Alberto Mingardi  

DeMuth on Obamacare

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Chris DeMuth has an excellent article on Obamacare in the last issue of The Weekly Standard. DeMuth points out that the new American mandatory insurance system has shortcomings that are not necessarily related to the idea of mandatory insurance - as instead with the bureaucratic superfetations of such a system engendered by the way the US Administration has planned it.
DeMuth argues that liberals should dislike Obamacare as much as conservatives do. Obamacare, according to DeMuth, creates an extensive and arbitrary bureaucracy, which considers "the dignity and autonomy of the individual--central liberal concerns" as "secondary matters" and doesn't score well insofar as fairness is concerned.
He maintains that:

Obamacare does (...) appear to include one form of systematic redistribution--from young adults to older people. This is regressive on the whole, because older people are wealthier, and it piles onto the already enormous intergenerational transfers of Medicare and Social Security. Taken together, these transfers are demographically unsustainable in the near term and bound to collapse.

The article can be read here. De Muth provides some interesting information also on Obamacare's legislative history:
The penultimate version of the Affordable Care Act established a government insurance carrier as an optional alternative to private insurance. Proponents calculated (privately, in the Democratic caucuses) that commercial firms, bound to actuarial and financial standards, would be unable to comply with the statute's requirements without widespread policy cancellations and dramatic rate increases, and that the public would blame the firms rather than the government. The government carrier would then step in to save the day from the greedy private insurers, thereby bringing "single-payer" medicine to the United States that could not be enacted forthrightly.
But in the legislative end-game, Senator Joe Lieberman--a thoroughgoing liberal in domestic policy although a neoconservative in foreign policy--held the decisive vote, and he insisted that the government insurance feature be dropped. But for that step, Obamacare's troubles would today be leading smoothly to the expansion of direct federal health insurance to pick up millions of canceled policies and undercut rate increases on terms no private firm could match.

In a digression over Hayek and healthcare, DeMuth fairly summarises the attitude of the great Austrian on healthcare and the welfare state:
Friedrich Hayek explained more than 50 years ago (in The Constitution of Liberty) that the welfare state does not require, and should renounce, exclusive monopoly provision by the government itself. Hayek was a classical liberal --he rejected both "libertarian" and "conservative"--but his approach to health care for the poor, retirees, and those in chronic ill health was strikingly like that of today's conservative reformers. Guarantee equal, continuous access through financial support and legal rules (and if necessary even an individual insurance mandate!)-- but avoid the stultifying effects of government monopoly, and let recipients reap the same benefits of competitive supply, variety, and freedom of entry and experimentation that prevail in the rest of the economy.
Obamacare is not an outright government monopoly, but it achieves the same dreary results through standardization and regimentation. It establishes a profusion of regulatory controls over prices, entry, and services in insurance and medical care, policies whose systematic anticonsumer perversities have been documented by generations of economists of all political persuasions.

This reminded me of a "prophecy" in Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty:
though socialism has been generally abandoned as a goal to be deliberately striven for, it is by no means certain that we shall not still establish it, albeit unintentionally. The reformers who confine themselves to whatever methods appear to be the most effective for their particular purposes and pay no attention to what is necessary to preserve an effective market mechanism are likely to be led to impose more and more social control over economic decisions (though private property may be preserved in name) until we get that very system of central planning which few now consciously wish to see established.


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COMMENTS (46 to date)
Curtis writes:

Cool piece. I dislike Obamacare because it doesn't go far enough. I'd love to see a single-payer system.

However, I'd also love to see what Hayek would have lent to the discussion over the past 10 years. I think a lot of the right-leaning politicians passed the buck on joining in the conversation about how this bill should be designed.

The end, affordable healthcare for all, is more important than the means.

Don Boudreaux writes:

Curtis:

You (like many people) advocate "affordable health care for all." I've a serious question: can you explain what that means? At one extreme, everyone in America can afford Band-Aids; at the other extreme, very few people in America can afford their own private hospital staffed only by Nobel-Prize winners in medicine and the top graduates of Harvard and Johns Hopkins medical schools.

Ability to afford the latter is better - it will render to the person who has it better medical care - than is ability to afford only Band-Aids. But most Americans can afford some level of health-care in between these two extremes. What is the level that you believe should be affordable to all? And what criteria do you use to determine this level?

Three related questions: Suppose that your preferred level is somehow attained:

(1) Is the cost of attaining this level relevant? That is, is it possible that, while that level of medical care can be supplied to everyone, what is given up on other fronts (e.g., less leisure for workers, less-safe automobiles, less-interesting meals at restaurants, smaller-sized homes) is too great to justify the continuing provision of your preferred level of medical care?

(2) Because the likes of Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, being very wealthy, will be able to afford even better medical care than the level that you regard as appropriate for everyone, will you wish to prevent Messrs. Gates, Clinton, and other wealthy Americans from consuming a level of medical care above and beyond your preferred level?

(3) If your answer to the question immediately above is no - that is, if you would not wish to prevent the likes of Gates and Clinton from choosing to spend their money to obtain for themselves and their loved ones levels of medical care superior to that which is "affordable to all" - then not all health care will be affordable to all. Will that reality bother you? Do you think that that reality justifies government intervention?

Craig writes:

I didn't read the full article but it appears that DeMuth avoids discussing the subsidies present in Obamacare. The wealth transfer from young to old might not be as severe if the old are funding the subsidies for the young.

However I do disagree with Curtis. The end, affordable healthcare for all, is not more important than the means. The destruction of liberty required by a single payer system is not worth it.

