Arnold Kling  

Liberals and Markets

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Cognitive Dissonance on Vehicl... Do Liberals Use Five Foundatio...

Will Wilkinson writes,


libertarians are liberals who like markets.

This is a succinct way of suggesting that libertarians and liberals share similar personalities and outlooks. There is just an intellectual difference concerning markets and government.

I will be speaking on the subject of markets vs. government in a number of upcoming talks. The first one will be at Campbell University in North Carolina on Thursday, March 18th at 6 PM. I assume this is open to the public. If you have a group in your area that would like me to speak, let me know (you can leave a comment).

Below is a sketch of some of my thoughts.

1. Since I was once a liberal and am now a libertarian, I might count as evidence for Will's thesis. I don't think that my personality or outlook changed as much as my intellectual framework.

2. I think that most liberals I know would say that they like markets, "but..." The "but" is that they think of markets as serving some basic human needs, but not higher human needs. For liberals, the market is to government as the saloon is to the art museum. People do need to visit a saloon now and then, but the art museum represents the higher form of civilization. To stretch the metaphor a bit, liberals think that the saloon needs to be regulated, by sophisticated art patrons.

3. Liberals are more confident about social science and technocratic expertise. Libertarians are more confident about decentralized trial-and-error learning.

4. I think that liberals have a more romantic concept of democracy. I keep going back to Daniel Callahan's statement on p.215 of Taming the Beloved Beast:


In the end, government must answer to the public, forcing an accountability that is absent in private sector medicine.

To me, government is a mechanism that diffuses and dilutes accountability. If government does something wrong, does a bureaucrat get fired? Does an agency go out of business? Do legislators suffer financial losses?

If I shop for a coat, the store is accountable to me. If government decides on a policy, my affect on that policy is at best very indirect. Will my vote be determined by that policy, or by my feelings about the elected officials based on other factors? Even if I vote on the basis of a single policy, will others vote the same way? Will the elected officials understand what the voters want? etc.

5. I think that liberals see markets and government as representing different facets of human nature. The market is where we go to channel greed, aggression, and the desire to outwit and take advantage of others. The government is where we go to channel compassion, kindness, and community spirit.

The libertarian view instead sees a common human nature at work in markets and government. With Adam Smith, we see bread on our table coming not from the benevolence of the baker but from his self-interest as filtered through the mechanism of the market. We see the government as an arena where rent-seeking is just as aggressive as in the market--except that the forces of competition are weaker for government-generated rents than for rents that can be temporarily captured in the market.

I think that compassion, kindness, and community spirit are best channeled through voluntary activities, such as charitable organizations. I tend to think of government as a particular form of charitable organization, one which is rendered corrupt and horribly inefficient by the fact that it obtains its funding via coercion rather than via voluntary donations. Charitable organizations themselves are far from perfect. But I think that, dollar for dollar, I get more community benefit out of my charitable contributions than out of my taxes.

6. I think that liberals view the market as a somewhat barbaric and unfair mechanism for allocating resources. They view government as a mechanism for restoring fairness and justice.

To a libertarian, the market mechanism is civilized. When people buy and sell in the market, they are making voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges. In contrast, government is an arena where one side wins and the other side loses.

When I shop for a coat, if I do not like the way a coat fits or how it looks, or how much the seller wants me to pay, I do not buy that coat. I buy a different coat, perhaps in a different store. The shopping process leads to peaceful, mutually satisfying trade.

On the other hand, look at how the issue of health care reform is going to be resolved. It is like gang warfare, where the Democrats and Republicans are going to rumble, and at least one side is going to be very unhappy with the outcome. For me, it is the democratic process that is barbaric, and it is the market process that is comparatively peaceful and civilized.


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COMMENTS (92 to date)
Contemplationist writes:

Thats as good as saying "Libertarians are conservatives who like personal freedoms"

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I don't know - I think this is one of the biggest intellectual blindspots of libertarians: the gross caricaturization of other people's views on markets.

I don't consider myself a "liberal" - I never have - but I suppose I'm closer than you. I view the market as a social institutional tool, just like government is a social institutional tool, or the family, or any of a host of other institutions. And what you learn very early on in shop class is that you "use the right tool for the right job".

Libertarians regularly opine that non-libertarians "don't like" or "don't trust" or "don't respect" markets. But from the non-libertarian view, it's libertarians that (sometimes) seem to be using the wrong tool for the wrong job. Reading libertarian pieces often comes across like watching someone try to use a hammer to drive in a screw, or a coping saw to cut a two by four. That's not "respecting markets" or "embracing markets", in my opinion. I think you unnecessarily sentimentalize markets, Arnold. It's not about "liking markets" or "not liking markets" it's about understanding, appreciating, and respecting markets. And the usual "liberal" (or in my case, "moderate") critique of libertarians is that they don't properly respect markets because they use the wrong tool for the wrong job. That's not a distrust of markets on our part. But libertarians somehow miss this, and say (to turn Wilkinson's statement around) "liberals are libertarians that don't like markets". Maybe that makes sense to a libertarian, but to a non-libertarian it's not only inaccurate - it's very ironic to hear out of a libertarian's mouth.

Your points 3, 4, 5, and 6 may perhaps describe the far-left, but again it doesn't bear any resemblance to what I think of as "liberalism". Politicians making cheap campaign talk may express these views every once in a while, but that doesn't make it a "liberal" view. None of these four constitute anything like a core "liberal" philosophy.


*I'd also note that while I think this post really only describes the far-left and perhaps some liberal politician soundbites today, I would concede that perhaps it accurately described a somewhat larger share of liberals in the earlier part of this century.

Hunter writes:

Reminds me of a discussion I once had with a teacher. She was saying that teachers should be paid well because they serve an important function in educating people. I was trying to explain water and diamonds and marginal utility. And not very well I might add.

I think this goes towards your point number six in which liberals(gross generalization coming up) feel that government needs to create a fair system based on perceived values of fairness and justice.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

*earlier part of the 20th century I suppose - not this current one.

eccdogg writes:

Daniel Kuehn,

I have read several of your replies to Arnold on Liberals and I am not seeing it. I think on 3,4,5,6 liberals do in fact hold more of those beliefs than libertarians. Not that the absolute magnitude of that belief is right or wrong for either group, just that liberals are more likely to hold that belief as important.

It seems to me that you are a libertarian leaning liberal (hey you read this site for starters) and are projecting your views on the rest of liberal population.

Maybe I am wrong though. So to help me understand can you tell me what person that I might know (politician, academic, blogger, historic figure,etc) is the embodiement of middle of the road liberal ideals (as in the median "liberal", not a liberal who is near the median of the general population). The folks that come to my mind when I think liberal (Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Paul Krugman, Yglesias, Klein, etc) seem to believe more of 3-6 than similar libertarians.

Todd writes:

Daniel, can you describe a few of the areas where contemporary moderates/liberals view markets as the wrong tool to solve the resource allocation problem? It would help me if I knew why the tool was inappropriate, what I should use instead, and why I should expect a better outcome.

Billy writes:

What about the fact that some liberals support hate-crime or hate-speech laws? I've found that some liberals only support civil liberties as a means to some "progressive" goal.

dlr writes:

I think there is a very big difference between the basic personalities of Liberals and Libertarians.

