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Oct 31 2013

The libertarian mindset on proud display

I hope you aren’t working on dinner right now, because watching John Stossel and Steve Doocy flaunt their inability to empathize with anyone but their own selfish interests will cause you to lose it.

Stossel is outraged that he has to pay the same insurance premiums as a woman — they go to the doctor more! It’s not as if regular checkups might actually reduce health care costs, you know — he’s saving money by skipping on the maintenance and waiting for the catastrophic disaster.

As for smug little twit Doocy: “I’m in my 60s. Why should I pay for your maternity care?”

Hey, I’m in my 50s, why should I subsidize your greater health care needs, old man? My kids are in their 20s, they shouldn’t have to pay for any insurance, ’cause they’re healthy and young!

Maybe because someday I, and they, will be in our 60s, too. And maybe somebody Doocy loves will need maternity care (oh, wait, no, that can’t be can it? These are Fox News goons, they can’t possibly love a woman, ever.)

Stossel, by the way, is 66. Why the hell is he still employed, still insured, still supported by anyone? Isn’t it way past time for society to stop subsidizing the old geezer, shuffling him off to pasture so young people can move up?

Or is it possible that a responsible society values all of its members and gives them all lifelong equal citizenship?

64 comments

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  1. 1
    MrFancyPants

    To the best of my knowledge, nobody without a prostate has ever developed prostate cancer, yet nobody is complaining about treatment for it being covered by insurance plans. This is just baldfaced misogyny.

  2. 2
    unbound

    To be fair, Stossel has been a disengenius shit bag for at least a couple of decades now. Probably untealistic to think he’s capable of learning how to be a human being anymore

  3. 3
    moarscienceplz

    How come everybody who signs up for basic cable is mandated to buy Fox News as part of the package? Now there’s an outrage!

  4. 4
    markkernes

    I don’t know what Stossel is crabbing about. At 66, he can’t even apply for Obamacare; he has to take Medicare instead. It’s the law. And of course, Doocy seems to have aged, magically: His Wikipedia page lists him as having been born in October of 1956, which would make him 57.

  5. 5
    moarscienceplz

    unbound #2

    Stossel has been a disengenius shit bag for at least a couple of decades now.

    Which is why he left ABC and went to Fox. Shit rolls downhill.

  6. 6
    theoreticalgrrrl

    Did these guys forget how reproduction works? Do they think they sprung, fully-formed, from the skull of Zeus? It’s like maternity care is just some weird “woman thing” that has nothing to do with the propagation of the species they belong to.

  7. 7
    Lithified Detritus

    PZ, please. I know it’s Halloween, and time for scary stuff, but I can’t deal with two Fox News posts in a row.

    Raining here, and only three tiny beggars so far, but Harry Potter just came by.

  8. 8
    sc_ef01767e57882ced3597766c4cf15f8a

    “To the best of my knowledge, nobody without a prostate has ever developed prostate cancer, yet nobody is complaining about treatment for it being covered by insurance plans.”

    That also goes for testicular cancer, which frequently strikes men in their twenties and thirties.

  9. 9
    marcus

    “Isn’t it way past time for society to stop subsidizing the old geezer, shuffling him off to pasture so young people can move up?
    Fuck that noise! I say find the nearest ice floe drop his useless ass on it and bid him a fond adieu. It’s the ‘traditional’ way.
    (Due to the dearth of ice floes these days any largish body of water will suffice.)

  10. 10
    imthegenieicandoanything

    They’re faux-libertarian/Republican (no difference any longer) and on Fox news. They simply can fuck off on this and any issue.

    I’ll forgive them when they’re dead, but they’d better get to it, ‘cos I haven’t got all day.

  11. 11
    Rich Woods

    @marcus #9:

    (Due to the dearth of ice floes these days any largish body of water will suffice.)

    My bathtub is available for hire, at good rates.

    OK, so I could do with the cash. Disposing of the body remains your problem though.

  12. 12
    duce7999

    Why do I have to pay for roads I don’t drive on?
    Why do I have to pay for prisons since I have never committed a crime or been a victim of one?

    We live in a society and infrastructure benefits all of us. I do better when kids are fed and get a quality education even if they aren’t mine. I do better when people can travel freely and safely. I do better when people get the care they need. That’s why I pay for it. It benefits the society in which I live.

  13. 13
    vaiyt

    Reminds me of the story of the homeless woman, living on a park bench because she had literally nothing, who was terrified of socialism because it was going to take everything she had and give to others.

