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December 17, 2004

Comments

"moving from the status quo in the direction of what most people would think was fairer or better, is not an appropriate use of a slippery slope argument"

except when it comes to the Supreme Court, eh?

Your plan--I would guess that it makes things slightly worse as a matter of policy. Maybe you can resolve those doubts I raised. There is also a great deal of uncertainty about how it works, and it would require a great deal of political energy best spent elsewhere.

As for nasty insuations about people's political character--as to you, I am sure you mean this: you want a safety net but you would prefer as little money going through the government as possible. Whereas I've seen first hand how dramatically people's standard of living can swing while remaining middle class, even upper middle class if measured by income not adjusted for cost of living. Throw in a sudden illness, a chronic illness, a divorce, and everything's up for grabs.
So I figure, if administration costs are low and we make a collective decison to be risk averse, good for us.

That's an honest disagreement between two perfectly defensible positions. I don't think you have an ulterior motive--though I'm not clear on what your ideal end point would look like.

But as to the leaders of your political party, there's no need to insinuate. I think they are unscrupulous, corrupt, make an art form of dishonesty, incompetent, living in a fantasy world when it comes to foreign policy, letting their contributors set regulatory policy, either living in a fantasy world when it comes to fiscal policy or actually trying to wreck the federal budget & the New Deal, appeal to people's worst instincts, no respect for the Constitution, no respect for the rule of law, no respect for human rights...you get the idea. I don't expect you to agree, but that is what I and a lot of Democrats think of Bush, Cheney, Rove, DeLay, Hastert, Frist, Norquist, the Club for Growth, et al. So, yes, that will influence our political calculations. What can I say.

"except when it comes to the Supreme Court, eh?"

I was thinking about it when I wrote, but I didn't write about it because it seemed like a huge tangent and I have a date tonight. I don't want to threadjack my own post, so I'll summarize my thoughts on the judiciary by suggesting that you value movements toward fairness in policies more and I value fairness toward the democratic process more. So if we were arguing on purely slippery slope grounds you and I would agree that the slippery slope is not falling down in the direction of policies (most of which I agree with you on) but I would argue that it was falling in the direction of getting used to ignoring the democratic process. This would then turn into a long discussion about the proper balance of majority and minority interests. But it would involve a moving away from what I see as 'fairness' as defined in the post above. But I was definitely aware of the tension when I wrote the above post.

no respect for the Constitution,

SCOTUS in the 60s and 70s, right!

The slippery slope/ulterior motive argument is used by both sides in connection with many emotional issues, e.g. abortion (from the left) and gun control (from the right). In an ideal world, I'd agree that it's silly to fight a sensible proposal on the grounds that it's just the first step to a radical change, but here on earth, these debates are inevitably more like tug-of-wars (tugs-of-war?) than rational discussion, and so letting the flag move a little more to your opponent's side simply shifts the center of gravity closer to them and brings you closer to the mud.

This may not be directly comparable, but last year, Volokh pointed out that opponents of state & federal equal rights amendments a few decades ago said that those amendments would lead to, among other things, legalized gay marriage. The argument was brushed aside as hyperbole.

Volokh pointed out that opponents of state & federal equal rights amendments a few decades ago said that those amendments would lead to, among other things, legalized gay marriage. The argument was brushed aside as hyperbole

Here's the list from Volokh
abortion on demand, legalization of homosexual marriages, sex-integrated prisons and reform schools

Assuming that the last is two conditions rather than one, the 'proved prescient' is a bit hyperbolic in and of itself. Furthermore, I am sure that if one trawled through the op-eds of the day, one could find that granting equal rights to blacks would result in mixed marriages along with the general downfall of western civilization. If you would like to argue that those people were 'prescient', I find it rather damning.

As for the horror of slippery slope arguments being applied to the curent party in power, well, that's what karma's there for, right?

"Intellectual force does not always win the day."

Yes, but you may win this argument anyway through persistence.

I at least haven't committed "an abnegation of intellectual thought", unless you want to count my point earlier that it's dumb to argue about this piddling issue when the country is faced with actual impending crises.

Geez, if Kim du Toit can support some sensible gun control measures, perhaps D's can support some SS meastures. Probably not though. We're talking about the same people who wouldn't vote for taxes to keep SF firehouses open or preserve historic buildings or provide low income housing.

Can't we just end wage-indexing and then worry about the little bit that doesn't fix?

why isn't the case that the upper middle class WANTS soc sec the way it is, as a very low cost annuity?

i mean, i'm certainly hoping that i won't need ss when i hit 65. but i'm willing to max out and even have the cap lifted altogether if i can count on that money being there.

i'm a terrible investor with my 401k. in the last several years my rate of return is zero. (i'll note that the DJIA has been flat also for several years.)

some of the really interesting comments on other blogs have been arguing that the days of 10% return on stocks is gone. Some apparently very smart people are arguing that even stocks will be returning only about 4% over inflation for the next generation.

Soc Sec IS, therefore, forced savings, paid into an annuity with a disability component. Given that many people in my family are long-lived, it looks like it might be a good idea.

At the end of the day, i just don't see that the program is such a bad idea. i'm not convinced that the program is unfair.

and the reformers have a LONG way to go to address how they plan to force Grandma to sell her house and exhaust her equity before she qualifies. Wealth-based means testing really seems impossible to me.

and before we talk about increasing the IRS budget by an order of magnitude, let's first talk about the policy that the IRS will be enforcing. How much home equity is exempt? What about illiquid assets? Once you start creating exemptions, you will drive a tremendous amount of retirement planning to drive non-exempt dollars into exempt dollars; yet i don't see ANY politically feasible program which wouldn't have huge exemptions.

remember prop. 13 in California? How many Republicans will stand up to Democratic attack ads about Harry and Louise's grandmother forced to sell the house she was born in, because she's disabled but has too much equity?

Francis

"Soc Sec IS, therefore, forced savings, paid into an annuity with a disability component. Given that many people in my family are long-lived, it looks like it might be a good idea."

Wrong. That is only a good analogy if you always have growth in the number of workers paying into the system exceeding growth of 'savers' getting paid by the system.

"remember prop. 13 in California? How many Republicans will stand up to Democratic attack ads about Harry and Louise's grandmother forced to sell the house she was born in, because she's disabled but has too much equity?"

What do I care if Republicans lose to an excellent policy. I'm not a party leader, I can back excellent ideas that Democrats will unfairly attack people with. But as for grandma's equity, I think it is a lot more fair for her to use her equity than it is to force poor workers to pay for her so she can die with money. Though off the top of my head I suppose we avoid the whole issue by having a 100% estate tax until all Social Security payments are covered which would have the same effect without any grandmas forced to move.

crionna
We went back and forth about the Ds of SF and the numbers in an earlier post, but even if you completely rejected any point I made, it's not conducive to the dialogue to paint the entire Democratic party with the votes in a local election.

Sebastian
You treat the house equity as simply a fungible asset. Not accounting for the emotional connections is something I thought the left was more likely to be accused of than the right. Again, karma rules. I've lived most of my working life overseas (and will probably retire here as well) so I don't really have a dog in this fight. But I'm looking forward to watching. :^>

debolding now.

LJ: You treat the house equity as simply a fungible asset. Not accounting for the emotional connections is something I thought the left was more likely to be accused of than the right.

