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October 03, 2006

Comments

"Do we really want a society where the most rich and powerful are sociopaths unrestrained by the government?"

Hey! Speaking of sociopaths, I am just finishing Tuchman. Serfs got uppity, tired of dying in the richs man's wars and being taxed for tournaments, and every time yon Lord of the Manor holed up in the keep and yelled "King!!! Sire, Like over here!" A lot of serfs died after that, in fact it was the law:

Lords could kill serfs. Serfs couldn't own weapons.

I will negotiate fine with the libertarians. First thing, give up the state's monopoly on violence. They won't.

hmmph. all that work and all i get is snark. [ ;) back at you.]

in the context of the foregoing, let's take another crack at health insurance.

the practical case: every single other western country offers similar health care at a fraction of the cost. (counterarguments: see SH.) (counter-counter args: see Ezra Klein.)

the moral case: no citizen should be financially devasted by circumstances beyond their control. no citizen should have to bear the anxiety of going without insurance when they can't afford it. equal access to health care, especially in a country as wealthy as this one, is a matter of fundamental fairness.

one libertarian counterargument is essentially Dickensian -- are there no poorhouses? (eg, can't this issue be devolved to cities and volunteerism?)

{to which the answer is: well, yes. in fact that's the way the system works now. and it's rather inefficient.}

but to the extent that libertarianism is more than a consequentialist approach to government, to the extent that libertarians are making a moral claim on what government should and should not do, i'm curious what is the libertarian objection to federal universal health care insurance.

cheers,

To echo a point Donald Clarke made way up thread, part, if not the overwhelming and major part, of the reason for a lot of the gov't regulation we have today is bad behavior on the part of corporations. Antitrust laws? See Standard Oil and others. SEC? See the stock market crash of 1929. EPA? See the pollution problem that came to a head in the late 60s and early 70s.

To analogize to something I know a little more about, there's a lot of complaint by corporations and individuals these days of the complexity of the tax code. Well, a lot of that complexity came about as Congress' and the IRS' response to bad behavior (or perceived bad behavior) by taxpayers.

That's not to say that said regulation couldn't be better or more effective or less burdensome, just that it didn't appear out of no where.

I'm not sure if that's responsive to Andrew's post or not.

I think Bill Quick gets to the point pretty effectively here when it comes to questions of power.

"tarylcabot"

John Norman (Lange) fan, are we? (Don't worry, I won't make any more of it; just amused.)

Francis,

Sorry, my snark:substance ratio is terribly poor.

If you'll forgive me, given the Hell that broke loose here last time I talked about universal health care, I'm going to pass for the time being on addressing that question. I think I've kicked over enough ant hills for one day.

Ugh,

I am not of the belief that businesses are somehow angelic creations that would do naught but good were it not for the guvmint. I am of the opinion that any agglomeration of power is likely to lead to abuse, because people who like to abuse power will be drawn to those positions. I just think it's possible to mistrust power whether it is concentrated in government, business, or anything else.

"i'm curious what is the libertarian objection to federal universal health care insurance."

Retirement and health care should be a contractural cost of doing business. SS and Medicare are simply cost-shifting from capital to labor. He who starts a business, let him talk with organized and free labor.
Get government out of the way.

That means sympathy and general strikes, by the way.

"Retirement and health care should be a contractural cost of doing business."

Problems.

Andrew: my slip on negative externalities was purely the result of my not reading carefully, which is probably why I shouldn't post right before I have to head off to a meeting. Apologies. I didn't mean to put words in your mouth. Also, earlier, when I was talking about what I, and I think a bunch of Democrats, think about government, I only meant to be doing that; not to be making any implicit point about where you might or might not stand.

Myself, I think that it's a mistake to be for or against things like government intervention or regulation in the abstract. I would loathe, and vehemently protest, government regulation of my grocery shopping. That's exactly the sort of thing I think people do much, much better, and even if they didn't, they have the right to make as many mistakes as they want. It's their life. On the other hand, I see lots of reasons to support the FDA, and also to support any effort to make it do its job better, more efficiently, and in ways that are removed from political interference.

And then there are lots of tricky intermediate cases. Some concern the provision of public goods -- the interstate highway system, Central Park, air traffic control. I tend to evaluate these case by case, at least aspiring not to assume that government is or is not the best way to do this. I think there are some general things to say about cases in which government is good or bad at this stuff: cases in which harmonization on some good option matters more than each person having the right to choose the best option for him- or herself, for instance, are more likely to strike me as good cases for government, as are cases in which the point is to provide something for the public, which the public can choose whether or not it wants. (Thus, having air traffic controllers who can operate together, rather than a million different disparate solutions to the 'where should my airplane go?' problem, seems to me to make air traffic control a good case; having NY build Central Park if the public supports it seems to me a case of the second.)

Then there are safety questions in areas where people could in principle inform themselves, but it's difficult, either because the criteria are murky or because the subject matter is complex. (The safety of medical devices, for instance.)

Then, the whole knotty question of whether it's OK to mandate that the default in some area be X rather than Y, where people are still perfectly free to choose Y. (E.g., requiring that the default be that people are enrolled in retirement plans, which they can then opt out of.)

It all makes me think: this is best done on a case by case basis, given everything we can find out about how a good policy might be implemented, what non-governmental policies are available and how they would work, etc. The yardstick I tend to use is: what has the most beneficial effect on the set of choices available to people? (Where this is admittedly rough, of course, but the restrictions on choice that matter most to me are those that rule out not just one specific option, but whole masses of them. Losing the ability ever to play at Carnegie Hall is bad; but if I were designing policy, I'd prefer a policy that somehow ruled that out to one that involved people losing the use of their legs, or the right to choose their profession.)

But this means: the yardstick is not primarily the rights of corporations, though the right of people to do what they want with their money matters a lot to me, as do the contributions of the market to personal autonomy.

PS: don't go. I get a lot more than annoyance from what you write. A good thing too, since if I got only annoyance, I wouldn't get anything at all.

Destroying Workers Right to Organize ...Seeing the Forest

"...removed union organizing rights for millions more workers - this time for nurses by declaring them to be "supervisors" - management." Nurses are management?