In my opinion, convinced liberals have a very authoritarian personality type. They want to boss people around, 'for their own good'. The logical end product is the Nanny State, which can arrest you for failing to use your seat belt. Liberals brought us prohibition, and are in the processes of trying to regulate all sorts of personal behavior OF OTHER PEOPLE --- for their own good. They campaign to increase the taxes on tobacco. And to make it AGAINST THE LAW not to recycle. They want us to use less energy, eat our vegetables, and use a condom. And whenever possible, they use the power of the state to enforce their beliefs.

In my opinion convinced conservatives also have an authoritarian personality type.

Both Conservatives and Liberals are convinced that they know best, and that the power of the state should be used to MAKE people do what is right. They both believe that other people's behavior must be regulated FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.

The main difference to me between them is not their personality types, but what regulations they believe 'ought' to be imposed on other people. Conservatives want to make it against the law for me to have homosexual sex. Liberals want to make it against the law for me to have sugary soft drinks. But they both want to limit my freedom, because they both think they are wiser - more adult - more knowledgeable than me, and should, must, tell me how to live my life.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

eccdog -

I certainly have a lot of views in common with libertarians. I grew up as a conservative, dabbled with libertarianism in college, but then became disillusioned by it. There was absolutely nothing that attracted me to libertarianism - the civil liberties focus, the respect for markets, etc. - that was unique to libertarianism. What was unique to and defining of libertarianism was a disproportionate bias against the state and what I guess I'd describe as an atomized view of the human species: a rejection of the idea that collectives or communities are meaningful units. Over time, I grew to consider that a very naive and distortionary view. Everything I liked about libertarianism was just classical liberalism - a solid part of the liberal tradition going back centuries. The special contribution of libertarianism to that broader liberal tradition was not appealing to me.

So yes - I'm a "liberal" in the Enlightenment sense of the word, and I'd even say "classical liberal", which means I do enjoy reading and listening to libertarians, and I do have a lot of common ground with them. I'm not sure if I "lean libertarian". I guess I see what you're getting at, but I don't see why I would be "leaning" libertarian simply by accepting the foundational tenets of the liberal tradition. That seems like an odd way of putting it.

I'd caution against picking out any politicians as being representative of any political philosophy. They are politicians, after all. They're going to have soundbites. They're going to speak with a degree of naivete on certain issues. If I want to know what socialism "is" or what a socialist supports, I'd go to Marx, not Stalin. If I want to know about what to expect when socialism is put into practice, I'd have to take the example of Stalin into account. But I wouldn't go to him to understand the political philosophy. You list Krugman at the end, and he's a great example. Krugman waxes poetic too now in his op-ed, but the idea that Krugman somehow "doesn't like" markets absolutely baffles me. Of course he does. It's self-evident in almost everything he writes. What he does do is understand that you have to use the right tool for the right job. Maybe his analysis is wrong sometimes, and he is liable to making those soundbites too, ever since the NY Times gig. But to suggest he's a "libertarian that doesn't like markets" is absurd. As a side note, I'm not always in line with Krugman - I often feel like a linear combination of Krugman and Mankiw... somewhere in there. But I do respect Krugman a great deal (as I respect, I should note, Arnold a great deal - I enjoy reading his posts probably more than anyone elses on econlog).

matt_f writes:

"The government is where we go to channel compassion, kindness, and community spirit."

This always strikes me as odd that liberals view the government as playing this role. What is the evidence for these things? Especially when considering that the long run equilibrium is that government monopolizes these functions. As noted there are some very strong competitors (churches, charities, and lets not forget the family) that do not need to take from people, but these functions are served voluntarily.

There is also a problem of effectiveness, can the government truly replace the values and support of the family?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

"what I guess I'd describe as an atomized view of the human species: a rejection of the idea that collectives or communities are meaningful units."

i.e. - meaningful units with interests that can, at appropriate times, over-ride the interests of the individuals that compose the collective or community.

I know libertarians are fine with voluntary association, etc. - but they still reject (at least I think they do) the idea of a community as an independent, relevant, unit of agency, standing, etc.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

RE: "This always strikes me as odd that liberals view the government as playing this role. What is the evidence for these things?"

Don't discount the possibility that they DON'T, in fact, view government as playing this role. If it sounds fishy the claim itself might be wrong.

Taimyoboi writes:

I might consider also focusing on the differences that liberals and libertarians have towards individuals as opposed to their views regarding governments and markets. For example, a liberal is that lady who walks down the street and yells at you for letting your kids play outside unattended. A libertarian is someone who wouldn't even notice, or would send their kids out to play with yours.


Aside: This is a rather bold, and inaccurate, statement. "Everything I liked about libertarianism was just classical liberalism - a solid part of the liberal tradition going back centuries." It's certainly wrong about the liberal tradition starting around 1900.

BZ writes:

" ... atomized view of the human species: a rejection of the idea that collectives or communities are meaningful units... "

You've read libertarians that make you think this? Which ones?

The most radical libertarians I read (Rothbard, Block, Woods, etc) absolutely worship markets and society. They see human prosperity as an emergent consequence of voluntary human interactions. They see voluntary society as a moral end in itself. Every one of them would weep for the poverty of the self-sufficient atom of an individual (though they wouldn't deny them the right to do it).

Said another way: those Libertarians reject government NOT because they reject a representative body that stands for the will of society. They reject it because they believe it is institutionalized violence which destroys social bonds. It is the love of society that convinces them to reject government.

Now, to be charitable, perhaps you simply meant that libertarians reject some sort of Platonic notion of "society" as More Real than the physical people that make it up. If so, that's trivial. If pinned down, I suspect noone else does either. Do you?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

BZ -
I was worried my initial point came across this way. Read my addendum, that's more what I was getting at. I agree with your representation of the libertarian view of community.

Yancey Ward writes:

Authoritarians compete with in the political market, with each other, in their quest for power. Just like Coke and Pepsi, liberals and conservatives sell basically the same commodity, but endlessly try to distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Libertarians want nothing to do with this market which is filled with mandated purchases.

Evan writes:

Yancey, I think you'll find that third-ways are a brand in their own right.

eccdogg writes:

Thanks for your thoughtful reply Daniel,

I guess there is kind of a language problem here as there usually is in these types of discussions.

I veiw "Classical Liberals" as just moderate Libertarians, but squarely in the Libertarian camp and certainly outside of the Modern Liberal/Progressive camp. I veiw Hayek and Freidman as they personification of this view. Neither were anarchist and both beleived in some level of welfare state but neither would be at home in the modern liberal/progressive camp.

You are right that most liberals do not hate markets, but I think it is fair to say that they trust them less than libertarians and conservatives and trust government and technocrats more.

Corey writes:

If liberals have a romantic view of democracy, then libertarians most certainly have a romantic view of markets. In theory, sure, when you shop for goods and services the seller should be responsive to your needs, because there are plenty of alternatives out there. But in so many American commercial interactions, when is that actually the case?

Signed,

A guy waiting from 12 to 5 for the cable installer

aretae writes:

I summarize this post on my blog not as kindly or carefully, but much shorter:

"Liberals have a positive view of the nature of government that is slightly past absurd, and close to farcical."

Our view of markets has to do with two things:
1. Understanding of economics/incentives/decentralized systems.
2. Analysis of the realities of government behavior, sans whitewashing.

Markets often suck. Governments usually suck much worse.

JPIrving writes:

As I read professor Kling's post, I kept thinking that libertarians are really on their own. They arent "conservatives +X" or "liberals +y". They are a completely different animal. Rejection of the initiation of force is a pretty isolating position. The left and right are often arguing from the same world view, just with different values.