Sure: but it's a fairly typical Bush administration idea - that all financial policies should be skewed to benefit only the very, very rich.

If someone has to sell the house they've lived in all their lives and use the money to live on, because otherwise they won't qualify for the Social Security they've paid into all their lives, why would anyone as wealthy as Bush and Cheney care? It won't ever apply to the wealthiest people, and current Republican fiscal policy is aimed to benefit only the wealthiest.

Francis,

Social Security is not a low cost annuity. Even at lower than historical rates of return, it still compares unfavorably to saving and investing and then purchasing a private annuity at retirement.

Assume a 25 year old white woman making 30000 yr. (Chosen because white woman have the longest life expectency and Social Security benefits are higher as a percentage of payroll taxes contributed for lower income participants.) According the basic calculator on the Social Security website, her monthly benefit at age 67 is $1163. I ran a quick annuity quote and to buy an immediate annuity from an insurer for a woman that age costs about $180,000 (based on current interest rate environment) (Note this figure does understate the value some because no cost of living adjustment is priced in - but most participants aren't white females so the average cost is already overstated somewhat.)

So it looks like someone making $30000 will have a $180000 benefit at retirement thanks to Social Security. Could be worse, right?

But taking 6% (which is actually a bit less than her madatory payroll taxes - but she does receive some disability benefits in addition to the retirement benefits) of her pay from age 22 to 67 and investing it at 4% yields a future value at age 67 of $217,852, which means she could purchase a 20% greater benefit. Assuming portfolio returns of only 6.5% (based on 4% above long term inflation rate of 2.5% (conservative on both counts!)) her lump sum at retirement would be $443,000 - about 2 1/2 times what Social Security provides. (And this is ignoring the employer contributions made to Social Security on her behalf.)

While the mandatory savings aspect of Social Security does provide a benefit to people who would otherwise save nothing, Social Security is in fact a very high cost annuity for all participants.

Mike p; Assuming portfolio returns of only 6.5%

...and assuming no losses, ever - and you haven't counted for the brokerage fees.... ;-)

That's the trouble with you peeps who want to abolish Social Security. On the one hand, you're avid pessimists who are convinced it's going to fall over and die anyway. On the other, you're avid optimists, who are convinced that anyone can build a portfolio with a guaranteed return of at least 6.5% and never suffer any losses.

If only market investment was that easy...

Social Security is not a low cost annuity. Even at lower than historical rates of return, it still compares unfavorably to saving and investing and then purchasing a private annuity at retirement.

Once more: SS is not a retirement plan; it is dishonest to portray it as such or to compare it against retirement plans or pensions.


It seems to me, people aren't asking the right questions about SS and why there's a movement afoot to end it. After all, SS is an extremely popular program and one which has worked quite well and should work (despite the bogus claims to the contrary) well into the future with only minor tweaking.

There are several reasons for the move to destroy SS and they're all coming from the same place on the political spectrum. There is a great desire to shift constituencies on the issue; currently, Dems are seen as the champions of SS--the GOP would like to remove this advantage from the Dems. Second, privatization schemes would present a huge windfall to the financial services sector--a constituency of the GOPers. Third, removing the Feds from the picture is an omnipresent goal of those in the GOP claiming to want to one day be able to drown the Fed. Govt. in the bathtub.

Last, destroying SS is the Holy Grail of the GOP's revisionist movement. After all, SS is and was one of the most successful Federal Govt. program; 60 years ago, 60+% of US seniors lived in poverty--today that figure is about 12%. And it was the creation of the Dems.

OK, how about nasty facts about people's character? Grover Norquist is a major driving force behind all of this, and he wants to end Social Security. He's a very, very powerful Republican; he's basically Rove's counterpart on the outside. No insinuations here, bro. Just the facts.

Damn you, Jadegold, for using i and not em.

Grover Norquist's power to actually accomplish anything is widely overrated, because he makes such a nice hate-figure for the Left.

Look: I am one of those who actually wants to see Social Security (and every other government social program) abolished outright, though I would certainly accept a proposal like Sebastian's as a compromise. I only *wish* that the Republican Party ever did more than pay lip service to people like me. The Republicans are not a radical free-marketeer party at all. They're a kleptocrat party, which is a totally different thing. They haven't nominated anyone for president who really believes in the free market and opposes the welfare state since Barry Goldwater.

It's not just Norquist. It's Bush's entire fiscal policy, and Rove's stated belief that popular, functioning government programs that everyone likes, along with labor unions, motivate people to vote Democratic and therefore should be destroyed. And you know, kleptocrats are not necessarily so concerned with the poor either--the rented Senators of the gilded age certainly will not.

Sebastian--on the Supreme Court, I would take issue with your characterization of our positions but let's just agree to disagree. Or at least agree to stop talking about it. There is a decent argument that the slippery slope applies better to the judiciary, which is why the prospect of Bush appointing 3 judges is so very scary.

On Social Security--leaving aside the merits of your proposal for now, two more things:

1) even if you can convince me it's better than the status quo as a policy matter--opportunity cost. I think there are policies we could support that are much better tailored to the same goals. E.g., restore the estate tax to help avert the general fund crisis, and use some of that money to finance good early childhood health care programs and education programs.

The whole argument that people make about why the estate tax is wrong is that people want to be able to pass on opportunities to their children. Which is true. But they don't do that through the estate tax, not with life expectancy what it is. Most people are at the peak of their earning and have families of their own when their parents die. The single biggest way people care for the next generation is college tuition. I don't see why we can't make a collective decision to give decent opportunities to our children.

The estate tax is a good segue into my second point, which is:

2) Your proposal will be unpopular with more than the top 33%. Look at the estate tax repeal--that helped maybe the top 1%, and yet it was popular. Even if this proposal isn't successfully demagogued, it will be unpopular with the 33% at the top AND a large group who isn't sure whether or not they'll be in the top 33%, and is actively trying to get there. Have you seen the surveys about how many Americans mistakenly think they're in the top 1% or 10%, and how many more think they'll get there?

3) I see no reason at all why Bush would be interested in this proposal. And even it wouldn't be a political disaster as a final compromise on social security, it would be as a Democratic starting point. Which Bush will certainly reject, and demagogue to death. You give away 35-50% of the public's support at the start, and implicitly suggest that Bush is right about "a crisis"? When we're already outvoted in both houses of Congress and widespread public support is our only chance? No thanks. Get YOUR party to propose this instead of their deficit-financed private accounts meshugas and then we'll talk.

Michael Moore's power to actually accomplish anything is widely overrated, because he makes such a nice hate-figure for the Right.

"That's an honest disagreement between two perfectly defensible positions. I don't think you have an ulterior motive--though I'm not clear on what your ideal end point would look like.

But as to the leaders of your political party, there's no need to insinuate. I think they are unscrupulous, corrupt, make an art form of dishonesty, incompetent, living in a fantasy world when it comes to foreign policy, letting their contributors set regulatory policy, either living in a fantasy world when it comes to fiscal policy or actually trying to wreck the federal budget & the New Deal, appeal to people's worst instincts, no respect for the Constitution, no respect for the rule of law, no respect for human rights...you get the idea. I don't expect you to agree, but that is what I and a lot of Democrats think of Bush, Cheney, Rove, DeLay, Hastert, Frist, Norquist, the Club for Growth, et al. So, yes, that will influence our political calculations. What can I say."