I just think it's possible to mistrust power whether it is concentrated in government, business, or anything else.
Is anyone arguing otherwise, Andrew?

Perhaps (like others?) I'm not in the mood for this sort of discussion today, but I do want to assure you that I don't dislike you and I appreciate your posting here.

I'd like it even better if you weren't so quick to interpret misunderstandings as intentional distortions, and if you were a little more tolerant of the snark that can be part of web discussions, but I fully understand that these problems are exacerbated (on all sides) when those involved aren't really sure of how antagonistic the others are.

I'm also feeling some sympathy for Charles Bird, and the way little incendiary phrases he inserted into his posts got people to respond to those phrases and ignore the rest of what he said, though I haven't previously seen myself as a particularly incendiary fellow.

I think I just found the new tag line for my blog: Andrew Olmsted: more than annoyance. :)

More seriously, I concur that things need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. I prefer to see the default position to be against regulation, naturally, but I think there are certainly many cases where government regulation is of great value. The problem is predicting which those are in advance.

I'd be a lot happier with government in general if laws were required to have a sunset provision, so we could really examine them and only keep those that worked generally as intended. Of course, that assumes we could find a Congress that actually examined the legislation put before it, so that probably goes in the pony pile.

I just think it's possible to mistrust power whether it is concentrated in government, business, or anything else.

Agreed.

I am not of the belief that businesses are somehow angelic creations that would do naught but good were it not for the guvmint.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to attribute this view to you through my comment (though that should have been expected given that I was commenting on the thread), and more of a general comment on whiny business executives I've heard complain about gov't regulation as if there's no real reason for it (which obviously can be the case in certain situations). Just seemed appropriate on the thread.

I'm in general agreement with you that the default position should be, when in doubt, less gov't regulation/power/etc.

I think maybe the dissonance here is that weakening the power of gov't, as you're suggesting (or seeming to suggest), thereby strengthens the relative strength of other concentrations of power, e.g., Microsoft/people with guns/money, such that while the other concentrations might not have the ability to arrest you/imprison you now, there's no reason why they couldn't if the gov't's monopoly on force is weakened (which I know you're not suggesting). See Blackwater.

If that's incoherent, well, I'm on a conference call.

KC,

I shall endeavor to be less touchy in the future.

Hil: fortunately (or not), there's a tremendous unseen regulatory system underlying your grocery shopping.

Zoning laws, labor laws, price supports, anti-trust laws, trade laws, food inspection laws, laws regulating slaughterhouses, pesticide laws ... etc.

And, for the record, I don't think anyone here dislikes me, is out to get me, etc. (So if you are, you're in perfect position to catch me by surprise.)

I do, however, often feel like Audie Murphy facing off with the Germans when I make a post. ;)

Bob M: how does your model address bankruptcy?

Re:Gary at 8:24

Some problems, not insurmountable. Retirement and health care money should be as fully and safely invested as possible, and completely protected. Also, workers should be first in line in bankruptcy or divestiture allocations.

The 50s and 60s had a much higher demanded investment in pensions and health care than now. It might make products more expensive;I say might, because that is a huge increase in savings, which helped the economies of that era.

There is no need for kids to pay for their parent's retirement(one way or another) and so run into bubble problems.

There possibly does need to be one and only one union, closed shop, with all laborers members. How could one object to such a concentration of power, when it includes almost everybody? Such a union would be distinguishable from a gov't only in very interesting ways.

"Bob M: how does your model address bankruptcy?"

Pension and health care funding are not corporate assets.

About ObWi in general: a few little notes:

First, I really think Katherine was right, way back when, when she said that one of the things that drove the shift to the left among commenters was that we have always gotten more links from liberal blogs. I don't think this is largely a function of who gets linked to, and what their politics are, either: I think that if you exclude Charles' cross-links to and from his RedState posts, all of our commenters have always gotten more links from liberals. And of course the fact that Katherine and I blog on torture, which should not be a partisan issue at all, also played a role there.

The people who end up commenting, I assume, had to find this place somehow, and presumably, that's through a link. If the vast majority of our links come from liberal sites -- and they do -- then an awful lot of our commenters will necessarily be liberal.

I think we all just have to remember how that can come across: as all of us piling on, rather than each of us individually having a thought.

We do need new posters. I'll put up a thread asking for nominations, from anywhere. But no one should assume that we haven't been asking any.

Also of course, general and sympathy strikes can provide some restraint on outsourcing and wage arbitrage.

The people who end up commenting, I assume, had to find this place somehow, and presumably, that's through a link. If the vast majority of our links come from liberal sites -- and they do -- then an awful lot of our commenters will necessarily be liberal.

Interesting observation. I don't recall how I found ObWi, though if I could do a good search to find my first 8-10 comments or so I probably could figure it our (any way to do this?). Anyway, I think generally the left-wing commenters here are generally reasoned and well put, though the large number of them can be overwhelming.

It would be better if there were more right-leaning posters/commenters (more from Von/Seb please!), and I myself could put up a good right-leaning comment or two here and there if I wasn't utterly horrified by the Bush administration and its enablers in Congress (I'd like to stake my claim as a founding member of the "Republicans-in-hiatus" club; we serve donuts and beer at all meetings, or would if we had any), though I sense myself being pulled (or is it pushed?) more and more towards the left side of the aisle as time goes on.

There have been times and places in the US where corporations have themselves effectively been the
government. Railroad towns, coal towns, mill towns --
most things we now think of as government services
were provided by locally-dominant companies.
The history of such times and places
does not make me long for a libertarian utopia in which government power is replaced by
private agencies. Look up the Pinkertons, and the private security actions
taken against the IWW organizers.

That is why Democrats tend to rely
on government for the apparatus of
civil society -- private agencies
evolve toward tyranny very rapidly.
We rely on government to restrain them precisely because we have tried not doing so and found it
worse than the alternative.

Shoot folks, y'all don't have that many or different commenters than some other places. It is still a small community. You just have some very talkative obstinate and irritating commenters.

Lucky I'm around to provide contrast.

