Arnold Kling  

Gresham's Law of Comments

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I want to remind all commenters to read The Civility Plea.

It is remarkable how strong the inverse correlation is between the harshness of one's rhetoric and the value of what one is saying.

From now on, I want to see our comments policed even more harshly. Take your flame wars somewhere else.

UPDATE: In case you are wondering, yes we do send warning letters and ban people who "agree" with our point of view. We're policing tone, not content. A simple rule of thumb is that when you criticize the idea you are ok, and when you criticize the person you are skating on thin ice.


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COMMENTS (65 to date)
Mcwop writes:

It has not been that bad around here - has it?

There are some jabs thrown, but in commenting a thick skin is required.

liberty writes:

I hope that I haven't come across as too dogmatic or with too strong rhetoric. In general on blogs I am not like that, but sometimes I just want to spit out my point so that I can find those who diagree and have a little fun debating or considering the opposing viewpoint. I used to spend a lot of time at more political blogs but found that 99% of the ime, I only wanted to debate economics and the other people only did about 5% of the time. In any case, I apologize if this was aimed at me.

Timothy writes:

I'm sorry that the comments on Econlog have fallen off in quality. I hope the plea for civility is heeded.

Randy writes:

For what its worth, this is one of the most civil blogs around. Which is not to say that efforts to keep it that way are not a good idea.

John P. writes:
It is remarkable how strong the inverse correlation is between the harshness of one's rhetoric and the value of what one is saying.

Agreed. Personally, if I see more than one rant by a commenter, I just skip anything that person writes in the future.

Zac writes:

If you keep comments open for every post, naturally your comments section turns into something like any other internet forum, with a recurring cast of characters. Unfortunately that cast will inevitably include trolls. I sincerely doubt a plea is going to stop that.

I do hope that no matter how bad the comments get, Arnold and Bryan keep comments open here. I think we generate good discussion.

aaron writes:

The Credentialism thread had a potentially good discussion that was ruined.

aaron writes:

It might not be quite as strong, but I also think there is an inverse correlation with volume and value in writing.

John P. writes:

You could do what they occasionally seem to do at the Volokh Conspiracy: actually banning habitual ranters.

T.R. Elliott writes:

I don't agree with many of the posts on this blog, and only comment negatively on those I find it convenient to poke a stick at; but I must break my long run of negativism and agree with this post.

In addition, it helps to consider the principle of charity:
http://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/charity.html

E.g.:

* While suspending our own beliefs, we seek a sympathetic understanding of the new idea or ideas

* We assume for the moment the new ideas are true even though our initial reaction is to disagree; we seek to tolerate ambiguity for the larger aim of understanding ideas which might prove useful and helpful..

* Emphasis is placed on seeking to understand rather than on seeking contradictions or difficulties..

* We seek to understand the ideas in their most persuasive form and actively attempt to resolve contradictions. If more than one view is presented, we choose the one that appears the most cogent.

* The principle of charity is a methodological principle--ideas can be critiqued after an adequate understanding is achieved.

* The original presumption of setting aside our own beliefs and assuming the new ideas are true is only a provisional presumption.

* Hence, we should listen and read in the beginning as if we had no personal attitudes. We should seek to be open and receptive. This attitude, if maintained, frees the conditioned mind and enables it to absorb and understand the new.


My own position, just to air it: I find there to be a superiority attitude exhibited by those of the libertarian faith against those who disagree with their version of economics, or society, or the world, which are all the same thing to them since they feel that economics (their particular version of it I should say) perfectly describes individuals, society, and its interaction with the environment, and in particular is the efficient proscribed way in which the three should interact. I'm not convinced, and, given what I perceived to be an air of superiority (exlusivity you might say), I felt inclined to assume a contrary arrogant role—no doubt to the extreme and to no good.

Vorn writes:

I agree that comments should not be unnecessarily harsh. I disagree with the sentiment that there is a remarkably strong inverse correlation between harsh comments and value. I think there is an inverse correlation, but that the correlation cannot be said to be remarkably strong.

Sometimes, the truth is harsh. In other words, one may not wish to be harsh, but one must be if one is to tell the truth. For example, someone may systematically make assertions that are based on inadequate investigation of the facts. It may be harsh to bring up this point to the person who makes such a systematic error and note further that the tendency towards such systematic error may in fact be inversely correlated with intelligence or the amount of care one takes in formulating their thoughts. Not to assert that the particular person is less intelligent or typically reckless, only that making such an error systematically is less likely to be made by more intelligent people or those who are more careful in formulating their thoughts. I think the truth has a high value, even when it seems harsh.

Nonetheless, as a pragmatic matter, I agree that the net value can often be negative. Very rarely are those who tend to make such systematic errors able or willing to identify and correct that tendency. However, there is a very high probability that whether or not those errors are corrected, feelings will be hurt. So, the expected cost in terms of hurt feelings is likely to exceed the expected benefit in terms of error correction, or more important, correction of methodologies that lead to systematic error.

So, what you have is a high probability that a moderate cost (hurt feelings) will occur and a very slim probability of a high benefit (the correction of a fundamental problem with methodology which will strengthen most or all arguments by an individual in the future). On net, I think the expected cost exceeds the expected benefit, meaning there is a net loss of value to making harsh comments. However, the maginitude of this net loss is not such that it would be correct to assert there is a remarkably strong correlation between harshness and value.

There is a better way. That is, to be less diplomatic at some expense to the truth. For example, don't mention correlation between systematic error and intelligence. Truth is lost; but this particular truth is not actionable anyway, at least in the short-run. The gain is a moderate decrease in hurt feelings. On the other hand, perhaps the correlation betwen systematic error and carelessness should be mentioned. Likely, mentioning careless only increases hurt feelings slightly. Finally, while action to correct systematic error is extremely low regardless of how diplomatically one approaches the issue, it probably increases. Overall, there still may be an expected net loss to mentioning sysematic error without mentioning the correlation with intelligence, but that net loss is much less than the strategy mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Overall, it may be better not to mention systematic error at all. True, this will deprive the person making such an error the opportunity to become cognizant of and correct the problem, but the very fact that the error is systematic indicates an extremely low probability of correction in any case. So, why create hurt feelings? Just as importantly, why invest time posting?

Obviously, the one comment in this thread I disagree with is the idea that there is necessarily an inverse value in length of comment and value of comment. That would depend on what sort of thing you value in a comment. If you just want a short statement that reaffirms a pre-existing belief, then clearly long comments are of little value. On the other hand, if you want a systematic analysis that attempts to more comprehensively address the issue and potential objections, a longer comment is more valuable. Certainly, the value of a comment depends on ones purpose in either writing the comment or reading the comment and depends on personal preference. For myself, I prefer more comprehensive and careful analysis that challenges thinking rather than short and superficial analysis with lots of obvious holes primarily asserted to communicate shared belief. Of course, I am not suggesting that the functions I listed above are the only ones for long or short comments respectively, only that these are common functions for such comments.

For the following reasons, I feel I errored in my harsh comments earlier in the thread on credentialism. Not because I failed to see a remarkably strong inverse correlation, but rather because I momentarily forgot how low the probability of change was with respect to systematic errors and thus failed to detect what is a small negative expected value of such harsh comments.

Perhaps the value is even lower than I am asserting here, once one considers negative externalities. Though, of course, reading a comment is voluntary which may reduce such externalities to some degree.

N. writes:

T.R. -

So, in the interest of understanding, charity, brotherhood, good faith and useful dialogue, what do you perceive to be the libertarian version of economics?

Vorn writes:

Elliot:

I think your principle of charity is a good one, especially if one is interested in improving one's own thinking. It is much too easy to knock down strawmen, or equivalently, individuals who make arguments that strawmen would make.

When someone makes a weak argument, there are often interests underlying that argument that could be better defended by a much stronger argument. It would be better to perform a thought experiment imagining the most effective way to build off of the points and interests underlying an argument, regardless of the execution of the other side in making their points.

This, incidentally, has the highest probability of improving your own thinking. So, while it is called a principle of charity, it is entirely consistent with a concern for only self-interest.

dearieme writes:

Gentlemen, you are surely not going to be as thin-skinned and precious as that Bad king Kong fellow, are you? Your property, of course, so you may do as you wish. And a gentle reminder does not go amiss. But I doubt the accuracy of your second para; I think of the soapy-Sam stuff so often delivered by US senators, and reflect on what worthless rubbish it usually is.

Randy writes:

I'm thinking that the trick is just not to take any of this too seriously. I mean, if I was serious I'd be writing a book - not commenting on other people's blogs.

T.R. Elliott writes:

N: TRE's interpretation of Libertarian Economics (without looking anything up; just off the top of my head). First, there is the prescriptive part.

(1) Concept of property and rights over said property;

(2) Concept of contract for exchange of property and services;

(3) Enforcement mechanism.

One can then debate endlessly about the nature of the enforcement mechanism. But the above three basic concepts are not much debatable at an essential level because they are prescriptive: they are true by definition. They don't exist in nature.

Then one can add a descriptive part. Some would say it is prescriptive, not descriptive: humans are

(4) rational

and

(5) selfish.

One can add 4, 5, or both. Both are highly debatable. I think Hayek is big on these two.

One can then add another concept, which is not prescriptive at all, it's not entirely clear whether it is descriptive (though it's true in enough ways to make it partially descriptive):

(6) efficiency.

In particular, that the above system, with 1-5 let's say, is efficient in some sense. Libertarians would say in the best sense. Efficient. Best. All debatable.

Now, in many ways, we're way beyond libertarianism at the core. 1-3 handle most issues. My body is my property so I can largely do what I want with it (as long as I don't violate someone else's body or property). Social libertarianism can be handled by this. And economic libertarianism usually adds 4 and 5. They like it, and I believe it's important from a theoretical perspective.

The whole issue of price as a means of distributing resources is, my mind, handled as an adjunct of 2. And a monetary system or means of exchange can also be considered an adjunct. A lot of libertarians or those I'd group in the neighborhood like to get pretty spun up about fiat monetary systems. Fine. It's an issue (a form of usurpation, one might say, but it's a detail).

Now, why add 4 and 5? There are a couple reasons. One is that libertarians do want to demonstrate 6, in particular that their proposed system is efficient in some sense. And that all boats will rise as the tide rises. That makes it more popular with the masses. Helps with the advertising. And there is some merit it in. The price mechanism is a useful means to distribute resources. Govt fiat (or fiat by anyone) is inefficient. Growth does raise most boats (in our current society, it's not clear what would happen in a libertarian society—you don't know).

Now, the idea of a commons is anathema to libertarians. Because everyone knows that the commons will be plundered. Tragedy of the commons. All that stuff. And I agree. I know the temptation to get free goods. So the answer is to privatize the commons. That way it will be protected. Because humans are selfish and will take care of their private property (let alone the problem that some people are drunks and destroy their property—it's their right you know).

So the commons is bad. Instead, we privatize or, at worst, disperse some form of usage rights that can be traded (e.g. fishing rights, polluting rights, etc). The use of that resource becomes a form of property that can be traded as any other. Say goodbye to national parks (unlikely they would have originally formed, say hello to Disneyworld).

So what's not to like? There is much to like. But let's consider a couple issues.

(a) What are unregulated markets really like? We don't know. I can tell you what unregulated markets are like in the natural world. It's not pretty sometimes. It's rather brutal. Hence some forms of libertarianism start to drift into a form of Social Darwinism (e.g. Herbert Spencer, from whom Ayn Rand acquired many of her ideas, as did others, who Ayn then accused of copying her—egomaniac). The libertarians don't like this drift into social Darwinism because it can be brutal. Bad for PR. It can also drift into a form of elitism, in which the smarter (good luck defining that) are put in charge in some fashion. I suspect that as Caplan's goal. Though he appears to be arguing instead, in his book, for free markets as some sort of equivalent. Hayek will argue that they are efficient and stable. Instability comes from Govt interference. I think that is bogus. Bogus from my own experience (markets are like herds) and bogus from a theoretical perspective (can't prove it, but I believe economics does not handle feedback such as herding, which seems to exist.).

(b) When do property rights start? Native Americans had a nice chunk of land here. What's that you say? Oh, they didn't have a concept of property. Ok, so libertarians respect property rights except for people who live in a more communal environment. Oh, what's that you say? We do respect them as well. Perhaps we should give it back? No? If not, then perhaps Foucoult is correct: Power is the arbiter. Property rights are good until one finally decides one has had enough. Then one squashes the little bug.

