Deregulation

Can Regulation Decrease Statism?

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Some thoughts of possible relevance to the current debate over whether we have been, or need to be, "regulating" the financial and banking sectors thoroughly or smartly enough, from left-libertarian Kevin Carson at The Freeman.

Carson's overarching point: in a state-saturated society dedicated to a large degree to privileging certain types, one can't blithely assume that every removal of a regulation is in fact a salutary decline in statism, since some regulations are merely, in his reading (which I am not endorsing by quoting or pointing to it, though I find it interesting)

secondary. Their purpose is stabilizing, or ameliorative. They include welfare-state measures, Keynesian demand management, and the like, whose purpose is to limit the most destabilizing side-effects of privilege and to secure the long-term survival of the system.

Unfortunately, the typical "free market reform" issuing from corporate interests involves eliminating only the ameliorative or regulatory forms of intervention, while leaving intact the primary structure of privilege and exploitation.

The strategic priorities of principled libertarians should be just the opposite: first to dismantle the fundamental, structural forms of state intervention, whose primary effect is to enable exploitation, and only then to dismantle the secondary, ameliorative forms of intervention that serve to make life bearable for the average person living under a system of state-enabled exploitation…..

To welcome the typical "free market" proposals as "steps in the right direction," without regard to their effect on the overall functioning of the system, is comparable to the Romans welcoming the withdrawal of the Punic center at Cannae as "a step in the right direction." Hannibal's battle formation was not the first step in a general Carthaginian withdrawal from Italy, and you can be sure the piecemeal "privatizations," "deregulations," and "tax cuts" proposed are not intended to reduce the amount of wealth extracted by the political means.

Carson goes on to use the specific example of regulations forcing pharmacists to sell morning-after pills, which he thinks is A-OK:

When the state confers a special privilege on an occupation, a business firm, or an industry, and then sets regulatory limits on the use of that privilege, the regulation is not a new intrusion of statism into a free market. It is, rather, the state's limitation and qualification of its own underlying statism. The secondary regulation is not a net increase, but a net reduction in statism.

I'm quite sure I don't agree with the above example–can't see how requiring beneficiaries of state largess to do certain things diminishes a system where some people are robbed or forced to do things by others, it merely complicates it. From his general tone and perspective, I wouldn't think Carson would be so quick to agree that regulations demanding certain behaviors from individual poor recipients of state largess are to be approved of. (He might say that my even bringing that up proves I'm trapped in "vulgar libertarian" thinking that privileges the privileged.) I quoted it not to approve, but to show one specific thing Carson meant by his generalizations about regulations that actually reduce statism rather than increase it.

NEXT: Oh, Sharia, How Our Law . . . Holds On. Holds On.

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  1. Carson has a very excellent point, though his example could have been a lot better chosen. A better example would be advocating the repeal of welfare laws without advocating a similar repeal of drug and licensing laws. Repealing welfare is going to take something away from poor urban blacks without giving them other opportunities that they’d otherwise have in a free-market system. I.e., you can’t take away the welfare check and still require the single mother of three to go through 1,500 hours of training if she wants to open a hair braiding school and call that “moving towards a freer market.”

    And I wonder why you think these thoughts are relevant to the current crisis? From my reading of the crisis, it was caused by state involvement (government promotion of homeownership through any means possible, basically). In this instance, I don’t think there is any obvious “deeper layer” to the issue.

  2. This is not entirely related to the article, but I’ve always been irritated by libertarians who want to get rid of all laws and regulations. We should *keep* the ones which protect life, liberty, and property. In fact, we can use that as a selling point, ex: “Get rid of drug laws and that will allow us to focus our resources on murder, theft, and rape.”

    I guess that’s the essence of the minarchist-vs-anarchist debate, huh?

  3. I.e., you can’t take away the welfare check and still require the single mother of three to go through 1,500 hours of training if she wants to open a hair braiding school and call that “moving towards a freer market.”

    Which is a much better example than Carson’s.

    For Carson’s purposes, a better example might be that you shouldn’t do away with all financial regulations while you still have a monetary policy that pushes easy credit and artificially low interest rates because that exacerbates the problem of bad loans.

  4. For Carson’s purposes, a better example might be that you shouldn’t do away with all financial regulations while you still have a monetary policy that pushes easy credit and artificially low interest rates because that exacerbates the problem of bad loans.

    Yeah, but I see that as a weak position. Just go for it and advocate removing the bad monetary policy.

