Don’t Question, Just Believe

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Here’s the first (and thus far only) response to my challenge to lefty bloggers to state the maximum size and scope of government with which they’d be comfortable.

The author and I have such complete and utterly different worldviews, I’m not really sure how to begin to respond. It’s like we speak the same language, but all of the words have different definitions. She characterizes my providing actual data, with historical context for comparison, as “emotional thinking,” then says we should stop interfering, and just trust that the president, who was elected because he’s “articulate,” and the good members of Congress (me: who were elected because they rigged the game) to plan our health care system, financial system, and broader economy. This, apparently, is the opposite of thinking emotionally. None of us is smart enough to understand complex economic concepts, she says, so we should put our faith in Barack Obama, I guess because getting elected president magically infuses you with the wisdom to run the economy, or at least the smarts to pick the all-knowing advisers who can. Finally, we should stop “micromanaging” our politicians, so we don’t disturb them as they go about their business of micromanaging the private sector.

So where to begin? I guess we could start with the assumption that politicians always, or even mostly, act in the interest of the public, instead of the interests of politicians. They don’t. There’s the assumption that the skills and talents it takes to get elected are the same skills and talents one needs to govern effectively. They aren’t. There’s the assumption that any one person or even any group of people has even a fraction of the collected wisdom distributed over the course of billions of voluntary exchanges that make up an $11 trillion economy. They don’t. There’s the assumption that even if such a freakishly smart person existed, that person would also possess the political skills necessary to rise to become powerful enough to actually impart his wisdom to the people who can turn it into policy. And then there’s the assumption that even if said freakishly smart person could rise to have the president’s ear, that his advice would be heeded by Congress, and not corrupted, diluted, or merely subverted by special interests and the whims, turf wars, and power plays of politicians in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

I could go on.

I’d encourage you to read the post, though. It’s kinda’ fascinating.

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135 Responses to “Don’t Question, Just Believe

  1. #1 |  omar | 

    It’s one thing to try to make the intellectual effort to be informed. It’s another to assume that any one of us has the expertise to pass absolute judgment on matters of enormous complexity about which we have no specialized training. From the economy to education to global climate change, our national leaders are dealing with problems about which few of us have in-depth knowledge. A little humility would be in order here.

    Which is exactly why I’m a libertarian. The top-down solution bringers just aren’t any smarter than most of us, and I don’t trust most of us to create good top-down solutions.

  2. #2 |  Jody | 

    What I can’t get my head around is why someone thinks that just because they don’t have a PhD in Economics they still can’t become informed on the issue and enter into the conversation you requested. Granted, on the web there are thousands of folks, nay millions who spout uniformed opinions. I’m probably one of them. But even without a PhD in the areas you outlined, I can still at least define and detail out where I think a line ought to be drawn on spending, if not in specific numbers and programs, at least in general terms.

    I think the author thought she was being cute by sort of sidetracking the conversation rather than honestly answering those areas they have comfort in and at least engaging you in some honest debate.

  3. #3 |  David McElroy | 

    It’s easy to respond to well-reasoned arguments that just have a flaw in them or to at least point out that the root of disagreement lies in some differing core assumptions. But reading this person’s “argument” (to use the word loosely), I feel as though someone has asked what 2 plus 2 equals, and this woman’s answer is “blue.” It’s not just that I disagree with it. It’s that the basic terms are so nonsensical that they can’t be objectively evaluated.

  4. #4 |  Marty | 

    ‘Now I suggest that we give them a little time to do their jobs without constantly having to respond to ignorant questions and objections from people who confuse thinking with feeling.’

    ‘we’ means the obamafans, right?

    ‘ignorant questions and objections from people who confuse thinking with feeling.’ means the Foxgopfans, right?

    this blog isn’t really relevant to the question. she cites a crappy analogy comparing the unknowns nasa faced and the unknowns obama faces with the health care issues, but nothing else except ‘have faith’.

    I bet Jane has already profited from the ‘let’s stimulate the economy by propping up air-headed intellectuals’ portion of the stimulus bill….

  5. #5 |  Dylboz | 

    From another post on her blog:

    “Nobody’s going to stand out in the sun holding a sign that advocates for higher taxes. But let’s face it–it takes money to run a government. And our governments–state, local, and federal–are what give us the American lifestyle we all so enjoy (and are rapidly exporting to the rest of the world).”

    She doesn’t inhabit the same universe I do. I considered leaving a comment, but thought better of it. I’d likely have more success trying to talk the pope out of being Catholic.

  6. #6 |  Doug | 

    “Suppose when they were building the first space shuttle, NASA asked the American public—who, after all, were footing the bill for the project—for similar input; for example, “What kind of fuel should we use in the boosters?” or “What materials should we use for the heat shields?” And most importantly, “What is the maximum number of dollars we should spend on the program before pulling the plug on it?”

    What’s the latin phrase to describe the tactic, when debating, of establishing a base of information and then pulling something out of a totally different galaxy? Is it just non-sequiter?

    Who would be a better expert than the taxpayers on what level of priority (in terms of tax dollars expended) any particular government program should be?

    My head hurts.

  7. #7 |  Lior | 

    Note that the responder claims to not be able to set the price of bread when, in fact, she participates every day in setting the price of bread by choosing which bread to buy (if at all) given the prices offered to her.

  8. #8 |  karl | 

    Too bad your first response was so weak.

    I’m a not-particularly-well-informed progressive who thinks that your frame is off-center. There are no “ideal” numbers that answer any of your questions — economic circumstances change, and what we regard as reasonable tax rates, acceptable inflation, etc. changes with the times.

    If pressed, I’d say that the answers you seek aren’t magic numbers, but parameters set by historic norms and past economic performance. Defining these parameters takes more research than I’m willing (or able) to supply. Perhaps someone with the applicable skills will give you a data-based response.

    In the meantime, to reiterate my claim of bad framing, here’s one easy example per progressive taxation:

    “Should the top 1 percent pay 60 or more percent of the government’s costs?”

    We don’t set tax rates for the top 1% (or any percentage) of earners; we set tax rates on earnings, not earners — look at the tax tables at the back of your 1040. And don’t forget that “acceptable” tax payments cannot be accurately gauged without considering the value of tax-funded benefits.

    Similar critiques of each of your questions are possible, but who has the time?

  9. #9 |  Cynical in CA | 

    I’m left wondering why you have any faith left in the political process, Radley.

  10. #10 |  freedomfan | 

    It’s always interesting to me how people on the left who supposedly hold such egalitarian views cling to the presumption the those in government are wiser, more skillful, and possessed of higher moral intentions than the rest of us. Citizen Jane, the blogger Radley links to admits that the economy is extraordinarily complex, but she thinks those in government are somehow equipped to understand and manipulate it (and that they are inclined to do so in ways that benefit the general public), whereas we unwashed masses aren’t smart enough, skilled enough, or benevolent enough to do it. Basically, the view is consonant with the (very non-egalitarian) idea that politicians, their advisors, and government bureaucrats are simply better than the benighted slobs they so unselfishly rule over serve.

    Even her “rocket science” example is blind to its own implications. She rightly points out that rocket scientists could never successfully build a rocket if untrained citizens were constantly reaching in and changing the design, perhaps not even all working toward the same goal. Rockets works because a relatively small number of people, all agreed on what ultimately needs to happen, control precisely what goes into a rocket. But, the actual economy necessarily involves hundreds of millions of people acting independently. There is no way a small number of experts can make the economy perform the way the scientists make rockets perform because, even wielding the clumsy sledgehammer of government, they really only decide a small fraction of what goes into the economy.

    (And, BTW, those rocket scientists, who are often legitimately geniuses, are still extremely aware of the limits of how a rocket will react in the face of uncontrolled inputs. As we see illustrated in the commonly scuttled rocket launches, they know their design could fail catastrophically if, for example, the weather isn’t ideal. If only politicians had that sort of humility about their designs on the economy.)

    The other amazing thing is Citizen Jane doesn’t seem to understand that the faith she places in the brilliance, skills, and good intentions of those in the present administration is no different than the faith many conservatives placed in the last one. I haven’t read all of her posts, but I consider it highly likely that she considers those conservatives to have been quite foolish in that regard, if not outright stupid. But, she is doing the same thing and seems not to realize it.

  11. #11 |  just a guest | 

    My favorite paragraph was this:

    The answer is, we don’t always know. But as a nation, we elected a well-educated man with good communication skills to assemble teams of experts capable of addressing particular problems. We elected a body of legislators with the collective responsibility of working with him to achieve our national goals. Now I suggest that we give them a little time to do their jobs without constantly having to respond to ignorant questions and objections from people who confuse thinking with feeling. /

    Can you imagine her writing that in July 2005? Or does the author intend for us only to grant this deference when her (presumably) favored candidates win?

