From Far Left to Libertarianism…

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Over at TCSDaily, Arnold Kling cogitates on his ideological voyage from "Far Left to libertarian":

I travelled the route from Far Left to libertarian. I think that quite a few libertarians have travelled that route, and yet I cannot think of anyone who has gone the other direction. This leads me to suspect that:

1. Far Leftists and libertarianism have much in common.
2. Libertarians know something that Far Leftists do not.

Find out what that special something is here.

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  1. Does Megan McArdle count?

  2. From the article:

    “My goal as a libertarian is to counter the heavy-handed marketing by politicians of bigger government. I want to constantly remind people that personal responsibility and free markets are more powerful forces for progress than is government. For those people who are still on the Far Left, my advice is to study the consequences of policy, not simply the motives and intentions of those who advocate the policy. Once one understands and corrects for the Fundamental Attribution Error, the passion for better public policy translates into a support for libertarian principles.”

    “Attribution Error” is a nice way to frame it, but I don’t know that correcting the error leads in all cases to libertarian positions on particular policies. I also think the the idea that “context matters” expressed by the article goes against many of the libertarian positions I see posted here. Many who hold to libertarian positions do so based on strict adherence to axiomatic principles regardless of context. The article even makes context-free attributions regarding the relationship between power and corruption, and the relative power of personal responsibility and free markets compared to collective action through mechanisms of government.

    I like the article, but I think it describes the author’s personal intellectual journey more than a general case about either the far left or the libertarian.

  3. From Loserville to Irrelevant City and everywhere in between. “I’ve been everywhere, Man. I’ve been everwhere.”

  4. I Think This Piece Would Have Been Better If The Author Had Defined His Terms, Instead Of Writing In General Terms About Something Called The Far Left.

    He Seems To Lump A Lot Together Under The Rubric Far Left.

    BTW, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who can remotely be called “far left” who thinks Bill Clinton did a good job as president.

  5. Of course, he could be another David Horowitz, overcompensating for his past radicalism with another form of it.

    His apparent belief in secret knowledge is certainly suspect.

  6. Good points, but isn’t conservative to libertarian a much shorter trip? Perhaps I’m stating the obvious.

    Bergamot: Earl Grey, Hot!

  7. As Bubba Zanetti points out, the same seems to apply to conservative-to-libertarian converts.

  8. What leads people to both the far left and the far right is a complete lack of humility. This is why those groups are generally populated with idealistic young people and old people who never got over their idealistic youth. If you are a far leftists or rightist you believe that your set of ideals can create paradise on earth and solve whatever your pet problem is if only the world would just follow you. The groups of course differ in what they think the problem and solution is but they share the same elitist belief that people would be so much happier and better off if their sollution were forced on them.

    You can’t have that kind of attitude and be committed to personal freedom. To really believe in freedom you have to have humility. The fact is that if given a choice lots of people are going to do things that you find appalling. To overcome the instinct to stop them and restrict their freedom, you have to be humble enough to know that you don’t have all of the answers and that there is a collective wisdom to people?s actions that is above your own personal wisdom. This is a hard thing for a lot of people to accept, especially intellectuals who have been told their whole lives how special and smart they are, which of course explains why so many intellectuals fall victim to the extreme right and left.

  9. John.

    Well put.

    Except that I remain an arrogant S.O.B. untainted by humility.

    “It’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.” – Mordred’s song. Camelot.

  10. Arsen,

    I am an arrogant bastard as well. I believe in freedom, but am fully convinced people will screw it up.

  11. John – That was brilliant. I’m going to save that.

    It’s amazing to me how many people approach the world as a binary dichotomy, who are completely incapable of realizing that the world doesn’t fit their conceptual model.

    Not that black and white binary dichotomies don’t exist. It’s just that they are very rare. The flip side of the inability to see things that aren’t that way is that they also tend to mis-identify the the things that are strictly binary.

    For instance…

    Non-binary thought process: You can be for and against different parts of a party’s political platform, and consider the good and the bad aspects and weigh the values of those positions in relation to each other prior to casting your vote. This is a nuanced approach that enables you to look at the world and determine what you really think is the best way to go.

    False Binary Thought Process: I vote for the Monkey Party, because I love the Monkey Party as the source of all political goodness and hate the Rhino Party as the source of all evil.

    True Binary Thought Process: This guy is trying to kill me/my family/my fellow Americans. I’d vastly prefer him dead than alive.

    The first two are common. The last one is very rare.

  12. John
    I agree with Aresen that you did well, but I see no virtue in humility. Most humility is fake and having confidence in one’s own beliefs is a prerequisite to respecting others. I believe that my freedom is dependant on the freedom of all and that it is impossible for the people to do worse the government.

