Campaigns/Elections

Last Night's Debate

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A few observations:

•  McCain was much stronger than last time, and may well have won on points.  But debates aren't about debating skill, or even public policy.  They're about likability and not screwing up.  I suspect the image most voters will take away is that of an angry, cantankerous old man with clear contempt for his opponent debating a young, articulate, good-looking guy who smiled and appeared gracious.  Obama wins.

•  Obama's answer on the "Obama Doctrine" sounded like it was written by Sarah Palin.  He clearly didn't have an answer about what criteria he'd use in determining which humanitarian crises are worthy of U.S. military force.  He was all over the place.  What we're left with, then, is, "Iraq never posed a threat to the security of the United States.  Which is why we should have sent troops to Darfur, instead."

•  Tom Brokaw was very good.

•  The most depressing part of the night for me was watching CNN's real-time reaction from undecided Ohio voters.  When Obama promised health care for everyone, promised that you could also keep your employer-sponsored health-care, promised to do all of this and bring health care costs down (he really must be Jesus), and capped it all off with a pledge to maintain the current system of employer-sponsored health care, his ratings were off the charts.  The Ohio group gave McCain his strongest marks when he promised to buy up all the troubled mortgages.  Is there any way to pull off this "democracy" thing without using actual voters?

•  Note to McCain:  Don't crack jokes in a format where you'll be the only one laughing at them.  It's creepy.

•  Note to Obama: It's great soundbite to say everyone has a "right" to health care.  But there is no "right" that can only be recognized by forcing someone else to give up time, labor, and resources.

•  The choices last night on the economy:  Mass government intervention pretending to be tangentially related to the free market versus mass government intervention that makes no illusions about any allegiance to the free market.

•  The choices last night on foreign policy:  Four years of lots more small wars versus four years of a couple more big wars.

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  1. “But there is no “right” that can only be recognized by forcing someone else to give up time, labor, and resources.”

    Like the right to police protection?

  2. The right to a trial by a jury of your peers?

  3. People who think health care is a right think it is a right in the same sense that people have a right to police protection. The latter involves forcing someone else to give up time, labor and resources (you have to pay taxes to pay for the police).

  4. Like the right to police protection?

    Is there such a right?

  5. It’s great soundbite to say everyone has a “right” to health care. But there is no “right” that can only be recognized by forcing someone else to give up time, labor, and resources.

    The right to representation can’t be free, I’d imagine. Are we upturning Gideon v. Wainwright on account that paying some poor sap’s lawyer is stealing labor from others?

  6. Like the right to police protection?

    Is there such a right?

    If cops are to be given wide latitude, impunity, and power over life and death, the least they could do in return is protect a guy. It as much a matter of transactional ethics as it is a matter of rights.

  7. Is there any way to pull off this “democracy” thing without using actual voters?

    If you can figure it out, let me know. I’m drawing a blank here.

  8. Well there certainly is no enforceable right to police protection. There are a few famous cases were courts dismissed suits against police departments who failed to show up when called, and then the people calling ended up crime victims.

  9. “Like the right to police protection?”

    I think a better example would be the right to legal representation.

    But anyway, it’s a little silly talking about people having a natural right to something that didn’t even exist 100 years ago.

  10. McCain looked very hunchbacked to me last night, which he doesn’t look so much when he’s standing at a podium.
    Obama had some comebacks to things McCain said.

    On the matter of healthcare being a right, note that Obama carefully said “I think it should be a right,” which doesn’t mean anything. If you believe it’s a right, it’s a right. I would never place the words “should be” before describing the rights that I believe in. Great soundbite indeed, but do you think he really believes it? He can’t honestly say “I think health care is a right” when his plan doesn’t cover everybody.

  11. To follow up, I guess my point is that if we are willing to recognize that getting a poor sap a lawyer when he is facing deprivation of liberty is reason enough to “redistribute some wealth”, why are we not willing to recognize that getting a poor sap some medical care when he is facing deprivation of life is?

    Hypothetically, of course. 😉

  12. “Like the right to police protection?”

    There is no right to police protection.

    Try suing the police department for failing to stop someone from robbing you and see how far you get.

  13. If cops are to be given wide latitude, impunity, and power over life and death, the least they could do in return is protect a guy.

    It’s the least they could do but the Supreme Court says they have no obligation to do so.

    You have a “right” to a lawyer because it’s in the law. If we are in the Thunderdome and you assert your right to counsel, I’ll chop you half with a chainsaw (as long as I can start it) before everyone else is done laughing at you.

    You have to be very careful about what you call a “right”. There are definitely valid concepts of “natural rights” but most rights are only that which is defined by law.

  14. There is no right to police protection. The Supreme Court has made that pretty clear.

    Legal counsel is trickier. If the state is going to spend public resources to take away your freedom, then it’s obligated to spend resources to ensure that it’s doing so in a just and fair manner.

    That said, I don’t think anyone has a natural right to legal representation. I just think it’s a fair policy. I’d rather the result in Gideon have been achieved through the legislative process. And there’s some evidence that the momentum around the country was headed in that direction.

  15. “To follow up, I guess my point is that if we are willing to recognize that getting a poor sap a lawyer when he is facing deprivation of liberty is reason enough to “redistribute some wealth”, why are we not willing to recognize that getting a poor sap some medical care when he is facing deprivation of life is? ”

    The right to a lawyer isn’t a stand alone right – it is merely a mechanism that is a check on the power of government to deprive someone of their liberty. The government has to pay for your lawyer (if you can’t afford your own) only when it is the government that is charging you with a crime and threatening to deprive you of your liberty.

    You don’t have a right to a government paid lawyer in any other circumstance such as in a civil suit where you’re suing a neighbor for building a fence on your property or some such thing.

    That is altogether different than the idea that receiving medical treatment is an affirmative “right”. The government isn’t the entity depriving the person of their health to begin with.

  16. I’d just like to say that todays Woot deal has the best product description ever.

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  17. I don’t particularly believe in “natural rights” and concur with Episiarch to the extent that you have rights only to the extent that you can defend them (or pay someone else off to defend them for you).

