Arnold Kling  

Do Progressives Believe This?

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I am going to write down what I think progressives believe. If I'm creating a straw man, then y'all can correct me where you think I need correcting. You believe that:

1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.

2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

3. Technocrats know how to improve outcomes in many areas.

4. Therefore, it would be wise to cede authority to technocrats in many areas.

5. Conservatives and libertarians disagree with (1) and (2)

(5) is something that I am suggesting that progressives believe. However, if progressives believe this about me, they are wrong. I disagree with (3) much more than I disagree with (1) or (2). I think markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes, and I think that if technocrats know better they deserve a shot. However, I think that most of the time technocrats know far less than they think they know, and I think that markets are often better at self-correcting than technocrats are at fixing them. Hence, my Masonomics line is that "Markets fail. Use markets."

If as a Progressive you believe (1) -(3) but think (4) sounds totalitarian, then that is your dilemma, not mine.


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The author at Psychopolitik 2.0 in a related article titled Shorter Everybody writes:
    Since Kling brings it up, here’s what I think other ideologies boil down to: Progressives: “These concentrations of power, especially economic power, really suck when it comes to the condition of the average person — and entrusting a ... [Tracked on August 8, 2009 11:45 AM]
COMMENTS (94 to date)
El Presidente writes:

Arnold,

Again, I can't speak for all progressives, and I don't really consider myself one. But, of the 3 categories you previously proposed, that is the closest to my position.

1. Agreed

2. Nope. 'Improvement' is largely subjective. I firmly beleive that that decision is up to voters, and elected representatives acting on their behalf. They screw up frequently and occasionally they learn forom it. But the authority to make broad policy decisions shoudl remain theirs.

3. Agreed

4. Nope. It would be wise to cede authority only to excute what voters or their elected representatives choose. Authority to manage and execute policy is not the same as authority to create policy. It would be wise to cede authority only in those cases where there is a clear objective and a prescribed means of attaining it. Outside of that, the role of the technocrat is to advise.

5. Agreed

Hopefuly technocrats will be employed to advise and execute. Hopefully, we (the public, and elected officials) will listen and thoroughly consider what they have have to say as we make decisions. Hopefully we will employ them to monitor and report so that we can evaluate our decisions in retrospect and make better ones in the future. Your doctor knows an awful lot about medicine, but he still has to get permission to treat you unless you are unable to give it. Applying that concept to the public sector operating under a social contract, the principle holds. We would be wise to listen to the doctor, seek a second opinion, and decide on a course of action, but not to attempt to diagnose or treat ourselves without a doctor's assistance.

Arnold,

I think you a bit overestate the importance of experts. I would better put it as belief in the efficiency of top-down solutions and forced cooperation.

For me, however, the essence of progressivism boils down not even to the above, but to a belief in a widely interpreted positive rights doctrine.

However, there is still a need to explain why progressives cherish positive rights.

I have a hypothesis on the roots of conservatism, leftism and libertarianism which I will soon post on my blog daniilgor@blogspot.com

Jim F writes:

In point (1), 'sub-optimal' is a term subject to dispute. The optimality of a particular outcome is subjective.

Additionally, and more importantly, even if we could agree on a consistent, objective measure of individual optimality across a population, there will be legitimate disagreement on which is the aggregate optimal outcome.

I think that most progressives would agree that markets, in a limited sense of optimal, guarantee an optimal outcome, but would probably find fault with your measure of optimality.

El Presidente,

A couple of questions about what you said:

2. Why do you believe it is fair for voters to decide on such matters as nationalisation of private property? How is such vote different from, say, three burglars in the forest voting on whether to take my purse or not?

4. What falls into the category of "clear objectives"? How about permanent regulatory powers in relation to whole industries?

El Presidente writes:

Daniil Gorbatenko,

2. Why do you believe it is fair for voters to decide on such matters as nationalisation of private property? How is such vote different from, say, three burglars in the forest voting on whether to take my purse or not?

Do you have a social contract with the burglars in the forest?

4. What falls into the category of "clear objectives"? How about permanent regulatory powers in relation to whole industries?

Directives from authorized policymaking authorities (i.e. statutes). Granted, they aren't always well written or entirely clear, but that is another issue for which a technocrat could not be to blame. A technocrat should always and only operate within the bounds of statutes, not to create, ignore, or subvert them.

2El Presidente

2. And where can I familiarize myself with that imaginary contract with the state? When have I signed it?

Is it the Constitution which in case of the US is contrary to all the progressive measures which inherently violate its principle of inalienable negative rights?

Am I bound by the imaginary social contract just because and until I am a member of the imaginary entity called the United States of America, or, in my case, Russia?

Anyway, a contract is a coincidence of wills. A non-existing entity has no will in the first place and there can be no contract with it.

4. Don't you see that your reasoning is self serving? What you essentially say is if it is possible to regulate it from the top by statutes let's do it.

Gary Chartier writes:

El Presidente: I'm just don't recall having made any sort of contract with the voters, any more than with the burglars in the forest. Can you help to refresh my memory?

Arnold: I'm wondering about the typology here. (1) If "conservatism" just names a Humean or Burkean appreciation for evolving tradition as a guide to social life, it seems relatively easy to square with a libertarian emphasis on markets as ongoing discovery processes. (2) But historically "conservatism" has often enough been used to label a rather different sort of position--one involving deference to established social and cultural authorities--the crown, the church, the aristocracy. Some conservatives of this sort might well trust crown-appointed experts to manage the economy, but it would seem odd to call them "progressives."

cvd writes:

Professor Kling,

I always figured you were a fan of technocrats, since they seem like examples of Geeks and we know you prefer Geeks to Suits.

Can you help square this circle?

Thanks

Neal Jansons writes:

I consider myself a "progressive" in the sense that I believe in a social mandate towards finding out what "better" is and working to make things that way. I can't speak for anyone else's opinions.

1. I do not believe this claim. What I do believe is that the notion of a free market, the notions of both capitalism and communism, and the notion of humans as the agents of these economic structures, are simply categorical errors that might apply to decision and game theory, but do not apply to humans. Humans are not the rational agents they were thought to be in the time of Smith, and modern neuroscience shows that only a small fraction of a given adult agent's actions are in any way considered or calculated. It is even thought by some (check out the work of Paul and Patricia Churchland) that most if not all of what we consider our "reasoning" (the inner discussion where we entertain propositions and ideas) is actually epiphenomenal, just the "readout", as it were, of processes happening in the portions of our mind unavailable to our introspection. Thus any economic system that uses the desires, expectations, and predicted actions of rational agents as its primary mechanism (which is what a market is purported to be) is a fine theoretical system...just not one that fits the sort of animals that humans happen to, in fact, be.

Given this conclusion, a theoretical free market will tend towards equilibrium asymptotically, which is the best such a theoretical system could hope for. An actualized free market, on the other hand, will lead to vast undervaluations and overvaluations as the various irrational forces of human activity act upon it. Whether it is the psychological manipulations of advertising, the political meddlings of lobbiests, or the social influence of activists, prices and value will not tend towards equilibrium. We can still have a market, but it will never actually be "free" in any actual sense.

So I do not argue that a free market leads to sub-optimal results, I argue that there cannot actually be any such thing as a free market in the sense which the theory requires.

2. Given my first response, this second becomes obvious: the theories the economists and other technocrats apply to their fields must apply to the domain of discourse in order to actually improve results. Until we abandon economic theories based on an obsolete idea of humans, these economists and technocrats have nothing to offer and thus should be given no authority over anything.

3. See 2. Technocrats operating on the currently accepted theories apply the notion of a rational agent to provide the mechanism by which the system is supposed to provide results. Since humans are not rational agents, this theory does not apply to them and attempting to do so is a category error.

4. Ceding authority to technocrats in areas not predicated on the theory of rational agents may still be wise. I think that, for example, in the cases of education and social psychology there are many good theoretical systems not predicated on obsolete ideas of human behavior. These technocrats should be given a testing ground to apply their ideas free of economic and political pressures, and should the empirical results be positive, it would indeed be wise to grant them authority over their given bailiwicks.

5. I don't know what other people believe. I do know that the alleged beliefs of conservatives and libertarians have to do with political and economic theories that seem ideologically based rather than based in empiricism. The arguments center around notions of liberty, freedom, and justice. I think the question of what economic system works best is an empirical question with an empirical answer and that no amount of ethical theorizing will get any real economic results. If one presumes that the "right" economic practice is also going to be the "right" ethical practice according to their own beliefs, then they are living in a fantasy-land. Better to actually find out what economic system produces the best results with no care for politics, tradition, or ethics. While we may say "we are unwilling to accept the economic benefits of a given act because those benefits are outweighed by a social cost" it is going to create errors to instead say "this act creates a social cost, therefore it has an economic cost". Of course, the converse statements also become incorrect; to couch things that have a social benefit (such as, I assume we would agree, personal liberty) as having a necessary economic benefit (the promised land of general market equilibrium) will also produce errors. Therefore, I would say that to the degree libertarian or conservative beliefs are actually their ethical beliefs masquerading as economic beliefs, they cannot, in principle, lead to any kind of predictable result. They might get something right, but it will be accidentally, because they are misrepresenting an empirical question (what economic system yields the best results) as a philosophical question (what economic system best embodies our ethics).

To present what I actually think:

1. We inherited a body of economic, social, political, and ethical rhetoric and beliefs from an era which did not apply the methods of reason and empiricism.

2. Rather than abandoning those beliefs, we attempted to couch them in the terminology of reason and empiricism so that we could have the best of both the old and new ways of existing.

