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October 03, 2006

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Andrew,

So, between right-wing statists and liberal statists, (please, American liberals are not leftist), you err on the side of the right-wingers?

And certainly at this time, when a government unified under Republicans appears bent in driving off a cliff, libertarians have little choice but to do everything in our power to return to a divided government. But such alliances will be at best operational, working together on the areas where we do agree while still fighting tooth and nail on other fronts. Attempts to draw libertarians into the Democratic Party, however wise from a tactical sense for the Democrats, will ultimately end with unhappy libertarians.

Sorry, just got to the last paragraph.

I think that answers it.

What is really happening is that the corporation has spent money to get the government to force people to do something that will benefit the corporation.

In other words, the corporation is controlling the government. Generally speaking, that's the kind of thing we mean by "more powerful than".

Your point seems to be that if I hit you with a sword, it's the sword that has the power, not me.

I would submit that the solution to improper use of government power is not necessarily the agglomeration of additional power to the government to prevent such abuses.

There's considerable logic in what you say. But what other actor can control the corporations?

corporations are becoming more powerful than governments." Oh, please.

Andrew, you do realize that companies show up at fundraisers and such for key government officials hand over bags of campaign cash and in return get to flat out write the laws that affect their industry - see e.g. Bankrputcy Reform, The Energy Bill, Tort Reform, Tax Breaks, No Bid Contracts in Iraq, Prescription Drug Bill

The advatages of this being that the return on the "investment" in most cases vastly outstrips the initial outlay.

If the government didn't have the power to choose winners and losers, the corporations wouldn't bother to try and control government. Corporations don't spend money on political campaigns because they think it would be cool to have their own Senator bought and paid for. They do it because it pays off for their companies, or they at least have a reasonable expectation that it will. Trimming the power of government will change the cost-benefit calculus and cause businesses to invest elsewhere.

Now, how to reduce the power of government is a different issue entirely, and one I'm not certain is even possible short of revolution. Few leaders volunteer to reduce their own power.

If the government didn't have the power to choose winners and losers, the corporations wouldn't bother to try and control government.

I understand your thinking on this but the fact remains that the government, even in libertarian utopia, will always have the power to write laws, raise and spend revenue, criminize actions, etc.

Since they will always have that power our elected representatives will always be targets for corporate bribery.

see e.g. Bankrputcy Reform, The Energy Bill, Tort Reform, Tax Breaks, No Bid Contracts in Iraq, Prescription Drug Bill

...and all the assorted sordid copyright bills we've seen. copyright law is literally written by the media companies' lawyers then presented to Congress for rubber-stamping. the public is not involved. cite.

Fledermaus,

And the answer to bribery is to grant government even more power so they'll have more things to be bribed over? If we cannot trust our elected representatives with the power they already have, and it seems clear we cannot, I fail to see the logic in granting them even more power in the hope that they will then do the right thing.

Hmm -- I think I might just feel another post coming on. However, since a meeting is coming on even quicker:

You say: "the core principle of the Democratic Party seems to be that government is a good thing." This is true, if it means: we're better off with a government than without it; or: anarchy would be really bad. But do any people other than anarchists doubt this? I don't know that many of us would accept a further claim like: government is the sort of good thing of which more is always better. We might accept something like: government is a useful tool for some purposes -- but, again, who wouldn't?

About corporate power: some of the complaints in the para. you quote are the result, as you say, of government having the power to pick winners and losers. About such cases I think it's important to investigate the details, and ask: what is the alternative? If the government is "picking winners" in the sense of putting a contract out to bid and then choosing one bidder to win, then the alternative to its picking winners and losers is not to do whatever it's contracting for. In the case of, say, defense contracts, this might not be a good idea. In some cases (the septic tank case, for instance), government is requiring something that makes very good sense, and is only 'picking a winner' because there's only one company. I would imagine that other companies would expand their business into that town in short order; if not, the market might not have been worth that much to start with.

A lot of corporate power, though, is exercised either to get government to pick winners and losers in a much more direct way -- by writing laws or tax codes or regs to favor individuals -- or to refrain from using its power in ways that would be beneficial. To my mind, government is absolutely necessary both to create the institutions that support markets (stock exchanges and other ways of connecting capital to firms that need it, various sorts of property regimes (e.g., intellectual property laws), etc.), and also to correct for market failures, like externalities, of which the pollution kos referred to is an obvious example.

The free market is not working well when firms have the power to transfer some of their costs of production to unwitting, unconsenting third parties. Government is, among other things, a tool for preventing that from happening, and making sure that those costs go to the firm, where they belong, so that when consumers decide whether or not to buy that firm's products, they're choosing based on the real costs of those products, not costs that have been artificially reduced because some of the costs of production have been shifted onto me without my consent.

This, I think, is necessary to protect freedom in two ways: first, to protect me from having costs shifted onto me, and second, to enhance everyone's freedom by allowing markets to function more efficiently and transparently than they would if it were left up to, for instance, each individual person whose air was fouled by a company to seek individual damages.

But in a society composed of humans, not angels, this is probably not something that can be accomplished without a government, any more than capital markets or intellectual property regimes can be created an invisible hand guiding a million unconnected individual choices. They rather create structures in which those choices work together in a way that allows us possibilities of free action we would not have had otherwise, as all property does.

No structures, no advanced capitalism. No government, no structures.

And it's by no means clear to me that if we lessened government's power, we'd lessen opportunities for corruption. It would depend on how we lessened it. Just eliminating the Air Traffic Control Board, for instance, wouldn't eliminate all that many opportunities for corruption at all, but it would do a lot of harm. Eliminating mine safety regulations would remove the opportunity for corruption only by giving would-be corrupters all they wanted, and it would (see above) mean deciding not to mind that a lot of the costs of coal mining are being externalized onto the miners. (Some they might be said to take on willingly when they accept their jobs, but not the ones they don't know about.)

I don't understand your thinking about Microsoft. Is it that you're opposed to the government's enforcement of "intellectual property" laws, and Microsoft wouldn't be all-powerful if everyone could just copy their stuff? It doesn't seem to be that you're opposed to corporations entirely, because they're creations of government? How exactly is every monopoly the government's fault?

Trimming the power of government will change the cost-benefit calculus and cause businesses to invest elsewhere.

-- which would be in exerting their power without the bother of using the government as their cats-paw.

