Friday, March 8, 2013
0.1: Who are you? What is this?
Orphan Wilde. Internet Libertarian.
0.2: Are you an anarchist?
I am a minarchist. Loosely speaking, this means I think government should exist, but in a very limited role.
0.3: Do you hate government?
Yes. No. Maybe.
One thing to understand in how I approach problems is that I am going to come at the problem from angles you may not have encountered before.
0.4: Will this response prove that the free market always works better than government intervention?
My point in responding isn’t to prove that government is evil, or inefficient, or bad. My position on government is that it is an inappropriate tool to solve the problems it is frequently employed to solve. Not that I'll be presenting that position. Mostly I'm going to be disagreeable.
0.5: Why write a response to The Non-Libertarian FAQ (aka Why I Hate Your Freedom)?
Because it serves a useful starting place for addressing the cases where reasonable people disagree. And because I was bored and hadn’t written anything substantial in a while.
0.6: How is this FAQ structured?
Exactly like the FAQ it responds to. Kind of.
Part A: Economic Issues
1.1: What is an externality?
An externality is an unaddressed cost produced by economic activity; it isn’t incorporated into the price paid for the good by the consumer, nor is it paid by the producer, either of whom can be said to incur that cost. The libertarian response to externalities is to structure the system so that externalities are paid for.
1.2: But aren't there externalities which libertarianism can’t address?
Maybe. I have yet to see one.
The example given is of a homeowner raising wasps on their property, incurring a cost (in stings, say) on their neighbors. However, the author argues that any solution is merely reinventing government.
Government is not “Anything which creates rules.” Nor is it any agency which utilizes government to enforce its rules. The argument used in the FAQ is that a neighborhood association is a defacto government – but this is not the case. A neighborhood association, as described in that document, is an open-ended contract. The neighborhood association can’t confiscate your house, or send its agents to spray your wasps with pesticide. It must operate through government to do those things – maybe it sues you in court, or files an injunction.
The difference may seem academic, but it’s important. Cities frequently annex property which previously was not incorporated; a neighborhood association can’t do this. The neighborhood association is limited to apply itself to those who have given their consent.
More, there is already a comprehensive solution to these kinds of externalities: This is exactly what tort law exists for. It makes no sense to forbid an individual from raising wasps, provided that individual can do so in a manner which does not impose externalities on others; perhaps they’re raised in an enclosed terrarium, much as some residents raise snakes and lizards. You give me a regulation, I can find an activity prohibited by it which doesn’t impose any externalities upon others. Are these activities legitimate targets of regulation?
1.3: [Omitted; about boycotts, which I don't really care about either way]
1.4: Do externalities justify environmental, zoning, or property use regulations?
No. They may justify environmental or property use tort law – that is, the creation of a legal remedy in the case that there is actually a problem – but they do not justify regulations.
2. Coordination Problems
2.1: What about coordination problems?
Here, we have an example about lake use; the example specifies a fairly standard “tragedy of the commons” situation. In this case, however, a relatively simple tort law, permitting damage suits against individuals polluting water you use, would resolve the problem.
2.1.1: What about cases like wild fisheries?
The author describes how open fisheries cause problems, and points out that quotas could help resolve the problem. The issue here is that “government solution” versus “private ownership” is a thin line. (In fact, it’s always a thin line, it’s just particularly obvious here.)
Fish quotas are the closest thing to private ownership of wild fisheries we have. (The next solution, ownership of tracts of ocean, isn’t politically viable.) The author describes quotas as regulation, which in a sense they are, but in the same sense that government declaring that a piece of property can belong to somebody is regulation. It’s simply less obvious because the thing that is owned is more abstract.
We don’t differ on what we’d prefer here. We just differ on what we call it. Open fisheries is common ownership of the fish population. Fish quotas are private ownership of part of that population.
2.1.2: Cod fishermen never implemented privatization!
True. They have no means of enforcing it. Imagine a United States in which people didn’t own land – how would you go about implementing land ownership? You can’t force people who don’t buy into your crazy land ownership scheme to comply; they have just as much right to it as you do.
2.2: But doesn’t global warming justify environmental regulation?
(This is a somewhat glib restatement of the response offered by the author.)
The short answer: No. I am perpetually baffled by why people faced with tragedy of the commons situations insist that the solution is to move more things into “the commons.”
The goal, when confronted by an externality, should not be to regulate the externality out of existence. The goal should be to move that externality – that unpaid cost – back where it belongs, on the people incurring it. If a ton of CO2 produces $1 in externalities, there is a fairly simple solution: Charge people $1 for each ton of CO2 they produce. If you can’t figure out how much CO2 people are producing from their activities, you have no business telling them to cease those activities because they’re producing too much CO2.
2.3: Suppose some corporation does something evil?
This argument is just another swipe at boycotts. This appears to be straw-libertarianism, but it’s possible I just hang out with a better class of libertarian. Note, however, that corporations are in fact organs created by the state. They're the product of the author's philosophies, not mine.
2.3.1: Coke does evil things in Columbia
This is one of the more amusing things I’ve read, because in an argument about libertarianism, the author brings up a potential government failure. A company does something illegal – not evil, illegal, there’s a difference – and nothing happened to it? This isn’t a failure of the free market, because there are in fact laws against killing people, and government in this case, provided Coke could be proven to do the things it is accused of, has full power to do something about it; not only the Columbian government, but the US government as well.
(Also, a brief tour of The Internet will suggest that the author should really have checked the facts before this little blurb.)