  13. Thanks Rob,

    Ivan, when I say humility, I mean it in a limited sense. I mean it in that you have an understanding that even if you were king, things would not be perfect and that even your best intentioned sollutions to problems may be worse than the problems themselves. I do not mean to imply that no one should have any confidence in their beliefs.

  14. “so even if the former prefer one subset (consensus) and the latter prefer another subset (markets) of free association, we don’t need all that distrust.”

    Hasn’t the general experience with leftists “consensus” is that once that consensus is reached it runs over everyone else and their freedom like a mack truck?

  15. Bubba,

    That’s where I came from. I was raised to support economic freedom and a healthy respect for the constitution. I supported the fiscal plans of the 90’s republicans and at one point idealized Newt Gingrich (hey, young and stupid right). Let’s just say “Then came George”. It started out great. He had a plan to privatise social security, reorganize health care into something more efficient. Then came the Patriot Act and the politics of fear. Ultimately, that and the inane domestic matters legislation drove me away from the Republican Party. I’m not an idealist, but I can’t stomach the complete abandonment of fiscal responsibility and the encroachement of the police state. So here I am, hoping for a better tomrrow.

  16. >1. Far Leftists and libertarianism have much in common.

    False.

    2. Libertarians know something that Far Leftists do not.

    Truer than true. We paid attention during math class.

  17. I agree a small dose of humility is involved, but there can also be a sense of “I’m right. I know it. If everyone thought and lived how I do, we would all be happier,” while at the same time recognizing: 1) that will never happen, and 2) it would be completely wrong to try to use the power of coercion to try to make it happen.
    Our society should consist of no state coercion of our personal choices but a broad and robust private-sector dialogue among different views as to how people should live. That is, preachers and philosophers rather than politicians and police telling us how we should live. We can always choose to ignore the former.

  18. This is what frustrates me so much about the LaRouchies (this, and the fact that they seem to regard singing German hymns to Jesus [TRUE STORY!] as a legitimate way to spread their ideas), as well as Neil Young and the rest of them: removing George Bush will solve NOTHING. It doesn’t really matter who wants to throw me in prison for getting high, it doesn’t matter who’s coming to my house with a gun to take my money, it doesn’t matter who’s taking goldfish from a local chinese restaurant for being “unsafe.”

    To be fair, I also also hate the LaRouchies for apparently totally failing to understand the difference between “private” and “public.” That’s an issue.

    -sam

  19. I dabbled in the far left and the far right (though not at the same time) when I was a teenager. It had nothing to do with a lack of humility. Each largely had to do with “inherited” cultural biases, a faith in “conventional wisdom economics”, a tendency to project my own personal intractable problems onto the rest of the world, and a desire to solve somebody’s problems without having to address my own.

    I find that the most avid of the far left and of the far right have some form of misanthropy, bred of dissatisfaction with themselves. I only had to get close to a few hyper-self-assured far-left or far-right ideologues to gain some confidence that most if not all of them are remarkably, though privately, extremely self-abusive and self-hating. This isn’t intended to be ad hominem. How they treat themselves has no bearing on the validity of their views.

    It seems that those on the far-left or far-right trust “people”, but they don’t trust “mankind”. They learn to like most of the people that they get to know, even though they might disagree with them, but consider “all those other people” to be completely untrustworthy and probably villainous and dangerous. That means that they either need to be controlled in how they use their property or how they live their lives, or sometimes both.

  20. Humility, honesty… some good points here but think there’s more to it.

    It occurs to me that the core reason libertarianism is attractive is the fact that consistency is naturally built into the libertarian system of thought.

    If liberty is my core concern it is not only my own liberty that concerns me but yours as well (for an erosion of your liberty will soon become an erosion of mine).

    Free markets and small government are logical extensions of a respect for liberty; in other words they are something that must occur in a truly liberty-based society. That both happen to work so well is merely a consequence of being logically consistent. The freer I am to spend my money, the more prosperous you will be. And the less my freedom is curtailed, the less I will see a need to pass legislation curtailing yours.

    The statism of the right and left have no such consistency. Both sides claim to want liberty but in practice support heavy regulation (i.e. smoking or pornography). Come to think of it, I’m not even sure that statists have a defining principle to speak of…other than the winning of elections.

  21. about the LaRouchies (this, and the fact that they seem to regard singing German hymns to Jesus [TRUE STORY!] as a legitimate way to spread their ideas)

    I had a similar experience in Maryland. The LL candidate sang some piece from an opera at a candidates forum. BTW, I was the LP candidate.
    Also, several times, when I encountered an LL candidate manning a pit table, and we engaged in political discussion, there came a point where the LaRouchie would express his desire to use violence on “you libertarians”. Definite fascist tendencies.

