Îles flottantes

by Henry on October 25, 2007

China Mieville, a man who certainly knows his political pelagic communities, takes to the pages of In These Times to fault floating libertarian utopias for not being crazy enough. Much unfair fun ensues,

However, one senses in even their supporters’ literature a dissatisfaction with these attempts that has nothing to do with their abject failure. It is also psycho-geographical: There is something about the atolls, mounts, reefs and miniature islets on which these pioneers have attempted to perch that insults their dignity. A parable from seasteading’s past goes some way in explaining. In 1971, millionaire property developer Michael Oliver attempted to establish the Republic of Minerva on a small South Pacific sand atoll. It was soon off-handedly annexed by Tonga, and, in a traumatic actualized metaphor, allowed to dissolve back into the sea. To defeat the predatory outreach of nations and tides, it is clearly not enough to be offshore: True freedom floats.

Via 3 Quarks Daily. Bonus points for anyone who figures out the obscure pun in the title of this post.

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10.25.07 at 10:10 pm

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1

PK 10.25.07 at 3:05 am

Uh… Îles flottantes is a dessert. Meringues floating on a syrup sea. Dessert islands? Desert islands?

Whatver… not as clever as “Las Vegaries”. Advantage: Mieville.

2

nu 10.25.07 at 3:28 am

the article is titled “floating utopias”, “ils flottantes” means “floating islands”. Thomas More’s utopia was an island.

is that it or is it more perverse ?

3

bi 10.25.07 at 3:38 am

A _Freedom Ship_ that doesn’t exist? Sounds like nothing but an out-and-out scam to me.

4

Henry 10.25.07 at 3:51 am

Sort of what pk says – but the point is that the dessert is pretty well tasteless. Just like the utopias. Also as he says, Advantage: Mieville.

5

JP Stormcrow 10.25.07 at 4:07 am

Much unfair fun ensues

Including what may be the most apt description of libertarianism that I have ever seen:

Libertarianism, by contrast, is a theory of those who find it hard to avoid their taxes, who are too small, incompetent or insufficiently connected to win Iraq-reconstruction contracts, or otherwise chow at the state trough.

6

Matt Austern 10.25.07 at 4:20 am

You know what would be a lot cooler than any of those libertarian experiments he discusses in that article? A floating city run by those ultimate libertarians: pirates. Now that would be a utopia worth living in.

The only way you could improve on a floating city of pirates would be if some of the pirates were also vampires.

7

nu 10.25.07 at 4:29 am

and ninjas.. vampire pirate ninjas.

8

Walt 10.25.07 at 4:34 am

If only you’d gotten to Mieville in time, Nu. Then The Scar would have been even better.

9

e oliviere 10.25.07 at 4:38 am

only tasteless if very poorly made. a properly made custard has plenty of flavor, and the textural contrast with the poached meringue can be exquisite. there is a place on this earth for the subtle dessert.

10

mugwump 10.25.07 at 4:41 am

Mieville dumps on libertarianism yet apparently worships big capital. The contributors here diss libertarianism yet apparently worship the state.

It seems clear that those on the anti-libertarian left have a fundamental psychological need for someone else to be in control of their lives.

We libertarians just want to be left alone.

11

Bruce Baugh 10.25.07 at 5:06 am

I started a comment about the poverty of imagination common among libertarians (not all have the feature I’m picking on, but most do) – the repeated invokation of terms like “worship”, the general trouble imagining mitigation, compromise, and synthesis as desirable features between this absolute and that, and it struck me.

Libertarianism is a modernist aesthetic applied to politics.

In Postscript to The Name of a Rose, Eco describes the cycle of premodernist to modernist to postmodernist drives in the arts. Out of the premodernist jumble of materials and impulses comes an urge to perfect and simplify. It ends at the point where there’s no further room for purification. I’d quote Eco exactly but don’t have the book handy right now; he refers to the blank page, the silent instrument, the empty or slashed canvas. Out of the exhaustion of this pursuit comes a revistation of the old material with fresh awareness, and the combining of now-isolated elements into new arrangements that is a hallmark of postmodernist creation.

It seems to me that libertarianism’s exaltation of a particular concept of self-ownership as the ultimate value is very much like serial twelve-tone composition in music, where you have to use each of the twelve tones in an octave once before you can use any of them again. You can sometimes get really interesting results out of such experiments, but they end up not really leading anywhere as the far as the rest of an artistic field is concerned (let alone humanity at large), because in routine life we do allow ourselves rich color palettes, the tones arranged however seems good for a song, and so on…including a respect for other values as also crucial and accepting that no one is ever a for-sure trump card, acknowledging the validity of obligations to others past and present outside a rigidly contractarian framework, and so on.

As a thought experiment, it’s all (potentially) very interesting, but it doesn’t connect to actual human life very much.

12

JP Stormcrow 10.25.07 at 5:08 am

We libertarians just want to be left alone.

So it’s really been Greta Garbo all along – Ayn Rand is just an intellectual feint.

13

mugwump 10.25.07 at 6:44 am

because in routine life we do allow ourselves rich color palettes, …including a respect for other values as also crucial and accepting that no one is ever a for-sure trump card, acknowledging the validity of obligations to others past and present outside a rigidly contractarian framework, and so on

Could be a libertarian manifesto, if not a tad flowery.

The libertarian claims all that back from the state, who paints in only one color: grey.

14

nu 10.25.07 at 6:51 am

i thought the State’s favorite color was red ?

15

magistra 10.25.07 at 6:59 am

Mieville is very good on the poverty of imagination you see in so many libertarians, (or at least the ones on the blogs I read). It’s also particularly obvious in their comments on the welfare state. Libertarians are (as far as I can tell) overwhelmingly young and healthy and reasonably educated and can’t imagine that anything will happen in the world to them that would make them vulnerable or need more than token amounts of help. (If I’m wrong about this and someone wants to point out to me all the chronically sick libertarians, feel free to do so). The problem is that they then extend their (fairly normal) complacency about their own success and assume that everyone else’s experience must be the same. The event that really hit my imagination (and why I could never be a libertarian) is when a friend of mine at Oxford University developed severe mental health problems. Twenty years on and more she still can’t hold down a steady job and has had to be sectioned several times. Tell me how she survives in the libertarian paradise of freedom?

16

Kimmitt 10.25.07 at 7:06 am

Magistra — she doesn’t. That’s supposed to be a feature, not a bug.

17

Bruce Baugh 10.25.07 at 7:08 am

Mugwump good-natured volunteers to demonstrate my point.

Magistra, in my experience, there are two fairly common libertarian responses to your question. One is “she toughs it out or dies, and nobody said life is fair, TAANSTAFL, OMGWTFBBQ”, more or less. The other is a basically pious hope that deregulating medicine will lower costs and that if she can’t manage them on her own, charitable people will pony up enough to cover it.

18

Simon 10.25.07 at 8:09 am

There is an additional pun floating around here – in Russian the word “utopia” seems to have the stem “utop”, from “topit'” – to sink.