My question still remains, what actor do you see that is able to control or circumscribe the power of large corporations? For instance, if there's no government regulation of pollution, then unchecked pollution will enhance many corporations' balance sheets.

Microsoft can't make you buy Windows, or Office, or any of their other products if you don't want to do so. Even if they have a monopoly, they can't make you buy their products.

This is true only if "make you" means "use violence or the threat of violence". "Make you" can also mean "control the circumstances so you have (or are aware of) no practical alternative." The latter is more effective than violent threats at getting people to do what you want, and that's the very definition of power.

If we cannot trust our elected representatives with the power they already have, and it seems clear we cannot, I fail to see the logic in granting them even more power

Just to flip it around on you - if we cannot trust corporations to act in the public's general interest why would even less oversight fix the problem.

We had a type of limited government regulation during the Gilded Age, funny I don't remember that working out too well.

I'm willing to stipluate that market regulations can be ineffectual or even counter-productive in some cases. I hope that you understand that market failures are far common than the 'free market' evangelicals would have us believe. Indeed it was out of those failures that our current regulatory system was born.

I think you should be thankful that Insty and Michelle Malkin haven't made saying you are a libertarian akin to you are an anarchist. I think Kos is throwing a lifeline to a system/party that has let any number of people slip in under its aegis and pollute the discourse with observations that pretend to be based on one set of principles but are actually covers for others.

This comment may be too sharply worded, but if you adhere to libertarian notions and you feel that reducing the power of government is not possible without revolution, you are supporting priniciples in the abstract that you would never support in practice. Of course, you can say that you avoid that by calling yourself a nominal libertarian, but this seems a bit much.

I'd also point out that one of the ways Republicans have attempted to stoke the 'libertarian' base (scare quotes, because it's not all that clear many of these people are actually libertarians) is to cry havoc at the notions of surrendering sovereignity to the UN, which also appeals to the nativist portion of the base.

Liberatarians aren't going to be happy with [i]either[/i] party. And Libertarians are and will continue to small a chunk of the electorate to have their own party.

Neither the Republicans or the Democrats are going to endorse your platform, adhere to your beliefs, or generally do anything that makes you 100% happy. Libertarianism simply isn't that attractive to the average American -- and that's the [i]sane[/i] form of Libertarinism. (The less that's said of the 'privatize the sidewalks' type the better).

So the question is: What are you going to do about it? You can always continue to vote Libertarian, of course (I recommend it, personally).

But if you don't, if you go the lesser of two evils -- which set of evils do you want? Going to protect your pocketbook or your privacy? Which set of freedoms is more at risk? Which is more important?

It comes down to positions. Policies. Your ideology is [i]never[/i] going to be satisified. If you're choosing the "lesser of two evils", I'd toss that aside and just weigh platforms. What's the GOP doing lately -- that you [i]like[/i]? What are they doing that you hate?

What about the Democrats? Like? Don't like?

I personally don't see why libertarians are so supportive of the GOP. Sure, they cut taxes -- but are small tax changes to the upper bracket [i]that[/i] important?

KC,

First, please point out to me where I said that 'every monopoly is government's fault.' If I said that, I'll probably recant it, but I'd appreciate having it pointed out to me first so I can see the context.

Doc,

I see a vast difference between making you do something through market power and making you do something by putting a gun to your head. If I don't want to use Microsoft software, I can do so pretty easily. I can get a copy of Linux very cheaply. OpenOffice is free, as are Firefox and Thunderbird. That's just an example, of course, but I'm curious where you see a company's 'naked power' looming?

Someone please help me: in a world where we trim back the federal government drastically, how will corporations then be able to impose their will on people? Where there are real examples, I think there's a reasonable case for government (environmental laws come to mind, since I can think of no other way to address negative externalities). But if the federal government, for example, closes down the Department of Commerce, what threats are we going to face from businesses?

I fear that a large number of readers seem to be applying a fallacious assumption to my post: that because I don't think that corporations are more powerful than government, I therefore think that we should simply eliminate the government entirely. This is inaccurate, to put it mildly.

"I do know that Democrats tend to dismiss libertarian concerns about concentrations of power in government because we don't seem equally as concerned about government."

Did you possibly mean "corporations" or some other noun, at the end of that sentence, rather than "government" again?

I did, thank you.

Fixed. Thanks again, Gary.

Dr. Science:

This is true only if "make you" means "use violence or the threat of violence". "Make you" can also mean "control the circumstances so you have (or are aware of) no practical alternative."
See here for the same point.

Corporations don't need to be more powerful than the government to be a problem. They just need to be more powerful than individuals.

For that matter, you don't even need corporations. There's also the imbalance between individuals with weapons and indivudals without them (and I'm talking about violence here, not the possession of hunting rifles). Or individuals with a lot of money and indiviudals without much.

More than that, if you're not an anarchist you're for some government, and we're arguing about how much government and what it should do. Corporations, property rights, laws, courts--these are all creatures of the government.

I have next to know patience for the sort of libertarian who wants jails but thinks that the taxes needed to pay for public defenders are too oppressive. (and I'm sure you're not one, Andrew--I just find the term "libertarian" and those who use very hard to pin down, to the point where I wonder if the label tells me anything. Anarchists are nuts but at least consistent.)

ANdrew: before I have to run: any situation in which a corporation can externalize its costs. Pollution: I might have owned land I could farm, or water I could drink, before the corporation decided to dump the detritus of its production processes next door; now I don't. I am not forced to do something literally -- I could always choose to starve, rather than paying for cleanup myself, or moving and hoping the same thing doesn't happen all over again -- but it certainly counts as an infringement of my freedom, I would think. (My choice set goes from ['live happily on land, farming' and 'sell and do something else'] to ['starve', 'pay large sums', 'die of poisoning', 'abandon land', or 'sell for next to nothing'].)

Indeed, the core principle of the Democratic Party seems to be that government is a good thing.

This is Republican strawman baloney, and it's been so for at least a decade now, if not longer. Hilzoy expressed it well above: government is not a good thing in and of itself, but a necessary thing to ensure opportunity and to ameliorate market failures.

Libertarianism has often struck me as little more than laziness: the desire to condemn all government as bad because one can't be bothered to figure out what works and what doesn't, and to fight for the former and against the latter.