I entirely agree with Katherine, except I would add a few others such as The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal's editorial staff.

This is the point Sebastian hasn't responded to here, or in the other thread. Our argument is not that there is an inevitable slippery slope. It's that the persons who currently lead the Republican party are uninterested in a new compromise which will last. They want Social Security to be killed, and if they cannot do it all at once, they will lessen its support by removing some people as beneficiaries, so that it is viewed more as welfare and less as something everyone benefits from.

Barry Goldwater didn't believe in the free market with respect to African Americans.

praktike-- it's a bit of a tangent, but: yes he most certainly did. Opposition to antidiscrimination laws that restrict private property owners is pro-free market. In a completely free market, other people can decide not to employ you or serve you in their private establishments for any reason they like. We may detest some of their reasons, but it's their property, not ours.

Katherine-- re "stated belief", do you have a quotation from Rove supporting the abolition of Social Security on the grounds that it gets people to vote Dem, or indeed on any other grounds? He may well believe such a thing, but even if he did I doubt he'd be so clumsy as to say it in public.

"This is the point Sebastian hasn't responded to here, or in the other thread. Our argument is not that there is an inevitable slippery slope. It's that the persons who currently lead the Republican party are uninterested in a new compromise which will last."

So let me see what you and Katherine are saying:

My approach would probably be fairer.

You don't think the Republican Party wants fairer.

Moving toward fairer would convince the Republican Party to move toward an unfair destruction of the safety net instead.

That is your argument. Here is the related assumption that you need to make it work:

If Republicans did that, the Democratic Party is too pathetic to be able to resist the transition from making things fairer to making them unfairer so we must resist making things fairer. Furthermore the American public is so stupid that they will fall for Republican rhetoric but for some reason not stupid enough to fall for Democratic rhetoric. Also resisting making things fairer will cost at least 15 billion per year and if we make realistic administration cost and demographic estimates probably more like 30 billion per year after 20 years but that doesn't seem to matter.

Ok. I guess you got me. I guess you see why I try to reform the Republican Party if the Democratic Party is really that ineffectual. You don't think trying to kill the safety net portion might swing ten thousand votes in Ohio? Ok.

Why do you bother resisting the Republican overlords then? They are clearly too powerful for you.

As I've said, I'm not sure your response is better or fairer on the merits than the status quo because you've not given enough specifics, and I lean toward thinking it's not.

Even if it is, there are other changes we could make that make more of a positive difference as far as both a safety net for everyone and as far as a fairer distribution of wealth.

And you're entirely ignoring my point about the difference between your proposal as a final outcome and as an initial bargaining chip. Any democratic proposal will not be passed into law, as well you know. When some actual politician is proposing an actual bill like this that actually has enough details to evaluate and actually has a snowball's chance in hell of passing even if all of the Democrats support it, I'll think about it. As it is Hastert has announced a policy of not allowing a vote on anything not supported by a majority of the Republican caucus.

There are all sorts of things I am much more confident are good policy than your social security proposal that I don't devote a lot of energy too--the whole crazy quilt of local property taxes and zoning laws, scaling back the mortgage deduction somewhat so as not to discriminate against renters, indexing both the minimum wage to inflation in return for indexing the capital gains tax to inflation, the estate tax change that I talked about above. But none of those things are going to happen, and even I care about them less urgently than some other issues before the country right now. For that matter the issues I care most about--nuclear proliferation, finding a way to protect ourselves from terrorism without torturing people, getting some sanity into federal budget and the health care system, getting some real equality into the education system and the criminal justice system--are also not so much on the table. What's on the table is a specific plan to end social security as we know it, that I think would be a disaster. So my short term priority is defeating that plan. What you suggest will, in my view, be directly counterproductive to that goal.

We have to pick our battles, and we are not going to pick the ones you would prefer. What can I say. I don't like the way you prioritize issues either. In some cases I find it downright inexplicable. (Like, hypothetically, trying harder to convince some more or less powerless blog commenters from the minority party to support a social security plan that has no chance in hell of passing even if the entire Democratic party united behind it, instead of trying to convince your party--the one controlling the whole federal government--to hold real investigations into Abu Ghraib or give up the ties with wackjob homophobes and the efforts to amend the Constitution for the worse.) But we're two different, very stubborn people, and that's just the way it's gonna be.

The democratic party at the present time is lead by a bunch of pathetic losers who got beaten by a man who has just won his first national election, who let a bunch of second rate terrorist knock out the WTC, who started two unjustified wars and has still not brought to justice the man who masterminded the WTC attack, a man whose single biggest contributor was Ken Lay of Enron infamy and this does not even touch his domestic record which is equally if not more dismal:
First pResident to completed a term in Office with less jobs than when he started, under whom poverty rates have gone up every year and under whom the number of people with out health insurance went up, whose budget deficits make Reagan's look good.

And those are just the highlghts...

Amazing what you can get away with when your propaganda arm is FOX, GE, Time Warner and Disney.

Katherine: (Like, hypothetically, trying harder to convince some more or less powerless blog commenters from the minority party to support a social security plan that has no chance in hell of passing even if the entire Democratic party united behind it, instead of trying to convince your party--the one controlling the whole federal government--to hold real investigations into Abu Ghraib or give up the ties with wackjob homophobes and the efforts to amend the Constitution for the worse.)

It's not an unreasonable set of priorities, Katherine. Sebastian stands a better chance of convincing me, for example, that his plan for reforming social security is a good one, than he or indeed any other rank-and-file Republican stands of convincing Bush & Co to hold real investigations into Abu Ghraib.

After all, if Sebastian wanted to put the effort into creating a real workable facts-and-figures plan for reforming Social Security, and if it turned out his plan was workable, I'd admit it.

But there's no chance in hell that Bush & Co will ever run a real investigation into Abu Ghraib. Risk political embarrassment over such an unimportant and trivial matter as torturing Iraqi prisoners? Bush & Co got their 51% endorsement for torture; they don't have to care what anyone else thinks about it since they know the majority of the American electorate either didn't know, or knowing, didn't care, on November 2nd.

So, I sympathise with Sebastian's decision to prioritise discussing Social Security reform. He doesn't stand much of a chance of convincing me, especially when he isn't providing much detail, but that's more of a chance than he stands if he tries to persuade Bush & Co that their endorsement of torture was wrong.

"What's on the table is a specific plan to end social security as we know it, that I think would be a disaster. So my short term priority is defeating that plan. What you suggest will, in my view, be directly counterproductive to that goal."

Hey, I'm all for working to defeat any old plan you don't like.

Sheesh, I thought this was a blog where we discussed ideas. I didn't realize I was limited to discussing issues from the point of view as currently proposed by the Republican administration.

How do you think new ideas come into the public sphere? People discuss them. They get hashed out. Someone latches onto them. They get proposed in Congress. They get hashed out more. They pass or fail. I'm under no misapprehension that I'm a member of Congress. I'm discussing something that I think is both better and fairer than the current system and is better and fairer than the currently proposed replacement system. If you want up-to-the-moment news on Congressional votes there is RedState and dKos. I'm talking about long term changes in an expensive but important program. Some people think it doesn't need changes at all. Republican leaders are currently proposing very different changes which is why I'm thinking about it and writing about it.

