Work and Meaning

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

When I wrote that post yesterday, I knew one thing would especially irk the left. I almost called attention to it in the text, but then I remembered I was supposed to be writing for the right. I’ll address it here instead:

Markets are never perfect, never fully free, never fully efficient. But they are the theaters of our aspirations, our goals, and our deepest values. When liberals snobbishly put down workers’ or consumers’ choices in the market, this is what they are denigrating.

Sure enough, a couple of progressives called me out on Twitter. I respect them both, but obviously I disagree. “I don’t understand treating the market as a moral good,” said Elias Isquith. “[This] is why I’m not a libertarian,” said Ned Resnikoff. Elias did say I was helping him to understand, so I’ll offer this post to him as a further help.

I have to say I think this is maybe the deepest disagreement that separates me from many people on the left. And honestly, it’s a dealbreaker. When I hear people say that the market and our choices in it are not moral goods, I sort of lock up. I can’t see these choices in any other way.

But to hear many on the left tell it, work and consumption are not a part of that larger, more profound self-authorship project that makes an experience or an undertaking an aspect of Who We Are. Work especially is just something we put up with, perhaps, because we need to pay the bills. And why do we need to pay the bills? So we don’t starve. End of story, I suppose.

I find that really, really odd. For all kinds of reasons. And I’d like to enlist the help of the late Betty Friedan to explain why:

The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own. There is no other way. But a job, any job, is not the answer—in fact, it can be part of the trap. Women who do not look for jobs equal to their actual capacity, who do not let themselves develop the lifetime interests and goals which require serious education and training, who take a job at twenty or forty to “help out at home” or just to kill extra time, are walking, almost as surely as the ones who stay inside the housewife trap, to a nonexistent future.

If a job is to be the way out of the trap for a woman, it must be a job that she can take seriously as part of a life plan, work in which she can grow as part of society.

Not work to pay the bills, not work to fill the time. Work to discover oneself. Work for fulfillment. Work for independence and for self-actualization. Work because the potential is there, and it’s a shame to leave it lying around for nothing, or to piddle it away on paying the bills… until we die and it’s gone.

Now, Friedan was no libertarian. She was solidly progressive in her politics. And that sort of proves my point — the experience of work, and having an income, and being independent in the world is potentially very important to anyone, regardless of politics. It’s from my perspective a peculiarly isolated, ivory-towerish claim to view productive work as ancillary to life and not as a key aspect of a life well lived.

We may differ on the political implications of the claim. Personally, I’d say it means that the realm of the market needs to be as free as the realm of religion, another in which people often find profound self-actualization. Regardless of where we wind up, these are the terms on which the debate should be conducted, I think: At least for some people, and clearly not a trivial number of them, work can give a profound sense of self-respect and achievement. Consumption too, for that matter. Does that lead toward market freedom, or away from it? That’s a reasonable question. But doubt in the reality of the phenomenon seems less reasonable to me.

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74 Responses to “Work and Meaning”

  1. #1 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    Work especially is just something we put up with, perhaps, because we need to pay the bills.

    For the vast majority of people this is true and always will be. Society is always going to need someone to take out the trash, and you can bet the person doing it isn’t doing it in search of self-actualization.

    Your work is a form of self-actualization. If that’s true, consider yourself fortunate, but don’t delude yourself thinking this is the normal state of affairs.

  2. #2 |  cackalacka | 

    Marketplace and consumption != work.

    It is possible to passionately pursue a fulfilling career, and still despise the markets. Given the market performance over the last decade and a half, it is not only possible, but downright logical.

  3. #3 |  celticdragonchick | 

    Markets are morally neutral. The free market can reward intrinsically evil behavior (contract killings or slavery, for instance) just as easily as it can reward activities that are beneficial to society. The only requirement is that profit can be made.

    If an insurance adjuster decides that the cost for treatments that will save your kid will run more then the cost of settling a lawsuit, then your kid is probably going to die. The company is there to make a profit and reward investors…not actually help you and your family live</i….no matter what the advertisements and paperwork said when you filled out the forms. A moral choice is, in fact being made when this happens (and it happens every day) where dividends are weighted more favorably than actually saving human life.

    So I will come out and say that free markets need to serve the needs of the society in which they occur. We do not serve the market. The market is supposed to serve us.

  4. #4 |  SC | 

    Reasonable point, but I would point out that for the vast majority, the market has not provided work that leads to self-actualization. The market has no mechanism for this, so “most people piddle [their potential ]away on paying the bills… until we die and it’s gone. ”

    If jobs are to be more than an exchange of labor for compensation, how would the market deliver such benefits? Moreover, the market functions based on demand. Demand for food, for example, is vastly greater than the supply of people for whom fulfillment would be found in farming.

    Lastly, if we believe that a considerable goal of our careers/jobs is to provide self-fulfillment, what mechanisms do we need in place to encourage citizens to do so? Most obvious is decoupling employment status and health care quality, but there are easily a number of other ways government would need to intervene in the market to achieve this goal.

  5. #5 |  glasnost | 

    This valid, although subjective statement, has, or should have, nothing whatsoever to do with the question of the amount of regulation most beneficial to the preservation of competition and the production of prosperity in a capitalist society.

    In general, the argument reminds me of someone who might want the government (or some other entity) to prohibit building something in a valley because the trees there are so pretty. It’s valuable, but it’s an aesthetic preference, and ultimately aesthetic preferences lose – appropriately – to material needs.

    I almost commented on your post yesterday – that sentence irked me quite a lot to, because you clearly imagine the imperfections in markets as some minor cosmetic flaw : “Markets are never perfect, never fully free, never fully efficient. ”

    That’s not it. Markets come with their own death warrant. A “market” is just a series of customs and rules about the expected behavior of the human beings participating in it. Without obedience to the customs and rules, the market gradually distorts, eventually to the point of disintegration. Or, rather, if you care to split hairs, some form of transactions may stagger onward for who knows how long, but the all that virtuous efficiency and cost equaling value equaling demand, all that price-discovery, all the wonderful macro stuff you like gets sucked away like ice cream soda in a straw.

    Libertarians claim to understand the need for enforcement of certain rules of behavior, mainly the prohibitions against force and fraud, to ensure the continuation of markets, but in practice they either pretend those requirements aren’t *really* regulations and are special and different, or they treat the entire topic of rule enforcement (regulation) on a principles basis, I.E. Adam Smith handed us these specific behavioral limits to us on a tablet, thus all additions are anti-freedom, RAWR!.

