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Kinsley on Libertarianism:

Whatever one thinks of the Ron Paul campaign, it has caused some to take a more serious look at libertarian policy ideas. This Michael Kinsley column, which is largely critical but respectful of libertarianism, is a good example.

Libertarians get patronized a lot. Chipmunky and earnest, always pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths, they pose no real threat to the established order. But the modest success of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in the presidential campaign entitles them to some answers to the questions they raise. They say: People should be free to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't hurt other people. If you agree, how do you justify (let's pick just two): 1) laws that forbid private behavior, such as recreational drugs; 2) government programs that redistribute one person's money to someone else?

The libertarian perspective is useful, and undervalued. Why does the government pay farmers not to grow food? Why are medications for fatal diseases sometimes held off the market in case they aren't safe? (Compared to death?) Legislators and regulators should ask themselves far more often than they do whether some government activity or other expands freedom or contracts it.

Furthermore, democracy and majority rule are no answers. Tyranny of the majority is a constant danger. How would you like a law requiring that people with odd Social Security numbers have to give $1,000 to people with even Social Security numbers? To libertarians, much of what the government does is essentially like that. . . .

Libertarians ask: By what justification does the government concern itself with inequality -- financial or otherwise -- in the first place? They are nearly alone in asking this question. Even conservatives claim a great concern for equality of opportunity, while opposing opportunity of result. And the reasons seem obvious: some degree of material equality as a necessary basis for political equality; the huge role of luck in getting each of us to our relative stations in life; etc.

But nothing like this is obvious to libertarians. They force us to think it all through from scratch. Good for them.

Gov98 (mail):
People erroneously think that it is Libertarians that propelled Ron Paul as far as he has come, that's only part of it. The far larger contingent seems to be hard money savers who see the country's economic system straining and inflating its way out of disaster. Ironically, for these people Hard Money would probably be bad news because it might actually slow down inflation, and the appreciation of their hard money assets.

There may be quite a bit of overlap between hard money folks and libertarians but it seems to be quite a diverse group (hard money types). To say a lot of it was libertarianism misses the point that the one thing a LOT of Ron Paul supporters are really pushing for Ron Paul about has to do with the debasement of the currency.
1.13.2008 11:36am
Don Perdo:
Why would you question candidate selected by corporations and pushed by media whxxxores? You suppose to like only a corporate pretender, not independent minded Republican.
Paul even questions legality of "Federal" Reserve Rystem. That is bad (for some).
1.13.2008 11:49am
Ken Arromdee:
"We pay people not to grow food" strikes me as argument by soundbite. It's always presented as if the idea of paying people not to grow food is self-evidently absurd and could not possibly benefit us because the audience always pays for stuff and thinks that paying people not to grow food can't possibly be helpful because it's outside their everyday experience.

While it can be criticized on its merits, nobody ever mentions it in order to do so.
1.13.2008 12:05pm
wm13:
I'm pretty skeptical of a Ron Paul effect: mainstream pundits like Kinsley have always devoted an occasional column to libertarianism. Is there any evidence that the number of sympathetic mainstream portrayals of libertarianism has increased in the past year?
1.13.2008 12:11pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Why don't we debate Ron Paul's policy positions like going back to the gold standard and a national sales tax? At first I thought going back to the gold standard was a kooky idea until I learned something about the Feds ability to create money, and the history of the gold standard. It's a more serious proposal than I thought at first. Instead we get character assassination and philosophical discussions on whether he's a libertarian.
1.13.2008 1:03pm
greenish (mail):
So he thinks the public good problem of national defense, and the negative externality problem of pollution constitute arguments against libertarianism? I thought those were exactly the sorts of things libertarians think government should deal with.
1.13.2008 1:20pm
greenish (mail):
Oh, this is precious. He's talking about the belief that, in the absence of government food regulation, private companies will take on the responsibility:


So yes, a Rube Goldberg contraption of capitalism could replace a straightforward government regulation
1.13.2008 1:25pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
I'm not a libertarian and "pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths" mostly sums up my reasons. However, I see libertarians providing a valuable service. The libertarian position is an excellent starting place when considering any legislation or government schemes. Sometimes liberty interests do need to be balanced against other factors, but they very obviously get short shrift in our current political climate.
1.13.2008 1:32pm
RainerK:
@ Ken Arromdee

How is paying people not to grow food not absurd?
People only grow food they expect to be able to sell at a profit. Comes government and pays them not to, substituting public money for private profit. They might as well pay the buyer not to buy the food. Should lead to the same result.
Which begs the question: Why does government need to discourage a demand? Apparently they think they do it for the greater good. They also seem to think they are wiser than the customer wanting to buy the food. Then why, in this instance can't the market be allowed to take care of the situation? If there were real, important concerns to protect the public, couldn't there be other ways to get the desired result than redistributing their money? Should government even be in this business? These are legitimate questions libertarians ask. One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect that the subsidies go to the squeakiest group or to suspect that entrenched interests are being catered to by government. There is ample evidence for that.
1.13.2008 1:34pm
Lala (mail):
"pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths"
Indeed, at all costs, we must avoid logic where
government is concerned.
1.13.2008 2:02pm
RainerK:
Kinsley has a good point referring to some libertarians's strange ideas to privatize all roads. There are some things the public needs to do through government.
But he completely loses me with his reasoning for seat belt laws. Making seat belt use mandatory is one thing, but what about the attendant consequences of enforcement? What about the DUI roadblocks having morphed into seat belt checks? All in the interest of discouraging "irresponsible" behaviour. I am an adult, you know!
Similarly his arguments concerning pasteurized milk. "But what if you aren't interested in turning your grocery shopping into an ideological adventure?" It already is! Nutrition information, warning labels, code numbers all over the place. Packaging for which one needs a pair of pliers to open it with. Proposition 65 warnings, etc. Couldn't the public health result be achieved with one more label 'CAUTION! This milk may be hazardoust to your health..."? I AM an adult! Would save the public a lot of money for the straightforward pasteurization enforcement bureaucracy.
But he really exposes his liberal streak when he talks about government and equality.
"Libertarians ask: By what justification does the government concern itself with inequality -- financial or otherwise -- in the first place? They are nearly alone in asking this question. ... And the reasons seem obvious: some degree of material equality as a necessary basis for political equality;"
Whose equality is that? What aspects do we make equal and which ones are better left alone so we don't get too equal? I doubt the framers of our great Constitution had in mind that the Government should be in the equality business beyond guaranteeing the same basic rights and those not enumerated and thus retained by the people. Every government action should be measured on that principle. But it increasingly has not been.

Thanks to the VC for the forum!
1.13.2008 2:06pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Ken Arromdee, in what is presumably a straight line, says:

""We pay people not to grow food" [is] always presented as if the idea of paying people not to grow food is self-evidently absurd."

Well, to be fair, Ken, as self-evidently absurd ideas go, this one comes easily to mind.

Granted, if you're a farm lobbyist, you may disagree. If you're an Iowan caucus-goer, you might disagree. But if you did a poll on the question "Should the government stop giving farmers money to not grow food, a welfare program for farmers in order to keep food prices high?" it would get more "Yes" votes than even Barack Obama...
1.13.2008 2:08pm
Mr. Liberal:
Kinsley completely partially.

And I think the exact same compliment Kinsley pays to libertarians can be paid to communists.

Libertarians, like communists, do occupy a certain small niche in the possibility space. That they defend wacko proposals in that possibility space has may in do some amount to increase our understanding.

But, I think Micheal Kinsley fails to consider the damage that libertarians do. Libertarian views are not truly logically consistent (i.e. third party C should pay taxes to enforce a contract between A and B; in other words wealth should be coercively redistributed from Cs who do not depend on contract enforcement and do not agree with it, to As and Bs, who depend on such contract enforcement and want government to enforce it), and they make certain critical assumptions that are entirely arbitrary and wrong (i.e. the burden should be on those who would propose a government action -- inaction is viewed as a choice without consequences).

Kinsley fails to appreciate how certain libertarian ideas, to the extent that they have gained traction, have done serious damage. For example, we would not have had the horror that is Lochner v. New York without a similar activist frame of thinking. For those who think it is far-fetched to think that this sort of activism is the path of libertarianism, try reading the bizarre ideas of David Bernstein, who, when he isn't trying to find ways to stop the "redistribution of wealth" to plaintiffs injured by defendants, is spending his time defending Lochner.

The more "logically consistent" libertarians are, the more screwed up the policy consequences of their ideas. Logical consistency built on a weak foundation of poor assumptions and faulty beginning premises is not a pretty thing and should not be an object of praise.

I think that Kinsley should temper his praise for libertarianism. I have no problem with libertarians, just as I have no problem with communists, as long as they and their kooky ideas are appropriately marginalized. I suppose that their is some value to their ideas in exploring a certain possibility space. But, I do not think the costs of libertarianism should be ignored.

Kinsley's praise is fine for those who are armchair theorists, not overly concerned with concrete and robust policy actions. I have no beef with armchair theorists who gain similar inspirations from communist ideas.

But, regardless of how enlightening communism has been to armchair theorists it is, communism has been a disaster in practice.

Similarly, libertarianism may be enlightening to armchair theorists. But, when these ideas have actually taken hold (i.e. Social Darwinism, Lochner v. New York, etc.) they have been a disaster in practice.
1.13.2008 2:13pm
Bored2L:
"I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."

"You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

:) (and yes I know it doesn't have anything to do with the debate here, but I get a kick out of that line)
1.13.2008 2:22pm
Mr. Liberal:
Thoughtful,

I am not defending the policy to pay farmers not to grow food. I disagree with that policy.

But, it is not self-evidently absurd.

The idea was that prices that farmers received for their efforts was too low to sustain them. That unfettered competition was ruinous to a treasured way of life.

How do you get higher prices for food? One way is to decrease the supply. But, how could you get farmers to decrease supply, since it is not in the interest of any single farmer to grow less, even while it is in the interests of all farmers collectively to grow less? You compensate those farmers who voluntarily cut production.

Really, paying farmers not to cut production is, in a sense, a libertarian approach, because it focuses on inducing voluntary action. Contrast this with more intrusive measures to achieve the same end, such as quotas on how much a given amount of acreage will be allowed to produce.