But I disagree with you about how to effectively oppose privatization. I strongly suspect that Democrats will have a much better time fighting it by having an excellent and fair and safety net enabling proposal for reform than they will have by just saying no, no, no, no everytime a proposal comes up. I personally think that my proposal could form the seed for an excellent proposal. I'm under no foolish belief that will actually happen. Quite probably the proposal will not go much further than this board. But does that mean I shouldn't discuss it? Does that mean it is a stupid idea? No. It means that I am not one of the current leaders of a major party in the US. But we already knew that.

That's true--this is a coffeehouse, as von likes to say. It's just very frustrating sometimes how little connection this has to the real world. Not just because it's a small site, but because policy discussion in general just doesn't seem to happen anymore.

it's not conducive to the dialogue to paint the entire Democratic party with the votes in a local election.

Why not LJ? Are SF D's not prototypical D's? I mean if I can be tarred as a kleptocrat and someone who's really looking to put old people out of their houses when anyone with ten seconds to look into the matter knows that there are wonderful things called reverse mortgages which allow homeowners to sell their home back to the bank, who pays them a monthly mortgage until they die (making it a wonderfully fungible asset), then I think I'll feel free to tar most D's with a brush dipped in the hypocriticalness of SF D's.

I respect your right to your opinion, but since you live nowhere near SF nor spend much time talking with San Franciscans, I have to say that its not an opinion that I hold in high regard in this particular matter.

leadership of your party only, crionna, as far as I'm concerned. I gave specific names, even.

I don't think S.F. democrats are typical in general. I do think they are typical of many democrats of not voting to pay for the spending they want. But I also think that democrats and republicans are equally guilty of wanting government spending & services and not wanting the taxes needed to pay for it. It's just about universal where referendums are concerned, which is half of why government by referendum is a dumb idea (the other half is that the answer usually depends on how you phrase the question).

As far as the leadership in D.C. goes, the Democrats have a rather better record on this area in the last few decades then the Republican. State and local parties vary a lot though, I'm sure.

Barry Goldwater didn't believe in the free market with respect to African Americans.

Better hit those history books Praktike, just being helpful.

Looks like I'm going to have to go back to your original post, but from the little I see from this post it appears as though you want to make SS into a charity. Only pay the poorest? Then it becomes a charity and a gift. That certainly was not the original idea.

Look Crionna, I'm trying to be polite here, but aside from being analogized to Kim du Toit, this

perhaps D's can support some SS meastures. Probably not though. We're talking about the same people who wouldn't vote for taxes to keep SF firehouses open or preserve historic buildings or provide low income housing.

is a violation of posting rules. At any rate, if I were Dem in SF, after reading articles like this I might have voted against the "low-income housing" measure.

"Those of us in the neighborhoods that have been heavily impacted by gentrification know this ballot measure really isn't about getting housing for those who need it," Sup. Chris Daly told a crowd assembled at a Feb. 7 rally against the initiative. "If you read carefully, you'll see ... it's only going to be affordable to the wealthy ... or to two-earner families that have decent jobs but have no kids."

Longtime affordable-housing advocate Calvin Welch adds, "This is high-income housing mandated by zoning, a new iteration of gated communities. Sixty-one percent are market rate, so the lowest-income residents will be upper-middle-income people."

And while the use of votes against poorly conceived measures to beat Dems over the head with is prototypical Republican behavior, I'm not going to say that all Republicans do it. And as far as noting that one's home is not a fungible asset paints people as kleptocrats, that wasn't my intention and it seems a bit think-skinned of you to think so.

LJ,

I'm not sure I'd quote a Supervisor who curses at his own constituents, and while 39% of units being under market-rate isn't perfect, its better than nothing (I'm assuming that cause sfbg's site is pretty slow at bringing up that article for me). Perfect really is the enemy of good. And what about the 1/4 cent sales tax increase, or the 1% tax on business, or bonds for historic preservation? If it were one thing, I might understand, but voting no on every one and a yes vote to ensure that we can't sell the naming rights to a stadium that almost no one goes to anymore (sorry niner fans) to help with the cash crunch? I just can't fathom it.

Anyway, I apologize for tarring with a wide brush and letting my displeasure with another's comments jump over to my comment to you LJ. It was Jesurgislac's ignorance of reverse mortgages and indication that those who voted for the President endorse torture that sent me over the edge.

Back to SS though, if I pay the max into SS every year, my understanding is that I'll NEVER get all of it back, right? So, if I'm willing to pay into the program the amount that I won't ever see so that we can try to push the poverty rate of our elders below 12%, but think that I can do better than SS on the money I will actually receive and am willing to risk it, why exactly is that so wrong?

"Back to SS though, if I pay the max into SS every year, my understanding is that I'll NEVER get all of it back, right?"

Perhaps it depends on your income. But if so, you should probably thank Al Greenspan and was it Reagan for the deal to raise payroll taxes on the middle class at the time with the implicit since-forgotten promise to raise taxes on the rich later...

Barry Goldwater thought the Civil Rights act was unconstitutional, which would effectively deny African-Americans access to the free market in many states. I think that's what prak's talking about.

Environmentalists and city-lovers and low income housing-supporters alike: please, please, please support new housing supply in big cities as a general rule. I'm not saying I can't conceive of bad proposals, of course, but development inside cities is a good thing, and increasing supply drives down prices.

Yes, I think that was probably what prak was talking about, and that's exactly what I was responding to. "Access to the free market" means nothing more or less than the right to trade unmolested with other *willing* parties. Market freedoms simply do not include the right to force other people to trade with you against their will-- not even if those other people are refusing to trade with you on stupid grounds like racism.

Slightly out of order, but
Anyway, I apologize for tarring with a wide brush and letting my displeasure with another's comments jump over to my comment to you LJ.

No worries, I don't feel my honor has been besmirched, it's just that I have a hard enough time defending my own ideas, so throwing in lots of other people into the mix is not helpful.

You are right that the SFGuardian site takes a long time to load. When that happens, I often hit 'view page source'. I thought the article had a lot more damning detail about the proposal, and I'm not sure why the SFG would be dishonest about it.

I don't know if you or anyone else is interested in dissecting the votes on the various ballot measures, but here is the link that gives the March ballot measures breakdown, yet has the links to the articles about the Nov election in the sidebar, which I am relying on. The vote totals for the nov election are here

And what about the 1/4 cent sales tax increase, or the 1% tax on business, or bonds for historic preservation?

Well if it was for Prop K, the vote was 54-45, and I have to wonder how many Republicans voted for a tax increase.

the historic buildings vote was _57-42_. The problem is that 2/3rds was needed to pass

If it were one thing, I might understand, but voting no on every one and a yes vote to ensure that we can't sell the naming rights to a stadium that almost no one goes to anymore (sorry niner fans) to help with the cash crunch?

I note that the city attorney feels that the ballot measure for prohibiting renaming Candlestick is moot and that the park will be renamed anyway (2 stories in sidebar) I also noted that the language of the measure was deceptive, yet the vote was 54-45.

