Philosophy

Morally Vacuous and Poisonously Dogmatic?

Don't blame libertarianism for Republican failures

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Last week, The Weekly Standard ran an article by academics Benjamin and Jena Silber Storey praising the rise of Sen. John McCain in the Republican presidential primaries.

The Weekly Standard has long been a McCain supporter, going back to the 2000 election. The magazine adores McCain's rugged, Theodore Roosevelt philosophy of governance, one that emphasizes American might, exalts public service, and believes that so long as the right people are governing, government can be a transformative, transcendent, almost mystical force for good in the world.

The Weekly Standard began in the mid-1990s, on the heels of the dramatic GOP takeover of Congress. What's odd is that the 1994 takeover was driven in large part by the libertarian wing of the party, and was animated by libertarian ideas. The "Contract With America" did include some nods to the Christian right, but it was mostly a call for a transparent, accountable, dramatically limited government.

But almost immediately thereafter, The Weekly Standard rose to high prominence in the Republican Party, and began nudging the GOP away from its libertarian influences toward a broader, more collectivist vision—what neoconservative leaders William Kristol and David Brooks would come to call "National Greatness." A cynic might call it socialism for conservatives.

The Storey article, then, not only exalts John McCain, but takes some ugly swipes at libertarianism—though they tend to be as uninformed as they are ad hominem. I should note, here, that the article attacks reason magazine, where I'm a senior editor.

Here's part of the offending passage:

The moral vacuity of dogmatic libertarianism is poisonous to public life. By teaching that 'greed is good,' strict free-market ideology holds out the promise that private vices can be public virtues. Recent congressional history has laid bare the fallacy of this argument. Republicans who proclaimed from the stump that greed was good turned out to believe it when they got into office, amassing earmarks and bridges to nowhere by means of their newfound powers. Why should we be surprised? To expect them to do otherwise would be to expect that men sometimes risk their self-interest for the sake of the public good, which our economist friends tell us is impossible. Conservatives who forget that the free market is properly a piece of policy rather than an ideological end-in-itself not only obscure the importance of individual virtue, they undermine it.

reason's editor-in-chief Matt Welch already posted an excellent rebuttal to this passage. But there's a broader lesson here, too. The passage drives home just how far the Republican Party has drifted from the Reagan-Goldwater movement that swept it into power.

One problem with the Storeys' attack on libertarianism is its historical ignorance. If there have been actual Republicans who have stumped on the message that "greed is good," I sure don't remember them (the slogan, from the movie Wall Street, is also something of a caricature of libertarianism).

The GOP's lone flirtation with the principles of limited, accountable, transparent government lasted from election night 1994 until about the time newly minted GOP committee chairmen started slamming their gavels. The party has since been dominated by a White House and Congressional leadership that has stood firm on issues like flag burning, gay marriage, and abstinence-only education, while dramatically growing the federal budget, inventing new entitlements and cabinet-level agencies, and generally bloating the size, scope, and influence of the federal government.

Libertarians, these ain't.

And what about that "bridge to nowhere?"

The term refers to the pork barrel project in Alaska that came to represent the problems with the corrupt earmarking process in appropriations bills. But there's nothing remotely libertarian about the three Republicans responsible for the "bridge to nowhere."

Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski and Rep. Don Young were mainstream, big government Republicans. Earmark darling Sen. Trent Lott hasn't exactly been a libertarian standard-bearer, either. As for the party's problems with corruption, disgraced Rep. Duke Cunningham was a Christian Coalition darling. Ohio Rep. Bob "Freedom Fries" Ney was an anti-trade, America-firster. Rep. Tom Delay was a moral-right conservative who's most notable accomplishment was the disastrous prescription drug benefit, the largest new federal entitlement in 40 years.

These weren't champions of the free market and limited government meddling. They were big government conservatives.

In fact, the few actual libertarian-leaning Republicans left—Reps. Jeff Flake and Ron Paul and Sen. John Sununu, for example—have led the charge to reform the corrupt earmarking process.

The Storey article next says we shouldn't expect politicians to "risk their self-interest for the sake of the public good, which our economist friends tell us is impossible."

That's exactly right. This is the basis of public choice theory (an area of study dominated by libertarian economists), which tells us that public servants aren't altruistic, all-knowing philosopher kings who govern with wisdom and restraint. Rather, just like people in the private sector, they're more likely to act to further their own interests, not the interests of the public, or the interests of addressing the problem the agency was created to solve.

So yes, the fall of the GOP and all of the corruption, abuse of office and power, and bad governing that went with it is exactly what we would expect. It's what politicians do. Which is exactly why libertarians believe in limited government. Libertarianism acknowledges the trappings of power. Libertarians understand that people are generally selfish, and behave selfishly. The free market harnesses self-interest in ways that are productive and positive for everyone. People looking to further their own self interest in positive, productive ways generally are rewarded. People who go too far are generally punished. Consumers at least have choices, and transactions are voluntary. That isn't the case with government.

It's in the pages of The Weekly Standard that you'll find paeans to "great works" projects, odes to Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, grand schemes to remap and democratize the Middle East, and a general fetishization of politics and public service. The kind of "national greatness" envisioned by Kristol and Brooks requires a faith in the altruism and selflessness of politicians and government agents that's wholly at odds with human nature-or human history.

The moral failures of the Republican Party have nothing to do with libertarianism. They're the inevitable, entirely foreseeable failures of men given too much power and not enough accountability. Neoconservatives like those at the Weekly Standard believe in giving government more of the former and, judging by the magazine's ceaseless defenses of the Bush administration, less of the latter.

At the urging of the neoconservatives, the GOP has drifted further and further away from libertarianism since taking power in 1994. It takes considerable gall for them to now blame libertarianism for the Republicans' failures.

NEXT: Modern British Libertarian History Comes to Life...

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  1. I’ll tell you what I’m tired of. I’m tired of turning on NPR and listening to “guests” bitch about the Repblican conspiracy to shrink government into nothingness.

  2. If that was a caricature of libertarianism, than I’ve been arguing politics with an awful lot of caricatures of libertarians.

    Face it, the neocon rag has a point: for an officeholder NOT to pork up every bill and otherwise act like a pig, he DOES have to believe that something other than self-interest should guide his actions.

  3. The “Contract With America” did include some nods to the Christian right

    Very mild nods. I’m too lazy to go back and read it, but I seem to remember they were in the realm of abstinence training requirements or some such thing.

  4. Republicans have totally abandoned fiscal conservativism. It doesn’t sell well to tell voters “We’ve got to cut spending, so you’re on your own.” They all dutifully mention cutting spending, but they never mention anything specific.