(c) In a world of limited resources some will go with less—perhaps some with nothing. Except if you subscribe to Julian Simon in which ideas as resources are unlimited. Of course, there are a lot of dumb ideas. So the fact that ideas are unlimited doesn't imply that there are an unlimited number of useful ideas. Don't know. You can't prove it. So if some are going without: What obligation, if any, do those with more have to those with less. In particular, given that luck is a major component of the path of any individual's life (as much as others would like to think otherwise), what kind of social insurance and communal support do we want to provide. Caplan doesn't like the term "social insurance". But society might want to ensure itself from the neglect and rot at the bottom of society that may be the result of a pure market driven economy. We know social welfare systems also produce rot. But from the perspective of social insurance, and communal values, we should consider the role of luck for those who are fortunate and unfortunate. And realize that some will cheat. I've watched a billionaire here in San Diego, close up and from afar, go from teaching at UCSD to a startup in the 70s (linkabit) and another startup afterwards (QUALCOMM) in a way that could not have been matched by many. But if I may be so bold, luck played a role. I think he would say the same. And he's a democrat (I'm not).

Here's the problem. I think 1-3 should be a goal. But I'm not entirely sure about 4 (hence would agree with the basic idea in Caplan's book that voters don't have a clue; but then two very intelligent people have a very different idea of what the ideal politician would be that I think the idea that more intelligent people would better the results is questionable—though I understand he's also looking at the problem of voting to plunder the commons). I'm not sure people are rational. And I believe people herd.

And I think 5 is also not a given.

Here's my problem in a nutshell. I think one has to consider (a) historical state that passes through the generations (through nurture—e.g. if your father was an angry man enslaved by other people, wife treated like chattel, etc would this have created a good starting condition? No). (b) Property equals power and any power equals the ability to define what is meant by 1-3. Meaning those without power can be squeezed out by those who do. (c) What if the pricing mechanism prices some people out of the market. I mean completely out of the market. E.g. into servitude. Or slavery. Or starvation.

I believe that in addition to 1-3, one must consider power and how it is distributed through society. And I think it would have a tendency to coalesce. Without some form of redistribution, of whatever form it takes, the less the better, I think the market can easily price people out of life. There is no proof to me that it wouldn't do so.

In addition, I've never seen a good simulation showing me how a libertarian economic system would evolve. I think an accurate model could not be developed in closed form, one that would handle the variations in issues such as selfishness versus altruism, rational versus irrational decision making, information, etc etc. It would have to be a simulation. Do they exist?

What I find in most libertarian discussions is fairly rudimentary talk about free trade (yeah, I get it-comparative advantage and all that), incentives (yeah, get that too—boring), and similar matters without actually digging into the heart of the matter. I think because libertarian economists don't have the analytical tools do to so and because they might not like what they find. Most are satisfied with assembling reasonable sounding arguments (large current account and trade balances are ok) because they need to argue the merits of anything outcome of free trade. Arguments constructed to support the ideology without any real due consideration (e.g. my shale oil rant).

But the libertarian ideology, with the starve the govt approach, is doing something I think bad. Govt should be as small as possible, with "possible" debatable. But what we're getting now is total incompetence in govt. And on the surface, libertarians can use it to to support their argument: "see, govt bad." It supports the libertarian meme but unfortunately they're not going to get less government, they're just going to get bigger incompetent govt. And we get the mess in Iraq—shock therapy—when it's never been shown that shock therapy works. The libertarian meme "the only good govt is no govt" is probably going to give us purely incompetent govt. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Govt can be effective and efficient, though it all depends on how one defines efficiency (as discussed above—it's a debatable point). We should let the telegram die. Granted. But govt should force car makers to put seatbelts in all cars. There is a role for Govt, and a role for regulation. When I was a kid, my dad had to drill holes through the frame of the car to put seat belts in the back seat because the car would not provide them. Regulation can be abused, but there is a place for it.

Finally, many libertarians I run into are pretty ignorant about the sources of technological innovation, at least as ignorant as a statist. They equate setting up a website or some type of web based business with technical innovation that produces the key technologies that allow those web sites to be created, that lead to the integrated circuits that power an iPod, or the communications and information theory that power much of what we see. When one doesn't buy into the free market 100% (items 1-3 above) one is confronted with standard arguments: you’re a communist, how many more 100 millions do you want to die, etc etc. In many cases, people with barely a clue about real technology who pretend they understand innovation. Boring. I believe the state has played an instrumental role in seeding innovation. We need to understand it. Not deny it or ignore it.

I believe there are many shortcomings to the libertarian model. We have little to fear, because it will never happen. We can edge our way to it, and I think that's fine. But it would be nice to find libertarians who are honest enough to admit they don’t understand how a truly libertarian society would look. They don't, and they are lying if they say they do. I don't like liars. I can deal with obnoxious people. I've had a chief technology officer abuse me verbally in a hostile fashion in front of a large audience. Fine. But what I don't like are people who are smart enough to know that they don't understand something. I'm not convinced many libertarians actually know what a truly libertarian society would be like.

A correlation Arnold didn't point out is that losing one's temper is highly correlated with disagreeing with a majority of the surrounding posts and comments.

This correlation is true not just for blogs, but for discussions and disagreements in all venues of life, from lunch discussions to publications to street demonstrations to parliamentary debates. It is particularly true when underlying political or religious precepts are at stake, even if those underlying principles are not being discussed directly.

Passions are inflamed not by what can be answered by rational discussion, but by what cannot be or has not yet been answered. The more unanswerable a question--say, because the answer has to come from faith, or because empirical or mathematical or logical reasoning have not yet progressed far enough to provide an answer even if there is hope for it to do so in time--the stronger the passions. After all, why argue about what can be answered?!

Those underlying passions and fundamental disagreements do often surface during debates that sometimes appear to be about more superficial topics.

EconLog cannot thread this needle completely. Nevertheless, our policy is to encourage orderly debate. Disagreement is welcome here. We value the presence of those who represent points of view that routinely differ with those of the website authors and commenters. I get it that there is a correlation between frustration level and being in the minority in expressing an underlying point of view. On all sides, though, self-restraint, courteous use of language, and, in the end, an ability to look past some of these meta-issues to re-center on the discussion topic at hand is expected of commenters here. It is neither okay for someone frustrated to resort to ad hominem or snide remarks, nor for someone answering to respond to the defensive snideness by answering in kind.

Both kinds of comments miss the real point: that the goal is to find a way to communicate about those few issues in life about which communication is possible.

--Lauren Landsburg
Econlib Editrix

Addendum: Gresham's Law--that bad currency drives out good--only applies if there is a fixed relative price between two goods (currencies, whatever). The relative price of bad/good comments on EconLog isn't fixed, though there are some rules applying to both.

Randy writes:

Well said Lauren.

Randy writes:

T. R. Elliot,

Such a lengthy post deserves a comment, so...

In my opinion, what a truly Libertarian society would look like;

A few people producing necessities for all, for which they are well rewarded. And the rest of the population occupying their time in pretty much whatever way they choose. Maximum utilization of comparitive advantage leads to more leisure time, and the possibilities associated with leisure time - e.g., a service economy. I base this on the historical record. Leisure time has been a primary product of free markets in the past, and I have no reason to believe that the trend will not continue.

Perhaps you are thinking that government had a very large role in this. True, it has. Because government is often a free market entity. To the extent that government participates in value for value transactions, government does create wealth.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Randy:

In the interest of the principle of (sometimes self-interested) charity, I recognize and understand what you are saying, but what you've defined is not a workable definition of libertarianism that could be used philosophically, practically, or economically. The first three principles of libertarianism that I defined are, if I'm not mistaken, the standards. I don't think there are two ways about it.

What you've given me are some observations. The few producing for the many. Libertarianism doesn't necessarily say that. It could be an outcome. You don't know. But at heart, that's not libertarianism. I could define a dictatorship structure in a way such that the few produce for the many, the many have free time, etc. That's not libertarianism. But it would fit your definition.

A concept like libertarianism really needs to be defined from the bottom up in order to be philosophically sound and to support implementation. I cannot implement the system you've described. I can implement a system that defines property, contracts, and enforcement, as I've spelled out.

What I'm interested in finding out is where my definition is wrong. And why my concerns are wrong. Right now, we're still where I said we were: it's not clear to me that people who call themselves libertarianism really understand it. Or its implications.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

I have not commented here in a while, since I was reprimanded by Ms. Landsburg for a comment, deleted by her, which referred to a post as "garbage." At that time I resolved not to comment again, but feel that I cannot let this topic pass.

In my response to Ms. Landsburg I made several points:

That my use of the term "garbage," while admittedly not a brilliant refutation, was far less offensive than comments by others on the thread who generally agree with the posts.

When commenters call liberals "sluts," and "whores," and "fools," that strikes me as a far worse statement than calling a post "garbage." The language is worse, and the attack is personal, not directed at a specific post.

When they write that "When presented with evidence, liberals do not respond back with evidence," they are making unjustified negative generalizations, more politely expressed perhaps, but much broader than my statement.

The cheerleaders can say what they want, it seems.

Finally, I think if Kling and Caplan want civility perhaps they should be a touch more polite in their posts. To Caplan those who disagree with him are "economic illiterates." Kling takes what appear to be a few things his friends said and immediately proclaims himself an expert on "liberal" assumptions.

For what it's worth I in fact understand and agree with many of the things Kling wishes liberals would see. I see other things too, which is why I generally disagree with his prescriptions. But even if I didn't, so what? Kling's ideas about "what liberals think" are generally insulting. They assume that I, for example, reach my conclusions from ignorance and stupidity, rather than from observations and experience and values that differ from his.

This is not civil.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Bernard: You've nicely summarized my point. I also noticed the sometimes directly expressed and sometimes implied axiom that those who do not agree are ignorant, uninformed, and economically illiterate. Both are insulting. And since I care little for nuance, and would much rather cut to the chase, I find it better to bring submerged antipathy and supressed assumptions to the surface. Rocks thrown in padding are unpadded and thrown back. I personally think, though I could be wrong, that some of it stems from the source of many of the posts here. More than a few bleed over from TCS, which is an advertising and propaganda organization for an ideology, not a research organization. So it makes sense that the common political technique of making opponents look like fools and idiots would spill over as well. TCS is a political organization, not an economic or research organization (according to my investigations).

Though to be fair, I've not used this board constructively and have, as one poster noted, largely thrown rocks. That's not constructive on my part.

Above I have posed what I believe is a sound principled description of libertarianism and I'm interesed in finding out where I am mistaken.

As an addendum to my thoughts on libertarianism: I sometimes tell people I'm a libertarian with a safety net for market failures. There are a variety of market failures that can be considered. All should be considered from a concept of the common good. A common good defined in terms of the present and a suitably discounted future. Market failures may be defined to include herding, luck/misfortune, historical conditions (initial state, nurture), investment horizons and incentives (e.g. DARPA like research), etc. And always always cost benefit analysis.

Lord writes:

Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.

- Mark Twain

liberty writes:

>N: TRE's interpretation of Libertarian Economics (without looking anything up; just off the top of my head).

My definitition would be somewhat different, but I can agree to yours.

>(a) What are unregulated markets really like? We don't know.

We do know. For one thing, we had almost entirely unregulated markets in the US for some time, secondly we have single markets that are entirely unregulated and we can compare heavily regulated markets with completely unregulated markets and we can look at data from all markets regulated and unregulated and perform econometric analysis.

What you are saying is that we have never had a society that had zero regulation of any sort. That's true. But we can compare societies that have a lot of regulation with societies with very little - today and historically. We can see trends - higher growth, higher prosperity when there is less regulation.

Now, you may say that all of that would change once the government performs *no* services such as public schools, seatbelt regulation and EPA; but remember the following:

1. Regulations such as seatbelts and EPA were not always provided by government and many such services are provided privately already today - the crash-test magazines are where most people get their info about the safety of cars because they are much better than the government provided information.

2. Public schools were helpful when people were spread out all over the rural countryside and there were very few private schools - today every community has private schools within short driving distance and most private schools are so much more efficiently run than the public ones that vouchers at least (if not just the lack of taxation in the first place) would go much farther toward a good school education than attendance at a public school (eg keep your money, spend half on tuition at a private school save half toward college tuition).