    That’s what makes libertarianism an ideology, with all of the harmful connotations, rather than a philosophy or a useful guide to governance that provides the greatest good to the greatest number. See, work is a creative and useful and valuable thing; and government regulation that encourages the greatest possible extent of competition and prohibits behavior that lead consumers to hate and mistrust companies helps more people become part of that vision, in the expanded market that comes from a regulated social-democratic capitalist society – like the one of America since 1945.

  6. #6 |  Daryl Davis | 

    Interesting that you could quote Betty Friedan and yet miss the insight into your own values: that a pursuit, for its own sake, of self-definition, or self-actualization, through work–let alone through consumption–is the forsaking of closer family bonds–all in the name of providing for that family, secondarily, and for self-centered ego gratification, in the main. This was the essence of the Womens Liberation Movement.

    How vulgar is it when men make millions via “self-actualizing work” and yet choose to not to use this wealth to buy more time with family, or even with friends? What were they then becoming, through self-actualization, if not better, warmer men?

    http://whatdirectdemocracymightbe.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/economic-liberties-in-direct-democracy/

  7. #7 |  greginak | 

    Interesting point Jason. I think there is a difference between markets as a concept and my choice of consumption and my work. They overlap but are not all the same. My work may, well for me it is, be meaningful and fit into my moral framework. But agreeing with you and Betty regarding the meaningfulness of work doesn’t seem to be a leftie or libertarian point. Its a human point that doesn’t address what kind of laws or gov we have.

    Its a human need to find love and almost always a relationship. We can date and search for a mate which will often bring meaning to our lives. You could say we have a market, called society or match.com or whatever, for mates. But in that market some things would still be immoral, lying about who are, which of course should be legal even if it makes you a douchbag. But some things would still require laws and gov functions like the court to deal with like divorce and dissolutions. Some things would still be illegal like marital rape, using ruffies, etc. So it seems like markets are a good thing but don’t really speak to a lot of the details.

    Regarding consumer choice as moral. I wonder then how you figure in the considerable evidence our consumer choices are not always, or even often, rational but based on marketing, instinct or manipulation. If my choices are moral then what does it mean for my local market to be constructed in a way to try to make me walk as far as possible or slow me down in certain parts of the store or lead me to more expensive items. If consumption is a moral choice, which i’m not completely against even though i’m a leftie, then how is marketing research designed to manipulate me moral?

  8. #8 |  Mattocracy | 

    “The free market can reward intrinsically evil behavior (contract killings or slavery, for instance)”

    Absolutely wrong. There is nothing free about slavery or murder. Slavery and murder are the absolute opposite of the free market.

  9. #9 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Interesting that you could quote Betty Friedan and yet miss the insight into your own values: that a pursuit, for its own sake, of self-definition, or self-actualization, through work–let alone through consumption–is the forsaking of closer family bonds–all in the name of providing for that family, secondarily, and for self-centered ego gratification, in the main. This was the essence of the Womens Liberation Movement.

    I am not suggesting that anyone forsake family bonds or avoid using work as a means to support a family. I don’t think Friedan is, either. But she is saying that it is okay, and even healthy, to take pride in one’s work and to view it as a means of self-definition. For me and I think for her, work is an important part of a balanced, well-rounded life. Neither the highest end nor something to be dismissed as unimportant.

  10. #10 |  Brandon | 

    #2 “Given the market performance over the last decade and a half, it is not only possible, but downright logical.”

    You are confusing the free market with the Stock Market. Entirely different things, and one has very little to do with the other.

  11. #11 |  Mairead | 

    8 Mattocracy: here is nothing free about slavery or murder. Slavery and murder are the absolute opposite of the free market.

    Not from the standpoint of those freely buying and selling the slaves or the murders. The most you can say, unless you can impeach the claim that they’re freely chosen, is that the transactions and those who engage in them are odious and the antithesis of libertarian.

  12. #12 |  Chris | 

    That’s what makes libertarianism an ideology, with all of the harmful connotations, rather than a philosophy or a useful guide to governance that provides the greatest good to the greatest number.

    Actually, I think most libertarians are “the greatest good to the greatest number” libertarians (aka utilitarians). See any of the beltway libertarian crowd for examples.

    The number of true, ideological libertarians seems quite small to me. As an “ideological” libertarian myself, the number of utilitarians around kind of drives me bonkers, truth be told.

  13. #13 |  Michael J Green | 

    Of course, it takes almost no time for people to distort “the market is a moral good” into “the market is the only moral good/the market trumps any other moral considerations.” I think this is a great point, Jason, and an important part of the libertarian argument for freeing up the market.

    To use recent examples, there are quite a few people in America who would like to braid hair, consult as an interior decorator, drive a cab, sell hot dogs or other food from a truck, but are stymied by licensing, fees and regulations. These people may be driven from expressing their passion into boring corporate jobs, working as a way to pay the bills. The same is likely true for a number of would-be artists, farmers, etc.

  14. #14 |  glasnost | 

    There is nothing free about slavery or murder

    Except for the freedom enjoyed by one person to sell a second person as property to a third person, or the freedom enjoyed by one person to hire a second person to kill a third person.

    Slavery and murder are the absolute opposite of the free market.

    “Free Market” now equals “market prohibited from selling things I think are against freedom”! And that’s nice, but not what the words mean. Literal measurements of the freedom of a market describe how few in number are the things you’re not allowed to sell and how few are the conditions on selling them. That’s it. The End. Markets that include slavery allow a larger number of transactions, and freer than nonslavery markets. Any other definition flatly contradicts the plain meaning of ordinary assessments of the ‘freeness’ of markets.

    It’s very simple – your freedom to make a transaction often inhibits the freedom of others, and thus a free market equals less freedom in a society. These are very obvious cases. Less obvious cases are the ones where the railroad monopolist bribes the private highway construction monopolist not to build any additional roads in Territory X in exchange for not building any railways in Territory Y, and coerces monopolist suppliers to refuse to sell to competition, yada yada. Market behavior that enables the freedom of others is a form of “fair play” voluntary restriction of self-freedom that no one engages in voluntarily for long.

    These are all things you learn about with a little social science. http://faculty.washington.edu/wtalbott/phil240/trcap.htm

  15. #15 |  celticdragonchick | 

    Absolutely wrong. There is nothing free about slavery or murder. Slavery and murder are the absolute opposite of the free market.

    Yet they exist within the market, do they not? Are such activities not rewarded by those who would pay? Do they not vanish if nobody wants to pay any longer according to the rules of supply and demand?