Should we be taking any steps to increase food prices so that farmers do not go out of business in droves, destroying a way of life? Since I am less sentimental about that way of life and believe that this is all progress, I don't think so. But I do not think that the idea that actions should be taken to increase the price of farmers products is "self-evidently absurd" given that goal (which I do not share).
1.13.2008 2:25pm
Richard A. (mail):
Unfortunately the libertarian predilection for valuing theory over practice has doomed Ron Paul's campaign. See an analysis at columnist Paul Mulshine's blog.
1.13.2008 2:38pm
Ken Arromdee:
But if you did a poll on the question "Should the government stop giving farmers money to not grow food, a welfare program for farmers in order to keep food prices high?"

If you did a poll on the question "is there a good reason why a new car instantly drops in value by several thousand dollars when you just drive it off the lot", you'll get a "no" answer. If you did a poll on the question "are gas station owners cheating you when the price of gas goes up and the price at the pump immediately goes up even though they bought the gas before the price increase", you'll get a "yes".

The average person won't understand any counterintuitive economic conclusions and thinks of it all as "oh, it's just an excuse for trying to gouge us". He can't or won't follow any of the reasoning. You certainly *can* object to paying people not to grow food based on an understanding of what it's for, how it's supposed to work, and why that's a bad goal or why it doesn't work--but your average member of the general public won't be objecting because of such an analysis. He'll be objecting because he doesn't understand it, but it sounds bad in a soundbite.

Besides, your poll is phrased in a slanted way. (Welfare program for farmers?)
1.13.2008 2:44pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
There are arguments for no-grow subsidies that you may not consider valid, but that are not self-evidently absurd--at least not to everyone. Protection of habitat, for migratory species, that have a quantifiable economic value for areas downstream of the lands subject to the subsidies.

Ain't saying the argument is airtight, or that there are not different/better ways to accomplish the same goal--or even that it is a primary goal--but only that it is an argument.
1.13.2008 3:09pm
neurodoc:
laws that forbid private behavior, such as recreational drugs...Why are medications for fatal diseases sometimes held off the market in case they aren't safe? (Compared to death?)
I think there are very good answers to questions about why regulate "drugs," both the currently licit and the currently illicit ones. But I don't know the "standard" libertarian position, if there is one, on many details.

Illicit or "recreational" drugs: libertarians would make legal the sale, possession, and use of all of them? For those over 21 years of age or for everyone no matter their age? Not only would it be legal to grow marijuana and coca, if it could be cultivated here, it would be legal to manufacture methamphetamine? The Drug Enforcement Agency would immediately go out of business, along with all other drug interdiction (e.g., cross border and customs) efforts?

Legal drugs: libertarians would shut down the Food and Drug Administration, at least the major part, which approves new drugs, oversees manufacturing processes, "censors" advertising, etc.? Would some drugs still be available by prescription only, with only licensed health care professionals allowed to prescribe, or would everyone be free to buy and take whatever drugs they wished. (Would government still license and regulate practitioners?)

I've asked this one before but never had an answer - in 1905, the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v Commonwealth of Massachusetts that it was a valid exercise of the state's police power to compel someone to be vaccinated against smallpox. Would libertarians amend the constitution to deny the state that power, or simply legislate against such? Same question re fluoridation (Dowell v City of Tulsa).
1.13.2008 3:11pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Yah, I wish libertarians really felt this way. Unfortunately it's been my experience that most libertarians just want the government to stop favoring the wrong sort of groups. Instead they want to institute social or contractual obligations to favor groups they do approve of at the cost of those which they disapprove of.

I would be very surprised if it was any other way. It's a natural human tendency to favor those like us and disfavor those unlike us. Only a very few people will succeed in even slightly curtailing this tendency and libertarians are just people, not moral superheroes.
1.13.2008 3:28pm
seadrive:
"Libertarians ask: By what justification does the government concern itself with inequality -- financial or otherwise -- in the first place?"

We hold these truths to be self-evident,.... (I trust you know the rest).

One of the problems with Libertarian argument is the obsession with "the government." In this country, the government is supposed to represent the expressed will of the people, not some separate entity separate from the people. The government is concerned with inequality because the people are concerned with inequality.
1.13.2008 3:34pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
neurodoc:

There tends to be two basic ways someone can be a 'libertarian.'

1) Pure Pragmatics.

This sort of libertarian wants the same ultimate moral ends as everyone else they just believe it happens that most government intervention produces worse results than the private market.

2) Liberty as principle.

Of course it's hard and difficult to make the arguments required in 1 so many libertarians like to take the easier way of insisting that it is some sort of non-consequentalist duty to promote liberty.
-----

In my view #2 is really just a cop out to avoid having to prove one's case. Sure a few people may take it seriously but most people will balk when it comes to clear cut cases that pit liberty against the potential destruction of the human race or the like. Worse, the people who take position #2 rarely really think out what moral principle they are really defending (do I minimize the # of total violations of liberty, do I just avoid doing so myself etc..).

In any case the point is that I think that intellectually coherent libertarians are usually of persuasion #1 and that moving to claim #2 is usually a cheap trick to avoid having to really argue out the hard facts. The simple test for this is to ask whether you would still favor policies that increased liberty if you knew for a fact they would make people worse off (way more people would die, be poor, be unhappy, feel oppressed etc..).

However, once you are talking about libertarians in sense #1 it's silly to ask what would libertarians believe about situation X just as it's silly to ask what would conservatives believe or what would liberals believe. In sense #1 libertarianism isn't some overarching moral philosophy you can draw conclusions from. Rather libertarianism refers to the fact that usually you conclude that policies that involve less government regulation are better.

In other words intellectually cogent libertarianism is more a description of your policy conclusions than a theory that lets one derive the correct answer. Unfortunately this is a point that is often lost in arguments over policy by libertarians, i.e., you can't appeal to libertarianism to win a policy argument or talk about the libertarian solution rather you justify libertarianism itself by winning the policy arguments on other grounds.
1.13.2008 4:10pm
RainerK:
In this country, the government is supposed to represent the expressed will of the people, not some separate entity separate from the people.

Where is that written in the Constitution? It is rather a result of electing representatives of the people. It does not give anyone license to violate that document, even if the people demand it.
1.13.2008 4:12pm
markm (mail):
neurodoc: There's no such thing as a single "libertarian position", so I'm just answering for myself.

Yes, I'd legalize all drugs for adults, with labeling requirements like cigarettes and ID-checking required for sale, like alcohol. Was " Not only would it be legal to grow marijuana and coca, if it could be cultivated here, it would be legal to manufacture methamphetamine?" supposed to be a parade of horribles? Marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, and safer than most of the FDA-approved drugs in the pharmacy - and it also seems quite clear to me that the drug war is doing more damage than cocaine and heroin could. FDA regulation and the war on some drugs is the only reason anyone manufactures methamphetamine in their homes. There are several varieties of amphetamines, at a much cheaper price than running a home chemical plant. No one would make their own poor-quality meth if you could go to the drugstore and buy these stimulants without a prescription.

I wouldn't abolish the FDA, but I would gradually remove it's enforcement powers, with the intention of evolving it into a private, fee-supported safety-labeling agency like UL - and leave a path open for competing private agencies to emerge. No one is going to want to risk lawsuits by selling drugs without warning labels and some stamp of approval.

Vaccinations serve to protect others as well as oneself, so if the need was great enough I'd support mandatory vaccinations under the necessary government power to provide for the common defense - but I'd think real hard about how far we'd be prepared to go to force compliance. Would you send in the SWAT team (who occasionally stumble and accidentally shoot someone) to break down the doors, shoot the family dogs, and pin parents and children to the floor alike with boots on their necks just to administer the vaccine? If not, you'd better either provide for some exceptions to the mandatory vaccination law, or roll back 40 years of drug-war induced changes in police procedures.

Flouridation: If you don't like what the government puts in the water, don't get your water from them. Kooks complain about flouridation, but libertarians more extreme than me complain about tax subsidies and the use of government power to prop up a water company monopoly. (Of course, it's possible to be both a kook and a libertarian; it's also clearly possible to be a kook and a Republican (Huckabee, e.g.), and IMO kookiness is becoming mandatory in the Democratic party.)
1.13.2008 4:30pm
Waldensian (mail):

The average person won't understand any counterintuitive economic conclusions and thinks of it all as "oh, it's just an excuse for trying to gouge us". He can't or won't follow any of the reasoning.

In my experience, this is an all-too-common attitude among self-described libertarians: they are convinced that people who disagree with them are idiots.

That may actually be true in some circumstances, I suppose. But it's hardly a good theme for expanding the ranks of libertarians.
1.13.2008 4:47pm
fishbane (mail):
Neurodoc: Not every libertarian will give you the same answer, any more than you'll get consistent agreement about foreign or economic policy out of Republicans. In fact, we libertarians are probably more diverse in some ways, because there's no herd mentality, because there's no power to lose.

That said, let me take a stab at some of your questions.

I've asked this one before but never had an answer - in 1905, the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v Commonwealth of Massachusetts that it was a valid exercise of the state's police power to compel someone to be vaccinated against smallpox. Would libertarians amend the constitution to deny the state that power, or simply legislate against such? Same question re fluoridation (Dowell v City of Tulsa).

Health externalities are one of the harder questions to answer. Some folks far to the side of anarcho-capitalism will say that gated communities will solve the problem, and to hell with the proles. Folks more like me will say that there are legitimate roles for government in requiring some baseline behaviours that protect everyone - vaccinations, not pooping in a water supply held in common, etc. And you'll see lots of arguments about where to draw that line. National defense is another area where you'll get wildly different interpretations of the same base arguments.

For me, the questions about drugs, be they licit or not, is much easier. They all should be, and be available to anyone who wants them. The line between 'recreational' and 'medical' is a lot blurrier than many people wish to think. As far as kids go, I think it is the parent's responsibility to introduce kids to these things, not a cop's. This is the way it works with alcohol in Europe, and at least some families in the U.S. There's no reason the same can't be done with pot.

For explicitly medical drugs (as in, I don't think many people take antibiotics for fun), I think legal liability for false claims or shoddy quality should do just fine. Were the FDA not in the business of gatekeeping, an experimental regimen would be something both the buyer and the seller could think about, and given a contract, decide whether or not to pursue. I know, especially with health issues, that sounds rather harsh, but the alternative is the FDA not giving a suffering person the option of trying something that may help them.

You mention meth as well, and I can't tell if that's shorthand for the danger of meth labs, the damage it does to addicts, or both. I'll assume both.

