Meanwhile at Cato Unbound…

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Harold Meyerson's reply to Markos Moulitsas' essay making "The Case for the Libertarian Democrat" has been posted at Cato Unbound. A snippet:

The Democrats' embrace of individual liberties in many spheres is actually an old story. But the new growth of selective libertarianism in the Democratic ranks is hardly going to be the main source of controversy in coming party debates. More likely, that debate will pit those who think retraining is the answer to our more layoff-prone society (that's the Bob Rubin solution) against those who think that retraining needs to be supplemented by, for instance, publicly funded alternative energy programs that would generate millions of jobs (that's the solution of a number of union leaders, and one that I favor as well). The latter position is clearly more in the New Deal liberal mode, but Rubin's is hardly libertarian. Ultimately, the Democrats aren't going to proceed very far down the libertarian road, for one simple reason that's far more pragmatic than philosophic: It doesn't lead anywhere.

Whole thing here.

My response to Kos, Meyerson, and Bruce Reed will be pasted at Cato Unbound tomorrow.

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  1. Even when the Dems act libertarian they still want a law of some kind to enforce the vision de jour.

    Like the Protect Choice ad running next to this comment box from Planned Parenthood. Yes, we Dems and lefties are passionately pro-choice. And PP will take your tax dollars as well. Thankee very much.

    What? Of course we’re not going to let your 15 year old daughter drive a car, buy booze, sign for her own appendectomy, give blood, buy a gun, have sex with anyone over 18, or CHOOSE her own public school education. She just doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to make those weighty decisions, except, of course shopping at Abortions Are Us without Ma knowing about it.

    That is typical of every posed libertarian position affected by poeple like Kos, the Dems, and both the new and old left.

  2. Well, hell, I’d just take TWC’s post and use that as your rebuttal. Short, sweet, and spot-on.

  3. To argue, as a classic libertarian might, that a consumer is as free to switch banks as a bank is to sell its data neglects to note that a bank that doesn?t sell its data is at a competitive disadvantage with one that does

    This hardly seems self-evident. With the right galvanizing, informative advertisement, I can imagine a bank whipping up consumer wrath against its information-dealing competitors to the extent that the potential loss of customers was no longer worth the additional revenue from selling information. It’s all a matter of how important the issue is to consumers.

  4. To argue, as a classic libertarian might, that a consumer is as free to switch banks as a bank is to sell its data neglects to note that a bank that doesn?t sell its data is at a competitive disadvantage with one that does.

    This hardly seems self-evident to me. If it mattered a lot to consumers not to have their information shared, a bank that didn’t do so could make that a selling point. Provided consumers are properly informed, there is no reason they cannot “force” the market to the same extent that Moulitasas believes the market “forces” them.

  5. TWC,

    I’m not sure I understand. In order to claim the Libertarian mantle, does one need to espouse allowing 15-year-olds to do all those things?

  6. If the government offered retraining for people who have been laid off it wouldn’t be that big of a sin against libertarianism. It’s hardly a rejection of free markets.

  7. I think many who claim to be libertarian advocate a laissez faire model of the market. But when I look at the more refined libertarian programs, it seems that they recognize an important role for government in providing a stable market friendly social framework for markets to operate within. The role of government in terms of the economy is both limited and essential, but not laissez faire.

    From this stand point, Libertarian Democrat is not at all a contradiction. If Democrats focus on limiting the distortions of the economy that can result from too much corporate power, and Libertarians focus on limiting the distortion of the economy that can result from too much government power, they share a concern for providing a fair and positive environment for market activity free of coercive power plays by monopoly or near monopoly players.

    Libertarians and democrats also share a distrust of government intrusion in their private lives. The difference seems primarily about how private lives are defined. Democrats seems to define private life as non-economic activities and non-economic interactions between people, and public life as inclusive of economic activity and activity that encroaches on others private space. Government has a role, in this model, in mitigating the potential harms of public activity, but not in private life (therefore Dems can advocate to require a business to follow certain minimal safety practices, an indoor smoking ban for instance, because this is not control of private activity, but Dems would be reluctant to prohibit private activities like particular sexual or expressive practices and drug use).

    Libertarians define private activity as inclusive of economic activity, and therefore are suspicious of the role of government in regulation of economic activity (limiting its role to protection against fraud, theft, etc…). The disagreements between Democrats and libertarians seem to center on this different view of what constitutes private versus public activity.