Randy writes:

"Affordable" is the new "Social". That is, they really should have called it the "Social Care Act".

The rationale for the ACA is the same as the rationale for Social Security, i.e., that young working people have a duty to provide for older people (and anyone else who can establish a claim of need). Using the word "Affordable" instead of "Social" sets the program up for failure, because the word "affordable" clearly does not mean the same thing to those who are subject to the mandate as it does to those who imposed the mandate.

JezMyOpinion writes:

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Curtis writes:

@Don

Those are important questions. I think everyone can agree that there is a level of health care that is necessity and another that is luxury. It may be difficult to agree on exactly where that line is, but it certainly exists. The fact that it is difficult to agree upon should not, however, prohibit necessary health care from being provided.

The extremes are easy to divine. Should a pregnant woman give birth in a hospital and leave with a $50,000 bill? No. Should someone receive subsidized health care for Latisse? No.

Curtis writes:

@Craig

A means that results in "destruction of liberty" would be a means that should be rejected. That does not change the fact that the end, affordable health care for all, is the priority. I suppose my original statement could use clarification though.

I would challenge the phrase "destruction of liberty," though. If someone dies because they can't afford health care that would allow them to live, that is itself a destruction of their liberty to live. Let's not define "liberty" as solely freedom from bodily harm and protection of property rights.

dave smith writes:

Curtis: how can you possibly separate the ends from the means? We live in s world where process is important.

And, even if you could, separate the ends from the means how could you want to? If you think that "affordable" (what ever that means, see Don's post)care is a goal that supersedes any concern over how it is achieved, would you be in favor of having doctors work for free at gunpoint? Then healthcare would be cheap (at least in an accounting sense).

Curtis writes:

I think imagining absurd ways of providing affordable health care for all does nothing to refute my argument. How about imagining reasonable means of attaining the end and leaving the absurd ones for another day?

Don Boudreaux writes:

Curtis,

With respect, your answer doesn't work.

First, why should there be one level of health care that everyone regards as a "necessity"? Health care is not a public good requiring for its provision that everyone accept whatever level happens to be supplied. I can consume one level of health care that I regard as appropriate while you consume another level. There is nothing that dictates that my choice would be better for you, or your choice better for me. Moreover, in the absence of government provision of health care, you are free to consume your preferred level while I am free to consume my different preferred level.

So it's not that it is practically difficult to agree on the "necessary" level. Instead, such a level, in principle, does not exist. (Or, more specifically, as long as people have different tastes, risk preferences, incomes, and expectations, no such level exists in principle.)

Second, you cannot, therefore, legitimately speak of "necessary health care" as if that is some objective fact. It is not. Speaking of it as if it is an objective fact rigs the argument. (I do not in any way mean to suggest an intention on your part to rig the argument.) One of the fundamental objections to government involvement in health care is that such involvement risks the establishment of some one level of care as "necessary," when, in fact, different people have different demands for health care. That one level - enforced by government - then becomes some sort of standard, as inappropriate as a standard for each of millions of different people as it likely to become insufficiently inflexible.

Curtis writes:

@Don

Your argument is fallacious. Just because there isn't a shared or universalized level of necessary health care doesn't mean it doesn't exist. That's a non sequitur. A necessary level of health care is unique to each person. Obviously, not everyone has the same illnesses and conditions so they also don't have the same health care needs. Again, the counters to my point seem to be based on absurdity. What gives?

Craig writes:
Curtis writes:

If someone dies because they can't afford health care that would allow them to live, that is itself a destruction of their liberty to live. Let's not define "liberty" as solely freedom from bodily harm and protection of property rights.

I disagree. The destruction of someone's liberty to live does not involve affordable healthcare (I suppose if the cost is arbitrarily inflated with the intent of causing bodily, I could get behind it). The destruction of liberty to live is more closely aligned with a healthcare provider being forced with the threat of violence to provide care at an "affordable rate". Or with a citizen, forced to pay for such care with a threat of violence.

Mark Brophy writes:

Joe Lieberman is my hero! Without him, the government would control 100% of the healthcare industry rather than 50%!

John Csekitz writes:

Curtis,
In a single payer system who determines what the costs are and should be? Should the costs be reflective of the resource, capital, provider, and production costs or the voter’s preference? If American jobs were lost to bring down costs by bringing in out of country providers (cheap labor) to care for US citizens, is that acceptable? If single payer is an efficient alternative do you support single payer for food? Clothing? Consumer Electronics? Cell Phone Carriers? If not, why? What makes them different?

You ask “Should a pregnant woman give birth in a hospital and leave with a $50,000 bill?” I reply, how should I know; I do not know her circumstances and information specific to her- what procedures were used, what were the costs associated with complications, capital costs, education costs, specialist costs, utility costs…etc., and of course what she wanted or could spend.
Should you pay $50,000 for a car when you can purchase one for $5k? The questions are the same: decisions based on information and realities specific to the person best able to make the decision.

Dave Smith was stating Economic reality; A Doctor’s right to their specialized labor will be in conflict with your right to healthcare when voluntary interaction is replaced with Government legislation, the only question is to what degree. “If someone dies because they can't afford health care that would allow them to live, that is itself a destruction of their liberty to live.” Yes and single payer will not change that “your liberty to live” and mine will be subject to economic restraints. Your proposal merely moves the decision making process from you and me to your assigned. We have the ability to keep people alive a long time if cost is no option. Scarcity is reality.

Pajser writes:

Price and performance of Cuban health system should falsify the claims that state organized health systems are necessarily inefficient.

