Libertarians and the Milkcow’s calf blues

January 12th, 2008

Libertarians get patronized a lot. Chipmunky and earnest, always pursuing logical consistency down wacky paths, they pose no real threat to the established order.

This is a bad start to a bad article. It seems that many american writers are not capable of serious logical thought; there is nothing wrong with sweeping generalizations (as long as they make you laugh) but these sorts of line are nothing more than propagandistic slander words.

And I beg to differ that they are ‘no threat to the established order’. Libertarians and Libertarian ideas are the biggest threat the established order have faced in one hundred years.

But the modest success of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas in the presidential campaign entitles them to some answers to the questions they raise. They say: People should be free to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. If you agree, how do you justify (let’s pick just two): 1) laws that forbid private behavior, such as recreational drugs; 2) government programs that redistribute one person’s money to someone else?

The libertarian perspective is useful, and undervalued. Why does the government pay farmers not to grow food? Why are medications for fatal diseases sometimes held off the market in case they aren’t safe? (Compared to death?) Legislators and regulators should ask themselves far more often than they do whether some government activity or other expands freedom or contracts it.

Furthermore, democracy and majority rule are no answers. Tyranny of the majority is a constant danger. How would you like a law requiring that people with odd Social Security numbers have to give $1,000 to people with even Social Security numbers? To libertarians, much of what the government does is essentially like that.

So what is wrong with the libertarian case for extremely limited government? Economics 101 teaches some of the basic justifications for government interference in the economy. Some things, such as the cost of national defense, are “public goods.” We can’t each decide for ourselves how much defense we want. We have to decide that together. Then there are “externalities,” which are costs (or, sometimes, benefits) that your decisions impose on me. Pollution is the classic example. Without government involvement of some sort to override our individual judgments, we will produce more pollution than most of us want.

I would say that pollution is a modern example, and it is there because the market for energy is distorted. The free market might have been able to produce a pollution free economy by now if it had been left to do so, just as we would be on Mars had Nuclear engines been allowed to fully develop and fly.

There are “market-oriented” solutions to this problem, but there is a difference –often forgotten, especially by Republicans — between using market forces and leaving something to the market. The point of principle is whether the government should intervene at all. How it chooses to intervene is purely pragmatic.

No. The point of principle is the the source of how we consent to ourselves to be governed; we should never allow government to choose to intervene on the basis of what is pragmatic. Governments that do that wind up expelling all ‘foreigners’, treating foreigners like animals, building concentration camps and waging pre-emptive wars.

Libertarians have a fondness for complex arrangements to make markets work in situations where the textbooks say they can’t. Hey, let’s issue stamps, y’see, and use the revenues to form a corporation that sells stock to buy military equipment, then the government leases the equipment and the stockholders vote on whether to user it — and so on. The point becomes proving a point, not economic or government efficiency.

That is a straw man argument.

Libertarians also have a tendency to see too many issues in terms of property rights (just as liberals, they would counter, tend to see everything in terms of discrimination and equal protection). Pollution, libertarians say, is simply theft: you are stealing my clean air. Settle it in court. This is a really terrible idea: inexpert judges, lawyers and juries using the most elaborate and expensive decision-making process known to humankind — litigation — to make inconsistent decisions in different cases. And usually there is no one “right” answer: There is a spectrum of acceptable answers, involving tradeoffs (dirty air versus fewer jobs, etc.) that ought to be made democratically — that is, through government.

This is so wrong I do not know where to start. Sorry, yes, I do!
America is alredy ligigation mad. There is no way that more litigation is possible in that country; there are not enough judges or courts. But that is to use one of Kinsleys poorly formed style of argument. Judges and lawyers and juries are inexpert in everything else that is going on today; just look at the absurd decisions to do with RAM; it is clear that anything technical is out of the depth of most judges; does that mean that we cannot use the courts to settle disputes and that we must turn to Big Brother to solve all our problems? Of course not, one of the chief reasons being that government is as incompetent and science illiterate as any judge and jury. There is no reason why when you have a jury of your peers, the correct decision cannot be arrived at. If we are talking about pollution, then the judge should be a scientist with the correct background. If we are talking about wether a company should store the temporary and fleeting files that are held in the RAM of a server running LigHTTPd then the judge should be someone who knows the difference between ‘Apache’ and ‘an Apache’. As you can see from those links, the Google knows the difference!