"Someone please help me: in a world where we trim back the federal government drastically, how will corporations then be able to impose their will on people? Where there are real examples, I think there's a reasonable case for government (environmental laws come to mind, since I can think of no other way to address negative externalities). But if the federal government, for example, closes down the Department of Commerce, what threats are we going to face from businesses?"

Err, imho the corporations will enfore their will the same way Standard Oil did. They used their market power (along with plain crooked dealing) to crush or buy all of their competition. Thats where we got a fair amount of regulation. Companies will collude to avoid the need to compete and just extract as much as they can from consumers.

Donald Clarke

anarchy would be really bad.

Until relatively recently, I would not have looked at this twice, however, in an epiphany I realized that the ultimate form of government, The Honor System (also known as Do Unto Others As You Would Have Done To You), was also The Ultimate Anarchy. I could be wrong.

Katherine,

This is why I tend to shy away from the libertarian label. While many of my beliefs do fit into that camp, I am firmly of the belief that government is a necessary component of a civil society, as I believe I've explained at length in the past.

We are in dispute over degrees, not over kind, if you will. I would prefer to live in a society where we default to less government interference, because I am of the opinion that a great deal of government interference causes as many problems as it solves. That does not mean that I want to live in anarchy, however, only that I'd like to minimize the number of powers we grant the government in order to minimize those problems. It is a balancing act, and one where we will always make errors, of course.

hilzoy,

As I noted above, I am fully in favor of utilizing government to ensure that the cost of negative externalities are borne by the entities that create them.

Once again, nowhere in this post did I say I wanted to eliminate government, nor that I didn't consider it important to have the ability to guard against the abuse of power by corporations (simply because I think it's asinine to suggest the corporations are more powerful than government doesn't mean that I don't think corporations do not hold any power; we do not live in a binary universe). I suspect that most of the comments here are based much more on what people are reading into my words than on what my words actually say.

Or maybe I'm just a lousy writer. I can't rule that out.

in a world where we trim back the federal government drastically, how will corporations then be able to impose their will on people?

To better illustrate my objection to this argument it seems to me no different than arguing that if you have a crime problem you should slash the police budget and take away their guns.

Corporations will never act in the pubic's general interest if it means huring the bottom line. Just like individuals corporations must be policed.

"First, please point out to me where I said that 'every monopoly is government's fault.'"

I don't believe you did, but I'll point you to where I suspect people are reading you as implying it (which I think you didn't mean to do).

First you brought up monopolies:

I realize that people don't want to believe this, but business has to deal with one very simple fact: on its own, business cannot force anyone to buy its products. Microsoft can't make you buy Windows, or Office, or any of their other products if you don't want to do so. Even if they have a monopoly, they can't make you buy their products.
Then you moved to assertions about "most complaints" regarding "corporations" and their "'forcing' someone to do something."

Thus, you went from discussion of monopolies to "most complaints."

Then you went to:

The complaints Kos and hekebolos make above aren't really a problem of corporations having too much power; they're problems of government having too much power.
And further explicated about how it was all the fault of government having too much power, the primary point of your entire thesis (yes?).

Thus the fertile ground for inference that government having too much power explains most complaints, and causes monopolies, however incorrect any such inference may be.

*shrugs* I give up. I'll be at the bar.

Indeed, the core principle of the Democratic Party seems to be that government is a good thing.

This is Republican strawman baloney, and it's been so for at least a decade now, if not longer.

I'm unenthused about giving a history lesson at the moment, but you want to go back to at least Calvin Coolidge.

Running through the obvious of before "at least a decade," we have Reagan, Goldwater, Robert Taft, Herbert Hoover, and then, as I said, Coolidge, who epitomized this more than anyone since, although one might also give Warren Harding a few kicks while we're in the neighborhood. We could also go back to the Republican establishment Teddy Roosevelt fought, but I'd start losing name recognition for my cites, I suspect, and it would get time-consuming.

I'd think people wouldn't have forgotten Ronald Reagan, though. If not longer?

"I give up."

You're giving up because I explained why people were misunderstanding you?

Jeepers, what would you have done if I'd not said they were wrong?

I'll be at the bar.

Joni Mitchell?

Gary,

No, I'm giving up because I have a really unpleasant pain in my shoulder and it renders me less willing to try and fend off the various preconceived notions people bring to my posts. It had nothing to do with you.

lj,

Warren DeMontague, actually.

And Gary...'jeepers'? How old are you? ;)

Sheesh, the strawmen are flying everywhere.

"Hilzoy expressed it well above: government is not a good thing in and of itself, but a necessary thing to ensure opportunity and to ameliorate market failures."

Is it? Is it really? The history of ameliorating market failures through government intervention is rather decidedly mixed (cough Great Depression, ahem rent control, hmm gas price controls under Nixon, HUD 1966 through the late 1980s at least). That is just in the US. I'll grant you chemical pollution of the air and ground, so I'm not willing to get rid of the government. I also think it could in theory be ok at setting basic ground rules if it stuck to that. But this idea that the government is particularly good at dealing with "market failures" seems at the very least non-obvious. Now that is in "market failures" as popularly used to mean undesireable temporary outcomes (shortages of basic neccessities for example). Permanent market failures like vaccines for low incidence diseases is a different story.

"No, I'm giving up because I have a really unpleasant pain in my shoulder and it renders me less willing to try and fend off the various preconceived notions people bring to my posts."

Oh, okay; fair enough, then, and try some aspirin or your preferred efficacious imbibement.

I was startled because I wrote "I don't believe you did," and "which I think you didn't mean to do" and "however incorrect any such inference may be" and then it seemed as if that led you to feel it was impossible for you to communicate, which seemed rather the reverse of the reaction I'd think called for.

I think, more generally, that a lot of the political communications problems are the result -- and this is obvious, I realize, but I'll say it anyway -- of the different assumptions people come to the table with.

I see you and Sebastian holding a number of assumptions that a considerable number of the more "liberal" types here, including myself, and Hilzoy, don't agree with, and vice versa, as regards the usage of certain words, what "compulsion" is and isn't, what is and isn't possible for impoverished people, and so on.

But I'll save further argument for another time. (Besides, you've both declared me as talking nonsense and uninterested in honest debate, more or less, in the "Government and Labor" thread, which isn't conducive to useful interchange.)

Well, that's not what I think I said, but I suppose there's little point in going down that rabbit hole.

Andrew: Someone please help me: in a world where we trim back the federal government drastically, how will corporations then be able to impose their will on people?