  22. Whippersnapper Arnold Kling is exactly right except for the fact the Libertarian Party was born when Republicans bolted after Nixon’s price controls.

  23. He makes his “journey” sound a bit grandiose. I’d say my own journey from the left to the libertarian was easy. First, a lot of my opinions haven’t changed–I’m still wary of governmental police power, I’m still against the drug war, I still disapprove of the American government propping up oppressive governments in other countries. Second, anybody who follows politics and pays attention eventually hears plenty of stories about how government policies they supported had unintended and undesirable consequences. Those sure are an eye-opener. Third, I took some economics classes.

    That’s it. I didn’t even have to become more humble. Less so, probably.

  24. Far Leftists and libertarianism have much in common.

    Actually the far left and the far right (as currently constituted in the U.S.) have much more in common with each other than either side has with libertarianism. The core attribute of a political process isn’t the goal, it’s the means you use to get there.

    Hasn’t the general experience with leftists “consensus” is that once that consensus is reached it runs over everyone else and their freedom like a mack truck?

    The core problem with Marxism isn’t the result but the process. Communism is a lot like libertarianism in that it relies on personal responsibility to operate successfully. Marx screwed up by postulating that if you make the state stronger it will wither away, and if you take away personal property you can teach the masses personal responsibility toward communal property without the incentive of ownership.

    History flipped him the finger.

  25. I think the author’s point is a good one. The defining characteristic of my lefty friends is their tendency to make assertions about such-and-such is rotten to the core and so-and-so is on the side of the angels.

  26. I went from left to libertarian (conveniently, I can still support the Democrats as they went from the party I loved to the BY FAR lesser of two evils) because I still have the same goals of wanting to make life better for everyone, except I know realize that the way to achieve this aim is through less government rather than more.

    So I am a libertarian more because I think it gives the best results rather than it being in any way more moral than other systems, which I don’t believe it necessarily is.

  27. Ouch! Stop it! My head aches frm trying to form a mental image of a ‘humble libertarian’.

  28. “A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, federal investigators have found.

    The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country’s security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed “the rain forest.”

    “This is the most essential civil security project in the country — and it’s a failure,” said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. “The Baghdad police academy is a disaster.”

    Bowen’s office plans to release a 21-page report Thursday detailing the most alarming problems with the facility.”

    The difference between conservatives, liberals and libertarians is that conservatives don’t think the State can pull off such a project in the U.S. but can some how do it successfully in a country plagued by civil war, lawlessness and chaos. Liberals decry such an attempt by military contractors overseas, but somehow think such projects will work out just fine at home.

    Libertarians recognize that both at home and abroad, such ventures are bound to be beset with corruption and inefficiency.

    Of the three, the “conservatives” position is the most ridiculous. At least the liberal position has some logic to it, the project might turn out better here, where there is relative peace, security and enforceable contracts.

  29. I really don’t think humility has much to do with it. If there were a way of quantifying humility, I don’t think it’d correlate with any particular socio-political tendency.

    Having more humility than average fits just as well with anti-libertarian as with libertarian ideas. “I have an excess of humility, please lord over me!” It just means you don’t think you can or should be the boss, not that there shouldn’t be a boss.

    Meanwhile those with an absence of humility seek to be the bosses of any movement, libertarian, anti-libertarian, or vegetarian.

  30. When did John start collecting sockpuppets?

  31. “They learn to like most of the people that they get to know, even though they might disagree with them”

    Hey, that’s how I feel about joe! Even though he is a turd. (remember that, LOL!)

    An amusing but unrelated aside (that my own previous statement just reminded me of): I went to a scifi convention (20?) years ago in Chicago. A fan asked Tom Baker how he “felt about” Peter Davidson taking over Baker’s role as Doctor Who. Baker said, “First of all, I don’t FEEL ABOUT Peter Davidson…”

    To the topic: I came from the left, voting for Dukakis at 18 and asking my dad as a young teen, “why can’t everyone just make the same amount of money”. LOL – a good comrad I’d have made. For a long time I found it difficult to fathom that most Libertarians were former Repblican voters. It just didn’t make sense (since they were so obviously evil)

  32. Question to all:
    It seems we all agree government does not work. But is that the reason we oppose it? If there was some government project that worked (say: space exploration…[no! just kidding]) would we favor it ?
    I would still oppose it. It reduces our freedom, it causes taxtation. I oppose government on principle, except when indispensable (defence).

  33. Well, I went from libertarian to the “far left” (whatever that means). Given the author’s background, his emphasis on policy, he seems to be something of a populist-utilitarian libertarian, a far cry from the so-called “natural rights” BSers seen here and elsewhere on the web. If it is an empirical libertarianism, then the author should be receptive to moderate (not even “far left”) critiques of market excess — externalities, public goods, and so on, and the criticial issues (global warming/environment, healthcare, education).