  5. joe,
    Rational self-interest allows an individual to look out for his own best interests, while at the same time recognizing that he cannot do certain things that directly harm others. A businessman can be self-interested but choose, simply on moral grounds, not to have thugs (or the government) attack his competitor, so why shouldn’t elected officials act in the same manner?

  6. joe,

    Good point. Some of us would hope that the nice pay and perks could help these Congressmen remember the oath they take to the Constitution, which theoretically should trump mere self-interest.

  7. I have no idea why that last comment went out under your name, joe.

  8. I’m 41 years old, and have never known a Republican party with any significant libertarian virtues. Goldwater lost, and Reagan was by no stretch of the imagination, a libertarian.

    Given this, it’s hard to buy the idea that libert(ine)arian ideas are killing the Republican party.

  9. “Some of us would hope that..these Congressmen remember the oath they take to the Constitution”
    Suddenly joe becomes the constitutionalist. bravo.
    Maybe now he’ll recognize the right to keep and bear arms, private property rights, and the Constitutional limits of Congressional power to regulate the economy.
    Hey, it’s a start.

  10. Nice pay congressmen get? It’s decent, but considering that most of them are lawyers by trade, it’s below the pay commensurate to a talented attorney, to say nothing of a quality businessman. No wonder why they seem to be able to sell out so cheap (although, in the case of Duke Cunningham, he was able to, for a corrupt politico, bilk his backers for a heck of a lot more than the usual).

    Again, though, as Reagan said, the best minds aren’t in government, and if any were, business would surely hire them away.

  11. Madmike-

    Reagan’s quote applies very well to libertarians. Since this is an anti-government, pro-private sector ideology, the brightest libertarian people are naturally going to go into business rather than run for Congress.

  12. economist,

    There is nothing “rational” in avoiding harm to others, if you do not expect your efforts to avoid that harm to be a net benefit to you.

    Those “simple moral grounds” you mention are NOT self-interest, but the “something else” I brought up. That was my point, and Kristol’s point as well.

    Yech. Arguing Bill Kristol’s point. Don’t ever say I put partisanship above principle in these threads.

  13. economist,

    Why would a person acting purely out of self-interest care, while holding office, about restraining his pursuit of power in order to respect the Constitution?

  14. Joe, a lot of libertarians also realize that the money they are spending in Congress is, at the end of the day, taken by force. Thats why they would see it as immoral to spend it on some worthless pork barrell project.

  15. economist – that was some sort of typo. joe didn’t make that post. John-David made that post.

  16. Does anyone see any resemblance to today’s GOP in the following:
    “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permitted. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituent’s ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”

    Sen Barry Goldwater,
    The Conscience of a Conservative.

    And I still back Barry.

  17. Cesar,

    Why would somebody acting purely from reason and self-interest care if the tax dollars they are spending were taken by force?

  18. Cesar – I agree, which is why anybody assuming that the government is going to magically solve their problems has another thing coming. In reality, it’s a bunch of Type A personalities that couldn’t hack it in their business classes and end up either inept at best or insidious at worst. Explains a lot, and would lead to either two possible positive outcomes, either a technocracy or a significant limit on what the government is able to do.

    Fortunately, the American people distrust the notion of technocracy in favor of democratic self-determination… unfortunately, they’re also too trusting to accept limits on government power.

  19. Joe, because libertarians don’t believe people should act in their own self-interest in all areas of life.

    In the private sector, sure we believe it. But acting purely in your own self-interest in ones family life, for example, wouldn’t be so good.

    Same thing for the public sector.

  20. Good old Barry.

    I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom.

    At least the man was honest about there being tradeoffs.

    Did you know that racial justice, the elimination of environmental problems, an end to poverty, and universal pony distribution only require the elimination of government?

  21. That’s my point, Cesar. And Kristol’s point as well: there needs to something else.

  22. joe,

    When did the government end poverty exactly?

  23. The War on Poverty was about as successful as the War on Drugs.

  24. I think the overall rejection of libertarian ideas is what led to where we are today. The people elected were elected at a time when saying “I’ll kick government in the ass” equated to libertarianism. Obviously it wasn’t, but the sort of pandering that got guys like these elected was because they appealed to libertarian ideals. The coalition republicans formed with libertarians led to the worst kind of people being elected because that was the fashion at the time. So in a way, libertarianism contributed to the moral corruption of the republican party, in that it was ostensibly in fashion to claim agreement with at the time these bozos got into office. But of course Kristol gets it wrong because the relationship is not due to the principles of libertarianism, but the fault in the coalition for not properly vetting those it selected to rule.

  25. Face it, the neocon rag has a point: for an officeholder NOT to pork up every bill and otherwise act like a pig, he DOES have to believe that something other than self-interest should guide his actions.

    Well, that’s kind of the point of limited government. Oftentimes, office holders are going to want to resort to demagoguery to get re-elected. That’s why you limit their power to do so.

    As an aside, in his article Radley says, “Libertarians understand that people are generally selfish, and behave selfishly.” I’d say that libertarians understand that people are often selfish, and can be counted on to behave selfishly. In other words, libertarianism relies on a worst case scenario. If you set up a system that works if people behave at their worst, then the system is more robust than one that only works (or only works well) when people behave at their best. Capitalism is a classic example of this. There’s plenty of room for people behaving un-selfishly; it just makes sure that people behaving selfishly don’t break the system.

    Same thing with limited government. When the people in power are good and wise, they can do more good with more power. However, no system ever invented can make sure that the people in power are good and wise. Some can’t even make sure that the people in power can clean themselves adequately (witness Charles II of Spain). The best that you can do is make sure that when the idiots get into power (as they most assuredly will) they can’t do much damage.

    To me, big-government types are like programmers who haven’t really tested their algorithm well. When it has a thousand items to work on, it goes quickly (even quicker than that other algorithm they decided not to use), and they think that they have a good program. Then the requirements change, and the program has to deal with a million items. Or even more. Suddenly, their program is slow, and they can’t figure out why. The algorithm they dismissed as “too slow” before is now ideal, and if they’d taken the (slight) performance hit before, they wouldn’t have to deal with the (gargantuan) performance hit now.

  26. joe,

    Indeed, one could argue that some of what the government did probably exacerbated poverty and probably heightened racial injustice.

  27. Yes there needs to be something else. Like not advancing your own self-interest if it involves force or fraud. Which is what libertarians say, anyway.

  28. grylliade,

    In other words, libertarianism relies on a worst case scenario.