The damage to addicts is unfortunate, but it is their choice. We don't jail alcoholics, for being alcoholic. To the extent that those choices impact others, yes, the addict should be held responsible for that, which is why being drunk isn't an excuse for attacking someone. Punishing people for the drug absent a crime simply wrong. I'm a pretty squishy libertarian, in that I do favor some public programs to help people who really are willing to try to get out of a bad spot - a part of that is my personal feelings about compassion and change, but there's an argument to be made that someone who turns their life around is a net positive to everyone in terms of productivity. I strongly dislike drunk driving laws because of the ancillary damage the insanity has done to the 4th amendment and other rights, but I'm not intrinsically against outlawing behaviours that are exceptionally risky to others. Again, you will see wide variations amongst libertarians as to where to draw the line.

As far as meth labs, the reason they are so dangerous is that they are illegal. If it were legal to run one, the shoddy ones would quickly be out-competed/sued out of existence. If you disagree, ask yourself when the last time wood alcohol was sold by, say, Seagrams. It would quickly become a commodity (think about it - it is so cheap and easy to make that even tweakers can make it), run by boring managers with safety processes and six sigma koans echoing the hallways. So that part of the question is easy.


So, there you go. Answers from one libertarian, obviously not representative, and probably a little more bleeding heart than many.
1.13.2008 5:03pm
Jam:
Without going into the merits of 100% private roads, what kind of argument against it is "road intersections." If the intersection is completely within the boundary of a rpivate property, where is the issue?
1.13.2008 5:06pm
markm (mail):
Mr Liberal: "The idea was that prices that farmers received for their efforts was too low to sustain them. That unfettered competition was ruinous to a treasured way of life."

Since per-capita food consumption can't change too much, advances in agricultural production mean that the percentage of the population engaged in farming should have been decreasing continually since the iron plow was invented. Up until the 1930's, market forces handled this just fine - food prices slowly fell until the less efficient farmers realized they'd do better at another job and sold their farms to their more efficient neighbors. But then in 1030 the government meddled in market forces instead of letting the economic cycle play out. This created a long-lasting economic disaster, which it tried to cure with more meddling. Possibly under the circumstances it made some sense to pay the inefficient farmers to stay on their farms rather than swelling the numbers of the unemployed, and maybe even to pay them to not grow food so their more efficient neighbors could make a profit - but keeping food prices up in a period of widespread poverty was certainly sacrificing the good of the whole for the good of one politically influential group! That's what you get when politicians try to do good.

"Really, paying farmers not to cut production is, in a sense, a libertarian approach, because it focuses on inducing voluntary action. Contrast this with more intrusive measures to achieve the same end, such as quotas on how much a given amount of acreage will be allowed to produce." Taking money from some people to bribe others is NOT a libertarian position - and quotas and other regulations were also a part of FDR's farm policy. Quotas still existed when my family went out of the cherry farming business in 1974, and AFAIK they are still in effect for some crops.

But the real problem with the farm subsidies is that they still exist. They aren't keeping the family farm intact - most of the money goes to corporations, and the family farmers that I know are either working at full-time jobs off the farm or running corporations on government subsidies. They aren't needed to ensure a continuing supply of food - just look at the rotund bodies waiting at the welfare office and it's obvious we're getting all we need and more. The original reason for the subsidies and regulations is but there's still a special interest group that benefits from continuing the subsidies, and too many Congressmen are beholden to it... If a program is once enacted in the political arena, it becomes nearly impossible to discontinue it - unlike private enterprise, where you either continue to satisfy a need or want that people will pay for, or you go out of business.
1.13.2008 5:08pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Part of the fun of reading Mr. Liberal is trying to figure out when he's trying to make a joke...

"The idea was that prices that farmers received for their efforts was too low to sustain them. That unfettered competition was ruinous to a treasured way of life."

That wasn't THE IDEA. That was THE RATIONALE. The idea was "how can we benefit this small faction of relatively well off Americans (check the demographics if you don't believe that) who are sending us lots of money to finance our campaigns and continue to lobby us incessantly?"

"How do you get higher prices for food? One way is to decrease the supply. But, how could you get farmers to decrease supply, since it is not in the interest of any single farmer to grow less, even while it is in the interests of all farmers collectively to grow less? You compensate those farmers who voluntarily cut production."

In other words, you assist in creating a cartel. Replace "food" with "oil" in the last paragraph and "farmer" with "oil producer". Ironically OPEC is not as effective in raising oil prices as our government is in raising food prices because it is much easier for individual oil producers to cheat than it is for individual farmers. I must say, Mr. Liberal's concern for the poor putting food on the table is strikingly absent. Perhaps it's because he also supports Food Stamps. In that case, his concern for middle-class taxpayers—paying first for farmers to not grow food and then paying the less fortunate to buy food they can no longer afford on their own—is absent, albeit no longer strikingly.

"Really, paying farmers not to cut production is, in a sense, a libertarian approach, because it focuses on inducing voluntary action. Contrast this with more intrusive measures to achieve the same end, such as quotas on how much a given amount of acreage will be allowed to produce."

Yes, as long as we don't round up and shoot farmers who refuse to cut production, we have a real libertarian approach to the "problem" of LOW prices for food. How sad that Mr. Liberal wasn't around to suggest payments for blacksmiths to stop shoeing horses, before that "treasured way of life" was largely lost to history.

Then Mr. Liberal takes it all back, saying:

"Should we be taking any steps to increase food prices so that farmers do not go out of business in droves, destroying a way of life? Since I am less sentimental about that way of life and believe that this is all progress, I don't think so. But I do not think that the idea that actions should be taken to increase the price of farmers products is "self-evidently absurd" given that goal (which I do not share)."

So it seems as long as he doesn't himself favor the goal involved and believes the market changes represent progress, Mr. Liberal himself doesn't support robbing taxpaying Peters to pay farming Pauls. It's just, apparently, the argument isn't "self-evident" to him. Perhaps I've just been doing this longer than Mr. Liberal.
—-
Ken A. has a problem with my closing line about polling. He notes by examples that you can get people to say a lot of silly things in polls. I don't disagree and suggest Ken recognize my last line as (an effort in) witticism rather than a sincere desire that all policy questions be handled by polling. He also notes my "poll question" was "slanted" (though not incorrect; merely not neutral). This, Ken, was the evidence that it was (an effort in) witticism, not a real suggested poll question.
1.13.2008 5:13pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Really, paying farmers not to cut production is, in a sense, a libertarian approach,
And to paraphrase The Simpsons, in another, more accurate sense, it isn't. The fact that you think it is the least bit libertarian simply discredits your commentary on libertarianism.

You wouldn't happen to be the same commenter who used to call himself "Mr. Impressive," would you?
1.13.2008 5:17pm
Richard A. (mail):
I would argue that libertarianism is not so much a political philosophy as a way of analyzing political philosophies. It produces the ultimate cui bono effect. No one with a brain really believes we can have government with no taxes, but a libertarian analysis shows just who benefits from which tax. Socialist analysis, by comparison, tends to posit some mythical class of capitalists from which taxes are taken to benefit some equally mythical class of worthy citizens.
1.13.2008 5:22pm
markm (mail):
Libertarian views are not truly logically consistent (i.e. third party C should pay taxes to enforce a contract between A and B; in other words wealth should be coercively redistributed from Cs who do not depend on contract enforcement and do not agree with it, to As and Bs, who depend on such contract enforcement and want government to enforce it)

It's hard to tell, but given the huge fees and court costs paid when pursuing a breach of contract suit in the present legal system, I suspect that the companies filing such suits are subsidizing the court system, rather than vice-versa. But in any case, libertarians do want the parties making the contracts to pay for the cost of enforcement.

and they make certain critical assumptions that are entirely arbitrary and wrong (i.e. the burden should be on those who would propose a government action -- inaction is viewed as a choice without consequences).

That sounds to me like special pleading to be exempted from the normal rules of debate, and require your opponents to prove a negative.

Kinsley fails to appreciate how certain libertarian ideas, to the extent that they have gained traction, have done serious damage. For example, we would not have had the horror that is Lochner v. New York without a similar activist frame of thinking.

Lochner was a horror?

David Bernstein, who, when he isn't trying to find ways to stop the "redistribution of wealth" to plaintiffs injured by defendants

Or to lawyers filing suits on behalf of people who probably weren't injured by the defendants and hoping to be paid off in a settlement because defending against bogus cases costs too much. In many class action lawsuits, the lawyers have been paid millions, making thousands of dollars per hour, while the "plaintiffs" got coupons to buy more of the products that allegedly injured them.
1.13.2008 5:41pm
Thoughtful (mail):
I agree with fishbane's answers to neurodoc's questions. Let me just add a touch more:

As regards illegal drugs, things are rather simple. In addition to basic libertarian moral arguments stemming from self-ownership (there's a Jefferson quote that amounts to a reductio, to the effect that objections to free speech are as silly as objections to what people choose to freely ingest...), there are the basic economic arguments on the effect of legal prohibition (black markets, lowered consumer safety, shifts in production to smaller but more powerful [easier to transport] drugs, less quality control, shifts away from producers who lower costs to producers who excel in violence, etc.). So the short libertarian answer to illegal drugs is: treat them like alcohol is treated now. Can kids buy heroin? Can they buy alcohol? Can you use cocaine and then drive heavy machinery? Can you do that with alcohol? Do you need a prescription for marijuana? Do you need one for alcohol? Keep in mind libertarians are not predicting a panacea, merely an improvement on the status quo.

As regards legal medications and the FDA, a seminal paper was Sam Peltzman's monograph (Peltzman, Sam. Regulation of pharmaceutical innovation: the 1962 amendments; Evaluative studies ;; 15;; Washington: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1974.), which pointed out that a simple cost-benefit analysis demonstrated that more people die from FDA regulations than are saved by them. This is because FDA bureaucrats face asymmetric incentives when choosing between two actions, both of which can harm patients. If they are not cautious enough, and release a medication that harms people, there will be headlines, specific patients harmed identified with their negligence, and possible harm to their careers. On the other hand, if they choose to be too cautious, and delay a drug for additional testing that can help people once approved, people are harmed by the delay, but there are no headlines, no specific patient harmed is identified as such, and there is no risk to their career. So the FDA on average delays drugs more than can be justified on simple cost-benefit analysis. Peltzman quantifies this, and I seem to recall it amounts to tens of thousands of lives, not insignificant.

Things have changed somewhat in the last decade as a result of the political power of AIDS activists who question why "risky" but potentially life-saving drugs are denied them when they are clearly at risk of dying anyway. So, yes, there is strong policy justification in standard peer-reviewed economics literature for eliminating the FDA.