  14. 14
    felidae

    Schnossel and Doocy know what the problem is: FEMALE TROUBLE is expensive to fix

  15. 15
    barbyau

    Once again, idiots completely misunderstand the concepts of risk pooling and the purpose of insurance. If people were just going to pay for their own care and no one else’s, we wouldn’t need insurance. It would be billed the way everything else is billed. The fact of the matter is that when someone needs care almost no one save the top 10% can afford that care at that moment in time. You aren’t paying for care, you are paying for risk reduction. And these guys ARE getting a reduction in the risk of them being financially wiped out by medical expenses, so they are getting what they are paying for.

    And that’s before the fact that generally speaking, we all benefit from having the people around us being healthy and not spreading disease. But then these people have never understood how they can benefit by contributing to the common good.

  16. 16
    barbyau

    And I don’t even know what the conservative message is on reproduction. Don’t use birth control. Don’t plan. Don’t have abortions. Don’t have prenatal care. Don’t have medical care for the birth. Don’t have care for the child after birth. Women and children should just FOAD apparently.

  17. 17
    gshevlin

    Neither of these guys would get the time of day from any libertarians I have known in the past. They are whining authoritarian jackasses, wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  18. 18
    nyarlathotep

    Yeah, my immediate thought after Stossel’s “I’m in my 60s” bullshit was “I’m 21, why should I have to help pay to maintain your failing organs?”

    imthegenieicandoanything @ 11

    They’re faux-libertarian/Republican

    Would “real” libertarian be any better?

  19. 19
    grandolddeity

    Looks like you’ve got Stosshole covered. Well done, carry on.

    Had to do something to announce my 365 day ad-free membership. Love the site; hate the toenail fungus, mangamers only and Liberty University ads. FTB, you might have loaded up the crap ads…I don’t know, but it worked.

  20. 20
    unclefrogy

    I don’t think they care what they say as long as their main purpose is furthered and that is to beat the drum of resentment for their audience.
    It is all an emotional display meant to reinforce the resentments of the “mob” of the mostly ignorant lower classes of those who they think, think are better then them namely . the educated the rational, the liberals,. to blame anyone and everyone different say anything at all to keep them them energized with emotions so they can not think. It works but it is a dangerous strategy. The mob is as likely to turn on them as not when the shit really hits the fan as any thing else.
    something about fooling people and time or something.
    uncle frogy

  21. 21
    eric123

    Stossel: A walking ejaculator of confirmation bias, and one of the least trustworthy media personalities in a couple of generations.

    Opponents of the libertopian cult may be interested in checking out Critiques of Libertarianism: http://critiquesoflibertarianism.blogspot.com/

  22. 22
    OptimalCynic

    And this is why I don’t identify as a libertarian any more. I used to, until I realised how much benefit society gets from shared funding of education, healthcare, welfare, etc.

  23. 23
    Jason Bosch

    Are you sure your libertarian bashing isn’t exclusively American? The way I understood it, libertarianism is about maximising individual freedom. Using the political compass test I wind up highly libertarian and slightly left and in their FAQ one of the questions is:
    “17. You can’t be libertarian and left wing
    This is almost exclusively an American response, overlooking the undoubtedly libertarian tradition of European anarcho-syndicalism. It was, after all, the important French anarchist thinker Proudhon who declared that property is theft.”
    I would consider a lot of your social goals, such as sexual equality, gay marriage and secularism to be libertarian positions. They are all about personal freedom and not having how to live your life dictated by someone else.

  24. 24
    G Stewart

    Jason #23 – firstly, as it notes, the word libertarian was taken over and re-packaged by American right wingers in the 2nd half of the 20th century. Thus there are two different meanings, depending which continent you are on.
    Secondly, there is more overlap in general ideals in politics than people like to think, the key point is how to achieve these amazing goals. Libertarians think you can have all this freedom and a market and minimal government related rules. Lefties recognise that libertarians are dreaming, and that society and the world is more complex than that, hence the usefulness of government. The American libertarians want a minimal government, because it is generally evil, whereas lefties shading to liberals want government with oversight, because it can be of great good and if not looked after, also cause problems. One issue is capture by special interest groups, which in the american case for the last 30 years is rich people and corporations. Libertarians of the american type tend to ignore the disparate power relations between rich and poor and corporation and worker, but provide no mechanism or method of preventing abuse of this gap.
    Also libertarian does not mean anarcho-capitalist, usually, otherwise why would they be so happy voting with the GOP, who only wants to shrink welfare and ban abortion etc. I think anarcho-capitalists at least often admit that there are power disparities, and want to junk both the government and the large corporation.