Curtis is right that reasonable state system allow more care (and freedom) for those on the bottom of the society than market can do. Boudreaux is right that it is not obvious what is necessary health care. In state organized healthy system, that is decided by political means. The treatment of those who can afford better care depends on the level of egalitarianism in society. I think, more egalitarian, better it is. Some average will of the people has to be accepted.

At some point, medical care has to be denied because of lack of resources. I don't think that market can make such decision better than government. If there is limited number of organs for transplantation, the market treats wealthier patients and the government treats younger patients.


Let's try making a syllogism out of Curtis's argument:

Major Premise: Some health care is a necessity
Minor Premise: We can't define which health care that is
Conclusion: We can't prohibit necessary health care

Seems to lack a little logical rigor.

Dan W. writes:

@Don,

Your framing of the question of "single payer healthcare" is one of the best I have ever read.

@Curtis,
I do not doubt the government can legislate everyone is on Medicare. What the government cannot do is legislate a sufficient number of doctors and nurses to provide all this "free" or "inexpensive" medical care. Consider that the government could pass a law mandating everyone gets a free oil change on Christmas day. How many people do you think will actually get a free oil change? Oh, people may line up at Jiffy-Lube but there is no free oil change if no mechanic shows up to do it!

So what happens if an enterprising Jiffy-Lube proprietor decides to offer people a $20 oil change? Some will not take it, as they wanted a free one, but some will as they are already at Jiffy Lube! Should the government throw this proprietor in jail because he sold people an oil change when the government said they should be free?

As Don explains, Bill Gates is going to pay for his oil changes and he will pay for the best doctors he can find and he will do this regardless of how Socialists want medical care to work.

Curtis writes:

Having visited Cuba numerous times over about 10 years (relax -- not for economics, but for music), I can't completely get behind Pejser's argument. I've seen videos and photos of "hospitals" in Cuba to know that we shouldn't copy and paste their system even if it WERE possible politically. But certainly there are systems more acceptable to us than Cuba's (Canada? UK?).

@Patrick
You are leaving out the importance of civil discourse.

vikingvista writes:

Curtis,

"I'd love to see a single-payer system."

And why not? As "single payer" advocates have been telling us for years, a forcefully imposed ban on competition in health care financing has the following obvious benefits:

1. Saves on the duplication of services.

2. Saves though economies of scale.

3. Saves on supply prices by negotiating from a position of strength.

4. Saves on the expense of marketing.

5. Saves on the expense of profits.

6. Saves on administrative overhead.

7. Allows the smartest ideas and smartest managers to rise to the top to benefit everyone rather than just customers of a particular firm.

8. Increases firm stability because of its large size.

9. Directs decision making more toward customer care and away from profit-making, shareholder interests, and competitive wrangling.

10. Provides a larger pool whereby to redistribute resources among customers.


Of course, there is nothing unique to health care in these defenses. These defenses are applicable to any monopoly. And yet, hasn't two centuries of economics theory, and countless tragic empirical observations, clearly explained why these arguments in defense of imposed monopoly fail? Using only what economics you currently know, can you not easily explain why at least most of these arguments are mistaken?

And that doesn't even begin to answer the question of why two people negotiating a voluntary trade in health care provision or financing for themselves could ever possibly deserve to have violent police action directed against them.

Anthony Deluca writes:

I am not sure why some people believe most self described "liberals" consider "the dignity and autonomy of the individual" to be central liberal concerns.

Most liberals in the USA seem concerned almost entirely with groups (racial, economic classes, women, LBGT etc) not individuals.

@Patrick You are leaving out the importance of civil discourse.

How would you suggest that be incorporated into the syllogism to improve its logic?

lowcountryjoe writes:

I, too, favor a single payer system -- the person receiving the health services IS that single payer [and if they have an insurance policy, they seek reimbursement for covered services].

Pajser writes:
"I disagree. The destruction of someone's liberty to live does not involve affordable healthcare ... " - Craig
Poor man reaches for the drug or equipment he wants to use - and he is prevented from acting. It is reduction of freedom. One might argue that it is justified reduction of freedom, and it is complicated issue, but reduction of freedom it is.
The destruction of liberty to live is more closely aligned with a healthcare provider being forced with the threat of violence to provide care at an "affordable rate." - Craig
Healthcare provider can leave his office and never return. It is not how people forced to do something can act. Other word is needed here.
Pajser writes:
"And yet, hasn't two centuries of economics theory, and countless tragic empirical observations, clearly explained why these arguments in defense of imposed monopoly fail? Using only what economics you currently know, can you not easily explain why at least most of these arguments are mistaken? " -vikingvista
There are the cases that imposed monopoly doesn't fail. Relevant example is given, Cuban health system. I think that state monopoly fails only if top management have "perverted incentives". It frequently happens, but it is not logical necessity.
"And that doesn't even begin to answer the question of why two people negotiating a voluntary trade in health care provision or financing for themselves could ever possibly deserve to have violent police action directed against them." - vikingvista
Utilitarian reasons. If there is one medical doctor and two emergency cases, and elder is wealthier than child - then elder will live and child will die. This is bad outcome, and it is smart to construct the system that ensures that child will survive. Not extra violence is needed for that, only redistribution of the property. One might dislike "only" but essentially, property is violence, redistribution isn't.
vikingvista writes:

"Poor man reaches for the drug or equipment he wants to use - and he is prevented from acting. It is reduction of freedom."

Vicious man swings an ax at stranger's head--and he is prevented by stranger's block from acting. It is reduction of the vicious man's freedom.