"Look up the Pinkertons, and the private security actions
taken against the IWW organizers."

Homestead Strike

Workers can take care of themselves. These guys took care of the Pinkertons. Capital needs government violence.

Jesus H F Christ, can we have one thread that doesn't get bogged down with what-did-you-really-mean and you-said-that-wrong and I-know-what-you-said-but-I-choose-not-to-interpret-it-that-way pettifoggery??

I don't blame Andrew for sometimes wanting to bag the whole thing. I'm getting sick of these pointless exercises in pendatry for its own sake, and the willful misinterpretations for, well, I have no idea what the point of those is.

Back on topic:

Both libertarianism and government work best in a Platonic universe where the private sector doesn't have a monopoly (de facto or de jure) on essential goods and services and where politicians are sincerely interested in the common good.

Since we don't live in a Platonic universe, we have to improvise.

I believe it's better to do that improvising within a structure of governmental control and regulation, simply because the level of Platonic perfection doesn't need to be quite so high as it does within a libertarian culture. Which is a fancy way of saying it's easier to fix what's wrong with government than it is to fix what's wrong with the private sector, esp. when the private sector has been entirely taken over by major corporations.

That's the most basic difference: government is intrinsically responsible to people in a way corporations aren't. The responsiveness is built into the basic structure, as it is not in the private sector.

People can't organize to vote the corporation's officers and directors out of office. They can't petition a corporation to investigate itself (say, for instance, if it's been dumping toxins in a pit that leaks into the water table); nor, if they know the corporation's been doing just that, can people realistically demand the corporation stop the dumping, remediate what's already been dumped, and petition for restitution for the damage already done.

That is, people "can" do those things - but only when they have a government there to make laws, enforce laws, and enforce penalties for breaking the laws. Governments do such things because people demand them.

What recourse does libertarianism offer as an alternative to government?

The problem is predicting which those are in advance.

Under the current system, no one tries to predict in advance what regulations will be needed. Each arises from a particular situation that has either already happened or is directly on the horizon.

This, to me, has always been the biggest problem with libertarianism -- and then ultinmately with any kind of alliance between Democrats and libertarians. When we start talking about what exact parts of government we can agree to get rid of, it seems to me that the conversation is destined to get quite hostile quite fast. OK, maybe we can agree to various cuts in what we can agree is 'corporate welfare.' But doing so would require tremendous effort to overcome the entrenched interests of the beneficiaries, and neither side is going to end up content with the results of those efforts: in themselves they might be fine, but they're not going to be nearly enough.

One area where I see a real clash, also, is in federalism. In my view, the federal government has to be strong enough to protect the individual from encroachments by the states. Those who would default to 'no regulation' need, it seems to me, to say whether they mean no federal regulation, no federal or state regulation, or an affirmative federal dictate (an occupation of the field) that there be no state regulation. Obviously there are going to be situations where each of these options is preferable, and for that reason, I'm quite gunshy about 'default positions.' Except for the rights of the individual person agfainst intrusion by the government.

So, Charley, what is your position on minimum wage laws?


> Workers can take care of themselves.

sometimes. however, in this pointless duel of anecdote
(I assume neither of us has data)
I offer:
child labor.
twelve hour work days.
dangerous machinery that maimed thousands needlessly.
the triangle shirtwaist fire.
the record of companies like
United Fruit and Exxon Mobil in places where there has been less government constraint.
Bhopal.

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.

Huh? I'm honestly not sure how to respond to this. If you have such a restrictive view of "power" I'm frankly shocked that you believe corporations have much power at all.

Or do you? Am I arguing with someone who doesn't believe that corporations have much power? I may have gotten completely confused about your position.

More concerning dependency ratios.

Gary, I really haven't given you an adequate answer, but it is a very complicated subject.
There are other arguments for UHC, but basically if the money isn't saved, the kids will pay. If it is saved privately, the investments must be bought in order to provide cash. The economics is complicated.

I can't say what is their plan, but China has a private savings of around 50%, gov't reserves that other nations are screaming are too large, and a pegged yuan. I would suggest they are preparing for the dependency ratio adjustment by limiting current consumer spending with fiscal and monetary policy.

We could do, or could have done the same.

Thanks for the response, Bob. But re this: "Retirement and health care money should be as fully and safely invested as possible, and completely protected."

How do you feel about the observation that insurance and investments are two very different, rather antithetical, things? (I'll elaborate if necessary.)

Digressing to the various mentions of the IWW in this and the other thread in recent days, I used to know a lifelong Wobbly organizer, actually, who went back to the Forties (died a few years ago, though).

"There have been times and places in the US where corporations have themselves effectively been the
government. Railroad towns, coal towns, mill towns --
most things we now think of as government services
were provided by locally-dominant companies."

This is exactly one of the points I'm being too busy elsewhere, and too offput, to go into with Sebastian just now.

But I have various others.

Sebastian, I don't think it makes much sense to talk about a government's power to do clearly illegal things -- at that point you're really talking about ability of individuals to abuse the power given to them by government. It's enough for your point to say that the government has the peculiar power to variously fine, incarcerate, or kill people who don't follow its pronouncements, to the extent that the law allows.

"There have been times and places in the US where corporations have themselves effectively been the
government. Railroad towns, coal towns, mill towns --
most things we now think of as government services
were provided by locally-dominant companies."

And they were so nice people wrote songs about them. I think you guys are really exaggerating the problem.

Ken,

OK, let's talk about something that is uneqivocally legal. I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm a lot more comfortable with a dangerous company than I am with the government. I'm sure that could change if we went too far in the other direction, but that's hardly what I'm advocating.

I really don't understand the way this conversation about "power" has gone. One of the most ooggah-booggaa companies in the world (Microsoft or Wal-Mart) would have a lot more trouble getting away with coming into your house and killing you than your average podunk sheriff. And if they could get away with it, the method they would use would have to involve corrupting the government. Government complicity would be almost certainly necessary. So what in the world are you guys so afraid of.

well, since Radley Balko has without question already saved the life of a man on death row ("hat tip" seems insufficient), maybe his yeoman's work on out-of-control police forces will finally build a backlash movement, in which communities give their police oversight boards more authority to review arrests and punish those where excess force is used.