3. This approach has not worked, and is responsible for the current tensions between authoritarian ideas predicated on the ancient "divine right to rule", which itself was simply a religious justification for "might makes right", and modern political ideals. The former is based on a mandate epistemology and ethics (truth and justice are handed down, often arbitrarily, from above, and to resist them is to resist fate/the gods/god) and the latter is based on an empirical, dialogue-based epistemology and ethics (truth and justice is decided by observation and discussion by all parties involved). This basic tension is at the root of most of our social ills.

4. All systems of economics and government currently applied originate from this period of reconciliation between modern reason and ancient tradition. They attempt to recreate the traditional scheme with reason as opposed to obedience as a motivator. They make no attempt to question the schemes themselves, and in practice simply perpetuate the same problems as before; where once there was an inequity of power and wealth based on nobility of birth or power of conquest, now there is an inequity of power and wealth based on class and the power of economic conquest. The results, in lived conditions, have changed only when empirical results have been applied to the problems...thus the "free market" had to be regulated because the magic "invisible hand" didn't take care of...well, anything, any more than magic men in the sky made sure we had good kings and rulers before we changed narratives.

5. Given 4, the only real solution is to abandon most theories of economics and government, because they don't actually work. They are attempts to keep the traditions of a prior age with the rhetoric of the current, and that does not work. Any theory of economics or government based on a view of human agency which does not take the findings of neuroscience and social science of the modern era into account and is not open to change based on new findings is doomed to failure...it is trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

This is the view of one "progressive".

Joe writes:

It is as Stiglitz showed: as long as all participants are acting on the same information, then markets work. How frequently is that assumption met? Are there incentives for people to share all potential information, or does doing so erode the profit margins? You could argue that the only way a firm can make profits above marginal cost are due to informational asymmetries; if they shared all information, competition would drive down margins. There is no incentive for informational sharing on either side of the table.

El Presidente writes:

Daniil Gorbatenko,

I am not familiar enough with the government of Russia to make a credible case that you have a similar social contract to the citizens of the United States. I would sincerely appreciate you sharing your experience and educating me on your circumstance.

Gary Chartier,

Your criticism is cute, but my reply will be cuter. :-)

You can learn about it here . . . and you can sign it here. Hope that clears things up. If not, you may want to read this.


8 writes:

Humans are not the rational agents they were thought to be in the time of Smith, and modern neuroscience shows that only a small fraction of a given adult agent's actions are in any way considered or calculated.

If you believe this, you might be a reactionary, which means you are the opposite of a progressive. Progressivism leads to irrational men ruled by other irrational men (Communism, Fascism, etc.)

2Joe: Stiglitz's and your critique of free market is aimed at a straw man of perfect competition among perfectly rational (meaning knowledgeable what is objectively better for them)agents. Read
this paper by Peter Boettke:
http://www.the-dissident.com/Boettke_CR.pdf

2Neal Jansons:

The above also concerns your critique of free market. For a real (as opposed to ivory tower) market to effectively operate the only rationality that is needed is that, having a choice between x and y, and knowing that he/she prefers x over y, an agent will choose x.

Your idea of empirical-based ethics is unclear for me. Ethics is about the criteria for choosing ends and means of achieving them. On what empirical grounds can we decide on the ends? And what will you say if a measure has (as anything has) different empirical effects which can be differently evaluated?

Your attack on the classical liberal tradition as unempirical is self-serving. Do you say that an observation that, say, price controls lead to deficits is somehow unempirical?

Is it less empirical than a claim that central banking is more efficient than free banking?

Daniil Gorbatenko writes:

El Presidente;

If you look at what I wrote you will see that I asked a question about the state in general, not the Russian state.

On the US Constitution, I told you that it does not favor progressive policies. It is firmly on the negative rights side. Progressive policies inherently violate negative rights.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente says:

2. I firmly beleive that that decision is up to voters, and elected representatives acting on their behalf. They screw up frequently and occasionally they learn forom it. But the authority to make broad policy decisions shoudl remain theirs.

So you disagree with the term "technocrat"?
Where #2 says:


2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

You would rather write:
2> When the voters want to make a public policy
they have the authority to do so?

Nothing about experts in there at all. You might
want to listen to the experts but that is not
the core of progressivism to you?

That's not the impression I've gotten from historical
progressives. I've always seen them appealing to
the role of experts. Democracy is merely a means
to get the expert rule enacted.

I wouldn't call your description a progressive
at all. But that definitely doesn't put you in
the L camp. Perhaps not even the C camp.

But I'd like to know one thing. How far does this
rule by democracy go until it suddenly becomes
immoral?

After all if issues are decided democratically
what makes it acceptable to define a minimum wage
but unacceptable to define a minimum number of
prayers in school? Or perhaps I'm being presumptuous
and you find both acceptable things
to leave up to voters.

aretae writes:

Again, I'll argue that while many of Arnold's initial claims are sometimes true, it's not what's important.

As a firm libertarian, let me rephrase Arnold's 5 into Progressive friendly terminology, which re-purposes the statements.

1. There are a significant number of sub-optimal outcomes present in the world today.

2. It is monstrous to allow some sub-optimal outcomes (such as children starving to death) to wait to be solved as long as it would likely take the market or tradition to solve them.

3. The risk of bad outcomes from questionable plans is outweighed by the inadequacy of current solutions and the urgency of the issue.

4. Therefore, something should be done, and now. It appears that the only way to solve the problem now is political.

5. Conservatives and libertarians disagree with 1 and 2.

While I am not a progressive, I think that's the progressive response translated into libertarian terminology.

Alan Watson writes:

I think Arnold nails the key assumptions of the progressive worldview. But why do so many people see the world this way?

I view American political history as two major phases. For the first century or so our core assumptions were that government power is dangerous and should be limited, and that progress comes naturally when people are free to live their lives as they choose. Toward the end of the 1800’s we began to accept the opposite assumptions, that government action is the key to progress, and that limits on government power are our main political problem. Of course in practice there were plenty of exceptions, including slavery, protective tariffs, and government subsidies for businesses in the first phase, and considerable fidelity to free markets and the Constitution in the second.

In the late 1800’s we began to see for the first time how productive centrally-planned factories could be, we learned from Germany that an autocratic state could provide old-age pensions, and we read about the wonders of state-sponsored cooperation in Bellamy’s Looking Backward and in Woodrow Wilson’s political philosophy. With all these momentous changes, it’s no wonder that many people would have reconsidered the advantages and disadvantages of state power. And, as Arnold points out in (1) and (2), free markets are not perfect. But on the other side of the argument, the dominant theme of world political history is clearly government tyranny and exploitation, and only under the influence of classical liberalism have we seen the unprecedented expansion of human welfare of the past several centuries. How and why did so many of us come to dismiss or ignore the dangers of state power, and see only its promises?

James writes:

El Presidente,

Anyone can assert that they have a contract which entitles them to take other people's money. You have a contract with me. Fork it over or else. See how that works?

For what it's worth, my government and I both seem to agree that there is no contract that we both consented to which obligates me to obey it.

A Progressive who Reads your Blog writes:

1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.

Progressives Belive: Unfettered free markets always produce situations that are sub optimal FOR CONSUMERS.

2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

Progressives Belive: Thats up to the voters and thats what democracies are for.


3. Technocrats know how to improve outcomes in many areas.

Progressives Belive: Technocrats MAY know how to improve outcomes in CERTAIN areas - Theories should be tested.

4. Therefore, it would be wise to cede authority to technocrats in many areas.

Progressives Belive: This is rediculous and absolute. I can see you dont understand what progressives are / stand for.

Libertarians take Free markets to an extreme, deal only in absolutes (black and white) & worship free markets as a religion.

Only the Sith deal in absolutes.


roversaurus writes:

A Progressive who Reads your Blog writes:


Progressives Belive: Thats up to the voters and thats what democracies are for.

I'm not certain if you actually know the history
of the term Progressive. They really did believe
that technocratic institutions should be set up.
See the Federal Reserve as an example. And ask
a "Progressive" if it should be an independent
institution. Like, what do they think of Ron
Paul's "Audit the Fed" legislation.

But I'll take you at your word and still argue
with you. I ask you the same question I asked
someone else early. How far does this
rule by democracy go until it suddenly becomes
immoral?

After all if issues are decided democratically
what makes it acceptable to define a minimum wage
but unacceptable to define a minimum number of
prayers in school? Or perhaps I'm being presumptuous
and you find both acceptable things
to leave up to voters.

KennyG writes:

Lot of spelling mistakes there pal. Progress your grammar skills.

Freedom should be absolute.

El Presidente writes:

Daniil Gorbatenko,

On the US Constitution, I told you that it does not favor progressive policies. It is firmly on the negative rights side. Progressive policies inherently violate negative rights.

Perhaps this is a false dichotomy. Why do you presume that 'progressive' policy and 'negative rights' are opposed to one another? Why does this only apply to 'progressive' policy? Which policy and which rights?

The United States Constitution is concerned with process over policy. Negative rights are very clearly enumerated in the amendments and in a number of places within the three articles, but the thrust of the document is to say what government CAN do. It empowers government to act within certain boundaries. That's why it needed to be ratified . . . and it was. At least that's what I learned. Maybe I spent the entirety of my adult life being misinformed by people who spent the entirety of their adult lives studying the matter. Do you suppose?

If you look at what I wrote you will see that I asked a question about the state in general, not the Russian state.