2.3.2: The existence of laws demonstrates that boycotts are ineffective – if they weren’t, nobody would have bothered to pass the law
Here the author makes a -highly- misleading argument that 51% of the population is in support of any new law that is passed. No, 51% of the -legislators- are in support of any new law that is passed. (Well, the specifics vary by country, but you get the point.)
2.4: The government spending money on charitable causes is proof that people support that cause, but believe that private support would fall victim to coordination problems
It would surprise me if half the people who did support any given act of government charitable spending have even heard of the phrase “coordination problem.” Maybe “Tragedy of the commons.” However, these aren’t the arguments raised for government support of charitable giving; the arguments raised are in fact that people wouldn’t otherwise support these charities on their own.
This is a completely different question. “Coordination problem” means “Jack would give $5, but it’s not enough to make a difference unless everybody does it.” I’ve never, -NEVER- encountered this argument before now. I find it disingenuous here.
Government isn’t solving a “coordination” problem here, it’s solving a “Other people don’t want to support the things I wanted supported” problem here.
2.5: Coordination problems and labor:
Here the author argues that the employer and the employed are on uneven terms.
The weird thing is, he argues that the fact that the job is more valuable to the employee than the employee is to the employer is cause for a forcible readjustment.
What the author -fails- to address is how that readjustment only readjusts part of the imbalance.
The author argues that the employee should have greater power in the equation; left unaddressed entirely in the argument are the unemployed. The power adjustment isn’t from employer to employee; it’s from the unemployed to the employee. The history of unions is an ugly one; they fought against immigration and the right of immigrants, against the integration of blacks, Irish, Mexican, women, and children into the workforce. Organized labor doesn’t weaken the power of the employer; it weakens the power of the unemployed to compete with the employed.
2.5.1: Conditions only change after government makes them change
I’m leaving aside a convoluted argument that suicide is proof of… something. In spite of the author admitting to not knowing what’s going on, there are several paragraphs saying what’s going on.
The author proceeds to discuss the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. One of the odds things in discussions of this particular event is that nobody really addresses the fact that the fire department was completely incapable of dealing with the fire; they didn’t have the equipment to help. The reaction to the fire was just that – a reaction.
When businesses are shortsighted, it’s a failure of the free market. When government is shortsighted - - - silence. Did conditions change because government made conditions change? Or did conditions change because the world learned something? The argument here fundamentally requires that one accept that only government is capable of acting on new information.
3. Irrational Choices
3.1: People will have different outcomes depending on the framing of a choice
An argument is made here that there’s something irrational about the fact that different people will be in a pension plan depending on whether the plan is opt-in or opt-out. I’ll address this in more detail shortly.
3.1.1: People’s choices aren’t demonstrations of their preference
Quoting directly: “Old-school economics assumed choice to be ‘revealed preference’: an individual's choices will invariably correspond to their preferences, and imposing any other set of choices on them will result in fewer preferences being satisfied.”
Alright, with you thus far...
“But the past fifty years of cognitive science have thoroughly demolished this "revealed preference" assumption, showing that people's choices result from a complex mix of external compulsions, internal motivations, natural biases, and impulsive behaviors. These decisions usually approximate fulfilling preferences, but sometimes they fail in predictable and consistent ways. The field built upon these insights is called “behavioral economics”, and you can find more information in books like Judgment Under Uncertainty, Cognitive Illusions, and Predictably Irrational, or on the website Less Wrong.”
Wait, what? There’s something sneaky going on here, an implicit replacement taking place. Consider the following sets of individuals:
Bob, who is on the pension plan whether it’s opt-in or opt-out
Anti-Bob, who -isn't- on the pension plan whether it’s opt-in or opt-out
And Rob, who is on the pension plan when it’s opt-out, but isn’t on it when it’s opt-in.
The argument here is that Bob and Anti-Bob are both rational, because their choices are reflections of their preferences. It’s implied that Rob is irrational, because Rob’s preferences -aren't- revealed by his choice.
There’s a relatively simple third option: Rob doesn’t have a strong preference either way.
I’m on my company health insurance plan, which when it was instituted was opt-out. (It’s mandatory today.) If it were opt-out, I wouldn’t be on it. Yet I deliberately opted out of the company 401k. Am I rational in one case and irrational in the other? Or is it possible, as is actually the case, that I just don’t have a preference about the health insurance plan?
3.2: People don’t make the best choices according to their preferences
Ok, with you so far.
“Such possibilities cast doubt on the principle that every trade that can be voluntarily made should be voluntarily made.”
And there you’ve lost me. Not just with the phrasing, which is... wrong, but on the intent.
“If people's decisions are not randomly irrational, but systematically irrational in predictable ways, that raises the possibility that people who are aware of these irrationalities may be able to do better than the average person in particular fields where the irrationalities are more common, raising the possibility that paternalism can sometimes be justified.”
And if people are systematically irrational, what exactly makes the author thinks that systematic rationality can somehow be ironed out of a government? And what makes the author think that somebody who seeks out a position of power is more trustworthy than somebody who… whatever it is the author is implying that the “person aware of these irrationalities” is going to do?
3.2.1: People will be happier if they don’t make irrational choices
Sure. What the author has utterly failed to even -imply- is that government can actually solve the rationality
3.2.2: Predictably irrational behavior justifies certain government paternalism
The author list some cases of “justified” government policy, and fails to justify said policy.
4. Lack of Information
4.1: People lack information, and government needs to ensure its existence
What the government “needs” to do isn’t necessarily *what* it does.