What recourse does libertarianism offer as an alternative to government?

As alluded to above, one could start by getting rid of entirely reconceiving limited liability. In any case, again this misperception that libertarians are anarchists. They're not. Please stop pretending that they are.

Andrew, instead of linking to Tennessee Ernie Ford, I suggest you maybe rent Matewan. As long as we're letting popular culture rather than, oh, heck, the historical record guide our narrative of company towns, that one's a bit more realistic.

Thanks, Andrew. My enthusiasm had been flagging, but you reminded me of what it's all about.

Phil,

That was a joke. At least, I don't really consider 'I owe my soul to the company store' to be much of an endorsement of company towns.

Sebastian, are you subject to such a failure of imagination that breaking, entering and killing are the only types of power you can conceive of?

I mean, how about the ChoicePoint debacle from last year? Where the personal financial data of nearly 150,000 people was delivered into the hands of scammers and identity thieves? And management knew about it for months but didn't tell people? And sold a bunch of stock in the meantime? And then tried to cash in by contacting those same people for costly fraud-protection programs? And how companies like ChoicePoint compile all this data on you all the time, much of it without your knowledge and permission, and sell it to people you might not want to have it? No, no power imbalances there.

Let's not even go into Enron.

Good point, Phil. Government can only come into my house and kill me. Corporations can take away my pension. I can see clearly now where the greater threat lies.

OK Andrew, granted that I was thinking more along the lines of criminal punishments and forgot about the power granted to police to shoot people who are seen as threatening. But then you might as well say that we all have the power to shoot people, since if we do it in self-defense there's a good chance we'll go free.

Andrew,

Just out of curiosity, is libertarianism widespread in the military? Now that I think about it, it seems like kind of a subversive philosophy for a putative instrument of government oppression. =)

OTOH, I can see how exposure to bureaucracy coupled with exposure to guns might make one very suspicious of a bureaucracy with guns!

Andrew, the notion of police being able to bust into one's home legally only really obtains if you live in a single room duplex on the wrong side of the tracks. On the other hand, minorities have to use the tactics of the civil rights movement to deal with corporations and environmental pollution.

"Government can only come into my house and kill me."

Lol. Corporations never cause deaths, including in homes. One word comes to mind "contamination." Others follow.

But, I will leave things to the verbose ones.

I should have also noted that it is not simply minorities but a class based division as well, just to head off one potential misunderstanding.

"And they were so nice people wrote songs about them. I think you guys are really exaggerating the problem."

Distracted by Veronica Mars, I can't tell: it's hard to believe you're not kidding, but I'm not really following the joke.

You can't be misreading the song (or that ignorant), and not kidding, but then it's hard to reconcile that with "Government can only come into my house and kill me" and, you know, companies actually killing people. As in outright murder with guns and clubs and such, which happened a lot.

(Let alone via toxic waste, events like the Triangle fire, industrial accidents out of indifference, etc.)

I've composed, typed, and backspaced over several hundred characters, none of which conveyed anything near what I wanted.

So, this is all that's left. I'm still laughing inside, but I don't think I can explain why.

"One of the most ooggah-booggaa companies in the world (Microsoft or Wal-Mart) would have a lot more trouble getting away with coming into your house and killing you than your average podunk sheriff."

Yes, Sebastian, that's because we've had a hundred and fifty odd years of organized labor to stop mass murder by company thugs.

It used to be not uncommon, back before we had these awful unions.

"Government complicity would be almost certainly necessary. So what in the world are you guys so afraid of."

Even if we assumed arguendo that that first sentence was true, I have utterly no idea how it leads to the second.

"That was a joke. At least, I don't really consider 'I owe my soul to the company store' to be much of an endorsement of company towns."

Ah. (Now distracted by taping Boston Legal and watching Smith; while reading, of course.)

Just as a sidenote, I've been supporting another faculty at my uni for an international conference on Minamata studies, and I pass on this page about Eugene Smith, who was beaten up by men hired to break up a demonstration against the Chisso company, which effectively ended his career. I don't think it is Japanese exceptionalism that makes Chisso behave the way it did.

Sorry, I've been doing other things. I guess I'm OK with minimum wage laws. I think we've given government (at both the limited and general levels) the power to impose them, and I think that as a society we can chose to do so. It's an intrusion, to be sure, but not into what I would consider a fundamental aspect of individual autonomy. That is, it's an intrusion I'd measure on a rational basis test, and I think that it can rationally be justified.

I'm not troubled that someone would disagree with me on this. I think, though, that while such a person might have much in common with me on other subjects, their desire to eliminate the minimum wage, and mine to raise it, are going to collide.

Well, I can promise libertarians to be pretty good about objecting to the government ahooting them in the head, breaking into their house, etc. Raising their taxes and banning smoking, though, I'm soft on.

These coercive powers of government--the power to imprison, the power to kill--are just *not* especially well correlated to the size of the federal budget or the length of the Federal Register. Not within the range that's debated in the United States.

You can say the government is worse than Microsoft, but really, could the government have singlehandedly screwed up initial apostrophes throughout the world? The Colbert Report just had a graphic reading "McCain-Lucifer '08" and, as is usually the case nowadays, thanks to the influence of Microsoft Word's so-called smart quotes, the apostrophe was upside down (making it an opening single quote). Then I go over to Washington Monthly and there's a big graphic reading "Showdown '06" with the same problem.

I'm sure Gary knows what I'm talking about.

I actually hadn't noticed the graphic, but, yeah, that's not punctuation; I don't know what it is, but it's not punctuation. Odd random graphics, I'd have to call it.

Because I'd have to be rude if I thought it was intended to be punctuation.

My own preoccupation was with calling Charles Peter out for endorsing torture.

This has been a truly interesting discussion --kudos all around.