    They may not be in YOUR favored world of the free market, but they are pesky things that refuse to go away…and the market continues to reward anything that makes money. The market, as I said, is unconcerned with morals. It is merely concerned with allocation of resources.

  16. #16 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @Glasnost

    What we libertarians stand for is the law of equal freedom — that each person is entitled to the maximal liberty that is compatible with an equal liberty for all others. It pretty straightforwardly rules out slavery and murder.

    If you knew a little political science yourself, and if you had the good grace not to condescend, then you might have recalled that.

  17. #17 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Note also that I never claimed for myself the good grace not to condescend. Sometimes it’s just not worth the trouble.

  18. #18 |  Mairead | 

    9 Jason: But she is saying that it is okay, and even healthy, to take pride in one’s work and to view it as a means of self-definition.

    Yes, she is saying that. And she’s mistaken as Eric Berne MD pointed out to his clinical-psychology students years ago with a little instructional parable:

    A young man, who lived with his widowed mother came home from work all excited. “Mama, I got a big promotion today!” His mother praised him and made a special celebratory dinner, for which she opened a bottle of good wine she’d been saving. After dinner, as they sat finishing the wine, she said “Now, my son, tell me all about your big promotion.” “You know that I always work hard, Mama, but I never expected this! The commandant himself called me in and told me that because I’ve done such a good job as a guard, I’m now an Untersturmführer and in charge of the ovens on my shift!”

    As Dr Berne pointed out, the common therapeutic goal of “a good adjustment” is insufficient and, in a pathological society, actually unhealthy.

    Being proud of being the top denier of medical care in the corporation is pretty awful.

  19. #19 |  En Passant | 

    #1 | Stormy Dragon wrote August 16th, 2012 at 2:34 pm:

    For the vast majority of people this is true and always will be. Society is always going to need someone to take out the trash, and you can bet the person doing it isn’t doing it in search of self-actualization.

    Obligatory Slashdot Soviet comment:

    In Soviet Russia, trash takes out you!

    To expand on that riff, I think it is necessary to recognize that while one’s work to put food on the table is not “self-actualization”, it usually is the sine qua non that makes “self-actualization” possible.

    Not everybody can be, say, a professional musician. But if “taking out the trash” feeds you, houses you, and allows you some leisure to practice music, then it is at least a partial means to “self-actualize” your inner musician.

    The leftist myth is that if the state controls all economic choices, then everyone will have opportunity to become “self-actualized”. The underlying theory seems to that the state will magically recognize each person’s inner genius and assign them work which develops it, on the basis of “to each according to his needs, from each according to his means”.

    I’ve often wondered how anyone who has ever conducted even the simplest transaction with, say, local licensing authorities or tax authorities or even state DMV can believe any government to be capable of such a miracle.

  20. #20 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    @16

    “You know who was just like Betty Friedan?”

    “Who?”

    “Hitler!”

    I’m sorry, was I supposed to take that comment seriously? Really?

    Of course there are things I didn’t mention that might interfere with being able to take a justified pride in one’s work. Including — gosh, I hadn’t thought of that one — genocide.

    Now, were you being purposefully obtuse there, or did you seriously imagine that I meant what I wrote as praise for the heroic Nazi workers in the noble concentration camps?

  21. #21 |  Ranjan | 

    You sound like a communist, Jason.

    I’m only half joking.

    Seriously, Marx wrote a great deal about the value of work as a self-fulfillment. Early communists like William Morris contrasted Useful Work (self-directed, fulfilling) and Useless Toil (in the new industrial factories).

    BTW, Betty Freidan started out as a communist. She had to downplay that part of her history when The Feminine Mystique became popular in the late 1950s.

  22. #22 |  Mairead | 

    18 Jason Now, were you being purposefully obtuse there, or did you seriously imagine that I meant what I wrote as praise for the heroic Nazi workers in the noble concentration camps?

    Are you being obtuse or did you miss the fact that my example dealt with a modern corporation?

    You made an unqualified quote of Friedan making an unqualified assertion. Many people who make or read such assertions never think that there might be something wrong with winning awards for denying healthcare or selling exploding Pintos. They take such assertions at face value, as you did, and quote them unreservedly.

  23. #23 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    The leftist myth is that if the state controls all economic choices, then everyone will have opportunity to become “self-actualized”.

    This is BS, but that’s not what Jason was criticizing. He was criticizing the idea most people only work to finance what they really care about rather than working because the works itself is something they care about. And that idea is true for all but a small portion of the population.

  24. #24 |  albatross | 

    What you do for a living may be your calling or just a day job. But you’d better find something you love to do, something that helps you become more the person you want to be, something worthy of your talents and love. Or you will have missed out on a very important part of being human.

    Many an artist and poet and musician has true passion for their art, while still having to fix cars or wait tables or program computers to pay the bills. There is nothing wrong with that.

    But to miss out on that entirely seems like it would be tragic–like never falling in love.

  25. #25 |  hilzoy fangirl | 

    Once again the gap between what is and what ought to be rears its head. As a liberal, I wholeheartedly agree that it would be wonderful if everyone could find self-actualizing work. I suspect just about everyone who identifies as a liberal, progressive, leftist, etc., would tend to agree. But that’s just not the way things are. Plenty of people work in demeaning, dehumanizing conditions, not because they want to but because they have no alternative.

    If your position is that the “free market” is the best way to remedy this problem, well, that’s an empirical claim – one that requires evidence, not rhetoric.

  26. #26 |  Daryl Davis | 

    “For me and I think for her, work is an important part of a balanced, well-rounded life. Neither the highest end nor something to be dismissed as unimportant.”

    The term self-actualization is poorly defined, open-ended, self-indulgent: it connotes a personal journey away from, not toward, an attainable result. Competency, efficiency, then discipline and mastery–these are tangible personal skills that most ought develop in a chosen field–though without necessarily any regard for their valuation in a free market.

    One need not own a tie, or use a laptop, to be a better man than most.

  27. #27 |  Mattocracy | 

    ““Free Market” now equals “market prohibited from selling things I think are against freedom”!”

    No, you just don’t get to sell another human being into servitude against his or her will or murder them. That has never been a principal of the free market. Ever.

    People freely exchanging goods and services. That’s the makrket. Slavery is non-voluntary exchanging services for nothing. The notion selling or killing a person is allowed in a free market is a gross mischaracterization of what the voluntary exchange component is all about.

  28. #28 |  Mairead | 

    24 Mattocracy: People freely exchanging goods and services. That’s the makrket. Slavery is non-voluntary exchanging services for nothing. The notion selling or killing a person is allowed in a free market is a gross mischaracterization of what the voluntary exchange component is all about.