  12. #12 |  Graham | 

    Looks like there really might be something to the old saying that Democrats think most people are morons who can’t do for themselves.

    Not only are we too stupid to take care of ourselves, but we’re too stupid to understand or critique our betters who are selfless enough to do the thinking for us.

  13. #13 |  Seth | 

    I’m sure everyone here has seen the Milton Friedman interview on Donahue…the one clip about greed has been floating around, but the other day I watched the entire thing. Really, truly, fascinating…on several levels. But ultimately to me the most interesting thing was seeing the clash of world views (Donahue’s classic statism vs. Friedman’s freedom) and how every time Donahue made some ridiculous emotional point about greed or corporate evil or the goodness of the state, Milty had a thoughtful, powerful, fact-based response that destroyed the entire premise of the question. And yet, regardless, it had no impact on Donahue who clearly viewed him as a kook.

    And so…what I guess I struggle with…is that no matter how coherently one makes the case, the true believer will never be convinced to change his or her ways. Which makes it hard to be optimistic about the future.

  14. #14 |  karl | 

    Seth (#12): A discussion of ideas between Donahue and Friedman is bound to look a little one-sided; but if Friedman were matched with a comparable fact-based man (or woman) of the the left, would you be amenable to opposing arguments? Or are you, too, a “true believer”?

  15. #15 |  Mister DNA | 

    Someone needs to remind this blogger that Obama’s field of expertise is Constitutional Law… and just look at how that’s working out for us.

    This is why I find “progressives” so much more evil than neoconservatives – at least the neocons are pretty much upfront about it all being a blatant grab at power. The leftists are condescending about it… we’ll all be so much better off if we stop questioning the good intentions of our leaders.

    Jesus H. Christ, I’m so proud to be able to say that I didn’t vote for the SOB.

  16. #16 |  Mike T | 

    None of us is smart enough to understand complex economic concepts, she says, so we should put our faith in Barack Obama, I guess because getting elected president magically infuses you with the wisdom to run the economy, or at least the smarts to pick the all-knowing advisers who can.

    In other words, the modern Left is an exercise in extreme political fideism.

  17. #17 |  SJE | 

    Me, I found it deliciously ironic that her first example was the SPACE SHUTTLE, and how ridiculous it would be to ask the voters whether to go solid or liquid fuel. The space shuttle is a great example of the failings of government all around.

    The first idea of insisting that humans deliver things to space, is bad economically: unmanned rockets do the same thing for a fraction of the cost. Its not science: human presence in space has negligible scientific value compared to unmanned vehicles. It is, instead largely the product of the same “my dick is bigger” thinking that got us the F-22 fighter and wars in Iraq.

    Then there is way it was built. When it was proposed, so many different parties wanted something different that they compromised, and came up with something that wasn’t particularly good at what it was supposed to do.

    Then, it was maintained. The product of 1970s technology, still flying nearly 40 years later, at exhorbitant cost, because Congress wanted it.

    Thus, Radley’s respondant unintentionally seized on a great example of what is wrong with government programs: their cost, their inefficiencies, the fact that they are used for egos rather than actual good, and the fact that they are hard to kill.

    Then she argued you just gotta believe!

  18. #18 |  Mike T | 

    Someone needs to remind this blogger that Obama’s field of expertise is Constitutional Law… and just look at how that’s working out for us.

    Some might say that 1984 is the guide to this administration, but I think From Hell with Johnny Depp is better, since Obama is starting to more closely resemble the villain of that movie in how he is using that education on his victims (constitution, the economy…)

  19. #19 |  Seth | 

    karl – yeah, that’s a fair point…and I would like to think that the answer would be “yes”. But then where is that person? Where is the thoughtful counter to Radley? Where is the coherent, intelligent, fact-based, non-emotional case for statism?

  20. #20 |  Chris Bray | 

    Thank you for asking this question — that response is fucking stunning, and I’ll never forget it. Well done.

  21. #21 |  obama cured my gout | 

    Please also note that, two posts back, “Citizen Jane” was arguing for, quote, “Skepticism, a Citizen’s Responsibility.”

    How you could ever reconcile these two different views….

  22. #22 |  Gabriel | 

    Attempting to interpret Jane’s response to the specific questions asked, it appears that her reply is that she would place no limits whatsoever on the size and scope of government, other than the government’s own judgment on those matters. If the government decides to move to a 100% command economy, I have to assume that she’s on board.

    This is not entirely surprising but I’m surprised to see it so plainly acknowledged.

  23. #23 |  ClubMedSux | 

    karl-

    I can’t speak for everybody here, but I think most libertarians are attracted to the ideology precisely BECAUSE they welcome opposing arguments. After all, that’s specifically what Radley solicited. Obviously most of us here tend to gravitate towards the same answers, but we’ve reached that same conclusion THROUGH considering opposing viewpoints. If we simply picked an ideology and blindly followed it, we’d be Republicans or Democrats. Certainly, your comments are far more nuanced than the blogger’s, and I for one appreciate that, but I’d like to hear your thoughts beyond “the question isn’t framed properly.” As a father of two young children (almost three years and just over five months) I’ve never been more concerned about our nation’s future, particularly when it comes to paying for the current establishment’s proposals. I think it’s legitimate to question Obama’s ambitions and how they will be paid for. If you’re not going to offer numbers, I’d like to hear some basis for drawing a line, whatever it may be.

  24. #24 |  Comrade Dread | 

    Well, opening strawman aside, she assumes that:

    1. Government and the economy are too complex for the average citizen to understand or give valid input on.

    2. Yet these same citizens are intelligent enough to recognize the people who do know what they are talking about from bullshit artists most of the time. Or at least enough of the time so that we should place blind faith in our elected leaders.

    3. These brilliant few who do know about the economy would choose a life of benevolent public service instead of using their knowledge to play the system, con the system, or exploit the system for their own personal gain.

    Seems like a lot of wishful emotional thinking to me.

  25. #25 |  JS | 

    I wonder if she didn’t question but just believed for the previous 8 years?

  26. #26 |  karl | 

    Seth, I don’t think anyone makes a case for “statism.” Most of us on the left (Phil Donahue included, I’m sure) are as skeptical of state power as those on the right; the difference is where skepticism gives way to representative government — the reason so many trust (or “trust”) Obama is that he represents a corrective to eight years of what they see as an executive and congress that ignored and repudiated their poltical and social views.

    The mirror image of the left’s frustration can be seen, in extremis, in the amazing birther-lady video that’s making the rounds: “I want my country back!” I heard the same plaint from lefty friends for the last several years, heck, I probably said it myself; of course, my (and their) country never went away — only the representatives changed.

    My case for Democrats over Republicans can be made in a way that libertarians accept: (1) the government is going to run by either Democrats or Republicans; (2) both parties are effectively in thrall to corporate interests; (3) Democrats tend to believe that government policy can positively affect public welfare, Republicans don’t — at the activist extremes this is especially true; (4) so with Democrats in office, there is a small counterweight to the gigantism of corporate power, with Republicans there is none. Yes, it’s bleak — but organizing a vote is easier than organizing a boycott, so I’ll throw my lot in with the state over multinational corporate interests.

    If you don’t believe that the natural course of any organization is to increase its power and wealth, then you can reject my reasoning. The real-life question is, which do you fear more: the state or the stateless mega-corporation. Simplistic, sure — but this is only a comments section.

  27. #27 |  JS | 

    karl ” Most of us on the left (Phil Donahue included, I’m sure) are as skeptical of state power as those on the right”

    I don’t believe that for a minute. Some perhaps but certainly not most.

  28. #28 |  Leah | 

    “The real-life question is, which do you fear more: the state or the stateless mega-corporation.”

    I can choose not to shop at Wal-Mart. I can’t choose not to pay my taxes.

  29. #29 |  cliff | 

    That anybody could ever take her seriously is one of the scariest facts I’ve come across. We’re screwed if there are many more like her out there…

    On the other hand, the comments section is the best reading I’ve done in a long while. Devastatingly funny and true.

  30. #30 |  Mister DNA | 

    My case for Democrats over Republicans can be made in a way that libertarians accept:

    I don’t speak for all libertarians, but I personally don’t find your case very persuasive… or acceptable.

    The lesser of two evils is still evil.

  31. #31 |  cliff | 

    >>>>The real-life question is, which do you fear more: the state or the stateless mega-corporation.<<<<<<

    False dichotomy.