Andrew or Sebastian (and anyone else arguing the libertarian side against governmental intrusion), I'd like to see how you believe a government with fewer powers would deal with something which was heavily reported in broadcast news, but generally ignored in the blogs I read -- last month's e. coli contamination of the packaged spinach supply. In a world without an FDA to use coercive powers to investigate the cause of the contamination and to use other coercive powers to cause the remaining spinach on store shelves to be destroyed rather than re-sold, how would you expect to see the outbreak of food poisoning by hundreds of people in states across the country handled?

If your response is based on the incentives to burb such behavior through civil litigation, please consider whether the individual who was sickened could expect to be able to convince a judge or jury that the cause of his illness was food that was contaminated (as opposed to the hygiene of the kitchen in which it was prepared)? Would the civil litigation process lead to a determination in each case that the spinach was the cause among the multiple foods eaten? Would it do so in a suffiicently timely manner to prevent far more deaths than occurred? Would it do so in a sufficiently efficient manner as to prevent the multiple plaintiffs' suits from being overwhelmed by the deeper pockets of the various food sellers and suppliers, and the suits settled for nuisance value, rather than providing a real incentive for the food suppliers to change their practices?

If your response is based on the incentives to burb such behavior through civil litigation, please consider whether the individual who was sickened could expect to be able to convince a judge or jury that the cause of his illness was food that was contaminated (as opposed to the hygiene of the kitchen in which it was prepared)?

That overlooks the fact that one of the most important goals of corporation is to institute "Tort Reform", pretty much guaranteeing that even if you won the case, the losers wouldn't have to pay at most a minimal penalty for the damages caused.


PS.

In my limited experience, it's pretty much guaranteed that the people who call themselves Libertarians are well educated upper middle class individuals who have rarely if ever been hungry or homeless and don't believe that they ever will be.

the losers wouldn't have to pay at most a minimal penalty for the damages caused.

the losers would not have to pay any damages or at most a minimal penalty for the damages caused.

"...that's because we've had a hundred and fifty odd years of organized labor to stop mass murder by company thugs."

For the record, I am aware that most of my arguments above are more applicable to 2nd stage capitalism than the late-stage capitalism the US is currently in. Although conditions will overlap, and pockets and segments remain in underdevelopment, etc.
And late stage capitalism is global.

But we aren't gonna be successfully organizing the nurses and fast-food workers and recievables clerks. And there are theoretical models to explain why, he muttered darkly.

"Government can only come into my house and kill me" and, you know, companies actually killing people. As in outright murder with guns and clubs and such, which happened a lot."

Ok, so I can't use illegal activity by government as examples of government danger but you can use illegal activity by individuals and corporations as examples of why they are dangerous. How does that work? This is why the discussion is so difficult--you feel free to make objections and then do exactly the thing you complain about.

And I will note again that in order for corporations to get away with murder with guns and clubs, they need to have governmental complicity in avoiding investigation--at least if they were to do it on any large scale.

Good point, Phil. Government can only come into my house and kill me. Corporations can take away my pension. I can see clearly now where the greater threat lies.

For someone who stamps his feet about being misunderstood, you stand on unsteady ground here, Andrew. The point is not that corporations are a greater threat than government (I'm the libertarian here, dammit), but that corporations can and often do pose an actual threat to individual freedom and security, contra Sebastian.

I suggest, in the meantime, you don't go out of your way to mischaracterize others' arguments if you're going to expect that people don't do it to you.

In my limited experience, it's pretty much guaranteed that the people who call themselves Libertarians are well educated upper middle class individuals who have rarely if ever been hungry or homeless and don't believe that they ever will be.

One data point against. Induction 0, Phil 1.

Welcome back, Phil.

Andrew: 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.

Ah. Okay.

No. I don't dislike you personally. Perhaps I should have said this sooner. I disagree with you politically rather a lot, but I find political disagreement, either in real life or online, doesn't correlate with personal like/dislike. I disagree with Slartibartfast politically, but like him personally: I agree with DonQ politically, but dislike him personally.

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.

I come across, in writing, as abrasive. I've noted (FWIW) that people object to that abrasiveness a lot more when they know I'm a woman than when (as for a couple of years when I first adopted the handle) they assume I'm male. And, FWIW, people who know me in RL (such as my own dear parents) have sometimes murmured that if they didn't know I was really nice, kind, softly-spoken, love cats, and bake excellent cakes, they would read my letters to the papers or such and think I was sharp, hard-edged, and mean. And these are people who remember me when I was a babbling infant underfoot, and for whom I make birthday cakes on a regular basis. People who know me only as a voice online know me better. ;-)

So, look, I don't mind getting abrasive back. Attack my opinions. Tell me I've misunderstood you completely - when I do, I prefer to be told so.

But I hate personal attack: I try not to indulge in it (if I have personally attacked you in the past, I apologize for it) and I don't like people who do it. To my mind, sticking to assailing each other's opinions, and avoiding insulting personal comments, is a large part of what makes Obsidian Wings one of the best blogs.

If you care to write a post outlining the principles of libertarianism (a concept that I'm afraid I get primarily as "Government is bad!") I'll read it with due care and attention.

And I'll try not to read your posts pre-coffee. ;-)

Andrew -

A few comments.

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

This is not far off. Democrats are comfortable with, and encourage, a robust role for government in civil life.

The flip side of this is what appears to be a core conservative belief -- government is a bad thing. The corollary to this belief is that government should be weak, and limited in power.

I consider the conservative position to be based on a fundamental fallacy.

What makes governments oppressive is not whether they are weak, or strong. It is not whether their scope of operation is broad, or narrow. What makes governments oppressive, or not, is the degree to which they are transparent, responsive, and accountable.

The US Constitution was not crafted to make government weak. That was, in fact, considered and rejected. It was crafted to make government transparent, responsive, and accountable.

There are many weak and limited governments in the world that are insanely oppressive, and which make their citizens lives a living hell.

There are many societies in the world whose governments are weak and limited, and which for that reason are violent and chaotic.

Think twice about what you wish for.

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

When people say that corporations are too powerful, they are virtually never talking about being forced to buy something they don't want.

That is not the issue.

When people say that corporations are too powerful, they mean that corporations are able to influence public policy in ways that benefit them and their interests, to the detriment of a broader public interest.