Use your imagination, Andrew. In any situation where someone richer and more powerful can impose their will on people far less rich and far less powerful, corporations will be able to impose their will on people.

I see a vast difference between making you do something through market power and making you do something by putting a gun to your head.

In a country with no government, anyone can put a gun to your head. Including corporations, of course: and they can afford more and better guns than you.

Do you think the US army would be run better if it were run by market power?

Katherine: Corporations don't need to be more powerful than the government to be a problem. They just need to be more powerful than individuals.

Worth repeating.

In a country with no government

This, for the record Gary, is why I tend to give up. Because nobody's discussing what I said. The discussion is entirely about what they think I meant to say.

Don't mean to pile on Andrew, but given the stuff about Foley, it seems obvious that power differentials can bring about a lot of bad results. Government can also bring about a lot of bad results, but there are (ideally) institutional strictures to stop them. For me at least, that is a key difference.

Andrew: Because nobody's discussing what I said. The discussion is entirely about what they think I meant to say.

I read your post, Andrew, and it all seemed to be about how government is a bad, bad thing. If you think government is a bad, bad thing, go live in Afghanistan, where there is no government outside Kabul. Won't stop people holding guns to your head, but they won't be government guns, they'll be free enterprise guns.

I read your post, Andrew, and it all seemed to be about how government is a bad, bad thing.

You prove my point, Jes. But then, you are remarkably good at that. And don't think I don't appreciate it.

Indeed, when you think about it, if American libertarians object to government, why aren't more of them moving to Afghanistan since the Taliban was (temporarily, as Frist points out) overthrown? If living in a country without government is their ambition, then there is a country without government for them to live in.

Of course, I've never yet met a libertarian who lived up to their principle of objecting to government by rejecting the benefits of living in a country with government...

Andrew: You prove my point, Jes.

I'm sorry, Andrew. I missed the part of your post where you were arguing that government is a good thing. Do cite it for me.

Ah, Jesurgislac logic in action: you didn't say government is good, therefore, you said government is bad. Truly brilliant. Geez, I didn't say child molestation was bad, either, so presumably you're convinced I think that's terrific too, right Jes?

Honestly, is simple logic that far beyond you?

Meanwhile, I see that you have now invented the fascinating notion that, since the Taliban was overthrown, Afghanistan has no government and therefore is a libertarian paradise. I guess that Hamid Karzai guy just doesn't exist in Jes-land?

I would consider it a badge of honor not to live up to your asinine notions about what people who believe other things should do.

"Someone please help me: in a world where we trim back the federal government drastically, how will corporations then be able to impose their will on people?"

No one needs to use their imagination on this. Simply familiarize yourself with the 1890s.

We actually have a control experiment on this whole "big government"/"little government," regulation/non-regulation thing.

That's why we, as a society, decided that unfettered capitalism didn't, you know, work out so well.

Good point, Gary. One data point=all we ever need know on a subject. I'll keep that in mind as your new policy.

Well, Jes, this is your typical erroneous style of thought.

I read your post, Andrew, and it all seemed to be about You see, the key is to read the actual words and respond to the actual words.

Whereas what you constantly and consistently do is allow the words to create some sort of vague image in your head, which you then connect to other, Bad, Things.

Then you attack those Bad Things your imagination has conjured up, and insist that that's what the person said, or at least meant, and that the latter is the same as the former.

This gets you into constant trouble, but you never change. You might consider re-evaluation this methodology.

Example: you've ignored what Andrew said for what you think he "seemed" to have said.

Then you proceed to engage, not with what he said, but with your hallucination of it: "If you think government is a bad, bad thing...."

Bzzzt! That's your imagination you are talking to. Your own retranslation.

Then you get upset when people don't agree that you said what you imagined they "seemed" to have said.

Rinse, repeat.

I guess that's jesurgislacing a thread.

guess that Hamid Karzai guy just doesn't exist in Jes-land?

If you care to read any of the on-the-ground information coming out of Afghanistan, you will discover that Karzid's authority doesn't run anywhere much outside Kabul. Outside Kabul, therefore, Afghanistan has no government - or rather, it has local warlords. Which is the situation - indeed, a libertarian paradise, a country governed by the rule of who has the most money and can buy the best guns - that Afghanistan was left in for years after the US dropped Afghanistan last time - the situation that was so unbearable that the Taliban was actually a slight improvement. Any government, no matter how awful, is better than none.

Unless you're a libertarian, of course. In which case, Afghanistan outside of Kabul is paradise.

you didn't say government is good, therefore, you said government is bad. Truly brilliant.

Andrew, when you can take your attention away from devising childish insults, you might want to consider this: everyone (not just me) thinks you're saying government is bad. You were complaining about just that before I commented. When one person misunderstands you, you might want to shrug it off and insult that person for misunderstanding you. When all your readers misunderstand you, you might want to suck it up and conclude you didn't manage to explain yourself properly.

Well, Jes, this is your typical erroneous style of thought.

I read your post, Andrew, and it all seemed to be about
You see, the key is to read the actual words and respond to the actual words.

Whereas what you constantly and consistently do is allow the words to create some sort of vague image in your head, which you then connect to other, Bad, Things.

Then you attack those Bad Things your imagination has conjured up, and insist that that's what the person said, or at least meant, and that the latter is the same as the former.

This gets you into constant trouble, but you never change. You might consider re-evaluation this methodology.

Example: you've ignored what Andrew said for what you think he "seemed" to have said.

Then you proceed to engage, not with what he said, but with your hallucination of it: "If you think government is a bad, bad thing...."

Bzzzt! That's your imagination you are talking to. Your own retranslation.

Then you get upset when people don't agree that you said what you imagined they "seemed" to have said.

Rinse, repeat.

"One data point=all we ever need know on a subject."

I wouldn't consider decades of American history as "one data point," but YMMV.

I'm sorry, Andrew. I missed the part of your post where you were arguing that government is a good thing. Do cite it for me.
I'm not Andrew, but:
I fear that a large number of readers seem to be applying a fallacious assumption to my post: that because I don't think that corporations are more powerful than government, I therefore think that we should simply eliminate the government entirely. This is inaccurate, to put it mildly.
And:
Once again, nowhere in this post did I say I wanted to eliminate government, nor that I didn't consider it important to have the ability to guard against the abuse of power by corporations (simply because I think it's asinine to suggest the corporations are more powerful than government doesn't mean that I don't think corporations do not hold any power; we do not live in a binary universe).
HTH.