LJ,

C'mon, 57-42, 54-45? 85% voted for Senator Kerry here in SF. That means 15% were R's and so 30% that voted for Senator Kerry voted against the tax increases. I voted for them so that's at least one R vote.

Nicholas: Market freedoms simply do not include the right to force other people to trade with you against their will-- not even if those other people are refusing to trade with you on stupid grounds like racism.

I see what you're saying - that in a free market, people have the right to refuse to sell, for any reason they choose - but I disagree.

The principle of a free market is that it is governed by the law of supply and demand, which in theory influences prices toward an equilibrium. The ideal is the Pareto efficient outcome. (Which is probably impossible anyway, but there you go.)

The base requirement for a pure free market requires the total absence of any artificial price pressures such as subsidies, taxes, tariffs, or any other kind of government regulation, availability of all goods to all people if they can afford to buy them, and no artificial monopolies. (It also requires perfect knowledge about everything to be traded on the free market... you know, I just don't believe in this, it's like religion, but this is, in theory, what Barry Goldwater and other free-marketeers do believe would be desirable.)

Now, if you introduce into this ideal free market the principle that sellers and buyers can refuse to trade with each other on the grounds of race, you are introducing a principle that is anathema to the principle of the free market - that traders in the market should base their trading on anything other than what they need to buy/sell within the limits of their ability to sell/buy.

So I think Praktike has a fair point - if we regard it purely in terms of the religion of the free market. If you introduce the idea that people have a right to make decisions in the free market based on politics rather than finance, the market ceases to be free.

On Rilk, I don't know who to blame but I pay in more than I'll get out. I'll pay what it takes to keep the elderly out of the streets, but dang, let me invest the rest how i see fit eh?

That means 15% were R's and so 30% that voted for Senator Kerry voted against the tax increases. I voted for them so that's at least one R vote

The total vote was around 300,000 for each proposition so that each percentage point is 3,000 people. I know you apologized for tarring with a wide brush, but you still seem to think that the choice of 24,000 people (which would have swung both of those prop measures) is a fair way to view Democratic adherence to principals. It's your opinion, but I don't think it is all that fair.

About the free market and refusing to sell, that's an interesting thread in and of itself. I think that a reason that a lot of libertarians have migrated over to the right side of the aisle is precisely because of that thought. But given that we are talking about converting one's home equity into a cushion that enables people to survive after retirement, the pernicious problem of discrimination in the housing market makes me wonder if this is being posed ironically.

Jes, it's been a long time since I formally studied economics, but I did minor in it in college, and I honestly have to say that your interpretation is the first I've ever seen which states that players in a free market must make their decisions based on financial criteria only for the market to be and remain free.

I jotted off one of the comments listed above before leaving my office for the weekend, but even as I headed home I realized it was poorly worded and not well explained. I certainly didn't mean to question any specific person's sincerity (although I know it reads that way). Sebastian, I'm sorry for not being more careful. There's clearly lots I need to learn about this issue.

I am profoundly skeptical about all this, though. My skepticism stems from my lumping all privitization advocates with those who really are hell-bent on undoing the New Deal programs. They're out there, and their leading what Adam Cohen, writing in the NYTimes, called "A Growing Campaign to Undo the New Deal", and I truly believe they're driving the SS effort, at the very least they're enthusiastically cheering those behind it.

Jes, you're using a very strange definition of freedom-- maybe you mean efficiency? Market freedom means that sellers and buyers get to decide for themselves what criteria they should use when deciding to sell or buy. Which considerations are political and which financial is for them alone to decide. If they choose dumb criteria, over time they will lose money because of it, as when a business stupidly refuses to hire well-qualified workers because of their race and said workers then get snapped up by a less stupid employer. That creates a long-term tendency toward efficiency; but efficiency is a goal, not a rule, of the market.

Nicholas Weininger stated: "Market freedoms simply do not include the right to force other people to trade with you against their will .... not even if those people are refusing to trade with you on stupid grounds like racism."

This is one of those firmly-held-and-shall-not-be-compromised-ideological-points which are difficult to argue against because such points exist in some sort of adamantine, Platonic, fluxless state somewhere in the ether. Particularly when a majority of legislators hold these uncompromisable principles. One is left with just walking away from the restaurant unserved and sitting in the back of the bus as it takes you home across the tracks.

Or one is left with two other ways to go here. One could plead one last time that this would be a crummy society to live in and will not remain tenable without some sort of horrific upheavel so pretty please compromise your principles, TRUE as they may be. Or .....

... one could organize a massive demonstration project across the nation, extraordinarily virulent, disciplined, and utterly uncompromising, which would apply these pure principles of freedom of association in the hallowed market to say, males named Nick, or better, conservatives, religious and libertarian alike.

Forty-eight percent of the electorate enforcing an absolute, rock-hard general strike with their businesses, labor, and taxes against the 51% of the electorate and their adamantine principles would be a way of making things really crummy, for good.

This is just a thought experiment, for now.

And Nick, you took pains to point out that racism (and I assume other types of discrimination) are stupid. So I'm not casting aspersions or getting personal. Nor do I really believe that the electorate is sharply divided along the 51%/48% lines stated above -- that would be generalizing and against the posting rules.

But still, we have those adamantine principles floating in the philosophical ether and since so many want to apply them in an uncompromising way to real life, I just don't know what to do.

"get snapped up by a less stupid employer"

Nick, I realize this is a philosophical discussion. But how long, on a societal level, would this snapping up process take? I hope only until next Wednesday, just to give an arbitrary deadline.

When I look at history, all the other deadlines were missed. I don't want to do that again.

John: I understand you're not getting personal, and I thank you for it. I think we're disagreeing about means, not ends, here. We agree about the stupidity, undesirability, and general crumminess of discrimination; we agree that it makes for a nasty society.

But I hope we can also agree that not everything that's wrong, not even everything that's *very* wrong, should be illegal. If we may disagree with what someone says but defend to the death their right to say it, so also we may disagree with what someone does but defend their right to do it. There are bad things that should be fought by voluntary, not involuntary, means. I'd not like your thought-experiment boycott either, but I'd respect the right of the 48% to do it.

So the question is: is it permissible that, in order to remedy discrimination, mass coercion should be used against people who have not aggressed against anyone else's person or property? I say no; my basic individualism is, as you say, adamantine. I don't think, however, that this means it floats in the ether-- property is real, individual liberty is real; we all of us hold a few moral principles that are not amenable to compromise, and for me one of those is that each individual is an end in him/herself, not a cog in a social machine.

Nicholas, could you define what you mean by "mass coercion... against people who have not aggressed against anyone else's person or property" when you say it's an illegitimate means of remedying discrimination?

Because, if you're talking about civil rights legislation, esp. the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Accommodations Act, it would be useful to know why forcing restaurants to serve black people and forcing hotels to let rooms to black people is "coercion," but forcing black people to go without meals or hotel rooms is neither agression nor coercion.

Regarding SocSec, and how the Democrats should put forward an excellent and fair reform program, rather then just say no to GOP proposals: This position assumes that SocSec needs to be "reformed" in some dramatic fashion. But to assume this means buying into the central GOP talking point, that SocSec is in crisis. The problem with conceding that central point is, it's not true.

SocSec isn't in crisis. It's funded through 2042. A modest increase in the salary cap (from $88K to $102K) will fund it beyond that.

