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Aug 27 2013

The Libertarian Fantasy World

We had a Skeptics in the Pub event in Grand Rapids over the weekend and one of the people there was a libertarian. As most of my longtime readers know, I have some sympathies with many libertarian ideas and I have long argued that liberals should take libertarian ideas more seriously and build alliances with them on the many issues where we have common ground. But the discussion I had with this guy had me arguing against the libertarian fantasy of the magical free market that prevents every problem.

Don’t get me wrong, markets are wonderful things. They are a very good means of allocating capital and they have a great many beneficial effects for consumers. But that doesn’t mean that the market, operating all on its own, is going to magically do nothing but good things and prevent all the bad things. We talked about the example of pollution, for example, where regulation is necessary to prevent serious damage to the environment and to our health. Pollution is an externality, a cost that is imposed on the public whether they have any involvement with the business transaction that took place or not.

The libertarian argument is that in a free market, consumers would choose not to do business with a company that caused a large amount of pollution and, because the company knows that, it will have an incentive not to pollute. This is so absurd that I consider it a utopian fantasy. It fails on several levels. First, most consumers have no knowledge of what any company has done to damage the environment, and when they do know, the overwhelming majority simply doesn’t care.

How many people are now refusing to buy gas at BP stations because of the Gulf oil spill? That was the probably the most widely covered environmental disaster in American history, perhaps in world history (Chernobyl is probably up there too). There was a massive amount of negative press aimed at BP. The next year, 2011, they had a profit of $25.7 billion. Even the most widely publicized environmental disaster did almost nothing to hurt the company responsible for it.

Has the company responsible for the Love Canal disaster been punished by consumers for their behavior? Hell, could more than 1% of the public even identify that company? I had to look it up myself. It was Hooker Chemical, now called Occidental Petroleum. It made more than $10 billion in profits last year. Is there even a single major company that has gone out of business or even had a serious dent put in their profits by being responsible for an environmental disaster? I can’t think of one.

A free market does not prevent such disasters. In fact, it may encourage them. Given the numbers above, a company is probably far better off not installing pollution abatement equipment that regulation currently requires, boosting their profits by huge amounts of money and then using a small portion of that money on a PR campaign, as BP has been doing since the Gulf spill. The profit motive alone is likely to encourage more pollution rather than less. That’s why regulation is necessary.

Now where I think liberals can learn something is from the libertarian critique of regulation, particularly the emphasis on rent-seeking. It isn’t about more regulation or less regulation, it should be about smart regulation. Well-designed regulation will not shut new, innovative companies out of the market. It won’t operate to the benefit of a few large corporations who can then use that regulation to keep competitors out and protect or expand their market share. The goal of regulation should be to prevent the negative externalities, keep the market competitive and benefit consumers and the public.

But here’s the problem. Because politicians must raise such massive amounts of money to get elected and reelected, they are forced to kowtow to corporate benefactors who are then able to ensure that the regulations that Congress passes are favorable to them. And if they don’t get everything they want from Congress, they can bribe and coerce executive agencies to weaken those regulations when they write the implementation rules for the law. Since the people writing the regulations are often former executives in the industries they are supposed to be regulating and overseeing, and those who aren’t will be angling for a job in that industry when they leave their positions, regulatory capture is very real and very difficult to get rid of.

The solution is to eliminate the need to raise huge amounts of money to win an election and to limit the ability of powerful moneyed interests to influence both Congress and the regulatory agencies. The reason that solution won’t happen is because it would have to be passed by the same people who benefit from the system being the way it is.

77 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    Because politicians must raise such massive amounts of money to get elected and reelected, they are forced to kowtow to corporate benefactors who are then able to ensure that the regulations that Congress passes are favorable to them

    Well, politicians are part of the “free market” too!

  2. 2
    unbound

    Good summary of the libertarian fantasies. The only big point that should be included is that the whole concept of free market depends on actual competition. Competition comes from dozens and dozens of companies competing for consumers’ money…not a handful or less. This is another major area where the libertarian fantasy is laid bare.

  3. 3
    Area Man

    “How many people are now refusing to buy gas at BP stations because of the Gulf oil spill?”

    This wouldn’t make a difference anyway. Oil is a fungible commodity. If you don’t buy it from BP, they will simply sell it to whomever you’re buying it from. Refusing to shop at a certain gas station might hurt the owner of that gas station, but as long as you’re consuming oil, the oil companies are all getting paid. In fact, this probably explains why oil companies have stopped attaching their names to gas stations.

  4. 4
    whheydt

    Years ago, a friend of mine was an active Libertarian. He went on about how the Libertarian platform was ideologically pure. This lasted until I pointed out to him that it is very easy to be ideologically pure when you haven’t a chance in Hell of actually getting elected.

  5. 5
    matty1

    The solution is to eliminate the need to raise huge amounts of money to win an election and to limit the ability of powerful moneyed interests to influence both Congress and the regulatory agencies.

    I agree entirely with the spirit of this but it is only a spirit, I’d have liked to see a few details on the proposals. Here are a few of my own in the spirit.

    1. Set upper limits on both the size of any one donation and the total any one donor can give to political campaigns in an election cycle.

    2. Set lower limits above which the names of individual donors must be published – it isn’t practical to do this for everyone who drops a coin in a tin at an election rally but there needs to be a limit and I think it should be fairly low.

    3. No corporate body of any kind may donate to a political campaign unless its articles of association (or whatever they call them) explicitly require it and those articles may only be changed to all donations by a majority vote of shareholders occurring at least one year before the election for which the donation is made.

    4. Any third party spending on advertising that names a candidate or political party or advocates changing or retaining a law or policy must be subject to equivalent restrictions.

  6. 6
    Captain Mike

    Irrelevant to the main discussion, but BP doesn’t actually own those gas stations anyway. They’re owned by independent retailers.

  7. 7
    Bronze Dog

    Another problem I see in the fantasy market is that in the real world, even consumers who want to make a difference by ‘voting with their dollars’ don’t necessarily have competitive alternatives. The tactic may work fine for luxuries since consumers can go so far as to do without, but it won’t work so well for necessities.

  8. 8
    Area Man

    On the subject of the libertarian “solution” to pollution, the bigger issue is that it creates a free rider problem. If you have to avoid buying something that you’d otherwise buy because the parent company pollutes, then you have incurred a cost. You were going to buy the thing because you thought you’d be better off with it than without it, and now you can’t. So you’ve effectively just paid money to stop someone else from polluting. Part of this cost consists of a dead-weight loss, and part of it is captured by the people who don’t care and can now buy the thing more cheaply because of reduced demand. And this of course encourages more people to buy the product, which negates the whole idea.

    So the net effect of this policy is to take money away from people who care enough to stop pollution and pay the people who don’t care while wasting some degree of utility in the process. And it does little or nothing to stop pollution because of a strong negative feedback. In the end, it’s every bit as absurd as saying that if you don’t want people murdered, then you shouldn’t commit murder. That cannot solve the problem of other people committing murder; there must be some mutually enforceable agreement that everyone refrains from murder.

    I don’t think this is really lost on most libertarians. I think it’s just an excuse to serve the interests of powerful polluters at the expense of everyone else.

  9. 9
    daved

    Libertarianism is more of a religion than a political ideology — they worship “the market” rather than some man-in-the-sky deity.

    Beyond that, however, they’ve completely lost sight of the fact that true, efficient, honest markets do not exist in a vacuum — you need regulations and oversight to make sure the market is operating properly.