4.1.1: “If there were no government regulation, people would be stuck with unsafe and ineffective products, and the market would not correct these failures”
I see this kind of argument a lot. Thing is, it’s ultimately just an assertion. There were unsafe and ineffective products before government regulation – and there are unsafe and ineffective products today. Somebody once told me to read an old Sears magazine’s health section to see how much good the FDA has done.
Having done so, I’m still wondering how much good the FDA has done, because I still see all those products (except maybe the arsenic facial cream) being sold today. You’d be amazed just how long magnetic bracelets have been marketed as a cure-all.
4.2: Some examples:
The author proceeds to list out some examples which may or may not be real; for example, Kraft cheese may or may not contain an additive which some people are allergic to. (He writes it up to sound scarier than that.) Ok. Wood may or may not contain formaldehyde, which can cause cancer. Well, I know some wood does. It’s printed on the stuff, and I’ve heard an apocryphal story of a guy who died building a cabin out of stolen telephone poles because he ingested formaldehyde fumes. It’s not exactly this huge industrial secret; I heard that story more than a decade ago. Some story about some oil company using slave-labor; not exactly surprising if true, but again, this is this weird sideways justification of regulation, I’m not sure what the author hopes to illustrate with a possibly-true story about how government failed to do its job. Microsoft turned over data to an evil government – my god, man, whose side do you think you’re on here – because somehow complying with some -other- government’s laws is a free market failure?
I’m happy to report that this entry: “5. Wellpoint, the second largest US health care company, has a long record of refusing to provide expensive health care treatments promised in some of its plans by arguing that their customers have violated the "small print" of the terms of agreement; in fact they make it so technical that almost all customers violate them unknowingly, then only cite the ones who need expensive treatment. Although it has been sued for these practices at least twice, both times it has used its legal muscle to tie the cases up in court long enough that the patients settled for an undisclosed amount believed to be fraction of the original benefits promised.” is currently being solved by the free market -as we speak-, whether the specifics are true or not. You see, the contract laws for rescission – you do realize that government created the problem you’re complaining the free market hasn’t solved yet, right? – require the company to be ignorant of the offense; if they accept your money after learning you lied on your application, they’re considered, legally, to have accepted the contract anyways. Fortunately, increasing information trading between insurance companies is making policy rescission much harder, because an insurance company can’t claim it’s ignorant of information explicitly provided to it.
There’s some silly example about “ultrasonic mosquito repellers.” The fact that I, a previous resident of a highly-mosquito infested area, have never heard of these devices, suggests that maybe the free market is handling that better. And then there’s an attack on Listerine, a most excellent treatment for dandruff, complaining it (maybe) doesn’t alleviate bad breath. Well… okay then. I’ll disagree with you there, it’s one of three things I use to eliminate the smell of cigarettes from my breath, and it’s a necessary part of that set. It’s never done anything for my halitosis, granted – a tongue scraper and a waterpik resolve that issue. Its argument is also based on the older variant of Listerine – note that Listerine has introduced alcohol-free variants today. And then the author says detergents don’t remove stains. Well, no. They’re detergents. You’ll notice that some detergents prominently feature labels indicating they remove stains – that’s because they contain ingredients which remove stains. A detergent is merely a compound that makes water wetter.
4.2.1: If you don’t know whether those cases are true, you’re proof that there’s a scarcity of information
Well, sure. But that’s not the same as arguing that government provides any kind of a solution. Look at the detergent example – do you seriously suggest government should require companies put the dictionary definitions of their product on their product, so people who don’t know what the words mean can know what they’re buying?
4.2.2: [Unaddressed; regarded as irrelevant to the thrust of my argument]
4.2.3: If you didn’t know whether the items were true or not, given our current regulatory environment, do you expect your information to be any better in an unregulated system?
Probably not. This is not the same argument, however, that the information will be -worse-. This is a very sneaky argument.
4.3: Regulation ensures consumers trust small businesses
This might be true. It might not. Regulation might ensure small businesses a bigger share of the “trust” space, but it also ensures they pay a higher premium, relative to the size of their business, for that space. The common libertarian comment on this matter is that it’s more expensive for a small business to comply with a regulation than a large one, if for no other reason than that they can’t hire lawyers to tell them what the regulations bloody well are. There are thousands of pages of regulations. I’m tempted to write eight regulations, four of which are real, four of which are false, and challenge the reader to identify which are which. I guarantee I could find some regulations which would be far more illustrative of the quandary small businesses find themselves in today than these examples -attempt- to illustrate about the information market today.
4.4: Lack of information justifies regulations and the taxes to pay for them
No it doesn’t. At absolute best the author illustrates that some information is lacking. Absolutely absent from the document is any evidence that government could do better, that regulation could solve the problem lack of information poses, or that the costs imposed by the missing information are greater than the taxes necessary to enforce the laws to provide that information.
Part B: Social Issues
“The progressive tax system is part of this policy of eliminating unfairness, but if you disagree with that, that's okay, as more and more of the country's wealth is staying in the hands of the super-rich. None of this wealth has trickled down to the poor and none of it ever will, as the past thirty years of economic history have repeatedly and decisively demolished the “trickle-down” concept.”
- We’re agreed on one thing, at least – trickle down economics is garbage. It’s effectively an argument that if poor people accept less money, they’ll get more money in the end. I’ll trade a hamburger today for two tomorrow.