SocSec only goes into crisis if the GOP succeeds in plundering the trust fund for other purposes, and succeeds in drastically reducing or ending the current funding structure. In other words, SocSec only goes into crisis if the GOP succeeds in ramming through a "reform" designed to create one.

That's bad faith politics. It's dishonest politics. It has nothing to do with "saving" SocSec, and everything to do with ending SocSec as a viable program.

The GOP has done this before.

First, it uses wedge rhetoric to make citizens think their tax dollars for a particular program are being frittered away by waste and fraud. That gains them support for cutting the program's funding. They cut the program's funding to the point where the program is no longer able to function.

Step 2 is pointing out that the program no longer functions, and blaming the program itself, rather than the funding cut. This give the GOP the leverage it needs to end the program altogether.

On national and/or state levels, over the last 20 years, the GOP has used this tactic to cripple, and then eliminate, job training, mental health, general healthcare, workplace safety, anti-discrimination, and education programs. It's now using this tactic to cripple the Parks Service. It plans to use this tactic to federalize, defund, and then end HeadStart. I imagine it will use this tactic in the not too distant future to end MediCare, by blaming the Rx Drug Benefit.

The GOP has a demonstrated, proven record of bad faith dealings in governmental programs. The GOP has a demonstrated, proven record of using "reform" to eliminate non-military governmental programs.

You can only think the GOP has SocSec's best interests in mind if you ignore 20+ years of legislative history.

CaseyL: I thought I'd made that clear; the difference is property rights. Aggression and coercion involve infringement on the persons and property of others. Everyone has the right to accept or refuse others' offers of trade-- even though we may not like their reasons for such acceptance or refusal. No one has a personal or property right to force anyone else to trade with him/her.

Phil: Jes, it's been a long time since I formally studied economics, but I did minor in it in college

More than I did. But clearly, if a supposedly free market is restricted by racism, it is not a free market: a decision to refuse to trade with people on the grounds of social prejudice is a political decision to restrict the market: such a deliberately restricted market is not a true free market, nor aiming towards that goal.

Nicholas: Market freedom means that sellers and buyers get to decide for themselves what criteria they should use when deciding to sell or buy.

But if sellers and buyers are being restricted by laws outside the market, then the market is not a free market, yes? Clearly if some sellers and buyers are restricted by law from free trade, then the market isn't a free market: it's a politically controlled one. You're arguing as if the black sellers and buyers, who are not getting "to decide for themselves what criteria they should use when deciding to sell or buy", don't count. I assume that this is not your intention, but it is the basis of your argument.

I'm in agreement with CaseyL's (and Katherine's) comments regarding the intent, the methods, and the bad faith of the G.O.P. I know what I'm dealing with, and I feel like the peace negotiators in Paris during the Vietnam War: the guys across the table look normal and act normal and wear nice suits but I know the Viet Cong are digging tunnels under Saigon.

Sebastian is exempt from that generalization, of course.

Nicholas: Let's leave the real Nick and real John out of it. And instead play with the symbolic Nick and John. Let's say Nick owns a restaurant and won't serve guys named John (who are named John through no choice of their own). Let's say Nick further explains to John that not only does he not want to serve guys named John but there is an adamantine principle behind this which will not be violated, no matter what. All perfectly rational of course, and insane. John takes his money (which is just as good as everyone else's money in a free market) outside, thinking maybe Nick's got a perfectly rational point, but then realizes his access to the market has been blocked by the fact that he is named John. He gets together with all the other Johns and goes to a quarry of adamant (very adamantine rock) and breaks off enough pieces to throw through every windowpane in Nick's restaurant.

Perfectly not rational, of course, but there it is. What we have, in the real world, is two equally hard types of adamant colliding. And a crummy society. Apparently just for principle's sake, principles not to be compromised in any way through a political process, using legislative and judicial tools, in a democratic, pluralistic market.

Sort of like "Give me Liberty or give me Death" Well, O.K., if that's what you want, but there must be a compromise somewhere between the two.

A long time ago back in the mists of time, John and Yoko proposed that if everyone on the globe would just stay in bed, there would be peace with a capital P. A literally true statement on its face, but kind of unworkable after a few hours of thought. Somebody might have to get up to go to the bathroom. What if five people got up all at once to go the bathroom and stated pushing and shoving to get in -- so much for the Peace bit?

Not to mention all the other real-world problems which might result. Make no mistake about it, I love peace. But sometimes a guy's just gotta pee, so get outa my way! ;)

But, Nick, next time I get stopped for running the stop sign at the end of the street, I wish I could have you along to explain to the cop that not only my individual freedom, but my principle of individual freedom, is being egregiously violated.

Then we could go have a beer at the local tavern, if they let guys (symbolic guys)in named John and Nick.


What if five people got up all at once to go the bathroom and stated pushing and shoving to get in -- so much for the Peace bit?

Peace is only achievable with five bathrooms, obviously.

Lovely post, John, btw.

"Everyone has the right to accept or refuse others' offers of trade-- even though we may not like their reasons for such acceptance or refusal. No one has a personal or property right to force anyone else to trade with him/her."

And these would be "natural rights"?

As a matter of fact, I do have a personal right to compel you to trade with me, if your refusal is in violation of the Civil Rights Act. Where'd I get it? Same place you got your right to own property or exclude anyone from it.

Property is a human construct, defined by the laws that create it. You have no more "right" to refuse to sell to a black person because he/she is black than you have to sell heroin to the neighbor children. Or to explode nuclear devices in your yard. You certainly have no right to exclude another human being from some particular parcel of land outside of the state's grant of that right.

The practical notions of rights being unenforceable without some structure and notion aside, I am . . . distressed? Is that the word? . . . distressed by the suddenly popular notion among that there are no "natural rights" (however you want to define them -- I define them as rights that we retain simply by virtue of being human beings, and I'm a big fan of the unenumerated ones especially), that all rights are a favor granted you by the state. Unless I'm reading CharleyCarp wrong, that's what he's saying here. In which case the Constitution and the principles behind it really do become no more than a quaint relic. That's a dangerous road to go down no matter what your political persuasion.

'Natural rights' are nothing more than a highly subjective convention used by those who don't wish to or can't explain why such rights should exist.

Proponents of natural rights are, as Hume once explained, trying to derive an "ought" from an "is:"

In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a god, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find that instead of the usual copulation of propositions is and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought or an ought not. This change is imperceptible, but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought or ought not expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason ought to be given for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others which are entirely different from it.

Very interesting stuff. Here in Japan, this question is being played out in a way more similar to the natural rights of the seller rather than the rights of the buyer. I'm pretty sympathetic to the idea of society enforcing the rights of those shut out because society privileges those who run businesses etc by enforcing their rights to be paid for their goods, to be protected by police and fire etc. And society does allow certain rights of association. You are not required to invite a diverse cross section to a party at your house, you don't have to include a minority in your golf 4some and the courts will enforce those rights. This falls out naturally when we divide things into public and private spheres, so I am baffled as to why we need to invoke natural rights.