  10. 10
    doublereed

    Now where I think liberals can learn something is from the libertarian critique of regulation, particularly the emphasis on rent-seeking. It isn’t about more regulation or less regulation, it should be about smart regulation. Well-designed regulation will not shut new, innovative companies out of the market. It won’t operate to the benefit of a few large corporations who can then use that regulation to keep competitors out and protect or expand their market share. The goal of regulation should be to prevent the negative externalities, keep the market competitive and benefit consumers and the public.

    I’m sorry, I have never heard anything close to such sensible thoughts from libertarians. They are far too simplistic to ever admit that certain regulation is good. They steadfastly refuse to that externalities cannot be handled by the free market (and pollution is just a common example of an externality. Many externalities are a lot more severe and dangerous).

    If anything, libertarians want to increase these conflicts of interest by massive deregulation and eliminating any oversight. Their solution to rent-seeking is to cripple government and make it ineffectual. Which isn’t going to make the problem go away, it’s going to make it worse.

    So liberals and libertarians are at an impasse. It’s not a war of differing ideologies. It’s a war of sense vs nonsense.

  11. 11
    Gregory in Seattle

    A question: how many countries on Earth are run according to reasonably pure Libertarian principles? How does quality of life there fit in with the quality of life in countries with significant social programs (Sweden, Norway, the UK, Germany, Canada, Japan) that are the antithesis of Libertarian thought?

  12. 12
    eric

    Since the people writing the regulations are often former executives in the industries they are supposed to be regulating and overseeing, and those who aren’t will be angling for a job in that industry when they leave their positions, regulatory capture is very real and very difficult to get rid of.

    That is a problem, but fixing the political system won’t result in a complete fix to rent-seeking because some of it is non-political and due to practical limitations on our ability to design systems. Sometimes a government regulatory goal isn’t directly measurable (at least, not without huge cost). So we measure a proxy for that goal instead. But using a proxy can result in negative externalities or rent-seeking. When that happens, your choice is between a very expensive or maybe entirely impractical regulatory system that gives you exactly what you want, or a cheaper or more feasible alternative that is less perfect.

    Food safety is a good example. Ideally, you want regulation to ensure food is disease-free and you don’t really care how it gets that way. The ideal solution is to let each supplier figure out the most efficient way to do that and have those processes compete via final food price. But “disease free” is pretty expensive to measure directly; you’ll need to do statistically significant sampling from every producer and every different process before you can do that. So, instead, the USG uses decontamination or antimicrobial processes as a proxy. Did you pasteurize your milk? Did you irradiate your spices? If so, you can sell it. If not, you can’t. Checking to see whether some company followed a process requires a lot less USG resources, and its far less ambiguous than trying to define “microbe-free enough to be called safe.” But it is also a form of rent-seeking. Now every supplier must purchase equipment X or service Y. And now you may be pricing out the little suppliers, because of cost scaling of the process itself.

    But importantly, this rent-seeking and barrier to entry has not arisen (solely) out of government corruption or back-door reelection financing. Its arisen from honest civil servants trying to do a good mission (make food safe), realizing that the ideal regulation is impractical or ridiculously expensive…and so they come up with a practical and cheap proxy to “safe to eat.”

    I’m with you on fixing campaign financing. And that it will result in more individual-voter-friendly regulation (rather than a corporate-donor-friendly regulation). But its not a full solution.

  13. 13
    Raging Bee

    …I have long argued that liberals should take libertarian ideas more seriously and build alliances with them on the many issues where we have common ground.

    Are you really that ignorant of what libertarians have been saying since the 1970s? They’ve been demonizing liberals for, quite literally, as long as I can remember — as commies, as fascists (where do you think Jonah Goldberg got his “Liberal Fascism” schtick from?), as meddling busybodies with no common sense, and as mean, bitter, Lilliputian sore losers looking to punish the rich for being so gosh-darn big and awesome.

    How fucking stupid and tribalistic do you have to be to say liberals should have taken them more seriously and worked more closely with them? That’s like saying Jews should work harder to find more common ground with neo-nazis, or that Martin Luther King should have been more willing to cooperate with the KKK.

    The truth is, libertarians have NEVER been willing to cooperate with liberals on anything. Can you cite even ONE instance where libertarians publicly said anything to the effect of “Hey, the liberals are right about [X], so let’s stop calling them Stalinists and work with them on this”? Did they say this about any issue involving individual liberties or civil rights? Fuck no — all our progress on those fronts has come from Federal intervention, which libertarians (and their base of segregationists, survivalists, anti-abortion loonies and Civil Rights Act opponents) bitterly opposed from day one.

    Your blather about “common ground” is pure fiction. Libertarians are bigots, pure and simple, and any talk of “common ground” between bigots and their longstanding targets is both laughably stupid and gratingly insulting.

    Now where I think liberals can learn something is from the libertarian critique of regulation, particularly the emphasis on rent-seeking. It isn’t about more regulation or less regulation, it should be about smart regulation.

    Oh please — the “libertarian critique of regulation” has never been about anything other than “less regulation,” with “less” preferably meaning “zero.”

    Well-designed regulation will not shut new, innovative companies out of the market.

    First, any regulation that increases the cost of doing business will, inevitably, shut out companies that lack the skills or resources to comply with the regs. And second, since when was shutting out new companies really as bad as letting the public be hurt by unregulated business activities? You’ve just admitted the fatal flaw in libertarian priorities here: the premise that these two evils are even in the same order of magnitude.

    Because politicians must raise such massive amounts of money to get elected and reelected, they are forced to kowtow to corporate benefactors who are then able to ensure that the regulations that Congress passes are favorable to them.

    And what’s the solution to this problem? A robust liberal movement organizing people-power to effectively and consistently counter money-power. And libertarians have ALWAYS been on the side of money-power, and have done everything they could to undermine people-power. That makes them part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    It won’t operate to the benefit of a few large corporations who can then use that regulation to keep competitors out and protect or expand their market share.

    And here’s another shining example of the fundamental hypocricy of the “libertarian critique of regulation:” if a regulatory regime makes things invonvenient for business, it’s bad because it hurts business. But if some businesses manage to profit by complying with the regs, then the regs are bad for THAT reason. The “libertarian critique of regulation” is basically a double-talking con-game that says that regulations are bad no matter what — which is why working with libertarians is such a waste of time.

    Since the people writing the regulations are often former executives in the industries they are supposed to be regulating and overseeing, and those who aren’t will be angling for a job in that industry when they leave their positions, regulatory capture is very real and very difficult to get rid of.

    And here’s another example of libertarian hypocricy: the automatic assumption that experts will always go where the big money is, therefore we can never trust experts to regulate businesses for any goal other than the interests of big money. If we had a robust civil service that rewarded experts for working for the common good, that assumption would be false — and libertarians have never been supportive of a robust civil service.

  14. 14
    democommie

    “Now where I think liberals can learn something is from the libertarian critique of regulation, particularly the emphasis on rent-seeking.”

    Shorter Eric (and others) above.

    If the libertarians weren’t anti-regulation (instead of anti-STUPID regulation) there might be some common ground. As it is the major reason that there are so many STUPID regulations is that both sides have oodles of lawyers who constantly work at figuring ways to rein in excess or find a loophole to exploit.

  15. 15
    cptdoom

    There is an old economics joke: A physicist, a chemist and an economist are marooned on an island. They know help is on the way, and have enough canned goods to keep them alive until rescue comes, but they have no can opener.