"When all your readers misunderstand you, you might want to suck it up and conclude you didn't manage to explain yourself properly."

Also, the lurkers support her in e-mail.

Gary,

My point is that it is difficult to tell much about what a reduced level of government might mean today based on the events of a society entering the industrial age.

Further, I should point out that when I argue for a reduced government, there are plenty of places I'd like to cut before I start slashing business regulation. We could have a markedly smaller government and still have quite a bit of regulation.

if American libertarians object to government, why aren't more of them moving to Afghanistan since the Taliban was (temporarily, as Frist points out) overthrown?

Your whole set of comments here stands or falls on that first word, "if," so you might want to reflect on whether in fact that condition holds true. (Hint: No.)

I mean, it's fairly clear that you don't really have much of a concept of what a libertarian is*, but that doesn't really permit you to simply make things up concerning them. I realize it's embarrassing to admit you don't know something, but try to be a grownup about it.

*Anarchists are the ones who object to government. It is, in fact, implicit in the name.

Jes,

Bottom line: nowhere in the post do I state that government is bad. Nowhere. Not once. Anywhere. If readers can take that and turn it into 'Andrew says government is bad,' I'm not sure how to fight that. I'm willing to concede that I could probably stand to tighten up my writing style, but when you don't say X and you are immediately accused of saying X, I think at that point one has to ask if there isn't a problem somewhere else.

Which really raises the question for me, is there even a place for conservatives at ObWings, when it seems clearer and clearer to me that there is limited (at best) interest in attempts at understanding here. Perhaps it would be wiser simply to admit that ObWings is a left-liberal site and leave it at that. But that is probably a question best left for a more detailed essay.

"Corporations don't need to be more powerful than the government to be a problem. They just need to be more powerful than individuals."

It depends on what you mean by "a problem". You could just as easily say that you don't have to be the smartest person in the world to be more successful than an imbecile, you just have to be noticeably smarter. [Though you were never elected president of the United States were you? ;)]

There are lots of individuals more powerful than me and less. There are lots of corporations more powerful than me and probably a few that are less. So what?

The question is "powerful to do what"? Governmental power tends to be much more coercive than non-governmental power given a baseline of law and order. Microsoft can't throw you in jail. Dell can't raid your house at midnight and shoot you if they think you have a gun in your hand. GM can't force you to pay 25% of your income every year even if you don't want their car.

One doesn't have to argue that the US government is useless in order to notice that it has more power than any company. If you believe that power attracts the corruptible, government is the place the corruptible will gather. It isn't shocking to suggest that we might want to exercise more care in what we let the stronger force (government) do than the weaker force (corporations) or the still weaker force (non-grouped individuals). The fact that in many cases Democrats want to reverse this standard of care strikes libertarians as foolish.

Gary, true communism capitalism has never been tried. We'll get it right the next time.

"Which really raises the question for me, is there even a place for conservatives at ObWings, when it seems clearer and clearer to me that there is limited (at best) interest in attempts at understanding here. Perhaps it would be wiser simply to admit that ObWings is a left-liberal site and leave it at that."

So early Andrew? I promise I'll post more. :)

Does this: "Indeed, the core principle of the Democratic Party seems to be that government is a good thing. It's hard to square that with the circle of libertarianism that considers government at best a necessary evil" not mean that libertarians consider government to be evil at best? How does that not state that government is bad?

KC,

You do have a fascinating penchant for putting words in people's mouths, don't you.

Carlos,

Perhaps you could pair it with 'I don't really consider myself a libertarian' and see how the two go together.

Seb,

Don't worry about it. Despite my frustration, I'm too damn stubborn to leave. Unless I get booted, that it. ;)

"It's hard to square that with the circle of libertarianism that considers government at best a necessary evil" not mean that libertarians consider government to be evil at best?"

I think the answer is to consider practical realities. I think [ahem] eliminating personal bodily waste is a necessary evil, but I'm not calling for people to stop using the toilet. Some things have to be dealt with.

By the way, I didn't take Andrew as saying government is bad, but, you know, I don't count.

Anyway. Back to professional wrestling. Give 'im the chair!

We can use chairs? Why wasn't I informed?

Andrew,

It sounds like your libertarianism can be summed up as, "When in doubt, default to the option with less government." Perhaps it would help to illustrate your philosophy with some examples.

For example, would you classify any of the following roles as obviously appropriate for government, obviously inappropriate, or arguable?

- quarantines of infectious disease carriers (CDC)
- drug approval (FDA)
- meat inspections (USDA)
- smoking bans in public spaces
- science funding agencies (NIH, etc.)
- eminent domain for hospital construction
- overtime limits for physicians
- single payer health insurance

I'd be particularly interested in which categories (not necessarily from the set above) that you would consider to be tough calls, since that would presumably narrow down where you draw the line.

(I hope I'm not putting words in your mouth. I realize this thread has sounded a lot like:

Andrew: In general, we should just wear sweaters in the house instead of adjusting the thermostat.

Commenter: If you hate heat so much, go live in SPACE! There's no heat in SPACE!!!)

Just to clear up the nearly inevitable misunderstanding, nor do I think government is bad. Any and all other misunderstandings needing clarification are going to have to wait until after dinner.

There's no heat in SPACE!!!

That's why they invented space heaters.

"Hilzoy expressed it well above: government is not a good thing in and of itself, but a necessary thing to ensure opportunity and to ameliorate market failures."

[...] But this idea that the government is particularly good at dealing with "market failures" seems at the very least non-obvious.

Sebastian:

It isn't that I think that government is good at dealing with the market but that it is necessary for dealing with the market. There are things the government is good at, and things it is not good at. Unfortunately, sometimes the things it is bad at are things that are nevertheless desirable and not easy to do through any other avenue.

I believe that:

1. Corporations serve the people better when they are regulated.
2. The government doesn't always do well at regulating corporate behavior.
3. The government regulates corporate behavior better than individuals do.

Where I think reasonable people disagree is on the trade-off between government waste and corporate misbehavior. If you'd rather endure misbehavior than government waste, I get that, but I don't agree with it.

I have sympathy for Andrew here, on many counts. Seems to be a tendency to try to create principled positions out of what is usually practical policies or compromises or simply tendencies. A question of whether the SEC works, or works well, or would work better if limited or empowered gets lost in instinctive reactions to strawmen. An empirical politics is difficult because we all want our preferences justified a priori.