    Both agree that government has no role in regulating private activities, but they disagree on what constitutes private activity.

    This, of course, is schematic on many of the important parameters. But I can see many who would be willing to hold that limited government is a guiding principle of their politics, but also holding the more democratic view of where those limits apply.

  8. MainstreamMan: Corporations hold precisely ZERO power over me in a laissez-faire system. They only hold power over me in the current system BECAUSE they manipulate government power. The problem is the government, not the corporations. In any case, Big Labor is by far the biggest donor to politicians (guess which party). Shouldn’t we be worried more about the undue power of the Trial Lawyer’s Association or the UAW than the mythical “Big Oil”?

    In close elections, I will vote against whichever major party threatens more of my freedom. While I loathe many things about Republicans, the threats posed to my freedom by them are relatively small compared to the ones Democrat’s have successfully taken from me, such as the right to control my health care, retirement, and education, for starters.

    And Democrats do not want to interfere with private lives? How about controlling what I eat? They are already far more successful at this than any Republican would ever be at controlling who I sleep with – and they are calling for far more!

  9. There are no non-economic activities. Even say going to Church has an economic aspect to it.

  10. “but Dems would be reluctant to prohibit private activities like particular sexual or expressive practices and drug use)”

    Which Dem’s would those be?

  11. If the government offered retraining for people who have been laid off it wouldn’t be that big of a sin against libertarianism. It’s hardly a rejection of free markets.

    But it’s a rejection of freedom for individuals to decide for themselves whether or not to fund such retraining for others.

  12. Brian 24,

    In order to claim the Libertarian mantle, does one need to espouse allowing 15-year-olds to do all those things

    Not necessarily, although many libertarians, myself included, believe that our teens are generally pretty coddled. My more precise point is that the false premise of choice exemplifies many positions of so-called libertarian leaning Dems and lefties. Another example I alluded to is that PP takes tax money. Libertarians don’t take money that was coerced via taxes to promote any position, no matter how valid.

    Maybe I should back up, Prop 85 would make it illegal for a minor get an abortion without parental consent or court order. It doesn’t mean she can’t have an abortion just that somebody of legal competence has to know about it and sign off. That can be a judge or a parent or a guardian.

    The opposition has framed the defeat of Prop 85 as a blow for choice.

    My point is simple. Our culture and law has decreed that a 15 year old girl is not competent to decide to have sex with a 25 year old (among other things). But if she does have sex, and gets pregnant, she is deemed to have suddenly acquired the competence to choose an abortion.

    If she cannot even legally choose to get a nose job without parental consent why is it okay for her to choose to get an abortion?

    Good lord, that 15 year old isn’t even allowed to get a job at McDonalds without her high school’s permission. But shit howdy, an abortion? Well, we’re Pro-Choice and we can’t interefere with a woman’s right to choose even if she’s just a high school girl.

  13. If the government offered retraining for people who have been laid off it wouldn’t be that big of a sin against libertarianism. It’s hardly a rejection of free markets.

    But it would be/is.

    How does “the government” determine what kind of training to offer?
    Would there not be a tendency for TG to offer training that is most beneficial to large corporations?

    And how does government come up with the moola to provide training?
    By extorting it from the very people it is claiming to help

  14. Which Dem’s would those be?

    Shh! MainstreamMan wants to pretend there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans are for smaller government and Democrats are against the drug war! See? The parties couldn’t be more different!

  15. But it’s a rejection of freedom for individuals to decide for themselves whether or not to fund such retraining for others.

    Yup, it would be imperfect.

  16. And how does government come up with the moola to provide training? By extorting it from the very people it is claiming to help

    By taxation. Yup, a close cousing of theft, if not theft itself. Again, an imperfect solution, but the well-established way of paying for government stuff.

  17. There are no non-economic activities. Even say going to Church has an economic aspect to it.

    A point worth making.

    “To most non-economists, economics has something to do with money… Economists have different and broader ideas of what their field is; my own favorite definition is that economics is that approach to understanding human behavior which starts from the assumption that individuals have objectives and tend to choose the correct way to achieve them. From this standpoint, the potential subject matter is all of human behavior (some of my colleagues would include animal behavior as well)…” — David D. Friedman

  18. jf, thanks.

    I can’t remember where but at one time there was a list of Anti-Choice organizations.

    The Libertarian Party was on it. Guess why?

    Opposition to tax funded abortions.