19

Z 10.25.07 at 8:34 am

I thought Miéville’s piece captured superbly the sociological foundations of (the north-american flavour of) libertarian thought and the disquieting aspects that seems to linger around concrete attempts at libertarian utopia, among them the rampant authoritarian traits hidden behind the commitment to liberty. It reminded me of this quote:
There isn’t the slightest possibility that its […] ideas would be implemented, because they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error. The idea of “free contract” between the potentate and his starving subject is a sick joke, perhaps worth some moments in an academic seminar exploring the consequences of […] ideas, but nowhere else.

Îles flottantes, perhaps like utopias, are a delight when correctly made, unpalatable when not.

20

mugwump 10.25.07 at 9:17 am

Tell me how she survives in the libertarian paradise of freedom?

She’d be fine; I don’t know any Libertarians that advocate abolition of health insurance.

In fact, in a libertarian paradise health insurance would be cheaper and more readily available, since libertarians abhor special-interest treatment like the current exception health insurance companies enjoy from anti-trust laws. In my world they’d have to actually compete.

21

ajay 10.25.07 at 9:41 am

Big capital is big, after all, not only because of the generous contracts its state obligingly hands it, but because of the gun-ships with which its state opens up markets for it.

I love people like Mieville who can still write things like this with a straight face, as though the First Opium War had only happened a few years ago, and Perry’s black ships were even now sailing towards the Home Islands.

Mugwump: adverse selection problem.

22

mugwump 10.25.07 at 9:50 am

Mugwump: adverse selection problem.

Whay ajay, you find it difficult to distinguish the relative merits of the various political philosophies? Well then, take it from me, libertarianism is vastly superior to the others.

23

mugwump 10.25.07 at 9:51 am

PIMF: What

24

Alex 10.25.07 at 10:31 am

The Garbo quote no one remembers is this one: “I didn’t say I wanted to be alone; I want to be left alone. There is all the difference.”

Which neatly describes the project of libertarianism; that everyone else would just bugger off.

25

Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 10:40 am

In the “Qliphothic” comic the Filth by Grant Morrison and Chris Weston, there’s a city-sized ship, the Libertania, that looks just like the Freedom Ship.

A self-contained society where the peaceful denizens of the upper decks shit on those below, it devolves into utter anarchy due to the manipulations of the subversive Spartacus Hughes, who turns everybody into mindless “anti-people”.

It ends up sinking, and everybody on board dies at the hands of the keepers of “Status Q”, the agents of the Hand (“that wipes the arse of the world”). Although providing an indictment of libertarianism is not even remotely the series’ main concern, and although you could argue that it is all too wacky in a self-complacent way, I thought it was funny as hell.

26

Peter Erwin 10.25.07 at 10:44 am

and ninjas.. vampire pirate ninjas.

I see your “vampire pirate ninjas” and raise you Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls.

27

magistra 10.25.07 at 11:07 am

Mugwump,

What private insurance company (for profit or not) would insure my friend except at vastly exorbitant rates, given the very high probability that she is going to need treatment recurrently? And where does she get all the money to pay their premiums, given she can’t hold down a steady job because of her illness (there are few employers who want someone when they are delusional)?

28

John 10.25.07 at 11:09 am

Re the obscure pun: anything to do with the island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels?

29

Peter Erwin 10.25.07 at 11:15 am

Bruce Baugh @ 11:
the general trouble imagining mitigation, compromise, and synthesis as desirable features between this absolute and that …

Of course, that description applies to several 20th Century political philosophies, not just to libertarianism.

More generally, that’s also a good description of “purifying” religious movements. (Which sometimes extends to the aesthetic impulses you mention, as well; think of Calvinist/Puritan churches in contrast to their Baroque predecessors.)

because in routine life we do allow ourselves rich color palettes, the tones arranged however seems good for a song, and so on…

And, one hopes, the possibility that not all tones must be at all times arranged so that the song sounds good; I’m reminded of Milan Kundera’s analogy (from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting), comparing the Czech Communist program to a Bach fugue: “where the world and all its people are molded from a single stock and the fire lighting up the heavens is the fire burning in the hearts of men, where every man is a note in a magnificent Bach fugue and anyone who refuses his note is a mere black dot, useless and meaningless, easily caught and squashed between the fingers like an insect.”

30

des von bladet 10.25.07 at 11:17 am

(there are few employers who want someone when they are delusional)

Is the American Enterprise Institute no longer hiring, then?

31

Andrew R. 10.25.07 at 11:56 am

It takes a brave communist to talk about unworkable utopias.

32

chris y 10.25.07 at 12:07 pm

Magistra hits the nail on the head. The only thing I need to know about Libertarians is that they want me dead.

33

Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 12:11 pm

And, talking of self-complacency:

In fact, in a libertarian paradise health insurance would be cheaper and more readily available, since libertarians abhor special-interest treatment like the current exception health insurance companies enjoy from anti-trust laws. In my world they’d have to actually compete.

Actually, back in the day, luminaries like la Rand and von Mises protested strenuously against anti-trust laws. Their successors are still sort of against the idea, it seems. Oh, and let’s not forget the inroads made by the far more successful Chicago flavour of libertarianism to weaken anti-trust in practice in the last few decades.

At the expense of sounding too stamokap (I’m no Marxist, mind), I’d add that the dauntless gentleman from the above link above, one DiLorenzo, has it literally quite arse-backwards with the “government is the true source of monopoly” bit. Nuisances like anti-trust legislation aside, it is clear that modern capitalism needs the state. In your world, there would be no state to hand out pork in the land of corporate welfare. Your world would cease to exist pretty fast, because corporate interests would have to invent the state.

Outside of your world, the fact that in a modern economy the state invariably ends up playing an important role is recognised as such. This is seen both as a danger and as an opportunity. The pragmatic discussion on what kind of state we want begins in earnest.

This is why those lefties who worship the state uncritically only exist in your world.

This is all pretty basic stuff, but it’s you who started with the juvenile soundbites, mate.

Assuming that he’s not some corporate hack, one is forced to think that the outrage which Mr. DiLorenzo reserves for those dastardly anti-trust legislators stems from something that goes well beyond mere appreciation for entrepreneurship, and that has a strong whiff of hero worship (your term again, sorry). This, together with libertarians’ casual approach to violence (the whole smug, Heinlein-esque “civil values just don’t cut it when ugly reality bares its teeth” bit), shows that the movement’s similarities to fascism are just as central to it as the stuff that separates the two ideologies.

34

Thomas 10.25.07 at 12:24 pm

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned Jules Verne’s “Propeller Island”. As usual Verne was ahead of everyone else in predicting a huge ship inhabited by millionaires who wanted to escape society, only to find that they didn’t escape each other.

35

Z 10.25.07 at 12:27 pm

I love people like Mieville who can still write things like this with a straight face, as though the First Opium War had only happened a few years ago, and Perry’s black ships were even now sailing towards the Home Islands.

I guess that these last years no country has had, say, its oil law changed to ensure greater participation of foreign companies via military actions, and no no-bid contracts were awarded to private corporations operating in war zones either.

36

bi 10.25.07 at 12:28 pm

ajay #21: worry not, there’s still Blackwater.

