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Re: On the Road to Nowhere With Johnson and Paul

On the Road to Nowhere With Johnson and Paul. Center for a Stateless Society (2011-05-05):

Is it just me, or is the silly season of electoral politics — the presidential election cycle — arriving earlier and earlier in each successive four-year stretch? Last time around, it was nearly Memorial Day of the year preceding the election before pundits started speculating about when the obvious odd…

I have only two real objections. First, it just isn’t true that Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work. They’ve spent decades being the most militant faction in favor of bigger, badder, more violent government. What they actually say is that government doesn’t work at helping people, so government ought to be killing and torturing and imprisoning people instead. Lots and lots of people.

My second objection is that ABBA is a marvelous band and if what Gary Johnson and Ron Paul were actually planning to do was just to sit in a car all night listening to ABBA cassettes, I’d think they were pretty cool guys with a remarkably good social agenda.

I know you are, but what am I?

Here’s Frank Rich, beating the same dead horse in the New York Times (2010-02-13) that he’s been beating for the past administration and a half:

Instead of praising bailed-out bankers, the president might have more profitably instructed his press secretary to drop the lame Palin jokes and dismantle the disinformation campaign her speech delivered to a national audience. Palin, unlike Obama, put herself on the side of the angels, railing against Wall Street's bonuses and bailout, even though she and John McCain had supported TARP during the campaign.

–Frank Rich, New York Times (2010-02-13): Palin’s Cunning Sleight of Hand

Indeed she did; but then, so did Senator Barack Obama; oops. In fact, he voted for the damned thing. Which would tend to make any attempts by the Obamarchy to condemn Sarah Palin for supporting it rather, well, awkward.

Which is hardly to say that nobody should come out and blast Sarah Palin for supporting TARP. The fact that both political parties were in absolute agreement on such an obviously horrible screwjob and  overt act of plunder as 2008’s Endangered Capitalists Act is no argument that supporting TARP was somehow O.K., or that the politicians who supported it deserve anything other than contempt and condemnation. If the Obamarchy were to come out blasting Sarah Palin for her support for TARP, their own history would be no argument against the point. But be that as it may, I certainly don’t know why Frank Rich expects Barack Obama or any other prominent Democrat to come out against their own damned program.

If you want an alternative, you need to look outside of the political parties and the interlocking Beltway consensus that they have constructed. It’s not going to come from Sarah Palin, to be sure, but if you’re expecting it to come from a Democrat, you’re going to stay disappointed. The most you’re ever going to get out of such a constrained debate is a massive game of “I know you are, but what am I?”

As for those of us who both Republicans and Democrats consider small enough to fail, the disgust and anger with Obama and the Democratic Congress hardly means that we have been seduced by the devious pseudopopulist wiles of Sarah Palin; all it means is that

I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you undertand me …
Or, to come around to it, if we are ever going to get anywhere, we — you and me and the rest of us, the vast majority who have nothing to do with the Beltway and its idiotic shouting matches — must be on each other’s sides, and learn to do for ourselves, without these grandstanding jackasses. There’s no winner to pick in that horse race. And as long as Frank Rich believes there is, he’s going to continue putting out silly apologetics for a party that has trashed everything he supposedly cares about over and over again.

Friday Lazy Linking

  • Winter Soldier: Just Another Tuesday. From Ryan Endicott, formerly a United States government Marine stationed in Iraq.

    Via Clay Claibourne, L.A. I.M.C. (2009-05-13): Winter Soldier Southwest on YouTube #1

  • The regulatory State versus freed markets and the human future: A quote from Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, via B.K. Marcus at Mises Economics Blog:

    To expect the government to prevent such fraud from ever occurring would be like wanting it to provide cushions for all the children who might fall. To assume it to be possible to prevent successfully, by regulation, all possible malpractices of this kind, is to sacrifice to a chimerical perfection the whole progress of industry; it is to restrict the imagination of artificers to the narrow limits of the familiar; it is to forbid them all new experiments; it is to renounce even the hope of competing with the foreigners in the making of the new products which they invent daily, since, as they do not conform to our regulations, our workmen cannot imitate these articles without first having obtained permission from the government, that is to say, often after the foreign factories, having profited by the first eagerness of the consumer for this novelty, have already replaced it with something else. … Thus, with obvious injustice, commerce, and consequently the nation, are charged with a heavy burden to save a few idle people the trouble of instructing themselves or of making enquiries to avoid being cheated. To suppose all consumers to be dupes, and all merchants and manufacturers to be cheats, has the effect of authorizing them to be so, and of degrading all the working members of the community.

    –Turgot, Éloge de Gournay (1759), translated by P.D. Groenewegen




  • On dialectical jujitsu: Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-05-19): How to annoy a conservative

  • Ownership failures, not market failures Chris Dillow, Stumbling and Mumbling (2009-05-01): Markets, the poor & the left. Dillow makes two really important distinctions: one of them the familiar left-libertarian distinction between freed markets, on the one hand, and actually-existing corporate capitalism, on the other; the other a less familiar, but very important, distinction between market processes and patterns of ownership. Quote: In many ways, what look like ways in which markets fail the poor are in fact merely ways in which a lack of assets fail the poor. Exactly; and the many cases where there are not really market failures, but rather ownership failures, have everything to do with feudal, mercantile, neoliberal, and other politically-driven seizures and reallocations of poor people’s land, livelihoods, and possessions — and nothing to do with genuine market exchange.