    This seems to rely on the lowest common denominator and many people find that problematic. It certainly runs headlong into the classical notions of how arete is supposed to be exercised in the political realm. Indeed, to in part agree with joe, libertarians also depend on a certain of “excellence” in those they wish to put into office.

  29. The War on Poverty was about as successful as the War on Drugs.

    At least the War on Drugs has just been an expensive stalemate… the War on Poverty seems to be an expensive subsidization of what the market seeks to avoid.

  30. “””Radley Balko warns The Weekly Standard against blaming Republican failures on libertarianism.””””

    Radley, they are not going to blame themselves. I hear some trying to blame the dem controlled congress for problems of the last seven years, pretending that the republicans didn’t control two of three branches of government for six of those seven years.

  31. There is nothing “rational” in avoiding harm to others, if you do not expect your efforts to avoid that harm to be a net benefit to you.

    Yes, there is. If you expect to ever deal with other people, rational self-interest dictates that you try to avoid harming them. If you get a reputation for harming others, you won’t be able to engage in the sort of mutually beneficial agreements that will benefit you the most. A person who only and ever acted in their short-term best interest would soon be an outcast (or in jail, or dead). Look up evolutionary psychology sometime. (Or maybe you already know this, and are ignoring it to make a point.)

  32. To expect them to do otherwise would be to expect that men sometimes risk their self-interest for the sake of the public good, which our economist friends tell us is impossible.

    I can risk my self-interest for the public good, but it should be my choice. If I’m forced at the point of a gun to risk my self-interest for the public good , we have an entirely different name for that philosophy.

  33. grylliade,

    That’s a nice treatise on limited government, but regardless of how much you limit a government, it will still be a government, and it will still be populated by people.

    If your political philosophy can’t give those people a reason why they should do good, however defined, rather than just pursuing their self-interest, then they will have no reason not to be self-serving politicians, or to limit their own power.

    You mention capitalism working to channel people’s selfish motives into harmless pursuits. Consider that this is not done through limiting it. There is another underlying ethic, that of providing or paying for something of value through mutual exchange.

    There has to be an underlying ethic for government, too, and it’s different from that of the capitalist world. If government officials are guided by the pursuit of their rational self-interest, that’s a big problem, unlike in the private sector. That’s why it’s called “public service” – because they are supposed to be working for the public’s good, taking care of the public’s business.

    If a President of the United States pursued his rational self-interest the way a corporate bigwig did, he’d be a monster.

  34. for an officeholder NOT to pork up every bill and otherwise act like a pig, he DOES have to believe that something other than self-interest should guide his actions.

    joe,

    you are absolutely, 100% correct. The caricature of libertarianism is that libertarians only persue their own interests at the *cost* of others.

  35. Apologies for the typo’s today:

    ahem, pursue their own interests.

    My teaching certificate is in the mail, apparently.

  36. To me, big-government types are like programmers who haven’t really tested their algorithm well.

    I would put it slightly differently. It’s like a programmer who hasn’t tested their UI well, yet keeps expanding the interface to include more and more items.

    When people click on the things they’re supposed to click on, everything works. But users aren’t like that, and some of them–many of them–click on or do things you’d never expect; things they aren’t supposed to do. And the more UI there is, the more fucked up things can happen.

    The programmer added the items to widen the interface, and make it more helpful, but what he’s ended up doing is creating more ways to break it, and in ways one would never expect.

  37. Would all of you idiots saying that “taxes are taken by force” simply please piss off and move to Somalia? If not paying taxes is the end-all and be-all of your lives, then please goddamn fuckin’ act on that and MOVE TO A LOCATION THAT DOESN’T HAVE TAXES!

    You anti-tax whiners remind me of the US auto industry whining and complaining about having to pay pensions and medical insurance costs for their workers. It was a part of the original contracts you signed with your people and it’s a standard part of running a company. If you haven’t figured that out in 30 years, no wonder you continue to lose market share.

    Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society. It’s either that or paying protection money to the local warlords. Your pick!

  38. joe just wants a big government because he’s afraid our heads are filled with the same depravity and violence that his is, and he needs the government to restrain his impulses.

  39. and Reagan was by no stretch of the imagination, a libertarian.

    Shecky,

    Reagan ran libertarian circles around the current crop.

  40. By the way, that was a joke, joe. However, I wanted to post my disclaimer in a separate post so that you’d have a second or two of rage. It’s all in good fun.

  41. I would put it slightly differently. It’s like a programmer who hasn’t tested their UI well, yet keeps expanding the interface to include more and more items.

    Episiarch, there’s a ‘best practices’ clause in the constitution which is (was) specifically designed to eliminate this feature creep.

  42. I say big government types are like the doctor who prescribes you a drug with bad side effects. But instead of taking you off the drug, he just prescribes a drug to treat the side effects of the first drug. When the third drug has bad side effects, he gives you a drug to treat the side effects of the second drug. And so on.

  43. Why would a person acting purely out of self-interest care, while holding office, about restraining his pursuit of power in order to respect the Constitution?

    I know you probably don’t want to haggle over definitions of self-interest, Joe, but I have to say this:

    Let’s say your implicit idea of self-interest in this post is valid: that it is, in fact, in the self-interest of each officeholder to act in the most corrupt, self-seeking, power-mongering mode possible.

    The reason to not do that would be pretty simple: in a situation where officeholders behaved with TRUE absence of restraint, only one man can win. The others get to be the guys in the famous video where Saddam Hussein is reading off names of the people present who are to be taken out and shot. That is the endgame of a TRUE pursuit of power with no restraint.

    So unless you want to have a 99.99% chance of being either the guy who just heard his name get read, or the guy who is thinking his name might be next, it is better for you to behave with some restraint.

    How much restraint? That would be the area of considerable disagreement.

  44. Of course a person’s ‘self-interest’ might include wishing to enforce a limited scheme of government so as to ensure what they saw as necessary for the liberty of themselves, their loved ones, etc. “Self-interest” can be framed in a number of ways in other words.

  45. All of this high-minded rhetoric on the topic of greed and rational self-interest is irrelevant. Nobody goes into politics based on an intense desire to allow people to do as they please. The individual politician may have an indiosyncratic notion of what is good for you, but you may rest assured that he has a carefully formed opinion, and a willingness to impose his vision on you.

    A man who merely wishes to enrich himself, and leave the rest of humanity to their own devices, can do better elsewhere.

  46. If your political philosophy can’t give those people a reason why they should do good, however defined, rather than just pursuing their self-interest

    Joe, for clarification’s sake, it might help if I said this:

    There is a subset of libertarians [the Randists] who believe that you should always act in your own self-interest – but who also believe that they know what your self-interest is and you may or may not.