However, don’t think progressive taxes are about -eliminating- unfairness. They’re not. The tax system is carefully designed to tax only one group – the new rich. It is in fact a classist system designed, very carefully, to avoid trampling on the toes of the old rich, while extracting as much as possible from the new.
5. Just Desserts and Social Mobility
5.1: Large chunk of text about intergenerational mobility...
An argument is made that poor people are more likely to end up poor, and rich people are more likely to end up rich. No real argument here, although the actual figures are wildly off. You need finer data to get real data. Where I grew up, $30,000 a year is middle class. $50,000 a year is -rich-. Whereas $50,000 a year in New York City are wages of abject poverty, probably homeless. Half of this country lives in a completely different universe from the other half, financially, and when your quintiles are defined across such wildly disparate figures, you lose some detail. The top 20% in a rural town is not the same top 20% as in a large city, and treating the country like only the 20% of the large cities counts is just incorrect when considering income mobility.
5.1.1: [Omitted; dismissing a “typical” libertarian argument I’ve never seen before]
5.1.2: [Omitted; clarifications on 5.1 not relevant to my arguments]
5.1.3: America has uniquely low income mobility.
I addressed this in 5.1 – The United States is, quite simply, a much larger country than any of the countries we’re compared to. If we’re going to be compared to Europe, I’d be interested in seeing income mobility across the -whole- of Europe. (This is a bit like comparing US homeless populations to the homeless population of some three European countries. Europe has more homeless people than the US. But they tend to migrate, like they do in the US, to particular regions. Some inhospitable states in the US, like some inhospitable countries in Europe, have really low homeless populations.
Failing a comparison to all of Europe, using all of Europe’s income brackets, how about state by state comparisons? Or even better, city by city, if you want truly accurate comparisons.
18.104.22.168: States with higher government spending have more social mobility
See my response to 5.1, yet again. The study cited used national income levels for calculating social mobility. States with the highest incomes report the highest social mobility? Well, maybe that’s because the brackets are skewed to their income levels. The same change in income can appear wildly different.
5.2: Success is wholly dependent on factors beyond your control
An argument is offered that, because your personality is beyond your control, your success is beyond your control. At this point I’m left wondering what exactly is “within my control,” because this just seems tautological to me; if I define free will such that I have no free will, of course I won’t have free will.
5.2.1: “If all of our success comes from external factors, then it is reasonable to ask that we ‘pay it forward’ by trying to improve the external factors of others”
Not really, because exactly the same argument could be used with any noun replacing “success.” This argument is completely empty, as should be expected from an argument based on assigning deeper meaning to a tautology.
5.2.2: Lead poisoning, or “It is cruel to blame people for not seizing opportunities to rise above their background when that background has damaged the very organ responsible for seizing opportunities”
I agree. Actually, lead poisoning is one of the very few cases I would support massive government intervention. But the contrived logic used here offers little to actually support the cause. Rather, I regard the government as largely responsible for the mass poisoning of its own people. My reasons for that are varied and nuanced, from the strangling regulation of the railways to the outright expropriation of them in many places and replacement with the highway system. The fact that the US government recently bailed out the company primarily culpable for the lead poisoning doesn’t exactly help, either.
5.3: Environmental causation of success is justification for redistribution of wealth and for social engineering
I didn’t omit any logic, although I restructured it. Yet another case where the substantive argument for the case is missing. I mean, really, you could just replace this entire section with “Nature and nurture are both environmental causes, therefore we should redistribute wealth, and re-engineer society”, as for the purposes of this final argument, nothing would change. There’s an is-ought problem here waiting to be resolved. Heck, there’s not even a well-defined “is”, even though the author seems really intent on an “ought.”
6.1: [Omitted – a redirect to another section on the question of whether taxation is evil]
6.2: Progressive taxation is justified by the decreasing marginal value of a dollar
Are you sure that the marginal dollar is always worth less than the dollar before it?
If survival costs exactly $10,000 a year, the 10,000th dollar I earn has more marginal utility than all 9,999 dollars before it. If it costs $10,000,000 a year to build a new factory, that 10,000,000th dollar is worth more than all 9,999,999 dollars before it.
All of this is largely immaterial, however, because the arguments center on wealth, and the taxation centers on income. Progressive taxes don’t take more from the person who has 1,000 movie tickets (one of the arguments posed was about the difference between owning 1 or 2 movie tickets and owning 1,000), they take more from the person who is buying 1,000 movie tickets. The argument suddenly becomes a lot less persuasive when the ownership isn’t passive, when the person in question is actually deliberately acquiring those movie tickets.
6.2.1: [Omitted; argument against particular libertarian argument which is incorrect, at least with respect to modern tax codes]
6.3: [This section is more an introduction to the idea that tax ideals vary…]
6.3.1: Income taxes for people of median income are the lowest they’ve been in seventy five years
Correct. Actually, true for everybody in the bottom 60%. They’re also extraordinarily low by international standards; we tax the lower and middle classes the least.
22.214.171.124: Income tax rates for the rich are around the lowest they've been in the past seventy-five years.
Incorrect, or perhaps correct with qualifications; they’re also “around” the highest they’ve been in the past seventy-five years. There was a nice chart of the effective tax rate for people of median income; it was conspicuously absent here. Having done the research myself, I already know the reason why – there’s not a neat data set going back 75 years. I had to combine five different data sets with massive discontinuities just to get back to the 1950s. However, tax rates for the rich were, prior to their most recent increase, still higher than, for example, in the second year of Reagan’s administration. They are also not unusually low; the effective tax rate for the rich has never varied more than around 6%. (Note that the effective tax rate is not the same as the nominal tax rate. The rich were never taxed 90%. Well, not the average, established rich person, anyways, I’m sure some foolish new-rich lost most of their fortunes to the government.)