Space enthusiast tries to jump to the moon--and he is prevented by gravity. It is reduction of the enthusiast's freedom.

Pulling "freedom" out of context doesn't advance any argument. Nobody here is talking about freedom from the laws of physics or logic, or freedom to infringe upon others' freedoms. The freedom to choose to obey the demands of others involves no such fantasy or necessary contradiction.

At some point, such obfuscation should give way to an admission that your moral code involves a rather low threshold for indiscriminately utilizing violence to force peaceful innocent nonviolent but disagreeing strangers to do what you want them to do.

Don Boudreaux writes:

Pajser: Am I correct in understanding that you offer Cuba's current health-care system as an example of a successful government-imposed monopoly?

Don Boudreaux writes:

Pajser:

In case I did understand you correctly as praising the success of Cuba's health-care system, here's just one observation from a report five years ago in the Wall Street Journal:

"Cuba's health-care system is in the same boat [as its education system]: universal access but very poor quality. Cuban doctors are considered well trained by Latin American standards. Foreigners who come to the island for treatment pay cash and suffer no lack of medicines, but ask any Cuban who has set foot in a hospital and he or she will tell you there are severe shortages of medicines and equipment; hospital patients often have to bring their own sheets. In operating rooms, sutures are in short supply and anesthesia is scarce."

Pajser writes:

Boudreaux, yes, I think in terms of prices and performances. USA is 5× wealthier with 15-20× higher medical expenses, both per capita. US embargo doesn't help. However, Cuba has equal or better life expectancy, child mortality, hospital beds, tuberculosis cured (last two better than Sweden and Singapore), children immunization. They must cut some corners, but it looks impressive to me.

enoriverbend writes:

@Pajser,

You seem to be taking Cuban health statistics at face value. But Cuba has different reporting methods than the US which leads to misunderstanding comparative values.

It is much more common in Cuba to abort fetuses with detected problems. Cuban doctors also will not usually report a live birth (in the statistics) if the child dies within hours of delivery. These two things alone drastically improve the appearance of Cuban child mortality and life expectancy. And there are other similar ways in which Cuban health statistics are inflated.

Every cross-country comparison runs into these kinds of data problems, of course, but a US-Cuba comparison has many more of them.

If you would like a even-handed look at these kinds of issues in Cuba, I found this paper thoughtful and educational:
http://www.ascecuba.org/publications/proceedings/volume21/pdfs/stusser.pdf

James writes:

Curtis: In response to Don, you wrote "Just because there isn't a shared or universalized level of necessary health care doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

Actually, if there isn't a fill_in_the_blank, then that really does mean that a fill_in_the_blank does not exist. Necessarily, as a matter of logic.

As a matter of policy selection, "affordable health care for all" is not even a coherent goal unless you first articulate a level of health care that ought to be affordable to all. If your goal varies from one person to the next, that's a problem but it's your problem.

vikingvista writes:

Pajser,


“There are the cases that imposed monopoly doesn't fail.”

You misread my comment. I said that those 10 *arguments* in favor of monopoly fail. Whether or not an actual monopoly fails is a matter of what you mean by the failure of a system. The North Korean state may very well be the most pervasive monopoly the world has ever known, and it has lasted a long time. Is it a failure, or success?

“If there is one medical doctor and two emergency cases, and elder is wealthier than child - then elder will live and child will die.”

How do you know?

“This is bad outcome,”

For who, specifically? The elder? Does it occur to you that you are not the only human being with his own values? Civility is not imposing your values upon others. Civility is recognizing that each person has her own values, and seeking voluntary arrangements that accommodate that fact.

“it is smart to construct the system”

“Construct the system”? Please stop hiding behind euphemisms. What you mean to say, is that it is smart to assemble enough muscle to violently impose your desired outcome upon the rest of the population--counterarguments be damned.

“Not extra violence is needed for that, only redistribution of the property.”

Property is easily acquired by peaceful means. It is known as “production” or “trade”. Taking said property away from her owner against her will requires an act of violence. Involuntary redistribution is, of course, violence.

“...essentially, property is violence, redistribution isn't.”

Property is ubiquitous, inescapable, and is readily amassed without a hint of violence. Redistribution can be achieved without violence (free markets do it all the time). But try to accomplish redistribution as YOU imagine it without a violent apparatus in place to strong-arm it upon the unwilling.

Don Boudreaux writes:

Pajser,

Having to bring one's own bed sheets to a hospital in Cuba strikes me as a bit more serious than "cutting corners."

You think that Cuba's health-care system "looks good"; I think it looks awful. I confess, though, that I've never been to Cuba, so I have no first-hand experience. (Have you been? Perhaps so.) But Canada's National Post, in this report from (I think) 2007 has several credible first-hand accounts of health-care in Cuba. The picture is ugly. Here are the closing lines of the report:

" "We have nothing," said Jasmin, a nurse who lives in Moron.

"I haven't seen Aspirin in a Cuban store here for more than a year. If you have any pills in your purse, I'll take them. Even if they have passed their expiry date." "

Greg G writes:

vv,

--"Property is ubiquitous, inescapable and is readily amassed…"

This is true enough for you and me. It is not true for a child or a disabled person or a person who has had the misfortune to outlive all her relatives, and has spent a life savings caring for them as they died, to cite just a few examples of where it fails as a foundational principle.

Monopoly is usually a bad idea for the reasons you are very good at articulating. But usually is not the same as always. Market solutions do not work for some things. National nuclear defense and large urban water and sewer systems for example.