  5. If we really want to get to the core of what is wrong with the United States, it’s that the nation is just too damned big. Much larger than a nation needs to be to function as a peaceful place for free, responsible people to live ordinary lives. The national government is completely unaccountable to the average citizen. The size of the economy and the military attract grandiose mis-adventurers like cheap beer attracts frat boys.

  6. A bad example, but not a bad point.

  7. I think he is certainly on the right track. There has been no real deregulation in the past few decades, just various twisting of the laws to help/protect the gov’t created corporate oligarchy.

    Not all “private” actors are good guys. Not when they’re using the force of government to twist the market to their favor.

    Having said all that, I still think the problem with the “limitations on gov’t-granted benefits” thing is that the “secondary regulation” is really just an additional imposition placed on the private actors, whether they want it or not. It’s not an increase in any one’s freedom.

  8. Let’s run through that again…
    Would you like to shoot me now or wait till you get home?

  9. Yeah, but I see that as a weak position. Just go for it and advocate removing the bad monetary policy.

    More to the point, however, it is factually wrong for this particular case, as the specific acts of deregulation being blamed for the current financial mess are probably not to blame.

  10. It has always seemed to me that the web of regulation is like the Gordian Knot: Insanely difficult to unravel in any reasonable way, so most approaches echo Alexander’s, but also fail because of the inevitable backlash and blowback when people feel the pain from the thoroughly disrupted system.

    On the other hand, the nature of the Knot allows canny politicians to strategically remove regulation in such a way that the worst effects are felt by the largest voting bloc. We see this over and over again: “just enough” regulation is subverted or repealed, to release economic or social pressure in a direction that causes a huge problem — up to and including systemic dysfunction. Then the hue and cry arise, fingers are pointed, blame is assigned, “deregulation” and the nasty “free market” take the rap, while new layers of regulation and bureaucracy are created to ensure sufficient “oversight” to prevent a recurrence of the crisis. We’ve done this several times during my life, and I’m sure I’ll see a few more before I check out. It’s never fun to watch though. I wish people would get tired of variations on the same old song.

  11. Best Kevin Carson pronouncement to date:

    And on the subject of the Million Mom March, I have this lovely vision of a million burnt-out, twisted wrecks of SUVs, and in each of them an incinerated busybody with several melted soccer balls and a cell phone fused into her charred skeleton

  12. Reason is now begging for money? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I guess Reason advertising have started to pay attention to your plunging market share. You should have actually provided some real libertarian media. Providing services people actually want is the free market way to go, assholes-not giving crappy cosmotarian window dressing on your pro-establishment analysis and then begging for handouts.

    Why don’t you get the Koch brothers to bail you out? Did they loose their billions on the crash that the Austrians saw coming (and that the monetarists had no idea was on the way)?

    Welch is too stupid to run a magazine and too ugly to do gay porn.

  13. JAM —

    I always thought about it more like a crufty operating system or application. The kernel was written, a long time ago, for specific purposes and to solve specific problems. Over the course of time, the original purposes were de-prioritized, and the code was cannibalized for new, related, but different purposes. But the kernel was still optimized for the original use.

    Over many iterations of this process, you are left with a jumble of code orphans and uncalled libraries that serve to increase the dead-weight on the system and also cause unintended execution behaviors, but are impossible to extricate because nobody knows anymore which pieces are essential and which are simple atavisms from an earlier version.

    I guess my point is, someone needs to re-write the kernel and fucking hit the reboot button.

  14. I can see one practical application of Carson’s point. The order in which we change the laws matters. We should start with the changes to provide more opportunity. For example, give small businesses the freedom they need to thrive, then cut welfare when the job market booms. Give builders the freedom to build suburban appartment buildings, then cut rent control. Going in the reverse order leaves too many people out in the cold.

  15. The more life happens the more I realize the Principia Discordia sums it all up perfectly. The more power you give the government to “regulate” things, the more they use that power to fuck things up in their own favor. Or as Mal2 put it:

    Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos

  16. When the state confers a special privilege on an occupation, a business firm, or an industry, and then sets regulatory limits on the use of that privilege, the regulation is not a new intrusion of statism into a free market. It is, rather, the state’s limitation and qualification of its own underlying statism. The secondary regulation is not a net increase, but a net reduction in statism.

    I’m gonna call bullshit on this one. I’ve worked at our state legislature, and I’m hard-pressed to recall any new law or regulation that increased freedom or decreased statism, other than laws that simply repealed some existing law or put a sunset date on it.

