Labor

The Government Can’t—and Won’t—Give Meaning to Your Life

A conservative technocrat tries to engineer a better world.

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The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America, by Oren Cass, Encounter Books, 272 pages, $25.99

Every policy proposal is, in a direct sense, an attempt to solve a problem. Poverty, ignorance, hunger, sickness, danger, pollution—in the realm of politics, to name a problem is to call for a solution, to demand that action be taken by someone or something, which always turns out to be the government.

In his new book, The Once and Future Worker, Oren Cass, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute and a former policy adviser on Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, offers a slew of policy proposals, from loosening environmental regulations to reshaping collective bargaining to overhauling the process by which the federal government funds state-based poverty programs to creating new wage subsidies for low-income workers. Each of these ideas is an attempt to address a little problem, all of which add up to a much bigger problem.

Cass starts from what he has dubbed the "Working Hypothesis"—that "a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy." His primary target is "economic piety"—the prevailing notion that the organizing aspiration of politics and policy should be to promote economic growth above all. He describes his book as an attempt to reorient American politics around promoting work and the interests of workers, especially less educated workers in manufacturing jobs.

But Cass' description understates his own ambitions, for he is actually trying to solve something much bigger: the problem of purpose. "Most of the activities and achievements that give life purpose and meaning are, whether in the economic sphere or not, fundamentally acts of production," he writes. His ultimate aim, then, is to restore—or provide—a sense of meaning to American life, particularly to factory workers who lack advanced education.

The goal is noble, ambitious, and impossible. Cass, the policy wonk and campaign adviser, wants to solve this big problem the same way he wants to solve all the little problems: by carefully pulling the levers of public policy. It reflects a profound and fundamental misunderstanding of what politics can do and what it is for.

The Once and Future Worker falls into a growing niche of books examining or attempting to address working-class malaise and the widening political and economic divide between largely rural voters who lack advanced degrees and college-educated urban voters. The genre's icons are writers such as Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, and Charles Murray, whose book Coming Apart Cass cites to establish the brutal conditions of the American working class.

Too many, in this telling, are not married, not working, not happy, not productive. Because politicians focused on growing the economy rather than creating "a labor market in which the nation's diverse array of families and communities could support themselves," low-skilled workers have suffered. The mistake was to treat people as consumers rather than as workers. "What we have been left with," Cass writes, "is a society teetering atop eroded foundations, lacking structural integrity, and heading toward collapse." Indeed, the white working class is literally dying as a result.

In this worldview, the signal statistics—the numbers that tell you everything you need to know—come from Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton. In a 2017 Brookings report, the pair found an increase in drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths among middle-aged white Americans. The lives of whites with a high school diploma or less were growing shorter, even as life spans were increasing for other demographic cohorts. This, they suggested, was a result of declining economic opportunity for less educated workers and the sense that they were worse off than previous generations.

Here was a problem seemingly created in a lab to provoke a response by ambitious technocrats and public intellectuals. It had everything: the tragic deaths of ordinary Americans to move hearts (and headlines), easily digested statistics generated by impeccably credentialed academic economists, and the imprimatur of Washington's most august think tank. Case and Deaton dubbed these shortened lives "deaths of despair," a phrase Cass, like many other writers, repeats in his book.

To state the problem is to call for a solution. Cass wants to end working-class despair.

The book presents a full spectrum of policy solutions, each designed to address a specific sub-problem for American workers.

He calls for reforming the public education system to allow for student "tracking." The current system, he argues, has gone all-in on college or bust, and so has produced a lot of college graduates—and a lot of busts. He proposes allowing for a variety of educational paths, including vocational training and apprenticeships that would make students more valuable to employers by offering on-the-job training. He suggests reducing onerous environmental regulations that increase the cost of opening new facilities or building new infrastructure projects, in hopes of creating more demand for low-skilled labor. He wants to let unions negotiate agreements with employers that would negate burdensome workplace mandates, in hopes of making the relationship between labor and management more productive and less adversarial.