On the social engineering of the governmentalist Left and the social engineering of the governmentalist Right

From Jesse Walker at Reason (2009-02-11):

What gets people upset, and rightfully so, President Barack Obama declared last week, is executives being rewarded for failure. Especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Pounding his fist, he announced that the flood of federal money into corporate hands would cease, effective immediately.

Ha! No, of course he didn’t say that. He announced that henceforth, when taxpayers subsidize a failing Wall Street firm, the company will have to cap the boss’s pay at $500,000 a year.

It was merely the latest effort to expand the bailouts into a behavior modification program. When Democrats proposed a subsidy package for Detroit last year, for example, the plan included another set of limits on executive pay. Not to be outdone, the Republicans countered with a requirement that union workers agree to wage cuts. But for the most part, the idea of using the taxpayers’ money as a Trojan horse for new controls has been a Democratic enthusiasm, not a Republican one.

Or at least that’s how it’s been during this crisis. In the early and mid-1990s, it was Republicans who called for social engineering via the public purse, and it was Democrats who served as inconsistent opponents. That time, the money wasn’t destined for banks and auto giants. It was earmarked for poor people, and the instructions attached to the money involved working, going to school, or taking birth control. The most extreme proposal, endorsed by James Q. Wilson, Myron Magnet, and other neoconservative social critics, would have required many welfare mothers to live in group shelters. Magnet was willing to achieve this through directly coercive means. (In his 1993 book The Dream and the Nightmare, he proposed that if mothers refuse to enter the group homes and fail to support the children, then the state will intervene to take the children away.) But Wilson framed the proposal the same way Obama framed his Wall Street plan. Interviewed by Reason magazine in 1995, he said his system would be voluntary in the sense that, if you want public support, that’s the way you get it. You don’t have to go there. But you won’t get any money and you won’t get any housing units.

That suggestion never became law, but a host of milder workfare and learnfare proposals were enacted on the state level. And in 1996, of course, Bill Clinton signed the federal welfare reform bill, which established new work requirements for people on the dole and strengthened social workers’ surveillance of their lives.

— Jesse Walker, Reason (2009-02-11): Corporate Workfare

Read the whole thing.

See also:

Left-Libertarian Engagement

  • Lew Rockwell’s recent interview of Naomi Wolf for his podcast — the scare quotes are there because it quickly turns into a very two-sided conversation, and works very differently from a conventional interview — is really remarkable, and a paradigm for the kind of engagement that could build a vibrant libertarian Left. Naomi Wolf is not my favorite feminist, and Lew Rockwell is certainly not my favorite libertarian, but this is great stuff. Naomi Wolf now says she thinks she’s been a secret libertarian for many years in many, many ways and mentions that she’s feeling increasingly sympathetic toward radical libertarianism; she insists on the importance of challenging both Democratic- and Republican-sponsored power grabs, and expresses sympathy for the libertarian case for abolishing federal control over schooling. Rockwell does a tolerable job of explaining the libertarian case against the Fed as a instrument of class warfare, does a good job of cautioning against premature jumps into statist political action, and comes out that the conservative movement has been an engine of fascism for the past 50 years. Also, Wolf has some great material at about 23:45 in the interview about the way in which media producers deliberately encourage false-alternative shouting matches and instruct their guests that serious deliberation is not good television.

  • Socialist Alexander Cockburn writes a libertarian article for the Buchananite newsjournal The American Conservative, discussing the ongoing bipartisan assault on civil liberties, in which he points out the continuity between Clinton’s and Bush’s anti-terrorism and drug war rackets, decrying Social Security Numbers and the Kelo decision, while praising the defense of the individualist reading of the Second Amendment in Heller.

  • There’s been a lot more discussion of Roderick’s Corporations Versus the Market piece on Cato Unbound. Roderick’s Keeping Libertarian, Keeping Left replies to the initial responses from the Danny Bonaduce of the Blogosphere, Steven Horwitz, and Dean Baker. Roderick’s Owning Ideas Means Owning People makes the case for libertarian radicalism against Intellectual Protectionism (indeed, for a position even more radical than those advocated by Cato minimal-statist Tim Lee and by anti-IP, but pro-governmental Leftist Dean Baker).

    Yglesias, in reply to Roderick and Steven Horwitz, says he is a bit puzzled by pragmatic arguments for left-libertarianism, based on the claim that markets do more for human flourishing than government programs, writing: If this means that the absence of governance ?@c3;a0; la Joseph Stalin is a more important determinant of our well-being than is, say, the existence of unemployment insurance then, yes, of course this is true. But the question facing government programs is not whether they are more or less beneficial than the existence of a market economy, the question is whether the programs are more beneficial than would be the absence of programs. Roderick does a great job of responding to Yglesias (as well as to some another reply by Dean Baker) here. Let me just add a bit more about the fundamental problem with Yglesias’s proposed methods for assessing whether or not a given government program is warranted.