37

mds 10.25.07 at 1:40 pm

Mieville dumps on libertarianism yet apparently worships big capital.

Okay, revisiting this, I’ve decided mugwump is just having us on. China Miéville, worshipper of big capital. Hee. Well played, Sir / Madam!

38

SamChevre 10.25.07 at 1:43 pm

Bruce,

There’s a third somewhat-libertarian strain. In that, your friend would be part of some community, which would look out for her unless she chose to leave.

That’s what happened in most societies, over most of history.

39

robertdfeinman 10.25.07 at 1:57 pm

Libertarians don’t want to be “left alone”. They want the state to enforce their property rights. The internal inconsistency of their positions is what makes their “philosophy” so annoying.

My 2 cents on this:
The Angry Libertarian

40

Joshua Holmes 10.25.07 at 2:10 pm

it is clear that modern capitalism needs the state.

Indeed. Which is why most libertarians make the mistake of defending the current system as though it were close to libertarianism. It isn’t.

41

Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 2:12 pm

Nice try, Samchevre. The problem with that “care by the community” bit is that most libertarians are quite keen to:

a) disregard the concept of community altogether;

b) use expressions like “creative destruction” prominently as part of their repertoire of platitudes, among other things to shrug off concerns about the erosion by some economic activities of those very same community bonds you’re falling back on;

c) failing a), show only an interest for the kind of community to which you can attach the adjectives “wealthy” and “gated”.

On top of that, we don’t happen to live “in most societies, over most of history.” We live in a world characterised, for a lot of people, by a hitherto unseen degree of geographical and professional mobility. In the course of my desultory, generally aimless existence, I’ve lived for an extended period of time in five countries. Should I return to my home village, in northeastern Romania, in case I should fall ill?

The concept of community is not without importance, mind you. It is needed to garner political support for the kind of services which libertarians abhor.

What easy targets they are. Warms the cockles of my trollish heart.

42

Ben M 10.25.07 at 2:29 pm

your friend would be part of some community, which would look out for her unless she chose to leave. That’s what happened in most societies, over most of history.

“Most societies” have cared for some people while letting other people die in the streets. Most societies have disliked having to care for their poor and sick, and most societies have sought ways of fobbing their poor off onto the society next door.

Another think that “most societies” have done is to submit to a form of government which levies taxes and regulates many private transactions.

43

Katherine 10.25.07 at 3:31 pm

In the true libertarian utopia, taken the ideas to extreme, there wouldn’t/shouldn’t be corporations at all, since the the “company” with shares and limited liability is a creature of the state. How does a health insurance company exist in that place?

44

Katherine 10.25.07 at 3:31 pm

In the true libertarian utopia, taken to the extreme, there wouldn’t/shouldn’t be corporations at all, since the the “company” with shares and limited liability is a creature of the state. How does a health insurance company exist in that place?

45

Katherine 10.25.07 at 3:32 pm

Argh, sorry; double post/typo correction mistake.

46

Joshua Holmes 10.25.07 at 4:04 pm

katherine,

I think you could have a limited liability company without the state, as a private legal system could agree to a corporate arrangement. If you have a joint-stock partnership, where someone contributes money to the firm without exercising any control, it strikes me as unjust to hold that partner liable without limits. Definitely liable without limits on what he or she does have control over, and liable to the extent of their investment in the firm no matter what, but not unlimited liability without control. Corporations are a shorthand for this sort of arrangement.

47

rea 10.25.07 at 4:37 pm

There’s a third somewhat-libertarian strain. In that, your friend would be part of some community, which would look out for her unless she chose to leave.

Well, but that’s exactly what state-sponsored universal health care is. You’ve just described the NHS as “somewhat libertarian”–congratulations!

I think you could have a limited liability company without the state, as a private legal system could agree to a corporate arrangement.

A “private legal system” is an oxymoron–what enforces compliance with its rulings?

48

Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 5:11 pm

While libertarianism and anarchism blur at the edges, they aren’t the same thing. Your basic orthodox libertarian doesn’t want the state to vanish, just to be strictly circumscribed in its duties. So, no, it’s not hypocritical to want the state to enforce contract law, property rights, and do things like police work, but not enforce speech restrictions, what one can own, or what kind of contracts one can voluntarily participate in. Just like how it’s not hypocritical for a progressive to want the state to regulate against hate speech (to pick the example up-blog) but not to regulate against expressions of homosexuality.

My basic regret about libertarians is that we’ve let ourselves become a marginal, utopian movement. And, frankly, utopias don’t exist and utopians are stupid. Unfortunately, libertarian critique all too often seems to take as the base case, “Well, imagine if society were totally different,” rather than saying, “Given the society we currently live in, how can we tweak it in libertarian ways?”

And I think that there are plenty of very relevent libertarian critiques of society right now that don’t depend on rebuilding our entire social and legal system from the ground up. We could decriminalize (or even just “reduce criminal penalties for”) marijuana, recommit ourselves to strong rights of those we imprison (habeus corpus, no torture, unified systems of treatment, refusal to extradite to countries that violate human rights, etc.), scale back or end agricultural subsidies, use lowered tariffs and other free trade provisions as a diplomatic incentive to countries that are willing to increase economic freedoms or ensure human rights to their citizens, or, heck, tons of other things.

These are sane, defensible things to do, that directly derive from libertarian principles, that there exist non-libertarian constituencies for that we could ally ourselves with.

I think that libertarians could be a major swing constituency, grabbing Republicans who are uncomfortable with either the military adventures of the Bush Administration or the evangelical wing of the party, but who feel unwelcome in the Democratic party, if libertarians put forward a libertarian-branded set of proposals for our society that have some prayer of being accepted by the majority.

49

Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 5:16 pm

Oh, I should add: Libertarians are fond of pointing out that if you get $50, and another guy gets $50,000, you’re still up $50! The point is to maximize your absolute gains, not your relative ones. And if you hold out for $25,000 for each of you, all too often you’ll get nothing.

We could take that to heart in looking at our own policies. Yeah, reducing sentencing for possession of marijuana isn’t going to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity worldwide. It won’t be a utopia. But it’s a step in the right direction, and if we hold out for utopias, we won’t get anything.

50

Katherine 10.25.07 at 5:22 pm

Yes Joshua, I’m aware of what corporations are shorthand for, and I’m pointing out that that is a legal construction, not a naturally occuring one. It is a very very recent one at that. The concept of not “piercing the corporate veil” – i.e. liability limited to initial investment – was developed in English courts in the latter half of the 19th century. It is entirely new in the entirety of human history. Whether or not it is fair is an entirely different issue. You could, for example, argue that for every silent shareholder without control over what a company does there is a silent shareholder who can reap the rewards of his investment whilst avoiding the full consequences of his investment.

I have heard left libertarians refer to limited liability as the biggest government subsidy of all, which makes me wonder at the blind spot that many right libertarians seem to have. They want limited or no government regulation of corporations, but are happy to leave the massive protections of corporations un-examined.

51

SamChevre 10.25.07 at 5:32 pm

There’s a third somewhat-libertarian strain. In that, your friend would be part of some community, which would look out for her unless she chose to leave.