Also, to threadjack this even further, if you want to make this a fight of natural versus state granted rights, then you have got to assume that those rights are granted to _all_ human beings, not simply those who have the good fortune to have a US passport. I'm perfectly (sad to say) capable of making a logical argument that ignores the nuances and then claims that it should be my way or the hiway, but I realize in my heart of hearts that compromise is the only way and making one group happy is always going to step on some other group. Suggesting that this means that I or others view the Constitution as a 'quaint relic' when the whole document is an attempt to create a process that finds a middle ground is problematic to me.

I should state, by the way (and before I get tarred by the usual suspects) that despite my general preference for libertarian solutions, I'm a fan of the Civil Rights Act, and that the freedoms that it abridged in those who cared to hold them were more than offset by the enormous good that it accomplished.

. . . if you want to make this a fight of natural versus state granted rights, then you have got to assume that those rights are granted to _all_ human beings, not simply those who have the good fortune to have a US passport.

I'm fine with the concept, but alas my government's power to recgonize and protect those rights does not extend beyond our legally-recognized borders, for the most part. I am not the one who needs convincing -- those individuals' governments are.

I think John Thullen's notion of imagining that every name we invoke brings up a symbolic person rather than the actual flesh and blood poster and I hope you'll think of this post in the same way. While our government may not be able to enforce rights outside our borders, (though the status of Iraq and our borders raises some obvious questions), the way we treat non-citizens within our borders often seems problematic. If our symbolic Phil argues for the existence of natural rights, then anyone within the borders of the US should have those rights, not just those who are citizens. Unfortunately, a lot of right wing rhetoric is the double whammy, the invocation of libertarian principles, followed by the ignoring of those principles for those for whom it does not apply. Sorry so brief, if interested, will try and sketch out what is happening here in Japan.

Well, we're down to the natural rights vs. social constructs debate again. I must say that, whatever else it may be, the idea that we have our rights-- property and otherwise-- only at the whim of the State is not a liberal one. From the fact that the State sometimes acts to protect these rights it does not follow that the State is entitled to abrogate them at the whim of the majority.

Jes, if by "laws outside the market" you mean laws *compelling* exclusion, I'm as against any such laws as you are. But your post conflates very different phenomena. An individual voluntary decision of a market participant not to trade is not a law, and cannot be, in any way, a decision to "restrict the market". There does not exist a class of reasons for trading or not trading that are "real market" reasons while others are "political" reasons. Markets are about voluntarism, not about making decisions on the basis of some particularly market-ish set of criteria.

John, I take your point about violent response. I'm sympathetic to the motivations for these laws and I do understand their historical context. But are principles as such really to be dismissed so lightly?

Take free speech, for example. There are in several countries laws restricting various sorts of hate speech. Many of these are definitely understandable given historical circumstances and motivated by goals one can certainly sympathize with. But nevertheless we have no such laws here on the principled grounds that free speech is so important we must respect it even for those who do odious things with it. You might disagree with someone who defended that principled stand-- but would you dismiss them out of hand as hopelessly unrealistic?

Now, it may be hard for some to believe, but there are those of us who consider the right of free economic association just as crucial as the right of free speech, and similarly something that needs to be respected even for people who use it despicably. Barry Goldwater (to get back to the original spark of this discussion) was one of those, and should be respected as such. That's all I'm saying here.

Nicholas,
Many thanks for a clear and straightforward explanation. One thing I am wondering is how we separate the milieu that these ideas arose in from the ideas themselves? I don't want to accuse Goldwater of racism, but if we note that the ideas of freedom of economic association arose when blacks were demanding seats at Woolworth lunch counters, isn't there some justification for being suspicious? It seems less that some are using the idea despicably and more like the idea arose as a justification for maintaining the status quo. Perhaps I may be wrong and there has always been a strong movement for freedom of economic association, but my impression is that it is/was being asserted only in reaction to complaints.

It's a tricky thing (the idea of being required to do business with people to avoid discrimination). The simple fact of the matter is that some customers are more trouble than they are worth; I can't see my way clear to forcing a business to let someone keep coming back who causes them trouble. Also, if Bob hates Bill because Bill kept beating him up in the third grade, Bob ought to be able to throw Bill out on his butt.

At the same time, an unlimited right to refuse service also basically opens the road to massive discrimination against minority groups. And history shows us that the market will not, in fact, correct for such discrimination without governmental pressure on it.

So I can't support an unlimited right to refuse service either.

Which leaves me in a mushy middle position without a clear guideline, unfortunately.

I don't know if it is a clear guideline, but one suggestion would be that you can't refuse to serve some customers when they are behaving exactly the same as other customers you are serving. If two men dressed exactly the same come in, say I'd like today's special, you can't say I'm not going to serve the guy with the wart on his cheek because I don't like warts.

This is the field where things are currently being played out here in Japan. It began with the Anna Bortz case for those of you interested and there are several other cases at various points in the legal system.

Nicholas: An individual voluntary decision of a market participant not to trade is not a law, and cannot be, in any way, a decision to "restrict the market".

Ah, but a collective decision by white people not to trade with black people, especially when backed with social ostracism for the white people who disobey the collective, is not the same thing as an "individual voluntary decision". It is, in fact, a political decision to restrict the market - hence, such a market cannot be called a "free market".

You now appear to be wanting to regard white racism towards black people in the US as nothing but a series of individual voluntary decisions on the part of white people to treat black people badly. This seems to me to unnecessarily demonize white people who grew up in a place/time where racism was the social norm. A white person who refuses to admit black people to their hotel in a place and time when to do so would have meant social ostracism for the hotel keeper and potential financial failure for the hotel, is operating under stringent social constraints that have the effect of laws restricting the hotel keeper's right to trade freely and admit anyone who can pay to sleep in the hotel. Looked at in this way, the Civil Rights Act was a free market act, allowing voluntarism, and Barry Goldwater's opposition to it was indeed opposing the free market.

If our symbolic Phil argues for the existence of natural rights, then anyone within the borders of the US should have those rights, not just those who are citizens.

The real one agrees with that, too, providing all people with in our borders are subject to both the legal responsibilities of citizenship and its rights.

The real one agrees with that, too, providing all people with in our borders are subject to both the legal responsibilities of citizenship and its rights.

But then I think that this suggests that rights are contingent on behavior. To me, this is an even slipperier (if that's a word) slope than Sebastian's. If they truly are natural rights, as soon as a human being comes within the boundaries of the US, s/he should have them. If one argues that they have violated the law by entering the country illegally, that neglects the fact that non-American citizens can be potentially granted refugee status when fleeing persecution.

I'm not trying to catch you out here, because the middle ground is very poorly defined, but that's where I'm coming from in this.

Thanks, CaseyL. I agree entirely. In a world where the Republicans control all levels of power, and have reached that power by repeatedly distorting their intents and the effects of their actions, I see no reason to accomodate them.

BTW, Sebastian, please do not ever again put words into my mouth such as: "So let me see what you and Katherine are saying:

My approach would probably be fairer.

You don't think the Republican Party wants fairer."

I have never said your approach is fairer. Several people have pointed out very similar objections, that you are understating difficulties and overstating the advantages of your proposal. Until they are resolved, no one can possibly say whether your proposal is fairer.

Further, I never said the Republicans don't want fairer. I have said they do not want this program at all, and are surreptitiously trying to kill it. Your repeated failure to acknowledge the arguments made to you, much less to rebut them, causes me to view your proposal with even more skepticism.