That is the issue. It is, in fact, an enormous one, and "Oh, please" is a naive and inadequate response.

A simple case in point: where my parents live, the local government recently passed a law stating that everyone with a septic tank would have to get the tank inspected annually. Interestingly enough, there is only one company in their town that inspects septic tanks. That company isn't forcing my parents to use their services, however: the local government is.

No, it's not.

The government is not telling anyone to buy anyone's services. It is not mandating who should inspect septic tanks. It is not preventing anyone else from opening new septic tank inspection businesses in your town, nor is it preventing people in your town from calling the septic tank inspector two towns over to come and do the job.

Anyone could open another inspection business. Perhaps they would do quite well with it, in which case one happy side effect of this legislation was to create new opportunities for small business. Or, the citizens of your parent's town could decide to have their town hire a septic tank inspector and make that service a public function.

That's their choice.

What the government is saying that your parents have to have their septic tank inspected.

Why would they do this? Because the effluent from septic tanks leaches into groundwater, which finds its way into public waterways and, more often than not, drinking water.

My guess is that, like many towns, your parent's town is increasing in population density, and/or that as the housing stock ages septic systems degrade. My guess is that this law was passed to address a real and concrete issue, which is to say, human crap and its byproducts in public waterways.

I'll even go so far as to speculate that, as in so many similar cases, your parent's local government did not eagerly embrace the idea of creating new legislation to address this, but had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. Perhaps not, but in that case they are the exception.

I applaud your parent's town for passing such a law, because it guarantees the availability of a vital public resource for everyone. Sounds like a good and appropriate government function to me.

I'm sorry that it will cost your folks a few bucks, but then again they have been externalizing the real cost of handling their human waste onto public resources for, most likely, some number of decades. The bill has come due.

To make a long story short, I find your position not only wrong, but not very clearly thought through, to the point of being naive. Unfortunately, it's also a common one, and a destructive one.

Please think longer and harder about this.

Thank you

Sebastian -

There are a vast number of instances where transparency would allow individuals to regulate corporate behavior much more flexibly than governments.

Where does the transparency come from?

"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."

Well said.

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.
Seb: the entire history of capitalism shows us that neither individuals nor the markets can or will ensure that transparency to begin with. That's why the corporations need to be regulated by the government - to make sure companies aren't hiding things from us.

Also flexibility isn't always a good thing - markets, like most people, have very short memories and are subject to selection bias. In the good times they become less careful, and even more so when there are fewer investment opportunities. They forget, or choose to ignore, what happened last time there was a housing market bubble or a commodity price increase, in search of higher yield. But the regulators take longer to forget, except to the extent they are lobbied by companies.

markets, like most people, have very short memories and are subject to selection bias. ... But the regulators take longer to forget

Regulators are people. Govt employees are just as self-serving as employees of Exxon. People who cannot make good choices as consumers (and so need govt) can't make good choices as voters (when choosing that govt).

I got one for you. If businessman A gives $$ to politician B to change govt policy, is that business corrupting a pure govt or a govt agent extorting money from businessmen?

The defense of govt here is the same as the answer evangelicals give about why there is evil in a world created by a good God. Evil is caused by individual free will and not the fault of their god (or the govt). Govt, like God, isn't corrupt, only rebellious individuals are.

The thinking is that once we stop mere individuals from having the power to stand in govt's way (laws determined by unelected judges and bureaucrats, campaign finance reform, etc), then our govt will finally be pure and holy. I have to call BS.

Sebastian, thank you for your response.

"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.

I agree that transparency would allow easier regulation by individuals. That said, I still think that government would do a better job, even then. Most of the time, I don't even check with the BBB before dealing with some company. Perhaps I'm unusually lazy or careless or both, but I suspect I'm closer to the norm than a citizen who'd take advantage of the transparency you advocate as a way to regulate. It's good to make that option available, but I don't expect it to get used.

Do you disagree? Do you think transparency would be used by individuals to regulate corporations better than government could?

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

This depends on what you mean by regulated.

Well, yes, but it was an intentionally vague statement. I think morinao did a fine job of making a short list of areas that might or might not need regulation. I don't find a lot to disagree with in what you wrote further, except that I don't think the corporations should be allowed to price however they like. I'm thinking of monopolies and predatory lenders here.

Thanks again for your response.

I don't understand where multiple people got the idea that I think transparency in corporations is an area government shouldn't be involved in.

I wrote (in the same comment where I later label the idea "transparency"): "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."

I don't even check with the BBB before dealing with some company. Perhaps I'm unusually lazy or careless or both, but I suspect I'm closer to the norm than a citizen who'd take advantage of the transparency you advocate as a way to regulate. It's good to make that option available, but I don't expect it to get used.

Do you disagree? Do you think transparency would be used by individuals to regulate corporations better than government could?

I strongly disagree. You don't need very many people to actively use the transparency before the word gets out.

Rights of corporations should be an oxymoron. Despite the Supreme Court decision that rendered them as legal individuals, they're creatures formed by the law, and should have no more rights than the law chooses to give them. Which should be much less than they have now.

As for corporate power, libertarian writer Tibor Machan has argued that we should privatize everything humanly possible--roads, parks, schools, public spaces, etc.--so that when the owner decides what science should be taught, or who can march in the annual parades, there's none of that nasty negotiating and protesting the decision and (shudder!) democracy, because it's private property, and you gotta do what the owner says.

I'm not claiming this as Andrew's position, only noting that I think it opens up a world of abusive power with minimal recourse.

Re-reading this thread, Andrew said a very interesting thing far above:

"More seriously, I concur that things need to be taken on a case-by-case basis. I prefer to see the default position to be against regulation, naturally, but I think there are certainly many cases where government regulation is of great value. The problem is predicting which those are in advance."

As CharleyCarp pointed out in response, most regulation arose out of specific documented abuse which companies engaged in and fought every step of the way. So it isn't a matter of predicting what regulation is needed in advance, but responding once it is apparent that regulation is needed.