    The physicist suggests they create a pulley system that will use coconut shells to break open the cans. The chemist responds that the system would be too wasteful, as half the contents of each can would fall into the sand. The chemist suggests using coconut milk to create a caustic substance that will eat away at the top of the can. The first couple inches of food would be contaminated, but it would be less wasteful. The economist says to them “you’re both wrong – the answer is simple, assume a can opener

    That is the great nasty secret of economics (note: I have a Master’s in the subject) economic models simply assume away those features of real markets that are difficult to model. The free market is a great system for moving goods and services, but it only works in the libertarian sense under conditions so extraordinary they would never be found in reality. One of those conditions is “perfect information” – the assumption that all players in a market have equal, perfect and complete information with which to make their decisions. That means a consumer would know, down to the penny, the exact costs the manufacturer faced in making a product, including the costs of pollution created by the company. Seeing as it is difficult even for experts to accurately measure the pollution costs of any one manufacturer, you can see where problems creep in.

  16. 16
    Raging Bee

    A question: how many countries on Earth are run according to reasonably pure Libertarian principles?

    Just about every country that tries to apply such principles, very quickly starts to move away from them. Case in point: the USA, gradually and painfully evolving from the Articles of Confederation to the New Deal — and becoming MORE free and prosperous in the process, not less so.

  17. 17
    dcsohl

    how many countries on Earth are run according to reasonably pure Libertarian principles?

    Somalia comes to mind…

  18. 18
    Wes

    This wouldn’t make a difference anyway. Oil is a fungible commodity. If you don’t buy it from BP, they will simply sell it to whomever you’re buying it from. Refusing to shop at a certain gas station might hurt the owner of that gas station, but as long as you’re consuming oil, the oil companies are all getting paid. In fact, this probably explains why oil companies have stopped attaching their names to gas stations.

    Sadly, this is true. The oil companies move their product around so much that when you put gas in your car, you have no way of knowing which oil company that gas came from. And oil and gas are used by a lot of utilities to generate energy, so simply turning on your lights in your home might be sending money to BP. Not to mention the fact that the trucks, planes and trains that are used to distribute and deliver basically everything you buy run on gas, but of course you have no way of knowing what company it came from. The tar and asphalt used in building materials everywhere might have come from some big oil company, too.

    Big Oil is basically impossible to boycott. But that just reinforces the point that the free market is completely unable to stop them from destroying the environment. Even if people wanted to boycott BP, they couldn’t. The only way to stop them is through effective regulation.

  19. 19
    Jordan Genso

    Raging Bee:

    Your blather about “common ground” is pure fiction.

    As a Democrat who is an economic progressive and a civil libertarian, I think there is a lot of common ground for liberals and libertarians on issues outside of the economy. Liberals and libertarians both oppose the authoritarian policies that have become more prevalent since 9/11 (Patriot Act, “Stop and Frisk”, Drones Killing Americans without Due Process, etc), and both oppose other horrific policies like the ‘War on Drugs’. I don’t think either of those areas are worth ignoring when looking for common ground.

    If you focus solely on the economy and libertarians’ free market policies, there won’t be much common ground. But that’s just a small part of the larger governing picture.

  20. 20
    troll

    Now where I think liberals can learn something is from the libertarian critique of regulation, particularly the emphasis on rent-seeking. It isn’t about more regulation or less regulation, it should be about smart regulation. Well-designed regulation will not shut new, innovative companies out of the market. It won’t operate to the benefit of a few large corporations who can then use that regulation to keep competitors out and protect or expand their market share. The goal of regulation should be to prevent the negative externalities, keep the market competitive and benefit consumers and the public.

    Isn’t this already in the liberal wheelhouse? I definitely consider myself a liberal and have nearly severed my optic nerves from all the time I spend rolling my eyes at libertarian nonsense, but regulatory capture and stupid regulations are already things I, and most liberals I communicate with, oppose. I see Kevin Drum, MattY, and others grumbling about stupid, counterproductive regulations all the time (MattY has devoted more page space to parking and barbershop regulations than any sane person should). Stupid regulation is something to be opposed if for no other reason than it undermines the integrity and legitimacy of good, smart, effective regulations.

    I see libertarians criticizing bad regulations all the time. What I don’t often encounter are libertarians extolling the virtues of regulations that do work. I’m all for teaming up with them on civil liberty issues, reigning in law enforcement and security state types, etc, but I just don’t see how they’re a useful ally on the issue of regulations.

  21. 21
    lclane2

    The market often provides short term and/or perverse incentives. For example health insurers optimize profit by excluding as much as possible those who actually need insurance. The automobile market dictates that cars should be powerful. Promoting fuel efficiency requires regulation to protect manufacturers from the short term perspective of the market.

    Libertarians are good on freedom but they tend to have problems with responsibility. On the extreme are libertarians who can’t hear the word “responsibility.”

  22. 22
    bmiller

    dcsohl: because the Marxist tyrrany and warlord feudalism (funded by the USSR and the USA) worked so much better than the current chaos?

    Somalia has been messed up for 100 years. In good part because of the Great Game played by outside powers. A strong state was generally an ineffective, corrupt, tribal tyrrany. The common “Look at Somalia Hurrr-de-hurr” meme is simplistic and cruelly inaccurate.

  23. 23
    Chiroptera

    troll, #21:

    Heh. That is what went through my mind when I read that, too.

    True, libertarians do have some sensible ideas. But those are usually the ideas that are also already liberal ideas. When you do find a libertarian talking sense, they sound remarkably just like liberals.

  24. 24
    kevone

    This is an interesting read about free markets, touches on some of your points:

    23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

    http://www.amazon.com/Things-They-Dont-About-Capitalism/dp/1608193381

  25. 25
    jaybee

    My favorite moment of libertarian re-education: in 2008, Greenspan was testifying before congress and exclaimed he was shocked to find that the market wasn’t able to regulate itself, that individuals would sometimes behave in ways contrary to the long-term interests of the institution they worked for.

    I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.

    I’m an ignoramus in economics, but yet Greenspan was the guru who supposedly guided economic policy for two decades across both Republican and Democratic administrations. Sheesh.

    I’m friends with a guy who is a libertarian, but as dumb about economics as I am. He is a EE and wrote a 20 page paper where he “proves” that the effective tax rate is north of 50% for all of us, and that he also “proves” that this inevitably is going to lead to the collapse of the US. I read it and pointed out some of the things even I could spot were wrong, such as the rate of inflation is not at all the same as a tax, unless you are on a fixed income. His model also assumes that no benefits ever come from tax revenue, in fact, they count as negative benefits because regulations are generated by the government which is paid for by taxes. I asked if he really thought it would be better for each tax dollar collected to be put into an incinerator he he replied, “yes.” Later I talked with a mutual friend who is less extreme and also received this paper. I expected the 2nd friend to say, yeah, friend #1 is kind of off the rails, but nope, friend #2 agreed that burning tax dollars would be an improvement. Yikes!

  26. 26
    wscott

    The libertarian argument is that in a free market, consumers would choose not to do business with a company that caused a large amount of pollution and, because the company knows that, it will have an incentive not to pollute. This is so absurd that I consider it a utopian fantasy.

    More than that – it’s demonstrably false. Show me one country where this has worked. Environmental regulations were created specifically because the market was not doing the job. I think part of the reason so many libertarians have such knee-jerk anti-environmentalism is that on some level they know that the history of environmental regulations disproves their core assumption about market infallibility.