Again, if one believes that people have "self-ownership" rights, then one doesn't go to the doctor to be told what they must do, but to get expert advice on what they should do, which one can take or leave, much like taking one's car to the automobile mechanic. Prescription laws create a legal monopoly whereby people cannot take a drug of choice without first paying a physician to prescribe it, and providing him with the story necessary to justify it. It may be hard for people to believe, especially some doctors, but there was a time in our country when you didn't need anyone's permission to medicate yourself, and amazingly people were not killing themselves off right and left by taking overdoses or otherwise poisoning themselves. Granted, today pharmacology is much more extensive and complicated than in the 19th century, and I personally believe an individual would be foolhardy to take standard medications without seeking physician advice (though not necessarily approval). But, as should be obvious on a legal blog, this is prudential argument, not an argument about rights and prohibitions.
1.13.2008 5:45pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Libertarians get patronized a lot. Chipmunky and earnest, always pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths, they pose no real threat to the established order.

I wouldn't say this is very respectful. Infantilization and more patronization aren't arguments. And its the fact that certain people are feeling threatened by libertarianism that inspire some to write rather condescending articles like this misrepresenting and mischaracterizing libertarianism.

And the reasons seem obvious: some degree of material equality as a necessary basis for political equality; the huge role of luck in getting each of us to our relative stations in life; etc....But nothing like this is obvious to libertarians. They force us to think it all through from scratch. Good for them.

It isn't obvious because it isn't correct. The whole rationale for communism and socialism was "equalizing results" and the result was luxury for a small elite and starvation, poverty, and misery for everyone else.

The fact is that you can't "equalize results" without crippling the economy and making everyone poorer. What libertarians understand is that if the private economy - on which everyone is dependent, including the government - is allowed to flourish it will raise the standard of living for everyone, thus improving the "results" for everyone. As a result you have less poverty, more opportunity, more employment, etc.
1.13.2008 5:55pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Gov98-

Ironically, for these people Hard Money would probably be bad news because it might actually slow down inflation, and the appreciation of their hard money assets.

If the buying power of the currency were preserved these types would just start investing in regular assets. Of course if the currency were truly backed by hard assets basically everything by extension would be a "hard money asset" because it would be readily exchangeable for a hard asset.
1.13.2008 6:00pm
Mr. Liberal:

Then Mr. Liberal takes it all back, saying:


Actually, I began my post by specifically noting that I do not agree with these sorts of subsidies. My argument is not that such subsidies are good policy. My argument is that they are not such obviously bad policy such that one does not even need an argument to oppose them.

That you think I took anything back, just shows that you were not reading very carefully.

That sounds to me like special pleading to be exempted from the normal rules of debate, and require your opponents to prove a negative.
1.13.2008 6:19pm
Mr. Liberal:
markm,

First, your argument against food subsidies prove my point. That you need an argument and they it is not "self-evident" that one should not have subsidies for farmers to cut production.

As I noted, I happen to disagree with food subsidies.


It's hard to tell, but given the huge fees and court costs paid when pursuing a breach of contract suit in the present legal system, I suspect that the companies filing such suits are subsidizing the court system, rather than vice-versa. But in any case, libertarians do want the parties making the contracts to pay for the cost of enforcement.


The cost of filing a lawsuit is only a few hundred dollars. The main costs of a lawsuit are not court fees, but rather attorney's fees, which do not go to the court.

Of course, a court system that is entirely supported by the fees of those who voluntarily use it would deal with this particular logical objection. But, do not forget, you would have to go further and have any winning plaintiffs also finance the cost of enforcement. And, you would also have to compensate employers for the cost of any wage withholding they were to occur and other third parties who were in any way inconvenienced by enforcement.

But this would raise another problem. If the cost of a lawsuit to enforce a contract is put fully onto the person who brings the lawsuit, then only those with enough money could enforce contracts.

Contracts for lesser amounts, or those brought by those who are not able to pay up front costs would not be enforced. Then the result is that contracts are not equally binding on all parties to them.

The rational for contracts is undermined unless their is the possibility of reciprocal enforcement.

I would respond to the rest of your argument, but, I am out of time...
1.13.2008 6:31pm
neurodoc:
fishbane, thank you for elaborating for me the libertarian position on "drugs," or at least some versions thereof. (markm, thank you for your response too. TruePath, you didn't address the particulars, and those were what I was after.)

Whether I agree or disagree with the "vision" you outline, I accept some of it as not beyond the pale, e.g., decriminalizing marijuana, but a great deal of it as going in a dysutopian direction, if not so far out there as to be simply lunatic.

"The line between 'recreational' and 'medical' is a lot blurrier than many people wish to think." What does that mean? Can you elaborate and offer examples of an overlap between the 'recreational' and the 'medical' in drugs.

markm: "Marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco," - if marijuana is smoked in the same quantity as tobacco, I'm not sure that it is any safer. But we don't have to engage about that. "and safer than most of the FDA-approved drugs in the pharmacy" - FDA-approved drugs in the pharmacy are expected to have a significant positive impact on one's health and it is accepted that some risk is the price that must be paid for that anticipated health benefit. It might be observed that water, which is required for life, is safer than most of those FDA-drugs, but so what.

markm: "FDA regulation and the war on some drugs is the only reason anyone manufactures methamphetamine in their homes. There are several varieties of amphetamines, at a much cheaper price than running a home chemical plant. No one would make their own poor-quality meth if you could go to the drugstore and buy these stimulants without a prescription." It's all about the purity ("poor-quality") of the manufactured product, not about other issues, e.g., addition potential? Consider OxyContin, an excellent pain-reliever marketed by PerduPharma. No question about its quality, the drug produced by an "ethical" (term of art among pharmaceutical companies) drug company according to the highest manufacturing standards. The problem with OxyContin is that in what was arguably a criminal scheme, PerduPharma promoted its products use in ways it never should have been used, and as a result addiction to OxyContin is now a huge problem, both for those addicted to it and for the rest of us too. An aggressive USA in WVa pursued criminal prosecutions against the company and its executives, forcing them to pay a humungous fine and change the evil way they were doing business, but the genie is out of the bottle and a great many people have been very seriously injured. Libertarians would do what - make OxyContin freely available to anyone who wanted to buy it?; close down the DEA and take away any regulatory powers the FDA has to control the conduct of a company like PerduPharma?; have the tort system deal with the problems caused by OxyContin through lawsuits, like those claiming injury caused by cigarettes?

And another if I may - on Ron Paul's website there is some passing mention of genetically modified foods (GMF), about which I take it he has concerns, though his concerns were not made clear. Is there something "libertarian" about GMF, or is that just some kookiness?

If Ron Paul had his say would there be licenses for health care professionals? Licenses for pilots? Licenses for lawyers?
1.13.2008 6:41pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Mr. Liberal-

Libertarian views are not truly logically consistent (i.e. third party C should pay taxes to enforce a contract between A and B; in other words wealth should be coercively redistributed from Cs who do not depend on contract enforcement and do not agree with it, to As and Bs, who depend on such contract enforcement and want government to enforce it)

Assuming we are talking about legal contracts (illegal and/or fraudulent ones should be stopped and remedied, not enforced) everyone benefits from them because just about everyone uses them. This is contracts of all types - writtern, oral, etc. I take it, Mr. Liberal, you wouldn't like it if your credit card company started violating its contract with you and automatically started charging you double for everything you charged. The vast majority of people use contracts of some type, so everyone benefits from their enforcement.

And note that people generally pay at least partly for the enforcement of their own contracts. When you sue someone you pay all kinds of government fees that people not involved in the contract don't pay. But you are correct that the civil legal system is largely funded by the taxpayer.

(i.e. the burden should be on those who would propose a government action -- inaction is viewed as a choice without consequences).

This is dependent on what context you are referring to. But generally (there are exceptions) if something is urgent enough to warrant immediate action there is something that can be done with laws already on the books. So if you want to discuss why you claim libertarianism is wrong here you have to come up with specific examples.

The more "logically consistent" libertarians are, the more screwed up the policy consequences of their ideas. Logical consistency built on a weak foundation of poor assumptions and faulty beginning premises is not a pretty thing and should not be an object of praise.

You do a lot of noting how awful those filthy libertarians are here, but you don't seem to provide many specific examples. If you provided some examples this argument might be effective.

But, regardless of how enlightening communism has been to armchair theorists it is, communism has been a disaster in practice.

Comparing communism - the implementation of which on any scale requires force and has little or no respect for individual rights - with libertarianism, which does not require force and holds the protection of individual rights as its core value, is laughably absurd.

Really, paying farmers not to cut production is, in a sense, a libertarian approach, because it focuses on inducing voluntary action. Contrast this with more intrusive measures to achieve the same end, such as quotas on how much a given amount of acreage will be allowed to produce.

Wrong, both of the actions you mention here are socialist and interventionist. The libertarian approach would be to let the market function and the farmer would switch to other crops, sell or lease some or part of the land, maybe let the land regenerate for when the prices recovered, etc.

It's funny that liberals constantly attack big factory farming and the like, yet at the same time they support a lot of the policies that make them viable. They always ignore Bastiat's unseen - if there weren't all these farm subsidies there's a good chance you would have a network of smaller, more diverse farms that could more flexibly respond to market forces.
1.13.2008 6:45pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Mr. Liberal-

But this would raise another problem. If the cost of a lawsuit to enforce a contract is put fully onto the person who brings the lawsuit, then only those with enough money could enforce contracts.

Contracts for lesser amounts, or those brought by those who are not able to pay up front costs would not be enforced. Then the result is that contracts are not equally binding on all parties to them.


This is why the legal system is usually one of the essential services that many libertarians support funding. Although there are certainly areas of the legal system where there are arguments for privatization.

So basically the above isn't an argument against libertarianism.
1.13.2008 6:52pm
neurodoc:
Thoughtful, I didn't see your comment before I posted. It's hard for me to understand how a physician could believe that we would be generally better off without an FDA. This seems to be to illustrate what Kinsley said about libertarians being "earnest, always pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths," except I would add to that "without reference to an informed adult's experience of the real world, prefering some theoretician's notion of how things are or would be."

[Not to turn this personal, but would you care to say something about your training and experience as a physician? You haven't encountered too many other physicians who think we would be better off with no government agencies to regulate the pharmaceutical industry and the practice of medicine, have you?]
1.13.2008 6:54pm
K Parker (mail):
RainerK,

In the case of farmers being paid not to grow, isn't that discouraging supply rather than demand?
1.13.2008 6:56pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
And I note that Kinsley misses the boat here:

No one should want to drink unpasteurized milk, and almost no one does. Paul himself doesn't. But it bothers him that the government tells people they cannot do something they shouldn't do.Libertarians would say that if most people want pasteurized milk, the market will supply it. Firms will emerge to certify that milk has been pasteurized. These firms will compete, keeping them honest.