In spite of being relatively, although not exceptionally, low, the taxes on the rich are the highest of the first world.
126.96.36.199.1: Corporate taxes are around the lowest they’ve been in the past seventy five years.
They’re also some of the highest of the first world.
6.3.2: [Omitted; some arguments about the Laffer curve that honestly I could care less about.]
6.4: “Over the past thirty years, the rich have consistently gotten richer. None of this money has trickled down to the poor or middle-class, whose income has remained the same in real terms”
While I reject the trickle-down effect, this argument is fallacious. If you examine only monetary compensation, the argument holds true. Totally compensation, however, is a different matter. Most of the income increases of the lower classes have been absorbed into company-sponsored health insurance.
6.5: [An argument I don’t really disagree with that spending cuts aren’t likely to solve the deficit alone, along with some misleading figures about how much the government spends on redistribution]
6.6: [An argument that only 6% of the budget goes to redistribution, by redefining some redistribution as “helping the middle class”]
In-class redistribution is still redistribution, and that’s all I really care to say about this.
Part C: Political Issues
“We should think twice about exactly how much government we are willing to remove from our schools, gun dealerships, and meth labs, and run away screaming at the proposal to privatize prisons.”
- Privatizing public functions isn’t the same as having a free market solution. And we should think twice. However much you're comfortable removing, you should probably consider a little more than that.
7. Competence of Government
7.1: Government does some things right
For a limited definition of “Right,” yes.
7.1.1: [List of things government has achieved]
There’s a bunch of things that might not have happened without government. That’s not the same as the government achieving them, however. (I also note some Edisoning going on with ideas there – that is, claiming the achievements of the people who worked for the government as the government’s own. As well as some things that the government could only loosely be tied to) And then there are some achievements of dubious value, like the highway system; impressive doesn’t equal competence. And then there are quite a few cases of situations where the government prohibited anybody else from doing what it was doing. It’s not a race when nobody else is allowed to run, after all.
188.8.131.52: [Very confused argument conflating society with government]
I have a rule of thumb – if the public wants something, and could achieve it without government, but nonetheless used the government to achieve it, consider that the government -might- have been an unnecessary party in the achievement.
We can call it an achievement that every school bus stops at railroad tracks. But without the same kind of notice, crossing lights have been installed by private companies.
7.2: Government projects only look worse because politicians have to lie about the costs to get their projects approved
That’s a, erm, defense of government, is it?
7.3: [Argument that some government agencies aren’t too terrible to deal with]
The author seems to conflate popularity with desirability. (There seems to be a lot of that going on, here.) Bullet-trains are one example listed. I’d love to have light rail, for example. I’d love to hop in a train and get wherever I wanted to go. What I wouldn’t love, however, is to have to pay to get it.
Then there’s some ignorant arguments about passenger rail – I guess the author forgets the Eisenhower administrations’ role in dismantling passenger rail in the US – not directly, mind, but through the ICC. (Ayn Rand quipped that a railroad expert told her the worst things she put in her books had already happened – given that they were largely getting pushed in the administration of a president pushing the road system, I doubt this was entirely accidental.)
Then there’s some ill-advised promotion of the Post Office. Heh. My mother owns a store, and sells some of her merchandise online. There are several facilities that, if her goods go through them, they don't arrive. She's really fortunate if the Post Office actually scans her packages, too; half the time they don't, and the Post Office won't pay out the insurance on a package they didn't scan, even if the insurance ticket was printed from their machines. Not to mention all the "Next day delivery is impossible" stuff. Among many other hilarities. The history of the Post Office is truly awesome fodder for libertarians.
7.3.1: [Arguments that government can innovate by way of such dubious claims as radar]
- It’s pretty apparent how weak your position is when you have to argue that the government invented radar. (It didn’t. It refined existing technology to be more precise.)
The author then proceeds to claim the inventions of monopolies like Ma Bell.
Corporations are technically a government charter. I guess we can attribute all corporate innovations as well. Oh, and the aforementioned Coke death squads in Cambodia? Well, if they’re real, government must be responsible for them as well. (Heck, the author kind of takes credit for the government for IBM’s innovations.)
This kind of selective nonsense is foolish, whichever party is doing it. Government no more innovates than corporations innovate. -Individuals- innovate.
7.4: The perception that government programs are mostly failures is a result of media bias
No, I suspect this perception comes from the fact that government programs are, at their BEST, failures. At their worst, the department of agriculture starts forming SWAT teams and raiding organic farmers. Which is totally happening, by the way.
7.4.1: The government primarily prevents things, and it’s hard to notice how many bad things aren’t happening
It should go without saying that it’s also hard to notice when the bad things wouldn’t happen anyways.
7.4.2: [Argument agreeing with the above, but putting forth an argument that some regulations have empirical evidence for their effectiveness, in particular terrain avoidance systems]
A very lazy check of cases of “Controlled flight into terrain” crashes of US aircraft on Wikipedia, excluding helicopters; there were 2 such incidents in the 1960s, 4 cases in the 1970s when the laws were passed, 0 cases in the 1980s, 3 cases in the 1990s (including one case of US aircraft crashing abroad), and 0 cases in the 2000s. I generally discard statistics that require a T-distribution.