    Finally, staking out some specific narrow goals as being ‘libertarian’ merely indicates a poverty of political thought, because it ignores the larger social structures and philosophy behind society and politics.

  25. 25
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Jason Bosch,

    USA is… special. But European countries have their libertarian delusionists too and even if most of them were libertarian lite, they still usually have a lot to say against taxes, for privatization, against workers’ rights, etc.

    I note you list some social goals that align with PZ’s, but there’s no mention of social safety net or economic positions.

    They are all about personal freedom and not having how to live your life dictated by someone else.

    Or this is the answer to my question about your position regarding economy, health care, privatization…. considering that those nasty governments want to dictate have you spend your money, including forcing you to give it back to them?

  26. 26
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Jason @23:

    I recommend clicking the link provided by eric123 @21. That should provide all the answers you need about the libertarianism PZ is referring to.

    [Exploring some of the resources provided at the above link, I came across the following]:

    99% of libertarianism is obviously untrue or unacceptible. How can we know that so easily? Here are some simple principles that make it obvious (though these problems are not unique to libertarianism.) For brevity and clarity, “many” and “most” are omitted: presume they are there.

    1. Libertarians can only agree with each other if they get so vague that their statements have no fixed meaning. It’s the same way we know that no more than one religion could be right, and probably none are.

    2. Libertarians use vague glittering generalities of propaganda (terms like “liberty”) rather than specifics such as “liberty for A to do B at an uncompensated cost C to D”.

    3. Libertarianism is based on imaginary “natural rights” (including property rights.) Real rights are creations of coercive human institutions such as law.

    4. Libertarians ignore the fact that all real rights, including property, are coercive. Non-coercive “rights” are merely moral claims.

    5. Libertarianism privileges property rights (their “liberty”) above all other values, redefining liberty in terms of property.

    6. Libertarian economic arguments are based on multiple, conflicting, unrealistic economic models such as “economic man”.

    7. Libertarians prefer the feudal property relations of business and markets to democracy.

    The rest of the list–> http://critiques.us/wiki/The_Short,_Simple_Dismissal_Of_Libertarianism

  27. 27
    OptimalCynic

    7. Libertarians prefer the feudal property relations of business and markets to democracy.

    I take issue with that. Markets are basically people voting every time they make a decision, that’s pretty democratic.

  28. 28
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Uhm, wait, I always thought the very idea of insurance was that I would pay in when I’m not in need whilesomebody else pays when I’m in need?
    Maybe it’s just that I never understood what “insurance” means.

    BTW, over the years my husband must have paid like the equivalent of 2 middle-class cars for unemployment insurance. He will probably pay the same amount again before he retires because he’s got one of those very safe jobs unless he does something remarkably stupid. He says that if he never needs a penny of that money he’ll be happy.

  29. 29
    consciousness razor

    I would consider a lot of your social goals, such as sexual equality, gay marriage and secularism to be libertarian positions. They are all about personal freedom and not having how to live your life dictated by someone else.

    I don’t think you’ve considered this. That isn’t what they are “all about.” I’m going to make this very general, since it’s such a general and confused claim to begin with. (Which I’ve seen repeatedly all over, for which you’re not to blame of course, but the idea really needs to die.)

    To start with, if I “dictated” to you that those are rights people ought to have, there better not be any complaint that this violates your supposed “freedom” to have these very same moral obligations “imposed” by me, or by “someone else” or a society. (This is of course the common right-libertarian argument, and I see no indication that any flavor of left-libertarianism offers a coherent argument against it.)

    That means they should be treated as obligations or responsibilities we have to one another. Treating it as an obligation, regardless of how it might be imposed or not imposed, is to not treat these obligations as freedoms. There are of course certain ways of imposing or enforcing laws which are not ethical, but nowhere near all, and generally how the rules are enforced is not a way to determine the value of the rule itself. So the reality is that you are not in any moral sense “free” to respect or disrespect something like social equality (no more than you’re free to break any other kind of law).

    Maybe I just don’t get how to make sense of that kind of a claim in the first place. What the hell is it supposed to mean? Freedom from what or freedom to what? You are in some way not constrained to treat others equally or unequally? And if either or both were the case, that’s supposed to be a positive thing? Is that what a left-libertarian thinks is the justification for it? That it is not the case that anyone forces you to treat people equally, and that it might also come “naturally” in whatever your individual moral code might be? If it isn’t in someone’s individual moral code, then what does the left-libertarian say? Is it this freedom itself that counts, or is it the end result of what actually turns out to be equal or fair or ethical?