A good example could be maximum hours laws. If you read the Volokh Conspiracy, you might see an occasional effort to rehabilitate (as part of their "restoring the lost Constitution" movement) Lochner v. New York, a 1905 Supreme Court decision which overturned a state law limiting the hours worked by bakers to 60 per week on the grounds that it interfered with the employees' freedom to bargain for longer hours if they so chose. I have fortunately worked significantly more than 60 hours only in infrequent weeks in my legal career, which is far less physically strenuous than being a baker.

I have enormous trouble believing that anyone would voluntarily agree to work greater hours on a regular basis in a physically demanding job, unless they were being paid so little that this was the only way they could support themselves. And yet this strikes me as precisely the sort of world libertarians view as not merely a necessary evil, but actually desirable.

I got one for you. If businessman A gives $$ to politician B to change govt policy, is that business corrupting a pure govt or a govt agent extorting money from businessmen?

The defense of govt here is the same as the answer evangelicals give about why there is evil in a world created by a good God. Evil is caused by individual free will and not the fault of their god (or the govt). Govt, like God, isn't corrupt, only rebellious individuals are.

I have no idea what your point is, or what relation it bears to my post. I'm not a libertarian, but I'm only marginally more statist than, say, Ed Brayton. I certainly don't think government is pure. I just think it's fallible in different ways to markets, and that it can consequently act as a corrective in certain circumstance. Markets are driven overwhelmingly by short term considerations, as are individual politicians, whereas bureaucracies have longer institutional memories. For instance the current debate about the implementation of new bank capital adequacy rules in the US is being driven mainly by conflict between the FDIC's fear of a new savings and loan type scandal and banks' and politicians' fear of reduced competitiveness. Now this isn't to say that the FDIC is definitely right in its particular stance, or that bureaucracies are inherently good, it just shows that they can act as a valuable check on the short-termism of individual actors.

Regulators are people. Govt employees are just as self-serving as employees of Exxon. People who cannot make good choices as consumers (and so need govt) can't make good choices as voters (when choosing that govt).

And? I didn't say the government was very good at regulating. I'm just saying that it's in a position to promote transparency and is from time to time willing to, whereas individuals clearly aren't. I deal with this every day as a financial journalist. Companies here in Europe have been screaming blue murder about regulations like the Transparency Directive or even the SEC's Regulation AB, which for all their problems are overwhelmingly supported by investors. Yet these same investors didn't punish the companies who didn't meet the standards set out in either regulation before they were introduced. Even now, there's little if any price differential between the securities of companies that comply with these or other, voluntary, standards and those who don't. There's just to much money sitting around that needs to be "put to work" and investors are afraid of missing out.

"But I hate personal attack: I try not to indulge in it...."

Mm.

IJWTS that Russell's comment at 7:28 AM is excellent, and I agree with it, with the sole exception that "Please think longer and harder about this" is pretty useless advice, and is apt to tend to irritate the receiver.

Yes, a post that draws up numerous straw men and proceeds to knock them down, then points out to me how my ideas are clearly not well-thought out is sheer brilliance. Why didn't I think of that? After all, it's so much trouble to argue with what people actually say, and you might not succeed in insulting them that way. Much better to just argue with what you're quite sure they meant.

Really, why do I bother?

Andrew,

I am not sure which post your 2:24 was in response to, but if it was russell's post which had just been praised by Gary Farber, I do not see the straw men in it. Perhaps you would like to point them out?

I'm not Andrew, but I have a pretty substantial criticism:

The government is not telling anyone to buy anyone's services. It is not mandating who should inspect septic tanks. It is not preventing anyone else from opening new septic tank inspection businesses in your town, nor is it preventing people in your town from calling the septic tank inspector two towns over to come and do the job.

I of course don't know about the specifics of this instance, but as a general description for this type of legislation, the characterization is false. It is in fact very common for the local government to throw up all sorts of barriers to starting up a new inspection service. It is in fact very common for the local government to mandate who should conduct the inspections. It is very common for local governments to specially tailor the 'requirements' to create the circumstance where only one favored provider will do.

I think that septic tank case makes for an interesting liberal-vs-libertarian litmus test -- without knowing anything more about it than what was mentioned, do you assume that it's a reasonable regulation to solve a real external-cost problem, or that it's intrusive nanny-state overkill that would better be handled in a more free-market or incentive-based fashion, if indeed there's a genuine problem at all?

Without more detail, I think it could go either way, or perhaps be a little of both. And if we were to dive into the details of this particular case, we might be able to reach broad agreement on the extent to which it's justified.

Sebastian,

"It is in fact very common for the local government to throw up all sorts of barriers to starting up a new inspection service. It is in fact very common for the local government to mandate who should conduct the inspections. It is very common for local governments to specially tailor the 'requirements' to create the circumstance where only one favored provider will do."

I am going to have to say that my experience (which includes several years working in a law firm which represented multiple municipalities in the Philadelphia suburbs and exurbs) differs immensely from this.

Could a municipal government set up its own qualification standards, as opposed to state standards? Possibly, but not likely without substantial cost (which is very unlikely to be able to be borne by a government in a location sufficiently isolated that there are not numerous qualified contractors within a few miles). Could it mandate that only people it qualified perform services? I would imagine that if the work were sufficiently lucrative for anyone to bother with this, it would be worthwhile for the contractor in the next town to file a challenge to the law, which would almost certainly prevail. So I don't see the argument as a straw man at all.

"Without more detail, I think it could go either way, or perhaps be a little of both. And if we were to dive into the details of this particular case, we might be able to reach broad agreement on the extent to which it's justified."

Thus the litmus test for whether one is a pragmatist, not an idealogue, and one who generally believes in asking for more detail, rather than assuming.

Seb: As described, the case didn't involve setting u[ such specifications. And as described, I'd be in favor of it if there was, in fact, a problem with aging septic systems leaking into the water supply. The fact that there was, in fact, only one supplier in town, in addition to making me wonder: how big is the town, and how far away is the next nearest septic tank person?, just strikes me as a business opportunity.

Regarding telling Andrew he should think longer and harder:

I actually thought of adding a post to retract that, because the tone is pretty scolding. I did not because I didn't think anyone would actually end up reading it down at comment #150 or so.