  32. #32 |  b-psycho | 

    Karl:

    which do you fear more: the state or the stateless mega-corporation

    The original conception of the corporation, which begat the mega-corporation, is a creation of the State. Limited liability & legal status as immortal paper persons are by definition not the natural result of a market order, and it is no surprise how the corporate sector has taken advantage of politics as a result.

  33. #33 |  sqlcowboy | 

    The only issue I have with your response is the assumption that free market entrepreneurs always, or even mostly, act in the interest of the public, instead of the interests of the individual. In my experience, the free market is no better at protecting the public than the government.

    Kinda a catch-22 as far as I can see.

  34. #34 |  ChrisD | 

    Good on her for trying but she needs to read the first chapters of Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom.” How does she know what a good price for bread is? Pick the best you can find at the 3 closest stores. The whole point of leaving these decisions to a free market is to let people in a specific field who provide services figure out which ones to offer at which prices, then let consumers reward those who give the best balance of value for cost. Let the other businesses adapt to, and learn from the leaders – or go broke. Governement allows none of these adaptive learning mechanisms, which is why they wind up paying $350 for a hammer.

  35. #35 |  ktc2 | 

    RIP Taco Bell chihuahua.

    Hey, he’s at least as culturally relevant as Michael Jackson this decade.

  36. #36 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #14 | Mister DNA — “Jesus H. Christ, I’m so proud to be able to say that I didn’t vote for the SOB.”

    Umm, but did you vote for the other SOB?

    There’s only one clean way — don’t vote.

  37. #37 |  Mister DNA | 

    By the way, Radley,

    Citizen Jane introduced you as “FoxNews commentator Radley Balko”. Are you still writing for FoxNews?

    Even if you are, isn’t “Reason magazine senior editor” a better description?

    I realize I’m being hypersensitive, but I think it’s a subtle bit of well-poisoning. I’m reminded of the time Ed Brayton posted a link to one of your Fox columns and one of his commenters bragged about how he was not going to read it; it was printed by FoxNews, therefore it was wrong. End of story.

  38. #38 |  Mister DNA | 

    Cynical in CA,

    I voted for the Libertarian Party’s SOB.

    Nevertheless, I agree with you on the not voting option. As my brother says, when faced with choice of eating a bowlful of hot shit or a bowlful of cold shit, the only logical choice is to go hungry.

  39. #39 |  karl | 

    ClubMedSux (I couldn’t agree more about that):

    I have no numbers (that would take research), but I do think that certain historical analogies may apply. For instance, aggressive stimulus programs worked during the Great Depression in Sweden, Great Britain, Germany (yes, I call preparing for a massive war “stimulus”), and the U.S. — I think this is a good case for our current stimulus policy.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t point to the very high taxes in the prosperous postwar years as a case for a 90% top rate — the world economy (and our place in it) is so radically different that any analogy will fall apart. My gut tells me that top marginal rate of around 60% is far as we should go — but we should never make policy on gut feelings.

    Look at it this way: when the top incomes have risen so much more than the mean in the last three decades, a truly progressive tax system would have raised the top rates years ago — while a sharply progressive tax would be obviously unfair if earnings were relatively equal.

    Consider the top 1% (Radley’s favorite number) of earners making $75,000-76,000 while the bottom 99% earn $74,000-74,999, now consider the top 1% earning over $1m while the bottom 99% earn less than $20,000 — most of us non-libertarians would want to see different tax levels for these two different set of economic circumstances, the first being flat and second being steeply progressive and fairly high.

    This is why hard numbers, not just for tax rates but for debt and spending levels, cannot be set in stone — different circumstances mean different problems and solutions. Spending $100,000 on a professional education is not the same as spending $100,000 on hookers and booze (I’m assuming).

  40. #40 |  SusanK | 

    The problem with Radley’s challenge is his assumption that a die-hard “lefty” will actually be able to place a limit on government. If the reasoning starts out with government is good and that government involvement is always better than free market, then there should necessarily never be a limit on government reach.
    I think some people truly believe that “government” is always better than any other alternative, so why should it ever be limited?

  41. #41 |  karl | 

    Whew! A lot of responses.

    JS (#25): Just look at how we trusted state power under Bush.

    Leah (#26): We are lucky not to be living in the era of company stores, but if you think that they wouldn’t return if they could then you’re kidding yourself.

    Mr DNA (#28): A trite cliche. Neither is evil, they are both facts of life.

    Cliff (#29): You are right, it is a false dichotomy — I called it simplistic when I wrote it. Nuance is tough in a comments section (and this is my first time being engaged in one! Fun!).

    B-Psycho (#30): So true. Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific was the worst decision (for its long-term effects) in our history. And yes, a good case can be made for the other side — but not good enough.

  42. #42 |  billy-jay | 

    It’s sad that the debate about taxation is how much is too much. Taxation is a terrible way to pay for government services. It only serves to isolate the consumers from the real cost.

    Also, representative democracy is a joke. Does anyone really believe they have a real voice? I doubt very much that they have a voice at the city council level.

  43. #43 |  karl | 

    Mister DNA: I inadvertently erased “cannot” from comment #24 when changing a sentence. It should have read “in a way that libertarians cannot accept” — nor should you, if you think that all powerful organizations are evil.

  44. #44 |  hexag1 | 

    On a side note, emotion and reason aren’t diametrically opposed. Emotion gets in the way of clear thinking often enough. But it is not really separable from human reasoning.
    Neuroscience has shown that our instincts for truth and falsehood are intimitely linked in the brain with our emotional circuitry, especially in the cases of falsehood and disgust (e.g. “It doesn’t pass the smell test” has a real neurological basis)

    See Antonio Damasio’s “Decarte’s Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain” for more.

  45. #45 |  Warren | 

    The actual answer, if they were honest, would be:

    “How much have you got?”

    “Only that much? You can owe us the rest.”

  46. #46 |  Angie | 

    Wow! Talk about a condescending post. Not you Radley, but Citizen Jane. To assume that only those in office would have the expertise to make any comment about the economy (or anything) is amazing. Just wow.

  47. #47 |  mcmillan | 

    Ugg, that was pretty disappointing to read. Even though I’m probably more of a lefty than most of the people here, I still see the need for thinking about limits. I’ll admit I’m not as knowledeable on economic issues as I probably should be, which was why when I saw Radley’s challenge I was curious to see responses since I figured people that would actually take the time to respond would be somewhat reasonable and a source to educate myself. If things like that response are what we have to expect from having Dems running things for a while you all might convert me to libertarianism soon enough.

  48. #48 |  old | 

    Meh. What an exercise in futility. What has been proven? Holy Christ! There are idiots in the world! Holy Christ! Some of them are on the left side of the political spectrum! This is as idiotic as Nate Silver’s attempt to shut up the ‘There is no global warming because it was sixty-nine degrees here today’ crowd. At least Silver put up money though.

    What rot. Welcome to the sideshow, even at The Agitator. Well, I guess you sure agitated those lefties! HAR! Har! har! Wheres me gun?

  49. #49 |  JS | 

    Come to think of it, last time I looked Obama didn’t have a Ph.D either.

  50. #50 |  Sam | 

    Keep it up Karl, you’ll be hounded mightily, but opposing viewpoints have been traditionally treated respectfully around here if calmly reasoned. That’s been going downhill in the last year or so and I’m glad to see you weigh in.

    To pick one nit with an earlier poster…there are massive scientific reasons for humans in space, just not many practical ones from an engineering standpoint. The lack of focal gravitational influences allows physical research and materials (crystal structure etc) testing that is literally impossible on planet earth and that research must be overseen by humans no matter how good we think our remote control technology is. On the other hand, using space for satellites relaying data requires no human touch. I wish we’d kept all our old payload units while we developed the shuttle, they could all have their place in the here and now.

  51. #51 |  Sam | 

    Oh, and Jane dodged the question pretty hard. I’ve read that site before and she’s intelligent but seems incapable of passing up a chance to blow up on issues she cares about. I think it might be useful to outline one’s own responses to Radley’s questions before going too much further though as I do believe they’ll require more thought than the average pundit cares to put into a statement…or one of us cares to put into a forum post.

  52. #52 |  old | 

    God damned Karl! All these other food cranks, birthers, black helicopter gun nuts may have given you a thumbs down, but god damned I gave you a thumb ups.

  53. #53 |  KBCraig | 

    @#49, JS:

    Come to think of it, last time I looked Obama didn’t have a Ph.D either.

    Just for the sake of accuracy, he does hold a doctorate. Instead of a Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy), Obama, like every other lawyer, holds a J.D. (doctor of laws) degree.