So yes, a Rube Goldberg contraption of capitalism could replace a straightforward government regulation. But what if you aren't interested in turning your grocery shopping into an ideological adventure? All that is lost by letting the government take care of it is the right of a few idiots to be idiots. That right deserves respect. But not much.


The market would take care of this. If Kinsley is right the vast majority of people would choose pasteurized milk, and the few that didn't would buy the unpasteurized. I don't see how this turns shopping into an "ideological adventure", unless you can't read labels. Why spend taxpayer's money when it would be sorted out automatically, without spending taxpayer's money?
1.13.2008 7:08pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
greenish-

Oh, this is precious. He's talking about the belief that, in the absence of government food regulation, private companies will take on the responsibility

Actually, it's correct. Although he leaves out one factor: private lawsuits. That's what scares food production companies anyway. The inspection stuff could easily be handled by private companies, like car inspection is in some areas.
1.13.2008 7:14pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
neurodoc-

...except I would add to that "without reference to an informed adult's experience of the real world, prefering some theoretician's notion of how things are or would be."

Ah yes - anyone who has an ideological disagreement with you is an infantile.

Tell me, if medicine is already largely "self-policing" (not really, it's largely private lawsuits) why not have a private organization do food and drugs too? Or is the current system incorrect, and doctors really should be policed more by the government as well, along with food and drugs?
1.13.2008 7:26pm
Curious (mail):
Neurodoc: "Thoughtful, I didn't see your comment before I posted. It's hard for me to understand how a physician could believe that we would be generally better off without an FDA. This seems to be to illustrate what Kinsley said about libertarians being "earnest, always pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths," except I would add to that "without reference to an informed adult's experience of the real world, prefering some theoretician's notion of how things are or would be."

Well, I'm sure it's true that most doctors think we're better off with prescription laws and medical licensure laws, just as most lawyers think we're better off with strict regulations on the practice of lawyering, and tree surgeons thinks we're better off with strict regulations of who can cut root and branch, to name just 3 of the over 600 professions that are licensed and regulated in the USA. An old book from the Cato Institute, The Rule of Experts, points out that these laws--obviously seen as needed by those who benefit from them (via reduced supply, increasing prices) and not typically opposed by most consumers, who are told it makes them safer--can have negative side-effects. For example, more people are accidentally electrocuted in states that have high standards for becoming a licensed electrician than in other states with no or with more lax rules. Why? Because the price of an electrician in the former states is so high that it induces more people to try and fix things themselves, with untoward consequences.

I'm very glad to hear, Neurodoc, that you've developed an informed adult's experience of the real world, but hope you don't think that sets you apart somehow. As an adult engaged in the practice of medicine, you may use physician extenders, like physician assistants (PAs). These are people who didn't go to medical school yet nonetheless make decisions and determinations that were once the province of physicians only (just a generation ago). If you'd brought it up two generations ago, when licensed physicians were doing very well financially thanks to the recently passed Medicare regulations that paid all bills sent to them without question, you'd have been told it was obviously unsafe to have non-physicians do that sort of thing. Now, when physicians are squeezed to see more and more patients to maintain their standard of living, all of a sudden it becomes obvious that patients are actually not at risk when PAs are used in a properly supervised fashion. Did human physiology and pathology change drastically in the last generation? Has the practice of medicine suddenly become so much simpler? Or have the needs and interests of physicians changed, such that something unthinkable two generations ago has become indispensable?

I think, neurodoc, that it's not that I've studied medicine less than you, but more likely that I've studied economics and political science somewhat more. I'm sure you don't think of the practice of medicine as a guild, and you don't see physicians as a special-interest faction lobbying Washington or state governments for special favors independent of what their patients really need. But economists who study these matters find that model fits the facts rather well. Consider this 1888 article from JAMA: "How To Limit he Number of Medical Colleges, and Lessen the Crowded Condition of the Medical Profession". You can read more about this in the transcript of my talk "Economics 101 for Physicians" published in Vital Speeches of the Day, 7/15/95, Vol LXI, #19. Mine's the one just after Alan Greenspan's , 4th down from Bill Clinton's.

Neurodoc then asks, though not in any effort to turn this personal: "[Not to turn this personal, but would you care to say something about your training and experience as a physician? You haven't encountered too many other physicians who think we would be better off with no government agencies to regulate the pharmaceutical industry and the practice of medicine, have you?]"

OK. I've been a practicing radiologist for over two decades. As a radiologist, I have to be acquainted with most aspects of medicine, since imaging is ubiquitous. I graduated in the top quartile of my Medical School (University of Cincinnati) and was one of the top students in my residency from the highly acclaimed nationally recognized program in the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). Do I know other physicians who think like I do? Yes, off the top of my head I have a very close friend who is an interventional and diagnostic radiologist in Wisconsin, a man who has given talks in his field internationally, who agrees with everything I've said. One of the top surgeons in the large metropolitan area in which I reside is another close libertarian friend who agrees with everything I've said. A thoracic radiologist who trained me is also a strong libertarian. While I never discussed licensure laws with him, I know, despite his awareness of the dangers of smoking, that he firmly opposes anti-smoking laws. Then there's the libertarian surgeon I used to work with in California who's now in Boston at an MGH offshoot, who is more radical than I. Then are are the ophthalmologist, neurologist, and two radiologists I have met at Cato Benefactor summits who agree with everything I've said to you. This is just off the top of my head, so it's a likely undercount. But, not to turn this personal or anything, do you think the correctness of an idea is solely a function of how many people believe it? Do you think that physicians, as a result of their training, have the right to forbid people, after proper informed consent, of making their own choices of what drugs to consume, ingest, inject, or inhale? If so, do you think that nutritionists, as a result of their training, have the right to forbid people, after proper informed consent, of making their own choices of what foods to consume and ingest? If not, is it because doctors have trained longer (in which case you'd change your mind if we had nutritionists train for 8 years or more)? Or is it because you think more people die from taking drugs badly than die from, say, obesity-related pathology?
1.13.2008 8:46pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Neurodoc: "Thoughtful, I didn't see your comment before I posted. It's hard for me to understand how a physician could believe that we would be generally better off without an FDA. This seems to be to illustrate what Kinsley said about libertarians being "earnest, always pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths," except I would add to that "without reference to an informed adult's experience of the real world, prefering some theoretician's notion of how things are or would be."

Well, I'm sure it's true that most doctors think we're better off with prescription laws and medical licensure laws, just as most lawyers think we're better off with strict regulations on the practice of lawyering, and tree surgeons thinks we're better off with strict regulations of who can cut root and branch, to name just 3 of the over 600 professions that are licensed and regulated in the USA. An old book from the Cato Institute, The Rule of Experts, points out that these laws--obviously seen as needed by those who benefit from them (via reduced supply, increasing prices) and not typically opposed by most consumers, who are told it makes them safer--can have negative side-effects. For example, more people are accidentally electrocuted in states that have high standards for becoming a licensed electrician than in other states with no or with more lax rules. Why? Because the price of an electrician in the former states is so high that it induces more people to try and fix things themselves, with untoward consequences.

I'm very glad to hear, Neurodoc, that you've developed an informed adult's experience of the real world, but hope you don't think that sets you apart somehow. As an adult engaged in the practice of medicine, you may use physician extenders, like physician assistants (PAs). These are people who didn't go to medical school yet nonetheless make decisions and determinations that were once the province of physicians only (just a generation ago). If you'd brought it up two generations ago, when licensed physicians were doing very well financially thanks to the recently passed Medicare regulations that paid all bills sent to them without question, you'd have been told it was obviously unsafe to have non-physicians do that sort of thing. Now, when physicians are squeezed to see more and more patients to maintain their standard of living, all of a sudden it becomes obvious that patients are actually not at risk when PAs are used in a properly supervised fashion. Did human physiology and pathology change drastically in the last generation? Has the practice of medicine suddenly become so much simpler? Or have the needs and interests of physicians changed, such that something unthinkable two generations ago has become indispensable?

I think, neurodoc, that it's not that I've studied medicine less than you, but more likely that I've studied economics and political science somewhat more. I'm sure you don't think of the practice of medicine as a guild, and you don't see physicians as a special-interest faction lobbying Washington or state governments for special favors independent of what their patients really need. But economists who study these matters find that model fits the facts rather well. Consider this 1888 article from JAMA: "How To Limit he Number of Medical Colleges, and Lessen the Crowded Condition of the Medical Profession". You can read more about this in the transcript of my talk "Economics 101 for Physicians" published in Vital Speeches of the Day, 7/15/95, Vol LXI, #19. Mine's the one just after Alan Greenspan's , 4th down from Bill Clinton's.

Neurodoc then asks, though not in any effort to turn this personal: "[Not to turn this personal, but would you care to say something about your training and experience as a physician? You haven't encountered too many other physicians who think we would be better off with no government agencies to regulate the pharmaceutical industry and the practice of medicine, have you?]"

OK. I've been a practicing radiologist for over two decades. As a radiologist, I have to be acquainted with most aspects of medicine, since imaging is ubiquitous. I graduated in the top quartile of my Medical School (University of Cincinnati) and was one of the top students in my residency from the highly acclaimed nationally recognized program in the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). Do I know other physicians who think like I do? Yes, off the top of my head I have a very close friend who is an interventional and diagnostic radiologist in Wisconsin, a man who has given talks in his field internationally, who agrees with everything I've said. One of the top surgeons in the large metropolitan area in which I reside is another close libertarian friend who agrees with everything I've said. A thoracic radiologist who trained me is also a strong libertarian. While I never discussed licensure laws with him, I know, despite his awareness of the dangers of smoking, that he firmly opposes anti-smoking laws. Then there's the libertarian surgeon I used to work with in California who's now in Boston at an MGH offshoot, who is more radical than I. Then are are the ophthalmologist, neurologist, and two radiologists I have met at Cato Benefactor summits who agree with everything I've said to you. This is just off the top of my head, so it's a likely undercount. But, not to turn this personal or anything, do you think the correctness of an idea is solely a function of how many people believe it? Do you think that physicians, as a result of their training, have the right to forbid people, after proper informed consent, of making their own choices of what drugs to consume, ingest, inject, or inhale? If so, do you think that nutritionists, as a result of their training, have the right to forbid people, after proper informed consent, of making their own choices of what foods to consume and ingest? If not, is it because doctors have trained longer (in which case you'd change your mind if we had nutritionists train for 8 years or more)? Or is it because you think more people die from taking drugs badly than die from, say, obesity-related pathology?
1.13.2008 8:49pm
Mr. Liberal:
American Psikhushka,


Assuming we are talking about legal contracts (illegal and/or fraudulent ones should be stopped and remedied, not enforced) everyone benefits from them because just about everyone uses them. This is contracts of all types - writtern, oral, etc. I take it, Mr. Liberal, you wouldn't like it if your credit card company started violating its contract with you and automatically started charging you double for everything you charged. The vast majority of people use contracts of some type, so everyone benefits from their enforcement.