Cass makes a strong case against America's array of overlapping and ineffective anti-poverty programs, from food stamps and welfare to Medicaid. In its current form, he argues, this incoherently designed network of programs pays people to remain poor, effectively imposing a high tax rate on work by narrowing the income gap between collecting government benefits and pursuing low-wage employment. Instead of eliminating anti-poverty spending, he proposes making it more flexible and locally accountable, giving states the power to determine how anti-poverty dollars are spent through a system he calls a "flex fund." States could decide which initiatives worked best and allocate accordingly.

These aren't radical policies, for the most part, and while they may not represent the very best solutions to the problems Cass identifies, they are generally good ideas. A politician who advocated them could appeal both to moderate, good-government reformers and to those who want to limit the reach and scope of government. American politics would be better off if these sorts of proposals were in broader circulation.

Yet there is something small about these ideas, something insufficient to the problem presented. Only a certain sort of person—say, a think tank wonk and campaign policy adviser—could propose eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency's new source review requirements as part of a package of fixes to generational despondency.

That doesn't make Cass' proposals worthless. At minimum, they would improve the economic policy discourse. But then, given the current occupant of the White House, so would nearly any substantive discussion of economic policy.

Donald Trump is not the subject of The Once and Future Worker, and he is mentioned only occasionally. But his presence looms on nearly every page. Cass is not a Trumpist: He sometimes criticizes the president, and he even attacks the administration's tariffs. Yet this book often reads as an attempt to articulate a more consistent and coherent form of Trumpism—to illustrate what a conventional, cogent economic policy agenda might look like if Trump had one.

Nowhere is that more true than in its discussions of immigration and industrial policy.

Cass favors restrictions on low-skilled immigration, and he is honest enough to admit there are tradeoffs involved. "If overall GDP growth is the goal," he says, "then all forms of immigration might make sense. If reducing consumer prices is the goal, then welcoming as many workers willing to work for as little as possible might indeed be the right choice. But if improving labor-market outcomes for the nation's less-skilled, lower-wage workers is the central objective, the economic case for unskilled immigration collapses."

Cass largely handwaves away the consequences of these tradeoffs. "The immigration debate," he says, "is ultimately about America's priorities." He demonstrates little sympathy for the homemaker whose groceries will cost more or the entrepreneur whose increased labor costs will drive him out of business, costing jobs in the process. He does not seem to mind that higher prices will stretch people's budgets, forcing ordinary middle-class families to make countless tradeoffs of their own. These people and their dilemmas are not Cass' priority, and he does not believe they should be America's.

Cass denies that he wants the government to pick winners and losers. He criticizes the deal made by state lawmakers, with the support of President Trump and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, to provide subsidies to Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn in exchange for locating a plant in Wisconsin. But Cass has singled out a particular demographic—workers without college degrees—and declared that everyone else should pay, in the form of higher prices and reduced growth, to provide them with work.

And not just any work but a particular kind of work: making goods in factories that might otherwise be based overseas. Although his book is framed as a new way to think about economic policy, much of it is rooted in nostalgia for the cultural and economic conditions of the 1950s. Manufacturing jobs and the industrial economy, he argues, are "uniquely important" and should be given a public policy boost because they are especially suited to providing satisfying employment for workers with lower educational attainment.

Cass is upfront about his belief that Americans should be paying for these jobs. "If we want more well-paying, blue-collar jobs in America, on this view, we can just buy them," he writes approvingly. "Numerous social benefits would accompany such purchases, reminding us why we care about labor-market outcomes in the first place." Cass would sacrifice the interests of the country as a whole—everyone benefits from lower prices—in favor of the interests of a particular group.

Well, yes, he might respond. The point of politics is to determine priorities, and to decide who benefits from the policies that are made. The working class has been handed a raw deal, and it is time someone advocated for their interests. In any case, there are always choices, and those choices must be made by someone—presumably someone like Oren Cass. To argue otherwise is to accept a flawed libertarian logic that has produced steady economic growth while leaving too many people behind. It is a form of unthinking economic piety.

Cass dismisses libertarians as simplistic defenders of market outcomes that he would prefer to avoid through better policy choices. It's not entirely clear, however, that he understands libertarians. At one point he says that "even the fiercest libertarian—often especially the fiercest libertarian"—will defend patent protections, which suggests he is unaware that intellectual property rights are an issue on which libertarians are deeply divided.