Now, it may be hard for some to believe, but there are those of us who consider the right of free economic association just as crucial as the right of free speech...

Oh, we believe you. However I, for one, find it hard to understand elevating commerce to the same "adamantine" level as expression - or to the same level as personal sovereignty, which I thought libertarians also supported, and which institutionalized discrimination violates.

John Biles: I agree that bad behavior by individual Bill is sufficient reason for throwing individual Bill into the street. But I (symbolic I with unlimited power) will not permit Bob to discriminate against all Bills. Our society would not last long if all Bills were required to take responsibility for the behavior of individual Bill.

As soon as that statement is out of my mouth, my brain taps me on the shoulder and reminds me that this sort of thing happens all the time in other contexts, but I'm putting my finger in the dike, for now.

Nicholas: I don't think I am treating this issue lightly, but I can understand that you believe I am. That's O.K. Actually, I'm rather exercised by the entire issue (with great heaviosity as Woody Allen said to Diane Keaton). I thought through 200 years of arduous, unhappy U.S. history (highlights: Civil War, Civil Rights movement, etc), we (all of us) had decided to compromise a few freedoms of economic association as a way of bringing delicate equilibrium to a terrible situation with regard to race, just to use the example we're discussing here.

Turns out the question is not settled. Turns out we might reopen these questions and consider reinstituting some fuller interpretation of the right to economic assembly to the detriment of groups of people (and that could include white people).

Now, I understand you (the real Nick) are talking about "means" to an end. That society, as such, will deal with prejudice in its own way, without government abridging one freedom in favor of another. I'm just saying we (the Nation) tried that. It took too long. There was too much suffering for everyone. I don't want to do it again.

I've answered no questions, I guess.

I have a further comment, or rather experience to relate which illustrates the thorniness of this issue, but it will take time and space to do so ... I will try to get back later today and have a go at it. Can't promise, though.

But let me leave you with a little thought experiment, partly true and partly thought, just to show you that I realize there is great subtlety in this entire issue: I have a friend and bandmate, with whom I discuss race pretty regularly, who years ago had a music management business in which he auditioned the musicians for several bands, among them female front singers. Long story short, he could have hired a fine singer with a large repertoire who was black. He did not. Because he concluded that he would lose gigs (and money) among his almost completely suburban white audiences.

I argued against his decision (years after the fact) every which way. It then dawned on me that a counter-argument he could have used but did not, was that if I (WASP), for example, were to perfect the singing style of, say, James Brown (take me to the bridge, Bobby) and started auditioning for black funk bands, I'm quite sure I would not be hired even if I was the best in town. The audiences would not accept me (except for a short time as a hell of a novelty act) and the band would lose gigs and money. Probably. Who would take the chance?

So I know lots of self-selection goes on, and that we are still in the midst of the process of racial understanding. My friend chose his economic, short-term self-interest over risking his income for the sake of ground-breaking race understanding. I hate that he did. I hate the fact that I can come up with a justification.

But there it is. But I'm not taking steps backward. I'll eat where I want to (as long as I behave well) and so should everyone else.


Sorry I disappeared LJ, took Sun. off the box. Bond measures aside, K was the biz tax and it only got 46% of the the vote. I'll grant you that we needed only 12,001 people to swing to win it, but 85% voted for the Senator and 39% or 117,000, using your numbers voted, against the tax. I have a problem with that, but will let it go here.

the pernicious problem of discrimination in the housing market makes me wonder if this is being posed ironically.

Nope, just realistically. I understand that to do a reverse mortgage ya have to have a house in the first place and for unfair (heck, unlawful reasons) that's not so easy for some. My point was that you can access the equity in your house without having to move.

About time for me to wind up here, I think-- the threadjacking's gone on long enough. I'm happy to continue the discussion by email if anyone wishes; I do appreciate everyone's reasonableness and civility here, such a pleasant change from the usual tenor of blog comments.

Jes: your practical point on ostracism is well taken (BTW, I wonder if you would support the French anti-headscarf law which is defended by exactly the same argument), but a decision enforced only by social ostracism, whether "collective" or not, is not IMO a political decision. Politics is that sphere of social action concerned with the use of organized force. Social ostracism, though it can be an effective tool for good or evil, is not the same as organized force and is not properly considered a restriction on freedom. I know I may seem like a hairsplitter here, but this is an absolutely crucial philosophical distinction. Surely we disagree on the moral legitimacy of using organized force to change voluntary institutions we find obnoxious. But to clarify the nature of that disagreement we should keep the terms straight.

John: I'm sure you needn't worry. I am an anarchist extremist (extremism in the defense of liberty being, after all, no vice :-)), and even for me this issue is at the bottom of my priority scale. There are thousands-- nay, millions-- more urgent and less excusable violations of individual freedom in this country than antidiscrimination legislation, including a great many which we'd agree on. As a practical matter I doubt that in fact those laws do as much work as you think; I'd ascribe much more of the (sadly incomplete) progress we've made to the change in attitudes without which the laws never would have passed. But that's a complicated historical discussion and is perhaps for another time.

Nicholas: BTW, I wonder if you would support the French anti-headscarf law which is defended by exactly the same argument

If it is, then it's a false use of the argument. An individual's decision to wear, or not to wear, a hijab or a turban or a yarmulke, is not the same kind of decision as deciding to exclude black people from your hotel.

Social ostracism, though it can be an effective tool for good or evil, is not the same as organized force and is not properly considered a restriction on freedom.

Social ostracism frequently is an organized force: I can offer you several examples of the organized force for white racism against black people directly from the American South.

Still, as you wish to bow out, I won't tempt you further!

It's been a pleasure splitting hairs with you.

"Nicholas: BTW, I wonder if you would support the French anti-headscarf law which is defended by exactly the same argument

If it is, then it's a false use of the argument. An individual's decision to wear, or not to wear, a hijab or a turban or a yarmulke, is not the same kind of decision as deciding to exclude black people from your hotel."

That isn't how the French government describes the problem. They suggest that young Muslim girls are being pressured by their families to wear the hijab. They also suggest that some of the roving gangs exert pressure to wear it by threatening to rape Muslim girls who do not.

They suggest that young Muslim girls are being pressured by their families to wear the hijab.

And they may be right. So? I am in general a believer that it's way simpler to let children decide for themselves what they want to wear, providing it's safe/sane, but I would never be an advocate of government interference in parental control over children's clothing. Are you? Really?

They also suggest that some of the roving gangs exert pressure to wear it by threatening to rape Muslim girls who do not.

If true*, this is a serious problem. And the French government is still directing its powers in entirely the wrong direction: the wrong is gang rape or the threat of it, not whether or not a girl is wearing the hijab.

It's an argument on the level of "mini-skirts encourage rapists, the government should ban mini-skirts!"

*Not arguing that it's not true: I've read some majorly disturbing stuff about gang rape in some areas of France.

I'm not a proponent of the hijab ban. I think it is, as you say, directed almost entirely at the wrong people. It tries to deal with a symptom of the difficulty some Muslim communities have with integration into French life rather than the actual problem.

It tries to deal with a symptom of the difficulty some Muslim communities have with integration into French life rather than the actual problem.

Unusually, we appear to be in complete agreement on this. Let's quit while we're ahead.

Funny, clear, right.

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