Well, but that’s exactly what state-sponsored universal health care is. You’ve just described the NHS as “somewhat libertarian”—congratulations!

Huh? Participation in, and paying for, the NHS, is voluntary?

That’s the difference between libertarian communitarianism–where you are free to leave–and statism.

52

bi 10.25.07 at 5:47 pm

You know, SamChevre, you’re perfectly free to leave the US any time.

53

bi 10.25.07 at 6:02 pm

“Libertarians are fond of pointing out that if you get $50, and another guy gets $50,000, you’re still up $50! The point is to maximize your absolute gains, not your relative ones.”

Absolute gains vs. relative gains? Let’s see: I’ve never heard a libertarian propose any concrete method to actually increase the net absolute gain (summed across the whole population), or to propose any rigorous method of comparing the net absolute gain achievable as compared to using other methods of wealth distribution.

Rather, the story always goes that this magic process called “capitalism” will drive this magic process called “value production” which’ll ensure that myself and the other guy can both get $50,000 and a pony too. And of course, we Know™ through Ayn Rand’s magic-pixie-dust Rational Thinking™ that this magic process guarantees greater absolute wealth for each and every individual person than every wealth distribution method ever proposed and that may ever be proposed. No rigorous comparison needed; we just Know™.

And the ugly thing is, at the end of the day it’s nothing more than a justification to make rich people richer.

54

bi 10.25.07 at 6:04 pm

…in other words, to shift the relative wealth to them, with no actual regard for measuring absolute wealth.

55

SamChevre 10.25.07 at 6:07 pm

bi,

You are making the common mistake of confusing a state and a community.

56

bi 10.25.07 at 6:17 pm

Gah, a “state” and a “community” both comprise people, right? And you’re perfectly free to leave either one of them, right? So, as far as these points are concerned — which are precisely the selling points of your little proposal — there’s absolutely no difference.

But I see there’s also Glorious Godfrey’s discussion.

57

Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 6:17 pm

Bi writes, “Let’s see: I’ve never heard a libertarian propose any concrete method to actually increase the net absolute gain (summed across the whole population)

Sure you have. You just didn’t like their concrete methods, or didn’t believe that they were true.

He or she goes on to say, “or to propose any rigorous method of comparing the net absolute gain achievable as compared to using other methods of wealth distribution.

Guilty as charged! I admit the summerary failure of libertarians to rigorously prove the results of a given policy spread across a ridiculously complex society as compared to a counterfactual.

So, uh… Are you aware of someone else who’s done this? ‘Cause I think there are some social scientists who’d be interested in the revolution in their fields.

Also, jesus, how much of a chip on your shoulder do you have to have to take the preamble of a post about the need to apply the same rigor of self-directed criticism as others-directed criticism, and create an argument around it. Did a libertarian kick your dog or something?

58

Keith 10.25.07 at 6:23 pm

You are making the common mistake of confusing a state and a community.

One’s just the Big Brother of the other.

Which is where Libertarianism falls down and skins it’s knee and starts crying for federal assisted band aides. For any libertarian objectives to function, we’d have to live in a world that had no large state apparatus (or one that was so ineffectual as to be virtually non existent) but were all just a loose association of small enclaves, tribal regions and city states.

Which means that the closest real-world setting for a Libertarian system is… Afghanistan. sweet!

59

bi 10.25.07 at 6:31 pm

“Sure you have. You just didn’t like their concrete methods, or didn’t believe that they were true.”

No. No concrete methods, _period_. It’s always the invisible pink dust of Capitalism™ giving rise to the magic pixie dust of Value Production™.

“So, uh… Are you aware of someone else who’s done this? Cause I think there are some social scientists who’d be interested in the revolution in their fields.”

Nope, therefore I apply the “we don’t know, therefore we know” logical inference rule and claim that democratic socialism rocks like a rocking thing that rocks.

(“We don’t know, therefore we know” is the whole foundation of Hayek’s “catallaxy” idea, as far as I can tell. And also of the theory of creationism.)

“take the preamble of a post about the need to apply the same rigor of self-directed criticism as others-directed criticism, and create an argument around it”

Oops, sorry. I take back everything I say, nothing to see here, move on.

60

nu 10.25.07 at 6:31 pm

no, Keith, it’s Somalia.

But i don’t see them moving there either.

61

Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 6:50 pm

Keith: My stated libertarian objectives, from the post above, are:

1. Decriminalization of marijuana

2. Strong, consistent rights for prisoners, particularly prisoners who have not yet received trial.

3. Scale back or end agricultural subsidies

4. Lower tariffs or extend free trade agreements with countries that offer their citizens extensive human rights and economic freedoms.

I’ll toss in a 5 and 6 for you, too:

5. Increase federal transparency: raise the bar for keeping any federal documents secret, and simplify the process of obtaining federal documents, perhaps by giving a web-based front end or even an API for freedom of information requests.

6. Institute a gas tax, creating a progressive cut in income or payroll taxes (so, by progressive cut, I mean lower the taxes of low-income people by larger amounts) to aim for rough revenue neutrality.

Can you explain how any of these objectives require a feudal, tribal state?

62

Keith 10.25.07 at 7:00 pm

Michael B Sullivan:

They don’t but neither are they Libertarian. Those are straight up, social democratic principles. Sorr y to burst your bubble.

63

Keith 10.25.07 at 7:08 pm

I agree with all of those ideas, by the way, michael. But here in the US, those positions would put you squarely to the left of Kucinich, in the lala land of Evil Socialism.

64

nu 10.25.07 at 7:18 pm

Keith, i’m not sure you understand what michael b sullivan means.

different political ideologies overlap. libertarianism is not by definition the opposite of social democracy/liberalism. on concrete proposals they may agree.

he was lamenting about the fact that libertarians have failed to build alliances with the left on issues they do agree on and concentrated on building alliances with the right on issues they they agree on.

social freedoms, suspicion of government surveillance, drug liberalisation are classic libertarian proposals. they happen to be proposals of a part of the left too.
can’t people partially agree sometimes ?

65

Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 7:24 pm

Keith: sorry to burst your bubble, but they aren’t principles. You had it right the first time: they’re objectives.

They descend straightforwardly from libertarian princples: one decriminalizes marijuana because of the libertarian principle that what one does with one’s own body is no business of anyone else’s. Strong rights for criminals because individual freedoms, particularly freedoms from the state, is the basis of a just society. End agricultural subsidies because the government shouldn’t be interfering in the free market. Lower tariffs because free exercise of trade creates wealth for all. Increase federal transparency because the state must be carefully watched, as it tends to impede individual freedoms. The last one is, of course, the state has no business taking people’s money. However, given that it’s going to anyhow, it might as well do it based on disincenting behaviour with negative externialities rather than just taking people’s money based on an arbitrary criterion, and the progressive rather than regressive cut because that’s how you make it appealing to the people you’re trying to appeal to.