    You’re missing the point. The enslaved person is the goods, not a participant. And the act of murder is the service, the victim merely the object. The two people buying and selling are the only participants.

    You cannot presume that people “get” it. You have to lay it out. If you don’t, someone will seize on your global assertion and claim it justifies them.

    Those idiots at Enron who gleefully talked about screwing people over by price manipulation considered their behavior just another aspect of Capitalism’s perfect “free market”.

  29. #29 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    Jason, I took a picture of that sentence and read it to everyone I ran into yesterday. I would change one word: “liberals” to “people”. Yes, it takes a real modern liberal to bemoan 50 variations of toothpaste taking up a whole aisle at Target, turn it into (publicly financed) research about choice overload, and call for regulators to allocate resources to less frivolous pursuits. But you can find plenty of old curmudgeons of all ages and politics walking down that same aisle and in their best Andy Rooney voice asking, “Why do there have to be 200 brands and flavors of toothpaste? It’s just toothpaste.” If you wanted to smack “conservatives”, you could simply bring up pornography, smut, and violent video games. They are just as snobbish about it.

    I must disagree with many of the commenters here, who claim that most people don’t get any self-actualization out of work. This is not a 1% thing. It’s more likely a 30-40% thing and perhaps even a 50% thing. I know many who do and many who don’t. I generally have much more in common with those who do and live it out loud, but I also see that those who work to pay bills aren’t being exploited and would be bored to death with extra time. Work is their routine and much of their social activity.

    I will say this. Without exception, those who bitch about this kind of stuff, with whom Jason takes issue, are profoundly sad people. Not knowing self-actualization, they are jealous and suspicious of those who do. Because when you feel like you’ve accomplished something amazing, you want to share it with people and see other people feel the same way.

    P.S. Jason, you ate your yogurt this week and are walking with mouse swagger.

  30. #30 |  Sergio Méndez | 

    Jason:

    “Not work to pay the bills, not work to fill the time. Work to discover oneself. Work for fulfillment. Work for independence and for self-actualization. Work because the potential is there, and it’s a shame to leave it lying around for nothing, or to piddle it away on paying the bills… until we die and it’s gone. ”

    Well, that was one of the main themes of Marx, specially the young Marx, when he developed his concept of alienation. I guess is probably is the liberal left in the US that is far away from you…maybe other forms of leftisms that are closer to you than you think.

  31. #31 |  marie | 

    Self-actualization. What the hell does that even mean?

    If you mean some kind of contentment or happiness, then use those words.

    Society is always going to need someone to take out the trash, and you can bet the person doing it isn’t doing it in search of self-actualization.

    Oh, for crying out loud. Who says the garbage man doesn’t love his work or doesn’t manage to be happy in spite of a job that YOU would hate?

    Lincoln said, “A man’s about as happy as he makes up his mind to be,” and I believe that. I believe that no matter what kind of work a person does.

    Work is work. It is lovely when your work meshes nicely with your opinion of yourself but you can damned well be a fine person, a good person, a happy person even if you hate your work.

  32. #32 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    The Left (like the Right, but on different subjects) only believes in the freedom to do as they think you should. Thus, they are all for the freedom to be homosexual, but dead against the freedom to eat an unhealthy diet … although both choices drastically reduce your life expectancy.

    I have slightly more patience with the buttinskis of the Right because their morality has some built-in limiters (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone” springs to mind). They don’t always remember those limiters, but the Left is making its morality up as it goes along, and doesn’t recognize the places where it descends into fascism until you really rub their noses in it. And then they tend to lash out, rather than feel abashed.

    The Left talks about having some ‘lets consult everybody’ mechanism for setting wages and prices, but what they really mean is ‘let US decide wages and prices’. They hate the free market, in spite of the free market being exactly what they claim to want, because the free market allows people that the Left considers less enlightened than their wonderful selves to make choices of which the Left disapproves.

  33. #33 |  Brandon | 

    According to this thread, it is impossible to criticize the free market without resorting to either a straw man or another logical fallacy.

  34. #34 |  MikeV | 

    I’m fairly certain that being unable to afford proper food, shelter, medical care, and other necessities is not a basis for self-actualization, so taking out the trash can be at least a partial step towards self-actualization.

    If you have ever actually lived without basic necessities, even the worst jobs can be a big step up. However, most people in the US have never had an experience with that level of poverty, so they see it from the point of view of the elite.

  35. #35 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    Work is work. It is lovely when your work meshes nicely with your opinion of yourself but you can damned well be a fine person, a good person, a happy person even if you hate your work.

    I think you’re misunderstanding me, because this is the same point I’m making.

  36. #36 |  Kutani | 

    @29
    Yeh, don’cha know? Cause someone will claim the free market allows them to sell humans as property, the free market itself is flawed beyond defense!

  37. #37 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    ” The free market can reward intrinsically evil behavior (contract killings or slavery, for instance)”

    The fuck you say?!?

  38. #38 |  Danny | 

    I don’t know what “left” is that is being argued against in these posts (and I suspect a capital “L” should be used in all events).

    Are we talking about the Hugo Chavez/Nepalese Maoist/Shining Path “Left”?

    Or are we talking about the modern Democratic Party of the United States, which at its “Left”-most wing, has stood well the the “Right” of all of Western Europe’s conservative political parties?

    Or is “left” being used as an even more insidious pejorative here, to describe the presidency of Barack Obama and the minority Democrats still remaining in the U.S. Congress — a team of politicians unstintingly engaged in more “law-and-order” crackdowns than the Nixon administration and doing more genuflection before the “entreprenuer class” than Hoover and Reagan combined?

    I wonder what the author’s assessment would be of an actual “Left-of-Center” ideology in the American context, if it is still possible to even imagine such a thing. That is to say, an ideology that ranks basic health care, nutrition and housing as something that — like 24/7 fire protection and police protection and automobile-bearing highways and K-12 education — a self-governing society can and should endevour to secure for all of its citizens as a matter of sound public policy; even while the vast majority of human goods — from tinted sunglasses to flat-screen TVs to four-motor yachts to Oreo cookies — are distributed according to the ineluctable forces of the “free market.”

    I suppose it is impossible for the author to even acknowledge, much less engage, the possibility of such a “Left” ideology. In his schema, there are only two camps:

    (I) The “Freedom” side, in which health care and decent shelter and other trappings of basic dignity in the American context go only to those who are swift enough and fortunate enough to receive them according to pure free-market dynamics; and

    (II) the “Anti-Freedom” side, in which Obamacare, the Third Reich and North-Korean autarky are all just variations on a theme.

