Posts tagged The Freeman

Subsidized Order

Here’s a recent paint-by-numbers column on Spontaneous Order by John Stossel. It’s a passable introduction to the concept, and I will say that the opening illustration of spontaneous order in an ice-skating rink is nicely chosen. Then there is this:

At last January’s State of the Union, President Obama said America needs more passenger trains. How does he know? For years, politicians have promised that more of us will want to commute by train, but it doesn’t happen. People like their cars.

— John Stossel, Spontaneous Order, in The Freeman (May 2011)

It would be more accurate to say that people like their cars when they come with a massively subsidized network of government roads and a government-imposed glut of subsidized parking spaces.

Some subsidized trains cost so much per commuter that it would be cheaper to buy them taxi rides.

— John Stossel, Spontaneous Order, in The Freeman (May 2011)

As if subsidized highways and parking had no costs!

People’s cars are useless without this subsidized and monopolistic infrastructure, which is in artificially great supply due to the government’s monopolization of land use, which the people in question have to pay for, whether they use it or not, and which the people in question do then get to use at little or no marginal cost above what they were forced to pay in taxes. I wonder how much people would be liking their cars if alternatives weren’t locked out by government’s use of eminent domain and land-use mandates, or if people were free to pay — or to withdraw — the real marginal cost of driving, rather than the deformed structure of costs that government’s Infrastructure Monopoly has produced.

This is of course no argument for the desirability of ridiculous government-fueled high-speed heavy rail boondoggles, or any other sort of government funding of mass transit. Those are stupid too, and guaranteed to stay stupid as long as they are enacted through the political means. It’s not even an argument against the desirability of cars. But American car culture is no example of spontaneous order emerging from revealed preferences in a market free-for-all. It’s a perfect example of pervasive, intensive, map-redrawing government planning, from the repeatedly bailed-out, sometimes government-owned auto makers down to the parking lot of your nearest strip mall. The only way to find out how people will like to travel in a free market is to leave people free to experiment — and the current massive exertion of force to channel land into roads and parking lots, and wealth out of people’s pockets and into fancy new roads for the benefit of downtown merchants, billionaire sports team owners, and Wal-Mart distribution centers is anything but a free experiment or a spontaneous social process.

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

It’s Sunday Sunday Sunday. Let’s get Shameless Shameless Shameless.

It’s my blog, so I guess I’ll have to go first. This weekend, the November 2010 issue of The Freeman was released; among the articles in this month’s issue are:

And — the reason for mentioning it to-day, specifically — there’s also:

Secondly, preparations continue for my appearance to present Women and the Invisible Fist, and to represent the Molinari Institute at the the Radical Philosophy Association conference on Violence: Systemic, Symbolic, and Foundational in Eugene, Oregon. I’ve been working over the paper for its final form before the presentation[3]. If you’re interested in seeing a copy when it’s ready, just drop me a line and I’ll make sure you get one. In the meantime, I’d like to send out a big thank you to the folks who have generously contributed $40 to Molinari to help cover the costs of getting me to Oregon.[4] The point is—thanks, y’all are awesome. If you, too, would like to help me reach the Willamette Valley and support libertarian contributions to radical scholarship, check out the announcement post, or toss a few coins into the hat right here:

Donate to the Molinari Institute to support left-libertarian scholarship.

Anyway, so that’s me. How about you? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

  1. [1] I’m not familiar with Payne’s previous work, but this article is a really nice reminder about government’s direct role in ecologically toxic mass insecticide spraying — often without the consent, or without even informing, property owners whose land was being poisoned from the air.
  2. [2] Previously mentioned in these pages when it appeared as an online feature: GT 2010-08-23: The only Good Government is No Government.
  3. [3] Mostly footnote work right now, but if you’ve read one of my papers before, you know that the way I write, damn, the footnotes are a lot of work; once I finish that, next up is a couple timed readings to make sure that I won’t run over.
  4. [4] That should cover at least the distance from Independence, Missouri to the Kansas River. If the hunting’s good, and we don’t lose anything crossing the river, and nobody dies of dysentery, it may even last us to Fort Kearny.