To be fair, you did make reference to your particular circumstance involving Russia. I don't think I imagined that. I mentioned Russia because your comment made it apparent to me that while I have spent many years studying the government, politics and economics of the United States, I have not spent nearly as much time studying these features of other nations. I was hoping you would educate me. If you prefer to discuss these matters in the abstract, I can do that too.

Travis writes:

Progressives Belive: Thats up to the voters and thats what democracies are for.

In response to the question, isn't this just saying, progressives believe whatever is already believed?

It seems you are saying that progressives would support abolishing any governmet program that the democracy didn't choose. This doesn't jive with the empirical fact that progressives hate when a democracy chooses a Republican policy.

5234789023 writes:

Flamewars are fun!

>Progressives Belive: Technocrats MAY know how to improve outcomes in CERTAIN areas - Theories should be tested.

So I really enjoyed reading this post, because IMO you and Arnold are saying exactly the same thing. My reading of your position is: "When we can improve on markets by using government, and a majority of the people agree to government intervention, then we should intervene".

On the face of things, this is a remarkably unoffensive position: "Let's do free markets unless we can do better". Here is my question: how are we supposed to test these things? You can't just say 'Oh, we raised interest rates and the economy did better', because you are measuring a function of many, many variables, and it is very difficult to apply the scientific method (to put it simply, you have no control group). So in practice, you have to trust the opinion of the expert (I am Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize Winner, and in my humble opinion the evidence supports Keynesian economics, and we would all be better off if we did X, etc).

Daniil Gorbatenko writes:

El Presidente,

A negative right to x is a right to do x to the extent that a holder of the right to x does not violate other peoples'negative rights. It is as simple as that.

It is quite logical and non-contradictory. I can smoke pot, bear a gun, run naked in the street, spend billions on yaughts or other eccentricities and not violate any of your negative rights.

Remember that the US Constitution says that these rights are unalienable.

The only complex issue is property since the US Constitution does not it explicitly as an unalienable right.

But I can't imagine liberty or pursuit of happiness without property. For me, property is an integral, inalienable part of those freedoms. How could I have liberty to do business, to produce or exchange something without property? If you can think of an alternative to property as a necessary condition for negative liberty please share it with me.

That brings us to progressive policies. Virtually all the progressive policies (redistribution, licensing, "consumer protection", reporting requirements, you name it) infringe upon my negative rights while I in fact do not infringe on anyone else's.

El Presidente writes:

Daniil Gorbatenko,

A negative right to x is a right to do x to the extent that a holder of the right to x does not violate other peoples'negative rights. It is as simple as that.

It's simpler than that. A negative right is a right to be free from interference.

Inalienable rights are not mentioned in the Constitution. They are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. They are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, according to that document. The enumerated rights in the Constitution and its amendments are specific and are protected as part of a social contract. The powers (AKA rights) not enumerated in the Constitution are reserved to the states, not the people.

How could I have liberty to do business, to produce or exchange something without property?

You couldn't have meaningful liberty, which is precisely why the distribution of property (i.e. wealth and income) is relevant to the political question. Property rights without property are a promise or a fiction, but cannot be a present reality. If liberty is an inalienable right, and liberty requires property, then it is not unreasonable to seek to provide property in defense of liberty, is it?

That brings us to progressive policies. Virtually all the progressive policies (redistribution, licensing, "consumer protection", reporting requirements, you name it) infringe upon my negative rights while I in fact do not infringe on anyone else's.

Does redistribution infringe upon your negative rights if you are receiving money instead of giving it?

2El Presidente:

=Inalienable rights are not mentioned in the Constitution. They are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. They are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, according to that document. The enumerated rights in the Constitution and its amendments are specific and are protected as part of a social contract. The powers (AKA rights) not enumerated in the Constitution are reserved to the states, not the people=

Yes, but as far as I know the Declaration of Independence is part of the US Constitution.

I think I understand what you mean, though. You treat the Constitution as a whole where all the parts have equal significance and if the Congress is empowered to legislate then the State CAN do.

But if we viewed the Constitution as a hierarchical document where the unalienable rights (so named by no accident) are supreme and the other parts only serve to ensure their preservation which in my view the original intent was, apart from establishing a limited government, then the unconstitutionality of progressive policies is clear. But of course, it's a matter of interpretation which cannot be objectively right.

=You couldn't have meaningful liberty, which is precisely why the distribution of property (i.e. wealth and income) is relevant to the political question. Property rights without property are a promise or a fiction, but cannot be a present reality. If liberty is an inalienable right, and liberty requires property, then it is not unreasonable to seek to provide property in defense of liberty, is it?=

Could you clarify what you are saying here. The vast majority of the property rights that now exist in the US have been obtained in good faith by individuals who provided other property rights in exchange for the ones they now have. They were not, as in the case of the Russian privatisation in the 1990s, obtained through corruption or through other types of illegal transfer. I see no role for politics here.

=Does redistribution infringe upon your negative rights if you are receiving money instead of giving it?=

The thing is that it necessarily infringes on the rights of those from whom the wealth is taken for redistribution (the net "donors"). Why do you want to force them to finance a particular charity?

eccdogg writes:

El Presidente,

Don't forget the 9th amendment

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

And you are ablsolutely WRONG on the 10th amendment. The rights are given to the States OR the people.

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, OR to the people"

The constitution in TWO amendments spells out that we have rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution.

Clearly among these rights are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness among many others due to free men.

Daniil Gorbatenko writes:

=You couldn't have meaningful liberty, which is precisely why the distribution of property (i.e. wealth and income) is relevant to the political question. Property rights without property are a promise or a fiction, but cannot be a present reality. If liberty is an inalienable right, and liberty requires property, then it is not unreasonable to seek to provide property in defense of liberty, is it?=

I should have read it more attentively. I see what you mean by saying that mere property rights are useless without property. But yours is a positive version of property rights. I don't buy it because it is impossible for positive rights to be granted without curtailing negative liberty.

A negative version which I prefer is that you can't have an abstract absolute property right, if your concrete property rights are not observed.

Lord writes:

Unfettered free markets? Who believes they exist? There are only markets with various entities having greater or lesser power. Back to square one.

El Presidente writes:

eccdogg,

I was sloppy and you were right to point that out. Thank you. I will attempt to clarify, though it might not help.

The several states are themselves governed by social contracts of one sort or another similar to the federal constitution. At the time most of the states were established, and at the time the Constitution was ratified, rights were seen as the providence of a select group of individuals within American society. Thus, when we read rights were reserved to the people, they didn't mean each individual resident. They meant those upon whom citizenship was conferred and those upon whom each state decided to confer rights of civil participation, including rights to property and speech through voting. In that light, the rights are given to the States (in the first instance) or (if they choose) the People. That is, where there is no federal or state law, the ultimate reservoir of power is the people (which is dependent again upon definition). We think of it in the reverse. We think of all power residing in the people the way the Declaration of Independence reads. However, this is not entirely consistent with the Constitution or the way in which it was enacted.

The United States Constitution was an agreement chiefly among the states, not between the myriad individuals residing in all. That's why it was ratified by the states severally rather than by popular referendum across all of them simultaneously. Because of context, the linchpin for your argument is not the 9th or the 10th amendment, but rather the 14th which confers citizenship on all by birth or naturalization and required the states to provided equal protection under the law. However, the equal protection clause only applies to the conduct of States within their respective jurisdictions. For instance, I cannot claim that because prostitution is legal in Clark County, Nevada, I am free to contract for the services of a prostitute in Los Angeles, California. It is because of the similarity of laws between the several states (e.g. voting rights) that in most cases there appears to be a uniform practice, an overarching standard. It needn't be so according to the Constitution. The only things which must be applied uniformly to all citizens regardless of where they reside are those specified by the Constitution itself.

The Declaration of Independence is called upon as a formative document vital to the social contract embodied in the United States Constitution when the Court interprets the Constitution as applied to cases before it. The Constitution is very clear that it, along with treaties, is the law of the land. The Declaration of Independence is a revered document that provides insight (not to mention inspiration), but inalienable rights and the Declaration are not referenced in the Constitution itself. So, I agree with your sentiment that the 'big three' rights should be inferred there whenever plausible, but they are not written there, so we cannot take it for granted.

rpl writes:

I noticed two people (El Presidente and another guy with an unfeasibly long screen name) who rejected item #2.


2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

They wanted to substitute instead something along the lines of:

I firmly believe that that decision is up to voters, and elected representatives acting on their behalf.

This seems to me to be dodging the question. This entire discussion takes place against a backdrop of democratically elected government. All three positions, P, L, and C, presuppose it. The question is, as a voter in that democracy, which policies will you advocate and vote for.

It seems to me that a belief in detailed policies crafted by experts is the sine qua non of the progressive movement these days. It may be because they believe that experts produce policies are better in an absolute sense than the L or C solutions, or because, as aretae suggests, the L and C solutions are too slow to rectify certain intolerable situations. Either way, solutions devised by experts are a key component of the Progressive movement.

Blackadder writes:

Fascinating discussion.

It seems to me that most participants in this discussion are taking technocracy and reliance on markets to be polar opposites, perhaps with reliance on tradition as some kind of middle ground between the two. I don't think that's right. Singapore, for example, strikes me as an example of a country that is at once both more technocratic and more market oriented than the U.S. (indeed, if Prof. Kling considers himself a mix of L and C in his terms, then Prof. Caplan would I think have to count as a mix of L and P).

El Presidente writes:

Correction: prostitution is not legal in Clark County, Nevada. I thought I better check to be sure. It turns out it is illegal there but legal in 12 other Nevada counties. This shouldn't affect my illustration in the least.