    But, it does stand to reason that we can turn this “well, this ‘right’ didn’t exist 100 years ago” on its head pretty easily. After all, we can conceive of a time before there was a free press, or even a press at all. Afterward, it existed, and had to be accounted for in the freedoms we afford for the health of the society. Likewise, 100 years ago we could not have conceived of things like antibiotics and chemotherapy and everyone expecting reasonably to live to seventy-odd years old. I wonder, if that *had* been the case during the days of the founding fathers, how might they have reacted to the notion that such technologies to extend life itself would be available to some but not others?

  18. What we’re left is, then, is, “Iraq never posed a threat to the security of the United States. Which is why we should have sent troops to Darfur, instead.”

    Which is actually a tenable position (though not the position that is favored by most commenters here) if you add: “Neither Darfur nor Iraq posed any imminent threat to the US, both had humanitarian catastrophes going on in 2003, but unlike Iraq we might have been able to solve the Darfur catastrophe without accidentally creating a new one”.

    I’m not sure if the US should participate in a Darfur peacekeeping force. But it is certainly possible to have a principled, rational view of foreign policy that opposed the Iraq war, but supports a Darfur peacekeeping mission.

  19. Also, since the power to tax, like all other government power, is justified thusly:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    The general welfare is a nebulous thing, but if we are to conceive it minimally as providing for infrastructure (which all but the craziest among us concede that it does), then why not other services? One need come up with some sort of criteria beyond “but it’s my money!” (cause it always will be your money) to figure out what is a legitimate application, under the general principles, of the taxpayer’s dollars.

  20. “But, it does stand to reason that we can turn this “well, this ‘right’ didn’t exist 100 years ago” on its head pretty easily.”

    Actually the proper distinction is that the concept of affirmative rights as opposed to negative rights didn’t exist 100 years ago.

    There are many things that didn’t exist 100 years ago but the concept of negative rights easily encompasses them. You have a right to own a car, a TV set, a computer, etc. There is, however, no right to require someone else to provide you with any of things if you can’t afford to buy them yourself.

    Medical treatment is no different.

  21. What SCOTUS cases have specifically dealt with the right or lack thereof to police protection?

    Don’t know and am curious.

  22. But, it does stand to reason that we can turn this “well, this ‘right’ didn’t exist 100 years ago” on its head pretty easily. After all, we can conceive of a time before there was a free press, or even a press at all. Afterward, it existed, and had to be accounted for in the freedoms we afford for the health of the society.

    The rejoinder to that (not taking a side on whether I agree or disagree) is that the “right to a free press” is really a right to the absence of coercive action or threats to prevent you from freely reporting news, publishing opinions, reading publications, etc.. That absence is not dependent on advancements in technology. The same logic applies to all “negative liberty” arguments.

  23. “The general welfare is a nebulous thing”

    It says “promte the general Welfare” – it doesn’t say provide specific welfare for selected individuals.

  24. There is no right to police protection. The Supreme Court has made that pretty clear.

    True that. I’m just saying that if we’re gonna give ’em guns and the right to use ’em on whoever they damn well please, it might be reasonable to expect more out of ’em then nine cloistered monkeys in funny black dresses see fit to do.

  25. More people need to realize that democracy and liberty are not always friends.

  26. It says “promte the general Welfare” – it doesn’t say provide specific welfare for selected individuals.

    Gilbert, even you are not so dense as to see how promoting the individual welfare promotes the general welfare, right? Like if the government were to prevent a plague from spreading, it would certainly benefit the people at risk from dying from the plague, but also benefits the economy by protecting against lost productivity, and benefits the public order by preventing panic.

  27. What SCOTUS cases have specifically dealt with the right or lack thereof to police protection?

    DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 1989; 489 U.S. 189 (1989))

  28. I’m not dense enough to buy your attempt to conflate a government responsibilty to deal with deadly communicable diseases that pose a dire and immediate threat to a large percentage (if not all of) the population with the idea that generically giving a particular group of people free healthcare services at the expense of everyone else has anything to do with “promoting the general Welfare”

  29. The only “right” anyone has is a right not to be messed with by anyone, anytime, anywhere – as long as you do the same.

  30. Like the right to police protection?

    You’ve gotten enough responses, and I see you’re too busy to answer any of them, but I do have to ask:

    Are you really that stupid, or was that “point” you were making leading to something better that you got distracted from?

  31. Really, Gil? So when a guy who works at wherever you work gets strep or pneumonia, is it or is it not beneficial to you and your fellow employees for him to be back on his feet as soon as possible so that the extra work burden (which introduces inefficiencies) created by his absence is brought to an end quickly?

    And please tell me how allowing your co-worker to die of one of those conditions is beneficial to the general welfare.

  32. Ele,

    Don’t get hung up on “natural rights” in this case. Most here are not going to use in it a “god granted” or supernatural manner, but rather refer to the quasi-morality structure generated by thousands of different ethical system interacting every day that I usually refer to as individual rights.

    A good example of this is that you and I are trapped on a deserted island together. There is no government to create and enforce laws on us and we’ve made no formal agreements of non-aggression. You shimmy up a tree and steal a coconut and then I take it away from you by force but without hurting you. I’ve stolen a coconut. Congress doesn’t have to pass a law to say I’ve stolen a coconut, but you would recognize that I stole it from you nonetheless. Same goes for hitting you, raping you with a conch shell or murdering you. These are rights you assert as an individual sentient being, not a law passed by some legislative body.

    In that sense, healthcare, police protection, even a right to a lawyer is not an individual right. And the arguments for collective rights are all based around gross and on-going violations of individual rights.

  33. Gilbert,

    The problem with that argument is where you draw the line. How many people have to die or be affected before it constitutes a dire and immediate threat? Any distinction between one individual and the entire population is bound to be arbitrary and politically motivated. Similarly, what kinds of things constitute a dire and immediate threat? Just hantavirus or does heart disease count as well?