    So that would be an example of a libertarian philosophy that tells you to act in your own self-interest, but also purports to be able to identify that self-interest in an objective way that is not subject to your expressions of preference [which is in philosophical terms not really distinguishable from telling you to “do good, however defined”].

  47. “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.”

    Only, we pay too much because of our warfare/welfare state.

  48. The problem with Republicanism is Republicans. As far as I can see, libertarian philosophy has about as much sway over the modern GOP as phrenology.

  49. PAY YOUR FUCKING TAXES AND STOP YOUR FUCKING WHINING!!! MOVE TO SOMALIA IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT!!! YOU’RE ALL A BUNCH OF STUPID IDIOTS!! STUPID!!! STOOOOOOPID!!!

  50. joe

    Why would somebody acting purely from reason and self-interest care if the tax dollars they are spending were taken by force?

    Thats an easy one. Because it is in my best interest to not allow force taking. Eventually, if force taking is allowed, I lose out. I cannot steal as much as will be stolen from me (especially including indirect effects, such as the affect on the economy if such force takings are allowed).

    I would even argue that the Americans slaughtered charging the beaches at Normandy were acting in their own self-interest. It may seem unlikely, considering the chance of death, but if they valued freedom more than life, than giving up your life to secure freedom was in your best interest. It comes down to what you value.

  51. *Reminded of Nero and the Great Fire*

    It’s not about what’s accurate. It’s about how to heard the sheep. Heard them away from the Libertarian Viewpoint. Don’t publish that we spend 1 billion to keep terrorists out of the country while spending 1 trillion in Iraq…

  52. This seems to rely on the lowest common denominator and many people find that problematic.

    Oh, I know. In many cases, an argument like the one I made will be answered with, “And if you rely on people to act badly, then they’ll act badly.” As if people need any incentive to act badly. To me, minarchism is a pragmatic philosophy. Limited government as a concept was come up with by people who had dealt with absolute monarchs, and monarchs who just wanted to be absolute. The problem, of course, is that monarchs aren’t the only ones who want absolute power. Democratically elected leaders can be just as bad (witness the last seventy years of American history). Whether or not it sounds repugnant, limited government just works better. Now we just have to get people to believe it.

    Which is, after all, the big problem: most people nowadays who believe in limited government don’t know how to sell it, and even find the concept repulsive oftentimes. We libertarians tend to look at the substance and discount the style. Well, the substance is vital, but so is the style. We’re getting there, but it’s a slow road.

    It certainly runs headlong into the classical notions of how arete is supposed to be exercised in the political realm.

    Yeah, but it didn’t work out too well for them, did it? Witness ancient Rome. When the virtuous were in power, the Republican government worked well. When those who were only self-interested got into power, the government went to shit, and Caesar (for all his flaws) swept away what was by then a corrupt and evil government. Same thing with Athens. And in both cases, the governments that were supposed to protect the people (or at least the electorate) ended up exploiting them for the benefit of those in power.

    Of course, even something like the Constitution can’t prevent the powerful from abusing their power. It only works when people pay attention to it. But it’s certainly acted as a brake on the ambitions of those in power, and given a large enough popular movement back towards limited government the damage can be contained (and even in some cases reversed). So let the ancients have their arete. I’ll take limited government over virtuous leaders any day of the week.

    Indeed, to in part agree with joe, libertarians also depend on a certain of “excellence” in those they wish to put into office.

    I’d say that it’s more that libertarians (and libertarian types) who want to go into government are better people. If you go into office expecting to enrich yourself, you’re going to make a bad leader. If you go into it expecting to “make a difference,” to do good for others, it’s too easy for that attitude to be perverted into autocracy. As Lewis said, there’s no tyrant worse than the one who will rule you for your own good, because he’s exercising power with the approval of his own conscience (loosely paraphrasing). Libertarian types tend to go into office because, well, someone needs to do it. If you don’t expect to have much power when you get into office, and you don’t expect many opportunities to enrich yourself or your buddies . . . well, then you’re doing it out of altruism, mainly. Office holders in libertopia would tend to be better simply because elected offices would tend to attract better types. More altruistic. Paradoxical, I know, but I think that’s partly why so many of the Founding Fathers were great men. They did what they did out of duty, and didn’t expect much gain for themselves out of it.

    Not to paint too rosy a picture of libertopia. But I think that would be a key advantage, often overlooked.

    Huh. There’s an essay on this I need to write, I think.

  53. herd too

  54. This seems to rely on the lowest common denominator and many people find that problematic.

    It doesn’t “rely” on the lowest common denominator, it attempts to deal with it at all levels of the system.

    Big Government types always work at some level on the assumption that the folks at the top are good and decent and agree with them on what government should be doing. That is an assumption that is falsified on a regular basis, but they make it anyway.

    Libertarians work on the assumption that state power tends to attract people who are no better than anyone else, and want a system that deals with that by limiting state power.

  55. I think the real line for libertarians* should be Excess taxes are theft. This shifts the debate from fatuous “warlord” comments and forces “realists,” grumpy or not, to defend the waste, fraud, abuse, and absurdity of modern federal, state, and city governments.

    I wouldn’t mind paying reasonable taxes to a government not concerned with growing itself, and social engineering projects.

    Also: Taxes are not charity and paying them without complaint does not make you a “good” person.

    *I am leaving out the anarcho-capitalists on purpose.

  56. As for self interest, the are a range of human motivation that qualify… from simple material desire to altruism. People may work for less in wages because of nonmaterial rewards. One may choose to teach in a private school where there is greater freedom to teach but lesser monetary compensation. What we hope is that self interest is enlightened. We hope that most people understand the long term benefits of fair dealings. We also trust that the unfettered marketplace is the most efficient and effective way of teaching people about long term interest. If we want people to learn, society must allow people to suffer the consequences of failure. What a kind-hearted fellow like Joe might think cruel, I think is far more merciful in the long run.

  57. “Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society”

    No, what taxes are supposed to be is a user fee to pay for the government services that we use – such as military protection, etc.

    The problem is that “prgoressive” taxes, coupled with so-called “entitlement” programs
    have become merely a means to redistribute wealth for political purposes.

    As for “civilized society” – our society today is not one bit more civilized that it was before the federal income tax and those entitlement programs were enacted.

  58. Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society. It’s either that or paying protection money to the local warlords. Your pick!

    You say tomato, I say tomahto . . .

    Lets not pretend there is much of a functional difference between the two.

    We have discovered, over millenia of experimentation, that paying a tithe to a relatively stable group of “protectors” who are somewhat integrated into and accountable to the community produces better long-term results than paying off whatever group of criminal thugs happens to be on top of the local heap today. Leaving aside from that utilitarian conclusion, there is no moral virtue to paying taxes.