Now lets all donate our money to the Seasteading Institute so we can escape the madness!

jc writes:

Taimyoboi writes:
"For example, a liberal is that lady who walks down the street and yells at you for letting your kids play outside unattended. A libertarian is someone who wouldn't even notice, or would send their kids out to play with yours."

Or, a different libertarian may notice, and disapprove, but realize that it is your family and he/she has no right to impose their views on you, simply because they dislike your views.

The old saying used to be, "Democrats don't want me to keep my own money, Republicans don't want me to have fun. I want both." But progressives are not just about redistribution, e.g. Taimyoboi's example illustrating the Nanny State progressive.

Is there a more accurate, pithy statement, then?

EH writes:

Labels are either dangerous or helpful depending on your association to them. Essentially they are rendered meaningless by ignorance. You can't describe anybody in one word so why bother debating, or are we all happy to just associate ourselves with those who "think like us" without thinking ourselves? This should be obvious given the increased secularization that exists today.

eccdogg writes:

I think "Markets" frankly get talked about far too much with regard to libertarians as I do not think markets are core to libertarian beliefs.

Voluntary activity of all kinds are core to libertarian beliefs and market interactions are just one such voluntary activity.

Liberals/Progressives may love markets to the extent that they accomplish their goals. Libertarians are in some way indifferent to how well markets "work" as they are to how well friendship works or marriage works or free speech works or churches work.

To me Libertarians believe there is a presumption of liberty and as such voluntary activities have the benefit of the doubt and it needs to be shown beyond a reaonable doubt that the voluntary activity between two individuals is harmful to others before anyone has a right to intervene. Since markets are largely voluntary they have the same presumption and strong evidence is needed before you can intervene.

It is not that markets are in some way magical at delivering us what we want, it is that they are voluntary and thus deserve a presumption of non intervention by parties outside of the market transaction.

roversaurus writes:


"The government is where we go to channel compassion, kindness, and community spirit."

RE: "This always strikes me as odd that liberals view the government as playing this role. What is the evidence for these things?"

Don't discount the possibility that they DON'T, in fact, view government as playing this role. If it sounds fishy the claim itself might be wrong.

I think that is the way liberals think because I have spoken to them and read them.

A search on google books for "Community Spirit" finds books focused on government.

Have you ever heard of the term "Compassionate Conservatism"?

Have you paid attention to the debates on government provided health care? Did anyone mention it was a basic human right? Did anyone bring up the deserving poor?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

eccdog -
"You are right that most liberals do not hate markets, but I think it is fair to say that they trust them less than libertarians and conservatives and trust government and technocrats more."

I don't mean to be a jerk and push this, but I have to ask what you mean by "trust".

I guess I could potentially agree with this - but I would just say that libertarians "trust markets more than liberals" in the same way that one might trust a coping saw to cut a two by four. Maybe they put more "trust" in it. That's not that impressive to me on it's own. The most important question is "trust it to do what".

eccdogg writes:

You are right that trust is not a very clear term.

Lets say in more clear terms that liberals are more likely to see market failures than libertarians/conservatives are and are less likely to see government failures. Thus liberals support higher levels of government involvement.

That is not to say which one is right.

I think this post by Mankiw nails it.

http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2007/12/how-do-right-and-left-differ.html


I think an additional difference with libertarians how much market failure is tolerable before you act and how much evidence you need before you act.

I do not believe the market is perfect in anyway, but as a free society I belive we need strong evidence of very meaningful market failures before we act. Others might be more quick on the trigger even if we agree about the facts of the case.

sourcreamus writes:

Will Wilkinson is a liberal who likes markets. Other than him and maybe his wife, the statement is as true as carnivores are just vegetarians who like meat.

JMS writes:

I think this can be inverted. I'm a left-leaning person who loves markets. I just think traditional libertarians wildly overlook negative externalities and collective action problems.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

eccdog -
I think I can definitely agree with that. Discussion of market failures can at times be crude - some people use them as an excuse to do something they wanted to do anyway for more philosophical reasons. Some people deny them as an excuse not to do something they didn't want to do anyway for more philosophical reasons. But that more or less gets to the heart of it I think.

Mankiw's post is good. I would disagree somewhat with his third bullet point, his fourth bullet point, his fifth bullet point (insofar as he's saying the left doesn't view government that way). But perhaps that's because I'm not really much of a liberal - just often end up defending them - that I'm a little sensitive to those bullet points. Overall it's a great post, and I think a much more thoughtful approach to the question than what Wilkinson provided.

Mommsen writes:

"What was unique to and defining of libertarianism was a disproportionate bias against the state and what I guess I'd describe as an atomized view of the human species: a rejection of the idea that collectives or communities are meaningful units."

Talk about a gross and rather stupid caricature.

What you don't get and perhaps never will get is that liberals have different notions of community means; that it is not coerced, but voluntary in nature. Libertarians quite frankly are rather romantic about the notion of community.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

mommsen - please read my later clarification (before anyone raised this point that you do - it was a legitimate unprompted clarification on my part, not backpedaling of any sort).

Mommsen writes:

"...but they still reject (at least I think they do) the idea of a community as an independent, relevant, unit of agency, standing, etc."

How exactly can a community have agency? Heck, even Marxists do not ascribe agency to a community; they argue that humans have agency within a community.

How can a community be independent of its parts, of the individuals that make it?

As for standing, well, groups of people can having standing, but is always because of some individual harm to the various members of that group.

Mommsen writes:

DK,

And now I have attacked your clarification.

Mommsen writes:

eccdogg,

I think the basic difference between liberals/conservatives and libertarians is that the former a more prone to moral panics. We must stop sprawl! Homosexuality is a sin! Etc.

Randy writes:

"3. Liberals are more confident about social science and technocratic expertise. Libertarians are more confident about decentralized trial-and-error learning."

I like this one, and it explains a positive correlation I've noticed between tech workers and libertarianism. For us, trial and error is a way of life.

Joe writes:

As a card carrying liberal, Arnold doesn't describe me - or anyone I know - very well. Its like he smeared together a bunch of stereotypes that might be valid for some subsection of liberals and treated it as a valid generalization to the whole.

Here's my thoughts . . .

(2) I think most liberals would answer "yes, but . . ." when asked about markets. The reason is that just saying "yes" would be perceived as supporting conservate free-markets always positions, so they need to give a more nuanced answer. (Most conservatives and even libertarians would give "yes, but" if pressed - think applying the market to national defense - but they don't need to qualify their statements because its their side's talking point).

I don't think the failure of the market to promote culture would be very high on most lists - though certainly there are some. The problems most liberals would cite having with unregulated markets are:

(a) They're unfair or promote ripoffs (they promote class perpetuation between generations; pollution externalities; the continued existence of almost all weight loss pills, homeopathy, most herbal remedies, etc).

(b) Markets aren't as good as they're sold as being / conservatives want to use them in the wrong places. (i.e., lack of perfect information, irrationally, failure to truly allocate assets according to their highest valued uses where the highest valued use can't be easily monetized).

(c) Markets don't always take moral imperatives into account.

(3) I think its fair to say that liberals trust technocrats more than libertarians. Liberals do, however, have a tendency to distrust certain facets of government - i.e., use of force most obviously.

(5) I don't think this represents any liberals I know. No one thinks that the government somehow inherently reflects all of our best impulses. Most liberals are suspicious of the government in many respects.