Cass later claims that reimporting pharmaceuticals from abroad is prohibited "on the basis of bolstering the free market, again with strong support from libertarians." If anything, the opposite is true. In 2004, the Cato Institute, the nation's largest libertarian think tank, published a study titled "Drug Reimportation: The Free Market Solution." And Michael Cannon, Cato's current health policy director, has repeatedly expressed support for eliminating the reimportation ban.

Given his misconceptions, it's not entirely surprising to find Cass arguing that Republican Party orthodoxy hews "much closer to libertarianism" than to the less market-obsessed conservatism with which he associates himself. The difference, he declares, is that his focus is on promoting a "social cohesion" he believes market outcomes don't always provide and that better policy could foster. His real complaint is that libertarians are insufficiently technocratic.

Yet postwar America has hardly been a parade of economic policy victories for libertarians. Yes, tax rates fell under Ronald Reagan, and some industries have been deregulated. But over the last generation, the federal government has grown ever larger, spending and regulating more, widening its reach into workplaces, schools, homes, and pocketbooks. The working-class decline that is at the heart of Cass' book has occurred as the state has attempted to do more and more.

Even the "deaths of despair" that provide the foundation for so much of contemporary working-class declinism can be explained largely as an unintended consequence of restrictive drug policy. Research by Christopher Ruhm of the University of Virginia has found that only a small portion of those deaths can be attributed to deteriorating local economies. The most important factors appear to be drug availability and price, with legal restrictions on prescription opioids leading to an uptick, in recent years, in consumption of more dangerous alternatives such as fentanyl. (Case and Deaton dispute this framing.)

The increase in drug deaths is a problem created by government out of a desire not only to improve people's lives but to order them in a particular way. It is now also a problem government could solve—not by attempting to rearrange the nation's political priorities around a generalized vision of what makes for a happy and satisfying life but by stepping back, recognizing its own limits, and becoming less involved in the question of how any individual should live.

I will give Cass this: The focus on economic growth to the near exclusion of all else has been bad for American politics. It has produced one party that, practically speaking, has no economic policy beyond tax cuts and another party that views a booming economy as merely a way to pay for an ever-expanding and incoherently designed entitlement system. The politics of economic growth have become a politics of government growth.

The prioritization of growth has thus resulted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what government can do, and thus what it should do. And it has led smart, ambitious technocrats like Cass, for whom problem solving is an inherently governmental endeavor, to ask it to do far too much.

Cass might dispute this, saying he only wants to create a foundation on which people of all types and in all geographic regions can support families and build lives of their choosing. But it is obvious that he wants to organize American politics and policy around a specific economic and social outcome for a specific group of people; he has a clear idea of what a good life looks like, and he wants government to set policy that guides people toward it.

Cass' defenders are, if anything, even more blunt about the goals of these proposals. In a column praising the book, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that "to make the crucial differences, economic policymakers are going to have to get out of the silos of their economic training and figure out how economic levers can have moral, communal and sociological effect." This is not simply a collection of smart economic policy proposals. It is a moral crusade that asks government to lead the way.

Government can provide a material helping hand to those most in need. It can finance and facilitate common services. It can set out fair rules of the road for the economy, and it can punish those who would cheat the system.

It does these things best when it works from the sense that individuals know their own lives and interests best, and when it seeks only to let people pursue those interests, whatever they may be. It has an important—but limited—place in society.

But it cannot supply meaning, or cure despair, no matter how cleverly its policy levers are manipulated. The problem of purpose is real, but it is one we must all wrestle with continually ourselves. It is not one that the state can solve.

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61 responses to “The Government Can’t—and Won’t—Give Meaning to Your Life

  1. Our purpose is not only creation, but creating the right things that bring us and our loved ones sustainable health, safety, security and the opportunity for growth.

    Our elite game our designed economy to get rich from creating the wrong things, and delude themselves to believe that money itself is their right purpose.

    We need laws to direct our society to do the right things.