    Given the numbers above, a company is probably far better off not installing pollution abatement equipment that regulation currently requires

    Forget “probably.” That’s Risk Management 101 – figure out how much it will cost you to actually fix the problem, compared to how much you might have to pay if something happens and if you get sued and if you lose. The balance almost always favors doing as little as you can get away with. Some companies will choose to do more, of course, but the point is that an unregulated market gives them no real incentive to do so.
    .
    @Matty1: You raise some good points. But #1 and #2 already exist and haven’t done much to stem the tide. #4 also exists to some extent, tho with a million loopholes. For #3: I’m not sure what you mean by “articles of association” for a private company? Also how would this rule apply to labor unions and such groups?
    .
    I think Ed’s right that we have to focus on the need for politicians to raise huge amounts of cash. Most campaign finance reform suggestions, including yours, are “supply side.” But as long as you need big money to win elections, people will continue to find ways around the rules. Demand is the real problem, not supply. Personally I think some form of public financing for campaigns is the only solution, but there are a lot of tricky details there too.
    .
    @ daved #10: Given how much I hate it when Christians call atheism a religion, I’m reluctant to call libertarianism as such. But I agree that for many people libertarianism has become dogma rather than a reasoned set of principles. I gave up reading Michael Schermer years ago (long before the recent assault allegations, and I hope I didn’t just open a can of Comment Slyme for mentioning his name) after an essay he wrote on how we wouldn’t have traffic jams if we just privatized the roads. [shakes head sadly] I’ve read Creationist rants that were better informed and well-reasoned.
    .
    @doublereed #11: I know some libertarians who will (grudgingly) acknowledge that some regulation is required, it just needs to be done smart. But in practice, you’re right that many of them act as if “smart regs” is an oxymoron.
    .
    I had an argument with a libertarian friend awhile back over the whole Makers-vs.-Takers false dichotomy. (ie: business = makers, and government = takers.) The question that made his head explode: In City X, the public works department picks up the trash, paid for through property taxes. City Y next door has a private company do trash pickup and bills homeowners directly. Assume for discussion that the cost works out to be the same. Why are City X’s garbagemen Takers and City Y’s garbagemen magically Makers for doing the exact same job at the same cost? His response was to assert that it’s cheaper if the private sector does it. My reply was that if can actually show me numbers to back that up (for specific cities or in general), then that’s fine. But then we would be having an actual discussion about which way is marginally more cost-efficient, not a simple binary assumption of private-good-government-bad. He agreed…but then continued to argue the same false dichotomy on every other issue. I finally gave up.

  27. 27
    Raging Bee

    Liberals and libertarians both oppose the authoritarian policies that have become more prevalent since 9/11 (Patriot Act, “Stop and Frisk”, Drones Killing Americans without Due Process, etc), and both oppose other horrific policies like the ‘War on Drugs’.

    No, the libertarians do not oppose any of those policies in any meaningful way. And they never stopped demonizing liberals, even when we opposed such policies more robustly than we have lately. They have always been on the Republican side of the aisle, and have never even talked seriously of jumping ship to protest any of the policies they pretend to oppose.

    Case in point: 2004, an election that was so close that the libertarians could have swung it toward Kerry — if they really wanted to effectively protest the Republicans’ wars on drugs, Islam and liberty. If they had jumped ship then, Kerry would have won, and the Democrats would have had to take their agenda seriously. But they chose not to do that, because their top priorities have always been defunding government, deregulating business, and demonizing liberals.

  28. 28
    Akira MacKenzie

    I have some sympathies with many libertarian ideas and I have long argued that liberals should take libertarian ideas more seriously and build alliances with them on the many issues where we have common ground

    And with that monumentally stupid statements, I lost any remaining respect I had for you, Brayton.

    …markets are wonderful things.

    Only if you’re a sociopath with no qualms about economically raping the have-nots.

    Keep digging that hole, Ed.

  29. 29
    wscott

    @ jaybee: Spot-on re Greenspan. I’ve heard those comments before, and they should’ve echoed throughout libertarianism as if the Pope had suddenly admitted prayer doesn’t seem to work. Instead his heresy has just been ignored.

  30. 30
    Raging Bee

    That is the great nasty secret of economics (note: I have a Master’s in the subject) economic models simply assume away those features of real markets that are difficult to model.

    At least REAL economists admit that their field of study has limits, and one has to go outside those limits to get a truly useful picture of reality. DO NOT REPEAT DO NOT confuse real economics with libertarianism — the former actually deals with economics, while the latter take a basic ECON 101 class, makes a religion out of it, and then pretend they’re not only economists, but sage experts on everything else as well.

  31. 31
    Rutee Katreya

    I am extraordinarily wary of claims that ‘private business does it cheaper’. In my very limited time as a public servant, I was actually paid a living wage for my work, which had literally never happened at any point in my history prior. And the laws that governed the rules for public servants (of the federal government, at least) demanded that any servant that wasn’t temporary was entitled to a benefits package that included health care. I’d like to see how much of the vaunted ‘private sector efficiency’ comes from both externalities, and abuse of the peons.

  32. 32
    Alverant

    A lot of libertarian ideas sound nice on paper but they don’t work in reality. Like the assumption that a company will always do what’s in its best interest as if it magically knows what its best interest is and how to go there. This goes back to the “perfect knowledge” and “ideal world” aspects already discussed.

  33. 33
    Raging Bee

    Anyone who thinks libertarians really care about individual liberty should look at who their longstanding core supporters are: segregationists, survivalists, militia loons, opponents of Roe Vs. Wade, opponents of the Civil Rights Act, opponents of the war against Hitler, opponents of evolution, opponents of all of the Federal laws and regulations that keep states and churches from stripping us of our freedoms, opponents of public schools…dose this really look like a “pro-liberty” coalition to any of you?

  34. 34
    DaveL

    @5

    I would consider adding another rule: a donor can only donate to one candidate for any particular race. There’s a fundamental difference between the typical individual of modest means who donates to candidate because he/she believes that candidate best represents him/her and wants that candidate to win, and corporate donors who tend to donate to both sides. Donating to all plausible winners suggests you’re more interested in buying influence more than in the outcome of the race.

  35. 35
    dcsohl

    bmiller@22, the fact is that Somalia is a failed state. That is not a cruel inaccuracy, it is a cruel reality, and I know where the blame for that lies, thankyouverymuch.

    But the truth remains that Somalia is a place where there is absolutely no regulation at all, no government oversight of anything – because there is no government. It’s a libertarian paradise.

    Furthermore, if you took any other state and pursued libertarian ideals to their logical extreme, a failed state is exactly what you’d get. No regulations on anything, including gun ownership? I fail to see how you couldn’t arrive at Somalia. And I do know that that’s not how Somalia ended up in its current state, but it’s another road there.

  36. 36
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    The problem with libertarianism is right there in the name. It fetishises individual autonomy over society. Most folks recognize the benefits of society. In my experience, liberals tend to emphasize the needs of society (including the benefits to individuals). Conservatives tend to wish to bend society to their benefit. Libertarians tend to want the benefits of society without the requirements of participating in society.

    You can see this every time they argue that we shouldn’t regulate, well, anything. This denies the simple fact of history — those regulations tend to be there for a reason. That reason is almost invariably the exploitation of the benefits of society for personal gain, at unreasonable cost to others.

    This is why libertarians tend to side with conservatives. They have a common goal — the dismantling of the engine of society for personal gain. This is why they tend to demonize liberals, who support the necessity of participation in, and support of, society.

    At least, that’s how I see it.

  37. 37
    Raging Bee

    I am extraordinarily wary of claims that ‘private business does it cheaper’.