    At best — and this is almost certainly too generous — it looks like a recipe for naivety and/or myopia. Even if it works at an individual level (because you happen to have progressive positions and have confusingly labeled them “libertarian”), it is simply not viable at a political level.

  30. 30
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    OptimalCynic,

    In democracy*, everyone has one vote and everyone’s vote weighs the same. In markets, those with most money are the ones making the real decisions, those that affect others too.
    If I don’t have access to socialised health care, my decision about going to the dentist isn’t really mine to make or rather, I only have one choice so that’s hardly democratic – no money, no dentist.

    *well, by definition at least

  31. 31
    Nick Gotts

    Jason Bosch@23,

    It certainly used to be the case that “libertarian” could be used of themselves by lefties, but the UK’s “Libertarian Alliance”s (there are two of them) represent exactly the same kind of psychopathic selfishness as American “libertarians”, and that;’s how the word is now used here. The far right have stolen and dirtied the word, and I don’t think it’s reclaimable.

  32. 32
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Mike Huben:

    I think most other skeptics are loathe to criticize the ideas of libertarian skeptics because it will cause infighting among skeptics. Much as feminism is causing infighting right now in the atheist/skeptical community, much to the chagrin of Shermer, Dawkins, and others. My personal feeling is that it is a battle that ought to be fought, just as the feminist battle ought to be fought. If some big names are lost, so what: new names will become important.

  33. 33
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Oops. Thats from the link @21.

  34. 34
    sarah00

    While the whole US healthcare debate has baffled me for years, I’ve managed to sort of understand how people can get into the mindset where healthcare is a personal responsibility rather than a societal one. But this latest round has created a whole heap of new “WTF” moments, and the one which is puzzling me most is this suggestion that young people don’t need healthcare because they’re healthy. Putting to one side the fact that not everyone is healthy when they’re young, do young people in America not get into accidents? Has the US managed to somehow protect their youth so that anyone under the age of 35 cannot break bones or suffer any other trauma? Has the US developed such clean environments that no-one gets diseases? If this is the case, why are they withholding these amazing medical developments from the rest of the world? Or are the American youth just as vulnerable as the rest of us but some people are so blinded by fear of any form of universal healthcare that they’re flailing around grasping at any potential straws they find?

  35. 35
    robinjohnson

    OptimalCynic, #27

    Markets are basically people voting every time they make a decision, that’s pretty democratic.

    Everybody has the same number of votes. Not everybody has the same amount of money.

  36. 36
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    From Tony’s (#32) quote (which is from eric123′s (#21) link):

    My personal feeling is that it is a battle that ought to be fought, just as the feminist battle ought to be fought. If some big names are lost, so what: new names will become important.

    While one might be critical of the source, when Goliath fell, I believe the very fact of his fall elevated another.

    If it turns out there is truly a “hero” opposed to feminism or supporting libertarianism, feminism cannot overthrow the heroes of misogyny and non-libertarians cannot overthrow the heroes of the cult of Rand without in the very act of ridding us of counter-productive heroes, create feminist, non-Randian heroes.

    One may argue we would be better without heroes altogether, but that is a separate question and a human tendency that will require a separate effort to combat. The overthrow of heroes will not itself rid the world of heroes; the hero-worshipping argument, then, can follow its delusional wisp into the swallowing black and die a death appropriate to all instincts to preserve anti-justice so as to preserve peace.

  37. 37
    OptimalCynic

    Beatrice: But with something like state-funded healthcare vouchers that objection goes away. I know there’s problems with them, but a lack of democracy isn’t one of them imho.

  38. 38
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @robinjohnson:

    More to the point, what is the purpose of democracy?

    Could it be that democracy is at its essence a bid to limit the ability of power to impose its will on persons by spreading that power out evenly among the electorate?

    Your observation is true, but money does not vote and some will use that to say you commit a category error. Your observation is not a complete argument without reference to the fact not mere equalization of “votes” but equalization of power is the point of democracy.

    Moreover, power does not increase linearly with wealth. As has been often noticed, it is the rich that get the most free stuff. What one person might be able to accomplish with a $50k direct donation or the purchase of $500k of advertising, another might accomplish passively through simply allowing Forbes to publish a favorable article.

    To say, as SCOTUS has, that democracy is undone if money is not free to speak is to openly endorse the anti-democratic movement.

