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 |  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.

  2. #2 |  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.

  3. #3 |  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…

  4. #4 |  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.

  5. #5 |  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.

  6. #6 |  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.

  7. #7 |  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.

  8. #8 |  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.

  9. #9 |  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?

  10. #10 |  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.

  11. #11 |  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?

  12. #12 |  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.

  13. #13 |  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?

  14. #14 |  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?

  15. #15 |  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.

  16. #16 |  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!

  17. #17 |  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!

  18. #18 |  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.

  19. #19 |  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!

  20. #20 |  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

  21. #21 |  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.

  22. #22 |  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.

  23. #23 |  Cynical in CA | 

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

  24. #24 |  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”.

  25. #25 |  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.

  26. #26 |  Mattocracy | 

    Old,

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

  27. #27 |  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

  28. #28 |  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!)

  29. #29 |  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?

  30. #30 |  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?

  31. #31 |  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.

  32. #32 |  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?

  33. #33 |  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.

  34. #34 |  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.

  35. #35 |  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.