    We need to use all available technology to support our laws. Give us the human right to digitally record our memories wherever we are to expose and protect ourselves from corruption.

    It is the definition of insanity to do wrong things and expect right results.

    1. “Our elite game our designed economy to get rich from creating the wrong things, and delude themselves to believe that money itself is their right purpose.”

      Tin foil hats on aisle #6, you imbecile.

      1. Hush. Rob knows what the “right things” are. Just put him in charge.

        1. I know right when I see it. Put me in charge.

    2. Is this a parody account? Because that’s just wrong on so many levels.

      “We need laws to direct our society to do the right things.” No, we don’t. Right is a question of morality. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that attempts to legislate morality are doomed to failure.

      “We need to use all available technology to support our laws.” Good god, I can’t think of a faster path toward tyranny.

      “Give us the human right to digitally record our memories wherever we are to expose and protect ourselves from corruption.” That might inhibit one or two of the normal channels for political corruption but will do nothing for the vast majority of scenarios where people cheat, lie, steal and collude in private.

      1. Misek is on record saying that lying should be a criminal offense and not protected speech.

        I used to think he was a sock of Hihn the Benevolent; But he’s a different kind of stupid.

      2. Being protected by memory recordings means corruption will have to stay private and between conspirators because the moment it’s recorded, it’s over.

        There is no advantage to corruption when the innocent can’t be fucked over or intimidated to conspire.

    3. We need laws to direct our society to do the right things.

      Commie.

    4. What do you think laws do if not direct people to do right things?

      Are you really so stupid to oppose all laws, or are you just trolls, dog shit to be scraped off a shoe?

      1. “to direct society to do the right things” Society is what you said, not people. Now put the goalposts down.

        1. People make up society.

          Directing either, directs both.

          1. Who determines the “right thing”? Right by who, society or the individual?

            1. Who makes laws?

              1. Legislatures. Are you implying that because a law is written, the law is right? Seriously?

                1. No, there are plenty of wrong laws.

                  Right laws represent justice. Justice exists in an environment of the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Truth is reality.

                  So, logically, whoever makes laws SHOULD ensure they can withstand the scrutiny of truth.

                  Wrong laws can’t. Even I can use logic and science to discern the truth, when I’m not corrupt.

            2. And this is where the libertarian philosophy fails and comes to a close: when the matter at hand comes down to anything qualitative.

              Who says that premeditated murder, engaged in outside of warfare, is evil and and criminal: society or the individual?

              1. Non Aggression Principle. Look it up.

      2. Laws do not, or a least should not direct anyone to do the “right” things. Laws should only be in place from directing people from doing the wrong things. For example, robbing banks, mugging people, stealing the property of others, etc.

        To say that laws should direct people to do the right thing implies a godly knowledge of what is right. No one knows what is right outside of protecting the individual from harm from others and protecting freedom of the individual.

        1. “Should not”

          Sounds like the beginning of a law to direct people to do the right thing.

          1. Laws should not.
            The individual should not.

            See the difference?

              1. Example:

                The consumption of excess sugars is detrimental to health.

                “Directing people to do the right thing” or “laws should not”
                Passing a law banning the consumption of sugar, complete with fines and imprisonment – wrong.

                “The individual should not”
                Thinking for yourself and deciding what to put in your body – right.

                If you can’t figure that one out, you’re on your own.

                1. To be clear, I have been talking about laws directing right behaviour and preventing the harm the corrupt cause to others.

                  But your analogy for sugar to corruption is like lethal drugs to sugar.

                  For example, there is a drug that looks, smells and tastes like the sweetest candy. Taking one pill results in the most pleasurable high while taking two results in certain death.

                  Do you think there should be laws protecting people from this drug or should teachers be allowed to put bowls of it out for general consumption in kindergarten classes across the land?

                  Maybe you’re suggesting that vulnerable individuals with a low IQ should be duped into extermination. Don’t worry trolls, this question was meant to be hypothetical (pretend).

                  In order for me to learn something from this discussion could you tell me when you realized your argument was doomed to failure? Was it as you composed it, before or after I replied?

  2. “Every policy proposal is, in a direct sense, an attempt to solve a problem.”