  39. 39
    robinjohnson

    @Crip Dyke:
    Money doesn’t, and shouldn’t vote; equalisation of power is the point of democracy, therefore political power shouldn’t be attached to something unevenly distributed like money. This is the problem with pretending that markets are democratic because you can choose what to buy, as OptimalCynic seemed to be saying.

    Sorry if I expressed myself poorly – I wanted to put it in a pithy couple of sentences, I suppose. I don’t think we are disagreeing with each other.

  40. 40
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    OptimalCynic,

    That was not an explanation on how markets are democratic.

  41. 41
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Also, I’m not American, and I don’t know anything about plans for health care vouchers. I’m googling, but the explanations depend on which side the source is leaning (right/left), so I’m a bit lost on the details.

  42. 42
    dancaban

    I would happily pay for his funeral costs. Anytime.

  43. 43
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @Jason Bosh #23

    That depends what you mean by libertarianism. In the USA, Randian libertarianism (a confused mix of traditional libertarianism and Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism”, despite the latter’s professed hatred of the former) is rampant, and that is generally what an American person will be referring to when they say “libertarian”. Randian libertarianism, if you don’t know, is basically the idea that you have no obligations to anyone else and they have no obligations to you, and that the free market is some sort of magical lodestone that will right itself as long as you leave it alone. The end result is that it advocates a sort of pseudo-anarchy where if you’re rich, you’re fine and if you’re poor, you’re fucked. It’s selfishness as a political ideology.

  44. 44
    Chie Satonaka

    @barbyau, #15

    You aren’t paying for care, you are paying for risk reduction.

    Thank you for this phrase. It’s a great way of putting it, and I’ll make sure to remember it!

  45. 45
    gussnarp

    I’m not sure if Stossel moving to Fox News is part of positive trend where the unhinged right winger are all concentrated in one place on the news so we know what we’re getting, or if it’s a negative because it’s allowed him to come completely unhinged while granting him a thin varnish of respectability, at least among people who don’t know how low Fox News has sunk (and the fact that it has managed to sink lower is quite a feat).

    It disturbs me that every gym I’ve been a member of always had Fox News playing on a TV in the main equipment area. Since I’ve been injured and can’t run I’ve been hitting the gym and seeing quite a bit of Fox lately only to find that the examples that turn up on the Daily Show and liberal websites aren’t cherry picking, in fact they’re far from the worst. The other day I walked into a local restaurant with my family and Fox was on the TVs doing a very important segment on how feminism has made women unhappy with special guest Gavin McInnes and the text at the bottom of the screen was the title of the book. I realize now I should have complained to the restaurant owner because no matter how conservative, you’d think you wouldn’t want the word piss in big block letters on the TVs in your family restaurant. You wouldn’t think you’d put that on your screen during the day when you claim to represent family values and be a legitimate news organization. That didn’t occur to me at the time because I was far more disturbed by the actual content.

    Then there was Stossel doing a special report on how we’re a victimhood society or some such. Nobody needs welfare, they’re all entitled moochers (like he’s not?), there’s no real racism, the abuse of the Indian beauty pageant winner doesn’t count because it was just some random Twitter comments, ad nauseum. But say you wanted to do a real segment on welfare, and even be critical. You’d go out and find guests who were experts and try to at least get real data on who gets welfare and honestly tell people who’s eligible, what they have to do to stay eligible, and do some cost benefit analysis, right? Well Stossel brought on an expert all right: the head of the Ayn Rand Foundation. Seriously. That’s who he went to for expert analysis. Fox has the right to spread their lies (though I question whether they have a right to license the public airways for such, in spite of court rulings in their favor), but no more should it be treated as a legitimate news channel to be played in nearly every bar, restaurant, and gym outside of the liberal enclaves of the country.

  46. 46
    robb

    we won’t have to pay for insurance for old people if we implement the policies in Logan’s Run.

  47. 47
    tbp1

    Conservatives in general, but libertarians in particular, really don’t seem to understand the concept of shared risk. I’ve never need the Fire Department, and have only called the cops a couple of times in my life, and that was to get police reports on minor break-ins for insurance purposes, but I don’t begrudge a single dime of my taxes that have gone for their support. So far I’ve paid WAY more in insurance premiums of all kinds than I have gotten back in benefits, but I’m perfectly OK with that.

    And this idea that young people don’t need health insurance is pure BS. While on the whole young adults are healthier and require less health care than older people, it’s by no means universal. Just among my family and friends I know someone who had a catastrophic spinal injury at age 32, with over a million dollars in medical expenses during the 20 years he lived after (thank goodness for excellent employer provided insurance) and someone who had a major stroke in his 30s.

