Occasionally, the progressive blog, Hullabaloo takes time out to illuminate us with it’s particularly uninformed brand of libertarian critique. This recent addition, Wheezy Philosophizing, is no exception to the type high quality brand of critique one has come to expect from Hullabaloo. Here’s the gist of the latest argument:
Government is as fundamental to human nature as breathing is to the individual. Whining about government(the coercive nature of government) is akin to whining about being forced to breathe.
Boy, that’s some seriously profound shit. What is the poor libertarian to do to muster up a defense against that bit of flawless reasoning. Actually, some of the comments to tristero’s post did a fine job of pointing out some of the obvious flaws, to which tristero responded, “The point is libertarians add nothing of value to liberalism. All the good ideas already were ones liberals thunk of a million years ago. All the bad ones are remarkably bad.” Of course, I’ve never heard that talking point expressed before in the progressive blogosphere. That’s definitely original. However, I must add, I was amused by one of the commenter’s linking to an old comment by tristero on the blog Crooked Timber, in a post discussing “Why Not Socialism.” Quoting tristero, here’s why not:
I have no doubt we lack the technology to make socialism work. We also have some fairly good precedents that, possibly because of the lack of such a technology, socialist regimes rapidly degenerate into totalitarianism, poverty, and terror. I see nothing on the horizon that gives me the slightest confidence that a socialist-enabling technology could be invented and – equally important – would be adopted and – equally important – would be desirable.
Well, forgive me, but that sounds quite a bit like a regurgitation of the Hayek critique against Neoclassical State Socialism(the Walrasian Auctioneer). There is no technology, no mechanism to overcome the “Knowledge Problem” in replacing the market price system with a central command system. From what liberal tradition did tristero glean that bit of wisdom? Or did he think it up all by himself, apparently…
Well, Bob one thing I assume about your speech is that James Bovard didn’t write it. It’s not often I read speech that lays out the case for a watered-down platform of constitutional conservatism based on articulating the long-running failures of just such a constitutionally limited government. I would say it’s time to quite obsessing over the chronic, degenerative arthritis that’s afflicting the knees of Rand’s Atlas, and just shoot him. Time to put the myth out of it’s misery.
I’m all for a plain, brief platform to convey a “relevant libertarianism.” Here it is:
“They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross, but I’m not a libertarian.” Rand Paul
“The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” Frederic Bastiat
Last week, Rachel Maddow’s K.O. of Rand Paul via a vis the 1964 Civil Rights Act garnished quite a bit of attention and derision of libertarianism by the mainstream press. Paul’s immediate disavowal of his views the next day might have squelched the “racism” charge, but it afforded ample opportunity for the chattering classes to self-congratulate themselves on the QED demonstration of the untenability of libertarianism in modern political discourse. In other words, libertarianism is an academic or philosophical discussion, but it is not a serious political theory. Of course, the political tenability of libertarianism is not something that would ever drive the 24 cable news cycle; the real ulterior political theater here was the effective neutering of the “Tea Party movement,” of which Paul claimed the mantle of leadership. In that regard, I think the chattering classes have it right. Paul soon retreated behind the GOP establishment, and whatever “threat” he may have posed to the establishment ended up having the half-life of a store-bought banana.
Frankly, Rand Paul and Rachel Maddow aren’t the players I would recommend in terms of representing any meaningful libertarian vs social democracy debate. First of all, Rand Paul is not a libertarian, and Maddow is a mildly vulgar politico. Maddow’s argument could have been eviscerated by a radical libertarian, but it’s an argument that would also disqualify that same person from making a living in politics, no doubt. Maddow’s premise that the 1964 Civil Rights Act desegregated the lunch counters, or that politics desegregated the lunch counters is inaccurate. In fact, it was radical social direct action that desegregated much of the lunch counters, and was social direct action which finally prompted passage of the 1964 bill. But, in many ways, it was just a triumph of the Status Quo. An examination of historical and contextual circumstances to warrant a broadening of anti-discrimination laws for public accommodation seems a bit lame. A more radical examination of the historical context should have been able to make the case for reparations of and redistribution of property, while disregarding some commerce clause rationale enforcement of public accommodation to illegitimately claimed property. What Maddow, as a good Fabian gradualist, celebrates is a law, much of which should have been in effect as an implied consequence of the 14th amendment ratified a century earlier, and restrictions on the freedom of association as a means to counter-act the continued status quo in illegitimate property claims as a result of inability to enforce the 14the amendment for a century. Of course, soon after the passage of the 1964 Civil rights Act, the US Federal Government would embark on instituting the New Jim Crow, built on the back of the Drug War, a war legally sanctified by a broad interpretation of the commerce clause. And 45 years later, The United States has the largest prison population in the world, half it comprised by african americans. But the likes of Maddow are too busy appealing to the 1964 Civil Rights Act as if it were the Sine qua non of racial justice.