    Corporate limited liability.
    Taxes on labor rather than wealth.
    Government granted intellectual monopolies on the expression and use of ideas.
    Private property in natural resources, violating the Lockean Proviso.
    Open borders for immigration and trade.

    It’s clear whose problems Reason wants to solve.

    “He describes his book as an attempt to reorient American politics around promoting work and the interests of workers”

    And whose problems they don’t give a shit about.

    1. “Corporate limited liability.”
      Definition, please.

    2. I remember in the era of Occupy, Rolling Stone publishing an article covering much of the same, and Philosopher Kings at Reason going into a tizzy at the nefarious socialism marching towards the gates.

      Of course when faced with even worse ideas gaining traction (and winning elections), those policies seem almost quaint by comparison, as if some tactical horse trading then could have saved a fair bit of pain now.

      Gee, who could have seen that coming?

    3. “Taxes on labor rather than wealth”,

      Get lost, Commufuck.

  3. a former policy adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign

    Dude, take that off your resume.

  4. The arguments today to save the white working class seem to be the same arguments made in the 70s-80s about saving the black working class, or the arguments in the 90s about saving hispanic working classes.

    The arguments against them seem pretty much the same as well, to me. We have cultural rot and no amount of economic fiddling is going to fix that. I have family in rural America who had many of these exact economic incentives. They went into trades, like nursing school and welding, where they made good enough money to live comfortably. And then they had babies young and out of wedlock, and partied with drugs, and their lives are ruined.

    To be fair, at least these family members had a valuable trade that has helped them pick up the pieces. But other than ending the drug war, I don’t see how government policies can affect this cultural rot. Kids are raised seeing wild lives with parties and sex on demand, but never really internalizing the consequences. It takes getting off meth or raising a child alone before they learn to take responsibility for their actions and to plan for a future.

    Government isn’t going to make functioning adults out of our children. If anything, a bunch of paternalistic protection is just going to teach them that their problems are someone else’s to solve. I still see success stories out of rural America, so it is still possible. Tariffs, immigration restriction, and other wage protections aren’t going to fix that. Glorifying the successes will.

    1. Fair. Reading through the tenor of the proposals seemed like rehashing the worst from the 70s- angry union workers beating on the salvos from overseas, Made in Japan becoming a mark of distinction rather than a mark of derision, the lost hour of 1973 seemingly eating all productivity gains. Could disco balls and leisure suits be far behind?

      Previous generations manged an extended adolescence of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll before growing into their frontal lobe, and didn’t seem to have the same body count, so I’m not certain “cultural rot” is really the issue. You’d figure people with cheap drugs and sex on demand would be far happier, if even for a little while.

      Government could set up a softer landing and an easier time to pick up the pieces if it wanted to, but would you really want it to? Most of those who went into trades did so on a government loan.

      Clearing out at least the most destructive policies would be a good place to start, as well as bitch slapping the worst of the new policy proposals. We could manage this level of incompetence so much easier, so much more cheaply if we simply called out the things that will definitely not work.

    2. The problem you have with your family members is that you expect them to be like you. Simply stated, you do not accept them as they are. They have different values from you, quite obviously. You do not accept that these adults are in fact adults. They have to act more like you and less like themselves to be considered adult.

      I get it. I even sympathize. And you are right that the government is not going to have anymore success changing these people than you will have. Why? Because they have different preferences and a different perspective, and that isn’t going to change by anything, except maybe chance.

      The reason we need a basic minimum income instead of a welfare state is to end government paternalism. People are not going to change in fundamental ways. Accept that and move on.

      1. Problem with UBI is that the ONLY appeal to libertarians (well, some of them anyway) is in trade for streamlined government services and ending a host of employment regulations.

        That means no social security, no Pell Grants, no farm subsidies, no WIC, no universal healthcare, no nothing. Everybody gets a check, and more than likely that check is going to be barely enough to get you the essentials in Richmond, Indiana (as determined by what the economy can comfortably provide, not necessarily by what the people need). States always have the option to supplement or not.

        Contrast this to the popular conception of UBI on top of other welfare programs, and there is no conceivable way it could work.