  54. #54 |  Rick | 

    Karl, I appreciate your apparent good faith, but I have to quibble with this part:

    but organizing a vote is easier than organizing a boycott

    Is that really true? And, true or not, is the “easiest” solution the most moral? I happen to think boycotts are infinitely more ethically defensible than attempting to leverage political power for your team and apply the threat of state violence.

  55. #55 |  Patrick | 

    I tried to answer your challenge here (I’m a German blogger); it’s possible my comment was too long. Would you check your spam filter before I have to write it again? Thanks!

  56. #56 |  Tom G | 

    Well, her subsequent post today about how we probably would benefit from a multi-party system is frustrating. She sounds as though she understands what the Libertarian Party is, but then goes on to wish for a Green Party. Which I think has been in this country since 2001 (according to Wikipedia). Along with a Communist Party, a Constitutionalist Party, and many others.
    I wonder whether she did any research into third parties before her post today.

  57. #57 |  Bill | 

    Recent posters are right, her post today is an improvement over yesterday’s, until she hits the “Green Party” thing. Did anyone else find it humorous that, sitting right next to yesterday’s “Trust the Government” post, is a link to an earlier one she entitled “Skepticism, A Citizen’s Responsibility”? I don’t get why the skepticism she favors when reading chain e-mails shouldn’t also apply to government. But today’s post shows there’s hope.

  58. #58 |  Tokin42 | 

    #48

    wow, and here I thought I was the dick around here.

  59. #59 |  Rhayader | 

    Hey Radley, just curious if it bugs you to be referred to as a “FoxNews commentator”. As Mister DNA said in comment #37, not only is it inaccurate, but it typically passes for sort of a wink-wink insult on blogs like that.

    At any rate, it was a total cop-out non-answer to your apparently “emotional” (read: fact-based and specific) question.

  60. #60 |  Kristen | 

    Honestly, this makes me sick to my stomach. We’re asked to “have faith” from both sides of the coin. We’re the characters in Star Wars who are squeezed in the garbage pit, except since this isn’t a movie, we’ll probably end up flat as pancakes & dead.

  61. #61 |  Gabriel | 

    #53 KBCraig: A JD is not a “doctorate” in any meaningful sense; it’s much more analogous to a Master’s in any other discipline, since it requires you to demonstrate mastery of the existing material but does not require you to make a new contribution to the field. The PhD equivalent in the legal profession is the JSD or LLD.

  62. #62 |  Johnny Pez | 

    Obviously, government needs to be big enough to do all the things the people want it to do.

    Equally obviously, if you agree with Ronald Reagan that “government is the problem”, then all government is bad, and therefore government is always too big.

  63. #63 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Despite the bad karma he seemed to have reaped for his criticism, I think I have to go along with Old. While I understand the idea of trying to get liberals to examine where their philosophy would ultimately lead, I don’t think there will be many meaningful responses. Liberals are not going to justify their positions framed solely in our terms.

    My sarcastic post about this in the earlier thread was not entirely pointless. The left doesn’t quantify things in terms of money as we tend to do. We rightly see money as an objective measure of worth universally applicable to all things economic.

    I think it’s unlikely that there will be many responses that actually provide direct responses because liberals will see these questions as narrow-minded and not reducible to such finite terms. If you ask a liberal how much we need to narrow the gap be tween the richest and the poorest Americans, they won’t be able to agree on a number, but they will be able to say we haven’t narrowed it enough yet and that’s all they need to know what their direction should be.

    If you asked libertarians what percentage of GDP should be spent on government, they wouldn’t be able to agree on a precise limit (nor would many of them feel the necessity of doing so), but they would all damn sure tell you it’s less than what we’re currently spending.

    Just my 2 cents. Maybe future lefty responses will prove me wrong, which I would welcome.

  64. #64 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    karl is satire, right? Right?!

  65. #65 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Kristen,
    Playing with the coin IS the mistake. More than two sides available. Reject the paradigm.

    “We’re asked to “have faith” from both sides of the coin.”

  66. #66 |  karl | 

    Rick (#54): Thanks and likewise. The relative morality of political, social, and economic organizing would make an interesting discussion, but would also be above my pay grade.

    So I’ll ask about this: “attempting to leverage political power for your team and apply the threat of state violence.” Do you really equate participating in a representative democracy with threatening violence? That is, do you reject the idea of a social contract (or just the impossibility of a just implementation)? And, tangentially, do you think that no private organizing campaign can lead to violence?

  67. #67 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Just for the record, my reaction to the sentiments of Citizen Jane were similar to most others here in the sense that she seems to equate a knowledgeable government to a benevolent government, whereas I see government as a servant of those who have the most access (which excludes the general public almost entirely).

  68. #68 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #26 karl

    The real-life question is, which do you fear more: the state or the stateless mega-corporation.

    What I fear more than either is a partnership between the two which is presently what we have and what we will see as health care reform (or is it health insurance reform now?) moves forward.

    I don’t agree that the left holds a better position than the right. I used to think the right had slightly less implausible policies than the left, but Bush cured me of that. I don’t like the Democrats, but I think the Republicans should disband out of utter embarrassment if not outright shame.

  69. #69 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Democracy is no shining example of perfect government. Democracy simply ensures that a reasonably large number of people (sometimes even a majority) agree on which evil is the lesser of those presently available. And force plays not a minor roll, but the key roll.

  70. #70 |  Fluffy | 

    Do you really equate participating in a representative democracy with threatening violence?

    Well, sure.

    All law that involves punishment involves the threat of violence to those who break it.

    The laws against robbery and rape say, “If you do these things we will catch you and imprison you, and if you resist our attempt to catch you we will kill you.”

    Ordinarily, we don’t perceive laws as threats because we have no desire to break most “baseline” laws and therefore don’t feel as if the threat is personally directed against us.

    I think you’re uncomfortable with this because you see “threatening violence” as uniformly a bad thing, and it’s not. It’s good to threaten violence to rapists and robbers. Nothing wrong with that at all. But as the government increases the range of things it criminalizes, the number of people who are explicitly and implicitly threatened increases. So one question libertarians perennially have is, “Is the conduct of person X really so bad that we have to threaten him with violence?” We answer that question with “No” more often than most other people, and as a result we want a government with less reach and less power.

  71. #71 |  flukebucket | 

    I gave you a thumbs us also Karl. And I don’t believe this is the first time you ever participated in a forum discussion.

    Is there anywhere I can find where Radley answered his own questions? I come here to learn and I would like to know what his answers to the questions would be.

    When I read the question “What’s the maximum percentage of earners who should pay no income tax at all?” isn’t the Libertarian answer 100%?

    It all gets confusing as hell to me and as I have already said, I come here to learn.

  72. #72 |  JS | 

    Tokin “wow, and here I thought I was the dick around here.”

    lol brilliant!

  73. #73 |  Brooks | 

    Well at least the comments on the post give me a glimmer of hope.

  74. #74 |  scott in phx az | 

    The problem really is with the premise of Radleys’ question – that everyone at some point will define an upper limit to the size of gov’t.

    The flaw in that is that to a dedicated progressive/liberal/democrat/whatever there is NO upper limit and to ask one of these to consider an upper limit puts them beyond their limits of ability.

    All they really care about is that “their side” is the one growing government – not the “other” side. Ergo, you would never see them defending Bush, but they will defend Obama blindly.

  75. #75 |  Kristen | 

    I agree Boyd – I’m the originall contrarian, and have voted non-Dem, non-Repub most of my voting life. But as it stands, you and I and the rest of the small- and big- L libertarians are a very small group, and I am increasingly losing hope that liberty (economic and social) will prevail. Same goes for the Green agenda as well as other small, non-empowered political groups’ agendas. The cogs are turning, and we’re left watching. Frankly, it’s depressing, and I’m starting to swing to the “don’t vote” side.

  76. #76 |  Gabriel | 

    Karl, good questions. And another “thanks for coming” from me.

    Do you really equate participating in a representative democracy with threatening violence? That is, do you reject the idea of a social contract (or just the impossibility of a just implementation)?

    If one person says “give me 30% of your money or I will lock you in a cage”, it’s robbery. It’s still robbery if he says “give that homeless guy 30% of your money or I will lock you in a cage.” If 51% of the population gets together and says the same thing, it’s still robbery. A worse sort of robbery, in fact, since at least the first guy is honest about what he’s doing. Groups of people have no moral rights or stature which the individuals of that group do not have; if no one person has the right to rob me, then all of them together do not either.

    If a “social contract” means that another person or persons can impose a positive obligation on me without my agreement or consent, then yes, libertarians reject the idea of a social contract. Libertarianism rejects the possibility of any positive obligations other than those deliberately assumed, or those resulting as consequences of actions deliberately taken.