3. You have completely missed out charity. Most libertarians (Ayn Rand, who hates that word, may disagree) are in favor of volunteered charity. Many libertarian-minded conservatives give generously to charity. If taxes were lower, they would give even more. Catholic schools, charity hospitals, habitat-for-humanity and many other of these sorts of things can replace publicly funded goods for those who may be kept out by market prices. They are run more effiently, can be taken advantage of less and work at a local level and therefor are able to take care for more of the local concerns. Add the non-profits and you have all the kinds of institutions to provide for needs regardless of whether markets may ignore some citizens.

>I believe that in addition to 1-3, one must consider power and how it is distributed through society. And I think it would have a tendency to coalesce. Without some form of redistribution, of whatever form it takes, the less the better, I think the market can easily price people out of life. There is no proof to me that it wouldn't do so.

No. Your model is static or misses the entrants and exits. Power cannot coalesce in a free market society because those who have power one day are driven from the market the next. Think Galbraith - he imagined that the big players of the 1960s would make America a monopoly state with power centralized (so he recommended centralizing it in government instead very similar analysis to Marxists 100 years before) but what has happened since? The players of that time all have died out and new players have emerged. But even the new players do not have a stranglehold on the power. And it is government that has given leverage to big power players - without anti-trust lawsuits or government subsidies, many more would have gone out of business.

So, would this be different with no regulations and tiny government that can't interfere? The evidence suggests that it would be even more dynamic. Government likes to protect jobs, protect business, keep people in "power."

But this kind of market and money power is of a completely different sort than government power anyway. A big firm can't even make me work there, make me stay, take money from me, make me do anything. They do not have a monopoly on force - which, believe it or don;t, government does have. Government can set up taxes and if you don't pay you go to jail. Government - in a Socialist society - can decide where you work, what you get paid and what you must spend the money on (if they decide what gets produced). Government can steal your property. Even in this society government can regulate all businesses, thereby deciding which one will succeed - eg by passing a regulation in order specifically to kill a business. Firms cannot do this - they only have power over their own firm, and money by which they might influence others, but they cannot pass regulations or in such a way rule over others.

>But the libertarian ideology, with the starve the govt approach, is doing something I think bad. Govt should be as small as possible, with "possible" debatable. But what we're getting now is total incompetence in govt.

You have shown no reason why libertarians should get the blame for this. It is those who favor regulations that have made government corrupt and incompetant. Think Abramoff.

>In many cases, people with barely a clue about real technology who pretend they understand innovation. Boring. I believe the state has played an instrumental role in seeding innovation.

It has, but as I pointed out once before, it has generally been while in its own role as the protector of the country - eg usually in military. No libertarian of sound mind would suggest that government has no role to play in protection of basic righs of Americans which should therefor include military. In its role of protector of life, liberty and property, government must fund and carry out operations of military using taxpayer dollars. In doing this it must conduct research (often by hiring companies in the private sector) and it is in such ventures that it tends to make big discoveries such as the internet.

>I'm not convinced many libertarians actually know what a truly libertarian society would be like.

Many may not and many are confused; but I think that those who are economically inclined tend to have a better idea - don't underestimate the people here - and they tend to have a greater willingness to research the question than liberals I think and infinately more than Marxists. Marxists literally believed that they could not know what Socialism would look like because in the new historical period, with classes wiped out, the people would be different and therefor society would not follow economic rules. In marked contrast, Hayek and Mises and other of the time were willing to look, both at Socialism and at the entire spectrum of possibilities, they performed fact based analysis and carefully proved many economic laws and trends - and were richly rewarded by the academic community (Hayek's nobel for example).

T.E. Elliott writes:

Liberty. Nice response. I'm familiar with most of the issues you bring up. Accept many at face value. But that does not provide a good understanding of libertarianism as a system. They don't. They are anecdotes. And pragmatism can operate through anecdotes. But that makes you a pragmatist, not a libertarian.

Also, I'm still interested in a libertarian pointing be to models that indicate what one should expect from unregulated markets. I've never seen one. I've seen some examples of free trade models, or read about them, and comparative advantage notwithstanding, some of them have some ugly results for first world nations. I don't have the specifics, and wouldn't argue for that case. But they are something to consider.

Here are my specific comments:

1. Definition of libertarianism: I would like to see your definition.

2. Unregulated markets in the past: I am not convinced that unregulated markets existed. Several examples, taken from throughout US history. (a) Theft of land by force from Native Americans. (b) Trade barriers in order to stimulate US industry. (c) Ignoring of international intellectual property rights (d) enslavement of an entire class of people for a long time period (e) rampant political corruption—for better, or more likely, worse (f) govt granting of business privileges and govt anti-monopoly behavior; (h) organized labor fighting against business allied with govt for worker rights. These are just a few examples taken from throughout US history. I don't think these make for unregulated markets. In particular, the time periods in which the above occurred provide little understanding of an entirely unregulated market.

3. Comparison of regulation versus unregulation. Comparison is great. You cannot extend comparison far beyond the points that you've looked at though. Maybe a little out of the boundaries. More versus less regulation does not tell us about the domain far outside of the observed range, in particular no regulation. You can't do that. Basic mathematic and scientific principle.

4. Regulations. I'm all for the power of the market to avoid the need for regulations. And for the state to regulate when the market does not act in a way that is considered common good (always up for debate). Therefore I'm not a libertarian. But the examples you provide do not negate the possible need, and therefore the inclusion, of state regulation. I understand that regulations creep, creating what one would consider a mess. That is true. It's also true that your and my genetic codes are a mess. Truly. They are. Junk all over the place. They've adapted. And regulations can do the same, in the right environment. So I'm still looking for a good model that will demonstrate what an unregulated free market economy will look like. Surely some economist has done this? I understand all the stuff about new players replacing old players, Galbraith, etc. I want to see something more than educated guessing.

5. I think charity is great. State charity should be a last resort. But that doesn't argue against it. I think it is necessary. Therefore I'm not a libertarian. I would also like to look at the charitable contributions of economists as a class and libertarians as a class. Any studies on this? What death rate for poor children will we accept before we decide that private charity is not sufficient. That would be included in the model I'm looking for. At a general level of coure. It could be done.

6. My model is not static. 1-3 state the rules for a process. It does not imply what occurs within that process. It could be static. Or dynamic. You don't know. Neither do I. In addition, you cannot look at individual players. You have to look at classes of players who assume power. And the movement between classes. I'm saying that power could very well could concentrate, similar to the way wealth is concentrating in our country. Personally, I think wealth concentration is great. Personally, I think libertarianism leaves more money in my pocket. I don't understand how it plays out in practice.

7. Libertarians taking blame for incompetence in Govt. Your are correct that I should not blame libertarians. My point is that for ideological and PR reasons libertarians will not speak about govt that does the right thing, govt that might act efficiently, a good regulation. Kling did point out that the VA seemed to be doing a good job, and that is commendable. And he pointed out it's not an argument for more govt. And I agree. But I think libertarians are unwilling, on basic philosophical and essential groundings to talk about the role of good governance and the positive role of regulation because they either don't believe it or to do so would look bad. Therefore they don't. The hostility towards govt in this country will not give us less govt. I don't believe it. It may just give us worse govt. Because govt will be inhabited by total losers. And it will be ineffective.

8. Govt R&D. There is more to R&D and to research than just military research. The programs such as DARPA, NSA, etc were used for industrial planning purposes because a technological edge was considered important for strategic reasons. It is not just military research. It is state sponsored industrial planning under the cloak of military research to make it palatable. For example, the US aircraft industry is highly leveraged off of military funding. Libertarians don't like to admit this so look the other way. I say they should be true objectivists and scientists and look reality in the face.

9. Hayek: Does a nobel price automatically mean a person should be taken seriously by Libertarians? What signal does it send?

10. I agree that libertarians, in particular economically oriented ones, are more willing to look at the truth than socialists or Marxists. I agree. But I want to look at the truth, not more in the direction of truth.

Bill writes:

T.E. Elliot:

Many libertarians follow the philosophy because they believe it to be moral. They believe that, regardless of the good done by government programs, the money for such programs was obtained immorally--the government obtains its funding via the use of coercive force. The government essentially robs the citizenry at gunpoint, and statists, such as liberals, are complicit in this crime.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

The government essentially robs the citizenry at gunpoint, and statists, such as liberals, are complicit in this crime.

Isn't anyone who knowingly profits from crime also complicit? Wouldn't this include all the libertarians at GMU which is, after all, a state-supported university?

If you are going to accuse me of being complicit in crime because I favor public universities, perhaps you should accuse those who profit from their existence as well, regardless of their abstract opinions.

Of course, your statement is wrong. There is a huge gulf between being robbed and being forced to pay that which one has previously agreed to pay. Please don't tell me you never agreed to pay for certain government programs of which you disapprove. No one likes all government expenditures.

If you do not like the basic political arrangements whereby the government of whatever country you live in assesses taxes and decides how to spend money why not simply move elsewhere? Do you live in a place that restricts emigration?

James writes:

Bernard,

Let me get this straight; As long as the party demanding payment gives the potential payer the option to leave, you see no problem with this kind of behavior? I think you are making a special exception for the state here. But if you really think this behavior is justifiable, that's great! Have your boss withold 20% of your income and send it to me. If you don't like these terms leave the country.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

No James, you misunderstand, badly.

I think that by living, voluntarily, in a country, one agrees to be bound by the laws of that country, and one agrees to the processes by which the laws are made. (This obviously doesn't apply in a place like Cuba, for example, where emigration is restricted). Hence one has an obligation to pay duly assessed taxes.

In other words, paying taxes is simply honoring one's obligations, much like, say, paying the mechanic after he fixes your car.

There. That wasn't hard, was it?

Bill writes:

Mr. Yomtov,

If a libertarian nation existed, I'd happily move there. Since I have no place to move where I can live free, I'll just shut up to satisfy statists like yourself. Please, take everything from me so that you can fund your charitable programs. Oh, gee! Then I'll be a charity case as well and entitled to your money!

Vorn writes:

Bill,

If you don't like coercion, too bad. It has been there from the beginning and it exists in private ordering as well as government arrangements.

If you sign a contract and breach it, then a private party will be authorized to use the government as its agent, which will then use force to collect damages. That is coercion.

And don't say that people enter into contracts voluntarily or that they choose to do so. Most people really do not consider whether to, say, be homeless or find a place to rent to be a reasonable choice.

I think the person who replied to you originally has a point. You are free to emigrate if you do not like taxes. Just as I am free to become homeless if I don't like paying rent. You might not think that you have good alternatives, but either is the person faced with homelessness. That is just too bad.

There is no such thing as order, private or public, without coercion. So, stop whining and pay your taxes. You may think that coercion is not fair, but then I want to see the libertarian who advocates for contract not being enforced with coercion.

Think about it this way. Stealing is illegal, right. Stealing justifies the use of force. Well, not paying your taxes is illegal too. It also justified the use of force.

If you don't like the rules against stealing, well, there just isn't a country on earth that you can emigrate too. Its the same with taxes.

If you live in a society, you have to play by the rules. I do not think that all allocations of property are just, but I am still going to refrain from stealing because I live in a decent society and I obey the law. So, whether you think a certain tax is fair or not, you just have to live with it.

If you can come up with some sort of social ordering without coercion, I think you deserve a Noble Prize. It would be nice, but it is definitely unrealistic.

You know what libertarians say to those who want to end poverty and stop many social problems? They say, that would be nice, but it just is not possible. Well, the same holds true for those who dream of ending coercion.

liberty writes:

Vorn,

>And don't say that people enter into contracts voluntarily or that they choose to do so. Most people really do not consider whether to, say, be homeless or find a place to rent to be a reasonable choice.

But you can choose between the many thousands of different landlords who would rent you a place or obtain a mortage and buy a place, etc. The difference with the state is that it is a monopoly.

T.E. Elliott,

>1. Definition of libertarianism: I would like to see your definition.

I don't have a well defined definition yet, and many would disagree with mine as well - but mine is based on the founding fathers' ideas and basically goes like this:

Government is limited to the basic functions for which it can play a vital role in protecting citizens: proptection of life, liberty and property. Any role outside of this limited sphere should be left to the private sector or else government could become too powerful and obtain a monopoly over the life of the people and no longer be subservient to them.