We want society to reflect our best impulses. And government, despite its flaws, can be improved upon and help society to reflect our best impulses more fully. Just look at how the condition of the poor and elderly has changed in the past 100 years. Charity is great, but poses massive holdout problems. Market forces are only somewhat useful, because they're inherently biased towards the people who already have power (i.e., despite claims that markets move assets to their highest valued use, the market would allocate water to a wealthy developer's pool before it would direct it to a parched but penniless pauper).

Mommsen writes:

joe,

"...they promote class perpetuation between generations"

My response is that government does this far better than markets do; markets are, to be frank, disruptive of class, etc. Consider this, could imagine a gay rights movement in a non-market society? There are none to my knowledge; only market societies have them. Indeed, one of the main beefs "liberals" have had about markets since at least the 19th century was about how disruptive of social relations that they are.

"...pollution externalities..."

Much work has shown that prior to the CAA, the CWA, etc. air, water, etc. quality were improving without government interference. The fact that the government interference came with all manner of bootleggers makes that interference problematic.

"the continued existence of almost all weight loss pills, homeopathy, most herbal remedies, etc."

That's called freedom. What, do you think if the FDA banned homeopathy tomorrow that people would stop engaging in it? Sort of like they stopped engaging in the use of marijuana when it was banned?

"...lack of perfect information, irrationally, failure to truly allocate assets according to their highest valued uses where the highest valued use can't be easily monetized..."

So, are you suggesting that government has access to perfect information, is totally rational, and can truly allocate resources to its highest value?

"Liberals do, however, have a tendency to distrust certain facets of government - i.e., use of force most obviously."

Only when that use is against something they perceive as just, etc. This isn't any sort of universal position in other words.

"Just look at how the condition of the poor and elderly has changed in the past 100 years."

The condition of both are better because we are wealthier. Wealth is the direct result of economic freedom.

"...because they're inherently biased towards the people who already have power..."

But the state isn't? In which areas of our lives have we seen more change and more choice since WWII? In what the state does or what the market does? The market has been disruptive of all sorts of sources of power, whereas the state has been far less so.

BZ writes:

I just wanted to say: the comments to econblog are often as interesting and entertaining as the original article. How many places can you say that about?

I'll probably spend the rest of the day hitting refresh in my browser for this thread.

roversaurus writes:

DK, remember saying:


Don't discount the possibility that they DON'T, in fact, view government as playing this role. If it sounds fishy the claim itself might be wrong.

In response to painting "liberals" as people who think:

"The government is where we go to channel compassion, kindness, and community spirit."

If you read Joe, the self identified liberal just above, you will find:

We want society to reflect our best impulses. And government, despite its flaws, can be improved upon and help society to reflect our best impulses more fully.

That's why "libertarians" think "liberals" think that way.

Mommsen writes:

roversaurus,

Excellent observation.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

roversaurus -
Reread Arnold's point 5, where that "channel compassion" point comes from. How is Joe's point here - that government can be a force for good - what Arnold was talking about?

Arnold was suggesting that liberals think that we take all our bad impulses and put them to good use in the market, and that we take our good impulses and channel them to government. Moreover, Arnold suggested that liberals somehow magically forget that the same self-interests and incentives operating in the market also operate in government.

I don't see how any of those accusations of Arnold's are inherent in the simple observation that (1.) we want society to reflect our best impulses, and (2.) the government can do good in the world and can serve good purposes.

You can say those two things and still understand that the same self-interested incentives and rent seeking goes on in government as it does anywhere else. You can say those two things without any illusions that Arnold ascribes to liberals.

What in that perspective of Joe's has anything to do with Arnold's fifth point?


Also - maybe I should make clear (and Joe touched on this too) - I'm not saying that there aren't liberals out there who think these things. What I'm saying is that to the extent that they do, it's not really a function of their liberalism. There's nothing inherent in liberalism that is hostile to markets. There's nothing inherent in liberalism is naive about the pursuit of self-interest in government.

eccdogg writes:

DK, I am still get trying to get at what is inherent to liberalism. What is the essence of liberalism in your view.

Is it communitarianism?

Joe writes:

Rover,

You're misinterpreting me - I thought I explicitly distinguished that issue. The point DK was responding to was arguing, as I read it, is that liberals think that the government does channel happiness and joy and lollypops. Most libs would only say that was partially true. (i.e., it does some good things, but it also does some bad things like invade Iraq or sell out to the financial industry). We think it would be nice if the government did those things, and would like to improve the government so it can and does do those things. But that's a far cry from thinking it currently does do those things. Liberals can be just as jaded as anyone else.

Mommsen,

I was pointing out issues with Arnold's discussion - and don't necessarily hold all the points I raised. I just wanted to give you guys some input from a real liberal.

I have no interest in debating liberalism vs. libertarianism, especially in a forum where I'm outnumbered 20-1. Its not like I'm going to convert people in an ideologically charged forum, even if I were interested in it.

Yancey Ward writes:

Evan,

Every "third way" I have seen in recent history (the last 3 centuries) are simple amalgams of what are now called liberalism and conservatism, but all questing to acquire and exercise the power of the state. Now, there are certainly a fair of number of false libertarians, but true libertarianism has a core principle that can always be used to disguintish.

If I had to summarize the difference between authoritarians and libertarians, it would be like this- the former state, "There should be a law", and the latter ask, "Should there be a law?"

Yancey Ward writes:

Sigh, a forced preview, and I still don't finish the editing correctly.

The core principle of a libertarian is the eschewing of initiation of force.

Mommsen writes:

"Moreover, Arnold suggested that liberals somehow magically forget that the same self-interests and incentives operating in the market also operate in government."

Actually, they do; this in part is why a whole public choice rose up since the 1950s, because there were a whole bunch of naive conclusions about how human beings act in government as opposed to in the market.

"...(1.) we want society to reflect our best impulses..."

We do? That seems rather wrongheaded. I want society to have very high levels of freedom, prosperity, etc. That has very little to do with impulses, motivations, intentions, etc. In fact, I find this notion to be a rather dangerous one.

"...(2.) the government can do good in the world and can serve good purposes."

Markets outclass government in any field that I can think of.

"There's nothing inherent in liberalism that is hostile to markets."

While that may be true in theory, that's not the case in practice. Liberals in government are highly inimical to the free market. One sees this in the comments that President Obama makes about business - he favors the businesses that favor his policies - including boneheaded notions like say the ethanol scam (but hey, it helps Illinois farmers with a massive subsidy!). That is corporatism; and corporatism I would argue, along the lines of Rexford Tugwell, is what liberals in the main favor.

Joe writes:

Eccdogg,

There is no single essence of large groups like liberals or conservatives. Rather, they're collections of ideologies that simply happen to overlap enough in terms of policy (or fail to conflict)that its convenient to create alliances.

Its not like there's a big connection between the Falwell and Norquist branches of conservatism, after all.

Joe writes:

Also, my last post got moderated, so it will be up later, but DK is right - my point has nothing to do with what Rover ascribes to it.

Tom writes:

":Liberals do, however, have a tendency to distrust certain facets of government - i.e., use of force most obviously."

Liberals are very comfortable with the use of force, whether nit be the gov't enforcing its encroaching laws or the Service Union thugs beating up Tea Party protesters.

Bottom line is Libertarians are Liberals or Conservatives who have learned to mind their own business. Its just easier for Conservatives to do so.

eccdogg writes:

I agree Joe

But this

"There's nothing inherent in liberalism that is hostile to markets. There's nothing inherent in liberalism is naive about the pursuit of self-interest in government."