In my opinion, healthcare is somewhere in between. Much of our healthcare system would benefit from more competition and more transparent pricing. But the number of hospitals it makes sense for the average accident or heart attack victim to "shop for" will always be close to one.

Some level of basic healthcare should be available to everyone. But Don's concerns need to be addressed. It is certainly unfair to tell a person who is paying for all of his own healthcare (and some of the healthcare of people he doesn't even know), that he cannot purchase additional healthcare with his own money. We agree on that much at least.

There is a strange inconsistency in your position. You seem to feel that people who think they are entitled to a solution to the problem of healthcare beyond what is provided by the market are guilty of feeling over entitled.

But you seem to feel entitled to a solution to the problem of government that the world has never provided. I would not be inclined to expect more options from the market than from the world.

Pajser writes:

"Property is ubiquitous, inescapable, and is readily amassed without a hint of violence." - vikingvista

It seems that you do not look deep enough in nature of the property. The fact that John has property, say beach, means that John has the right to prevent other people from using that beach, and that he threats by use of physical force against them.

Do you see how property itself is reduction of the freedom of other people by violent means?

Greg G writes:

vv,

A few comments above you do a good job of explaining to Pajser why pulling words out of context and using them in a different sense than most other English speakers do "doesn't advance any argument."

Word meanings are conventions established through a bottom up emergent process. Individuals are, and should be, free to violate these conventions but they do so at the cost of, as you say, failing to advance their argument.

So it is ironic that you conclude with this:

--"At some point, such obfuscation should give way to an admission that your moral code involves a rather low threshold for indiscriminately utilizing violence to force peaceful innocent nonviolent but disagreeing strangers to do what you want them to do."

It is my understanding that you feel that describes any government taxation of unwilling citizens. But most English speakers would say that requiring something by passing and enforcing legislation in a constitutional democracy is not an indiscriminate form of violent coercion. It is very discriminating and it very rarely comes to any kind of violence.

I understand that you disagree with them but don't you see that you are also using a word meaning pulled out of context in a way that also fails to advance your argument?

vikingvista writes:

Pajser,

“The fact that John has property, say beach, means that John has the right to prevent other people from using that beach, and that he threats by use of physical force against them.”

So you think that if Bill attempts to push John off the parcel of beach John is standing upon, that John is the violent one?

Recall, you are making a statement about the nature of property itself, not merely an assertion that violence can be seen with *some* property acquisitions. Perhaps you can explain your theory with another example:

Wandering in the unclaimed wilderness, John strips off a tree branch and uses it as a walking stick. Clearly he possesses property, and there has been no possibility of violence, since John is quite alone and there is no other claim to his stick. Already it would seem your theory is disproved. Now, you encounter John in the wilderness and, against John’s will, you wish to redistribute John’s walking stick to Bill. Please explain how you accomplish that redistribution without introducing violence into a nonviolent situation. It is the redistribution that is violent, not the property.

“Do you see how property itself is reduction of the freedom of other people by violent means?”

Do you see how a woman’s resistance is reduction of the the freedom of a rapist by violent means?

Sorry, I didn’t see your claim when I read Proudhon, and I don’t see it with your example. Can property be acquired by violent means? Of course, criminals and state institutions do it all the time. Can man exist without property? It can’t be imagined, no matter how voluminous the incoherent writings of communists or mutualists. Can property be accumulated and redistributed without violence? It frequently is--to the extent markets are free.

vikingvista writes:

Greg G,

“It is my understanding that you feel that describes any government taxation of unwilling citizens.”

Yes. It is true of any form of taxation, by definition.

“But most English speakers would say that requiring something by passing and enforcing legislation in a constitutional democracy is not an indiscriminate form of violent coercion. It is very discriminating and it very rarely comes to any kind of violence.”

Calling plums “grapefruit” doesn’t make them so, no matter how often it happens. Taxation, and any imposed behavior against the unwilling, by definition requires violence. The very purpose of state-imposed rules is to coerce the unwilling. Voluntary institutions are perfectly capable of organizing the willing. Remove the violence, and nobody is going to care what you demand of him, since he will follow his own judgement. Dismantle the entire violent apparatus of the state and any remaining threats will be ineffective. Remove the threats altogether, along with the means of violent enforcement, and you have just another voluntary market institution. Most civilized people can agree that defensive violence against the violent is appropriate. But advocates of state-imposed social change have a much MUCH lower threshold for using violence as a tool to achieve their ends.

Of course, there are always those who will say something like, “but few people are shot, beaten, or manhandled by government agents for violating the rules that agents of state institutions impose upon them, in particular since most people obey the state. So how can you say there is violence in those cases?” Such people can be taken just as seriously as a person who claims that a mugging at gunpoint, where the trigger is never pulled, is nonviolent.

It is indiscriminating, in the sense that there is no individual due process. Some advocates of state violence claim that citizens somehow have agreed to the terms of the state. However, no attempt is made to explicitly identify any individual’s agreement, and legislation rarely allows for disagreement. Some advocates of state violence claim that some citizens owe other citizens or the state, or are deserving of burdensome laws or taxation, and yet, no attempt at due process to establish guilt for those individuals, or anything other than recognition of the fact they possess an amount to be extorted, or are involved in an industry to be regulated, is ever attempted. That is, it is punishment without due process.

In short, state violence is justified as an obligation of the unwilling citizen, but there is no regard for establishing the validity of any individual’s supposed obligation or for discriminating those for whom the obligation is true from those for whom it is not.

vikingvista writes:

Greg G,

ME: "Property is ubiquitous, inescapable and is readily amassed…"
DU: “This is true enough for you and me. It is not true for a child or a disabled person or ...”