There actually is a rich history regarding the libertarian vs Social Democracy debate in the United States. I would reference the original debate between Benjamin Tucker and George Benard Shaw. Read this background piece to gain a historical appreciation of the “two worthy opponents.” There are two political documents that can summarize that debate, Tucker’s State Socialism and Anarchism and Shaw’s The Impossibilities of Anarchism. In the end, Tucker is making a moral argument against State Socialism and Shaw is making an economic argument against libertarianism. For various reasons, this original debate would fade into the vapor of history, but it would be reborn a few generations later in the 20th century as the Socialist Calculation Debate. But this was a purely economic debate, in terms of neoclassical economics, regarding the efficiency of Walrasian Auctioneer to set prices, in lieu of any need for a market economy. Pareto neoclassical welfare economics seemed to imply that equilibrium in a market economy could be better simulated by the actions of a central price setter and taker. It was the culmination of the Shaw argument, so to speak. However, it would be Hayek’s Knowledge Problem that would tear down the pretense of neoclassical state socialism. The “libertarians” would eventually win that debate. And Hayek would become famous for writing the “Road to Serfdom,” that turned the economic argument against the Social Democrats to warn against authoritarianism, but he was merely arriving at the same conclusions that Tucker had warned against 60 years earlier.
Advocates of Social Democracy would adjust to promoting a “mixed economy” to getting around the economic limitations of neoclassical socialism, but “Public Choice” as a discipline would poke serious holes in political corporatism. The Fabian Socialist argument against libertarianism was never a moral argument, but rather an economic argument, a utilitarian argument. The body of work of libertarianism has since taken down the Fabian economic argument. Now, in many ways, the tables have turned, with social democrats primarily relying on “moral arguments” whereas the libertarians resort to economics. But the moral arguments of the Social Democrats often reduce to mere symbolism. But symbolism does not free a man. Sometimes, liberty has to be seized. Liberty is not a sanctioned gift from the political classes.
In U.S. v. Comstock decision that came down yesterday, the Supreme upheld the federal civil detention powers enshrined by the “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” that passed in 2006. These powers give the US Attorney General the authority to indefinitely detain “sex offenders” beyond their prison sentences. “Comstock” refers to Graydon Comstock, who was sentenced to 3 years for downloading child porn, but was detained by Alberto Gonzales prior to his release date. His detention has continued under Eric Holder. Comstock sued the Federal government on the Grounds that civil detention was not an enumerated power in the US Constitution. A lower federal court agreed with Comstock and overturned that portion of the AWCPSA. However, the Feds appealed to the Supreme Court, with Solicitor General Elena Kagan making the State’s case. Kagan’s argument eschewed the typical “commerce clause” appeal, instead opting for “Necessary and Proper Clause ” argument, which boiled down to the argument for the power of civil detention by simple virtue of operating a prison system. All in the name of “public safety,” of course. In other words, operating a prison system gives the government the powers of indefinite civil detention of prisoners in order to ensure the “public safety.” It should be noted that the designation “sexually dangerous” does not merely apply to those convicted of “sex crimes,” it’s a designation that can be applied to any prisoner in the federal system.
One thing to point out is that civil detention of “sex offenders” has been going on at the State level for a while now. The initial State laws that passed in the early 90s(with the advent of Cable TV sensationalism) were struck down by the Supreme Court. However, in the late 90s, specifically, Kansas v. Hendricks, these laws were upheld if detention was justified by “mental illness.” In others words, detention had to be accompanied by some form of ongoing medical treatment. Nonethless, as arbitrary a standard “mental illness” is, U.S. v. Comstock doesn’t even have to meet that burden. You just have to be declared “sexually dangerous.”
It should be clear that the United States is gradually formalizing a civil detention regime. “First they came for the terrorists, then they came for the sex offenders…”” is not a trite expression. Under Bush and Obama, executive power to assassinate or indefinitely detain US citizens vis a vis terrorism designations is a claimed power. With U.S. v. Comstock, legislative power of indefinite detention is now a formal, legal power. You can expect more legislation to come down the pike to expand this formalism in the name of National Security and Public Safety. I’m not really sure how many US citizens are being detained or targeted for assassination as a result of terrorist designations, but there are around 100 or so being indefinitely detained in federal prisons as a result of being designated as ” sexually dangerous.” What are these numbers going to be 10 years from now? The term “slippery slope” is a common refrain, but I think we’ve slipped. No liberal can defend much less tolerate a formal civil detention regime.
I imagine Bryan Caplan would be chuckling at this. My response would be more along the lines of “this is what communitarian politics looks like.” I think communitarian politics is a bit of a luxury, however. When the reality of this begins to take hold under our tightening corporate plutocracy, I think we’ll start to see something a bit different.
Krugman dismisses libertarianism because of the foil of imperfect politicians. This coming from someone who has spent the last year crying in his column that corrupt politicians wrecked the “stimulus package.”