Suggest that there is something that is inherent in liberalism.

Mommsen writes:

Yancey Ward,

"Every "third way" I have seen in recent history (the last 3 centuries)..."

Are you a Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod? ;)

Daniel Kuehn writes:

eccdog -
Classical liberalism has split into various strains through the centuries. I suppose one good way of putting it is that liberalism is the communitarian strain of classical liberalism.

That may not even be a good way of putting it, though. Liberalism isn't as coherent as libertarianism. I don't think it has to be. Almost like talking about "neoconservatism". There are some very specific things you can point to that are "neoconservative", or "socialist" for that matter or "libertarian". Other political philosophies - like "conservatism" or "liberalism" aren't as compact, and I don't think there's any real reason for them to be. But as a general statement I think it's fair to say that contemporary American "liberalism" is the modern communitarian branch of classical or enlightenment liberalism. Sounds like as good a definition as any to me.

Mommsen -
"Actually, they do; this in part is why a whole public choice rose up since the 1950s, because there were a whole bunch of naive conclusions about how human beings act in government as opposed to in the market. "

I hate to break it to you mommsen, but there's no dispute between public choice theory and liberalism. I'm a huge fan of Prof. Buchanan. And interestingly enough, when he began his work he was accused by some of his colleagues of being a leftist.

"Markets outclass government in any field that I can think of."

How about providing universal education? You know from my conversations on Cafe Hayek that I'm not a big fan of many "universal" initiatives. I don't like this push for "universal health care" for example. But I do think universal public education is a worthwhile initiative. Can the market provide universal education? It can provide education - and quite well - but it simply cannot provide universal education. Maybe some day - when that day comes I probably won't be a big fan of public education anymore.

Mommsen writes:

DK,

The state cannot provide universal education right now (which is why so many public schools do their best to cook the books by eliminating problems students from their rosters). And yes, the market can provide universal education currently; after all, it does so in the poorest countries in the world (see "The Beautiful Tree").

Liberalism and public choice: liberal politicians and liberal voters do not act like they understand the findings of public choice theory.

roversaurus writes:

Joe wrote:

Rover,

You're misinterpreting me - I thought I explicitly distinguished that issue. The point DK was responding to was arguing, as I read it, is that liberals think that the government does channel happiness and joy and lollypops. Most libs would only say that was partially true.

I didn't see this before I replied last time.
And I fully appreciate the responses while being outnumbered 20:1. Hopefully you can ignore the namecalling. (Including my own :-)

A.K. did not say that liberals thought government channeled "happiness and joy and lollypops".
You are being tongue in cheek when you write that liberals would only say that was partially true, right?

Finally, how did I misinterpret you?

How does:

We want society to reflect our best impulses. And government, despite its flaws, can be improved upon and help society to reflect our best impulses more fully.

Differ from:

"The government is where we go to channel compassion, kindness, and community spirit."

?

About all I can think of is that you could interpret A.K. as saying liberals think government is the ONLY place to go for that and your statement does not imply it is the only place - Only that it is the place to go to do them "more fully".

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Mommsen -

"The state cannot provide universal education right now (which is why so many public schools do their best to cook the books by eliminating problems students from their rosters). And yes, the market can provide universal education currently; after all, it does so in the poorest countries in the world (see "The Beautiful Tree")."

I'm sorry, but I have to call major BS.

1. I never said the state could provide universal education - I said it's something that the state is closer to achieving than the market.

2. How in the world do Tooley's findings demonstrate that the market can provide universal education? What he found was that markets are very good at providing education - not that they can provide universal education. Guess what - I agree COMPLETELY with Tooley. I attend a private school now, as a matter of fact. Markets are GREAT at providing education, often succeeding in areas where the state inevitably fails. That doesn't mean I'm going to turn to them for universal education. And Tooley doesn't come anywhere close to saying what you're claiming for him.

Quit tilting at windmills - you're disputing arguments I never made and inventing evidence from others that they never provided.

hp writes:

The problem with both liberals and conservatives is that they fail to see the world through a normative lens. Both groups are willing to abandon fundamental principals to correct perceived problems. This leads to absurdities like liberals claiming that a women has the right to an abortion but doesn't have the right to work for less than minimum wage . . . In the end we will all be libertarians, it will just take a long time. People learn very, very slowly . . . .

Steve Roth writes:

Stealing from Retief's comment on Will's post:

"liberals who like markets"- I think those are called "Democrats."

Glen Raphael writes:

"the continued existence of almost all weight loss pills, homeopathy, most herbal remedies, etc."

There is a market demand for drugs that would help with weight loss but the FDA won't allow drugs that have *any* risk of negative effects to be sold for purposes of weight loss, even if the drugs are quite effective and the risk of death is on the order of a being-struck-by-lightning. So time and again somebody invents a weight loss drug that works, it gets popular, so enough people take it that a few weird unexplainable deaths can be attributed to it, and the FDA bans it. This is what happened with fen-phen, ECA/ephedrine, and a few others.

If it weren't for the government we'd already have several weight-loss drugs that work; those are what people would buy. There would be risks, but the expected risks wouldn't be out of proportion with the expected benefit as perceived by consumers. It's only because the government makes all the weight-loss drugs that *work* illegal that what remains for people to buy is weight loss drugs that have *no* risk because they have no benefit - they don't do anything.

In short, if you make effective drugs illegal, the demand for those drugs will be met by relatively ineffective drugs. So is that really a failure of the market or is it yet another failure of regulation?

Mommsen writes:

"I never said the state could provide universal education - I said it's something that the state is closer to achieving than the market."

Re-reading your comment doesn't make that clear to me at all.

"What he found was that markets are very good at providing education - not that they can provide universal education."

Actually, what he found was that the market does a better job of providing education than the state does in the various countries that he studied. Remember, one of the things he purposefully went to look at were the claims by government bureaucrats that private schools do not exist in these countries or that they only help the rich. What he found instead was thriving private schools, doing far better than public schools, being preferred by parents over public schools, etc. I'm not making any of this up; it is in the book.

roversaurus writes:

DK described what he wrote in the past:

1. I never said the state could provide universal education - I said it's something that the state is closer to achieving than the market.

DK wrote this in the past:

How about providing universal education? [...] But I do think universal public education is a worthwhile initiative. Can the market provide universal education? It can provide education - and quite well - but it simply cannot provide universal education.

DK wrote this about the market providing universal education

Can the market provide universal education? It can provide education - and quite well - but it simply cannot provide universal education.

I read that as saying the government can provide universal education and the market can not. You never said that the government gets "closer" to universal education. But you twice stated that the market could not.

That is probably why someone interpreted you as saying "the state could provide universal education" Because you had just written that it was one of things where the market did not out class government.

mulp writes:

"libertarians are liberals who like markets."

That is like saying "libertarians are liberals."

Liberals like markets.

The issue is whether everything can be handled in a market.

I have yet to find someone who describes themselves as a libertarian who calls for ending socialized roads and instead turning all the highways, roads, streets, parking spaces over to private parties who make a profit by charging for the use of the roads in exchange for the payment they made for the land and roads, the maintenance, and the taxes they pay on the property and revenues, just like the railroads. Of course, the government gave the railroads the land plus paid them cash, so logically, the government(s) should just give the road system away to corporations who then profit from them.

After all, every mode of transportation should be provided for in a market, if you think markets are better than taxes and government for everything. Why are roads different than railroads?