    This election cycle’s tiresome “mansplaining” of “first principles” by self-styled “Libertarians” is pushing Poe’s law to its utmost limits. I submit that this piece by the author, and thousands just like it littering the internet, changes the minds of exactly no one, and leaves its target audience feeling like the victims of the crudest form of condescension.

  39. #39 |  PeeDub | 

    Comments, what hath happened to thee …?

  40. #40 |  supercat | 

    #17 | En Passant | The underlying theory seems to that the state will magically recognize each person’s inner genius and assign them work which develops it, on the basis of “to each according to his needs, from each according to his means”.

    One thing that is seriously wrong with the communist slogan is that in anything beyond a bare subsistence existence, people are not expected to stress themselves to the limits of their abilities maximizing production and minimizing consumption, but rather establish whatever trade-off they see fit. Allowing people to make such trade-offs encourages them to enhance their abilities. If they gain the ability to produce more, that will give them the option to consume more. If they gain the ability to live more frugally, that will ease them of the obligation to produce as much and give them more leisure time.

    On the other hand, it’s worth noting that many of the communist theories do work in practice, sort of, in bare subsistence societies. If someone is on the brink of starvation and has to work nine hours a day to survive, taxing an extra 10% of what the person would otherwise have earned will cause the person to work ten hours a day. There may be some workers who end up dying because they’re incapable of working hard enough to survive, but those who do survive will likely work harder than they would have done without the tax increase.

    The idea that letting people keep less of of their earnings will make them work harder may work when the peoples earnings are capped at minimal subsistence levels. It has the opposite effect, though, when people can see a realistic potential to earn more. People who can afford not to work to the absolute limits of their abilities are apt to push themselves harder when they see greater rewards for doing so, and not push themselves as hard when the rewards aren’t as great. A freedom-minded person would see the fact that people can choose how hard they want to work as a good thing, but to a communist, it’s evil. The idea that people might not work as hard as they theoretically could disagrees with the communist model of how the world should work; since the communist model is perfect, such people must be defective.

    Incidentally, from what I understand, Obama believes that paying doctors less for each patient they see will encourage doctors to see more patients. Perhaps in a communist state that might work, but such a notion is the antithesis of liberty.

  41. #41 |  supercat | 

    #34 | Danny | //(I) The “Freedom” side, in which health care and decent shelter and other trappings of basic dignity in the American context go only to those who are swift enough and fortunate enough to receive them according to pure free-market dynamics; … //

    The total amount of something that people are able to afford cannot exceed the total amount that is brought to market. If one feels that some people who are unable to afford something should be able to do so, there are two ways to fix that problem:

    -1- Somehow encourage more of that commodity to be brought to market.

    -2- Prevent someone else who would consume the commodity from doing so.

    Healthcare is not an unlimited commodity. Some mechanism must be used to prioritize its allocation. While allocating commodities according to people’s willingness to pay for them might not result in them always going to the people who “need” them most, such an approach works better than just about any other alternative. Among other things, it allows people considerable latitude as to aggressively they want to claim they “need” something, while rewarding those who can minimize their needs and punishing those who exaggerate them.

    Also, if a doctor has time to treat one of two back patients, and patient #1 feels he’d benefit more from a new $500 massage chair than from the surgery, while patient #2 wants the surgery enough that he’d be willing to pay $1,000 for it, I would posit that it would make more sense for the doctor to treat patient #2 than patient #1, regardless of the individuals’ financial situations. The only way to really know that patient #2 would value the surgery more than patient #1, however, would be to require him to use his own money to buy it.

    If people were required to use their own money to buy health care services, and could directly profit from any decisions not to use services they don’t really need, there would likely be ample services for those who really need them and, if there aren’t, it would be possible to judge how much more needed to be produced. Unfortunately, government meddling in health care has distorted the markets so badly that a lot of services are going to people who don’t benefit from them as much as would people who aren’t getting them. The solution, though, is not to stamp out whatever vestiges of the free market remain but rather to recognize that commodities which are allocated according to people’s willing to pay for them with their own money will generally be plentiful, but diverting goods to people who would not be willing to pay for them will make them scarce.

  42. #42 |  celticdragonchick | 

    According to this thread, it is impossible to criticize the free market without resorting to either a straw man or another logical fallacy.

    Like any other human innovation, the market has certain limitations or “blind spots”, if you will.

    Some Libertarians seem to not recognize this when they call for tearing down regulatory barriers without understanding whether the regulation is actually unnecessary or if it actually prevents something harmful from happening. I think most of us here certainly do not approve of slavery or contract killing…but how does that translate when you talk about companies like the former Blackwater (now “Xe”). Blackwater and the now defunct Executive Outcomes from South Africa basically operate as mercenary suppliers as well as offering training for regular military units. Not quite as obvious as hiring a mob hit man…but you come close to the line since you are hiring mercs to go fight in combat conditions expressly for money. (there has been footage posted online of “contractors shooting up civilian vehicles in Iraq for fun. Sick stuff) As for slavery…go read about some of the Nepalese and Filipino cooks and workers who contracted to go work in Iraq on US bases and then had their passports confiscated under the terms of the contract…while being forced to work under harsh conditions with little or no pay. This is stuff our “free market” allowed to happen because of laxity in regulation and oversite..and supported by our tax dollars.

    To be fair, many folks here would point out that they never supported a government that allowed this to happen in the first place. Quite so. Still, the private sector is just as egregious…and Xe, Triple Canopy and Executive Outcomes deal (or dealt) with oil companies and other private players just as readily as governments. Same thing for the labor hustlers who supplied the workers from Nepal and the Philippines. They supplied workers to private hellholes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    Again: Free markets are not moral actors. They only allocate goods and resources for good or ill as long as supply and demand operates. In order to be useful to a society, the society must police the market to ensure that more good then harm is produced.

  43. #43 |  Jess | 

    supercat, you identify in the last paragraph a real problem with health insurance of all sorts, not just that provided by the government. In fact, one could imagine a program of government support that wouldn’t have the deleterious effects on the price signal that all current ones do: just give those in the program who need health care all the cash they need to buy it, and let them spend that cash as they see fit. (I’m only half serious here, but you see what I mean.)

    I’m not sure if libertarians are allowed to feel this way, but I’d like the laws and regulations to change in ways that destroyed health insurance completely as a business. The vast majority of citizens would certainly get better health care as a result, and if some enterprising soul wanted to start offering some sort of catastrophic coverage (without any of the sweetheart lobbyist-written regulations they have today) I wouldn’t object.