    I became a person of the “Far Left” for the simple reason that I took notions of personal liberty seriously, not merely as a punchline. The notion that an individual’s life ought to be determined largely by personal choices rather than arbitrary and uncontrollable circumstances, contra the “negative” rights nonsense. Meaning people, particularly children, ARE entitled to resources via “your” tax dollars to education, healthcare, a clean environment. Yes, too often government bureaucracies futz things up, and allocate inefficiently, which, on aggregate, is a form of statistical murder. But everyone admits that these days. If too many communists believed in a god called government, then far too many libertarians believe in a god called the Free Market.

  34. I agree with everything that Herrick said.

  35. Headache time.

    The notion that an individual’s life ought to be determined largely by personal choices rather than arbitrary and uncontrollable circumstances, contra the “negative” rights nonsense.

    Right. And “arbitrary and uncontrollable” is a much better definition of government than it is of the free market. BTW, why is the right to spend money you’ve worked for “negative” as opposed to the right to force others to pay for your education?

    Meaning people, particularly children, ARE entitled to resources via “your” tax dollars to education, healthcare, a clean environment.

    The government takes my earnings before I even see them, designs a one-size-fits-all educational program, forces schools to run according to that program, and requires children to attend by threatening to arrest their parents. Where in this process do you find “personal choices?”

    Yes, too often government bureaucracies futz things up, and allocate inefficiently, which, on aggregate, is a form of statistical murder. But everyone admits that these days.

    “Everyone” admits that government too often futzes things up. How is the answer more government?

    If too many communists believed in a god called government, then far too many libertarians believe in a god called the Free Market.

    Not just libertarians. How many legislators and representatives send their own children to private schools to keep them out of the public education system they mandate for us?

  36. I dabbled in the far left and the far right (though not at the same time) when I was a teenager. It had nothing to do with a lack of humility. Each largely had to do with “inherited” cultural biases, a faith in “conventional wisdom economics”, a tendency to project my own personal intractable problems onto the rest of the world, and a desire to solve somebody’s problems without having to address my own.

    I find that the most avid of the far left and of the far right have some form of misanthropy, bred of dissatisfaction with themselves. I only had to get close to a few hyper-self-assured far-left or far-right ideologues to gain some confidence that most if not all of them are remarkably, though privately, extremely self-abusive and self-hating. This isn’t intended to be ad hominem. How they treat themselves has no bearing on the validity of their views.

    It seems that those on the far-left or far-right trust “people”, but they don’t trust “mankind”. They learn to like most of the people that they get to know, even though they might disagree with them, but consider “all those other people” to be completely untrustworthy and probably villainous and dangerous. That means that they either need to be controlled in how they use their property or how they live their lives, or sometimes both.

  37. “I oppose government on principle, except when indispensable (defence).”

    Jacob,
    Government doesn’t work when it comes to defense either. It’s always going on offense, as we notice by numerous nearby threads.

    Be an anarchist. Be happy.

  38. 2. Libertarians know something that Far Leftists do not.

    They know that ExxonMobil won’t pay you money to write Far Left opinion pieces on astroturf websites.

  39. Re: Larry

    Headache time, indeed.
    Headache time.

    [i]Right. And “arbitrary and uncontrollable” is a much better definition of government than it is of the free market. BTW, why is the right to spend money you’ve worked for “negative” as opposed to the right to force others to pay for your education?[/i]

    Well, this is rather hilarious. I am referring to “negative” liberty a la Isaiah Berlin, not “negative” as in “bad.” I am merely offering the observation that in the modern world, the US in the 21st century, a basic education is essential to autonomous living. A person born into impoverished circumstances, through no choice of her own, should not be resigned to fate determined largely by pre-existing conditions.

    [i]The government takes my earnings before I even see them, designs a one-size-fits-all educational program, forces schools to run according to that program, and requires children to attend by threatening to arrest their parents. Where in this process do you find “personal choices?”[/i]

    You’re missing the basic philosophical point. There are many different ways to publicly finance an education system (see John Stossel’s relatively recent piece). The difference harkens back to what Jacob said earlier: he disapproves of govt. regardless of efficiency. I doubt the author of the piece linked in the parent post is such an ideologue.

    [i]”Everyone” admits that government too often futzes things up. How is the answer more government?[/i]

    It’s not question of “more” versus “less” per se. We could spend gobs of “YOUR” tax dollars expanding the military, which is considered by many libertarians to be a “legitimate” function of government. Perhaps I don’t want government involved in certain areas: drugs, prostitution, euthanasia, while I do want it involved elsewhere: public parks, healthcare, education. Your binary code cannot even account for these simple distinctions.