    Which is not to say that libertarians oppose charity: they simply demand that charity be voluntarily assented to by the giver, rather than compelled by potentially-violent third parties. As a good person, I should and do give to support those causes I think worthy; I absolutely reject the right of anyone else to tell me which causes I must support and to what extent I must support them. We cannot morally use force to compel people to do good; we can only morally use force to prevent people from doing ill.

    And, tangentially, do you think that no private organizing campaign can lead to violence?

    Of course it can. Libertarians oppose the initiation of violence by any person or group of persons; we simply recognize that in today’s society, a very large proportion of violence is initiated by persons claiming that the state justifies their actions.

  77. #77 |  MattH | 

    The problem really is with the premise of Radleys’ question – that everyone at some point will define an upper limit to the size of gov’t.

    Actually, I think that if Radley’s question exposes that there is no answer — that they have no upper limit to the size of government — then it is a very effective question. We then have to ask if it’s unfair to cast liberals as closet Stalinists or Maoists if, when push comes to shove, they cheerfully support the limitless expansion of government.

  78. #78 |  Dave Krueger | 

    We sure do get into a lot of discussions here that target the left or right or compare them to each other.

    Personally, I despise them both for their mob-like unprincipled and inconsistent beliefs, not to mention the incredible disconnect between what they say and what they do.

    And I find it annoying that, when I criticize one, someone will think I’m in favor of the other.

  79. #79 |  Sam | 

    I don’t know how to quote properly, so from Dave’s #63:

    “Liberals are not going to justify their positions framed solely in our terms.

    My sarcastic post about this in the earlier thread was not entirely pointless. The left doesn’t quantify things in terms of money as we tend to do.”

    I think this is far more important than the attention it will probably get. This is a simple condensation of why we’re not getting along in our discussions…in any debate to come to a valid conclusion (not “winning” mind you) you need two things don’t you? To find your common ground and to find the disconnect, the item that you disagree about. This is very rarely the top-most level of disagreement which is visible, id ergo: “Keep and bear arms vs. Gun control”. That reason is almost always how your position is framed and what you base your decisions on. To Citizen Jane it would appear that answering Radley’s questions directly would be “losing” the debate by allowing it to be framed in terms of cash flow when she believes there are more important things to consider…which she touches on briefly but does not bring to the fore. If we could focus on defusing our arguments and stop trying to “win” at the expense of the most utilitarian or correct conclusion I think we’d all be a lot better off. Saying “you can’t argue with a lib” is just the same as saying “conservatives are evil corporate whores who only listen to money”…it’s all a cop out so you can refuse to try.

  80. #80 |  Ginger Dan | 

    I haven’t read every single comment on this thread, so forgive me if what I say is redundant. Why didn’t this chick answer any of these questions? WTF is with the “Fox News commentator” comment in the beginning? It’s been what, 6 months, since Radley’s last FN column?

    It’s disappointing, but not surprising the questions went unanswered so I keep my over/under at responses at 3.

    It would be interesting if Radley tweaked these questions and made them about “morality” to see what the right-wingers would have to say, like if there was a limit to the federal government imposing morality and decency upon the populace, what would it be? Castration of felons? Mandatory bible study in public schools?

  81. #81 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #75 Kristen

    …the small- and big- L libertarians are a very small group, and I am increasingly losing hope that liberty (economic and social) will prevail.

    If, in order to compete in the big time with the two major parties, libertarians have to become like them, I want no part of it. I am perfectly content to shout and scream and achieve no status at all if the alternative is to corrupt my beliefs in exchange for votes.

    And that’s why, if I were with a group of people at the bottom of a mineshaft simply waiting for the end, I would be much happier passing my last hours talking to a radically utopian inflexible anarchist than to a moderate and reasonable republican or democrat.

  82. #82 |  flukebucket | 

    Libertarians oppose the initiation of violence by any person or group of persons

    Is this kind of like saying, “Republicans believe in limited government and fiscal responsibility”?

    Because Neal Boortz calls himself a Libertarian and he loves to watch the bombs fall.

    What exactly is the difference in a Libertarian and a libertarian and which should one aspire to be?

  83. #83 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Sometimes Neal Boortz tests my stand against violence.

  84. #84 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “I’d encourage you to read the post, though. It’s kinda’ fascinating.”

    Radley, I’d playfully suggest that you might find paint drying fascinating. ;-)

  85. #85 |  CTD | 

    #26 karl

    The real-life question is, which do you fear more: the state or the stateless mega-corporation.

    I’ve heard basically this same question from one statist after another. My answer is always to refer them to this C.S. Lewis quote:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

  86. #86 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    The last 10 years have made me understand much better how Nazi Germany (and their concentration camp guards) and North Korea came into existence.

    Godwin rules!

  87. #87 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #82 flukebucket

    What exactly is the difference in a Libertarian and a libertarian and which should one aspire to be?

    Big L libertarians are simply those who believe that their views can best be represented by a traditional political party independent of the two main parties. Small L libertarians are those who subscribe to the principles, but aren’t as vested in a particular party.

    I don’t think people “aspire” to be either. They just use one of the two terms to describe what they already are.

    I kinda pulled the above out of my ass, so don’t put too much stock in it.

    I wouldn’t point to Neal Boortz as the quintessential libertarian of either variety. While he is supportive of much of the libertarian position, the fact that he’s a conflicted sociopath diminishes his effectiveness as a spokesman for the cause.

  88. #88 |  Jeff | 

    A response, sahib.

  89. #89 |  Gabriel | 

    Neal Boortz calls himself a Libertarian and he loves to watch the bombs fall.

    Boortz is not a libertarian as most would use the term.

    Small-l libertarians are those who philosophically agree with the principles of libertarian thought. Big-L Libertarians are members of the United States Libertarian Party. You can be either without the other, or you can be both, or neither of course.

    You can imagine a similar confusion if the Democrats changed their name to the Progressive Party. Not all progressives would be Progressives, nor vice versa. The nature of your personal philosophical belief relates only tangentially to which political party you think will best advance your interests.

  90. #90 |  flukebucket | 

    Thanks Dave. I’ll keep reading and hopefully learning.

  91. #91 |  joel | 

    To me, the response is great, a great example of liberal thinking that oozes with the contempt for the individual to live his life according to his own mind and decision without the dictates of an elite set of caretakers.

    As a psychologist, she must be aware that all choices are emotional. Thinking “logically” is only done because it gives the thinker more emotional satisfaction to think something through.

    I think the difference between Libertarian and Liberal comes down to an emotional response to the question: “Is it wrong to take from those that have more to make life better for others”. I suppose there is really not an evolutionary advantage to thinking one way or the other, thus we pretty much see the 50/50 split.

    Seriously, you are a libertarian or a liberal because it feels right.

  92. #92 |  flukebucket | 

    Thanks Gabriel.

    A question.

    If you are not going to compete with the big boys how do you get your interests advanced? I am all for talking with a radical utopian anarachist during the last hours of my life but what should be done in the interim?

    Personally I like libertarian ideas. I like the idea of government leaving me alone but I just don’t see it happening. It just seems to me that a person is forced to choose between the best of the worst. I just don’t know if starving is preferable to a hot bowl of shit or a cold bowl of shit.

  93. #93 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #88 Jeff

    A response, sahib.

    Dumb me. Before reading your responses, I didn’t even realize the last question was about corporate taxes.

    The correct answer for corporate income taxes is zero. Corporate taxes are nothing more than a sneaky way of taxing people. When it comes to sneaky shit, I’m opposed to it. When someone takes your money, it doesn’t hurt less just because you didn’t see it happen.

  94. #94 |  Alexi | 

    I’m not sure why you’re even entertaining her response, Radley. When and if she ever does provide you with a dollar amount that she thinks would be a suitable upper-limit for government spending, us regular folks will be so confounded by the complexity of all those digits, commas and decimals, that we’ll likely drop our sippy cups on our keyboards when we slip into brain-overload seizures.

  95. #95 |  Nick T | 

    karl, how is this working out so far?:

    “Obama … represents a corrective to eight years of what they see as an executive and congress that ignored and repudiated their poltical and social views. ”

    Perhaps you can perusade me that i’m wrong but anyone who hated Bush but now loves (or even likes) Obama is either stupid, dishonest or just ignorant as to what the new administration is actually doing. Would you not agree (and i don’t see how you can’t) that Obama has hardly repudiated anything Bush did, and where he has repudiated those things (best – solely – shown in the area of international diplomacy) such efforts are greatly outweighed by all the policies he has continued? (The guy is about to propose indefinite detention as an actual, lawful policy, this is Alien and Sedition 2.)