  48. 48
    Cynickal

    I take issue with that. Markets are basically people voting every time they make a decision, that’s pretty democratic.

    Only if you have just a ECON095 understanding of how markets work.
    Once you bring in market entry costs, vertical integration, price collusion, monopolies, concentration of markets through time, lead loss merchandise, inventory dumping to flood the market place, stock manipulation, microsecond transactions, preferred loan rates, and many, many other gray market practices that keep consumers from actually having the freedom to just be informed, then you will begin to understand that without heavy regulations there is no freedom in the Free Market.

    (Hurray! My degree was finally worth something!)

  49. 49
    nich

    Stossel has been a disengenius shit bag for at least a couple of decades now.

    Heh…the only way Stossel and genius can ever appear in the same sentence is when it’s the result of a typo.

  50. 50
    LykeX

    OptimalCynic

    But with something like state-funded healthcare vouchers that objection goes away

    But that’s an intervention into the free market. You can’t argue that the free market is democratic if the only way to make it so is to suspend it.

  51. 51
    A Masked Avenger

    Barbyau, #15:

    Once again, idiots completely misunderstand the concepts of risk pooling and the purpose of insurance. If people were just going to pay for their own care and no one else’s, we wouldn’t need insurance.

    I didn’t watch the Stossel video. You’re absolutely right that “risk pooling” is irrelevant if you intend to “pay for your own care and no one else’s,” and it’s possible that Stossel is confused about risk pooling.

    However, it is valid to observe that, “I belong to a group that never needs procedure X. To the extent that this reduces the average cost of health care for my group, it’s possible that I can enjoy cheaper premiums if the risk pool consists only of my group, than if it included people who need procedure X.” Putting everyone into a giant risk pool causes the lower-risk members to subsidize the higher-risk members. Creating separate risk pools, based on various factors, allows some people to pay lower premiums by joining a pool that excludes various attributes associated with higher costs.

    Another disclaimer is that I’m not an actuary. It’s possible that segregating risk pools by sex would give women the lower premiums. I have no idea of the relative cost x risk of childbirth or breast cancer, on the one hand, versus prostate cancer, impotence, and hernias, on the other. Stossel is likely appealing to incomplete information here: we know that only women give birth, but we have no idea of other differential risks.

    tbp1, #47:

    Conservatives in general, but libertarians in particular, really don’t seem to understand the concept of shared risk.

    Some libertarians, at least, understand shared risk quite well. In fact they argue that an insurance model represents a viable substitute for (at least some) government services. For example, they would suggest that if insurance paid for the fire department, while government confined itself to preventing either the insurer or the fire department from committing fraud or other crimes, then (they argue) this would result in better fire services at a lower cost.

    They recognize that this would lead to different levels of cost for people in different risk pools: people in rural areas might pay more (due to higher fire-fighting costs) or less (due to decreased risk of fires spreading); people in steel high-rises might pay less; people in wooden apartment buildings in dense neighborhoods might pay more; and people in areas with a high risk of arson, like a warehouse district, might pay very high rates. Risk pooling levels out the cost, because “pooling,” but still can have highly variable costs for different pools, because “risk.”

    I think what you’re really objecting to is what PZ also objected to in the original post:

    Or is it possible that a responsible society values all of its members and gives them all lifelong equal citizenship?

    In other words, why don’t we put everyone into the same risk pool, thereby sharing the costs equally for all? Why would we discriminate against women, if indeed their health care costs more, or old men, or poor factory workers, etc? Segregating people into different risk pools means that some get to enjoy low premiums, and some get to suffer extremely high premiums.

    Earlier the comparison was made between government and insurance, and it’s apt: the part of your taxes that pay for fire services, is effectively firefighting insurance. There are pools with different costs, by the way–but they’re not risk pools. Often, fancy neighborhoods with relatively low fire risk will have bigger, fancier fire departments, and a correspondingly larger millage for the fire district. It’s an interesting question whether a more insurance-like model would result in lower costs and/or a fairer allocation of firefighting resources.

    But the analogy seriously breaks down because another attribute of risk pools is a relative flattening of cost. Rich and poor alike, in the same risk pool, will pay about the same amount for about the same coverage. That isn’t actually what PZ, or much of anyone on this thread, actually wants. I think it’s safe to say that most support a progressive tax code, whereby the richer ones subsidize the poorer ones disproportionately to their relative risk. In the extreme case, of a completely indigent citizen, we essentially want the rich citizen to pick up the entire bill–even if the rich person has zero risk of needing this particular service.