    I’d say the general rule is this: if a law gives new powers to the government, appropriates new funds, or hires new government employees, it is an increase in statism — period.

    None of the examples given in the article decreased statism, IMO. If those are the best examples Carson can come up with, then his thesis is flat out wrong, and an attempt to package leftism as left-libertarianism.

  17. If we really want to get to the core of what is wrong with the United States, it’s that the nation is just too damned big. Much larger than a nation needs to be to function as a peaceful place for free, responsible people to live ordinary lives. The national government is completely unaccountable to the average citizen. The size of the economy and the military attract grandiose mis-adventurers like cheap beer attracts frat boys.

    Hear hear

  18. I can see one practical application of Carson’s point. The order in which we change the laws matters. We should start with the changes to provide more opportunity. For example, give small businesses the freedom they need to thrive, then cut welfare when the job market booms. Give builders the freedom to build suburban appartment buildings, then cut rent control. Going in the reverse order leaves too many people out in the cold.

    Totally disagree with these examples.

    Handing out welfare fucks up people’s lives — it is theft from the people whose taxes are being appropriated for this, and it decreases the incentive to get gainful employment for the recipients, thus decreasing the net wealth of the society.

    Rent control fucks up people’s lives. It provides a strong disincentive for property owners to create rental property, thus decreasing the overall supply of housing.

    If the point was that some of these government interventions are worse than others and thus should be higher priorities for elimination, fine. But arguing that bad interventions by government are really good interventions because some other other even worse interventions require the bad interventions — that fucking wrong. That’s statism apologism and leftist thinking, not libertarian thinking.

  19. Brian: Thanks for the link.

    Several people here mentioned that they agreed with my argument to a greater or lesser extent, but that the pharmacist example was poorly chosen. As a matter of fact, as I stated in the article, it’s Arthur Silber’s example. I used it because I was the only one Silber used in the blog post quoted, and I used his post as a jumping-off point for the idea that the regulation of a previous grant of privilege is a net reduction in statism.

    Actually, I’m still not sure whether *I* agree with the pharmacist example.

    Prolefeed: According to your stated principle, a government law against severely beating slaves ca. 1850 would have been a net increase in statism.

  20. All the neo-Bolsheviks at this site are supporters of statism anyway. This von Mises libertarianism is just a mirror image of communism. Your laissez-faire capitalism (vis-a-vis ” free markets”) ensures a state apparatus – the privilege of oligarchs, you see, must be ensured by government. And I am sure this post won’t even be published because you fanatics don’t like opinions that run counter to yours.

  21. Just like you aren’t “granted” freedom, but practice it directly, you don’t “regulate” the state away, you just dismiss it outright.

  22. Libertarianism=Communism? Yes, and the light is far too bright in the dark.

  23. This is not entirely related to the article, but I’ve always been irritated by libertarians who want to get rid of all laws and regulations.

    People who advocate that are not libertarians, whether they think they are or not. Abolishing law is not a principle of libertarianism.

  24. “Your laissez-faire capitalism (vis-a-vis ” free markets”) ensures a state apparatus – the privilege of oligarchs, you see, must be ensured by government. ”

    Does anyone have any idea what this guy is on about? I’m actually curious.

    “Prolefeed: According to your stated principle, a government law against severely beating slaves ca. 1850 would have been a net increase in statism.”

    That’s a powerful point.

  25. What’s the difference between beating a slave and severely beating a slave? It would appear that slavery itself is the most violent form of mistreatment that can be inflicted on another human being. Good slave owners and good politicians are equivalents.

  26. The leftoids only attempt to appeal to libertarians during an election cycle. (See DailyKos) They don’t mean it.

  27. From his general tone and perspective, I wouldn’t think Carson would be so quick to agree that regulations demanding certain behaviors from individual poor recipients of state largess are to be approved of. Almost certainly not, because unlike regulations on the financial industry, regulations demanding certain behaviors from people on welfare don’t do anything to imit the most destabilizing side-effects of privilege and to secure the long-term survival of the system.

    That distinction between regulations that serve to aid the poor and weak who are on the short end of the entire system, and regulations that serve to punish, control, or exploit them, is the central, defining concept of the entire piece. It seems to miss the point by a rather wide margin to call out a regulation that serves to punish and control the poor as an example of something Carson would approve of, on the grounds that he would approve of a regulation that limits the autonomy of the least powerful, since he approves of regulations that limit the autonomy of the most powerful people, who’ve gotten the greatest benefit from the system.