    LMNOP, I haven’t read the Constitution lately, but I don’t recall the clause that makes protection of the economy the sovereign duty of the state.

  34. You’re reaching too far, LMNOP. My bad ankle hurts today. Give me some money to buy some painkillers so that the pain stops me from being distracted and I can work better, thereby promoting the economy and therefore your general welfare.

    See how this argument gets really, really stupid really fast?

  35. Are you really that stupid, or was that “point” you were making leading to something better that you got distracted from?

    I’ll go ahead and pick up the ball…

    I think the wider point is that there are a whole host of services that even many of us rugged individualist types depend upon for daily functioning and security of property, life, and possessions…things like infrastructure construction and maintenance, emergency services (police, fire, EMT), etc.. All of these things require the “theft” (in teh form of taxes) to pay for.

    The question remains “do we have a right to [any of the aforementioned things]?” It is easy to conflate an expectation with a right, but my overarching point was that at least a few of these things are part and parcel of the general purpose why our government was created to begin with (namely, promoting the general welfare, whatever the fuck that means). Which then brings the question, not so much are these things “rights”, but rather, are our expectations justifiable?

  36. The right to a lawyer isn’t a stand alone right – it is merely a mechanism that is a check on the power of government to deprive someone of their liberty. The government has to pay for your lawyer (if you can’t afford your own) only when it is the government that is charging you with a crime and threatening to deprive you of your liberty.

    You don’t have a right to a government paid lawyer in any other circumstance such as in a civil suit where you’re suing a neighbor for building a fence on your property or some such thing.

    That is altogether different than the idea that receiving medical treatment is an affirmative “right”. The government isn’t the entity depriving the person of their health to begin with.>>

    The beautiful thing about the Reason forums, is if you wait long enough, someone will post your well thought out, smart responses, and save you the time.

    I’m going to send Gilberts email address to my clients, and take the rest of the week off.

    Ok, enough ass kissing for the day.

  37. Note to McCain campaign:

    Your candidate only shines in the town hall format when the audience is filled with sycophants.

  38. You’re reaching too far, LMNOP. My bad ankle hurts today. Give me some money to buy some painkillers so that the pain stops me from being distracted and I can work better, thereby promoting the economy and therefore your general welfare.

    See how this argument gets really, really stupid really fast?

    If you were going for argumentum ad absurdum, you failed. Epically. For the sake of running with this argument (which I personally, I might add, don’t agree with), your example works perfectly, and is not the least bit ridiculous. You are more productive with painkillers, and by all probability your labor adds more productivity to the market than the taxes that were levied to pay for the painkillers extracted from the market.

  39. I didn’t see any of McCain’s vaunted “shine” in the town-hall format. I thought he beat Obama in the last one and Obama beat him (slightly) this time.

  40. things like infrastructure construction and maintenance, emergency services (police, fire, EMT), etc.. All of these things require the “theft” (in teh form of taxes) to pay for.

    require? Without taxes/”theft,” there’d be no fire protection?
    I don’t think you meant to say that
    Did you?

  41. You are more productive with painkillers, and by all probability your labor adds more productivity to the market than the taxes that were levied to pay for the painkillers extracted from the market

    So by your logic, anything which increases productivity for the market is an acceptable thing to tax and pay for. I just want to be clear that this is what you are saying before we go any further.

  42. LMNOP, I haven’t read the Constitution lately, but I don’t recall the clause that makes protection of the economy the sovereign duty of the state.

    True enough. If such a duty existed, it would live in the (legally inert) Preamble.

    On the other hand, I sincerely doubt that when the constitution was written, the founding fathers had any sort of handle on economics to begin with. IIRC, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published contemporaneously with the DoI, and didn’t make it across the seas into wide circulation for a few years. It certainly wasn’t recognized as the bible of all things economical until much later.

    Much like effective medicine or wire surveillance or abortion or gay marriage or the Internet, many things either didn’t exist or weren’t on the radar screen when our constitution was written. Who knows how, if those things were in play, it might have affected the ideologies and priorities of those who constructed the blueprint of our government.

  43. require? Without taxes/”theft,” there’d be no fire protection?
    I don’t think you meant to say that
    Did you?

    For John Q. Poor Dude, that’s exactly the reality. I don’t think I misspoke.

    If you seek to argue there would be services that would cover those who could pay, sure, in Libertopia, that would probably be the case. But they would not be public services…and I imagine a conflagration in the poor part of town could easily turn into an inferno that could threaten those who have more money and outstrip their ability to fight it. Hence, it is better to put out the fire, no matter in whose house it originates, and assume that blanket protection is more effective than spot protection for those who can afford it.

  44. Hence, it is better to put out the fire, no matter in whose house it originates, and assume that blanket protection is more effective than spot protection for those who can afford it.

    I don’t think that’s a controversial statement, and as such, I don’t see why those who pay for fire protection don’t also pay for fire protection for their employees, or for the developments that they own, or god forbid, for the properties that are on the road that they own.

  45. “Really, Gil? So when a guy who works at wherever you work gets strep or pneumonia, is it or is it not beneficial to you and your fellow employees for him to be back on his feet as soon as possible so that the extra work burden (which introduces inefficiencies) created by his absence is brought to an end quickly?”

    That, of course, is a private matter for the employer and employees to deal with. It isn’t the business of the government.

    If the employer doesn’t already provide health insurance, then saying the government (i.e taxpayers) should pick up tab is giving that business a free ride. That business’s productivity may be “improved” by it but it is at the expense of the taxpayers and it is not at all a proven thing that any residual benefit will accrue to the taxpayers from that increased productivity that would exceed the cost they incurred to induce it.

  46. So by your logic, anything which increases productivity for the market is an acceptable thing to tax and pay for. I just want to be clear that this is what you are saying before we go any further.

    Just to play the game for a while, let’s say that was the argument. Then the question becomes “what property rights are OK to violate in order to benefit the general welfare in the form of enhanced economic efficiency?”