As a liberal, I see roads as a public good that can't be left to markets, and I think the railroads are inconsistently held to be different from roads. While rail lines can't be used as freely as roads, I think they should treated much more like roads are, with the taxpayers taking a more active role in them, more like was done in the late 19th century. When Republicans "invented" anti-trust to deal with the railroads who treated the people in a manner like health insurers do today, which Republicans considered unfair exploitation. Democrats at the time did not see farmers as an important constituency and saw the interests of the corporations and their view of markets to justify charging farmers far more to carry a hundred pounds than a corporation. So, as someone without a car, I might agree that a corporation that wanted to charge you $10 every time you drive down your street, while the FedEx delivery truck pays only a $1 (and maybe UPS pays $3), is a reasonable market solution if the goal is maximizing profit without regard to any liberal concept of public good.

Joe writes:

Rover,

My only tongue-in-cheek comment was replacing compassion and kindness with happiness and lollypops.

Daniel pointed out the core of where we're disconnecting. Arnold (and the poster Daniel was responding to) were basically positing that liberals are naifs who believe that we direct our good into government and our evil into markets.

The part about government is an accurate statement about how some liberals would like the world to be ideally. And certainly, we think that government can be moved further in that direction.

However, it was made as a statement about how liberals think the world is. And liberals don't think about government so naively, so the statement is only partially true. (The government does channel compassion and kindness in some respects, after all - think the New Deal and Great Society).

(As for the part about markets, I think the issue is more that liberals see unregulated markets as more difficult to perfect than governments. But its late, so I won't get into that).

Ak Mike writes:

mulp - A couple of minutes and I came up with these libertarian writers who believe in private roads (I'm sure there are plenty more):

Walter Block ("The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors")(Loyola U.)

Eduardo Engel (Yale)

Bart Frazier (Future of Freedom Foundation)

Bruce Benson (Florida State U.)

Les writes:

The very large number of comments has clearly shown the following:

Libertarians are those who understand economics.

Liberals think they understand economics, but are fooling only themselves.

hp writes:

> As a liberal, I see roads as a public good that can't be left to markets

If it got down to a debate over roads and bridges i think that almost all libertarians would be overjoyed. But total government spending in the US is something like 6 trillion dollars (~35% of GDP or ~$20,000 per person!). There is no way that markets are that inefficient.

Tom West writes:

I would say that there are two threads of Libertarianism.

One is what I call the 'Moral Libertarianism', which, to quote Yancey Ward believes the core principle of a libertarian is the eschewing of initiation of force.

I imagine that most moral Libertarians believe that the bulk of the populace would be better off, but that is not actually the point. Even if that wasn't the case (the discoverer of the cure for the plague refuses to sell it), that would not justify the initiation of force.

The second thread is the 'Utilitarian Libertarianism', which tends to be a lot more 'mushy'. For those, the justification for Libertarianism is the belief that the vast majority of people would be better off. In aspects where freedom conflicts substantially with well-being, such a person might easily choose government intervention, being willing to sacrifice some freedom for a great deal of well-being.

I think that Will Wilkinson's observation applies to the second group, and not necessarily to the first.

Similarly, Liberals break down into many groups, so finding generalizations that work for the vast majority are going to be equally difficult.

Doc Merlin writes:

@Contemplationist

It isn't the conservatives banning trans-fats and trying to ban salt from restaurants. The leftists are just as bad as the conservatives when it comes to personal freedoms, and often worse.
When people who want to control your life argue, they just argue about specific policies of how they want to rule your life. They don't argue about broad swaths of control, just very specific ones. Recall that both dems and republicans supported censoring video games; and when the dems and republicans were arguing about the budget in the mid ninties, the difference between them was about 3% of the budget.

Randy writes:

Mulp: "liberal concept of public good"

I don't view the concept of a public good as liberal, but rather, as propaganda. The public good argument is made in support of instances where the political class has discovered an opportunity to exploit. Roads, for example, are neither a "public" nor a "private" good, but simply a good. They were annexed as a monopoly by the political class because they presented an opportunity to obtain something they wanted at the expense of the population.

Joe writes:

For the record, this thread jumped the shark when Doc Merlin cited banning trans fats as a great affront to freedom.

roversaurus writes:

Joe Wrote:

However, it was made as a statement about how liberals think the world is. And liberals don't think about government so naively, so the statement is only partially true. (The government does channel compassion and kindness in some respects, after all - think the New Deal and Great Society).

Now I go back to D.K.

Don't discount the possibility that they DON'T, in fact, view government as playing this role. If it sounds fishy the claim itself might be wrong.

I only pointed out Joe's statement to show D.K. that in FACT liberals DO view government as playing that role. Joe the liberal even states: "it is only partially true" Joe also says "The government does channel compassion and kindness in some respects"

DK, I believe I have demonstrated that you are wrong. Liberals DO view the government as playing that role.

Mommsen writes:

Joe,

Well it is. It is the sort of creeping nannyism that libertarians loathe.

Roger Sweeny writes:

Corey,

It's too bad you don't live where I do. We don't have to wait for the cable installer. I suspect that's because the traditional cable company, the traditional phone company, and the town government all compete for local, long distance, and cable customers.

Traditionally, local governments decided that the public interest required a local monopoly and regulation. I like our way better.

George X writes:

mulp wrote: As a liberal, I see roads as a public good...

Roads are not a public good. While you could argue that at 3:00 AM they're non-rivalrous, most people want to use them at rush hour, which is an almost perfectly rivalrous situation: my thirty-minute trip on I-66 delays n people m minutes each such that n*m is 30. And in any event, they aren't non-excludable: the New Jersey Turnpike, for example, does a very good job of excluding drivers who don't pay.

Don't feel bad; I was ignorant of economics back when I was a liberal, too. (For instance, I didn't realize that "market failure" is not defined as "the market doing something I don't like".)

mulp writes:

George X: What is the toll on the street leading to your home?

If the toll on that street were raised to $10 a trip, what alternatives would you have?

For some people, the street in front of their house is private, with the developer responsible for it, with it then being turned over to the property owners? If the majority of the property owners refused to pay to maintain the street, plowing, paving, fixing culverts, would you o as most such residents do, seek to have the town take over? Or demand everyone pay to fix it? Fix it yourself? Buy an off road vehicle? Get rid of your car and walk everywhere? Move out and take the hit on the lost property value (probably sticking it to the mortgage holder)?

By the way, Gov Jon Corzine proposed raising tolls to fund a separate non-profit which would maintain and improve the road, and implement more congestion pricing, a more market approach, but the NJ residents opposed that market solution, so the improvements to the road depend on taxpayers funding it as a public good. If it were a private enterprise, the tolls would be far higher for sure, which would reduce congestion by diverting traffic to public roads.

mulp writes:

Randy writes: "Roads, for example, are neither a "public" nor a "private" good, but simply a good. They were annexed as a monopoly by the political class because they presented an opportunity to obtain something they wanted at the expense of the population."

Annexed by who??

Can you point to any time in history where the "population" supported private roads, which would presumably be funded by, and operated for profit?

Early in US history, public policy promoted private, for profit toll roads. 240 corporations had built 3700 miles of toll roads in New England by about 1820. But those toll road firms were never supported by the "population" and all eventually went bankrupt. Ever hear the term "shunpike"? After about 1820, roads returned to primarily public funding; if no one will invest in a private toll road corporation because they are certain to be unprofitable, what is the alternative?