  44. #44 |  Jess | 

    I realize I may not have been clear. I don’t wish to see private cost-obscuring mechanisms supplanted by public cost-obscuring mechanisms, so I’m not advocating for single-payer. Rather, there should be 300 million payers. When everyone knows and actually cares about the cost of health care, we’ll begin to see some innovative ways to control that cost.

  45. #45 |  Jess | 

    Scrolling through the thread, I note some true-Scotsman arguments with respect to how a market may be termed “free”. I suppose that the question of whether a slave market is free depends on one’s point of view, but I’m reminded of the interminable arguments some of us computer nerds have about whether the GPL is “free”. Since the GPL endeavors to protect the freedoms of future users, it places restrictions on current distributors of software so licensed. In effect, it outlaws slave markets in the works that use the GPL. This is seen as right and proper by the Free Software Foundation and those who agree with it. However, scarcely a week goes by without some punkass coder whinging that he can’t write some crappy new interface for existing free software and then charge some moron for it, so the GPL isn’t really about freedom.

  46. #46 |  Jess | 

    To address TFA, as a pale dude I’m not supposed to like the whole “privilege” concept, but I do actually find it occasionally to be an aid to understanding. That is, when someone observes that I’m speaking or writing from a position of privilege, I don’t necessarily find that her opinions are so “correct” that they replace mine, but they often contain nuggets of wisdom that I hadn’t noticed before. So, the “privilege” claim is a fairly reliable signal of new shit to learn and integrate.

    I hereby submit to Lefties that this “no happiness for janitors” bullshit is privilege speaking, and they should run that shit by some actual janitors in order to receive some valuable instruction.

  47. #47 |  Other Sean | 

    Oh, I get it! This whole thread has been a dress rehearsal to demonstrate what the comments section will look like after the big move to Huff-Po.

    Bravo. What an incredibly realistic simulation! We’ve got a totally gratuitous mention of contract killing, the word “slavery” shows up 16 times on a page with only 37 comments, and the Godwin barrier was broken in fewer than 20 moves. These are precisely the exercises we need to ready the cadres for battle.

    I’m a little disappointed that we have no mention of child labor, but that’s a mere quibble. I’m sure we all know enough to prepare ourselves for that.

  48. #48 |  (B)oscoH, Yogurt Eater | 

    I’m a little disappointed that we have no mention of child labor, but that’s a mere quibble. I’m sure we all know enough to prepare ourselves for that.

    I’m all for letting minors self-actualize whenever they get their shit together and want to do it. There.

  49. #49 |  DPirate | 

    Fuck “work”. This shit doesn’t “fulfill” me or even gratify me 99% of the time. I dread going on a near daily basis. These market solutions just boil down to doing what other people want, not what I want, because that thing is what other people will pay me to do. Even owning my own business I am fairly well forced to cater to others’ wants.

  50. #50 |  Whappan? | 

    Stop picking on garbage men. I’m not one, don’t know any, and frankly don’t aspire to be one. But I thank my lucky stars that they’re there, because I wouldn’t want to live in a world where garbage piled up, nor would you.

    As the proverbial “garbage man” is often referenced in many discussions encompassing many topics, I have from time to time found myself pondering them. And I conclude that it is a noble, if not prestigious calling. Indeed, any honest work is noble. An honest day’s work is too often denigrated today, and shouldn’t be. It seems that whining and complaining that one is entitled to things is valued more than earning one’s daily bread. What a shame.

  51. #51 |  Jason Kuznicki | 

    Two things are clear to me now.

    1. I need to write about the law of equal freedom. It’s clear that this concept hasn’t been sufficiently emphasized, from its philosophical roots to its implications in current public policy. This may take more than one post, and it will certainly require lots of Herbert Spencer.

    2. I need to write about Karl Marx. I’ve read him and have learned a lot from him. I think Marx is about 80% wrong, and that 80% is in all the most catastrophic parts. But a post titled “Why Libertarians Need to Know Karl Marx” would be useful and informative.

  52. #52 |  DaQuail | 

    Welll this thread is heated… I would like to contribute that a free market need not be libertarian. To define the free market according to libertarian ideology (no initiation of force) is begging the question, considering that markets are a basic part of human economic life, and markets have always sold goods that everyone here would consider blatantly immoral. For example, the quite unrestricted bitcoin market sells services like hacking and fraud. (not to imply that the whole market’s immoral)

  53. #53 |  Other Sean | 

    Jason…I hope you mean stuff like this:

    “…estranged labor estranges the species from man. It changes for him the life of the species into a means of individual life…For labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man in the first place merely as a means of satisfying a need – the need to maintain physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species-character. Life itself appears only as a means to life.”

  54. #54 |  mosesmalone | 

    hey Jason…get a job

  55. #55 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    Since we’re quoting feminists, how about Virginia Woolf? “To depend upon a profession is a less odious form of slavery than to depend upon a father.” Even work that isn’t fulfilling in and of itself is better for most than the alternative, dependence upon a father or other paternal provider of support.

  56. #56 |  Deoxy | 

    I don’t have time to read all the comments today, so maybe this point has been made, but this:

    The only way for a woman (snip) to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.

    This is a joke. A rewarding career is nice, but it’s likely to pay less.

    Why? Because, essentially, that is a form of compensation. The job you love you will do for less pay than the job you don’t. The market takes that into account – jobs that most people do for the love of the job generally pay less than jobs that people don’t (all other things being equal, which of course, they never exactly are).

    There are several reasons why men generally make more money than women, but one of the big ones is this right here: women want a rewarding career, and their men generally have put them in a position to afford the pay cut to have it instead of something that pays better.

    (Other big reasons are having large breaks in their working career, usually for children but not rarely because they just can, and working fewer hours, with the same caveats. When these are taken into account, women make MORE than men for the same work. Some animals just more equal than others.)

    Stop picking on garbage men.

    The garbage man is a good example, not just being picked on. Few people want to do it, and it’s hard work, but it still doesn’t pay all that well.

    Like janitors, this is because almost anyone is capable of doing the job – the requirements are exceedingly low.

    Like janitors, having people do the job well is a great benefit to society… and it still doesn’t pay well, for the same reason. There are just too many people who can do the job.

    On market morality: markets are “morally neutral” in that they don’t care about the morality of the goods being sought or delivered, but at the same time, society’s morals influence the price, cost, and profitability.