    If you were asking me, personally, I’d say “next to none”. However, since I’m playing “consequentialist asshole” today, I will say today: “I don’t know Epi, how much is acceptable?” From most reasonable points of view, that question doesn’t have an easy answer. See above example of fire protection as a public vs. a private good.

  47. However, since I’m playing “consequentialist asshole” today

    Yes, you are.

    From most reasonable points of view, that question doesn’t have an easy answer

    And that is my point. Now, in absolutist terms for maximum liberty (which I subscribe to), the only answer that isn’t subject to massive shifting around is “none”. Yes, I know that is an extreme position. But it is also a logical one. Once you allow that “some” is possible, it will always be abused and distorted.

  48. “Just to play the game for a while, let’s say that was the argument. Then the question becomes “what property rights are OK to violate in order to benefit the general welfare in the form of enhanced economic efficiency?”

    First you would have to prove that “anything that increases productivity for the market” equates to the meaning of the words “promote the general Welfare” as they were understood to mean at time the founding fathers wrote them. There were a lot things that didn’t exist at that time but markets certainly did exist.

  49. There were a lot things that didn’t exist at that time but markets certainly did exist.

    They certainly did. *Understanding* of them, however, especially in the macro sense was basically absent. Much like, for example, Influenza existed in 1787, too, but doctors hadn’t the foggiest of how it was transmitted and how it killed. Their understanding was lacking even though the bare phenomena existed. Are we bound to the public health policy informed by 1787 medicine and science?

    I hope not.

  50. “The general welfare is a nebulous thing”

    No it isn’t. The “general welfare” or “common good” is anything that has 95% support. Nothing controversial the govt does is for the common good, because it’s not commonly held as good. Different people have different values and relative weights of those values. If it is good by your values and not theirs, that’s not the common good, that’s “I know best”.

    What this means is that the common good is locking up rapists and murderers and fighting off foreign armies that storm the beach at LA or Miami – at most a minimal state.

  51. I was physically incapable of watching the entire “debate” last night, but could someone gently let me in on McCain’s attempt at humor? I love it when political jokes bomb, and neocons especially have a tin ear for humor, so this should be “good,” in a bad way. Thanks in advance.

  52. And another thing, if you’re going to try to push the concept of paying for people’s healthcare through the “promote the general Welfare” phrase on the ratinonalization of “increased productivity”, then you will have to evaluate whether to pay for any given individual’s healthcare or not on a case by case basis based on whether the costs of providing the specific care for that individual exceeds any estimated benefit of keeping him or her healthly or not.

    Since all the old folks on Medicaid in the nursing home are not producing anything and won’t be producing anything you will need to cut them all off immediately.

  53. So, we understand markets today?

  54. Epi, I differ slightly on where the local maximum of the government power/liberty curve is located. I think that practically speaking, the maximum of the curve resides just *slightly* to the right of the y-axis, whereas I imagine you being a good anarcho-capitalist would place it basically right on top of the y-axis.

    I think we’d about agree on the slope of the descending curve.

    But popping out of the model for a second, I disagree with your (and the general, around here) view that only a thin red line or policy firewall protects liberty. I think that a maximally free state is metastable at best, which is why I subscribe to a more lax “the government can indulge minimally in consequentialist weighing” model, given that I also endorse a punctuated equilibrium of government (stability with intermittent revolution).

  55. So, we understand markets today?

    Heh. I’d say that we understand markets *better* today than we did in 1787. Whether we really have a handle on it is another question entirely.

  56. Furthermore, it is an inefficient use of funds and detracts from the economy for family members to spend resources on the health of those old, non-producing, folks, so we should prevent them from aversely affecting our economy.

  57. Since all the old folks on Medicaid in the nursing home are not producing anything and won’t be producing anything you will need to cut them all off immediately.

    That’s a helluva unwarranted assumption. “Old folks” can provide value through being a repository of experience and/or potential companionship that they provide to their youthful family members and/or members of their field of expertise.

  58. Dormouse | October 8, 2008, 8:34am | #
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  59. I subscribe to a more lax “the government can indulge minimally in consequentialist weighing” model, given that I also endorse a punctuated equilibrium of government (stability with intermittent revolution)

    I used to be like you. But then I realized that these revolutions are not going to happen. The very success of markets and the checks and balances of our government have made the slide into tyranny too slow, yet have allowed the massive burgeoning of the state.

    It is our own successes that will eventually enslave us. I do not say this as an anti-consumerite. What I mean is that we have generated so much wealth that the parasite of government can siphon off colossal amounts of it and we don’t even notice, allowing it to become more powerful and total than anything dreamt of in the past.

  60. Elemenope –
    the problem with calling what you’re advocating “consequentialist” is that it implies that the consequences can be known. libertarianism specifically addresses this problem by not basing decisions about what is right and wrong on the outcome of acts, but rather on the autonomy of the person/people being acted upon.

  61. And another thing, if you’re going to try to push the concept of paying for people’s healthcare through the “promote the general Welfare” phrase on the ratinonalization of “increased productivity”, then you will have to evaluate whether to pay for any given individual’s healthcare or not on a case by case basis based on whether the costs of providing the specific care for that individual exceeds any estimated benefit of keeping him or her healthly or not.

    No, you don’t. You just have to prove that covering everybody produces a net gain, even if there is a set of net losers involved.

    Some segment of home insurance policies end up costing Commerce Insurance more money than the owners paid in premiums. Insurance remains a lucrative business.

  62. “That’s a helluva unwarranted assumption. “Old folks” can provide value through being a repository of experience and/or potential companionship that they provide to their youthful family members and/or members of their field of expertise.”

    Let’s see you come up with some proof to quantify that. Any “increased productivity” that you can’t quantify is “increased productivity” that doesn’t exist.

  63. Furthermore, it is an inefficient use of funds and detracts from the economy for family members to spend resources on the health of those old, non-producing, folks, so we should prevent them from aversely affecting our economy.