To say that, “the solution ought to be made democratically — that is, through government”, is to engage in a dastardly misuse of the English language. It is a form of abuse that has been going on for a long time in both the UK and the USA; the substitution of the meaning of the word ‘fair’ with the word ‘democracy’. What Kinsley is doing is substituting the meaning of one word for another in a modern (and rather nasty) shorthand that connects a system of government to a word meaning goodness.

If we take that sentence literally, it makes no sense. To say pollution problems should be solved democratically means that a vote should be taken on each separate issue; not that the issue should be turned over to government to arbitrate. These subtle linguistic tricks, if they are done deliberately are evil in writing. If they are not done deliberately, then Kinsley is a poor thinker and writer. Either way it is wrong.

Sometimes libertarians end up reinventing the wheel. My favorite example is an article I read years ago advocating privatization of highways. This is a classic libertarian fantasy: government auctions off the land, private enterprise pays for construction and maintenance, tolls cover the cost, competition with other routes keeps it all efficient. And what about, um, intersections? Well, markets would recognize that it is more efficient for one company to own both roads at major intersections, and when that happened the company would have an incentive to strike the right balance between customers on each highway. And stoplights? Ultimately, the author had worked his way up to a giant monopoly that would build, own, and maintain all the roads, and charge an annual fee to people who wanted to use them. None dare call it government.

This is another straw man. You can come up with an infinite number of different offensive and unworkable proposals, call them ‘Libertarian’ and then say, “see! they are all wacky!”. None of these arguments change the true nature of Libertarianism, and none of them will dent its popularity. This is the dull thinking of the inured, powered by stupid skeptic tricks.

Something similar goes on when the government forbids or requires people to do something for their own good. Why shouldn’t people, at least adult people, have the right to decide for themselves? Libertarian thinking has been useful, for example, in making it easier to get prescription drugs through the maze at the FDA. The Terry Shiavo case of 2005 was libertarianism’s greatest moment so far, as the entire nation rose up in defense of her right to die.

I thought Libertarianism’s greatest moment was the penning of The Constitution…I could be wrong of course…

The trouble here is that libertarians tend to analogize everything to a right to die. If you have the right to end your own life, you must have the right to do anything else you wish, short of that. If you’re allowed to shoot yourself through the head, why aren’t you allowed to drive without a seat belt?

Or ride a bicycle or motorcycle without a helmet.

The answer is that it’s a bad analogy. When you drive without a seat belt, you are not motivated by a desire to die, or even a desire to take a small risk of dying. Why should your motive matter? Because your death — especially your death in a car crash — does impose externalities on others. I would pay good money not to have to see your bloody carcass lying beside the highway, or endure the traffic jam, or pay the emergency room costs. A serious right like the right to die may be worth the cost, while a right to be careless or irresponsible is not.

To say that government should force people to wear seatbelts so that you are not inconvenienced by a traffic jam is patently absurd. It is also absurd to say that government compulsion is justified to spare you the sight of a bloody carcass. These are the words of a selfish and stupid man; a man who clearly doesn’t understand the value of liberty, a squeamish and milk blooded weakling who is terrified of life, who happily runs into the arms of government for everything and anything. This is not the sort of person who would have packed up a trunk and taken the perilous voyage to the new world. This is not the sort of man who built america – or anything else for that matter. People as soft as that last paragraph implies are the Eloi; the human cattle of this age.

They are ‘the problem’.

Perhaps if more americans were exposed to carnage, in other words, real life, they would have a better appreciation of what it means to send their military to other countries to inflict ‘regime change’ on innocent people. More on that below.

Llibertarians are quick to see hidden costs of ignoring libertarian principles and slow to see such costs in adhering to them. For example, Tucker Carlson reports in the Dec. 31 New Republic that Ron Paul wants to end the federal ban on unpasteurized milk. No one should want to drink unpasteurized milk, and almost no one does. Paul himself doesn’t. But it bothers him that the government tells people they cannot do something they shouldn’t do. Libertarians would say that if most people want pasteurized milk, the market will supply it. Firms will emerge to certify that milk has been pasteurized. These firms will compete, keeping them honest.