    This is like reading a review of a book titled “Lions Are Better Than Tigers,” then being told that the author must love tigers because he likes lions so much.

  28. Kevin Carson prescribes to the labor theory of value and says things like

    “The ideal ‘free market’ society of such people [most of us, basically], it seems, is simply actually existing capitalism, minus the regulatory and welfare state: a hyper-thyroidal version of nineteenth century robber baron capitalism, perhaps; or better yet, a society ‘reformed’ by the likes of Pinochet, the Dionysius [a tyrant associated with Plato] to whom Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys played Plato”.

    Not trying to poison the well, but this guy’s positive views are entirely at odds with those of most libertarians, even if his normative ones are similar.

  29. They include welfare-state measures, Keynesian demand management, and the like, whose purpose is to limit the most destabilizing side-effects of privilege and to secure the long-term survival of the system.

    Umm, no. Unless the “system” doesn’t care that you dictate wage rates above the equilibrium. That is the overwhelming cause of the need for services for the unemployed, which spirals into all of the other welfare-state programs. Does Carson really buy that how our economy looks now is anything like what it would look like without a lot of “stabilizing” regulations he seems to like so much? I think that assumption, including the dominance of corporations, is what drives a lot of criticism against more libertarian-style handling of the economy.

  30. I think the reason there’s a disconnect between Carson and the H&R crowd about the pharmacist example is because we are thinking of the effect of statism on the pharmacist, and unless I miss my guess, Carson is thinking of the effect of statism on the pharmacist’s customers.

    Licensing laws for pharmacists have the effect of reducing the number of people who are available to dispense prescription drugs to customers.

    This means that if the limited number of pharmacists in one market area [limited by the state, remember] decide not to sell the morning-after pill, their customers can’t just walk into McDonald’s and buy it there instead.

    So [if I’m following the argument correctly] Carson is saying that forcing pharmacists to sell drugs they don’t want to sell decreases the impact, or potential impact, of statist licensing laws on the customers of those pharmacists.

    To use a more extreme example, if we had a system in place where the state auctioned monopoly rights in some commodity to the highest bidder/briber [a statist concept that has been pretty common throughout history], you’d need to have a law requiring the guy who buys the beer monopoly to sell to everyone who wants to buy, or the state will have empowered that monopolist to abuse citizens he doesn’t like by not selling them beer. The monopolist is in effect an extension of the state here, and his personal preferences for association, market action, and contract aren’t personal any more, but are in effect state actions. Limiting his autonomy is effectively limiting the power of a quasi-bureaucrat, and not that of a private citizen.

    I’m not saying I agree with this argument, but it does have a place in libertarian discussion.

  31. Fluffy,

    I think I agree with the argument, but not the solution. The solution isnt requiring pharmacists to sell the morning after pill or to require monopolists to sell their product to everyone, but to end the fucking monopoly.

    Kevin,

    Your example here is an example of increased statism. As long as slaves are property, laws on the property owners are increasing statism. Stop treating people as property and the problem is solved.

    Maybe Im contradicting myself there, quite possible. The point is we are arguing in circles over minutiae when there is an obvious solution staring us in the face. Go Big! Go Bold! Go the Easy way!

    If there is a question about which order to eliminate two regulations, how about we just do both? I could favor omnibus bills in this case.

  32. Until the powers of the government are limited, there can be no common sense, unbiased regulation. IF government power was limited to protecting individual rights (instead of group rights), defense and settling disputes in courts, then regulation would be limited to those powers — protect people from coercion of all forms, including financial fraud. Without all the over-reaching regulation which goes outside the proper scope of government, we will not need to worry as much about favoritism, or dishonest players in the private sector gaming the system, because the feeding trough will be removed.

    Limiting the government sounds simplistic and impossible, but I think it’s the only way to avoid statism.

  33. The solution isnt requiring pharmacists to sell the morning after pill or to require monopolists to sell their product to everyone, but to end the fucking monopoly.

    OK, let’s call that “Plan A.”

    Now, on the off chance that the government doesn’t repeal the laws requiring a pharmacists’s license to sell oxycodone tomorrow, or even next year, what’s Plan B?

    If your concern for people who aren’t being allowed to purchase emergency contraception extends all the way to telling them that “some day…,” then you don’t really need a Plan B for Plan B.