    Actually, this is one of the more plausible claims I’ve heard from libertards. And the reason for this is simple: private business exists to serve only one interest-group, the owners; while government exists to serve ALL interest-groups, and reconcile their legitimate interests when they come into conflict. This means business owners can make their own decisions and carry them out, while policymakers in government are forced to listen to all involved parties, gather lots of information, and have their decisions subject to disputes, appeals, media attention, and political campaign fights. So yes, government is generally less “efficient” tham private business — for some very good reasons. And the people who say government should function more like private business, are actually saying they want government to serve only one set of interests — theirs.

  38. 38
    matty1

    Maybe it’s because I’m not a Merkin* but I scarcely recognise the description of libertarians other commentators have. The people I associate with that word are bloggers like Jason Kuznicki and James Hanley who do seem to talk about civil liberties and cooperating with liberals on areas of agreement. Hell I’m pretty sure Hanley has written in favour of pollution regulations. Maybe they are atypical for libertarians but that’s my experience so I find it really tough to associate the word with the kind of things everyone else does.

    *I think there is a UK Libertarian Party but he can only manage one evening a week

  39. 39
    eric

    Iclane@21:

    The market often provides short term and/or perverse incentives.

    Yep. One example and one empirical observation. The example is future discounting. This is a rational economic behavior, but it leads naturally to problems such as pollution and the tragedy of the commons. So that’s an example of how even without imperfections (such as human irrationality), an unregulated system will still not lead to the result the extreme libertarians think it will lead to. When people ignore the polluting behavior of a corporation, they may not be acting irrationally; it may be perfectly rational to set a very low value on ones’ slight lifetime increase in chance of cancer and lifetime decrease in quality of life compared to, say, purchasing a safer car for your infant kid this month.

    The observation is that I’ve heard libs compare an unregulated market to nature, as if it’s a good thing. Look how finely balanced! Billions of years of life, and the planet’s still habitable – so how can regulation pushers say that the free market will destroy the ecosystem? Answer: nature has lots of boom and bust cycles that kill millions if not bllions of individuals, and sometimes wipe out entire species. The entier atmosphere used to be anaerobic. Now it contains oxygen and the original species that polluted the atmosphere with oxygen are consigned to small corners of it. They lost their dominance. That is not a system we want to emulate.

    For example health insurers optimize profit by excluding as much as possible those who actually need insurance.

    The insurance industry in general is something of an oddity and probably should not be used by either side (pro- or con- regulation) to make a point. For most industries, you can conceive of a buyer and seller coming to closer agreement as their information gets better/more consistent. With the insurance industry, its the opposite: insurance companies depend on knowing the risk better than the buyer to make a profit. Their margin is in the difference between what you think you’ll have to pay over a lifetime and what they think you’ll have to pay over a lifetime. If insurers and insurees both had perfect information, nobody would buy insurance. Instead, a rational agent would just self-insure (i.e., put the ‘right amount’ of money to cover some contingency away in a bank account’) rather than hand that cash to a corporation.

  40. 40
    Raging Bee

    matty1: James Hanley buggered out of here in shame after all of his blatantly ridiculous libertarian talking-points got debunked in flames. I remember him telling us how “voting with your feet” was the most precious freedom anyone could have (which is why people in refugee camps feel so blessed donchaknow); how government was always more evil than private business because of some comparison between Bhopal and the Khmer Rouge (both of which could only be redressed by government, which is where his analogy broke down); how we only needed unions because gummint allowed too much immigration; and how unspecified “dishonest liberals” were responsible for the bad image libertarians had.

    So yeah, your distance from America is not allowing you to see the full picture of what ridiculous tools and con-artists libertarians are. Just be grateful you live in a country that isn’t in the grip of such infantilism…and keep on working to keep it that way.

  41. 41
    Gretchen

    matty1 said:

    Maybe it’s because I’m not a Merkin* but I scarcely recognise the description of libertarians other commentators have. The people I associate with that word are bloggers like Jason Kuznicki and James Hanley who do seem to talk about civil liberties and cooperating with liberals on areas of agreement. Hell I’m pretty sure Hanley has written in favour of pollution regulations. Maybe they are atypical for libertarians but that’s my experience so I find it really tough to associate the word with the kind of things everyone else does.

    I was going to say that the difference is simply that you’re familiar with actual libertarians– and can name their names– rather than straw men, but of course there are actually people out there who hold the various hateful or idiotic beliefs attributed to them in this thread. They are more properly called conservative than libertarian IMHO, but they certainly exist.

    Kuznicki and Hanley also exist. And Radley Balko, and Jennifer Abel, and Jacob Sullum, and Joel Salatin, and lots of other libertarians I admire. Strangely these people and their positions rarely seem to come up in discussions of libertarians by people who don’t count themselves as such. I’m pretty sure they’re not aware they exist.

  42. 42
    flex

    Raging Bee wrote,

    This means business owners can make their own decisions and carry them out, while policymakers in government are forced to listen to all involved parties, gather lots of information, and have their decisions subject to disputes, appeals, media attention, and political campaign fights.

    With my feet firmly in both sectors I can say that while governments may react somewhat slowly at times, the decisions which are reached are generally better, and usually more cost effective over-all, than the decisions made by large corporations. In other words, my personal experience is that waste is far more prevalent in corporations than in government.

    A few factors contribute to this.

    First, accountability. In a large corporation, a manager is accountable to their own supervisor, who may well have also agreed that a certain purchase or training is necessary. Waste is often hidden, disguised, and ignored. Government expenditures are far more closely scrutinized. Not only do a number of people review them, but some of the reviewers are members of the public who will raise the roof if they feel their tax dollars were wasted. We get enough complaints about waste for money spend on necessary items, like replacing the bulbs in streetlights.

    Second, approvals. In a large corporation there are plenty of rules about getting approvals for purchases, but the processes are largely signatures from managers who have little incentive to investigate the details of a purchase. Contrast that to the government approvals process in our township where all items costing more than $1000 need to have approval from the board of trustees in a public meeting.

    I’ve seen directors dictate which suppliers we would use. No competitive bidding. Unlike government contracts where if there are not three bids, a great deal of paperwork needs to happen.

    So why don’t we hear about the waste in the corporate world?

    Well, there is little data other than anecdotal. Corporations do not release detailed budgets of their expenditures. It’s hard to compare waste between corporations and government entities when one side doesn’t reveal their data.

    There is also a common bit of mythology cited above, “Private business has a single goal, to make money, and thus they will ensure they are as efficient as possible in order to maximize their profits.” While this may be a goal of the fictional entity known as a corporation, the reality is that the individuals who work in this organization all have individual goals, many of which are only tangentially related to the profit-making goal of the corporation.

    For example, a pay raise and/or a promotion is often given to someone who has a lot of face time with their superiors. Having a failing program is a great way to get that face time, so deliberately letting your program get into trouble can, perversely, help your chances of promotion. Managers who’s programs run smoothly usually get little exposure to their upper management and often stagnate. Being good in a position is a sure way to stay there.

    As another example, over twenty years ago a major automotive company instituted a policy where engineers who made product improvements or cost savings would get a bonus. As an engineer at an automotive supplier I would regularly suggest improvements to a product, which would either reduce warranty and field failures or reduce cost. None of these suggestions would be approved, until after the launch, when the improvements would be suggested by the engineer in order to get the bonus. That program, which was ostensibly to improve quality, didn’t last long. It was too easy to subvert it in a manner which was detrimental to the company. Again, the interests of the employees were not well aligned with the interest of the corporation resulting in a great deal of waste.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are wasteful activities in government as well. I’m not suggesting that the government sector is always less wasteful. But the claim that private business does it cheaper because the motivation to reduce waste is greater is only another ideological claim with no evidence to support it.