    That being the case, I think we and Stossel are talking past each other to some extent. Risk simply isn’t the driver when billing for government services; ability to pay completely swamps most other considerations. Government services are expensive, and we make the rich pay for the largest portion of it, and the middle class for the next largest, because (to quote Willie Horton), “That’s where the money is.” We can’t expect the poor to pay the bill, because they don’t have anything to pay it with. Couching all this in terms of insurance seems to obscure some key points.

  52. 52
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @nich #49

    “Stossel lacks genius.”

  53. 53
    eric123

    Critics of libertarianism may also find this interview with Mike Huben very interesting:
    http://www.replyall.me/peltacast/scourge-of-the-libertarians-interview-with-mike-huben/

    Huben has compiled more anti-libertarian resources in one place in his Critiques of Libertarianism site than likely anywhere on or off line. After several decades of focus on this issue, you’d assume he knew a thing or two, and in fact he does. His learning around criticisms of libertarianism is formidable and unmatched in any other critic of libertarianism I’ve yet come across after years of casual study.

    I have no idea if he’d be interested or not, or whether he’s a good speaker, but he might be a great candidate for future secular conventions. It’s long overdue that the intellectual embarrassment that libertarianism can often be, be given its skeptical due diligence.

  54. 54
    Chie Satonaka

    Putting everyone into a giant risk pool causes the lower-risk members to subsidize the higher-risk members.

    And eventually, those lower risk people will age into a higher risk category and be subsidized by those who are younger. Everyone will have a serious health issue in their lifetimes.

    There is a social benefit to maternity and wellness programs that result in the births of healthy children. We are not islands unto ourselves, unaffected by others around us; we are a society. Promoting the social good will benefit us as individuals even if we never have children ourselves.

  55. 55
    aaronpound

    Creating separate risk pools, based on various factors, allows some people to pay lower premiums by joining a pool that excludes various attributes associated with higher costs.

    The problem with your analysis is that it leaves out the very real threat of defraying of insurance markets, which is exacerbated by slicing risk pools too thinly.

  56. 56
    A Masked Avenger

    Chie, #54:

    And eventually, those lower risk people will age into a higher risk category and be subsidized by those who are younger. Everyone will have a serious health issue in their lifetimes.

    As someone who has gone from a thin, healthy non-diabetic, to a 300+ lb diabetic, to a 200+- lb with normal HbA1c again, I am plenty well aware that people change their risk factors over time. It’s accurate that putting high- and low-risk people in the same pool results in low-risk people subsidizing high-risk people. I didn’t state approval or disapproval of that fact; merely that it is indeed a fact. I went on to mention that the entire discussion misses the point, since people don’t actually want high-risk people (who are liable to be poor) subsidizing low-risk people (who are liable to be wealthy)–what they want is people with money, regardless of their risk, to subsidize people without money, regardless of their risk.

    aaronpound, #55:

    The problem with your analysis is that it leaves out the very real threat of defraying of insurance markets, which is exacerbated by slicing risk pools too thinly.

    Obviously! I don’t recall saying anything to the effect that it’s desirable to slice risk pools ad infinitum. The most obvious problem with slicing risk pools too thinly is that the pool shrinks. The intention behind risk pooling is that the premiums collected must at least cover the inevitable settlements, and this requires an adequately large group of individuals actually paying premiums. The economics of insurance change completely for small pools. When the pool consists of myself alone, the concept of expected value becomes meaningless, and the only premium that makes sense is something approaching 100% of the cost: if I do end up needing the surgery, or whatever, then it doesn’t do me a damn bit of good having put aside some small fraction of the cost.

    My statement above was no more nor less than this: when one risk pool is subdivided into two, it’s possible that members of one will pay smaller premiums than members of the other. I’d agree with you that my statement assumes that neither of the new pools is so small that other factors start to dominate the actuarial considerations–so the two pools need to be much closer to N/2 each, than to (N-1) and 1. I’m not sure, though, why you thought that quibble was important enough to raise, or why you described it as “the problem with my analysis”? A complete treatment of the economics of insurance (which includes more than risk pooling) would be a pretty insane thing to expect in the comments section of a blog…

    In any case, though, none of this really speaks to PZ’s objection to this entire line of reasoning: namely, what we really advocate is not a universal risk pool. We emphatically do not want 300 million Americans to each pay 1/300,000,000th of the cost of health care in America. But that’s precisely how risk pooling works. We don’t really give a damn about relative risk in the first place. We want the full cost of health care in America paid, yes. Such that everyone can have whatever health care they need, yes again. But we want the cost divided up primarily according to one’s ability to pay, without regard to risk. We want the bottom 1% to pay nothing, and we want the top 1% to pay something like 40% of the total cost. This doesn’t yield a critique of insurance per se, because what we want is not insurance. It’s only very loosely analogous to insurance.