  40. Paul,
    You don’t think that a far leftist and libertarian would agree that the government should stay out of a lot of personal decisions and social issues? When you said that it is “false” that these two groups have much in common, you were, as usual, completely wrong. Why do you do that to yourself? Does it hurt to be so asinine all the time, or does one get used to it? I’m just curious how the habitually incorrect get by.

  41. “A person born into impoverished circumstances, through no choice of her own, should not be resigned to fate determined largely by pre-existing conditions.”

    Sure, so the last thing we should do is send them to the incompetent prison school system, where the law of the jungle is in full operation. If you do a little research you will see that the very population the government school system is supposed to help is the one it is failing the most – the impoverished and certain select minorities.

    Before compulsory education came to America, the school system was gradually getting better, incrementally increasing literacy rates. Now, with government schools, those rates are stalling or going backwards, especially among the populations the school system was set up to help.

    The problems with far left thinking is that it’s a ‘think inside the box’ approach to all problems, putting faith in things that have failed before, that are based on coercion, and offer little hope for improvement in the future. They offer one size fits all solutions that are designed to fail. Enemies of the future you might say.

  42. “Before compulsory education came to America, the school system was gradually getting better, incrementally increasing literacy rates. Now, with government schools, those rates are stalling or going backwards, especially among the populations the school system was set up to help.”
    The first compulsory education law was passed in 1642, so it looks like you’re comparing our society from a few centuries ago, when barely anybody could read, with now, when most people can read. The standards of education, whether compulsory or not, are clearly different, and to suggest they are the same is an overstatement.

    “The problems with far left thinking is that it’s a ‘think inside the box’ approach to all problems, putting faith in things that have failed before, that are based on coercion, and offer little hope for improvement in the future. They offer one size fits all solutions that are designed to fail. Enemies of the future you might say.”
    You are aware that this applies to most “far right” thinking as well? Of course you are!! We all are. You just don’t have the cojones to undercut your crappy argument. Well, I guess equating your argument to crap is insulting to crap, so I take it back.

  43. In resonse to Cain’s challenge, is it worth mentioning that many libertarians do not believe that children should possess only rights to liberty?

    That is, many of us do support, for chilren, a general positive right, including a right to an education. This right should remain an individual right, though, not obliging everyone to support the children of others. So parents should be obliged to feed, house, and educate their children. The expectation that parents may not merely foist onto society a generation of illiterate hooligans need not become an excuse for socialized education or even a permanent voucher plan.

    Herbert Spencer almost made this clear. The rationale for freedom depends on the ability of adults to adjust to changing conditions in a cooperative society. Children, however, require help in learning to do this complex balancing act. So their rights are not primarily rights to liberty, but rights to sustenance and education at the expense of parents, or perhaps whoever takes up guardianship of the children. This distinct rights set allows them time to learn to become responsible adults.

    This position is not that uncommon amongst libertarians, though few libertarians seem eager to talk about it (Loren Lomasky and a few others excepted).

    I consider it a rather centrist position.

    But then, I was never a far leftist or a far rightist; I started out as nominally center-liberal, but was individualist enough to think my way out of the nonsense of mainstream politics.

    As for humility? Well, I’m humble enough to realize that my talents are limited, having to leave to others the bulk of work maintaining civilization. (I’m not one you’d hire to do policework, keep the accounts of a business or nonprofit, or attend to the needs of your autistic children.)

    But when it comes to thinking, espcially about normative matters, I’m probably proud and independent enough not to qualify as humble. I refuse to grant to those who engage in bluff and bluster (which, alas, accounts for the bulk of the political world) the respect I reserve to those who argue responsibly and act virtuously.

  44. TWV

    You do a service to those that claim to be libertarian with clear thinking and language. Would that all could follow your model.

    Given your model of the rights of children, how do you deal with those that are not children, but unable to provide for themselves (due to handicap, mental illness, lack of skill, injury, whatever)? At what point does the group have an obligation to its members?

    I have also been thinking of where libertarianism runs up against challenges in logic. Not that I am convinced yet, but I think the geolibertarian theories are more internally coherent than strict libertarianism. There is an inherent conflict between property rights and individual rights that I think is glossed over too frequently. The geolibertarians, at least, confront it head on.

    Just rambling.

    The more I think about the essay from which this thread springs, the more I think his attribution fallacy is inherent in youthful thinking, and has nothing to do with either philosophy. He sees it as a symptom of far-left thinking because he was younger when he thought that way. I certainly see much of the attribution fallacy on the H&R thread in the form of “statist just want__________)”

  45. Paul,

    “2. Libertarians know something that Far Leftists do not.