El Presidente writes:

rpl,

This seems to me to be dodging the question. This entire discussion takes place against a backdrop of democratically elected government. All three positions, P, L, and C, presuppose it. The question is, as a voter in that democracy, which policies will you advocate and vote for.

Not exactly. There was a time when I would have agreed, but there are many of the L persuasion that would forbid even democratically determined government action on the grounds that it might be objectionable to even one individual. Hence the relevance of social contracts.

SydB writes:

1. Some unfettered free markets may produce morally unacceptable outcomes.

2. When experts know how to use public policy to reduce the likelihood of these unacceptable outcomes, their recommendations should be seriously considered--through the democratic process--taking into account loss of freedom, constitutionality, costs/benefits, etc.

3. Experts know how to avoid outcomes in some areas (e.g. building codes).

4. Therefore, progressives believe it would be wise to consider the advice of experts per #2.

5. Many who call themselves conservative and libertarian publicly argue that unregulated free markets are optimal. (though they rarely say what that means--possibly because their arguments become circular through the use of an odd quantity called a "util."). Some libertarians argue from the perspective of rights, avoiding the debatable concept of optimality.

6. For every expert with opinion A there is another "expert" with opinion not-A. Or vice-versa. Caveat emptor.

El Presidente writes:

Daniil Gorbatenko ,

The thing is that it necessarily infringes on the rights of those from whom the wealth is taken for redistribution (the net "donors"). Why do you want to force them to finance a particular charity?

. . . and . . .

I should have read it more attentively. I see what you mean by saying that mere property rights are useless without property. But yours is a positive version of property rights. I don't buy it because it is impossible for positive rights to be granted without curtailing negative liberty.

A negative version which I prefer is that you can't have an abstract absolute property right, if your concrete property rights are not observed.

So, What are property rights: natural law or social construct? I wrote at length about this on another blog post, so I will spare the rest of the folks here a repeat performance.

Basically, if we hold that property rights are absolutes, that is, natural law, then your tendencies and preferences are entirely valid and admirable. If we hold that they are social constructs, a more deliberative approach is indicated. Because of the prevalence of rents, even without the interference of government, we have a hard time saying what any person has "earned" and what is their "property" except by consensus. So, I tend to think of property rights as social constructs, and I am thus more comfortable with redistribution as a method of achieving equitable outcomes with respect to income while avoiding the terrible morass of price controls.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente writes:

So, I tend to think of property rights as social constructs, and I am thus more comfortable with redistribution as a method of achieving equitable outcomes

Are there any limits to this "Social Contract"
of yours?

Is there ANYTHING that can be done democratically
that is illegitimate?

I've asked this multiple times and still see no response.

I asked:

how far does this
rule by democracy go until it suddenly becomes
immoral?

After all if issues are decided democratically
what makes it acceptable to define a minimum wage
but unacceptable to define a minimum number of
prayers in school? Or perhaps I'm being presumptuous
and you find both acceptable things
to leave up to voters.

Niccolo writes:

I know a progressive when I see one.

Colin K writes:

"Progressives Belive: Thats up to the voters and thats what democracies are for."

so when Reagan mopped up Mondale in 84, that was progressive?

Niccolo writes:

By the way, on optimality. True enough, optimal is subjective, but at best this is a neutral point because the progressives here are speaking out of the other side of their mouths when they say that democratic rule or experienced technocrats can fix or should be considered to fix "morally unacceptable outcomes."

What is unacceptable libertarians and conservatives ask, well the same point comes back to them - of course without the progressives ever really answering.

What is optimal, anyways?


I think the best that I as a libertarian can answer there is what is optimal is for society to possess the most amount of opportunity and positive liberty with the extreme qualifier that negative liberty is not infringed upon or regulated forcefully. Take it as a society where people, though influencing others, don't do so to the extreme point of physical threats of bodily harm or theft.

To put it more to the point with the progressive argument about subjective optimality, I don't think you guys are being very fair or consistent.

Foobarista writes:

Disclaimer: I'm more of a libertarian or small-gov conservative than anything else...

That said, my own feeling is progressives are far more impressed with modern electoral democracy than conservatives are, and tend to ignore questions of public-choice theory and game theory on elected officials. I gather that this is because progressives are far more likely than conservatives to see themselves as a true vanguard of the people, and believe that if voters could only know the truth, they'll permanently install a progressive government.

lordzorgon writes:

I'm surprised that more people haven't rejected (1), objecting to the phrase "unfettered markets." Progressives often claim that there is no such thing as a "free market", only different sorts of regulated markets -- where property rights (for instance) are viewed as just another type of regulation, not necessarily any better or worse than other types of regulation.

An L might typically respond that property rights are morally absolute rights, and that when the government interferes with them, this is wrong. Some L's take this argument further than others; "taxation is theft" would be a good litmus test statement. Although, if an L claims that taxation is *not* theft, I'm left a little mystified. If the government can violate your rights when it has a good enough reason, then I'm confused by what "rights" means.

A C might typically respond that property rights "work" (by some sort of utilitarian standard). Then we end up with the typical bickering over utilitiarianism: ordinal vs. cardinal utility, decreasing marginal utility of wealth justifying redistribution, and so on. A utilitarian would necessarily need to add caveats: property rights are good, but in some cases, we might do better by violating them. And then we end up right back at a similar sort of "technocratic" society as the one it was claimed that P's favor.

A C might also respond that property rights sometimes work and sometimes don't, but that they're what we've got, and that changing them would be risky.

I have some sympathies to *all* of these arguments. I'd argue that:

- Good markets work very well. Bad markets can fail disastrously. We should have good markets, not bad ones. Getting markets right inevitably involves technocrats. (Consider pollution markets.)

- Markets may lead to vast inequalities of outcome, even if we presuppose perfect equality of opportunity (which is itself a questionable supposition). Some people care a lot about these inequalities of outcome. I care very little.

- Taxation is, at present, a necessary evil. Yeah, it's theft. But until a better alternative comes along, we're stuck with it. I am very open to alternatives, such as toll roads run by private organizations rather than free roads paid for by government gas tax revenue. And I am absolutely in favor of lower taxes. But in the meantime, I'd rather have roads built from gas tax money than no roads at all.

- The idea that taxation is not theft because of a "social contract" is just plain ridiculous. Especially if you claim that the Constitution is said social contract. The Constitution was signed over 200 years ago by a bunch of folks whose lives didn't overlap with that of a single living person; and our government regularly ignores the Constitution whenever it's inconvenient. I think maybe you *could* design a valid social contract, but it would require that individuals have the ability to opt out and choose a different social contract more to their liking.

- This whole "technocratic rule" argument comes down to democracy vs. aristocracy. It's a continuum. I have fairly aristocratic leanings these days. For those who say that they favor a "republic", not a "democracy": that's simply a modestly more aristocratic government than a democracy. For those who say that they favor "freedom" or "markets" over all of these forms of government: that's an evasion.

- All of these systems can veer off in a bad direction, so self-correcting systems are important, as are checks and balances. I'd want to watch out for any system that enforces excessive uniformity and prescribes specific outcomes over a system featuring diversity and emergent outcomes.

Does that make me an L, a C, or a P? I don't know. I self-identify as a C, even though I think the status quo sucks in a bunch of ways and we could vastly improve it. And the bottom line on the whole technocratic rule thing, for me, is that yeah, I'm scared of technocrats, but I'm scared of voters too.

SydB writes:

Niccolo said "progressives here are speaking out of the other side of their mouths when they say that democratic rule or experienced technocrats can fix or should be considered to fix "morally unacceptable outcomes."

and

"What is unacceptable libertarians and conservatives ask, well the same point comes back to them - of course without the progressives ever really answering."

My response: Property itself is a moral concept. In nature, property is allocated through power--which can take many forms. In our society, we have decided that this is immoral. Hence we've come up with a concept of ownership and a state (police) machinery to protect it.

Taking property wantonly through power is constrained in our society. Not banished, e.g. taxes. But it is constrained.

Hence libertarians rely on the concept of morally unacceptable outcomes up front--theft of property--to secure their property.

Progressives simply say that this is not the only immoral outcome that should be considered.

MikeM writes:

If anything, this discussion has given a sixth foundation for progressives,

6)It is important for elected officials to act as a proxy for the will of a democratic majority in handing power over to technocrats.

What this last one implies is a major trust for the "system" that conservatives and libertarians lack.

I_am_a_lead_pencil writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Zxcv writes:

Public choice theory is used to justify the existing distribution of wealth.

There seems to be doublethink among (non-anarchist) libertarians - government can go this far, it can tax and imprison but once you step out of this box which was revealed to us by the Founders/Friedman/the Austrians, you are on the road to surfdom.

Alex J. writes:

>> Progressives Belive: Thats up to the voters
>> and thats what democracies are for.

> So when Reagan mopped up Mondale in 84, that
> was progressive?

Progressives certainly have an interesting combination of appealing to both what the will of the masses is and also to what it should be.

The hard to sell aspect of L is that it's hard to see how the messy uncoordinated actions of individuals can be close to optimal. After all, if I want to make something happen, I come up with a plan and do it.

The hard to sell aspect of C is that it's hard to see why if there's a problem, we can't just fix it. After all, if there's a problem in my life, I come up with a plan and fix it.

The hard to sell aspect of P is that when a progressive says "We should do x", he's also saying "Good people like me should make people like you do x. You should love us for it. There's a problem in your life and I'm going to fix you."

I'm sorry I can't come up with a nice way of saying this, but I think it's important. I believe that this aspect is why it's so hard to come up with a definition that gets to the root of things without being pejorative.