The protection of life, liberty and property may require police, jails, courts, military, taxation in order to fund these and congress, executive branch and other democratic institutions in order to make military and other decisions. Anything outside of these basic institutions should not be funded by taxation or carried out by a central authority. At the state level some laws not directly involved with the life, liberty and property protection of the people may be passed - such as decency laws. Any laws that cannot be agreed upon at the national level (is abortion murder and hence should be illegal to protect the life of the unborn, or can we not protect the life if it is not yet human but just a cluster of cells?) can also be left to the states. States cannot violate the fundamental basic rights of the people by stealing property through eminent domain or restricting liberty by allowing slavery or any such basic abuse of the rights of the people. etc.

>2. Unregulated markets in the past: I am not convinced that unregulated markets existed.

I am not entirely convinced that they did either. But we did pass certain regulations at certain times and one can compare before the passing to after, etc.

>3. Comparison of regulation versus unregulation.

If you see a trend you can extrapolate to a certain degree - its true that you should not take this too far, but give me your theory. What do you think would be different with zero regulation? Do you see a trend when certain markets are much closer to zero? What specific regulations or government programs do you think will make the big difference, when gone? For example, if you think that without certain redistributions, some poor would be left to starve, then you should see a trend among nations with higher distribution that the poor are beter off and with lower distributions, all else equal, are worse off; yet my studies indicate the opposite. The poor are better off in the US than in Europe, holding GDP per capita constant and in fact the poor became much better off after welfare reform and many were pushed off the rolls - does this mean that if all welfare were completely eliminated that there would be no negative effect? No, because presumably the ones left on the rolls are the worst off and some may not be able to work, and working was how those who were kicked off improved their lives. But you can also look at how charity could help them, and note that there are more charitable outfits in countries with less welfare, and hence perhaps if all welfare was ended, those who could not work could turn to charity. hen you could look at statistics regarding how well charity is able to help the poor compared with government: which one is more efficient (and hence allows dollars to go further, improving the standard of living more for each person)? Which one has a better track record of helping people get on their fett, helping people to get off drugs, helping people to become healthy, helping people to give a better life to their children? As you may know, all analysis indicates that private charities are far better than public charity in all these areas.

>4. Regulations. ... I understand that regulations creep, creating what one would consider a mess. That is true. It's also true that your and my genetic codes are a mess.

1. Its not just about messiness (like the tax code) which is bad, but its also about strangualtion of innovation (also similar to taxes) and giving of power to one group over another; in addition creep means getting more and more entrenced, powerful and overwhelming; if it gets very bad then business won't be able to function at all. If people think regulations are generally good instead of generally bad, the creep can be impossible to turn around as people try to fix the problems with new regulations. Eventualy you can be left with a socialist state.
As for genetics code, its mostly "messy" because we don't understand it, and it likely isn't full of junk - many scientists now think that the non-coding dna actually has a purpose.

>5. I think charity is great.

Death rate of poor children? What evidence do you have that such a thing would ever exist? Again, charity hospitals and other facilities, and docts who see patients before finding out about insurance, would all exist. The problem is that we may have seen deaths among the poor at one point, added some public facilities but never followed through to find out whether the public facilities helped... deaths among the poor could get worse with public facilities- for one they tend to be less hygenic and well kept than the charity hospitals; two the poor can often be monetarily poorer if taxes are higher and jobs more scarce, therefor they may come to the public hospital in worse shape; three there will be worse doctors in the public hospital as they won't be paid well, won't be in fear of losing their job and may resent the poor, etc. You are starting with an assumption that things will improve if you add public services, but that is what I am trying to argue against. I would slowly privatize the public services and we would see whether charity and the private insurance, hospitals, etc are still able to take care of the poor - who I think will be better off than before monetarily and the privatized services and other charity will be better than the public ones were. I would ask how much improvement we expect to see, not how many deaths.

>6. My model is not static.

I think it is. You aren;t taking into account futher consequences and endogenous implications, hence you would think that the poor would be worse off, not better. Neither power nor wealth is concentrating in the US nor in any free market. New walth goes primarily to the most productive and hence the rich become richer, but the poor also become richer and are hence by percentage of previous standard of living much better off than the rich, as a percentage of standard of living. Hence new dollars may "concentrate" at the top, but welath as a whole is not concentrating - opportunity and mobility of the masses and the improved standard of living of the poorest combine to make wealth accessable to all, rather than concentrated. In a more static society such as the USSR, wealth was concentrated because only the elite had it and people could not easily become elite; power and wealth were concentrated among actual individuals; in the US anyone who works very hard has a good chance of becoming wealthy, hence wealth is not concentrated among people at all; and the freer the market the less chance any given company has of reatining it "power", which as I have said is not at all like centralized power in any case. Government can be static, markets are not. The freer the market the less concentrated the power and the wealth.

>7. Libertarians taking blame for incompetence in Govt.

You want libertarians to say that government can do some things well; fine. I agree that they should give credit where due- which is ery few places. We should hold governmen accountable for doing its job, a limited job, well.

>8. Govt R&D. There is more to R&D and to research than just military research.

Sure; again my point is that it has mostly achieved things as a result of doing its job not as a result of funding vast swaths of unrelated research, such as "global warming" research, etc. I don't know anything about the industrial planning work, if you give me a link, I'll happily read about it. As for aircraft based on military research, of course; the military needed planes!

>9. Hayek: Does a nobel price automatically mean a person should be taken seriously by Libertarians? What signal does it send?

No. I'm simply pointing out that a highly prestigious prize for merit was awarded to one of the people that you were ready to dismiss as a nut-job. I think that the nobel has been given to people much less worthy, though. I think Hayek was ahead of his time and among the very few who have recognized the dynamic nature of markets as complex systems. It was a side note.

>10. I agree that libertarians, in particular economically oriented ones, are more willing to look at the truth than socialists or Marxists. I agree. But I want to look at the truth, not more in the direction of truth.

Good. We'll do our best.

T.R. Elliott writes:

Don't have time to go through all comments, but looked through them all and have a few initial ones (in new friendly senate floor (non Dick Cheney that is) language):

1. For my esteemed co-commenter Bill. I understand the taxation is destribution by force. And that many libertarians consider it a moral issue. In my definition of libertarianism, when I define property, there is an implication that taxation would be theft of property up to the taxation that some libertarians consider ok for defence and contract enforcement mechanisms. But I think one can also easily argue that those who are fortunate have an obligation to those who are less fortunate and then it's a matter of arguing different moralities. I'm not saying 50% taxation rate should be considered appropriate. But I'm not convinced that 0% taxation is appropriate.

2. My esteemed co-commentor Liberty: Govt R&D. I think you're way too hung up on global warming. Govt also sponsors interesting research on meteorology (including the tracking and prediction of hurricanes), seismology, etc. I'm not saying the Govt should be throwing money around willy nilly. And a lot of that money is wasted. That's not good. But I think there is a role for Govt fund research, just as the govt must step in for what I consider to be other market failures.

3. Liberty: My definition really isn't static. And it's not my definition by the way. I think it's a standard way to define the essence of a libetarian system. I've not defined the economic actors. My definition of libertarianism just defines the rules by which the actors operate. And I've clearly not filled in all the rules. But the actors can be defined, large, small, and then allowed to interact. My basic concern is that market failures, luck, and concetration of power can lead to a society that I have no interest in playing a part of, even if I'm near the top of it. I would never morally call myself a libertarian if it implied that the structure of society at large allowed pockets of poverty from which escape is difficult if not impossible--and the society did not, as a society, have a means to deal with it other than hoping some rich dude will step in to throw the poor a few scraps.

I am very interest in the behavior of a social system like this, though am the first to say we are nowhere near that. Right now the govt is spending something like 40-50% of GDP (if I remember correctly), so a libertarian society we are not.

James writes:

Mr. Yomtov,

No. Not hard at all. You are willing to make an exception for the state that you wouldn't make for anyone else: If X hangs around the place where Y takes peoples money, regulates their behavior (all of this against X's wishes) and calls it a service that should be paid for, then so long as Y permits X to leave the area, X is obligated to submit to Y's demands, but only if Y is a government.

A better analogy is a mechanic who comes to my driveway, does some tinkering I don't want him to do and sends me a bill, insisting that I owe him because I park in one of the driveways he likes to tinker in.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

"But you can choose between the many thousands of different landlords who would rent you a place or obtain a mortage and buy a place, etc. The difference with the state is that it is a monopoly."

This is true. I think the number "thousands" is probably an exaggeration in many cases, assuming geographic constraints, but that doesn't really affect the substance your point.

First of all, for many people, a mortgage is not an option. So, just for simplification, lets consider just those who must enter into leases. The point generalizes to contracts generally.

Here is my point. You have to enter into some contract with someone. Thereafter, you are subject to coercion and, often, even arbitrary exercises of power. For example, consider leases that have many terms. (By the way, people in practice often don't read all the terms and if they did, they would not understand them all, not being fluent in legalese.) No consider minor breaches of these terms. It is not uncommon for a landlord to ignore minor breaches by tenants that they like and to enforce them against tenants they dislike. That is, the use coercion against those they dislike, but not against those they prefer. This happens in free markets all the time. This generalizes to contracts, because the same will occur with them. People will choose to employ coercion or not in response to minor (or even major) breaches based on arbitrary reasons.

That exercise of arbitary power by landlords is not the main point, however. The main point is that you had no realistic option but to sign a lease with someone. (Most people are probably indifferent towards the identity of their landlords, unless it turns out to be a problem. They sign a lease because they need a place to live, not because they want to establish a relationship with a landlord.) After you sign that lease, that someone, whoever it is, has the ability to exercise coercive power against you. Indeed, we all know that in practice many people will have such coercive power exercised against them. This generalizes to contracts generally, because in many cases, we have no choice but to enter into a contract with someone and typically those contracts have similar terms, and in any case, our ex post discretion is limited and we face the possibility of coercion.

So, while there is no denying the fact that there is a difference between government and private ordering, that difference is not merely one of coercion versus lack of coercion. In both cases, coercion is necessary. To facilitate long-term planning and reliance on other human beings, we authorize coercion for breach of contract. Why? Because reliance on other human beings is necessary? Whatever the reason, strangely, it seems that many libertarians favor the use of coercion to enforce contracts, but seem to be against it in other contexts.

You can understand why someone might think that this libertarian tendency to support coercion in one context but not another is self-serving. Certain people are positioned quite favorably such that they are very unlikely to face much coercion from breaching contract. Their economic position is such that they would rarely if ever find themselves in a position where the decision to breach a contract was an involuntary one.

On the other hand, for many people at the bottom of the economic latter, normal fluctuations in life which are not likely to result in breach of contract for someone in my position, or someone in your position, are in fact likely to result in involuntary breach for someone in their position. At which point, they face coercion.

So, it is all very convenient. Coercion is fine, as long as one is unlikely to find themselves the subject of such coercion.

One last point. You say yourself in another thread that conformists make better employees. But what is a conformist? Someone who conforms to the desires and wishes of those around them. What sort of things do you think makes them do so? Could it be, that to some extent, conformity is the result of coercion? You seem to think that "free spirits" make bad employees, but shouldn't isn't a free spirit ideal from the perspective of individual liberty?

Here is another idea. Imagine you enter into an employment contract. Then you enter into a lease. Then your boss tells you to do something you would prefer not to do. Something you think is unprincipled. (Lets say you have an idiosyncratic and stringent view of what is principled behavior.) Say there is an economic downturn, or, alternatively, you have a work history where you leave employment for alternatives whenever you are told to do something with which you strongly disagree. In either case, you are not very employable. Now imagine that you, refusing to be coerced, refuse to do so, and are fired. Now imagine that you can't find alternative employement because of either (1) the condition of the economy or (2) your work history is seen as undesirable because you have a history of resisting coercion at work. Say you have 8-months left on your lease. You fail to pay your rent, not because you didn't want to, but because you have no income. The landlord sends you an eviction notice. You refuse to budge; your not going to be coerced. The landlord takes you to court -- you lose. You still refuse to leave because you are not going to be coerced. The landlord calls the Sheriff, notes the judgment entered against you. The Sheriff proceeds to use physical force to remove you and your belongings from the premises.

You have been coerced. What is the lesson here? Maybe you should stop living by your idiosyncratic principles and just obey the orders you get from your boss...