In any case, unfortunately the scolding tone *was* probably my intent, and it's inappropriate. My apologies.

Sorry, Andrew.

Sebastian -

I agree that governments often pass legislation to favor particular people or interests. My state of MA famously passed a law a few years ago requiring that car inspections be done using equipment for which there was one supplier.

It happens.

The solution to this is to vote people who abuse their office out of that office. That is why responsive governments are good.

The solution, at least IMO, is *not* to remove from government the responsibility for regulating behavior that has a negative impact on the public interest.

That's the way you end up with e. coli in your drinking water.

A comment on where the line between nanny state and judicious regulation lies:

I think it depends on where you live.

I was born in NYC and have lived all my life in or near large northeastern cities. I'm accustomed to annoying, even persnickety rules about almost everything. Where and when to park. What I can do with my trash. What kind of insurance must I carry, and in what amount, for my home, car, business, and person.

If I lived in Montana, I'd find 80% of the rules I now live by to be stupid, annoying, intrusive hogwash. Who would possibly care if I burned my leaves, mulched them out, or took them to the dump? Who would possibly care if my garden shed was less than 10 feet from my property line (that one cost me, all in, several hundred dollars)?

In crowded places, the "nanny state" is often the way we all get along. In not-so-crowded places, it's an annoying, pointless hindrance.

You pay your money and you take your choice. Here in this country, you can go live where the living suits you.

Thanks -

[Long, extremely angry rant redacted]

russell, all I will note is that my political opinions are not merely the result of me flipping a coin and it coming up libertarian or republican or whatever. I am trying, in my own way, to discern the best solutions to some of the problems we face as a people. I'm sure I'm wrong in some cases. Maybe many cases. But to suggest that my philosophy isn't thought out is profoundly insulting to me.

It's interesting to compare how the British Conservatives look nowadays compared to American conservatives (in theory, rather than practice, that is).

Mr. Cameron closed a four-day annual party conference with an hour-long speech in which he lauded the publicly-funded National Health Service — once a target of Conservative cost-cutting — and feted the family, calling himself a “liberal conservative” rather than a neo-conservative.

He repeated demands made in a speech last Sept. 11, when he urged Britain to distance itself from a “slavish” alliance with the Bush administration. But he insisted: “Questioning the approach of the U.S. Administration, trying to learn the lessons of the last five years, does not make you anti-American.”

[...]

Some, though, seemed perturbed by Mr. Cameron’s remarks praising — at some length — the virtues of heterosexual marriage and civil partnerships “whether you’re a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man.”

Andrew -

I've read a lot of your stuff here, and I would never think that your political, or other, opinions are held either lightly or without thought. I would imagine that very little that you do is done lightly or without thought.

Which is to say, you have, sincerely, my respect.

No insult was intended in any of my remarks. As mentioned above, I think their tone was inappropriately scolding and/or judgemental. I'm sorry for that, and will take care in the future to insure that my tone matches my intent.

The two things I will say here are these.

In my opinion, in this particular instance, and for the reasons I've discussed above, the argument you have prevented is not a strong one. For that reason and for that reason alone, I think you might wish to think some of the issues through more rigorously. Hence my comment. There is no insult intended in that remark, at all, in fact very much the opposite.

The second thing I will say is that, in my own experience and life, an exhortation, offered sincerely and with respect, to think again about a position I hold has often been a gift of great value.

Thanks -

I just noticed that much the same topic is taken up at Henley's place, with a different ratio of libertarian-to-liberal commenters.

As usual, LizardBreath makes some excellent points, IMO.

She sure does.

Hey, thanks. I was thinking of linking that over here, but I get shy about pimping my own posts, even where relevant.

All this talk of "libertarian Democrats."

Democrats may want to link up with us libertarians, but we libertarians have little if any interest whatsoever of linking up with Democrats.

Put aside for a moment our huge disagreements on economic issues.

Democrats are even bad these days on civil liberties. Who is pushing all the smoking bans all over the US? Democrats. Who is it that's calling for a return to the Military Draft? Democrats. Who was it that got our libertarian petitions kicked off the ballots all over the US like MT, MO, and NV in 2006? Democrats. Who is it that protests and disrupts speeches by libertarians on college campuses all over the US? Democrats. Who is it that wants to take our guns away? Democrats.

Who is it that supports anti-libertarian affirmative action laws? Who is it that supports seat belt laws? Who is it that wants to force little kids riding bicycles to weat helmets? Answer to all the above: Democrats

When was the last time you even heard a Democrat supporting legalization of marijuana?

There are virtually no areas of agreement between Democrats and libertarians. Maybe Pro-Choice on abortion and Gay Rights. But even there Dems want government funding and "special rights for Gays"(which we libertarians oppose).

Further, how many libertarians ever win election as Democrats? Virtually none. How many libertarians win as Republicans? Hundreds like former Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Ron Paul now a Republican Congressman from Texas.

"libertarian Democrat"? A stupid idea if there ever was one.

Eric Dondero at www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

I'd be curious to know which 'libertarian' Republicans in office--other than Ron Paul--fit your strict criteria, Eric.

Neither party seems eager to legalise pot (or overturn seatbelt laws).

"Courage! What makes the King out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? Courage! What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage? What makes the Sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!
What makes the Hottentot so hot? Courage! What puts the 'ape' in apricot? Courage! What have they got that I ain't got"

Well, little kids without stoved-in heads, for one, and that extra little paranoid buzz from smoking marijuana while the authorities' sneaky-Pete around.

Not to mention the ability to look up Dagny Taggert's skirt and realize she's just a mannequin wearing no underwear.

Other libertarian Republicans in public office?

Jeff Flake, Butch Otter, Tom McClintock, Mark Sanford, Bob Hedlund, Vic Kohring, and about 100 to 200 more. Too numerous to cite here. But there's a full listing at www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

Eric Dondero: But even there Dems want government funding and "special rights for Gays"(which we libertarians oppose).

Whenever I hear "Special rights for gays" I reach for my gun.

But I hang out with Democrats, and they take it away.

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