    My point is not to get you to admit that your liberal super-hero is a fraud or -at best – a colossal dissappointment (I voted for the guy for the reasons you cited), but that this is a glorious example of how representative government can easily fail and is not good at getting the changes or the policies peopel actually want to see. Thus the libertarian position is that all these guys are not to be trusted so give them the least amount of authority and power and privacy possible and let the rest of us figure it out for ourselves.

    And to answer your question re: state v. corporations. The corporations can’t control my life and my country the way the government can, and I always see the corporation coming because they make no bones about being motivated entirely by their bottom line. Obama said he cared about the rule of law and transparency, but he either blatantly lied, or just stopped caring out of convenience. In other words, Obama is obliterating the “if only we had the right people in charge” argument.

  96. #96 |  Andrew | 

    Her post is not even worth acknowledging. I’d like to sue her to get the time back I just wasted reading it. Feh.

  97. #97 |  Gabriel | 

    If you are not going to compete with the big boys how do you get your interests advanced?

    Different libertarians have different strategies. Some try to push the LP into a more competitive mode. Others try to reform one or the other of the major parties from within- see the Republican Liberty Caucus, for example. The Free State Project encourages libertarians to concentrate in New Hampshire and attempt to influence policy at the state level. Some libertarians are secessionist. Yet others think all political engagement either immoral or unuseful, and try to protect their rights by other means such as going off-grid. There are a multitude of possible avenues to greater freedom, and a political party isn’t the only option by a long shot.

  98. #98 |  cliff | 

    Also there is this comment…

    “A little humility would be in order here.”

    By which she means to tell the ‘people’ that they are inferior to their leaders and the ‘team of experts.’

  99. #99 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #41 | karl — “Mr DNA (#28): A trite cliche. Neither is evil, they are both facts of life.”

    If you do not view violence as evil, then it speaks volumes about you Karl, but you are entitled to your subjective opinion. It is a fact that good is the means suited to the purpose, so if your purpose is the enslavement of the human race by threat of death, then it is consistent for you to view the State as not evil, or as you put it, “a fact of life.”

    I argue that the State is not a fact of life, although presently it is. I argue that the State need not exist if humans were capable of resisting superstition and fear and not caving in at the first sign of danger. But I can see how someone could have such a hopeless view of humanity that they view the State as inevitable. History has borne adequate witness to that.

  100. #100 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #92 flukebucket

    I am all for talking with a radical utopian anarachist during the last hours of my life but what should be done in the interim?

    Yeah, what we do is like sitting out on the beach and trying to convince the tide not to come in and we’re pretty well aware of the odds that the tide is going to listen.

    I’m one of those who think we’re doing exactly what we should be doing. Well, not me so much as people like Radley who actually makes a credible convincing argument for stuff rather than making angry broad sweeping statements (like I tend to do). Keep the message principled, simple, and irrefutable. I think libertarians have a following and it’s growing, but the message will only become widely accepted when the time is ripe and that time isn’t here yet.

    I think a lot of people became libertarians after many of their own strongly held arguments against it broke down. They didn’t accept it on faith. They’ve convinced themselves and now they believe they’re right. If you’re certain, it doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who believes that way or not. You can’t just sit down and tell yourself not to believe it. We a small group, but if history tells us anything, it’s that the masses can be dead wrong.

    Libertarianism is a tough sell because people put a lot of stock in the mainstream (that many people can’t be wrong). But there’s a point at which your skepticism of state power as a solution to problems reaches a critical mass and after that it’s nearly impossible to go back. You just become more convinced because the arguments make sense, are consistent, and have integrity. It becomes even easier when you start recognizing the conflicts and hypocrisies of other more popular political groups.

    Geez! Ain’t I the preachy one? :D

  101. #101 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Libertarians are, by their very nature, individualistic. Forming them into a political party is like trying to start a club for people who don’t like clubs. Its easier to make water catch fire.

  102. #102 |  Dana Gower | 

    I would think that, to those who believe that the purpose of government is to protect those being governed, the idea of limits would not really apply. The only limit would be that, when people are protected from all possible harm, there would be no purpose in expanding the limits of protection. There could be some discussion on the limits of the ability to pay for the protections being provided, but that wouldn’t be a set limit and wouldn’t really address the question of what the limit should be.

  103. #103 |  Marty | 

    the interesting thing about these debates to me- the progressives see what’s wrong and look at how to fix it right now. the conservatives tend to look at history and see what caused the problem in the first place. they look at fixing the reason for this ‘unintended consequence’.

    I’m with Dave- I don’t wanna be in anyone’s club. I want to be left alone. The more intrusions and taxes imposed, the less free I am…

  104. #104 |  Cynical in CA | 

    The word libertarian is meaningless. It has been co-opted by too many people who think liberty is a commodity to be rationed in certain proportions according to certain beliefs.

    You either believe in violence, to whatever degree, or you don’t.

    To those who believe in violence in large doses, call yourself a statist — and BE PROUD!!! Never apologize!

    To those who believe in violence in small doses, call yourself a minarchist.

    To those who believe in no violence, call yourself a pacifist.

    To those who believe in violence in self-defense only, call yourself an anarchist, or a self-sovereign or somesuch.

    Libertarian means whatever you want it to mean, which is to say it means nothing.

  105. #105 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #104 Cynical in CA

    The word libertarian is meaningless.

    Nonsense. If that were true, it wouldn’t piss me off so much when Glenn Beck claims to be one.

  106. #106 |  karl | 

    Flufffy (#70): “But as the government increases the range of things it criminalizes, the number of people who are explicitly and implicitly threatened increases. So one question libertarians perennially have is, “Is the conduct of person X really so bad that we have to threaten him with violence?” We answer that question with “No” more often than most other people, and as a result we want a government with less reach and less power.”

    Well said! And true.

    However, the unstated premise is that you see a growing government only (in this comment, at least) in terms of increased criminalization. Others may see it primarily in terms of increased social services, or increased military power and influence. Not only are these different world-views, they are also policy differences in where the dreaded taxes get spent.

    One of the things that makes Radley popular with many of us “lefties” is his vigilance and perseverance in cataloguing abuses of state power.

    Which is where Scott (#74 – hey, I’m in Phx, too!) and others get it wrong. We don’t believe in unlimited state power, we just draw our limits in different places. As for blindly following Obama, you must not read the same blogs that I do — the left-most blogger I go to daily is Glenn Greenwald, and he is on Obama’s case nearly all the time.

    And to Flukebucket (#71): this really is my first time in an internet comments discussion. The level of civility and thoughtfulness here is admirable — I rack it up to the example that Radley Balko himself imparts to his loyal readers.

  107. #107 |  karl | 

    Gabriel (#76): One of the problems of modern life (social contract-wise) that we can all agree on, perhaps, is that there is nowhere left to go — no place beyond the frontier. It is next to impossible to opt out of whatever community we live in; that being the case (if you agree on that), isn’t the best course of action doing whatever is possible to minimize the state’s footprint on our lives? And doesn’t that mean bargaining with our neighbors over how much we “owe” each other?

    CTD (#85): Nice quote, but most of the moral busybodying I see these days comes from what might be called the “Christian Right.” The mainstream left (which is how I broadly describe myself) is very much a live-and-let-live group. Don’t make the mistake of defining half the people by the actions of a few — I assume that most libertarian sympathizers are not anarchists.

    Joel (#91): I don’t know where you folks get the idea that “liberal thinking [...] oozes with the contempt for the individual to live his life according to his own mind.” I think the proper response is “spare me.”

    That said, you get it totally right in the next three paragraphs. Well said, sir.

    Nick (#95): I won’t try to convince you because you are right — anyone who ignores or can’t see the continuation of Bush policy under Obama deserves all your epithets. But you seem to have had more faith in Obama-change than I did; one should always treat politicians and their promises with skepticism, especially with issues regarding pure political power.

    The point of having the “right people in charge” isn’t that we can trust them all the way to hell, it’s that the right people are amenable to our way of thinking and can be persuaded to do the right thing (as we see it).

    Many of the commenters here see political action as an all-or-nothing proposition, not as a series of compromises leading to, but rarely reaching, a desired end.

  108. #108 |  Gabriel | 

    Others may see it primarily in terms of increased social services, or increased military power and influence. Not only are these different world-views, they are also policy differences in where the dreaded taxes get spent.