        If you took the total US federal revenue and divided it up among the population, everyone gets a check for $20,000. Any UBI is going to be well below that.

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    1. Hey, down-trodden hillbillies! You see this!

  6. Am I supposed to find “purpose” in working on an assembly line?

    1. No, but is it beyond your comprehension that someone else might?

      1. I think it is a minority of assembly workers who do so.

        Perhaps the term they are looking for is “satisfaction” or “security” that allows them to pursue “purpose” elsewhere. Family, community, etc.

    2. No, you are supposed to find a paycheck.

      And then you are supposed to take some pride in a self-supported life.

      And then you are supposed to figure out what to do if you want more for yourself or your family.

  7. Or, in addition to ending the war on drugs, libertarian think tanks could actually ease restrictions and lower costs of employment by stressing the right to work in the many harmless occupations of life ( known under common law as “occupations of common right”) is exempt from taxation, including federal and state payroll taxes as well as income tax. But that is simply too radical an idea for the nation’s largest libertarian think tank, and the constitutional geniuses like Roger Pilon who labor therein. Or for libertarian authors like Timothy Sandefeur, who write books extolling the right to work, but not the right to work exempt from income taxation. So, it is up to ordinary workers to study the income tax, it’s constitutional, statutory and historical roots, and file educated tax returns that enable them to receive full refunds of all income and payroll taxes, without any help from the libertarian think tanks Suderman believes in. The American versions of Gillette jaunts, one might call them. http://Www.losthorizons.com

  8. The purpose of life isn’t to work, but to escape work. Remember, work is punishment for original sin: “By the sweat of your brow shall you toil in sorrow all the days of your life.” It’s not worth perpetuating for its own sake. (Ironically the goal of the socialist is to escape work by sitting back and telling all of us what to do.) #proclaimliberty #back2thegarden

  9. No but the government can sure destroy your life is some piss-ant public servant takes a dislike to you.

  10. No but the government can sure destroy your life is some piss-ant public servant takes a dislike to you.

  11. No but the government can sure destroy your life is some piss-ant public servant takes a dislike to you.

  12. Another mindless policy wonk who cannot see the common denominator in all that he sees wrong — government.

    Remember those blind men groping an elephant? That is government. The blind bureaucrats are trying to reform the elephant at the same time, all independently — lose / gain weight, add / amputate / reshape limbs, change the hair color (which they cannot see anyway).

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  14. Governments and central authorities give people purpose almost universally in history and throughout our modern world. In fact, it is exceptionally rare that the United States has a fairly “hands off” policy when it comes to dictating our purposes. Some countries use outright caste systems. Others track people through the educational system at young ages. Other so heavily regulate the labor market that individuals are effectively “assigned” their profession and position. Wealth redistribution schemes shuffle money around various societies in different ways (welfare, different tax brackets for lower incomes, government grants, etc.)

    All that the technocrat does is look at these various models across the world and think that they can be replicated, but “better”, in the United States. That is what the current socialists on the Left think by saying “this will be the ‘good’ socialism of Sweden and not the ‘bad’ version of Cuba, the USSR, etc.”. The right did the same thing with “compassionate conservative” in the 2000’s.

    So yes the government CAN give you purpose, but personally I would prefer it just stay out of that business.

    1. Well argued.

      We should stop arguing merely about what the government supposedly “can” do in absolutist terms and think about what the government “should” do and “will actually do in practice.”

      Libertarianism has a lot to offer the debate. We see over and over again good intentions go wrong. (The war on drugs, asset forfeiture, etc.) and we ought to think deeply about that. But good intentions can also go right.

      My objection to libertarians is not that they have not identified a problem. My objection to them is that they haven’t identified a solution. They want to say that there is no solution. Which is fine, if you happen to be one of the people who are lucky enough to thrive in society. But for those left behind, this is inadequate.

    2. Well argued.

      We should stop arguing merely about what the government supposedly “can” do in absolutist terms and think about what the government “should” do and “will actually do in practice.”

      Libertarianism has a lot to offer the debate. We see over and over again good intentions go wrong. (The war on drugs, asset forfeiture, etc.) and we ought to think deeply about that. But good intentions can also go right.