  19. There are no non-economic activities. Even say going to Church has an economic aspect to it.

    Ah, spoken like a true Chicagoan. Not even Marx imagined people so economically-driven.

  20. So Meyerson (and presumably all other liberals and/or social democrats) central insight is that “freedoms conflict”.

    That is the critical flaw in his whole thesis: remove that card and the whole house comes tumbling down.

  21. Chad, Phileleutherus Lipsiensis

    I do believe you make my point for me.

    “Corporations hold precisely ZERO power over me in a laissez-faire system.”

    A corporation has power over you to the degree that they control the production and distribution of a product that you need… If they manage to achieve monopoly or near-monopoly status in the market, they have disproportionate power over you. Hayek, as I understand him, would say that government plays a role in minimizing this (and other) kind(s) of market risk by providing a framework for market activity.

    Gimme Back My Dog

    I was discussing difference between Libertarians and Democrats. The differences are much thinner between Democrats and Republicans. That’s one of the reasons I don’t see why libertarians would think Libertarian Democrat is any more silly than Libertarian Republican.

    A difference in defintions regarding the nature of activities leads to a different world view and conflict when the rubber meets the road with the libertarian/Dem split. The difference in world view between democrats and republicans has to do with which things they think the government should do (both see government as the mechanism to solve problems). Republicans think government should stay out of your place of business (or more accurately be active to support business interests) and get busy protecting you from your neighbor’s strange moral practices. Democrats think they should stay out of your private life and protect you from the business that is trying to hoodwink you. Both think you need government to protect you (and the children) from the world. The degree to which you think they are right positions you in relation to the anarchists (for more on that talk to Ruthless).

    Chad, again.

    I don’t think Democrats support any restrictions on what you eat, but they do support restrictions on economic activity related to food production and distribution (once you agree on a government role to make sure you don’t have poison in your food, then you are just arguing over the definition of poison). This is exactly the difference in world view I was trying to point out.

    “They are already far more successful at this than any Republican would ever be at controlling who I sleep with – and they are calling for far more!”

    OK. If that’s the way you see it. Republicans are the party that protects your freedom. I think that takes a bit of sugar to swallow (no corn syrup please), but there ya go.

    I said in my post that I was using schematic generalizations. All political parties are less well defined, with fuzzier goals and interests than this discussion would indicate. All political parties (including the LP) exist for the purpose of increasing the power of the constituents in terms of their influence on government. This primary objective distorts their ideals incrementally over time.

    Phileleutherus Lipsiensis
    “There are no non-economic activities. Even say going to Church has an economic aspect to it.”

    We were discussing the difference in world views. You demonstrate what I am talking about. Stevo’s quote is great. I would say that Herman Daly provides the best response to this position.

    http://www.environmentalreview.org/vol02/daly.html

    juris Imprudent
    You nailed it. This is the reason so many Libertarians and Communists get along so poorly. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

  22. A corporation has power over you to the degree that they control the production and distribution of a product that you need… If they manage to achieve monopoly or near-monopoly status in the market

    Care to cite an example of the former, or are you speaking purely theoretically? As for the latter, nearly all monopolies are sustained (if not created from the outset) by govt. Govt is a very useful tool for establishing barriers to entry to a market.

    I don’t think Democrats support any restrictions on what you eat

    Good lord, when did Republicans take control of the city govts of Chicago and New York?

    but they do support restrictions on economic activity related to food production and distribution (once you agree on a government role to make sure you don’t have poison in your food, then you are just arguing over the definition of poison).

    See Wickard v. Filburn, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that growing your own wheat to eat can be regulated under the interstate commerce clause. One man’s poison indeed!

  23. Democrats think they should stay out of your private life

    Oh, for realz? Jeez, post that list of prominent Democrats who:

    1) Are actively opposed to the Drug War
    2) Oppose BCRA
    3) Haven’t actively been involved in my private transactions with cigarette companies
    4) Actively campaigned to get government out of the business of private marriages.

    Yeah. I didn’t think so. Take your false Democrat promises elsewhere; they are as empty as the Republicans’.

  24. the best part of nicks comments (and they are great comments) is that he inserted 11 links to reason.com…gotta love that. 🙂

  25. juris imprudent,

    I didn’t claim that they were wholely economic in nature, did I? I simply stated that there are no non-economic human activities. Indeed, given the nature of human interaction I can’t see how this is remotely controversial.