    But even those changes are an increase in criminalization as well: Wanting to keep the wealth you have earned, while others want to take more of it to fund these increased services or military activities, becomes a crime. The man who might accede happily to a 20% tax burden becomes a criminal if he rebels at a 50% burden.

  109. #109 |  Gabriel | 

    And doesn’t that mean bargaining with our neighbors over how much we “owe” each other?

    As long as it really is a bargain, sure: I won’t demand anything of you I’m not prepared to owe back, as long as you accord me the same courtesy. But if half plus one of my neighbors gang up on me and tell me what I owe them, that’s no longer a “bargain”.

    If my version of the bargain is “you don’t owe me anything except peace, and I’ll owe you the same”, what gives the majority the right to tell me that the bargain’s going to be a little more complicated than that?

  110. #110 |  karl | 

    Dana (#102): “I would think that, to those who believe that the purpose of government is to protect those being governed, the idea of limits would not really apply. The only limit would be that, when people are protected from all possible harm, there would be no purpose in expanding the limits of protection.”

    Interesting formulation which injects completely new world-view into our mix. Thanks.

  111. #111 |  karl | 

    Gabriel: I can’t say that the majority has any right to coerce your involvement in funding its priorities, but it does have the legal power (moral power is another subject); in our system the people have rights, not the state (which is the majority, for all intents and purposes) — the state has approved powers, and it’s powers are approved by the people. I sympathize with those who don’t like it that way, but what can do if not work to change the laws you despise?

  112. #112 |  Mister DNA | 

    Cynical in CA (#99),

    Thanks for your response to Karl’s “trite cliche” comment.

    Living under the Caeu?escu regime used to be a fact of life for the citizens of Romania – they didn’t go to the ballot box and wait for the government to implement change… they exercised another option.

  113. #113 |  Mattocracy | 

    Karl,

    I kind of see government and religion as the same thing. It’s a means for people force their morals onto others whether they like it or not. For so many lefties, they find the idea of Christians being able to dictate who can marry who repugnant. But yet, they seem to think that forcing their morals of progressive taxation onto high income earners as appropriate.

    I’ve never heard a good argument to excuse the hypocrisy. If I don’t agree with government regulation over my life, personal or professional, it’s treated like heresy. Why is it appropriate for liberal morals and values to be forced on those of us who don’t feel the same way as you and why should we be punished for it?

  114. #114 |  karl | 

    Mattocracy: Interesting take on progressive taxation being a moral issue; I prefer to see tax rates through a more utilitarian lens. Granted, progressive taxation is considered fair by most of the left, just as it is considered unfair by many on the right — which is exactly why I prefer economic analyses of economic issues.

    Where we might also differ is on the reason for taxes; are they necessary for ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number (the result being a welfare state), or are they necessary for ensuring the minimal good for survival (common defense)? Again we come to the “different universes” problem: for many, ensuring the greatest good is the obvious reason for and goal of a government; for many others, the greatest good is a rationale for illegitimate power-grabs.

    One answer for you is that not all freedoms are created equal: denying marriage to a particular set of loving couples doesn’t seem quite the same as attempting to set an optimum tax rate (which, afterall, can be changed again next year). Do you really see these two issues as having equal moral weight?

  115. #115 |  Windy | 

    Dave Krueger wrote:
    “Libertarians are, by their very nature, individualistic. Forming them into a political party is like trying to start a club for people who don’t like clubs. Its easier to make water catch fire.”

    Which is exactly why we are having such a difficult time advancing our philosophy to the masses. Everything in our “current” culture (for the past 100 years or so) has been designed to inculcate a dependence on government — schooling, entertainment media, government dictates, etc. — that makes it very difficult to go against the flow and even more difficult to convince any others in the stream to turn about and go the other way.

    Karl, I cannot speak for others but I absolutely am anarchist. I usually refer to myself as an anarcho-capitalist, when someone inquires.

  116. #116 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Well, since Karl addressed every other comment that came his way but ignored mine, that’s fairly good proof that I was spot on and he has no rebuttal.

    I love it when I’m right!

  117. #117 |  karl | 

    Cynical! I was going to respond way back to your #99 comment but thought there was no real need. However, since you bring it up…

    #99: My #41 comment was a response to Mister DNA (#28, which later turned into #30 — what gives?) who mentioned evil, not violence; so why did you gratuitously bring in violence?

    “I argue that the State is not a fact of life, although presently it is. I argue that the State need not exist if humans were capable of resisting superstition and fear and not caving in at the first sign of danger. But I can see how someone could have such a hopeless view of humanity that they view the State as inevitable.”

    Generally, the “sure, in a perfect world” critique is usually reserved for idealists on the left. You are an idealist of the … whatever. Your Utopian yearnings are understandable, but didn’t require a comment.

    #104: Pretty much everyone defines everything to their own liking, so why shouldn’t you? Another “no comment necessary.”

    I love it when you’re right, too!

  118. #118 |  Sam | 

    Karl:
    “denying marriage to a particular set of loving couples doesn’t seem quite the same as attempting to set an optimum tax rate”

    I don’t see these as being on the same moral level, no. To be honest I see*Excessive* taxation as much more morally repugnant. I know that there are tax benefits to being married (like how I tied that to the tax rate? :P) but love can do its own thing most of the time and the rest of the world be damned. Money can keep you alive when nothing else will, it feeds your children and it keeps me from sleeping out in the cold night. It can also bribe someone who doesn’t want you to visit your dying lover you don’t happen to be married to. I believe taxation is necessary for societies to exist, but excessive taxation without consideration for who gets the stick is right up there with denying health care to a cancer patient because it makes your bottom line look better. We’re not at a point of excessive taxation now. It’s more than I like but it’s less than I would accept for a successful gov’t (unlike the current version of the last 20yrs or so).

    Marriage is important and I want the government out of it completely. But taxes can get damned close to murder if you don’t watch it and I’m much more concerned about them right now.
    Oh, btw, I’m glad you answered the “oozing contempt” statement…I suppose you’ve all noted that I dislike general statements of that sort by now.

  119. #119 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #117 | karl –

    “why did you gratuitously bring in violence?”

    First, my apologies for interjecting myself into your discussion with Mr. DNA. I usually don’t stand in for others, but sometimes I just can’t resist.

    As for conflating violence and evil, well, I may be off-base but I was under the impression that violence and evil were either fairly synonymous or one a subspecies of the other. I suppose I could be wrong. Do you think it’s a good thing when violence happens to you? I sure don’t. And things that are not good can be considered evil, or bad, or some other word that has similar meaning.

    “You are an idealist of the … whatever.”

    You’re darn tootin’ I’m an idealist of the whatever! That’s perfect! I’m going to use that with your permission. My band is looking for a new name — “Ladies and gentlemen, the Idealists of the Whatever!!!” Because I sure as shit don’t fall on the traditional political spectrum of left and right, which is to make a distinction without a difference as our host proves day after day after day. There are statist idealists and anarchist idealists. You may absolutely count me on the “whatever” side.

    “Pretty much everyone defines everything to their own liking …”

    Well, I’m glad you left some wiggle room there — as a matter of fact, I try to define everything by objective truth, my own liking be damned, much to my own consternation sometimes.

    “I love it when you’re right, too!”

    See, that was easy! I wasn’t sure about you at first, Karl, but I’m starting to like you. Abandon all that statist nonsense and come over to the non-violent side!

  120. #120 |  Citizen Jane | 

    Hi, Radley,

    Thanks for the provocative questions you posted and for sending some of your readers my way. Now that I’ve found your blog, I’ll be visiting often. I’d much rather dialogue with people who may be wrong for intelligent reasons than those who may occasionally be right by accident (which is to say most of the nuts on the extreme right).

    Labels can be useful at times, and if so, I guess I can be correctly characterized as a “lefty,” as you put it. But just for the record, I don’t assume that politicians “always, or even mostly, act in the interest of the public.” Far from it. (A few do, many don’t.) Nor do I think that the skills required to get elected are the same as those required to govern effectively. (But I think it’s nice that, for once, we have a president who has both types of skills.)

    Reading through some of the comments on your posts, it seems that many libertarians choose not to vote. If so, I think that’s a shame. These people may tend to be cynical, but they’re thoughtful and informed—exactly the kind of people we need to go to the polls more often.

    Thanks for your work. I think it’s important.
    Citizen Jane

  121. #121 |  supercat | 

    //One answer for you is that not all freedoms are created equal: denying marriage to a particular set of loving couples doesn’t seem quite the same as attempting to set an optimum tax rate//

    I think many people object to gay “marriage” because its proponents seek to FORCE OTHERS to treat gay “marriages” the same as the precisely-one-husband marriages that have been accepted as THE standard in 99.9% of human societies. If two guys, or five guys, two women, and an Apple Macintosh, want to declare themselves themselves to be a “couple”, that’s fine provided they don’t try to make anyone else act upon that declaration. I see no reason to believe that the proponents of gay marriage would find that sufficient.