You are misunderstanding. It is not a statement about relative wealth among people. I wrote that in response to a person making an incorrect *general* statement about the nature of property itself. In fact, what I said is true for any entity that purposefully interacts with the world. I promise you, you cannot even imagine an adult acting in the world without possessing material things.

DU: “where it fails as a foundational principle.”

I can’t imagine an example of where it fails. Your examples obviously don’t work. I don’t understand how you can imagine a person acting without property. The air in his lungs? The flesh at the end of his arms? The firmament under his feet? How does a person act without such things?

DU: “Monopoly is usually a bad idea for the reasons you are very good at articulating.”

Maybe I am good at articulating it, but don’t recall doing so here. I articulated common arguments for why monopoly is a GOOD idea. I merely alluded to the fact that economics has long ago debunked those zombie platitudes, without debunking them myself.

DU: “But usually is not the same as always.”

The adverse incentives are *always*. Monopoly doesn’t discriminate, in that regard, among endeavors. That is, if you understand what the adverse incentives of forced monopoly are, then you understand that they apply to all such monopolies. Whether a person rationally thinks it is a good idea or bad idea is a more nebulous matter inextricably tied up with his own values.

DU: “Market solutions do not work for some things. National nuclear defense and large urban water and sewer systems for example.”

How do you know? Those endeavors do suffer predictable monopoly problems. How can you be so sure that relieving those problems with competitive voluntary solutions wouldn’t produce better results?

DU: “But the number of hospitals it makes sense for the average accident or heart attack victim to "shop for" will always be close to one.”

Why? As a matter of fact, there are 5 hospitals in my neighborhood that I’ve shopped for. When I have a heart attack or accident, I know where I’m directing my driver.

DU: “Some level of basic healthcare should be available to everyone.”

Some level always is.

DU: “There is a strange inconsistency in your position. You seem to feel that people who think they are entitled to a solution to the problem of healthcare beyond what is provided by the market are guilty of feeling over entitled.”

I don’t know how you get that from what I wrote. But as a matter of fact, it is more generally true that people who think they are entitled to a solution to anything provided by anyone are feeling over-entitled.

DU: “But you seem to feel entitled to a solution”

How so? A quote would be useful here. If you read what I wrote again, I think you’ll see that what I am talking about is a simple moral disagreement between us. You (and most others) believe it can be acceptable for one person to employ violent means against peaceful disapproving strangers. I do not.

DU: “I would not be inclined to expect more options from the market than from the world.”

I’m not quite sure what that means. I think you are trying to say that anti-market means plus market means provides a larger set of options than market means alone. That is true. But it is a strange mode of argument, ignoring morality. One could also admit more options by allowing for mass murder, genocide, slavery, totalitarianism, extortion, etc. (all of which, by the way, are anti-market means).

Pajser writes:
"Wandering in the unclaimed wilderness, John strips off a tree branch and uses it as a walking stick. Clearly he possesses property, and there has been no possibility of violence, since John is quite alone and there is no other claim to his stick." -- vikingvista
It is not clear that John claims he owns the stick. It is clear only that he uses the stick. I use many things and I do not claim I own these; the beach, for instance. But let us assume that John claims he owns the stick.
"Now, you encounter John in the wilderness and, against John’s will, you wish to redistribute John’s walking stick to Bill. Please explain how you accomplish that redistribution without introducing violence into a nonviolent situation. It is the redistribution that is violent, not the property." -- vikingvista
Violence was introduced when Bill asked "May I use that stick?" and John answered "If you try I'll use physical force against you!" It happened before redistribution. If John said "I prefer you do not, but it is not my stick, it is just stick." there would be no violence.
"Do you see how a woman’s resistance is reduction of the the freedom of a rapist by violent means?"-- vikingvista
Yes. It is justified, but it is still reduction of the freedom by violent means.


Greg G writes:

vv,

--"Calling plums “grapefruit” doesn’t make them so, no matter how often it happens. "

You are wrong on this one viking. If it happens often enough the meanings of those words will change. There is no objective reason beyond social convention for referring to those things as "plums" or "grapefruits." This is why it works perfectly well for the speakers of other languages to use different words to refer to those things.

All languages are constantly evolving. Reading English from 800 years ago feels like reading a foreign language. The method through which word meanings change is your favorite - bottom up emergence through voluntary choices.

You are moving the goalposts here. When Pajser uses the word "freedom" in a more unconventional way, you object. But you often do the same thing. You can refer to to the air that you breathe as your "property" if you like but it sure lacks a lot of the qualities that we normally expect to be there when we talk about property.


--" Most civilized people can agree that defensive violence against the violent is appropriate. "

Yes they can. The problem is that they can't agree on who is the aggressor. In most violent disputes each side thinks the other is the aggressor. This is especially the case when you have as broad a concept of violence as you have.

Pajser writes:
When Pajser uses the word "freedom" in a more unconventional way ... — Greg G
I think I use the word freedom conventionally. For instance,
"freedom - the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think, etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited." — Cambridge Dict. Online
vikingvista writes:

Pajser,

“It is not clear that John claims he owns the stick.”

It doesn’t need to be. It is a material possession in his use and that nobody else is even aware of until you spot him using it in the wilderness. It is clearly property. It can be nobody’s but his. The question is, if YOU claim (for whatever rational or irrational reason) ownership (a right to control the stick), explain how you apply that claim against his will without introducing violence into an nonviolent situation. That is, before your arrival there is no violence regardless of his claim or lack thereof. Once you arrive, if you do not assert a claim, but merely leave him alone, there still is no violence. For violence to ensue, you must assert a claim. He merely continues in his peaceful ways. Property is not violent, your notion of redistribution is violent.