  59. No, taxes are the price we pay for living in an uncivilized society. If it was completely civil, people would voluntarily pay for their needs and wants and not expect others to pay for them.

  60. creech,

    Nice. Straight out of common sense. Sort of.

  61. grylliade,

    Whether or not it sounds repugnant, limited government just works better.

    That may or may not be the case; however, whether it is or isn’t is I think a strikingly different issue from what motives people should govern from and how a citizenry should be expected to act in a properly functioning polity.

    And in both cases, the governments that were supposed to protect the people (or at least the electorate) ended up exploiting them for the benefit of those in power.

    For sake of argument I will grant you the above narrative; however, from a particular perspective it appears to buttress the need for virtue in a polity’s leaders and its citizenry.

    So I both agree and disagree with you.

  62. Face it, the neocon rag has a point: for an officeholder NOT to pork up every bill and otherwise act like a pig, he DOES have to believe that something other than self-interest should guide his actions.

    Only problem is that the party is imploding and got kicked out of congress for not doing what they said they would…I fail to see how that served thier self interest.

    The rag does not have a point…the repubs went the direction that Standard said they should and are getting their ass kicked cuz of it.

    Or what joe do you really think the repubs are unpopular cuz of tax cuts? I don’t think so.

  63. “No, taxes are the price we pay for living in an uncivilized society. If it was completely civil, people would voluntarily pay for their needs and wants and not expect others to pay for them.”

    By that measure, it’s getting more uncivilized all the time since the percentage of the population who pay little or no income taxes (or actually get tax “refunds” of taxes they never paid in the first place) keeps getting larger all the time.

  64. joe
    If a President of the United States pursued his rational self-interest the way a corporate bigwig did, he’d be a monster.

    Are you saying he’s not?

  65. Paul,


    Reagan ran libertarian circles around the current crop.

    Reagan ran libertarian crop circles. Better way of putting it.

  66. you are absolutely, 100% correct. The caricature of libertarianism is that libertarians only persue their own interests at the *cost* of others.

    No you got joe’s definition wrong…

    He thinks any pursuit of self interest is always at the cost of others.

  67. If a President of the United States pursued his rational self-interest the way a corporate bigwig did, he’d be a monster.

    Wait one second there….then why are not corporate bigwigs monsters?

    Could it have something to do with free markets producing moral outcomes?

    I think it just might.

  68. Last year, because of some big deductions, charitable donations and child tax credit, the federal government paid me.
    Yes, I paid net negative federal taxes.

    Considering my income and assets, that’s just insane. But hell, yes, I kept it. (They must be socially engineering me just right.)

  69. Maybe I missed something, but since when was it agreed that money the singular driving force of self-interest? Political altruists are nothing if not self-interested and driven by greed; only their reward takes on a different form.

  70. If your political philosophy can’t give those people a reason why they should do good, however defined, rather than just pursuing their self-interest, then they will have no reason not to be self-serving politicians, or to limit their own power.

    Well, as I said in my last post (and hadn’t thought of until then) it’s very possible that limited government itself creates the conditions where those who are less self-serving seek office more often. Big government draws the altruistic types, true, but it also draws the self-serving types.

    For me, at least, the altruists are worse than the greedy ones. The altruists seldom bother to ask whether I want or need their help. It’s pretty annoying to be told that someone is acting in my best interest when they’re acting contrary to my expressed wishes.

    And yes, this can (and does) apply to libertarianism as well. “You’ll have liberty whether you want it or not!” Which is why it’s better to sell libertarianism, though enforcing it is at least slightly less repugnant than many other philosophies.

    You mention capitalism working to channel people’s selfish motives into harmless pursuits.

    Productive pursuits, actually, but that doesn’t invalidate your point.

    Consider that this is not done through limiting it. There is another underlying ethic, that of providing or paying for something of value through mutual exchange.

    There has to be an underlying ethic for government, too, and it’s different from that of the capitalist world. If government officials are guided by the pursuit of their rational self-interest, that’s a big problem, unlike in the private sector. That’s why it’s called “public service” – because they are supposed to be working for the public’s good, taking care of the public’s business.

    Well, yes, and ideally they are working for the good of others. It’s a whole different set of virtues and vices for politics, more the patrician/aristocratic virtues than the bourgeois (see here for the basic idea). The market works best if merchants display the bourgeois virtues; the government works best if office holders display the patrician virtues. The point is that relying on people to be virtuous is a mistake. Set up the system so that vice doesn’t cause a collapse. This limits the good that can be done, too, but it doesn’t eliminate it. There’s still plenty of room for good people to do good in a limited government.

  71. Anyway, my final thought for today on the subject is this: a libertarian or even a quais-libertarian society would seem to require a great deal of virtue (as libertarians define the term) from all those involved in that society.

  72. IIRC, the Weekly Standard was created by a few folks who thought National Review wasn’t Washington insider-ish enough. This was supposed to be the go-to journal of the new Republican-dominated D.C. Well, I guess it did turn out to be that, for whatever it’s worth…

    It’s unrealistic to ever expect the GOP to go 100% (or probably even 50%) libertarian, but it’s also clear to me that the ‘soul’ of American conservatism is skepticism about government power. It’s our country’s founding principle. I’m pretty sure that the GOP is going to be wiped out in November and thereafter until it rediscovers this ‘soul’.

    The idiots at the WS have effectively attached their lips to the federal teat every bit as much as all of the defense contractors striding the hallways of the office buildings near the Pentagon. They are not American conservatism.

  73. It’s pretty annoying to be told that someone is acting in my best interest when they’re acting contrary to my expressed wishes.

    That’s why I created The Center for Good Things that People Want.

    With all the groups that had “public interest” in their titles, I figured I’d cut right to the chase and created my own public interest lobby.

    We’re working for you. Trust me. And what we’re working on, you want it, and it’s good.

  74. “Big government draws the altruistic types, true”

    Not really – at least not when they’re acting in their government function capacity (as opposed to their private life).

    Government is force and there is nothing altruistic about forcing anyone else to do anything for any reason. It isn’t altruistic for a Congressman to propose legislation that gives some particular group of people a handout because he won’t be the one paying for it. He is going to force other people to pay for it.

  75. We’re working for you. Trust me. And what we’re working on, you want it, and it’s good.

    Where do I send the check?

  76. Government has become a

  77. Citizen Nothing,

    I bet if you include FICA you still paid the Feds, net.

