97-99%) of mail sent through the postal system gets to its destination in the time period promised by the USPS. Is it possible that privatizing the whole deal and letting UPS and FedEx handle things could improve matters? Maybe, but is the destruction worth going from 97.3% of all mail getting to it’s destination to 98.4 of all mail getting there? I don’t think so.

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• M.A. says:

But, is it worth the cost, both monetarily and the human cost to do a total changeover of society for a 7.3% effeciency bump?

Moreover, why not work to achieve a 7.3% efficiency bump?

Libertarians want to blow the system up and replace it with their preferred order. In that sense they’re rather like Mao and Lenin and Che.

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• LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

This is another example where it isn’t a mystery- we actually have data to study.
We have monopoly mail delivery system, for first class letters. For parcels, we have a government system, and several different free market systems.
Which one is providing better service?
Actually, they all provide very good service, and are highly competitive with each other.

So what does this portend for first class letter serice?
Should we abolish the government system and let the parcel carriers take over?
Based on the empirical data from parcel service, the answer is NO.
They haven’t demonstrated the ability to provide universal service for parcels- so they probably can’t for letters either.

Secondly
Would “creative destruction” provide a benefit to our other government services?
Would it benefit us to have regular booms and busts in , for example, emergency services? To have the electric company cycle through mergers, aquisitions, collapses, and bankruptcy?
(Thank you for calling 911, Incorporated! We value your business! However, we are closed for reoganization- please call back when we reopen as ‘OMG- The Experience!’- Have a nice day!”)

Monopoly is superior with regard to services that we want universally and uninterrupted.

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• Roger says:

LWA and Jesse,

First I totally disagree with the comment that all people want is a social security check. They want a stable source of retirement delivered at a reasonably efficient price. Some may want to pay very little and get it at a later age, some may want to pay more now and retire sooner. Some want lots of redistribution, some want little. Some want to spend reserves on plus years for other goodies while others want the money saved for years without surpluses. Indeed SS has alternatives and choice built into it today on date of collection. I applaud this alternative and want more like it.

I TOTALLY agree we should not blow up a system that appears to be working reasonably well and replace it with an untested system. That is one other reason why I want competing systems wherever possible, and yes I even admit it isn’t always possible or practical. New institutions should always be started small and scaled over time, preferably by getting people to elect to enter them. Entrance voice.

LWA, it is pretty odd that you argue against my benchmark argument on competing organizations by pointing to benchmark studies. EXACTLY!

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• Kim says:

Roger,
Roth IRAs and 401ks are competing against each other right now. Why don’t we get more libertarians suggesting a “cool new idea” rather than a “get rid of the old ideas”? I think you might get MUCH more liberal buy-in that way…

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• Roger says:

Kim,

Good point. I frequently try to suggest new or different ways to handle existing programs such as health care. In general my take is that people like arguing over old ideas more.

One other thing. We are often intentionally fuzzy on the details of the new. This seems evasive. However, we believe that the details are supposed to be worked out by the system. We see working them out from the top down as a bit of an illusion or conceit. in other words, if you want good institutions, we believe we should established promote good meta-institutions that will allow the good institutions to emerge out of the process. We are constantly talking about competition, liberty, markets and such because we see these as the creative processes which lead to good results.

Our detractors see this as naive, magical thinking.

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• Kim says:

Roger,
You think the market will create “good” results. I say that creating a market incentivizes the best strategies for the marketplace — and that is often cheating.
Do you have a problem with low-end free riders? Well, creating ten systems that compete means that someone will figure out how to maximize the benefits by getting some from A and others from B…

Incentives distort. If you give someone incentives to diagnose their kid with autism, then a good number will manage it, even if it’s not the right diagnosis. A new homebuyer’s credit distorts the marketplace (in Cali, keeping the homes overvalued for longer…).

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• Kim says:

NOAA just called that thing called Sandy a “post tropical cyclone” I’d say that is a point in favor of bureacracy not actively trying to screw over the little guy.
(I like scientists. They hate bureacracy and their institutions generally work with a minimal amount of hassle)

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• Kim says:

I don’t mind free riders on the low end, they hardly cost more than a prisoner, after all. Free riders on the high end (president of verizon say), cost a HELL of a lot, for all of us.

One looks at efficiencies, at waste, at how much time decision making takes. Planned Parenthood is really cool, and they’re essentially a monopoly. Maybe it’s because they don’t try to turn a profit.

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• Roger says:

LWA,

Choice and experimentation are optimized up to the point where they interfere with others ability to choose and experiment. My way of saying it is that voluntary or expected positive sum interaction variety should be optimized while zero sum, win lose or coercive interactions should be minimized or controlled.

