Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To my Libertarian friends

This is probably going to be my last political screed for a while, which affects only the 2 or 3 people who actually read this drivel. But before I drift into discussing things like technology and the folly of everyday life, I wanted to offer up a few final thoughts on the 2008 election.

Amongst my friends and associates of various political persuasions are several Libertarians: all extremely bright, intellectually curious people who are passionately interested in politics. I have a lot of respect for them. I don't necessarily agree with them.

Here's why.

There is a broad range of political beliefs that fall under the designation of "Libertarianism," all of which (to perhaps over-simplify) focus on the elevation of individual liberties and negate the power of the state. To restate: they believe in social freedom and economic freedom without interference and regulation from the government.

Sounds good, no?

The problem is, this ignores the reason all that regulation and interference is there in the first place. Not to put too fine a point on it, but people are jerks. Maybe not individually, but certainly collectively. And there are certainly outstanding examples of individual jerkiness to be found in the wild.

To what extent are we talking about removing "interference," anyway? And by whose definition?

Reforming drug laws and not interfering with people's personal medical and reproductive decisions (read: abortion rights)? I'm good with that. Permitting anyone, regardless of gender, to get married? I'm cool with that, too. The right to own as many assault weapons as I can scrape the money together for? ...You're starting to loose me. And there are a world of people out there for whom the latter example is fine but have major discomfort for the former.

And let's get a little more mundane -- what about something like zoning? Care to have your neighbor set up a rat breeding factory? Don't laugh -- this battle is going on right now in Fort Worth. What about civil rights laws? One could certainly argue they are interfering with someone's property rights.

This may be a reductio ad absurdum argument, but at what point does the absurdum kick in? It's one thing to be for less regulation. The devil is in the details.

Removing "barriers" to free trade is the other major talking point I hear much about: economic deregulation. Much is made of the "Invisible Hand" that is supposed to insure that free and unregulated markets benefit society as a whole.

Excuse me?

This make about as much sense to me as Intelligent Design.

Again, this may sound good in the abstract, but I have little faith in real world application, especially in light of recent events in the financial world. Allen Greenspan, patron saint of deregulation, admitted after after the general market collapse earlier this year that maybe he was wrong in opposing all regulation and stated, "Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity -- myself especially -- are in a state of shocked disbelief."

The Invisible Hand bitch-slapped us.

And the idea that an unregulated John D. Rockefeller type monopoly serves the public interest seems naive at best. People forget that things get regulated for a reason, and the chief reason is to correct past abusive behavior.

After the November election the Libertarians would seem well-positioned to swell their ranks with thinking conservatives disgusted by the mean-spirited, intolerant, xenophobic anti-intellectualism that seemed to have taken over the GOP. So why don't I think the Libertarians will ever move beyond fringe status?

I'm not sure they want to.

As Otto von Bismarck once said, "Politics is the art of the possible." Compromise has come to be a word delivered in a sneer, but in a land as diverse as ours, the ability to work out deals with competing interests is key to being able to govern.

Can the Libertarians compromise their guiding principles? Should they?

It may be they best serve the nation like yeast leavening the loaf, as a source of ideas to be co-opted and co-joined by the majority parties.

Parting shot: here's Stephen Colbert discussing a topic near and dear to my Libertarian friends.


The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c


The Whited Sepulchre said...

I hope you'll continue to post political screeds on your "alternate" site, just because a) they keep me honest, or b) they usually stir up some interesting debate.

My main problem with your post is that what you've described isn't necessarily Libertarianism, but Anarchism. (For an entertaining post on this distinction, see this guy:

Out of the Tarrant County Libertarian Meetup Group, I don't know ANY who advocate eliminating all regulation. The whole Adam Smith concept of Free Markets hinges on a court/judicial system that can protect property rights and enforce contracts. Smith also was highly suspicious of the motives of businessmen and business in general, and advocated government intervention to break up monopolies.

r.e. the gun laws - your point is well taken on this one. A recent issue of "Liberty" magazine asked a series of questions like "should a 5th grader be allowed earn money selling heroin on the playground, and using it to buy assault rifle?"

There comes a point where some communal decision IS necessary. Libertarians advocate more leeway in these decisions. As you said in your post, where does the absurdum come into play?

One area where the Libertarians own the field? They're the only group publicizing the FACT that the overwhelming majority of regulation is designed to protect....donors. Not you, not me, but donors.

So here's the other extreme....Should Florida's infamous Fanjul family be allowed to keep foreign sugar out of the USA, just by virtue of their political connections? (Sugar has been a protected "infant industry" since the days of Thomas Jefferson.)

Should established businesses (high skilled occupations like Florists and Coffin-makers) be allowed to put up Barriers To Entry (liscences) for their professions, just to drive up prices?

Can you imagine how much more affordable medical care would be if the Med Schools didn't act as a barrier to entry to the medical profession? (This is a very well-regulated artificial shortage, BTW.)

And I think you've probably read enough of my rants about farm/food quotas, subsidies, and tariffs to know what I think of those farces. The regulation protects the rich at the expense of everyone else.

Zoning? It comes down to interpretation of property rights. I believe that I should be able to make all the noise that I want to make on my property. Ditto for breeding mice and rats. Just as long as the noise and mice and rats don't escape onto my neighbor's property, and violate their property rights.

Should Jerry Jones and the city of Arlington be allowed to bulldoze people's homes, via Eminent Domain, for the greater public good? I don't think so. The Mommy and Daddy parties disagree with me, though.

There's a necessary addendum to the Greenspan quote, where shortly after that point in his testimony Greenspan claimed that the Market had already regulated itself far more efficiently than anything Govt could've done.

And yes, a lot of people did get Bitch-Slapped by Smith's Invisible Hand. If regulations require that banks and other lending institutions give money to people without a hope in hell of paying it back....the slap can be delayed for a while, but not eliminated.

I know that "compromise" has been turned into a dirty word by a lot of hard-core idealists. But look at it from this point of view....My little family of 3 is on the hook for $105,000.00 of the national debt.

If we had to list our debt like a business? And list our future debt obligations, and not just the ones on our current bar tab? Our share rockets up to somewhere between $450,000.00 and half a million. (The low estimate is provided by liberals. The high is by conservatives....)

My government has given me this burden through years and years of Bismarckian Compromise. It couldn't have been done unless both of the alleged parties had worked together as a team.

So any time I hear the dreaded phrase "Spirit Of BiPartisanship", I reach for my assault rifle.

I hope you'll repent of your decision of not writing any more political screeds. They're usually worthwhile.

Bye !


Dr Ralph said...

WS -- I have a congenital defect that prevents me from keeping my mouth shut. I suspect I'll fall victim to it both here and on my favorite alternate site. You have an uncanny ability to draw out my best and worst.

As usual, you raise interesting counterpoints.

On the issue of "barriers to entry" (licensing), I'd have to disagree. While using an unlicensed mortician may not have serious consequences, I'm not sure I want a doctor who operates with scalpel in one hand and a "Brain Surgery For Dummies" book in the other -- although he and the mortician could probably get some synergy going.

As far as licensing creating artificial shortages, I haven't noticed any shortage of lawyers lately.

The zoning thing: regulating usage one time seems much more efficient than requiring neighbors to constantly be suing one another over each others rights, and forcing the courts to decide just how bad the smell of rat feces has to be before it is actionable.

All that being said, given today's political climate, I'd much rather have the Libertarian Party as the opposition than the Republicans. While there are certainly areas of disagreement, I think it would be interesting to see where the areas of common interest exist.

And it would be even more interesting to see the sorts of compromises that would be reached between the Democrats and the Libertarians. It could make for some intriguing political theater.