    One year, I filed a claim on my car insurance. That particular year, I was a net loss to Commerce Insurance.

    Regardless, over my lifetime, I have produced and will produce a significant net gain for that company.

  64. People with no values except money tend to bad judges of value.

  65. “Some segment of home insurance policies end up costing Commerce Insurance more money than the owners paid in premiums. Insurance remains a lucrative business.”

    They aren’t covering anybody who isn’t paying the premiums. And they can choose to drop you if you make too many claims.

    Don’t try to equate that with government paid healthcare for everyone regardless of abiltity to pay.

  66. joe covered it, Gil. It’s a simple extension of the fire protection paradigm I elucidated earlier. Sometimes, you protect everyone because over the average doing so will increase value, even if there are individual or small sets of net losers.

  67. Who has no values but money? In my best Tim Curry voice, I respond to you thusly: “Capitalism was a red herring.”

  68. “joe covered it, Gil.”

    No he didn’t – he asserted something that he cannot prove.

  69. People with no values except money tend to bad judges of value.

    I’ve always said that it is dangerous to assign quantifiable value to everything because not everything *ought* to have transactional value. It’s a bad habit that is hard to break.

    I used to be like you. But then I realized that these revolutions are not going to happen. The very success of markets and the checks and balances of our government have made the slide into tyranny too slow, yet have allowed the massive burgeoning of the state.

    It is our own successes that will eventually enslave us. I do not say this as an anti-consumerite. What I mean is that we have generated so much wealth that the parasite of government can siphon off colossal amounts of it and we don’t even notice, allowing it to become more powerful and total than anything dreamt of in the past.

    Empires larger than ours have fallen before. I don’t think it is inevitable that the US will remain as the monstrosity it seems to currently slouch towards. I agree to some extent that it will be *messier* because our slide into the doldrums was slower and the pain spread out over much wider and thinner fields, and so people are not used to thinking in catastrophic terms.

  70. No he didn’t – he asserted something that he cannot prove.

    Well, imagine that. We’re all here talking hypothetically (unless you have magical powers!). Many of the statements you make are founded only upon ideology, and yet you expect them to be taken at face value. Extend the same courtesy to your interlocutors.

    As far as it goes, I think it an eminently *defensible* position that he articulated. The logic seems sound. In order to prevent systemic failure, sometimes universal coverage is preferable to individual coverage. We humans have experience with tipping points and catastrophic system collapse; in fields as diverse as engineering, sociology, law, etc.. It is not epistemologically adverse to extend the metaphor here, unless you can show why the extension is unwarranted.

    So far, you have not done so.

  71. Don’t try to equate that with government paid healthcare for everyone regardless of abiltity to pay.

    Why not? Though you may not like the idea that some “policyholders” don’t pay premiums, and you and I get to cover them, if it costs $X in premium payments to make a profit on coverage for Y number of people, it doesn’t really matter from a cost-benefit analysis how that $X is divided up.

    Pro Lib,

    Who has no values but money? Gil, the guy who wrote: “Old folks” can provide value through being a repository of experience and/or potential companionship that they provide to their youthful family members and/or members of their field of expertise.

    Let’s see you come up with some proof to quantify that. Any “increased productivity” that you can’t quantify is “increased productivity” that doesn’t exist.

  72. One year, I filed a claim on my car insurance. That particular year, I was a net loss to Commerce Insurance.

    Regardless, over my lifetime, I have produced and will produce a significant net gain for that company.

    People with no values except money tend to bad judges of value.

    I wasn’t being serious, if you couldn’t tell. I was merely extending the “we have to do it if it will increase our productivity” argument Elemenope was playing to “we should not do it if it will decrease our productivity.”

    Furthermore, I would not expect that society as a whole would be a very good judge of what my own personal old person is worth to me, whether it be in tangible benefits or intangible.

  73. Empires larger than ours have fallen before. I don’t think it is inevitable that the US will remain as the monstrosity it seems to currently slouch towards. I agree to some extent that it will be *messier* because our slide into the doldrums was slower and the pain spread out over much wider and thinner fields, and so people are not used to thinking in catastrophic terms.

    All empires fall. The point is a) whether the cause is external as opposed to internal, and b) how long that is in coming.

    It is possible that there will be peaceful reduction of government in the US over time. But I seriously doubt it.

    And as for messier, oh hell yeah anything that happens will be messy beyond belief.

  74. Furthermore, I would not expect that society as a whole would be a very good judge of what my own personal old person is worth to me, whether it be in tangible benefits or intangible.

    Agreed. Enter the high cost of presumption. It is necessary in cases of high vagary of worth where the underlying value (such as an old person being able to continue living) is fundamental, to presume by default that such a person will be worth saving even if individual by individual it turns out not to be the case.

  75. “The logic seems sound. In order to prevent systemic failure, sometimes universal coverage is preferable to individual coverage.”

    “Systemic failure”?

    Of what system?

    The nation functioned for a long time with no government “entitlement” programs at all. The creation of them isn’t what caused it’s continued function after that point and it would still function without any of them today.

  76. “Why not? Though you may not like the idea that some “policyholders” don’t pay premiums, and you and I get to cover them, if it costs $X in premium payments to make a profit on coverage for Y number of people, it doesn’t really matter from a cost-benefit analysis how that $X is divided up.”

    There AREN’T any policyholders of your property insurance company who are not paying premiums. The analogy is a false one. Furthermore, both the insurance company and the potential insured are free to make their own individual cost benefit analysis of whether to accept that particular insurance deal or not.

    The theoretical ability of government to show a “profit” on a discrete activity by forcing some people to pay enough excess premiums to more than exceed the costs it’s paying out on other people in no way constitutes “proof” that the activity is a “net gain” in a “general welfare” sense.

    Robin Hood can make a profit by stealing from some and giving part of his loot to somebody else. But that doesn’t prove he’s done anything that is a “net gain” .

  77. The “net gain” on the Medicare program is currently an unfunded liabilty of about $85 trillion dollars.

  78. I’ve already explained this, Gil. You were making a pragmatic argument about costs and relative values on a systemic level.