  122. #122 |  supercat | 

    //Someone needs to remind this blogger that Obama’s field of expertise is Constitutional Law… and just look at how that’s working out for us.//

    Obama’s definition of “Constitutional law” is “figuring out how to construct vaguely-plausible arguments that the Constitution says what he wants it to say.”

    What’s needed to fix this country, actually, is not some mysterious expertise, but rather for there to be a wide enough understanding of some simple principles of economics and law that the “experts” who use smoke and mirrors to peddle B.S. can be called on it. The simple principles taught in Econ 101 predict that many government programs will have side-effects that will render them counter-productive. Such predictions are consistently right. Too bad most people don’t have even the most rudimentary understanding of economics to see that.

  123. #123 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Hi Citizen Jane, thanks for being violent. Keep up the voting.

  124. #124 |  Mister DNA | 

    Reading through some of the comments on your posts, it seems that many libertarians choose not to vote. If so, I think that’s a shame. These people may tend to be cynical, but they’re thoughtful and informed—exactly the kind of people we need to go to the polls more often. [emphasis added]

    Citizen Jane, that some people are thoughtful and informed is precisely the reason they choose not to vote.

    It’s like saying, “you seem like a thoughtful and informed music lover – exactly the type of person who needs to buy more Nickleback and Hannah Montana CDs”.

  125. #125 |  old | 

    Boyd Durkin | July 23rd, 2009 at 11:04 am
    The last 10 years have made me understand much better how Nazi Germany (and their concentration camp guards) and North Korea came into existence.

    Godwin rules!

    You are a fucking moran, and I am sure aware of all internet traditions.

    I am fucking sicks of people comparing Americans to Nazis. Wether on the left or the right of American politics, the one thing we have in common is that we are anti-fascists. Many people on the left and on the right of the political spectrum gave their lives in a great endeavor to free people subjected to fascism. For you to moronically imply that we are all just one step away from fascism is an insult to Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents. Fuck you, and fuck your grand pronouncement.

    I hope you actually get to live under a real fascist government, chicken little, then you can cry about fascism.

  126. #126 |  Mattocracy | 

    Old,

    You insult all veterans by denying that they are living a country that is resembling very thing they once fought against.

  127. #127 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #125 old

    I am fucking sicks of people comparing Americans to Nazis.

    I don’t think the Germans got together one day and suddenly decided, by popular vote, to become a bunch hate-mongering ego-supremacists.

    Fascism, schmashism. I call it a mob mentality. It’s human nature and Germany doesn’t have a monopoly on it. I think people, yes Republicans and Democrats, love to persecute other people. I think it’s become so institutionalized that no one even gives it a second thought. No one ever calls it persecution when they’re the ones doing it, but we have no affection for those who are different from us, especially when they congregate in groups and make us fearful. We hang them and we burn them and we throw them in prison.

    The idea that we can’t compare the U.S. to Germany until we’ve killed 6 million people is hogwash. A major socioeconomic crisis turned a civilized western democracy into a one-party militaristic totalitarian monster that was ultimately responsible for millions of deaths and the utter destruction of much of Europe.

    Germany is a perfect example simply because it was so extreme, it happened so quickly, and it’s so well known. The morons aren’t the ones who worry prematurely. The morons are the ones who don’t worry until

  128. #128 |  Dave Krueger | 

    after it’s too late.

    (Sorry — accidentally hit the submit button. And I wasn’t even sure whether I was going to submit it or scrap it!)

  129. #129 |  Mattocracy | 

    Karl,

    I believe all freedoms are equal. Saying that some freedoms are more equal than others just reeks of Animal Farm. That kind of thinking is why people are so angry and violent towards competing political thought.

    I just don’t understand why those who favor high taxes for the greater good can’t just pay for and provide those services amongst themselves and leave the rest of alone to deal with our problems as individuals. Why is that never an option?

    What made me gravitate to the Libertarian model is that it allows people to do whatever communal activities they want without forcing others to abide by the same policies. It just seems that everyone believes “it’s my way for everyone. No one gets to opt out.” It’s that kind of totalitarianism that drives people away from the left and the right. Why do you feel just in forcing a moralist agenda onto others? Why can’t you just live your life with others who agree with you and leave the rest of us alone?

  130. #130 |  Mattocracy | 

    Karl,

    I believe all freedoms are equal. Saying that some freedoms are more equal than others just reeks of Animal Farm. That kind of thinking is why people are so angry and violent towards competing political thought.

    I just don’t understand why those who favor high taxes for the greater good can’t just pay for and provide those services amongst themselves and leave the rest of alone to deal with our problems as individuals. Why is that never an option?

    What made me gravitate to the Libertarian model is that it allows people to do whatever communal activities they want without forcing others to abide by the same policies. It just seems that everyone believes “it’s my way for everyone. No one gets to opt out.” It’s that kind of totalitarianism that drives people away from the left and the right. Why do you feel just in forcing a moralist agenda onto others? Why can’t you just live your life with others who agree with you and leave the rest of us alone?

  131. #131 |  karl | 

    Mattocracy: The equal freedom freedom thing seems a little vague, I have to admit. So let me try to make it a bit more concrete.

    We don’t all agree on what our rights are — abortion is the most obvious example. Some people who really want “government of their backs” might feel a right to all sorts of things that are currently restricted: making a right turn on a red light; animal sacrifice to appease the gods; smoking marijuana; looking at hand-drawn pictures of children having sex; eating unpasteurized runny French cheeses; owning a grenade launcher.

    You might think some or all of these are legitimate entitled rights (I certainly do), but do you think that every single one rises to the right of free speech and assembly, the right to own a sidearm, the right to not be tortured to extract a false confession?

    I find it easy to prioritize my rights — in order to fight hardest for the ones I fear losing the most. To say that they are all equal and the infringement on one is an infringement on all ignores real-life consequences: the loss of our Sixth Amendment rights just might do a little more damage to society (and thereby to you) than the loss of a right to make roosters fight each other.

    In the abstract, all rights are equal — but on the ground, where we risk losing them, some are more equal than others.

  132. #132 |  Mattocracy | 

    You still didn’t answer my question.

    Why do you feel just in forcing a moralist agenda onto others? Why can’t you just live your life with others who agree with you and leave the rest of us alone?

  133. #133 |  karl | 

    Oh. I thought the answer is obvious (since I’m advocating protecting our rights) — I’m not forcing a “moralist agenda” onto others and I’m not telling any of you how to live. When, in any of these comments, have I told others what they must do?

    What I’ve said (perhaps you had to read between the lines just a little) is that living in a community isn’t always easy and that certain accommodations with one’s neighbors are often required. Is that scary to you? If you want to listen to loud music at 2:00 in the morning and I want to sleep, are your precious rights violated when I ask you to turn the volume down? If I shovel snow to clear my driveway by dumping it in your driveway, are you okay with that?

    Like I wrote in an earlier comment, there is no frontier left to move beyond — getting “away from it all” is next to impossible.

    Out here in Arizona, I used to read occasionally of people who lived in the desert to be away from city rules. Okay by me. But eventually development inched its way out to them and — poof! — they had neighbors. Young, upscale neighbors who winced at the inappropriateness of junked cars, weeds, and chickens in their midst; they worried about their own property values and the offense to their delicate sensibilities. The existing law enabled these newcomers to create community guidelines for property maintenance, with no grandfather clauses. You can imagine what happened next: a guy who lives for decades, own his own property, in his own way, is suddenly faced with legal action if he continues to live that way for one more day.

    Is this just? I don’t think so; you probably don’t think so, either. But it’s legal. So what do you propose? Decrying “moralistic agendas”, or working with like-minded citizens to change the law?

    If you want to be truly left alone, away from those who might give you unwanted wave as you pass by, You might want to check out Antarctica before it melts.

    Aw shucks, you made me lose my temper.

  134. #134 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “I am fucking sicks (sic!) of people comparing Americans to Nazis.” — old

    You should read the congratulatory telegrams Hitler and Roosevelt used to send each other before they broke off their relationship. Mutual masturbation.

  135. #135 |  Janet Brown | 

    Our leaders in Washington must seriously consider new and innovative policies that promote a better, more confident, prosperous, and secure America in the 21st century. One of the things I think we can do to help make that happen is support American businesses and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (http://bit.ly/oanAT). They’re doing things to reach out and show people that they can get involved, too.

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