  34. joe,

    I almost mentioned the whole Plan A, Plan B crap in the post to preempt you. I support Plan A.

    Barr is my Plan A this year (well, I guess Paul was, but lets call Barr A2).

    McCain would be Plan B. Im voting for Barr.

    Im asking the people who want emergency contraception to be available to support me in Plan A.

  35. Incrementalism if for little minds.

  36. Incrementalism is for people who actually have a stake in the game.

    The most privileged can hold out for the pony. No skin off their backs.

  37. The shelf life of Plan B is 48 months.

    Of course, planning and foresight is usually not the strong suit of women who wind up driving all over town Saturday morning desperate to find Plan B.

    (I’m fine with pharmacists being forced to sell Plan B, or RU-486, or condoms. If they want to enjoy their state monopoly, it comes with a price. But the desperate Plan B girl is most likely 10% idiocy and 90% strawman of feminist paranoia…)

  38. But arguing that bad interventions by government are really good interventions because some other other even worse interventions require the bad interventions — that fucking wrong. That’s statism apologism and leftist thinking, not libertarian thinking.

    Guess it’s a good thing that’s *not* what he’s arguing, then. He’s saying that both restrictions are bad, but focusing on the one that’s a symptom (in one of the above examples, welfare) rather than the disease itself (the regulations that keep people on welfare from being able to get gainful employment) is a recipe for statism-enducing failure. You treat the one that’s causing the problem first, then when the problem is solved, you can get rid of the other program and be assured that it won’t come back when people start suffering because the secondary cause that was shielding them from the real problem is gone.

  39. joe,

    Can you name a nation that ever incrementalized themselves to freedom or a small government (There may be an example, but I cant think of one)?

    Incrementalism only works in one direction. Freedom requires revolution (whether violent or just political). See New Zealand in the 80s for a good economic example.

  40. whose purpose is to limit the most destabilizing side-effects of privilege and to secure the long-term survival of the system.

    I think this gets down to what you think “privilege” really means. If you think it includes “being rich”, then you are all for redistribution of wealth.

    If you adhere to the original, more limited view of privilege (literally, “private law”), then you see the state and its regulations as the source of privilege. In a true minarchist state, nobody is privileged under this definition, no matter how rich they are, because the laws don’t give anyone special advantages.

    Also, the barriers to entry created by some regulation (licensing, for example) are privileges. They are created by the state and increase inequality. Carson seems to specifically approve of these in his rather backhanded discussion of regulation of “privileged” businesses, even though they increase, not decrease, the inequality-driven instability he decries. The regulation imposed on “privileged” firms, occupations, etc. generally amounts to an additional barrier to entry, after all.

  41. robc,

    England under Thatcher, if that’s your bag.

    India has certainly moved steadily away from socialism in an incremental fashion for a couple of decades now.

  42. If you think it includes “being rich”, then you are all for redistribution of wealth.

    Kevin Carson is all for redistribution of wealth?

    Really? Because all I saw him advocating for is the removal of restrictions.

    Also, the barriers to entry created by some regulation (licensing, for example) are privileges. They are created by the state and increase inequality. Carson seems to specifically approve of these in his rather backhanded discussion of regulation of “privileged” businesses, even though they increase, not decrease, the inequality-driven instability he decries. What you talking about? He explicitly states exactly the opposite, that he’d like to see those restrictions go too.

  43. Some forms of state intervention are primary. They involve the privileges, subsidies, and other structural bases of economic exploitation through the political system. This has been the primary purpose of the state: the organized political means to wealth, exercised by and for a particular class of people. Some forms of intervention, however, are secondary. Their purpose is stabilizing, or ameliorative. They include welfare-state measures, Keynesian demand management, and the like, whose purpose is to limit the most destabilizing side-effects of privilege and to secure the long-term survival of the system.

    Unfortunately, the typical “free market reform” issuing from corporate interests involves eliminating only the ameliorative or regulatory forms of intervention, while leaving intact the primary structure of privilege and exploitation.

    The strategic priorities of principled libertarians should be just the opposite: first to dismantle the fundamental, structural forms of state intervention, whose primary effect is to enable exploitation, and only then to dismantle the secondary, ameliorative forms of intervention that serve to make life bearable for the average person living under a system of state-enabled exploitation.

  44. joe,

    England under Thatcher, if that’s your bag.

    India has certainly moved steadily away from socialism in an incremental fashion for a couple of decades now.