And a general suspicion of government is not at all limited to conservatives or reactionaries

Anarchism ...Marxist.org

Syndicalism Wikipedia, only because AnarchoSyndicalism.net wouldn't open

I think misunderstandings are bad. And what is a misunderstanding that doesn't require clarification? If you understood it, I don't need to clarify.

Maybe it isn't important? I was never good at figuring that out. ;)

I was struck by the interesting and (mostly) on-topic nature of these comments. Quite a change from what has passed as political discourse in the US these few years. It almost makes one wonder if a coalition of people might develop among those who prefer serious arguing of issues for the purpose of developing good policy, rather than cheap manipulation of issues for political gain.


Disclaimer: I'm a liberal (who vote Democratic as the closest thing available in this country) who thinks that the dynamic tension of discussion and compromise just might produce better results than any one (fallible, human) point of view.

Thank you, Andrew and Sebastian. I did read the post as saying government is bad, and it's helpful to know that I misunderstood that part.

morinao,

OK, let me try your list. (Thanks for the final note, btw, I'm still laughing over that one.)

- quarantines of infectious disease carriers (CDC)

This is probably a government function, since I don't think the private sector can really do it effectively.

- drug approval (FDA)

Mixed feelings here. I think that the manufacturers should certainly have to demonstrate the dangers involved with all drugs (since I don't think there are any that are 100% safe) and there should be some criteria on effectiveness, but I do think the current FDA goes too far (although I understand perfectly why this is so: when they approve a drug and something goes bad, they get flak. If they don't approve a drug and people die, people rarely hear about it.)

- meat inspections (USDA)

I need to do some research in this area. Is all meat inspected by the USDA, or just beef? (I never hear about USDA grading of chicken or pork, for example.) This is a gray area for me, as on the one hand I certainly don't want people getting sick from contaminated food, but on the other hand, it also seems to me that it is certainly in business' best interests not to sell products that harm their customers both from the standpoint of liability law and from the standpoint that dead people rarely buy new products.

- smoking bans in public spaces

Define public spaces. Government buildings I have no issue with. Private property, even if open to the public, I think should be up to the property owner.

- science funding agencies (NIH, etc.)

Mixed feelings. My purist instincts are to keep government out of science research because the dollars often go to what's trendy rather than what's important, but on the other hand, I don't think business does a good job of funding pure science for obvious reasons.

- eminent domain for hospital construction

Another tough one. I'd lean towards no, but this is definitely a gray area.

- overtime limits for physicians

Yet another purist vs. pragmatist question. I lean against, but am willing to be convinced in the other direction.

- single payer health insurance

I don't like the government in the business of providing health insurance.

Too many liberals are willing to say that the primary functions of government are the creation and protection of property rights and the reification of social relations (markets) without examining the implications of the statement.

Carlos,

You were obviously far from alone in that.

morinao,

Good list, btw. Lots of tough questions there. I'd be a liar if I said I was sure what the right answer was for any of them.

A bunch of people have written responses to Kos's piece; here's Ezra Klein's.

"A bunch of people have written responses to Kos's piece; here's Ezra Klein's." ...Gary

Yeah, look at that thread. 6 comments, very little substantive or interesting discussion.
Personal snark and ad hominems. Yecccch.

ObsWi people don't appreciate how nice it is here, a much better brand of commenters than
found elsewhere on the web.

Andrew,
might I also point out that your argument is one that against the notion of getting the Republicans out of one (or both) of the houses of Congress and as such, people may be letting their passion about that influence the shape their arguments take here? At any rate, if I took issue with your post in a way that was unfair, I apologize.

Andrew: Which really raises the question for me, is there even a place for conservatives at ObWings, when it seems clearer and clearer to me that there is limited (at best) interest in attempts at understanding here.

Which raises the question for me, Andrew: do I represent Obsidian Wings to you, or do you just attack me more viciously as a scapegoat for the other leftwingers who comment here? Your comments to me have a personal viciousness bordering on personal attack, which I have in fact attempted not to return, trying to stick to criticizing your opinions and beliefs. Which I may misunderstand, and my misunderstanding is inevitably followed by a personal attack from you. I won't venture to try and figure out your motivations for this, but if you're trying to get me to feel personally hostile towards you, that part is working just fine.

I'll log off now.

Thanks, Andrew.

I don't actually know that much about food inspections, but that's my gray area. I spoke recently with a fellow who had developed a device that could be used to assess produce freshness/contamination in the supermarket. His problem was that no one in the supply chain had any incentive to purchase a product that made their wares look bad (especially since they could pass blame for any E. coli outbreaks upstream). So here's what seems like an obvious public good that would never be implemented privately.

On the other hand, his device didn't really work that well.

When I see Libertarians climb down from their ivory tower and start doing the hard work of politics like the Democratic Party does, I might start listening to their arguments. Libertarians are the ultimate kibitzers; preaching at us from the sidelines while making sure their hands stay clean.

"Which really raises the question for me, is there even a place for conservatives at ObWings, when it seems clearer and clearer to me that there is limited (at best) interest in attempts at understanding here. Perhaps it would be wiser simply to admit that ObWings is a left-liberal site and leave it at that."

I perfectly well understand the feeling, but this is largely a product of how off-balance the site is. I've been agitating abou this for at least a year and a half.

The intent was to be more or less 50/50 in balance. It was more or less that way for quite a while; all the original bloggers came from Tacitus, a conservative blog; the primary founder, Moe, was conservative.

But without retracing each drop and add, it went way off balance a couple of years ago in the liberal direction, and sadly, the blogowners didn't do much about it.

So like any dynamic system going out of whack, and responding to positive feedback, it rapidly went more off-kilter, as more liberals/lefties found it congenial to comment, and more conservatives/libertarians did not.

I thought it reach the point where it threatened to kill the site over a year and a half ago, which is why I started agitating, even though I speak just as another commenter.

I wrote comment after comment on this problem, pointing it out, and repeating the need to find new conservative/libertarian bloggers.

Yours was the first name from me to finally be asked and accepted. We need, as I said then, as I've said consistently, over and over and over and over and over, at least 3-4 more bloggers on the right here, and another 1-2 on the left.