Nevertheless, the argument is not, nor has it ever been, that no regulation ever achieves anything. That’s a strawman, at least as far as most libertarians, even those as extreme as myself, go. Here’s the question: How much did these systems cost, and how many lives were lost because these systems were purchased instead of something else? The problem isn’t merely that we can’t evaluate how effective government would be, having no control to compare to, the problem is that we can’t evaluate what government is costing us.
7.4.3: Even if regulation isn’t necessary, the existence of the regulation may have created the social context in which it ceased to be necessary; for example, seatbelts.
Seatbelts – you mean those things that insurance companies were pushing for?
Suppose government had never mandated their installation.
How long would it have taken for substantially higher insurance rates for motorists driving vehicles without seatbelts to make seatbelts socially mandatory?
8. Health Care
8.1: [X] country proves government-run health systems are better than private systems
This will be a little more detailed. But not much. I'm tired of arguing this, and I'm surprised by the poor quality of the argument here.
First, the author presents the case of infant mortality. Which already tells me the author either has never seriously argued the subject, or is deliberately misrepresenting the information. When you compare infant mortality rates between a country that counts stillborns with countries that don’t count infants who die in the first two weeks of life, you’re either ignorant or being deliberately misleading.
Next we have life expectancy. I’ll merely suggest the reader investigate the life expectancy of Japanese-descended individuals living in the US. I’ll give a hint about what you should expect, if you think the healthcare system in the US is responsible for our lower life expectancies: You should expect them to live shorter lives than those who live in Japan. Not to spoil the answer, but the fact that I’ve brought up this piece of information pretty much reveals what you’re going to find.
Third, cancer. Really? CANCER? The US has the best cancer prognosis rate in the world. What we also have is some of the highest rates of cancer in the first world.
Then the author claims this is proof the US has a worse healthcare system.
Y’know, I don’t really have a serious bone in this fight, because the US healthcare system is hardly private. But at least do your homework before getting involved.
8.2: Government healthcare is more efficient.
Here the author argues that government-run healthcare is more efficient.
Ok, confession time. A lot of my work is in healthcare. My clients include healthcare providers, insurance companies, hospitals, and the kinds of companies you weren’t even aware existed. (Or at least I wasn’t, until they became my clients.)
And I can immediately see one reason government healthcare has the potential to be more efficient. It doesn’t have to deal with government regulations. You have no idea how much money these companies spend just keeping in compliance with regulations. National companies have it the worst – they have 51 jurisdictions to deal with. (Actually, more than that. There are a few cities that have regulatory hurdles to jump, and some territories as well.)
8.3: [Omitted; an argument that healthcare rationing is necessary and non-harmful. As long as you don’t need expensive ocular medicine, I suppose; until recently, it wasn’t a medical necessity until you were already blind in one eye. But again, no real bone here. We're comparing one awful state enterprise with another.]
8.4: [More arguments that healthcare rationing isn’t actually a bad thing and admits some people actually get harmed in the process; no real bone in this game, except to roll my eyes at some suggestions that government is better at rationing]
8.5: [Trying to explain why government is so much better at these things; see my responses above that it isn’t]
9. Prison Privatization
This is another game I have no particular investment in. Privatization of government services isn’t the same as free market solutions for problems. My only comment is that for all the arguments about perverse incentives, the same applies to the public prison guard unions, who have also been active in lobbying for more work for themselves.
10. Gun Control
10.1: Gun laws should be evaluated of their results independently, rather than in the context of the gun rights debate
I’m not sure the author would be so comfortable with this treatment of, say, first amendment rights. But I really have no idea. Either way, I can’t argue much with the idea that we should evaluate gun laws empirically, except to ask how many times we have to try them before we stop. Because we've tried a lot now, and it's been a total bust.
11.1: Public schools do better once you adjust...
I have a rule about adjusting statistics – I’ve encountered the same issue while reading hospital statistics (I'm willing to be the author and I have read some of the same hospital research, namely the research on for-profit versus non-profit hospitals). If you adjust for multiple, overlapping confounders, and gets results which look the way you want them to, you should probably check your adjustments to make sure the confounders are independent. Adjusting for multiple dependent confounders as if they were independent essentially reverses any correlation, and some of the confounders mentioned looked.. .overlappy. I can’t check the source cited, however, as it apparently doesn’t exist anymore?
However, private schools vary considerably in quality. The one group that consistently outperforms all others are those who are homeschooled. I’m one of them.
11.2: The voucher system can result in more inequality of results
The same is true of any choice given to people. That's freedom in a nutshell.
11.3: Government should protect children from their parents’ choices
The weird thing is, we -almost- agree here. But the author thinks the government should make the choices instead. I’m not sure substituting one defective kind of parent for another is a solution.
Yes, I’m one of those really crazy libertarians who think children should get to make their own choices.
Part D: Moral Issues
“Moral systems based only on avoiding force and respecting rights are incomplete, inelegant, counterintuitive, and usually riddled with logical fallacies. A more sophisticated moral system, consequentialism, generates the principles of natural rights and non-initiation of violence as heuristics that can be used to solve coordination problems, but also details under what situations such heuristics no longer apply. Many cases of government intervention are such situations, and so may be moral.”
- We’re rapidly diverging. The author thinks the cases have been made for things like coordination. I found the arguments… less than convincing.
12. Moral Systems
12.1: Freedom is only one of many values, and we shouldn’t fetishize it over all others
Freedom is precisely the right to choose those priorities for oneself. The author argues that we shouldn’t prioritize it higher, but this is the wrong way of thinking – it’s not a value, a good, in and of itself. Rather, it’s a metavalue, necessary for all other values.