  43. 43
    matty1

    Missed this @26

    @Matty1: You raise some good points. But #1 and #2 already exist and haven’t done much to stem the tide. #4 also exists to some extent, tho with a million loopholes. For #3: I’m not sure what you mean by “articles of association” for a private company? Also how would this rule apply to labor unions and such groups?
    .
    I think Ed’s right that we have to focus on the need for politicians to raise huge amounts of cash. Most campaign finance reform suggestions, including yours, are “supply side.” But as long as you need big money to win elections, people will continue to find ways around the rules. Demand is the real problem, not supply. Personally I think some form of public financing for campaigns is the only solution, but there are a lot of tricky details there too.

    Regarding articles of association, I don’t know the US equivalent but when I set up limited company in the UK I had to have a set of these – they are basically a constitution for the company setting out the roles of shareholders, directors, general meetings etc. In my case since I am the only person involved it meant removing a lot of the template but the point is there are normally rules defining a corporate entity and I can’t imagine that either American businesses or unions are different in that regard.

    I think you are probably right we need to deal with demand but don’t know how. I am very wary of public funding for a couple of reasons.

    1. The idea of people paying for a political campaign they loathe sticks in my throat, I know paying for stuff you don’t want is part of the whole tax deal but for some reason also paying for someone to cheerlead for whatever policy I oppose seems a step too far.

    2. I fear it would cement incumbent even more solidly. You can’t offer financing to anyone who wants it without turning elections into “free money time” as everyone declare themselves a candidate just to cash in so you need some eligibility rules and guess who gets to write those? Most likely it would be based on votes at the previous election or some such and a new party would be left struggling, this happens with private donations as well of course but nothing stops someone donating to the ‘just invented it party’ whereas I suspect getting government funding for the same would be stopped.

  44. 44
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Rutee Katreya

    I’d like to see how much of the vaunted ‘private sector efficiency’ comes from both externalities, and abuse of the peons.

    All of it. The thing that libertarians like to ignore is that ‘efficiency’ is not a concept that exists in a vacuum. Efficiency means accomplishing a defined goal with minimal expenditure of resources; until a goal is defined, the concept of efficiency is meaningless. The ‘private sector efficiency’ championed by libertarians implicitly defines the goal as ‘moving money into the pockets of shareholders/owners of private businesses.’ With that goal, maximising negative externalities and abusing the peons as hard as possible pretty much define efficiency. However, as an indivudual and a member of society, I tend to define the goals of business and government alike (i.e. when discussing economic policy we should assume these to be the goals) as delivering goods and services; if that is the goal, then profit itself is actually the definition of inefficiency, and ought to be discouraged.

  45. 45
    wscott

    Matty1: thanks for the clarification. I share your concerns over public financing; I’m just starting to believe it may the lesser of two evils.

  46. 46
    Ace of Sevens

    There’s also the other libertarian fantasy way of dealing with pollution, which is for everyone’s who suffers damages from the pollution to sue the polluters. This mainly appeals to people who know nothing about the court system.

  47. 47
    Raging Bee

    …my personal experience is that waste is far more prevalent in corporations than in government…

    I don’t doubt that at all — for starters, ADVERTIZING isn’t exactly the most efficient activity on Earth. I was merely pointing out what certain libertarians really mean when they prattle about “efficiency.”

    I was going to say that the difference is simply that you’re familiar with actual libertarians– and can name their names– rather than straw men…

    Excuse me, Gretchen, but straw men don’t write bigoted misleading dehumanizing propaganda.

  48. 48
    matty1

    straw men don’t write bigoted misleading dehumanizing propaganda

    Then how do you explain News Corporation?

  49. 49
    Raging Bee

    Kuznicki and Hanley also exist. And Radley Balko, and Jennifer Abel, and Jacob Sullum, and Joel Salatin, and lots of other libertarians I admire. Strangely these people and their positions rarely seem to come up in discussions of libertarians by people who don’t count themselves as such. I’m pretty sure they’re not aware they exist.

    Yeah, there were also lots of really admirable Communists whose names didn’t come up a lot — probably for the same reasons. (Oh, and putting Hanley in that list pretty much blows your whole argument — if all the others are as devoid of integrity as Hanley showed himself to be, then you’ve proven my point.)

  50. 50
    matty1

    While we’re at it can you point me to Hanely’s comment saying “gummint allowed too much immigration” I can’t seem to find and to be honest it seems out of character given he has written about his wife being the daughter of immigrants.

    I’ll grant you on the ‘vote with your feet’ thing though that is often one of his weaknesses the idea that the smaller a community the more voluntary the membership and so the more acceptable the rules.

  51. 51
    matty1

    OK one more, what are the names of these more prominent libertarians who from my perspective are being obscured behind these insignificant minor figures.

  52. 52
    colnago80

    Re Jaybee @ #28

    It should be recalled that Greenspan was, at one time, an acolyte of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy can be summed up as every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

  53. 53
    Raging Bee

    If I wrote a blog comment bashing the KKK for all the evil acts they did or supported, would anyone here demand I specify exactly which Klansmen I was attacking? Don’t make me laugh. So why do I have to name all of the scumbags who have parroted halfwitted dishonest denialist libertarian talking-points from 1978 all the way up to today? Do you really expect me to name the author of every pamphlet or editorial I’ve ever seen anywhere since the 1970s?

    Also, do I get to count Republicans who explicitly use libertarian talking-points? Or Republicans who call themselves libertarians when the former label gets too embarrassing? What about libertarians who sell out to the Republicans to get safe House seats while still parroting libertarian BS?

    While we’re at it can you point me to Hanely’s comment saying “gummint allowed too much immigration” I can’t seem to find and to be honest it seems out of character given he has written about his wife being the daughter of immigrants.

    That’s what’s so disgraceful about Hanley: he wasn’t just a moron repeating what he’d heard, he was an intelligent person knowingly crafting bullshit arguments, as necessary, to support some part of an ideology he knew was wrong (in this case, the libertarian case against unions). And I’m sure he could have justified it to his wife, on the grounds that he wasn’t blaming her for her ancestors’ response to a gumming policy. Oh, and it was several years ago, in a blog whose comments have since disappeared, so all I can give you is a year, 2009 IIRC, and a place, Dispatches in Scienceblogs.

  54. 54
    Area Man

    “The people I associate with that word are bloggers like Jason Kuznicki and James Hanley who do seem to talk about civil liberties and cooperating with liberals on areas of agreement.”

    My observation is that there are precious few “pure” libertarians who subscribe entirely to libertarian doctrines and apply them consistently. Those that do exist are strange creatures, and its a useful exercise to deal with their beliefs in the abstract, but not many people can stick to such craziness without becoming full-blown anarchists.

    The rest tend to devolve into one of two categories. The first are those who believe sincerely that libertarian principles really are best for the world, and hence they have a basic utilitarian outlook. If you can convince these guys that libertarianism doesn’t work in many situations (and reality has a way of doing that, repeatedly), then they’ll bend their principles and adjust accordingly. Some, like Will Wilkinson or Josh Barro, have compromised their faith to such a degree that they’ve shaken off the libertarian label altogether. They’re basically just liberals with extra skepticism of the state.

    The second type are your so-called “Republicans who smoke pot”. Most do not actually smoke pot, but they’re basically conservatives who favor conservative principles for all the usual reasons: they sympathize with and seek to further the interests of the powerful and privileged, and the libertarian small government cant is a good means to that end. It’s just that they also have a civil libertarian bent, sometimes based on fear of black helicopters and other paranoid ideas, and so they tend to be skeptical of the drug war, foreign wars, surveillance, etc. Ron and Rand Paul are type specimens. But they compromise their libertarianism in all sorts of ways, especially when the interests of the rich are at stake. There’s also an ugly undercurrent of racism and religious bigotry among this group.