You say the government is different, because it has a monopoly. But what you really mean, is the government is different, because you do not have any attractive alternatives besides obeying the laws that it makes. Well, with private ordering, there are many cases in which you do not have any attractive alternatives to doing what someone else demands.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

I mistakenly asserted that you said you think that conformists make better employees in another thread. I was incorrect; I was mistaken. The substance of my previous comment remains unaffected.

Bill writes:

Vorn,

One thing you are missing is choice. A renter can choose from very cheap housing and relatively expensive housing. A taxpayer has no such choice. A renter may be coercively removed from a property, but only after they have violated the terms of the contract. A taxpayer never signed any contract in the first place. What would be wrong with a system that allowed some choice? I would happily pay for defense (although not a current levels), roads via gasoline taxes, and help for the truly indigent (which is only a fraction of those receiving government aid), but I do not want to pay for public schools--I plan to home school my children, agricultural subsidies, or social security or medicare for retirees with accumulated wealth.

You simply support an incredibly immoral system. The working poor pay taxes to support those with significantly more wealth. This is wrong. Subsidies are paid to wealthy corporations. This is wrong. Any number of government programs are unnecessary, and people are forced at gun point to pay for these programs.

Why not let those that prefer to opt out not pay for these programs and not receive any benefits from these programs?

Vorn writes:

Bill:

I don't fail to acknowledge choice. It exists and is yet constrained with respect to both government and private ordering.

Yeah, I can choose the price of my housing, but I can't choose to opt out. You can choose to pay less taxes. Just earn less money and try to find a career with more leisure. Hey, you may not LIKE your alternatives, but too bad. If I don't like what I can get in terms of housing for X dollars, that is just too bad.

I totally disagree with your sense of justice. My parents, unlike you, would not have had the time or ability to provide quality homeschooling for me. Nor would they have had the money to provide private schooling. Under your system then, instead of someone who moved up from public education, to a public university for undergrad, to an Ivy League law school, I would be someone who is uneducated, with no credentials, and forced to accept very low wages. I prefer earning the $60 an hour before taxes that I get as a starting salary thanks to public education.

Sorry, your idea of "justice" just does not appeal to me. Under your conception, I would probably be working for those who are less intelligent than me for the rest of my life. There is a probability that I would manage to become quite successful without education, but that probability would be very small. Why should someone's education depend primarily on who their parents are? How is that just?

I suppose that after having no education, I could "choose" to have a very poorly paying job and I could "choose" to live in substandard housing. Or I could choose to be homeless if I didn't like those choices. Great. Its all about choice.

I don't really care if you think it is coercive to pay taxes to provide for the education of children that are not your own. I guess your selfishness just can't win out on this. You live in this society and thus you must accept BOTH the benefits AND the burdens. Hey, when you start a business and hire others, you are getting a benefit from others. Well, its nice to receive, but you also have to give. If you don't like it, leave. If you don't like your alternatives elsewhere and want to stay in this country, well, then your kind of like the person who has only X dollars for rent and doesn't like the options that that X dollars will provide. Your kind of stuck. Too bad for you. Welcome to the same reality faced by those with no good alternatives in a market economy. They face coercion, you face coercion. There is a kind of symmetry.

I am all for choice. But, I also recognize the reality of coercion in ANY system of ordering. I also recognize the arbitariness that exists with respect to distribution within private ordering. I will give you an example. In a negotiation class, there was a deal where the seller's best alternative to a negotiated deal was $50,000 and the buyer's was $100,000. Well, after the class was divided up into buyers and sellers, all with identical information, the deals that came out ranged from a $53,000 sale price, to a $96,000 sale price. Most deals kind of went to either extreme or the other, with very few around the center. In other words, the distribution of $43,000 in this case was dependent on the negotiating skills of the parties, rather than what they were bringing to the table in terms of value. It seems to me, that those sorts of differences aren't what I would call principled. Add in the concept of power from being on a certain side of a transaction, and you can imagine which side will tend to get the most gains from cooperation.

So, imagine that you hire someone to work in your business. You would only do so, if there was some benefit to you. Right? And the employee would only do so if there was some benefit to him. Right? So, there is a benefit to both of you to engaging in this transaction. Great. But how is that benefit distributed? I think that often, employers are able to appropriate most of the gain from cooperation, at least in situations where they are dealing with employees with little skill. (You know, all those people you don't think should get an education cause of who their parents are.)

Basically, I really think your conception of what is a "moral system" is entirely self serving. You don't think there should be public education because YOU are fortunate enough to be both (1) educated enough to homeschool your kids and (2) live in a household where adults have enough leisure time to engage in this sort of activity. Who cares about other peoples' kids; I am sure you won't mind hiring them at minimum wage (oh wait, I bet your against minimum wage) to perform menial labor, either directly or indirectly through your consumption of services for your household. Wonderful. And am I supposed to feel sorry for you when you whine about taxes? Do you feel sorry for the people who wouldn't be educated if you had your way?

Your last question is amusing to me. Why can't you opt out of the transactions that you feel cost you while only staying in transactions that benefit you. Yeah, sounds like a market economy for government. Perfectly reasonable for someone who gets a reasonable or disproportionately large slice of the pie in economic transactions. Well, I will tell you why. I am not going to ignore the fact that you BENEFIT when you go to a restaurant and are served food and the people who serve you don't get paid very well. I am not going to ignore the fact that you BENEFIT when janitors clean up after you. I am not going to ignore the fact that if you employee people who make low wages or consume goods or services made by such people, you are benefiting from the principles of competition to cut yourself a bigger slice of economic pie.

Basically, you have the fortune or misfortunate of living in a human society where people cooperate. Unfortunately, cooperation has costs as well as benefits.

Show me a society with large scale social cooperation without coercion of any sort? Of course, such a society is a fantasy. You justify the coercion faced by someone who involuntarily breaches a contract based on consent. But really, the REAL justification for this coercion is not some sort of whacky theory about how our ex post autonomy SHOULD be constrained by our ex ante decisions. Rather, the REAL justification is NECESSITY. To get the gains of social cooperation, it is necessary to be able to rely and depend on others. In long-term transactions, this means there must be coercive consequences for the breach of contract. Because, without that coercion, people would not be as reliable and social cooperation would not be as beneficial. Of course, consent makes a big difference too. But we have that with government. We have consent, via voting and we have consent in terms of your ability to exit to another society. You might not like the alternatives from which you have to choose; that is life.

I would be more sympathetic to libertarians with concerns about coercion if they didn't ignore so much coercion that occurs in the context of contracts. I don't like coercion either. What are the alternatives?

Think about it more abstractly, if you are going to have order in any system, you need coercion. Why? Because people are not naturally going to conform to any sort of ordering. Hey, someone calls you in the morning and screams at you to get up and go do something "productive." Are you going to respond to this if you don't have to? Probably not, unless it is your boss, who can fire you which may lead to a loss of income, which will lead to all sorts of unpleasant consequences, like the involuntary breach of other contracts. You can choose not to listen to your boss, but its gonna cost you. You can choose not to pay your taxes, but hey, its not gonna be fun.

Overall, I am sympathetic to the idea that people should have more autonomy. Perhaps one way to maximize autonomy would be a minimum guaranteed income, or as Milton Friedman has proposed, a negative income tax.

I don't think most libertarians besides Friedman buy into this idea. After all, it does require "coercive" taxes and redistribution of income.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

If a libertarian nation existed, I'd happily move there

I understand there are areas of the world where government is either non-existent or, if technically present, actually exercises little or no control. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions come to mind, and there are probably others.

Perhaps you should investigate further. Maybe you would find someplace more amenable to your preferences. When you get there please post a comment and let us know how you are doing.

liberty writes:

>So, while there is no denying the fact that there is a difference between government and private ordering, that difference is not merely one of coercion versus lack of coercion. In both cases, coercion is necessary.

Right, but there are huge differences.

1. Government always has a monopoly, while as I pointed out you have a choice of where to live (and I disagree that many people can't get a mortgage, you can get zero-down mortages in most states, only the young and people in cities rent, 60% of people under the poverty line own their home, the rest are young or in cities generally speaking).

2. Government can monopolize everything, including the power to make laws: hence while a contract with a landord is just over the house,a contract with the government means that they can take your home, put a lean on your paycheck, put you in jail themselves rather than simply try to sue as a regular citizen, etc etc. While a landlord has a contract only on the house, the government has much more power - hence a contract with government is a contract that can include taxation on your business, your property, your income, etc etc - when government contracts become burdensome they affect many many more areas of your life than just the property you have chosen.

3. You do not directly enter into a contract with the government. I reject the idea that you can move - you could live in a different country and avoid the private contracts here too, that is not among the distinctions between government and private contracts. The difference with government contract is that you are one of millions of voters who decide together what contract you want by having many different kinds of elections - local and federal, and even if your party loses and the bill you didn't like passes, you're still stuck in the contract. With a landolord you *can* read the contract and choose not to enter it. You have different landlords who compete and therefor must try to offer you something reasonable. You cannot say the same thing honestly about the federal government - yes different parties compete, but other people can choose your contract by vote and politicians can pass things that people don't like in general and you're stuck until you can get someobody else to repeal it. If the whole country voted on the rent and the rent was the same everywhere, that would be equilivalent - and that is exactly the kind of thing that libertarians are against and socialist-minded folk are in favor of (eg rent control, public housing, socialized housing).

liberty writes:

>One last point. You say yourself in another thread that conformists make better employees.

Me? You have me confused I think.

>You have been coerced. What is the lesson here? Maybe you should stop living by your idiosyncratic principles and just obey the orders you get from your boss...

Or perhaps think carefully about your ability to either:

1. Live by your ideals, start your own business or find other work (this is easier in a libertarian world as the economy will be better) or take out a loan and go back to school etc etc.

2. Live by your ideals and live in a home-made shack on the free land they are giving away in Kansas, with two cows that you buy with your last paycheck.

3. Live against your ideals for just enough time to be able to do one of the above or something similar.

>Yeah, I can choose the price of my housing, but I can't choose to opt out.

Sure you can, build your own home. Also buying is totally different from renting. You have many choices not only between contracts but with no contract at all.

> You can choose to pay less taxes. Just earn less money and try to find a career with more leisure.

1. You have just proven the basics of libertarian economics - raise the taxes and the people won't work or innovate.

2. You are still stuck paying taxes and *YOU AVE BEEN FORCED TO COMPLETELY CHANGE YOUR LIFE* by a centralized force that has a monopoly on everything. A landlord could never push you to change your life this much because he only affects your housing situation and is one of very very many choices - between small and large apartments in town and out of town and houses you can buy or build, etc.

>I would be someone who is uneducated, with no credentials,

Or someone who went to Catholic school or got a scholarship to a regular private school, etc...

>I suppose that after having no education, I could "choose" to have a very poorly paying job and I could "choose" to live in substandard housing. Or I could choose to be homeless if I didn't like those choices. Great. Its all about choice.

Or you could choose to get a GED - or after finishing at the Catholic school you could choose to go to a private university on scholarship or loans... etc

BTW, given that your folks wouldn't have had to pay taxes, they would probably have an additional $7,000 a year to pay for the private school if they chose a catholic school or another that might let you in free, you could save $7,000 a year toward college.

>But how is that benefit distributed? I think that often, employers are able to appropriate most of the gain from cooperation, at least in situations where they are dealing with employees with little skill.

Your little experiment ignored competition, making it completely useless. In truth, when taxes are cut most often the gains go to the workers, go figure, huh?

>Think about it more abstractly, if you are going to have order in any system, you need coercion. Why? Because people are not naturally going to conform to any sort of ordering. Hey, someone calls you in the morning and screams at you to get up and go do something "productive." Are you going to respond to this if you don't have to?

You miss the whole point of voluntary contracts. Someone calling me up and shouting at me is not what gets me up in the morning - getting paid does.

You don't need coercion if both people enjoy the contract. I wake up to work because I will get paid, my boss goes to work and pays me because he wants the fruits of my labor. No coercion required.

liberty writes:

>I understand there are areas of the world where government is either non-existent or, if technically present, actually exercises little or no control. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions come to mind, and there are probably others.

That is not libertarian, its tribal. Tribal bosses prevent market actions and democracy - there is no protection of rights, including no protection of property righs. Libertarianism requires protection of property rights as well as other basic rights. Libertarianism is neither anarchy nor tribal rule.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

"You miss the whole point of voluntary contracts. Someone calling me up and shouting at me is not what gets me up in the morning - getting paid does.