    MainStreamMan,

    Hayek, as I understand him, would say that government plays a role in minimizing this (and other) kind(s) of market risk by providing a framework for market activity.

    I will note at this point that nearly all 19th century American monopolies were garnered by state intervention; often in the form of lawsuits brought before friendly judges. So much for government “protection.”

    I don’t think Democrats support any restrictions on what you eat…

    Perhaps you haven’t heard of “junk food tax” proposals? That would of course be an indirect restriction.

    Arguing that one thing is economic and another is not is based on artificial, fluid, groundless distinctions at best that will in no way hold back government intervention. This is more than demonstrated throughout the 20th century in the U.S. in the growth of state government intervention.

  26. Anyway, for a libertarian, voting is in general a useless exercise IMHO. That is if you are concerned with electoral success.

  27. Come on, guys. Due to the nature of politics you’re not going to always be able to vote for your soul mate. For us, the Republicans are the lesser of two evils. We can work within the system and try to move the more conservative party closer to us or we can sit and pout.

  28. MainStreamMan,

    A corporation has power over you to the degree that they control the production and distribution of a product that you need…

    For the sake of argument, I’ll accept this as an accurate observation. Is your solution to give that power to the government instead? After all, the past two hundred years has demonstrated that governments dominate corporations and not vice versa.

  29. I simply stated that there are no non-economic human activities.

    It is the hubris of the profession, carried to Olympian heights by the Chicagoans, that all human activity is amenable to [micro-]economic deconstruction. Carlyle wasn’t very bright but he nailed that one.

  30. If Democrats focus on limiting the distortions of the economy that can result from too much corporate power, and Libertarians focus on limiting the distortion of the economy that can result from too much government power, they share a concern for providing a fair and positive environment for market activity….

    Can anybody tell me when the Democrats started giving a shit about any market activity that wasn’t government sponsored? It must have zipped right past me.

    HillaryCare is a Democrat’s idea of providing a fair and positive environment for market activity.

    Oh, I know — they give a shit when it’s time to bring in the taxes to pay for things like HillaryCare. Then, they have to hope that people like Walmart are doing well.

    Geez, how could I have misunderstood the Democrats all these years?

    Why are we talking about alliances here? An alliance — with the Church of America Republicans, or the People’s Republic of America Democrats.

    The very idea of an alliance is enough to make me become and anarchist. [and yes I’m a perfect example of the libertarian problem — we don’t want to make deals, we want our liberty]

  31. To hell with anarchy, what we need is a good old fashioned war of conquest. We’ll force them to be free, dammit.

    You know, a benevolent libertarian dictator could make for an interesting character in a novel. He wears a Hillary wig and panty hose just long enough to get elected, then he comes screaming right out of the closet. Takes over everything, declares himself emporer, and promptly lays off 3/4 of the federal government.

  32. This whole Kos, Meyerson etc. discussion makes me think of being solicited by a used car dealer. “What do I have to do to get you behind the wheel of this beautiful 1973 Chevrolet?”

    They don’t want our ideas, they want our votes.

  33. So it’s down to economic freedom that will never be delivered by the GOP vs personal freedom that will never be delivered by Democrats. I have to laugh at every person who says in defense of the GOP that the Democrats aren’t really committed to personal freedoms. A few understand that both parties are very far away from their philosophical foundations, and I have yet to see a critical analysis of the Democratic base like you see of the GOP base. Isn’t there a big difference between noblesse oblige democrats like fat Teddy and southern democrats like former Senator Bob Graham?

    It’s all so confusing! That’s why Iraq is the #1 issue.

  34. juris imprudent,

    All human behavior is amenable to some sort of economic analysis (in part because economic exchange is one of the central features of the human condition – something which has been remarked on since the pre-Socratics); that doesn’t mean that such creates a complete picture of human activity. We need sociology, anthropology, theology, etc. to get us closer to that goal.

  35. juris imprudent,

    Or to put it more bluntly, consider the relationship (and tension) between the oikos and the polis in 4th or 5th century Greece.

  36. juris imprudent,

    Or to put it more bluntly, consider the relationship (and tension) between the oikos and the polis in 4th or 5th century Greece.

  37. Read Nick’s piece at Cato, which pretty much sums it up nicely.

  38. They don’t want our ideas, they want our votes.

    But Kos isn’t running for anything.

    Is it not possible that Kos sees some merit in libertarian thinking and is honestly trying to reconcile new ideas with his current world view?