    I suspect your experience is more with the first group of apostates than with the second, and that the hardcore defenders of doctrine are probably not something you’re accustomed to dealing with (but they do exist, and can be very obnoxious).

  55. 55
    matty1

    Do you really expect me to name the author of every pamphlet or editorial I’ve ever seen anywhere since the 1970s?

    Could you name one? Really the only time I hear about these views is through other peoples criticisms I never seem to get to the original sources. Oh and I’ll be happy for you to use anyone who at the time they made the statement was calling themselves a libertarian but I’m going to have to draw the line at Republicans who sound libertarian to you but don’t actually claim to be so.

  56. 56
    Raging Bee

    Name one? How about the Cato Institute, which many libertarians acknowledge is a “libertarian think-tank?” Many of the more ridiculous lies and BS I’ve seen in the mainstream media have come from authors identified as “fellows” or some such at the Cato Institute.

    Also, Ron Paul, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, the Koch Brothers…is that enough for you? (Yes, some of them are Republicans, who use libertarian ideology and reasoning as ideological cover for their reactionary pro-business, anti-labor, anti-progressive agenda. That is, in fact, what their ideology was specifically crafted for.)

    Besides, why do I have to name names, when it’s huge chunks of the IDEOLOGY I’m criticizing? Again, I don’t see anyone here asking for names when it’s communism, racists or religious movements being attacked as scams. Why the special pleading for libertarianism?

    It’s pretty pathetic that you’re trying to badger me for names, AFTER so many other commenters have painstakingly described the fatal flaws and basic dishonesty of libertarian ideology. Desperate to change the subject, are we?

  57. 57
    matty1

    Thank you. I will check those out, I’ve certainly never heard before that Mitt Romney called himself a libertarian so it seems I have some research to do.

    Anyway my point was that I am constantly hearing what the ideology is from people who oppose it but when I find people who use the same name for their ideology they are saying something different and I’m afraid it comes across a bit like listening to a preacher explain what atheists believe.

  58. 58
    Gretchen

    Raging Bee is incapable of rational thought when it comes to this topic. I can only wonder how he locates which keys on the keyboard to use, given how caked in spittle they must be. No one who calls him/herself a libertarian or expresses the vaguest of sympathy for those ideals can be given an ounce of credit for any decent act or thought– they are all either the Devil himself, or his knowing or unknowing pawns.

    SMH.

  59. 59
    Area Man

    “Really the only time I hear about these views is through other peoples criticisms I never seem to get to the original sources.”

    You know, there’s an internet out there, and it does work. If you want to figure out what libertarians believe based on what they themselves say, it’s not that hard.

    If you want to familiarize yourself with the purer and more activist strain of libertarianism, I would suggest checking out the Libertarian Party, its candidates, and its platform. They’re not reticent about their beliefs.

  60. 60
    transenigma32

    It depends upon the libertarian type.

    Internet Libertarians, or Deontological Libertarians, are people you can’t reason with and shouldn’t even try. They hold property to be sacred like baby Jesus, government to be evil like Satan, and Rand to be the prophetess of their religion. Same is true for Consequtionalist; in fact, all right-leaning libertarians.

    What most people don’t know is that there are left-leaning libertarians. Libertarian Socialists, Mulutalists, Syndicalists, etc. The anarchism that flourished before Franco stamped it out in Spain during the Civil War was an example of left-leaning libertarianism; anarcho-communism or libertarian socialism, which ever. And it worked; free abortion, people were able to produce and survive on their own with a higher production than they did when the factories were privately owned, and they worked together and watched out for one another. The only difference between that and socialism is there was no government to ensure it; they did it on their own.

    Libertarian socialists can be reasoned with; they’re suspicious of government intervention but even more suspicious of corporations (supporting personal and public property but not private property). Right-leaning libertarians cannot. Unfortunately there’s not enough of the former and far too many of the later for it to matter either way.

  61. 61
    Georgia Sam

    Yeah, I remember growing up in a town where the economy was based mainly on steel production, & the smog got so bad in the summer that you couldn’t see 2 blocks. As we all remember from history class, that resulted in the Great Steel Boycott, which forced the steel companies to reduce their polluting emissions.

  62. 62
    Michael Heath

    Gretchen writes:

    Raging Bee is incapable of rational thought when it comes to this topic.

    I think Raging Bee would do better on this topic if his arguments were more dispassionate, his stridency hurts him here given he owns the winning argument, so his rhetoric gets in his way. As someone who carefully and voluminously considered libertarian arguments for many years in my migration from moderate Republican to what I am now (far more leftist), I find Raging Bee’s points on the character and nature of libertarians as it influences public policy and discourse spot on. Where his characterization of the movement must be distinguished from the abstract arguments a relative handful of libertarians make that get passed around. Bringing up the latter to criticize Raging Bee’s argument only avoids his actual arguments; which are far more relevant to the impact libertarianism has on the U.S..

    Yes defenders of libertarians can easily point to particular libertarians or positions that some libertarians hold that are defendable people and arguments. But those are effectively abstract examples only, a perfect illustration of some people holding a circle jerk since they have no influence. The effective influence of libertarianism is how:
    Glenn Beck practices it,
    the Koch brothers finance it,
    the Pauls caucus and unfortunately for all of us,
    how Raging Bee describes it.

    I do see libertarians providing two benefits to society. The first is a framework for those who are unsuccessfully indoctrinated to be conservatives/authoritarians. It provides an ideology that allows them to reject such thinking without having to take the enormous leap to liberalism. Such a transition isn’t possible for many people if they didn’t have a path through another movement closer to the way they were raised, e.g., the young people who support the Pauls.

    This benefit reminds of PZ Myers’ utility; he provides a forum for young atheists pissed-off because of how the culture mistreats non-believers. Yes it’s beneficial in the sophomoric sense, but at some point I hope his audience gains some emotional maturity and moves on.

    Secondly, libertarians are sometimes able to infiltrate a handful of their arguments into the conservative epistemic cocoon, e.g., some of the civil rights arguments made by the Cato Institute. So eventually we do see some conservatives confronting inconvenient facts and arguments far faster than if there was no libertarian movement.

    So we may justifiably criticize Raging Bee’s rhetorical style on libertarians, especially his chronic hyperbole on the topic. But from my perspective, his conclusions about the nature of the movement as it impacts humanity is far more accurate than how non-conservative defenders of libertarians describe it, where the latter continue to deny what Raging Bee points out. And that’s the effective impact libertarianism has on society.

  63. 63
    Raging Bee

    Raging Bee is incapable of rational thought when it comes to this topic.

    That argument doesn’t work if you don’t even TRY to refute any of my specific points.

    I think Raging Bee would do better on this topic if his arguments were more dispassionate, his stridency hurts him here given he owns the winning argument, so his rhetoric gets in his way. As someone who carefully and voluminously considered libertarian arguments for many years in my migration from moderate Republican to what I am now (far more leftist), I find Raging Bee’s points on the character and nature of libertarians as it influences public policy and discourse spot on. Where his characterization of the movement must be distinguished from the abstract arguments a relative handful of libertarians make that get passed around. Bringing up the latter to criticize Raging Bee’s argument only avoids his actual arguments; which are far more relevant to the impact libertarianism has on the U.S.

    Thank you, Heath, I really appreciate your support here; so I hope you know I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I shorten your paragraph to: “Supporters of libertarianism have nothing to offer but tone-trolling.”