    Contract killing is expensive and profitable because it carries high risk because society disapproves and the chances of failure are high. With sufficient societal disapproval, some things become, essentially, unavailable at any price – there is simply no one willing to risk themselves doing it.

    Drugs aren’t really disapproved by a very large minority of society, but the law makes it risky and therefore high profit (if you succeed), so there are plenty of people willing to do it.

    Contract killing is also risky and therefore high profit… but the demand is much lower, because society disapproves of it. As such, there are very few people willing to admit they are willing to do it.

    So, to a limited but still significant extent, the market reflects the morals of society as a whole.

  57. #57 |  phlinn | 

    @32: C.S.P Schofield
    The following quote seems relevant.

    “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.”

    ― C.S. Lewis

    @45: Jess
    This may not be what you are referring to, but saying it’s not a free market if slavery is allowed is like saying someone isn’t a scottsman because they’ve never lived in scotland. It’s eminently defensible by the base definition of the term, whereas the no true scotsman fallacy claims something outside the base definition. Slave markets, like crony capitalism, and various forms of pseudo deregulation are a form of cargo cult free market.

  58. #58 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    Upset? I’d far rather have thoughtful posts than the sort of ideological rigidness which you often see from commentators. I’d rater, bluntly, have people on the right who are willing to THINK because I’m quite willing to admit that no government lasts forever.

    (Unlike idiots like Schofeld who claims gays die young)

    But… When you don’t see the value of your work (since it mostly vanishes into capital), and can’t afford a place to live fit for habitation, utilities, food and a little clothing…then those became rather the only issues which matter, Jason. Capital keeps on pushing out wages, so this issue is only going to get worse.

    The Nordic counties are states where a fairly high percentage people are, by and large, free to seek other things than work-as-work, precisely because the power of big business is limited and the state works with people individually. The Nordic peoples are *fiercely* individualistic.

    I’d also note that Marx cribbed heavily from Proudhon, adding statist elements.

  59. #59 |  Mairead | 

    46 Jess: I hereby submit to Lefties that this “no happiness for janitors” bullshit is privilege speaking, and they should run that shit by some actual janitors in order to receive some valuable instruction.

    I don’t believe you’ve any idea what you’re talking about. My stepfather was a janitor at Armour’s. He didn’t like it, nor did he know anyone who did. It was dangerous, backbreaking work for minimum wage, and nothing more. He took the job only because that’s all he could get when he got demobbed in 1945.

  60. #60 |  Bruce Coulson | 

    Work, for the vast majority of people, is something they do to survive. It has been this way for all of recorded history.

    From my personal experience as having worked in local delivery, garbage collection, customer service, and food service, I met many people who took pride in doing their work well; but I don’t recall ever meeting someone who genuinely enjoyed the work, found it fulfilling, and wouldn’t have left their employment in a second if they were able to. It may be possible to find ‘self-actualization’ in such work, but I never encountered anyone who had done so.

    The market can only support so many workers in any job. Only so many people can make a living in jobs that are consistently challenging and rewarding on a personal, emotional, and intellectual level. The others have to make do with hobbies and working at something that the market will pay them for, no matter what their opinions on the work involved.

  61. #61 |  David | 

    On work, I’m reminded of a homily in which the priest noted that God worked for 6 days, and then rested, as part of a point that both work (and rest!) are good things.

    I think the word “market” is used in so many different ways and in different contexts, that may be part of why some people disagree with you.

    For instance, I don’t think that the “market” is always correct about the value of a stock/company (in part because it’s not a perfect market, there is imperfect information between different market participants, etc.). Free-market forces are subject to cartels, monopolies/oligopolies “unfairly” influencing prices, etc. So I support at least some level of market regulation, not because I think a free market is immoral, but more because I tend to see it as amoral, and paradoxically some level of regulation helps keep a market “freer” (e.g. by discouraging fraud).

    In both healthcare and education, I think that the current systems combine some of the worst aspects of both a market and a highly-regulated system to help produce huge costs and limited choices. While my philosophical preference would lean towards a freer market in both, I also think that given where they are now, moving in either direction (freer market or more regulated) would produce greater efficiencies.

  62. #62 |  yonemoto | 

    markets are not morally neutral. Undistorted, they represent the morality of freedom of choice, because your participation is up to you. Free markets are silent on other issues of morality, like, say, lying or cheating. So to have a moral society with free markets does require some effort on the part of its members to be moral actors, but the existence of free markets requires moral restraint (and thus is not morally neutral).

  63. #63 |  Jess | 

    Mairead, my grandfather was orphaned at 8, and worked in the fields picking corn, etc. by hand with mules pulling the wagon starting when he was 10. This work was harder on the body than anything a janitor ever attempted, but he was only a kid so it was OK. And while he never made minimum wage on the farm, he did get fed so there was that. However, he made the most of his opportunities once WWII started.

    My grandfather is a happy person, even now toward the end of his life, and he would have been a happy person as a janitor too. You shouldn’t misunderstand your stepfather’s problems as being somehow typical of everyone in similar situations. Maybe it’s all you heard growing up, but I repeat my advice to actually talk to a real janitor rather than the internalized pissed-off stepfather you carry around in your head.

  64. #64 |  Jess | 

    phlinn, I’m like Humpty-Dumpty, and I actually agree with you that we can define “free markets” to exclude slavery, just as the FSF can define “free software” in the way that makes most sense. I mean, it’s really old law that a contract without the agreement of all parties subject to it isn’t a contract at all. The pwogs always want to win before the debate begins, by defining terms in some ridiculous way. It’s because they’re just not very smart.

    Hey pwogs: I support free markets only when they don’t include slavery. Can you respond to that without claiming that I do support slavery or that I don’t support some free markets?

  65. #65 |  Danny | 

    Well thank goodness for supercat.

    Because, you see, all a liberal needs is somebody with “more sense” to explain to them how markets work like you would to a four-year old.

    This is because all liberals are blithering idiots who think every good generated in the economy just falls off of some great big tree ad infinitum.

    So a long, windy, sanctimonious typed-out lecture on the internet will set things straight and make them see it your way.

    Good luck with the conversions, pilgrim.

  66. #66 |  Bruce Coulson | 

    tO #63

    http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=ac41

    Sure; it means you support regulations on markets.

    You see, free, unregulated markets sold slaves for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. You think this is wrong, and should be excluded. Clearly, the majority of modern governments and economies agree with you. (Although whether this is because of an advance in moral sense or in technology is another question.) But this is a regulation, forbidding a certain good from being brought to market. Property can’t enter into contracts, and slaves were property. So, you can define ‘free market’ as ‘everything can be sold except slaves, because we don’t allow slavery’, but in doing so, you automatically concede that a regulation is needed.