You don't need coercion if both people enjoy the contract. I wake up to work because I will get paid, my boss goes to work and pays me because he wants the fruits of my labor. No coercion required."

If no coercion is required, then I say we don't use it. Lets not enforce contracts. Hey, I take you at your word. No coercion required. If someone breaks their promise to you, don't do business with them again. Hey, if you lose a lot of money because of it or they won't leave your rental property, don't go to the government to use force against them. Why? Because no coercion is required. You said it.

If, on the other hand, as the vast majority of libertarians do, you want to enforce contracts, then you better come up with some good reasons why coercion is justified. And then you have to explain why those justifications for coercion don't apply to other areas of life. Then you have to defend your reasons as being truly principled rather than merely self-serving. I have yet to see a convincing libertarian argument. Probably because there are none. Do we authorize coercion because it is for the greater good to protect people's reliance on contracts? Well, if its the greater good, then that justifies coercion for public education. Do we enforce coercion based on consent? Well, as has been explained, often consent is forthcoming only based on the lack of good alternatives. And really, your presence in this particular democratic society is based on consent too. If you don't like it, you can leave. No one says that your alternatives have to be attractive for consent to be valid. Anyway, I am still waiting for the brilliant libertarian argument that explains why coercion is justified with contracts but not with taxes. I suspect I will be waiting a long time.

Sometimes people breach contract. Either voluntarily or involuntarily. What are you going to do then?

A point about your response to my hypothetical. Your response to MY hypothetical changes the facts. You are looking over a different period of time. Sure, there may be options over the long-run, but the fact is, in the short run you face coercion.

You even admit as much. You said, maybe you stay at the job until you can move to a better situation. In other words, you tolerate the coercion in the short-run. So, your response to my hypothetical actually concedes the point I was making. I am not making the point that people can't change their situation, I am making the point that contracts involve coercion.

Your point on education is precisely why libertarians will never get very far in terms of public policy in a democracy. That may have something to do with why many libertarians are big on extreme limits on democratic choice; they can't win in a democracy. Charity is simply not an adequate substitute to public education. First of all, I don't think people should be brainwashed into any religion as a condition of their education. Besides religiously motivated education, there simply would not be ENOUGH charity to meet the need. Yeah, someone who is extremely intelligent might get a scholarship. What about everyone else? Hence the need for taxes. Like I said, if you don't like it, go cry to someone else. Because I am sure that you probably aren't going to be that sympathetic to those who lose under your experiment in educational insanity and then face coercion when they involuntarily breach a contract because they have less income than if they were educated.

Pro-voucher people, I can sympathize with. They want to harness the principles of competition to increase value. Those who advocate the abolishment of public education, on the other hand, I view as frankly insane. Perhaps often a little self-centered; as long as the can envision a world where they and their family get education, they are indifferent to the fate of others.

Typically libertarian: "I don't want to pay taxes -- who cares about what happens to other people in our society. Oh, by the way, I am going to ignore the coercion faced by others and focus excessively on the coercion I face in my life when I have to pay taxes."

I have zero sympathy. None.

As far as the point that income taxes decrease the incentives for work to some degree; of course they do. However, the benefits are worth the costs. The expanded economic pie from providing education is so much better than the one in a crazy world full of ignorant savages.

Think about this. All cooperation decrases the incentives for work. If I enter into a partnership with someone else, since I do no longer get 100% of the profits from my effort. Thus I do not have full incentive to work until the marginal benefit is equal to the marginal cost. Take another example. Say someone employees me to work for them. Since they are the one that typically keeps the profits, that decreases my incentive to work; I certainly am not going to put in maximal effort when the marginal benefits go entirely to someone else. That is, unless I deviate significantly from the assumptions made by economists, in which case, incentives would not be that important anyway.

People have their incentives decreased all the time. It is no disaster. Yes, incentives are important. However, they aren't always the most important thing. I might trade them off for other benefits. If I enter into a partnership with someone else (who presumable brings value to the table) and get only 50% of the profits, I have a reduced incentive to maximize profits. If the value of cooperation is greater than that lost incentive, I should still do it.

So, if your libertarian argument against taxes is primarily one about incentives, that is just a loser. If the benefits of taxation, say public education, are greater than the losses due to decreased incentives, then you tax away. A world with an optimal level of taxation in that sense would not be a libertarian one.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

"Your little experiment ignored competition, making it completely useless."

So, are you disputing the fact that negotiating skills determine the distribution of gain from cooperation in many circumstances? May I suggest that, if you are, you perhaps need to consider the real world a little more and economic theory a little less. In the real world, there are information barriers and limited competition which gives negotiation a place.

If you are going to argue that this is less of a factor in more perfect markets, say commodity markets for pork bellies or coffee, then I will whole-heartedly agree. Markets set the price rather than individual negotiations, with a few exceptions. If you are going to further suggest that such markets are so overwhelmingly important that negotiation skills do not play a big part in market results, then I think your crazy.

As an anecdote from the real world, take my former negotiations professor. He negotiated his rent down from an $1800 asking price to $1350. That is a pretty significant effect and in the real world too.

"In truth, when taxes are cut most often the gains go to the workers, go figure, huh?"

Please provide support for this statement. It would obviously depend on which workers you are referring. Hey, CEOs are workers too! I think this is probably wishful thinking, but I am open to any empirical evidence you can offer, including, of course, a showing of the all important question of which workers benefit and to what degree.

liberty writes:

>If, on the other hand, as the vast majority of libertarians do, you want to enforce contracts, then you better come up with some good reasons why coercion is justified.

Okay, I misunderstood your point. Yes coercion is required to enforce the contract - but no coercion is required to set the contract, that is voluntary between two individuals. I explained above how that voluntary contract is different from the one between the government and the citizens.

>Do we authorize coercion because it is for the greater good to protect people's reliance on contracts?

Contract law is part of protecting rights of the people: protection of life, liberty and property. Just as coercion is required - putting you in jail - if you murder someone, so coercion is required - jail or fines etc - if you damage someone's property eg by breaking the contract.

>You said, maybe you stay at the job until you can move to a better situation. In other words, you tolerate the coercion in the short-run.

No, that isn't tolerating coercion, its fulfilling your contract. You chose to enter the contract, unlike the way that you are forceflly entered with the government, as I explianed above.

Our definitions of coercion are different, I think.

>Charity is simply not an adequate substitute to public education. First of all, I don't think people should be brainwashed into any religion as a condition of their education. Besides religiously motivated education, there simply would not be ENOUGH charity to meet the need.

No, you are simply missing the point. The replacement for public education is private education. First off everybody gets back an average of $7,000 per year that they had been putting toward public education. That will allow 99% of children to attend the private school of their choice. The remaining 1% who had not been paying any taxes or enough to see the difference will either:
a) get a scholarship at a regular privat school
b) go to eg a Catholic school or some other very cheap alternative

There will certainly be enough institutions for the samll number of students who can't pay for private school now that they have all the money back from the government.

>Pro-voucher people, I can sympathize with. They want to harness the principles of competition to increase value. Those who advocate the abolishment of public education, on the other hand, I view as frankly insane

Its almost identical. The other difference with vouchers is that first you give your money to the government then they give it back then you spend it going to the private/public school of your choice with the only difference between the two being hat the public ones tend to be very badly run since up till now they had no compeitition. Vouchers are just a step toward the privatization, allowing us to move in that direction easily. The other difference, of course, being that those who don't pay any taxes can still get the vouchers, but those are very few who could easily go to the school of their choice on scholarship.

>People have their incentives decreased all the time. It is no disaster. Yes, incentives are important. However, they aren't always the most important thing. I might trade them off for other benefits. If I enter into a partnership with someone else (who presumable brings value to the table) and get only 50% of the profits, I have a reduced incentive to maximize profits. If the value of cooperation is greater than that lost incentive, I should still do it.

If you are talking about a business partnership where both are striving for profit then sure. But what if your partner didn't care at all about profit and mostly sat on his ass - would you still work just as hard? What if the harder you worked the higher a percentage your partner took, and still he did nothing to help the business profit?

>He negotiated his rent down from an $1800 asking price to $1350. That is a pretty significant effect and in the real world too.

Sure there are sellers who differentiate prices to the customers individually, such as the typical carpet-market examples, but there are generally rare. Try going into a walmart or a supermarket or drugstore and negotiating with the clerk. You won't get very far. That includes 99% of retail markets. Try going to the movie theatre or the electronics store (excluding used electronics or some 42nd street dealers) and you won't get far with that tactic either. In general most prices won't be affected by that sort of negotiation. There are exceptions, but even in those cases it is competition first and negotiation second that determines price. Could your friend have negotiated down to $300/month? Certainly in NYC even negotiation of apartments can barely get you down 5% for most of them and the price you negotiate down to is the competitive price for that area; you won't get the price below what others with similar credit ratings are willing to pay. They will simply look elsewhere for a tenant.

As for where the tax cut goes, well agreed upon micro-economics theory and evidence from the real word tells us that it goes to where the elasticity is greatest. If I was paid $1000/week before taxes and was taking hom $600 and then taxes were cut by $200 a week, should my salary down or should I take home the whole $800? In the real world, the salary stays the same and the worker takes home the higher pay, at least at first. Then the employer could simply not give you a raise for a long time if he thought that you were overpriced now. But you are now used to taking home $800 and will try looking elsewhere if $800 become worth less due to inflation. Other firms will be willing to raise the pay since they are long since used to paying out the $1000/week and will want to attract the best workers. In order to stay competitive firms will begin to raise the price. Its down to elasticity - if firms literally don't care whether they can attract workers, they may raise the wage slowly and watch as the workers all leave the industry, but wages in general rise with inflation, so this is rare. In general workers have greater elasticity, being willing to look at other firms in the same and different industries, hence raising the wage.

If you think am wrong, I challenge you. After a tax cut makes a worker able to take home a larger pay check, is the salary reduced? Is the salary frozen for long enough that inflation eats away the major part of the additional wage? If not then I am correct that the worker gets the gains.

James writes:

Vorn,

You write "If, on the other hand, as the vast majority of libertarians do, you want to enforce contracts, then you better come up with some good reasons why coercion is justified. And then you have to explain why those justifications for coercion don't apply to other areas of life. Then you have to defend your reasons as being truly principled rather than merely self-serving."

And if you want people to have to remit funds to pay for things that they don't want, but only when it's the state demanding the money, you better come up with a good reason why the state is so exceptional. For example, I might insist that by remaining where you are, you have agreed to let me tax you, despite the fact that I have no right to control the land you occupy. If you support the government making and enforcing such offers, you shouldn't change your tune when it's someone else doing it. Nor could you say that the government has a right to control the land that its taxpayers occupy, as that would be presupposing what you seek to prove.

I'll try to answer your question about why enforcement of contracts is different from taxation.

Before I offer you a chance to enter into a contract with me, you have some set of options to choose from. Call this S. Some elements of S involve staying in the country. If I offer you a chance to enter a contract with me, you can still turn me down and choose any option in S. So by extending an offer, I can't actually worsen your condition, although I may improve it.

If I offer a contract like "Pay me 25% of your income to fund my activities, or do not remain in the country," I'm actually threatening to take elements out of S, to which I have no legitimate claim of ownership, if you don't accept my offer. If you value any element of S that I'm threatening to remove more than you value (my services minus 25% of your income), then by extending such an offer, I will be worsening your condition.

If a private entity make an offer of the second type, we'd probably both agree that it was extortion. The libertarian's analysis doesn't change when the party making an offer of the second type is a government.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

Very brief response. First of all, if you leave a job, that is not breach of contract. Right. I am talking about a normal conditions of employment here. There are exceptions where you are payed by the job and are expected to finish the job. But generally, you can leave employment at any time. But if you do, maybe that will result in the involuntary breach of other contracts, like a lease.

Okay, you agree that coercion is necessary for contracts. And you think that coercion should be there to protect property. Okay, but why should we protect property? After all, property as a legal right is a creation of government, its very definition is changed by law. Intellectual property is the best example of this, where the bundle of rights that go with a copyright fluctuate actively with acts of Congress. But it applies to property more generally.