    Truer than true. We paid attention during math class.”

    Understanding takes more than simply paying attention.

    My favorite lefty who forgot to pay attention during math class…
    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1969/gell-mann-bio.html

  46. Lamar,
    That’s the 1840’s if we’re talking about the society as a whole after the founding of the U.S. Republic – not the early European settlers, the crazed puritanical groups. Those were early theocracies.

    What I am talking about is basic literacy and basic academic skills in general. Those skills were gradually improving, after the establishment of the new U.S. government, and gradually more and more children were going to school, literacy was improving, as the industrial era advanced in the late 19th century. What evidence is there that those skills would go into decline or that fewer people would be able to send their children to school if we didn’t institute government compulsory education?

    If the purpose of government education is to help the sectors of society that need basic education the most, clearly it’s failing. Of course, it would be reductionist to blame these failing results on government schooling alone – there are other cultural factors and factors where culture was influenced by other government actions, i.e. Jim Crow.

    The original article was not about ‘far right thinking’. For that reason, and the reason that I am not clear what the far right is – people define it differently – I didn’t include it in my comment. If it’s a military dictatorship that you’re talking about where there’s little freedom available then I’d apply my comment to that as well. But some of those past military dictatorships looked suspiciously like far left types of governments.

  47. They learn to like most of the people that they get to know, even though they might disagree with them, but consider “all those other people” to be completely untrustworthy and probably villainous and dangerous.

    Most of the Far Leftists I’ve known have been wealthy and very well-educated. Yet, they very strongly identify with poor people, even though they frequently are not, and never have been, personally acquainted with any.

  48. Most of the comments I see about leftists on H&R come from very well educated people. Although they have lots to say on the topic of the people on the far left, they frequently are not, and never have been, personally acquainted with any.

    More importantly, they take the one or two personal examples they do have in their book and assume that what can be said about individual X applies to group Y, of which X is a member.

  49. Cain, you failed to answer any of my questions. Let’s try again.

    It’s not question of “more” versus “less” per se. We could spend gobs of “YOUR” tax dollars expanding the military, which is considered by many libertarians to be a “legitimate” function of government.

    Defense is a legitimate exercise of government. See the preamble of the Constitution. But I think today’s U.S. military would benefit more from shrinking its mission than expanding its budget.

    Perhaps I don’t want government involved in certain areas: drugs, prostitution, euthanasia, while I do want it involved elsewhere: public parks, healthcare, education.

    You cannot pick and choose. If you give government power it will use it. The more power you give it, the more it will use, usually in ways you can’t predict. For instance public funds for parks, healthcare, and education are all being diverted to the War on Drugs.

    • Park police patrol for drug violators, and public forests (which have no private owners) are routinely used to grow illegal crops.
    • Increasing amounts of scarce healthcare resources are being used to regulate “dangerous” drugs, for instance the new “behind the counter” status of cold medications and the prosecution of physicians who are willing to write pain management prescriptions.
    • Antidrug and alcohol messages are taking an increasing percentage of public school hours, and zero-tolerance programs with pee tests and visits by drug dogs are more and more common.

    The only way you can protect your right to do what you want to is to limit government intrusion on what other people want to do.

    Your binary code cannot even account for these simple distinctions.

    The original question was : “Everyone” admits that government too often futzes things up. How is the answer more government?

    My answer is, more government is not the answer. You want, for instance, parks. What kind? Disneyworld? A roadless wilderness? Somewhere in between? Maybe just somewhere people can hike without running into violent pot growers. Allow hunting or not? Allow off-road vehicles or not? Allow logging or not?

    Instead of giving government the job and taking your chances with the result, why not get on the internet, assemble a group of investors with a similar vision, and set up a park in accordance with your own vision.

    Can’t be done? Don’t tell Ducks Unlimited that.

  50. Larry A,
    I think we could add a few more to that list: doesn’t the Nature Conservancy own a large preserve as well? Or how about The North Maine Woods, or International Paper, or that Hawk preserve on the East Coast.

    I think it’s when government is trying to do much more than protect us from aggression (the negative rights Cain was referring to earlier) that it ends up mixing and matching the activities you mentioned.

    Mainstream Man,
    I grew up in a far left household – and by that I don’t mean a Bill Clinton, moderate democrat type of household. I’m talking about the Noam Chomsky type of leftist. My parents and their friends believed capitalism was evil to the core, that businessmen were crooks or greedy at the very least (you almost couldn’t hear the word businessman without the collocate “greedy” affixed to the front), and if we just adopted the Swedish model (or rather their understanding of the Swedish model) we’d be okay. I had this mind-set myself (though with some early doubts) up until about my third year of college when more and more it started to not all add up. But most of my friends also shared my parent’s view and the majority still do.