  67. #67 |  glasnost | 

    #62

    #27

    etc…

    There’s talking here, but not communication. This is not a point about how I think libertarians are in favor of slavery. The point is understanding the tension between liberty to engage in economic transactions and other types of liberty. There are many types of economic transactions plausible between various entities that end up subverting or diminishing the liberty of others.

    This is something that I find that libertarians have an exceptionally hard time dealing with. And once we diversify beyond “liberty” as the only acceptable metric of the value of human society or individual existence, and start talking about “well-being”, the universe of undesirable transactions gets larger.

    It’s neccessary to make sure everyone accepts the validity of the concept of liberty-reducing economic transactions (freely made between A and B, damaging C) – the recognition of liberty for some that diminishes the liberty of others – and not just as a concept, but as a real situation that happens frequently on earth. Once you get to that point, the debate becomes empirically informed, which is exactly when economic darwinism and laissez-faire falls out of the running as a viable governance platform.

    Libertarianism is fine as a philosophy. And it’s entirely possible to be a philosophical libertarian that ends up governing as a social democrat. The problem begins with the specific choices made in translating respect for liberty into policy choices. Here Jason would actually agree.

    The problem with Jason’s point is the fantasy that simply removing state supports and interference would allow the private sector to create efficient and prosperous outcomes. The creation of efficient and prosperous outcomes is a phase that the players in a market go through between death and death: only continuous interference in the market by exogenous forces prolongs it.

    It’s great philosophy, and crappy historical analysis.

  68. #68 |  glasnost | 

    To elaborate a little further, once you accept that you must limit the freedom of everyone to make certain kinds of transactions because those transactions limit the liberty of others, or rely implicitly on those limitations, then all you have left is to figure out which transactions have to be prohibited. From my point of view, you’re already a social-democrat at this point.

    Although maybe it’s neccessary to accept one more premise, which is that this is not about liberty but wellbeing, of which liberty is exactly one component. Eventually libertarianism slides into utilitarian justifications about how well markets work, how prosperous they make people, and how efficient they are. I can’t argue with a libertarian who believes that everyone should have maximum freedom compatible with avoiding philosophically defined transgressions on liberty, specifically including when having it makes everyone involved empirically more miserable and less prosperous than known alternatives. But when we get into empirical claims, it’s a new ballgame.

  69. #69 |  Jess | 

    glasnost, I’m intrigued by your novel political analysis. Everyone who supports the existence and enforcement of laws (or, from your “implicitly” parenthetical, societal customs) is a “social-democrat”?

    That’s fascinating, but it doesn’t really contradict Jason’s original condescension.

  70. #70 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    @64:

    I think the real problem is that most people are using “free” in a political sense, when “free market” is an economics term. And all that term means is that it is a market where no single buyer or seller has the ability to unilaterally determine the terms of trade (particularly price) for the market. So it is correct to say that a free market is morally neutral in that a market may qualify as free in the economic sense while still permitting or enabling the infringement of freedom in the political sense. (e.g there can be a free market in slavery as the slaves aren’t buyers or sellers).

  71. #71 |  supercat | 

    #63 | Danny | “This is because all liberals are blithering idiots who think every good generated in the economy just falls off of some great big tree ad infinitum.”

    I used to be a liberal, myself. Even though I’d taken economics courses, I believed Bill Clinton when he explained how his health-care plan was going to make affordable services available to people. I didn’t quite understand how it was all going to work, but it wasn’t hard to believe that President Clinton and his advisers would be able to figure out things that were beyond my understanding. Eventually, I came to realize that the basic principles taught in Econ 101 don’t just apply in the absence of government programs to overcome the limits implied thereby; they assert themselves with a vengeance against government programs that would seek to overcome them. If a politician says a program will have good effects, but the Econ 101 principles predict it will have bad effects, odds are very good that the program will have bad effects and the politician will act surprised.

  72. #72 |  supercat | 

    #43 | Jess | “supercat, you identify in the last paragraph a real problem with health insurance of all sorts, not just that provided by the government.”

    Allowing people to truly choose their own health insurance, rather than having such decisions pegged to their employers, would help to resolve some of those issues. People who would attach a high value to a particular standard of care would be willing to pay more in premiums to get it; those who don’t attach such a high value to it could pay less in premiums, leaving the more expensive resources to those who would value them more.

    //In fact, one could imagine a program of government support that wouldn’t have the deleterious effects on the price signal that all current ones do: just give those in the program who need health care all the cash they need to buy it, and let them spend that cash as they see fit. (I’m only half serious here, but you see what I mean.)//

    In some circumstances involving well-defined casualties, that would make sense. For example, if cosmetic surgery following a mastectomy would cost a certain amount, an insurance company could offer a woman who needed a mastectomy a choice between receiving the surgery or accepting a cash payment as a “cosmetic allowance”. Since it would be rare for women to undergo mastectomies just to receive a cash payment, such payments would not create perverse incentives. Unfortunately, while some medical casualties are well defined, some are not. Offering a person cash as an alternative to pain treatment creates a perverse incentive for that person to claim to be in as much pain as they can. The only way I can see to allocate pain-treatment resources based on people’s level of pain, without creating perverse incentives, is to see how much of their own money people are willing to pay for treatment. If someone can formulate some other metric that would be immune to people’s efforts to game the system, I’d be interested to hear it. Can’t think of any, though.

  73. #73 |  Fnord | 

    And I would say that it’s a peculiarly isolated and privileged perspective to consider the “self-actualization” of work more important than “paying the bills” part. Funny, I thought a tunnel-vision focus on touchie-feelie feel-good goals at the expense of reality was supposed to be a progressive stereotype.

    En Passant:
    Observing that working to pay the bills provides freedom to pursue a passion outside of work, calling that “working for self-actualization”, and suggesting that “working for self-actualization” then demands that free markets be treated as a end in themselves a reasoned argument. An amateur musician supporting his hobby as a trash collector doesn’t see the freedom to work as a trash collector as an end in itself; the end is the music.

    To the extent that markets produce wealth that allows people passionate about music to support themselves well enough to do music as a hobby, they’re a great tool (likewise, for that matter, for their ability to ensure that someone collects the trash). As an empirical matter, they frequently appear to do a good job of it.

    But as an end in themselves? That’s missing the point.

  74. #74 |  Fnord | 

    *is not a reasoned argument.

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