And that is the difference between people who live by principle and people who do not. A I said above we should only consent to be governed by a government that operates on principle, not by what is pragmatic. This concept is alien to the sheeple like Kinsley. The very idea frightens them; and that is behind this image of people drinking untreated milk.

Fear of untreated milk is symbolic of the programmed fear that the sheeple live in. They are like the hive people in THX-1138, where there is nothing natural; where the only food is processed food. The immediate revulsion felt by most people when they think about drinking milk straight from the cow without being blessed and sanctified by ‘science’ is the same reaction that drives them to run to the government to solve every problem. It is the same perverted instinct that causes them to distrust the flow of life and the market. It is the same force that has created the “Health and Safety” mass hysteria that has overtaken the once sane and rational British.

So yes, a Rube Goldberg contraption of capitalism could replace a straightforward government regulation. But what if you aren’t interested in turning your grocery shopping into an ideological adventure? All that is lost by letting the government take care of it is the right of a few idiots to be idiots. That right deserves respect. But not much.

To say that Libertarianism is comparable to a Rube Goldberg contraption is a complete polar opposite mischaracterization, and Kinsley knows it. This is the sort of line that we are now used to hearing from certain quarters in america: “downsizing” for “firing of many employees”, “enhanced interrogation techniques” for torture, “extraordinary rendition” for the process of kidnapping people from countries where torture is illegal to countries where it isn’t, “wet work” for “assassination”, “collateral damage” for “civilians killed”, “take out” for “destroy”, “red tape” for “bureaucracy”, “area denial munitions” meaning “landmines”, “physical persuasion”, “rough interrogation” and “tough questioning” for “torture”, “illiquid assets” worthless real estate and “detainment of enemy combatants” meaning “prisoners of war”, “regime change” meaning “CIA organized assassination / military coup” and of course, “Democracy” meaning “colonization by the United States”.

Libertarianism is about simplicity, not complexity. Libertarians, and Ron Paul explicitly, unambiguously and repeatedly have said this, and they say it in plain language of the sort that is alien to Kinsley and his ilk.

A similar flaw affects libertarian thinking about government-mandated redistribution. Extreme libertarians believe this is immoral or even unconstitutional, and even more moderate libertarians disapprove of government social welfare programs as an infringement on the freedom of taxpayers. But freedom is only one of the two core values our nation was built on. The other is equality. Defining equality, libertarians tend to take a narrow view, believing that it means only political equality with no financial aspects. Defining freedom, by contrast, they take a broad view, and see a violation in every nickel a citizen must spend.

Libertarians ask: By what justification does the government concern itself with inequality — financial or otherwise — in the first place? They are nearly alone in asking this question. Even conservatives claim a great concern for equality of opportunity, while opposing opportunity of result. And the reasons seem obvious: some degree of material equality as a necessary basis for political equality; the huge role of luck in getting each of us to our relative stations in life; etc.

There is no such thing as an ‘extreme libertarian’. The prefix ‘extreme’ is used as code in this example to tarnish Libertarians as ‘extremists’; and of course, that bundles them in with ‘extremist islam’ and by extension ‘islamic extremists’. Glen Beck said it plainly for joe sixpack.

Theft is immoral, just as murder is immoral. That it is done by the government doesn’t make it not so. Bush Blair and Brown are mass murderers in the same way that Charles Manson is a convicted murderer; none of those three men were physically doing the murdering, and neither did Charles Manson, yet all four are guilty. But I digress. You cannot use force to take something from someone; that is theft. The fact that it is voted upon is irrelevant. This video makes it vividly clear why this is so.

But nothing like this is obvious to libertarians. They force us to think it all through from scratch. Good for them.


Washington Post

Actually, Libertarianism is good for YOU, and is superior to your philosophy. Your philosophy works on the presumption that you are correct in everything, and that therefore, everyone should obey you, hand over their cash to you, and live by your standards. Libertarians begin by saying that they only know what is good for them, not for others, and so we can co-exist with you, whereas you cannot co-exist with us. Your philosophy makes violent conflict inevitable as it depends on you stealing from people. Our philosophy is one of peace, since we believe it is immoral to steal.

Once again, that instructional video is one of the best presentations I have seen explaining what Libertarianism actually means, and how it works practically. The ideas behind this are spreading like wildfire because they make sense to everyone with a brain-cell and who doesn’t have something to lose by them being widely adopted and practiced.


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