The only Good Government is No Government

To-day at The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty:

Guest Column | by Charles Johnson

Is the Problem Really Too Little Trust in Government?

Posted August 23, 2010

There is one point where I can unequivocally agree with E.J. Dionne’s column “Can We Reverse the Tide on Government Distrust” (Washington Post, May 6, 2010) – when he tells us that So far, the Obama administration has missed the opportunity to demonstrate … how it is changing the way government works. How is its approach to … regulations different from what was done before? … How are its priorities different?

How indeed?

Two years in, if there’s any noticeable difference between Bush’s policies of corporate privilege, endless warfare, bailouts, executive power, and bureaucratic expansion, and Obama’s policies of corporate privilege, endless warfare, bailouts, executive power, and bureaucratic expansion, I’d like to know where to find it. The difference between me and E.J. Dionne is that Dionne is apparently surprised by this outcome — why hasn’t Obama done better? At issue is what used to be called Good Government – the problem of ensuring that a centralized managerial State, with expansive powers to intervene in all matters economic, social, or hygienic, will be run cleanly, and competently, by qualified experts. Dionne insists that financial market meltdowns, oil spills, and coal-mine disasters reveal the catastrophic results of a few years of Bush-era government neglect. Those of us who remember the Bush administration may have a hard time accepting the claim that it was an era in which government was not doing enough; and we see these headline-grabbing catastrophes as only the tail end of a decades-long crisis – a bipartisan, politically created crisis of institutional incentives and industry best practice-ism, created, nurtured, and protected by government itself.

. . .

Dionne may present his article as a commentary on recent news, but the headlines are only carelessly chosen illustrations for a message that seems copied out of a children’s civics textbook circa 1948. Elected government’s task is to stand up for the many against the few, to make sure that corporations are properly supervised, and to protect those with weaker bargaining positions … against the harm that those in stronger bargaining positions might inflict. Our problem is simply that we do not trust the political means enough. According to Dionne, if we are ever to solve these politically created crises, we need to know that government in a free society is not a distant force but, rather, something that all of us influence and shape.

To be sure, government is not very distant from the downtown offices of the Washington Post.[1] For the rest of us, though, access is somewhat more limited, and not “all of us” have the same influence in shaping government policy. That is done by political insiders and economic incumbents: As scholars like Gabriel Kolko and Butler Shafer have repeatedly shown, government regulatory bodies from the FTC to the MSHA to the SEC have consistently been captured by the incumbents in the industries they are supposed to regulate, systematically rigging government regulations in such a way as to build up cartels, exclude competition, and protect businessmen from liability for harmful practices.

Even with the record of regulatory capture and industry-driven policy, Dionne, like many Progressives, simply insists that politicians need even more trust and fewer restraints on action to give them the independence to do the right thing. You might call this kind of Progressivism a theory of trickle-down politics: When government devotes the overwhelming majority of its power and resources to foolish or destructive programs directed by concentrated interests – subsidies, bailouts, anticompetitive regulations, or an ever-growing military-industrial “National Security” complex – the proposed solution is to give that same government even more strength and greater resources to dispose of, on the hope that some of the surplus will eventually make it through the net of insider control to reach programs that offer a pittance to the little guy.

Individualists know that when you reward the institutions that created crisis, you are going to get more crises. Greater regulatory powers will only make government more attractive to industry incumbents; the more politics is involved in industry, the more that political pull pays off for the industrialists. The root causes of the crises we’ve faced in recent years are not problems of competence or corruption. They are problems of cartelization and capture. The solution is not more trust in government; it’s to realize there are things the political means just cannot accomplish, which should instead be addressed through decentralized, peaceful social cooperation. . . .

— Charles Johnson, The Freeman Online (23 August 2010): Is the Problem Really Too Little Trust in Government?

The article also includes some brief recapitulations of the Money Monopoly, the Land and Natural Resource monopolies, and the recent history of BP, Massey Energy, and the MSHA. You can read the whole thing at The Freeman Online to-day.