    2 reasonably good answers, but neither of them succeeded (at least not yet). Thatcher moved in the right direction, but it was lost after she was gone. Of course, the same happened with New Zealand and their much more radical changes. After power shifted, incrementalism took back over and built back up. I think in both cases they are still better off now than when they first started, but neither reached “small government” status.

    I think my point still stands. Just as a question, do you think Zimbabwe could be fixed via incrementalism or do you think they need radical change?

    It just goes to show that a Jeffersonian reboot is probably needed every generation or two.

  45. Kevin Carson is all for redistribution of wealth?

    Apparently. He specifically lists the welfare state as a justified state intervention in the name of ameliorating privilege.

    I think their is likely to be just as much economic inequality in a laissez faire economy as in our current mixed economy and that economic inequality is likely to be just as destabilizing in a laissez faire economy as in our current mixed economy, so I think the claimed justification for welfare state justification will continue on, even if his “primary” statist interventions are gone.

    At best, he is confused about this, as he lists subsidies as a bad state intervention, and the welfare state as a good state intervention.

    He explicitly states exactly the opposite, that he’d like to see those restrictions go too.

    Maybe. He says:

    The strategic priorities of principled libertarians should be just the opposite: first to dismantle the fundamental, structural forms of state intervention, whose primary effect is to enable exploitation. . . .

    I can read this as saying that we should get rid of licensing, etc., but it doesn’t really get at all the forms of regulation that create functionally similar barriers to entry, in large part by begging the question of what he means by “exploitation.” If I say, for example, that no license is necessary to open a hospital, but every hospital is required to meet the current operating requirements imposed by Medicare, the barriers to entry to opening a hospital are essentially unchanged. Would he say that, therefore, the “exploitation” in the system has or has not been reduced? I don’t know. Somehow, I doubt it.

    He really doesn’t do a very good job of identifying “primary” bad statist interventions that enable “exploitation,” which to me makes it really hard to tell what he thinks the proper role of the state should really be.

  46. robc,

    2 reasonably good answers, but neither of them succeeded (at least not yet).

    So, has the libertarian militia cut the U.S. Army’s supply lines yet?

    Just as a question, do you think Zimbabwe could be fixed via incrementalism or do you think they need radical change?

    Radical change is necessary in Zimbabwe, owing to the extreme nature of the problem, and the lack of a functioning democracy.

  47. RC,

    Apparently. He specifically lists the welfare state as a justified state intervention in the name of ameliorating privilege. Nope, he specifically lists the welfare state as a justified response to state intervention, in the name of ameliorating privilege produced by state intervention.

    I think their is likely to be just as much economic inequality in a laissez faire economy as in our current mixed economy and that economic inequality is likely to be just as destabilizing in a laissez faire economy as in our current mixed economy, so I think the claimed justification for welfare state justification will continue on, even if his “primary” statist interventions are gone.

    You’re entitled to that opinion. I agree with you. Kevin Carson, on the other hand, does not. He argues quite clearly that he thinks the modern state has significantly increases inequality through the upward reditribution of wealth. Ergo, you cannot claim that his willingness to tolerate a welfare state given the current mixed economy demonstrates that he supports a welfare state under a free market system.

  48. Now, on the off chance that the government doesn’t repeal the laws requiring a pharmacists’s license to sell oxycodone tomorrow, or even next year, what’s Plan B?

    The reason I restated Carson’s argument but then did not endorse it is because I am unsure where I stand on exactly this point.

    One the one hand, “obviously” we should be trying to ameloriate the effects of state action on citizens.

    OTOH, there are lots of negative effects to becoming complicit in the regulatory state in this way:

    1. It exposes you to the “If you supported X, why do you have a problem with Y?” argument. If you have a record of espousing lots of regulations micromanaging pharmacists, you are not really a credible voice for advocating eliminating the category of regulation entirely.

    2. The regulations you propose are just as subject to the law of unintended consequences as any other regulations. If part of your opposition to statism is the Hayekian argument that regulating the economic activity of the nation is an information problem that is beyond human intelligence, you have to be humble in proposing additional regulations and realize that you may be making things worse without knowing it.

    3. Lending your effort to ameliorating the effects of statism enables it to continue by preventing its practitioners, and compliant citizens, from paying the price. You could call this one the “Dagny Taggart” objection.

    I honestly don’t know which side of this argument I come down on.