    You know, we libertarians could use some allies.

  39. Yes, hear hear for Nick’s piece. “Couples porn”–that’s hilarious!

    BTW, there were a couple of female porn directors some years back who actually released some videos along these lines. Don’t remember all the details and I didn’t see any of them, but it was supposedly all about soft-focus camera work, fewer closeups, and no money shot.

  40. But Kos isn’t running for anything.

    No, but he seems quite open about wanting to be a power player in the Democratic Party. I read him as partisan first, ideological second.

    Is it not possible that Kos sees some merit in libertarian thinking and is honestly trying to reconcile new ideas with his current world view?

    Anything’s possible, but that’s not how I read his piece. Seemed a lot like a sales job, to me. It’s no big secret that libertarians overlap ideologically to some degree with both parties. But I think it’s a stretch to say that the Dems have become markedly more libertarian in recent years. What’s changed is that the GOP has become markedly less libertarian since the 1995 budget battle.

    You know, we libertarians could use some allies.

    So what do think we would get politically in return for voting for Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton that we don’t get by voting for Denny Hastert or John McCain? I see no advantage in sucking up to either major party if it means abandoning our principles. In any event, unless and until there are enough libertarian votes to make a difference in a national election, this is all academic. We have no leverage, regardless of whether we try to infiltrate one of the majors or use the LP as a wedge party.

  41. But Kos isn’t running for anything.

    No, but he seems quite open about wanting to be a power player in the Democratic Party. I read him as partisan first, ideological second.

    Is it not possible that Kos sees some merit in libertarian thinking and is honestly trying to reconcile new ideas with his current world view?

    Anything’s possible, but that’s not how I read his piece. Seemed a lot like a sales job, to me. It’s no big secret that libertarians overlap ideologically to some degree with both parties. But I think it’s a stretch to say that the Dems have become markedly more libertarian in recent years. What’s changed is that the GOP has become markedly less libertarian since the 1995 budget battle.

    You know, we libertarians could use some allies.

    So what do think we would get politically in return for voting for Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton that we don’t get by voting for Denny Hastert or John McCain? I see no advantage in sucking up to either major party if it means abandoning our principles. In any event, unless and until there are enough libertarian votes to make a difference in a national election, this is all academic. We have no leverage, regardless of whether we try to infiltrate one of the majors or use the LP as a wedge party.

  42. But Kos isn’t running for anything.

    No, but he seems quite open about wanting to be a power player in the Democratic Party. I read him as partisan first, ideological second.

    Is it not possible that Kos sees some merit in libertarian thinking and is honestly trying to reconcile new ideas with his current world view?

    Anything’s possible, but that’s not how I read his piece. Seemed a lot like a sales job, to me. It’s no big secret that libertarians overlap ideologically to some degree with both parties. But I think it’s a stretch to say that the Dems have become markedly more libertarian in recent years. What’s changed is that the GOP has become markedly less libertarian since the 1995 budget battle.

    You know, we libertarians could use some allies.

    So what do think we would get politically in return for voting for Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton that we don’t get by voting for Denny Hastert or John McCain? I see no advantage in sucking up to either major party if it means abandoning our principles. In any event, unless and until there are enough libertarian votes to make a difference in a national election, this is all academic. We have no leverage, regardless of whether we try to infiltrate one of the majors or use the LP as a wedge party.

  43. Update the fucking servers, for God’s sake. You invite the public to comment here, the public responds in good faith, then you turn around and allow these good-faith commenters to look silly when their posts display multiple times. It’s gotten ridiculous.

  44. “a consumer?s freedom to find a product at a fair price” – Meyerson

    “If we cannnot be free, at least we can be cheap.” – Frank Zappa

  45. If you can’t find any ‘couples porn’ I suggest you watch more porn 🙂

    Did anyone else get the impression that Nick Gillespie missed the point of Kos’ essay?

    Did he have an essay per week quote to fill and ended up with this?

  46. So what do think we would get politically in return for voting for Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton that we don’t get by voting for Denny Hastert or John McCain?

    Yikes! I wasn’t thinking of any of those people, or politicians at all, when I said that libertarians need allies. I had in mind building bridges between everyday people who are libertarian and their fellow everyday people who are partially libertarian.

    But, you may be right. Maybe Kos is more partisan politician than blogger interested in political ideas in general. I don’t know that much about him.

    [Attempts to post this comment # 3]

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