Well, I am glad to see that you have reject libertarianism here.

You are saying that we should enforce contracts, because "everyone benefits."

So, you are saying a policy, which requires "coercive" taxation is okay if everyone benefits. All this is, is a variation on utilitarianism, except instead of requiring a net benefit (i.e. the greatest good for the greatest number) it requires a near universal benefit.

But, let us say that I, as an individual, do not believe that I will benefit. Say that I believe in making contracts only with those who I believe are honorable, and I would never dream of using the court system. My remedy if someone screws me over is to never do business with them again, and to never socialize with them again.

But, you are saying, I should be coerced into paying taxes for a system that I do not agree with, based on your theory that I benefit from it. That sounds rather paternalistic. Who are you to say what benefits me or not??

And objectively speaking, if I am someone who would never use the court system and everyone I contract with knows that, then you cannot say that I benefit. But there are still those coercive taxes.


This is why the legal system is usually one of the essential services that many libertarians support funding. Although there are certainly areas of the legal system where there are arguments for privatization.

So basically the above isn't an argument against libertarianism.


It is an argument against libertarianism. Because it attacks that the fantasy that we can live in a world where society, through the system of democracy, does not make some choices for us as individuals (i.e. a world without "coercion") is an illusion.

We as a society will make a collective decision about the desirability of enforcing contracts through our court system and a coercive system of enforcement (i.e. the sheriff and his deputies, all armed with guns). Third parties who would prefer not to use the system (they believe in dealing only with those they believe to be honorable enough to keep their promises without the threat of enforcement by the state) will still have to pay taxes to pay for the court, whether they like it or not.

Having conceded the principle that the individual must be subordinate to the decisions of the majority in some contexts, the only question that remains is what those contexts shall be. It is not enough to win an argument (as many libertarians seem to think) by saying that making the individual follow the decisions of the majority is "coercive." The democratic response to that is to say that, you as an individual have an opportunity to influence the votes of your fellow citizens and you also have an opportunity to vote. And besides, it is not even possible to implement a libertarian vision without some level of involuntary taxation.

Having conceded that you are going to be a prostitute, all we are negotiating over now is price.

You say we should enforce contracts because it benefits everyone. Well, some people disagree with that. Too bad for them.

I say that we should go to war with Iran, because it benefits everyone. You may disagree with that. Too bad for you.

I may say that everyone will benefit from a social safety net, even if they do not use it now, because some misfortune beyond their control may make it useful to them in the future. And besides it may be useful to their descendants.

There is no limit to the government policies that could be devised on the theory that they benefit everyone, or almost everyone.

Your concession is actually far more significant than you realize. It transforms libertarianism from a system of principled limitations, to a pragmatic rule of thumb which will allow a huge amount of government.
1.13.2008 8:57pm
Brian K (mail):
Did human physiology and pathology change drastically in the last generation? Has the practice of medicine suddenly become so much simpler? Or have the needs and interests of physicians changed, such that something unthinkable two generations ago has become indispensable?

It could also result from the fact that licensure requirements to be a PA are more strict now than they were a few generations ago so physicians are more confident in the abilities of the PAs they work with. And as more and more PAs work in medicine, doctors become more comfortable assigning them duties that they previously would have done themselves. Or the fact that medical schools today are placing more of an emphasis on interprofessional and interdisciplinary team training than they have in the past. Economics has certainly hastened along the acceptance of PAs and other non physician caregivers, but it is by no means the only force doing so.

Now I certainly wasn't practicing medicine 2 generations ago, but I find it hard to believe that the income of physicians who were was independent of the number of patients they saw. If not, then the economic incentives to see more patients and to use non-physician caregivers has, to some extent, always been present. This means that some other force must account for some of the increase in PAs.
1.13.2008 9:05pm
neurodoc:
[...except I would add to that "without reference to an informed adult's experience of the real world, prefering some theoretician's notion of how things are or would be."

Ah yes - anyone who has an ideological disagreement with you is an infantile.

Tell me, if medicine is already largely "self-policing" (not really, it's largely private lawsuits) why not have a private organization do food and drugs too? Or is the current system incorrect, and doctors really should be policed more by the government as well, along with food and drugs?]
*******************************************

By all means, feel free to go with your experience of the real world, whatever that experience may be, and accept or reject as you will any theoretician's notion of how things are or would be. But unless you have the will and means to impose your thinking on the rest of us, and that would be a very un-libertarian thing to do, I think it very unlikely that you will ever bring very many people over to your way of thinking. Rants against "big government" will always draw a crowd and you may take that as the makings of a libertarian ascendancy, but when people being to appreciate the implications of your particular vision, e.g., the implications for their health and safety, they will back away as quickly as they came forward initially.

As an attorney, I have co-counseled medical malpractice cases, always representing plaintiffs. Based on my experience as an attorney and as a physician, I do believe that our tort system is part of the "quality assurance" answer and necessary to see justice done for those injured by professional negligence. But med mal lawsuits not a very efficient or effective means of "policing" medical practitioners. You think we don't need licensing boards and other oversight agencies because people have resort to lawsuits?

Years ago as a physician, I was involved in large multi-center clinical trials of different therapies. One of those trials was key to approval of a drug that a great many victims of heart attacks receive in emergency rooms. I can't imagine how such drugs could be safely introduced and used without the governmental controls now in place. Does you experience of prescription drugs convince you that without the FDA we would be individually and collectively better off?

And I recall that FDA approval was sought for a bellows-like device that applied suction to the chest wall to effect cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Newt Gingrich lambasted the FDA for being such obtuse bureaucrats that they would stand in the way of such a self-evidently worthwhile device, delaying its introductions to the marketplace. He could see that this was clearly an advance, so why couldn't the progress impeding idiots. Well, the "thought experiment" results didn't stand up when the "real" experiment data was in on this device versus the traditional way of doing chest compression. Libertarians seem to be inordinately fond of "thought experiments," preferring them to empiricism.

"Ah yes - anyone who has an ideological disagreement with you is an infantile." Is "pragmatism" (i.e., does it or would it work as advertised?) in greater "ideological(?) disagreement" with libertarianism than with competing political ideologies?

Care to opine about OxyContin and other highly addicting drugs under a libertarian government?
1.13.2008 9:05pm
fishbane (mail):
"The line between 'recreational' and 'medical' is a lot blurrier than many people wish to think." What does that mean? Can you elaborate and offer examples of an overlap between the 'recreational' and the 'medical' in drugs.

Marijuana is almost too obvious to mention. Many people use it strictly recreationally. Many other people use it for pain reduction, appetite creation and nausea reduction.

Alcohol and tobacco are both used by people with certain psychological conditions to regulate mood, especially when they don't have access to costlier prescription medication or counseling.

You note one yourself: oxycontin is used for regulating pain as well as getting high.

People travel to other countries and shell out a lot of money for ibogane treatment, to combat addition.

The U.S. government itself even recognizes this to a small degree, accepting that there are (incredibly narrow, from my viewpoint) circumstances under which cocaine, meth and marijuana have "legitimate" uses.


Now: if a patient with AIDS is smoking pot to encourage appetite and suppress nausea, and they happen to find the euphoric aspects pleasant as well, is that recreation or medicine? Does a drug have to be unpleasant to be legal?
1.13.2008 9:20pm
fishbane (mail):
People travel to other countries and shell out a lot of money for ibogane treatment, to combat addition.

I hope it is obvious that that's a typo for "addiction", not a reference to the War On (some) Arithmetic.
1.13.2008 9:27pm
K Parker (mail):
Brian K,

In lots of places, there weren't any meaningful number of PA's two generations ago.
1.13.2008 10:00pm
neurodoc:
Thoughtful, thanking you for satisfying my curiosity about your speciality. And I accept your representation that you are well-qualified in that specialty, and that you know other well-qualified physicians who are of the libertarian persuasion.

"Well, I'm sure it's true that most doctors think we're better off with prescription laws and medical licensure laws, just as most lawyers think we're better off with strict regulations on the practice of lawyering, and tree surgeons thinks we're better off with strict regulations of who can cut root and branch..." So you think it is all a matter of self-interest against the public interest, that society is not well-served by "prescription laws and medical licensure laws," nor by "strict regulations (how strict?) on the practice of lawyering"? (If you honestly think that the considerations behind the licensing and regulation of physicians and attorneys are no different than those behind the licensing and regulation of tree surgeons, whatever those may be, then we are effectively on different astral planes and we might as well be attempting conversation in Chinese, a language I know not a word of.) Or are you simply trying to fit everything into one Procrustean bed of libertarian philosophy? (BTW, as someone who has read Paul Starr's The Social Transformation of American Medicine, a book I commend highly, I am in no way surprised or compelled to any different conclusions by the 1888 JAMA article you cite.)

"Do you think that physicians, as a result of their training, have the right to forbid people, after proper informed consent, of making their own choices of what drugs to consume, ingest, inject, or inhale?" Who thinks that physicians have the right to forbid anybody anything? I never have as a physician, and I don't know how I might have gone about do so if I had wanted to. If they can obtain those drugs from other physician, they don't need my permission to consume, ingest, inject, or inhale" them. Indeed, they can even stuff them up their behinds if they so chose. (My late father prescribed a rectal suppository for a patient. When the patient returned for a follow-up visit and my father asked them whether what he had prescribed helped, he was taken aback by their answer, "Doc, it did me about as much good as if I had shoved it up my ass.")

"these laws--obviously seen as needed by those who benefit from them (via reduced supply, increasing prices) and not typically opposed by most consumers, who are told it makes them safer--can have negative side-effects. For example, more people are accidentally electrocuted in states that have high standards for becoming a licensed electrician than in other states with no or with more lax rules." Consumers are told that these laws make them safer, but you belief that few or none of them do make them safer, they only benefit the licensed practitioners, e.g., physicians, through reduced supply and increased prices? (As a radiologist are you able to charge whatever you want, or do other market players, e.g., third-party payers, have a good deal to say about your charges? But for the power of your guild, you think your services would bring considerably less?) Is the public demonstrably better off where health care providers are less regulated? (Forgive my pariochialness, but I'm more interested in physicians than in electricians, and I imagine that there is a more immediate and pronounced relationship between the competency of physicians than of electricians to the public's health and safety.)