Tracy W writes:

Joe: What I do believe is that the notion of a free market, the notions of both capitalism and communism, and the notion of humans as the agents of these economic structures, are simply categorical errors that might apply to decision and game theory, but do not apply to humans.

So how do you explain the existance of free markets, or for that matter communism? Are you claiming that the collectivised farms of Soviet Russia did not apply to humans, nor does the unsubsidised farming on private property in NZers did not apply to humans? How do you think that economies operate, if no humans are actually involved in capitalism, free markets or communism?

Humans are not the rational agents they were thought to be in the time of Smith, and modern neuroscience shows that only a small fraction of a given adult agent's actions are in any way considered or calculated.

I don't think Smith considered humans to be rational creatures. To quote, for example

A man of low condition, on the contrary, is far from being a distinguished member of any great society. ...But as soon as he comes into a great city, he is sunk in obscurity and darkness. His conduct is observed and attended to by nobody; and he is, therefore, very likely to neglect it himself, and to abandon himself to every sort of low profligacy and vice.
Part III. -- Of the Expense of the Institutions for the Instruction of
People of all Ages.

Thus any economic system that uses the desires, expectations, and predicted actions of rational agents as its primary mechanism (which is what a market is purported to be) is a fine theoretical system...just not one that fits the sort of animals that humans happen to, in fact, be.

Yet humans self-evidently use markets to organise their affairs. So if humans are not rational agents, then markets must be able to operate with non-rational agents.

An actualized free market, on the other hand, will lead to vast undervaluations and overvaluations as the various irrational forces of human activity act upon it. Whether it is the psychological manipulations of advertising, the political meddlings of lobbiests, or the social influence of activists, prices and value will not tend towards equilibrium. We can still have a market, but it will never actually be "free" in any actual sense.

This depends on how you define free. If we define free as "prices are determined by market interactions and not by dictats from non-participants" then markets clearly can be free in an actual sense. Markets are freer in Singapore than they are in North Korea.

So I do not argue that a free market leads to sub-optimal results, I argue that there cannot actually be any such thing as a free market in the sense which the theory requires.

You have put the horse before the cart here. Free markets, or at least more free markets, do exist, in the sense defined by me. So therefore any theory about the organisation of an economy needs to be able to explain how free markets operate. It would be a silly theory indeed that claimed that free markets don't exist.

4. All systems of economics and government currently applied originate from this period of reconciliation between modern reason and ancient tradition. They attempt to recreate the traditional scheme with reason as opposed to obedience as a motivator. They make no attempt to question the schemes themselves, and in practice simply perpetuate the same problems as before; where once there was an inequity of power and wealth based on nobility of birth or power of conquest, now there is an inequity of power and wealth based on class and the power of economic conquest.

Okay, you criticse economics for not being empirical, and then you come out with this nonsense? For heavens' sake, economic conquest means finding a resource that people are willing to trade other resources for (mostly with money). This is entirely different to military conquest. Under William the Conquerer you wound up dead, under Bill Gates you wind up with an operating system. With all due allowances for the flaws of Windows, having an operating system is an entirely different problem to having a knight in armour cutting off your head.

Furthermore, being an employed labourer is an entirely different problem to being a slave - see Frederick Douglas's autobiography for that. Finding a job is not the same problem as being beaten to death.

Having a vote is entirely different from the divine rights of kings. If you tried to overthrow King Henry VIII or Elizabeth I you got executed. Meanwhile both George Bushes and Bill Clinton are living in peace and comfort. Again, losing an election is a totally different problem to losing your life.

The results, in lived conditions, have changed only when empirical results have been applied to the problems...thus the "free market" had to be regulated because the magic "invisible hand" didn't take care of...well, anything, any more than magic men in the sky made sure we had good kings and rulers before we changed narratives.

I am rather lost. On the one hand, you claim firstly that "all systems of ...government currently applied ... in practice simply perpetuate the same problems as before". However immediately after this you claim that "we changed narratives" and presumably the good governments started regulating the free market in the public good. How do you reconcile both stories? How can governments be both perpetuating the same problems as before and simultaneously have changed narratives?

Matt writes:

That's a mighty good fisking Tracy. The claims that all of economics have been built on some naive foundational concept of rationalism are wildly exaggerated. Neal need only spend some time reading the books section of this site to realize both the diversity and complexity of opinion on these issues, of which his statements belie ignorance.

Adam writes:

The notion that an outcome is sub-optimal requires a feasible counterfactual which would produce better outcomes.

Saying that the outcome of my life is sub-optimal in relation to a counterfactual in which I am better looking and become a billionaire without lifting a finger is meaningless. Just as meaningless are complaints that outcomes are sub-optimal in relation to classroom-theoretical atomistic competition.

The relevant counterfactuals for determining the optimality of unfettered free markets involve significant government intervention.

Niko writes:

SydB, My response: Property itself is a moral concept. In nature, property is allocated through power--which can take many forms. In our society, we have decided that this is immoral. Hence we've come up with a concept of ownership and a state (police) machinery to protect it.

Taking property wantonly through power is constrained in our society. Not banished, e.g. taxes. But it is constrained.

Hence libertarians rely on the concept of morally unacceptable outcomes up front--theft of property--to secure their property.

Progressives simply say that this is not the only immoral outcome that should be considered.

I suppose I'm in an odd place here because I don't think there's much that is morally unacceptable and I'm not really talking about property in moral terms. To me, morality is only what goes against the values of one individual, but has no societal impact as a whole. I may define an optimal society as one that looks like it holds property "rights" but what I define as optimal and what I think is moral are two different things.


This said, I still don't think you've answered the question. What is morally unacceptable? Are governments that don't regulate markets unacceptable? Is a GINI above at a certain level unacceptable? Why? Because "society" (whatever that is) says, is what I think you've determined, but that's really unsatisfactory to myself and, I think, a great deal of other people around the world.

For someone like me, the appeal to morality on both sides is really unconvincing because it all out the window. Even if we do determine there is a morality, arguing about it won't change actions and if action is what is important, we're only wasting time debating morals.

Therefore, I go to the other alternative, a type of nihilism. You'll never fix anything using anyone or any type of system. Governments are extraordinarily ineffective on trying to "fix" problems. So what's the solution? Stop searching for a solution. There is none. Stop caring. Life becomes so much more pleasant when you stop caring.

El Presidente writes:

roversaurus,

Are there any limits to this "Social Contract" of yours?

The Constitution of the United States is certainly mine (I've signed it), but it isn't mine alone. The limit is sovereignty. That is, individuals are sovereign. They choose of their free will to join or remain in societies that abide by agreements, and occasionally to form such societies. So, in a strict sense, the answer is "no". But, a more reasonable answer is that the sovereignty of one is a check against the sovereignty of another, with agreements to yield or join sovereignty for common cause making life more amenable to both. This is the same principle that would recommend to us the ability of individuals to contract with one another in matters of commerce.

Is there ANYTHING that can be done democratically that is illegitimate?

In a political sense, no. In a moral sense, without a doubt, YES!

With reference to my answer above, when one chooses to infringe on the sovereignty of others against their will, that is, to take away their capacity of free association, the right to choose whether or not to belong to a particular society, then things have gone too far. As Kant points out, we cannot be moral unless we treat others as ends, if also as means for their own benefit. If we treat them as means only, then we violate their humanity. We objectify them. This is certainly immoral and any action of this nature, democratic or otherwise, is morally illegitimate.

I am NOT invoking the mantra, "Love it or leave it." I am rather echoing the sentiment of Carl Schurz:

"My country right or wrong; when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right."

Having agreed upon a process to secure rights for individuals and promote the general welfare, the only thing which would be democratically illegitimate is to violate the due process required by law. The social contract we adhere to prescribes processes for peaceful revision and reformation. There is no need to violate an agreement which can be dissolved or abandoned except to gain advantage over another person without their knowledge or consent; to objectify them.

To say that every democratic action is legitimate, de facto, in toto, is to assign moral authority to the plurality or majority opinion. This cannot be sound unless they're batting 1000 or morality is relative. I know of no philosopher of ethics who has made a successful logical defense of moral relativism. To say that moral legitimacy is irrelevant is to abdicate moral agency. This cannot be right. If we are moral agents but not moral authorities, even in the aggregate, then our role is to pursue right, not to manufacture it of our own design. We can do this well or poorly. We cannot change our role.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Our various P's, C's and L's are talking past each other again.

Perhaps we can all agree on the fundamental goal of economic policy for each ideology:

P - equality
C - stability
L - growth

Can we agree that these ends are *at least a bit* in opposition? That by emphasizing one you have to *give up some of the others*?

For instance, I'm an L/C, and don't give a toot about equality, but I understand alot of, say, El Presidente and SydB posts as motivated from a sympathy for equality.

Alex J. writes:

As an ardent L, I'm in favor of equality before the law (or "equality of opportunity"). Ps prefer equality of outcome. The most, ah, vigorous attempts to get equality of outcome have stomped all over equality before the law.

How does the common Progressive belief that the state should suppress private firearms ownership square with their supposed belief in equality? If the police come and disarm a peaceful person, how is he equal with the police?

El Presidente writes:

Alex J.,

As an ardent L, I'm in favor of equality before the law (or "equality of opportunity"). Ps prefer equality of outcome.

A distinction between opportunity and outcome ignores the fact that these are opposite sides of the same coin. An outcome constrains the next set of opportunities, which influences the subquent outcome, and so on. These are phases of iterations that continue ad infinitum throughout one's life. Is that difficult to understand?