Clearly the "population" wanted socialized roads run by the government. And still do.

mulp writes:

hp writes "If it got down to a debate over roads and bridges i think that almost all libertarians would be overjoyed. But total government spending in the US is something like 6 trillion dollars (~35% of GDP or ~$20,000 per person!). There is no way that markets are that inefficient."

I start with roads because they were an issue in colonial times. I find many appeals to antiquity in libertarian/conservative arguments, "the founders never intended....", so I look to history to see what the debate and decisions were circa 1800.

One of the earliest controversial actions was Congress authorizing the construction of what is still known as National Road in 1806. As England had many well established turnpikes at the time which collected tolls and used them to improve the roads, one would expect Congress to instead authorize private firms to build and operate the National Highway, but instead they chose the socialist big government solution.

Passage on roads is clearly something that can be sold as it has a capital asset that must be created which provides economic benefit to users in proportion to use. If are you carting two wagon loads of goods to market each day, the benefit of the road is twice that one just one wagon load.

Education is something that doesn't have as clear a market value. Is the worth of each word learned to read and write equal; can a teacher charge by the word taught? While you can limit your use of toll roads and the tolls paid to only those that provide direct benefit, can you select only the words to learn that provide direct benefit to you?

Roads were socialized government run because that was seen by many as the best way to promote the common interests, a growing economy. The argument to keep the Internet as free as possible to promote economic growth certainly repeats arguments from centuries ago.

Today's technology allows collecting tolls efficiently so the use of roads can be charged for in direct proportion to the amount of usage. Consider E-ZPass. I do find it interesting how E-ZPass was supposed to cut the cost of collecting tolls by eliminating all the lazy overpaid government workers so tolls could go down, but today many see E-ZPass as a conspiracy to make it easier to hike tolls. Toll collecting is now much improved, but the roads don't seem to be, and the battles over funding the toll roads and hiking tolls are just as fierce as ever.

But the upcoming technology involves a GPS based transponder that records all the miles driven and then assesses a toll for that. Germany is implementing that for commercial vehicles and the US Federal government is investigating it as a means to charge for road use given the much higher mileage some vehicles get per gallon of fuel, like the plug-in-hybrids.

So, this would be a good point to auction off leases to private corporations for all the toll collecting and all the highways, roads, and streets with each charging tolls to maintain them.

If roads which have clear utility, costs, and methods of charging for them can't be eliminated as a socialized government run service, how can such things as education be run privately where the utility is so unclear and the method for billing is so unrelated to the utility.

Randy writes:

Mulp,

The people who wanted public roads won, that's for sure - they always do. But what do you say we run a test? Let's allow people to opt out of paying the taxes that support the road network and see what happens. Do you think the people who volunteer to pay will contribute enough to operate the public roads? If not, then can we not conclude that these people are profiting from the decision to force everyone to pay? I.e., that they are exploiting those who have better things to do with their money?

Andrew writes:

Markets aren't "tools." Markets are people.

What makes your idea of how people should operate better than the people themselves? Now, there is a point with externalities and I'd like liberals to limit their ideas to those, even though I don't like their solutions for them and there are far fewer externalities and public goods than liberals appear to me to believe.

And, as technology allows it, you will see far more toll roads. Gas taxes are a variation of toll road. Also, roads aren't really handled nationally. They are mostly created and serviced by states. Once it becomes convenient to put a toll collector on a road, it is no longer non-excludable, which ironically happens the more people use it and can't avoid the tolls (e.g. bridges), as is the case with congestion taxes, which shows they are nont non-rivalrous. Governments often benefit from simply a convenient form of fee collection, so you'd better not make that a tautology for government involvement.

mulp writes:

Ak Mike:

I was thinking of actual real world libertarians.

Like the Tea Party activists who want to cut taxes and make government less intrusive. Who isn't forced to travel on government run socialized roads?

Randy writes:

Good point about technology making roads no longer non-excludeable (RFID is part of what I do for a living), and about the gas tax being a form of toll. But the truth is that roads were never really non-excludeable. It would have been easily possible to collect tolls in much the same way that speed limits are currently enforced - i.e., random enforcement.

PQuincy writes:

What a stimulating pleasure to read this thread -- and I consider myself a liberal. Two points:

1. The original post included the line: "If I shop for a coat, the store is accountable to me." Rather than the philosophical generalizations that dominate the thread, I think this is a lovely concrete case that illustrates what's at stake, and how different perspectives lead to different outcomes. For libertarians, this transaction defines the core: markets involve voluntary transactions with accountability on both sides. For liberals, the response is exactly "yes, but...". If I buy a coat, there is accountability in the sense that I will buy more coats in the future, and if this coat is defective, or if the store refuses to replace it if it's defective, I will not buy another coat there (and will tell everyone the store is a bad place to shop.) And lo,behold: most retail outlets are very flexible about returns and "100% satisfaction." Moreover, the higher priced the store (and the higher the margin), the more flexible they are. At Wal-Mart you have to stand in a pretty long line to exchange your coat; at Nordstrom, they take it right away without questions.

So far, so good.

But the liberal is wont to note: not all market transactions are about coats. The "but" that liberals add to markets has to do with HOW accountability between contracting partners in the market works. Two classic weaknesses of accountability occur with monopolies and insurance.

Providers of goods and services have perfectly rational reasons to seek monopoly (just as large buyers have good reasons for seeking monopsony). But if there is only one store selling coats in 100 miles, then clearly the accountability of the coat-seller is diminished (as experience shows). Libertarians have relatively weak stories to tell about how monopoly is to be avoided without intervention by some other agent (usually called 'the state').

Likewise, sellers of insurance have perfectly rational reasons for excluding those likely to make large claims from the risk pool. There's nothing evil or predatory about this, it's just good business sense. If information were perfect, in fact, insurance would be worthless (except potentially as a way of distributing costs over time). Yet the outcome of this reality is that, lacking intervention by some other agent, insurance tends to have diminishing value as information improves. Auto liability insurance (whether fault-based or no-fault), liberals argue, helps diffuse risk of an inevitable cost and to protect those who did not cause accidents from the potentially high cost of accidents. But without regulation, those most likely to cause accidents will have no insurance, because it will be priced out of their reach, or at least will be priced to be non-cost effective.

(By the way: the deregulation of the 1970s and 1980s led some corporations to develop new methods of deflecting accountability that are hard to describe as anything but predatory, namely information overload and instability. For the first few years of telephone deregulation, prices dropped and quality improved just like good libertarians expected. Then the phone companies learned to change their pricing and offers every few days, and to lard their contracts and conditions with pages and pages of tiny print, to the point that the cost of demanding accountability from them rose high enough to dissuade its exercise. A similar development took place with credit cards: as Elizabeth Warren pointed out on C-SPAN a few days ago, a credit card contract in the late 1970s was usually two pages! I find this a very interesting development).

2. The discussion in this thread also took the fairly predictable turn to "should the government provide roads as a public good." And, not surprisingly, opinions differed. But I think that's not a good case for liberals, even if it poses some difficulties for some libertarians. I would rather pose the question: "should the government provide civil courts as a public good?" Civil courts are where disputes over contracts are settled, and in the liberal model, the rules for settlement are not contained entirely in the contracts, nor chosen voluntarily by the parties, but are a given provided by the state. Is there a libertarian model of courts without government agency? (Note: the current phenomenon of 'arbitration' would seem to be a rather problematic example for libertarians, because the consequences of unequal power in their operation are manifest: one contracting party imposes arbitration as a condition of doing business, and then functions as a classical monopsony with regard to the providers of arbitration, with predictable results).