    The theoretical ability of government to show a “profit” on a discrete activity by forcing some people to pay enough excess premiums to more than exceed the costs it’s paying out on other people in no way constitutes “proof” that the activity is a “net gain” in a “general welfare” sense.

    Yes, but the equivalent of Commerce Insurance in my example is society as a whole, not the government. There can be a net gain for society as a whole through the provision of a universally-accessible public good, even if there are individual cases where more money is being spent on providing a certain individual with that good than he generates in increased productivity. An example is a road system – lower-income workers probably don’t gain as much productivity by having roads as they cost the system in maintenance and operations, but on the whole, having a road system boosts overall productivity well beyond its cost.

    Notably, the government does turn a profit on the roads. They’re a huge net cost to the government. They’re a huge net gain, however, to society.

  79. The “net gain” on the Medicare program is currently an unfunded liabilty of about $85 trillion dollars.

    No, Gil, that is its cost to the government, minus the receipts to the government. To calculate its net gain/loss, we’d have to factor in the benefits it provides, both in terns of dollar value of services and the benefits the recipients of those services enjoy as a result of receiving them.

  80. Er, the government does not turn a profit on the roads.

  81. “Yes, but the equivalent of Commerce Insurance in my example is society as a whole, not the government. There can be a net gain for society as a whole through the provision of a universally-accessible public good, even if there are individual cases where more money is being spent on providing a certain individual with that good than he generates in increased productivity”

    No it isn’t the actual “equivalent” to society as a whole – it is merely your assertion that it is.

    It hasn’t been established that healthcare is a “public good” in the first place or that there would be any “net gain” in making it universally available.

    So called “entitlement programs” are essentially nothing more than transfer payments. There is no proof that there is any “net gain” at all associated with any of them. If $100 goes out of my pocket into yours, your gain of $100 is exactly cancelled out by my loss of $100. There is no “net gain”.

  82. Gil, how about you address the road example (which was the stronger of the two.)

  83. The most depressing part of the night for me was watching CNN’s real-time reaction from undecided Ohio voters

    If I may be so bold: if you’re still undecided at this point in the longest election cycle in the history of the Milky Way, you’re either an idiot or legally brain dead. Or a resident of Michigan.

  84. Since it’s my argument, Gil, I can assert what it is with a pretty high degree of confidence.

    Once again, the argument: the net benefit of a public program to society as a whole can be positive, even if there are individual cases where the benefits produced by serving a particular individual do not exceed the costs. Just as an insurance company can turn a profit – that is, have benefits exceed costs – even if a certain individual collects more in one year than he pays in premiums.

    It hasn’t been established that healthcare is a “public good” in the first place or that there would be any “net gain” in making it universally available. No, it hasn’t, because that’s not what I’ve been arguing. Rather, I’ve been rebutting the following statement you made above:

    And another thing, if you’re going to try to push the concept of paying for people’s healthcare through the “promote the general Welfare” phrase on the ratinonalization of “increased productivity”, then you will have to evaluate whether to pay for any given individual’s healthcare or not on a case by case basis based on whether the costs of providing the specific care for that individual exceeds any estimated benefit of keeping him or her healthly or not.

    As a matter of fact, you do not. You only have to prove that the net benefit to the system as a whole (that Commerce Insurance’s home insurance portfolio as a whole) exceeds the costs (collects more in premiums than it pays in claims).

    So called “entitlement programs” So, they’re not actually entitlement programs? They’re not even “entitlement programs?” They’re ‘so called “entitlement programs?'” You sure you don’t a couple of asterisks, too?

    If $100 goes out of my pocket into yours, your gain of $100 is exactly cancelled out by my loss of $100. There is no “net gain”.

    There are many things wrong with this statement. For example, the security provided by knowing that you will be able to afford health care may well exceed $100. People often pay more in home insurance than they ever collect in claims, but insurance remains worthwhile to them. And then there’s the argument that $100 spent vaccinating kids for the mumps produces more good than someone with good health insurance having an additional $100 in your bank account.

    And just to spare your typing fingers, noting that you don’t wanna pay $100 to vaccinate those kids doesn’t actually rebut a point about the economic costs and benefits. I’m responding to what you wrote about utilitarian value.

  85. Elemenope,

    The roads example is really not better. You can argue (and I agree with) the notion that centrally funded roads are easier (not better or cheaper) than a patchwork of private roads and tolls you’d have to navigate and probably are therefore a net good.

    But the roads/healthcare breaks down because you are talking about transfers from individuals to individuals for things that only have tangible benefit to that individual. If you get a hip replacement on the government dime after years of skiing, you personally reap 95% of the benefit from the transfer payments of thousands. The equivilent benefit from road construction would be requiring the government to build a driveway from your house to the nearest common road, no matter where you build your house. Hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially for a road on your private land that only you and very select few other have any utility for. It takes deep corruption to make that happen now, but you want the equivilent to be common place in healthcare?

  86. Hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially for a road on your private land that only you and very select few other have any utility for.

    Three hundred fifty thousand dollars to replace that guy’s home, and he’s only paid about twenty grand in premiums? That’s it, I’m cancelling my home insurance, because that guy got more than he paid in, so ergo, there’s no benefit to me in paying for home insurance.

    You could be that guy who needs the hip replacement surgery. You could be the guy whose house gets struck by lightning.

  87. joe,

    Universal healthcare is not insurance for the simple reason that if you think the premium to coverage ratio is off, you can drop out of insurance.

    Please stop pretending they are the same thing. If robbing the rich to heal the poor is what you are after, just man up, admit it, and get dismissed as the collectivist you are.

  88. Universal healthcare is not insurance… No, SugarFree, it is not. Nor is it a road system.

    That’s how a metaphor works – two situations have elements in common that allow them to be compared. They don’t have to have all elements in common, just the ones that are relevant to the point being made.