If the police come and disarm a peaceful person, how is he equal with the police?

If he cannot afford a gun, how is he equal with his neighbor that has one? If he cannot afford as big or powerful a gun as his neighbor, isn't he similarly unequal? If government had to be equal it would have no power. The effective use of force requires superiority, and government power is predicated upon the authority and capacity for legitimate use of force. You have said nothing except that you disagree with the fundamental notion of government itself.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente Responds

(The question)
>>Are there any limits to this "Social Contract" of yours?

(The almost out of context answer)
> So, in a strict sense, the answer is "no".

(The question)
>>Is there ANYTHING that can be done democratically that is illegitimate?

(The answer)
>when one [...] take away their [...] right to choose whether or not to belong to a particular society, then things have gone too far.

That's it?

The only illegitimate thing a government can do
is to prevent it's "citizens" from leaving?
I assume that still applies when no other place
on earth will permit those citizens entry?
Governments have done some pretty awful things to
various groups of people who were certainly
permitted to leave but had no where to go.

You had the very first post in these comments.
I read nothing about social contract there.
As I read your position you simply replaced
"Technocrat" with "The will of the majority".

From your social contract position that implies
that the electoral process can do anything it
wants as long as it permits free exit.

You wonder why you might get labeled as totalitarian?

The L position is all about placing serious
limits on the initiator of force.

I really have no clue what the C and P positions are yet.

El Presidente writes:

roversaurus,

From your social contract position that implies
that the electoral process can do anything it
wants as long as it permits free exit.

And yet my morality says otherwise. You didn't read that part, did you? No, you did. You just don't care.

You wonder why you might get labeled as totalitarian?

Nope. I am fully aware that people will label me a totalitarian if it suits their ends, whether or not it is true and accurate. Knock yourself out.

Cheers

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente Responds:

Me:
>>From your social contract position that implies
>>that the electoral process can do anything it
>>wants as long as it permits free exit.

El P:
>And yet my morality says otherwise. You didn't read that part, did you? No, you did. You just don't care.

El P. in another post:

the only thing which would be democratically illegitimate is to violate the due process required by law.

In practice that has been a useful restraint on
power. But in truth it is NOT a restrain on power.
Many governments have followed due process while
doing horrible things.

I'm trying not to ignore you. I'm trying to
restate you in fewer words. The original A.K. article
wanted to discover what P's thought and I surmise
find out how it differed from totalitarianism.
Your restatement of what you (almost a P) thought
only differed from A.K.'s by replacing technocrat
with "the voters"

Todd writes:

El Presidente, I can't agree with the way you conflate outcomes and opportunity. The way I think about opportunity is in the sense in which it is invoked in the phrase "equality before the law." Essentially, when we say equality of opportunity, we are suggesting that everyone placed in the same situation should be presented with the same set of rules. This does not mean or necessitate that we all face the same set of non-legal constraints. How could your version of equality ever be achieved in a world composed of men, women, adults, children, Spaniards, Chinese, gifted athletes, chess grandmasters, wounded veterans, etc.?

SydB writes:

Niko said: "I still don't think you've answered the question."

One cannot answer the moral question in a single answer. But let me also clarify. From a philosophical perspective, the world can be decomposed into ontological, epistemological, and axiological components. Axiology includes morality. Think of these categories as "what is?", "how do I describe it?" and "how do I value it--what are the priorities?"

I think property rights are an axiological concept. A moral concept. In nature, property is allocated through power. But a collective--a human collective--has created a moral system surrounding property. And a state apparatus to enforce this morality.

My point: Libertarians are no different than progressives. Except they select one particular moral value--protection of property--and focus on it. I say that is too limited but I respect and understand their arguments.

An anarchical libertarian would say that building codes are unnecessary. If buildings fall, people will learn to avoid those constructed using certain techniques. A progressive would counter that it is immoral--all things considered--to allow people to learn in this fashion. I tend to agree.

It's all a question of where one draws the line. That answer to that is exceedingly complex--we should strive for simplicity but the libertarian position is far too simplistic.

roversaurus writes:

SydB writes:

An anarchical libertarian would say that building codes are unnecessary. If buildings fall, people will learn to avoid those constructed using certain techniques. A progressive would counter that it is immoral--all things considered--to allow people to learn in this fashion. I tend to agree.

How did the government learn that building codes
were valuable? Answer: Buildings fell down.

How did the government learn that seat belts were
a good idea? Cars crashed and people wearing belts
tended to survive better than those without.

Was it immoral when the government learned in
this fashion?

Deryl G writes:

Sydb-

Are you suggesting the emergence of government was, at least in some part, a response to a desire for private property rights?

This might be true (I don't know the history that well), but I've always suspect that government emerged as a way for a small amount of people to better control a large group of people. In some cases (The U.S. for example) the ratio has become closer to 1:1 than in others (North Korea).

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

El Presidente and SydB:

What virtuous or desirable thing must be given up in order to institute a Progressive agenda?

C/L give up equality of outcome. L gives up veneration of institutions with its stability. C gives up rapid change that outruns constitutional reform, even if there are starving children involved.

What does Progressivism give up?

El Presidente writes:

Todd,

How could your version of equality ever be achieved . . .

I wasn't proposing a vision of equality of circumstances or outcomes. I was suggesting a vision of humanity, that is, of equal consideration for each other. I think inequality of outcomes is just fine. I DON'T think suffering is OK. So, to the extent that inequality causes, contributes to, or exacerbates suffering, I would seek to remedy it, be that my suffering or someone else's. I AM NOT hung up on equality of outcomes or circumstances. I AM hung up on human consideration for those who suffer, and I am baffled to no end that many economists preach marginal analysis as gospel truth (e.g. flattening marginal tax rates) and fail to embrace the notion that a dollar in the hands of a poor person has a higher marginal utility than the same dollar in the hands of a rich person, being a different share of their respective incomes. We can enhance aggregate utility through redistribution, to a certain extent. I don't need a flat, boring, vanilla society in order to be satisfied. That is an extreme, a canard placed in our path to make the possibility of progress seem out of reach: "If we cannot do everything, we might as well do nothing." Hogwash.

If we aim to provide for the general welfare, how will your poverty improve my wellbeing, and will my wellbeing be improved more than yours will be harmed? If we are trading your sustenance for my luxury, I don't suppose we could justify that. Of course, if we adamantly refuse to engage in attribution of income, dividing it between our own exertion, our own prudence, and rents we receive through no merit of our own, then we can blithely pretend that once the money is in our hands it is sanctified and consecrated as our property, upon which not even God himself can place demands. See, I can argue in extremes too. It doesn't help us be reasonable. It doesn't help us get along. It doesn't help us like each other any better, or achieve greater happiness.

I acknowledged without caveats that democratic processes can and do produce suboptimal and downright bad outcomes. That is not the fault of the process. It is the fault of the participants. To return to the subject of this post, technocrats can help to educate us so that we can and will make better decisions, but it is imperative that WE make them, be that separately or collectively. There are some things which benefit all and will not be accomplished without collective action. When we understand this, we needn't oppose the notion of government altogether. We need only be very careful and thoughtful about how we use it.

Jeremy, Alabama

What virtuous or desirable thing must be given up in order to institute a Progressive agenda?

Pride; the false sense of self as moral authority. It is not virtuous, but it is highly coveted.

Niko writes:

SydB,


One cannot answer the moral question in a single answer.

Then I am left unsatisfied with what you would call moral and immoral and am still confused by the whole notion of calling out libertarians for not seeing that optimal is subjective, while you yourself cannot see a world of morality that is not subjective.

Let me add, though. I think definitions of libertarians are all too much a caricature, as much of a caricature as the definition for a progressive is.

Todd writes:

El Presidente, I think you've done a great job of capturing what I perceive to be the progressive mindset: "I acknowledged without caveats that democratic processes can and do produce suboptimal and downright bad outcomes. That is not the fault of the process. It is the fault of the participants." I think many of the L and C persuasion would reverse the assignment of blame. I view the democratic process to be an inappropriate means of decision making for almost all aspects of human action. Even a polity of angels would turn heaven into the post-office if they had to hold election to decide whether the pearly gates should be painted in off-white or alabaster.

A question to all self-identified progressives, in particular to El Presidente:

If there were only one state (world government) and thus no possibility of exit, would you change your mind on the so-called social contract that in your view allows The Representatives of the People to bind those who have not consented to their position?

El Presidente writes:

Daniil Gorbatenko,

I will repeat for perhaps the fourth time: I do not identify myself as a progressive.

In response to your question, a quesiton. Do you preclude secession?

Alex J. writes:

Clearly, equality of outcome and equality of opportunity are not two sides of the same coin. Given the opportunity, some succeed at acquisition and some fail.

El Presidente writes:

Alex J.,

Given the opportunity, some succeed at acquisition and some fail.

So? Are they not then faced with choices between opportunities constrained by the most recent outcome?

El Presidente writes:

roversaurus,

I did not "replace" technocrat with voter. I set them side by side, fulfilling different roles and interacting with one another. If you are trying to prove something, please come out and say what that is. We will have a much better exchange and you won't have to misrepresent my philosophy with respect to the importance of morality to the success of democracy. You can simply make your point and we can learn from each other, agree, or disagree.

Dave writes:

I think I am a P/L hybrid, so my opinions may or may not shed light on your scheme:

1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.

There are too many controversial terms in this question for me to have a yes/no answer. My answer is that limited information, externalities, and arational human behavior are all common and prevent markets from being fully efficient.