  57. 58
    eric123

    One lesser known aspect of libertarianism is the open racism of many of its thought leaders. Take, e.g., Murray Rothbard:

    From the article:

    “In his review of that infamous tome of racist pseudo-science, The Bell Curve, Rothbard raves about how the book has scientifically established the ‘almost self-evident fact that individuals, ethnic groups, and races differ among themselves in intelligence and in many other traits, and that intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary.’ For Rothbard, this is a development to be celebrated. Why?

    [Rothbard:] “Two reasons we have already mentioned; to celebrate the victory of freedom of inquiry and of truth for its own sake; and a bullet through the heart of the egalitarian-socialist project. But there is a third reason as well: as a powerful defense of the results of the free market. If and when we as populists and libertarians abolish the welfare state in all of its aspects, and property rights and the free market shall be triumphant once more, many individuals and groups will predictably not like the end result. In that case, those ethnic and other groups who might be concentrated in lower-income or less prestigious occupations, guided by their socialistic mentors, will predictably raise the cry that free-market capitalism is evil and “discriminatory” and that therefore collectivism is needed to redress the balance. In that case, the intelligence argument will become useful to defend the market economy and the free society from ignorant or self-serving attacks. In short; racialist science is properly not an act of aggression or a cover for oppression of one group over another, but, on the contrary, an operation in defense of private property against assaults by aggressors.”

    There’s much more of interest from the same essay:
    http://herrnaphta.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/racism-and-american-libertarian-thought/

  58. 59
    unclefrogy

    Libertarians almost have a point. They preach the free market and liberty and all good will come from it. That would be OK but they are in a sense talking about original conditions really. We have been playing the game of economics for a very long time now. There have been many sacred contracts hammered out in that time and we have felt it expedient to form rules and regulations and hire referees to keep the game going and insure that the rules are followed.
    They are advocating going back to first conditions but without leveling the players. They want to keep the current conditions constant and wipe out all the contracts we have in operation and start over.
    Such a childish idea to come in to a game and want everyone to start over but let them have a head start.
    Of course everyone is free to do anything they want that is first conditions, others are free to disagree with you at any time and want to stop you then what? We come to some kind agreement by mutual consent or force if need be but an agreement will be made
    we have evolved these conditions over time. some of the agreements had to be hammered out on a battle field why do these fool realize that?

    uncle frogy

  59. 60
    vaiyt

    @unclefrogy
    I disagree. Libertarians also believe society should be a zero-sum game, where given equal conditions the “best” would “win” and the rest should not be protected from any fall.

  60. 61
    OptimalCynic

    But that’s an intervention into the free market. You can’t argue that the free market is democratic if the only way to make it so is to suspend it.

    The free market isn’t some monolithic block. It’s a tool, like the scientific method. You use markets where they work to set prices and share resources. Where they don’t work (public goods and externalities) you regulate and take collective action.

  61. 62
    jeff1947

    @vaiyt

    Most libertarians (left or right side of the spectrum) I’ve been around during the past 50 years emphasize first, politically, the freedom of the individual against the authority of the government; But economically, libertarian (on the right side of the spectrum) emphasis has always been on the idea that society is NOT a zero-sum game and that individual freedom will benefit everyone economically (I know, that is usually mocked and dismissed as “trickle-down” theory). Even authoritarians/paternalists who are willing to admit it’s not a zero-sum game and that the “pie” can get bigger will always rely on the emotion of envy in the electorate to increase the power of government.

  62. 63
    Nick Gotts

    But economically, libertarian (on the right side of the spectrum) emphasis has always been on the idea that society is NOT a zero-sum game and that individual freedom will benefit everyone economically (I know, that is usually mocked and dismissed as “trickle-down” theory). – jeff1947

    I can’ t think ofanyone who believes society is a zero-sum game. As for the claim that “economic freedom will benefit everyone” (i.e., no government intervention in markets, no welfare state) it’s just a barefaced lie. We know this, from copious historical evidence.

  63. 64
    Nick Gotts

    eric123@58,

    Thanks for that. The racism of libertarians is usually less open!

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