12.1.1: [Replacing an argument about a founding father with what I think is the underlying argument] But not all freedoms are equal – some may be unimportant enough relative to some other value that the trade may be fair
Surely, some freedoms are less important than others. But all freedoms are ultimately the right to choose what is more or less important for yourself. Anybody who pushes for a law isn’t giving up freedom, they’re taking it away; they’re demanding other people use their own priorities for values.
12.2: “Theft”, as a description for taxation, is a linguistic trick.
I’ve posed this argument. I’m not using a linguistic trick; I’m making it clear that something is taken without my permission. The author may accept that taxation is frequently done without permission, but there are no end to people who insist that I’ve -implicitly- accepted it through something the author repudiates elsewhere called “The Social Contract.” The “Taxation is theft” argument isn’t intended for people like the author. It’s intended for people who think we have no option but to consent, in a bizarre parody of the idea of consent.
12.3: [Argument leading in to 12.3.1]
12.3.1: The initiation of force can have positive consequences – see the author’s previous arguments. Additionally, cases like forced retirement savings (social security) represent situations where the individual benefits from the arrangement as well. [A hint at an argument that consequentialism is the only valid theory for consideration]
The arguments here seem to miss entirely the possibility that other people might have other values; a positive consequence for you is a negative consequence for somebody else.
12.3.2: Non-consequentialist moral theories are just arbitrary collections of rules
Consequentialist moral theories are just arbitrary collections of values. (Also, consequentialist and non-consequentialist are arbitrary divisions. Watch: Your rule is to maximize a subjective concept of value. I’ve just turned consequentialism into deontology, that is, non-consequentialism.)
The author writes:
“Why are consequences to other people seems such a specially relevant category? The argument is actually itself pretty libertarian. I can do whatever I want with my own life, which includes following religious or personal taboos. Other people can do whatever they want with their own lives too. The stuff that matters - the stuff where we have to draw a line in the sand and say "Nope, this is moral and this is immoral, doesn't matter what you think" is because it has some consequence in the real world like hurting other people.”
but then fails entirely to realize that the arguments posed for initiation of force fly in the face of this. The initiation of force is a ruling that somebody else can’t do what they want with their own lives; the argument is a rejection that other people have any right to draw their own lines in the sand, that only the author, who has Seen the Light, has this prerogative.
184.108.40.206: The Principle of Non-Aggression has all sorts of holes and exceptions and counter-exceptions and stretches [that I won’t mention here]
I’ll wait for these to be addressed before I attempt to respond to such a spurious argument.
220.127.116.11.1: The Principle of Non-Aggression can’t be derived
Ayn Rand made one attempt. Alternatively, you can just accept it as an axiom of your logical system of ethics. Only trivial ethical systems lack axioms.
18.104.22.168.2: [Exceptions, counter-exceptions, and stretches of the Principle of Non-Aggression]
Paraphrasing each case:
1. Initiation of force is stretched to include theft
2. Some libertarians make exceptions for taxation for military and police forces
3. Children have no rights, except when they do, except when they don’t
4. Building an ugly shed isn’t an initiation of force, but playing really loud music is
Fortunately, I have an answer to all four of these.
First, yes, theft is included in initiation of force. There’s a reason for this, which is…
Taxation isn’t mandatory, but only one form of taxation is permitted: Property tax. Property tax is relative to only the property in and of itself, including any natural resources upon it; buildings upon it cannot be taxed. Property tax establishes “ownership” of land, and the products thereof. This tax is levied in respect to the fact that the value of land did not come from anything any individual human being did; it is a duty paid to all other citizens in return for a duty not to trespass upon that property or any products derived therefrom. Thus trespass, including theft, is a harm inflicted upon the person.
I believe children should have rights. As soon as they may reason, their rights are their own.
And the reason a building is not an offense but music is, is that the building is a passive offense, whereas the music is an active offense. The only mechanism by which the building may offend is beyond the constructor’s control – namely, light from the sun reflecting off of it. Were the constructor to deliberately focus that light upon another’s property with say a giant mirror, that would be an active offense, and not protected as such. (See, again, property tax as a claim upon property.)
12.4: Consequentialism is a better system than the non-aggression principle because it is the principle of making things better
The argument as presented is circular. Christianity is the best moral system because it makes the world a more Christian place is about as meaningful an argument as this.
12.4.1: Consequentialism is relative – just make the world what you want it to be
And if I want a more deontological world?
As previously mentioned, consequentialist and deontological moral systems are subsets of each other. It takes only a minor transform to get from one to another, to frame one inside another.
12.4.2: [Some acknowledgements, finally, that consequentialism is relative; no real address of all the contradictions above]
12.4.3: [Some arguments that war is bad and not very consequentialist for most consequentialists.]
12.4.4: [Argument that consequentialism isn’t “Do stupid shortsighted stuff.”]
12.4.5: Consequentialism is the “gold standard for morality: it’s the purest, most sophisticated explanation of what morality actually is.”
Disagree. It’s certainly the most -complex- form of morality. But the “purest” form of something probably shouldn’t be interchangeable with “less pure” forms of the same thing through simple transformations. The ability to frame consequentialist and deontological moral systems in each other’s terms suggests, rather, that they’re merely different maps of the same territory, which are with respect to each other potentially lossless.