  78. Don’t tempt me, J sub.

  79. Really, isn’t this the pot calling the kettle black? The Weekly Standard and its Machiavellian worshiping goons are blaming libertarians? Yes the Weekly Standard have some fine intellects regardless of what you think about their beliefs, but just because they have some background in classical and medieval political philosophy doesn’t mean that they are any good at it. Frankly they are in denial, the supremacists that they are, because they cannot fathom the fact that just because one is taught how to fish by an expert on fishing, it doesn’t make one an excellent fisherman. Not only that, they had absolutely the best tragedy in fifty years to exploit and they still screwed it up pretty bad. They need to look in the mirror, because their “New American Century” has become an eight year smash and grab. Some philosophers.

  80. Cesar | February 6, 2008, 4:19pm | #
    I say big government types are like the doctor who prescribes you a drug with bad side effects. But instead of taking you off the drug, he just prescribes a drug to treat the side effects of the first drug. When the third drug has bad side effects, he gives you a drug to treat the side effects of the second drug. And so on.

    In all fairness, however, that first drug wriggled and jiggled and wiggled inside her.

  81. They need to look in the mirror, because their “New American Century” has become an eight year smash and grab.

    I like that, Lev.

  82. lunchstealer –

    ?I know an old lady who swallowed a spider
    That wriggled and jiggled and TICKLED inside her
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly
    But I don’t know why she swallowed the fly?

    Note the emphasis and that the spider was the second thing injested.

    This is really stupid, but I’m posting it anyway.

  83. I’ve never voted for a Democrat for president. If Obama gets the nomination, I will this November. It ain’t because the GOP got too libertarian.

  84. “Love work, hate domination, and seek not undue intimacy with the government.”

    That’s from the Ethics of the Fathers. Some of my coreligionists in government (and out, yeah, I’m looking at you Wolfowitz) should read it.

  85. Good article, Balko.

    The only thing it was lacking was this quote from Milton Friedman:

    “What kind of society isn’t structured on greed? The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm; capitalism is that kind of system.”

  86. The Neoconservatives did have a good run for a couple of years, but in this fast moving world of politics they are now carrying too much baggage to keep up. They teamed with the Rockefellers to stick it to the small government conservatives and keeping much of that “conservative” base all the while snubbing them. Talk Radio was one of the most powerful propaganda forces in the whole godless world. It was only a matter of time though, until enough of the “conservatives” realized they weren’t being served. The Neocons still rule the Republican Party but it has shrunk so small that it doesn’t matter. So they do what partyless parasites do, assign blame to everyone else.

    I think Obama will pull it out. That means the unipolar imperialism will be replaced with cooperative imperialism. Obama has Mika’s pop as his National Security adviser and one would understand what an Obama foreign policy would be if they read his book “Second Chance”, where he critiques the past three Presidents on their foreign policy. He also states that there are only two schools of foreign policy thought, Neconservatism and Globalization. He gave Bush I a grade of B, Clinton a C, and W and F.

  87. Exactly.

    If I lock the door to my house, does it mean I believe that everyone’s a thief? I recognize the fact that some people steal, and take precautions accordingly; does that mean I condone burglary?

    And yet that seems to be the Weekly Standard’s argument. Because libertarians are alert to the fact that some people are greedy and abuse power, and try to limit government as a precaution, we’re accused of encouraging a “greed is good” mentality. Kinda backwards…

  88. I’ve never felt that my ties to Libertarianism were in any way connected with the standard economic arguments based on how preferable a result comes from a laissez-faire economy. If Adam Smith is right (and it seems he is) and on the average, many people acting in their own self-interest in the economic realm improves conditions for all, in my opinion, it’s just a happy accident – not a reason to support the free market.

    The reasons for the support I have for Libertarianism (or Anarchy or whatever) are all about the belief that force and coercion are wrong ways to get what one is after from people. All of my libertarian ideals are tied to the moral arguments, and always have been. I’m glad that the overall economic picture tends to be rosier when people aren’t subject to required theft. However, even if a less free system (say one with a 75% tax rate or whatever) produced an overall economic situation better than the one that a freer system would, I’d still support the freer system, simply because of the moral reasons.

    This is probably also the reason I’ve never felt any real kinship to Republicans or conservatives in my Libertarianism. First, my reasons for generally agreeing with them on economic issues not theirs (regardless of perhaps similar results). Second, my reasons for all of my views are connected, and are more “hippie-like” or pacifistic than Republicans or conservatives would ever feel comfortable with. This is also why I disagree with Republicans and conservatives on their “social issue” concerns and on their “law and order-national security” concerns.

    It’s also why I could never justify holding office (and can’t even justify voting) – though the uselessness of voting doesn’t hurt.

  89. The reasons for the support I have for Libertarianism (or Anarchy or whatever) are all about the belief that force and coercion are wrong ways to get what one is after from people. All of my libertarian ideals are tied to the moral arguments, and always have been. I’m glad that the overall economic picture tends to be rosier when people aren’t subject to required theft. However, even if a less free system (say one with a 75% tax rate or whatever) produced an overall economic situation better than the one that a freer system would, I’d still support the freer system, simply because of the moral reasons.

    Interesting. I’ve also felt more of a moral connection to libertarianism than an economic/rationalist one. However, I think of it more as just wanting others to leave me the f*ck alone, rather than a dislike of violence per se. Perhaps that’s why I always considered myself a “western conservative.” In a state of severe oppression, violence may be the only recourse. Obviously, the USA is a long way from that, but goddamn do we seem to be moving in that direction…

  90. I’m not exactly a pacifist. I do believe in the right of self-defense. I might disagree with some conservatives on how high the bar needs to be set to justify the use of force in cases of self-defense or the defense of others, though. This is really what I mean about my libertarianism being pacifistic, though not explicitly pacifist. My libertarian views are strongly motivated by my view on the importance of a requirement of a pretty strict standard before any force or coercion could be justified, in almost any situation.

    I’d say of the conservatives, though, I would feel more kinship with the “western” ones as you put it than any of the eastern ones. The northeastern conservatives seem to be more pro-big business than pro-free trade and while somewhat tolerant personally, not very motivated to see any importance in personal (non-economic) freedom. They are also still fairly likely to support the government in law-and-order type issues. The southeastern ones tend to be more economically protectionist and more strongly motivated by pro-coercion ideas (pro-war and police and anti-tolerance). The western ones have always seemed a little more tolerant of personal differences, at least more so than the southern conservatives. Western conservatives might even a bit less pro-war than the eastern versions, and are certainly less pro-police.

  91. No one seems interested in my new brand of death tax socail libertarianism, where one pays no taxes until death, at which point your property is confiscated and distributed equitably.