Thanks to Sheldon Richman, again, for making this possible, and for his invaluable aid as an editor. My only complaint is that I think The Freeman really should have chosen a better author photo for me than the one they have at the top of the story. In that one the camera adds about 20 years, and a lot of corporate liberalism.

  1. [1] [Less than a mile from the Executive Branch! Check it out on Google Maps! —R.G.]

Friday Lazy Linking

Dialogue ensues

Here are some comments I recently posted in reply to some of the commentary on yesterday’s Freeman column. I repost them here because they are long and detailed enough that they may be of some independent interest.

In an early comment, John Irby writes:

If it was so that medical care and mutual aid was so easy to come by, then why was their a perception that the poor and elderly were dying sick in the streets?

It depends on what period this “perception” is supposed to apply to.

  1. If you’re referring to the heyday of the mutual aid societies in the late 19th century through the 1910s, the answer is simply that this “perception” exists because statists often promote bogus perceptions of crisis without much supporting data, in order to put over the need for their desired programs with the politicized public. Some actual data on the circumstances faced by the poor and elderly, rather than impressionistic and sensationalistic “perceptions” would be useful here. I have some actual data on how available these arrangements were to ordinary workers, which I present briefly in the article — typically between 20% and 50% of workers in major urban areas in English-speaking countries were covered, and these numbers were rapidly rising in the 1900s, prior to the political campaigns to eradicate the associations and raise medical prices. If you want a fuller presentation of the data, I recommend David Beito’s excellent book, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, especially Ch. 6, “The ‘Lodge Practice Evil’ Reconsidered.” If you have actual countervailing data that tends to cut against the conclusion I draw, feel free to present it, but if what you’ve got is just ill-specified “perceptions,” well, so what?

  2. If, on the other hand, you’re referring to the decades leading up to the passage of major government entitlement programs for the “poor and elderly” — programs like Social Security (1935) or Medicare (1965), then you need to keep in mind that these programs were introduced and rolled out decades after the non-corporate, grassroots, free-market alternatives that I discuss in the article had been deliberately dismantled by politically-driven campaigns — coordinated mainly by establishment medical guilds, using their power over government licensure of practitioners as their primary means of enforcement — to drive them out. (The blackballing campaigns against lodge-practice doctors in the U.S. ramped up in the mid-1910s and succeeded in forcing dramatic declines in lodge practice starting in the 1920s. See Beito, p. 124 et seq.) So, to the extent that government could point to a crisis of health care accessibility or affordability for the poor and elderly, just before the New Deal and Great Society transfer programs were created, it’s because government was pointing to a situation where the kind of grassroots, consensual social organizations that had made health care accessible to the poor and elderly had already been rubbed out by government in the decades prior. Once again, an example of government breaking your legs, then handing you crutches, and telling you, “See, without me you couldn’t even walk!”

John:

However I am not ready to drink the cool-aid …

I don’t want to be a dick about this, but can you not use that phrase when what you mean is I don’t accept your delusional beliefs? It’s an offhand jokey reference where the punchline is the murder of 276 children, and the senseless deaths of almost 1,000 people, just 30 years ago. Jokes like that suck.

John:

… and say that we need to rid ourselves of the FDA or of medical accreditation. Kevin Trudeau is a salesmen of alternative cures for a variety of ailments [etc., etc.]

The existence of quacks and dangerous drugs today, in spite of already-existing heavy government regulation, seems like an odd argument for relying on government regulation as a means of getting rid of quacks and dangerous drugs.

In any case, the free-market position is not that we need to get rid of drug testing or medical accreditation. The free-market position is that the state should not force any particular scheme for drug safety or efficacy testing, or for medical licensure, on you or me without our consent.

The important thing, from the standpoint of individualist principle, is that, if you want to pay for snake oil without any consideration of demonstrated effects, you should be free to do so. And if I want to spend money only on drugs that scientific research has demonstrated to be safe and effective, or on doctors who have garnered the recognition of their peers as honorable and competent professionals, then I should be free to patronize only those that consensual consumer-protection outfits and professional medical institutions have approved.