Seb posts but infrequently, and it's down to you and him, and Hilzoy; that doesn't cut it. You two can't be expected to hold up All Of Rightdom -- that's insane. And with the greatest of respect to Hilzoy, who is arguably the blogger I most respect of them all, anywhere, the intent of this site wasn't to be The Hilzoy Show, either; rather, an ensemble. And just having Hilzoy occasionally add (much valued!) contributions by Katherine doesn't fairly represent the left/liberal side very well, either.

Summary recommendation: find 4-5 more good bloggers, who would fit in, on the "right." Find 2-3 on the "left." ASAP. Urgently. Vite. Schnell.

Stir and season to taste.

This is not a luxury for this site. It's a necessity.

Unless people do want it to just be another left/lib we-all-agree echo chamber. In which case I, for one, am out of here; I'm interested in debate and discussion, not oozing agreement.

And then you won't feel remotely so put upon; because it won't be about you and Seb playing cardboard stand-ins for Those Evil Right-Wingers -- get them! Get them now!

I believe that:

1. Corporations serve the people better when they are regulated.
2. The government doesn't always do well at regulating corporate behavior.
3. The government regulates corporate behavior better than individuals do.

Where I think reasonable people disagree is on the trade-off between government waste and corporate misbehavior. If you'd rather endure misbehavior than government waste, I get that, but I don't agree with it.

Hark, an argument that I can actually respond to.

I think the government is really crappy at personal prioritizing. Having it decide things on the level of whether or not I need the Tivo more than 4 new volleyballs isn't good. As a general (baseline) rule, I like people to let me do my own thing. And while I'm not as personally committed to letting other people do whatever they want (some people choose really silly things--from my point of view) I realize that I don't have the monopoly on understanding the truth of the world. So my baseline is non-interference for individuals.

Now I fully realize that some government is needed to protect this general non-interference. This is needed because some people have an abiding desire to interfere in other people's lives. If I want to cherish general non-interference I have to restrain these people. A proper function of the government is doing this--preventing rapists from acting on their urges for example. Proper function of the government--crime prevention. By that I tend to mean what I think of as the crimes people instinctively know are wrong: murder, rape, theft, etc.

People are social. Some more than others. They form formal and informal groups. Thats ok so long as they let me do my thing. This gets tricky because some groups want to meddle in my life. People should be allowed to try to influence me non-coercively, but not be able to force me to do lots of things. This is where what we think of as "basic human rights" tend to come in.

Some people like to make things. Some complicated things require lots of things to make. Sometimes it would be nice to have things that I can't personally make. This is where trade and corporations come in.

The law of diminishing returns exists. Just because you improved things by 50% for a cheap price doesn't mean you can improve another 25% for a cheap price.

This is all baseline thinking for me. Some things have to go beyond the baseline--but that requires strong justification.

So, on to your statements:

"Corporations serve the people better when they are regulated."

This depends on what you mean by regulated. I think people tend to make better individual choices for themselves than governments. (Note I say "better" not "ideal". I fully believe that people make irrational choices. Governments run by people also make irrational choices. They just tend to be bigger and scarier irrational choices) So one goal of corporate regulation could be to get honest disclosure of what is going on so that individuals can make more informed choices if they want to. I'm ok with that kind of regulation.

Corporations shouldn't be allowed to intentionally harm people. I'm ok with that too, but I have a pretty direct understanding of "harm". If we know that fatty foods make us fat and still to choose to eat fatty foods, we shouldn't be able to sue said food manufacturer.

You'll note I haven't said anything about prices. They don't fit into my "harm" analysis or my transparency analysis. Almost always governments should keep their hands off of prices.

"The government doesn't always do well at regulating corporate behavior."

Agreed.

"The government regulates corporate behavior better than individuals do."

I don't always agree. There are a vast number of instances where transparency would allow individuals to regulate corporate behavior much more flexibly than governments.

lj,

Interesting. I pointed specifically to the clear tactical advantage of libertarians voting Democratic next month. My point was simply that I see little chance of libertarians being happy with Democrats in the long-term.

Jes,

Clearly there are perceptual issues here, as I almost always get the impression that you are trying very hard to misrepresent my positions when I post. I attack you more viciously because I feel more viciously attacked by you, not to put to fine a point on it. I have no interest whatsoever in convincing you to dislike me personally, but I honestly believed that I had little to fear in this regard because I thought you already did, based on your commentary to date.

Since it appears I was wrong in that belief, I apologize for my behavior. In my defense, as I said, I read your comments as attacks. Perhaps I am simply overly sensitive; it would not be the first time. I am not seeking to make you my enemy, however, and I regret it if my words have done so. If there is still an opportunity for us to try again, I would very much like to take it.

"One doesn't have to argue that the US government is useless in order to notice that it has more power than any company."

That's certainly true -- if one tautologically narrowly defines "power" so as to refer only to the sort the government has the most of.

But, in fact, there are many kinds of power over people.

So: how'd that break-up of Microsoft go?

How well has governmental reform of the corruption and problems in defense acquistion been coming, and over how many decades now?

We probably agree that the government has far less control over the price of gasoline than a lot of people think: the President quite often explains that he has no magic wand. But, surely the government has more power, you say. Is the President wrong?

When, in fact, corporations are constantly writing bills, in the past couple of decades, and getting their language passed without change, who is it holding the power there?

If we agree that "regulatory capture" occurs -- and I certainly agree that it does: who has captured who? Who has the power?

And so on. Or we could get specific.

"So: how'd that break-up of Microsoft go?

How well has governmental reform of the corruption and problems in defense acquistion been coming, and over how many decades now?

We probably agree that the government has far less control over the price of gasoline than a lot of people think: the President quite often explains that he has no magic wand. But, surely the government has more power, you say. Is the President wrong?"

The government could clearly break up Microsoft right this second. It could clearly haul Gates into the street and shoot him. It does neither because it would be illegal under current law, not because it lacks the power.

And the government has less control over gas prices than people think, yes. But Exxon does too, so I'm not sure what you are trying to say. Even OPEC has less power over gas prices than people thinks it does.

"When, in fact, corporations are constantly writing bills, in the past couple of decades, and getting their language passed without change, who is it holding the power there?"

It depends. You talking about good laws or bad? When it becomes commonplace for government to try to control business decisions, clearly businesses will fight back by trying to influence government decisions about business decisions. Proposing that the way to fix that is to have govenment control how businesses influence government control of business decisions seems to be a case of not learning from the previous mistake.