2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

Sure, but it doesn't matter in practice because policy wonks never *know for sure* how to improve outcomes:

- Policy wonks never have perfect knowledge about the effects a given policy will have.

- A given policy never helps everyone; usually some people will be worse off.

3. Technocrats know how to improve outcomes in many areas.

Yes.

4. Therefore, it would be wise to cede authority to technocrats in many areas.

Absolutely not: power corrupts. When we "cede" authority to anyone, they are certain to make mistakes and/or consciously or unconsciously use their power to promote special interests. Also, coercive methods often fail and/or have bad side effects.

Conversely, no one person has time to think in any detail about even 1% of these issues, so if we are to solve them at all, we do have to delegate. But the delegates should be considered (and should be) not authorities above us, but peers that we have assigned responsibilities to.

5. Conservatives and libertarians disagree with (1) and (2)

I have no idea.


On all of these points, it's easier to think about a concrete example. My top choice would be vaccination. It is clear that vaccinating everyone by the basic program is the best outcome. It is also known that the "unfettered free market" doesn't produce that result. Some people can't afford medical care. Some people wrongly think they can't. Some people would forget or neglect to have their kids vaccinated. Some people think vaccines are dangerous. All this suggests it can be beneficial to have some government action to promote vaccination.

Exactly the best way to do it is unclear. The least coercive option is simply to inform people better. Another low-coercion option is to withhold government benefits from people who haven't vaccinated their kids. Subsidizing vaccines for the poor is good, too.

Robert (my actual name) writes:

"In response to your question, a question. Do you preclude secession?"

El Presidente, this was your response to the hypothetical single-government world. Do you embrace the secession option? I assume that you understand that in practical terms secession would mean armed revolt. Do you find it consistent with your viewpoint to violently free yourself from your 'social contract' with a democratically elected, but objectionable, regime?

And when might someone other than yourself be justified in making this kind of break with the 'social contract' that they have been born into?

El Presidente writes:

Robert (my actual name),

You are jumping ahead by one step. If secession is the only possible mode of exit, and if peaceful secession is not allowed then the social contract does not respect the sovereignty of its participants. It is thus violative of the condition I set forth above:

[W]hen one chooses to infringe on the sovereignty of others against their will, that is, to take away their capacity of free association, the right to choose whether or not to belong to a particular society, then things have gone too far.

So, if there was one worldwide government from which peaceful secession was desired but not permitted in any way, then it would be offensive to the moral agency of individuals whether or not it was democratically legitimate.

I do not set myself above or below others when it comes to deciding to b separate. However, in my circumstance, as a citizen of the United States, I have the option of advocating change. I find my country, society, and social contract sufficiently good to remain and work to improve it. I am also seized by the suspicion that no matter where else I might go, people are pretty similar just about everywhere. I would have my work cut out for me no matter my circumstance. I do not with to extricate myself from society altogether so I do the best I know how with the hand I have been dealt. If somebody feels differently, I think they have a challenge before and some difficult decisions to make. I would wish them well and offer my counsel.

lordzorgon writes:

On the topic of secession and world government...

The US currently claims to have the right to tax the full worldwide income of its citizens, even if they live outside the country and have not set foot in the country for many years. Now there are credits that help with this, but they don't do you much good if you live in a country where taxes are lower than the US. (Say, if you're leaving to try to escape said taxes.)

A citizen living abroad who finds this offensive and who doesn't want to break the law must renounce his citizenship. Not hard to do, but an irreversible action, and once you've left the club it's pretty difficult to get back in.

This is all eerily similar of the kind of "vendor lockin" that, in the private sector, only a monopoly provider could engage in. In a "competitive market" the US could never get away with such a policy.

What this suggests to me is that the "market for nations", if you will, is not a very competitive one. Switching costs are extremely high, much higher than those of moving from one US state to another. Practically speaking, as a US citizen, if you are only fluent in English and want to live in an English-speaking country, you have only a few other major options, and other than Canada, most of them are pretty far away.

Not many people have much of a "choice" as to what nation to live in. Yes, theoretically they could move, but there are a vast number of practical impediments.

This is one of the reasons I have a really hard time with the "social contract" idea. I feel like I have a reasonable degree of choice as to what US state I live in, so I'm willing to allow states a lot more leeway in claiming "you live here, love it or leave it."

But the federal government? No, I have very little practical choice on this matter unless I'm willing to take extreme measures like moving thousands of miles away from my family, learning a new language, and/or renouncing my citizenship.

Add in the fact that states aren't allowed to secede, and the validity of this so-called social contract is pretty darn suspect to me.

I'd want to split the US up into maybe 5 or so smaller nations in a loose confederation w/ free trade, a common currency, and generous immigration/visa provisions, not unlike the EU. Even the state of California is already probably bigger than it ought to be for optimal governance.

A. C. writes:

"1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes."

First, there is no such thing as a truly unfettered free market. In such a market, if the economic analysis says it's cost effective to burn down your competitor's factory, then you'd do it. The question is always how much restraint?

I think that (relatively) unfettered free markets are less than perfect, but the more restrained or directed the market, the less perfect, and more broken it becomes.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente Wrote:
roversaurus,

I did not "replace" technocrat with voter. I set them side by side,

Let's review.

A.K. Wrote:

2. When economists or other technocrats know how to use public policy (taxes, spending, regulation) to improve outcomes, they should be given the authority to do so.

El Presidente Wrote:
2. Nope. 'Improvement' is largely subjective. I firmly beleive that that decision is up to voters, and elected representatives acting on their behalf. They screw up frequently and occasionally they learn forom it. But the authority to make broad policy decisions shoudl remain theirs.

A.K. said P's thought autocrats should be given
the authority. You said the authority remains
with voters. Did you not? Your only disagreement
seems to be that the notion of improvement is
subjective.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente Wrote:


roversaurus,

I did not "replace" technocrat with voter. I set them side by side,

Let's review.

A.K wrote:
4. Therefore, it would be wise to cede authority to technocrats in many areas.

E.P. wrote:
4. Nope. It would be wise to cede authority only to excute what voters or their elected representatives choose. Authority to manage and execute policy is not the same as authority to create policy. It would be wise to cede authority only in those cases where there is a clear objective and a prescribed means of attaining it. Outside of that, the role of the technocrat is to advise.

So you claim it is wise to cede authority only
to execute what the voters want.

You don't want technocrats to exercise authority,
you want voters to exercise it.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente wrote:

If you are trying to prove something, please come out and say what that is.

I am trying to prove that A.K. was pretty accurate
in his description of P's and your restatement of
your own beliefs is just as "totalitarian" as
the original description of P's.

You agreed with all but step 2 and 4.

Step 2 says that if technocrats know best they
should be permitted to do what is best.

You change that by saying that no one knows best
but voters should be permitted to do it anyway.

Step 4 says it would be wise to cede authority
to technocrats. THIS is the "totalitarian" step.

You say that voters should never cede the authority
They should exercise it themselves.

You're right. Your position is not Progressive in
the historical sense, but fits "total government"
reasonably well because you don't place any
limits on the power of government as long as that
power stems from "voters".

El P. writes: Daniil Gorbatenko,

=I will repeat for perhaps the fourth time: I do not identify myself as a progressive.

In response to your question, a quesiton. Do you preclude secession?=

El Presidente, the point is what kind of secession you mean. In case of only one existing so-called social contract it would be unfair to bind even a single dissenting individual with it. But how can a single individual secede from a world society. And why should he/she?

What you call social contract is possible only in very small communities like piratical ships (see this article by Peter Leeson http://www.peterleeson.com/The_Calculus_of_Piratical_Consent.pdf) or guilds or partnerships or primitive tribes of hunters. What is a common feature of those communities is that they are enterprize associations.

In such cases the sheer multitude of enterprize associations and the need to make their enterprizes succeed makes such associations actually compete for members by adjusting their social contracts.

The individuals comprising large societies have no common enterprize to run and what you call social contract is not applicable to large societies.

agnana writes:

Arnold,

A thoughtful and fair question. May I suggest a recasting:


1. Unfettered free markets nearly always produce sub-optimal outcomes.

I think you are right that many progressives don't think that conservatives/libertarians see this. And so it is really good that you make it clear that you do.

However, I think what you are missing here is answers to the question "what consitutes suboptimal results" and "why do such results follow?". I believe a progressive would follow this with


2. This occurs because the unfettered capitalist focus on profit is too narrow and leads to a tendency to privilege the short-term gains of the few over the long-term good of the many.

I think this is the point on which libertarians and *both* progressives and conservatives part ways. Though, progressives and conservatives end up disagreeing over what the long-term good of the many actually is. I think conservatives throughout history have often uncomfortable with the disruptive nature of capitalism while progressives worry about the inequity it produces.


3. Government is the only entity that is strong enough to force private entities (particularly corporations) to take into account the good of the whole society, whether that good includes enivronmental protection, worker safety, family values or consumer protection.

I think your points 2,3 and 4 then follow from this.

Personally, I think that progressives overrate 3 (and underestimate the good that comes from profit) but that libertarians don't really have an answer to how best to internalize economic externalities without government.

b-psycho writes:

Agnana: To argue long-term gains of the many > short-term gains of the few as the moral reasoning for government, don't you have to explain how the ones in control of government, since by definition a "representative" government involves a few people being entrusted with power to use force ostensibly for the good of all, can/will be prevented from using said power for THEIR own interests?

BTW: Corporate status begins as a legal concept, so technically the corporation is not a 100% private institution.

El Presidente writes:

roversaurus,

I am trying to prove that A.K. was pretty accurate in his description of P's and your restatement of your own beliefs is just as "totalitarian" as the original description of P's.