    The problem here is that Yglesias seems to be treating this as a ceteris paribus comparison: as if the right question to ask is whether people would be better off with the government program in place or in a situation which is exactly identical, but without the government program.

    There are two problems with this. First, unless there is some strong reason to believe that ceteris will stay paribus in the absence of a government program, the real alternative is between a government program and market alternatives to that program. So, for example, Yglesias mentions ex ante environmental regulations. But he rigs the match by apparently comparing outcomes with ex ante environmental regulations to outcomes from a market situation which is basically the same as the present, but in which corporate polluters are free to go on polluting with impunity. An un-rigged comparison would be one between ex ante environmental regulations and free market means of addressing pollution that the ex ante regulations have either directly suppressed or crowded out — like the use of pollution nuisance suits or a more robust use of free market grassroots activism, through boycotts, sustainability certification, social investing, and so on. Maybe these kind of tactics would not be as effective as ex ante regulation, or maybe they would be more effective; but in either case, this is the comparison that actually needs to be made, and as far as I can tell Yglesias hasn’t given any argument to support a claim that market methods would do worse. Indeed, there’s some good reasons to think that they might do better. Since freed-market methods are by their nature decentralized, and not dependent on political lobbying or electioneering, they are also not subject to the same problems of regulatory capture by those who can put a lot of money and political influence behind their interests.

    Second, Yglesias also more or less explicitly suggests that, when you’re deliberating over whether to favor government programs or freed-market alternatives, any given government program ought to be assessed in isolation from all the others (on a case-by-case basis). But of course libertarian Leftists have repeatedly stressed the importance of seeing particular social or political processes in the context of how many different processes interlock and interact with each other. So, for example, as Roderick has repeatedly stressed, if you want to know about whether to prefer unfettered free markets or regulatory command-and-control in financial markets, it doesn’t make sense to compare a rigged market where finance capital is tightly regulated and can reasonably expect government bail-outs in case of failure to a rigged market where finance capital is loosely regulated but can still reasonably expect government bail-outs in case of failure. Whether the latter or the former turns out to have better results is a question we could debate, but the important point, from a left-libertarian point of view, is that it would be more interesting and fruitful to compare the rigged markets to a free market with neither ex ante regulation nor bail-outs. Similarly, if we are looking at environmental regulations then we have to consider not only market alternatives to ex ante environmental regulation; we also have to consider other government programs which may indirectly contribute to environmentally destructive practices — like subsidizing corporate centralization and capital-intensive production; or stealing land from homeowners and small businesses for large, polluting manufacturing plants, garbage incinerators, and other forced-modernization boondoggles; or subsidizing fossil fuel dependence; or highway-driven suburban sprawl — and whether the absence of those other programs, taken together with the absence of ex ante environmental regulation, would make freed-market alternatives to ex ante environmental regulation even more palatable than they would be when considered in isolation. (For some similar points in the context of health care, see GT 2007-10-25: Radical healthcare reform.)

    Meanwhile, Roderick’s article has also prompted a lot of discussion outside of Cato Unbound, most notably interesting but misguided replies from Peter Klein, Will Wilkinson, and an extremely ill-conceived response by Walter Block and J.H. Huebert. I’ve already discussed Block’s and Huebert’s comments, with a focus on their distortion of my own expressed views (cited favorably by Roderick) on radical labor unionism.. There’s a lot of fascinating exchange among Klein, some other right-libertarians and agnostic-libertarians, and a number of libertarian Leftists in the comments thread on Klein’s article; note especially the exchange among Araglin, Klein, P.M. Lawrence and others over the legitimacy and viability of the corporate form, limited liability, etc., under freed markets, and this short comment by Jesse Walker: It seems clear to me that, at the very least, the “more local and more numerous” claim is correct, if not in every sector than certainly in the economy as a whole. Removing occupational licensing laws alone would unleash such a flood of tiny enterprises — many of them one-man or one-woman shows, sometimes run part-time — that I doubt the elimination of antitrust law and small-business setasides would offset it. Especially when large businesses have proven so adept at using antitrust and setasides for their own purposes. . . . . (Jesse promises a more detailed follow-up at Hit and Run; I look forward to it.)

    Meanwhile, as promsied, Roderick has added his own (detailed, excellent) reply on most of the points raised by Klein, Wilkinson, Huebert, and Block back over at Cato Unbound, entitled Free Market Firms: Smaller, Flatter, and More Crowded.

    Read the whole damn thread. It’s great.

  • On the activist front, this past Monday, New Jersey ALLy Darian Worden announced a new series of Alliance of the Libertarian Left outreach flyers and subversion squares available from the NJ ALL website. Enjoy! (I also think there will be some interesting news in the near future about ALL in Southern California, England, Denver, and some new activities for ALL in Las Vegas. But I’m not going to tip my hand more than that in public, just yet. If you’re curious — and especially if you are in one or more of those geographical areas — drop me a line in private.

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