  92. e,

    I think it’d be pretty easy to dodge such a system (with trust funds or such), and so it’d likely only hit those in dire straits. I’d be worried that it wouldn’t let people have control over (or even keep) what they made, especially if you put in place safeguards to avoid the likely dodges. Someone more concerned with the consequences of the policy rather than its morality would likely say that it provides a disincentive to make money.

  93. OK, if you want to squabble about what is EXCESS taxation, that’s an argument that I can understand. The anarachy-libertarian goofballs who think All Taxes Are Theft simply give me a pain…..

    And I think I’m being horribly realistic here: please tell me of ONE society in history, with a reasonable level of technology and ability to defend itself, that didn’t have a form of government or taxes.

    And it seems to me that if the people of that community decide to get together and pay taxes because they have decided that that is the most efficient way to get the services they want, libertarians should jolly well shut up about it. It seems that libertarians are happy with self-determination of the people only when The People vote in a manner libertarians deem “correct.” Talk about nanny-staters–you guys are just as judging and insistant to impose your moral demands on the rest of the poor populace as Calvin’s Geneva was.

  94. Re: self-interest

    joe is correct that, in a pathological system like we have today, self-interest provides no check on overspending. However, recall that a single member of Congress cannot by him or herself pass a spending bill. There has to be cooperation among many of them.

    So, if the culture was such that a Congress member was expected to keep his or her constituents’ taxes low and keep those taxes from going to pay for some other district’s pork projects, there would be no problem with self-interest leading to pork — sure, it would be in the one member’s interest to load up on pork, but he or she would be thwarted by the other 434 who didn’t want their constituents to have to pay for it. It would be the polar opposite of the current situation, where high taxes are expected and if a Congressman doesn’t get federal spending directed towards his district, his constituents are getting screwed.

    True, I don’t know how to get there from here. One thing that is fairly certain is that our economic chickens will be coming home to roost all too soon, and this spending will come to an end out of necessity. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any economic catastrophes in history leading to a more libertarian society, rather than a more authoritarian one.

  95. I would argue that nobody with a serious chance of winning has really run on a pragmatic libertarian platform for president in the GOP for a long time….1)Term Limits 2)Public Choice inspired constitutional amendements to handle budgets and spending 3)Private accounts reform for Social Security 4)Medical Savings Accounts 5)Free Trade 6)Pro-Immigration 7)Flat Tax 8)Eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy 9)International policy that is neither Wilsonian nor isolationist or amoral realpolitik 10)Eliminate minimum wage and welfare with either wage subsidies or Samuel Brittain’s idea of Citizen Income……..well, you get the idea

  96. Your apparent definition of “impose” is interesting, as is your apparent definition of “nanny-state”. If the “people of a community get together and decide to pay taxes”, that’s fine. That’s not really what you’re saying, though, is it? You’re really taking about the people of the community getting together, and deciding to take taxes, aren’t you? If not, and these taxes that you support are really as voluntary as you try to paint them with your community agreement – we the people brush, we don’t have any real disagreement.

    I’ve never seen any validity in justifications, like yours, of the rights of the majority (or maybe even the monarch, as it seems you also might argue from your wistful references to past societies and their tried and true, forged in the crucible of time and tradition, histories of taxation) to take what it will from whomever it will. And, if I’m weak on the “self-determination of the people”, I acknowledge that, and I see no shame in it. Democracy has always been far, far less important to me than freedom.

    I guess I’ll see your complaint about my lack of support for Democracy and raise you a “libertarians should jolly well shut up about it” lack of support for free speech on your part. In any event, if my lack of “realism” disturbs, offends, or otherwise bothers you, there are probably better places to hang out than an internet blog devoted to libertarianism. If you’re looking for supporters of realism in politics and finding their opposite bugs you, it’s probably better for your blood pressure to find a more “realistic” place to read and post.

    Of course if you seek out things

  97. The misunderstanding of “self interest” on this thread is really terrible. I guess that’s what 40-odd years of canonization of Rawlsian ethics will do to thinking on the subject.

    Unless a politician is planning to die in five years, it’s in his long-term self-interest to fight the transformation of his country’s government into a system for granting favors to various special interest groups. That kind of government tends to fall into the hands of the truly ruthless and manipulative, and most people (even politicians) are not like that. McCain and Clinton excluded, of course.

    I don’t refrain from initiating force against others because of some categorical imperative or “higher duty” that supersedes my self-interest. I do it because thieves, burglars, and murderers are generally people who rot in jail, if they don’t get shot by their last attempted victim first. My life is infinitely *better*, my self-interest is immeasurably *better* served, by refraining from the use of force.

    Personally I prefer a more Penn Jillette-type outlook. Most people are self-interested *and* basically good. It’s the enthusiastic do-gooder types, whether they’re Teddy Roosevelt Republicans or LBJ Democrats, who are the real assholes.

  98. I really wish I had been able to hyperlink to an actual video of that song. It’s an awesome song. You can find the video on page 3 of the Oscar videos on the Sesame Street.org website.

    Graphite,
    I get what you’re saying about people who focus on their long-term self-interest bringing about better end results, not only for themselves but for people in general. It’s part of what I referred to as “the happy accident” above. However, my views on the non-initiation of force do come from a sort of categorical imperative or perception of a higher duty, I suppose, at least in a way. I certainly don’t hold my views because of any consequentialist nor any utilitarian argument. (I like the contrast between the endings of Star Treks II and III precisely because of the rejection of utilitarianism at the end of III – more evidence, I suppose, for my lack of realism, as well as my nerdiness.)

    Now I suppose that some might argue that all morality is ultimately self-interest, though that certainly doesn’t seem your route here. You recognize the difference in the categorical imperative justification for libertarianism and the consequentialist justification, and, as I read you, you seem to view both as possible justifications, though you obviously prefer your own. As I do mine. I guess it all goes back to what each of us means by “better”.

    As far as kinds of government in which power “tends to fall into the hands of the truly ruthless and manipulative”, I’d say any government in which those who want power and seek it out are also those who obtain it would be particularly vulnerable to that.

  99. That is quite an oddball argument you are making, ‘grumpy realist’. You behave as if libertarians came and invaded your space, and libertarians whined, bitched, moaned and took a huge dump inside of a forum dedicated to your political ideas instead of the other way around.

    Taxes are the price we pay for collective barbarism. Civilization can only come from civilized behavior, meaning voluntary and mutually beneficial.

    Indeed, one could argue that some of what the government did probably exacerbated poverty and probably heightened racial injustice.

    No ‘probably’ to it. The government race tension rousers are called cops: the thin blue line refers to how they perceive with more than a little paranoia urban environs and those who dwell within.