      My objection to libertarians is not that they have not identified a problem. My objection to them is that they haven’t identified a solution. They want to say that there is no solution. Which is fine, if you happen to be one of the people who are lucky enough to thrive in society. But for those left behind, this is inadequate.

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  16. The government’s only reason, as per the Declaration, is to preserve rights. Making your life better is up to you. The tools of government are prison, fines, death, taxes. How can these be used to make anyone’s life better?

    1. The reason for the government is something we all get to debate. It is not for YOU to dictate. I am allowed to think whatever I want about what the government should do. You can’t force me to think like you. If the Declaration stands for anything, it stands for the proposition that individuals get to think for themselves.

      And the tools of government are not JUST prison, fines, death, and taxes.

  17. “The problem of purpose is real, but it is one we must all wrestle with continually ourselves. It is not one that the state can solve.”

    This is false.

    The problem of despair is a problem the government can solve.

    If less-educated people were not in despair before when they had jobs that they could us to support their families but are in despair now that they do not have access to such resources, the government can address despair by increasing opportunity.

    I would say though, that I think a much better solution than trying to bring back those manual labor jobs (especially if automation really does take off) will be some sort of minimum income system.

    What libertarianism misses is that those who lack “merit” in our economy are going to suffer unnecessarily. If we open up our economy in order to get lower prices for everyone, those who were once able to get by but are no longer able to due to such changes will need help. Help only the government will have the something close to a sufficient incentive to provide.

    We blame people who lack “merit” in our economy for their own deaths of despair. But if you have an economy that is based on competition, there will be losers. We ought to make the consequences of being a loser less harsh.

    1. I don’t know how much tweaking the government should do of outcomes… But I do know that libertarianism COMPLETELY ignores the fact that not everybody has an IQ, or personal character traits, such that they CAN be successful in a world that completely eliminates low skilled labor as a viable way to support yourself.

      Personally, after running through a lot of the math, I’m quite sure that in our heavily socialized system we’re actually paying MORE for many imported “cheap” manufactured goods than we did for items made domestically. Reason being that we have all the welfare costs created by the weakened/destroyed employment, AND we have a far smaller tax base to pay it out of. So that Chinese widget that you’re “saving” $.45 cents on costs you an extra $.60 cents in welfare costs.

      Libertarianism ignoring that not everybody CAN be a coder, accountant, scientist, etc is a major flaw in the entire worldview. Reality necessitates that you have to balance your economy in some way that puts all people to productive economic use… OR you have to just pay them welfare money. Because if one of those 2 things doesn’t happen, you end up with torches and pitchforks. We’ve done neither well in recent decades, hence all the angst. There is no other option, as you can’t just let the dumbest 10-20% of the population literally starve to death and not expect them to lash out.

  18. There is a healthy debate among libertarians about intellectual property?

    That there could be one shows how bankrupt libertarianism is. There is nothing more coercive than government punishing a person for imitating another person, such that the imitating person competes with the imitated person and interacts with entirely different third parties, also known as customers.

    That libertarians could ever accept intellectual property when it is nothing more than a restriction on liberty and still be considered libertarians shows how bankrupt the philosophy is on a fundamental level.

    That said, libertarians have a lot of good points. But their conclusions tend towards the dogmatic, even as the internal inconsistencies undermine their positions.

    1. I call bullocks on this… I work in IP, but my reasons for supporting it are purely logical.

      Question: If somebody else could immediately copy your new life saving drug you just spent 1 billion dollars inventing… Why would you spend the 1 billion dollars to invent it?

      Answer: You wouldn’t.

      Likewise, not as many movies, music recordings, etc etc etc would be made either. ALL forms of IP are created in far greater numbers/quality than could happen without protection.

      I think some people would still make music if there was no money to be made… But who would or even COULD develop a new cancer drug, or the latest greatest micro chip or whatever if it could be immediately knocked off?