So, you say we should use coercion to protect peoples property. But why should we protect property? Well, there just is simply no justification other than it is for the greatest good. And then you lose. Cause that justifies taxes too. Or are you going to revert to Locke's very flawed labor-dessert theory? Well, lets say you choose Locke's labor-dessert theory. Then, that actually reduces to the greatest good. We should protect property (Because it is the product of labor, Locke practically sounds like Marx. One step left, you have Marx. One step right, you have wacky libertarians) ultimately, because that is for the greatest good. Hence the point that one should not waste. Or are you going to say we should protect it under a property fetish theory? Well, why should we protect property under that theory? Because its for the greatest good. So, pretty much whatever theory you choose for why we should use coercion to enforce contracts, your kind of stuck with a theory that also justifies taxation.

Anyway, the whole life, liberty and property idea is just what John Locke said a couple of hundred years ago. A totally arbitrary list of rights. I submit to you that the important list of rights is MUCH more expansive than his narrow backwards view. If you want to go back a couple of centuries and arbitrarily pick Locke as your political philosopher, that is fine by me. But, then, you lose. Because the reason we should protect property under labor-dessert theory generalizes to the greater good.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned. Everyone in America has a property right in the expectation of free public education. And you know what, just by living in America, I say that you have entered into a social contract to do your part to provide it. If you don't like the terms of the social contract, then leave. Just leave. Nobody is forcing you to stay. And if you try to breach it, I think you should be thrown into jail and the key should be thrown away. Breaking a contract justifies coercion. Pay your taxes. That is the law.

Finally, you say that vouchers are the first step to your radical privatization plan. I say your crazy. Start giving people voucher and just TRY to take them away. Talk about political suicide. Think about it from a political science perspective. We are going to take away your vouchers and replace it with charity! Yeah. In a million years. I support vouchers because I am quite confident that it will be every bit as difficult to abolish public support of education with vouchers as it is now. Your views are definitely way out of the mainstream and will be forever. That is democracy. Thank goodness. :)

As far as your assertion that workers will get the benefits of any tax cut, that obviously depends on how the tax cut is structured and I think, as you mention, in the long-run, inflation will just eat it away. Anyway, this is an extremely complicated topic, and I am 100% certain your not doing it justice here. Either am I.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

Having read the update, I would like to return to the subject of the original post.

Arnold assures us that it is tone, not content, that matters. I don't believe him. My rude comment was deleted. A much ruder comment that agreed with his point of view was allowed to remain. I'd like an explanation of that.

I'd also like an explanation of why Kling and Caplan are entitled to be insulting in their posts. The answer may well be that it is their blog, and they can do what they want. Fair enough. But if that's it then Kling's pleas for civility are pretty silly, I think.

What about it, Arnold?

[Bernard: The comment you mention was deleted because you posted it even after having acknowledged our email request to desist from such rudeness. Previously-posted comments of yours were not deleted, even though some were far more objectionable. Commenters who are in the midst of conversation with us in email and who offer to desist from rudeness get some leeway to demonstrate they have reformed. Those who continue to violate the rules or who gripe endlessly and cannot get on with content get banned. Carrying on online instead of in email when one has been invited repeatedly to talk in email is not appropriate and will not fly. What's your pleasure?--Econlib Ed.]

Vorn writes:

liberty:

Oh, one other thing. You have basically conceded that the issue is not whether we shall have coercion or not, but rather when is coercion justified. So much for libertarianism have any moral standing as not requiring coercion and taxes being wrong because they involve coercion.

The ground has shifted. Now your argument must be something like this: taxation is wrong, because in that context, coercion is not justified, though in other contexts involving social ordering, coercion is justified. Kind of makes your argument messy and unsatisfying.

Now the question becomes, is coercion justified when it benefits you, but not otherwise? How do you produce a principled explanation for when coercion is or is not justified. Are you going to pull out an arbitrary list of things that you think can be protected by coercion, or is this list to be produced based on some sort of principle. Locke's list of life, liberty, and property is pretty arbitrary, if you ask me. So, you explain to me why the things excluded from the list should be excluded.

That is quite a daunting task.

Vorn writes:

James:

"And if you want people to have to remit funds to pay for things that they don't want, but only when it's the state demanding the money, you better come up with a good reason why the state is so exceptional."

The state is exceptional because it is democratically elected. You don't like what it does, you can vote it out. And as far as I am concerned, ownership of all land is at the mercy of the state, which defines and enforces property rights. The United States and the land you temporarily occupy will be here long after you are dead.

Second. You make the point that making offers to people can only make them better off. That is obviously wrong. But, for the sake of brevity, lets go ahead and assume it is so. Then you assert that the government giving you the option of not staying in the country is not fair, because it makes you worse off.

Well, this all depends on your definition of the status quo. As far as I am concerned, you have no RIGHT to be here. None. Not unless you accept BOTH the benefits and burdens of citizenship. If you want to be a citizen, then you have to obey democratically enacted laws. That includes tax laws.

I think your VERY lucky to have the opportunity to be a citizen of the United States and the opportunity to pay your taxes. You should be grateful that you have a RIGHT to pay taxes. Most people in the world don't have that opportunity and the majority of those would probably jump at the opportunity to enter this particular social contract. You think paying taxes would stop most of them? So go ahead and leave, you can be replaced.

Thus, allowing you to be a citizen and reap the rewards of citizenship can only make you better off. If you want, you can go to some other country. Your problem is that you take your citizenship for granted, as though you have a right to it even if you refuse to obey democratically enacted law. Well, stop taking it for granted and you will see that you can only be better off having the choice to be taxed by the United States as a citizen.

So, the point holds. If you don't like the burdens of citizenship, then you don't need to be a citizen. You may not like your alternatives. But too bad. Welcome to the world of less than ideal alternatives.

liberty writes:

>So, you say we should use coercion to protect peoples property. But why should we protect property? Well, there just is simply no justification other than it is for the greatest good. And then you lose. Cause that justifies taxes too.

No, there is amuch more basic reason. The rights of life, liberty and property are fundamental righs without which society is impossible. Taxation to the extent of proving government to protect these basic rights is necessary, I agree, but its not a blank check for government, government should be limited to just what is necessary - as agreed on by the voters - to protect those basic rights. The right of life is obvious (and makes murder illegal, etc), the right of liberty is obvious (and makes slavery illegal along with things that government could do but which would prevent the liberty of citizens, the people are not slaves in any way and can generally go about their business) and the right of property should be obvious but isn't always. All of these rights are protected equally for all citizens such that one right of one person cannot trump one right of another - eg your right to go on a killing spree is not protected as it violates the right of another person to life. Yet your right to a liberty which does not violate the right of any other is protected. The right of property means that theft of property is illegal, it also means contracts must be protected as breaking of them is a form of theft, it also means government can't steal, whether by eminent domain abuse or even by heavy taxation that is then redistributed - government can only be used to protect the basic rights, anything else is theft.

>Anyway, the whole life, liberty and property idea is just what John Locke said a couple of hundred years ago. A totally arbitrary list of rights. I submit to you that the important list of rights is MUCH more expansive than his narrow backwards view.

What is your list? If you truly understand the indications of protecting those rights fully and only those rights you might disagree - and I submit that you cannot find three more basic rights or a longer list that has the effect that those have. If you gave me five rights, would one not be an extension of those three? Would the others not end up conflicting with one of the first three?

For example the right to healthcare - how can you grant that right without taking away the right to liberty of the doctor who must provide the healthcare?

Or a right to a certain standard of living - how can you grant that right without taking away the right of liberty either of an employer or of a whole society which must be taxed and which must work and produce in order to provide the standard of living - a standard of living for every person is something that comes from the work of all people and all people become enslaved (as in the USSR) if society tries to make that a right.

The basic rights of life, liberty and property as granted to all people (actually they are inborn, not granted) and protected equally to all citizens by government are a much more expansive list of freedoms and rights than those left once one begins to try to grant others.

For example the freedom - and right as it is the right of liberty - to work where you want, to keep the profit and spend it as you please - to engage in a contract with another person, to be protected from fraud, theft and coercion; these are all rights protected by the list of three rights which vanish once you begin to add rights to income and so forth. It is one thing to pay taxes to the government to protect the basic rights of life, liberty and property, it is another entirely to pay taxes that are then redistributed to others. What if the government spends it very poorly and wastefully? What if they decide to take 90% of your paycheck? What if they decide to ban your company from selling your product but let other companies sell the same thing? All of these things have happened in governments when they went beyond the basic three rights, they spiral off into the beyond. When its just the basic three, everything else can be done privately and it makes imminent sense.

>Finally, you say that vouchers are the first step to your radical privatization plan. I say your crazy.

Obviously you didn't even read my explanation of why. If you had you would see that it is neither crazy nor extreme and vouchers would not be replaced by charity but by the same private schools paid for with the same money that the vouchers had been provided with. You have no interest in honest debate - if you do, please go back and read my earlier explanation instead of going on a rant and calling me an extremist.

>As far as your assertion that workers will get the benefits of any tax cut, that obviously depends on how the tax cut is structured and I think, as you mention, in the long-run, inflation will just eat it away. Anyway, this is an extremely complicated topic, and I am 100% certain your not doing it justice here. Either am I.

Give me a single example of an industry where inflation ate away all the gains of a tax cut. It would be extremely unlikely as wages, even in a recession, tend to move with inflation. Give me one example of an industry or position where wages have fallen behind inflation for several years - a decent tax cut would require at least 5 years I suspect.

>Oh, one other thing. You have basically conceded that the issue is not whether we shall have coercion or not, but rather when is coercion justified. So much for libertarianism have any moral standing as not requiring coercion and taxes being wrong because they involve coercion.

Not at all. If you read what I wrote I said that our definition of coercion is different. You could call enforcement of property rights coercion, but I do not. A contract that is agreed on specifically between two people is voluntary. Enforcement after the two have agreed is simply protection of the rights of those involved - if you want to back out on your repayment of a loan, it would be theft. Enforcement is protection of my rights. That isn't coercion - forcing you to borrow in the first place is coercion. Government can coerce - and has a monopoly on coercion - because I never agreed to a contract that laid out the benefits I would receive from the government and had a choice and could choose to sign it and promise to pay taxes or not; I had no choice, a whole country full of people voted on a president, much of the budget was laid out under Jimmy Carter or earlier (before I ever voted) and now I have to pay taxes or go to jail. That is not a contract that I chose by my own volition and its enforced anyway on me. That is coercion.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

"You have no interest in honest debate - if you do, please go back and read my earlier explanation instead of going on a rant and calling me an extremist."

First, your point of view on this issue is extreme, in my opinion. Maybe you don't take extreme points of view on every issue, but on this issue, you have taken an extreme point of view. If you give people tax breaks, there is no guarantee that the money will go to education. If you give them vouchers, there is no choice but to spend the money on education. I understood what you are saying and it is an extremist point of view since it does not GUARANTEE everyone an opportunity to education; instead it relies on the whims of those giving charity for those with lesser incomes. I stand by my assessment that your idea is extreme.

Second, coercion is coercion. You aren't allowed to have your own special definition. Basically, when you think the use of force is not unjustified, you choose not to label it coercion, but then when you think it is justified, you don't call it coercion. But force is force. You can play word games, but that doesn't change the underlying reality. I am not interested in your definition, only in the underlying reality. Notice that in your previous post, you conceded that enforcement of contract did involve coercion. Then, when your realized that you did not like the results of this concession, you decided to change the definition of coercion in your next post. That, frankly, sounds more like an act of ideologically motivated act of desperation rather than someone grasping for the truth, regardless of ideological consequences. Now, I am not suprised; rational discourse is usually quite futile in changing minds in the face of ideological determination. My interest in engaging in this debate is to see if you have anything interesting to say, rather than convince you to change your mind. However, I will note that you have changed your definition of coercion in an opportunistic manner.

Hey I could do the same thing. I could say that taxation is not coercion, because it is based on democratically legitimate law. Merely changing the definition doesn't change the underlying reality, right? The underlying reality is the same, whether I call taxation coercion or something else.