  49. Maybe we should cut the Gordian knot.

  50. Gotta stick up for joe this morning…

    Now, on the off chance that the government doesn’t repeal the laws requiring a pharmacists’s license to sell oxycodone tomorrow, or even next year, what’s Plan B?

    We libertarians aren’t always so good at thinking about practical, imperfect solutions that will work in a world that falls short of libertopia. We could be better at it, but we don’t exercise those muscles enough.

    2 reasonably good answers, but neither of them succeeded (at least not yet).

    joe gave pretty good answers, then you moved the goal posts. Isn’t that a patented joe tactic?

  51. In general, the best way to solve a problem is not more of the same. While I agree fully that we should go after state regulations that cause the problems that “require” regulation in the first place, I would argue from an ethical standpoint that one violation of individual rights does not justify another. To use the pharmacist example, the pharmacist in question probably did nothing personally to create the regulations concerning their profession. Yes, they may benefit indirectly, but it is not a benefit deliberately sought nor did they deliberately impose the harm caused by the regulations on others. Ergo, violating an innocent individual’s rights (the pharmacist) is not justified by the earlier violation by a different party (the government) of the rights of potential pharmacists shut out by govt. regs and consumers who must pay more for drugs.

  52. Mike,

    I didnt move the goal post. I asked for a nation that had become free via incrementalism or had achieved small government via incrementalism.

    As the UK already qualified as “free” under most reasonable definitions pre-Thatcher, they didnt achieve that one. They also didnt achieve small government. Just smaller. I asked for small. Fail again.

    India’s Freedom House scores havent changes over the last 35 years. Depending on where you want to draw the line, they are exactly as free/not-free as before. And they havent reached small government either.

    I see no goalpost movement. I asked for success, not movement in the right direction. It was my point, incrementalism only works for smaller government/greater freedom in short bursts that arent maintainable. Radical change is required to achieve radical change. 🙂

  53. Actually, the UK may qualify anyway. It could be argued that they moved from the tyranny of the King to a free parliamentary system incrementally.

    However, I would counter-argue that they made incremental changes thru a series of radical revolutions.

  54. Well, laws could be passed to criminalize pimps beating their prostitute clients, but as battery is already against the law, it would seem a superfluous effort. Pimps sometimes beat their girls knowing that the criminal sanctions against prostitution offer them some protection against charges.

    We must always identify and strike at the root of the problem.

    Seems to me that mitigating the evils of regulation with more of same will make the system of regulation more tolerable, and thus less likely to be opposed.

    “Well, now that slave owners may not beat their slaves, slavery ain’t so bad.”

  55. Yeah, the pharmacist example’s a lousy one, especially when you consider that there’s such an obvious good one: Legal monopoly status of a utility, vs. rate regul’n of that utility.

    The pharmacist example is poor because there are still lots of pharmacists, of which only a small minority object to dispensing certain drugs, and it’s doubtful that the increase in freedom by the consumer from requiring all pharmacists to dispense all drugs exceeds or equals the decrease in freedom by imposing on conscientious objector pharmacists. But when it comes to real legal monopolies and the rates they can charge, it’s very different.

  56. Seems to me that mitigating the evils of regulation with more of same will make the system of regulation more tolerable, and thus less likely to be opposed.

    “Well, now that slave owners may not beat their slaves, slavery ain’t so bad.”

    Hell, then make the beatings mandatory and people will be even more opposed to it.

    That’s like on Get Smart when Larrabee said they wanted to see if they’d like living at the beach, so they strewed sand in their home. He said they decided they didn’t like it — too much sand.

  57. I feel very similarly. There are not good and bad statist interventions, but some of the (in a vacuum) bad ones can ameliorate some of the other bad ones. We should fight to get rid of:

    1.The worst attacks on liberty
    a. The interventions that are bad (in and out of a vacuum of state action)
    b. The interventions that previously ameliorated some of the worse interventions (and are now bad as the remaining state action.

    2. The lesser attacks on liberty.
    a. see above
    etc.

  58. Funny – the day after this article, I realized how this was applicable to the real estate bubble: it may have been caused by a lowering of taxes on capital gains realized from real estate sale in 2007. While lowering taxes would seem to always be a good idea, in reality, if you lower taxes on one form of earning money (real estate speculation) and not its substitutes (working, entrepreneurship), you’re favoring real estate speculation over other kinds of income, and you’re going to divert resources to real estate in a way that wouldn’t happen in a free market. More here.

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