You are free to do anything you think is a good idea as long as you don’t harm or interfere with others.

That is my set up to answer the second part of your comment. What prospective retirees care about is their retirement as they value it compared to their other goals and desires. Thus by giving them freedom of choice we are allowing them to optimize their retirement according to their values and context up to the point where they interfere with others.

In other words, all I care about is the optimization of human welfare. I think the best way to do so is to allow optimum freedom, variation, experimentation and choice. That said, there is always a point where too much variation just gets in the way. optimum is not the same as maximum.

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• LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

“I think the best way to do so is to allow optimum freedom, variation, experimentation and choice.”

Why do you thnk this?

For example, the things we normally hand to government like schools, utilities, mail, and retirement- we do because what we want from these programs is universality.
Our highest goal is to make sure that mail is delivered to every single address, that every single child be educated, that we have water, sewer, gas and electric hooked up to every single parcel.

Experimentation, variation, and freedom to opt in or out are not features that we need or want in these things. They operate better when they are mandatory, without the ability to opt in or out.

This is so because their purpose is not to deliver the best outcome to any single customer- the true “customer” of these systems is society overall.

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

+1. Your average SS recpient doesn’t want six different programs. He or She just wants to make sure they get their check every month. They’ve already had to deal with six different options with their 401k after their company stop offering pensions, because they cut the profit margin by too much.

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• M.A. says:

The real problem with pensions is they function best when businesses take the long view and want to be around 30 years from now.

In an age where no management cares about 30 years from now, they barely care about 3 months from now and that’s only because that’s where their quarterly bonuses and stock options come due…

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

Well, of course. It’s the same reason some state pensions are in crisis. They aren’t in crisis because workers were greedy. They’re in crsis because Governor’s of both parties stopped funding them fully and instead, cut revenues.

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• zic says:

Not quite.

States typically traded lower wages for a generous fixed pension, often on unrealistic assumptions of the rate of return that pension would earn. RI, for example, presumed an 8% rate of return. When that doesn’t happen, the taxpayers are left holding the bag. But, and this is crucial to remember, that’s what the state promised workers — lower wages compared to what you’d get in the private sector now, better pension later then you’d get from the private sector, later.

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

That too. But, quite a few states decided to not fund pensions completely then act shocked when a few years down the road, there was no money.

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• Roger says:

What a shocker. We set up a system where government employees get their wages set by people that they help elect, who can hide the costs in tax liabilities that occur after they are no longer in office.

Voters get to feel good about helping the workers while paying little in taxes.

Politicians get elected and all the power they need.

Workers get awesome retirement benefits paid by someone else’s kids.

Who could have ever imagined this wouldn’t turn out well? This situation ran rampant in myriads of locales, especially those run by liberals. A different version played out in Greece.

Can those of you on the left please explain what they see as the nature of the problem and what the proper solution is?

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• Jesse Ewiak says:

The problem is that as usual, management (in this case, politicians) decided that instead of adhering to the terms of a contract, they’d rather use money marked for pensions to cut taxes or for other projects, then when the bill came due, blamed the workers for daring to want a decent retirement and health care plan.

The solution? Don’t elect people who won’t follow contracts.

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• Roger says:

Jesse,

I am not sure the same politicians making the second call are the ones that made the first. In CA and IL the guys that got elected handing out unfunded pensions leave office and it is their replacement that brings up the problem. Suddenly we owe three trillion more than we have reserved.

Seems like an institutional thing to me. One that could have been solved via more competition and choice, by the way.

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• M.A. says:

One that could have been solved via more competition and choice, by the way.

“Markets RAWR.”

In CA and IL the guys that got elected handing out unfunded pensions leave office and it is their replacement that brings up the problem.

Yeah, and intervening years of Republicans screaming “tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts” had NOTHING AT ALL to do with how the pensions got underfunded… you could do to make your lies a little less transparent you know.

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• Kim says:

zic,
8% is what an average stock market investor expects to make per year. RI’s problem is that they didn’t spend the money to hire smart people.

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• Kim says:

Roger,
well, I’m all in favor of -giving people their own money- instead of these stupid “dumb money” programs (401ks). But most people would suddenly have to save 50% of their income in order to be able to retire. And that’s not happening.
Which causes its own problems: too many boomers working mean college grads can’t even find jobs, let alone dishwashing jobs for the high school grad.