Now, where you got confused is that I chose objectives which are also congruent with the principles that I guessed you probably have, as a denizen of Crooked Timber. This is based on my understanding that libertarians aren’t a majority, and if we ever want to get anything done, we’ll need to find common ground with other political affiliations. But the objectives stand on their own — they aren’t owned by any one political philosophy.

In any case, not to get off track. The fallacy I was pointing out to you is that you’ve excluded the middle. Yes, there are anarcho-capitalists who identify as Libertarian. Yes, they might argue for the dissolution or effective dissolution of the state. And, unfortunately, yes, you might well have heard more from them than from libertarians who have achievable goals. But, ultimately, there’s nothing unique about this: a progressive might want the US to become a social democracy if they had their way, but since that’s not going to happen any time soon, they set achievable, more moderate goals for the short term (and, in so doing, attract support from people who wouldn’t really be okay with a full-blown social democracy). Libertarians can do the same, and it’s a damn shame that so few of them are willing to do so.

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Keith 10.25.07 at 7:27 pm

I agree with michael completely. I’m just saying that what he wishes Libertarians to become is something else than what a Libertarian is as we know the creature today. Certainly not the sort of person who wants to go live on the Freedom Ship, that’s for sure.

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Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 7:29 pm

I think that there are probably more moderate libertarians out there than Keith thinks, but I certainly can’t prove it. So I’ll go with comity, and get back to doing some work.

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Keith 10.25.07 at 7:30 pm

As usual, the problem I think is we’re getting confused about terminology even though we’re in agreement.

I was also leaping off your earlier comment to make a point about the Freedom Shipers and the Utopians.

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robertdfeinman 10.25.07 at 7:40 pm

OK, let’s say we legalize marijuana because of libertarian principles. That is that one should be free to do whatever one wants to oneself, instead of the case specific reasons of (take your pick), not sufficiently harmful, control is ineffective, funding criminal enterprises, putting too many in prison, etc.

In the libertarian case we then have to follow up and allow every nostrum that anyone can come up with onto the market whether it is harmful or not. Society has already delegated the control of this function to the government since people do not have enough expertise to make such determinations in all cases. The people don’t want the libertarian solution and as we have a democracy we put in the controls the majority desired.

In the other case the specific substance is legalized using the mechanisms outlined. That marijuana has not been evaluated rationally is an instance of regulatory failure, not of regulation as such.

The problem with libertarians is that they don’t believe in democracy. When the majority has decided something they don’t favor they don’t want to go along, they want the rules changed to favor them. There is a path for this, it’s called lobbying.

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nu 10.25.07 at 8:12 pm

The problem is that the opposition to marijuana has nothing to do with misevaluation.
The scientific arguments justifying its ban were attacked even before the ban, yet the majority was convinced that the ban was worthwhile, on moral grounds.

It’s quite sad to see the same leftist who can fight for gay rights or civil rights or , AGAINST THE DESIRE OF THE MAJORITY, on moral grounds criticizing those same moral grounds when it doesnt come from them.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 8:16 pm

OK, I’m bored and I feel like fucking up the thread, as is my wont. Let’s give this shit another twirl…

Michael:
Your basic orthodox libertarian doesn’t want the state to vanish, just to be strictly circumscribed in its duties. So, no, it’s not hypocritical to want the state to…

*snip*

but not…

*snip*

Note that in the “but not” section you don’t mention anything related to what may be (crudely) termed “corporate welfare”. No, it’s not (necessarily) hypocritical to spout libertarian pap, it’s just hopelessly naive. Witness how the Fed and the Treasury are in full Wall Street support mode right now, what with the rate cuts and the nods and winks that indicate that the state would effectively guarantee that “Single Master Liquidity Conduit” outfit of Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase und Bank of America. If you think that that shit is not part of the lifeblood of contemporary capitalism, and that such entanglements between business and the state could be avoided with libertarian fairy dust, I do have a very nice bridge to sell to you. Over the Spree, pocked shrapnel marks from WWII…classy stuff.

My basic regret about libertarians is that we’ve let ourselves become a marginal, utopian movement.

Well, this statement, together with the bit* about the liberal approach to smoking pot being some primal element of exclusive libertarian patrimony, makes one think that you buy into the guff about libertarians being the true, direct descendants of Locke, Adam Smith and all those cheery fellows. That’s a bit like the claims of Freemasons to be descended from the Knights Templar and such. Libertarianism has always been an utopian movement, friend. It starts with the muddled thinking of people like Andrew Carnegie, and as a bit of a crackpot ideology it has proved useful to justify and cover up the increasing nastiness and defensiveness of the discourse of establishment/big-money discourse. More on that later.

*:my favourite word, in case you haven’t noticed.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 8:24 pm

But let’s focus on the writings of Carnegie first, shall we? Here, the famous essay on “Wealth”. First, we get the standard fluff…

“The contrast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer with us to-day measures the change which has come with civilization.
This change, however, is not to be deplored, but welcomed as highly beneficial. It is well, nay, essential for the progress of the race, that the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts, and for all the refinements of civilization, rather than that none should be so. Much better this great irregularity than universal squalor. Without wealth there can be no Mæcenas. The “good old times ” were not good old times. Neither master nor servant was as well situated then as to-day. A relapse to old conditions would be disastrous to both–not the least so to him who serves–and would Sweep away civilization with it.”

Et cetera. In spite of everything, poor, philanthropic Carnegie, gosh bless his soul, was acutely aware of issues which modern shmibertarianism would rather repress. He knew that conflict was the motor of history, and in particular the inevitable by-product of the industrial age:

“The price we pay for this salutary change is, no doubt, great. We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, in the mine, and in the counting-house… All intercourse between them is at an end. Rigid Castes are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust…”

His problem is, of course, that he creates social peace and heals those fretful thoughts settling upon his brow with generous helpings of libertarian fairy dust:

“There are but three modes in which surplus wealth can be disposed of. It call be left to the families of the decedents; or it can be bequeathed for public purposes; or, finally, it can be administered during their lives by its possessors…

The first is the most injudicious. In monarchical countries, the estates and the greatest portion of the wealth are left to the first son… The condition of this class in Europe to-day teaches the futility of such hopes or ambitions…

As to the second mode, that of leaving wealth at death for public uses, it may be said that this is only a means for the disposal of wealth…The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion… By taxing estates heavily at death the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life. It is desirable that nations should go much further in this direction…”

Yeah, bequeathing the dough to the wastrel sons is bad, and by golly, does my fairy dust solve the problem. Particularly humourous is how the very idea of exorbitant, cyclopean** “death duties” is at odds with the mainstream of the ideology he helped create.

But the bit that follows clinches the deal. Andrew, you had me at hello. My critical powers fail me, and I just swoon.