    (I also notice that Gretchen is trying to pretend that I’m the only one here making any attempt to debunk libertarian ideas, even though at least TEN other commenters have added their own refutations. So if my “stridency” is the only reason she has to notice me at all, I think that refutes the notion that my tone is hurting me here. Apparently I’m the one critic the libertarians can’t ignore.)

    It depends upon the libertarian type…

    The “you can’t generalize about them because they’re such a diverse bunch” dodge? I heard that about Communists, and it didn’t make their movement any less full of shit than it makes libertarianism.

    Libertarian socialists can be reasoned with; they’re suspicious of government intervention but even more suspicious of corporations (supporting personal and public property but not private property).

    “Libertarian socialists” is an oxymoron — unless you’re talking about something between libertarianism and socialism on the “scale,” in which case you’re talking about FDR liberals, whom most standard-issue libertarians despise.

    And how influential are “Libertarian socialists” within the libertarian movement as a whole? Is any politician making any use of their ideas the way reich-wing Republicans routinely use standard-issue Randroid/paultardian talking-points?

  64. 64
    D. C. Sessions

    If you focus solely on the economy and libertarians’ free market policies, there won’t be much common ground. But that’s just a small part of the larger governing picture.

    OK, let’s assume that you have a policy where you’re focusing on the libertarian population’s civil liberty (etc.) topics. How many of the current libertarian population will put that ahead of their economic agenda to the extent of tipping their votes? If not tipping their votes, how about overcoming their tribal affiliation?

    Yeah, exactly.

  65. 65
    democommie

    Michael Heath:

    Your use of “strident” in this thread is apt.

    Raging Bee does have a particularly strong dislike for lying fuckbag sacks-of-shit and I, for one, can’t really fault him for that. I mean, the Pauls, Ayn Rand, the Kochsuckers–I’d call them the scum of the earth except that I don’t have a visceral dislike for scum.

  66. 66
    D. C. Sessions

    Kuznicki and Hanley also exist. And Radley Balko, and Jennifer Abel, and Jacob Sullum, and Joel Salatin, and lots of other libertarians I admire. Strangely these people and their positions rarely seem to come up in discussions of libertarians by people who don’t count themselves as such. I’m pretty sure they’re not aware they exist.

    I’m quite well aware that they exist. The questions are:
    * how representative are they of American “libertarians.”
    * how much influence do they have on policy and platforms?

  67. 67
    lofgren

    Sensible libertarians are black swans. I’ve been told that there are places that such creatures breed, and here and there I sometimes think I might have seen one. It certainly seems plausible that this variation exists somewhere. But it’s such a rare sight in the wild that I was probably mistaken. I am comfortable saying with authority that almost all swans are white.

    One surprising contradiction that I see in libertarian positions is an opposition to labeling restrictions. Supposedly one of the proper roles of government is to enforce the contracts that are made between private entities, which include every time a customer purchases something or uses a service. Ensuring that both parties are fully disclosing the nature of the contract is by far the most efficient way of avoiding future conflicts. Libertarians should be in favor of severe truth in advertising laws, as well as restrictions and requirements on labeling designed to ensure maximum transparency. Yet libertarians always seem to come down on the side of the business to print what they want to print and disclose what they want to disclose. The customer just has a responsibility to dig up that information. They always “Should have known,” through osmosis I suppose, that the company might track you and sell your information, or that cigarettes might cause cancer, or that the toxic byproducts will be dumped in a swamp just off a Florida highway. And “if you don’t like it, don’t use it,” forgetting that they have no problem with the sellers of “it” doing almost anything to obscure what “it” actually is.

    If a customer is expected to be able to choose their yogurt based on which multinational conglomerate that owns the distribution rights in their country is doing something bad for the environment on the other side of the planet, then all that information has to be right on the package.

  68. 68
    dingojack

    Pro-tip for you Mr Bee – use the pronoun ‘she’ only about 1/3 of the time, Mr Heath finds that far less ‘strident’ (and that’s the most important criterion in any argument).
    ;) Dingo

  69. 69
    dingojack

    lofgren – “Sensible libertarians are black swans. I’ve been told that there are places that such creatures breed,…”
    Perth, Western Australia is one such place, I believe (Alan Bond, notwithstanding)
    :) Dingo

  70. 70
    Kongstad

    When I meet a free market evangelical I tend to point out that I too think a free market is a net benefit to society in many if not most areas.

    And since it is a benefit, we must heavily regulate the market to assure that it remains free. Without effective regulations monopolies and market sharing will run rampant, in effect closing the market.

    Furthermore, exploitation of workers, pollution and depletion of natural ressources will in short time work to destroy the market itself.

  71. 71
    D. C. Sessions

    And since it is a benefit, we must heavily regulate the market to assure that it remains free. Without effective regulations monopolies and market sharing will run rampant, in effect closing the market.

    Another article in the catechism is that monopolies can only maintain themselves if they provide their customers with superior products and services, because otherwise competition would deprive them of their monopolies. And thus Posner looked upon the Market, and saw that it was good.

  72. 72
    jameshanley

    Hi, Raging Bee, how ya doin’? I’m glad you remember me fondly.

    Best Wishes,

    Evil Lying Libertarian James

  73. 73
    democommie

    “Sensible libertarians are black swans.”

    Unicorns is more like it.

    “One surprising contradiction that I see in libertarian positions is an opposition to labeling restrictions.”

    It’s only a contradiction to those who actually listen to anything beyond, “taxes, bad; regulations, bad; property rights, good” when a libertarian who actually has influence is talking. The current crop of libertarians would have been perfectly fine with the excesses of the industrial revolution.

    jameshanley:

    I amember you! I’m not nearly as kneejerk as Raging Bee (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense–he’s just got a hair trigger about libertarian cant and its disconnection from libertarian action) but I have some problems with people who tend to lie about their true agendas and couch their hatred in seemingly rational “arguments”. The Pauls are adepts in this area.

  74. 74
    democommie

    “Sensible libertarians are black swans.”

    Unicorns is more like it.

    “One surprising contradiction that I see in libertarian positions is an opposition to labeling restrictions.”

    It’s only a contradiction to those who actually listen to anything beyond, “taxes, bad; regulations, bad; property rights, good” when a libertarian who actually has influence is talking. The current crop of libertarians would have been perfectly fine with the excesses of the industrial revolution.

    jameshanley:

    I amember you! I’m not nearly as kneejerk as Raging Bee (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense–he’s just got a hair trigger about libertarian cant and its disconnection from libertarian action) but I have some problems with people who tend to lie about their true agendas and couch their hatred in seemingly rational “arguments”. The Pauls are adepts in this area.

    Speaking of libertarian financial genius, how’s Doc Paul’s golden portfolio looking these days? I’m betting, based on this:

    http://goldprice.org/gold-price-history.html#5_year_gold_price

    that there is some WCSF* happnin’ for a lot of “investors”.

    * World Class Sad Face

  75. 75
    democommie

    Sorry about the seeming double posting. The first time it said that it ate it. I pasted a copy and appended it.

    We regret the error and the needless slaughter of a gazilliajoule electromicrobes.

  76. 76
    randytoad

    Just like to point out that as by almost any criterion you care to name, as far as environmental disasters are concerned Bhopal dwarfs both the BP spill and Chernobyl almost to insignificance.

  77. 77
    gertzedek

    Actually, boycotting BP stations wouldn’t have been that good of an idea, since it would’ve disproportionately hurt local franchise owners (who weren’t responsible at all) while having practically no effect on BP. So the Libertarian anti-pollution argument fails even further.

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