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• “For example, the things we normally hand to government like schools, utilities, mail, and retirement- we do because what we want from these programs is universality. Our highest goal is to make sure that mail is delivered to every single address, that every single child be educated, that we have water, sewer, gas and electric hooked up to every single parcel.”

Wow, look at all those “we’s”! That’s the problem: you make an awful lot of assumptions about what “we” want! Even assuming we do all want those things, just look at how much is still left up to interpretation! “…that every single child be educated”: OK, fine. But what does that mean? A fifth grade education, 12th grade, bachelor’s degree? And what proficiency exactly? Do they need to properly understand evolution?

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• LWA (liberal With Attitude) says:

“We” refers to We The People.
We just elected to give Obama another term, and keep the Congress in the hands of the Republicans, and We decided that drone strikes are ok, and that people in red states have to be publically humiliated by being drug tested before they receive benefits.We also decided to keep subsidizing corn growers, We are buying new equipment for the Navy, We are widening Interstate 405 near Long Beach.
We have also decided that children should be forced to attend school through the 12th grade, and that they must reach a standard level of proficiency and they must accept the idea that Jesus rode a velociraptor*.

Hell yeah, We have made a lot of decisions. Where have you been?

*Texas only.

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• Zach says:

“Hell yeah, We have made a lot of decisions. Where have you been?”

Perhaps it’s uncharitable, but I wonder if this eagerness to embrace the government’s actions has anything to do with a pervasive feeling of triumphalism among progressives.

Were this late November 2004, I somehow doubt that some of you would be so eager to embrace your government’s sins along with the perceived virtues.

And if you do view the decision-making as a collective ‘we’, you have remarkably little respect for many of those that helped to contribute to those decisions.

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• LWA (liberal With Attitude) says:

Well, trust me, this progressive isn’t embracing the drone strikes, public square humiliation of the poor, or Texas’ bizarre contortions of history.

But- and this is the point- We The People voted for this stuff, the good and the bad, and rather than sulk in my room because I Am Being Coerced, as a citizen in Our society I will respect Our decisions, and am working hard to elect more sensible people.

Sorry to sound so strident, but yes, as a matter of fact, in 2004 I was every bit as eager to embrace the government’s sins and virtues both.

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• Jason Kuznicki says:

Our government does many things in secret. It defies reason to suppose that we (collectively, all of us) “did” those things in any meaningful sense of the word.

It also defies common sense to say that we did those things when there is no meaningful way in which we might not have done them.

For example, I couldn’t meaningfully decide not to arrest small-time drug possessors or dealers; that’s because — to use the term correctly — I never did those things in the first place, nor could I, lacking the resources of the government.

The truth is closer to this: Some folks claiming to be my agents did these things. As my agents, they do many things I like, and many things I don’t like. But “I” don’t do these things; they do.

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• “We The People voted for this stuff, the good and the bad, and rather than sulk in my room because I Am Being Coerced, as a citizen in Our society I will respect Our decisions, and am working hard to elect more sensible people.”

King George III will be glad to hear that.

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• Patrick Bridges says:

Because yeah, a democratic republic with regular elections is just the same as a monarchy. Or are you saying that from your libertarian point of view it *is* the same, Brian?

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• Patrick Bridges says:

Oh, and I think we’ll probably call him Jeb, not King George III. :)

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• Oh, look somebody finally mentioned “liberty” in a discussion of libertarianism. The liberal, not altogether approvingly.

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• zic says:

Politicians take from less favored groups or those that are not organized or aware and give it to favored groups, creating dependency upon further and greater coercive redistribution going forward. This practice self amplifies or snowballs into a destructive negative sum game as more and more is forcibly redistributed to those with power.

This is like looking at through a pinhole in the fence to describe the whole of the circus on the other side. Yes, dependency does happen. But investment happens, too. With the government, we invest in people, and help them find their potential, live up to that potential, become able to take care of themselves, and give back.

Both things happen. People become independent because of government services, also. But this gift of stepping toward independence and contribution — of building that together — matters, also. And it’s much more the norm then the notion the snowball you describe above.

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• Roger says:

Zic,

I agree with much of what you are saying. Government action is not always bad. The key is to develop institutions which maximize the good and minimize the exploitation. I think we all agree that there are both, we just tend to argue over the details or the recommendations.

Arguing is good.

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• zic says:

Agreed. But it may not matter. My younger son just told me, “The end is near.”

Seems that in all the apocalypse movies, Twinkies are the comfort food that lasts, but there are so only so many available. And now, there are only so many available. The end is near.

*I give it a few more weeks, maybe until just after Christmas, and Hostess resurrects.