12.4.6: [Link to Consequentialist FAQ for those who aren’t convinced]
13. Rights and Heuristics
13.1: Rights are clinical standards – that is, inferior to the “gold standard” of Consequentialism, but useful in their own right – of morality
Beg to differ; specific rights can probably be regarded as “clinical standards”, but systems of rights – that is, principle ethics systems – can be fully formed ethical systems in their own right, which is to say, “gold standards.” Comparing -rights-, component units of non-consequentialist morality, to consequentialism as a whole, is highly misleading.
13.2: “Rights are codifications of the insight that certain actions lead to bad consequences in ways that people consistently fail to predict or appreciate”
Or, in other words, don’t violate rights even if you think it would be a good idea, because you’re almost certainly wrong. A consequentialist way of viewing rights if I’ve ever heard one. Yep.
13.3: But sometimes you can violate rights anyways, if you are really, really sure
13.3.1: [Stealing a loaf of bread argument, along with a rather weak argument that the existence of such dilemmas is a case for redistribution]
Authors better than I have responded to the “stealing a loaf of bread to stave off starvation” argument. Even Ayn Rand lays out the logic about when it is acceptable. The idea that it’s a consequentialist thing is a result of ignorance of solid deontological systems.
13.3.2: We sometimes have to violate moral heuristics, so we need a solid moral system for doing so
No, you need a better moral system. Wasn’t the author just complaining about how stretchy and exception-prone the non-aggression principle is?
13.4: Mistakes are necessary, because the alternative is never acting
True. Ever moral system has tough moral questions. I don’t have much sympathy for the question the author is attempting to address here; it’s expressed in a void, without consideration that it’s a universal problem in ethics.
13.5: [Argument that we’re wasting money on counterterrorism when other things are more dangerous to us]
No disagreement here on the core of the argument presented. I’m avoiding niggling on the details.
13.6: [Really convoluted situation where a supervillain seizes control of a libertarian society]
…well, okay. Libertarianism has failure modes. I find a more likely one “devolves into social democracy”, but okay.
13.6.1: Libertarianism can’t protect values against all situations
Neither can any other government. The author seems to suggest falling into plutocracy – I find the government turning into the government the author would prefer a more likely failure. The point I’m trying to make is that no government is permanent. Not even the author’s preferred one. It will turn into something else, too, eventually.
13.7: Private charity hasn’t solved the world’s problems, therefore government welfare
I’ve not seen particularly good evidence that government welfare solved problems, either. Indeed, I’ve personally seen a lot of people whose lives were fucked up by it. One of those things you don’t see when you grow up among the affluent, rather than those the rest of the country regards as living in poverty, is how destructive welfare can actually be.
But even if it were possible that better welfare systems could actually do what they intended to do, all the objections I’ve made through the course of this rebuttal remain in force.
Oh, and one thing to note – my suggested tax system above? Anything left over after the government does its spending is distributed evenly to every individual. There’s my version of welfare. Has the advantage of not forcing people not to work in order to eat a meal and keep a roof over their head. Yes, that happens. I’ve seen people lose their housing because they got a job and didn’t qualify for a program anymore.
You want to talk about how destructive welfare can be, just look at somebody whose choice is living well on welfare and living poorly by working. For some people that's literally the choice.
13.8: We should protect people from their own decisions
That’s probably an unfair summary of the argument, but that’s what it reads as to me.
I don’t think stupid people deserve to die. But that’s not the same as creating a moral obligation to save them, particularly if it involves eliminating freedom from other people to achieve.
Part E: Practical Issues
“[Slippery slope arguments]… fundamentally [misunderstand] the ways that nations collapse into tyranny. It also ignores political reality, and it doesn't work. Libertarians should cooperate with people from across the ideological spectrum to oppose regulations that doesn't work and keep an open mind to regulation that might.”
- Funny, because I see a lot of slippery slopes in history. I agree they’re not effective argumentative tools however, because they’re descriptive, not predictive. Some things we’ve slipped on, and some we haven’t. The slippery slope argument would better be reframed as the social context argument. Remember the author arguing earlier that government establishes social context? This is really true when it comes to the social context of the government itself. Once a society gets used to one thing, it’s incrementally easier to do the next. That doesn’t mean it will, only that it is easier to.
14. Slippery Slopes
14.1: [... what? The author is arguing that collapses into tyranny were the result of weak social nets? Has the author actually researched the rise of Hitler in Germany, the progressive gem of Europe, which ruined itself trying to maintain its social safety net while paying off its debts at the same time? Sorry, but I can’t take this argument seriously. Moving on.]
14.1.1: People aren’t evil; politicians aren’t trying to accumulate power, they’re trying to do good
The first step to doing good is to accumulate power. Also, I guarantee you that every person you’ve ever regarded as evil personally thought they were doing The Right Thing.
15. Strategic Activism
15.1: Libertarians should devote their time to fixing the system
“Fix” is the wrong word. “Maintain” is a better one. And that’s precisely what we’re trying to do.
15.2: You should innovate! [Very loosely paraphrased]
I find the idea of creating the perfect government sort of like… trying to build a perpetual motion machine. While wearing mittens made of ten live cats each tied together. Even if you could overcome entropy with your brilliant new design, the only mechanisms you have of interacting with the parts is interested in anything except what you’re doing.
15.3: Libertarianism is ineffectual and not represented
We’re growing in popularity. You find us a viable crowd to court; that in itself is a victory.
15.4: Libertarians should focus their attention on certain important issues
Well, I guess you need to herd cats before you can tie them together into cat-mittens…
...and if this were a quality establishment like The Oatmeal you'd be rewarded with a picture of cat-mittens now.