"Or is it because you think more people die from taking drugs badly than die from, say, obesity-related pathology?" Right, in my non-libertarian world, no citizen would be allowed to eat that which wasn't prescribed for them by a suitably qualified and licensed nutritionist. C'mon, let's not be silly. Is this what looking at black and white images all day in a dimmed room, with only the occasional glimpse of color, does to ones thinking? (If you can think of a good jab to take at a neurologist, feel free. And neither of us need bother with, "Some of my best friends are (medical specialty).")

"more likely that I've studied economics and political science somewhat more" - I might retort that I majored in economics in what was then acknowledged as the number one economics department in the country (where Paul Samuelson went when they wouldn't give him a job up the street, and where his nephew graduated before he went back up the street for a job until it didn't work out for him). But that was a long way back and I was not a very serious student, so you may indeed have studied more economics than I. You sound like an auto-didact though who puts in altogether in rather idiosyncratic ways. (Would people like Rashi Fein and Uwe Reinhardt buy into your thinking about the economics of health care delivery?)

Anyway, you haven't persuaded me of the non-wackiness of libertarian thinking in health-related matters, and I expect I haven't persuaded you that you are wrong in your thinking. But thanks for the conversation.
1.13.2008 10:08pm
Brian K (mail):
K Parker,

are you claiming that physicians worked in a vacuum 2 generations ago? that no one other than physicians provided patient care? that nurses were non-existent? midwives?

but excellent job on simultaneously missing the point of my post and providing proof for one of my claims.
1.13.2008 10:35pm
Dave D. (mail):
...One of the most exasperating aspects of Libertarianism is that it relies on the upper 1/3 of intellect to function efficiently, or to function at all. I was a cop for 32 years. Trust me ( I can see the hairs rising ) , most folks aren't analytical, reflective or investigative. They take what is told them at face value. The greater the bona fides, the more they trust and move on. While you may question your status, they do not. They trust. They trust even the cops who seek to prosecute them. Lacking knowledge or sophistication, they trust. It is the currency of life.
...Libertarianism is based on scepticism, more often cynicism, sometimes, nihilism. It is characterized by intellectual ability and minutiae. It is abstract and obscure. It's built on DISTRUST. Not of this world.
..It is not usable in reality. Now it waxes, but it will wane as a result of it's inherent limited appeal. Enjoy it's brief ride.
1.13.2008 11:34pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
DaveD: that doesn't make any sense. Putting aside those who just like exercising power over others, the arguments of anti-libertarians generally sound something "What about all those people who want to start baby food companies just to mix broken glass into their products? We need the government to stop this from happening!"

Or, "If the government doesn't forcibly transfer money to poor people, then those with money will hide it under their mattresses and cackle as the corpses of the poor pile up on the sidewalk!"

Etc. It ain't libertarianism that's based on cynicism and distrust.
1.14.2008 1:04am
Mr. Liberal:
David M. Nieporent,

Your argument is still flawed. Assume a charity system that does not allow massive numbers of people to fall through the cracks. (Something that never has existed.)

Why should the full burden of the social safety net fall on those who are generous, while none of it falls on those who are generous.

Further, it is not cynicism that leads one to conclude that sociopaths exists in our midsts. It is likely that they are disproportionately found amongst libertarians.
1.14.2008 1:43am
Mr. Liberal:
Correct:

Why should the full burden of the social safety net fall on those who are generous, while none of it falls on those who are generous.

To:
Why should the full burden of the social safety net fall on those who are generous, while none of it falls on those who are not generous (i.e. selfish).
1.14.2008 2:00am
Ken Arromdee:
Ken A. has a problem with my closing line about polling. He notes by examples that you can get people to say a lot of silly things in polls. I don't disagree and suggest Ken recognize my last line as (an effort in) witticism rather than a sincere desire that all policy questions be handled by polling

If you think my examples are about polls and nothing else, you're reading them too narrowly.

The point is that the average person would answer economic questions based on a very naive understanding of economics. And that the general public's reaction to "we pay people not to grow food" is almost entirely based around that, not around rationally analyzing it and having an informed disagreement.
1.14.2008 2:17am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Why should the full burden of the social safety net fall on those who are generous, while none of it falls on those who are generous.
Because the "burden of the social safety net" is a self-imposed burden.

Why should those who are not generous -- liberals -- be allowed to impose a burden on people who are?
1.14.2008 2:31am
Brian K (mail):
Why should those who are not generous -- liberals -- be allowed to impose a burden on people who are?

Why do you keep making this claim? liberals give their money to the government to redistribute to the needy as needed. Just because you don't like the actor chosen doesn't negate this fact. Liberals, when polled, consistently say they would be willing to fund social security/medicare/etc. with higher taxes...and they do so in higher numbers than conservatives or libertarians.
1.14.2008 2:52am
Mr. Liberal:
Brian K,

Excellent rebuttal. It is an obvious point, but apparently one overlooked by Nieporent.
1.14.2008 5:40am
SeaDrive:
I'm not quite sure where Libertarianism ends and unconditional faith in the free market system starts. The arguments here are muddled.

I strongly agree with Dave D. that a weak gov't sounds like a good idea mostly to those at the top of the heap. Even so, the elites tend to look for government solutions when it's their ox that is being gored. (or Gored, ha, ha.) Chances are all those farmers are not enthusicastic supporters of welfare.

But many of the issues discussed are more issues of the market than of rights, including the various farm programs. (It seems clear to me that some regulation of farming is a good thing, but that it is done in the name of "the family farm" is a political outrage.)

Free market captialists often argue that excesses and errors will be corrected by market forces, but seem unaware that the costs of the correction may be socially unacceptable. Right now the economy is battered by a home mortgage credit crisis that would certainly been every bit as likely to happened in an unregulated market as with our present banking system. Even if you harden your hearts to thousands of personal bankruptcies, a recession brings hardships to many.

Of course, all you professors with recession-proof paychecks may not be much affected.
1.14.2008 9:12am
x (mail):
...liberals give their money to the government to redistribute to the needy as needed...

You must get different tax forms than I do because the penalties for not filing or paying appropriate taxes are spelled out quite clearly. No one is making a voluntary donation to fund government services, not even liberals. The fact that people may vote *to* provide various social services doesn't make tax collection the equivalent of passing the collection plate in church.
1.14.2008 9:24am
ejo:
is all this theorizing being used to get around the fact that Ron Paul, the standard bearer for the party, appears to be a racist kook? it's nice to talk about theories of communism-but if you ignore the actual practitioners ie. Stalin, Mao, etc. to focus on those theories, aren't you being a tad deceptive?
1.14.2008 10:39am
c.gray (mail):

Free market capitalists often argue that excesses and errors will be corrected by market forces, but seem unaware that the costs of the correction may be socially unacceptable.


"Socially unacceptable" is an inadequate phrase. How about "politically and culturally disastrous" instead?

Advocates of small government, free markets and hard money had their way, by and large, through the last half of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th. The result was a series of system-wide financial panics, each of which undermined public faith in the market system. Finally, the train wreck of the Great Depression almost brought down Western Civilization by making fascism and socialism look like attractive alternatives to working class voters.

Now a committed libertarian will argue that government intervention actually worsened the Depression, and they may well be right. But this misses the point. The political damage from these panics metastasizes much more quickly than the market can correct itself. And then desperate, frightened people line up behind the politician with the most charisma who tells them what they want to hear, not to the economic theorist with a carefully reasoned argument.

As a political matter, a social safety net and a widespread perception that the government is attempting to minimize economic distress has become as necessary to a market economy as legal enforcement of contracts and property rights.
1.14.2008 11:15am
Mr. LIberal:
Actually, taxes are voluntary. The People decide whether to pay taxes or not.

We voluntarily decide to pay taxes through voting, although not as atomistic individuals.

If you want lower taxes, persuade your neighbor that their should be cuts in spending on defense, education, healthcare, roads, infrastructure, medical research, etc. etc.
1.14.2008 1:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Why do you keep making this claim? liberals give their money to the government to redistribute to the needy as needed
No, they don't. They only give money to the government if they can force other people to do so also.

Let's take John Edwards, hero to the left. At his rallies, he inevitably singles out some person who he says is in financial trouble because of the evil corporations and such. Does he ever follow up with, "And so I wrote a check to this person to help her (*) out?" No; he says, "So this is why you should vote for me so I can seize other people's money to give to her."


(*) It's almost always a woman.
1.14.2008 3:13pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Liberals, when polled, consistently say they would be willing to fund social security/medicare/etc. with higher taxes...and they do so in higher numbers than conservatives or libertarians.
Sorry, forgot to respond to this second part: yes, key phrase is "say they would be." Whereas conservatives and libertarians actually do give, in higher numbers and higher amounts, to the poor.
1.14.2008 3:15pm
Fred Mahler (mail):
Libertartians argue against mandating seat belt use in automobiles and against mandatory helmet use on motorcycles.

Fine. I haven't heard a libertarian call for privately funding the lifetime medical expenses of the inevitable quadraplegics?

It's always about freedom, never about responsibility.
1.14.2008 3:31pm
Mr. Liberal:

They only give money to the government if they can force other people to do so also.


The People are not forced to pay taxes. They vote to pay taxes.

It is perfectly legitimate for We the People to assess taxes upon ourselves. And it is perfectly acceptable to prevent free riding by libertarians who can always give up their citizenship if they do not want to accept the verdict of the People.
1.14.2008 3:33pm
Mr. Liberal:

It's always about freedom, never about responsibility.


Your right on Fred Mahler.

Another way to put this, is that libertarians want their rights, without duties.

They expect society to provide them with national defense, but do not think they owe anything to society.

They are, quintessentially, the scum of the earth.

Okay, calling them scum probably is going too far... =)

I mean, I do not think scum would appreciate the comparison.
1.14.2008 3:35pm
c.gray (mail):

Whereas conservatives and libertarians actually do give, in higher numbers and higher amounts, to the poor.


Some polls have shown that self-identified conservatives are more likely to claim charitable deductions to the poor, and in higher amounts. But there are several things to keep in mind. The first is that charitable giving to the poor is heavily correlated with church attendance and religious observance, which tend to be much higher among self-described conservatives.

The second is, to quote Gregory House, M.D., that "Everybody Lies." As recent events in New Hampshire demonstrate, polls of intentions are not exactly a reliable guide to judging actual behavior.