Just to be clear that there is a contradiction here are the quotes:
Your first post.
(1) "Yes coercion is required to enforce the contract - but no coercion is required to set the contract, that is voluntary between two individuals."
Your second post.
(2) "A contract that is agreed on specifically between two people is voluntary. Enforcement after the two have agreed is simply protection of the rights of those involved - if you want to back out on your repayment of a loan, it would be theft. Enforcement is protection of my rights. That isn't coercion"

Third, you mention conflicts if you add more rights to your arbitrary list. Well, I hate to tell you, but sometimes property rights conflict with life. Sometimes liberty conflict with life. Sometimes liberty conflict with property rights. So, what is new. That sometimes rights will conflict does not justify a narrow view. Surely, if you added rights to the list, there would be conflicts; but then, there already are conflicts.

Fourth, you write: "The rights of life, liberty and property are fundamental rights without which society is impossible." That is definitely not true. You can have society without liberty or property. You can even have a society which tolerates the arbitrary deprivation of life. So, these are just an arbitrary list that you got from John Locke, whether you realize it or not. He said these were the basic rights and so do you. That is not principle, but merely imitation.

Generally speaking, you say these are the basic rights, but you have yet to articulate a principle that justifies this list. The idea you have tried to give isn't really a good principle. You assert, wrongly, that these rights are based on "necessity" for we could not have society without them. Your obviously wrong about that, but lets assume your right. Well, why should necessity be our principle? I don't think necessity is a good principle. In any case, I could ask the question, necessary for whom?

Finally, I am not interested in your arbitrary definitions of theft. You say taxation is theft. I say it your duty, no, actually I say it is your privilege, to pay taxes for being accepted as a citizen in the greatest country to ever exist. There is always the exit option if you disagree. So think of it as a contract. I am choosing to remain a citizen, thus, I am contractually obligated to pay taxes. If I want the benefits of the social contract in the Unnited States, I have to accept the burdens as well. Just like any contract. You make the point that you didn't get to choose every policy made by government. So what. If we lived under a society that you would prefer, then I wouldn't get to choose the "special" and stingy list of rights that you mention. If I don't agree with property rights in a particular context, too bad. Well, the same rules that apply to me, apply to you.

Overall, I am not interested in your specific justifications for the specific rights to life, liberty, or property. I am interested in the principles by which you limit the list to these.

"The basic rights of life, liberty and property as granted to all people (actually they are inborn, not granted)"

Rights are inborn? Okay, this is a total fiction. If you lived in a state of nature, and you had a piece of food that someone else wanted, that person would just club you over the head to get it and may just decide to eat you in addition to your food. There are no rights without a society. At least not in a practical sense. You may assert on some metaphysical plain that such and such list of arbitrary rights are "inborn." That is fine, I am not interested in a religious debate. If the basis for your list is religion, we might as well end this conversation because it will have exited the public sphere of rational discourse into the private sphere of religious belief.

Anyway, so far, I have been convinced that you do not have any good principles behind you. Just an arbitrary list of rights that you arbitrarily list as "basic" that was provided to you by John Locke. No articulation of the principles behind this selection. At least Locke tried his best to articulate principles; though he obviously failed to do it convincingly.

Bernard Yomtov writes:

Carrying on online instead of in email when one has been invited repeatedly to talk in email is not appropriate and will not fly. What's your pleasure?

For the record, I received no response to my two emails having to do with the deleted comment. Sorry to "carry on" here, but I feel it necessary to state this plainly.

Hi, Bernard.

For the record, I received no response to my two emails having to do with the deleted comment. Sorry to "carry on" here, but I feel it necessary to state this plainly.

We received neither. I suppose it's remotely possible that we accidentally junk occasional email; but it's unlikely two got lost.

Please feel free to resend your records to us at
webmaster@econlib.org
or other email addresses we've included in private email to you.

We regularly receive emails from others, including those listed from your service providers and domains.

Missing two emails by one person is unlikely. All the same, we're willing to consider it if you can promptly back up your claim that you emailed us twice since Jan. 18, 2006.

Lauren

cb writes:

Vorn,

I don't think libertarians have a problem with the use of coercion to enforce contracts. I assume most of them take issue with the size of the government, which they believe is much larger than a government which should only provide for public goods, ie goods that cannot be provided by individuals.

You going on and on about lack of principals and/or lack of morals, or implying that, in libertarian thought/beliefs is silly.

Vorn writes:

cb:

Well, I have yet to see any good libertarians principles articulated. Just arbitrary lists of rights. I am not merely implying that many libertarians are lacking in principle, I am stating that outright. Of course, many is not the same as all, I am sure there are exceptions. I have said nothing about libertarian morals.

As for your point that most libertarians don't have a problem using coercion to enforce contracts, I think that is correct. But as liberty has illustrated, some are not comfortable admitting that it is coercion. Some assert as a defense of libertarianism the supposed lack of coercion and in contrast to the supposed immorality of "coercive" taxation by government.

You have provided new food for thought. Government should provide only public goods, which I think you define as those goods that can't be provided by individuals. Well, I think I already have a problem with this definition. What sorts of goods can't be provided by individuals through the mechanism of contract? I certainly could provide education through contract. I could provide security through contract. I can even raise personal armies through contract. So, I am not sure what you mean by "public goods," I think you need to be more precise.

cb writes:

Vorn -

So as to limit confusion, I want to be clear about myself. I'm not sure if I am a libertarian, as I am not a student of political thought and am not sure what a libertarian is technically. I do lean heavily that way, however. I don't claim to speak for libertarians or libertarianism. That being said -

Here's an article on public goods - http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/PublicGoodsandExternalities.html

I take back my definition, and let the economist do it for me.

I'm not sure, but it sounds like the beliefs you ascribe to libertarians, or the ones you've talked to, sound closer to anarchists. For fun, let's say I consider myself a libertarian (which in no way means I vote libertarian :) ). I might say that our Federal government should limit itself to the constitution - "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."

Welfare
welfare n. 1. health, happiness, or prosperity; well-being. [

cb writes:

Post got chopped -


"Welfare in today's context also means organized efforts on the part of public or private organizations to benefit the poor, or simply public assistance. This is not the meaning of the word as used in the Constitution." source - www.usconstituion.net

I would consider all federal redistributive policies to be unconstitutional, ie social security, medicare, earned income tax credit, etc. In fact, anytime the federal government treats one person differently that another, except when doing it's explicitly laid out job (ie common defence, etc.). Progressive income tax would fit in this category.

cb writes:

The key term being 'establish Justice'. I would like to see what the literature, ie Federalist papers, have to say about what they mean by Justice. I suspect it's different than today's, or your use for that matter.

Vorn writes:

cb:

You write:
"I would consider all federal redistributive policies to be unconstitutional"

Who cares what you would consider to be unconstitutional. Alexander Hamilton, the Framer who wrote most of the Federalist papers, wanted the Federal government to support American manufacturing and he thought that the powers granted in the Constitution were adequate to support such redistributive policies.

Who should I give more weight to in Constitutional interpretation. You or Alexander Hamilton?

In general, you are clearly not yet equipped to engage in a debate on the Constitutional Constitutional interpretation is not a superficial hobby engaged in by armchair quarterbacks. It takes tons of work and consideration of factors in excruciating detail.

[Vorn: Please supply a working email address to us at econlib.org in order to continue your EconLog posting privileges. Our emails to you have bounced.--EconLog Ed.]

cb writes:

Vorn,

Not all the framers agreed with everything Hamilton believed, just because he thought support for manufacturing was constitutional doesn't necessitate that it is, or should be. Notice that you didn't refute the concept, but you did attack me. That kind of behavior is exactly what this post was originally about. Your pissy, belittling, and arrogant tone doesn't lead towards reasoned debate, it just gives the impression that you're an intellectual blowhard.

liberty writes:

>If you give people tax breaks, there is no guarantee that the money will go to education. If you give them vouchers, there is no choice but to spend the money on education. I understood what you are saying and it is an extremist point of view since it does not GUARANTEE everyone an opportunity to education; instead it relies on the whims of those giving charity for those with lesser incomes. I stand by my assessment that your idea is extreme.

So you are saying we should force people to spend their money on education or else we are not guaranteeing them education?

Should we tax people and then give them vouchers for food too?

Thats socialism. You are the one with extreme ideas. Its not my fault if people take their money and spend it stupidly.

>Second, coercion is coercion. You aren't allowed to have your own special definition. Basically, when you think the use of force is not unjustified, you choose not to label it coercion, but then when you think it is justified, you don't call it coercion.

So prosecuting a murderer is coercion? No. Its protecting rights. What is coercion is forcing people into contracts that they don't want, that have nothing to do with protecting rights.

If I force you into a contract - if I am a landlord but I force you to live in my apartments - that is private coercion. If the government does it its public coercion. If I don't force you, but you choose to make a contract with me voluntarily and then government protects our rights by enforcing the contract, there is no coercion.

>Just to be clear that there is a contradiction here are the quotes:

Are are correct, in my first post I called enforcement of the law coercion, I take it back, I misspoke. Its force but its not coercion.

>Third, you mention conflicts if you add more rights to your arbitrary list. Well, I hate to tell you, but sometimes property rights conflict with life.

That is correct, but they are not arbitray and any right can conflict between two people, however the other rights you may want to add create many more conflicts and lack of liberties.

My right to liberty is restrained by your rights of life, liberty and property. But your "right" to my money is theft. Its altogther different and cannot be a right. The rights of life, liberty and property and fundamental and are not always in conflict and they are the basic rights to allow a free life.

Your calling them "arbitrary" is either disingenuous or shows complete ignorance of the basic ideas of social science.

Think about a basic society. Think about what is required for freedom. Think about fundamental things that a government can do to allow people to live peacefully together and freely.

If you cannot see those basic rights as fundamental, you should go and live in North Korea and think about it for a while.

And you are correct that societies are possible without these rights, I should have said "without which a free and functional society is impossible".

>Finally, I am not interested in your arbitrary definitions of theft. You say taxation is theft.

No, I didn;t. I said taxation for the purpose of a non-constitutional use is theft; taxation and redistribution as income is theft. Taxation enough to cover the basic services that protect the basic rights of the people is not.

>Rights are inborn? Okay, this is a total fiction.

Read the declaration of independence. They are basic rights of man. They are inborn because life is defined by them and so is society.

You mention John Locke a lot, but he is hardly the only one to note these basic rights. The founding fathers, Bastiat, most enlightenment thinkers, etc all knew them and give them some thought and you may recognize them too.

> No articulation of the principles behind this selection. At least Locke tried his best to articulate principles; though he obviously failed to do it convincingly.

They have been well described by many enlightenment thinkers and if they failed so badly, why was America built on those foundations and why has it become the most prosperous, most free nation in history?

I am sorry that I cannot articulate them as well nor do I feel the need to - if you fail to recognize them as the basic principles of America, there is little I can do but feel sorry for your ignorance.

liberty writes:

cb - i agree with your definition of libertarianism.

Vorn writes:

liberty:

This nation was not founded on perfect principles. That is why we had to fight a civil war in which 500,000 died. So, waiving your hands and pointing to the founders or enlightment thinkers instead of articulating principles just does not work.

You have a list: life, liberty and property. I am not saying those are "bad" rights. I am saying that the list is arbitrary.

As far as rights being "inborn," I think you citing the Declaration of Independence as support shows that this is essentially a religious view. The Declaration references God as the source of inalienable rights (but it doesn't have property, but instead the pursuit of happiness). This doesn't make you wrong; it just makes your point religious and private, rather than rational and public.

If God is the source of your arbitrary list of rights, I can't say your wrong. There is nothing to discuss. Your a libertarian cause God says so. Fine by me. I can't prove you wrong; you can't prove your right. That is why we have democracy, to arbitrate these sorts of irreconcilable differences in views.

From a secular standpoint, you have failed to provide any principle that does two things (1) justified the inclusion of the three rights you have mentioned and (2) limits the list to just these. But you don't need a public principle if your position is, "because God says so."

cb:
I am not trying to be arrogant. I am pointing out that I don't think your view of what is constitutional matters, especially since it does not appear to be informed. If it were informed, you would realize that there are two sides to the argument, and have been from the very beginning. The Constitution, fortunately or unfortunately, is ambigious and incomplete. You really can't end an argument on the proper role of government merely by citing it, which appeared to me what you were attempting to do. I don't think that someone more cognizant of the difficulties here would make such an attempt; they would realize that the Constitution does not offer clear cut support for their view. Like I said, Constitutional interpretation is not an activity you are equipped to engage in until you have done some very serious study.

cb writes:

liberty,

FYI, wikipedia has a good page on libertarianism.

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