” There remains, then, only one mode of using great fortunes; but in this we have the true antidote for the temporary unequal distribution of wealth, the reconciliation of the rich and the poor–a reign of harmony–another ideal, differing, indeed, from that of the Communist in requiring only the further evolution of existing conditions, not the total overthrow of our civilization. It is founded upon the present most intense individualism…[W]e shall have an ideal state, in which the surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense the property of the many, because administered for the common good… can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race than if it had been distributed in small sums to the people themselves. Even the poorest can be made to see this…
R[]ich men should be thankful for one inestimable boon. They have it in their power during their lives to busy themselves in organizing benefactions from which the masses of their fellows will derive lasting advantage, and thus dignify their own lives. The highest life is probably to be reached, not by such imitation of the life of Christ as Count Tolstoi gives us, but, while animated by Christ’s spirit, by recognizing the changed conditions of this age, and adopting modes of expressing this spirit suitable to the changed conditions under which we live…

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living… and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer… in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community–the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.”

Inspiring stuff, to be sure. In the words of that great philosopher, Spider-man, with great power comes great responsibility.

**: this one is pretty awesome, too.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 8:25 pm

You say: We could decriminalize (or even just “reduce criminal penalties for”) marijuana, recommit ourselves to strong rights of those we imprison (habeus corpus, no torture, unified systems of treatment, refusal to extradite to countries that violate human rights, etc.)…

Fuck, I’ve been a libertarian all my bloody life without realising it! ! I may have to look at myself harder. Unbeknownst to me, I may have a third testicle hidden somewhere in my crotch area.

Really, do you seriously think that the idea of legalising marijuana is a unique libertarian contribution? Then Holland must be a libertarian paradise. They fooled me, the base varlets, with all their high taxes while I was living there ! !

And the fact that the Democrats are complicit in much of the crap the Bush admin. has been pulling off tells you precious little about the merits of libertarian ideology, and a great deal about how fucked-up the tacit Beltway foreign policy consensus is. A topic for another thread, I’m sure we’ll agree.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 8:29 pm

scale back or end agricultural subsidies, use lowered tariffs and other free trade provisions as a diplomatic incentive to countries that are willing to increase economic freedoms or ensure human rights to their citizens, or, heck, tons of other things.

Believe it or not, I’m not that big of a lefty on economic issues, and I have no sympathy for protectionism. But even my lousy lefty credentials do allow me to realise what appalling times we’re living in, and you are displaying some woeful lack of ear for the treblesome beats on the street, yo.

See, there’s this conflict thing, OK? We live in an age of global wage arbitrage. Some three billion folks have joined the world economy in the last three decades, labour has become more plentiful. There is bad blood, and some chickens may come home to roost when the pendulum swings again. As Carnegie knew, man is bound to regard matters of social inequality and bargaining in moral terms, and this creates powerful political imperatives against big money.

Contrary to conventional, disquietingly nationalistic China-bashing “wisdom”, the supply of uprooted rural Chinese moving to the cities is not inexhaustible. Check the demographics. The uniquely favourable bargaining position currently enjoyed by capital won’t last forever. In addition, there is increasing pressure on business to internalise all those externalities we’ve been happily dumping all around us. Global warming and all that.

The Chicago pups of uncle Miltie pulled off a remarkable legerdemain, with their avoidance of all the talk about the morality of redistribution which prior libertarians had shot themselves in the foot with, and their phoney focus on the almighty Efficiency(TM). This happened, funnily enough, after the three decades of post-war euphoria ended. Now that the ranks of the discontents of globalisation are swelling, shmibertarians are upping the ante in their attempts to sell their “suck it up, losers” pensée unique. In vain, ultimately, I believe.

Some anecdotal, but striking, evidence about the increasing strain which some hitherto prevailing rhetoric is coming under. Carnegie railed against commies, saying that they challenged the very foundations of civilisation:

“The Socialist or Anarchist who seeks to overturn present conditions is to be regarded as attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests, for civilization took its start from the day that the capable, industrious workman said to his incompetent and lazy fellow, “If thou dost net sow, thou shalt net reap,” and thus ended primitive Communism by separating the drones from the bees.”

The Czech republic’s very own Vaclav Klaus does the very same thing, referring to folks who have the temerity to talk about emissions of nitrous oxides.

To sum up, it’s not that libertarians have become shrill. It’s that the vocabulary of libertarianism is ideal for expressing a specific kind of shrillness. Libertarianism is shrill.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 8:31 pm

Argh, the moderation queue of doom. Really, do something about that pesky filter and s0ci4lism.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.25.07 at 8:41 pm

I should also add that after #44 or so I stopped reading the thread for a while. My libertarian fairy dust is not descended from bi’s pixie dust, ideologically or otherwise.

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nu 10.25.07 at 9:15 pm

Really, do you seriously think that the idea of legalising marijuana is a unique libertarian contribution?

that’s not what he said.
He said, Libertarians should concentrate on objectives of theirs that are achievable by building alliances with other who share commitments to those objectives for different reasons.

And Holland, high taxes or not, has an old laissez-faire tradition, at least when it comes to personnal freedoms. things like suggest that that segment of the population decided to support a welfare state as long as it eastablished more freedom in other areas ?

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Wax Banks 10.25.07 at 9:46 pm

Thank God we hurried together to the ‘let’s argue about the definition of libertarianism’ dick-waving breakout session instead of wasting time talking about that tall bald English sci-fi geek’s essay. You fellas have a good deal more to say and no earrings for the most part – carry on!

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Joshua Holmes 10.25.07 at 10:41 pm

For any libertarian objectives to function, we’d have to live in a world that had no large state apparatus (or one that was so ineffectual as to be virtually non existent) but were all just a loose association of small enclaves, tribal regions and city states.

Which means that the closest real-world setting for a Libertarian system is… Afghanistan.

Or classical Greece, if we’re using your description.

Actually, there have been a number of communities that had significant portions of the “libertarian agenda” in place, although none that would be perfect or ideal. Afghanistan certainly isn’t one of them.

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Michael B Sullivan 10.25.07 at 11:15 pm

Robert D Feinmen writes, “In the libertarian case we then have to follow up and allow every nostrum that anyone can come up with onto the market whether it is harmful or not.

No, we don’t. That’s the crazy talk that I’m trying to combat, here. This is a standard that nobody holds to other political philosophy. If Matthew Yglesias says, “I think that we should give this person who’s out of work unemployment insurance equal to 75% of his salary for two years” (which isn’t something Matt has said, to my knowledge, but I’m just coming up with a concrete example), nobody thinks that then he must support giving the next person a $1,000,000 / year income for the rest of their lives without conditions.

Seriously, folks, it’s okay to not take every belief to a simplistic logical extreme. It’s okay for progressives not to reduce all their positions to the absurd, and it’s okay for libertarians, too. It doesn’t make you not a progressive to have some limits on the degree of progressive policies you’d support, and it doesn’t make me not a libertarian to have some limits on the degree of libertarian policies I support.

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mugwump 10.25.07 at 11:37 pm

Coming back to the party the next morning (down under at present).

RE #27:

What private insurance company (for profit or not) would insure my friend

I am assuming she already has insurance, which, as I pointed out, would be a lot easier to obtain in a libertarian system.

If you have the means to insure when you are well but don’t, then you shouldn’t come crying to the rest of us when you get ill. Moral hazard and all that.

Now, there’s still the “original sin” issue: what’s a child born without insurance to do? And the problem of people who genuinely “fall through the cracks”. But we (moderate) libertarians are not monsters – we’ll sort something out for those cases. And we’ll certainly do a lot better with our small-government, pro-competition philosophy than the present mess with insurance companies maintaining their privileged status by paying off politicians.