Jes, this is just my opinion, but Andrew's harshness might stem from your initial comments to him when he was first assimilated into the ObWi hivemind, remarks which I remember even Hilzoy noted were problematic. I realize that time zones have a lot to do with this, but coming in to deliver a coup de grace at the end is not really the most helpful way to focus the conversation. It is not simply what you say, it is when you say it.

Andrew,
you did note that, but 5-weeks-before-the-election passion makes it very easy to miss, so I don't think it is fair to claim that this is due to the fundamental outlines of commentariat here. I'm not too enamoured of libertarians at the moment because the discussions often end up as 'a pox on both your houses' rhetoric that actually makes it easier to fail to understand the issues involved and imho has gotten us into our current mess.

If you'd like, I can post something at TiO, but frankly, I'm having trouble getting a hook to hang it on. I hope you take that as a compliment.

lj,

I hope to put something together talking about ObWings in general (along the lines of what Gary mentioned above) which may address some of those questions. Although I confess that posting here is often a negative feedback loop. And maybe that is because of my own shoddy writing; I'm not going to pretend I'm some lyrical stylist. But it is still somewhat discouraging to post something where I'm talking about one thing (libertarian Democrats) but suddenly find myself defend something I never said (government is bad).

I would love to see it, but my advice would be to wait until after the mid-terms to post it and take everything everyone says for the next five weeks with a shaker of salt. I'm half a world away and I still feel the rising tide.

lj,

You're probably right. I confess that I tend to take politics less seriously than most political junkies, a fact that doubtless drives some crazy. While I'm certainly hoping to see the Democrats clobber the pack on November 7, I don't anticipate suicide should the Republicans win. I'll be annoyed, but that's about it.

Perhaps I'll take a hiatus of my own, as I am not particularly fond of getting people upset, and it would appear that I may be doing little else at the moment.

Actually I view myself as a Libertarian Liberal, and hope that the Dems do push more of a libertarian philosophy. Specifically I'd push for abolishing the Export-Import bank, severing any government relation to Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, ending the World Bank & IMF, putting an end to farm subsidies, and of course legalizing marijuana & hashish.

Believe that the list of government agencies that should be eliminated can go on extensively and not violate beliefs of the proper role of government for either Liberals or Libertarians. Perhaps the Democratic party will look to paring back at least some government functions when next in power.

However, I have to agree with your final point that any alliance between Libertarians & Democrats today would be a temporary, marriage of convenience with the strongest argument being 'separation of power' will lead to more gridlock.

Would be curious to know which governmental functions would be high on your list of deserving of elimination.

Gary above mentioned the Gilded and Edwardian age, the period between say 1880-1930. Thi was not a "libertarian" age, but a corporatist age, when the federal gov't was largely a tool and servant of big business. The first true American leftists, many of them immigrants, arose in that age in opposition to government.

The 1930s are usually interpreted as the gov't finally moving to the side of the worker, but that is not true. The gov't sometimes over short-sighted objections from business interests, protected the capitalist system from its own collapse and self-destruction.

Gov't will always be on the side of the privately powerful. How can it be otherwise?
But remember, workers outnumber owners.

A concrete example is in an earlier thread about unions. Only with gov't assistance is an open shop possible! If the workers are organized, strike, and can prevent scabs from crossing, the union will likely win. The gov't will assist business with physical violence in breaking picket lines and escorting scabs and breaking strikes.

The workers and the company can negotiate in good faith and create a closed shop. Only gov't interference can create a open shop.

And liberals, as we look around at both Repubs and Dems, at war, tax cuts, bankruptcy bills, do you still think gov't is your friend and here to help you? Do you look around and believe the poor and oppressed are going to gain control any minute now? Torture bill give you a clue?

I take a few days off from blogging and the whole world goes to hell. Frist says Afghanistan is lost. Woodward's book calls Condi a liar, and the White House supports Woodward. A Republican Congressman needs to start using bookmarks.

and now this.

As best I can tell, the libertarian principle is: The government that governs least govern best.

most likely true. but in the basic struggle between labor and capital once government put its really big thumb on the scales in favor of capital, by allowing for the agglomeration of capital with limited liability, progressives have been fighting back.

you want a corporation to monitor scrupulously its outputs? Eliminate the corporate form altogether. You wouldn't even need environmental laws. Neighbors could use traditional nuisance and trespass laws.

If the owners of ExxonMobil knew that they could be sued personally for discharges constituting a nuisance, they'd be a little more careful about what the company did.

Now, the available evidence (compare the West to the rest of the world) suggests that limited liability is a critical component of modern capitalism. But the very moment that we as a society decided to allow for limited liability companies, we created the need for the modern regulatory state.

Corporations are required, by their fiduciary duty to their shareholders, to at least try to maximize their use of externalities. Ruthless focus on financial gain, no empathy towards others, relentless cost-shifting onto society -- these are considered virtues among corporations; individuals acting this way would be called sociopaths.

So, I profoundly disagree with Andrew's claim that Kos's beliefs are "irrational". Do we really want a society where the most rich and powerful are sociopaths unrestrained by the government?

[ok, Andrew, that last bit was hyperbole. but your comments on the universal insurance thread suggested to me a faith in the marketplace that failed to consider the degree to which the rules of the marketplace were stacked in favor of capital over 150 years ago. cite

Francis,

Why should you be any different from everyone else? :)

"It does neither because it would be illegal under current law, not because it lacks the power."

See, this is where the fact that we define "power" differently causes conversation to break down.

You seem to be asserting that our government has the power to shoot people at will, and break up companies in a "second."

To me, this is some sort of bizarre cartoon fantasy world you're describing, rather than reality; clearly, however, you feel differently.

All I can say is that I'm interested in discussing reality, not theory of some alternate universe.

Seems to me you're more interested in defining terms precisely as you want them defined so as to win the argument before you make it.

"Perhaps I'll take a hiatus of my own, as I am not particularly fond of getting people upset, and it would appear that I may be doing little else at the moment."

Personally, I'd prefer and recommend that you not worry about upsetting other people, but only about upsetting yourself.

This place had been kinda boring for a couple of days, with relatively low posting; the past two days: fun!

But you shouldn't post to the point where you're getting seriously irritated in a way that will make you want to stop, and/or burn-out. That would be bad.

That's my prescription, which is the opposite of mandatory.

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Whatnot


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