I stand by my previous statements. I believe I was clear, and to construe them as totalitarian either adopts a nonstandard definition of that word or an incorrect representation of my statements. I appreciate your sentiment, but I cannot embrace your argument because it does not accurately state my position prior to labeling it. We may be talking past each other, and that is unfortunate. Unless you mean to say that Arnold's initial description of P's did not in any way cast them as totalitarian (his assertion), what you seek to prove with respect to my philosophy and statements cannot be proven by honest means.

You're right. Your position is not Progressive in the historical sense, but fits "total government" reasonably well because you don't place any limits on the power of government as long as that power stems from "voters".

That's called democracy, not totalitarianism. Totalitarianism entails not merely the possibility of absolute governmental control, but the present reality of it as well (i.e. autocracy). A nation is no less democratic if it abides by a democratically enacted social contract that can be amended or rewritten through democratic means. Thus, unless these prerogatives are surrendered or disregarded, our government cannot be totalitarian, by definition. As I mentioned above, the method in which our Constitution was adopted leaves something to be desired. I nevertheless believe it is substantially democratic, and therefore valid, especially since suffrage has now been extended to all adult citizens and they are free to advocate amending or rewriting the Constitution. If you don't like these things, that's fine. Just say so. You don't need to misapply pejorative and inflammatory labels unless you intend to gain support for your position by deceiving and thereby objectifying your audience. That would violate Kant's categorical imperatives and would therefore represent the very same sort of offense that you have not-so-subtly accused me of: disrespecting the sovereignty and humanity of others.

[improperly coded inks fixed--Econlib Ed.]

roversaurus writes:

(Retry with a valid email. One post already lost)

El Presidente Writes:

Quoting me:

You're right. Your position is not Progressive in the historical sense, but fits "total government" reasonably well because you don't place any limits on the power of government as long as that power stems from "voters".

E.P responds:

That's called democracy, not totalitarianism. Totalitarianism entails not merely the possibility of absolute governmental control, but the present reality of it as well

If democracy means there are no limits on
the power of the winners then doesn't that mean
the winners have total power?
You do not seem to deny that you place no limits
on the power of "democratic" government.

And you will note that when I mentioned "totalitarian"
I put it in quotes and referred to
A.K.s original post. And in the passage you
responded to I called it "total government".
The point still stands. You do not seem to
acknowledge any limits.

Ok, I guess I've seen two limits. I'm not certain
if you require both or merely one.
Limit 1> Permit citizens to leave.
Limit 2> Power should be exercised through some
kind of representative goverment.

roversaurus writes:

El Presidente Writes:

Quoting me:
I am trying to prove that A.K. was pretty accurate in his description of P's and your restatement of your own beliefs is just as "totalitarian" as the original description of P's.

E P writes:
I stand by my previous statements. I believe I was clear, and to construe them as totalitarian either adopts a nonstandard definition of that word or an incorrect representation of my statements.

I said you were just as totalitarian as A.K. said
the P's were because you merely substituted
the voters for the technocrats. I believe I
demonstrated that above. How totalitarian that
encompasses is up to the reader. But I still say
that you merely substitute technocrats with voters.
Giving the voters all the power.

agnana writes:

b-psycho


To argue long-term gains of the many > short-term gains of the few as the moral reasoning for government, don't you have to explain how the ones in control of government, since by definition a "representative" government involves a few people being entrusted with power to use force ostensibly for the good of all, can/will be prevented from using said power for THEIR own interests

Agreed. In my view this is the Achilles heel of progressives and big-government conservatives. There's a fundamental trust in the system because it is run by "people like us."

But at the same time, even libertarians recognize that government has to be given sufficient power to maintain public order. And not just against violent crime. Private property rights, a judicial system in which commercial disputes can be ajudicated, patent protection are all necessary to the functioning of a capitalist system.

The key, it seems to me, is allowing the government to set ends in such a way that externalities can be taken into account, without prescribing means. My own example of an ideal program is the Clean Air Act of 1990 sulfur emissions reduction program. By setting limits on emissions, but not requiring specific remedies, market forces were shown to be able to reduce acid rain at a much lower cost than the regulatory pathway proposed by many environmentalists at the time.

b-psycho writes:

Agnana:

even libertarians recognize that government has to be given sufficient power to maintain public order. And not just against violent crime. Private property rights, a judicial system in which commercial disputes can be ajudicated, patent protection are all necessary to the functioning of a capitalist system.

I'm one that doesn't, actually. Beyond the smallest, most radically localized level, I think the concept of "representative government" is a dangerous leap of faith, inevitably leading to short-sighted and/or outright abusive use of the power granted. The broader the scope, the more difficult it is to seriously keep track of alleged representatives, the more likely they are to in effect say "screw the little people".

As for property, IMO the concept of "intellectual property" is a fraud, and absentee land ownership is basically impossible without force. I'd actually argue that if capitalism requires the kind of intervention we know as common now, then by definition an honest libertarianism is anti-capitalist.

Adam writes:

"Only the Sith deal in absolutes."

And anyone who uses that line.

indregard writes:

What's with this linking of progressiveness to technocrats? Socialist parties in Europe are nowadays preoccupied with "socialism from the bottom up": This means that more decisions should be put under democratic control, not technocratic. This means more influence for workers at their place of work, more participatory budget-making, more room for democratic policies on environmental and transportation issues etc. While technocrats are needed to effect these decisions, they are hardly left with the decision-making themselves.

You are confusing the increased demand for technocrats in a regulated, active state with a technocracy.

And besides: Your discussion on (5) is a bit weird. I'm sure you can spot the error in the sentence about progressives being wrong about (5) because you disagree more with (3) than (1) and (2). And I also know few people who think the opinions of conservatives and libertarians matter much for their own principles.

A Progressive who Reads your Blog writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment and your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Tom Hickey writes:

I think you have stated this in a conservative way that misses the progressive point, because conservatives start with market economics and progressives start with political economy.

Progressives are not particularly concerned with 2-5, and I doubt that many progressives have an opinion on this, because this is not at all the way progressives think. These are premises of a straw man argument. Progressives are only "technocrats" in the sense that they are generally scientifically inclined and evidence-based when it comes to facts. However, they are strongly influenced by values, which is why they put political economy over market economics. Money and markets are public utilities as much as ways for firms and households to accumulate wealth. In fact, most progressives would probably say that they are more public utilities than fields for individual aggrandizement because the survival and prosperity of the community is more significant than the wealth of individuals as individuals. Conservatives generally disagree with this view. But the progressive view is established in the preamble to the US Constitution.

Progressives are particularly concerned with fairness and the body politic as a community. Progressives agree with Jefferson that all people are created equal (as persons) and therefore have equal rights. Progressives consider rights to be human rights first and legal rights secondarily. Even if human rights are not specifically guaranteed by low, they still pertain inexorably.

Progressives generally disagree with 1 for several reasons. First, it is not an economic law but an ideology that lack evidence. Secondly, it often violates the fairness doctrine and human rights, when it is taken to mean that regulation of goods markets and financial markets is off the table. Regulation is needed to establish a level playing field and oversight and accountability are required to keep the field level.

In addition, many progressives think that it is pretty well established that favoring capital (ownership of means of production and rent (ownership of land), as well as finance, over labor leads to unfairness. When wealth determines political power and influence, ownership is favored over wage labor. This results in unfairness and injustice.

Finally, progressives distinguish between growth (GDP) and prosperity (distribution of the fruits of production). When ownership is favored politically, then real wealth (fruits of production) is increasingly captured at the top. Moreover, it is the tendency of capital to prefer rent to profit from production, and this results in inordinate wealth capture by nonproductive sectors such as finance.

Progressive are therefore most interested economically in a progressive system of taxation, which is one way to equalize the influence of ownership and wage labor. The other way is through legislation that is based on fairness and human rights in a community whose economic purpose is maximum prosperity for the community as a whole.

Conversely, economic conservatives and libertarians tend to equate political economy with economic neoliberalism on ideological grounds. Thus, the kertuffle between progressives and conservatives revolves around balancing individualism and community.
The answer lies in harmonizing individual rights and social responsibilities. Progressives are not closet collectivists or statists. They are often very libertarian on social issues, much more so that most conservatives. They base their thinking on J. S. Mill's On Liberty (maximum individual freedom consistent with social responsibility) and Utilitarianism (great good for the greatest number).

formivore writes:

Great post - this is a good idea.

I am a progressive with sympathy for libertarian arguments.

1. No, and I don't think most progressives hold this either, except in a literal reading of 'sub-optimal.' Most free markets produce results that are optimal unless you are some kind of omniscient benevolent dictator.

2. Yes.

3. Yes. Most free markets are efficient but there are still many that the government can fix. Many of these are big sectors of the economy: defense, infrastucture, education, health care...

4. Yes, within limits of democracy.

5. I am enlightened, I know you disagree with (3).
(5) could be correct for most progressives, not sure.

You're correct to view (3) as the crux of the matter. I'd say when you're a lazy muddled lib like me, it becomes much easier to imagine that gov. bureaucrats might run your life better than you've run it yourself. Yes, I believe most Americans can not think for themselves - it's a complicated world.

I would add:
i)Conservatives and libertarians routinely ignore just how bad it is to be a loser in the American system. The gradations lower-middle-class and up are just insignificant compared to this.

ii)Because of i), society should aim for not just equality of opportunity, but more equal outcomes in some basic areas. E.g. you ought not be doomed to a life of chronic disease because of bad genes.

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