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mugwump 10.25.07 at 11:42 pm

RE #33: others have pointed out that libertarians are not anarchists. We’re not advocating total abolition of the state.

In your world, there would be no state to hand out pork in the land of corporate welfare. Your world would cease to exist pretty fast, because corporate interests would have to invent the state.

Just because a portion of the private sector exists on a diet principally of pork, doesn’t mean the whole private sector or even a majority of the private sector does. Look at the tax take. Do the math. Or maybe start a business and see first-hand; believe me it’s a lot easier operating in the private economy that it is chasing public funds.

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snuh 10.26.07 at 6:00 am

If you have the means to insure when you are well but don’t, then you shouldn’t come crying to the rest of us when you get ill. Moral hazard and all that.

But we (moderate) libertarians are not monsters

yes, heaven knows how anyone might have reached that conclusion.

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Katherine 10.26.07 at 7:40 am

“But we (moderate) libertarians are not monsters – we’ll sort something out for those cases”

Care to define what that might be? Because you see that’s the major point – what to do about the people who fall through the cracks. It’s easy enough to say that under normal circumstances, in the normal world, normal people will be okay.

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magistra 10.26.07 at 8:26 am

Mugwump – so suppose my friend does have insurance and has not committed the ‘original sin’. (Because of course, if she had she would deserve to suffer or even die unless saved by the merciful and mighty money of a libertarian who condescends to help her. You wonder why people think you’re monsters?). And that private insurance pays for her initial breakdown. What happens to her premiums the next year? How much does she have to pay in the future to insure against the very high risk that she will have another serious episode of mental illness? And where does she find the money for that when she’s unable to work? Unless you’re going to argue that a private insurance company may not ever increase its premiums for individuals because of their risk factors and that they may not refuse to insure a person they have once insured (and such stringent regulations on private companies would make libertarians go spare and insurance companies go bust), once she has a serious *chronic* health problem she is sunk. And serious chronic health problems are all too common in the Real World (unlike Libertarian Floating Paradise).

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Glorious Godfrey 10.26.07 at 9:41 am

Some more thread hijacking…

nu:

Really, do you seriously think that the idea of legalising marijuana is a unique libertarian contribution?
that’s not what he said. He said, Libertarians should concentrate on objectives of theirs that are achievable by building alliances with other who share commitments to those objectives for different reasons.

Well, I guess my reading was not too charitable. However, the “realism” that Michael was trying to display was presented as a sort of return to the pragmatic roots of libertarianism. Roots which, as the lengthy piece cribbed from Carnegie shows, have never existed in the first place. Hence the cheap derision. I’m a cheap kinda guy. Oh, and his proposals –as you would expect from the ideology that has been put to such deft and cynical use to craft the prevailing rhetoric of our age– manage to ignore some of the most pressing problems of this young century, like the growing dissatisfaction with globalisation. Not too impressive for such a(n allegedly) non-conformist and unflinchingly rational movement.

BTW, it’s “malcontents” and not “discontents” in my little tirade above. Lemme get a kitchen knife…AARGH! ! There. How do you want the little pinky, Henry? Airmail or Express delivery?

And Holland, high taxes or not, has an old laissez-faire tradition, at least when it comes to personnal freedoms. things like suggest that that segment of the population decided to support a welfare state as long as it eastablished more freedom in other areas ?

Sorry, that’s just grasping at straws. Yes, the Dutch have a strong laissez-faire vein (although do believe me when I say that a lot of their good image is the result of clever self-promotion; het is niet alles goud wat er blinkt ). But, you see, you cannot seriously tell me with a straight face that some libertarians could conceive that some varieties of welfare state could “establish more freedom” in some areas. The welfare state is the big bad, the molly-coddling decadence, the fatuous promise of free lunches, the politics of envy.

So no, the Dutch are not libertarians. Whatever their flaws, they live in the real world.

Wax:

Thank God we hurried together to the ‘let’s argue about the definition of libertarianism’ dick-waving breakout session instead of wasting time talking about that tall bald English sci-fi geek’s essay. You fellas have a good deal more to say and no earrings for the most part – carry on!

Dick-waving is the whole point of the interwebs, mate. Besides, this appears to be a tradition of sorts on this site: a geeky intro to a hot-button topic, followed by a chaotic argument.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.26.07 at 9:42 am

mugwump:

Just because a portion of the private sector exists on a diet principally of pork, doesn’t mean the whole private sector or even a majority of the private sector does. Look at the tax take. Do the math. Or maybe start a business and see first-hand; believe me it’s a lot easier operating in the private economy that it is chasing public funds.

Oh yes, the world seen from the shopkeeper’s perspective. God bless them, they are important. But you see, you’re skirting the issue.

The issue is that, given that:

a) big business does exist and that its entanglements with the state are complex and manifold;
b) democracy does exist and it is associated –even after three decades of relentless bias in the media coverage of economic issues– with a high, even growing, level of demand for public services;

it is just silly to expect the activities of the state not to represent a very sizeable share of the GDP of any modern economy. Therefore, instead of kvetching and fantasising about drowning the state in bathtubs, you boys should start to worry about little things like proper governance.

Really, do you think that a further rollback of the state is feasible? After the takeover by the Chicago school of the economic mainstream, Ronny and Maggie, the unexpected windfalls of the fall of the communist block, the economic reforms in China after Mao, the abandonment of socialism by India? Are you seriously saying that you can put the genie back into the bottle and return to nineteenth century conditions?

But, yet again, you kindly come forward to show that when libertarians blather about liberty and a limited state they are only interested in not paying taxes that end up as handouts for negroes. Mieville’s hits it on the head: “(a)bove all, (libertarians) recast their most banal avarice—the disinclination to pay tax—as a principled blow for political freedom.”

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Glorious Godfrey 10.26.07 at 9:42 am

I should add that this discussion is obviously at best shallow and middlebrow-ish. We’re merely hinting at deeper controversies: about the nature of freedom, the nature of justice, efficiency claims in economics. Just so you know that libertarian-bashing can come from higher philosophical quarters. Not that I care: trash is beautiful.

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Glorious Godfrey 10.26.07 at 9:48 am

NOOOO, not the spam filter again. Well, what the fuck, I’m in the middle of a verborrheic frenzy and I shall not be denied, dammit. Here’s a double post.

mugwump:

Just because a portion of the private sector exists on a diet principally of pork, doesn’t mean the whole private sector or even a majority of the private sector does. Look at the tax take. Do the math. Or maybe start a business and see first-hand; believe me it’s a lot easier operating in the private economy that it is chasing public funds.

Oh yes, the world seen from the shopkeeper’s perspective. God bless them, they are important. But you see, you’re skirting the issue.

The issue is that, given that:

a) big business does exist and that its entanglements with the state are complex and manifold;
b) democracy does exist and it is associated –even after three decades of relentless bias in the media coverage of economic issues– with a high, even growing, level of demand for public services;

it is just silly to expect the activities of the state not to represent a very sizeable share of the GDP of any modern economy. Therefore, instead of kvetching and fantasising about drowning the state in bathtubs, you boys should start to worry about little things like proper governance.