Libertarians are quite cognizant of corruption of politics, having, frankly originated the the field of class analysis in both classical(Laissez faire) and neoclassical economics(Public Choice). This is why radical libertarians advocate for a de-politicized social and economic system(anarchy). Otherwise, I certainly agree that contractual tort restitution can be spoiled and rendered inefficient by actions of the political class. However, it’s not like Krugman’s preferred political arrangement, “social democracy,” doesn’t suffer from the same public choice faults. Indeed, in Krugman’s ideal arrangement, everything is decided by politics, which makes the public choice problem paramount. Krugman’s solution to the problem, especially since he has turned into a political hack, seems more or less two-fold (1) politics as means of de-legitimatizing dissenting views(the effective one party State) (2) crises as a means to impose his preferred institutional paradigm(“Disaster Corporatism”).
You can label radical libertarianism as not being a serious option, but Krugman’s alternative is tyranny, that is, unless you happen to agree with Krugman.
Digby is shocked, just shocked at the supposed “bombshell” the Red Cross divulged a couple of days ago: there are secret prisons at Bagram.
What I wrote a year ago at Freedom Democrats:
Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan is going to make Gitmo look like a mom and pop bed and breakfast next to what is going to transpire at Bagram. No wonder Obama doesn’t want to pursue prosecution of Bush/Cheney. His war crimes in Afghanistan are going to make Bush’s look like “Springtime for Hitler”…
The Center for a Stateless Society has a new quiz online designed to measure political ideology around 5 axes instead of the usual two(left/right). Here is my result below.
|67% Economic Leftist||(Economic Leftist / Economic Rightist)|
|88% Anarchist||(Anarchist / Statist)|
|100% Anti-Militarist||(Anti-Militarist / Militarist)|
|83% Socio-Cultural Liberal||(Socio-Cultural Liberal / Socio-Cultural Conservative)|
|83% Civil Libertarian||(Civil Libertarian / Civil Authoritarian)|
If I had to describe myself politically, a decent summary would be Chomsky on foreign policy/empire, Adam Smith/Hayek(the scottish tradition) on economics, Henry George when it comes to land, Bastiat when it comes to law, de jasay when it comes to politics, and radical french liberal tradition in terms of class analysis. This puts me squarely within the radical libertarian tradition. The political quiz above more or less accurately measures this.
Brad Spangler recently published a quick dismissal of Georgism which I found to be particularly uncompelling. Occasionally, brevity is a virtue, but in this case, I think it’s going to take a bit more effort and insight by Spangler to make the case. Writes Spangler:
Proximity is a two-way relationship but Georgists attempt to use it to justify a one-way transfer of wealth. Real estate prices are, indeed, largely a matter of location — but there’s no way to argue that one’s proximity to the rest of the community creates an obligation to reimburse the community, since the community also derives value from people (such as one’s self) being in proximity to it.
Me being close to you necessarily implies that you, likewise, are close to me. There’s no getting around that for Georgists. Sorry.
Frankly, not convincing. Let’s review what “Georgist rent” actually is. Georgist rents are ground rents paid not for any privilege for the use of the land, but rather to exclude anyone else from the use of the same land. “Georgist rents” are applied against the “non-improved” value of the land, not the improved value. In the Georgist scheme, ground rents should more or less equal the unimproved value of the land, so there is, in effect, no wealth in holding land. The effective price of unimproved land should be zero, whether in the middle of the boondocks, the outskirts of Detroit(where it actually is more or less zero now), or in a vibrant, highly-coordinated community. However, the rents are are not applied against the improved value, so the rent is not a deadweight loss. In the Georgist scheme, we basically have an economic system that enforces “unimproved land as part of the commons,” with the ground rents constituting neither a wealth transfer nor a deadweight loss.
In some quarters, there have been criticisms that the positive externalities of “land improvements” or, say, population inflows, creates an “effective tax” on unimproved land, so Georgist rents end up being a form of deadweight losses. But when I read these criticisms, I’m not sure the critics are getting the point that increased value of the land creates opportunity costs for the use of such land, so, it is actually quite rational that it would cost more in compensation to retain exclusive use of such land. Frankly, this is how it’s supposed to work, to prevent land speculation and free-riding off the labor and investment of others. Remembering, of course,we are talking about rents applied against the “unimproved value” of the land, and a principle that the effective price of unimproved land should be zero, regardless of it’s location(NOTE: THIS DOES NOT MEAN ACTUAL PRICE OF REAL ESTATE/REAL PROPERTY ITSELF IS ZERO!).
I realize that for hard-core Austrians, the Georgist treatment of land may be a bit of an anathema, but I think it’s the height of denial to think that human history hasn’t been riddled with a “land question.” Frankly, I never have been convinced by any Austrian resolution to the land question, to the extent that Austrians even acknowledge a “land question.” Other alternatives, such as the “mutualist” treatment” of land, have their own problems. Georgism is not perfect, and does have some empirical problems to tackle, but conceptually, it offers a compelling paradigm for a more egalitarian free market order that places the costs of governance on those benefit the most, without having to implode/destroy the entirety of the current social order.
Some good commentary at Freedom Democrats.