    The interesting thing is that I probably agree more than I disagree with them, if I just line up the issues. We agree that capital punishment is wrong, the drug war is stupid and drugs should be legalized, the Iraq war is wrong, abortion should be a woman’s decision, global warming is a real problem, etc. And I don’t rule out government intervention in the area of pollution (a form of aggression in my view) if market measures are inefficient – at least for car pollution, or for areas involving difficult to define boundaries or rights – water rights. It’s just in the broad political economic arena where we disagree. I don’t hold their reflexive view that when there’s a problem we must first and only reach for the magic wand of legislation to solve it, regardless of how efficient or inefficient such means have proven to be before.

    One last thought: any ideologies, left or right, are appealing on a gut level, especially to the young…guts, as they speak to large hopes and dreams. One problem with the more reasoned based types of libertarianism, the Milton Friedman/Sowell/Epstein branch, is that telling people that things *are* improving but only gradually or incrementally doesn’t really inspire. It hits people much more strongly in the gut to say, “Free schooling for all” (never mind it’s not free) then to say, “Hey, but slowly over time things are getting better and if we just stick with the system as it is it will continue to improve incrementally”. Such incrementalist thinking makes sense to me now, but as a young idealist I hoped for so much more. Maybe it’s not humble, teenagers rarely are, but it seems to me that’s another point; the side of human nature that strives for ideals is not going away. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – would the American Revolution or the ending of the slave trade have gotten off the ground if there weren’t less than humble ideological forces behind them? So, my view is not that ideology is wrong because it’s not humble or impractical or pie in the sky thinking – but just that it needs to also be anchored in or balanced by reasoned arguments, evidence, and a larger understanding of how things have improved or not improved historically.

  51. I came to libertarianism from the right. The right and libertarianism have something in common: we both fear government more than we fear corporations.

    at least that’s what I used to think. Now the Republicans have no consistent ideology and they are going to get routed in November.

  52. Spectral,

    I believe that we would agree on many issues. Your comments on the incremental improvement overtime is an important one, but the problem I have with it is that its advocates don’t advocate “just stick with the system as it is,” but “make changes to the system of government to fit with my ideological position.” The argument in the original article is that libertarianism is more context sensitive, but in fact, when compared to the far left, there is little difference on this parameter. Libertarian distrust of government power is exactly parallel to the far left’s distrust of corporations and is just as context free.

    I think that Herman Daly has made a fairly strong case in response to Friedman et. al, you should look into his work. It manages to be both sensitive to reality, and principled about value judgements. When you take a step back, and actually look at the problems of government power in relationship to government’s positive influence on society, then you recognize that government functions as an important top-down influence on society, which like all complex adaptive systems requires a balance between top-down and bottom up in order to function most effectively. For some services, there will be advantages to the top-down solution, for some there will be advantages to the bottom-up, for most there will need to be a combination of top-down influence to frame the activity without enough freedom for bottom-up processes to work efficiently.

  53. “without enough freedom”

    should be

    “with enough freedom” or “without too many restrictions on freedom”

  54. [i]Cain, you failed to answer any of my questions. Let’s try again.[/i]

    Oooookay *rolls eyes* I suggest you review your questions (here) and my response above:

    [i]BTW, why is the right to spend money you’ve worked for “negative” as opposed to the right to force others to pay for your education?

    Where in this process do you find “personal choices?”

    “Everyone” admits that government too often futzes things up. How is the answer more government?

    How many legislators and representatives send their own children to private schools to keep them out of the public education system they mandate for us?[/i]

    I’m pretty sure I did deliberately ignore the last “question”. All the others are more less answered.

    [i]Defense is a legitimate exercise of government. See the preamble of the Constitution.[/i]

    This is a non sequitur.

    Me:
    Perhaps I don’t want government involved in certain areas: drugs, prostitution, euthanasia, while I do want it involved elsewhere: public parks, healthcare, education.

    Larry: You cannot pick and choose. If you give government power it will use it. The more power you give it, the more it will use, usually in ways you can’t predict. For instance public funds for parks, healthcare, and education are all being diverted to the War on Drugs.

    This is simple nonsense — and indeed you contradict yourself above. You said national defense is a legitimate function of government. You clearly believe government has illegimate functions. So, you’re picking and choosing. As for how government spends money, where it gets involved, well that requires a vibrant and vigiliant democracy; citizen engagement. What I love about many libertarians is this fanciful notion that if something is written down on a piece of paper: “Government can do X, but not A, B, C, D…,” then things will be OK. “Look, it says so in the Constitution!”