Really, do you think that a further rollback of the state is feasible? After the takeover by the Chicago school of the economic mainstream, Ronny and Maggie, the unexpected windfalls of the fall of the communist block, the economic reforms in China after Mao, the abandonment of s0ci4lism by India? Are you seriously saying that you can put the genie back into the bottle and return to nineteenth century conditions?

But, yet again, you kindly come forward to show that when libertarians blather about liberty and a limited state they are only interested in not paying taxes that end up as handouts for negroes. Mieville’s hits it on the head: “(a)bove all, (libertarians) recast their most banal avarice—the disinclination to pay tax—as a principled blow for political freedom.”

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SG 10.26.07 at 1:32 pm

keep it up glorious godfrey! I’m enjoying every word!

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mugwump 10.27.07 at 9:30 am

Oh yes, the world seen from the shopkeeper’s perspective.

What is it with the snide asides against the entrepreneurial class? “Shopkeepers”, “petit bourgeoise”, etc.

You’re talking to the wrong libertarian with the racial line: I only moved to the US relatively recently, but have had libertarian tendencies since well before I started paying tax.

Really, do you think that a further rollback of the state is feasible?

We can but try. In the short term I’ll settle for a rollback in state subsidy of lefty academics, but longer term:
““Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world;indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

OT, since the “g-spot” thread closed before I could comment on cosmas last post, I’ll hijack my reply in here:

It seems that what’s bugging you is my use of the word “expect”.

No, what’s bugging me is your use of the word “fifteen”. “Twelve” is much more accurate in this context.

uncovering the genetic reasons why the Boston police force used to be so heavily Irish

Presumably the Boston police were not selected from amongst the Irish because of the innate policing ability of the Irish. But running backs and Nobel Laureates are selected for innate abilities independent of their backgrounds.

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bi 10.27.07 at 11:10 am

“In the short term I’ll settle for a rollback in state subsidy of lefty academics”

Despite the fact that your pork barrel company CEOs earn way more than most filthy lefty academics can dream of earning, and with much less competition? You’ve got your priorities straight, man.

“What is it with the snide asides against the entrepreneurial class? ‘Shopkeepers’, ‘petit bourgeoise’, etc.”

As Glorious Godfrey points out, you’re skirting the issue. You get all worked up over a bunch of nameless academics who manage to get tenure, yet you try to pretend that Halliburton and Blackwater and Diebold don’t exist even as they pocket _your_ tax money.

“‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world;indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.'”

I thought you just want to be left alone. Now you want to actually change the world? I guess robertdfeinman got it right then.

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Brett Bellmore 10.27.07 at 3:52 pm

“The uniquely favourable bargaining position currently enjoyed by capital won’t last forever.”

Dream on. The uniquely favorable bargaining position currently enjoyed by capital is only going to get MORE favorable. Eventually, (And by eventually, I mean well before the end of this century.) it’s going to become overwhelming.

Look, labor only has some bargaining strength relative to capital because labor is a required input into the productive process. But there’s this thing called “automation”, whereby capital replaces labor’s contribution to production. And automation is getting better every year.

And so, the percentage of production which is due to the contributions of labor declines every year, and brings down with it the bargaining position of labor.

There is no reason in principle why capital can’t, eventually, displace essentially 100% of labor’s contribution to the production process, at which point labor has no bargaining strength at all.

You’d best start thinking about what to do when that happens, because it IS going to happen. And when it does, you can sing “Solidarity” until your throat is raw, and it won’t do you a bit of good…

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bi 10.27.07 at 5:24 pm

“But there’s this thing called ‘automation’, whereby capital replaces labor’s contribution to production.”

Why, if it isn’t the magic pixie dust of Value Production™ again. Except now it takes the form of the almighty holy dust of Automation™.

But even now, it’s clear that the encroachment of automation only creates a new form of “labour”, which business wonks like to call the “knowledge-based economy”. And libertarianism doesn’t tell us how to automate the discovery of new, novel knowledge.

In short, you can talk about Value Production™ and Automation™ till the cows come home, but at the end of the day, it’s just a tortured fact-free justification for giving more money to rich people who aren’t negros or tenured professors.

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Brett Bellmore 10.27.07 at 6:05 pm

Feh, I’m a tooling engineer, I design this stuff for a living. Extrusion tooling, stamping dies, special purpose automation… I’ve been at it for a quarter century, and you’d better believe I’ve noticed the trends. We’re routinely automating processes today that ten years ago would have been manual labor. And there are a lot of things that are manual labor in our plants that, even now, could be automated, but the equipment isn’t quite cost effective. But it will be, soon enough.

It’s all pixie dust if you don’t understand it.

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bi 10.27.07 at 6:42 pm

No, I think I understand all that perfectly. My point, again, is that there’s much more to do in the world than designing dies for specific problem domains.

Also, the degree of “automation” required to make all forms of “labour” — including knowledge discovery — obsolete will be so far out into the future as to be totally irrelevant for present-day policy making.

But mugwump’s extreme hatred for “state subsidy” for “lefty academics”, and (yet) utter indifference to the pork-barrel deals for Diebold and its ilk, already speaks volumes on the priorities of our libertarians.

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Brett Bellmore 10.27.07 at 7:08 pm

I admit that knowledge workers like myself are a bit more secure, (Though even in my case recent developments in fluid flow analysis software have reduced the value of my decades of experience in the black art of thermoplastic extrusion die design.) at least until true AI makes it’s appearance. But genuine knowledge workers are what percentage of the workforce?

What I’m saying is that labor, in the traditional sense of people acting as, essentially, verbally programed pick and place robots, is becoming obsolete. And we’re not talking all that long a term.

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bi 10.27.07 at 7:42 pm

“labor, in the traditional sense of people acting as, essentially, verbally programed pick and place robots, is becoming obsolete”

Doesn’t really matter, does it? Since the original claim was that “The uniquely favourable bargaining position currently enjoyed by capital won’t last forever”, and people with the big capital are usually not the same as those who have the knowledge.

And as we all know, much knowledge — including knowledge on how to automate stuff and put more people out of work — is discovered in academia, and that’s exactly the place our beloved libertarians like to launch jihads against.

Big capital can’t always win, and besides there’s no reason why it _should_ always win.

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mugwump 10.27.07 at 11:43 pm

But mugwump’s extreme hatred for “state subsidy” for “lefty academics”, and (yet) utter indifference to the pork-barrel deals for Diebold and its ilk, already speaks volumes on the priorities of our libertarians.

What speaks even greater volumes is the fact that your claim is completely false. My remark about reducing state subsidy for lefty academics was a tongue-in-cheek counter to godfrey’s last polemic. For the record, I am against most state subsidies, but if I had to order them for the chop, Diebold and their ilk would be ahead of lefty academics. Lefty academics are mostly harmless, and can even be cute and cuddly on occasion provided you don’t do anything foolish like try to pet them.

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