    As for The Weekly Standard, I stopped reading that rag some time ago. However, my local paper carries David Brooks, and I do read his column, I guess twice weekly. I recall his op-ed on the death of Milton Friedman, and the neat little bow he had to wrap his argument (Friedman’s political-economy lacked ‘social meaning’) at the end as if he couldn’t resist the impulse to teeter his essay like a see-saw.

    I note an aversion to empiricism in the Neocon mind set, and instead, they tend to try to perform neat little balancing acts with ideas, highly abstracted principles of justice, equality, etc. It is a weakness of most classicist.

    The world doesn’t really extend from these principles, nor or they necessary for human survival as humans have forged society and thrived in ways most variedly different from classical idealism (or modern democratic idealism).

    There is nothing new in this argument, of course, as it is pretty much the basis of Adam Smith other great work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Kristol and his crew haven’t yet adjusted to the eighteenth century enlightenment. I would say give them time, but probably not while their current schtick serves the interest of bankrolling elites.

  100. re taxes: I’m fine with the income tax in practice, though I do recognize the element of coercion. Taxes bring you roads, defense, and a free pass to see Independence Hall, and I don’t know any way to get public goods that doesn’t coerce unwilling contributions — the whole point is that free riders will not be willing to contribute. SWDWLHJ is right that taxes are not a community agreement, since no living individual had a choice in the question. We could imagine a world in which risk was shared by real voluntary dues-paying communities (like insurance, actually, or like Friedman’s cute example of the aspiring-actress cooperative).

    We don’t live in the world we’d like to imagine, and we never have. Even our friend Tom Paine lived under governments with far higher tariffs and more restrictions on speech and religion than we have in the U.S. today. I think of libertarianism as a utopian project in a good sense — it aims towards something that’s never been done before, but it can and does make incremental progress. I can live with “always not yet.”

  101. Face it, the neocon rag has a point: for an officeholder NOT to pork up every bill and otherwise act like a pig, he DOES have to believe that something other than self-interest should guide his actions.

    Exactly. He has to believe that libertarian voters will tar and feather him*.

    A businessman can be self-interested but choose, simply on moral grounds, not to have thugs (or the government) attack his competitor, so why shouldn’t elected officials act in the same manner?

    Actually we shouldn’t rely on morality in this equation.

    One of the limited government responsibilities should be to effectively outlaw the use of thugs. Businessmen, in their own self-interest, should agree to this since it also protects their businesses from being set upon by thugs.

    The businessman should also realize that if he gives the government the power to attack his competition he is also giving it the power to attack him. Therefore it is in his own self interest to limit government so it doesn’t have that power.

    The politician should realize that it’s in his own best interest to preside over a limited government that outlaws thugs but otherwise leaves business decisions to the business owner, so that when he returns to private life and business he won’t be handicapped by policies he helped write.

    Nowhere in here does the system depend on a “right” or “moral” person being in either position. The equation is neatly balanced by enlightened self interest.

    *Unfortunately, there are too many joes voting, who have yet to figure this out.

    Again, though, as Reagan said, the best minds aren’t in government, and if any were, business would surely hire them away.

    Wouldn’t that be wonderful. If only all of our representatives served a couple of terms as a “public servant,” got that on their resume, then returned to the important jobs of running business.

    There is nothing “rational” in avoiding harm to others, if you do not expect your efforts to avoid that harm to be a net benefit to you.

    Bingo. Which is why we need a libertarian system where people are held accountable for any harm they cause. A system that balances responsibility with accountability. To cite but one example, if Congress believes that it’s wonderful that each of us have a Social Security safety net, then members of Congress should have to depend on that same safety net.

    Why would somebody acting purely from reason and self-interest care if the tax dollars they are spending were taken by force?

    They won’t. Which is why we need limited government that can’t take tax dollars by force. Whereupon it doesn’t matter if the person who wants to spend them is “acting purely from reason and self-interest.”

    And now, acting purely from reason and self-interest, I have to go to work.

  102. I just don’t get it; libertarians and conservatives are so radically different from each other. I mean, come on, conservatives are largely driven by all kinds of fears, fears that only the government can take care of. Fear of gays, foreigners, Mexicans, Muslims, etc. This has to be the complete opposite of libertarianism. When conservatives are the biggest supporters of the Patriot Act and libertarians the biggest opponents, there has to be some fundamental personality/psychological disconnect.

  103. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any economic catastrophes in history leading to a more libertarian society, rather than a more authoritarian one.

    The stagflation of the 1970s.

    there you go now you are aware of one.

    joe is correct that, in a pathological system like we have today, self-interest provides no check on overspending. However, recall that a single member of Congress cannot by him or herself pass a spending bill. There has to be cooperation among many of them.

    No joe is not correct in his assessment that the current system is one created by the libertarian wing of the Republican party. If it was true then what is pushing the democrats who control the congress today to do the same bullshit? What the libertarian wing of the democrat party? I think you not. Joe’s assessment and your retarded attempt to defend it it is a huge fail on multiple levels.

    Also your assessment that this is something new is actually more pathological then the very system you are decrying.

  104. “It takes considerable gall for them to now blame libertarianism for the Republicans’ failures.”

    Actually, given the history of neoconservatism, I believe a more appropriate word would be “Chutzpah”.

    As in, “After he was convicted of murdering his parents, he begged the court for mercy because he was an orphan.”

  105. “I just don’t get it; libertarians and conservatives are so radically different from each other.”

    Well the whole point of Reagan was that he could satisfy the social conservatives (traditional GOP) while bludgeoning federal government enough to satisfy fiscal conservatives (libertarians and Reagan Democrats).

    The uniting principle used to be the excessive size and scope of the federal government, while the Democrats (sans the Reagan Dems of course) were pretty solidly behind increasing the size and scope of FedGov.

    Nowadays it just seems you have both sides wanting to increase government for leftist social goals (health care, interest group privilege) or rightist social goals (‘family values’, ‘national greatness’).

    And Libertarians tend to suffer from the same sort of stupid, wheel-spinning factiousness that was parodied so well in _Monty Python and the Life of Brian_ and is (luckily) endemic in most leftist political groups.

  106. My point was mostly that one can wish to seek one’s own pleasure and goals while still recognizing and respecting the rights of others. Still, it’s useful to know that joe takes the Hobbesian view of human nature ie, that if we aren’t kept in check by government, and don’t necessarily think we have to sacrifice ourselves for others, then we will immediately start looting, killing, and raping each other.

  107. Not only that, they had absolutely the best tragedy in fifty years to exploit and they still screwed it up pretty bad.

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