Hey, the liberals here may still be outnumbered, but now it's only 19-1 !

J.H. Bowden writes:

Thats as good as saying "Libertarians are conservatives who like personal freedoms"

I disagree. Liberals and libertarians believe man is born good, and institutions make him bad. They only differ on the boogeyman-- for liberals it is the corporations, for libertarians it is the government.

We conservatives believe men are innately inclined toward evil, and institutions make us somewhat good. This is why liberals/libertarians don't understand war, or crime, or immigration, or family, or related issues. A liberal/libertarian sees the world as an irrational place that can be fixed simply by being rational. A conservative in contrast believes in necessary evils to avoid greater evils.

roversaurus writes:

PQuincy

Your point #1 is weak. Libertarians completely understand that there are many facets to voluntary transactions and the examples and research concerning monopolies falls strongly on the libertarian side. i.e It takes government force to create and sustain monopolies in the REAL world.

Your point #2 is remarkably strong. Why argue roads when you can argue courts and the military. Make the libertarian decide if he is willing to abide by any forced taxation at all, or not, before you debate him.

The other strong (but in the end failed) argument is to attack the libertarian with the whole social contract junk.

roversaurus writes:

J.H. Bowden writes:

I disagree. Liberals and libertarians believe man is born good, and institutions make him bad.

You're simply making stuff up.

The core of libertarianism is "opposition to the initiation of force or fraud".

There is nothing that requires innate goodness or badness in that.

What would make you come up with such a statement?

Chris Koresko writes:

I'd like to point out something that seems to have confused many or most of the libertarians and liberals here.

More than once here, and many times elsewhere, I have read the comment that conservatives are just as likely as liberals to infringe on personal liberty, they just do it in different areas. Sometimes people talk about conservative support for restrictions on recreational drugs or flag-burning, and they have a point. But usually the example given to support this idea is that conservatives oppose gay marriage.

I'm going to call baloney on that.

When the state considers a couple to be married, the state demands that private individuals and groups treat the couple as married. It uses coercion to force those others to recognize the marriage.

The gay marriage issue is really a question of whether or not the state should coerce private individuals and groups into treating homosexual couples as married. Opposition to gay marriage amounts to answering “no” to this proposed coercion.

It is ironic that while many (most?) conservatives answer “no”, many (most?) Libertarians seem to answer “yes” .

eccdogg writes:

Most libertarians I know think the state should not be involved in marriage at all outside of enforcing the contract between two people and should be totally blind as to whether a person is married or not.

Techno-Codpiece writes:

1.
Selling my labor is not a voluntary exchange. I either have to sell my labor to the nearest highest bidder or starve. if the nearest highest bidder employs me to do dangerous demeaning work for just enough money to meet my minimum daily nutrition then how am I free?

2.
The coat store is NOT accountable to you. Once you bought the coat they don't ever have to sell to you again or accept returns. The only person they are responsible to only what they can get away with. They only have to fit prices to overall trends and production cost. YOU are HELPLESS against them, you have no effect.

Now what if instead of coats we were talking about pollution, or child labor, or cigarettes, or unsafe autos? where the company can put it's vast fortune at work to discredit it's accusers, drown out competing advertisers, and buy off public officials (or DRO officials or mercenary cops or whatever guise the state takes in one's preferred libertarian utopia).

3.
Market competition is predatory social darwinism where the strong survive and the weak die. Except the market kills the good and just and righteous indiscriminately with everyone else who does not have the means or bloodlust to compete. The poor become a massive exploited underclass while the wealthy elite control the vast majority or resources and we are right back to feudalism.

In short:
In markets might makes right & Hobbes was right.

J.H. Bowden writes:

What would make you come up with such a statement?

Well, for one, as a conservative, I believe in coercion. I believe in military coercion, economic coercion, and cultural coercion.

If you want to define coercion as evil, you're only making my point that liberals and libertarians see society (corporations or government) as the enemy, and the self-determining individual as the hero.

Ultimately liberalism in English-speaking societies is a German import-- treat people as ends, and never as a means only. The real is the rational, and the rational is the real. Etc. But if we're rationally self-determining, it follows that none of us have chosen the nations that exist, the family structure, our historical and strategic position, the corporations that exist, and so forth. As a result, liberals and libertarians believe we have the ahistorical, eternal right to sweep all of this stuff away and start anew, in the name of non-coercion, of course. This Cartesian view is what Michael Oakeshott calls rationalism in politics. Or what Thomas Sowell calls the vision of the anointed. Or what Voegelin calls modern gnosticism. Or what Leo Strauss would call retail sanity, and wholesale madness.

A conservative realizes that men are creatures of habit, imagination, passion, ritual, convention-- of course none of us choose where we are born, or what our first language is, or our economic starting position, or the religion of our society. We're coerced into this without any input. On top of it, not all social conventions are created equally. A conservative believes just because we don't like something doesn't mean we ought to change it, since all of the alternatives may be worse. We believe in necessary evils.

The homo economicus taken to its logical conclusion will relativize all ideas of a free society. No human being is illegal! If we would just talk to insane religious fundamentalists, we can find the root causes why they want to destroy us. We just need even more education to fight crime. We can kill our children because we have a right to privacy. These banalities would be humorous if they weren't so prevalent.

The libertarians are sillier than the liberals, since they don't see how social breakdown leads directly to more clamoring for government benefits. A single mother will inevitably rationalize that the government "should" pay for her child's healthcare. Of course, these people are just being irrational, and if they would be rational, problem solved! How easy!

As Aristotle once implied by his remark that men are political animals, how we're indoctrinated plays a dominant role how society develops. But liberals and libertarians are like parents who try to reason in the grocery store with their child as it tears the place up. It isn't a homo economicus, it is an animal, a product of evolution, that needs to be trained and conditioned.

Liberals and libertarians don't see a telos in our society, a transcendent order-- rather, they start with our feelings, and believe society ought to conform to our wishes, rather than the other way around. They're both tragically destined never to realize their visions, because they haven't asked themselves, what is man? A writer such as Dostoyevsky is far more helpful in this respect than Smith.

Loof writes:

Liberals like markets and want to regulate what they dislike about the marketplace too much. Libertarians love markets and desire to deregulate what they hate about the marketplace too much.

Ross Parker writes:

This post is interesting. Today I tried to write the basis of my beliefs in as short a space as possible (for my bio page on my blog). I consider myself a libertarian, as is perhaps obvious from the below:

Philosophically I am highly individualist, objective and rational. I apply rationality to my primary aim, the pursuit of pleasure, although I have an unusually low discount rate. In others, I value honesty and candour. I despise collectivism, due to the contraints it puts on human thought and its tendency towards generating tribal conflict. I doubt the sincerity of those who act against their apparent incentives, which I treat as an indication of undisclosed incentives rather than virtue. For these reasons, I value the entry of market-based systems in most areas of life and society.

I can think of a few ways in which this would differ from what a liberal might write, but also some ways (e.g. the pursuit of happiness) that may be the same.

Chris D writes:

The insistence that markets provide accountability for corporations better than government does is one reason libertarians can't get a fair hearing: it's one of several views that are absurd on their face. (Even if you have a more nuanced view of this, the majority of libertarians do not.)

Corporations and their employees are generously rewarded for doing any illegal/immoral/unethical thing that improves their bottom line, regardless of whether it promotes innovation or promotes human well-being. Accountability to government is usually a joke due to the wholesale corruption of the system, but at least there's a pretense in that case.

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