“It is clear only that he uses the stick.”

No, it is clear that he uses the stick, and that nobody else had a claim (rational or irrational) on it, as nobody else even knew of the stick’s existence. Now that you see John using the stick, yours is the only possible conflicting claim. Please explain how you enforce your claim against his will without introducing violence into a nonviolent situation.

“I use many things and I do not claim I own these”

You don’t have to. The vast majority of people correctly assume, e.g., that your right arm--which is in your possession and use--is your property, and they leave you to it. At the very least, they know that it is property (material under human control) and that it isn’t their property, and therefore do not think to claim it for themselves.

“But let us assume that John claims he owns the stick.”

No need. But assume if you like.

“Violence was introduced when Bill asked "May I use that stick?" and John answered "If you try I'll use physical force against you!"”

Wrong, because John said no such thing. John merely ignored Bill and continued minding his own business walking along in the wilderness with his stick. Now please answer me how you can redistribute John’s stick against John’s will without introducing violence into this nonviolent situation.

“It happened before redistribution.”

The only thing John did before redistribution, is enter the wilderness, produce a walking stick, and make use of it. All other actions are yours. Therefore, if there was no violence before you arrived on the scene, and John’s actions do not change from their nonviolent origins, the only violence that occurs afterward is by your introduction. Explain how you change John’s course against his will without introducing violence.

“If John said "I prefer you do not, but it is not my stick, it is just stick." there would be no violence.”

It really doesn’t matter what he says. If John doesn’t want to stop what he was doing prior to your arrival, how do you propose making him, without introducing violence?

You are conflating *property* with *property claims*. Property is a material possession. Any material thing under human control is property. Property is an unavoidable fact of human existence. A property *claim* is an assertion to others that some particular property is yours to control. Claims require justification. If your moral standard is nonviolence, then a claim consistent with that standard must not introduce violence. John produced and used his material possession without any conflicting claim until you arrived. His use, and any formal claim he might wish to make, if any, is without violence. For you to introduce a claim that conflicts with his will and enforce it, clearly you will have to introduce violence. To redistribute John’s stick, you must introduce violence. Your notion of redistribution is violent aggression--it inserts violent conflict into a nonviolent situation.

vikingvista writes:

Greg G,

"You are wrong on this one viking. If it happens often enough the meanings of those words will change..."

This is a peculiar interpretation. It is no great revelation that, e.g., the Chinese have different labels for concepts than do the Iranians than do the Texans than did the Akkadians. I.e., it is safer to assume that if you are interpreting thus, then you are mistaken. The concept of "violence" I am referring to is the one widely and long used. This is not a semantic issue. It is a *recognition* issue. People who assume an exception to state violence are applying the concept of violence inconsistently. Unless, that is, you believe that armed robbery is not violent. But then the semantic issue is entirely yours.

"When Pajser uses the word "freedom" in a more unconventional way, you object."

As I already explained, Pajser's use of "freedom" is not just unconventional. It is out of context. It is used only to discount the concept of freedom entirely by expanding its meaning to the point of impossibility, so to justify a particular form of oppression over other forms in a world where oppression is then ubiquitous. Politics is about people forcing their will upon other people. Freedom in the political context--clearly this context--is about freedom from such human imposition. Deliberately conflating political freedom with freedom from nature is a poor debating tactic.

"You can refer to to the air that you breathe as your "property" if you like but it sure lacks a lot of the qualities that we normally expect to be there when we talk about property."

What does it lack? It is a material possession is it not? It is property. And property is not an option in human life. The real issue, is how people treat one another. It is not property (which is ubiquitous) that affects people's interactions. Rather, it is CLAIMS to property--property rights--that do so. People must always control material possessions. It is justifications to who should control such material that conflict. Belief systems that assume away the existence of property separate themselves sufficiently from reality to justify all manner of oppression, no less than do some belief systems that recognize the inescapable fact of property using irrational or arbitrary property claims.

"In most violent disputes each side thinks the other is the aggressor."

I don't know about most, but at least in some. Disagreement is always a fact of human interactions, and its mere existence discounts no system other than one that assumes universal agreement. And in the vast majority of interactions regarding property, there is solid and ready agreement across time and cultures, even if the exceptions (e.g. statism, petty thievery, chattel slavery and stateless communism) are notable.

“This is especially the case when you have as broad a concept of violence as you have."

It is no broader than the commonly used concept which is labels. It is “violence” as nearly any literate English-speaking person understands it. If there is any difference, it is only in that I apply the label consistently to the concept, without arbitrary exceptions.

Pajser writes:
"It doesn’t need to be. It is a material possession in his use and that nobody else is even aware of until you spot him using it in the wilderness. It is clearly property."
It is not clear. If it is clear you and I would agree. The reasons you mentioned here (material, he uses it, nobody else aware) are not enough to give John the right to exclude other people from using stick. So, I'd say he shouldn't have property rights on stick.
"Wrong, because John said no such thing. John merely ignored Bill and continued minding his own business walking along in the wilderness with his stick. Now please answer me how you can redistribute John’s stick against John’s will without introducing violence into this nonviolent situation."
In my analysis, Bill has equal right to use stick as John. He explained the case, John ignored it. Next, I'll say to Bill to start using that stick. If John uses violence to prevent Bill, that's John who introduced violence, not Bill or me. John is both unjust and violent in this example. Alternatively, both of them can try to use stick in the same time, it is step forward.