    No one is pretending anything here. I made an actual argument with a point, one that has something to do with costs and benefits, and nothing to do with the definition of the term “insurance.”

    But I’ll grant you this much – you probably didn’t whiff on that point because of your manhood.

  89. PS – I want richer people to help pay for poorer people’s health care, and I want people who aren’t in a health-induced financial crisis to help pay for the health care of people (from whatever socio-economic strata) who are having a health-induced financial crisis.

    That too has nothing to do with my rebuttal to Gil’s point about the net benefit of a large system needing to be measured on a case-by-case basis.

  90. Please stop pretending they are the same thing. If robbing the rich to heal the poor is what you are after, just man up, admit it, and get dismissed as the collectivist you are.

    Maximal freedom does not necessarily rest on the X-axis origin of a government/liberty curve.

    I liken the liberty curve to the Laffer curve, in that I personally believe that anarchy would not be maximally free (people could easily and without consequence infringe on other people’s property liberty, and health), nor obviously would totalitarianism…but the maximum of the curve lies somewhere between the two, and God only knows where. It is an article of faith among libertarians (not without reason) that the maximum of the curve lies to the left side of the graph. Many liberals would argue it lies further to the right, and have good reasons themselves to believe so.

    One thing is for sure, there is nothing intrinsic about either position that guarantees its correctness. I happen to believe that libertarians are closer to right than liberals, but I am not so deluded as to think my article of faith guarantees its actual objective truth.

  91. When exactly have I been shy about expressing a liberal opinion out of fear of being dismissed as a collectivist?

    Hi. I’m joe. Have we met?

  92. joe,

    Yes, use a metaphor and just discard it when called out. When is health care like beneficial insurance? Why when it supports joe’s argument? When is it not? When it doesn’t anymore.

    I made an argument with a point too. And you replied in insurance terms to try and refute it. I counter with a valid observation that the two things you are conflating are not conflatable and you say that you weren’t saying at all what you just said.

    Just keep lying about what you and everyone else is saying. Eventually people will figure out the the cost of wading through your bullshit is not worth the dubious benefit of talking to you.

  93. When did I discard it? I’m asking you to respond to it.

    Once again, here is the totally non-discarded metaphor:

    Public programs such as universal health care is like home insurance, in that the overall system can still produce a net benefit – that is, benefits that exceed the costs – even when there are individual cases where the cost exceeds the benefit. One need not prove that every policy Commerce writes creates a net profit for Commerce in order to prove that Commerce’s home insurance portfolio is profitable. Similarly, and contra Gil Martin, one need not prove that every individual will experience productivity gains exceeding the cost of their coverage in order to prove that universal health care will create a net benefit to society.

    Totally not discarded. Sitting right there, waiting for an assent, or a rebuttal.

    I made an argument with a point too. And you replied in insurance terms to try and refute it. No, I didn’t try to refute your point. I acknowledged that it was true – No, SugarFree, it is not. – then pointed out that it is not relevant to the argument it was intended to rebut.

    and you say that you weren’t saying at all what you just said. Nope. Once again “what I just said” was NOT that universal health care was equivalent to insurance in all of its particulars. Rather, I made a much more narrow point, one I’ve now repeated for the fourth or fifth time, and which I don’t intend to explain to you any further.

    If you wish to argue against my rebuttal to Gil – once again, the point I made about net costs vs. individual costs and benefits – have at it. If you wish to belabor the uncontested poing that universal health coverage does not function like insurance in other ways unrelated to the point, I can’t stop you.

    PS – did I ever tell you how sexy you are when you start swearing while losing an argument?

  94. Elemenope,

    Once again, though, you are treating freedom as a collective right. I want to be free, I want other individuals to be free, but I don’t a crap about finding a balance of “freedom” that generates maximum utility for everyone.

    Individual freedom starts with a level playing field of rights. If my first principle is freedom for myself, then every little bit of freedom you take from me has to be for something I personally benefit from or be about rectifying something that I think is a wrong. This doesn’t lead to anarchism. It leads to a libertarian government ruling by meaningful consent.

    Harming me (by taking the money I could pay for my own health care with) to help someone else may or may not be a gain to society as a whole, but I damn sure know it is not a benefit to me.

    Greedy libertarians, lack of compassion, heartless, blah, blah, blah

  95. sugarless,

    The liberty curve does not have to be a measure of “collective liberty” (whatever the fuck that might be) against government. I usually conceive of it as the liberty of *any given individual* plotted against government.

    And on that measure, the behavior of the curve I think generally holds. Without courts or law or neutral guarantors of property, for instance, I think that one could easily say that no individual is in a state of maximal freedom. That is to say, with those things, the person has more freedoms than they would without them (to sue for their rights, for recompense from damages, or to protect and recover property).

  96. There are plenty of libertarian arguments that don’t demonstrate greed, lack of compassion, and heartlessness.

    “The effects on other people don’t matter, I just know it doesn’t benefit me” is not among them.

  97. By the way, I personally agree with you on the health care example. I’m being, as I mentioned before, a utilitarian asshole for the sake of the exercise.

    I also think that, though I disagree with joe, he has more of a point than you give him credit.

  98. There are plenty of libertarian arguments that don’t demonstrate greed, lack of compassion, and heartlessness.

    I believe I stipulated with my “blah, blah, blah” comment that I don’t care if its a greedy position to take.

  99. My apologies. I though you were denying that it was the greedy position to take. I see that sometimes.

    But hey, who doesn’t sometimes read a familiar argument into the comments of someone making a different argument? Best just to admit it when that happens and move on.

  100. Ele,

    Never did I argue for anarchism. I’m a fan of rule of law, courts, roads, sane policing, reasonable levels of defense spending, and libraries.

    By the way, “collective freedom” is just collectivism. I was trying to make sure you didn’t think I was straying from the point. And collectivism is just utilitarianism with a sick kid being waved in your face. Appeals to conscience don’t work on people who don’t have any.

    As for joe, I’ve just come to the realization about our little tussles we get it. But I also saw that trying to convince him of the source of the confused part of our disagreements is not really worth the trouble.