      IP MUST exist for the modern world to function. The only area of debate is the specifics of how it should work in different areas, as well as the length of time protection should last. I think there are tweaks that could happen on both those fronts to maximize outcomes… But getting rid of IP altogether would all but end innovation in an age where you need multibillion dollar R&D teams to move things forward. The days of the long inventor in their basement are pretty well over.

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  20. I can’t help but laugh at Cass’ proposal to allow “tracking” in the public schools. This was the practice until the mid- to late 1960s, and it was generally abandoned on the basis that it (arguably) tended to place non-white students in the industrial (shop) classes while white students stayed on the college “track”. That may have been generally true; it was also generally true that those shop-tracked students often did better in life than did the college-tracked students. They came out of school with a marketable trade, worked at it and did well financially (not rich maybe, but certainly comfortable). Cue Mike Rowe. It also cut the other way: those of us “college-tracked” students who would have much preferred shop classes were tracked away from them because (a) that was not our path, and (b) our schools were rated based in large part of how well the college-tracked students did on college qualifying and entrance exams. I don’t know what, if anything, can restore the quality of public schools but I am not at all convinced that reintroducing “tracking” will be of any help.

  21. I think Suderman is over-simplifying the immigration debate. No one is entitled to a ‘cheap work force’. A market is supposed to efficiently allocate resources, and that means that less productive uses of workers *should* lose out to more productive uses of workers – ie, businesses that can pay them more. Inflating the labor force causes exactly the same kinds of inefficient allocation of resources as government debt spending and inflating the money supply.

    The problem with immigration to supply workers as a policy is it tilts the balance of employer-employee negotiating power strongly towards the employer. The employer can make lowball ‘take it or leave it’ offers, knowing it can go cry to the government that it can’t find workers if employers won’t take it. The widely reported ‘labor shortage’ isn’t a real labor shortage – simply businesses can’t hire the workers they want *at* the low wages they want to offer, so they call it a shortage without bothering to try to raise wage offers. That’s not how markets are supposed to work. And this is why wage growth has been basically zero (once you factor in inflation) for most american workers for ~20 years, despite increasing productivity and profits.

    1. The 2016 NAS immigration report (note: finalized version published 2017) identifies a $500 billion dollar a year wealth transfer from workers to those who employ immigrants. That’s 10x the size of the total GDP benefit accrued to natives (~$50 billion/year) because of immigration the same report finds, which means employers are seeing outsized benefits from immigration, and employees are seeing negative economic effects ($50b – $500b = -$450 billion per year effect on non-employers). That’s the real economic impact of America’s immigration policy. (Now, given the US’s GDP is ~$22 Trillion, much of which goes to natives, these are relatively small numbers, but it’s still in the ballpark of 2% of *total* GDP, which is definitely significant).

      That increase in corporate profits strongly suggests immigration is *not* reducing prices americans pay by any substantial amount. And most price savings for average people would be equally solved by imports of goods (tariffs are always terrible policy). Meanwhile, many of those same corporate profits are used for stock buybacks, which benefits most americans not at all. (Not saying corporate stock buybacks are bad, only that its problematic when the profits which enable them are generated by policies which disadvantage workers).

      1. Further, the ability to hire immigrant labor is mostly restricted to large corporations. H1B sponsorship, for example, is mostly large corporations, not small startups. The beneficiaries of cheaper employees aren’t small businesses surviving on income fumes, they’re large corporations looking to pad profits. Any defense of immigration policy which claims the sky will fall for small businesses is clueless as to how immigration sponsorship actually works in practice. (Much of said practice is a consequence of the nature of interacting with government bureaucracies – only large businesses can afford the lawyers to cut through the red tape and reap the benefits. There’s effectively a price hurdle that has to be surmounted, but then low marginal cost and huge economies of scale. That means those startups are at even more of a disadvantage, because they have to pay their workers *more* than the large corporations they’re competing against).

        So while I agree with most of the review, the take on immigration lacks depth and nuance. I don’t know what the right immigration policy is, but easy immigration is not a neutral ‘market’ decision – current policy is a decision driven by only one side of the market (employers) who reap the benefits of it. A true believer in markets would want businesses bound by the market – to survive or fail on the value they can produce with workers at market prices, not let them undercut the labor market to hire at below market prices.

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