And the last is that "libertarians" are such a tiny group its hard to collect a statistically significant sample in a poll. But given the presence of so many Rand fans among them, its a safe bet that charitable giving to the poor is not particularly common among libertarians.
1.14.2008 4:12pm
Brian K (mail):
Whereas conservatives and libertarians actually do give, in higher numbers and higher amounts, to the poor.

proof? are you basing your data off of brooks in his book who really cares? because it has been shown (in part by james lindgren)that he is fudging his numbers to get the result he wants.

I would also like to see what was considered a charitable contribution. while both donations to political parties (republicans typically outraise democrats) and donations to churches (for things like upkeep and missionary work) may be considered charity for the purposes of taxes, it is a redefinition of how charity has been used in this post.
1.14.2008 4:15pm
Brian K (mail):
X, nieporent,

both of you are conflating the issue of choosing to pay myself and forcing others pay. you may disagree with the latter, but you can't argue that liberals consistently choose to have more of their tax money go to services that help the poor and disabled.

liberals choose to give money to the poor by electing politicians that have similar beliefs. conservatives do not. again, you can disagree that this is good or not, but you can't disagree that this is what is being done. The one study i've been able to find that shows conservatives give more than liberals completely ignores this fact.

if you don't like it you have 2 options: work harder to elect people that share you beliefs, or, as i've been told many times on this board by people like yourselves, move to another country.
1.14.2008 4:25pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The People are not forced to pay taxes. They vote to pay taxes.
There is no "The People." There are people, and we certainly are forced. I don't vote to pay taxes. For that matter, you don't vote to pay taxes, either; you vote to force other people to do so. Government is force. Whether a vote is held or not. Voting doesn't turn oppression into something else.


c.gray:
Some polls have shown that self-identified conservatives are more likely to claim charitable deductions to the poor, and in higher amounts. But there are several things to keep in mind. The first is that charitable giving to the poor is heavily correlated with church attendance and religious observance, which tend to be much higher among self-described conservatives.
Your second point may be right, but so what?

As for lying, of course -- but other than hate-filled screeds like "Mr. Liberal's," what reason is there to believe that one side lies more than another?
1.14.2008 5:52pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
liberals choose to give money to the poor by electing politicians that have similar beliefs.
No. They choose to vote for people who might get elected, and if they do, might at some point in the future pass some laws which might or might not actually raise money which might go to poor people. As opposed to actually giving money (or goods or services) to needy people.

When I (er, my wife, because I'd probably poison them if I tried) cook food and bring it to a soup kitchen to distribute, I'm ensuring that needy people actually get food. When you vote for Nancy Pelosi, maybe she'll pass a law at some point which gives someone else's money to that food kitchen. Someday. Or maybe not.

I would also like to see what was considered a charitable contribution. while both donations to political parties (republicans typically outraise democrats) and donations to churches (for things like upkeep and missionary work) may be considered charity for the purposes of taxes, it is a redefinition of how charity has been used in this post.
Political contributions are not tax deductible.
1.14.2008 5:53pm
Brian K (mail):
Political contributions are not tax deductible.
depends on the state. hence the reason why i said "may be" and not "are".

As opposed to actually giving money (or goods or services) to needy people.
are you contending that social security, medicare/medicaid, government run clinics and health centers, etc. don't actually give money/services/necessities to people?

Do you go out and physically write checks to poor people or rather do you, like most americans, write checks to charities that then give money and food and stuff to people? Just because people choose different intermediates doesn't mean much of anything.

No. They choose to vote for people who might get elected, and if they do, might at some point in the future pass some laws which might or might not actually raise money which might go to poor people.
good to know that you agree that the conservative claims that liberals are going to raise taxes and increase government welfare are nothing but lies. the whole belief that democrats will raise taxes is what? a global conspiracy? one big lie? I'll be sure to hold you to this in the future. I'll also expect you to counter conservative claims that republicans are better for defense because they "might at some point in the future pass some laws which might or might not actually raise money which might go to [defense]."
1.14.2008 6:28pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
depends on the state. hence the reason why i said "may be" and not "are".
Political contributions are not tax deductible at the federal level. I am not aware of any state that allows separate tax deductions to non-501(c)(3)s. If you are, please let me know.

are you contending that social security, medicare/medicaid, government run clinics and health centers, etc. don't actually give money/services/necessities to people?
Setting aside that Social Security and Medicare aren't even intended to benefit the "needy," no, that's not what I'm contending. What I'm contending is that you're not giving money to these entities. You're voting for people who promise to take money from us to place in the treasury, for politicians to distribute as they choose.

Do you go out and physically write checks to poor people or rather do you, like most americans, write checks to charities that then give money and food and stuff to people? Just because people choose different intermediates doesn't mean much of anything.
We do both. One of the nice things about giving locally is that one can give directly, rather than sending it off to some distant bureaucracy and hoping it trickles down to the people who need it. We give food directly to food pantries. We cook food for soup kitchens. We give presents to the poor at Christmas. And, yes, we also write checks.

But when we write checks to organizations for the needy, we write checks to organizations that specifically help people. It's not that the government is an "intermediary" that's the problem; there's nothing wrong with giving through an intermediary. It's that (a) voting isn't giving money, and (b) that even when one does give money to the government, it goes where politicians direct it, not where you want it.

good to know that you agree that the conservative claims that liberals are going to raise taxes and increase government welfare are nothing but lies.
Of course liberals are going to raise taxes. And of course they'll increase 'welfare' spending, in the generic sense. But spending more money on welfare bureaucrats is not helping the poor; spending more money on light rail lines or ethanol or the like is not helping the poor.
1.15.2008 1:17am
Nathan Heilmann (mail) (www):
I don't like opinion pieces in general and I hated Kinsley's article. I think the "news" media provides enough commentary that I certainly don't need to read anything specifically designed to reinforce old stereotypes so that we can better ignore and discount the ever changing nature of American politics. If anyone is interested in Libertarianism or Ron Paul they can easily access information directly from Libertarian organizations or explore Ron Paul's election website and even interact directly with self identified Libertarians on social networking sites like Digg.com and from within an endless number of chatrooms and blog comment threads.

The entire article is written with the assumption that Libertarians are fairly represented by the author's narrow, subjective and ignorant opinion of what Libertarians all have in common. Beyond that he makes the more preposterous assumption that everyone else, namely his readers are apart of some vast homogenous majority of rational people who's coherent and reasonable political notions are wholly separate from the entirety of Libertarian ideals. The author's pathetically arrogant perspective renders his article nothing more than another distorted echo among the useless monotone feedback loop that the traditional media sadly promotes as public discourse.

Kinsley says that because of Paul's success at the polls his supporters deserve answers to the questions they raise. But rather than addressing directly or even mentioning any of their questions, he presents an argument for why normal people should continue to dismiss questions posed by Paul's supporters before they are even asked. First he makes an assertion that he believes Libertarians may very well endorse. He then presents questions that arise from the examination of that and other aspects of Kinsley's interpretation of Libertarian ideology. By luck, one of his questions has actually been asked by Paul supporters: Why are recreational drugs illegal?

Kinsley misses the mark with all the other questions and his critique of what he considers to be Libertarian ideals because Paul's support is not a result of the intrinsic value of Libertarian ideals but rather a direct consequence of the damage caused by a succession of federal administrations abusing power and Congress's inability to hold them accountable. The vast majority of supporters Paul has found during this election cycle are a result of his scathing critiques of the current state of the federal government. While all his fellow Republican candidates and all the institutionally supported Democratic candidates seem as if they cannot see the forest for the trees, his Libertarian ideals allow him to say on national television, with the force of conviction, that the king is in fact wearing no clothes. I argue that it is his direct attacks on the incumbent powers in the federal government from this position of integrity that has won him broad support and not the Libertarian values that are nonetheless at the core of his message.

Were we really attacked on 9/11 because people hate our freedoms or was it because we are seen as foreign aggressors? Is the so called war on terror actually about improving national security? Isn't the projection of military power over the entire globe to 'protect American interests and the interests of its allies' really about building an empire? Is building an empire in the best interest of the average American citizen? Should the military industrial complex be allowed to lobby the federal government to execute a foreign policy that is not in the best interests of its own citizens? Is the very existence of a military industrial complex a threat to the sustainability of American democracy?

This may be the most important and widely communicated arc of questions that Paul supporters have been asking. And it is from within this context that they often find the traditional Libertarian value of a small federal government resonating with their contempt for the current state of American foreign policy. Similarly, other arcs of questions start by challenging assertions made by the Bush administration and other presidential candidates and end in other typically core Libertarian values that challenges the status quo. Paul has challenged assertions promoted by politicians from both sides of the isle at national debates concerning the legality of gay marriage, financing of health care, foreign policy/Iraq war, legality of domestic spying, financing social security and the regulation of immigration. He gained support because his perspective on these popular political topics matched that of many average Americans. He didn't speak to these issues because of some narrow Libertarian agenda and he was not supported because of some preexisting Libertarian constituency.

Kinsley concludes that the positive thing that Paul brings to this election is the opportunity for normal people to question and then reaffirm that they are in fact normal and not Libertarian. Not only is this naive derision circular but as a conclusion it is also wrong. The most positive thing that Paul brings to the election is the raft of questions that are furthest from his Libertarian ideals and directly in contention with assertions made by the Bush administration and leading candidates that would otherwise go unchallenged. Furthermore, the fact that many voters do actually conclude in the end that their best interests are served by the platform of a 'Libertarian' candidate is evidence that also challenges Kinsley's basic premise and conclusions. The nature of the growth of Paul's support shows that normal values and 'Libertarian' values are not mutually exclusive and that some facets of traditionally Libertarian ideals will likely grow to become more mainstream.
1.15.2008 8:55am
c.gray (mail):

The nature of the growth of Paul's support shows that normal values and 'Libertarian' values are not mutually exclusive


Wait a minute. Don't the actual numbers indicate the opposite? Paul got about 10% of the Republican vote total in Iowa, which translates into 4% of the total of Iowa Caucus participants. He got 8% of the Republican vote in New Hampshire, translating into about 3% of total primary voters.

4% shrinking to 3% is not an indication of either growing support or mainstream acceptance of one's views. Its an indication of a shrinking fringe.
1.15.2008 2:23pm
LM (mail):
c gray,

Thanks for bringing some common sense to the thread, especially your earlier comment about the salutory part of govenment's influence on markets. By that point I had begun to wonder how much more blind determinism I could absorb before losing the ability to find my own ass with two hands and a flashlight.



Brian K,

Same for pointing out how loaded a question "Who gives more?" can be.
1.15.2008 9:29pm