  101. the realization

    Pat, I’d like to buy an “a.” Stupid articles.

  102. I LOVED The Breakfast Club, SugarFree!

    “I don’t want to get into this with you man.

    Why not?

    Cuz I’d kill you. I’d kill you, and your fuckin’ parents would sue me, and it would be a big mess, and I don’t need the hassle.”

    Awesome movie.

  103. And that’s why I don’t even try.

  104. Mr. Nice Guy | October 8, 2008, 7:49am | #
    “But there is no “right” that can only be recognized by forcing someone else to give up time, labor, and resources.”

    Like the right to police protection?

    Xmas | October 8, 2008, 7:51am | #
    The right to a trial by a jury of your peers?

    Both of these can be services to which people voluntarily subscribe, and for which the providers can be compensated at market rates.

    Police protection can be an optional service to which you can subscribe by voluntarily paying the appropriate tax, or else hiring your own private security firm to protect you.

    Jurors can be hired at wages to which they voluntarily agree to, rather than conscripted into serving at sub-minimum wage rates.

  105. Never did I argue for anarchism. I’m a fan of rule of law, courts, roads, sane policing, reasonable levels of defense spending, and libraries.

    No you didn’t. I was pointing out that the left extreme of the graph (x=0) is Anarchism by definition, and I was arguing that y would not be at its highest value on the curve at x=0. That you agree is great! 😉

    The thing is, most of the things you just listed require some sort of collective action and produce distributed benefit. I agree with you that there is little use for a concept like “collective liberty”, but I think it is nearly self-evident that collective action in the above mentioned areas *can* improve *individual* liberty.

  106. There are plenty of libertarian arguments that don’t demonstrate greed, lack of compassion, and heartlessness.

    Whereas the results (though not necessarily the intent) of leftist policies is generally greed, lack of compassion, and heartlessness toward most people, to the benefit of certain politically connected special interests.

    Any form of governance that depends on the kindness of strangers is doomed to fail. One has to design systems based on actual human behavior, not RainbowPuppyHug thinking about human behavior.

    Some people are jerks. It’s best to have laws and governance that gets good outcomes despite this propensity. Free markets tend to do that better than socialism.

  107. Ele,

    All I was saying is that you can provide all those things without slipping over to the “government, rah, rah, rah” side. I’m not against all collectivism, just non-voluntary collectivism. Being against the draft is not the same as being opposed to the concept of a standing army.

  108. The thing is, most of the things you just listed require some sort of collective action and produce distributed benefit. I agree with you that there is little use for a concept like “collective liberty”, but I think it is nearly self-evident that collective action in the above mentioned areas *can* improve *individual* liberty.

    LMNOP — if you had read David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom”, you wouldn’t be cavalierly tossing around the words “require” and “nearly self-evident” to describe statist solutions to problems that can be accomplished, arguably much better, by individualist solutions.

  109. prolefeed —

    I have generally not been impressed with individualistic solutions to that particular set of problems, but I cannot say I’ve read that particular book so I’ll have to give it a look-see. Thanks for the reading suggestion!

  110. One man’s “general welfare” is another man’s thievery.

    And it currently appears that we are witnessing a contest for King of Thieves, rather than for the Presidency.

  111. And it currently appears that we are witnessing a contest for King of Thieves, rather than for the Presidency.

    IIRC, that Ali Baba fellow was crafty and wise.

    But I’m sure you were making a different point. That’s the trouble with adopting ridiculous rhetoric in place of actual reasoned arguments.

  112. Better than police protection and trial by jury is the right to equal protection under the law.

    As the less forthright homophobes like to argue, recognizing the marriages of gay people can cost tax dollars.

  113. By suggesting police protection I was giving an analogous situation that would exist in most Libertopia’s, that is that police protection is paid for by “theft” but is available to all (no matter what or if they paid for it). People who want health care as a right want something similar.

    As to the “no right to police protection” discussion I think what you mean is that soveriegn immunity protects governments from being sued when making discretionary choices (whether to send a police officer to your house or the burning warehouse first). But apart from that every police organization I know of responds to people whether they pay taxes or (to some degree ;)) regardless of what they pay.

  114. Radley wrote: “. But there is no “right” that can only be recognized by forcing someone else to give up time, labor, and resources.”

    So the justice system just runs on Christ-provided loaves and fishes?

  115. Ele, I think my point was pretty reasonable, actually.

    It usually comes down to this: taking money from someone else to give to me promotes the “general welfare,” while taking money from me to give to someone else under the same guise constitutes thievery. Government entities also play the self-interest game, it’s just that there’s nothing enlightened about it. It’s simply a matter of who holds the gun at any given time. This is the downfall of any redistributionist scheme, and you are presumably intelligent enough to understand that. All of the various utilitarian arguments I see in this thread are a bunch of college bull-session fluff in the face of that inescapable reality.

    The framers of the Constitution, while wise, were also guilty of occasional poor drafting. Witness the inclusion of the ambiguous general welfare and commerce clauses or the useless “militia” dictum tacked onto the Second Amendment. Perhaps they never foresaw the country they created turning into a corpulent, over-lawyered wreck, prone to fits of tragi-comic legalistic parsing. Or perhaps they foresaw it and figured that their descendants would have another revolution or two before reaching such a state.

  116. Or perhaps they foresaw it and figured that their descendants would have another revolution or two before reaching such a state.

    We did. The revolutionaries lost.

    It didn’t help at all that they were also complete dicks.

  117. Obama is a communist.

    Under my “right to healthcare” I can walk up to him and punch him in the face at any time because it will relieve stress and thus is essential to my healthcare.

  118. Correct me if I’m wrong, Elemenope, but is the following a good summary of your point?:

    If you really think there are no positive rights like the right to health care, then you better damn well be an anarcho-capitalist.

    And, contrariwise, if you think that it’s okay for the government to tax people for national defense, then you better not be running around making big claims like “there are no positive rights like the right to health care”.

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