Another important case how redistribution can be done without violence is typical modern state. Let us assume that John's property is justified. If Bill try to use it, the state will use violence against Bill. Redistribution is change of the direction of violence, not new violence.

"John produced and used his material possession without any conflicting claim until you arrived. His use, and any formal claim he might wish to make, if any, is without violence. For you to introduce a claim that conflicts with his will and enforce it, clearly you will have to introduce violence. "
I can reject his claims completely, but it doesn't mean that I introduced violence. One who started using or threatening with physical force is one who introduced it. It is important to be exact.

vikingvista writes:

"It is not clear. If it is clear you and I would agree."

That has not been my experience. People commonly miss and remain impervious to the obvious. In this case, the stick is a material possession used by John. ERGO, by definition, it is necessarily property. It couldn't be clearer, and it cannot be rationally in dispute. Only claims as to who should control that property can be in dispute.

"The reasons you mentioned here (material, he uses it, nobody else aware) are not enough to give John the right to exclude other people"

They are enough to identify the object, without qualification, as PROPERTY, regardless of any notion of rights.

But as a matter of fact, John doesn't exclude anyone. He merely peacefully minds his own business. Please explain how you enforce your particular claim to that property without introducing violence (all claims to the use of materials employed by others, including all such claims by the purest of communists are indeed property claims).

"In my analysis, Bill has equal right to use stick as John. He explained the case, John ignored it. Next, I'll say to Bill to start using that stick."

How does Bill do that without introducing violence?

"If John uses violence to prevent Bill, that's John who introduced violence, not Bill or me."

John does nothing but continue on his way as he did before you or Bill met him. He doesn't commit violence. He doesn't refuse anything. He makes no claim. You can stop inserting such conveniences into this discussion, as John does NONE of it. PLEASE (for the 6th time) explain how Bill exercises his claim to that property (the walking stick produced and used by John) without BILL introducing violence.

"Another important case how redistribution can be done without violence is typical modern state. Let us assume that John's property is justified. If Bill try to use it, the state will use violence against Bill. Redistribution is change of the direction of violence, not new violence."

That is a contradiction. You simultaneously say that such redistribution is with AND without violence. It can't be both.

In fact, John, alone in the wilderness, acquired property without violence. It was necessarily without violence, since there was nobody else to be a victim of violence.

You speak of "justified" without explaining what you mean by that term. If you mean (which you cannot) that justified actions are actions that do not introduce violence, then it is impossible that Bill's claim (against John's will) to the stick can be justified, as Bill cannot possibly exercise such a claim without introducing violence where previously there was none.

"I can reject his claims completely, but it doesn't mean that I introduced violence. One who started using or threatening with physical force is one who introduced it. It is important to be exact."

First, as I said, John needn't make any claim at all. For John to possess property or to be a victim of violence does not require John to make any claim. It only requires another person to make and act upon a claim that interferes with John's ongoing peaceful activities.

So yes, anyone can claim anything anyone likes, or claim nothing at all, without violence. It is only actions that can be violent, not claims. But Bill's actions against John's will to possess the stick that John produced and is actively using necessarily introduce violence into a nonviolent situation, regardless of anyone's claims.

1. You need to distinguish property (a fact of human life) from a property claim (an assertion about who should control some property). Property is neither right nor wrong. It simply exists and is observed. Property entails human action (human use of a material thing) but does not entail violence. Claims can be right, wrong, consistent, inconsistent, arbitrary, nonsensical, or anything else human verbiage can produce.

2. Violence, in the context of human interactions, is a way in which one person acts toward another person. A person alone is a person without violence. If that person's actions are without violence, they necessarily remain without violence when another encounters him, since by not changing, he introduces nothing. If the first person's actions do not change, it is only the second person who has the option of deciding whether or not to introduce anything, including violence. If the second person wants to change the actions of the first, he has two options: (a) peacefully persuade the first to change his will, or (b) employ physical violence (whether as a threat or through active physical contact) against the the first person's will.

3. For a claim to be justified by nonviolence, it cannot introduce violence as in (2). Bill's claim, and your notion of redistribution, clearly are not justified by nonviolence, as both introduce violence into nonviolent situations.

[Mistyped url (doubled http) removed. Please test your links before posting. --Econlib Ed.]

Pajser writes:

Vikingvista, I use word property in the meaning "something owned by a person or entity." Owner is "one who has the right to control the object, including the right to exclude others from using it." These uses are not my inventions, they are common and they can be found on many places on Internet. Hence, I think that stick is not John's property. He has no right to exclude other people from use of the stick.

"How does Bill do that without introducing violence?"
Bill takes the stick and starts using it. After that stick still isn't Bill's property, he only uses it. Where do you see violence?
"That is a contradiction. You simultaneously say that such redistribution is with AND without violence. It can't be both."
Probably I was not clear. If I try to use your car without your approval, the state will use force against me. Threat with use of the force exists all the time. Redistribution means that from now on, the violence will be used not against me but against you. Violence still exists because property still exists, but redistribution didn't introduced new violence, just direction of the violence changed.
"It is only actions that can be violent, not claims. "
Typical definition of violence includes threat with physical force, not only actual physical force.
"If first person's actions are without violence, they necessarily remain without violence when another encounters him, since by not changing, he introduces nothing. including violence."
I think it is not true. Thrower may throw the spear every morning. But, if one morning thrower finds walker on usual path of the spear, and he knowingly throws the spear, it is violence and thrower is one who introduced it.
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