    [i]The original question was : “Everyone” admits that government too often futzes things up. How is the answer more government?

    My answer is, more government is not the answer. You want, for instance, parks. What kind? Disneyworld? A roadless wilderness? Somewhere in between? Maybe just somewhere people can hike without running into violent pot growers. Allow hunting or not? Allow off-road vehicles or not? Allow logging or not?

    Instead of giving government the job and taking your chances with the result, why not get on the internet, assemble a group of investors with a similar vision, and set up a park in accordance with your own vision.[/quote]

    I didn’t really have national parks in mind when I offered that curious example (one I hardly ever cite). Rather, it was a Friday and I was going to a nearby city park. A public space accessible to people meet, play, have fun. Your suggestion encounters collective action problems. I would just as well cite libraries. Oh, but I’m sure the world will be teeming with private libraries in libertopia.

    TWV writes:

    [quote]That is, many of us do support, for chilren, a general positive right, including a right to an education. This right should remain an individual right, though, not obliging everyone to support the children of others. So parents should be obliged to feed, house, and educate their children. The expectation that parents may not merely foist onto society a generation of illiterate hooligans need not become an excuse for socialized education or even a permanent voucher plan.[/quote]

    And so what if parents cannot support their children? Or, perhaps more appropriately, what if people have children to support themselves? I thought in libertarian land the government was supposed to be neutral with respect to people’s choices? So you want to mandate that a portion of a person’s income is allotted toward education and healthcare (Western medicine, I assume) rather than working out in fields? Will the state seize funds?

    In these cases I think anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard were far more consistent. Of course, as one ventures out further into “purer” forms of libertarianism they begin to trade their sanity for internal consistentcy.

    This is apart from the geolibertarians MainstreamMan mentions; they’re a different species, in my view, and their commitment to first premises seems genuine and refreshing. See also the young H. Spencer’s views on land acquisition.

    MainstreamMan: you may want to look into self-proclaimed classical liberal Charles Murray’s plan for a universal basic income (the idea has been kicking around on the “far left” for some time).

  55. This is simple nonsense — and indeed you contradict yourself above. You said national defense is a legitimate function of government. You clearly believe government has illegimate functions. So, you’re picking and choosing.

    I am picking functions that enhance my individual rights, as protecting those rights is the only legitimate function of government.

    As for how government spends money, where it gets involved, well that requires a vibrant and vigiliant democracy; citizen engagement.

    Actually this is more often the problem than the solution. It is much easier to get elected officials to do something than it is to restrain them. Doing something increases their power and excuses higher taxes. You choose to give the government the authority to take your money to build parks, set up an educational system, and provide health care. The guy down the street chooses to give government the power to regulate drugs, prostitution, and euthanasia. Government will eagerly proclaim, “We can do both.”

    What I love about many libertarians is this fanciful notion that if something is written down on a piece of paper: “Government can do X, but not A, B, C, D…,” then things will be OK. “Look, it says so in the Constitution!”

    The Constitution is our contract with the federal government, and was originally set up to place limits on what that government can legitimately do. I said that defense is one of those things enumerated as the federal government’s responsibility. Drugs, prostitution, euthanasia, parks, education, and health care are not.

    That doesn’t mean that I believe the federal government is following the Constitution, and everything is “okay.”

    Earlier you ascribed to, “The notion that an individual’s life ought to be determined largely by personal choices rather than arbitrary and uncontrollable circumstances…”

    Again, please explain how, in our current government-run educational system, there are any personal choices available other than for parents to forfiet their tax money and pay again to place their kids in private schools. Or you can explain how, in Canada’s current government-run health care system, there are any personal choices available other than for sick people to forfiet their tax money and cross the border into the U.S. to pay again to receive care in private hospitals.

    I’ll see your “libertarians fanciful notions about the Constitution” and raise you with “liberals fanciful notions that government can efficiently provide services.”

  56. “I’ll see your “libertarians fanciful notions about the Constitution” and raise you with “liberals fanciful notions that government can efficiently provide services.”

    It is important to distinguish between “can” efficiently provide services and “will” provide…
    e.g., Medicare/Medicaid is a more efficient provider of health insurance than any private insurance provider(a larger % of dollars go directly to providing healthcare, less to overhead). If you start with the assumption that government can’t, by its very nature, provide a service more efficiently, you won’t look very hard to find those cases where it does. They exist. This is why it is important to consider things in context when talking about the pragmatic aspects of policy. And why I think the original article has got it wrong that this is a feature of libertarianism.

    Cain,
    I was familiar with the COLA proposals from the left that are essentially the same thing. It is interesting how this, and the voucher system for public education, get sold from libertarians as if they were not just a simple income redistribution program.

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