In a freed market, there will certainly be both drug testing and medical accreditation; it will simply be drug testing and medical accreditation that relies on informed choice, or education and persuasion, rather than on the force of the law. How do I know that such institutions will exist? Well, of course, because they already exist, or have existed in the past. Before the modern prescriptions system was created in 1951, the role of objective watchdog for drug safety and efficacy in the U.S. was handled by the American Medical Association (which maintained a private drug-testing laboratory and published annual guidebooks of drugs that received their seal of approval). They provided a system of voluntary, independent oversight that worked — until government “fixed” it.

Similarly, nobody that I know of is proposing that existing methods of accrediting doctors or other medical practitioners be abolished. Where would you get such a ludicrous notion? There’s already plenty of non-governmental means of accrediting doctors — among them, well, the doctoral degree in medicine, which is issued by medical schools and still would be issued by medical schools in a freed market, based on standards of training and mastery. Similarly for nursing degrees, certification by professional associations like the AMA, etc. What radical individualists oppose is not accreditation, but state licensure laws, which add an unnecessary layer of politically-directed licensing restrictions on top of already-existing, voluntary professional standards and certifications within the medical profesion. The problem with this is, first, that they are coercive, and hence violate the rights of patients and practitioners; and, second, that the standards for governmental licensure are imposed through political decision-making and legislative fiat, rather than being determined through open debate and consensus over best practices within the health care market.

As a result, they often use the force of the state to shut down debate and impose requirements that have nothing to do with medical fact and everything to do with political pull — as when state licensure laws were used to attack feminist women’s health centers, midwives, or other alternative medicine providers, even without any evidence that any identifiable patients had been harmed or were even dissatisfied with the service. Or, to return to our original topic, when state licensure laws were used to blackball doctors who were providing perfectly adequate care, but who were seen as “underselling” (that is, providing competent care at costs that were affordable by ordinary working people) during the political campaign against lodge practice in th 1910s and 1920s.

John:

The truth is that of all the industrialized countries, America is the only one with a private for profit system, …

Didn’t you read the article? “America” doesn’t have a private health care system. It has a government-imposed health care system. The market is dominated first, by direct government control, and, second, by the operations of a handful of corporate privateers who depend entirely on a combination of government subsidy and government-imposed barriers to entry for their day-to-day operations and long-term strategy.

A freed market in health care would look completely different from the “system” that you and I face today.

In a later comment, a different John — John de Laubenfels — writes:

Would you give companies that research and produce new drugs NO protection from competition,

You are correct that I do not believe that protectionism for pharmaceutical corporations is an adequate argument for imposing government-granted monopolies.

If you want to “protect” pharmaceutical companies’ existing business models, do so on your own dime by boycotting competitors and directing your money to first movers. (Hey, it worked for Tolkien.) But I’m not nearly so invested in protecting current business practices in the pharmaceutical industry, and I’d rather that you don’t use government monopoly to force your protections on my pocketbook.

John de Laubenfels:

starting the moment someone gets ahold of the new drug, analyzes it, and creates a knockoff? Nothing for all the money the original company has spent doing trials? I don’t think that such a system would be either fair or likely to motivate companies to produce new, life-saving drugs.

On the cost of doing drug trials, of course, in the same sentence where I advocated the abolition of patents I also specifically stated that I supported the abolition of the FDA, which would dramatically reduce the compliance costs involved in developing new drugs and bringing them to market. So I don’t know what you’re referring to here. (Of course, if companies want to do internal testing they can do so, but in voluntary independent oversight systems, the costs of running trials are typically assumed by the independent watchdog organizations themselves, as part of their institutional charter.)

However, if it turns out that it’s no longer profitable for big, for-profit corporations to do medical research, then — horrors! — it may just turn out to be the case that medical research has to be carried on by non-corporate or not-for-profit institutions. But I hear we have some of those. And I’m not typically impressed by broken-window arguments that fail to take any account of the value of the unseen alternative uses to which money might be put, if not for the coercive government intervention.